In Tandem with Africa and Asia

A teacher's journey over three continents on a tandem bicycle
6 minutes reading time (1214 words)

Stage 7, part II: Beasts & Beaches in Movember…

Stage 7, part II: Mikumi to Zanzibar & around, November 12-26th 502 km

The best part is that you get to cycle through Mikumi national park and be right in the middle of elephants, giraffe etc. Only national park in TZ you can ride a motorcycle and bike through… Whatever you do, do not ride this section at night. Lions and hyenas in Mikumi national park and if they don't get you, the trucks and buses will – haha”….Andres Perez’s warning about the trucks had been accurate. I didn’t fancy getting eaten by a lion either so I set off to cycle the 50km through the park feeling somewhat nervous…

I had asked most people who had both driven the road to Dar and understood animals what they thought about cycling through the park. I received a wide-ranging advice, concluding that the best solution would be to find someone willing to drive alongside in case of any problems. As it was, I wasn’t successful and Lotta’s enthusiasm for riding through the park allowed me to ‘throw caution to the wind’.

I had met Lotta in Norway whilst ski touring in the Lygen Alps in April. She had some time off from her nursing job in November and was keen to come and cycle. After 4 months on the road, a Swedish nurse seemed to me to be the ideal cycling companion...

No mention of Tandems...

Nonetheless, the first day was going to be somewhat of a baptism of fire for her. 100kms in the heat, contenting with trucks and elephants!

My strategy was to set off mid-morning, allowing plenty of time to get through the park, cycling largely in the heat of the day when the animals would be sleeping, or so I thought. In any case, with good visibility on either side of the road, I figured we would be able to see any Elephants or Buffalos (the most dangerous mammals in the park) from a good distance. For the first 15km, we saw a lot of antelope & Zebra, who weren’t sure what to make of us, often scampering into the bush as we cycled past. But it was when the rocks on the side of the road ahead started moving that caused me to brake suddenly. Five elephant were harmlessly grazing. I pointed them out to Lotta who excitedly starting taking photos whilst I carefully edged back. They eventually moved off and we proceeded cautiously. Surprising a big bull giraffe a few kilometers later caused it to charge towards us before detouring into the bush. What we hadn’t noticed was a herd of some 17 fellow giraffe on the other side of the road. They appeared to race us, running parallel to the road, stopping when we did and continuing with us. With good tarmac and a flat road, we put our foot down and reckoned they were easily doing 40km/h. I’ve subsequently learnt that their max speed is just short of 50km/h.

The Elephants harmlessly walk off. the Giraffe is more interested in us...

After the excitement of the elephants and giraffe, the second half of the park passed by relatively quietly, clocking through the 5000km mark for the whole trip, roughly one third of my total planned journey. 

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4999.9 km on the clock...

Having made good progress through the park, reaching Morogoro seemed possible which would have turned it into a 120km day. As it transpired, a couple of heavy downpours halted our progress and we camped the night in the shelter of a soon to be formal campsite. We thought we had found the ideal spot, safely away for the animals and sheltered from the heavy rain. Shortly after bedtime, however, our tent was being ‘attacked’ by our hosts’ two puppies. This continued for much of the night before I managed to catch them and put them back into their ‘kennel’.

We cycled the short distance to Morogoro on the Sunday; and caught up with Janet Lucas, a British lady that I had chanced upon in Mikumi. She had married a local Tanzanian and worked with an educational charity, Tanzed;with a similar ethos to Beyond Ourselves. It was great to share ideas with her and Zoe, the UK director co-incidentally visiting at the same time. 

Catching up with Janet Lucas, her step-son Alan & Zoe & Jake from Tanzed in the UK

More rain on the morning of Monday 14th November prevented an early start but the cloud cover at least meant we were able to cycle more comfortably during the heat of the day. With relatively flat terrain, passing through commercially farmed sisal plantations (which used to be a mainstay of the Tanzanian economy), we made the 95kms to Chalinze in good time. Here the road split North to Arusha and East to Dar. Being another relatively grim trucking town, we pushed on after food, hoping to find a friendly village to camp in. I stopped at Bongo Primary school, where headteacher Issa and wife Hadat warmly invited us to camp in the school library, after I explained our mission. I looked forward to enjoying a book before bed! As it turned out, the library was bare, save a small pile of textbooks in the corner. 462 students, 9 teachers and about 50 books. Nelson Mandela famously pronounced that ‘education is the most powerful weapon to change the world’. I don’t dispute the great man but teachers need resources, I thought as we headed off the next morning, much to the bemusement of the students gathering for their morning assembly. 

 

The Library at Bon go Primary School that doubled as our campsite; with Headteacher Issa the next morning

With Lotta sick and physically struggling to cycle after 40km, we jumped onto a truck with the bike for the remaining 50kms into the city itself. With Dar not actually being on the direct route north combined with the obvious dangers associated with cycling into one of East Africa’s major cities, I didn’t feel that I was cheating in doing so – I hope you don’t think so!

 

Dinner with Tom Blathwayt in Dar; Our first glimpse of the East Coast of Zanzibar...

Our 3 days in Dar passed by quickly. We spent a couple of fun evenings with an old friend Tom Blathwayt, who is setting up an interesting educational project for his new employers BG Group. We then headed across the magical island of Zanzibar, for what proved to be the perfect antidote for the trial of 800kms on the busy road from Mbeya! Cycling around the island (we did around 250 kms during the week) was an ideal way to see the sights and gave us the flexibility to get away from the touristy places. Thanks especially to the guys at Teddy's place, Baya de Coco & the Serena for their hospitality to Renato for the excellent Italian food and for organizing a way across Chwaka bay…. on a local dhow!

 

A well designed bicycle but sadly she can't swim; lunch on the beach

We left Stonetown as we had arrived, in a heavy downpour but re-energised by the white sandy beaches and sun. Zanzibar had also seen the gradual removal of the beard, a sort of Movember in reverse.

 

 

November's Progression...

The Importance of Remittance Payments & Mobile Ban...
Stage 7, part I: Harsh Trucks but Kind Strangers….

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