Beyond the Bike 2015/16 - Bamboo with a View.

Stories from the people, places and personal challenges encountered by riding a bamboo bike through Africa and Asia.
6 minutes reading time (1199 words)

Stage 3: Many miles travelled but not all on the bike....

This stage was a bit of a mixture and rather exciting,  involving cycling through remote North-Western Tanzania, a voyage on a 100 year old German warship and breaking out a new friend out of a Zambian prison...

  After crossing into Tanzania we had several more tough days, even though the road was tarmac there were great swathes of sand, gravel and potholes and the hills continued. I was not happy. We had our first night seeking hospitality and camping in a homestead which was fun and we certainly amused the family when we put up our tent. The road then ‘officially’ turned to dirt and it started raining and as we were running out of time to get to Zambia we hopped on bus for a few hundred km. This was an interesting experience, we cannot quite believe that we, our panniers and our bikes all made it in one piece!  

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Our campsite on Lake Tanganyika and Stu's safety check on the bus to the lake.

 

So we finally ended up at the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kigoma.  We had a few days relaxing whilst waiting for the ferry to take us to Zambia. We cycled to Ujiji, scene (supposedly) of the famous ‘Dr Livingstone I presume’ meeting and camped right on the shores of the lake, with a our own beach and zebra and monkeys for company, not a bad spot at all! We spent time with Alex and Beatrice although watching the rugby with Alex, an Aussie, was rather frustrating! We visited their NGO called Seed Change helping the local palm oil farmers cultivate hybrid trees which yield much more valuable oil. (See Stuarts blog for more information on this brilliant project).

Then the ferry ride: the MV Liemba was a WW1 German warship packaged up and sent to the lake in 1915 when it looked like the war might spill into East Africa. It was sunk in 1917 by a retreating Germany 'Navy' and then resurfaced in 1924 by the British. It has been ferrying passengers down the lake ever since apart from a few brief spells such as last month when it was used to help Burundian refugees. It is impossible to describe the experience we had on the ferry, with people and cargo crammed into every available space. When I asked the captian if the ship was full he just laughed and said ‘It can hold 600 people and 250 tons of cargo…we have now about 250 people and 50 tons’. I have no idea where everyone else would go. It was great fun but exhausting although the this day trip did save us at least a week of cycling!  Read more about our experiences on this amazing ferry in Stuart's latest economic blog.

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Loading on to the Liemba day and night.

On the Liemba we met Steffen, motorbiking from Germany to Cape Town and an American, David. After docking in Mpulungu we were amazed to have our toiletry bags searched, and then even more amazed when David ended up in handcuffs...when he said he was being arrested for 'trafficking Benadryl' I laughed at first, but it was no joke. It seems that Benadryl (an antihistamine) is banned as Meth can be made from it (yes, I figured this out from ‘Breaking Bad’). David was carted off to the prison and we telephoned the US Embassy in Lusaka. Stuart went to visit David and was able to speak to him through the cell door and give him some food, water, a book, a torch and money. Luckily the embassy obviously did their bit and David was released the next morning and got a bus to meet us in the next town, he was exhausted but in good spirits and later told us about his night.

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Saying goodbye to Steffen as we cycled off with David.

 

Here is David's account of his very surreal experience with huge apologies to him if I have got anything wrong:

There were 25 men in the one cell (about 34’ x 24’), as soon as I got in I was grabbed by three men… who showed me around. James spoke good English and became my interpreter, I was shown where I could get toothpaste and soap, the toilet, the washing area, and then told that I had to pay 200 katwa (about $20) for food. I was told this was a one off payment everyone had to pay to the 'boss' and in return I would get food and I would not ’suffer’ later. The 70 kwatcha Stuart gave me went straight to the boss with a promise to get the rest the next morning when I could ask the policemen to have access to my bag…this seemed to suffice and I was told I would be a VIP and be able to sleep in nicest area. Men with less money slept in the middle and men with no money huddled together near the toilet, unable to stretch out.  Later on I saw one young man being slapped around as he had not paid.  That sounds pretty bad but I have to say that was the extent of the mistreatment, this cell was a lot more civilised than many an American holding cell! These were not hardened criminals, most were poor farmers in for petty crimes and there were about 10 political prisoners. The 'boss' was the political leader and he had the prison totally under control. The toilet was cleaned regularly and there was incense to hide the smells (much needed), all the men washed themselves and the  cell floor before sleeping. Then there was also 'bible hour' - one of the political prisoners was a pastor and he led bible readings, payers and hymns which everyone joined in (through genuine belief or respect for the 'boss' I am not sure).  The next morning I was able to get my money and as I only had 100 kwatcha notes I handed over another 200. I half-heatedly asked if I might get the 70 back I had given to the boss last night, and guess what, I got it back!  
When I was released I asked the policeman if i could give some money to the young men in the cell, they agreed although I had to give some money to the guards as well...everything was completely transparent in that jail and so I do think that the money would have found its way to the right people, maybe with a little bit 'lost' along the way.

David then joined us for two days of cycling (around 180km or over 100 miles as he would say) and one night of camping in a classroom - after his prison experience he was used to sleeping on stone floors and at least we were able to lend him a groundsheet and sleeping bag. David was great company (and he rode my bike for a bit given me ‘a break’ on Thandie for which I am very grateful) and it was a pleasure to have him join us…we hope he has recovered from his very exciting week by now!

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Classroom camping and the school 'rules'.

A positive Legacy from the Colonial period in Tanz...
“Mzungu – Give me Money…” ($138bn please)

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