The blisteringly hot, humid and sweaty air of the African East Coast surrounded us as we cycled out of Bamburi Beach Hotel. It was a great, good value resort/hotel just North of Mombasa. For The Traaats (the affectionate name I awarded Eve & Veronica – said it in an East London/Essex accent – as in, you silly trou[aaa]t) this was to be their first taste of the bustling African Tarmac.
But there was an immediate problem; I had a puncture – unfortunate timing. In a spot of irony, my bike got the largest concentration of punctures when it was strapped to a Cattle Truck. In the journey from Moyale, a plethora of Acacia Trees had ravaged my bike as it sped through the bush atop the truck (to give you just some idea how much we bounced about!). When I eventually got to Nairobi I repaired over 8 punctures; but despite using an entire repair kit, I clearly hadn’t fixed all of them.
I couldn’t give up on my Inner Tube, it had got me through the Nubian Desert and Ethiopia – I had a strange affinity with it so I tried, in vain, to fix it. I wanted to give it one last breath, so I fixed it one more time before the off.
We got underway, The Traaats getting used to their weighted bikes, bustling African Traffic not to mention the heat and humidity. As I cycled to and from The Traaats ensuring they were OK, I was also continually checking my tyre. You get an odd paranoia just after changing a puncture on a weighted bike. It’s quite a palaver taking all the kit off and fixing it; I really didn’t want another puncture and I knew Eve & Veronica just wanted to get on with the cycle and clock kilometres under their belts.
Sadly after just a few kms, the unmistakeably feeling of a spongy front tyre was upon me and there was nothing for it. We stopped for a Coke where The Traaats met a beautiful little girl, Barbara, whilst I regrettably had to give up on my now heroic Inner Tube and bid it farewell :(
Sugar levels raised, small tears shed and a fresh Inner to boot, we were off. We navigated through central Mombasa, topped up on air courtesy of a petrol station and headed south. As we stopped for directions and explain where we were going, everyone insisted that we’d need to get a Ferry. Initially I though they were just assuming we’d be getting the Ferry to Tanga (first major town in Tanzania – who on earth would cycle?!), so I kept insisting that we were cycling the whole way and didn’t need to get a Ferry.
After a short while it soon dawned on us that the main route out of Mombasa crosses onto Likoni (Shelly Beach) and there’s a very short car ferry (Likoni Ferry) that you need to take. Aha! So we took the 5 minute Ferry. We were swiftly ushered on and off the other side before continuing our cycle south through pineapple stalls and the vast array of stall and colourful huts – most of them decorated according to Mobile Phone network allegiance.
Our first banana stop was marred by a slightly sour event where Veronica’s Camera ended up on the floor whist a chap was asking her a few questions. We’re not entirely sure what happened, but another local spotted a potential incident and swiftly ordered the guy away. Our guess is he was trying to distract Veronica and steal here camera, but we can’t be entirely sure.
The Traaats were already a little nervous about the security situation around Mombasa, so this was an unfortunate start. Thankfully we quickly put it to one side and pressed on.
At lunchtime that day we pulled into a siding and decided to rest. It was midday sun on the first day, so we needed to go easy and not push it. After navigating a 2km dirt track towards the coast, we found ourselves at a thatched cottage beach resort on Tiwi/Diani Beach. We were shocked; not entirely sure what we were expecting, but we found ourselves in Paradise. Quiet and quaint thatched cottages overlooking a swimming pool and palm lined white sands; our lunch was quickly extended into relaxation for the rest of the day. Only 40km, but hey who cares, it’s a holiday after all! :)
The next day we were determined to get to the Tanzanian Border at Lunga Lunga, which, after a tiring day for the Traaats we eventually did just before sunset. After the initial security check-points (customs), there’s a hotel just before by the border. We rested, scoffed on chicken before rising bright and breezy the next morning after a slightly uncomfortably sleep in the heat surrounded by mosquitoes.
Border crossing from Kenya to Tanzania is smooth; $50 buys you a 3 Month Visa (unless you’re from Pakistan in which case whip out $200!) and off you set. Unlike Kenya, there are no ATMs on the Tanzanian side so either get your Tanzanian Shillings in Mombasa or change your remaining Kenyan Shillings at the border (expect a fairly high commission rate). I made the mistake of assuming there would be an ATM and had to change my shillings down the track after talking with a friendly local; I got away with it, but be prepared as there is no ATM until the air conditioned Barclays bank in Tanga. At time of writing there’s about 18 Tanzanian Shillings to the Kenya Shilling, approximately 2,480 Tanzanian shillings to the Pound Stirling (1,500 to the US$).
The tarmac stops at the border and it’s a dirt track for approximately 40km; the road smoothes slightly for another 20km with the final 10km into Tanga being on Tarmac.
[Update: I travelled this route in December 2010; but, at time of writing in April 2011, a new, tarmac road has opened along this route (Opened April 2011). Don’t tell Eve & Veronica ;)]
Our first taste of Tanzanian Hospitality was at Petukiza, about 10km from the border. We pulled in for fish & rice – in doing so meeting the very friendly Steve and his family (many people in Kenya & Tanzania, like many other places, have English first names with African surnames). We rested; soda’d ourselves up and got underway.
Eventually after a tiring cycle we rolled into Tanga – a fairly major port town on the coast (you can get a Ferry to Pemba – the second Island of the Zanzibar Archipelago from here). We struggled to find a hotel (within budget) – the main resorts are expensive and few of the initial ones we tried seemed to be a little anti-foreigner.
However, rejecting Ocean Breeze as it was a dive; we cycled along Port Road onto Hospital Road and found Inn by the Sea – a cracking hotel that cost 80,000 for the three of us (two rooms) for two nights (£6 per person, per night). Air conditioning and sea view, perfect. There’s also a great Italian restaurant opposite that serves delicious meals (and beer), so we were happy campers for a few nights; we took a day of to rest and further acclimatise.
After a useful break to sort out SIM Cards, stock up on Harribo (SD Supermarket) and use the ATM (Barclays), we headed out of town and followed the railway line, our destination being Segera where the road splits (Dar es Salaam or Arusha). We opted to take the main roads – the coastal road is mapped as a “minor” road, which often means difficult dirt track. Our route, although longer, was along Tarmac with frequent stopping places for food & drink, in addition to cheap(ish) accommodation – though please comment if you’ve taken the coastal route and would recommend it.
After 20km there seemed to be a problem. Temperatures were rising, but so, unfortunately, was the road. After a relatively flat and wind assisted coastal cycle, as we headed inland the road started to undulate with frequent hills. Our view of grey tarmac heading into clear blue sky surrounded by dark green palms and a very humid air made conditions harder, so we were all feeling it when we pulled in for lunch in Muheza. We found a great “Hotel” out of the sun where we packed away Wali (rice), Chapattis (flat bread) & Soda before a snooze in a basic conference/meeting room.
We headed off and after some tiring hills and made it safely to Segera where we stayed in a roadside lodge; a little pricey (I don’t recommend the on site restaurant) but comfy beds and A/C powerful enough to turn the room into a Freezer…why not.
The next day, waking up with icicles we took the southern route towards Chalinze. Shortly into another tiring day with the heat ever-present, at the top of the hill we unfortunately witnessed a small puppy getting run over by truck. It did, thankfully, waddle off to the side of the road afterwards, but this pushed one of The Traaats into a misty eyed moment. Time for some reassurance and a quiet moment to let the emotion of it all pass; in these difficult, far from home moments, the strain of it all will often surface. We topped up with lemonade and got on our way…
From Segera the trucks become more of a problem. The roadside foot/donkey/cycle lane is quite poor so you have to cycle on the main part of the road. The trucks speed down this road and pass with very little room, so it’s something to be cautious of. Feel free to offer a middle finger, I did!
Just before lunch, I was curiously overtaken by another cyclist, sporting only shoes and small pair of sky-blue shorts. He had a small basin on the back, attached to which was a SLOW sign. I said hi, he smiled but cycled on; after a little while when we stopped for lunch in Kisaza, we met up again and chatted over Wali & Chicken Soup.
His name was Marc, a cyclist from France who’s been all the World cycling. He was also heading for Cape Town, but this trip had already taken him though Southern Sudan & Uganda, so I was very interested to talk with him and share cycling stories.
He was a really nice chap and stuffed of rice, we headed out and through the undulating road that weaves through the green African valleys. Temperatures here are less humid than by the coast, but there’s still plenty mosquitoes to annoy the heck out of you. It was Christmas Eve and at around 5PM we stopped in Mkata, found a comfortable lodge and got a reasonably early night. Time for The Traaat to meet their first “hole in the ground” toilet.
Christmas Day, Chapattis & Maasai
On Christmas Day we woke early in order to get on the road about 6:30. The Traaats & Marc were very enthusiastic in the morning and full of energy in comparison to me; I often resemble a bear crawling out of cave and definitely need a few minutes, snooze button presses and cokes in the morning to fire (slowly) kerosene into the legs.
After morning hugs & high 5’s (no kisses aloud – the beard too much of a comical facial offence), we peddled for a few hours to stop for Christmas Breakfast in Manga.
Normally at this point back home, I’d be tucked up in bed with a day of lazy booziness ahead of me, but not today. Instead we had a most memorable morning eating Chapattis & Chicken Soup with local Maasai & smiling children. It was, admittedly, slightly surreal, but we had a tasty chomping session before heading out again.
After pushing over the 100km mark, we arrived in Chalinze and were greeted by a rather nutty lady of the night. After trying to avoid all conversation we managed to find a basic hotel to rest. Prices were slightly higher because it was Christmas, but the local hotel also had a connected restaurant so we managed to get a Christmas “buffet” of rice, wali and fried banana.
We thought we had done rather well with our meal, but that was sadly before the enthusiastic bar manager tried to charge extortion. We were initially grateful, it was Christmas after all, but the mood soon changed after some blatant “charge the foreigners triple” action. We were actually very low on money, so managed to barter the price down from extortionate to very expensive. After changing some dollars with our Hotel, we went to bed early before our final crossing into the Harbour of Peace – Dar es Salaam.
Evey unfortunately didn’t sleep that night; the heat, constant pestering of mosquitoes and slightly bewildering nature of it all meant a difficult night for the poor Traaat.
But once on the bike she soon fired into gear and after stocking up on supplies, we headed out in the direction of the Sea. We ate doughnuts from a roadside shack, rested on a small ants nest and pushed ever closer.
The night before, Veronica had joyfully revealed to us that her Mum had very kindly injected $200 into her Christmas Card. Ding ding! We were smiles abounded as Veronica offer to use this money for a Hotel in Dar es Salaam. Ding ding ding!
So we scoured the Lonely Planet for something a little more to the Traaats seasoning, and booked 2 nights at Palm Beach Hotel, Dar es Salaam (recently refurbished). With the hotel booked, this offered extra motivation for the Traaats who had had a difficult and challenging few days. We’d need to push over 100km yet again, so we had our work cut out – but the sea breeze and lights of the city were closing in on us.
Final push into the Harbour of Peace
The sun was setting and we stopped for a final “in the country” Pepsi where we arranged our cycle lights and formation to take on the traffic of Dar es Salaam. “No sleep” machine Eve was up front, Veronica in the middle and I plodded along at the back of the pack, slightly on the inside to alert the traffic coming from behind.
It soon became dark and it was headlights and break lights all around as we navigated the city looking for United Nations Road, from where we’d turn off. Evey did a tremendous job of controlling (make that commanding) the traffic like a traffic Policewoman on caffeine and Gaviscon overload. A difficult (and nerving) situation for those not familiar with night cycling – but Evey took it in her stride and ensured us safe passage.
We found United Nations Road on cue and took our final main road to our Hotel. The excitement was building; we were nearing the end of a challenging cycle for the Traaats and the reward of warm showers, air conditioning, good food and a dash of alcohol was boosting morale.
After checking with some locals, we eventually found the hotel and cycled in through the gates…we had made it!! As we settled in, it soon all sunk in for Eve & Veronica… they had made it to their destination; a destination that at times, they thought they’d never make by bicycle. The hard graft was over; they were here; mission accomplished and a warm shower awaited. What an achievement, it really was.
In just 9 days, they had got off a plane, acclimatised to the heat, local culture and cycled 550km from Mombasa to Dar es Salaam. Very, very well done.
So we needed to celebrate, and in moderate style we did – but the icing on the cake was still to come. In a few days our good friend Robby was flying from the UK to join us on the main Island of Zanzibar (Unguja).
With that approaching, we relaxed a day and took in some to the city – the Traaats had a manicure at the Mövenpick Hotel, of course. I sourced our Zanzibar tickets (300,000 for 3 people, return, approx: £40/45 each) and seeked a spot of medical attention as my finger was slightly infected. I was worried that another burst blood vessel was growing underneath – an ailment I had electrocuted in Mombasa. I visited the IST Clinic on the Msasani Peninsula – very good, but pricey.
Loaded up with Anti-Biotics and the Traaats sporting glamorous nails, we headed up to the Slipway club for a nice evening (highly recommended).
Zanzibar day was here; we checked out of Palm Beach Hotel (huge thanks to Veronica’s Mum) and boarded the Ferry…definitely worthwhile getting there a little early to ensure you’re able to strap your bikes to the boat. We managed to strap ours to the exit ramp, which worked well – but be sure to be back by your bikes in plenty of time before you dock, as the offload queue builds very quickly and the muscley, helpful but “move it” loaders will just chuck your bike off if you’re not there!
After sweating in the scorching heat through the mainland, not to mention Northern Kenya and Ethiopia before it, it was a euphoric moment for us all to be sailing through the crystal clear waters heading for Zanzibar. Robby phoned us; he was ahead of schedule and his plane had stopped in Dar es Salaam. So in an amazing alignment of schedules, we watched him fly over us as we neared port. What a wonderful moment.
Tanzania is actually a Union Country (just like the United Kingdom). It’s comprised of Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) and Zanzibar. There’s an element of devolution and local autonomy on Zanzibar so you’ll have to go through Immigration again – though there’s no additional cost if you already have a valid Tanzanian Visa.
After docking, we were united with Robby who had already efficiently sourced a vehicle to transport us to our resort. Upon arrival however, it turned out that our reservation didn’t exist (but thankfully, no money had changed hands). We had made a booking, but we all knew something was a little suspect. Emails had been confirmed and phone calls were answered…but something wasn’t right. As it was the Christmas/New Year break, everywhere was already fully booked – yet somehow, Nyota Beach Bungalows were able to offer us space without problem.
Very tired and a little frustrated (with the bungalows), but thankfully not out of pocket, we headed off to try and source alternative accommodation. Avoid Nyota Beach Bungalows, there seem to be many scams going on and their “staff” were very unhelpful in assisting us.
Not so the case at neighbouring Zanzibar Retreat Hotel & Metemwe Beach Village which, for reference, are amazingly plush – but way out of our budget. They were both very friendly and even offered us a complimentary G&T to eeze our stress as we combed the guide books looking for alternatives. They even, very kindly, offered us some floor space if, in end, we didn’t find anywhere to say. Gracious thanks to both for trying to help.
Eventually we found accommodation (one night only) at Sunset Bungalows in Nungwi at the very top of the Island. The beers & vodka’s flowed; we managed to rack up and reasonably impressible bar bill but sod it – it was holiday time and we were finally united in the paradise of Zanzibar! Good to see you Robby :)
The next day we moved over to White Sands (next door…or a quick stroll along the beach) and had a very enjoyable 10 days relaxing by the beach, or in my case snoozing in the apartment out of the sun! It was a tough few days as we took in a sunset dhow cruise, swimming with Dolphins over in Jambiani and taking a day trip to Mnemba Island to sample the cleanest waters I’ve ever experienced. In an experiment I filled up an empty Mineral Water bottle with sea water and visually compared it to a Mineral Water counterpart; you couldn’t tell the. After walking along the white sands and witnessing a golden red sunset, you really will feel like you’re in Paradise.
Stone Town (also known as Mji Mkongwe) is the main town on the Island and well worth a proper visit. Stone Town is actually the “old” part of Zanzibar City – but it all blends into one so traverse and enjoy. Zanzibar is alternatively known as the Spice Islands, so the Spice Markets and stalls are well worth a peruse; you can pick up amazing items here for a very reasonable price. There’s a very laid back attitude on the Island…so you’ll relax, but don’t expect anything in a rush!
Ordering drinks at bars, particularly Kendwa Rocks which sports the best restaurant & Wi-Fi, will set you back a few long minutes as the bar staff have about as much “go” in them as an anesthetised sloth. But just go with it…I did, eventually.
I took plenty time to catch up on sleep, but found myself a little anxious about getting on the bike. After pushing it pretty hard through Ethiopia & Northern Kenya, it was a little surreal, but wonderful, to be relaxing on a paradise island with my friends. I wondered how I’d be back on the bike; whether I’d have the same drive and determination – would I be fit enough after tucking into beer & pizza for a few weeks?
On the 6th of January I bid farewell to the Traaats as they boarded the ferry back to Dar es Salaam where they caught their flight back to the UK (after a small pampering in the Kempinski Hotel which they blagged for free…congrats – they deserved it!).
Robby and I had a few more days remaining so we checked into a beach banda for a couple of nights before he too headed off bound for Addis Ababa, where he’d meet Dan for a tour or the Ethiopian Capital and trip to Gondar.
As I bid farewell to Robby, I actually felt sick about getting back on the bike; perhaps I had eaten too much Pizza after all. I wondered if my anxious fears would have any meat, but as I wished Robby safe journey to Ethiopia, I reflected on a very memorable and hugely wonderful three weeks with The Traaats & Robby. To spend Christmas & New Year with them all was truly wonderful, so whilst I needed to kick myself up the backside and get on the bike, I also owe a huge thanks to my friends for such a wonderful few weeks. The manner in which the Traaats had taken on, adjusted and succeeded in just two weeks was, without question, inspiration to propel me further into the ride.
Asante sana rafiki mkubwa [Swahili: Thank you very much, great friends!]
To be continued…