Category Archives: Tanzania

This is the Road: A Tanzanian Safari

A Sixteen Minute Readimage

“There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.” Tennessee Williams, Playwright

On the road there are few things that separate you from the raw forces and energy of the Earth. The bicycle puts you down on ground, where human ingenuity and nature collide. You feel every bump of the road and gust of wind. The calls of encouragement from strangers and heckles of mockery. There are no steel barriers or gas pedals to speed away. At times all the world seems to come down on you. It seems to trap you between two lines and a space. You are but at the mercy of whims will. Solitude is found in the wild places. Peace is found in quiet moments that pass and those idle spaces in time. When I unzip my tent, the window I gaze upon is but a static piece of canvas with familiar shades. It knows me and I dream to know it better. My legs can take me anywhere, but it is my mind that waves the green flag to carry on.

I crossed over into Tanzania from Kenya late in the afternoon. After filling out yet another immigration card. This one actually asked what Tribe I was from, I put Rideau Ferry. When I returned to my bicycle I noticed my tire had a puncture. Tired and irritated I found a dive of a guesthouse to curl up in for the night and called it a day. When I woke in the morning I made my way to Arusha, through a stunning though terribly windy landscape. A nice man named Erik and his family had agreed to host me. I shared stories of the road and found some welcome company. The following day we met up with another long distance cycling tourist named Peter Gostelow and had a bit of lunch. Chips Mayai for myself, which is basically eggs fried with potatoes, awesome stuff. (Read about Chips Mayai and get the receipe HERE) Nothing better than talking about the road behind and ahead with 3 passionate cyclists. To read more about Peter and his adventures, follow the link to his website HERE. He is currently riding from Uganda to Oman via South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Should make for some interesting stories Peter!

When I left Erik’s place I felt that same old feeling I always do. That sneaking little pull the fills my heart when I depart from a good place and nice people. The bonds you form on a trip like this are numerous and daily. The memories come fast and flicker on repeat as the long miles roll onwards. The next day it is someone new. A new city, new faces and new memories. They jumble around in your head as the moments form before your eyes. Old thoughts pushing to the front for brief dances of remembrance. A bite of food or a familiar sign, can bring back thoughts from continents ago. That nostalgia is something no one can ever take away.

“To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.” ~ Tanzanian Proverb

Sometimes people ask me, do you not get lonely? For me, I am almost never alone. On quiet nights all I have to do is think back. I have my memories. The hundreds of amazing people I have met over the last 14 months. Those moments are what carry me forward. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is about the giving nature of our people. The beauty of humanity. That unfailing selfless attitude we all have the ability to give to one another. When I finish my ride it will then be my turn to give back. I will spend the rest of my life paying back the debt the world and our people have given to me. I will share, help and smile onto others, just as others did to me.

The day I left Erik’s was very special. I had the opportunity to ride by Kilimanjaro on a clear day. The tallest mountain in Africa and a landmark of our planet. It was beautiful as the sun shone on the snowy peaks. I rode into Moshi and camped out at a new hostel with Kilamanjaro in view. Here I met more good people and smiled again. All was right on the world. Kilimanjaro was just a point on the map, but what I will remember most will always be the people in between.

From Moshi I turned my back to Kilimanjaro and made my way to the coast. Over a scenic but rough road the ocean finally appeared after a few days. I arrived at sunset and took a breather for a day, setting up camp on the beach. After a nice day of relaxation I hit the rough road once more and headed for Bagamoyo as the ocean peeked along my left. I left too late in the morning and had a tire puncture that wouldn’t hold. I wasn’t making any progress and stopping every few kilometers to try and fix the patchwork that was my rear tire. Not to mention I was breaking a spoke almost everyday for sometime. My bike was a wounded animal.

It was getting late in the day when I ran out of glue for my patches. A ridiculous error on my part. As I stood pondering my plan of action I heard some voices coming around the corner. Two shapes appeared on a tandem cycle pulling an extra trailer. I did not expect that. David and his son Steve from England had appeared just in nick of time. They helped me get my bike back on the road and we found a cheap guesthouse and prepared to cross Saandani National Park the following day. I couldn’t have been any luckier, not to mention having a bit of company for a change was nice. Little did I know they would become a bigger part of my trip than I knew.

After a few days of riding terrible roads together we said goodbye, as I headed for Malawi. I flew down a rocky road and stopped for a large and very cheap lunch. When I jumped off my bike the village drunk immediately started to harass me. I was completely rude to him and the other villagers laughed as I ate my lunch. One thing that bothers me more than anything is finally taking a break from riding and having someone there to bother you. Hot, hungry, sweaty and tired is no combination for a conversation with a stumbling man drinking alcohol from a little plastic bag at noon. I enjoyed my meal regardless in the end.

That same day I bumped into an American named James from Texas doing work in one of the smaller towns on the road. In fact he was setting up a gym for the local guys in the area. He was extremely taken with my story and insisteted on paying for a guesthouse that night for me as well as a full chicken dinner. I was blown away as usual by the kindness of people I had just met. It is these little moments that have compounded to make me feel like I could never possibly repay the amazing nature of our people.

“Everything you see is the product of someone’s imagination or dream. What is your imagination? What is your dream?” ~ Reginald Mengi, Entrepreneur/African Media Mogul

That night I had a rather terrifying dream. For some days now the thought of riding my bike through Mukumi National Park had been weighing on my mind. The main road through the country towards Malawi goes right through the park. It was supposedly 50KM of wild animals with lions, hyenas and unruly elephants. I dreamt of being surrounded by lions and pulled off the road. I awoke in my guesthouse in a cold sweat and a little unnerved considering I’d be cycling through lion territory later that afternoon.

Later that day I reached Mikumi and crossed over into the park. A sign warning of wild animals for the next 50 kilometers appeared as well as another sign dictating the cost if you hit one of those animals with your car. The elephant topped out at $15,000US while the lowly baboon went for $125. One guy in a big transport truck slowed down as he bumped over some rollers and yelled, “Don’t see a lion!” As he picked up speed and laughed out his window. I just starred back at him and thought it must be a joke. If he had seen a lion coming through he would have told me. Wouldn’t he have?

There was a strong wind in the air and I was on my toes. It was actually the most excited I have been in months on my bike. I wished I had someone with me though. I was motoring along with my head on a swivel. For the first while I only saw a few warthogs and then my personal safari adventure began. I saw a lone buffalo near the road and stopped to take a picture. After one shot it started making a break for me. I threw my camera back in the bag and hightailed it out of there. After about a kilometer I heard a quick pop and the air instantly went out of my front tire. I picked a two inch thorn out of my tire. Panicked about having a flat at this point I had two options. I could frantically flag down a car and hitch a lift out of the park with my tail between my legs or man up, fix the puncture and get on with it. I had biked hundreds of miles out of the way to get here, I wasn’t about to let a little thorn ruin my day. It was the quickest puncture I’ve ever fixed and people drove past me looking as if I were crazy. I would be lying if I didn’t say every time the wind ruffled the bushes, I jumped a bit.

When I was rubber side down again, I was pedaling hard. After a few short hills I was glad I stuck it out. Zebras, elephants, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests and impalas all made star appearances. Taking a picture of a giraffe near sunset I felt one of those amazing moments of peace. The kind of feeling you can only get from coming all this way on your own. As I gazed upon the tallest land animal on Earth I thought about all the miles it took to get here and I welled up a bit. I felt the gravel under my shoes and the wind in my hair. I saw nature and nature saw me back. We both gave a wink and went on with our days. That evening as I lay back in my tent, I had no trouble sleeping and no bad dreams. It was all games of the mind. Too much thinking and a little too much time.

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed

The following days were met with some big climbs as I made my way to Mbeya and onto Malawi. At one point I took a lift when the road turned into a very narrow and busy stretch of highway. No shoulder and a lot of out of control buses made me feel very uneasy. The road though beautiful is known for some big accidents. From Mbeya it was finally downhill all the way to the Malawi border. It was one of those days that lives in a cyclists memory forever. Speeding downhill at amazing speeds for long periods of time is a wonderful feeling. I raced a local guy down the a long hill at 50 kilometers an hour. We were neck and neck, until he lost his hat. Coming to a stop at the end of Tanzania, I thought back on my days there. It took me a great deal of time to cross the country. The landmass of Tanzania is huge, diverse and beautiful. There is so much I still have to see there and many wonderful people to meet. I went to sleep that night, knowing my broken bicycle and I had another country ahead of us the next day. New surprises, people, language and money. A new game and a glorious lake waited on the other side of that imaginary line. I breathed one of those long tired satisfied yawns and went to sleep.
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**Thank you to all of my recent donors to my charity with Free the Children. Together we giving children the hope of a proper education. Currently, we are well over halfway to reaching our goal for the new school in Esinoni, Kenya. Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

***I apologize once again for being terribly slow and behind on my posts. Thanks for following along!

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The Red Earth: Kenyan Hopes

A Sixteen Minute Read

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“Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal Greed.” ~ Mwai Kibaki, Third President of Kenya

The sun scorched and the wind whipped across the northern reaches of the Kenyan badlands. A battered and choppy road. Red dust caked to my clothes and coated my lungs. Cogged gears and stretching miles. Stops were few and shelter minimal. I cooked simple foods and relished in the purity of it all. Far off distances had a familiar flare. Almost as if I had been there before. Another life. Another tale. Pushing on and down, ‘The Road from Hell’.

Crossing into Kenya was as if someone had release me from the endless drip torture of ‘You, you, you’. I had escaped Ethiopia. I arrived at the border with zero Ethiopian Bir and a broken bike, as usual. The border town of Moyale extends to both sides. As I moved over that invisible line people became much more friendly and for the most part, left me to my own devices throughout Kenya. When conversations struck, they were once again genuine and enjoyable. The Kenyan people are very peaceful, with great English and vibrant pride. I was happy to have arrived, even in the dusty red of the Northern badlands.

After sorting out a bit of border business and a day to myself, I was off riding down an unpaved and very bumpy road. In the past many cyclists have elected to take transport all the way south to Isiolo, due to the insurgence of bandits in the area. Cattle thieves and tribal conflicts you don’t want to be caught between. However, the section between Moyale and Marsabit is said to be safe, or so I was told by the police. Everyone in town said that it was now safe, except for one man trying to sell me a bus ticket. He urged, “Mark! You cannot go, you will be eaten by a lion!” We all laughed at this man as other locals shook their heads.

I rode through a long stretch of insanely terrible road. From time-to-time a slow passing truck would appear covering me in red dust. The new tarmac came and disappeared in a few sections. Soon it should be all complete from Moyale to Marsabit. Even on the paved road high winds made going slow at certain points. Mostly, I was alone on long beautiful stretches of road. It reminded me of being in parts of Sudan and I loved the challenge of the wide open unknown. I saw baboons playing along the road and antelopes staring off in this distance like phantom mirages. Stopping one night for a 3 dollar ‘hotel’ I pitched my tent on the floor due to the abundance of mosquitos and no net. The sheets looked as if they missed a wash or two as well. I learned my lesson once again, as camping is much more rewarding, typically free and cleaner.

By the time I reached Marsabit, I was a little bit wind whipped and tired. I found a nice hotel but they were fully booked. The owner feeling bad for me, in some way I assume, said I could sleep on the floor of the meeting room. I set up shop in a corner, had the largest meal I could find in town and went to bed. Though the section of road from Moyale to Marsabit is now ‘safe’ the section from Masabit to Isiolo is supposedly not. The second section of ‘The Road to Hell’ is set to complete sometime in 2016. I asked around and the consensus was I shouldn’t be stubborn and take a bus. The bandits in this section would not hesitate to rob me of all my things or worse. I boarded a bus the following morning with my bike mounted on the roof and prepared for a very annoying journey. It was a tight squeeze with three people to a row and an off duty police officer beside me that had just begun his holiday who reeked of alcohol. He insisted on chatting in between his fits of passing out on my shoulder. His eyes blood shot and thoughts erratic. I missed the freedom of my bike and remembered how much I hate buses.

The northern section of Kenya is largely undeveloped or forgotten. A road will soon connect that part of the country with the capital and bridge a route for trade with Ethiopia. During my time there I was able to interact and watch the ways of the indigenous tribes that populate the area. It was fascinating. They generally live as simply as they have for hundreds of years, however, watching a bushman walk into the same shop as me to recharge the money on his phone was little funny. The women of the Samburu tribes wearing their brightly colored clothes and decorations was something I will never forget. I watched women chat to one another as they sold flavored sticks for cleaning their teeth. I felt completely out of place, but loved it all the same.

Arriving in Isiolo I escaped the unloading station and found a place to sleep. I began my climb into the Kenyan highlands the following morning. Mount Kenya eventually appeared on the horizon in all of its’ glory. Pedaling out on the clear morning from Nanyuki was a beautiful experience as it loomed for hours on my left. I was content as I flew around corners and bucked my way up steep hills towards Nairobi. I was pushing hard to make it to the capital to meet some Americans that agreed to host me for a few days. The hills into Nairobi seemed to go forever as I sucked back another gulp of black diesel smoke. The road widens into about eight lanes from a dangerous one, where trucks had previously no regard for my existence. Though Kenyans are very kind hearted people their driving is some of the most selfish and impatient I have seen on this trip. Terrible to say the least. Eventually, a cycling lane appeared to my surprise and I crawled into Nairobi very tired and hungry. I snacked on a meal of chips & choma(chicken) before being welcomed in by my hosts Eric and Dara.

I had the best shower of my life and sorted out my creaking bicycle at a proper, though expensive, bike shop for a much needed overhaul. I toured the National Museum of Kenya and spent a few hours looking at their awesome collection of early hominid evolution. The most complete in the world. I am a bit of a geek for this stuff after doing my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology before Teachers’ College. To see these pieces of human history firsthand was like a trip down memory lane. There was also a very cool snake and reptile zoo out back.

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson, Writer

I thanked my hosts for their hospitality and made my way towards Narok and the Great Rift Valley. After a climb out of Nairobi the road decends down a steep slope with a breathtaking view overlooking the valley. I took my time and enjoyed a nice break on the valley ridge with leftover pasta in a bag and some peanut butter sandwiches. It was Canada Day and low and behold a bus load of young Canadians pulled up for a break and a view. It was nice to have some conversation from home on that day. Their purpose in Kenya I’ve been sworn to secrecy until a later date. I love my ride and all that it offers, but on certain days it can be a touch lonely. The road to Narok was in great condition with a few large climbs and one mountain pass. Riding along I couldn’t help but feel small by the grandeur and importance of this part of the world.

“I have come to realize that money, power and fancy titles mean little in this world, that true power lies in the hands of those who can help improve the lives of others. The world around me has taken on an entirely different light, a clearer one.” ~ Craig Kielburger, Free the Children

The following morning I was to meet my hosts from Free the Children. I have been supporting their charity work, along with my wonderful supporters, since I began my ride over a year ago. I was very excited about seeing the great work being done to improve the lives of the local population of the Maasai Mara region. I was also anticipating meetings with the community members and seeing where the third schoolhouse, I am currently fundraising for, would be. I had been thinking about this part of my trip for hundreds of kilometers, as I peddled down Africa.

Free the Children does an excellent job at bringing the experience of fundraising for communities to life in the ever comfortable Bogani camp. Bringing Me to We. I got to help out with constructing the foundation of the new surgical wing of the Baraka Hospital, not to mention touring this great institution set up by Free the Children. It gives care to hundreds of people in the region with many aspects of essential health education free of cost. I did a water walk up a hill, the same as the mamas do with a big jug of water strapped to my head. I was greeted by countless children with a wonderfully friendly “Jambo!” (Hello!) It is one of the friendliest places I have ever had the privlege to visit.

I felt the warm nature and the power of change in the community. The pride in the people’s eyes as they talk about their flourishing communities is something truly inspirational. The students at the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School talk with amazing enthusiasm about their surroundings and their futures. They have beautiful dreams, an unprecedented dedication to their studies and simply love having the opportunity of a true education. They are role models in their communities and beyond. I witnessed once again how a bit of help can change, impact and empower so many people in a positive way.

We are currently almost halfway towards the goal of $10,000 for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya, thanks to some surprise donors and the dedication of young learners throughout Eastern Ontario. Thank you all for being apart of the change in these kids lives. To read more about the history of the work being done by Free the Children in Kenya CLICK HERE.

To donate to the construction of the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya CLICK HERE. I always write a personal thank you to everyone. 🙂

Before I left the Maasai Mara area I had weapons training with a traditional bow and arrow as well as rungu throwing practice. (See info on Rungus HERE) Discovering I would would be riding through some National Parks in Tanzania my Maasai friend and guide Jonathon, gave me my own rungu to defend myself. An honorary and memorable gift that I still carry with me. Thankfully I haven’t needed to fend off any attacking lions yet.

There was a van heading back to Nairobi after my stay in Bogani and I was offered a lift. Having already rode the road towards Narok, I saw no need to do it again back the same way. A very nice gesture and saved me two days of riding. After arriving in Nairobi I took the rest of the day off and reflected on my wonderful experiences with Free the Children and Me to We. Over the next two days those great memories and carried me through all the way to the Tanzanian border town of Namanga. After a few months of hard riding through tough countries it was exactly what I needed. I truly loved Kenya. It was one of my favorite places to travel through for many reasons. My resolve and mind were rejuvenated. I was ready to continue my journey, while bracing myself for whatever lay ahead. Tanzania and Kilimanjaro within stride.

**At the moment I am in Malawi on route to Mozambique. Posts will continue to be slow to come due to internet connections and my interest in living in the moment. Africa has been nothing short of inspiring and challenging. Thank you for continuing to share in my adventures.

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