443 km, 5657 km from Cape Town
The infamous Dodoma Road – well documented by other bike overlanders – was in store today.
It started out moist and drisly for the first 50 kms, which is tarred, and once were onto the gravel road, it started to pour in earnest.
The road is stunning as it carves through thick equatorial forest punctuated by small villages with mud abodes and women in brightly coloured robes.
The downpour lifted and the day turned lovely as we rode this often muddy, sometimes rocky, frequently steep, red-soiled, single-laned marvel of off-tar riding.
After a ten hour ride we hit the tar and we swept past on the eastern side of Lake Manyara with the mighty Mount Meru in the distance. Feeling very good we closed on the outskirts of the town of Arusha just as it was getting dark.
This close to the equator, there is little twilight and we found ourselves night-riding in the traffic that is typical of big African cities, with trucks, cars, taxis, buses, bikes, pedestrians and us, all fighting for there piece of the road.
The rule of the road here is drive on the left – more or less – and go, just go. At an intersection, if you are timid you will certainly see out your days right there.
We fought our way through this lot and after a twenty kilometer urban sprawl arrived at a place where our host was to meet us. Following the car they were in, we turned off the road and first weaved through closely packed shacks and shops and bars untill the path steepened and we climbed and clattered over the washed out remains of the road up to our cottage in a walled compound on the edge of mount Meru national park.
There they were! Giraffe herds and zebra on the side of the main road, necking and swaying with the slopes of Mt. Meru in the back drop. There were more than a dozen, attracted by the flood plain waters and lush vegetation. A warthog scooted away when the bikes stopped to take pictures.
On the other side of the road, Maasai herders in villages with cattle lowing were expertly herded back home for the night. Maasai really seem to care for their animals, not rushing them along but with the patience of generations of herder understanding and a gentle stick wave. The perfect balance of wildlife and indigenous co-existence. The wild and the domestic, man and nature, sacred and profane. Bird life at our lodgings at Arusha was prevalent with bulbuls swooping, hornbills and crested barbets with distinctive call.
Game sighting near lake Manyara
362 km, 5214 km from Cape Town
We left the farm just as it started raining and headed for the hilltop town of Iringa. The towns are getting bigger the closer one gets to Dar Es Salaam.
Iringa is vibrant mix of colonial architecture, half-finished buildings and crowded streets and pavements clogged with people busy with their daily lives.
We fueled up and found an ATM, for cash and turned off the A7 which heads toward the coast and Dar Es Salaam and found ourselves on the spanking new road, the A104, which is in the process of completion and wherever the road gangs are busy, the Chinese road engineers can be seen.
The road was lovely and descended onto the much drier region of central Tanzania.
Here we saw our first Masai cattle herders driving their plump beasts across the plains. The road is empty as the trucks have no business on this road and it is not the main tourist season, so there are very few other vehicles
It stopped raining after and hour or so and one soon dries out in the heat that follows. We crossed the Mtera dam wall and stopped in a dusty village for a Pepsi, which seems to be the dominant brand here, and as always, were greeted with friendly curiosity.
There was a gravel section of the unfinished road closer to Dodoma which we found fun and the sky closed in as it tends to do in the afternoon. We discovered that I had a rear wheel and handily it stopped raining as we got to the business of repairing it. We were far from anywhere but soon had an audience of curious youngsters who once we had tightened the last bolt melted away, satisfied with there afternoons entertainment. We continued to the plains town of Dodoma, still sodden, and chose the first establishment on our very handy and comprehensive accommodation list – the New Dodoma Hotel – a three story colonial edifice that, with it’s comfort, was just what we needed.
Maasai herders were again common along the way, a spectacle with their red or blue checked cloth, stick and long scabbarded knife. They were wearing car tyre sandals, protection against the long acacia thorns. Goats and cattle. The cattle appear to be a breed of Afrikaander, with pronounced hump, their colours widely mottled blacks and whites as a result of intense interbreeding. Trevor rode through an amazing column of marching ants at least 50cm wide which was black right across the road.
Stopping for a coke at a very festive cafe
302 km, 4852 km from Cape Town
Tanzania is a most beautiful country and quite different to Zambia both geographically and socia-economically. The people who seem incredibly numerous are more confident and more mobile – there is a retro looking chromed-up Chinese motor cycle, which are used as taxis and number in the tens of thousands and they are ridden flat out with solo riders, with pillion (usually three up), with cargo – any cargo – fuel in plastic bottles, wood, charcoal, live chickens…
There are also lots of brightly painted buses and plenty of bicycles. So the people are on the move – from town to town, from village to village, they are on the road and as there appears to be no rail transport here or Zambia – everything is transported by truck – so the road north and south is clogged with buses, trucks, tractors, cars and motor cycles, all over-taking each other, between the villages where the speed limit is inderterminate but strictly enforced within the villages
The southern road has not been upgraded and it is hilly here and the tarmac on the up-slope in the southerly direction has got deep depressions caused by years of heavily laden trucks hauling to Zambia – so deep that there is middle-mannetjie of tar and two like-height ridges on either side of the depressions.
The northerly direction lane is fine because the trucks return empty and lighter.
These ridges made for some scary moments in passing slower traffic down a hill because you can suddenly find yourself with a mound, wet in the rain, and endless, that it is difficuilt to cross over and back the left lane. Oncoming traffic here does just that, it comes on regardless!
So we cruised, with rain showers, north through many, many villages to our popular lodgings on a working farm and met up with some friendlytourists from a tour group who had come up from SA through Malawi.
Donkeys, Maasai herders with cattle and goats were prevalent today’s ride. Tanzania appears more populated compared to Zambia. Vervet monkeys were seen in the rain soaked lush bush. More African dogs on the roads. Tanzania appears blessed with bird life. Hornbills, hoopoe, bulbuls, lilac breasted roller, raptors and egrets were spotted. At our bush camp, bird life was excellent. Malachite sunbirds hummed along the paths after nectar from the native flowers. Shrikes, weavers and barbets were everywhere. The bush varies widely from sub-tropical jungle to sandy scrub and baobab. The locals have an interesting way of pegging most baobab trees with wooden pegs, ladder wise, to harvest the cream of tartar pods. We stopped to test out the pegs and it is possible to climb a baobab with them if one is brave enough to hang on.
462 km, 4550 km from Cape Town
Completely overcast conditions with what looked like to us a definite threat of rain, was discounted by the locals who promised no rain. Of course it started to rain almost immediately we set off. We were soon soaked and as we were climbing up a plateau and were then in thick mist, we could not appreciate any view.
We stopped for a cup of sweet hot tea at a small shop, the first we have seen like that and it showed that we were aproaching Tanzania.
The sun came out for awhile and we were greatly cheered but just as we could see Nakonde in the distance, which is the last town before the border it started to rain again.
One can tell when there is a border ahead because the trucks start to line up on the side of the road in endless queues, waiting their turn. The border here is still the old style and has not been modernised at all and so is a cluster of decaying buildings and outhouses with trucks parked every which way, some broken down, some stuck in the quagmire.
We parked on a pavement and got to the business of identifying which of the cluster of people around all talking at once was; the money-changer and which is the fixer, whose help is needed for the whole process, which is slow but always pleasant as all the officials are friendly and inquisitive to our mission. We chose our personnel and followed muddily from building to building and an hour and a half later we were escorted to the gate and wished a good journey – and we were in Tanzania – a completely different world, just twenty meters from the last.
Now there were cars and taxis and motor cycles everywhere and three wheel tuk-tuks and trucks, so many trucks, and vendors and people standing in the road talking and laughing and general noisy chaos.
We needed fuel and so turned into the first garage, which had old style fuel pumps marked in khoki; petrol and diesel! Don’t bother asking for unleaded!
We filled up amid the small crowd who had gathered around us and eased back into the rain and down the muddy street and through the border town of Tunduma.
The rain finally abated further on and we made it to our lodgings at the very comfortable but strange Ifisi Community Centre, just short of the town of Mbaya where we appeared to be the only guests.
Stopping for a life saving cup of tea in a Zambian tea shop
591 km, 4088 km from Cape Town
Everything is transported by truck and most are coming down from Tanzania on the great north road that we are using to go up. The road is very narrow and the habit of the truckers is, if they break down, which is very common, then a few bushy branches are cut from the nearest tree and put some distance behind and in front of the truck and this acts as warning triangles. Truck also crash frequently and we saw two overturned trucks and one that had gone over the edge on a hill and into the forest. The truck crew are seen at these crash sites, camping with a little fire to await rescue we assume, which would certainly be days if not weeks away.
Our lodge for the night is a little place on a hill outside Mpika, run by a cheerful and talkative German host.
The animal spotting focus has shifted, natural wildlife being scarce. Domestic animals were mostly seen. Gadoi(?) dogs, almost bred to the point of being their own breed, sculked along the road oblivious to near misses by traffic. Life appears cheap in Africa. Donkeys and carts operate on sandy side roads. Villagers were spotted fishing with stick poles in water logged muddy holes. Water lilies grew wild and spectacular, carpetting ponds everywhere water was found. Beauty in the wild.
Strike a pose
478 km, 3497 km from Cape Town
Gliding through the neat downtown area of Livingstone, with it’s rows of older shops and buildings interspersed with newer projects housing familiar South African retail brand names, we were soon on the T2 road north.
This was the start of what turned out to be a ten hour ride!
The scenery is remarkably similar mile after mile – thick elephant grass as tall as a man that grows right up to the edge of the road and endless forested landscape. There is no fencing or much evidence of agriculture, except for small patches of mielie stalks, but there are people, so many people.
Countless kraals and villages line the road and as we swept on north, their delight in seeing four guys on motor cycles was evident. Everybody smiled and waved and cheered as we passed.
Even at the frequent police stops, the exchange would go something like;
507 km, 2813 km from Cape Town
THE CAPRIVI STRIP
The long road through the entire length of the Caprivi Strip today and from early, the sky bruised more and more threaghteningly until it burst and we were riding in an equatorial downpour. The Caprivi road is in good condition but one has to be very aware all the time of goats, cattle, dogs and children drifting across the tarmac.
It rained the whole way and we had to ride at a careful pace and finally arrived at our accommodation for the night, just outside of Katimo Malilo on the south bank of the Zambezi River. When the rain stops it was very humid but the setting was stunning and we were entertained by a troop of mischevious monkeys.
Although there was evidence of a lot of elephant activity along the Caprivi Strip road, by way of dung on the tar, we didn’t manage to spot any elephant. The assumption was they use the road as their elephant highway under cover of dark. Two huge unidentified raptor like birds were surprised by our cavalcade, and took to the air low in front of the bikes from some fresh killed carcase lying by the side of the road. We saw fork tailed drongoes which were swooping down to the road after fresh insects. A huge swarm of yellow and white butterflies, on whatever migration path they had followed since creation, fluttered chaotically and endlesly for the entire length of the Strip. A small spectacle in the African sun.
Taking a break on the Zambezi
3019 km from from Cape Town
After a great nights rest in a comfy bed, we breakfasted and rode the bikes unladen, to the Victoria Falls Park site.
The river is high now and so the volume of water cascading over the falls is extraordinary. The thundering billowing spray that rains down on the onlookers is thrilling and we spent a happy morning here – just watching the endless brown cascading waters, walking on the bridge with the lines of bungi jumpers and curio sellers and then hiking down to the swirling water at the foot of the falls called the Devils Cauldron – truly a special place.
At the accommodation there were a large number of vervet monkeys. They became a nuisance by stealing tea bags from our room in front of Trevor’s surprised face. Absolutely brazen and fearless.
We decided on a river sunset cruise, which turned out to be a really special bonus, game viewing wise. We were alerted to elephant and the skipper guided the huge ferry to within 50m of three elephant in the water on an island in mid-Zambezi river. This was followed shortly by a small crocodile sunbathing on the shore and then two huge hippo with their calf in the water which obliged by getting out of the water. All this with the African sunset as the backdrop, more real than the cliche African scene usually imagined. Once again, we were in the picture although it was technically sans bikes.
At the Vic Falls, a large troupe of baboons co-exist with the tourists. Huge males, pregnant females and toy-like babies clinging sauntered arrogantly past. Unthreatening, but wary and knowing lodged in their simian eyes. Any food spotted, one just knew they would pack attack you for it! We encountered large bats in the roof of our accommodation which swooped in and out with uncanny skill between the rafters.
The obligatory "falls" photo
206 km, 3019 km from Cape Town
We breakfasted at the lodge and with after a bank stop for cash we headed for the border post just outside of town.
The Namibian immigration side was quickly dealt with and then on to the shiny new Zambian customs and immigration building which is before the bridge over the river. Entering Zambia is not a quick affair, but the authorities were very friendly and we even got a reasoanable rate from the exchange touts. About two hours later we were off and across the bridge over the mighty Zambezi, which is high and wide and very impressive and we started out on the 160 km journey to Livingstone, which was once the capital of Zambia.
The poor tired road is so pot-holed that traveling by car or truck must be a real test, but we had fun whizzing between craters and the last third of the distance was newly surfaced and thus swift.
We are to be here a couple of nights and have decided against camping and have negotiated a rate with a river-side lodge and plan to do some sight-seeing and recupertaion. We are all suffering from various ailments that are the reward of riding a small bike long distances…cramping shoulder muscles, bruised bums, sunburnt necks and the like.
On the ride between Katima Mulilo, we saw lots of lala palms which locals use to make palm wine. At our short stops we heard African hoopoes call…’hoo-p, hoo-p, hoo hoo hoo hoo’ accelerating towards the end of the call. A small herd of buck was spotted which Garth believed were kudu ewes.
Having to dodge potholes made viewing difficult, however locals fishing in wet spots along the way meant there were fish and one local on a bicycle was spotted with fish dangling from the carrier under the baking African sun, no doubt a treat with his Nshima.
Across the Zambezi (we had to cross this bridge three times for some reason!)