Sunday, 29 May 2011
I even got used to showering in salt water all the time. However the signs everywhere telling us that it wasn't safe to leave the camp were a little off putting.
On the inside of the toilet doors!
I know you can’t see it clearly but on the right is a sign on the border of our camp. It says “Warning – it is not safe to leave the camp boundary”. In full view of everyone on the beach!
Sitting by the beach doing nothing in particular has, unfortunately for you, given me a lot of time to think and reflect over what I've done in the last year. This morning I sat on the beach looking out at the Indian ocean thinking, “I rode a motorbike from Alaska to get here.” Sometimes I can't even really believe it myself. On the one hand it seems surreal, almost impossible that I could have done it. On the other, it was actually quite straight forward and easy. Those who know me know that I'm no super human. I have no special skills or abilities that mean I can do something like this (indeed no special skills or abilities at all) and no one else can. I really am just a normal person which just goes to show that ordinary people can achieve their dreams (if that's not too melodramatic). Whatever it is in life that you've always wanted to do but have thought, for whatever reason, you just won't get round too. Try it. Put your mind to it and have a go. Failure is not trying to do something and falling short, failure is not trying.
Not your everyday photo of Zanzibar
Zanzibar. I'd been here with Tracy four years ago and it was a little weird going somewhere on this trip that I already knew. I stayed (with Daryll and Angela) in Stone Town for three nights and I went diving for two days. I wasn't actually expecting the diving to be anything special but it was. Not only was the water nice and warm (28C) the coral was in really good condition (Corals around the world are suffering and one estimate suggests that by 2050 there will be NO functioning healthy coral systems left anywhere in the world. That's worth repeating and mulling over for a moment. In just 40 years there may well be NO HEALTHY CORAL REEFS in the whole world –due to global warming.)
I went on four dives, dived two ship wrecks and saw, amongst the usual numerous colourful coral fish, the following – Leaf fish, Pipe fish, garden eels, Turtles (two), scorpion fish, Octopus, Nudibranchs, Harlequin shrimps,(which Tracy and I had seen in Panama and aren’t easy to find), Tapestry shrimp, Mantis shrimp, Lobster, Moray eels, AND A SEA HORSE! I've done 110 dives and sea horses had almost become a sort of mythical creature. Several times I'd been told there may well be sea horses on this dive only to be disappointed. And I saw one on the first dive. It was slightly larger than I'd expected, about the size of my middle finger, black and spiky. It was worth going to Zanzibar just for that.
One Ocean Dive centre dive boat.
The weather doesn’t look great but the water was warm.
Going to Zanzibar reminded me how much easier and more fun it is to travel around on your own transport. Arriving in Stone Town on the ferry we got surrounded by taxi drivers desperate for our custom. I latched onto a guy who said he had a hotel (near to the one we had earmarked in the Lonely Planet). We went with him but the taxi drivers were furious and a huge shouting match erupted. Every time we went out someone walked along next to use wanted to sell us something. It always starts with a polite “hello” followed by a “Where are you from?” I know they are just trying to earn some money and I can put up with it for a while but it does get tiresome. Either you put up with it, ignore them, tell them to go away or try to tell them that you don't want anything. Non of which leave me feeling happy. I don't remember it being that bad last time I was on Zanzibar. Perhaps my memory has blotted it out or perhaps, as it's low season it's worse at the moment. Either way I fear that Zanzibar needs to be a little careful. It relies quite heavily on tourism and can't afford to alienate them too much.
Stormy times ahead for Zanzibar? This rain cloud formed over Stone Town as I was out diving.
On our last night we went to slightly posy Indian restaurant (Well, they had cloth napkins and a wine list). Daryll wanted his picture taken with his food. (For me this is something my parents used to do and I always felt uncomfortable and embarrassed by it.)
Angela kept saying she felt like a princess – Not having to cook camp food and having a bed which was off the ground. She doesn’t ask for much.
Taking photos in restaurants of people eating is JUST WRONG!
Just before we left Dar we met two South African bikers. One on a Suzuki 650 DR the other on a BMW 650 Dakar. They'd started in Jo'burg and were heading up to Ethiopia and then back down south. At least that was their plan. Apparently they hadn't heard that you can't get Ethiopian visas in Nairobi (which is why we'd gone to Harare).
BMW 650 Dakar
Suzuki 650 DR. Any idea what the panniers are made of? (Answer below)
A few hours later we bumped into two more South Africans on KLR 650s. This time I managed to take a photo of THEM as well as the bikes They'd just started their two year round the world trip but again were unaware of the Ethiopian visa problem.
KLR 650 – renowned for falling of its side stand but a reliable bike (so they tell me – what would I know?)
I’ve forgotten there names but at least I got a picture of them. Sorry
Time for another introspective interlude.
Riding a bike means you think a lot. Having that helmet on all day, alone with your thoughts is one of the great things of motorbike riding and I've noticed how my thought patterns have shifted over the months. In Alaska and Canada I was still thinking like a teacher and processing lots of thoughts to do with my teaching life, and indeed my recent past. That all worked itself out by the time I got to Mexico and my mind started to wander onto other things. Africa has been really quite different. I've started thinking about the future rather than the past or present. I almost feel like I've been on some sort of meditation course over the last year and have “sorted a few things out” as they say. All of this will mean little or nothing to you and I'm sure you think I've either become far too introspective or just downright anal. But, hey, it's my blog! All I can honestly say is that I think this year has done me the world of good and I just hope the feeling stays with me when I get home.
Am publishing this Sunday morning in Arusha. (It wasn’t easy finding wi-fi but I managed). Tourist low season in Arusha at the moment so everyone is hassling me to do a safari. Daryll and Angela are going on a 4 day safari tomorrow and I can’t really think of a good reason to not join them. This means I’ll be back in Arusha on Thursday night and probably in Nairobi on Saturday. Already getting quotes for freighting bike (£2100 to fly it door to door) so I may well be home in two weeks from now!
You’ll be pleased to know the place we’re staying in Arusha (Massai Camp) has a bar with a TV so I watched the Champions League final last night with a few dozen locals. I went to bed at 11:30 when the party/disco started. The music stopped at 5:30 a.m. this morning. My tent was 20 m from the DJ!
Crossed the 30,000 mile marker somewhere on the road yesterday near Mount Kilimanjaro (which was hidden in the clouds). Only 175 miles from here to Nairobi. It really is almost over….
PS The panniers are old toilet cisterns!
Saturday, 21 May 2011
Cape Maclear had been what I had expected from Lake Malawi. Decent camping at the beach side campground. Guys trying to sell us everything from fruit to wooden necklaces to fish, but only half heartedly in the heat of the day. Great sunsets and wonderful night skies. Bed by 8 p.m. up at 6 a.m.
Further up the lake we stopped at Nkhata Bay for more of the same but in all honesty this place was a bit of a disappointment. The place we stayed at was run (down) by a disinterested English woman and it was a little shabby. We still stayed two nights and I have to say that the food was really good but the bay itself wasn't much to write home about and we had no electricity all sunday which means I missed Spurs beating Liverpool! It was, however cheap. I stayed two nights and had breakfast and lunch once and dinner twice, plus several beers. My total bill was £20.
Above: View of Nkhata Bay from our campsite.
Below: Camping by Lake Malawi, Nkhata Bay
Leaving Nkhata Bay was made exciting by the total lack of petrol anywhere. I'd somewhat limped in to the place on the sunday with little fuel left and had stopped at the only petrol station. As there was a power cut I couldn't get any petrol. When we left on Tuesday I was told they were out of unleaded. It was 30 miles to Mzuzu, the largest town in northern Malawi and I had about 30 miles of fuel left. I made it with 8 miles to spare. The closest I'd come to actually running out of petrol since Alaksa.
After filling up we stopped at a supermarket to stock up. We all agreed that Malawi has the worst stocked supermarkets in southern Africa. I assume it's because everything comes up from South Africa and the further away we get the less stuff there is. It was pleasing to know, however, that I could still get Heinz baked beans and Marmite, even here.
Three for 10p
Whilst packing everything into my pannier a guy came up to me. The conversation went something like this.
Me: “Hello, how are you?”
Him: “I'm good , how are you?”
Me: “I'm good thanks.”
Him: “Where are you from?”
Me; “London, England.”
Him: “Oh, you a right geezer init!”
I had to laugh. He'd picked up some “London talk” somewhere along the way and we had a long chat about Chelsea. Whether Kaka will sign for them, whether Torres is going to be any good and whether Man U will beat Barcelona. I was speaking English but he kept saying stuff like.
“I fink Abramovich is rubbish, init, He's no good. Apple and pears. Know what I mean?”
Quite bizarre, but this is what I love about travelling. Stuff like this doesn't happen when I go to Sainsbury's.
Moving up Lake Malawi we managed a leisurely 100 miles on Tuesday before stopping at Chitimba Lodge and campground. This was a real find. I have to admit that sometimes Daryll's GPS comes up trumps. Chitimba doesn't even register in my Lonely Planet of Southern Africa but the GPS has camping marked and we found an excellent little place on a sandy beach.
Great find in northern Malawi
Live update: I was just sat in the bar typing this up, when the owner asked me if I would be eating dinner, which was Chicken stir fry. Before I had time to answer the barman (who is Dutch) came along with his huge dog.
He said,” Is anyone in your group by chance a vegetarian.”
I said, “Yes, actually I am.”
“Oh good. It's my dog. He's drinking but he won't eat”.
“Ah, you said veterinarian didn't you.”
( I got an email from my wife recently who, after reading my blog, said, and I quote - “You're an idiot”. Guilty as charged.)
Although we're not riding off road in this part of Africa, every day starts and ends with a little off road section as we take a track off the main road down to the campsite we're staying at. Sometimes it's short and easy, other times it isn't.
Photos of us getting to and from various accommodation.
Some are steep
What you can’t see is the guy behind Daryll, pushing!
This one was steep AND rocky.
Back break on. DON’T touch the front break.
I just DON’T LIKE SAND
It might look easy to you. You weren’t there!
Another day, another border. This time crossing from Malawi (I liked Malawi) into Tanzania. Leaving Malawi should have been straight forward – the passport guy stamped the passport and the carnet guy cancelled the carnet, and like all the borders I've crossed (except getting into Zimbabwe) there has been no queue and no waiting. However we had money to change. I had about $30 in Malawi Kwatcha and Daryll had $200. We'd stopped at the last big town before the border but the banks weren't interested. I had one bizarre chat with the man sitting at the “Foreign Exchange” desk of the Malawi National Bank...
“I'd like to change some Kwatcha into Tanzanian shillings please.”
“Oh no, not possible. We don't do that.”
“Can I get US dollars then?”
“No we don't do that either. Change with the men at the border.”
“Can you tell me what the offical exchange rate is so when I change (illegally) at the border I'll know.”
“Oh, it changes. Ask the men at the border. You know it's all down to supply and demand.”
I really couldn't believe it. I was in the countries National Bank and I was having a chat with someone about supply and demand economics of the illegal black market.
So, back to the border. I went off with a guy who'd promised 7.8 Shillings to the Kwatcha. We went up a hot back alley and past a few butchers shops. We changed money in a small shop. However, for the FIRST TIME ever (and I've crossed a few borders and changed a lot of money at them in my time) he tried to pull a fast one. Whilst doing the calculation on his phone he typed in 7.08 instead of 7.8 as the rate. I caught him doing it and he said it was a slip! later Daryll changed money with him too (there really wasn't anyone else to go to) and he tried to short change him giving him 600 instead of 6000. Not a great way to leave what is a lovely, friendly and really very cheap country. Malawi, I'll be back.
Tanzania – the immigration and customs guys were efficient, friendly and helpful. We got out stuff done in no time. $50 for a visa. The we had to get insurance for the bike. Again, it was a walk down a back alley to an office but it all seemed legal enough. I got insurance just for Tanzania ($50 for 3 months) Daryll got a COMESA, for $100, which covers them for all countries heading north.
The insurance office is down here sir. Honest
I also decided to change a little more money into Shillings whilst Daryll sorted out his insurance. First the guy offered me 1500 shillings to the dollar. I wanted $200. Which equals, as you will all know, 300,000. He gave me 100,000 in 10x 10,000 shilling notes. Then another 100,000 in the same. Then he gave me lots of 500 shilling notes. As I was trying to count it he kept talking to me and putting me off. The bike, where this illegal transaction was going on, was surrounded by his mates and onlookers all telling me it was the right amount. But something in my tiny mind was telling me to recheck. It was hot (30 degrees) and I was tired, thirsty, confused and a little agitated. I tried three or four times to count the money but juts couldn't. Luckily my brain was alert enough to know something was up and I asked Daryll to double check for me. It was a scam. He'd given my 200,000 but the last bundle was only 10,000 not 100,000 as it should have been. In essence he was giving me $140 for my $200. I told him where to go.
Another guy offered to change and although he suggested a rate of 1450, we settled on 1500 and he gave me 300,000. We were about to get on the bikes and leave and yet another guy came over with the $200 I'd changed telling me I owed him 10,000 as the rate was 1450 not 1500. Things were getting a little ugly now. We'd attracted a lot of attention (there we no other tourist crossing the border that day at all) and just wanted to get out of there. I told Ange and Daryll to get on their bikes and head off, I'd follow just I assumed they'd all chase me down the road. The guy with my original $200 just kept waving it in my face and demanding his 10,000 (about $6). I was adamant that I'd agreed the rate of 1500 with the other guy and that was the end of it. I got on my bike a little nervously as I was worried he might try to push me over. I ignored him and road off. They didn't follow.
Not a great introduction to Tanzania. I was quite surprised. As I said, I've NEVER experienced any sort of money changing scams in my whole life. I know they go on but this border (both sides) really takes the biscuit. Fellow travellers be warned.
I soon calmed down however as we were now climbing away from the hot basin of Lake Malawi into the Tanzanian mountains. Passing banana and tea plantations we climbed to over 2200m before dropping down again. Motorbikes were replacing bicycles as the main form of transport, although there was still very little traffic on the roads.
That night we stayed in a missionary compound. Not my kind of place but the singing coming from the church next door was good and they didn't try to convert me.
Heading East towards Dar the traffic increased somewhat as I had to share the road with big, slow and very smoky trucks. Since South Africa I've pretty much had the freedom of the road, there is surprisingly little traffic on the roads and I'd got used to it. But now(and I assume all the way to Nairobi) that has changed. Overtaking one of these trucks I ran into a Tanzania traffic policeman and his speed gun. I was doing 54 kph in a 50 zone. I gestured that that was only just over the limit and the laughed and told me to enjoy my trip.
Another day done, another great campsite. This one was $3. Just us three and some monkeys. They even started a fire for us (although they were out of beer which just took the edge off a great day).
The following day was supposed to be a simple one. Ride 200 miles to Dar. But it turned out somewhat different. First we had a group photo taken underneath one of the Boabab trees at out campsite. We only had a day or two riding together and I'd worked out that I only had three more riding days until Nairobi! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Daryll and Angela.
Then it rained on us. First time it's done that since I left Lesotho, on April 6th, 5000 miles ago. We rode through the Boabab forest and on towards Dar. In 2006 Tracy and I had been to Dar (and Pemba/Zanzibar) and had gone on safari just west of Dar. Passing through this National Park again on the bike I saw, giraffe, zebra, wildibeast and an elephant. Awesome.
Always exciting to rid through a National Park on a bike
Even more so when you see something
Giraffe and Zebra in background – Alaska number plate in foreground!
We approached Dar at 3 p.m. on a Friday. Bad move. The heat and traffic were crazy and it reminded on my arrival in Las Vegas.
Queuing for the Magogoni ferry. This is NOT the ferry to Zanzibar, just a 5 minute ferry across Dar to the beaches.
It took us almost two hours to get to the port and the ferry that Daryll told us would take us across the water to where the campsites were. (Dar itself doesn't have any and Daryll had been here 10 years ago.) We queued up for the 5 minute ferry. Us and hundred of locals going home for the weekend. It cost 5p per person and 5p per bike.
We’re going down there?
No room to get off the bikes. Just sit there getting hotter and hotter.
The back of the ferry. The back “should” rise up, but clearly that would mean fewer people could get on.
This was nothing like the Vancouver ferries I’d been on!
On the ferry Daryll got talking to a local woman. She wanted to hear our stories and insisted that we went to her house for the night. So instead of finding a campsite we followed her to her (brand new) house. So new in fact she didn't have any running water and the electricity was down. I have to admit I had been looking forward to a long cold shower after the day we had just had, but that would have to wait. We spent the evening with Alisha and her two daughter. She used to work for DFID (UK Department for International Development), had lived in London for a while and both her grandfathers were British. Anyway, even though I was hot, tired and very very smelly, we had a good evening.
This wasn’t where we thought we’d end up for the night.
Alisha – very kind (and brave) of her to take in three bikers.
Can't say the same for the night. Partly because it was on unusual to NOT sleep in my tent (first time in 31 days) but mainly because of the mozzies in the room all three of us had a restless night. I counted 15 mozzie bites on my bodies in the morning. It's the first time on the whole trip I've had a problem with mozzies. I hope it's the last.
In the morning we said our goodbyes and moved a mile up the road to Mikadi Beech lodge and campground. I'll be here for the weekend before heading over to Zanzibar (and possibly some diving) for a few days. Then it's on to Arush and by the end of next week, Nairobi.
I assume I'll be saying goodbye to Daryll and Angela this weekend as, although they are also going to Zanzibar, we have slightly different agendas from here.
Also, sorry this blog has been more of a list of things I've done rather than anything readable or interesting. I'm typing this up at Mikadi beach. I have limited electricity (as does all of Tanzania) and have to rent their dongle to access the internet. I hope to publish this blog on saturday. I hope it works. Needless to say I'm still having a great adventure and although it is going to be painfully sad to make it to Nairobi (because it's the end) I'll also be over the moon that I've actually done it – just no-one to share it with.
But how can I complain when I’m here for the weekend!
Mikadi Beach lodge and campsite. $5 a night
Time to do some serious reading (and snoozing). Have a good week everyone!
Monday, 16 May 2011
Crossing the border from Zimbabwe to Mozambique was fairly painless. It cost $27 for a Moz. Visa and $20 for bike insurance. A little steep perhaps as we were only going to be in the country for 24 hours. Nevermind, they need to money and I'm not responsible enough to do anything sensible with it.
Mozambique – the only country with a gun on its flag (I think)
The scenery changed subtlety but noticeably as we moved down from the 1400m plateau that is Zimbabwe into the hot valley of the Tete corridor. The deforestation that was Zimbabwe was replaced by thicker foliage and different types of trees. The Boab tree which we had last seen on the Namibian/Botswanan border returned. And the people had changed. Mozambique people are taller, darker and the woman have longer hair than their Zimbabwe neighbours.
I just stopped at a random village to take this picture. I guess they’ve never seen a motorbike stop here before. After stopping to take this photo I thought the two boys in the picture deserved something so I held out two pencils. They looked almost frightened. Some weird alien on a space ship holding out two yellow sticks. I put the pencils down on the path and got back on my bike. One of the boys ran up to the path and grabbed the pencils. I wondered why he did it so quickly only to look around and see a dozen other boys on the opposite side of the road. I wondered what they said when they got home.
There were two firsts as well in Mozambique. Pigs and motorbikes. I hadn't seen any domestic pigs yet in Africa and quite frankly I've been quite surprised. But Mozambique resolved that issue. Equally we hadn't really seem any little motorbikes and as soon as we crossed into Mozambique we started seeing a few. Hardly life changing experiences but I'm just telling you what I've noticed.
Trying to find the campground in Tete
We spent the night in a cheap little camp ground ($5) in Tete on the Zambezie river. We'd dropped to 200m above sea level and it was now hot and humid by day and the mozzies were out at night.
Bridge over River Zambezi
Next morning we crossed into Malawi. Leaving Mozambique was easy but entering Malawi was a bit of a hassle. We had to get insurance and needed to work out whether the guy selling it to us was genuine or not. Same with changing money. Four of us changed money at 160 to the $. (A few days ago it has been 150 on the internet) Then Tom came along and said he'd got 185! Such is life. We all paid $25 for insurance which is supposed to be good for Tanzania and Kenya – we'll see.
At the border I got my money changer to put my Malawi sticker on the bike.
Admiring his handy work.
It’s as about 80 miles to Blantyre, our destination for that day. On the way both Tom and Daryll got stopped by the (same) traffic police. Speeding fines. Daryll was doing 56kph in a 50 zone. Fine - $30. Serves him right for laughing at my $5 fine in Zimbabwe.
After Blantyre we headed for Monkey bay on Lake Malawi. The “quadsquad” had told us of a ferry that plies the route up the lake and we thought it might be an interesting alternative to riding (especially as petrol in Malawi is the most expensive I've found anywhere at just under $2 a litre). Once we got there and checked out the details Tom, Pat and Chris booked themselves in for the trip up the lake. Daryll and Ange decided they didn't want to take the ferry at all and would stay in Cape Maclear for a few days and I thought I'd take the ferry (which was leaving the next day) but wanted to see Cape Maclear so went off with D and A and the others stayed in Monkey bay where the ferry left from (are you keeping up?)
On the way to Monkey Bay
These guys were looking at the map.
The road from Monkey Bay to Cape Maclear was longer and bumpier than I had anticipated and some of the worst washboard I've ever experienced. Once settled into Fat Monkeys Lodge and Campground on the beautiful Lake Malawi where the beer was $1.50 and the camping £3 a night I just knew I wasn't going to get up and leave the following day. Luckily I had said a brief farewell to Pat, Chris and Tom, just in case, but I did feel a little bad about leaving them so quickly and unceremoniously. We'd spent a month together, 24/7 and quite an intense month at that. It's unlikely I'll catch up with them again and it would have been nice to have said goodbye properly. If you're reading this – sorry guys, it was great travelling with you and I hope we meet again on the road somewhere, sometime (as Grant says)
Trying to find Fat Monkey’s we accidentally rode though a local village.
Daryll, Ange and I spent a lovely two days at Fat Monkeys. Sitting by the water, reading, sunbathing and chatting to people. I would have swam but the water is bilharzia infested and it isn't advised. I was even tempted to go scuba diving but they suggest you get some medicine afterwards. I decided not to bother.
Lamps used to catch fish
Not difficult to understand why people come here
Camping at Fat Monkeys
In the morning Daryll had to clean the bat poo off his tent.
Sunset on Lake Malawi
So far I have been impressed with Malawi. It’s often described as “Africa for beginners” and I can see why. The people are very friendly, the lake wonderful and there are lots of places to just stop off and relax. Having said that Malawi is quire densely populated (there are 13 million people and it’s a small country) and we are having to share the road with lots of people either walking or on bicycles. There are very few cars or trucks so far. It’s hardly rush hour on the M25 but compared to everywhere else (except South Africa) it’s quite busy. And this means we’re not covering as many miles as before. (Especially as there are regular speed limits of 50 kmp – that’s 30 mph!). The last two days it’s taking us about 5 hours to cover 175 miles. And then it’s too hot to continue. Lucky we’re not in a rush.
Leaving Fat Monkeys (on the right road this time)
After sand this is my least favourite thing – washboard.
What must they think of us?
Heading up Malawi, not much traffic and the road is in excellent condition. We just got a little excited about this bridge (reminded me of Panama/Cost Rica) and Daryll made me cross it twice for a photo.
Our campsite somewhere on Lake Malawi. It’s so blue and big it feels like the sea.
The three of us are wending our way up the lake, taking several days to do so. Slowly heading for Tanzania. I’m publishing this blog on Monday and we’re in Nkhata Bay just over half way up the Lake. I'm starting to get a definite feel that thedomwayround is coming to an end. Malawi is the last new country for me (I've been to Tanzania and Kenya before) and from here it's only 2000 miles and maybe three weeks to Nairobi. (I'm just preparing you for the end of my blog). I can hardly believe it's actually going to have to end. Daryll and Ange are going on to Ethiopia/Sudan/Egypt and part of me wants to go too, but I know I can't. My carnet states that's it's not valid for Egypt and anyway I've been to Ethiopia and Egypt before so it's only really Sudan (or is that THE Sudan) I'm missing out on. At this stage I imagine that I'll be in Nairobi and ready to fly home in early June. I'm planning on going to the Horizons Unlimited (Motorbike website) meeting in Derby at the end of June to do a presentation on my trip but have no idea what else I'm going to do. I just know I have to savour the last few weeks of this fantastic trip and not worry too much about what happens next.