Tango to Tanga

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Nov 2007

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Friday, February 16, 2007

Greetings from the has-been city of Tanga, Tanzania
Once the Sisal export capital of the world, now just a drowsy coastal city where one can stand atop a steep, washed out embankment (only partially trash covered) and gaze out at the Indian ocean.  We thought it would be important to touch the coast since we'll be on the other coast in a couple months.  And Sisal is a plant which looks more or less like agave (for Tequila), but is only used for fiber for twine and such.  Apparently the market collapsed in 1970 and the town has been doing a slow spiral down ever since.  We're here to see the ocean, and have ended up spending an extra day to recover from extensive sunburn, and try to get my stomach back to accepting food. Apparently I'm allergic to Africa in general.

Skipping back a bit, we finally left Moshi, after spending an extra day to get ourselves all collected and organized. For reasons I'm not quite sure of, we expected to drop down off the central highlands into a wetter, more forested area, the key words being wetter and dropping, neither of which were apparent. Instead, we found ourselves in an almost desert like terrain. We had planned to camp,  but as the first day came to a close we realized that in the entire day of riding, we had seen running water once, about 10k behind us. Also not encouraging were the bicycle water couriers - people with the standard issue Phoenix, 1 speed bicycle, and up to FOUR 20L jugs on the back. With only one speed, they were pushing the bikes up the hills (lots of rolling hills).  A nasty job if there is one (4*20=80kg of water....).  Anyway, these guys were still going our direction with full jugs - definitely  a sign of no water any time soon.   Our legs were about done as we passed a really scary looking 'hotel', and decided to keep going.  We tried asking at a church if we could  camp there - and got a very prompt NO.  Finally, when it was looking grim, we asked at a 'school' (teaching center for car mechanics - after a fashion) and found a very friendly guy who ran the school, and had a 'sorta-campground' next to his house, complete with extra bathroom and shower, ours for only 10,000/= night (about $7.50) - travel fairy pulled through this time. He did warn us that they had church in the morning, and we said fine, but were a bit surprised to hear the whole family up and singing morning prayer at 04:30!  Set up the tent and pulled out my sleeping pad - a brand new thermarest, which, and this is the important bit, had been in a bag, in my pack the entire trip prior to this moment.  In the center of the thermarest was a full blown ants nest, hundreds of ants, eggs and everything. Welcome to Africa.

It's been a bit of a rough start biking. We have a pretty ambitious mileage plan of 500km / week,  but the heat has been bloody insane. Fortunately our friends Bryan and Julie who did this trek assure us that it starts to cool a bit after Iringa, which is still more than  a week out. We've been slowly moving towards getting up earlier, but aren't very good at it yet. We try to be biking by 7:30, and find somewhere for lunch around 12:30 when the heat gets truly oppressive, and the bike again 3-5ish as the sun winds down.  Lunch universally consists of a tin plate with 4 compartments, big one for rice or ugali (kinda like a firm cream-of-wheat), then a section of unknown greens, beans, and a meat. or in our case, 2 beans. It's fast and cheap. The heat, and dehydration have been awesome.  It's very convenient to have to pee only twice per day, but probably not healthy. And we're drinking upwards of 6L / day to pee twice.

The people have been very friendly so far. The next night we stayed in a very small town at the only guest house, for a bank-busting $3 for the night.  I set up the stove in the back 'yard' and promptly acquired a crowd watching me cook dinner. Guess there wasn't much other entertainment.  These people were dressed like the classic Africa pictures - wrapped in long, colorful pieces of fabric. These are the Masai.  Unfortunately I'm doing badly at getting pictures - the quickest way to disperse a crowd in a rural setting is to pull out a camera, and they usually say no to photos.  In the morning, everything is covered in grass hoppers, slightly better than ants.  The women, looking maybe 17, dressed in their fabrics, and tied the baby to their hips before heading to school.  Convenient to have the baby tightly wrapped to the body, leaves the hands free, but isn't that hot?  And, since they obviously don't do diapers.... isn't that a bit messy?

Heat and general arid terrain continued, leaving the mind plenty of time to consider the road. The road is in good shape, but it's the only road. It also has speed bumps, which are fine, they're big and gradual, but are preceded by prefix bumps - a set of 3 or four much smaller bumps which cars roll over, but rattle the hell out of the bikes.  I discovered, quite unintentionally however, that if you hit these at 50 kph, you just fly right over :)  Since a little ways out of Moshi, the shoulder has vanished, but the trucks haven't slowed down.  They come by us at 120-140 kph (!!!), and you just pray that there's no on-coming traffic at the same time, or dive for the ditch. They drive like maniacs, but, oddly enough, are very good about using their turn signals. The buses and taxis all have some slogan on the back, usually something like "In God we trust", or something more aggressive, like "The Avenger".  Personally I'd rather they did a little more "focussed on our driving" than trusting in the divine, but who am I to mess with the system?

Making things more interesting, a lot of the buses are out of alignment - sometimes a lot, so as they pop over a hill, it's rather hard to tell just which way they're pointing. Watching two out-of-line buses pass is really entertaining. Occasionally we find one in a ditch, a crowd of bored passengers sitting around waiting for the next bus.  Everyone is quite supportive of us biking though - waves, thumbs up, truck drivers flash lights and honk the air horn. The latter sort of encouragement could occur at more of a distance however. And then there's the business with driving on the left - former British colony and all that. Still getting used to having my rear view mirror on the right side of the helmet, with additional annoyance that it now interferes with the camera. God save the Queen.

For an afternoon break we stop at a small convenience store. A nice man with the Muslim caps waves us over to his table and speaks reasonable English. He talks about math, about integral signs, about his training in civil engineering, and his futility of life here, in a hot, dry, tiny town, running a small convenience store, and how he'd do anything to get out.

Spent the night in a commercial camp ground - nice place, there was a bus there, Acacia tours, which people join and leave as they choose. They have a guide, and a cook, stay in camp grounds, and slowly wander from Uganda to Cape Town and back.  Not a bad way to go. One couple was from Colorado and had been on a couple weeks; they didn't seem overly enthused about the bus anymore though. This is the camp where things started going wrong one after another.  The fine red clay in the water (out of the hose, not a stream) clogged the filter. We can clean it, but every day???  The stove, which has been choking on the dirty, smoky gasoline they burn here, sputtered, and died completely.  In the morning I was feeling ok, but a nasty jolt of acid reflux nearly cost me breakfast and slowed our departure way down. This actually turned out ok since it started pouring at 8:00 and we waited it out for a half hour.  Rainy days are the best days for biking - less sun.  Have I mentioned that it's hot? Really really hot? It is, in fact really (insert expletive of choice here) hot.

Hit the town of Mombo 20km into the trip. Stopped to look around for some fruit etc. and within 15 seconds there were 3 bowls of plums,  2 of pears, and a couple more trays of cookies / soda shoved under our noses. Managed to buy the day's worth of snacks in 2 minutes without leaving the bikes!  The day's ride took us to Korogwe, an unremarkable town but we had met a Peace Corps volunteer in Moshi who said he was from Korogwe, so we went looking for him, knowing only that he is named Dan, and works at a secondary school. At the primary school, we were told there were 5 secondary schools. We tried one, which said 'not here', but then called all the others and found the likely candidate. Took a couple hours, but found Dan, who did indeed have a nice place, with a spare room, put us up for the night, and told us some useful tips on the country.  Things were going so well, and then I experienced the longest night possible short of the artic circle. Fever, chills (in a stuffy, hot room, natch), and then puking out the day's worth of food at midnight. sorry Dan.  Following a really long night, was a really really long day - 100 km of biking to Tanga.  I couldn't eat, so my ratio for the day was 1 shot-block (little energy gumdrop things we brought from home) every 15km. That's about 30Cal each....  And trying, but failing, to get enough water down.  Bonked and heat exhaustion shortly before lunch, sipped water, made it to a town with a restaurant, sat and ate 3 crackers and drank 1.5L over 2 hours. Discovered the sell plain soda water, very nice, although the first bottle had a bug floating in it. 

Biked the remaining 40km to Tanga late afternoon, the bike turning to a long, slow crawl into a stiff headwind.  Terrain was pleasant, but not very interesting. Fields and fields of sisal, some trees remain from the old forest, red red dirt, and the occasional Baobob tree.Very cool, I never knew about the Baobob except from Le Petit  Prince.  

Finally crawled into town as dusk approached.  The Lonely planet book has a nice little map of Tanga, but what they don't bother to mention is that not a single street is actually labeled.  Every 3 blocks we'd ask, get the street name, get a little closer, try again.  Sprung for the fancy place with AC!   Two hours later the power went out as we were eating. Pitch black, and me without my headlamp.  Now we have no AC, and one window that opens, no screen. But the bugs really aren't bad, hung out on the porch reading by headlamp until the power went back on.  It was nice to be out of bugs - in the countryside, they're fine during the day, but at night swarm the light. which is a problem when wearing a headlamp. They don't bite much though,  mosquitos are a lot worse in Maine than here.  

Along with my stomach not playing well, we've had a LOT of sunburn. The doxycycline we take for anti-malarial doesn't help with this.  Gretchen has been extra hard hit on the wrists, and legs between the knee and the bike shorts.  So we decided to get a pair of light shorts to go over the bike shorts.  The way one buys shorts, or any clothing around here is interesting; one looks for a line of people on the street with sewing machines. Behind the sewing machines are shops that sell fabric.  You buy the fabric, find a translator, and explain what you want. We did that last night, and actually got about what we expected today!  The fabric cost 4,400/=  and the tailor said he'd charge us 2,000/= per pair  ($1 = 1,200/=,  where /= is the symbol for the Tanzanian Shilling).   Which is obviously very  very cheap for a couple pairs of shorts.  Brings up an interesting question on the local economy and poverty wages.  Around the corner from the tailor, who is charging maybe 1,000/= an hour (don't know how long the shorts  take), is a local restaurant charging up to 5,000/= per plate. Obviously that guy couldn't eat in the restraunt, or probably even grab a beer for 1,200/=.  

But it's the hair salons, of all places, which seem determined to rule the 'strange English name' competition.  My favorite so far has been 'Death Row Hair Salon',  followed by 'Internet'  (no, there were no computers there), and 'Texas'.   Rap is popular, might explain the Death Row bit, not sure about Texas.

Ate a full meal for the first time in a while last night, but feeling like my stomach wants OUT again today.  Went to the local hospital, which was a waste of time, but Malaria, their only guess, came back negative (duh, don't have the right symptoms).  The next stretch to Morogoro was going to be long, dull, extremely hot, and very sparesely populated. Given our relative physical condition, we decided to take a miss on this stretch, and grab the bus to Dar es Salaam tomorrow afternoon. If I'm all recovered, we'll spend a day in the city, and then start biking for Morogoro. If not, we'll spend a day looking for a doctor in the city, and then start biking for Morogoro.  Heat acclimation takes up to 10 days, this is brutal heat, and they recommend "only 2 hour exercise per day during acclimation" (rather than, oh, say 6-7....), but we'll get the hang of things,  pole-pole (slowly slowly).  Had a nice swim in the Indian ocean today - that's one warm ocean!

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istanbul07 on

Explorer of Africa
Climbing mountains, biking through pain, finding the life that is the continent of Africa. Way to go.

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