Jou Ma Sai Mara – the return

| September 27, 2010 | 4 Replies

Day 14: To Arusha 389 km’s

Pete and Ali had looked after our bikes and bukkie, the plan was to wave a quick goodbye and shoot to Arusha before it was dark, but then we had a little bike issue we had been brooding on while at the Mara.  Jakes bike drive shaft had been leaking oil since before Kili.  A few calls to James at Northside BMW got us a seal and lots of advice.  First we had to refill the drive with oil and we would deal with the seal later….  We quickly realised that James BMW way and ours was different, off with the wheel, out with the abs sensor and literally lying the bike on its side we topped it up… there you go simple! Little did we know how many times we would do this ….

The road to Arusha was at first good, and then became terrible with fine powder fesh fesh sand creeping up on you at 80k’s an hour.  Trying to overtake trucks as all the worlds dust rose up blocking all vision.

Then the sun set and we drove into nightmare traffic in the dark.  We stayed at the Equator Hotel and all I can say about Tanzania’s towns and people is they are cleaner and friendlier than Kenya. What we also learnt was that the only food in Africa that is available on the menu is chicken and chima (maize pap).  It’s a beautiful country and from our perspective unknown… especially the roads!

Day 15 & 16: shortcut from Arusha to Dodoma and then Iringa.  850km’s??!!

When we left SA I challenged Pierres choice of route, why were we doing a 200 odd km diversion when the map clearly showed a direct route linking Iringa to Dodoma the capital and then Arusha.  Clearly any road linking the financial capital Arusha with the political capital would be a good tar road.  “Ok we’ll try it on the way back, when we have time” sighed Pierre!

Man oh man we were lucky we did it on the way back when we had time.  The road starts off a lovely tar road straight as an arrow passing first lovely coffee tree plantations and then dropping down to lake Manyara National Park where lovely ilala palms crowd around the road.  The lake shimmers blue in the distance.  This road was a breeze, we had 850 km’s to go and would be there by 3pm..

AND then the tar ended.  The Chinese are all over Africa and nowhere more evident than doing road works, and boy did we find them.  The road became more than a hundred km’s of roadwork’s with the alternative road a huge white soft sand dustbowl. Sue and I fell off in one huge sand bowl, we stop and wait for the others. Jake arrives white from head to toe in powder dust, the dust telling its own falling story!

We stopped and discussed this, we are now white with what looks like cake flour from head to toe and at this rate it will take us hours.

“ This can’t go on for too long we agree”, and we are right, soon the earthworks end but the road just becomes worse except now it’s a twisty rocky hells highway.

Our maximum speed is about 60 k’s an hour.  I love gravel but this becomes hell controlling a bucking twisting, snaking bike for hundred upon hundreds of km’s.  Then I get a front puncture, we fix it as a crowd gathers to watch the mlungus fix the tyre.

50km’s on the endless hard sharp rocks knock out my plugs, then 50 k’s on another rock knocks out the plugs.

This is mad, surely the road will improve?  Eventually we get to Dodoma 600 km’s of roadwork’s and hard gravel later.

Some has been pretty but we are tired, so much so that when we stopped for lunch Jake unceremoniously dropped his bike at 2k’s an hour! And in the process of lifting it solo messes up his back and leaves him in serious back pain for the rest of the trip!

We fill up and ask some locals how long and what the road is like to Iringa.  “8 hours!” they say!!!!!! “Fuck no way”, I say, they mutter and argue to each other in Swahili.  Then a group wonder over to my bike and look at the map on my tank pointing our familiar names.

“Its 4 o clock, you will make Mtera dam they agree – 2 hours and there is accommodation there”.

And Iringa? I ask disbelieving!

“Maybe 4 hour, maybe 5 in total”!

“No fucking way “,I say to Pierre and Jake, 250km’s in 4 hours!  Jake looks tired and miserable, his dirt riding has improved unbelievable, he is motoring along but this stuff takes it out of you.  Ok we ride till sunset we agree…

The road is very pretty, winding through huge boababs and red sand buildings.

It’s still very loose gravel but we have lost the rocky hells highway of earlier.  The only real danger is huge overloaded buses and trucks who roar along the gravel road in a thunder of shouting waving passengers and red dust at speeds way over 120k’s an hour, daring goats and people to cross or pass in front of their thunderous passage.

Trying to pass one of these guys is an exercise in blind faith as the dust hides the road ahead and the shower of rocks and dust is like riding through a meteorite field!

Then my fourth puncture happens.. I am way ahead of the others and try and fix it, but the tear has got bigger and the plugs keep popping out with a huge gasp of air.  The others arrive and we agree to use the spare front wheel on the bukkie.  The fastest front wheel change in history happens as trucks roar down on us and the sun fades behind the baobabs.

The dark catches us and I go looking for a campsite while Pierre and Sue buy out all the coke and beer stocks at a little mud shebeen,  4 warm cokes and 6 hot beers and their weekend stock is finished!  When the others find me I am on the side of the road having found a great campsite.

“The campsite is over there” I point “follow me”, and promptly drop my bike in the gravel on the side of the road…. The trip is complete for Pierre, someone managed to get a shot of me dropping my  bike!

The camp is beautiful and turns out to be one of the best evenings of the trip as basic, tired and dirty as we are, we chat late into the night around the fire and make a huge dent in our alcohol!

The next day we arise and startle two Masai in traditional dress as we emerge out of the bush while they fix a bicycle tyre on the side of the road.  Shortly thereafter I ride back to find the Hilux with its own shredded wheel, hells highway is not finished with our vehicles yet.

More and more of this road, it won’t leave us … And then we find the TAR !!!! YAY

CIVILIZATION! Time for tyre repairs, some cold beers and fuel!

We now race for the border and the warm clear waters of Lake Malawi.

We make it to the border and dusk catches us as we pull into a local lodge where we find three other bikers – David, Martin and another on a GSA, GS 800 and KTM 990 heading for Ethiopia.  We swop stories over lots of gut and tonic and watch the Boks just beat the Ozzies and sleep with dreams of hells highway!
Day 17, 18 and 19 Chilling on the Lake

The next morning we ride up to Livingstonia.  Zandi is sick and tired of the bukkie now and insists on riding with me.

Livingstonia is 800m above Lake Malawi, a mission station refuge from the heat for the Scottish missionaries of the area.  The gravel road climbs with 21 hairpin turns over the 15 km’s straight up to the top of the plateau with breathtaking views of the area.

Then we head South back down the lake, the first night at Flame Tree Lodge a very lovely and well priced lodge surrounded by water, I would really recommend this lovely lodge..

We keep on our Southward journey dodging through the crowded markets back to Cool Runnings at Senga bay.  We stock up on curios and rest, there is no diesel anywhere to be found so we have no choice …

We enjoy the lazing around and have lunch at Linvingstonia Beach Hotel with its lovely view and delightful menu with Lake Food Coktail and Caramalli.

But then it beats this meat …

Pierre even finds himself a bike… maybe he will can stay on this one!!!!!

Day 20

We can delay our homeward ride no longer and we leave Malawi climbing in the early morning up a wonderful twisty road to the border and head back through Tete towards Mutare on the Mozambican side of the border.  That night after more than 800km’s of very very hot riding we camp at a lovely lodge at the foot of the Chimani mani mountains before crossing into Zim at Mutare …

Day 21& 22 – Which are the real ruins?

From Mutare we head for Masvingo and the Great Zimbabwe ruins.  The familiar speed traps abound, and we cross the Birchenough Bridge a masterpiece of steel girders and steel cable, seemingly the only thing of sophistication left in Zim.

Wikipedia says  –

The bridge was completed in 1935. At a length of 1080 feet (329 m) it was the third longest single-arch suspension bridge in the world at the time.

Ralph Freeman, the bridge’s designer, was also the structural designer on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and consequently the two bridges bear a close resemblance, although Birchenough is only two-thirds as long as the Australian bridge.Ralph Freeman also designed the bridge over the Zambezi at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/Zambian border. This design of bridge was tried out in Zimbabwe and when it proved to be successful, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built. That’s right try it out on the Africans first!

The bridge is widely considered by Zimbabweans as being one of the country’s finest pieces of architecture, and as such, it appears on the twenty-cent coin.

We take the scenic route around pretty Lake Kyle with its deserted yacht clubs and picturesque fishing lodges.  We aren’t afraid of short cuts anymore 😉

Great Zimbabwe stands timelessly and it is so Great !  But then this is Zim and the shops and museum are pathetically run down and so African in their lost grandeur.  Which are the real Zimbabwe ruins I wonder, these stone palaces are far too timeless and grand to be called ruins!

Again our GPS finds us a “shortcut” this one however is the traditional two track tar my mother told me about when I was a kid.  I find the road moving and lovely – all roads in Zim used to be like this, two parallel strips of tar, where passing cars each put one set of wheels on the gravel and one set on the tar.

The piece of history leads us home, our backs to 8700km’s of African roads, daredevil busses, natural wildlife wonders, lakes of stars and baobab gravel highways… African fabrics waving us a colourful African bon voyage!!!


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  1. karen noon says:

    Wow guys this looked like an amazing trip!!
    Makes sunny, dusty, quirky Africa seem so far away and envokes in us a yearning for some exciting adventure! The photos are brilliant and loved the commetary. Thanks for sharing your trip – wish we could have joined you on the Mara.
    Love K&G

  2. Rich Hall says:

    Bien fait! Fantastic photos et commentaires!
    Ewan and Charlie eat your dust, with more support.
    Keep ’em coming.
    I think you may be almost ready…

  3. Wow guys! You are very fortunate and you inspired me!

  4. Ronell says:

    Wow, this trip looks out of this world. The photos tells a story of total excitement.

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