The Great East Road

April 30, 2016

I traveled the Great East Road from Lusaka towards Malawi for two days. Just past the Luangwa River bridge the road turned to fresh pavement. 

Luangwa River


Nice new pavement on the other end of the bridge.


Fresh pavement, no striping yet….curves and hills. Like a racetrack.

Of course, it only looks like a racetrack. In Africa, fresh pavement means fresh potholes. But they were fewer and farther between than before. And for the first time in weeks, I had curves in the road as well as hills. It was a nice change of scenery. I saw a lot less wildlife, but a lot more goats and cattle crossing the road. This part of Zambia is heavily agricultural. Besides the goats and cattle, there is a lot of corn, sugarcane, soybeans, cotton, and other crops.

Not all of the Great East Road is paved, yet. This 25-mile-long section was great. Had it been raining, it would have been a different story, as this was hard-packed clay.


“Subdivision” along the Great East Road.

While the agricultural lifestyle and economic situation appears similar to Central America from my very unprofessional view, there are definite differences. In Central America, most families rely on public transportation — collectivo vans — to get them to town and back, and there were very few personal cars; you almost never saw a house with access from the road for a vehicle. Here in Zambia, there are more cars and less public shuttle vans. But the overwhelming choice of two-wheelers in Central America and Zambia is quite different: in Central America there are many, many 125cc to 200cc motorcycles and scooters. It seems more than half of all families have one for transportation. In Zambia, there are very few motorcycles. The family transportation tends to be a bicycle, or on foot. There are hundreds of bicycles on the roads, usually very heavily loaded with large sacks, lumber, even goats, on front and rear racks. Some of the loads tower above the rider, and in some cases, the man (or boy) ends up using the bicycle like a wheelbarrow, simply pushing the bicycle with the large load on it. I also saw bicycles being used by women, although more rarely, with small children. More often, the woman was a passenger, sitting on the back rack of the bicycle, side-saddle. 

Riding down the road, it’s common to suddenly see a person or a bicycle emerge from the bush and onto the road. Closer inspection reveals a small footpath disappearing into the bush to a house or houses. I can’t recall how many times I stopped on the side of the road to take a photo or have a drink, thinking I was in the middle of nowhere and there was nobody else around, only to have people emerge from the bush in all directions. It’s very rare to have a moment that you do not see someone on the road, either walking or on a bicycle. Here it is common for people to walk for miles on the road. In Latin America, it was much less common; they typically waited for a collectivo to pick them up.

The sheer quantity of people is hard to fathom, especially after coming from Namibia, where the population is so much less. The number of children you see under ten years old stands out as well. I suppose this means that the population here is still growing in large numbers.

April Expense Report, and More on Dining, Fuel, and Tours in Africa

May 1, 2016

My April expenses for gas, food and lodging were near the lowest I’ve had, mostly because I camped 23 of the 30 nights. They could have been lower yet, but I had more dinners in restaurants than I should have. 

Dining is more expensive in Africa than in Latin America, even at the simple level. A basic meal of chicken and rice with vegetables and a soft drink here runs about five dollars. In most of Latin America I could get the same for under three dollars. Many of the campsites I’ve stayed at in Southern Africa are attached to a lodge where American and European tourists stay to take safari tours. These restaurants cater to the higher-end tourists, and the prices are much higher. A dinner here can run as much as $26 per person (my pasta-in-a-mug, prepared on my tiny gas stove, starts to look really good at these places). Rooms at these lodges tend to be in the $130 to $400 per night range, while camping is generally around $10 per night. The advantage to camping becomes obvious: for what one night in a room costs, I can camp for two weeks or more. That kind of savings quickly extends my travel time. Likewise, the price of food drops considerably once you get away from the typical tourist areas. In some ways, it’s a shame that most tourists come to Africa to stay at a safari lodge at $200+ per night, and ride in a safari truck at $100+ per day, and eat the buffet dinner at $25+ per night, then go home saying they’ve seen Africa. You don’t have to travel very far outside of these places to find the real Africa, but it does generally require your own vehicle to do so. And it isn’t sugar-coated out here: people are incredibly poor and struggling. 

But enough of that rant….

Fuel costs vary by country, but in general, fuel is a little more expensive in Africa as well. There is only one grade of gas here (Unleaded, which is marked 95 octane) and two grades of diesel (low sulphur and standard diesel). Most vehicles here run on diesel. Unleaded here in Zambia is 9.78 kwachas per liter, or about US$3.88 per gallon. Diesel is about 50 cents less per gallon. Fortunately my little XT250 has been averaging between 68 and 77 mpg, and the gas station attendants tend to fill the tank all the way to the very top of the neck. I’ve been able to go nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles) on the standard 2.6 gallon fuel tank lately without running out. With my spare 3 gallon Rotopax on the rear rack, that gives me a 400 mile range. Totally unnecessary on the route I chose through Africa; I’ve been able to find a legitimate gas station (there are three or four brands) every 120 to 150 miles lately. That wasn’t the case in Namibia where I spent much more time on sand and gravel back roads and had to dip into my spare can more than once. 

My overall expenses for April were still high due to the tours. It’s hard to go to Africa and not experience the tourist side. So the 3-day Etosha tour and the helicopter tour of Victoria Falls added nearly 50% to my monthly expenses. 

Miles ridden in April: 3394 miles 

Total miles ridden since July 27, 2015:  22,778 mi.


Fuel: $129.13 (Avg $4.30/day)

Food: $404.35 (Avg $13.47/day)

Lodging: $445.26 (Avg $14.84/day) 

Bike maintenance: $41.62

Tours/Entertainment: $663.21

Visa/Border Fees/Misc fees: $236.07

Average daily expense for Gas/Food/Lodging: $32.61

May will likely be another very expensive month with more shipping expense, and at least one more African tour (hopefully).

Room Service

May 2, 2016

A few nights ago, I camped on a farm not far from Choma, Zambia. I asked the woman when I got there if they served any food, and she said yes. I planned to walk back to the main house after a couple of hours, when I finished setting up my tent and settled in, to see about dinner. It was almost dark already. I hadn’t decided whether I would cook tonight or see what they had to eat.

After pitching the tent, and spending time with the local wildlife, I climbed into the tent to relax and read for a while. 

Not quite Dexter, but not a bad surrogate. Although here’s a warning: after the cat has been hanging around your tent and campsite, wipe the outside of the tent down good with a damp cloth. The next night after this guy was hanging around, I camped in a spot with a lot of dogs. They must have smelled the cat. They peed on two corners of my tent. Grrrr.

About an hour later, I hear a voice outside my tent.

“Sir, your dinner is ready.”

Really? I wasn’t expecting that. I unzipped the rainfly, and there’s a guy standing there with a glass serving tray, with my dinner. Wow. Room service. Or tent service. For 50 kwacha (about $5.00). 

Tent-side service.

Traveling “Alone” Through Malawi

May 2, 2016

Today I unintentionally set a new personal record for miles ridden in a day on this trip.

I had checked Google Maps last night in Chipata, Zambia, and I knew that the route I wanted to take was different than the one my GPS would select for me. I knew I needed to head towards the capitol of Malawi, Lilongwe, and then north on the M1 road towards Mzuzu. So while I did that, it turns out I missed a couple of “shortcuts” that would have reduced the miles but possibly added hours due to conditions. 

In the end, my route took me 387 miles, or around 626 kilometers, which is about 3 miles more than my previous longest day in South America. 

The border crossing into Malawi is smooth and simple. It would have been quicker but Immigration has trouble finding change for my visa payment, which has to be made in US dollars. It takes about 30 minutes for them to come up with the change. Malawi has just recently changed their visa policy, but there is still some confusion between what the country’s website says is required and what is actually requested at this border crossing. I had printed out the visa application form previously and filled it out last night, but when I arrive the immigration officer hands me one to fill out, so I didn’t really need to have it in advance. That form, and the $75 visa fee, is all they require. No copies, no additional photos or information. I am also required to purchase insurance for my motorcycle, which runs $13 for a 30-day policy (the shortest time frame available). 

As I walk back to my bike, a security officer approaches me with a very friendly greeting. 

“Hallo! All of your paperwork is done? Where are you coming from?” he asks.

“Today, or originally?” I’m never quite sure what they are asking when I get this question. “Today, Chipata. Originally, the United States.”

“Are you traveling alone?”



Huh?. I haven’t been asked this question before. I don’t have a prepared response, like I do for almost everything else I’ve been asked hundreds of times, and I prefer not to spend time exploring my past with a border guard turned psychologist.

“Um, because I like it?”

“No, seriously. Are your friends ahead of you or behind you?”

“No, no. It’s just me.”

“Why? Where are your friends?”

“At home. They all think I’m crazy.”

He slowly nods, seemingly in agreement. “Hmmmm. Well, safe journey.”

I head towards Lilongwe, then take the M1 north towards Mzuzu. I had expected a real highway with a name like “M1”, but I should have known better by now. Just another two-lane road, filled with potholes, goats and cattle. And people on bicycles. The small houses in Zambia, made of branches and sometimes mud, have been replaced in Malawi by red brick. Just slightly larger than their Zambian counterparts, the homes still have a thatched roof, and are often in groups of ten to twenty. There seem to be more personal cars, but bicycles and pedestrians still dominate the road.

This is actually the norm in Zambia and Malawi. If it’s not a huge load of cargo, it’s often the wife or girlfriend on the rear rack.

Today is a holiday, and the small villages are filled with people. Large markets are set up. I see mostly vegetables, clothing, bicycles and bicycle parts for sale. This is definitely not a market that caters to tourists, and it’s obvious by the stares I get all along the road that I am a very rare sight here.

Market Days, Malawi style.


One thing I’ve noticed in Africa is that unlike South America, or South Africa, people don’t just approach me when I stop. Quite the opposite: I sense fear from many of them. I’m sure they are uncertain of the tall white guy in the weird suit on the loaded motorbike. Once I approach them, they tend to open up, but the initial reaction when I ride up is mild panic. Always remember to lift the front of the helmet up and smile big when approaching. (That usually makes them even more wary, actually, as now I look like a crazed tall white guy in a weird suit on a loaded motorbike.)

I pass through several police checkpoints, which are usually a few 55 gallon drums and a couple of orange traffic cones strung across the road. Almost always, the officers just wave me through; they seem to focus more on the large trucks. But a couple of times I’m stopped and asked to show my driver’s license and proof of insurance. 

At a checkpoint just outside Kasungu, the officer simply asks “Where are you coming from?”

“Chipata”, I reply.

“And where are you going?”


“Are you traveling alone?”



Oh, man, I have got to work on an answer to this.

Instead, I just say, “Is that unusual?”


Further north, things are getting green. I realize I’ve been climbing for a while, and I find myself in a forest. I check the gps, and it says I’m at just under 6,000 feet (1800m) elevation. It begins to drizzle, and the fog and clouds settle in. 

I just happened to stop at this point to zip up my vents in my riding gear because it was getting cold. Then I saw the sign for the lodge. I had made a note of this place as a possible stopping point in case the day got too long. In hindsight, I should have taken it. I actually turned the heated grips on today. Who would’ve thought I’d need those in Africa?!

I ride along through dense forest and even denser fog for over an hour. Rain falls intermittently. Occasionally there are patches of thick, slick red mud washed across the road, which is unsettling in the limited visibility. Eventually I begin to descend and the fog and rain clear.

Mzuzu is not as large as I had expected, but I have no time to explore. I still have an hour to go and it’s nearing sunset. The road out of Mzuzu towards the shoreline of Lake Malawi turns out to be just barely more than one lane wide, and although there are a lot of people walking on the road, the traffic, while fairly rare, is moving very fast. Cars approach me at 50mph, seemingly aiming directly for me, leaving me barely more than a tire’s width of pavement to avoid a head-on collision. This is perhaps the most frightening traffic since northern Peru. I have to get to my destination before dark.

The road widens a bit and painted stripes return — a welcome sight — although few drivers obey them. Usually their wheels are well across the center stripe into my lane. I pick up the pace and race the sun, but I lose. By the time I find my turn-off, it is dark. At first, I’m unsure this is actually it. Yes, there is a sign that says “Kande Beach”, with an arrow pointing down the path, but it is hard to believe that cars go this way. It’s barely more than a footpath between two buildings and through the jungle. I start down the path and see a young boy, no more than 8 or 9 years old. He points ahead and nods, seemingly knowing what I am going to ask. 

It’s a long two miles down this sand path in total darkness. My headlight illuminates the way, but there are forks in the road, and I’m left to guess which one is correct. In the daylight I’m sure it’s much more obvious. I’m thankful for the earlier rains, which have made the sand easier to negotiate, but the rain has also caused some puddles that I’m unsure of their depth.

I arrive at a large steel gate. The guard on the other side hears the bike, opens the gate to let me in and shows me the way to “reception”, which closed about 30 minutes earlier, so he has to go in search of someone to help me. I can hear waves on the lake, but I can’t see it. As wet as it is from the rains, I decide to take a tiny “cabin” instead of a campsite. The cabin is nothing more than a twin bed and a chair with just enough room to walk beside one side of the bed, for $14 a night. On my way to the cabin, I have to walk across what looks like nice beach sand, and past two small catamaran sailboats, so I’m pretty sure the lake is right here. 

During the night I awaken to heavy downpours, and am glad I’m not in the tent tonight.


Lake Malawi in the morning light.



In the morning, I find this sign, posted on the inside of the bathroom stall door. Not in my room, or reception, or anywhere more noticeable. Glad I didn’t go looking for the beach last night. But it does make me wonder even more about the path I rode in on in total darkness.


May 4, 2016

I’d heard and read the stories since long before I left on this trip about the corrupt cops. They’ll find any reason to fine you. They want payment. A bribe. I’ve been told to refuse to pay. Wait them out. Ask for a receipt (this apparently is difficult for them to produce). Any number of ways to avoid paying for an unsubstantiated infraction.

None of that happened to me today. I was stopped by a police officer standing in the road. This has been very common. He was wearing a clean, crisp Malawi Police uniform. As were his two fellow officers: the man standing behind the radar gun on the side of the road, and the woman with the receipt book and pen. I had no doubt that they were real cops. I had no doubt I was speeding. The radar gun said 63 kph, in a 50kph zone (so, basically 39mph in a 30mph zone), and I believed it. I had no doubt that I was going to be fined, and that the fine was real and not just a bribe. The woman’s receipt book was full of similar receipts, all for the same amount, all made out more-or-less properly, with a carbon copy, with the offender’s name and violation (all excessive speed).

It’s a pretty efficient system actually: one cop calls out the speed, one cop puts his hand up and stops the vehicle, pointing it to the side of the road, where the third cop writes out the receipt and collects the fine. Production line. Much faster than the US system of one cop having to clock you, pull you over, write you the ticket, and then you have to spend a lot of time and effort to go pay the ticket. These three probably wrote five or six “tickets”, and collected the fines, in the time it would have taken a cop to write me a speeding ticket in the States.

I paid my 5000 kwachas (about $7.50) and I was on my way. 

I’ve been told again today that it won’t be like this in Tanzania and Kenya. It won’t be civilized. It won’t be straightforward or honest. and it will be a hassle. Fun times ahead. 

Chillaxin’ in Chilumba

May 4, 2016

In preparation for crossing into Tanzania, I decided last minute to spend one more night in Malawi, a little closer to the border, and get an early start for the crossing. I’d been warned that the border crossing can take quite a while, and it’s a good 490 kilometers to my next camp from here, so tomorrow would be a long day. 

North of Mzuzu I passed through a mountain valley that eventually broke out to the lake. Just after I took this photo and put the camera away, I rode around the corner and into dozens of monkeys and baboons that were just sitting in the middle of the road. They didn’t move when I approached. I had to weave between them. It was a very odd feeling. I wished I had the GoPro up and running.

I found a campsite and lodge on Lake Malawi near the town of Chilumba, just 100 miles north of Mzuzu, and about 75 miles south of the border. Founded by Mark, a British ex-pat, and his wife, a Malawian doctor, it had fallen into disrepair after being leased to new operators until Mark moved back from Lilongwe and took it over again. He’s making strides in getting everything up and running smoothly again. 

This is the “road” into Sangilo. There are places where it’s barely more than a footpath for a kilometer or so. Hard to tell from the photo, but the last bit is fairly steep down into the camp. That’s the lake in the distance.


Nice little cabins.


The bed as well as the bar at the beach are hand-carved with scenes by a local craftsman. Incredible detail. I wish I could hire the guy and ship some of this stuff home.


View from the cabin deck.


Electricity is shut off around 9pm each night and it gets really dark. Use extreme caution getting off the toilet in the middle of the night…


I was unaware until I arrived that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman had stayed here during their filming of “Long Way Down”. Mark mentioned that a number of motorcyclists have stayed here, but nearly all have been on BMW 1200 GS’s. He was quite surprised to see my XT250, and even more so when I explained that I had already ridden it to the bottom of South America and was on my way back up Africa now. It’s still fun to see the reaction on people’s faces when they hear this. Usually it takes two or three times before they seem to grasp or accept that I’ve done this on the same 250cc motorcycle, with no major mechanical issues. For some reason, most people initially think that I bought the bike in Cape Town and started from there.  Even after explaining, they have trouble with the idea that I’m on the same 250 that I rode the length of Latin America.

About 4am the wind began to blow and the rain started. The rain didn’t last long, but the wind continued through the morning. Skies were dark and the waves on the lake increased.

Storm brewing in the morning.

The bad weather was coming from Tanzania, so I decided to hang around another day. Mark offered the use of his workshop to change my oil, so I rode into the local village to buy some oil, but finding only the local brand (Stanley) straight 40 weight mineral oil, I decided I could wait a little longer, and would look for oil in Karonga, about 70 km up the road, tomorrow. 

On to Tanzania

May 6, 2016

I stopped in Karonga for fuel, and after checking all of the service stations in town, again found nothing but straight 40 weight motor oil. At least it was Mobil brand, so I decided to go ahead and change my oil. I had only been about 2500 miles since changing it in Swakopmund, but it was looking and smelling bad, so I decided to take the chance. I hated the idea of putting mineral oil back in it after using synthetic for the last 20,000 miles, but I figured I could change it again in Nairobi or later, which wouldn’t be too far. I bought three bottles of oil (it comes in 500ml, or half-quart, bottles which was perfect, since I needed 1500ml), rode around behind the station, changed my oil, and gave the woman at the station my used oil.

The border crossing was easier than I had expected. There was no line of people waiting, and the immigration and customs guys were very friendly and curious. I had been told (and read on the internet) that I had to apply for and obtain my visa for Tanzania in advance. When I presented it to the immigration officials, they looked it over for a long time, then asked where I got it. I told them I had applied at the Tanzanian embassy in the US. They asked why I paid $120 for it (the price is printed at the bottom), and told me that the official price is $100, and pointed out that there is a visa window right next to them, and they issue the visa right there. Oh, well. Live and learn. Regardless of what the official government policy is, it is usually something different at the actual border.

Once across the border, I was instantly inundated by Chinese motorcycles. Hundreds of them. They are everywhere, and many are used as taxis. I’m not sure why there is such a huge number of them on one side, and virtually none on the Malawi side, but I’m guessing there is some kind of import tax or duty in play. There are still bicycles in use here, but the numbers are greatly reduced, and replaced by Chinese 125cc bikes that almost all appear to be copies of a 1985 Suzuki GN125.

This is the norm in Tanzania. Probably 200 pounds of corn on the back of this guy’s bike, headed to the market.


Between the border and Mbeya, I climbed into the mountains to over 7500 feet (2300m) elevation, and passed through beautiful green jungle hillsides before descending into Mbeya.

After Mbeya, the road became straight and full of potholes, although for quite some distance they had removed the asphalt altogether and it was simply dirt while they built a new, wider road. The “dance” with the buses and large trucks, which never slow down and take all the road they want, was exhilarating to say the least. Brushing my elbow against the side of a bus going the opposite direction at 60mph, with no room left on my side of the road and a very large pothole approaching, will definitely get the heart rate going.

I climbed again past 6500 feet elevation into a thick forest that appeared to have been re-planted, as the trees seemed to be very evenly spaced. This area looked like it had been harvested and replanted in the last 10 to 20 years.

I found my campsite for the night just before dark. The temperature dropped quickly and I had to put my fleece pullover on before setting up camp. I hadn’t envisioned being cold in Africa, but then I had no idea that the mountains around Malawi and Tanzania were so tall and so abundant. It was a nice change to sit in the dark, in the cold, and sip hot chocolate (one of the luxuries I carry with me) at my campsite before going to bed.

As a side note, I will be shutting off access to my “Where Am I Now” tracking for the next couple of weeks. Those that know me, know that I am heading towards an area that is a bit more dodgy and I prefer not to have the ability to pinpoint my immediate location. I’ll turn it back on in a couple of weeks when I feel I’m in a better area.

Trucks & Buses in East Africa

May 7, 2016


General observations:

There are a lot of large (“18-wheeler”-type) transport trucks in Tanzania and Malawi. It seems like more than half of them are petrol or diesel tankers.

There are no large tow trucks or wreckers.

So when a large truck breaks down in the traffic lane, the first thing that happens is the driver pulls out his machete and chops some tree limbs to put in the road ahead and behind the truck to warn other drivers. This is the equivalent of the red reflective triangle or orange traffic cone.

Since there are no large wreckers, there is no way to tow the truck off the road. Ever. Thus, the truck will remain in the traffic lane until one of two things happens:

  1. It is repaired. This could take days or even weeks. I’ve passed trucks with tarps set up next to them while people worked on them in the road. It’s common to see multiple pairs of legs sticking out into traffic from under the truck. I’ve seen gallons of diesel fuel and oil running back down the mountain road from where the truck sat, and I’ve even passed two trucks now which had the entire engine out and sitting in the traffic lane in front of the truck. All of the other pieces necessary to remove the engine were scattered all over the road as well. OR
  2. It is completely stripped, piece by piece, until nothing remains but the bare frame, at which point the frame is either dragged into the ditch or loaded onto a flatbed. I’ve seen lots of cars and overturned trucks in the ditch being completely salvaged, until nothing remained but a truck frame or a car uni-body. Literally everything was gone: there wasn’t a piece of wire or plastic cap or bolt left on the car chassis.

Toto, Sisi Si Katika Kansas Tena…

May 8-10, 2016

Which is Swahili for “Toto, we are not in Kansas any more.”

As I originally headed south into Mexico nearly ten months ago, my Spanish vocabulary increased initially by exposure to road signs. The easy ones like “Curvas Peligrosas” (Dangerous Curves) were first, followed by longer explanations. You see them enough, you start to understand them,

The same happens in Tanzania, where I’m learning some very basic Swahili, first from road signs, and a little more from interaction with the people. From the signs, I’ve learned “pole pole” (slow), “safari njema” (safe journey), “hatari” (danger), “kona kali” (sharp curve), and “karibu” (welcome). From the people I’ve learned “karibu sana” (warm welcome), “Jambo!” (hello!), “asante” (thank you) or “asante sana” (thank you very much), and lala salama (good night, or sleep well). As with other countries I’ve visited in the past, I find that just a few words in the local language can change impression and attitude of the locals towards me. There are 130 tribal languages in Tanzania though, so Swahili, the national language, will have to do. 

Oh, and of course, I already knew a couple of words of Swahili: Hakuna matata. And yes, you do occasionally hear that phrase, though often it’s from a tour guide to his group of tourists, or vice versa. It’s actually kind of funny how much influence the movie “The Lion King” has had here: warthogs are commonly referred to as “Pumbaa” now.

Sometimes the road signs aren’t what they seem. For example, twice I passed signs in rural areas that said “Zebra Crossing”. Although I suppose it’s possible that a striped horse could cross the road at this point, that’s not the meaning; it’s more simple and direct than that. “Zebra” simply means black and white stripes, as in the stripes painted on the road for a pedestrian crosswalk. 

In the southern part of Tanzania, I often passed homes and buildings with an “X” spray-painted on the side of them. I’ve seen this before in the States as an indication of the building having been checked and cleared after a flood or earthquake. I wasn’t sure what the meaning was here in Tanzania, so I finally asked. It turns out these are homes that were built too close to the road, and have been marked to be cleared. Ouch. I guess that’s what happens when you’re basically just squatting, but when you have no money to begin with, that’s a painful lesson.

As I traveled further north (and east) in Tanzania, I saw more Swahili and less English. There is also a larger Muslim culture here than in the south, and even some of the buildings begin to take on a more eastern look. The numbers of small roadside Jehovahs Witness, Seventh Day Adventist and Apostolic churches have disappeared, replaced by the occasional mosque or Islamic center. I saw more women in headscarves and some schoolgirls wearing headscarves with their school uniforms. However the Muslim and Christian ways of life seem to co-exist here. 

While riding through the Mikumi National Park, I was looking for wildlife. I didn’t see much, but I did see a large number of giraffe, and more monkeys and baboons. I caught both on the GoPro, but unfortunately because of the wide lens angle, the giraffe were so far away that I don’t think they’d show up unless on a very large screen.

A little further up the road I passed through the Valley of the Baobabs. These alien-looking trees are truly incredible, and had it not been for the possibility of large feline wildlife in the area (apparently there are lions and cheetahs here), I would have stopped and spent much more time studying them. These are some of the largest tree trunks I’ve ever seen, yet the trees themselves are quite short, with very thick short branches and odd surface textures.

The mountains  began to appear on the northern side of Mikumi park, slowly fading back to plains as I neared Dar Es Salam. With the lower elevation the temperatures increased and I stopped to open the vents on my riding gear. The ever-present people walking and bicycling on the road were very friendly as they passed, waving and greeting me in Swahili. I even had a couple of truck drivers honk and wave, giving me a thumbs-up.

Further north, large mountains came into view and I knew I was getting close to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

In the small village of Mombo, I turned onto a narrow road that climbs into the green Usamara mountains through Lushoto and on for 27 miles before arriving at my destination for a couple of nights. Muller’s Mountain Lodge is deep in the mountains, and is a 1934 English style farmhouse built during the German colonial days on beautifully manicured grounds, with camping on the hillside overlooking the valley. A very relaxing atmosphere.

The first night I camped there, two safari trucks full of Austrian tourists arrived as well, although as often happens, I was the only camper; they were staying in the lodge. The next morning I met Francis, who the lodge manager introduced as Grandfather. 

Francis is 81 years old, soft-spoken and fluent in English, Swahili, and I believe German, and a pleasure to speak with. He was there to lead the Austrian tourists on a six hour hike through the mountains, and invited me along. It was difficult for me to gracefully decline, not the least of which because I felt like I was not in good enough shape to keep up with this 81 year old. It rained most of the day, and I was glad I didn’t go along, as the ground here is very muddy and slick, and I was afraid of injuring my ankle again. 


A Very Brief Encounter with Kilimanjaro

May 11, 2016

It alternated between rain and drizzle for two days high up in the Usamara mountains. On the second morning, I decided to head down the mountain, as the first five or six miles were dirt, and were already muddy when I came up; by now I knew it was going to be slick and slow going. 

It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected, and the ride back down the mountain to Mombo was actually quite enjoyable. I continued west on the main road towards Moshi, and as I entered this small town, the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro was just barely peeking through the clouds.

I had already decided that I was not going to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro on this trip, as my ankle still gives me trouble from my Bolivia “off” five months ago. So I will keep it on my “to do” list for the next lap.

I continued on towards Arusha, where I planned to stay for a few days while searching for a tour of the Ngorongoro Crater. I had a place in mind to camp in Arusha, but after three failed attempts at finding it, even with the GPS coordinates, I headed for an alternate place: Masai Camp. I could camp here or sleep in a dorm room for the same price ($10), and since I was the only person here, I chose the dorm room. About fifteen minutes later, a woman on a Honda CRF250 pulled up. 

Jennifer and her partner Craig started in Cape Town on two CRF250s and have been heading north, mostly on unpaved roads. Jennifer split off in Kenya and has been traveling alone for the past two months, but was now headed back to Kenya to meet up with Craig again. It sounds like I will likely see them again in Kenya. Jennifer introduced me to the game of Bao, which I still don’t fully understand since there appear to be different rules depending on where it’s played but it looked interesting enough that I intend to search out a Bao game to purchase and learn.

After one night at Masai Camp, I moved further west to Meserani Oasis Camp. Here I found a nice private room with a shared bath for $11 a night. After checking in, I met Justin, who is the son-in-law of the owner. Justin and his wife Sandra and their young daughter live here now, but used to live in Austin, Texas. I was shocked to learn that Sandra’s sister, a native of Tanzania, and her husband live within ten miles of where I was living in Texas before I began this trip. Amazingly small world.