The Road Via Hell
It was very hot. I was very tired and hungry when I reach Mpanda Ndogo Mpanda, a small remote town situated in Western Tanzania. But food and drink were the last things on my mind. Something else was ― the topbox.
I saw man on Honda 125cc, who said he was a mechanic; we rode to his workshop, well, under a tree where there were many other mechanics. They all shared the same tools. Meanwhile, about thirty people mostly young adults had gathered and remained around until my departure. When I bought Scorpion, the topbox rack had only two plates holding her in place instead of the recommended six. This oversight was the cause of my misery and twice, nearly brought my life to an abrupt end. I removed the top box and explained that I wanted two extra sets of plates, nuts and bolts made to hold the topbox rack in place. For the next two and half hours, he was in and out of the workshop. Finally he had the plates fixed; he panel beat the Trax, cleaned and lubricated the chain. As I waited, I ate a plateful of beans, meat and rice. I also recharged my camera and phone batteries. For all his work the mechanic charged me about 10$. He accompanied me to the Petrol station, where I filled up and departed for Uvinza. It was about 2:30 O’clock.
As Mpanda disappeared behind me, the road began to travel through dense Miombo woodland. I did not know what to expect but somehow I knew that I would finish what I had started. The road was sandy, it herald difficult riding conditions. For the first time on this odyssey, I rode to reach a destination: It was a drudgery and humdrum affair in which I settled. As the day wore on, I covered more ground. But the further I went, the denser and lonelier the forest became. It was like I was being swallowed by an abyss. And so, every time I reach a curve, I began to wish that the end was near but a little out of sight. My mind also began playing games on me. I was imagining things like fearsome creature peering through the woods and plotting all kinds of schemes to make a meal of me. I was not really afraid but I could not help imagining these weird thoughts. Flying insects added to my misery and above all the whining of a mosquito! If one entered your helmet, it was a horrendous and unpleasant encounter when buzzed around the ear in its high pitch drone trying to find its way out. There was only one way to deal with it ― remove the helmet and find it.
The sand grew increasingly thick. At times the sand was more than a foot thick. In these conditions, it was no wonder that by this time I had tumbled eight more times. If I were to detail each one of them, I’d need more space than I have in these narratives. I will spare you the details but to say that I soon lost count. I just wanted to reach Uvinza. It was still raining sometimes just a drizzle and other times pouring heavily: I was wet, muddy and in very low spirits.
My Zumo did not help matters very much, it had again given up its ghost. So I could neither tell how far I still had to travel nor determine how far I had come. It felt like navigating a craft without instruments except the road.
Sometime during the cruise, I came across a Land Cruiser (it’s one vehicle you will find in no go places); I guess the driver stopped me more out of curiosity than any other reason. I was glad at least someone cared and was interested in me. He wanted to know where I had come from and where I was going. I answered all his questions in a monotonous voice. They’re very few things that can dampen my spirit, this road and rain had astoundingly succeeded. When I asked about the road ahead, his answer was vague and not helpful at all. It was the only vehicle I met this afternoon going the opposite direction. After the encounter, about 5 o’clock, I reached a T-junction (more like a Y-Junction) and took a wrong turn ― I could not decide which way to go. Fortunately, after 5kms, I came across a group of boys who advised me to take the other road. They were the first humans I had met in a while.
The ride was sometimes uphill and other times downhill. I reached a place where the bridge had been wash away. I did what all the other vehicles did ― I went round the obstacle. It was a mistake that nearly cost me a night in the forest. I got bogged. I pulled, I pushed I did everything; Scorpion was so heavy that she just sank deeper into the mud. After a period which seemed like an eternity, I heard voices behind the trees. I said in the loudest of voices in Kiswahili:
“You people see I need your help, and yet you are hiding. If you don’t come out, I will come and fetch you” And sure enough the voices replied
“We are coming” the voices said.
“But what is taking you so long?” I said impatiently.
“We are waiting for our friend”
They were teenagers when they finally emerged. With a big thank you, in five minutes I was on my way. I had lost about 45 minutes here. Although I was exhausted, I was not going to spend the night in this forest. My speed was reduced to 30kms per hour. That is the way it was for the rest of the journey. I reached another section of the road which was completely submerged in a pool of mud. It was very slippery and twice I slid into the mud and went down. I had long stopped counting the tumbles.
This is the place I called the young man to help
Falling was no longer an issue; raising Scorpion was ― I came to dread lifting her more than tumbling. She was draining too much of my energy lifting her up. It was now raining heavily and pitch dark. Fortunately Scorpion has some of the best headlights on bikes: I could see far and wide. At my speed, I was not the slowest vehicle on the road. I soon came across a truck that was travelling in my direction. For over 10kms, I was stuck behind this truck, even when I succeeded in passing it, it was a long long time before I finally saw lights signalling habitation. The forest extended up to the edge of the town to which I came across rather abruptly. This was the slipperiest road I had ever ridden on but I managed to stay upright.
In the pitch blackness of the night, I came across a man who claimed he was a guard. I asked him for the nearest lodgings. I followed his directions. This was not a well light town with hardly any street lights, but it was not a problem finding the lodge. In my sodden condition, I needed two things: a hot bath and a bed. I found both. I lay on the bed knowing I had survived whatever was thrown at me. If I had come this far and ridden this sordid portion of the trip, I could survive further assault. For now sleep was beckoning. I just wanted to sleep, sleep away all the tiredness. It was the most peaceful sleep of the entire trip. I don’t even remember turning.