Monday, 4 January 2010

The First of the Many Tumbles

Kasama with the Manager my Host

It was a dump night. I could tell by the heavy dew on the tent. I was up early to prepare for my northward trip. I was finally leaving Zambia today into my third country since I embarked on this odyssey. Tanzania is laid back peaceful country that I came to love since my first visit in 1995. I subsequently studied at the University of Dar es Salaam, and lived and worked in Dar as well as Arusha for a couple of years. If such a thing can be said of a country and its people, Tanzania is a gentle country. So, unlike Zambia which I had visited for the first time, Tanzania was not foreign. Yet western Tanzania was some place that always fascinated me. In this region was one of the longest and deepest lakes in the world. My dream to see Lake Tanganyika was just about to materialize.

In the meantime, Richard the proprietor of the property arrived at 6:00am. He as well as John gave me a hand in securing my luggage onto the bike. My itinerary was to take me as far as Ujiji, a sea port on Lake Tanganyika, where H.M. Stanley is reputed to have found Dr. David Livingstone. As it turned out this was not to be the case.

In the interim, just before I departed, Chief of Police arrived. As it were, he had a big heart for big bikes. Obviously he was interested, and the normal battery of questions followed: where was I coming from; where was I headed and mostly about the bike. He said he had ridden police BMWs and it appeared he would have given this yellow bike a spin had it not been that I had emphatically expressed my intentions to depart. He settled for a photo opportunity. After this event, I emptied all the Kwacha in my pocket into the manager’s basket and tipped John 5$. We hugged and bid each other farewell.

The Police Chief of Kasama Biding me Farewell

People in this part of the world are generally good-natured. It is therefore not out of place to be treated like a long lost cousin returned with warmth and goodness. But it would be a mistake to think that everyone is good. There are two forces governing, namely, good and bad embraced in an eternal battle, and each is vying for a place in the human heart. Classic examples of this battle have been seen in recent history in the story of Mother Theresa of Calcutta as well as the Rwandan genocide of 1994 of which I will speak about in my Rwandan leg of the odyssey.

Mbala was my current destination 160 kms from Kasama. I wasted no time in covering this distance. I travelled through beautiful country side lush with green forests as was most of Zambia adorned with lots of savannah grasslands, especially the elephant grass. It was also the mangoes season needless to mention, I gorged myself on this yellow fruit.

So far it has seemed a flawless trip, but that was about to change. My real problems started on this leg of the odyssey. I arrived in Mbala to discover that although there was a border crossing, the Immigration office was in Mbala and customs at Mpulungu, and not at the border. I discovered this when I stopped to refuel and in conversation extracted this information – good fortunes. At Mbala, I easily located the immigration office. It was locked and a notice on the door said: call Mr. Mpalula. Two numbers were clearly written on the door for this purpose. The assumption was that you, of course, have a phone. I didn’t. I went to a municipal office in the vicinity and a guard agreed to help me. I bought airtime and he called the numbers on the door. The officials promptly arrived. One technique I seem to have mastered well on this odyssey is to display my most charming-self even when commonsense dictated self-defense, to put it bluntly. In dealing with any immigration and custom official or any authority for that matter, a combination of politeness, salutations, introductions, and stories were valuable assets in getting things done. It was a strategy I used to simply my life. At Mbala, my particulars were entered into the ‘big book’, and my passport promptly stamped. Just when I thought I was done, the immigration official said I had to ride to Mpulungu at the foot of Lake Tanganyika to clear customs. It meant another 90mins return trip in the opposite direction. Not having a choice I settled to this task. It was not a totally wasted effort. It was a beautiful country side. I encountered my first mountains and afforded me the first glimpse of Lake Tanganyika.

Mpulungu is a typical one street port at end of which is a pier. Apart from fishing, this was a port of travel between Kigoma on the Tanzanian side, Kalemie, on the Democratic Republic of Congo side and Bujumbura of Burundi. I arrived at customs to find the officer had gone for lunch. It was an hour before he returned but only because I had complained that I was not happy with the waiting. Another official had volunteered to call him on his cellphone. In the meantime, I espied the lake. The water was green and according to the immigration official stationed here, it was so thick that it was not good for anything. As I mentioned above, Lake Tanganyika is the deepest lake on the African continent and formed as a result of volcanic activities. The immigration official said that throughout the year, a number of tremours shake the vicinity. I need to say that at this point, my camera had stopped working. So pictures in this part of the word are lacking to corroborate my adventures.

It was about noon. My custom clearance involved the official’s signature and stamp to make it official. I departed. I needed to refuel once more. I found a petrol station attendant who accepted my dollars in exchange for fuel. I had not eaten since morning. I wanted to be out of Zambia. So I gave up seeing some water falls in the area. I followed what was more of a track than a road. It was the third time I would be riding on dirt road. This was particularly a very bad stretch which in due course resulted into my first tumble on the Zambian soil. What a way to depart a country!

I had travelled for some 27 odd kilometers, of this 40kms section when I reached a section of the road which had been traversed by trucks. It seems to have rained such that the truck left very deep tyre gutters on both sides of the road.

It happened so fast. What I clearly remember is the swaying motion of the bike from one side of these gutters to the other and in what was violently forcing me to ride from one side of the road to the other. Imagine the gutters. The bike was out of the gutter onto the other surface of the road then back into the gutter and as if in slow motion, I went down on the left side of the road. I was probably doing 50kms. There was dust everywhere. Scorpion switched off. It was my real first tumble since 1992. I was in the middle of nowhere. When I managed to extricate myself from under the bike, I assessed the initial damage. Myself – none. Scorpion – none just an injured ego. But what had really happened: I am a mindful rider! Then to my horror I noticed that my topbox was missing. It contained most of my immediate tools: all spanners, foot pump as well as and my travel documents. I never use profane language but f I think I did use some of it for my mouth seemed to have retained the ugliness of having used foul language. I remembered a friend’s words: buy a net and wrap it around the topbox. Why had I ignored such simple words? Where was my topbox? Who has picked it? Why did I not hear it falling off? My mind was working furiously.

I knew I had to remain calm, for I still had a long way to go. A stable state of mind was vital and requisite for the entire trip. I was thankful that I attended the Honda off road riding course. They had practically taught me how to lift the bike. Believe me folks, Scorpion turned out to be so heavy beyond anything I had ever imagined. But in one clean move she was up. Second assessment, the left side pannier had lost its reflectors, had taken some pounding but other than that Scorpion has survived her first character check. Just then at the corner my eye I saw something in the bush on the left side of the road from the direction I had come. I blinked several times to ensure my mind was not tricking me. I made a full turn and looked at the place; surely I could not deny it was the topbox. “Thank God I” whimpered in relief.  I was so overwhelmed that tears rolled down my cheeks. I sat down and held my head between my hands. The thoughts that had run through my head were suddenly wiped away. Then it suddenly became clear what had brought me down; it was the top box. The sideways motion had forced me from one gutter to another and the roughness of the road simply multiplied the swaying motion that in turn aggravated the imbalance that finally brought me down. I was carrying about 20 pounds of stuff in the top box.  The rest is history. Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes. Because I paid less attention to the top box, history was to repeat itself twice.

For now, I fetched the topbox. The rack had come off and so needed fixing it back on the bike. When I ignored any attempt to understand what had happened. It was bad judgment that created environment for a subsequent disaster. If I am well, it is only by the grace of God.

Roadside Market selling the abundant Mangoe Fruit

In the course of fixing the top box, three sojourners, my country men from South Africa, travelling in a Toyota Hilux, arrived at the scene of accident. They inquired if I was ok. If truth be told, I was tired, sweating, and hungry. In addition, I would have gladly done with some company following the tumble. It is human nature to require company when afflicted by calamity to reassure us that we are not alone. Well, for some reason I don’t know even after considering the matter, I said I was ok; they continued their journey. I was later to find them at the Tanzanian border post.

A Market Day -- Non-GM Tomatoes

Sometime about 2:00pm I came to the border post very dusty, shaken but alive and full of enthusiasm to continue my adventure. I never said it was going to be a smooth odyssey. Tumbling was inevitably going to be part of the trip with certainty because Scorpion has only two wheels. This trip required stamina, courage and gusto. I was not in short supply of these motivations.

The border post consisted of a closed gate and a small house with a two flags on the roof and someone manning it. I was cleared and allowed to cross to the Tanzanian side.

An End to a Beginning.

How the End Begun Although I have never finished my story, there is an end to every beginning.  One such end came many moons ago, when a...