Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Northern Tanzania

 Changing Brake Pads
I had slept deep and sound with very few cares. Riding from Mitumba to Uvinza had been the toughest ride of my life. It tested my will, my physical endurance, my riding skills as well as Scorpion’s abilities as a machine of exceptional engineering. Yet, it was also the most adventurous and exhilarating. I was happy to be doing something close to my heart notwithstanding the perils involved. I refuse to live a boring life. I refuse to drift like a piece of wood downstream after a heavy down pour. I have never been a drifter. I have resolutely chosen the direction I have wanted my life to take at every turn. My secondary school history teacher use to say: “Every individual writes his own history and that is what the world reads”. This history emanates from the choices one makes be they good or bad choices. When I set out on this odyssey, the support from my friends, funs and family was a mélange of different emotions and attitudes. Charles my brother had categorically said no: in his view it was too risky. Little did he know that a company that takes out travel insurance would echo his very words. Some of my very Christian friends had reiterated similar sentiments. The response from my riding partners on the Wild Dog Forum ranged from very hot to lukewarm. I could sense extreme eagerness and support to palpable fear and indifference for a variety of reasons, but there-in-lies the difference. There are folks who wait for things to happen to their lives. That has never been my style. I have always made things happen to my life. When a travel insurance company declined to insure me claiming it was too risky an investment, I did not weep and mourn. I simply set out on the Odyssey; here I was today at Uvinza. I was in an upbeat spirit and in the mood for the next leg of the trip. I had remained in bed for a while assessing the previous journey. In sixteen years of riding I had as many tumbles in one day on the same stretch of road. I chuckled remembering the consternation, the panic, the tears, the darkness, the rain, the lonely road, the exasperating insects and the fact that I was drenched from the neck to the toe of my boots.

I think part of my excitement was to do with my new destination. It would be the first time I was visiting Burundi, which was about 150kms northwards. I was looking forward to the ride with anticipation. I refused to take anything for granted. 120kms was apparently a short distance but yesterday’s experience had firmly convinced me not to underestimate the terrain and the elements. Much as I love Tanzania, I had had enough of its beauty, the hospitality of its people, roads and air. I had one thing on my mind — to get out. So I planned on setting-off at the earliest opportunity. I was feeling hungry; I had to eat something.

-->Beautiful Rolling Hills of Northern Tanzania
The sky was overcast and it did not promise a bright sunny day. I had this premonition that the ride was going to be equally tough. Before I went to inspect the bike, I placed an order for chapati (some sort of pancake made of wheat flour, oil water, and salt (sometimes sugar)) and tea. When the chapati is well made and it is a delicacy incomparable in its own right.

In the meantime, I checked my front brakes. I was shocked by what I saw. The front brake pads were non-existent. A chill went down my spine like a bolt of lightning imagining the unimaginable. I lost my appetite. The imperative was to replace them. I loaded Scorpion, and wasted no time in setting-off to look for a mechanic.

The roads were fearfully slippery. Western Tanzania is situated on the western flank of the rift valley. As a consequence, the soil texture is volcanic. This makes it exceedingly slippery when wet. I was in no mood to explore Uvinza, and so did not see much of it. As Uvinza disappeared behind me, the road led to Kigoma, a port on Lake Tanganyika.
My Favourite Green Banana and our mode of transport

Scorpion was hurt from the many tumbles. She had some mechanical problems whose gravity was impossible to assess at this point. For example, there was a rocking noise emerging from the below the instrument panel that grew progressively loud on a corrugated road. It took me another 1000kms before I discovered the source of this noise. I looked several times but could not figure out where the noise. The second problem was the brake pads, which I intended to replace either at Kasulu

As I embarked on the trip, I was debating whether I should go to Kigoma. To be absolutely sure that I was not putting myself in jeopardy, I stopped to ask about the road conditions to Kigoma. The answer and my two mechanical problems dissuaded me from heading to that direction, for I was not looking forward to getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. Kasulu had my undivided attention — a northern town, about 60kms away. I reached a junction and turned northwards away from Kigoma. I soon realised that I was in for real trouble. A grader had recently tried to improve the road surface. The problem was that it loosened more earth, so that when it rained the road became one massive mud puddle. I had learnt my lessons the previous day but this in no way lessened the hazards waylaying me. On a certain portion of the road the mud was so thick and sticky that even a Land Cruiser that was following me out of tacit agreement had difficulty navigating the stretch. It was not surprising that the 4km stretch took me two hours to cross but only because I employed two men to hold Scorpion on each side, literally walking her.

As it were, it remained overcast all morning and early afternoon, sometimes rain fell intermittently. The road to Kasulu was thickly wooded. During the early part of the journey, I met hundreds of folks going to the market being a Friday. I would have loved to spend some time at the market but the rain and the mud dampened my interest. So I plodded on. I don’t know how many times I tumbled. I was no longer interested in the statistical details. But one notable one that would have brought my trip to an abrupt end is worth mentioning. I was going uphill. Both sides of the road had gorges more or less 3ms deep. My speed was about 30kms per hour. Scorpion front wheel turned right in the slippery mud and the rear slide so that I was now travelling vertically on the road heading straight for the gorge. I have never been as frightened as at that moment. I don’t remember the actual thoughts racing through my mind at that time but for some reason the front tyre turned again and I was facing the direction I had just come from. I let Scorpion roll down hill using the momentum of her weight. I stopped and sat on a rock to rest my heart which was beating like I was in love with death. Had I gone done that gorge, at best a crane of some sort would have been necessary to hoist me out, and at worst I would have sustained many broken bones. I still look bad and a shudder goes down my spine. Someone definitely protected me.

When I had regained some normality and there was less adrenaline in my blood stream, I tried again this time with the help of two hefty men and walked Scorpion up hill. I soon left the wooded road behind and was riding on a terrain of rolling hills — absolutely beautiful. In this manner gazing and drinking the beauty of Mother Africa, I arrived at Kasulu about midday exhausted but alive and thankful to God for His protection.

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...