Tanzania – from west to east and back again, 50 days and 2400 km

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I finally arrived in Tanzania, the country I will spend the most days of my trip. This has a few reasons. Firstly, if you look on a world map Tanzania is huge! Secondly, I did a longer route up to Arusha where I was fairly close to the Kenyan border again. Thirdly, I spent two weeks on Zanzibar with my family. As time flies, those 50 days passed by quickly. Heading out of Rwanda I hoped that the hills would stop immediately. It took around 150km until the landscape finally turned flat again. My plan was to cycle from Kigali without a day of break directly to Arusha where I will be hosted by a friend of a friend. 12 days, 1200km, this is not how I usually travel but there was no reason for me to just spend a day somewhere in the nowhere to relax. My days were long but not too long, I enjoyed it and it was nice to see how my body just plays according to my plans. More details below:

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Border crossing:

 The east Africa visa I got in Moyale (Kenya) is only valid for Kenya Uganda and Rwanda, so I had to get a new Visa at the Tanzanian border in Risumu. It was a one stop border again, I first had to show my yellow fever vaccination card and they took my temperature to check for Ebola. As everything was fine, I could go into the immigration office. First, I had to stamp out of Rwanda, then step over to the next window to fill out the application form for the Tanzanian visa. It took around one hour all in all and I had to pay 50$ for a three months single entry visa for Tanzania. As I informed myself before, the ATM at the border is the last one for some days to come, so I had to make sure I got enough money with me. ATM’s in Tanzania usually only let you withdraw 400’000 Tanzanian Schillings (<200$) at once with a transaction fee of 4$ in addition to the fees you pay to your own bank (rip off). As I walked out of the office, I met two Japanese travellers again whom I first met in Khartoum, what a surprise! Crossing a border with a bicycle is super easy, no customs procedures, I just need to get the stamp and off I go. Those days are always exciting, a new country, new people, new cultures and traditions. It usually takes around 200km to show significant changes, as the border areas are quite similar (exception; Sudan –Ethiopia –Kenya, 100% different right away).

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Rain season

 Seriously, I am never quite sure about the rain season, some say it is just starting, some say it is over already, who knows… I just know it has been raining a hell lot more in the last month, than in the first 6 months of my adventure. I started to wonder and googled: rain season Africa. There are different rain seasons per region but the one I am in now until Botswana has its rain season until March. This means: A lot more of rainy days to come.

In terms of clothing it depends how high up I am, if it becomes significantly colder when it starts to rain, I wear a rain jacket to cycle, if it stays fairly warm, I really don’t mind and just cycle through without any changes. What I can say is if it rains in these areas here, it is not just a few drops. Small rivers across the street and huge amounts of water that come down per square meter, sometimes the rain lasts for hours. As I wrote in an earlier blog, time is measured and handled differently on this continent. So as soon as it starts to rain workers usually stop their work. People just wait below a roof and watch the rain. When they see me cycling, they usually laugh and can’t understand why I am doing this. I really started to enjoy cycling in the rain, unfortunately there is no pictures of me in the rain, my electronics are not really built to get wet. Probably the biggest downside of the heavy rain is camping. I love camping and I have absolutely no problem with it, but when everything is wet in the morning and it does not dry all day long and in the evening, you want to camp again and it is still wet, that is just annoying. There is at least one guest house in every small town, and the prices range from 2$ up to 10$.

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My rain break at an HIV/AIDS hospital

 During a heavy storm I sought shelter under a roof, apparently it was a medical center for HIV patients. Really young men and women came there to seek help. On the wall was a list which states how much medical supply they received with the last delivery. Around 5% of the supply ordered was actually delivered. Having a little boy laying next to me, shaking, barely noticing anything around him was shocking. This inequality that persists on our planet, where people still do not get the appropriate medical help they need is devastating. It is also saddening to see how many people are infected with HIV on this continent. The further south I go the worse it gets. Eswatini and Lesotho have the highest rates at 25%, followed by Botswana South Africa and Namibia at around 20%. Think about those numbers, every 4th person is infected and alone is South Africa there are more than 100,000 people dying every year from HIV/AIDS. SOURCE

People along the road

Except Ethiopia, all other countries I have travelled to, the people along the road have been really supportive. Even though I barely speak any local language there is always some kind of communication going on, especially through laughing, waving and nodding. Tanzania has brought friendliness to a new level. I had rough days on which I arrived in towns shortly before the sunset, totally worn out and exhausted. What’s nicer than people cheering you up once you enter a town, clapping their hands, applauding? This just makes you feel so welcomed and appreciated. 9/10 towns I stay for the night there is no tourist around by far and the only people who sleep in those towns are probably the few cyclists, because they have to. This is the wonderful part about traveling on a bicycle, you are traveling local and away from the huge tourist streams.

The kids along the road are my biggest fans and supporters. Everywhere I go the little ones treat me like a rock star, shouting from far away, waving and just being super cute. It is really hard to put in words how those kids make me feel day in day out, they spread so much happiness, joy and yes, they are very curious!! From a young age on each of them already carries responsibilities (getting water and especially watching over the goats and cows) and it feels like they are mentally ahead of their age. Their toys are simple, and handmade (like a car on a stick, spinners or just and an old tire).

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Thumbs up to 10,000 km!
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Having a laughter with the Maasai

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National sport

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First day in Tanzania

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SantaClaus Maasai
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Too lazy to walk, so why not ride a sheep 😀

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A guy selling fish

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Food

 I believe my diet has improved in Tanzania, as I don’t find as many Chapati anymore I had to find something else, which wasn’t really hard. Absolutely every little town has a lady with a small restaurant that offers at least rice and beans and some green vegetables. This is what I basically eat for every lunch and dinner. For one meal I pay between 50 to 75 cents, this varies from town to town. Now you probably ask yourself: do you never get tired of the same food? Luckily, I don’t get tired at all from eating the same thing over and over again, I just don’t like to be hungry, what I eat doesn’t really matter. There are also french-fries or what they call chips-maya, which is french-fries cooked like an omelette with eggs, available everywhere. It may sound weird, but I love it! I still consume peanut butter on a daily basis, but the taste has changed. I liked the stuff I got in Kenya and Uganda way more and once I entered Tanzania I thought that it will still be good so I bought a 1kg jar. Big mistake, what do you do with 1kg of peanut butter if it tastes disgusting? The struggle to finish it was real! What is also annoying here is the bred. I for sure miss the good old swiss bread, however I really don’t mind the white, toast bred they have here. However, all the bred is wrapped in plastic. Being exposed to the sun a lot I need to finish a bred as soon as I bought it, otherwise it will have mould on it within half a day. Bred mould is the worst for the stomach so I have to be really careful.

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Comparison to the other East African countries

As Tanzania is my last East African country, I thought about the biggest difference I have encountered so far between Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Food is always slightly different; however, the basics are the same, people are in general very happy, welcoming and kind. What struck me most is the difference with regard to the level of English. This is an observation, not a critique, since I should be the one speaking the local language. However, in my opinion the people in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya have a very high level of English knowledge. Even in remote towns I was able to have nice conversations with the locals. As soon as I crossed the border to Tanzania, even basic words like bread, water, rice, beans and the prices, were a struggle. It happened a few times that I wanted bread and the guy gave me a Sprite. I must work on my pronunciation I believe. Another difference is that Tanzanian people are very cheeky. They always try! What do I mean by that? Wherever you go to buy something, they will try to charge you more, every time! If you don’t know the local price, you always end up paying way too much! With that comes a certain problem, unlike in the other three countries were prices were always the same (Chapatti, Water, Rize, Soda, Bananas), you never know in Tanzania. This makes it hard for a Muzungu (White Person) not to get ripped off. Chapatti prices for example range from 200 to 1000. Imagine myself going to a store and the lady asks 1000 for a chapatti whereas yesterday at a different store I only paid 200. Apparently different factors play a role, the quality of flour that is used, the size and thickness of the chapatti as well. Additionally, I always need to be fully aware of the change I get from a purchase, seriously Tanzanian’s have tried so many times to give me less than I was supposed to get. I always need to count and then ask for more. They act like the didn’t know, yeah if this happens once, I believe it, but if it happens every day a few times everywhere I go, I grow suspicious.

Arusha

As Pommi from Kenya who invited me to her place in November put me in touch with her friend Francin, who at the dinner table suggested to me that I should visit Gian once I get to Arusha, I already had a place to stay. She told me that Gian is also Swiss and has been living in Tanzania for his entire life. As always, I didn’t know what to expect, where I will stay and whom I going to meet. As I arrived, Gian came to the gate and showed me around. I was speechless again, what a wonderful oasis they lived in right below Mt. Meru. He lives there together with his mother Barbara, whom I met in the evening. Just wonderful how things sometimes unexpectedly turn out, I had such a delightful time at their place, and they are both such amazing, warm hearted and interesting human beings that I will for sure visit them again. It felt like I am a part of their family and on a travel like mine, this can be so valuable. I believe if I didn’t have to go to Zanzibar, I would have stayed with them for at least a week. If you ever think about going to the Serengeti, don’t do it the tourist way, there are thousands of tourists going to the Serengeti every week and you are never alone. There can be up to 10-15 cars around a herd of lions. HOW BORING! Gian does walking Safaris in the Serengeti, if you ever even think about doing a Safari in the Serengeti, go and do it with Gian, you will have the most incredible experience walking through the bush.

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Gian and Me

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Serengeti

My ride from Singida up to Arusha led me through some beautiful landscapes. The lakes and mountain ranges and the border of the Serengeti and some other national parks were really nice. Everything would have been perfect if I didn’t have such a strong headwind for half the way. Headwind is just sooo soul crushing. I don’t think there is anything worse on the bicycle than headwind! This area is also Maasai area again, I love to see them, the adults are super friendly and welcoming, whereas the children are very annoying, harassing and begging. I heard from tour guides that there are tourists sometimes driving through Maasai villages throwing money out of the window. Even now writing about it makes me feel so sick! Some tourists really think they help with actions like that, where as they don’t realize that they are actually bringing way more damage to the culture and to the people’s attitude. Also, in Zanzibar I watched people walking up to little kids, giving them sweets and other things and recording themselves doing it. WOW, you are really making the world a better place… NOT! All you do is making those kids believe every Mzungu (white person) just hands out money, sweets, water etc. Those are the kids who then can annoy me all day long. It is not the kids to blame, it the reckless behaviour of those “making the world a better place” tourists.

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Maasai on a bicycle

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How I got over to Zanzibar

 As I talked with Gian from Arusha about my plans, he highly suggested me to go to Pangani and take a boat from there over to Zanzibar. I wasn’t really sure if I should take the risk, what if I cannot find a boat to take me over, what if the boat I get is suicidal. Many thoughts but Gian promised me he will take care of it and I decided to take the road to Pangani. One of the best decisions so far on this trip, I was able to escape the heavy traffic on the main road and cycle on a beautiful stretch towards the cost. Gian also put me in touch with Mike, a half Tanzanian half Swiss guy who has cottages in Ushurongo, a town next to Pangani. I arrived at nightfall, after having to fix a puncture and some dirt roading which always takes more time. After a quick shower I met Mike, we had a lovely dinner together and a few beers. It turns out he also does big game fishing and he might have customers from Zanzibar he needs to pick up in a few days. As sooo many times already on this trip, just out of coincidences the best things happened to me. I spent three wonderful days at Mike’s place, very peaceful, amazing beach and no tourists. As Mike had to pick up the customers at Zanzibar, he kindly took me with him, and I even had the chance to do some fishing on the way over. This was probably the sweetest “ferry” ride over to Zanzibar anyone could have gotten. Lucky me again.

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With a Dorado

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This is used for a house wall

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Zanzibar

 Zanzibar was my first big milestone. I was more than half way through my trip already and after 7 months of traveling I finally got to see my parents again. I was so excited to spend some time together at a nice place. It felt really good to have a clean room, clean bed, clean and warm shower and the best food so far on my trip. I highly enjoyed it but after 2 weeks on that island, doing nothing all day long, this urge inside me came up to get going again. Every good bye is sad again, but it feels good to know that the next time I will see my parents again is not that far away. I plan to be home in May, so only about four more months to go. For my taste Zanzibar is too touristy, the whole island is basically about tourism and it was the first time I have seen so many white people since I left Greece. Personally, I enjoy off the beaten track places more.

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Bicycle maintenance

Since my parents paid me a visit on Zanzibar, I had the chance to organize some spare parts beforehand. So far, my bicycle has been doing a great job, and except for some smaller things like punctures I really didn’t have any troubles yet. Still, I wanted to change my back tire, since I got a lot of punctures already and it looked really worn down. After almost 11’000km it was about time anyway. Furthermore, I was required to do an oil-change on my Pinion (Internal gear system). This took about five minutes and was no problem at all. I also checked my brake pads and they surprised me. My Magura brake pads look almost like new and only about 1/4th is gone. Before this trip I read on some pages that people managed to do around 3000km per pair, so I brought 12 spares with me. I kept 4 now but the rest I sent home. Since I am using a belt instead of a chain and I haven’t had a spare one with me so far, I have decided to take one with me from Zanzibar on. You never know what will happen and now I just don’t need to wait somewhere for a package to arrive. I am basically safe from anything now. Furthermore, I got some spare tubes and a spare tire again, just in case. Since I am traveling with 28” wheels I cannot really rely on local supply. Not many bicycles use 28” wheels. For my gear box I had to change all the screws who attach the box to the frame. I had some screws getting loose. This caused the whole box to move while under pressure. As I got in touch with Pinion, the producer of the gear box, they have sent me all the required spare parts and keys within 2 working day, all for free. What a great service!

Internet – A curse or a blessing?!

So far on this trip I had a total of around 5 days without any internet. Internet connection is usually everywhere I go excellent, at least 3G or even 4G. It is really nice to stay in touch with all the people back home, provide them with insights into my travel and inform them about what I am doing. However, I asked myself the question, who are you doing it for? Of course, it is nice to promote your trip, but in the end you need to do the trip for yourself. Nowadays we always have the urge to reply to messages instantly.  This means a huge amount of time every day I spend on the phone talking to people. For this reason, I have decided to go offline. I will still upload all the stories, but not right away, once I get some Wifi again I will have time to do all the internet stuff, but once I am on the road I want to be off the line, being on my own, read and write more and it feels I have gained so much more time during my day. With no Internet I barely even look on my phone, this allows me to focus more deeply on my writings and readings.

Cycling through Mikumi National Park

I have heard stories about this national park already way before I entered Tanzania. It is one highlight on the way down as the chances are high that one can see a lot of wild animals. There are also pictures that show lions and other cats walking over the road at day time. I am not worried about buffalos and elephants, if you keep your distance to those animals and show respect, you will be fine, I just hoped not to see any wild cat besides me on the street. I planned my route ahead of time so that I will reach the National park entry at around noon. Usually during the heat of the day most wild animals are resting. I figured out why… It was blazing hot and I was completely in the sun. However, I didn’t feel any threat from wild animals being on the road, it was just too hot for them to do so. I had all the time of the world to pass through the 50km stretch and I highly enjoyed it. Even though traffic was quite high at times, I had my eyes out the whole time in order to spot some “game”. I was lucky and I saw everything I wanted (many times): elephants, buffalos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, wildebeest, pumas.

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Insects and small animals

As I was approaching Arusha, riding on the main road from the Serengeti something hit me in the face on a downslope. It hit my lip and I felt a sudden, severe pain. I have been stung by bees and wasps a couple of times before, luckily, I don’t show any allergic reaction at all, usually only a little swelling and it disappears quite quickly again. However, this time I felt a bit different, I am just out in the nowhere and something unknown has stung me right in the face, what is if it was something dangerous? Are there poisonous insects in Africa? Haha, if you are on a bike the whole day you have many hours to think about anything. With all those thoughts going through my head time did no pass at all. I checked my lip every minute. Luckily as I went on the swelling slowed down and after a couple of hours still being able to cycle, I was sure it wasn’t anything bad, I guess it was just a local bee. Other than that, I have been quite lucky with insect bites, a few mosquito bites and that’s it. Traveling along the equator can be quite wild in terms of insects. The most annoying insects are in my opinion ants, they get into everything and just love my food. Once they get a hold of my food the word spreads quickly and my food is completely covered. Every once in a while again I have mice or rats in my room, so far they have just passed by and didn’t get a hold of my food. Gekos are in almost every room I get as well, they come in once it is dark and eat all the insects, so I quite like them, they really don’t bother me as long as they don’t poop on my bed at night. They can be straight above you on the roof, and just pooping down. I had a few bedbugs until now, mostly in hostels where there are many travellers in a small room. Usually the beds I get in local guesthouses are very clean and fresh. Luckily, I don’t really show any signs of bites when I have bed bugs, I know people who get huge areas full of bites. I just see the bed bugs in my bed but usually I don’t see any bites on my body.

Crazies and drunks

 It happens from time to time that I meet some drunk or mentally disabled people on the road. Alcohol is becoming a huge problem as well and there are more and more people who are addicted to it. It is very cheap to get a small bottle of gin or whiskey almost in every street shop. They mostly cost less than a dollar. As I was once riding on a long ans busy road I saw this young man (about my age) walking in the middle of the road, not getting off the street even with all the trucks and busses passing. The people along the road were just watching him and laughing. I had to stop the traffic, and then I took him off the road and set him down. He was completely in another world; on a drunk level I give him 9 out of 10 (K.O.). The crazies can be seen from far away as well, they are usually shouting around and walking in the middle of the street as well. Once you stop your bike, they come at you and just shout in your face, arguing with their hands and just acting “crazy”. The locals around just laugh as well, making signs that not everything is right in that person’s mind. It is sad to see those people; they have no chance of receiving any help. It happened only a few times that one tried to attack me, nothing serious, I just had to watch out. I didn’t feel threatened at all since the locals around would all come and help if needed.

The road to heaven

As I wanted to get out of my comfort zone again, I decided to take a road up the mountain through a national park. For a month I haven’t done any real camping and my last wild camping dates back to my final day in Sudan. I loved it in Sudan but after all I just didn’t feel comfortable sleeping somewhere in the wild by myself with so many people around. I had many thoughts about taking this route up the mountain, it is rain season, the road will be a mess, and it will take me from 1000 meters above sea up to 2900 meters above sea. This is a serious altitude difference, especially with a 55 kg bicycle. Up to my planned camping spot the road was in a good condition, barely any people around and I was able to sleep right next to a river in the national park. Unfortunately, it suddenly started to rain, and I had to hurry up with cooking. As I finished, cleaned all the dishes in the river I headed into the tent. It was just five in the afternoon, but I already fell asleep. I slept like a baby through the whole night, sometimes checking if my bicycle is still there but I really didn’t worry as no one was around at all and it was raining. I think I got at least 11 hours of sleep. My alarm went off at 7, not too early since I only had to cover 20km that day up to Matamba. The climb was around 1000 meters of altitude to cover. It got steep right away and I spent the next 4 hours pushing my bike up the mountain. I didn’t expect it to be that steep but no chance of riding it up. This was the most pushing I have done so far in a day, what a physical challenge. Once I reached the plateau, I thought the nice part would start. However, as the roads up there were so muddy and wet, I ended up stuck because of my mudguards being blocked. It took me some time to remove both, what a mess it was. I left my camping spot at 8 and arrived at Matamba at 13:30. Five and a half hours for just 20km, that is a new record! Haha. For the night I took a big room in a motel. Rain always means a lot of work. After I arrived, I had to unpack everything that was wet, hang it up and let it dry. Since I am still close to the equator and totally in the rain season, all my stuff had a hard time getting dry. I have decided to take a day off in Matamba, since temperature was very nice up there and I enjoyed the village vibe. I also had some time off to write my blog and application for my masters starting in the fall of 2019. From Matamba I had to climb another 800 meters of altitude to reach the plateau of Kitulo National park. The views were stunning and the whole effort to climb over this mountain range, to push my bicycle for hours, was totally worth it. The temperature was so nice up there, could have stayed there much longer if it didn’t rain half the day, every day. Additionally, there was absolutely no traffic. All in all, those 4 days in this area were some of the most memorable of this trip.

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Taking the mudguards off

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My travel planning

Since I left Switzerland there have always been some fixed points of time, I had on my way down. This required some more or less exact time planning of certain routes. How long will it take me to get there, how many days can I rest in between, which route should I rather take. After Zanzibar I have now decided to not have any fixed, prior arranged appointments, anymore. I planned to do a self-driving safari with a really good friend of mine in Botswana, but arranging all of it puts me on a certain time schedule again and this can be stressful. For the last couple of months of my trip I just want to go with the flow, cycle where and whenever I want to without be calculating any routes. Today I feel like this, so I will do it. This is something I also need to learn, to go more with the flow, organize less and just take it as it comes. I am not really good at that yet, but I am working on it. I have also not booked any return flight yet, I want to keep that freedom to finish my trip whenever I feel like it and I believe those extra dollars the ticket will cost more are totally worth the extra freedom I get. My guess is that I will be back home in the beginning of May, but as of now anything can happen, and it might be a bit later as well.

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