Friday, June 8, 2018

Cape to Kapp: Rough roads and Lion Tracks in Tanzania

Teresie Hommersand grew up near Stavanger, a city known as the oil capital of Norway. She 
remembers eating supper every evening off plates with the logo of the national oil and gas company on them. Somehow she became the "green sheep" of the family. She has lived in Uganda, Oregon, and Australia. Learn more about her 13,700 km ride going from South Africa to Norway and her charity crowdfunding campaign on her Facebook page and Instagram.
(This is her fifth journal entry for us)

The route I end up taking across the continent on my Soma Saga is a result of the rough plan I made before I started cycling and information I gott along the way, often from random people I meet. Tanzania was meant to be one of two countries in Africa were I would just cycle through. There were no places that I wanted to explore that I had not been before. The plan was to take the shortest route to Nairobi. That would have been along one of the country's most heavily trafficked roads. There are no lack of fatal accidents here. Friends of mine have come across cyclists on this stretch that have been unlucky. I got word of another route, a route a bit further west. Apparently, the traffic was significantly less here and the scenery was stunning. BUT most of this stretch was not paved. After having done the first kilometer on this dirt road one late afternoon, I seriously wondered what in the world I had embarked on. Was it too late to turn around? That night, there was heavy thunder and lightning.

Adjustments and New Challenges
The following day can be summarised in the following words; gravel, sand, rocks, washboard, and bump after bump. My bike and panniers have never been shaken or rattled as much and on a couple of occasions, involuntary words and sounds escaped my mouth in pure frustration and anger. Yes, it is possible to get angry at a road. There was nothing to do but adjust my mindset! No way I was gonna be able to do 100km in a day. Maximum 50. After accepting that the next 400km were going to take me twice as much time and require double the amount of work (at least), I felt better. Besides, that evening I got other things to think about when my random host for the night told me that up ahead was a stretch with lions. How much fun! What is a bumpy road in light of this? That night, I was served ugali (East Africa's "potato" - a stiff maize flour dough) and buffalo meat! The buffalo was killed with a spear, I was told! A few days later when I camped in the compound of a park ranger that was part of an anti-poaching squad, I learned that that buffalo was most likely illegally hunted. Everyone, regardless of nationality, must have a permit to kill game in Tanzania. It is very interesting given that traditionally, many ethnic groups in Tanzania have made a living by hunting game, and some still depend on doing it today to make things go around. That evening I was also served a cup of cow milk-- as fresh as it gets-- straight from the cow. It warmed my hands when I wrapped them around the plastic cup.

 Breakfast! Chapati and chai. This lady gave me some extra maandazi (similiar to a donut, just not as sweet) for the road.

Lion Country
Over the next couple of days of cycling I tried to find out more about the 'lion situation'. I received so much conflicting information! Some looked appalled when I told them I considered cycling through this area alone while others said hakuna matata! No problem! 
When there is so much uncertainty, how can one make the right choice? Should I get an escort? Or just cycle? Jump on a bus even though I really want to cycle the whole day...? At one stage I cried with the thought of encountering a lion. It's a terrible feeling, being afraid to die. To be eaten by a lion.

When I reached where lion territory presumably started I was still not sure what to do. The plan was to make some final inquires in the last village that bordered this area. I cycled past a few houses. Thought this can't be the village, so I continued. Soon, it was just me and the red coloured dirt road again. Trees on both sides and silence. No people. And there... in the middle of the road I suddenly discovered lion tracks. As if a button had been pushed, my heart started racing. The adrenaline pumped through my body like there was no day tomorrow. All my senses were heightened, alert and ready. I got off the bike. I've been told to NEVER run from a lion. You must look her or him in the eyes, make yourself big (have I not mentioned that I'm quite small?), make loud sounds. Make the lion believe that you are bigger and stronger - even though fear is seaping out of your every pore. I could see that the tracks were not super fresh, but it doesn't matter. You are still terrified. TERRIFIED. I had my back against the bike, scanned the terrain. Every bush, every stump. Every rock. 360 degrees, non-stop, searching for a lion. I had my pepperspray hanging around my neck. My knife easily accessible. The DIY flamethrower in my hands - a tip from another cyclist. Lions are afraid of fire.

Who knows how long I stood like this. I didn't see a living creature. No cars or motorcycles that  I could cycle along with. I could not stand like this forever. 

What should I do? Cycle back to the houses I had passed? Keep on going to the next village?

 I ended up turning around. It was three kilometers of backtracking vs 13km to the next civilization. I felt a huge sense of relief when I spotted the houses again. I felt even better when I found a guy who was willing to come with me through 'the lion stretch'. He escorted me with his machete on his hip, a torch and umbrella on the back of his bike and complained that I cycled too fast. No lions. Only monkeys. Who knows, maybe it would have been fine without an escort? Perhaps I could have saved that expense? At the end of the day, it was actually really nice with some company.  
My escort thru lion country.

Welcome to Tanzania! Crossing the border.


Tanzania turned out very differently than planned. It was here I felt that I really got into the rhythm of bicycle touring, no doubt due to the route I ended up taking. The typical African dirt road. The colours. Thunder. Afternoon showers. The warmth and hospitality I was met with after a day's cycle. The best chai (tea). Chapati. Beans. All the rattling. The dust. The lions. The strive on the rough road. The tears. Perhaps all the hardships made the times were everything was flowing freely, the road was smooth (kind of) and fun to ride, the meetings with people were sincere and rewarding even better?
Nothing beats surfing on top of wet sand in the middle of the road, avoiding the streams of water on both sides right after a rain shower. The air and smells are so fresh! The sky so blue. Yellow butterflies fly infront of my wheel like dolphins swim and jump infront of moving boats. I'm smiling. Am happy. Free. Have a sence of achievement. Soon enough the heat will return and the tsetse flies will start biting again... so just enjoy;-)

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