30 – 31st December 2005 – Kendwa, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

Distance Cycled : 22,472km

Greetings from Zanzibar!  We nearly didn’t make it over to Unguja Island, in fact, which just goes to show that leaving the bikes and using more conventional forms of transport instead can be rather more worrying and unreliable than cycling!  The airport being just south of the city centre of Dar es Salaam, we were told an hour would be plenty of time for the journey by taxi.  In fact, we left 80 minutes before the flight, and made good progress through the city, out onto the highway and past the papaya trees and rusty-roofed shacks that crowd the suburbs.  Then suddenly we ground to a halt near a junction.  Five minutes passed, ten minutes passed and we had moved about six inches.  We were starting to get worried after fifteen minutes and so the taxi driver got out to investigate the gridlock.  He came back shaking his head, did a spectacular u-turn and starting bumping the taxi along a sandy short-cut through the neighbourhood.  We emerged onto a relatively vehicle-free highway, and breathed a sigh of relief.  Five minutes later we were, though, once again embroiled in a snarl-up – a roundabout where nothing was moving let alone going round as you might expect.  It was now 14.40 and the flight left at 15.15…  We crawled towards the roundabout, crossing some railway tracks which I sincerely hope are disused considering there were four stationary vehicles parked on them at any one time.  The jam inched forward…s-l-o-w-l-y.  We could see cars moving up to the right of the roundabout so decided on a last-ditch effort, got out of the taxi and squeezed through the traffic on foot.  Once past the roundabout, we flagged down another taxi, leapt in and told the driver to get to the airport as fast as possible.  Telling an African driver to drive fast is something like urging a kleptomaniac to go and get some stealing done – not wise.  His foot never left the accelerator and we were there in under ten minutes – it was 15.12!  Anna launched herself out of the taxi and ran into the terminal using all her childhood running-for-late-trains experience.  She dived through the entrance without realising there was a baggage scanner, much to the amusement of the jovial female security guard.  Had it been Heathrow, six security guards would no doubt have pinned her to the ground and stuffed a stun-gun into her ear…but this is Tanzania and the lady merely chuckled and let her through once the bag had been x-rayed.  The airline office was locked and it was with an increasing sense of despair that we entered the departure lounge – 15.20 and the flight had surely gone.  It had, but the ZanAir employee was, as East Londoners say “a diamond”.  “Madame” he said, “cool down, cool down.  Eeeh, do not worry yourself, you are not the only people to miss this flight and we have radioed ahead to Tanga (a town up the coast) and diverted a plane here to take you to Zanzibar.  It will be arriving in half an hour”.   Wow!   Only in Africa…   Half an hour later we were aboard a 12-seater – sitting only an arm’s length from the pilot – leaving the dusty chaos of Dar far below and soon soaring over the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, en-route to Stone Town.

We later discovered the traffic jam was due to the inauguration of Kikwete, Tanzania’s newly-elected president.  With thirteen African heads of state attending the ceremony in Dar, security was understandably tight…and the huge numbers of police and traffic wardens on the streets led, unsurprisingly, to total chaos.  None of the officials seemed to have been let in on the traffic control plan, if there was one.  Drivers just will not sit and wait patiently – queueing quietly is obviously a peculiarly Western (or even British?) phenomenon.  If there seems to be no traffic coming the other way, why not jump the queue and drive down the wrong side?   Most vehicles are in such a state of advanced decrepitude that a few more scratches and bashes aren’t going to make a difference.  In any case, the minibuses that make up about half of all vehicles are usually leased rather than owned by their manic drivers, so they certainly don’t care about the odd knock.  It was chaos and we were glad to be getting away from it!

Stone Town proved to be a fascinating place – atmospheric and lively, with plenty to see and lots to eat!  In fact, one of our favourite places was the Forodani Gardens, an unexciting patch of grass by day, but filled with dozens of tables piled high with all sorts of treats once darkness falls.  Luke ate lobster, kingfish kebabs and a variety of other seafood while Anna enjoyed the banana and chocolate crepes and freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice.  We’d also been invited to eat in the Zanzibar Serena Inn, where we enjoyed another fantastic dinner overlooking the Indian Ocean (not on the same day, you understand….)!

To burn off all of this food, we took several strolls around the old city, and checked out two interesting museums.  Zanzibar has had a fairly busy recent history, with the Portuguese, British and Omanis all in charge at one time or another and plenty of influence from as far afield as Sri Lanka and Indonesia due to the Indian Ocean trading network.  We saw a restored trading Dhow, which now forms part of an exhibition chronicling the development of trade in the region – barely bigger than a modern sailing dinghy, some of these boats crossed thousands of miles of ocean carrying all sorts of cargo, and were totally dependent on the monsoon winds to get home again.  The museums themselves are airy old colonial buildings and provided a welcome cool refuge from the midday sun in between wandering around the labyrinthine city.

Zanzibar is actually two islands not one – Pemba and Unguja, with Unguja often confusingly referred to as Zanzibar Island.  Both are famed for their fragrant crops – spices having been introduced centuries ago.  As Zanzibar was at the terminus of numerous trade routes, slaves from the interior were readily available as was access to far-off markets for the spices.  We spent a morning at a farm or shamba growing spices, fruit and plants with medicinal uses.  At first our guide seemed a little groggy – he’s been slumbering under a coconut tree when we arrived – but he soon
got into the swing of things as he showed us plants, giving us chunks of root ginger to chew and strips of cinnamon to sniff.  As well as turmeric, nutmeg, vanilla and others, there were more familiar crops – coconuts, pineapples, oranges and jackfruit.  Thankfully all these shrubs and trees provided some shade but we were nonetheless thirsty when we had finished our tour and delighted to find a tableful of fruit waiting for us at the end – we tried a piece of each and attempted to learn the Swahili words.  So now we not only know what the exotic looking fruits in the markets are, but can ask for them by name as well.  Amusingly red-skinned bananas are known as ndizi na wazungu on account of their colour, which is apparently like a sunburnt foreigner (a mzungu is a white person).  Luke had a go at climbing a coconut tree and failed rather dismally.  Anna was happy for someone else to scale the thirty metre trunk and sip the coconut water from the fresh fruits after they crashed to earth!  The flesh of young coconuts is very gelatinous and oddly-flavoured.  It’s a bit like Turkish delight, you love it or you hate it.

A week ago, we made our way up to Kendwa, on the Northwest coast of the island.  The view from our room couldn’t bettered – a picture perfect beach of smooth white sand punctuated by the odd abandoned fishing boat or thatched sunshade, giving way to turquoise water.  It’s a very relaxing place to be and although it’s not terribly “authentic” (you don’t really feel you’re in Tanzania) perhaps that is just what we need.  After months and months of attention as oddballs – because we are white and because we are on bikes! – we are in need of a break.  It takes quite a lot out of you to be under constant scrutiny and here, because there are so many other tourists, we can at least be invisible for a little while.  Luke is learning to scuba dive while we are here, which involves quite an intensive four-day course including “homework” and a written test.  Of course, he’s not stressed.  Diving aside, though, this week is mostly a chance to recharge our batteries (not just metaphorically – there is a PLUG with a permanent supply of ELECTRICTY in our room!!) and get ready for the last leg of our journey to Cape Town.  It’s under four months away now, although it’s hard to believe!  For those of you who have joined our journey late (and those of you who have forgotten when we started because we’ve been gone so long…), we’ve created a brief illustrated round-up of the year which we hope you’ll enjoy…

Almost a year ago, in January 2005, we left St Louis in Senegal, riding out to the westernmost point of the African continent, before entering The Gambia on some very pot-holed roads.  A loop of the country took us up to the sleepy colonial town of Janjanbureh and then back to Banjul, where we watched colourful fishing boats landing their catch and were glad of a sea breeze to keep us cool.

By February we were journeying through the Casamance region of Senegal sipping icy bissap and

baobab juice and were soon entering Guinea Bissau, where French gave way to Portuguese and the landscape became a mosaic of forest and mangrove.   An idyllic few days on the Bijagos Islands ended in tears when our bag of camera equipment and other precious items was snatched at Bissau port.  We found it hard to join in the Carnaval celebrations…  A few weeks later that was all behind us and we were enchanted by Guinea, especially the highland Fouta Djalon where we were greeted warmly by everyone and feasted on tiny yellow mangoes and mountains of juicy oranges.

Early in March we crossed to Mali, following the Niger and camping on the banks of the river.  This was a time of red dust, mangoes and sleeping border guards – four checkpoints in one day on one occasion!  In Bamako we met Luke’s parents and went off to explore the Dogon Country – a nice break from the bikes and a memorable landscape, physically and culturally spectacular.  Fast tarmac roads brought us into Burkina Faso by the end of the month.

Anna had been looking forward to April for a while and as we raced towards Ouagadougou she was getting excited about flying home for her sister’s wedding.  So much so that we broke our daily distance record the day we arrived in the capital!  Luke was wined and dined by his new-found friends in Ouaga while Anna was home, and so we were both refreshed when she returned…and ready to face an omelette (staple veggie fare in West Africa) again after a fortnight of “proper” food!

May was a mixed month, as we pedalled through Ghana, leaving the dry boulderstrewn landscape of Burkina behind and entering lusher, forested regions.  On Friday 13th we were ambushed and robbed – a frightening experience – but we’ll treasure the generosity and friendship of local villagers who came to our aid, getting back our things and getting us back on our feet.  Anna’s birthday had been spent sitting in a police station but the rest of Ghana made up for that one incident – we had no more problems and loved the colonial history, beaches and atmospheric towns of the south coast and perhaps most of all we loved the pineapples!

As June came around we realised we’d better start getting a move on and so headed East through troubled Togo, crossing the country in a few days, before looping northwards in Benin where we enjoyed some delicious baguettes and some heavy downpours of rain as the wet season began.  We smashed our distance record again thanks to smooth tarmac and a helping wind – 165km in one long day – and were nearing the Nigerian border as the half-way point of the year approached.  We had our concerns as we crossed the border from Benin, but we need not have worried about Nigeria.

The entire month of July was a delight as we traversed this gigantic country, and came into contact with thousands of Nigerians who were typically friendly, inquisitive and helpful.  Our eyes never quite stopped watering at the spiciness of the Jollof rice and some of the accommodation was grotty in the extreme, but it was a happy time and we knocked off another milestone while on Nigerian soil – 15000km cycled!  As the month came to an end, we finished our West African adventure with a one-day crossing of northern Cameroon – a sun-dazzled landscape of white earth and withered grass – and reached the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.

At the beginning of August, for the first time in our journey, we resorted to something other than a bike to get us from A to B!  The B in question was Addis Ababa, and we caught not even a glimpse of war-torn Sudan as the aeroplane whisked us over to Ethiopia.  It was sad and disorientating to have to miss out this section, but necessary.  We were delighted with Addis and sipped cup after cup of delicious spiced chai and attempted to learn some Amharic before heading south from the capital.  After a few days following the tarmac south along the Rift Valley we took a detour up into the Bale Mountains and enjoyed a few days trekking with a couple of recalcitrant horses through the spectacular afro-alpine landscape.

September saw us back on the bikes and heading south once again, into the semi-desert landscape of southern Ethiopia.  At Moyale, on the Kenyan border, the tarmac ran out, and we spent over a week struggling through the bleak landscape of Kenya’s Northern Region.  It was very, very, very hard and we crawled into Isiolo, feeling almost sub-human, well after dark at the end of this trial-by-desert.  Kenya was fantastic – we found people to be very friendly and the landscape was as spectacular as it was varied, especially the view from Mount Kenya at dawn (not on the bikes, of course)!  We developed a taste for sweet, milky tea – just as well as it’s usually the only way it is served – and it helped fuel us over some hard climbs.

October began with a mini-safari to the Maasai Mara, and a ride through Hell’s Gate National Park – one of the few you can enter by bike.  Again we picked up the pace, but were hampered by torrential rain and some appalling roads, especially in the vicinity of Mount Elgon as we crossed the border into Uganda.  After checking out Jinja and Kampala on the shores of Lake Victoria we headed north (?) towards Murchison Falls National Park and Masindi.  Here we visited Link for the second time and spent a few days in Masindi being very well looked after.

Leaving Masindi in early November we tackled more mud and rain on our way south to Fort Portal and a failed chimpanzee-tracking excursion.  Crossing into Rwanda, Luke had more success with primates as he realised his dream of coming face to face with mountain gorillas, and we marvelled at the beauty of the Rwandan landscape (when we weren’t cursing the hills).  Our brief sojourn in Rwanda ended with a couple of days in the peaceful capital, Kigali, before crossing the border at Rusumu into the wild west of Tanzania.  Here, we battled headwinds and sandy roads but made good progress and were delighted to find ourselves once again in mango country.  By the end of the month we had reached the northern safari circuit at Ngorongoro.

And so to December, which began with a trip into the Ngorongoro crater and yet more wildlife-spotting.  Then a swift ride eastwards through Arusha and the foothills of Kilimanjaro, stopping en-route to enjoy the tasty produce of the Usambara mountains.  By the middle of the month we found ourselves once again on the coast, and enjoyed a few days making leisurely progress south to Dar es Salaam before flying over to Zanzibar for Christmas.

A few more days of relaxation and then it is back on the bikes, and south towards Malawi.  There are a few more hills to climb along the way, but at least we’ll be fully rested and kitted out with our Christmas presents – foot-cooling socks and padded cycling shorts! – so it shouldn’t be too arduous.  Then, it’s only five weeks until we meet up with our friends Julie and Chris in southern Malawi for another holiday!  Meanwhile, back to the beach…


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