Diary & Travel Reports from the saddle
Moshi, Tanzania, 13 September 2004
At eighteen metres below the surface of the Indian Ocean the dive master points, I look, I am transfixed on a surreal image of beauty and grace. The pod of five or six dolphins appear transparent as they barely glance in our direction. The regal mission is on its purposeful way to an appointment at King Neptune’s court somewhere off along into the dark blue far beyond the reef wall. I stare after them for minutes. The god-like encounter is a treasure forever etched in my mind. Thank you www.swahilidivers.com on Pemba island.
One elephant gets up on his hind legs and with his trunk shakes the branch of the acacia tree providing lunch for all three. Thirty vultures squabble over two wildebeest kills metres apart, pulling the last of the flesh from the white bones of the stripped carcasses. Two scared zebra dare not take their eyes off three cheetahs lying in the grass and move cautiously away. Residents of the hippo pool do a slow lazy roll revealing pink undersides and tiny legs. Two female lions sleep on a fallen tree trunk. Palacial luxury awaits at Ngorongoro Crater Lodge, with fudge and chocolate dates, roaring log fire, drinks and the best fare. Thank you www.CCAfrica.com.
At a quarter past midnight after a few hours sleep, several biscuits and hot tea, I follow my guide Emmanueli out of Kibo Camp heading for the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. We are at 4700m, it is well below freezing, there is salt into my water bottle along with glucose and iodine. We inch up the steep scree, each step is victory in itself, every muscle in my feet and legs scream. The cold gets to my bones, my lungs struggle for oxygen. I take the most precarious crap of my entire life. We reach Uhuru Peak on the dot of sunrise at 6.30am, the roof of Africa at 5896m. The cold grey glaciers turn orange and at last I understand why I did it. Thank you www.TransKibo.com & www.AhsanteTours.com.
Well I am still in Tanzania. As you can see it ranks among the world’s top tourist destinations.
Passengers and port workers in Zanzibar were all treated to a hilarious sight the night I sent you the last update. Up the gangway I ride my motorcycle to an upper deck of the steamer Aziza 1, to get stuck halfway on deck and halfway off. A final twist of the throttle and the 300kg cargo plops into an area with nether an inch to spare on either side. A hundred people cheer. My grin stretches from ear to ear. An hour or two before arrival at Pemba Island in the morning we manhandle my big bike down several flights of stairs and halfway round the ship to the front off loading area, enabling a straight ride off on the quay.
Pemba turns out to be a different world altogether to Zanzibar, with little tourist infrastructure and only a dozen or so tourists at any time: there is lots of peace and quiet. Diving is the main activity and my few days stopover waiting for the ongoing ferry turns into ten at the invitation of Turkish Raf who runs Swahili Divers. Sure I can postpone onward travel for a week’s sponsored food accommodation and diving!
The diving is great, though since it was a year and a half since Belize my oxygen was used up in half time on my first dive. It necessitates a bit of an emergency ascent. I soon settle into marveling at the multi-coloured fish and coral and all the other wonders of the underwater world. Air gets trapped behind a capped tooth at 20 metres and refuses to budge, so I curtail the diving after a fourth dive. The dolphin experience was well worth the toothache that lasted only a week.
I check out some ancient ruins that are diminishing in size because locals use the stone for new buildings, a British made lighthouse that they say is the oldest in the world and a whale stranded for the last five days.
The massive mammal got trapped behind the coral reef and its belly is now splayed open. Locals use huge knives to cut off the blubber that is hauled up the coral cliff face. Dozens of people boil it up and carry off the oil in buckets, pots and pans. The smell is overpowering and the Swahili Divers’ dogs go beserk when I get back to the dive base.
Raf is Muslim and his wife is Catholic. We consider together the issue of Islam-Christianity, an issue that is starting once again to occupy my thoughts. It is over three years since I was doing this last, and was grateful to get hold of Raf’s English Quran to check out some of the Jesus passages therein. Raf’s view that there is no serious contradiction between the two and that to emphasize the difference is to stoke the fires of the war mongers and terrorists whether they be so-called Muslim or so-called Christian. My own view on whether Muslims qualify for salvation has become unclear once again, so I pray for understanding, knowing that the one God is compassionate with many rooms and in control, that the common forefather is Abraham and that there can only be one truth. As the most important issue of our time it would be great to see more of a will to understand. I am gong through some of the internet pages.
From Pemba we chugged back to mainland Tanzania at Tanga where Ocean Breeze Hotel put me up and I rode the dusty road to Kilimanjaro. Sorry to the guy from Dar who stopped in his pick up to say hello, I ignored you because I was preoccupied with my tooth! Moshi is the town at the foot of Kilimanjaro and 80 km west is Arusha that is the gateway to the parks and wildlife.
For African ecotourism, safari and wildlife viewing you cannot get more exceptional and prestigious service than with Conservation Corporation Africa which operates in breathtaking locations in six countries. Sure I was impressed with the two complimentary US$500 nights of luxury and safari. But what really impressed me is their genuine and sustainable conservation ethic and their real results for local healthcare, education and small enterprises via their foundation www.africafoundation.org . It was an honor to be their guest.
Ngorongoro rises from the Eastern arm of the rift Valley, a volcano whose peak collapsed and eroded forming an extensive highland refuge, a natural zoo enclosed in the crater walls. The spectacular assemblage of wildlife is a wonder of the world. Besides the animals mentioned above I saw a black rhinoceros, jackals, gazelles, elands (700kg antelopes), monkeys and baboons, warthogs, buffalo, birds like ostriches (the males with red legs revealing their hot desire for a hen!), lots of kori busteds, flamingoes, and eagles of the fish, crested and bateleur varieties, buzzards, stalks, kites, cranes, and herons. The relationship between hyenas and lions is different in the crater to most other places. The 400 hyenas have superiority over the 80 lions which are habitually lazy, so the roles of the predator and scavenger are reversed. The lions settle for second place after the hyenas finish eating the choicest parts of the kill. Baboo is the name given by rangers to the elephant with the longest tucks. Local newspapers still have stories of captured ivory poachers, as well as giraffe poaching for the brains said to prolong life in AIDs sufferers when eaten.
The Maasai are the local indigenous people, the men dressed proudly in red checkered capes sporting heavy elaborate earings which stretch large holes in ear lobes, sometimes ripping them off completely leaving a real mess that is attractive in their culture. I rode a local bus to the crater which was a human safari in itself. On seeing animals like buffalo out of the bus window the Maasai passengers look intently at them, standing to get a better view. They have great respect for animals, like some of us would crowd to catch a glimpse of a pop star. You can’t stop the 21st Century though so underneath their capes you can sometimes spot a strapped on cell phone.
Trekking up Kilimanjaro has been playing on my mind for the last four years and the sponsored five day hike up (usually costing over US$700) was only possible with the help of Thomas Lyimo of Trans Kibo Tours at the YMCA in Moshi and Ahsante Tours. These guys are the experts and even covered for the incomprehensible attitude of the Director General of Tanzania National Parks who ignored his staff’s recommendations about a free pass for me. Kili is the world’s highest free standing mountain and though only a hundred km south of the Equator is permanently snow-capped.
The Landrover is loaded and we head for the entry gate at Marangu, my support team being the guide called Emmanueli (a self proclaimed prophet of the Tribe of Judah!), Paul the cook and Mercury the porter and waiter. The first afternoon’s hike brings us through lush forest to Mandara Hut, a series of four bed dorms and common large eating place. At only 2750m it was still T shirt weather and not too cold at all at night. The food turns out to be excellent given the circumstances and throughout the full five days is way too much. The second day’s hike through heather and open moorland is to Horombo hut at 3700m, a hard walk. I make new friends all the way with fellow American, Australian, British, French, German, Irish and Japanese hikers. We are a happy throng, though leg and feet muscles are starting to complain and prior motorbike injuries come back to say hello. My stomach feels very strange indeed and Nancy from Massachusetts gives me some altitude sickness pills. An English guy donates a heel plaster and some glucose. Hikers often take an extra day at this point to get acclimatized.
Arriving on the third day at Kibo hut at 4700m I have several layers of clothing on and strain my neck looking up the steep angle of the scree. From here the going will get serious. Before sleeping I swallow the last of the day’s three half altitude sickness tablets.
We inch up the side of the mountainside for five hours starting at midnight. Pilo from Germany overtakes everybody with a large pack on his back commanding his guide “we must go faster, faster I tell you.” We reach Gilman’s Point at 5am, the worst of it over, and I stagger into Frank’s coffee mug that spills over his backpack. An hour later through biting cold wind we reach Uhuru Peak and are awarded with the orange glow of sunrise and a great feeling of accomplishment. Some didn’t make it. After congratulations and photographs we descend, sliding down the scree, and are back at Kibo Camp by 10am, absolutely exhausted. I am now a veteran, able to advise those going the other way, passing on the remaining tablets to some Irish and chuckling to myself wondering what sort of experience they will have. The following day we check out the park exit after a long a painful walk coming down is every bit as hard as going up!
Kili is the ultimate hiking experience and for me, there starteth and endeth my trekking career! It was great to get back on two wheels, so I went to Amani orphanage and gave three-up rides to the lads. Needless to say we were all whooping it up!
Someone else to thank is Samuel at Victoria Expeditions (www.victoriatz.com) who sponsored for five nights at the Meru House inn in Arusha. He is on the board of the Orphans Foundation Fund (firstname.lastname@example.org), which provides a crucial service in communicating among existing groups working on the AIDs/HIV pandemic in the area, with a mission to provide equitable support to orphans. Thanks also to the Impala hotel in Arusha for the night.
I have in fact got quite a long way to go. I’d like to get to 100 countries or more and Tanzania is only number 56. But it should work out OK since after Kenya I’ll head on into Uganda, with a quick trip into Rwanda and maybe Burundi. Then its out into the DRC provided there is a way round or through the fighting during the start of the dry season in November, up into the Central African Republic. That will take me through to Cameroon, Nigeria and all those small countries along the coast like Benin, Togo and Ghana, up to Senegal (Dakar) and Gambia and into Mauritania and Morrocco. The idea is to cross the Sahara Desert in the Winter, probably staying fairly close to the Ocean thanks to advice from Raf. Then I’d like to go to all the European countries along with Israel and perhaps one or two other spots in the vicinity before going to Moscow and Scandinavia when it warms up a bit and into the UK in the Autumn 2005. At least that’s the general forecast.
Now, if anyone can get some European fundraising events (powerpoint presentations) planned for me when I can take audiences on a virtual tour of the world I would be very grateful. I can do English and Spanish, though perhaps French might again be possible by then. Presently Europe has been thoroughly tronced by America in terms of charitable donations! In fact Europe hardly figures at all in the Hall of Fame save for some contributions mostly in the previous Millennium from Chris and Marty Cartoons Germany, Bobcam Industries Ireland, Rotax Austria, Bridge Garage UK and Harley Davidson Europe, all of whom I thank profusely!
In a day or so it will be a goodbye to Tanzania and a hello to Kenya.
See you there.
Simon Milward, on the road
A solo fundraising round the world ride on a handmade motorcycle.
Supporting Doctors Without Borders, Motorcycle Outreach and democracy.
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