• 31 March 2016

What I saw in Tanzania from my bike

What I saw in Tanzania from my bike

What I saw in Tanzania from my bike 300 169 Gürkan Genç


We received our visas at Tanzania entrance paying 50 USD for each. Since we came from Ethiopia we were checked for the presence of Ebola virus. Since we were not infected we were allowed to enter the country. Our bags were not inspected in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Shootings using drone is subject to special permission in those countries. Actually I may not be allowed to enter the country with this device but I had not any problems so far.


There are restaurants just 10 m after the border gate. Naturally we need to get energy before setting off. I chose a restaurant which looked the best. I usually check the number of customers since the less the customers the higher is the probability to get food poisoning. Therefore I prefer to eat in crowded restaurants.


We ordered fish and I tried fried bananas as a dessert. I’ll try it for the first time. I’ve never eaten fried bananas before.

–       Booooo It is disgusting.

–       No, no they usually taste good. They used a different kind of banana.


Esra had visited a couple of times Tanzania before. She is familiar with people and tastes. After lunch we set off.


After Ethiopia and Kenya I must say that Tanzanian roads are quite good.  Though two lanes the quality of the tarmac is good enough for bicycle riding. Also, till Arusha there were almost no cars on the road. There are small pathways every 10-15 km on either side of the road. When we came to a higher land I saw that those pathways were going to small Maasai villages.


Maasai tribe not restricted to Kenya. Their living area starts from south of Kenya and extends to Uganda and north of Tanzania, even to Tanga at the east. The reason for this is cattle herding and nomadic lifestyle. Sometimes I was seeing desolated cleaned plains while on bike but then I realized that those were the places of migrating nomads left behind. They seek for pastures for their herd. It is said that Maasai shepherds are among the best. I saw a single Maasai shepherd herding more than 100 cattle within 2 km area in a line. They were called Maasai warriors once but there aren’t any warriors in the Maasai villages now but Maasai shepherds. The name Maasai warrior is attractive to tourists. Which one is more attractive to share “Maasai warrior or Maasai shepherd” on Facebook or Instegram?


Well, there are still warriors in the present. They work as parking lot attendants or building security in their local dresses. Also, there are Maasais wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and colored Casio watches in Zanzibar.


North of Tanzania is partly arid compared to south. But I believe water is available if boring a well. Since the cost of boring is high and there isn’t such opportunity there isn’t any water in this region. I must say that towards Arusha there are plenty of elevations and in parallel water resources. Well, why is then drought in this region? Poverty, insufficient farming equipment, insufficient governmental support etc.


During January-February and March 2014 we covered more than 4000 km in Morocco on bike with my team mate Enes Sensoy. During this time we saw only a single tractor. They had built irrigation channels made of earth and log (Khettera – qanat) of which photos I had taken. Transferring to settled life Moroccan people had constructed necessary infrastructure for keeping settled life style. Once we came upon a Bedouin shepherd in the desert and he offered us tea made with muddy water he also used for his cattle and we had drunk this tea with pleasure. : ). (I told Enes after we had drunk tea where the shepherd had taken the water from hahaha)



As the nomads in Asia those people also put up their tents near water sources. I also did the same for many times. Of course in Asia the altitude was high and it was easy to have access to water sources.


Aside eastern part of Tanzania the altitude ranges from 800 to 1000 m. Especially there are rich water sources around Mount Kilimanjaro. On the other hand, the agricultural fields used by the settled population are not like that in Morocco. The Maasai shepherds grazing their animals on the skirts of the mountain did not construct irrigation channels to bring the water down from the mountain. Shortly there is a population practicing nomadic lifestyle but unable to access water sources and a settled population ineffectively using the agricultural fields.  This situation is just the opposite in the southern part of the country. The altitude is almost the same but irrigation channels have been constructed and therefore the agricultural fields are efficiently cultivated. There were abundant tractors.


Every shepherd was carrying a plastic bottle. Those people grazing their animal throughout the day were collecting water from the roots of a plant found in this region.  A young shepherd made Esra riding in front of me to stop. I was slowly coming closer to Esra, she took a couple of photos of the kid and moved on. At the same time I recognized that the kid was asking for something and most probably Esra thought he was asking for money. You already know me. When it comes to asking for money I’m strict and sometimes harsh to the people. They all ask for money regardless they need or not. But I realized that this kid didn’t ask for money.


I stopped next to him. He was asking for the same he asked for to Esra reaching the plastic bottle out.


He wasn’t asking for money but for water. I filled his water bottle to the top and watched him drinking. In a few seconds what I went in my mind through in Mongolia, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Oman where I run out of water.


Scarcity of water sources is a problem in almost every nomadic society throughout the world. The reason is that the terrain they are migrating on is not as efficient as in the past and reducing. On the other hand, the settled population are both not able to make effective use of the land and also do not show effort to make use of it. 


Well at this point the white man comes in to scene. Dude, 150 km away from Arusha the little Maasai shepherd cannot find water to drink but in the city lion and elephant safari tours are sold for 800 USD and climbing tours to Kilimanjaro for 1500 USD. As I mentioned before, African people always make harm to themselves.


Guesthouse prices are pretty low in Arusha. This town is the starting point for the safari tours to many national parks including Serengeti. Also, climbing tours to Mount Kilimanjaro starts from this town. Safari tours cost 800 USD per person, 6 days and 3 meals a day plus accommodation inclusive. There are lots of companies. I went to all of them and bargained the lowest price given was 400 USD. Did I go? No, because the safari tours are much cheaper in the south of Africa. The lion is the same the elephant is the same, why to pay more?  We also strolled around on the streets of Arusha. It wasn’t so interesting and after two days we set off.


The road from Arusha to the fork at the skirts of Mount Kilimanjaro is like a hell. High number of car accidents are happening is this region. Furthermore, it is really dangerous for cyclists. There is a single alternative to this road which passes through the national park which must be avoided. I didn’t try and also I wouldn’t be allowed if I had asked for permission. There is another national park on my route down to the south of Tanzania. Let’s see whether I get permission or not?


The four days route around Mount Kilimanjaro is a dirt road. It is generally rainy throughout November. Even, one day it was rainingcats and dogs.


There are large agricultural fields around the mountain. I can’t say what exactly they are growing. I didn’t examine the soil nor wanted to chat with the farmers. One evening we wanted to camp on the field of a villager with Esra, at the edge of the field far away from his house. I went to the house met with the family and chatted for a while. I asked for permission to put up our tents and they agreed. I first put Esra’s tent up. While I was putting up my tent the villager came and asked for money. I looked at his face if he was kidding me. No he really wanted me to pay for the stay. I wasn’t too lazy to put our tents down and we set off. Afterwards I asked someone speaking English where we could camp. He took as to a good sheltered place. Esra was talking behind me:


–       He’ll want us to pay, no need to take the bicycles down.

–       Wait Esra. Let’s see what’ll happen. At least I confirm this situation.


He took us to a very nice place. Just as we were about to put up our tents he said: “I have to call my brother, this place belongs to him.” He called his brother. He came over on motorbike and wanted us to pay. This time Esra was off her rocker. Anyway we pushed our bikes up the ramp and moved on. At the end I found a stony nonarable land. Well I said this place is good. We put our tents up. One of the Maasai people came over…


–       Aren’t you afraid to put you tents up here?

–       No need to be afraid.

–       There are cheetahs and elephants in this region.

–       I just put my tent up. I won’t care anymore.

–       Alright, you know better.


Esra’s face was just to be recorded.


–       Gurkan that guy talked about cheetahs and elephants.

–       Forget about it. They won’t do anything.


The terrain is not suitable for elephants there are big and close rocks surrounding us. Furthermore, cheetah is a fearing animal won’t attack us. And furthermore the landscape was amazing.


As a result people either wanted us to pay or tried to rip us off. This the situation I didn’t want to get in contact with these people.


It was a nice feeling to wake up in the morning with the view to Mount Kilimanjaro and to ride around it on bikes.  Taking into account that I’ll climb higher mountain passes than Kilimanjaro on my bike it is good so.


It is possible to find cheap guesthouses in villages around the mountain. They are usually next to the bars or just in the same building.


The side roads not recognizable on Google map are visible on GPS map. Therefore it is really more enjoyable to take these side roads. The road is full of up and downs. I must say that Esra only once rebelled along the road. She never complained or grumbled. I’m congratulating her. But her question to the Maasai in Kenya is unforgettable: “Is there a shower?” The road goes up to 2100 m. Although there are many up and downs on the eastern side of Mount Kilimanjaro the landscape and colorful people make it tolerable.


Camping in tents costs 7 USD but entrance fee is 25 USD for the national park next to the Chale Lake fed with the streams running down from Mount Kilimanjaro. I had the best food in one of the restaurants around this lake in Tanzania. Till 1990 there were crocodiles in this lake, but then the crocodiles were removed because an English tourist swimming in the lake was attacked and killed by one of them. For now it is allowed to swim in the lake but I only wetted my feet, just in case. Esra got a little afraid while descending towards the lake due to the many monkeys around. Since it was a deserted area she kept looking around if there was someone. The monkeys surrounded the tents in the night and threw things to the tents. Quite normal we are on their territory and they are curious about us. : )


After the lake the region we were riding on bike was really legendary. This route is neither on Google map nor on GPS. I was following our route from GPS, once we crossed to Kenya but there was not a visible border. Also no road, Esra shouts from behind.


– Gurkan slow down. There may a lion show up. Let’s go together.


She has right. If we ride together the animals might shy. As a matter of fact we are riding in a national park. Although it was said there were no lions around these animals are not controlled. One might come to the area we are we were and then it’ll be said: “Mmm, there were”. This happened to me in Ethiopia.


There are many orange trees in the area from Chala Lake to Tanga. Since November is harvest period there is hard to find a place to overnight in the villages. There are many tradesmen from Kenya and Ethiopia to buy oranges. The oranges are very tasty. We bought from the stands or just picked up from trees along the road.


Arriving in Tanga I came to Indian Ocean coast. The city is a huge port city and very crowded. Sitting for an hour at sea side and having some rest we went to the camping area where we had planned to stay.


Pangani is a small town established by Portuguese. There are some remains from that period. Just 25 km before the town is Peponi camping area.


After a long time I saw Europeans traveling with their cars for the first time in this area. We paid for camping 13 USD and stayed for 5 days. We bought salmon caught from the sea for which we paid only 12 USD.  We shared this fish with a German couple traveling with their jeep. There was another family from Scotland traveling with their children. Listening to their life and road experiences was very interesting.


Once we made a trip to the town a free ride on unloaded bikes. We looked for historical places but instead we only made bazaar shopping.


We had the opportunity to observe the tide happening on Indean Ocean in Peponi camping area. During high tide the water reaches the coastal line and at evening during low tide the water decreases back to 200 m. This happens every night.


One day, we decided to pay 23 USD per person and to go to a sand island arising during low tide by boat. For the first time I saw a starfish that big.


After Pangani our route was towards Zanzibar. But from this point there wasn’t any regular ferry to Zanzibar. We asked for an arrangement in the camping area and a fishing boat was arranged for us. Together with the bicycles we paid 35 USD per person. It took 5 hours with fishing boat to reach Zanzibar which only takes 1 hour and 40 minutes from Dares Salaam. Esra got seasick. Well, I was comfortable as a baby in cradle.


In Zanzibar we went out of the boat in Nungwi. This was the most crowded and lively area of the whole island.  Since we were there at the beginning of the season it was still a bit empty. There were almost no tourists. While I was staying in Dares Salaam I came over twice to this island and still there weren’t many tourists. The reason is the recent votes according to the people there.


Zanzibar wants to separate from Tanzania. Normally at the entrance and exit of the country passport control is done. I traveled in 46 countries so far and in 10 of them there were similar problems.


There are touristic attractions on the island. The sea is beautiful it is possible to swim with dolphins and whales, even with sharks. In one of the small islands around Zanzibar there are huge turtles and in another nice coral reefs. You can visit the restaurant and museum established for the legendary singer Freddie Mercury in Stone Town.


No need to mention old town and the city center is very crowded and disordered. There is a huge diversity of food sold on streets but mainly not so fresh. They fry the food long ahead and heat up on barbecues. Well, the taste is not good anymore and you just feed yourself. The buffets in Stone town are a good alternative for cheap dinner. The Syrians had doener kebab buffer which I liked a lot. But the last time I was there they weren’t there.


The time to return to Turkey was approaching for Esra. The flight with Dubai Airlines to Istanbul lined with Dubai from Zanzibar cost 1000 TL. The place where we stayed in Stone Town was the home of Lucas and Cisem who were following me on web since a long time. They were also traveling on their touring bikes whenever they had time. The next year we’ll ride together on bikes in South America. Let’s see whether our dream comes true?


On the ferry back we had to pay extra for our bikes, about 20 USD per bike. The ferry costs 25 USD for economy class, 35 USD for VIP, 35 USD for business class and 50 USD for royal class per passenger.


Since we were white men they charged automatically VIP class we couldn’t buy economy class. Really strange. If you have residential permit in the country you pay only 15 USD. The possibility to be caught using a ticket bought by a residential is high. Those guys already are  looking for a deficit to ask for bribe.


After we returned to mainland I boxed Esra’s bicycle and saw her off to Turkey. I would like to thank her once again for accompanying me for the last month. I spent the next days in the Turkish embassy in Dares Salaam waiting for the spare parts of my bicycle to change with the old worn parts.



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