Finally we were in Tanzania. For a moment I thought we would never leave Kenya, that somehow Jungle Junction was the Hotel California of Africa, but we escaped and were once again on our way south towards our destination – East London, South Africa.
We entered Tanzania with 2 main changes to our plan. The first was the decision to only take a transit visa, giving us 7 days to cross the country. The second was not to go directly to Mozambique. The former in an effort to save time and money, and the latter because news had come that there was trouble in Northern Mozambique and that it may be too risky to cross.
We were not without a plan in Tanzania either. During our stay at Jungle Junction, we met many different people and received many different invitations to visit, many of which we were unable to take up, however, one we were. It was to visit the Eastern Usambara Mountains and its rain forests. When I mentioned rain forest to Sofia, she became very excited – she had never seen a rain forest before and was now on a mission to visit.
However, it didn’t prove so easy. We entered Tanzania at a quiet border with no touts selling SIM cards, and a border town that had no SiM cards to sell! I had sent an email ahead but was unable to determine if we were expected or not with no phone or internet! This was important as the road up the mountain was particularly difficult, and it was suggested that it would be better to leave the bike and be driven up.
It was not until the following day of travel, after asking many times and being misunderstood equally many times, that finally the SIM card was in the phone. The vague meeting day that had been discussed was that very day, and so Sofia was left on tender hooks as we waited for contact to be made.
Finally the call came through, and we were on our way to the meeting point. Well met, Bernard, our host, helped find a safe location for the bike to rest up, and we made our way up the mountain to the house. Sofia was transfixed. I have never seen her so engaged by her environment, soaking in every tree and vine. The house we found on the top of a mountain, in the middle of a medical research station built by the Germans over 100 years ago, and expanded by the Brits in the 1940s. Today the station is officially still operable, but there was little evidence of activity, and the directors house was now rented out to Bernard and his wife and daughter.
This was a beautifully peaceful place with stunning views. We took a walk on an afternoon and discovered that along with the Directors house, there were many other cottages dotted around the landscape to house researchers and their families back in the day. All are available to rent at ridiculous prices considering many didn’t have water supply and the electric supply was crumbling on old pylons and extremely erratic at best. The houses them selves, like the main house, were extremely well build and had stood the test of time practically unscathed by the tropical climate, but now abandoned, it would now be a matter of years before they finally give up as they have been given up on.
Whilst there we took a drive to a scenic spot for a picnic lunch, stopping along the way to learn about the various herbs and spices that now grow wild and cultivated, sustaining the local population. We also drove through a tea plantation that was still growing and cutting gum trees to burn and dry out the tea. The road was very rough, but it was worth it – the view at the picnic spot was astounding looking across to the Usambara Mountains and the floor of the Rift Valley that stretched to the horizon.
Too soon, too soon, it was time to leave this space/time warp and return to the road. We had spent 3 nights in this wonderful place, and now had only 3 nights left to make it to the border.
We returned to the bike and set off on the hot ride for our first nights stop. Along the route, for what seemed a strange reason to me, we had a problem with the 2 wheel drive and had to fix the leaver to the frame with wire to stop it locking hard on which made it impossible to drive. At this point I didn’t make any connection to the missing bolt I had noticed before. The second day of driving changed that dramatically. We were ahead of time having driven in the early hours of the morning, when suddenly the 2 wheel drive locked on and it seemed to be doing it independently of the leaver. It took about 2 seconds for me to notice that the location of the missing bolt had resulted in the frame to final drive alignment to have moved and worse a section of the frame was now broken.
A local fundi (Swahili for ‘fixer’) was called and he found a bolt to fix back into the bike. This fixed the 2wd problem, however, the damage was done, and the bolt popped out within 5 mins, 2wd snapped on again and we could no longer move. The fundi wanted to do the full fix, but knowing it would likely create more problems, I asked him to fix it so we could make it to the border. So he got a new bolt, and then fixed it to the frame with wire so it couldn’t pop out.
Setting off with this temporary fix was a nervous moment, as I was told that there would be at least two hours drive with no reception on the phone! but we had to go, and with wobbly rear wheel and wire holding us in place, we set off once more. We were now in contact with a biker group in Lusaka and I let them know the situation. Immediately they arranged a recovery vehicle to collect us when we crossed the border. A huge worry off my mind.
Somehow, the bike made it. It was clear the bolt hadn’t held in itself, but the wire was doing its job despite sections of the road being horribly bumpy, not to mention the speed bumps in every village. With every jolt, I held my breath expecting the 2 wheel drive to come back on. It didn’t. We made it to the border. We crossed the border. 3km from the border the wire had finally stretched enough for the 2wd to lock in and we could drive no more.
Well done to the fundi in tanzania, and thank you to the bikers in Lusaka who arranged the recovery. All we needed to do now was wait.
I would like to thank Zambezi Bikers, Ginty Melvill (FIM North Africa Branch Chairman), and in particular Bobbie van de Merwe for sponsoring our recovery from the Zambian border.