Boiled eggs and chapati. That could well have been the name of this trip. Couldn’t complain though as it was a big improvement over our usual fare of cold, limp, overly oily fried eggs and four-day-old white bread. Ordinarily you need 5 parts tea for 1 part breakfast just to wash it down, but with the chapati’s greasiness we could be more sparing of the chai.
Above: Gua morning, bikes in a row, shops open, chai and eggs and chapatti
We set off by 9:30, an incredible feat made possible by the early retirement of the Belgian contingent the night before and their consequent early-morning perkiness. But, in a sort of inevitable way with us, the early gain was promptly followed by delay. Our group tends toward entropy. Mr. Bean led us out on a decent 2 track, rutted and overgrown, but I was chomping at the bit for something twistier so I danced over to a footpath I thought was sure to parallel his awhile and shortcut back onto it. It didn’t though, so I made a 90 degree cut through the bush and caught him up. Problem was, the herd of sheep that was PhatBilly, GilleMonster and FundiPhil had followed me down the errant path but didn’t see my return to course. They went blasting out to whoknowswhere and it took us 30 minutes to regroup.
Back together, again, we lasted 15 minutes before we were separated… again. It was like a Three Stooges flick out there. Ajax pointed us down a track which looked plausible [Boing! Ya knuckleheads!]. Eventually I realized we were going the wrong way so I stopped, turned around and waited [Nyuk nyuk nyuk nyuk!]. And commenced swatting the first of what would be millions of Tsetse flies away from my fleshy exposed bits [Whoo woo woo woo!]. Voracious vampire flies they were, horrible bastards. PhatBilly and GilleMonster came up (the Monster crashing spectacularly into Billy’s tail somehow in the process) followed by Bean and we all turned back… except that Billy and Monster somehow didn’t get the memo. GPS-less they careered into the foliage, each more sure than the other that they knew where they were going. The rest of us killed another half hour slapping at flies and blaming each other for the screwup before the bush puked them back at us again. It was nearly 11:00 and we were only 20km from Gua.
Above: PhatBilly wet for the first (but not last) time that day and going the wrong way, Ajax cruising along
All that nonsense, but we were rewarded anyway. The tsetses were on the hunt, so we just fled. The track was old but easy to follow, a double-track that somebody – probably a hunting lodge – had recently drug a homemade claw behind to keep the saplings from taking root in the centre but that permitted trees of bone-breaking diameter to remain mere inches from the insides of corners. It was a kind of wicked, fullspeed, do or die dual slalom and I was having a blast. Ajax and I led most of the morning, taking a tyre track each to duel for the lead. The track was rougher than I expected with rocks and ruts producing some very unsuspected rattles and clangs to go with the endless slap and kertwang of tree branches and sapling trunks ricocheting off handlebars and helmet. At one point, I took an utterly graceless swim in a creek crossing, followed by PhatBilly (helmet cam rolling, see below).
Above: Some of the few pics from the morning… riding was great but tsetse flies were impossible… see video
The riding was rough and the flies were insane and I was having a lot of fun, so I didn’t stop. But as I’m driven to document these stupid adventures, I let Ajax go and slammed on the brakes to take snaps of the bikers as they roared past. Now I was at the back, I thought. But I was so preoccupied, swatting and dancing around to keep the flies off of me, I lost count of who had gone past me and couldn’t be sure. I consulted my camera and found that PhatBilly had not checked in, so I went back and found him hunched over his handlebars. Apparently he’d come off on a rutted section and planted himself atop some rocks. Pretty sure he’d snapped a couple of ribs to starboard, he kickstarted the XR 600 and kept on going down the track. Having no options (or is it brains?) makes you brave.
Above: First of three vids of the day ends with Billy and I taking a drink in the creek
Mid-day had come and gone. We stopped just enough to regroup and consume some dry wors in the mottled hardwood shade. We hadn’t seen a soul all day. Tracks were few and great to ride. I took the lead and enjoyed a long stretch of effortless, totally-connnected-to-the-bike moments slithering through the trees in 4th. Saw some hartebeest and warthog. Flushed a number of hornbills from their perches. Amazing, hypnotizing riding.
Above: Excellent double-track through the forest, lots of two-abreast riding with Ajax
Above: Shadowrider, the boys, PhatBilly at a rest stop “it’s the only position where nothing hurts!”
Above: Two minutes uncut on the cattle paths chasing Mr. Bean
170 km of fantastic tracks behind us, we emerged in stages from bush to field to big dirt as humanity asserted itself on the forest and the tsetses slowly vanished. We were 30km down the road from Rungwa, our original destination so there was nothing for it but to bomb the smooth dirt-slab down there after a coke and a quick search for roadside accommodation.
A slithery side-story: At the soda-stop, FundiPhil’s ordinary black leather belt was nicked by one of the little kids thronging around who couldn’t help himself. It was one of the very few incidents of theft we’ve ever experienced, but it left our guest with droopy britches. Half an hour later, as I’m whizzing down the road I skid to a stop 10 feet past a massive Cobra who scared the bajeezus out of me by standing up tall in the road as I approached (no doubt kind of pissed off since Ajax had run him over 2 minutes before, I later learned). Photo-op not to be missed, I get my camera ready to capture one of the guys racing past that most iconic of snakes. Clipping along, FundiPhil sees me in the road gesturing at the snake and slows almost to a crawl, inching closer and closer to the reptile, cool as a cucumber as I gesture with increasing franticness. I’m thinking “this Begian guy has balls!”, but it turned out he thought (inexplicably) that the snake was his belt, magically appeared on the road, and that I was pointing it out for him to pick it up… The perils of riding with 50 somethings with serious prescription specs.
Above: Wanted poster? No, just a local Hitler-mustachioed politician seeking your vote, and the cobra that would have made a nice belt for FundiPhil
Rungwa. The one little town big enough to make it onto our map, way up on the edge of the game reserve bordering Ruaha National Park, was basically a dump inhabited largely by low capacity individuals. We located the guest house by the smell of the long-drop hole-in-the-floor toilets. The place hadn’t been improved in at least four years and was just plain shabby. So for once our presence didn’t bring the property value down.
Above: Ajax, yours truly and Monster in the dumpy courtyard
We cleaned up, fueled and organized food and drink. The kid who brought the jerry cans of petrol bid us farewell with “Have a nice journalist”. PubQuiz, still pretending to be at work, tried to connect to the internet, unsuccessfully… “What? No Wifi?” PhatBilly was in bed by dusk, floating down a cloudy stream on a pillow of serious pain killers after having asserted that his ribs were throbbing and but like he couldn’t feel his ass. Over at the bar in the night, Mr Bean and Ajax made a name for themselves over warm Konyagi at a plastic table with a headlamp in a glass for ambiance.
Above: Evening coming down, PubQuiz goes to work
Night. Unknown in advance how noisy the grubby little town would be. Rooms adjacent to the street. Full blast Swahili music as I dozed off, feeling pain in the neck, swollen like a tennis ball from the tsetse fly bites. I slept in my clothes. No sheet. Window shutters zip-tied shut. In darkness, the unmistakable sound of someone being chased down the street and a mob of men, voices shouting. Then a woman’s scream amid chants of “Piga! Piga!” (Hit! Hit!!) and sinister empty-headed laughter. Later, a truck. Later still, an immense bus sounded its hell’s carnival horn. Then the dawn.
More to come.