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|03-09-2011, 06:03 AM||#1|
Don't be Surprised
Joined: Mar 2009
Location: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
A Sunday Ride in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
It was an epic Dar Bikers Sunday ride: it started late, we got lost awhile, we had several mechanical failures, it took all day long to get back home, and we had a blast. There were nine bikers in all, some who had been riding with the group for ages, and others who would make their debut in the palm-lined, peri-urban, semi-agricultural dustbowls and sand traps of Dar es Salaam’s outskirts. Among us, there was the whole spectrum of off-road experience, and wide variation in equipment and preparedness, but at the end of the day, none of that mattered. It was all about getting out and riding.
Above: 60 second video summary
At the Total station at New Bagamoyo and Morocco, 8:00 AM found an assortment of guys in various states of kit and a motley collection of bikes ranging from a TTR and an XR400 to shiny KTM’s and a brand new CRF 450 that was about to be baptized. After dinking around, fuelling up, and grabbing some provisions from the shop, we finally rumbled up the road out of town, swerving around the already thickening traffic of homicidal minibuses and oblivious 4x4s to the riverbed that leads into the bush.
The river, dry most of the year, cuts right through the city and makes a great exit point for our bike rides. Inhabitants of the concrete houses and shanties dotting the hillsides nearby dig wells in the riverbed for their water. It had rained overnight, leaving a layer of water on the surface of the sand, totally obscuring older water pits wide and deep enough to swallow a bike and rider whole (which has happened in the past) so it was no surprise when half of our party was slow to catch up. H-Man, on his first off-road ride with the TTR, had sunk a tire in the mire, and Danny (also on his debut ride) had already run out of petrol, having sprinted to catch up to us on his limping 250 Honda Degree before hitting the petrol station. It was going to be interesting.
Above: The new CRF takes front stage at Total, the riverbed and our backyard playground
Due to the flooded riverbed, we were forced to abandon the river earlier than usual to connect to the track leading to Pugu Hills. This meant a steep ascent up the bank, and some hunting and pecking for a trail that took us through peoples’ yards and past their toilets, scattering their chickens. It always amazes me how relaxed people are around here, even when a howling band of brightly colored wazungu on rattlilng hell machines suddenly appear on the front porch. They act like it happens all the time.
Above: Noball in the riverbed, A-Bomb slips past the loo, the group ponders our options
I’ve heard that Dar es Salaam is the 10th fastest growing city on the planet. It really is amazing how built-up the outskirts are. Like most everything in the country, it’s all gone on unplanned and unmanaged. Simple block houses cling to unstable hillsides or edge precariously close to the flood plain, roads are rough and rutted where they exist at all, and most of the trees have been chopped down for cooking fuel or to make way for highly inefficient agriculture. In some areas, however, shops and bars line the streets and there’s a bustle that rivals downtown. Like nearly everything out here, I’m ambivalent about it all. It’s strange and sad, yet vibrant and alluring… one big contradiction.
Above: Advert for traditional medicine promising to plump your rump, Faceplant commenting in advance on my writing style (back atcha big fella), our crew negotiating the exurbs
Despite having a GPS, Ajax managed to get us lost. As our fearless leader, he usually does a pretty good job negotiating the peri-urban maze, but this time he stuck his foot in it… literally. We were pinned between a high, imposing wire fence on one side, and houses with deep rubbish pits on the other, and Ajax was picking his way through pretty well. Then he dropped his bike in a hole. Since there was a perfectly easy way around the trap, we all had a front row seat for this comedy and had a nice laugh at his expense. Meanwhile, Danny had finally sorted out his Degree’s pesky chain problem… too loose; it had fallen off repeatedly, a situation exacerbated by the completely and utterly buggared rear shock that had him pogoing and donkeykicking along the roads all day long.
Above: Ajax’s hole and Danny’s floppy chain problem (Faceplant “helps out” by saying: Fix the bike on Saturday, ride on Sunday!)
Approaching Pugu Hills, we were finally free of the housing labyrinth and able to let loose a bit more. The roads and tracks were rutted and tricky in spots, quick and twisty. A-Bomb discovered suddenly that his XR600’s throttle cables were routed badly when they stuck wide open out near the cattle market. An old hand with a bike, he twisted and pulled on the cables until the engine’s idle returned from a tortured whine to a low grumble. It would have to do.
Above: The track onward to Pugu, Frogger and A-Bomb, the tricky descent down to the Cattle Market
On the road, I stopped to watch Noball negotiate a mud lake, hoping he’d slip and take a spill for the camera (what are friends for?). But, coming down the road at full tilt, he saw me posted there with the camera and decided to go whole hog into the center of the puddle, vanishing beneath a spray of chocolate milk colored water before roaring out the other side. I was happy to have captured the pic, but was suddenly ashamed: Noball’s antics had doused everyone within a mile of the puddle, and now they were all looking at me with accusing eyes. I shouted “pole sana!”, kicked and twisted. We gained altitude on a fast dirt road and reached Pugu town by 11:00 for rest, refreshments and repairs.
Above: Draining the chocolate milk out of our boots, a cold beer and throttle repair, Noball’s submarine splashdown
In ride reports from other countries, I drool over fish tacos from Mexico, greasy diner breakfasts from the US, and exotic eats from Asia. In our world, it’s chips mayayi. Translation: French fries fried in fried eggs (Para los Espanoles, es basicamente una tortilla de patata, pero version cutre). It’s a staple food of the road, and goes very well with beer. Add a little salt and imitation Tabasco sauce, and you’ve got a gut filling winner. In Pugu, the chips mayayi were made even more delicious by serving them steaming hot in a plastic bag with nothing but toothpicks for utensils. Aaaafrica.
After we’d had our fill and were gearing up, Faceplant announced that he had a puncture fafaksake. So, we settled down to watch him fix it and listen to him grumble. Since he’s the oldest oke in the forest, we decided to let him go ahead and put a patch over a patch over a patch without comment. After all, who would argue with such a big, cuddly teddy bear?
Above: Frogger and I devour chips mayayi, Faceplant manipulates world’s smallest chopsticks (he’s used to handling tiny things), chips mayayi in a baggy and our first puncture (Faceplant).
Repairs finished, we raced out of Pugu down a familiar, sandy track full of twists and trees and plenty of chances to scare one’s self silly. Again, the group began to stretch out into a long string of dusty particles on the trail, and we were waiting for stragglers when Faceplant says it again: puncture fafaksake, and then “Anyone have a tube?”
While Faceplant moaned and sweated and wrenched, I took the opportunity to check out Finnito’s new CRF 450 (which is essentially the polar opposite of the XR400 Faceplant was mending). The thing was still shiny and new, had less than 200km on the clock, plastics unscratched, aluminum everything, and a grinning owner. Oooh the contrast. But the new bike didn’t make Finnito forget his roots (he was once a proud XR400 owner): he handed over the spare tube he’d been carrying to a woeful Faceplant and his limping steed. Honda camaraderie.
Above: Faceplant: "Ef I see eny of thus on the wuldwahd weeb, there wull be hell to pie!" Finnito and his new CRF 450
Once again all together, and on inflated rubber at last, we cruised another few clicks to a well-known watering hole for another rest before getting back to it. We negotiated another market area and slipped back into the bush tracks heading southeast.
Above: One little two little three little pikipikies… the alleyway, Danny and Finnito
As is typical of this kind of ride, I took lots of pictures of the places we stopped, but very few of the ride itself. I was having way too much fun riding in the sand. Most of this area is bush proper with fields and a few villages around, there’s none of the crummy settlement feel of the areas north and west of Dar and you’re unlikely to encounter a bus or a lorry on a blind corner (though that happens too). This means open throttles and wide smiles for bikers. Noball, Frogger and I spent our time chasing down Ajax and sparring with each other over position, skidding around corners and trying to outdo each other on the straights (you got nothin’, Noball). The new riders found the deep, soft sand quite a challenge, especially Danny with his pogo-stick shock and H-Man with his heavy TTR. Still, at every rest spot, everybody was in great spirits and talking it up.
Above: Faceplant passes a rural market stall specializing in Jackfruit, Danny gives the one-gloved double “thumbs up”
The sandy playground was incredible, and as we moved to ever more rural areas, the scenery improved to match it. Huge mango trees and palms hugged the paths and the track swerved through swatches of scrubby forest and fields. The quick pace led to mischievous behavior. At one stop, Ajax and Noball put Frogger in a roost crossfire, covering him and his bike in sand and grit before he could flee.
Above: Palms and thumpers in the village, Frogger’s roosted bike, Noball and a friend
For the better part of an hour, it was just sandy fast tracks through the bush. Excellent riding.
Above: Frogger rounds a corner (head wobbling like Glen Quagmire), my XR, Ajax king of the village
At an earlier turn off, I remember thinking it was a good idea when I saw H-Man letting some air out of the TTR’s tires. I figured that would suit him well in the deep sand. I didn’t think to check how much air he’d let out. We’d just finished the most entertaining and challenging section of track when A-Bomb arrives to inform us that H-Man had a flat. Eager to re-ride what we’d just done, most of us turned around and sped back “to help out”. We learned to our dismay that the stem of the tube had ripped, which in my experience meant game over, especially since we didn’t have another spare tube among us (six guys riding tubes, and only one brings a spare… WTF?). But, it’s Faceplant to the rescue. When he was a pup, they had to fix everything with spit and elephant dung, so this was no problem for him. In a jiffy, he hammered a hole in a big tire patch using a socket for a punch, glued it over the stem, whacked a washer over that and installed the lot back into the tire. It leaked air, alright, but slowly enough that H-Man could continue on. Faceplant Redeemed.
Above: TTR on homemade crutch, the repair, H-Man “I’m no fundi… at all”, A-Bomb helps out while Frogger catches some Z’s
We were close to home now, and getting tired. More than once, I felt the front wheel go in the sand and thought, “this is it”, but faith in the physics of motorcycling saved me every time: more throttle = more centrifugal force = less carnage. The deep sand didn’t let up until we reached the tarmac that took us to the beachside bar where we had our sundowner. The stories that emerged there were harrowing. We knew Danny had been fighting the sand all day long with that busted shock, but I was shocked to hear that H-Man had come off the TTR in the sand as it “barrel rolled into the bush”. To look at him, you couldn’t tell, and the bike’s only injury was a pair of dislocated indicators.
Above: Danny rounds one last sandy corner (villagers place palm husks in the path for traction… do you think it helped?), H-Man’s floppy indicators, the beach bar sundowner.
After our refreshment, it was time to call it quits. Half of the group stayed back while the rest of us hit the road for the Kigamboni ferry crossing back to Dar. The ferry was a madhouse. There were hundreds of people making their way back to the city after a weekend south at the beaches, and they rushed the ferry on foot, and aboard all manner of bike, motorcycle and car. The sun was setting on a very good Sunday ride in coastal Tanzania. Not the first, it won’t be the last. Osadabwa out.
Above: The ferry crossing to Dar es Salaam from South Beach
Hey Dar Bikers: if you don’t like the nicknames I’ve given you in this post, or would like to tell the group what a great rider I am, then join ADVrider and leave your semi-literate reply!
I used to have a link to my African rides in my signature line, but every time I check it doesn't work. So, if you want to see Kilimanjaro, the Kilombero Valley, a bunch of short trips around Dar and another long one to Mozambique: go to my profile.
Osadabwa screwed with this post 03-29-2011 at 07:35 AM
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