|04-29-2011, 06:58 AM||#1|
Don't be Surprised
Joined: Mar 2009
Location: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Mount Kilimanjaro Loop: An Easter Feast of Mud, Rain and African Terrain
Let’s take a week, circumnavigate Mount Kilimanjaro, attend an Easter baptism feast in a Chagga Village, ride into the Masai Steppe, turn back up toward Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains, and drop back down to the Indian Ocean at Pangani before slogging through the dust and mud south of Sadaani National Park on the way back to Dar es Salaam. There are four bikers: Ajax (KTM 450), Mr. Bean (KTM 450), Finnito (CRF 450) and me (XR 400). Its 2 days to the baptism, so let’s get started.
Finnito and I trailer the bikes from Dar to a Sango Village near Moshi on Thursday, meet our hosts, Babu and Bibi ABC, unload, set up the tents and proceed to drink beer in homage to the beastly 19,000 foot volcano at whose feet we sit. It starts to rain, and the rich soil turns to a dark brown paste. It’s just a glimpse of what’s to come. Night falls, Ajax and Bean arrive on the late flight and all manner of insects emerge from the soil, spreading their wings and crashing into everything. The sooner we sleep, the sooner we ride. Rain hammers the tents all night long.
Above: Arrival with the rain, our location, a doozy of a flying ant.
Above: Looking for a route and fixing a GPS (are two heads any better than one?)
Good Friday and we’re on the bikes. The GPS will record our journey for later trips, but we’ll rely on maps and Ajax and Bean’s Kiswahili to make our way (clockwise) around Kilimanjaro. It’s a quick lick to Moshi and up into the bananas, slipping and sliding all the way. The place is claustrophobic with foliage. Banana plants as tall as two story buildings tower above the mahogany brown muck of the road, leaning like ghouls in the misty, humid morning, slender and ominous like hungry supermodel zombies. The darkness and the slick roads have us on edge, and it’s only a couple of hours before we meet our first potential trip-ender. Bean and I, negotiating a steep incline, meet an old Isuzu 4x4 cresting the hill at far too quick a lick. It starts to skid and narrowly avoids Ajax, but Finnito isn’t so lucky. Despite a quick blast of throttle to get the bike off the roadside into the bush, Finnito catches the grill of the pickup (in a slow-motion full four-wheel slide by this time) with his hip (bruised) and exhaust pipe (nicely bent). Untangled, we carry on.
Above: The mud claims a 4x4, Ajax and Finnito starting out the day.
Above: Umbwe entrance, 9.2 km, one of the many rivers to cross, Finnito
Dipping off the slope a bit, we glide into fast tracks through endless, sloping maize fields and into the welcomed sunshine for the first time. Still no dust clouds lift from our wheels. The rainy season’s been on here long enough keep down the dust and to lift the maize shoots above boot-high. Mt. Meru, Kilimanjaro’s smaller cousin, slowly emerges from her cloud blanket and towers before us in the sunshine, like the back of a great dark whale breaching a verdant, frothy sea. A short squirt on the tarmac, and we’re in a little farming town for Good Friday lunch (fish, of course).
Above: Mt Meru lords over the early maize, getting directions, cruising down.
Above: Tractor tautology says “God is God”, Obama’s salon (no birth certificate required fafuksake), Good Friday Fish lunch (your choices are fish or fish), Kilimanjaro Lager (unofficial beer of the trip), a new twist on naming the john.
From here, we turn our wheels again toward the dense bank of cloud that obscures Kilimanjaro’s snowy summit. Our map shows a web of farm roads crisscrossing this fertile Western flank. All we have to do is stitch a track together that keeps us on course. This is easier said than done, however, and in no time we’re lost in a wonderful playground of green maize, barley shoots and coffee bushes with Mt. Meru, all the while towering above us. Little by little, however, we make our way along and Meru begins to drift behind just as another raincloud forms and we climb higher and higher on Kili’s shoulder.
Above: In the farm road maze, riding through maize, grain (barley?) rolling on the hills
Above: Finnito and Mt. Meru, farm scenes
Above: Turning around again in the fields, African horizon
Above: Three stooges, Bean before Meru, furrows
In a steady rain, we take a rest in a roadside shack and consult the map over some Cokes. A few cops on motorcycles show up and offer friendly words and inadequate directions, AK-47s dangling on shoulder straps pointing haphazardly at our chests and heads all the while. In no time we find ourselves riding too far up the mountain, ears popping from the altitude change, soaked to the skin but happy for the ride despite the error. The cool air and wide views of rain falling on the valley below plus the vibrant roadside vegetable market in full swing make the detour worthwhile. Everywhere on the road we pass the ubiquitous little 125cc Chinese motorbikes overloaded with carrots and other vegetables puttering and spluttering through the mud to the market.
Above: Bean, Finnito and Ajax on a quick Coke stop and map check in the rain
Above: Self Portrait of the Author as an XR 400, Finnito negotiates the mud, a carrot transport bike on the move
Twisting farther along the route, on the Northern side of the mountain now, the black soil and rain-fed lushness is long gone. It’s a different world from the bananas and coffee, maize and barley we passed just hours before. Drier and barren, the mountain here stares at Kenya under the glare of the full afternoon sun. It’s rained recently and goats, sheep, cattle and donkeys meander along, nipping at the newly sprouted short grass while a woman draped in the blue and red cloth of the region makes the year’s first scratches in the newly moistened earth. Exhilarated by the dry surface and long afternoon shadows, we rip up the road like happy hell let loose.
Above: Bean and Ajax with lookers on, a woman takes the year’s first hits at the land
Above: Looking toward Kenya, Mika charges a climb, map check and kid mob
Then, quite abruptly, the dirt ends at a flawless ribbon of tarmac and Mount Kilimanjaro appears from behind her blanket of cloud like a magician’s assistant on a stage. The peak is snow covered and lovely and almost unbelievably big. It’s getting on to evening, so we’re ready to hit the tar and find accommodation. We don’t go looking for tar roads, but if I had to ride on one for the rest of my life, this would be it: With Kilimanjaro leaning down in the evening sun, the smell of pine trees from an old plantation in my nose, and twisty S curves coming one after another after another for miles, it’s as close to perfect as tar can get, and takes us straight to the Snow Cap Lodge where cold beers and a sunny lawn to awaits.
Above: Tarmac and Mount Kilimanjaro
Above: Promise of excellent tarmac, which would you prefer: Bike or bus?
Above: All of us at the Snow Cap, Map shows proximity to Kenya, Ajax poses pretty in the evening light
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.
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