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Old 06-28-2013, 06:25 AM   #16
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Old 06-28-2013, 11:43 AM   #17
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Old 06-28-2013, 10:23 PM   #18
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Thumb Day 0: Prep and arrival

Countdown was on. Five days to go. The plan had been in the works for months, if you could call it a plan. I’d studied Google’s Earth for tracks. Bikers from days past had booked tickets. Bikes had been brought up to passable states of readiness (by local standards). All that remained was to change rubber. Faceplant delivered parts and a special compressed pizza, and Mr. Bean brought tyres aplenty for the changing. Mousses are a hellovathing to install on tyres that have been around for several years in the tropics, but it’s worth it to have 100% assurance that at least punctures won’t be what slows us down...


Above: A pizza mixta, Mr Bean on the job

The day upon us, we hit the airport bar at noon (well, it was noon somewhere). It was Bean and I plus two bums from early Dar Biker days; PubQuiz - the eternal fountain of useless knowledge and PhatBilly – apparently a slightly plumper version than last time he was around (pun intended); and Mr. Bean’s francophone-only buddy FundiPhil coming to ride the tracks at 58 years young. He didn’t have a clue what was coming.


Above: In transit (donation can could just as well had a pic of the average Dar biker on it)

Ajax and GilleMonster were half way to Mbeya with bikes atop trailers, and the rest of us hopped a bird. Somehow or other, we arrived at the airport within 30 minutes of each other (the car and the plane) and managed have a beer in the parking lot before setting off for the lovely and comfortable (if hyper-colonial and stuffily managed) Utengule lodge overlooking the dusty valley below from its coffee estate vantage.


Above: Mbeya Intnl Airport, Utengule arrival

It took nothing to unload, settle in, open some bottles and relax. Bikes were ready after we installed spanking-new airfilters on the XRs and our bellies were full of boot-tough beef.

Around the table, it was an intellectual's dream:

[PubQuiz, out of the blue] So, anyone know the origin of the term “board meeting”?

[Ajax to PhatBilly] Use your inside voice!

[Bean, GilleMonster and FundiPhil] "Vous, loo, woo" and other French noises.

The sun snuffed itself out on the purple hills in the distance and we stumbled to our racks.


Above: 5/7ths of the group and a postcard sunset

We would ride come the morn.

Stay tuned, 'cause its going to get dusty.

Link to day 1
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Old 06-29-2013, 03:31 PM   #19
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Old 06-29-2013, 05:31 PM   #20
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Hasn't even started & I'm already rating it MJ style.
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:14 AM   #21
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Thumb Day 1: Dusty tracks to the river - Mbeya to Gua

Coffee morning. Frail, pink light on the distant hills.

[PubQuiz at breakfast]: You know about Napoleon’s wife, right?

Eager to go, loading bikes took ages. The venerable XR 600 already down with a puncture in the parking lot. An ill omen. FundiPhil does the change even though it’s not his bike. Setting precedent.


Above: Breakfast puncture repair

It was big dirt past the Mbeya Range. Dusty dirt. Fesh-feshy dirt. The kind that puffs and piles as you ride through it, pulling at your tires. The light was already angry with us it seemed. Long stretches with trees and fields and a handful of humanity. An old brick cattle corral and squeeze chute next to an empty weekly market area looking ghostly and dry, suspiciously smell-free.


Above: Dusty exodus

Galula church, built almost a century ago by French White Fathers, would have seemed decidedly out of place if it weren’t for its run-downedness, which matches the rest of the country. Awful lot of work to just let turn to dust, but that’s a common and boring story here. The tracks from Google Earth I made had launched us north, but weren't exciting enough for the boys up to that point. There was grumbling among the troops. We needed a morale boost.


Above: FundiPhil and the sugarcane, a lone baobab, Galula Cathedral

So we doglegged it left on one of the other options from my digital recon mission. Track was smaller, more inviting. Fast, but narrower. It was choose-your-own-adventure kind of riding in some places. Still dusty. Very dusty. Moon and Mars dusty, also sandy and deep and the bush was thickening. There were few humans to behold apart from the seven of us raising an ungodly racket and atomizing the planet with our tyres.


Above: In and out of the dust, bottoming out in the Songwe River Valley

All that dust took us to the river I’d seen on Google Earth. I half expected it to be dry, but it wasn’t. As usual, Bean took the first baptismal drop without hesitation. Following his success, we took turns crossing without incident until an overeager and winded PhatBilly twists one too many times on the throttle and lurches up the riverbank into the adjacent field, crashing to a stop in the thorn fence and riverine spike-reeds. Observers local and imported found the sight equal parts puzzling and amusing.


Above: Fording the river

Wet but drying fast, we climbed out of the valley on the escarpment’s brushy flanks. High plains up there. Big views. Dry, scatty, scratchy were yonder hills and the sun like a slap in the face. So we stopped for drinks and a bike fix (Ajax’s something or other bolt was misaligned). Then later, at the Amani Hotel in Bilajina village, we devoured rice, beans and beef until we were warped and bloated and only really wanted to sleep it off among the bones and chewed up fatty-cartilage joint bits like drunken knights of some cast away plastic-clad order.


Above: Billy's fall and our beverage stop


Above: Pay first before service (that means YOU, dusty biker hooligans)


Above: Mr. Bean's hungry for beans

But instead, we lit fire to the bikes. Another big dirt spread us out wide to avoid choking on one another’s dust. Nobody complained and the bikes ate it up. The stony outcroppings and bluffs on the horizon, the lack of people and cars, the wide blue sky’s vacuous depth, gold mining camps (formal and otherwise) and bush fires set the scene for the next act and entertained the senses.


Above: Bikes, buttes and brushfires

GilleMonster’d broken a subframe bolt on the 690 (If you’re keeping track, that’s 3 mech-issues so far). He had the sense or the luck to stop beneath a beautiful widereaching shadetree to allow us to help or supervise (blue collar/white collar) according to our willingness and abilities. Monster, Bean, Ajax and FundiPhil used chisel, hammer and hacksawblade (yes, Ajax carries all three) to remove the remains of the bolt while PubQuiz and I offered advice from a remote position and PhatBilly putzed around the edges feigning helpfulness.

Two bikes passed in the meantime, carrying who knows what. Then appeared the googly-eyed, skirt- parka- and Wellington-wearing, oversize-helmeted, nutjob biker apparition from the north. Batshit only touches on the crazy here. He was flying towards us on an AG intent on some point in the distance and suddenly slammed on the breaks halfway past as if he’d only just caught sight of us. Disembarking, he mumbled this and that to an uncomprehending FundiPhil, commented sagely on the operation taking place on the 690 and posed for a few photos before vanishing into the dust like a fart in the wind. An odd, but good omen he turned out to be.


Above: Nutballs and broken bolts, strict division of labour

Because from there on, the road rocked. Deep sand. Thick forest. Nobody at all to be seen or imagined out there. The perfect temperature. The acute afternoon light flashing through the trees like a strobe at a rave, speed taking the place of X in our veins. Good honest riding.


Above: Afternoon light to Gua

Then, Gua all of a sudden. Our destination for the day. A little village, but a good one, with respectable digs (6 good rooms, concrete floors for the bucket bath and a cramped little storage closet for GilleMonstar to sleep in) and a competent outsourced staff (beers from the hotel, food from some lady acting as impromptu take-out and boiled egg and salt-roasted peanut delivery) that catered for us well above expectations. Cleaned up, and gassed up in advance for the next day, we worked on bikes and bodies as the sun sat and the kids thronged.


Above: PubQuiz the thorn surgeon, FundiPhil on the bike

Night fell and Thomas (local drunk and considerable pain in the ass) arrived to chat. PhatBilly, perhaps giddy with the day’s ride, attempted politeness awhile before asking him to excuse himself (PhatBilly used other language) repeatedly until it became a rally cry for the team: “Rock Off Thomas!” We chowed down on a kilo of salty peanuts, sorted breakfast’s delivery, and devoured a massive rice and bean feast. The next day would be a long one on a small track through the wilderness. And not all of us would make it through unscathed.


Above: Nightfall and Thomas

Here's 6 minutes of the day's best clips... save one. Chasing Monster in the deepest dust, he suddenly vanishes into a cloud so thick it blocked out the light. I approached in the eerie twilight to find him waving like a lunatic next to the horizontal 690, frantically trying to keep me from ploughing into him. I swore I had the helmet cam going, but alas...


Above: Mbeya to Gua, day 1's dusty riding and a river crossing

More to come.

Link to next day.
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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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Old 06-30-2013, 09:34 AM   #22
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Old 07-01-2013, 05:26 PM   #23
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Cool vid
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Old 07-04-2013, 09:10 AM   #24
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You on Swahili time?
When did you sell your BRP ?
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Old 07-05-2013, 04:27 AM   #25
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When did you sell your BRP ?
Sold both a couple of years back...I miss them and if I find a deal I'll get another.
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Old 07-05-2013, 05:04 AM   #26
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We're already planing the next trip and you're only on page 2 of this one!!
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Old 07-05-2013, 09:06 PM   #27
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Thumb Day 2: Gua to Rungwa - Tsetse flies and double tracks

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.
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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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Old 07-10-2013, 11:44 AM   #28
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Thumb Day 3: Rungwa to Inyonga - Bye bye Billyboy

Awake early but on the road late. PhatBilly announced he was calling it quits before breakfast, still in agony from his banged up ribs and perhaps suspiciously worried about the absence of feeling in his arse. The Dar Biker reaction was to accept this setback with composure, not get overly emotional about it, and point his broken carcass back down the road to Mbeya alone. Like some primitive band of roaming hominoids, we instinctively set in motion a plan that benefitted the group’s survival and exiled our wounded elder, stripping him of any useful items in the process and saddling him with worn goods and unnecessary articles. We dumped the ancient XR 600 on him, a bike that had already proven to have little to no braking ability and handled like a tugboat in a sea of molasses. Then Mr Bean enhanced the bike’s sorry state by looting the half decent front tire it wore and swapping it with the bald, cracked, egg-shaped slab of rubber off of his bike. So, after stiffly mounting the steed (kick-start only, mind you) off went Billy on a 300 km ride to Mbeya on the worst bike we had with no map or GPS to guide him, alone. We Dar Bikers are a band of brothers.


Above: Boiled eggs and chapati again, preparing PhatBilly’s funerary motorbike

As the dust settled, the rest of us went for chapati and tea before lighting up the bikes and launching them at the big dirt from the day before. It was a necessary evil, a small price to pay for the promise of a 150km of small track that lie between us and Inyonga, our next stop. At the bar, the XR400 was slow to start and blew one hellovalot of blue smoke once it got going, but being a Honda, nobody paid it much attention and everybody blamed it on PubQuiz’s inability to work a choke. Afterall, Billy never mentioned it had an issue, so off we went. Assumptions. Omens. Portents of ill winds of bad things to come. Good thing we ain’t superstitious (though everybody who lives in Africa too long is a little ‘stitious).

Retracing steps is anathema to bikers, particularly if it’s big dirt, so we were all basically asleep at the bars when one by one we were snapped awake by a hump created by the recent installation of an enormous culvert that sent us all flying like overweight supercrossers. Then not long afterward, a very unexpected sight: PhatBilly! Broken ribs, rattle trap bike, long solo ride ahead… and he rides the wrong bloody way. I began to wonder if he had a brain injury in addition to broken ribs, but the guys assured me that wasn’t it. Still, as he rode off, again, in the right direction this time, I wondered if he’d make it alone… hell, I wondered how he managed to get his boots buckled alone.

And then:
Q: “Where the hell is PubQuiz?”
A: “Looking for his fuel cap”
Q: “WTF?”
A:
He’d hit the big culvert and the thing had gone “POP!” off into the bush. We spent 15 minutes riding slowly up and down a 100 meter section of road, but gave up. I felt like I was riding with some sort of traveling freakshow.


Above: PubQuiz’s new fuel cap of plastic bags, inner tube rubber and zip ties; PhatBilly reincarnated on the wrong road to Mbeya

Finally off the big dirt, we were ready to start the day. The track was similar to the previous day; tree-lined doubletrack with sandy dusty sections and a million tsetse flies per square foot. It was excellent and tricky in areas, but I spent the morning lumbering along clobbering roots and repeatedly losing control instead of enjoying myself. It was like my brain was sending messages to my body at the speed of an African internet connection. Reflexes like a drunk’s and no sense of urgency to turn or brake, I rode in a mental fog all morning just trying to keep it on the track.

Not riding worth a damn, I stopped to take photos and to test if the 100% DEET I’d sprayed on myself shielded me from tsetse attack but was distressed to discover that while the tsetses seemed repelled enough, it seemed to positively fascinate the bees! And there were thousands of bees. All along the track, locals had hung traditional tree bark beehives high up on the canopy directly over the track. At one point there was one hung low enough to explore, but it was audibly buzzing, so I gave it a wide berth and let Ajax explore. It gives one pause to blast noisily under these buzzing cylinders, hung with nothing more than a bit of vine, particularly if one recalls the phrase “African Killer Bee”. So, my plan for the day was simply not to stop, and I didn’t much.


Above: low-hung bee hive in the forest

We rode by sad looking tobacco fields with plucked stems yellowing in their rows. The drying huts – taller versions of mud houses with racks inside to hang tobacco leaves on and a place to light a wood fire – stood smoked-out in the fields, some new and others in utter disrepair. There was a noticeable reduction of trees in the areas around the tobacco fields as most of them were cut for tobacco drying. My idle brain thought it typical: another example of the types of externalities common to a cash crop in Africa that makes raw materials (like tobacco, cotton, pineapples etc) appear cheap and beneficial since they can raise poor farmer incomes but that have irreversible ecological consequences. Everything has a cost.


Above: bushfire and bikers

Around 1:00, we stopped in a relatively tsetse free patch for our typical bush lunch of droewors and battered cookies from our Giant Loops (imho: GL’s the best GD saddlebag ever made, hands down). The boost of fat and sugar was enough to snap me out of the daze I’d been in. For the rest of the afternoon I was riding high, blasting along side-by-side with Ajax, branches whacking us on all sides, happy as a monkey in a tree. It salvaged my day, and by the time the big dirt came, I was smiling ear to ear. We stopped on the big road for a Passion Fanta (worth the trip all on its own) and blasted it down to Inyonga in 5th gear, punishing ourselves on the potholes and eating eachother’s dust.


Above: Fantastop and a faded Obama t-shirt

At last, Inyonga. A decent sized town with many guest houses, we did several noisy circumnavigations before settling on accommodation (there was no room at the Hilton). Showered up, we set out for the bar where I sampled my first (and last) Balimi Beer, a regional favorite and high in booze points. As night fell, the bar came alive. First the ungodly sound system crackled to life with local favorites like “Kigoooma!” which had the drunks singing at the tops of their wavery tubercular lungs, and then quiet temporarily fell as they tuned in for the nightly news. Amazing really. Electricity is a new thing out in places like Inyonga, and they’re making good use of it. I juiced up my camera batteries in a shop dedicated to charging cell phones for a little less than $0.50. Not possible 10 years ago.


Above: Monster checks the map, Ajax thrilled by the speakers, a Balimi in the capital


Above: Monster checks the map, Ajax thrilled by the speakers, a Balimi in the capital


Above: Our too-cool-for-school guest house attendant and the bar’s hopping and utterly unoriginal chips mayayi and mishkaki grill

That night, we slept like the dead. Cold air and clean sheets plus a blanket and relative silence did us right.

Once or twice Ajax and Bean awoke in the silence, conscience stirring. Where was PhatBilly, they wondered. I sure hope he’s okay out there all alone… Ha! Just kidding.

More to come
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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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Old 07-10-2013, 12:22 PM   #29
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Oft times I will type out LOL, in the spirit of appreciating a humourus post. For the most part this is figurative rather than literal.

An involuntary literal *snort guffaw* escaped me at the vision of Mr. Googly Parka.

Awesome R.R. is awesome! So much enjoying this twisted tale! Thank you for sharing, wonderful narration and pics
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Old 07-11-2013, 03:34 AM   #30
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Joined: Mar 2009
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Oddometer: 192
Talking Mr. Googly Parka Wellington Nutjob

Hey L.B.S.,

Yes, we find lots of quirky characters out here, but he was extra special. I include one more pic here just for you.

Cheers


Above: I was nodding off when he arrived, but had to get in a pic with him
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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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