A Travellerspoint blog

September 2019

Rules of the Road

Tanzania’s rural traffic is, luckily, not as insane as its urban traffic. Though the madmen who drive the intercity coaches seem to have a death wish. Not only on their behalf, but also on that of their passengers and me…

semi-overcast 24 °C
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Dangerous overtaking

Dangerous overtaking

A few hundred metres ahead of me, the oncoming coach pulls out behind a long line of lorries. He is heading straight for me, and I feel like a bug the second before it gets squashed on a windshield. I flash my headlight at the driver, who quickly realises that there is no shoulder in this road and nowhere for me to go, so he pulls back in behind the lorries. He can overtake them once I have passed him.
After 950 km of Tanzania’s highways, I’m getting a feel for how to behave. Road shoulders, those bits of the extra road on each side of the actual road, are essential for motorcyclists here. In general, if someone bigger – pretty much everybody else – are coming against me and wants to overtake someone, I’m expected to move out of the way. E.g. drive onto the shoulder so that the overtaker can use my lane. On the positive, if there’s a lot of traffic or slow-moving trucks, I can use the shoulder to overtake them on the inside while everybody else has to wait for the oncoming traffic to pass. However, as mentioned above, if there is no shoulder on the road, driving gets pretty standard, and other people almost treat my bike as a proper vehicle.

Dar traffic jam

Dar traffic jam

Driving around the hectic (some would say crazy) traffic in Dar es Salaam was excellent preparation. Of course, the nay-sayers would call it fatalistic or outright suicidal to cross southern Africa on a tiny motorcycle. That was also what they said when I arrived in Dar, took a quick look at the congested traffic, and bought said bike without ever haven ridden one before. Look who’s laughing now!
In general, traffic on Tanzania’s highways is sporadic at best. There is a large number of trucks, but they are slower than me. I see very few regular cars, except for governmental SUVs, who are driving insanely fast. Every time I pass through a village, there will be a bunch of motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks, and possibly a minibus waiting for passengers, but towns don’t last for very long.

Open road (notice shoulder)

Open road (notice shoulder)

My biggest foes on the roads have no doubt been the couches. Those long-distance buses driving between Tanzania’s major cities. They will slow down for nobody, maybe expect traffic police. I not only have to keep a keen eye on oncoming coaches. These guys are faster than me, even going uphill, and I will have to watch my rear-view mirrors closely throughout the day, trying to spot fast approaching threats on the horizon. Again, roads with shoulders make being overtaken by a large, fast bus less nerve-racking. Once the coach is close, I can simply indicate, pull onto the shoulder and let the driver pass. Having a large bus about a metre next to me while I go 70 km/h on an oversized toy for a couple of seconds isn’t my idea of fun, but it sure beats having one tailgating me for a few minutes until it can pass me even closer.

Monkeys on the road

Monkeys on the road

But in general the roads are pretty empty, and I do get times where I can enjoy the ride for five or ten minutes without anyone else in sight. That is of course until a government SUV appears out of nowhere to overtake me with 140 km/h, abruptly pilling me out of my day-dreaming bliss. I do tend to let my rear-view mirror guard down a bit when I’m allowed just to enjoy the ride.
All this, of course, have not touched on the wild animals, herds, children and old folk who also enjoys crossing the road rather suddenly — or at least likes to hand out near the road — giving just about everybody driving nervous tics!

Posted by askgudmundsen 12:36 Archived in Tanzania Tagged traffic travel overland driving tanzania buses motorbike couches accident danger southern_africa trucks Comments (0)

Why am I doing this again?

The first leg in Tanzania is over and I've thus driving the glorified scooter more than 10 times further than ever before in one go!

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Safely arrived

Safely arrived

After five hours of driving, I’m rolling into Morogoro, 200 km west of Dar es Salaam. My hands are sunburned, my butt is sore, and I will have to find someone who can make a small adjustment to my motorbike’s handbrake. But I have actually managed to drive my glorified scooter the first leg towards Cape Town—and in the expected time too. In inequivalent success!
I had never ridden a scooter, let alone a motorbike when I arrived in Tanzania a year ago. Over the last twelve months, I familiarised myself with my small Yamaha Crypton 110cc, driving it to and from work, but I never rode it longer than 15 km in one go. On this first leg, I beat that distance ten times over.
Whatever compelled me to (try to) drive a small motorbike 12,000 km from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town I don’t know. The adventure and freedom of the roads are surely going to be exciting. The romantic notion of African exploration sounds a bit colonial, but that’s also going to be great. Yet, the simple facts were that my contract was up, I had nothing better to do, and I was in Dar es Salaam anyway. So why not.
Going to Cape Town, rather than driving to bike back towards Denmark has a much more clear-cut explanation. I don’t have a motorbike licence that’s valid in Europe. It is, however, valid in all of Southern Africa, so that was a no brainer.

Ready for 12,000 km

Ready for 12,000 km

Having already backpacked plenty of strange places (Central Asia, West Africa and the Middle East), I’ve been on my fair share of chicken buses, shared taxis and ridiculous slow trains. So the idea of having my own wheels really appealed to me. However, a big 4x4 was out of the question price-wise, and braving congested traffic in a city of 5.5 million people for a year just begged for a motorbike, so here I am.
Surprisingly enough, I have no real expectations for this trip. No butterflies were basking around in my stomach as a set off in the morning. It’s all, just another trip. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t even expect the bike to last the entire journey we’ll simply have to wait and see.
So karibu (‘welcome’ in Kiswahili) to all of you, who – like me – are just curious to see what happens when someone, who’s not overly prepared, tries to drive a bike that’s not made for such a ride 12,000 km through Africa. I see this blog as a chance for us to learn a little about Southern Africa, motorbikes, and life on the road. Of course, if you are only here making sure I’m not maiming myself on the way south, you’re more than welcome too.

Entering Morogoro Region

Entering Morogoro Region

The second leg will be another day on the road. 300 km to Iringa, which should also take around five hours as I do not have to deal with the hectic traffic of Dar es Salaam. I’ll remember to cover my hands in sunscreen this time around, but my butt will just have to deal with being sore…

If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ this blog on Facebook so you won't miss future stories?

Posted by askgudmundsen 09:29 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel overland tanzania motorbike southern_africa reasons Comments (0)

New Blog: SOUTHERN Africa Road Blog

Driving a glorified moped from Dar es Salaam to Cape Town

sunny 28 °C
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Planned Route -ish...

Planned Route -ish...

I’ve got a dumb idea. Fun, exciting, but dumb! Why not drive, the small 110cc motorcycle that I’ve been driving for the last year or so, while working for the European Union in Tanzania, all the way down to Cape Town?

“Motorcycle” is probably the wrong word – glorified scooter will probably be more correct. Setting out for a 12,000 km (that’s 7,500 miles for the Americans) in Southern Africa, on a glorified moped is dumb. Silly at best. Particularly when taking into account the lack of driving skills in Southern Africa, or that a city bike probably shouldn’t be driven up a mountainous gravel road in rural Lesotho, or that the 140 km I can travel on a full tank (on smooth, plain tarmac) often will not be enough to take me to the next gas station… At least the diplomatic plates will spare me some of the bribery attempts and easy the border crossings.

Regardless, I’m sure plenty of people called Amundsen dumb when he decided to go look for the South Pole and Edmund Hillary insane when he decided to climb Everest. Adventure always require some caution thrown to the wind. I did the same in West Africa, and many more people seemed interested in that adventure, so I will once again be doing my fair share of travel blogging here on the site and post a daily photo on Facebook. Consider this the official relaunch of the Road Blog!

The Bike, known as 'the Diplonator' by friends

The Bike, known as 'the Diplonator' by friends

Highlights will include Lake Malawi, Mozambique’s Coast, the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, the highlands of Eswatini and Lesotho and, of course, Cape Town – and many, many hours spent on the road with an increasingly sore bum.

I will set out from Dar on September 24th and expect to be in Cape Town before Christmas.

PS. If anyone is making a poll on when the bike will break down, my guess is on one of the first days in Lesotho. Then again – I know absolutely nothing about bikes.

Posted by askgudmundsen 08:43 Archived in Tanzania Tagged adventure driving africa tanzania zambia malawi zimbabwe motorcycle south_africa lesotho roadtrip southern_africa mozambique swaziland eswatini Comments (1)

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