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Entries about tanzania

The Lonely Roads

A hermit on wheels’ confessions

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Lonely Roads

Lonely Roads

I’m simultaneously trying to avoid two cows that have stepped onto the road and wave to some very excited children, who insist I should give them more of my attention than the cows. For some obscure reason, this is the moment my brain decides to come up with the perfect comeback to a discussion I lost at a meeting six years back. Welcome to the lonely life of riding a motorcycle through Africa alone.

Those damn cows

Those damn cows

Driving a motorcycle across half a continent is invertible a solitudinous undertaking. Hour after hour, often day after day. Alone on the bike. Without a radio, let alone human company. While it can be tedious, it’s also something I’ve come to quite appreciate. It’s undoubtedly not for everybody, but before I move to a cave somewhere to become a troglodyte (i.e. hermit), I might share a few of those dull hours on the road.

Naturally, a lot of the time is spent on the actual driving. While I’m pretty comfortable on the bike after having driven it for more than a year, there are still a ton of things to keep concentrating on. Cattle crossing the road, near-invisible speed bumps, children who need a wave or thumbs up. Then there are the outright fun parts, especially when the road’s winding down mountains and hills. On these, I can keep up speed and slalom my way downhill as if I was a racer – it’s about the only time the glorified scooter drivers fast. Not much time for daydreaming if I want to stay on the road.

Mountain road

Mountain road

Elsewhere, on the long straight roads, there’s plenty of time for daydreaming and enjoying the view. The beauty of being on a motorcycle is the perceived vicinity to the nature around you. Not protected by a car’s chassis or windshield, the full force of the wind is a stout reminder. So is the sun’s baking rays warming up the leather jacket. More importantly, there are no blind angles. On the bike, I have an almost 360-degree view of my surroundings – depending on how much I twist around.

I’ve always enjoyed driving, regardless of which of the two types of road mentioned above. But flying through the developing landscapes on a motorcycle, sitting in the elements is second to none. I’m happy spending a lot of my day merely driving, with a smile on my face. It’s a little like sitting on a dark and stormy evening, looking into a fire. It’s mesmerising. Nothing else is needed.

Younger me

Younger me

The many hours alone are also a perfect time for self-reflection and, frankly, self-improvement. Something I’ve always insisted should be part of any form of travel. Different thoughts or episodes from the past tend to pop up if there’s nothing else to occupy my mind. Whether it’s finder the perfect answers to those “I should have said” episodes from years’ back or becoming better at accepting dumb things I’ve done in the past that comes back to haunt me from time to time. I don’t per se need to be on a motorcycle to do this, but it does provide me with ample opportunities to deal with the ghost of the past. To phrase it in an overdramatic way.

Plenty of impressions

Plenty of impressions

Other than the driving and the self-reflection, I obviously use much time thinking about what to write home about. Small quirky impressions from the road. I keep coming up with all these fantastic, witty and clever paragraphs or new ideas for this blog. Alas, I can’t write them down, and I simply don’t have the time to stop constantly, get out pen and paper, and write it down every time I come up with something new. So inevitably, once I’ve arrived at my destination and open my laptop, I’ve long forgotten all the Shakespearesque brilliance I’ve come up with during the day’s drive…

Lastly, it should not be understated how similar singing while riding a motorbike is to singing in the shower. It’s pretty must a must. Though practising one’s singing while riding do have the added bonus, for talentless people such as myself, that the helmet will muffle all the terrible tunes I release upon an innocent World that, frankly, do not deserve me adding to the ongoing horrors.

Posted by askgudmundsen 00:59 Archived in South Africa Tagged reflections travel overland lonely tanzania malawi zimbabwe motorbike south_africa southern_africa loneliness Comments (0)

A Mountain Climbing Scooter

I made it to Malawi and climbed a mountain with the glorified scooter—though not wholly without casualties.

sunny 26 °C
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Typical Malawian road

Typical Malawian road

“You want to ride that thing up the mountain?” The local motor-taxi guys clearly weren’t impressed with my scooter. “I’ll promise, I’ll come back down, if it can’t make it,” I replied. Then I took off, up a mountain.
Initially, this blog should have been about the border crossing between Tanzania and Malawi. It’s my 22nd land crossing in Africa, but the first time I’m driving my own vehicle across, and I expected all kind of hectic shenanigans that would have been fun to write about. But my negative expectations were put completely to shame. Apart for the usual bunch of guys insisting that I needed their sim card/insurance/forex services, everything went smooth, and I had crossed into Malawi in a little over an hour. Country no. 103: check. Boring.

Mountain climbing scooter

Mountain climbing scooter

Luckily, it’s easily for dumb people to find adventures. My first stop in Malawi was a town built around an old Scottish missionary station; Livingstonia. There are two ways to get to the town, which is placed on an escarpment 1,150 metres about Lake Malawi. The long way around on a gravel road that is currently being paved, or the direct route up, 15 km on what is essentially a washed out riverbed, with no less than 20 switchbacks, no railing and a long fall of I went over the side. Of course, the route described as “4x4 only, and not in rainy season” is obviously my choice with a small commuter scooter. What could go possibly wrong?
The first thing I did after leaving the motor-taxi drivers in disbelief was almost falling over in the soft sand that lined the lower part of the track. “Hopefully nobody saw that”, I lied to myself. But to be honest, this was a first for me, and I had no idea if this might be entirely out of my league.

View from the top

View from the top

Regardless, the bike did well. Surprisingly well for a commuter bike that isn’t supposed to leave the big city. Up we went. Slowly and shakenly. Honestly, I was amazed of how many times I saw a big stone lying in the way and thought ‘I better not hit that’ just to steer my bike straight over said rock with a bump — making it even harder to control the bike. Something relatively important when there is a 300-metre drop-off about 60 cm to my left.
But the bike trotted on. With my arms getting sorer and sorer from (trying to) control the bike’s path across the rocks. To my delight, we managed the small scooter and me. In glorious tandem, we rode up the side of a mountain. 1,150 height-metres in just forty minutes. I was absolutely jubilant when I rolled the bike into eco-camp on the top.

Broken shock absorber

Broken shock absorber

Obviously it wasn’t going to be that easy. As I duly checked my bike after the long fight uphill for any unfamiliarities, I noticed that one of the rear shock absorbers had been knocked loose. No surprise after that ride, really. This could mean one of two things. Either, I had snapped a bolt – no biggie. Or I had broken the brand new suspension that I had instilled pretty much as the last thing before I left Dar es Salaam. There was no way to tell. The damage had been done behind the chassis, and I didn’t have the tools (a simple screwdriver) to remove it and check. I hadn’t been able to fix the problem anyway – regardless of what it was.

Hiking views

Hiking views

Instead, I left the bike for a day and went hiking. Once done with that, I had 150 km to the nearest town with a dedicated motorbike mechanic – 40 of those on a dirt road (avoiding the way I came up) – where I just had to rely on the one shock absorber I had left. It turned out that I had snapped clean the bolt-eye connecting the shocker to the chasse. Luckily, the shock absorber mechanism itself wasn’t damaged, and with the help of a talented welder, the scooter will live to see another day on the road.

Posted by askgudmundsen 00:39 Archived in Malawi Tagged mountains hiking travel overland tanzania hike motorbike southern_africa repair problems livingstonia mechanics Comments (0)

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…

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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!

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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…

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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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