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Bad news, everyone. Bike stuffing day has come and gone and our Symbas are still sitting forlornly in the parking lot at the hotel. Around 2:30 pm local time we received a message from a courier that the departure date for the ship has now been moved to the 21st of the month. ****. That is two weeks from now. I was stunned, to say the least, and we are both gutted by the prospect of being bikeless in India until the 13th of December. Fortunately we haven't yet bought tickets to India, so at least we avoided that problem. After staring blankly out the window for several minutes and silently cursing everyone involved, we fired off an e-mail to Emirates Air to find out more details on the quote they had given us. Basically our choice is to hang out in Tanzania until after the 21st, ship our bikes by sea, and hope that the ship actually goes this time or try to ship by air. (I guess we could also head to Kenya and try from there, but we have already wasted a week waiting in Dar). The real problem with changing our plan to shipping by air is that the sea agent has our Carnets, titles, and our 850 USD. Ugh, I hate this shit. We are awaiting a reply from Emirates and will see the sea agent tomorrow. Wish us luck. We just want to be riding, somewhere else than here.
Having paid our 425 bucks and left our documents with Mr Msuya yesterday, we didn't have much to do today. Tanzania is experiencing problems with their power supply, and sure enough, the power went out at the hotel around 10:00 am and stayed off all day. The hotel fired up their generator around noon, which gave us power for the computer, which allowed us to work on ride reports and blog posts for most of the day. We also read quite a bit of the Lonely Planet India book and took notes on the places that interest us.
Dinner was the highlight of the day, as we visited Mamboz Corner BBQ for dinner again. We looked Mamboz up on the interwebs and discovered that it was listed as the #1 restaurant in all of Dar according to TripAdvisor.
It doesn't look like much, with large, outdoor, charcoal grills set up on the sidewalk every night that are surrounded by plastic tables and chairs, but the food is delicious and the service was excellent as well.
Since we have become disenchanted with the Jambo Inn, we decided to look for a better hotel. Around the corner from Jambo is the Starlight Hotel, which appears to be a slightly rundown business hotel where we were able to get a room at the same price as Jambo. Advantages to the Starlight were a bigger room, ceiling fan, the large wall of windows overlooking the city from our fourth floor room, and better bike parking. Another big advantage to this hotel is their internet service. We had been paying about 3 USD per day for wifi at Jambo (that only worked from noon to 11:30pm and not while the generator was running), the Starlight has cellular modems that you can borrow and only have to pay for the air time, which was about 4.50 USD for 7 days of unlimited usage.
Also staying at our new hotel was Patrick, a white gentleman from South Africa and his Triumph Tiger 800XC. He invited us to the very much swankier Peacock Hotel next door for s at their top-floor, open air bar. Patrick is an interesting fellow, he was born in Dar Es Salaam and lived there until he was about 4 years old, when the political climate changed and his family left Tanzania for a stint in the Seychelles before settling in South Africa. Patrick is visiting Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar for an extended period of time as a trial run to see if he likes it enough to make it his permanent home again. After too many s, we all wandered back to Mamboz and another delicious dinner. After we finished dinner, we walked around the corner to a small grocery store and cups of saffron almond ice cream. Today was a fun day.
The big event of the day was (hopefully) picking up our Indian visas at 4:00 pm. Since we had nothing else on the agenda for today, we posted the ride reports and blog posts we worked on a few days earlier and also posted the rest of our photos to our Smugmug account. Around 3:30 we set off for the embassy, battling traffic and lane splitting the entire way north. We arrived at the India High Commission and joined the queue outside the gate. At 4:00 pm they opened the gate, and we rushed along with the crowd into the visa section. We waited patiently for our turn and were overjoyed when we received our passports and shiny, new Indian visas.
After leaving the High Commission we rode directly to Mr Msuya's office to let him know the good news and make final confirmation of our shipping plans. He was not in his office, but one of his staff called him on his phone, and Mr Msuya said he would stop at our hotel at 8:00 am. Happy that we got our visas and our shipping confirmed, we returned to the hotel and shortly, went out for dinner at the New Zahir Restaurant.
New Zahir is a local “non-tourist” restaurant across from one of the big mosques in Dar, and they have excellent and inexpensive Muslim and Tanzanian food. The interesting tidbit about New Zahir is that it has quite a history as a hangout for revolutionaries. Most notably, Che Guevara and Malcolm X used to frequent the place back in the day.
We weren't there for the politics, however, we were there for the chicken biryani (which may be the best we've ever had).
One of the reasons we want to get out of Tanzania soon is that the “little rains” start in November, and that's what we woke up to. Mr Msuya was supposed to be at our hotel at 8:00 am, and we needed to get some copies of our passports before he arrived. I went out in search of an open copy shop in the rain. I finally found one and returned to find Mr Msuya waiting. We provided him with the copies and the other information he needed and confirmed that we could pay the remaining 425 USD in Tanzanian shillings (TZS), but at a very disadvantageous rate. You know a country's currency sucks when even the people who live there don't want it.
Later in the morning we hit the ATM for the 755,000 TZS we needed and walked down to Mr Msuya's. While we sat in Mr Msuya's office sweating our asses off, I noticed that he seemed a little eager to get the rest of the money. He once again assured us that we would be stuffing the bikes on Tuesday, and he would let us know what time soon. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a nice grocery store and picked up muesli, juice, and yogurt for lunch. Our big complaint about Dar Es Salaam so far (other than the daily power outages, high heat and humidity, and insufferable taxi drivers) is the lack of variety in food. Regardless of which restaurant you go to, the menu is virtually the same. It is very difficult to avoid greasy foods and find anything with fresh fruits and vegetables. Re has been hitting the local fruit vendors and we have enjoyed a smorgasbord of bananas, watermelons, papayas, mangoes, pineapples, and raspberries. So for lunch today, we had yogurt with muesli and mango accompanied by glasses of 100% fruit juice.
We spent the rest of the day hiding from the heat in our room with the AC set on comfortably frosty. We worked on firming up our India itinerary. For Africa, we had no real plan and found that a bit frustrating, so for India, we want to at least have a better idea what we want to see before we get there. Dinner? Where else but Mamboz?
Re and I are both getting a little antsy from the sitting around and waiting for bike stuffing day. We have researched hotels in India and flights to Mumbai as well, but will not commit to anything until our bikes have left the country. Another piece of advice gleaned from other people's travels is to never leave the country before your bikes do.
So today we decided to repack all of our luggage for shipping with the bikes and carrying with us on the flight. We aired our our sleeping bags and Re washed the tent, inside and out, down in the parking lot. She also laundered our silk sleepsacks and polar fleeces that we'd been using as pillowcases. Since we do not plan to do any camping in India, we wanted to get all the camping gear clean, dry, and packed well. We stopped for a lunch of more fruit, muesli, and yogurt and then spent part of the afternoon figuring out exactly where each piece of gear would spend the next few weeks.
Dinner? Do you really have to ask? Once again, it was Mamboz, for too f#!%ing hot chicken. Re and I decided to try the Gajaar Sekela, which we had been warned was extremely spicy chicken. Since we are gluttons for punishment, we also ordered it with masala chips. Re and I both love hot food, but later agreed that this meal may have been too hot. To try to damp the fire in our bellies, we returned to the store for another round of saffron almond ice cream. Later in the evening, we were both laying on the bed, holding our tummies, and swearing we'd never, ever do this again.
Since our bikes were going to spend three weeks in a shipping container before they'd arrive in India, we decided to do a little maintenance and oiling of the metal parts before we sent them off. After my hydraulic-ing problem in Malawi we changed my oil but not Re's, so I decided to only change hers. I headed up to the BP to pick up some oil and nearly choked when I saw that one liter of 20W-50 was over 9 USD. I was glad we didn't have to change the oil in both bikes. Back at the ranch, we unlocked the bikes and got to work. We have been using one gallon Ziploc bags as oil drain pans, but that makes the oil change a two person job – one to do the work and one to hold the bag. I pulled the drain plug, dipstick, and cleaned the oil screen while Re held the bag. At some point I looked down and noticed that the used oil in the bag didn't look too bad. It was at this point that I looked up and saw that the bike we were working on had a brown seat. Well, poop. Re's bike has a black seat, my bike has a brown seat. Sigh. Back to the BP station for another 9 bucks worth of oil. While we had the tools out, we adjusted the chains on both bikes and the clutches as well. Maintenance done, we squirted a little WD-40 on the bare metal parts like the sprockets to hopefully prevent any additional corrosion and also oiled the locks on the Pelican cases, our Krypto cables, and put a squirt in each of our ignition locks for good measure.
Job done, we rewarded ourselves with a lunch of falafel sandwiches and samosas. We spent the afternoon in the room, waiting for a call from Mr Msuya informing us of the bike stuffing time tomorrow. The call never came. While we were waiting, we finalized(?) our India itinerary. Finally at around 5:30 pm, we called Mr Msuya, but he had no news. He assured us that he would stop by at 8:00 am tomorrow with the good news. We had dinner at a new place called Zaiqa (quite literally a new place as it had just opened on 11/1). Their specialty is Pakistani food, and we had beef Nihari, a type of stew, and it was deeeelicious.
Will we stuff today? No. We waited downstairs at the hotel for Mr Msuya, but he never arrived. Instead, at around 10:00 am, one of his flunkies arrived with a note. Good news? No, bad news. The date of the ship's departure had been moved to 11/22, fourteen days from now. Stunned, I walked back upstairs to the room and gave Re the bad news.
The rest of the day was a blur. It seemed like a bad dream. What I do recall was Re emailing Emirates Cargo and confirming that they could ship our motorbikes, getting the name of the freight forwarder that we should use, and determining that the forwarder could arrange for crating our bikes. We also found out that they could ship our bikes any day we wanted them to, except Sunday, when the Customs office is closed.
We also visited Mr Msuya at his office and informed him that the departure date change was unacceptable, that we needed our documents returned, and that we needed our money refunded. He looked shocked at this and stammered something about meeting us at our hotel at 4:30 after he spoke with the shipping company. He also tried to convince us that two weeks wasn't that long and that he could get us cheap tickets to Zanzibar while we waited. We said no and that we had already arranged shipping by air. We left his office feeling angry and vaguely nauseous and went back to the hotel to wait for the man who never arrived.
Plan B was now in full effect. The scramble to ship our bikes by air as soon as possible was now on. Early in the morning we hopped on the bikes and rode out to the airport. We arrived at the security gate for cargo, where we had arranged to meet Tamim of Gateway Global, the freight forwarder. He told us to stop at the gate and have someone call him from there. When we arrived at the gate, we asked the guard to call him since we have no mobile phone. Two guys in slacks and shirts and wearing airport ID badges said to follow them in their car and that they would take us to Tamim. A little puzzled, we wheeled around and followed them back out of the cargo facility and back onto the public road. They took us to a row of “businesses” down a side road near the airport, and that was when their true motive became clear. They were agents for Turkish Airlines and were trying to scoop Tamim's business out from under him. They assured us that anything Emirates could do, Turkish can do better (and cheaper too). We were in the middle of discussing rates when a mobile phone rang and I could clearly overhear somebody yelling at one of our agents quite loudly. The gentleman hung up his phone and said that was Tamim on the phone and they were to return us to the airport immediately. Very funny.
We followed them back to the airport and were left with Tamim, who escorted us into the cargo facility. Shortly thereafter we were joined by Yusuf Abulrahman of Emirates Cargo. We discussed our options and explained that we needed to retrieve our documents and money from our previous shipper before we could commit to any specific plans. Yusuf said he would hold space for us on Friday's flight and that it could be changed to Saturday or Monday if needed. Tamim explained that he could do all the paperwork and handle the crating the day of shipping. The flight departed at 4:45 pm each day, and as long as we delivered the bikes by 8:00 am, they could be on the flight. Awesome. We had already established the air freight costs, so all that was left to discuss was the crating and Tamim's fee. We agreed on 300 USD for the lot. I explained that as soon as our other situation was resolved, I would return to the airport and pay Tamim his fee so crating materials could be purchased. We rode back into town feeling more confident that we could leave Dar Es Salaam quickly after we'd resolved our business with Mr Msuya.
Mr Msuya's office was our next stop, and when we entered his office, he was all smiles. He seemed very proud that he'd retrieved our Carnets. Unfortunately, all that he'd retrieved was our Carnets. We were still missing our titles and Tanzanian insurance documents and, surprise, surprise, our money. He explained that the shipping company would not return any of our money. He showed us some documents that he claimed were shipping documents related to our bikes, and that this was the reason we couldn't get our money back. I gave the documents a quick once over and saw that they claimed to be from a company called Diamond Shipping. I told Mr Msuya that we were going to get our money back and we would accompany him to Diamond Shipping, right now. No no, he said, he wasn't done negotiating with them. He would explain our position to them again, and we should come back tomorrow for the results and the rest of our documents. Before leaving, I reiterated our position, that we were not leaving Dar without our money and if Mr Msuya would not accompany us to Diamond Shipping, then we would go ourselves. It was very clear at this point that blaming the situation on Diamond Shipping was a load of crap, and this knowledge gave us a sliver of bargaining power. I decided to play along with the ruse and let Mr Msuya think that I believed he was on our side against the big, bad Diamond Shipping.
Walking back to the hotel, Re and I discussed the situation and had both independently come to the conclusion that there never was a ship on the 10th, that it always was on the 22nd and that this was just a way to string us along until that date. Back at the hotel, we discovered that Patrick had returned from his excursion to Zanzibar, and we told him our tale of woe over more s at the Peacock.
Once again, we made the familiar walk down to Mr Msuya's, only to find he wasn't there. Instead, we met with two of his flunkies. Once again, they were proud that they had retrieved the rest of our documents. And they seemed especially proud that they had 300 whole dollars for us. We told them in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable and refused to take the money. Their position was that work had already been done, and that was all the money there was. I explained to them that I understood that work had been done but that we expected a minimum of 700 USD to be returned. (on our walk to the office this morning, Re and I discussed what we actually expected to be returned- I was going to be happy with anything over 500 bucks, and Re wanted it all but didn't expect more than the 300 they'd already offered) Out came the cell phones, and calls were made to Mr Msuya, who (they assured us) was at Diamond Shipping at that very moment, still pleading our case. The previous night I had looked up Diamond Shipping's address on the interwebs and had the flunkies relay to Mr Msuya that we would be right over. Immediately, phones were hung up, and we were told it would be a waste of time for us to go there, that there would be too many questions and we don't speak Swahili. I had been trying to remain patient and friendly, but at this point my calm evaporated. I very clearly explained that in the US, I am an attorney and that I am a prosecuting attorney. I explained that means I am very familiar with theft and the law. I further explained that I would go over to Diamond Shipping and have a long discussion with them about contract law and theft (still playing Diamond Shipping as the bad guys). After this, the mood in the room changed, and they assured me, again, that Mr Msuya was doing all he could and that he would have more money for us. As we left, I told them that I expected to hear from Mr Msuya by 3:00pm that afternoon, or I would have to go to Diamond Shipping myself.
Back at the hotel, no Mr Msuya, and no call by 3:00 pm. Since Rebekah was champing at the bit to tear somebody a new one, I let her make the call. She spoke with Mr Msuya, who seemed to have lost his cockiness and instead, was very much more defensive. He said he was able to “negotiate” a total refund of 600 USD, but that Diamond Shipping would need to write a check, which he would pick up in the morning. Re insisted that we receive cash, and Mr Msuya said he would cash the check in the morning and we could pick up the money sometime in the afternoon.
Unfortunately, tomorrow was Friday, our tentative air shipping day. Fully expecting to get another story (and no money) tomorrow, we emailed Yusuf at Emirates and moved our shipping date to Saturday. Today has been one of the most frustrating days in our lives. This process has been a series of tomorrows. We have now spent nearly two weeks in Dar Es Salaam and have seen almost nothing besides our hotel and the route to Mr Msuya's office.
Hopeful that Mr Msuya would, for once, be true to his word, we spent the morning re-researching flight options and hotels in Mumbai. At this point, all we wanted to do was get out of Tanzania as fast as we could, and move on to the curry scented pastures of India. The good news was that Oman Air still had cheap seats on Sunday, and our preferred hotel by the airport had rooms available for Monday onwards.
Around 10:00 am the phone rang, and it was reception calling to say that someone was waiting for us in the lobby. Figuring this would be round 27 of excuses, we wandered slowly downstairs and found Mr Msuya's sister waiting for us in the lobby. She handed me the cellphone and said Mr Msuya was on the line. Waiting for today's chapter in the ongoing saga of bullshit, I said hello. Mr Msuya explained that his sister had in her grubby little paws our 600 USD, and he just wanted to apologize. He felt very badly about the way things worked out and that mean, old Diamond Shipping were actually the bad guys. I briefly considered confronting him over his lies, but quickly decided that it would be pointless. While Mr Msuya was still talking, I handed the phone back to his sister and took the money from her. I immediately laughed when I saw what she handed me. Before we left on our trip, we got a few thousand dollars in brand new, uncirculated, sequentially numbered 100 dollar bills. What I now held in my hand was four of our 100 dollar bills, the exact ones we had given Mr Msuya a week before. What a coincidence. According to his story, he had given all our money to Diamond Shipping and they returned the money in the form of a check, which he apparently took to the bank, and somehow, exchanged for the exact same bills we had given him. What are the odds? Re and I spent a couple of minutes laughing about the “coincidence” but had no time to be bitter. We had reservations to make, bags to pack, and motorcycles to get to the airport.
The first order of business was to reserve airline tickets and a hotel in Mumbai. The internet sure does make life easy and business fast. While Re started packing in the room, I hopped on the mighty Symba and headed for the airport. Once there, I found Tamim and paid him his 300 USD fee with some of the bills we'd just gotten back. We had been informed that we would need to pay him for the actual air freight charges as well. Since Emirates doesn't accept credit cards in Tanzania, I wanted to check with Tamim as to whether we could pay the remaining charges in in TZS. Of course not. It has to be in USD. Since we've used more of our stash of USD in Africa than we anticipated, we really didn't want to use any more of our very pretty bills. Instead, I rode back to town, hit the ATMs and the forex bureaus for enough USD to pay the freight. Back at the hotel, I found that Re had done quite a bit of packing and we really didn't have much else to do with the rest of the day, so we celebrated with dinner at Mamboz again.
Since we had to get the bikes to the airport by 8:00 am, we got up, had breakfast, and were on the road by 7:30. It seems like Tanzania won't let us go without one more spanking, and this morning, it was delivered in the form of rain. Our bikes are nearly out of fuel since they have to be shipped with the fuel tanks empty. We made our way through the rain and early morning traffic to the airport with our fuel lights blinking the entire way.
We arrived a little early and soon found that we were the only people at air cargo. Tamim arrived around 8:00 am and found us a spot under the awning to disassemble the bikes. We got to work removing the front wheels and fenders and detaching the handlebars. The entertainment for the morning came in the form of various officials who insisted that the bikes be not only drained of gas but also drained of oil. I didn't want to drain the oil, and both Tamim and Yusuf said it wasn't necessary, so every time an official asked about draining the oil, I just nodded and said yes, I'd drained the petrol. They'd say, no, the oil, and I'd nod my head, yes, and say, the petrol. This happened several times, and they finally just gave up and went away. As for draining the petrol, the bikes were nearly empty, so I just drained the float bowls and fuel lines so I had some petrol in a water bottle that I could show anyone who asked.
By the time the bikes were disassembled, the craters arrived, and Re and I started getting a little bit nervous. They arrived with six boards that appeared to be approximately 1.5” x 7” x 7', two approximately 4 x 8 sheets of eighth inch plywood, two used pallets in reasonable shape, and one broken pallet, a hammer that had lost its grip, a handsaw, and a very tiny paper bag of new nails.
How do I start? To make the crate base, they used the two good pallets and a section of the broken pallet, all held together with wood plates across the joins. They then built uprights out of the 1.5” x 7” boards. It was at this point that I got a bit concerned and asked for a tape measure. We had specified that the crate should be 178 x 112 x 96 cm, since that was the size of our previous crate and would be 320 kgs of weight by volume. The crate they were in the process of building 192 x 122 x 96 cm. If they had continued building this crate, it would have cost us an additional 180 USD to ship. I found Tamim, showed him the issue, and he made them tear it apart, saw apart the pallets, and put them back together in the proper size.
Before they started modifying it, it looked crappy enough, but after they tore it apart and started reassembling it, it was extra crappy. Hey, at least the eighth inch plywood sheeting should add structural strength? A couple of hours later, the crate was ready for the bikes, and we lifted them into place. When we uncrated the bikes in Cape Town, Karim insisted that I keep the ratchet straps from our original, beautifully made crate, and I reused them to strap our bikes down. I didn't crank too hard on the ratchets because I didn't want to break the crate before it even got inside the warehouse.
Once the bikes were strapped down, the craters soon realized what Re and I had noticed early that morning- that they had nowhere near enough plywood. After they paneled two sides of the box, they disappeared behind an outbuilding, from where we could hear much hammering and sawing. They returned with two “recycled” pieced of 3/8 inch plywood that eventually made up one side of our crate. These two pieces were probably the highest quality wood of the entire crate.
Before the top went on, Re and I loaded our Dariens (which were still damp from the morning ride), helmets, jerrycans, spare tires, and Coleman stove. Shortly thereafter, some other official came out, gave it the thumbs up, and on went the top. Since Yusuf from Emirates was unavailable that day, his boss, Ali Hamdoun, came to the airport to handle the paperwork. To make the experience at the Dar cargo complex complete, we walked around the side of the building and watched a man, sitting on the sidewalk, type our air waybill and dangerous goods paperwork on a manual typewriter. Eventually the paperwork was completed, the crate was measured and weighed, the bill was paid, and we left our crate in the care of Swissport Cargo.
Since our bikes were now crated, we had to take a taxi back into town and since it was after 2:30, we headed directly for lunch. Since it was early enough in the day, we made a beeline for New Zahir and one more plate of their delicious chicken biryani. Later that afternoon, we tracked down Patrick at our usual spot on the 7th floor of the Peacock Hotel for another round of and good conversation. Since we were still full from lunch and too much , we skipped dinner and instead collapsed into bed early.
Africa: 7 countries in 57 days. 4843 USD in daily expenses = 85 USD per day. 485 liters (128 gallons) of petrol for 5600 miles = 88 mpg
Having only spent two months in Africa, we certainly can't speak from a position of authority, but we thought we would share our impressions of the countries we visited.
South Africa. With all the negative news about South Africa, we were reluctant to visit. We searched hard for a shipping option that would allow us to avoid Johannesburg, especially because of Joburg's reputation for violence and murder. Cape Town was a nice place to visit, with little in the way of hassles, but we did heed the warnings and didn't venture out after dark. The rest of South Africa was surprisingly nice, and all the people we met were very friendly. Once outside of Cape Town, we never worried for our safety. South Africa is an easy place to visit for westerners, as English is widely spoken and most businesses operate as they do in the west (eg. There are modern supermarkets that look like the ones at home and sell similar foods). The roads are also very good, and petrol is widely available. The scenery is beautiful, the weather in the western Cape is temperate, but the food can be monotonous. Overall, it was the least “African” country we visited.
Namibia. Again, a very easy country for westerners to visit, since it's similar to South Africa in many respects. The people are friendly, the roads are good, businesses operate in a familiar way. It is a little more challenging than South Africa due to the distances between population centers. Namibia is a vast country with very few people, and consequently towns are very far apart, especially in southern Namibia. Southern Namibia is a land of desert and dunes and wild coast, whereas the north is dry, but has more vegetation and more people, and much less of a German influence. One big problem with touring Namibia on motorcycles is that they are not permitted in any of the national parks (though this is true through most of southern Africa). Like South Africa, the food choices are limited.
Botswana. Our impressions are based on the extreme northeast corner of Botswana, and therefore, may not be reflective of the rest of the country. Another easy country for westerners to visit but with the bonus of more wildlife. Businesses and services work as westerners would expect, and the borders are very orderly. In the area we visited, English was widely spoken and travel was easy. The people were also very friendly.
Zimbabwe. A more challenging country to visit for westerners due to Mugabe's many failed policies. The borders are chaos, and it seemed like no two people were charged the same rate for visas. The roads varied in quality from okay to horrible, and petrol was only available at about every third station. Prices for food, accommodation, and fuel are higher than they are in the US. The people were not unfriendly, but they appeared too downtrodden to be friendly. The whole mood of the country, with the exception of Harare, was different from any other country we visited. The people seemed dispirited and like they were simply going through the motions. While westerners would find restaurants and grocery stores there familiar, there are ongoing food shortages that limit the supply and variety at both places. We would not visit Zimbabwe again.
Mozambique. Our impressions of Mozambique are based on our trip through the Tete corridor and may not reflect the rest of the country. The borders were chaotic, but the border officials themselves seemed professional. This was one of the most “foreign” places we visited in that English was not widely spoken, and Portuguese is the national language. While we were not asked for any bribes at the police checkpoints, we heard from numerous other travelers that they were shaken down by the police. The Tete corridor is an unlovely and unfriendly place, and we won't be back.
Malawi. It should be an easy place for westerners to visit, but right now, it's not. The country is compact, the people are extremely friendly, English is widely spoken on the tourist trail, there was more variety in the food choices, and the scenery is beautiful. The real problem with Malawi right now is that the government is basically on the verge of collapse and hasn't paid their bills for quite some time. This is turn, has led to a massive fuel shortage and subsequent skyrocketing prices for basic goods and services. Another major irritation in Malawi is the constant chorus of, “give me money” that you hear from every kid, everywhere, and the attitude of many of the adults is no different, Malawi is a nation of beggars. That said, we would love to go back if they were to fix the supply issues.
Tanzania. For us Tanzania is a tale of two countries. We loved western Tanzania, but did not particularly care for Dar Es Salaam. English is not as commonly spoken as in other countries, as Swahili is the official language. On the tourist trail you can get by, but off the trail, it's more difficult. The scenery in western Tanzania is very beautiful, with mountains and forests and wildlife. The farther east you travel, the hotter, more humid, and less attractive it gets. Petrol, ATMs, and food are widely available, as are good accommodations. The roads are chaotic due to the higher population and relative affluence that allows for more private car and bike ownership. The roads are generally in good condition but are marred by speedbumps across the highway in every place that might qualify as a town. Dar Es Salaam is just a big, ugly city with too many people, too much traffic, and too many diesels belching fumes in your face. Tanzania has more food choices, including Indian and Middle Eastern options. Their currency is currently in a free fall, and consequently, many businesses insist on being paid in USD, which is available from forex bureaus at a bad rate.
One thing that struck us about Africa in general, is how cheap human life is. The rate of murder and violent crime, the prevalence of home invasions, carjackings, and banditry in general, are astounding. Living in the US we are used to a certain level of violence and murder, but in Africa it is done with amazing cruelty, with machetes and gasoline soaked tires. The willingness of Africans to kill Africans over a few dollars or tribal hatred is sobering. While men seem to most often be the victims of murder, women and children fare equally poorly in African societies. The amount of sexual violence and cruelty that both women and children are subjected to is unforgivable, and the daily newspapers bring fresh accounts of new atrocities. Everywhere we went, people live behind bars, virtually every door, every window, on every house and every building has bars. Businesses surround themselves with armed guards, most of them nothing more than a uniform and a rusty old gun. Re and I have visited many places in the world, but Africa is truly the most foreign place we've been.
Since we had arranged a 1:00 pm checkout and all we had to do was shower and pack, we were in no hurry to get out of bed. The past several days have been extremely stressful, and we were both exhausted, so we turned off the alarm and snoozed for a while. When we did finally get up, we made short work of packing. We've been living out of the same bags for 3.5 months and know where everything goes. Later, we headed down for breakfast and then back up to the room for some quality internet time. Around noon we went out in search of lunch and scored a couple of extra delicious chicken shawarmas, which we took back to the room and enjoyed in air-conditioned comfort. As we had heard that the Dar Es Salaam airport is not air-conditioned, we stayed in our room until the last minute, trying to soak up as much cool as possible.
At 1:00 we schlepped our bags downstairs, where we ran into Patrick and Eddie, who is one of the hotel owners. Eddie is also a motorcycle enthusiast, and we spent the next hour chatting about bikes and riding in Tanzania. Eddie is an interesting fellow. He's first generation Tanzanian, and his parents emigrated from Yemen. Eddie's dad apparently amassed quite an empire in Tanzania- the family's holdings encompass rice farms and real estate. Most of their holdings are in the western part of the country, so Eddie often travels to the Mbeya area, usually by motorcycle. He's also traveled extensively in central Africa, mostly by bike. His most dramatic story involved a nighttime ride back to Dar from Mbeya and an encounter with bandits. Eddie and one of his friends were on the road between Morogoro and Dar Es Salaam and came upon an area of road construction at around 3:00 am. When they slowed due to road conditions, they suddenly heard several motorbikes fire up and people yelling. By their headlights they could see six or seven motorbikes being ridden by machete-wielding men. Eddie and his friend were on big bikes but were barely able to keep ahead of the bandits due to the road conditions. He said they could hear shouts and engines for the approximately 20km they were chased. Eddie and his friend finally stopped, pulled out their pistols, and fired several warning shots into the air. He laughed when he told us that at the sound of the gunshots, the headlights turned around and they could hear the bikes riding away at a fast pace. Eddie went on to tell us that he never rides in Tanzania unless he is armed. Good to know.
After story hour, we grabbed a taxi and headed to the airport. We had low expectations of what we would find, and they were mostly met. I'm glad we arrived more than two hours early, because to get through the multiple security checkpoints, the ticket counter, and immigration took more than 1.5 hours. We finally boarded our Oman Air flight to Muscat (for all of you who survived music in the 70s, Re didn't seem to enjoy my rendition of Muscat Love). The flight was very nice with good food and plenty of legroom. The one funny moment on the flight came when it was time for dinner. When we booked our tickets, Re requested the Hindu vegetarian meal service. The stewardess walked up with the special meal, looked in our row, looked back at the meal, looked back at Re and I with a puzzled expression on her face, and finally asked, did we order a special meal? Re laughed and said it was hers. I guess the stewardess wasn't expecting a blonde American to have ordered that meal.
We arrived in Muscat near midnight local time and looked for something to kill the two hours before our next flight. What we found was the Dairy Queen! Since it has been over two months since I've had a Blizzard, it was time. Lucky for us, the cashier accepted USD and we enjoyed a midnight snack of familiar ice cream. Shortly thereafter, our flight left for Mumbai. We tried, mostly in vain, to get some sleep, but neither of us could more than doze.
Transportation wrapup. Our flights on Oman Air from Dar Es Salaam to Mumbai were 455 USD each. The air freight cost for our 320kg was 3.96 USD per kilo, for a total of 1367 USD (including 10 USD air waybill prep and 80 USD in dangerous goods fees). We also paid 300 USD for our “deluxe” crate and freight forwarder fee.
Our flight arrived at 5:30 am local time (which is 3:00 am in Tanzania) and we sleepily made our way through immigration and customs. We found a working ATM and withdrew the maximum 10,000 rupees (200 USD). We had booked a hotel near the airport, but were advised that if we arrived before 9:30 am, we would be charged for an extra night, so we sat at the airport. We were both very tired but couldn't find a place where we felt it was okay to snooze, so we walked outside and sat in the arrivals waiting area. 9:00 am finally came, so we found a phone and called for pickup. There are apparently a lot of scams centered around hotels and transportation at the Mumbai airport, so we were advised to look for somebody holding a board with our name on it. The car ride and 10 minutes later, and we were at the hotel. The first thing I noticed was the lack of any secure parking. Bummer. The hotel was okay, but not as nice as it looked in the pictures. No matter, we checked in and took a quick nap until 12:30 pm.
We then headed for air cargo via autorickshaw (aka tuk-tuk in other parts of the world). We quickly found out that many of the autorickshaw drivers have no idea where they are going and rely on the passenger for directions, which didn't really work for us, since we didn't know where we were going either. He got us to the airport and from there, we asked directions to the cargo facility. Once we arrived at the cargo facility, we were astounded by the chaos. Lines of cars and hundreds of people just sort of milling about. From my research, I knew we needed a gate pass, but didn't know where or how to get one. I started heading toward the entry gate and was stopped by a man whom I will refer to as “Helper.” He didn't speak much English, but he knew what we needed to do. He took us to the photocopy shop and helped us get copies of our passport photo page, India visa and entry stamp page, and a copy of our air waybill. With these in hand, we made our way to the gate pass office and, surprisingly quickly, got our gate passes (NB – you must leave a photo ID with the gate pass office, which is returned when you return your pass. We left our Oregon drivers' licenses).
While we were picking up our gate passes, Helper called over another guy, who we will call, “Big Man.” Big Man escorted us through the security checkpoint and took us directly to the Emirates office (if you are doing this yourself, the cargo offices are a right turn after security and on the second floor of the building marked, “Heavy Cargo”). We followed him up to the second floor and into the Emirates office, where we were given the shipping paperwork. The fee for the paperwork was 20 USD which we paid and went back downstairs. From the main room on the main floor, we walked through the door marked “Public Area” and headed for the Customs window. At this point in time, Big Man introduced us to someone we will refer to as, “Agent.” We followed Agent and Big Man into a blissfully air-conditioned waiting room, and Agent asked to see our paperwork. We didn't really know who Agent was at this time, just a well-dressed man who spoke English well and knew what to do. We also knew from our research that we would need to visit the Western India Automobile Association, which is in central Mumbai and procure a clearance letter before we could continue with the customs process. Agent confirmed that that was what we needed to do and said if we headed for the WIAA now, we should make it there in time to get our letter today. Agent then told us to bring back the clearance letter and meet him at the Customs area at 10:30 tomorrow morning. If we did so, we should have our bikes by 5:30 pm!
So back out of the cargo facility, where we exchanged our gate passes for DLs and took an autorickshaw to the train station. We rode the commuter train down to the Churchgate station and back for the princely sum of 32 cents each. Since we were on the slow train that stops at every station, it took nearly an hour to get there, and we arrived at the WIAA at around 4:30 pm. Since we knew we would need a letter for the Canadian Automobile Association in order to get a clearance letter from the WIAA, I had email Suzanne Danis from Tanzania and had a copy of the letter. At the WIAA we met Victor, who was in charge of issuing the clearance letters, but he informed us it was too late in the day to issue them, and we would need to return the next day. It was also too late to get liability insurance, so we'd have to come back the next day, regardless. Victor told us to return at 10:30 am, which was unfortunately the same time we were supposed to meet Agent. I guess we won't get our bikes tomorrow after all.
It was after 5:00 pm when we got back on the train to return to the hotel, and the cars were much fuller at this time. The good news was that we were able to find the express train back, and the journey only took 30 minutes. Back at the Andheri East train station, we hopped in another autorickshaw and went back to the hotel via the scenic route. We overpaid for our trip but were so tired, we didn't care.
Back at the hotel, we perused the room service menu and ordered a veritable feast to be delivered to our room. It turns out the hotel doesn't prepare the food, they just go four doors down to a local restaurant to pick it up and deliver it to the room. The markup for the service is literally, pennies per dish. Not knowing how big the portions were, we came up with a list of things we like, and Re asked the manager if that was enough food for two people. He assured her it was enough food for four people, so Re deleted one of the nine items since we hadn't eaten anything since we got off the plane. We stuffed ourselves silly and were unable to finish it all. Even delivered to our room the entire meal cost less than 8 USD. Absolutely exhausted, we then went to bed.
We did not want to get up when the alarm went off but had place to be and people to see, so we dragged ourselves in and out of the shower and were back in an autorickshaw by 8:30. The drive to the train station requires one left turn in the 3km ride. Traffic was very heavy this morning, and our autorickshaw driver turned left early. Maybe he's taking us on a shortcut? Or maybe he's leading us down the garden path. Which one do you think it was? First we drove past the international terminal at the airport. Then, we drove past the cargo facility, then past the domestic terminal. Then, I started yelling at the driver. Then, he turned right, and we eventually arrived at the train station. The ride to the station should cost no more than 30 rupees, but he was trying to charge us over 100 (the autorickshaws in Mumbai have meters, but they're so old, that you don't pay what's on the meter, you refer to a conversion chart. Even by what was on the meter, it still should have been less than 70 rupees). I offered him 50, and he refused. At this point in time, some locals overheard the commotion and signaled for the three police officers who were standing nearby. The young female officer initially thought that the disagreement was over the meter/chart issue. I explained to her no, that he took us on an extra long ride. I pulled out the Lonely Planet and showed her on the map where he had taken us. She said something to the driver and when he responded with a weak smile, she smacked him in the head. At this, the senior officer walked over and asked the female officer what was going on (I assume, as they were speaking in Hindi?). The senior officer instructed our driver to turn off his vehicle, remove the keys, give them to the officer, and to produce his license. At this point, the female officer apologized for the inconvenience and sent us on our way. Moral of the story, just take the damn 50 rupees!
The real problem with our “detour” was the time it wasted. Instead of being at the station at 9:00 am, it was nearly 9:30. We couldn't find an express train at this time, so once again, onto the slow train. We made it back down to the WIAA shortly after 10:30, but found that the director had not yet signed our clearance letters. In the meantime, we met with Abdul and arranged for liability insurance. The minimum policy period for liability insurance is one year, but even that only cost 15 USD each (and it also covers Nepal). While we were waiting we also met two German overland truck drivers whose vehicles were stuck at the seaport for five days and counting due to Carnet problems. We chatted with them while we waited for our paperwork and after hearing about all of their issues, left feeling nervous about our impending Customs visit. The other problem was that we would have to return to the WIAA tomorrow to pick up our insurance papers.
Back to the train, back on an autorickshaw, and back to cargo by 1:00 pm. Sure enough, we were met by Helper and Big Man (who we both noted were dressed much more nicely today) and they again assisted us with getting a gate pass, and took us to meet Agent. We met with Agent again in the air-conditioned waiting room next to the Customs office, where he took our documents and passports and sent them off to be photocopied. While we waited for the copies to return, he began filling out several import documents with our details. He then mentioned that he was an agent and that if we wanted to use an agent, he charges for his services. We asked, “how much?” and he replied, “how much do you want to pay?” “Not much, “ we said. He said he usually charges 80 USD per bike, which we countered with 40 USD per bike. He misunderstood and thought we meant 40 USD total. All the while, Big Man sat in the corner against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. Agent countered with 100 USD for both bikes and we then offered 80 USD for both. The agent said he could not do it for that, but he would finish filling out the papers for us, and we could clear them ourselves. Confused by the negotiations, Re and I stepped outside to figure out what the scam was. Intimidated by the amount of paperwork and reports of needing 20 different signatures from the Customs office, we agreed that we would pay the 100 USD for both bikes. We went back into the waiting room and told the agent we agreed to his price. He just waved us off and continued filling out the paperwork. After the runner returned with our photocopies of our passports and other documents, the agent motioned for me to join him outside. Once outside, he told me that I could clear customs myself that day and did not really need his assistance. Further confused by this strange negotiation tactic, I asked him if this was true. From his response, it became clear that he was not affiliated with Big Man and apparently didn't care for him either. He said we should tell Big Man that we would pay 80 USD for both bikes and no more, and that if he did not agree, that we would do it ourselves. Feeling more confused, we found Big Man, who as predicted, refused the offer, and Big Man left. Agent handed me all the papers he'd filled out and all the photocopies he'd had made, and told me in which room the process would start. He said he would be in the area all day working on other shipments and if I needed any other help, he would advise us for free.
Now totally confused, I went into the indicated room, where our documents were perused for completeness and was told to wait, as the next person we needed to see was at lunch. We returned to the air-conditioned waiting room, where we met another customs clearinghouse agent named, Danesh. It turns out Danesh is an avid motorcyclist and recently bought a 2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 (which in India costs nearly 25,000 USD). He and his friends all ride big sport bikes and are going to take a motorcycle tour of northern Thailand in February. Maybe we will see them there. Once lunchtime was over, we returned to the office, which turned out to be the “unaccompanied baggage” section. Our motorcycles were deemed to be personal effects, and therefore, our shipment was unaccompanied baggage. We sat in the office for a half hour or so while papers were collated, stamped, signed, and reviewed. Then it was time to get our crate. We were led to the another office, where we were presented with a bill for demurrage (storage) and then went to the next window where we paid 62 USD for the privilege. I did note that the demurrage bill had a note at the bottom that the crate was received in a damaged condition. Oh no.
We waited an anxious 10 minutes for our crate to be brought to the inspection area and were relieved to find that the damage was limited to a few cracks in the 1/8 inch plywood.
A warehouse helper helped us remove the top and sides from the crate, and the Customs officials told us we could assemble our bikes in the warehouse before they inspect them.
Re and I once again got to work putting on the wheels, fenders, and handlebars. After the bikes were put right, our engine and chassis numbers were recorded, and then we waited. And then we waited some more. While we were waiting, I ran into Agent again and told him that everything was going well, and we should have our bikes by the end of the day. I asked him what we should pay him for the work he had done, and he said nothing, that he really didn't do anything. I reminded him that he'd gotten photocopies made and filled out the import paperwork, and he simply stated, that I should remember that there are good people in the world, too. Wow. I thanked him profusely for all his help, and he wished us good luck on our journey. Since the bikes were nearly empty before they were crated, Re or I was going to walk the km or so to the nearest gas station to fill up one of our jerrycans. Lucky for us, we mentioned it to a warehouse worker who informed us that it is against the law in India to fill a jerrycan that is not accompanied by a vehicle. Huh. We may be pushing our bikes the km to the gas station. I was beginning to get nervous as it was nearing 5:30 pm, and that was when the Customs office closes. When we asked in the office, they assured us we would get our bikes today and it would be just a few more minutes. At 5:30, warehouse and office staff started to leave, and soon, it was only us and one remaining Customs official. So far, we had not paid anything besides the demurrage fee and had not been asked for any baksheesh (bribes). We also never paid anything to Agent, Big Man, or Helper. But now, the Customs official was working overtime, and I expected that we would be asked to pay for the “overtime.” It was now after 6:00 pm, and our growing pile of paperwork needed the signature of the head of Customs at the airport. We followed our agent to the next building, upstairs past the armed guards, and into an official looking office. The director asked us a few questions about our trip, looked over every page of our paperwork, and finally signed on the dotted line. Paperwork done, we returned to the Customs office, where final photocopies were made and we were directed to our bikes. Unbelievably we cleared the dreaded Mumbai Customs Office in one and a half days with only a little help from an agent!
We rolled them down the ramp and out into the night. The Customs officer wished us a good night and left. We were never asked to pay anything and found the whole process to be confusing but easy. We now found ourselves standing next to our potentially fuel-less motorbikes while a crowd gathered around us. During the last week in Tanzania, Re's battery was getting weak and we had to resort to the kickstarter a couple of times. Now, it is completely dead. No problem, we can kickstart it. I cracked the drain on both carburetor float bowls and was happy to see gas dribbling out of both bikes. In front of a crowd of 25 or so truck drivers and warehouse workers, I kickstarted Re's bike on the third try. Her bike was idling low, so I gave the idle screw a quick turn and then started up my bike. While we put on our gear, my bike stopped running. I hit the starter button, and the engine spun too freely. Out of gas. Crap. While the crowd murmured and laughed, I sent Rebekah off in search of gas. Hopefully, she has enough to make it to the gas station. After she left, I started pushing my bike to the exit. Strangely, no one stopped me to check anything, and I waited for Re outside the cargo facility. Once again, a small crowd formed, and people asked me what I was doing. I was happy to see Re ride through the crowd with sweet, sweet unleaded. As we've done a hundred times before, we unclipped the funnel and filled up the bikes. My bike fired up right away, Re's bike took a few more kicks. But we were off! Before we left the guesthouse that morning, I had marked its GPS position, so it was a simple matter of following the directions back to the hotel. Once back at the hotel, we were informed by the manager to remove everything from our bikes and to cover them since the people in the area could be “naughty” he said. Yay. We removed the gas cans, all bungee cords, but left the Rokstraps on the bikes. We then locked both bikes together with our cable locks and covered them with one of our custom bike covers. A little nervous about the naughtiness of the locals, we headed inside with our gas cans and extra tires.
Two miles. The bikes run much better with gasoline. Re's gonna need a new battery.
The goal for the day was to get our insurance documents so we would be legal to ride south soon. We were supposed to meet Abdul at the WIAA sometime after 10:30am, so we spent a lazy morning in the room before heading back out to fight the autorickshaw wars. Since I immediately started objecting when our driver of the day turned down an unfamiliar road, our autorickshaw ride to the train station only involved a slight detour this morning. The express train had just started to roll when we hit the platform, so we jumped into the first available car and headed back into central Mumbai again. Our trip did have one minor hitch in the form of the ticket inspector. Apparently we had boarded a first class car with only second class tickets and were made to get on the right class of car at the next station. Whoops. I can honestly say that the first class car contained the least amount of first class I have ever seen.
We made it back to the WIAA by 11:00 am only to find that our insurance documents were not yet ready. It seems that since the SYM brand is not sold in India (at least not badged as SYM), that the insurance company is not able to fill out the make and model fields in the policy. No problem, we were assured, the local office has sent electronic copies of our documents to the head office in Delhi and our policies will be issued by 2:00 pm.
Since we were down in the Fort section of Mumbai and had a few hours to kill, we pulled out the Lonely Planet (which appears to be much more accurate and reliable for India so far) and found their recommended walking tour of the area. We walked down to the Mumbai gate and slowly made our way back to the WIAA over the next several hours.
The architecture in the area is impressive, and we stopped along the way for some street food and sugarcane juice. Later, we stopped to watch a cricket match for twenty minutes or so.
We had the opportunity to watch some cricket matches while we were in SE Asia a few years ago and have a basic grasp of the rules, but it was fun to watch it in person with two, not so professional, teams. Sometime after 2:30 pm, we made our way back to the WIAA only to find that we still had no insurance docs. Sigh. Abdul agreed to e-mail them to us when they were ready to save us another trip into town.
Back on the train, back into an autorickshaw piloted by an honest driver, and back to the hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on blog posts and RRs. Late in the afternoon the e-mail arrived from Abdul containing our insurance documents, but alas, the second page of Re's policy was half missing. Grr. I e-mailed Abdul back but did not get a reply that day. I guess we'll be staying another day in Mumbai. After another veg Indian dinner at a local restaurant, we went back to the room and did some much needed laundry.
Abdul returned our e-mail early this morning and assured us that he would send us a complete page when he reached the office and told us that we should have called him last evening instead of e-mailing. One of the big problems we have run into in India so far is that we do not have a mobile phone. We fumbled our way through Africa without one, but it was becoming clear that life in India would be far easier if we had a phone. While we waited for Abdul to get to work at 10:00 am, we went out in search of a phone. We wandered up to the nearby business area and found an electronics shop that sold mobile phones. For 22 USD we acquired a very basic Nokia phone and then set off in search of a sim card. There are restrictions on foreigners' purchases of sim cards in India, and you are required to provide a copy of (what else) your passport picture page and visa and entry stamp page as well as providing a local address (and perhaps the name and address of a local referee). The manager at our hotel was nice enough to call a friend who has a nearby store that sells Vodaphone sims. We made or way over to his shop and left him the paperwork he needed in order to fill out the application form. He told us to return in an hour, and we should be good to go. We had a lunch of masala dosai at a nearby restaurant while we waited and later returned to find that we were now official.
We spent the rest of the afternoon revising our route through India to incorporate the suggestions we have received. We also finally wrote about the shipping nightmare in Dar and were both feeling angry by the time we finished. I am feeling homesick/culture shock for the first time in the trip and really wanted to find familiar food for dinner, so we went to McDonalds for some food that was nothing like the food in the US. So much for familiar. At least the Kingfisher s taste somewhat reminiscent of bad American .
According to the first route we planned, our destination for the day was going to be Kohlapur, but yesterday when we revised our route, we decided to head down the Konkan coast instead. So our goal for today was now Alibag, a small coastal town that is only 30 miles south of Mumbai as the crow flies, but about 75 miles by road. Since we had no idea how long it would actually take us to Escape From Mumbai (that sounds like the title of a new Bollywood blockbuster in which Snake Pliskin dances his way out of Mumbai) we wanted to hit the road by 9:00 am at the latest. That meant an early morning, as we had to reattach the Pelican cases and repack all of our bags once again. The bikes seem to have survived the flight from Dar unscathed, but the recurring problem of low air pressure in my front tire was not magically cured on the airplane ride. When we were reattaching the Pelican cases, I noticed that someone had apparently attempted to remove two of the Rok-Straps, but couldn't figure out how they were attached. Huh. As we continued to load up the bikes, we found that both of the carabiner clips from Re's handlebars and one of the two from my handlebars had disappeared. We use these clips to hang our daypacks in the stepthrough area, and while the monetary loss is small, the pain in the ass factor is big. We ended up hanging our daypacks over the handlebars, and though we tried to minimize the strap pressure on the cables and wires that run along the bars, we were unable to prevent at least some stress on them.
I punched Alibag into the GPS, and we were ready to hit the road. My bike immediately fired up, but Re's battery is now completely dead. Reason #73 we love the Symbas: two prods of her kickstarter, and the mighty Symba fired up and settled into a gentle idle. Now we were off. We turned out of our side street and into the thick of morning Mumbai rush hour. Many riders before us have described the traffic in Mumbai, and I certainly can't add a lot. It is chaotic, but there is an order to the chaos, and other drivers will give you room if you follow the local rules. While walking and riding in the autorickshaws over the past few days, Re and I spent plenty of time observing how the local riders ride.
On our ride this morning, we attempted to stick follow the example of the other motorbike riders and got through the morning unscathed. We headed east, dutifully following the GPS directions, but quickly found the limitations of the free maps from OpenStreetMap. Many of the major roads in Mumbai have slip or access roads that peel off to the left and are where you make turns onto cross streets. Unfortunately, the GPS didn't differentiate between the main and slip roads, and we found ourselves missing turn after turn. We eventually sorted it out and soon found ourselves again heading south and west toward Alibag. Our route for today took us down two roads that were laughably named, National Highway 4 and National Highway 17.
For the majority of the drive, they were nothing more than narrow, two lane roads that were crowded with all manner of truck, bus, minivan, car, motorbike, pedestrian, cow, and just about anything else that could roll or walk. Overtaking on these roads is crazy. Vehicles pull into the oncoming lane, uphill, in blind corners, and in the middle of a village with no consideration to whomever else might already be using that space. Another factor that made today's riding challenging was the road surface. The roads varied from reasonably well paved to bombed out craters, often without any warning. Our other disappointing discovery for the day was that India shares Tanzania's love of speedbumps. And the speedbumps in India vary greatly in size and height, making it difficult to predict how much to slow down for them. Both Re and I were surprised more than once today by a rogue speedbump and were kicked out of the seat on a couple of occasions.
However, the ride today was beautiful. We found ourselves riding through the Western Ghats, which is the coastal “mountain” range that runs south from Mumbai for several hundred miles. We made our way to Alibag around 1:30 pm, and Re set off in search of a hotel for the night.
We checked in just in time for the scheduled power outage that apparently occurs daily from 2:30 until 4:00 pm, and we walked down to the beach.
The beach was a pleasant strip of sand with several small fishing boats anchored out in the water. We walked along the beach and came to an area where we saw a couple of people squatting down at the water's edge. As we got a little closer, we noticed they also had their pants pulled down... Hey, wait a minute. What are they doing there? No, they couldn't be. But oh yes, they were. Since we decided the beach was kind of crappy, we skipped dipping our toes in the water and instead headed back into town for a late lunch.
75 miles in 4.5 hours. Re's definitely going to need a new battery.
Today's ride further down the coast to Ratnagiri should be around 200 miles, so we were in no hurry to leave this morning. We spent a leisurely morning showering, packing, and reading the newspaper before heading down to the bikes and getting ready to go. The air pressures in all the tires were a little low, and Re's battery doesn't even have enough juice to light up the dash lights. I also found that Re had apparently bent her right footpeg the previous day, but she didn't know how it happened. I suspect that it occurred on one of the rogue speedbumps since the Symbas do not have much ground clearance.
We pulled out of the hotel around 9:30 am, and once again, followed the GPS directions back to the Nh17. As you may recall, I reluctantly purchased the GPS shortly before we left on this trip and was glad to have it in Africa. However, I am really glad that we have the GPS in India. There is precious little road signage, and the majority is in (unsurprisingly) Hindi. I have no idea how one would navigate India with paper maps only. The route the GPS led us down took us south and east, through many small towns, and eventually rejoined the Nh17.
The condition of the local roads was terrible. There were sections where the road had been dug away entirely and dropped 6 inches down to the dirt beneath. There were stretches where 5mph was the fastest we could safely go. Once on the Nh17, the road surface improved, and our average speed climbed. The road was still extremely busy, but Re and I were starting to get used to our place in the “the bigger you are, the more right you have to the road” pecking order and regularly found ourselves hugging the road shoulder in order to avoid other vehicles. But all too soon, the road surface again turned to shit. Some stretches of pavement would be fine, but then suddenly, it was as if large parts of the top layer of asphalt had simply disintegrated, leaving long stretches of the highway nothing but a patchwork of potholes that no one is apparently interested in patching. We again found ourselves cruising at 5mph on some of the worst stretches. The ride today was actually very hard, harder than almost any road in Africa, and had me wishing for my V-Strom or any other bike with six plus inches of suspension travel. We really fought for many of the miles we rode today. So much for a short ride today, as we found ourselves struggling to average 25mph.
Our bikes have caught the interest of many of the locals and we get many questions about them. Most people here recognize them as being similar to a bike that used to be produced in India, known as the Bajaj M80 (maybe they had a short fuse and then blew up dramatically?). Other riders also pass us and then slow down for a better look or try to catch up after we pass them, and we get lots of smiles and thumbs up. However, one encounter today was a little different. After passing two young gentlemen on one bike, they caught back up with me, and the passenger said something that sounded like English, so I flipped up my helmet and asked him to repeat what he said. In very good English, he asked me, “Do you want to smoke some weed?” A little surprised by this scene, I guffawed and politely declined the offer.
We eventually made it into Ratnagiri around sundown and were unable to find the recommended hotel, so we rode around town and found a suitable place for the night. After dinner, we had some ice cream and went to bed early. We were both worn out from today's ride.
207 miles in 8.5 hours. Both the bikes and us took a pounding today.
Determined not to repeat yesterday's mistake by underestimating how long it would take us to reach our destination, we decided to get on the road early today. Once again, my front tire and Re's rear tire each needed a couple of psi. I need to remember to pull the valve cores and clean them one of these days when I have access to compressed air. I also checked the fasteners today and found that most of the shock mounting bolts were loose on both bikes. But the real problem is that Re's rack has cracked under her Pelican case. The metal appears to have torn in a couple of places where the top plate of the rack meets the tubular outer frame. For now, we will tighten the Rok-straps extra tight, but we'll need to get this welded soon.
Rolling out of the hotel this morning it was nice and cool and felt like it was in the 70s. The roads this morning were smooth with not much traffic as we again found ourselves climbing and descending through the Western Ghats. Through sweeping switchbacks we rode and were reminded of how nice it is to ride motorbikes. Then the roads turned to hell again. As bad or worse than they've ever been. Through one particularly bad stretch, I heard a funny noise from the rear of my bike, but saw nothing amiss when I looked back. A few seconds later, I saw Re jam on her brakes and head for the side of the road. While I waited for a space in traffic to turn around, I saw her cross the road and start beating the bushes. That's when I realized that one of my spare tires had gone AWOL. Re came back out of the bushes with my tire. Shortly thereafter, we both crashed through a particularly large crater in the road that was hidden in the shadow of a bridge. Re signaled to let me know there was a problem, and we pulled over to find that her speedo cable had popped part-way out of the front wheel. Swiss Army knife to the rescue, we reseated the cable and hit the road again. Calangute is in the state of Goa and approximately five miles from the Goan border, the road disappeared entirely. We went through a section of bridge construction, where the road surface turned into cratered, heavily rutted dirt.
With about a mile of Maharashtra left, the road suddenly reappeared, and we pulled over for a check of the bikes and a much needed drink of water. Before I could tell her not to, Re shut off her bike. Crap. Our bikes are not the easiest to start when very hot, and having spent the last four miles at no more than 15mph, they were plenty hot. We had our drink and got ready to press on, but when Re attempted to kickstart her bike, it refused to comply. I took over starting duty, and after 25 kicks or so, with the throttle held at various positions and under the watchful gaze of the small audience that had gathered, I gave up and we proceed to swap the now gasoline-soaked plug for a dry one from the spares kit. Two kicks later and her bike was purring.
We climbed the steep hill into Goa and the scene suddenly changed. The roads got smooth, the landscape turned green and lush, and it got noticeably warmer and more humid. We made our way into Calangute and found ourselves surrounded by the hordes of eastern European, British, and French package tourists who spilled out into the streets. We made our way to our very nice guesthouse, the Indian Kitchen, and settled into a nice little bungalow by the pool. The restaurant manager and rooms manager are both avid motorcyclists and we chatted bikes for quite a while before heading out to see the area and grab a quick lunch before heading back to the room to unpack and relax by the pool.
Later in the afternoon while making use of the wifi, we met the owners of the guesthouse, and discovered what a truly small world it is. Lorraine and Anthony are an Indian couple who have traveled extensively with their two daughters. It turns out that they were in George Town, Malaysia at the same time we were last year, and in fact, tried to stay in the guesthouse that was our home away from home, but it was full, so they stayed two doors down. They also visited many of the same places we did, including the zoo in Taiping, where no foreigners go. We spent about an hour comparing travel notes and then went out for dinner.
160 miles in 5.5 hours. We're really going to have to do something about that battery soon.
Lazy day today. We got up late and worked on ride reports and blogposts by the pool until lunchtime.
We then walked down to the market for some fruit and then went to a nearby restaurant for a humongous thali lunch.
After that, we went for a walk up the beach, which was filled with beach chairs and beach bars (and cows). One of the interesting things about India is that many of the tourists at the beach today were Indian. The ratio of Indian tourist to foreign tourist was about 50/50. There is definitely more wealth in India than in most of the countries we visited in Africa. Since the signs on the beach said that swimming was not permitted(?) we went back to the hotel for a dip in the pool. We followed dinner with our favorite dessert – ice cream and .
0 miles. 7,340 USD over 114 days = 64 USD per day.
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