5/9/05. Tanga, Tanzania.
The Kenya/Tanzania border crossing is a walk in the park, relatively. No bribes, no "road tax" (not even the $20 I legitimately owe the government of Kenya), very few moneychanging touts and several well-wishing officials. It's followed by 35 miles of horribly sharp rocks. I'm now on a non-Michelin Desert front tyre (Metzeler Sahara since you ask) and the primal fear of punctures has returned. Ah Deserts! 10,000 African miles and NO PUNCTURES as Magnus Magnussen would say, probably.
So - one night in Tanga, en route to Dar and Zanzibar. As I sit in the lavish bar of the hotel next door to my not-lavish one, watching CNN coverage of Hurricane Katrina (My! That George Bush is a bit of a div!), I peel skin from my newly-bronzed arms and swig Kilimanjaro lager. My Venice Beach style tan is a result of a week at Tiwi, just south of Mombasa. White sand and turquoise water. "Paradise" was the most overused word of the week in the beach bar. You gotta love East Africa. Everywhere I've stayed (except North East Kenya on the Wajir road) - Addis, Nairobi, Eldoret, Jinja, Kampala, Murchison Falls, Hunters Inn, Tiwi - has been (a) great; (b) slightly better than the previous place.
I've treated Fluffy to a course of Holt's "Damp Start". She will now speed through heavy rain without so much as a cough.
8/9/05. Stone Town, Zanzibar.
On the potato boat to Zanzibar
Sowanyway! I'm tootling down the road at - oh I dunno - maybe 200mph*, trying to find Bububu Beach (is it BOObubu, BuBOObu, BubuBOO, or maybe BOOBOOBOO? I don't know, but I bet it's not the last one), when I see a sign for the Columbus Club, pointing in roughly the direction I expect the beach to be. "Super", I think, and swing left down a kilometre of sandy track, eventually happening on a BIG METAL GATE.
"Em-hem... Is this a hotel?" I enquire.
"Oh yus" replies the lovely and saucily-booted Zanzibari gate-woman.
She smells good, like some kinda expensive perfume with a hint of coconut oil.
There is no hint of a motion to open the BIG GATE.
"I wonder if I might come in and take a spot of lunch?" I venture.
"Blimey you smell nice" I think.
There follow a few minutes of elaborate red tape as Coconut Honey and somebody have a phone conversation in Swahili about my suitability. Shortly I'm allowed through the GATE - but I can't take my bike. Or my helmet or my keys or my gloves. I'm starting to dislike this place and I'm not even in it yet, but I gotta see it now.
At reception I'm escorted - closely - to the bar, where I am informed that lunch is TWENTY EUROS!! Suddenly I'm not hungry. "You're joking of course?" I say. They're not. Of course. But I'm not beaten yet.
"I'll just have a beer for now. And a packet of Sportsman".
I'm escorted from the bar to the cig boutique in the manner one is escorted from HMV in Oxford Street to the pavement, having attempted to steal a tape.
I hate this place, but I'm in an extremely good mood - because I'm in Zanzibar - and the Columbus Club, whatever the hell sort of place it is, is not going to spoil it.
"Sportsman Please!" I cry at the counter-maid.
"Only Marlboro and Camel" she explains.
WHUT? I haven't seen either of these for months and I don't want 'em. But given that I don't have any fags I'll take 'em.
"How much in TZ shillings?"
"We don't take TZ shillings".
WHU-HAAAT? I really really hate this place.
It turns out later, in a proper bar in Stone Town, that the Columbus Club is a walled enclave/compound for Italians who want to go on holiday to the beach in Zanzibar but don't want to go to Zanzibar. All the staff have to speak fluent Italian (how many Italian speakers do you think there are in Tanzania?). The guests are bussed from the airport to the hotel. From then on, no-one can leave and no-one can get in, apart from me because I wheedle.
It sucks, hard. But I was still in a good mood on the way back to town, tyres spitting gravel, none of which I hope hit the heavenly-smelling gate honey...
11/9/05. Mcheza Beach Bar, Zanzibar
If I was Jabba tha Hutt, I could slither down to the Columbus Club and pop the Gate Honey into my mouth like a fun-size Bounty, suck off the coconut flavour - and the clothes - and deposit her glistening form back down onto the tarmac.
Oink! One year on the road tomorrow and no sign of mental instability setting in yet. Bleat!
20/9/05. Jambiani, S.E. Zanzibar.
Andy's got Rush on his iPod and Emma owns a pub. And they're my new neighbours! Nungwi in the north of Z'bar is a tourist haven to the extent that at least two of the local lads have pseudo-cockney accents. One of them is even a Spurs fan - I think the first African of that unhappy persuasion I've met.
The weather's not perfect all day every day, but when the sun's out the sea is stupidly turquoise and the extensive shallows are warm like a bath.
Andy, Emma and I drink booze for a few days at Cholo's, a ship-shaped bar on the beach with hammocks and a spectacular sunset spot. It's not really Africa, but, like, who cares?
Eventually I saddle up and whizz down to the South-Eastern beaches, ending up at Jambiani. The weather is consistently good here. The tide goes out for miles and comes in startlingly fast. I'm able to fulfil a year-old ambition (I arrived in Nungwi 365 days after I left the UK) by riding Fluffy on the beach.
This is good, partly because the "roads" around here are "made" of worryingly sharp raised platforms of ocean-eroded volcanic basalt. Excuse me - I've just read Richard Fortey's "The Earth - An Intimate History", and for the next few weeks I'll be appreciating ancient lava flows, 70 million-year-old limestone formations and Pre-Cambrian gneisses*, particularly when I suspect one of them is going to give me a puncture.
*I don't really know what these are.
25/9/05. Stone Town, Zanzibar.
Back to the port for a ferry tomorrow and the three day ride to the Malawi border. In Jambiani yesterday the 1000th person of the trip asked me if they could have a go on my bike. So that's 1000 times I've said "Not if I live to be a billion. I'd rather feed my lips into a paper shredder."
Seaweed farm, Jambiani
There are places in Zanzibar, where, floating in blood-temperature water two feet deep, body cushioned by butter-coloured powdery sand, you can't help laughing out loud at the Bountyness of it all. But if you're going to go, go now! Prices have doubled since the guidebook I'm using came out in April 2004, though haggling is well worth it (e.g. half price if you stay a week).
And don't go on the optimistically named "New Happy" ferry. It's old and depressed and it takes six hours to get there. I was charged $25 US for me and $30 for Fluffy. Imagine my light-hearted acceptance of life's oddball quirks, when, on arriving at the port in Z'bar, the dock fellows refused to take my bike off the boat unless I paid yet more cash.
To put that in context, the 90 minute fast ferry is $35 for a person and $20 for a bike. And it's not 95% full of potatoes, and it has a toilet.
"Shut up, dude! Of course they're not going to bloody drop i... oh..."
(Note to self [# a million in a series of infinity]: Do not go into the first place you see and accept their assertion that "The New Happy is the only way you can get a motorcycle from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar" in future.)
2/10/05. Mbeya, Tanzania.
Nippers bunk off school to say hello
Being 6'3" is great. Y'know, calling anyone under 5'10" "Ronnie Corbett" and helping old women reach the medicated lavatory tissue from the top shelf; but there is a down side. The lumbar parts can be a touch flimsy, so Rule No. 1 for strapping lads and lasses everywhere is:
NEVER ATTEMPT TO MOVE A PASSENGER FERRY BY HAND.
Oh dear! I am a fat buffoon. Consequently, when the 300 seater, 2 million ton ferry arrives back at Dar es Salaam, exactly four feet away from where it needs to be in order safely to disgorge my bike, I decide to help the five stocky dockers who begin to yank the behemoth into position with a rope. Amazingly it works. Fluffy reaches dry dock safely and we spurt off to the hotel in high spirits. The next morning I feel a slight twinge as I leave. By the time I get to Morogoro I'm screaming as I get off the bike.
One night turns into four before I can get back in the saddle. Thankfully, the hotel has MNET (a South African movie channel) otherwise I would now be mental.
"School Of Rock" with Jack Black is good. "The Skulls" with nobody you ever heard of is belly-wash.
Four days of woeful crippledom pass, enlivened by James, a Tanzanian who has decided to be an American. Sounds alright in theory, but you try having a 10-minute conversation with an African who's never been outside southern Tanzania, but insists on addressing you with the word "Yo!" and calling you "Nigga" in a heavily Africanized South Central L.A. accent. Mad as a chair.
Southern Tanzania is mountainous beauty where I expected barren scrub. I stay a night at the very nice but wildly-overpriced Kisolanza campsite on the way. When I arrive it's just me - but I've overtaken a busload of other guests on the way. Ahhh... overland trucks. I offer a cheery tootle as I pass. They stare miserably at the floor - all 19 of them. On arrival not one of them manages eye contact. I'm sure they're having a good time really.
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