That roundabout in Nzega was truly a remarkable sight and I wish I'd taken a photo.
It was like emerging from dusty bushes and dirt tracks into a smart European town, a "through the wardrobe" experience. And really, my first thought was, "Well! What sort of town is Nzega?"
But I was very weary after that hell of a ride, the road ahead really was straight and wide and I felt an immediate need to check that I could actually still ride on flat tarmac at a speed greater than twelve miles-an-hour without hitting a vicious speed-wobble. It was like when you fall off for some silly reason, and straightaway want to pick yourself up, get back on and go, to check that everything still works properly in bike and rider.
So I sped on from Nzega wondering what I'd find over the ridge. I had no idea how far the tarmac would go, my maps showed dirt most of the way. But this road goes all the way to Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania, and was being laid with tarmac as long ago as three years.
There was little traffic. And being a road that leads to the capital, there were a couple of cheery police check points on the way where I learnt that it was probably too late to reach Singida. But Igunga sounded a nice sort of small place. And it was. With tarmac all the way there, a nice sort of small hotel, four pounds for a big room with bathroom, bike parked right outside and cafeteria next door. And just to add a finishing touch, there was no running water. The owner didn't know when it would return but he'd filled up big plastic drums from the little well he had in his front garden. So that was all right then.
The ride to Igunga was pretty flat, savanah-type country, but after Igunga it would become more interesting.
That next morning the road dropped into a wide valley with tiny river at the bottom, then rose fairly sharply and twistily to climb over the end of the Kidero Mountain range.
Start of the climb.
I got the impression here that this was going to be quite a climb, as heavy lorries and trailers were descending at a speed slower than I think I had seen on any hills so far in Africa, some towing the smell of hot brakes behind them.
Leaving the savanah of Igunga behind.
In a dry river bed a family of baboons have made a home.
Perhaps they'd like more tarmac too, they find interesting stuff in its crevices.
But they're not very sure about parked motorbikes.
Beyond the summit, the region of Singida comes into view.
This was the forth day of riding in a row, on roads varying between enjoyably difficult to impossibly difficult, and a few days off were needed which I hoped for in Singida town.
It's another easy-going medium-sized African town.
And 'easy-going' is like this: I wanted to buy a Tanzania sim card for my phone and happened upon the local Vodacom shop. Outside, a young chap was chatting to a security guard - I think there was a bank next door - and greeted me in the usual way. Whereupon I saw the "Closed" sign on the shop door.
"Yes, it's Saturday. Shops close for half day," said my greeter. Very civilised. "Open again on Monday."
But as usual he wanted to know what I wanted, where from, how long in Africa and so on.
"I have a Vodafone sim in my phone but it doesn't work too well in Tanzania. I need a local one."
"That's no problem, come inside, we'll sort you out."
He led me into the shop, where I found a full-blown spring-cleaning operation in progress. Staff were even shampooing the chairs. There was a spot where the floor was dry and one dry chair to sit on.
"This is what you want. That'll be fifty pence." (A thousand Tanzanian shillings). "Give me your phone, I'll activate it for you."
And he did.
Then I remembered what I'd come out for.
"I'm looking for an internet cafe but haven't found one anywhere."
(I'd done a circuit of the town's shopping streets, looked around the bus station where I'd been directed, but never saw one).
"There's one three doors down, on the corner. I'll take you there."
And he did.
On the corner was a plain building with one window and one door that didn't look open. There was no sign or any indication at all of what was inside.
I suppose that's easy-going as well. Singida seems to be like that - they don't expect many visitors so don't put signs outside their business premises.
But inside was a fully equipped internet set-up with all the computers being used by people who looked like they were doing their University weekend homework.
The attendant rushed around connecting up another computer for me, but it didn't work very well. It connected, then it didn't, then it did, and didn't, and so on. After a short while another attendant arrived and tried to fix it.
"No, I think this computer's not right. Here, I'll connect this up and you can use it."
It was his smart laptop that he came in with. He turned out to be the owner of the business, and spoke about the best English I've heard so far in Tanzania.
"Take as long as you like, I don't need to use it."
Not only was his English very good, but he looked strangely familiar.
On this journey I've often seen people in the streets who look strangely familiar, bringing names like Chris Eubank, or Mike Tyson, or Linford Christy, or Frank Bruno to mind.
But it wasn't a sportsman I was looking for this time.
I completed my email and blogging things and closed the browser window, which revealed a photo on the screen behind.
It was a photo taken in the internet cafe, of the owner sitting behind the cash desk, with the pose, expression and clothing set up to be the spitting image of 'Mr. T' from the 'A Team'.
Well, I was glad I found the answer to that one!
"We haven't the faintest idea when you came in," said Mr. T. "How long do you think you've been? Let's call it a pound." (Two thousand shillings). So that was pretty easy-going.
"Now, I'd like to talk about your motorbike outside and your journey."
And that was easy-going as well.
Posted by Ken Thomas at July 14, 2010 10:10 AM GMT
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