Already on day 27 and still going strong. The hills and dust are a challenge but their journey to raise money for pensioners in Zimbabwe spurs the riders on.
Day 25 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Kigoma to Makere, somewhere near the Burundi border.
Distance- 76 km
Climb – 628 m
Time – 5 hr 37 min
Ave Heart Rate – 112 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 172 bpm.
I am blogging to you from a police station, complete with heavily armed policemen, somewhere near the Burundi border. Today’s ride was epic, one I will remember for years. Unfortunately, epic doesn’t always translate into fun.
In the harshest reminder that Africa is more than just forever views, game reserves, and sunsets with Ice cold drinks on white-sand beaches, we were able to blunder into an area with one million-plus desperate refugees, all looking to flee the despair and hopelessness of whichever of Africa’s shit-hole failed states they hail from. In just 5 days, we have been able to ride from heaven to hell.
The day’s ride started out fun. We rode through busy little market towns, colourful and vibrant. Normally riding in traffic is horrible but dicing and bantering with tuk-tuk and motorbike riders was fun and exciting. Adam was back in the saddle after his fight with the lurgy, but CarolJoy is now man down.
This part of Tanzania is more poor than where we have come from, with more bicycles transporting heavy goods than motorbikes, moving heavy loads of furniture, charcoal, bananas, firewood, sugar cane, overhanging 3 to 4 meters on either side. Passenger transport is all by motorbike, often 3 or 4 up, because the guys on the bicycles ride even slower than us.
I got off my bike to help push a guy with a huge heavy load of firewood up a steep hill. He was all smiles and grateful, until I got back on my bike, leaving him to tackle the next steep hill on his own.
Church is a big deal in Tanzania and on Sunday mornings families get all dressed in their best and most colourful frocks and dresses. There were lots of mosques nestled in amongst the churches. The two religions seem to get on just fine but the competition must get quite noisy, I saw some massively large sound systems on top of church belfry towers, to counter the early morning wailing from the Imams next door.
Our ride stopped being fun when we got out of town and the busy road turned to dirt and corrugations. I don’t know why we bothered to shower on our rest day or wash our bikes. We were covered in inch deep dirt inside of the first 5 minutes.
I got dust in my good eye leaving me panicked and able to see bugger all more than a few times. But after three weeks on Tour, Jenny’s roadside eye-drop stops are quick like Formula One pit stops.
For the most part, the truck and bus drivers we share the road with are courteous and they slow down and give us lots of room. But easily the worst offenders are the speeding Aid Agency Land Cruisers. It is amazing how fast donated cars are able to travel over bad roads.
Because the Burundi border is close by, there were fleets and fleets of Aid Agency vehicles rushing around looking to uplift lives and save children, most probably run over in the first instance by other speeding Aid Agency vehicles. For those who don’t remember, Burundi, and Rwanda next door, are where 800,000 unfortunates were hacked to death in 100 days of genocide not so long ago. Burundi has never recovered and continues a failed state, and a burden on her neighbours, Tanzania included.
For the record, easily the fastest drivers out on track were those from World Vision and Save the Children.
Burundi lurked malevolently in the distance to our left all morning.
I felt like a hobbit, skirting passing Mordor, with a sense of foreboding. The young men walking with machetes came across as sullen and threatening. We stopped next to a village for tea and the poverty was in your face, and the sense of hopelessness pervasive. Only the very smallest children had laughter in their eyes, those slightly older came across frightened, and not just of speeding aid agency vehicles. It felt wrong being there as a tourist.
I am sure there was some decent scenery out there but it was impossible to see past the despair in villages that lined the roads. Whatever the European countries are pouring into failed states like Burundi, it is not nearly enough. From what I could see, the only lives they are uplifting are the people who work for the Aid Agencies they fund.
Without any prospects for a normal, peaceful life or employment and entirely dependent on aid and charity, each and every one of those sullen young Burundians we rode past today was scheming how to get a seat on a dinghy heading across the Mediterranean. Alas.
We were blissfully unaware of all of the above and rode into a sprawling shack town at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, tired and filthy dirty, and asked a policeman manning a one-man police post if he knew where we could bush camp for the night, as is our want.
The lone cop looked at us like we were certifiably and suicidally bonkers. Apparently, we were less than 10 kilometers from a massive, full-to-overflowing refugee camp and any happy campers would have the life expectancy of a free-falling lemming hurtling halfway down a cliff.
Oh, we said, how about we camped next to his police post?
Very anxious to get rid of us in a hurry, he told us better to go back 10 kilometers to Makere, a much larger police post we’d passed earlier, with a fence and more policemen to guard us.
On the way back to Makere, we tried our luck at a splendid United Nations compound belonging to the International Organization Migration with high walls and barbed wire to keep the refugees out, and rolling green lawns and air conditioning for the UN staff within.
We asked the army of private security guards at the high-security gate if we could camp inside on their lawns. He spoke to his boss inside. Who spoke to his big, big boss. We were in luck. The big, big boss was Chaminorwa, a fellow Zimbabwean, and my homeboy. I told Cham all about the Old Legs being a charity and all about the amazing hospitality we’d enjoyed from other Zimbabweans everywhere we’d been.
So could we camp in his compound I asked?
Not tonight he said, only tomorrow night. He wasn’t being inhospitable, it was just that the United Nations required notice in advance. I reminded him that I was a global citizen and part of his flock, and if I got murdered during the night by desperate Burundians it would be his fault. Come back tomorrow, Cham told us.
Because of Cham, I’m with Donald Trump on the United Nations being a bloated, parasitic bureaucracy. And wasteful. Chaminorwa ran his generator all night long, just so he could water his green lawns through the night.
Instead, we camped outside the Makere Police Station and all’s well that ends well. Thanks to the heavily armed policemen, none of us were murdered during the night, which is always good for Tour morale, and we were able to sleep despite the Chinese road gang next door that worked through the night, despite the dogs that barked at them non-stop, despite the hurrying trucks and buses late into the night, despite angry policemen shouting loudly at God knows who. An epic ending to another epic day on the Old Legs Tour.
Tomorrow we are going to load the bikes on the trailer and drive the 120 kilometers needed to get Burundi and the refugees behind us. And then we’ll get back on our bikes and continue pedalling to Lake Victoria and Uganda beyond.
Until my next blog from somewhere nearer Lake Victoria, stay safe, avoiding refugee camps if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons
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Days 26 and 27 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Nyakanazi to Muleba, a little town on Lake Victoria, Tanzania
Distance- 131 km
Climb – 1182 m
Time – 8 hr 36 min
Ave Heart Rate – 130 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 193 bpm.
I am blogging to you from a little hotel with a huge amount of bling, as in Las Vegas amounts of bling. The sheets on our 4-poster bed are louder than my shirts. The bed has more frills and pink ribbon than the Dick of the Day tutu. Our bathroom has a nine-way stainless-steel shower mixer and a hole-in-the-floor toilet.
Our hotel boasts a restaurant. So after days of bush camping, we’re splashing out on dinner tonight. My menu choices are chicken, fish, or goat. I’ve gone with fish because you can’t hear a fish scream when the chef runs faster than them. I have so gone off chicken, especially the sounds they make when the chef catches them, and am so thankful no one ordered goat. If there’d been a vegan option on the menu, I’d have gone vegan.
Clearly, television in this town isn’t up to much, because the town children have gathered at the hotel fence to watch us sit, stand, wash bikes, pack and repack cars, etcetera, etcetera, making us feel halfway between Kardashians and performing seals. But the hotel is way better than our campsite outside the police station two nights ago, so all good.
You will remember we were camped under police guard to avoid the risk of being robbed by desperate Burundian refugees and/or Congo refugees and/or the refugees of any other failed states that have contributed to the human flotsam and jetsam of misery along the length of the Burundian border. It took us almost 4 hours with bikes on the Isuzus on the dust road from hell to flee the spillover poverty and misery from the failed states.
As soon as we hit the tar, we got back on the bikes and were able to get 38 kilometers of hard riding under our belts before our cutoff time of 15.30.
Gary was able to find us another splendid half-finished hotel complete with bling, including concrete statues of zebra, giraffe, buffalo, elephants, and white swans in the little town of Nyakanazi. I say half-finished because the west wing of 4 bedrooms was complete and a thing of beauty if you like Tanzanian bling, but the east wing was still a building site. Because it was better than camping outside the police station, we moved in. As did a huge audience of children who gathered along the hotel fence to watch us go through routines.
Our accommodations on Tour have varied hugely. The building site was converted to the boys’ dormitory while the married couples styled in the west wing. Al, Ant, and Vicky put their tents up in the car park.
We had dinner in the car park, seated amongst the concrete zebra, giraffe, buffalo, and elephants.
To give the watching children something to talk about, we played a variation of musical chairs at dinner, and stood up and moved one seat to our right at the count of three.
Whilst eating, we were treated to the spectacle of a real live bat hawk hunting his dinner in the sky just above us. It was my first time seeing a bat hawk. Man, but he was slick, and the bats never stood a chance.
It was also my first time seeing palm nut vultures the next day as we rode from Nyakanazi down to Lake Victoria, or more like up to Lake Victoria. Who would have thought big lakes were up high in the mountains.
To make up for lost kilometers, Adam asked us to push hard today. He was targeting 130 plus kilometers with over 1200 meters of a steep climb. Back on tar, we fairly flew up the hills. With 3 weeks under our belts, we are all fully fit now and riding strong.
We weren’t the only ones out there riding strong. A chap on an old one-speed Samson bike delivering a goat overtook me. He had the goat all trussed up like a chicken on his bike carrier. Shame, the poor thing was terrified and issued a plaintive bleat every time he went over a bump. It was the most dreadful sound and cut through my heartstrings. If I had the shillings, I would have bought the goat’s release. But I didn’t, so instead, I tried to ride away from the noise. Which the goat delivery guy took to be a challenge, and we diced for about 20 kilometers. I think the world’s first vegan might have converted whilst riding on a bike behind a goat delivery guy in Tanzania.
We were able to ride through the Bhiramulo National Park, which was an unexpected bonus. That’s where I saw the palm nut vultures.
The Park boasts lions, elephants, roan antelope, sitatungas – a swamp antelope with long hooves, plus zebra and the other normal fare. I didn’t see any of those, but I did see my first troop of yellow baboons. As compared to the baboons we get in Zimbabwe, yellow baboons are huge with long, dense fur. They look very cuddly, apart from their teeth, which were also huge.
The two palm nut vultures followed us along the road for quite some kilometers, offering us a great sighting. I think the top of my sweaty bald head might look like a palm nut kernel when seen from above.
In terms of scenery, Tanzania is a stunning country, apart from the stretch of misery along the Burundi border. Today we rode alongside a massive range of sandstone cliffs that towered above us on our left for 90 kilometers non-stop. They were incredible. In Tanzania, I don’t think they’ve even been given a name.
We rode past lots of swamps, complete with huge stands of papyrus, but I didn’t see any shoebills. But I sense they are in front of me somewhere, and I remain poised to tick.
As we rode down to Lake Victoria, the population levels ramped up considerably. There are a lot of people that live alongside the Lake, small-scale farmers growing bananas, rice, beans, maize, cassava, and even coffee. They are a happy people and we felt the love all day.
We rode up to several major intersections during the course of the day, well signposted with roads leading to north, south, east, and west. I did not recognize the name of a single town or city. We are all a very long way from home and we got here on our bicycles.
The Old Legs Tour is riding from Harare to Uganda to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.
A year ago one of our pensioners died after a foot amputation went horribly wrong in his kitchen at home in Harare because he couldn’t afford the cost of admission to the hospital. True story. We are riding to raise money enough to make sure that doesn’t happen again to another poor Pensioner.
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We have another big ride in front of us tomorrow, from Lake Victoria up to the Ugandan border. We will be sorry to leave Tanzania. It is God’s own country, apart from the bit next to Burundi.
Until my next blog from Uganda, enjoy, stay safe, and don’t order goat.
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong – (although I’m seriously thinking about changing my name to something vegetable.)