The Tour d’Afrique 2019 has pulled up in Arusha, Tanzania. We have crossed the equator and rolled past Mount Kilimangero, the highest peak in Africa. Riders have 3 days off to enjoy various excursions which originate here in East Africa’s safari capital. Next up is the 44th of 88 stages, the first of 7 straight days in the saddle which will bring us closer to our final destination of Capetown than our starting point Cairo 2 months ago.
TDA labels the 4th section of the tour “Masai Steppe”. It began with a turnover day in Nairobi, where we visited a wildlife trust for orphaned baby elephants and rhinos, as well as a rehabilitation center for Rothschild Giraffes.
There is no regard for cyclists in the horrific traffic of Nairobi. Some routes feature speed bumps on the shoulder (where we are often forced to ride) rather than on the road itself, to keep drivers from Using them to pass other vehicles. Some of us have nevertheless been passed on the outside while hugging the side of the road! We have become hardened to these conditions, but 2 new “sectional” riders who followed us out of the city with were injured when forced off the road less than 5 km into their inaugural TDA ride. 10 km later another rider crashed and dislocated his elbow, putting his tour on hold for at least a month. All of this pales in comparison to our returning rider and “mule” (he had returned to Canada for his mother’s 100th birthday and been imposed upon to return with supplies for those already here). Tom arrived in Nairobi on the same flight, same plane, 24 hours before the Ethiopian Air crash that killed all 157 on board.
Entering Tanzania added a new chapter to our border chronicles. We were asked to show original proof of yellow fever vaccinations, but could offer only the photocopies we had brought of our booklets. “Look, the requirement is marked right there”, the young official scolded us, motioning towards a scrap of loose leaf taped to a wall above his head. “Otherwise you have to buy a booklet for 50 U.S. dollars!”
Lenore eventually half convinced him that we had not had a recent opportunity to read the border notices, and that transposing the information from our photocopies to his regulation booklets (with his crayon) did not in fact constitute any additional guarantee that we have the necessary yellow fever antibodies. We say half convinced because his next move as as the mouthpiece of the United Republic of Tanzania was to knock down the price of the booklets to $25! Imagine bargaining for leniency with U.S. border security.
With more time, and perhaps somewhere other than in Africa (and Italy, of course), we might have taken the matter “up the ladder” to make the argument that our documentation must have been sufficient if the remedy was negociable. We have learned to accept over paying in small measures in the interest of saving time and stress.
We didn’t have to wait long after the border event to bring this new found wisdom into play once again. Rolling in to Arusha after store hours, we took the advice of a “handler” (the usual hustler who spots tourists in the city and has the solutions to all their needs – and then some) and bought SIM cards from a street kiosk where we suspected that the price had been enhanced. It was. We also bought some “art” from the handler to thank him for showing us to the nearest ATM and used the expensive taxi driver he introduced us to before ducking into a cafe he recommended. All in all, for a small premium we freed ourselves of administrative tasks the next morning, had a bodyguard for our money matters, had a great meal and were whisked home safely. Bargaining is an unfortunate necessity in some cultures. We try to keep it to a minimum.
Once out of the city we returned to our reason for being here with a spectacular ride into Arusha. Early on, baboons made themselves known in large numbers, but the highlight was a giraffe which some riders were lucky enough to have cross the highway in front of them. Mount Meru presented itself gradually on the horizon and we mistook it for Kili. As we drew closer its silhouette was filled in with rocky contours and finally shadows and shades of green. A Masai herder enlightened us on the local geography by pointing out the snow capped peak of Kilimangero far off to the east.
A tough stretch lies ahead. We’ll be seeing much more of the Masai tribesmen, and hopefully more wildlife. At Babati we’ll be pulling our bigger tires out of the “permanent bag” when we trade the tarmac for the ascents and descents of the Masai Steppe – mostly on rougher gravel and sandy roads. Rains – which are in the forecast- could make things messy.
Thanks for reading.