THE ROAD TO ENGARESERO

Leaving Kitumbeine, I was making good time on my mountain bike, although the road had certainly become much rougher.  My plan was to arrive in Gelai Bomba by midday to refill my water containers, as this was the only stop between Kitumbeine and Engaresero.  The road, and I use that term loosely, winding around rocky knolls and plunging down ravines into dry riverbeds, was now consuming one hundred percent of my concentration.  No time for observing the numerous zebra, Thompson gazelle, Maasai giraffe, dik dik and gerenuk. Negotiating one particularly steep ravine, my front tire struck a rock and I flipped over the bike.

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This time was not a slow-mo experience nor a soft landing. I landed on my head, colliding with a rock near my left temple. Fortunately my helmet absorbed most of my fall.

 Observe the dent!

 No broken bones!

No broken bike!

OK…….I must be more careful!

Arriving in Gelai Bomba at 1300, I still felt good about my progress. I was just a bit less than half way there. I filled my water containers at the local duka (small general store) and sat down to enjoy a “cold” (I was promised) bottle of Stoney Tangawizi, but alas, it was of ambient temperature, although it was taken from the refrigerator.

While enjoying my “cold drink”, I noticed a couple of Maasai men standing around the duka.  I will take the liberty to call them “drugstore Maasai”. The shorter one was wearing traditional Maasai attire: a red shuka, beaded ear décor, and holding the warrior spear with a seme (double bladed long knife) attached to his leather belt.  The taller one wore an Emirates T-shirt and was without the customary ear piercings, but did have the traditional circular branding on his cheeks.  He was eager to converse in both Swahili and English, stating he had finished Form 6 in school there.  The other one remained silent.  As I saddled up the bike, the one in the Emirates T-shirt repeatedly requested money, to which I smiled and said “No”.

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I glanced down at the trail I was to follow, crossing a ravine and then ten miles of dusty, sandy, desolate savannah, doted with only a few hardy Acacia trees.  After crossing the ravine, the volcanic sand became too difficult to ride over. I dismounted and commenced my journey into the porini (wilderness). Only then did I notice two Maasai following behind me.  Yes, one was in traditional attire, the other an Emirates T-shirt.  They caught up with me shortly and requested that I hire them as a guide.  I insisted that I would guide myself. Not giving up, they asked again for money. I ignored them.

We traveled in silence for several more miles.  I began contemplating my situation.  The entire day had passed without sighting a single car.  I was now getting tired and thirsty and I had two Maasai escorts. Their persistent begging for money left me slightly uncomfortable of their intentions. Welcoming a large Acacia tree, I leaned my bike against the trunk.  My visitors followed me, again requesting money.  They stated that I owed them a “Gate fee”.

The “Gate fee” is an entirely different subject.  The local districts around the Ngoro Ngoro and Serengeti National Parks have observed that tourists are paying many dollars to enter through the gates. Not surprising, little or no revenue benefits the local population.  In their wisdom, the Maasai have set up not-so-legal roadside “gates” along tourist routes which pass through their districts. They collect fees which they insist benefit the local schools and development projects.  I suspect most of it ends up in Mombasa or Dar Es Salam, however.

Well, I knew for a fact that there was no “gate fee” at Gelai Bomba, not even a gate. Impatient now, the shorter Maasai (the one in traditional attire) pulled out his seme and said “kali” as he placed my fingers on the double bladed long knife. With half attempted swings at my legs, arms, and throat with the seme, he then indicated that he wanted money. He was certainly a man of few words, but his point was well taken.  Meanwhile the one in the Emirates T-shirt took the spear and held it back in a cocked position aiming at me, making throwing motions.  I knew now that we had us a situation, a hostage situation.  I calmly told them “nimechoka” (I am tired), and sat down on a stone. They in turn withdrew their weapons and sat down. Making small talk we sat under the shade of that tree.  They demanded water now. I ignored their demands.  I was dead here without water. They were Maasai and could travel all day without it.  An hour passed under that tree; at times they would withdraw the big knife and flash it at me.  Thoughts of using a nearby rock as a weapon or throwing dirt into their faces somehow did not seem as a logical means of escape.  Glancing back at the trail, I noticed two Maasai women walking my way.  Was this a mirage? My escape plan went into action as I stood up and took my bike pushing it toward them.  “Takwenya” I called, (a Maasai greeting to women), as I approached them.  My two “drugstore Maasai” followed for a few steps hurling insults at me and then turned back.  “Sere”, I smiled.  “Goodbye”.

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The two women, God’s Maasai angels, soon left the trail, and I was alone again.   Except for a few rideable sections, I pushed and pulled the bike through the sand for the remaining ten miles, but not before I had another flat tire.

Not fair. I wasn’t even riding when it went flat.

Reaching the main road at sunset, I was exhausted, thirsty and hungry. I pulled out my foam mat, just to rest for a few moments along the side of the road. The Tillamook cheese, which I had saved from the KLM flight, was now a bit aged, but it was delicious.

I must have dozed off, but was awakened when I became aware of a familiar, but eerie night sound. “whoooo-OOOP”.

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The full moon was now up and I could see the outline of a spotted hyena as it circled my location.  I watched it for a few minutes in apprehension as it continued to circle.  Was it the Tillamook cheese or me that fascinated it?  My sense of humour had vanished.  Shining my flashlight, I said, “toka”, (get out of here).  He skulked over to a nearby tree and watched.  Not tempting any further confrontations, I hopped on my bike and pedaled down the moonlit road.  Even with the headlamp on, the rocky road was difficult to negotiate.

Knowing there was a “gate” a few miles down the road, I pedaled on into the night. Upon reaching the abandoned “gate”, as the toll man returns home in the evening, I decided to spend the night in the door-less “gate shack”.  Unfolding my foam mat once again, I secured the door opening by locking the bike in front of it. Enjoying an uneventful remainder of the night, I awoke to a beautiful day and a pleasant ride to my destination, Engaresero.

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Incidentally, my son, Scotty, has been working on this beautiful tented campsite at World View Campsite, Engaresero, Lake Natron.

KARIBU!

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THE ROAD TO KITUMBEINE

Landing at Nairobi International Airport at 0700, I cleared customs with a bike in a box and boarded Riverside Bus Service for a three hour ride to Longido, Tanzania, where I would begin my biking adventure.  We made the border crossing at Namanga, but not without the customary investigative shakedown.  After discovering that there was a bike in a box on top of the bus, I was immediately taken by the customs officer to a dingy, unlit office, furnished with only an old wooden desk and two chairs. The walls were sparse and desired a new coat of paint. A picture of their President hung tilted on the wall. I knew the procedure and I sat down to wait.  Three years ago I had sat in the same office after they discovered that I had brought a power paraglider with me on the bus.  They were insisting on an import duty fee.  I told the officer that it was my personal PPG and that I had brought it in on prior visits.  Yes, he wanted proof.  I had to think…..yes, of course.  My Facebook profile shows me with my PPG standing next to a Maasai woman in Tanzania. Yes, “Duty” problem solved.

Now the officer wanted “Duty” for the bike in the box.  I insisted that the bike was 19 years old, not a new bike.  He insisted that the bike was new to Tanzania though, which I could not argue.  I insisted that the bike was my means of transportation in Tanzania and that it would take me back to Kenya.  Surprisingly, with just a promise not to sell the bike and a simple handshake, I was on my way across the border.

Image 1The bus pulled off the road at the turnoff to Kitumbeine, a few kilometers from the town of Longido.  I took my luggage and the bike in a box and placed them under an Acacia tree. Even before the bike was out of the box, I was surrounded by curious Maasai, all willing to help sort and assemble.

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Already two hours behind schedule, but what is a schedule in Africa, I knew I could not waste time. It was already an adventure in itself without the added risk of riding after sunset!  Kitumbeine, a small Maasai village, is where my friend and grade school classmate, Steve Friberg, lives with his family as a missionary doctor, and where I plan to spend the night. 

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Thirty-five miles of dirt road through remote northern Tanzania rich with wildlife now lay before me.  “Pinch me”, I thought.  “Is this for real?”  The road was mine, except for the occasional Land Rover or commercial lorry which would pass by.  For one hour I cranked on the pedals and noted that the odometer was only reading 6-10 MPH.  I thought, “What is wrong?

I am in good shape and can average 20 MPH at home.”  It was only after I stopped to look back, that I noticed I was on a steady up hill incline.  So I trudged on. Then the sound of a gunshot, but I knew it was my back tire which had just blown.  I pulled the bike under the shade of an Acacia tree and before I had the back tire removed I had a visitor.  Yes, a Maasai herder.  While I repaired the tire, he asked for maji, (water) but I said “No”. I needed it more than he did.  He then begged for my Leatherman.  I said “No”. Your knife on your belt is much bigger than mine.  Finally, he asked for the old tire, which had blown out.  This I granted him and off he went with a smile.

With the wind at my back, riding downhill on the washboard, bumpy, gravel road, shaking my eyeballs right out of their sockets, I glanced down at the odometer reading 22 MPH. Finally, I had reached my cruising speed, but as I glanced up, too late, a sand trap engulfed my front tire and I did a slow-mo summersault over the handlebars.

ImageSoft landing.

Everything is OK.

Not a scratch.

As I shook off the dust, I noticed four beautiful and curious giraffes gazing at me over the tops of the Acacia trees.

With dusk fast approaching, I could see the corrugated shiny roofs of the village of Kitumbeine. Almost home.

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My roommate tonight, Friberg’s pet dik dik.

Look at those big dark eyes and long lashes.

Tonight I will sleep well.  My next lag will take me to Engaresero, a 50 mile ride on not so good roads through some extremely desolate landscapes.