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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.