[12.01.2017 Jeff] I have a very frustrating problem - is there any any other sort when it comes to border crossings? Both Sally and I have dual passports, British and Australian, generally speaking it's better to travel under the British one since some countries reciprocate against Australia's strict Visa policy by imposing their own in a similar vein. When we left Australia I expected to have plenty of space in my British passport to travel until we got to London and I could get a new passport there (it expires this May anyway). Africa has a different plan though. My passport suddenly filled up with several full page visas and now there aren't any more pages free and only enough space in the rest of it for perhaps one or two more stamps.
Plan B was simply switch to my Australian passport if this happened. Well....I tried to do it in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, the story was always the same, "Oh no, you must use the same passport that you used in the last place". I became more insistent at each border, refusing to move out of the queue at the Zimbabwe / Zambia border until I'd spoken to the supervisor in charge, I was stubborn.......they were more stubborn and in the end I got fobbed off as I watched the very last available page in my passport get slapped with another full page visa.
Do I take my chances at the next border - Malawi? It's risky, I would be stamped out of Zambia no problem and sent out into no-mans-land. If I arrive at the Malawi border (which by the way is another full page visa) and they don't let me in because there's no space for the visa, what then? I can't get back into Zambia either, because I would require a new visa there too. We decide to go to the Malawi embassy while we're in Lusaka (the capital of Zambia). It's the last day of the year and we get a taxi to tick off a few tasks at once - we need some replacement spare inner tubes and some cash while we're out. Out driver, Christopher knows his way around and takes us to the embassy first, of course it's closed until the 3rd. Next he takes us to the bike shop, I'm impressed it's a big shiny looking Honda dealer, it's closed until the 9th. Right, off to the bank, get into the queue for the ATM, it runs out of money before I get to use it. Humph!, Back to the hotel then.
At the embassy we're going to ask for a letter to present at the border stating that I may enter using my Australian passport. We go back to the embassy on the 3rd, I've never been into one before and I'm sort of expecting lots of scrutiny and suspicion from the armed guard, I was wrong there, he swung open the gate and welcomed us in. Once inside we were faced with the dour looking secretary behind the glass screen that I had expected and, unfortunately my fears were confirmed, she turned out to be as effective as a waterproof teabag and wouldn't let us talk to anyone else....say, someone who might actually know something useful. We're getting accustomed to acting stubborn, so we stood there looking at each other until she relented and went away into the back office, returning sometime later with a standard request form which we filled in. She told us that she would call before they close at 4pm. Still in stubborn mode, we asked for their phone number (doubting they would call as promised), she mumbled some phaff about their landlines not working, again we had a stare off until she gave us her own mobile number.
Wandering around town later in the day I suddenly realised it's 3:50pm, so I give the Malawi embassy a call (what a surprise they hadn't called me), the teabag answers and says that the immigration official says they can't help (it's turning into a day full of surprises),
Plan C involves me flying to a neighbouring country since this problem doesn't exist if you arrive at an airport rather than a land border, you're free to use whichever passport you checked in with. Initial investigations into flights look less than promising, a flight to Malawi for example (about 600km away) took up to 16 hours and cost over $1000 because the flights go via Nairobi, Addis Abba or even further afield. The best option I could find was to fly in and out of Johannesburg, they had direct flights around 2 hours each way. So I booked it and the following day took off for South Africa, arriving back in Zambia that evening on my Australian passport.
South Luangwa National Park
All that taken care of, we're heading to South Luangwa National Park which a few people have recommended. It's the peak of the wet season, so we get regular drenchings and when the sun comes out we just steam instead of drying. Our base at South Luangwa is to be Croc Valley camp, on the way we stop for a short rest and spot a little corner shop where I buy a couple of drinks and Sally buys some sweets for the kids making sure that every other tourist who stops here will be pestered for biscuits and sweets too, at least it means that they're happy to pose for a photo. It's a nice run to Croc Valley and just as we arrive at the gates there's a huge bull elephant munching on a tree right where we pass through. It's a perfect place and has one of the best swimming pools we've seen (it's just a month old), since it's the low season we have the entire place to ourselves for the first night and just a few more people are there for the second. The pool's too good to resist and there's a floating bar.
A staff member comes to us and says he must give us a talk about the wildlife, since it's right on the edge of the national park we have to beware of wandering Hippos, Elephants, Monkeys, Baboons and Crocodiles, so before we come out of our room we need to listen in the dark and if we hear any munching or crashing noises nearby we should wait until it's gone. If we go for a dip in the pool at night we should also first check for Hippos and Crocs. All this is particularly worrying since we have a shared bathroom and can't imagine I'll remember to check all this before staggering bleary eyed to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
We take a game drive the next day and opt for an evening one so we can see more of the animals that roam at night. It starts at 4:00pm and we see the usual animals that we've seen before, Hippos, Elephant, Impala, the only new animal is a Water Buck which is another type of antelope having the interesting feature of certain glands that secrete a chemical which taints the hair and flesh, so lions won't hunt then unless other game is scarce. The only really interesting part of this safari was when we came across a group of elephants, two adults and a youngster. The guide drove the car quite close to them and they started to gripe and mock charge, the guide kept enticing them to do this by driving towards them, we just sat tight, hoping and assuming that he knew what he was doing. After dark, one of the guides stood up in the passenger seat and swept a spotlight back and forth, but there wasn't much to see, just a couple of Hyena and the tiny elephant shrew. For game drives the best time of year is the dry season when water holes dry up and the animals are forced to congregate at whatever water is left. Unfortunately for us it's the wet season and the animals are spread far and wide meaning there's less chance of seeing them.
Leaving South Luangwa National Park, I hadn't paid close attention to the route and we ended up on a muddy detour, a sudden learning curve for both of us as we haven't done much riding in mud before now. Most puddles we steer around, often on the very edge of the puddle not much wider than our wheels, a couple of times my front wheel slid out but I was able to keep it upright. One puddle I just decided to tackle head on and drenched my bike to half its height and got my feet soaked for my trouble. Another puddle was home to a family of ducklings.
After South Luangwa National Park, we're heading for Malawi, home to Lake Malawi, the ninth largest in the world and home to more species of fish than any other in the world. Exiting Zambia is a straightforward affair, my Australian passport is accepted (as expected) and we get our Carnets stamped out, all in all about 10 minutes. Making our way over no-mans land to the Malawi frontier, and as soon as we arrive we're accosted by the usual hoard of money changers, touts and unsolicited 'helpers' before we even dismount. Battling our way through these we head into immigration, I hand over my Australian passport and Sally pipes in 'Can I use my Australian Passport here too?' There's a slight pause as the immigration officer flicks through it.... 'Sure, no problem' ...........AAAAAARRRRGGGGG! (I silently curse and grind my teeth).
It's $US75 each for a single entry visa, making Malawi one of the more expensive countries to enter. We're approached by an insurance agent and the price she quotes is what we expected to pay ($US25 each), so while we jot down our details on seperate pieces of paper for her to type up our policy while we're going through customs. After we head outside there's a guy selling SIM cards and air time vouchers, so we decide to buy them while we wait for the insurance. The further North we go, it's becoming impossible at African borders to do things in a nice controlled order, one thing at a time, we end up at the insurance office surrounded by people all talking at once with their hands out. We haven't finished with the SIM card guy (he only had one so he sent a boy running off to fetch another card), the insurance woman only accepts payment in Malawi Kwacha, so we have to deal with a money changer to change some more $US, then several other money changers are bugging us to change Euro, Shillings, Zambian Kwacha and any other currency we might be carrying and, to top it off the insurance woman comes out with our policies and they have somehow mixed up all our details, so she had to start again. What should have been a relatively quick and simple border crossing turned into a hot, sweaty, anger-inducing meltdown. Oh, and we are also introduced to the Malawian catch cry to the tourist 'Give me money!', just blunt like that, no sob story, no pleading eyes, no bracelets or wooden carvings. We're relieved when it's time to leave, when the people realise that we're going there's a last minute escalation in the attempt to extract something....anything from us. A guy sidles up and says 'do you have a little something for me....you know...for helping', I recollect him from the immigration office where he pointed to the large sign above the door that days 'IMMIGRATION ENTRY', that was all he did and he wanted to be paid for helping, I told him he must be joking and to go away.
As usual we haven't thought about what side of the road we need to be driving on until we're actually driving away from the border, so we have to look for clues, like which way the road signs are pointing, and whether there are cars on our side of the road (although that's doesn't always prove the direction they're supposed to be travelling in).
Free from the border, we start riding towards Lilongwe the capital. Off to the side, in the far distance I can see some ominous looking black clouds, glancing down at my compass shows that we'll be heading in that direction. As the first few spits of rain hit and we pull over to zip up the vents in our clothing to waterproof ourselves as much as possible, a local guy pulls up on his 125 2-stroke and introduces himself, unfortunately we only have time for a hurried chat as the rain arrives and there's only an hour of daylight remaining. The rain starts pelting down, visibility is sometimes only a couple of metres and the streets are flooded in parts....then it gets dark. We do our very best to avoid riding after dark and so far on our journey we're only had to do it twice before, in Bolivia and in Peru, but neither of those times was it raining. It gets to the point where I can't even see the road, I usually find the best strategy is to find a car or truck to follow but as luck would have it the first couple of cars I find to follow are driving like imbeciles, coming to a complete halt in the middle of the road whenever they encounter a vehicle coming the other way. I guess their windscreen wipers weren't working well and they're being blinded by the oncoming traffic's headlights. Anyway, I can't follow someone like that, so I'm forced to overtake. Eventually I settle on a method that I'm happy enough with - there's a car about 200m in front of me and I can use his tail lights and the headlights of the oncoming traffic to sort of triangulate the position of the road, as long as I keep to the left of the oncoming cars' headlights and directly behind the taillights of the car in front I should be right.
As we come into Lilongwe the rain starts easing off, but despite our Klim clothing we're soaked through and have rarely been so happy and relieved to arrive at a hostel. The place is called Mbeya camp, it's rather run down and the courtyard is just dirt - now mud. Just as we get settled in the rain catches up to us and comes down in torrential sheets, turning the courtyard into a running river. They have a dining room across the courtyard and we're lent umbrellas to make a dash for it, the main problem being that it's dark and the place had no logical layout to it so we walk in circles through ankle deep water and mud until we eventually bash through some bushes and jump a ditch to make it into the sanctuary of the dining room.
We planned to stay just one night in Lilongwe, but as we lay in bed listening to the persistent rain we both independently come to the decision to stay another day and see what the weather does. In the morning the room was steamy and damp from our wet riding gear, with no chance to do any laundry, every room we inhabited over the next few days was going to have a lovely wet dog smell.
Eventually we do get away from Lilongwe, and the further North and East we go the less we're getting rained on each day until it's just a very brief shower. Arriving at the shores of Lake Malawi we find a quiet place called Sea Eagle Camp, that looks like the sort of tropical paradise from travel brochures, golden sands, thatched huts and local fishermen drying their nets along the beach. It is indeed a slice of paradise except to the rider who had a deep dislike for sand. We both manage ok on the sand road in, just the hotel grounds themselves are deep sand, but we even manage these ok. We're feeling rather pleased with ourselves thinking maybe we're finally getting it, the feeling is reinforced when the manager says that other bikers get off and push their bikes through the soft sand. We shouldn't have been so chuffed that we made it in, because the next morning we left full of confidence and Sal crashed after 50 metres in a patch of deep, fluffy beach sand. After that the road was ok, actually pretty good and we could keep up a decent pace all the way back to the main road.
The next night we again stayed at a little slice of paradise, Mayoka village just a little further North. We decided to chill out here for a couple of days among the grotto of winding pathways and monkeys. The only unpleasant thing about Mayoka was the owner's propensity to getting horribly drunk and wandering around the bar with his pants down. Our last night in Malawi was spent in Karonga at a $13 hotel. When staying at this budget level there are certain questions to be asked in Africa (just to set expectations). (1) Do you have electricity all the time? (2) Is there running water? (3) Is there hot water? - all the time? The answer to questions 1 and 2 were affirmative, but to number 3 he pointed to a large bucket beside the shower and said that if we wanted hot water they would make some for us. Even then you can be surprised if you maintain a hopeful attitude. While I was having a shower I had the hot tap jammed fully on for the first few minutes, then I decided to just try the cold tap, guess what, hot water came out. I forgot to tell them in the morning that they had cold and hot running water, they might have considered bumping the price up to $15.
As we head out of Malawi, just before the border we're pulled over at a police check point and I'm asked for my licence. I hand over the usual laminated copy that I’ve used a dozen times before. The bronze takes it and flexes it between his fingers over and over, he knows something's not right with it and keeps asking to see my original. I tried to bluff (the original is kept at the bottom of my pannier and I didn’t feel like unpacking everything to get to it), but eventually had to admit that it was a copy. He told me that it’s illegal to make copies, so I asked if he wanted to see the original and he said no, it’s ok you can continue. It worried me enough that I put my real licence in my wallet that evening, so I'll now have to try and judge each time whether to hand over the real one or not.
I’ve been a little nervous about the roads in Tanzania, several people have told us that the roads are badly potholed (like really bad, I mean wheel rim denting potholes), even when you do your best to avoid them you still hit one from time to time. Nevertheless, we have a border crossing to get through first (huge sigh).
The Malawi side is straightforward, just a stamp over our Malawi visa and get the Carnet stamped at customs.
Across no-mans land to the Tanzania border post, as usual we don’t even get through the gates before a tout approaches us, but he’s from Comesa insurance and I actually want to talk to him. I heard from a fellow overlander that Comesa does a policy that can cover us for the remaining African countries - Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt - which will eliminate one of the main time-eaters at border crossings. After a quick chat to the Comesa guy we agree to meet after we’ve cleared immigration.
The immigration officer is very friendly and welcomes us. It’s $US50 for a 90 day multiple entry visa. After a short wait for the visas we go and hand over our Carnets at customs, they ask for photocopies of our drivers licences and passports, which I’m not quite prepared for, normally the Carnet excludes us from all this rigmarole, so I don’t know if it’s a misunderstanding. At this point the Comesa guys appears beside us and takes over helping us. First we head up the hill to a corner shop with a photocopy machine, the only problem being that we still only have Malawi Kwacha, so it’s time to deal with the money changers (massive sigh). On one side we have Comesa-man (I don’t remember his name), asking for our passports and licences to get copies. On the other side we have 4 different money changers all demanding our attention, everyone is talking at once and I can see Sally is going to lose it big time. Even after we’ve changed over our money they won’t go away and continue to pester us until I tell them bluntly that we don’t need them anymore.
Back at the customs desk we hand over our Carnets and photocopies, they take an age to type all our details in to their computers.
Comesa-man tells us that the agent with the necessary paperwork for the insurance is coming from somewhere else in one hour. We resign ourself to the wait and decide to make the most of it. He takes us up the hill to a restaurant and we have a border crossing lunch of fish and nshima (a tasteless stodgy mash potato looking thing, but works well if there’s a good gravy or sauce with it). We also get SIM cards, which is a lot more involved than previous countries (because of fraud), so they require photos and signatures.
Finally sorted with our insurance, we’re expecting Comesa-man to want some gratuity in return for his help, but he says it’s ok - Welcome to Tanzania, chalk and Cheese compared to Malawi.
Away from the border and our first taste of Tanzanian roads are fantastic, but it doesn’t last. We approach a section of road that’s so chewed up I can’t imagine what’s happened to get it in this state. The road surface is warped and twisted, there are actual wheel ruts in the tarmac, like you might see on a washed out dirt road. It’s a matter of picking a rut and riding it as best you can, which is working fine until we come up behind a truck crawling up a hill. I wait for a spot where the rut is almost flat and pull out and pass the truck. Pulling back into my lane I get trapped in the inside rut closest to the white line - a bad place to be on an African road. The first oncoming truck is good to me and pulls away from the white line a little to give me room, but right behind him is a bigger truck and I can immediately tell that he’s a bully, hugging the white line, cutting the corner. I grit my teeth and launch myself out of the rut and into the adjacent one further away from the centre line just in time, bike skittering around for the few moments it takes to settle down after being unbalanced.
The road continues like this for a while and then starts to flatten out. We can enjoy the scenery for a few kilometres which is beautiful and lush, palm trees and vibrant green grass hugging the roadside occasionally interrupted by a small tea plantation or village settlement of thatched houses.
The villages are 50km/h (30mph) zones and usually have pedestrian crossings as you enter and leave. The pedestrian crossings have stop lines either side of them. I'm approaching one of these and there's a policemen standing there, pointing down at the road, indicating for me to pull up. So I stop next to him and he says 'you didn't stop at the line' (he was standing a few feet from the line), it's a 30,000 shilling fine (US$12). It's pure entrapment since he had no way of knowing whether I would have stopped on the line or not and even though I have the whole event on video from my helmet camera it's not worth causing a fuss over. The kicker was he said he would only fine me and not Sally too as if he's doing me a huge favour. Sally had stopped behind the line, in fact if she hadn't she would've crashed into the back of me.
More and more we’re introduced to East African driving, but after places like Peru and Bolivia we take it all in our stride, that is except for the speciality here which is the tourist bus driver who simply doesn’t care if there's any oncoming traffic when overtaking. The result is inevitable and we come across a horrific accident of tourist bus vs truck head on. In the video, you'll notice the bus is completely on the wrong side of the road. I think of all the backpackers we've met and can't help but wonder if they realise the risks the bus driver is taking with their lives.
We arrive in Dar Es Salaam unscathed, although the last 20km before the city is one long line of crawling traffic, but in town the traffic wasn't too bad just involving a fast paced melee of cutting in and out of the lanes to get ahead of the buses and small boda boda's (what they call motorcycle taxis here). I just manage to spot the hotel and jam on the brakes, swerving into the access road at the last minute and popping the bike up onto the kerb alongside several others. The hotel is new, which is nice, except the elevator hasn't been finished yet, and the bar staff are also new meaning they're helpful but don't have much stock so when we ask for a pre-dinner G+T they disappear for a while to fetch some T from a nearby shop. At least they have a secure car park as we're leaving the bikes here for a couple of days to visit Zanzibar.
The ferry to Zanzibar came as a pleasant surprise after the mayhem of the ticket buying process. The loading process was well organised and the ferry itself was clean and spacious (although we found out on the way back that we'd been sitting in the VIP section). At the port in Zanzibar there are a bunch of irritating touts and self appointed 'helpers', there was supposed to be a guy from our hostel there to meet us (they said it's difficult to find on your own), but he never showed up. We drop our day packs at the hostel and wander off to seek out some lunch, finding a place where there are only locals eating and the menu is set - Chicken and pilau. Afterwards we head into the centre of Stone Town, which wasn't a very pleasant walk as every 10 paces a new street tout would approach and proceed to hassle us, I think they know when you're new to the island and just get stuck in like a pack of sharks.
Up a side street near the post office is the house where Freddie Mercury was born (not many people know that he grew up on Zanzibar and in India), there's a little display at the doorway signifying the landmark. While we're taking photos a tout starts showing me his wares, pulling out one item at a time.......Zanzibar statue - no thanks.......Zanzibar painting - no thanks......Zanzibar CD - no thanks.....Zanzibar - look, I just don't want anything, thanks! I turn around and spot an ice cream vendor, it's muggy and hot and it's just the thing. As I'm unwrapping my ice cream, I can hear a muttering from behind me, it takes a second to tune my ear into it, but it's the street tout, he's accosting anyone who's passing and pointing to me moaning - 'he said he didn't want anything....now he's eating ice cream' I find this so funny I laugh out loud and ice cream shoots out of my nose.
Partly to escape the street touts we scarper into the old fort, as it turn out it's the old fort / tourist office, already having an idea of how much the tours should cost and their prices being reasonable we book a Stone Town tour and a Spice farm tour the following day. That done and being tired of the hassle factor we head for a bar on the beach and enjoy several sun downers, although the food is a disappointment for a bar on the world famous 'Spice Island'
Our guide for the town tour is waiting for us as we step out of the hotel the next morning. The tour is 4 hours (a little long for our legs) but lives up to expectations, he knows everything about the history and regales us with tales of Sultans, Princesses, the slave trade and colonial times. Lots of the building are unfortunately in an abysmal state of repair, the Sultans palace for example is condemned and held up by makeshift scaffolding. We're taken through the markets, which is a marvellous hustle of traders of spices, fish, meat and fruit. It's an assault on the nose, fruit and spice one minute then steadily rotting fish the next, and just as you leave this behind the smell of an open sewer smacks you in the face. Ending the tour at the old fort, which we had been to on our wanderings the previous day anyway.
In the afternoon we're picked up in a run down old Toyota sedan to drive out to the spice farm. We enjoyed it, seeing lots of spices and fruit in their natural form for the first time - Cardamon, Vanilla, Ginger, Turmeric, Lemongrass, Cocoa trees, Nutmeg, Breadfruit, Cloves, Cinnamon and more. We get a taste of each and some of the local grown fruit at the end. They make perfume from some of the spices and we're steered into the inevitable 'gift shop' (gift thatched hut anyway), at the end. I have an idea about these spice perfumes, but they look at me blankly when we explain what we want them for, we buy a small bottle anyway (I'll explain later).
The next day we're making our way back to the port, but when I glance at our tickets I realise that they state 8:00pm and not 12:30pm (as we asked for twice when we bought them). After walking in a few circles we find the booking office on this side and join the 'queue', a guy walks in and immediately pushes in front of us, I fix him with the evil eye and he grins nervously and motions for us to go ahead of him (I should bloody well think so). To our surprise the ferry tickets are changed and reissued straight away without any rigmarole. On boarding the ferry we're not as lucky as last time, we're no longer plonked into our seats in the VIP section (still unaware that it's VIP and wondering why it's so empty, just assuming the locals for some reason prefer to squash like sardines into the front), a crew member approaches us, checks our tickets and boots us into the front section with the locals. It's not bad, as the ferry departs a third of the locals hop up and leg it out onto the open deck.
The next day we leave Dar Es Salaam behind and head North to Moshi which sits below Mt. Kilimanjaro. We're cruising along and I spot a big motorcycle behind me, he buzzes past and is followed by a couple of others as we exchange waves. Later on we see them again and as we're passing through a village I spot them pulling off the road and parking, so we follow. Such is the camaraderie among motorcyclists worldwide we greet each other like old friends as we dismount and join them for lunch. They're a group of nine local Dar Es Salaam riders out for a 2 two day ride. Over lunch we chat back and forth about bikes and riding, take photos and in the end they won't let us pay for the food. When it comes time to leave Sal and I figured them to be faster riders, being on unburdened sports bikes and big adventure tourers, but they spread out, and we end up in a pack although they eventually all end up just ahead of us. Entering a village, we all slow down slightly, but the lead riders all still well above the 50kph limit, at the crest of the hill are three police madly waving their hands and dancing around, I think we've just made their day.
I happen to be at the back, and I'm quite relaxed knowing that there's no chance the camera operator could have snapped more than the first two or three bikes even if he had a super-fast trigger finger. One of the policemen talks to Sal who is right in front of me, I can hear him saying we were going too fast and Sal replying about us being Australian tourist and that we were going at the speed limit, also (and hang the camaraderie), that we're not with the rest of them and don't really know them. At this point the camera operator appears and is flicking through his camera, after a moment he says that Sal and I are ok and we can go. We don't waste any time with this get out of jail free card and immediately take off, waving and giving the thumbs up to our new friends, who are grinning back at us and returning the thumbs up.
The next day on our way to Moshi we pull into a small town for lunch and yet another group of riders comes past, spotting us and swinging around to say hi. These guys are Dutch and Germans on an organised tour. Once again we decide to take lunch with new friends and once again when we go to pay discover that they've already paid for us.
Arriving in Moshi we need to get to a bank first for some money. As we pull up at the second bank to give it a try, the heavens open and it buckets down, even turning to hail briefly. We shelter under the banks awning for 10 minutes alongside the other customers. When the rain eases off a little we make a dash for the guest house which turns out to be down a dirt road that's turned into a bog of slippery thick red mud. Sal's in front and comes to a grinding halt, in front of us the road has turned into a small river, the other side is far from a smooth exit, it's rutted and rocky. Sal waves for me to go first, if you stop and think too much with these things it's a lot harder so I just gun it across to the other side, slipping and sliding but keeping it upright. Sal eventually does the same but taking such a wide line that I wonder where she's off to for a moment. The entrance to the guest house has another small muddy river to cross.....slip, slide, bump, wheel-spin and I'm in. I park it on the grass and turn around to see if Sal needs some help, as I'm walking over a woman gestures to me and puts one hand on her head and the other pointing behind me. I turn around and my bike's lying on it's side.....
The guest house in Moshi has a couple of quirks, the electricity is very intermittent and although the rooms have air conditioning (and it is stuffy in the rooms without it), the house only has one remote control for them which we all have to share. Our boots and riding gear now have a rare stink of wet dog, but we have a solution, remember the little bottle of concentrated perfume that we bought on Zanzibar.......well in it goes to the boots and pants.
Views of Mt. Kilimanjaro are unfortunately not forthcoming because of the dense cloud cover, it may be possible to see it from the Kenyan side later on if we're enthusiastic enough to ride the 200km round trip to see it after we cross the border.
The next stopover is Arusha, which acts as a hub for trips to the Serengeti, being the closest major town. Arusha is also a very bad place for street touts and one attaches himself to us like gorilla grip glue, even following us into the tourist office and sitting down behind us. Eventually I turn around saying 'are you waiting for us?. We don't need a guide or any help', he stands up and makes as if to leave but then tries to help us more by pointing out things on the map we're looking at. I tell him one more time, forcibly that we don't need his help and no payment will be offered and he steps outside but continues to hang around. These are the worst type of touts and it generally wouldn't be too bad but every one of them has the potential to turn into one like this, so you always have to keep your guard up.
In the tourist office we're seeing what our options are for a Safari on the Serengeti. As with most other National Parks and Conservation areas in Africa, it's not allowed to take motorcycles in (the risk is that the big predators see you as a moving tuck shop), therefore we would either have to do a multi-day Safari (we're told it's 6 hours each way to travel from Arusha), or rent a 4x4 and drive ourselves. To get to the Serengeti one must cross the adjacent Ngorongoro Conservation area and also pay the fees for this one. The costs quickly add up......Entry to cross Ngorongoro - US$70 per person, each way (total US$280 total), Vehicle entry to Ngorongoro - US$15 each way (total US$30), Entry to Serengeti National Park - US$50 each per day (total US$200), Vehicle entry, US$30 per day (total US$60), Camping - US$30 per night. So for a 2 day trip, it would cost us US$600 JUST IN FEES! We hadn't even considered the cost to rent a car yet, or food and fuel! We decided they could get stuffed, we're getting a little sick of the costs charged to get into some of the parks and attractions, considering the ones in Zambia and Botswana were in the order of US$20 per person total. Besides, the main attraction seems to be the Wildebeest migration, we've already seen hundreds of them and I don't find them very interesting - they're just cows! It's just a big cow migration!
To top it all off as we were travelling between Kilimanjaro and Arusha I realised that TOTO lied to me! The line in their song 'Africa' says "Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serenget-eeeee" I always marvelled that someone had managed to fit the word Serengeti into a song......now I realise that the two places are almost 200 miles apart! You can't even see one from the other let alone observe it rising like Olympus- pah!!!
We decide to just head straight for Kenya and go to Nairobi where we have a mission to get visas for Ethiopia. Arusha won't relinquish it's grip on us that easily though, the ride out of town seems to have been designed by a malicious obstacle course architect. They're building a new wide road through Arusha, it'll be grand once finished but at the moment it's a confusing mass of construction, gravel, mud, water holes and rocks, sometimes riding on the left side, sometimes on the right, sometimes in the middle with oncoming traffic passing either side of us.
The border seems to have taken it's cue from Arusha's roads for the confusion factor, we follow the trail around past high fences and customs yards, upon approaching a barrier with waiting trucks the guard waves us through and we park outside a spiffy new immigration building, it has a sign on it saying Kenyan immigration......oops, somehow we've bypassed the formalities for leaving Tanzania and gone directly into Kenya. This is a very casual border and an official says no worries (Hakuna Matata) and says we can leave our bikes there and the Tanzanian immigration is just a short walk up the hill. It's all pretty straightforward on that side and not much hassle, so before long we're back at the shiny new Kenyan immigration office. There are no touts (one guy asks if we need insurance but when I say we already have it he just makes casual conversation and doesn't ask for anything), and no money changers there being an offical Bureau de Change inside - nice. We buy a visa for $US50 each, the only problem there being that the officer was talking in a whisper through the little holes in the 1/2 inch thick glass between us, so we didn't have a clue what he was saying. At the customs desk as well as getting our Carnets stamped we have to pay $US20 each for road tax.
Back outside at the bikes we decide to get some lunch as we're in no hurry, tonight we'll stay here in the border town Namanga. After a feed we gear up to leave and the woman security guard that we'd been chatting to each time we passed by approaches Sal and asks us to pay for her lunch since she was 'looking after our bikes', reluctantly Sal gives her 180 Tanzanian Shillings (less than $2) as that's what our lunch cost. Sal doesn't leave though without giving her an ear bashing about hospitality and first impressions of a country, especially from a so called 'official'. It is in fact pretty common, many officials at border posts have tried to winkle a little cash out of us, but they do it in such whispers to avoid being overheard that it's normally just a case of pretending you didn't hear, or you can tease them and ask them to speak up.
Out guest house is literally a 5 minute ride up the road, nice spot it turns out to be a little oasis behind the fence. Sal barters down the price a little and after settling in we ask where we can get a local SIM for our phones. Helpfully they ask their jack of all trades (gardener and maintenance man) to walk us into town. Sim cards in hand and walking back to the house we're approached by 2 Masai women selling bangles, they're very cheerful but also very pushy, in the end they wear us down and we buy a couple of bracelets in return that we can take a photo.
The next morning they're waiting for us as we pack and check over the bikes, again pushing like crazy for us to buy more bracelets. This time we don't give in....well, almost, they show great interest in our canvas shopping bags, Sal ends up giving hers to one of the women but there's no chance I'm handing mine over, I bought it in Yellowstone and I'm quite attached to it now. Besides the effect of the traditional dress is kind of ruined now that one has a Woolies bag draped over her shoulder.
Taking a deep breath we head up to Nairobi. We see on our map a D class road that seems to bypass much of the highway, it turns out to be an overgrown track, looks like no one's used it in a long time but we follow it hopefully for a few miles then come upon a washed out bridge. I get off my bike and stand on the embankment for a long time looking at it and considering options to get across. The bridge itself is intact, but there's a significant ledge to get up onto it. We could go through the water beside the bridge, but I wouldn't venture in there without walking it first and I don't feel like doing that right now (I was later recounting this story to someone and they asked if there were any Hippos or Crocs around, which I hadn't even considered). There's a Masai shepherd on the other side motioning to a point upstream where we could cross, but it would be challenging and the road was a further 30km, who knows how much it deteriorates further up. We backtrack and head to Nairobi on the highway.
Heading into Nairobi by the main road, indeed the traffic is hectic and requires a strong dose of nerve to negotiate on a loaded adventure bike, yet I only have one real 'moment' when a truck pulls out from a side street into the left lane, I'm in the centre lane behind a SUV who panics thinking the truck is going to hit him and slams on the brakes. I didn't anticipate it in time and I have to pull the brakes hard, locking both wheels and sliding on the dust laden road, however the bike behaves and slides in a perfectly straight line slowing sufficiently to not run into the SUV. Without further incident we arrive safely at the infamous Jungle Junction, a safe haven for overlanders.
We're about to setup the tent, but new arrivals are greeted warmly by fellow guests and we find ourselves taking a beer with a Swiss cyclist, Stefan and a Brazilian motorcyclist, Juliano to chat away a couple of hours before we get around to putting the tent up. Tonight is barbecue night and a rare feast is laid out by the owner Chris. We've arrived on a Friday, which is slightly bad timing since we need to acquire visas for Ethiopia in Nairobi and the embassy's will be closed until Monday.....oh, well we're not complaining about a few days of enforced rest.
Bureaucracy is working for us for once. Around June last year the situation changed for Ethiopian visa applications, prior to this only Kenyan residents were able to obtain a visa in Nairobi, now it is open to anyone. Before we would've had to send our passports back to Australia to get a visa, but now it's (in theory at least) possible for us to get one here. Various reports coming from the ovelander grapevine say that some have had success and others have not, it seems to depend on two factors, (1) You need to obtain a letter of introduction from your own embassy, this is simply a letter saying that your consulate requests the other consulate provide any assistance necessary stating your name and passport number. (2) The second factor is the witch that wields the stamp at the Ethiopian embassy, who has a reputation for being stroppy. The letter of introduction can be a problem for some nation, for example Germany which refuses to issue one. We have no idea about the Australian embassy. We've done our research as much as possible and more or less know what to provide, although this changes according to the whims of the witch.
Our first stop is the Australian embassy, it's all high security, armed guards, high walls, impact barriers and barbed wire. A guard approaches flicking through a list of names...."We don't have an appointment", I say. To our great surprise this isn't a problem and we're processed through security and ushered inside. Approaching the counter and asking for a letter of introduction produces the second surprise of the day and a weight off our shoulders, it's no problem and the lady asks us to take a seat while she churns a couple out for us, it costs US$50 each though.
Clutching our letters we go over to the Ethiopian embassy, where we're met by some friendly and welcoming guards who process us and lead us inside, where it isn't so friendly and welcoming. The guy at the counter looks grumpy as he flicks through our passports, he says "you can just get a visa on arrival, you don't need to apply here". We're confused for a second before realising he thinks we're going to fly in (you can get a single entry visa on arrival at Addis Ababa airport), we explain that we're travelling overland and will cross at Moyale. He says "do you have an embassy here for your country?"......."Yes" we reply ......"Ok, you need a letter of introduction"......"We have them" we say producing the letters. He's so surprised is almost physically takes a step backwards and cheers us a little. "Ok, good, you need to take them to be signed by the ambassador". We know about this and so thank him and leave, the ambassadors section is just around the corner.
We drop our letters and passports off at the ambassador's gatehouse after talking to his secretary on the guardhouse phone, we also exchange phone numbers so we can get in touch later. The visa section closes at 12:00pm for applications so that's all we can do today. It's actually a pretty good day's progress, some people don't even get this far, in fact Chris at Jungle Junction who's seen many people come through his camp while waiting for visas was doubtful that we'd be successful even to get this far, so we head back feeling quite chuffed.
Later we get a call saying that our letters have been signed and sent along with our passports to the visa section.
Each night a Jungle Junction is brilliant fun, it's full of like minded people from all over the world, everyone has stories of bravado and hilarity and mealtimes are something to look forward to when we all come together at the end of our chores for the day.
The next day we aim for an early start, but because of the horrendous traffic it takes two hours to get to the Ethiopian embassy. The same guards are on duty so we're processed quickly and sent inside. The guy who looked grumpy initially the previous day greets us with a smile and hands us two application forms, they look straightforward, but it's time to deal with the wicked witch of the west. The rest of the morning is spent going in and out of her office as she orders us to rectify one piece of information after another that isn't satisfying her. On the form it asks for the name of the hotel where you will stay, I just picked a hotel in Addis Ababa, but she wants the manager's name and personal phone number. Each new request for information means we have to go back outside (you must surrender your phone at security). We can't get through to the hotel but Sal has the idea to check the bad reviews on Tripadvisor to see if there's been any response from the management, it doesn't take long and she finds one with a response and a name and phone number. We add this information to the application form which is starting to resemble a 3 year old's drawing by virtue of the scribbles and additional information. Finally we're sitting there thinking there can't be anything else, and then she asks us to write down all the countries we've been to in Africa and where we'll go after Ethiopia and also where we'll visit in Ethiopia. Over breakfast that morning I had the forethought to scribble down the 'must see' attractions in Ethiopia (straight from the Lonely Planet guide), since it's not unusual that they'll want to know what you're up to in their country. This isn't a question on the application form so she gets us to write it all down on the back of the form. Finally she's satisfied and signs off on our applications. It's US$60 each for a 90 day single entry visa, which we have to pay at a local bank. We're told to return at 2:00pm with the deposit slip from the bank and our visa will be ready.
We head back to Jungle Junction later, triumphant but totally pooped, visas in hand. Two days to do what many said couldn't be done. It's mainly thanks to information from a Swedish fellow Anders who I know from facebook and his thoroughly detailed website http://www.voodoochile.se and a couple of other facebook friends Clinton Bush and Mark Hammond - a great big thank you guys!
With a rest day up our collective sleeves, we take a visit to the nearby David Sheldrick Elephant Sancturay, where young elephants that have been orphaned or separated from their herd are looked after. While some of them are victims of poaching or drought, the majority of them were rescued after falling into wells. They're fantastic fun to watch as they play together in the mud hole, nothing separating us but a length of rope (which they sometimes duck under forcing us to step backwards to avoid being squished).
Afterwards we also visit the giraffe sanctuary, where you can hand feed them or even go in for a kiss if you're game - apparently giraffe saliva in 'antiseptic', good to know if you graze your knee and there's a cooperative giraffe nearby.
The only bad thing about Jungle Junction is it's so hard to leave. Every day it's the same story talking to the other guests....."I think we'll leave tomorrow", and the next day everyone is still there. We stay a whole week, and end up leaving the same day as almost everyone else. A couple, Steph and Richard who are moving from Australia to the Netherlands, 2-up a Triumph Tiger stay behind to hold the fort, they're shipping their bike to Dubai to continue.
We eventually manage to tear ourselves away from JJ's and ride North, in fact all of us in the picture leave on the same day. It's Saturday and we're hoping for a clear run out of Nairobi...BZZZZZT....wrong, everyone heads to the same place we're going for their weekend getaway, the result is that we're stuck in a 160km long traffic jam. It's the most frustrating day we've ever had with the slow trucks and idiotic driving, by the end of the day we're totally over it. At least we almost have a nice break at lunchtime, Sal has found a 'country club' which is a short diversion off the main road. Following our navigator however, takes us around by an overgrown track and we eventually come out at the top of a rocky descent with a railway line to cross at the end of it - which leads back onto the main road, heck of a 'short cut'! At the top of the descent there is a guy and girl sitting in the shade of a tree, we ask them if there's a way down, naturally he says 'sure, of course there is'. He helps us down and gathers some rocks to make a rudimentary railway crossing, I hope afterwards he remembered to remove the rocks.
We spend a couple of days at Nukuru to do a game drive (probably the last one of our African journey). We're staying at an odd hotel, the shower is almost directly above the toilet, at least we should be a bit faster in the morning then. The owner, Moses almost shadows us during our stay, very keen that everything is ok and that we tell our friends. He does help to organise a very good guide for our game drive, again going to great lengths by making him come to the hotel the night before so we can meet him and see his vehicle (a Toyota Hiace van with a popup opening roof. He picks us up early and we're at the park gate at 6:30am as it opens.
We had heard that Nukuru park wasn't the best, but we're glad we didn't listen to that advice as it was absolutely magnificent. The mission for today is to see Rhinos and Leopards, the only two of the big five we haven't seen yet. We do see Rhinos (from a distance), but the best was an encounter with a lion, he was injured after a fight with another one and lying resting just two meters from our vehicle, amazing! We also saw lots of Buffalo, Columbus monkeys, Antelope, Zebra, Hyena, Eagles and Rock Hyrax. No Leopards unfortunately, they are reclusive during the day.
Fortunately we experience a turnaround in the next couple of days and we're treated to a ride on new roads and almost no traffic as we ride north to the Ethiopian border. We cross the equator for the first time on our bikes (we had to fly over it last time after we had to leave Peru in a hurry), it's an important occasion for us so we stop to take pictures with the sign (no dotted line running across the landscape). Naturally, in Arica no opportunity is wasted to extract the tourist dollar and so there's a guy waiting there with a bowl and jug to demonstrate the coriolis effect (describing how water supposedly goes down drains in the opposite direction depending on which hemisphere you're in), I know it's not true but I'm amused to see him demonstrate it anyway and can't pick how he prompts the blade of grass to spin either way and not at all under the equator sign, it's a good trick and worth the few dollars and 5 minutes of our time. However we decline the home made certificates he has which he (as a professor of physics) would sign for us celebrating our passage.
The roads are smooth, the weather perfect and even the scenery has turned it up a notch, it's just what we needed right now to renew our enthusiasm for our journey after the Nairobi to Nukuru run.
Incidentally, we have also been travelling up the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from Mozambique to Israel and is dubbed the cradle of humankind as it's been the source of the oldest fossil remains, up to 3.5 million years old. In Kenya, we get some superb views as we ride in and out of the valley.
From here it's onwards to the Ethiopian border to use those visas we worked so hard for. I have a feeling that nothing will get any easier from here.