Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tanzania-Part 2

Jambo from Iringa, Tanzania. After 7 days straight of cycling from Arusha, we arrived in the quaint, verdant, and hilly place Tanzanians call "Iringa Town." Our schedule went as follows: Day 1-115 k, Day 2-120 k, Day 3-90 k, Day 4-105 k, Day 5-100 k, Day 6-90 k, and Day 7-77 k. We passed through the towns of Bereka, Kondoa, Dodoma, and finally Iringa. Talk about exhausted! 7 days takes it toll. While the countryside is absolutely gorgeous and incredibly verdant (something I didn't expect), the roads are something left to be desired. Although, the sad state of the dirt/sand/mud/rocky roads does make for some challenging mountain biking. Most tour members don't like the off-road part of the expedition because they say that you "can't look at anything" because you are constantly watching the terrain in front of you so you know when to dodge the large rock in your way, which line to take in the sand, and how to best bump along the small rocks that line the roads. Occassionally, you get an awesome patch of road that is packed down hard, hardly any bumps and you can fly! I have enjoyed this section but it has taken its toll on me.

I fell hard the other day. I was biking on a well-worn bike path that the locals use and thinking nothing of it and expecting safety I started cruising. All of a sudden I saw a ditch but it was too late. I shouted an expletive and knew that I was going to hit the dirt but not "pay dirt" unfortunately. My whole left side landed hard on the ground including my head. Thank god for the "brain bucket" we are wearing! I sat up right away and knew nothing was broken. I came away with a couple of deep gashes on my elbow, a scrape on my shoulder and knee and some amazing road rash on my thigh. And, my bike made it through unscathed! My riding partner helped clean me up with antiseptic for the wounds. Just recently, a few people have gotten severe infections due to open wounds. One person even wound up in an Iringa hospital bed because her wound on her knee was not responding to antibiotics. Our own Dr. Luke recommended that she receive an IV drip full of antibiotics. The official diagnosis is "cellulitis" which another person came down with as well and hasn't been able to ride as a result of it. It's Africa, our doc says and for some reason the wounds are becoming infected fast! Because of this, Dr. Luke is now prescribing antibiotics for open wounds.

To change topics, the people of Tanzania are lovely! In contrast to the Ethiopians you don't have to greet them first, they greet you. And, if you do greet them first you invariably get a positive response such as "safi, salama, poa, mzuri" all of which translates to "awesome, good luck, cool, great!" It is so nice to be cheered on as we pass through tiny sand road villages and even larger cities. Tanzanians are a friendly bunch and readily give you a smile. The best is when I get greeted with "jambo mama." I just like the sound of "hi mama" even though I am not a mother yet but their greeting is a sign of respect. Sometimes from the men I get greeted by "jambo dada" or "hello sista." Again, so welcoming for me and it immediately brings a smile to my face. I try to reply with "jambo brother." It is nice to think of the whole world as getting along as brothers and sisters! I know, I know, I am dreaming!

Before we left Arusha, I met this guy who is an independent researcher with a PhD in Anthropology. We got to talking and he told me he is researching these rock paintings in Kondoa. Looking at the map, I saw that we passed through there. I was hoping to see them in person but had to settle for the museum as they were still 90 k away. However, the museum was great and was a highlight of my day. I was able to see pictures of the rock paintings which date back 2,000 years and possibly older as well as a hippo shield, spears, ceramics, and stone tools. Archaeology being my first love, I was in heaven.

The weather has been hot and humid but we have avoided most days biking in the rain. Out of the 7 biking days in Tanzania we have only been caught in the rain twice. Not too bad for what is known as their rainy season. It has rained a lot during the night however. My tent is still leak proof. It is in our best interest to leave early in the morning to try and get as many miles in before the hot suns bakes our skin. This means that we have been getting up earlier and getting to camp earlier as well. That is good for me as I can conduct more interviews. Thus far, I have completed 20 out of 40 people. I have thought of additional questions that I would like to ask the riders at the tail end of our trip. Hopefully, they won't be sick of me in their face by then!

What I have learned while cycling through the middle of Tanzania is that the landscape could be anywhere: a lot of it looks as if we are in the green valleys of Montana or the Alps of Switzerland. I certainly didn't expect this. I could live in this country; it is that beautiful! Also, I found out that most people are involved in agriculture and are subsistence farmers. They mostly grow: sunflowers (a bag goes for 35,000 Tanzanian schillings and on a 50 acre farm you get about 5 bags--translation: $35 per bag of sunflower seeds--not a LOT of money but he and his family survives!), sorghum, alfalfa, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, onions, and CORN! Corn seems to be the main cash crop--ahh the staff of life! The sunflower fields were a surprise and boy are they welcoming. You just can't feel bad when you are in a sunflower patch! Oh-I also learned about a new fruit; that is, a new fruit to me! I don't recall the name but these boys were vigorously shaking a tree and I was so curious as to what they were trying to get I went over and asked them to try one. They are small, grape-like size with white, sweet flesh with a seed in the middle. Yum is all I can say. I am kind of a fruit fanatic so it was fun to "discover" a new one! We saw a perfect chameleon on the road one day and took some great pics with it in our hands and arms. Also, we saw a dead black snake. Could it be the deadly "black mamba?"

Another random observation: COCA-COLA is EVERYWHERE! Whoever was in charge of the marketing and distribution campaign did a tremendous job. Seriously-you can find it everywhere. It is a wonder that anyone still has their teeth left and it seems that babies are breast-fed on the stuff! All the riders comment that they don't drink this much coke at home but here on the tour a soft drink is a welcome aid to hot and humid biking days! I couldn't agree with them more!
Our rest day in Iringa was spent getting our bikes ready for the next section. Apparently the road stays tarmac for the next three days to Malawi! I was very, very proud of myself today as I changed two tires, a chain, and had a bike part welded by a Tanzanian! It is Easter Sunday and perhaps that is why the "fixing" of the bikes went so well. When I get home, I hope to be the bike mechanic and help "my girls" with their bikes. My skills are indeed progressing!
One last thing: it is amazing how heavily loaded the bikes are in this country. Bikes are everywhere here but they aren't used for just getting around. NO-they are used to load firewood, charcoal, bales of cotton, corn stalks, and just about anything that they can tie to the bike rack in the back! Wow-I am constantly amazed.

As mentioned before we have 3 days to Malawi and then we head toward Lake Malawi. Yet another country on this amazing journey! Kwa Heri and Safari Njema!


Mamma Donna said...

Happy Easter Dear Kerri,
We had brunch at the Franzens and Ron baptised Baby Jonathan! It snowed 8 inches on Good Friday so it seems more like Christmas than Easter.
We are so proud of you! I hope you are healing from your spill. We think of you everyday.
Many hugs,

Janet Alexander said...

Hey Sista,
Don't you just love those Tanzanian sunflower fields!! Sorry to hear about your fall..(ahh!! happens to everyone at some time...quick healing.) Wish I was still with you all. Wait for Malaawi..if Tanzania blew you away the beaches lake side will also do it to you. Hopefully you will be staying at Chitimba of my all time spots of the tour.
Stay healthy
Love ya
Kiwi Princess

Anonymous said...

Hey Keri, we so enjoy your marvelous adventure, hope you recover from the fall, we've all been there done that. We have spent December through March here in Key Largo, a true paradise. We return to the frigid north in a week but have promised all that we will bring warm weather. As you probably know, winter has been tough in Michigan, record snow. We look forward to the welcome home party when you return. Ride safe and know that our prayers are with you. Hugs, Bud and Gail

Lin said...

Hi Kerri,

Again your pictures are AMAZING and you description is so fasinating. I look forward to every post. Stay safe and heal fast.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kerri,

Just wanted to drop a line to let you know that we're still enjoying your reports back here in still-snow covered Petoskey. Watch those spills, will ya sista?! We need you back safe and sound!

Tim Dykstra

Susan said...

Hi Kerri,
You are the toughest woman for sure! I'm afraid to ride with you when you get back! I'm planning my first ride outside this week- twenty whole miles home from school. Just a drop in the bucket for you! Your trip is winding down. Take good care of yourself and ENJOY the last few weeks. We miss you tons!!
Susan and Sam