After assembling the bikes we cycled around the perimeter of Mt Meru National Park. Generally first north and them west. By saying that we went around the perimeter of the parks does not convey what we did, as there are no fences around the parks so the animals move freely in a large area.
We encountered a group of nine Giraffe even before we left Momella Lodge. Soon we were encountering Masai villages and these curious, friendly and fascinating people still perusing a traditional way of life. In the morning the biking was relatively easy and fun with only small climbs, but rough at times. We started the day with Mt Kilimanjaro on the right and Mt Meru on the left. We rode between them and finished with Mt Kilimanjaro on the left and Mt Meru on the right. We had ridden about 19 km by lunch. This was made up of 11 km of our intended route, plus a wrong turn of 4 km which added 8 km with the return. At the time we were pretty relaxed about it, as the side trip was fun and with a original planned distance for the day of 37 km an extra 8km was not too bad it seemed. However after lunch as predicted the track got harder, a lot harder, with huge sections of almost impossible to ride energy sapping sand. Everyone struggled with this not just Pete from Mamoth the 78 year old and the inexperienced Roman. We were fortunate that the day was overcast. Continually delayed by punctures and progress impeded by sand we ran out of daylight after only covering 11 km for the afternoon. Setting up camp at 5:30 pm. We were 15km short of our planned destination for the day and very tied. The route that we biked through was so dry that there were few animals. After Momella Lodge we only saw Baboons and Ostrich in the distance. For the effort that we put in was a bit disappointing.
With a planned distance of 48 km for the day and starting off 15 km before our planned camp site, Mark the leader changed the route to reduce the amount of slow dusty track and improve our chances of seeing more wildlife. Since the support drivers were the only ones who had traveled the whole route we needed to wait until they packed the vehicle before we could ride off. This reduced the amount of distance we could travel before the heat started to bare down. Our wildlife sighting improved and we saw Zebra, Secretary Birds and Ostrich from a medium distance and Thompson Gazelle in the far distance. Despite 600 metres of climbing the terrain was a lot easier. We ended up covering about 45 km on a hot sunny day. After two big days everyone was pretty tired when we cycled into camp at 4:30 pm on the second day. We were certainly glad to have a bit over an hour of daylight in camp to set up tents and wash up. We still had not caught up any of the distance we had lost on the first day. In Australia we are used to the intense sun, but still it creeps up on you sometimes and you get burnt. In Africa the sun just seems so much hotter, more so than even in Far North Queensland or Malaysia, and when you are in the full sun, you think you are being burnt to a crisp. However, if you keep the 30 + sun screen up you do not get burnt. Maybe because Africa has a better ozone layer than Australia.
By day three just about everyone had bounced back from the exhaustion of the first day, and we set off early as we did not have to wait for the support vehicle to be packed which has a slow process. I continued to be amazed by the Maasai settlements we come across. The people look so proud and spectacular but their settlements are so small and primitive, and they often do not have nearby water. The first part of the day was in the eastern end of the Lake Natron Game Conservation Area. The tracks are much faster today so we can gain time. We pass Giraffe, two Zebra and Thompson Gazelle close by. The group covered over 50 km today and still managed to get to camp at the Merserani Snake Farm by mid-afternoon. In fact I managed to do an extra ten kilometers as I got out in front and passed the support vehicle while it has taking on water. I got to the turnoff first, missed it and kept going to the outskirts of Arusha. Some how Pete slipped into camp before anyone else. I am not sure how he did it. That was Pete, just kept going sure and steady. A relaxing afternoon after completing the washing and enjoying a proper shower was what we all needed after three hard days biking. A popular activity while enjoying a local beer was repairing punctures and removing thorns from tires.
By day four we were really into the rhythm of the ride. Roman was not down the back only more, just Pete with Eddy as the whip. We had some great fast track as we headed towards Tarangire National Park. At one stage, 30 plus Thompson's Gazelle were only 20 metres in front of the group. By lunch time we had covered 21 km. There was some great biking in the afternoon as we road along the ridge to our campsite with spectacular views. We covered 56 km for the day, and could sit back at camp and enjoy the view.
This morning we savored the great views of this scenic camp site during breakfast and then off early for some great cycling as we drop off the escarpment and down to the village of Makuyuni. It was another good overcast day for cycling. At an isolated river crossing we came across a colony of Monkeys which scampered along the bank as we hit the water. As we got down on the valley floor with less vegetation it really started to hot up. Since we were making good time we had a two hour afternoon break from the heat in Makuyuni with lots of cool drinks. After 68 km we arrived at our beautiful camp site by the shores of lake Manyara.
Today the plan was to cross the lake by canoe with our bikes while the support vehicle drove the long way around the lake. This as to be a sort of mid trip rest day with a canoe ride, only 21 km of easy biking, a cooked lunch at the village on the other side of the lake, and an afternoon in the waterfall at the campsite, ready for the big climb the next day. The evening before the leader Matt had gone to the local village to arrange the canoes. However all except one canoe was either out fishing or on the other side of the lake. They said that they were expecting another canoe back the next morning. We hoped that all of us, with our bikes could fit in two canoes. We will never know whether they really expected the other canoe to return or whether it was just a wishful hope. The first canoe was ready at 9 am, we waited in the clear blazing sun until noon for the second canoe which never came. It was decided that the six riders plus Eddy would cross by the one canoe and that Matt and the support crew would take the bikes around on the support truck. It would take them a long time to securely load all the bikes on the small truck. Lake Mayara is not very deep, in fact you could probably stand up in most of it. This meant that they had to push the canoe a long way out before we could get in. There was a lot of deep soft mud, so the walk out was both difficult and slow. In reality there were too many of us for the canoe. Not only was it cramped but fairly unstable and the canoe spent a great deal of the trip scraping the bottom of the lake. For those who had to sit in the water at the bottom of the canoe it was not a pleasant "rest day" experience. At the other side of the lake we had to deal with another walk though the mud. In all the canoe trip took three and three quarter hours.
The upside to the canoe ride was the splendid close up view of Pelicans, Stalks and huge flocks of pink flamingoes. As I was relaxed about sitting on the edge of the canoe I enjoyed the trip. What I did not enjoy was the waiting for the canoe that never came, and spending the whole day in the blazing sun with no shade. After alighting from the canoe we had to walk as fast as we could for two hours, to get to the support vehicle by dusk. The bikes were then unloaded and we just made it to the beautiful camp site by the waterfall minutes before complete dark descended.
We woke to see what a fabulous spot our came site was on. There was only limited time to savior the experience as we needed an early start for the hardest riding day of the trip with a 1450 metre climb up the escarpment. Fortunately we all bounced back fairly well from the heat and sun of the previous day. Nigel powered his way to the top first, but suffered the consequences later in the day as a result of pushing it maybe a little too hard. The climb was followed by a great descent on a rough road. Overall this was a challenging but enjoyable day. We did a total of 55 km for the day and ended up at a campsite in a ridge with magnificent panorama views.
Our campsite may have been cold and exposed but the view in the morning was worth it. With lots of downhill as we dropped down towards Lake Eysai this was definitely the best day of mountain biking. The sun appeared with vengeance again but the terrain meant it was a lot more bearable than in the flat exposed areas. While the rest of us continued with our daily battle against the thorns and suffered the often multiple punctures, Pete with his puncture proof tubes had his first puncture. Seventy eight years of experience counts I guess. Surprisingly Pete was not carrying a pump, spares tubes or repair kit, lucky he was not down the back as usual. After a great 45 km day, we set up an early camp in a great spot close to community waterhole. We were a bit secluded but we could view the constant procession of people carting water especially early and late in the day. We were able to appreciate what a huge proportion of these peoples time, energy and resources are extended simply in getting water. People were carting the water in every conceivable way. Using their arms, on their backs, using carts, bicycles and donkeys. Coming from water short Australia it gives a new prospective, to us who are used to turning on a tap at whim.
Some more good riding today as we headed towards Ngorangoro Crater. We had a few more stops today, fortunately they were mainly, the rest in the shade with a drink variety, rather than repair punctures in the blazing sun style. We covered 40 km for the day and had time for some washing, relaxation and a beer at the Doffa Camp a commercial camping site with facilities.
Despite the fact that this was a day off the bikes on a mountain biking trip, and we had some great biking in remote areas that other tourists do not go to, today was still a key highlight of the trip. After the last few days of blazing heat out on the plains we had an overcast day as we climbed up to Ngorangoro Crater. This did not spoil our view but it did make it much cooler than I had expected. It was a long day of wildlife viewing leaving the camp at 7:30 am and not returning until 6:30 pm. It was like seeing tens of zoos of animals in large numbers all in a natural environment. Staying there not because they were caged in but because of the natural flora which provides them with feed. At one stage an Elephant became peeved at our rude close staring and photography and decided to charge our 4 X 4. Quick maneuvers by our driver and he gave up and we were able creep back in for some more viewing. The large herds of wildebeest and buffalo, plus seeing rhino, jackals and elephants in the wild were the most significant for me. We had seen quite a few zebra and giraffe from the mountain bikes.
By now everyone was riding well. The effects of the tough couple of first days and the canoe ride were only memories. By about day five I thought that the ride was getting too much for Pete but he has persisted and had bounced back. Roman's lack of mountain biking experience was starting to show and he was suffering from so much so quickly despite his strength. In fact ten days out in the African heat was starting to show on most of us. As we hoped on the bikes for the last day we were sad to be finishing but felt that it was a good point to end the trip. This was another great day of mountain biking to end the trip on. After a climb in the morning we had a group of baboons cross the road in front of us on the descent into Mto Wa Mbu. There were more baboons by the side of the road. I managed to be invited into a Masai village to take photos. See account of this. After about 50 km of biking we arrived at our campsite to find it occupied by a herd of giraffe. Later on, a herd of wild donkeys wandered through the camp site. My report on my time in Zanzibar had many of the others wishing that they had included a trip down to Zanzibar in their itinerary. Roman had a couple of spare days before this flight out, so he left the camp this evening and hired a vehicle to take him to Arusha for a flight to Zanzibar for a couple of days there.
On our last day we had a late start and waited for the vehicle to arrive to take us to back to Arusha. We arrived in Arusha in time for lunch at the swish Impala Hotel where seven grubby, smelly mountain bikers mixed it with the expats and elite of Northern Tanzania. I had managed to catch a cold, probably on the cold night we had on night seven, made worse by the cold day in Ngorangoro Crater. By now it has hitting me hard and I has struggling to keep going.
The rest of the riders relaxed at the hotel before joining their transport out to the airport for their overnight flight to the UK. I picked up the gear I had stored at the Impala on my arrival in Arusha and then headed for my hotel. As soon as I got there I organised to have some of my clothes washed for the long journey home, cleaned up my bike to make customs happy on return to Australia and then rode into the centre of Arusha to pick up some cheap DVD's and video tapes. By the time I got back packed for tomorrow morning's departure it was time to walk down to find somewhere for dinner.
The next morning I caught the 8:00 am bus for Nairobi. It was a 6 hour trip in a really packed bus, not very comfortable but not too unpleasant. Eddy was on the same bus returning to his home in Kenya. Eddy also was not feeling too well by today with a stomach upset. Matt was staying on for a few days in Arusha to do some planning and organising for the next Out of Africa ride.
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