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Mountain Biking Tanzania June 2002

Background

by David Walsh from Melbourne

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NEW EXPERIENCE

TANZANIA

GETTING THERE

DAR ES SALAAM and ZANZIBAR

THE START

THE GROUP

THE RETURN

PHOTOGALLERY

 

New Experience

Nearly all my mountain biking experience had been club trips or self organised trips. I had never even thought about Tanzania much less considered it. But when I read about the planning for the 2001 exploratory trip by KE Adventure Travel I was very keen to go, but could not make it that year. Hearing about the trip later made me more desperate to go as soon as I could. While my Giant carbon fibre mountain bike had been loaded onto aircraft over two dozen times, this would be the first time for an organised adventure tour. Not only had I not considered Tanzania before, I could not conceive how I could plan it myself. 

I wondered if at the end of the trip whether I would still think that an adventure tour operator was the only way to do this type of trip. Certainly the difficultly I had trying to organise a few days in Zanzibar, and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania's major city) would put you off trying to organise a mountain bike tour yourself. Unless you have the luxury of oodles of time to spend in Tanzania on the ground when you get there to organise things,  any money you pay a a tour operator or African travel specialist to organise a you for you would be money well spent. See my notes on dealing with Tanzania.

Tanzania

A lot of Australian's out there are probably saying where is Tanzania? Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique and even Zambia get publicity in Australia, but rarely do you hear of Tanzania, even though the highest mountain in Africa Mt Kilimanjaro is  within it's borders. Well Tanzania is in East Africa around 300 km south of the equator, with the Indian ocean on it's east border and the countries listed above on it's other borders. The highlands of northern Tanzania offer spectacular scenery and superb wildlife viewing opportunities.  Arusha the major town in the Kilimanjaro region was the headquarters of the former East Africa Community combining Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Dar Es Salaam on the east coast opposite Zanzibar, is a larger city than the capital Dodoma.

Getting There

I flew to Tanzania with Emirates. They were the only airline with good connections into East Africa from Australia, as well as offering excellent service and attractive fares. I flew into Dar Es Salaam, went across to Zanzibar for a few days, took an 11 hour bus trip north to Arusha to start the mountain bike safari, and then after the trip, took a 6 hour bus trip to Nairobi in Kenya to catch the return flight. The flight to Dar Es Salaam had stops in Singapore, Dubai and Nairobi. I chose to have a full day stopover in Dubai arriving at 6:30 one morning and leaving at 8:00 the next morning. As soon as I arrived in Dubai at the Emirates Airport Hotel, I hoped on the bike and and rode into central Dubai and along both sides of the Dubai Creek (Looks like a river or inlet to me), crossing Dubai Creek by passenger ferry.  I also managed to find a bike shop which would exchange some of my spare tubes as I had packed the ones with the wrong value type. In the afternoon, I did the city of Merchants Tour which I highly recommend. I left the tour in the city as I was not interested in more time in the gold shops, spent more time in central Dubai and caught the local bus back to the hotel. I checked out the alternatives, but found that  the Emirate Airlines accommodation and tour deals were by far the best value.

The closest international airport to Arusha is Kilimanjaro airport, however no airline with practical connections to Australia flies there. I chose to fly into Dar Es Salaam even though Nairobi is closer to Arusha because I wanted to spend some time in Zanzibar before starting the mountain bike trip. I found the longer bus trip between Dar Es Salaam and Arusha on Scandinavia Bus Lines was easy with big comfortable spacious buses. At the time of day I needed to travel from Arusha to Nairobi only smaller buses run, making the shorter trip less comfortable.

My experience with the buses and ferries in Tanzania was, on time, efficient and safe. However the small bus from Arusha to Nairobi had to brake desperately to avoid an accident with a giraffe which decided to canter across the road in front of the bus traveling at high speed. I traveled by bus within Tanzania ,partly because it gives you a better chance to see the country than by plane, and also because many of the internal flights use smaller aircraft with an all up baggage limit of 15 kg including hand luggage. Impossible with a bike plus sleeping bag, sleeping mat and clothes.

Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar

Dar Es Salaam was a pleasant enough place to spend a day and a half looking around and organising my transport to Zanzibar and Arusha. However it is nothing really spectacular. I explored Dar Es Salaam easily by both bike and on foot. See my report on my encounter with the Tanzania police in Dar Es Salaam.

The ferry to Zanzibar takes less than two hours, so I got there by mid morning. As soon as I had checked into my hotel in Stone Town, I hoped onto the bike and rode out to Jozanni Forest Conservation Area 35km south east of the city. For about AUD20 you get entry to see the rare red Colobus monkey, Sykes monkey and a variety of other insects and animals. You also get a personal guided tour lasting about 45 mins. It is worthwhile to go out to Forest and the bike is an excellent chance to absorb the culture and geography of this part of Tanzania. The next day I took a full day spice tour. It was excellent value and very informative on the culture, geography and history of Zanzibar. The rest of the time I spent exploring the fabulous and fascinating Stone Town.  I was constantly lost in the maze of narrow streets many only one and a half to two metres wide. But on the bike all you had to do when you wanted to find yourself again was ride less than ten minutes in any one direction and you would get to the outer perimeter and relocate yourself to where you wanted to go. If you are traveling to this part of the world, Zanzibar and Stone Town is a must, and even better if you can do it by bike.

The Start

I traveled by bus to Arusha. From the bus I had the most spectacular view of Mt Kilimanjaro for a short period. By the time the bus made a stop the opportunity for a great picture was gone. I did not get a really good view of the elusive cloud hidden Mt Kilimanjaro for the remaining twelve days. The lesson is, if you get a good view of Kilimanjaro stop the bus, car, plane or what ever, as the opportunity is rare and you should not let slip. I  arrived in Arusha  late afternoon , and had a about three hours before meeting up with the East Africa KE Adventure agent, the leader, Roman and the support crew before heading out to Kilimanjaro international airport to pick-up the other members of the group. All the other participants flew directly into Kilimanjaro airport.

After we found all the members of the group and loaded their gear, we headed north in the four wheel drives towards our accommodation for the night via a fairly rough track. It was around 10 pm by the time we got to Momella Lodge for our first night. The original Lodge was built to house John Wayne for the film Hatari. A lot has obviously been added to it since.

The Group

We had quite a range of people on the trip as below.

Leader Matt Reedy New Zealander. Excellent biker, great trip leader and hard worker in his 20's
Assistant learning MTB Eddy Kenyan, unbelievably fit, hard worker, great value on the trip.
Riders Nigel British, Architectural photographer 38 
  Sarah British, Bank manager 32 married to Nigel
  Iain Scottish, quantity surveyor 33
  Roman Russian, TV Manager 37
  Pete Californian, retired 78 ridden just about everywhere.
  David Australian, Finance & IT manager, 55 working in travel at the time. Author of this site.

Roman had not done a great deal of serious mountain biking before this trip. The first few days he really struggled particularly as the first day was so difficult and not conducive to skill improvement. He was forever at the rear. However Roman's natural ability and enormous brute strength came through and by the middle of the ride he had worked his way through the group. However his lack of experience and ride fitness took it's toll by the end of the ride.

I had been worried that despite my experience that they may not have wanted me on the trip because they thought me too old. Imagine how relived I was to meet Pete and discover that not only was I not the oldest on the trip but that Pete was approaching one and a half times my age. Pete was riding an older Garry Fisher bike with a higher centre of gravity and longer wheel base. Closer in geometry to today's hybrids than a current design mountain bike. Pete always seemed to be last (after Roman improved) which gave most of the rest of us a opportunity for a rest and a chat waiting for him. As soon as he arrived off we went without giving him much chance for a rest. I did not think that Pete was going to make it. But I was well and truly wrong. After a flat spot in the middle of the ride, he seemed to get stronger towards the end. Some days he always seemed to be way behind, but he kept plugging along. Then suddenly towards the end of the day, there we was, one of the first to arrive at camp. Maybe he was just playing possum with us and pacing himself well.

The Return

The bus from Arusha took me direct to Nairobi airport. I arrived about four hours before my flight to Dubai and although there were staff there, they would not check-in my luggage. The airport information counter put me in touch with a tour operator, Come to Africa Safaris, at the airport. They looked after my bike and the rest of my luggage and organised with a taxi driver for a two hour tour of Nairobi.

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Revised: April 01, 2006