Tanzania 2-Nighter: Forest, Mud & Hondas Only

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Osadabwa, Sep 25, 2010.

  1. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
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    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Two days, two XR400’s, and five-hundred kilometers of Tanzanian mud, dust, elephant grass and thorn trees. Oh yeah, and one singing sheep. The plan: get out of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on">Dar es Salaam</st1:City>, check out the new Miseni Forest Lodge being built near Saadani National Park, and try as much as possible to dodge the last of the long rains. The gear: 1 backpack of clothes and 1 watertight sack strapped to each bike with tools and spares… The accommodations: wing it. Hopefully we’d find someplace soft and dry to sleep.

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    Above: Location of the ride. Three days riding packed into a tiny sliver of Tanzania. Picking through the long grass.

    We picked up Faceplant for the breakfast run to Bagamoyo's Traveller's Lodge. Despite his surly nature, he’s always game for a motorbike ride (especially if there's food at the other end of it), and he’s a seasoned rider of the peri-urban jungle-maze north of <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Dar es Salaam</st1:place></st1:City>. Like most of <st1:place w:st="on">Africa</st1:place>, the area around Dar is sprawling rapidly, consuming farmland and wilderness at an alarming rate. Still, if you’re an off-road biker, there are plenty of footpaths to follow and trouble to get into near town.

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    Above: XR400 with minimal luggage on homemade rack, Faceplant contemplates a mucky stream, Mika slogs through it, beached Dhow at Traveler’s lodge, Mika in the long grass.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    #1
  2. el guapo nada

    el guapo nada Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    :lurk Hook, line and sinker!
    #2
  3. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
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    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Mika and I bid farewell to a well-fed Faceplant and rode west on a decent dirt road in search of the track heading north toward Saadani. After a bridge over a wide river, we followed a little used but well-maintained dirt road north from Mtoni Village for a few kilometers and then veered arbitrarily into the bush on a cattle trail in search of the railroad which would be our way over the Wami River farther along. The trail petered out in a labyrinth of thorn trees and bushes with extravagant red spiky flowers. We saw a few cattle herders, but the people here mostly kept their distance… children scampered away from us if we approached, and even the men were cautious. As people search for land on which to graze their cattle, they encroach on new territory each year. Perhaps they were nervous about our opinions on their current location…

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    Above: On the lonely cattle trail, me at a roadside tomato and Coca-Cola stand, Mika in the thorns and a red spiky flower, whistlethorns vindicating the decision to buy bib-mousses.

    An hour of hunting for a route through the thorns later and we reached the railroad tracks. After awhile, we deviated onto what appeared to be a parallel access track which promised more interesting riding through the bush. However, like so many tracks out here, this one was a prankster. In no time, it dove into an impenetrable wall of dense grass which (stubborn us) we attempted to plough through for far too long before giving up, knackered, and turning back to the tracks. Pushing through that stuff was impossible! The grass yanked at your handlebars and boots and scratched and whipped any exposed skin… we couldn’t see where we were going, and could hardly make out where we’d come from. It was a swampy floored, chlorophyll colored prison.

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    Back on the tracks, we had a close call with a maintenance train (who knew they did maintenance?). Thinking the track was largely unused, but wary nonetheless, I had been looking over my shoulder as I clattered over the stones between the tracks (no mirrors you know) and caught a glimpse of something big and yellow approaching ominously. I squirmed over the slippery rail and made myself skinny on the little eroded path beside the tracks which at that particular spot was all that separated me from the train and an unpleasant drop to the bush below. Meanwhile, Mika was happily riding along, oblivious. Some frantic gesturing on my part got him over to safety and we waved at the incredulous maintenance crew as they squeaked past just a whisker from our handlebars.

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    Above: Me getting nowhere in the tall grass, the railroad tracks, our river crossing, safe on the other side in Matipwili Village.
    #3
  4. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Looks great.. we rarely see reports from that part of Africa! :thumb

    :lurk
    #4
  5. TCSVN

    TCSVN ...Stays in Vegas...

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Living the dream
    Jambo,

    Reminds me of my trip to Dar in 2008; Asante sana. Didn't get much past the Pugu Hills, but made great friends and enjoyed the month there even if it was work-related, so not much time to really explore.

    Poa.
    #5
  6. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Safely across the Wami River over the railway bridge, we followed a destroyed dirt road from Matipwili village up the hill to what appeared to be a vast aloe plantation that provided spectacular uninterrupted views of the Tanzanian horizon. Upon closer inspection, the aloe turned out to be pineapples. I was impressed. I love pineapples, but had never seen them growing before, and on such a scale. There were acres and acres of the things, like a prickly yellow-green shawl draped across the escarpment’s sickly shoulders. We sliced along the ridgetop on the sandy, eroded road, unzipping a plume of red dust from the blanket of green spines.

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    Above: The Gongo general store, pineapples and motorcycles and a color-coordinated butterfly

    Having missed the turnoff to the lodge, (our directions were, well, vague) we continued through the pineapples to Gongo village at the top of the hill. We asked for directions at the typical mud walled general store and treated ourselves to a tepid Fanta and some bone-dust-tasting bisquits before looping back to the lodge to say hello and make sure we had a place to rest our heads.

    Checked in, so to speak, (the lodge wouldn’t be open for months) we decided to take advantage of the afternoon for a loop into the southern portion of Saadani National Park. Because there are few predators in the park, motorbikes are permitted; we think… in any case, nobody so much as noticed us. We cruised the fairly well maintained dirt track and admired the grassy areas amid the yellow-barked thorn trees and palms. The park is known for its birdlife, but I’m not a birder, so I just admired at the scenery and enjoyed the riding.

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    Above: The Saadani road from Matipwili, those whistle thorns and a hippo skull at river’s edge.

    In the park, we curled back around to the Wami River where we discovered a long abandoned campsite with a hippo skull left behind to remind visitors not to get too careless near the riverbank. Downstream the snorting and barking hippos drove the point home. Their grazing area was beautiful, but it’s a shame the camp was in such a pitiful state.

    On the way back to the main track, we slogged through several hundred meters of semi-wet black-cotton soil crisscrossed with 4x4 tracks. It was a backbreaker. The stuff is unbearably slick when wet, and when it’s only kinda wet, it’s somehow both incredibly slick and very sticky, like bentonite… hard to explain and really hard to ride in. It was a lot of work in the hot afternoon sun, and a reminder of what 2 wheeled travel would have been like if it had rained while we were there.
    #6
  7. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Leaving Saadani, we arrived at camp at dusk after stopping off in Gongo for a couple warm victory beers and slimy fried potatoes. Our host offered us a nice outdoor bucket bath with a view of the Miseni Forest below and a couple of basic camping tents to sleep in. We ate by moonlight and nipped from a flask Mika brought, listening to the Bushbabies going nuts in the trees. I slept poorly in my basic digs, and awoke sore but ready to move on.

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    Above: View downvalley from the lodge, chigger removal preparation and morning pineapple viewpoints.

    Once the lodge is up and running, it will be staffed by residents of Gongo village, some of whom were already working as carpenters, laborers and apprentice chefs during our stay there. Everyone, it seemed, was also available in some capacity as impromptu medical staff: a Belgian agronomist working with the community to produce vegetables using ecologically sound methods awoke with chiggers between his toes, the removal of which inspired the commentary and assistance of everybody in camp (we didn’t stick around to see the operation, but it may have involved razor blades, matches, and a rusty nail.)

    At daybreak, the lodge was spectacular. On a tour of the premises, an outline of the final design was taking shape. Each room was a separate hut set among natural features in the landscape (stands of brush and trees or rocks) and none were visible from any other. All had great views of the forest below. When completed, the lodge will be a great, lesser-traveled spot for eco-friendly forest exploration, and a jumping off point for Saadani National Park.

    Beautiful as the place was, we were wearing inappropriate footwear for nature hiking. So, bidding farewell, we roared up the hill, past the last of the pineapples which we had learned were a major cause of deforestation and erosion, (dammit, there’s always two sides to everything, have a look at how pineapples are grown in Costa Rica) and plunged into the Zaraninge Forest, one of the largest of its kind in Tanzania with some 50,000 acres of closed-canopy coastal forest.

    It was dark in there, and wet and fragrant from the previous night’s rain. The track was really a series of deep puddles, which left us debating whether to take the footpath around (like bicycles do), or hammer through them (like 4x4s and lorries do). Both lines had their pros and cons, and luck was on our side until my front tire lost purchase on the slick and I went for an unexpected swim… anyway, being the rainy season and all, getting wet and muddy was really part of the plan.

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    Above: The dark Zaraninge forest, me after my dive, Mika takes the low road, the bikes in the rain.

    Out of the forest, we followed the main East-West Saadani dirt road awhile before launching South-west toward Chalinze, our overnight spot. The trail was fabulous, full of twists and turns, dips and hops. We could ride fairly fast when it was dry, but slowed to a slippery crawl when a raincloud unloaded on us later in the afternoon, turning the surface to slime. We tried to avoid the rainclouds, but we didn’t really know where we were, or which way we should go. Our only navigational tools were a half-assed Google map with a few place names on it and a friend’s printed GPS route dotted with cryptic waypoints. Every time we found a human, we would inquire in Swahili if village X was ahead. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t, but village by village, we found our way using this method… Mandera, Kiwangwa, Tarawanda, we crisscrossed the countryside of bush and cattle on the way to the nowhere truckstop crossroads of Chalinze.

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    Above: The Obama brand making its minibus debut, a wonderful example of abstract art at the Bosnia guesthouse, Mika enjoying his goat stew and bananas and predicting the weather the old fashioned way: by having a look up country.

    By late afternoon, wet from rain and strung out from the muddy trails that had us feeling like we’d been mildly electrocuted, we were ready to call it quits. Fortunately, we had come to the Chalinze – Arusha highway where we supplemented the goat and banana stew we’d had earlier with a sad cup of warm, milky tea at the Bosnia Guesthouse and Bar while being serenaded by the certain-to-be-famous Tanzanian Singing Ewe.


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    From Bosnia, we belted it the last 15ks or so down the tar to Chalinze, slept like kings after a big Mishkaki and Kili dinner, and returned to Dar the following day by cutting diagonally from Chalinze toward Bagamoyo through Buyoni and the comically named Fukayosi Village. Since time was shorter and the riding was sweet, we didn’t think to take any photos, but I reckon there’s enough here for a Day Trippin’ RR.

    Cheers from TZ
    #7
  8. Lee Gunn

    Lee Gunn Long timer

    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2009
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    Location:
    Melbourne, Beach side
    really enjoyed reading your story - I lived in zanzibar and Tanzania for a couple of years- love that country - but I'm glad I didn't get chiggers - thats for sure
    #8
  9. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    376
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Hey everybody,

    Just an update for anyone riding through Tanzania. Miseni Lodge near Gongo where we crashed is now complete, and the bio-friendly agricultural project is now well established in Matipwili Village. Both of these places are accessable on any bike that isn't afraid to get a bit muddy riding through the beautiful Zaraninge Forest (big bikes will have to take it easy in places), and would be a great break from the Moshi-Dar es Salaam road.

    Check out this professional video of the area:

    <iframe width="425" height="349" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/86b0gBi1dMc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
    Above: That's Thomas, the guy who had foot problems while we were there...
    #9