Half way review

On leaving Arusha we passed the signpost set up to signify the half way point between Cairo and Capetown. While I’m not sure exactly how this translates to the TDA route from the section stats that TDA provide we have travelled around 8,000km so far (guess!) – around 600km of this being on a very bumpy bus transfer – the rest – we pedalled.

Egypt brought flat roads and tailwinds which continued into Sudan though it was also here the tough challenges set in – off road corregation at nearlky fifty degrees heat. Ethiopia brought the hills. Constantly.  In addition to the 1362m climb over 20km we did up the Blue Nile Gorge in sweltering sun we also had the most metres climbed in a single day in this first section of the tour – 2502m into Gondor, Ethiopia. However, it would be the stone throwing children that would be the greatest challenge. From here we entered a friendlier Kenya yet with the first election since 2007 we were unable to ride  much of the way and we would all be pleased to be back on our bikes proper in Tanzania.

Doing the trip with TDA was certainly the right decion. Water and calorie intake would be tough as an independent rider though it was the support through Kenya and more difficult political situations that proved critical. While I found it tough to adjust to the group at first and would still say I do not fit naturally into a very regimented way of life I’m sure going back to being a team of two will also feel very different again for future trips.

We’re up to 77 riders now – too many in my opinion – especially if you’re not a racer. Getting into camp late means you often get the worst pitches, cooler soup and lukewarm tea. While I understand it’s tough for TDA crew to do much about this, though the urn is reheated on asking, I do think a lottery/rota system could be operated when hotel rooms are limited. First come , first served is not a fair way. I think the whole experience would be much better if the group remained at 50 perhaps with two trips running a week or so apart. I guess that’s easy for me to say but with just one large truck and shade area with high sun or rain it makes for a very cramped camp.

In the grand scheme of things however this is my only key critique. The crew work so hard to make our ride a success. The food has definately been the highlight even if jam, peanut butter and honey make daily appearances (3 of my food hates!). Dinner has been tasty and plentiful with only a couple of meals that haven’t worked so well. A big thumbs up there. I have been fortunate not to need the medics at all and the bike mechanics little.

To date I have to be honest and say that my heart has not been caught by Africa – not in the same way that I love Asia. Our rest day towns, with the exception of Egypt, have had little to see and do in terms of history and buildings and I certainly prefer Asian cuisine. Where Africa does stand out is for scenery and wildlife. Vast deserts, open plains and of course the giraffe, elephants and lions. People said I would also notice the birds here and they were right. Such amazing colours.

All the above said I’m so happy to be experiencing Africa and I’m glad TDA has featured as part of my world trip. I’m looking forward to heading through the more Southern tips of Africa (Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa)  and with dinner booked at Quartier Francais (listed on world top 50 restaurants) at the end of this 5 month stage for us I’m certain we’ll make it. Here’s to the second half of our African adventure.

Holiday in Africa

Cycling through Africa with TDA is brutal. We average around 120km a day and while more and more of Africa is getting paved we still do a fair bit of off road too. Camp becomes a regular routine  – soup, drinks, pitch, “shower”, dinner and bed. I don’t need to set an alarm anymore and have not yet overslept for 645am breakfast.

The section through Kenya is known as “Meltdown Madness”. It is renowned as one of the most difficult sections of the tour. Unfortuantaly we rode only a total of three days in Kenya.The  first day was off road,elections then led to a bus transfer to Nankuki from which we rode, passing the equator. Our final ride day took us over the border with Tanzania.

While we were then due to have three rest days in Arusha, predominently to allow for brief safari trips, the Kenyan election meant that we would spend an additional four days resting first in Nanyuki. We were shipped in to arrive the day before election day just in case tensions rose to the same levels as in 2007.

Passing through the vast open areas surrounded by lava rock with no shade and intense heat I have to say there was some sense of relief that I was not on my bike. However, as the landscape changed and became more agricultural there was a sense of disappointment on my face as I gazed from the bus window. As it was there was little we could change. John and I had booked to ride Africa with TDA to be sure of our safety. Bus transfers were not our choice but we were happy that others were looking at the situation and based on contacts and information making decisions with safety as key. As it happens the group looked tired and a rest was probably what we all needed, whether we would admit that or not. So, with four days in Nanuki we needed to fill our time.

Some folk went off from the hotel  – this seemed to go against advice to me so we stayed put. Instead we set about our mission to relax. The campground at the hotel was great -flat, green grass so unlike many of our other pitches – though we opted for a room. The hotel had a pool, beauty parlour and wi-fi so we were happy. In addition, Nanyuki has a large British Army base and as well as giving a safety net during the election period it all means a well stocked supermarket with Western treats and good coffee shops. We wanted cake.

Carrot cake, shortbread and chocolate cake pretty much covered our time here. Well, alongside a full body massage (I think I deserved one by now), manicure and pedicure. Given we were at the equator we also had an equator party which was great fun and a chance for us all to let our hair down. Fancy dress, a bit of dancing and a cheeky sambucca or two probably sums that up.

The election passed, all seemd calm and so we started riding. By now we were definately ready to get back on the bikes. We managed a day and were expecting to ride 50km towards Nairobi with a 50km bus transer to the centre. Unfortunately we woke to find out we were waiting for bus to take us all the way. The tourist police were not letting us ride at all.The result was now expected  at 11am that monring. So we bused to our next day off — ate more cake, visted a great shopping mall and yet again took it easy.

With all the indulgence we were now at a point where we needed to ride! Our bodies were used to so many calories on ride days and appetites didn’t seem to subside on resting. I wanted exercise. It would however be just two days biking till our three days scheduled stop in Arusha. The holiday contined and it was now safari time.

Most people had  arranged trips before we arrived. We waited till Masai camp and with  John still being unwell and riding on the truck by the time I arrived in on two wheels our trip was also sorted. John, Gus, Irin, myself and new rider Rob were heading away for two days. We left the next morning for Tarangire National Park –  a two hour drive from Arusha we had a comfy jeep and great driver vand tour guide in Wilson. Tarangire holds one of the largest concentrations of wildlife  of any Tanzanian Park and we would not be disapointed.

Not long into park we spotted mother and baby giraffe… such amazing creatures and not the only ones displaying young. We rode on to see lots of elephants including babies with one elephant just a metre or so away from our vehicle. You never know what you will see on safari. My expectations had been low yet as we then continued to see a pride of lions we left the park truely elated. What an amazing day. That night we would head to the Bougainvillia – the best hotel of our trip so far and share tales of our day with other riders.

For our second day we would head to the Ngorongoro Crater. Twenty kilometres wide and one of the most visted attractions in East Africa. It was cloudy as we rode up to the rim, we passed the viewpoint until our way out though as the sky cleared it became apparent just why Ngorangoro is held in such high acclaim. Blue skies and fluffy clouds looked over the  misty water in the centre of this huge crater – created by volcano activity many years past. Packed with hundreds of zebra, wildebeast, ostriches, flamingos, warthogs etc we we also fortunate to see hippo, black rhino, a number of lion prides and the highlight – a honeymoon couple. As Wilson explained the lion and lioness on coming together take time out from the pack. They both walked next to and infront of our jeep. It was amazing to see such beasts of the jungle so close up but again our expectations were way suppassed as we went on to see the lioness hunt down the zebra and wildebeast out grazing. What a phenomenal sight of nature.

We left Ngorongoro with big smiles and a final rest day before leaving Arusha – the half way point. Our” holiday” had been fantatsic but was now well and truely at an end. We would leave Arusha for an 8 day stretch on our bikes with almost 1000km to cover to Mbeya – including 5 days off road. Oh well…here goes. This is what we signed up for after all.