Iringa to Morogoro
Iringa to Mbuyuni 114km
Annette had fallen off her bike yesterday, and was duly patched up, bike repaired, and ready to go in true soldierly fashion at first light.
We left Iringa at the crack of dawn after honey sandwiches and Trangia coffee brewed up on the bathroom floor as usual. Riding down the ramp to the Tanzam was every bit as epic as going up, only this time we were jostling shoulder to shoulder with tuk-tuks and minibuses. With eyes like the proverbial robbers’ horses, we were spat out onto the highway, and away from Iringa.
Until the wind started in earnest at about 9.30, the ride was glorious, with great scenery and the road gradually losing altitude. When the headwind kicked in, every kilometre required more effort than we wanted to expend.
The exception was an exhilarating steep 8km drop that is famous for being thrilling. We had been told about it a fair bit and it certainly lived up to its reputation, with smiles and flinches in about equal proportions. The view though, was gobsmacking!
We popped out at the Starcom Comfort Hotel, which we had been considering as a stop. When we arrived we found it derelict and empty; it was strange to walk around the tables and chairs, sinks and bar etc. It was as if the residents and staff had just walked out of the door and not come back. It had a haunted feel, but nonetheless we settled down ravenously hungry to prepare lunch.
From the Starcom Hotel, we pedalled through the “Baobab Valley”. We had looked forward to this since our last trip through here nearly 5 years ago. It was every bit as spectacular as we remembered, and we enjoyed every kilometre. Neither my words nor photographs could capture this. It is such a shame, but grandeur is an experiential thing; unfortunately…or fortunately. These trees are immense, and there are thousands of them. They own the valley, and a few sparse humans live amongst the trees, rather than trees amongst the humans.
We got into Mbuyuni about 3pm, and found a billet at a basic and none too clean rest house. I'm pretty sure we may have been the first M’zungus to stay here. There was a lot of interest in us for sure. We tried hard to keep a low profile, but especially with Annette, it wasn't easy.
We rounded off the day with mayai chipsy, and watching Simba football club scrape a victory in a small bar. Again we melted into the back of the room trying to be invisible. Back to the room before dark, and an uneasy sleep.
Mbuyuni to Mikumi 79 km
During the night somebody tried to get us to open the door, when we refused, he started banging on the door to force us to open it. We always carry door wedges for this type of eventuality, and the door was both locked, wedged, and had a fully loaded bike against it. He was shouting in Swahili, we were replying in pure Anglo-Saxon, and he gave up. Unfortunately, he had ascertained which room the M’zungus were in, and so it was an uneasy night.
With very little sleep, and even less breakfast, we crept out at first light and put Mbuyuni behind us. It was a nice wee town, but nevertheless, we drew too much attention for comfort.
The headwind was back and the route along the Ruaha River was too undulating to allow us to develop a rhythm. Again it was spectacular; the valley was filled with thousands of baobabs. The scenery was stunning and no wind could spoil this day.
Annette was cycling with a pocket full of rocks, as the baboons seemed to show an interest in us. Some of them are very big and would have no problems with taking us on. Fortunately they seem more interested in cars than bicycles. Probably because people in cars feed them, and no cyclist would ever give food away!
We saw and witnessed a lot of nature, and it was a special experience. We met a Japanese tourer and had a chat about Mikumi, which is coming next, and probably our biggest worry for the route. He had some encounters with elephants, something we can do without!
We arrived at the Tan-Swiss lodge and pitched our tent. After last night we wanted somewhere where we could relax. Big shout out for the Tan Swiss; great food, great facilities, and great service. All this and by far the most attentive security we have experienced on the trip so far.
We were suffering from lack of food, and felt quite ill. We had only had mandazi to eat all day. We need to be more careful. We ate lunch and dinner one after the other and went to bed!
Mikumi to Ritunga Camp (North of Doma) 54 km
This was the day we had been both excited and most nervous about; the dash through Mikumi National Park. There are lots of animals free to wander about here and on our last visit here we saw elephants close to the road, and lions. It is also alleged to be ideal leopard country, but we are led to believe the leopards are shy and wouldn't pose us a problem.
The advice from everybody was to get a matola through the 50 km of the Park. All the Tanzanians we asked advised us that cycling through was a bad idea, especially as just about anything could outrun us, bite us or crush us on a bike. The most positive advice we got from a local safari guide was, “I hope you get through!”
Nevertheless, we decided to go. It would always be a regret if we didn't.
We had a choice of taking it slow and observing, or dashing through to limit our exposure. As the prevailing wind was easterly and elephants etc. would be upwind of us, we chose the latter. The thing about this is, that the animals you really need to worry about – you can't see, they would be poor hunters if you could see them!
We set off very well fed from Tan-Swiss, and decided to get ourselves moving quickly. There was a headwind (good) and the ground was gently undulating enough to slow us down on the hills (bad).
Once we got into the Park, it was incredible! We were surrounded by animals…they were everywhere! It felt a bit exposed on the bike being so close to them…especially knowing that virtually all of them could kick your ass if they were minded (especially if they had young). We were surrounded at first by big baboons, then giraffe, zebra, large herds of gazelles and antelopes, wildebeests, and at one point, a spooked warthog, clattered across our path, not sure what we (or our intentions) were.
There were several large birds such as a small group of what looked like vultures and a bateleur. It was very intense; very special, but nevertheless intense. As we kept searching the bush for signs of elephant…the one animal we didn't want to see, the tension was building the longer we cycled. We have seen plenty of elephants during our time in Africa, and they are best viewed from a jeep... and preferably from a distance…and through binoculars…powerful ones!
No elephants today thankfully.
This was a fast 50km. Although we wanted to take our time, we had a game plan. At the exit, we went through Doma, where there was no shortage of guesthouses. Our plan was to camp at Ritunga; they had phoned us to ask if we wanted lunch and so roughly 5km through the other side of the boma, we gratefully sat down to the freshest and nicest vegetables we had had for some while.
Ritunga is still a work in progress, but the staff were really great, and made us feel at home.
All in all, a memorable day!
Ritunga Camp to Simbamwenni Camp (Morogoro) 66km
This was another short day, determined by the lack of accommodation options. Up at 5 again, and we hurriedly packed up in the the tent, in the rain. By 7am, it was seriously wet. This was the only time so far that we felt nervous riding on the TanZam. The road was in poor condition, and the shoulder often broken and unrideable. This combined with heavy spray and poor visibility, made it feel very edgy. We were forced off the road a couple of times by the crazy bus drivers.
Once the rain calmed down, it was just another day at the office. The headwind had subsided to a manageable degree, and the road always undulating through the rolling countryside (but never enough to bother us unduly). We clocked up the kilometres relatively easily.
When we arrived in Morogoro, we found the way to Simbamwenni, blocked by road construction. Google maps led us a merry dance through gardens and railway tracks, but eventually we got there. Slightly smelling of shit, as I had trudged through some nasty off-piste sections.
The campsite was an eco site; peaceful and with lots of wildlife…some welcome, some not! An example was the poison dart frog in the shower. It may well have been a mimic, but I kept my distance anyway. We spent the evening trying to book flights with a dodgy Internet connection.
Simbamwenni was a nice site, with nice and helpful staff; it was just a shame it was wet.
The next few days are tricky, as we can get no reliable information. We were not too sure of distances, due to discrepancies between mapping apps, and nobody had reliable information. We just decided to play it by ear.