Friday, 26 March 2010

REST DAY IN IRINGA

Rest day in Iringa.... Finally! It has been a long and hard 7 days stretch on the bikes. This also marks the end of stage 4 of Tour D'Afrique 2010. 4 more to go...


We have completed the longest ride on dirt of the TDA, covering almost 700 km without stepping on tar, except for a few kilometers as we crossed the capital city Dongola, where the main streets were paved. What an awesome ride it has been! I am not sure if the exhaustion feeling is gonna clear before the excitement fades about how intense these past 7 riding days have been. All I can say is, we are all tired but happy. Happy to have discovered a part of Tanzania completely untapped by tourism and yet so beautiful and so real. We have had an overdose of great landscapes, of baobab trees, of lush vegetation and of "Mzungu" screaming children...

Riding on dirt is twice as hard as on pavement as a rule of thumb. You spend at least twice the energy when tackling dirt, but when it is very technical and full of soft sand, this is even more. So the last 700 km have put our already tired bodies through new levels of strain. I could see yesterday as we all made it to the finish line at the Danish school in Iringa that this 24 hour rest was more than needed.

As I was riding yesterday, I thought about my unexpected knee problems and I came to realise that there is a rational explanation behind this. It did not make sense to me that I got a tendonitis after riding almost 10 weeks. By now, the knees are well trained and should not give any problems, but the fact is that after riding 6000 km we are all super fit. Normally if you push too hard while practising any sport, your heart rate shoots up and it forces you to slow down acting as a security valve. But if I think about the day when I hurt my knees, I could hardly believe myself how fast I was going. I was really flying over these hills on a technical terrain and this for over a hundred kilometers.... By now, I am really fit and I can push my riding so hard over such a long distance that other body parts are now giving up before my heart rate would slow me down. I will have to keep it mind over the remaining 5700 km. Our bodies have gone through massive changes in a relatively short time, from weight loss to fitness gain. It is important to listen to it more and to make sure that it remains in a good shape if we want to make it to Cape Town.
Talking of weight loss, today I had a funny thought. I found a small coffee shop run by an English woman here in Iringa who made real espressos. She also stocked some European magazines and just about every one of them had something about how to lose weight on their front cover... He he... My biggest problem is to regain weight right now.... I wonder how big a market there would be for a magazine who would advertise "gain 10 kgs in 6 weeks" on its front page.... I already know 60 people who would buy it...

There are many things Africa is short of, and one of them is a decent bicycle shop. Since Cairo, we have not encountered one... There are simply no bicycle shops on the continent (except for South Africa). What I mean with bicycle shop is like the ones we are used to in Europe where you can get spares, tubes, water bottles and so on. Firstly African bicycles are all single speed bicycles and all imported from China or India. so the so called bicycle shops here only stock very basic parts that don't fit our highly sophisticated machines... Even such a simple thing such as a water bottle is simply impossible to find. Nairobi was the only city we came across that had a shop which stocked some spares and the 15 water bottles they had on the shelves were sold within a few minutes of opening to the few TDA riders who made it there first...

So I have organised for some extra tubes and spares like cycling gloves, helmet padding and so on to be shipped to me to Iringa via DHL. I have been really looking forward for this as I have no more tubes, my last spare one is already severely patched, my gloves are so worn out that I am getting blisters on my fingers and my helmet padding is also in such a bad shape that the helmet is starting to cut through my skin. So I organised for my office in South Africa to send me all these items to Iringa via DHL. We have a rest day here, so it would give me plenty of time to get the parcel.... Except that I was thinking too rational, too European may be... Of course here things work differently. When I went to collect my parcel at the local DHL office, the hard reality of African bureaucracy and inefficiency hit me. Let me describe a bit this "office" where it is an absolute shame for a company like DHL to have their name painted on the front door. A dirty room completely empty with one run down desk and a woman sitting behind it in the corner. One shelve behind her had exactly one parcel on it and it definitely did not look like it could be mine as it was completely flat.The woman did not even bother respond to my "jumbo" greeting and kept on looking at the floor as if somebody had just passed away. As I became more insistent about getting attention, she finally gave me that look which did not make me feel any welcome.... I had a shipment number on my cellphone which I proudly showed her... She looked at it and just replied "Not here!" and went back into her "watch the floor" motion...

By then my sense of humour had completely vanished and I exploded shouting at her "Well find it if it is not here, you are DHL, you are supposed to deliver this packet to me!" She got a bit of a fright and stood up. She shouted back "Not here; come back tomorrow!" I could not believe what I was witnessing here. What a pathetic service. Anyway by then the woman got a bit agitated and pulled out a dirty file from her desk drawer. It contained hundreds of handwritten telephone numbers. Since they were randomly written, it took her more than 5 minutes to find the one of her own head office in Dar es Salaam. After several attempts she just shouted at me again "Telephone not working, come back tomorrow..."

By then I realised that this was not gonna get anywhere and I took over. I called South Africa from my cell phone, asked Antigone, the PA at Junk Mail head office to trace the packet from there. Within minutes, we managed to find it lying at the customs in Dar Es Salaam because there are import duties in Tanzania on bicycle spares... Customs said I needed to come in personally with my passport to do the duty declaration and pay them... Well, that was the end of me hoping to get this parcel. Dar es salaam is a full driving day from here and there is no ways I am gonna get this packet. So I will have to use my broken gloves and live on one patched spare tube for a while. Next big city is the capital of Malawi, so I asked Antigone to repurchase everything in SA once again and send me a new parcel to Malawi. Such is life, and compared to the many challenges I have already overcome to get here, this DHL story is just adding fun to the adventure. That's how I am taking things now: "Hakuna matata" ...

Iringa is definitely not the prettiest city I have been in, but it is a rest day and on rest days, you do two things, you wash and clean everything you own and you eat as much as you can. For me, there is one more task, I do a big blog update and try to do a bit of "city reportage" showing you guys some of these places you would never come across otherwise. Iringa is a major commercial center for this region and is therefore buzzing with life. Merchants of all kind of goodies are filling up the busy streets. We are now 400 km north of the Malawian border. Since we are back on pavement, it will mean two things; more traffic, much more actually as we are going to get on a major road linking north to south and longer stages in terms of distance.
After 7 days of very hard riding and 700 km on the dirt we finally get back on pavement. It was time, our bodies and bikes are in need of a rest
                                                    Jos and a Tanzanian rider at a coke stop
                                                     Jos investigating about the meat prices
Even the butcher has an Obama poster. We have seen Obama posters and bags since Ethiopia. He seems to be more populare here than in the US...
                                                            Knut and Hilda fixing a flat
        The 20 km time trial climb on the dirt after last night's rain did not do any good to our bikes.

                                           Daniel after he finished his 20 km time trial section.
                             Simon at camp before the start of the time trial, fixing a slow puncture
                                                                Eric at camp fixing .... a flat....


                                             Frans preparing for the time trial, which he won
                                                                Jos fixing... a puncture...
  Camp yesterday was in a great setting. I did my internet connection using my toilet seat as a table....
                              The afternoon section was very hilly again yesterday, but so beautiful
The morning part of the ride was flat but had a lot of thick sand making it hard to ride. Here, the TDA lunch truck passing us
                                                 Anke at a coke stop enjoying the local sofa...
              The city of Iringa, not really a world beauty, but this is where we will spend our rest day
This dam produces hydroelectic power and is well guarded. We were warned not to take any pictures of the dam as they apparently can shoot you if you proceed...
         Typical mud house from this region of central Tanzania surrouded by beautiful baobab trees.

                                            TDA riders look tiny as they pass by these giant trees
                           
Most people here use bicycles and it makes it easy to meet them. Some, like this young fellow ride with us for a few kilometers before dropping back. With our high tech bikes, we are much faster on such terrain
                    A nice flat portion with endless baobab trees along the road. What a great ride!
                     This guy is making flip flops out of used truck tyres. I bough a pair for 1 Euro
                                                         Delivering bananas the hard way...
This is a typical bicycle spare shop, we have seen plenty of these all along our way, but unfortunately, none of these spares fit our bikes, not even the tubes
                                                                   Got a virus? Call these guys...

                                                                    Broom delivery
              We have excatly the same mushrooms growing in our backyard in Finland.....Cantarelles
                                               The fruit and vegies covered market of Iri
                     Small dry sardines are sold by mountain high piles here at the Iringa covered market
                                    All fish are sold dry here, probably the safest way to keep it

2 comments:

David said...

Gerald ... glad to see you made it to Iringa safely. I left in such a hurry on the 23rd I did not have a chance to say goodbye.

Ali drove me to Dodoma where I spent the night, took the local bus to Dar the next morning and then flew via Addis and Paris back to Toronto. 50 hours in total. Was good to be with the family though but oh so strange to be sleeping in my bed!!! What a contrast from the night before.

Please pass along my greetings to everyone - I miss my 'second' family. I'll be flying back (via JNB) to Lilongwe and will meet you all the evening of the 5th when you arrive at the rest day.

Please let me know if you are at all worried about receiving your spares as I will have plenty of space to bring whatever you need - just let me know (david.saevitzon@gmail.com). Please pass along this offer and warm wished to others - especially the 'Locker 9' crew.

Look forward to seeing you all on the 5th. David

Anonymous said...

Hello, I did TDA in 2009, and had the same problem. So I had a parcel sent to Lilongwe via DHL. The parcel got there on time. The DHL-office was a modern office with good service. I went there by bike after a days ride, which meant another 15K, since the office was in the new and modern part of town, which is the other side of town from where the camp is.
Good luck!

Peter Rombaut