Thursday, 1 April 2010


Our last day in Tanzania was spectacular, nothing less than that! It started with a 20 km climb out of Mbeya browsing through tea and banana plantations. Mbeya is one of the few Malaria free areas in Tanzania because of the altitude it stands at, 1900 meters. But to get out of Mbeya, we had to climb to 2400 meters going through thick mist and switch backs. It felt like riding in the French Alps on a cold summer morning. Soon enough, we were above the clouds and as the sun unleashed its burning powers at us, within a few minutes the temperature soared to over 30 degrees with a 100% humidity in the air. Everybody stopped in the climb to take pictures and remove the long sleeve shirts. In Africa, riding conditions can change so drastically within minutes from cold misty to burning heat. I had planned for getting through the clouds before putting on the sun cream. This is part of a daily ritual by now. In the morning as you prepare yourself and your bike, two creams are not to be forgotten, the shammy cream for your bud and the sun cream for your skin. You forget one of these two and you pay for days... But today, I decided to put the sun cream after my climb since the sweat makes it very unpleasant. It was underestimating how soon the sun would hit us. So, half way through the climb, I had to get off my bike and go through the process of covering every exposed inch of my body to the sun with cream. The problem with sweat and sun cream is that the two tend to melt into one salty liquid that burns, especially the one that runs down your face into your eyes.

When you stop half way through such a long climb, you lose your rhythm and I was quite unhappy with my decision not to apply the sun cream before leaving; I won't do that again.

There so many details that you have to remember each and every morning before starting your ride, from loading your energy drinks into the water bottles (that you have hopefully remembered to clean immediately after arrival yesterday, otherwise there is rot waiting for you in there) to resetting you bike computer (which you have also hopefully remembered to charge last night), to having taken down the directions for the day and so on and so on. That is why the morning routine at TDA takes an hour and a half. From packing your tent to queuing for breakfast and queuing for loading your bags in the trucks. If you wake up late, then you are in a hurry and then you forget something. This morning, I forgot my cycling gloves.... Stupid, but painful as the result is blisters... Yeah, typical story, I misplaced them, and they ended up in the wrong bag and by the time I went to the start line, I realised they were missing. Too late to go back to the truck and reopen my locker, the trucks are also on tight schedules and were about to leave...

Once we reached the top of the climb; we rolled up and down for kilometers passing endless tea plantations. This is the main road linking Dar es Salaam to the other countries situated south of Tanzania, so it is like a giant open air fruit supermarket where farmers display all their product along the road waiting for buyers to stop and load their merchandise off to the big city. I have never seen such a display of bananas in my life. I didn't even know they came in so many shapes and colours. I even saw some purple red ones. They stack them next to the road in huge piles waiting for buyers.

After reaching the top of a last hill, suddenly I could not believe what was lying in front of my eyes! There it was, the enormous Rift Valley with a giant lake at its bottom 1300 meters bellow me... Lake Malawi! My first view of lake Malawi will be stuck in my mind for ever. It was one of these moments in life that gives you goose pimples. Wao! Africa had once again managed to bring tears of joy into my eyes. I had pedaled 7000 kilometers to get here and I was proud, I was happy, I was overwhelmed by the satisfaction of having sweated my way from Cairo to see this. Lake Malawi, the legendary lake Malawi.... Here I was, riding bicycle heading downhill at full speed enjoying the warm wind blowing at me and feeling full of joy and excitement.

One last stroke of pedal and we already were reaching the border post... Malawi here we are!
                                        Me in a tea plantation on the last hills of south Tanzania.
                                        We can now see the norhtern shore of lake Malawi in the
                                        far distance behind me
               Tea plantations are covering the hills of this hot and humid region of southern Tanzania
                                     When it is not tea, it is bananas here. This is the main road to
                                     Dar es Salaam, so the farmers can sell their bananas directly
                                     along this busy road
                   Not quite sure what was the danger, but I am happy to leave the "danger zone"....
                                                                 Maize drying in the sun
                                    We saw this everywhere along the road, women scrapping
                                    the maize grains of the stems by hand
                                                     Africa and its happy faces.... everywhere....
                                            Here it is, the fibre optic cable that will change
                                            the course of communication in this region
                             We have been riding along this massively long trench for 3 days now,
                             and everywhere, the same, hundreds of cheap hands digging in front
                             of amused children
                                  OK, guys, next time your children complain about getting more
                                  fancy toys, show them this picture....
                           Tanzania, beautiful Tanzania, all the way to the border we have just had
                           amazing landscapes... Lake Malawi in the horizon and a new country
                           waiting for TDA riders...
                                      These blisters are from a beetle called the "blister beetle"
                                      It pisses on your ankles and creates this skin reaction....
                                      Within a few days the blister eventualy pops and leaves
                                       nasty skin damages...
                                    So, you here is the mysterious blister beetle victim identified...
                                    he took a picture of himself with his wife in the background... Thanks Andre....

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