Fear.

Last week I was discussing an upcoming speaking engagement with a client when the topic transitioned to my presentation and how I could help my client with my speech to my real-life experiences on the road. The topic quickly folded into a subject that most people I speak with tend to share the same curiosity. They usually want to know if at any point during my travels if I felt that I was in danger or if I was afraid.

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People ask this question for many good reasons. But I think most feel that perhaps they would like to embark on some sort of adventure or travel, but they are afraid to take a chance; to risk their current state of being—their comfort zone. Understandably, their curiosity perhaps stems from wondering whether such fears are founded.

My usual response to these curious queries is, no I never felt in danger or fear for my life in my three years of solo travel on a motorcycle. But as my client probed further for insight into my travel adventures, he asked “What about dangerous roads or terrain, were you ever afraid in that way?”

I scratched my head, took a quick gander out the window and confided to him, that yes, I was afraid on a number of occasions.

To be sure, he knew that I crushed my leg on a muddy road in Bolivia during the trip. He knows that a bus roaring into my lane on a downhill turn on a dirt road in Ethiopia caused me to crash. And he certainly knows that a small taxi van pushed me off the road in Tanzania. But in each of these cases I wasn’t afraid. The crashes, for the most part, happened so fast that I had no time to think or react.

Then I started thinking. That’s when I recalled some scary episodes while riding at night, tense, white-knuckled and fearful that this night might be the last of my journey, that I might not make it to my destination before crashing—or worse. It’s never a good idea to ride at night anyway.

It’s funny, many of these episodes involved wet and rain conditions at night.

Like the time I was heading north toward Maceió in northern Brazil. I planned to arrive at this beautiful seaside city before sunset when the rain pelted me and slowed me down. Soaked and cold and with no visibility—no lines on the dark, wet and jet black tarmac. No street lights. And the headlight of my bike barely any use. The rain beaded on my visor and every 30 seconds I had to swipe the water off of it with my soppy wet glove.

As the minutes and hours clicked on, the rain made me wetter and wetter. My visibility so impaired that I had to strain, squint and slow to a crawl just to make sure I didn’t ride off the tarmac, because it was so dark and just blended into the landscape. Then I found myself winding through gentle rolling hills lined with sugar cane plantations.

On the road I had to be careful when rounding curves because trucks that carried harvested cane to ethanol processing plants would drop pieces of cane on the road. Like banana peels I’d often catch one— and my rear tire would slip and slide. My heart beat faster. I gripped the handlebars tighter.

These trucks would also appear out of nowhere. Sometimes a truck would seemingly magically appear out of the darkness of the tall sugar cane plants. Most of these trucks were carrying three trailers, each packed with cane. Most of the time only dim headlights shined on the road ahead. Barely visible I had to be careful because the could either hit me or because I couldn’t see them in the darkness, I might run into the back of them because the trucks were not fitted with reflectors or tail lights. That night was unforgettable and one of the most tiring rides of my entire three years. I was afraid and scared I might not make it.

Trying to make it to Iringa Tanzania from the border of Tanzania turned out to be another harrowing night. When tarmac becomes wet and the sun fades into night, the pavement fades again into the horizon and trying to see the difference between pavement and vast emptiness of desolate landscapes becomes the most important task of riding. The rain poured and even protected in the confines of my rain suit, I felt trapped and blind. The bright streams of lights from oncoming traffic would detract like a star filter through the drops of rain on my visor creating a massive blind-spot that would haunt me as I rode the twisty track. Drainage on African roads is nonexistent, so I would wade through two and three foot high flooded roads, once amazed at the thousands of frogs who sprayed off the wake of my front tire as I rode through. The sounds of the gurgling frogs actually drowned the noise of falling rain.

I was afraid then, too.

Because my memory was vivid from the time I crushed my leg in a slippery fall on muddy and slippery clay, the muddy dirt roads of South Africa, particularly near the Drakensburg scared me too. Like a slivering snake, to me there is nothing more frightening than lack of traction on wet clay. I can see no difference between it and ice—I think I would rather ride on ice. Mud? Please stay away.

At the beginning of my trip I was still haunted and spooked by the notion of bandits in Mexico. Caught in the dark and still 30 miles from the closest village. tense and stressed, and still unable to see through the dark forests of Michoacán, my heart beat fast every time a car came up from behind.

Even as fear tried to suffocate my spirit and crush my confidence in these incidences, I made it through. And with each incident I became a stronger foe to fear. And while fearlessness is unhealthy, balance and prudence is key; as is your attitude. The compromise you make with fear so that you don’t let it get the best of you and in turn, you don’t due anything stupid or intentional that could certainly upset your balance between strength and fear.

When it comes time for you to consider traveling, such as I did or to any of the places I traveled? There’s no reason to be afraid. There’s nothing to fear.

How To Get Out of Tanzania and Into Rwanda

The votes were tallied and the verdict was delivered — from the taxi driver, bus boy, ex-pat mining executive from Australia, the bus driver and the prostitute at the bar of the Talapia. It was unanimous. To get to Rwanda if not going by ferry boat, then the road to Shinyanga then Kahama to Ngara and Resumo would be safest. But the ferry sounded like a good option. Why not float along the infamous lake? I’d get a chance to experience Lake Victoria from its water — the second largest lake in the world, and I could travel during the night thereby not losing a riding day. The ferry would land in Tanzania in Bukoba and then a short dirt road to the border of Rwanda from there a good paved road would roll me into Kigali. Sounded perfect. I decided to go with the ferry. So when the eager porter I sent to to fetch the tickets returned he wore a sad look on his face.

“The ferry doesn’t leave on Mondays,” he confessed he should have known this before embarking on the goose chase. “Only Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

I was stuck. I didn’t want to wait another day for the silly ferry ride. But it was already midday, and even if I left immediately, I’d never make it to the border prior to nightfall. Sure, I could stopover in Kahama or Shinyanga, but there’s not much there. My better option would be to take another night aboard the African Queen and shoot for a daybreak start in order to cover the 800 kilometers to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in a single day. There was one section of road I was warned about. “Be sure to check with the police check-points before traveling through the forest,” Collins warned. “There’ve been bad people there who put things in the road to stop you so they can rob you,” he continued. “They’ve robbed entire busses.” It’s more than 100 miles of no man’s land between Kahama and the Rwanda border. Accoring to my map there’s one town. Though there are always smaller settlements that don’t make the map, the question is how friendly are they.

The sun rose just before 7AM, I was on the road by 7:15. The first 20km I was sailing. Then the road deteriorated into a mine field of potholes. This lasted for more than 100km so by 9:20 when I refueled in Shinyanga, I’d traveled only 100 miles in just over two hours. Calculating the remaining distances and then the time for a border crossing, I wondered if I’d lose the bet. The staff at the hotel told me I’d be hard pressed to make Kigali before nightfall. They suggested getting accomodation at Kahama or closer to the border at Ngara. Self-doubt started weighting heavily on my mind. If the roads were like this to the border, they’re right. Plus there’s the question of the road through the forest — was it safe to ride alone? Would I need an armed escort. It was too early to tell.

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The first 100km outside of Mwanza made for a early morning game of dodge the potholes and mud patches. Difficult to get any good speed. But I was aiming to make Kigali, Rwanda by sunset anyway.

Enquiring to the turn off for the road to Kahama, the armed motorcycle police at the petrol station offered to escort me through town. Flanked by two 125cc Chinese police motorcycles, one riding two-up, I was slowly paraded through town to the turn off to Kahama. For the first hour riding across the plains from Shinyanga, I cruised by a number of massive baobab trees. Of course, I was treated to the now common site of rolled over carnage of haul trucks. But along this road, it was a massive petrol tanker ruck. And sitting around dozens of 10 and 20 liter plastic containers, a group of men were siphoning the remaining petrol out of the tanker into the containers. I wondered how long they’d been at it. And how many containers in how much time would they be finished?

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I had an armed police escort out of town.

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The road got much better. Less traffic than I’ve seen in a while. Most people walk, ride bikes or push carts. Not so many donkeys. That’s a good thing!

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As I approached Kahama the landscape changed to a field of massive boulder sized rock croppings. Thatched hut settlements clustered around the big rocks. At the next police checkpoint, I hit the kill switch on the engine and chatted with the officers.

“No problem,” they both said nodding their heads while peering curiously at my GPS. “What’s that?”

“No problem with mzungu alone on a piki-piki,” I asked again. The taller officer with the madly crooked teeth put his finger on the screen of the GPS unit rubbing some dust off.

“No it’s safe now for sometime. You no have problem. Yes, before months ago many problems. But now road good for going.”

Something about the broken enligsh coming from grown men in offical pure white police uniforms didn’t real set well with me. But I wasn’t about to turn back. But I almost got stuck here at this unlikely police post in northern Tanzania: once again I left the 50w PIAA lights burning while I asked the questions burning in my mind. When it came time to leave, my battery didn’t have enough juice to turn over the massive piston. So in Tanzania communal self-reliant fashion. the two police officers dropped their clipboards and push started me along my way.

Two hours later I was rolling through the wooded highlands where I spotted dozens of dirt tracks leading into the thick woodlands. I imagined people could appear and disappear with ease. But all I saw were a couple kids tending to goats and a woman carrying a jug of water atop her head. But for about twenty miles there was no sign of any town, services or huts with roofs of any kind. It was no man’s land. But soon the forest thinned and I found myself at another police check point. Then a mandatory weight station for haul trucks. This could possibly be the 500th or 1000th weight station I’ve passed on my journey. Not sure what I was thinking given that I had a serious deadline with wagers on the line, but I pulled in and rode the bike on the massive scale, while the giggly and plump uniforned TANROADS official punched buttons and gave me the official weight: 300 kilos on the nose. Wow.

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It was time to actually stop and weigh Doc. Though she admitted she didn’t zero the scale before I rode on…?

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Welcome To Rwanda.
At 2:20pm I arrived at the border at Rusomo where I cancelled my carnet, stamped my passport and bought 10 liters of black market petrol with the help of the border guard. Later he took the WorldRider sticker I’d given him and adhered it to the swinging border gate. You gotta love Africa. On the other side of the river the border crossing went just as smooth. So by 3:45 I was riding through Rwanda.

It seemed like I was in another world. Gone were the plains, the bush, the Acacia and the baobab. Beautiful and gentle rolling hills and pristine tarmac twisted up, over and through lush green tropics where banana, tobacco and rice fields — all neatly nestled into the hillsides. Small villages with neatly painted or naturally colored homes. School children walking along the streets all sporting similar plastic footwear, most in the same blue and yellow colors. I saw no signs of garbage nor incomplete construction projects with massive piles of sand, rock and rebar that I’ve seen in virtually every country in Africa. Something was different here in Rwanda. True, I now was driving on the “right” side of the road. Stopping to chat with the villagers I also found myself in another world. If they spoke a language other than their native tongue, it was French. Even the police officer riding the F650GS didn’t speak English. And he refused to let me take a photograph of his bike.

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Rwanda’s glorious hills in the background. Goodbye Tanzania, I will be back!

Yes. Rwanda was clean and seemingly civilized and organized. A country where people actually planted greenery and flowers in a landscaped fashion along the homes. Towns had good signage and clean greenbelts. Stopping in a small village as I enjoy doing, no body spoke English. Even Swahili was foreign. They spoke French. And now I’ve got to ride on the right side of the road? Wait a minute! Where am I? This isn’t Africa. Is it?

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Riding into Kigali I had the same feeling. Though the city, built on a series of hills, was dreadfully confusing. After riding in circles I found the tourist information office. But it was closed. Thankfully, an employee, Frank Murangwa, took a liking to this dusty and weathered motorcyclist and made a few recommendations for accomodation, loaded me with Rwanda tourist information and directed me along my way. But it was a local FedEx employee, Ben Bahizi, on a Honda motorcycle who made my entrance into Rwanda simple, efficient and safe. Taking interest in my bike, my mission and my journey, he guided me to the hotels until I came upon Gorillas Hotel and the friendly and accomodating Mr. Bashi who went well out of his way to ensure my bike was safe and secure for the evening. I was checked in by 8pm.

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Lush green. I passed banana and coffee plantations. Rice fields. The bush of Tanzania seems so distant. Well! I rode nearly 800km today.

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Wait? Where am I? BMW for the cops? Is that a spankin’ new Mercedes? Is this Africa? Yeah. You’re in Rwanda now, WorldRider!

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Rwanda Police Officers want to take Doc for a spin. They’ve got the qualifications. Afterall they’re riding 650’s and 1150’s.

I made it: 790km and border crossing in about ten hours.

Making My Way Through The Serengeti

My eye seems to be a bit better today. Still blurry but not so much itching or soreness. I think it’s turned the corner. As for my teeth and bones? The roads through the Serengeti perhaps are best spent in a 4×4 rather than a loaded motorcycle. I was worried about Simon’s break-neck speed through some of the nastiest roads I’ve seen since the Okavango Delta. It’s against park regulations to get outside your vehicle, but I was worried if Doc might have broken free of the tie downs in the trailer. To minimize dust the good guys at Bush2Beach secured a green tarp to cover the bike. So from the rear the trailer just looks like a field of green with a bubble rising from the center and rear. But my concerns were alleviated when checking confirmed all was secure and fine in back.

Images From Serengeti National Park, Tanzania:

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As we made our way west of Seronera we cruised by the park’s headquarters at Ikoma where a nice nature walk and interpretive trail provides good information on the parks ecosystem. Then we as we headed toward Lake Victoria through the Western Corridor we took a few side stops along the Grumeti River, which is famous for the massive water crossing of Wildebeest where calves and adults alike are dragged under the water by the fierce force of the river’s menacing crocodiles. We spotted one taking a crossing at one point, just hanging and baking in the son. In my opinion hose prehistoric reptiles are the ugliest and scariest beasts in the Serengeti. Close to the river it’s easy to spot good-sized monitor lizards and a plethora of bird life.IMG_4838_2.jpg

By the end of the day we made it to the Ndabaka Gate, the western entrance/exit to the Serengeti along the Mwansa-Musoma road. We made camp at the cozy and convenient Serengeti Stop Over Point just outside the gate. Here we finally unloaded my machine and fired up its engine. With barely a push of the starter button Doc hummed indicating it was time to ride again.

For the past four days I’ve spent, in close quarter, the entire time with my trusted guide and driver, Simon and the legendary cook Big Ben of Bush2Beach. They’ve got a two day journey back to Arusha while I will spend a night or two in Mwanza sorting out the route to Rwanda and Uganda. So we parted ways with promises to see each other sometime soon.

I decided that prior to heading to Mwanza at the southern end of Lake Victoria, I would ride 40km north to the tiny town of Butiama, once home to Julius Nyerere, Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation). It was Nyerere who put Tanzania on the international map in the mid 60’s after gaining independence from colonial rule. While Nyerere’s politics were based in socialism, he applied a uniquely African twist to his philosophy and ideals. Unlike its neighbors, Tanganyika, as it was called prior to and during its first year of independence, had little, if any, divisive tribal rivalries. He called his philosophy ujamaa, familyhood in Swahili. Coming from a family where his father had seven wives, Nyerere understood the importance of an extended family. And its this African commitment to tradition that formed the foundation of his social programs. Extended families cultivated communal lands and shared resources when times were tough. Self-reliance also played in an important role in Nyerere’s programs.

His legacy is preserved in a modest museum next to his family home where today he’s buried next to his parents. Documents, photographs, manuscripts and a slew of memorabilia in both English and Swahili is preserved in this museum. I paid the modest 5,000 Tanzanian shillings for my entrance but wasn’t allowed to take photographs without paying another 5,000. I objected and reasoned with the young curator that such a policy is silly, especially if he hoped to attract more visitors to the museum — which could do the museum justice — according to the guest register, I was the only visitor that day and only one visitor stopped by the day before. He later relented and allowed me to take photographs of the family compound.

Born in 192, Nyerere was a teacher prior to entering politics and ushering independence for Tanzania in 1962. Among his many contributions to African society are translating several Shakespeare plays and Plato’s Republic into Swahili while penning a number of books and poetry collections of his own. Unlike his peer in neighboring Malawi, Nyerere was strongly pro pan-Africanism and since the beginning openly opposed and was critical of South Africa’s Apartheid system. This alienated Tanzania from South African aid but helped put further importance on Nyerere’s social and self-reliance programs. His invasion of Uganda in 1979 contributed to the ousting of notorious dictator Idi Amin. Nyerere died in 1999 while still active in African politics.

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Monitor lizard on the rocky shore of the Grumeti River, Serengeti National Park.

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This hippo isn’t moving much. Seems was the victim of a failed lion attack the night before.

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Simon and Ben posing with the cargo they carried across the Serengeti

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Mural depicting Nyerere’s speach upon independence of Tanzania.

So about three hours later and with my newfound understanding of Tanzania’s young history I rolled into Mwanza just as the sky opened up and dumped some of the heaviest, hardest and most voluminous rain I’d experienced in sometime. I quickly found refuge under an awning of a downtown hotel. Hoping to make it my home for a day or two, but I was given bad news — fully booked. I finally found one open room at the Hotel Talapia aboard its floating annex – The African Queen – apparently the half-century old vessel was used in some way during the filming of Bogart and Bacall’s legendary film about a journey down the Nile; of which the source of this mighty river is on my list of next destinations. Completely restored on the inside, the room was spotless and of four-star quality. According to the hotel manager the next step is to restore the exterior.


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The gravesite of Tanzania’s “father of the nation” Julius Myerere

The Talapia was a pleasurable base-camp after four days of camping in the bush. Plus, the staff and its guests provided me with valuable insight on the road ahead.

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Sunrise on Lake Victoria, Tanzania in Mwanza.

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Sleeping aboard the African Queen — they tell me this was used during the making of Bogie’s epic film.

The Land Goes On Forever: Serengeti Safari

I sure hope the eye is getting better. But I’m having self-doubts that I’ll ever see clear out of that eye again. Fear.

“You’re not afraid of riding alone through Africa?” Ben or others would ask,

“No. But I’m afraid I’ll never see right again.”

Thanks to the helpful reminders of Ben, both Simon and he agreed that my eye was looking better this morning.

“Macho,” Ben would say throughout the day, using the Swahili word for “eye” and a reminder to take my two drops of antibiotic and two drops of anti-steroidal as treatment for the still nagging eye. Photography has been challenging because I can’t see clear through my right eye, the one I use to pear through the viewfinder of my DSLR. I see the red focus lights in double or triple and nothing seems clear. I’m just not used to the other eye. And when it comes to photographing wildlife you have to be quick to pan, frame, focus, expose and shoot.

Perhaps nothing symbolizes the wild of Africa more than the treeless plains of the golden Serengeti. Spanning a massive area of nearly 15,000 square kilometers, the Serengeti is a microcosm of life in balance. The Masai people call these plains Siringet, translated as “land of endless space.” Here nature serves up a massive ecosystem which endures the endless cycle of life and death. More than a million wildebeast make the prodigious annual migration in search of fresh grassland and where you can watch the enormous movement of hoofed creatures move as a black blob staining the golden yellow landscape of the endless plains. During migration mothers bear more than 7,000 calves daily – each of which can walk on their own in a matter of hours. Though only sitxty-percent of these live beyond a few months. They’re tasty treats for lions and leopards. And what they don’t eat of the carcas the hyena, vultures and jackals will happily scavange.

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Above the Serengeti plains from a Kopje looking east; below looking west.

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Dried up skeletons of all kinds of animals lie in the tall grass. Millions of years ago when Africa was the scene of dozens of volcanic eruptions giving birth to the Rift Valley as well as the Serengeti. Beneath the endless miles of treeless grass the soil is extremely shallow. Beneath this is a cement-like layer of volcanic rock and windswept ash impenetrable by tree roots. Yet this hard surface is usually broken or cracked in the proximity of the hundreds of “kopjes” (rock croppings) scattered throughout the plains. These mounds of land that are actually tops of mountains once formed by molten rock bubbles pushed up into overlying rock layers. These cooled slowly to from hard, crytalline granite and gneiss rocks. The broken soil around on on these kopjes not only gives trees the ability to root but also capture rainwater in their folds and crevices. Plants and animals take advantage of the available moisutre while in many lions, leopards and cheetahs find shelter here, make their dens and use as lookouts across the plains.

Heading west from Ngorogoro we first pass through the Olduvai Gorge, where Mary and Louis Leaky made perhaps the most important archaeological discovery giving credence to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Nearly 30 miles long this ravine reveals more than two-million years of layers and layers of volcanic rock which neatly preserved fossils have been discovered over the last 40 years including the 1.8 million year old skull, Australopithecus boisei which in addition to fossils found in Ethiopia, Lucy, and others in Kenya as well as human-like foot steps just near this gorge prove that there were at least three moninid speciales in Africa more than two-million years ago.

From here the roads got rougher and while Doc was bopping and popping along in the rear the ruts, rocks and plains of the Serengeti surely unfolded as we motored on until coming to our campsite in the Seronera area in the central park – close in proximity to a river and an amazing mass of wildlife. That’s when we discovered that a flying rock took its toll on one of the windows in the rear of the Land Cruiser. Again Ben and Simon unhooked the trailer, unloaded food, cooking and camping supplies and Simon and I cruised for a late afternoon and sunset game drive where we encountered giraffe, elephant, lions, Thompson and Grant’s Gazelles, hippos, including one that must have been the victim of a brutal lion attack the night before. We culminated the drive at the five-start Seronera Lodge where cold beer while watching a colony of rock hyrax play on the rocks while trying to steal my peanuts served with the chilled Kilimanjaro. The perfect ending to a day’s safari.

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Getting Close To Wildlife. Or Wildlife Getting Too Close To Allan?

There’s no question that visiting Tanzania’s world-renowned national parks is an expensive proposition. While budget travelers like me can camp and cook our own food, there’s no escaping the high cost of park fees. At fifty dollars for each twenty-four hour period or faction thereof, it’s easy to rack up a couple hundred dollars in park fees before paying for petrol, camp fees, food or beer. Even worse is the vehicle fee charged by the National Parks to descend into the Ngorogoro Crater: $200 per vehicle. Now if I had convinced Tom or the other motorcyclists to join me, this fee would have been divided by the number of passengers in the Land Cruiser. Instead, as a solo traveler with my piki-piki (motorcycle in Swahili) I’ve got to carry the entire cost of this fee. Sure, I could opt to just enjoy the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Ngorogoro Conservation (NCA) area, which spans for 8,300 square kilometers encompassing the crater, Olduvai Gorge, Lakes Ndutu and Masek all the way to the border of the Serengeti. But to visit Tanzania and not visit this fascinating volcanic crater where perhaps the most dense population of wildlife coexist including lions, leopards, black rhinos, zebras, wildebeest, hyenas, flamingoes and more, would be a travesty. Thanks to many of my generous and vicarious armchair riding companions who’ve contributed to my WorldRider gas can/tip jar, I’m able to bite the bullet and cough up the exorbitant fees.

Though I understand to a point why these fees are charged. There’s park maintenance, of course, but at the same time the need to control tourism population and its impact on the land and its inhabitants can’t be underestimated. The theory is with higher fees, less people visit. But somehow, I’m not sure if this works. Sure, locals and resident ex-pats are given a break, but where’s the money going? Given the condition of some of the facilities in the parks, I wonder if the money is being spent well or just lining the pockets of ministers and park managers.

Take the Simba campsite, for example, on the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater. It’s the only developed campsite in close proximity to the crater, but its facilities are old and worn and the bathrooms and showers unpleasant, dirty and ignored from a maintenance point of view. Yet the number of 4 and 5 star resorts scattered throughout the NCA command anywhere from $200-$1,000 per night is evident that Tanzania has little interest in maintaining its basic facilities in favor of attracting the well-healed Safari adventure wannabes. Not that I wouldn’t mind spending nights in these plush lodges, there’s something genuine about sleeping under the stars to the music of hippos, hyenas and others while waking to the tune of dozens of exotic birds.

But sometimes you can get just a little to close to nature. After another one of Ben’s excellent bush meals, and watching the sun set over the rim of the crater I decided one last trip to the bathroom would be wise before slipping into my sleeping bag. Without the benefit of much moonlight, I made my trek past a few other tents to the cinder-block and corrugated metal roofed bathroom sitting at the edge of the grass area under a few trees about 100 meters from my tent. Thinking nothing but how much I enjoyed the half-day Simon and I spent tracking lions, hippos, rhinos and flamingoes down in the legendary crater when I heard a guttural grunt coming from the direction of the bathroom.

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Zebra and Marabou Storks cruising around Simba campsite on the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania

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View from the rim of the crater at sunset.

Then a thump and a thud. Then more snorting sounds of syncopated grunts.

Waking myself up from my lax state I looked up and in the light of the latrine caught the glint and shape of sharp ivory colored horns moving toward me at a fast rate. It took only a fraction of second to recognize the distinctive shape of the skull and horns running toward me. Then the buffalo’s eyes locked onto mine and I ran. And ran I did. I almost dove into the smelly bathroom and slammed the door shut in the fastest smoothest yet most frightening single move I’d made since trying to forró dance in Brazil so many months ago.

My heart beating faster than the dust and dirt flying from the tires of a safari land rover, I stood in the corner and counted. First my blessings. Then my pulse. What just happened? I was alive. And no horn pierced my pale white skin. The smell of the latrine started nauseating me more than the fear or heartbeat could hold me in there and I cracked the door opened and looked out, then bolted out of the bathroom and in a frenetic pace that would make many power-walkers jealous I quickly skirted the first 50 meters of grass to he safety of the first tent, a guard and human activity. When passing the guard, a local Masai charged with security for the evening, I just shook my head and said, “Damn buffaloes” and then negotiated the zipper on my tent and before falling face down on my foam mattress. Heart still beating, I rolled over and stared at the sky. And I relived in my mind my encounter with true wildlife. Who would have thought there’d be buffalo just grazing next to the bathrooms. I thought. No one will ever believe this. I was almost impaled the horns of a wild buffalo.

The next morning while wondering if I dreamed the incident the night before a german guy eating at the table next to mine started the conversation.

“I saw you last night,” he quipped, thinking to myself I didn’t drink that much wine and made myself present while in search of a corkscrew.

“Yeah, I should never leave home without a corkscrew,” being polite while offering a little self-deprecation.

“No, going to the bathroom,” it was an odd statement but then I knew he saw my near death run-in with the buffalo.”

“You saw that!” I was happy to learn that it wasn’t a bad dream and witnesses lived to tell the story.

“Yeah. I started for the bathroom a few minutes before you,” he explained, ” when I saw the two buffalo. I think I might have agitated them.”

“There were two of them?” I asked thinking, good god this was scarier than I thought.

“Yeah. I think they had enough when you came too close,” he reasoned while gleaming with a huge smile. “But the best part was seeing your eyes when you barely open the door of the bathroom and peeked out.”

Happy to provide entertainment for this Deutchlander, but that was enough. “I coulda been killed,” I explained.

“I know. You shoulda seen yourself run, you’re lucky.” Great. So this guy sees the buffalo, retreats yet sits by his tent puffing on a cigarette while I run right into the center of danger. He didn’t think of warning me.

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You really don’t want to be close to these beasts. I think the egrets and the buffalo have a mutual agreement. Yes. This is what I saw coming at me just a few feet away when all I wanted was to go to the bathroom.

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This was about how close and big he looked. I’m much bolder when the animal is disembodied, huh?

I grabbed my video camera as I wanted him to retell the incident for posterity and for one day to be included on the WorldRider DVD.

Ben and Simon packed up the Land Cruisers, hooked up the trailer with Doc and we headed out toward the endless plains of Serengeti National Park, while Ngorogoro, its crater and menacing buffalo faded away in the dusty rearview mirror.

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Wildebeest going to join the flamingoes in the lake inside Ngorogoro Crater in Tanzania

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Lions get out of the way!

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Awfully tiring day hanging out in the crater chomping on Zebra and Gazelles.

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Crested cranes with elephants against the backdrop of the wall of the crater.

Lake Manyara National Park – Tanzania.

Sitting between just 300-600 feet above sea level and bordered by the western escarpment of the Rift Valley, Lake Manyara National Park is home to perhaps one the largest selection of bird species in Tanzania. We arrive at our campsite, which sits atop the escarpment looking over the valley, lake, and national park, a couple hours before sunset and quickly unload Doc, Ben, the tents and food before descending back down into the park with Simon.

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Looking east from atop the escarpment at our campsite, the forested green belt of Manyara is spread out before us.

Now the roof is raised on the Land Cruiser and I stand with camera and binoculars in hand as Simon winds his way through the parks network of dirt, sand and muddy roads spotting baboons, antelope, elephant and blue velvet monkeys. Is this what an African Safari is all about? Manyara is not one of the most popular parks and this afternoon there are few other adventurers prowling for a glimpse of a leopard, lion or gazelle. In fact, here in Manyara several prides of lion are known for tree climbing. Though the chance of seeing lions in Lake Manyara is low, we do our best during our twilight game drive to spot an abundance of wildlife.

Due to its proximity to the Rift Valley escarpment, Lake Manyara benefits from an abundance of ground water drainage and therefore offers more diversity in vegetation than most of the other parks in Tanzania. Here there are forested hillsides, acacia woodlands, savannah, marshes and Lake Manyara NP it’s also one of the smallest parks in Tanzania and especially since the lake takes up more than 50% of its acreage. Nearly halfway up the steep escarpment Simon points out several elephants. How these massive mammals can climb and then “veg” out on tasty acacias is something only mother nature knows. But it’s a treat to watch.

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Storks and pelicans hanging out with the Hippo clan at Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

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Giraffes have a massive and rough tumbling tongue that doesn’t mind the sharp pricks of the thorn tree. Yummy!

Then we got lucky. Passing over a trickling stream we spotted a female lion sleeping on a fallen tree that crossed the stream. On her back and with her paws stretched to the sky, it wasn’t the best view of the lion, but watching her chest rise and fall to the rhythm of her breathing and her kinetic tail flopping around the log provided entertainment better than the bad music videos the staff of the campsite were watching in the dining hall while Simon and I chased wildlife in the park.
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There are usually up to 50 females to one male when spotting Impala grazing in the bush.

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Blue Velvet Monkey

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Baboon

That night Ben prepared delicious mushroom soup, pasta with minced meat. Before retiring to my tent and sleeping to the sounds of hyena calls in the distance we were treated to an acrobatic show of balance and tricks by a group of local men. The next morning before packing up Simon and I did another drive through Lake Manyara spotting more bird-life, monkeys and antelope and then made our way to the Ngorogoro Conservation Area.

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Breakfast ala Big Ben in the bush.

Practicing Swahili in the Lands of the Masai

Leaving perhaps the last bit of civilization I’ll see in a week I ask Simon to stop at a supermarket where I can buy some water, savory and sweet treats and a couple bottles of wine. Yes. You can find decent South African wine here in Arusha. Later I learn there is no corkscrew. Never a problem, only an opportunity.

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Ingrid and Chris of Bush2Beach prior to my setting off on my cross-Serengeti safari.

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Africans are very versatile when it comes to transporting goods. In Arusha it’s illegal to use donkey’s or oxen to pull carts, so the still use the carts but pull and push them manually. For the lighter loads, there’s always a bicycle or using your head!

Heading west from Arusha, Simon dressed in his pressed Bush2Beach collared shirt runs through the days itinerary while Big Ben finds a safe place for he several dozen eggs he carefully loaded before leaving. Simon moves into guide mode and gets serious explaining in detail how the day will pan out. I soon turn the conversation to Tanzanian politics and poke fun at Lowassa, the corrupt Prime Minister who resigned just two weeks prior. Passing through the outskirts of Monduli, Simon explains that Lowassa is originally Masai from this village.

The Masai are a semi-nomadic indigenous ethnic tribe who roam and live in Kenya and Northern Tanzania.Typicall tall and lanky they still live in their traditional thatched huts and tend to herds of cattle, goats and sometimes sheep. Dressed in colorful reds, blues and purple, the men where these colors with a blanked slung over their shoulder like a sash. In the heat and blazing sun of the bush, this clothing is functional as well as ceremonial protecting their skin. Though not unique to the Masai, these people pierce and stretch their earlobes with thorns, stones, twigs and more. Most are missing their canine teeth as they are traditionally removed during childhood due to age old beliefs that this will help prevent and resist disease and sickness. The men carry a stick usually about four-feet long and a machete tucked into a sheath at their side. These tools are used to keep cattle in line and well as protection in the event of an encounter with a lion or buffalo.

A partriarchial society, men customarily have many wives. The number of wives is a symbol of status and wealth. Passing by one settlement that looked like a small village Simon informs me that the village is one man’s compound for his 24 wives and nearly 100 children. I’m confident he doesn’t know the names of all his children nor which of his wives birthed them. But like cows, it’s good to have a lot of wives. I guess. I’m not sure if ex-prime minister Lowassa sticks to his traditional customs, but the phony company that was funneled millions of dollars was named Richmond — supposedly based in the United States. Most Tanzanians believe that the name was derived from the town he grew up, Mondoli and his eldest brother, Richard.

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Typical Masai Village outside of Arusha.

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(above) Masai man grabbing some shade in the bush near Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. (below) Masai woman with baby in typical dress and jewelry.

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After a couple hours we arrive in the dusty and hobbled together Masai-dominated town of Karatu, the last chance for supplies, service, fuel or an ATM — not that you’d need money in the bush. Simon pulls into a petrol station. Something’s bothering him about the Land Cruiser. He enlists a bush mechanic and in minutes the left front wheel is removed and they’re replacing three studs. Best to be safe before venturing further.

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Taking time to check out the mechanics of our Land Cruiser in Karatu.

While the work is performed I serve as entertainment for the gathering crowd interested in hearing this Mzungo talk. I quickly use up my limited inventory of Swahili vocabulary and turn to english and jokes about the crooked prime minister. My posse soon teaches me a new word: hanja – meaning thief or robber in the local Swahili dialect. As new members join the posse I refer to Mr. Lowassa as “hanja”. Eager to use my new word I spot a policeman and while I generally get a positive response when joking about the corrupt Lowassa, this police officer doesn’t find my humor nor accusations funny.

“Where’s the proof?” he asks me after I ask him if he’s going to arrest and imprison Lowassa.

“Where’s the money?” I ask perhaps putting my foot to deep into my mouth. The usual crowd of Masai and locals have thinned out and moved away from me and the cop.

“There’s no proof,” the cop continues, “it’s the opposition.”

“Where’s the money,” I repeat. But the thorny conversation goes nowhere and I decide it’s better to move away before I’m arrested. So I find a cold Fanta orange soda and buy more CelTel credits for my mobile phone. I’m told that I’ll have a signal througho ut the Serengeti. Amazing.

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When Strangers Become Friends Forever.

So it seems that things are coming together. I only wish the pinky finger on my right hand would see some reduction in swelling and pain. Why is it that the smallest appendages cause the most pain? At least I will have some reprieve from throttle twisting while bouncing around in a Land Cruiser crossing the mighty Serengeti. And my eye? Well, I’ve upped the dosage and been told it will take 1-2 weeks to clear up. Squinting to try to focus, will I be able to spot an elephant?

We set sail tomorrow, Wednesday the 27th of February. I dropped Doc off at Bush2Beach headquarters, home to nearly a dozen Land Cruisers, including the one that will take me and Doc on our Safari across the endless plains. It’s also home to Chris and Ingrid and their team who are securely fitting Doc to the trailer so we’re ready to roll in the morning.

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Today over breakfast and I poured over maps and guide books of Africa with Tom, the Canadian on the V-Strom. He and I exchanged travel tips, route suggestions and ideas. He’s heading south to Cape Town while I’m heading north to Cairo. It’s a legendary route that many dream about but few dare to complete. Even the celebrated travel writer Paul Theroux in his book, Cape to Cairo, admits that he couldn’t tackle the rough terrain between Nairobi and Cairo and ended up flying (first class, no doubt) to Nairobi, only to pick up his journey south from the Kenyan capital. Hate to say this Paul, but you didn’t do Cape to Cairo. So armed with information on the roads, highlights and potential pitfalls of journeying through Ethiopia and Sudan, we parted ways hoping one day to connect and ride together.

An adage of mine borrowed from somewhere during my life journey is “there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met.” There are times strangers meet and then friends part. If only a for a brief encounter or a lifetime of friendship. Meeting Tom for me was meeting a kindred spirit. Sadly we met a crossroads where each would be traveling in opposite directions. Yet I’m sure we’ll connect again. He’s hoping to get to Buenos Aires from Cape Town and travel north back to his home in Vancouver, Canada. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be in California when he’s passing through.

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(l) Ingrid’s son, Mwene, which means leader in Swahili sits proudly on Doc while it was getting secured for the 4 day journey across northwestern Tanzania and the Serengeti.

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This Land Cruiser would be company for me, Simon and Ben for the long cruise and safari!

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(l) Chris carefully places my Jesse bags in the “boot” of the trailer while (r) Bush2Beach staff ties a tarp to reduce dust exposure for the journey.

I often think of other travelers I’ve met along the road over the past two years. On motorcycles or simply travelers and even tourists. Sure, traveling by bike sets one apart from the crowd. But we’re all travelers. And we all, for the most part, share the same passion. Our means, objectives and desires may be different. But it’s the longing to learn, live and love of what we do that binds the thread between us.

I remember the RV’er Dick Van Dyke when traveling through Alaska, the guys on Harley’s in Anchorage, the Canadian brothers who stopped me south of Jasper to share a peace pipe, so to speak. Then world traveling motorcyclists Pete from Berkely at the the border between Canada and USA. The Park Ranger from Natural Bridges. I can’t list them all. But they keep swirling around my brain. The countless legends I met while traveling through Mexico. Then the friendships made in Central and South America, and Africa: Daniel, Juan, Bruce, Guido, Ron, Andy, Ming, Karl, Pepe, Adam, Seb, Martina, Mark, Ramiro, Beto, Carlos and the Venezuelans, the Colombians, the Brazilians, Grant, Jules, Carol, Steve, Rob, Salvadore. The list is mind-boggling. In fact I just received an email from Francisco, a Colombian I shared spanish lessons and cold beers with on a coffee plantation outside Armenia, Colombia in December 2005. He’s traveling though Europe and just might be in Egypt when I’m rolling through.

I could drop pages of names. But I’ll save that for another day. And if you’re name isn’t on the short list, it means nothing. But the odd thing that perhaps bothers me most is the lack of communication from the one motorcyclist I traveled with most — Jeremiah. He was by my side when I broke my leg in Bolivia and braced it over a treacherous 4-5 hour ride during a ranging thunderstorm until we reached a hospital in Potosi. I returned to the States for surgery and recovery. Then months later we reuninted and traveled again through some of the toughest Bolivian roads and then through the wonderful colonial cities of Northern Argentina. But since we departed ways in Santiago in December 2006 the guy hasn’t returned any of the dozens of e-mails I’ve sent. This is unfortunate. For I know he’s communicated with mutual friends. But for some reason he’s incommunicado — with me. It’s sad, because in many ways we were so alike, yet in others so different but the experiences we shared and were enriched by can never be denied — the camaraderie was genuinely legendary.

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Perhaps he’s disappointed that his trip ended after South America. I’m sure I don’t owe him any money and we parted on good terms. At least I think so. Granted he didn’t share my passion of a cold beer after a days ride or a fine Argentinian Malbec over dinner — though I often tried to persuade him to partake. But that’s just Allan. For me, it’s the people I’ve met and shared experiences with that have made this journey even more rewarding. I continue to communicate with dozens of people who’ve made an impression and impacted me in so many ways. Why this one motorcyclist refuses to acknowledge an e-mail is beyond me. If there’s a problem, then communicate. Traveling through Africa including Arab and Muslim influenced areas, it’s all too easy to see how lack of communication does nothing to improve situations. But I trust he’s well and hope any demons plaguing our relationship or any others in his life he might have tucked under the carpet can be one day wiped clean. Because life is too short to keep things buried inside.

So as I set my sights for the wildebeast migration and the wild endless plains of Northern Tanzania I’m grateful for those enduring friendships I’ve made and will continue to forge and build as I make my north through this wild continent of Africa.

On The Horizon: The Endless Plains.

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While nursing my bloody eye at El Jacaranda in Arusha wondering if I’ll ever see clearly again, I decided to get a second opinion. Another trip to yet another medical clinic where the promise of a German ophthalmologist turned out to be a local doctor and her giggling assistant. Lying on a grey examination table with square metal tubing and fading green vinyl, I received the same diagnosis: nothing in my eye other than a nasty infection. But this doctor’s treatment was more aggressive. A stronger and more frequent dose of antibiotics combined with an anti-steroidal to tone the burning redness while attacking the bacterial vermin squatting in my squinty, puffy and aching eye.

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Mango Avocado Salad served at El Jacaranda. At least my tummy was well served. As for me eye? Well, it hurts!

Meanwhile, my heaven sent angel from Malawi has recovered my black Moleskine book complete with irreplaceable e-mail addresses, trip journal notes, mileage, fuel and expense data and the blue sea-to-summit dry bag from the men who hit the jackpot when finding it along with my SonyEricsson phone on the road from Chipata to Lilongwe over a month ago. In a country where the average wage-earner takes home less than $20 a week, Martha gave the scavengers $35 to take possession of these items. Repeatedly requesting no additional money from me, I made my way to the local MoneyGram office to wire her the reimbursement funds and a bonus as an immense thank you. Passing an internet café on my way back I noticed a KTM fitted with panniers and European plates.

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A quick conversation with Veysel, a biker from Turkey, turned into a plan to rendezvous over beers at Masai Camp just outside of town. That evening I met Tom, a Canadian riding a V-Strom and Matteo on a Ducati from italy. They’ve been traveling south from Turkey and were loaded with information that will help solidify my plans for the remainder of this wild African continent.

Later in the evening and another dinner with Chris and Ingrid of Bush2Beach we reviewed a potential plan to get WorldRider across the Serengeti and on the road to Rwanda. Last year Chris and Ingrid organized and coordinated a Kilimanjaro expedition of a group of paraplegics. The record-breaking climb was filmed for a documentary to be released in the near future. To accommodate the film crew and other special equipment required, Bush2Beach outfitted a special trailer. Chris reasoned that with slight modifications that could be quickly sorted by a whiz-kid welder, the trailer would be the perfect chariot for Doc’s journey across the endless plains. Offering to provide the service at his cost while supplying a driver and a chef, we penciled out a plan and budget that would take us from Arusha to the exit gate of the Serengeti in four days including time for Manyara, Ngorogoro and Serengeti National Parks. Doc would be securely tied down and covered in heavy-duty trailer, while supplies a driver, chef and yours truly would be packed with food, camping gear and beer in a six passenger Toyota 4×4 Land Cruiser fitted with a telescoping roof designed for game viewing.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Switching mirror so the good one is on the side of passing traffic. Safer bet I thought!

Forget It Kenya; I’m Going To Arusha

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Roadside eye food!

Okay. So I’m a bit cranky. I haven’t had a fall or crash that caused me pain since tossing Doc on those railroad tracks outside Santa Cruz Bolivia in October 2006. My ankle and knee surely reminded me of that incident for more than 3 months. Crashing or eating it on a motorcycle simply sucks. Yeah when you’re out playing in the desert, dirt or sand you might expect to go down. That’s why motorcyclists dress to crash. Not that we want this. Nor do we ever fear this. But when it happens on a simple daily cruise when trying to make a destination, it’s simply downright humbling. A wake up call. Unlike weekend warrior trips or the quick weeklong jaunt to baja, when on a world riding journey for more than two years the consequences of falling are great. Your bike or your body could fail you and your trip ends. It’s that simple.

Riding the few hundred clicks to Arusha today my fingers ached as I twisted the throttle. Bad sprain I guess. But still no fun. When not operating at 100% the experience lessens.

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Cruising west from Tanga along the Masai Steppe with a beautiful range of mountains flanking me to the north, the road was good, the scenery movie like and the few stops I still managed to make along the way made for a rewarding ride: watching a near infant gawk in awe at this alien and his spaceship while his mom just giggled roadside; getting mesmerized while three young boys struggled in the gale force winds to hang a billboard sized banner with nothing more than rope, a small ladder and a lot of gusto; at speed bumps myself mesmerizing road vendors pitching fruit, fish and live chickens but too curious about me and my bike to use the hard in-your-face sell tactics other motorists faced. It’s never the destination. It’s the journey. And despite the lingering pain, dampened spirit and forced change in itinerary, I rolled into Arusha with a huge smile.

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The winds across the Masai Steppe are brutal and in some cases the custs compete with those from Patagonia. But even so these kids are determined to hang the CelTel billboard… there’s a third you can’t see on the middle cross bar trying to tame the flapping advert.

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