Revenge of the African Racing Chicken

Blog 37 by Mick: Revenge of the African Racing Chicken

The formalities of the border crossing were pretty simple, although it wasn’t long after parking the bikes that we involuntarily acquired a ‘helper’, who followed us around like a bad smell. In fact we ended up with three ‘helpers’. One was a kid who we threw a few Malawian kwacha at (less than a dollar’s worth) to watch our bikes while we were in at immigration and customs, one was an incredibly persistent money changer who followed us even after we had gone into the official exchange office and came out with Tanzanian Shillings, and the other was a guy who was convinced he would sell us insurance once we got to Tanzania. It was a great reminder as to why major border posts absolutely suck. But there is only one crossing, called Songwe, from Malawi into Tanzania, so here we were getting bombarded.

Ok ok… “bombarded” is a bit of a stretch, it was only 3 people following us after all. Truth be told, while the crossing was very busy with trucks it was actually pretty orderly. It was just hectic compared to our previous 3 border crossings, where there was no one.

 

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Tanzania’s take on the AIDS epidemic… the bloke in the cartoon seems pretty confident about the whole “spotlight on your junk” situation. Maybe he’s packing?

 

Through to the Tanzanian side, our 3 followers were still hanging on like a deer tick on a fawn. The kid who watched our bikes turned up again, but we gave him the bad news that we were able to see the bikes from immigration and wouldn’t need his services. Money changer man was still there, no matter how many times we told him we had already changed our money. “A+ for effort buddy, but I’m sorry the rumours you may have heard of foreigners pulling notes at will from magical pockets and other nether regions just ain’t true”. And also there was the insurance man, although to be fair he had been reasonably helpful and unfailingly polite, as many people are in this part of the world. So we succumbed in the end and followed him to his office, telling him we would have a look at what he had to offer but not promising anything.

Turns out we could buy Tanzanian Government Insurance for $50 for 3 months, or COMESA insurance, which covers much of Eastern and some of Southern Africa for $100. “We’ve got two motorcycles, can you do us a deal?” I ask. He replies that Tanzanian Insurance was $50, no negotiation, but instantly dropped the cost of the COMESA insurance to $80 with no hesitation at all, not even the feigned stabbing pain to the heart that most people exhibit when haggling. Mmmmmm, that was easy, even too easy. It was just a little fishy.

I went to another insurance seller and got the exact same result; Tanzanian Insurance was $50 and non-negotiable, but COMESA dropped to $80 with no prodding at all. I could smell a rat, so I went back to Tan who was watching the bikes and warding off the hoards of money changers and mobile phone credit sellers and relayed the two stories. We both agreed the COMESA insurance seemed like a scam and wasn’t worth the risk to save a few bucks, so I went back to the first guy and bought the Tanzanian Government Insurance. I asked him outright if the COMESA he was selling was bullshit, which he denied but with a big enough smile on his dial that I was pretty confident we were making the right move.

 

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Beans and Rice. Beans and Rice. Beans and Rice. If you’re going to eat at local stores in this corner of Africa, then you better get used to bloody beans and bloody rice…

 

It was all up not quite 2 hours to get through the border including buying the insurance, so with our fresh Tanzanian Shillings we grabbed a cheap lunch of beans and rice. We weren’t long on the bikes, less than 5 kms, when we got to our first Tanzanian police checkpoint and were asked for our insurance. Thankfully our Tanzanian government insurance was legit, at least it was to this guy anyway, and we rolled up the main road about a hundred and seventy kilometers before finding a cheap lodge for 7000 shillings, about USD3.50.

We later learned we dodged a bullet with the COMESA Insurance. It was a scam. The internet told us that Tanzania apparently is full of counterfeit COMESA insurance, and a few travellers have been caught by police, given a fine and forced to buy legitimate insurance. A few months later in Nairobi we met a South African bloke who bought some COMESA Insurance that he was so convinced was fake, he highlighted his name and details as a distraction, then laminated the document and put it in a neat little folder to make it look more impressive. Very clever… and it worked for him too, it had gotten him through Tanzania to Kenya and would eventually get him all the way to Egypt. Well played, Sir, well played indeed.

 

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Tan wanted a photo of some of the tea plantations. Ok, I’ll ride there then.

 

We had intended to make reasonably rapid progress to Dar es Salaam and then out to Zanzibar so Tan could do a few days of study for an upcoming assessment in a relaxed environment. I was hopeful we could find some interesting little excursions off the main road, but we woke up the next morning to clouds and rain. I had hoped for us to shoot up a dirt track to a waterfall just off the highway and maybe over an interesting looking mountain pass, but the idea of slipping around on steep and muddy mountain roads in the rain wasn’t overly appealing, so we suited up in wets and rolled up the tar after a few cups of sweet ginger milk tea.

 

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Our breakfast spot. This lady and her super dapper kid stopped by for some cooked banana and chips for breakfast.

 

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The ladies working hard. Local spinach type greens (probabley kale), chips frying in oil and ugali nearly ready. The last part of the cooking requires heaps of stirring to stop it from catching

 

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Tanzanians, happy people.

 

We quickly found that Tanzanian highways have there own ways of getting your heart rate up to extreme levels. The bus drivers here are homicidal maniacs. I’d be horrified to know what is required to qualify as a licensed bus driver in Tanzania, but I’m going to assume it involves driving over and then backing up over motorcyclists and pedestrians, judging by the regard they have for them. These guys are froth-at-the-mouth crazy. Over the next couple days riding, at least once or twice a day we would be run off the road and into the grass by overtaking buses who would see us in our lane, and then pull out to overtake anyway. The more courteous ones might flash their lights at us as they pulled out, just on the off chance we hadn’t seen the full sized coach in our lane coming at us at a closing speed of 160kph or more.

Combine the buses with massive ruts left in the tar by the constant heavy truck traffic, and you have yourself some heart attack inducing potential. One of my first run-ins with the bloodthirsty maniacs that pass for bus drivers found me in the right hand wheel track near the centre line of the road in a near-vertically walled rut that was probably 100mm deep. I glimpsed the “flash of death” as the bus driver flicked his headlights and pulled out into my lane, forcing me to cross not one but two deep ridges all at close to 100kph.

All there was to do was try and wash off a bit of speed, then stand up, weight the left hand peg and push hard with the throttle open to lighten the front wheel a little. I popped over the first ridge ok and then the second much easier, and still standing as I hit the grass, I was in a great position to scream and holler and flip the bird to the bus driver as he went past, but I don’t think he really gave a shit.

But not only are the bus drivers in Tanzania a menace, so are the police. In every village, whether it be a proper little town, or literally just one or two huts near (or often not near) the roadside, the speed limit would drop from 100kph to 50kph, and would often stay at 50 for many kilometers after the village, to the point where I would be thinking I must have missed the sign or maybe it had fallen over. And as we got closer and closer to Dar, more and more of these 50kph zones had police with speed guns in them. It was only a matter of time before we/I got caught. Maybe 3 or 4 kms after entering a 50kph zone and with little in the way of a village in sight, I went to overtake the truck I had been stuck behind for quite a while. As I got past the truck I saw the cop walk out and wave me in…. ah joy, here we go.

Now, Tanzanian cops don’t have the greatest of reputations when it comes to scams and bribes, and we had been warned many times of this by various overlanders we had met. I got off the bike and started to politely refute what the cop was telling me. I wasn’t being rude, just denying any wrong doing and questioning him on everything he was saying and just being a bit of a smiling pain in the arse.   But I soon realised everything was legit; he wasn’t trying to bribe me, he was just a nice guy trying to do his job and I was definitely speeding, so I paid my 30000 shilling (USD15) on the spot fine for doing 86 in a 50 zone. We had a bit of a chat about how many people he had caught speeding that morning and the road conditions on the way to Dar, I got my ticket receipt and we went on our merry way.

While the first time was legit, the second time I got caught was a bit shadier. We rode into a tiny village and didn’t see a 50kph sign, but slowed anyway as there were a few buildings about and figured it had to be a 50kph zone. We were very quickly through the village and into open country again and I started looking for the 100kph sign. We rode on and on for what seemed like kilometres and nothing. I was thinking that maybe that village was never a 50kph zone after all? I was still pretty wary but our speed slowly crept up and sure enough, man in police uniform walks out onto the road and waves us in. Bloody hell, this is a scam for sure this one!

I told the guy that there was never a sign for 50kph, while of course he assured us there was. Tan was adamant there was never a sign, and actually went back looking. After a few more minutes of discussion, I realised we were pushing shit up hill here, and coughed up the 30000 shillings. As they finalised my second fine in 2 hours (which was also our second fine in 30000kms), Tan came back and admitted that there was a 50kph sign 4km back, but the sign was quite a way off to the side and obscured by overgrown grass.

 

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Tan chatting with the coppers

 

Tan suggested to Cop #1, the bloke who gave me the fine, that if someone mowed the grass maybe there might be less speeding traffic, which greatly amused his partner, Cop #2, who waved his finger knowingly at Cop #1; it seemed to us there was some inside joke being had. Cop #1 went on to say to Tan “But you are lucky, I should be giving you a ticket too”, however Cop #2 interrupted as Tan was denying all wrongdoing saying “He can’t do that! He can’t do that! He must show you, he must show you the speed of your vehicle” while pointing at the speed gun. They joked for a bit and as Tan was leaving she mentioned that we were just pretty frustrated as we didn’t see the sign and we were riding carefully as we only got a fine about 2 hours ago. This set Cop #2 off again saying “why didn’t you tell us! We can only fine once a day! Once you have paid a fine for speeding we cant fine again until the next day. It’s the law!”

So the moral of the story is this; not all Tanzanian cops are dodgy, in fact our two encounters suggested they can be pretty decent; there is a cop with a speed gun under every tree so drive accordingly; if they catch you, make sure they show you the speed readout; don’t pay more than 30000 shillings as that is the standard fine no matter the speed; and if you want to speed, get caught early in the morning, pay your fine and then go ballistic, because it seems a paid ticket is a ticket to speed. Giddy up.

 

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A common sight on Tanzanian roads, being stuck behind a truck covered in religious art. I took this photo with my iPhone while riding along… yeah bit naughty I know… and paid the price by dropping it down the road at 50kph. Ooops. Smashed the screen and the back as well but it still works, and we’ve got a new rule. No more photos while riding!

 

With all the crazy buses and constant trucks, the villages and extended 50kph zones, the cops and bad roads, travelling in Tanzania is slow, even on the highways. Averaging 50kph is probably normal and 60kph is pretty decent going. So it took us 2.5 days to get all the way to Dar, which is only 950kms from the border. Thankfully food and accommodation was cheap. After our USD3.50 room the first night with a stinking squatter toilet and cold bucket shower, we upgraded for the second night to a nice clean room with hot shower for the princely sum of USD10. It was a great plan until the power went out and we ended up using a bucket anyway… The following morning the owner asked us for an additional 5000 shillings, USD2.50, for “security”; he got a firm no from us. He was just trying it on with the dumb tourists and his smile after being rebuffed gave it away.

 

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Tan and a baobab tree. Plenty of these along the southern streches of the highway to Dar

 

When riding we generally stop for lunch when we are a bit peckish and we see an interesting looking local roadside food stall, or when Tan starts complaining too much. However, one issue with the local food was the variety on offer, or the complete lack of. Tanzania, a lot like Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia, doesn’t have a lot to offer from roadside stalls. Chapattis, chip omelets, beans, rice, and millet are staple fair and about all that is available. Often its just one or two. Its obvious that basic carbohydrates are the cheapest form of food because its everywhere. Protein like chicken is a bit of a luxury and relatively expensive, but after so much carbs we were keen on some meat.

 

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The highway goes straight through the Mikumi National Park, which has a fair amount a game. We saw buffalo on the roadside, and probably 5 large groups of giraffe, plus other more common stuff. But make sure you don’t hit anything, its expensive. A zebra is USD1200. Eland USD650. Giraffe? Fifteen thousand!

 

After Mikumi National Park, we found a little village which had a number of roadside restaurants all with the relatively standard dirt floors and cheap plastic furniture. We could see some beans bubbling away in a pot over coals, and could easily guess that the covered pots contained rice and ugali, the Swahili word for millet pap. We then spotted some pieces of chicken cooking away in some tomato sauce of some sort, and ordered that with beans and rice. Awesome, lunch sorted.

 

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I think this sign was warning us about the bus drivers on the highway

 

But the thing is, like Castrol’s oil ain’t oil, Tanzanian chicken ain’t chicken. Or probably more correctly, what we are used to in the western world isn’t ‘chicken’. Its selectively bred and scientifically fattened up to be enormously meaty and soft and incredibly delicious, while chickens in the real world, especially Africa, are nowhere near as pampered and are forced to eat whatever they can find and run for their lives. This one obviously ran for a long long time before eventually falling foul of the butchers knife, but the evidence of its life long race against the chopping block was still there for our jaws to experience. This thing was tough as hell. Correction, it was tough as two hells; one on top of the other. It was a few bits of bone, stringy rubber passed off as meat, sinew and not much else. We both had one piece of African racing chicken and physically couldn’t eat it. It was horrible. In death it exacted it’s revenge. Where is my deliciously tender and meaty GE super chicken???? Where is it?

 

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Yeah, I know it looks kinda like chicken, but it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been. I don’t know what it was. We should have sent a sample to NASA; surely they could find a use for something as tough as that thing.

 

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Tan her teeth are all still intact while a cage load of future torture devices await their fate in the background

 

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One of the little guesthouses we stayed in. About USD5 for this one, complete convenient and secure parking right outside the front of our room too.

 

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People watching with tea and chipatis, one of our favourite things to do in Tanzania. They love their sugar here though, everything is so sweet. That Tupperware container was full before our tea lady got a hold of it!

 

We rolled into Dar on a Sunday afternoon, which should have been great for traffic but being midway through the little wet season, Dar had recently had some localised flooding which caused some traffic chaos and a lot of mess. We got caught in some terrible traffic for a long time, not even the little china bikes could lane split, but it eventually got moving and we found a cheap room downtown in the YWCA for USD12.50 complete with cold showers and seatless toilets. But I must admit it was immaculate, all we needed and the cheapest we could expect to pay in such a big city. What it lacked in amenities (like nice toilets, cosy sofas and internet), we could mooch from the nearby Holiday Inn for the cost of a pair of coffees.

 

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We used the wilddogs.za network to get some new bags delivered to us in Dar from Jo’burg. Thanks Leon! Our old ones were starting to wear and we needed some replacements, and Leon organised to get a friend to drop them off in a hotel for us to pickup, avoiding couriers and import duties.

 

We left our bikes and some excess gear locked up at the YWCA for a very modest fee (USD0.50 per day) under the watchful eyes (seriously they don’t blink) of the uber-regimented ladies who ran the show like a Stalinist era military parade. After another visit to the Holiday Inn for coffee and wifi and to experience what we could never afford, we moseyed our way down to the ferry wharf to make our way over to Zanzibar. We had been warned about touts and were prepared for them, or at least we thought we were. We of course were kidding ourselves. After having spent so much time off the tourist trail we were definitely not in the headspace for dealing with such accomplished touts.

Within 100m of the station we had people trying to carry our bags, trying to sell us food, trying to change money, trying to sell us trinkets and trying to organise us ferry tickets. We found a ticket office and after lining up we were told that only the most expensive VIP seats were left, even though all the time we were there probably 5 locals pushed in and bought the standard economy class tickets. We told the guy we knew there were economy class tickets left, because the local price was written on the wall and we could see that that’s what they were paying every time they pushed in front of us. But he wouldn’t sell us the economy tickets, he just ignored us.

 

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Stone Town, famous for its doors covered in spikes from the days when elephants roamed the streets hauling goods. The spikes were sharpened so the elephants wouldn’t lean on the doors and break the hinges.

 

We tried a second agency and hit the same brick wall; it was obviously an organised scam as the ticket agencies would get a commission for selling the seats on the ferry, and its easy to sell the most expensive tickets to dumb foreigners. By now though, Tan had had enough and started giving the ticket agent a piece of her mind, giving him a lesson in customer service and the “if you treat tourists like shit, they will stop coming, the world is a big place and you might find yourself one day begging for tourists” treatment, complete with a few choice expletives. It was unlike us to lose our cool so badly…we were just so out of practice with this sort of thing. With all the touts and the scams she just wanted to get back on the bikes and head north. But we thought better of it, and went back to the first ticket office, handed over the money and told him economy class. By now we had missed our ferry and he tried to tell us the next one was only VIP aswell. “Bullshit. Two Economy tickets” and we just stood there, purposely blocking access to the little hole in the window so locals couldn’t push past and buy tickets while we argued. Sure enough, we got two economy tickets.

 

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The Book Café; we spent a lot of time here drinking coffee and reading.

 

Thankfully there was a person from the little hotel we had booked to guide us through the maze that is Stone Town. We had done enough research to know that some navigational help was a good idea, but I think it’s really a necessity; Stone Town is not just any old rabbit warren, it’s a warren dug by a schizophrenic evil mastermind rabbit whose plan is to confuse and trap all the other rabbits so he can eat their eyeballs and lick out their empty eye sockets. Well… figuratively speaking anyway.

 

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These little toy cars were pretty good and worthy of a photo.

 

With our time in Zanzibar coinciding with the little wet season, we passed on the famous beaches and concentrated on Stone Town (as it rained everyday we were there. It was a great place to explore and experience a culture quite foreign to what we had seen on the mainland. There was a real street food scene with lots of tasty and cheap street food to try.  We walked for hours looking down lots of little alleys and hunted out a few notable landmarks for which Stone Town is famous. Troubling thing about walking in Stone Town is that when you’re looking for nothing in particular, every alley is interesting and different. When looking for something in particular, every alley looks the same and you get lost.

 

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Street food in Stone Town is like nothing else we have seen in Africa. There is a real unique food culture here, the arab influence from the slave trading days is evident. This was a yogurt drink and it was DELICIOUS.

 

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Yogurt and peanuts and yum…

 

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Add some honey, cinnamon and other spices, and some pureed fruit that we weren’t too sure what it was. And you’ve got yourself a meal in a cup.

 

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This is what you do in Stone Town during the wet season. Walk around. Explore. Find weird things to taste and taste them. We really enjoyed it.

 

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Another of the very many interesting doors that Stone Town has. Every door is different and worth a look.

 

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The alley ways of Stone Town. Even in the damp and dull weather they were full of colour and life.

 

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“The whole world is crock of shit”. Bit negative buddy, but fair enough I get your drift.

 

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Interesting street food and friendly vendors of Stone Town

 

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Zanzibar is something like 98 or 99% Muslim

 

We ended up spending a couple days walking around, drinking coffee, eating street food, general chilling out for me and some study for Tanya before booking some return tickets to the mainland. We endured the usual rip-off attempts, this time the “old poor foreign exchange rate trick” (ferry tickets are sold to foreigners in USD) and guess who sets the exchange rate? The ticket sellers who pocket the difference between the actual USD rate and the one they just made up. We told them how much we would be paying based on the current exchange rate on the internet and eventually found one that would accept that price. Zanzibar is such a huge tourist draw they really give it to you any chance they can get. It was far from the stress free island experience we were hoping for but Stone Town made up for all the hassle.

 

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More exploring.

 

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More doors.

 

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Not sure what the graffiti means, but I love the motion and energy of this photo.

 

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Elephants! Get off my door!

 

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It rained every day we were there, but the overcast skies gave Stone Town a great atmosphere.

 

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Soccer is everywhere, even in the alleys. At least there are no arguments about going into touch…

 

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A unique looking door near the baths

 

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And another

 

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The street food was awesome, here is a banana and nutella pancake near the waterfront. The waterfront food stalls were very touristy and we only went there once, we didn’t enjoy the quite ‘fabricated and non-genuine’ vibe. Plus the prices…. A Zanzibar pizza was 3000 shillings, about USD1.5 here, but 2000 shillings aout 300m away in the hidden alleys of Stone Town. Cane juice was 700 here, 500 in the alleys. Tanya was very excited though to see one of the waterfront cats that hang around and steal the left over seafood shit in a bin. It actually got up on the side of the bin, and parked its bum over the edge, and shat right in there. She was very excited, and asked me to relay the story. So there you go, hope you weren’t eating your lunch just now.

 

Not long after getting our ferry tickets I started to feel pretty crook. By lunch time I was rocking a bit of a fever, and by mid-afternoon when boarding the ferry I was pretty damn unwell…. just the right time to be getting on a boat.

 

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Eating bbq’ed octopus, squid and prawns in the alleys of Stone Town. The way it worked was to walk up, grab a tooth pick and start eating. There was some nice sauces and spices to try. Then tell the fella how many pieces of what you ate and pay, the guys were very trustworthy and the vibe very chilled.

 

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I don’t think this fella could read English. That, or he didn’t give a shit. Probably the later…

 

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Some of the old colonial era architecture

 

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Canons… gotta shoot them pirates of course

 

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The ginger tea was fantastic, fresh and strong and spicy. And cheap, 100 shillings, or about US5c a (granted, quite tiny) cup

 

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We did a lot of this. Sit and watch the world go by

 

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Really delicious, we drank heaps of this stuff

 

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Afternoon views over Stone Town

 

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…chilled travel in the evening light

 

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Our local street food corner, this fella made Zanzibar Pizza, which is like a fried pancake with some fillings of spicy mince and vegetables. It was really delicious.

 

Back on the mainland and feeling terrible, we walked the 1km or so to the YWCA rather than catch a taxi, even though the exertion would be far worse, it was going to be far quicker on foot. I immediately went to bed, getting up periodically to have a cold shower to cool off and wash off all the sweat. I was in a bad way. At about 7pm I was 39.4 deg C, and by 10pm I was feeling abysmal and 39.9. Considering that we eat and drink all the same things, are in contact with all the same people and I very rarely get sick whereas Tanya will get sick at the sight of a someone sneezing on the tv, we figured that malaria was the most likely culprit. Great….. just what we need.

 

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Frying up our dinner!

 

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Meet Octopus Bloke and Cane Juice Man. The Cane juice was awesome, freshly crushed sugar cane put through that mill in the background with slices of lemon.

 

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Here he is sieving the last of the cane fibres from the juice. So refreshing this drink.

 

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Another evening, another visit to the treat vendors. Cane juice and octopus for dinner

 

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Street vendors are everywhere with smoky bbq’s in the evenings

 

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We drank so much ginger tea our local guy was forced to make more

 

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You know its fresh when you watch him make it for you. This guy quite got friendly with us when we came back every afternoon and chilled with all the old men who would socialize and drink cup after cup of tea or coffee, or occasionally even a 50/50 mix of the two. Same ritual as the western world, sit talk shit and drink but here it is not beer. Shame, I like beer.

 

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Stone Town was the worlds last active Slave Market which was used to provide slave labour to the Arab world. Dr David Livingstone of Victoria Falls fame was instrumental in pressuring the Sultan of Zanzibar to shut it down. Nice work Davo, hats off to you.

 

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Inside the underground “quarters” that the slaves were imprisoned and enchained before they were lead out to the auctioneers hammer…. This tiny little hovel would have 70+ humans chained up in it. Fucking disgraceful.

 

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This other corner would have another 50+ people. It was difficult to not be overcome by the thought of it all.

 

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The Slavery Monument.

 

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Sickly. Very very sickly

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