A Market for the Larger Woman

Blog 38 by Tan: A Market for the Larger Woman

While Mick slept and sweated and shivered with fever I tried to decide what to do with him. He maintained he didn’t want to go to a hospital that night and just wanted to sleep. He was rocking a 39.9 degree temperature and was too hot to even sit next to in bed. I got in contact with Pete our doctor friend from South Africa about whether Mick could wait until the following day to get tested for malaria or whether I should get him to a hospital now or whether we could start him on the anti-malaria treatment we carried with us. Pete tried his best to advise us but was in the middle of a 3-day mountain bike ride from Sani Pass in Lesotho to the sea – typical South African doing something outdoorsy and incredibly cool. He managed to track down a phone and offer advice before the line went dead due to South Africa’s ‘loadshedding’/brown out situation. Thanks Beth and Pete for all your efforts! Not all overlanders have an expert doctor on call. Made us feel as important and pampered at Ewan and Charlie.

Based on the symptoms, Pete thought Mick could potentially have malaria, however a test was necessary as malaria does present early on like a lot of illness; fever, nausea, sweats, diarrhea, headache, muscle/joint soreness along with a general feeling of unwellness. Mick had all of those, apart from the muscle soreness. We had been taking a prophylactic, doxycycline, but we had also been traveling through areas which have malaria strains resistant to doxy (there are strains resistant to each of the 3 common prophylactics; doxy, malerone and larium). We had just been through Malawi and Mozambique right after the wet season, and arrived in Tanzania in the little wet season, all being pretty prime malaria time. Pete advised to get tested asap, however he suggested we could start a treatment if there was no convenient way to do that immediatly. I thought we had a diagnonis kit in our medical kit but its seems it somehow didn’t make the journey, so at about midnight we started a treatment.

After a mammoth 18 hour sleep and two doses of the malaria treatment, Mick was feeling very weak but better and his temperature had gone down to mild fever, only 37.7. We found a foreign medical clinic and got a malaria test done, 2 in fact, and while still unwell and running a mild fever (which would persist for the next day aswell) we were relieved to see he didn’t have malaria, but rather a demon of a virus. It was all very strange as Mick almost NEVER gets sick while I succumb when someone merely talks about illness in my presence. Naturally we were glad and spent the next couple days chilling out and getting Mick bikeworthy again.

First Dirty Bird of the trip. What a milestone!

These days were spent eating the awesome Indian food on offer in Dar, mooching free wifi from the nearby Holiday Inn and trying to please the highly regimented old ladies who kept the YWCA running like clockwork. We also took the time to be your typical westerners and go to KFC for a feed (our first ‘Dirty Bird’ in a year). We were ridiculously excited and subsequently deflated when the service was shocking and our burger buns were thoroughly stale and we calculated how much quality Indian food we could have got for that price. TIA, baby. Afterward we went to the movies like regular people and watched Mad Max: Fury Road. I learnt that my bike clearly needed to be renamed: She will henceforth be known and Furiosa. After another 4 days, Mick was well again and we were ready to leave Dar.

There were a number of pressing chores we failed to do while in Dar so after an altogether unproductive day we set about getting the hell out of dodge. Dar Es Salaam….. not wanting to sound like a whining first worlder judging the place on impossible standards but …. it is a bit of a dump. I couldn’t fathom its lack of development compared to that of all the developing world and African cities we have been to Dar Es Salaam was officially our least favourite city in Africa. Had we had more positive experiences there would we would have viewed the place differently? Probably.

Just gonna stop riding for a bit to look at rats learning to detect landmines – no biggie

Another good reason for leaving Dar was to travel to Morogoro for our appointment to visit APOPO’s land mine sniffing rats. That’s right, we had another rat date. After checking out the TB sniffing rats in Maputo we were excited to drop in on their more hardcore mine sniffing colleagues. The APOPO rat training area is surprisingly large at nearly 6 acres and has 54 rats currently in training at all levels. We learned that it costs about 6000 Euros and takes 9 months to train a rat for mine detection work. The rat can then go on to work for about 7 years so much like the TB HeroRats, their cost effectiveness compared to human technicians can scarcely be compared.

New recruits in the early level training plot. In the bottom right corner you can see a TNT laced ball sitting on the surface

We were amused to learn that the HeroRATs suffer from Monday-itus like us humans and are considerably less productive on Mondays after having the weekend off. Each rat only does about 20-40mins of training per day and all in the morning because they are nocturnal. Anymore training than that and they get tired and unproductive.

The first part of their training is socialisation and getting used to regular contact with people. They then proceed to ‘click training’ where they learn when to receive treats in return for completing certain tasks. From there they go to the first stage of learning to sniff out landmines. At this stage high concentrations of TNT are placed in small round balls that look a lot like tea diffusers and are placed right at the surface of the training plot. From there the rats are given a guide line to travel along and a leash to allow them to work in a focused area sniffing for the balls of TNT. When they positively identify one they get their positive reinforcement in the form of a few bites of a banana.

The rats are Gambian pouched rats which are native to Africa. They are therefore well suited to the conditions however given they are naturally nocturnal they struggle with exposure to the sun and have to wear sunscreen on their ears and tails. We suggested to Ragna our Apopo host that they try to score some corporate sponsorship for the rats from a sunscreen maker.

We watched these new recruits and just like in Maputo we noticed distinctive differences in character and work ethic between the rats. Some were very focused while others would stop mine searching for a spot of grooming or just general naval-gazing. One of them was clearly the class suck up looking for extra credit. All the other rats would simply pause and scratch at the TNT sample however this one would insist on picking up and carrying (either in its hands or mouth) the ball of TNT all the way to the trainer. Every time. It was adorable.

The rat who carried all the balls back to the trainer.

The ‘Ratmobile’- How the HeroRATs are transported to and from work.

The next stages of the training sees the concentrations of TNT in the balls lowered, the balls emplaced deeper in the ground and less balls embedded in the training plot. Towards the end of the training the rats are tasked with detecting real landmines that have been deactivated by the army and emplaced at standard landmine depth (about 15cm) in the field with a few decoys thrown in for good measure. Slowly the rats are weaned off their banana treats as it is impossible to positively reinforce the rats in an active mine field. There, the rats sniff out the mines and then the techncicans will come in and deactivate it. It is therefore impossible to confirm on the spot that the rat has indeed found a landmine and reward them. There is a risk that if they reward the rats without positive confirmation that they could learn fake identifications to secure treats. One thing we heard a lot both with the TB rats and here, is that it is long and difficult to train the rats, and quick and easy to un-train them.

Here is a rat at a more advanced level. No easy TNT balls on the surface for this guy. And no banana treats. As the rats progress in the training more and more attention is paid to their performance.

In order for rats to graduate mine sniffing school they need to be 100% accurate. We were informed that not all rats make the cut and they have a decent dropout rate in mine sniffing school. The dropouts however still stay with the program as breeders and socialising buddies for the more brainy, studious rats. I was hoping that we could take one of the dropout rats to track down my ignition key every morning but APOPO’s goals are far more noble than that.

One of the trainers. APOPO employs local people from a wide background. Some are more educated, some less so – all of them love the rats and take their role seriously.

Can you believe this fella can track down landmines like a pro?

Sharing a moment with a HeroRAT named Chavez

All up the HeroRATS are estimated to have detected and destroyed 13,274 landmines, 28,792 small arms and munitions and 1,142 bombs in Mozambique. Seriously little rats did this! The contribution of the HeroRATS mine sniffing efforts in Mozambique has seen Mozambique go from being one of the most heavily mined countries in the world following their long and brutal civil war to ‘mine free’. On September 17 this year Mozambique was officially declared free of all landmines. It is an incredible achievement. After the civil war it was estimated that it would take 50 to 100 years of Mozambique to be free of landmines. With the help of the HeroRATs this was achieved in 22 years. Bow Down!

Me too

A perfect companion for the road – “Mick, quick, create a distraction”

See – he was totally down for it

With 11,124,446 km2 cleared of mines and returned to communities in Mozambique it was time for the rats to go global. Currently there are just under 40 mine detection rats on active duty in Angola – another poor African country littered with landmines following a drawn out “civil” war. And at the time of our visit 16 rats had just made the journey to Cambodia and were waiting on final approvals to get cracking on clearing Cambodia’s landmines. The HeroRATs are particularly helpful in Cambodia as traditional methods of landmine detection (metal detectors) are not fully effective as a lot of Cambodia’s mines are homemade from bamboo. This has no effect on the HeroRATs as they are trained to detect TNT and not metal.

We had an excellent time seeing them in action and were once again awed and excited by the nearly endless opportunities for these rats to be trained to benefit people all over the world. Once again we recommend people to check out APOPO ( if you are interested to know more. Its also worth your time to ‘like’ their awesome Facebook page which is full of entertaining stuff, cool information and even the odd touching eulogy for HeroRATs that have passed away.

One of the photos from APOPO’s website showing the HeroRATs in a real life minefield. This is what the rats are training up for.

On a high from our super interesting visit with the rats we got on the highway towards Dodoma but we soon turned off towards Hadbeni. Our elation at being on a quiet dirt road with no buses was short lived however as it was full of huge, rim-dinging potholes. It was the worst type of off-road – slow and boring dirt with constant worry about the rims and pinch flats. No fun to be had. Just when we were thinking we couldn’t win in this Goldilocks of roads scenario (‘this roads too smooth’ – ‘this roads too rough’) the road thinned out and became a heck of a lot more enjoyable ‘(it was juuust right’). We were able to pick up the pace and enjoy the winding dirt track through lush and fertile farmland. We stopped in a small village for a cold drink and snack but when we tried to get going again my bike protested. I’d been having issues with my starter motor getting ‘stuck’. Usually I’d just put the bike in gear and reef backwards of the handlebars and that would be enough to get things unbound. I did that a bunch of times but no love. The next step was to give the starter a good whack but again nothing happened.

Finally away from the traffic

And the views weren’t half bad

Traffic of a much more tolerable variety

People in the village up until this point had been controlling their interest in us visitors until the point that tools came out. From then on it seemed every man and his dog was there to watch the mzungu fix his woman’s ‘piki piki’. It was extremely disappointing as Furiosa (formerly Juhna) had been so mechanically faultless until this point. Heads up to motorbike travellers out there: be aware that the fear of a larger more complicated problem can have momentum. Your subconscious fear of a logistically challenging and complicated, expensive fix and will move your mind in the direction of this fear. The small more likely scenario will be looked into but all too soon abandoned. That is what happened in this case.

We were the most interesting thing in the village at that time

Here is Mick doing some quality mechanic-ing. You can see a screwdriver in one hand and a chunk of wood in the other

We knew that the starter motor had been getting bound up and needed to be taken apart and cleaned at some point. We KNEW that. And we knew that a jockeying of the thing had been sufficient to get it going in the past. After just a couple of attempts of the usual fix we managed to convince ourselves it was something bigger and more sinister and made a mental shift to this affect. Further multimeter readings led to things not making sense but after a bunch more testing he determined there were volts at the relay and then on the other side too, and at the starter itself. Everything pointed to the starter motor simply being stuck. So after a bunch of time unpacking the tools, tinkering and testing, then getting the bike back together and packed we pulled back in gear more violently and the thing started. It was a waste of time for us but the people from the village were enthralled so it wasn’t a total loss. Disassembling and cleaning my starter motor was therefore on the agenda for next maintenance day. The good riding continued all the way to Hadbeni where we found a hotel and had our first hot shower in weeks and our first in Tanzania. It was all very exciting.

This guy came up and asked me if I wanted to buy his necklace. I said ‘yeah, fair enough’.

My necklace salesman/former owner and his friend

The next day we once again found ourselves on some great dirt roads through picturesque countryside. We could see that there had been lots of rain recently as the track was quite chopped up in parts but it was dry for us bar the odd puddle. Despite our GPS showing us an area of nothingness we in fact came upon small villages every 20km or so. Not too surprising when you consider the population of 49.3 million in Tanzania and the fact that Dar Es Salaam, the largest city, only accounts for about 4.1 million of that number. Tanzania’s population is overwhelmingly rural and quite dense, Tanzania is about 10% smaller then South Australia (which is about the same size as Texas and New Mexico combined).

But we weren’t in the Maasai Steppe proper yet. And to be honest we didn’t really know what to expect. Tracks4Africa showed no roads through the Steppe and our Michelin map only showed a few roads connecting the major towns. Checking satellite photos on Google Earth Mick was able to see tracks going all the way through the steppe and on to Moshi, our next destination. We knew the roads were there. We just didn’t know their condition. Only one way to find out then.

Getting creative with the camera

Woman + new jewelry = Happy (got that Mick?)

Some of the nice dirt roads we were riding

As we continued on our way we came across a police officer in one of these middle of nowhere villages. The friendly copper was curious about what we were up to all the way out there. When Mick replied “to look, for tourism”, he burst out laughing. From there the road improved and became nice gravel allowing for speeds of 70-90kph. I was trailing Mick when I noticed a group of young maasai guys waving me down. They were obviously keen for a chat and I was happy to oblige.

The shopping spree continues! We don’t buy much in the way of souvenirs but I really wanted a maasai fabric to send home. We got it in this remote village for a pittance compared to the sky-high prices quoted in the tourist towns

‘Whoop whoop – Michael let me buy things I want yet don’t need!’ Also please note our awesome new ATG bags!

Fast gravel

They were an interesting group of kids there were curious and keen to talk but were far from fawning over us. They had a cool air and quiet confidence and wanted to know where we were from and where we were travelling to. One of the boys spoke English quite well. He told us how they are happy to have visitors and how they looked so forward to increased development in the area. They were eager for improved infrastructure, especially roads, improved communication and transport and better education; their words.

These young maasai men articulated what it was that they wanted and I couldn’t help but smile and think about a personal peeve both Mick and I have about some tourists that complain incredulously how they came all the way to see traditional (insert exotic cultural group here) and they all have mobile phones – like how dare they! Didn’t someone tell them they are there for our entertainment and to be the exotic specimens posing in all their cultural regalia in our holiday pics from the one trip to Africa we might deign to make in our lifetimes?

Our young maasai friends keen for a chin wag

They were happy to try the bikes on for size

This fella knew how to pose

Many tourists that come to Africa seem to romanticise ‘tribal’ life when all I think when I visit places where people are living as pastrolists like the masaai and the Himba is ‘By God that looks hard….too hard.’ Typically they are the same people that turn near homicidal when their accommodation’s wifi is down. Its bloody funny. The developed world doesn’t have a monopoly on progress. Less well off people want it too and they have every right to it. These kids were a perfect example of that. It was great to hear that they knew what they wanted – things to improve their ease of movement, access to medical care and education and communication.

Mick and I seek out isolated and horrendous trails, the more remote the better, not only for our own personal riding amusement, but also due to the fact that it’s in the remote less traveled places we see the most interesting thinngs, meet the most interesting people and have our most genuine interactions. Yet it never escapes us that to these remote routes we covet restrict the lives of the locals stuck nearby. It makes travelling difficult, family less often visited, access to emergency care harder and the cost of goods higher than they need to be for people that are poorer than they ought to be. It is also why we have extended our time in Africa. The tough routes we so love are getting paved at break neck speed due to ready loans and the presence of prolific Chinese road builders in the continent. If we want to see them the time is now. Progress is inevitable and it waits for no man.

The English speaker and development devotee

The guys informed us these scars are not from a blade but a ‘brand’ that burns the marking into the skin. They said it was something they did as a personal choice. Some got it, some didn’t.

The boys shooting the breeze

While all this was happening the tallest, skinniest person I have ever seen came past us while taking his cattle to water nearby.

This kid must have been about 6’4 and about less than 1% body fat.

Soon enough it was time for the fellas to go round up their cows and for us to hit the road. We made our way along nice fast dirt road to Kibaya. It was a small little town but the largest in the Maasai Steppe. We soon found a nice, clean and cheap guesthouse and walked down to the town’s open air market which was just coming to life. Small makeshift restaurants were made with a few benches and a single table. They were all serving carbohydrates of some description. It’s cheap and keeps you alive so that was the food of choice in these parts. We had cups of sweet ginger spiced tea and boiled sweet potato, pancakes and donuts for dinner. No meat or green vegies in sight. Diabetes must be a problem with the tea containing as much sugar as a coke and with carbs accounting for 90% of everyone’s diet.

A fun little distraction

Young kid with a maasai spear poor kids was so curious yet so shy

This old boy wanted a lift and we were happy to oblige. We saved him a 5km walk and he was really happy…maybe not in this picture but when we dropped him off.

Baobab – a symbol of Africa and a reminder of home. Our Boab trees are close relatives of these. This is why I was so happy when the artist who painted my fairing went off-brief and gave me red sunset and boab/baobabs instead of a lake scene

The young boy with us demonstrated dunking the donut in tea and looked positively elated when we followed suit

Like a Parisian café – Great for people watching

While we partook in the people watching and carb-loading we met a massive maassai guy named Kisiyoki who extended an invitation to visit his boma just outside of town. It’s always a delicate balance as a traveller – being open to experiences and meeting people from different walks of life and not being foolishly ignorant of personal risk. A cultural experience in exchange for all common sense, as it were. After all, there are two things we have learned about the peoples of world in all our years of travel 1) all of humanity finds farts funny and 2) schiesters and weirdos exist the world over and common sense is your best defense against them.

A visitor to our guesthouse – the maasai men and women have some elaborate earrings

A photogenic bunch, aren’t they

This group of old maasai gentleman showed up at our guesthouse the next day just to check us and the bikes out

The hotel was really clean and the ladies there even boiled a bucket of water for us to bathe in and bought us a candle to use in the shower. Service! Cost about US$3.50

The old man on the right was a trip! This guy was pointing to things on the bikes and wanting to know the English word which he would then repeat and teach me the word in the maasai language. Thing is a lot of these guys speak a bunch of local languages so are very gifted in this area. This guy had an incredible ear and would parrot my Aussie accent so precisely it was stunning – mirror, tyre, water, forks was said full Aussie style ‘mirrah’ ‘tie-yarh’ ‘wahrdah’ ‘fourks’ It had me in stitches.

We were in a bit of a bind with this offer. Usually when we are meeting strangers on the road we are crossing path with them and any interactions just sort of happen organically. What this guy was proposing was a bit different in that, the following day, we were to follow him to some unknown location in the bush. If someone spoke to me for 10 minutes at a Dirty Bird restaurant back home then asked me to follow him out into the middle of nowhere I’d hardly jump at the chance…more like call the cops. But with Kisiyoki we got good vibes and our intuition has never let us down so we said ‘yeah man, we’ll come check our your cows.’

Kisiyoki’s little nephew was stunned by my lack of pigmentation and looked at me like I was a unicorn or something

Kisiyoki’s brothers taking the cows out to graze. His mum was keen for us to take a photo of newest member of the herd

He picked us up from our guesthouse (a further encouraging sign he wasn’t setting us up for kidney harvesting) and we followed his little piki piki along winding cattle routes for a while until we reached his place. What followed was a nice couple of hours with him and his family. Kisiyoki was lucky to have land in such a favourable location with good grazing and year round access to water. He told us he had 560 goats and a lot of cows as well. We met his parents and some of his brothers and sisters and their children. One of their first questions to us was ‘Would you like tea with milk of cow or milk of goat?’

We opted for milk of cow and were treated to a massive hot cup of sweet milk of cow tea straight from the udder. It had a lovely earthy, smokey flavour to it which comes from the rather interesting and laborious process of sterilising their gourds to extend the time that milk can be stored before spoiling and to stop the flavor of the gourd itself infusing into the milk which is quite bitter. The innards of the gourds are taken out and water and ash soaked in for a few days. Next they clean it out with a special bristled palm frond and they then fill it with cow urine and let that cure for a few days. Then they get special preserving wood which they burn the ends into charcoal then rubs the burning charcoal into the inside of the gourd. Then they shake out the excess ash and that’s it. You’ll never look at your Tupperware the same way again, hey!

This nephew we taught how to take photos with our little point and shoot camera. He went berserk and took over a hundred photos of the goats while we were there. A happy lad.

They also kept chicken which were amused to hear that maasai men won’t eat chicken because according to Kisiyoki ‘the massai women don’t know how to cook it’. If they ever want chicken to eat they will travel into town and buy chicken there from the Swahili women who know what to do. The chickens here are owned by the women who collect and eat the eggs. Apparently maasai men don’t eat eggs. We got the impression from him that it’s some sort of womanly thing to eat eggs.

Kisiyoki is one of 12 children from his father’s first wife. We met the second wife but never found out how many children she had. We explained how in Australia that people aren’t allowed to have more than one wife. We said that if you want another wife ‘you have to first ask the old one to go away’. A number of the family could speak a bit of English but not perfectly so we ended up having to use simple English to answer the increasing complicated questions they were asking us.

His brother with bling

His sister-in-law with her daughter

They desperately wanted light shed on a number of pressing issues that we got the impression must be the subject of much discussion among the maasai of the area. The first question was asked with much emphasis and no small sense of urgency. ‘Why is it that older European woman come to Tanzania get young maasai man for boyfriend?’ It was something that we had heard about since entering Tanzania. If you believe the rumours, Tanzania (particularly Zanzibar) is randy white lady central. It appears we were too busy avoiding scams and feeding our faces in Zanzibar to notice that it was a hub of male prostitution/short time fling for money, dinners and gifts.

Kisiyoki with his traditional maasai ‘bobbyknocker’. He offered to swap this for Mick’s titanium Seiko Sportura wrist watch. Mick passed up on the offer.

As I looked at the unblinking, earnest, searching eyes of my audience I struggled to attack the question. I looked to Mick who wordlessly informed me I would be on my own in trying to explain the sexual proclivities of unknown ‘older European women’ to people who were dying to know. I think I said something along the lines of ‘I’m not too sure, ummm I think some ladies find the look of the maassai very different and attractive because it is so different from what they see at home…umm…’ Then Kisiyoki asked ‘but why always so young man?’ I didn’t know what to say so sipped my milk of cow tea and looked at Michael where I wordless informed him he had been no help at all.

Then Kisiyoki wanted to know ‘is it true that in your country there is no market for the larger woman?’ Again the family is looking on eagerly for my take on this. ‘I explained that ‘ummm..yes there is errrr… a market but I suppose the general idea of what is beautiful has changed over time and I suppose at the moment the very thin women are probably at the height of modern culture’s errr…expectations of beauty.’ It was a fumbling reply and I could tell they felt none the wiser for it. It was also clear they didn’t approve of this lack of a market for larger women and pulled a face like I do when I see someone cut the fat of a nice thick steak. “That’s the best part – you animal!’ it says.

The parentals

After a time we said goodbye to Kisiyoki and his family who were exceedingly kind and wanted nothing more from us than the answers to some bizarre yet understandably intriguing questions. I can’t say I was able to sufficiently explain the randy European ladies or justify the lack of a market for large women but they seemed to enjoy our visit nonetheless. It was interesting for us, all the more so due to one of the last exchanges with had with our maasai mate. We asked him if he wanted to get married again after he told us he no longer had a wife. He said ‘yes, to a European woman.’ We were shocked as he had seemed a bit incredulous when he asked why European women seek out young maasai men. I had even asked at the time if he approved of these relationships and he said no. I quizzed him on this apparent contradiction, ‘why after all of this do you want a European wife?’ ‘Because with the Maasai women there is no love’ was his sad reply.

A lot of kids have sat on this bike

Kisiyoki making Mick look like a short-arse

It made sense I suppose. So much of life for the maasai seems to be work. As he explained to us there was a clear set of expectations and separation of duties. Like a lot of people groups we came across it seems the women got the shorter more labourous end of the stick. Women tend to the shelter, children, cooking, milking and water gathering and the guys ensure a safe place with water and grazing for animals and don’t do all that much else. The maasai are, in this regard, a lot like the lion that they fear and revere. Male lions have one role in the pride and that is to keep the group safe. Everything else is down to the lionesses even the hunting which the male lions are less adept and suited to given their excess size and girth. That size and girth is there for one reason and that is to protect the pride’s territory (their access to food and water) from outsiders.

Friendly locals digging the GPS

We hit the road and found the intersection heading north towards Naberera, the next town of any consequence. On our version of Tracks4Africa however there were no tracks for any of this so Mick just followed his nose and I just followed Mick. It was wonderful riding, generally decent dirt road with the odd wash-out or rocky section. Rough enough to be interesting but not so rough as to be fatiguing. In short – a delight. We met heaps of friendly waving maasai along the way. They seemed to have the perfect balance between openness and cool confidence – quick to say hi but not wanting to bug us. A cool crowd.

Eventually we came across a more sizable village with a few cars and a bunch of shops. We had our usual lunch of chapattis, chip omelets, sweet milky tea and soon attracted a good portion of the village population. It was clear that tourists didn’t frequent these parts. While I was shopping (for candy) I found myself the centre of attention from a gathering of old ladies who wanted nothing more than to shake my hand and fuss over me. They were all dressed and adorned in typical Masaai fabrics and hundreds, nay thousands, of brightly coloured beads. I purchased a tube of fabric with a zip that you tie about your waist like the Maasai version of a bumbag/fanny pack. The gaggle of old ladies then fussed about fitting it to me and demonstrated all that I should be putting in it, insisting that they zip it open and closed for me. It was really lovely. I don’t know what it is about the old ducks but wherever we go they seem to take a shine to me.

Lunch time – best time of the day!

We rode out of town and found a turn off for a town called Mererani, which Mick had seen on Google Earth. We expected that by following this road we would pass a tanzanite mine and find ourselves approaching Moshi from the Kilimanjaro airport. Once more, we got waved down by some guy wanting a lift. Figuring it would add to our road karma, Mick offered the guy a ride on the back of his bike. Like the other times we found ourselves doing this we figured he’d only be travelling a short way as he wasn’t carrying a thing. We rode a fair distance and the guy still pointed ahead so onwards we rode. Significant time and distance passed and we got to be a little worried and discussed our concerns over the intercom.

Fields of flowers lined the way

‘He knows he can get off, right?’ ‘Are you sure he wanted a ride not just took one because you stopped and told him to get on and he was too scared to refuse?’ ‘Perhaps he thinks we kidnapped him.’ ‘Where on Earth do you think he wants to go?’ ‘When I said I might want to adopt and African kid I was thinking closer to 1 than 20 years old.’ ‘Do you think he is just having too good a time to get off?’ ‘Can we keep him?’

An unexpected detour but no complaints here

Soon we found the road to Mererani was blocked by some thorn bushes laid across the road. We didn’t know why but suspected for road works or rain damage. In Africa all roads seem to lead somewhere and often to the nearest town so we just turned right and pointed the bikes north-east rather than north, which was more the direction of Moshi anyway. The road became steadily less graded and more off-roady. Sand appeared then got more prevalent and softer. There were no signs of traffic and no wheels tracks to speak of. Before we knew it we were simply following what was probably a very old road but is now just a stock route through acacia bushes. It was decidedly off-road riding now, which we were quite accustomed to however in the past we have always done without a random African hitchhiker on the back. We stopped once more to see if old mate wanted to get off but he wanted to keep going, so we did.

The third member of the Earth’s Ends team – he didn’t speak English and we never got his name.

Onwards we rode and arrived at the top of a little pass looking down over Nyumba ya Mungu dam. We descended on nice freshly graded dirt and then the track split into a maze of dusty/sandy eroded tracks all going the same direction. It wasn’t particularly tricky riding but a little sandy and tight and slow so 1st and 2nd gear the whole way. Fortunately our hitchhiker was barely moving yet he was seated on top of the top bag, which made for challenging riding in the sand. How Mick kept them both upright I don’t know. Eventually we reached a track lined by powerlines and soon after we hit tar. A good thing too because with ‘EasyRider’ on the back it was doing Mick’s rear suspension no favours.

We told the guy ‘we’re going to Moshi’. He just nodded and once again pointed forward. He reminded me of E.T. just sitting on the back of the bike instead of a basket on the front. We got to the main bus terminal in Moshi and pulled up and told the guy this is the end of the line as we feared he’d go as far as we did. By now he was covered head to toe in white dust. He seemed happy enough but didn’t say much, just gave us a thumbs up and kinda stood there. He’d travelled 95km with us, messed up the balance of the bike, flogged the suspension, buggered our fuel efficiency and barely said a word to us. But for a moment I thought we’d miss him. Thanks for sharing the adventure, buddy. Sorry if you didn’t want to travel 100 odd km to Moshi.

‘You wanna keep going? Umm I’ll take that as a yes’

Enjoying the grub at the best (and possibly only) Italian-Indian restaurant in Africa

Free of our human cargo we went to track down a hotel for the night. After some false starts (silly expensive quotes) we managed to find something affordable. I had a major uni essay due in a couple days so needed somewhere comfortable and with WIFI so seedy local guesthouses were off the cards this time. We found a place called Hotel Hartebeest which was nice, near empty place with great wifi, nice staff, huge rooms and HOT SHOWER for US$30 which we thought was as good as we could hope for in such a tourist town. With the formalities sorted we went straight to the Indian-Italian restaurant we adored last time we were in town (a couple years ago we flew in and climbed Kilimanjaro) and put away a couple sensational pizzas while reflecting on the amazing experiences of the past few days. We were in agreement – This.Is.The.Life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *