Happy New Year!

The start of a new year feels like a milestone for us on the trip, after nearly four months on the road (although there is still a long way to go…).

Since the last blog post, we have completed our crossing of Ethiopia, ridden through most of Kenya and into Tanzania. We’re now in Dodoma, the political capital of Tanzania.

We were glad that the second half of Ethiopia was much easier going than the first. From Addis the road wound down into the Rift Valley where we recorded our longest day cycling of the trip to date, 174km. There seemed to be much more wildlife in this area and we saw eagles circling above us as we passed a series of lakes.

Not all nature has to offer is so welcoming – opening the door to an outside loo at a roadside cafe led to more than usual scurrying and buzzing. (On this subject the worst loo experience to date was in Sudan, where at night large bats would fly to and fro in the tank, just below the hole in the ground that was the loo, which is a little off-putting!).

The road then led into some hills with tropical vegetation and plantations of bananas and coffee, which was atmospheric in the early mornings as mist would mix with smoke from the villages, lit by the rays of the rising sun.

The landscape we passed on the final section towards Kenya was much drier, with many termite mounds and we had to wait for several large dust devils to pass as they spiraled their way across the road.

On arriving at the Kenyan border, we had a difficult decision to make, which was whether to cycle the first few hundred kilometres. This section was potentially dangerous because of bandits and the high numbers of guns in the area. Disputes, mainly over cattle in this poor area, had led to the deaths of many local people. We knew that the risk to tourists was not so great as it was for the locals and that people had cycled the section, but did not want to be the statistic. In the end, after taking soundings from several local people (all of whom advised us against cycling the section), we decided to take a bus. Although it is a shame to have missed out a section, we think the decision was the right one – there was an armed escort on the bus for much of the journey and we came across trucks in a compound in the evening, waiting for the next day to continue because drivers had been killed by bandits on the road at night.

The bus was by no means an easy option. The journey was horrendous because the unsurfaced road was in a bad state as it crossed the rocky desert and the driver drove at high speed. The bus shuddered and vibrated violently for most of the 18 hour journey, leaving us with aches and pains far worse than anything we’d picked up through cycling. We were concerned about how the bikes, which were strapped to the roof, would have fared, but fortunately damage was only cosmetic.

The bus dropped us at the town of Isiolo and we spent the next day recovering from our ordeal. As taking the bus had put us ahead of our schedule and Isiolo was near to some national parks, we decided to arrange a safari for the next day. The town was not set up for tourism, safari vehicles passed through from elsewhere, so we decided to try to find a local with a suitable vehicle to take us around the park. After some searching we found somebody with an old and rusty pick-up truck, who was prepared to take us for a reasonable price – the superbly named Mr Wako A. Wako.

The safari was a success – before passing the park gates we had already seen elephant and giraffe- and highlights of the day were sightings of a lioness and later a leopard. Wako’s pick-up truck had seen better days and it broke down, just after we had left the park, but fortunately some Kenyan tourists gave us a lift back into town.

From Isiolo we rode through the rest of Kenya, crossing the equator, passing close to Mount Kenya and arrived at the Tanzanian border at Namanga, in Masai country.

On the Tanzanian side we came across yet more roads being built by Chinese companies, which made for good progress, at least on the sections that had been finished. Our map showed the road through the central Tanzanian highlands as being gravel, but we hoped that the Chinese might have got to work on it! On the first section we were right, but then we reached the gravel road, which has been by far the worst and toughest section of road.

The surface is badly corrugated in many places because of the passing traffic, and the bicycles bounce over rocky sections and sink and slide in the sandy parts. Every now and then buses thunder past throwing up clouds of dust. It did not help to meet an engineer who told us that work was going to start on repairing the road on the the next day! Despite the difficulties of the road, it has taken us through remote and interesting places.

Dodoma is about half way along the bad road, which we will ride for another three or four days. We should then meet better roads as we head towards Malawi – our tenth country.