Rift Valley days! (Engaresero, Tanzania – KM 19,880)

No, no, no! Look at us! We are from many tribes but we are ALL Tanzanians, united!”, he cried out. The owner of the bar in Dareda where we had stopped at to rest, drink and filter enough water to continue cycling through the afternoon had asked if we wanted Quebec to separate from Canada—we get it a lot. As a quick answer—and probably to show my disinterest for the subject—I had replied something along the line that Canada is such a large country maybe all provinces and territories should separate. Obviously this proposition shook up our interlocutor. In a region where ethnic conflicts are rife—from political quarrels in Kenya to the unthinkable happening in Rwanda in 1994—,Tanzania—home to around 130 different groups—forged a stong sense of national identity. When I say this I am overlooking the unhappy marriage of convenience created at the unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 at the founding of the present United Republic of Tanzania, of course!

Having no limitation surrounding ethnic backgrounds—actually, upon filling in the check-in forms at small ghesthouses there is always a space where to indicate your kabila, your tribe—made our task to locate Barbaig, Hadzabe and Maasai much easier. “What’s your kabila?”, we would ask left and right—and answer Wakanada when the question came back to us—as we rode northward in an enormous tectonic fault: the Great Rift Valley.

Cycling from Singida to Mto wa Mbu

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Riding out of Singida into the semi-arid, boulder-strewn region abutting the Great Rift Valley. Singida Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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“Hey! We go left or right for the B143?” Singida Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Up above the Mang’ati plains. Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Sandals made of recycled tires, part of the Barbaig‘s pastoralist’s uniform. Wish they could add SPD cleats to those! Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The Barbaig are a semi-nomadic, cattle-herding people. The key to their existence is the freshwater Lake Balangida fed by Mount Hanang. Easy to understand why the old volcano is the Barbaig’s sacred mountain. Watch that dog! Katesh, Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Have you ever seen a cuter wave? Dareda, Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The Dareda-Karatu road is not paved except for the switchbacks climbing the Maldabow escarpment. Someone got tired of picking up the road from the bottom of the steep facade after every rainy season? Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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From the top of the escarpment to Mbulu, aloe vera in white bloom lined the road. Manyara Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Roaring! Karatu, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Side trip to Lake Eyasi

If you do the grossest generalisation of East Africa’s history you have first the hunter-gatherers that populated the place in immemorial times. Then, about 3,000 years ago, sucessful farmers from Western Africa started expanding in search of fresh land. The Bantu migrations happened in waves over a good millenium and now over 400 peoples of Africa speak Bantu languages. Finally, the Nilotes started fanning out from the Upper Nile valley in South Sudan. Cattle define the Nilotic tribes, providing everything to survive and social standing. The Barbaig are Nilotes, so are Tanzania’s most famous residents, the Maasai.

One could easily imagine that hunter-gatherers have been pushed to extinction by these ambitious agricultural and pastoral societies. Well, it is almost true, but not yet. After a few days of R&R by the pool at the ledendary Twiga campsite and lodge in Mto wa Mbu we set out on a motorized journey to meet Tanzania’s last hunter-gatherers, the Hadzabe.

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Public transport in the form of battered Land Rovers. On our way to Mang’ola. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Mambos was polishing his arrow heads by a glowing fire when we arrived at his camp at dawn. Wearing his best clothes for the tourists, he filled a pipe with green withered leaves full of seeds that we recognized instantly. Mambos lit up the dry content and passed the pipe our way—our cultural tourism program included an unexpected “wake and bake”! Now we could go hunt for breakfast. Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The Hadzabe hunt for food everything except hyenas and snakes. We followed Mambos on his morning sortie as he went after birds and squirrels. The Tanzanian governement has tried to “civilize” the tribe for decades. Farmers encroach on their traditional land. Recently, Arab hunting outfitters have tried to appropriate the game for themselves. Through much adversity the Hadzabe hang in there, yet are in decline. Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Lake Eyasi is also home to a Nilotic, cattle-herding people part of the Datooga cluster, like the Barbaig. Three of the ladies on the photo were wives of a man who had gone, until the upcoming rainy season, in search of pasture for his 400 cows…with his 6 other wives! They asked Pierre how many cows he had to gift my father before he was allowed to marry me! Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania. Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Nearby is a Datooga family specialized in metal work, mostly jewellery and arrow heads that they trade or sell to the Hadzabe. Traditionaly they would have melted metals found in the soil, but now they recycle copper pipes and others. Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen these are made by young men sitting around a camp fire! Mang’ola, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

Cycling safari to Lake Natron

Upon our return in Mto wa Mbu our bicycles were waiting for us at Twiga campsite. After a few laps in the pool we continued north to Lake Natron, now meandering through Maasai Land.

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Believed to be one of Israel lost tribes by some or the living remnants of Egyptian civilization by others, the Maasai pushed the Barbaig south some 300 years ago. Up above the Rift’s western escarpment is Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania’s most visited wildlife attraction and a World Heritage Site. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The Maasai ceaseless expansion at the expense of others—they were fierce warriors and are still seen as belligerent—ended with the arrival of the Europeans. Now confined to smaller and smaller regions their semi-nomadic conservative lifestyle centered around their beloved cows is changing but persevere. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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“Janick get up, there is a kudu on the left and a group of zebras grazing with a gnu on the right!” Mount Kermasi, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Well, hello there! Gelai Peak, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai (2889m) is East Africa’s only active volcano and last erupted in 2008. It is one of the few volcanoes worldwide to spew sodium carbonate (soda or natron). Ol Doinyo Lengai is “Mountain of God” in the Maa language, spoken by the Maasai. Engaresero, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Three toll booths set up by district councils between Engaruka and Engaresero set us back USD70. Ouch! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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In the furnace between Ol Doninyo Lengai and Lake Natron a river cascading down from the highlands of Ngorongoro restores our sanity. Engaresero, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The caustic lava flowing down from Ol Doinyo Lengai to Lake Natron has made the lake water highly corrosive and not many can survive in it. Amazingly, lesser flamingos feed on the microscopic algea found in Natron and use its inhospitable shores as a breeding ground. Engaresero, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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“Hiking up Ol Doinyo Lengai is for masochists”, I read somewhere, so I let Pierre climb the perfect cone without me! Zefaria, the 25-year old Maasai guide that accompanied my partner on the steep crusty trail takes in the sunrise at the crater lip bundled in Pierre’s Maasai blanket et MEC jacket! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Leaving the view on Kilimanjaro (5,891m) and Mount Meru (4,562m) behind, the men start towards Ol Doinyo Lengai‘s shadow on the Nguruman escarpement. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The heat and sandy road—and the 3 toll booths—had put us in a fighting mood until we reached Lake Natron Halisi Camp. The staff was waiting for us with cold, moist towels and glasses of iced apple juice. Our “room” was en en-suite tent with a king-size bed, white sheets and plush towels. Even in this luxurious camp the idea is to leave no trace so there is NO bottled water and the camp is solar-powered. With the feeling of waking up inside a bird cage every morning, we strolled to Lake Natron, to some water falls and to the summit of Ol Doinyo Lengai, and came back to fantastic dinners for three nights. We are impressed and forever grateful. Now, let’s ride some bikes! Engaresero, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Maasai Land by bicycle! (Lushoto, Tanzania - KM 20,480)
Cycling through Nowhere, Tanzania! (Singida, Tanzania - KM 19,425)
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One Comment

  1. I LIKE YOUR TRIPS MR PIERRE BOURCHARD

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