Maasai Land by bicycle! (Lushoto, Tanzania – KM 20,480)

Weeks ago we decided to end the first leg of “nomads by nomads” in Dar Es Salaam. If we wanted to visit northern Tanzania’s nomadic peoples and fly back to Quebec before the end of “sugar shack” season—which we do—our plan A of riding to Johannesburg had to be discarded. This is not out of character for us, finding ourselves ahead of schedule would be, but I felt it was time to explain our eastward trail since leaving Lake Kivu in Rwanda, why cyclists we met in Kigali are now in Botswana while we are still hovering close to the equator. Here is the latest…

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The final 20 kilometres to Engaresero, in Lake Natron’s depression, on a road made of ash and sharp rocks, had been exhausting enough for us to determine that riding them once was enough. When it was time to leave magical Lake Natron, we enlisted the help of Lepara from Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge and his vehicle to ferry us back to the start of the Longido road. The best USD20 we invested on this trip! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Uncertain about the state of the road from Natron to Longido in the beginning, the 100-kilometre link to pavement turned out to be an exciting ride. Gnus and zebras munched on grass next to Maasai cattle. Triangular volcanoes sprung up from the steppe, Mount Kitumbeine dominating the surroundings. Dust twisters danced in the breeze, thunderstorms flashed by in the afternoons. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Lala Salama!-Sleep well! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Pierre filtering water on a shade stencil. Once again, our MSR Dromadary bags and MiniWorks as environmentally friendly life saving tools. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Mount Longido (2 637m) showing the way to the Nairobi road and pavement. My rear tire is opening on the side—a Michelin Wild Grip’R 2.35 I used since Addis Ababa, although impressive the WildRace’R 2.25 have been performing better, some have been with us for over 13 000 kilometres!—and my gear cable has snapped, so I finish my day on a “fixie” with a buckled wheel. “Let’s make it to a cold beer tonight Pierre. Let’s keep moving” Longido, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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A few pedal strokes after our 20,000th kilometre on this trip we stopped to prepare one of our “Chinese noodle soups”. Peter rode by, like a vision, and just in time for lunch! We have met so few bicycle travellers on this journey that the encounter with the Dutch man was an exhilarating affair. Sharing food on a dusty road side with another aromatic, bruised, muscular and sun-burned cyclist is an intimate experience akin to visiting family. Peter had started his journey in South Africa on foot, pushing his baby buggy, after getting the inspiration and the mentoring from Jean Béliveau, a Quebecker who walked around the world for 12 years. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Chakula Ipo is Swahili for “food here”. The was no food after all, but two boys with a gansta’ attitude! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Arusha is the largest city we had come across since leaving Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and we had much to accomplish there. After 5 days spent at Ahadi Lodge, we head out on the road with new spare parts, clean clothes, fat on our ribs and a clearer plan for the route to the Indian Ocean. Also, we have made friends, Patricia and Igor, Ahadi’s welcoming owners, and tourists at the beginning or end of a thrilling game safari in the region’s national parks and conservation areas, and others celebrating their return from Mount Kilimanjaro (5 892m)! One woman we met at Ahadi Lodge’s is Maman Globetrotteuse, a Quebec City based travel blogger and Löle ambassador. She received her sponsored wardrobe from the owners of Livia on maguire Street in Quebec, namely Chantale Simard and Stephane Bouchard aka Pierre’s little brother! I know, small world. Arusha, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The semi-nomadic Maasai cattle herders gathers at weekly or monthly markets to sell their animals. Meserani. Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Alex Meliyo Lukumay invited us to his boma, the aloe-vera-ringed village where he lives with his 2 wives and 8 children. Alex has 40 cows, mostly tended by his nephew, he is not a typical Maasai, he is a teacher. After spending his first 20 years travelling with his family cattle he enrolled at LivLife Meserani Learning Centre to learn to read, write and get his high school diploma as an adult. He was mentored and sponsored to further his studies and became a teacher. After donating some land to open an outreach learning centre for LivLife he opened a kindergarden and started teaching adults also. « We already don’t have enough water and tall grass for our cattle, and we have many children, in 20 years the Maasai will be in trouble. We need education so we can integrate in Tanzanian society. » Meserani, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Both wives work to secure the calves for the night. Meserani, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Alex’s dream and mission now is to build a modern school with solid walls, a hard floor and a sealed roof so he can attract donors for computers and other didactic material to, ultimately, interest the older Maasai to come and get an education. We practice some Swahili with the kindergarden class. Meserani, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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If anyone out there is looking for a worthy humanitarian project to invest in, contact Alex at alexmeliyo@gmail.com and 0764-908536. Meserani, Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The Maasai used to call Europeans « the ones who confine their farts », for our love of trousers! Arusha Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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On the highway to Moshi with Mount Meru (4 566m), a dormant volcano and Tanzania’s second-highest mountain. Usa River, Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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When German missionary Johannes Rebmann reported of a snow-capped mountain 3 degrees south of the equator in 1848 he was ridiculed. Today, 40 000 hikers attempt to reach the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (5 892m) each year and the mythical glacier is estimated to disappear within 5 years. Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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If you can’t climb « Kili », drink it! Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Sisal is the fibre extracted from an agave plant used for making ropes and sacks. The plant was introduced from the Yucatan in Mexico and is planted along much of the plains south of the Pare and Usambara Mountains. Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Poorly evaluating the population density of the region we rode through vast expenses of acacia trees and snake roadkills before arriving in a dimly lit village after dark. Luckily, there was a room available at the guesthouse and a cook to prepare a couple of french fries omelettes. Apparently it had been a long day at the cattle market as many Maasai men were completely drunk. One—seemingly stoked to have found some wazungu to buy the next round—stumbled to our table with his shuka, stretched pierced ear lobes, foot-long knife and club and stood proudly pointing to his chest. « Maasai chief », he babbled, then pointed to Pierre’s beer. We delflected his request so much he got confused, and went to bed. Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Typical African beehive. Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Rice and beans stop on the highway. It is 37 degrees Celsius in the shade and it is time to head back on the road. While I have been vocal in the past regarding blocking your sense with ear buds I have, lately, descended into a podcast addiction. When there is a wide shoulder or no trafic at all I revel in listening to old favorites The Moth, the Savage Lovecast and WTF with Marc Maron, or new habits the TED Radio Hour, This American Life, Stuff You Should Know and the compelling Serial. Kilimanjaro Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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Entering the Tanga Region at the foot of the West Usambara Mountains. Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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After days of this shadeless highway the idea to climb up into the cool Usambaras—home of the original African violet—is enticing. Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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So glad we are on bicycles! Mombo, Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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After lunch in Mombo we went north into the Usambara Mountains, passed the sign that said « this road is narrow with steep hills, sharp corners and falling stones » and milled the pedals from the hot Maasai Steppe to shady Soni at 1 200 metres of altitude. Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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The craggy West Usumbaras contain some of Tanzania’s most spectacular hiking terrain. Soni, Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

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A bird’s view on the Maasai Steppe from the Irente viewpoint 7 kilometres from Lushoto. Tanga Region, United Republic of Tanzania.

We have rolled in the Lawns Hotel in Lushoto and discovered a quirky colonial hill-station-like atmosphere. The hotel was built by the Germans 100 years ago and doubled as a movie theatre for the expatriate population. After independence the hotel was bought by a Tanzanian Cypriot family of which its third generation is now in charge. In these relaxing settings, above 1 400 metres, I am treating a stomach bug (giardia is that you again?) while Pierre shops for plane tickets to Montreal. We are on the last stretch now…

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Usambara Mountains, the Swahili coast and Zanzibar by bicycle! (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - KM 20,960)
Rift Valley days! (Engaresero, Tanzania - KM 19,880)
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