31 March 2009

Riding to an Oasis (Chemka Springs Ride)

There are several places in Northern Tanzania that are like an oasis in the desert . We decided to ride to this one one Sunday morning.

From movies we know that oasis are surrounded by dry country or desert, making us appreciate them more. This one is no different.

Riding through this dry country we had incredible scenery. For those of you who don't know, that is Mount Kilimanjaro in the background. And yes the glaciers are noticeably diminishing thanks to all of us humans.

Kikoletwa Springs.
Northern Tanzania doesn't have an abundance of water. There are a number of small rivers on the big mountains but only when in high flood could you swim in them if you dared. There are some lakes but bilharzia and crocodiles are an issue. That is why Chemka Springs is a popular weekend spot for expatriates from Arusha and Moshi.
The bigger area is Kikoletwa but the village where the popular spring is located is called Chemka. Chemka means to boil in (ki)Swahili. It is 65 km away by car, due east of Kilimanjaro Airport, on the flat plains below Kilimanjaro Mountain. Most people drive there by going to Boma Ngombe town and then heading straight south. It is an amazing sight to see large springs in this dry plain.

As I mentioned it is one of the few places in northern Tanzania where you can swim in natural water. There is a debate about whether there are crocodiles there . Ten years ago a young woman tourist died there, supposedly mauled by a croc. The villagers have told me that she was drunk and fell in and drowned and floated down the river and was cut up by rocks and branches. I think crocs could live there but the water is too clean and the villagers want the income from picnickers and campers and they must work hard to keep them out. The local boys swim there. However it is often on my mind and makes me a bit jumpy swiming there with my daughter. (After posting this I was looking at it and realizied that the first picture is not the spring source but below the dam and definitely has crocs, so don't swim below the suspension bridge.)

During the first part of the last century a German coffee farmer dug some long ditches that flow into a small weir and then a hydro plant. He used this power for his coffee processing plant. During the British colonial period they enlarged on it. By the time all the springs come together it is a fair sized river. The springs have been protected for hydro power. The hydroelectric plant packed up 15 years ago but it is an interesting place to visit, a couple of kilometres from the campsite at the biggest spring.

Thomas and I met before 6am at one of the corners of Arusha Town. We rode through the main street some moments before light. Some people were stirring, mostly people returning from morning prayers.

We took the old highway which is a smooth dirt road to Usa River. The sun rose. There we stayed on a very small track paralleling the highway. Eventually I figured it was faster just to get on the highway for 15 km and get to the KIA turn.

Thomas did not like the highway but it was less than an hour until we were on a gravel road and then tracks like this. I have ridden this once alone and have an idea of which tracks to take.

Eventually the grass land end and we go through huge flood plains, too salty and prone to flood for grass or agriculture.

Suddenly you come to patches of trees showing where the springs are. The spring is coming out of a hole in the ground below me. You can swim into the hole by holding onto the rocks on the bottom. The current is usually too strong to swim against it where it comes out. It is crystal clear and not warm or cold.

We ride to the old power station and check out the suspension bridge and marvel at the amount of water in our dry country.

We turn around and a few hours later are at the highway. Thomas has a driver waiting and as long as they are burning up the fossil fuels I take the ride back to Arusha.

22 March 2009

A different kind of good ride

There was a time I thought good bike rides were the ones that involved one or more of the following:
- being way out in the bush
- difficult terrain
- long
- fast.
- adventure
- spectacular scenery

Today was a "good one" and it was none of the above. The past year it seems more often rides don't fit into my old criteria for a good ride. Is this old age or maturity?

I had a leisurely cup of chai and left Bernice and Nashesha occupied in the house. I rode down the hill and to the highway, into town, stopping at an ATM. Next up the Ilboru road at a leisurely pace, talked with waitress I vaguely know for a minute. Through Ilboru and towards Selian. On that road I met two people I knew. More chatting. I upped the pace and raced a 5 year old running up the steep hill. Stopped at Clive and Sion's , peeked through a slit in their gate but no CARS so I didn't bother banging and banging on their gate. (why do people have gates far from the house? Without a loud vehicle horn no one is going to ever open the gate. Maybe that is the idea?)

Down the other side of the ridge to Selian. Bumped into Kaptula on the road. He used to be a vice president of our club and racer. I checked out from below our Internet tower on Litgow hill. Another chat with someone.

Half the people I met asked me if i knew anyone who wanted a plot of land for sale.

No wild animals, no bush, no speed, no adventure, not much sweat but a real good ride. Yep.

17 March 2009

Bicycle Hero #1, Saidi Juma

Saidi Juma I have to mention first.

After I had been riding a bicycle recreationally and commuting for a few years I became interested in bicycle racing. This was around 1998. After being in a few races I started to become buddies with some of the racer, Saidi Juma being one of them. We would meet on a weekend and do long mountain bike rides.

I then hired Saidi as a bike messenger for the office. Most of the bicyclist were unemployed. I thought I could help him out. It was the other way around.

Staff were a bit skeptical that it would help until I told them send him to deliver everything, even 30 kms away. Within a week he became indispensable. Now after 10 years he is also the person who draws and deposits money in the bank.

It doest end there.

Because of that success our club, Arusha Cycling Club, has now found employment for more than 7 cyclists as bicycle messengers, several others as laborers, and the number keeps growing. Nature Discovery, Dorobo, Regional Air, AFAM, Greenfootprints all have at least a bike messenger. Saidi has been instrumental in finding the right cycler for a company.

I still like racing and follow some international races and participate in our club racing. Saidi is 34 years old and is still the #1 rider in the country. He might not win every race, but that is because our club knows the other club riders are playing off him, so he sacrifices himself so someone else in our club will be sure to win.

Most new people coming into the club, join because he was encouraged kids in his village to pick up the sport. He is the club chairman and is the one we all listen to on the road. He is the one yelling at slackers.

What I find amazing is Saidi started to take care of himself at an early age. He had both parents until recently, but his father was an alcoholic and could not provide properly. So as a young teenager he started paying his own school fees and making money. At 20 he was doing the same for his future wife who was in primary school still and her parents were poor.

He now owns a nice block house, and a string of mud walled rooms for rental.

I would like to ride with him more, but he is a serious rider and either they drop us old guys, or i feel bad that they are dawdling along with us.

14 March 2009

Personal Bicycler Heros

I tend to blog about myself.

Recently two friends have dramatically increased their bicycling activities. I might not of been the catalyst that made that happen, I certainly did not hinder the change. I was / am so excited about what they are doing I wanted to share profiles of people I know personally that are using their bikes in a way that I consider them "personal bicycling heros".

Originally I was going to call them "bicycle commuter heros". But that doesnt work as commuting is one aspect of bicycling. For example my friend Erik Zweig quit his job so he has no job to commute to, but he uses his bike. Saidi is a bike messenger, and my daughter Nashesha likes riding around. I have mentioned Vincent Shirima, who drives a SUV to the start of a ride, but by bicycling has lost 50 kgs! He becomes a hero because he exchanged a motorcycle for a bicycle.

Maybe someone can help me with a better term. I want a term for a person who is making a concerted effort to use a bicycle to replace some or all of their transportation. The real idea is to DECREASE use of private vehicles. Although for me I have a goal to stop use of personal car. the difficulty is getting a family to an evening outing in Arusha.

So if you see a post starting like this one and then a name and number this is where it came from.