13 January 2010

Another Wipeout

Relax, the only damage was my pride.

Saturday Bent and I did a mtn ride up to the meru forest and then contoured the mountain to above Ngulelo and headed down. The down was often slippery but we managed to stay upright until the soil had more sand and hence less slippery. On a flat section i decided it was good time to practice riding no hands and I did so for 50 meters. I came to what looked like a slippery place and just as i was dropping down to the handle bars the bike slipped from under me.

Unfortunately there were a fair number of people around saying "sorry, sorry, sorry" instead of my bike buddies who would be laughing.

Embarrassed I rushed to get my red face away but a kid yelled " Wash that mud off" , as i looked pretty stupid getting close to town with one side of one leg covered in smooth mud. I washed in a puddle and Bent came back looking for me. I didn't have a scratch but I still had some mud on my shorts.

So why ride with no hands? Any rider should have the skill as it allows you to stretch, use both hands to peel a banana or change clothes. Just don't do in on the slopes of meru when it is slick.

06 January 2010

Amani Mountains

Several years ago we stopped at Amani Mountains on our way back from a vacation in Bagamoyo on the Tanzanian coast.

It is several hours out of the way but we are enchanted with the area and have gone back another3 times and even bought 10 acres on a ridge with a big mud and wattle house.

Amani doesn't know much about red tape, yet. We often arrive late, although we have to drive through nature reserves they aren't crazy about making us pay huge usage fees. The last time we just said we are land owners and that satisfied the gate keeper.

(Yes there will be bikes in this post.)

For this year's 'Christmas trip" we decided on the Amani option, leaving before Christmas and staying til boxing day before moving on to the Pare Mountains for two Lusingu family functions in Suji.

The only bad issue with going to Amani for holidays is that it is a 7 hour car drive (for us) with some stops . It is 430 km. As we passed the Kilimanjaro massive and headed south east we had strong winds from the west, which is opposite to what is normal and it picked up dust as you see in the picture here. After another half hour the strong dust winds turned into a torrential rain and I had to slow down to 30-50kmph just to be able to see. Every time I met a bus or semi trailer I lost visibility in the spray coming off that vehicle for 2 seconds.

Before the rains started I pulled the land rover over to take a picture of the dust and there was his nice aloe vera flowering. We are strong believers in the medicinal value of the plant and use it topically for burns and wounds as well as orally.

After the first couple of trips I started putting the bicycle on the roof and doing early morning rides or riding to the trail head to meet the others, or riding the 30 km to the main highway in Muheza.

Although we have a 3 room house it is occupied by a neighbor and not furnished yet, so we opted for staying in the Guest House of the Tea Research Station.

Here is Nashesha and her good buddy Mariamu having breakfast in the living room. The guest house is a house modified to have 3 self contained bedrooms, a large sitting / eating room, and staffed by a wonderful woman Rose. The rooms are $5 and the meals about $2. Like the place is obscenely cheap. Nashesha and Mariamu felt like queens in their own beds and bathroom. The other advantage is there is no good cell coverage in the house! Paradise.

My girls (sorry to include you mom) got up to late to see this sunrise. But that allows me to sneak off for a few hours bike ride.
It is a fair amount of up and down, but rewarded with views like the one at top of this post.

Here the switch back is visible in the dense forest below me. About 45% of the time i would be riding through forest, 45% in tea plantations and 10% in villages or small farm land.

On day 2's ride I rode a longer loop of about 50km and in the middle stopped in a big village for some tea. I enjoyed the interaction more than the tea itself. I had a pastry and the bill came to 250shs. about $0.20. Luckily I thought ahead and had the right change!

Fortified with that i continued the loop . I passed this old waterwheel along one river.

I have no map of the area, google doesn't show the roads, I don't recognize hardly anything, I have no idea where I was but our friend Elias had written down the names of each villages to pass through and that was my "map".
I was never sure exactly which direction I was going or where I had passed through when I looked backwards, but it did not bother me much. I stopped often to ask if this was the way to xxxxx.

As I am riding alone I rarely get a picture of a bicycle, so i had to find from another trip . this Christmas I stayed on roads but there are short trails like this all over the forest.

Christmas Eve day we hiked up to our place and sat on the porch in a heavy downpour eating sugar cane from the shamba.

We recently bought a smaller plot along a river. The road is across this river and for now you get there by this branch across the river. the bamboo servers as hand holds.

This time I decided to drive down with the family instead of riding the bike, and we stopped and climbed down to the waterfall. Nashesha and Mariamu got in the water up to their thighs and walked around.

From Amani we drove past the North Usambaras and into the Pare mountains, to our home village. Here is us following Elton Lusingu down the mountains two days later.

The next day was 'kumaliza matanga" to end the mourning period for our beloved grandmother Phoebe Yohanna Lusingu. She was dream team mother in law and we miss her.

The third day was a different family rite. Another Phoebe was engaged! To a cool dude named Eli. Can you imagine having to go through this. Here is Eli putting the ring on Phyby, in front of all the relatives. Proceeding this was negotiations of bride price and partial payment. that is why her elder brother Richard Mbogoh is smiling in the back row. I have to admit I cried a couple of times.

Just maybe this cute grand niece will become a bicyclist. She is adorable isn't she? It was good to see many family members and i manage one 2 hour ride into the clouds of Pare mountains.

05 January 2010

Bicycle Hero #2, Vincent Shirima

(I warned readers that I would post my hero's occasionally)

I had known Vincent Shirima for some years before he was a biker. He was a business contact I lunched with every few months. His family has business in coffee exports, well drilling, airlines, and milling. But his sport was motocross.

A few years ago we didn't see each other for about a year, and next time I saw him he looked really different. I realized he had lost weight. That is an understatement, he had lost a lot of weight. After we talked I learned that he had lost 50 Kg, that is 110lbs! He could still lose some more but , hey, after that much you cant help but respect Vincent for that. It turned out that one of the ways he lost weight was by taking up cycling.

So I started to invite him to come on casual Sunday rides . For the first 30 minutes I was a bit concerned as he would lag behind slightly going up hills. It was looking like we needed a vehicle to come and pick him up. He would ride to the top of a long steep hill and fall over. I started to worry our ride was over.

However when he was on the ground he would say stuff like "Man, that was a great". Three minutes later he would get up and continue on. After two rides I stopped worrying about him and just learned I would have to wait a few times for him at the top of hills. He never complains but looks like he is dying sometimes. His enthusiasm on rides is so refreshing.

Then I took him up Meru, just him and me several times. He was stoked.

In the picture at the top was a ride going south, we ended up doing 80km on dirt roads. He was pretty wasted the last 1/4 but he made it.