Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Final Days of Cycling

Days 59 and 60: Arusha, Tanzania

These days of rest in Arusha were great. I spent my time with my family contacts who took great care of me. Their house is on the campus of Mt. Meru University, a few km north of the town. Between the inconvenient ride into town and the daily rain, I rarely left the house. On Day 60, I did go into town to finalize a contract with a Kilimanjaro trekking company - 'Parks Adventure Ltd' in Arusha. The family here knows the receptionist there, so I got a good deal.

I booked a trek up the Marangu Route, also known as the Coca Cola Route, from the town of Marangu, ascending the southeast side of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The minimum time to trek this route is 5 days - 3 days up, summit on the morning of Day 4, descend halfway, then finish descending on day 5. I booked 7 days, taking an extra acclimatization day on the way up, and a day to play with in case there is bad weather on the summit.

1,000,000 Tanzania Shillings
The payment was made in cash, so I withdrew more than 2,000,000 Tanzania Shillings from the ATM and handed it over. The stack of money was ridiculously large. I felt like a drug dealer with this massive stack of bills.

Day 61: Arusha to Moshi, Tanzania

I woke up early to pack and get moving. The family made me stay and drink tea which made me a bit late, but it was still nice to have some Tanzanian chai before hitting the road. I stopped by the trekking office to pay my remaining balance in Arusha, getting soaked from rain on the way into town.

After paying, I hopped on the bike and continued through the downpour. I was already drenched, so why not just keep going? I thought.

The ride to Moshi was easy, despite the rain. The road surface was good quality, and the rain even slowed down the traffic to a reasonably safe speed. I hugged the shoulder, still a little uncomfortable with being on the left side of the road. It's 80km between the two towns, but there are many small towns, cafes, and fuel stations to stop and have a snack. The rain lessened for the second half of the ride, and I rolled into town at about 1:30 pm.

Moshi is significantly smaller than Arusha, and has a more relaxed feel as a result. I easily found a cheap hostel to stay for the night and set to the task of drying out my supplies. The afternoon was dry and I was able to pack my dry clothes and tent before dinner. I met up with an American in town whom I had found on couchsurfing. His name is David, and he has a seriously creepy mustache. He is 28 and admittedly states that the mustache isn't helping with the ladies, but he loves it anyway. As we walked, boys were telling him in Swahili to shave because he looks terrible.

We had some good Indian food and a long chat, but ended the evening early. I was disappointed that I hadn't seen Mt. Kilimanjaro yet, other than from 300km away on Mt. Kenya. The rainclouds had covered the mountain from view all day long. Maybe early in the morning I'd be able to catch a glimpse.

62: Moshi to Marangu Gate

I slept in and packed the rest of my supplies that were scattered around the cramped hostel room. there was a good cafe I wanted to go to before hitting the road. Tanzania and Kenya have this God-awful routine of serving Nescafe instant coffee, EVERYWHERE. It's disgusting. This cafe, the 'Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge', properly brews and serves local Arabica coffee. I had to have a cup before leaving.

In the cafe I met an American guy who is a marketing consultant for many of the western-owned resorts in and around Moshi. He was curious about my bike and tattered clothing, so he invited me to his table. I told him about Low2High: Africa. He told me about how foolish most of the western business owners are here. I then dug deep into parts of my brain I haven't used since college and had a conversation about changing intellectual property laws with the accelerating consumption of internet media. Definitely not the conversation I was expecting to have that morning.

The weather looked promising, so I hit the road. The clouds were still hiding Kilimanjaro from me, disappointingly. It was only 25 km to a big junction where the road heads southeast to Dar Es Salaam. I went straight through the intersection, bound for the small town of Marangu. The 12km ride from the junction was a long, slow uphill. The road actually starts to climb the base of the mountain, which I still couldn't see.

Rain eventually poured down on me. I took shelter in a small cafe until it passed. I passed a sign marking the beginning of Kilimanjaro National Park and got excited. In town there's only one intersection. I had a hostel booked and had to ask for directions. I was immediately swarmed by 'guides' and 'organizers' and many variations of hustlers. Not today, I thought to myself. It's the last damn day on the bike, please just tell me where my hotel is. I got directions from a woman selling bananas and started up the hill to the right. A man from the crowd was following me. I yelled at him, and he just kept getting closer. I told him not to follow me, he said he wasn't and turned around. I'd ride another 10 seconds, turn around and he was right there again. I raised my can of pepper spray and told him to back off or he'll be hurting. That finally worked.

I checked into my hostel, grabbed a quick bite, but then got right back on the bike. I wanted to finish the ride all the way to the park entrance.

The paved road to Marangu Gate was only 5km, but extremely steep. It took me almost an hour to cycle up, fully loaded. People were surprised to see me on the road. I finally reached the gate and breathed a momentary breath of relief. I was swarmed again by locals and their claims. I was polite and told them I had a guide booked. When they started grabbing at my bike, that's when I started shoving people. A park guard came out and intervened before it got out of hand. I hate tourist towns almost as much as border towns.

The gate opened and they let me in with my bike. I peddled to the sign marking the trailhead for Marangu Route where I will start trekking from in 2 days. A park employee inquired about the bike. I told him I was traveling from the lowest point on the continent to the highest. To that, all he said was "That's strange."

The beginning of Marangu Route up Kilimanjaro
It was closing time for the park, so I had to go. I grabbed a quick photo with the bike at the sign and headed out. The steep downhill was on my side, and I made it back to Marangu town in about 10 minutes. I went straight to my hostel for a shower, food and rest. The ride was over!

I made a few phone calls to America. My parents seemed very relieved that I was off the bike.

Day 63: Marangu, Tanzania

With the riding behind me, it was time to get rid of the bike. I never planned to bring it back to the US. The bike is in good enough condition for every-day riding, but not for another tour through Africa.

The bike was given to me by a Peace Corps Volunteer from Tanzania who rode it up to Ethiopia 2 years ago. He stayed at my house in Bahir Dar and I told him of this idea to go from Lac Assal to Kilimanjaro. He had gotten the bike for free himself, so he passed it on to me. I figured it was only right that I also passed it on.

In Marangu, there is a Peace Corps Volunteer named Nathan. I got in touch with him and handed off the bike. He's not planning to cycle anywhere, but I know he can make good use of it. I trust he'll find a good home for it in Tanzania.

Nathan and his student receiving the bike and storing some of my things while I trek Kilimanjaro
Bicycle and all the relevant supplies gone, I focused on Kilimanjaro. I spent the day stretching, eating, drinking water, and getting myself ready mentally for the next task which would start tomorrow. 

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