Thursday, March 25, 2010

Iringa, Tanzania

Odometer - just over 6000 km.

This past week was all about the bike. It was us and our bikes against the forces of corrugation, deep sand, loose rocks, technical climbs, hairy descents and armor-piercing thorns. And yet we all rode safely into Iringa yesterday, to celebrate a well-deserved rest day.

Towards the end of our ride into town we rode onto the first paved road we've seen in 600 km. I couldn't help but stop for a moment of reflection in the quiet of the Tanzanian bush. Secretly I will miss the dirt roads. They try your patience, they abuse your bike and they hurt your bum, wrist, arms and shoulders; but there is never a dull moment - unlike the long stretches of flat pavement expected in the weeks to come.

Everyone seems to develop their own strategy on how to deal with the terrain. A popular strategy is avoidance, which can be accomplished by looking for single tracks that run parallel to the road and used by the pedestrians of the bush. These paths are usually smooth and packed and are a welcome relief from the roads. They also can be fun - like a carnival ride is fun - as you wind and roll through the bush as fast your nerves will permit. The trick, however, is not to follow a trail that runs away from the road. As a few riders can attest, instead of having to backtrack (which would be the smart thing to do) - trying to cut through the bush back to the road can be a little prickly, while keeping the fear of being lost at bay.

The day's end this past week looked like a tire-patching class, as most of the riders sat around fixing flats and exchanging war stories from the day's ride. The bush is hot so activity is kept to a minimum once riders get to camp. A seat, a spot in the shade, and something to munch on is all that is needed after the bikes are prepped for the following day. And then off to bed after a big supper and a quick prayer to the puncture gods.

Watching your surroundings is usually not the best idea while riding these roads. Your priority is pedalling and keeping your eyes peeled for the right line to follow, as well as all available bail-out options, in the event that you choose poorly. But it was hard to avert your eyes for too long from the landscape we encountered on our ride from Arusha. Picture the plain's bush you might see on a show about African animals, and then suddenly you are climbing through dense jungle you might expect in Central America. We have also started to see our first of the mighty Baobab trees(sometimes described as a tree that is planted upside down), just one of many 1000's of tree types making up the canopy of southern Tanzania. The rolling hills, or long flat stretches of bush were speckled with little villages inhabited by people who enjoyed exchanging their traditional greeting "Jambo" as we sped past and they went about their lives.

Life in Africa tends to move a little slower then we are used to in the West. It is a comfortable and satisfying pace for those who live here and yet can be frustrating for us TDAers, who want our service to be quick and efficient. As I finished the last paragraph, I realized that we are all here to experience life on this continent, but yet we are on a fairly tight schedule, and very often do not have the time to reset our internal urgency to African levels - maybe we are missing out part of the Africa experience.

The TDAers converged on "Shooters Pub and Cuisine" last night. Between us, a contingent from the local Peace Corps and a handful of Iringa residents - the crowd proved overwhelming for the bartenders and kitchen. Nevertheless as the pub's stocks and servers' patience dwindled, the party kicked into gear. Dancing, bar games and good old-fashioned party banter made for a fun end to a not-soon-to-be-forgotten week.

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