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The suggestion that I organise a Mountain Biking trip to Tanzania and take a small group seemed a great idea! 

It was certainly something different, as in an adventure that would take us out of our comfort zones while enjoying a different culture. And since it was also a chance to cycle in a different country, I jumped at the chance! Oh, and there was camping too in luxury pre-erected tents, luxury game lodges and eco lodges….wow, yes, let's do it! 

And so it began...

We flew into Nairobi and stayed in a compounded hotel for the night, leaving early the following morning by bus for Arusha. Our mountain biking took us from Arusha in the west, to Pangani on the coast of the Indian ocean. Just under 500km of cycling, with a 250km bus ride in the middle. Before we started cycling, there was first some game viewing at Ngorongoro Crater (a conservation area of some 250 square miles) and Lake Manyara. What a great way to get over the jet lag as we got within two metres of a lion, saw a cheetah, elephants, hippos, rhinos, plus many many more other animals.

Off to our camp

On arrival at our campground, it turns out that our 'luxury tents' are pup tents with a mattress on the ground. Welcome home for the next two nights!! That first night had me thinking 0800 SHERATON more than once, and as it turned out, we had four nights in total in these pup tents, plus a variety of other accommodation.

Let the cycling begin

After a short bus trip to the outskirts of Arusha, our first days cycling was about to start. We assembled our bikes, took the compulsory group photos and then we were off. It was only a short day to start with only 12km, but what a road - gravel with big stones (it felt like a power plate session) which left me thinking, 'How are we going to handle 500km of this??' Gradually though, the road ran out and we were soon biking on firm sand through a desert. At one point, we even came across camels roaming through the dunes. And then out of nowhere, our Masai camp appears, run by Masai tribesmen. Naturally, we were a bit dubious of these tribes people but they were actually really lovely. Even better, we had pre-erected full size tents along with real beds and an ensuite. Bliss!!!! Here we were, in the middle of some desert, surrounded by luxury. The Masai people had a fire going to heat water up to fill the roof tank for our showers.... never before has a shower been so appreciated! 

Our trip was supported by a 20 seater bus and a four wheel drive Land Cruiser. Some of the terrain that the bus covered had to been seen to be believed! The crew would go ahead and prepare our lunches and dinner, but not before preparing breakfast. Think pre-breakfast cuppas delivered to our tents! 

The best day?

Next day was a 40km ride to Ndarakwai through desert tracks. We saw very few people and it was like riding off to nowhere, although we did come across the occasional village. The riding was fantastic and we were sure that it would be the best day. And that night, a true luxury lodge! Restaurant food and refreshments, beautiful king size bed, proper ensuite and wild animals roaming around our tents. So wish it was all like this.

More cycling

The distances have started to increase as have the climbs as we travel towards Kamwanga. Cycling through cropping fields, we endure red dust similar to the outback of Australia, and believe me... it gets into everything! The people are amazed to see us and want to touch us….guess they don't see too many white folk, let alone geeks dressed in lycra and sunglasses. Camping tonight is in a school ground and we're back into those pup tents. The school has a roll of 800 with nine teachers! And only two long drop starting-block type toilets with no toilet paper or lighting in the toilets or class rooms. Talk about poverty, you have no idea! But what wonderful people and hosts. Our shower resembles a cupboard that we would hang a meat carcass in, but with no shower and instead a 20 litre bucket of dirty warm water for us to wash in. This was back to basics but what an experience and truly memorable occasion. The kids sang to us and were so interested in us, as we were them. It was all very humbling.

Mt Kilimanjaro to Lake Chala

Moving on the next day we had about 90km still to cover and started off through some blue gum trees. We cycled around quarter of Mt Kilimanjaro to Lake Chala, and again we say that it was some of the best mountain biking we have ever had! Through savannah forests and an awesome ride through a banana plantation on single tracks, we even rode through someone's back yard while avoiding their washing. Back to the pup tent but we all know it is for the last night. We are in a truly beautiful camp that has about 300 resident elephants. That night, we could hear them very close to us eating the vegetation. Yikes. 

Onto Maranga

From Lake Chala it was onto Maranga only 26km away but with some really good climbs. Being a Sunday, it's church day and with about 95% of Tanzania being Christian, most people attend church. Most of the time, people here are generally poorly dressed in little more than rags. They wear whatever they can get their hands on. But on Sundays, they are in their numbers ones and are extremely clean and tidy. What a transformation! I have no idea how they get their clothes so clean among the grime and dust. The singing from the many churches has to be heard to be believed. Hotel accommodation tonight and hotel food. While we had excellent and healthy food from our cooks, the change is very welcome. Most of our meals on the road were casseroles or stews with pasta or rice.

Usambara Mountains

Next day we travel by bus for about 250Km to the Usambara Mountains. We are greeted by the choice of either cycling the 19km with a 1400m climb, or walking it. Looking at the terrain, we all decide to walk to our cliff top eco lodge accommodation. Along the way, we come across locals who commute the hill daily. One lady was carrying three full sheets of rolled up corrugated iron on her head! The eco lodge is different but lovely and with amazing views.       

Aren't we at the top?

We thought we were at the top but no... the cycling steps up as does the climbing as we head to Mullers Lodge about 97km away. Again, more amazing riding! Can it get any better? The villages we pass through are like nothing else; how they survive I don`t know. As we grovel up steep hills, the kids run along side us calling out 'Jambo', the Swahili greeting word.

Our mouths start to water as we're told that at the end of the day we have 30km of down hill. Of course, first there's more climbing and 70km to get there. Again it's through single tracks across creeks and through a green belt. A pleasant change. The down hill was amazing!! What a blast. We all had so much fun! Accommodation tonight is in a mission. The good nuns who were so accommodating open the cafeteria and to our delight, cold beer is on the menu…Good lady, that nun!!! They were so hospitable.

And then it was the last day

The last day of cycling is Korogwe to Pangani. As we get closer to the coast, the excitement mounts and the tempo increases. Again, it's great cycling mostly on dirt roads. Seeing the locals carry their produce on single speed bikes reminds of Vietnam but without the motor.

And then finally, we arrive in Pangani. We made it! High fives all round. What a great feeling and sense of achievement. Nice camp right on the beach, warm Indian ocean and a swimming pool. Happy place. We have a free day before heading to Zanzibar and after a day sitting around doing nothing, we're ready for more action. Our farewell party is held that night and then it's off to Zanzibar for four days. But more on that another time.

I've been asked would I do it again…at the time I said no. But as I reflect on it, it's becoming a big yes. I've been to many third world countries but this experience by far exceeded anything I've done before. The memories will last forever and who knows, I might go back in two years time and do it all again.

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