Tanzania: Red Dirt Roads and Gold.


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Africa » Tanzania » North » Mwanza » Kesesa
November 18th 2013
Published: February 27th 2014
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Another border, another country: Tanzania.

I hate border crossings. I love border crossings. They can have you stuck in the heat trying to a fulfil some idiosyncratic and bureaucratic process while draining you of money, but they also bring the excitement of a new country. Riding away from a new border always gives me a buzz. New people, new customs, new landscapes, new... unknowns, and on a motorbike it is all there waiting to be explored.

Once in Tanzania there was an immediate change in vibe from the locals. Rather than being crowded by people when we stopped, the locals were pretty chilled out. Hard to describe, but Kenya had an edge to it that Tanzania thankfully lacked. Maybe they were a little too chilled out at times however; we stopped for a quick feed on our way south to Mwanza, ordered some chicken and chips (an African restaurant staple), and then waited for about an hour before they asked how we would like our chips cut. Doesn't seem like a big deal, but it meant it was dark by the time we got to Mwanza, which made life harder. However, on the recommendation of another overlander we had met in Nairobi we headed to the Mwanza Yacht Club, and were treated to a secluded safe camping spot on Lake Victoria and enjoyed a good meal and beers. It's amazing how quickly a difficult dark ride through a large African city can, in a matter of minutes, change to a relaxed, familiar, and pampered evening with your feet up.

The next day we headed west as we wanted to ride through Burundi, and then down the east coast of Lake Tanganyika. We stopped for lunch at Geita, a town that is exploding due to the gold mines nearby. Apparently there is still lots of very primitive mining going on, with men heading down poorly ventilated and supported mines to try their luck. They know the risks, and apparently are not compelled to work. They reportedly even view the death of a miner as a sign of good luck. I visited a gold wholesaler and while I was there three guys came in with a small chalky ball of unprocessed gold. A good amount of cash was handed over, and they left looking pretty pleased with themselves. The rate they got was about 2/3rds of the official gold rate.
As a souvenir I bought a few grams to make into something for Trace when back home. The process of purifying the gold was pretty interesting: a gas torch, full-face mask, big ventilation fan, a mystery chemical, scales, and purity testing machine.

West of Geita we found ourselves on a rich red dirt road delving through Tanzanian forest. One of those moments where I thought, "wow, I'm in the middle of Africa. On a motorbike. Wicked". The route we were taking was well off the beaten track and there was a delicious sense of remoteness as we wound our way towards Burundi. At one point we stopped at a small village for a drink and as we were relaxing, a twenty something year old western girl with long blonde hair walked past. It was so surprising that I blurted "Muzungu!" as if I was some African kid. We had a brief chat, but I think her family or church had warned her against talking to scruffy dirty guys like Jaap and me. Good advice.

That night we reached Biharamulo, and were forced into the luxury of having a room to ourselves. There were only double bed rooms available, and as close as Jaap and I were becoming, we had drawn the line at sharing a bed. While enjoying our second beer of the evening we were surprised by the arrival of two young Dutch doctors who were in the final week of a three month voluntary stint in Biharamulo. More beers followed, we thieved the internet from their phones, and listened to their account of their time in the town. They didn't paint a pretty picture of the Tanzanian health care system. We complain about having to wait for an appointment to see a specialist, in Tanzania your child could die from something entirely preventable because the necessary drugs had been stolen by the health workers and sold to the black market drug store over the road. Local beliefs also don't help, I'm still trying to rid myself of an image they showed me of a guy who had convinced himself that he had been cured of AIDs after sex with a virgin, but whose rotting penis had finally convinced him to seek help. They also described the hydrophobic reaction of a guy with rabies. One of them had read that those with rabies had an intense fear
of water, and brought a water bottle in to the room of the guy they suspected was infected. He almost crawled out if his skin to avoid it. These tales of health care inadequacies gave us a good dose of fear to balance the thrilling buzz of riding a bike fast through unfamiliar areas.

As we were sat talking outside the hotel, two 690 KTMs buzzed past in the direction we had come from. What the....?! We were too late to catch them, and I have wondered who they were ever since. During the whole trip we only met a handful of overland motorbikers, and I'm sure these guys would have had some great info as they had just been where we were heading.

The next day we headed even further into the wops, before finally hitting a tar road and rolling into another conglomeration of rusty tin-roofed border buildings, this time on the border with Burundi.


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