Day 31 – The Guardians of Mtera Reservoir

I think the early morning call to payer woke me this morning sometime between 5am and 6am but I dozed on for a while longer.  I wonder to myself if all Muslims are required to wake at this silly hour to go and pray or if it’s an optional thing?  It’s one thing being awake at this time when your on holiday and can pretty much do what you like but to be obligated to rise in the dark everyday and talk to your deity sounds a little much for my liking!  Didn’t this Mohammed fella like a lay in every once in a while?

I left the hotel at around 8am and after my breakfast of course not wanting to pass up any free food no matter the quantity. The sun is shining with hardly a cloud in the sky as I meander through the streets weaving between the vendors who are unpacking their wares for another days business.  I notice the wind blowing the leaves off of a tree that had its head sticking up above the two buildings either side of it and my body shudders at the thought of yet another windy days riding. Happy and content to dubious and concerned in 0.3 seconds but I am silently amused at how I can forget about these little hardships when I stop for a day and only a moment before I saw the tree loosing the last of its green leafy hair this thing we call ‘wind’ ceased to exist entirely.  

Market full of crap - Dodoma Tanzania
Lots of tat for sale!

The roads in and out of Dodoma were so smooth, like silk even, and although all of the Tanzanian roads I had ridden on so far were good, the quality of the last 45km into the city and the yet to be seen kilometre-age out of the city had gone up a notch from good to excellent!  It’s not like they are super new or anything but just smooth and lovely and I pedalled away from the capital in silence with little or no resistance from the road at all.  Well I say in silence the wonderful road did make me realise that the drivetrain of my bike was due a good clean and oiling as all I could hear above the windy conditions was a slightly strained groan and squeak on each rotation of my pedals.
The wind was annoying as usual but the road remained fairly level and when I looked down at my odometer I saw that I was travelling a good 12-13mph and frankly any speed over 10mph is perfectly fine with me so I kept quiet, put my head down and just hoped that the headwind wasn’t going to notice!  The first 18 miles were amazing and with a stomach and throat that seemed much better I really enjoyed the ride, the scenery was a little bleak being quite beigey brown in colour and fairly open but I was quite captivated by it.  On top of that I was making good progress, ahhhh it’s just a bit of cycling after all so why in the world would I be unhappy?  Sure the wind can be annoying and your bottom can feel a little uncomfortable from time to time (Uhumm I don’t care to elaborate why right now) but that’s life and there was nothing I could do to change these minor annoyances so I pedalled on happily singing and waving to all who I passed!  The kids shock and awe levels were at a maximum today too which amused me greatly watching them as they came careering out onto the road to catch a glimpse of the rare white bicycle riding mountain lion of Africa as he came whizzing by.  I am also amazed at how quickly they spot me too, I often hear their excited screams way before I catch sight of them and it’s as if they have a lookout post manned 24hrs a day ready for just such an event!  In seriousness though I notice even the adults are always looking around almost like they are on guard from the attack of a wild beastie should one trot out of the bush feeling hungry for human flesh and it’s very rare that I pass anyone without them spotting me first.

Although I was currently winning my battle with the wind and a little reluctant to stop. Generally when your onto a good thing it’s best to keep things rolling in my experience, but after 18 miles I entered a small village called Mpunguzi and decided that a super fast pit stop for a quick re-fuelling would probably be a good idea as I had only eaten a small breakfast and wanted to keep my fire burning brightly and maintain the positive start I was having.
A large bowl of beans with a few veggies mixed in was presented to me shortly after my request for food which was amazing and full of the slow release energy I would need to sustain some good pedalling power for the next few hours, it was however a little colder than I would have liked but I still spooned the contents of the bowl into my salivating gob eagerly and not overly concerned about its temperature.  I should add that my new method of ordering food is now just to ask “Do you have food?” or simply “Food?” accompanied by the universal hand to mouth gesture of eating and from there I leave my fate in the hands of the food lottery hoping it will produce something good.  Today was a success as is mostly the case seeing as the variety of local cuisine is limited here in Tanzania but who knows maybe the next draw will produce something exotic like Leopard testicles marinated in the urine of a giraffe?  And if it does I’m sure I’ll try my best to eat it not wanting to upset the chef who created this culinary masterpiece, maybe it will even catch on in the cycling community, an African delicacy that provides a rider with energy and stamina of the most high!
After scoffing my delicious bowl of beans I paid a stupidly cheap 1000 shillings (34p) and set off again, with a record pit stop time of about 2 minutes and 37 seconds!  Whoooyeah lets not get indigestion now kiddo!
Although I had been pedalling only moments before its funny how stopping can change the next period of riding making it clearly different from the last and I was struggling to find the speed I had been maintaining before the stop.  The wind seemed just that little bit harder and as a result my velocity had dropped a few mph.  I told myself not to be too hasty and resorted to a slightly less erratic style confident that I would turn away from the now direct full frontal assault that was attempting to hinder my progress and foul my mood.  Today though that wasn’t going to happen and I kept a steady pace and firmly trawled my way through the next leg fantasising what it would be like if I was blessed enough to have a gale like this at my back?!  I had at times experienced the odd rear end trump of my own of course but nothing that was going to propel me along at much speed or for very long, more of a sharp and often forced methane fuelled system really but far too short lived to be of any use.
The road continued to be lovely into the late morning and early afternoon although no longer super smooth as it had been but still good and I entered the land of “Ent Wives” that old Tree Beard had been looking for in the second part of Lord of the Rings so I propose to write to him when I arrive in Iringa where I will hopefully find a little of this elusive “internet” thing that I’ve heard so much about.  All of the trees, of which there are now many, seem a bit gnarled and all lack the leaves that I more commonly remember them having but the Ent Wives in particular are my favourite.  They are much taller than the rest with trunks that almost look like they are 2-3 trees that have grown into one with branches all twisted in different directions and numerous as if they were arms busy with the many different jobs that they have to carry out.  This is why I thought them Ent Wives rather than Ents as we all know that men struggle to multi task, unless of course watching the tv and listening to it at the same time is considered multi tasking?  A pastime at which we have become masters!

Josh! Is that you?

Shortly after my meeting with the trees that I had become rather fond of and had even began talking to i spotted a rare sight indeed, it was a fellow white pedalling Tanzanian mythical beast I couldn’t believe it!  I had only seen one other rider since starting my journey and that was the guy in Ethiopia who completely ignored me so I wasn’t going to let this one pass without a few words so I waved and shouted at him idiotically until he could do nothing more that return my gesture and stop for a chat.  He was an American called Josh and had been riding for a fair few months starting in the states and moving down through Latin America before flying from Buenos Aires to Cape Town to begin his route up through Africa.  It was nice to chat no matter how brief and he told me a little of his journey so far and how much he had enjoyed Malawi which of course was my next destination.  He kindly pinned a couple of spots to visit on my application and recommended a few hostels along the way which was appreciated as I rarely research anywhere I’m going, but more than anything listening to some of his adventures filled me with an indescribable feeling of the joy I had felt on my last trip and once we had said our goodbyes and after we gad swapped Facebook information I pedalled away feeling like a new man or more accurately the “Around the World Jay” that I used to know.  This guy (me) was so happy and confident that any hardships would easily be chewed up and spat out and no amount of distance, headwind, authorities, wild animals, or anything would get in the way of what I had set out to achieve!  I was back, and I mean really back this time, and as I rode into the now seemingly pathetic excuse for a headwind my mind wandered into the possibilities of a much grander adventure than I had previously planned!  Thanks Josh you were just what I needed!

Tonight I decided that I would blow off the cobwebs covering my still pristine looking tent and camp amongst the animals that probably weren’t as much of a threat as people keep telling me…..I hope! 😜

At 60 miles I stopped for some food and this time received a bowl of rice with a side plate of cold green stuff and another bowl that had a small fish inside of it with some red coloured sauce which was all rather delicious.  I was soon surrounded by a group of boys who were all very interested in the electronic devices on the front of my bike so I gave them my GPS to play with while I finished my meal hoping that I would be allowed to have it back again when it was time to leave?!  They did of course return my essential GPS but I think by the look in their eyes they were hoping it was going to be a permanent gift, sorry boys that’s one item I really can’t go without.

By the time I reached the 75 mile mark I noticed that my pace had slowed somewhat and the constant headwind had obviously ground me down over the duration of the days ride but of course I wasn’t going to give up and although I had dropped to about 8mph I was still pretty happy and eager to get as close to 100 miles as I could and back into the regular fitness that I know I am capable of, not quite there yet but I can tell that I’m not far off now.

Mtera Reservoir – No Pictures!!

I had a bit of a scary moment as I was nearing the end of the day and it was when I crossed the slightly out of place red bridge that traversed the narrow corner of the Mtera reservoir and marked the entry into the state of Iringa.  The sun was setting and shimmering on the surface of the water and with the bridge, the bike, and the water my secret photographer (a bad one unfortunately) spirit was calling out to me so I decided that this was the perfect time to take a photo or two.  Well, no sooner had I snapped off a few shots and breathed in my surroundings for a moment I mounted my bike ready to ride on happy that I had just levelled up my photography skills from -1 to 0 when a large and I have to say without coming across as a total racist gorilla looking man (I mean in stature not colour ok you lot!) in some sort of official looking uniform ordered me over shouting “You, no no no, we have problem”, oh dear, I actually thought he was joking at first and laughed off his first command but as he approached and his friend with the shotgun unlocked the large gate with razor wire over the top with every intention of getting me behind it I realised that this was no laughing matter.  The big guy kept repeating “We have problem, we have problem” and when he was upon me he grabbed my arm with what can only be called a grip of steel and I knew that I would not be able to wrench my arm away very easily if push came to shove.  Not that I was very good at outrunning shotgun bullets but there was no way I was going behind that gate, not a chance.  Anyway it turns out that for some reason they were terribly upset that I had taken what they called “many photos” of the beautiful scenery that lay in front of us and were adamant that I had to come behind the seemingly impenetrable and recently unlocked gate guarding I don’t know what, and more worryingly that they wanted to confiscate my iPod indefinitely.  Well of course I wasn’t going to be pushed around that easily regardless of the incredible hulk having me held in position and his shotgun wielding backup loitering just a few feet away so I stood my ground and firmly said “NO!” attempting to pull myself out of his grip but to no avail.  King Kong reached for my iPod which I held away from him as best I could and pulled out of his fingers a few times when he grabbed for it and before long his face turned to fury and he started waving one of the fingers on his free hand right in my face and spouting something angrily in Swahili at me.  I realised at this point that if these guys wanted to take me away they could do so quite easily as we were alone out here and if I’m not careful I could be in real trouble, I tried my hardest at staying confident, I mean it’s just a few photos for christs sakes, and hoped that they hadn’t clocked my left leg that was attempting to let down my facade of being a strong English man not to be messed with as it started to shake ever so slightly or perhaps quake is closer to the truth?!  At one point during the wrestling match I was having I shouted “Call the police if it’s such a problem” at which they simply laughed, as if there were any police around here anyway and I realised that it was just me and them and I had to resolve the issue alone.  I said that I would just delete the photos “delete photos, delete photos!” I repeated and in response the big guy said “no delete” which was weird to me but after we repeated this process three times I realised he didn’t have a clue what he was saying as his English was virtually nonexistent so I held out my iPod in clear view still trying my best to prevent him from taking it from me and deleted the pictures so he could see.  He held my device with me and when I entered the photo app for him to see that the pictures were gone he peered at it for a moment before finally agreeing that they had been deleted and releasing my arm. I felt the blood seeping back into my lower arm and with the overwhelming sense of freedom and an angry wave of dismissal from captain “death to all white cyclists” I swiftly pedalled on wanting to get out of sight before they changed their minds.  I am still confused as to what exactly they were trying to protect?  Do they not want other parts of Africa to benefit from such a wonderful water generating idea as a reservoir?  Surely they don’t think that we don’t already have these in Europe do they?  Was I going to sell the idea to the EU and as a kick in the teeth hire cheap labourers from Africa to carry out the work?  Well this will forever remain a mystery but I was just glad to be out of there and alone once more with only the road and setting sun to keep me company!

The last part of my day was lovely and I don’t know if this was because I had just escaped what at the time felt like a dangerous situation or because I had turned almost 180 degrees and the wind was no longer in my face but whatever it was I felt happy.  I rode on for only a few miles though as I wanted to get my tent up before it was dark so I started the search for a campground surveying the land on either side of the road as I rode past.  It didn’t take long as there was plenty of open and unpopulated space to choose from and soon enough I pulled off of the road to my left and coasted into the bush.  I found a nice spot to pitch my tent behind the cover of some trees a hundred metres or so off of the road and with a perfect view of the sunset, I went about setting up my camp and before I knew it I was all safely tucked away inside my tent with the door open watching the horizon and the sun as it slowly dipped out of sight, ahhhhh lovely!

Oh and much to my delight I recovered the deleted photos from the recently deleted folder on my iPod as a final up yours to the angry African man and fell asleep with a smile on my face. You can view my bridge and reservoir gallery below. Ha!

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