Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dakar - Dar

Lubumbashi isn’t nearly as devoid of charm and infrastructure as other cities in DRC, with even some pleasant avenues and nicely kept colonial buildings. But we are anxious to leave the country. We’ve been in Congo for two months and we’re fed up.  So we take just two days to prepare ourselves and the bikes for the big change, the exit. We have only two weeks now before we are supposed to meet Nicolaas’ parents in Nairobi, with 2 countries and about 3000kms to cross. To give us some purpose besides eating away the distances, Nicolaas comes up with the idea of going to Zanzibar. That way, we’ll literally have crossed the continent from the west to the east coast. Instead of the well known overlander challenge: Caïro to Cape Town, we’ll do Dakar to Dar (Es Salaam)! We just have to squeeze some “relax time” into our busy program… 

The road towards the Congo-Zambia border is enjoyable enough with seas of yellow flowers bordering the decent tarred road. Having left late in the afternoon, we reach the border post just before closure time. The difference between the two neighboring countries in attitudes, professional standards and infrastructure is really quite shocking and abrupt. 

At the Congolese side we’re pestered by hustlers that want to “smooth” the formalities for us while the immigration and customs staff arrange our documents under a raffia shelter or in a shack. At the Zambian side we are let in through an automated barrier into a brand new facility where uniformed staff help us in a polite and very professional manner despite the fact that we refuse to pay the “crossing fee” since there’s no specific fee for motorbikes. If in Lubumbashi people would still demand money for a sandwich when they saw us eating one before we left, in Zambia a guy that complains he has to run around and do overtime to help the last travelers cross the border is replied by his peers: “Yes, hurry man, it’s your job”. We see several people driving home from work, people drive very disciplined, police don’t routinely ask for bribes, the road is good with good road markings, alongside it are many industrial facilities and even small towns actually boast such luxuries as signboards and electricity.

We make it as far as Chingola, where we stop at the first hotel. The friendly receptionist shows us the only room that’s still available. To us it seems like the presidential suite: three times the size of our room in Lubumbashi, with private shower and separate bath, a fridge and satellite TV. And the restaurant even serves food.

It’s like we’ve been warped into another universe, or maybe rather: back into our own, back into civilization! 

Next day we ride through Zambia’s copper belt. Unlike in DRC, where raw materials are merely extracted and exported out of the country, copper mining in Zambia is the base of an entire flourishing regional economy, with a resulting working and consuming middle class. We not only see mines but also refining plants, companies that provide the necessary chemical products for the refining process, transport companies, security companies, professionalized agriculture, services like banking and childcare, you name it.   

And more importantly for us: little towns along the highway provide everything needed for long distance truck drivers: fuel, (fast) food and cheap accommodation.  

But aside from the fact that traveling is easy and comfortable (which is nice for a change), it is also beautiful. North Zambia is still very empty and bushy savannah reaches as far as the eye can see on either side of the road. The Kapishya hot springs and nearby rock paintings provide for a nice break from all the riding, before we enter into Tanzania.

Transition is pretty smooth; buy a visa, get everything stamped, change money in a bureau, done! We do follow one of the hustlers that offered us insurance, but his “office” looks so dingy and unreliable that we leave without buying one. We’ve been riding without this third party liability coverage for four days now, distracting police officers by smooth-talking and showing our Congolese insurance card, we can do it one more night. It’s a shame that we wasted our time though. Now we have to ride the last 100kms to Mbeya in the dark. We camp at the recommended “Utengule Coffee Lodge”, a budget way to enjoy the luxurious surroundings and great food.

That’s the way things go in East Africa. One can choose to stick to the smoothly sealed roads and make use of all the excellent facilities: petrol stations with accompanying mini markets that have as much in stock as an average West-African supermarket, ready at hand cash from reliable ATM’s and the wide range of accommodation options to meet every budget. 

And that way travelling through stunning landscapes is pretty uneventful. 

Unless you want to call seeing wildlife – including elephants - up close and personal next to the tarred road or getting stuck in a 20 kilometer long traffic jam an event.

Even so, we’re pretty beaten when we finally arrive in Dar Es Salaam, glad to know the next two days are reserved for relaxing. Dar is Tanzania’s unofficial capital and our first encounter with Swahili culture. The city has a pleasant vibe and actually some attractive buildings, lanes and squares. It just lacks a couple of outdoor terraces and you could call it cozy. 

We wander around a little before heading to the Zanzibar ferry docks. We get ripped off like two rookies, getting a place on the slow ferry for the price of an express one. But when dolphins come and swim alongside the boat, we forget about it. 

We’ll treat ourselves to a nice hotel and enjoy a bit of ‘dolce far niente’: a dip in the ocean, a bite of good food, a lazy stroll around town, abundant sunshine and a cocktail to close the deal. Life is good…

But the relaxing comes at a cost. Our schedule now allows for only 2 days to reach Nairobi. Through wind, rain and cold we make it to Same on the first night and by noon the next day to Moshi at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Sadly that’s the only thing we get to see of it – the foot – as Africa’s giant keeps its head hidden in the clouds. 

The views on Mt Meru aren’t much better, 

but the spectacle of entering the Rift Valley afterwards is simply breathtaking! 

For more pics see album "Dakar - Dar"
Here the Masai herdsmen are in their element and their brightly colored garments contrast sharply against the soft shades of the steppe landscape. In fact they are the first tribe we see in Africa that still routinely wears their traditional clothing: the men in their vibrant red and blue and yellow shukas (large shawl) and sandals, the women with impressive beaded and silver jewelry. But of course, nowadays, this has also become a commercial trademark. The first Masai women to offer us beaded bracelets and necklaces are awaiting us at the border with Kenya.

Kenya… It stole my heart when we first visited it 5 years ago. I enter it a bit anxious and curious to see if it will live up to my expectations.

1 comment:

  1. Wilfried en Rita16 July, 2011 22:45

    Oef eindelijk wat ontspanning en relaxed! Mooie foto's!
    Isabel hopelijk was het ook vandaag een hele fijne dag en had je een leuke verjaardag!!! Proficiat en dikke kussen!!! (je mag er eentje van aan Nicolaas geven :) )