Tallis has warned us many times of the crazy African drivers—truck and bus drivers, car drivers and motorcyclists alike. “They have no respect for life, neither their own nor anyone else’s.” This means that “whatever is bigger than you has right of way. Stay on the shoulder whenever you can, and get out of the road to let them pass.”
Indeed, when we cycled out of Nairobi, we got our first taste of the crazy African traffic (crazy Sudanese bus drivers aside). Since then, however, it has been a pleasant surprise. “Don’t expect Tanzania to be like Rwanda. Watch out for the traffic,” Tallis has warned us again a few days ago.
So far, so good. I haven’t felt threatened on the roads at all. Perhaps this is because there are many local cyclists (not recreational, but using the bike as a means of transport), so drivers are used to them.
Sure, when going through built-up areas, one has to be on constant alert. Small mini-bus taxis are a common means of transport here. They pick up people along the road, and allow them to get off wherever they want. This means they are constantly moving in and out of the road, making it a bit challenging for cyclists to navigate around them. Having said that, I haven’t had a single mini-bus driver cutting in or out irresponsibly, and usually they wait when they see me coming.
Going slow in built-up areas and paying attention goes a long way to staying safe. Mwanza (the city that we had to navigate through last afternoon and this morning) is Tanzania’s second biggest city, with a population of over 700,000 people. Good luck navigating such a city in any developed country!
I actually think that the East African system of using mini-bus taxis and thus sharing transport makes a lot more sense than every single person driving in the developed world. Who are we to judge them as crazy drivers, just because we are too impatient to cycle slow?!
Of course, one reason the traffic has been quite good is that we’re avoiding highways and busy roads. TDA has done well scouting good roads for us. But then again, one wouldn’t cycle on a highway anywhere else in the world either!
Finally, a word on local cyclists. Some of them have for sure been driving us nuts over the past days in Tanzania. Especially young men aged 15-35 like chasing us and hanging on to our back-wheel. Hearing the constant creaks and clicks of their old bikes, and suspicious of irresponsible cycling causing potential danger, has been driving many of us crazy—at least me that is.
I’ve been using the “F” word in combination with “idiot” more often than I can count over the past days, mostly silently but at times also aloud. Initially, it seemed to me as if they are all machos who can’t handle the fact that a woman cycles, let alone faster than them. They would go at a slow pace, but as soon as I come past, they speed up and try to hang on to me. How annoying!
However, our male cyclists have had the same experience. So I’ve come to believe they simply enjoy the challenge of seeing whether they can cycle as fast as us. And considering their old one-gear bikes, their performance is impressive for sure when they hang on to us over several miles. Just that none of us really cares and would rather be left alone.
The good news is that these annoying local cyclists don’t mean any harm. As soon as I make them understand that their behavior is not appreciated, or that I’m not impressed by them, they let go. Two days ago, towards the end of my long cycling day amidst heavy rain, I completely lost it with a particularly persistent cyclist who kept hanging on to me. “Can you please stop chasing me? This is f…ing annoying!” I shouted at him. He stopped instantly.
Today, I’ve had a guy hanging on to me, then overtake me, then wait until I overtake him, then overtake me again. “Una matata?” (You have problem?) I asked him in broken Swahili.—”Yes”, he replied completely baffled. I kept cycling, and wouldn’t see him again.
In hindsight, I’m sorry for the behavior that I’ve been showing towards the local cyclists. I’m sure they just wanted to be friendly and meant no harm.
To cut a long story short, I would like to put straight the common misperception that African traffic is crazy. This is simply not true, or at least it can’t be generalized for all of Africa. So far, I think the vast majority of drivers have been extremely welcoming and respectful of us.
Stage 41: Mwanza – Speke Bay (Tanzania), 142km
Road & traffic condition:
Good tar and good traffic. Only had one crazy bus driver overtaking another vehicle and making me jump outside of the road. The first 20km cycling out of Mwanza required some concentration though to avoid any incidents with myriads of minibus taxis constantly moving in and out of the road.
We did a lot less climbing today than all the prior days. It has been very pleasant to cycle on almost flat roads again—we haven’t had much of that since Sudan.
Mostly sunshine with a little bit of rain in the morning; quite hot in the afternoon, but manageable (for the lucky ones getting into camp relatively early; probably painfully hot for everyone else).
Steak, broccoli, potatoes and coleslaw; followed by Errol’s thick & creamy cookie pie. Never mind the sugar overdose—most of us went for second helpings.
Four rest days coming up—wahoo!!!
I came into camp very early today, just after the racers, around 1.15pm. This allowed me plenty of time to do all my washing ahead of the rest days, and then simply chill and relax in the afternoon. Haven’t had much of that during the past weeks.
I’ve also come to realize that the reason I’ve been so slow the past weeks was not only due to being sick and low on energy. It’s also due to me being one of the most risk-averse and slowest riders downhill. Today, there haven’t been any crazy downhills. Hence, I’ve been able to regain my position amongst our group that I had enjoyed throughout the first month in Egypt and Sudan.
Consequently, I’d say I’ve had a rather great day. Only my phones are giving me trouble. I can barely re-charge them, and the batteries drain again instantly. I hate being disconnected while cycling in case of any emergencies, and the day gets really long without being able to listen to music or my Swahili lessons while cycling. I will try to buy a new phone (and iPod?) during our rest day in Arusha.
NB: I will not be blogging the next three days when we’ll be enjoying three days of safaris and wild bush camps. However, I hope to upload some photos thereafter during our rest day in Arusha.