This might as well have been my most relaxing yet productive rest day so far. With all my washing done on our last cycling day and/or during our safari, the only thing left to do this morning was to clean my chain.
I noticed that my rear tire had gone flat during the transport, but hoped it was just another slow puncture that didn’t need fixing. I’d had that for the past weeks—it gets flat overnight when standing on a smooth surface, but would hold up absolutely fine throughout my cycling day. Any scientific explanations for that??? Anyway, I just pumped up my tire to test my theory and check back in the afternoon, no further bike repairs required.
Then I took a local minibus taxi into town, for which our new sectional rider Peter (Kigali to Cape Town, from the UK) joined me. Like cattle, we squeezed inside, hips pushing against the locals next to us. Adventure comes cheap—the bus ride was only TZS400 (less than 20 cents)!
We got off at the Clock Tower—the central square of Arusha. The Clock Tower is generally also considered to be located half-way between Cairo to Cape Town (though we haven’t fully covered half our cycling distance yet).
Of course, I had made sure to enquire about the best coffee shop before heading into town—Africafe, conveniently located just a few steps from the Clock Tower.
My first priority was straightforward—breakfast and chilling at Africafe. Luckily, I came before the crowds and enjoyed decent WiFi for an hour. What a lovely morning!
Eventually, however, I had to get on with my biggest task for the day: buy a new phone and/or iPod. Henry, TDA’s founder, had warned us that, even though the second half of the tour is physically no more challenging than the first, it tends to become much more challenging from a mental point of view. Expectations change, people get unhappy and depressed. Apparently, that’s a pattern they see every year, and I could totally see that happening to me (thinking back to my mental state during my sick days when I was totally over it all).
Most of us had already reached a mental low at some stage during the past days, and the outlook didn’t seem very bright. We had seven days of tough cycling (long distances, lots of climbing, dirt roads) ahead of us—one of the longest and most difficult sections of the entire tour.
In order to make it through that section and beyond while still enjoying every Fabulous inch (or at least the majority of all those bloody inches), I needed a device that would allow me again to listen to stuff while on the road, in order to distract my mind. With all my gadgets broken, I had caught myself constantly checking my mileage during the past weeks, and that didn’t help to make the cycling days go by any faster. Entertainment please!
Our camp manager Steve, who is from Arusha, had recommended Benson & Company as the best electronics store in town. That’s where I was heading.
On the way, I passed by a drugstore and filled up my store of vitamin C and iron supplements, as well as essential toiletries. It continues to surprise me that all things pharmaceutical are sold at Western prices in Africa. How can the local population possibly afford that?!
At Benson & Company, my experience was no different. All Samsung phones and any kind of Apple products were ridiculously expensive. I had hoped to get a cheap outdated model, but that wasn’t going to happen. Afraid that any new device might break again, I wasn’t willing to spend a small fortune.
“Don’t you have anything cheaper?” I asked.
“What’s your budget?” the sales manager wanted to know.
“What’s the cheapest reasonable option you have?” I replied. “All I need is basic functionality and good batter life.”
Then the sales manager had one clear recommendation: the Tecno Mobile W2 it had to be. A Chinese brand, but nowadays “all the phones are produced in China anyway,” the shop owner (who by the way was Indian—lots of Indian people in various trade businesses in East Africa) commented.
“Is it really any good?” I was suspicious.
“Yes, they used not to be good, but now they are almost the same as Samsung, also Android based,” only the camera was said to be not comparable yet.
A short demo convinced me that the phone would meet all my needs, and fit within my budget. Together with a fast charging USB cable, that was half the price of the phone but equally essential, I paid about USD 100.
On the way back, I walked past McMoody’s, which I remembered to be another popular coffee shop in town. Of course, I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to check it out. Interestingly, all the coffee shops in East Africa seem to also be full-service restaurants. McMoody’s specialty is Indian food, and so I stayed for lunch—a decision I wouldn’t regret.
By the time I had drank and eaten as much as I could, and my new phone was fully charged, I got on with my errands. I had forgotten my washing line at our prior camp, so I walked into a hardware store to find replacement.
Inventive as they are, sure enough the lady offered me a workable solution—5 meters of a green steel cable for about USD 25 cents.
Next up, getting a local SIM card took a bit more time. For whatever reason, the SIM card registration process is always super slow. Identity details slowly to be typed into a computer, passport to be scanned, headshot to be taken, innumerable PINs to be entered and initiation texts to be sent . . . At least data is cheap all over East Africa: 2GB for less than USD3—I won’t complain!
By the way, I’m also particularly pleased to see that M-pesa, a mobile banking/payment solution, is very wide-spread in East Africa. Via M-pesa, even poor people, or those living in remote areas, can get access to the financial system. Very progressive—other countries can learn a lot from East Africa!
Phone and data sorted, more cash withdrawn, and remaining Kenyan shillings exchanged, I was finally done with my errands and could move on to the fun part: pedicure and facial treatment. Google told me the Palace Hotel might be a convenient location to try my luck, and lucky I was indeed. There was no other customer, and they attended to me immediately. Two hours of pampering was definitely worth the USD 50 that I paid!
During my pedicure, I set up my new phone. To my pleasant surprise, it indeed seemed to be fairly comparable to my Samsung phone in terms of functionality (camera aside). Some features even seemed superior, such as all common social apps pre-installed, two SIM card slots at the back, as well as a slot for an external memory card (rather than requiring to spend a lot more money to upgrade to a phone with higher storage capacity). The Chinese have indeed been learning quickly, and—once again—seem to be on track to take over yet another industry.
My long day in Arusha concluded with lovely dinner back at Africafe. What a great day!
Planning to launch a start-up focused on Kilimanjaro climbs after TDA, I will probably come back to Arusha and spend a lot more time there. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see Africa’s tallest mountain this time. However, it was nice to see that Arusha (Tanzania’s third largest city) is relatively well developed and has all the Western amenities. I could easily imagine Africafe becoming my second office…
Fast forward by a year: I’d indeed be back twice to Arusha in 2017 alone. My start-up Fair Voyage has already become the #1 platform for ethical Kilimanjaro climbs organized by 100% responsible local companies. Can you believe it?! All inspired by my TDA cycling experience! Check it out – I’d be excited to become your personal Kilimanjaro trip advisor 🙂
By the time I forced myself to head back to camp in order to get some sleep, it was dark already. I stood at the side of the street waiting for a normal taxi—a luxury I was more than happy to afford—but a local minibus taxi pulled up first.
“Masai Camp?” I asked.
“That’s good, get in”, the guy at the door allowed me to jump the queue of locals.
Once inside, however, I realized there was nowhere to sit down. Four people were squeezed into each row meant for two (by Western standards). Before I knew it, they had already closed the door and the minibus was back on the road. I stood hunched from my middle back, one leg squeezed against the knees of a seated guy, backpack on the lap of another, face only few centimeters from yet another guy, desperately trying to hold on to a seat so I wouldn’t fall over in one of the driver’s crazy traffic-jumping maneuvers.
The vehicle was so full of people that I couldn’t see outside the window. So I relied on the door guy to stop for me at Masai Camp. Finally, he told me to get off. What a relief!
“Masai Camp?” I confirmed.
“Yes,” and off the bus went again.
I found myself on a dark street, but Masai Camp was nowhere in sight. A local guy kindly told me to continue walking a few hundred meters down the road. I hadn’t brought my headlamp and my new phone was stuck somewhere deep down in my backpack. So I ended up walking in the dark, hoping that I wouldn’t stumble over a crazy pothole.
I reached the camp just fine, but another surprise was waiting for me: My tire had deflated again during the day, so I had no choice but repair my tube. While I had hoped to catch up with my blog, my evening was spent on more essential tasks. On a positive note, Tallis had picked up my washing line at our prior camp and returned it to me—what a nice surprise!
By the time I had my shower and sorted my gear, it was midnight. As usual in East Africa, crazy loud music from a nearby bar filled the air. It was not my silicone earplugs, but exhaustion from a long day that finally won the fight against the noise pollution.