Am I ready to hit the road again? I take a test drive to find out.
17.06.2014 - 26.06.2014 80 °F
I have been in Arusha for over two months while waiting for my fractured right arm to heal sufficiently to continue my RTW. I had reduced my plans, but still hoped to see Nepal, SE Asia, Indonesia and volunteer at a research center in Australia. The healing progess has been slow, but steady and visible. I had some sessions with a physiotherapist and have a set of exercises to do several times a day to increase my flexibility and regain my strength. I can't continue my trip until I can hoist my heavy backpack. However, time is running out. My second visa (good for three months) has less than four weeks left and I could only lift a mug of chai-- if I was careful.
So I pack a small day bag with a change of clothes, a toothbrush and my android phone. Sticking my ATM card in my pocket, I head out for a test run. Babati is only about a three hour (plan on 4 or 5!) bus ride away. The idea is to investigate creating a volunteer component for an NGO (non-government organization). Arusha is swarming with international volunteers, but Babati is one of the poorest regions of Tanzania and growing fast which means they can't keep up with their growing needs and it's a region that doesn't attract many tourists even though it isn't far from Tarangire and the safari tourist trail. I had found a non-profit NGO that was already established there and working on agriculture, health and education as an approach to tackle the cycle of poverty, but it had only a small volunteer component. It is based in England, so I sent them an email hoping to get a local contact in Babati and made a plan to visit the local schools to measure interest and need for a volunteer-based support program that would focus on education.
The NGO I contacted never responded (it's been weeks) and by the time I can hit the road, the schools have closed for the 'summer'. Elia has just finished his training program in Arusha and the high season is off to a slow start most likely due to the terrorist activities (bombings) in Kenya. Tanzania and Kenya share a border and also share the tourists. The international airport in Nairobi, Kenya is bigger and better served than Dar es Salaam, Tanzania so most tourists coming to Tanzania start in Kenya. Arusha (Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Tarangire National Parks) and Moshi (Mt. Kilamanjaro) are only a few hours from the Kenyan border; a shuttle from Arusha to Nairobi takes about four hours. Tourists planning to visit Kenya often decide to split their time between the two countries and see the best of both-- but this season they appear to have been scared off by the activities in Kenya. So with few tourists and even less business...he's free to travel. So we head to Babati with a plan to stay just a few days.
BABATI (two nights in two hotels)
There isn't much to do in Babati. We do take a huge traditionally-made (and leaky) canoe out on Lake Babati to see the herds of hippos and the bird life. I take pictures of the fishermen (they don't seem to mind even though they are fishing illegally-- there is a six month no-fishing period in place). We watch the student sports fair with locals pitted against busloads of students from Arusha and other nearby towns. We walk until we have seen pretty much the whole town. Not ready to go back to Arusha, we decide to see what is happening in Singida. I lament that we can't buy the fresh sunflower oil and yummy (somewhat sticky) rice that is abundant in the area. I had hoped to buy some for cooking and some for gifts, but we can't carry it since we are not going directly back to Arusha.
SINGIDA (two nights in two hotels)
We hop a bus to go the 135 kilometers to Singida and then grab a Bajaji (3-wheeled auto-rickshaw common in India and SE Asia...often called tuk tuks) to take us to a hotel on Lake Singidani. We bump down a dirt road passing small houses with skinny chickens in the yards and colorful laundry on the lines. The area around the lake is quiet, just a few pastoralists bringing their cows to drink on the shore. Another guy has a small herd of donkeys. Elia takes some pictures of boys playing on the shore in the distance only to realize they don't all have swimsuits. The boys run for the water and hide in an old canoe-- then get brave and start showing off. We walk around and see some new houses that belie that Singida is even poorer than Babati. No one seems to even know there are supposed to be flamingos on the lake. We check out one of the other six lakes-- no flamingos there either...just a few fishermen with ropes around their waist to help pull in the nets. We have a second night at a hotel in town...eat dinner at an outdoor barbecue place where everyone is watching the world cup...walk a lot...and that's about the end of the entertainment. Elia loves politics and avidly watches the TZ Parliament on TV, so I suggest we continue on to Dodoma (the capitol of TZ) and see the Bunge where the Parliament takes place...
DODOMA (one night)
Except, they won't let us in at the Bunge and I can't even take a picture (though I find a view between the trees about two blocks away and snap a few of the Bunge's dome and flag...neener, neener, neener!). A police cavalcade drives by and Elia catches a glimpse of the Tanzanian President in the escorted car. Once again, not much to do, but walk around and explore. So it's off to Morogoro...
MOROGORO and TANGA (one night; two nights)
At Morogoro, I find a lady selling fried goodies and chapatis on the street-- I buy two of everything and have a hard time saving some for Elia. Elia heard about a popular place while he was at the internet cafe and we went there to try out the local specialty which was a wheat porridge with crispy bits and potato dumplings topped off by yogurt, tamarind sauce and who knows what else. It reminded me of the Belpuri and more elaborate chaats in India-- Yum! After Morogoro (and a repeat of activities we had done in the other towns), we head to Tanga which is on the coast of the Indian Ocean. We discover a great place to stay, but it is full. The friendly manager directs us to a few nearby places. We stay at one of them, but head back to his place for dinner. We have Kingfish with garlic butter and prawns in Marsala sauce. It's so good that we return for lunch the next day and have prawn fried rice and a big fresh salad. We hop on the bus for Arusha in the morning. At the first stop out of town, we buy three huge bags of local oranges to eat and to give as gifts to family and friends in Arusha. The seven hour plus bus ride will be the final test of my travel abilities.
Getting back on the road will be a bit of a challenge, but I think I'm ready...except that I still can't hoist my big pack onto my back! Yeah, there was also an occasional struggle to slide out of a seat using just one arm and getting on/off the bus was a bit sticky when the steps were so high off the ground as I couldn't pull myself up with just my left hand. I have about three weeks to get into shape. Back in Arusha, I pull my pack out of the closet where it has been for almost three months. It is about half full. I cautiously lift it up and swing it onto my back. The pull on my shoulder is a warning sign...it looks like I will need to amp up my exercise program if I'm going to catch that flight to Kathmandu on July 17th. Until then, I have exercises to do, a long list of things to accomplish, and a lot of goodbyes to say. With my visa expiring on July 18th...it's Kathmandu, here I come, ready or not.