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April 16th, 2010 | Africa

A Major Change of Plan…!!

Over the last two days, I have pored over my maps, working out the best route to get me to Rwanda. I have spoken to many of the locals, asking their opinions, and comparing them to what I have been told by guys from the Dar Bikers, a group of friends that keep in touch, exchanging info on biking, roads etc…

The distance between Dodoma and Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is 1050 km. I had planned to do this in three separate rides, rather than push it in two… It turns out that there is about 50 to 60 kms of gravel road between Dodoma and Singida, and “perhaps” another stretch between Singida and Kahama… Despite many phone calls to various people who said they knew somebody else that would know, there were just too many conflicting bits of info on this stretch of road… Many of the locals have no idea where the places are that I am asking about, even though they are only a few hundred kilometres away !!! There is just no money that will allow them to travel, so you find locals who have hardly left Dodoma their entire lives…

Leaving the Nam Hotel, Dodoma...

After leaving the Nam Hotel, I rode over to MAF, to give Glenn a disc onto which I’d copied the record of my trip from Pretoria to Dodoma, and while I was there, he took me over to the aircraft hangar to have a cup of coffee and a chipati with the rest of the team… I met a Rwandan lady who worked in the admin department and she told me that there was a lot of bandit activity on the final stretch between Kahama and the border of Rwanda…

It seems Rwandan rebels have made this area largely unstable, ambushing vehicles and robbing people of their goods and valuables… No vehicles were allowed to travel through to the border without a police escort during the day, and the road was closed to traffic after dusk!! Usually the police hopped into the car or bus they were escorting, and took it in relays to get the vehicles through safely, hopping off and changing guards at the various small villages en route… Obviously, the Big Fella would not be allowing a policeman with a loaded rifle to balance on the top-box behind his rider, so I was in a bit of a quandary…

“How dangerous is it?” I asked…

“Just a little bit dangerous…” was her reply…

One of the MAF guys burst out laughing at this and said,

“Well it only takes one gun and one bullet, to make things dangerous!”…

Here, finally,was somebody, who had traveled that road very recently, and from whom I could get good information. She said the road was surfaced from Kahama to the border, but was very bumpy in places… Seems the Chinese did not do their best work on this section!! There were villages to stay over at if darkness found you still out on the road, but they would probably have no facilities as such, and I would have to camp… I would have to hook up with one of the public buses, and ride behind them… This I was prepared to do, and after finishing my coffee, walked out to the bike to get going…

Robert "Big Bob", the night shift manager, hung around to say goodbye to me, long after his shift was done...

But there was one other problem that raised its head, as I left the hotel… The BMW shock absorber I had installed, did not seem to enjoy the load it was supporting… I had jacked it up to it’s fullest extension, and then turned it back a few clicks… On the way over to MAF, the bike handled in such a strange way, that I thought I had turned the adjustment the wrong way… I could feel every ripple on the road through the seat of my pants !! That was bad !! Glenn and I checked the shock adjustment and confirmed that I had adjusted it correctly in the first place, but this shock could not extend as high as the Ohlins… I needed to lose some weight… (Not me !! The bike !!) With one shock on it’s way to S.A. (care of Glenn), the next obvious thing to shed would be the tyres, but I needed to get as much use out of the ones on the bike as I could. They still had a good few thousand k’s on them!!

After saying goodbye to all the guys who had gathered around to take photos of the bike and wish me farewell, I rode out of their base and made my way into town to refuel… The streets are dotted with potholes, and I deliberately rode through a few of the shallower ones, at slow speed, to try and gauge how the shock was coping with the weight… Not very well, I’m afraid… It felt as if it was “bottoming out”… After refueling, I had to make a left turn in the opposite direction to the road to Singida, to avoid the island that separates the two sides of the main road… I turned left again, and was now on another busy main road. I stopped at a large garage and supermarket complex to buy water, and consider my options… It was 11.00am, plenty of time to get to Singida, 250 km away….depending of course on the 50 odd kms of “gravel/sand/rough/good dirt” road (depending on who I had spoken to so far!). but I was very concerned about the shock… If I blew another shock on this section, I would be in a serious pickle…

The owner of the supermarket where I had bought the water, came over to chat… I asked him about the road, and his eyes grew large when I told him I was riding to Singida…

“Yesterday, I had two punctures on that road… I only arrived home late in the night…” he said…

A little niggle of doubt crept into my mind at this bit of news…

“Where does this road go to?” I asked, pointing at the busy road in front of us…

“To Morogoro and Dar-es-Salaam…” was his reply…

I made up my mind right there and then… I would not take the chance of the short cut to Rwanda, but would rather go around the northern part of Lake Victoria, through Uganda, where I wanted to do the trek to see the Gorillas, anyway…

I have also developed an infection in my left eye, and tweaked my left knee when trying to paddle my way through thick sand on the Iringa – Dodoma road… If the eye got worse, I would only be able to see a doctor in Kigali, three or more days hence… All the omens were lined up against me on this road that I had planned to take… Discretion once again came to the fore…

I mounted up, pointed the Big Fella due east, and headed for Morogoro, 280 km away…

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