Tanzania truly is a beautiful country, God’s own

After God finished making all the lumpy bits in Southern Tanzania, I’m guessing he rested there for a bit. Riding through it on a bicycle, Tanzania truly is a beautiful country, God’s own.

When first we started planning our route months ago around my dining room table, places like Njombe, Makete and Makambako were just hard to pronounce names of places I’d never heard of. And now I’m riding through them, dodging tuk tuks and trucks in amongst busy markets and bazaars. On the map they’re just inches apart, on the bike they’re hours and days apart, hours and days spent marveling at the unfolding scenery.

I rode through some stunning wetlands yesterday. I stopped to look for a shoebill stork but couldn’t see any. I’ve humped a pair of binoculars in my Camelbak all the way from Harare to look for shoebills, but so far the only new bird I’ve seen is a Grey Headed Parrot at Mukumbura. And lots and lots of crows.

And what a place Tanzania is to farm. If I were thirty years younger. It has all the fertile soil in the world, planted out to either potatoes or tea, bananas or avocado or macadamias or timber plantations that go on and on and on, stretching away in every direction as far as the eye can see. This place just doesn’t stop. You get to the top of a hill, of which there are many, and there’s more of the same in front of you. And with hardly any people. The population pressure is way, way lower than neighboring Malawi.

Happiness is the management of expectations is one of Al Watermeyer’s many expressions. Either he has a book full of them or he makes them up. At our evening briefing before leaving our campsite outside Njombe, Al said he thought the day’s ride would be about 140 km with not too many hills. Normally Al is able to give us exact distances but because we had to tweak our route after fleeing the Kitulo Plateau and because we couldn’t get onto the internet at Njombe, we had to rely on Al’s plus minus estimates. Still knackered from Kitulo but with a rest day coming up, 140 km we were sort of happy with, especially if there were no hills involved.

To make the day more challenging, Adam rode the first 20km with his back brakes jammed on. Silly boy. We had the kindest of tail winds for the first 50 km. Mark Johnson actually had to slow down for some traffic policeman manning a 50 kph speed trap.

Alas. When we got to Makambako, it turned out to be 10 km further than Al’s estimate. Our 140 km day had just turned into a 150 km day. And then our happy tailwind turned into a viscous side wind as we turned towards Iringa. But thankfully the Dutch wrote the book on riding in and with the wind. Jaap organized our peloton so as to protect the inside riders from the worst of the wind and we still flew along. But 10 guys riding at speed in a close formation, taking turns at the front and moving clockwise, is nervy stuff, especially when one of them is me.

I was especially wobbly on my bike yesterday. 10 days ago whilst trying to unscrew something, I deftly used my Leatherman to cut the middle finger on my left hand,. Because it was a deep cut, Ryan doused it liberally with wound powder which stung like buggery. Unfortunately the wound powder didn’t work too good and 3 days ago my finger started aching. I meant to ask Adam to look at it but didn’t.

And by yesterday morning, ny finger was that swollen, I couldn’t get my ride glove over it. And by the time we got to Makambako, it was throbbing, amplifying every lump and bump in the road, of which there were many. Oh what fun, especially the rumble strips, of which there were more than many.
By the time we hit 100 km, my finger was that sore I was having to ride one handed, which up hills and over rumble strips is zero fun. And the only brake I could apply was my front one. Then we found out from one of the support vehicles that Makambako to the Farm House was actually 114 km. Our ride had just ballooned out to 164 km, our longest day on the Tour. By the time, I rode into the Farm House, my finger was fat like a sausage,angry, inflamed and bloody sore. But my finger aside, I was pretty pleased at how I’d gone. We all were. All of us have now ridden into peak fitness.

It was too late to see a doctor about my finger so I self medicated with beer and I was able to get some sleep. My whole hand was fat like a baseball catcher’s mitt with mumps when I woke up.

Before going off to find a doctor, I had to pay Dick of the Day penance by riding a lap on Gideon. Jenny managed to fall off Gideon on her lap but with no one watching. We had to ride without Gideon’s WWII helmet because Ryan has managed to lose it. I think my grandmother bequeathed me the helmet in her will. Or I bought it at the St Johns Fair. I can’t remember which.

When eventually i saw a doctor, she said I have cellulitis. Which I think means the infection is into the bone. I couldn’t hear her properly over my whimpering. With the lowest of pain thresholds and a vivid imagination, i’ve met Maltese Poodles who whimper less than me. The doctors has prescribed a 7 day course of intravenous antibiotics, times 2 per day. Which is fourteen injections over the next days. I don’t think we’ll be riding past that many clinics or hospitals in the next week, so enter Adam the medic.

To swat up on his intravenous injection techniques, he last gave one 40 years ago in the army, Adam came with me to the hospital in nearby Mafinga to watch me get my first 10 cc injection, and to video it, so he has a point of reference to watch for the next week, morning and evening. But mostly I think Adam took the video so he can laugh at the ‘Oh My God, How Big Is This Roller Coaster?’ expression firmly fixed on my face throughout. Check the video out on Facebook.

I’m so not looking forward to the next week. Adam is.
And it gets worse. We’re receiving medical advice from afar. I listened to Adam’s call to a doctor back in Zim on speaker phone with horror. Apparently if the swelling on the back of my hand gets any worse, my hand will need to be lanced, from the palm side, with either a needle or a scalpel, taking care to avoid ligaments etc, so as to release the build up of pus. Rather too eagerly for my liking, Adam started asking lots of questions like what size incision, etc, etc. Thankfully the doctor on the other end of the line said better we get it done by a surgeon or a doctor at a hospital.

Already the first antibiotic injection is working. My hand is less swollen.
We’ll see how we go tomorrow, and the days after. I am determined to finish the ride and to climb the mountain afterwards. But I am also rather keen on not having my finger amputated. Thankfully I’ve got Adam, Jenny, Linda and the doctor from afar watching out for me.

I need to tell you about my Tanzanian hospital experience. It was good, real good. The nurse and doctors who gave me my tetanus and intravenous injections attended to me professionally and quickly, with smiles on their faces and apart from the cost of the cannula, the treatments were free. What’s up with that, President Ed? How come there are drugs for free in Tanzanian hospitals but no drugs at all in Zimbabwean ones? We’ve ridden through 3 other African countries and have not seen potholes, fuel queues, cash shortages, forex shortages, shortages of bread or shortages of anything. If you can’t do the job President Ed, better to stand aside for someone who can. You’re messing up our lives and we only have one.

One of the downsides of my sore finger is that I was not able to go play golf with the rest of the Old Legs team at the Mafinga Club, hosted by Janet Sanders and other members of the local community. Alas. As I write this at 23.00 the golfers are still not home yet from the golf and the curry dinner so I guess I won’t be the only one in pain on tomorrow’s ride.

The local community have been so good to us. Our host at the Farm House, Rick Ghaui, drove Alan literally hundreds of kilometers yesterday in search of bearings for his back wheel.

We are now 17 on Tour. Sue Johnson flew into Iringa yesterday to join us for the last week, to make sure Mark doesn’t lose anymore kit.. Mark quickly washed his pillowcase in the dam at Njombe before Sue arrived. I’m surprised he hasn’t been riding with the pillowcase stuck on his face it was that dirty.

From here to our end destination, the Kili Golf and Wildlife Estate between Arusha and Moshi, we’ll be adlibbing when it comes to night stops. We have 835 km left to ride in 7 days. If anyone knows of any schools or clinics or farms etc that we can camp at, please let us know.

As I re-read this blog, I’m struck by the enormity of the task we’re close to achieving. We’re 10 riders, some of us in our sixties and seventies, and we’ll have ridden 2900 kilometers, climbing over 30,000 meters in just 27 days. But the enormity of our task is dwarfed by the enormity our cause. Back home, our poor pensioners are again being reduced to nothing, for the second time in ten years, by sheer economic stupidity. Help us to help them. Go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oldlegstour. In Zimbabwe, transfer to Bulawayo Help Network via their CABS Platinum Account number 1124733450 or their
Ecocash merchant number 139149.

My next blog will come to you from somewhere on the other side of Iringa. Until then, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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