Friday, November 4, 2011

What is Wrong With These Drivers?!?!

The next morning, we lazily readied to ride to Dar Es Salaam. It's only about 120 miles away, and we knew where we wanted to stay, so we weren't in much of a hurry. We did need to refuel before leaving Morogoro, so we stopped at the station around the corner from our hotel. They apparently had a problem with their single pump and waved us on. 
The view from the road from hell
We continued down the road to another station I had seen on one of our walks. What I apparently didn't notice at this point was the GPS recalculating our route. We made it to the next station and through some sign language got enough petrol to get us to Dar. We turned back onto the road and followed the GPS directions. Since there are so few roads in Africa, I normally don't depend on the GPS, but instead rely on the map. However, when we arrived in Morogoro, we got ourselves completely turned around while searching for the hotel, and I honestly couldn't remember the way back to the highway. So, GPS it was. After a few miles I started getting a little concerned, because I thought I had remembered from my cursory glance at the written directions earlier that morning, that it should have been under two miles back to the highway. My suspicions were confirmed when the road turned to hard-packed dirt. I'm pretty sure I would have remembered riding on a dirt road coming into town. We pulled over, and I took a better look at the route and realized that yes, in fact, the GPS recalculated our route due to our side trip to the petrol station. It appeared that the dirt road would last for about 6.8 miles before rejoining the highway. Re and I discussed it quickly and decided that (in light of my hatred of backtracking) we would continue down the dirt road. The road was very rough and rutted and became more so as we rode on. Our average speed fell to under 20 mph as we picked our way through the rocks and ravines. After about 5 miles, we came upon a crossroads and an odd road feature. It appeared that someone had planted a row of stones across the width of the road. These stones stuck up about 8 inches out of the dirt, but there were a couple of motorcycle size gaps between them. I aimed for one of the gaps that was about 10 inches wide and did not make it. Re however, made it through with no problem. Yay! I did it right! I didn't crash! Finally!!! As I passed between the rocks, I felt a sharp impact, and the bike lurched sideways. After clearing the gap my bike slowed drastically. Well now, this can't be good. Before I even hopped off the bike, I looked down and saw the damage. I'd hit one of the rocks with my rear brake lever and bent it back so far that it was now caught on the footpeg. We hopped off the bikes and looked underneath to see the deep gouge in the rear brake lever. As we were on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, we needed to affect a quick repair. Not wanting to remove the rear brake lever at the time (and not really knowing how to remove it) we did the next best thing and got out the hammer. I pounded on the brake lever, trying at least to free it from the footpeg but was only able to move it about 1 inch. As it was now at least 4 inches farther back than it was supposed to be, it made for a difficult ride. After stowing the tools, we got back on the “road” and made our way to the highway. Back on terra firma, we pulled into the first layby and inspected the bike for any more damage. It seems the lever took all the impact and was just deformed. The good news was that the brake was not binding, the bad news was that I had to ride the next 115 miles with only the very tip of my boot on the footpeg. If I shifted my foot any farther forward, it applied the rear brake. When you're a big man on a little bike, you don't need your riding position to be restricted any more than it already is. 
Colin's relocated brake pedal

Where the pedal should be
Fortunately, I did not remain focused on my brake problem for too long, as traffic today was even worse than the ride to Morogoro. As we frequently took to the hard shoulder to dodge oncoming traffic and to pass slower vehicles in order to prevent being run over from behind, we decided this was good practice for our upcoming rides in India. The closer we got to Dar, the more insane the other drivers became. At one point in time, I was “passed” by a UN Toyota Land Cruiser that came within two inches of my handlebar as he jammed in beside me. As I was already at the edge of the pavement and there was about a 6 inch drop off to the dirt below, I was a little irate. I'm glad to hear that the US will be withholding some funds from UNESCO. To add to the excitement, there were suicidal baboons everywhere. We lived in California for about 18 months many years ago, so I'm fairly comfortable with lane splitting. Re however, never got used to it and doesn't enjoy it. Once we reached the outskirts of Dar, lane splitting was the only way to go. Dalladallas are what the local minibus taxis are called here, and they are many and aggressive. Also, many of the intersections are uncontrolled (or at least people treat them that way). If the traffic signals are working, no one seems to care what color they are, they just go. So we ducked and dodged, weaved and wiggled the next 10 miles into town. 
It seemed to me that the most dangerous drivers on the road here are the bus drivers. I was under the impression that as a bus driver, your number one priority is the safe delivery of your passengers to their destination. I quite apparently, am wrong about this. The bus drivers in Tanzania treat the entire road as their own personal oyster (and everyone else gets shucked), using all the paved surface themselves, regardless of who might also be there. They pass slower traffic in blind, narrow curves, force oncoming vehicles off the road, and basically, blatantly thumb their noses at traffic laws and other drivers, all in the name of keeping to a time schedule. I actually wondered aloud if the Islam Express bus company drivers are just on a mission to deliver their passengers and everyone in their way to meet Allah a little sooner. We managed to arrive safely in Dar Es Salaam and made it to the Jambo Inn Hotel, where we paid for two nights in an air-conditioned, en-suite room. The hotel doesn't have secure parking, but I showed the manager our little, teensy bikes, and asked if there was any way to pull them inside overnight. He allowed us instead, to park them behind their locked side gate at night, which was just perfect (my negotiation skills are improving). We carried our gear upstairs and turned on the AC and the ceiling fan (which has speeds from menacing to murderous, so we turned it back off). I went in to the bathroom to splash some water on my very hot face and had to laugh. I looked like a grease monkey from all the diesel and general road grime that was stuck in the sunscreen and sweat, so I added some soap to the water. After we recovered (and looked somewhat more presentable) we headed downstairs to get some lunch and have a quick walk around the area. Back to the hotel for some more AC and wifi before dinner, and then off to bed for an early night.

We spent the morning looking at the map and trying to plan our time in Dar (and maybe beyond). Not able to locate the shipping port on the map, we walked down Morogoro Road to the water. Lo and behold, it was the port! We walked north along the water, past the docks for the ferries to Zanzibar, and around to another local ferry dock. I was extremely disappointed to see one particular boat in the harbor. We stood and watched one of the Hoegh Autoliner RORO ships back away from the jetty. I had found out that this ship comes to Dar once a month, and eventually makes its way to Mumbai, but couldn't find the schedule. We watched as the one option I knew of sailed away. Well, crap. As we walked back to our hotel, we once again passed the ferries to Zanzibar. This area is full of touts who want to “help” you get a ticket to Zanzibar, or if you're not interested in Zanzibar, they have the safari “just for you.” after repeating no Zanzibar, no safari a few dozen times, one tout asked us, “well then, what do you want?” Figuring it would get him out of our faces, I told him we wanted to ship our motorbikes to India. I almost guffawed when he said, “India? You need to speak to this guy.” He grabbed me by the hand and led me to a tiny office that “unsurprisingly” sold ferry tickets to Zanzibar and to safaris. The tout said something in Swahili to a person in the front office who then led us to the back office and to Mr. Msuya. We were motioned to sit down in his chairs, and he asked us what we wanted. I said we needed to get to India by ship, and he laughed and replied in very good English that there were no passenger ships to India. I explained that we actually wanted to ship our motorbikes to India, fully expecting the same laugh, but instead he said, “we can do that.” Surprised and suspicious, I asked how they would go about doing that, and he proceeded to explain that he works with cargo consolidators who could “stuff” our bikes in a consolidated container and get them to Mumbai. They would simply need our documents and a deposit, and he could get to work. I asked how much this might cost, and he said he figured maybe 300 USD per bike based on the fact that he had shipped a Land Rover some time in the past, and it was around 1200 USD. Intrigued, I said we would think about it and talk with him tomorrow. He said he would check further into prices and the schedule before we met. Re and I left excited but a little nervous at how irregular this seemed. As it was nearly 12 noon and we would have wifi, we headed back to the hotel to try and get some quotes on air cargo rates. Since it was Sunday, we didn't expect to get a response from the airlines but hopefully would hear something on Monday morning before we met with Mr. Msuya again. We also found the location of the India High Commission, as we need to apply for visas tomorrow as well. We spent the rest of the day reading about India and a possible trip to Zanzibar.

The next morning we got up, had breakfast, and got ready to go to the India High Commission to submit visa applications. Before we left the States, we took lovely pictures of each other, and had a bunch of 2” square copies made to go along with visa requests. Unfortunately, in the photos we have, we are both wearing our glasses, and the India High Commission does not accept photos of people wearing glasses. So the first order of business was getting new photos taken. The man at reception directed us to a place right around the corner where we sat, took off our glasses, didn't smile, and got two of the absolute worst pictures ever taken in photographic history. We rode over to the High Commission, signed the book and got two of the last three tickets to request visas for the morning (India has quite a reputation for loving bureaucratic red tape, so we were unsurprised by the limited number of slots and the limited 1.5 hour time in which they even accept applications). Once our number was displayed, we proceeded to the counter, smiled at the nice lady, gave her our applications and paid our money. Since we neither have onward tickets beyond India nor do we have the required two referees in India or in Tanzania to vouch for us, we hope that the additional fee we had to pay to “refer passports” will ensure that when we retrieve our passports on Friday between 4:00 and 4:45 pm (that is the time to pick up passports- remember what I said about their reputation), they will have Indian visas attached within.

Our next order of business was to meet with Mr. Msuya again to get some answers to specific questions we had about shipping the bikes. We rode to his office and parked the bikes out front so he could see what exactly we were trying to ship. Several of the touts whisked us into his office, but alas, Mr. Msuya was not there. Instead, we met with one of his colleagues, who was expecting us. Since we had questions he was unable to answer, he called Mr. Msuya and passed the phone to Colin. From his conversation with Mr. Msuya, Colin gathered that the first ship departure is November 10, and it will take approximately 21 days to get to Mumbai. Colin thanked Mr. Msuya and told him we would consider this and be in contact tomorrow. We rode back to the hotel, flopped in the room, and got online to see if there were any responses to my inquiries about air cargo rates and availability. Qatar Airways replied that they couldn't help because our bikes exceed their maximum height for cargo on their passenger planes. Emirates responded with a rate that worked out to be nearly 4 USD per kg, which would work out to at least 1500 USD to get the bikes to Mumbai. We decided to go tomorrow to speak with Mr. Msuya. Much of the rest of the afternoon we spent looking at air fares and schedules to India and trying to figure out what to do. We took a break from thinking to get some dinner and went to Mamboz Corner BBQ. We had walked by last evening and saw them cooking hundreds of pieces of chicken on giant charcoal grills. It smelled delicious, but we'd already eaten, so tonight we gave them a try. It was delicious! We got the combo plate that included a quarter chicken and three types of beef. We also got an order of the deep-fried fish and shared it all. Everything was delicious, and we vowed to return.

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