Tanzania, Part 1: Down the Western side and Bike Problems
— Tanzania — 9 min read
4 - 26 September 2012
After my loop through Uganda and Rwanda, I entered the land of grand savannahs. Tanzania is synonymous with names such as the Serengeti and Ngorongoro but I was routing down its less well-known western side, where the roads are still un-tarred as it passes through small villages and towns. My plan was just to spend about 3 weeks traveling down the western forests and southern highlands before getting into Mozambique, but all that changed quickly when sanDRina developed a problem. Our intended 3 weeks ended up being 3 months in the country for sanDRina, with a 7 week break for me where I went back to Nairobi to take care of some things, receive parts and renew visas.
My inability to nail down the root-cause of sanDRina's problems really challenged me and brought my spirits to their lowest on this trip. I considered throwing in the towel and giving up. But thanks to some close friends and encouragement from those who are following my journey, I found the courage to clear my mind and figure out exactly what was causing the problem. With my confidence restored in sanDRina, we continued our ride through beautiful Tanzania, meeting lovely people and cherishing the experience of being on the road.
Rusumo Falls at the border between Rwanda and Tanzania. I just love gushing water.
The border post was easy to navigate through. I was heading towards Kigoma.
Tanzania's currency, the Shilling where Tsh 1,615 = USD $1, so that Tsh 10,000 note equates to $6.20. The country is known for its grand wildlife but this was as close as I was going to get to a lion or an elephant.
My route through Tanzania, entering on the western side from Rwanda and working down to a southern exit into Mozambique. The brown route is my bus ride back to Nairobi. Click on it to go to the interactive version in Google Maps.
A good first impression of the roads in Tanzania. Most of the traffic were trucks hauling imports from the sea to land-locked Rwanda.
I hit the junction for Kigoma and not knowing what the fuel situation would be like, I topped up with some jerrycan petrol. He's got a sock over the funnel, so must be clean.
Oh yeah, feels good to be standing on the pegs on a hard dirt road and cruising in top gear.
The views all around were grand. On the right were mountains that created the border with Burundi and on my left were vast open savannahs with few people and lots of wildlife in game reserves. Click here to see the high resolution version.
I took a break to soak in this beautiful land.
This little boy came walking along...
...and then his buddy showed up. This is a rural area and it was sad to see their malnourished stomachs.
Pretty soon a whole bunch of them gathered but they were so well behaved and just sat at a distance and watched me. What a contrast compared to Ethiopian kids where haggling outsiders is the norm.
This boy had gathered up some fruit. I wondered what it was but didn't feel like asking for one.
Such interesting faces. I wondered what they were thinking looking at this strange, bald alien on a big, black motorcycle. I'm conscious of the fact that I look so out of this world when I travel through rural areas, but hey, safety first.
Back on the lovely road, heading south.
I got waved over into the ditch by some people running with flags and saw that they were clearing the road for...
...some soldiers on a run.
Enjoying the riding, oblivious to the fact that something was troubling sanDRina.
She stopped running. Uh oh. What could it be? First thing to do is check that there is enough fuel. Of course, I just fueled up a while back, but check it. No fuel leaks, battery voltage looks good, engine temperature looks good, hmmm...
I waited a few minutes and then she fired up, yay! But then she died again a few minutes later. It felt like a fuel delivery problem in the carburetor but what was making it run for a while and then stop? I was about 10 kms (6 mi) from the next town, Kibondo, and was surrounded by maize fields on a dry, dusty road with trucks passing by. I couldn't open up the carb here. I got a push from some locals and after pushing for about 2 kms, she fired up again and I managed to ride into town just before she died.
Luckily, sanDRina stopped right in front of a small bike mechanic shop, run by Ramadan here. He was very friendly and agreed that it sounded like a carb problem. With daylight fading, we took out the carb and here he's blowing into the fuel inlet to see if the float is working properly. He said it didn't feel right to him and we would need some sandpaper to ease the jet for the float needle. The diagnose made sense to me but the hardware shops were closed now.
As the crowd gathered around, Ramadan took a sample of fuel and determined that it didn't feel right to him as he rubbed it with this fingers and said perhaps there was water in the petrol. I told him how I had fueled up with that jerrycan petrol and he said, yup, sometimes those guys cheat you and mix water in there. Great. I had almost a full tank using only 5 L so far of my 40 L tank. That was a lot of money to just throw away but Ramadan told me not to worry. He called up the local boda boda drivers (motorcycle taxi) and convinced them to buy some supposedly tainted petrol at a discount price. He told them their Chinese bikes could handle a little water in their petrol but my fancy Japanese motorcycle needed the purest petrol possible. I was just going along with all this. Petrol was retailing for Tsh 2,500/L ($6.03/gal, Euro 1.11/L) and Ramadan sold my fuel for Tsh 2,200/L . Not a bad loss to get rid of possibly water-infected petrol. We got some fresh petrol from the fuel station and sanDRina fired up but died again within 10 minutes of running. Oh no, it wasn't the fuel! Maybe it was the sticky float needle; to be tackled the next day.
I got directed to the only hotel in town and not having a functioning bike, I didn't bother checking all the accommodation options and just settled for Hotel Sankere, the swankiest place in town. It cost Tsh 20,000 ($12.40) per night and came with this hearty breakfast: quarter chicken, chapati, noodles, boiled plantains and meat and potato soup. Ooofh, I was good to go till dinner.
I got to Ramadan's little shop just as Kibondo was coming to life.
We got some fine sandpaper and carefully sanded the jet for the float needle so that it moved effortlessly. She fired up but then died again within 10 minutes.
Ramadan said it wasn't a fuel issue and perhaps it was something electrical. This was the start of my long chase up the wrong tree of root-causing the issue. We took out the spark plug and it looked like a weak spark. To find out which component was producing the weak spark, I told him to bring one of the Chinese bikes he was working on close to sanDRina and then proceeded to first send the spark from the DR's ignition coil to the Chinese bike and that didn't fire up, then we wired up the ignition coil from the Chinese bike to sanDRina's spark plugs and she fired up, running good for about 10 minutes but there was no way to run her longer without heating up, so I went and bought two ignition coils meant for the Chinese bikes.
The DR is a dual spark engine and thus two ignition coils meant for 125cc bikes were wired up on sanDRina.
All wrapped up nicely and tucked away on sanDRina's frame with even a heat shield in place. But sadly, that didn't fix it. sanDRina ran again for about 10 minutes and died again. Arrgggh!! I was getting frustrated now. It seemed like an ignition coil problem to me and I figured I needed a proper DR replacement ignition coil.
While sending out some emails to the DR community in South Africa, I got out my multimeter and started probing all the electronics to see if something else was also failing. These are the plugs to the CDI (capacitor discharge ignition); considered the brains of the bike (similar to an ECU in a car). The orange wire sends power to the ignition coil and it showed readings that were not in line with the specifications in the maintenance manual. That told me that maybe the CDI had finally packed it in, but these units hardly ever fail. DR riders, Dave and Craig, in Johannesburg from the WildDog forum in South Africa replied that they had a spare ignition coil and CDI lying around from a spares bike and would be glad to send them to me. Wow, I was in luck. I resigned to patiently waiting in Kibondo for the parts to make their way to me.
Feeling like I had finally found the problem with sanDRina and with replacement parts arranged, I could now take my head out of bike repair mode and see the place I was in.
Kibondo is a small town on the way to Kigoma, sitting on the edge of the savannah down below. Morning sunrises were a nice time to walk around before the hustle and bustle of an African town took over.
There were people selling basic groceries, phone accessories, doing bicycle repairs and baking bread.
I went to the market daily and bought some fresh produce for my meals.
Since I was now staying for longer, I moved into a cheaper room which cost Tsh 10,000 ($6.20) and it came with an attached bath but breakfast wasn't included. I got out my trusty MSR Dragonfly stove and enjoyed the time preparing meals; it also helped pass the time.
I quickly ran out of my small bottle of sesame oil and picked up this bottle of local palm oil for Tsh 1,000. It was quite smokey and gave everything an orange tinge, but hey, I just use what I can find.
I had only a limited supply of oats for breakfast and not knowing how long I was going to be here, I reverted to a breakfast of bread with peanut butter (which was locally available and cheap) and smashed bananas.
Having a lunch of avocado salad.
I had a decent supply of dried soya chunks for my protein but made beans one day. It took so long to cook on my little stove that I gave up on the beans and dreamed of a mini travel-size pressure cooker.
I got friendly with the hotel staff and they invited me to join them for lunch, which was usually ugali (maize meal) with beans. No plates here, just dig in.
Wonderful light at the fruit and veggie market. Produce was relatively cheap. For Tsh 500 ($0.31) I could get either 5 large tomatoes, 5 large onions, 5 medium carrots, a bulb of garlic, two fingers of ginger, 4 big bananas, a medium papaya or a small loaf of bread. Green peppers were very cheap with 4 large ones going for Tsh 200 and a local variety of spinach was only Tsh 100 for a huge bunch.
My kitchen in Kibondo. Everything chopped up and ready for a spinach and okra stir-fry with rice. You like my mini Lexan cutting board? The Leatherman Wave is never far from my side; its sharp knife makes chopping a pleasure.
A lunch of egg salad with lots of veggies.
The CDI and ignition coil finally arrived from South Africa. They went by air courier from Johannesburg to Nairobi and then got put on a bus to Dar-es-salaam for a transfer to a bus to Kibondo. But sadly, that didn't fix the issue. I called up some old mechanic friends and they suggested running the bike without the generator (stator) plugged in and she seemed to run fine. Ok, maybe it was the stator that needed replacing. I would need to order one from the US. By now it was getting near the end of September and I had originally planned to be in South Africa by the first week of October to take the last exams for my masters degree in Johannesburg. I made the call to leave sanDRina in Kibondo and bus it back to Nairobi to take my exams, receive the spares from the US and then get back to Kibondo, hopefully with a solution in hand.
With the CDI and ignition coil not being the problem, maybe there was a short somewhere in the generator that was heating up after running for a few minutes and then cutting off the bike. I removed the generator and took it back with me to Nairobi.
I packed my essentials and boarded a bus that was heading towards Nairobi. Apparently, an armed escort is needed for the roads that I had traversed, but how bad could it be with our guard busy on his cell phone.
They started playing a DVD of Bob Marley's Legend album on the bus. Yeah, mon. We be Jammin!
Crossing a small channel across Lake Victoria towards...
...the city of Mwanza.
At the bus station in Mwanza, I grabbed a quick lunch of some skewers and chapati and then hoped on the next bus that would take me to the Kenyan border.
Snacks and vegetables on offer at every bus stop. I wonder who's doing their vegetable shopping while traveling on a long distance bus?
As the sun set, I crossed the Mara River that flows into the Serengeti and got to the border. This was my first land border crossing on this trip without a vehicle to clear and I hoped sanDRina would be safe and waiting for me when I got back to Kibondo.