Posted by: Dana | 2010/03/26

March 23 – Pole, Pole on rough roads in Tanzania

We are five days into a seven day stretch of riding on rough roads in Tanzania, from Arusha to Iringa, where we will have our next rest day. We are currently camped in another bush camp beside the road, being observed by hundreds of locals who have gathered to watch us erect our tents, clean our bikes, cook our food, and do the normal TDA routine. The rain is coming in Tanzania but we have been really lucky with beautiful blue skies, puffy white clouds, and some of the most spectacular scenery of the tour. We had a short, quick downpour just before I arrived in camp, but I dried off quickly in this heat.

The first day on dirt in Tanzania shattered my wishful thinking that we had encountered the worst of the hills in Ethiopia and the crappiest of roads in Kenya. This 120 km stage combined the two—never-ending, steep hills that climb upwards forever with horrendous roads—loose rock, gravel, corrugation, total shit. The stage was considered mandatory, or a Mando Day, which means that it was one of about a dozen of the toughest days on the tour. It seriously takes mental toughness to get through a Mando Day—generally I prepare myself for at least ten hours in the saddle and lots of pain. This day lived up to the hype.

When the gravel is loose and I am careening out of control on my bike, I am pretty miserable, but try to remind myself that this road is taking me to see places I could never see by any other means. The road wound through verdant woodlands, grassy hills, incredible patches of sunflowers standing literally twenty feet high, beautiful and unique baobab trees, farm lands with corn, bananas, mangos, etc. growing abundantly. This part of Tanzania is sparsely populated. There are small villages along the route but they are very small—a congregation of a few simple homes, most made of bricks and tin roofs, and possibly a few stalls selling sodas, biscuits, and basic necessities. There are hardly any cars or buses. The few we see each day churn up the sand and dirt from the roads leaving each rider in a cloud of dirt. Since I am always covered with a fresh layer of sunscreen, the dirt clouds cover me with dirt from head to toe; my teeth even get a layer of grit to chew on.

So I pedaled and pedaled but no matter how hard I pushed, I found myself at the back of the pack, the position to which I have grown accustomed on days when we are on unpaved terrain. All day, as I passed through the small villages, the locals walked to the roadside and offered a smile and a greeting, and over and over again, they looked at me and seemingly sympathetically, they said the words “pole, pole” in Swahili. I heard these words throughout the day; the locals clapped and waved, and said “pole, pole”. It wasn’t until I rolled into camp and asked a local driver working for the TDA what this means, and he laughed, spun his hands in cycle-like motion and said, “slowly, slowly”. That was me…white girl riding her bike through remote parts of Tanzania, coated in dirt and grime, moving ahead one cautious pedal stroke at a time. Slowly, slowly! I had to laugh!

One of the TDA staffers commented that no matter how tough the day, I always come in with a big smile. I was glad to hear this that exhaustion and sometimes downright misery wasn’t apparent to others. On this ride in particular, the end got a little sketchy. It was well over 100 degrees outside and very humid, yet I started to get the chills. I had two very bizarre moments just before the ride finished. I swear I saw a panda bear in the woods along the road until I got up really close and saw it was a cow (one of about a million that we have seen). Then, I spotted my dad on a golf course swinging a club, until I got close enough to see that it was a local guy in the bush swinging a machete. Clearly, I had been on the bike for too long. On this occasion, as with so many others, it is either laughter or tears! I was glad to be able to laugh this one off.

After that memorable ride, I walked to a nearby house next to a water pump where other riders had purchased a bucket of water for the closest thing to a shower we can find out here. A young girl named Fatuma, probably about eight years old, pumped the water for me, handed over the bucket, and before I knew what was happening, she jumped up with her arms wrapped around my neck and started kissing me. I was startled, but she was delightful, and we became fast friends. She stood look out for me as I stripped down naked in the corn field to wash myself. I laughed at myself as I scrubbed the grime from the day off of my body in a field of corn. Modesty has gone out the window. It is much more important to be clean—or at least as clean as can be. I got more kisses when I was finished and she walked me to my tent.


  1. Verdant woodlands, great camp phrase! You are doing an amazing job on this ride, I can’t imagine how strong you must be now! Keep up the great riding, you are doing amazing things!

  2. Now I know what a Mando Day is. How many more are there? Playing golf with your Father is what I call a Mando Day because he always takes my money. Having dinner with your Mom and Dad tomorrow night and we will begin the planning for the party. Pole! Pole!

    Tom Bloch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: