Kenya, April – May 2023, Part I

Silas Tree Planting project is located around Tala in Machakos county to the southeast of Nairobi. I had got contact with Silas via social media and wanted to visit his project. I dropped off a bus in Machakos and cycled up in the hills the 45 km to Tala the next day. Kenya has suffered from draught 2 years in a row and the amount of rain this season was still insufficient. Silas had sent me messages that the rain had stopped early, and it had not rained in Tala for a week. From Arusha, I had told him that I would bring the rain with me from Tanzania. I met Silas, a 27-year-old man who was born in a poor society in western Kenya. He is a down to earth open speaking man, and we immediately had a fruitful conversation. When we should take a walk, the rain started, and it poured down. Now it has rained almost every day for more than a week, and I am so happy that my promise worked!

We visited Victoria Mulalya who has been awarded medal from the President for her work against Gender Based Violence. She has taken initiative to a Woman for Woman Empowerment Project. A component of her project is the establishment of a Mountain storey garden at her plot, see photo. This type of terraced garden is area effective and keeps the moisture better than traditional gardening. We came back two days later and participated with local women to create another mountain storey garden as a practise to copy. The challenge is to water the plants during the dry season and Victoria want to collect money for a bore hole. We also discussed water harvesting. Victoria has to large tanks where rainwater from the roof is collected. However, there is not any significant water harvesting at a bigger scale in the county. We visited a dam in a valley that had been built with help of a missionary station decades ago. It is now full of water and works as a water source during dry season. Silas agrees that the same could be done at many locations. The more we investigated this issue, we realized that it is an enormous unused potential for water harvesting. Many tanks are now being installed, but still very few houses harvest rainwater from the roof. So much can be done with small investments and creative initiatives.

The next day we went on a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) to an area where Silas had planted trees in 2017. It is today a well grown eucalyptus forest. Many trees had nearly died and had yellow leaves after 2 years of draught, but they are now all recovering as a result of this year’s good rain. We then went to a field owned by Eunice, a single mother with 4 children. She came with her 3 kids, and we planted 10 trees, 4 of them avocado trees that can give her income. The kids were very happy to participate and it’s good to see how Sila has established so good relationship with local farmers.

We spent half a day with Victoria who had invited women with the aim to teach them how to construct a mountain garden. I had provided Sila with information on how to establish a compost in the tropics. That is one more goal to achieve. Manure or compost is beneficial for tree planting. We have realised that nobody does composting here. Organic matter and food waste is thrown away by most people, just rotting and releasing methane. With 54 million people, this is just one example of enormous quantity of unutilised resources and unnecessary release of climate gas.

  1. Nice avocados for sale along the road 2. On my way climbing up the hills towards Tala

3. Silas forest planted 2017 4. Planting avocado with Eunices twins

5. Victorias mountain garden 6. Högt under taket i skolan. School class.

7. Planting trees around the school 8. Innovative names on Kenyan shops

Previously I had worked for 1,5 years in Nairobi (2014 – 2015), but it was among high level managers in The Ministry of Transport in Nairobi. This time I approached the Kenyan society at the ground level so to say. I learned more about how Kenyan politics works and the tribal influence which international aid and development experts are reluctant to talk about because it’s a stigma around the idea of tribe. The major tribes in Kenya are Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin and Masai. Kikuyu, Luhya and Kamba are ethnic Bantu and de others are Nilotic people with origin in southern Sudan. Each tribe has their own language, while official languages in Kenya are Swahili and English. This fact has a political implication. A presidential candidate from let’s say Kikuyu will speak to their own people in the Kikuyu language. However, in the national debates he will speak Swahili or English and the message will be different from what he tells his own people. Candidates will also make agreements with local elders and regional leaders and promise them benefits and influential positions in exchange for support. They also need to influence leaders of other tribes. Elders in various tribes will meet and decide who to support.

Kenya has a history of tribal rivalry in presidential elections. First President Jomo Kenyatta was a Kikuyu. As a result, Kikuyus got enormous influence during the 1960ties and gained control of the major business companies in Kenya. Huge areas of farmland and properties were taken over by Kenyatta family. Vice President was Daniel Arap Moi who was a Kalenjin, became president after the death of Kenyatta. Since then, Kenyan presidents has alternated between representatives of Kalenjin and Kikuyu tribes, but always with a troublesome opposition leader from the Luo tribe along the shores of Lake Victoria, represented first by influential Odinga Odinga and now by his son Raila Odinga who regularly rally followers to protests and he has at the same time used his influence to build up his own business imperium.

Each tribe uses specific names. Surnames staring with O is usually identified as a Luo. When Kenyans present each other, they will therefore know each other’s tribal identity by their name. Tribal identification is not some loose historical affiliation. It is institutionalised so that each tribe has a tribal council, like Kikuyu Council, Luo Council and so on, each governed by an elder. The elders are not elected but appointed in consensus after discissions among the village group. The candidates are not campaigning against each other, but the people of the village propose who will best represent them. The idea is that the appointment is not a fight between contenders as in a European style democratic election. Instead, the qualifications of the candidates are discussed commonly until they can agree on whom will best represent the interest of the people. It is therefore ideally a merit-based system where family affiliation does not have the same value as in a clan-based system.

When western style democratic system was introduced, people would still vote in accordance with their tribal candidate. Since no tribe has a majority, the winner needs to get votes from other tribes. In addition to secure support from tribal elders, a candidate need support from business leaders, tribal business cartels and churches because they will always take part in the political process and advice on support for one candidate or another.

I believe that in order to understand a society and a country, it is necessary to understand the power structure of that country. However, there are many examples of western social anthropologists and social scientists who are trying to abolish the term tribe or accuse it of being a colonial construction. The reason is that they conceive the word tribe as something primitive, which it is not when you look at how it works. It’s just another form of political organisation. After all, we have all been organised as tribes once upon a time. As a consequence of this stigma, western governments are spending billions in development aid to teach Africans democracy and human rights. But it is not working well as long as loyalty structures and affiliations are different and deeply rooted.  If you want to get rid of tribal identity, you need to recognise that it exists. This fact is understood by most Africans. International sponsored projects aimed at promoting democracy and human rights are basically trying to lecture Africans about European/American values without sufficient understanding of how the indigenous system works. I believe that it is more efficient to introduce examples of good values and governance through physical useful projects, like infrastructure and schools – or like what we now are doing – tree planting. After 10 days in Tala, I will now go to the coast and Lamu, but I will come back here. Today I went with Sila to Kenya Rural Roads Authority office in Tala to ask if it is possible to plant trees along their roads. They were very enthusiastic about our proposal and told that it’s a new program being launched to plant trees along roads. We were then introduced to Director of Technical Training Institute who also was truly enthusiastic, and it was an excellent introduction of Sila. It became an amazing spinoff effect just because I proposed to meet representatives of the road authorities under Ministry of Transport where I worked 8 years ago.

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Tanzania, March – April 2023, Part IV

The main bus terminal for buses towards the north is located some 25 km from the city centre on the Morogoro road. The Rapid Bus Transit system from city centre is extended all the way. However, my helpers got me on a bus that went in the wrong direction, via Bagamoyo, the old slave port north of Dar. It was a terrible bus that stopped everywhere, so I went off in Bagamoyo that had not changed very much the last 46 years. After a night in a cosy boutique hotel, I explored the town on my bike and cycled back to the bus station where I caught a luxury express bus to Moshi 470 km away. They showed a Norwegian film called “Troll” in Norwegian language on the TV, so it was a very appropriate transport for me. Approaching Moshi, I got a glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro and what is left of the glaciers. I climbed Kilimanjaro in 1977 and again in 2011. I have photos from both occasions, but this time its covered by dark clouds.

What struck me in Moshi is that there is no dancing anymore. In the 70ties, it was dancing to Zaire music everywhere, usually in the open in a bar under a straw roof. You could hear the rhythms all around Dar Es Salaam suburbs and in cities like Moshi and Arusha. This amazing expression of life and joy has gone. They have been replaced by suspect looking nightclubs behind thick walls that more look like mafia establishments. I cycled towards Arusha along the main road but had to give up when heavy rain started. I rushed to fold the bike and got a seat in a minibus. After a night in a rainy Arusha and a talk to tour operators, I found that it was not time to visit any of the great national parks. Tanzania has got abundance of rain this season. After 2 nights in Arusha, I took a bus towards Kenya. The road from Arusha towards Nairobi passes through vast agricultural land and Masai land with people in their traditional outfit. However, many of them have settled in villages and given up nomadic life. The rain stops and I regret I didn’t bike, but I had an appointment in Kenya. I can go back here later.

  1. Bagamoyo is almost unchanged 2. Bagamoyo beach today during rainy season

3. Mt. Meru revealed a short while in Arusha 4. Top: Bagamoyo beach 1976 and Arusha dec 1975

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Tanzania, March – April 2023, Part III

Coming back to Masasi was one of my main goals of my East African journey. Now I wanted to turn northwards. Much of the coastal road towards Dar Es Salaam is not particularly beautiful or interesting. The landscape along the road is forest which has been fragmented through tree cutting, slash and burn agriculture and small subsidence farms. It should be a huge potential for both tree planting and more advanced agriculture in these sparsely populated areas. The coastal road from Lindi to Dar Es Salaam has had a reputation of not being safe due to banditry but also Islamist groups. It was raining showers almost every day now. Most of the way to Dar went on bus and cycling around where I stopped. First stop was Lindi, a sleepy coastal town where I had been many times before. Lindi still have much of the colonial style buildings left, but I found that main attraction are some abandoned buildings overgrown by trees like an Indiana Jones scene.

1: Back to nature, Lindi 2: View from my balcony in Kilwa

Next stop was Kilwa which is an old Arabic and Persian trade settlements from 10th century. It’s a sort of mythic place where few tourists find their way. I got a memorable full day trip with a guide and a boat out to the ruins on Kilwa islands. This is a World Heritage site, part of the spice islands along the coast of Tanzania and Kenya with its Swahili culture. It is also a huge mangrove forest area which appears to be protected very well.

3: Kilwa with my guides 4; Dar Es Salaam. Still some old colonial times buildings left. The bus lanes reserved only for buses in the front.

From Kilwa I went direct to Dar Es Salaam and stayed at Kigamboni beach just a few km south of the city centre. Dar has grown enormously, but not towards the southern beaches since there is no bridge across the inlet to the harbour, but only a ferry. I also stayed 2 days in the city centre because I was in urgent need for a reliable internet to sort out my tax declaration and other issues. I hadn’t had a reliable Wi-Fi since I was in Songea. I particularly enjoyed the Indian district of Dar. It’s still a colourful Hindu area and with some excellent vegetarian Indian restaurants. Dar Es Salaam is distinctly divided between Hindu, Muslim (Shia and Sunni in different areas) and African Christians and all the rest. I was also impressed by the recently opened Bus Rapid Transport System that seems to work very efficiently. It is in principle long fast buses on lanes physically separated from other traffic and with modern stations with electronic gates. Dar has become clean, and they are now constructing a large sewerage treatment plant.

5; Zanzibar Stone Town with Masai people 6: A new outrigger canoe axed out from a mango tree.

I took the catamaran high speed ferry to Zanzibar, stayed a night in Stone Town and cycled across the island to a fantastic beach hotel were many Masais in their traditional dress worked. I am so impressed by them, always positive attitude. Many Masais are now walking around selling sandals and other accessories, but never any begging and I believe it has to do with their self-esteem. They will never accept to humiliate themselves. Amazing physically well-built people. I was playing billiard with them 2 evenings in a row at the hotel, and they were always cheering if I played well, always giving me d advice about which one I should try next and they were good players. Unfortunately, the sea level at the Zanzibar east coast was too low for swimming except a short time during high tide. You have to walk on dry sea bottom some 500 m to get to deeper water. It is raining every day now, and not so pleasant for cycling either. My plan was to take a ferry to Pemba and then to Tanga, but the Pemba – Tanga ferry is not in operation at the moment, so I have to go back to DarEs Salaam. I have got contacts with environmental groups I Kenya whom I am interested to visit, so I want to come into Kenya soon. It will not be so much long-distance cycling for a while but cycling locally. So far, I did about 1250 km cycling on this trip. I attach a map of my journey below.

Map of the tour so far. Cycling in tomato red. Black dotted is bus/car. Green is safari in Katavi NP.

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Tanzania, March – April 2023 Part II

The road southwards from Mpanda in western Tanzania goes through the outskirts of Katavi and through natural forest for almost 200 km. Apart from the risk of being attacked by dangerous animals, it is an earth road. Tanzania still don’t have a continuous bitumen road from north to south in the western regions. I wish that foreign aid from Scandinavian countries went back to financing physical projects as the many road projects we did during the 1970ties. It is so obvious when you look at the most developed aeras today, that those projects made a huge difference. I decided to take a bus southwards to Sumbawanga, a quite nice provincial capital east of Lake Tanganyika. I also found a room in an old charming hotel and stayed there for 2 days.

What struck me when I tried to do some shopping, was that you don’t see any Indian shopkeepers anymore. They are all taken over by Africans, and there are of course so many more shops than in Nyerere’s socialist Tanzania of the 70ties. I started to do some research and discovered an interesting but also a sad story.

Indians came to Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania in early 19th century. The majority emigrated from Gujarat, Punjab (both Indian and Pakistan part) and from Maharastra Mumbai area. They were Indian Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. At that time Zanzibar was governed by the Omani sultanate, but the British and Germans gained increased influence during the 19th century. In 1890 Zanzibar became a British Protectorate while Tanganyika were controlled by the Germans. The argument for the British to take over Zanzibar was to stop Arab slavery! The Indians went into business and money lending. They became squeezed between British, Arab and African interests. The British changed laws in order to stop Indians from gaining too much influence, while Indians were seen as exploiters because they earned money by many Africans.

When Tanzania gained independence 1961, there were about 125 000 people of Indian origin in Tanzania. When I came to Tanzania late 1975, I found that Indians, especially Sikhs were running business in small towns almost everywhere. The Sikhs were true entrepreneurs who could fix almost any problem when help was needed at the time I worked in a small town in southern Tanzania. Nyerere tried to accommodate the Indians by appointing 2 Indian ministers and an Indian as director of the National Bank. But radicals in the party were driving sentiments against Indians. In Masasi in the south where I worked, many Indian businessmen were arrested and jailed with the result that their business that were of such importance for local development fell apart. When I came to the village in the Ruvuma region 1976, there had been 2 Indian businesses in the Division centre a few km away. They had a shop run by an Indian. It was confiscated and the shopkeeper thrown in jail. The shop should be replaced by a cooperative shop, but since nobody knew how to run a shop, the result weas no shop at all. Another Indian had a bus that was running daily to the nearest market town, Masasi 70 km away. The bus was confiscated, and the bus owner was jailed because he was a capitalist. The bus should be replaced by a cooperative bus, but since no one knew how to run a bus company, the result was that the bus was just abandoned with punctured tires and rusting away. So, with the socialist policy, the people lost their shop, and they had to walk the 70 km to Masasi instead of taking a bus. When I told this story to the SIDA (Swedish Development Aid) and developing aid elite in Dar es Salaam, I was condemned. They did not accept to hear this story that they thought were false news. The overall result of the policy against Indians were that more than half of the Indian population left Tanzania.

The road to the south from Sumbawanga is paved and in good condition. It is a gift from the American people (USAID) according to multiple billboards along the road. My goal for the day was to reach a small guest house some 105 km away, and the cycling went very well through a grandiose fertile green African landscape with tea plantations and agriculture but also a lot of trees. I every village people wanted me to stop and say hello. I was interrupted by a heavy rain shower but were able to protect my baggage. After 75 km, I halted at a bus stop where it was a bench. Two guys were sitting at the edge of the drain. I checked the map on my mobile, drunk water and as usual put my mobile in the deep pocket at the back of my bicycle shirt. After a while I should check the distance left again when I realized that I had no phone. I cycled back, met the 2 guys and some other people. One guy helped me to call my number without result. I regret I didn’t check

the pockets of one of the two guys who were there from the beginning. He had moved to the bench just before I left. But at the time I was too stressed to think rationally.

I continued cycling without a phone. Fortunately, it was a cheaper model of Samsung I had chosen since I had been robbed only a few months earlier. But what worried me was that it contained personal information and my Bank Id and more. I hoped the guest house would have a Wi-Fi, so I could use my computer to erase my phone. But the guest house was extremely basic with no Wi-Fi. I decided to take a bus next morning to Mbeya, the nearest city some 220 km away. I cycled to a bus station a few km south of the village and eventually got an overcrowded bus, Since the bus stopped anywhere and passengers with all sorts of baggage including living chickens were crawling in and out, it took us 7 hours to Mbeya. But it included a stop for puncture. Fortunately, the old Tata bus had its own mechanic onboard who changed the wheel.

Well in place in a hotel in Mbeya, I was able to erase my phone at a distance with Google. I also bought a new cheap, but rather impressive Chinese phone the same evening. From now on I never carry my phone in the pocket of my bicycle shirt. Mbeya city centre is located up in the hills with a couple of old colonial style hotels in the outskirts of the business centre. I liked it and needed a couple of days to recover, to read, explore and plan my next move. Mbeya also have at least 2 coffee houses with excellent coffee and interesting people to chat with.

In order to continue southwards, I had to follow the Dar to Zambia road with a lot of trucks transporting copper to the harbour in Dar Es Salaam. The traffic on this road without shoulders was far too dangerous for cyclists who want to live. So I took a bus to the town where the road southwards continued. The bus ride went along the edge of a nature and game reserve, so it was very enjoyable to see the landscape and I enjoyed good talks with a fellow passenger.

It was a rainy night and dark clouds the next morning. With some doubts, I started to bike southwards towards Njombe. It was a very nice road for bicycling with just some trucks passing now and then. Tanzania is a country of 64 million people, but it shows the advantage of growing food locally. There is surprisingly little need for transport of food all over the country. People mostly eat what is available locally. The road goes through an area with forest plantations of Mexican pine trees, eucalyptus and cypress. This is part of the Sao Hill project funded by Norwegian Development Aid during the 1970ties. I visited the project at that time. The results and spinoff effect are very apparent. It has resulted in wood processing factories for plywood, building material, paper industry at Mufindi and more.

After about 65 km, I reached Njombe suburbs, heaven opened up, and the rain was pouring down. I protected my bags with an umbrella I bought in Mbeya and walked with my bike the last km to a lodge.

The nearest town south of Njombe is Songea. I could not cycle all the 220 km since it is a rugged terrain and long stretches of unhabituated forest, so I cycled only about 25 km that day and the remaining stretch was with a bus. Songea is the provincial capital of Ruvuma region. I was here first time in 1997. We were driving I was here first time in 1977. We were driving a Landrover to our project in the southeast. At that time there were no all-weather road along the coast from Dar Es Salaam to Lindi in the south, so we had to make a 3 days detour through western Tanzania in order to reach our site in the south east. Songea is a pleasant and very green town. I stayed for 2 nights and cycled around in Songea area. I was amazed by all the fresh wild mushrooms that were on sale. I bought a basket and gave them to the cook at the hotel. He made a delicious mushroom curry for dinner.

1: Approaching Songea 2: Mushrooms for sale

It is 240 km from Songea to the next town which is Tunduru. The road goes for a large part on a mountain ridge with spectacular views into the wilderness surrounded by natural forest and occasionally some subsident farming. It borders Selous Game Reserve which is the largest game reserve in the world. It has been renamed to Nyerere National Park and is 50 000 km2 of protected area, bigger than Denmark! Since I had visited the area twice and seen so many lions, hyenas and African hunting dogs, I was not keen to cycle on my own there. It was warning signs for elephants along the road, but I only spotted monkeys. I was lucky to get a lift with a Mercedes car to Tunduro, a small town with a guest house that charged me 4 dollar for a night.

From Tunduru I cycled for 2 days to the small town where I lived several months in 1976 – 77, Masasi. First day was about a 100 km and the next 55 km with regular interruption for rain. I had learned to stop in a village when the rain was approaching and always got protection under a roof. In one village, a group of Masai came and showed a keen interest in chatting with me, the exotic foreigner. The Masai are amazing people who keep to their tradition, but they have such strong and slim bodies and fine features that they look almost unreal. I know vegans who teach me that eating meat and drinking milk  is unhealthy. Masai diet is mainly meat, cow blood and milk and I cannot find any group of people in the world who looks so amazingly healthy. While chatting and joking with the Masais, a grim looking man turned up. He was presented as the village chief and wanted to know why I took photos in his village without his permission. He demanded money. An English-speaking boy became my translator. I explained that I had worked for almost a year in southern Tanzania and lived in a small village named Makanya when I staked out the road to Mozambique in 1976 – 77. I could also tell the names of some of the locals who worked for me. In my experience, the village chiefs are generally not democratic minded people, but men who like to dominate and show power. But he got pacified by my explanation and moved away. When the rain had stopped and I was about to move, a tall older Masai came running and told me to stop. It was the Masai chief and he was not scary at all. He talked some English, took my hands and just expressed his pleasure to meet me and he gave me thumbs up for travelling on a bicycle.

3: Most villages along the road had a pool table 4: Meeting masai

In Masasi I checked in at the Masasi hotel where I had stayed in the 70ties. Masasi had become larger. The old nice market square surrounded by Indian merchant buildings was gone. It had been replaced by new buildings of dubious architectural quality and the nice Indian style shop buildings were hidden behind by shanty buildings for market stands. The Indians were gone. Most of the proud looking African ladies in colourful dresses were also gone and replaced with more restrictive Islamic outfit. The mosques funded by Saudi money are now dominating the town.

I immediately made new friends and got help to hire a car with driver the next day, so I could go into the area where I staked out the road to Mozambique. The bridge over Ruvuma river was located about 65 km from the starting point on the Tunduru – Masasi road in the village of Nangomba. We drove to Makanya where I had lived. It is a small peaceful place which had not developed that much except for the vegetation that had increased a lot. Of course, I could not find anyone whom I knew and nobody knew me. The entire population had been replaced by another generation. We continued to the bridge which is called Unity bridge or Uhuru bridge in Swahili. After some negotiation with the chief of the border control, we were allowed to enter the 720 m long bridge, but had to turn before we reached the mid point.  It was hardly any traffic on the bridge. Only one car entered into Tanzania during the 20 minutes or so we spent at the bridge. The good thing was to see how the bridge had been integrated into the environment. The forest and the mangroves went straight up to the bridge with no sign that construction activities had been going on. There was a lot of worries before the construction that the bridge would spoil the environment with crocodiles and hippos in the river. We talked to fishermen in canoes near the bridge and later to the border control staff. They all confirmed that the crocodiles and the hippos were still there, but you don’t see them in the flooded river during the rainy season. When I saw them in 1977 it was dry season and after years of extreme draught with low water level.

5: Makanya today 6: Our team in Makanya 1977

7: Uhuru bridge crossing Ruvuma 8: Fishermen in canoe told the hippos and crocs still are there.

We often hear that civilisation destroys the environment, which is true in one way. But when I worked here 46 years ago, the farming was slash and burn. People set fire to the forest and the ash fertilized the soil for a few years and then they would clear another area with no concern for the environment. So, you could also say that lack of civilisation destroys the environment. Today, the entire landscape here is so much greener, apparently more forest, the farming technique with fertilizers have improved and slash and burn has been abandoned. The output per unit has increased many times and there is still a lot of potential for improvements according to FAO.

On our way back we stopped in the village of Nangomba where we had recruited our local workers in 1976. It was a life changing experience for me to work with them and live in this area for so long time. I wanted to know if some of them still are around. We approached a group of men that was playing a game board. I asked if they knew my old friends Pagumi, Yahaya and Songo Songo. They answered that they had known them, but that they are all gone. I was sorry to hear that but impressed that I after 47 years could approach people in this small village in a remote area of Tanzania and they remembered my old friends.

9: Asking for my old friends 10: Landscape near Makanya

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Tanzania on folding bike – March 2023

I was excited to come back to Tanzania where I worked from 1975 – 1977 and visited 2012. The border between Burundi and Tanzania is located high up in the mountains, so I was glad I took a van although it was very full of people and luggage. I got a 3 Month visa at entry to Tanzania for a fee of 50 $. They asked for proof of yellow fever vaccination and of covid-19 which I was lucky to have. The road down to Kigoma was a long downhill, so I could as well have gone on my bike, but I had interesting chat with a fellow passenger, a young man from Congo who also was very helpful to get me through the border controls.  Franck have his family in Tanzania south of Kigoma but comes from Congo at the opposite side of the like. He had been back in Congo to visit his family farm there. He showed me pictures from his farm where he also plants fruit trees. This part of Congo is peaceful, he said and explained that the armed groups are fighting for control around Goma. He urged me to invest in Congo and explained that lack of investment is the main reason for poverty. There seems to be a relatively free flow of people between Congo, Burundi and Tanzania. In Kigoma I also met several Burundian people who had crossed the border to Tanzania for job opportunities.

  1. View over Kigoma, a green city. 2. Election slogan for Tanzanian ruling party, CCM

Tanzania has developed a lot from when I worked there from 1975 to November 1977. At the same time, the population has increased from about 16 million to 64 million today. Of course, it is not sustainable if it continues like this, but international aid organisation stopped focusing on population growth a long time ago. Even IPCC climate report does not mention it. However, experience shows that when the standard of living goes up, the fertility decreases. Indian population curve is flattening down to 0 growth now, for example. And Tanzanian living standard has gone up a lot since President  Julius Nyerere’s socialistic Ujamaa (together) experiment during the 70-ties and early 80-ties. Tanzania is now classified as a low medium income country with an average income of about 1070 USD pp per year. Still millions are living in mud huts, but housing standard is rising, and markets are exposing food, fruits and vegetables in abundance compared to the situation in the 1970-ties. The agricultural production has increased more than the population according to FAO and ResearchGate. Almost gone are visibly undernourished children that was a normal sight in rural areas when I worked there in the 70-ties.

I got a hotel at a hilltop in Kigoma with a spectacular view over Lake Tanganyika. The lake is almost 1500 m deep at the maximum and contains astonishing 16% of worlds freshwater in lakes. About 200 000 tons of fish is caught in the lake a year. But there are hardly any roads along the lake in Tanzania. Tropical primary forest grows along most of the shorelines, so it looks surprisingly unexploited. The villages are bound to boat transport which of course is environmentally friendly since most of them are small sailing boats or dugout canoes. The most precious fish in the lake is perch, and they can be big, although threatened by overfishing. Like everywhere else, it is the big fishing boats that catch the bulk of the fish at the expense of the small ones. The grilled perch I got here along with the Nile perch in Uganda is among the most delicious fish I have eaten.

Next day I cycled to Ujiji about 9 km south of Kigoma. This was the real place were Stanley met Livingstone under the mango tree with the words: “Dr Livingstone I presume”. Apart from the memorial, it was a museum that I found quite interesting. Ujiji was the place were slaves were brought from Congo. The slaves were caught as prisoners of war in internal conflicts in Congo. In Ujiji they were sold to traders who forced them to the Arab and Indian slave traders at the Tanzanian coast in Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. When we hear about slave trade, we always hear about the trans-Atlantic slave trade from West Africa, but it is estimated that the Arab slave trade in East Africa was much larger, and that is what East Africans are talking about when they talk about slave trade. However, the eastern slave trade did not leave a diaspora of Africans in Asia because the men usually got castrated.

3. Attempt to get a boat to Gombe National Park. 4. Livingstone – Stanley memorial

After 2 days in Kigoma, I tried to go To Gombe National Park to the north. Gombe is a virgin tropical forest and the place where Jane Goodall did here famous study of chimpanzees in the 1960-ties. It is only accessible by boat, and I cycled to the boat harbour 5 km to the north early in the morning. I was not able to get any public transport boat and had to give up. I have met chimpanzees before in Uganda and decided to concentrate on other nature areas. After all, almost 1/3 of Tanzania is still preserved as National Parks, Game Reserves or conservation areas. Many of them in the western parts are remote and have relatively few visitors and I would like to see some of them that I have not visited before. So, I started cycling southwards.

The paved road was in a very good condition with wide paved shoulders for cyclists and pedestrian. Although it is the main road from north to south in western Tanzania, there are very few cars and occasionally a truck, so it is indeed an enjoyable and peaceful cycling trip. Cycling in Tanzania differed from Burundi and Rwanda. It was not that much of a sensation that an old mzungu were cycling along. People are more used to mzungus and have a relaxed attitude towards me. More people speak English, and they are both curious, polite, and helpful if I stop in a village and have a chat. At the same time, my Swahili knowledge from long ago is waking up and I will try to learn more now. The road through the western highlands went through a grandiose green landscape where you have views of dozens of kilometres into the hinterland. When you see the distance between the main roads that are paved, you realize that the vast majority of people does not have road access at all or at the best an earth track. People are transporting agricultural products and goods on their heads or on bicycle.

5. Highway to the south from Kigoma 6. 220 km of earth road was not attractive for cycling. 7. (Right bottom) The German truck driver is proposing a solution.

In late afternoon, rain started, and I got shelter in a village for a while. It was 20 km to my destination with a guest house. Some locals were of course curious about talking to me. The bicycle repairer was admiring my bike and asked for the price. Another was a seller of SIM cards and mobile services who could speak English. He was asking questions about how he could get to Ethiopia and presumably to Europe. Another was an alcohol smelling man who wanted money for cigarettes and beer. After half an hour, the rain got lighter and I had covered my bags with rain protection, so I started to cycle again. After a few km the heaven opened up and it was torrential downpour for more than half an hour. I tried to find some protection, but there was no buildings and the bigger trees that could give some relief were at the other side of the water filled ditch. All big trees adjacent to the road had been cut down during construction. When I reached the destination town I was completely soaked wet. I found the rudimentary guesthouse that I had identified on my MapsMe app. Room cost 4 dollars a night. My rain protection was not good enough and everything in my handbag inclusive money, camera and passport were wet, but fortunately they would dry up during the night. So it was not a big problem, but a lesson. Better rain protection needed.

With dry clothes, but still wet shoes I went out to find some dinner. The best restaurant in town or rather village was a wooden shed with a clay floor. They had one dish, rice with meat in a chilli sauce. The taste was fine and after a while a young white man came in and order the same. We started to talk. He had arrived some hours earlier just before the rain started. He was Danish and had come by bike like me. He had cycled from Nairobi via Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Before that he had cycled through Saudi Arabia from where he flew to Nairobi. Now he had booked a railway ticket to Dar Es Salaam from this tiny place. His name was Sören and he had got some knee problem and had to go home. We had an interesting chat with a beer at my guest house afterwards.

After further 40 km there was another small town and that was the end of the paved road. From there on it was an earth track for the next 220 km through a forest were it is leopards and jackals and no habitations at all. I was not keen to cycle there and was lucky that locals helped me with a seat in a car that was going to Mpanda at the other side of the forest. The road was partly muddy and partly stony but surrounded by a beautiful forest. After more than 100 km, 3 big trucks had got stuck when they should meet. It turned out that one of the drivers was a German woman who had taken a job as truckdriver in Tanzania! We had a short chat. She seemed to love her job and was successful in negotiating a solution with the 2 big Tanzanian truck drivers. We were able to pass by.

Mpanda is a small town some 30 km from Katavi National Park. I had never heard about it and few other tourists either. But it is 4500 km2 of protected area, of which much is forest but also plains and wetland. It contains about 4000 elephants, hordes of giraffes and buffaloes and all the other African animals except rhinos. It is estimated that it is 84 lions there. I was able to go for a one-day trip. It is rainy season, so the chance to see animals are less, but what a tour. My incredibly good driver John knew the area very well. We had to go about 35 km through protected forest before the plains opened and it was just spectacular views. Tourists normally goes to National Parks in the dry season, but the nature is so lush, green and beautiful during rainy season. And despite all the greenery we saw lots of animals. The highlight was an enormous sand coloured crocodile that slipped into the water just before I got my camera ready. Another was when we met an elephant family with 4 children and a young adult. I also realized that Katavi is located next to 2 other game reserves, Rukwa and Lukwati, both of the same size. It was a safari lodge there with luxury tented rooms at the cost of 200 USD per person per night. John and I got delicious, pressured coffee and magnificent views over the plains. A day in Katavi is mindfulness and soothing of your soul. I decided that I need to explore more parks in western Tanzania. After 3 weeks from my start in Kigali, this trip just becomes better and better. I can’t believe that it is only 3 weeks so far. It feels like it was much longer and proves that good journeys prolong your life.

Some photos from Kitavi. The elephant family on row 2 has 5 kids, and the father went towards us to protect his family from intruders!

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Burundi on folding bike – March 2023

Early morning without breakfast I went off the 7 km to Burundi border. Checking out from Rwanda went ok, but when I should get Visa on entry to Burundi, I had to pay 40 Dollar. I had no Dollar, so I gave him 40 Euro. The immigration officer was not satisfied. But when I explained that Euro was better value than Dollar, and he got that confirmed by a colleague, he gave me the stamp and I passed into Burundi. The usual exchange boys outside the gate helped me to change my Rwanda cash to Burundi Franc. I bought a Burundian mango for breakfast and started my cycling into Burundi. With regard to fruit; I always carry a Swiss Army pocket knife and a vegetable peeler while cycling. If you find nothing else, you will usually find local fruits and vegetables.

Photo 1: First town in Burundi Photo 2: View towards Congo border.

The cycling in Burundi went fast. Yesterday I had rolled down the escarpment from Lake Kivu level at above 1500 AMSL to around 900 m. I soon got comfortable with the people I met along the road. There was hardly any begging. But the most significant difference from Rwanda was the level of entrepreneurship. The small towns had many shops, bicycle and car repairs, furniture producers and more. I also noticed all the agricultural harvests exposed everywhere. Rice and maize were laid out drying on mats at the road shoulder or at the roadside. However, it was more car traffic than in Rwanda and reckless driving. In Rwanda the traffic is calm because they have installed so many automatic speed controls. In Burundi you will instead find police roadblocks where the police try to squeeze money from the car drivers. It is obviously a very corrupt country.

The road went through a rolling and partly flat landscape all the way to Bujumbura. The mountains at the left side and at the right side were the gentle green valley with the border to Congo. I saw no signs of fences or border posts though. When I finally found a good apartment hotel in Bujumbura, I had cycled about 95 km that day.

Bujumbura is a quite messy place with rubblestone streets and it seems as there had been no coordination for urban planning. So many ugly buildings that seemingly were failed attempts to create modern architecture. It is otherwise a quite green city with many trees. Some houses from the colonial era are charming and well adapted to the climate. Pity that modern architects did not learn and instead created buildings maladapted to the climate as well as the environment. I stayed 2 days and had great help from the receptionist in the hotel who helped me with arranging a SIM card and more.

Photo 3: Bujumbura Photo 4: Maize transport

I was unsure about the condition of road along Lake Tanganyika towards Tanzania, but I gave it a try. The first 8 km southwards from central Bujumbura is a chaotic messy dusty unpaved hell for a bicyclist. Then the paved road starts. I stopped at the Stanley – Livingstone memorial at the place where they met 1871 “Dr Livingstone I presume”. Well, I believed it was true until I came to Kigoma in Tanzania. More on that later.

I continued my cycling towards the southern border of Burundi on a nice, paved road through villages and with great lake views. I felt comfortable with the villagers I met, but it is a very undeveloped area where people feed of what they can grow and of fishing in the lake. Several times I stopped where kids where fishing with rods and they showed me their catch of what looked like perch. I also passed a hydroelectric plant that was about to be completed by a Chinese company.

After another 20 km or so, it was the end of asphalt. From here on the road was a muddy gravel road with partly muddy and partly stony sections, not optimal for a folding bicycle with 20” wheels. Then the rain started, and I had to cover my bags with rain protection. After cycling in the rain on this muddy road for almost 40 km I arrived at a strange rundown resort by the lake where I got shelter, a cold shower and a very delicious grilled perch dinner.

It was raining through the night and light rain during the next day. On some stretches of the road, massive road work had started. This road had once been a bituminous road all the way, but decades without maintenance, the pavement were all gone. This is typical politics for developing countries. Politicians don’t spend money on maintenance because the result of maintenance is not seen that easily. Let the road be destroyed completely and the politicians in charge can show that they have managed to invest in a new road for the people although the cost will be many times higher than what the maintenance of the old road would have been.

Photo 5: Cycling along Lake Tanganyika Photo 6: Rain started and asphalt ended

Photo 7: Road work, “labour intensive methods” Photo 8: Kids fishing

It was another hard day of cycling almost 70 km on muddy roads except for a short paved section. It was remote areas where people are not used to see a mzungu coming on a small wheeled folding bicycle. I struggled through villages with shanty houses and markets with goat meat, fish, abundance of fruits and vegetables and very basic shops. But they had Coca Cola and beer and in every small town during the afternoon there would be a gang of men who were sitting drinking beer and shouting “Mzungu, how are you?” The women were active with work. I believe that is why so many women in Africa show such self confidence. It is mostly women who greets you in a welcoming way without any apparent shyness. Rain had stopped when I finally reached the small town of Bukeye not far from the Tanzanian border. I found a Tourist Guest House and they also helped me to clean my bike. I went out with their helpful manager for a dinner that night. Always good to have interesting chats with locals. The border to Tanzania consists of a mountain range, so I decided to cross the border on a mini buss.

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Rwanda on folding bike, March 2023

This is a trip with a purpose. I aimed to visit an environmental group and a yoga centre at the coast of Kenya, but first I wanted to see more of east Africa where I have worked in 4 periods from 1975 to 2015. I wanted to see how Africa and the environment has changed and hopefully get new contacts with local people, solidarity groups etc. My first work was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania 1975 – 77. I had a job in Nigeria 2009.  I then worked in Uganda 2009 – 10 and a short job for project review there in 2011. I had also worked in Mozambique and Botswana. Then as an advisor in the Ministry of Transport in Kenya from 2014 – 15. So, the trip this time starts in Kigali in Rwanda where I arrived on a misty morning. I talked to the taxi driver about the genocide1994 when Hutu population massacred and killed about 800 000 Tutsis. The same conflict has now spilled over to eastern Congo where Hutus are again are killing Tutsis, according to my very helpful taxi driver Harry. He is of the opinion that this time it’s driven by the political campaign prior to the election in Congo. He also claims that the Congo president has hired Russian mercenaries in the war against Tutsis.

After some careful consideration I asked my taxi driver Harry if he was a Tutsi. He answered: “I am a Rwandan, but my family used to be identified as Tutsis. I was born in Uganda where my parents went as refugees. I came to Rwanda after the peace and reconciliation were implemented.”

Kigali is located on many hills with city centre on top of a hill. It is spotlessly clean. Nobody throws garbage or plastic here, Harry explained. It is a policy implemented by the government. It reminds me of how important well governed rules and regulations are. In most countries at a similar poverty level as Rwanda, people usually throw plastic and rubbish anywhere and you always meet people who make excuses for why that happen – usually poverty and lack of education. But Rwanda shows that you don’t need to throw the trash in the street because you are poor, and everyone benefits from the good practice.

The following day I unpacked my folding bicycle, got help with pumping in a bicycle shop and then went on my bike to the Genocide Memorial. It was a heart shaking experience. It exhibits the horrific killings that took place, the failures of UN and the international community, but the most moving part is that of reconciliation. The post war regime of Paul Kagame took power, they introduced a policy of “no revenge” – to stop the cycle of hatred. It was announced that the genocide was a result of evil leaders, not of evil people. The people were misled. It is the same message that was implemented by Nelson Mandela and also the leadership of Vietnam. I heard this message many times from ordinary Vietnamese when I came to Vietnam just 3 years after the war in 1978. “We don’t hate Americans, only the American leadership”. In fact, it was the same approach that was used by the allies towards Germany after WW2: “Don’t hate the German people, but the Nazi leadership”. This is of course the wise approach to conflict solving. The alternative is to continue the eternal circle of hate and revenge.

But the conflict appears to be even more complicated. When Tutsi took over the government I Rwanda, about 2 million Hutus fled into eastern Congo, near Goma. Rwandan and Ugandan army went into Congo for revenge and started to massacre Hutus there, even those in refugee camps. There are 2 UN reports describing this massacre according to Wikipedia:

According to the exhibition, the responsible Hutu leaders fled to Congo protected by UN and the French Army. As a result, several armed groups are now fighting in Congo. M23 is a Tutsi rebel group supported by Rwanda. FDLR = Forces For Liberation of Rwanda consists of Hutus and are supported by the Congolese army and Congo president. In addition, an Islamic State terror group has been formed with support from outside. Some months back, East African Community Regional Force – EACRF has gone into eastern Congo near Goma. USA and France have intervened, and they are supporting President Felix Tshisekhedi. I am afraid that the mineral rich soil in Congo has something to do with their standpoint. It is a shame that the international community fails to help to stabilize the situation in eastern Congo and perhaps making it worse by supporting one side.

I packed my bike the next morning and started my journey to the west, towards Lake Kivu bordering Congo. After passing the rather chaotic traffic situation around markets in the suburbs, I found the NH1 to the west rather calm with wide shoulders and I felt safe. I had mounted a helmet mirror in order to be able to observe the traffic from behind, but the traffic was moderate on this Sunday morning. The first few km at the outskirts of Kigali was the only flat section between and Lake Kivu some 130 km away. Rwanda is extremely hilly, and the road is winding up and down. I felt comfortable with the people I met. Children would run along and shout Mzungu! Mzungu! Which is Swahili for European or white people. Old men with a Bible in the hand (it was Sunday) would nod respectful and many women would wave and say some appreciating words, sometimes in English, sometimes in French or Swahili or the local language Kinyarwanda. When I stopped at a roadside market to buy roasted maize and bananas, I was surrounded by exited women who wanted to shake hands. Men preferred the fist touch greeting. Boda Boda cyclists came along and wanted to have a chat (Boda Boda is the typical bicycle taxi which is used in East Africa, especially in Rwanda and Uganda. Its an ordinary Indian bicycle with a seat cushion at the rear and footrests). A youngster follows me for a while and tells me that his ambition is to be a professional cyclist. He showed me his skill to cycle backwards.

Rwanda has increased the population from about 2 million 1970 to 13,8 million today. It is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Still, the average income has increased and percentage of extremely poor people decreased since 1970. Small farms occupy the hills along the road, but the landscape is very green and the agricultural production has increased enormously the last 50 years. Rwanda exports coffee and tea also. According to FAO, Rwanda produces about 90 % of their need for food. But it is very little natural forests left, except in a few national parks.

  1. Kigali from my hotel 2. On the road

The first day of cycling proved to be rather tough, mainly due to the long uphill that mostly were a little too steep for cycling, so I pushed my bike uphill for long stretches. A pickup driver obviously felt pity on me and offered me a ride, but I thankfully rejected since I wanted to do todays trip with my own legs. At a hilltop I met 2 British couples who were on their way from Mombasa to Cape Town in their old but well equipped Landrovers. I was offered ice-cold water! After a few km more the only modern roadside restaurant along this road appeared. I got a very delicious creamy spinach vegetable soup with fresh bread! I got new energy to pedal my way to the town of Muhanga where I roomed around for a while until I found a guest house where I spent the night. Very good and robust local food by the way and nice chats with the staff who were excited to have a mzungu guest.

I continued my struggle the next morning. However, after 40 km or so the road had become quite bad with roadwork all along. It was a very warm day just prior to the rainy season which is approaching. I was exhausted and decided to try to catch a bus the last stretch to Lake Kibu. As always, you will always find local fixers who will help you against a commission. So I got a ride with a Landcruiser to Kibuye and they brought me to a hotel at the lake shore with beautiful views of the lake and the mountains of Congo in the horizon.

I found the hotel by the lake and the people I met very pleasant. Out cycling in the area next day, a guy on a traditional Indian bike came along. He could speak very good English and guided me around. His name is Fulgence and when he showed me a very good local restaurant, I invited him for lunch. I really like the robust African food. Fulgence came from Goma in Congo and now work with a boat company that arrange tours to the islands in Lake Kivu. I took a tour in the late afternoon. Fulgence also told about the trouble in Congo and that you will meet a checkpoint every few km along the road with militants charging a fee. I was amazed by his knowledge and openness about the corruption and how things works in eastern Congo.

3. Lake Kivu looks clean and pleasant. 4. Lunch with Fulgence

Part II

When I started cycling south along Lake Kivu I thought that the landscape would be flatter. That was not the case. The cycling was endless uphill, often too steep to cycle, so I had to push my bike. Downhill was also too steep to let it go, and I had to waste the gained energy in brake friction. Even 30 km in this terrain sucks a lot of energy.

The road goes through villages all along, sometimes with the lake far below and then a steep downhill into a “fjord”. At higher levels all sorts of farming are conducted, from cassava to cabbage, potatoes and bananas. In the valley bottoms there are rice farming with lots of workers in the fields for the preparation of next planting season now when the rains start. The whole coastline along Lake Kivu is flushing green with hardly any farms or structures along the shores. It looks quite virgin and unspoilt. Surprisingly, I see no fishing boats, only small canoes catching what they can get with simple tools. The lake is large, and it should be a lot of fish there. However, in Kibuye I noticed a fish farm.

It is a huge methane gas reservoir under Lake Kivu. It is now being exploited by Rwanda to produce electricity. Geologists says that there are a huge relief of the gas about every 1000 years because the reservoir is in the middle of the big rift. So the argument goes that it is better to use it for energy production than to let it be released into the atmosphere by natures forces.

In my map app I had found a guest house some 35 km away. L’Esparange Childrens Village was located at the top of a hill with valleys or fjords of the lake on either side. The village is funded by a German NGO and has about 200 children in the school and a guesthouse. The Rwandan boss, Theo was bound to a wheelchair after being paralyzed in a bus accident 5 years ago. He gave a vivid description of their activities. They grow almost all their food themselves on their own farmland. It’s an almost self-sufficient oasis in this relatively remote village. They served me a robust dinner and breakfast from their harvest. The view over Lake Kivu far below was spectacular. In the evening I felt the same tranquillity and stillness that I used to when the night falls over the vast African countryside. The houses are better, people have better cloths, roads are better and school buildings are better, more hospitals, but life in the countryside is still very much the same as I experienced in Africa in the 70ties. In the evening you see a lamp here and there in the scattered houses at the hillsides, some are cooking on a charcoal fire, few have TV or mobile phones. Well, it’s one of the reasons why so many children are produced I assume. When living standard goes up, the number of children goes down.

Another thing that struck me that evening was that there are very few insects. I remember the incredible swarms of insects I had to fight when I worked in a small village in southern Tanzania 1976 -77. Now you hardly need a mosquito net anymore. I don’t know why the fruit trees still are pollinated, but fruit grows in abundance here. The reason for the massive reduction of insects is of course the uncontrolled use of pesticides – and this mass extinction is allowed.

L’Esparange Guesthouse with Theo and collegues 2, Lake Kivu “fjord” from road to the guest house.

2 days more cycling along Lake Kivu with the aim to reach Nyungwe Forest National Park. The traffic along the road is very moderate, so it is perfect for cycling with its wide shoulders. What was slightly worrying was children asking for money. “Give me money” was the standard phrase younger kids around 7 – 10 years seemed to have learned. They were never threatening, but some of them had a machete in their hands. Otherwise, younger children were running beside me shouting “Mzungu mzungu!” when I cycled slowly uphill. An entire school class started singing Mzungu and clapping their hands when I approached them.

The further south I came, the more rice fields in the valley bottoms and tea plantations in the hill sides appeared. Some places looks almost like Vietnam. When I reached the junction with the road to Nyungwe, there were tea plantations all around. It was 7 km to my lodge, but it was an uphill climb of around 500 m in altitude. It was a tough afternoon and full of sweat I reached my lodge which was located among natural forest and tea plantations outside the park. Nyungwe Forest national Park is about 10000 km2 and seems to be very well protected. It is impressing that little poor Rwanda are able to preserve 3 national parks, while we in Sweden hardly have any natural forest left. The park has a few hundred chimpanzees and a large variability of bird life. Fortunately, they don’t eat birds in Africa like in South East Asia, so you see many birds everywhere. I stayed 2 nights here enjoying the environment.

3. Rwandan folklore near the entrance to the park since they arranged a marathon through the park this Saturday and 4. Children happy and curious to test my bike.

It was raining when I started the 40 km journey towards Cyangugu at the Congo border and light rain continued all the way. I arrived wet and cold but found a very pleasant accommodation with hot shower. Cyangugu is located right at the southern end of Lake Kivu and the Congolese border divides the city. I took a walk when the rain stopped, and the sun broke through. It’s a very green city and most of it is at the Congolese side where it is named Bukavu. The hills around Bukavu is spread with shanty towns for internal refugees in Congo. In spite of security warnings for this area, I found Cyangugu a very peaceful place and many gave me thumbs up for coming there. The simple little restaurant at my hotel served me an excellent mushroom soup for lunch and a superb vegetarian curry for dinner. The road towards Burundi goes along the Congo border all the way to Bujumbura. The landscape is not so hilly, so cycling goes easier. I did some 45 km to a small town a few km from the Burundi border. After some cycling around in the town, I saw a place with a sign of Bare & Lodge. When I went in unprepared, I was shocked.  It was a very miserable place. It was a brothel. I eventually got help from a motorcycle taxi driver who led me to a guest house that was quite ok. The next morning, I would continue to Burundi border 7 km away.

5. View into Congo from Cyangugu 6. Bikes instead of trucks do the work in Rwanda.

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Robbed in Cap Verde, November 2022

One reason for not trying to cycle and travel from Morocco through West Sahara and Mauritania was safety and that it would create so many worries among my family in Sweden. But unfortunately, when you try to avoid one danger, you might meet another unexpected one. More of that later.

When I booked cheapest flight from Casablanca to Dakar, it turned out that the flight had a stopover in Cap Verde Islands. It structed me that it could be an interesting idea to cycle in Cap Verde for a few days. I knew little about Cap Verde and had only seen tourist photos where the islands seemed to be very dry and barren. We landed in the capital Praia at 3 o’clock in the night and got surprised that the immigration personnel were surprisingly unwelcoming, unfriendly, and suspicious, but I eventually got through and got a taxi to the hotel at the outskirts of Praia. It was a long waiting in the reception before a very tired lady turned up. She didn’t look happy at all for haven been woken up at 5 o’clock in the morning. It was the most unfriendly welcome I have experienced in a hotel, but eventually I got my room.

The first impression of Cap Verde was not so positive. Praia is a rather barren place and it is not much of interest to see there. In the morning my pump failed when I tried to pump up my bike. I had no other choice than to walk a few kilometres until I found a petrol station where 2 friendly, helpful and innovative service men helped me to pump up the bike with the car pump.

Praia is the capital of Cap Verde, but not a tourist destination. It is a very dry area. I cycled around and tried to get familiar with this remote place in the Atlantic. Cap Verde was not inhabited until around year 1500 when the Portuguese shipped settlers from Portugal to the islands. Thereafter adventurers and crooks from many parts came to try their luck and slaves were shipped over from Africa. Today there is a mixture of people of all colours, but I noticed no obvious sign that one group dominated another. Their language is Cap Verdean Creole, which is a mixture of Portuguese and West African languages.

The next day I packed my bike and headed upcountry towards the mountains. Soon the landscape became gradually greener. Since the traffic was modest and the roads in good condition it was good cycling, but tough with all the ups and downs in the hilly and mountainous landscape. Cap Verde, at least the island of Santiago where I was cycling is a strange place. I could not figure out any distinctive cultural signs, not much Portuguese flavour, not much African, not very colourful and most buildings in the countryside are just raw concrete without any paint. The reason was of course that people are not rich but didn’t seem to be extremely poor either. When I came higher into the interior, I cycled through green valleys that were relatively fertile. Farming is the main occupation in these parts. Since I could not find a restaurant for lunch, I went into a grocery store in a small town. A Chinese lady ran it. I bought a can of tinned peas, juice and a papaya for lunch at the roadside.

In the late afternoon I was pushing my bike up another steep hill when a long young guy shouted to me in a rough manner from an access road towards a small church: “Money, money”. He lifted his arm and I felt threatened but continued as I didn’t understand what he meant. He eventually decided to walk the right path, the one to the church. But the incident worried me. I was extremely vulnerable in a remote mountainous area, and I had not thoroughly checked the security situation. However, I found my lodge in a beautiful nature area between some of the highest peaks of the island. It was located in a peaceful village with welcoming people.

Photo 1: Early morning ride from my hotel in the mountains. Photo 2: Landscape

I had decided to make my Cap Verde visit short, because my destination was Dakar and West Africa. After my mountain tour, I cycled and rolled back again towards Praia on a partly different route. I should stay another night in Praia before flying over to Dakar the next day. I stayed right in the centre near the parliament buildings at the top of a hill. I walked down to a restaurant at the seafront for a dinner. When I walked up again, I was suddenly attacked by 5 strong guys who held me, grabbed my shoulder bag and run away. When I am security conscious, I store my pass and credit card in my bag with a lock at the hotel and not in my shoulder bag. However, this evening I had used my credit card and passport when I checked in and had in my nonchalance just put it in my hand bag, forgetting that it could be bad guys out there.

To lose valuables always feels bad, but I had never been in a situation where I had lost all essentials, money, credit cards, mobile, passport and money. I had nothing to identify myself and no money even for food. Fortunately, I had a helpful security guy at the SOL hotel. His name was Bacari, a student from Guinea Bissau who worked extra for the hotel. He lent me his mobile so I could cancel my cards, he helped med to remotely erase all content of my mobile and was my guide to the police station. The police arranged a police report that I could use for my insurance company. But this was not the end of the story. I could not get access to my bank account, because a BankID was required to sign in. That BankID was on my stolen phone. I could not reach the support of my Swedish Bank or my Swedish mobile provider (in order to cancel my stolen sim card) without a BankID. There was one alternative. That was to use a personal pin, but then they sent a verification number to my phone that was stolen. So, it was no way to reach customer support to my bank nor my mobile phone provider in Sweden. The hell got worse. Norway had no embassy in Cap Verde. I emailed the Norwegian Embassy in Lisbon. The answer was that they could not help me with an emergency passport because the post from Lisbon to Cap Verde took several weeks. That sounds strange, since several airplanes fly between Lisbon and Cap Verde every day. However, I got help from the Portuguese embassy. They issued an Emergency Travel Document for me, so it was possible to fly back to Sweden where I live and arrange for a new passport, driving license and get access to my bank account and mobile number again. It turned out that it took me a couple of weeks and a lot of work and struggle with banks and teleoperator support until I got everything in order again. For new passport, I had to go to Norway.

One learns by doing mistakes. After having travelled in 98 countries and cycled with my folding bicycle in 64 of them, I have finally learned that I must carry my valuables, passport, credit cards and cash at different locations. I am now evaluating the different options for doing so and at least carry least one credit card at a location where thieves are unlikely to search. I will also avoid having my Swedish sim card in the phone when I go out or are cycling, since I always buy a local one. I will also carry codes for reaching support at a safe location.

(Photos to be added)

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Morocco on folding bicycle, October – November 2022

This was second time I arrived with my folding bike in Marocko. First time in 2013, I arrived in Tangier on a ferry from Spain and left back to Spain via Ceuta. This time I arrived in Casablanca where I stayed for 2 days. It is again a city with too many cars. Main attractions are the worlds 2nd biggest mosque and Rick’s Café which is a copy of the bar and restaurant from the famous film where Ingrid Bergman met Humphrey Bogart. I was there.

Cycling southwards from Casablanca centre is through modern suburbs for the first 10 km or so. The next 10 km was through newly constructed high rise residential area were construction of roads and a tram line is still going on. This is low-cost housing for the poor in order to get rid of shanty towns. It is partly very dusty. Along the first 40 km along the coast there is no alternative to the main road. Then I came into secondary roads, but some sections were without pavement. After staying over night in Azemmour and El-Jadida some 110 km south of Casablanca, I turned inland. It was 3 very tough days from there to Marrakesh. The 2nd day, the 90 km from Sidi Bennour to Ben Guerir was worst, because it was a very arid area and partly without asphalt pavement. I hadn’t brought enough water but was able to buy a bottle from a hole in the wall in a poor village. Later, when I stopped for a brake, I accidently put my front wheel towards a cactus with very sharp sticks. Puncture! I could cycle a few hundred meters and the tyre was flat. Fortunately, this happened in a small village where I met a teenager on a bike. He invited me up to his village where he efficiently helped me to change to my spare tube. He borrowed a good pump from his friend, and the problem was fixed. I offered to pay them, but they rejected. I was very thankful to my new friends of course.

I had a full day and a half in Marrakech. Then I joined a group for a 3 days desert tour. It was such an amazing tour, crossing the Atlas Mountains and into Sahara. But the sand dunes start almost 600 km to the east of Marrakech. On the way, we visited several spectacular Berber villages and the famous Ait Benhaddou, a town which was used for several famous films, including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. The surprise was that so many people were living in these arid areas. You find towns and very green fertile valleys supplied by underground water streams from the Atlas Mountains. Very nice and fresh vegetables at the markets and a lot of tree planting is going on. We also passed one of the largest solar power stations in the world, Noor 3. First night we stayed in a Berber owned hotel. I had a good chat with the Berber owner, trying to figure out how so many people could survive in this arid area, not only survive but thriving. How is that possible?

We spent the second night in the desert, more than an hour ride on camels from the nearest road. Listening to Berber drums in the evening around the fire to the view of the stars was real mindfulness. We got interesting talks among us travellers and 4 joyful Italian women entertained us with jokes, laughs and music all the 580 km back to Marrakech the last day.

Back in Marrakech, I took a 2-day cycle tour up in the foothills of Atlas Mountains and then the bus down to Essaouira at the coast. Essaouira with its large medina was a sort of a hippie paradise in the late 60ties and 70ties. Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley, Cat Stevens and some of the Rolling Stones were there. It still seems to attract young travellers who wants to play hippies for a while. I also appreciated the Moroccan food more and more, especially the varieties of Tanjines.

From there I was cycling southwards. This is the best cycling roads in southern Morocco.  Hills and sand dunes along the coast, green bushes, olive trees and very sparse traffic. However, the weather became colder, especially in mornings and evenings. I checked in at a beach hotel at a remote beach popular with surfers. A young Canadian was running the hotel and I spent a couple of pleasant evenings at his roof terrace with his friends.

I continued to cycle for a while down the coast. I am encouraged by people who gives me thumbs up. I meet so many people who appreciate a tourist coming on a tiny folding bicycle.

The landscape becomes more barren the further south you come. I had some vague idea of trying to reach Senegal through West Sahara and Mauritania. Some research and advice from people I asked convinced me that it is too risky and too barren land with potential problems to enter Mauritania at all. Finally I gave up the idea of cycling for more than 1600 km in barren land and desert in order to find out if it was possible to cross the border into Mauritania. So, I went for the second option which was to fly across Western Sahara to Dakar. However, I later regretted that I didn’t try further, but I always regret what I didn’t try to do. As always, I must live with this pain.

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Tunisia on folding bicycle, October 2022

My Italian cycling had ended in Cortone. From there I took the train to Palermo in Sicily and catch the ferry to Tunis in Tunisia. I had been to Sousse in Tunisia for a week back in 1972 when it already had become a popular charter destination. But after the Arab Spring revolution in 2011 and the terror attacks against tourists in 2015, terror bombings in Tunis 2019 and then the corona close down that stopped all tourism, I was unsure about the security situation and especially how safe it was to travel on a bicycle.

I had got a good hotel for a very reasonable price in central Tunis. When I walked into the streets, my first impression was how modern and secular Tunisia had become. Most young women don’t use any headscarf and you don’t see the same separation between sexes as it was back in 72. Tunis also have many bars that serves beer and wine. They were all very crowdy with the local sinners, mostly men, but also some women. The old souk is still there, and I managed to find the house where the very interesting historian, social-philosopher and traveller Ibn Khaldoun was born 1332. I have his book Muqaddimah in my bookshelf at home. He was North Africa’s Machiavelli and has very interesting reflexions about what keeps a society together, and the importance of understanding different interest groups, tribes and clans so that an empire or country is of common interest for all its inhabitants. If the NATO generals had read Muqaddimah, they would perhaps not have bombed Libya and believe that it would result in democracy by ousting Gaddafi.

I cycled to Cartage which is about 20 km north of city centre. Part of the route was on roads with heavy traffic and parts on a newly constructed bicycle road. Cartago itself is situated in a very beautiful location at the peninsula overseeing the Punic harbour. However, it is not much left from the Punic times and the archaeological museum was closed.

From Tunis, I headed south to the Roman ruins of Oudina some 30 km south of Tunis. It took some 15 km to reach some relatively peaceful roads. Near Oudina there is also left a part of the aqueduct that served Cartage with fresh water from the mountains. I soon realised that it was very few accommodations to find on, and Airbnb. I don’t want to sleep in a tent, especially in a remote area of Tunisia, so to find an accommodation was essential. I found one up in the mountains some 40 km to the south of Oudina. It was the city of Zaghouan, located just at the edge of a nature reserve and mountains. This was the source of water supply to Cartage, more than 100 km to the north. It is a beautiful place, and I got a very nice room in a traditional house. The host was an old lady and poet, Aida. She showed me her books and told me that she had been to Norway for a poetry festival. She prepared a delicious dinner and a good breakfast and introduced me to interesting sites in the area. Aida was devoted to the cultural heritage of Zaghouan that could be traced back to Punic times. The next morning, I cycled to the water source for Cartage with the water temple, Les Temple des Eaux. Among visitors there were many school children. Some of them seemed to be very curious about a foreigner on a tiny folding bike. They approached me, thanking me for coming to Tunisia. One of the boys wanted to teach me Arabic. I did my best. A woman came and thanked me for coming to Tunisia. She complained about the situation in Tunisia now. The islamists are weakening democracy, in her opinion. She, like many others I met are complaining that the life has become so much more difficult after the Arab Spring revolution 2011.

I had planned to cycle further inland or south to Kairouan but was not able to find any accommodation. My host explained that the best chance would be along the coast. Furthermore, you don’t find many bicycle friendly roads in Tunisia. In all directions there were no alternative to the main roads which often carry quite heavy traffic. I had to be very careful and keep control of the traffic from behind in my small bike mirror.

I therefore decided to not be too adventurous and cycled south towards Sousse. In the mountains I rolled through green agricultural land and olive plantations. Towards the coast, it is more dust and more industry. I stayed overnight in Hergla north of Sousse and went to Sousse the next day. I found an incredibly cheap but good hotel at the beach and stayed there for a week, doing daytrips with my bike and get some time for reading. I tried the road towards Kairouan and Monastir, but the traffic is quite dangerous. After over a month of cycling, I preferred to do calmer trips and enjoy the fantastic beaches in Sousse. It was a good experience that people are so friendly and helpful everywhere. They are really happy that some tourists are coming back. I could not feel any security issues with regard to terrorism. I met an open minded guy named Mohammed for coffee several times and interesting chats. He has wife and 2 kids. Apart from serving coffee, he is a sort of businessman and fixer for tourists, he explained. He promised that he could arrange for anything, including a new wife for me. He also complained about the economic situation that had become much worse after the revolution 2011. The general explanation I got was that the former autocrat Ben Ali controlled the corruption in his hands and pockets. When he was ousted, all the strong men under him has been fighting in order to make as much gains as possible for themselves; in other words, more pockets to fill. I had an idea to cycle through Algeria towards Marocco. I had been twice to the Algerian Embassy in Tunis. It was impossible to get a visa. I was promptly rejected by the cold and unfriendly staff at the Algerian Embassy. I could only apply for a visa from my country of residence. So, the only option was to fly across Algeria. I cycled most of the way back to Tunis and then took a train which was an interesting experience. Off to Casablanca the next day.

Souk in Tunis
Punic Harbour in Cartage
Temple de Aeux in Zougouan

(I will try to arrange the photos better in a gallery)

A coffee with Mohammed in Sousse
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