Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam
plus the first weekend of the World Cup
“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.”
â€“ Lily Tomlin
I struggled to leave Kenya: tracking elephants through the bush on foot and
flying in a tiny 4-seater plane alongside Mount Kenya with the pilot fast
asleep at the controls is certainly more fun than cycling. But I did
eventually drag myself away from Nairobi and pointed my nose once more in
the direction of Cape Town.
Two people who really understand my journey gave me presents. Sophie, a
fantastic artist who is also writing a book titled “My Husband and Fifty
Camels” gave me a Moleskine diary to elevate me into the hallowed company of
travel writers such as Bruce Chatwin and Ernest Hemingway. Rob, a soldier
for many years, presented me with a spoon. Not just any spoon, mind you:
this is a ‘racing spoon’, favoured by certain Regiments of the British Army
because its shape allows you to shovel very large mouthfuls of food into
your mouth at very high speeds! Perfect for me. To the unenlightened, a
‘racing spoon’ could easily be confused with the kind of ordinary plastic
soup spoon easily purloined from any Chinese restaurant in Hereford.
Along the road out of Nairobi salesmen touted for business, without much
apparent success. At least the man selling second hand toilets had something
to sit on whilst waiting for customers.
I find myself hating vehicles and all who dwell therein. Tourist
Landcruisers and ever increasing numbers of Overland trucks roar past me in
air-conditioned heaven at 100mph. They do not stop, they do not wave, most
do not even see me – it’s almost as if they do not care about poor little me.
Hot, tired and painfully slow: a bit of self-pity and irrational hating
helps to pass the time. Of course they don’t care about me – why should
The Maasai and me
Many Masai men ride bicycles – red robes flowing, staff or spear clutched in
one hand, bell ringing in greeting with the other hand. One man invites me
to his village to spend the night. The village, far from the road and
protected by a dense, impenetrable wall of thorns, fascinated me. A 6 foot 2
Masai girl looks after me and shows me round the village (Harry Flashman eat
your heart out!). Awesome men saunter around, tall and dignified in their
robes, elaborate hair plaited and dyed red, huge holes in their earlobes,
splendid jewellery and glistening spears. They wonder how I get my hair to
be straight and yellow. I ask how on earth they get such massive holes in
their ears. Amusement and intrigue on both sides. If the Masai people had a
‘Discovery Channel’, I would be on it.
In Arusha, Tanzania (which is, incidentally, halfway between Cairo and Cape
Town) I stayed with Jo and Ben. Jo had to cycle into school in a giant bird
costume one morning. I was fascinated to watch the reaction of local
Africans to a huge bird cycling through their town: no one even batted an
eyelid. It confirmed my theory that Africans really do think that us
foreigners are completely weird. Nothing we do surprises them anymore.
Kilimanjaro, the continent’s highest mountain, shone serenely above the
clouds, towering proudly like a gold medal winner on the podium. One day I
will climb her, but not this time. Tanzania has decided to focus exclusively
on a classier variety of tourist with the result that Tanzania’s highlights
are inaccessible to me. Climbing Kili would cost more money than I have
spent in riding half the length of Africa. Zanzibar, the Ngorogoro Crater
and the Serengeti are similarly unattainable.
On the road to Dar Es Salaam I fall ill. I ride on weakly, pausing often to
hide from the sun and sleep in the shade of giant termite mounds, the warm,
red earth a soft and welcome bed. I don’t have the energy to put my tent up
and cannot face staying in a village. I lie down in a maize field and sleep
beside my bike. I wake at dawn with that happy feeling of knowing that you
are no longer sick. I lie still in the field, my face damp with cool dew,
and watch the bright African stars begin to pale into a gentle orange
Buses roar past, luridly painted and emblazoned with slogans (‘Born 2 Die’,
‘Yo Boyz’, ‘I looove Me’). Some of the choices of portrait on the backs of
the buses intrigue me – Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein, Kofi Annan, the Queen,
and Alex Ferguson clutching the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s famous red
I am reading an interesting report on the United Nations Conference on Trade
and Development. I realize that I no longer categorise the people I meet as
‘poor people’. I categorise them as ‘people’ with all the usual
subcategories of life – nice people, funny people, ugly people, half-wits
etc. etc. In pidgin English I converse with a fellow cyclist, a chap on his
way to chop firewood. He said to me that although he was very poor he was
still happy. I agreed with him that although people in England are much
richer than most Tanzanians I did not know whether they were happier in
If you have been following my journey for a while now you may be able to
imagine the horrible, horrible dilemma I was faced with as I realized that
the World Cup was due to kick off in 4 hours whilst I was still 6 hours ride
from the nearest television. It was a nightmare situation. I have never,
ever cheated before on this journey, yet the prospect of the greatest party
in the world starting without me was enough to bring me out in a cold sweat.
I know that it is childish but I couldn’t help it. I hitched a lift. I cheated.
I wish deeply that I had not been forced to take that lift. Do I regret it…?
Did I make the right choice…? DID YOU SEE THAT GOAL SENEGAL SCORED AGAINST
FRANCE?! I could never look my son in the eye if I had missed that goal!
Plus I had a very mysterious mobile phone call passed on to me during the match:
“Beware: you are going to be beaten and robbed…”
It was an exciting first afternoon in Dar Es Salaam.
Me, my World Cup and Africa â€“ The First Weekend…
“Sport is something that does not matter, but is performed as if it did. In that contradiction lies its beauty”
â€“ Simon Barnes
The stuff of nightmares. The World Cup kicks off in 4 hours and I am 6 hours
ride from the nearest television. Panic begins to rise in my chest. It is
childish, sad and pathetic but I cannot bear to be missing out on the
biggest party in the world. What if something amazing happens in the match…?
How would I be able to look my son in the eye if I missed it…? I knew that
if I took a lift I would regret it. But I knew that missing the match would
be even worse. So I flagged down a car and took a voluntary ride for the
first time ever. I cheated. Did I make the right choice? MAN, DID YOU SEE
THAT SENEGAL GOAL?!!!
Five minutes after kick off and I’m cycling, panic rising once more, up and
down streets trying to find a television. “Television? Football?” I ask the
Swahili speaking locals. Fortunately, everyone understands those two words of
English. I spot a little blackboard with ‘France â€“ Senegal’ scrawled on it.
Relieved, I push my bike through into a dodgy little backroom bar and flop,
sweat-soaked, onto a chair. Welcome to The Greatest Show on Earth.
The Greatest Show on Earth
I survey my surroundings. 12 people sitting in silence on faded pink plastic
chairs. A small television in the corner obscured by dazzling sunlight. Here
in Tanzania it’s not about choosing a venue to watch the match in, it’s
about finding a venue!
When Senegal score we all leap from our seats – as did, simultaneously,
almost everyone in the entire world! I guess it disproves the old
Then somebody passes me a mobile phone, “Beware, you are going to be beaten and robbed at the end of the match. Stay behind for 10 minutes after the game to be safe…” warns the anonymous mystery caller. As if the opening of the World Cup is not excitement enough!
So, five minutes before the final whistle I make a swift exit and pedal like
mad. A backroom of a backstreet drinking den in downtown Dar Es Salaam
with all your worldly possessions is no place to be receiving anonymous
warning phone calls.
The next morning is Cameroon v. Ireland. Just before kick-off and I’m still
hunting for a bar and a television. I am cycling around the waterfront
mansions of ambassadors and diplomats, the azzuri blue ocean gentle beside
the road. Paradise is no place to watch football.
The bar I find is livelier than yesterday – 8:30am and the beers are flowing,
the tables liberally glistening with grease from the hunks of goat gristle
being chewed enthusiastically all round.
Around the bar the newspaper headlines are jubilant. Someone translates one
for me, “Goooooal! Senegal Brave, France like a Tomato”.
Yesterday I was African. Today I am Irish and people grin at me as Cameroon
score and the African party continues. Outside, street-boys jump in delight,
watching the match through holes in the wall.
After the Nigeria v. Argentina match my thoughts turn to England v.
Sweden – four years of waiting are finally over. My surroundings are very
different to the last few matches. I am amongst a rabble of English people
in the plush Sheraton Hotel. The beer is flowing fast (much of it free,
thanks to British Airways), ‘3 Lions’ is blasting over the speakers. Face
paints, flags and passion. Remember that the original meaning of ‘passion’
was ‘suffering’ – very appropriate for us English!
And that is the big difference between English and African football fans. We
are desperate for England, and England alone, to do well. We do not care
much about the quality of the football, it is just the end result we care
about. Africans want to see good football, they want all African teams to do
well (you would never see an African with a chip on his shoulder about a
neighbouring country’s team) and, above all, they want to have fun when they
watch the World Cup. Therein lies the difference.
I must go now – there is detailed analysis of David Beckham’s kangaroo skin
football boots on the TV. I can’t miss a thing….
(Good luck in the Argentina match everyone!)