- Tim Notier
Riding through Tanzania had everything an adventure motorcyclists could dream of. From challenging sections of off road that cut through endless plans of the savannah, to tight single-track switchbacks that climbed up the sides of mountains. There were countless trails that have been used as goat and donkey paths for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before any ADV motorcycle’s tires touched the surface. But we felt honored to leave the imprint of our Motoz Tractionator GPS tires alongside the hooved prints that connected the paths of past and present.
Over the course of the previous three years of traveling, we had realized that the best memories have been made alongside fellow travelers, or while deeply integrating into foreign cultures. And this time around, we would be riding with new friends while surrounded by exotic tribes of the Maasai people.
But before our epic journey into the rugged landscapes that were filled with wonderful people, animals, and panoramas that lay just east of the Serengeti National Park, Marisa and I were lucky enough to have met another pair of adventurers. Encountering other motorcycle travelers in Africa had been a rare occurrence, but as we were riding outside the capital city of Arusha, we saw a KTM 1290 parked in front of a restaurant, and I immediately pulled over.
Marisa and I found the owners of the bike to be two Italians, Gianmaria and his girlfriend Lucia. They were also riding two up through Africa in the same general direction as us, but at a slightly faster pace. The four of us instantly bonded and we discussed where we had been and where we were headed. Both groups desperately wanted to ride into Serengeti NP, but motorcycles were not allowed due to the large game in the park. As we sat there evaluating our options, we zoomed into an area on our Google maps and saw a thin white line that looped around a remote section of land just east of Ngorongoro Crater.
It looked like it could be some tough riding, but there wouldn’t be a better opportunity than now with the strength and motivation of fellow motorcyclists. It was settled over a toast to new friends and new adventures, and the duo of KTMs headed towards the unknown full of optimism and excitement.
Our grand entrance to the backcountry of Tanzania was a smooth gravel road and a canopy of bright green trees with limbs that branched out as if to give us a welcoming hug. Those trees lied to us. But I forgave them, because even though the road ahead didn’t lead to anywhere in particular, and wasn’t much of a road at all, it did lead to lifelong memories and a sense of accomplishment that involved teamwork, problem solving, and the hospitality of an incredible tribe of people.
The road quickly turned into something that looked like it had been neglected for the last 20 years. The prior rainy season had been exceptionally heavy, causing the narrow concrete bridges that crossed over small rivers to have been wiped out completely. At first, we carefully traversed across washouts, sand pits, and muddy hill climbs to the opposing sides of the riverbanks, thinking that it must just be a nasty section that should improve further down the road. But since most of the ‘local’ traffic were cattle and goat herders, the necessity to repair all the bridges seemed a low priority. Gianmaria and I were forced onto small trails that twisted away from the crumbled bridges into fields of shrubbery that followed the river until it was shallow enough to cross.
After a few hours of battling the lack of any connecting roads, we almost completely gave up as the two bikes rolled up to a section that seemed impassable. The road ended at another derelict bridge and there were no detouring paths that we could see. A dry riverbed with high banks was our latest obstacle, but with no bridge to cross the ravine, we seemed at a loss.
Our attention was turned towards a noise that sounded like silverware clunking around in a tin cup. A donkey wearing a leather collar with an old bell attached to it appeared from the brush. Then, a tall, stoic man with colorful clothes and a staff seemed to materialize from the shade of a tree.
“Where did he come from?” I asked.
“I’m sure that’s exactly what he is thinking,” Lucia replied.
“Jambo,” Marisa said ‘hello’ in Swahili, but that was about the extent of what she could say.
There was no way for us to communicate in words, but I pointed to our bikes, the destroyed bridge, then to the other side of the river, and shrugged.
The man nodded. He understood that we needed to get across the ravine, and he signaled for us to follow him. We had unknowingly stumbled upon the outskirts of a Maasai village, and the four travelers from faraway lands quickly became the center of attention in the middle of nowhere. Wide eyes of tall, lean, majestic men who were draped in red and purple checkered fabrics studied us. Women wore beaded bands on their arms and shiny metal earrings that stretched their earlobes into large circles. The children circled around us and the bike, giggling as they touched the sheepskin that I had on our motorcycle’s seat.
We greeted every one of them with a smile, shook their hands, and were then shown the place where shepherds cross the dry riverbed with their cattle. It was a spot where the banks of the river had been eroded down by a thousand hooves on either side of the ravine.
“Asante,” I told the man ‘Thank you,’ still not knowing if this nomadic group spoke Swahili or some other language that I didn’t know existed.
“Karibu,” he replied, ‘You’re welcome.’
The two couples mounted their ridiculously large motorcycles and bounced across the rocks and gravel of the riverbed to the other side.
What greeted us further down the road were open fields filled with tall grasses that blew in the wind like the ebb and flow of a coastal tide. Long necks stretched above the horizon, and a group of giraffes came into focus as Gianmaria and I pulled over to appreciate the view.
“Fun fact,” Marisa said. “A group of giraffes are called a journey!”
It turned out that the four of us weren’t the only travelers on a journey that day, and the giraffes were looking at us just as curiously as we were them.
The two couples had made it deep into the Serengeti to a place completely inaccessible to 4x4 vehicles. The only other people out there were those who traveled by donkey or foot.
I was proud of what our small group of adventurers had accomplished. There had been water crossings, deep sand, and rocky riverbeds that could have potentially persuaded us to turn around. But with the help of local villagers, and with Lucia and Marisa pushing the two overloaded KTMs through sand pits, we had made it to a view that few outsiders had ever laid eyes on.
The sun was beginning to set, and we knew that we would not want to face any more obstacles in the dark, so we began to scout out a camping spot. There was plenty of available real estate to choose from, and when we spotted a small clearing in what would be a picturesque campsite, we pulled over to set up our tents.
Two Maasai men once again appeared out of seemingly nowhere and greeted us. In basic hand gestures, we asked if we could set up our tents on what was most likely their land. Without question, the two men nodded in approval and walked around our bikes as if appreciating the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.
Marisa, who was a perfect ambassador, made tea and shared it with our new landlords, and their smiles were just as wide and beautiful as Marisa’s. The interaction, even without understanding each other’s languages, was filled with kindness and generosity. As the sun disappeared below the horizon, our hosts bid us a good night and walked back to their village.
The day had provided us with everything that we could have asked for. New friends, challenging exploration, wildlife, stunning landscapes, and the hospitality of strangers. I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were to have experienced everything that occurred that day. A trillion stars appeared in the sky above, and we drifted to sleep excited for what other adventures lay ahead.
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