- Bigger and better: In its second edition, the East African Bicycle Tour or Tour d’EAC that was first held in 2016, is aptly themed, ‘Unlocking East Africa’s trade and tourism potential through an effective and efficient integration process’.
The appeal of this year’s Tour d’EAC is tourism.
At least eight Unesco World Heritage sites, including the ancient cradle of mankind, the Olduvai Gorge, spectacular landmarks and scenery, wildlife and odd gastronomical tastes will be part of the allure when 70 participants — the majority of them cyclists — hit the road on August 1, on a circuit that starts and ends in Kampala.
This is the Tour d’EAC 2017, an initiative of Campfire Logs Guild, an adventure youth group that is using its outdoors activities to push the East African Community’s integration agenda.
Campfire has released this year’s tour itinerary, and it stretches over 4,500 kilometres, spanning the five EAC countries. The safari starts in Kampala, Uganda, and heads to Kenya through the Busia border, and onwards to Tanzania through Nairobi and Arusha, then heads to Dar es Salaam where the circuit turns around to head to Burundi through Dodoma and Tabora and then towards Rwanda and back to Kampala.
The route will take over 45 days, broken by visits to famous historical, cultural and natural attractions in all countries. It will cover 10 sections, each with its own appeal, adventure and tourist sites.
In its second edition, the East African Bicycle Tour (or Tour d’EAC) that was first held in 2016, is aptly themed “Unlocking East Africa’s trade and tourism potential through an effective and efficient integration process.”
“We thought this is easier and more exciting,” says John Bosco Balongo, the director of Campfire Logs Guild talking of the different sections of the route. “It is quite flexible. A person can choose to cycle a section of their interest, instead of the whole tour.”
The first of the sections runs from Kampala to the Malaba border post in Busia, and is aptly named the Nile Stalk. On day one, the cyclists will ride to Jinja town, which sits aloft the point where River Nile flows out of Lake Victoria en route to the Mediterranean.
“We actually want to cross the Nile Bridge on foot. We shall get off our bikes and push them across the Nile so that everyone gets a clear view of it,” says Mr Balongo.
From Busia, the riders will proceed towards Nairobi, with stopovers in Kisumu, Kericho and Gilgil along the route. But for Ugandans raised in temperatures upwards of 23 degrees Celsius, the Busia-Nairobi route presents a tough test — the night temperatures in Gilgil for instance can be anywhere between five degrees and freezing.
This is a section named Longonot Sketch, replete with a world heritage site, the Kenya Lake System — Lakes Bogoria, Nakuru and Elementaita in the Great Rift Valley.
From Nairobi, the tour runs southwards all the way to the EAC capital Arusha, through the section named Maasai Land Plains after the famous Nilotic Maasai people that inhabit this area, and known for their customs, dress and unique relationship with wildlife in national reserves and game parks on both sides of the Kenya-Tanzania border.
Described as a “complex” and very “intriguing ecosystem,” the Maasai plains offer one of the world’s most important habitat areas for a great variety of wild animals and a fitting safari destination, even for cyclists just riding through.
Next is the section from Arusha to Tanzania’s capital city Dar es Salaam, which the organisers of Tour d’EAC have named the Zinjanthropus Discovery, with stops in Moshi, Same, Mombo, Korogwe, Mlandizi and Kibaha, where the riders will interact with the Maasai, Wachagga, Wapare, Wasambaa, Wazigua and Wazaramo communities.
For the young cyclists, the Arusha segment of the safari is so many things rolled into one: It involves a visit to the seat of the regional bloc’s capital, the museum, great sightseeing, and it neighbours the cradle of mankind at Olduvai Gorge.
On July 17, 1959, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey discovered a well preserved hominin cranium at Olduvai Gorge that was later carbon dated to approximately 1.75 million years ago and named the Zinjanthropus boisei skull. Olduvai Gorge is located within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, west of Arusha.
After the exertions of the Arusha region, the cyclists will head towards Dar es Salaam, a section that offers major landscape features like Mount Kilimanjaro, the Pare hills, the Usambara mountains, Wami River and the coastal or lowland plains as the safari rolls into Dar es Salaam.
Dar will offer a short break and the riders will turn around for the return journey westwards, on a stretch that is named Sector Bigobyamugenyi, from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, Tanzania’s seat of government. This section offers yet another natural World Heritage Site to savour – the 5.1 million hectare Selous Game Reserve that straddles the regions of Lindi, Morogoro, Mtwara, Pwani and Ruvuma, with vegetation that varies from dense thickets to open grasslands.