Mountain biking in the Usambaras

At the end of the school year, my friends Pete and Vera invited me for a week of cycling through the West Usambara Mountains in the Tanga district of northern Tanzania. We started in the market town of Lushoto and followed sometimes muddy backroads through villages and shambas (small farms) in this densely-populated part of Tanzania, staying in local guesthouses wherever we were at sunset. We averaged about 50 km on the road each day, enough to tire us out, but not so much to make it too painful. Climbing long, steep hills burned our thighs, but the exhilarating downhills more than made up for it. Everywhere we went was off the beaten track, and the people we met were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming without exception. This trip remains the best cycling experience I’ve ever had.

Our guide Yasin was fantastic. He grew up in the Lushoto district and as such, he knew people everywhere we went. He’s part of a group of guides called Friends of the Usamabaras, who specialize in biking and hiking trips in this corner of Tanzania. They’re all locals who have trained at the national guide school in Mweka and returned to their hometown district to develop tourism and bring much-needed revenue into the communities of smallholder farmers in the area. Their office is just off the main street in Lushoto (it’s not a long street).

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