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Discover balmy natural springs and booty-shaking African clubs away from the country’s uniform safari-and-khaki scene

My bike kicks up a thick plume of orange dust as I freewheel down the hill, legs flailing. Bemused locals down hoes and stare open-mouthed at our strange convoy of granny cycles as a handful of small children dance in the dust cloud, furiously waving their little arms. To the locals, the sight of 10 tourists riding rickety bikes through their backwater village is probably akin to an 
alien invasion.

My friends and I are cycling to Miwaleni Springs in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro – a meltwater aquifer about an hour’s ride from Tanzania’s main east-west motorway, along a sandy track that few outsiders have ventured down since the early Sixties, when the Union Jack was last lowered over this former British protectorate.

Fields of large sunflowers reach up to the blazing African sun, chocolate-coloured goats bleat from the roadside, distant mountain ranges shimmer in shades of purple and jade – it’s a million miles from the open savannah and beach resorts of the tourist brochures.

“Let’s race!” cries Hereswida, one of our newfound Tanzanian friends we met over beers a couple of nights ago. He is now perched precariously above my back wheel. The rest of the group takes this as their cue, whizzing past us, while we wobble from left to right.

They eventually disappear over the horizon, to be replaced by a line of trees crowning above the parched maize fields – a mini-oasis of palms and acacias strung together with vines and creepers.

As Hereswida and I draw nearer, we find a handful of bikes casually abandoned in the ochre-red dust. The air echoes with the sound of splashing water and shrieks of excitement and we follow a trail of T-shirts to the edge of 
a fast-flowing stream, where the rest of the group is already frolicking in the springs – much to the amusement of the dozen or so locals who have arrived to see what all the commotion is about.

A couple of us wade upstream and float back down on our backs. I hear a faint rustling high above us in the palms. “Monkeys!” yells my friend Jordan, at the top of his voice, pointing up to the canopy where a couple of curious vervets leer quizzically from the branches, lips pursed, eyes wide as saucers, their little heads nodding from side to side. Two of the adolescents scuttle down the tree to munch on fruit hanging just above the water.

My friends and I have been in Tanzania for a couple of weeks, but until today we’d barely veered off the beaten track. We’re keen to discover more of this Tanzania, though, and beg our new local pals to show us more attractions the rest of the world has yet to discover.

“Well, you’ve got to go to Pub Alberto,” says Jenifa, at 23 the youngest of our Tanzanian friends. “They play the best bongo flava there.”

“Yes,” interjects her pal Ernest, who arranged the bikes for our little jaunt. “Let’s shake our bodies!”   

The club, in nearby Moshi – a leafy, low-rise town where Kilimanjaro climbers spend their final night of civilisation before ascending the mountain, which looms above the rooftops – is a bustling nightspot that blares out only 
the most hip-grindingly good tunes. We’re the only Westerners here – the Kili crowd tends to stick to the 
tourist hotspots churning out the same Eurotrash dance music from back home.

Thankfully, Pub Alberto’s raison d’être is its bongo flava, East Africa’s energetic, booty-shaking answer to hip-hop and R‘n’B. The gyrating couples bump and grind to the sultry, intoxicating beat, making Rihanna look like a prude.

Jenifa and Hereswida insist on teaching us how to throw some local shapes, dragging us to the dancefloor just as our plate of chicken arrives – it’s a very laid-back hangout; somewhere between a nightclub, a restaurant and a tiki bar.

Determined not to let good food go to waste, I start a new craze: the chicken drumstick dance – boogying away, piece of poultry in each hand. It’s only the following morning that I discover the downside to this twist on the Macarena: my poor friend Suzi’s dress is covered in chicken grease. After helping her wash the stains from her clothes, the rest of the gang and I pile into one of the local minibuses and head towards a hand-hewn volcanic-mine in Uchira, a sleepy village at the base of Kilimanjaro where Ernest, Jenifa and Hereswida live. The minibuses – or dala-dalas – are designed to seat about 12, but anything up to 40 people, two goats and a dozen chickens can be crammed in these tiny vehicles. It’s not uncommon to spend a 30-minute journey suspended in mid-air by the sheer mass of bodies squished inside.

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