Valentino Rossi's Gift - Tanzanian Trek 2008

After one arduous week and almost 1300km, some worn machinery in the forms of a Yamaha XT660Z Tenere and two Yamaha WR250Rs not to mention one broken ankle, a small select Italian group of riders finally accomplished their mission to deliver Valentino Rossi's special and mysterious package to the HARAMBEE project at Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

The adventure began mid-March at the first round of the 2008 MotoGP championship in Qatar when Fiat Yamaha MotoGP racer Valentino Rossi gave a riding crew comprising of Sergio Sgrilli, Marco Silvestri and Aldo Drudi a small box to be taken across the continents to the heart of Africa. Accompanied by five personnel in two pick-ups the team left the frontier of Mikumi Park and covered the territory with a special permit; six emotional and tough days lay ahead.

The course of the expedition saw the squad visit Njombe, and Italian projects for the construction of an important water supply system that will collect water from locations over 2000m high for distribution and domestic use to a community of 40,000 people, allowing them to remain in the region without being forced to emigrate to the shanty towns around the big cities. They also stopped in a CEFA farm, where a small but highly functional eco-sustainable dairy has been created, providing the population with excellent cheese and milk for children. Almost 500km of the journey was made across dirt-tracks and the combination of searing heat and heavy rainfall tested the resolve and skill of the riders. Breathtaking scenery was admired in the Ruaha National Park but then the conditions got the better of Marco Silvestri who suffered a compound fracture of the ankle in one spill.

The trip continued, now down to just two bikers, and the group stopped at Villaggio della Gioia, a multi-religious village and children's sanctuary. A short distance away in Dar es Salaam was the main goal; the directors of the HARAMBEE project. The purpose of this initiative is to build a residential centre for mothers and the very first step, even before a brick was laid, was the installation of running water. When the crew opened the delivery from Valentino a splendid new tap was the final element to enable water to flow freely to the site. After several more thrills and spills the trusty XT660Z Tenere and two WR250Rs were stowed away for the trip home. Weary but fulfilled the envoys rested, re-grouped and made their way home to Italy, not before talk turned to another trek into the soul of Africa and the wheels were already beginning to turn for a return visit for 'From North Cape to the Cape of Good Hope'. The smiles and hospitality of the people left an indelible impression of a truly splendid mission.

"I still haven't worked out if every time I go to Africa I leave a piece of my heart, or if I take a new piece away with me," said Sergio Sgrilli on the impact of the experience. "It was just a few days but so many emotions, colours, thoughts, doubts, parallel realities, time travels, water, heat, smiles, green, smells, smiles, sounds, rhythms, faith, smiles...I was lucky to live it."

"We did almost 700 km of hard road before sampling central Africa's dirt tracks," said Marco Silvestri "and then it was a hard challenge for someone like me who's only ever had to cope with the risks of the city because in Africa it is still nature that commands, it is nature that decides when things can happen."

"It was nature herself who decided that I'd never get to the end of the trip on my Yamaha," he continued. "An African storm hit us while we were riding up onto a plateau near Njombe, along a dirt road as red as fire and with holes as big as craters. In cases like this, you turn back and you leave the field. We didn't; whatever happened I would not slow down! However before I knew it, I was on the floor with a broken ankle. It was not the souvenir I wanted and on this occasion Africa beat me but I will also take away the memories of the children with their eyes shining with truth. I thought I was going there to help, but instead I was helped."