We all hit up Victoria Falls today and I can easily say it was the most spectacular thing i've ever seen in my life. Zambia's wet season apparently got off to a late start so we were lucky enough to see the Falls in all their glory with an indescribable amount of water spilling over it. While walking around the path, we all got soaked to the bone as the water sprayed back up over the cliff and fell again, worse than any tropical rain fall i've ever seen. It was incredible- and thrilling. We all just stood there in awe and laughed at how spectacular and amazing it all was. One of the greatest days on the trip, by far.
After seeing the falls, we walked to a cafe which had a great view of the bridge which leads from Zambia and into Zimbabwe. On this bridge (and clearly visible from the cafe) was a bungee jump station and Gavan proceeded to bully and peer pressure one of us in to jumping explaining how safe it was and how much we'd love it. I took the bait despite being absolutely petrified of bungee jumping in general. As soon as i'd signed up and paid the money, Gavan then started saying he couldn't believe i'd trust the bungee company and that I was silly. The guys then started fighting over who got what of my belongings if tragedy struck. Comforting.
The jump itself was quite controversial considering what happened just 3 months earlier (link here
). Anyway, I did it and survived. I'm still not sure whether I liked it- it was just pure terror. To the bungee company's credit, everything and everyone was very professional & I felt safe the whole time- up until my toes hung over the edge and the person counted down from 5....... Video below
Poor Shaun.. Poor, poor Shaun.. Shaun arrived safe and sound in Lusaka on 22 April and immediately begun enjoying his Africa experience by
a) Staying in 4-star bliss
b) Enjoying Chinese food for dinner
c) Getting his legs waxed, and;
d) Hanging out in huge shopping malls.
We departed Lusaka early on 23 March and, quite cruelly, pushed out a 182km day. This is still hard for us after having ridden for 3 months straight. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for Shaun. But, he’s obviously in great shape and has put some time in both the gym and on the bike as he didn’t end up crying and cussing, as I would have done if I was in his position. That night we rode to a camp site and pitched out tents and enjoyed a rainless, cloudless, starry night camping.
The following day was planned to be a 160km day but after both a late start and some bike problems, we resigned at about 4pm after about 115kms and stayed in a ‘lodge’ where the rooms resembled glamorous honeymoon suites, sans mosquito nets; so I spent the night slapping myself in the face at the swarms of mosquitoes which proceeded to dive bomb me throughout the night. How I didn’t concuss myself with the barrage of self face-slaps, I don’t know.
The reduced kms from the day before meant that we had to ride our longest day yet into Livingstone: a 195km day. By this stage, Shaun the trooper was quite saddle sore and though he hasn’t said anything by way of a complaint, was presumably quite fatigued in the legs. Despite this, he did the distance as good (if not better) than us all and we arrived in our lodge/camp site at about 8pm last night. Livingstone is unusual, as white tourists seem to outnumber local Africans by about 3 to 1. We’re not used to seeing white people- we see perhaps one or two a week, so to be surrounded by them is a huge culture shock.
Everyone, except me, decided to camp while having our day off in Livngstone. Having lived like a pauper for the 12 months preceding this trip purely to save the necessary amount of money, I decided to splurge and get myself a cabin for the 2 nights that we’re here.
So today we’re all heading down to Victoria Falls to play the tourist and presumably part with large sums of money in the process. Everything here is just so expensive and while seeing the Falls is necessary, the quicker we can get out of here and back off the tourist trail, the better. It gets old quite quickly, especially when 99% of your time is spent in isolation on quiet roads with sweet and charming locals.
It’s great to have Shaun here. I’d only met him once before the trip but he’s a top guy and really compliments the group. I’ve only spent 4 days with him but will definitely be sad to see him leave when/if he flies out of Namibia in a few week''s time.
I’ll keep it short and sweet. We cross over into Botswana tomorrow where we’ll spend about 2 weeks before crossing into Namibia. Like the last 7 countries, I know nothing of these 2 so don’t really know what to expect by way of culture, sights or cycling conditions. Also, i’m not sure when i’ll get internet access again to upload another blog or photos but i’ll upload again as soon as possible. As always, i’ve uploaded some photos which you can find in my Zambia photo page
And here we are, capital city (Lusaka, Zambia) of country number 7 of 10. We arrived in Lusaka mid-afternoon yesterday (22nd March) which is very conveniently located across the road from a huge shopping centre which I can already confirm has KFC which make one of the best milk shakes i’ve ever tasted. To date, i’m still not sure where this milk shake fetish (yes, it is now a fetish) came from.
Health-wise, I’d made enough of a recovery to ride out of Lilongwe and head towards the border town of Chipata between Malawi and Zambia. Like the last 2 countries we were in and out in about 20 minutes. The last day’s ride in Malawi saw us ride through tobacco fields (Malawi’s economy is heavily reliant on tobacco farming) where tobacco was drying under covered huts. The smell of drying/dried tobacco is one of my favourite scents and took me back to being a kid around North East Victoria. I even stopped riding at one point and walked up to the tobacco, grabbed a handful of drying leaves and took a huge whiff, much to the puzzlement of the locals sitting around the shed.
After crossing into Zambia, the first thing we noticed was the insane price of things. Gone are the days where our accommodation costs $3AUD, meals $2AUD and coffee $0.50AUD. Zambia’s economy seems to be surging ahead and though I haven’t looked at the statistics, inflation seems to be running wild. I fail to see how a Zambian can, or would, pay the equivalent of $5AUD for a cup of coffee when their average wage probably pales in significance to ours. Anyway, it’s just an observation. In a nutshell, Zambia’s VERY expensive.
We’ve only ridden 4 days while in Zambia before hitting the capital city but they were four of the longest days of riding on the whole trip. We had a 180km day, a 170km day, a 115km day (with 1,850m of climbing) and a 120km day into Lusaka, which I have to say was one of the hardest days riding i’ve had on this trip as my legs just had nothing left in them. Even now, more than 15 hours after having stopped riding, they still hurt to touch. The tropical weather in Zambia only adds to the difficulty of riding as usually, within the first 15 minutes of riding, I’m soaked through with sweat due to the almost unbearable humidity. Fortunately, we’re riding, so get some kind of air flow which makes things a little easier. I’m still not at the point where i’d prefer Sudan or Kenya’s dry, hot heat though.
The scenery in Zambia is easily the most stunning I’ve seen on the trip. The first 2 days (180km and 170km), though long, were very enjoyable as we rolled our way over tame hills and skirted larger hills which were blanketed in thick fog/low lying cloud in the middle of the day. The greenery is so dense too and the roads are bordered by grass that’s literally 2-3m high. I always wondered what would happen if a never, ever mowed my back lawn and just how high the grass would get. I now know. We’ve had a couple of instances too where we’re rounded a corner and had quite large baboons just sitting in the road in front of us. Once, the baboon didn’t make a left/right dash into the scrub, but instead ran away from us down the middle of the road for about 30 metres and quick-draw Gavan managed to turn on his handlebar mounted camera and capture it.
The only other wildlife we’ve seen was one of the biggest (dead) snakes i’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing. It would have easily been 2m long and had the girth of a standard leg calf muscle. That’s something I really wish I hadn’t seen. Snakes aren’t my idea of fun. Especially ones which apparently have the desire and capability to consume large animals (and presumably humans). Before riding into Lusaka, we’d camped the night by a small damn and had the fun of packing up camp the following morning in the damp and dewy conditions. Upon arriving into our posh hotel in Lusaka, I unravelled my tent to dry out and found a handful of leaches stuck to it....... I hadn’t even contemplated having to deal with leaches on this trip. Lions, elephants and rhinos; yes.. But leaches??
I’m still getting a lot of emails from people asking about our bikes- please keep these coming as a) i love talking about my bike and b) i’m more than happy to field any questions. Our internally-geared Rohloff hubs are still going strong and I don’t expect this to change..ever.. We changed the oil at around the half-way mark and that’s the only maintenance we expect to have to do.
We’ve changed our chains for cheap local ones which are working fine. Being that the local chains cost the equivalent of a cup of coffee back home I would not be surprised if chain-changing occurs a few more times before the trip’s out.
Now that we’ve all but seen the end of dirt roads, punctures are a rarity. I think we’ve only had one puncture since Nairobi which was Wade just the other day who’d fallen victim to a small metal shard.
We’ve been fortunate with spokes of late- Shane’s spoke-a-day habit seems to have stopped (after breaking 22 spokes in total on this trip so far). Gavan’s broken 2 or 3 and Wade and I haven’t broken any....yet.
Otherwise, the bikes are holding up great and I wouldn’t change anything on even with the benefit of hindsight which is a true credit to the research Gavan put into designing these bikes.
Our friend Shaun arrived last night. I tried to stay awake for his arrival (approx 10:30pm at the hotel) but woke at 3am with my headphones still in my ears having fallen asleep while watching a movie on my laptop. Staying up beyond 9pm is a rarity now and I feel twice my age after cycling all day. We’re all very excited to see him over breakfast this morning and push him to his limits over the coming few weeks. The poor guy kicks off his riding with almost 160km on his first day and over 180km on his second. He’ll be fine though. He’s a veteran of a 4,500km ride with Gavan from Adelaide to Uluru so i’m sure he’ll quite easily adapt to long hours in the saddle.
And, on a sombre note, we’ve tentatively confirmed our arrival date into Cape Town as 30 April and our departure date back to Melbourne on 2 May. We arrive back in Melbourne at almost 6am on 4 May. It seems like such a long way away but, from experience, I know the time’s going to slip away quite quickly.
From herein we push towards Victoria Falls where there’s talk of a group skeet-shooting session which should be a laugh. Then we hook across into Botswana and from there, Zambia and down into South Africa. I still don’t know whether this trip’s gone quickly or slowly or how I feel about the impending return back to Melbourne. I’ve been keeping myself busy here having sold my house and managed to secure a rental property in inner Melbourne; which would not have been possible without the enormous assistance of my family and friends who i’ve certainly over burdened and exhausted with favours. It’s all very exciting for me as I now come home to an almost new life and perhaps a new perspective on things.
Perhaps most exciting will be the box of bike components which will hopefully be waiting for me in Melbourne which will collectively contain a brand new road bike which Gavan and I are already in the process of designing... Yes, i’m now going to be a lycra-clad road warrior. There’s already talk of a bike building session on 5 May- sorry girlfriends ;)
I've also uploaded some more photos in the Malawi page
and also the new Zambian page
. Check them out.
Frustratingly, I only managed to get one (difficult) day’s riding in from Chitimba: a 135km ride into Mzuzu which involved a pretty difficult 10km climb at the 20km mark and undulating hills the rest of the day. We arrived at about 6:30 at night to a guest house where we are dinner and retired for the night in preparation for the enormous day of climbing the following day (supposedly the second most difficult day of climbing for the whole trip). I’d spent the whole day with what I thought was severe hay fever as I sneezed and nose-leaked my way through 135kms of riding. During the night (in Mzuzu) I began fevering and developed quite a nasty chesty-cough and when the alarm went off at 6am, rolled out of bed without having had much sleep and feeling quite the worse for wear. Feeling very unwell and not being able to take a deep breath without coughing profusely, I realised that there was no way I could ride that day and resigned to catch a bus from Mzuzu to Lilongwe (3 day’s riding duration) to a) get proper medical attention and diagnosis and b) rest up. This wasn’t an easy decision and as I counselled with Wade that morning about my options and what I should do, I fought back tears at the amount of effort i’d not only put in to get here, to Africa, but for the last 100-or-so days riding i’d done only to have my body seemingly break down over the last couple of weeks. I blubbered to Wade that I was spending too much time on busses and was getting to the point where I worried I couldn’t even say I “cycled the length of Africa”. Realising that this was pride usurping logic, I bit the bullet and trudged off to the bus depot and haggled my way onto a half-decent bus where you actually had an assigned seat, as opposed to the other busses i’d caught where you fought for a place to rest your butt. The ride was only 360’ish kms but took almost 6hrs.
To try and find the silver lining in this situation, I comforted myself by realising that I was at least having a unique travel experience and ‘getting amongst it’ with the locals which isn’t always possible on the bike; largely as we’re usually pressed for time and arguably quite detached from local culture as we blaze through towns. I haven’t travelled much outside of a short jaunt through Canada and the USA quite some years ago, so I found some solace in my otherwise unintended and undesirable situation of being a passenger on another bus on a cycling touring trip.
I arrived in Lilongwe about 4pm and after spending about 20 minutes getting my bike out from underneath the bus (there was no luggage compartments, so my bike was rope-tied to the undercarriage of the bus), I set off to try and find some accommodation. Lilongwe, being Malawi’s capital, is huge and quite spread out with little-to-no town planning apparently having gone in to the layout. I’d developed a headache on the bus and still felt quite unwell so was keep to find somewhere fast, check in, find a doctor, and get some sleep.
On my voyage through Lilongwe, I ended up lost at the top of a hill in an industrial area. Turning around to head back down the hill, I picked up quite a bit of speed only to realise that the 2-lane road was about to quickly become 1 lane with the 30cm high gutter (common to Africa) on my left quickly coming toward me. I tried to veer right, but couldn’t, as there was a car next to me. The next thing I knew, I’d hit the gutter at over 40km/h and the rest is all a little bit of a blur. I recall flying through the air and trying to tuck my arms into my chest. I hit the sidewalk..hard. I flew through the air and skidded, rolled and tumbled my way about 10-15 metres away from my bike, landing at the feet of 3 attractive young ladies who seemed to be in more shock than I was at what had literally just occurred at their feet. I think I blacked out for a few seconds as just remember blackness parting way to noise and light. I got to my feet and screamed “F*#K, F*#K, F*#K,!!!!!” and immediately vomited. I tested my legs; they still worked. I moved my arms, wrists and head. They all still worked. I’d grazed and cut up most of my right arm and shoulder and there was blood literally dripping from it. I’d smacked my head quite hard in the fall too and in the process bit my lip, so I had blood coming from my mouth (as well as residual puke on my beard). After cursing, I remember just looking up at the girls and smiling. They did not reciprocate, or even ask if I was ok, but just quickly walked off. I don’t blame them- I looked like sh*t. Save for a couple small things having broken in the impact, my bike was ok. I straightened everything up and rolled off looking for the nearest accommodation I could find. Price, comfort or amenities were no longer a concern and I walked into the foyer of what must have been Lilongwe’s premier hotel and asked for a room for the night. I’d ran out of water so didn’t even have anything to wash the blood from me and the concierge took one look at me, grabbed the room keys and quickly ushered me to my room telling me we’d finalise the check in in my room (i.e. away from the guests who were looking at me somewhat terrified). I showered and came back downstairs and was taken to a medical clinic over the road where my arm and shoulder were cleaned and dressed. My ribs took a hit in the fall too and I had a fair amount of pain coming from them. The doctor wanted to send me for xrays to see if i’d broken any ribs. I’ve broken ribs a few times before and knew that though the pain was bad, it wasn’t as bad as i’d had previously and that if anything, i’d probably only bruised or, at the very worse, slightly cracked one so respectfully declined the xray request. The doctor agreed with my reasoning and gave me some painkillers for the next 3 days and told me to take it easy. Regarding the cough, the doctor took a good look over me and diagnosed me with bronchitis and, again, gave me a handful of pills and cough syrup to take over the following 3 days. He assured me i’ll be fit and able to ride by the time the guys reach here, have their rest day, and depart on Sunday 18 March. The meds are already doing their job as my cough isn’t as bad and my ribs definitely don’t feel as bad as they did yesterday.
I checked out of my posh-hotel this morning and found something a little-less ritzy: the Korean Garden Lodge where they apparently have an all-Korean kitchen which I plan to put to good use when i’m not sleeping.
Mum, I know you’re going to freak out a little (a lot?) when you read this. I didn't want to tell you on email when we spoke today as I didn’t want to worry you with snippets of information. Here, at least, you get the full story. I’m fine- it could have (should have?) been a lot worse. You know me-i’m a good judge at my own wellbeing and when/if I need to pull the pin. I’m ok.
I’ve ridden almost 6,500kms and if this accident is as bad as it gets, then i’m lucky. If it was anyone’s fault, it’s mine for not foreseeing it. I wasn’t feeling well and I was tired and, most importantly, I was riding alone. When we ride as a group we generally ride in formation and always hand/verbal signal for cars, hazards, pot holes etc etc to each other so we have the benefit of 4 sets of eyes looking out for each other. Hopefully this will be the last time I not only catch a bus, but ride alone for the rest of this trip.
Backtracking a little, while in Chitimba, the four of us arranged a car to take us up to Livingstonia which is perched on top of a mountain with an 18km unsealed and terrible ‘road’ leading the way up. After playing tourist and having lunch, we made our way back down the mountain. From our lunch stop, Gavan decided to walk and Shane, Wade & I remained in the car. After about 5 minutes, one of our young Malawian ‘guides’ got out of the car and started running down the hill (weight was an issue in the car, which was getting stuck in ruts and rocks too often). Feeling like a run, Shane got out and started running with the Malawian. Feeling cocky, I did too. I don’t know what I was thinking- I haven’t ran in over 12 months and the next day, I could hardly get out of bed from the pain in my previously unused leg-running muscles. It’s been 4 days since and I still can’t walk without limping and Gavan and Shane are much the same. I can confidently say that will be the last time I go for a run on this trip.
From herein, we have another day’s ride before we exit Malawi and enter Zambia where we officially begin starting our small ride across the continent so we can enter South Africa somewhere towards the end of April 2012. It’s an exciting time we for 3 or so weeks, we’ve got a mate joining us who we’re going to do our best to punish with gruelling rides. Coincidently, we have our longest day (longest doesn’t necessary mean hardest) coming up which Shaun gets to ‘enjoy’ with us: 207kms!! We’re all very excited to have you coming over Shaun and can’t wait to see you soon.
I’ve uploaded a handful of photos from my last few days in the Malawian photo page
. Check them out.
Well that’s it for now. I have an afternoon nap to have and some bibimbap to eat for lunch.
After leaving Arusha, we spent a couple of amazing day’s riding on sealed roads (possible two of the most enjoyable days riding i’ve had on this whole trip, with rolling and sweeping hills with breathtaking views) before making a turn on to unsealed roads where we’d slog it out for another 500kms of more dirt roads. The rain held off for the first day and we enjoyed riding at decent speeds on relatively ‘nice’ dirt roads. We stayed that first night in a game reserve (where rich fools pay ridiculous amounts of money to hunt and kill Africa’s game animals) where we happily rolled out our sleeping bags on the concrete floor of the radio room and dozed for the night. At this point, we will literally do anything not to have to take out and pitch our tents, especially if the weather’s bad. There’s few things less enjoyable than packing up a tent in the wet.
The next day the heavens opened (it rained heavier than i’ve ever seen before) up within the first couple of hour’s riding which immediately turned the dirt roads into a mud pit. Fortunately, though it was raining, it wasn’t cold at all so we just rode on and spent the day wet to the bone. The riding was hard and our bikes (and bodies) took a battering from the conditions. Imagine riding down a sandy beach, in wet sand. That’s what it was like. The soft mud/sand made riding a LOT more physically taxing.. We finally made it into one of the dodgiest towns i’ve come across on this whole trip (Itiga, Tanzania) at about 7pm and having spent the last 7 hours absolutely soaked to the bone and fighting my way through the mud, I was exhausted and didn’t feel 100% so ate dinner and was asleep by 8pm. When I woke the next day, I had chest pains and couldn’t get a full breathe without unbearable chest pains. Being the medical professional I am*(* I have watched every episode of House and Scrubs)
I self-diagnosed myself as having the onset of a chest infection and decided to push on for the day and see how I felt tomorrow. Despite feeling bad, I rode quite well and only felt my chest pain when I was climbing hills which was only a handful of times that day. The next day my chest felt MUCH worse and I’d spent the night fevering instead of sleeping. Thinking my self-diagnosis may be wrong, and not wanting to mess around with chest pains, I decided to pull out of the day’s riding and catch a lift into Mbeya, about 100km away, where the guys would be arriving that night.
My lift into Mbeya involved me and 18 other people (including the driver) packed into a 4WD which raced at breakneck speeds along the wet dirt roads that twisted their way through the mountains for 4 hours as we literally raced our way into Mbeya. I think our young driver (I honestly think he should have had L plates on) may have a future in rally driving as I’ve never seen someone navigate a heavy 4WD with such surgical precision at break-neck speeds. I teetered between absolute terror and proud admiration as he heaved the ‘truck’ around like a go-cart. Upon arriving into Mbeya and checking into the hotel, I made my way through Mbeya’s medical centres getting ridiculous diagnosis after ridiculous diagnosis until, after 3 tries, I was absolutely exhausted and on the verge of fainting. I retired back to my hotel (at about 4pm) and fell into bed asleep none the wiser as to what I may have. One doctor suggested it was altitude sickness. Another suggested it was the result of cycling without a face mask (???). Another diagnosed me with allergies without once looking at me throughout the entire consultation, or undertaking ANY test at all. I can’t even confidently say that he was a doctor.
I decided to go to the hospital the following day where someone who looked, spoke and behaved like a doctor said he feared I had pneumonia. He sent me off for a chest xray but not before taking my blood to test for malaria; which I tested positive to. The xray ruled out pneumonia, thankfully as that would have meant I’d have been on the first plane back to Australia. Not having had a definitive diagnosis, the doctor presumed I had a respiratory tract infection and gave me some meds to treat it (and now, 5 days later, i’m symptom free for both malaria and the chest, woo). I hate doctors and hospitals with a passion, so I hope that’s the last time I have to see either while in Africa.
We left Mbeya and I delicately rode out (not knowing how I’d feel on the bike, considering I couldn’t walk more than 50m without breaking into a breathless fever the day before) in the morning and found that though I didn’t feel 100%, I could manage the speed the guys were riding at. Overall, that day (Sat 10 March 2012), we rode 165km and crossed from Tanzania into Malawi (which was another record, I think we’d crossed out of Tanzania and completed Malawi’s customs within 20 minutes) and made a mad-dash to find some accommodation before the sun set.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Tanzania. I found the people fun, the riding (for the most part) enjoyable, the scenery stunning (as we were entering a tropical climate, plants (and animals!!) grow in abundance) and, most of all, I loved the kids. I had a lot of fun playing around with the kids as they ran along-side us or when we pulled into towns for food or drinks. One thing that amazed me was how many Tanzanian’s smiled. Everyone was smiling and we were rarely, if at all, pestered for money or whatever else. Another observation was that almost every girl had a child, and i’m not talking about 20 year old mothers either. There were girls who couldn’t have been any older than 15 walking around with their child neatly wrapped in a cloth on their back. And we didn’t just see one or two mothers this young- they were everywhere. Sadly, we didn’t once see a father in tow. I’m not drawing any conclusions here, it’s just an observation. Another thing I noticed was that the kids here all have to grow up very, very quickly and don’t have much of a chance to enjoy being young. It’s common to see kids of no older than 5 with a 10 litre bucket of water perched on their head as they walk huge distances to bring water to their homes. It’s not always water, sometimes it could be heavy bundles of wood lugged on the back of a young girl (which I can’t even lift) for burning at home, enormous bags of rice perched on the back of a bike being ridden by young boy/girl- but none of them look unhappy. It’s common to see the kids in groups, all doing their chores together and laughing playing as they go. It’s at least nice to see a glimmer of childhood innocence in the midst of all of this. I quite like their attitude and the toughness of the children- there’s not enough of it with the over-mollycoddled children back in Australia. I’m not suggesting the parents of Australia start sending their kids out to collect buckets of water from the next town; it’s just that you can’t help but look at these kids with a lot of admiration as they happily go about their very difficult life with a smile on their face.
Despite only having been here for 2 days, Malawi’s quickly proving to be just as nice as Tanzania in all areas and as far as I know, there’s no dirt roads! I’ll leave it at that . We’re going to zip through Malawi and then take a right hand turn into Zambia where we cut across the continent. We’re about 6-7 weeks from home and i’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. The group’s thoughts are already turning to life back in Melbourne but those thoughts are quickly pushed aside by the sheer fun of what we’re doing.
I’ve added a LOT of photos to my Tanzania page
and have also added a new Malawi page where i’ve put a handful of photos from the last couple of days.