Saturday, 29 December 2007

RAT RACE







We jokingly refer to ourselves as "Desert Rats", and by the time we reached Wadi Halfa we certainly looked (and probably smelt) the part. The "road" North from Dongola along the Nile consisted mainly of corrugated and sandy tracks, and the Northerly breeze blew stronger than ever. At Argo we crossed to the Eastern bank of the river by means of a small ferry after waiting for the skipper to finish his prayers. Most days we cycled untill sunset as we were keen to board the weekly ferry accross the border on the 26th (Wadi Halfa is not the place to be spending a whole week waiting for the next ferry). Another concern was that our Sudanese visa's had already expired - attempts in Khartoum for an extention were fruitless. As it turned out we reached Wadi Halfa on Xmas day, and our Xmas present was that we could cycle on the newly-built tarred road for about half of the distance which we did on that day. Out in the desert the nights (and particularly early am) were rather chilly, but once on the bike one soon warmed up again. We splashed out a bit and booked a cabin on the ferry to Aswan, which turned out to be a rather pleasant overnight trip along Lake Nasser. Despite all the "red tape" surrounding Sudanese customs and immigration, our expired visa's went completely unnoticed (we breathed a sigh of relief). Arriving in Egypt it feels as if we're suddenly in a different world. Here in Aswan there are bus loads of tourists (a rare sight in Sudan), and the dozens of luxury hotel ships are moored 3-deep along the banks of the Nile. The locals are friendly enough, but the price of any item purchased involves a lot of aggressive haggling (and even then one has to ensure that you get what you paid for, and that the change is correct). We now plan to spend a couple of days in Aswan before proceeding towards Cairo (probably via the Red Sea). Wishing everyone a belated Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. Daily distances cycled since Dongola were:- Kerma 54; Khali 53; Abujara 52; Abri 72; Akasha 74; Desert Station 59; Wadi Halfa 72; and Ferry Port to Aswan 18 km.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

THE DESERT BREEZE




Out of Khartoum and through neighbouring Omdurman, Leana and I suddenly found ourselves cycling through the barren desert. The prevailing head-wind was more than a breeze, and although we were on a good tarred road it required some serious pedalling for the next 6 days to reach Dongola. Fortunately we had GPS co-ordinates for the isolated water stations, so we could plan where to fill up before camping for the night (thanks to Charles and Rensche who we met in Khartoum on their way from England to SA by motorcycle). The local people have been very friendly, and turning off the road to the village of Sali in search of water, we were also given accommodation and a meal by Fathi and his family (photo). These people don't have much, but they're keen to share the little that they have. We rested in a run-down hotel in Dongola (stocking up on supplies, doing laundry, and checking the bikes). We are expecting a hard ride to the border where we'll hopefully make the weekly ferry from Wadi Halfa to Aswan on 26 December. Distances cycled since Khartoum have been:- Hilti 106; Goomour 86; Umal Hasan 81; Debba 111; Sali 92; and Dongola 71.

Monday, 10 December 2007

ROAD TO KHARTOUM




As soon as we crossed into Eastern Sudan we noticed a number of changes from Ethiopia. The farming methods are mostly modern (tractors and implements), and the people we met along the road have been very welcoming and friendly. There are many tribes, but the predominant language and food is Arabic. The dress code is very Islamic, particularly that of women (who we've seldom seen in public). According to local custom the women don't drive cars, travel on their own, or do any sport (particularly not cycling). One can imagine then, that Leana attracts a lot of open-mouthed attention as she cycles along in what is probably considered to be underwear. The landscape is flat, and since joining the main road at Gedaref the road has been very busy (many extra-long trucks running the route between Khartoum and Port Sudan). We've battled into a head wind most of the way to Khartoum, and we're a little apprehensive at the thought of that wind on our desert route to the North. Currently we're resting on the banks of the Nile in Khartoum, organising visa extentions, alien registration, and waiting for Leana's new passport to arrive from SA. Distances since entering Sudan have been: Doka 88 k; Gedaref 90 k; Migreh 97 k; Hufeira 110 k; Wad Medani 41 k; Kamlil 81 k; El Masid 71 k; and Khartoum 50 k.

THE BIG DIPPER




As the tourist brochure said, the Blue Nile Gorge is an impressive sight indeed. However, it was a bit daunting knowing that one had to coax a heavy bicycle on a rough road down 20 k's and up another 20 on the opposite side. The rest of the road from Addis to Gondar is a fairly good tarred road, although hilly at times. The section of road from Gondar down to the Sudanese border was, however, dusty and sometimes rather rough. The Ethiopian Highlands is very scenic and the many villages revolve around agriculture (mostly primitive subsistence farming with crops and animals). Besides the usual requests (often demands) for money, bicycle, clothing, camera, etc., everyone along the way shouts "WHAAR-AH-E-GOO?" (Where are you going?). In reply we usually give the name of the next town, which seems satisfactory. We'd spent a week in Addis Ababa exploring the city and visiting places of interest (we even saw the fossilized "Lucy" in the National Museum). We also organised visa's for Sudan and Egypt, for which we'll need extentions once there (people don't realise that a bicycle takes a while longer than most of the popular modes of travel). We rested at Bahir Dar on the shores of Lake Tana (source of the Blue Nile), and also spent a day in Gondar exploring the town and historic castles in the Fasilidades complex. Distances since Addis were: Muka 80 k; Fiche 38 k; Gohatsion 76 k; Dejen 43 k; Debre Markos 70 k; Finote Selam 85 k; Dangla 99 k; Bahir Dar 80 k; Addis Zemen 88 k; Gondar 93 k; Aykel 63 k; Shehedi 105 k; and Matema 37 k.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

GOING, GOING, ...... GONE!




By the time most of you read this report I would have left Cape Town again after a 3 week fattening-up period. During this time I've seen most of my friends (plenty of braai's, so I've grown into my skin again). Apologies to those I did not see, I obviously didn't manage my time very well. I lost the beard, mainly because it was scaring those people closest to me. My bike (old Saartjie) has been given a new lease on life, thanks to Leon and Jaco at Cycle Maintenance Centre. Further thanks to CMC for their generous sponsorhip of spares and labour on the bike (new Sram components, Continental tyres, etc.) Thanks also to Canvas and Tent for replacing the poles on my Bushtec tent. Tomorrow I return to Addis Ababa, where I hope the rest of my belongings are still safely locked away. Leana will be joining me from Addis onwards, for the time being. We will probably spend the next week or so there, organising visas, etc. From experience I know that the internet in Ethiopia is too slow for me to post reports and photo's, so it may be a while before my next update. Please be patient! Thanks again to all those who leave comments on this site, or who send me e-mail.

Monday, 15 October 2007

UP THE RIFT VALLEY




As I write this report I'm looking out the window of an Etiopian Airlines flight on my way back to South Africa. I'll be in Cape Town for a few weeks, courtesy of my sister Olga. It's a strange experience flying back over the ground I'd covered during the past six and a half months, almost like a quick rewind of a very long movie. I'm using the opportunity to take my bike back with me for the necessary attention (hopefully Old Saartjie is indeed in the hold of the plane). Since Nairobi I've only had the one off day in Marsabit, and I feel that I need a good rest. I've also had to push on through the scenic but hilly Southern Ethiopia in order to make my flight date in Addis Ababa. With the heavily loaded bike on the many big slow hills, an aggravation along the rural roads is the hordes of youngsters making a nuisance of themselves (chanting "you-you", "ferange", and "give me .... whatever"). They also attempt to pull luggage off the bike, throw stones, and there was even the odd effort to get a stick in the spokes. In Addis I found the people to be more welcoming, and I've really enjoyed the 2 days there. Most of my belongings remain in Addis for when I return to continue my journey. Other good things about Ethiopia are that the food is very good, and things are very cheap (just avoid the tourist traps). Things I've found odd about the country are that their clock is 6 hours different, they're about half a month behind, they have their own alphabet, they drive on the "wrong" side of the road, and they are currently celebrating the millenium. Distances since Moyale were:- Mega 113 km; Yavello 103 km; Agra Maryam 100 km; Dilha 95 km; Shashemene 113 km; Meki 122 km; Debre Zeit 92 km; and Addis Ababa 54 km.

KENYA NOMADICS







After leaving Nairobi I took the scenic route to the East of Mt Kenya. This region is more tropical than the drier Western main road, with tea and coffee plantations on the hillsides, and bananas and rice in the valleys. "Scenic" usually comes at a price, and the price was "no flat road", only long steep ups and downs. In the process I also crossed the Equator. To the North of the mountain the climate abruptly changed, and from Isiolo I was on very poor dirt roads slowly making my way through the arid landscape where there are a number of colourful tribes (including the Samburu). Wherever possible I cycled on goat- and camel tracks, trying to keep the road in my sight. However, I discovered that a goat is shorter than a man on a bicycle, as a number of times I found myself hooked up and bleeding in the thorns. Another hazard on the roads is the local "busses" (trucks with passengers on top), kicking up dust and stones at full throttle. By the end of the day I tended to look like a rat that rolled in mealie meal. My only rest day after Nairobi was in Marsabit, before I continued North through the volcanic rock desert to the Ethiopian border at Moyale. The "road" was almost impossible and villages were far apart, forcing me to spend nights in the desert with very little water (once there was a sand storm which lasted most of the night). Armed bandits in the area regularly hijack trucks, but fortunately I had no such problems (perhaps they pitied me because of my bedraggled appearance). Distances since Nairobi were:- Sagana 118 km; Chuka 85 km; Meru 58 km; Isiolo 53 km; Archers Post 38 km; Serolipi 67 km; Laisamis 66 km; Logologo 51 km; Marsabit 50 km; Bubisa 47 km; Turbi 60 km; Sololo 73 km; and Moyale 88 km.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

ON SAFARI IN NAIROBI



Three days in Nairobi, and I've gotten most of the things done which I'd intended to do. The bike (Saartjie) has been serviced, I have a visa for Ethiopia, I have a new map of N Africa, I have sandles again, I've done plenty of shopping and eating and drinking, and now I'm doing the internet thing as well. The most significant things en route from Tanzania to Kenya have been my sandles disappearing off the back of the bike (while I was on the bike changing money) at the border, and the chaotic Nairobi traffic for miles before reaching the city. Fortunately I was able to use my little GPS to find "Jungle Junction", where I'm camping. Chris, the German owner of JJ, repairs motorcyles so the place is very popular amongst that sector of travellers. As a result Old Saartjie finds herself in rather illustrious company. Travellers I've met here include Irishmen Sam and Hugh, and Rene from Canada (who I've bumped into twice before on my trip). I've also discovered that there is only a few days difference in age between Hugh and myself (Russian cyclist Uri, who I met in Zambia, was also my age). Perhaps some crazy travelling meteor crashed into earth around the time we were born? Here in Nairobi it's been raining most of the time, starting with a heavy storm soon after I arrived. As the GPS indicated that I was nearing my destination I tried to ask for specific directions, but to no avail. Some of those locals had a good laugh at the crazy Mzungu on a bicycle safari in the city, looking for a "Jungle". Distances since Arusha were:- Namanga 117 km; Kajiado 94 km; and Nairobi 87 km.

Friday, 7 September 2007

FROM ZANZIBAR TO KILIMANJARO




I wasn't planning to go to Zanzibar as it seemed a bit extravagant in the context of my journey. However, I couldn't miss out, so I went there and blew my budget for the next 6 months. I found the island to be interesting and beautiful, but also a bit of a tourist trap. The most affordable accommodation was in the old city (Stone Town) where I stayed most of the time. I cycled to the idyllic palm-lined coral beaches of the East Coast, where I stayed in one of the many resort hotels. There is no camp site on the island, and informal camping is illegal (government tax on tourist rooms). The ferry is also not cheap, and the ride back to Dar Es Salaam was so rough that the guy handing out puke-bags looked like a bar room stripper the way he was swinging on the support poles (fortunately he managed to keep his clothes on). North of Dar I did find a nice camp site at the coastal town of Bagamoyo, where I braai'd fresh Snapper bought from local fishermen. From there I made my way North-West, staying mostly in small village guest houses. The only other Mzungu's I saw during that time were at the windows of the many speeding busses. There was one exception, when I stopped at a roadside motel for a drink I heard Afrikaans being spoken (2 guys from SA who work for Vodacom in Tanzania). I spent 2 days in Moshi at the foot of Kilimanjaro, but unfortunately the mountain was covered in cloud and I only had a glimpse of the peak. I couldn't wait forever for a good view and a photo, so I've moved on to Arusha where I'll stay for a few days (laundry, etc., and bike service). Sorry no photo of Kilimanjaro, but I've included one of a rather weathered climber I met in the mirror. Distances since Dar have been:- Zanzibar 19; Paje 52; Stone Town 53; Kinduchi 32; Bagamoyo 60; Msata 68; Makata 76; Korogwe 89; Hedaru 106; Same 57; Moshi 111; and Arusha 84.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

COASTING TANZANIA







I thought I'd left the poor roads behind in Mocambique, but that was wishful thinking. As a result I suffered my first puncture since leaving South Africa. At least they are busy building a new coastal road in Southern Tanzania, which has already been completed in sections. I stayed over in Mtwara for a few days to recover from some ailments, and got to enjoy the local lifestyle. There are few tourists in that part of the country, and the locals eat and drink at the many pavement café's. I also tend to buy most of my food from the local markets. The place I enjoyed the most was Lindi, where I could walk to the beach in the morning and buy fresh seafood live from the nets (including king-sized prawns). This bustling town is situated on the shore of a large lagoon. Kilwa Masoko was another place where I stayed over for more than one night. In most of these places I've rented a room, which I've found to be cheaper than camping. A room is also more secure, as I can lock the bike and all my equipment inside. Now I'm in the capital, Dar Es Salaam. I'm staying in the central part of the city, where the streets run at odd angles and the buildings all look the same. In the day that I've been here I've already been lost about 5 times. Amazingly, every time I just kept walking around and soon enough I've found myself at the hotel. Distances since Mtwara have been:- Lindi 112 km; Kilwani 122 km; Kilwa Matoro 81 km; Somanga 83 km; Kibiti 106 km; and Dar Es Salaam 139 km.

Friday, 10 August 2007

DISTANCES, DIRECTIONS, & PREDICTIONS







Arriving in Mocimbao at dusk a few days ago, I was exhausted after a long day and booked into the 1st shabby overpriced room I could find. The bed collapsed during the night, but fortunately there was a spare. I wanted to get Mocambique behind me, and left early the following morning for Palma and the border. After asking directions I was surprised to find that the road was tarred, and assumed it was a recent development as I'd been (reliably) informed otherwise. Twice more I was told that I was indeed on my way to Palma, until after 25 k's I realised that this was the same road I'd used the previous evening. The following day I made it to Palma, and asking for a room or camp site I was pointed down a track which disappeared amongst the palm trees. Enquiring if the place was further than a km, I was told that it was indeed 26 km's, but the road was good (via bon! - thumbs up) and the facilities were of the best. I was a bit apprehensive realizing that he was probably talking about Quionga and I'd been (reliably) informed that the road was terrible. However, it was still early in the day and I had to go that way to reach the border. Two k's later I was sliding down donga's and dragging my bike across sand dunes, but I didn't have the time or energy to concern myself any forther with the misinformation. Three and a half hours (and 22 k's later) I dragged old Saartjie by her ears into a village and, unsure if I had the strength to continue, enquired about the distance left to Quionga. I was informed that I had indeed reached Quionga, and my spirits sank as I couldn't see any nice hotel or camp site (where was that shower and cold drink I'd been looking forward to?). Some of the locals helped me plough through the sand to the far end of the village where a log cabin stood apart on a sprawling plot. There I met Andre and his wife who run a mission station. They were rather amused to hear that they were operating a hotel and camp site, as they'd allowed passing travellers to camp on their grounds from time to time. As it turned out I did camp there and even had a shower (the fresh bread for breakfast was an added bonus). I needed the energy from that bread, because there was another 25 k's of the soft and rough stuff before crossing the river by motorboat into Tanzania. Talking about directions, I think Malawians have been the most inventive so far. A favourite distance there is 9 km (which turned out to be anything from 2 k's to 37 k's). Weather predictions are just a tricky. In Blantyre I pointed out the overcast sky and asked the locals if it meant rain. The response of "no" was still echoeing in the passages when someone shouted from outside to remove washing from the line (it rained for the next 3 days). One day in Mocambique I looked at the heavy sky and asked the guy cycling alongside whether it meant rain (of course he said no). Five minutes later we were sheltering from the heavy downpour under the thatched roof of a roadside market. I did my laundry this am, and when I hung it out the locals predicted no rain. This is already my second day in Mtwara, and hopefully I don't have to stay a third. Distances since Pemba have been:- Sunate 85 km; Macomia 122 km; Mocimbao 149 km; Mocimbao Bay 54 km; Quionga 109 km; and Mtwara 65 km.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

MEETING MOTHER EARTH







After joking in previous reports about the misfortunes of others, it was bound to backfire on me. The 4 days on back roads since Nacala have been fairly tricky (just because the map indicates a road it doesn't mean it still exists). Bridges are missing, and I even had to cross the Lurio River Estuary by dugout canoe. Heading down one of the many steep hills the other day, a bump in my path sent me into a pile of loose gravel. After one or 2 big fishtails old Saartjie decided to flip. After that it was me and Saartjie, Saartjie and me, and when we eventually came to rest in the bush the bike was on top. Fortunately neither of us sutained any serious damage. I was surprised that the accident didn't attract spectators, as in those isolated regions I was drawing record sized crowds. Camping in a fairly large village the other night I estimated at least 200 people surrounding me so close that I was having trouble pitching the tent (and none of them could speak a word of English). A translator was summoned (obviously from the bar), and upon arrival he fell on the tent - breaking one of the poles. So, in fading light and in front of 200 + expectant people, I had to do some quick improvisation (no pressure!). It didn't get any better from there, because besides his drunken state the translator knew only about 3 words of English (mostly used in a begging context). At one point I got the impression that the crowd was lining up to put their requests to me via the imposter (I suppose old Saartjie was also up for grabs). Unfortunately I must have been a major disappointment for many people that night. Now I'm in Pemba, at a comfortable camp site next to the beach. I have another 9 days to get to Tanzania without extending my visa. Distances since Nacala were:- Memba 92 km; Mosua 67 km; Natuko 87 km; and Pemba 65 km.

Friday, 27 July 2007

ADVENTURES DE ILHA







After my last report, I unfortunately had to remain in Nampula for a few days due to a stomach problem. It's no fun throwing up in a communal toilet that doesn't flush (and I didn't need any more encouragement!). Also, during that time I heard that my mother was in hospital with a heart attack - not the sort of news one wants to receive at any time. I was pleased to get out of the place, and a couple of days later I was at the coast, on the Ilha De Mocambique. This island is linked to the mainland by a narrow bridge about 3 km's long, and the island itself is about 2 km by 500 m in size (and built up wall to wall). There are many historic buildings, making it a world heritage site (the old castle dates back to the 1550's). After 2 days on the island I took a dhow across the bay to Mossuril, and cycled on to the small holiday resort of Chocas. When loading the bike (Saartjie) on the boat the skipper insisted on taking charge himself. He nonchalantly pushed Saartjie down to the beach at a trot, but when the bike hit the sand she flung the poor guy towards the water in true acrobatic fashion. While the man was down I had a strong urge to stand on his throat, as Saartjie was lying on her side with clean oiled chain in the sand. In the end I took pity on the hapless mariner, as the ever present spectator crowd was bent over in raucus laughter - at his expense. Now I'm in the port of Nacala, camping at Bay Diving just outside the town in a beautiful spot on Nacala bay. I'll probably move on up the coast tomorrow or the next day. Distances since Nampula have been:- Namialo 92 km; Isla De Moçambique 97 km; Chocas 18 km; Nacala 119 km; and Nacala Bay 23 km.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

CULTURE SHOCK











After leaving Blantyre I camped at the golf course at the foot of Mt Mulanje for 2 nights, where I had an interesting game of golf with 3 guys from Johannesburg - picture - who'd been up the mountain (sand greens and ancient rented clubs). There I met Jim Melrose, MD of Lugeri Tea Estate, who invited me over for a night (thanks to him and Vicky- in photo - for the royal treatment, I even had a guided tour of the estate and factories). The taste of the full English breakfast was still fresh in my memory when I crossed into Moçambique. Untill then I'd been travelling through former British colonies where most people could speak a manner of English. Suddenly nobody could understand a word I said. I only knew 2 words of Portuguese, and one of them I'd rather not mention. I headed down the dusty road to Mocuba, 200 km away. Within minutes it was raining, and by the pm I was sliding around in the mud trying to keep Saartjie (my bike) on her feet. Old Saartjie herself was sounding like a worn out windmill, due to the mud and gravel on the chain and coggs. As darkness fell I arrived at a small village where I was granted permission to pitch my tent (the rain didn't deter the spectator crowd). Headman Jaõ Cordosa brought me a bucket of hot water to wash (perhaps they wanted to see what I looked like under the layers of mud). I was further provided with a warm supper of chicken and nzima, and given rice porridge for breakfast (the villagers also helped me clean the bike). After the rain a "good path" is formed by the many cyclists, zig-zagging across the road. On this narrow path I was nearly involved in a head-on collision with 2 men on a bike, but the driver did the honorable thing by taking to the bush in spectacular fashion. I did stop to ask if they were OK, but I'm sure that in a country with a recent history of more snakes than ladders this was not their worst experience. The towns here in Moçambique are larger than I'd expected, with Portuquese influence evident in the mostly dilapidated architecture (although the cathedral outside Murrupula seems well preserved - picture). Nampula, where I'm staying over, is the 3rd largest in the country - and capital of the North. My hotel is the worst to date, but what did I expect for R30 per night (I pitched my tent in the room). In this inland region there are very few whites, and the rural people seem rather scared of me. Yesterday a bee got into my helmet and stung me on the forehead. I hurriedly stopped to remove the culprit, about 100 m from a group of women in the road ahead. Later I looked up just in time to see the last of these women escaping into a nearby cassava field. Distances since Blantyre have been:- Mulanje 70 k; Lugeri 30 k; Tamboni 89 k; Mocuba 122 k; Muserawa 85 k; Moloque 113 k; Calima 96 k; and Nampula 130 k.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

BLANTYRE HOLIDAY




Well, I'm still in Blantyre where I've been for over a week. I've gone to the Immigration Office and extended my stay. I should have been out of Malawi today, and I plan to leave later this morning for Mulanje and on to Mocambique within 2 or 3 days. Over the past couple of days the rain cleared, allowing me to do laundry and work on my bike. I've given Old Saartjie (my bike) a facelift, replacing worn parts as well as giving her a good checking-over. I'm well rested, and need to move on before I become too fat and lazy. The place where I've been camping has been quite comfortable (Doogles Lodge), they also have rooms and a bar/restaurant (I cook my own food). I was even unfortunate enough to watch DSTV and see the Boks lose yesterday. On this trip I have often bumped into people I've met at other places, and here is no exception, and there are a number of those people here. One of them is Chris, who I met on the very 1st day I left Cape Town. I chatted to him at Rooi Els, where I had stopped for a rest, and he informed me of a trip he was planning to Zanzibar using only puble transport (he was going to celebrate his 60th birthday there with friends). The other person in the photo is Mary, a 70 year old ex maths teacher from New Mexico, USA. She is quite a character, travelling around Africa with her tent for the past 5 years. Thanks to all who send e-mail and leave comments on this site, it's good to hear from you. At least it shows me that someone reads this stuff. In places where I stay over it is convenient to have the bicycle for travel around town (the shops, etc., are often out of walking range). The purists need not get excited, I don't add this mileage to my overall distance covered. So, distances since my last report: Blantyre 0 km's.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

LAKESIDE HOLIDAY







At this time of year the SE breeze blows across Lake Malawi. This made cycling down the Lake shore a tough job, as well as distracting from some of the unprotected beaches. The fact that I had a cold for more than a week also didn't make cycling any easier. However, there are many nice places to relax, and I stayed over for more than one night at a number of them. Other than Nkhata Bay, I also enjoyed Ngala Beach and Cape Maclear the most. The cost of camping at all these places is dirt cheap when compared to SA. Around the Southern part of the Lake I encountered some bad roads, causing damage to the luggage rack on my bike. After limping to the next village, the local "welding shop" did a remarkable repair job (it's still holding). I'm now in Blantyre waiting for some spare parts for my bike, and thanks to Grant and Amanda for organising that from Cape Town. On my way South from the Lake I stopped over at Zomba, camping up on the Plateau at 1500 m in the temperate rain forest (reminds me of Knysna). There are also plantations and a catchment dam up there (see photo with bike). The 9 km from the town to the top took me 1 hr 40 min - cycling! Of course, it is entirely my own fault that I followed local directions and took the difficult route. Something which continues to amuse me is the effect which my different appearance has on the locals. One day in a village market a character walked around me 3 times before informing me that I looked exactly like Jesus. In another town there must be a priest who I resemble, because wide-eyed people were greeting me with "Hello Father". As I was leaving the town one woman nearly fell off her bicycle as she exclaimed in an anxious voice: "Father, where are you going?!" (she probably couldn't believe that her beloved Padré had discarded his robe and was taking to the hills in cycling shorts). A teenager along the road, who was selling cooked mice on a stick, called me something which most likely comes from a Chuck Norris movie (I'm often affectionately referred to as "Chuckie"). When I stopped to confront him he ran away, and he's probably still running! Distances since Nkhata Bay have been: Kande Beach 63 k; Ngala Beach 67 k; Nkotakota 95 k; Senga Bay 134 k; Chipoka 68 k; Monkey Bay 109 k; Cape Maclear 25 k; Liwonde 145 k; Zomba 69 k; and Blantyre 81 k.

Friday, 15 June 2007

TO LAKE VIA FOREST AND HILLS




For the past few days I've been travelling through the rather hilly Northern Region of Malawi. In some places the forest is interrupted by impressive large rock domes (one is called "The Elephant"). The villages are more isolated than in the central region (and Zambia), and although the children still called to me they sometimes seemed a bit nervous. I've even made a few babies cry (perhaps due to my scruffy appearance). A number of times children have asked me my name as I passed, just in case I'm an important character from the Bible (there are numerous mission churches here). Then again, some guy was convinced that I'm Chuck Norris (so there are some old violent movies around as well). Bicycles abound in the villages, but I've seldom met a cyclist out on the open road (mean hills!). From Llilongwe I've travelled North along the "inland" road as far as Mzuzu, and then down to Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi (lush and beautiful). I now intend to take a bit of a "holiday cycle" South along the shores of the Lake. Distances since Chipata were: Llilongwe 144 k; Mponela 73 k; Nkhamenya 131 k; Chikangawu 99 k; Mzuzu 82 k; and Nkhata Bay 52 k.

Friday, 8 June 2007

THE GREAT MZUNGU




In this region of Africa a tourist is generally referred to as Mzungu (White Face). Here in Eastern Zambia the road is lined with villages, and the children excitedly call out "Mzungu....Mzungu!". I recall an incident when I suddenly came across a small boy at the roadside. He scrambled up the embankment in a cloud of dust (just in case the Mzungu still held some hidden danger), and called out "MAAZUUNGU-ZUUNGU-ZUUNGU!". For the next few hundred metres there were heads popping out of the bush along the road (tall and short). Another favourite greeting here is "How-are-you?". So sometimes I'm struggling uphill in the heat, trying to respond with a wave or "I'm fine, how are you?". Often the little ones get so excited they forget what to shout, and only manage to utter some unintelligible sound. Therefore, on occasion I've found myself offering a half-hearted wave to a bleating goat. In Zambian slang 1000 Kwachas is called one PIN. Occasionally a beggar will ask "give me PIN". I imagine that in such an encounter some ignorant Mzungu promptly handed over his pen. Now, in that village, the children were all asking me for pens.

SLEEPING IN CLASS




Usually I spend my rest days in a formal camp site, to do washing and the internet, etc. Inbetween rest days I camp in the bush or some other opportune place. One evening at a "guest house" I was informed that I could camp where I wished. I chose the back porch of what seemed like an empty brick house. Later on I noticed a black board on the wall, and it concerned me a bit that the date written there was current. The following morning I awoke to the sound of voices. Bleary-eyed I emerged from my tent and peered over the low wall. Facing me was a crowd of school kids (books and benches in hand), patiently waiting for me to strike camp and leave so that they could proceed with their lessons. That brings me to a question I've been asked: "What determines the daily distances travelled?". Distance depends on the terrain, road condition, destination for the day, and camping availability. So far the roads have been mostly fairly good tarred roads. However, in some places I've found it better to cycle on the gravel alongside (potholes and dangerous traffic). Today I'm resting at a camp site outside Chipata, and I'll probably move towards Malawi tomorrow. Distances since Lusaka were: Rafunsa Hills 125 km; Luangwo Bridge 120 km; Kachololo 65 km; Petauke 124 km; Katate 94 km; and Chipata 103 km.

Friday, 1 June 2007

SAARTJIE MEETS THE RELATIVES




Since we've been in Zambia my bike (old Saartjie) has had her eyes wide in amazement - there are so many bicycles around! Anything here is transported by bicycle, from 50 kg bags of mielie meal to the wife and kids. This is the first country on my trip where bicycles have been used this extensively. About 3 days ago I met another cyclist head on - but he was different from the locals. Uri has cycled all the way from Russia, and looks the part. I had an interesting discussion with him regarding his trip, and amongst other things we discovered that we were born 9 days apart (apparently I'm the eldest!). I'm now in Lusaka, having a rest day camping at the Chachacha Backpackers. This morning I washed my clothes and gave Saartjie some much needed attention. My trip has now lasted more than 4000 km, and tomorrow I carry on East towards Malawi (about 2 weeks away). Distances since Vic Falls were: Livingstone 15 km; Kalamo Bush 110 km; Choma 89 km; Chisekese 87 km; Mazabuka 83 km; Kafue River 89 km; and Lusaka 54 km.