Day 164: the big finale in Cape Town!

Woohoo! And the rain even stopped!

South Africa has raced by! This is probably a good thing as I’ve had last-country blues, and didn’t want my journey to end.

There were some strange moments which added colour. One was cycling through the Namaqualand desert (where the famed wild flowers were just starting to bloom) when a guy on an incredibly loud dune buggy came roaring up and stopped on the other side of the road. In Namibia I was stopped and asked about my journey a lot so I’m quite well versed in this conversation, although I couldn’t hear him over the engine. But it turned out he just wanted a lighter. I found it rather strange to drive up to a cyclist in the desert and ask for a light. But I gave him one so perhaps it was an appropriate request. He was fairly indifferent to a Scottish cyclist being there in the middle of nowhere but said “ok, I love you, bye” and drove off with his cigarette.

There’s a story behind this but the moral is to love yourself first!

There have been two particularly striking things about South Africa. One is the warnings. From Botswana onwards I kept hearing about how unsafe South Africa is, about car jackings and how I should (at least) have pepper spray. I bought some but, as a Brit with zero experience of actual self defence, I think it is most likely I would spray it in my own face. I’m glad there has been no call to use it so far. Some guy did try to grab my bike on the highway about 70km from Cape Town but missed. His friend said he was “just teasing” but he had seemed quite serious.

Lovely South Africans 😀

The other most noticeable aspect has been the hospitality. I started bumping into South Africans with increasing regularity from Botswana onwards and most of them invited me to stay with them before they knew my name. Almost all were a few thousand kilometres off route but I didn’t doubt the sincerity of their offers.

Long Winding hills and sunshine

It is notable that South Africa is hilly and windy – these meant that a couple of times I fell short of my target destination. I asked at a farm if I could camp and found myself being housed, fed and entertained with horse riding. At a roadside cafe, I similarly asked to camp and ended up drinking wine with them and chatting through the sunset over dinner. The kindness has been incredible.

This kindness and hospitality influenced the last day quite considerably. I was offered an escort into Cape Town which, to be honest, I wasn’t keen on, particularly as I’m so used to planning autonomously and independently. It was a bit of a shock to have to coordinate plans with others. My friend suggested that it would make the last day feel special. She was right!

My convoy in the rain

It was special and indeed quite surreal to be taken into a city with a 4 car convoy on the highway. I started to feel like a VIP when the police blocked junctions and sounded sirens to get me through the traffic lights. People were filming me in their cars, probably wondering if I were a famous cyclist in a blue kagoul. It was a lot of fun!

I arrived and had a very warm reception from local councillors and the alderman. Cake and champagne. My friend from Scotland arrived with bunting. And then so did a local couple I’d met in torrential rain in Malawi and then 3 months later we’d bumped into each other in the Namibian desert. I wished I didn’t look quite so windswept but I guess it wasn’t a fashion shoot and I should focus on celebrating and not worrying about my red face!

So I guess this marks the end of my trip. There is a lot to process and digest. My head is very much still in the present. It feels more like I’m taking a break from Biffa and cycling, rather than ending this chapter. Drinking a lot of wine may be delaying the processing! I have bought some dessert wine which scores 98 – unbelievably rare- so please form an orderly queue to drink it with me!

Wine drinking!

I will, at some point, update the kit list with reflections that might be useful to anyone planning a big cycling trip. I think Biffa did really well, needing only small tweaks except for the wheel hub breaking after 7000km. It was a cheap hub I had to put on last minute and I’ve heard of better hubs breaking far sooner or repeatedly. My general advice would be to trust your gut and tell bike mechanics what to do more! Although silly me stopped 75kms from Cape Town and asked a bike shop if they had the parts I needed. I knew exactly which ones were worn out. They didn’t have the right parts but thought they could fix my slipping gears. One hour later 1/3 of my gears didn’t work. An hour after that I had a significantly lighter wallet and a whole new drivetrain. I’m not very happy with the parts they put on and the bike shop weren’t happy with me when I said they looked cheap and nasty. Poor Biffa!

My farm shop addiction being well catered for!

Incidentally, a mere 700km before having all my gears replaced, I’d enquired about a mechanic in a small mining town. A local guy ‘who knows about bikes’ came and had a look. He spent about 45 seconds or fewer looking at the bike and about 5 minutes or more telling me how gears worked. Apparently I just don’t know how to use a bicycle! It was very kind of him to come and so I just did my best to smile and make him leave before he could see how angry he was making me. He also explained to me that ‘modern bikes don’t have 3 chainrings’ which is absolute gubbins when referring to touring bikes. I was reminded of when I dated a Formula 1 engineer and he looked at my narrowboat engine. But he had the sense to recognise that he knew about his apples and not my oranges.

Tomorrow I will pack up Biffa and get her ready for the flight. I still haven’t decided what to do with her. She’s a very specialist piece of kit.

Biffa in the desert

So for a few (dozen) headlines: I left Cairo on January 18th. I arrived in Cape Town on July 2nd. In that time I cycled about 8000km (and bussed a few). I had 1 bout of covid and a handful of PCR tests. I climbed the 2 highest mountains in Africa, Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. I saw pyramids in Egypt and Sudan. I saw the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls and danced in its mist. I danced in the desert. I relied upon countless strangers. I was fed by many. I swore at others. I hid in bushes to eat lunch alone. I cycled into a skip in Luxor. I fell in a hole in Malawi and again in Botswana. I saw seahorses in Zanzibar. Police bought me bread in Egypt and made me dinner in Sudan. Sudanese road workers gave me the dates in their pockets. Botswanan road workers ate all my noodles and made me a fire. Malawian children shouted ‘give me money. Give me money.’ Tanzanian children shouted ‘mzungu’. Zambian children chanted ‘how-are-you-how-are-you’. I got chased by an elephant. I slept in a convent. Missionaries gave me money and I paid it forward. I slept in a school and it was like being in a zoo, with kids throwing corn husks at me. Lions kept me awake. Wind kept me awake. I made lentils with unwelcome sand. A Swiss woman told me my Bouillion smelled like home. A Sudanese boy slept on a mat on the ground to keep me safe all night. I got asked if I was armed a lot in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Masaais threw stones at me and chased me with a machete. Ugandans laughed at me and told me it is not my country. Sudanese men proposed and asked about visas. I sang Celine Dion with a Malawian guy on a bike. I hiked huge red dunes. Czechs gave me Jaeger in the desert. I cycled through deserts carrying days worth of food. I saw an orange crescent moon in the Sahara (moo). It has been great.

The list goes on and on! People ask me why I decided to do this trip and I talk about how life got so very small during covid – we were only allowed out for an hour a day for most of a year. But this trip wasn’t just about making life big- it was more about wanting to feel alive, if that makes sense. I can’t say what’s next and I doubt anything will be quite so big for a while, but I hope it feels alive! And I hope you do things that make you feel alive too.

If you enjoyed this blog or even looking at the pictures, please consider donating to my fundraiser for the National Brain Appeal which has been supporting a family member for a long time. He’s a big fan! Here’s the link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=b1250b3f215c4c84b718da3e0e60e249&fbclid=IwAR0Q5mwWYhsW9Om_vpvqmVpuMRXyL9mxUJ1Uxck-fSfwT9Gm_ofuRbAVAEU

Day 1 Cairo!
Where it all began!

Day 156: Farewell Namibia: desert, stars, mooncup!

Sossesvlei. Incredible dunes.

As I leave Namibia the people at the brai stall call ‘morning’ across the street and wave and smile. A small but lovely gesture. I do feel like a novel guest to their town.

I slowly drift through this small mining town, past the single story houses in pale yellow with tin roofs, past oryx on the patchy grass on sandy verges. My dawdling will make the rest of the day harder. I have to cycle 100km with headwind and cross the border and buy a phone sim. I don’t want to go.

Rare but gorgeous tarmac

Today I enter the final country, South Africa. I don’t want to leave Namibia. And I don’t want to go home. Why didn’t I extend my trip? I heard recently of a German term, hürdenangst, which translates as hurdle fear; ‘not wanting to do something as all you can see are the obstacles’ was how it was explained. I still don’t know where -which place- I should live on return so I guess that’s not helping me get excited about returning.

Better than average gravel road.

But Namibia. It’s been a real highlight. Hard but so rewarding. Interestingly it is a place that, even without incident or issue, cannot be cycled without relying upon human kindness. There’s only so much water you can carry into a desert. And people have really stepped up and gone the extra mile for us.

Fredalette and Hendrik from South Africa saw me fiddling with my gears and stopped to help. Then they gave us beer. It was following a remarkably surreal moment when I was staring at my gears on a steep hillside in the middle of nowhere when I heard shrieking and yelling. Then a donkey cart with 3 donkeys came careering over the hill, rickety and stones flying, with 2 guys and a woman, followed by 2 dogs, happily trotting along.
These Czechs stopped in the cold and asked if we needed anything. A flask of tea? They said no and offered beer. I said no. As they were leaving I asked about whisky. They offered Jäegermeister and fun was had by all. We met some cyclists who’d bumped into a barista with a coffee truck and got cappuccinos. Not that I’m competitive but I think Jaeger wins!

Namibia has been physically hard. It also requires a lot of concentration as you’re constantly vigilant for ruts, potholes, thick sand, looser gravel when cycling on gravel roads. Loose stones fly up from under your wheels and ping out from passing cars. Some experienced and considerate drivers would slow down to stop you from being engulfed in their dust clouds. Often with a quick chat. I once got a headache from staring at the road so intently. I did manage to come off my bike once in a ‘sand splat’. Thankfully I had a nearly-right spare clip to fix my pannier bag and my wounds were only superficial.

Worse than average gravel road.

The gravel roads were slow going, usually 10kmh but sometimes less. We once got excited about doing 11.5kmh. One day we met 3 separate motorbikers who all stopped and grumbled about how hard the roads were. Mate- you’ve got an engine! But I know that these roads are really dangerous for them. One biker had met the previous biker earlier. We said we’d seen him a few hours ago. “So it was about a mile ago!” I added.

The other lane is always greener.

There were a few notorious days where it really did feel like we had earned every inch travelled. Wheelspins and drifting. Thighs burning. Not to mention the 4 days I spent with a broken hub so I couldn’t stop pedalling. Even once the hub was fixed it took days for me to get out of the habit of continually pedalling.

Look at the huge nest in the tree.

It then got really cold. Frost on the tents at times. Laurie had the sense to sleep in the shower room of a campsite while I toughed it out with cold feet, overhearing drunk German farmers brawling and crying in the lodge bar. (Namibian hospitality is generally awesome but we felt very unwelcome at that campsite/lodge. They didn’t tell us there was a private function and would be no food available that night despite us sitting eating their apple pie for hours. I was glad that the owner appeared to feel stupid when she loudly asked “can I help you?” like I’d wandered in to sell turds on sticks and I responded to advise her that someone had left their headlights on). The next day there were rumours of snow in the mountains and we opted to find indoor accommodation until we made it to lower altitudes.

Come back sunshine!

The wind was terrible at times too. Sometimes you could hear things crashing and rolling about at nights. Some days we had red faces from cycling in it. Lots of people have wind turbines pumping their water. One night a young campsite dog seemed to be upset by the turbine. It kept circling the tents and then stopping to yowl. I tried shouting at it but had to be careful not to encourage it to come and jump on my tent (again) as I’m not sure my lightweight tent stands up well to dog paws. It calmed down when the wind died down.

I honestly thought this was a dead pony when I cycled up behind it.

Despite the physical and mental demands, it was never a chore. Looking up and around, it just felt like a privilege to be there. On my way to the second last town, even though I had 172km to cycle, I did indeed yell and whoop a lot on a lengthy downhill and then stopped to dance again in the desert, because who knows when I’ll do it again?

A big moon, a cold frost.

I have not long to get to Cape Town. 6 days from now. Because of this, I couldn’t take the days off I would have liked or indeed that I probably needed. As Laurie and I went on, both our bikes and our bodies started to grouch. My gears are unhappy- I need new chainrings but am trying not to meddle when I can still passably cycle. Laurie’s Rohloff hub was behaving oddly. The two of us would occasionally cycle along bitching about people who’d wronged us, things that annoyed us. Sometimes we would talk about how nice a bath would be, or a lemonade. He was a great travel buddy, Laurie. He has gone to the coast where it’s warmer to take a few days off.

Sossusvlei and the big dunes.

I think I’ve mentioned before how awesome and clear the sky is here. The Milky Way seems to dominate the world at night. Shooting stars seem particularly frequent around 6am and you can see all the satellites.

I asked Laurie to take a photo of me that might get me a free Ortlieb bag. Still waiting…

As a tenuous link, I can tell you about mooncups- against my better judgement (but a friend said I should). Mooncups are for catching menstrual blood, in case you don’t know. They are very useful and I opted to use one as there are no bins in the desert for other sanitary products. They do need a lot of water though. So… one day I had to empty it. In this part of the desert there was nothing to hide behind, only a tallish thin tree. I opted to use the tree as shade because there was no point trying to hide behind it on such an open plain. I asked Laurie to cycle on ahead and not look back. I then waited for a small convoy of 3 4by4s to pass then did what I had to do. However, as you can predict, another car came. I was, at that point, washing the mooncup which was taking a lot of my concentration, so I didn’t have time to take action to preserve any dignity. Basically the car passed as I was squatting with my bum out. But I can say that the driver was an honourable gentleman and drove by intent on the road, like he hadn’t seen me. What a good chap!

I then continued, despite my mortification, and finished my task. I stood up, having just focused on washing my hands, with my shorts, cycling shorts and pants around my knees. But right then another car came! Rather than wrestle with my clothing, I opted to squat down again as the best indignity. Sadly, this car’s occupants did not have the same honour as the previous and, instead, the car full of small blonde children waved enthusiastically at me with huge smiles. I’m not sure if they’d noticed my bum at that point. I’m sure there was a lesson in there somewhere- for both me and them. [I may delete this story later, but if you want to know what life on the road is like… It also became a joke that any time I tried to pee a car would come].

NB- some organisations donate mooncups to women in developing countries who also have issues with sanitary products- but for a lifetime, not a few months. If you’d like to donate a Mooncup please click the link below

Heading up up up, slowly slowly slowly

Anyhow, I have loved Namibia and had a brilliant adventure there. I hope to return asap to hike Fish River Canyon and see Etosha. Soon, I hope.

I did see ostriches right then too.

Finally, a special hi goes to Roei’s uncle! As well as to the many lovely people I’ve met on the road. It is indeed a small world. I even bumped into a South African couple whom I’d met 3 months ago in Malawi.

Innit?!

Day 142: Big adventures in Namibia

People say that the Cairo to Cape Town route gets easier as you head south. Not all agree but I do. Namibia is physically hard, it’s definitely challenging, but it feels safe and exciting. An Enid Blyton jaunt for grown ups. (I don’t know the comparison for adults. With lots of swearing on my part. But it would be adventure, gallivanting about a country, facing difficulty but without too much danger and, touch wood, no misery). It can be hard and even painful but it’s always fun.

I had a few good days’ cycling from Windhoek to the coast. After a night at a B&B with the most hospitable family, I had a tailwind for much of the journey. I was averaging 40kmh for much of the journey.

If you like reading this blog or seeing the pics- please consider donating whatever you can to the National Brain Appeal https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=b1250b3f215c4c84b718da3e0e60e249&fbclid=IwAR0Q5mwWYhsW9Om_vpvqmVpuMRXyL9mxUJ1Uxck-fSfwT9Gm_ofuRbAVAEU

Please donate to my fundraiser for the National Brain Appeal: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown?utm_source=Sharethis&utm_medium=fundraising&utm_content=eilidh-cycling-cairo-to-capetown&utm_campaign=pfp-email&utm_term=b1250b3f215c4c84b718da3e0e60e249&fbclid=IwAR0Q5mwWYhsW9Om_vpvqmVpuMRXyL9mxUJ1Uxck-fSfwT9Gm_ofuRbAVAEU

Impressively, on the way to Swakopmund, you could see the ocean from 30km away. I realised that means I’ve gone from Indian Ocean to Atlantic Ocean by bike. I celebrated with a massive gelato! Swakopmund was so very German with bierhalles and a lot of German speakers. The B&B people had given me recommendations so I basically ate and drank solidly for 2 days. I did go for a much needed run along the beach.

I met Fabian who was cycling north. My tailwind was his headwind. Poor sod.

Since Swakopmund and Wavis Bay on the coast, we have hit desert proper. I say ‘we’ as I’ve joined forces with Laurie, an Australian. He is good company and he’s right that the desert is easier with company- certainly psychologically. I do plan to ditch him for at least a few days because I want to experience the desert by myself a bit, especially after doing almost all of the rest of the trip alone.

From the coast, we were hit by a terrible headwind for 2 days. Between the headwind and the road surfaces, we are lucky to exceed more than 10kmh and have found we don’t get much beyond 50km a day. Despite doing 152km in one easy day last week, I have to just accept this.

Pink lake at Walvis Bay. They also had a lot of flamingos.

We were carrying enough food for at least 4 days – and we’ve just restocked. Tuna, noodles, rice, peanuts, peanut butter, fruit, Haribo, biscuits. And lentils but they need a lot of water.

For water, I began with 15 litres. That’s 15 kilos and will last around 2 days, depending how much cooking and dishes you do. But there were no towns for 4 days.

South African ladies with oranges.

We had been advised that passing cars will give you water. Indeed they will. The hire cars, kitted with rooftop tents – which make up most of the passing traffic- are given a 5L bottle to start. They have fridges and cokes and oranges. And it seems they like to share. We met other cyclists who told us of road encounters with baristas who stopped to make them coffee. We rarely flag anyone down because people regularly stop to talk to us and thus we don’t need to. This generosity is amazing and I hope to pay it forward in life.

I knew there were thorns in Africa but decided to risk it and go with the inflatable mattress. It has 9 holes in it. The puncture repair kit is not working.
Picnic spot for camping. Lots of thorns. But incredible shooting stars between the satellites from 6am.

As we headed into the desert, the road was tarmac but with a headwind to start. Then it became gravel. At times we see signs of ‘graders’, like snow ploughs, that scrape the sand and grit aside and even up the road. But often, like snow ploughs, they leave deep furrows. Any dips in the road and the bottoms of hills collect the sand, causing lots of skidding and occasional pushing. The road is often corrugated with ruts.

The gravel is hazardous and I did indeed meet a cyclist in Windhoek who has been sitting around for months after years on the road because he came off in the gravel and broke several bones.

Do I look like I have slept in a cave?

In Africa things seem to happen in a haphazard way- but they happen. The coach will leave 2 hours late and, despite a mountain of parcels bigger than the bus that needed to be loaded on, nothing- no chicken, sack of rice or flat screen TV – is left behind. You go to the pharmacy and the pharmacist is asleep under the counter but she is knowledgeable and you get the medicine you need, and it’s cheap. In Namibia, it’s Africa but with a strong German element- Africa meets Germany- things seem to happen haphazardly but a bit slicker.

Desert camp 1. This was windy but beautiful. I didn’t put my tent up and instead ‘slept’ with my groundsheet flapping in my face.

My example of this is replacing my wheel. My wheel broke 4 days ago. It was a last minute replacement for something the fancy bike shop missed on my old hand built wheel during the very expensive service. I guess the replacement wheel held up okay as it did 6000km (if you ignore the puncture I had within 20 mins of departure in Cairo as the second bike shop – astonishingly- did not put rim tape on. But the emergency duct tape held up for 6000km too). So, 4 days ago my chain came off and the hub was sticking. Laurie was strongly hinting I should hitch to Windhoek to get it sorted. But I learned that the chain would stay on if I was actively pedalling. I presumed it was the bearings and we tried to fix it, but with no joy. I ignored the hints and decided to keep pedalling. It meant that I really had to keep pedalling. Uphill, downhill: pedal pedal pedal. I figured that if it broke properly, then I would hitch. But not before.

A second meeting with cyclists on the road. I’d only bumped into cyclists on the road once before but it seems there’s a few about in Namibia.

Shortly after that, a Canadian couple flagged us down on the road asking if we needed anything. Anthony was a mechanic. We managed to take my wheel apart with my tools and check the bearings, but sadly it was the hub. Whitney gave us Cokes and chatted with Lawrence -as they gave up over 2 hours of their time on the roadside trying to fix my bike. Alas no.

So I pedalled for 4 days. I had very intermittent 3G signal and managed to message a WhatsApp group to find bike shop contacts and then get quotes for wheels while pedalling pedalling pedalling uphills. Or with the occasional pause, to be honest.

There was then the issue of getting the wheel to Solitaire, our next town- 3 hours’ drive from either of the 2 shops with the right wheel. There are no courier services to Solitaire. A cyclist we’d met on day 1 was poised and ready to send the wheel from Swakopmund, pouncing on tourists in his hostel to see who was coming this way. The Day 3 campsite owner was about to post on his WhatsApp group only to find someone was already asking about transporting my wheel. And that he was related to the Windhoek bike shop owner.

Biffa at Solitaire airport. Right next to the campsite.

As I arrived in Solitaire, the bike shop owner messaged me to say that Pasquale, the famous owner of Solitaire Lodge, had just set off in his plane with my wheel. The stars had aligned and someone had learned he was in town then sprinted down the runway to catch him as he was taking off to give him my wheel and it would be with me that night. And the wheel fit perfectly!

The plane bringing my wheel in.

Laurie was impressed with both me and my bike, pedalling on. So the good news is that I have a new wheel and it works! Yay for Namibia!

Meerkat

Desert camp 1

There has been one negative though! The armoured crickets. These scare me a lot! They are huge and sinister looking. On the road at one point it was like running the gauntlet. They hang about eating their squashed family members that litter the road with their mustard coloured insides. For possibly the first time, I missed my mudguard- I was fearful of bug juices flicking up in my face. I really, really was grossed out. Days later one tried to climb my leg as I ate breakfast. Laurie is Australian so less bothered by them.

Ewww. Sinister bugs.
Solitaire

I’m pushed for time at the moment, so I will stop and merely point out how lovely it is to see the stars and watch the southern cross move across the sky, and to wake up to shooting stars. I cycle about saying ‘wow’ a lot. I walked out of the campsite shower block the other day and just said ‘wow’ at the sky. Namibia is incredibly beautiful. Pretty good, eh?

Desert camp 2. Lots and lots of thorns. But very beautiful. I woke up at 6am and saw so many shooting stars.
Desert camp 3.

Bye Botswana, hello penultimate country- Namibia!

Multi tasking- also having a conversation with truckers who asked if I’d be paying Road tax. Seems those people are everywhere. Do they ask Tesla and Prius drivers that?

Since my elephant escapades, things have been quiet. I’ve seen a few elephants by the road and lots on organised trips. I went to the salt pans at Nata. I already regret not going to see the meerkats- seemingly there are so many they climb all over you. The salt pans had zebras, ostriches and wildebeest. But the best thing was the sunset. The sky and the lake were a great continuum of pale silver light like there was no horizon, until the sunset colours drifted in. Africa does big skies and sunsets so well. We then walked home in the dark. I fell in yet another hole, a German guy got caught in a thorn bush and we stopped at a trucker bar for pool and a little bit of dancing.

Africa does sunsets so well.

I’m often asked if it’s dangerous as a woman to be cycling alone around Africa. I generally think my odds of serious injury are mainly from something silly. People who know me will agree. Sometimes on long days I will very unsystematically consider the main threats to my health.

Following my elephant chasing incident, I added elephants to it. Here’s a rough list. I’m sure by writing this I am in no way tempting fate…

Eilidh’s Approximate Risks to Life and Limb:

  • Elephant trampling 100:1
  • Hit by a truck 30:1
  • Fall in a hole while wandering about in the dark and not paying attention while chatting* 5:1
  • Falling over a shoe and requiring an operation* 30:1
  • Falling over with bike while at a standstill* 5:1
  • Cycling into a bin* or a tree* 10:1
  • making a (warranted but) rude hand gesture* and getting beaten up 30:1
  • Food poisoning (from something I thought was bad but second guessed myself and ate it anyway)* 20:1
  • falling out of a safari truck 50:1 (this was added by a Polish girl who almost did this)

Asterisk * marks things I’ve already done.

I had my first night of bush camping. That was quite fun. There was a long stretch with no options except a $150 lodge but on my app a cyclist had marked an antenna with a cage beside it that you could camp in at 130km. The road was long and the headwind was incessant. I stopped to check out an antenna with a fence around it, a possible option, but I wasn’t sure. I then stopped to check out some huts that seemed abandoned but I figured they’d be full of spiders. As I did so, a car came along and the driver asked me if I was ok. I explained I was looking for a place to camp and he invited me to camp with them, near the antenna I was aiming for. I was later told by one person that the huts I’d considered had witches. Someone a bit more sensible said that they probably had snakes.

Dodgy huts.

Ismael and his crew were cutting down trees by the road. They are contracted to cut a 20km stretch and want to complete it quickly so they can go home, so they work long days and weekends.

Bush camp.

They welcomed me into the camp and offered me hot water to wash. (I declined as I knew I’d wash in Maun the next day and didn’t want to use up their water- they get it from a friend in the water board a few kilometres away.) I drew a couple of portraits by the fire which was quite hard!

There were some awkward moments around food. First I offered someone some biscuits and she grabbed the pack and stashed it aside. Hmm. Then for dinner, they’d just bought a load of meat so I explained I was vegetarian and set about cooking my own food on the fire – noodles and soy mince. When it was ready I asked if anyone wanted to try it. The pan got passed around 4 people who shovelled it onto their plates and told me it was good. With the last person settling down to eat the remaining food, I asked for it back – ‘umm, can I have my food?’ I’d cycled 130km with only raisins for lunch and was hungry! There were 2 spoonfuls left. I suspect this might have been a cultural thing- perhaps here you feed yourself and share what you don’t want? With their food, it turns out they were not going to eat the meat until the next day so were having beans and pap (maize paste, aka ugali in Tanzania or foof in Nigeria. I believe it has no nutritional value but I may be wrong). I got a few spoonfuls of beans and later ate my last pack of emergency biscuits.

This was sober, I should add.

I told Ismael I didn’t like elephants anymore. When we went in his car to do some errands there was an elephant about 100 metres from the camp. He offered me I drive up the road to see it. I declined. To keep the animals away each tent or cluster of tents has a fire. They made one by my tent. There was a big storm shortly after bed time and heavy rain. I tried not to think about the fact my fire had gone out so soon.

Not entirely sure what was happening here.

Maun had some cafes with great food and I stayed there a few days waiting to join a day trip to the Okavango Delta. People in Victoria Falls Town had raved about it. I found it a pleasant way to while away the evening. I was quite tired as it was a 7am start and then we waited nearly an hour for a French couple to turn up. I can’t say I was as gracious as I could have been.

The Okavango Delta is a series of narrow rivers between islands and you get pushed about between the reeds and water lilies in a flat bottomed boat. We saw some elephants from the water and also did a walking safari. I couldn’t understand my guide/boater guy for a lot of it, but the river was peaceful and a nice way to while away some hours. We also saw a puff adder, zebras, wildebeest, impalas and kudus. It seems what I thought were dik diks are kudus- like antelope with big ears.

In other news it is very cold at night, often under 5 degrees. (It’s also cold in an open sided vehicle. I sat on the floor. I miss my jacket). Before I started my trip I deliberated buying a new sleeping bag as mine is for 10 degrees plus. But I was trying not to fall into the trap of buying new everything- so instead I bought a thermal liner for £40. It came with the claim that it added 10 degrees of heat. I found in Egypt that was a lie and bought a cheap blanket. I’ve now had to do the same and also buy a hot water bottle. My pannier bags are now overflowing with the mitigations of not buying a better sleeping bag. In Maun the camping shops were shut for the weekend, hence my bodges. Since then people keep telling me where to buy cheap sleeping bags. I’m sure I sound terrible when I say ‘but where can I buy an *expensive* sleeping bag?’ I don’t want a huge cheap thing filling up my pannier bags- I’ll stick with a blanket! But Windhoek is hopefully the place.

Cold feet begone!
Campsite croc. A big yin.

Day 118: Zimbabwe and Botswana

DISCLAIMER: this blog is sweary. Sorry mum!

Friend: ‘is this a normal part of the route?’ Me: ‘there is a less dangerous route but I picked this one’. Friend: ‘of course you have 🙄’

Last Friday I was in Livingstone, Zambia. I woke up a bit tired, a bit dehydrated, a bit hungover and a bit crampy. I was supposed to be cycling 80km to Kasane, the Botswana border. But there were questions on a cycling group chat about cycling a similar route but from Victoria Falls Town, about 10km away in Zimbabwe, to the same border- also 80km. “It’s nice, quiet road, saw an elephant and a few giraffes’. I’d heard my Zambian road was full of trucks. Crossing the border and revisiting the Falls, plus an excuse to colour in Zimbabwe, seemed like a good way to procrastinate.

I wrote a bit on Instagram about the Falls – https://www.instagram.com/p/CdguNjosabQ/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

Big water 😀

They were incredible. The Zimbabwe side is usually supposed to be better but now, when there’s so much water, Zambia was the more scenic. Zimbabwe was an experience- but best for those willing to embrace the water.

The next day I set off for the Zimbabwe-Botswana border. The security guard from a lodge shouted ‘My friend! Are you not scared of animals?’ I hope not!

But after he shouted that, I began to feel that the tall grasses made it like running a gauntlet . I deliberated what to do if I get attacked by a lion. Would a lion attack me during the day? Maybe if it’s bored or baffled? I can’t outrun a lion. What defences do I have? I have a rape alarm that I’ve not tested and it has been in heavy rain. I have water bottles to hand and a cycling helmet. Would it leave me alone if I biffed it with my cycling helmet? I pictured fending off a lion with a water bottle like a Tom and Jerry scene. Hmm. I didn’t have a phone signal but what use would calling someone be? I decided to send out a message on my Garmin GPS so people would have a rough idea of where I died.

Zimbabwean animal gauntlet

I continued along the gauntlet, not wearing headphones and alert to every twitch. Something big scuttled away in the tall grass. Then an impala stumbled into the road and bounded off. Later a wildebeest did the same. Each time I – as we say in Scotland- shat myself.

What’s in the long grass?

Eventually I chill out. I hadn’t realised I was going uphill but i careered downhill with a brilliant view of the whole valley. A car had slowed right down at the bottom. There was an elephant! I shouted ‘wahey!’ when I saw it!

I also saw lots of those birds from the Lion King scooting about the trees, and a huge vulture. It cast a vast shadow on the road. Then there were a lot of flies.

At the top of the hill I stopped to adjust my mudguard. A security guard – he was guarding the telecommunications booster aerials- came over with his gun. He asked if I was armed (‘me?!’) and if I’m not scared of the animals. He told me about the elephants and asked if I’m married. He asked how old I was but changed the subject when I asked him back. (I’ve noted that the rude questions people ask me make people uncomfortable when I ask them back. Usually these are about age and how much things cost).

Mishek the security guard.

The road was quiet and I later stopped for a very quick pee by the roadside. I was perhaps too hasty because I looked down at the tarmac and saw lots of ants and then saw they had started running up my legs. It is amazing how quickly you can stop peeing, pull up your shorts and tap dance across a road when ants are swarming up your ankles. I noted the need for more caution in future.

I later saw a very long white snake stretched across the road. I gave it space but saw it was actually alive, which is rare. Seconds later a Honda Civic zoomed along the road and went right over it. Incredibly, the snake continued to be alive, albeit very unhappy! It hastily flayed and folded itself off the road and was gone in a second.

I reached the border for Botswana more quickly than I anticipated. I am again asked if I am not afraid of the animals.

In case you haven’t figured, I bought a selfie stick. Isn’t Biffa looking cool?

Zimbabwe and Botswana seem much more developed than any country on this trip. I did a bit of route planning over a Margherita pizza. Some white local ladies ask me about my journey and I ask them about the animals. They say I’ll be fine if I give them space. A lady called Witmello was selling phone credit, T shirts, bananas and dried grubs in the car park. She helped me register my SIM card and asked if I’m not afraid of the animals. Apparently there was an incident a month ago. A man drove into an elephant in the dark. She insists on taking my number to check that I’m okay.

I’m not scared. Honest.

I paused on the way out of town and took photos of the elephant signs. Then within 10 minutes I saw 2 elephants right by the road. Cars were moving into the other lane to give them a wide berth and I didn’t want to risk passing within a few metres of them. (‘Shitting myself’ again). Luckily I find an escort to act as a shield. I thought I might have been overreacting but he firmly tells me to wait when I thought of pulling ahead of his car. It seems I am indeed afraid of the animals.

It is not wise to cycle at dusk: all the animals come out. It is 3pm and I have 30km to the lodge I intended. Sunset is 5.30 so dusk is maybe 5? Enough time but the campsite could be away from the road, through sand. So I diverted to a nearer lodge, down a bumpy dirt road. It takes half an hour. The lodge is closed.

A local guy tells me of another place. I’d avoided it as the descriptions on my app talk of sand. The guy drives me 4km in his pickup. It turns out it has a watering hole and an ‘elephant hide’ ie bunker to watch the elephants from.

The camp has bright lights around its perimeter but animals may saunter through the camp, should they choose. I am woken by lion roars in the night and then by the cracking of branches as what appears to be a rhino tears down a tree. I am thankful to learn that I have some evolutionary survival instincts present- I won’t sleep through an animal attack- but I’m exhausted the next day.

The next day I see some giraffes as I push my bike through sand and elephant footprints but not much else. I see lots of dik diks. And a man walking with a rifle. And several airstrips which are just widened road.

Hard going.

Botswana involves long distances with nothing. No shops, no houses. Maybe signs pointing out the direction of a farm down a dirt track, often tens or hundreds of kilometres away. The following day I have to cycle either 75km to camp in an enclosure under an antenna or 150km to Elephant Sands campsite.

I soon pass one elephant but wouldn’t have seen it by the bushes had it not noisily ripped a branch apart. Later I can see the antenna a few kilometres away when I see 2 more elephants, one on each side of the road. How to pass them?

There are lots of cars coming towards me so I think perhaps I can pass the elephants at the same time as the traffic passes. I try to slow the oncoming traffic to allow more time but to no avail. The first elephant stares at me. I cross the road to be further away from it (but closer to the second). I find myself quietly narrating this. “Please slow down. Please slow the fuck down” I say to oncoming traffic and wave. The traffic again does not slow. I’m already close to elephant 1 now and it is agitated. I regret my decision to try to pass with oncoming traffic and jump off the bike to turn around to cycle away from the elephant. But it starts running towards me. ‘Fuck.’ The elephant is getting closer. ‘I’m fucking running. I’m fucking running’. It too is running- along the grass on its side of the road. I shout ‘fucking hell!’ as I’m about to drop the bike and run into the bushes. I look back at the elephant, with its trunk raised. But it swerves into the bushes on its side. Perhaps it didn’t like the swearing.

Fuck fuck fuck. That was scary. There is another elephant to pass, a hundred metres up. But a car seems to have stopped beside it. I don’t know where elephant one is but I hope it’s gone. I tentatively cycle up its side of the road as the car waits and I pass without incident. Phew!

I message a relative on my GPS and say I was chased by an elephant. He asks if I offered it a Twiglet. Thanks.

Just before the antenna I stop at a picnic table with an ‘at your own risk’ disclaimer sign beside it. A young guy jumps off a tractor cutting the grass and asks if I know Lawrence. Lawrence cycled through here last week and asked him, Trust, for water when he camped at some abandon buildings further up. Trust is nice and I offer him raisins (my fast food lunch). He tells me they saw a lion chasing a baby elephant nearby yesterday. I decide not to stay at the antenna. It’s only 11.30 and elephants and lions are here. I draw his picture though.

After that I stop traffic to escort me every time I see an elephant. So a further 3 times. Some trucks do not want to stop but I’m desperate and won’t let them pass, standing in the road like I’m facing down a bulldozer. When I explain they say ‘of course!’ like they hadn’t just driven right up to me angrily waving me off the road and flashing headlights. People generally don’t shout at me in Botswana. I was asked for money twice when I cycled through a village to the closed lodge. I get the occasional ‘hi’ from roadside labourers and I get waves from bored truckers. One truck was filming me cycling and another stopped me to ask why he saw so many cyclists. But generally people are indifferent to me- I enjoy this peace but it means I can’t rely upon people to stop their cars or help me enthusiastically as before. Always pros and cons.

I note that my target is Elephant Sands. It’s the only place. I read the reviews as I cycle. To summarise- it’s elephants everywhere. Fuck. I need to get there asap before the elephants congregate at the watering hole at dusk.

I’m thundering along, a mere 2km to go, when I see an elephant. Balls. A trucker stops graciously. He insists on loading my bike on. As we pass the elephant it stares at me obviously. “See! He was waiting for you!” says the trucker. I bloody know!

The trucker offloads me by the sign for Elephant Sands. “How are you going to get down there if there are elephants?” I have absolutely no idea.

A poor choice for those with elephant-phobia

The 1km track is bumpy to start and my bags rattle a lot. I can see the lodge but the track circles around the back of it. There are elephants in front of it. Fuck. There are intermittent bushes beside the track. I see an elephant about 15 metres away, eyeing me up. Fuck. Keep going! A bush separates us. My pannier bag falls off then and I have to stop and reattach it, hoping that the bush is giving me cover and the elephant does not inquire further. Then my bike gets stuck in the sand and I have to push. Fuck. I’m going to be killed by an elephant 200 metres from the lodge. I push on and don’t look back. I see a woman walking down the track and think that she’s come to help but she heads off down a separate track. I push on and finally I get to the lodge. I tell them I’ve come to the wrong place and I’ve had enough of the elephants. I pay the extra not to camp. Despite stories that elephants are good at avoiding tents, I want to sleep and not care about animals in the night.

The people at the lodge are nice. South Africans seem to immediately invite me to stay with them, although they are a few thousand miles off route.

One worker, Doffman, tells me he’s an elephant whisperer and he’s told the elephants to be kind to me. Still, he accompanies me back and forth to my hut, as elephants wander in between them. His whispering may have worked as the next day I see only one elephant crossing the road in the distance. I wait 5 minutes before I proceed and there is no sign of it.

I message a cyclist internet-friend who did this trip before and ask about elephants. He tells me his travel companion doesn’t like elephants very much after being chased by them. I know exactly how he feels!

Big skies. No nellies.

Day 111: the Zambia journey

It’s a sign.

I have had some serious love for Zambia from the minute I arrived. The first town, Chipata, had cycle lanes! Strangely it had very limited coffee options, and it seems coffee isn’t really a thing here.

Huts are a thing here.

One reason I am enjoying Zambia is that few people ask me for money. Children are often very excited but they shout “how are you?” – sometimes politely, sometimes like a chant, sometimes frenetically. But, whether Malawian kids meant it or not, hearing “HOW ARE YOU?! HOW ARE YOU?! HOW ARE YOU?!” is undeniably better for your psyche than “GIVE ME MONEY! GIVE ME MONEY! GIVE ME MONEY!” At one point a child grabbed my arm as I cycled past- I think he just wanted to touch the mzungu.

I’ve noticed the kids will happily yell ‘how are you?’ from a distance but are often very shy. These boys were very giggly when I tried to talk to them or show them the pictures. But when I cycled off they got loud!

As for the adults, lots of people are still excited to see me and want to be my penpal (one guy actually asked to be ‘my penpal’). But generally people are fairly indifferent to me. Having lived in London pretty much for 10 years where people don’t make eye contact, this is approaching my comfort zone. Yet there is a long way before Zambians scowl like they are on the tube. I do still get lots of lovely gestures. For example, I met Dembo Jonathan, a young guy who ran across the road to the bore hole to pump water for me, just to be kind.

I bought a hat for 75p. It blew off twice in 5 mins so I left it behind.

Lots of people speak English too which makes my life a lot easier. On day 2 in Zambia I met Andrew, a British man who grew up here. Chewa is his first language. He had some excellent stories and I plan to feed him whisky in Poole to hear more of these stories. He gave me a tour of the hospital for which he runs a charitable trust and I got very excited by the solar panel array (once a boater, always a boater).

Andrew and Annie

Bicycle taxis are still prevalent, which I like. Bicycle haulage is also still common. The place is affirming my vegetation status. I see lots of pigs and goats tied down on planks of wood across the back of a bicycle or motorbike, gasping and bewildered under the ropes.

Stopping for tomboowa (aka mandazi aka doughnuts). As a vegetarian I’m eating lots of these and boiled eggs. But I went to the pharmacy yesterday for Bilharzia medicine and the pharmacist weighed me. Neither of us could believe how much I weighed. She made me do it again. So I think I need to lay off the tomboowa.

I didn’t take a break from cycling for 10 days and I’m running low on time so today I am cheating on a bus. I’d heard this part of the route was boring. The bus has been interesting. The people at the terminal were friendly and it didn’t feel like an African-Dickensian scene of vagrancy and cut and thrust. I was told I need a Scottish flag at the front of my bike. I’ve had offers to buy my bike- these men know how to charm me! The bus was, of course, 45 minutes late to depart and then later further delayed as it was too heavy. People were told to move from the back to the front.

Nice road. Big sky.

Zambia is noticeably wealthier than Malawi. There are many new 4x4s, and they are far from being driven only by NGOs and white people. The roads are in better condition, although a lot of this is from EU funding, according to the signs.

Nice road. Thanks EU!

But there is still terrible poverty. As I encountered a bit of road the EU is yet to resurface, a baby sat on the ground under a twiggy shelter as her mother threw dirt into the potholes for tips from passing cars. I just thought: I want to give her money. I want to give her money. I want to give her money. I had just had a conversation with a Zambian campsite owner who said that kids don’t go to school if they learn they can sit by the road and get money. But I wanted to give her money. And maybe I should have. Some missionaries gave me £50 the night before- the cash machine was too far to cycle and they told me just to pay it forward. I said I’ll pay it back but I should really do both.

That’s Mozambique on the other side. I paid £25 for this place, but I had bad vibes from the £4 place in the village. And some overlanders had their car broken into there.

A minute or so later I saw a boy of perhaps 7. It’s 8.30. He was by the road with a shovel, digging up dirt for the potholes. He was not at school.

I thought about this for a long time until I was snapped out of it by having to avoid a man who was avoiding a speeding overtaking car. I wonder if the signs of donations from the EU or from USAid enforce a dichotomy of rich and poor, global north and south. But mainly what happened to the people who used to fill those holes that don’t exist now?

A rare photo of my love being very clean, serviced and nearly naked. She got an upgrade to carry 4.5L of water instead of 2.25L so I can stop less to refill and/or carry more. I think this will be important in Botswana and Namibia

The road was rolling and the scenery was wholesome until Luangwa Bridge where it began to roll upwards more and more. I reminded myself frequently that I need to be as fit as possible for the forthcoming Elephant Highway in Botswana, where there will be no stopping for long distances because of animals and lack of water, so uphill is good. Lorries seemed to regularly break down on the hills. The drivers would indicate the upcoming hazard with broken branches strewn across the lane for several hundred metres, sometimes snaking around a bend, before their truck where their feet might be sticking out from under the cabin. There was often no hard shoulder or little lane for me or walkers.

Luangwa Bridge. The Luangwa flows into the Zambezi.
Did I mention there were hills?

After a morning of uphill, the road finally began to wind down the mountain. This should have been joy and elation, my reward. But after a couple of bends I saw an accident. “This is new”, I thought. The lorry was on its side with its engine running still but an oncoming bus had stopped and people were trying to get the driver out of the cabin and many more people were filming on their phones. I stopped too as I have a first aid kit.

I’m not sure what to say about this accident. The following hour was a weird and confused and messed up. There was a lot of blood. I did put bandages on the driver’s head and told him he was lucky but his head was swelling and I heard he later had stitches and spent the night in hospital. As I was about to leave, a man told me the driver had eventually remembered the split seconds of him going off the road. “Are you sure? Under the truck? Under the truck? Are you sure?” The lorry had destroyed the crash barrier and, with its shipping container cargo, it had ploughed the earth and everything and someone were furrowed into the dirt, with the bright sun and shattered earth making all objects undeterminable from each other. The driver was squatting with his head in his hands. A woman was sobbing in the crowd.

Eventually I left. It felt wrong to leave. Only two men remained, sifting through the detritus from the cab. Blankets and charger cables and boots.

At the bottom of the hill there was a town. Reassuringly it had a hospital. People called out ‘how are you?’ and I gave them my invariable reply: “I’m good, thanks. How are you?” I called it a day soon afterwards.

The next day I got up really early to try to make up some mileage. It was another day of climbing with one particular hill to start with that took nearly 2 hours. At the top I realised I hadn’t seen my waterproof coat when packing that morning. I stopped and checked my bag. It wasn’t there. It was an expensive coat that took a lot of research and a small expedition by 2 people to get so this really annoyed me. I deliberated going back even though I was sure I’d checked my guesthouse properly. I knew it wasn’t there but, just in case, I went back.

The lady from the guest house looked very different on her way to church. She had her best hair and sunglasses on and looked like a backing singer in the 60s. Wonderful. But the raincoat was not there. I think that means someone lifted it from my bike when I stopped at the accident. I’d pulled things out of my pannier bag to reach the first aid kit. I’d taken a photo of my bike in front of the lorry before I realised how bad it was so I looked to see if I’d left it on the ground. But no, it wasn’t there. Sigh.

At that point I decided to take a bus. I realised I hadn’t taken a full day off for 10 days and doing that hill once was enough. I actually hoped to flag down a truck to see where they took me- there were some hot springs with very mixed reviews 50km further on. I stood there with my bike while the odd pick up driver ignored me (disbenefits of people being indifferent to you) and then I spotted 2 bikes coming towards me. I could see they weren’t local as they had low pannier bags. It felt very strange to have my first encounter with other touring cyclists on the road.

Small town guest house. Bucket shower. Zambia is expensive but I think I got ripped off by paying £5. I suspect the only real price is £3 or £4.

Madlaina and Domenic are Swiss cyclists who have been on the road for a year. They went around Europe, including in the snow. Madlaina is a physiotherapist and gave me a consultation on my back – I had misjudged my footing and sort of fell over the day before, while stopping my bike. (I’d also been bitten by an ant in the shower that morning so maybe I should have taken the day off at that point!).

Pit stop before parting.

I remembered to actually do my drawing project and drew Madlaina. Here’s the link.

https://eilidhonabike.wordpress.com/words-of-wanderers/

We then parted ways and I took a bus to Lusaka. They waved at my bus while slogging up the hill. They welcomed me to cycle with them but they will be 3 weeks behind me because I’ve done 600km on a bus and they do meandering routes which sound dreamy. Yet time means I have to compromise and focus on certain things.

Lunch stop outside a church.

In the coming days I will see Victoria Falls – one of my objectives. I will meet the generous missionaries at their base which overlooks the gorge. And in the days after that, things are going to get wild on the Elephant Highway m. Zambia is brilliant. It is not Disneyland, I recognise, (but as Faulkner wrote “only an idiot has no grief, only a fool would forget it”). But life feels big and robust and fragile and precious. Good stuff.

Roadside shopping options. Plastic free.

Day 103: Goodbye Malawi, hello Zambia

These kids did not ask for money and some of them ran for at least 10 minutes beside me. Some serious runners in the making!

I left Malawi this morning and can really feel differences between Malawi and Zambia, not least that Zambia seems much wealthier. And much more indifferent to me being here. I heard a woman teaching her child how to greet me. “Hello!” this tiny girl called to me. There were children begging at the border but since then no child has asked me for money. There has been no excitement nor huge stumbling blown kisses (- that guy made me laugh).

This is a mandazi, like a doughnut, and you can buy them from women with buckets by the roadside for 5-10p. With peanut butter I think they are good for cycling energy/ ensuring I don’t lose weight.

In Malawi I sometimes felt like the queen and sometimes like a dancing bear as I passed through or stopped in towns. A celebrity or an oddity. Or sometimes like a temperamental ATM with all the demands for money. It was similar in Tanzania although generally less acutely but more aggressively.

Shy friends

I was invited for dinner by a military civil engineer the other day. He had trained with the US Marines and with the Chinese army. I asked how they compared and he said they were both good in different ways. I was impressed by his diplomacy. He said he wasn’t sure Malawi was ready for democracy and the leaders are greedy. Although he didn’t think a dictatorship would necessarily be better.

I was eating egg and chips opposite this stall when I met the engineer. I did not buy any of this poor goat.

I do hear snippets about corruption and poor management, such as when I was being flung about in the back of a 4×4 across a national park (no cycling allowed so I flagged a lift). Seemingly the contractor had run off with the money to fix the road. (But before any Brits feel superior, don’t forget how much we paid for electronic tags that never existed, for example, or the regular scandals and inquiries we have, like Cash for Questions).

Corn drying by the road. This explains the gritty cornbread you can buy in buckets by the roadside

I often wondered about the ‘give me money’ calls- if it ever worked. Strangely I did hear of a couple of examples. One was a woman who gave out about $400 on a beach. The guest house owners had to ask her to stop because the next day most of the nearby village was waiting on the beach and people were being followed around. I gave some peanuts to some kids who helped me pump water and then remembered I am hardly helping the ‘mzungu = free things’ image. Hopefully peanuts are boring enough that no mzungus will be followed about for nuts!

The well before the kids arrived.

People ask me about accommodation a lot. One of the particularly nice things about Malawi is that, perhaps because it is small and has a fairly well worn route down the lake for overland travellers, it has a handful of really lovely places to stay which cater very well to foreigners. Hammocks, beach huts, fire-baths, granola, coffee without chicory. You may find yourself playing Uno with a Colombian, an Israeli and a Swiss. Some are rustic and magical, some are like beach paradises, some feel a bit colonial, having gin and tonic sundowners overlooking a jungle. (My last post had some pictures of these places).

Lots of companies Inc pharmaceutical companies are selling and demonstrating seeds. I’m sure this is perfectly fine…

In between these, there are many places that people, like the engineer I met, call “local accommodation”.

In between those you can wild camp or blag a place. I posted about this on Facebook/Instagram – I rarely wild camp these days as there is a high likelihood of being found, but I did stay at a school. Cyclists often end up sleeping in schools and churches but I usually find a cheap place, knowing that I value peace and privacy and can spare $5. However I very much enjoyed my stay at a missionary place in Tanzania. The nuns were so impressed with my tent and sleeping mat. From my recent school experience I learned that I should choose schools carefully – ideally one set out of the village. This is because camping in the classroom was effectively putting myself in a zoo to entertain the local kids. I started out being friendly, saying hello, how are you, but then I tried to hide in the tent to eat some biscuits in peace. As with trying to get a good look at a small mammal in the zoo, the kids weren’t having this. They wanted me out of my hidey hole to entertain them so were banging on the bars, shouting and throwing corn at the tent. Luckily the kid who knew and was willing to demonstrate how to say ‘madam, give me money. Give me bananas’, left after maybe half an hour and the rest left at dark. But at 0440 there was some terrible clanging alarm of metal whacking a fire hydrant or similar. I can’t say it was a peaceful experience.

My tent and Biffa in the school. I upgraded to a ‘freestanding’ (ie doesn’t need pegs to stay up) tent at fairly considerable expense just before I started my trip. It was a good purchase.

The next evening I was in “local accommodation”. It was called the ‘Awesome Lodge’ which – like counties which have ‘Democratic’ in their name- was an indication that it would be the opposite of awesome. The Awesome Lodge was £2 ($3ish). The main difficulty was the language barrier between me and the manager.

I found that all the usually self-explanatory ‘self-contained’ (en-suite) accommodation was taken. I don’t mind shared bathrooms though.

But this local accommodation was quite a challenge. First off the room had no mosquito net and the window had chicken wire on it, no glass, so I could be reassured that no birds would come in, but there is quite a lot of wildlife smaller than a bird. This meant I was going to have to put my tent up on the bed.

I asked where the showers were and the manager showed me. But there weren’t showers in the cubicles! Ah, so it’s bucket wash. Again, I didn’t mind this, but I wanted to get up early in the morning and didn’t want to have to rely upon finding someone to bring me a bucket of water. The school experience was looking a lot better now.

So…where’s the bucket? And the tap? I did a lot of miming to try to convey these queries and then tried to explain that I wanted a shower now. The manager went off up a ladder to the water tank in the yard to turn it on. He filled up the bucket and started summoning me back to the shower area. But I didn’t mean ‘now now’. My bike and things were still in the parking area and I needed my soap, towel and clothes.

After the mountains there was wide open space and big skies.

At this point both the manager and I were getting quite frustrated so he called another guest to translate. I asked if there was another B&B but apparently they, a mile or so away, are worse. He may have just been saying that but did I want to risk it?

Then the owner arrived. I asked if there were a room with an actual window to keep even a few mosquitoes out. Apparently not. I joked about getting malaria for free. I looked at the next room and it had a mosquito net. Fine, fine, I’ll stay.

Strangely the owner offered me another room shortly afterwards but by that point I was unpacked and ready to wash.

The bucket of water was nice and warm at least. But the drain was blocked so bits of leaves or something started coming up. I was very glad to be wearing thick soled sandals.

I then cooked dinner in my room full of mosquitos. I acquired several angry bites. I blocked up the window with my towel and wondered if the beetles on the bed were new arrivals or existing residents. Eventually the paying residents stopped yelling outside at around midnight. Awesome!

At 5am they started up again but I was snoozing when I got a knock at the door at 6am. Where is the bucket? It turns out there was only one bucket!

My room. Spot the coveted bucket!

I learned quite early on in my travels to check the water situation before agreeing to take a room – actually turning on the tap and waiting for hot water if it’s been promised. I was stung once when I paid more than anticipated, thinking the hot water would be a treat. It was, of course, once I was naked that I found out that the room didn’t have hot water, and I had to get dressed and find the manager to learn that, actually, the hot water would come in a bucket on request, so in about half an hour. I said I wanted another bucket at 6am and she kept asking me to text her this at 5am. “But I’m telling you now…?”

Here’s a prickly cucumber. It was good. It cost 10p

Despite these lessons, yesterday I managed to have a place with no water at all. After 3 hours of ‘just a few minutes’ I asked for my money back. I would have tolerated it but started to fear there would be none in the morning either. The manager had told me that something was broken but later claimed it was the whole town without water. This guest house was actually about £9- quite pricey- and I no longer believed it would be a few minutes and felt I could sit in my dried sweat at less cost. Luckily, as it was dark and leaving involved quite a rutted dirt track, I found a place not far. It had hot water and was £3 cheaper.

rural scenes

We will see what Zambia has to offer in terms of accommodation (and everything else). I’m told that I’ll have to wild camp, or rather seek permission , as there are long stretches without accommodation or camp sites. So I’ve treated myself to another $10 room.

My $10 room in Chipata, Zambia. haven’t put the mosquito net down yet…

Day 96: Malawi (“money money money”)

Back in 2008 I spent a week in Malawi. It was my favourite country for a while, later usurped by Japan. It was awesome! I had my birthday here and I remember the backpackers made me a cake and then we went into the town and I kept upsetting all local guys in the bar by beating them at pool, despite not being able to see straight. They were clearly trying too hard.

Acacia I think. Or baobab?

In 2008 I was asked exactly one time for money. People would ask me why I’d come to Malawi. I took a coach back to Tanzania and sat on a bag of rice in the aisle for about 12 hours while the guy behind me glared at me. I occupied myself through the night with Solitaire on my beloved iPod Classic 160gb (best gadget ever).

I liked this.

After about 8 hours, the bag of rice under me moved. It turns out that the guy’s foot was beneath it. I was so impressed that he didn’t say anything.

The Tanzania-Malawi border hadn’t changed much to my recollection. Back then the coach stopped overnight and some women wouldn’t let me sleep on the bus- ‘too many mosquitoes’ – so I stayed with them in a £1 room. There is a better fence now: In 2008 customs took all day so I, along with everyone else, went through a hole in the fence. I spent the day drinking with Mozambican reggae musicians who’d just played Zanzibar music festival. There are some photos somewhere of me looking terrible in one of their big Rastafarian hats that they insisted I tried on.

Lots of things are relatively expensive as it’s a land-locked country (except the lake!). But avocados and bananas are cheap. About 25p for 4 bananas and an avocado.

This time I found that you can now buy icecream from a man with a cool bag and there is a competitive market for SIM cards. There was significant sitting about waiting for the visa so I valued these services.

I generally draw a crowd. Sometimes people just watch me in silence.

I proceeded into Malawi and found some big differences – perhaps due to the mode of transport. The first thing that struck me was the kids shouting ‘money money money’ and/or ‘give me money!’ This has been near relentless, although sometimes it will abate for an hour or an afternoon where I’ll hear ‘azungu’ or ‘mzungu’ – foreigner/white person. Someone told me their Malawian friend grew up thinking ‘give me money’ was just how you greeted foreigners, akin to hello. It’s generally good natured although I can’t say it’s peaceful.

School’s out

The road was flat for a long time on the way to Lake Malawi and there were lots of people on bikes. I had some nice chats with men on bikes. Some would say ‘my destination was back there, I’m just escorting you.’

I didn’t give him my number.

My favourite cyclist of perhaps the whole trip was the guy I cycled up behind while he was singing Celine Dion. I asked if he wanted to sing together and we did a little karaoke (I now have Spotify Premium) as we pedalled to ‘My Heart Will Go On’. Ah, the global language of Celine Dion.

I’ve got to be honest- neither of us could sing. But much fun was had.

On day 2 the rain was following me about and I took shelter under a tree. Luke invited me in to his home until the rain stopped and his family gave me corn and peanuts they’d grown. He told me that white people are stronger and that Africans couldn’t cycle across a whole country. I disagreed – I couldn’t cycle about with sacks of charcoal or bales of bananas. We just have better bikes- with gears! After he pushed my bike to the road he agreed that my bike was indeed making it easier.

Luke was lovely!
Luke’s family – mum, siblings and cousins

In 2008 I remember seeing hand drawn flyers for a place called ‘the Mushroom Farm’, but only when I was leaving. It’s now turned into one of the top rated eco lodges in Malawi. It’s almost at Livingstonia, a town at the top of the hill, founded by Scottish missionaries. I’m in touch with some cyclists I met in Kampala who asked if it was worth the road up- I said I’d find out. I expected something a bit steep but, it turns out, it was one of the most painful roads I’ve seen. In my life.

I arrived at the turn off at 5pm, after cycling 90km through headwind and getting measured up by a tailor for a shirt. I thought I’d have 2 hours before dark to do the 10km. But the clocks had moved forward for Malawi so I had less than an hour. Being very stubborn I pushed on, irritated by the man at the start of the road who wanted to give me a lengthy spiel about how time was against me (I know! Let me get on with it!) and how I have different options: a car (£33! Wow!), a motorbike (won’t fit!), a guide (but you can’t miss it!) or I’ll get robbed (I was later told that one guy was robbed once and the perpetrators were jailed).

Yeah this got way worse and it hurt.

It took me just over an hour to do 3km. There was sand. There were ruts. There were rocks and boulders and rubble. It was winding and vertical. I managed to cycle the odd 100 metres. I was dripping with sweat – more than usual – with a lot of shin-bashing on the pedals. My arms hurt. The moon was blood orange and gorgeous though.

The fat blue squiggle is basically chicanes up the face of the hill side. And no, it didn’t take 21 mins.

So I gave up! A motorbike taxi came down the hill and I stopped him. We agreed it would need 2 runs but he didn’t have enough fuel. He said he would come back. ‘You promise you’ll come back?’ I asked him about 6 times before he left. I could have gone with him but didn’t want to leave Biffa.

He came back! With a friend. It took a long time to get Biffa strapped on his friend’s bike but we got there. Once on the back of the bike and sitting behind him but being thunked up and down over rock and rubble, the faint breeze made the driver’s booze reek quite obvious. But I’m alive.

Biffa’s trauma.

Upon arrival I had to push my bike down umpteen steps and gulleys to the eco lodge which sprawled across the steep hillside. I was somewhat displeased. They’d kept dinner aside for me though and I soon lightened up, enough that some NGO workers invited me to play board games with them. I also saw some cyclists, one of whom I’d met in Zanzibar. I asked them (and everyone else) how they’d got up the hill. They’d stayed at a campsite at the bottom first and then it took over 3 hours. They also carried their heavy things in backpacks which stops some of the wheel spinning.

So- was the ecolodge worth it?

Absolutely! It was a really magical place.

Fire bath at the Mushroom Farm.
Sunset from my bath overlooking Lake Malawi and Mozambique.
Yoga (or Pilates in my case) from the treetops

Some people there had visited a tea plantation. Apparently plantation workers are paid by how much tea they pick. It is often under the minimum was of $1.20 a day. The other option is making charcoal which is reportedly brutal and desperate. In Uganda I heard that breaking rocks is modern slavery too. I see many people sitting by the roadside chipping at rocks with hammers.

I was advised to continue up the hill rather than head down. After 30km of steep hills and dusty tracks it became a dreamy plateau, overlooked by mountains. I continued on for 60km.

Weeee downhill. Yay!
A bit dusty.
Did enjoy this bit. My pictures don’t show how lovely it was.

I stopped at a slightly larger town at a junction and bought a soda (about 40p) and a large drinking yoghurt (about £1.20). As a vegetarian, yoghurt is a favourite way to get protein. I stood outside by the stalls and started on the soda. A woman came over with a plastic cup and says “give me!” Instinctively in response to this blunt request I say no. “Give me!” she demands, and the laughter of her friends at the stalls selling dried fish gets louder. It feels like some kind of bet or joke, with me at the centre. This is uncomfortable.

I shake my head and she starts to squat down to the ground, raising the cup above her head. “Give me!” The laughter reverberates around me. I don’t know what to do and turn away, downing the soda and then returning the glass bottle. I don’t want to acquiesce- I don’t think it should be normal to demand things and receive them from foreigners, especially so intimidatingly, whether intended or not. I feel humiliated. As I cycle off, some other women have stoney faces and look like they do not want to be associated with the fish sellers.

I mull this over and I am reminded of a scene in a book I’d just finished. “He only knew that they behaved as if they’d been insulted. In fact they had been. They looked with hatred at the city Negro who could buy a car as if it were a bottle of whiskey because the one he has was broken. And what’s more, who had said so in front of them”. (Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon)

I don’t think there was any hatred. But I’d just spent more than a day’s pay on a yoghurt. Perhaps I can deal with some ridicule.

In general though, people have been kind and respectful. I am called ‘madam’, ‘sister’ and ‘mama’. A woman walking with sticks on her head and a machete in her hand called me ‘teacher’. The kids who yell ‘give me money’ are generally just excited. Some bolshy children pushed me and Biffa up a hill, which I quite enjoyed.

Lunch stop. They did ask for money.
Good sunsets on the lake.

Biffa is a bit unhappy in Malawi, probably from the trauma of being strapped to the back of a motorbike. I got a mechanic to straighten her bent chainring but stopped him when he tried to take the pedal crank arm off by hitting it with a hammer. I don’t know how to take it off but I’m confident that is not the way. A Swiss woman I cycled with for a day (and then had a quest for perfect avocados) had gone to the same mechanic earlier. I fixed her brakes and gears as we left the town. Unsurprisingly due to their absence, people don’t know how to do gears here. A man tried to help me when I was tweaking the gears despite me repeatedly saying no. It was kind of him but I could have turned the pedal myself without using the wodge of (scarce) wet wipes he took for his hands.

Biffa’s chain ring woes.
2 new hobbies! One is picking wire out of my tyres. The other is trying to scrub my hands.

Strangely I have had 3 flat tyres in 2 days. My tyres are near bomb proof so this is weird. The punctures have been in different wheels – so it’s not the same wire stuck in the tyres. With the last one I’d hoped it just needed more air but I checked last night and the tyre is going down. So I’m taking yet another day off today to give Biffa some TLC. It is nothing to do with being at a beach paradise…

Ngala Beach Lodge. About 100m from my chalet.
Ngala Beach Lodge. So very lush. My accommodation alternates between Trainspotting and paradise.

At the moment I have 3 objectives for my trip. 1. To see Victoria Falls. 2. To dance in the desert in Namibia and 3. Meet my mate roughly on time in Cape Town. I had been tempted to head to a festival in the south and then cross to Victoria Falls via Mozambique and Zimbabwe but I don’t have time for this route. I’m not sure I have time for beach paradise sojourns either but hopefully Biffa will forgive me for a few more buses…

Yeah I’m looking smug but if it helps a mosquito bit me on the chin seconds later.

Day 87: goodbye again Tanzania!

The rainy season caught up with me

It has been glorious to get back on my bike after 2 weeks’ holiday from my adventure (holiday). Part of my enthusiasm could be due to a 16 hour bus journey that made me dream of Megabus zen. (‘Megabus zen’ is a real concept after 16 hours of loud songs, mainly about Jesus).

The food is better than Megabus though. Except the goat kebabs. They smell nasty.

Yes, after a month or so in Tanzania as part of a 6 month trip, it was time to leave so I cheated and took a bus from Dar to Mbeya, 120km from the Malawi border. (I still blame TSB for wasting several days.)

The journey out of Mbeya started quite unpleasantly with an irritating gauntlet of potholes and trucks. Luckily I planned only a short day. I had decided to take the busier but less direct route in order to see Lake Ngosi, the second largest crater lake in Africa.

Rush hour traffic

When I was finally able to look up from the road hazards, I noted that the mist was low and thick, but beyond it, there were glimpsed patches of the hills in clear sunlight. This was an impressive effect – nature throwing titbits of treats at me.

I headed up those hills and the day cleared. It was sunny and pastoral; tractors in the fields, black soil. I was told in Uganda that black soil is the best for bananas and this trivia was affirmed by road stalls full of them. As I pushed on up the hill an older man tried to talk to me. He asked if I was going to South Africa so presumably had encountered cyclists on this route before. He then said ‘give me telephone’ and pointed. I laughed and told him I needed that, and cycled off. Shortly afterwards a couple of kids asked me for money but it seems like they may be the last in Tanzania. Since then I’ve had just ‘hello’s, ‘mzungu! Hey!’ and a lot of thumbs up. (My preferred interaction with passers-by is the unobtrusive solidarity of the thumbs up with a smile).

This was before the rain. I took the high road.

As I pulled off the main road to head to the lake it suddenly smelled like Scotland – pine trees. I negotiated a couple of flooded patches on the road with varied success and arrived at the gate for the lake with wet feet. The guard gives me an entry permit for $10. I ask if I can leave my bike there but he says to take it to the campsite 2 kilometres up, where the hike will start. I hadn’t intended to camp but thought perhaps it would be worth checking out.

Eucalyptus?

Pushing the bike is hard. The track is overgrown and some of it is flooded in the wheel ruts beneath the undergrowth. There is a tree down and vines tangled around it are strung across the path like someone doesn’t want people to pass. Perhaps the monkeys who are watching me and crashing about gracelessly. Tsetse flies and mosquitoes do want me there, and swarm me when I pause. And some of the flooded galleys are deep – stagnant brown water leaves tide-lines on my pannier bags. Branches stick in my wheels, twigs in my brakes. Each obstacle becomes further exemplar of the sunk cost fallacy: “I’ve come this far… “

It then begins to rain, heavily. It’s a shower, surely? I think a lot about whether to leave the bike, but, again, I’ve come this far… I decide I’ll camp if the rain stops.

Eventually I reach the campsite. It took about an hour and a half. The campsite is a small clearing in the jungle with a sign. Mosquitoes are joined by bees to explore me as I eat biscuits for lunch under the relative cover of forest trees. The bees are drawn to my yellow pannier bag.

Biffa in the campsite

The hike begins and immediately I find the path flooded and overgrown. I often need to push back ferns and fronds and squeaky banana leaves to find it. I plough on – more sunk cost – climbing up mud and roots, sometimes where the path has fallen away down the hillside. At times I have to pull myself up muddy banks by grabbing banana leaf stalks. Everything is soggy. My legs are scratched and cut and I have mulch in my hiking sandals. Leaves stick to me, to my coat, to my shorts. The rain persists, often getting heavier before waning slightly.

The view for most of the hike

I start to get fed up. How much further? How much further?

Nearly there, nearly there, I tell myself – until suddenly I am.

Is this it?

It bloody well is!

The path goes no further and the dense forest has suddenly stopped- for a moment. It overlooks a vast white space – the lake is down there – but all there is to see is wet whiteness.

Thwarted!

I’m not going to claim to be some kind of Lear on a quest for his dues, but wanton gods do play us for their sport. And it’s bloody funny sometimes!

The view over Lake Ngosi

To prove this point, on the way down, I fall in the mud about three times in one minute – but comedy falls, like Laurel and Hardy with banana skins – that type of fall.

I collect my bike – the bike pushing is easier downhill – obviously – and the stagnant pools have become part of a network of flowing streams. At times it is knee deep. There are no longer any prissy concerns about trying not to get wet or muddy.

Wet bike-pushing

The guard is long gone ( perhaps why he wanted me to take the bike with me ). The gravel road through the forest seems a luxury now, with a few fords to cross. It’s knee deep in places and I think of those videos of foolhardy cyclists fording streams. Here we are – I am them now.

The rain lulls to a drizzle as I leave. Typical! I deliberate stopping in the next village – people are sheltering everywhere though – awnings and stalls are rammed. The men trying to sell snacks to coach passengers are still out and a man desperately rams a stick with spears of corn at me. I keep going.

But the rain starts again – remarkably heavily. The road goes from wet to flooded – A stream is flowing exactly where I should be cycling – and there is no hard shoulder. Can bicycles aquaplane?

I quickly find my brakes don’t have any effect now and I can barely stop with my feet. This is dangerous! I may have mentioned that bicycles are expected to get out the way, even if that means throwing yourself off the road. But I can’t brake! Plus visibility is poor.

So I walk. The stream kindly deposit stones and detritus in my shoes. I regret not stopping earlier. To note – it’s about 4.30. I only have about 5 miles to the town with guest houses. It gets dark around 6.30. So I stop. I spot a truck parked by a building with people in the doorway – perhaps I can get a lift. I head over. It’s actually a small barn with mounds of corn covering the floor and spilling out of the door. There are about five children, from about 3 to 8 years old, sitting on the mounds and shelling corn. Half filled buckets of kernels lie about haphazardly. I’m invited to shelter and stand awkwardly in the doorway for a few minutes before I remember there were more people – possibly a shop – behind. It seems to be a house though. As I leave, the man points to the building across the road. I think he’s telling me it’s a bar. I look over tentatively but I’m turning to leave when he appears and summons me in.

There is a baby, perhaps nine months old, in a tub of hot water by the door. A young woman and two boys sit on stools around a fire on the floor, feeding it slowly with long branches which are piled over by the wall. Under the branches are hundreds of cornhusks. The smoke drifts out of the darkness through a paneless window. The man puts a stool by the fire for me.

They say few words to me and I tell them – I think – in Swahili that I’m going to Rungwe. The stares slowly diminish and instead they look into the fire, occasionally pushing the thin branches further into the flames.

I hadn’t realised how cold I was. I can’t feel my feet. Steam is coming off my legs and clothes.

The baby in the tub waves away chicks as they scratch around him. The rain gets quieter on the tin roof.

If I stay too long it will be dark. Do I want to sleep here? I’m on my period so probably not. I need privacy and a shower. So I make for the door. “Asante sana”- thank you. “Karibu sana”- you’re welcome. They have been very kind to let a foreign stranger sit by their fire.

The rain has not lulled after all. I try to stop buses but they are full, so I walk again. It will keep me warm. Although the stream keeps washing stones and debris into my shoes.

I stop at a vacant stall and join a family and several motorbike taxi drivers sheltering there. They gesture for me to bring my bike in too but it will take up too much space. I watch the road and can see the haze of rain still splashing upwards several inches above the tarmac. Full buses with steamed up windows go by. Some empty pick ups pass. Trucks struggle slowly up the hill.

I’m getting cold again – I must leave. I’m swiftly in luck though – a small motorbike pick-up stops – it’s a family with two kids. Then the rain does actually ease. When we reach Rungwe they are keen to take me to the exact place and to unload my things carefully. There is no hint or suggestion of payment but I’m grateful – and I know petrol is almost £1 a gallon. I give them £2.

Pastoral scenes

My guesthouse is owned by a retired soldier, special forces. The manager brings him to escort me to find dinner but the rain has started again. I say I’ll stay in and eat my biscuits. Instead I have dinner with Wilfred, the owner. His English is good. He tells me China has changed since Mau and asks why am cycling. He doesn’t charge me when I ask how much I owe for dinner. It’s often hard to know if I should ask or not.

I bought a bowl of these mushrooms for about 35p

Today there are showers and it’s overcast (great for cycling) before the weather warms me ( too much for my skin’s liking!) There are rolling hills and beautiful views over valleys of tea plantations and banana farms. It’s Good Friday and the churches play loud music as people amble towards them in beautiful bright dresses. I get many thumbs up and big smiles. A police officer calls me dada nzuri – strong woman – as Tanzanian police officers are wont to do. I buy chanterelles from a woman under a tree while other villagers gather. I see a man with an overstuffed two seater sofa on his motorbike. I later see three men together in a convoy, each with two seater sofas on the back of their motorbikes. I am impressed.

I think my pictures don’t do Justice to how lovely it was today
A wee video of the view.

After a nice 60 km with many stops for photos I get to the border town. I learn how to get photos off an iPhone and onto a PC and print my (possibly last) PCR test. A man whose shop does wiring of electrical gizmos does not have a wire stripper but he tests my dynamo wires. I think it has water in the regulator but hopefully it will dry out. He doesn’t want payment – I think he enjoyed showing his knowledge to his apprentices or whoever the lads were.

Carrot washing in the river

There is a fete or similar – probably for Easter. People watch singing choreographed groups from a roadside embankment. A huge conga line forms in front of the stage. I sway a bit to the music – I’d love to dance – but I’m not in the mood to be watched. So when the security man comes and tells me it’s not safe by the roadside where I’m standing (with others) and to go further in I take this as my cue to go and cook my mushrooms.

Free cassava from a lady selling green oranges that I didn’t want

I needed a break, and then I needed my bike. Sometimes things can seem both too much and yet not enough. But at the moment they seem just right. Things are going well. Thank you, Tanzania. And so the adventure continues.

Indeed, it is very nice.

Uganda is done! Short but sweet!

Biffa crosses Lake Bunyoni

I spent a mere 2 days (156km) cycling in Uganda but it was great. My friend is here and she does not cycle (we tried once…) so it has been a couple of weeks of negotiating transport for Biffa. My bike has been on and in buses, on boats and she’s hung precariously out of the boot of a very old Toyota saloon car. But she fared better than me who had to limbo out from under a broken seatbelt.

I was trying to cycle 3 days but the weather was impressively wet so I cheated with a bus. I needed a break anyway. My legs were losing all power on the hills, of which there are many.

Day one- very wet
This was after the rain abated somewhat. Previously there were buckets floating down the road.
I tried! lasted about 5 mins before I got a truck.
Upon arrival in Masaka I tried cycling to a coffee shop. It was closed.

Uganda has been brief but I enjoyed it a lot. The people I met were lovely (with the odd exception – you can’t win them all. I was told to go back to my own country twice. Once was for swearing at a motorbiker for driving into the back of me and pushing me along. I told him to go back to the opticians. Kampala also had a dodgy bloke who told me he was going to rob me but hadn’t, so could he have money instead? I swore at him too). But on my first full day cycling , I was told I had a beautiful bicycle by a guy on a bike. What better way to my heart? We had a nice chat as we rolled up the hill (my 27 gears to his one gear).

Equator posing! I’d spent ages at a tiny sign taking timer pictures and trying not to cut off my head/bike then found this 300m further along the road!

I met some other cycle tourers too which was interesting. They were supposed to do Asia but had to stop because of Covid. But Kyrgyzstan was highly recommended.

Typical Ugandan cycling (based on my limited experience. Except the road was better than average).

I also met some Eritrean refugees from Canada and Kampala at the Equator. We talked about Glasgow (they have friends there), about their experiences resettling around the world and how it is hard without your community around you.

Arrival in Kampala. Not a main road!
Kampala back roads
A Rolex is an omelette in a chapati. I approved.
Stools and pestle and mortars on the road side

Other than that, I did lots of touristing. Mainly at Queen Elizabeth National Park but we also spent a couple of nights at Lake Bunyoni.

Even before the safari I saw a croc.

It has been great to relax and catch up with my friend. We now have more jollies in Zanzibar before I continue on the bike. I now only have my final deadline to meet – Capetown by July- so will see how that affects my cycling. I’ve vowed to take it easy. And I’m looking forward to my new saddle – I have the same saddle (Brooks B17 imperial) on my other bike, as recommended in a bike fitting session, and have never had a sore bum. Fingers crossed I will live that dream again!

I saw lots of brick kilns
I was glad not to be cycling and having to negotiate this gauntlet of baboons. I would have needed to wait for a lift- I am confident Me and fully loaded Biffa can’t outpace a baboon
Lake Bunyoni
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