After spending two nights in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s I reluctantly had to leave. The reason being that I had 265km to cycle in three days to catch the once a week overnight ferry that goes from the western tip of Lake Kariba to the eastern tip. Lake Kariba is the stunning manmade lake that acts as the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
It didn’t start too well. The cold that had been biting at my heals finally sunk its teeth in. I woke with a headache, my nose was congested and running as well my bum. For breakfast I had my malaria medication, ibuprofen, cold and flu tablets and an Imodium while watching the Springbok play Fiji on the hostel TV. Then the power went out, signalling that it was time I got on the road.
Charlie my cycle companion
Considering I was planning on cycling 100km to the next town I was leaving it rather late. Add to this I had never cycled 100km before. As I cycled out of the hostel the clock showed 9am. I cycled down the street and found Charlie, a local fella that I had met the previous day outside the supermarket hawking phone credit and other street curios. He was a keen cyclist and had taken great pride in showing me his supermarket bought road bike that he cycled 50km every day. He had made me promise that I would come and get him and we cycle out of town together.
Once I found Charlie we had to go to his house in the town ship so he could get changed. We pedalled through the dirt roads of the town ship with Charlie sounding the police siren he had rigged up to his bike. It was quite the experience. I was a little nervous waiting outside Charlie’s haphazardly built brick and concrete structure after the last guy I cycled with got changed into pink stain boxers. Thankfully Charlie appeared through the front curtain of the main door wearing tattered bike shorts.
We left Victoria Falls into a head wind, me feeling like shit as I tried to keep up with Charlie. But he was exactly what I needed if I was going to make that ferry. Focusing on keeping up with him took my mind off my sorry state. After 15 km I asked Charlie would he like to have a go riding my bike. You would have thought I had told him Christmas had arrived, he was stoked and so was I. Getting on Charlies road bike was a dream compared to my over laden mule. It only lasted 10kms though as Charlie realised that Christmas had not come early and he was stuck doing my hard work.
After 50 kms of head winds and undulating roads Charlie and I sat down and shared my biscuits. I filled up his water bottle and then off he cycled back to Victoria Falls. I pushed on, feeling absolutely knackered, but enjoying the challenge. I was also thankful the Imodium was working and I didn’t have to stop every couple of kilometres to fertilise the barren road side bush.
Meat pies and a curve ball
With the sun getting lower in the sky I arrived at the shitty looking mining town of Hwange, my destination for the night. As I cycled in my GPS clicked over 100kms and I gave a little whoop. I pulled into a rundown looking petrol station and bought a meat pie to celebrate – just what the stomach needed.
I was pretty buggered and couldn’t be bothered going to the hassle of finding a place to camp on the side of the road so asked where the cheapest hotel was. The attendant pointed to the top of a hill. Bugger. But with the motivation of flopping down on a bed I made the push up the hill. My heart sunk as soon as saw the hotel. Like most places here in Zimbabwe it had seen better days before Zimbabwe turned from the bread basket of Africa to the Magabe basket case, but it still looked out of my price range. Enquiring at reception confirmed this, US$90!
Bugger. The sun was about set, there was nowhere else in town. I had to put as much distance between me and Hwange and try to find a concealed spot off the side of the road to camp.
As the big ball of red fell from the horizon I waited until no traffic was coming and wheeled my bike into the bushes with the GPS showing 115kms. I set up my tent ate some rice, and then fell into a cycle induced coma not worrying about the sounds of nature outside.
A new day
I woke at 6am, feeling pretty good. When cycle touring I find the best part of the day is the first kilometre of the day. The sun is low in the sky, the temperature perfect, the body feeling good. Then you realise you have to do this the whole day and your butt starts to hurt.
The day before had taken it out of me and it felt like my wheels were square and god had turned up the thermostat. Having covered 50 tough kilometres by lunch I took refuge in a cross road local truck driver diner. I had a filling local meal of sadza and beef and 3 bottles of coke (they are on the US dollar here, but there is a change shortage so every time you buy something it has make an even $1, hence the extra bottles of coke).
A new landscape
After a couple of hours out of the midday sun reading my book with the truck drivers I felt like a new man. As I turned off the highway onto the trafficless secondary road I pumped the pedals with new vigour.
My vigour didn’t last long though as my post card size map of Zimbabwe that I’m using didn’t show the natural phenomenon of mountains. It should not have surprised me as the on the map the 265km I was covering was less than 2 cms.
Although it was hard work I enjoyed the new landscape after all the flat riding thus far. I also enjoyed that granny gear that I hadn’t used and had thought was useless. The special part of all this was I had the snakey road all to myself. One special moment was flying down this steep road lending into the corners (maybe I’m talking that up just a little). As I came around the last corner I entered an oasis, a tranquil river valley where the silence was deafening. I parked my bike on the bridge and stood in the middle of the bridge taking it all in, my new surrounds and not a soul around. I fought the urge to set up camp beside the river and pushed on so I only had a short ride the next morning.
Showering with a drunk man
With the sun setting on another day I was trying to find a place to camp but there were mud hut villages scattered all along the road meaning it would be hard for me to sneak into the bush unnoticed. I spotted a respectable mud hut and decided to go in and ask if I could pitch my tent for the night. A big African mumma with a ripped shirt and warm smile welcomed me. Miriam was her name and she fed the chickens and yarned to me while I set up my tent.
Then Miriam’s husband Andrew arrived home. Andrew looked a little unsteady on his feet and confirmed what I was thinking when the first words out of his mouth were “I’m boozy, hehe”. Andrew was pretty sozzled. A nice guy but a whole Sunday of drinking had left him with a tendency to keep saying “like ABCD” – I’m still unsure what it meant – and a tendency to keep telling me that he was the retired chief of police (he actually was).
The day of boozing had left Andrew in a very chatty mood, the last thing I really felt like doing. It had also left him with a personal space discrepancy. There was a lot of hand shaking, and back slapping. Then Miriam bought me out a bucket of water for a splash bath.
Andrew took me around the back of the mud hut and set it up with a brick beside the bucket for me to stand on as to not get sand on my feet. Then in one of those weird travel moments I found myself butt naked perched on a brick splashing water on me while Andrew sat there against the mud hut ABCDing it up. Looks like I can cross ‘washing butt naked behind a Zimbabwean village mud hut under the watchful eye of a drunken retired chief of police’ off the bucket list.
A Cochroach and Zambezi water
In the morning I made Miriam and a very hung-over Andrew coffee and biscuits then eagerly jumped on the bike ready to tackle the last 50kms or so.
Mid way through I stopped off on the side of the pot holed road for some jam sandwiches. This was day five of cycling since leaving Katima. I looked at my shirt that was covered in five days of snot, sweat and apricot jam from cleaning my knife on it. I took a big swig of Zambezi river water that I had filled up at a nearby village. Then as I opened my new loaf of bread a cochroach scuttled out of the bag. This was exactly what I had been wanting, African adventure. I was loving it.
I made it to Mlbizi on the Western tip of Lake Kariba, spent the night and then caught the overnight ferry. I thoroughly enjoyed the ferry (really recommend it, great way to travel), great people and Lake Kariba was calm and glistened with the sunshine. Half way through the trip they stopped the boat in the deepest part of the lake where the crocs weren’t meant to be and we went for a swim.
A few beers were sunk that evening with the setting sun and then I went to sleep on the deck looking up at the African sky. Not a bad end to the first leg of the trip.
Sorry for the novel length blog post but this one is acting as a bit of journal for me. Plus I’m sitting at resort sized “exclusive camping ground” looking out over Lake Kariba, but I’m the only person in the whole place. Like so many places I have seen in Zimbabwe I can’ t help but think this place must have been magical 20 years ago when it would have been bustling with excited holidaying families. But I suppose that’s just the sad side of African politics.
Oh yeah, I would have loved to insert heaps of photos but unfortunately the internet is so slow, expensive and hard to come by it is not worth it.
I hope you are all well, I have to go and cook some rice.
PS: I’m just getting around to uploading this blog post. I am currently in Zambia and have been for the past 10 days, I’ve had no power or internet but plenty of adventures have been had, I will update you in future posts. I’m off to stay with Trevor and Helen Parr tomorrow. Trevor was my family doctor growing up and his daughters are great friends of mine. Heis working at a mission hospital over here.
OK, 10 days of emails to catch up on.
Nuthin but love Hap