So, the end! I feel a little strange writing my final Racing the Swift, the last 10 days have made me feel like it wasn’t really me who did it but a totally different person had completed that challenge! I now feel as unfit and lazy as ever, pretty well normal again.
As promised I am going to write a few final thoughts and some more ‘general observations’, the most frustrating thing about writing this blog, is one, I forget everything I want to write, and two, if I remembered it all I could just go on and on and on. There really is so much to write, Africa, is a fascinating continent (and I barely even scraped the surface!). Feeling quite relaxed and melancholy right now, so sorry if I’m not as absolutely hilarious as Mertesacker....
But first. A quick return to the reason I took this safari.
So far I have raised around eleven thousand pounds (around one pound for every kilometre travelled – including hitches, have a look at my 'Final Route'), the vast majority of which will go to the Rhinos, Asian and African. I am unbelievably chuffed with this, I know my target was 30,000 but, I really only set that so I wouldn’t get there too easily...
There is no way I can express my gratitude to the support I have been shown over the last 4 months. It has been flabbergasting. A block capitals THANK YOU +8 ! by email really doesn’t do the job. I have been so touched and honoured by the friendship and generosity shown by you all. I just don’t know what to say - THANK YOU!!!!!!!, ?
I would like to make one final appeal, as donations are still very much being taken. I have avoided going into the drastic state of the Ocean, and the dire dire straits that Rhinos are in. I will keep avoiding it, you read the papers, you know. We are in trouble. The rhino is a milestone mammal, when he goes, the rest will follow. The big 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Boom.
The Ocean is so unfathomably (nice) important to us and yet we ignore what we are doing to it. I really think it would be well worth your whiles going on the TerraMar and the SavetheRhino websites and reading up on their work and what needs to be done. Especially those who have donated - you should know how important your donation has been, it is not my thanks that you should acknowledge, but the hope and help you have created and the knowledge you have joined a mammoth (nice) fight.
Now, to those of you who haven’t donated and have been reading this ‘blog’! If you have enjoyed it, please get your wallet out! We (us all) need it. It’s a little like walking past a busker and catching yourself dancing or humming, once that has happened you are obliged to pay him! If you haven’t been enjoying it, then I am sure you won’t have read this far. Many of you have been waiting for pay day, or haven’t got round to it yet. NOW IS THAT TIME!!!
A message for very close friends who haven't donated: I am a skint Scottish Spurs fan, a combination of some very stingy stereotypes. An anteater never forgets.
Finally, as you all know, I am one of the world’s biggest attention seekers, I have secretly (I think probably not such a secret) really enjoyed writing this blog, despite my feeble claims against it. I am now working on a conservancy in Northern Kenya for the next two months (Borana is one of the projects partially funded by Save the Rhino. An amazing full circle for me, having volunteered in their London office, raised funds, and now on the ground), after that I am working on Kipling Camp, a camp in the jungle in India dedicated to Tiger and wildlife preservation.
I plan to write the occasional update/’blog’, I think both places will be fascinating. I also hope to post more photos. In this age of Post-Modemism it is so easy. I know that it will me nowhere close to as original as the bike ride, and you are all sick of my self-indulgent writing style, but if you would like to know when I have written one, please send me a tiny email to email@example.com, just saying yes! Please don’t worry if you don’t email me, I won’t notice, and I understand!
One final thank you, goes to my whole extended family. They have been out of this world. But, especially my parents and siblings. As I have told them, their constant support, made me cry on more than one occasion! I am a lucky lucky man.
(Oh! To anyone who got last week’s title well done! Eye, van, L, knot, Bee, bikes, Tanzania.
Day to day Live
I guess what I think I may have left out of my blog over the last months is the day to day life, that became completely normal for me and is completely normal for those living in rural Africa, but I guess (?) might help you all form an image of what it’s like here. In Eastern Africa, it became slightly harder to find places to camp, especially from Burundi through to Kenya. There were much fewer remote spots, and no tourist campsites. This was no real problem for me as there are hundreds of ‘Guesthouses’ or ‘Inns’ in any centre (village/town, short for trading centre) with more than a few people. They are a good example of daily life.
Almost all had swarms of mosquitoes fizzing in my ears as I went to sleep and munching their way through the night. Almost none had mosquito nets.
Almost all were super cheap, some were sickeningly overpriced.
Many had massive cockroaches that scuttled around the floor (once you’re used to the sound its fine!), that you could hear hissing away. Only a few had running water.
Every single one had squatting toilets. Every single one had power cuts.
Showers were a bucket of cold water along with a smaller bucket. Appropriately dubbed the ‘Sploosh’ by WJR.
Water, if there was a tap, always tastes grim. (Having said that, I complain about the difference in taste between upstairs and downstairs taps at home. Perhaps I am too picky....?)
In almost every village I passed through, there would be queues of people at the well or pump, all waiting with their big plastic containers to fill up and carry home on their heads. Usually women or children.
Other general aspects
I ate with my hands for months (Why does India get the hand eating and squatting loos rep?? In Africa it is much more obvious!),
African food is not very tasty. My/their diet tended to be Ugali/Nsima (white stuff) with chicken or goat (if you can afford meat). This chicken I am certain was usually prize winning cock fighting cockerel. So tough and chewy, mindblowingly so! Always ate it all. (For the amount of fruit and veg on the roadside remarkably little on the plates!)
There is noise everywhere. Always. In Africa, the awake take priority over the sleeping. If you wake up at 5, you can chat and make as much noise as you like. You’re awake. It’s your right. You can also play music as loud as you want as late as you want, in every village and town, one thing people invest in are speakers. There is always a boombox, or a few tinny mobile phones playing barely discernible melodies.
Cockerels in the morning, traffic in the day, music at night. Always noise! Which for me was no problem either, I’d pass out at night, and needed the wake up calls.
I am always sweating.
Drink (ATTENTION: THIS IS BIG GENERALISATION. ABSOLUTELY NOT ALWAYS THE CASE).
Unfortunately a very unattractive side of society here is the drink. Universally, booze cause problems. We all know that, be it through alcoholism or be it through getting too pissed and confessing your love to someone you would actually rather never see again. It’s troublesome. Sadly in many parts of Africa, that trouble is found everywhere. The men start drinking in the morning , spirits (home brewed or uber cheap – unnamed “spirit”), Chibuku, moonshine, imported or locally brewed. Doesn’t matter. A large proportion of the poor unemployed men tend to be pissed most of the time. The women working in the fields and the shops. During my entire trip, the only times I felt a little nervy was when I started being surrounded by alcohol stinking guys. All wanting to chat and touch me and lady love. It was quite intimidating. Pubs and bars are usually found attached to guesthouses... A real shame, but with little else to do, hitting the drink is about their only option (that or working, like their wives. Who are doing all this, with a rucksack baby on board.)
All these little aspects, the lack of water, the mosquitoes-often malarial, the powercuts, the lack of any diet variation, the booze and the toil is day to day life for a huge amount Africans, you become so used to it and it is so normal that you don’t blink, but thinking back, it isn’t really surprising how slowly life rolls on. Black out.
Ive had many conversations
A few more amusing/demonstrative conversations typical of my days on the road:
Africans have a deep pride, a pride within themselves and also a strong nationalistic pride. They very rarely (never?) admit that they are wrong and will never let on that they don’t know the answer to something; it is always “yes” even if the real answer should be “I don’t even understand what you’re saying mate”.
Here are two are a good example of this:
Mzungu: Jambo! Do you have any biscuits??
Shopkeeper: Jambo! Which type?
Shopkeeper: Which type?
Mzungu: Any! Chocolate creams, glucose, nice. Any.
Shopkeeper: No, we have none of those.
Mzungu: You don’t have any do you?
Mzungu: Right. Thanks. Very helpful.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Stop! Stop!
Sweaty Ivan: Hello! What is the problem?
Zimbabwean Policeman: You like Zimbabwe?
Sweaty Ivan: Yes! Very much, I love it here, beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife, friendly people.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Goooood. It’s very good isn’t it?
Sweaty Ivan: Oh yes.
Zimbabwean Policeman: What about Zambia? What did you think of Zambia?
Sweaty Ivan: I loved it there, such friendly people. Everyone seemed very happy. Just great.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Oh no no no no. No no no. Zambia is very smelly, very dirty. Don’t you agree?
Sweaty Ivan: Oh! Yes of course. Very smelly, very smelly indeed. Zimbabwe is much better.
Zimbabwean Policeman: Yes it is. Goodbye.
It is also interesting (I hope...) to point out that in Africa, you tend to do something only if it will benefit you, charity was, to many, an alien concept. The word agenda cropped up over and over.
“What is your agenda? What do you get out of this? How much are you being paid?” Etc.
Or equally often, one that I never quite understood and made me feel awkward that came from pretty well
“You can’t be doing this for free. No way. A black man could/would never do that.”
This is partially true, not because of the colour of his skin, but because of the lack of money, opportunity and resource I have been so blessed with.
Ive got very few photos of people
As some of you may have noticed from the photo albums I have taken very few photographs of people. Now this is a real shame I know, but I find something very awkward and wrong about snapping away at people they’re aliens. It, I think, only encourages this zoo mentality I came across along the way. The “we’re so different”, the “me” and the “you”. How could I get tetchy when treated like an animal, if I was rolling along taking photos of the people there, I feel like it puts a barrier between us. I am more than sure they would have obliged (in fact a few pockets through Rwanda the children no longer said money or chocolate, but “Cam-er-a! Cam-er-a!!). Also, when you are trying to stay inconspicuous it draws attention, and I really don’t think it’s really fair to be flashing around a piece of kit that the people there could barely even dream of.
Ive got more camping tips. For the lads. (Source: Opta)
Duct tape is phenemoenal. Sticky.
Cable ties are even better. Handy.
When low on water and brushing teeth, spit the water you use to swill onto the head of toothbrush to clean it. Resourceful.
Where there are people there is water. Quenched.
Two sides to a pillow, sit constantly on one side, saves sleeping face first in a pile of dust. Comfortable.
When your cap is so saturated with sweat that a stream is running off the peak, flip reverse it, use the back as a sweat band and by the time you have saturated the back a little of the front will be dry again. Reverse procedure. Repeat.
When your hands are so covered in grease and dirt, and normal soap won’t work. Open that sugar tin (this is from my marqueeing days). A spoonful of sugar helps the mud go down the sink (there are no sinks.) Sweet.
It has been a very long time since I wrote a ‘blog’ and I am sorry for that! The last 3 weeks of my trip were immensely difficult and I don’t think I would have been in the right mindset to write one. I have now finished and have had a week’s worth of retrospective thinking to do about it all and hope I can write up a good ending...
Put the kettle on its going to be a long one. Really. You might need two cups.
I am going to try and write up the final month, running from Tanzania all the way through Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. I will try and keep it as brief as possible but as it is a full 30 days of action, might be tricky! Then you will have the emotional whirlwind of days 89 and 90. The two possibly hardest, most emotionally difficult, testing and hellish days of my trip. (possibly life). For those of you who don’t know, I was short by 77 kilometers. Whoever said “it’s how we deal with failure in this life that defines us” (did anyone ever say that??). I hate you. I’d much rather succeed first time.
Then to finish off I guess I will give a rambling retrospective, introspective, profound, waffly paragraph on the trip as a whole... I'm nervous! A tiny quick bit of admin, I have been COMPLETELY locked out of my Hotmail for at least the last ten days, I can’t see your emails, nor can I see the ones sent over the last few months. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, if you have emailed me over the last 3 months and I haven’t replied, forward it immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org. I WANT to reply.
I've had a good time inTanzania
As I mentioned in my last post, I loved Tanzania. It was so unbelievably refreshing not to be the Mzungu the whole time. The people didn't beg from me, they actually barely even looked at me. You might expect that this is because there are many more white people in Tanzania than Malawi, nope, there are much fewer. In the 2 or 3 weeks I was in Tanzania I saw 3 other Mzungus, two of which were in the only tourist campsite I stayed in (or saw), none even drove past me. The lone white man in Tanzania. The language in here was Swahili only, very little English, which again was perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much – I didn't have to stop every 3 minutes for a chat!
The first thing I noticed in Tanzania was the introduction of Muslim slogans (Ibarik Akbar etc.) on the trucks and busses to add to the Christian and football ones, and also that East Africans really are football crazy, football mad. The busses, trucks and combis managed to often combine religion, ‘commercial’ promotion and football especially if the vehicle had traded hands between a Jesus Fanatic and and Arsenal fan for instance.
Two of my favourites were “Jesus Wenger”, which I know Gunners fans will empathise with, and “Jesus loves.... Mountain Dew” (Mown Tin Doooo!), of course he does. Who doesn’t?
I also really admired one guy, who by the looks of his ancient stickers hadn't redecorated his truck in at least a few seasons – clearly he had faith. “MOURINIHO CHELSEA” all over it, he knew he’d come back.
Another interesting thing about football fans in not just Tanzania but the whole of East Africa is that the biggest club there is not one you might recognise but a team called Fly Emirates.
“Who is your team???”
“eh? Who’s is your team??”
Ivan takes off cap to show the inquisitor the Tottenham Crest.
“Whatever. My team is Fly Emirates!! Fly emirates! Fly emirates!”
“I see, Arsenal? AC Milan?”
“Eh? Fly Emirates!!”
This was not just a one off, I had bought an AC Milan shirt in a market to use cycling and made lots of other friends, often wearing Arsenal shirts, but in fact we all supported one team.... Fly Emiraaaateesss!!! Brilliant.
After a couple of days on the main truckers highway heading up to Dar Es Salaam (all the way from Namibia/Zambia) I was a bit sick of trucks, a thin hardshoulderless road and a huge amount of fairly reckless, usually pissed truck drivers, I thought it was time to hitch. I needed to make up about 200kms, to get to a campsite that I had been aiming for since Namibia and having already done about 100km that morning thought I could afford the time off.
Up I climbed into a rickety old juggernaught with two guys who spoke no English. Lady Love perched precariously on the back with a live goat, some bananas and a very small amount of whatever was being transported for such a big lorry. Off we went. After an hour or so of bribing policeman (we had a cracked windscreen) and moving pretty slowly through the southern highlands of Tanzania, I was feeling sleepy. The non driver (these guys deal with bribes, weighbridges, paperwork etc etc etc) had just had a nap on the bed in the cab. “Me sleep?” – Hands miming sleep, pointing at bed, “hmmm” - they start laughing.
As I nestled down in the bed, no longer able to see my bike in the mirror, my wallet in between the two of them in the handbrake zone, I couldn’t help thinking “what would a normal person be doing right now?”, I think, certainly not sleeping in a Tanzanian Lorry! (If anyone’s interested. Great little nap.)
I made it to Kisolanza camp site where I was treated so kindly and generously. Richard the manager, before I had told him my story had already said I could stay for free. I then revealed that I had met the owner’s nephew in a campsite in Namibia and he had told me to come and stay, not only this but that Archie B, a friend of mine from school was the previous manager. By a very happy coincidence, Barnaby – the Nephew was up at the main house, a beautiful Tanzanian farmhouse, doing some work for his Auntie. It was a pretty monumental moment when he came down to the campsite to see me. “IIIIII’ve made it!!”, he was suitably impressed. Two months later. An amazing place with kind generous staff.
The rest of Tanzania was pretty amazing, friendly people who treated me as an equal (for the most part), Richard – a charming man who had me to stay in his farm yard, many new friends, very decent Chinese built roads, stunning Masai warriors dressed in deep purple, jewellery and a pair of Nike High-tops, amazing views, good camping spots, all good. Until my injury/illness double whammy.
I managed to cope with my knee thanks to a strong tail wind (Cue: Whoops and cheers) and after two days of serious illness I remembered that I had antibiotics in my bag.... rookie. However since these two started neither ever really went back to normal. The final 3 weeks were spent with a continual jippy tummy. The rumble in the jungle. Imodium no match for Africa.
My final day in Tanzania gave me a clue as to what was about to come, a massive climb out of Kigoma, up up up Rider cup, stunning views, banana plantations, on my way to the mountains.
C’est comme je suis un animal.
Now, unfortunately despite their reputations for beauty I cannot claim that I loved Burundi and Rwanda, in fact I had a pretty rough time. In both countries I was shouted at the whole way. Although in Burundi the people were very friendly, in Rwanda the people very serious., it was a similar experience. A very stark contrast between the two and I am sure, this serious hard working attitude in Rwanda is a remainder from the hell that they went through 20 years ago.
In Rwanda everything was immaculate, the houses pristine, well kept and smart. Everything well organised and sparkling clean. (No plastic bags allowed in Rwanda as I discovered at the border as Mr Jobsworth McJobsworthington made me unpack all 11 of my compartmentalised plastic bags, I'd had since Namibia, within my panniers and empty every single one!). Everything regulated and law abiding, I couldn’t get a SIM card without a Rwandan ID: “Are you suuuuure I can’t? Mr roadside shack shopkeeper? Hint hint.", “yes.”, “perhaps you could use your ID? It’s very important I contact my friend Tom in Kigali.”, “no.”, “there’s nothing we could arrange?”, “no.” “you have a nice day too.”.
In Burundi the people, always on the brink of shouting at me suddenly did a double take as I spoke in their language. “What?! An Mzungu speaking our language?? Let’s be friends!” (N.B. When referring to ‘the people in....’ I am referring to the villagers who live on the roads, not those who live in the big cosmopolitan centres of Bujumbura, Kigali, Kampala, Nairobi etc.). The Burundians were “MZUUNGU EH!” crazy and day in day out I was hissed at, whistled at, shouted at and laughed at. Makes it tricky to escape when you are climbing mountains bigger than any I had tried in the previous 2 months. Although very friendly and in such stunning scenery, I again started being worn away, mentally.
The other thing they do in Burundi and Rwanda is follow you, the children ran alongside me as I went up the mountains asking me for money and chocolate, like I was the Pied bloody Piper. The men on bicycles follow me along the roads making jokes about me in my ears.
Five Burundian and Rwandan anecdotes:
1. Burundi: Outside Bujumbura there is a 30 Kilometre climb, the biggest ascent I had to do all trip. Knackering. Two guys decided they’d follow me, fine, I’m used to it. After a while, it became pretty annoying, they would flank me either side, occasionally nudging into me ‘as a joke’ which would take all my speed and momentum away. Every time I stopped, they would stop, then laugh at me. Pretty frustrating.
Now, I’m not an aggressive guy, in fact I’d say I’m pretty passive (this is not what my family think “Ivan, you’re such a psycho! Guh.”, but hopefully my friends agree.) I haven’t been in a fight since aged 10 with Lawrence in the DT classroom... I even missed the infamous Bondi fight back in first year. I was over with Pip - “Women and Children stay back!!”. So to get me to lash out must be relatively serious.
Having stopped to try and shake these guys for a 50th time, they started mocking me again, as I started cycling again I joined in the laughter and made to gently cuff one of them in mock amusement round the ear, as my hand got closer to his face, my anger came to the fore and I ended up accelerating more than I had meant to. God it felt good. 2 minutes later, I realised that they had vanished.
2. Burundi: Another guy follows me, inches behind me on a big downhill. I start slowing down, he drives full on into me and rips off my pannier, in the process snapping off the fairly vital hook that puts it on my rack. Me furious, asking "what are we going to do????" He amused, vanishes.
3. Rwanda: Same as above but this time rips the hook replacement cable ties (even better than my old pal Duct Tape) off. He again vanishes. More sheepishly than the first guy. (Always at the same time as this is happening. Whistle, hiss. Whistle, hiss. Mzungu Eh!! From everyone on the road side.)
4. Burundi: Cycling along with around 10 followers, trying to speak to one of them in French, I am tired and grumpy having had my pannier broken earlier that day and the fact that I am on my 110th uphill kilometre that day.
“Tu aime les Burundians?”
“Oui, J’aime beacoup. Mais je deteste ‘Mzungu eh!!’ Et je deteste aussi quand il fait “whistle” et “hiss”. C’est comme je suis comme des animaux”
“Oui, cest comme tu est un animaux”
This conversation confirmed the worst. As I had only ‘herd’ whistling and hissing when farmers or shepherds are moving their cows, donkeys and goats. I am, unfortunately in the same bracket. Demoralising.
5. Rwanda: The first cyclist I had seen since Botswana! Luc, a very gentile French man who had cycled the globe and I stood on the side of the road for half an hour and shared a few bananas and traded stories (suddenly very self conscious of my previously fluent French. Back into English). Here is what I wrote in my journal that evening, word for word:
“About 20kms of the way up, (having just clapped/slapped a guy ‘jokily’ on the face as he had deliberately been following me and trying to piss me off. Curiously as soon as I ‘hit’ him, he vanished!) I met another solo cyclist! Yay! We had a great 20 minute chat, and he was (French) completing his round the world tour, he had been all over.
It was the most comforting, reassuring thing. He said how exhausting it is here psychologically. The begging, the waving, the M-Zunguing. He said he was bored of Africans, that he never gave anything to the begging villagers. That backpackers see a different world, that for duo cyclists it is easier because you can share a joke - he had been with a guy in Ethiopia, that he heard Malawi was hell from other solo cyclists.
Suddenly all my concerns, and the things I have been berating myself for were shared. I’m not such an evil guy. But other cyclists find this aspect hard. Especially comforting as he has been so many other places.
Luc, was really nice and has lifted a weight of self negativity off my shoulders. It’s not just me.”
I hope that this little extract reveals a little of the internal turmoil I was going through that was suddenly shared and lifted. I was so cross with myself for not loving everyone like Lara and Mace do, what's wrong with me?? Why do I get so grumpy?? Why does everyone say Malawians are the best people in Africa when I found them the worst?? Etc. Etc. It was a great moment, the solo cyclists experience is pretty different it seems. Another thing Luc said : “Malawi and Ethiopia, backpackers paradise, cyclists nightmare”, In Ethiopia the children throw stones at you! He was bypassing Malawi by reputation and bee lining for Cape Town. (Almost the best thing about seeing Luc was how impressed he was with my pace! He had just spent two weeks in Kigali resting!)
But, for me, someone who apparently “Just loooves travelling mate. Not sure why mate, it’s all about the cultures and the experience mate, the people, you just gotta go with the flow. Mate.” When you’re not enjoying yourself, it is very very hard to admit that to yourself. My schizophrenic thought process goes as follows:
“this is so shit.”
“But you’re in Africa! Experiencing new things! This is what you love!”
“this is so shit”
“But look at that amazing view and all these amazingly friendly people”
“this is so shit. All these amazingly friendly people piss me off. They won’t leave me alone.”
As ever, my poor mother gets the brunt of my mood. On our 1 conversation per country - if she hinted that I wasn’t having a good time, I snap at her “I’m having an awesome time!! Back off Mum. Guh.”
It’s sort of similar to when your girlfriend is annoying you and you start bitching about them and Mum takes your side. Snap. “Uh Mum, you just hate her!” Thank God I’m a man.
Fortunately though, my unhappy stages were only ever temporary and through this whole trip I was prone to the most ridiculous mood swings. I’d go from miserably cycling in the rain being missed by millimetres by flying busses as my bike has broken again, to finding myself in someone’s house drinking chai chatting, whilst everyone in the village wants to come and be friends with me- amazing. If I was ever feeling down, I would reread my journal and remember that the bad parts were all in the minority and for every annoying person, a friend would more than make up for them.
Having mentally lost it for a third time in 3 days in Rwanda as my pannier was ripped off my one of my ‘support team’... I was edging closer to the brink. Singing Macey Gray - Pavarotti style at the top of my voice as I fly down the mountain (which I think I might actually be quite good at?!), laughing hysterically, ignoring everyone or shouting ‘Mzungu eh!’ like a lunatic right back at them. Get this man to Shutter Island. Quick. The timing of staying with my friend Tom in Kigali could not have been better. Our evening in a fancy restaurant, poker and an atrocious round of golf and constantly talking at him brought be back to normality. I was pretty fed up. Thank you Tom!! The one very depressing thing about staying with Tom was once he saw me topless: “Bloody hell Ivan, that’s pretty impressive. You’re still quite fat.”
The Ugandans and Kenyans have been amazing, friendly, interesting, caring and just great.
(In my ‘Post Swift’ I will do a bit of Ivan ‘psycho’ analysis as to why I mentally struggled in the three smallest, poorest, countries I passed through (Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda). I’ve gotta be honest, even if it makes me look like a bastardo)
By the time I had reached Uganda I had resorted to winking - one of my favourite activities was winking at young kids and seeing them try and wink back. They usually went for a two eyed blink. Very amusing.
Also the peace sign (or Bram and Pop – the V for victory sign) is not something that is ever used over here, so I would use it again with children and as they try and reply mimicking me their poor wee fingers struggling to find the right shape ended up looking like a claw. Very sweet and highly amusing.
Another fun game: when I was surrounded by a gaggle of children was to frighten them, (don’t worry – this was all in gest not anger!) I would suddenly roar and make to run at them, they would run for their wee lives and tumble over each other. Then we and their parents sitting on the side of the road not far away would all burst into laughter.
Unfortunately Uganda was mainly rain and motorway and so I must have taken about 3 photos of the entire country. It was also the country where Lady Love started calling it a day. I had managed to make a fundamental repair in Bujumbura, but in Uganda in the middle of a rain storm my gear cable snapped. This meant that I was stuck in my hardest gear, down hill, push up, down hill, push up, down hill, push up. In the rain. Tough. Managed, somehow to mend it. The following day the chain it seems had been almost totally ruined by the fact that I had to push so hard in the hard gear. Tried to change it. Changed it. The new chain, due to the fact that the front run of gear cogs was so worn would not take. Google told me to put on my old chain. Chainged it again. The following day, the rain and grit so thick that it clogged up my gears completely. All manageable.
The Ugandans were extremely nice and excellent at English, but unfortunately the Kampala – Mombasa road is probably the busiest road in East Africa so I had to keep my eyes on the road and not the views. I did manage to maximise on what I have nicknamed ‘Limpeting’, (first discovered in Malawi by Ivan Hanning Speke, and used a little in Tanzania) - when I have to crawl up mountains, so do trucks. I wait at a sleeping policeman at the bottom of a hill, and as the juggernaught approaches I start pedalling as fast as I can up the hill, so that when the truck is passing me we are going just about the same speed. I then quickly latch on to the back (like a limpet on a whale) and am towed up the hill. This can be extremely gnarly and excellent fun. Sorry Mum - it’s over now.
When I reached Kenya I was very ready for the end. Sick of the rain and very worried for my good mate Lady Love. (His name, I realised is like one of those ironic hard man names found in Guy Richie movies. “Friendly Frank”, “Gorgeous George”, the most badass of the gang who are ironically nicknamed something soft. Read in cockney - “My son, he’s called Lady. Fuckin’. Love. Coz ‘e loves. Fuckin'. da ladies. Now stop asking questions you little twat.” My profound apologies for profanities but - it gets my point across) He was really feeling the strain – 9500km on a 500 quid bike ain’t bad. Despite this I had a good time through Kenya, the people were friendly, often uninterested in me, spoke excellent English and very welcoming. Cycling through tea plantations, racing rainclouds, making friends; it really was good. A great country to finish in. But then came the end. Day 89 and day 90, were two of the hardest days of my life.
I think I’ll just write it how it was, a mix of my journal and retrospect.
220km left, 2 days. Easy money. I’ve only gone and bloody done it!
Woke up on the morning of day 89, a wind stronger than any in the past blowing into my face, “who cares?! I only have to do 120 and then a nice short 100km day into Nairobi tomorrow. Beautiful”
Pedalling away into the wind, singing along, excited.
Snap. Chain breaks. Fine, I’ve got time. I push my bike up to a roadside shack where me and the boys (on the edge of the Masia Mara) in the howling wind, mend my chain. I’m quite good at it now. Finish my chai say goodbye and off I roll.
20kms later. Snap. Chain Breaks. This time however, my momentum took the chain round my gears, snapped them off, shattered them, mangled the chain, completely twisted and smashed my front derailleur. Everything was completely broken, unmendable, only replaceable.
It was over, I wasn’t going to make it, the only place in East Africa this could be replaced was Nairobi. I was on the brink of tears, devastated, I really just couldn’t believe it. Speechless. (Oh yes, no one to speak to anyway!)
As I stood there, head in hands, unmoving, a guy I had passed ten minutes before and had ‘Jambo’ed, walking along the road approached me. I pretty much cried on Raynold’s shoulder. “There is always hope my friend, there is always hope”.
So Raynold and I walked along the road, buffeted by the wind side by side, me pushing Lady Love, he marching and off we went. Raynold really provided me with a bit of perspective. He had just had to run away from home as he had accidentally bought a stolen phone, and despite handing it back to the Police and explaining everything the original owner of the phone wanted him to pay all damages which he simply couldn’t afford. He had run away to “greener pastures” in Nairobi.
So we pushed and walked 20km to the next town, both mostly silent. It must have been an amazing sight, like the final shot of a film ‘with heart’, side by side, wind howling, one white one black, both thinking.
We got to Narok a dusty grim town, and went deep into the back streets and found a little shack of guys who claimed to be bike mechanics. Raynold, my translator explained the issues, although pretty self evident, and we got to work. 3 precious hours later and with a crowd of about 30 people watching, the boys had pieced together 5 different bikes, a little of my own, to create a concoction of pieces to put on the Lady Love. They rebent the chain (remember I can’t use my spare new one!) and Lady Love, missing 5 gears just about moved. He creaked, grinded and was crying out in pain, had lost about 8km/hr in speed. BUT, he moved!!
I had lunch with Raynold, said goodbye with a big hug but unfortunately couldn’t exchange numbers as he had no phone! What a man. I managed to do another 30ks, very very slowly. Eating my supper on that final night, in the courtyard of a grotty little roadside guesthouse, I gave up again. “There’s no way I can do 170km tomorrow on this bike. No way.” However, as I got into bed, I rallied myself again. “Even if it takes me 14 hours, I can do it, I can’t give up, maybe I should lie to everyone? No! Yes! No! I can do it. Just going to be the biggest day of the trip.”
Woke up on the morning of day 90, was on the move as the sun was rising. Completely still, and after 20ks was also totally flat. The perfect conditions. I was flying along (ish), I was going to do it! I needed to double back on myself 50km to stretch out the distance as I was too close to Nairobi. But it was going to be feasable, the wind had gone and the bottom of the rift valley is as flat as a pancake. WHOOOOOOOPPPP!!!!!
Ping! Wobble. Wobble. Wooobbblle.
Broken spoke, the lads in Narok had over tightened my spokes. Fine. Stay calm. Fix it. However, the spoke on my back wheel had snapped on the side of the ‘cassette’ (the run of gear cogs the chain goes round), and had managed, impossibly, somehow, to entwine itself inbetween the gear cogs. It took me three and a half hours sitting on the side of the road to get it out and to put in a new one. My hands were bleeding, my pliers looked like a murder weapon, and with every minute, it became more and more apparent that it would be impossible to do the full 170. My target and will to live were slowly slipping away. I must have been on the edge of crying about 5 times, and kept thinking, “Just lie! Just tell everyone you did it!”, I also considered rebreaking my gears so I had to give up (twice, I put the wheel down, stood up, walked towards the bike. Stopped. Went back and picked up the wheel). I couldn’t though.
Just as I was on the brink of mending the wheel, I realised for the final stage of mending it, I needed help. Oh God.
Hoot hoot! A car pulled over and out stepped a great friend of my Parents’ Simon and his friend Rory. They – my Nairobi welcoming party- (the 99, mullet loving, bikini clad babes nowhere to be seen?! Shock horror.) - had been following my tracker and had seen the stationary spot and had come to see what the problem was. Extremely emotional at this point I (tried to) put on a brave face, as they drove me 20ks to the next town where with the help of Rory, a second pair of pliers, we managed to finally get the spoke in. At this stage, it was impossible to finish, not only was Lady Love incapable but I had run out of time.
I can’t express the feeling. Working towards something every single day for 3 months and not doing it. It was, sure, out of my legs, and I had tried EVERYTHING, but it really was awful. Those 3 hours sitting on the side of the road, chain smoking, were the pits. The worst part was, (as I free wheeled down the back route into Nairobi that Simon had shown me) that I had this feeling of relief, that secretly I had wanted to be forced to give up, as I had no will power left to keep fighting, that I was secretly relieved I had no choice. I felt I was cheating myself.
Anyway. I cycled the final 50 downhill kilometres at a snail’s pace into Nairobi, and Simon and Rory were so kind that once I had finished, I really did try and celebrate, but there was a bitter bitter taste in my celebration. One that with a week’s retrospect is still lingering in the background (hence – any friend who has tried to contact me I haven’t replied. Wanted to be feeling happy when I spoke to you all! Feeling stable now though, so free on Skype this week, although as ever I will still be playing the invisible man). The tears I had been holding back with Raynold, in Narok, in the guest house on my last night, and the ones on the side of the road, inevitably came like a flood when I got on the phone to Dad (all I can say is thank goodness Mum wasn’t at home. Headline news: “Flash floods hit Nairobi and Fife simultaneously”!!!), but there we are.
And as I said in my Facebook announcement – a very very (very) wise man (me) once said “Life is Life”. Good to remember your own mantra! Will have to make sure I complete the next one, that’s all.
It also helps that on Friday morning, alone in Jack B-H’s (he was in the UK) house, a banging on the door. Shit, my parcel from mum. Fumbling for my keys, padlock, door, half asleep. “What?! An Mzungu delivery man??? WHATTTT??? A DE KLEE DELIVERY MAN!!!!”. My cousin a champion. Never have I been so happy to see his grinning face, the best surprise ever. With our host Archie Matheson– Silky's pal, we had an incredible weekend of football watching, eating, partying, dancing with prostitutes and returning to normality. I have never been so touched by anything in my life (I’m not talking about Bridget the prostitute, I’m talking about the thoughtfulness of my Cous. Anyway, whatever the others say. I believe that Bridget was a 2nd year student studying Mass Communications at Mombasa, and she loved me for who I am. Sure.)
(I have received a tip off that this sounds seedy... this is an edit- nothing happened with Bridge!!)
Believe it or not, I am going to do the ‘rambling retrospective, introspective, profound, waffly paragraph on the trip as a whole’ and a few final ‘general observations’ blog on Friday, (It’s so nearly the end! I’m so sorry! No more bloody Swifts!!! Facebook silence!) so stay tuned. Thank you all as ever for reading and remember – it’s not too late to sponsor- 9923 is still loads.
Right. So when I stared today I wanted to do a ‘General Observations’ section then I wanted to cover Tanzania (I have LOVED IT, the people were awesome, remote, exciting, return of wildlife, more, more, more) but as seeing as I have rambled along observing a lot of generalities. Tanzania will have to wait. For your sakes, and mine (there is now a pool of sweat on my shorts, from my forehead, so large that looks like I have had an accident.)
Today then, I will try and break everything down and just give some sort of bullet point style observations I have made over the last couple of months. Obviously some parts are ‘general’isations and don’t apply to other areas. But a lot of these things are common to many parts of the Africas I have travelled through. Prepare for some serious sub-titleage. Fortunately thanks to this subtitelage, you can drop it and come back to it whenever, quite long.
You cannot cycle through Africa and not notice or comment on Religion. Having studied it I should, technically, be in a position of prior understanding. Unfortunately my memory is crap and I remember barely anything from our ‘African Christianity’ module. So I am as freshly blind as anyone else.
The time I noticed a change was when I entered Zambia from Botswana. I was suddenly in Christian country, the kind of Christian crazy Africa you read about or that I saw in Ghana.
The shops/busses/taxis/‘combis’(Combis are the most common type of (public) transport and are all over Africa. Little mini vans that shoot along the roads like rockets). Suddenly changed from having slogans across the windscreen that said “trust me” with a picture of Ashley Cole in an Arsenal shirt, (one of the most untrustworthy sights on earth) in Namibia and Botswana, to “God is Great”, “Trust in God”, “Driven by God” (love that one), “Bit by Bit”, “God Protected”, “One more Try”, “Joy”, “Keep Going”, “Hard times don’t last”, “Blessings”, “it hurts from laughing”, to name just a tiny few of the hundreds and hundreds of names I have seen (I have kept an eye out for a stenciling shop. I need to get Lady Love printed on. We fit in so well!).
Now, whether this change in religion and attitude demonstrated by the combis, from trusting “me” to trusting “God” was the reason that everyone from Zambia, through Zim, Moz, Malawi, (You will see the difference in Tanzania in a minute…) were all so much friendlier than those in Namibia and Botswana I am not sure. But I suspect that there must be a strong link.
Now, I don’t want to get into an argument about the positive effects and damaging ones of missionary work etc in Africa, and fortunately I don’t have to because I am on my own in an internet café. But, I do think that religious countries, Islamic and Christian, (yes, perhaps damaged/different/ ‘ruined’ to how they may have been without imposed foreign religion) have tended to me much more welcoming and friendly. Let’s drop it now. I feel like I’m writing an essay.
Despite having my phone, I rarely know what day of the week it is. There is only one clue that I ever get. It is so obvious when it’s a Sunday, as I’m cycling along the roads are full of people dressed to the nines, as opposed to the scraggly t-shirts/football shirts they may otherwise be wearing. Walking, walking, walking, - to their church.
There are so many different denominations and churches here, and that denomination is very very important. As I struggle to explain to new friends, that “surely it doesn’t matter which church I belong to if I believe in Jesus?” Falls on deaf ears. “Yes. But what church do you belong to?”
The other thing that I have noticed about churches, and this comes from cycling past them (there are SO many. Some, great big stone buildings surrounded by mudhuts, other whitewashed giants amongst thatched houses, others just mud huts themselves. Every size, shape, budget, and name. “The living waters” Church is a fave of mine.) whilst the service is in full flow – the congregation are so expressive and celebratory. Everyone is boogying on down. Once, I saw three people just dancing in front of the congregation. Everyone sitting patiently and watching. Can you imagine the alter boys in Ampleforth Abbey, breaking it down infront of 800 people?! (‘God’ that would be funny) It is something so unique to Africans this expressiveness. (Just as I cycled here this morning I went past a running race in a park. Once one guy-unbelievably rapid- had won the race and his supporters went wild. But instead of storming the track like us Zungus would, they all started doing different dances (Think Smash Williams more than Daniel Sturridge) and all sorts of different whoopps and noises. Hilarious and so great. N.B. Burundi is the first place I have seen people jogging for exercise. Curious.
Wow, that was meant to be a bullet point. I’ll stop now. Islam and Tanzanian Combis and trucks will be covered next week. What joy for you all.
Style is immensely important over here. Tribesmen look incredible in their Masai get up, Church going ladies look amazing with their ridiculous (fake) hairstyles, the lads look pretty cool just hanging around, in Burundi the rock sunglasses.
However. Lack of money and the poverty that is found all across many parts of Africa, means that there are only a few options to work with. These mainly consist of sloganned T shirts (NO BATTERIES REQUIRED! Back off, I make my own rules! I’m the boss around here! Etc.), donated t-shirts (Real men think pink! Fight Breast Cancer. Leinster GAA. Etc.), and football shirts (mainly Arsenal, Chelsea, Utd, Liverpool, Real and Barca. Surprisingly and refreshingly not so many City shirts yet. Predictably and depressingly only 2 Spurs shirts so far. I have hugged both of them. They didn’t even realize they were wearing a Tottenham shit.)
My favourite guys are those wearing Father Christmas hats! Hilarious. I also always laugh when I see a big Momma of a family (these women work SO unbelievably hard, constantly with what I have dubbed ‘Rucksack Babes’-always comatose-strapped onto their backs.) ‘, otherwise immaculately dressed with a beautiful sarong or jewellery wearing a Wayne Rooney Manchester United Shirt along with a Chelsea beanie hat.
The assortment of caps are incredible, some really well sun faded ones (anyone a wearer of caps like me, knows the value of a decent fitting, faded cap. I have picked up quite a nice High School Musical one, although sadly - not quite big enough and the wind blows it off when I am cycling.)
My favourite shirt was worn by another Big Momma in Mozambique. She was, when I saw her, bossing someone – barking some order at a daughter. On her T – Shirt it said “Wanna go twos on a Bastard?” What this means, I will never know. I have spent hours (I have time) trying to work it out chuckling away, and although I have come up with a few of options. They only fit at a stretch (pun intended).
I have tried my hardest to try absolutely everything along the road in terms of food. Every day or two the main crop or thing for sale will change, depending on the area, often changing many times within a day. I wanted to list everything but just started doing it and it would be too long and too bloody boring. My favourite things though are Mandasi – which are little deepfried dough balls (doughnuts essentially), in Malawi I was working through about 12 a day. I put on weight. I am now snacking along on Chai and Chappatti, sugar cane (which you chew and suck, then spit out – delish), bananas, avocados the size of ostrich eggs (I keep my salt and teaspoon at the top of my bag, at the ready), bananas, greens (not vegetables but what I have nicknamed greens = green oranges that are definitely not limes). My favourite lunchtime snacks are my African Fajitas = Chapatti and Avo, and Banana Pancakes = Chapatti and bananna.
I have also tried every single local Lager I have found. A bit like Gavin and Smithy, I have (mentally) graded every single one. I think next week, I might publish my review… Mentally, it is hilarious. On paper (screen?), probably less so. So far the Namibian Windhoek my favourite. So. Damn. Tasty.
Drugs and Bugs
I did 71 days sans (I’m just so linguistic) injury or illness. Unforyuinately within 5 days of each other both struck. Badly. The good thing about being ill is that you get to moan and attention seek. It sucks when you’re on your own.
Having boasted to you all about tap water, Tanzania has not been so easy, so I have bought a lot of bottled water here, so it must have been one of three Chipsi (chip omlette, another fave) that I had had that day. Let’s leave it at - I was very unwell (my chance to moan and attention seek. Very unwell.), cycling not fun. Had to dash to bushes a few times. Thank God unpopulated area. Had to hitch as too sore and dangerous. Hitching on a bumpy road. Not good. Day off. Antibiotics. better.
A few days before that my knee went. Now pedaling with a limp (which must be funny to see), my poor right leg is taking on a lot more exercise than it expected. With a few exercises emailed through to me from my Sis, and Ibuprofen things are feeling a bit better – I think though, I will be carrying this injury for the final two weeks. Quadriceps Tendonitis, “comes from repetitive use” ah yes, repetitive use.
Otherwise, physically I have been pretty sound- the distances has have definitely become easier, I go faster, and I am not so stiff. What I still struggle with, despite being very happy and finally used to everything else (injuries,. Breakages, etc. etc.) is the fact that time is always so precious. Very little time to relax. If I have a puncture when I wake up and lose an hour, I lose 20km. The fact that an hour equals 20ks is actually quite a lot.
In terms of cycling conditions it is like a daily game of rock paper scissors (or as this spellchecker would have me write – Rock, Paper, Stone. Eugh). Gravity, Wind, Road. (Energy is an occasional extra variable). Each having their different powers and in different combinations can prove bliss, or fatal. Wind being the most powerful, however if you’re on a hilly day it’s not so evil (I’m shielded on the way up the hill, gravity helping me on the way down). Gravity is great, uphills are hard work but worth it for the beautiful views and the even more beautiful downhills, but if the road is bad up and down become hell. Wind on the flat very difficult, but at least it doesn’t matter what the road is like so much. Etc. Etc. Etc.
My average speed is 20kmph. On a really good day is around 23km/h, on a bad day around 17km/h, occasionally (2 days ago) as low as 14 – A Rahzel - road and gravity and wind – AT THE SAME TIME. Thankfully no longer as I don’t need him any more (sorry Jez), in the early slow days – on Namibian dirt roads - if I was ever setting a pace above 20 and getting over excited at the prospect of a good day, I had Jeremy floating along beside me keeping me calm. “Always sub 20 Mate, always sub 20.” As inevitably I would turn a corner and the road would become more of a geographical rock phenomenon than man made path. Poor poor Ivan.
I think it very important to comment on the language. I have tried my hardest to learn the languages, (well, hellos and thank yous) and when I have managed it really pays dividends. However it has been pretty hard in some places, mainly because I’m very unlinguistic (lol), because you can pass through 3 dialects in a day, because I have about a million different similar sounding place names plus the previous 7 countries hellos and thank yous whirring round my head. I didn’t manage to get it at all for Mozambique and struggled in Malawi. But my Swahili is pretty top notch, my favourite trait is the 'i' (pronounced ee) they throw on the end of everything. Makes everything sound so cute. Massive cudos in Burundi, they love that I can say, Amahorro (hello) and uracozé (thank you), remembered by me as I’m a horror and you’re a cozy (tea?). I have loved speaking French in Burundi, if anyone wants to practice their French come here! No judgment from people on my accent or lack of vocab, we are all as bad as each other! The perfect place to practice.
A couple of other words I have picked up:
Ewieh: YOU! (Malawi, Tanzania, Burundi) Ocsecnarf should appreciate that.
Zuuuuungooooooo: White Man. (Malawi onwards)
Pila: Money. (Kiswahili)
As a sub category of the sub category of language; conversations.
People love to watch. I wouldn’t call it staring, its definitely watching. Theres a Zungyu eating a banana. Lets watch him. Theres a Zungu, checking his brakes. Lets watch him. Theres a Zunbgu having a pee. Lets watch him. I have very very little privacy.
There are also certain typical conversations I can now predict what I am about to have every time I am stopped for a chat (if I sounded grumpy last blog, I have never once ignored someone when they ask me to stop, which is A LOT, I am very polite and friendly, even if I am a little big exasperated.)
If I manage to explain what I am doing, or how far I have come and it is understood, (this is rare), I am met with a eeeeeeeeeeahhh. Ooooaaaahheeee. Yeeeeeach. I can do a very good impression of this Africaniversal exclamation of surprise/shock/disbelief – I really want to try it out but don’t want to risk offending anyone.
Most of the time however people don’t understand me or don’t believe me:
“Yes but where are you?”
“I am here, but if you mean where am I going. I go Nairobi.”
“No on Bicycle” (pronounced in Swahili, Bye - sea – Ceilidh)
“No – byeseaceilidh”
M-Zuuungooo:“Do you know how many kilometers to next town?” (never EVER trust, let yourself hope, or even for a second believe the answer. Can lead to extreme demoralisation and is never right. I just use it as a conversation continuer)
Friend 1: “2”
M-Zuuungooo : “Really? I’m sure.”
A crowd has now gathered, all watching.
Friend 2 : “6”
Friend 3: “My friend, my friend, where you come to?”
M-Zuuungooo: “Today or in life?”
Friend 3: “Yes, I am fine.”
Friend 2: “6. MZungu - how are fine?”
M-Zuuungooo: “Well, as I was just telling your friend who is standing right next to us (I actually say thing like this) I’m good, how are you?”
Friend 2: “Fine and you?”
M-Zuuungooo : “Well, as I mentioned before I’m good.”
Friend 2: “Fine, and you?”
And so on. As friend 4 takes up the reigns.
Camping tips. For the lads.
When making coffee (essential to my day) in the morning use extra (if available) water to use to wash up porridge.
Take out tent (where possible) at lunch to dry off dew.
2 pots are better than 1.
Stainless steel (NJRM) bends into any container.
Leg razors on the face don’t give you a rash like overpriced fusion. Texted twice. Think this could reenergize my shaving career.
Sleep with head at top of the slope.
Pillow cases are important.
Don’t get into tent whilst head torch still on. Bugs and mosquitoes will follow the leader leader..
If you have made it this far – WELL DONE!
I just want to finish by saying a massive congratulations to the Sierra Leone marathon runners! The WYCF team absolutely bossed it and you should definitely consider donating!! Although, they have raised way more money than I have so “gimme money” first. AWESOME GUYS!
Secondly I want to say a big big thank you to Henry’s Shoes. They have provided me with massive support the whole way through my trip, sending me hilarious emails constantly (he also has time.) and financially supporting me as well. Please check out their website, for those of you who started your own businesses, you know how important the first few months can be. Although Hen and I disagree on many things (everything), especially fashion. Finally we have something we can both really like.
Post Swift: Again, any missing Us or rogue Zs instead of Ss. - American auto correct. Je n’aime pas.
But I can’t. Because it’s broken.
If Botswana was ‘boring’ then the last couple of weeks since my last update have been the complete opposite (unfortunately not always in a positive sense!) They have been very very busy so I must try and be careful not to try and cram too much in. I will try and put the most boring stuff at the end, as Jo de Klee very honestly told me in his last message to me “your blogs are a bit on the long side for me so I read the top and bottom and the look at the photos and your map!!”.
***I have just finished writing and have reread it - I know this week is long, and not all that humerous, but its hard being funny when you are dripping sweat onto a keyboard and there are flies buzzing around your face, with UNSPEAKABLY slow internet! Next week I’ll be back in full force (I have had a couple of amusing ideas, but this week there is just too much of actual country and update to cover!). Disappointingly, the internet here again is so slow that I have only been able to upload a couple of photos. Will do my best to find somewhere else in the next few days.
I will try then to split this update up into 3 parts - my time through Zimbabwe and Mozambique (focusing mainly on Lady Love) and then a 2 part edition of my time so far in Malawi.
No longer than 20 hours after writing my last update did things start to go wrong! Things had, after about 40 days started to show signs of wear and tear; my tent bag ripped (fixed with duct tape), my water bottle holder snapped (fixed with duct tape), my sleeping mat has holes in it (attempted fix with repair kit), my shirts and shorts are all ripped (as yet, unfixed), my pedals have slowly bored holes through the soles of my shoes, my handle bar grip has ripped and started coming off (fixed with duct tape), my inner tubes look like a patchwork quilt. However, although these issues mean that each evening I spend fixing something, it hasn’t really affected me. What did affect me was that about 2 hours outside of Harare my rim (the wheel) broke!
I think that this was probably down to my amateur bike repair skills and originated in my fall in Zambia, but finally a real mechanical challenge! I temporarily fixed the wheel (with duct tape. Obviously.) and straightened it up a bit and tried to get moving. After an hour or so it was completely bent again. Straightened it up. Hour later, wobbling all over the place. To add to this the rain had started coming down, and I had just finished Allen Carr (come on Allen. 4th time lucky) so was feeling a little tetchy! After my third stop and ‘truing’ of the wheel, the heavens opened. Lightening like you wouldn’t believe. Desperately seeking shelter, I took refuge under a shack selling sweet potatoes, yam and butternuts with four lads. After two hours of chatting with the boys (From Right to Left: Cathy – wearing a rosary. Jerry D - after Jermain Defoe. Annie- short for annoying guy. And Paddington – his real name) the rain still hadn’t stopped so I asked them if I could stay the night in their hut, I was a little worried about the wheel I must admit, but knew, one way or another; I’d have to get through it.
That night should have been a peach. Escaped from the rain, sleeping on a dusty floor of a roadside shack, having just cooked myself yam and sweet potato the lads had given me on an open fire. However, at about 3 – “Ayyan! Ayaaaan! Wake! Wake!” The boys were back. Hammered. Three of the boys (Annie, Paddington and a paralytic Cathy) were back to chat to the White Guy, and make him drink. After I had tried a bit of their Chibuku (vomit flavoured local brew) I made it quite clear that I wanted to go back to sleep (as many a poor unfortunate soul have discovered in the past. Don’t wake me up. Especially if you’re pissed. Ever. Even if I’m sleeping in your shack.) Cathy had by this stage completely passed out on the floor beside me, whilst the other two continually reintroduced themselves to me, I think, convinced by my hostility that I didn’t recognise them. I eventually hoisted Cathy onto my shoulder and marched him outside and down the road a bit towards their village. Dumped him on the side of the road and said good night to the other two, whilst at the same time trying to pull it off that I was making a joke, haha. Not sure if they bought it, but they certainly wouldn’t remember it!
The following day I made it about 120ks, constantly stopping and adjusting my wheel. Very boring! Eventually the rim completely went and I had to hitch the final 30km to Mutare (in a vast juggernaught. In the cab there was a bed, a girlfriend, a beer drinking driver, three women a two small children and a baby. We all sat in a line squashed along the bed - I looked like a milky button in a packet of minstrels!) I love hitch hiking, I have done it a fair amount of it – don’t worry, the 10000 is distance pedaled, I don’t count the lifts – usually for convenience sake, you meet the most bizarre and fascinating people.
All the shops were closed, so in the morning I wandered down to the local hardware shop (the only places that sell bike stuff – “TIA”, there are no fancy bike shops here), they sent me down the road to try and get it mended, they said no, try here, who sent me back to the original hardware shop. Not looking good. After about 3 hours of standing in the shop discussing options and essentially just looking at each other, one of the lads phoned Francis (why this wasn’t his first move I will never work out) who, apparently, had a bike just like mine. Francis arrived and, thanks be to God, said he had a spare rim in his garage. By the next morning I had a new wheel – a rusty, wobbly and heavy new wheel but one that definitely worked! Honestly a miracle. I think this, with a million different example from this trip, only shows that if in Africa you are patient and relaxed you will always be fine. The moment you get stressed out and snappy, game over. People will just close down and ignore you. (Whilst all this was going on I had sneakily decided and requested my hero of a Dad to be at the ready to post one to Patrick Garety, a friend of mine on in Lilongwe (10 days ride away) who I was planning on visiting)
By the time I was in no mans land between the Zimbabwean and Mozambican borders I had had a puncture. Too late to turn back, in Mozambique now. By the time I was through immigration I had had three more punctures. Tube in, hssssssss. Other tube in, repair original. Hsssssssss. Two tubes out, both being repaired. One back in. Hsssssssss. Finally it sounded like one of the tubes wasn’t puncturing (the rust inside the rim was puncturing the tubes from the inside) and off I went. STUNNING Mozambique, beautiful day, smiling uber friendly peohssssssssssss. Shit.
Ended up hitching (losing a lot of time here- two short days from Harare, day off in Mutare. Now another day of(f) wheel repair. Not ideal. **Am now a fair way behind my needed average but still feeling optimistic.) this time with a batty, kind, 60 year old Mexican missionary lady (another story) to the next town, where, guess what? I fixed my wheel with duct tape! Lining the rust and screws to protect the tube. Without labouring the point (he says after a thousand words….) the wheel made it to Lilongwe, however like the other one I had to straighten it up every 3 hours or so. And it slowed me down a fair amount. But without Francis and the wheel I would never have made it to Lilongwe (where my shiny new wheel was waiting for me!), so in reality I was very lucky.
Quickly, as I know that I have barely written about it this week or last. I loved Zimbabwe. Despite the weather (Extreme heat, extreme humidity, extreme rain. Muggy.) it was amazing. The people were very interesting, and kind. And it was interesting to be back in a mixed race country. The white people continued not to wave at me and the Black people would not wave or smile unless I did first at which point I would be greeted by a massive smile and return greeting. I had to initiate it though otherwise it was a hostile glare.
My 5 days in Mozambique were awesome. I absolutely loved it. The people were unbearably friendly and the scenery was spectacular. With great Zimbabwean peaks to my left (West) and out to my right, great hilly plains with the occasional very random seeming mountain just popping out of nowhere. Aside from the smiling faces I cycled through boab forests, through hundreds of little river valleys, past uncountable roadside stalls (what these stalls sell - as with the whole way alonge -depends on the terrain etc. that the village is in. Ranging from veg (again localised), to charcoal, to fuel (where do they get it from?!), fruit, clothes, etc. etc.)
Apart from my first night in the Chimoyo where I was trying to mend my wheel - I didn’t see any other white people and no evidence of tourism, sleeping in the bush for the four nights after that. Perhaps I enjoyed meeting the people so much because we didn’t share a single word of language. In a way, quite refreshing not to say How are you? To every single person I pass. My Portuguese amounts to a mix of my ultra limited Spanish and Italian (Bene bene una cervesa per favour grazie gratias gliiiiii estrella) so we were left with just smiling and waving. The huge beaming smiles, left me shocked that this was a country that has been through some horrific civil war.
Malawi comes in two parts, mainly because I want to use a second sub title and because there really is two sides to the experience I’ve had here. The first half is that the scenery is beautiful, the lake side spectacular, the road side is full of life – the most densely populated country in Africa- full of markets and food (delicious doughnut bread and fruit to buy) all topped off by beaches and the most fantastic day in Lilongwe. The second half of my time here are the people.
Seeing Patrick (a friend from school, also my director of the Play we took to Edinburgh Fringe) was beyond excellent. Not simply because he was the first person I’ve seen in 2 months who I know but also that he is living such an incredibly fascinating and inspiring life. He showed me round Lilongwe, constantly greeting people - be they musicians, taxi drivers or street vendors. He seemed to know everyone. It was such a pleasure to be with someone who knows the place, but also to get away from Lady Love for a bit. Great to get beyond just the road side and dig a little deeper into the hidden bazaar like (Muslim influence) markets and down backstreets. Constantly having a bicycle is like looking after a child. Or rather looking after a child who is looking after all your stuff. I have barely camped rough here (I have slept in a couple of very brothel like roadside ‘resthouses’) as there are just so many people and there are also a lot of places to stay, I think this will change almost as soon as I am in Tanzania (2 days). Really excited about wilderness again. With a working bike!