1 man, 2 wheels, 5 years, 6 continents, 60 countries and 50,000 miles on a bicycle…



I asked a local guy what we could do on or around Lake Malawi, he assured me it offered tourist activities galore…

‘Well you can snorkel and scuba dive, windsurf, feed a fish eagle, cliff jump, go on a fishing trip, canoe, club baboons…’
‘Wait stop. What was that last one?’
Yep, that’s right, I was informed Malawi is one of the last places you can legally pay to go out and club baboons to death. Hmmm, it didn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, I can’t really see the appeal. I wondered what type of character goes baboon clubbing. Can it be something many people are interested in? Could ‘baboon clubbing’ ever find its way onto someone’s Curriculum Vitae under ‘other interests’? Would it ever come up in a job interview?…
‘So Mr Jones, we’re very impressed with your experience. Now tell us a little about what you like to do outside work’
‘Well I like to read, I’m a big fan of travel literature. I watch my son Johnny play football on Saturdays, I go to church and I play squash twice a week. Oh and every so often I club baboons’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘It’s sort of a blood sport, great for relieving stress. We catch them in big nets and then bludgeon them to death.
Errrm Mr Jones?…
Sometimes I bring my family along too. You should see the look of excitement on little Johnny’s face when we catch a big male baboon and batter it into a bloody, writhing pulp…’
‘MR JONES PLEASE!… We’ll, erm… we’ll let you know’

On one of my last mornings in Malawi I woke up next to a gorgeous Malawian girl, pondering both whether it would be so bad to stay in Malawi a little longer and how on earth I had managed to coax this beauty back to my place, my place consisting of a tent with a broken air bed, a rich variety of ever-present arthropods and the far from alluring aroma of sweaty cyclist. I had some breakfast in the hostel and noticed that someone had inscribed a message in large chalk letters on the blackboard…

‘BIN LADEN IS DEAD! (but we’re not sure. It might be Bon Jovi)’
Riding and relaxing along the shores of the lake felt a bit self-indulgent, this was hedonism when compared to life before Malawi. But Zambia had the cure for our Malawi holiday hangover… The Great East Road beckoned. I said goodbye to anonymous Malawian girl and pawed over my now redundant map. Won’t be needing that. It was sent into one of the many deep dark recesses of the ‘pannier of doom’, a place full of all the stuff we need to carry but rarely use. I knew what I needed to know. Lilongwe to Lusaka, seven hundred and fifty kilometres, no left turns, no right turns, plenty of hills and just a sprinkling of villages en route. We set off early, Nyomi and I and our bicycles, Belinda and Dave (Ny has belated decided to christen her bike Dave because ‘everybody’s got a mate called Dave’. You can’t argue with that).

Camping in a Zambian village

At the end of our second day in Zambia we ran into another cyclist at a guesthouse who was also traveling in our direction. Yves was a forty year old Belgian, skinny, bald and sporting a pointed goatee beard. He had sellotaped empty multicoloured packets of noodles to every inch of his bicycle frame. Imagine Ming the Merciless swapping his spaceship for a bicycle after taking a large and very potent cocktail of psychedelic drugs. I liked his style. Nyomi obviously felt some subconscious urge to compete with this glib attire. She had recently washed her underwear and so she attached each item of negligee to the back of her bicycle to dry in the sunshine. She rode off expressionless, unperturbed and unconcerned  in spite of the many chuckling Zambians. It looked like a mannequin had done a runner from a department store with half the lingerie section. I rode off despondently, depressed about my relatively bland and understated appearance, professing to do something about it.

Once the Great East road would have been a test but we were noticeably fitter now, we breezed up the hills and covered 140 km a day to Lusaka. Witchcraft is alive and well in Zambia and along the way I could often hear drumming from the ceremonies conducted by witch doctors in the villages. Even in the Zambian capital Lusaka there were posters and adverts abound. I was given one pamphlet for a traditional healer who claimed to help a panoply of different people from the bewitched to the insane and the infertile. His instruction was to come with two small stones and 20,000 Zambian Kwatcha, the local currency. An equally bizarre piece of advice followed…
‘If you come for treatment, don’t eat any fish’
He also claimed to help people win the lottery, get job promotions and pass exams as well as a special service of ‘chasing away the Tokoloshe’, the Tokoloshe is a dwarf-like water sprite, considered a mischievous and evil spirit in zulu mythology. On a more disconcerting tip he also offered to help women with cancer and people with HIV. I have to admit that I share some of the same opinions about homeopathy and herbal medicine as Dara O’Briain…

After Lusaka we pushed west towards Livingstone. On one night we slept on the floor of a church, I woke in the early hours with a start. An insect of some variety had decided my ear was a cosy place to spend the night. Somehow it had managed to work its way deep into my auditory canal and it was a stale mate. It couldn’t find its way out and I couldn’t evict the intruder. Every minute scratch and wiggle was thunderous. It was probably freaking out when confronted by the overcrowded insect necropolis of my inner ear. Whilst cycling bugs seem to get into every orifice. My retina has also become a cemetery for suicidal insects and I’m sure there are a few survivors in there somewhere, floating around and feasting on my aqueous humour.

It started with a sound. A low pitched sonorous rumble and then a fleeting glimpse, through the trees. I wondered if I would ever truly appreciate a waterfall again after Victoria Falls, the rumbling giantess that eclipses all others. The falls is the result of the mighty Zambezi river, almost two kilometres in girth, hurling itself off a hundred metre high cliff, collecting again after a frothy white oblivion. It’s the largest sheet of falling water in the world, and now, during the wet season, even more water crashed over it’s rim than usual. Huge fingers of spray danced a nimble jig through the air and as we approached water began to strike us from every direction. The misty mask obscuring the falls added to the intrigue, every so often a patch would fade and behind the waterfall’s spectacular rim would come into view. We circled the falls from the Zambian side, a sign read ‘If you walk across the lip of the falls, watch out for sudden water bursts’. No skulls and crossbones, no authoritative demands or mandates, just a message that equates to ‘Do it if you want, but try not to die’.

We relaxed for a while in Livingstone. Where there are tourists, there are touts. The ones here were selling ‘one trillion Zimbabwean dollar’ bank notes, relics of Zimbabwe’s days of hyperinflation. But Zim is not on our itinery. Next Nyomi and I seperate briefly once again, I plan to ride a thousand kilometre loop through Botswana, around the Okavango Delta and through the Makgadikgadi salt pans. Nyomi will take a shorter passage via the Caprivi strip in Namibia, we will meet again in a couple of weeks.

We bumped into lots of fellow travelers in Livingstone, as usual they had questions about cycling, how far we cycle, why we cycle. People ask me what do I do all day. Do I get bored? Sometimes, yes, but there are always ways to occupy your mind and lift your spirits. I leave you with an extract from the blog of a fellow cyclist. My life has become similar…

“What do I do all day? Well, many things really. In addition to the obvious, I also have a habit of thinking of a particular family member or friend and dwelling on my experiences with them. Sometimes I even talk to them. I also constantly analyze and re-analyze my life and find ways, and there are many, to try to improve my general disposition and future direction. Many times, I sing. I wonder why my pointer finger toe is longer than my thumb toe. I often search the side of the road for anything salvageable. I eat. I read. I stop to scribble down ideas. I pee. I apply sunscreen. I, depending, remove or add layers of clothing. I chat with curious drivers. I repair flat tires or change out broken spokes. I listen to music. I take pictures. I write letters. I make to do lists (an unshakeable habit). I choose career paths and then quit. I re-live days of my youth, both the good and bad. I explain things to people that aren’t there and they finally understand. I think of things I should have said but didn’t. I, depending, laugh, cry, or am neutral in regards to certain memories. I try to remember where I slept seventeen nights ago. I look at the picture of my family that I have in a clear piece of plastic on top of my handlebar bag and am thankful. I look at maps and decide. I exchange fleeting pleasantries with people. I think about the future. I dwell on the past. I am surprised at the present. I remember things I’ve forgotten to do and add them to those to do lists. I grow my beard. I miss people. And, I watch the amazing scenery unfold. All in all, it makes for quite a full day.”

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