3rd August- The Third World as seen from the Saddle

Day 23 of the Old Legs Lockdown Tour I think. If the truth be known it is all becoming a bit of a blur.

I am blogging from the sandy Mkanga River in the Dande hunting area. You don’t get more remote than Mkanga, or peaceful, it is perfect for our first rest day in 769 kilometers and 9190 meters of climbing, which is higher than Everest. I was well knackered and my legs were ready to walk out on me.

Game at Mkanga is plentiful. The river bed in front of camp has been busy all day with baboons, kudu and bushbuck. Last night we were visited by a civet cat, a genet and heard elephant and hyena. The moon was over full last night,almost good enough to tan by. And plenty good enough to spot Pel’s Fishing Owls you’d think. I even had 2 pairs of Nikons at the ready, mine and the mystery pair my kitbag thieved, but saw not hide, hair or feather. Alas. Whilst here, Carl was able to add Livingstone’s Flycatcher to his birds seen list He is now up to 108 birds seen on Tour.

We have been hosted at Mkanga Camp by Buzz and Steph Charlton, and their daughters Zoe and Jessie. They have been wonderful hosts and I will lobby strongly for my next grandchild to be named Buzz, regardless of sex. Jessie even almost let Jenny beat her at Snakes and Ladders, but didn’t.

In the morning we were able to visit Chewore’s world famous dinosaur footprints, belonging to the Brachiosaurus, the second largest sarupod dinosaur ever to have walked the earth, plus the Alosarus, predecessor to the T-Rex. The footprints were that well preserved in the rock river bed, it wasn’t hard to imagine the ground shaking 145 million years ago, just like in the movie.

Jenny and I are coming back to Mkanga in November, hopefully to tick off the Angola Pitta. Carl saw two pairs in camp last November and said they are plentiful like chickens at that time of year. But he also said that about the Pel’s.

We rode along the Zambezi Valley floor from Mazarabani through Mashumbi Pools and across the Angwa River. I rode 91 km in 6 hours 20 minutes. Because he needs the exercise, Carl pushed on for another 40 km.

I loved riding the Zambezi Valley for the first plus minus 40 km. Even sans wildlife, it is beautiful bush with very few people and the Muvuradonha Mountains kept us company to our left. But afterwards it became a grind, especially when we lost sight of the mountains. Views help ease the pain on a bike.

I had plenty of time for more contemplating. Previously I am on record thinking green jelly babies are also nice, but I’ve changed. Now I think they’re disappointing. At first glance in the bottom of the packet you think they’re black jelly babies, until they’re in your mouth. Going forward, I am going to try trade my green ones for Mark Wilson’s black ones. Because Mark is a philistine, he doesn’t like black jelly babies.

It was sort of nice to share the road with a procession of 30 ton rigs hauling cotton to the ginnery at Mazarabani, even though they threw up huge clouds of dust. In amongst miles and miles of poverty, it is good to see some economic activity. After the Tour I’d like to come teach these people how to grow sesame. They deserve a better return on their hard work.

I especially feel sorry for the kids in these remote rural areas we’ve ridden through. All schools are closed because of coronavirus and have that abandoned, derelict Marie Celeste look to them, closed for fear that kids crammed into classrooms would expose each other to coronavirus I guess. Instead the kids roam bored, playing all day, unless the first old guys on bicycles ride by for the first time in forever. Then they stand and stare, or run alongside, or walk alongside in my case, urging us on. They don’t do internet or cellphone signals in this part of the world, so no distance educating for these kids, just months and months of learning on hold.

My bike started making alarming grinding noises late morning. Mike picked up on it but I didn’t, because of the music playing in my head. My back derailleur was out of whack, courtesy of too many lumps, bumps and corrugations. Normally when my bike makes funny noises I turn my music up louder, but Mike suggested I bench my bike and borrow Carl’s spare Scott. Which I did. And then that also broke down after just 3 kilometers when the back derailleur jammed in the back spikes. Before you go calling me a jinx, I think the damage was done by days and days on the trailer on dodgy roads. So I finished the ride on Mark’s spare 27.5 inch Titan with the almost fat boy tyres.

Even though people like me keep bike mechanics like him gainfully employed, I think I make Mark Wilson shake his head a lot. He noticed at the end of yesterday’s ride that my handlebars were squonk, and had been all day. I told him the angled handlebars were a deliberate strategy on my part to allow me a better view of the mountains but I don’t think he bought that.

Outside of our bubble, apparently the coronavirus roller coaster has arrived in town. On this virus roller coaster, I started out skeptical, moved briefly to scared, back to skeptic and am now back to scared again. On our bikes we now mask up whenever we ride into habitation, if only to stop people running away from us petrified. Courtesy of Claire Wiggel and African Threads, we are now able to hand out Old Legs masks as we give to those who do not have. single digit death column, it looked like somehow Zimbabwe was going to dodge the coronavirus bullet. Alas, no longer apparently.

Whilst on the subject of petrified, Mark Wilson was fascinated by a forest of ‘scared trees’ 300 million years old. Mark does not have a thesaurus on his bicycle.

Tomorrow we ride 105 km west through the Chewore and then north towards the Zambezi and Chikwenya our night stop on the eastern boundary of Mana Pools. We are back riding with the elephants, lions and tigers for the next 4 days, so Mike Scott will be the ride captain. I am so excited at the prospect at finally riding my bicycle through Mana Pools. I am less excited about Tsetse flies, blood loss and feeling sleepy.

I will be riding with the Dick of the Day necklace around my neck after double cruel nominations, one from someone on Facebook for skipping a blog, and one from Mark Wilson for hogging 3 bikes on 1 day and for keeping him over busy. Mark is disappointing like green jelly babies.

Jenny drove into Mkanga Camp worried with her fuel light in Isuzu One flashing alarmingly only to find a 200 liter drum of diesel ready and waiting. Big kudos and thanks to Stu Chapman and his army of friends for making our food and fuel resupplies happen, especially Shaun Lawler at Seapride Zimbabwe, and Jan Hart.

Until my next blog from the banks of the Zambezi River, please stay safe, survive and enjoy if you can

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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