13th of August- The Third World as seen from the Saddle

Days 32 and 33 of The Old Legs Tour.

I peered at a fingerprint smudge on my sunglasses excitedly for 10 kilometers today, thinking it was the spray from the Victoria Falls. I was confused why the Falls weren’t getting any closer but put it down to my normal appalling drop off in speed towards the end of a ride. I really must get some glasses.

As it turned out there is hardly any spray cloud hanging over the Falls, despite a powerful amount of water thundering over them. But Alex Crawford, please note the Victoria Falls are bigger, better and more spectacular than ever.

The Vic Falls community gave the Old Legs a rock and roll welcome. Clive, Sid, Charles, Libby, Jordan, Bruno and Paulo met us on the road with a cold box, deck chairs and biltong and then rode the last 20 km into town with us. We crested a small hill and were surprised by Charlie Hewitt and her little band of drummers and tribal dancers. They gave me goosebumps and I was moved to join them in dance, proving once and for all that Chicken Legs have no rhythm.

Stu and Gary flew the flags of some of our sponsors from the back of their Isuzu as we drove into Vic Falls.

Our route into Vic Falls was 200 km long from Milibizi via Deka. Mike Scott knows the area well and said it would be hills and dales through the Gwaai, the Deka and the Matetsi River catchment areas with belts of Kalahari sands and teak forests. I found out that hill and dale is polite speak for steep bloody hills with gradients accentuated by temperatures in the low to mid thirties.

We were on the road early out of Milibizi racing the sun in an effort to get some miles under our belt before it got bloody hot. That strategy worked well for the first 30 minutes.

The other thing that raced was my heart rate. I looked down at my watch near the top of a mountain and got a fright when I read 180 beats per minute. I don’t think my heart has ever gone that fast, not even for elephants. I stopped for a breather and my heart rate quickly dropped down to below 120. I watched it carefully all day thereafter.

Riding out of Milibizi the smell from the knobthorns was almost overpowering. Mike said many of the trees were into their spring flush early. Silly boy. They don’t do spring in these parts, or winter. As far as I can see, they just go from summer right back into summer.

We rode through the Kavira Forest Area with the strict instructions from Mike not to go to the toilet in the bush on the righthand side of the road, for fear of stepping on forty year old land mines left over from the war. Fear of land mines brings on constipation quicker than Imodium.

Gary and Stu were able to practice their setting up camp skills when Carl sent them ahead with strict instructions to find a bush camp somewhere on or near the 90 km mark for the day. They found a lovely campsite with a thorn tree and a splendid view of the dirt road we’d spent the last 6 hours on. As soon as they had finished setting up camp, they were able to practice their dismantling camp techniques after we received permission from Mbalabala Safaris to overnight at their Sidinda Hunting and Fishing Camp on the Zambezi River. At first Gary and Stu were grumpy, but were won over by the view of the Zambezi river in front of Sidinda. The soft beds and hot showers weren’t bad either. By the time we reach Bulawayo on the 19th, I expect Gary and Stu will be quite good at making and breaking camp.

Carl earned himself another Dick of the Day award for deciding to upgrade us from a campsite from under the thorn tree. Let it be known, I never voted for him.

Sidinda was next level good. A herd of buffalo served as a welcoming committee for the riders, including one notoriously cheeky bull who thankfully remained on best behaviour.

The Zambezi River in front of Sidinda was a different river to the Zambezi we’d last seen in the Kariba Gorge. The Zambezi in the Gorge was seething like a malevolent cauldron powerful and angry. The Sidinda version was narrow, gentle like something out of Old Golden Pond. At first I thought Carl’s Garmin had got lost again and had taken us to the Gwebi River by mistake.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Mbalabala Safaris for your heartwarming hospitality.

The bush we rode through between Deka and Vic Falls was very pretty with golden Chloris grass and funky Chestnut trees with a mottled grey and brown bark. The Chestnut has a Latin name but it escapes me.

I was joined briefly on the ride near Deka by a young man called Ephraim. He lives along the Zambezi. Curious, he chased me down on his Buffalo bike to find out who I was and where I was riding to. I told him we were riding from Bulawayo to Bulawayo for charity, but mostly for fun. Ephraim was confused. It was 35 degrees at the time and Ephraim could see no reason why anyone would ride 3000 km in the hot to end up back where they started. I told him to think of it more like a holiday. Ephraim said holidays were for drinking beer and just enjoying. My legs are thinking that Ephraim might have a valid point.

The rest of me though thinks we might have stumbled onto a new type of tourism. Too often, holidays are only about the destination with the journey to get to where you are going an unavoidable pain in the arse. But at 20 k.p.h. on a bike, the bits in between the resorts and the game reserves can be just as stand out and memorable.

As we rode passed the turn off to Jambezi, I remembered Kevin Lawler killed in action these many years past. Salute, respect and continued strength to the Lawler family.

We rode past irrigation schemes along the Zambezi, plots of top end fancy vegetables grown by small holder farmers for hotels in Hwange and Vic Falls and facilitated by Green Line, Charlie Hewitt’s N.G.O. They are the first irrigated agriculture we have seen alongside 800 km of Zambezi River. Charlie Hewitt has long been a hero of mine, ever since she rode 22000 km 35 years ago to save the rhinos. She still has boundless energy. Kudos to her, Veronica and their team for making a difference to so many lives. I am going to try and help Charlie further when I get back to Harare.

Spurred on by the promise of a reunion with his daughter Billie on her birthday, Carl fairly flew on the last 90 km into the Falls, excited like a kid on the last day of school. Happy Birthday Billie.

We have been hosted in Vic Falls by Bruno de Leo and his staff at Batonka Lodge. Like the rest of Vic Falls, Bruno has been hard hit by coronavirus with zero bookings from February onwards. But Vic Falls have pulled together as a community and will emerge stronger and more resolute. They are the epitome of the word resilience.

Jenny and I went shopping in Vic Falls this morning for bread rolls and beer. It was our first time to be I n a town since Mutare 17 days ago. It was our first time to be in a shop since we left Harare 33 days ago. We haven’t missed it one bit. We saw our first crispy new twenty dollar note today, Zimbabwe’s recently released highest denomination bank note. Alas, I saw that Zimbabweans now need more than 3 of their largest denominated bank notes to buy a loaf of bread.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge sponsors e’Pap. Thanks for keeping me pedaling. I would especially like to thank perennial sponsors Ilala Lodge. The Brown family wrote the book on helping others. Thank you.

Tomorrow morning we will ride 100 km from Vic Falls to Robins Camp in Hwange National Park, home of Mopane and other lions, but thankfully no tigers. It is the beginning of the end of our epic Tour that has taken us from Bulawayo to Bulawayo. We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please follow us and the donate prompts on www.oldlegstour.co.zw

Until my next blog from Hwange, stay safe, survive and enjoy if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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