23rd July 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle.
Day 8 and 9 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Chipata to the Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa National Park
Distance – 132 km
Climb – 616 m
Time – 6 and a bit hours. (My watched conked out)
Ave Heart Rate – 114 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 170 bpm
I am blogging from the banks of the Luangwa River.
As I type, the baboon war to end all baboon wars is raging in the trees behind me. Apparently, according to the barman, a youngster has misbehaved and was now being terribly tortured by his elders, and every other baboon in the troop who wants a piece of him. I don’t know what he did wrong but it must have been real bad, because even the other little baboons are queuing to beat up on the little guy. Shame. I feel sorry for him. But the pod of hippos snoozing on the sandbank in front, don’t. They just wish he’d shut the hell up. Ditto the family of elephants trying to enjoy sundowners at the little waterhole in front of the bar, ditto the even more nervous than normal bushbuck ewe, ditto the giraffe frowning down their long noses at the fractious apes, ditto the warthogs, and ditto the small herd of puku, which for those who don’t know, look like scruffy impala. The only animals who looked like they were enjoying the baboon wars were a troop of monkeys spectating. The only thing they were lacking were packets of popcorn.
South Luangwa is fully deserving of it’s reputation as the best National Park in Africa, and I’m coming back to fully explore as soon as I can, but in a car, not on bike. Bicycles are not the best vehicles to view game from. Like hills, elephants are bigger when seen from a bicycle. Elephants are big enough naturally, and don’t require any further magnification.
The elephant that tripped over the guy rope of Russell’s tent at 7 minutes past midnight last night on his way down to the river was especially huge, according to Russell.
Russell spent the rest of the night wide awake, trying to summon up the courage to tell the elephant to voetsak if it passed by a second time. Russell now wishes he’d borrowed a bicycle helmet to sleep in, and a high-viz DayGlo orange tent. I’m very glad I didn’t lend him a sleeping bag.
My legs and my bottom are especially happy to be in Luangwa. Today is our first rest day after leaving Harare 8 days and 1000 kilometers ago. I think all of riders felt the same, bar maybe Billy who is soaking up Africa like a sponge, and C.J.
Politics, economics and grilled rats on the menu aside, Africa is good muti, especially Zambia. The people are easily the most friendly I’ve met, the views go on for ever and ever, the soils and climate look second to none. We’ve only been in Zambia for 5 days but already I understand why David Livingstone wanted his heart buried here.
But with most of Zambia still in front of us, I’m also suspecting exhaustion to be one of the primary causes of David’s death. Zambia is huge, especially on a bicycle at 20 k.p.h.
The leg from Chipata to Luangwa South was a monster 133 km amplified by 37 degree heat, and an absolutely pointless hill at the 80 kilometer peg, that made us forget all the pleasant downhill that had come before. On the route profile the hill showed like a pimple, but up close and on a bike, it was big like a mountain.
Still fearful of all the blood he lost to tsetse flies in the Zambezi Valley on the Lockdown Tour, Mark Wilson rode with a green mosquito net over his head, which clashed horribly with his Dick of the Day blue tutu. I think it must have been 57 degrees inside his mossie net. Any tsetses that went in there would have suffered fatal heat stroke.
For Billy it was his longest ride ever on a bike.
133 kilometers on a slow bike through much of the same scenery can make for a long day, especially if Adam sings. I begged him not to sing. Instead he made up a game which involved goats, instead of playing cards, and a very complex scoring system, so many points for a black goat, more for a white goat, and an undetermined number for brown goats. I am sure it would have been a jolly exciting game had we played, but alas, I was forced to feign exhaustion and dropped back to chat with Mark Wilson instead.
Conversation in our peloton is a very varied thing. While Mark was telling me all about a girl who came up to him at the bowling alley when he was thirteen to tell him she liked him, Jaime and CarolJoy were debating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs just behind us.
Adam and I had a race with a group of kids. Me and Adam were on bikes, and the kids on foot, but otherwise it was a fair contest. Over the 30 meter dash, I clocked the fastest kid at 22 kph. He was running barefoot on burning tar, and must have been all of 11 years old.
The vegetation changed from pristine woodland that definitely involved a mukwa tree, a Prince of Wales feather and a baobab, plus other trees whose names escape me to a coastal almost Beira type vegetation, complete with palm trees and at least one Flamboyant tree as we neared Mfuwe, which is weird considering we’re thousands of kilometers from Beira. But as soon as we turned off the main road and on to the dirt into the wildlife area, we were into cathedral mopane and albidas, same same like Mana Pools, but with added attractions like giraffe and puku.
Thanks to our sponsors Ezytrack, Linda and Jenny were bust at Mfuwe International Airport, twenty kilometers off track. They tried to bulldust us that they’d gone there to buy bargain bananas, but we didn’t buy it for a second.
Also bust earlier in the day was Al Watermeyer who packed up his tent and all his belongings at Chipata at 2 o’clock in the morning, instead of 5 o’clock.
Al Watermeyer is our route master for the Tanzanian and Uganda legs of the Tour. Things might get quite interesting. As mentioned in a previous blog, Al slipped on a bar of soap and banged his head rather hard on the ground, mostly because he is a clumsy bastard. Well it turns out that in banging his head, Al has suffered a traumatic nerve palsy, and the horizon he sees out of his left eye is 5 or 10 degrees lower than the horizon he sees out of his right eye.
We have consulted my eye surgeon in Harare, I have him on speed dial, and we have been told Al will enjoy spontaneous recovery over a 4 to 6 week period. But until then Al has to ride with a patch. To make the uphills in Tanzania and Uganda easier, I have asked Al to wear the patch on the eye with the lowest horizon.
We are very privileged to be able to ride through Luangwa wildlife areas for the next three days. We are even more privileged to have Robbie Clifford from Robin Pope Safaris riding shotgun for us, to make sure we don’t get stood upon or eaten by lions, tigers or elephants.
In closing a huge shout out to Herman Myles and the staff at the Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa for best ever rest day.
We are riding 3000 km from Harare to Uganda to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please follow and support us on www.oldlegstour.co.zw and on Facebook, but be warned, we ride slow like paint dries.
Until my next blog from the middle of the bush, stay safe, enjoy and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.