4 August 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle
Day 20 and 21 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Sumbawanga to Lake Tanganyika
I am blogging to you from Juma’s Campsite on the Northern boundary of the Kativi National Park. As I type, I can hear a hippo snorting in the river 20 meters below camp, a colony of herons and yellow-billed storks squawking in the trees above camp, and a steady stream of 30 ton trucks struggling down the steep road leading down to the river. Alas. The trucks are louder than the hippo and the birds, but not as loud as the mosquitoes looking for any blood the tsetse flies might have overlooked earlier in the day.
We met a Swiss traveller also staying at Juma’s, but in one of the chalets. He told us he is paying $2.00 per night. We told him he’s been ripped off.
But Juma’s is not all bad. The showers are sort of hot, and share the same room as the hole in the floor loos, which makes for economic flushing I guess. Thankfully he has also given us access to a conventional flushing loo inside one of the chalets. Unfortunately a spitting cobra also had access to the loo and Linda bumped into him literally whilst seated on the throne. Personally, I would have shat myself, but Linda remained calm, and called for Laurie. (Even Bear Grylls speed dials Laurie Watermeyer when he has snake problems on the toilet.)
Laurie duly captured the snake, and went to fling him into the river, but flung him into the storks tree by accident, which is most probably why the storks are squawking so loud.
But enough of the night sounds of Africa, and more about our best ever bike adventure up through Africa.
Day 20 – from Sumbawanga down to Lake Tanganyika.
Distance- 63 km
Climb – 1006 m
Time – 3 hr 37 min
Ave Heart Rate – 112 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 157 bpm
Yesterday was a half day ride on good dirt from Sumbawanga down to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, all downhill thankfully, apart from the uphill bits.
The 40 km descent down to the Great Rift Valley floor took us through the most amazing, beautiful, pristine woodland, mostly some kind of Brachystgia as identified by Vicky Bowen in conjunction with Meg Coates-Palgrave.
I rode slow at the very back like a sponge, so as to try and soak it all in. Riding down that hill through that bush was why mountain bikes were invented. It is as absolutely beautiful and best enjoyed on your own. I eventually caught up with the Watermeyers, also riding like tourists. Laurie saw elephant droppings.
We rode down to the shores of Lake Tanganyika with a real sense of history, knowing that we were riding exactly where people like Speke and Stanley had walked a hundred years before, and not much has changed, apart from all the luxury resorts.
We were booked at Lakeside Lodge, Kipili, an absolute oasis run by Chris and Lou Horsfall. It is nestled in one of Tanganyika’s many, many bays, with an emphasis on many. And for reasons unknown, our route took us via all the other bays before we got to ours. It also took us up hills that weren’t supposed to be there. Contrary to belief, the Rift Valley floor is not flat. Suffice to say and as per always, the last 20 km of the ride was a bitch and dragged on for miles.
But to find Lakeside Lodge at the end was worth all the sweat and the hurt. It is a piece of paradise and we didn’t want to leave.
We were reunited with an old friend from the Kilimanjaro Tour. Incredibly, Paul Metcalfe ex-Shamva had driven 600 kilometers from Mbeya, to shower us with gifts of dry wors, coffee and even fresh avo oil.
We were at Lakeside to look at the cichlids but alas, the viewing conditions were at their worst following a rapid rise in the lake level. Instead, Chris took the Old Legs Tour on a sunset booze cruise and blew them away with stats on the size of the Lake.
Lake Tanganyika is an island sea, complete with coconut palms, complete with coconuts and is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, 1500 meters deep at it’s deepest point. Incredibly, we were told it contains 20% of the world’s fresh water, up from 18%, following heavy rains.
Which could prove a snag for the non-swimmers of the world because resident cynic Al Watermeyer reliably informed me that Canada has 60% of the world’s fresh water, the USA 40%, plus then the Europeans with another 40% in their lakes and rivers, and then Indians with theirs, but not the Ganges which is far from fresh, plus a whole bunch of others too numerous to mention, and you’ve got a bunch of non-swimmers in deep water.
While the others booze cruised, Jenny, Ant and I climbed the hill above the Lodge to the ruins of the Kipili Mission overlooking the massive Lake to say goodbye to Jenny’s mom who we lost to Covid at the start of the Tour. The Kipili Mission was built by the White Fathers at the beginning of the last century, but abandoned during the Second World War, slowly falling into ruin with nature propping up where she can, with the roots of a massive fig tree now forming the foundations of the sacristy still standing. It remains a strongly spiritual place and overlooking Africa’s splendor and beauty, it is the perfect place to say your prayers and farewells to loved ones.
The next day we drove back up the escarpment to start our Day 21 ride through the middle of the Kativi National Park, home to 50,000 buffaloes, plus every tsetse fly in creation.
CarolJoy’s Day 21 stats through the Kativi National Park ( My phone conked out from exhaustion mid-ride.)
Distance- 125 km
Climb – 578 m
Time – 6 hr 34 min
Ave Heart Rate – 125 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 159 bpm
We enjoyed 30 km of tar before reaching the Park. I took my new love affair with Ankole Watusi, the ridiculously long-horned cattle you get in these parts, to the next level by asking the guy driving an ox drawn cart easily the most random question I have ever asked on a bicycle tour – Excuse me, but please can I hug your ox?
The cart driver told me sure, no problem but alas, never passed the message giving me permission to hug on to his ox. I got off my bike and approached the ox confidently tentative and with an engaging smile firmly fixed in position, but also ready to flee for my life in case he had mad cow disease and tried to run me through with his horns.
The beast had horns thick like someone else’s thigh, and hugely long. And surprisingly he had the beadiest, angry eyes when you got up close, which is where you need to get when trying to hug something. There is a thin line between tentative confidence and beating a healthy retreat and I quickly crossed the line as soon as the beast started shaking his shaggy head, looking to line me up for an evisceration and impaling. I’ve decided to keep my relationship with the Ankole Watusi a distance one and will look for a smaller, cuter rodents to hug it up with instead, something without 5 foot horns, like maybe a guinea pig or a hamster.
The buffaloes of Kativi conspired to remain unseen. But according to the less blind members of the team, I also almost saw elephants, wild dog, eland, and many impala, but didn’t. Although I did get to see a herd of roan antelope which was very cool, bushbuck and zebra, and a herd of giraffe somehow impervious to Mark’s giraffe-repellent qualities.
The black swarms of tsetse flies were easier to spot as they flocked to enjoy new blood entering the Park. Some of the riders rode with mosquito nets over their helmets, despite the 33 degree heat. Every time Gary’s drone buzzed overhead, I panicked to get my carotid and other arteries under wraps.
I was forced to swear at a swine tsetse fly when he stabbed me in my right pinky, with a proboscis larger than my pinky and proceeded to calmly suck out my lifeblood, visibly swelling in the process. Tsetse flies are thick-skinned and impervious to bad language.
Everyone handles tsetse flies differently. Where I swear and squeal, Marco tries to dislodge his flies by deploying a disco wriggle in his body from top to bottom, like a musical shudder, like he’s forcibly listening to Abba or worse. Al is seemingly impervious to tsetse stings but insists my ‘no brain, no pain’ observations are way off the mark.
Mark Wilson though has easily the worst strategy for dealing with tsetse. A pair of hungry flies landed on the front of his ride shorts and commenced to feed, and Mark instinctively clobbered them hard. Mark needs to know that long bike tours become intolerably longer and lot less fun if you ride around punching yourself in the balls with venom. Better to just let the tsetse feed.
Vicky was game scout in the lead vehicle for the afternoon session and gave us very precise instructions to enjoy the impala on our right under the Tamarind tree. Which is a snag if you don’t know what a tamarind tree looks like. In future, I’ve asked her to only show me impala under flowering jacarandas.
Riding through the Kativi, Laurie told me he was enjoying his Eureka day. There is nowhere else he would rather be and nothing else he would rather be doing.
We drove through nearly one hundred kilometers of raw Africa, virgin and unspoiled bush stretching away as far as you could see in every direction. I was sat on top of a hill feature on which we’d stopped for lunch, and was struggling for suitable superlatives. Ant Mellon standing next to me got it in one. He described the bush as endless.
Very cool. Best friend Fiona Dawson, mother of Russell, is using the Old Legs Silverback Tour and Gary’s amazing photos as the basis for a series of lectures entitled “Africa is NOT a country” aimed at educating 120 16 year-old Australian kids here who have no idea about Africa or of how fortunate they are to have what they have. They will also learn why we are riding to Uganda and the root causes and the economic stupidities of why Zimbabwe’s pensioners have been left with nothing.
Tomorrow we ride 122 kilometers and climb 1800 meters of up, before we drop back down to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika for our last rest day. Wish us luck.
Until my next blog from Kigoma, enjoy and don’t be punching tsetse flies on your balls – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.