8th September 2021 – The Third World as Seen From The Saddle.

The Silverback Tour now seems forever ago. Our long drive home retracing our steps through Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe was epic, and added to the adventure. Jenny and I shared the back seat of the white Isuzu and both of us had loads of leg room.

You know that you have ridden a long way on your bike when it takes you 8 days to drive home in a car. You know you’ve ridden on lots of dirt roads when it takes you three weeks to wash the mud and the dirt out of your underpants, and your other clothing and kit. And one of our rules clearly states that you can’t start planning the next adventure until you’ve finished cleaning up after the last one. I think I’ll save time and effort and just go with khaki underpants, khaki everything next Tour.

The Silverback Tour now seems forever ago. Our long drive home retracing our steps through Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe was epic, and added to the adventure. Jenny and I shared the back seat of the white Isuzu and both of us had loads of leg room. But I had hardly any nose room though, on account of my face got scrunched up against the window by Jenny’s feet. Like I said, she had ample leg room. But face scrunched up against the window was also good, as I was able to focus on scenery outside for extended periods, like 8 hours at a time. And I can tell you that the hills a.k.a. mountains that we struggled up on our bikes looked as steep from inside of the Isuzu d-Max.

We crossed into Zimbabwe at Kariba. Even though we loved Tanzania and Zambia, Uganda not so much, it was good to be home.

Apart from all the signage that says Zimbabwe and all the familiar landmarks, you know you’re back in Zimbabwe because of the economics, and also the potholes, and also the worst driving in the world, and also the non-stop police roadblocks full of stern policemen studiously guarding 44-gallon drums, and studiously avoiding doing anything about the worst driving in the world.

But it is Zimbabwe’s economics that are stand-out.  In the 5 weeks we were away, the black-market rate has jumped from between 120 to 130 to the American dollar, to between 140 and 152, depending on where you shop. There are a few, with the emphasis on few, law-abiding a.k.a.  delusional shops quaintly clinging to government’s rate of 83 to 1. N.B. For those who don’t know, at those law-abiding and delusional outlets, instead of transacting at the tills at the fictional rates, you transact with the long line of touts outside whose rates are up to date and who will come in and swipe for you.

Now you can imagine how this random approach to exchange rates can wreak havoc with pricing. We arrived home to Cailyn’s opening sale of handcrafted book markers. Her class were learning entrepreneurial skills in their WhatsApp classroom, and she had to make stuff to sell, and book markers were her chosen product. (N.B. Cailyn is one of the lucky ones. Schools in Zimbabwe have been closed for most of this year and last, because of Covid lockdown, but her classes have carried on uninterrupted, online.  Spare a thought for the majority of kids out there without internet or cellphone signal who have lost 2 years of schooling. Alas.)

Cailyn the merchant got her hallo hugs out the way quickly, so she could get down to business.

Cailyn- “Hey Eric, welcome home. I’ve missed you lots. I want to hear all about your trip, blah, blah, blah, but first you got to check out my bookmarkers.  I’m learning how to be an entrpesomethingorother at school and you’ve got to buy some.”

Me- “Your book markers look very nice Cailyn, but do they work on Kindles?”

Cailyn- “Sure they work on Kindles.”

Me- “How much are they?”

Cailyn- “One for a dollar, two for two dollars and three for ten dollars?”

Me, very impressed that Cailyn had invented the opposite of a bulk discount. “Zim dollars or US Dollars.”

Cailyn with eyes rolling. “Duh!! US, Silly.”

Me- “Hmmm. Let me think about it.”

Cailyn- “While you think about it, where’ve you just been?”

Me- “We rode to Uganda on our bicycles.”

Cailyn – “Why did it take you so long?

Me- “Because Uganda is 3000 kilometres away.”

Cailyn is a firm believer than strenuous exercise should be even more strenuously avoided– “But why?”

Me- “So we could have fun, do good, and do epic.”

Cailyn- “I don’t get it”

Cailyn is a wonderful audience and rolls her eyes a lot. So, I gave it to her with both barrels, and went on and on about how we did epic riding 3000 kilometres through some of Africa’s most remote wilderness areas and on the toughest roads. I told her how we crossed a swollen Luangwa River complete with crocodiles on homemade pontoons and how we braved buffalos and elephants, wild dog and tsetse flies as we rode through some of Africa’s most unspoiled wilderness areas. I told her how privileged we were to walk with the some of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and that how interacting with those magnificent animals was life changing and an experience we’ll cherish for ever.

I went big on the all the fun parts that will still have us belly laughing out loud remembering the spectacle of Adam riding through the Luangwa Valley resplendent in his Dick of the Day pink tutu. Or me having to evacuate my bike at 24 kilometres per hour after a dead and highly venomous Vine snake that I picked up for reasons unknown turned out to be not so dead. Cailyn didn’t get the funny part of either of those stories.

Because epic isn’t always fun, I told her about the vicious stomach bug, eventually diagnosed as Giardia, that wreaked havoc in the peloton and laid most of us low, and got us going repeatedly at both ends. And some of us took time out to also suffer tick bite fever, plus the normal collateral damage from crashes and bashes too numerous to mention, associated with being clumsy on a bicycle.

But I told her that most of all we did good, like $158,000 worth of good and counting, all raised for the pensioners of Zimbabwe, which is the same as Cailyn selling more than 52,000 of her book markers at her bulk the-opposite-of-a-discounted rate.

Cailyn got very excited at the prospect of helping me count all the money, but I told her our donations go straight to our chosen charities, ZANE in the UK, the M’dala Trust in SA and  Pensioners Aid and Bulawayo Help Network in Zim who use the money to pay rent, food, and medicines to the thousands of pensioners in need in and outside Zimbabwe who lost everything during the farm grabs and the hyper-inflation that followed.

“Don’t you get to keep any of the money?” Cailyn asked. I told her some of the money would go to our own Old Legs Medical Emergency Fund. While we were out pedalling, those Old Legs who stayed at home in the form of Aoife, Kevin O’Connor, Ken Fisher and Carl Wilson were busy busy. Currently on the books, we’re contributing $1000 per month towards a lady’s life-saving melanoma treatment. With generous discounts from the surgeon, we’re helping another lady get two new knees, to replace her old ones that have been bone on bone for over a year. We’re also helping an old guy from Mutare with a hip replacement following a recent accident. And as of the last few days, we’re helping another old guy with a new knee, because his old one is swollen big like a balloon and his diet of painkillers only stopped working long ago. We also help other pensioners with their monthly medication needs.

And it doesn’t stop there I told her. Driven by Aoife and Carl, the Old Legs has also launched an ambitious and multi-facetted Interact program recruiting volunteers to help retirement homes with refurbishment programs, including gardens, plus reviving a very cool win-win outreach program whereby old folk get to walk and hug it up with dogs as supplied by the SPCA.

Cailyn, clearly worried that I wasn’t planning on getting off my soapbox anytime soon, “So is Old Legs is all about feeling good when you help someone by doing something hard?”

Me- “Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.”

Cailyn- “So how about you help me with my Rubik’s cube?”

Me- “How about I buy 3 book markers for 10 bucks instead?”

Cailyn – “Deal.”

A big shout out to Malcolm Vowles and Tisha Goddard and all the staff at the superb Loza Country Lodge for hosting us in Mkushi on our long way home. And huge thanks to the Mkushi farming community for supporting our hastily arranged Old Legs fundraiser, and huger respect for what you have been able to achieve as a farming community in just twenty years. You are Zimbabwe’s loss, Zambia’s gain. I was very envious of your optimism about your future under a new President without a gap in his teeth, looking to rebuilding the country and the economy, rather than flogging it to the Chinese and the Russians.

And huge thanks to all our corporate sponsors. Without their help, the Silverback Tour wouldn’t have made it past Bindura, or anywhere close to $158000 raised. And our biggest thanks of all go to all those who donated to the cause. Your donations will make the difference. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

In closing, please raise a glass to an old friend Mark Zurnamer who passed away in Joburg recently due to Covid. RIP.

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

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