20 February 2022 – The Third World As Seen From The Saddle

Wayne and Jenny set sail from Jacana in a stiff breeze, which quickly denigrated into the tail end of Storm Eloise. Jenny was going off sailing in a big way, when Wayne suddenly slammed on brakes, catapulting Jenny off the front of the yacht like a cannonball.

In preparation for the Crocodile Tour, Jenny enjoyed the first maritime disaster in Old Legs history yesterday on Lake Chivero, although the use of the word enjoyed is debatable. While Andy and I went off on a training paddle in our kayaks, Wayne and Jenny set off on Wayne’s Dart catamaran in search of Jenny’s hitherto well hidden sea-legs.

Wayne and Jenny set sail from Jacana in a stiff breeze, which quickly denigrated into the tail end of Storm Eloise. Jenny was going off sailing in a big way, when Wayne suddenly slammed on brakes, catapulting Jenny off the front of the yacht like a cannonball. Well, more like a torpedo actually. The bow of the yacht nosedived into an oncoming tidal wave, ceased skimming, and commenced submarining. Wayne looked up from his tiller just in time to see Jenny’s ankles following the rest of her into the depths. It is very disconcerting when 100% of your crew abandons ship, and Wayne promptly capsized.

Meanwhile on the bottom of the lake, Jenny panicked about the yacht’s propellor briefly, then panicked for longer about no air, and very quickly jettisoned ballast in form her sunglasses, eventually bobbing to the surface still sans her sea legs but with her hat intact. Wayne was hugely relieved to see her and shouted for her to swim to the capsized hull. Having sworn to never ever get on a yacht with Wayne again, Jenny told him to bugger off, and struck out for rocky island 200 metres away instead. She was still striking out for the island 30 minutes later when Jan Hart saved her in a passing speedboat.

Thank God for lifejackets. But also, bummer that Wayne didn’t have his GoPro set up. I asked Jenny if she would re-enact the action, but she told me to bugger off as well. I worry about Jenny’s language ever since she started hanging around with sailor types.

All is well that ends well, but the prospect of 2 weeks on a yacht in a lake full of crocodiles got a whole lot longer for Jenny.

My arms feel much the same way as Jenny. It took Andy and I a mammoth 3 hours and 49 minutes to paddle a mere 18 kilometres. Paddling into the wind, kilometres are more like miles, and by the end, my arms were also anxious I abandon ship, in favour of bicycles. Which does not bode well. Our daily targets on the Crocodile Tour are between 30 and 35 kilometres, and we’ll be paddling into the prevailing wind all the way, because we figure the chances of cold beers are better in Kariba than in Milibizi, and also because it will be more epic.

But despite sore arms, the paddle was good. We saw another flock of ostriches, fish eagles on a nest, and for the first time ever, I paddled with a functioning rudder. It was like riding a bicycle with handlebars.

And on the subject of more epic, Andy Louw Evans will paddle Kariba in a homemade boat. He has laboured on his kayak for 3 months and it has been a labour of love. Andy is a perfectionist, and it shows. Handcrafted from plywood, the HMS Ikea is a thing of beauty. But because it is made of wood, if I was Andy, I’d be worried sick worry about woodborers and woodpeckers and beavers and termites and anything else that could make my boat less buoyant.

I have been accused of possibly overthinking the threat of crocodiles, which is hardly surprising given that everyone I know now feels compelled to share with me every bad-news crocodile-story out there. Thank you especially Neal Leach for the breaking-news update on the 9-meter monster crocodile killed in the Ume 7-years ago, exactly where we will be paddling, in kayaks half the length. Please someone tell me that the photo was photoshopped.

We’ve attracted a certain amount of criticism for our decision to paddle Kariba from people who think we are being stupidly reckless. Looking to deflect some of that criticism, I arranged a safety lecture for us on crocodiles and hippos, their habits and their behaviour by professional guide Craig van Zyl.

Craig runs Classic Africa Safaris and has over 20 years paddling experience on the lake and the river. His lecture was the best muti ever and could not have come at a more opportune moment. My phobia of all things crocodile, apart from handbags, was starting to rub off on the others.

Craig laid out a map of Kariba on the table and told us we can expect to encounter crocs and hippos at start in Milibizi, and also along the length of the entire shoreline all the way to Kariba. Apparently, there are millions of the buggers out there. But he told us that every paddle stroke should be relished, not dreaded. We are lucky enough to be paddling one of Africa’s wildest and most beautiful shorelines, and we should enjoy the experience, not hide from it in the middle of lake, miles away from the birdlife and the wildlife on the shoreline.

If we paddle in a group, with a pair of wide-awake of good eyes out front, if we let the animals know we are there by tap-tapping on our boats and give the animals the space they need, we’ll be just fine. But he told I’m not allowed to rock and roll drum solo non-stop all the way from Milibizi to Kariba. Craig told us not be scared of paddling in shallow waters. In fact, we need to hug the shoreline tight when we encounter hippos, because we don’t want to be getting between them and their deep-water refuge. He told us not to be in a hurry to finish the day’s paddle, provided we get in before dark, because crocodiles are nocturnal and mostly hunt at night.

But Craig reiterated, above all we need to soak up the experience, and just enjoy.

Big N.B. Craig told us not to try any of the above on the Zambezi, because the crocodiles there are another story.

We are paddling to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. I took one of our pensioners to Karanda Mission Hospital this week for a long overdue hernia operation. Tex spent a year looking like he was trying to shoplift a kilogram of boerewors under his tee-shirt. He was in a lot of discomfort, but never complained once on the almost four-hour drive to Karanda. Karanda is in the back of beyond near the Mozambique border. If you overshoot, you have to ask for directions in Portuguese.

I think Tex enjoyed having a captive audience to talk to. I think he is hugely lonely back in Chiredzi especially after some bastard stole his beloved buffalo bicycle two years ago, making the 15-kilometre trip into town to socialize more of a mission. And then Tex lost his beloved wife and best friend Liz last year after a long, brave battle against cancer.

Tex talked non-stop all the way to Karanda. He told me how he met Queen Elizabeth when she was still a princess on the Royal Tour of 1947, how he trained in the gym with bodybuilding heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Reg Park when they visited then Salisbury in 1969. Tex especially loves telling fishing stories. He was a provincial angler and Bass Master for many years. Very proudly, Tex thinks he was the first angler in the country to land a 7lb 7oz bass.

Tex moved me almost to tears three times on the trip. Jenny made us a coffee basket which we stopped to enjoy between Bindura and Mt Darwin. Tex told me he and Liz were coffee connoisseurs. He whistled when he I unpacked us a jar of Jacobs Kronung. Tex allowed that Jacobs was the best coffee in the world. He and Liz had enjoyed it just the once, ten years previously, when his then boss bought a jar for the office and let Tex take some home for Liz to sample. They’d seen it on the supermarket shelves since, but because it so expensive, could only admire and wish from afar.

More almost tears when Tex asked the doc if we write him a sicknote for when he went back to work after the op. The almost tears belonged to Tex when the doc told him he wouldn’t fit for work for 6 weeks minimum. Aged 83, Tex is an old school contractor and equates no work to no pay.

My next almost tears came when Tex left the Next of Kin information blank on his admission form. Tex has 4 children living in the UK, but he hasn’t heard from them in years, apart from a brief message of condolence when Liz passed. If anyone reading this blog is in contact with Tex’s children, please remind them what goes around is supposed to come around. Tex loved and hugged his children when they were small. He provided for them as best he could, sent them to good schools and taught them the love of fishing. Tex is very proud that he and his sons won many competitions fishing together.

Fast forward a lifetime, and Tex is going through the hardest times imaginable on his own. And his kids should be there for him, even if only from the other side of a phone call. No one should go through surgery, or even worse a bereavement, without knowing there are some next-of-kin out there somewhere rooting for them. Alas.

God bless all the doctors and nurses at Karanda Mission Hospital for looking after Tex. It is a sad indictment on Zimbabwe’s public health sector that he had to travel 800 kilometres, past I don’t know how many government hospitals and clinics to find affordable healthcare at a Mission hospital.

The Old Legs will keep a close eye on Tex and will do what we can to make sure his story has a happy ending.
I arrived home from Karanda to a consignment of blanket squares from Grenville and Barbara Hampshire on behalf of St Andrews Church in Barnt Green in the UK. St Andrews had heard about the ongoing Yarn Barn vs Old Legs challenge in which the Yarn Barn match the Old Legs a blanket square for every kilometre ridden and wanted to contribute. I told Grenville were paddling 300 kilometres on the Crocodile Tour in May, plus 3000 kilometres on the Skeleton Coast Tour in July. Cunningly, I waited for Grenville to do the sums and accept the challenge, before breaking the news that we were 6 paddlers, plus 10 riders, making for a collective total of 31800 squares!

St Andrews have already started chasing that total down and with their help, winter this year will be warmer for many pensioners.

Moving onto the sporting part of the blog, I have decided to abandon any further attempts at Eskimo Rolling. Eskimo Rolls are fictitious and like the mythical 4-minute mile, beyond the realms of human achievement and any evidence on You Tube to the contrary was photoshopped. I have invested in a splendid bilge pump instead which I’ll deploy in the event of a capsize. I figure I stand a better chance of pumping Kariba dry, than I do of pulling off an Eskimo Roll. The bilge pump will also come in handy should I be forced to urinate in my boat.

After much nagging from Adam Selby and because I am riding the Skeleton Coast Tour in July, I clambered back on my bike for the first time in a month, for a 90-kilometre training ride with The Herd, and now my legs also hurt as much as my arms. Alas. I was hoping that sort-of paddle-fit might translate into sort-of-ride fit, but it hasn’t. I will have to play some catch up between now and July, but only after the Winter Olympics.

I’ve enjoyed the Olympics hugely, apart from China and Russia winning almost every event. I hate China because they poach pangolins, and most other animals, apart from Pandas. And I hate Russia because of Putin.

I know there aren’t supposed to be politics in sport, but no one told Putin that. Fast forward 6 years from when news of Russia’s state-run sport doping scandal first broke, and still the Russians continue to dope. And still the Olympic Committee continue to vacillate and dither, like Joe Biden in the Ukraine, by allowing the guilty Russian gymnast to continue to compete, because she is underage. Russia have just invented the under-age drugs in sport loophole, and they are set to get away with it.

Russia can and will continue to stomp on all accepted norms. And Putin will continue constipated, as in he couldn’t give a shit. And why should he? He annexed the Crimea in 2014 and got away with it. And now he is about to make a move on the rest of the Ukraine, and he’ll get away with that too. No one will lift a hand to stop him, apart from the poor Ukrainians briefly. All the Germans are worried about is an uninterrupted supply of Russian gas, while Boris worries that should be deploy British troops, will there be a farewell cheese and wine party, while Joe Biden worries about Donald Trump, and also what to do with Kamala Harris in the meantime. Alas.

And in Zimbabwe, we are set to celebrate the birthday of Robert Mugabe. I would rather celebrate a boil on my bottom. Mugabe’s legacy lives on. Currently, our biggest bank note is a $50 note. You need more than 4 of those to buy one loaf of bread.

In Bulawayo, municipal ambulance fees are set to increase by 450%, council rentals by 250%, water tariffs by 180% and sewerage tariffs by 150%. And the cost of the electricity we don’t get is set to increase by 100%, this on top of a 300% increase in 2019, a 50% increase in 2020 and 25% in 2021, according to Google.

Which is why the Old Legs will continue riding to destinations faraway to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please follow us on Facebook and on www.oldlegstour.com, even we ride slow like paint dries.

Until my next blog, enjoy and pedal or paddle if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

The views in this blog do not reflect the views of the Old Legs, or the charities we support, or Tex, or St Andrew, or Vladmir Putin or Joe Biden, but Arnold maybe.

Photos below – an ex- crocodile shot in the Ume, the HMS Ikea, Craig van Zyl showing us on the map where there be crocodiles and hippos, Jenny’s view of Lake Chivero from Wayne’s yacht, St Andrew’s first installment on the 31800 blanket squares.

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