6th April 2023 – The Third World As Seen From The Saddle.

My heart rate alarmed alarmingly this week, not on the bike, not in the kayak, but in front of my computer. Normally it would take me half an hour on my bike and a big bloody mountain or seemingly forever in my kayak with a hippo somewhere under me to push past 180 b.p.m. but I was able smash through that barrier in under 10 minutes applying for my Tanzanian visa online. NB Should anyone from the Tanzanian Department of Immigration read this, not for one second blaming am I blaming Tanzania. I love Tanzania. If ever they entered the Eurovision Song Contest, they would get my vote in a heartbeat, unless of course they entered a rap song. I hate rap. It is no small coincidence that it rhymes with crap.


But I digress, back to the cause of my alarmingly high heart rate. I blame China 100% for inventing Covid, and also Bill Gates another 100% for forcing a new version of Windows on me every time I turn my computer on, even though I was perfectly happy with Windows 97.


Previously, to apply for a Tanzanian visa, you had to contend with 2 pages of easy questions filled in at your local Embassy, and if you got stuck, you told the lady in charge of processing visa applications that you like her as much you like macaroni and cheese, which by the way you love, and job done, you were cleared to travel. But not anymore, not since China invented Covid. Now you get to do it all online. And 2 pages of easy has become 5 pages of not so easy, literally littered with trick questions. Like what was your childhood nickname? What is your postal code? FYI Tanzania, I live in Mt Hampden and Postman Pat hasn’t been near us in 30 years, so why would I need a postal code? Before, when you were doing the test manually, non-applicable or nil were legit answers, but not anymore. And worse, you’re not allowed to skip to the next question. NB Panic averted on the postal code; I now know the correct fictious answer is 0001.


But what to do when asked to select your chosen port of entry in Tanzania from a long list of entry points, and the border post you are going to use, Mkwenda, isn’t even on the list of possible answers? Do you bullshit and tell them you’re going to enter via Tunduma which is on the list. FYI Tanzania officials, you have an official border post called Mkwenda on your border with Mozambique, approximately 100 kilometres south of Songea.


And then, in the middle of that and because he is cruel, Bill Gates disables the letter Z on your keyboard. Norwegians travelling to the Serengeti might be able to get away without the use of the last letter in the alphabet in their e-visa application, but if you are a Zimbabwean headed to Zanzibar, you are buggered. NB Spellcheck works if you type Gimbabwe, but if you type Gangibar, you are equally buggered.


And then when eventually you’ve ploughed your way through the 5 pages, when you have somehow uploaded your photographs and documents without any help from a Millennial, when you have somehow negotiated payment with your debit card, then Econet don’t deliver your One Time Pin on time and your application times out and you get to start all over. And once I’ve tackled Tanzania, I get to tackle the Mozambique and Malawi e-visa platforms. Alas.


The Old Legs Tour is riding to Zanzibar to raise money for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Knowing that the money we raise will be used by the Old Legs Medical Fund to save lives and change lives will help us up the steepest mountains, e-visa platforms included. To share some of that Feel Good, herewith some of the good stuff we got done this last week, per kind favour of our Old Legs Golf Day sponsors and field.


We helped a chronic diabetic resume his daily regime of the insulin injections that keep him alive. He needs 5 insulin pens per month at a cost of $15 per each. But because he couldn’t afford $75, he dropped to 4 insulin pens per month, skipping the odd day, crossing his fingers at night hoping he would wake up in the morning. With the help of our intrepid golfers, the Old Legs Medical Fund paid for his insulin for the month, and we’ll help him again next month, and every month thereafter.


Our golfers have also bought a shiny brand-new hip for an elderly lady who hasn’t walked in years. Her required surgeries, as in plural, are very complicated and very costly. Because her monthly income is just $100 per month, she sat in her wheelchair for the last few years , waiting for either a miracle, or to die. Old Legs pulled off half the miracle last year when we replaced her messed up knee, but her first steps were delayed by a few months by the cost of the complicated hip replacement. Thank God for golfers.


And also this week, Old Legs was able to help Timmy Mpofu. Timmy is also a palliative care nurse in the Kwekwe Redcliff area. He has nursed lots of people through their final months, even when they couldn’t afford to pay him. Timmy is now needing help himself, an emergency laminectomy, a.k.a. a back operation, but can’t afford it. Timmy is one of those well-known Zimbabwean conundrums himself, a pensioner without a pension. Our charity partners in Kwekwe described Timothy as humble and utterly selfless and dedicated. Which is all we needed to know before pressing the button on his operation. Apparently, we were able to reduce him to tears.


On behalf of the people the Old Legs have helped this last week, and the people we will help this week and next week, huge thanks to the golfers who played in the Old Legs Golf Day and to the sponsors and organizers who made it happen.


In just six short weeks the Old Legs Tour pedal out of Harare on our best ever adventure to Zanzibar, via Malawi, and via the great unknown that is the Niassa Province in northern Mozambique. NB The Niassa Province is an unknown even to Google Maps who use different place names to the people living in Mozambique. Luckily, we have been introduced to Dr Peg on the ground.


Dr Peg was awarded an MBE for her work amongst the remote communities of Niassa, and she is also an avid cyclist. Apparently, Cyclone Freddy has buggered up the roads we were going to use , rendering them impassable, even for our Isuzu support vehicles. Plus the Messinge River will be in flood, most probably until October, and there isn’t a bridge across the Messinge. So, we are reverting to Plan C, which was formerly Plan A, in which the vehicles will go the long way around, like 14 hours long, while the cyclists go up and over the Livingstone mountains, including 30 minutes of portage apparently, with every chance of bumping into a leopard, according to Dr Peg. And once we are out of the mountains, we will ride through an artisanal gold mining area that used to be like the Wild West ten years ago, but is now safe, apparently. Then we’ll get ferried across the Messinge on dugouts canoes , reunite with the support vehicles before crossing the border into south Tanzania, and then downhill all the way to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. NB The gold miners and the Messinge River crossing was why we dumped old Plan A, current Plan C , in favour of the old new improved plan which is the one Cyclone Freddy buggered up. And if you think that reads complicated, wait until it plays out on the ground. But that is all part of the adventure.


And in other breaking news, I tried to give a beggar at the traffic lights a fist full of Zimbabwe dollars, but he flat out refused them. The last time I can remember a beggar refusing fists full of banknotes was back in 2012, back when we were millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires. And President Ed will attend King Charles’s coronation, but Meghan won’t. I don’t know if that is related news. And still no heads have rolled after Al Jazeera’s Gold Mafia documentary series, confirming what everyone knew all along. Consequently, I cannot wait to ride out of Harare on May 27th, so I don’t have to watch television, although I will miss Yellowstone.


And on the subject of television, allow me the briefest of commercial breaks. If anyone in the UK missed our very splendid coffee table book Zimbabwe On The Roads Less Travelled, Noel Kent has just a few copies left, as has Kerry Wehlburg in Australia. In South Africa you can order it on www.booksite.co.za along with my other books. But you’ll have to wait a bit longer for Namibia On Roads Less Travelled.


Back to the Zanzibar Tour, bar a few bodily repairs, namely my eye and my hernia, I am good to go. I dusted off HMS Inedible on the weekend to start training for our 40 km paddle from Dar to Zanzibar. Jenny commenced cooking up a storm a week ago, and she will have all our dinners in the bag well before we leave. I am especially looking forward to June 11th when we will enjoy a delicious creamy lemon chicken with pickled peppercorns and green olives for dinner. I had a sneak preview last night when Jenny wasn’t watching. My job is to bag the meals after she has cooked them. My other job is breaking the bad news to Rafe Wetzlar that he is going to be putting on weight on Tour.


I look forward to introducing you to Rafe and the other members of our intrepid Old Legs Zanzibar Team over the next 6 weeks, and to our valued sponsors without whom we wouldn’t get further than Mutoko, and to some of the pensioners that we ride to help.
Until my next blog, have fun, do good and do epic – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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