31 May 2023 – Day Five of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – Mwanza to Balaka.

31 May 2023 – Day Five of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – Mwanza to Balaka.

Distance – 117 kilometers
Total ascent – 1100 meters.
Time – 6 hours 14 minutes
Av heart rate – 129 bpm
Max heart rate – 155 bpm
Max Speed 62 kph
Max temp – 35 degrees a.k.a. bloody hot.

With regards the ride stats above, please don’t be thinking they are an indication of any return to form. Unfortunately they’re not mine. The stats belong to Angus Melrose. Jenny and I took the day off to get my eye pressure tested in Blantyre. Back to the stats, I think Angus’s heart rate monitor is busted and under reading. And looking at his max speed, small wonder his mom Geraldine has grey hair.

It was a good day to bunk out. Al Watermeyer is our route master. He softened the riders up with 10 kilometers of gentle descent to start and then sucker punched with a 100 kilometers of harsh unrelenting uptulations in brutal 36 degree heat. N.B. Uptulations are like undulations, just more harsh with no noticeable downhill bits. Like I say it was a good day to slack off in the car, but I suffered extreme FOMO nonetheless.

Jenny and I had to go to Blantyre to have the pressure in my bad eye tested. You will remember I had a major pressure wobble a few days before the Tour started, and we had no idea if my current regime of eye drops was doing the job or not.

The plan was we would rush into Blantyre, get my pressure tested, and then rush to rejoin the riders on the road to Balaka, having bought Kentucky Fried for lunch. Alas. The girl on Google Maps put paid to that plan by quickly getting us lost. Clearly, she has never been to Malawi since her life. On the upside, she was able to give us a grand tour of Blantyre. It looks to be a nice city, clean and tidy and well laid out.

Blantyre was hit hard by Cyclone Freddy just a few months back and hundreds of people lost their lives in the floods. The damage to infrastructure was massive but from what we could see, that looks to have all been sorted.

When eventually we blundered our way to the optician, my eye pressure tested just fine, which was a massive relief. Jenny and I bought 2 big buckets of KFC and rushed to rejoin the peloton on the road to Balaka before lunch. Unfortunately we rushed on the wrong road, again thanks to the chick on Google Maps.

We broke the bad news to the riders that lunch would only be served after they arrived in Balaka. Thankfully Al Watermeyer is one of the best foragers in the buisness, and he was able to rustle up delicious racquets of rats as a substitute lunch.

If anyone is looking for an affordable holiday destination, I can highly recommend Balaka. It is a crazy busy market town, absolutely teeming with people. Al was able to magic up styling accommodation for us at the UpTown Lodge, although he and George had to sleep top-to-tail in their slightly smaller than double bed. Even though we got ripped off on the exchange rate, 8 double rooms times and dinner for 16 cost us US $637.

We’ve only been in Malawi one day, but so far, so good. It is a happy country full of happy, friendly people. Small wonder Malawi is called the warm heart of Africa.

It is just as well Malawians are a happy people, because the country is absolutely full of them. There are Malawians everywhere you look- big ones, small ones, but especially small ones. Clearly the Malawian idea of child spacing is one kid every 5 meters.

When we stop for breakfast, we quickly attract crowds of onlookers within seconds, despite Pete’s table manners. The audience watch our every move, allowing us to feel like Kardashians.

There are almost as many NGO’s in Malawi as Malawians, all with big staff and bigger budgets. They spend a lot of money on signage proudly announcing their projects. According to the signage, the current flavor of the month is teaching Malawians how to be resilient.

I am sure the NGO’s do their utmost to uplift poor Malawians, but there is little sign of any success on the ground that I could see. Despite billions in aid every year for the last 40 years, rural Malawi remains a bottomless pit. The most that most kids can hope for is that Madonna gets some of her buddies to also adopt. Alas.

Until my next blog from Lake Malawi, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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