04 June 2023 – Day Nine of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – From our football pitch to Lichinga, Mozambique.
Distance – 115 kilometers
Total ascent – 1450 meters.
Time – 8 hours 59 minutes
Av heart rate – 134 bpm
Max heart rate – 181 bpm
Max temp – 32 degrees.
Today was tough. I rode on porridge legs today, the stodgy stuff that you used to hate at boarding school.
Unbeknownst to me, and also unbeknownst to the chick at Google Maps, I climbed unexpected hills all day today. My ignorance is easily explained by my inattention during briefings and by the fact that the chick from Google has never been near Mozambique since her life either. The climbs were attritional, 2 to 3 kilometers long with 5 to 6 % gradients, and relentless, one after the other after the other, with not nearly enough downhill bits between them.
But we know nothing about tough. We passed a steady stream of trucker bicycles headed into Lichinga, mostly carrying loads of charcoal and firewood. Al and I stopped to help a chap who’d lost his load of charcoal. He was carrying 2 huge bags, maybe 40 kilos each. Thank God he only had a 2 bag load, because I couldn’t have picked up 3 of them. Once he’d re-secured his load with an intricate system of twigs and lengths of rubber, we watched him set off towards Lichinga 20 kilometers distant, without a bicycle chain. He pushed his bike and load up to the top of hill, and then freewheeled down at breakneck speed to the next hill, and so on, and so on, and so on. My guess is he only got into town in the middle of the night, and all to earn 300 Metical a.k.a 3 dollars.
Likewise, Clem stopped to help a firewood delivery guy push his bike up a hill, so he could be dragged down the hill behind it. Firewood delivery guys do it even more tough, overloading their bikes to the point where you can’t even see their saddles, let alone sit on them. Those guys know all about tough.
This Niassa Province has a vastness to it, stretching away for ever into the distance. From what we’ve seen so far, all the habitation is strictly along the road with zero settlements inland. In a hundred kilometers of main road, I didn’t see a single turnoff.
The people in Mozambique are nice, less in your face than in Malawi, and their cheering is more polite, less boisterous. At least we think they’re cheering us. The language barrier is a big thing in these parts with not even a smattering of English to be had. A bunch of kids called me a balaka. At least that is what it sounded like. I don’t know if a balaka is a good thing.
At our soccer pitch night stop, as always we attracted a big crowd, maybe a hundred plus. It was a full on pitch invasion. But I didn’t see any sad, crying or unhappy kids, not a single one. How can people with so little be so happy?
I not sure how people around here earn their livings. We saw zero agriculture for 45 km, bar a half dozen scraggly lines of roadside sweet potatoes, and goats, but for the rest, nothing, no maize, no vegetables, no cattle, not even chickens.
Much later in the day we saw 2 blocks of maize, one of them on top of a granite Kopje for some reason.
We also rode alongside the finest thatching grass all day. And yet every hut we saw was tatty and threadbare, and for sure would leak in the rains. I think the only legacy left behind by the Portuguese is the ability to snooze after lunch.
And the lack of farming has nothing to do with the climate. We rode through prime farm land with rich fertile soils. Rafe described it as Doma on steroids, and later after some many hills, as Nyanga also on steroids.
We’ve ended up at 1400 meters above sea level. There is quite some forestry going on, mostly pine. We stopped to check out a block of pine that was being commercially tapped for the resin. George tasted the resin and said it tasted like turpentine. Personally I was prepared to leave that question unanswered.
We bumped into a troop of baboons in the pine forest. As compared to their Malawian colleagues, they were handsome beasts, and stood very tall. They were much lighter than the baboons back home.
What a small world we live in, unless you’re a dwarf. For months we’ve been communicating with Dr Peg Cumberland about the best routes through northern Niassa. Dr Peg is a medical doctor who lived in Cobue for years, and also an avid cyclist. NB Google reliably informed me that Peg was awarded an MBE for her humanitarian work in Mozambique, but she would never share that with you. We were bummed when Peg told us she was transferring out of Cobue and would not be able to ride with us. Turns out she was transferred to Lichinga and we bumped into her on the road, literally. We invited Peg to join us for dinner, and for the ride out of Lichinga.
In closing, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people I am enjoying my best adventure with. Angus Melrose is the ride captain, in charge of cat herding. He is one of those unflappable chaps and has clearly read Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ -especially the bit about keeping your head when people around you are losing theirs. He is very strong on a bike and the sound of his booming laughter is never far away. And I worked out today that if you pronounce Angus with a silent G, you get Anus. English can be a cruel language, but it served to amuse briefly between hills.
We are riding to Zanzibar to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please be invited to join us on Facebook and also on www.oldlegstour.com. Please also follow the donate prompts.
Until my next blog from Metangula on Lake Niassa a.k.a. Lake Malawi, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.