June 9 and 10, 2023 – Day 14 and Day 15 of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – from Cobue to the middle of nowhere on our way to the Tanzanian border by boat, truck and by bike.
Day 14 /15 boat and by truck.
Distance – 156 kilometers
Time – 13 hours 10 minutes
Max temp – even hotter than on my bike.
Day 15 bike stats
Distance – 85 kilometers
Total ascent – 463 meters.
Time – 6 hours 10 minutes
Av heart rate – 124 bpm
Max heart rate – 186 bpm.
I ’ve enjoyed sleepless nights for months, worrying and stressing about the Niassa Province. For good reason as it turns out.
We spent 13 hours in the back of Christopher chewing on dust, doing dead kilometers, retracing our steps and undoing 2 days of solid riding from Lichinga to Cobue, all thanks to Cyclone Freddy and swollen rivers that remain stubbornly swollen and impassable , even in June. Alas. But at least it was epic. We’ve enjoyed blowouts and getting stuck in deep sand, we’ve driven on broken roads, and through rivers and across log bridges that would have Bear Grylls white-knuckled, wanting his Mommy.
Our Isuzus were tough enough, and then some, and did us more than proud. Shame, Piet de Klerk and Seb Baumhoff at Autoworld will need to watch the footage through their fingers.
The Niassa Province is vast, and remote, sort of like back-of- beyond Gokwe but on steroids. And the people are so poor. In 2 days, I’ve seen virtually zero economic activity, bar a couple of tiny, tatty stores, and bloody charcoal sellers.
Having said that, we rode through a massive flea market today, at least a kilometer long, selling Made In China crap, and secondhand blue jeans. It was absolutely teeming with people, a riot of noise and color. It made Time Square look quiet by comparison.
Alas. The chains of poverty aren’t set to be broken anytime soon.
In 2 days, I’ve seen just 2 schools, 1 of them a pop-up school operated by UNICEF, at what looked to be a refugee camp, we think for people either displaced by Freddy, or running away from the horrors of Isis and Al Shabab on the coast.
But thankfully there is also some good stuff to report on out of Niassa. We met a safari operator from the Manda Wilderness, a massive hunting concession which runs alongside the Lake, and he told us 4 years of vigorous anti-poaching was starting to pay dividends, and they were building back towards sustainable populations of lion, leopard, sable, and eland. Back towards is regarded as progress in Africa.
Lucky-fish Clem saw a genet cat, but I’ve seen zero game, apart from some baboons, some monkeys and a squirrel. The squirrel was a magnificent specimen. I also had good sightings of some magnificently hairy caterpillars crossing the road, and a bad sighting of a baby leopard tortoise who almost crossed the road but didn’t. Alas.
But fingers crossed, things are set to improve going forward. I saw my first beware of elephants road sign, a magnificent tusker, complete with baby.
Last night we camped in a clearing beneath a 4 G cellphone tower. I was careful to sleep with our tent zipped up to ward off radiation. Tonight we are in a beautiful safari camp nestled in some of the most beautiful bush I’ve ever seen. Oh, how our accommodations have varied on this Tour.
I was very excited to see the Big Dipper last night, our first sighting of a Northern Hemisphere constellation. I was less excited to see l an elderly boiled egg lurking at the bottom of my Camelbak. I’m not sure how long the egg has lurked, but it stank, so I released it back into wild, even though I was hungry.
My kit bag system has denigrated into the chaos associated with L.I.F.O. a.k.a. Last In, First Out, reducing my wardrobe options to stinky, very stinky and stuff at the very bottom of my kitbag that I haven’t seen since Harare. Apparently doing laundry is an option.
On previous sojourns up through Africa, to Kilimanjaro and to Uganda, people in Mozambique and Malawi were very happy to receive payments for accommodation etc in US Dollars, provided the bank notes weren’t older than 2013. Fast forward to now, and nobody wants payment in USD. They want payment in Kwacha or Metical. Which is a snag if ATM’s are few and far between, and an even bigger snag if your are trying to use a Zimbabwean bank card loaded with US Dollars. Alas. I rather fear those US Dollars are now missing in action. Stupid me for believing government bullshit and lies that they wouldn’t thieve our hard currency yet again.
But moving on to things more positive, my legs came to the party for the first time on Tour. I so enjoyed my ride this morning, until my bike broke. Some guard thing on my derailleur sheared off and I was reduced to 1 gear only, which was less fun. I have benched my bike for now and will ride the remaining spare bike, a green Scott.
It is my first time riding a green bike. It is more twitchy than my blue Trek, and less like an armchair. My bum hates it already. And apparently swapping saddles is not an option thanks to some Scott chicanery. I fear my bottom will have reduced the word Scott to four-letters before long.
Until my next blog from Tanzania, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong