June 11, 2023 – Day 16 of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – from Nova Madeira, Mozambique to a bush camp 30 kilometers into Tanzania.


Distance – 102 kilometers
Time – 8 hours 54 minutes
Total ascent – 783 m
Av heart rate – 108 bpm
Max heart rate – 180 bpm
Deep sand traversed – much more than the Sahara desert.

Today was all about the 4-letter word, sand.

We spent our last night in Mozambique camped at a safari camp near a town called Nova Madeira. Christopher the overlander arrived fashionably late and well after dark after getting stuck in deep sand.

I say camping, but I have done Nova Madeira a huge disservice. At very short notice, they were able to put us up in a mixture of luxury 4-poster beds and mattresses on the floor, plus hot showers, plus WiFi, plus the best French fries ever. After another very tough, very long day in the saddle and in trucks, Nova Madeira was heaven sent. Thank you Gary, Emily, Geraldo and Joao.

It was fitting that we spent our last night in the remote vastness that is the Niassa Province in a town that Google Maps has absolutely no knowledge of. The girl on Google Maps really needs to get out more.

The bush and the indigenous forests around Nova Madeira hunting area were stunning, among the best I have ever seen. The sand was also right up there. We got off to a less than auspicious start in the sand.

We bumped into a professional guide and a large group of students obviously on a field trip, almost literally. The guide and his students were on their haunches, very excited about some very fresh lion spoor in the road.

Kim rode up to the group to find out what all the fuss was about, but rather than dismount, she fell off her bike in sand, and on top of Zack who was riding next to her. Kim landed next to lion pug marks in the sand that were huge, big like her riding helmet.

The only road to Zanzibar out of Nova Madeira was the road the lions were patrolling, so we had no choice but to follow them. We deployed Jenny and Gary out front in the black Isuzu to spot, and rode in a tight bunch with the other Isuzu tucked in close behind, for just in case.

Riding through the most beautiful woodland in the crisp early morning fresh, on top of equally fresh lion spoor with heightened senses, it doesn’t get much better than that. The lion spoor veered off the road after a few kilometers and seemingly forever, but I am sure he was a magnificent specimen.

The lion spoor was soon replaced by more lion spoor, then leopard spoor, then hyena tracks, then lion again, then buffalo, then eland and then a whole bunch of other spoor that we couldn’t identify. And some it was very fresh. Angus and Alastair saw lion spoor on top of the tyre tracks of a truck that had passed us minutes earlier. Animal traffic on the road was clearly busy, busy, busy, but alas, we never saw a single animal.

But the bicycles are not the best game viewing vehicles, especially in thick bush and even thicker sand. You are forced to focus all your attention on your front wheel. Bicycles also allow you to feel quite edible, so I was mindful to ride next to Rafe, who has more meat on him.

Despite all the focus and close attention, we were able to fall off our bikes innumerable times. I watched Kim fishtail violently half a dozen times and at speed in thick sand before veering off the road to crash in the bush instead.

I came around a corner and found Clem making sand angels with his arms, lying on his back vulnerable like a tortoise, still cleated and trapped with his bicycle above him. And because that looked such fun, Rafe tried exactly the same dismount around the next corner.

And then to break the monotony of falling off our bikes in the sand, every tsetse fly in creation popped in to feed on the peloton for lunch. Tsetse flies especially like feasting on people wearing blue, yellow and black, coincidentally the colour of our ride kit. Fortunately we had packed khaki kit to ride in for when the tsetse flies decided to feast, but unfortunately our khaki kit was in the truck. Rafe boasts 56 bites on his back. Pete has fewer bites but his are more like welts and are more impressive. Oh what fun we had.

Before moving on, I have to make mention again of the bush we rode through. Thousands of square kilometers of absolutely pristine Miombo woodland, with not a bag of charcoal in sight. Riding through it is the highlight of my Tour thus far, despite the sand and despite the tsetse flies.

And then there was the Matchedje border post. Obscure is a word that comes to mind. As we approached the border, from about 10 kilometers out, our dirt road deteriorated into little more than a heavily rutted track, complete with deep mud, puddles and heavily laden trucks and motorbikes coming the other way that we had to dodge. There was not a single sign to tell us that we were approaching an international border. My spider senses were shouting to me that we were on the wrong road. But because my Portuguese still doesn’t extend much beyond good morning, how are you and Christiano Ronaldo, I couldn’t double check with the locals.

The border town of Matchedje itself was two dozen tatty houses and huts, and no stores that I could see. There was a historical monument though. The ruling party Frelimo a.k.a the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, held their II Congress a.k.a. the Congress of Victory in 1968 in the liberated town of Matchedje and sowed the fruits of freedom with a constitution brimful of noble stuff about power to the people, and establishing political, social and economic structures free from exploitation of men by men, blah, blah, blah. I was interested to read they wanted to hold their Congress in the province of Cabo Delgado next door, but couldn’t, because of the war raging there. Fast forward 55 years and the fruits of freedom have yet to be harvested. Cabo Delgado remains a no-go zone because of war, and the poor people of Matchedje don’t look too liberated.

The Mozambique Department of Immigration made the most of their opportunity to confound us one last time before we exited on our transit visas by taking mug shot photos and finger prints. My finger prints don’t finger print for some reason and 5 failed attempts later, they told me I was cleared to leave. and of us one last time. They didn’t ask me for any more details on my late mom and dad.

But there was one last hoop to jump through. Before we crossed the boom, we had to report to the police so they could capture all our personal details in a big book by hand. And all the while we watched local Tanzanians and Mozambiqueans seemingly coming and going as they pleased, with not a passport in sight. To tell the truth, I felt discriminated against.

Once we were through the hoops, we rode across the Rovuma river and into Tanzania. It was flowing strongly with dirty mud red water. I couldn’t see any crocodiles.

As much as I enjoyed Mozambique, I am very happy to be in Tanzania. It is organized, albeit chaotically, and my Swahili is more fluent than my Portuguese. I am able to greet people in 2 different ways, Mambo and Jambo. Already my favourite word in Swahili is pole pole, which means slowly. Which is how things work in Tanzania. But at least they work.

Which is more than can be said about Zimbabwe. In 1980 Julius Nyerere told Bob that he’d inherited a jewel and not to cock it up. But alas, Bob never listened. Fast forward 43 years and Zimbabwe is all cocked up. It now takes 120 of our largest denomination bank notes to buy a single loaf of bread because surprise, surprise, our piece of shit Zim dollar is in free fall once again. For the second time in ten years, we are suffering hyperinflation i.e. where prices increase by more than 50% in a month. Please forgive my profanities, but I am so pissed off. When we left home, the black market rate was 3600 to the US. Just over 2 weeks later, the rate is nudging 14000 to 1.

I have pensioners whose pensions were worth the equivalent of USD $18 in the good old days, 2 weeks ago. Their pensions are now worth just USD$ 6.84. I am also told 1.3 kg chickens were priced on the supermarket shelf at USD 28.00. To flog this horse to death, my old guy has to save every cent he earns for 4 months to buy a single chicken. Alas.

We are riding to Zanzibar to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Our Old Legs Medical Fund is now officially overwhelmed. Please help us by following the donate prompts below.

In closing a big shout out to Sasha, Romeo, Sienna and Charlotte Henon from Clem a.k.a. Papa. He misses you guys big lots and can’t wait to see you.

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

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