June 23 2023 – Day 26 of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour

 - from Kilwa Masoko on the Indian Ocean to our camp next to the classrooms of Marendegu Primary School, nowhere near the Indian Ocean.

June 23 stats
Distance – 101 kilometers
Total time elapsed- 6 hours 57 minutes
Total ascent – 618 m
Total descent – 607 m
Av heart rate – 120 bpm
Max heart rate – 173 bpm.

June 24 stats
Distance – 95 kilometers
Total time elapsed- 6 hours 33 minutes
Total ascent – 504 m
Total descent – 607 m
Av heart rate – 123 bpm
Max heart rate – 181 bpm.

I have to say I am bitterly disappointed in Tanzania’s notion of sea level. At the first drop of a hat, they throw in bloody hills and views. Sea level is supposed to be exactly flat and I should know because I am proudly Dutch. My ancestors fled to the Netherlands so they could enjoy flat without views. If you want views, go to Switzerland.

To flog this horse to death, people don’t go down to the coast to climb. Down is the operative word and climbs should be forbidden . NB If you are thinking the climbs of 500 and 600 meters as mentioned in the stats above don’t sound too onerous, factor in temperatures of 38 degrees and through the roof humidities. The modest climb into the town of Kibiti was one of the toughest on the whole Tour. I’d gone with a Jack Johnson playlist. I should have gone with head banging music instead.

But apart from the lack of flat, the Swahili Coast has been epic, especially the accommodations. It has taken us 3 days and 2 nights to cycle the Swahili Coast. Our first night stop as chosen on Google Earth was supposed to be on golden sands overlooking a lagoon. In reality, that turned out to be a stinking mangrove swamp, complete with a shanty town on stilts straight out of a Mad Max movie.

To access our mangrove swamp camp site, we turned left in a busy market village, down the narrowest little alley, absolutely buzzing with street trade. We were hard pressed to thread our bicycles through there. I still have no idea how Brian was able to get Christopher down there.
Brian almost didn’t get Christopher back out, courtesy of the mangrove swamp and the thick bog mud which tried hard to suck Christopher under.

The swamp looked scenic to start, more like a dry river bed full of old, dead, wooden boats, long abandoned many tides ago. The boats made for a wonderfully scenic picture and given half a chance, Vicky Bowen would have foraged them to take back home.

But then you noticed the boats were tethered to the trees with new ropes. And then you looked down and saw the Fiddler crabs, tens of thousands of them, peeping out of their holes, waiting for the sea to come back.
Which also explained the weird little village built entirely on stilts. NB There was nothing quaint about the village. It shouted nefarious and looked more like a gangster hide out.

You could almost see the pall of malaria hanging over the place. If we survived the sucking mud when the tide came back in, the mosquitos would have done us for sure. We were all hugely relieved when Angus made the executive decision to flee the swamp.

We reverted to Plan B for the night stop, a very bushy clearing down one of the very few side roads, although the use of the word clearing can be considered a misnomer. It would have taken us hours of hacking with machetes and axes to clear spaces for the tents, provided we survived the Buffalo beans. The undergrowth was absolutely lousy with Buffalo beans.

So we reverted to Plan C, Marendegu Primary School. Thank God it is school holidays in Tanzania.

The school was just off the road with a line of trees next to the most basic of classrooms, perfect for camping under. And best of all, there were two porcelain squat pan long drops for the use of, which didn’t stink too much. The school was the perfect pit stop and we were happy to make a donation to the Parent Teachers Association.

Things have picked up on the wild life front with confirmed sightings 4 times of some kind of parrots, 2 times of some kind of black storks with red bills, some splendid Bee-eaters that looked like Carmines but were more coppery than crimson, some monkeys, one very fleet of foot kleptomaniac baboon, a slithering snake that was also very fleet of foot, and a crocodile in the Rufiji River. NB Alastair was expressly forbidden from swimming in the Rufiji because of the crocodiles.

I was very excited to ride across the Rufiji River today, not once, but about 5 times. One of the first great naval battles of the First World War England vs Germany took place on the Rufiji. Germany tried hard but came second. They were able to extract some measure of revenge 2 years later, when they shot Frederick Courtenay Selous in the head, also on the Rufiji. And then 50 years on from that, England extracted their own tit-for-tat revenge by beating Germany to win the 1966 World Cup, although not on the Rufiji.

And finally, on to the bicycling part of the blog. Kim and I diced a young man from the Sukuma tribe today. He was wearing his tribal blankets, his beaded anklets, a Number 14 Johan Cruyff football jersey and a pair of white gum boots. He raced us on an old silver 24 inch bike with 1 pedal missing and no brakes. I only found out about the no brakes later.

Kim and I had the better of him on 1 x 12 speed carbon frame bikes, but only just. He was so strong and rode like the clappers. Which got me to thinking what would he be like on a decent bike. So we swapped bikes. Silly me.

The young Sukuma tribesman couldn’t speak English, but grabbed my swap offer with both hands and disappeared on my bike at speed. Previously my bike did not know it could go that fast.

I panicked as I watched him disappear, thinking that the kid thought the swap was a permanent offer. I asked Kim and Brian to chase him down.

I set off after them on the buggered 1 pedal 24-inch silver bike, but sadly with me at the helm, the silver racer seemed to lose much of it’s speed, apart from when it was time to stop.

Brian and Kim had hauled the young Sukuma over 2 kilometers down the road. I roared up and discovered no brakes. Which could also be why Sukuma favour gum boots.

Alas. Zimbabwe’s economy is more broken than that bicycle. We are riding to Zanzibar to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please help us help them by following the donate prompts on www.oldlegstour.com.

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

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