Osadabwa's Retro-Africa Ride Report: 2004 - 2005

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Osadabwa, Feb 13, 2015.

  1. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Today began early. I sat among the Kokerbooms with my morning coffee contemplating. I don’t recall now what it was, but I guess I was thinking about one of three things - What to do about a) my girlfriend b) the rest of the ride c) my life. Since I didn't answer any of these, I guess I’ll ask them all again later.

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    Above: Quiver Trees by morning

    Into Keetmanshoop and straight to the courier who looked me in the face and said, “your battery didn't arrive”. Annoyed to be sure, I called Windhoek who promised they’d sent it. Back inside, I asked again and this time his assistant clicked something and *presto!* my battery appeared.

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    Above: Good advice

    We broke the fast, asked advice about the D608 we wanted to take South (advice: don’t go… it’s closed… etc) and promptly ignored it. As soon as the battery was charged and installed, we hit the road. There were three or four engine deep rivers to cross, but we managed them without mishap. Later, having ridden hard and fast through a pink, winding canyon and out again onto a plateau I made the mistake of enjoying the ride too much. I hammered two deep washes in quick succession and broke one of the pannier box hooks cleanly off. In the sun, I lashed it back on with rubber and took it easy the rest of the way to Fish River Canyon.

    My two bits? It’s big, no doubt about it, but inaccessible. You’re not allowed to walk into the canyon except if you’ve booked a special 80km hike, apparently. I thought how much better it is to ride mountain bikes in Moab… Didn’t take one picture.

    The campsite is crowded and we’ll be the first to hit the sack. Dreams have been wacky lately. I chalk it up to an aching back and sore wrists. The plan is to bathe in the hot springs at Ai-Ais tomorrow before heading for the RSA border. East to West, North to South we’ve seen Namibia!
    #41
  2. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    We awoke early and got moving in record time. We had an uninspiring breakfast at the Canyon Roadhouse and blasted south to Ai-Ais for a fairly halfhearted soak in what looked like the rundown pools in Thermopolis Wyoming on a weekday. After ice cream on a stick, we launched onto some of the dullest C roads we've seen so far... like I-80 in Wyoming near Rawlins without the wind and snow.

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    Above: "Closed" is more of a recommendation than a rule

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    Above: That's a lot of signage...

    At last, Karasburg. We bought some supplies and inquired about the big CLOSED/GESLUIT sign we saw blocking the C road we hoped to loop us North to Aroab. Apparently it's just for looks and can be ignored, so off we went. Deviating off the C road onto another CLOSED/GESLUIT D road, we finally had some lovely scenery. It was gorgeous ranchland with stony, red bluffs and table mountains all around. We passed homesteads and windmills and forded several knee deep drifts flooded by recent rains. Thanks to the guy in Karasburg, who phoned ahead to the ranches to find out which road we should take, we emerged onto the main road in early evening, pooped but elated.

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    Above: Bikes in the ranchland

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    Above: Tight fencing

    Through the intoxicating smell of freshly fallen rain on dust and stones we blasted through the countryside and arrived at the Aroab police checkpoint at dusk. In no time, we were negotiating a room at the Kalahari B&B and chowing down on burgers and beers. Knackered, we were pretty much silent until Gerald, the mustachioed man of the house sat down and started talking Fords, fences and windmills with us. Before we knew it, we were invited to join him and his family to drive around in the bush and have a lamb roast for Easter at a friend's place.

    Aroab... you can't imagine.
    #42
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  3. just jeff

    just jeff Long timer

    Joined:
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    Still following along. Excellent update.:clap
    JJ
    #43
  4. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Good Friday, I think…

    Last night the churches were making enough noise to bring Jesus back early, and I thought the preacher, in his guttural Afrikaans, sounded furious or mad rather than uplifting or spiritual. Now and then he’d say “Haaaleeeyloooya!” though, so I guessed it was mostly positive stuff…

    So Gerald… interesting character he is. He sat down with us yesterday just as we were about to fall asleep from our burger and Tafels and started talking about Springbok. Game ranches, it turns out, need to do an animal cull every so often, so he and his eldest boy load up his ’78 F250 and go hunting. They cull 300 at a time, he said, and for it to pay he has to get 30 in a day. Then he told us about Americans who come trophy hunting. Sometimes they’re so rich they leave their guns and binoculars etc behind just because they’re too lazy to carry them back home.

    Then he told us about Fords. He’s driven everything, but there’s nothing better. Land Rover has a rotten gear box. Land Cruiser has a weak frame (“you don’t know how many I’ve had in my shop with a busted chassis right behind the cab”). It seems the old F series pickups are the perfect match for Aroab’s needs. He brought in the first one and now there are over 30 in the small town. Everybody orders parts from an aftermarket manufacturer in Detroit, cheap.
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    Above: Gerald, his Ford and his workshop… a good guy

    I loved listening to Gerald. Just then, his wife hands him the phone and when he’s done talking he informs us that we’re invited to his friends’ tomorrow for a lamb braai. He wanted to show us what a Ford can do in the dunes of the southern Kalahari! “That is, if your plans can accommodate it, but what’s another day?” Solid logic… so we agreed.

    And then he told us about windmills. He imports the casing from Australia and modifies them to work better in Namibia with Land Rover differentials (“the only solid part on a Land Rover”) doing the hard work. A chain and wheel turns the diff which then turns a shaft that drives a screw pump. A farmer can unhook the windmill and use his diesel powered motor if need be. Necessity, meet Invention.

    In bed at last, but it was hard to sleep. I thought the world was ending. In addition to the shouting preachers, the wind howled and there were lightning strikes at 2 second intervals that lit up our room like flashbulbs. Finally two giant thunderclaps signalled the storm’s climax and just like that it was gone, roving angrily over the flat plain, filling gullies and washing out roads.

    It’s morning as I write this. I’ve fought off the mosquitoes as best as I could and I’m enjoying a hot cup of coffee on the step in the sun. The world smells like a wet garage. We’ll see what the day brings…
    #44
  5. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    We had a breakfast of Boerwors, bacon and eggs before climbing in the back of Gerald’s F150 with two cases of Tafel. It was great drinking beer in the sun with the breeze whipping us and Gerald telling stories, four bottom teeth wobbling slightly as he talked.

    We arrived at the party along with a cold breeze, were introduced briefly to the host and the other guests, had a look at the lamb stretched out over the coals between two metal grates like I’ve seen for fish and wondered at the huge and opulent house and yard set in the midst of all that rolling, sandy nothingness. Ostrich farming, apparently, is good business.

    We talked Fords for a long time. Everyone had their story. We talked farming some, and fences, and the host pointed out the highest sand dune on his property where the South African Air Force used to light a signal flare for their pilots during the Angolan war. The drinks were loosening everyone up and I was having a fine time.

    As the sun dipped, all the younger folk from the pre-teens to the new mom jumped in the back of an enormous F250 – red and black – and growled toward the tallest dune, stopping now and then to check a rain guage – 18mm – or a water tank, and pausing to open a gate among low yellow flowers. The drive afforded a vast view of unending green and rust. Looking west toward the quickly setting sun, all was metallic from the wispy tops of the yellow grass gone gold in the sun.

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    Above: Exploring the dunes on the Rust and Black F250

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    Above: The Dune Buggy

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    Above: The biggest dune

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    Above: 620, Gerald’s son, the dusty dune top

    Back at the braai, dark by then, younger kids were singing heartily into a Karaoke machine, spirits high. Then in an instant the mood changed when the host – out of nowhere – challenged me in front of everyone to describe how I would explain to the folks back home the difference between Blacks and Whites. That seriously caught me off guard. I tried to stay light-hearted but simply couldn’t in the midst of allegations that “they” are all “despicable, cunning, useless and dangerous”, and for that, I was seriously chastised. As the tirade went on (with the N-word being tossed around just to egg me on), the conversation inevitably came back to America and I was put in the awkward position of having to defend my country and all her shortcomings (from slavery to the war in Iraq) as though I were singularly responsible for it all.

    It was heated. The host’s daughter, who had studied in the States, chimed in with the assertion that the “Black viewpoint” is the only one shown in the US, and implied that Whites had somehow lost the upper hand. Meanwhile the host had risen to his feet, was pointing fingers at me and roaring. It was as if he was holding me responsible somehow for his lot… which seemed pretty sweet to me compared to the poverty all around us.

    The argument, if you can call it that, cooled off at last with a somewhat good-natured shot of foul tasting pineapple flavoured rotgut booze from a bottle wrapped in barbed wire, but even that couldn’t burn the bad taste out of my mouth. It plagued me all the way back to Aroab in the bed of the Ford – watching cold, beautiful stars – and drunkenly in my sleep. It plagues me still.

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    Above: Small consolation in Hakkiesdraad Mampoer, 620 and Gerald on the way back to Aroab
    #45
  6. davesupreme

    davesupreme grand poobah

    Joined:
    May 1, 2011
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    5,235
    Location:
    palm harbor, fla
    hard to let racism go by unchallenged.... the african version of it has gotta be huge.....
    #46
  7. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    This morning, we packed to go. Gerald talked about his lathe machines and how he’s fabricating concrete fence (I’m gonna make a bundle on that!) and how he can’t say no to long-time customers’ insanely small jobs though he often ends up just doing them for free. His son, Gerald’s equal in good natured hospitality, helped me burn my photos to a CD, and we said a heartfelt farewell and rode through a harsh light out of Namibia into South Africa.

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    Above: Leaving Karas and Namibia

    The first hours in South were from the Twilight Zone. Surreal. The light was strange, somehow, and the people – all San – seemed equally odd after spending a month in Namibia. None of the roads were well marked, nobody seemed to know English and our map was utterly useless, so we just rode. Now, having stumbled onto the dusty village of Van Zylsrus, we’re overnighting to the sound of a massive steel windmill churning water up from the depths. I wonder if it has a Land Rover differential in there doing the work…

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    Above: Shadowrider in RSA
    #47
  8. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
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    624
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    Sitting in the shade on a side street in Melville watching the bikes while 620 goes hunting for internet access in the mall so we can find somewhere to stay. It’s been a long day despite the relatively short ride on tar from Mmbatho where we overnighted. The road wound, drifted rather, through field after field under cloudy skies for about 200 km.

    The surrealism from the previous day continued from Van Zylsrus. It was deep bush to be sure, clinging to red or white sand and winding roughly along the Molopo River. We were lost more than once, but our short cuts and our goings astray balanced out more or less. Cattle ranches, sheep and goat ranches and game ranches meant fences all along the way. There were good sections of soft riding on wide double tracks diving through grass and sand, but also long sections of rough corrugations keeping us honest.

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    Above: First roads in RSA

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    We finally arrived at Mmbatho just as the sun set and 620’s Katy ran out of gas. We towed to the nearest pump and began hunting for a resthouse. We were about to check into the Mmbatho Sun as a last resort – it was getting late and we didn’t like the feeling of riding back and forth so conspicuously after dark – when we saw a sign for a guesthouse.

    The place was quiet and nice and run by a Black South African family for a change. In Van Zylsrus, another uncomfortable moment when the elderly White patroness asked “so, how are the Blacks in Namibia?” and, “Zambia, aren’t they just awful to each other up there?” Alas.

    The women sat for dinner together with us, as if we’d just been invited over for the purpose and we learned a bit about Mmbatho. It was once the centre of Bophuthatswana, the wealthiest and most influential “banthustan” in Apartheid-era South Africa. The women described it as more “privileged” than many other areas, with good facilities, decent schools, etc. Their current success is in some way a by-product of these privileges which I took as an ironic twist to Apartheid’s ugly history.

    We talked about South Africa’s upcoming elections some. The ANC will sweep it, they said, because all the opposition parties are offshoots from the Boer party one way or another and after only 10 years of independence (!) it’s too soon to trust any party but the independence party. Couldn’t say I blamed them…
    #48
  9. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    A loooong way from Joburg and good riddance! I spent a mint on bike repairs at Cytech – new progressive fork springs, Ohlins shock, outlet for battery charging, new bolts for broken ones, new grips for used ones, new welds for snapped ones and a lot of change for the labour. All told, it was over $3000 and it hurt, but the bike had had a total makeover (valves checked, air box modified with K&N filter installed) and was running like a (short, fat) stallion.

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    Above: New legs

    620’s Katy was also getting new goodies, but for obvious reasons (being a KTM and a proper off-road bike), she required far less. The major upgrade was a new shock spring to handle his 6’4” body plus baggage.

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    Above: Leaving Joburg in a traffic jam

    The second we had all our new parts, we got the hell out of Dodge. We blasted toll roads all the way to Belfast, arriving well after dark and wishing we’d stopped sooner. Headlights from the oncoming, never-ending stream of trucks and cars spread in a dazzling milky way over my face mask, making it tricky to see. 620 was nearly invisible from the rear, making me glad I had a semi-tractor trailer’s worth of 3M reflective tape on my pannier boxes. That night, we slept at a weird place in a weird room full of plush dolls and lots of pink. Food was awful. 620 slept on the floor and I wish I’d done the same… bed was like a Pringle.

    Next day we blasted for the border at first cock’s crow. Winding roads through twisty canyons made for the best on-tar riding so far, apart from the smoggy paper plant somewhere in between. We crossed the Mozambique border with the bare minimum of hassle, though the Portuguese language definitely adds a new twist. We were immediately happy to see the change back to Africa. It was everywhere in the crowded queues and loitering youths, in the inefficient paper system and bored attendants… and in the heart of it.

    We were on our way to a vacation within a vacation. The bikes were going to take a backseat for a week while we entertained our girlfriends on the long, beautiful Indian Ocean beaches. As soon as we hit Maputo, 620 and I split up. No more smelling each other's dirty socks for awhile.

    I spent a day exploring, and when Ana arrived we really enjoyed the city. The days flew past. We walked everywhere, enjoying the easy way of the throngs of people on the street. Day and night the streets are alive. Kids play in the doorsteps of the tall apartment blocks, sellers hawk their fruit on corners beneath trees, people move ot the city’s easy rhythm, leaving everyone alone, doing their own thing. I love Maputo.

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    Above: Maputo at night

    After a day or two, we set off for Tofu Beach, I on Rosie, Ana in a bus. The ride was long – 450 km of tar – and seemed longer still since my forks no longer compress after Joburg (“don’t worry, they’ll wear in, but if they don’t you can remove the 4” shim we put in there…” Cytech advice) so every bump was transferred to my hands. Still, the palm trees and sticky heat reminded me I was on holiday looking for a beach with a girl on the way, so it was all good.

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    Above: Ana at Tofu Beach

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    Above: Tofu

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    Above: Tofu night
    #49
  10. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Not half seven yet and the sun is already bright white hot. Beyond the sand, in the shallow waters 100 meters away, three men pull in a rope, or net, can’t be sure. Down the way, boats lay beached, waiting for higher tides, and I wait to walk to Vilanculo town to take the boat to the island. Part of an island archipelago 30 km off the mainland, Bazaruto Island is where we’re headed for a few days of snorkelling and slightly plusher relaxing. I’m looking forward to a bottle of wine and a sunset.

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    Above: Vilanculo boat

    Getting here from Tofu, I basically packed up and rode north. Ana jumped a local bus and met me. Since then, it’s been good. Walking the town and the beach, eating seafood, relaxing… I’d best enjoy it while she’s here.

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    Above: Tofu Anchor

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    Above: Beach Scenes

    On a sad note, my digital camera broke. Damn. I only have a disposable dime-store one to get me through until I can sort out a replacement…

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    Above: Bazaruto Island sunset
    #50
  11. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Man, I’m feeling good tonight!

    Mozambique is truly unlike other Southern African countries. We arrived in Maxixe after dark, the moon just rising through the trees as the sun was glowing dead on the Western horizon and immediately we feel the good vibes. No rush, no hassle, but there were guys helping us find a room for the night and we were able to negotiate it down to 300,000 Meticais from 400,000 with little effort.

    The town is just like every other small town in the bush at night. People everywhere following the moon, boomboxes making noise out into the streets, minibuses and Koombies lined up beside the larger lorries for tomorrow’s ride to places far away. We changed clothes, emerged from our (pretty nice) digs and went toward the local hot-spot.

    With broken Spanish, scraps of Portuguese and English, we deviated from the mzungu area and found a place selling goat and rice. It was just like every other place like it, but still very different. There’s the same Indian made plastic clock with the butterflies on it, the same plastic chairs and concrete walls, but the clientele and their reaction to us is 180 degrees from that of Zambia (wazungu celebrity!) and Namibia & South Africa (potential enemy). We were simply two guys hungry for some food and thirsty for a Manica.

    The goat was excellent, the Manica cold, and we were joined by an NGO worker (who else) who filled us in on the area. He quizzed a couple of truck drivers about our proposed route for the following day who described it as “hilly and mountainous” and made hand gestures resembling a stalling airplane.

    It was easy to talk, despite the language barrier. No hassles. They just wanted us to come dancing later. Maybe we should have, but I’m too tired to think now.
    #51
  12. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    We overnighted in mud and thatch rondavels at the Zororo Restaurant/Guesthouse, hammered a whole chicken and nsima, listened to a wide variety of music from the Chili Peppers to Bon Jovi on the local boombox and drank many a Manica while talking art and craft and the possibility of happiness in life. All of this after riding 300 km toward Zimbabwe and back on the same road…

    The bridge at the end of said road, we learned too late, did not exist and the pontoon had been washed away after the guide cable broke during heavy flooding. There we were, at the frontier of Zimbabwe talking to two guys on the roadside from Diamond Tobacco who had lived in Eastern Zambia for two years, one of whom had married a Katete girl and became fluent in Chinyanja…

    Rosie turned 27,000 just outside of town as we were backtracking and we celebrated with nice chocolate biscuits bought from Muxungue the night before. The road down was a s fun as the road up, winding nicely through fields and forests and deep, uininhabited stretch of bush where I assume landmines still remind the locals of the war… Since I’d spent a few hours in Vilanculo cutting those stupid Cytech fork shims in half, my bike felt better and more responsive both in the front and the rear.

    This morning, we’ve been in the market eating buns and having sugary milky tea waiting for the welder. Yesterday evening, 620’s kickstand part (added in Windhoek) snapped at the weld… there’s always something. Then we spent some time adjusting his new heavier-duty shock spring preload. I bet he rides red hot now!

    Despite backtracking, I’ve loved this little detour.
    #52
  13. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Dombe, the original destination before the backtrack. We arrived via a different route after getting lost and bumping over the dirt roads of Mozambique. 620’s kickstand fixed, we fuelled up at the above-ground petrol station by noon, watched by fifty kids, still unlike anywhere else in that the mob doesn’t really bother us. They are noticeably more calm, easy-going, and respectful of you and your space than Zambians who often tend to behave as though what’s yours is also theirs. It’s a nice change.

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    Above: Fuel up

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    Above: Roadside Restaurante Pande for Prego no Pao

    So we took off in search of Chiboma, which on our map shows a small dot and a road linking with the EN1, but when we arrived, we found that our map was full of prunes! Nobody we met had ever heard of the place. Everyone directed us to the same road: the one we’d just travelled down. Morale crusher! But, what the hell… a bad day of riding’s better than etc etc etc. We backtracked to Muxungwe, ate cold chicken, a bun and some flavourless ball that looked like soughum, then rammed over the tarmac and its potholes to the turnoff to Dombe.

    The low sun was blinding and I felt as though I were riding more on feel and hope than visual cues. Black shadows splashed across the road only to be erased by the blinding sunshine again, leaving my eyes no chance to adjust. At the end, we arrived unscathed in Dombe, quickly installed ourselves in ta tin-roofed shack out back of the adult learning block of a school and hoofed it to town.

    As everywhere else, nothing but good vibes. We are greeted with polite “bom tarde” and allowed to explore entirely at peace. We walked to the Buzi river – the one whose pontoon was washed away – where large tractors had rescued the wayward pontoon which would likely be back on the river soon. Stars were popping through the dark sky as we arrived at the old, Dombe commercial building and enquired about nsima. A spunky old guy promised us chicken and nsima, bade us have a seat and brought us to 2M’s.

    We sat on the street in the still air watching quietly as Dombe’s generator lit up the street’s activities. A continuous stream of chatting women paraded past from the distant borehole. Two kids in castaway shorts sprinted the streets behind rolling bicycle tyres, yelling at people to get out of the way and making motorbike noises. Small kiosks played their rhumba a bito more loudly. Small groups meandered here and there and Orion defined his position at the West end of the road for the night, just above the ACDI/VOCA sponsored market prices signboard beneath the tree. Four older gents arrived and sat at a table nearby, drinking beer and chatting to themselves.

    Eventually, a small group of boys found courage enough to come over to our table and before we knew it, we were exchanging whistle techniques, us with our owl-cry cupped hands, and they with a complicated twisting of knitted fingers that, once accomplished, could be played like a flute. It was beautiful. For an hour we all blew and sputtered into our contorted hands, nobody managing to produce a single note with the other’s technique.
    At last, our food was delivered and the boys bade us good evening, polite as could be.

    The moon was high and the air was cool. We ate heartily and quickly and went straight to bed, happy and exhausted.
    #53
  14. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    A friend of mine, sick of me complaining that my camera is broken, told me I should just buy a sketch book and be done with it. He has a point, but if I did that, it would take years to cross the continent! Yesterday was particularly beautiful. Straight out of Dombe, the scenery began to change. It rolled along in the foothills awhile through fields and banana plantations before embarking on a series of switchbacks that lifted us high above the plains. From one oedge of aswitchback, I could see at least 100 km and it was endless green and flat as a bed. Then the road curved inward toward the center of the mountains and we followed a road crew up and over and around. Eventually, the high peaks could be seen. We rode within sight of them all morning and deviated only long enough to buy petrol at Sussundenga before riding on again for Rofunda and eventually Cacauba.

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    Above: My sketch of the Chicamba Real Reservoir

    The roads we asked for were never there, but we found others that didn’t exist according to Michellin. Finding our way meant talking to people and snacking on bananas and biscuits. One guy eagerly asked if we were looking to open up a business. I wish I knew what to do to make money out here, because I would have gladly answered “yes”.

    The dirt was hard most of the day. The only real danger of crashing was finding a pickup in your lane around a blind corner, or a group of people milling about, or a lorry perpendicular in the road, blocking it completely, loading cattle… the usual.

    At 16:00, we rounded a corner and saw The Chicamba Real Dam. We stopped and talked to Pedro, whose place is perched on a huge stone dipping into the lake, and who agreed to let us pitch our tents overnight for free as long as we ate at his bar. Deal done! We swam (against better judgement) in the lake and had sundowners in style on Pedro’s Coca-Cola chairs.
    #54
  15. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    Overnight at Pedro’s, 620 had identified a few small issues with Katy. 1) shot wheel bearings 2) shot swingarm bearings 3) busted headlight mount. Ugly issues given we were in the middle of Mozambique.

    Following day, we were in Chimoio, sipping a Cappuccino at the Café EL04 on avenida 25 de Septembru, pondering what to do when a late 90’s style BMW F650 pulls up. 620 rushes out to greet the guy and disappears on his bike. 30 minutes later, he was back with wheel bearings sorted, headlight repaired, digits for a guy in Beira who can fix the swingarm in hand and wearing a funky ‘70s style t-shirt found in the process! Osadabwa!

    Pleased as punch, we decided Chimoio merited a bit of time, so we plopped our gear at the Pensao Pescina near the mechanic’s house and set out on foot to explore. There were lots of Modern era touches, some 1920’s Portuguese structures, public murals and funky tile work on buildings.

    On one roundabout, called Heroes’ Square, there is a giant mural painted along the outside wall in a stark, Afro-Socialist style that reminds me of Stalin or T-shirts of Che Guevara. It’s hard to translate, not knowing much about the history, but every panel save one depicts warfare that is seemingly unresolved. It contrasts with the Mozambique we’ve been seeing, but is a tidy reminder of their recent past.

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    Above: Slavery, war…

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    Above: Running out the Portuguese?

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    Above: More war, Samora Machel as victorious general?

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    Above: Samora Machel… from fighter to civilian leader

    We hit the second hand market for T-shirts and “Ray-Ban” sunglasses, had lunch at JUMBO shop and a cold beer at the Concorde – complete with a 1950’s dysfunctional neon sign shaped like the famous plane. A couple of average cars with above-average decibal level sub-woofers blasting Snoop-Dogg and other rappers for the cool kids in the city.

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    Above: Jumbo and sketch of the Concorde sign
    #55
  16. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    The Pensao Miramar. Not technically false advertising since from our second storey room we can see a sliver of the sea over the roof of a house and through the palms below.

    We arrived two days ago from Chimoio. Not very interesting riding – tarmac – but it was tolerably scenic. By the time we left the sky had turned gray, and before we knew it we were wearing our rain suits.

    Beira itself appeared funky from the start. The first thing I saw was a 20 storey Manica Beer ad painted on a windowless apartment block. Deeper into town, the architecture becomes quaintly colonial, especially the elbow of the city along the beachfront where Portugeuese houses wear blue and white painted tiles, are ornamented with sweeping staircases or ornate roof peaks, or stand 6 feet above the ground on concrete pillars presumably to keep them from the wet.

    On the hunt for a pensao, we met Miro drinking beer at Oceana. A scrawny, brown skinned guy of 25 or so who knew Durru, the motorcycle mechanic we were looking for, Miro walked with us to Durru’s place, pointing out the enormous and crumbling cinema and chatting about the old houses with us. We arrived and waited a moment, surveying the cemetery of rusty motorcycles in the yard of Durru’s otherwise tidy (for Beira standards) yard until a stocky Lenny Kravitz doll emerged from the house in a tank top and shorts clutching a mug of water. This was Zinho. His voice sounded like he’d been eating gravel with an aluminium scoop shovel and his hair, an Afro with spikes, looked the story: he would have slept all day save for our arrival and was still drunk from the previous night. It was 16:00 hrs.

    After some very funny, half drunken exchanges, he disappeared back into the house for a “cowboy shower” before re-emerging, beer in hand, in a checked driving hat, giant, square, turtleshell “Bay Ran” Sunglasses, a woven, brown, short-sleeved shirt beneath a ratty suede jacket over flared jeans and white leather, wooden-soled clogs. To the street then! Walking, we picked up a few of Zinho’s friends. One, a young guy with dreadlocks under a huge knit rasta hat, kept drunkenly expanding on his plans to build a lodge in Sussundenga on his uncle’s land.

    We had a look at our bikes. Started the engines. Revved said engines. Talked about 620’s swingarm bearing issues and retired to the sea wall where Zinho smoked a cigar and 620 and I watched the sea. After awhile of this, we parted from the group to explore the city, eventually ending up back at the Miramar for beers and dinner. There were plenty of working girls plying their trade. An old guy with extravagant hand gestures, a red sweater and a white, unfastened baseball cap sat with us and told us about the town at length. A pregnant woman fondled my hair and giggled when I told her my name, and with that we decided to call it a day.

    I really need a camera. Apart from everything else today, there was a herd of kids doing backflips off the streetside into a sand pile at the edge of a ditch this afternoon, simply enjoying themselves. I’d like to have had a picture of that.
    #56
  17. Abersouth

    Abersouth misadventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2014
    Oddometer:
    268
    Location:
    Fort Collins, Colorado
    :lurk
    #57
  18. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    We'd been debating about whether we should go to Malawi next or go on to Tanzania straight. Turns out fate would decide.

    We went to immigration, passed through the levels of hell required to extend a visa, and were in the process of getting a stamp when I realised something was amiss. The woman said: come back Friday when your visas would be ready (it was Tuesday), not wanting to wait, we grabbed the passports and ran. New plan: get to Malawi before our visas expire, renew them in Lilongwe, and re-enter Mozambique from the Lichinga side.

    It was too late to leave, so we wandered the city some more, did some second-hand shopping and watched a John Malkovich flick at an old single screen theatre. I also hatched a plan to have a South African camera shop DHL a new digital camera to me in Blantyre, Malawi. Scary to trust that system, but I gotta try.

    [Hang in there, you few readers, more photos to come.]
    #58
    astroman1 likes this.
  19. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    An impressive cacophony of noise coming from the “guest house” we’re staying in tonight. There’s Portuguese tele-novellas on the TV and Oliver Mtukudzi blasting simultaneously from someone’s room. This is the first place in Mozambique that has ticked us off. It must be a trade hub or something, because people are far less relaxed, and the children have been appallingly behaved. I found myself shouting at them to piss off, and only got derision in return.

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    Above: Moving through Mozambique

    No matter. Today was a long one, all the way from Beira. It was forested and very rural, but all morning long I was in a daze, bored even. We stopped somewhere for a break and 620’s giddiness about making so much progress turned my head around. After that, I started enjoying the forested road. I had a moment with some deep sand that gave me pause, but I ultimately conquered it, despite my stupidly slick tyres (thanks again Cytech) and the rock-solid pressure I was running in them (again, thanks for that nugget of genius, Cytech). It took a lot of effort to keep the bike from bucking me off. I started talking to myself, egging myself on, trying hard to overcome my fear of the sand. By the end of it, I was gripping the tank with my knees, giving it more gas and looking forward to the next sandy stretch.

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    Above: Slicks, high pressure, overweight and sand

    And as a result, I’m bushed. Tomorrow we shoot for Malawi.
    #59
  20. Osadabwa

    Osadabwa Don't be Surprised

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2009
    Oddometer:
    624
    Location:
    Nairobi, Kenya
    If I continue to have wonderful days, will I eventually exceed my quota? After leaving that horrible place on the W. side of the Zambezi, with its endless streams of awful children, everything became perfect for a day.

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    Above: Morning gas-up

    Our occasionally correct map got one thing right: there is a 3.67 km long, arrow-straight bridge over the Zambezi. We crossed it with eager trepidation, if that’s possible, wobbling first over the steel mesh flooring then clumping across the wooden planks, not knowing whether to stare into the perfect void where the perspective lines met, or watch at closer distance for missing boards. We both crossed and breathed a sigh of excited relief, feeling intensely the genuine uniqueness of such a situation. How many more floods would this old relic withstand? How much longer before a proper bridge replaces it?

    [​IMG]
    Above: The Donha Ana bridge over the Zambezi (built in 1934, bombed by RENAMO during the civil war, crossed by me in 2004 and re-converted back into a Railway bridge in 2009)

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    Above: D. Ana Bridge

    For 60km to the border of Malawi we slalomed through an unending array of people and livestock, potholes and culverts and ruts on an impossibly narrow dirt road. The border itself was surprisingly easy at the very run-down Mozambican side and easier still at the Malawian side where people understood what “Osadabwa” and “Ili Che” meant and took an interest in the mzungu speaking ChiNyanja.

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    Above: Mutarara Commercial selling Hunter Bicycles

    We had a Coke and heard one man’s views on Bakili Mluzi, the current and only elected president of Malawi – “Thief, thief, thief, he said” – who was hovering around in his helicopter on a whistle-stop tour of Nsanje District to promote his successor in elections later in the month. So cynical is Mluzi that he’d graded the road for the occasion, which we benefitted from, but was a clearly political move for the locals there. I thought about his use of a government helicopter to further his own party… corruption is so rampant.

    All the way to Bangula in the heat of the mid-day sun, the smell of dry-season (burning grass, dust and dry vegetation) was a sensory flashback to Peace Corps and Chipungu Village. We drove through throngs of UPF supporters sporting yellow flags and t-shirts supplied by cadres in advance of Mluzi’s arrival. We slipped through a gyrating crowd of them just before the President himself arrived, military and police out in force and dense crowds on either side chanting, and I was much relieved to show them all my back.

    A quick lunch of goat and nsima (the Malawians make it too watery), a chat with some policemen, a tank of fuel and we were ready to try our luck. The Shire River, a major tributary of the Zambezi that drains the South end of Lake Malawi, had washed away the Bagula/Chiromo bridge recently. Construction had begun, but meantime only boats were available. Little boats.

    After some deliberation, we decided to go for it. A hoard of men lifted our overweight babies into what were essentially leaky dinghies. Rosie was too fat to lie down without capsizing the boat, so she had to be sat upright on the floor. Someone needed to steady her, so I stood astride her, feet on the gunwales, hands on the bars. We were pushed out onto the water and I immediately began to panic. With Rosie’s tyres on the bottom of the boat and my feet on the gunwales, I had the horrible premonition that we were going to tip over. If I lost my balance even slightly, the boat would push out from under me, toppling me and Rosie atop each other into the crocodile infested water. It was a perilous, wobbly voyage but we both made it to the other side.

    [​IMG]
    Above: Loading Rosie

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    Above: 620’s view – Me and Rosie in the distance

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    Above: On the water

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    Above: 620’s bike barge

    To look at our map, we could never have guessed just how fantastic the riding would be on the other side of the river, but it was spectacular. We rode across a burned-out train bridge, through a few villages and before we knew it, we were climbing. The road gained altitude like a jet plane and the Mozambican low-lands spilled into the heavy atmosphere below with pillars of smoke, churning now and then from fields and the shine of the Shire’s flooded waters in the near distance.

    Stopped to admire the view, we were approached by three happy men. Drunk, they were, and delighted to chat with me in Nyanja. It was a good laugh. They were eagerly telling me how the maize harvest had been hopeless – plant, die, plant, die – and that nobody had supplied any seeds this year. Surely they would all suffer from hunger, they said. Yet there they were, at harvest time, drunk as skunks, happily riding bicycles back from the shop with paraffin for their lamps.

    Up we went on a stony, rutted dirt road, through banana plants, stands of trees, fields of sorghum and drying maize. Villages clung to hillsides and ridges, terraced banana fields made the rugged hillsides seem tame and managed, and little stores and workshops popped up in unlikely nooks along the edges of the precipice promising a bedframe here, or a beer there, Andrew’s Liver Salt or Panadol. I thought how amazing it’d be to be a PCV there, and a few kilometres later in Thyolo, we met one. He agreed.

    We climbed further still until we’d crested the first escarpment and had turned ourselves to the east. A hazy Mt. Mulanje stood up before us, topped by cloud and surrounded by greenness everywhere below. The red clay road was ragged and bumpy from recent rains and made me thank heaven it was dry because we would certainly have suffered a spill or two should it have been wet. The emerald leaves of the bananas gave way to the hyper-emerald green tea plantations, ordered and endless and uniform like blankets laid across the hills. Stunning!

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    Above: Mulanje tea estates, or The Limits of Disposable Cameras

    We met the tar road just as it had become almost unbearably beautiful. It was 50 km to Mulanje town and we belted it. The flat face of the mountain rose up before us, the stony, stoic forehead pointing NW, catching the yellow-orange rays of the evening light and projecting them back at us, the clouds radiating all the energy of a nuclear blast. We bought beans, bread and beer as twilight set in, rode to the ranger station at the bottom of the Massif and set up camp. We celebrated in the yard with Carlsberg Greens. I couldn’t help thinking: Welcome home.
    #60