Thursday, December 27, 2012

Cycling Zambia: The Single Speed Adventure, Part I

It feels good to be back on my bike, it really does.  The two months I spent with Stefan driving northern Botswana, crossing into Zambia, at the orphanage in Choma and our time in Lusaka while traveling in his ’74 VW was great, but I always felt a little lazy running under petrol-power while my bike sat tied to the top of the bus.  If you are just coming across this post and haven’t read about my ride across Botswana, you can check that out and get more background here.  The short version however, is that I rode about 1,800km through and across Botswana specifically because the guidebook said not to, and I did it on a single speed bike I bought for $124 (Specialized Globe Live 1), without any touring specific gear (proper saddle bags, etc) and in flip flops.  I am riding through Zambia in the exact same way.  Why mess with a good thing?  I think I’m making up for lost time however, because while I don’t have as much of the heat to deal with as I did in Botswana, I’m fighting the hills and now the rain instead.  I’m 500km in so far and at this point I feel that Zambia has been more of a challenge than Botswana was.  That said, so far I’ve had a great time and hope you have some time to sit down and read about it, or at least a few minutes to look at the photos!

Just before Stefan and I split up, he dropped me at the next PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) down the road who I’d arranged to stay with, Sam from Oregon.  Sam lives on a family compound a few KM off the main road in a small two room house with a veggie garden in the back.

As I mentioned in my last post, PCVs (sorry, I’m going to be using this abbreviation a lot…) in Zamia live in much more rustic conditions than their counterparts in Botswana.  To illustrate this point, while generally all PVCs in Botswana have running water (everyone I stayed with but one had a sink, flush toilet and bathtub or shower), this is where Sam gets his water from. 

Because I hadn’t ridden my bike in a while and I now had to find a way to keep everything in dry-bags for the upcoming rainy season, I basically dumped out all my possessions onto a bamboo mat under a tree and spent two hours staring at them, trying to figure out how to arrange things in a way that would keep them dry.  The solution took some reorganizing, but in the end I managed to use the 65 litre bag inside my big backpack for my clothes, sleeping bag, pad, gadgets, toiletries and food, one of the 35s for my tent (with plenty of room to spare), my day bag where I keep my laptop, lunch, jacket, notebook, gadget bag and bike tools fits inside the other 35L and then in the 8L I keep rain clothes for easy access.  Simple.

Sam had work to do, so we hopped on our bikes and rode some village trails which was a ton of fun.  I’m so used to riding on paved roads with heavy loads that doing single track and dirt roads was a great change, even if I was still doing it on a single speed bike with a coaster brake and a basket on the front!  We rode to a number of different family’s homes over the next hour and a half, arriving back at Sam’s just as it was getting too dark to see anything. 

Both of us were hungry so Sam, well known by other PCVs as being a good brazier cook, whipped up some breaded soya that tasted like delicious chicken nuggets.  After our little appetizer, we joined his host family for dinner in their home, the typical Zambian meal of nshima with beans and greens, eaten with your hands.  It’s not a fancy meal, but I actually enjoy it a lot.  I couldn't do it every day as they seem to, but 2 or 3 days a week would be alright with me.

Day 1:

Because Sam had to be in another village early the next morning he was already gone when I woke up, but he was a great host and I certainly appreciated the visit.  I ate my usual cereal and powered milk breakfast, packed my things on the bike, trying to remember just how the straps went to tie them onto the racks (I did it ‘wrong’) and set out.

Road friends. 

I remember how many crashed trucks I saw on the roadside in Tanzania (hint: it was a lot) and without a doubt Zambia equaled that or maybe even exceeded it.  Many of them seem to be lying at impossible angles (this photo is a very straightforward one) and all you can do is think ‘Wow, someone really screwed up to do that.”  Yikes.

So yah, that single speed bike thing.  Botswana is a flat country, Zambia, not so much.  Of course I knew this ahead of time, was expecting to walk my bike up many hills and was not disappointed in this respect.  Just the slightest incline when you can’t downshift requires a great deal more energy.  I always try to ride as far as I can up the hills, but once I lose momentum and my speed drops below a reasonable threshold I simply hop off and begin pushing.  I’ve had days when I’ve had to push my bike up eight or so hills, but I’ve had other days when I have been able to ride everything.

Something thing I noticed on day one, was that the thing I heard from nearly every child I passed was “How are you!”  Less than half seem to actually know what it means, as evidenced by the fact when I say “I am good, how are you?” they pretty much just keep screaming “How are you!” until I am out of sight.  It’s a nice change from Botswana where one of the most common things I heard from kids was “Give me money!” despite being a far more prosperous country.

About 70km into my day, I passed the town of Serenje (after pushing my bike up a long and steep hill) and was feeling pretty weak.  I was obviously dealing with the fact I hadn’t ridden in two months as I could tell I was dragging as early as 30k in… I got a soda and a juice from a roadside shop, gulped them down and felt instantly better.  Sometimes all you need is a little sugar to keep you going.

A few KM beyond Serenje I turned right onto a dirt road where I had about 10km, mostly downhill, to cover.  Luckily the road was recently regarded and was in very good shape, although I did almost eat it in soft sand at one point.  In Bots, I never really got off the pavement, time to see how my bike handles it!  (Quite well actually)

Descending into the valley I was immediately struck by how green everything was.  My lousy photo doesn’t do it justice, but trust me, it was a pretty area, haha.

Just after 4pm I arrived at Mikes place, my third PCV host in a row!  Mike is a teacher at the Teta Primary School.  The school is in a pretty rural farming area and serves about 800 students but apparently on any given day about 400 show up, half in the morning, half in the afternoon.

Mike has a pretty sweet place and a castle by Peace Corps Zambia standards.  Previous PCVs have lived in the same place and done some big improvements, so as a result there is a nice porch, entry room, living room with couches, bedroom with an indoor bathing area and an attached storage room.  That evening we had dinner, talked for a while about life in Zambia and called it a night.

Distance covered: 84km

Day 2:

I’d intended on leaving that morning, but to be honest I was feeling rather sore and tired after the previous day and Mike had no problem with me hanging around a little longer.  We spent much of the day lounging out on the covered porch talking or reading books, as he was supposed to be available at home for people to pick up mosquito nets from him.  In addition to a nice place, Mike also has good water access.  The pump is only about 100m from his house, and being in a bit of a valley it has good water flow year around.

That night we had dinner with his host family and looked at some photos they had.

Day 3:

Teta Primary School.

I rode and pushed my bike the 10km back uphill on the dirt road and when I got to the Great North Road (grand name for a two lane road eh?) I turned my phone on, as I didn’t have service where Mike lives.  Great, a text from Mike saying I forgot my towel and washcloth at his place… 10km back downhill, grab it, 10km back uphill.  Great way to start the day huh?

Riding conditions on the Great North Road are generally pretty good.  There is only a shoulder to ride on in some sections (sometimes you have 30k with a nice shoulder, then nothing for 50, then it starts again, who knows why), more often than not it is a dirt shoulder but good enough to ride on and let vehicles pass.  The pavement is fairly smooth and pothole free, so no problems with that. 

Brace yourself, another Botswana/Zambia comparison.  So in Botswana, almost no one rides bikes.  As a result, cyclists are seen as a novelty and I was treated extremely well by drivers in that country.  I’d ride opposing traffic, and while I’d move to the shoulder (Bots almost always had a good shoulder) and the cars and big trucks pretty much always moved into the complete opposite lane to give me space while they waved or honked .hello.  In Zambia almost everyone rides bikes and vehicles seem to view them as an annoyance that has no place on the road when they are around.  As a result, while I’d ride opposing traffic again so I could see approaching vehicles well in advance, I’d either move as far as possible into the paved or dirt shoulder if there was one, or look behind me for any potential traffic and move to the other side of the road (into the far edge of the ‘proper’ direction of travel assuming there wasn’t a vehicle coming).  Once the vehicle had passed, I’d check behind me again, and move back into the opposing lane of traffic to once again.  Yes, it means zig-zagging around a bit, but I’ve found it to be the safest way to ride out here, and for the most part traffic isn’t very heavy so it’s never too tedious.

Tomatoes and onions, sometimes I think this is the only vegetable Zambians have ever heard of… Oh well, I like them and got something like 10 tomatoes and 8 onions for $1.

Oh, around this point I also saw a hand painted sign that advertised a ‘Bedroom Doctor’, the sale of ‘African Potatoes’, ‘Sugar, purer yellow and white’ and “The Popular Two Powerful Herbs to Cure HIV/AIDS.”

I’d intended on getting farther on this day than I did, but combining the second night of bad sleep in a row, the 20k extra because of my forgotten town and my general lack of bike-shape, I texted my next host Andrew and told him it would be another day.

It’s not always easy to be alone in Zambia.  People seem to live in the bush along almost every part of the road, and to make matters worse there seem to be well used foot paths that parallel the road on both sides about 50m in.  The result of this is that it is often hard to find any privacy when camping.  After going past many small villages and individual homes in search of a spot, I finally found one that looked suitable. 

I ducked off into the forest, sat down and began reading my book when I heard leafs rustling in the distance.  I’d been spotted by three young kids.  They’d hide behind trees, then take a few steps closer, then hide again.  At first I tried to ignore them and read my book, but because I was probably the most exciting thing to happen to them all week, they were too curious to leave me be.  Once they were about 10m away, the boy danced a little, pretended to be a monkey (I had to keep myself from laughing at this point) and then climbed up a tree a little ways.  Naturally, my reaction was to stand up and climb a bigger and taller tree, which got them very excited.  This went on for a few minutes, and then I sat down again and returned to my book.  Rather than leave, all three of them sat down like students in front of a teacher, expecting me to entertain them in some way.  OK, I decided to give it a shot.  Looking around me, I decided to make something with the plant material, and began by making leaf faces (you know, when you tear eyes and a mouth out of a leaf) for each of them.  Next, I made a small bracelet of sorts by tying grass together and putting some flowers on it, and went back to my book.  This seemed to satisfy them and a bit later they walked off home.  The whole time it was clear they were just genuinely curious and not once did they indicate they wanted me to give them anything.  It was a fairly brief little encounter, but I think both of us went away from it with smiles on our faces. 

The forest I was camping in was very beautiful and that night I made an excellent pasta with veggies and white sauce.

Distance covered: 78km.

Day 4:

When I woke up and regained my senses, the first thing I noticed was that there was ANTS EATING HOLES IN MY RAIN FLY!!  They hadn’t managed big holes yet, maybe 3cm, but there were about 9 holes, and that’s just not OK.  I brushed them all off, laid back down to finish my book and when that was done made a delicious breakfast of eggs, toast and fried tomatoes. 

Three hours after waking, I was packed and on the road.  Here is a fairly typical stretch, with dirt shoulder.

Just doin’ my thang’.

The ride was pretty uneventful and because I’d ended up splitting what I’d originally planned on doing in one day into two, it was a short ride as well.  At noon I met Andrew on the side of the road where he was waiting for me and he led me about 1km off the road to where he lives on a small family compound. 

Andrews’s living room. (much of the mess is my stuff)

After meeting his host family, we set out to walk through their fields where we discussed local farming methods and issues (“But we have always planted our crops on this date so we will continue to do so.” in response to why farmers weren’t adapting to the changing rain patterns….and resulting food shortages).  As we walked down one of the paths, something jumped in front of me and because of the size I thought it was a frog.  I looked down, and managed to grab what instead was this awesome leaf-style camouflaged grasshopper!  Africa has so many more cool insects than we do in North America.  Then again they also have far more annoying ones as well, so really I think we are better off. 

After our walk, I took a bucket shower, we talked for a while (the usual topics; foreign aid, development, education, corruption, etc) and went to bed early.

Distance covered: 41km

Day 5:

We had a lazy morning, Andrew made us pancakes and shortly after 10am I was on the road headed to my next destination.

Yes, yes it is.

Around this point, I began to see a lot of these stony hills protruding from the ground.  I wish I’d climbed and camped on top of one of them, but that would have meant crashing through a lot of brush with my bike and plus I had another host lined up for that night!  Either way it was nice to see some differing and interesting features around me. 

A typical small village along the road.

Another day, another PCV to stay with!  This time I was looking for Veronica and after a miscommunication that had me waiting in the wrong spot for an hour (oops), I found myself her village.  I saw a white person on one of the paths and asked a local if it was Veronica and they told me yes, it was.  All white people look alike I guess, because it wasn't actually Veronica, but Kirsten, a different PCV from Kirkland, right next to my home town of Seattle.  She had only been here for a week so far, and while most PVCs seem to be about 40-80km apart, these two are only about 2km apart.  It turned out Kirsten was also headed to Veronica's place and we set out together when the rain hit.  It did the usual African thing, incredibly heavy rain for about 40 minutes, then stopping and drying out.  We were caught outside when it hit and ended up taking refuge in a church that smelled suspiciously like a chicken coop (rather, it smelled exactly like a chicken coop… multi-purpose building I guess, haha) and the rain on the leaky tin roof was so loud you practically had to shout to have a conversation.  A group of locals also taking shelter in the church gathered in a circle and began singing hymns over the rain and it made for a very beautiful atmosphere actually. 

The rain had stopped, but roads and rivers had become rivers.  Rainy season is going to be fun…

Kirsten and I finally showed up at Veronica's place and like Mike, she had a particularly nice place.  Instead of being on a family compound like many, she had her own private yard, fully fenced in which included her main house consisting of a single room, a separate kitchen hut (left), nsaka (spelling?) which is basically a shade structure, and then the usual bathing hut and pit toilet. 

Kirsten (left) and Veronica (right) in the sitting area of the house.  We ate a nice dinner, and called it a night, with the girls sharing the bed and myself sleeping in the floor.

Distance covered: 51km.

Day 6:

After eggs and toast for breakfast, Veronica and I were sitting outside when a column of large black ants walked from behind the kitchen hut past the main house, something Veronica said was fairly typical, but new to me.  About half an hour later, they returned going the opposite direction and as I noticed every one of them had an orange wad in their jaws.  Upon closer inspection I realized they were returning from a raid and each ant was carrying two or three small termites back to their nest!  There must be a nearby termite nest that the ants regularly raid for food, I just wish I could see the battle that takes place between them, however I’m sure it’s pretty one sided!

Around 10am, we headed down to the school to do three things: The first was to charge our electronics at the home of one of the teachers who had power, a great luxury in the area.  Next, we brought the 20L water jug to the pump to fill.  Given that it was just before the rains and the water table was low, the borehole wasn’t giving much water.  You could give it a few good pumps and in return it would dish out a few cups of water, then you have to wait a couple of minutes for it to recharge and do it all again.  Tedious, but luckily Veronica usually gets village kids to do it for her.  The final agenda item was to work on the World Map Project, something I helped another PCV with way back in Botswana!  It turned out the math teacher who made the grid lines made them completely wrong, so our task for the day was to erase them and start over.

Veronica and I returned home for a lunch break and dug into one of her packages from home.  As she explained it, her sisters are in the Navy and understand how much a good care package can make a difference.  As a result, we whipped up some Kraft macaroni and cheese, a treat she said she once shared with a visiting friend who having just come from America failed to appreciate, unlike myself being gone almost a year now.  During the break I used some duct tape to patch the holes the ants chewed in my rain fly, and cleaned the jet on my MSR Whisperlight stove.

We returned to school, finished charging batteries and completed the vertical grid lines, and met with Lauren, another PCV (right) who had come to hang out and spend the night.  As we cooked dinner (pasta with mushrooms) we talked and watched the crazy cat chasing insects before turning in for the night.

Day 7:

In the morning all four of us rode the 2km out to the tar road together.  They were headed to Mpika for Glow Camp, a girl’s empowerment camp, suggested I meet them there the next day and waited for a hitch the 115km or so.  I hoped on my bike and rode off.

Around lunch time I came to a sign for Nachikufu Caves.  I wasn’t sure what it was (I think its cave paintings?) but it was only a 2km detour and it was lunch time so I decided to check it out.  The first thing I saw was the new price: 3,000 kwacha (about 60c) for locals and $10 for foreigners (52,500 kwacha).  I immediately knew I wasn’t going to pay that, and despite the fact there was no one around and I could have just gone down the path without paying, I’m an honest guy so I didn’t.  I sat down to eat lunch, only to find my bread and tomatoes had gone moldy, got attacked by tons of flies, and headed back to the road in a slightly sour mood.

The scenery on this day was particularly good I thought, with more stony hills in the distance, large green grasslands and blue skies, so my sprits lifted again and I felt strong riding.  I was trying to decide if I should push all the way to Mpika that day as I had plenty of time, but figured I wasn’t in any hurry to get there, so found a foot path and ducked into the bush to make camp.  This area had the same infuriating, slow, stupid black flies as the caves that seem to have a habit of getting stuck in in your eye lashes, so despite the heat of the day I set up my tent and climbed inside to get away from them.  I spent all afternoon and evening sweating and reading and listening to music on my iPod and fancy new mini-speaker.  During the night, it’s amazing the variety of insects you can collect in the small space between the tent shell and rain fly, I probably saw 10 or 15 different ants, spiders, flies, walking sticks, moths and more.  I finished my book at around midnight. 

Distance covered: 91km

Despite my late night and longest ride yet, I awoke early and spent the morning listening to music and lounging around.  I filled one of my cooking pots with water, set my small mirror on a water jug and managed to do a pretty good job of shaving before eventually hitting the road at 9am to ride into Mpika. 

The ride only took me an hour, and as I was trying to find Mpika Boys School where the camp was taking place I ran into two other women headed the same place so we walked and found it together.  One is a current PCV (sorry, I forgot their names, the one on the right) and the other used to be in Peace Corps Zambia and has been doing PhD research in the country for the past few years on sexuality and sexual education if I remember correctly. 

Mpika off main street. 

This is the Mpika Boys High School, the venue Peace Corps had rented out to host the event as the students were currently on break.  The whole place had the usual run-down African institution feel, but had plenty of rooms and space and even covered walkways between buildings for when it rains, so it was good enough.  When I told them about the other Glow Camp I’d heard about from another PCV I stayed with in a different province that took place at a private lodge and the girls got to go canoeing and do ‘summer camp kind of things’ like canoeing they were slightly envious, but no such option was available up in this area so they did what they could.

Once all the volunteers had arrived there was a short meeting in what I presume was the teachers’ lounge (it had wrap around couches and a flat screen TV on the wall, but the DSTV bill wasn’t paid, so it only got the one local channel) and we all hopped in taxies to go to Bayama’s, a lodge/restaurant/bar a short ways away for lunch.  I had a decent pizza and some cold beer, and left feeling quite satisfied.

Back at the school it was time to get to work shopping.  Lists were made and we headed out into the local market to buy the food that would be needed for the week.  Mmmm, dried fish….  My evening was spent taking advantage of the electricity, writing my last blog post, charging other batteries and finally going to bed in the dorms with everyone else.

Distance covered: 23km

Day 9:

This was another day of shopping and preparing for camp, the girls would be arriving today.  Being Zambia and all, the school had no dishes to eat on, students bring their own.  This was not originally known, so in addition to finishing up food shopping, we went out in search of plates, silverware, pots and all the other necessary items needed to, well, eat.  In the afternoon I helped set up the girls dorm which meant putting clean sheets on the mattresses, hanging mosquito nets, putting up some decorations so it didn’t seem to oppressive in the dorm and putting a shatengi (spelling? A large piece of cloth the locals use as a skirt and for all kinds of things), a roll of toilet paper, tooth brush, tooth paste and box of matches along with each bed. 

Zambia is nearly opposite of Seattle time zone wise, so communicating in real time with home can be a challenge.  I managed to find an internet café (after quite a while of being off line, my parents were getting worried but I explained to them the difficulties of getting online in Zambia at times) but its hours, 8am to 5pm meant it was either quite early or quite late in Seattle.  Still, I managed to Sykpe with my parents (the connection speed was even pretty good, I even uploaded a 160mb video) before they set off to work which was nice. 

Day 10 & 11:

Because the girls showed up for camp the previous night and I wasn’t Peace Corps, after two nights at the school with the volunteers I moved to Bayama’s.  The owner there is a very friendly guy who likes Peace Corps and other poor travelers such as myself, and he let me set my tent up in one of the unfinished cabins to keep out of the rain for free!  Stefan actually stayed here as well on his way north about a week before and met a number of the PCVs I’d just met when I arrived in Mpika, which I found amusing. 

Today was the 11th, and on the 13th I had to be at the immigration office here in Mpika to extend my visa one more time, so I spent these two days at the internet café, watching movies in my tent, doing laundry and food shopping for the next week of riding.  It was uneventful and uninteresting, but so it goes.

Day 12:

I awoke at 4am to the sound of a dog stealing one of my flip flops I’d left sitting outside my tent and went after it in my underwear.  This naturally woke me up and I was unable to return to sleep, so I watched another movie and slowly began packing up my things.  I bought breakfast (can’t remember the last time I did that) and went in search of the immigration office.

I found it up hill from the main road among a complex of other government buildings.  The place was well worn, but surprisingly there were actually nice paths and hedges and landscaping, an effort was being made to make the place seem nice and I appreciated it, you don’t see that kind of thing very often out here.  Have I really been in Zambia for two months already?  Clearly I had, and asked for my last 30-day extension (the current system is $50 for a 30-day at the border with two free 30-day extensions, done the day the visa expires) and hoped I’d be out of the country well before that date.  Also, this is the first time I’ve seen the year 2013 written.  Huh.  I guess I’ll be spending New Years somewhere on the Tanzanian lake shore.  Last year it was Cape Town, South Africa and the year before it was Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. 

Visa in hand, er, in passport, I set off out of town.  Instead of staying on the Great North Road directly to Kasma, I decided to take a detour and visit Kapisha Hot Springs, a place that came highly recommended by everyone I talked to.  By getting off the main route and heading east instead, the already light traffic seemed almost non-existent at times.  Riding through the lush green countryside was very peaceful, but then I came to the hill.  It turned out this hill was about 10km long, and I had to push my bike up most of it.  As I was walking up the steepest part which is around a bend, it seemed a spate of big trucks were headed the opposite direction.  Having these trucks flying down the hill in my general direction after seeing so many crashed trucks on the side of the road made me honestly nervous, and few things manage to do that.  After a lot of pushing, some riding the flatter parts and many false summits, I reached the top of the hill, was greeted with a tremendous view of the countryside below and 45kph coasting down the other side. 

I’d hoped to get farther on this day than I ended up covering, but I saw afternoon rain clouds forming and began hearing thunder.  Now I’m from Seattle and I worked outdoors for 4 years, but why cycle in the rain if you don’t have to?  I climbed up a small embankment with my bike, found a piece of ground that was slightly less lumpy than that around it and hurriedly set up my tent.  I didn’t evade detection, because three girls came by to watch me set up my tent and laugh, but they left when I climbed inside and put an end to the show.  20 minutes later the rain began, and I took a nap.  It rained softly for the next three hours and I cooked dinner in a slight drizzle, but I stayed dry and comfortable in my tent.

Distance covered: 46km.

Day 13:

I spent the morning lazily eating breakfast, letting my rainfly dry out in the sun and watching the insects, a favourite past time of mine when I’m not reading.  As I was heading back to the road from where I’d camped I saw a huge snail shell and got excited.  These snails aren’t that uncommon, but I had some time to kill so I decided to do a little photo shoot.  I set it on my bike seat and after waiting ten minutes, it began to peek out of its shell, first looking right, tucking back in, looking left, and tucking back in, then finally deciding it was safe to emerge fully and start trekking to… wherever it was going.  I took a bunch of photos, removed it, washed the slime of my bike seat and after watching a huge procession of probably 35 Chinese construction trucks, set off to ride.

I wasn’t feeling very strong riding, but what I didn’t notice was I’d been going slightly up hill all morning.  Not always enough that you even really see it when looking straight ahead, but enough to wear you out on a single speed bike, and obvious when you turn around and look behind you where you’d come from.  As a result, I took another long lunch and watched the insects again.  I decided on a little food taste test and discovered the ants absolutely swarmed the cheese, enjoyed breaking off and carrying away pieces of bread, the raisin and peanut were mildly popular but I think they were just eating the oil off them and the ants simply didn’t care for the piece of apple.  Maybe their queen never taught them the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. 

Oh, also, at the moment cell phone service around the country is pretty good, but Airtel is not only the most widely advertised (as shown by these painted shops) but seems to have the best coverage by far.  I wound up getting Zamtel on a (bad) recommendation and wish I hadn’t.  Oh well. 

45km into my day I came to the turnoff for Shiwangandu Estate and Kapisha Hot Springs.  This was going to be an 80km stretch of dirt road leading back to the Great North Road, but it was in good shape and right away I found myself in high spirits.  Leaving the paved road I felt like I was entering a different world, in and some ways I was.  The road lead to a massive old estate that was built in the colonial times and riding through the cool green forests was wonderfully peaceful.

As I came upon the heart of the estate, I really felt like I was entering a colonial time-warp and in many ways I was.  I’d been curious to get the tour of the castle-like manor house, but there was no one around, tours are only available between 9 and 11am, there is much conflicting signage and tours are a whopping $20!  Just like the caves, I simply refused to pay that much money to walk through a house and went on my way.

An old tractor along the road, very cool stuff.

I’d hoped to ride all the way to the hot springs on this day, but once again the sky filled with dark clouds, thunder began to literally shake the ground and I decided to make camp before the rains hit.  I was originally hoping to move quicker towards the lake but I was enjoying the area so much I figured an extra night wouldn’t hurt. 

That night I had a bit of a mishap.  I was putting a little more air into my rear tire and when I removed the pump from the valve, it stuck open and quickly emptied the tire of all its air.  Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, just pump it up again, but I’d had a tubeless conversion done back in Maun, Botswana at The Bike Shop, and when a tubeless goes flat you need compressed air to fill it again.  The reason being that you need a powerful blast of air to set the tire on the rim, a blast you simply couldn’t provide with a hand pump.  Yes, I could have bought and carried with me one of those compressed air mini pumps, but I was only riding for another two or three weeks and wasn’t about to spend any more money on this bike adventure. 

I spent the night listening to the rain and feeling like a bit of an idiot, but the valve failure wasn’t my fault, this was literally my first problem in 500km, and it happened only 6km past the estate farm where they’d have a compressor, so really it happened in just about the best place possible.

Distance covered: 65km.

Day 14:

I woke early because I knew I had a ways to go.  In my efforts to keep from losing any more of the tire sealant and to keep the rear wheel clean (dirt and grime would prevent an airtight seal between the tire and rim) I put my bags on the front as usual, threw my backpack and tent on my back, and walked 6km holding the rear wheel off the ground.  It wasn’t very fun, but there wasn’t a single truck I could have hitched on, and I felt glad to have a backpack I could carry that way rather than saddle bags.

It took an hour and a half to walk back to the estate, but by 9am I’d made it and asked for help.  Using the compressor from this trucks air-brakes, the workers filled my tire and I was off again, although feeling rather nervous about the tire.  I visited the office of the estate and tried to get a cheaper rate on the tour as long as I’d had to walk all the way back there but they wouldn’t budge so I took off. 

Crossing a stream along the way.  The road became fairly wash-boarded at this point and slowed me down in a major way.  At the same time, storm clouds were filling the sky and I was preparing for another dump.  At 11am the rain began again and after my tire mishap I was feeling a bit low and not looking forward to riding all day on dirt roads in the rain.  I ducked under the porch of a school to put on my cheapie rain jacket and consider my options.

I decided to just keep going and see what happened, but half an hour I arrived at Kapisha Hot Springs Lodge and it made up my mind for me.  I knew I wanted a soak in the springs, and that was 35,000 kwacha as a day user.  If I was camping, it was 70,000 to camp with use of the springs, plus hot showers, a nice lodge with a (expensive) restaurant, and electricity.  I decided to stay the night.  I needed a pick-me-up, a dry place to go, and a shower since it had been a week since I’d been able to bathe…

I set up my tent in the camping area (in the rain) that was mostly full of South African overlanders in one big group (who were very curious about me and my adventures), and headed to the hot springs.  Man it felt good, in fact it is one of the nicest springs I’ve ever been in  The water is just at the perfect temperature, there is a nice sandy bottom, no sulphur smell and plenty of space to move around or sit on the edge with your feet in when you want to cool off.  I think I sat in the springs for three and a half hours, with the last hour spent talking to a guy from Canada. 

Sitting in a natural hot springs, I can’t think of a better way to wait out a rain storm. 

After the springs I took a lovely hot shower, had a shave, put on clean and dry cloths and went to drink tea and sit in the lodge where I plugged in and began writing this post.  I needed this day.

Distance covered: 27km.

Total distance so far: 503km

The next step?  Well, I have to finish up this dirt section, meet up with the Great North Road again, pass Kasama and stay with my next PCV host, Aniela.  At this point I might reach Lake Tanganyika in another 8 or 9 days, but who knows what will happen between now and then. 

The big mission is going to be preparing for the boat trip up the lake I talked about in my last post, soloing Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest lake, in a wooden canoe, but for the first time I’m starting to have reservations about it; purely because of the weather.  The last few days of rain have made me realize how underprepared I am in the clothing department, and while I’d always believed and experienced heavy rain showers than clearing up and often sunshine is the norm here in Africa, the past few grey rainy days have shown that isn’t always the case.  If I don’t get good periods of sunshine to dry myself and my things, the paddle I’ve envisioned will simply be two months straight of being wet.  I’m here in search of a challenge and something original, not here for something simply unpleasant.  I’ve talked this idea up to a lot of people at this point and am still excited about it, but maybe I’m getting a dose of reality.  I need to find more out about the weather, see what else I can do in the rain gear department, and make my decision based on that.  I’m going to feel like a bit of a fool if I back out, but I might feel like a bigger fool if I go for it and it becomes a disaster.  Then again, it could turn out to be the best thing I’ve ever done, I just don’t know.

Stay tuned.