Tag Archives: Malawi

Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books


Tour d’Afrique 2013 by Laura Holms by Laura Holms: Sports & Adventure | Blurb Books.

On January 11, 2013, exactly 1 year ago today, the 2013 Tour d’Afrique began in Cairo.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laura surprised me by giving me a book for Christmas that compiles all of my blogs from the ride plus a collection of photos she gathered from other riders.

It looks great and brings back many good memories.

You can have a look at it and order it you wish by going to:http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/00b0ee2f7acef00d2b7b2e686e5bd9690b8ec534

Yesterday the 2014 Tour d’Afrique riders left from Khartoum. I hope they enjoy their ride as much as the 2013 crew did.

Bush Karaoke

Day 83, stage 63, 155km

Start, Lilongwe

Finish, Chipata, Moma Rula’s Camp

Today was the first of five long days to Lusaka. And we had a border crossing. It felt good to be back on the bike and to be feeling good again. Bob and I set off at a decent pace but Bob soon went ahead. The countryside was beautiful, the day uneventful. We reached the border at about 120km and went through the formalities. It was quick and easy – one of the easiest border crossings – and we were in Zambia. We set off and did the final kilometres into Chipata. I stopped in town and got some Zambian money but made a big mistake. I should also have gone round the corner from the bank and purchased a Zambian SIM card and into the shops and bought some drinks and snacks. As it turned out we camped that night at a campsite that was well on the other side of town and down a two km dirt road and in a lovely wood. I had thought I would go to the camp and then go for a walk to the shops. Didn’t happen. But there was a bar at the campsite. The SIM card would have to wait until the next day.

Another overland truck pulled in and camped there that night. They were a stark contrast to us. They all sat in plush coach chairs in an air-conditioned space sipping sodas, watching the world go by through protective and tinted glass. They were all middle aged, stooped and lumpy. It was an odd mix. We didn’t talk to them. They didn’t talk to us. Not much to say really. By the look of them though I think they probably ate about the same number of calories a day as we did.

I went to bed early. Today was the first of 5 long days. But I didn’t sleep right away. The camp put on a karaoke night in the bar. So I was serenaded for a couple of hours by Germans singing Eric Clapton tunes very badly.

Would you like desert?

Day 82, rest day, Lilongwe, Korean Garden Lodge

We had to check out by 10am. We were moving to the camp for the night so that we would be easier to pack up and start riding the next day. So after another big breakfast Bob and I shoulders our bags and walked back to the camp site. I then spent most of the morning and early afternoon updating my blog and relaxing with a book – a rest day that was actually a rest day.

That night half a dozen of us went to eat at an expensive hotel just down the road from the camp. There were only half a dozen of us so we didn’t induce the Sportsman’s Arms Syndrome. But we came close. We were the only people in the restaurant. It was very well appointed: nice furniture, nice table settings, nicely decorated. It looked great. We all ordered and then began to wait. Two plates arrived and people started to eat – no use waiting. When they were finished two more arrived and then when they were finished the last two. We have been in places where you have to wait for your dinner because the restaurant only has four plates and they can’t serve you until they get them back from their current users and wash them – usually means you get a warm plate though. But this was a fancy place. Hmmm.  Perhaps the cook could only work on two meals at a time. The orders got a bit scrambled as well. Bridget ordered a well-done pepper steak and it came rare. Back it went.  Vince ordered a rare T-bone and got a well done one. He ate it. Lyndsay ordered pasta with pesto. John Faulkner who was also with us said he had ordered pasta with pesto the night before (we were there on John’s recommendation) but had been served pasta bolognaise instead. When Lyndsay’s pasta arrived it was pasta bolognaise. At least they were consistent. And it was pasta. John himself was the first served and was finished before some of us had been served. The waitress very properly then asked him if he would like desert. ‘Yes,’ he said. Can I have the crème caramel (a rare treat to see on a menu). ‘ Sorry we have no crème caramel tonight.’ ‘OK, can I have the apple tart then?’ “Sorry we have no apple tart tonight.’ ‘Can I have the chocolate cake then?’ ‘Sorry, we have no chocolate cake tonight.’ There were no other deserts on the menu.  But John politely thanked the waitress for asking if he would like any desert. But he was still better off than I was. I had ordered the same thing as John and still hadn’t received it.

One of the reasons we went to this restaurant was because they said they accepted Visa. This was good. We would be crossing the border into Zambia the next day and we had all almost run out of Malawian cash. We were counting on using plastic. But you guessed it. The credit card machine wasn’t working so we had to scramble to come up with cash – in the end a mixture of Kwacha and $US. A simple meal for the only 6 people in the restaurant had taken two and a half hours.

Polite and Understanding

Day 81, rest day, Lilongwe, Korean Garden Lodge

Laundry, blog, bike, eat – typical rest day of chores. But today was a bit more relaxed than the average rest day because we had two rest days in Lilongwe. This wasn’t because it was the Easter weekend, it was because the Tour builds a contingency day into the itinerary. There are rough days in Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. It is also the rainy season when we pass through these countries, which can make conditions much more difficult than anticipated. So Lilongwe gets and extra day in case we have lost a day somewhere along the route. Fortunately for us we had not lost a day. The freight train that is the TdA 2013 has kept to schedule.

Unfortunately, the day started with some bad news. The evening before we had had dinner in the restaurant and the hotel. A few people who were staying at the camp – about a fifteen-minute walk away – had joined us. Two of them were mugged as they walked back to camp. The guy was beaten up and had his backpack and iPhone stolen. But they didn’t get his wallet, which was in an inside pocket and they didn’t touch the girl that was with him. Very unpleasant – but could have been worse.

After getting up early, having a huge breakfast, making sure the laundry was sorted and doing some computer work, Bob and I met up with Vince and Lyndsay and wandered into the old town, just across the bridge from where we were staying. The streets were busy with commerce – Easter or not – with line ups stretching fifty metres and more at every bank. Every second shop seemed to be a hardware shop where you could buy just about anything but what you wanted. There were a few supermarket type stores with relatively well-stocked shelves but not a wide choice – and what was there was typically the economy version of the basics. We also saw lots of bicycle shops. There seem to be more bikes on the road in Malawi than in any other country we have travelled through. The shopkeepers were all pretty passive. In the couple of hours we wander we didn’t really come across any hard sells. It was very different from the constant hassling in Egypt or the in-your-face traders of West Africa.  You got an answer if you asked a question but otherwise were pretty much left on your own. I don’t know if this is simply part of the Malawian character or the apathy resulting from years of bad business.

We then wandered into the new part of town where the South African shopping Malls are – Shoprite, Spar, fast-food franchises. We indulged of course – pizzas, milk shakes, ice cream sundaes. After a swim and a beer back at the hotel we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was great but the service less so. Word had got out about this place and by the time we left there must have been about thirty Tour riders in the restaurant. This resulte din what I have come to think of as the Sportsman’s Arms Syndrome. At the Sportsman’s Arms in Nanyuki in Kenya, when the TdA circus showed up, the kitchen went absolutely pear shaped. They just couldn’t cope with our numbers, the volumes of food we ordered and ordered again. We are like a full court press. We make people nervous and jumpy. They lose concentration. They forget orders. They deliver the wrong orders. It takes an hour and a half to get a plate of chips and another half hour to get the burger that was supposed to go with it. And then calculating individual bills for 70 people spirals the whole accounting system into bedlam. We try to be polite and understanding but we consume 5000 calories a day minimum. We have appetites and spend out days trying to go fast. So the curry restaurant in Lilongwe quickly descended into Sportsman’s Arms Syndrome. A lot of people drank a lot of beer before food arrived. But then tomorrow was another rest day. We are polite and understanding.


Give me money

Day 80, stage 62, 131km

Start, Kasungu, Kasungu Inn

Finish, Lilongwe, Korean Garden Lodge

Felt weak again. But the sun was out and today we would get to Lilongwe and a two-day break. Bob and I set out early. Bob now had his legs. He went off strong. I set a steady but no quick pace. I wanted to manage what energy I had. The first 50km were very pleasant. Lovely countryside. Lovely morning. And then somebody turned the headwind on – force 8. The next 26kkm into lunch were a struggle. The villages were quiet. It was Easter Sunday. I wanted some fluid. I was drinking from my bottles but wanted the sugar/energy hit of a coke. I stopped in three villages before I found a shop with a coke. A poor area.

In Malawi there were many more kids standing by the side of the road with their hands out asking for money. We had experienced a lot of this in Ethiopia but very little since. In Malawi it was back with us. It was not universal, there were still lots of smiles and friendly greetings (the best road side comment I got was: ‘hey white man, why you are bicycle driving?’ I had no answer), but there was a growing tendency to ask for money. This bothers quite a few of the riders who see in it a sense of entitlement, aid or handout dependency and a lack of willingness to do it yourself.

I took a long break at lunch again. I took in a lot of fluids. I ate a proper lunch and had several oranges. I started to feel better. My guts did not start to do cartwheels when I put some food in – a good sign. I set off feeling better and gradually felt I had more energy and started to pick up the pace. I stopped for a coke about half way in and continued to feel good so picked up the pace a little more. In the ends I made much better time than I did the first two days out of Chitimba and was starting to feel back to normal.

Bob had been in for a while when I arrived. He had had a very good day, was feeling good and now had some miles in his legs. I am sure he will do very well on the next stages. It will be fun to watch him. With a few others we booked rooms at the Korean Garden Lodge – a bit of almost luxury – a swimming pool – Wi-Fi (I think) and a decent restaurant. I am looking forward to a good rest and then moving on to Lusaka.

A pig on a bike

Day 79, stage 61, 107km

Start, School ground camp

Finish, Kasungu, Kasungu Inn

Today was a short day without too much climbing, just what I needed after a couple of difficult days. I had been up in the night to visit the toilet tent but I was beginning to feel a bit better. The morning was uneventful. I ate a normal lunch and kept it in. I began to feel I had some energy again. After lunch I joined Bas and Thys, a coupe of young Dutch riders, at a coke stop. Bas set a good pace and we did the last 25 or 30km together. It felt good to feel good again. At Kasungu Bob and I got a room at the Inn, had a hot shower and found snickers bars, cold coke and cold beer – with firming guts, a state very close to heaven.

Kasungu is a fairly big town. It has banks and supermarkets. The shelves are fairly full but the choice is limited. It is interesting to stand by the till at the big people’s supermarket and watch the people go through. The typical purchase amounts to 2000 or 3000 kwacha, about $5 or $6. Hardly shopping for the week. People quietly extract small kwacha notes from hidden folds and pockets. Business is busy but transactions small. There were also several shops selling bicycles. For 26,000 kwacha ($65) you can buy a brand new Flying Pigeon – shiny black, double top bar.  I almost bought one but it would have cost twice or three times that to fly it home. You can get a chines mountain bike for 37,000 kwacha. And this is without bargaining. These were the first prices the shop guy gave me when I started chatting with him.

Bikes is Malawi are everywhere – much more common than in other countries. They have bicycle taxis. A big padded seat is mounted where a pannier rack would ordinarily be. A couple of foot posts are mounted to the rear fork. Sometimes a set of handlebars is mounted off the back of the rider’s seat. The riders are strong. It is nothing to see a guy slogging up a steep hill with a mother and child on the back. In town, they have bicycle taxi ranks just as you would find a vehicle taxi rank.

This is also the country where they will carry anything on the back of a bike. We came across one guy with a huge table on the back of his bike. Following hard after him was another guy on a bike saying ‘Stop him! Stop him! He stole that table’. How do you expect to achieve the perfect table heist when your get away vehicle is a bicycle? But my favorite was coming up behind a guy with a big live black pig on the back rack of his bike. The pig was bleating out one side and shitting out the other. When I passed and expressed to him how nice I thought his pig was he gave me a smile that would have lit up a ballroom. Tomorrow was Easter Sunday after all.

But all was not well. An hour after supper the guts started to churn again. Shit. Literally. Good thing we took a room because I spent the night sneaking off to visit the porcelain princess.

It rained again

Day 78, stage 60, 124km

Start, Mzuzu, Mzuzu Lodge camp

Finish, School ground camp

Today was a Mando day, a very tough day. We had to climb over 2100 metres. It was raining. It was cold (for me). My guts were still in revolt – and revolting. I hadn’t kept my food in so didn’t have much energy. I was really looking forward to today. Thank you Chitimba. I must say thought that the scenery was spectacular. We literally cycled into the clouds, past huge pine forests and dozens of saw mills. I slogged on, very slowly and after four hours I got to lunch. I ate a little, spent a private moment in the woods with my soggy tissue, drank a litre of water with oral rehydration salts and rested for a while. Bob had kindly waited for me at lunch. He was feeling better but knew I wasn’t. After a rest I started to feel a bit better and we cycled off to Mzuzu. It was another long day. But the rain had stopped when we got to camp.

We camped on the football field of a secondary school in the middle of nowhere. So no shops to speak of, no power, nothing. We visited the school, the usual collection of crumbling buildings, empty and filthy classrooms and kids everywhere.

It had been a difficult and low day without even the small reward of a cold coke at the end.

It rained again.

A lovely day on tour

Day 77, stage 59, 135km

Start, Chitimba Beach, Hakuna Matata Camp

Finish, Mzuzu

A miserable day. It had rained most of the night and was still raining as we packed up and headed over to Chitimba to rejoin the Group. We huddled under what cover we could, ate a little breakfast and tried to find the motivation to get on our bikes. My guts were also roiling. Things had loosened the day before and I was up in the night. It was my turn. Chitimba tummy. But after one last trip to the ablutions block the inevitable could not be avoided.

It was cold; it was dark; it was wet. And as if this were not enough, the day started with a 26km individual time trial. Bob headed off and I started a couple of minutes later. After about 15km of gentle climb we turned and headed up the steep switchbacks of the hills surrounding Lake Malawi. We had to get up and over these hills to head towards Lilongwe. It was a 10km uninterrupted climb with grades reaching 12%. You can’t have much more fun in the rain. Bob did it in 1h37m and placed well. I did it in 1h47m, not too bad given the fact that I am not a great hill climber. The rest of the day was a real slog for me. I wasn’t feeling well. My head wasn’t in it. I was flat.

I usually divert my mind from the pain that sometimes accompanies a difficult ride by doing endless calculations in my mind and giving myself small achievable goals. Today my mind would have none of this. It got into this dreadful loop – ‘you are not having fun; you are not feeling good, I will not do your silly calculations’ and on and on, over and over. Fortunately it stayed in the loop and didn’t slide into ‘so why are you doing this anyway? Get off your bike! Get in the truck!’  I got into Mzuzu. Very late. I found the toilet block. I took in lots of fluids. I tried to eat a little. I set up and crawled into my tent. It rained again. All in all, a lovely day on Tour.

Willie and Ray

Day 76, Rest day, Hakuna Matata Camp

Hakuna Matata Camp is run by an old South African eccentric called Willie. It is right next door to the larger Chitimba Camp, which is more professionally run by a Dutch couple. Chitimba has a couple of dozen cabins, lots of space to camp, a large bard and restaurant area and a great beach. But it is not cheap. A coke, which costs 100 kwacha at any shop on the road, costs 300 kwacha at Chitimba camp. Willie has had Hakuna Matata Camp for about three years. His signboard outside, right next to the Chitimba signboard, says ‘Twice as nice for half the price’.  Almost. The cokes are 200 kwacha. Hakuna has two rooms, a double and a bunkroom. It also has a dozen of so campsites and a bar restaurant overlooking the beach.

While Chitimba is all about Dutch efficiency and order, Hakuna is all about Willie’s folly. Three years in the kitchen is still an outdoor camp kitchen with a thatch cover and a wood fire. Willie spends a lot of his time at the table in the kitchen enclosure sitting on an upturned dugout canoe, smoking cigarettes. He is short and wiry, about 5’6” and no more than 60kg. He wears wire frame glasses, has wispy reddish sandy hair and a thin beard, covering a skeletal face, that would embarrass a 16 year old. He wears a pair of long, light khaki shorts that are too big for him, a pair of leather sandals and no shirt.  Willie is full of stories. He spent sometime in the 90s, after the end of the conflict in Mozambique trying to import prawns into South Africa. He bought an old refrigerated army truck, drove to the coast, filled it with prawns and ice and headed to Johannesburg.   After doing this half a dozen times he had lost so much money in bribes and rotten prawns that he gave it up. He then worked in Israel for a couple of years. Don’t ask too many questions.  Most recently he had spent a couple of years buying building supplies in Malawi and taking then into Mozambique. This was more successful. He wanted to buy a filling station in Malawi but it was too expensive so he got the beachfront camp on Lake Malawi. Now he is looking for the easy life. But his wife has asthma and has gone back to South Africa for treatment and his cook has gone back to Zimbabwe for two months and his ‘do everything’ guy currently has malaria. So Willie is doing everything.

A friend of Willie’s named Ray is also there – seems to have been there for a while. Ray is a Londoner who has lived in Southern Africa for over 30 years. He was in plastics but now rides his big Windjammer motorcycle endlessly around Southern Africa. He has been doing this for about six years now. When I asked him where he was going he said he has no fixed plans he just travels around visiting friends like Willie. ‘Do you have a home base?’ ‘No’. He has a tent, an air mattress and a motorcycle. He doesn’t wear a shirt either. But Ray likes his beer as well as his cigarettes and has an adequate belly and shorts that strain to stay buttoned. His beard is fuller and more Hemingway-like – in fact his whole appearance is Hemingway-like. Perhaps he is Hemingway. Ray is also full of stories and advice.

I spent a pleasant day chatting with Willie and Ray and resting my eyes in a hammock. Bob was trying to heal his guts and slept a fair bit. Willie produced a large dinner of chicken and rice and then we had an early night.

It ain’t easy

Day 75, stage 58, 92km

Start, Karonga, Summit Annex Guest House

Finish, Chitimba Beach, Hakuna Matata Camp

Today was supposed to be a short day – and flat – only 92km along the lake to a beach camp at Chatimba. It was a bit of a confused start. Malawi is 1 hr behind Tanzania. So we changed out watched and clocks. But then we were told that we would still follow the Tanzania schedule but using Malawi times. This meant we left an hour later than we usually did, so lots of milling around. Then I still needed to get a Malawi SIM card and to visit a bank to get some more money (worried about scammers I had only changed enough at the border for a couple of days). So after clocking in at the start I spent a half hour wandering around Karonga doing chores.

But finally we were on the road. Bob and I hooked up with Danish Claus and Kiwi Phil and set out in a peloton at a good clip – well over 30kmh. It was faster than I usually ride and went against my strategy of pacing but I felt good and Bob seemed to be going well. At about 35km Bob started to fall back a bit. I stayed with the peloton for a while but then noticed Bob was not making his way back to it. So I slowed down and at about 45km found a coke stop. I stopped, bought some cold cokes and waited for Bob. We took a rest and got some fluids in us.

Lunch was only another 15km so we set off again. It soon became clear that Bob suffering a bit. So I let him find a pace that suited and went off to lunch. At the lunch truck I got some ORS for him and waited for him to arrive. He was obviously tired when he got there. I asked the medic to have a look at him. I said I would head out and try to get to the next camp early – only another 35km to go – to try to get one of the available rooms at the camp. When you are exhausted, a room with a bed is so much better than a tent in the rain. So I blasted off and got to camp in good time – but not early enough. I got there just as the last room was given out.

But all was not lost. There was another camp next door called ‘Hakuna Matata’. I was the first person to go their. They only had two rooms so I quickly took one. Somebody else arrived and took the second room before I could go fetch my bags. We were good.

Bob finally arrived a couple of hours later. He had been dehydrated, lost his appetite and had trouble getting an ORS down. He had taken a nap in the medic’s truck at lunch and then set off and did the final 35km to camp. And it was not an easy 35 km as it turned out. About an hour after we left in the morning a strong head wind came up. It stayed with us for the rest of the day. The wind was strong enough to steal 8 or 9 kmh from you. So pedaling 92km actually used up as much energy as pedaling 130km without a headwind. A tough couple of days to start with.

Once in camp we made sure Bob took in more ORS and plenty of fluids. Nine of us had dinner in the beachfront bar at Hakuna Matata and were in bed by 8pm. Bob managed to eat some dinner. He had definitely earned a rest day.