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.