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.
Posted in bike discourse, bikes, EFI, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, planning, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, training, Zambia
Tagged alan knight, bike discourse, Botswana, Egypt, Ethiopia, genesis croix-de-fer, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, planning, sickle cell foundationof tanzania, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, tour d'afrique, Zambia
Zambia was one of the most pleasant countries to cycle through that we have been to. The less exploited east of the country from Lilongwe to Lusaka gave way to a much more economically active area from Lusaka to Livingstone. The farming was more intensive; there is industry; there are larger and obviously more affluent towns; and there is a sense of tidiness about the route that almost makes you think of middle income countries rather than the ingrained poverty of Africa. In this southwest part of Zambia there is also clear evidence of inward investment from South Africa and from displaced white Zimbabweans – the farming operations, the tidy towns, the South African franchises and shops. There are schools with glass in the windows and kids in the classrooms. There is commerce, money in circulation and people buying in the shops. And the selection in the shops is wider and more upscale. The only letdown for me was the segregated tourist exploitation of Livingstone. I felt more objectified and commoditized than welcomed in Livingstone.
The bike has been fine. I had no trouble with it at all in Zambia. A little cleaning and oiling now and then was all that it needed. But the day we left for Botswana I did change the disk brake rotor on my front wheel. The rotor has become quite scratched and a bit pitted during the wet, off-road stages in Tanzania and had been making fluttering noises when I braked. Bob had brought a spare rotor for the same size and type of brake so I replaced the old rotor with his spare. That was it. Ready to go.
After my few days of sloppy guts in Malawi I was back to normal. But now that Bob had some miles in his legs he was picking up the pace. I usually cycled with him for a fair bit everyday before I dropped and he picked up the pace. This meant that for anywhere form 50 to 150km on any given day I was moving at a quicker pace than I had been over the last couple of months. I think pushing like this improved my fitness some more – I certainly felt I was moving up the hills much, much better – but it also meant my legs were more prone to being a little tighter in the mornings. When I cycled more within myself at a very comfortable pace and didn’t push or extend myself too much, my legs were happy and didn’t complain very much. They started to complain a bit more now but not outrageously. They were a bit tighter in the mornings and took a little longer to warm up.
The head is starting to think about what next. A month to go and then re-entry. If I think too much about re-entry I lose the feel and rhythm of each different day on the bike. So I don’ t make plans or decisions but I do play with scenarios. It’s better than doing endless calculations of speed and distance I suppose.
Day 94, Stage 71, 85km,
Start, Zambezi Waterfront, Livingstone
Finish, Thebe Rover Lodge, Kasane, Botswana
We had a relatively easy ride this morning of about 70 kilometres to the Botswana border. We crossed the border on the small ferry across the Chobe River that sits at the corner of four countries – Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. There is no bridge. That would take the agreement of too many people in too many countries. So all the trucks that want to go to Botswana from Zambia without passing through Zimbabwe or Namibia line up at this border crossing and wait to get onto a ferry that can take at most two big heavy goods vehicles but most often makes the crossing with only one. A trucker can wait for two weeks. The line up tails back for many kilometres. On our bicycles, of course, we go straight to the head of the line and get onto the first ferry that docks.
We were in Kasane, where we camped for the night by noon. Botswana is relatively empty with a few larger towns. Kasane, a dozen kilometres from the ferry, is one of these few towns. But Botswana has a small and relatively affluent population. There is a SPAR Supermarket and a KFC in Kasane. So before going to camp we went into town, bought SIM cards and stocked up on cold drinks and snacks. We are still in Africa but it doesn’t feel sop African anymore. In the Sudan when you want a coke it comes in a classic old coca cola bottle that has been used and refilled a dozen times. In Botswana you get you coke in a shiny new and disposable 440ml tin. In the Sudan the warm bottle of coke that came to you out of a clay pot filled with water; in Botswana it comes to you out of the cool drinks fridge covered in advertising in a 40,000 square foot SPAR supermarket. In the Sudan the coke costs you the equivalent of about 25 cents. In Botswana it costs a dollar or more. In the Sudan you might get a sweet or a biscuit for change if you don’t have the right money (which if you do have is filthy and falling apart). In Botswana they give you the exact change in shiny new coins.
We camped today on the Chobe River at a commercial campsite, with bar, toilettes, showers, tv. The campsite offered various safaris and tours. Several of us took a Chobe River Cruise. We cruised up and then back down river for about three hours and reached the dock just after sunset. This was a very different cruise than the skin full of gin booze cruise at Livingstone. First, if you wanted a drink you had to bring your own. Second, they were serious about wildlife and a proper guide was on board. Bob and I brought what we thought were the right supplies – some popcorn and a 2 litre container of grapefruit juice. Darragh showed us the error of our ways. He had a bottle of Captain Morgan’s rum and a six pack of coke. We were happy to share our popcorn.
This was probably one of the best wildlife excursions I have ever had. Huge crocs, enormous numbers of elephants and hippos (including a recent kill on the banks of the river), impala and kudu, birds of every feather. This was all capped off by the most amazing sunset on the Chobe. Spectacular – and a fair price.
Day 93, rest day, Zambezi Waterfront Lodge, Livingstone
While many people went off on excursions today, I stayed around the waterfront and caught up on emails and the blog. Livingstone is set up for western tourists. In addition to seeing the falls you can bungee jump, cross the gorge on a zip line or a swing chair; you can view the falls in from a helicopter or ultra-light plane; you can white water raft or ride through the bush on the back of an elephant. And you can pay for it – about $100 for a fifteen-minute, ultra-light flight. And so it goes. The fancy and expensive lodges with property on the river all seem to be in a price fixing scam with local providers. If you pick up a taxi in town and want to go to the falls it may cost you 10 kwacha. If you want to go from on of the lodges on the river, already half way there from town, the hotel will tell you it costs 30 kwacha. After 5pm, they make the taxi drivers wait outside the security gates. To go into town – the other half of the journey – the hotel will tell you it costs 40 kwacha. If you pick up a taxi in town and tell them you want to go to one of the river front lodges you get the same prices. It was about three kilometres from the Lodge where we stayed to town. The taxi ride took 5 minutes. This white face racism really pisses me off. I am happy to pay a fare price but I want to pay the same fare price as everyone else and not be seen as a walking ATM. Having said this, the Waterfront Lodge where we stayed was a very pleasant place. But it was totally segregated. The blacks served. The whites consumed.
We stayed on the first floor of a chalet with a balcony overlooking a small man- made lagoon. They had dammed a small creek that ran into the Zambezi. I was sitting on the balcony just after breakfast reading a book when I heard some slapping and a splash. I jokingly said to Bob that a big crock had just come into the lagoon from the Zambezi. I hadn’t seen anything. I was reading my book. But Bob looked over the railing and said ‘oh ya. There it is.’ It was about 7 feet long and about 20 feet away and just below us. It swam around slowly for a while checking out the lagoon and then submerged with its snout out on the bank and snoozed.
Our fancy chalet suffered from the typical limitations of Africa. The door lock doesn’t quite work; the outside stairs leading up to the first floor are at odd angles and creak as if they are about to collapse. We had to ask for towels. The reading lamp didn’t work. And then of course the water went off. This is a fancy and somewhat pricey safari lodge for white men. So while I spent the day on my computer we had 3 or 4 guys in our bathroom and up on our roof all day trying to figgurte out what had gone wrong with the plumbing. It wasn’t a lack of water. We were on the Zambezi. There was lots of that. Just before dinner they told us they had found the problem and fixed it. So back in the chalet we tried to turn on the hot water. Nope. It seems that when they had fixed the plumbing they had knocked out the power. So back they came. At least they didn’t say ‘not my job call up the electrician’s union’. By the time we were ready to leave it was all fixed, I think.
For dinner we went into town to an Indian restaurant. The food was very good but the service slow and detailed. We were about eight people and asked at the very beginning for individual bills. Always a challenge. After dinner, when I had asked for the bill, our waiter came up to me and asked if I could list what each person had had so that he could give us separate bills. Hmmm. How was he able to deliver to each person what they ordered (and he had written down everything when we ordered) if he didn’t already have a pretty good handle on this? But we did it. And the accounting process began. He took his combined order form and carefully wrote out an individual order form in consultation with each of us. He then went inside where all of this information was painstakingly re-written by hand (and a very nice hand it was) onto individual invoices by an accounts clerk. Only when each of us had a nicely written individual invoice in our hands did they begin the process of individually taking our credit card details. Dinner had taken a pleasant hour and a half. Getting the accounts settled took well over an hour. And then we had to start negotiating with another taxi driver. Oh well, we were promised that there would be water back at the chalet. And there was.
Day 92, rest day, Zambezi Waterfront Lodge, Livingstone
With two full days off before us, the bikes sorted and the laundry done, we felt like tourists. We could look at brochures, make selections and pay ridiculous amounts of money for silly things.
The first thing we did was set off for the falls. I had seen them from the Zimbabwe side but never from the Zambia side. And since the water level was now so high they were sure to be spectacular. We took rain jackets with us. Approaching the falls is like walking into a rain storm. We paid our fee and walked towards the thunder. On the Zambian side they have built a bridge, called the knife’s edge bridge, between two peaks of rock facing the falls. By the time we got to the bridge you could no longer see the falls. You felt like you were inside them. It was no long rain but sheets of water washing over you. Rain jackets were wishful thinking. We were soaked to the bone. We would have been better off in swim suits. On the far peek we followed a path away from the falls. It ended in a cul-de-sac overlooking a sheer 100 metre drop into the gorge below. No fence. A slippery rock pathway. And Jan thought cycling was dangerous. We scrambled back to the bridge and then headed upstream. Almost nobody was there. We could walk along the banks of the Zambezi a hundred metres above the falls. Once again there was no fencing or anything. But there was a sign saying that ‘Nobody shall walk across the river with the assistance of an authorized person’. Great. But this was where Livingstone first experienced the falls in 1855. He had come down the Zambezi in a canoe to the top of the falls and stopped at a small island just before the drop – rather than come up the gorge and seen the falls from the bottom. We shared that upstream experience from the shore rather than the island. It was brilliant.
We then walked down to the bridge that spans the gorge and connects Zambia and Zimbabwe. We got a bridge pass and wandered across the bridge to where they bungee jump and do other silly and expensive things. I have been told the trauma to your brain from slapping around inside your skull from one bungee jump is equal to being knocked out 21 times in a boxing ring. No bungee for me.
When we arrived at the Waterfront Lodge there had been a lucky draw for those Tour riders who were raising money form charity. A bunch of local businesses had donated prizes. I won a sunset cruise on the Zambezi (read: booze cruise). So tonight Bob and I went sailing up the Zambezi, G&T in hand, to watch the sun set and look for Hippos. Found the G&T (several times over). Had some bbq’d chicken and salads. Saw the snout of one lonely Hippo in the distance (the water on the river is very high and they like the shallows and mud). And watched the sun set. Back at the Waterfront, with a skin full of gin, we ran into some friends having dinner. We joined them for ice cream and a lazy end to the day.
Day 91, stage 70, 152km
Start, Ruze Chalets
Finish, Zambezi Waterfront Lodge, Livingston
Today was meant to be an easy day – more down hill than up – into the valley of the Zambezi river and a two day break. But you always have to go up before you can go down. So up we went for the first 100km or so – nothing steep, probably only about 500 metres of climb over 100km, but up none-the-less. But then after that we had a marvelous trip down into the valley. It was another quick day. I spent about 5 hours in the saddle and averaged about 30km an hour over the 152km. This is quick for me. As a result we were in well before noon. So it felt like we had a three-day break instead of a two-day break.
Bob and I took a family chalet with Alex – three of us in a chalet with four beds. Lots of room, good facilities. We quickly got into the rest day rhythm – a variation of the race day rhythm – we had hot showers, cleaned and fixed the bikes (I put a new rotor on my front disk break, the original one was scratched and pitted and beginning to vibrate and lose breaking power), did laundry and went into Livingstone to stick up on drinks and snacks (we had a fridge in our chalet. Usually on rest days we do not ride out bikes at all. We walk. We take taxis. We give our saddle sores and legs some time to recover. But today we cycled into town. It was only 4 or 5km to ShopRite. It was flat. It was a lovely day. We locked our bikes to a post out front of the shops, went in and filled our backpacks with junk. When we came out our bikes were surrounded by a small group of interested guys. This often happens. Lots of questions. Incredulity. A great conversation starter.
Next to the Waterfront Lodge where we are staying is the David Lingstone Lodge – a very posh place. The lodges are separated by an 8-foot tall electrified fence. But halfway down the fence, if you follow a pathway through the garden of the Waterfront Lodge, you come across a gate that lets you into the David Livingstone. We went over and asked to see the dinner menu. It looked great – and expensive. Four of us decided to splash out and returned there for dinner oater that evening. It was tremendous, the service was spot on, and the wines were great. Forget Cape Town, we could have been in Paris – except we were sitting on the banks of the Zambezi River.
Bob has now finished two sections of the tour and about 2000km. Dinner at the David Livingstone was a great way to celebrate – and to prepare for his final section into Windhoek.
Day 90, stage 69, 182km
Start, football field camp
Finish, Ruze Chalets
The longest day so far had been 176km. Today was 182km – not much further, not enough to notice really, only another 6km. But we had gradually been increasing our daily distance.
Today was all uphill – only about 900 metres, not a lot, about 5 metres per kilometer, but the ride was steadily, if gently, uphill all day, no real respite. We did have a bit of a bonus though – a tail wind, not strong, but there. Fortunately our fitness has been building along with the distances we need to cover each day. Bob and I finished the 182km in about 7h40m – this included about an hour’s worth of lunch and coke stops, so about 6h40m in the saddle, that’s just over 27kmh on average. Good for me. I’m sure Bob could have gone faster. But we have been riding together for the most part for the last few days and he moderates his pace to match mine.
Camp today was at a place called the Ruze Chalets. It was in the middle of nowhere. And although it had chalets and shower rooms and a toilet block we could really have been camped in a football field again. There was no water in the showers or the toilet cisterns. But they did keep a couple of forty-five gallon drums full of water. So you could have a bucket bath and through a bucket of water down the toilet to flush it. But the Ruze Chalets did have one big plus – a bar with cheap beer. You could buy a beer in the bar for 5 kwacha. The same beer at the ShopRite supermarket in Choma cost over 6 kwacha. Something must have fallen off the back of a truck (to our benefit) or else ShopRite is making outrageous margins.
We had once again cycled through a large town about 40km from the end of our ride today. Bob and I – and several others – bought half litre tubs of ice cream and like gannets consumed them at double speed on the street outside the shop. It was not a pretty sight. I did a half litre in less than three minutes. Even so, I was like an old nag compared to some of the thoroughbreds in the group. Darragh wasn’t content with a half litre. He did a whole litre. He tried to justify this by saying he couldn’t find the half litre tubs. Yes, Darragh.
Once again early to bed. The rhythm takes over. You deviate at your peril.