africa – zambia 2012.
‘Exercise… That’s a little bit more then exercise’ – A replying comment from a border guard after trying to explain the differing reasons for our long trip.

Our 7th country greeted us with 170km distances, rain and hilly conditions over the first few days. A constant throughout the country and for the rest of our trip was higher costs for accommodation and meals; it was the end of getting by for under $5/day.

The lush landscape represented through spectrums of vivid greens, replaced the farmed fields of the previous few days. Instead it was like a collective decision was made to leave the vegetation alone as the overgrowth livened the hardstand of our path. This scene repeated itself in various forms throughout the country whether it was dense natural grasslands that could do with a mow or trees that proudly displayed themselves offering a visual stimulation for all who drove past. On the flipside of conservation we often seen bundles of charcoal obtain from burning the forest and used for heating and cooking on the roadside whether on the back of bikes or fully laden trucks.

One of the earlier days in the country with a stretch into the dark led us to the Luangwa River lodge, a place ran by westerners with accompanying amazing food (steak and pizzas) and the prices to match compared to roadside camping. It was here that I had my first local wildlife sighting although not by choice. Getting into the bed of my ‘hut’ I soon felt something run up my leg so I was quickly up untangling myself from the mosquito to investigate the cause. I soon discovered the culprit, a mouse hiding in the corner and considering the time that we got to spend together I named her. It soon was shown that Betty had just had some little Betties who were born probably an hour before in my mattress. Over the course of 30 minutes Betty kept coming back to rescue her young ones whilst I assisted where possible with the help of a postcard. Babies saved I was back in bed to be shortly woken when Betty did a final once over by running up my body much to the amusement of Shane I was up and finding myself an exit from my netted cocoon again.

For the first week in the country we certainly felt the tropical conditions with a times a sweat starting to form within 15 minutes of starting off. The opposing situation was being just as wet from the rain with which we would all don our jackets to then start sweating again. In the end it really didn’t matter as the sun would soon come out and partially dry you until the next downpour (of rain or sweat.)

Before the capital we experienced villages that featured traditional thatched huts alongside more permanent concrete equivalents showing the changes of prosperity. The villages were some of the last we would see featuring the supportive children waving and offering their little English as we cycled through. This feeling of being a celebrity (or a novelty) for the fleeting moments was something that was the norm and nothing I want to forget in a hurry. The opposite of being in normal clothes i.e. ones not made out of lycra and not actually having people waving as you walked by started to feel different. It should be noted that same attention is offered back here in Melbourne.

Signage was often seen throughout the smaller villages highlighting the risks associated with aids/hiv, with some of the villages reportedly having a 35% infection rate.

With us being so far into the trip our bikes literally felt like an extension to our bodies rather then something that only represented exercise. It was our vehicle to get us this far and further and all were traveling really well. Considering that we spent over 50% of our times on the bikes (the rest was split between eating and sleeping) each had their own unique feel and character to the point of having to ride someone else’s just felt wrong. Our legs were all getting stronger and despite the continually hilly terrain and the fact we all had 20kgs of luggage each of us were riding really strong. The routine of packing up your panniers, ride, unload panniers still formed a daily routine, and it was such a very enjoyable one. We simply headed in our required direction riding alongside each other, in formation whilst rotating turns at the front or simply in our own space.

Our goal for the middle of the country was Lusaka the capital but more importantly it offered the inclusion of Shaun a mutual friend and guest rider. He graciously flew over (with numerous sweets for me) to share a part of this journey by spending 4 weeks cycling through the southern parts of Africa. Riding into the capital afforded a self-indulgent smile (nearly giggling in disbelief), a moment held to myself that yet again we were entering another capital city a place prior to our time there I knew very little about and another incredible milestone for this epic trip. We were told that Lusaka offered no cultural experiences so for me this was a bit exciting as it allowed some relaxation rather then my normal routine of racing around trying to tick off all of the sites. We spent the time split between the shopping centre (as seen from our hotel window), massages and another shopping centre. This was another capital that more resembled an administration town full of western influences then other cities we had seen. It was only once off the main roads as you walked between local housing and villages that you were witness to the wider community.

Leaving the capital it was a joy to look around and see a fifth member of our ‘gang’. Shaun offered a fresh set of eyes; bemused by the chaotic nature of a waking African city he commented about the ‘madness’ a sight which for the rest of us was the daily norm although it allowed us to again appreciate our forever changing surrounds. Despite only having just arrived he proved his fitness by cycling the required 181kms on his first day, the biggest ride to date for him. We would eclipse several times before he departed.

With the great amount of time spent on researching this trip it was surreal seeing sites or turning up into towns that I had researched over the past year. Having a formed picture in my head to have it turn out completely different was possibly due to the small amount of information that many places offered. It was exciting knowing that little bit of each place, with some type of expectation. Each day of the trip was roughly planned out with a set starting point and destination along with the required kilometers, points of interest and at times road conditions. These details at times were vital ensuring we had sufficient food and water between each stop. With the amount of time put into the details it was something I became a little overprotective of as shown by the worn/ripped/stained printed A3 itinerary I kept in my front bar bag.

Our final port of call in Zambia was a secret little waterfall called Vic Falls (the smoke that thunders), reportedly the second biggest tourist attraction in Africa. Our normal flash mobs of admirers who ran after us as we cycled past certainly didn’t occur here but instead just masses of tourist whom either flew in or arrived in an overland bus. To keep a bit of normality to our trip we opted for the camping option at a lodge with our chosen site featuring the groaning hippos of the nearby river coupled with camp side elephants that roamed on the town’s fringes. The waterfall was more impressive then expected having already seen the mighty Iguaza falls in Argentina/Brazil as a comparison. With the river at full flow we soon learnt why the locals were selling raincoats as what started out as a voyeuristic distance view of the falls through the foliage as we walked closer turned into a natural shower from the unrelenting mist. This certainly added to the experience with you feeling part of the actual waterfall rather than an innocent bystander.

With the mighty gorge forming Zambezi River forming the countries border it was only the next day that we entered out 8th country, Botswana. As per our normal routine between countries we spent the last of our small local currency, swapped the larger ones and checked in at customs/immigration. Certainly not a routine I got bored off, reminding me of crossing through various European countries prior to the E.U. These tasks offered more then crossing over an imaginary line it reiterated the fact you were entering into a new country that offered many differences besides the currency.

Zambia was yet another country that I would be happily to explore further outside of our route. Knowing that the north offers various points of difference through its landscape and associated wildlife I would love to venture further a field taking in the entire country.

It should be noted that the flavoursome-mashed maize under a different name (n’sima) was still largely on offer.