Published: June 3rd 2010June 3rd 2010
Due to camera memory card issues I'm unable to load any photos. In the knowledge that people don't really want to be reading pages of solid prose I shall keep this blog posting short and succinct. Needless to say, however, lots has happened: I now have a bleached afro and no bike.
I set out from Lilongwe with three of the lads and we had some really good days of cycling including my longest of the trip which was 130km in one day. Once in Zambia we did a good bit of camping and I really began to enjoy the routine of getting up early, cycling, eating and sleeping. In fact, one of the things I really noticed about the cycling was the appetite I developed. I was always hungry and always felt the need to eat. Anything and everything. One of my fellow cyclists said that in one day of cycling we each burn approximately 8000 calories! I find this believable. At one town we found a huge Shoprite supermarket and this is where we ended up having lunch. I ate a cheese and ham baguette, two chocolate bars, two doughnuts, an apple, a yoghurt and some sweets and drank an orange juice and a coke. The lads had similar amounts and we were all still hungry!
After a cheeky bit of hitch-hiking (inevitable!) we reached the outskirts of Lusaka where I had decided
I was to sell my bike. So the last few kilometers into the city centre were a real buzz. It was dark (my bike has no lights) and it was rush-hour so weaving in and out of the traffic and avoiding the inconsiderate buses was truly memorable. I was able to sell the bike to the hostel where I was staying as the workers will use it to run errands to the shop. I'm really pleased that people will be able to benefit from it and, most importantly, I got about GBP75 for it, about half of what I had paid. The total distance I had cycled was 1111km, far less than what I initially thought I would but thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the effort.
After some fun in Lusaka (and after obtaining my drastic new hair-style) I headed with another one of the lads, Jonkey, to Livingstone to see the mighty Victoria Falls. Carrying a just a football and my brand new Chinese Army sack I felt as free as a bird and was pleased to not have the burden of a bike. I boarded a bus and was looking forward to the next chapter of my journey when things all went a bit pear-shaped. The journey from Lusaka to Livingstone is about 600km and should therefore take about six hours on a bus. It ended up taking 13 hours after the bus we were travelling in was involved in a rather serious crash. We were overtaking a car at about 100km per hour when the pickup truck in front turned across our path to enter the hamlet on our right. I saw it happening and braced for impact. We smashed right into the side of the pickup and both vehicles came to a halt in a ditch some 40m up the road. Our bus was leaning heavily and many of our passengers panicked. People were wrestling to get to the front and were jumping out of the windows. Thankfully, the bus did not fall and none of the passengers aboard were injured. Sadly, however, the same could not be said for the pickup truck which had taken the majority of the impact. As it had pulled in front of us I had seen that it was carrying passengers on the back. The three people who had been travelling on the back were thrown clear. One young boy was killed instantly and I'd be surprised if the other passengers survived. The driver was also in a bad way. I will spare you the details of what we saw but say only that it was without doubt the saddest and worst moment of my trip thus far. Travelling since has not been easy and I haven't since got into the back of a pickup (commonly done in Africa).
Now comes a great example of the expression 'TIA' (see previous blog entry entitled 'This is Africa'). The crash was a low point and was followed, inevitably, by possibly one of the highlights of my trip: Victoria Falls. What a truly spectacular place. Literally breathtaking. Amongst other things I went jet-boating (I saw another dead body, that was two in two days), abseiling, rap-jumping (abseiling facing downwards) and gorge-swinging (a bungee/swing thing that involves oneself throwing oneself off the side of a cliff and entering free-fall). The guys in our hostel also arranged a mighty game of football with some local Zambian lads. We won 7-5 and yours truly bagged the conclusive seventh goal. Perhaps the greatest thing I did at Victoria Falls was visit the Falls itself. Once in the national park you can walk on to an island right in front of the the falling water. The spray and the noise is incredible. It is like standing in a power shower and it literally takes your breath away. At one point, when nobody was around, I got totally naked and properly felt like a child of the planet. It may sound ridiculous, but I could then understand the expression to be 'at one with nature'.
After spending time in Livingstone, the town on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, I began the next leg of my journey. This involved a visit of about a week to Zimbabwe [Mum/Dad: sorry I didn't tell you. I thought you'd only worry]. A long with another young lad heading to the World Cup (there are so many of us now) called Ryan we got the sleeper train to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city. I visited a national park but saw only a hippo's backside (everything else has been poached due to the economic crises the country has faced in recent years). I also visited Harare for the day. It was here that for the first time of my trip I had a moment of genuine anxiety. We walked passed Robert Mugabe's presidential residence and we were told that if we took hold of our cameras or phones we would be arrested. We were also told that we had to walk on the left-side of the road and that if we stopped or walked too slowly we would be arrested. I'm not surprised Mugabe feels insecure. He's lost a lot of support and will lose the next election. He's tried all he can to hold on to power but I think he's now played his last card. Since the agreement to have a government inclusive of the opposition party people have become more willing to be openly critical of him and his appalling policies. One thing that struck me in Zimbabwe was the friendliness of the people, the most I have experienced on my trip. It is a safe place to walk around and the only indicators of the 'bad times' come in the form of no animals in the national parks, poorly run public bodies (especially the police), the use of the USDollar as the national currency (I got a banknote worth 100000000000000 Zimbabwean dollars) and the amount of smashed glass that lies everywhere. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful country full of gorgeous scenery and good people and , in my opinion, it will come good soon. [For guys at work reading this: RN is utter rubbish, total and utter rubbish. It surely cannot still be CG case law?!].
It was in Zimbabwe, of all places, that I made my first 'famous' friend. Ryan and I were invited to train with a Zimbabwean Premier League team (we were unable to because we did not have boots) so went a long to see what was happening. Benjani Mwaruwani (Manchester City striker and Zimbabwean national team captain known to most people simply as 'Benjani') was training there in order to maintain his fitness. We spoke to him and he seemed genuinely interested in our travels. He was very warm and, as the conversation drew to a close, I jokingly asked him if he fancied coming out for a beer that night. I was amazed when he replied: 'Yeah, what about Haefelis (a coffee shop) at eight o'clock.' So we met up that night and had a good chat with him. He took my number in case he had another free night but, understandably, has since been more concerned with the national team's preparations for an international friendly against a team called Brazil. Nonetheless, it was great to meet a down-to-earth guy and professional athlete currently being paid GBP50,000 per week and just hang out. As with most Zimbabweans we met, he was incredibly warm and welcoming.
From Bulawayo, I have since headed to Maun, in northern Bulawayo. Tomorrow I'm heading out on a mokoro (big canoe) trip into the Okavango Delta to rub shoulders with hippos, crocodiles, snakes and lions. Following this I will have only one aim: the World Cup. After finding out that my final friend is unable to attend I have now taken the decision to sell my tickets for the games in Bloemfontain and Durban and concentrate my efforts on following England. Through cycling, I have established a contact in the FA who is likely to be able to obtain me tickets for the remaining two group games I do not have tickets for, as well as more conditional tickets for the latter stages (I already have a ticket for the final IF England make it).
For those likely to worry about me during my time in South Africa; please do not. Accidents and crime occur everywhere and, on hearing the rather tragic news of shootings in the UK, I think I'd rather be here than back home right now. The next month will be busy but I promise that I am well prepared and will look after myself.
Blogging during the World Cup may be difficult so I make no promises as to when the next entry might be. What I will try to do, however, is upload a few photos when I find a computer that accommodates my camera memory card. My bleached afro is pretty scary and its made me the king of stopping babies crying as they simply stop crying and stare in total bemusement.
Come on England!