Lilongwe To Cycle

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May 14th 2010
Published: May 14th 2010
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Lilongwe Down

Lots has happened since my last blog. I have owned three different bikes, had a total of six punctures, cycled 760km through East Africa, been conned out of 35 squid and held a snake (this is a BIG deal for me).

So after returning to Arusha I had time to kill waiting for the rest of the cycling party to meet me there. I decided the time would be best used cycling to Meserani Snake Park, a 50km round trip, to try out the bike (the second of the three). Less than 1km into the journey my chain my rear-gear shifter cord (I don't think that's the correct technical term) snapped. I stopped at a nearby bicycle repair store and the guy did a decent job of fixing it. The remaining 24km to the snake park passed quickly and without much incident.

So, at the snake park I went a long way to neutralising my fear of snakes. In fact, I utilised the opportunity to turn my fear into a respect for their beauty. This was despite hearing several horror stories from Baraka, my guide. The first story was that of a UN worker in Sudan who fell asleep when on guard duty. A python found the guard asleep and wrapped itself round the man, constricting him to death. The python then swallowed the man whole. This is only known because the snake zapped itself on the electric fence as it was leaving the camp. After being zapped the snake turned to attack the electric fence, biting it and electrocuting itself to death. Found by other UN workers the following day, a human-shaped lump was noticed in the snake's body. It was cut open and the man's body fell out, whole. Nice.

Baraka also introduced me to the dangerous world of the black mamba. Now, I've heard of black mambas before but I had no idea that they can move at 20km per hour or that they are aggressive snakes known to hang from trees and bite people on their heads. I also had no idea that they...wait for bikes. Great, just what I wanted to hear. 'Mamba' in Swahili literally means 'powerful' (it is the Swahili word for crocodile) and the venom of a black mamba kills healthy people in 20 minutes. And just to cap it off black mambas have smiley faces. They look so happy.

Having seen the pythons, mambas, spitting cobras and puff adders, Baraka decided that it was time for me to hold a snake. The snake he selected was called a Rufus-beaked snake. About a meter long, this snake is known to be effectionate and rarely ever bites. Still, I was dreading it. He popped the snake round my neck and the snake just did its thing. I could feel its tongue in my ear and when it slithered over my head its slightly sticky scales pulled at my hair (now looking pretty long and quite ridiculous). A big moment for me and one I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, due to a problem with my camera memory card, I'm unable to upload the picture I have of this.

Anyway, three paragraphs on snakes is somewhat excessive. Moving on, I met up with four others from our cycling party of seven later that night. Priding myself on my knowledge of northern Tanzania I set about showing the guys what a good time could be had there. I must have done a good job because the next three days was spent shopping, swimming, drinking and partying. No kilometers were cycled.

Five of the Team TrevorFive of the Team TrevorFive of the Team Trevor

Laura, myself, John, Dickon and Duncan on our way to Morogoro
Saturday 24th April we cycled the 80km from Arusha to Moshi. My cycling journey had begun in ernest. The first 40km was straightforward as we coasted down the foothills of Mount Meru. The second 40km, in contrast, was tough as we ascended through the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Exhausted but really pleased to have got a full days cycling under my bealt, we all headed for a night out with eighteen volunteers from the organisation I had spent some time with a few years back. Conyagi (Tanzania's own version of a gin-like spirit) ensured that much fun was had by all and we used the following day to recover and to fix a few problems with the bikes.

I was having real problems with the gears on my bike as they were catching whenever I put extra pressure on the peddles. This meant that during any uphills I would lose momentum and not being able to rely on the bike beneath you makes it so much harder to cycle. Muksin, our cycling contact in Moshi, took my bike to fix it and came back with a replacement bike. This made me nervous but, touch wood, the bike he brought
Pimped upPimped upPimped up

Looking for wildlife in Mikumi National Park
is strong and is the one that I've been using ever since. It's a Panasonic Pronghorn mountain bike. It has 21 gears, all I need, and I have effectionately named it the Blue Mamba.

The following day we cycled 40km off road through the Mkomasi Game Reserve and spent the night camping outside a police station. As we passed the Pari Mountains we saw little wildlife of note, but the scenery was great. The 80km we cycled the next day was packed full of incident. First my front shock absorber broke. This meant that by front fork was resting on top of my front wheel, acting as a permanent brake. I fixed this by getting a local to weld the shock absorber in place. It now does not function as a shock absorber (no problem) but more importantly it does not function as an unwanted brake anymore. Ten minutes down the road I suffered a puncture and as Muksin and I repaired it (he cycled with us for two days) a snake well over a metre in length slithered under his bike as it chased a lizard into the long grass. It was SO FAST and scared the life
On a truck to Nkhata BayOn a truck to Nkhata BayOn a truck to Nkhata Bay

It's a strange experience to get a truck when there's a bike on your lap
out of Muksin and the locals alike. Drama over and puncture fixed as I leant over to pick up the bike I looked up to see the snake, about ten metres away, sitting on a bank staring at me. The locals told me to be careful as the snake was poisonous and could fly (I think they meant jump). I was impressed that I was calm enough to get a bit closer, take a few photos and then pedal as hard as I could in the opposite direction!

The next day we cycled 90km in the pouring rain passed the Usambara Mountains. I had awoken to a puncture and had been forced to by a brand new tyre, red in colour, in the local village. My panniers had also broken and the rain soaked everything I had inside. EVERYTHING. This is how my clothes would remain for the next few days. A 40km day, a 112km day and an 82km day followed before we reached Morogoro, one of Tanzania's biggest cities to the west of Dar-es-Salaam. At this point there were six of the group of seven together so we took this opportunity to reassess plans, do laundry and fix bikes.

Reassessing plans seems to be forever what Team Trevor, the touring party, is doing. Put simply, we do not have enough time to reach the World Cup solely by bicycle, the group has never cycled as a whole unit of seven, different people want to go different routes and many of the group do not get on (I am one of just a few, thankfully, exempt of this). This, unfortunately, leads to disorganisation and, as you will come to hear, the journey has become increasingly disjointed and I have had to reassess my own ideas with regards to biking to South Africa.

After enjoying a couple of days in Morogoro, the highlight being a drunken round of golf in which we managed three holes in as many hours (not my fault), we embarked on what I consider to be the best day of cycling yet. We cycled 120km from Morogoro through the Mikumi National Park to the town of Mikumi. We cycled past giraffe, zebra, gazelle, buffalo, elephants and baboons. It was a raw safari experience and it was totally free. I got to within about 20m of an elephant which, without the protection of an enormous truck, was an incredible experience. It was my biggest day of cycling yet and I felt good for it.

Of course the cycling is challenging, especially as I have thicker tyres on my mountain bike than the rest of the group has on their touring bikes, but I have found every day manageable. I've been presented with a pink cycling top to wear and have fixed a pair of flip-flops to my pedals so that I can cycle bare-footed. My only bad experience on the bike was when a guy deliberately tried to put me off my bike. It was a motorcyclist and, with no other vehicles around, he shot past me before pulling in front of me and slamming on his brakes. I had to brake and swerve to avoid him before catching him up and using the less pleasant elements of my Swahili vocabulary to tell him what I thought of him and his mother's promiscuity.

After Mikumi the group travelled by truck to a place in Malawi, on the lake, called Nkhata Bay. The purpose of this was to make up lost time and make the rest of the journey more manageable. It was during one of the legs of this journey that a tired me decided to change money on the black market but failed to count properly what the money-changer had given me. Realising I'd been conned out of 35 squid I totally lost my temper. None of the locals were prepared to tell me where the guy had gone so
I (again) exercised the extremes of my Swahili vocabulary before throwing my bag on the floor, my bike in the mud and my flip-flops over the road. It was a proper strop and the locals were petrified and many ran away. I was angry with myself and I was angry that it had happened in Tanzania, just before crossing the border into Malawi. Tanzania is a country I love but the south west is the arsehole of this beautiful country. It has a poor reputation and this is not the first time I've experience problems in the region. I have also met many other travellers who have faced problems there. In truth, my anger was directed at myself for becoming too comfortable and for letting some low-life take advantage of me in this way. It was a reminder that even if you feel like you know a place and feel as though you are a relatively experienced traveller, you must always keep your wits about you. The incident proved to be a gentle reminder of this. Losing 35 squid is not the end of the world.

After a few days in Nkhata Bay (I don't really know why we did this, I thought we were behind schedule) we took a ferry to Chipoka, further down Lake Malawi and 130km from the capital, Lilongwe. The ferry journey lasted 40 hours and on it I had the company of two of the lads from Team Trevor, Dickon and Duncan, and a German girl called Hans (I don't know her real name but this is what we called her) we'd met in Nkhata Bay. Despite sleeping one night on deck, which was expensive, we spent the vast majority of time in economy class with the tomatoes, rice granules, piglets and huge Malawian families. The journey was a great chance to update my diary, read some of my book (I hadn't done this since Sudan) and make plans for the rest of my trip. I was able to clarify in my own mind what I want from the trip and I have decided to stay with Team Trevor through Zambia but after this I will sell the bike and do my own thing. There is much of Botswana that I want to see and I would never have time to do this by bike as the World Cup is fast approaching. I will have cycled over a million metres through the African continent by then and will have experienced the challenge of cycling through Africa and cycling in a tour party. Cycling is only part of my trip and I do not want it to take away from the main aims of enjoyment and exploration.

From Chipoka, where we disembarked the ferry, we cycled 60km towards Lilongwe before one of the lads pulled up suggesting we truck the remainder of the way (again!). Poor lad, he has been really suffering with unpredictable bowel movements and he was keen to get to the comfort of a big town as soon as possible. We have spent the last two days in Lilongwe doing 'big town stuff'. This generally means emailing, blogging, laundry, sending letters and postcards, checking on Wayne Rooney's fitness and eating western food.

Good news: my involvement with Team Trevor has meant that I now have a ticket for the England v USA World Cup game as well as a ticket for the final ONLY IF England make it. Fantastic! In fact, a real community of World Cup travellers has come together as many people are heading south with the same aim of watching some games. Nobody rates England's chances (except me and a few other Englishmen) of doing well at the World Cup. I find this interesting. Do we not have the best defence in the world and possibly the best balance of experience and youth? Do we not have Wayne Rooney? Who cares what other people think, I have seriously high hopes.

Anyway, before I can enjoy Botswana and everything the World Cup has to offer I still have Lilongwe to cycle (get it?!). For the next ten days or so I hope to cycle from dawn until dusk and camp in between. In a team as impulsive as TT, however, anything could happen. Either way, I have and will be cycling many, many kilometers. If you feel so inclined as to sponsor me for my efforts then please visit my Just Giving page at

Next blog (I hope): Lusaka (Zambia). I hope that it reads something like this: 'Cycled, ate, slept, cycled, ate, slept, cycled, ate, slept'. I bet that it won't. Isn't travelling fun?!


14th May 2010

Hi mate, glad to see you're having a fantastic time. Trip sounds amazing. Great news about the ticket for the England game too. Oh, and Spurs made the Champions League!
19th May 2010
Mouthful of ugali on Ilala ferry (economy class)

What the......
Westlife what has mother Africa done to you!!!!!!!!!!
24th May 2010

Worst joke ever, in the world, ever, ever contender. Lilongwe to cycle! Come on Chris!! I appreciated that! Hope you're loving it all over your face. Enjoy yourself, be safe. Love Nic x

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