Race against time
Enough of those pictures of the week auto posts! I hereby announce that I’m back into regular posting mode and on the road again – whatever actually qualifies as a road is to be determined. By the time you read this I’m going to be on my way heading south out of Lusaka, enroute into the country of Zimbabwe. This is going to be tough – I haven’t been riding in nearly 3 months, and I have only a few days to make it to the border before my visa expires. I mean, I could always stay longer and just deal with it at the border paying off some official, but I’d rather keep my name clean in this country as I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be back at some stage.
I’m semi prepared for the mental changes of getting on a bike and living inside of a tent again, going without a shower for days on end, and scrambling for food, but not physically prepared in the slightest. I’ve perhaps ridden 35km in 2.5 months instead opting for lazing around in the tropics, and catching rides in vehicles for a change from where I needed to go. I have 200 ibuprofens ready for the muscles for the first few days and a brand new bottle of sunscreen as my colour has lightened considerably over the past years darkening – but I’ll figure it out, I always do, its just another day in the life of a pedaling nomad.
I have to say I’ve had some very memorable experiences while staying the past 3 months in Zambia, have met a great core groups of friends, and a whole bunch of other good acquaintances from all around the world. I’ve even managed to speak one of languages here (There are 73 dialects, out of 6 major languages) which has helped in communication in all sorts of situations. I surely didn’t expect to stay here so long, but when the going is good, you feel comfortable, and the surroundings feel right you just go with the flow. The only downside to this is the hard act of saying goodbye – a seemingly frequent and not so discussed negative to the home-on-a-bike approach I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Sure you get friends around the world – and you can see them at any time, but that any time usually involves significant effort to travel, cost expenditures, housing etc. Anxiously awaiting teleportation technology.
Another monkey made it into my world at the end of February – abandoned by his mother because she became sick after a staged release from an animal sanctuary, the little guy couldn’t even lift his oversized head on the first day he arrived, ear hanging off where another monkey gave him the ‘kiss of death’ trying to kill him. 4 weeks of care and he’s been taken to an animal sanctuary and surprise surprise, his mother is back and they are starting to get along again. This one was different than the last monkey as he had already been in the wild, was independent, and also a male vs. the previous one raised from 10 days old with humans. This little guy ‘Shamba’ reacted wildly to National Geographic television, especially lions, and baboons.
Lusaka seems to be in interesting times, the economy here in Zambia is growing at leaps at bounds, and all sorts of Westernized buildings seem to be popping up – Housing prices are on the rise, the government is brand new (October) and this is a country of peace. It will be interesting to see how it fares out over the long term – I said before that I could see myself settling here, that statement remains – its just a matter of when. Filled with embassies and NGO’s there are opportunities for making a living when that time comes – considerable humanitarian work is being done in Zambia by groups like US Aid as don’t get me wrong, there is still a huge divide between the rich and the poor – there is no middle class here whatsoever regardless of colour of race. One of the groups that I managed to find was the World Bicycle Relief. I ran into one of their staff at Green/Eco Expo recently and had a chance to find out what they were about.
With 4 points of Presence (Zambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya) their mission is simple – to provide affordable bicycles that are suitable for the African market. I had a chance to visit their Zambia manufacturing shop where the bicycles are assembled onsite, and delivered to communities in the area. If you wish to purchase a bicycle – it could be had for $155 USD, however 50,000 bicycles right now are being provided to children who live 10km or more away from their schools to encourage better education in rural areas. The bicycles are well made, well thought out, and have been refined over the past 5 years they have been in operation. Buffalo Bicycles is the local name for the Zambian bicycles – Check out a few pictures of the assembly process as the friendly staff who trued my rear wheel for me go through the process and assemble 120 bicycles per day. Note the picture of the differences between the Buffalo Bicycles (left) and the standard “African” bicycle (right) – bushings are used instead of springs, good bearings, forks are not spot welded but secured into brackets.
Finally – Check out these photos of this “African” Bicycle – The spokes are made from barbed wire!
The real reason why I stayed here so long is because I was waiting for some mail – I figured since I was in a stable static location I should send over some parts from China (I wanted an Unlock Kit for my IPhone, a couple screen protectors, cables and other nonsense from DealExtreme.Com, a new Silk Liner for my Sleeping Bag (EBay, from Vietnam), and some goods from North America (New Merino Wool T-shirt, some new socks, the single socks to match the ones I brought over here, a new wireless card and antenna for snarfing free internet, and finally a new coffee cup). Actually, the real driving force was the coffee cup – which I have written about before – I left my last one at a Police Station 200km south of Lusaka and it of course disappeared right away. Actually – I never went to look, I had no desire to climb the hill to get there again knowing that I would be met with disappointment anyways. After a month of nail-biting watching the registered package disappear from tracking after it arrived in Zambia, my good friend An’Drea went down and settled the business with the customs and immigrations officials getting them to give me my package without being shooken out for any more money. I’ll do my best to not lose this $200 coffee cup from now on. In the meantime I also have some spare parts for my MSR Dragonfly stove, Bobster sent along some new arms for my sunglasses and also a new pair of shades to test out and review (Photochromic lenses on goggles, how I love these!), and a few other knickknacks to replace my carelessness along the way. I have more mail waiting for me in 2 locations of Malawi, eventually I’ll make my way into that country but for now – Zimbabwe it is!
Zimbabwe has been through some tough times as of late – You may have heard of their economy imploding in the past few years, hyper inflation driving up prices and currency until they were handing out 100 trillion dollar notes before finally giving up and using the South African Rand, the US Dollar and Botswana Pula. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is approximately 80% resulting in high amounts of crime – and disdain towards their dictator – President Robert Mugabe. In power since 1980 Uncle Bob as a leader has been working to reverse the changes that were put in place during colonial times when the country was known as Rhodesia, where its rich agricultural land was reserved for white farmers only – maize, soya, tobacco grow in short amounts of time here with most of it being exported to the United Kingdom. Mugabe had well enough of this and commenced to work out agreements with the British government to take back the land slowly until in 2000 when violent removal of farmers from their land often resulting in lives being lost started occurring – Unfortunately farming just doesn’t work based on land, but knowledge as well, so most of these new “farmers” have not approached the yield once seen in the past on the lands. Mugabe has held power often violently in the past with rumours circulating that he has gone as far as rubbing out opposition leaders, their families and friends. Much of the violence has been indeed state sponsored causing many residents to live in fear for when their time comes. Many Zimbabweans live on one meal a day, are severely malnourished and cannot make a living even with all their families combined income. It’s a sad state of affairs – Mugabe has called an election for 2012 (he is required to do so by 2013) and rumours circulate that he may step down before the election to go out as a leader – I see both sides of the story, there was ample (and still is) abuse of the resources with little to none going back to the people and their leader wanted to reallocate the wealth. I suggest you find Mugabe and the White African for a documentary on a farmer who fought the government to hold on to his land employing 500 black workers, and read up on the History of Zimbabwe.
I’m quite looking forward to riding through this country where everyone has told me in the past to watch out for marauding packs of robbers, more stories that I won’t last 5 minutes before being killed, tied to a tree and beaten. It is the site of many important landmarks, and geological activity over thousands of years. I had intended on cycling through to Harare, the capital city, but instead have opted to skip it knowing that it is just a city (a huge one at that), and my time would be best spent heading all the way down to hug the South African border. This will also help find a small village where I can donate the proceeds of what was collected by you – the readers over the past few months. Am I ever going to make it to Morocco? I don’t know, and I don’t care – I’m having fun which is all that matters. I’ve given up on making plans, as mentioned this has been brewing for a while since well before even arriving in Africa – the urgency has disappeared from wanting to make it to an end destination – there’s no reason in my life to rush, beat my chest and say I did it – as that means moving onto a new chapter in life – am perfectly content on how I am living now. Cash reserves are doing just fine, health is A-OK, and my mental state is tip-top, so why alter it? It’s the journey in life that matters not the destination – as you’ve probably heard yourself many times.
So get ready for some new photos, some writing, maybe even some reviews of products that have been working out along the way. I’ll get back to posting on a regular basis as my knees and arms start to work fluidly – so wish me luck! If all else fails I can go see this witch doctor – apparently all I need to give him is some money and bring a blank piece of paper!