Went through an amazing series of days while riding away from Beira, Mozambique on my way north over to Mocuba – amazing yet challenging all at the same time. I stayed a bit longer than expected in Beira with my friend Andre, someone who I really connected with easily and decided that it was best to not get caught up too far ahead in plans and future plans and go with the moment. It was also a holiday on May 1 – Worker’s Day and since I missed the last public holiday in Zimbabwe in a city I wanted to see what happens in a large populace. Overall, the festivities weren’t anything to write about – a few speeches, a short lived parade and a marching band, but certainly the people of Mozambique took it as a great day to unwind, spend time with family, and get royally wasted on the beach. Impromptu soccer games everywhere, people learning to do backflips into the ocean, vendors selling their latest catches – fish, prawns, stingray, crab and the markets were bustling selling fresh vegetables, fruit, and dry goods. Glad I stayed. Andre had to leave the country to renew his visa which meant driving through to Mutare, Zimbabwe on the route I rode in on and I caught a 15km lift with him out of the city which shaved 2 hours off my morning ride – we parted ways and I noticed that as soon as I left the main road it was going to be different – dirt. I haven’t ridden dirt roads since Namibia for long stretches at a time and with my language barrier could not quite find out how long the road was going to go on for, and based on what I could gather it was going to be the whole 550km stretch. With the dirt roads slowing down speeds from a breezy 15km/h it was a struggle to get even 10km/h at most while weaving from side to side on the road to avoid railroad style bumps, dips, holes, and then came the sand.
Deep sand that would get any car stuck other than a 4×4 or Range Rover did the same for me, and there were moments in the hot hot sun where I was pushing, better yet dragging the bicycle until the ground became more compact. Still, I wasn’t going to let it deter me, knowing that not everything is going to go as smooth as one would expect. At the end of the first day I made it 85km until the village of Muanza eager to drink a cold beer after dealing with the 30 degree (38 with humidex) temperatures, only to find no one to serve to me. I spoke to two men on a motorcycle asking where the water pump was (Bomba di Agua) in the town and they pointed further away – great for me as I wanted to just get out of the village centre away from the people and market to set up the tent. After 2km I still hadn’t found the pump, and all directions received from other people were wrong as well, when I noticed one of the men beside me on the motorcycle, motioning to me backwards into town. When in Muanza..
It turned out to be great, where I went to a small hut with about 12 people apparently still celebrating trying to get the Workers Day holiday out of their system, cooking dinner (Chicken, Soup, Sadza – Nshima – whatever you want to call it, and considerable amounts of beer. Some spoke small English and while that was the start of the stretch of no power they had a generator running long enough that they could charge their laptop and play music off of a software program used for DJing. With no idea on how to use it I taught them how to blend two songs together in about 30 minutes, and in return the women around each took turns at doing their best at teaching me to dance – two left feet made it more difficult on my end. Somehow in the day I had cut my finger open pretty hard, and the next morning managed to make it bleed all over the place right before setting out at 6am, where one of the residents of the house did his best to repair it for me armed with a Band-Aid, and sterilizing the wound with a hefty spray of Sport body spray – the stinging was intense, but I found time to laugh about it later as it was yet again another 100km in sandy roads with only 2 cars passing the entire day as I rode alongside Gorgonosa National Park – sadly there’s not much left of the park due to the 15 year civil war in Mozambique – It used to be one of the worlds top destinations for all sorts of wildlife, but when you are starving you do what it takes, and that’s what the locals did – Elephants, Tigers, Crocodiles, Birds, Monkeys, you name it all gone. There is an effort from an American fellow trying to rejuvenate the park by bringing in Elephants from South Africa’s Krueger National Park where they are considered to be overrun which will start the process of dealing with the thick trees and brush, afterwards more animals will be reintroduced. Other than a couple hundred Baboons sadly this is the only wildlife I’ve seen.
On the dirt / sand road only a few villages exist, most run down areas that were once obviously well populated, but now the buildings from better days all crumble, with little to no maintenance, due to people fleeing to Coastal cities or back to Portugal since 1975. It’s sad, but an interesting look that I’ve not yet seen in Africa – perhaps there is still hope for some of these areas maybe if they fix the road. A local in one of the towns guided me for 15km through back trails and secluded villages to bypass a huge area of deep sand which I’m entirely grateful for, I’m certain I would have melted in the hot sun otherwise. If you ride the roads in the morning you are generally OK due to the moisture and fog that exists until about 9am, leaving the ground hard enough to ride on but after that it becomes extremely difficult – making the Manica beer at the end of the day that much more worth while. Can’t get enough of that stuff in Mozambique, and I think I know of some other bicycle tourists who share the same thought, although I haven’t been able to verify as the the internet connectivity is non-existent here – It seemed like I would have no problem on the first day in the country but since then it is scarce – resulting in many of these posts being written offline and likely not to be posted until Malawi. The villages have been quite fun actually, maybe 1000 people live in each, each with a chief a few shops (mud huts that also serve as bars, nightclubs, and general information) – no churches, and no police – the people are the police here and I quite like it that way. When I ask for a place to stay I’m usually told d that I can stay in one of the shops, until I make a point that I want to stay in my own tent, to which much chatter occurs – finally being directed to a “safer” place. it doesn’t matter what that place is actually as the villagers do not want to have a bad name cast upon them and there is nothing to be worried about leaving my stuff out in the open. Even still, more often than not when I’m doing the pelvic thrust outside of the tent to relieve some of the days water pressure I will see a “Guardo” sleeping on a mat beside my tent with a Machete in hand wanting to make sure I am OK. Amazing.
The dirt wasn’t that long actually and after 200km I was back on tar road, a national road which also meant more traffic, more hills, and quite a few more villages and shops. Shops not meaning a store, but more of the huts and often marketplaces where one can buy bunches of bananas (10 for .25), a handful of oranges (5 for .25), and the staples such as rice, pasta, coca cola, and bread. My water consumption has shot right up as of late and feeling no ill effects from drinking from the many boreholes and pumps in the area, as well my hunger level has risen – this is likely to be common going forward as the selection becomes thinner and thinner. Maybe not? I would say Mozambique has been the most different so far with no power, little to no cars on the road, many bicycles, and of course that language barrier. Most other African countries have English as an official language but not here – It hasn’t taken long though to start understanding what people are saying based on the context of the conversation, and I can speak just enough to get by. Huge crowds of people gather around when stopped on the side of the road to cook, or in marketplaces with little nothing to worry about for safety, or concern about being robbed – that still doesn’t mean I don’t give the correct information about my travels each time. Every situation is different, especially if it is where people are drinking, or if I am staying in the area. Usually it means I tell them I am leaving much later in the day than I actually am in the morning, and other funny things like when they are curious of my bicycle that I’m careful to mention there is a satellite tracker inside the frame should it ever get stolen that it will be seen by the Policia – not that the ones in the cities have been actually willing whatsoever to make time of day for me often looking menacing with their AK47′s and cold stares.
My agility is at peak it seems – I’ve had two pretty crazy close calls while riding, one when I came too close to the end of the shoulder – a drop off of over a foot from the broken ends of the pavement onto dirt nearly had me sprawled on the ground – my back tire shifted off while the front stayed on the pavement. I jammed my front brakes as hard as possible which caused the rear end to lift up and sway 90 degrees while I balanced standing on the pedals putting the rear tire back on solid ground – It rattled me a bit, and noone was there to see this trick move unfortunately. The other time was when I was riding in the early morning n the compacted sand and while shifting from side to side on the road I hit a hard ridge from a tire track – too hard for my wide 2 inch tires to cut through – so at a good speed of over 12km/h I came to a complete stop, flew off the bicycle and landed a perfect roll far away from the bicycle in the dirt coming out completely unharmed – I laughed at that one for a few hours afterwards – could have been worse!
Had my first marriage proposal in Mozambique as well – I declined obviously when staying at a clinic after a 120km riding day where the last half of it was fuelled by an extra large coffee. I burned off the excess using all the muscles in my body when riding for long periods of time with no hands up hills – bringing a great sleep in the night even though I was constantly being woken up by my “lover” checking to see if I was awake, alright, or if I needed anything. Funny, but Its more of the same thing where people are desperate to get out of the country and see a man with ripped gloves, dirt on his face and stinky body odour as the ticket away from their problems even though they don’t realize the concept of long term travel, nor do they realize that the bicycle is not meant for two. Anyways I’m not looking, but its surprising that someone of the age of over 25 was not married with children – often the women are rearing children by the time they are 18, and even as young as 11, often in order to raise more children to help out the family, with the young mothers mother unable to bear the stomach weight – which I don’t really have much to say about that. The poverty level is quite high here, no jobs other than agriculture it seems, and while I’m trying to help out with the clothing donations here I can’t even find proper shops to buy from, and don’t want to support the clothing markets at the side of the road where someone has obviously intercepted the aid from other countries and reselling the clothing to the locals. I have an idea for Mozambique for the children and will try to execute it in the next day or so – and then will try a different avenue in Malawi, all how I see it of course.
After 15,000km on my Thorn Nomad I mentioned I mucked up my chain back in Beira – nervous about riding due to potential slipping issues of the rear cog are non existent – the first day of riding made some grinding and clacking noises as the chain worked its way into my well well used chain rings but no slippage to report whatsoever and the bicycle rides as a dream – maybe I should change the chain a bit more often, and I’m thoroughly impressed at the drivetrain and its overall lasting strength. I’ll likely flip the rear cog around in a few months in Dar Es Salaam, or maybe not – eager to see how long I can actually make one rear cog last. I stand behind the Rohloff and its drivetrain entirely, although it can be quite difficult to shift the gears when you have sweaty hands, or a sore wrist like I have after improperly lifting the bicycle. It’s worth the money for long hauls like this – I’d surely have gone through a few cassettes, chains, and mucked around with derailleur adjustments more than enough to drive me mad by this time (based on prior experience on my derailleur based Surly Long Haul Trucker) – and these are things I don’t want to deal with on the road, time is too short to be sitting at the road with breakdowns.
Typical rules of the road don’t exist here, where huge semi trailers will pass and you will often find one or more people handing on to the cargo belts as they travel at 80km/h or higher to their destination – There’s no roadblocks to worry about here, so anything goes – You do what it takes to get where you need to go I guess, but its nice to see the country using many bicycles, men and women, in fact I saw a family of 5 sharing a ride early in the morning a few days back – all offering a huge grin saying ‘Bon Dia (Good Morning)’ as they passed. They are the typical African bicycle – black in colour often with two bars for the top tube, single speed with a rear rack, no pedal platforms and sometimes a dynamo bottle charger on the rear wheel, although I’ve yet to see one actually function properly. Most if not all are in rough condition making more noise than the roosters that wake one up starting from 3am each day.
It’s interesting here, obviously a struggle but there are some great lessons to be learned on my end in terms of tolerance, assertiveness, and gaining more understanding of the local values and policing in the area – I think Mozambique has a lot to offer for those who can speak the language, but a challenge for anyone else – still I persevere, I don’t have any other choice! Now only 150km away from the border to Malawi I’m sure to cross yet another river along the way – already crossing the great Zambezi and Congo Rivers with Mozambique acting as the effluent into the Indian Ocean starting the climbs into higher elevation away from near Sea-level up to 1200 metres where I have a contact in Blantyre that I’ve been conversing with since Maun Botswana – I sent mail there months ago thinking I would be there in January, but I’m now on Africa time…..