Day 66

Let’s just face facts and tell it like it is … shall we? Zambia is a bust!

Riding out on the Great East Road on a recce mission just confirmed our suspicions … the Great East Road may very well be east, but it sure isn’t great …

Suzann tried to cycle from the village of Chongwe, but only made it about 25km before the sandy patches on the side of the road nearly did her in. The bike just came to a standstill and the front wheel twisted under her. It was quite the miracle that she stayed on top long enough to unclip her foot from the pedal before the bike began to tip … otherwise it would’ve been a repeat of Bontebok on the first week … a fall from a stationary bike …

I am not, as I’ve repeatedly confessed, a technical rider. I can hardly stay on top when we hit any sort of gravel, never mind sand … Watching Suzann jump from the road onto the gravel verge and pedal manically through the puffs of dust, twisting and turning through the stones and balancing precariously on a millimeter strip of compacted earth on the edge of a donga, I was not even going to attempt a turn on the bike. Suzann seemed to love hopping off the badly worn tar strips that did duty in some places as a shoulder, avoiding the goats that seem to be grazing tar, contributing to the verge being eaten away, but the constant headwind detracted from the experience.

I was a bundle of nerves as I watched her, but at the same time I had to keep my eyes peeled for other traffic that would come barrelling down on the support vehicle, overtaking, even right in the face of the oncoming traffic. These drivers seem to think that flashing their lights at you will somehow make your vehicle go slower, or simply disappear altogether! This was not my idea of fun, and was certainly not safe in my book.

Suzann’s bike loaded, we turned and headed back to Lusaka, recce done, but results … not ideal! We’d have to give the Great East Road a miss. It will be riding with the bicycles, not riding on bicycles for the almost 500km east toward Chipata and the Malawi border. We live in hope that the road will get better the closer we get to Chipata … then we can do some rides out from there to get some Zambian distance at least … but we’ll have to see what happens …

Zambia is overflowing with new motorists … everyone that owned a bicycle two years ago when we were here, now owns a car … and they’re all on the road driving in various degrees of questionable safety. The mud huts in the myriad roadside villages are being replaced by brick buildings, and the Chinese are building, building, building … clinics, schools, housing projects … everywhere you look is the Chinese flag … one could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in a Chinese colony! But they still have to get to the roads, well the Great East Road, at least. They’re busy, busy on the road south to Livingstone … to the detriment of the road user though … with all their gravel detours.

Zambia is developing, but with all the development the infrastructure is not capable of handling the increased demand from the exploding population. There is hardly a moment when you actually get electricity. The power seems to come on only in the middle of the night, only to go off again in the morning, and remain off for the entire day! We think load-shedding is bad in SA … Zambia takes the cake. The more progressive the country becomes, the more backward things seem to get …

At least we got to give out another Bible. This time to the guy at the toll booth. Here are toll roads, well … there are toll booths, but one can’t see any road that would constitute a toll road. This brings our total of Bibles given out in Zambia to four … including the one handed to a very appreciative car guard at the Pick’nPay centre.

Need seems greatest in Botswana so far as we’ve had the most requests there … and been told that the Bible Society doesn’t do much for the rural, outlying communities, ‘they’re just in Gaberone’ as one security guard in Nata told us. In Zambia the need seems less but it may simply be that the people are a bit more hesitant to just come out and ask us for a Bible … or maybe language is a barrier, I don’t really know. Anyway, it is rather disheartening either way. Maybe we should not complain though, as we don’t really have that many more Bibles to give out anymore.

What is the most discouraging though, is the fact that we just don’t seem to get, and then keep, going in Zambia. We’ve hardly done any cycling at all! Admittedly, I have been experiencing rather nasty side effects of my malaria prophylactics (headaches, fatigue, depression) and have been necessitated to finally stop taking the drugs and search for a pharmacy in Lusaka that could give me an alternative … which I’ve just started, so I’m still waiting for the other stuff to slowly work itself out of my system. I hope I get my ‘oomph’ back again. It really is hard to keep going when you feel down and you’re facing discouraging circumstances as well. But we must stay positive!!!

The Zambian roads may be getting the better of us but at least, we’ve been waved through every police roadblock with a smile. That must count for something. At the best of times these blocks are just about as useful as box of hair, but can get quite frustrating if you constantly get stopped every few kilometers.

Speaking of a box of hair though reminds me of Suzann’s run-in with a dustbin full of hair extensions in Francistown. Lifting the lid, she dropped it with a shriek. Afterwards she admitted that she was just sure that if she lifted the lid of the dustbin any further … she’d find a face! An unfriendly surprise of a murdered victim’s head in a dustbin … imagine that!

But Zambia isn’t that rough … it’s just rough around the edges … typical Africa heavy. Botswana and SA are still very Africa light …

In Zambia the folks make do with what they have. Like the cyclist that came up on me while cycling from Livingstone. Regan was cycling in a pair of badly laced hiking boots, baggy shorts and a pair of Effecto gardening gloves, with what appeared to be a child’s helmet precariously perched on the back of his head, doing him no favours if he had to fall. The only cycling gear he had was a shirt into which he’d stuffed a mini bottle of water, the only sustenance he had with him for a 160km ride. His bottle cage was filled with one of those foam injector devices for car tyres … don’t know how much use that’d be if he got a flat along the way. But Regan cycled with me into the next town, chatting all the way. He was a member of the Livingstone cycling club but would ride out on his own when he was off work to ‘keep my legs strong’. He only cycled for fun since he regretfully informed me that he had no sponsor to take his cycling further. Only when I stopped to swop with Suzann did he turn back and disappear into the distance … gone to look for his friend he had simply left behind (on his first ride, by the way) just to cycle with me. We never saw either cyclist again. I bet his friend turned back to Livingstone after being abandoned … I certainly would’ve. Anyway, thanks to Regan the 16km into the little village I was headed for went by in a jiffy.

We’ve seen a few cyclists like Regan but mostly the traditional ‘sit-up-and-beg’ type bike with only one gear, packed with anything from corrugated iron sheets to goats and pigs strapped to a board across the handlebars. There have been a few pack-cyclists as well. These guys have the right idea for the Zambian roads. With a bike alone you can slip by but the support vehicle we have just gets more in the way on these roads than anything else. But we have the vehicle, now we have to deal with the case that’s presented to us.

Each country has its own set of challenges and being equipped for every eventuality is just not possible, so we do what we can with what we have, keeping safety our first priority … we sure want to live to cycle another day, even if we don’t get to cycle what we intended to cycle in Zambia. As mom keeps saying, ‘tomorrow things will be better’. I think that phrase is the jinx! Ha, Ha. At least we can still joke around …

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