Silverback Tour In Training

I had a favourite uncle who lived in Finland. He taught me how to quaff 40 percent vodka, which might have had something to do with his popularity stakes within the family.

He told me that Finnish people love quaffing vodka. I was just twenty at the time and not yet familiar with the term quaffing. He told me quaffing is like drinking, but just with more noise and more laughter.

After much quaffing of Finnish vodka, your laughter turns nervous, because you worry your nose has slipped off your face, on account of the numbing. I think the numbing is integral to being able to survive temperatures of minus 40. Small wonder the United Nations rated Finland as the happiest country in the world, again, for the umpteenth time.

The U.N. placed Zimbabwe 148th on the same list. Before you start thinking 148th isn’t too bad, there are only 149 countries on that list, with only Afghanistan placing lower than us. Apparently, even the Sudanese and the Yemenis are happier than us. Bummer. I had no idea I was second most miserable in the whole world.

The U.N. dropped the miserable bomb on me in Dubai. Jenny and I were in Dubai to celebrate her birthday. After more than a year of lockdown in Zimbabwe, we were looking to get away on a plane somewhere, anywhere, so that we could do normal for a week.

Normal and Dubai are not normally found in the same sentence, but it is about the only fly-in destination without Covid quarantine restrictions. The UAE have vaccinated seventy percent of the population against Covid and are in a hurry to get their hotels and shopping malls full of tourists again.

For her birthday, to stop her from feeling miserable, I decided to pull out all the stops and spoil Jenny with a mosquito net and waterproof boots to wear on our gorilla safari in Uganda in July.

We caught a taxicab to Decathlon Outdoor Store. Our driver was from Afghanistan. The fact that he came from the most miserable country on Earth escaped him, especially when he found out we were Zimbabweans.

He was too busy grinning and gloating because Afghanistan had beaten Zimbabwe in a cricket Test in Abu Dhabi the day before. He eventually allowed that the United Nations had the truth of it and that Afghanistan was a miserable place.

“But I’m not in Afghanistan and we beat you by six wickets.” He went back to grinning.

“But we beat you in the first Test.”

“But we will smash you in the T20’s.”

And they did. Three-nil. Alas.

Dubai placed a respectable 25th in the World Happiness Report. With eighteen lane highways and no potholes, streetlamps that light up at night, shiny shopping malls and clean streets, and the world’s tallest buildings and decent wages.

People from Dubai should be over-the-moon happy, but you don’t see or hear them laughing or smiling much. Either they have the best ever poker-faces, or they don’t know how lucky they are to have what they have.

People from the Third World are quicker to laugh and smile, even though many have nothing. I overheard a young man next to me on the Dubai Metro talking Shona on his cellphone and introduced myself. He was that happy to meet me, I thought he was going to hug me.

His name was Tapelo, and he works in Dubai as a waiter, because he can’t find work in Zimbabwe. He asked me if I would phone his mom when I got back to Harare, to tell her that he was okay, and brushing his teeth regularly.

Tapelo’s mom is a dentist. I phoned Nellie when we got home, and she was that grateful that I’d taken time out to report back on her precious son that she offered Jenny and I a free dental check-up.

After a week of window shopping hard in every mall in Dubai, enjoying fresh seafood at the fish market and rehydrating with Guinness and silly hats on St Patricks Day, our batteries were re-charged, and we were good to go home.

We transited via Nairobi. After the sterile efficiency of Dubai airport, Jomo Kenyatta Airport hugged us back into the Third World.

Out of Nairobi, we were booked on flight 704 to Harare and Lusaka. The television screen in the Departures Terminal told us we would board at either Gate 21 on the upper concourse, or Gate 24 on the lower concourse.

Panicked, we asked a ground hostess which Gate we should head to. She suggested we wait at Gate 24 because it was closer, but if the flight departed from Gate 21 upstairs, no problem, she was sure someone would come and look for us.

We had an hour to kill so we went to the Food Court. Smiling waiters from three competing Fast-Food outlets queued up to present us their menus.

I went with a burger from the burger joint, Jenny went with sandwich from a health food joint, and the waiter from the pizza joint was left dejected, looking like I’d just killed his puppy.

He was that sad I almost ordered a pizza to follow my burger, but instead promised him I’d shop with him next time. Damage was repaired instantly, and he was all smiles again.

Do Not Spit
Do Not Spit

There was a public hand basin for your convenience in the food court, complete with a typed notice on the wall above the basin asking patrons to please not spit into it.

I thought the sign to be quite charming and deserving of a photo.

I read a local newspaper while we waited at Gates 21 and 24 and read with interest that the recruitment strategy for the Kenyan Police Force was centred on hiring students who had achieved C Minus grades or worse.

Police spokesman Charles Owino said “We have a challenge when they employed policemen with Grade C Plus and all they want to do is chase promotion. It is important we get officers who have C Plain, C Minus and D Plus.”

Welcome to Africa.

The Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport is less warm and welcoming, and I’m not just talking about the name. Walking through the deserted, darkened concourse is spooky, it’s like walking through a mausoleum.

It is darkened because of power cuts, and deserted not because of Covid, but because we are the 149th on the Happiest Countries list and who wants to go there for a holiday.

And for some reason, they are currently busy 24/7 expanding the terminal, most probably because China needs the turnover.

The drive through Harare City Centre picks up where the airport left off with five lanes of traffic squeezed into two lanes of road and traffic lights that don’t work, ditto the Stop signs, No Stopping signs, and Give Way signs, especially if you drive a minibus taxi.

It is a free-for-all with No Rules and by the time you get home, your nerves are frazzled, you are thinking the United Nations have a point, and you need to get away again.

We arrived home to no electricity. It happens that often, normally we don’t even notice, unless you have been in Dubai for a week.

Ho hum. Thank God for dogs, cats, generators and grandchildren.

Harare to Uganda – Raising money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.

Jenny and I were home for a week before we fled again, this time on an Old Legs training ride to the peace and quiet of the Mavuradonha Wilderness.

Six-hundred square kilometres of pristine, raw, virgin bush complete with giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, sable, kudu plus the odd elephant, lion and hyena, just 150 km north of Harare at the start of the Zambezi Escarpment.


Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lifts the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

To avoid the worst of the traffic out of Harare, Al, Laurie, Fiona, Jenny and I drove to Mazoe, leaving us 130 kilometres ride, with over 1,000 metres of stiff climbing. We were joined by Albie Cerutti, Ant Mellon and Helen ‘Patch’ Patchett.

Al Watermeyer returned the day before the training ride after a month in South Africa. He declared himself woefully underdone in terms of training, apologized for the woeful under-performance he was about to deliver, and then promptly commenced his sprint for the finish line 130 kilometres away.

I tried to chase him down to remind him to take it easy because he was underdone but couldn’t catch him. I was also going to ask him to wee in a little bottle. Obviously anxious to avoid the urine test, Al was going that fast, he overshot our sixty-kilometre breakfast stop by five kilometres.

I chased him in vain for six hours and now know Al Watermeyer to not only be a Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire, but also a racing snake to boot.

We stayed at the Kopje Tops Camp in the Mavuradonha Wilderness. Kopje Tops was next level good with attentive staff, a small resident herd of Zebra who took a close interest in racing snake Al, forcing him to pedal fast again, and well-appointed rooms with giant, baths you could swim in and easily the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in.

The next morning, we rode to the Bat Cave and Elephant Gorge, escorted by Nesbit the game guide who kept a watchful eye out for elephants, buffaloes and lions. The Mavuradonha is tough bush, very gnarly with steep dongas and ravines, and we were able to cram 900 metres of climb into just 27 kilometres of ride, good training for the Uganda ride to come.

The Bat Cave was epic, home to a million Egyptian Fruit Bats, literally, all of whom came barrelling out when we disturbed their slumbers with a torch. Nesbit’s head count of a million bats is accurate. Apparently, you count the number of wings and then divide by two, but only after allowing for bats without wings.

Because I am a clumsy bastard, I was also able to test the tensile strength of my ribs and, after cracking yet another rib, can confirm that my tensile strength continues pathetic. Because cracked ribs are a pin in the arse, I am going to look for a riding helmet that comes complete with full chest protection.

Slogging out of dongas in granny gear and thirty-degree heat makes for hard work, so our swim in Elephant Gorge was particularly welcome, ditto our spectacular sundowner drinks looking out over unspoiled Africa.

The Mavuradonha Wilderness is such good muti and just 160 km from Harare. Places like the Mavuradonha are why we live in this country.

To prove that point, Jenny and I drove back to Harare on the Monday only to refresh our stocks of clean socks, underwear and fresh lemons for the gin and tonics, before heading back on the Thursday for an Easter weekend spent laughing and enjoying with best friends from Doma.

I am sure God adds onto your life, any time spent there.

We pedal out of Harare in the general direction of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda in just fourteen weeks. Jenny and I had our first Covid vaccination last week. We had the Chinese Sinopharm jabs and so far, so good without any compulsion to trade my iPhone in for a Huawei.

We are hoping that our vaccination certificates assist with our passage through Zambia, Tanzania, and Rwanda, and into Uganda. If there is anyone out there reading this with local knowledge on Covid protocols at the various border posts, please contact me.

To launch both our Medical Emergency Fund and the Silverback Tour, the Old Legs Trust will be hosting our inaugural Golf Day at Borrowdale Brooke on the 14th of May. I am very excited and have started practicing my golf swing in earnest in front of the mirror. Please join us if you can. It will be epic, and for a wonderful cause.

In closing, I’d like to re-introduce you to Adam Selby who is will be the Ride Captain on the Silverback Tour. Adam is a 1958 model, but his legs are far much younger.

He is the quintessential racing snake. His favourite colour is yellow but that doesn’t stop him from also pinching my green jelly babies, or my red ones, or my orange ones, etcetera, etcetera.

Adam is hugely proud that his daughter Jaime will be riding next to him in the peloton. I worry that Jaime has inherited Adam’s snake genes and expect both of them to reach Uganda before me.

Please follow us on and help us help others. But be warned, we ride slower than paint dries.

Until my next blog, survive, stay safe and enjoy

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong


Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lifts the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

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