Days 10 11 14 and15

05 June 2023 – Day Ten of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – From Lichinga Mozambique to Metangula also in Mozambique.

Distance – 128 kilometers
Total ascent – 1176 meters.
Total descent – 2021 meters.
Time – 9 hours 17 minutes
Av heart rate – 119 bpm
Max heart rate – 179 bpm
Max temp – 32 degrees.

This blog is coming to you from the Sunset Beach Resort, Metangula, Mozambique. I am sitting under a coconut palm next to a mukwa tree a.k.a. Pterocarpus Angolensis completely knackered. I got ripped off today. It was supposed to be a big down hill day but somehow I still climbed 1200 meters.

Should the name Sunset Beach Resort evoke images of a romantic beach resort complete with girls in leopard skin bikinis, please delete. In the real world, somewhere between now and 50 years ago when the Portuguese left, the resort got bashed down and buggered up and it now looks like a Ukrainian war zone. But in my current condition, an extra rest day in the ruins of the Sunset Beach Resort sure beats a day spent in the saddle.

And in fairness to the Sunset Beach Resort proprietors, they’ve been flat out busy renovating and rebuilding for possibly 50 years, and have so far rebuilt 4 rooms out of 11 rooms, sort of. The plumbing in our room remains work in progress with the discharge pipe on our basin discharging on your feet. The toilet is likewise dodgy and is best sat upon gingerly and hot water is a myth. But for the rest, it is all good. The lake is beautiful with crystal clear waters, and we’ve just enjoyed delicious barbel and chips for lunch. Because the lake has a sandy bottom, barbel in these parts is clean eating with no muddy taste. My bottom especially loves Sunset Beach.

Somehow and against all odds, we managed to overshoot our daily targets for the last 3 days, and we’ve ended up in Metangula a full day ahead of schedule. Which could explain why I am so knackered. Although the 1200 meters of climb on a big downhill day could be another reason. But it is nothing that an extra rest day on the shores of Lake Niassa can’t fix.

The vastness that is the Niassa Province continues. Finally we are riding on roads properly less travelled. This country is huge by car, beyond massive by bike, especially my bike.

There is some traffic on the roads. We had to take evasive action just outside Lichinga to avoid being run over by motorcade full of very important government officials rushing off to govern somewhere, their cavalcade of 200 series Landcruisers only slightly at odds with the poverty they were rushing through.

The countryside today was exactly Nyanga, just on a bigger scale. There is commercial forestry, mostly pine with some eucalyptus, and we encountered our first significant indigenous forests. Up to now, the only indigenous trees we’ve seen are those growing in the cemeteries where they are safe from the ravages of the bloody charcoal producers.

The downhill descent to reach Metangula was hectic. Rafe and Clem enjoyed like kids on a BMX track and clocked 62 and 64 kph respectively. I can only watch Clem’s GoPro video footage of his descent through my fingers.

Rafe Wetzlar is easily the strongest rider we’ve had on Tour, bar possibly Carl Wilson, who had an unfair advantage because he ate vegetables only.

For every 100 kilometers I’ve pedalled, Rafe has pedalled 160. A sheepdog in a previous life, Rafe patrols the peloton endlessly, front and back, looking for strugglers to help. Rafe likes helping people. I think I am going to ask him to put my bike in his backpack.

Rafe weighed in at 105 kilograms at the start and is a big unit, but I’m watching his body shape change every day and he is almost lean and mean.

Lake Malawi

He might be a strong rider but Rafe has no idea how to pronounce Ralph, which is what his first name actually is.
10 days into the Tour and we are slowly slipping into some sort of a routine, with the emphasis on slow. Over and above riding bikes all day, cyclists are required to perform certain camp duties, like digging toilets, washing pots and peeling vegetables.

Pete and I are Team Three and tackle each and every task with great gusto and enthusiasm, unlike certain other teams who shall remain nameless, like Teams One, Two and Four.

But with Al Watermeyer in the ranks, the toilet digging task becomes extra daunting and we are thinking about lobbying our rider’s union about being allowed to force feed Al Imodium with his evening meal.

Gary has enjoyed malaria for the last 3 days, but thanks to Coartem has been able to remain behind the cameras. Please appreciate and enjoy his beautiful photography that much more.

Tomorrow we take epic to the next level when we push onto to Cobue, which is halfway up the lake and 100 km from Metangula for our second official rest day. But that 100 km is set to seem like 200 km because of thick sand on the road. To avoid the sand, the riders will route along a track on the lakeshore unsupported, until we run out of track, whence upon we will climb the escarpment, most probably on foot because the gradients look to be stupidly steep.

The vehicles will follow the main road to Cobue. Apparently, the road has been trashed by Cyclone Freddy and the 100 km could take the vehicles the best part of 5 hours. Those riders nursing wounds or recovering from the Clem virus, will suffer FOMO in the support vehicles. We are expecting no cellphone signal so will communicate using our Garmin InReaches. It is all jolly exciting. Wish us luck.

Please also wish Zimbabwe luck as we continue our inexorable slide back into hyperinflation, back to being millionaires and billionaires. When we left Zim 10 days ago, the official exchange rate was 2000 to 1 and the black rate was nearly double that. of Just 10 days later, the official rate has ballooned out to 4000. Cry the beloved country, especially the poor pensioners who live there.

We are riding to Zanzibar to raise money and awareness for those pensioners.

Until my next blog from Cobue, Mozambique, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons

If you are already a ZANE donor, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you are not a donor but would like to be, please follow the link below and know that every donation, however big or small, goes directly to where it is most needed. If you would like to help but can’t donate, please join the ZANE family and ‘like’ or ‘share’ our posts or write us a Google review – every positive step helps spread the word about the life changing work ZANE does.

Thank you – Nicky Passaportis ZANE Australia

Please donate to support pensioners struggling to survive in Zimbabwe

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

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

07 June 2023 – Day Eleven of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – From Metangula to Cobue, Mozambique

Distance – 78 kilometers
Total ascent – 600 meters.
Time – 9 hours 17 minutes
Av heart rate – 104 bpm
Max heart rate – 153 bpm
Max temp – 32 degrees.

I am blogging to you from Nkwichi Lodge on Lake Malawi in the Manda Wilderness, an hour’s slow boat ride south of Cobue, which is in the middle of nowhere, Mozambique, about 40 kilometers south of the Tanzanian border. Nkwichi Lodge is absolutely idyllic, the sort of place Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie might honeymoon in, albeit separately these days.

Rest Camp

Today was the first day we properly rode off grid. To avoid deep sand on the main road, the plan was the riders would ride unsupported, apart from backpacks full of sausages and boiled eggs, via a lakeshore track for 40 kms before cutting inland over a massive mountain to meet up with the support vehicles for lunch.

The mountain loomed large and ominous. Our day’s track had been plotted for us by Cole Myers back in Harare, so we named the climb ahead of us Cole’s Big Bloody Wall.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the support vehicles would route via the main Metangula – Cobue highway, which even had a number assigned to it. We knew we would be without cellphone signal for most of the day, but had backup plans in place using satellite communicators, What could possibly go wrong? Most everything is the answer to that question, including Al’s bicycle, but more of that later.

First there was the sand. Sand is a 4-letter-word on a mountain bike. Sand can turn 20 kms into an all day affair. Falling off your bike in sand is relatively simple. I am reasonably proficient.

First up, the sand grabs hold of your front wheel and rips you violently off course towards the rider next to you. You wrestle with your handlebars to grab back control, you fail, and then you crash, generally right in front of the rider behind, who takes evasive action by crashing into the rider next to him, and so on, and so on. 4-letter words abound, but empathy not so much.

To avoid all of the above, we routed along the lakeshore. Turns out though that the sand in Mozambique is not exclusive to main roads. Turns out it also happens to be on lakeside roads. It also turns out that Kim is likewise a natural at falling off in sand. Every time I looked round, she was power napping in the sand. N.B. Kim was in good company. Most every other rider also belly flopped in the sand, including Pete who managed to lose his iPhone in the process.

Thankfully we are slightly more proficient at crossing rivers than we are at crossing sand. There were many rivers to cross, some more than wheel deep, some very wide and shallow.

What Road

It was exactly in such a river that the soft underbelly of Al Watermeyer’s preventative maintenance was exposed. His derailleur broke mid-stream. And small wonder it broke. Cedric the ride medic who is also more than passably good at fixing bikes found Al’s chain to not only be 10 links too long, but it was also threaded through his derailleur wrong, under instead of over. NB Al was very quick to blame his bike’s condition on his brother and bike mechanic, Laurie, but asked me not to mention that, so please disregard.

If Al’s bike was a horse, we would have shot it. Despite the best efforts of Cedric, Al’s bike remained stubbornly buggered. We were 40 kilometers from our rendezvous point up the creek without a paddle, with a giant mountain in front of us, and on a track that had not seen vehicle traffic since the slave traders, apart from motor bikes.

Motor bikes pass for public transport in this part of the world, 150 c.c. Made in China street bikes, pimped to the max with slightly ape- hanger handle bars and a decorative soft toy, and a booming sound system.

We were able to hire 2 motorbikes complete with kamikaze motor-bikers, 1 for Al and 1 for his bike. One of my enduring memories of the Zanzibar Tour will be the sight of Al roaring off into the bush on the back of his rented motorbike with his slightly worried look verging on fully panicked firmly in place. The look turned out to be fully justified. Al’s motorbike kamikaze pilot almost lost control shortly after take off blasting through a sandy river bed before fully losing control by crashing into a tree.

Because the track was less than obvious, we rode as a group, and at a pace set by the slowest rider, namely moi. The first half of the ride at my speed was super chilled and explains my average heart rate of just 108 bpm.

We rode past some rice, very little maize, lots of cassava, but zero irrigation, despite all the water in the world right there. The lake delivers up daily protein in the form of fish, but the people along the lakeside are properly poor in one of the most remote parts of Africa. And the people are not set to get any richer going forward. We saw just one school in 40 kilometers.

At the risk of sounding like Rolf Harris, the kids in Mozambique are very sweet. They are quite shy and reserved but have the most delightful smiles.

The title of the worst job in the world went to rock crushers we saw, who were tasked with converting huge boulders into 1/2 inch aggregate for building by hand with a two-pound hammer. I tried to help the one old guy and failed. But at least they don’t give the job to 5 year-old kids like they do in Uganda.

The 2nd half of the ride was less chilled, and even slower, courtesy of Cole’s Big Bloody Wall and lots of technical single track, treacherous drops and climbs and deep gullies in the road. Single track requires focus, so straight away, I am disadvantaged. My shallow perception, i.e. the opposite of depth, helps not a lot either.I briefly see rocks clearly and then I hit them. I hate technical, single track.

Clem however loves single track, the more technical the better. There is a little boy on a BMX inside Clem dying to get out, itching to ride fast and ramp ramps, and broadside around corners. Clem volunteered to ride at the front of the group and so enjoyed himself.

And then we hit Cole’s Big Bloody Wall. It was everything bad, hellish steep with gradients of 15 percent and more, loose gravel underfoot interspersed with big, bloody boulders, deep gullies, bits of soft sand thrown in every now and then, all against the backdrop of the most incredible views of Lake Malawi far below. I walked most of the way, using my bike like a Zimmerframe.

We rode through 15 kilometers of the most beautifully pristine Miombo forrest, as yet unravaged by the bloody charcoal makers, to reach our rendezvous point. It was beautiful. It was also bloody treacherous under wheel, with the track deeply rutted.

Incredibly, somewhere in the forest near the top, we bumped into technicians installing fiber optics in the middle of nowhere. We thought they were mad and they thought likewise.

Rafe rated his day in the saddle as his hardest, technical ride ever.

Completely knackered, overheating badly, and fantasizing about cold cokes, I celebrated the rendezvous point, until I realized the vehicles weren’t there, only Al and his broken bike. So I ceased celebrations and commenced stressing.

To get to the rendezvous, the vehicles only had to drive 115km. It was 12.30 and still no vehicles. Something must have gone wrong. I had silent money on Jenny and Vicky being lost and on their way back to Malawi. We got busy on the Garmin InReaches, reaching out to Gary and Brian in the support vehicles, but no joy.

At 13.30 we decided the riders would push on the last 27 km to Cobue, while Al and I would remain at the rendezvous point to wait for the vehicles and the spare bike for Al. And if Al and I didn’t make Cobue by 16.00, then Angus would send motorbikes to fetch us.

For the first hour, mostly Al and I watched a kid doing cartwheels. We also watched some chickens. We agreed that one of the chickens was the prettiest chicken we’d ever seen.

We jumped up when we heard a vehicle, but it was an ambulance going the wrong way. At 14.30 I fell fast asleep in the middle of an Alastair story.

Finally at 15.30, the black Isuzu arrived with Jenny and Gary, followed shortly by the silver Isuzu and Christopher. Incredibly, 115 km on a numbered national road had taken the support vehicles 9 hours to negotiate. Brian told me they had done epic in spades, fighting with broken bridges, missing sections of road and swollen rivers. Apparently much of the damage was due to Cyclone Freddy, but some of it looked to be more dated than that.

Crazy place Mozambique, pretty soon you’ll be able to enjoy 4G in the middle of nowhere, but you certainly won’t be able to get there by car.

But all is well that ends well. We have enjoyed our best ever and badly needed rest day at the beautiful Nkwichi Lodge. Some of us practiced paddled on kayaks. I was appalled by my performance. I was even more appalled that I couldn’t pull the boat out of the water after aborting. I was hugely relieved when I found out afterwards that my boat had sprung a leak and was full of water.

End of day chat

Lake Malawi is beautiful with crystal clear waters below and fish eagles above, but I wish there were also hippos and crocodiles. Without hippos and crocodiles, it doesn’t seem like proper Africa.

Apologies for a blog longer than our Tour. We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Back home I am told that our Medical Fund has been overwhelmed with appeals, including from a 65-year old lady with a broken leg, a broken ankle and no income. Life for our pensioners has got twice as tough with the Zollar halving in value in the last 2 weeks.

Until my next blog as we continue our very slow race to Zanzibar – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

June 9 and 10, 2023 – Day 14 and Day 15 of the Old Legs Zanzibar Tour – from Cobue to the middle of nowhere on our way to the Tanzanian border by boat, truck and by bike.

Day 14 /15 boat and by truck.
Distance – 156 kilometers
Time – 13 hours 10 minutes
Max temp – even hotter than on my bike.
Day 15 bike stats
Distance – 85 kilometers
Total ascent – 463 meters.
Time – 6 hours 10 minutes
Av heart rate – 124 bpm
Max heart rate – 186 bpm.

I’ve enjoyed sleepless nights for months, worrying and stressing about the Niassa Province. For good reason as it turns out.

We spent 13 hours in the back of Christopher chewing on dust, doing dead kilometers, retracing our steps and undoing 2 days of solid riding from Lichinga to Cobue, all thanks to Cyclone Freddy and swollen rivers that remain stubbornly swollen and impassable , even in June. Alas. But at least it was epic. We’ve enjoyed blowouts and getting stuck in deep sand, we’ve driven on broken roads, and through rivers and across log bridges that would have Bear Grylls white-knuckled, wanting his Mommy.

Track Road

Our Isuzus were tough enough, and then some, and did us more than proud. Shame, Piet de Klerk and Seb Baumhoff at Autoworld will need to watch the footage through their fingers.

The Niassa Province is vast, and remote, sort of like back-of- beyond Gokwe but on steroids. And the people are so poor. In 2 days, I’ve seen virtually zero economic activity, bar a couple of tiny, tatty stores, and bloody charcoal sellers.
Having said that, we rode through a massive flea market today, at least a kilometer long, selling Made In China crap, and secondhand blue jeans. It was absolutely teeming with people, a riot of noise and color. It made Time Square look quiet by comparison.

Alas. The chains of poverty aren’t set to be broken anytime soon.

In 2 days, I’ve seen just 2 schools, 1 of them a pop-up school operated by UNICEF, at what looked to be a refugee camp, we think for people either displaced by Freddy, or running away from the horrors of Isis and Al Shabab on the coast.

But thankfully there is also some good stuff to report on out of Niassa. We met a safari operator from the Manda Wilderness, a massive hunting concession which runs alongside the Lake, and he told us 4 years of vigorous anti-poaching was starting to pay dividends, and they were building back towards sustainable populations of lion, leopard, sable, and eland. Back towards is regarded as progress in Africa.

Lucky-fish Clem saw a genet cat, but I’ve seen zero game, apart from some baboons, some monkeys and a squirrel. The squirrel was a magnificent specimen. I also had good sightings of some magnificently hairy caterpillars crossing the road, and a bad sighting of a baby leopard tortoise who almost crossed the road but didn’t. Alas.

But fingers crossed, things are set to improve going forward. I saw my first beware of elephants road sign, a magnificent tusker, complete with baby.

The road less travelled

Last night we camped in a clearing beneath a 4 G cellphone tower. I was careful to sleep with our tent zipped up to ward off radiation. Tonight we are in a beautiful safari camp nestled in some of the most beautiful bush I’ve ever seen. Oh, how our accommodations have varied on this Tour.

I was very excited to see the Big Dipper last night, our first sighting of a Northern Hemisphere constellation. I was less excited to see l an elderly boiled egg lurking at the bottom of my Camelbak. I’m not sure how long the egg has lurked, but it stank, so I released it back into wild, even though I was hungry.

My kit bag system has denigrated into the chaos associated with L.I.F.O. a.k.a. Last In, First Out, reducing my wardrobe options to stinky, very stinky and stuff at the very bottom of my kitbag that I haven’t seen since Harare. Apparently doing laundry is an option.

On previous sojourns up through Africa, to Kilimanjaro and to Uganda, people in Mozambique and Malawi were very happy to receive payments for accommodation etc in US Dollars, provided the bank notes weren’t older than 2013. Fast forward to now, and nobody wants payment in USD. They want payment in Kwacha or Metical. Which is a snag if ATM’s are few and far between, and an even bigger snag if your are trying to use a Zimbabwean bank card loaded with US Dollars. Alas. I rather fear those US Dollars are now missing in action. Stupid me for believing government bullshit and lies that they wouldn’t thieve our hard currency yet again.


But moving on to things more positive, my legs came to the party for the first time on Tour. I so enjoyed my ride this morning, until my bike broke. Some guard thing on my derailleur sheared off and I was reduced to 1 gear only, which was less fun. I have benched my bike for now and will ride the remaining spare bike, a green Scott.

It is my first time riding a green bike. It is more twitchy than my blue Trek, and less like an armchair. My bum hates it already. And apparently swapping saddles is not an option thanks to some Scott chicanery. I fear my bottom will have reduced the word Scott to four-letters before long.

Until my next blog from Tanzania, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons

If you are already a ZANE donor, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you are not a donor but would like to be, please follow the link below and know that every donation, however big or small, goes directly to where it is most needed. If you would like to help but can’t donate, please join the ZANE family and ‘like’ or ‘share’ our posts or write us a Google review – every positive step helps spread the word about the life changing work ZANE does.

Thank you – Nicky Passaportis ZANE Australia

Please donate to support pensioners struggling to survive in Zimbabwe

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

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