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A Mountain Climbing Scooter

I made it to Malawi and climbed a mountain with the glorified scooter—though not wholly without casualties.

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Typical Malawian road

Typical Malawian road

“You want to ride that thing up the mountain?” The local motor-taxi guys clearly weren’t impressed with my scooter. “I’ll promise, I’ll come back down, if it can’t make it,” I replied. Then I took off, up a mountain.
Initially, this blog should have been about the border crossing between Tanzania and Malawi. It’s my 22nd land crossing in Africa, but the first time I’m driving my own vehicle across, and I expected all kind of hectic shenanigans that would have been fun to write about. But my negative expectations were put completely to shame. Apart for the usual bunch of guys insisting that I needed their sim card/insurance/forex services, everything went smooth, and I had crossed into Malawi in a little over an hour. Country no. 103: check. Boring.

Mountain climbing scooter

Mountain climbing scooter

Luckily, it’s easily for dumb people to find adventures. My first stop in Malawi was a town built around an old Scottish missionary station; Livingstonia. There are two ways to get to the town, which is placed on an escarpment 1,150 metres about Lake Malawi. The long way around on a gravel road that is currently being paved, or the direct route up, 15 km on what is essentially a washed out riverbed, with no less than 20 switchbacks, no railing and a long fall of I went over the side. Of course, the route described as “4x4 only, and not in rainy season” is obviously my choice with a small commuter scooter. What could go possibly wrong?
The first thing I did after leaving the motor-taxi drivers in disbelief was almost falling over in the soft sand that lined the lower part of the track. “Hopefully nobody saw that”, I lied to myself. But to be honest, this was a first for me, and I had no idea if this might be entirely out of my league.

View from the top

View from the top

Regardless, the bike did well. Surprisingly well for a commuter bike that isn’t supposed to leave the big city. Up we went. Slowly and shakenly. Honestly, I was amazed of how many times I saw a big stone lying in the way and thought ‘I better not hit that’ just to steer my bike straight over said rock with a bump — making it even harder to control the bike. Something relatively important when there is a 300-metre drop-off about 60 cm to my left.
But the bike trotted on. With my arms getting sorer and sorer from (trying to) control the bike’s path across the rocks. To my delight, we managed the small scooter and me. In glorious tandem, we rode up the side of a mountain. 1,150 height-metres in just forty minutes. I was absolutely jubilant when I rolled the bike into eco-camp on the top.

Broken shock absorber

Broken shock absorber

Obviously it wasn’t going to be that easy. As I duly checked my bike after the long fight uphill for any unfamiliarities, I noticed that one of the rear shock absorbers had been knocked loose. No surprise after that ride, really. This could mean one of two things. Either, I had snapped a bolt – no biggie. Or I had broken the brand new suspension that I had instilled pretty much as the last thing before I left Dar es Salaam. There was no way to tell. The damage had been done behind the chassis, and I didn’t have the tools (a simple screwdriver) to remove it and check. I hadn’t been able to fix the problem anyway – regardless of what it was.

Hiking views

Hiking views

Instead, I left the bike for a day and went hiking. Once done with that, I had 150 km to the nearest town with a dedicated motorbike mechanic – 40 of those on a dirt road (avoiding the way I came up) – where I just had to rely on the one shock absorber I had left. It turned out that I had snapped clean the bolt-eye connecting the shocker to the chasse. Luckily, the shock absorber mechanism itself wasn’t damaged, and with the help of a talented welder, the scooter will live to see another day on the road.

Posted by askgudmundsen 00:39 Archived in Malawi Tagged mountains hiking travel overland tanzania hike motorbike southern_africa repair problems livingstonia mechanics

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