A Travellerspoint blog

October 2019

The Joy of Overlanding… and Breaking Down

Sweating over a bike for hours on end in a sizzling hot workshop isn’t exactly what people think of as the good of travel-life. Neither do I.

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Refueling

Refueling

I’d decided to push my glorified scooter to its limit. There weren’t any gas stations for a 185 km anyway before rolling into Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city. So despite having plenty of spare fuel, I wanted to figure out how far I could go on one tank of gas. Multiple sites online insisted that running out of fuel once in a while wouldn’t really hurt the engine.
To my surprise, I actually made it to the outskirts of Bulawayo, where the gas stations, of course, did not have any fuel because of the shortage. Instead, I ran out about 600 metres before another station a little closer to the backpackers I had planned to stay. They didn’t have any fuel either. Having now thoroughly run dry (I later figured that my four-litre tank does 183 km when full – which is pretty decent mileage), I took out my spare fuel and poured a couple of litres in the tank. That should get me going again. It didn’t.

As it should look

As it should look

Instead, my bike started to choke, splutter and spew heaps of smelly, white smoke. Not only from the exhaust, but from the engine too. Not good. Not good at all. About the only thing I know about engines is that white smoke is better than black. Normally. So I pressed on given that I was only a couple of kilometres from the guesthouse, where I planned to spend the next three or four days. Plenty of time to find a mechanic. Somehow my little scooter managed to get me all the way there. How? I don’t know. I decided to let it cool down for a few hours before trying to do anything else. Maybe it was merely some reaction to being driven dry. Better give it a rest…
Two hours later, there were no smoke, no splutter and no choking. Unfortunately, there was no other sound other than the electric ignition going chuk-chuk-chuk, without the engine actually starting. The kick-start didn’t work either. Nothing I could fix myself. Luckily, Adam, the helpful owner of the place, knew what allegedly was the best-equipped motorbike workshop between Jo’burg and Nairobi. The bike was swiftly put in the back of Adam’s pickup, so was I, and off we went.

Getting a ride

Getting a ride

We arrived at Bikes & Boats just fifteen minutes before they closed. Worse, this was Thursday afternoon, and the Zimbabwean government had decided to make Friday a public holiday in protest of sanctions imposed by the EU and USA. Shortly told, the EU and USA have imposed sanctions on a few of the previous regime’s leaders for being murders and thieves. We’re talking Mugabe’s henchmen here. Now, the current government blames these sanctions for the country’s dismal economic situation. Having worked for the EU just a few months ago, I know for a fact, that the EU sanctions are against only four persons after Mugabe himself recently died. Regardless, the government is forcing thousands of citizens to take to the streets in protest of sanctions against a few of government’s friends. While at the same time cracking down hard on opposition protests.
As it might be obvious, I have no patience for African politicians (any politicians, really) who are busy stealing the wealth and lives of their own citizens. However, with most local (as well as the EU and USA) knowing well that this holiday is a load of BS, it was difficult not to laugh about it. The workshop being closed down over the weekend; I couldn’t get my bike fixed until Monday. At least this protest holiday screwed over one EU employee…

Stripped bike

Stripped bike

Having suffered a bike-less weekend, Monday morning, I finally went back to the workshop. Me and two mechanics spent all morning taking the bike apart. Finding plenty of dirt where there wasn’t supposed to be dirt, plenty of airlocks where there wasn’t supposed to be airlocks, and a lot of other needed adjustments. Thinking we had solved the problem, we fixed a few other routine things that were due. “Chuk-chuk-chuk.” Still nothing. My initial thought was a very lough F-word, followed by a lot of different words that this blog’s moderators don’t allow me to write.

Bikes mostly

Bikes mostly

That until one of the guys working on the bike accidentally stuck his hand in a puddle under the bike. “Smells, like diesel,” he said, which is strange because it’s not a diesel bike. It turned out that the spare fuel that I had bought on the black market because of the fuel shortage wasn’t petrol. Whether maliciously or by accident, I had been given two litres of diesel. Which I had then, unknowingly, poured into an empty fuel tank — no surprise the engine didn’t like driving on that stuff. We emptied the tank, re-did all the cleaning excises from that morning and refuelled the bike with petrol. ”Chuk-chuk-vroom!” It started first try.

Back on the road

Back on the road

It probably had still needed the cleaning, but the chances are that had I been handed the right fuel, I would have had no problems running the engine dry. Nevertheless, I drove out of Bikes & Boats on my bike, which has probably never been riding more smoothly, but 150 dollars poorer — almost haft of my estimated fuel cost for this entire trip. But so are the risks when forced to deal with the black market. At least now, I can distinguish the smell between petrol and diesel…

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Posted by askgudmundsen 12:42 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged travel overland zimbabwe motorbike broken southern_africa fuel repair break_down mechanic Comments (0)

The Ancient Civilisation of Great Zimbabwe

Too many associate Sub-Saharan African civilisations with primitive mud huts with straw roofs. That’s a misconception.

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The the Mountain Castle

The the Mountain Castle

Walking up the cliffside in 35 degrees’ heat, it wasn’t difficult for me to understand why the medieval kings of Great Zimbabwe only walked down into their capital city once a month to address their thousands of subjects. It was gruelling walking up to the castle, built on top of a giant monolith. It’s much easier to have the people come up to you than having to walk back up here all the time. After all, it’s supposed to be good to be king.

The Watchtower

The Watchtower

Everybody knows about the Pyramids and temples of Egypt. The biggest stone structures in Africa (and possibly in the world). What’s less known is that ancient and medieval stone cities were built all over the continent of Africa before European colonialists’ arrival. The biggest of these gave its name to the modern country of Zimbabwe.
I’m not trying to write an academic thesis here. But for me, having travelled through much of the African continent, the lack of knowledge and the idea as Africa as a civilisational backwater is disconcerting, to say the least. The idea of Africa as primitive stems from Western colonialists’ ignorance and lies, not from historical facts. Visiting the ruins of Great Zimbabwe thoroughly shatters such a perception, and standing below the eleven-metre-tall walls here is as impressive as visiting the medieval castles of Europe.

Loropéni Ruins, Burkina

Loropéni Ruins, Burkina

Remnants of a walled city, at least 2,500 years old, has been found in Chad, and even older ones in Ghana. Medieval civilisations build stone cities in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Greek-like city-states flourished as well in both Western and Southern Africa at various points in time. Mud-buildings have been preferred for some civilisations, e.g. in Mali, and in rural areas because of its availability, costs and cooling effect. Not because the peoples inhabiting them didn’t know how to make stone buildings.

The Great Enclosure

The Great Enclosure

The biggest of these stone cities, in fact, the biggest stone structures in Africa outside Egypt, is Great Zimbabwe. Built a thousand years ago in the 11th century, it was the capital for the Shona people for four hundred years, housing almost 20,000 inhabitants. Despite the city falling into decline long before the first Europeans hearing about it, the white government of Rhodesia manipulated everything from museum displays to school books in the ’60s and ’70s in an attempt to hide the fact that a black civilisation had built Great Zimbabwe. No surprise that this name was chosen for the country as the black majority gained political power.

Khami Ruins

Khami Ruins

The word ‘Zimbabwe’ itself comes from the Shona dialect of the Bantu language meaning big ‘Zi’, house ‘mbab’ [of] stone ‘we’ – Zi-mbab-we. The denominator ‘Great’ comes from the fact that Great Zimbabwe is the largest of more than 200 hundred total Zimbabwes. That is, more than 200 cities or “Big Houses of Stone” were built throughout Southern Africa in South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, though the most significant remnants are to be found in Zimbabwe. Not only Great Zimbabwe but also sites such as the Khami Ruins, which will be on my itinerary for the coming days.

Posted by askgudmundsen 08:51 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged overland africa zambia medieval ancient zimbabwe motorcycle south_africa civilization southern_africa mozambique civilisation great_zimbabwe khami Comments (0)

A World of Perfect Vistas

Another corner of the African continent that no-one knew offered world-class hiking, fantastic views and a new exiting landscape at every bend of the road.

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Rough Road

Rough Road

By far the worst part of driving a motorbike through a national park is all the glorious sights, vistas and animals that you miss out on. Navigating the damn thing across the gravel roads, around potholes and sharp rocks, take away most of your concentration. There’s almost none left to enjoy the views. This is a particularly annoying problem in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands, where everything looks fantastic no matter where I look. It’s also very dusty, muscles get sore, and under the African sun, I get absolutely cooked in the leather jacket. But all this I knew setting off, and your sympathies should be limited to missing out on the views, which is the real tragedy.

Hiking Bvumba

Hiking Bvumba

Three national parks, Nyanga, Bvumba and Chimanimani, compete for travellers’ attention in Eastern Zim. I ended up exploring the two former, mostly due to lack of time. In both, I quickly forgot I was in Southern Africa. Instead, the landscape reminded me of Scottish Lowlands with its rock formations and rolling hills; or Central Germany with its massive pine forests. The temperatures weren’t far off either, and especially the evenings and early mornings were cold. As a Dane, I might not be the one to make those comparisons, but fellow travellers from both places confirmed my suspicion.

Stories by the Fire

Stories by the Fire

The cold wasn’t a massive problem in Bvumba, where I headed up to an old lodge with two Scottish travellers I’d met the day before. The evenings were spent in front of the burning fireplace, sharing beers and travel stories. Plenty of both, you’d imagine. In Nyanga, however, I camped. Most people who know me will probably be surprised by that fact. I’m not exactly the camping prototype. And as expected, I didn’t particularly enjoy the cold mornings, the ants or the fact that I had to cook over the open fire. Somehow, though, I managed just fine. Somewhere back home, a lot of people will be shocked that I cooked over the open fire for three days straight – let alone managing to get the fire burning in the first place.

Exciting Walk

Exciting Walk

Camping, however, was out in Nyanga was definitely worth it. The park is home, not only to some lovely winding roads that make driving the bike a joy (though it’s still very slow going uphill), but also to Zimbabwe’s tallest mountain, Mount Nyangani, and tallest waterfall, Mtarazi Falls. The falls are allegedly 762 metres tall over a couple of drops. The wibbly-wobbly suspension bridge hanging 380 metres above where the falls’ largest drop crashes onto the rocks was just the adrenaline kick I needed. The 90 metres’ bridge felt well too short, but I could imagine many other people would rather stay as far from the edge as possible.

On the top of Zimbabwe

On the top of Zimbabwe

In general, the highland is full of fantastic views and vistas, that can’t be justified through mere photos. Hence my frustration at the beginning of the blog entry. Few of the views were better than from the top of Mount Nyangani. 360 degrees of the valleys and hilltops. At 2,592m it’s not the tallest mountain in the world, but it still took a good 1,5 hours to scramble to the top (and a couple of hours on terrible dirt roads getting there and back). Usually, it would be dead quite. However, I happened to climb the mountain on a Saturday. So I had to share the quite summit with weekend-visitors from Harare and 100+ churchgoers who were very busy shouting ‘hallelujah’ and ‘aaaaamen’ from the top of their lungs (pun intended). You can imagine my joy of sharing this otherwise moment of zen with these guys…
Regardless. Should you find yourself in the vicinity of Eastern Zim, I can’t recommend these places enough. But maybe go on a weekday ;)

Posted by askgudmundsen 08:56 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged hiking travel mountain overland waterfall hike motorbike southern_africa zimbabe nyanga bvumba Comments (0)

Money in Zimbabwe

The country of hyper-inflation is embracing new technologies as a solution. And is running out of cash fast…

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50 US$ worth

50 US$ worth

No-one is allowed to withdraw more than 100 Zimbabwean Dollar Bonds per day – and that’s combined from foreign currency exchange and the ATMs. That’s the equivalent of 6 US$. You read that right: SIX US Dollars per day. And while I am very good at roughing it on a small budget, 6 dollars a day might be pushing it. The reason for this otherwise strange policy is simple. There is a shortage of cash in Zimbabwe.

Well-stocked

Well-stocked

Most people know at least one thing about Zimbabwe: the economy is going down the drain. To me, at least, stories about the country’s dire economic situation go back just about as far as I can remember. So let’s take the good news first. Supermarket shelves are well-stocked, though sometimes shortages to appear. The week I arrived in Zimbabwe, bread was in short supply. Regardless, life throttles along fairly normally from day to day, and there are no longer any of those 10 trillion dollar bills around.
The big hotels, fancy restaurants and some supermarkets will take international credit and debit cards, which is useful if these are the establishments that you frequent. That said, for the unknowing budget traveller entering the country, things are a little more difficult money-wise. Let’s take the most obvious thing first. How to get hold of those sweet Zimbabwean Dollar Bonds, so it’ll be possible for us non-millionaires to survive our stay in Zim.
The days of hyper-inflation are gone, and the government will no-longer print money indefinitely. As a result, there are not enough bills and coins to go around. To make matters worse, the highest denomination is the 5 Dollar Bond bill – worth roughly 33 US cents. That made sense, when Zimbabwe introduced the Dollar Bonds at the same value as the US Dollar, but the currency has slipped and not only is there a shortage of cash, that cash in now worth less than it used to when it got released, making the lack even worse.

Guesthouse view

Guesthouse view

So what do travellers do? The obvious solution would be to bring in enough US Dollars to cover one’s stay. That’s what I have done. However, the government has made it illegal to use US Dollars directly, and given the shortage of cash, it’s both difficult and expensive to exchange to US Dollars to Zim’s Dollar Bonds. No forex bureaux can operate in an environment like this and, as mentioned, banks will only give you six US Dollars’ worth per day. In tourist areas, most guesthouses will accept US Dollars regardless, and the black market is readily available, though their rates are far worse than the official rates. At the time of writing, official rates were 15 Dollar Bonds to 1 US Dollar, while the black market rate was 11. Not a fantastic deal by any stretch of the imagination.

Mobile money

Mobile money

A far better option is EcoCash, a mobile money service. Ques are long, though, but it’s relatively easy to get a local sim-card and set up an account. That way I can pay at the market, bus station and gas station with my phone. The best part is that (the first week I’ve been here) the rate has been 17 Dollar Bonds to the US Dollar, which makes for the best deal available. However, the rates change fast. At the border post, this week’s official rate was posted. As that suggests, the rate change weekly – sometimes dramatically. So I’m being careful about changing large amounts of money at once, whether on the black market or by phone. If the rate drops suddenly I could be stuck with unspent (eco)cash, that could quickly become very worthless.
It all results in extra hassle. Whether it’s queuing for an hour to get a loaf of bread or to recharge your mobile money account, or the fact that you are operating on the different exchange rates depending on whether you’re paying by cash, credit card or mobile money. For those of us who think hassle adds to the adventure, this isn’t too bad. But ask me again once I’ve been here a month – I might have changed my mind by then.

Posted by askgudmundsen 11:07 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged travel overland zimbabwe motorbike money southern_africa dollars hassle Comments (1)

Transiting Mozambique

I spend less than four days transiting Mozambique, so instead of pretending that I’ve got any lasting impression of the country, here are a few snapshots.

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Portuguese Africa

Portuguese Africa

I’ve always liked the former Portuguese colonies in Africa. Capo Verde and Guinea-Bissau in particular. They have a kind “Latino Africa” air to them—a mix between the Northern shores of the Iberian Peninsula and Sub-Saharan Africa. This possibly because most of them didn’t get their independence from Portugal until the ’70s, often in bloody wars of independence. Mozambique is no exception to this.
Initially, my plan had been to spent quite a while in MZ, but the country is simply too big. The distances are too vast on a glorified scooter on which I can maximum do 350-380 km/day. The big draw is the Ilha de Mozambique and the coast, but that would have meant, at least, a 2,000 km detour. Instead, I’m giving the region west of Malawi a short sniff, and put aside the rest of the country for another time.

Visa done all wrong

Visa done all wrong

The immigration officers at the border post clearly disagreed with this approach. I had asked (and paid) for an eight-day transit visa, as these are half the price of the standard one-month tourist visas. Somehow, I drove into Mozambique with a 30-day double-entry visa, regardless, just in case I changed my mind and wanted to go back.
All three officers on duty were very excited and a little overwhelmed when I rocked up at the border and asked for a visa. It’s obviously not every day that happens. All three of them insisted that they were to do the visa formalities and kept having plenty of comments and good advice to the one who ended up actually typing my details into their system. This brought everything to a halt at the border post, and ques of locals trying to get through immigration soon materialised, who complaining loudly of the lack of service. Eventually, the junior officer was told to deal with the ques, which, to be fair, he did admirably fast.

Crowded Malawi

Crowded Malawi

Immediately after entering Mozambique, it became physically visible how vast the country is. The contrast to Malawi, one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, was enormous. In Malawi, every road I drove down was full of people walking or cycling between the villages, which all lay within relatively small distances of each other. In Mozambique, the roads are deserted, and villages are wide and far between, making racing down the streets a much more enjoyable experience as I don’t have to watch out for my fellow and softer road users continually.
Mozambique also saw my first run-in with other motorcyclists. A UK-couple living in Malawi overtook me on their 1200cc BMW (compare that to my 110cc). I had a chance to catch up as they had a road-side break a couple of kilometres further ahead. We were heading to the same town and met up in the evening for a couple of beers. Of course, they asked on details about my bike of which I knew nothing. Interestingly enough, though, the longest trip they have ever done on their comfortable beast of a machine was a short 3,000 km journey down into Mozambique and back. That’s only a couple of hundred kilometres more than I have done on this trip so far. Compliments such as me “being their hero” for attempting to get to Cape Town on a glorified scooter was mixed with comments questioning my sanity. All in all, what could be expected.

Locals digging for water

Locals digging for water

My last overall impression of Mozambique was the draught. It might not have turned into a humanitarian catastrophe just yet. Still, with an unusually warm dry season and months till the rains are expected, things looked bleak from a layman’s perspective. Most riverbeds very complete dried out, including some of the mayor feeder-rivers to the Zambezi. On multiple occasions, I passed villages where the locals had to dig down into the dry river beds to create small puddles of water for bathing and washing their clothes and dishes.
This is in itself not life-threatening, but if there will not remain enough water for the locals’ livestock, this could crash the local economies complete, with no small share of human misery following in its wake.

Posted by askgudmundsen 02:09 Archived in Mozambique Tagged travel overland malawi border_crossing border motorbike southern_africa transit mozambique draught Comments (1)

Magnificent Lake Malawi

The world’s fourth-largest lake is an excellent source for fantastic panoramas, gorgeous sunsets, lovely drinking holes (both for me and the animals), and my last beach-time before I reach South Africa’s north-eastern coastline.

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Diving Lake Malawi

Diving Lake Malawi

As I roll backwards over the side of the boat, I let gravity pull me and all my extra kilos of equipment into the dark blue depths. I’ve so perplexed that I forget to give the OK sign to the dive boat when I’m pushed to the surface. Typically, the “James Bond entry roll” plunges me into salty ocean waters, but Lake Malawi’s water is (obviously) freshwater. It’s a wonderfully fresh experience – as far as I remember my last freshwater dive was in 2013.

Typical hiking view

Typical hiking view

Diving in Lake Malawi is like jumping in an enormous aquarium tank. The water is fantastically bright, and I’m surrounded by thousands of small colourful cichlids endemic to the lake. The aquarium comparison is in no way an overestimation, as 50 to 80 percent for all aquarium fish are cichlids. Just visit your local pet shop, and then imagine the aquarium being 580 km long and 75 km wide.
And it’s not only underwater Lake Malawi has charm. Soft, sandy beaches cover its shoreline in white and yellow colours, and hikes and drives on the mountains surrounding the lake offer stunning scenery of the green landscape around the deep blue lake. I know that this blog entry has begun to sound like a commercial by Visit Malawi (I’m not even sure such an outfit exists), but I’m genuinely excited about what Malawi and its lake have to offer. There has been a decent amount of visitors, but nowhere near what the country deserves. People are lovely and helpful, it’s cheap, and the only reason not to go is that too many people have no idea about what (and where) Malawi is—and maybe that it can be a little tricky to find international flights.

Lake Malawi sunset

Lake Malawi sunset

Malawi is one of those hidden gems that is rare to fall over in this globalised world of mass tourism, guidebooks and the internet. But somehow, even with my meticulous pre-trip research, I failed to realise how awesome the country was until I was actually here. It’s not just the quality of the few things you can do around the lake. Hell, here’s eco-lodges tucked away on mountainsides, excellent hiking opportunities all over the country and even a couple of decent game parks for the safari-people.

On the road again

On the road again

I cannot completely rule out that the excitement of being back on the road again for a long trip, influences my choice here, but from talking to other travellers, everybody seems to agree. Malawi is one of those few places (like Colombia, Iran or Cape Town) that everybody who has ever visited unanimously agrees are fantastic destinations to visit.
Regardless, there are new places to see and new people to meet; thus, my twelve-day jaunt, 1,000 km through Malawi must come to an end, and I must move on. Not that I’m complaining, I love travelling, in the sense that I enjoy moving from A to B almost more than the actually hanging about in place A and B. So next up will be a short few days’ transit through Mozambique to Zimbabwe – a land best known for its terrible economy and even worse ex-dictator. I’m sure I will have a blast!

Posted by askgudmundsen 11:35 Archived in Malawi Tagged beaches hiking travel overland lake africa safari malawi backpacking tourism motorbike southern_africa Comments (2)

Views Through the Visor

Flying through the African landscape, with its hills, plantations and villages, is a great but somewhat detached form of travel. Especially compared to my old backpacking days.

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Backpacks and wheels

Backpacks and wheels

I’m basically a backpacker with my own wheels. I have no spare parts, no camping gear, no big plans for my bike once the trip is over. I am, in other words, a terrible overlander (the people who drive their motorbike, jeep or truck across continents). They will happily spend days at a time driving, camp out in small secret coves and live directly out of their vehicle, which they will undoubtedly repair themselves when they have a problem. They have often also built or modified their machine themselves.
Instead, I travel as light as possible, rough it in the hostels and sometimes cockroach-filled local and hook up with fellow travellers for all the silly side trips that people travelling without their own wheels tend to go on. And I know absolutely nothing about motorbikes, relying entirely on mechanics when an issue arises on my bike. In that sense, I’m kind of trapped between two different styles of travel. But as long as I don’t get dragged into conversations about the specs of my bike with real overlanders, I should be fine.

Cows crossing

Cows crossing

However, there are a few differences between the two ways of getting around. Having my own wheels do require a lot of extra planning. Which roads are sealed, how far is there between gas stations, and where to I sleep if I can’t reach my next destination in a day’s drive. I can’t just rock up at the bus station, tell them where I would like to go and then expect a driver to drive through the night to get me to my destination if necessary.
Don’t get me wrong; I like the extra planning. People who have travelled with me will know how happy I am for travel planning. But I do miss out by doing the driving myself. The proper overlanders I have met (on every continent I have ever travelled) seem to care more about their vehicle than the country they are in—to the degree that the continent they are driving through doesn’t matter much. Cairo to Cape Town, across Asia, or America north to south. Any of the above would be fine as long as they can drive their beloved machine.

Public Transport

Public Transport

It is, however, much more enjoyable to observe the African landscape and its peoples through the window of a bus or shared taxi. It’s tough to do when the bulk of my attention must be surrendered to watching out for potholes, crossing animals and minibuses going down the wrong lane. But there is no greater loss by driving myself then the lack of contact with the locals. Taking public modes of transportation – all insanely overcrowded – is unavoidably a direct way to immerse oneself into the local culture. Sharing peoples’ uncomfortable day-to-days way of getting from A to B leads to conversations, home-stays or, as a minimum, a change for observing people, their behaviour and culture from up close and for hours at a time. On the bike, the closest interaction I have with people around me is waving at the kids as I fly by or by having a quick chat with the men and women crewing the gas stations.
The bike does make travelling both more accessible and cheaper. No more waiting around for hours for the minibuses and taxies to fill up; no more expensive private hire of taxis or motorbike to take me to the weird, far-flung attractions and destinations, I inevitable insist of visiting; and no more dragging my luggage around with me. And of course, the exciting challenge to see if I can actually manage to drive a glorified scooter all the way to Cape Town. Maybe I do have an overlander hidden somewhere within me.

Posted by askgudmundsen 01:18 Archived in Malawi Tagged travel overland africa malawi backpacking motorbike southern_africa differences Comments (2)

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 Comments (0)

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