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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)

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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