We are on Stage 68 tomorrow, and it is all becoming a blur to me. Over the last 5 riding days, here our riding distances have been: 152km, 180km,158km,128km, and 104km…taking us from Lilongwe, Malawi to Lusaka, Zambia, from which I write. The next three days which are 158km, 183km and158km in length, will take us to Victoria Falls, and a two day rest period. Phew. The ride to Lusaka was on the Great Eastern Road, which cuts through a very mountainous section of Zambia. For most of us, the elevation changes were completely unexpected and we limped in to camp several times. However, the mind does funny things and at the end of the five day period, the consumption of a few beers, milkshakes, ice-creams and muffins, all of which were available in Lusaka, worked like magical erasers…allowing us to forget all the aches, pains and exhaustion associated with our arduous climbing days.
Over the last few weeks it seems like we are crossing a border after border, and it is hard to believe that we are doing all of this on bicycles. Passports get stamped, visas issued and money changed…from dollars to shillings to kwacha, and the mind has to keep up with exchange rates that range from 180 shillings to the dollar to 5300 kwacha to the dollar…all in the space of a week or two. Many of us have lost money on the border crossings as we can’t count in multiples of hundreds of thousands on low sugar levels that are the result of riding 100 plus kilometres to border. However, no words can describe the exhileration of crossing a boarder in sweaty lycra and a bicycle helmet. Calories spent but no fossil fuels used. It gives one a sense of accomplishment.
A few memories of Malawi: riding past a procession of about 100 people waving palms and singing on Palm Sunday…brought tears to my eyes to see so many people celebrating with joy their faith; children waving and smiling as we rode by; a fellow rider using crazy glue to glue his broken tooth back in to place (not joking); rice paddies being ploughed with oxen; a rest day on Lake Malawi…beach front, beautiful sunsets, tropical paradise; humidity galore…resulting in major leg cramps from salt lost through sweat; Swiss/South African Walter, my riding buddy, leaving us in Lilongwe…resulting in only Ton and myself being left of the original group of four; gasoline shortages and sugar shortages; exchanging currency on the street rather than in the banks as the Malawi kwacha is quickly being devalued; gorging on the most amazing beef samosas at the Kiboko Lodge Hotel in Lilongwe.
Truly, the rides are melting in to one another and I count the days from rest day to rest day. As we get closer to Cape Town, it becomes too easy to taking the beauty of Africa for granted and that is a shame. It will take years to process this trip.
BTW, I won my second section of the trip…I now have the “Masai Steppe” winner plate (riding from Nairobi to Mbeya) and the “Malawi Gin” winner plate (riding from Mbeya to Lilongwe). It is all more than I could ever have dreamed of. And as I write this, my mother is in hospital, suffering with a major lung infection and I wonder if I will continue this trip and what it all means in the end.