Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zebras and a hippo attack on the mighty Zambezi!
When we set out to cycle to Cape Town, we could never imagine that we’d spend an afternoon watching a village cricket tournament in the middle of Zambia. But that’s precisely what happened. When we stayed at Shiwa, we met a lovely man called Chris who worked for Greenbelt, a fertiliser manufacturer, and stayed at the main house on a sales trip. As he departed, he handed us his card and invited us to stay with him because we were due to pass straight past his house on the Great North Road towards Lusaka. We discovered there was a cricket tournament in Mkushi, around 40km from where Chris and his wife Debbie at the time we were there. James is a keen cricketer, and therefore, when he heard about the tournament, he could not quite believe what we were hearing. We were left with no choice but to politely invite ourselves to extend our stay with Chris and Debbie to two nights so that we could join them at the cricket.
The tournament was an annual social occasion for the farming community in Zambia. Many had travelled over 800km to get there for the weekend. With stalls selling Boerewors sausages, steak sandwiches and the best carrot cake we have ever tasted.
The cricket tournament was sponsored by various farming companies. But, one particular promotional event caused great controversy. A crop sprayer passed over the ground three times during the semi-final, spraying scented water over the players and spectators. But the dousing had unexpected consequences; it soaked the wicket, meaning the ball no longer ‘came on to the bat. This made it difficult for the home team, Mkushi, who was batting and meant they failed to get the runs they required to win the match. In effect, the crop sprayer changed the game meaning the home team was knocked out!
Nevertheless, it was a genuinely awesome and thoroughly unexpected day. Thank you to Chris and Debbie for looking after us and being such amazing support for our journey throughout Zambia. Chris and Debbie then connected us with a few of their farming friends, who we enjoyed staying with as we cycled south through Zambia. The next night it was the turn of Speros and Wendy to host the smelly cyclists at their farm! Another super evening packed full of delicious food and great company – we had decided that Zambia was suiting us rather well!
My mother grew up in Africa, in Rhodesia, where her parents farmed tobacco. I have grown up hearing about farm life in Africa and have often wondered what it would have been like to live on a farm in this part of the world. We’ve experienced the most incredible generosity and hospitality from the farming community pretty much from the moment we arrived in Zambia. The sad thing is that most of the farmers we have met are all Zimbabwean, driven off their farms in Zimbabwe by Mugabe and his war veterans.
From Speros’s farm, it was on to Lusaka, with a quick pit stop at Fringilla Lodge on the city’s outskirts. On our way to Fringilla, James was cycling quite far in front of me, so we agreed to meet each other there, as it was just one straight road to the lodge. My gears broke back in Tanzania, and I was awaiting a new part, so I had limited speed. The harder I rode, the more I was like a hamster in a wheel, going nowhere! I’m not sure whether it’s because I’d managed to convince James to do the bike leg of a triathlon when we get home with our club Clapham Chasers, but he was off and made his own 40km TT to the campsite in record time! I limped in around 15 minutes after him. I think it was payback for all the ironman rides I made him come on then left him behind while doing TT sections for training!
In Lusaka, we visited World Bicycle Relief’s distribution centre. It is here that the bicycles we are fundraising for are assembled and distributed to people across the country. It’s been a privilege cycling across Zambia and seeing so many of the Buffalo Bikes in use. Each time we have seen someone riding a Buffalo Bike, we have stopped them to ask where they got it from, and it’s been fantastic to hear a variety of tales. Buffalo Bikes are incredibly sturdy bikes made specifically for use in rural Africa. There are various ways in which a cycle can end up in the hands of a Zambian. We are fundraising for World Bicycle Relief UK arm of the charity’s “Bicycles for Education and Empowerment Program”. This aims to fund bikes for students (70% of which are female), teachers and education workers in rural Africa, which are given to children to get to school on. We’ve been lucky enough to meet many children who have been given bikes to get to school, and they are all so thankful. We were even stopped by a shopkeeper one day to thank us. He said that 200 kids in his village had been given a bike and that it had genuinely changed their lives. It is just awesome to see that the bikes we are fundraising for are actually being used and having a genuine impact. You can help change a life by supporting World Bicycle Relief.
The bikes can also be bought by people to use as transport to work or carry produce to and from market. Employers will often buy bicycles for their staff (especially on farms) and take micropayments off their salary. Some NGOs also buy the Buffalo Bikes to give to their workforce (e.g. healthcare workers) and people within their project catchments who might benefit from the bikes.
After a restful couple of days in Lusaka with our Warm Showers hosts Matthias and Karine (thank you!!), we took a side trip to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. James’s older brother Francis was due to join us from the UK with two of his four children Ben and Sarah, so we planned a four-day canoe safari on the Zambezi from Chirundu to Mana Pools. Francis was born in Zambia when his parents were working at Lwitikila School, and so, prompted by our journey, he came over to Zambia to take a trip down memory lane.
On arrival in Kariba we spent a few days at Warthogs Bushcamp in stifling heat. However, we could sit in their bar and watch elephants and zebras stroll through the camp.
Hippo Attack on the Zambezi!
Francis, Ben and Sarah arrived, and we set off to Chirundu in a 4X4 to meet our canoes. The trip was 4 days along the mighty Zambezi River to Mana Pools National Park camping each night on sandbanks and islands. I was fortunate to visit this park with my family back in 2001, and I was so excited to return. There is something special about the Zambezi; it is a magnificent river, stunningly beautiful and peaceful despite the vast number of animals living within its waters – namely hippos and crocodiles.
So, after our safety briefing, we were on our way. A safety briefing is essential here as we needed to know what to do should a hippo interact with our canoe and how to get out of the water as quickly and calmly as possible should we capsize to minimise the risk of being attacked by a croc! All was good, though as we asked our guide if he had ever had a canoe attacked by a hippo or a capsize, he told us that in 16 years of guiding, he had never encountered such a problem.
That was until Sarah and Ben Davis took to the mighty Zambezi.
Around 100m from our campsite on the first night, Sarah and Ben canoed over a hippo. Hippos don’t take too kindly to a canoe brushing over their body while they are having a snooze underwater, so it stood up, knocking Sarah and Ben into the water. Luckily they were right next to our guide Norman’s boat, so they grabbed on while he calmly stood up and started to smack the water (and probably the hippo) with his paddle to scare the hippo off into deeper water. While the commotion was going on, though, the hippo managed to take a huge bite into the canoe, leaving it with huge holes where the teeth had punctured the fibreglass. Thankfully Ben and Sarah had fallen out of the capsized boat and were safely moved onto the bank, and everyone escaped unharmed. I can’t imagine what was going through their minds after Norman’s safety briefing, which casually warned us that if we were to fall into the water, we had a 50/50 chance of being attacked by a croc! Despite being clearly shaken by the event, I’m sure Ben and Sarah will be dining out on this story for years to come!
It was a 4 magical days where, after the dramas of the first day, we enjoyed paddling down this beautiful river sharing the water with elephants, kudo, hippos, crocodiles and a plethora of stunning birdlife.
It was 4 magical days where, after the dramas of the first day, we enjoyed paddling down this beautiful river sharing the water with elephants, kudu, hippos, crocodiles and a plethora of stunning birdlife.
As soon as we were back on dry land, we were back on the bikes to take on a 6-day ride to Livingstone, where we are now, and mark the end of the Zambian chapter of our adventure.
To get to Livingstone, we had to climb back up a pretty steep escarpment back into Zambia – a somewhat brutal way to get our bike fitness back again! We’d been warned by a few people that this road was bad and that you will always see broken down lorries, but we were not quite prepared for quite how many we did see. It was terrifying the speed with which these lorries flew down some of the steeper sections of this road. It’s no surprise that so many of them overturn.
But before long, we were back onto the main road to Livingstone. Our first night was spent at the magnificent Munali Coffee Farm. We’d been put in touch with the farm via my brother Jeremy as his colleague at the UCI had contacts there – plus one of their farm managers is a mad keen cyclist and is the president of the Zambian Cycling Federation. We had a lovely evening on the farm and even got a guided tour of the coffee production in what appeared to be a Dutch WW2 army vehicle.
After a night back in our tent, we spent the next two nights on yet more farms where we were so generously looked after by Sharon and Willy and then Hillary and Chris – both tobacco farmers forced to relocate to Zambia from Zimbabwe. We were both slightly blown away when we discovered that Chris has built his own pub in his house with the most impressive collection of miniature spirit bottles and some whiskey that would most definitely have impressed my old colleagues at Glenfiddich. Naturally, James kept the bartender company, which I think he may have regretted as we took on a 145km ride the following day into Livingstone (that’s 10 hours in the saddle when you have such heavy bikes!).
Today we saw the magnificence of Victoria Falls and tomorrow from where we will close our Zambian adventure and welcome the wild roads of Botswana.
We’ve been so lucky to see two sides of Zambia and learn quite a bit about what life is like here – both for the farmer and the local community. Zambia is a poor nation struggling with a shockingly corrupt government. There is an energy crisis here, so the whole country is on a power-sharing system meaning most people are without power for 8 hours a day – imagine trying to run a farm when the electricity disappears half the time… There are challenges for all walks of life. AIDS is a huge issue here and a drain on the nation’s resources, and unless things dramatically change after the elections later this year – it is hard to see things improving in Zambia for quite some time.
However, Zambia is home to some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met, so to everyone who has taken us in and fed us over the past few weeks, thank you so much for opening your homes to us. But also to all the incredibly friendly people we have met along the side of the road. You have made each day a joy to cycle, no matter how hard the going has been. The smiles and cheers of encouragement from all age groups as we have passed through towns and villages had been awesome. And to the lady that won the “can you lift James’s heavy bike competition” beating at least 5 men, you rock!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.