For the first time during my trip I did not need to show a passport as I crossed from Malawi over to Zambia. It was a backcountry border crossing, but I was prepared for it and got my exit stamp from Malawi 7 days prior in Mzuzu. No big deal and no one really cared. The road down to Chama was a perfect new tar built by a Chinese constructor. Chama is a bigger town than I thought it would be, I was able to get my passport stamped and payed the visa fee in local currency and not in USD (another first). Chama had exactly one ATM and luckily it worked, moreover I was able to stock up on all my food again since there were many stores all around town and even a well equipped food market.
I took a day off to do all the things that had to be done, and as it rained all day long I was quite happy not to be on the bike. As I was leaving early in the morning I asked some people about the correct direction towards the main road (120km towards the east). Some shook their head, some said it is not possible now to go there because of the rain. Whatever I thought and I went down to the river crossing. There I had my first surprise. Because of all the rain the river increased its water level and people needed assistance to pass. Wherever there is a business opportunity like this in Africa, you will find people who want to take advantage of it. Moments like this I will never forget, I just cycled around a corner, suddenly this big river appears and everyone is just starring at me like: what the hell is this white guy on a bicycle doing here?! Some young males quickly approached me and asked if they should help carrying my stuff over. We agreed on a price, I believe it was around 15 cents per guy, and suddenly it all went quick and before I was in the water, my stuff was already half way through on the other side. There was only one point where the water was as high as my chest, afterwards it was around my waste.
As in almost any river in that area, there are crocs. Some people might think now why did I cross this river if there are crocodiles around? The current was strong and crocodiles don’t like that, so one is actually pretty safe in a strong current, chances are low that a crocodile will attack. As I got to the other side I was quickly surrounded by at least 40 people, asking me all kind of questions: Where are you from, where do you go, for what purpose, are you paid to do this and so on. Usually the questions are always quite the same so I have my basic answers ready to go. From there on I had 40km of perfect tar road, I really don’t know why exactly this stretch, because afterwards the road became one of the worst I have ever seen. As I crossed another river, this time with a bridge, I filled up my water at a locals place, who’s job is to watch over the Chinese construction facilities. As I wanted to leave I realized I had a puncture. No clue where this one came from, but as I was used to fixing punctures already it was a quick job (Still takes me 20-30min). Then my adventure began, the road was narrow, muddy, many small creeks to cross, water everywhere and not surprising if the area becomes more wild, elephant dung all over.
If the dung still smells you know it is fresh, you know they are out there, what a weird feeling. First 10km went ok, I had to check the map a couple of times to not get lost out in the nowhere, but from time to time I met somebody again to ask. After 10 km the dirt path became worse and worse, I passed smaller cars and trucks that have been stuck in the mud for days. Pushing my bicycle through, it took me around 3 hours to do 10km. What a record!
Then, something unexpected happened. My belt (instead of a chain I have a belt), jumped out of place. The first time this happened I figured out a way to put it back into place. It took me quite a while to get all the mud off to put it back into place. To do that I always need to take off all the bags, turn the bike up side down and start working on it. I guess the belt dislocated because of all the pressure on it. The high pressure is caused by the mud clogging everything up. I checked frequently on the belt tension, so it wasn’t possible that it was too loose. Down the “road” the conditions became even worse and not only my bike was stuck in the mud, I myself was too. There were huge puddles all over the road around every 10 meters. It was like a 50/50 game I played. Either I take the left or right side of the puddle, hoping that I manage to get the less deep one. Sometimes I didn’t get lucky and my bike and all my gear took a big swim. If I happened to take the wrong side, the water got as deep as half a meter. Not only was it hard to get out again, my gear also heavily suffered. I lost one front bag which I had to attach to my bike with strings again. Fighting my way further on it happened again, my whole setup got filled with so much mud that my belt jumped out of place for a second time. This time it was impossible to put it correctly back in again. I tried and tried and tried, it did not work. Suddenly the truck which I passed an hour ago, that was stuck for 2 days already tried to overtake me. The driver stopped and asked me if I want a lift out of the mess. I shortly hesitated, but then realized that the suffering of my gear should stop. I want to finish my trip without having big time troubles with my material. So I jumped on and did 60km to the next town on the truck. Being in such a rural area it is quite interesting to talk to the locals. As it turned out the people on the truck were all cloth-merchants heading to the border of Tanzania to buy new clothes to sell in their region. It took around 3 hours of really bumpy ride to reach Matumbo.
As the night came there was exactly one guest house in Matumbo, I just asked around before and people told me to head down the road. Getting there two young boys came out of no where asking me if they could clean my bike. Smart business guys, for sure I sad yes, the way my bicycle looked I almost felt bad for them, but I mean, they asked me! The next day started off well, and I had a good ride until noon, when I wanted to fill up all my bottled at a village. Having done only 40km to that point I really wanted to head on. Suddenly, as quite often on this continent, the weather changed quickly. Dark clouds came up and it was purring down within minutes. I sought some shelter at a bar, waiting for it to be over soon. No chance, some of the strongest rainfall I have experienced on this trip so far.
I started looking for a guest house. Some people mentioned that there are only two. I checked the less fancy one out, why pay more for a bed if all you need is a bed. It turned out that the one I wanted was closed. To get this info I waited, and waited and waited. Even though it is hard to believe, but I was freezing. So I got the 20$ fancy room with a hot shower (didn’t work), and a huge bed. The right place to write my Masters application. As I was quite often in touch with other cyclists, I knew that 4 guys crossed into Zambia from a different border and that they should be around somewhere. Earlier on I asked street vendors if they had seen 4 guys on a bicycle. Those people are there every day, all day long, and they for sure would have seen them. I realized that they didn’t pass me yet, but who knows where they are.
As I checked into the hotel, I told the receptionist out of joke, if anyone else on a bicycle comes, please let me know when they arrive. I did this quite often, never happened anyway, but I just did it. However, as I was laying in bed and it was becoming dark outside, it would have just been like all the other lonely nights, which I also liked. Nevertheless, suddenly I hear a knock on my door. Damn, being under my blankets just feeling really cozy, I had to get up. There was the surprise, 4 cyclists in front of my door talking to the receptionist. Excitement came up, I finally met some one going the same direction! Hardy, a German, Q, Dan and Byron from America.
Meeting other cyclists can add a lot of value to a trip, exchanging stories, tips and tricks. But for me the most valuable was just to see how other cycle tourists travel, what they carry, how they deal with stuff, and what makes them special. After being on the road alone for 250 days, that is valuable change of curtains. Probably the biggest communality we shared was, that we all carried at least 1 kg of peanut butter with us. The peanut butter love was real! So we continued for almost 14 days together down to Livingstone.
Traveling with someone else was a totally new experience for me on the bicycle. Waiting for someone in the morning to have his coffee, breakfast, smoothie, you name it, was not only a challenge for my patience, but also something I had to learn. Step of your routine, just go with the flow and enjoy. Especially, days 2 to 5 were particularly a challenge. I had to adapt, learn a lot and strengthen my patience. It was 100% worth it. We took a huge amount of breaks, went swimming in rivers, tried to do 100 push ups every day, everywhere and just played ridiculous games. Sharing those special memories, becoming friends for life within a short period of time, struggling through the same circumstances was just something that I really appreciated. Especially the three Americans changed my view quite a lot. Q for example carried a tube of sand from every desert and beach he has been too. They all carried guitars. Dan used a wood stove to heat his meals (not very successful most of the time but he tried at least). Byron loved to leave peanut butter in his beard to eat it later on. Those are just a few things that I much loved about this kind of company. Without even being in touch with each other, since we all enjoyed some time off the Internet, we got to meet, Another lesson in life. You can plan as much as you want, but some things are just meant to happened out of nowhere.
Zambia was an amazing country to travel through, even though the landscape was quite boring some time, with my good company and the amazing local community it was def. a great time. Food wise nothing changed, a lot of Nshima (Ugali in TZ, that white maize food you can find all over Africa). In Zambia I reached another mile stone, the Victoria Falls. From the Victoria Falls on the 5 of us split up again. I headed towards Zimbabwe first, and the others towards Botswana directly. I am sorry for this late post, I hope I can finish up the last ones in the next few weeks!
Cost for food: 150
Cost for sleeping: 110
4 thoughts on “The muddy ride through Zambia”
Great adventure and great pictures !
It looks like that supermud is the max for the belt. But what if it had been a derailleur system haha.
Have fun and blog on !
I really enjoyed hearing another bit of your story, even if it’s a few monthes ago you rode through Zambia.
Looking forward to read about Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and S-Africa!
Very good friend you did say hi 👋 to your parents you’re legend
Reading about this trip was fascinating and spectacular.
Although I am a bit disappointed that you seemingly never finished writing about the trip as this is the last post?