“That night I farted more and louder than I have ever done before. And it smelled pretty damn bad too. I farted so much I thought that, if my tent was not pegged down, it would take off like a hot air balloon. Seriously! Luckily there were no other people in the campsite. That would’ve been embarrassing.”
The 4×4 ‘bakkie’ dropped me off at Mpika, a fairly large-ish town on the Great North Highway. It was 12:30am. I was cold, tired and desperately needed a hot shower and comfy bed. So I set off to find a hotel, not caring about how much it would cost. Lady Luck was looking out for me. The first hotel I came across was the Northern Rock Hotel. They saw my sorry state but were amazed by where I had been. Angela, the manager, gave me a nice discount on an extremely huge and comfy bed, not to mention the rain shower, a free full English breakfast and for dinner the next night (I stayed two nights) I was allowed to order anything I wanted, whether it was on the menu or not. I settled for a hearty beef stew with rice.Cycling down the Great North Highway was so easy it was almost boring. There were no steep hills, the wind was generally from the back, the road had a broad shoulder and there was little traffic. I took it easy. I was on my way to Ndola to go visit the Tropical Diseases Research Center, but there was no rush. Some people along the road told me there were two touring cyclists a day ahead of me, so I was trying to catch up to them, but that was about it.
While I changed a punctured tube for one of my spares a young guy came to see if I needed help. I was at the entrance of their little farm. We started talking and he introduced himself as Wezi Kaonga and then invited me to come and meet his mom and drink some munkoyo. It’s a traditional drink made from cooked and then diluted maize meal to which they add shavings from the root of a munkoyo tree along with some sugar. I liked it so much they gave me some to take along with me when I left.I kept the munkoyo in a water bottle where it was exposed to the sun. I guess this was not a good idea. It quickly started fermenting in the heat, but it was still delicious so I kept on drinking it. By mid afternoon I could feel my stomach was not responding well. Things were bubbling in there too. At the same time my bicycle started giving me trouble. Sometimes when I stepped down on the pedal it slipped, i.e. it did not propel me forwards. So when I saw a campsite, which was likely to have western toilets, I decided to just call it a day.
The urgency for the toilet was not as desperate as I thought. It was mostly just rumblings in my stomach. But I used the time to inspect my rear hub and repack the bearings. I could see that many of the bearings were pretty badly worn out. The bicycle is a German-made bicycle from the early ‘90s and all the parts, except for that which I changed, were original. So it did not surprise me that the bearings were starting to wear out. Not a big deal I thought, it’d be easy to replace in Ndola.
That night I farted more and louder than I have ever done before. And it smelled pretty damn bad too. I farted so much I thought that, if my tent was not pegged down, it would take off like a hot air balloon. Seriously! Luckily there were no other people in the campsite. That would’ve been embarrassing.
I did not get very far the next morning. One, my hub started acting up more and more and two, I needed to go for a ‘spuitpoep veldtie’ (runny tummy in the bush) every 20 minutes or so. I had anti-diarrheal tablets with me, so at least I was able to keep the runny tummy somewhat under control. But there was nothing I could do about the broken rear hub. I was hoping to at least make it to Kapiri Mposhi, but with about 30 km to go and having done only 20 km in about 3 hours I realized that I was not going to make it before nightfall.
The solution I came up with was to hitchhike to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. I was confident that I’d be able to get my rear hub fixed or replaced there and, of course, have access to toilets. It did not take me long to get a ride. The first ‘bakkie’ that came past stopped, but they did not have space for me, my bicycle and all my gear. The second ‘bakkie’ that came past also stopped. The family was heading to Lusaka and had plenty of space in the back. So I was in Lusaka just three hours later.I slept in my clothes that night at the backpackers, in case I urgently needed to run to the toilet. That was wise. I had to make a run for it several times during the night. The anti-diarrheal tablets were helping, but not enough.
After visiting the toilet several times in the morning I went to the only proper bicycle shop in Lusaka, C.S. Bicycles, trading since 1976 or something like that. But it was an Indian bicycle shop and they did not have the parts nor the expertise to fix my hub. However, they did refer me to a guy named Shilus in one of the local markets and whom stocked secondhand bicycle parts.
Shilus took my hub apart completely. It was very obvious that it was ‘kapoet’ (finished, worn out, broken). There was no way of fixing it, it needed to be replaced. Fortunately he had a variety of secondhand hubs in pretty good condition and the price, labour included for overhauling the secondhand hub and rebuilding the wheel, was just US$15. He also cleaned my bicycle and oiled all the moving parts. He knew what he was doing, delivered a great service and my bicycle was back in working order in under two hours. Who said service in Africa is bad?Bicycle fixed and runny tummy somewhat under control I set off towards Ndola. It was 317 km to the northeast and I had 4 days to get there. Easy. Yeah right! The trade winds in central Africa comes out of the southeast. Up until now it had mostly been in my favour. But now the road was heading just east enough and the wind was coming more from the east more than the south so that it was against me almost the entire way. I was able to do nearly 100 km that first day. However, the wind combined with the runny tummy limited me to about 60 km per day for the next three days. Water was also surprisingly scarce and I quickly became dehydrated, which added a massive, pounding headache on top of everything else.
Despite everything I made it to Ndola in time for my appointment at the TDRC where I gave a successful seminar on antimicrobial resistance. Afterwards I picked up a package with some new panniers and stickers, sent to me by my sponsors to replace the two broken ones, and then made my way back to Lusaka by hitchhiking. I did not want to cycle the same, stupid, very busy and windy highway twice.
Back in Lusaka, I met up with the two cyclists that were ahead of me on the Great North Road, Jang and Nino. I actually met them briefly on my way from Lusaka to Ndola. They said they would wait for me in Lusaka so we could exchange some stories. I was not feeling very well, but I was really happy to catch up with them. There was also a third cyclist from Germany, Daniel. Four cyclists from three continents converging at the same place, pretty cool 😀Jang has been cycling for nearly two years since he left his home in South Korea. He is a writer by profession, 63 years old, smokes like a chimney and loves beer just as much as he loves adventure. Once he reaches Cape Town he will go home for a year, write about his experiences and then cycle from Alaska in North America to the southern tip of Argentina/Chile in South America.
Nino has also been cycling for nearly two years now since he left his home in Switzerland. He is headed to Johannesburg via Namibia and then Botswana. I tried to convince him to go to Cape Town instead, but he has his mind made up. Sigh. From Johannesburg he will fly to Oman and from there continue cycling along the Iron Curtain until he reaches the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
It turns out Jang and Nino met each other just outside of Mpika. When Nino cycled through town somebody told him about this crazy guy that arrived the night before and whom tried to cross between North and South Luangwa National Parks on a bicycle. So Nino added some pace to try and catch up and instead bumped into Jang, just south of Mpika. If I had not stayed that extra day, all three of us would probably have bumped into each other at some point along that road.
Jang and Nino left Lusaka some days before me. I stayed to visit the University Teaching Hospital, but have since caught up with them again in Livingstone. Jang has now left for Botswana. He wants to be in Cape Town by mid November. Nino and I will cycle together into the Caprivi region of Namibia. From there I will turn south to cycle along the Okavango Delta in Botswana before heading back to Namibia to go visit old friends. Nino will carry on westwards and cycle through Damaraland and the Kaokoveld in Namibia.Depending on where we are when, Nino and I might cycle together from Walvis Bay to Sesriem, or something like that. We’ll see. It does not help to plan too much when on a cycling adventure like this. Plans change all the time. Bicycles break. We get sick. We meet fascinating people along the way. We often end up in unexpected places. Its great to have goals and destinations in mind, but how you get there, that’s where the true adventure lies.
Until next time
p.s. While I am having great fun with these extraordinary adventures I am doing it to raise awareness for #AntibioticAction, the need for better antibiotic stewardship and also to highlight some of the great science that is being done here in Africa. And I could not do without the help of my fabulous sponsors, Global Academy Jobs.