“I wished though Chief Chikwa had warned me about the tsetse flies, which attacked me constantly for the next two days. Freaken hell it hurts when they bite. In hindsight I also wish that I paid attention when I was reading Riaan Manser’s book “Around Africa on my bicycle”. He warns, out of experience, that tsetse flies are attracted to bright colours such as red, blue and orange. The First Ascent shirt that I wear when cycling is blue. And when the tsetse flies wouldn’t stop biting me on my back I put on my action-adventure Superman t-shirt, thinking the double layer would help. But that shirt is also blue and it did not prevent the flies from biting me at all. They bloody-hell bit me through both shirts. And it hurt!!! Bloody-hell!!!”
After eventually getting my passport stamped in Chama I headed in a southwesterly direction. This northeastern part of Zambia was one of the most beautiful places I have cycled through since I started more than two months before in Nairobi. It was a gravel road with some difficult sandy bits all along. But I made use of tracks created by the locals next to the road, sometimes for kilometers on end. The scattered villages linked by these tracks were made up of beautifully decorated, traditional homesteads and was surrounded by small cotton fields.
In one village, Chikwa village, I actually got to meet Chief Chikwa. Normally when I ask for a place to make my camp in a village I am taken to the group village headman which was assigned by the Chief to oversee the village. Meeting Chief Chikwa was different. It was like meeting a King. I was first introduced to a Lieutenant. He went and spoke to Chief Chikwa, whom then asked to see me in his palace. Out of respect I did not take any photos, but the palace was a beautifully decorated, round clay hut with short walls that were just over hip-height. The thatched roof was held up by large wooden poles rather than the walls. Chief Chikwa was sitting on a carpet and, after formal introductions, I was invited to sit on the other carpet.
My conversation with Chief Chikwa was brief but I thoroughly enjoyed the formalities. He made a serious effort to warn me that from Chikwa village onwards I was cycling just 10 km east of North Luangwa National Park and that there were no fences, only the Luangwa river, to stop predators from crossing. However, when I explained to him that I intend to camp only in villages he felt assured, wished me a wonderful evening and asked the Lieutenant to see to my needs.
I wished though Chief Chikwa had warned me about the tsetse flies, which attacked me constantly for the next two days. Freaken hell it hurts when they bite. In hindsight I also wish that I paid attention when I was reading Riaan Manser’s book “Around Africa on my bicycle”. He warns, out of experience, that tsetse flies are attracted to bright colours such as red, blue and orange. The First Ascent shirt that I wear when cycling is blue. And when the tsetse flies wouldn’t stop biting me on my back I put on my action-adventure Superman t-shirt, thinking the double layer would help. But that shirt is also blue and it did not prevent the flies from biting me at all. They bloody-hell bit me through both shirts. And it hurt!!! Bloody-hell!!!
When I arrived at the gate of Luambe National Park, a small reserve between North and South Luangwa National Parks, the gatekeepers did not know what to do with me. There was a camp inside the park not too far away, and when I pointed out that locals were freely cycling in the park they let me go.
That night I camped next to the Luangwa river with nearly 100 hippos grunting throughout the night right next to my tent. It was most memorable, music to my ears. Not to worry though, I was in a formal camp with an embankment high enough to prevent the hippos and the crocs from coming into the camp.
The gravel road through Luambe National Park continued southwards. I had no intention of continuing that way though. I knew, from my map, that Nabwalya village is right on the other side of the Luangwa river and that the village is connected to the Great North Highway, 108 km to the west, by another gravel road that runs between North and South Luangwa National Parks. All I needed to do was find a way to cross the hippo and croc-filled river.
The pontoon that generally transports vehicles across was not there. Apparently it had not been there for some weeks, I don’t know why. But there were plenty of fisherman with mocorros and getting across the river was as simple as calling a fisherman over and asking him to help me in return for a small fee. Generally the fisherman stand upright in the mocorro and pushes from the back using a long pole, much like the Venicians in their gondolas. But I had so many things the small mocorro struggled to balance. So the fisherman had to sit on his knees and row with the pole rather than stand and push. It was quite the spectacle.
About three slow hours out of Nabwalya village a 4×4 vehicle approached from the front. The vehicle was filled with government officials on their way to Nabwalya village to see Chief Nabwalya. After asking me who I am and why on earth I was there, by myself, travelling on a bicycle, they pleaded with me not to carry on but to go back to the village with them. They explained that the region is a wildlife corridor between North and South Luangwa National Parks and that there is a pride of aggressive lions that roam that area. Furthermore, they said the road ahead is, ‘uncyclable’, especially the 20 km climb up the escarpment. I could hear the urgency in their voices and agreed without a fuss.
Fortunately there was another 4×4 vehicle that was just about to leave Nabwalya village when we arrived. It was a Toyota ‘bakkie’ (pickup truck) and I, together with my bicycle and gear, squished onto the back with 11 other people, their belongings and a couple of chickens. Among the 11 other people was a game ranger armed with an AK-47. I asked him what the AK-47 was for? He said “for the lions”. “Best I agreed on taking a ride then”, I thought by myself.
To my disappointment we did not see any lions or wildlife despite driving between the parks in the twilight hours, a time when the animals are very active. However, I was thankful for the ride when I saw how sandy the road became, that there were no small villages along the way to get water from or to sleep at, and that it would really have been impossible to cycle up the escarpment. It took 6 hours to drive the 108 km up to the highway. I reckon it would have taken me no less than 5 days, especially since I would have had to carry my gear up the escarpment piece-by-piece, not even considering the lack of water.
That said, I felt bittersweet about the whole drama for quite some time. It meant that, for the first time, there was a gap on my map, a part of the way that I did not cycle. But I realized that I can’t always have it #MyOwnWay, that sometimes its better to listen to the advice of others. More often than not I have shrugged off warnings because people were telling me not to do something, simply because they were afraid of doing it themselves. But this was different. Those governments officials were truly concerned about my safety. I am thankful they crossed my path.
To be continued.
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.