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Karonga – Mpulungu

The last published article included the conclusions on Malawi. I have to admit that was a little too hasty (although we were only to spend 1.5 more days in Malawi) so there is one more incidence I would like to describe which occured right after we set the article online.
Returning back to our chateaux park camping ground we decided to do laundry (we’ve become pretty proficient with hand washing) and asked the next employee for a bowl. As it turned out that particular man had some kind of speech disorder which I only knew from the time I worked at psychiatry, i.e. he couldn’t talk properly. The only sounds he could issue were nickering and diffuse screaming.
Anyway that man first showed us where the place for washing was. And then he made us understand that he would wash our clothes. He also wouldn’t take any money either as tip or direct payment.
I don’t think that he really understood what we were saying to him because he wouldn’t let us help him or anything but we managed to comunicate quite well while gesturing. And well. He did our laundry. Just out of mere friendliness.

Then because Sebastian asked: Fabian talked to an older boy the other day after joking around with a few kids. We had realized that those sentences used for begging were pretty much the only English those kids now (which is sad enough) and that older boy – who spoke a little more english – apologized for the kids and asked Fabian not to give them money. That said: We don’t give anybody money. Just wanted to mention that. So essentially they’re not really begging because they don’t even seem to know what they’re saying but it’s annoying enough the way it is.
For the adults: I don’t think most of them really care. I dare say in the rural areas they aren’t much more educated than their kids and although it gets less when people grow older that kind of begging goes through all age groups. But most of all they don’t care or react to their kids begging. They sometimes even make them notice us in the first place.

So the following day we then left Karonga. We would miss the lake but at least I for my part also love the mountains so the climb was nice for me. Not so much for Fabian though.
The dirt road was described as one of the worst of Malawi in one of the guide books Fabian’s mom send us excerpts of. I wouldn’t sign that for the first 100km to Chitipa.
There were a few really tough climbs, in one instance it was so steep I barely made it up that passage with out getting off the bike and the road got pretty rocky with rough gravel which makes ascending a pain. But still it’s a beautiful area and we as said I like mountains so it was fine.
We reached Chitipa after 92km, totally exhausted and dropped dead in one of the guest houses. I wouldn’t say it was a quiet night, border towns in Africa never appear to be quiet, but that didn’t matter too much in that case anyway.

Grenze zu Sambia
mit Handschellen gesichert und kein Grenzer weit und breit.

The next day took us out of Chitipa to the border and finally showed us what that excerpt was about. It’s about ankle deep sand in which your wheels slip away under you. It’s about pot trenches. It’s about no shade in the blazing sun while climbing up hill for several kilometers. In the sand. It’s about running out of water and making water pumps a key stimulus. It’s about dust on your bags, clothes, legs, bike, face, eyes, mouth and worst of all the gears. Your gears keep grinding, almost wailing in agony and you just wait for them to have their final breath.
We survived and so did our bikes. I guess it was adventure and a hell lot of fun too (especially in retroperspect).
The above applies to all the way from Karonga to Mpulungu. The road didn’t change at all. Or it did change.. but it did not improve.

The day from Chitipa to Nakonde (Zambia, at the Tanzanian border) was supposed to be a short leg of a mere 85km. It turned out to be the toughest day and once again 92km. First we arrived at the Malawi immigration office and could leave the country without any further problems. But things weren’t as easy on the Zambian side. The problem was that there simply was no border. Or there was a border but there were no border officials, no immigration office. Only the barrier (locked with handcuffs). Apparently the police man didn’t want to show up for duty that day so we had to enter Zambia illegally (so adviced by the local shop owner).
We could get our entry permission at Nakonde border.

So we had to get to Nakonde (which was on the way anyway, though we hadn’t intended to go through their large scale immigration offices). Later that day we arrived at a little village at which one of the locals showed us a shortcut to Nakonde. That was the point at which our track wasn’t marked on neither our map nor our gps anymore. We started navigating with sun position and the little communication we could with the locals (point ahead and ask “nakonde?” works sometimes). I think during the course of that shortcut we entered and left Malawi atleast another four more times and eventually we ended up back on the main road, still not quite sure if our shortcut had been of any use. But it definetly had increased the adventure factor ;) .
Arriving in Nakonde itself was an adventure too. By that time it had grown dark and Fabian was totally exhausted. I had made up my mind on reaching Nakonde that day and pushed him a lot and well we made it.
The (still extremly bad) road took us through a slum, it was dark, loud music everywhere. People are drunk on Friday nights (although I’m not quite sure about how much that actually has to do with the day in the week…). But we were back in Zambia so everybody was friendly and helpful.
They even pointed several hotels and guesthouses out to us in one of which we spent the night.

Getting the official entry permission made less problems than expected, actually none at all and at 9 am we were good to go. Once again on our beloved dirt road…
The following day nothing extraordinary happened, at least not as far as I can recall now. Only that I once again realized how friendly those Zambian people – especially on the countryside – are. 92km again that day. I don’t know why.. but every day till then we stopped exactly at 92kms. And the following day, the last day on the sand road, it ended at exactly 92km.

I’d say that fourth day was the most exciting of all. The evening of that day for that matter, the day itself wasn’t spectacular in any way. – oh one remark I forgot: The water we drank out of the pumps was occasionally murky and tasted strangely metallic, sometimes too sour.
When we had left the sand road it was 12km on sealed surface to the junction where the right goes to Mbala and the left to Mpulungu. We ate Nshima at a restaurant there and when we wanted to leave that drunk guy approached Fabian. I was paying at that time in another room so Fabian was alone with him.
Apparently he flashed an army ID and wanted to check passports. Why I don’t know. He said “just to check”. I guess that’s alright but he was drunk and not wearing uniform. But Fabian had already gotten his passport out and gave it to him so I couldn’t refuse anymore.
It’s not that I want to mess with the army. It’s just that for matters of corruption I don’t want to give my passport to drunk army officers that aren’t on duty. Anyway, we got our passports back without problems and left immediately afterwards.
That was our first encounter with the army that day and we stopped thinking about it pretty shortly afterwards.

We were more focussed on the 35km of down hill in front of us. But because the sun was setting we decided not to ride down to Mpulungu that day but spend another night camping wild (and thus saving the money and the descend).
Right after putting up the tent Fabian started to feel ill, complaining about diarrhea and nausea. We didn’t bother too much about hiding our tent that night. We camped some 200m from the main road next to one of the paths leading to villages with a view on the lake.
It took 30 minutes after switching off the lights until we were discovered. We decided not to react and the man asking “Hodi?” and eventually he went away.
Some time later (I lost track of time then) he returned with a friend. I don’t know which one was the one who discovered us in the first place but the one who talked to us in english was carrying one of those huge stone age axes…
He inquired who we were and what we were doing (“what’s your mission?”). The normal questions which we responded to in a friendly way and then he wished us a good night and they both went away.

Matter solved.

Again some time later a car came down that same road. It startled me a little (people don’t usually have cars here, especially not on the farms) but I didn’t think about it, rolled over and tried to sleep. That is for another few seconds until the car stopped, shifted into reverse gear and turned, facing us. Then it started rolling directly towards the tent, headlights turned up.
I hurredly opened up the tent and started waving at the car. Seriously getting run over in my tent in Africa is the last way I want to die…
By that time the car had already stopped and two men got out. Pointing AK rifles directly at me (Fabian was lying on the other “safe” side of the tent). They turned out to be airforce men and we camping on military area. And they were not amused.
It’s a damn scary thing if those guns are pointed at you. They are scary if locked and dangling from the shoulder. They are even more scary if locked and in their hands. And they scare the shit out of you if unlocked with fingers at the trigger.
Good thing is we didn’t know they were unlocked by that time.
We first realized they were unlocked after they locked them after checking our passports, all the while the guns dangling from their shoulders, unlocked, their muzzles pointing at everything in front of the soldiers (namely us).
Also the question of “what is your mission?” issued from soldiers when they catch you camping in restricted areas seems to have a totally different meaning.

We still answered it the same way we always answer it: “Travelling and seeing Africa. Learning about it and finding independet information. Raising funds for Doctors without Borders.”
Especially the latter, together with the physical effort of cycling such a long way, caught their sympathy. So after we had convinced them we were no spies they got increasingly friendly. Still we had to leave that area and camp somewhere else but we also explained to them the problem of cycling at night. So they came up with the following solution:
They would just take us and our bicycles on the pick up truck to the end of the restricted area and drop us off at the next best place for wild camping. And that’s exactly what they did. They even helped me (Fabian was still feeling sick) heave the bikes onto the truck.
And then they drove us through the night.. for perhaps one Kilometer or so to the border of that military area and showed us an even better place to camp. We had a nice little chat, offered them cookies (which they sadly refused) and switched cellphone numbers so we could meet for a beer on Friday. That was pretty much it.. our arrest for espionage.

It was scary as hell when it happened but as soon as the situation was under control it was just absurdely funny. I love this adventure!

Once we had set up the tent for the second time that night Fabian’s condition got worse and he started vomiting. By the next morning he wasn’t feeling much better (although he had stopped vomiting) and my condition was deteriotating. But it was only down hill.
We reached Mpulungu without any further complications, found a place to stay and even an internet cafe which, as long as there is sufficient power, offers fast (!) internet. I then got my share of the diarrhea while Fabians condition was improving and by now we’re both feeling well again. Whether it was due to exhaustion, water, food or just the humid heat down here at Lake Tanganyika I don’t know. But it went as quickly as it came.

Right now we’re searching for a passage to Burundi which should leave at the best the day after tomorrow. As most of you will know we intended to take the M.V. Liemba (the german WW2 steamship which has sunk and been dug up again) but as it appears it runs next week (and then only to Kigoma).
So now we’re looking for a cargo ship to take us.
There’s one leaving tomorrow or the day after tomorrow which I guess we’re going to take but the perspective of taking the passage up west coast (DRC) seems like adventure too. We actually never had that idea but today they offered us a passage to northern DRC (one boat hour from Burundi) so we’re thinking about doing that if the chance arises (still prefering the direct passage to Burundi though).
So basically we’re not quite sure when and how we’re going to leave Mpulungu but I guess we will manage the one or the other way and it will be great.

Next article from Burundi or Rwanda.

one very enthusiastic Tim

Mein deutscher Artikel ist gestern im Stromausfall weggerauscht. Hier ist der unkorrigierte übrig gebliebene Teil:

Aus Malawi konnten wir noch ganz offiziell mit Ausreisestempel ausreisen. Auf Sambischer Seite waren aber keine Grenzer anwesent. Sind dann also zwei Tage bis in die naeste Grosstadt um unsere Einreise nachzuhohlen. Das war auch ein sehr weise Entscheidung:
An einer Garkueche essen wir zu abend. Ein sichtlich angetrunkener Beamter verlangt nach meinem Pass. Weigere mich aufgrund seiner Angetrunkenheit, mangelndem Ausweiss und keine Personen um mich rum ihn zu geben. Als Tim und der Standbesitzer dabei sind haendigt er ihn aber ohne Austausch von Dallar wider aus.
Wir fahren ein paar Km weiter. Wie ueblich kleine Lehm/Strohhuetten. Maisanbau fuer den Eigenbedarf. Wir fahren einen kleinen Trampelpfad rein und weit von der Strasse weg und bauen das Zelt hinter einem Huegel auf.
Eine Stunde nach Sonnenuntergang (19 Uhr) hoehren wir ein Auto den unbefahrbaren Weg entlang kommen. Aufblendlicht. Stimmen auf Swaheli und Englisch. Tim macht das Zelt auf und blickt einer Kalaschnikow entgegen. Soldaten. Paesse. “What is your mission?” die Frage wird uns sonst auch auf der Strasse gestellt. Schon da ist die wahre Antwort Philosophisch.
Im Angesicht von entsicherten Ak-47 wird das ganze aber zur existenziellen Grandwanderung das mit ein paar Brocken Englisch klar zu machen. Nachdem wir sie mit Vesitenkarten, Einreisestempeln ueberzeugen koennen, dass wir keine Spione seien, Rasten die Sicherungen wieder ein. Sie erklaeren uns dass wir im Spergebiet der Airforce seien (wie gesagt, wir liegen im Maisfeld neben einem kleinen Dorf. Kein Schild, kein Zaun) bleiben koennen wir nicht. Zelt abbauen und auf den Pickup. Sind wir eigentlich verhaftet? Die Paesse haben wir wider, was schon mal ein gutes Zeichen ist. Wir fahren den Highway entland. Irgendwann biegen die Soldaten in einen groesseren Feldweg ein, fahren ein Stueck, stoppen und sagen ihr koennen wir bleiben. Also bauen wir wieder das Zelt auf. (Wir sind an keinem Checkpoint oder aehnlichem vorbeigekommen, unsere Karte verzeichnet kein Sperrgebiet und das GPS auch nicht).


  1. Jörg und Marlies

    Halo Tim und Fabian,
    toll, wieder von euch gehört zu haben! Die englische Version kommt gut an. Claudia hat im Englischunterricht mit ihren Schülern euren Blog gelesen und darüber geredet!
    Burundi, die Schweiz Afrikas, ist bestimmt wieder eine konditionelle Fahrrad-Herausforderung. Aber das schafft ihr schon, bei der Kondition, die ihr jetzt haben müsst.
    Bleibt gesund und passt gut auf euch auf!

    • Tim

      Das nenn ich mal eine Ehre. Danke Claudia ;)

      … vielleicht koennen die Schueler ja Versions als Hausaufgaben schreiben und hochladen? +hust+

  2. Catarina

    What an adventure! Guys, be careful with diarrheas an military forces. BTW, did you get Davids water filter? Enjoy Africa!

  3. Ach ja, die Dinge ändern sich laufend. Wir waren schon auf dem Frachter. Er sollte dann jedoch erst am nächsten Morgen ablegen. In der Nacht ging es mir jedoch so schlecht, dass ich entschieden habe an Land zu bleiben und die Woche zum erhohlen zu nutzen.
    Malaria ist es laut Test im Krankenhaus nicht.
    Tim ist mit dem Rad und Bus auf dem Weg nach Kigoma wo ich ihn dann nächste Woche mit der M.V. Liemba treffen werde.

    • Sebastian

      Oh, jetzt weiß ich nicht, um wen ich mir mehr Sorgen machen soll, um Dich, oder um Tim, der jetzt allein durch Tanzania radelt. Gute Besserung, jedenfalls!

  4. Sebastian

    These are really quite some adventures! The gun pointing at you reminds me of something Opa once told me: “Most people who point a gun at you don’t actually want to shoot you. If someone pointed a gun at me on the street and told me to follow him, I’d reply ‘If you want to shoot me, do it here on the street where everyone can see it.’” I’ve had guns pointed at me three times, never on busy streets, but that mindset helped me not to get scared.

    Two questions about the route: Which way is Tim going? I don’t see a road along the east side of the lake. Or is he going along the B8, in which case it seems he would have to go back to Mbala? Also, I’d be curious to know how many km the two of you have traveled so far. Do you have odometers?

  5. Barbara

    Good luck, both of you! The water filter is on its long route, to Bayreuth with Dennis to Nairobi, where you can finally find it. I think there will be two grateful digestive tracts. Meanwhile, good recoveries, Fabian!

  6. Gisela und Gertrud

    So viel Abenteuer! Wir sind sehr beeindruckt. Weiterhin so viel Freude dabei, und auf gesundes Wiedersehen!