Although I have failed pretty miserably at keeping up with writing on my previous trips I recently felt the urge to get back to writing. Since I am not traveling quite as much these posts will be a little more sporadic and varied with content. Not quite sure what I’ll write about as my current life is far less enthralling than it was before but here goes nothing, the blog is back. To the few who read this I am opening the forum up to all suggestions, I’ll write about anything, traveling, work, books, news whatever, this will be much more of an open forum. I’m happy to continue writing about whatever is of interest to me but I figured it would be more fun with other input so fire away…
Here we go 2nd to last Africa post and then I’ll be on to Thailand, progress… Well as most of y’all know from the last blog I met up with the group in Lusaka for my final three days of riding on the Tour. It was hard to believe that time went by that quickly, 5 weeks in a blink of an eye. The last three days of riding in Zambia were much more along the lines of riding in Malawi than the riding in Tanzania. We had long flat 150+Km days on smooth well paved road. The riding was at a fair bit brisker pace as a result of better road conditions and riding in a peloton/drafting. For those of you who are not familiar with that terminology, drafting is when one rides close enough behind the rider in front of them that they can partially hide/be in the wind shadow of the rider in the front. With the decrease in wind resistance you can be up to 25% more efficient of a rider meaning you go fast or in out case, faster… A peloton is a group of people drafting together and you usually rotate who is in front at specific intervals because being the lead is by far the toughest position because you have no one to draft off of.
There were not quite as many locals on the side of the road as I had been accustomed to see in Tanzania and Malawi, but that doesn’t mean they were non-existant. I felt that at first the locals in Zambia may have been a little more apprehensive to approach but when I had time to speak with them, they were incredibly friendly and helpful. One example is when I took a brief break in the shade from riding. I had multiple locals come up and ask if I was ok or if I needed help; there was even one local riding his bike who pulled out a massive pump asking if I had bike troubles. Overall the locals were incredibly friendly in all of the countries I cycled through. These last three days of riding just flew by and before I knew it I was in Victoria Falls, technically Livingstone because we were on the Zambia side as I found out. This was unfortunate because when I booked my flights to Thailand, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I might not be in Zimbabwe and therefore would want to fly out of the airport on the Zambia side of the falls. As you will find out in the next post, it turned out for the best that I was required to go to the Zimbabwe side of the falls. More about my time in Vic Falls will come shortly…
First of all, I wanted to apologize for the tardiness of my post’s once again; I am currently in
Chiang Mai writing this I didn’t quite finish in Chiang Mai so now I’m on Koh Lipe… With this in mind I wanted to get some feedback from those of you who have been reading the posts. What have you liked? What information would you like me to add? More details, less details, etc…. As far as pictures go, hopefully later today I’ll have them uploaded on my Facebook Page. With that in mind for those of you who aren’t following the facebook page, search Ben Bikes Africa and it should come up. I will be posting albums on this blog at some point but most likely a little bit later….
Back to Africa, Malawi specifically… I’m not completely sure what it was but there was something about riding through Malawi that intrigued me, I wanted to see more, I wanted to have that extra week like I had in Tanzania before I rode. Don’t get me wrong biking through Malawi was an amazing experience and by traveling by bike I was able to stop much more frequently and see more sights than if I was traveling by bus. Even with that in mind there was still a part of me that had a longing, a desire to see more. After talking to some of the fellow riders who had been to Malawi before I decided to spend 4 days in the Cape MaClear region of Lake Malawi.
Where in the World is
Carmen San Diego Cape MaClear:
Cape MaClear resides on the more southern part of Lake Malawi, a region we did not reach while cycling. We spent one day on the northern part of the lake but with a lake the size of Lake Malawi (~370 miles long and ~50 miles wide at its widest) one can imagine there is a bit of diversity along the lakeshore. Multiple rider’s and guidebooks recommended Cape MaClear as a backpackers haven, great snorkeling, hiking, swimming, etc… I decided to venture down there
The most affordable and easiest method to get there was to take the AXA local bus from Lilongwe to Monkey Bay and from there to take a Taxi/Moto to Cape MaClear. The local bus was an experience without a doubt. I got there early enough to ensure I had a seat because when I looked at the distance it looked to be a 3-4.5 hour trip and with the local busses they pack the aisles so unless you get to the station early enough you are not guaranteed a seat. Additionally, most coach busses in the states have 2-2 seating, these have 2-3 seating to further cram people in. I arrived at 7:15 and by 8:45 we were finally off on the road, Cape MaClear bound! After the first hour I realized that my conservative time estimate was not even close; we stopped roughly every 10 min to pick up/drop off people. This was going to be a long trip… All in all I ended up arriving at Monkey Bay at ~3:20p.m. and from there took a taxi to Cape MaClear where I arrived at 4:00p.m. It was a long day of travel to say the least.
One thing I had become to realize upon my arrival in Africa is that meticulously thought out plans rarely come to fruition in Africa. As a result my planning has become a little more lax; I hadn’t found a place to stay yet. Thankfully I found a room at a small place called Fat Monkeys. On Cape MaClear there are no large, stereotypical Mexican/Caribbean like resorts; all the places were less than 20 rooms and fully integrated with the village. I thoroughly enjoyed the integration with the village as I was I was able to, for lack of better terminology, have a more immersive experience. While at Fat Monkeys I met many others who were backpacking around Africa. It was a nice change of pace from the Group with Tour d’Afrique; I loved the group of riders but once in a while when you’re together with a group of people for so long it can be refreshing to meet others.
I know everyone calls Cape Cod “the cape” but since I have never been there I’ll call Cap MaClear “the cape”… Lake Malawi and the Cape was gorgeous, not a drop of rain while I was there, quite a refreshing change from Tanzania and Northern Malawi. The first day I spent wandering the town, exploring the beach, talking to the locals, etc. Everyone was incredibly friendly, truly genuine, never asking for money unlike much of the rest of Malawi where we biked.
I’m attempting to be a bit more concise in my posts so I actually finish writing them so here are a few of the highlights from the Cape:
Swimming in the lake: the water here was crystal clear, no waves, perfectly calm, basically amazing water. Part of the fun was also seeing the locals in the water, in particular, the younger children jumping and splashing around.
Local Bars/Restaurants: One night I went to a local bar with a few Swedes and it was a fun experience. With Tour d’Afrique, we usually outnumbered the locals and whatever restaurant we went to because of our sheer size. At the bar we went to we were 3/5 of the foreign population.
Freshwater snorkeling: Although there wasn’t anything in the way of coral or plant life the diversity of fish was incredible. I managed to take a few pictures until my supposedly waterproof, bombproof camera decided to not live up to its promises and conk out…
Although I said above one week in Malawi, it was really only 4-5 days of in Malawi as some time was spent traveling to where I would meet up with the group next, Lusaka, Zambia. Traveling there was an adventure for sure; I had originally planned on taking an AirMalawi flight from Lilongwe to Lusaka but there was only one problem… Little did I know but AirMalawi was bought out by Ethiopian Air and would not be in operation until June so although their website dictated they had flights, they didn’t…. As a result I ended up taking a 4 hour taxi to the Malawi-Zambia border crossed and stayed in the border town of Chipata for the evening. The following day I took a 5:00a.m. bus to Lusaka. This bus was slightly better, no people were standing in the aisles, no live chickens, etc…
Lusaka was the first truly massive, modern city I’ve been to in Africa. On my way to the hotel I’d be staying at we went by multi-story, air-conditioned malls, where was I? This was far different than the Africa I had come to know; I realized how like most people I had come to generalize my view on Africa. Lusaka was a great breather from the tent life. I was able to get strong enough wifi to list to the final four on my phone, unfortunately I couldn’t watch but it was great being able to listen to Michigan make their mark and show the country their full potential. The finals were a little disappointing but all in all I think Michigan exceeded the majority of expectations and I’m hoping that next year we have a similar tournament run and I’ll be able to see the games in person. Back to Africa now… All in all my week off was a great way to recharge and relax, only three days of riding in Zambia until Victoria Falls, the ending point of my cycling…
So as y’all know, Tanzania didn’t end on the highest of notes with the breakage of my rear derailleur. We finished the first section in Mbeya, Tanzania. I was at a loss of what to do, the soonest I could get a replacement derailleur would be lilongwe, 7 days away and between now and then I would have to rotate between staff bikes which potentially might not fit/even be available. There is a calm after every storm and that was when I found out that one of the individuals leaving the tour in Mbeya was using virtually the same rear derailleur as I had on my bike. To make a long story short I was able to purchase the derailleur off of him, saving the rest of my trip pretty much. Unfortunately that was short-lived where Ben vs. African Food Pt. II occurred. I was sidelined with food poisoning the first two days of Malawi…
After the second day in Malawi we arrived at Chitemba Beach for a rest day on Lake Malawi. This rest day consisted of a lot of relaxation on the picturesque white sand beaches of the lake with intermittent hassling from the locals attempting to get us to purchase something from their shops. Post Lake Malawi we headed inward to continue our journey to Lilongwe. The riding in Malawi was gorgeous and a bit easier than Tanzania for a few reasons. First and foremost, rainy season had basically passed so the only rain we had was at night and that made riding significantly easier. Secondly the roads we were going on were all paved and in relatively good condition. Lastly, the climbs we had in Malawi were much more gradual in comparison to Tanzania. Overall the riding was quite nice; I have a whole new appreciation for paved roads in part because of Malawi.
This section ended in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. From there we were to continue across the border through Zambia to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Of course as I touched on earlier it is always good to have a plan b (skipping Nairobi for more Tanzania) and once again plans changed. This time I was in control of changing my plans, there was no external political force influencing me. I will touch more upon in the next post, One Week in Malawi…
So as y’all know my trip was supposed to start in Nairobi but due to some unforeseen circumstances I started in Arusha. Judging by the previous post I think I made the right decision spending extra time in Arusha; as it turns out I was not the only one to start in Arusha. The first day of riding was a great intro to the tour, 145km. Overall it was mainly paved roads except for a portion of construction. The construction is where I started my bleed every ride routine… I happened to hit a loose patch of gravel and wiped out drawing blood on my elbow and knee, nothing too terrible.
After the first day of riding came my first time at camp. Things went smoothly, tent went up quickly, dinner tasted great; all in all an excellent start to the trip. Disaster stuck at midnight… something I ate did not agree with my stomach at all so for the next 48hours I was quite sick, holed up on the truck trying to keep fluids in and regain some strength.
Finally 3 days after I was ready to ride; this was going to be our first day of off-road so I switched my tires to put on some larger ones with better tread. My good luck struck once again;100 meters into the ride my tube malfunctioned and blew ripping a 5 inch hole in the tire along the bead, ruining it. To make matters worse, the rear rim got scuffed up on the road so I couldn’t just put another tire on, it needed to be sanded and smoothed down; another day of riding lost…
After fixing my bike up I was good to go for another day of off-road. This was interesting as it had rained in the morning so there were some areas so muddy that busses and trucks were getting stuck and we were forced to carry our bikes because the mud would build up and jam the tires. Thankfully this was only for 1-2 kms and after that the road firmed up enough to finish the day. The next few days of off-road weren’t too shabby asides from another fall which tore up my elbow and my cleats malfunctioning.
The last day of off-road was heading into Mbeya where the stage would end and we would have a rest day. Once again, part of the way through the morning one of the screws in my cleat fell out causing my shoe to remain attached to the pedal. I fixed that up during lunch and road from there where we had ~25km of climbing on a hardpacked dirt road. After all of the previous medical and mechanical struggles I had this was a validating ride, or so I thought… About 5km from the top I moved out of the way for an oncoming bus coming around the corner and lost my balance. I ended up falling on the derailleur side and didn’t think much of it until I when I got back on my bike and tried to shift down the chain hopped the cassette and locked up the wheel. Unable to ride I waited for a support vehicle to pick me up and thankfully they did ~30 min later. When getting back to camp I figured it was just the derailleur hanger that broke as that is what often happens; people rarely, rarely break their rear derailleurs. Unfortunately I found out I was one of those rare cases. I didn’t bring a spare derailleur so I was at a loss of what to do, my bike could not function. Was my trip over? If so it would seem to be a fitting end, problem after problem.
As you know I rode in Malawi so there must have been some way to fix my bike. I will include that answer in my next update on the Malawi section just to keep y’all curious….
For any of you that have been following my sporadic updates on facebook this is long overdue as I climbed over a week and a half ago. I decided to climb Mt. Meru for a few reasons: I had 3-4 days and that wasn’t enough time for Kilimanjaro, I wanted to do something active, and I heard that Meru was a somewhat more difficult ascent as far as non technical climbs go. My friend, Becca, who teaches at the O’Brien School for the Maasai recommended I go with Pristine Trails, the company that ran the safari with the school.
I was picked up relatively early in the morning as the mountain was ~1.5 hours away. Once we arrived at Arusha National Park, where Mt. Meru is located, we waited for around 20 min to see if other groups would be coming to climb. This was done because when climbing Meru unlike Kilimanjaro, you need to climb with a park ranger because on the way you walk through herds of water buffalo, giraffes, etc… It ended up that 3 other groups, 8 people, would join us.
We started from ~1400 meters and our first camp was at 2500 meters. There were two routes to choose from a 4 and a 6 hour route; we took the 6 hour route and it was a beautiful hike. The first half was on an old fire road where we could see herds of water buffalo in the distance, the second portion involved walking along a small stream for a good portion as well as walking through the trunk of a massive Fig Tree. In late afternoon we arrived at camp 1 and situated ourselves in the bunks and waited for dinner. Post dinner it was off to bed so we could wake up early enough to see sunrise.
Although waking up early the next morning was a little rough, it was well worth it to see the sunrise. Since we were only at camp 1 clouds obscured our view of Kilimanjaro; this would change when we got higher up. Day 2 was a climb to 3500 meters and overall not too bad. There were a couple points where we climbed seemingly endless amounts of stairs but in the end we made it to camp 2 in timely fashion. After a short break I decided to climb little Meru (3750 meters) with my guide “Big” Musa to help with the acclimatization for the following day when we would summit. Unfortunately the views were lacking from little Meru because of the cloud cover; we were engulfed in clouds. We had an early dinner ~4:30p.m. so we could go to bed early.
We went to bed early in attempt to summit at sunrise. Our group woke up at midnight and set out and 1:00a.m. under the light of our headlamps. The summit day was by far the toughest part of our trek. The trail was much less defined in certain areas, to a point that without my guide I don’t know if I would have found my way.
The closer to the top, the more labored my breathing became. This was in part due to the elevation, the cold (probably almost freezing, there was frost on the ground) and lastly, due to the increased technicality of the climb. There was a point at 5:30 a.m. where I was quite close to heading back down due to the elements but thankfully Big Musa pushed me, helped me make it to the top a bit before 6:00 a.m. We were early for sunrise and for me being early is a good thing except for now. The summit was a rocky outcropping, unprotected from wind and without sunlight it was quite cold. After waiting a bit the sun started to finally peek over the horizon and it was beautiful. The pain and the hours of climbing was immediately validated once we saw the sun climb into the sky from behind Kilimanjaro, I’ll be uploading the pictures soon I hope….
The Way Down:
There’s no way to sugarcoat if but when you start at 4600 meters and need to descend to the bottom, there will be a lot of downhill. I thought that parts of the downhill were tougher than the actual climb. In particular, there was a portion of the trail being worked on that had softer ground. When we were going through the area it started raining steadily so what was a trail turned into a slip and slide for the next hour….
Eventually we made it down, and drove back to Arusha where I met up with some of the Staff for Tour d’Afrique. I had one day off which I felt would be sufficient to recover from climbing. I was wrong, the day after, actually the following three days were tough walking because of all of the downhill from the descent. That’s all for now, time to get started on my tanzania riding update. Ideally I’ll be uploading some pictures soon but I have been having some issues uploading on an Ipad…
As most of you know the bike trip I am going on is supposed to start out in Nairobi, Kenya the 11th of March. If you have been following my facebook page then you know that I will not be starting then; I will be joining the group March 15th in Arusha, Tanzania. The reasoning behind this is that on March 4th presidential elections were held and the last time elections were held there was significant conflict in a number of regions, including parts of Nairobi. As a result the members of the tour that were riding from Ethiopia to Nairobi were placed on busses with armed escort for stretches of Kenya leading up to the election. This ultimately lead my parents and myself to look at a cost-benefit analysis of going to Nairobi where I would probably be in my hotel for two days, then potentially cycle for two days where I would arrive in Arusha, Tanzania.
The alternative option that I looked at was to fly into Mt. Kilimanjaro and to miss the first two days of biking. I would gain an extra 5 days in the region as the flight would leave on wednesday the 6th opposed to thursday the 7th. Additionally as I believe I mentioned before I have a friend, Becca Sliwoski, in the Kilimanjaro region that teaches at The O’Brien School for the Maasai. After talking things over with my parents, Tour d’Afrique and Becca I decided to switch my ticket from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro on Monday the 4th, two days before I was to leave from Chicago….
Thankfully, I had started packing a little before I changed my flight but still I was a little crunched on time between boxing my bike and all of the little last minute purchases, I swear I must have gone to REI 4+ times between Sunday-Tuesday… To top things off Madison was supposed to be getting 8-10 inches of snow on Tuesday, the day I had planned to go down to Chicago. I was planning on heading to Chicago because if anyone know’s the Madison Airport, it is obscenely overpriced and to go internationally I would have most likely had to connect in Chicago anyways. As it was I managed to find a flight on Turkish Air that only had one layover in Istanbul which meant I arrived at Kilimanjaro at 3:30 a.m. local time on Friday morning. This would end up to work out better than I had previously imagined as my friend, Becca, along with the 6th grade class at her school was going on a safari to the Ngorongro Crater later that day
My flight to Istanbul left Chicago at 10:00 p.m. Chicago time on Wednesday which ended up working out perfectly. I was able to go in to Chicago Wednesday afternoon with the help of my Mom to see some family that I hadn’t seen in a while and since I will not be back in the States until mid-may, it would be a long time until I saw them again. As I said my flight left at 10:00 so this allowed us to get to O’Hare without any traffic as rush hour had ended. Checking in at Turkish Air could not have been simpler and they could not have been more friendly. They ended up not charging me the 100 euro bike fee or an overweight fee! Things were starting off on a good note and for someone who can be a little superstitious, that’s a good thing… The flight to Istanbul was ~11 hours and arrived at ~4:00 p.m. Istanbul time so I managed to sleep for the first 6-7 hours. If you know me, I can sleep in pretty much any situation; it’s something I’m grateful for and it will hopefully allow me to sleep well while camping on the trip.
After a ~3 hour layover was my flight to Kili; this was tough to fall asleep at the beginning as I was still pretty awake from the previous flight. I managed to watch a movie then sleep for the latter half of the flight as I new I needed all of the sleep I could get. This flight was great though because the seating was three on each side of the aisle and there was no-one next to me so I was able to lay out on all three seats. Upon arrival going through customs was relatively painless except for the questions about why on earth would I bring a bike to go biking in Tanzania…
Before I left from the states, Becca told me that either she or someone from the school would be there to pick me up from the airport; she and another volunteer ended up being there to pick me up which was a huge relief. The ride back to the school was quick as well and on the way we discussed the Safari that we would be leaving for at 5:00 a.m. When we got to the school some of the children were already there and I was able to meet some of them, which was a fun experience.
Slowly and surely all of grade 6 strolled in, ready for the Safari. We were going to the Ngorongro crater, a 4 hour drive from the school which was further than many of the students had ever traveled. We rode in 4 Land-Rover’s with e pop-up safari-top, and boy was I thankful for the 4-wheel drive they had. Some of the roads were pretty mucked up due to rain from the previous night. While driving to the crater I imagined biking over these roads which were a far cry from most american roads and instead of being scared by the daunting prospects, I started looking more and more forward to the riding. While driving I was able to talk and meet the students in my vehicle which was a fun experience; they were full of questions as to why I was in Tanzania, why I was biking, and more about me in general. Their english was far better than anticipated and I was taken aback by how great their thirst for knowledge was.
The decent into the crater was as eye-opening of a view as I have ever seen. To familiarize myself beforehand, I looked at some pictures of the crater online but nothing compared to looking at the vast expanse from above seeing herds of animals, small black specks in the distance. On the way down the crater, I spent almost as much time looking at the student’s reactions as I spent looking at the wildlife. I had been told that before the trip each student did a research project on an animal that lives in the region and when the students saw the animals that they researched, they were quick to spout out information they knew.
Pictures, Pictures & More Pictures…:
At the beginning I took a few pictures on the drive out when we saw some giraffes, zebras, etc… While taking pictures a number of the kids wanted to look at my camera and take pictures as well. This turned out to be an interesting series of events, for several portions of the trip I gave my camera to some of the students in my safari jeep to take pictures with. I haven’t completely looked at them yet but we shall see how they turn out…
Overall, I don’t think there could have been a better way to start out my time in Africa. As far as blog posts go, I won’t be posting like this for every day but hopefully 1-2 times a week if I have time. For the other days I’ll attempt to have at least a 1-2 paragraph synopsis if there was anything interesting.