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Current Location : Grounded in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe waiting for critical bike and camera parts to arrive before heading to Zambia and north to Ethiopia.
Photos: Special thanks to Panasonic for the camera equipment and Shutterfly for photo hosting. Check the link at:
Magical Mozambique, Part 1 of 2
So after 6 months in the states planning, learning the ropes of fancy audio-video equipment, and getting my affairs in order for an 16 month expedition of Africa the time finally came to hop on a plane to Africa to continue north. The bike and all my gear had been safely stored at Mohamed’s house in South Africa so all I had to do was get myself and almost 200 pounds of my new equipment out there. The adventure begins!
First, I had to find a way to fit all my gear into two check-in bags and two carry-on pieces. The BOB Trailer is a new addition to my gear and by the time I packed that all up I was not left with much space in the two Ortlieb yellow dry bags. After 6 hours of packing I finally got it all in and boy were they heavy!
My mom took me to the airport in San Diego to tackle the challenge that I would be overweight by over 100 pounds on a flight to London. Luckily, we knew the ticket agents and they took great care of me. I managed to catch a business class seat standby with American Airlines (thanks Mom!) and got all my gear to London in style for about $100. I was off to a good start.
In London I met up with my friend Rachael where I planned to spend a few days then carry on to Johannesburg flying standby with Iberia Airlines. This is where it gets REALLY interesting. When Rachael drove me back to the airport with my 4 heavy bags at over 200 pounds I wheeled them over to the Iberia ticket counter. First, the agent informed me that the flights looked very full and I was unlikely to get on. But he suggested checking my bags and giving it a try. Once he saw the weight of my gear he quoted me over $1,000 in excess baggage charges! Whoooaaa!
Even with the managers blessing, they best they could do is charge me only $700 in excess baggage. On top of that, in London you can only have ONE carry on! So I would have to check my camera equipment and pay even more. I simply took a deep breath, took my bags off the scales, and wheeled my massive cart to a corner to regroup. I saw the Swiss Air counter to my right and felt inspired to share my predicament with a jolly looking agent.
Swiss Air is not part of the “One World Alliance” that American Airlines is part of so I could not “legally” fly standby with my mom’s flying benefits. I told them I was working with fellow Swiss company Novartis to do my part to help out with Malaria in Africa and I needed to get down there. Turns out they had a flight leaving in 3 hours that DID had space AND he said he would waive the excess baggage charges. But, I did not have a ticket so they suggested carting my gear over to American Airlines in the other terminal to see what could be done.
I arrived sweating head to toe and the American agents could not “legally” do anything but stamp the standby voucher for Iberia saying it was useable with other American partners. It was now up to Swiss Air if they wanted to accept the “grey area” voucher. I carted the gear again to the other terminal (this is no small feat at London Heathrow, I might add), and gave my best puppy dog eyes and stamped Iberia voucher to the agents at Swiss Air.
It was clear by their expressions that what we were trying to do was not “in the policy” but somehow could be overlooked when necessary. So, they accepted the ticket and checked not two, not three, but FOUR pieces of baggage for me with ZERO excess baggage charges! So, I got me and 200 pounds of gear to South Africa for about $200! (I don’t suggest trying this without a good dose of Peace Pedalers mojo on your side)
I arrived in Johannesburg and got a lift to a backpackers near the airport where I relaxed a few days and sorted my gear. Then the owner of the place took me and all my gear 500KM to Mohamed’s place in Hazy View near Nelspruit, South Africa for free! Turns out he was going there the exact day I needed to get there to meet Mohamed. Those Peace Pedalers angels are out in full force, eh?
First, a little history about my buddy Mohamed. He had contacted me after stumbling across the Peace Pedalers website and was eager to do some riding with me. I had spent a few days with him way back in April 2006 and we reunited and spent the next few days at his house getting the tandem dusted off after 6 months in storage and getting set up for the expedition. There was lots of work to be done as I now had the bike, panniers, trailer and equipment all in one place so it was time to do some final testing before we hit the road.
The day finally arrived when Mohamed was able to get his 5 days off from his job as the owner of a Total gas station and we packed up his car to drive to a backpackers on the border of Mozambique and South Africa where he would leave his car to pick up after our adventure. We drove through the stunning Kruger Park on the way to Komatipoort but were driving a bit too fast in the overgrown park to spot much more than some Giraffe, Zebras, Hippos and other cool critters.
We arrived at the backpackers where the owners Cameron and Yolanda welcomed us with open arms. These two are REAL travelers, and it was a pleasure sharing our stories and gearing up the bike for the ride to the border of Mozambique the next morning. Both Mohamed and I had a pretty rough night sleep due to an invasion of mosquitoes who seemed to be unaffected by the fan and repellant we had on. We got a bit later start than planned, but still managed to get up and on the bike by about 7AM.
Cameron did not charge us for our stay, which we really appreciated. He also assured me that my surfboard would be in Tofu by the time I got there, which would be the final stop for the traveling surf board I picked up in Cape Town 8 months earlier. Cameron was the first “guest camera man” to shoot Mohamed and I has we pedaled our first few strokes of the new Peace Pedalers filmed expedition towards the border. It was Saturday that day and borders tend to get very busy on weekends so we were hoping for the best.
The ride started with a steep climb to the border but our fresh legs and the 20 tooth Race Face Grannie Gear made the climb a quick spin to the top. We could not believe our eyes when we rolled up and saw a line of cars and humans a mile long! It would be at least 2-3 hours to get through the border if we waited. We had to beat the afternoon heat so we just pedaled right to the front of the line of cars and smiled, played dumb, and pedaled right by the guards who looked at us with total bewilderment.
So we managed to exit South Africa, now we had to enter Mozambique. The line at the visa office was horrendous. We parked the bike and I began to wait in the line among the masses that were cutting, pushing and clawing their way to the front of the line. The afternoon heat was starting to set in so this long border line was far from welcome. Luckily, a friendly guy drove up and whispered to me that there is a secret door where I would be able to get into and sort my visa out in a few minutes. I decided to trust him and explore this mysterious door. It was there alright, and I we were able to turn a 3-5 hour border crossing into a quick pass through in under an hour!
The good news about our first day of pedaling in Mozambique was that it was overcast and the sun was not going to be a huge issue. However, there headwinds were stiff and the hills of the Lembo Mountains never ending. Add to this the fact that we both had very little sleep the night before and I was out of shape after 6 months in USA without my bike and you have the ingredients for a tough first day in the saddle. Luckily, it was a short day of only 50KM to Mohamba.
But, I was soon to discover, the concept of distance changes drastically when you have a 300+ pound bicycle. Before I rode with all the production equipment I could do 50KM in a few short hours. But now every hill required a drop to the grannie gear and our average speeds were only about 12KM/hour.
Luckily, the scenery was stunning and the conversation fresh and interesting with Mohamed. Neither of us had ever been to Mozambique so it was a new adventure for us both. Mohamed is a avid mountain biker training for a 4-day endurance race so he had some strong legs and was eager to put them to the test.
We passed dozens of street vendors selling coal that many people use for cooking in the small villages. We stopped for some food and met a man whose leg was blown off by a land mine during the civil war just a few short years back; a site I would see plenty as I made my way north in Mozambique. But for the most part it was a long corridor of fast moving highway traffic as we made our way to the back roads at Mohamba.
By the time we rode our first 45KM my legs began to cramp big time. Luckily I had some Sport Legs and we found water just in time. We rolled into Mohamba on a festive Saturday night and were greeted by dozens of kids in the streets, a soccer game was in full swing, and Mohamed was able to soon find a local Mosque to say his prayers.
We found a cheap motel for about $3 each for our own room, cleaned up, and walked around the charming little town where the Saturday night festivities were in full effect. The market was busting with activity, mostly with dozens of small bars serving beer, wine and other spirits to drunken Mozambiquen men—one of the most obvious activities passed on by the early Portuguese explorers.
Since Mohamed does not drink, we did not spend much time using the bars as a gateway to meet the locals on our trip together. Food was another challenge as Mohamed cannot eat anything that is not Halal. It was fascinating to be with someone so committed to his faith. He prayed 5 times a day and explained to me how God was “flexible” when one was traveling and allowed him to pray shorter prayers and with a less strict time table. He was the first Muslim rider to come on the bike for more than a few kilometers and I learned a lot about his faith.
The town of Moamba was just the perfect size for us and we felt at home, safe and found it easy to meet new friends in every direction. We both slept like a rock after the hard ride and were up at 5AM to try to beat the heat as we made our way to the small dirt road north towards Magude. Our previous day’s headwind had shifted to a tail wind and we were soon whisking along a quiet country road as woman carried huge bottles of water on their heads from the river and men gently waved from the shade with their friends, likely nursing a hangover from the regular night of drinking.
We followed the stunning Incomati river and several times were able to ride with it on our left with rich vegetation of massive shady trees supporting birdlife that sang the perfect soundtrack to our early morning ride. Our legs felt strong at first and the kilometers were clicking away as we continued to get to know each other. Mohamed was fascinated was with the dynamics of the Peace Pedalers project and I was curious to learn about his life as a devout Muslim, father and business owner in South Africa. There was always plenty to talk about.
As we turned away from the river we ran smack dab into another headwind and we both seemed to run out of power as the sun began to really heat up the temperature close to 40 degrees (about 100 F). We pedaled into a tiny village, not even on the map, and grabbed some much needed shade and water just before the peak afternoon heat kicked in. We both ended up taking an afternoon nap but were rudely awakened by pesky flies that seemed to love our ears and mouths. Yuck!
We decided to take a hike to the river for a swim, which we were told was just a short walk away. Turns out the “short walk” was almost 45 minutes in the peak heat of Mozambique and the reward was a pond with stagnant water we both would not dare enter. As we walked back to the shop a wrinkly old farmer flashed his huge grin of rotten teeth and motioned us to come check out his house—a one room bamboo shack with outdoor fire pit for cooking. After a short dialog in broken Portuguese (I’m glad I took the time to study it a few years back!) we made a plan to all eat lunch together; we would bring a bag of rice from the store and he would chop up some fresh tomatoes, onions and peppers from his little farm he tended.
Mohamed and I soon returned with the tandem and all our gear to settle in with this kind man, who we soon called Juan, and his other workers of the farm. We were soon eating an amazing, simple meal of rice and veggies cooked on the open fire with a crew of friendly men, most of them quite drunk. Alcohol is one thing the Portuguese brought over a few centuries back and far too many of the natives unfortunately are alcoholics. But the mix of people kept the laughter and giggles rolling as we relaxed in the shade of a huge tree with new friends, fumbling over the Portuguese phrase book and piecing together various forms of communication.
After the meal and meeting our new friends Mohamed and I decided that the cultural experiences we could have staying the night with Juan and the crew far outweighed riding into the relentless heat, which only seemed to get hotter even into the afternoon hours. Juan and the boys were ecstatic when we told asked them if we could pitch our tent in front of their house and they all pitched in as we pieced together the Sierra Designs tent poles and erected our home for the night. We were then delivered a huge jug of water and small tub to take our bath and before we knew it we were cool, clean and ready for the evening festivities.
Mohamed and I met up with the chief of the village and his family and we gave him plenty of Malaria medication, which he was extremely grateful. We had been giving them out to individuals along the way here and there, but village chiefs were the best bet since they knew what was happening in dozens of households likely too poor to afford transportation to city clinics and the cost of medication.
We dug back into the rice and veggies for dinner and the guys had their own strong alcohol and were determined to get pretty drunk as Mohamed and I made our way early into the tent as we were on an “early to bed, early to rise” schedule to beat the heat out cycling. The gibberish and 1st grade conversation got old pretty early and luckily we were both tired enough to eventually fall asleep with our tent right next to the campfire party.
As usual, we got a late start in the morning as the boys were keen to cook us up another meal of rice and veggies. The breakdown of the tent and sorting of our gear took a while too as both of us were a bit rusty on finding where everything went on the bike. We finally pedaled off about 8AM, 2 hours later than planned, and it was fixing to be a real scorcher that day with not a cloud in sight.
The long day of rest did us both well and we were soon flying down the rough dirt track through small villages on our way to the town of Chinhanguanini. The scenery continued to amaze us with diverse sub tropical trees and vegetation, countless birds and insects, and the ever-changing eye candy of Mozambiquan woman carrying massive loads on their heads while the men sat under trees with their buddies. We were hoping to find some food and water in Chinhanguanini but it turned out to be a complete ghost town for the most part with abandoned buildings and no foot traffic at all.
We did manage to find some locals out by the Incomati River who were building a new school funded by the Japanese. They were making concrete bricks and washing clothes in a truly picturesque scene one would image when they conjure up images of how Africa would look. We met the village chief and his friends who were extremely welcoming and it was hard to leave, but we had to move on as Mohamed only had 4 days off work. We gave him a stack of Malaria medication, which almost brought him to tears. He shared with us how huge a problem Malaria is in their village with dozens of deaths in the last few years. The closest clinic is an expensive full day ride away, which often times is too long to save the lives infected villagers.
The road after Chinhanguanini got worse from a driving perspective, but better from a cycling perspective. On the way to Chinhanguanini we hit tons of stretches of deep sand where we were forced to push the massive tandem in the stifling, energy-sucking heat. But the second part of the journey the road became more like a mountain bike trail with challenging turns, thin and rocky pathways, and quick up and down sections. We were having a blast dicing our way through the terrain, which helped us forget about the heat, which was pushing 40+ degrees once again and keeping us dripping in sweat.
We were both just about out of water and food when we spotted the most lovely village we’ve ever seen. Again, it’s not on the map but we felt inspired to ride into a home unannounced and see if we could poach some shade, water and heat from their fire to cook up some noodles for lunch. As we pulled in, we were a bit stunned when we made a 2-year old baby cry his eyes out at the site of our space machine and white and Indian skins. But luckily, this little boy would be the only one not to fully embrace the total strangers who rode into their land.
In all reality, we were the first Westerner and Indian this boy and many of the family ever met. We were WAY back roads Mozambique by the time we arrived and this family was living a truly traditional, unspoiled African lives. There was no power, no running water and the homes were all thatch and mud. Their livelihood relied on growing their own Maize, collecting daily water from the river and vegetables grown on their own land. And by golly, they were happy with this simple life and grateful to share a slice of their peaceful life with us.
Little by little, more and more of the family came out to greet us. We were soon surrounded by a dozen or so family members and melded into their afternoon routine. A few of the young woman were sorting the locally grown Maize, a variety of corn, while an older woman with her baby on her back pounded it into a fine powder they use to make porridge commonly called Pub or “Millies” throughout Africa. It was fascinating to sit and witness traditional African life in Mozambique!
The grandma was cooking up a huge pot of the yummy stuff on the open fire below a drying area where they put the corn to dry after being picked. The feeling on the land was peaceful and an overall energy of contentment filled the air as children played games with homemade toys, the teenagers giggled and chatted in a never-ending stream of conversations, and chores seemed to blend into the social fabric of family life.
Our Ultimate Direction water bladders were soon filled with their drinking water while Mohamed and Grannie made room on the fire to boil some water to cook up our noodles. They pulled out a small table, a hand knitted table cloth and some adorable tin plates and thin silverware to make us feel welcome and special as we ate our instant noodles in the company of new friends and relaxed in the shade. They served us delicious fresh mangoes for dessert and with sticky fingers and mango fibers in our teeth we both acknowledged this as one of the best travel experiences in our lives. Life was good in rural Mozambique indeed!
We only had about 20KM until the town of Magude but the sweltering mid-afternoon heat was still pushing 40+ degrees so we knew we would have to take is slow and easy. We got a standing ovation departure from the family and their neighbors as we pedaled our way north on the bumpy dirt road with full bellies and feelings of gratitude and appreciation for our lunchtime experience.
It took us about two hours to finally make it to Magude with several stops to cool down in the shade of massive trees where birds sang to us as we rested on our backs with sweat poured from our overheated bodies. We had expectations that Magude would have some nice facilities to treat our tired bodies to some pampering but were a bit let down as we pedaled into the neglected town where bullet holes still decorated many buildings from the recent civil war and lodging options were very limited with two run down hotels.
We managed to find the “best hotel in town”, but were soon unloading out gear into our rooms that were 45+ degree saunas. Mohamed took off to pray after his shower and we headed into town for some much needed dinner and supplies for the next day. After our huge day in the saddle and modest meal of instant noodles we were hungry--VERY hungry. We found the one open restaurant and ordered full chickens and salads, and it took over an hour for our food to arrive. That seemed like the longest hour of our lives as our stomachs and bodies screamed for replenishment.
When we made it back to our room, the temperature outside the hotel had cooled to a very comfortable temperature so we were optimistic that our rooms would have cooled down as well. You can image our frustration when we stepped into our saunas that were still baking hot. The predicament we were in was that if we opened a window we risked getting bit by malarial mosquitoes. If we leave it shut, we sweat out every bit of water in your body. Fortunately we both managed find fans that allowed us to get a decent night sleep.
Our last day would take us 70KM or so to the town of Palmera, just outside the capital of Maputo where we planned to take transport into the busy city. We both woke up sore and exhausted from three straight days of hard riding with the heavy tandem but were determined to have four full days of riding together to help Mohamed train for his 4 day mountain bike race. Normally I like to take a break every 3rd day, especially with the load we were lugging.
We caught a lovely sunrise as we ate our breakfast outside our hotel rooms and were soon pedaling through endless kilometers of sugar cane. As the sun rose higher in the sky the temperatures soared quickly and a mean headwind made our progress slow. Our conversation seemed to diminish as our energy levels were both pretty low. Even the tunes from my MP3 player were not lifting my spirits. It was not until we made the turn back towards Maputo and the winds were behind us that we cheered up. That’s just how touring goes, some days are cheery and others dreary.
But the tail wind and thought of spending our last night together indulging in some seafood in Maputo got the legs pumping and smiles flowing. We passed dozens of charming villages, farms, and roadside stores before reaching our hitching town of Palmera. The scenery was stunning with bright green fields, marshes, bird life, farm animals and colorful, friendly people carrying just about everything on their heads and returning our smiles and waves. We rolled into Palmera just before the heat became unbearable and, as usual, became the town spectacle as we began to unpack and disassemble the bike to catch lift into Maptuo.
We had heard from many people that the streets of Maputo were extremely busy and were advises not ride the long loaded tandem and trailer so we caught a lift with a local taxi with a trailer for a few bucks directly to the town center. We made safely to Fatima’s Backpackers, showered up and Mohamed took off to find a mosque to pray while I had a few cold beers and told stories with fellow travelers.
Mohamed had to leave early the next morning so he hit the sheets early while I proceeded to paint the lively town of Maputo with a wild group of travelers from France, Spain, Israel and South Africa. I was happy to have completed the first four days of touring with the new filming strategy and we managed to capture about 7 hours of great footage, which we hope you’ll be able to see in some way in the near future.
I spent the next few days resting, sorting my gear and getting ready to explore Swaziland once again and bring the magic of that country to the world with all the fancy dancy camera equipment I have. The nightlight in Maputo is beyond words and I have no problem finding plenty venues to keep my social butterfly busy. More on Maputo later—I returned there three more times as it was my base camp for many adventures. But in short, it’s one of the top 3 cities I’ve ever experienced for food, fun, nightlife and music.
So I’m going to sign out from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where customs is still evaluating my shipment of critical camera and bike equipment to keep me heading north towards Morocco. Until they okay it, I’m mountain biking, recording live music, socializing and catching up with myself.
Stay tuned for "The Return to Swaziland"
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