Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Into the Heart of Zambia - Destination Kasama.

A Morning in Lusaka

A familiar bird chirping in a tree outside my lodging window woke me. It was a sound I had heard so often but couldn’t tell the owner of such a sweet voice.  I knew I should be on my way travelling north, but I did not feel like getting out of bed. These were holidays and sleep was part of the adventure. I drifted between sleep and being fully awake as I thought of the 1000 or so kilometers that lay ahead of the day’s trip.

It has always been my habit from high school to wake up at the second cock crow, something that has stuck with me even though I periodically treated myself to a good sleep. My way of life on this matter is that good sleep is a good antidote to one’s health. So, I insist on not less than seven hours of sleep. Generally I am an early bird to bed except in difficult circumstances. If the anecdotal evidence of my sleeping habit is anything to go by, I am grateful to God for a healthy body augmented by weekly exercises, a relic of my younger days when I played a mélange of sports: rugby, lawn tennis, football, badminton, and volleyball. I even tried cricket at one time many years ago.

I rolled out of bed. I had to type my ride report. My first problem was the sockets in this part of the world were the square-type. My computer had round a plug with round pins an oversight that was to affect the progress of writing my ride-reports. Frustrated, I went into the bathroom, which had the largest water dispenser I have yet seen — the size of a platter in rather a unique bathroom made of stone, wall to wall. It was also the first place I had a real encounter with mosquitoes on this trip. Fortunately I had slept under a net; however, in the office of the proprietor there were swarms of them. If I hate certain living things, I am not ashamed to say gnats top that list. I was not going, in the tradition of St Francis of Assisi, to call them brother mosquitoes. Don’t the statistics of the WHO say they kill more people than combined HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and a host of other anti-human vermins? These thoughts preoccupied my mind until I left the bathroom.

I had left the bike unpacked the previous evening and so it was easy to get ready and going. In the meantime, I wanted some more of Zambian Kwacha for petrol and so I had to find a Bureau de change. Zambia is one odd place where the use of the dollar is not an offence. I paid my lodge rent with a 20$ bill, but I was not sure this would be the case up country, so the need for Zambian Kwacha. The goodness of the human heart came to my rescue. I asked John, who had watched over my bike in the night. The man had been extremely kind. He loaned me his phone to send some test messages to my various contacts: Andy and family. I wanted to send just two text messages. But he said I could have the phone for the entire night. I was humbled. I remember joking – if you girlfriend calls and you don’t reply or some strange voice answers, what would she think of you. He laughed and said “you are my guest; take the phone”. The following morning he also cleaned my screen and helped me perform my routine ritual of securely tying everything on the bike. At this point a small crowd had gathered. After many words or appreciation, I set out to find the mall, which was on my route out of the city.

I arrived early; the mall was to open at 8:15am. I struck conversation with a well dressed security man like you would find in any metropolitan city. Our topics were diverse. Every time, I chatted with someone, the conversation would begin with the bike. For most folks, it was fascinating to find, a ‘black’ man touring on a bike. In general, and only from anecdotal evidence, tourism is considered a ‘white’ man’s activity. I often wondered whether the enjoyment of the good things of life is the preserve of certain races. Well, the question that was asked repeatedly went something like this:
“You mean you have come all the way from South Africa?”
“And I enjoyed every moment of it”, was my standard answer.
“On a bike”, the conversation would continue.
"Yes, in flesh, bone, blood and metal" I would reply.
This was usually followed with the nodding or shaking of the head, to which I would put a positive interpretation to imply agreement or wonderment. In the meantime, the Bureau De Change opened and the security man literally led me by hand and explained that this man is travelling and needs some kwacha. No paper work just the exchange of currencies – my 100$ for an equivalent in kwacha. Loaded, and in the company of my new acquaintance, I went to ShopRite and stocked up on water, samosas, rolls, and biscuits. It was now about 8:30am and I was anxious to set off. I bid my guest farewell thanked him with a 5000K and was enroute to my next destination in northern Zambia.

I eased myself into the journey gradually building up speed. Zambia is a unique country. The fact that it is wooded right from Kazungula provided such a contrast with the familiar South African Veld. T2 is the highway cutting though Zambia from south to North (part of the Great North Road) passes through tropical forests that stretch as far as the eye can see — different from the wooded shrubs of Northern Botswana. While I drunk in all this beauty with my eyes, and breathed in the clean air, most of this part of the journey was hard core riding on a very good road through Momba, Kabwe and Kapiri Mposhi where I stopped to have a good meal and rehydrate. I know I don’t make much fuss about eating but when I have a chance to eat, I never do it the military style, namely in a hurry, for it was most certainly the case that my next meal would be the next day.

After energizing myself, I set out to enjoy the ride and Scorpion eagerly and impressively yielded with her excellent performance. Man and machine churned away miles and miles of road. We travelled northeastwards, through Mkushi, Serenje, Kalonje and at Mpika, I turned northwards off T2 into M1. Along the way I found lots of honey on sale. I bought a litter. Anyone who has eaten unadulterated honey, as God intended it to be, will know that it is the sweetest stuff one can lay hands on. I also came across the biggest mushrooms I had ever seen — as large as a medium size tray. I remember taking photos but I don’t know what happened. Well, after refueling, now late afternoon, I set off. I was anxious it was getting late and my eleventh commandment is never to ride at night. Surprisingly the road was tarred and great. My target was to reach Kasama — the provincial capital of the region. In this part of the world, the sun sets early and by six o’clock it was dark.

On a clear day with the stars bright in the sky looking down on mother earth, I came across hundreds of young men and women hanging out on the road chilling away the evening. What a contrast! What would the young stars in a city such as Johannesburg be engaged in at this time? This was Bembaland and Bemba was the lingua franca. I speak English, but not everyone speaks it as I soon discovered. In one place, I stopped to enquire the distance to Kasama — my GPs had given up its ghost, a terrible inconvenience. Well, we could hardly communicate. The 20 year olds could hardly speak a word of English and neither could I speak Bemba. In next place I stopped they simply bolted away, every one scattering into different directions. I was intrigued. I could not understand why they ran away: was it the bike, the manner I was dressed, the fact that I spoke English or some unknown superstition. I chuckled and rode off.

By now, the Zambian Sun had completely disappeared behind the horizon and the pitch darkness enveloped me like a blanket. I had reduced my speed to a moderate 80km. I realised that my tall screen was actually a nuisance. For some reason it was obstructing my sight and vision to the extent that I stood to look over it. How odd? It was pitch dark that I decided that I was quits riding tonight. I would stop where my heart told me to stop as soon as possible.

I came across three teens and decided to try my luck. After salutations and pronouncing my names, I requested to see their father if he was at home. The house was good looking and tucked behind a green hedge. The teens response was “yes”. Promptly one of them ran off. Soon an elderly man came up to me. I presumed that the youngster had communicated my intentions. When I said I was requesting permission to pitch my tent, he said there was a primary school three kilometers down the road. Meanwhile, the youngster had returned with a glass of water in beer glass which I gladly accepted but it mystified me that he had brought water. I never mentioned water anywhere in our conversation. I drank the water and thanked the old man for his time, water and rode away into the darkness.

“Why didn’t the old man reject my request?” I was angry, but did not know why. I didn’t think the old man's refusal to be my host was anything worth losing one temper over. But combined with the fatigue of riding, a hot day, hunger anything was possible.  I settled in the saddle and took the old man's refusal as an omen to reach Kasama. I resigned myself to this task. I might have ridden for 70km before I started seeing lights in the distance. I consoled myself the day would nevertheless come to an end. It was a relief to finally reach my destination. I had ridden 865km and had run out of enthusiasm to go any further.

When you arrive at a destination after the sun has set, it is kind of hard to figure out the geography. I decided to follow my heart — ride through the town until your heart tells you to stop — something like tossing a coin but even better. That I did and came to a brightly lit place which I assumed was some sort of lodging. I went to ask if they could give me permission to pitch my tent. The guard went to fetch the manager. Good fortunes smiled on me. By now sleep was beckoning. The manager, Richard a soft spoken and a very polite man personally directed and helped me to pitch the tent under a lamp post in a secluded area of his compound, of course, after he had heard my story that I was a tourist travelling through eleven African countries. His property was a hotel facility still under construction.

Nearby the aroma of roasting stake wafted through the air — how the mind works when it smells good food. I simply had to eat and an order was without further ado. Meanwhile, the guard showed me the ablutions and where to find water. Even though I was dog-tired, I did not want to appear rude, so I spent some time chatting with them about the places I had visited. The stories flowed helped by a local beer who name I don’t remember.

They were kind enough to realise I was tired and allowed me to retire to bed or rather my tent. I had no cares whatsoever. I just wanted to sleep. My philosophy of performance is ‘one day at time’; sleep is all I wanted to do now. I lay down to say thank you Father for the wonderful ride and some where in the process  I promptly passed out.

An End to a Beginning.

How the End Begun Although I have never finished my story, there is an end to every beginning.  One such end came many moons ago, when a...