I was up before dawn today, not that this was a surprise of course, but this morning I had been laying awake for quite a few minutes listening to the silence outside and wondering if perhaps my ears were deceiving me? There was no wind, and I mean absolutely none, I couldn’t quite believe what I was NOT hearing. Maybe I was dreaming? Yes that must be it…
I dozed for a while longer and realised that I really hadn’t been dreaming, the wind was yet to start blowing and feeling inspired by the potential of a calm mornings ride I headed for the shower keen on making an early start. I had a small Weetabix and coffee breakfast prepared for me by the lovely Martha and soon after I was ready to go.
I thanked Martha and wished her a warm farewell before leaving and also asked her to give my regards to Willie as he was not yet awake. Thank you Hakuna Matata lodge but it’s time to move on.
I walked up the sandy track leading out of the Hakuna Matata lodge on my way back towards the road and after only a few seconds I was spotted by a group of children holding bowls of small fishes and they ran down the track to meet me hoping to sell their wares. I wasn’t really up for any little silver fishy’s right now but of course they weren’t going to be deterred by a simple ‘no’ so they escorted me back to the main road and waved me off as I went on my way into the calm, windless, morning.
It really was a lovely morning, the sun was already up, the temperature warm but not too hot, and I was still in partial disbelief that the air was completely calm, ahhhh what bliss!
The first ten miles were amazing, I followed the shoreline of beautiful lake Malawi feeling happy, content, and was enjoying the last of the level ground knowing that I would soon be faced with a steep climb up and over the mountain.
The ride this morning was such a difference from my last days riding when I had arrived at Willies lodge, and I casually pedalled along at an easy 10-12mph without a care in the world. The fishermen were setting up their boats for a morning session and as I passed the many sandy patches of beach that dotted the shoreline I felt as if I was on a beautiful island again. The ten miles of lakeside riding passed quickly and all too soon I had arrived at the switchback road that led up the mountain. Actually although I had a steep climb in front of me I had been looking forward to it, so I set myself in an easy gear, put a nice tune on my iPod, and up I went.
Ascent of Bike Man
The ascent was steep in parts but I was enjoying the challenge today and after only 5 miles I had reached the top and climbed about 800 metres in altitude in the process. Not wanting to stop yet I pushed on down the other side of the mountain and after a much shorter descent the road levelled off at just over 1000 metres and remained at this altitude for most of the way to Mzuzu, my destination for tonight. The riding had turned rather easy again as I now pedalled on through a quite beautiful valley between the mountains, and considering that it was the main route to the northern border I was a little surprised how quiet the road had become. I had tallied up 30 miles by the time I decided to take my first stop, I could feel my energy levels lagging so nice bowl of rice and beans was in order and quite perfectly I rolled into a village just as my odometer ticked over to thirty and I swung in my bike to the opposite side of the road and parked her up right next to the hanging carcass of a dead goat that was being masterfully carved up by two local guys and then fried up on the hot plate right next to it.
I actually didn’t fancy the goat meat right now although I must admit the smell of it being fried was inviting, but instead I walked into the interior of the eatery and taking a seat ordered the old faithful rice and beans that I knew would see me all the way to Mzuzu which was another 50 miles further on.
After my meal I set out again and taking it a little easier until my full belly had digested its lunch, I realised how lovely riding can be when there is no headwind to annoy you and slow your progress to a strained crawl. It was amazing, I really was having one of those days that make you appreciate what long distance riding is all about, the scenery was lovely, the road fairly level and smooth, the headwind non existent, and my mind was soaring with a feeling that I could take on the world, I was happy, really happy!
The mountain road that had been as flat as any mountain road gets started to get a little hilly as I approached Mzuzu. By the time I had ridden 70 miles I arrived at the largest town of the day called Ekwendeni, here I had to take a quick snack and soda break as my legs had begun to struggle a little, I blamed lack of food rather than that of weak muscles as I am sure that my skinny chicken legs were now trained mountain stompers that gobbled up hills with ease but even a honed athlete such as myself needs fuel for the fire to burn!
Unfortunately though this final stint still proved the hardest of the day, even with my sugar boost of soda and biscuits, and also the wind had finally decided to stick its nose in trying its best to put another mile preventing twist on things, but seeing as I was now so close to Mzuzu I wasn’t at all bothered by it, “too late my friend” I thought to myself as we plodded our way up the final hills into the grandest city of Malawi’s northern regions.
Using the POI (points of interest) setting on my Garmin GPS I tapped ‘lodging’ and looked through the list of accommodation that was available. I scrolled down to a location called “Joy’s Place” and seeing how my day had been full of joy I thought that this would be the ideal spot to take rest for tonight. It wasn’t that far from my current location either which was definitely a deciding factor, so I accepted the polite offer for my GPS to take me there and off we went. On the way to Joy’s I passed the most modern and grand supermarket I had seen in the whole of Africa so far called “Shopright” which was only about 500 metres from the hotel and I have to say seeing it got me a little excited! Only having crappy selections of often out of date items from small wooden kiosks for so long really makes a man hanker for isles of perfectly aligned cartons and packages all of varying colours, shapes, and sizes, chilled sections, freezers, ohhhhhh yesssss I’ll be back for you Shopright just you see if I’m not!!
I came off of the main road just past the supermarket and coasted down the dirt road that led me the short distance to Joys Place. I arrived outside moments later and gave a little knock, a “hello”, and waited patiently hoping someone had heard me? Thankfully the gates soon opened to reveal a beautifully kept garden with cushioned chairs dotted around the place, a nice main building with an open sided dinning area to the right. Quite lovely and definitely a surprise and what I had chanced upon here was nothing short of a Muzungu haven!
There were several tourists sat around idly and after being warmly welcomed by the Malawian who had opened the gate for me, Joy herself rose from her seat on the porch smiling benevolently to add her greetings as well. Joy was a lovely Korean lady, 36 years old (young like me), and quickly began to show me around the hostel. I have to say the style of the place was in very good taste, clean and orderly, as expected from a good upstanding Korean person, and best of all was the food menu which had a number of Korean options all of which made my stomach rumble during my perusal of the variety of tasty sounding dishes. Can’t wait to try some of these!
Once I had settled in and taken a well deserved shower, the remainder of the afternoon was spent relaxing and talking with the various guests here at the seemingly renowned Joy’s Place. I’m pretty sure every other guest at the hostel was working in Malawi in one form or another, some being American peace corp volunteers who are stationed at random places in Africa for a minimum of two years, and the others were doing it slightly more independently and generally in the continent for much shorter periods but still months on end. All of these guys, well girls to be precise, were here trying their best to help the people of Africa, they were all good, kind hearted folks truly wanting to make a difference and I have to say that I was in awe of them. To have the ability to adapt from their modern western cultures where almost anything is available at any given moment to one that is at the extremities of deprivation, places where even food and water cannot be taken for granted and for most of these modern day kids that need their smart phones with them even whilst on the toilet, forget it, many of these tiny remote villages wouldn’t have electricity to charge the damn things let alone high speed wifi connectivity! Tough is not a word even close to what they must be experiencing and to think they chose to do it as well?! Maximum respect is all I can say, I mean I love cycling through these places and enjoy my brief moments spent talking and joking with the locals while I grab something to eat, but to stay there 24/7 for months on end would be close to torture for me. The fact that I can always move on to the next place not having to cope with the day to day mundanity makes it doable for me, but these people are something else.
It occurred to me, being sat amongst these good “helper” people, that as much as I think that I am a good person I don’t think I would ever choose to do what they were doing, so I sat there listening to their many experiences feeling slightly inadequate as all I had done, and ever did for that matter was satisfying the purely selfish act of helping myself…
That night I went to bed with a parched throat and without any dinner, worried that it would prevent poor little Abdulah the starving African boy from down the street a meal as old fatty Muzungu here had eaten it all and cried into my pillow, which I suppose even one of those he didn’t have either, and eventually fell asleep thinking that perhaps it would be better to never wake up…?
Alternatively of course I could have just eaten Joy’s famous sweet and sour chicken with rice which was fan-bloody-tastic, and concluded that all of these lot were just mad.
I decided that in the future I would not be asking anymore probing questions of people’s comings and goings and instead would imagine they were all here to sample the world renowned African cuisine of rice, beans, and the excitingly bland ciema! Much better, and with this thought I went to bed with a content smile spread across my lips. Ahhhhhh Africa what a mentally torturing place you have become!