(66) ‘China, China’
Sunday 21st July
It was another cold night but we both slept well until Tim woke at 4am then struggled to sleep again. When the sun started to rise he got up and put the panniers outside and packed his sleeping bag and thermarest. This was a normal routine now after over a year on the road and done almost automatically. He put the stove on and loaded the panniers on to the bikes. Sharon appeared bleary eyed and put the toast on. The sun was just rising and wanting to get some miles done we cleared up quickly and made our way out to the road. The wind was picking up but this time it was more in our favour giving us a tail wind. We covered 20 miles then stopped for a cold drink and rode on for another 20. It was still only 12pm so we rode on for another 10 and stopped next to a shop, brought some eggs and cooked fried egg sandwiches with onions and our fresh pasties. We had spoken to the guest house in Lilongwe and they told us Andrew had safely arrived and had left for the airport to head back to the UK. It was strange without him and we missed him buttering our toast in the morning.
We spotted an American guy riding a bike in the opposite direction and we stopped to speak with him briefly. He was a Peace Core worker and lived in a nearby village. He asked if we were with the 2 Chinese cyclists further down the road. We said no and asked how far in front they were. He replied about 5 km. We both thought it must be Yang who we had ridden with in Kenya and his friend. We rode on thinking we might catch them but as we hadn’t had lunch yet we decided to stop – at that point our bellies were more important!
We left our lunch stop thinking they would be well ahead by now but we got our heads down and covered about 10-15 miles. We were starting to feel tired as the road had a few more hills and decided to stop at the next village for a cold drink. As we pulled over, a guy came running up to us and almost rugby tackled Tim. It was Yang and his friend Du. It was so good to see him again. We brought a coke and sat a chatted for a while about which route they had taken. We left the village and rode on together.
Excited to be riding with Yang again!
Sharon soon picked up a puncture that turned out to be the tyre falling apart. We had a new tyre on board thanks to Andy bringing one out – it was perfect timing. With the new tyre on and the old one donated to the Chinese, we rode on to find a water pump. We stopped at the next village and were kindly shown to the village well. We said hello to everyone and collected our water before riding on to find a camp spot. We didn’t need to ride far as the villages were spread out. We spotted a field with high grass and a small track so we ducked in while there was no one on the road. We found a good spot but we had been spotted by the owner of the field who came to see who we were. He was a nice guy and was very happy for us to stay in his field and we were tucked out of sight from the road. It was so good to catch up with Yang and Du and we had finished the day still with enough light to cook.
Du and Yang
Monday 22nd July
After being heard from the road by both land owners Tim found it hard to sleep. Even with Yang and Du with us it took him ages to settle. Sharon was out like a light and after a few hours of turning over Tim finally dropped into a deep sleep to wake with the wind blowing. As it hit the banana plantation that was in the field next to us it sounded like rain hitting the fly sheet. Sharon got up first and Tim got up with her putting the bags outside, completing the usual routine. We were all tired but wanted to get in a good day in on the bikes.
We ate the last of the toast and some porridge while Yang caught the ground on fire trying to figure out how Du’s stove worked. We were met by the farmer who greeted us the previous evening and were soon back on the road.
With a strong side/ tail wind, we covered the first 20 miles quite fast arriving in Nambala to pick up a few bits at the supermarket. Yang spotted a Chinese man who told him there was a Chinese construction camp in about 60 miles not far from the Luwanga River. The challenge was set and as it was at the river, we figured it would be downhill. We set off with a strong tail wind and soon covered another 20 miles. We stopped for lunch and while Sharon and the Chinese guys cooked lunch, Tim went in search of a better stick for Sharon’s bike-stand. With a bit of whittling the stick was soon cut to size and dinner was ready.
Sharon’s new stick being made
We got back on the road and pushed on for another 20 miles. We stopped in a tiny village to buy lemonade and a guy came over talking very loudly at us. We asked him to speak more quietly as did the local ladies. He started to speak to Yang who told him “I think you are drunk”. The reply made us smile – “I’m not drunk, it’s the alcohol.” We all laughed and decided it was time to get going.
The local shop selling the usual – soap powder, rice, biscuits etc
We passed this guy on the road and Tim helped him fix his bike
It was another 24 miles to the bridge and after not going downhill very much, we thought there must be a long downhill waiting for us. We did descend many times but also climbed many times.
On one of the many up hills
As we came over the brow of a hill, we passed some branches in the road which indicates a broken down vehicle. We first spotted the smoke and then the truck which was on fire as its wheel had burst into flames. We asked if everyone was ok and they replied yes. The passengers were sitting calmly on the side of the road as if nothing had happened.
The truck that had burst into flames
We continued on and as the sun set the colours were amazing. It had a strange autumnal feel but the temperature was 27 degrees. As the sun set a large moon appeared over the horizon behind us. We were still climbing steep short climbs with still no sign of the river.
A stunning sun set
The moon rising
With 1 mile to go we descended another short hill and the river suddenly appeared along with a suspension bridge. It was pretty much dark and with the moon shining on the water it looked stunning.
Sunset over the river
Riding in moon light
We asked at the river check point if there was a Chinese camp close by. The guard replied it was in about 4 km and was just up the road on the left. We climbed up from the river turning the pedals automatically and reached the junction. We turned down the dirt track and rode for 3 km and arrived at a campsite. We asked if the Chinese camp was close. It was another 1 km. We rode to another checkpoint and the guard pointed us on further up the track. We were starting to think they had misunderstood. We stopped a truck who told us it was another 4 km so we kept riding determined to get there.
We finally reached a large village and spoke to a local who told us it was only around 2 more corners. He was right – we arrived in a floodlit site that looked like a large caravan park from a distance. Yang spoke to the boss who said we could stay. We pushed our bikes up the slope and parked them while we went in to the canteen and sat while the cook made up a large spread of Chinese food. We were so grateful but we were shattered. We hadn’t been shown where we could sleep so we took it in turns to shower. As there wasn’t a separate one for women, Tim went off to guard Sharon when the boss turned up and showed us to our rooms that had their own showers. It was perfect and it was about 14 seconds before we passed out after a 90 miler.
Waiting for dinner – shattered!
Tuesday 23rd July
We decided to have a day off as we had really stacked up the miles due to a tail wind and wanting to get to the camp. We spent the day updating the blog and chilling out in the canteen which was complete with a pool table.
Being fed by a wonderful Chinese chef
Sharon plaiting Yang’s hair – he’s growing it as he wants braids in it when he gets to Cape Town!
Sharon needed her stitch taken out from the accident in Chipata and although Tim was keen to have a go, fortunately there was a Chinese doctor on site who whipped it out in a second. We watched a film and hit the sack early ready for another day in the saddle.
Wednesday 24th July
Tim woke from a deep sleep – it was 5.30am and time for breakfast. He got changed in a zombie like state and headed to the canteen with the sound of the breakfast siren going off. After we had joined all the other workers for breakfast we made our way back to our rooms to collect our bikes. Yang and Du were taking a while to get ready which gave Tim time to make a wire to put his British flag on. We had a lot of pictures taken by the team as Yang and Du arrived. We said thank-you and left for the bridge.
Tim with some of the Chinese workers at the camp
Shaz on the dirt road with the Chinese camp in the background
We rode down the road next to the river trying to spot any crocs or hippos – one of the workers had been killed by a crocodile a week before as he crossed the river in a boat.
The River Luwanga
Heading out towards the main road
We reached the main road and stopped briefly to get biscuits and noticed a row of stalls selling straw hats we guess targeted at the tourists who were heading from Livingstone to Lusaka.
Straw hat anyone?
We started the climb. It was steady going and knowing we had a day of climbing ahead of us we took it easy. It took a lot longer to cover 20 miles with the climbs and we stopped for lemonade in a tiny village on the road. The people were so nice and the shop owner even tried Kung-fu with Du which got the ladies rolling around laughing. They provided us with some river water and after purchasing a couple of lollies to keep us going, we descended a short hill and started up the next climb.
Passing an enormous Baobab tree
Getting supplies at the local shopping centre!
We all started to feel hungry so we spotted a church with a large tree with good shelter. We parked our bikes and laid out on our ground sheet. The pastor of the church came over and introduced himself as Pastor Timothy. We shook hands and he said we were welcome there. He offered us a place to sleep but needing to do more miles we finished our long lunch and continued to climb.
Passing another enormous Baobab tree
Shaz grew up on a farm with 2 sisters…
We reached the summit at 1,170 metres and moved over a small ridge to descend the other side. We didn’t descend as far as before and the road levelled out.
Yang on Sharon’s tail
We needed water and so stopped at a village well to fill our bottles. We continue on when a Chinese guy stopped and invited us to stay in Lusaka at their camp – this was great news for our budget! We rode on stopping in a larger town to pick up bread and headed up a long steady hill spotting a quarry on our left perfect for camping. Once the stones were cleared from the ground the tent was up and we could enjoy the rest of the evening around the fire.
Shaz cooking up a feast – vegetable curry and rice
Thursday 25th July
We both had a good sleep and with the sun rising lighting up our tents in the quarry we packed our kit and had breakfast. Sharon was feeling home sick as we hadn’t been in touch with home for what felt a life time and when we did, it was to organise things to come out with Andrew and not the usual chat. We left our great spot and rode out to the highway.
Our fantastic camp spot
Leaving to re-join the highway
The road continued to climb up to 1,100 metres and rose and fell for the next 20 miles where we stopped in a tiny village to get a drink. While we sat drinking yoghurt (our new favourite drink) Yang and Du chewed on sugar-cane – a habit they said they’d had since Egypt. We turned the map over on Sharon’s bike which now showed Lusaka and got going. We continued to climb passing an over turned truck which was on its side due to the road’s camber and having a heavy load.
The truck on its side
Spot the telecom aerial up on the hill pretending to be a palm tree!
We reached 1,200 metres rising and falling and after covering 40 miles of what seemed the same view from the top of each hill, we stopped at a village to pick up a few bits for lunch. Finding out there was hot springs a mile ahead we rode on to take a look and find a good spot to have lunch. After a bit of searching as there was no sign post we found a small fountain of very hot water coming from the ground. It was too hot to touch even 50 metres down-stream. We spotted a good tree and relaxed for the next hour making fried egg sandwiches. Yang realised he had lost his phone but with many people walking nearby anyone could have picked it up. We cleared up and started up the next short climb.
Stopping at the hot springs
We had heard Zambia was flat but so far we hadn’t seen much flat. We stopped in a small town to grab a coke which was one of the first sellers of it outside of the big towns- quite unusual for Africa. We were joined by a nice drunk man and watched another drunk man dancing in the street to music coming from a truck which was having its tyre fixed. He had many onlookers which didn’t seem to bother him.
We got going – it was still 45 miles to Lusaka and we hoped to have a short day the following day. The road levelled out more making our going much faster. The sun was starting to set and needing water we stopped at a small village at a checkpoint and went in search of a well. We were directed to the first proper deep well we had seen close up which was about 20 metres down to the water level. A long rope and bucket was brought out and we were soon stoked up and ready to find a camp spot.
Yang getting water
We would have asked in the village but it was the first place in Zambia that people weren’t that friendly. We rode on a couple more miles and turned off the highway down a dirt track. We arrived at a small cluster of well-made round mud huts that hosted a family of farmers. They were lovely and didn’t blink an eyelid when we asked if we could camp. We chatted to them showing them how we pitched the tent and how we cooked. The stars soon came out and were amazing and some of the best we had seen since The Sudan. We were soon full and ready for a good night’s sleep and to rest our tired legs.
Friday 26th July
As we drifted off to sleep one of the lady’s called to us to make sure our food wasn’t outside the tent because the dogs would have it. With ours already safely in the tent we fell asleep. We were woken a few hours later as the temperature dropped, by a small heard of goats. They sounded funny with their bleating and farting noises. We then heard a thud and Du shout out. One of the goats had jumped on top of his tent. It did make us chuckle.
We woke with the sun rising but it was still only 4 degrees. It was hard to get used to the cold at night and temperatures of 35 during the day. We cooked our toast and jam and the farmer’s wife showed us into her kitchen. It was lovely and so homely. It was made complete by a kitten in front of the fire keeping warm.
Our camp in the small settlement
Sharon with the family
We said thank you to the family and re-joined the road. We had 35 miles to cover before Lusaka and with a strong tail wind and less hills we made good progress. We stopped after 20 miles and brought a coke and a couple of lollies and rode on. Yang spoke to a couple Chinese drivers from the camp and hoped to see them later. We arrived on the outskirts of the city passing the airport and rang to get directions.
Finally arriving at Lusaka
We crossed a roundabout with a huge chicken in the middle as it was the ‘home of chicken production.’ It looked so funny but we had to concentrate on the road! We rode for the next few miles arriving at the camp. Yang went in to find Mr Lee who wasn’t there and he found out that there was a huge meeting involving some Government officers so we wouldn’t be able to stay. We rode back to the highway and on into town. Spotting a shopping mall, Yang went in to use the Internet while the rest of us picked up a few bits in the supermarket and went to a Chinese construction site to cook. Yang returned and we said goodbye to them both as they had found accommodation with some Chinese workers and we planned to stay at a hostel. We headed along the highway following the GPS to the backpackers. The first place we tried didn’t have camping and the rooms were expensive but the second not only had camping but gave us a 50 per cent discount after Tim told the manager what we were doing.
We pitched the tent and as it was still early Tim ventured into the pool which would have been more at home in the arctic. After finally warming up we enjoyed a cooked meal and a couple of beers before retiring to our tent that now seemed to have gained the talent of amplifying the sound from the bar to our ears making it hard to sleep. We’re not sure if it was the increase in sound or just being used to the quiet of camping in the bush or we were getting old but it did take ages to get to sleep.
Saturday 27th July
We got up and cooked toast after a few failed attempts due to the jet getting blocked. We needed a few bits from the supermarket and with a list in hand we set off into town. We soon arrived at a large shopping mall which seemed totally out of place. It was incredible – so much choice. How can we go so quickly from shops that sold flip flops, soap and soggy biscuits to one that sold almost anything you could think of? The problem was we went in hungry so with 3/4 of a ton of food that we really didn’t need (but was delicious) we headed back to our camp. We managed to pass a backpacker’s that had decent Internet and after a month of nothing but unreliable connections we managed to post a blog and prepare a little for our next one. With both our eyes going square and thinking of a hundred more people we would have loved to have contacted, we returned to camp and cooked up a feast. We chatted to a few other tourists, one which told us that Hanae had stayed opposite where we were only 3-4 weeks earlier. It’s such a small world. We had had email contact from her recently and she was making good progress towards Cape Town. It was so nice to chat to the people at the campsite and find out what their trips involved. It can be so hard to try and avoid talking about our trip but when we speak to so many people we sometimes just want to know about them. It ended up being a quieter night or maybe we were more tired but we both dropped into a nice deep sleep ready for another rest day.
Sunday 28th July
We woke late on the day that our local CTC club in Devon was doing a freewheeling competition – a personal favourite of ours as it involved cycling with very little effort and a trip to the pub to celebrate the usual sterling effort. As we weren’t at home, we commemorated the day by having a lie in : )
Sharon did some washing and then we went to the supermarket to buy beer and chocolate to congratulate ourselves on a busy day. We had planned to Skype home only to find the power had gone off leaving us literally in the dark. The power did resume which gave us chance to speak with Tim’s sister Tracy and Sharon’s mum and dad. Fortunately we had managed to speak to Sharon’s best-friend Katie and Cath and Natalie (Sharon’s sisters) the day before but as always nothing here in Africa is straight forward. As usual we came to be grateful for the internet we had had and with another day’s riding the following day, we headed to bed ready to start a week’s ride to Victoria Falls.
Thanks for reading!