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April 10th, 2010 | Africa

Karonga on the Lake…

With tyres strapped securely on, we are ready to roll...

"Can you fit anything else on...!!" asked Carol, keen to make me some sandwiches for the road...

While the house still slumbered, I quietly carried all my kit through to the garage where Big Fella stood waiting… Getting tyres tied on properly was my main concern. I opted to hang them off the Top-box, and tied them down with two bungi cords, as well as a pair of tie-down straps. I was not going to lose these babies as Allan did on our last trip up here. Luckily for him the tyre he lost was found along the road to Chipata in Zambia, but due to many delays, he was only reunited with this tyre in Egypt, as I recall…!! The fact that the tyre was found and returned in the first place was a miracle in itself ! What are the chances of that happening in South Africa, folks ?

Duiker and dog make a final spot check on the Big Fella before we depart......

After a fond farewell from Peter and Carol, I nipped around the corner to say goodbye to Grant and Charmaine… They have a Duiker that has free rein of their garden, and it came strolling up to us, while we were discussing my plans for the next few days, and sniffed around the bike for a while before finding something far more interesting in the flowerbeds…

Charmaine’s father suggested that the “GS” might stand for “God Speed”, which I rather liked… With a blast of my hooter, I left their house and headed out of town… It took an hour and a half to get the first 100 kms behind us… This was due mainly to the traffic, and the close proximity of many small villages near to the capital… No sooner had I given the Big Fella a fist full of throttle, then we would be into another 50 km/h zone, slowing down for pedestrians and cyclists…

I crossed over the Bua River, and 25 kms later stopped at Kasungu and drew money from an ATM. A huge (and I mean HUGE..!!) crowd gathered around the bike while I stood in line to draw money. One old guy would ask the questions, then in a loud and authorative voice would translate for the crowd. After a few minutes of friendly banter, gasps of surprise when I told them I was on my way to Egypt, and many admiring comments for the Big Fella, I managed to excuse myself and got back onto the road leading to the highway.

Taking a break near Jenda... happier with the set-up of the bike, after making adjustments to the tyre prssures...

Before the turnoff, I parked at the service station, and mindful of the advice regarding tyre pressures that I had already uploaded, decided to change mine a little… I reduced the pressure on the front tyre, to give it more grip, and to stop it from lifting alarmingly, every time I changed gears… Clearly too much weight on the back! I then increased the pressure in the back tyre to allow for the additional weight of the spare tyres…  The bike handled a lot better after that, and we made good time up to the place where the B1 passes close of the Zambian border control post, at Jenda… I briefly considered popping across the border but knew the cost would be prohibitive, considering that I would spend only a very short time on Zambian soil… The Big Fella had already had his fair share of Zambian potholes in any case, and was glad when I pointed him north again…

About 50 kms south of Mzuzu, we entered an area of pine forest,which stretched unbroken all the way into the town. Small bush mill operations were scattered every few kilometers. Sawn lumber was stacked to dry on the side of the road, where trucks collected it for transportation further afield.

Lumber drying on the roadside, Mzuzu... Informal sawmilling at it's best...

This is one of the most scenic areas of Malawi that I have ridden. The M1 runs due north year, separated from the lake shore by the Viphya Mountains. The road surface is good, with only the occasional pothole to dodge around. Large granite hills dot the area, and I passed a particularly prominent one, where I had stopped for a breather two years earlier…

Granite outcrop near Mzuzu

A "little mishap" on the way to Mzuzu, stops us in our tracks...

On one of the long descents into a beautiful valley, a large container truck had jack-knifed, it’s load scattered across the entire road… The accident had happed at 6.00 pm the night before, and a long line of trucks was parked on the highway, waiting for the mess to be cleared. One of the drivers advised me that a detour had been cut through the bush, but only small cars could fit between some of the trees that lined the route…

I gingerly made my way down this track, which would through the pine plantation on the eastern side of the road… The going was a bit hairy in places, but after about a kilometer, we were back on the road and whizzing towards Mzuzu again.

Tabacco on it's way to sorting shed...

In Malawi, almost everything can be transported on a bicycle. I have even seen a large fridge strapped onto the back of a bicycle… In the area around Mzuzu, teams of guys strip the forest of all the branches cut from the mature trees that have been felled, and then cut them up into smaller lengths, packed them a few metres high on the back of their bicycles, and then transport them to town to sell as firewood…

Anderson Phiri and his load of firewood...and you thought I was overloaded...!!

Not on your life would you get me riding that thing...

I stopped to chat with one of them, Anderson Phiri by name, and parked the Big Fella next to his bike to give you an idea of just how much timber these guys stack onto their bikes…

I asked Anderson how far he was going with his load…

“To Mzuzu, Bwana..” he replied… I glanced down at my GPS and noticed that it was exactly 14 kms to Mzuzu…

“So you do a load like this one every day ?” I asked…

“No Bwana, I do two loads every day, this is my second load today… I get 1600 Kwacha per load…”

“I would rather stick a needle in my eye than travel 14 km with so precarious a load ! Have you ever fallen off your bike while riding to Mzuzu ?”

“Oh, yes, Bwana…many times, especially when the trucks push us from the road…”

I passed about 50 of these fully laden bikes over the next ten kms, and only one of them had its front wheel pointing to the sky, it’s rider standing with hands on hips, with a “what the hell just happened” look on his face… This is testament to the skill with which these guys handle their bikes…

After taking a few photos, and wishing Anderson good luck on his next run into town, I rode into Mzuzu and refueled… I would have liked to spend a night at the Sunbird hotel, where Allan and I had spent a lazy four days in 2008, waiting for his lost tyre (which never arrived!) but I have very vivid memories of our ride from here to Iringa, in Tanzania, and no ways in hell was I going to chance a repeat of that little adventure… We spent over 13 hours on the road that day, arriving in Iringa at 9.30pm, in teeming rain, having ridden in the dark from Makambako… It was not only the longest, but due to the terrible weather, was also the hardest ride that I have ever made…

Tobacco drying in sheds down in the valley below the road to Karonga...

I chose instead to ride a further 225 kms to Karonga, only 45 kms from the Tanzanian border, and spare myself the possible anguish of another hell-ride… At 2.00pm I set the GPS for Karonga, and thundered north, knowing that I could refuel there and not giving a hoot about conserving fuel. I wanted to get there before dark, so that I could select the best of the worst possible places to stay…and lucky I did so!!

Wooden single lane bridge over the Rumphi River, 2010... Planks missing and not looking too solid...

Same bridge, 2008... In a slightly better state of repair...

The road from Mzuzu follows the Rumphi River, and winds down to about 450 metres above sea level, before climbing up to over 1200 metres above sea level, on the outer edge of the Nyika Plateau. We crossed the bridge over this river, and I noticed that it was in much poorer shape now than when we last crossed it in 2008. Planks were missing from the left hand “track”, and had I wandered off this and into the centre, I was sure that we would both end up in the river…

At its very highest point, the road passes the entrance to a coal mine, and I stopped here to connect the head-cam. I remembered the ride down to the lake that wound through a long series of hairpin bends, and I thought it would make some great footage…  When my guru in California explains how to get a 200MB film uploaded onto my web page, I will share it with you !! After dispensing a few sweets amongst the small crowd of children that had gathered around the bike, I set off to tackle the descent to the lake shore…

Troops of baboons sat on the roadside, and hardly moved an inch when the bike came leaning around a sharp corner, and ended up amongst them…  Cattle also wandered up and down this very dangerous piece of road, making for an interesting, and sometimes hair-raising experience !! At the bottom of the pass, the road hangs a very sharp right, and enters the village of Chiweta, perched on the edge of the lake… If you came tearing down this section and missed the turn, you WILL get wet !

This village was where Allan, running low on fuel, decided to chance the black-market stuff, laced with paraffin, while I chose to test my reserves, and arrived in Karonga with not a sniff of petrol in my tank !

Allan negotiates for fuel in Chinteche, 2008.

A terrible smell on the wind, alerted me to the fact that the village of Ngara was not far off, and it duly hove into view, hundreds of Makoros lined up on the beach between the drying racks and the road… Trucks were loading bags of dried fish at this little village which seems to be the hub of the local fishing industry, such that it is!

In Karonga, Mama's Restaurant needs Royco to get the taste of her culture just right...

I reached Karonga, 40 kms north of Ngara at 4.30pm, refueled, and began asking about accommodation… The petrol attendant pointed across the road to Paradise Guest house, where truckers and prostitutes were warming up for the nights festivities…

“Mmmm… What else is there?” I asked, not too keen to be kept awake all night… (by the noise that is, not the prostitutes…!!)

“Safari Lodge and Marina Bay,” he replied, “Around the traffic circle and down past Chipiku…”

The road turned to gravel after the roundabout, and while negotiating a particularly fierce set of potholes, I missed the entrance to Safari Lodge, and ended up at the entrance to Marina Bay… It was a bit of a dump, but I was at the end of a long day and with 600 kms behind us,I parked the bike under a large tree and began the haggling, getting the room down from 7000 Kwacha to 5000… The room was clean, mainly because the ants in it had carried everything, except the furniture, away… There was no hot water, but at least the air-con worked! Can’t have it all, I suppose…

Stripped naked at Club Marina, Karonga...

Judging from the crowd in the bar, who had taken particular interest when the Mzungu arrived on his big bike, I decided that it would be safer to get ALL the gear off the bike and into my room… I carried every piece of kit off the bike, including the top-box, into my cottage, and then took the further precaution of hiding the Big Fella under his bike cover! It was THAT rough a crowd!!

After a cold shower, I worked my way through a plate of tasteless spaghetti and what made an unsuccessful attempt to pass for a salad, and then headed off to bed… On pulling back the covers, I immediately saw that I would not be the first person to use these sheets after their last wash, and decided that my sleeping bag would be a far safer option…

By 9.00pm I was “man down” under the mosquito net, having killed a few thousand of those “big-bastard” ants, who must have guessed that  I had a packet of “Jambo” biscuits somewhere in my gear! By morning, not a single dead ant was to be found, and I wandered what else their brethren had carried away while I slept…

I was certain that I hadn’t placed my panniers THAT close to the door…

© GBWT 2010

1 comment to Karonga on the Lake…

  • Charmz

    Lucky you woke up when you did….the monsters could have carried your panniers away too….hmmm where did those ants get too… one wonders what was lurking under your bed!

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