The Smoking Forest

Dated: 10 Mar 18

I had been looking forward to avoiding drinking now that I am back on the road, but when in Lusaka I stayed with Laura and Russ, the parents of a friend back home. I didn’t realise that it was Friday and post work sundowners are in full flow when I arrive. Apparently, Poets Day is a thing here too and the next day’s cycling quickly becomes a right off. They live the life. I remember when we were growing up they would often be away, or Russ would be working abroad. Perhaps the expat life would suit me. They’ve worked all around the world and their children have a similar adventurous nature. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality and the pickling.

Where Zimbabwe had street sellers offering up black and white maize, fruit and veggies (it is said that it is the bread basket of Africa and could feed everyone from Cape Auglhas the southern tip of Africa up to the Sahara) Zambia is different. Rolling mountains covered with dense vegetation and forests extend to all horizons. So it is not surprising that the locals utilise this resource. The forests smoke as pyres of wood smoulder beneath mounds of red soil. In the mornings, tufts of smoke slither up from the canopy and, in the valleys, the gloom in the trees could be mistaken for fog if it wasn’t for the acrid smell. Large sacks of charcoal stand to attention by the road sides. But as I cycle the northern edge of the Lower Zambezi National Park, I cant help but notice that the forest is receding, or even balding, in parts. You can’t blame the locals for the deforestation – they live a hard life and make the most of what is to hand. But it is sad nonetheless.

I’m cycling the Great Eastern Road which will guide me to Malawi. I’ve got about forty days cycling to Addis Ababa with around sixteen days to put my feet up. It might seem like a good balance but I’m pretty sure I will lose a few days here and there, as I think I’ve been optimistic in my planned mileage later down the line. Time will tell.

I met an America cyclist today, Jacob who looks like D’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers. He’s been going for over two years, with the aim of going through one hundred countries. His trip dwarfs mine but I can’t say I would like to take a hiatus of two years out of my life; I wonder what he’s running away from.

When in northern Mozambique, Jacob was wild camping only to be awoken by an angry mob wielding machetes and held by the side of the road in the pitch black for a few hours submitting to angry questioning until the police finally arrived. He was taken to the local station where he was ‘invited’ to stay the night. He was asked why he was travelling through a region in a state of civil war before being allowed to continue on his way. It was the first he had heard of any troubles in this region and no one has warned me of any violence. Yet again, it has proven an unexpected bonus that I’ve not ended up in northern Mozambique. If you ever travel there you will go to the coast where it boasts stunning beaches, beautiful waters for diving and no civil war.

My voice is husky. I’m not sure if its from rasping all day as I push myself up hills or saying hello to so many bloody people. I greet at least one hundred souls a day and more on these populated highways. I say hello to swathes of them but I must admit by the end of the day my enthusiasm towards the high pitch cries from the children waivers and they might get a curt nod if they’re lucky, bah humbug. If it keeps up I will say hello to approximate one hundred and fifty thousand people this year. The children are like a flock of birds. The ‘how are you’ bird. Once one sees you, the alarm call sounds and the high pitch chorus starts as they swarm to the road side parroting ‘how are you? how are you?….’ on repeat. I wave and say hello but the chorus goes on. A fair few of them do a good Tiny Tim impression too, as they look at you with sullen eyes asking and sometimes demanding for money, but Scrooge pedals on.

I’m going veggie after having a few run ins with some pretty unsavoury meat. The chickens have either been fed a diet of flip flops or a taxidermist has given them the once over. They are tougher than an old leather boot. You are meant to eat with just your right hand but the chicken took two (gasp!) and still didn’t yield a morsel of flesh. The following evening I’m invited to stay behind a bar and grill in Rufansa which has a distinct absence of a grill. I’m given a bare room to hunker down which is just what the doctor ordered, I didn’t fancy pitching my tent in the mud which is everywhere. Dinner is fatty beef complete with skin. Cows aren’t famed for their crackling, especially when they are boiled to within an inch of their lives. Also, power is in short supply and fridges even rarer so by the side of the road you often see meat hanging from wooded racks, come rain or shine, and there are a lot of flies here.

At the bar and grill I get an insight into family life. The living space is primarily open air, with a thatched shelter providing some water proofing for the chef. The rather voluptuous mama sits and cooks on a charcoal stove, a duck and her ducklings scamper about and the daughter is doing the washing. She really works the clothes and I should take notes as they come out whiter than white, whereas my hand washing just seems to smudge the mud around. I’m always impressed with how clean the kids school clothes look on the morning migration, as the roads are flooded with smartly dressed children. I certainly never looked so dapper in my formative years. Around the wash room, which is an open area closed off with grass walling, simple but effective, surprisingly nice all be them very large ladies underwear hang out to dry….that saucy minx.

The men? I’m not really sure what they get up to at the homestead.

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