Monday, 5 April 2010


The only flat thing about Malawi seems to be its lake... I totally underestimated how much mountains this country hosts... Therefore the last 500 km of riding has felt like a roller coaster... We have had a few serious days of climbing with over 2000 meter for last Saturday alone... Anyway, we have just arrived safely in Lilongwe the capital of Malawi. A fairly modern capital when you compare it to the rural Malawi, with all modern facilities and busy traffic.

I have been very strong over the couple of last riding days, making it to the finish line as early as 10h15 in the morning... (we are now starting at 6h30). Today Jos and I were flying and made it to the lunch truck in forth and fifth position and with the top 10 for the finish despite stopping for cold drinks (which the real racers don't do). We have had very strong head wind and rain for the last few days. This has added difficulty to the already challenging terrain. We have also done longer distances since we entered Malawi averaging 120 km each day. Today was one of the hardest with very strong head wind, 131 km and 800 meters of climbs in between. So it was all about teaming up with some strong riders and sharing the work in front. We each took relays of about 4 minutes and managed to keep average speeds well above 25 km/h, a decent number with such strong wind.
Last night we camped in the backyard of a small hotel in a town called Kasungu. Nothing spectacular there, except for a very interesting open air market made of many narrow streets where you could find absolutely everything Malawi produces. This was a real "off the beaten track" experience as we made our way between these hundreds of food stands where each seller is trying to convince you to buy its products. The hotel did not have any water, nor did it have stable electricity (Kasungu is a typical small African rural town where they have shortages of water and load sharing for electricity). One thing the hotel had was a restaurant... So after eating a full plate of chicken wings from the TDA kitchen, I decided to treat myself to a T-bone steak at the restaurant. It was so good (having no electricity, they had to cook it on charcoal), I decided to order a second one... I am really feeling good now, eating like a king and getting stronger on the bike again, so this meat will just grow my missing body mass back...

I probably overdid it a bit with the beers which were relatively cold (they keep them in freezers) and cannot recall how many I had but definitely a bit too many.. I felt a bit of a hungover this morning when getting on my bike... Well, it did not stop me from having one of my best riding days of the tour...

In Lilongwe, I decided to treat myself to a suite at the Crossroad hotel where quite a few other TDA riders are also booked. After so many days in the bush and the harsh conditions of the tour, luxury tastes real good. We have a rest day tomorrow, which means I will be spending most of it in my suite just doing nothing... Sounds boring to you?... Well probably, but that's exactly what I miss the most now. A day of no action and complete privacy... Privacy is a word that does not exist at TDA, you are permanently surrounded by other riders or people. So one thing I start missing after 10 weeks of intense traveling is a lazy day without people... I need to rest my soul as well now. We are now 5 weeks and 4 days to the end of this incredible adventure... Too soon to start growing some conclusions, but one thing is sure, it has already given me so much that my life will never be the same again after this tour, that's for sure. TDA is more than a race or an adventure, it is a journey that is so intense that only on rest days can you appreciate the size of this challenge.
As we arrived in Lilongwe, we had the nice surprise to rejoin with David who had to leave us in a hurry while we were crossing Tanzania. His father-in-law passed away and David made his way back to Toronto after a 50 hours journey from his tent where he was sleeping when he got the phone call all the way back to Canada. David was really happy to be back and the brotherhood of locker 9 is joyful to have all members again... David also brought a full supply of tubes and new hand pumps, a great relief after Tanzanian puncture Waterloo...
As we make our way south, we are seeing more and more South African products available in shops, a true pleasure for us. This means we are now starting to find T-bones on menus as well as South African beers and soft drinks in petrol stations. Malawi is almost over and yet we are about to tackle our next country: Zambia. The next stretch will take us to Lusaka, the capital and from there, we will head straight for the long awaited Vic Fall brake. This is where Jaana, my wife will be waiting for me. We last saw each other on January 11 when I left for Cairo, so you can imagine that we are both counting the days...

                         Jos on a taxi bicycle is a slightly heavier passenger than the average Malawian...
Carpenters are making furniture on site in this giant open air market
                                        Many hair styles to choose from on these wall posters
                                      The barber shop seems to be the local get together point
                               The bicycle spare part shop owner shows us the Malawian version
                               of bicycle brake pads, a piece of rubber cut in a tyre and a bolt running through...
                                These are dried smoked fish from lake Malawi. In Europe they are
                                 sold alive for a fortune in Aquarium shops, here they are just cheap proteins...
                                 Jos and Gabriele checking a bicycle spare part dealer at the giant
                                 Kasungu open air market
                                                                          Flour for sale
                                                     This guy does not have an official stand,
                                                     but he sells self made knives
                              It is very hot here and kids are making a business of selling cold water
                              bags in these narrow streets of the Kasungu market
                                 Cooking oil is expensive and is therefore sold by the spoon here,
                                 enough for cooking one meal

                                   Bicycle taxis waiting for customers outside the narrow streets
                                  of the enormous Kasungu open air market. A ride costs 50
                                  Quecha, about 15 US cents
                                     Fried termites are cheap and good source of proteins.
                                     I tried a few, pretty tasteless actually...
                                   About 1 km from camp we found the local bar, only hot beers
                                   of course, but beer anyway...
                                      This woman is buying tomatoes directly from the farmer,
                                      she travels 3 hours by bus back to the nearest big city
                                      (Mzuzu) where she will resell them for a profit of course
                               This young Malawian is a tomato producer, he lived in South Africa
                               where he held a job as a house servant for 3 years. With the money
                               he saved, he bought land back home and started a small tomato farm.
                               He told me that he was happy and that he made a good living out of
                               his farming activity. Nice story

                                Open air Easter Mass. I was invited by the priest to join, which I did
                             Camp is next to a school tonight and every school has a footbal pitch.
                             Even if we were outnumbered by a large margin, Sam managed to score a goal...
                               Not many coke stops in this remote mountainous region of Malawi,
                               so we had once again to satisfy ourselves with warm cokes and some shade...
                                        All accross Africa, women carry things on their heads,
                                        but the Malawians hold the reccord for the heaviest loads...
                                 As always, TDA is a major attraction when we hit remote areas.
                                 These are the friendly spectators of our lunch stop...
                                            The locker 9 gang posing for a spectacular view...
                                         Over 2000 meter of climbing today brought us right back
                                         into the clouds and the rain...

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