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Becker’s African Diary #17: To Mozambique and Back

Due to failures on the editorial side, Andreas’s exploits from the past week or so have been missing from the Circus blog. Here, however, is the update…beginning with a video from the South Africa-Mozambique border…

Tofo, Mozambique, 22nd July 2010

In these day I am making an experience, which seems to be central to any traveller in this area, and I am learning a lesson, probably all first timers in this area have made before: be patient, forget plans, be flexible, and learn to deal with developments you can not influence…

On my way north on the EN 1, supposedly the only (!) fully paved street in Mozambique, heading towards Harare in Zimbabwe I went through a pretty bad day as a bike rider. It was frustrating and exhausting. Huge road works underway, and the surface being ripped open over twice for over 40-50 km, replaced by a thick layer of sand. If anyone has ever tried to ride a pushbike at the beach, you know what I had to deal with. To make things worse, rain set in 2 days and turned the whole thing into a mud field, red and bleeding out into the surroundings.

My way of moving is better described as sliding then riding, and I have not been that covered in dirt since I was a kid playing in my Grandmas garden. Average speed down to 15-20 km an hour…With no technical infrastructure available, riding alone and having to be in Namibia the 9th of August I will now return direction Maputo and will try to choose a different approach to the north of Zimbabwe and the Victoria Falls, preferably through Kruger National Park…We will see…

Maputo must be the smoothest and least spectacular capital in the world, with a speed and an activity level that equals that of the village I was born in, and although it has all the characteristics of the African urban drama – huge slums, partly no sewage system, high unemployment, a partly collapsed public order – there is also a smoothness and a calmness, which relaxes the nerves of any first time Western traveller, in shock about what he sees. The country is dealing with the legacy of a long and bloody history of slavery and then a civil war that ended only a few years ago, and it is difficult to imagine how this relaxed vibe survived the bloodshed.

It is getting more and more absurd to be on that bike in this surroundings. It floats like a spaceship through the country, and is such a shocking and futuristic sight for the inhabitants that things come to a standstill where I pass. I always used to be happy being bike riding, since it gets you in contact with people quick and reliably, but here it separates, in a way, and illustrates the differences whilst I would like to point out the things we have in common. I am standing out in a way I do not want to stand out in at all. I might take the chance of some impassable roads in Mozambique and Zimbabwe and get off it, using the minibus or comparable means of transportation for a day or two.

Now back to the beach, where I took refuge – among the nicest I have seen yet – and if the rain pauses for a day, heading south into Kruger tomorrow…Gotta see some big animals before leaving…

Song of the day: Radiohead, Fake Plastic Trees, for Pauli…

(EDITORS NOTE: Very funny. Next you’ll be dedicating a song by some gloomy Mancunians who grew up with too much rain to influence their sixth form poetry – Paul)

Nelspruit, South Africa, 24th July 2010

First casualties…

It was, in hindsight, a rather small incident, but it made me think about travelling alone to more ambitious places on a bike…of course there can be problems…

Fighting my way along some appalling “streets” in Mozambique and trying to avoid some massive rocks I overlooked the trunk of what used to be a tree, and it ripped my clutch lever off, one of my cases and left me with a rather rough version of a clutch. Now, being alone and being not sure if and how you will be able to manoeuvre your bike, and being 120 km away from the next, rather poor, urban settlement in a country without private motorcycles bigger than 50 cc and with not endless amounts of times, this is an issue to think about. I did…

Anyhow, found a way to basically “rub” the remaining parts of my clutch into the lower gears and crawled my way back into South Africa, looking definitely much less elegant to the local youth than before, and found a mechanic here in Nelspruit, who dangled and build something small and effective, and the journey continues.

Learned anything? Yep, definitely a bit more respect than before and it does make sense to either travel with 2 at least – Pinelchen, where were you? – or have enough time to find solutions or to be a decent mechanic yourself or to travel with something easy to fix…I did nothing of this, me smart bastard.

Anyhow, booked myself into the Kruger National from tomorrow, and then hopefully off to Botswana, after a small stop at Pretoria to get a new clutch. Unless I fall in love with the one I have.

Andreas