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Words & Photos by Ricolette Von Wielligh

Facing our giants in Eden PART 2

d been cycling through My husband, Hendrik, and I ha ht weeks and had central Africa for the past eig of our 5000km trip. covered a distance of 2500km e of our best cycling I now pick up the trail and on the 230km route experiences, which occurred on ngwa National Parks, an between North and South Lua ns still roam freely.  area where elephants and lio • 1

It was already dusk when we arrived at Luangwa River. From here we needed to get across the river to our overnight accommodation at Chifunda Bush Camp. “Hellooo,” sounded the greeting of the camp manager from across the water. Returning his greeting we enquired about how we would get across the river. He said we'd have to walk through. We then asked about crocodiles, to which he responded that the water was too shallow for crocodiles. We spotted a pod of hippo about 50m to our left, but this did not worry the manager, who was already wading through the murky, knee deep water to our side, to help us carry our stuff across. With bicycles on our shoulders, we nervously made our way to the camp's bank. The camp was merely a cleared patch on the river bank. It facilities were out of order and there was no running water. When we asked the manager for some water for a bath, he told us we had to wash in the river. I politely turned down the offer. Only then did he offer to collect river water for us for drinking, cooking and washing purposes. Hendrik only had bigger notes in his wallet to settle the bill for the (lack of) use of facilities, so he asked the manager for change, but none was available. Hendrik then asked him who would bear the loss: himself or the camp. The manager smoothly replied, “Bwana,” meaning ‘sir’. And so it was. That night we heard the whooping calls of hyena, the hoo hoo’s of owls, the grunts of hippos and roar of lions. Nature really was on our doorstep. Early the following morning, while we were packing up, the manager walked over with a handmade ‘tip box’, expecting us to give him a(nother) little something.

2 • DINdigital | June 2012

From here we cycled through a desolated, old mopani forest with little undergrowth and skeletal-looking trees. It felt like we were the only living souls there, or so we thought until we cycled over fresh elephant spoor. Mixed feelings of excitement and anguish stirred within me. Sunlight drizzled through the tree tops to awaken sleeping beauties with a kiss. Racket-tailed rollers tumbled above our heads and woodland kingfishers called persistently, the raucous applause of the many birds deafening my thoughts. As the heat built up in the forest, cicadas screeched louder and louder, reaching decibels so high that it was impossible to hear each other talk. We surprised an enormous troop of yellow baboons that dashed across the road in front of us for more than a kilometre, screaming like children. More elephant footprints edged the soft sand. Vampire tsetse flies bit us on our shoulder blades, arms, legs, bums and even the tips of our fingers. Even though we were dressed in double layers of clothing and Hendrik had pulled an insect net over his head, the tsetse flew off the victors. With just two kilometres to go to the Chipuka Scout Camp we came across a small herd of elephants, which fled soundlessly into the bushes like giant phantoms, ears flapping and tails erect. The next morning we cycled through Luambe National Park. Little surface water flowed through the enormous sandy twists of the Luangwa River’s pathway, and the road was marked with patterns of hippo spoor from the night before. Kudu, impala, waterbuck and warthog ran for cover as soon as they saw us. The atmosphere was

blissfully wild. We cycled through dried out water holes, over kilometres of cracked black cotton clay and past numerous dry elephant dung balls. We felt incredibly privileged to cycle where elephants have walked and get a glimpse into their world. South Luangwa National Park stretched out in front of us like a dust pancake and hundreds of dead trees pointed like needles towards the sky. We followed a meandering cycling path towards Chichele Hot Springs, where a large flock of grey crowned cranes walked in the green pastures. They were surrounded by grazing puku, while white-headed lapwings ran amongst them. In the distance a thornicroft giraffe walked gracefully by – four ‘lifers’ in one go! Rich in wildlife experiences, we still had to face the mighty Great Rift Valley. Reaching Nkhata Bay it was so hot and humid that sleep was impossible. Seeking relief we ventured outside for a dip in the refreshingly cool dark waters of Lake Malawi. Early the next morning, the sound of thunder woke us and the rain poured down. We stayed in the tent later than usual before loading our things, including a soaking wet tent that was extremely heavy, onto the bikes.

Back on the road we headed for Mzuzu and encountered some very steep and long hills. On numerous occasion I thought we had reached the top of the escarpment, only to find more steep hills looming ahead. At least we had the luxury of granny gears, unlike the single-speed bicycles used by the locals along the way. Their bikes had basic brakes too, which made me wonder whether they cycled down the hills or got off and walked. We passed a truck that had jack-knifed across the road and saw some safety workers doing their best to try and recover it. It was a very tough uphill and I was determined not to get off my bike and push. Higher and higher we climbed and as we got closer to the top a cyclist flew past us down the hill. I guess I had my answer. Suddenly I remembered the jack-knifed truck, but there was no way to warn that cyclist. And even if I could, I doubt he would’ve been able to stop in time. I said a prayer for his safety and can only hope that he made it down in one piece. • 3

From Mzuzu we cycled to Vwaza Marsh National Park, a national game reserve in Malawi that is rarely visited by many largely due to poor road conditions and difficult terrain and inaccessibility. As the only visitors there, we decided to pitch our tent overlooking a semi-dry pan. Ominous clouds had started to build up and the wind danced vigorously through the tree tops, lifting our Big Agnes tent like a feather. It had already flown a few metres before we managed to grab and secure it, and just in time too as the heavens opened once more, washing the earth clean. The next morning the air was fresh and nippy as we set off for Nyika National Park, Malawi’s largest national park. It looked (and sounded) like all the birds had come out to celebrate the recent rains and we regretted leaving our bird book and binoculars in Namibia, in an attempt to lessen the weight of our panniers. Hill after hill after tormenting hill we cycled and sometimes we pushed. The road surface was bad and my thoughts wandered back to Leopard Hill, which now seemed mediocre in comparison. We reached the park gate at midday and thought we were on top of the world, but the hills ahead continued to taunt us. By 17:00 we had covered 95km and still had another 25km to go to reach Chelinda Camp. I was exhausted beyond my limits and for the first time in three-and-a-half months I quit.



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We set up camp in the middle of Nyika National Park and were surrounded by the most breathtaking views. White cumulus clouds framed the rolling hills below us, black thunder rumbled all around us and golden sun rays caressed the warm earth. We didn’t have the strength, nor the time, to cook anything other than 2 Minute Noodles. As we climbed into our sleeping bags a storm broke loose and rain poured down in glistening silver streams. We listened to the soothing sound of falling water until we fell asleep … Don't miss the next chapter of our epic journey in the October/ November issue of DO IT NOW Magazine, where a sudden change of plans saw us having to return home as quickly as possible and this meant having to give up our two wheels for four. We had thought cycling through Africa would be a challenge, but it was nothing compared to Africa's public transport system and our harrowing ordeals. •

MORE ARTICLES IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF DO IT NOW MAGAZINE: ❱❱ Cycling the Alps by Will Ross ❱❱ Paddling the Chobe also by Ricolette von Wielligh


VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 3 • 2012



HOCKEY see page 62


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4 • DINdigital | June 2012

DO IT NOW Magazine article 60-06-12  

DINdigital, facing our giants in eden

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