There was a storm a couple hours before sunrise, and I waited for the rain to finish before setting off. I’d been riding for about an hour and a half when my freehub stopped engaging – turning the pedals wouldn’t turn the wheel.
I fiddled with the wheel for a bit and it started working again, but only for a few hundred metres. I tried securing the cassette to the wheel with zipties. After about a kilometre, I rested my legs for a second. The wheel kept turning and the cassette wasn’t, so all the zipties broke.
I walked back to the previous village. There were some women at the roadside. They didn’t speak English but they understood what I wanted when I spun the pedals and nothing happened. They led me through the village to the local mechanic. Of course by the time we got there it was working again! Nonetheless I managed to convey to him I wanted to take the hub apart and we set about doing that.
He didn’t have the tool needed to remove the cassette (essentially a fancy spanner). It took a while but we managed to remove it by placing a screwdriver and hitting it with a hammer.
We took the hub apart completely, cleaned it off, regreased it and put it back together, surrounded by the local children. It took the better part of two hours, at the end of which he asked for 2000 shillings (£0.60). I gave him 10,000 and he seemed very grateful.
I rode on, through what continues to be a fairly quiet region. There is usually about 100km between towns, but there are villages every few km – each with six sets of rumble strips. Unlike the rest of Africa, there are relatively few people out and about between the villages. And although the road is paved, there is very little traffic – ten or so vehicles an hour.
I reached the town of Sumbawanga and checked into a guest house. At 10,000 shillings (£3) it was cheaper than most but surprisingly still had hot water. He even had a machine that printed receipts!
The next day’s ride was less eventful, rolling hills and a bit of a headwind as I continued my way east. I did, however, see another traveller – the first in a while! John is doing research for a company that plans to set up a series of cruise ships on the African Great Lakes.
We chatted for a while and then I continued on, reaching the town of Laela in the early afternoon. The next town wasn’t for another 130km so I decided to stop early for the day. The first guesthouse I stopped at was £2, but had no water, electricity, and only a communal drop toilet. The next was £8, which is more than I’d like to spend. The third, where I stayed, was £4 and a good balance – a self-contained room, with electricity and water (though not from the tap).
I went out to try and get some food for the next day – it took a while, most “grocery” shops just sold bottled drinks and occasionally a few household goods. Eventually I managed to buy some biscuits.
The rolling hills continued the next morning, as did the sparse population. As I rode through one of the infrequent villages, my tyre suddenly deflated. In the space of about 2 seconds it went from completely fine to completely flat.
Since I was in a village people of course gathered around to watch. One woman kindly brought me a stool. I found it easier to work on the tyre sitting on the ground so a member of the audience sat on the stool. This was by far the easiest hole to find in a tube!
I set off again and reached the city of Tunduma in the afternoon. This was by far the biggest and busiest place I’d been in the last couple of weeks. It’s on the Zambian border, though I’m not going there yet – instead I turned north. The road was now much busier but the shoulder was inconsistent.
There was some thunder, but no worse rain than drizzle. The traffic quietened a bit as I got away from Tunduma. I stopped for the day in the town of Mlowo. The first hotel was 20,000 TSH but had no mosquito net. The second was only 12,000 but had a net, a fan and hot running water! I stayed there.
I had a bit of a late start then set off riding toward Mbeya. There were some longer hills here; the last one leading into the city gained about 500m.
I intended to get a PCR test here for crossing over to Malawi, so I made my way to the hospital on the edge of town. The people there were very friendly. I had to book the test online. It wouldn’t work on my phone, so one of the employees let me use theirs. I had to pay at a bank (about $50) but I could take the test first.
For probably the first time they actually swabbed both my nose and my mouth, storing the two samples separately. I then headed off into town to pay at a bank. The banks themselves were closed early (as it was a Saturday) and would be closed on Sunday too. However, some shops act as agents for the banks. Most of these were closed too but some people told me there would be one open at the main bus station. I headed over there and paid.
I was supposed to receive the result by email and I originally had planned to ride on toward Malawi and wait for the result. But in the end I decided to wait in Mbeya in case there were any issues – it was Christmas day after all, and I wasn’t sure if things would be slower as a result.
Quite a few shops were closed, presumably because it was Christmas. There was a small supermarket open, with all sorts of imported goods. I bought quite a lot of snacks there!
I’d had my test on the 25th and told them I was travelling on the 27th. They said I’d get my result by email on the 26th, but I didn’t. So on the morning of the 27th I rode to the hospital – not the one where they took the sample, but the one where it would be tested. They confirmed they had the sample and would be testing it that morning, and I should get the result by 2.30.
That was surprisingly accurate and so after I got my results I set off cycling. In Mbeya there was quite a lot of traffic, which in a a way was a good thing as it sheltered me from the strong headwind. Once outside Mbeya, I turned south and headed towards some mountains.
The road topped out at 2300m. Past the mountains the wind changed so it was a headwind, but at least I was descending now. It was a long descent, down about 1000m over the next 30km.
I gained back a couple hundred of those metres as I rode into the town of Tukuyu, where I stopped for the night. From there it’s just 40km to Malawi!
Dec 22: 93 km
Dec 23: 95 km
Dec 24: 172 km
Dec 25: 62 km
Dec 27: 72 km