Now that I finally had my visa in hand, I at last set off cycling from Lilongwe. After about 10 kilometres the urban sprawl came to an end, the traffic reduced, and I cycled over gently rolling hills through green countryside.
There were a few small herds of cattle around but most of the land seemed to be used for crops. People were hard at work in the fields – with no machinery to help, of course.
Later in the morning the road began to more consistently go upwards, climbing about 500m to the town of Dedza. I took a shortcut through the town on a dirt track, which brought me to the Mozambique border. I was quickly stamped out of Malawi. At one point I was mistakenly given a health form for people entering Malawi, which required people to declare if they’d been to China in the last 14 days. A little behind the times.
Getting into Mozambique was easy and quick, too. I showed my PCR certificate and filled in a short form then I had my stamp and I was free to go.
A short way past the border the road began to descend, though due to a significant headwind it didn’t really feel like riding downhill. Although most of the land still had crops planted, there weren’t many houses visible, and a lot fewer people around.
This did change as I got further from the border. I cycled past one town, but for the most part there were just frequent collections of houses, barely villages.
It returned to the usual state in Africa, where there are always people in sight Even when there were no houses around, there’d be some kids watching a herd of cattle, or women fetching water, or men walking back from the fields with mattock in hand.
The official language of Mozambique is Portuguese, though many people speak native languages at home. Despite this people tended to call out to me in English, or sometimes a mix – “how are you, amigo?” One Swahili word persists of course: Mzungu.
Mozambique is a fairly expensive country, so even if there had been accommodation available I probably wouldn’t have wanted to pay the price. I looked for a place to camp, which took a while due to all the people around. Finally I reached a point where there was some unused land, and no-one in sight, so off I went.
Unfortunately this area turned out to have a remarkable number of ants. I spent quite a while walking around but I couldn’t find a spot without an uncomfortable number of them. On a few occasions in the past I’ve woken to find my tent crawling with ants, and it’s not something I’d like to repeat! I went back to the road and continued on a little further, and found a spot which didn’t have quite so many.
The temperature dropped enough that the tent was comfortable, and there were no ant invasions, which as far as I’m concerned means a successful night of camping. I set off in the morning, initially riding through hilly terrain.
By mid-morning these hills came to an end and a long, gradual descent started. There were still lots of mountains and hills around, but the road did not go through them.
I joined a main road, but the amount of traffic didn’t really change much. The road got somewhat bumpier – at one point it was washboard, despite being tarmac. Mostly it wasn’t quite that bad though.
Now that I was down in the lowlands, there seemed to be less crops being grown. Mostly my surroundings were bushes, with occasional cattle grazing the grass around.
It was much warmer here and I was sweating a lot. Thankfully it wasn’t humid so the sweat evaporated quickly and I stayed quite cool, with a growing layer of salt on my clothes.
In the evening I reached the city of Tete. After stopping at ShopRite, I made my way to a campsite on the shores of the Zambezi river. I was now down to an elevation of about 100m and it was quite warm; it wasn’t until a few hours past sunset that I stopped sweating in my tent. In hot weather I definitely miss the ability to set up the inner tent without the outer; the lack of airflow is not ideal.
My goal the next morning was to take a PCR test, in preparation for crossing to Zambia. A man working at the campsite directed me to Santa Victoria clinic, so off I went. After asking a few more people for directions, I found it. It turned out they only offered rapid tests. They gave me directions to another clinic.
This next place did offer PCR tests, but at the eye-watering price of 10,800 Meticals (£125). They also wouldn’t be able to take the sample until the evening, and would take 2-3 days to deliver a result. They did give directions to another clinic, though.
This one offered a test for the somewhat more reasonable price of 50,000 Metacais (£58). However they’d also take 3 days to deliver the result (by email). I decided to try the public hospital, a few kilometres away on the other side of the town (and river).
I made my way to the main reception building, which sent me to some tents. This was where they did the testing, but they sent me to a second building to get a form. They, in turn, sent me to a third building where I was told to go to the tents.
Thankfully a local man waiting for his results decided to help me. We went back to the second building which is apparently where locals get their forms, but foreigners have to go to the third building. I guess locals don’t get the QR code on their certificates. So back we went to the third building, where we were told to to back to the tents, and a doctor would meet us there.
After about half an hour the doctor showed up and took the sample. While I was waiting for him, I met Tobi, a German backpacker. Afterwards we went out for a drink; it was nice to meet another traveller, so rare in Africa.
Now I had some time to kill. I went to the supermarket and then sat outside in the shade for a few hours before returning to the hospital. I made my way to the tents and said I was there to collect my test results. “This one?” He asked, showing a piece of paper with my name on it. That was easier than expected! A free test with results in 6 hours, much better than spending £58/£125 for results in 2-3 days.
It’s about 280km from Tete to the Zambia border and there were still a few hours of daylight left, so I decided to make a start. As soon as I turned onto the road to the border, traffic (which was quite busy in the city) dropped significantly.
To describe the landscape as wilderness would be an exaggeration, but most of my surroundings were uncultivated. There were occasional hamlets with small areas of crops growing around then, but mostly I rode through woodland.
This made for easy camping, so in the evening I wandered away from the road and pitched my tent. The road had been slightly uphill from Tete; I’d only gone up about 300m but that amounts to a roughly 2°C decrease in temperature which makes a noticable difference in the tent.
The following day was quieter again. Mostly I rode through woodland again; I enjoyed the tranquility. I usually passed a shop every hour or two, typically small ones but they had cold drinks.
I passed through only one decent-sized village, and luckily that happened to be at around midday. I stopped for lunch at the restaurant, a big plate of chicken and chips. Then it was back to the woodland. There were often sacks of charcoal for sale on the side of the road; I did not buy any.
The road was quite potholed in the afternoon, which caused trucks (of which there were not many) to drive slowly or even off the road at times. On a bike it wasn’t so bad, usually I could find a path between the holes.
It was even less populated as the day wore on, and I didn’t pass any shop in the last few hours. Luckily I had enough water for the night. With how few people there were, I wasn’t worried about finding somewhere to camp. I rode a little after sunset then went and made myself at home on a clear patch of sand amidst the long grass.
After an uneventful night, I resumed riding, continuing along this deteriorating road toward the Zambian border.
There are many police checkpoints on the roads; usually I just ride through. Here I was stopped at one and an immigration official went through my passport and checked my visa quite thoroughly.
I was feeling a little tired and rode slowly, reaching the border at around midday. The Mozambique side was quick and easy: in one building my PCR was stamped, then in another across the road my passport was stamped. And off I went to Zambia.
Customs “searched” my bike – they asked me to open the zip of the frame bag and took a photo, then directed me to immigration. Again the first part was the health check. Initially the guy said I’d need to do a free rapid test, and asked “What have you brought for me?” I just laughed and said I’d not brought him anything. Then he stamped my PCR test and sent me off to immigration.
A visa turned out to cost $25 – down from the $50 I was expecting. I only had one $5 US bill and it had a bit of ink on it, so they wouldn’t accept it. They didn’t have change, and wouldn’t accept money in local Kwacha. I asked around some of the money changers but nobody had $5 bills so in the end I just paid $30. I was then free to go.
The road on the Zambian side was significantly worse, often more pothole than road. This lasted for about 30km before improving.
Another 25km on smoother roads brought me to Kitete, a town. I stopped at a motel and checked in before cycling around to get a simcard and some food. The first two rooms I was shown didn’t have a mosquito net; I was glad I insisted on a room with one as there were many mosquitoes buzzing around in the night.
Jan 19: 161 km
Jan 20: 194 km
Jan 21: 55 km
Jan 22: 174 km
Jan 23: 124 km