7th August 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle

I am blogging to you from Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, in northern Tanzania. We are 15 kilometers from the Burundi border and Goma in the DRC is just across the Lake. Since my life I have had absolutely no desire to go anywhere near either place, but here I am.

Our Old Legs mantra is have fun, do good, do epic. So as to tick the do good box, we’re riding mountain bikes from Harare to Uganda to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.

So as to tick the epic box, we’re looking to see shoebills and gorillas, and Ujiji where Stanley found Livingstone. We’re looking to build forever memories that will make us belly laugh out loud when we remember them, or ones that will have us saying wow again in wonderment.

To be in wonderment about stuff is a really big deal. It’s the difference between a life well lived and grey. Rush through life and your daisies will be blurred. Better to go slow, like 20 kilometers per hour slow, take time out to stop and smell life’s daisies.

We took time out two days ago to stop next to a raging bush fire, and stood in wonderment at the power of the flames, and the harshness of nature. Because we’ve all driven past hundreds of bush fires in our lives, at speed and with the windows of the car up, it shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it was. In ten years time, I’ll remember Laurie trying to scare a baby quail to safety, and feeling the heat on my face and hearing the roar of the flames in my ears. For the record, I tried to douse the fire by peeing on it, but failed.

We’ve spent the last two days riding through the most magnificent forest of the tallest trees. Riding with Vicky Bowen these past 2 weeks, my tree identification skills have come on in leaps and bounds. Because I didn’t see a single impala herd , I was able to deduce that none of the trees were tamarinds. And there weren’t any flowering jacarandas or flamboyants either, although there could have been some non-flowering ones.

That it has taken us two days to ride through the forest was more to do with the size of the forest, than the speed at which we ride.

Despite the fact that there was way more uphill than down hill, Jaime enjoyed her Eureka day on the bike. I much enjoyed my day as well. For the first time on Tour, my legs pitched up on the day and I was able scamper up the hills like an elderly Klipspringer.

It would appear they don’t do winter in this part of Tanzania and we climbed mountains in plus 30 degree heat. Hills are steeper when it is hot. Taking our lead from the Watermeyer brothers, we took time out from the Tour to swim in two mountain streams.

We’ve ridden 200 kilometers on dirt and climbed over 2000 meters in the last 2 days, through pretty much the same piece of unspoiled bush. Tanzania is vast on another scale.

CJ’s Garmin told her she lost 6.8 liters in sweat on yesterday’s ride alone. My Garmin has been missing in action in the bottom of my kitbag for 2 weeks now, so I have no idea how much I lost. Suffice to say it was a lot.

We bush camped on top of a mountain above the Nkondwe Falls, and marveled at the Milky Way, seemingly just above us, and almost within reach. The nearest town with lights on was hundreds of kilometers away.

We stopped on top of a mountain called Busungola and looked down on Africa unspoiled, stretching away as far as the eye could see, the same Africa that Livingstone and Stanley looked down on a hundred and fifty years earlier. I’ll remember the view forever, especially Russell Dawson standing on a rock above me, with autumnal msasa all around him, wearing the Dick of the Day’s pink tutu and silly hat proudly.

Russell is wearing the Dick of the Day tutu because he broke the the toilet seat on the Boskak 1959, an essential piece of Tour equipment, especially when eight hours in the saddle has left you too knackered to squat. After breaking the toilet seat, Russell considerately slammed the stable door shut on the corpse of the horse by telling us all he was going to dial back on the size of his dinner portions. For which we are very thankful, because we’re down to Boskak 2000 only between now and Uganda, unless we can buy a replacement toilet seat for the Boskak 1959 in Kigoma.

As I type, I have tears streaming down my cheeks. I’ve just learned that my mom passed away in Harare at 07.00 this morning. I am hugely sad, but also happy that she is now at rest, and in heaven with my dad and my brother. She suffered dementia these last 10 years and has enjoyed little quality of life these past few months.

My mom wrote the book on tough. She grew up in a Japanese concentration camp on Timor in World War Two. She and my dad built a life in Rhodesia, working hard, saving their pennies for their golden years. But then along came Mugabe and 40 years of economic stupid, and everything they’d worked so hard to build was reduced to zero. Alas.

But my mum was lucky. She was born Dutch. And because the Dutch government look after their elderly, she received a government pension that allowed her and my dad to enjoy retirement these past 30 years.

Like I said my mum was lucky. Unlike others of her generation who worked so hard to build Zimbabwe, who are pensioners in name only, receiving no financial support, no health support, no nothing from their government. I hope I am not coming across as angry, bitter and twisted. It is what it is, and anger and bitterness won’t fix it.

Zimbabwe’s pensioners are why my best friends and I have ridden into Kigoma on our bicycles. And after we’ve enjoyed a rest day, we’re climbing back on our bikes and we’ll carry on riding to Uganda, to raise money and awareness for the charities that support Zimbabwe’s pensioners, the charities that try and pay them a pension.

Kigoma doesn’t rank in the top 10 honeymoon destinations of the world. The plumbing in our 4 star hotel doesn’t work, they serve fish heads for breakfast and worse for dinner, the streets are crazy busy, especially if you’re travelling in a tuk tuk.

But it has been the perfect rest day stop. Most of us arrived exhausted from hard days in the saddle, while Adam and Russell were exhausted from the lurgy. We explored town on tuk-tuks, found the loudest Hawaiian shirts in all Tanzania, and then watched the Springboks beat the British Lions on Jaime’s iPad. Having enjoyed The Crown on Netflix, I shouted quietly for the Lions, but they lost anyway. Alas. Maybe they’ll do better in 4 years.

Tomorrow we’re back on our bikes and pedaling in the general direction of Lake Victoria. Please follow us on on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw and on Facebook. And please follow the donate prompts and help us help others.

In closing, thank you from my sister Irene and I for all the support received.

Until my next blog from the road to Lake Victoria, stay safe, enjoy and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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