Nkhata Bay to Rumphi
Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu 50 km (just over 25km done)
The Ilala docked at just after 3am amid much hullabaloo. The ship’s hooters went off followed by the usual chaos, running, shouting and unloading big baskets of tiny fish (bonia and usipa mostly). We didn't manage much sleep after that and we were out on the balcony brewing up in time for the sunrise. As we passed through the throng, the fishy smell was measuring strong-to-nosebleed on the International Pong Scale. Altogether too much for first thing in the morning!
It is a steep pull straight out of Nkhata Bay, and it goes on for a few kms before becoming more undulating. About 20kms or so in, the hills get steep for a wee while. Bottom gear and wearing your lungs on the outside steep!
I didn't cover myself in positive Karma when I yelled at a boy who made a grab for my bike on one of the steepest sections. It wouldn't have taken much to put me on the road face down at that speed, and I admit to profanity. I hope he recovers.
Karma struck back after just a few more kms, when my chain exploded on a particularly steep section, and dumped me on my face in the rubble at the side of the road. There was no time to clip out and get a foot down…and down I went.
It was a freak accident, but not insurmountable, until I found that the “universal “ links I was carrying were slightly too tight on my heavy-duty chain. That was that! We couldn't continue and we were to miss a climb that is one of the four Malawi classics, and a day I’d been looking forward to for a long time.
We flagged down a matola full of sacks of maize, threw our bikes and luggage on. We traded the thrill of the bike ride into Mzuzu for the thrill of hanging onto the back of the truck, whilst swerving through blind overtakes, on the brows of hills and blind corners.
We arrived at the wonderful Macondo Camp, changed our soiled shorts after the exciting ride, and set about getting hold of spare parts. We were recommended a mechanic who might have spares, but his toolkit consisted of a claw hammer, and a lump hammer that I think he stole from Thor. I was trying not to hurt his feelings, but failed to pay attention as he beat the shit out of my chain between the two hammers. I gave him a small fee for his trouble, and breathed a sigh of relief when he and his hammers disappeared.
Our friend Ronnex, Annette and I began to chase down a chain. One of our good friends from Lilongwe, Jabu, had one, and agreed (at precisely zero expense to me) to ship it on one of the buses to Mzuzu. Nice one Jabu!
Of course we were forced to stay put, but there was a silver lining. Macondo is run by a lovely Italian couple, who run a small restaurant on the site. I couldn't describe the quality of the food without it seeming that I'm exaggerating. It was simply stunning! It was better than anything I've had in London, or Edinburgh, and at a fraction of the price. We were blown away!
I know we were unlucky this time, but if you're planning to ride the stretch of road between Nkhata Bay and Mzuzu, it’s definitely not one to miss, and Macondo Camp gets a big “thumbs up” too. Thanks Ronnex and Jabu, we would have been in real trouble without you guys. Cheers!
So today we waited for the bus to arrive in Mzuzu with the spares. We bought some supplies from Shoprite, and spent the rest of the day fixing my bike. We are not 100% sure of the repair, but at least with some spare parts we have options.
After some difficulty removing the mangled link, I managed to fix the chain and take the bike for a test ride, where I rode the bike carelessly and brutally. The chain held up, but I'm still not totally convinced.
The bruises I picked up yesterday were starting to come out and I was pretty sore. Some consolation was the excellent Italian food once again. At dinner time, there was much talk of demonstrations tomorrow. People were understandably nervous.
All the information that I had, suggested that the demonstrations would be confined to Lilongwe. We talked around it for ages, and decided to go. People were still twitchy here after the recent violence, but if we don't cycle because of every rumour, we will be sitting still more than moving.
We decided to leave at first light and get away from Mzuzu before the town stirs.
Mzuzu to Rumphi 75km
We crept out of Mzuzu at first light and soon cleared the city. There was evidence of damage on the way through, but no worse than the damage to Lilongwe city centre.
Once we left the city, it was what I would call a “meat and two veg day.” It was an undulating route through lovely countryside and generally trending down. The chain held up fine, although I was riding a little nervously. The fall off the bike had shaken me a wee bit more than I expected.
The chain held up, and we arrived at Rumphi just after mid-day, and checked in to the “Adios”. The Adios was recommended by someone in Mzuzu, a Malawian from Rumphi. We had a great time there. It was a sort of quintessentially Malawian lodge, it was a very warm welcome, but slightly quirky in a fun way. We decided to take a room as the campground wouldn't take pegs…it was a good choice!
Our meal was wholesome local food, and after a couple of Carlsberg Greens, we ordered breakfast for 6, filtered water and went to bed.
During the night an unexpected wind came down the valley like a train. There would have been no chance of our tent surviving it. We weren’t sure where all this freak weather was coming from, but we’ve been here long enough to know this isn’t normal.
Back to the lake tomorrow!