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Back to potholes

Stage 58 (39): Luangwa Bridge Camp to Mukonka Primary School (soccer field)

I slept in this morning, waking just after 5:00 with a start. I’d been awake earlier, listening to the bush babies calling at around 4:00 but then fell back to sleep. A bit of a rush to get myself packed and ready in time, and a fair amount of stumbling around in the dark, but managed it all just as breakfast was up.


The Luangwa River is really quite a big river; originating on the Malawi–Zambia border near Isoka, it flows south-southwest to eventually join the Zambezi River at Luangwa town, well to the south of us.


The first 3 km or so after leaving camp is a backtrack to yesterday, following the river upstream. The river track is heavily potholed and in places, washed out all together. We re-join the Great East Road and swing west.


Dramatically different to the past two days, the Great East road surface is now a narrow two lanes, usually no shoulder to speak of, and heavily potholed. The tarmac as it exists is old chip seal, continuously bumpy and hard on both legs and butt. We’re almost immediately into a series of climbs, which will go on for the next 60 km. I very quickly learn to pay attention to the clank and clatter of large transport trucks coming up, the throatier roar of petroleum tanker trucks, or the howl of the long distance coaches. The former two generally give a reasonable berth as they pass, the latter almost never.


We’re in relatively dense bush country; little to no sign of even subsistence plots. At least for the first couple of hours, it’s remarkably peaceful in-between the scary vehicles; the bush is full of birdsong, and I can clearly hear my own breathing.

A sign indicates that we’ve entered the Mpanshya Community Forest Wildlife Corridor. It feels very remote.


Finally over the top, and on my way to lunch, I come around a corner some very loud Afro-Pop blaring out from a funky looking bar/restaurant. It’s only as I pass do I catch the smell of meat being grilled; I have to investigate. It is indeed a few quartered chickens being grilled on a bbq, and I’m invited in to inspect. It seems to be a very new establishment, and most certainly is in the middle of nowhere, but the view is outstanding. It’d be a wonderful place to end the day if one didn’t have to drive on that road afterwards.


However, I’ve still got a ways to go and press on; another 6-7 km gets me to lunch. Re-fuel and re-water and off again. Although the morning had been mixed blue skies and a bit of cloud, the afternoon has quickly moved (when I wasn’t looking?) to thick overcast. But it serves to keep the temperature down, which is fine by me.


I’m in a long valley, maybe 20 km in all, the road often seeming to be downhill but it’s hard to be certain, as I have to pedal constantly (and not in higher gears) due to the bumpiness of this old chip seal surface. I almost wish it’d go back to be climbing.


That wish comes true all too soon with another series of stiff climbs, touching 10% in places. Then it levels off although according to the profile I keep gradually gaining elevation right through to the end of day. At some point coming around a corner,  I pass these ladies selling peanuts (or groundnuts as I was corrected to call them).


I make camp in reasonable time, all things considered. I certainly feel better than the past two days; the cooler temperatures I’m thinking have helped significantly.


Camp tonight is on a soccer field, with even a bit of grass here and there. The kids are of course in full attendance, although they’re more interested their own long jump trials on an adjoining field than us, which makes for a pleasant change.

Impossible to see in this photo but major repairs had to done on my tent pole today, as it finally snapped between last night and today’s putting it up. Fingers crossed, it might now get me to Cape Town.


Dinner is breaded crocodile cutlets - delicious, and a real treat to be the one doing the eating.

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