Zambia Backroads: Giant Waterfalls, Congo Refugees, Two Great Lakes and Tom’s snapped frame!

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Zambia continued! We left Samfya and the sandy beaches of Lake Bangweulu as we began our gradual ascent in latitude. Travelling northwards again gave a feeling of progress as we etch closer to Ethiopia. We had set a course for Lake Mweru and the small town of Nchelenge, to tick off another Great African Lake in the Great Rift Valley. The road there was a muddy one and we did tend to opt toward the dirt roads through the bright green Zambian woodlands.

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Along these rural back roads we encountered the UN who were in the process of creating a refugee camp for 6000 immigrants fleeing the Congo. Intensive fighting in the Congo has shifted from the northern borders of Lake Tanganyika to the southern end of the lake. The border between the Congo and Zambia in the area east of Lake Mweru is not well defined or patrolled. Thus, Congo raiding parties and refugees have made it less safe to travel further north in Zambia than Mununga.

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Later that afternoon we arrived in Nchelenge on Lake Mweru, which is the second largest lake in the Congo River Drainage Basin and is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth between 20 and 27 meters. We made camp at a place overlooking the lake and had a few beers to the sunset.

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From Lake Mweru we made our way toward the famous and remote Lumangwe Falls.  Getting there involved some windy and muddy back-roads that were welcomed as a new challenge.

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The countryside is incredible with woodlands towering on both sides of the muddy paths. When we eventually got to Lumangwe Falls we decided to stay for three days, camping right next to the waterfall.

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There are two waterfalls within the reserve Lumangwe and Kabwelume Falls. Lumangwe is the largest waterfall in Zambia that doesnt border another country and has a height of between 30 and 40 meters and is 160 meters long.

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Kabweume Falls is a spectacular semi circle cascading down three connected waterfalls.

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When we left Lumangwe Falls we took the tar road toward Kasama once again but turned left to head north toward the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika. Unfortunately on the dirt roads to Mpulungu Toms’ bike, Frankenstein, frame snapped toward the rear. This is a result of too much weight on the rear as well as a bolt or two that came loose on the hectic roads.

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Luckily the frame broke 75 meters from a construction site with welders and various metal off cuts. Within 2 hours the motorcycle frame was repaired stronger than before and we were back on the road.

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The following day we eventually made it to the banks of Lake Tanganyika the second largest, deepest and oldest lake in the world! This is where we found a spot to settle for a few days in order to celebrate the birthdays of Tom and myself. Preparation was vital.

Ingredients for success were:

  • Alcohol
  • A goat
  • A good place to camp

We found all these ingredients in and around Mpulungu, finding alcohol in the form of millions of tiny bottles of mainly energy based alcohol.

The goat was slightly more challenging, first finding it and then the transport on the motorcycle proved interesting followed by slaughter and preperation.

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Once all the ingredients were collected we began the sheep spit this took place in sections over the next 3 days.

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Bellow are two videos of the preparation of the goat and the actual spitting of the goat.

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Birthday weekend/marathon was a lovely way to cut loose and enjoy our time on the banks of such a massive Lake, as well as a good way to bid farewell to an incredible country. Adventure is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Northern Zambia. There is so much space to just get lost and see spectacular environments along the way. Our road from Mbala, Zambia into Tanzania was a wet one.

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Zambia is still a lovely source of adventure not too far from South Africa, what Zambia lacks in infrastructure in the north it makes up for with the amazing ecosystems and phenomenal waterfalls and collection of great lakes.

Cheers

Trent Seiler

& The Nitty Gritty Nomads

Mozambique: Deforestation, Reunions, Beautiful Beaches and Bloodsuckers.

Mozambique! An epic journey, reunions, and close encounters with Vampires!

We left Zimbabwe and entered Mozambique through the seldom-used border post at Espungabera, a dusty border town with cheap accommodation and beer. The town was a strategic point during the Mozambican Frelimo-Renamo civil war from the late 70’s to the early 90’s for the FPLM due to its access to Zimbabwe.

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After a long day of very dusty riding behind multiple massive trucks carrying hundreds of tons of illegally logged hardwoods like Chante, Ebony, Leadwood, Panga Panga and Pou Preto. We arrived at a small trucker town at an intersection on the main highway through the country (EN 1) and found accommodation in some reed huts (above photograph).

Deforestation was a theme that was constantly present during our travels in Mozambique. The Chinese have approached many of the rural communities and given them chainsaws for the purpose of cutting down trees, for which they pay the locals between R60 and R100 per felled tree. According to an article written for the Mail and Guardian, the average farmer turned tree feller cuts down about 40 of these slow-growing hardwood trees each day.

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As soon as we hit the highway we made our way toward the beach paradise of Vilankulos. A town that has grown significantly in the past 10 years due to its spectacular beaches, crystal clear water and its position as the gateway to Bazaruto Archipelago, which Mike and Tom were lucky enough to visit.

While Tom and Mike were busy catching boat rides to Archipelagos I travelled south to meet Istene with her new mode of transport, a Suzuki Samurai, which had taken the place of her Yamaha XT 250 motorbike since her crash and subsequent partial recovery. We met at the lovely touristy town of Inhambane, which is one of the oldest settlements on the Mozambican coast with evidence as early as the 11th century where Muslim and Persian traders were the first outsiders to arrive and commence trade with this portion of Africa. In order to make it to Istene, I had to cross the Tropic of Capricorn for the 5th time on this trip.

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It had been two months since Istene departed from us in Maun Botswana, returned to South Africa for her recovery and now rejoined the trip on the white sandy beaches of Mozambique.

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Meeting the tiny Suzuki Samurai for the first time! Istenes new mode of transport for the remainder of the trip.

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Istene and I travelled back to Vilanculos to meet with Tom and Mike. With beautiful scenes like the one above you couldn’t blame us for taking a day or two at the lovely secluded Baobab Backpackers.

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From the picturesque Vilankulos, we made our way North to the Save River Bridge where we spent the night at a little place named Nyama Star, a little bar and stopover where the beer is cheap the R&R’s cheaper and the company monumental. We highly recommend stopping here for a beer or accommodation, good vibes and smiles all round.

With hazy cloudy eyes, we made our way toward the coastal town of Beira, the third largest city in Mozambique with a significant port to the central portion of the country as well as the landlocked countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. The port at Beira is also where all the illegally deforested trees from the interior of the country come to get put in cargo ships and sent to China, where they are sold for literally hundreds of times more than the purchase price from the local Mozambicans. The local government officials are all being paid off by Chinese businessmen to turn a blind eye to this complete decimation of the natural resources.

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Beira is not the most incredible place to visit but a hidden dirt road in town leads to a little-known paradise about 50 km up the coast. Rio Savanne! On route there you still see bicycles over-loaded with charcoal making their way to the town to get better prices for their exploits.

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When we arrived we found small fishing villages dotting the coast, beautiful beaches and friendly people.

In order to get our vehicles to the campsite at Rio Savanne, we had to travel to a small village to the north and then travel south along the beach. The beach was riddled with litter, Tom got right on the job and proceeded to fill up about five bags worth of rubbish.

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After collecting rubbish we battled our way through extremely thick sand to get our vehicles to the beach,  it was our first time riding our motorcycles on the beach, which came with its own learning curves. Mike managed to get his bike nicely stuck just in front of an old shipwreck, luckily we managed to pull him out without too much difficulty.

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After leaving the beach paradise of Rio Savanne we travelled back to Beira where we made our way on treacherous but lovely dirt roads to Caia which is the town before the longest road bridge to span the mighty Zambezi River. This was our first time crossing the Zambezi River after we met it for the first time three months previously.

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About 40 km after we crossed the Zambezi River we turned off toward Morrumbala with the intention of taking dirt roads along the Zambezi to Tete where we would meet up with my old supervisor Dr Tim Forssman. Tim had managed to bring up a much-needed compressor for the team. Unfortunately, the barge at the Shire River was decommissioned the week prior to our arrival so any access to that side of the country was placed effectively out of our reach.

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This decommissioned barge had thrown a large spanner in the works, we had to backtrack and find an alternative route. It was no longer feasible to make our way to Tete, thus, the decision was made that we would make our way straight to Malawi. A strange phenomenon began occurring in the rural towns of this rural northern portion of Mozambique, we began noticing that people would be wary of us and run away if we stopped for directions. However, when we stopped in towns they would gather in large crowds very quickly. Apparently, this was due to rumours of Bloodsuckers in the area. Bloodsuckers are apparently powerful people who disable a target using some sort of electrical charge or chemical substance, after which they remove 5 litres of blood from the victim then making their escape by taking the form of a cat or a dog. I can assure you we have none of the above experience or abilities.

We found out more information about this phenomenon later so when we were accused of being bloodsuckers we laughed it off. We were warned to sleep at or very near to any police stations, a warning which we nonchalantly dismissed. There is very little reason to be surprised of being accused of this due to Toms chosen helmet decorations.

It was only once we crossed the border and raced through Mulanje toward Blantyre in Malawi that the rumours about bloodsuckers spiralled out of control, resulting in the deaths of nine people in the area. Six people including a tourist and a village headman were burned alive by angry mobs for being accused of being bloodsuckers. The UN  evacuated all their non-permanent staff and volunteers from the southern portions of Malawi near the Mozambican border due to this unfortunate superstitious resurgence.

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Luckily we got through these areas and safely into Blantyre Malawi. The route through Mozambique was long and rough. The country is vast and wild and the impact of the civil war has left it far behind its surrounding countries in terms of infrastructure and roadwork. This kind of adds to Mozambique’s rough charm between incredible beaches.

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In the next blog, we will show the lovely Lake Malawi and all the lovely places to visit, from the remote to the executive.

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

6 Reasons why the KLR 650 is the best Adventure Bike for over-landing Africa!

The KLR 650 is not the number one bike to tour Africa with but for a young enthusiastic biker with a tight budget, there is no better option.

The Kawasaki KLR 650 dual purpose motorcycle was one of a list of options we (The Nitty Gritty Nomads) considered before undertaking our journey through Africa, other serious contenders where the Suzuki DR 650 and Honda XR650L. Both of these options are attractive to the young or budget conscious traveller. However, they did not tick all the boxes needed for a year-long motorcycle journey through Africa.

Criteria for bike selection were simple.

  1. Reliable – tough, tried and tested.
  2. Cheap – not a wallet-crippling price for young adventurers living it rough.
  3. Simple – a simple bike that can be fixed by us, without two PhDs in electrical and mechanical engineering.
  4. Capable- Good on road and off road capabilities as well as decent ground clearance.
  5. Strong – Able to carry a heavy load on a light chassis and still be able to lift the bike      if…rather, when it falls.
  6. Range – Capable of doing long distance stretches between fuel stations trough Africa.

The Kawasaki KLR was introduced in 1987 and remained unchanged for 20 years until it’s facelift in 2008. The KLR has been the go-to choice for long distance intercontinental trips, as well as a full circumnavigation of the globe eg. Dr Gregory Frazer between 2002 and 2003. When one considers the purchase price, service options, simplicity and global network that the KLR produces, it is a hard bike to beat. There is no better value for the buck in the adventure riding world when you consider every factor.  A BMW 1200 GS which seems to be the “go to” adventure bike at the moment in southern Africa, is three times the price of a new KLR.

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The KLR is a single-cylinder (thumper), water-cooled, four-stroke simple engine with a tried and tested design, that any back yard mechanic in Africa will (should) have an idea of how to work on. This is because most of the mechanics you encounter will have worked on single-cylinder smaller bikes and will not have to deal with computers, complex wiring and digital troubleshooting which seems to be the path of modern motorcycles. The bike is so simple that we have learned to do all the maintenance as well as the majority of other small fixes ourselves. With Pratley Putty, cable ties, gasket maker, duck tape and a few spare bolts you can fix about 85% of the problems that could arise (literally).

The thumper engine has great power at low RPM so you can tackle those steep inclines at a steady rate. We tested three KLR’s up to the famous Sani Pass in Lesotho and they performed phenomenally, easily making it up daunting inclines at very low RPM. DSC_0854 Impressively Kawasaki managed to deliver a strong low range motorcycle with acceptable highway speeds (110 km/h cruising speed). When travelling in Africa, speed is not necessarily your friend… goats, cows, children, potholes and a variety of other obstacles will be slung into your path, thus, we have selected between 80 and 90 km/ph as optimal cruising speed. The KLR also has substantial ground clearance which has performed well while fully loaded, over some tricky and rocky terrain already covered on our 12 000 km journey through southern Africa so far.

The frame is light, strong, can handle heavy loads and is still balanced enough to be manoeuvrable on and off road. Another benefit of the KLR is that even though our entire lives are packed on the motorcycle one can still lift the bike without assistance if it so happens to fall over (admittedly with effort). DSC_0035_LIThis is a useful feature when splitting from the group for some shopping or gathering. One of the final and most important selling points of the KLR is that it comes stock standard with a 23 litre (6.1 US gallons) fuel tank, we have been able to get over 450 km off a tank, which comes in handy with the long stretches between petrol through some portions of Africa.

Drawbacks

Like any machine there are pro’s and cons, here are two things to know about making and keeping this machine truly bulletproof

The KLR uses oil, more than the average. A well maintained KLR will use less, this is easily combated by a small backup 500 ml of motor oil. This issue does, however, require a periodic eye on the oil levels making certain the oil levels never run low. An inspection every three to five days during long distance travel and the odd top up is all you need to ensure your continued adventures on this mechanical beast.

The Doohicky or the “Balancer Train Adjuster Lever” is known to give issues in the older KLR model’s more specifically (1987-2007). The spring loses tension and causes the metalm Doohicky to eventually break apart. It is recommended that an upgraded version be installed (even in the newer models of KLR). They are easily found online, consult The Oracle. There are some other small additions needed to get this motorcycle slightly more jacked for African trips, but even stock standard can do a great job.

Maybe the KLR 650 is not the number one bike to tour Africa with but for a young enthusiastic biker with a tight budget, there is no better option. They have served us well and I am confident that with the correct maintenance should easily take us another 30 000 km through rural Africa on our year long journey. See The Nitty Gritty Nomads!!

Cheers

Trent Seiler &

The Nitty Gritty Nomads

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