When we left Mufalir, we had an ambitious plan of traveling through the South Luangwa National Park to Mozambique/Malawi. It took about two days to get to the park. We arrived on the evening of the second day. We turned off Great North Road exactly at 15.20. The road to the last village before the border was about 45 km away and we covered the distance pretty quickly. A gravel road, it had it’s good parts and also not so good ones, nothing special. A steep descent started after passing the last village. Like really, the steepest descent of my life. After the first 100 m we lost the rear breaks. The break fluid started boiling and even sprayed out from time to time. The temperature outside was 32 `C. I stopped to think what to do next.
Only a couple of minutes after that some angry men from the last village caught up to us and claimed that I had ridden through the checkpoint. Well, I didn’t notice one, but so be it. The last rainy season had washed away a street and while looking for a road I just didn’t notice it. At first they threatened to arrest us, but 10 minutes later we left as friends. They left to be exact. I remained, thinking a way to get down the hill without rear breaks.
GPS showed that there still was a good way to go down. As Oksana had already been walking down the hill some time ago, i decided to continue as well. The front break was no use. As soon as I started breaking I fell over. Then I tried to go town the hill with the engine off, clutch down and the bike in first gear. It worked somehow. Just had to get used to that the bike started braking when I let the clutch out not when I pushed it down like it does when using the front brake. So I continued going town the hill very slowly, falling several more times. These falls were partly deliberate, the incline was so sharp and there was no other way to control the bike. The rocks, the size of a head of a small child, made everything even more difficult.
It took about two hours to get down. It was already dark when we arrived. We knew that a campsite was about 15 km away. That was our goal. We were now in the territory of the National Park. The tracks of elephants and their sometimes very fresh droppings were a silent reminders of that fact. The path continued in soft sand. I was tired and knowing that if we were to meet an elephant, things would not be good, made it worse. I wouldn’t be able to turn the bike around quickly enough in this deep soft sand. It wouldn’t help either because I wouldn’t be able to ride fast enough in the sand anyway. There were thin bushes everywhere so nowhere to hide. All that was left to do was to hope that the noise of the engine kept the tuskers away.
Riding in the sand tires quickly. The descent itself had already been hard. The morale was going down. At one point a SUV came up. I tried to find out how far we were and what the road ahead is like. The poor negro was so frightened to see us that he but the truck in reverse, backed up a dozen or so metres, turned off the sandy road and drove with a wide arc, partly through bushes, around us. He didn’t even open a window. Damn native.
The bike kept on falling more and more. The engine overheated and the red light was on. After about the tenth fall we decided to put up a camp. There was no energy left. It was about 19.30 and we’d been messing around in the dark for over an hour and a half. We left the bike in the middle of the sandy road and put up the tent on the edge of it. Fortunately there was enough water in the tank under the saddle so we could drink as much as we wanted and rinse off our armpits. The water was hot though but still good we had any. We didn’t have any food with us but we didn’t want any either. To reduce the fear of the wild animals around us, we emptied half a bottle of wine that was left over from the night before. It was good and too bad that there wasn’t any more. I had time to think that I wouldn’t dare to go peeing outside in the middle of the night and then I fell asleep.
We woke really early the next morning. It was 5 and everything was quiet. It was unusual because so far there had been all kinds of noise in the national parks we’d been before. We spent another couple of hours in the tent, just in case (the big cats were supposed to be hunting in the mornings 🙂 ). We discussed what to do next. We knew what was behind us but had no idea what was to come ahead. I remembered the sandy paths of Okawang Delta and the current one looked the same. We considered different options. The only concrete information from our electronic devices and from our own experience was that the fist settlement, a camping of the National Park, was 80 km away. We only had the word of mouth from the last village that there was supposed to be a campsite about 5 km away. The map didn’t confirm that. Going forward, there was going to be 80 km of all sorts of wild animals, going back – about 10 km of sandy roads and a steep and hard rise.
We made a decision to turn around and to go back. Since we had risen early we had the hole day to get back up the hill. Well rested, the mood was better and so was the outlook. The road was full of fresh elephant tracks. It was evident that they had been walking around about 10-15 m from our tent during night. Fortunately, we did not meet any of them. The rise was exactly as difficult as I imagined it. Without a rear brake, it was almost impossible to stop. At one moment I discovered the instant stop button. If I wanted to stop, I simply pushed it and the engine stopped. The bike was in first gear anyway. I kept going up about 100-150 m at a time. Fell. Pushed the bike back up and rested. Waited for Oksana to reach my location, drank some water and tried to get moving again. Getting moving again was extremely complicated because of all the loose stones or because the front of the bike wanted to come off the ground. If you managed to get moving, all you had to do was to try with all your might to stay on the bike and push the front down until the next fall. It took about 4 hours to get back up the hill. One fall was a bit more serious. I fell on top of some sharp rocks. Fortunately the drop bar happened to be in the right place and took the bigger hit. It bent out of place about 10 cm but everything important stayed safe. I was not hurt.
Too bad that the pictures don’t show the actual tilt, and it seems like the road is fairly straight. The actual slope was so steep that I slipped and fell on my but a couple of times while walking down.
Finally, we managed to get back up somehow and the losses weren’t very big. The biggest damage was done to the camera. I dropped it in the sand from my tired fingers and some sand got into it. Fortunately the zoom and shutter started moving again after some cleaning. The guys from the check-point said that the good road had been only a kilometer away. The sand was supposed to end there and a good paved road was supposed to go on from there. The campsite had been about 3 km away. I will go back at some point and finish what we started. Some regret left there.
Since we didn’t want to ride all the way (about 600 km) back to Lusaka, we decided to reach the border of Mazambique through the Nort Luangwa National Park. The maps showed some roads and people around confirmed their existence. We arrived at the northern gate of North Luangwa in the evening. We gathered information on the road ahead. Wanted to know if we were able to get through the park and how the road conditions were. The answer was pretty encouraging but we were warned about some “challenges”. They promised to fill us in in the morning.
There was only option – staying in the campsite right behind the gates of the National Park. The only feedback we had about the place were strong recommendations of not staying there. We had no choice. There were nothing in the campsite. Just a dusty area to put a tent up. No electricity, no water, nothing. We didn’t mind though. We sat by the campfire and enjoyed a cool evening. We were the only visitors. There were two about 20 year old boys who warmed us some water that they brought from the river, poured it in some sort of drum overhead so we even managed to have some sort of shower. It was nice. This nice feeling came to an end in the morning when we received a bill of 40 $ for this grandiosity. The most expensive campsite so far had cost us 10 $. We had usually stayed at places that were about 7-8 $ and included a shower, a toilet, a restaurant, a bar, electricity, internet (which is usually bad and allows you to read only the headings of the e-mails), sockets for loading any kind of equipment, kitchen with pots and pans, grills, etc. 20 $ per person on a dusty square seemed just funny. Obviously, we did not intend to be subjected to such extortion. The boys shrugged, saying the manager had given them that a sum, the manager is not here at the moment and there is no one to argue with.
Ok, so with nothing else to do, we quietly put the camp together. I discovered that the front tired had gone flat during the night and I changed it. While the compressor was doing its thing I looked around a bit. There was a small road along the river that went straight to the big road. The entrance to the campsite was about a 100 meters away. We took it and got away from that place. The only regret I have is that I would have liked to pay the boys for the warm water they provided us the night before. But 40 $ seems too much and since there was nobody to argue with, then so be it.
After hurrying away from the campsite we were once again in front of the gates of the National Park. They wouldn’t open the gate and were led to the courtyard where we were supposed to pay a fee for staying in the park. 84 $ for two people. For sleeping on the other side of the gates on a dusty lot. I still had adrenaline rush from escaping the campsite. There was a sparse brush next to the barrier and hard soil. We fit through and the ditch next to the road was also shallow. The noise behind us went quieter with every passing second. I kept looking in the rear view mirror for the next dozen or so kilometers but nobody followed us. There were no other choices left. Tanzania on the right and Lusaka on the left. It was still too early to go to Tanzania so we headed for Lusaka once again. We got a room for 30 $. I should say a house even 🙂 . We stayed for two days 🙂 .