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8:08 pm on Saturday 17th April by SS
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by SS at 5:20 pm on Saturday 17th April

We're in Livingstone for three nights, or two rest days. I'm happy the TDA has organised the rest days like this - it's a beautiful place, touristy but pleasant and there's a lot to do. The campsite we have as a base isn't the best available so most of the riders have evacuated and either gone to some fancy hotels on the Zimbabwe side of the river or have come to the Waterfront campsite where I'm now writing from.

This campsite is lush, has a great view down the Zambezi river and we can even see the spray from the falls off in the distance, like a unusually low cloud resting on the surface of the water. It has a swimming pool, warm showers with decent pressure and a well stocked bar. It's also very quiet and I've had two nights of sound sleep.

A good proportion of the tour came on the unashamedly named 'booze cruise' down the Zambezi. This two hour cruise takes us up the river, away from the waterfall (unfortunately but probably for our safety!), up to a beautiful sunset before turning around and taking us back. It includes unlimited food and drink but unfortunately they didn't appear to cater for the limitless appetite of the touring cyclist. The vegetarian selection was as meagre as expected, an uninspiring pasta dish. The drinks weren't too bad though and I knocked back four double vodkas/whiskies with Sprite and orange cordial.

Returning to the campsite, I decided to make up for the lack of Amarula in the previous month, served ice cold in a round glass from the Waterfront bar. Several of the Canadian sectional riders who are part of a charity working in Zambia decided to take us out to some of the best Livingstone nightclubs and we took a heavily overloaded bucky (pick-up truck) out to the town centre. This was crazily dangerous - just 5 people sitting in the front two rows and 13 of us crammed into the bed of the short wheelbase truck. I was one of the later passengers to arrive so was standing up along with Jethro. The bumps were pretty painful, trying our hardest not to lose our footing or inadvertantly step on other people's feet. It was the corners that took the most dangerous award though, since our narrow stance in the limited floor space there was, coupled with the loose grip on the rollcage of the truck, made it difficult to hold on and predisposing us to the very genuine danger of falling out of the truck.

We made it though and after skipping past one club that was playing polka music, we found a warehouse-esque bar-club which was pumping Zambian dance music (whilst also showing a football match that most other patrons were glued to). Leanne requested they change to more Western music and the group was happily dancing for a while. I left early, falling asleep from a few days worth of poor rest.
The next morning, we booked the bungie jump, swing and zip line package as a group and then head into town to hunt down an ATM that would give us cash to pay for the package.

Heading to a homely vegetarian restaurant for lunch about an hour before we were supposed to meet everyone for the jump, we were panicking when the food hadn't arrived 5 minutes before we were supposed to be back at the campsite (especially since I had the booking voucher for all eight of us). A dose of karma was delivered to me when I didn't receive my meal with everyone else. When we asked the waitress if they'd started making my meal yet, apparently she had forgotten. Unhappily hungry and pressured with the lack of time, I chowed down on a packet of custard creams as we made our way to the falls.

I wasn't especially worried about throwing myself off the bridge into the Zambezi river at all until after we had registered and made our way onto the bridge. It was only then, looking down, that I realised what a ridiculous endeavour this was. Watching the other riders jump off the bridge, plummet towards the water and then bounce around made me quite nervous and when my turn finally came, at least 45 minutes later, I was dead silent.

When they called my name, I stepped on the platform all harnessed up. Various checks were done, they clip you first to the edge of the bridge and then transfer you to the bungie cord after strapping the leg harness on tightly. When it comes to it, you jump forwards off the edge of the platform and fall like a rock until the cord tightens. Then you rebound up and down a few times, and if you're anything like me, you'll feel slightly ill. I lost count of the number of times I bounced up and the lack of control and visible direction was frustrating and mildly terrifying. At one point, I was spinning around and had a clear view of the circular rainbow caused by the mist from the waterfall - I started laughing at the ridiculous act just committed. My legs were quite sore after the jump - it hurts to bend my right leg and there's a bruise on my left shin. This is probably from the harness being too tight but I'd rather it was too tight than too loose...

After the jump was the swing and this looks rather more tame since you're harnessed and suspended in a mainly upright position. It is, however, the most terrifying. There's something absolutely unnatural about falling with your feet dangling below you and the acceleration is unworldly. My legs were tingling as I fell and I screamed 'NOOOOO' (but quietly so that, luckily, none of the other riders heard me). Once you're caught by the rope, it becomes much less terrifying and you're just swinging around, enjoying the amazing view.

The final of the three, the zipline, was the least worrying and terrifying and involved a gentle saunter across the river whilst harnessed to a slider on top of a rope from side of the Gorge to the bridge. If you're planning on doing the trio, I'd recommend doing the bungie jump before the swing - you'll enjoy it more.

After all was done, it was time for recovery in the bungie company's lounge - a plate of chips and a Fanta restored me to partial life. Finally, we watched the videos of our jumps - pretty amusing. My attempt to negotiate a lower price for each of our DVDs failed (possibly because one of the riders had already paid the full $45 for his DVD) and lacking cash, I didn't buy it. You'll all have to imagine what it looked like!

Dinner was at a traditional restaurant and was amazing - nchima (like the maize based ugali dough) and six different vegetables. Dessert was equally good, a vanilla milkshake from Steers. Zambia has eroded my bank balance and supply of dollars to unprecedented levels - it's unfortunate because I think it's a fairly cash rich country (as far as African countries go anyway). The taxi drivers here charge a surprising amount each trip and having had to go solo by myself a few times, I've been stung with the full near $10 fare. Trying to haggle fails because they operate some kind of price cartel - although walking along the road and flagging a taxi down yielded a lower fare than catching it from any of the main tourist hotspots.

This morning, Dan, Caroline, Tim and I took a short fifteen minute helicopter flight over the Falls. This was amazing because it offered a clear and holistic view of the entire Falls. The experience itself felt slightly rushed (the helicopter company clearly tries to minimise the turnaround time of their flights. I also wasn't lucky enough to have a window seat which meant that the majority of my photos have other people with cameras in them (or just the window pane of the helicopter). I won't bother describing it more since the photos will speak for themselves (see the photo section).

After the flight, we head to the bridge and the others went across to the Zimbabwean side. Not wanting to take the monetary hit, I stuck to the cheaper Zambian side, for which I already had a visa. Unfortunately, I asked after the Zambian immigration lady had given me an exit stamp. She wrote the words 'cancelled' over it with a blue biro, so my departure into Botswana tomorrow may be troublesome.

The spray from the Falls is unbelievable and I was glad to have worn waterproofs - being soaked within seconds. It's really something that has to be experienced and I'd recommend it to all.

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by SS at 4:39 pm on Saturday 17th April

Another block update because it's been a busy few days. The first day out of Lusaka was a 160km day, of which the second 80km was a race for safety reasons. Not wanting to expend all the recovered fitness from the rest day, I took the morning extremely slowly, riding with Adam (who was taking it slowly because he was sleepy) and trying to keep my heart rate below 120 BPM. This worked well until about 20km before lunch when two trains of riders came rushing past, the faster of the two oontained Jethro, Simon and a crowd of racers and the second contained business class (the Tour nickname for the group of middle aged riders who stay in expensive hotels every rest day and drink wine every evening) and some other riders.

I eventually tagged onto the second group and managed to keep my heart rate reasonably low until Gerald, leading the group, took it away. For some reason he sped up to an uncontrollable pace and left most of the group behind. Not wanting to push it too hard, I was in the left behind group and took it easy until the steep hill just before lunch made it impossible to keep my heart rate low without falling backwards off my bike.

Lunch was especially busy, all the racers having taken it slowly and having actually stopped for lunch. I left pretty early, sometime after Jethro and Tim who were the first out. The tailwind picked up significantly and I was cruising along doing a solid 40kmph - it took some effort and my heart rate was a solid 160+ BPM for the entire 80km. Sometime in, I was overtaken by Marcel and rode with him for a few kilometres until Eric Dufour caught up. (If I haven't mentioned it previously, Eric is using the TDA to train for the Race Across America, an EPIC 10-14 day race across the entire of America.) Unable to keep up with them going up a hill (I felt an immensely painful stitch across my right side), I dropped off but continued at my pace, chasing Marcel for .

Arriving at camp a short while later, other riders came in thick and fast, since we had all left so close to each other at lunchtime. Normally I'm able to get my tent pitched fairly quickly and ahead of most of the camp but by the time I had recovered from my 80km sprint, a quarter of the other riders' tents were already up. That evening, the camp was also host to a rowdy local bar and a bike (one of the sectional rider's) was stolen (and subsequently recovered) along with about fifteen of our much coveted folding camp chairs.

The next day was another long day, lengthened to 184km so that we would reach a nicer campsite - Ruze Chalets. Not having anything to do after breakfast and being full of energy dense oatmeal (unusually thick, even by TDA standards), I left early with some of the first riders to leave. Overtaking them on the sandy track out of camp (this was slippery sand, impossible to go in a straight line for more than 20 metres before hitting some hidden obstacle under the surface and resultantly careening off track), I rode alone for a good 30-40km. I was overtaken at this point by a fast group of riders (shortly after Tim and Jethro blew past at huge speed) and joined them, the tailwind from the previous day being absent and making the day slower.

That evening I was wrestling with trying to shut the zip on my tent - both zippers have now given up and there's no obvious solution on the zip teeth themselves. With some help from Jeff and Diane, an American couple who are well versed in the art of zipper repair, a pair of pliers to the zipper later and my zip appears to be closing. I don't know how long it will last for but I'm glad this is happening now with a month to go and not much earlier in the trip. Apparently most manufacturers cover zip defects within the warranty and hopefully Terra Nova will do the same.

The final day into Livingstone was shortened as a result but was still a respectable 152km. I took the day slowly, my legs and cardiovascular system hurting from the previous hard two days, and rode with Ruben and Jason. It was a beautiful day and a stunning day to end the riding week. The pavement became amazingly smooth at 60km until 100km - the road was still under construction though and there were several sections which were still under construction. As we got closer to town, the last 40km were increasingly potholed and required both quick weaving and quick dodging as the traffic coming in the opposite direction veered to the wrong side of the road to save their suspension.

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by SS at 4:13 pm on Saturday 17th April

It was a short and pleasant day into Lusaka, 104km and there wasn't a huge amount of pressure to race with most riders taking it easy. I took quite a few photos, enjoyed the cooler temperatures and generally chilled out.

Lusaka was much revered before we arrived for its two shopping malls which include a multiplex cinema, a Subway fast food restaurant and a huge Walmart-esque supermarket, a SuperSpar. With the thought of ice cream and Subway sandwiches on our minds, soon after we set up camp at the Chainama Hotel where we were staying, a group of riders journeyed to the Arcades Mall. My findings - well it was the Subway I know from home, in some form. There was no choice of bread (it was white or brown) and I was bemused to see a sticker on the counter 'Introducing Our Newest Vegetable: CUCUMBER!', besides the newly discovered elongate green vegetable they only had onions, tomatos and peppers. A pretty sparse sandwich but still pleasing to the palate.

After our sandwiches, we went for ice cream next door at a restaurant called Food Fayre, an astonishingly warm place - in fact, so warms that some of their stock was melting. Luckily the soft ice cream we had from the machine was still cold and dipped in caramel sauce, still delicious. After this, we milled about online for some time and then went to see Clash of the Titans (others also went to see Blindside). Some hilariously Hollywood moments but it was relaxing to sit in a comfortable chair and let my brain switch off.

That evening we went for drinks at a South African chain bar called Rhapsodys and I found one of my favourite cocktails - a chocolate martini! While alcohol or cocktail afficionados may denounce the purity of a martini with chocolate in it, I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is a fan of chocolate, milkshakes or even chocolate milkshakes. After that we took a ride to the other mall and had dinner at a Zambian Irish Pub - also part of a chain.

The next morning we did a repeat of the buffet breakfast trick and visited the Lusaka Golfview Hotel, a fancier business class hotel neighbouring ours. It cost nearly as much and perhaps was about 70% of the breakfast at the Sheraton in Addis - not a bad effort and I certainly filled up, eating four courses consisting of:
- Plate of fruit, yoghurt.
- 3 egg omelette, 2 boiled eggs, baked beans, potatos.
- Plate of pastries
- Bowl of cereal
Plus lots of juice and hot chocolate.

After some bike maintenance (my grand plan to swap my chains every two weeks so they would wear evenly failed because my spare chain rusted in my bag!), I travelled into town alone on a mission. It was refreshing to leave the false luxury of the malls and experience the genuine Lusaka city centre. Full of office buildings and lots of small shops, there are also two large markets - the town centre market and the Lusaka city market.

On a mission to find an item, details of which I can't divulge now into order to maintain the surprise, I visited both markets and spent a good couple of hours walking around and haggling. The final result was that of success - a relatively rare item which I didn't think most Africans would have need for. The markets were great fun - if you're milling around Lusaka, go visit them.

Running some other errands around town, I noticed that all the pharmacies smelt absolutely terrible in addition to being extremely busy. Medicine is a hot commodity in Zambia it seems and it was interesting to notice that the few pharmacies I visited were run by Indians. Asking for directions was also mildly confusing because they refer to traffic lights here (and I'm told in South Africa too) as 'robots'. I despair for the future where the best form factor for robots we can come up with resembles a stacked set of coloured light bulbs.

I stumbled across the ultimate in modern convenience (at least for the rugged adventurer-traveller), an internet cafe-barbershop. After getting my rest day shave, I made my way down the staircase to the internet cafe and plugged in my laptop with no time wasted. After stocking up on toilet paper and snacks for the next week, I walked up to the main road to take a bus back to the hotel. Having managed my time poorly, it was now 5:30pm and right in the middle of rush hour.

Luckily I found a seat on a fairly large minibus. The seats inside were arranged such that there were five seats across and an aisle running down where the fourth seat in each row would sit. In order to reach any of the rows, the person in that seat would have to stand up, fold up the seat and disembark. At first I started off in the frontmost of these folding seats and as people disembarked, had to move to the back of the bus to fill those seats. Eventually, while we were close to my stop, I had to fill a seat at the back. All was well until the man of average build next to me got off and was replaced by a woman of a much larger build. Only one word is apt to describe this - squished. Aside from the lack of space and the stagnant smell of body odour, the ride was fairly pleasant and I was happy that I disembarked at the correct spot to make it back to camp.

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Bridge Between Countries
Bridge Between Countries
The bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, over the Zambezi River.
2:07 am on Saturday 17th April by SS
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by SS at 3:11 pm on Sunday 11th April

My legs are hurting - we've done a lot of mileage this week and the rolling hills haven't helped. Yesterday was a shorter 124km and today was 148km. I tried tailing Jethro out of camp yesterday, with his permission but we were both passed by Dan, Stuart and Gisi at about ten kilometres, whilst climbing a hill.

Unable to keep up, I dropped off and tried to catch them again once I'd hit the top of the hill. Soon after, I caught Gisi who had also been dropped and together we both tried to get back into the fastest group. This was impossibly difficult. I pulled Gisi for most of 15 kilometres, with my head down and arms outstretched on my aerobars, pumping as hard as my legs would go and pushing my fatigued heart up to 90% of maximum and holding it there. Gisi, the mountain goat, was faster up the hills and would pull me up the last few hills as we got within fifty metres of the group.

When we were finally close enough, Gisi went all out. In an annoying deja vu moment, we were climbing again and I was dropped by Gisi. She made it to the group and I gave up on trying to catch them. Instead, I rode solo until I caught Rod and Juliana doing a more reasonable pace. Riding with them until lunch and for a short while after, I took the opportunity to take some much overdue photographs and take in the beautiful greenery that surrounds the road.

Camp last night was at something near 500 metres above sea level, a descent from the previous night. It was WARM, worsened by the humidity. For most of the afternoon, riders were sitting around in the shade, slumped on earth green camping chairs. I woke up several times overnight with water that condensed on the inside of my tent dripping on my skin.

Today's ride was a return back to the above average daily distance which we are now committed to cycle. A far 148km was coupled with a 1700m (but actually 1900m) climb over rolling hills and made for a near 8 hour day, a similar time to the 198km from a couple of days ago.

I struggled today and it was a case of survival. My legs didn't have what was necessary in them and I was not fast at all - leaving late but failing to catch up to anyone significantly fast. I found the morning quite tough, being surrounded by other riders and struggling to keep up with them. After lunch was superb though, cycling solo and not seeing another rider for literally hours at a time. I took in the scenery, rode at my own pace and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Camp life today was eventful, consisting of a runny chocolate pudding for dessert, left over from the wonderful Nymo (spelling?) bars that Rod and Juliana made for Juliana's birthday. There was a bike donation ceremony to a local group of aid workers involving speeches and the locals singing and dancing.

After this, I joined Simon and Dave for the second of their night rides. Changing the batteries in my head torch helped immensely (it's like a floodlight now!) and we cycled a few kilometres up the road before turning around and going past camp to a small Coke stop where we met Erin and Ruben. Unfortunately they were out of drinks because of some strangely tight supply chain logistics.

The campsite we're at tonight is in the grounds of a Jehovah Witnesses' Kingdom Hall (whatever that entails) and luckily only one person received a copy of their leaflet. Normally I don't comment on toilet facilities but they've has become a large part of each rider's life. At most bush camps we have the shovel situation where we walk far into the distance, dig a hole, use the hole and then fill it back up. This has worked well apart from places where either there is little cover, or the ground is hard and impossible to dig and in places like Zambia where most of the country is covered in overgrown stomach-high grass.

In school camps similar to this, there are often primitive squat toilets. These are usually surprisingly clean but require fairly respectable aim. More advanced squat toilets are found at more organised campsites which have a porcelain baisin and sometimes even a flush. Finally, the Western style seated toilets have been present occasionally - often usable but sometimes worse than squatters, especially if the flush breaks.

In this camp, we have squatters which aren't so great - trying to use one at night was a dangerous affair, risking getting attacked by a million bugs attracted to my newly enbrightened headtorch. In addition, the walls aren't so well thought out, making balance and aim both quite difficult.

Human waste disposal aside, we'll be entering Lusaka tomorrow and most probably spending most of our time in an airconditioned mall eating fast food, ice cream and watching Hollywood movies. Hopefully they have clean and decent toilets!

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by SS at 3:03 pm on Sunday 11th April

Yesterday afternoon, after 122km of cycling (only 80km of which was a race), we entered the country of Zambia. The ride until lunch was the race - Simon, Jacob and I rode fairly together. The shorter race stages are quite tense because everyone is so close together, any slip in effort and you're overtaken quickly. We slowed the pace slightly towards the end and Jethro came past in a hurry, less than three kilometres from the end of the race at lunch.

Entering Zambia was pretty straightforward (for everyone apart from Adam, who forgot his passport!) and the change of government has reduced the visa price for British citizens from $150 (last year) to the more reasonable $50. After crossing the border we rode another 20km to the town of Chipata where we exchanged money and I hunted for headphones to replace the broken pair I borrowed from Rick. It took a while but I hunted down some cheap Chinese headphones in the local market, plasticky and they sound like good headphones with the addition of someone scratching your eardrum with a pencil. For the 8,000 Kwacha price though ($1.76), I have no right to complain.

At camp, watching the rider board being written, it seemed like some kind of latent April Fool's prank when Tour Director Paul wrote the next day's distance of 197km up. Incredulous, it was confirmed at rider meeting that they had extended the stage so that we'd reach a village where some number of riders would get the chance to live in homestays with genuine Zambian families, sleeping and eating dinner with them.

Fearful of the unknown and with the song 'Fear of the Dark' by Iron Maiden stuck in my head, I went to bed contemplating the feasibility of cycling the furthest single distance of my life. Waking up this morning I was surprised to feel excited, perhaps having reawakened the adventurer within. Taking my time to leave, I left late and went hard for the first 15km, overtaking quite a few riders. Realising that this pace was unsustainable for the day, I slowed down quite considerably. A couple of groups passed by - Jethro, Frans and Tony (who was making extra effort for his 50th birthday, today) and Simon drafting Tim. Unwilling to catch them, I spun on and was eventually caught by Paul.

We reached lunch via a Coke (or Fanta) stop, paused for sandwiches and continued on. Lunch was at 85km today, less than halfway - an overbearing fact which probably helped make the day seem more intense. I chose to interpret the distance remaining (112km) as a separate stage, which worked well apart from the preexisting 3h 30m worth of riding fatigue in my legs. The next 65 kilometres were fairly unremarkable aside from a blue coloured butterfly flying into my jersey via the zip. Itmanaged to fly out apparently unharmed, shocking me in the process.

The children here are unrelentless and constantly ask 'How are you?'. At first we replied but it quickly became clear that most kids will continue to parrot out the question regardless. Even if they stop, one of the dozens of surrounding children will continue to ask. According to a woman who works for the Peace Corps here, this is a cultural artifact - when greeting here, it is natural to greet every single person in a group individually - hence replying to one child is not enough, you need to reply to every child. Later on in the ride, we simply started replying 'tired' to the question and apparently riders who came past later were asked if they were tired.

At about 130km, my legs started getting tired, probably from a lack of energy. We were supposed to have a refresh stop (more water and energy bars) at 150km but we accidentally cycled past it - the 4x4 that we were expecting wasn't there and we missed the staff member sitting in the bushes. Stopping at 155km, Paul and I had a couple of warm cokes and continued on. The last 10 kilometres into camp were the most painful, and our speed dropped from about 27kmph to 22kmph. The finish flag was standing, waiting on the road, at 197km as promised and turning off the road, we were home for the night. The second hardest day of riding so far to our day through Dinder and it was wonderful. I haven't felt this exhausted for quite some time and it feels good.

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