Biking the Mwambezi, Part II

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Reading this week:

  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
  • Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard

Lemme tell ya, the view at the top of the hill was gorgeous. I wasn’t expecting it before I crested the hill, but from up there you get a gorgeous, unfettered view of the lake. You can see for miles, probably across the border. Maybe not, but it is the highest hill around and the scenery is beautiful and everything is awesome and also of course there was a maize field. I mean I know I just said all that about fields on top of hills but really man. This hill is super high and super hard to climb and super far away from anything including water but someone decided to put a shack up there and plant maize.

Sightseeing done, I descended a bit towards the maize field. I figured there would be a path from there. I ran across what I assume were the owners of the house; in a small clearing I found three dudes looking at some maize. I said hello and asked about a path towards Kituta Bay and they pointed the way and off I went. I always wonder what these guys think. I walk into the backcountry a lot and so these dudes are just having a normal day and then out of nowhere (I scaled the untraveled back of this hill) this white dude with a backpack stumbles from the woods, says hello in local language, asks directions, and then off he goes. Maybe I’m thinking too highly of myself but I wonder if a year from now they’re gonna say to each other “remember that time that white guy showed up? Weird…”

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I wasn’t panicking yet but I was wearing a t-shirt on my head.

Here’s where this adventure really probably starts to fall apart. I followed the path for a little while, but it petered out when I came across a stream. Obviously the path was just to the water source. But I had to keep going downhill so back into the bush I went. Bushwhacking through here was not easy. I had to keep knocking down grass, and I kept running into these tangled vines that were hard to get through. They’re at about waist height and hard to see and exist only, as far as I can tell, to make walking through the bush hard. I kept coming across little paths that gave me hope but just lead to dead ends where people made charcoal. I plan to write a post on land use but there isn’t really any virgin land around here and you always come across paths that sometimes lead nowhere. Very frustrating.

I really started to worry when I ran out of water. I was deep in the bush, miles from anything. Mpulungu was way farther away than it looked from the top of the hill, and I couldn’t decide if it was a better idea to head for Kituta Bay, which I kinda thought was closer and I knew had a shop or give up and head towards Mpulungu. I kept wavering which didn’t make my path shorter. I kept cresting ridges, which was exhausting, expecting to come to the bay but just finding another valley. The sun was high, I was sweating, hydration was nowhere near, no one knew where I was really, no cell reception, those godforsaken vines kept getting in my way, my knee was starting to hurt, my shin was bruised from an earlier fall, and I was yelling at nature a lot. Things were not good. Then it started to rain.

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One of the interminable valleys with a path that lead nowhere.

The rain was probably a good thing. It kept me cool so I didn’t sweat as much and didn’t get as thirsty. I kept pressing on, because there was nothing else to do, and finally came across a promising path. I ate some of the food I brought and with my blood sugar back up and a path to follow I felt a lot better mentally.

Eventually I came across some houses. I probably should have bailed and gone to Mpulungu, but I had come this far and I was going to see those goddamned waterfalls. So I asked directions (in Mambwe) and the man I met originally wouldn’t talk to me and just called for this other guy. This other guy spoke English so we introduced ourselves. I explained I was looking for the falls and he began to show me to the path and asked where I was from. “I’m from the USA originally but I live near Mbala now.” “Ah, so you are from the USA. You are in Northern Zambia now!” “I know, I live near Mbala. I’ve lived here for about a year.” “Just across the border is Tanzania, and we are near Lake Tanganyika!” “I live near Mbala!” “You live near Mbala!”

The guy was nice though and showed me the path and warned me it was far. I figured he really just meant far for a white guy so I said it was no problem and soldiered on. I could hear the river again at this point even if I couldn’t see it and that was encouraging. The rain had also let up but shortly after this point came back with a vengeance. I was wearing a rain jacket but skipped my rain pants because my pants were already wet, but still I am surprised every time just how more wet I can get. But I trudged on because I was going to see this waterfall, goddamnit. I kept following the path and asked directions one more time when I came across a home and finally I turned the corner and I was in Kituta Bay.

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The end of the mighty Mwambezi. The Lunzua really.

Well almost. I was perched on top of a cliff that did an amazing job framing the bay and the river as it snaked its final few yards to Kituta Bay. The cliff had a path down that was already sheer and not totally awesome for a dude who had at this point a pretty bum knee but I made it down. At least I knew I was relatively safe at this point because I had gone from here to Mpulungu before, so I could find my way, and the village had a store where I could buy drinks.

I hobbled down the path towards the waterfalls (which I could hear but not see) and asked some directions towards the waterfall. Some kinds helpfully showed me a path towards the waterfall . The path ended before the waterfall with the kids saying “that’s it,” but I forged ahead through the forest. The kids followed, pointing out where I could go, which is like, I HAVE EYES KIDS, which I said (in Mambwe) because I was cold, thirsty, tired, and grumpy at this point, and I was so close to these waterfalls. I almost gave up in the last 10 yards or so because I didn’t know it was only like 10 more yards and I was like, crawling across rock faces holding onto branches but finally I turned a corner and THERE WAS THE LUNZUA WATERFALLS HALLELUJAH.

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Lunzua Falls. If you want to see them, it is much easier to just walk over from Mpulungu.

So I had made it. Whoo. I sat down, ate my “lunch” (six hardboiled eggs), squeezed out my socks, took some pictures, finally looked at the time, and panicked. It was 1630, which meant I was about four hours behind schedule. This was worrying because it was about ah hour until dark, it was at least an hour walk to Mpulungu, a storm was brewing again, and I knew there was no moon. So again, not good.

I wrapped up lunch and hobbled back across the rock faces and into the village to buy some drinks. Walking through the village I was asking directions to the shop, so one old dude told a small girl to lead me there. This signaled to all the other children in the village that it was okay to gawk at the white guy. So before I knew it I had a pack of I swear 100 kids following me to this village yelling “Muzungu!” (“White guy!”). As I was buying some Shake n’ Sips one dude even tried to hand me a wet naked baby because he wanted to take a picture of me with said baby. I turned him down. I then hobbled out of the village as fast as I could with kids running ahead of me and walking backwards just so they could gawk.

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It had been a day by this point but it wasn’t over.

I had been to Mpulungu via the route from the village before, so I knew I could make it if I had to, but I wasn’t excited about going there in the dark and rain. Luckily though two dudes were leaving the village at the same time and heading to Mpulungu, so I fell in with them. They were very nice and understanding. By this time it was a downpour again and the path was mostly a river, I was limping as fast as I could on an aching knee, and it was getting dark fast.

I was so glad when I finally saw the lights of Mpulungu, but we were still a long way off. It is hilly around here, like I said, so there I am hobbling down rocky hills trying to keep up. Finally we got to the outskirts of town, which didn’t make me feel a lot safer because it was dark, I was hurt, lightening was flashing, and we were passing loud bars with drunk people more than a little curious about the white guy. But suddenly we burst out onto tarmac and I knew where I was. I thanked the dude that I had traveled with profusely and hurried down the tarmac to find a lodge. Room secured, I finally got out of my wet clothes and shoes. I was alive, I was okay, dinner was two Shake n’ Sips and some peanuts and my knee was not okay and I’ll probably never do that trip again but hey, I saw the waterfall and I got two blog posts out of it.

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