Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Pity Da Fool!

Leaving Nkhotakota was hard. Getting back onto the bike after beach life is not easy. Fortunately we were headed into a rest day. My credit card didn’t work at first. It turned out that when they called in to have it approved they had a bad connection, so rather than saying ‘Please call back’, the fellow simply declined the card. Fortunately, the woman at the desk was used to this, so she tried again. The bad thing was that we found out that Erin’s wallet had been stolen when she went to look for her card. It must have been when we were doing yoga. We had been lulled into a false sense of security, and while my stuff was still locked in the safe, hers was accessible to anyone who went into our room. The only time that could have been was when we were on the little strip of beach in front of our room. After many searches and much frustration, the manager would not even bring us to the police to report it stolen. Unless we paid 30$. Jerk.

We wound up hitching a lift to the road where we caught a metatu – a van with 10 seats which they managed to cram 21 people into. We drove to the flooding which had prevented the riders from going that route. It was easy enough to walk across – we went down a ways through a field and then crossed where the flood became a trickle, but there was quite a string of vehicles waiting to shuttle people back and forth. It had never been that the bikes couldn’t get across, it was just that our trucks couldn’t. Too bad for them.

We switched into a new Metatu, and bought freshly dug-up peanuts and ladyfinger bananas through the windows. We didn’t get to eat anything proper until we got into Lilongwe, where we ate terrible beans and rice, wiping away all of our good memories of the dish.

The road to the city had been hot and sweaty. Erin had the ticket-taker squashed into her lap, and I had a metal rod jabbing into me the whole way, but we made it, and as soon as we got into town we were lucky enough to see some of the riders walking around. After getting to camp, I set about picking up money from the Western Union. Between charges on Rob’s end, charges on my end, and the exchange rate, I wound up losing about 300$, and would then lose even more the following day when I tried to trade it for American. Gah. The city was agog with the rush of Madonna-fever, locals wearing t-shirts with ‘Adopt Me!’ written on the front. Paparrazzi were everywhere.

In the evening I caught up with Erin. She and I had been plotting for April Fool’s. We decided we were going to pull a few pranks. And then Ted joined in. I forced him to swap the contents of Bruce and Tim’s lockers with me – the two are best friends who came together on the trip and are virtually inseparable. While I was in the washroom, he chatted with Erin, and convinced her that we should turn around everyone’s seats. I was dead-set against that one, but after a while I got swayed into being devious. It was also very exciting. People were asleep in their tents, and we were turning their seats around virtually inches from where their heads were. When we finished with that little prank, Peter joined us... basically, he caught us, so we let him in on what was going on. There were a few people’s tents who we tied the flies shut on, so they would have to crawl or pull their pins to get out in the morning. And then the toilet paper! We had to use the bright pink toilet paper on the Canuck school teachers’ tents. We wrote up that there had been flooding on the Zambian border crossing, and to see Shanny (tour director) for more info. We moved all the cooking supplies into the chair storage and vice-versa. We decorated the trucks. The piece-de-resistance, though, were Bruce and Tim’s tents, which we unpegged, swapped positions, and then watched as they, totally drunk, got really confused when they went to bed. The funniest was that they had been sitting not so far away from their tents when we did it.

I woke up after only three hours sleep. I was like a kid at Christmas. It took everyone about a half hour to figure out it was us. Apparently our faces gave us away. I don’t know how. I guess neither of us can lie. They didn’t catch Ted or Peter, though. Now I know never to trust those two.

I spent the afternoon swapping my three inch thick wad of Malawian cash for American. I figured I’d get Zambian at the border with the rest. Big mistake. The funny thing was that in the hunt for money I was turned down at every foreign exchange. I wound up getting piecemeal bits – a fifty here, a twenty there. Africa is not investing in American money until the financial crash starts taking an upturn. At least, that’s what the bankers are saying.

I went to dinner with Peter that night, and we shared in a few bottles of wine, making the following day’s ride look like a nightmare. We were incredibly intoxicated on the way home. So much so that a sympathetic local stopped to give us a lift.

I woke up in the morning with a head as heavy as a stone. The ride was nice, though the headwinds made it tough. The scenery hasn’t changed much in a while, so people are starting to complain. Every time they complain, all I can think is, shit, we’re riding in Zambia. The same sparse trees dot the mountainside, and you can see much of the surroundings because the tall grass is all around us. It whistles softly as we ride by. And we’re riding in Zambia.

The border crossing into the country actually came at about 30km away from the end of the day. I was so hungry – the pangs of post-hangover munchies, but as there was no exchange at the border, I was stuck waiting until we got into town. Grey took over the sky just as we were getting in, and the minute we walked into the Forex, the skies opened up. Sheets of water came down. By the time we exchanged money, it had slackened off, and once we got to camp it was gone entirely. Since we had showers, I washed my clothes. Throw everything in a bucket and stomp on it while getting myself clean, then take it out of the shower and rinse until the water is no longer murky brown. It’s never really clear at the end, but I like to call it ‘Clean enough’.

I hung everything up to dry, and ten minutes later the rains came again. A final rinse.

I was happy to know that I was not the only one suffering on the ride that day. If Peter was hungover, he didn’t show it, but Nick had also gone out that night, and he was a wreck. Because he still had his EFI status, Tarin and Allan went over to the hotel where he was staying, put him in a cab and got him back to camp. Meanwhile, folk had taken down his tent and thrown his stuff on the truck. It was a mix of people helping him out and people being angry at him because he was, as they called it, being irresponsible. I think he’s been looking at the ‘EFI status’ as a bit of a curse for a while now, as he keeps trying to lose it and people keep pushing him back on course. I laughed at a few people who felt the need to lecture him. I’m glad I had time off from the group.

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