Transaid Cycle Malawi 2022 diary – the final blog from the challenge
I cannot believe it’s been exactly 1 month since we left for Malawi, it’s been a whirlwind for me ever since we returned so maybe that is why it still feels like yesterday even if the pain in the legs and knees is now finally gone.
Here’s a look back at my experience at Transaid Cycle Malawi 2022, written as a diary while we were there.
Day 1 & 2
We left London with 44 designated cyclists on Saturday afternoon and after a brief stop in Abu Dabi we arrived in Malawi Sunday lunch time.
Five minutes on our bus from the airport, it was very visible why Transaid has Malawi as one of its main target countries for help. The poverty is staggering, whereas back home we have flats, houses and estates. Here they have straw roofs with no doors or windows, corrugated iron roofs with wooden planks in place of doors & windows and finally houses with ‘normal’ doors and windows, the latter is extremely rare especially outside the large towns.
Safely arrive in a tourist hotel by Lake Malawi we spent the afternoon getting our bikes sorted, there was a lot to sort as assembling 44 bikes at a half-descent quality AND fully functioning equipment is quite a feat in Malawi – a little anecdote told by our tour leader:
As we cycle along, we often see bicycle repair places at the roadside, usually these are just located in the open under a handy tree that can provide a bit of shade. When these places get a bike in with a puncture, they don’t replace the tube as we often do back home. They don’t normally glue a patch on either as they don’t have glue. Instead, they will pinch the place with the hole in the tube with their fingers and tie it with a bit of string to keep it from leaking too much, and if they don’t have string – which is often the case – they will use a small piece of grass to tie the knot. It is quite common for bikes to be driven around with a dozen or more of these kind of repairs…
We finally got our bikes sorted, though we have continued to have trouble throughout the trip with a huge number of punctures and bike equipment including pedals, cranks and wheels just simply falling apart. Not the organisers’ fault, simply an effect of where we are.
Dinner, then bed in modest but comfortable rooms - they are pampering us before dropping the hammer!
Day 3 – first cycling day
We set out at 7am to get a good distance done before the heat really got going and everyone went too fast, certain I did. After 50km we were averaging close to 20km an hour in the 2nd group which I was in, something I would pay for later.
At the back they dealt with the first rush of equipment failures. We have two doctors and three mechanics with us on the trip, two of them locals. All of these have their hands full this week.
Local Malawi weather advice that week is “don’t wear woollen clothes”, to us Brits this translates to 37-38 degrees in the shade, with shade being extremely hard to find while cycling as there is hardly any forests left in Malawi. According to one of my fellow riders this is by some margin the hottest he has ever experienced on a Transaid charity cycle in Africa, and this is his fifth.
After lunch, served at the roadside and sitting under a nearby tree the heat started to really have its effect – plus having started out too fast – and many felt it including me, slowing down dramatically and suffering quite a bit. You drink about 2 pints per hour in this weather, just to keep dehydration at bay, and actually 3 pints is better!
Oh, did I mention, none of the tap water here is drinkable, all water must be brought in large bottles for us spoiled foreigners. The locals are happy to get their water from anywhere they can.
In the end we all completed the 88km that turned to be the actual distance for day 1. Forget all the plans I told people about before leaving, “This-Is-Africa - TIA” is the phrase everyone uses, and all plans not only can change but you can pretty much count on them doing so, often a lot.
We finished in a lodge at the top of a 1km gravel hill where many of us got our first taste of walking our bikes. Good experience for later.
This was a tourist lodge, so most cabins had electricity and running water (air temperature water at all times), the food was good, but the lodge only had enough rooms for about half of us so in tents the rest of us went, no problem except the locals seemed to have their own version of Glastonbury going on next door until 3am. I slept like a log through most of it, but others found it hard.