Formerly 'Rambling with a cantankerous old mule"
Driving into Africa one experiences several things – amongst others, livestock, children and cyclists on the main roads … and potholes: roads so potholed that there seem to be more holes than tar sometimes.
A week or so into our trip we were driving from Morrumbala, just north of the Zambezi River, up to Nalivuma on the border with Malawi close to the former tea-growing area of Milange.
One of the cars was delayed by hours, and, without two-way radios, we were starting to worry about what had happened to them – scared a pothole had claimed them once and for all. They eventually arrived to tell us their slightly-harrowing story. It turned out they were driving behind us, far enough back to avoid our dust cloud, when they came across a cyclist meandering down the road in the same direction as them. Hearing the vehicle approaching, he threw a few quick glances over his shoulder, promptly swerved into the veld (grassland) and fell over.
He seemed alright, and so they kept on going. A bit further down the road they came across another cyclist, who also looked over his shoulder to see what was approaching, and promptly swerved further into the road, in front of our friends’ vehicle. (Now, one would imagine that with all their experience riding from an early age they would be more adept at it. But this is not the case.)
The driver dropped anchor in a cloud of dirt but didn’t stop in time, hitting the man. And with the trailer they were towing also pushing them forward, they stopped anything but instantly.
Everyone in the car whipped around to scan the road behind them for a lifeless body. Seeing nothing there, they whipped forward, too shocked to speak. Still nothing. And then a hand appeared on the bull bars, followed by an arm and a groggy, whole person. Apparently, as he went under the vehicle, the man grabbed onto the front and was pulled along on his back. Being on a dirt road he wasn’t injured – apart from a few scratches and a torn shirt.
If it hadn’t been so traumatic for everyone involved it would have been funny. (In fact, years later, all I can see is the funny part.)
They loaded him into their vehicle, his bicycle (which only had a buckled wheel to show for the ordeal) onto their trailer and went in search of the local clinic and police station. After making sure he was alright they handed over some money to take care of the damage and to buy a new shirt or six and on they drove, especially wary of any more cyclists.
But at least he came off in better shape than the suicidal chicken we encountered in Malawi. I was driving the last car in our convoy of six when I saw a chicken run across the road in front of the first vehicle, then right back between the first and second vehicles, then back again between the second and third, then poof … a cloud of feathers. “Why did the chicken cross the road (four times)?” Perhaps he had a bet with his fellow chickens, I don’t know. But it was impressive – until the point when he was glanced by car number four.
And then, before I forget, there were the potholes. Some were so big one could virtually have a gala (swim meet) in them. And they always seemed to appear out of the blue, just as one had relaxed into a comfortable speed. One would be barrelling along, fly into the hole, hit the bottom and then fly out the other side with one’s trailer flapping impressively behind. At one point in our trip we hit a minefield of potholes at the dead of night almost rattling all of our fillings loose. That stretch of potholed road carried on for several hours.
But more of that tomorrow.