Erin's Tour d'Afrique Bike of a Blog!
An 8,000 mile personal and philanthropic adventure across Africa…

Banana Trees and Tea Plantations

Our last day of riding in Tanzania and first day of riding in Malawi was certifiably, without a doubt, one-hundred ten percent one of the top three best riding days on the Tour d’Afrique. After a night at a local bar hosted by the latest German stage winner, we woke up in a fog (pun intended), to an early climb out of our campsite in the frenetic and distinctly African town of Mbeya. The morning fog reliquinshed its hold on the Mbeya valley to reveal breathtaking vistas of green mountain landscapes in every direction. Adorable, friendly children lined the road waving and cheering, greeting us with a pleasant ‘good morning madam’ or ‘good morning teacher.’

From Mbeya, the ride continued its gorgeous, 120 kilometer trajectory to the Malawi border. As is the case with most dazs involving border crossings, the race stage was cancelled and a relaxed attitude prevailed among all the riders. I rode with Dana all morning, and we must’ve pulled over ten times before lunch for cokes, to spend our last Shillings, to chat with locals and my personal favorite, to check out a banana market. We were in banana country, surrounded by banana trees and dodging women carrying the fruit of their labor in unbelievable loads on their heads. Most of them carried a branch of bananas on their heads, a child on their backs and walked barefoot in tightly wrapped, bright colorful skirts. I tried to balance such a load of bananas on my head and almost tipped over…with my bike helmet still on!

The ride included over 2,000 meters of descent, which was a treat after all the hills we have grinded out since Ethiopia. I felt as if we were being unleashed in a raging torrent from each Ethiopian, Kenzan and Tanyanian sentinal guarding Africaäs Great Rift Valley. I rode mz brakes on the downhills 1. because they were seriously intense and 2. to admire the banana trees and tea plantations to my right and left. The tropical fertility of Southern Tanzania is truly spectacular, and one of the highlights of seeing the continent by bike.

The border crossing proved to be a breeze, and like our previous crossings, the climate, people and landscape changed perceptibly and immediately. Abject poverty in Malawi is omnipresent, which was the case in Ethiopia but not comparatively in Kenya and Tanzania. As we rode just a few traffic-free kilometers into Malawi, our most morbid observation was the proliference of shops selling coffins. Death is a business in one of the world’s poorest and most HIV-ridden countries- the life expectancz in Malawi is about half that in the United States. I have felt terrible guilt riding by numerous children with bellies bloated from starvation as I consume extra calories to fuel endurance cycling. This conflict is difficult to resolve, but in my heart I believe that my life is following its intended path, with a renewed commitment to be continually guided by compassion.

I finally rode into our first bush camp in Malawi with Canadian riders Rick and Caroline, to a crowd of about a hundred locals hovering with curiosity around the edges of our tents and trucks. We must paint an extremely unusual picture- 60 sweaty, tired foreigners riding fancy bikes alongside two huge trucks, living under cloth domes every night. Malawi is a country full of bikes which inspires me- we have seen locals transporting sticks, pigs and entire families on the back of bikes. Bikes are cheap, green and effective in Africa, and In the Running is promoting this fact by donating $5,000 to the Tour’s bicycle donation foundation.

Back at the campsite, the more enterprising Malawians in the crowd quickly realized they could make a quick buck selling warm sodas and buckets of water for bush showers as we dripped with sweat from Malawi’s humidity. It was a tough camp- we were so hot we all just sad around torpidly until well after sunset, trying to decide whether heat, mosquitos, the loud crowd of locals or the potential for rain would keep us up all night. This is the point in the trip where we all sleep in our underwear every night chugging water to stay hydrated and spraying DEET bugspray to stay healthy. I am sure our sixth country in Africa will have many more sweaty and spectacular adventures to come!


One Response to “Banana Trees and Tea Plantations”

  1. What a worth while use of the monies you have raised. Having a means of transportation can be the life or death of a person. Good for you and good for your donors!

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