Too Many Lions: Cycling Zimbabwe
A reverse C pattern route through a beautiful country with a checkered past led us through splendid scenery and culminated with a little adrenaline.
We started in Zim by making some huge distances on pavement in a beeline towards the Chimanimani mountains. Within striking distance of Chimanimani (the town) the bottom fell out and we decided to catch a ride to arrive in town by sundown. That’s when we met the first fellow cycling tourist of this trip. We had just crammed in and the seasoned German caught us “cheating” as he was happily rolling along soaking wet with lightening sparking within a kilometer of where we were sitting. We didn’t have long to chat as he was dead-set on making it another 60kms for the day, but he was able to give us a bit of advice on a fantastic dirt route through the mountains that in hindsight I am surprised he was able to pull off with his skinny tires and panniers that looked as if were fashioned from reclaimed cooler boxes. After riding out heaps of rain for a couple days in Chimanimani, we awoke one morning to a sunrise of fairly clear skies and set out on the dirt route through the mountains. The road was epic an so was the climbing as we skirted the border of Mozambique with consistent views of the Chimanimani National park thinly veiled in shrouds of cloud lacing.
Once we arrived in Mutare, the remains of the route across Zimbabwe would be on pavement where we would cross through the country’s capital, Harare, and dodge massive 18-wheelers carrying oversized mining equipment from South Africa up to the Congo.
After a 125km day we ran across a gentleman named Kenwell who asked us the usual question of where we were going, and proceeded to tell us that we absolutely could not cycle past Makuti, “… there are too many lions.” We shelved the fear and we carried on. However, based a few more conversations it seemed like that was a common recommendation and we were warned by several others including a man who said something along the lines of, “… sometimes they only find a bike, the head and some fingers.” I guess lions don’t like heads and fingers. Makes sense I guess, I am not a fan of them either. Another woman doubtlessly stated, “You will be eaten.”
Apparently during the rainy season, when grass is high, the lions move around quite a bit and can be found on the roadside through this 100 KM section of Zimbabwe before the Zambia border. I am sure people have ridden it, but we decided to catch a lift through this section. So we found big rig willing to strap our bikes onto a huge green rock crusher that was making its way from India, and off we went. Neither of us have ever ridden in an 18-wheeler, so it we were pretty excited about the experience. In effort not to be fined by the border patrol, the driver dropped us a couple KMs back in the bush to finish the trip ourselves. So with all of the lion warnings resounding in my head, and the tall grass looming on the roadside, we hammered through the last bit with some adrenaline flowing as the beautiful Zambezi river came into view and we bid farewell to the friendly people of Zimbabwe.
Travel Tips for Bike Touring in Zimbabwe
- Lodging: There are big stretches in this country. We found camping in Police stations and National parks. Also, there are a few backpackers in major cities. Try Ann Bruce in Mutare, or Heaven Lodge in Chimanimani. A lot of the country’s lodges and hotels are in ruin, and expensive, but most allow camping.
- Terrain: Head for Eastern Zim. Chimanimani is amazing and there are some nice dirt routes to be found.
- Roads and Tracks: Be careful on the main roads, I was buzzed a couple of times by minibuses and trucks. People are extremely nice, but the drivers aren’t too friendly with cyclists.
- Food: Zimbabwe is expensive, but there are some deals to be found chicken/sadze can be procured for one or two bucks a plate..
- Interwebs: There is not really much here. You can either get a USB modem that can be used in several of the main towns, or a couple of the backpackers have wifi if you ask.