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.

Bike Touring Zimbabwe - baboons
A gang of baboons on the road. They usually scatter, but sometimes they stare ominously.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Tyres
This sign was in the middle of nowhere, so I snapped a pic. Turns out it was an omen… we both had slow leaks within 2 hours.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - bathrooms Bike Touring Zimbabwe
I was never able to properly capture the terrain in this portion of Zim, but the small mountains were like rock stacks and cairns.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
This lady gave us some water from her well…
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Pleasure
Hints of South African here.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Food
A giant ground-dwelling cricket is a delicacy here… they make it a stew.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Camping
Our place of residence for the night… tent camping at a police outpost.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Camping
It seems like bike tourists should get used to roosters, but not when they are cockledoodledooing about 3 meters away.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Camping
The police giving us a nice goodbye the next morning.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe Bike Touring Zimbabwe Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Grasshoppers
This herd of weird grasshoppers formed a tightly knit formation. They were blown over by a passing truck and within seconds they regained their positions.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
A stop for a snack.
Bike Sculpture
A bike sculpture in the window of a backpacker in Chimanimani… home.
The Chimanimani Mountains.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Cooking
Gin getting pretty good at cooking over fire.
There are thin old phone lines strung throughout Zim.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Money
Ancient US dollars are the currency here.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani
The sunrise… clear enough to depart.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani Shake Shake - Zimbabwe
Shake Shake… the local beer made from a sorghum mash. Pretty good… in this batch we added a mango flavored lollipop.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani
The dirt road leaving Chimanimani.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani
The route yields amazing views of the mountains.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani
Some nice muddy sections.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Chimanimani
The ECR armed with bananas. Hope we don’t pass any baboons.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Surly ECR
Atop that mountain is Mozambique.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Dirt Roads
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Dirt Roads
Greeted by village children as we reenter civilization.
ZImbabwe photos
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
Gin getting called by watermelon mid ride around Harare.
Zimbabwe photos
Zimbabwe photos Bike Touring Zimbabwe Bike Touring Zimbabwe
Evidence of a prosperous past.
Anaconda Worms
We kept passing signs advertising Anaconda Worms… so we had to have a look. Really just decent sized earthworms.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe - Surly ECR
Carcasses of autos everywhere on the roadside.
Zimbabwean Portrait
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
Gin conversing with Kenwell as he escorts us to the Chinhoyi Caves caming area.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
My beautiful wife has become quite the one-pot/Trangia stove gourmet… her she is concentrating on a nice pasta dish.
Sadze and Chicken
The other common meal… chicken and sadza (just like pap and similar to cornmeal grits).
Praying Mantis Bike Touring Zimbabwe
Some interesting bikes here.
Bike Touring Zimbabwe
Our limo… look closely in the mid-rear for our bikes.
Close-up… dodging lions.

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.



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