One Year as a Digital Nomad: My Thoughts

I’ve been working as a digital nomad now for almost exactly one year and decided that I would share my inane thoughts and experiences for those who might be interested in the lifestyle.

A digital nomad is a term used to loosely describe people whose jobs are usually done on a laptop and are location independent. That is, they either don’t require you to attend an office or don’t involve the kind of work that requires you to stay in one particular place. Some examples include writing, photography, graphic design, web design, coding and video editing.

Being a digital nomad doesn’t necessarily mean you work for yourself – many digital nomads are normal, 9-5, Monday to Friday, company employees. However, the nature of their job means they never have to go into the office and can work from anywhere in the world – so long as there is an internet connection. Many digital nomads stay in one place for months or even years at a time, while others are essentially homeless travelers who work from hotels, restaurants, airports or anywhere else they can get a wifi signal. I fall into the latter group.

I got into digital nomad’ing via what I consider to be the simplest route available – content writing. Content writing simply means writing content for any kind of publication – websites, blogs, marketing agencies or even physical newspapers. All it requires is a laptop and a basic grasp of grammar and literacy in the language of your choice – English, of course, being the most widely accepted. Through content writing, I got involved in product reviews, research, technical writing, financial analysis and eventually journalism, which is what I mainly do now.

You can’t put a price on freedom

Working from a yacht off the east coast of Australia

The number one reason that I chose to become a digital nomad is the freedom. Not simply because I can work from home in my underwear (something I do far less often than you would think) but because I can go wherever I want, whenever I want. This is not something that necessarily appeals to everyone, but for me, I would go so far as to say that it is now a non-negotiable aspect of my life.

I earn CONSIDERABLY less than I did in my old 9-5 office job. I mean, like, seriously multiple, multiple times less, but I would never give up what I have now to go back to that. For me, there is genuinely no price that you can place on freedom. As a result, my lifestyle has had to take on some changes and I can no longer afford to live in major cities like London or New York. I can’t even eat sushi that often anymore. I can, however, live on a beach in Thailand, a lakeside cottage in Bulgaria, or literally anywhere else in the world that has vaguely decent wifi and affordable accommodation. For somebody with a severely debilitating addiction to travel, this is an understandably necessary requirement.

The unforeseen benefits

In the course of becoming a digital nomad, I have reaped many unforeseen benefits along the way. Probably the most significant of these are the lessons in motivation, self-restraint, diligence and independence. In my old job, I would do the least amount of work required in order to not get fired and I would call in sick the maximum amount of times possible without it triggering a disciplinary hearing. I was lazy, inconsiderate and unmotivated because I knew that I would still get paid the same amount of money no matter what I did.

Now, there are no sick days. There are no unnecessary toilet breaks or extended lunch hours. No sneaky work avoidance tactics or bullshit excuses. If I don’t work, the only person who loses out is me. Every minute of every hour of every day is potential earning time and every minute spent not working is money lost. This is an aspect of the lifestyle that would scare off many people but if I can do it, trust me, anyone can. It all comes down to how badly you want it.

Another incredible benefit that I have gained from this lifestyle is the amazing amount of new information that I learn on a daily basis. Over the past year, I have done the equivalent level of research that most people would do while studying for a degree. Not only have I learnt how to write on a professional level but I have also gained a wealth of knowledge on a range of ludicrous and useful topics in which I previously had no interest. Cloud computing, health and nutrition, gambling regulations, UK and US politics, relationship and sex advice – you name it. I now know all this crazy stuff about finance and economics that was all Greek to me before and I know practically everything about blockchain technology – something that I seriously hope will be useful one day because, f*ck me, it’s confusing!

All and all, I can safely say that one year on, the decision to become a digital nomad is working out swimmingly. I’ll admit, I’m still incredibly new to all this and have no idea if it will actually be successful in the long run. I haven’t even done my first tax return yet and have literally no idea which country I’m even supposed to do it in. But I’m no longer afraid of losing my job like I used to be in the old days because now the only person in control of my financial future is me…. which, when written down like that doesn’t actually seem like the best idea.

Anyway, whatever, the point is – life is too short to worry about money. I still have 153 more countries to see and this world is not going to travel itself. So, see you on a beach somewhere! I’ll be the guy squinting at my laptop in the annoying midday sun. (Seriously though, who works on the beach? That’s just ridiculous.)

Me, working on the beach

Actually becoming a digital nomad was, of course, a relatively more difficult and complicated process than I have described here. However, if you think it’s something that would interest you, feel free to ask me any questions. I would highly recommend it – especially if, like me, you have the nagging feeling that there is more to life than spending 40 hours a week in a dimly lit office cubicle.

One Week in Zanzibar on a Budget

Zanzibar is an island paradise, although it is not as famous as similar budget beach destinations like Thailand or Sri Lanka. This is largely due to its position off the south coast of Africa and its lack of nightlife or party scene. Due to the island hosting a largely Muslim population, alcohol is not as readily available as in some other countries.

However, the main city of Stone Town has become very westernized and as a result hosts, several bars and most Western hotels and restaurants serve alcohol. Don’t expect crazy hostel parties until 4am though – after midnight the city goes deathly quiet (except for Tatu which stays open a bit later on weekends).

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Sunset from Swahili House

The island is quite an odd place. It’s not technically its own country (it’s part of Tanzania) but you need to pass through immigration to enter it. While its official currency is the Tanzanian shilling (Tsh), the US dollar is more willingly accepted due to some or other tax laws.

The majority of places on the island use an inflated conversion rate of $1 = Tsh2400, so paying in US dollar is cheaper.

Getting There

To visit Zanzibar, visitors from most countries outside of Africa will need to apply for a Tanzanian visa for around $50. You can fly directly into Zanzibar airport which is a short 10-minute drive from Stone Town, or fly into Dar Es Salaam (if it’s cheaper) and catch a ferry to the island.

There is a fast (2 hour) ferry for $35 or a slower (3.5 hour) ferry for $20. I took the slow ferry which leaves daily at 12pm (noon) and it was very comfortable, with airline-style seating and a TV playing western movies. There is also a small canteen with snacks and drinks.

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Attractions

Stone Town

Zanzibar is an ancient slave island and Stone Town was the base of operations. There are many old slave buildings and forts around the town that are now museums or attractions. It was also the birthplace of Freddie Mercury and features the famous Freddie Mercury restaurant. There is an endless supply of merchants selling clothes and curios along its maze of streets and you can easily spend a day just wandering around. At night there are several fish markets along the promenade and more locally on the main street.

 

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Prison Island

Prison Island is popular for its population of giant turtles. These huge beasts have populated the island for hundreds of years and some are over a century old. The island used to be a prison but the buildings have now been converted into a hotel, bar and library.

For $10 you can visit the island from Stone Town and go snorkeling in the many reefs surrounding it. This is preferable to trying to swim or snorkel near Stone Town where the water is full of sewage.

 

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The Rock

The rock is a restaurant situated on a rocky outcrop on Michamvi beach. I didn’t have a chance to visit so I can’t comment on the quality of the food but I assume it’s expensive. It makes for an excellent photo opportunity if you’re in the area though.

Accommodation

Zanzibar is not really a backpacker destination but it can still be done relatively cheap. I visited in low season which helped to keep my accommodation costs down but still offered all the benefits. In ten days there I had only two days of heavy rain – the rest of the time was beautiful beach weather.

Bottoms Up, Stone Town

This was my favourite hostel, set right in the heart of old Stone Town. It is only $12 a night and includes a fairly decent breakfast of egg, fruit, bread and coffee or tea. The hostel is a confusing maze of staircases and rooms with a fabulous rooftop sitting area that has amazing views across the city. They don’t have a bar but keep a small amount of $2 beers and $1 bottles of water in a fridge that seems to operate on an honesty system.

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The rooftop at Bottoms Up

Nearby is the local restaurant Lukmaans, which does great local meals from as little as $3. Unfortunately, they get very busy and the staff seem a bit clueless, so service is terrible, but you can fetch your own food from the counter to save some time and confusion.

Around the corner is a slightly more expensive western restaurant that serves beer for $2 and has meals for $10 – $15.

There is a fancy hotel nearby called Swahili House that has a (tiny) rooftop pool and does happy hour between 4:30-7pm with cocktails for $3.20 and beer for $2. It’s a great place to have sundowners and a dip at the end of the day, which I did several times.

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The tiny pool at Swahili House

Lost & Found, Stone Town

This hostel is closer to the touristy part of town and is more modern than Bottoms Up. It costs $13 a night for a bed in a huge 18-bed dorm and doesn’t include breakfast. The aircon works a little very well though and the mixed dorm has a nice balcony overlooking the main street.  

Across the road is a pricey Spanish bar called Taperia that does live music every night and has a wide selection of expensive imported wines. Beers are about $2.50.

Further south towards the beach is a three-story pool bar and restaurant called Tatu which does beer for $2.50 during happy hour is another good place to watch the sunset from.

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The view of the main street from the balcony at Lost and Found

Ananda Hostel, Paje

The cheapest hostel I found was Ananda Hostel in Paje, a beach town on the opposite side of the island. It was $10 a night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm room and didn’t include any extras but breakfast is available for $2. It is certainly the best option for budget travellers, as it is well maintained and situated on an exquisite beachfront with several hammocks and sun loungers.

It was very quiet in low season so I can’t comment on the party scene but its a great place to relax and drink a beer on the beach. The nearby Africana BBQ restaurant does meals with veg, curry, goat or chicken for around $5 and serves large beers for $2. For delicious local seafood, the Fisherman’s restaurant a few meters up the beach does seafood platters of various fish, calamari octopus and lobster for between $6 – $8. They don’t officially serve beer but will gladly fetch you bottles for around $2.50.

A few meters south of Ananda is the Buccaneer Diving bar which does 2-for-1 cocktails between 4:30 and 7pm. This means you can mojitos, pina coladas or whiskey sours for as little as $2 each. The sun doesn’t set over the ocean this side but if the clouds are right it makes for a pretty amazing pink sky.

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New Teddy’s on the Beach, Jambiani

This place is more of a boutique hotel than a hostel but it happens to have dorm rooms too. I didn’t stay here but a friend did and they said they paid $22 a night for a bed in a dorm. It has a huge fancy pool, a decent restaurant and bar with beer and cocktails and beautifully manicured grounds facing onto the beach. If you have the extra cash, it’s worth splashing out just for a night or two.

Kiteboarding is a very popular activity in both Paje and Jambiani but is quite pricey at $30 per hour. In low-season this can be negotiated down if you book 4-6 hours at a time, but not by much. Other popular activities include snorkeling and spear-fishing for around $10 per person.

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Transport

Stone Town is small so you will be able to walk almost anywhere or catch a taxi short distances for $4-$5.

To keep costs down you can catch the local ‘Dala Dala’ buses around the island for a few dollars per trip. Private taxis are also available but prices fluctuate wildly depending on your negotiating skills. It will be anywhere from $20 to $50 to cross the island depending on how many people.

 

Africa Cycle Tour – Tanzania

We entered Tanzania without much trouble and then drew some money at the only ATM in town, which is just to the right of the bridge when you cross over from Malawi. (If you come this way, use it – there isn’t another for 100 kms!)

After cycling up a short hill into the border town we stopped at a bar/lodge and had our first ever Tanzanian beer, the aptly named Kilimanjaro. I then tried to source a simcard from one of the many roadside stalls outside. As usual, it needed to be registered against my passport, which is always a bit confusing and took a while. Once done they gave me the simcard and it was the wrong size, which means I couldn’t use it but had to buy it since it was registered to my name. I would have to get it cut down to size somehow.

Fortunately, I still had my Malawian simcard which was still working via data roaming so I was able to use that to work that night. We finished our beers, left the lodge and headed off towards a nearby campsite that was listed on the app iOverlander. I later discovered we should have stayed at the lodge since they are usually cheaper in Tanzania than camping!

The campsite turned out to be very basic, with no electricity or hot water, but we stayed anyway since we had nowhere else to go. The caretaker gave us two warm beers and we cooked some dinner around a rickety table while I got work done. The time change from Malawi means the sun stays up an extra hour in Tanzania, so it felt quite late when we finally got to bed.

Uphill to Tukuyu

We awoke early as usual at 5 am but it was now pitch dark, so Romain slept in a bit longer while I did a bit of work. After a quick coffee, we packed the tents and headed off. We knew from checking on the travel app Mapy.cz that it was going to be a long, uphill day. The countryside fell away beside us as we climbed higher and higher up the Tanzania escarpment away from Lake Malawi (or Lake Nyassa, as it’s called in Tanzania).

The road rose and wound along high mountain ridges with deep valley’s dropping away on both sides, providing us with beautiful vistas across fertile land lit by the rising sun. We stopped for a break and a drink in a small town where I managed to get my simcard cut to size but was unable to source any airtime to top it up.

After a brief snack, we continued on and made it to the small mountain town of Tukuyu by early afternoon, where we planned to spend the night. We found a lodge I had seen on the app iOverlander which gave us a room with two double beds for only 15,000 Tanzanian shillings (Tsh) – about $7! The entire experience reminded me a lot of my time cycling in India, not just because of how cheap it was but the way the lodge was set out and especially the toilets. Just like in India, they use Asian squat toilets with a bum-gun and always have a rickety shower located directly overhead.

After checking in I went to find some cold beer, which caused a bit of confusion (few people speak much English in rural Tanzania ). As I would learn over the next few weeks, it’s uncommon in Tanzania for people to drink beer cold. While the bars usually have a fridge or freezer, they don’t keep the beer in it. Eventually, a nearby local bar managed to understand what I wanted and put two beers in the freezer for me, instructing me to come back in half an hour.

In the meantime, Romain and I had a shower, washed some clothes and cleaned our bike chains before heading into town to grab some food. We found a place that did rice and beef for only Tsh 2000 ($1) and I also managed to get 10GB of data added to my sim card for around $12. After dinner, we went back for our now cold beers and watched a movie on my laptop before getting to sleep.

Tukuyu to Uyole

In the morning we discovered our clothes weren’t dry yet but we needed to head off since it would be another long, uphill day. We tied all the wet clothes to the backs of our bikes as best we could and cycled off into the hilly countryside. On the way, we grabbed some cheap samosas for breakfast and stocked up on water and biscuits for the road.

We stopped for lunch in a small village and had some rice and beans for around Tsh 2000 ($1). It was a hard struggle uphill all day long and around 2pm it began looking like it might rain. I tried to cycle faster, which only made me more tired, but luckily we reached our destination of Uyole before any rain arrived. We found a cheap room at a place called the White House, although it only had one bed so Romain opted to set up his camping mattress on the floor.

It was still fairly early so with an afternoon to kill we decided to get our hair cut into mohawks for no particular reason other than it was less than $2 to do so. Mine didn’t come out quite as well as Romain’s, mostly because I don’t really have much hair left. We then grabbed dinner and a few beers before heading back to the lodge where I got some work done before bed.

Uyole to Igurusi

Today we would finally have some downhill, so we didn’t need to wake up too early. I got some work done in the morning in case the connection was bad later and then we had a big breakfast of chip omelet and samosas before hitting the road. I also drew some more money as I wasn’t sure if any MasterCard ATM’s would be along the road, but it turns out they are far more common in Tanzania than Zambia.

The road leaving Uyole wasn’t great. It’s a major transport route for cargo coming from Dar Es Salaam to Malawi and Zambia and as such is very busy with large trucks. In addition, the shoulder is all cracked and worn away, making it difficult to cycle in. As a result, we spent a lot of time weaving on and off the main road surface while trying to avoid trucks and still get the smoothest ride.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a long cycle as I was feeling a bit ill and weak by lunchtime. I wasn’t sure if it was the food or early signs of Malaria but we decided to stop for the day anyway. It was a bit before our intended destination but we could always make up the distance tomorrow. We found another cheap guesthouse (they are everywhere along this route, I guess to serve the truckers) and then later in the evening walked into town to source food. After a big dinner of chicken and chips, I was feeling a bit better but decided to get to bed early anyway.

Igurusi to Makambako

Fortunately, I woke up feeling fine, so after the usual two cups of coffee we got going around 7 am. If we hoped to make our destination of Makambako today we would need to cover 100 kms – most of which was uphill! We stopped for breakfast around 9 am and had the usual chips with a bit of onion and tomato salad – a staple breakfast food in Tanzania for around $1.

As the day wore on the rolling hills gave in to a gradual, slow ascent that drained the energy out of us. It was also very hot now and we were struggling to find anywhere with shade to rest or cold drinks. The roadside was sparse here and the few places selling drinks didn’t have any electricity to keep them cold. We settled for the warm water in our bottles and pushed on through the midday heat until eventually reaching the outskirts of Makambako by 5 pm. We stopped at the first roadside bar we saw, which by some miracle had cold beer. After downing one, we continued on to a place called Three-in-One guesthouse, which had been recommended on iOverlander.

It was very cheap at only Tsh 10,000 ($4) for a twin room with two single beds and ensuite, although rustic, bathroom. The bikes didn’t fit in the room but they had a secure courtyard within the property to store them. For dinner, we had some slightly pricey chicken and rice at Tsh 5,000 a plate – almost $3!

That night we were interrupted by a loud knocking on the door and some voices speaking in Swahili. Assuming it was a mistake we ignored and waited for them to leave but they knocked some more. Eventually, Romain opened the door and a plain-clothes man claiming to be an immigration officer said he needed to see our passports. We naturally didn’t believe him and argued but he showed Romain a badge which apparently looked genuine although I didn’t see. We showed him our passports anyway and he looked at them very briefly and asked where we had come from. Despite claiming to be an immigration officer he clearly didn’t know that Songwe is the Malawi/Tanzania border gate, which seemed suspicious. Anyway, he left and we went back to bed but I felt quite uneasy about the whole episode.

Makambako to Mafinga

Fortunately, our interrogator from the previous night didn’t return in the morning as I had feared. After a brief coffee, we got going towards the next town of Mafinga. As we left town we passed through one of the very common police checks, but for the first time, they stopped and asked us questions about our travels. This, coupled with the checks last night, makes me think Makambako must be a common route for illegal immigrants moving through Tanzania, as we were never checked or stopped again after that.

We grabbed some peanut bars and cookies for breakfast at a petrol station and continued along the road. It was unusually misty and cold and almost looked like a storm was brewing but it turns it was just a result of the change in altitude. We were much higher up now and the early morning air clearly takes a bit longer to warm up. Bizarrely, I started to get hayfever symptoms – something I haven’t had since leaving London two years prior. It was just a mild irritation – the usual itchy eyes and sneezing – but I really hoped it wouldn’t continue throughout Tanzania.

By lunchtime, the air had cleared and I was feeling much better. We stopped to rest and made some avo, tomato and onion sandwiches – the cheapest and most common roadside ingredients available here. Further along the road, we hoped to find a farm stall that, according to iOverlander, apparently sold wine, meat and most importantly: cheese (unheard of in most of Africa). However, to Romain’s bitter disappointment, it was no longer operating.

Heartbroken, we dragged our ragged souls over the last climb and then rolled despondently down towards our destination for the day, Mafinga. Much like most other small towns along this route, Mafinga is principally designed to serve truckers and is lined with cheap guesthouses. We chose the one with the most garish plastic animals outside (a common theme in Tanzania) and checked ourselves into a pricey (Tsh 20,000 – $8) but rather fancy room with satellite TV and all. It even had a real flush toilet and hot water shower – 5 star! It also had cold beer and amazing samosas in the restaurant.

Dinner consisted of the usual rice and beans with beef, after which we tried to watch some satellite TV only to discover it’s controlled by a central unit and we couldn’t choose the channel. After a few minutes of a bizarre Swahili-dubbed kung-fu movie, we retreated to the safe haven of watching Rick and Morty reruns on our phones.

Mafinga to Iringa

We had hoped for some of the lovely samosas for breakfast but had to settle for fat cakes and boiled eggs because sane people don’t cook samosas at 6 am. The route to Iringa looked mostly downhill so we took it easy, pedaling along and enjoying the scenery. Along the way, we saw the occasional burnt-out truck and colonial church, common sites around these parts. Lunch consisted of chips, onion and tomato with a few bonus bits of charred and chewy beef – yum! People who like well-done steak and undercooked chips would love Tanzania.

Presently, we arrived in Iringa and battled the horrible 200m climb to the village, which is oddly built high up on a hill overlooking the Ruaha river. It’s quite a bizarre place – a mix between local African with colonialists relics and modern tourists. We immediately noticed that things might be bit pricier here, so after an exorbitantly priced Tsh 4,000 beer ($2), we went in search of affordable accommodation. A kind gentleman directed us to the shit side of town where we found a Tsh 15,000 room in a guesthouse down a dirt road between a filthy sewerage river.

It was ideal and almost big enough to fit both the beds while still having space to open the door. The shower was particularly impressive as it needed to be manually switched on at the wall, after which is proceeded to electrocute me while showering. I decided cold water was fine.

After a quick beer, we tried to buy Romain airtime but it was Sunday so everything was closed. Instead, we took the world’s bumpiest tuk-tuk ride half a mile across town to get pizza at a horribly overpriced western restaurant advertised on iOverlander. Anyway, the pizza was actually fairly decent and almost worth the $8 price tag – double what we were each paying for our accommodation. Back in town we grabbed a beer and watched Tanzania beat Uganda at football before getting to bed.

Iringa

We decided to take a rest day from cycling and chill out in Iringa today. This mainly consisted of sitting at an expensive western cafe called Neema Crafts drinking coffee and eating cake and ice cream which was actually really good. They also had free wifi so I got quite a bit of work done and finished my Zambia blog. We reverted back to our usual cheap and cheerful rice and chicken for dinner at a small cafe near the lodge.

Iringa to Mbuyuni

The road from Iringa to Mbuyuni took us through an exceptionally beautiful mountain pass, although the road was very bad and we saw a few trucks along the way which had gone off the edge or been in accidents. The authorities don’t seem very active in removing the leftover bit from prior crashes – maybe to serve as a warning to others?

On the way down I was clenching my front brake so hard the connecting piece became loose, which gave the entire experience an exciting extra level of near death. It has managed to sufficiently stay in place though and still works so I guess I’ll have it looked at one day. Once we reached the lower escarpment the weather and scenery changed drastically. It was crazy hot down here and the surrounding bush reminded us of Botswana. We briefly tried to cool down in the shade of a tree but it was no good so we pushed on until we reached a small roadside cafe. The local guys there were cooking meat on skewers and every few minutes would run yelling into the street trying to get the trucks to stop and buy some. It looked quite dangerous but was hilarious to watch.

We had a cool drink followed by a beer and then a local girl decided she wanted to make me her husband so she came to sit next to me and we chatted in broken Swahili. I used my Swahili app to tell her she was very beautiful, which resulted in a cacophony of laughter from all the surrounding men. She then tried to coax me into bed but we needed to get going before sunset and I wasn’t sure I was ready to settle down in Tanzania just yet. I wished my new love a fond farewell and we cycled off into the sunset, never to be seen again.

In Mbuyuni we again found a decently priced guesthouse and bought some tomatoes and onion to make pasta in the room on Romi’s crazy petrol stove. That thing will be the death of us one day, mark my words. It’s a steel tube full of gasoline and sends balls of flames in every direction whenever he lights it. I’m fairly sure indoor use is not recommended.

Mbuyuni to Mikumi

We had the most interesting breakfast in Mbuyuni. It was just like the kind of beef noodle soup you get in Vietnam which chunks of boiled beef floating in broth, only without the noodles. Okay, it was just boiled chunks of beef with some onion and chili, but they gave us two chapatis with it to add a bit of carbs. The road to Mikumi was a long and winding uphill slog along a river but fortunately not as hot as the previous day.

In Mikumi, we decided to stay at a slightly expensive ($10) hotel/campsite because another guy from the Cape to Cairo WhatsApp cycling group was going to meet us there. Also, it did have an amazing swimming pool. After a quick beer, we got the tent set up and had a swim before getting some cheap dinner at a small local place across the road (the hotel restaurant was a bit overpriced). Since the other cyclist didn’t arrive that day and we hadn’t had much chance to use the pool we decided to take a rest day and stay another night. Fortunately, the hotel agreed to give us a discount for two nights.

I spent most of the time catching up on work and then in the afternoon Gilles, the other French cyclist, arrived. We had a few beers and pizza by the pool and then went into town in the evening for some local dinner.

Mikumi to Morogoro

We were up early the next day and headed back onto the road towards Dar Es Salaam. Surprisingly it runs directly through the Mikumi National Park, which has lions, hyenas and elephants, amongst other wild animals. The road is entirely unfenced and was a bit of reminder of Botswana, only this time we saw way more wildlife. There were impala and a buffalo as soon as we entered, followed by multiple giraffe, zebra, elephant and the occasional wildebeest.

After about half an hour we reached a park gate, where we stopped for some breakfast of biscuits and crisps. Along the second half of the ride, we didn’t see nearly as much game and towards the end, it began to rain. I kept my eyes peeled for lions but the rain clearly scared them off.

We stopped again in Doma, mainly to dry off a bit and grab an early lunch. We briefly considered stopping the night here as Morogoro was another 66 km away but in the end, continued on all the way. We soon discovered that this area of Tanzania is very catholic and as such, won’t allow two men to share a motel room in fear that we might be gay. It was mildly amusing until we realized that not only is it discrimination that should be illegal, but now we might have to pay twice as much for accommodation. We had grown accustomed to only spending around $3 a night!

Fortunately, we found a relatively cheap place ($7) which actually had really nice rooms. We checked in and had more chicken and rice with a beer before bed.

Morogoro to Chilenze

In the morning I finished my final work for the month and then we drew some cash and hit the road. It immediately started raining so we stopped after an hour for breakfast of beer soup and chapati again. The rain died down a bit so we continued on, but no sooner had we hit the road and it started again. This continued until lunch time and we tried to again to wait it out but it never ended. Eventually, we knew we would have to continue in it or we wouldn’t make it to Dar by Sunday night.

We pushed on through and finally made it to Chilenze soaking wet. We had a coffee and samosa at a gas station, grabbed some supplies at a supermarket and then found the cheapest lodge we could and got two $5 rooms. The restaurant owner next door decided to become our new best friend and sorted out everything with the lodge as they couldn’t speak English. He then made sure we would return to have dinner with him, which we did.

Unfortunately, the pillow in my room must have had fleas in it and I struggled to sleep, constantly feeling little bites on my neck. I didn’t think much of it at the time and eventually just fell asleep but awoke in the morning covered in bites.

Chilenze to Dar Es Salaam

The final push through to Dar Es Salaam quickly became a very difficult day. After a nice breakfast of beef soup and chapati with our new friend, we began the 100 kms to the capital city. Quite soon the roads became very busy and then we hit construction work that continued all the way into Dar city centre. For the next few hours, we were stuck in heavy, slow-moving traffic along broken half-finished roads.

It was slow going and headache-inducing as the beeping and honking never stopped. We couldn’t even find anywhere decent to stop for lunch and eventually just had some water and biscuits from a shop on a very run-down side street.

Cycling into Dar es Salaam sadly wasn’t the fan-fare event we had hoped for, as we were both too exhausted and frustrated to celebrate. We were, however, exceptionally relieved to arrive at the rather boutique Airbnb that Ash and Jeff had organized. After a shower and nap, we celebrated our achievement with some champagne and beers.

And so concludes my Africa cycle tour – 5,000 kms over four months through seven countries!

 

Africa Cycle Tour – Malawi

We started our Malawi cycle leg in Lilongwe, having come across by bus from Chipata on the Zambian side. On reflection, we should have just cycled, as the bus took even longer than cycling would have. As usual in Africa, everything takes forever and we had to wait for about three hours at the border for the security guards to check the vehicle. It was dark by the time we were dropped off at Lilongwe bus depot, so we hassled to get our stuff out the bus while taxi drivers constantly haggled us. Getting luggage on and off these buses is a notoriously bad way to get your stuff stolen – and it’s twice as likely when it’s dark and you also have a bike to worry about.

Fortunately, we sorted everything, put our lights and head torches on and made our way towards a nearby hostel and campsite. We arrived safely at the campsite and checked in before setting up our tents and then cooking a quick dinner. There weren’t really any other guests and the hostel didn’t even have wifi so, with little else to do, we got to bed early.

Lilongwe to Salima

I awoke early and went to draw some cash so we could pay our bill while Romi made coffee. Then we got going as soon as we could, knowing there was a fair amount of uphill to Salima. We stopped on the way at an Airtel shop to buy simcards and mobile data which turned into a long nightmare of a mission. After the rigorous process of registering our sims against our passports, we tried to buy data but the Airtel guy was busy so we went to a shop next door where they only had airtime vouchers for 500 kwacha. I needed to buy a 6GB data package which cost 10,000 kwacha and I wasn’t going to individually scratch and enter 20 different codes.

We decided to get some food and wait until the Airtel guy was available. Eventually, we got sorted but by now it was already quite late and we were hoping to get to Chipoka, the town just after Salima where the ferry stopped, to see if we could catch it the following day to Monkey Bay. That meant we would need to do about 120 kms.

We pushed on through the day and luckily had good weather – no rain but enough clouds that it wasn’t hot. By mid-afternoon, we reached the escarpment overlooking Lake Malawi and started on the downhill towards Salima. After talking to some other ‘mzungus’ at a gas station we decided we could get a cheap guesthouse here and hopefully make it to Chipoka for the ferry in the morning. We stopped at a little place that agreed to let us camp for cheap under the cover of its outdoor conference area.

Salima to Monkey Bay

In the morning we set off early and soon bumped into two Swiss cyclists coming in the opposite direction. Like us, they too were members of the Cairo to Cape cycle Whatsapp group and we stopped to chat for a while. They were also heading north but along the coastal road, while we planned to take the ferry from Monkey Bay just for the experience of it. We exchanged contacts and hoped to meet up again somewhere further along the road.

Arriving at the port we were quickly informed that the ferry no longer departs from there and even if it did we would have missed it. That meant we would have to cycle the long route around to Monkey Bay – a total of 135 kms if we wanted to arrive today. Our friends Jeff and Ash from Zambia were expecting us at Monkey Bay and were leaving on the morning ferry so we needed to make it if we were to see them.

We put our heads down and pushed on hard – so hard that I missed a crucial turnoff and we ended up going 5 kms in the wrong direction! Now our daily total would have to be 145 kms! I quickly discovered why I missed the turnoff – despite being marked as a national road on Google Maps it was actually just an unmarked dirt road. We had no choice but to follow it into the bushes and it turned out to be quite a fun ride although a bit bumpy at times. We weaved through some towns with bemused villagers until eventually reconnecting with a tarred road.

Eventually, after our longest and hardest day in the saddle so far, we arrived at Monkey Bay as the sun was setting. We met Ash and Jeff at a lovely, secluded beach backpackers called Mufasa Eco Lodge and after a quick beer, I enjoyed my first swim in Lake Malawi. That night we all had an expensive but very decent dinner with the other guests and then joined some locals playing bongo drums around a beach fire.

Two weeks of relaxing

Ash and Jeff decided to delay their boat trip for another week so we all went to the nearby beach resort of Cape McClear and spent a week relaxing there. It’s a beautiful location for scuba diving and snorkeling, although we spent most of the time eating, drinking and playing the local African board game Bawo. While there we met a Dutch volunteer named Jonna and a real, genuine Afghan princess named Shiwa. She was an image of such extravagant beauty that I instantly declared my undying love for her, but alas she was already sworn to a prince back home.

Eventually, it was time to catch the ferry which we initially intended to take to Nkhotakota but the hostel owners at Mufasa explained there is no jetty at Nkhotakota. This means we would have to go to shore by a small boat and walk through the water with all our luggage and bikes – an improbable feat. We decided instead to go all the way to the next stop, Nkhata Bay, with Ash and Jeff.

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The ferry took two days and one night which is just about enough time to enjoy it without getting bored. To save money we slept on the deck but Ash and Jeff kindly let us keep our valuables in their room. The ferry has a really good restaurant and stops at a few islands along the way which you have time to explore while it loads and unloads goods. In Nkhata Bay we spent another week off the bikes exploring the surrounding area and hanging out with Ash, Jeff, Jonna, Princess Shiwa and a few other travelers.

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Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu

Our extended holiday finally had to come to an end, so we bid our friends farewell and begun the long cycle inland up the escarpment to Mzuzu. This was the steepest incline I had attempted with my six gear bicycle and it proved a bit too much for it in places. For the first time on the trip, I was forced to get off and push the bike uphill.

In the end, it took us about seven hours to cover the short 50 kms up to Mzuzu and we arrived hot and exhausted at a rather fancy campsite someone had recommended. The cost of camping itself wasn’t expensive but the cost of food and drink was similar to that of a fancy European restaurant. We could have explored somewhere nearby instead but we were too tired and ended up just having their cheapest pasta dish.

Mzuzu to Rhumphi

After leaving Mzuzu the steep hills died out a bit and we got to enjoy some winding, curving roads into the mountains of northern Malawi. The first stop along the route was a tiny village called Rumphi that only had one small campsite and very little else but it was in a beautiful valley. Although it was early and we had only done a short distance we decided to stop for the day and relax here. I think their highly recommended Italian style pizza had a big influence on that decision.

I spent most of the afternoon working and then in the evening lightning and thunder crashed across the sky as the heavens opened up and poured down upon us. Fortunately, our tents were under a small wooden cover because I assume this was a minor off-shoot of the cyclone that had ravaged the southeast of Malawi recently.

Rumphi to Livingstonia

By sunrise, the rain had fortunately died down, so we had a quick coffee, packed up our wet tents and got going. The road that day followed a winding stream that took us along an exceptionally beautiful route through a long valley towards Livingstonia. We hoped to take a different, dirt road up to Livingstonia from the south but the rains the night before meant it would surely be washed out.

Instead, we stuck on the tar road that went down to the coast and decided to see if we could get a lift up to Livingstonia from there. The Swiss cyclists from before had been in touch and informed us that the ride down the north road from Livingstonia is quite enjoyable but riding up would be impossible. For this reason, we decided to take our bikes up on the back of a truck. This turned out to be a rather disastrous mission, with about five guys arguing about how to tie Romain’s bike on the back. Eventually, we got going but the bike fell off twice on-route before they eventually managed to attach it successfully.

After a very long and bumpy ride, they dropped us at the top of a long dirt path that led down to Lukwe Lodge which the Swiss couple had recommended. On arrival we discovered it to be a very expensive boutique lodge and not really a backpacker campsite at all. Most of the food and drink on offer was twice the usual price we were accustomed to but luckily the camping cost wasn’t too extreme. Since we had our own food and were now all the way down the hill we decided to stay. That night we saw an incredible lightning storm over Lake Malawi.

Livingstonia and Mushroom Farm

The following day I joined three Dutch girls on their drive up to Livingstonia town so I could get phone signal and do some work. They explored the local markets while I finished two articles and then we headed back down to Lukwe. As we had decided to take a day off and chill here, I decided to go visit the Mushroom Farm backpackers down the road. It’s not actually a mushroom farm and doesn’t appear to have any mushrooms so I don’t know where the name came from but it made good food and was far cheaper than Lukwe.

As a result, I chose to move for our second night to Mushroom Farm but Romain was not feeling motivated to pack up the tent and do the long journey over. After visiting some nearby waterfalls I packed up and moved over. Unfortunately, my decision turned out to be a bad one as Mushroom Farm has no fridge to keep the beer cold.

Downhill to Hakuna Matata

In the morning we reconvened at Mushroom Farm and had some coffee and breakfast before starting the cycle down the bumpy dirt road to the coast. It turned out to be somewhat easier than expected, although we did have to take it quite slow. The views were spectacular though and I highly recommend it if you are cycling in the area.

Back at the bottom we bumped into an Isreali couple we had met in Monkey Bay and they told us they were staying at a nearby campsite called Hakuna Matata. We followed them there and decided to spend the night, although they were leaving that evening to head up to Livingstonia. Still, we spent a really nice afternoon chilling together and then later I got very drunk and annoyed some overlanders at the fancy lodge next door.

FloJa Campsite

We were up early and after some breakfast and a chat with Willy, the campsite owner and a fellow South African, we were back on the road. Although we could have cycled all the way to the Tanzanian border today, we still had a few days on our visas so we didn’t rush. Instead, we stopped around lunchtime at a very nice campsite called FloJa which is run by a Dutch couple.

We chilled the afternoon and then in the evening bought some fish from a local fisherman and some vegetables from the campsite owners. Then I threw together a fire from some dry branches lying around and we had a makeshift fish braai with salad for dinner.

To the Tanzania border

Finally, it was time to say our sad farewells to Malawi and head into Tanzania. The day was long but fairly quiet and uneventful and we arrived at the border post around 4pm. We didn’t have any hassles this time and got through in about 15 minutes. I took this ridiculous selfie while cycling across the bridge into Tanzania: