I was coming down the escarpment when I saw a truck stopped on the side of the road. I stopped and met Lionel, a South African guy, standing by his truck. We got talking and he offered me a lift down the escarpment and up the other side. I’d been warned about the large number of lions in the Zambezi valley so not wanting to get eaten by them said sure why not and we put the bike in the back of his flatbed truck. He was pulling two trailers, both with low sides, and we just laid it down at the back of the 2nd trailer and did the gate up.
Crossing the border was much faster than I’d been expecting in a truck, thanks to the only thing in the truck being the bicycle. There were monkeys stealing things from the back of trucks, so I made sure everything was properly secured on my bike. The only loose things were my water bottles, but I took my camera to be sure, and also to take pictures of the monkey thieves.
As soon as we got into Zimbabwe the number of potholes grew substantially, but being low on load Lionel didn’t seem to do much to avoid them mainly going at full speed. I did wonder about my bike, but was sure it’d be fine. We stopped at a petrol station to get 100 litres in to make sure he could get to South Africa just fine, and then it was on to the road. On the outskirts of town was a police checkpoint, where for no reason other than police corruption we had to pay a bribe. Zim isn’t rich, so $2 later we were on the way again. Lionel has been driving these roads for 17 years and knows how to grease the wheels. Past the checkpoint, the potholes continued and so did Lionel’s ability to drive over them at 80km/h barely swerving for them.
We didn’t see any lions or elephants, just trees, heat and potholes. At the start of the climb to the escarpment there was another checkpoint. This time it was a man with a butterfly net to catch Tsetse flies that Lionel knew. This time a loaf of bread saw us safely through the checkpoint and on our way up the climb. 100km of windy roads without a shoulder and far too many trucks for a pleasant ride we got to the town of Karoi and despite Lionel’s offer to drive me not only to Harare, but to Masvingo, Joburg or even Durban I said thanks and said I’d like dropping off there in that town. We’d got past the most dangerous part of the road, both in terms of the wildlife and the traffic, and the town had some life so I’d be able to get whatever I needed.
He hopped down first, and walked to the back, and I followed after putting my sandals on and picking up my handlebar bag that I’d taken to the front as it had my passport in it, I followed him there. The gate was down and I looked into the back of the truck and was a bit confused for a short period of time. There wasn’t anything there. It wasn’t until Lionel mentioned that there was no bike that it hit me. Oh bugger.
Lionel seemed to be pretty on top of things, and in my shock, we drove to the police station. We tried to walk in, but were glared at and had to wait as the flag was coming down and the officer was busy doing the ritual while other police officers watched on in silence. Entering we were met by some rather disinterested looking police officers, and an officer called Patrick was assigned to us to write down the events. Lionel explained most of the story, as I was mainly thinking about what my plan involved and how much a flight back to the UK would be. After 45 minutes of writing everything down, their main theory was that someone had jumped into the back of the truck and thrown it out. That didn’t seem plausible to me, we had barely stopped since leaving the petrol station where Lionel was sure he’d seen it. The longest we’d been stationery was at the first police checkpoint, but there was a lorry behind us who would surely have done something if he’d seen that happening. My idea was that the gate had fallen open and the bike had fallen out with Lionel’s love of high-impact pothole collision, the locking mechanism hadn’t fell that sturdy when I’d been closing it and that just seemed so much more reasonable than some opportunistic thieves jumping into the back of the truck, throwing a bike down and then running away with it before anyone did anything.
I was trying to work out if my best idea was to stay in town so I could keep the police on the ball, or get a lift to Harare where I knew someone and had a place to stay while the investigations were underway. Lionel thought that hanging out in Harare and making daily phone calls would be sufficient, but before I had to make my mind up on such issues Moses arrived. A truck driver in his late 40s, Moses came in saying “No! You don’t need the police. I saw it with my own eyes! You hit a pothole, the bicycle flew and the truck went forward but the bike didn’t. You need the tanker Dharwizi number 038. He picked it up!” Going from losing the bike and contemplating flight homes to such a random lead took us all by surprise.
Moses had been behind us and, having seen the bike fall out, had tried to get our attention. Unfortunately, as he had a full load and we didn’t even have the bike weighing us down he had no hope. As he is a wonderful man, when he drove through Karoi he was looking for our truck, and seeing it outside the police station stopped to pass on his knowledge. What a hero.
Hearing a lead, Patrick the police officer seemed much more excited about the case of the missing bike than he had been and when Lionel suggested checking out the nearby truck stop he decided to come with us. My initial idea of calling the Dharwizi head office hit a stumbling block, no-one at the police station knew the number or had any idea of how to get it. Apparently neither Google nor Directory Enquiries exist in Zimbabwe, or at least not at the police station. Thankfully, while the missing tanker wasn’t there, the petrol station received deliveries from them and so had a phone number for us. The policeman used his airtime and tried repeatedly to call but there was no reply.
Lionel mentioned another nearby truck stop, which I thought was a great lead. He had earlier said that tankers had to stop when it gets dark so I was hoping it wasn’t far and I could be reunited with my bike. The nearby truck stop ended up being about 10km away and again, no tanker. The policeman had gone inside to ask but found nothing. While we were trying to drive away, a man started waving at us and so we stopped. He had overheard the policeman’s conversation and let us know that Dharwizi 038 had passed by not 20 minutes ago. Unfortunately, our plan to chase after him hit a small flaw – we had the policeman with us. He was eager to accompany with us, but it seemed a bad idea to kidnap him and get him in trouble with his bosses so we had to drive back to the station and drop him off. For coming with us, Lionel gave him some money – just the way things are done in Zimbabwe.
Without Patrick, we were back on the chase and set off hoping to catch the driver before he could get to Harare, some 280km away. There was the fear that if the driver made it to Harare and his depot, then the bike and bags would vanish. We had Moses as a witness that the driver had picked up the bike, but that would complicate things immensely. We pushed on into the night, Lionel driving faster in his truck than most cars were, and stopped briefly at the truck stops that we went past.
120km before Harare is the town of Chinhoyi, and on the right-hand side is a petrol station. It was far too dark to see anything for me, but not only could Lionel tell there was a tanker, but he could see that it was a Dharwizi! We pulled onto the verge and jumped out to check if it was number 038. There were 4 Dharwizis, but the 3rd one we saw was indeed number 38. Knocking on the door got no reaction, and while I was very eager to climb up and peer into his door I was told that was a very bad idea. Thankfully it was a busy truck stop and so we met the group of truckers that were sat around and explained our situation. One of them was a Dharwizi driver, and went off to make a call. 20 minutes later, the driver – Calisto – turned up.
Lionel overheard Calisto and his colleague speaking in the local language, Shona. They were apparently talking about what story he should tell me. When Lionel mentioned the police the story quickly became that Calisto’s big plan was to drive to the depot, and give the bike in to his bosses who would surely know what to do because who knows what the police would do. While there’s a hint of truth to it, I’ll never know the real story. As it was, he had my bike and 4 of the 5 missing bags which I went into the cab of his truck to reclaim. My panniers had a fair amount of road rash, unsurprising as the GPS later showed we’d been going at 77km when at 15:41 the bike fell off our truck before 10 minutes later continuing again on Calisto’s. Calisto claimed that the 5th pannier had been picked up by a guy in another truck, but how Calisto managed to claim 4 panniers and the bike but not the other one is a bit beyond me. I didn’t see the pannier in his cab, but who knows maybe it was in there. Whatever.
The bike came out, and immediately saw it was not rideable. There were 4 main problems. The rear tyre was flat, the tube had exploded and had a 10cm slit down it. Amazingly the tyre seemed to have no problems. Secondly, both of the bar ends had snapped off (something EasyJet managed to do in Iceland too). Thirdly, my brand new black Manta must have taken a hell of a hit given the marks on it, and the end cap seemed to have broken off. Finally, my front wheel which had been true now wasn’t. The wiggle wasn’t anything like when EasyJet tacked my wheel in Iceland, but it was a concern.
I swapped numbers with Calisto and thanked him while he kept telling me about how he looked forward to presents that I would be sending him from the UK.
Lionel was eager to push on, he had been expecting to drive another 800km to the South African border, and so we did for a short while. But getting to pay a $6 bribe at the first checkpoint we went through due to an issue with his headlight made him change his mind. He was running out of small bills and would end up having to use his $10s instead. Enough checkpoints would probably see him paying most of his earnings in bribes.
We stopped 50km further along, at the next truck stop and after I checked my laptop we went in for some beers. I checked it so that all the bad things could finish that day. I didn’t want to wake up the next day with a broken laptop, but as it was my MacBook survived the bouncing. The lump of cheese and container of peanut butter both looked a bit beaten up, a new tub of butter had exploded meaning that my food pannier was distinctly buttery, but other than that things seemed OK.
Considering a few hours earlier I’d been thinking of flying home without a bike and with nothing but the clothes on my back, my passport and wallet the situation was great. Sure, my bike needs some work (and getting it done in Zimbabwe isn’t ideal) and losing the pannier with tools and my washbag in wasn’t ideal, but thanks to the sheer kindness of Moses I had a bike again, and so the beers we had before bed tasted so much better.