Bartering for Bicycles in Africa

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Travel and Adventure writing
Tags: ,

Found this and I just want to hit the road again…

We hopped on the Zoom Bus to Lusaka, 10 hours, two women, two laptops, a camera, video camera, a bag full of plugs, adapters and stuff,  batteries our sleeping bags, what remained of our clothes and a toothbrush. Yes only one. We were sitting ducks. We sat squashed on the bus – like tomatoes in a pressure cooker. Every time we stopped, more people alighted until we were all but bursting at the seams. Still, it was a great time to bond with the locals, their babies, heaps of luggage and sweaty packed lunches.

We had to shoot ahead to Lusaka, Malawi, as the bicycle tour will be bush-camping for the next few days.  This would leave us without electricity and render us useless as communications staff for the group. We were also on a bit of a mission. We had to find and buy affordable, durable, bicycles to give away to an organization in Lusaka dealing with HIV/aids patients. Thus inspired we hopped on the Zoom Bus to Lusaka.

Tour d’Afrique riders ride the naked mile


As in Kenya, Tanzania and the rest of Malawi we felt quite safe and the journey proceeded without major incident (it must be the red hair). The bus dive-bombed into Lusaka at 22h00 and within three seconds they had tossed our bags into the middle of the road and screamed off into the night.

Lusaka started life as a dusty railway siding and the first stage of Cecil Rhodes’s grand plan to build a railway from the Cape to Cairo, passing through British territory. The railway never quite made it to Egypt but the main street is still called Cairo road to this day. Fortunately for us, Lusaka is now a bustling city with shining high-rise buildings and street markets sitting side by side and we easily located the main bicycle shops.

The bartering could begin in all earnest. Despite being a modern city bartering is still the norm and in fact you are seen as either ignorant or rude if you do not make some attempt at hackling over the price of anything from a banana to a bicycle. We negotiated in loud voices with Mr. Patel, the eager Indian bicycle shopkeeper, all the while pointing out the shortcomings of the bicycle as he was singing its praises. With our combined expertise -­ neither of us can fix a puncture nor replace a spoke – we finally settled on a sturdy looking creation and congratulated ourselves on the great deal.

Sleep where you are comfy

After a good night’s rest

and considering that the money we were about to blow on the bikes was not ours, we decided to get a second opinion. We hooked up with an eccentric Italian called Dino. He runs a cycle club based in Lusaka and has been living in Zambia for over 25 years. Dino took one filthy look at our choice of bike and rapidly started negotiating with Mr. Patel whose good humour quickly dissipated as he realized that his great deal was turning sour. On Friday night we had a press conference and welcome cocktail function for the Tour at the Crest View Hotel just outside Lusaka. It was a very grand affair despite the fact that some of the cyclists were snoozing during the speeches. The South African High Commission, The Zambian Tourist board and Zambian Environmental Council as Dino’s Boys’ cycling club and the local press attended the function.

The funds for the bikes were generated by the Tour d’Afrique founder and father, Henry Gold. Mrs. Cnilufya accepted the bicycles on behalf of the Mututa Memoral Day care. This organization started in 2000 after a group of women in the Chainda region just 13kms south of Lusaka grew tired of observing the destruction caused by HIV/Aids in their community.

The many HIV/Aids orphans lacked direction and guidance as they are left without either one or both of their parents. It is five years later and the group now serves four compounds (townships) by creating opportunities for the youth to participate in karate, cycling, music, chess, volleyball, football, netball, camping excursions and cultural activities. The donated bicycles will be used for their sporting activities as well as home based HIV/Aids treatment and care. See here for more.

You need sturdy bikes in afrika

On Sunday we will make our way towards Livingstone and the majestic Victoria Falls where I suppose some of the cyclists will hurl themselves – head first – down the 150meter waterfall, preferably with a cord firmly strapped to the ankles.

By Astrid Stark


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