Continuing on from Great Zimbabwe towards Victoria Falls brought me a couple of interesting little encounters.
The roads in Zim are fairly simple to get used to- the main roads are in surprisingly good condition and everything is a disaster. unfortunately this means that all the big trucks use the few decent roads and, with their terrible state of repair, continually leak various slippery fluids. This usually just means taking it easy on corners and avoiding heavy braking. Other times it means re-evaluating the value of prayer. This was definitely one of the latter. Coming around another corner on a twisty stretch of road I hit what must have been litres of oil on the road- not a slippery patch, but a shiny black lake covering most of the road. I had no chance of missing it and went straight through. Immediately all sense of grip was lost- the ride became liquid smooth and I could feel my tyres starting to slide in slightly different directions. I was going straight and was through the corner, but I couldn’t do anything- a tap on the brakes, a change in throttle position, anything would have brought the bike down and sent it and I crashing onto the road at better than 70km/hr. I couldn’t even avoid the smaller ponds of oil that continued on from the lake- any attempt to change momentum or direction would invite disaster. The shoulders were nonexistent, but the edges of the road were fairly level and covered in light scrub and tall grass- if I could just hold on until the next corner I might just be able to ride straight off the road and then brake in the dirt. The next corner came up and it was almost perfect, except that if I was to go straight, I’d have to cross the oncoming lane right at the apex of the turn. I thought I could see far enough ahead to know there wasn’t any traffic coming my way, but it really didn’t matter- it wasn’t like I could brake or turn anyway, anything I did would see me either ride or slide into the oncoming lane. As it happens, there wasn’t any traffic and I was able to ride straight across the road and into the scrub without difficulty. Once on the dirt I was able to brake and turn to avoid the couple of stunted little trees in my way. Without really realising it, I was stopped, had my kickstand down, and was standing beside the bike. It took a bottle of water and about 30 minutes before I stopped shaking.
My second encounter was of the human official variety. A couple of hours after the oil incident I hit one of the fairly regular road blocks you get in Zim. These are part road block, part official toll station (bikes don’t pay!) and generally fairly quick affairs that rarely stopped me and never had caused me any hassle. This one seemed unusually busy and I was quickly motioned over to the side of the road. A young officer of some sort comes up with two armed heavies and after taking a quick look at me and the bike starts…
“Are you in a hurry?”
“Ah, no, not at all, I was just keeping up with traffic.”
“You ride a motorcycle with all those belongings and you aren’t in a hurry?”
“Nope, I still have a couple of hours to get to where I’m staying, so no hurry at all.”
Okay, here it comes- let me guess, I was speeding an it’s a very bad offence, etc etc…
“Please, can we search your bike?”
Crap! He’s not following the script. He’s going straight for a search without asking for papers or anything. This is sooo not good.
“Ah, I really don’t have time for that and I would want this to be done at a police station after I was given a reason for it.”
“Please sir, sorry. I am training these two on how to search different kinds of vehicles for The World Cup. We hope for many visitors, but we must also ensure that they are tourists and not here to cause trouble. It will not take long.”
So, I get off the bike, unlock my panniers and watch as the officer does a fairly half-assed search while pointing out things to the two ‘heavies’. They are done quite quickly and I’m back on the bike in under ten minutes.
“Thank you sir. Before you go- you must be a very experienced rider to come all this way. Yes?”
“Yeah, I guess so, by now.”
“Excellent- could you lift your bike for us when you leave?”
With the motion he’s making it obvious what he wants. This officer has just asked me to do a wheelie while leaving the government road block that he’s running.
“What?! Ah, sorry- the bike is too heavy with all my gear and it makes it just too dangerous.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I like seeing your big motorcycles going up in the air like that. Have a good day sir.”
“No problem, bye…”
And that was it. I never even showed my papers and there was never a hint of a bribe/fine or anything. The guy was just doing his job and wanted to make sure I wasn’t in a hurry before he slowed me down with a test search. He was also a young guy who wanted to see a big bike do a wheelie. Good thing my riding style doesn’t run to that kind of thing because for the first time I was truly tempted to try one with the bike all geared up.
It was kind of a strange day all-round.