Didi's Cairo to Cape Town cycling blog 2

2008-06-14 00:00

Didi Francis is a Maritzburg girl who is currently cycling from Cairo to Cape Town together with seven guys (is started out as five). They are cycling in aid of Millennium Promise, an organisation pioneered by Jeffrey Sachs that targets poverty in Africa. Visit the website - www.millenniumcycleforchange.org

The team has currently raised $180 000 of the $300 000 target. Any support would be hugely appreciated.

Into the wild – 7 June 2008

Chobe to Nata – 320 km in two days. That was effectively 190 km and 130km. 190km – a new record and a solid day on the bike. But that is not what will get recorded in the memory banks.

Chobe to Nata is 320 km of African bush. It is apparently tribal territory, but we didn’t see any signs of life at all. At least no signs of human life. We saw everything from bush buck to baboons, lilac breasted rollers, vultures and elephants. Let us not forget the elephants. Cycling past elephants is not my favourite pastime! I was scared out of my little mind!

Yesterday, we approached a breeding herd, and it involved a cow with tail flying and ears flapping, breaking into something somewhat faster than she walks, herding her young away from the road. OK. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as dangerous as I was imagining, but basically, I was pretty close to a seriously agitated elephant and her calf. Not cool at the time, but pretty unbelievably awesome on reflection!

At 190km down, the sun beat us to the 200km mark and we gave in to the attractions of a bush camp. We have camped on the side of the road before, we have gone without water for cleaning for days on end, we have gone for days cycling across the remoteness of the Sudanese desert… but camping in the Botswanan bush was like nothing else.

It was only as we were crouched around the fire that a tale was relayed that caused some merriment. One of our trusty seconders had been firmly resolved against the idea of joining us for a stint on the bike. It seemed he wasn’t partial to the possibility of having an encounter with an elephant whilst on his bicycle. Fairplay to him, and if I had the choice, in all honesty I would probably have come to the same conclusion! But I digress… the sun was setting and as agreed our trusty seconders drove off to find a campsite. They noticed a small clearing, well-concealed from the road and Elly at the wheel asked George to go and suss out the spot. Not more than a minute later, George came hurtling out of the bush and onto the road. Elly recounts how it took two minutes to get out of George what had happened… apparently he been startled by a buck. Good thing he wasn’t there with the elephants.

I fell asleep to imaginary Hyena calls, clinking wine glasses, crackling embers and visions of an elephant charging through our tents… I woke up at 2am bitterly, bitterly cold and desperate to go to the toilet, but not that excited to break the caccoon of my sleeping bag to venture into the animal infested dark. Some form of cold front has come through… and we are being shocked out of our comfort zones of balmy weather.

Into the wild, Part 2. – 8 June 2008

Today was really just more of the same. There was one fairly close encounter with a lone bull that was enough to get my adrenalin pumping and leave me with my heart pretty near to popping out of my throat… It was standing fairly innocently on the side of the road 100m ahead of us. Unperturbed, my father and Gareth cycle on towards it, leaving Matt to deal with a near hysterical yours truly! Si, completely unconcerned that his daughter was in a state of near panic and the distance between him and her rapidly widening, proceeded to have a battle of wills with this beautiful old lone bull. It turned out well, and dad still maintains that we were never in danger. It felt somewhat different at the time.

We are staying at Nata Lodge tonight and are being looked after by the manager James – what a hero! He basically gave us the accommodation for free on the basis that he wanted to. He also told us a small tale about a lone Canadian cyclist that was apparently a zoo keeper by profession that had spent a night in the bush and had had an encounter with lion. He spent the night running out of his tent, banging some pots and pans together to make a racket, and then diving into his tent again. Seems his campsite was within 50km of where we slept last night.

Hectic.

In Ethiopia, Tanzania, Sudan… in fact in any remote African town where we’d stop for dinner, one of the boys would put their arm around the host and ask if it would be possible to see the kitchen. Par for the course, whenever we get to any form of restaurant, we ask if we can take a quick look in the kitchen. This is a health necessity in most places and one can quickly guage what it is that should be ordered.

The same happened tonight at the very comfortable Nata Lodge and I am having premonitions of the guys doing the same in some swanky Johannesburg restaurant. We are in serious African travelling mentality and are going to have to do some serious acclimatizing! 953km to Joburg. That is the first time I have heard the distance to a South African city being quoted. Not long now.

Waiting – 9 June 2008

90km short of Francis town, a woman stands on the side of the road, swinging her arms, waiting for a bus at a crooked stop sign. A crackled hardware store sign stands in front of seemingly empty mud huts. The only signs of life are this woman and some wandering goats. We lie on the dirt on the other side of this road, baking in the soft afternoon sun. I am listening to Phil Collins’ Just Another Day in Paradise, with a sad irony.

On the other side of the road, the woman sits down next to her canvas bag. Both of us are waiting for transport but we are going in different directions. I am trucking on to Francis town with the prospect of returning to this crusted sign tomorrow to complete the distance. I have no idea where she’s going… there is not much where we have come from.

Just as I am about to stroll over and sit down on the tarmac next to her, and am wondering about what it is I want to say, a wheelbarrow and its owner park next to her. The owner, an old woman with a royal blue dress and hardy footwear, sits in the wheelbarrow and joins the wait. It is a small thing, this waiting, that we share. But there is a simple beauty in sitting on the side of the road watching the world pass by and willing some being behind a windscreen to stop. Life is slow here. And its beautiful.

Super Seconders – 10 June 2008

Our super seconds, George and Elly, flew back to South Africa today. They were wonderful support, adding good banter and providing great conversations to a team that have been in each other’s pockets for the last six months and so have largely exhausted most topics of conversation… music and sports trivia excluded! No really, if anyone does read this, I know that they both will – Thank you. You chaps are awesome. Not many people would take precious time off work to come and drive a landdrover behind a troop of smelly cyclists…

We dropped them off at the Francis town airport which was an experience unto itself. It comprised of a shipping container-styled building that made the blue-printed VIP Lounge sign above one of the exterior doors look a little out of place. The departure lounge is a 5m squared room with two counters and low chairs lining the walls. A ridiculously tall man sprawled himself out across these chairs as he devoured his beans and pap. To someone who can claim a short stint of working within the aviation industry… it was absolutely bizarre. Retail space totals 3sqm – a counter that serves the pap and beans. Security comprises one scanner.

They’re back home now, thankfully. But it was a truly fascinating encounter with an African airport.

Too close for comfort – 11 June 2008

It seems so easy to quit now. To simply throw in the towel and say we cycled from Cairo to Francis town! We are so close to home that it makes the distance uncomfortable as we tick off each new 100km. When in the remoteness of the Sudanese desert, or killing ourselves on the Ethiopian hills, it was never an option. Stopping was not something that we even considered. We were there. We were doing this thing. We were going to do this thing until we stopped doing this thing in Cape Town. What we do thereafter is up for discussion. There has been much banter around chucking our bicycles into the Atlantic for one. But now, so close to completion of this epic journey, it is that much more tempting to hop into a truck en route to Jo’burg. The next five weeks feel impossible. I could be on Clifton Beach right now. OK. It is probably ridiculously chilly there at the moment, and one probably wouldn’t want to sit on the sand in the rain, but you get my point.

Today’s 80km stretch into Francis town was a relatively mundane stretch of straight road that disappeared into the head wind. It is the first day of cycling that I have cycled the whole day with a warm top on… very cold, but a small taster for the South African winter ahead. The day involved cycling along the yellow tightrope between the verge and the traffic. No space for chat, and only one’s thoughts to entertain. And so I return to old thought processes like overworked conversations that reverberate in my mind and have done so for the past five months. Where to from now? What to do with my life? What to do for the next year? All the big questions that never really get answered but endlessly asked. In fact, one would think that all this time on the bike has given me a level of clarity in what direction I will follow. But it has done little more than open my eyes to a whole realm of opportunities and given me the understanding that once a route is chosen, the rest will follow. The hardest part is in the decision.

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