Didi's Cairo to Cape Town cycling blog

2008-06-12 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.

Spoilt brats – 31 May 2008

The joys of a support vehicle: Porridge for breakfast, tea and coffee, energy bars, fresh oranges, camp fires at night, potjie braais… the list continues, topped with transport for our bags! We feel like we are flying! It has revolutionised this experience.

We are now soft. Spoilt brats.

With that has come George and Elly and my dad, and we couldn’t ask for a better support team if we tried. Cycling along debating the meaning of life and catching up with your best mate, or giving your father a seriously hard time… Awesome.

It’s a little surreal really – we are coming home.

The cycling has been three days of 130km, but the road is smooth and the terrain gentle. It has been a bit of a cake–walk. The first night saw us staying with the Ray and Sally on their farm in Mazibuko. They looked after us like royalty. It was wonderful to chill out on such a gorgeous farm, go for a run, ride a motorbike, swim, drink red wine, and veg out on the lawn with a good book.

The second night we camped on a football field on the side of the road in the middle of the thick bush. We paid some local footballers to collect water from a stream for an attempted bucket wash. We did the same for firewood, and within a few hours were very comfortable in our makeshift campsite. We sat around the campfire, stars overhead, butternut in tinfoil… again, I catch myself smiling at the luxury of it all. This is a far- cry from eating enjera and shiru in Ethiopia!

Last night we stayed with Rochelle and Marius a day’s cycling short of Livingstone. Again, the hospitality of near strangers is overwhelming. To have a team of twelve camping out on your front lawn, monopolising your bathrooms and creating havoc in every corner of your house – they were incredible hosts.

Today we’re off to Livingstone. White water rafting, bunji jumping, kayaking on the Zambezi – tough life! I couldn’t be happier.

A Country on Her Knees – 1 June 2008

Victoria falls is one of the most spectacular places I have visited. Sheer volumes of water eat away at the gorge that runs like a crack between two countries. Drenched from head to toe, we breathed in the weight of the water, lingered on its thunder and became camera-snappy tourists searching for that elusive perfect shot.

In Zambia, life has a level of normality. Business is booming for the man on the street as they benefit from the economic collapse in Zimbabwe. Catching all tourism that come to the falls, sharp Zambian craftsmen line the roads offering their wares with all the tricks of the trade.

“One moment, I just want to ask one question.”

You stop because you don’t want be too rude.

“Where are you from?”

Ah! They have you…

“Goeie more!”

Now that’s a pretty good effort.

We crossed into Zimbabwe for lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel which has a really impressive view of the border bridge. The hotel stands alone with a quiet sadness, looking across the gorge at the bridge between the two countries; the bridge that stands between Zimbabweans and their basic rights to freedom and opportunity. Like the last line of defense in the devastation of a country, waiters hang around in droves, cleaners traverse the empty halls and fresh towels sit in immaculate bathrooms.

But there are no guests, one can only pay in a foreign currency, and the bills run into the millions…

Tourist security guards escort us back to the border post in a sad tribute to a collapsed state which is making desperate efforts to protect the remnants of a once prosperous tourism industry. Craftsmen try to sell their goods and succeed not because of the quality of their product but because of the look in their eyes.

I found the whole experience devastating.

On the other side, people are poised, waiting for Mugabe’s mess to transform into the land of opportunity. Victoria Falls, a world heritage site, a renowned tourist destination, will suddenly need shops, restaurants, service industries… there is money to be made in the rebuilding of a country. The question everyone is asking is “when?”

The man on the street can’t wait that much longer.

We started there – 5 June 2008

Three. Two. One. Bunji!

While waiting to capture Gareth’s bunji on camera, and somewhat distracted by the sheer look of panic, referred to by the man himself as “Ice Man”, I started a conversation with an English woman on the bridge. After some stereotypically polite chat, she asked:

“Are you on an overlander trip?”

“No, we’re doing Cairo to Cape Town on bicycles.”

“Push bikes?”

“Um…. Yes.”

“Hmph! You’ll never reach Cairo!”

“No. we started there.”

It was awesome.

A Taste of Botswana – 6 June 2008

Chobe Game Reserve is a spectacular spot and has been a treat of monumental proportions. Half the team has decided to cycle through Zimbabwe due to interest in the political situation. Unfortunately, the support vehicle makes passing through Zimbabwe more difficult, and so the other four of us decided to stick to the plan and go via Chobe and Nata. We will be reunited in Francis town in five days time.

It was a relatively easy 90km from Livingstone to Kasane and included a classic trip on the Kazungula ferry. Trucks line up for kilometres waiting for weeks to cross the border between Zambia and Botswana via ferry; a ferry that can only take one truck at a time. The back log is crazy, but preferable to going through Zim.

As we passed through immigration we met a man who insisted on knowing where we were to stay tonight. A bit confused, we explained that we were only going on 11km to Kasane. Our friend was relieved and the interrogation ended. “Not good for lions to cycle at night.”

Hectic.

The Witness will be publishing more of Didi's blog on Saturday.

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