Sunday, April 29, 2007
Persisted through the wind to Windhoek
Stage win #3! I had to try to get one on the pavement and for some reason I chose a headwind day to do it. That last 5km after my attack were killer!The famous red dunes of the Namib Desert. Indescribable!
The flavour of what we have been rolling by has certainly changed. We had become accustomed to the Africa that involved an incredible number of people walking, cycling, donkey carting, etc. along the roads with large loads of goods in tow smiling and waving, small communities dotting the countrysides with thatch or corrugated roofs, simple town centres with limited resources that were acquired in informal markets and light motor traffic along the rutted roads beside which we would set-up our remote camp sights. We have now moved into a far more westernized Africa where the population density has hit rock bottom (Namibia is the lowest in Africa), the towns are 300km apart and contain one curiously modern gas station and a few other modern amenities, the traffic is now all motorized, in good repair and is comparatively indifferent to our presence. The larger towns contain shopping malls, marble banks, grocery stores and any other western comforts imaginable (except for high end bike stores of course :). Our camps are now most of the time at formal camp grounds with swimming pools, bars, showers (arriving in Windhoek I showered four times in four days...how strange!), and unfortunately lacking the stunning stars, the allure of camping in wild Africa or the fun of camping in simple African villages.
However, what the recent riding may lack in cultural stimulus and variety of scenery it has made up for in wildlife sightings. The scenery from Maun to Windhoek though attractive does not vary much. It has however been dotted with kudu, oryx, springbok, black-backed jackals, wort hogs, and ostriches among others.
Luckily, we moved through the uniform terrain rather quickly covering over 800km in five days including one day over 200km. I varied my riding style to keep things interesting by racing some of the time and riding on my own other times. I thoroughly enjoyed riding 110km of the 208km day on my own even though it meant battling the wind on my own. On a 162km day, I decided to try for a stage win on the tar. The wind really picked up as the day went on and turned into our faces for the last 50km. I rotated through pulling as per normal patiently waiting my moment. With about 5km to go I had decided that I didn't have a chance sprinting against the other four in our small peleton so I broke away. I managed to get away and started hoping for the finish flag to be a little early (we are never certain as to exactly where the flag will be). I dug pretty deep and kept glued to my aerobars only coming off to stand and accelerate up the remaining hills and managed to hold off the others for my third stage win. Two on the dirt and one on the tar; sounds good to me!
We arrived in Windhoek and many riders were pretty cooked from our big week, but four of us organized a rental car for the two days we had off here. We drove down to Soussusvlei to see the coveted red sand dunes. It was pretty strange and felt extremely fast being in a car again as we made our way down through (apparently) the largest network of gravel roads in the world. Our VW CitiGolf handled the roads surprisingly well considering it contained four heavy guys and a trunk full of tents and food. We arrived just in time to see a pretty stunning sunset over the dunes. The dunes glow a bright red, the sky was at times red, deep purple, and even almost green. What a backdrop for the grazing ostriches that were near. We camped just outside the park and awoke early the following morning and were waiting at the gates for the 5:20am opening time. I found it rather comical that the speed limit on the road out there (the only tarred road in the area) was 60km/h, but even the park rangers were driving over 140km/h to try to get to the parking lot 63km away before the public arrived where the overland trucks were over 130km/h and some vehicles over 150km/h.
No matter, we parked at the 2WD lot and hopped on our 4WD shuttle out to a dune above a dried lake bed of 1000 years. We watched the end of the sunrise ~130m above the valley floor standing atop a red sand dune as the howling wind blasted us with the tiny building blocks that created the dunes: sand. After standing and walking around in awe, we ran down the 33° slope with many fun spills and toured around some of the other areas around the dunes. We eventually made our way back to our car and took the scenic route back to Windhoek. The whole weekend the scenery was absolutely stunning. I think it seemed even more so considering that the mountains we were driving through were the first hills we saw since Maun.
Tomorrow we are back on the bikes where we will go south out of hilly Windhoek and take five days to get to Ai-Ais, the last of which is back on dirt where we will have our last time trial. After that we are on dirt for two more days, than five days on tar will bring us to Cape Town...strange!
As previously mentioned I have been avoiding thinking of the end but with only 1650km and twelve riding days remaining, others have started to reflect aloud. I had previously thought a bit about what I have to do once I am home, what I am going to do in Cape Town, what my summer will be like, etc., but only today started realizing how my every day existence will change. How I will lose the "Hakuna Matata" no worries nature of African existence, I will lose the concept of "African time", I will lose the camaraderie of having 40 siblings to say "good morning" to in the morning, share stories of the previous day or the day's ride with, etc.
Or will I? There is no doubt I will take a little while integrating back into a Canadian way of life where I shower more often than once per rest day, have to deal with deadlines and watches exact to the minute and have to accomplish more than cycle for 6 hours per day. However, the question to be answered is what we can learn from this way of life. How can us westerners learn to consume less and be happy with less.
Entire countries drive their economy by bicycle transport here; surely we can use it more in ours.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Down the long, flat and straight elephant highway
Me standing in front of a very small section of the unbelievably powerful Victoria Falls (smeared by the heavy mist soaking us and the camera lens). Unreal feeling the power of the falls! Water careens down the bridge fueled only by the spray of the falls. Just incomprehendable how much water lies in the mist. It actually creates other reasonably sized waterfalls along the rocks.
The long, straight, flat roads in Botswana. There was frequently over 40km between even the slightest bends in the road. Good thing there were elephants there to entertain me! Not often you can get your bike and a grazing wild elephant in the same picture. She soon took a little more interest in me and came within 10m of me. Close enough; I left...fast. We spent almost an hour watching these elephants scratch themselves on the trees and against each other. They would dig in the sand with their trunks and throw the cooler sand over their bodies. They hung out about 30m from us, then eventually all left in a procession of about 20 elephants.
We left Livingstone, Zambia with a 15km warm-up before our third time trial of the tour. This one was a little more conventional since it was a 40km paved time trial with some rolling hills. Though not feeling 100% due to some questionable meat that myself and another rider picked up for dinner the day before (we are responsible for our own food on rest days) I managed to finish in a time of 1h 6min for 4th place. We cruised the rest of the day to the border where we took a short ferry across the Zambezi into country 8: Botswana.
After splashing through foot and mouth disease control we rolled into our campsite adjacent to a town where I saw a nearly waist-high wort hog trotting through the streets. We pitched our tents in our prescribed area near the electric fence to keep the animals out. The camp manager came by and suggested that we should move our tents away from the water. Apparently two weeks ago a crocodile got by the disabled electric fence (due to the Luiana river's swelled size) and tore a tent apart. Needless to say, we obliged.
We rode south to cover over 300km in two days down the elephant highway. I rode alone or with one other rider to keep our eyes peeled for good elephant sightings. Nature obliged and I stood and watched a herd of about ten elephants on the side of the road. They say that you should always keep a distance of 50m away from elephants because they are known to charge. Considering the size difference between them and me I can understand. One female began to take interest in me and slowly advanced closer and closer to me. Once she got within 10m of me, I decided that nature observation time was over and it was now "get the heck out of here" time! What an experience though!
Once we hit Nata, we turned west and the winds turned to our backs. We had another elephant sighting just before lunch one day; a massive bull! He decided he didn't want us there anymore and began to mock-charge a fellow Canadian rider. She was well away from us so we had a safe view of not only how fast these massive beasts can move, but also how fast a small French-Canadian girl can accelerate on a bicycle!
We had a couple of days of long, hot mileage. We broke the monotony the day into Maun by having our first team time trial. "Team Maple Syrup" came 4th, but was only 14 seconds away from 2nd place. Notably we tried to throw "Team Crap" off of their game by mooning them at the finish line, but we were one-upped by a toilet paper clad rider crossing the finish line with his spandex shorts on his head. Too funny!
I have arrived safely here in Maun with a bit of a cold and a little devoid of energy, but otherwise fine. We took a game flight over the Okavango Delta where we saw a plethora of wildlife! Though a little motion sick, it was a great experience.
We have some big mileage to cover now: over 800km in five days. We then get two rest days in Windhoek, Namibia.
Many riders have started speaking of then end now which is understandable with only 17 riding days remaining. I am trying not to think about it as there are so many great experiences to have between here and there. With that said we seem to have all switched into "band-aid" mode now by patching any problems we have rather than really fixing them. I'm trying to break away from that by going on a fixing spree this afternoon; we'll see how far I get with that.
Bring on the Kalahari desert!
Monday, April 16, 2007
Special experience near Lusaka, then three consecutive centuries to the adrenaline capital of Africa!
Unreal the reception we received from these school kids! We felt like local celebreties for the cahrity work that Markus had doneThe large race peleton at the beginning of a fast day.
I left off when I arrived in Lusaka and was on the brink of an extremely special experience the following day.
I awoke on our rest day and was packed and ready for a day's excursion by 8:00am. CCF, a charity that a fellow rider had raised a massive amount of funds for sent a Land Cruiser to pick up the German rider, myself, another rider and our photographer and take us to the Mumba area over 100km away. We arrived at a nearly completed youth centre that had been built with the raised funds with the interest of educating youth and supporting them to avoid a myriad of social problems, but most notably AIDS. We met a panel of locals involved with the project and we proceeded to drill important accountability questions at them to ensure that the funds were being used appropriately and efficiently.
We were then taken well off the main road down a nearly impassible track to the school that had been built with the raised funds. Immediately upon arrival we were swarmed by dancing and singing children. Our driver carefully wove through the throng and parked our vehicle. We later learned that the children were actually still on Easter holidays, but all came to the school voluntarily to show their appreciation for the fundraiser. We were placed in padded chairs under a make-shift cover to shade us and were presented a multitude of speeches, songs, dances, poems, etc. all to give thanks for the school. Of note was a ceremony of celebration that included heavy drumming and traditionally clad warriors (well, traditional over top of their best Sunday clothes that is) charging at us with sticks and metal spears. They fell when they got to us representing our strength. Although initially intimidating, it was an extreme honour to experience.
We were then taken to the home of the sponsored child of the German rider where we met her family and were treated to a local lunch. We learned so much about her life and although she was extremely shy, we got to know her a little better. We were then taken to the school that she was supposed to attend but was in such a state of disrepair that she was whisked away to Lusaka to attend school over 100km away.
We were then taken back to Lusaka after a long day of greetings, thanks and a wealth of emotions to digest. The key lesson that I firmed up from this experience is how any aid that is given must be heavily researched to ensure that the funds are going to be used in a responsible way with the idea of sustainability ingrained into the recipients intentions. It is a difficult process.
Humbled by this incredible day of interactions and experiences, we mounted our aluminum horses the following morning and covered 160km now southwest toward Livingstone, Zambia where the famous Victoria Falls is located. Once away from the large city of Lusaka we quickly climbed into some small hills and were treated to some beautiful views of the plateau on the other side. The tailwinds were incredible and all of the riders finished the day very close together despite the long distance. The following day we covered 175km in once again a surprisingly quick amount of time. Though the scenery was nice and the locals along the way extremely friendly, the long distances and repetition in the scenery motivated me to stay with the lead group through the day and we all finished leisurely together.
The following day we covered yet again 160km for our third century ride in three days and the incredible tail wind pushed my average speed above 37km/h. I was going to sprint with the big guns for a road stage win, but problems with my valve gave me a couple of flats and I told them to finish without me. I arrived in Livingstone and enjoyed a social evening with the crew since we are losing a couple of sectional riders, celebrating a couple of 50th birthday parties (on the same day too!) and we were treated to a iced layer cake; what a treat!
We are lucky enough to get two rest days in the adventure capital of Africa, however since the river is at its highest since the mid 1950's, the white water rafting will be closed until the end of April. I have to admit that I was looking forward to this since before I left Canada, but managed to find some other activities to enjoy the powerful river we slumbered near. I went to the bridge that connects Zambia and Zimbabwe and set foot into Zimbabwe which I was able to do without a $75US stamp in my passport. I stood above where the bungee jumpers normally take flight, but was currently closed due to the incredible amount of mist coming off of the falls which would damage the cable. Few clients seemed to argue.
On the bridge, I bumped into one of the Mexican riders we met in Egypt and leap-frogged with until we hit Kenya. The other rider had an accident in Nairobi and is currently in Cape Town receiving surgery. I hope he has a speedy recovery and can get back on his bike soon! I also met many other inquisitive tourists about the tour. They saw the "Cairo to Cape Town" on my race number plate and were full of questions. I ate my lunch admiring the falls from the river bank above the thundering waters, then went back to my lodge where I was picked up for my river safari. I boarded the jet boat with intentions of seeing many animals, but quickly learned that the priority of the other clients was to sip gin and tonics on our jet boat rather than experience African wildlife. I still got to see some hippos, a croc from afar, a variety of birds and one stunning sunset. The other clients were dropped off at a 5-star resort about 100m upstream of the falls, but I stayed on the boat. The driver opened the throttle of our powerful jet boat and ducked in and out of the currents between the islands and under clouds of flying birds upstream to our jetty in the fading orange light. Still not worth the hefty admission price, but at least I got to embark upon the Zambezi in one form.
Unfortunately, the romance of the presence of one of the world's natural wonders was dampened by some unfortunate occurrences. Our medic was robbed of her valuables including her passport in broad daylight about 50m from the main road on the way to our lodge. She was extremely luckily unharmed, but understandably shaken by the incident. A rider was walking back to his lodge at about 11:00pm and cut across a lawn. In the darkness he did not see the 1.5m diameter and 3m deep bricked hole that he plunged into. A group of riders including myself managed to find him and a ladder to extricate him. We are all extremely thankful that he didn't hit his head and was able to call for help; however, there is a possibility that he may have fractured a vertebra. We are all extremely sad for him and wish him a speedy recovery!
This morning we set off to enter the national park where the falls are best viewed from. The intricate pathway network allowed for many angles of viewing the falls. Before this trip, I have sky dived, I have bungee jumped, I have had hockey break-aways toward the end of important hockey games and been set volleyballs at the end of important games. With that said, I was floored by the amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins from simply standing in front of the massive chute of water! The spray instantly soaked our bodies with the fierce wind that the falling water creates. I am extremely happy that I had my Salomon clothing on and my waterproof camera with me. Both myself and my camera were able to experience everything and quickly dry afterward unharmed and with memories full of pictures and videos that will last a lifetime.
Tomorrow we have our third time trial to the jetty where to board the ferry to Botswana. Bring on the elephant highway!
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Typical day with the TDA
I have been meaning to post something to this effect since Egypt...man how time flies! I have had many questions about the daily logistics of the tour; I hope this answers a bunch of them.
Our schedule is very consistent day-to-day, but has changed quite a bit throughout the tour with the hours of light (varied quite a bit by the change in season, our moving toward then away from the equator, and crossing time zone lines). Our current one is pretty wacky:
4:00am: my first alarm goes off
5:15am: I have packed up my tent and all of my camping possessions into my "red box", buried my morning business somewhere in the bush, applied body lube and bike shorts and am ready to go except for a few details
6:00am: I have eaten my ginormous breakfast (just like home) of oatmeal, peanut butter and jam/honey/syrup and occasionally they will put other goodies out for us like eggs or baked beans. One day they put the Canadians in heaven by having pancakes with REAL Canadian maple syrup (donated by a Montreal rider.
Lately, the sun rises around 6:00am.
6:20am: My "red box" is on the truck and I am normally running around trying to still do my last minute things like put sunscreen on, clean my glasses, fill my bladder with water and bottle with Fast Fuel, grab my PVM Energy bars for the day, pump up my tires, etc.
6:30am: I am normally ready seconds before the race start. Expedition riders are allowed to start whatever time they like after sunrise. There are a few which push the early limit every day to get as many kilometres finished before the heat of the day.
~9:30am: This is highly dependent on the distance for the day, but normally lunch is just over half the distance for the day. The other day we had an incredible tail wind and hit the 90km mark shortly after 9:00am. Lunch before 10:00am feels strange, but I don't argue because I'm normally pretty hungry by that time.
Early afternoon: Again, highly dependent upon the distance for the day and the road conditions, but we are normally done cycling for the day before 3:00pm. We have finished as early as 11:00am and as late at 5:00pm. Everyone goes at their own pace and stops at different places for different amounts of time so we scatter into camp slowly. Distances for the days depend on the road conditions. Lately, we completed three centuries (greater than 160km) in three days over decent roads and we were still done around noon. Over the rougher roads, a 100km day can take quite a bit longer.
6:00pm: Rider meeting where we learn about the following day's specifics, hear about any upcoming attractions, have fun announcements and fortnightly have a team quiz night. Following this: dinner! Varies quite a bit, it usually very good and is never short on quantity. The sun has been setting during dinner lately. If we are at a bush camp ( i.e. in the middle of nowhere) we hang around the camp chatting about whatever, then turn in to bed at varying times. I have gone to bed as embarrassingly early as 7:00pm and on this early rise schedule as late as after 9:00pm!
The following day: do it all again!
I was discussing with another rider last night that we found it odd that even when we really pushed hard for a day that our legs never really got sore after riding. It is only once I said it out loud that it seemed odd that we had just cycled 500km in three days and didn't feel much pain in the legs.
Riding weeks are typically about five days followed by a rest day. Our longest number of consecutive riding days is 7 days while our shortest was 2. Everyone does different things on rest days. I personally find them more tiring than riding days since there is so much to do. I try to get my "chores" out of the way like laundry (yes mom, I have hand washed - rather foot washed - all of my clothes on the trip), fixing things, internetting, etc. first, then head into town and walk around or do any activities I had previously planned. Also on rest days we are responsible for our own food which can be quite entertaining. Farther north, I tended to eat more at restaurants since they were very cheap and the local food was extremely interesting. Lately grocery stores have become more westernized so I can get breakfast and lunch pretty cheaply, then will try something new for dinner.
During the rest days, we are typically camped on a hotel lawn. Some get hotel rooms, but am very comfortable in my tent so don't mind saving the money. During the riding week, we camp anywhere from hotel lawns to campgrounds to abandoned Jehovah's Witness centres to school yards to small clearings on the side of the road to lake shores to places that we have no idea why it is like it is, but we have fun with the locals and pitch our tents. All camp spots have had their appeal. Hotels come with showers (normally cold, but still nice) and we don't have to dig holes for our calls of nature, school grounds came with many curious students that were fun to throw my frisbee around with, bush camps come with the excitement of being in the middle of nature, desert camps came with the beauty of an endless starry sky and unreal peace and quiet, the list goes on.
Logistically, this is a pretty easy way of seeing Africa from a rider's point of view. Our basic needs are catered to and any worries we have are generally superficial since we have support in our health and many other areas.
Now we have less than a month to go with so much to see and do. I keep saying that this trip is like skimming through an African guide book. It is giving me a great overview of the continent so I can later come back and travel some of the highlights more in depth. Once Africa is in your blood...
Impressions of Malawi
We had an extremely short time in Malawi and unfortunately our cycling did not bring us off of the paved roads. Like Kenya and Tanzania, I feel like life is significantly different away from the pavement so my impressions will undoubtedly be fairly skewed. None the less, here are some observations:
- Extremely friendly! People enjoyed crowding around us, but as per usual for the last while it was simply out of curiosity. People along the route always went out of their way and stopped their activity to wave and shout greetings.
- Curious, but not intrusive. Stopped on the side of the road with mechanical problems, taking photos, having lunch or for any other reason, locals would stop and gawk for a little bit, ask some questions if English was in their repertoire, then continue on their merry way. This was in contrast to some previous countries where locals would hang around for what seemed to be an indefinite period of time hoping to score some sort of hand out.
- I have heard Malawi described as the Switzerland of Africa. The country's unique feature is the massive Lake Malawi which has some rolling mountains along its shoreline. This makes for some great riding as the scenery is constantly changing and is absolutely stunning.
- Once away from the lake, the landscape continued to roll through the mountains and ducked through the occasional river valley.
- All of this water of course means that the countryside is extremely green and lush which offered monkey and other wildlife sightings along the road and amazing fruits along the way.
- As mentioned previously, Malawi is known as one of the poorest countries on the continent. However, from the portion we rode through this was absolutely not evident. The road (I believe paved by the Chinese) was in great condition, many people carried cell phones and were reasonably dressed, the villages were (only relatively of course) cleanish, and most of all the capital Lilongwe was extremely developed.
- I get the impression that once off of the main route all of this changes drastically for the worse where roads are deteriorated to the point of questionable impassibility, buildings are falling down and local quality of life is diminished. This is unfortunately second hand information.
- It is for this reason that I am extremely happy that the Tour d'Afrique Foundation donation bicycles will be used in these unpaved areas where motor vehicles cannot easily travel and where the economy is not very strong.
After this quick jaunt through Malawi, we will cruise through Zambia very close to Mozambique and Zimbabwe!
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Dropped to Lake Malawi, climbed to Lilongwe for a bike donation and onto country #7 Zambia
A dutch rider cycling past a local Malawian boy. Contrast on so many levels! A Canadian Rider dropping from the heights of Tanzania into Malawi
The bicycle: an amazingly useful tool! Moustache March podium: First "Snows of Kilimanjaro", Second "The Queen (with the she 'stache)" and Third...see below for my long title (note the purposeful patchiness of the 'stache)
As the distances increase and as the tour moves onward, the countries keep flying by!
My last update was from a southern point in Tanzania from which we had a stunning day of cycling where though we climbed a cumulative 1850 vertical metres, we dropped over 2500 vertical metres. We were shrouded by a thick, low-lying fog in the morning but it soon burned off as we climbed and climbed to lunch. From our lunch stop the terrain kept rolling but in the general direction of down and we were treated to beautiful distant views of the hills rolling into Lake Malawi and the tiny grass huts the overlooked the views.
Once over the border into Malawi I assumed that we were going to experience people like we had in Ethiopia due to the state of the Malawian economy and the high population density; however, I was extremely inaccurate. Though the first 20km to our first bush camp in the country had many locals begging and harassing us, this proved to be an anomaly. We cycled down the coast of the massive Lake Malawi to our rest day at Chitimba beach which looked curiously out of place. It looked as though we had been transported to Hawaii with the blue vast water bordered by white sand.
This is where we had the judging for our "Moustache March" competition where we took the month of March to grow our baddest 'stache. Never having grown my whiskers this long, My theme (pictured above) won me third prize in the competition and was entitled the "Pubescent: I just grew my first 'stache to find that our former mail man had red hair" look. See picture above.
We cycled up and away from the lake and inland toward Malawi's capital Lilongwe. The views were spectacular and monkeys were running across the road in front of me. The locals were extremely friendly along the road working hard transporting their goods, but always waving, smiling or yelling a greeting.
Travelling through the countryside I was creating a suspicion that Malawi's title as one of Africa's poorest countries was in question. The infrastructure seemed to be pretty developed, the locals clothed, cell phones abundant, vehicles in reasonable working order, etc. Dropping into Lilongwe was no different as it seemed to be also significantly more developed than the other capitals that we have travelled through.
Lilongwe was the location of my long awaited bike presentation that I had managed to raise so much money for. The local media showed up as well as a representative from the South African High Commission. The presentation was a success, but will require its own posting. I will do that at a later date.
I enjoyed the feel of the city, and met some neat people. A few riders from a local cycling team joined us for a couple of days of riding and one took me to see the theatre that he and his wife help maintain. I just missed hearing some local drummers rehearsing, but it was cool to see pictures on the wall of all of the shows that had taken place in the 1960's theatre.
The next day of riding had us leave the country which I must admit I did sadly as I really enjoyed Malawi. Over three days we covered over 500km which brought us through the Easter weekend in Zambia, our seventh country. The scenery has been green and rolling, the pavement has varied from beautiful to "hold on tight" but has generally been very good. Our camps have been fun; one night we were camped in a school yard and the school kids hung around our camp to watch our "travelling circus." I took out my Frisbee to play with the kids and was floored at how relatively courteous they were compared with other children with which I threw the disc. Sure there was a little fighting for the disc, but more often than not, someone else would grab the disc back and give it to the child from which it was stolen. The girls were also far more assertive than previous which was cool to see.
We have now arrived in Lusaka, Zambia and have a rest day here. I am privileged to be able to join a German rider who is going to visit his charity project. He raised funds for a school to be built and sponsored a child here. That should be a cool experience.
I am now sitting in an internet cafe in an extremely westernized shopping mall. I feel extremely out of place here! I am happy that I get to spend my rest day tomorrow out in the rural areas!
We have just another three riding days, then we are in Livingstone, Zambia where the famous Victoria Falls are situated. Then on to our next country: Botswana!
Until next time from the adventure capital of Africa!
Impressions of Kenya and Tanzania
Okay I am a little behind on these, but somewhat on purpose. I really felt like Kenya and Tanzania are better split into three parts rather than two. From the Ethiopian border at Moyale to Isiolo, Kenya where the road is not paved being the first section, from Isiolo to just south of Arusha, Tanzania where the pavement ended, then from Arusha to the Malawian border.
From Moyale to Isiolo: "Shifta" territory
- The area dominated by the highly decorated Samburu tribe
- Begging highly accepted and sales people very aggressive. Few tourists travel along this slow and potentially dangerous road due to banditry. Those that do all stop at the few towns along the way where they are hounded by the locals selling necklaces, water, tissues and anything else they can think of. Around these areas, begging is quite accepted.
- Between these towns, the population is quite sparse and the few people seen there are quite friendly.
- Once again, beautiful!
- It really felt like a hidden jewel. The difficulty of travel made the stunning views that much more breathtaking.
- The extinct volcanic activity in the area has really dried up some areas and created lush greenery in others making this area very interesting to travel through.
- I later learned what a controversy the condition of this road is. In a fully loaded truck, travelling more than 10km/h is likely to break leaf springs which is a timely repair job. Even a nimble 4x4 is limited to roughly 25km/h. These slow speeds encourage banditry since it is near impossible to get timely help to the area and slow moving vehicles are easy targets.
- The above inhibits trade in the area since supplies cannot be moved into or out of the area as well as keeping tourists away. It seems that the Samburu people have loudly protested the state of the road, but their voices do not seem to carry to the government where their tribe does not have good representation. I will not try to comment on this further as I am on second hand information, but I can understand how this road affects the area.
From Isiolo, Kenya to 100km south of Arusha, Tanzania:
- Crossing the line from rutted gravel road to hard pavement was a stunning contrast. Clearly this pavement has made Isiolo the northernmost extent of common tourism in Kenya. The people in this band evidently see many tourists and all have their sly tactics to try to get us to purchase their trinkets or elaborate begging schemes.
- Money in the area! Nairobi in particular was a shock to see with park lands of mowed lawns, fountains in the centre of traffic circles, shiny buildings laced with marble, etc. Prices went up through this band seemingly to catch the tourists that come into Nairobi and scoot straight through to tourist central: Arusha. Arusha itself is a mecca of expensive vehicles ushering sun-deprived tourists (funny how you can pick out the new tourists by lack of evidence of sun exposure) out to the sites.
- Resources are abundant.
- Is worthy of the above mentioned development. Cycling around Mt. Kenya, rolling amongst the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the incredible wildlife that lives in amongst the scenery completely overwhelms the foreign eyes. I enjoyed playing non-cycling tourist for a couple of days in this area, though I felt guilty pumping more money into a richer area fully knowing that I was bookended by poorer areas.
- So many scenes straight out of National Geographic: the landscape, the picture book animals, the colourful Masai locals, the diverse vegetation, incredible!
From 100km south of Arusha, Tanzania to the Malawian border:
- Very friendly! Once the pavement stopped so did the tourist presence and we fell back into our usual place of the locals thinking "What the heck are Mzungus doing in here and what are they wearing?"
- People never begged, only waved with enthusiasm. Whenever our support trucks became stuck, any passer-bys instantly started digging with their own shovels to help. Many smiles and enthusiasm toward our presence there.
- As we have moved farther south along the continent, the bicycle has become more and more popular. Through the unpaved stretch of road where the rainy season turns the road into a brown soup, the bicycle proved to be a powerful tool since it was the only vehicle that could make it through the roads no matter what the conditions.
- Our group used to have the impression that our expensive bicycles are essential to travel along such rough roads, but the locals do it just fine on their extremely experienced cruiser-style bikes! Great to see!
- I have a soft spot for this type of landscape: high rolling hills blanketed in lush greenery. Travelling through it on bright red African clay roads added to the romance.
- Even once the pavement started again south of Iringa, the scenery was again very beautiful as the mountains increased in height.
Next: One of Africa's poorest countries, Malawi
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Bicycle Presentation Ceremony in Lilongwe, Malawi: TOMORROW!
Exciting day tomorrow! Tomorrow is the day that I as well as many others have been waiting for. Thanks to a generous outpouring of so many donors to the Tour d'Afrique Foundation through myself, I will personally be able to present 24 bicycles to a health care organization here in Lilongwe, Malawi. Malawi is known as the poorest country in Africa and is an area that has been heavily hit by the AIDS epidemic. These bicycles will enable these workers to care for a greater number of people by cutting down their transit time.
As I have experienced in my time along the roads here in Malawi thus far, the bicycle is extremely well used here. It is great to see so many other two-wheeled pedalers on the road! That also means that there is a good repair network available for the donated bicycles so they can be useful for providing health care for years to come.
Once again, many thanks to all of my donors!
For those who have not yet donated, you can still do so through my website. Your donations will result in bicycle donations where they are most needed during the tour next year.
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