Wednesday, December 1, 2010

By Bicycle?

So my plan is to undertake a long distance cycle ride.  Over the years I’ve done a lot of travelling and by various means on differing budgets.  In my twenties I hitch-hiked around Europe.  I’ve hitch-hiked extensively in South Africa, Zimbabwe and in Namibia.  In the Philippines I had wild and colourful rides in jeepneys (which come a close second to South Africa’s minibus taxi’s for wildness!) and banca’s or pump-boats which are glorified canoes, sometimes quite big, sometimes tiny, with outriggers and single cylinder engines of varying reliability.  I’ve slept in flea-pit hostels in Hong-Kong, in the long grass next to autobahns in Germany, on beaches in Greece and under the vast starry skies of Africa.  I’ve also done the 5 star hotel, business class, luxurious but experientially sterile form of travel.  This trip needs to be different.

Southern Africa is increasingly well trodden by relatively wealthy South Africans driving big 4x4’s whose daily fuel bill would probably feed an average family in Africa for weeks, if not months.  I sometimes drive one too.  When I do, I enjoy the comforts and cruise control, the air con and the engine power.  But quite aside from the cost of driving long distance to Angola and back, I don’t want to be hermitically sealed from my experience.  I feel a resistance to arriving in some of the poorest communities in the region with a vehicle kitted out like some Victorian-era expedition.   Every time I pack my 4x4 for a trip to the bush I ask myself how come I struggle to get all my kit into this diesel guzzling monster when once I could go anywhere and do anything with only what I could carry on my back?  Perhaps this is the cost/benefit of affluence and middle-age!

The point of this trip is people.  Cars go too fast and can insulate one from the travel experience.  I haven’t been on a motorcycle for twenty years so I’d likely kill myself if I tried something like this on one now.  Walking is my preferred way of getting in touch with the landscape and with people but to cover great distances one needs almost unlimited time.

I could use public transport but I have a strong urge to do this journey under my own steam.  And if I’m to undertake a sponsored journey, I’m not sure folks will part with money for me to catch a bus from Luanda to Namibia!

A bicycle then.  On a bicycle I can cover great distances at a pace that allows me to take in the country, to breathe it, feel it and live in it.  It also enables human contact in a way that travelling by car or motorcycle cannot possibly rival.  It’s also an affordable option.  Now the question is, can I do it?  Will my body be capable of it rather than is the journey possible by bike?

For some interesting reads on travelling long distance by bicycle have a look at Riaan Manser’s “Around Africa on my Bicycle”  and Rob Lilwall’s “Cycling home from Siberia” .

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