Lions, Hippos, and Giraffes Oh My (God!)

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If a visit to Tanzania isn’t on your bucket list, you need to add it NOW. What a magical place. Even David Attenborough cannot do justice to the breathtaking view of Mount Kilimanjaro (which was apparently very rare to see from where we were cycling), the abundance of wildlife in the Ngorogoro Crater (home to 20,000-25,000 large mammals), and the spectacular expanses of the Serengeti.

At the crater, we spotted lions, rhinos, zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, ostriches, gazelle, hyenas, jackal, hippos, flamingos and more – all within our first half hour. By the end of our first day, we’d seen elephants, buffalo, giraffes, monkeys and, last but not least, leopards, rounding out the big five (very lucky!).

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We had a mini party every time we saw a new animal (blow horns, singing and yes even dancing). The khaki-clad-overweight-middle-aged-muzungos were not at all pleased but we really couldn’t contain our excitement and the animals didn’t even flinch at the commotion.

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Our guide Amani, a Maasai, was fantastic! He not only knew everything there was to know about the region and its animals and people, he also sang and danced with us!

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The giant herds of wildebeest, zebras and gazelle stretched in every direction, as far as the eye could see, for kilometers on end. I can only imagine how disorienting it would be see the same animals during their great migration!

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Where the Wild Things Are (hint: they’re all under 5’2″ and living in Ethiopia)

Girl running uphill to demand money when I stopped to take a photo

I procrastinated writing this post for so long because it is so difficult to put into words just how unique our experience with the youth in Ethiopia was. We passed thousands and thousands of feral, yet passionate youth each and every day. They greeted us with the biggest smiles imaginable, chased us into the bushes, fought over our garbage, treated us like rock stars, demanded to have the shoes off our feet, sprinted across fields just to say hi, attacked me with sticks, stole everything from our cameras to our outhouse to our bike shoes, surrounded us at every campsite and coke stop, and mimicked my every move.

We first refused to give these kids our empty water bottle but after much harassment, my friend was so annoyed that she threw the bottle across the street, which only triggered a full-blown war.

Interacting with the children, like cycling through the country, was uplifting or draining depending on the attitude I took. One day the kids would be great, the next they were too much to bear. We resorted to screaming and shouting, to chasing them through fields (and even into their homes), some riders even retaliated with violence.

In the morning, I usually had enough energy to wave and greet every kid I passed. The afternoon was another story altogether. By then, I’d already greeted a gajillion kids (as enthusiastically as is humanly possible) and cycled uphill for 6 hours in intense heat with flies swarming around my head, so the last thing I wanted to do was lift my sweaty head, let alone open my mouth to say hi or pick up my pace to prevent the kids from grabbing my stuff. Ugh. I could go on and on about this but anyway, to illustrate how draining and infuriating these wild ones could be, at our Ethiopian camps I overheard such statements (from well-traveled and normally patient riders) as:

“In Sudan, a kid touches my bike and I say ‘hey take it for a ride!’ Here, they touch my back wheel and I want to kick their fucking faces in.”

“It’s a good thing we don’t have access to internet because I would really enjoy watching videos of Ethiopian children getting tortured right now.”

I know this sounds so outrageous, after all we’re talking about children, but I can’t emphasize enough how challenging it was to control our emotions and reactions when we were exhausted, and telling the 5632nd kid of the day that no, we will not give them money.

5631st and 5632nd kids asking us for money

So why can the youth in Ethiopia be so violent and demanding? This is what I think…

Sticks and Stones
Every child in rural Ethiopia carries a stick or stone, theoretically to herd their cattle. To complicate matters, adults also use anything at their disposal (canes, branches, shoes) to whip, kick or hit the kids in an effort to control them. Furthermore, every kid in Ethiopia loves to get the attention of passing “feranges” (foreigners). It logically follows that said kids will mimic their elders and use said instruments to get our attention.

Crowd control

I found the best way to deal with these attacks was to understand this thought process, be very very friendly and if all else failed, to ride straight into the children and hope to hell they moved out of the way before I killed them.

youyouyouyouyouyouyouyou

All the kids in town running to surround us at a typical coke stop

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Money Money Money
Kids in Ethiopia know 5-7 words in English: you, money, where, are, (you) go, and if they’re especially educated, give me. They then repeat each of these words as many times as they can from the time you enter their field of vision until the time you exit it.

Not wanting to see every kid as a rude, greedy little bastard, I tried to keep their demands in perspective by thinking of myself as Santa Claus. “I” come to town once a year on a fancy bike in a weird costume with a bag of goodies attached to the back of my ride. In Canada, kids would demand iPads and xboxes from such a character. In Ethiopia, they demand five cents. Who’s rude and greedy now?

We also liked to play word games with the kids. They yell youyouyou give me moneymoneymoney, we yell happyhappyhappy or mangoavocadobanana or even a rider’s name. Usually, they would repeat and we would feel like we’ve made the country a better place. It was amazing to hear the kids repeat what the faster riders had taught them (and we always knew someone was having a bad day if they kids greeted us in droves with fuck off)

money money money money money money

where are you go where are you go

Olympic Training
It took only about five minutes in this country to understand why Ethiopia is known for its runners. The kids in this country are like really, really f.a.s.t. It was not uncommon to have a toddler (no joke) run uphill beside me (literally) at my pace with barefeet on gravel paths. They seemed to stop only when they bored of me and moved on to another rider, not when they were tired (to my knowledge they never were). This was annoying at first because they would try to grab my stuff or touch me (and of course repeat the same 5-7 words mentioned above), but eventually, I enjoyed the practice and saw myself as a coach preparing them for the 2024 Olympics), demanding they run harder and faster and giving them their speed.

just the fastest little legs on the planet

Positive Thinking
Of course the energy of these wild things was contagious and heart-warming as well. Many welcomed us with song and dance, “I love yous” or giant smiles and frantic waving. Seeing throngs of children running at breakneck speeds across fields, down mountains, and out of homes on an hourly basis just to wave will go down as one of my favourite things about this tour.

There were also several special kids who will stand out in my mind. Some offered to push us uphill on especially tough stretches, some offered the food they were eating, and one, Adam, is the most charismatic and promising boy I will probably ever know (more about him later, I promise).

one of the many pleasant youth of Ethiopia

Adam (middle) with his two younger brothers on his bed/couch

kids getting scolded and chased by riders after throwing rocks

This post is getting long and I’m not even sure it makes sense so let me recap:

As trying as the wild things were, there is no doubt they will be the most memorable and oddly, enjoyable, part of this trip. Thanks to them, I perfected my assertive NO/HEY, climbed hills faster than I thought I could and brought my patience to a whole new level. I worry that they will be a lost generation, with expectations of charity and poor education, but I hope with all my might that their energy and assertiveness will translate into big assets for this developing country.

Dissecting Ethiopia

First Impressions

Crossing from Sudan to Ethiopia can pretty much be described as going from an elementary school library to a night club. Immediately, we went from quiet, friendly, calm, welcoming and conservative to loud, aggressive, dirty and chaotic. The Italian and Catholic influence on Ethiopia was immediately apparent – cafes, pizza and necklaces with large crosses were everywhere. Every other vehicle on the road is a foreign aid vehicle and, judging by how raggedy all the children are, they seem to be necessary (though their effectiveness is questionable – more on that later). In Sudan, most of the children were in school, in Ethiopia, most seem to wait on the side of the road with rocks and sticks, just in case a juicy target cycles by. Cycling became significantly more difficult as the landscape changed from desert to mountains overnight; however, the most pertinent difference to the riders was the sudden availability of alcohol.

It’s hard for any of the riders to definitively say whether they like Ethiopia or not. There are so many pros and cons to being here but I’ve found with the right attitude, it is a fascinating and unique country. Here’s a brief breakdown of Ethiopia through the eyes of an outsider:

The Good

The Coffee
-coffee (which originated in Ethiopia) is cheap, organic, freshly roasted and easily ordered in any little village we cycle through

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The Food
-injera, fresh juices, shiroo (?) and Italian food, the only thing missing is sushi

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Song and Dance
-I love the simple beats and strings of traditional Ethiopian music, and the crazy shoulder and neck movements of their traditional dances. We tried to mimic the moves at some local clubs and let me tell you, it felt like I climbed a mountain with nothing but my traps and deltoids by the end of the night, but it was one of the best nights I’ve ever had

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The Landscape
-the Ethiopian highlands are stunning; climbing them is an intense workout, while descending them is an even more intense thrill. Days are cooler, and by that I mean not 30 degrees instead of 50, thank f-ing god, and there is a great diversity of wildlife (my most exciting spottings include vultures, baboons, and chameleons).

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The Bad

The Kids
-all week I’ve been moving kids from the ugly category to the good and back again, finally settling on the middle ground of BAD. It’s amazing how one day the majority of the kids, across all the little towns and villages that we cycle through, are friendly and supportive, and the next the majority are little devils. There is still so much to say on this topic, and as I’ll be in Ethiopia for another couple weeks, I’ll save it for another blog post.

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Poverty
-Ethiopia ranks 174/187 on the Human Development Index, ahead of such countries as Chad, Liberia and DRC. That being said, there is a huge presence of NGOs here (Plan, World Vision, Hunger Peoject, UN etc). In the villages we’ve been through (and most of the population is concentrated around the main road we’ve been following) the people appear to be just barely scraping by (ie kids are clothed in really tattered clothes likely donated by the west, have no toys and no shoes, but aren’t starving). Ive seen very little industry, all agriculture, including the transportation of crops, is done manually or with the help of donkeys. The hardest part is seeing the vast number of street kids; I’ve heard there are as many as 5.4 million orphans in the country. I’ve also been told that average Ethiopians can only afford their traditional coffee ceremony once a week (as opposed to daily in the past). Unlike in Latin American countries where there is vast poverty, but also extreme wealth, I haven’t seen a single residence (after a week and a half and two days in Addis) that would pass for a house in Canada. In Egypt and Sudan, separating our garbage into organic, burnable, and reusable didn’t matter so much but we were told once we hit Ethiopia, they will punch each other in the face fighting over our empty water bottles. A few days ago the lunch crew made the decision to not leave empty tuna cans for the locals after kids hurt themselves fighting over the cans the previous day, and the truck was stoned the whole way out of the village.

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The Ugly

Thr Culture of Entitlement
– this of course is my, an outsider’s, biased opinion, but if there’s ever been evidence of how foreign aid can corrupt a culture, look no further than Ethiopia. There is such an aggressive and unabashed sense of entitlement among the youth and adults alike, a result of decades of dependence on donations. I can’t emphasize enough how common it is to have Ethiopians of all ages demand money from us. They expect the shoes from my feet, bike that I’m sitting on, sunglasses from my head and literally the shirt off my back. I’m sure donations have established schools, provided clean water sources and saved lives, buy I also can’t wrap my head around where all the money is going now. Still need to dig deeper on this one…

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The Toughest Section of the Tour

The 8 riding days between Khartoum, Sudan and Gondar, Ethiopia are known as the hardest on the tour. Not only did we have three brutal off road days in Sudan, but also the day with the most climbing.

The off road days felt something like running on the beach, in 50 degree heat, while towing a cow, with tennis balls banging every inch of my body, for seven hours. If I was lucky, I had a choice between rattling my brain on the worst corrugation imaginable, or exerting triple the energy riding through the sand. When I was unlucky, I got to feel every once of fat on my body jiggle as I braved km after km of corrugation. I must say though, I felt pretty badass on the really rugged terrain (once I got the hang of it).

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Then there was the heat. Every day in Sudan was a race against the mid-day sun.  It’s very difficult to describe just how unbearable the heat was, but one day in a useless attempt to record how I was feeling, I noted on my iPhone “feel like I am wrapped in sheet metal that has been cooking in a greenhouse for seventy hours, and have a giant hot blowdryer three inches from my face that is moments away from exploding.” My sunscreen curdled, lipgloss melted, chamois cream separated, water was literally as hot as tea. In the desert and plains of Sudan, sometimes the only relief was crawling under a thorny bush for five minutes of “shade”.

By the third off road day, half of the riders were on the truck. At my lowest point, between the heat and exhausting road conditions, it took every ounce of my energy to ride 1 km at 8-10 km/hour before resting, chugging water, and continuing for another km.

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Navigation was tough, with our direction guided by anything from a dilapidated railroad to power lines to tape tied around some strands of wheat (?).

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Sometimes, we came across locals who had “borrowed” our flagging tape. I got lost once, which was extremely scary, not to mention dangerous, when there are kilometers between villages and you have a limited water supply.

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As if all those challenges weren’t enough, thorns were thrown into the mix. Many riders had 3-4 flats/day, several had 2-3 rolling their bikes around camp alone. To give you an idea of how bad the thorns were, one rider, Ian, dropped his water bottle on the ground at camp and a thorn literally punctured it. Amazingly, I had ZERO flats.

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Just when my hands, bum, shoulders, back, arms and legs had had enough of the corrugation and sand, the mountains appeared in the distance. On our last day, we climbed over 2500m, or something like 200 Mount Everests. Many strong riders, already worn from days of tough riding, didn’t even make it to lunch.

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Then there were the miserable, miserable Ethiopian children. This topic is worthy of a full post, but suffice it to say for now, they swarmed us from all directions, fired hundreds of stones at us (including a boulder which hit me in the hip), pulled our bikes back on the toughest uphill sections, raided our bike bags and demanded money.

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Just when the riding got too unbearable and I wanted to give up, I would ride  into the cutest villages…

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With the cutest kids…

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Then, if that wasn’t enough and I really thought I was going to die, Africa would remind me that I was still alive with a family of monkeys running across the road or a herd of camels…

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Thank you Africa 🙂

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This section took everything out of me, mentally and physically, but I am sooooo proud to say I actually completed every day!!!

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Highlights 

  • Two bikes, and the tour laptops and cell phones were stolen in Khartoum
  • I had my first shower in a week! Imagine the layers and layers of sunscreen, sand and sweat that had accumulated and maybe you’ll understand how invigorating that was.
  • A rider had to leave the tour after contracting some unknown illness in Sudan
  • At least half of our riders have had gastrointestinal issues in the past week, a combination of heat exhaustion, overall fatigue and infamous Ethiopian viruses
  • Several more riders have crashed, but luckily everyone is ok (though the cracked helmet count is now at 5)
  • I hit a top speed of 61.4 km/hour downhill (with my brakes on)
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The Challenge Ahead

  • staying healthy and dodging rock bullets!

Sudan Tamam (Sudan Good!)

People, I freaking love Sudan. The people, the markets and the sweets are out of this world. Carla (one of my favorite riders, the one with the better blog, remember her?) is the most well-travelled person I know (80+ countries) and this is what she has to say about this lovely country:

The one travel question I get more than any other is “of all the countries you’ve been to which is your favourite”. I’ve never had an answer to that question, but I reckon it may now be Sudan.

Have I made my point yet? Ok moving on..

Watch out Japan, the people of Sudan LOVE having their pictures taken.

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Friendly Manitoba has some competition (particularly in the form of a man galloping his camel as fast as he could across the desert to wave me down and invite me for tea)

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I must say, I’ve had trouble grasping how such a hospitable culture can at the same time live with an ongoing genocide in Darfur (not to mention political instability with the recent secession of South Sudan). The people I’ve spoken with are “actually very sad” that the south separated. But why? Were they sad when the people of the south were getting murdered and displaced? Just how many Sudanese support al-Bashir and his actions in Darfur? Who are the Janjaweed? Are they among the men who’ve invited me for tea and pretended to be my boyfriends in their cell phone pictures? I had no one to whom I could pose these questions, until Leena.

She approached me at the mall in Khatoum (where every rider had gone to escape the heat/consume kilos of ice cream/get free wifi/gawk at boys in skinny jeans, girls without headscarves and couples holding hands under the table) to ask for help with her application to university. She had great English and was eager to talk about her favourite music (Justin Bieber, big f-ing surprise), tv shows (90210) and celebrities (Tom Cruise and Will Smith). Her parents are divorced and she lives with her mom (who supports the government though Leena doesn’t) but her dad is an anti-government political journalist. Now I was onto something. She invited me back to her house (of course) where we discussed politics, culture, media in Sudan and other girly things in her bedroom. We made an email AND Facebook account for her, but with the amount of yelling between her and her mom, with words like privacy and shameful flying back and forth, not too sure how long that will last. I worry we got her in major trouble though she kept reassuring us that everything was fine…O and the application she wanted help with? It was to the School of Government at Harvard. Amazing night with an amazing girl who I’m sure one day will change the world.

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Highlights
-o my god the heat. On the worst (or best?) day, I cycled 149 km in 54 degree heat. 41 “with the windchill” (aka still f-ing deadly hot) as us Canadians put it.
-there have been three more accidents though thankfully everyone is ok (the most seriously injured will be riding the truck for a few weeks with a separated shoulder)
-a few men had rocks thrown at them with some gestures that translated to “put some pants on!” which of course I find hilarious because I have yet to hear a complaint about us girls needing to cover up
-interacting with locals in the markets of Dongola and Khartoum has been a complete joy

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Biggest Surprise
Baby wipe showers are surprisingly effective and satisfying, even after 4 nights in the desert, 40+ degree days and 600 km of riding

The Challenge Ahead
-I am in the process of mentally preparing for the giant bugs that are preparing to crawl over my face every night
-protecting my lips, fingers and nose from the sun has become a full time
job, particularly as my malaria pills make me photo sensitive
-we are now entering the most challenging section (of 7) of the tour with rock throwing children, corrugated and muddy roads and plenty of mountains. My strategy is to just take things day by day, if not minute by minute!

As always, thank you all for your fantastic support!!!!

A Day in my Life

I. Love. Sudan.

I have always loved crossing borders. I marvel at just how different proximate cultures can be.

I apologize in advance: writing this blog on my iphone makes it very difficult to format my posts and organize/caption my photos. Alright, back to Sudan.

Sudan, though also Islamic and arid, couldn’t be more different from Egypt. I really enjoyed Egypt, but most of the riders are confidently saying they hated it/wouldn’t spend another day there/would never go back etc etc. Sudan on the other hand has entranced every single rider. In Egypt, we had to learn such Arabic phrases as “go away,” “finished,” “no,” and “shame.” In Sudan, we are learning phrases such as “Sudan good,” and “yes.“

As soon as we crossed the border, the leering men vanished, the traffic calmed, the garbage disappeared, women magically appeared, the English improved, the heat cranked up, the bugs started biting, and the demands for tips ceased. Have I mentioned we love Sudan?

Several sources (notably the Lonely Planet) promised that I would meet among the friendliest people in the world in Sudan, so my expectations were high, but I have to say I have still been absolutely impressed with the genuine displays of hospitality and pride. We are invited to tea on an hourly basis and our money is refused in the markets. Today, I was given tea, coffee, bananas, oranges and candy. Women call us over to take pictures with us, men offer to translate, children ask to add us to facebook. Many have invited us to eat and even sleep in their homes.

Again, there is so much to say that it is hard to put into words, but I’ll be honest, the long bike rides can get (really) boring when you’re riding by yourself in the desert. I thought I’d give you a little taste of a day in my life. It happened to be pretty eventful, but nonetheless typical:

WARNING: Foul Language

January 26, 2012
Nile Desert Camp to Nile Desert Camp
Distance: 148 km
Temperature: 32 Celsius

0:00-stomach is angry. I wonder if it is a result of overdosing on anti-inflammatories or not washing my hands enough
0:30-stomach still angry, time to go to the bathroom again
0:35-at least it’s a starry night
0:40-decide to be proactive and eat an energy bar and drink lots of water in case this gets really bad
0:45à1:45-sleep
1:45-wake up with numb leg from sleeping on side (stupid stupid useless camping mat)
1:50-stomach is garbage
1:55-perfecting my desert squat
1:56-loads of barking dogs, hard to judge their distance in the desert. In the end I wasn’t attacked so they must have been quite far
2:00à3:00-sleep
3:01-woken by someone snoring, check in with my stomach, just a little rumbly now, wonder how it will handle being fed
3:05ànevermind, time to go to the bathroom again. Very grateful that the nights are warmer now
3:30à5:30-sleep
5:30-wake up to sound of tents zippering. Probably just the staff but the competitive side of me figures I better get my day going as well just in case it’s the other riders. Check in with my stomach….so far so good, guess I’ll be cycling today!
5:35à6:35-hope that my stomach cooperates today. take malaria pill and anti-inflammatories. Apply chamois cream. Baby wipe face. Brush teeth. Put on leg warmers, arm warmers, two pairs of shorts, cycling shirt, scarf, headband, and wind breaker. Pack clothes and toiletries. Fill water bottles. Stuff sleeping bag into sack. Dismantle tent. Stuff everything into duffle bag. Then the real fun begins…
6:40-fight for my fucking life to get my bags to fit into my locker. It is only our second day with the lockers and things are not looking pretty. Many people have had to give up tents, tarps, mats, clothing, baby wipes, food etc. I can fit everything but it involves kicking and badly scratched hands. Today I was not so lucky and in an attempt to get more leverage, I cracked a locker door behind me in half and broke it off its hinges.
6:45-shit is in the locker. Something like 110 more days to go. Don’t know how I’ll get my bags in without a stable locker behind me.
6:46-apologize to the boy whose locker I just broke. Offer to trade, but he is happy to have an excuse for not being able to close his locker door
6:47à7:00-stuff my face with granola, oatmeal, bananas, sugar and green tea
7:00à7:15-reset my odometer, pump my tires, chat a little with other riders, apply sunscreen, wrap my knee and rush off to the road to get a head start because I’m really slow and need to stop a lot throughout the day (and may have digestive issues)
7:15/KM 0-ahhhhh
KM 1-adjust posture (repeat every 5 km)
KM 2-wipe snot with glove (repeat every 3 km until lunch)
KM 3-marvel at beauty of desert
KM 4-remind myself I’m in Africa!
KM 5-o my god I have another 110 days of this
KM 6-I’m the king of the world
KM 7-what the fuck am I doing here
KM 8-knee is hurting a little, think about making it another 2 KM before stretching
KM 9-wave at truck with pom poms and Christmas lights that is honking one tune or another (repeat every 3 KM)
KM 10-greet villagers at side of the road waiting for us (repeat intermittently, maybe every 3 KM on average)
KM 11-greet donkey driver (repeat every 4 KM)
KM 12-stretch. Get passed by 400 cyclists. Feel a little dejected. Remind myself that no one cares
KM 13-fucking knee
KM 14-life is good
KM 15-no, it’s fucking great
KM 16-not feeling thirsty, better start drinking
KM 17-see lots of people on the side of the road, uh oh
KM 18-a Sudanese man who has joined us for this section of the tour has crashed 😦 he is ok though. Time to stretch again and shed some layers
KM 19-thank god for tail winds
KM 20-cycle with some buds for a bit but tell them to carry on because I’m trying to go reallllllly slow today to see if that helps my knee
KM 21-wish someone else was injured with me
KM 22-only 56 more km to lunch
KM 23-hmmmm what should I think about now
KM 24-wonder if it makes sense to spend an exorbitant sum on tuition after cycling through Africa
KM 25-suddenly remember that my mom is dead and I am only getting further and further away from her
KM 26-think of how grateful I am for having her as my mother
KM 27-really must stop crying as my gloves cannot absorb more snot
KM 28-drink some water
KM 29-time to put on some music
KM 30-35-reminisce on happy times with help of music
KM 36-this must be the meaning of life
KM 37-shed remaining layers
KM 38-passed by more cyclists. I must be one of the last ones now
KM 39-energy bar time! Get passed by more cyclists. Do they ever fucking stop?ASDFLK@£$
KM 40-reapply sunscreen
KM 41-70-you get the point….this is fucking great but also crazy monotonous
KM 70-only 8 more km, you can do this
KM 75-I want to fucking die
KM 76-ok lunch truck should be just around this bend
KM 77-or this one
KM 78-where is the fucking lunch truck
KM 79-this isn’t funny I need some god damn lunch!!!!
KM 80-o there it is
LUNCH-reapply sunscreen, chamois cream. Fill water bottles. Stuff face with carbs. Have a good laugh with the staff and a couple riders over one of the girls who argued with cellphone customer service for over half an hour last night after everyone had gone to bed (tents have no soundproofing). Warn staff I will probably need to get picked up when they pass me because my knee is hurting again
KM 82-ummm where did this headwind come from?!?!
KM 83-holy mother fuck jesus this headwind is the worst thing of my life I will never make it up that mountain
Km 84-how am I only at KM 84 I’ve been cycling for 789 hours
KM 85-I will fucking kill you mother nature
KM 86-no, remember that mother nature is my friend. It is ok if I can’t finish this day
KM 87-molested by boy on donkey who stopped me in the middle of the road
KM 88-I’m ok
KM 89-ugh why didn’t I kick him in the balls
KM 90-ugh I hope he doesn’t get the next girl too
KM 91-why is this truck slowing down
KM 92-why are those villagers waving at me
KM 93-I think this truck is following me. Should I speed up or slow down? Why did I cycle on my own today?! Better speed up, knee be damned!
KM 94-ahhh here’s a town, I’ll be safe if I stop here until another cyclist passes
TOWN-stretch and have energy bar. Soon swarmed by local men inviting me for tea. I think they must be trying to get me off the road to steal my iphone. I make it clear there are loads of cyclists behind me and they are looking for me so I can’t go anywhere until they arrive. Ten minutes pass and no one comes, more locals crowd around me. They all look evil. Finally our staff doctor from Holland, a girl my age, is in sight. I wave for her to slow down, tell her what has happened and she agrees we should just carry on. Before I leave, one of the men takes out his iphone to ask for my email/myspace/facebook
KM 95-you stupid stupid idiot those were nice people and you were fucking rude and turned down their hospitality. Don’t let that donkey boy ruin Sudan!!!!
KM 96-I feel really bad for being in this paranoid state of mind now. I resolve tomorrow is a new day
KM 97-water water water water water water
KM 98-this country is hooooooooooot
KM 99-waaaaaaaaaater
KM 100-take more pills
KM 101à110-have nice chat with doctor
KM 110à116-knee knee knee knee knee where is the truck?? Please come soon truck
KM 117-the lunch truck passes, hallelujah. I hop on
KM 117à148-It is very demoralizing getting on the truck because let’s face it, you can’t say you’ve cycled across Africa if you do, even just once. Many people strive for EFI status (Every Fucking/Fabulous/Fantastic etc Inch), but it is often just not realistic. Already around a quarter of the riders have lost their status, and by the end of Ethiopia (long mountain passes, lots of rock throwing children, high speed downhill collisions with villagers and livestock, near guarantee of illness) most others (not a scientific estimate) will have lost theirs as well. Still, it sucks to get on the truck. BUT, I’m comforted by the words of a veteran staff member “Losing your EFI status is like losing your virginity. Once you’ve lost it, you’ll wonder what the big deal was and wish you had done it sooner.”

On the truck, I get to go on the adventure for water, which takes us through two villages over the course of no less than 2 hours. I have a new appreciation for our water supply both on the tour and at home in Canada.

CAMP-arrive at 4:30

4:35à5:30-set up tent, change, organize gear before sun sets, hear stories from the day, see our first snake, wonder if it’s poisonous, why hasn’t anyone told us if there are poisonous snakes in Sudan? Chat with villagers who have come to observe the circus that is the Tour d’Afrique
5:30à6:00-walk down to the Nile to watch sunset, bugs are too bad, only stay for 2 minutes
6:00à6:15-rider meeting (directions for tomorrow’s ride and general info)
6:15à6:45-dinner, chatting with riders
6:45à7:00-get ready for BED
7:15à10:00-sleep
10:00à10:15-I feel a little congested, I think a cold is coming
10:15à11:45-another hour and a half of uncomfortable restless sleep with lots of snores and farts in the background. At least I know five riders havent been attacked by poisonous snakes
11:45-aaaaaand now I have a cold. Can’t blow my nose because I’m out of toilet paper and only have a few baby wipes to last until the next town.
12:00-maybe these allergy pills will do the trick, or at least they’ll knock me out

Photos 1, 2, 3, 5, 6- ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa.. Words cannot describe plus I have already said too much. Please read my friend Carla’s blog again if you’re interested: carlabikesafrica.com

Photo 4-directions for the day (jan 26)
Other photos-stretching, locker stuffing, chocolate shopping, buying BBQ chicken etc (sorry will try to do a better job with captioning when I get to a computer)

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The End of the Road in Egypt…

So today marks the last riding day in Egypt. I rode a total of 832 km in 8 days (out of 1005 km…more on that later), and my body is definitely feeling it, though getting stronger every day! There is so much to say, it’s hard to put into words, but I’ll try to give a general summary of my days thus far. It’s pretty simple really. All we do is bike, eat, sleep and repeat.

Bike
Egypt was a great place to start our tour as the roads are perfectly paved. Given how sore our bums still are, most of us wonder how we would have survived had the tour started with rougher roads.  We also have a police and ambulance escort for the Egyptian section (they take tourist safety very seriously!). Their presence is reassuring but for the most part they just follow us girls and film our backsides.

Most Egyptians are incredibly supportive, with 9/10 who honking in support or yelling welcome/hello/what is your name (very enthusiastically). That being said, cycling in Egypt became very challenging once we entered the Nile valley (after five days of desert landscapes).  Fertile lands equal more screaming children to dodge, donkeys, cars and tuk tuks. I can’t take my eyes off the road for more than one second or disaster could strike. We quickly discovered that the happy children of the valley loooove throwing anything they can get their hands on at cyclists. They also enjoy whipping us with sugar canes, or launching them like spears at our bikes.

Every day that we get on our bikes we assume the very real risk that we might not survive. Day 1: my friend Femke from Holland crashed with another cyclist. Day 3: I rode by myself, was followed by a truck driver for several kilometers and had someone try to “attack” me from the side of the road. My friend Marita from Ireland was molested by this boy minutes before I passed, and minutes after I passed, he pushed Shona from South Africa into a truck. Fortunately, the police and ambulance were at the scene in a matter of minutes, and an ER doctor and nurse from Canada were riding close behind. The truck driver chained the boy to his truck until the police arrived. It appears he may be mentally disabled/ill. That was the end of me riding by myself, for Egypt at least. Day 6: The attacks start. Our mechanic Doug, also from South Africa, had the worst luck. In an attempt to avoid getting whipped by a sugar cane, he was clipped by a car and went flying. He is ok but his bike is dead. Some people are pretty shaken as a result of these events but I feel it’s important to remember that the children are never really intending to be malicious. We also must remember that the rock wielding children will be worse and relentless once we hit Ethiopia. Day 7: Strategies for avoiding attacks from kids (riding in groups, starting earlier in the day, greeting them in Arabic, having water bottle handy etc) are a success. As scary as this all sounds, the reward has been great. The thrill of cycling in such a chaotic, developing and foreign (in terms of language, religion, customs etc) country, and facing my fears every single day can’t be beat.

Photos: Racer peleton leaving Safaga and me getting followed by the police

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Eat
I’m very pleased to report I have found some kindred souls who share my chocolate addiction. Very convenient really, as we venture outside our campsites to find a couple chocolate bars each night. The food prepared by the tour has been surprisingly great! Even better, I have an excuse to eat three Nutella sandwiches every day!  I switched to a vegetarian meal option when I discovered it was still very high in protein, yummy and not a high maintenance request. I’d guess around a quarter of the riders are vegetarians. In addition to 1-2 chocolate bars and 1-2 bags of chips per day, and 2 granola bars provided by the tour, we have:

Breakfast (6:45 a.m)

  • Coffee/tea
  • Oatmeal
  • Muesli and milk
  • Bananas
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter and Nutella

Photo: Freezing at breakfast!

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Lunch (between 9:30 and 1:00, depending on how fast we ride/how far the stop is…anywhere from 50 km to 75 km from camp)

  • Tuna/egg salad/sandwich meat with cheese
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Bread and condiments
  • Oranges/bananas/apples/mangos
  • Nutella and peanut butter

Generally, I wolf down two sandwiches with Nutella and bananas and peanut butter, and one “normal” sandwich. I then refill my water bottles.

Photo: Lunch stop on the Nile

20120121-154212.jpgSoup (1:00 pm-5:00 pm depending on when we finish cycling)

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Dinner (5:30)

  • Vegetarian Dish: yummy beans, spices and veggies
  • Rice/Pasta
  • Meat Dish
  • Veggie side
  • Bread

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Sleep
Well by the third night of sleeping on the ground without running water I had matched my camping record (Duke of Ed woowoo), so pretty proud of myself, particularly because it has been so damn cold and I haven’t been much of a baby about it at all! I’m adjusting well to baby wipe showers, wearing every warm item of clothing I brought to bed, and waking up to all my belongings covered in sand, but sleeping on a thin pad is going to take some getting used to. We’re usually in our tents by 6:30 and asleep by 7:00 (yup fun bunch we are), though hopefully this will change as it gets warmer, assuming the mosquitos aren’t too bad. We start packing up our stuff around 5:30, but I’m usually tossing and restless from 2:00 am-5:00 am, so eager to get ready by 5:30. In another post I’ll explain camp in more details, because this post is getting pretty long…

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Biggest Surprise

Never in a million years did I think I would enjoy cycling on hills. That and my bum isn’t too sore 🙂

Highlights

  • I rode my first 100 km on the first day only to ride my first 100  miles on the second! yay!
  • I learned how to clean my drive train (is that what it’s called?) and fix a flat. I had one flat tire and it will hopefully be my last as I learned early on that you have to inflate your tires every night! One rider had 5 flats in one day, another couple have had 2 in one day.
  • I didn’t die when the temperatures dropped to -1 overnight. I can confirm that my sleeping bad is indeed rated to 0.
  • I survived 56 km of uphill riding (!!!!)
  • I really enjoyed my rest day in Luxor (Karnak Temple, Nile cruise) and all the markets I have visited in Egypt. It is so much fun joking around with Egyptian vendors, they have a great sense of humor, even if the constant attention for being a female is a bit much.
  • Getting to know all the riders! Please see my friend Carla from Canada’s blog for a better update and more information on our rest day excursions in Luxor, she is much more funny and organized than I am. http://www.carlabikesafrica.com

The Challenge Ahead

Tomorrow we catch the boat to Sudan. Apparently, this is when most riders first get sick, as we’ll be in questionable quarters, sharing the space with livestock for more than a day. I’ve been chosen, with 5 other riders to sleep with the staff on the deck of the boat (ie I don’t get a cabin). I hope this means that they think I’m easy going and not that they are trying to punish me. With Sudan comes HEAT, which we are all dying for, but will probably regret. With heat comes malaria, heat exhaustion and sunburns. We must be vigilant!

That’s probably enough for today huh? I think that’s enough for today 🙂 I’ll explain my injuries and schedule more in another post! Thank you all for reading!

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My First Week

Well I left Winnipeg just under a week ago, so here’s what I’ve been up to since:

The First Few Days

I felt overwhelmingly lost, confused, scared, lonely and anxious my first few days. So much so that I would have considered quitting had I not been half way around the world, so financially invested, and too proud. Gradually though, these feelings are being replaced with more confident and excited ones, especially as I meet more riders.

On my first day, I connected with a rider from Canada at breakfast who offered to help build my bike (thank Allah).

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After building my bike, I had the opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum (insane) and Tahrir Square (fascinating) and the Nile with some other riders and an Egyptian man (Osman) who is distantly connected to one of the riders. We couldn’t have asked for a more interesting and generous tour guide. Osman is an engineering professor, focussing on renewable energy. He oversees some council that develops alternative energy for all of Africa, has personally started a large wind farm and is the primary advocate for sustainability here in Egypt.

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I was so happy to meet up with a friend from Winnipeg, Adam, who has been living in Cairo for over 2 years! He showed me around this great city and gave me some insight into the culture. He also helped me get my phone up and running which is how I’m able to post this from my tent in the desert!

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The Riders

There are 43 riders on this year’s tour (29 men and 14 women), which is a slightly smaller group than in previous years. Two couples, a father son duo, and two sets of friends. Ten riders are from Toronto, and another 5 from Canada. The rest are from the other English speaking countries of the world, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Spain, Taiwan and Namibia.

There are many interesting riders but by far the most impressive is an American man who will most likely win the race. He had (until last year) the Guinness world record for fastest 1000 km cycled 32 hours), completed the Race Across America in 11 days (averaging two hours of sleep per night) and his longest race was 58 consecutive hours. Wow. The host of Canada’s Worst Driver and Handyman is also a rider!

The first thing or tour director said in our first meeting was that this “is not a bike tour, it’s a social experiment,” and that or biggest challenges will be with our other riders. So far I think I will get along really well with all but one, and maybe two riders. I’m looking forward to the competition between the male racers. The women on the other hand, have all agreed to sign up as racers so that we can fix the race and each win a stage, and thus take home a plaque.

Cairo

Traffic in Cairo is something to write home about. Osman had TWO accidents while we were with him. After one in which he rear ended someone, several waves and nods were enough to get us on our way, with Osman acknowledging “it’s always social when you live in a circus.”

Another notable point about Cairo is the men. If I didn’t know better, I would think that Cairo had 19 million men and 1 million women based on the people you see outside. I was prepared for a lot of stares (which I got) and harassment (which wasn’t as bad as expected). For the most part, every Egyptian has been exceptionally friendly, starting every conversation with “welcome welcome!” Tourism is very very slow and everyone is eager to gauge our perceptions of the country and convince us that we are safe and must tell others. Here’s how dozens of conversations have proceeded:
Egyptian (always a man): “you are welcome!”
Me: thank you!
E: where you from?
Me: Canada 🙂
E: Canada dry!
Me: haha yup
E: I have a (son/friend/cousin) in Canada! How do you like Egypt? You are very safe here, very safe (I was even told this at Tahrir Square with A protest in te background)
Me: Egypt is great I love it!
E: tell everyone! (at this point, I’m relieved if they don’t point out that they are the owner of a shop and try to drag me there-can’t collect any knick knacks on this trip after all-though most do)

The First Day

I was feeling pretty calm in the morning, after months of anxiety, the day had finally arrived! We left the resort at 7:00, to make our way in a convoy to the pyramids (the official start) through heavy traffic. After lots of pictures and media, we were finally off. Getting out of heavily polluted Cairo took three hours, and we only covered a distance of 40 km, so that was pretty draining on our energy levels. It gave me an appreciation for the size of the city however, and the fresh air we will have for the rest of the tour!

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Temperatures were a big concern of mine. The daily high through most of Egypt is around 16 degrees, and the overnight low around 5 degrees. Not exactly ideal camping weather, but as uncomfortable as the mornings and nights are, I brought the appropriate clothing. What a huge relief.

The Challenge Ahead

We must cover a distance of 166km today, double the longest distance I have ever cycled (until yesterday). I am already sore (knees and neck) and still haven’t kicked my jet lag, but the roads are amazing. I’ll listen to some podcasts, take a lot of painkillers, and do my very best.

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I truly appreciate all the support you guys have given me, it will really keep me going through the homesickness, pain and cold!! Thank you!

Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll try to answer them in future posts. I’ll definitely post an entry about logistics and our daily schedule!

One More Week

Only one week until I’m at the Tour d’Afrique start line (at the Pyramids). I thought now would be a good time to give an overview of the terrain we will be covering over the four month tour.
Each year some roads get paved while others deteriorate and from time to time they change the route a little.

Here’s what the 2012 route looks like:
(Country distances are rounded off to nearest 100 km)

EGYPT – 1000 km

All roads have relatively good to excellent pavement; flat and smooth.

SUDAN – 1600 km

It is 75% paved through Sudan with most of it new within the last couple years. The parts that are not paved are corrugated, rutted, loose sand and hard packed gravel; tough riding. The unpaved days are south of Khartoum on the route through Dindar National Park. We’ve been warned; this is some serious rough riding!

ETHIOPIA – 1800 km

The roads in this country are also being paved over. The route is now 80 % paved, with about a quarter of that in rough condition. The unpaved portions are loose gravel, corrugation and dirt. This is mixed in with a lot of climbing, making it even more challenging.

KENYA – 900 km

Northern Kenya is a lava rock desert with terrible rutted roads, hence the section name ‘Meltdown Madness’. The 6 days and 500 km from the Ethiopia border to Isiolo, Kenya includes some of the toughest cycling on the tour. From Isiolo onwards, 90% of our route in Kenya is paved and most of that is in reasonable shape.

TANZANIA – 1200 km

Approximately 30% of our route in Tanzania is paved. Much of the time we are cycling on a dirt road cutting through the centre of Tanzania. This road can be very muddy if it rains, and can be rocky with loose gravel in parts.

MALAWI – 800 km

Basically 100% of our route is paved, of which 90% is good quality pavement while the rest is a mixture of potholes and rough pavement.

ZAMBIA – 1100 km

Close to 100% of the route is paved but 40 % of this pavement is heavily potholed.

BOTSWANA – 1500 km

Close to 100% of the route is paved and relatively flat with some potholed sections. We’ve been told The long distances can be a mental challenge for some riders.

NAMIBIA – 1300 km

About a third of the route is paved, that is the part up until Windhoek. From there on the Namibian route is a mix of sand, hard-packed clay, dirt, loose gravel, and corrugation.

SOUTH AFRICA – 800 km

There is excellent pavement but about 100 km of very rough roads.
Each and every day will bring a surprise or two. Even if they tell us the day is entirely paved, we could run into some unexpected detours, construction, gravel patches, or a campsite that is 1 or 2 km off route down a dirt road.

Excitement is Building!

After having my bike professionally fitted (it took two hours!,) and some basic lessons in bike repair, by the fine people at Alter Ego Sports, I finally feel confident about my decision! AND, with my to do list dwindling and drastic improvements in my fitness level at spin class, I can now channel my energy into getting excited for this crazy trip! So here are some of the aspects I am most looking forward to:

  • meeting interesting people
  • having the opportunity to interact with so many different cultures along the route
  • challenging my physical and mental limits like never before
  • brushing up on my Egyptian history
  • Sudan and its people
  • a safari in Tanzania
  • the photo ops in Ethiopia and Namibia
  • tropical fish of Lake Malawi (I hope I actually see some!)
  • some kind of adventure at Victoria Falls (I’m thinking bungee?)
  • the Okavango Delta in Botswana (thanks to David Attenborough I’ve been pretty obsessed with this place for the past couple years)
  • visiting wineries in South Africa
  • cycling through not one, but two real deserts
  • cycling up and down mountains for the first time in my life
  • avoiding the real world while immersing myself in what is perhaps a real-er one
  • camping under some crazy starry skies
  • seeing just how bad my tan lines can get
  • listening to every song on my iPhone
  • reading many of the great books I downloaded
  • and last but not least, finishing!