I Hope you enjoyed the last few weeks of Pictures of the Week! I took a well needed break away from the website and started preparing for the next leg of the journey. I made it back from St. John’s Newfoundland in one piece with some fond memories of great people who I’ll hold as people I regard as true friends for the rest of my life. Once I came back, a strange feeling set in – what do I do? I really had nothing left on my plate to get accomplished other than wait patiently for October 17th, my departure from Canada.
I made a to-do list of 52 items, worked through them one at a time, contacting MLA’s in my area for letters of reference to be used when crossing borders, selling old electronics components that I deemed too large to carry with me anymore, and had a chance to visit with almost all of my family members throughout various times of my 3 weeks off. I even went back in time and hosted my old radio program for a night of hilarity and craziness for some die-hard fans and listeners with a few good friends. I found an empty room at my fathers place where I was staying and spent the majority of the time working on a project which I’m frantically trying to complete before the internet dries up (2 more days?) so that it can be of use to people currently bicycle touring, and those who are interested in embarking on journeys. Wait for the next post for information on it.
As mentioned in the past, I purged a significant amount of my equipment for the next phase of the trip – I’ve opted to not bring any rain gear along, and stick with my ultra thin sleeping bag I picked up when in Texas earlier on, and lose about 80% of my clothing. C’mon – lets be real here, any of the photos you’ve seen me in has been one single pair of pants, and either one of three shirts – realize that I carried 3 times that amount of clothing that was never used, so I’ll give it a try and if I feel I need more I’ll support the local economy in Africa when necessary.
Adding to the equipment pile, A good friend in St. John’s Newfoundland gave me a brand new bicycle pump to replace my broken Topeak Road Morph G (she said she wanted to come to Africa, but school requirements were getting in her way, and requested that this come in lieu), swapped out my trusty Canon G9 for a Canon S95 – very good quality, half the size. I hummed and hawed for weeks at what I was planning on doing but realized that I’d rather go with a smaller camera, I mean photos are important to me, but I really don’t need all the manual controls and levers for the majority of the time I am shooting photos. And with that, the S95 does a bang up job. While I was waiting for a replacement to the Drift HD Action Camera I was using in the earlier part of the year, I did some extensive research on the sensors being used in the unit and found a comparable unit that is not only shockproof, waterproof, and was 1/3 of the cost. It also removes some of the fish eye lens effect that I was sort of grumbling about before, although it lacks an external microphone input jack, something I’d really like to have. I’ll manage without it for now. It’s a Kodak ZX3 for those really interested, and I’ll make sure to update my online gear listing before too long. A few quick stops to Mountain Equipment Co-Op to stock up on some replacement S-Biners which I tend to lose regularly, and a few new cases to attach to my belt, as my search for a proper leather belt bag was unsuccessful. I also pulled out some old favourites out of my gear bag that was once sent home – Yup, I decided to give the cheese grater that I hauled all the way down to Mexico with me again. I figure it might come in handy, or will make a great gift. Finally, I bit the bullet and bought a new helmet as the one I have owned since 2008 was starting to get a bit rough. Pieces of it were falling off, the foam had compressed into a hard crusty like substance, and rabbits had eaten the Styrofoam innards to get salt from it way back in the Northwest Territories.
The shoe cobblers I found did an excellent job on getting a (hopefully) few more years of service out of my Ortlieb Panniers and handlebar bag – the stitching was starting to come apart, and zippers were breaking – things I couldn’t repair with Gorilla Tape like I have in the past. If they can make it through the continent of Africa I’ll be a happy fellow, as its a $500 touch to get them replaced, an awful lot of up front expense. Somehow in Vancouver I managed to lose the divider for my handlebar bag, left it to the very last minute to find a proper replacement and went away empty handed. Instead I managed to fabricate one with Gorilla Tape and two pieces of cardboard. It seems to be more durable than the original and I customized it to hold my contents in a much better fashion than before. As pieces of the handlebar bag are starting to fail I will wait with replacement parts and use DIY trickery before purchasing a new one.
My Dad helped with the packing of my bicycle, I had unsuccessfully searched for a few suitcases that would fit my bicycle to avoid a $200 surcharge, but in the end I opted for a 29″ tire 61cm frame bike box that allowed more than enough room to store the racks, fenders, tires, frame and work with a whole bunch of other extra parts inside. It made it through the 4 flights (Vancouver -> Frankfurt -> Lagos -> Johannesburg -> Cape Town) relatively unscathed, short of a few holes from things rubbing through the cardboard - although we combatted this by wrapping the shit out of the box in shrink-wrap and over taping it. Dad likes to over engineer things like me, and for good reason! When I arrived at YVR I had asked to transfer my entire luggage all the way to South Africa, so I didn’t have to deal with unnecessary customs, question asking, and potential opening of my luggage after it had been carefully packed. They said this should not be a problem, boy I was wrong.
I managed to land some pretty sweet airline reservations for my flight, using excess Aeroplan miles that I had collected over the years being a suit and tie. The appeal of sitting in Airplanes for 32 hours in Coach class didn’t rank too high on my list and due to changes in the rewards based system I was able to book a proper one way flight in 1st class through Luftansa and South African Airways, partners of Air Canada. What an experience – Lufthansa really rolled out the red carpet for me, with their great selection of food, comfortable seats, and the bonus, in flight Wi-Fi as I flew 38,000 feet above the Northern Artic on my way to Germany. Speeds were faster than most home broadband connections and I banged away furiously at my project, and surprised a few online friends in the process. The meals were exquisite, the drinks were free flowing, and being able to lie down completely flat helped when I finally conked out of energy on the remainder of the flights. South African Airways planes while nice lacked the personal touch that Lufthansa provided, but the meals were nothing short of exceptional and access to all the lounges helped in keeping costs down for when I was hungry and waiting for my layovers. A bonus on all the flights was the fact I had a personal entertainment system with a video game controller, with a copy of Tetris loaded onto the system, which brought me back to some competitive memories in the past, wishing that a few of my friends were along side me for some jesting and battles. Total cost for the flight $100.
Arriving into Lagos, Nigeria commenced the chaos part of the travel, where I was asked to pick up my luggage from Immigration officials. Seeing as how I was told that my baggage would be simply transferred resulted in some confusion on my part, waiting for 2 hours before my bicycle finally appeared. Nigerian officials were holding onto my passport the entire time, and were pretty friendly the whole way through while I explained that the bags weren’t likely to be showing up. The process was to be to inspect my baggage and transfer me to another part of the airport bypassing any customs/security, where typically in other Airports you would just remain in an International waiting area. Not the case. The Airport had no set rules for dealing with Airport Transfers, and just made up things as they went. First of all, there are no radios to communicate with each layer of security in the airport, and every step I would make with my huge bike box would either turn into bumping into someone/getting stopped by someone in military fatigues/or someone wanting to push my bags. Immigration sent someone with me (still holding onto my passport) letting me know I’d have to get my gear all the way upstairs to departures – unfortunately there was no elevator, just 2 flights of stairs. Not having much else to do, I trusted the universe leaving my bags downstairs while moving each piece upstairs one by one, no one took off with them, and made my way to the SAA desk, as I did not have a boarding pass. 10 barriers later, I finally had my boarding pass, and then off we went again to move my bicycle down the stairs and leave it at the special baggage handlers trusting that it would make it through the security gates. It seems everyone will ask questions as to what your affairs are, but no one really has an actual idea of what is actually supposed to happen, so you can pretty much tell them something with an agreeable tone in your voice and they’ll proceed otherwise. When asked for my passport to ship my bicycle (The immigrations guy disappeared for 30 minutes with my passport) I told the baggage security that I didn’t have it but instead provided a laminated photocopy of it that I fortunately took care of a few days earlier. They took it like it was an original and sent me back upstairs on my way. After 4 hours of run around I had my passport in hand I made it to the makeshift SAA Lounge with an hour to spare for the next flight in a haze from large amounts of air travel and 10 hours of time zone differences where I figured the best idea for the next leg of the journey was to drink as much beer as humanly possible in a short time and sleep it off. It was a great idea, but I managed to misplace the hat I had just purchased for the trip in between the Nigeria –> Johannesburg leg. I found it strange that 5 minutes before landing the entire crew of the airplane walked around with aerosol containers and drained the entire contents into the ventilation ducts, muttering something about a requirement by the World Health Organization – still the thought of strange chemicals being inhaled and on my skin didn’t give me great feelings – it started to set in that I was on my way into a very foreign area with all sorts of challenges and surprises up ahead. I expected a bunch of hassles with customs in South Africa I instead sailed through after showing my Yellow Fever vaccination card, passport and went away with a 3 month visa at no charge. No searching of the bicycle or my other luggage occurred, and I made it all the way to Cape Town with nothing confiscated – my stove was the big concern as it had been taken away in the past.
I was greeted by two smiling faces at the airport – Brenna, my riding partner who is going to accompany me throughout this leg all the way to Morocco and her friend Christo, an Afrikaan from just outside of the city. Thankful that I didn’t have to put together my bicycle in the airport he transported me to his place where I could open my luggage in peace without fear of losing any parts, having things stolen, or dealing with crowds watching over my shoulder.
Brenna is another cyclist who has travelled across Canada, we met online through a family member sometime in July of 2010 when she was making her way from Vancouver to Winnipeg in 28 days – There were a few parts of her travels and stories that I liked and kept in contact after she had completed her ride finally asking her in September of 2010 if she was interested in coming along the ride. Knowing that Africa interested her as she was a board member for a Non Profit organization assisting women in Uganada I had a feeling she’d be the one who was crazy enough to embark on this journey and we went from the acceptance part to talking on a regular basis seeing if it was the right fit. Whether it still will be the right fit is left to be seen – we’re both solo travelers, have different mindsets about touring, ways of planning (or not planning) but I think it will be a good challenge and opportunity for us to both work on tolerance, acceptance, and looking out for another person. It’s also going to be a lot of fun! You don’t know how lonely you can actually get on the road when having the same conversation briefly over and over again. If you wish, you can follow along with what she has to say throughout the journey on Moon Cycle Africa.
I immediately unpacked my luggage, and commenced reassembling my bicycle, noticing that I had left a very strange selection of parts behind back in Canada. For one, I was missing a spacer ring to properly tighten my bicycles headset, and also a magnet for my rear wheel that I am using as a secondary cyclometer in the event that my Garmin Edge 705 GPS fails (it will). Next, I managed to bring 3 single socks with me, obviously the sock monster in Vancouver was hungry, finally panic ensued when I realized that I left stickers of various countries flags and camera memory cards home as well. I made contact with my Dad letting him know what I’d done and he searched high and low for some of the missing tools, planning on sending them to another country for later pickup until a few days later when I actually repacked my bags again and found the stickers and SD cards hidden away exactly where I had wanted to place them the entire time. Perhaps I should have waited to put together my gear after a good solid rest. I’d like to ship a few things from Canada, but for now the priority is low and will wait until the halfway point to accept a package, wanting to try the less is more approach before assuming that I need this and that before even getting going on the road.
Brenna and I took a trip into Cape Town on the train during one of my first days here to go pick up some supplies and give me the opportunity to acclimate to the environment and culture. Trains jam packed with people have hawkers going from car to car selling essentials like food, cigarettes, and an awful lot of Krazy Glue. Even when you would think that no one else could fit on the train is when people started hanging outside of the wide open doors, and even in between the cars. An experience to say the least. People of all ages took the opportunity to ask for money, food from a Mzungo (White Person) with incredible persistence, yet in general there has been nothing but smiles, friendliness and courteously from every person I have met, regardless of race or colour. Of course there has been conflict in South Africa in the past over some poor decision making and groups of people that thought they could define special rights for certain classes of people, and the entire country still suffers from it, and will likely for decades to come. There remains an awful lot of crime and robberies in the area, and it seems a bit menacing to see electric and barbed wire fences everywhere you go, bars on every window of residences, but this sort of thing occurs in every part of the world, and trying not to let it phase me to much. I’ve always thought some of the older generations on our earth need to disappear before we can finally start making progress towards equality and banding together as a unified human race.
I picked up some heavy duty epoxy for random repairs on the road, a couple headset spacers for the bicycle, replacement magnet for the cycle computer, and a new set of electric shears for my face/head. I left my battery operated unit back in Canada not realizing that I’d miss it so much, luckily a new device was under $12, and although heavy, it will make me not look like a sasquatch as in 2010 when crossing Canada. Prices in general in South Africa vary – technology and camping gear is absolutely through the roof – I compared my MSR Dragonfly Stove which was purchased in Canada for under $120 works out to a little over $300 over here. Laptops and other electronics seem to be a year behind and at prices nearly double what we’d pay in North America. Generally food is cheaper – 1 litre of milk can be had for .70 cents, vegetables and fruit are approximately half the cost of what I’m used to paying, and there is an incredible selection of dried meet available, notably Biltong. Coca Cola is everywhere, Beer is $1 for a pint, yet I’ve stayed away from both. We bought a deck of cards so that we could play games like ‘Big-2′ and laughed when Christo mentioned to us that we had purchased “Car Brand” cards, instead of commonly known “Bicycle Brand’. Funny!
Riding a bicycle in the South Africa city centre is a new experience as well, first off by riding on the other side of the road (the mirror has been swapped onto the right side of the handlebar). Generally the drivers give you a lot of room, yet it is quite loud as white Van taxis rush past you with people hanging out of them hollering at you asking if you would like a ride, or other random commentary. Large trucks have a tendency to ride in the shoulders as well so as to not block traffic. Over the past few days we’ve done about 100km of city riding both loaded and unloaded to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Following the advice of people that would stop us on the road took us on large detours away from the highways and through hilly wine country in Durbanville, very scenic and the downward descent was exhilarating, bringing back the excitement of riding and what is to come – So far so good on the bike front, other than the fact my B&M Dyno powered light bulb has burned out.
Logging onto the internet in South Africa is another change that I was expecting, but certainly not prepared for – Speeds are typical to broadband offerings in North America in 1997, and most of the time it is fee based per the amount of traffic that you use. Unlimited plans are very rare, so I’m glad I loaded up on content, music, and video before I left, but expect further challenges down the road with uploading content. I have some tricky ways of hopping onto wireless networks while on the road and have automated a solution to grab whatever wireless network is available, protected or not and commence a batch upload of files for backup purposes and for you all to view. The Stats page is updated regularly and maps of our location and route also have been made available both on the front page, Africa continent page and soon to be country by country.
It wasn’t long before random emails started arriving from other people in the area noticing that I was in South Africa offering to meetup to discuss my plans and their travels, some even from Canada, and some who had completed the Africa journey by bicycle already. At present, I am staying with a woman named Carrie who completed the 9,000km trek from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa in 4 months with the Tour D’Afrique group, and also had a chance to watch a presentation by Dr. Stephen Fabes, who is heading over to Argentina to continue his Cyclingthe6 project after 18 months of riding from London, England through Europe, the Middle East, and finally down through Cairo to Cape Town.
Brenna and I have been spending time getting to know each other, coming up with code words in the event of situations, and rough plans on where we’d like to go and how we intend on getting there. A rough plan is in place although things can change at any moment based on issues in upcoming countries, visa denials at borders, or simply wanting to add some unordered chaos into the mix. As it stands right now we will be heading north into Namibia, before heading east into Botswana taking advantage of places to stay from random passer-by’s on the street who have engaged us in conversation about our travels and why we are carrying such a huge amount of gear on our bikes.
We seem to have everything we need so far, spare bike parts, camping gear, first aid supplies and an equally ample supply of medication for when trouble arises. With a smile I managed to convince a pharmacist to dole out a rather amount of antibiotics without having to go through the rigmarole of getting a prescription at nearly 9 times less the cost of what I’d be paying in Canada. Yup – we all knew it, we’re getting hosed by the corporations over there. That being said corruption and the dream to be rich occurs world wide with little to no regard of actual well being, and I’m sure to see more of it as days progress. Brenna are joking around that the first person to get sick wins some sort of prize – that is yet to be determined, but I’m sort of thinking it should be a replenishment of drugs that were used to get us out of the first initial bind.
Overall I feel good about what is to come, sure there will be some challenging moments, but the fact that I’ve encountered many people with nothing but positive things to say about their travels adds to the confidence level, and knowing that people are good deep down across the entire world will ensure that I go into it with no fear, yet awareness and cautiousness in each situation. I recall all the times when traveling in the past where people had warned me of upcoming dangers yet I saw nothing of it. Televised and online news sensationalism does nothing to help band us together.
We have a few more days in the Cape Town area, wishing to go on some hikes in the area, head to the most South Westerly point of the continent, and also attend a Halloween party by the local South African Burning Man contingent this weekend before we commence our travels. I also have a speaking engagement lined up in Namibia for the third week of November, so we’d best be getting moving at some point in time, knowing that we won’t be able to jump right in and deal with daily 100km distances right off the bat. Brenna has been resting since mid September before departing from New York City, and I’ve been away from touring for exactly 2 months. Expecting some sore asses.