Paul tells...


Africa, our picture beforehand


It is about 10 months before our departure. A friend is sitting opposite me in a bar and we are talking about our dreams. In his case, it's about starting out for himself. He’s allowed to leave his job as a result of a reorganisation. He has since been offered a regular job, but if you look deep into his heart, he wants to be 'his own boss' just like his father. While I’m confident that he’ll succeed, for him, there will always be a bit of uncertainty. An entire family depends on him and that makes him doubt himself.  


Then, in the middle of a sentence, he says, 'I think cycling to South Africa is a more difficult undertaking than your previous cycling trip to Singapore five years ago'. In that instant, the subject changes and it's now about my dream. I nod, and find that I’m caught up in my own thoughts for a moment. I mumble something that he rightly sees as a confirmation, yet at the same time, I can't wait to leave as I find it all very thrilling.


What do I know about Africa? What state will the roads be in? A washboard seems to be the popular consensus according to travel reports, with loose sand coming a close second. More and more asphalt surfaces are being used, but the question is whether or not this is to our advantage? According to the stories, you won’t catch many motorists showing a great deal of respect to people on two wheels! On asphalt roads they will only drive even faster. I'm also worried about the distances between villages and the supply of food and water. Food in general! When I think of food in Africa I don't immediately think of abundance and variety! Indeed, it is known that cyclists on such trips need about 5,000 kcal per day; double the quantity of an office clerk, to which I belong in daily life. 


Then, of course, there’s the animal life. Wild animals are magnificent when seen from a safari bus, standing high on its wheels. From our bicycles, however, we will have a slightly lower viewpoint. From here these animals may be even more impressive. I really hope to see them, but still... I'm currently reading a book about a cyclist who describes the hyenas that 'hang around his tent at night’. Let’s not forget, where there are hyenas, there are also lions; that seems to be a given. We will no doubt get used to it, but it's not the first thing I'm looking forward to six months before our departure. On the other hand, at least we will see these animals and can make an attempt to defend ourselves against them. I’ve also learnt that lions attack people especially at full moon. Their usual prey remains ‘en masse’ in their burrows during a full moon because they are too visible. Therefore, the lions have to look for some other less intelligent ‘animals’! 


Then you have that little stuff! Tsetse flies and mosquitoes that transmit the most terrible diseases, viruses and bacteria. I’m perhaps even more afraid of these kinds of creatures, because you are less aware of the danger. Finally, what of all those African cultures? In Ethiopia it seems to be common place for children to throw stones at cyclists; and their parents join in too! Of course, there is the big difference in wealth, and I ask myself, not only, how will people react to us, but how will we react to their poverty? What will it do to us? Will we be able to find the right balance?  


But I think everything else is pretty comparable to the trip to Singapore', I say. ‘Mmm mmm’, my friend murmurs, and then maintains a significant silence. We both know that there is little else. In many ways, this trip to South Africa seems a bit more difficult than our trip to Singapore. After a few minutes, I break through the silence and say, ‘you know… I can’t wait to get started!’.