Bulawayo. The taxis are erratic. A man sits on the window ledge, he’s the spotter, banging the roof and shouting when he sees potential customers. Hop-on-hop-off mini vans are crammed full of bodies pressed against one another; you could get stuck in there all day if you weren’t careful. They swerve and stop out of the blue, only to speed off in an instant, beeping incessantly.
I bloody love cycling in cities, be it back in the UK or here in Africa. It’s a feast for the senses, an overload, alert to dodge traffic and pedestrians glued to their phones. I swerve whilst uttering “twat” to myself, to avoid being car doored, as no one ever looks properly. A car matches my pace, we natter away as if we are in the queue at the post office, as I keep one eye on the road looking out for bike swallowing pot holes. Traffic behind gets pushy and the beeping soon starts it’s chorus.
Cities: manic, alive. I love it. From the stream of people on and off the curbs, the food vendors heckling passers by, the market stalls alive with colour and exotic smells and even the assault on the nose as you pass a drain or rancid waterway. Bulawayo is a working town equipped with a fully operational power plant smack bang in the centre giving an idea of it’s industrial workings.
There are various kinds of beeps to which my ears are becoming tuned. There’s the obviously aggravated honk, long, drawn out and often accompanied by a shout or wheel screech of acceleration. There is the friendly toot, short and sharp with a side of smile and a thumbs up. The taxi tickler, alerting potential customers to their ever present assistance. The honk for the hell of it which is the background noise to many a city. And there is ‘The I’m behind you!’ chirp often followed by the aforementioned aggravated honk if I don’t budge over. The traffic ebbs and flows, people stream across the tarmac, then the lights go green and the noise is funnelled down the streets, confined by the buildings; these things form the rhythm of a city.
Who needs B&Q when you have a city ring road. As I approach Harare the volume of traffic and people increase. Buses line the streets and the taxis swarm, much to my annoyance. I find myself dodging them, as they pull in front of me and decide to stop without warning, or start reversing down the hard shoulder just because they can. There is no time to daydream in the cityscape. I’ve been clipped by the odd wing mirror when taking in the sights rather than the moving obstacles of the road. But in the event that I do get hit properly, I need not worry there will be someone at hand to fix my bike; everything from welding, spare parts, tyre mending services (spelling is optional), fruit vendors and an array of other goods and services can be found at the road side.
Stopping in a busy street leads to getting mobbed, after all it isn’t too often you see a lycra clad white chap, laden with kit, park up a bike. I need to get the knack of the fist bump and the casual hand shake. I keep going to shake hands and before I know it I’ve been wrapped into an awkward hug or managed to miss the hand shake entirely as someone uses their entire body to greet me. Fist bumps – they’re just not for me.
Much to the amusement of the local women, I’m shamelessly sporting lycra. I would like to think I’m not at the MAMIL stage yet (Middle Aged Man in Lycra). But when I go into a super market or a cafe I’m often followed by a chorus of chuckles and the odd tilt of the head in my direction. I pretend not to notice, but move my helmet to my waist line to reserve some modesty. And although I cant understand what they are saying, I get the gist.