If New York is the city that never sleeps Africa is the continent that never shuts up. Aside from when camping in the arse end of no where I haven’t managed to get a good few winks sleep without been awoken by the sound of the people and their ruckus; even then the insects, toads and animals make a right racket though like the gentle breaking of waves on a pebble shore its a pleasant enough back drop to the land of nod. Between the honking of horns, the blaring music of the tipplers (and I really do mean blaring), their loud over compensating shouts and the occasional breaking of glass, there is never a quiet moment. Once in the land of nod you are brought about after what seems like a disappointingly short period of time by the call to prayer at the crack of dawn. And that means its time to get a shift on.
I am a bit if a broken record but at least its a good one, singing the praises of how generous people are, but I must play it one last time….from Hendrix the gesticulating gentlemen and his tall stories of his women, to the big mama tobacconist who I was convinced was close to giving me a sponge bath and all the unsuspecting people who found me at their door step, I can only give my thanks.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and greeting thousands of people and ignoring my fair share to. Along the way I’ve been called many things, most of which I think have been nice; mzungu, Tom Hanks in Cast Away, beard face, Ali Baba, an Israelite, bearded man, you, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Israel, mzungu Muslim but my favourite, being the egotistical male that I am, has got to be Strong man, with a capital S.
But its not all good news, I certainly wont miss the flies. For ever present, their little legs tickling bare skin, buzzing about my head and the occasional bite for good measure. They are something I would never get used to and don’t get me started on the mozzies. However the single worst thing that I have noted in Africa is the inability to cope with plastic, there just isn’t the infrastructure to deal with it. Kenya has taken steps towards reducing this epidemic by banning plastic bags but it is just a drop in the ocean.
Streets are strewn with bottles and containers, when it rains and the drains become clogged and the pavements flow with turbid waters foaming with plastic. Even in the national parks there is a worrying amount of this scourge. At my pit stops I ask where I can put my rubbish, they might take it from me to dispose of it on my behalf; as I walk towards my bike the bottle in question often bounces past me into the gutter, if I am lucky it might make it onto the small pyre of burning rubbish.
I’m not going to claim that I’ve enjoyed every minute of this venture either but there has not been a single instant that I regretted the unemployment that has let me do this undertaking. Though perhaps I questioned my decision on the nights spent in bed trying to such out the sound of the hullabaloo of the drunkards. At times the heat has been exhausting and I’ve bordered of severe dehydration and hypoglycaemia or at least I hold this accountable for me trying to purchase a bottle of red diesel thinking it was high juice or some other refreshing looking beverage.
I thought I was hallucinating when I saw a herd of four eared cows, between that and their great horns they were a bizarre sight; on the climb to a Hindu temple in India I saw two cows with an extra limb just hanging limply from the midriff so a four eared heifer seemed plausible. The quad-eared cows turned out to be another example of the barbaric treatment of animals which has me leaning towards vegetarianism. The ears are split down the centre with a hot knife cauterising as its slices. Between that, the pathetic faced donkeys and the cracking of the whips on the animals hides you cant help but be on their side. On my return I same resume the condition of ignorance is bliss and just watch Country File as I eat a ruddy great steak to re-instate my faith in the treatment of livestock on our green pastures.
I’m sick of being gawped at, pointed, heckled and groped. I now have a feeling for what women think hen they walk past a building site to the sounds of cat-calling or journeys on the tube with “accidental” touching’s. People here just, particularly in Ethiopia, just don’t leave you alone and personal space seems optional. As a white westerner I am seen as rich, an ATM on wheels, as if I were the parent of the entirety of the continent the children are forever asking for money but I am not the bank of mum and dad.
I dedicate this paragraph to peanut butter, the real super food. In western Africa it is being used to great affect on the front line in the fight against childhood malnutrition and here in the east it has fuelled my steady progress, though it hasn’t stopped me from becoming all hips and elbows. I tend to ride with a 1kg tub at all times which lasts two to three days give or take. I estimate that I have consumed at least 10kgs over the course of this three month escapade, that’s one eighth of my body weight. It is not the bearded mans best friend however. When growing up my old man always had a moustache or a beard, I’ve never seen his top lip, Narnia could be under there for all I know. And when we were kids, to our amusement he, like Mt Twit, would say that he is saving some for later. I can now claim to be one of the Twits for with shameless regularity I discover a peanut butter flavoured dreadlock in my beard at the end of the day; but to me as a MAMIL* appearance is one of those things that belongs to the things that don’t really matter.
Over the last three months I’ve cycled 5572 miles through eleven exciting and distinct counties. I’ve been alow and aloft as I’ve made my way through this continent of youths, spontaneous dancers, drums, lovers (if the number of children are anything to go by), deserts, mountains, grasses and hills; and of course wildlife. I bore the brunt of whipping winds, monsoon like down pores, in the untamed lands of Botswana I’ve had a stand off with a large surly elephant, on trails hardened by the sun I’ve become red as a lobster, ostriches have been my cycling partners and I’ve met oh some many people. I’ve showered naked in the rain and maybe had a little dance for good measure and like a troll I’ve camped beneath bridges. I’ve had the pleasure of meandering through the reed lined waterways of the Okavango Delta but my favourite experience has been to stir to the grunting of hippos on Lake Kariba at sunrise; its simply a joy. I’ve also discovered a love of writing and you have all found out how dismal my spelling and grammar is. Like a five year old girl I keep a journal.
I think it is fair to say that I am a pretty phlegmatic individual, well that’s unless I’ve been on the gin, but when on the road and practising my pensive stare (which I have nailed by the way) I do wonder why I am leading this strange peripatetic life and missing a few big weddings and unfortunately I will not be able to crack open a bottle of non-alcoholic prosecco with a pair of close friends who have found out that they will soon have a little addition to the family. And I still cant poetically describe why I am off gallivanting about on two wheels. I suppose a man has gotta do what a man has gotta do.
Africa, I bid you adieu.
*Middle Aged Man In Lycra