Malawi – A Hidden Gem

A few days ago we crossed into Malawi. What a treat. The scenery is beautiful, the people are friendly, warm and generous – in fact Malawi is known as the heart of Africa. And of course, the cycling was challenging, as usual, with some big ass hills to climb, so we felt like we had earned our rest day at Chitimba Beach. Chitimba Beach was a pleasant surprise. There was a beautiful sandy beach, hot sunny weather, and warm blue water to float around in and relax. There was even beach volleyball.

Of course, we had to pay the piper the next day when we headed out on our way to Lilongwe. We had a “mando” day. Mando (mandatory) days mean that the racers can’t miss it. Whenever we see Mando day, we know we’re in for a tough day. Our expectations were met with really big ass 20 km. climb in the middle of the day.

And of course, there was the inevitable coke stop – it seems I’m now addicted. These have become the highlight of my day. But they are getting rarer and rarer – what will I do without them?

Here are some pics of scenery, chilling at the beach, having fun with local kids, coke stops, cutting the grass Malawi srtyle. Unfortunately some are a little out of focus because I took them at the top of a climb and my heart rate was still sky high. But you get the picture.

Next rest day – Lusaka, Zambia

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Categories: Before the Trip | 2 Comments

More random pics of Tanzania

Coke stops, the beautiful landscape, Masai warriors, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, villages

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Random pics of Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater, animals, sunrise on the Serengetti

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Onward and Forward

I have Internet! I can finally post! Thank you so much to everyone who sent me good wishes for a speedy recovery. Yes, I’m back on the bike! It hasn’t always been easy as I am definitely nervous on the descents, of which there are many.

Kenya was a bit of a blur – only 1 day cycling there before we crossed the border into Tanzania. What can I say? Tanzania – love, love, love it. Most of us agree that it has been the highlight of the tour. It has safaris, it’s greener than you could imagine, the sky is bluer than I would have thought possible, it’s slow paced yet energetic and vibrant at the same time, it’s colourful, it has great beer and chapatti (a type of bread)…….

It’s also very hot and humid. Cycling days are long and sweaty. Fortunately, there its never too far to the next village where we could take a break and have a cold drink. Coke stops have become our lifeblood. In principle, I dislike Coca-colonization – Coca Cola’s goal to invade every country and make Coke the world’s #1 drink, but when you are hot, tired and thirsty, principles be damned! The coke stops gave us a chance to sit and relax and visit with local people. The people, to me, are the heartbeat of Africa.

A challenge for many people is to adjust to the pace of life here. Things run on what we call “Tanzania” time. For people used to a faster paced lifestyle….well, it can take some getting used to, but I love it. It really makes you enjoy the moment and realize that everything is as it should be. So I’m one of the last to get to camp in the afternoon – who cares? There’s nothing much to do there anyway.

And the safari!!! On a 3 day rest break in Arusha, a group of us went to Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengetti. OMG!!!!!!!! Lions walking up to the truck, giraffes casually munching on trees a few feet away, hippos floating in pools, wildebeasts playing, hyenas stalking their prey – I can’t possibly describe the experience and do it justice, so I’ll just say !!!!!!!!!!!! Fill in whatever adjectives you want. Next rest day – Lilongwe, Malawi

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Back in the Saddle Again

on Monday. I fly to Nairobi tomorrow to meet up with the group, then I’ll be back on the bike to ride out with them. We leave Nairobi on the 12th on our way to Tanzania. This is the part of Africa I have looked forward to the most and I have no intention of missing it.

I think I’ve recovered enough. I hope. Yes. Definitely. Maybe. I don’t know. Only time will tell. I’ve been off the bike since February 17 and I’m feeling seriously de-trained, so it’ll be interesting to see how it goes! The ribs feel much better this week, though – enough that I was able to ride on the stationary bike a couple of times for short durations. Breathing is still a little difficult, though, but I’m hopeful that I can start riding at least for part of the day when I get back to it. Whatever happens, I’ll try to detach myself from the outcome – what will be, will be.

Thank you to everyone who posted comments or sent emails to wish me a speedy recovery – I could feel your energy & will carry it forward with me.

I’ve been reading the TDA blog for the last couple of weeks, feeling really left out of things, wondering how everyone is doing 😦 Truth be told, though, the north part of Kenya sounds like very, very tough riding so I guess maybe that was a good part to miss. Still, getting broken ribs does seem like an extreme way to get out of it……

This is the trip of a lifetime, so if not now, when? When would I be able to do this again? But am I what Bruce Springsteen had in mind when he penned “the highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive”? 😀 Maybe, but I think prefer Hunter S. Thompson’s quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

So ride it shall be!

 

Categories: Before the Trip | 2 Comments

Taking a break

albeit involuntarily. For the second time, I crashed on my bike. The first was in early February and was fairly minor. I was crossing some RR tracks and the front wheel slid out from under me and I went down. Other than a spectacular bruise on my left hip and a sore left shoulder, I was ok after a couple of days and able to resume riding.

The second crash was last Friday. Or was it Thursday? I have completely lost track of time. Regardless, a couple of days after leaving Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, I was going down a hill and had to brake. Just as I started braking, I hit some speed bumps that I didn’t know were there. My front wheel must have twisted and I went flying over the handlebars. It was one of those slow motion things – I knew I was going down and it seemed like I was in the air for several seconds but there was nothing I could do about it.

I landed on my head (were it not for the helmet I surely wouldn’t be here – I’m not exaggerating) and right shoulder. I was in a fair bit of pain, and when we got to Addis Ababa, the medic took me, along with very sick staff member, to the Landmark Hospital. X-rays revealed 4 broken ribs 😮

After weighing some options, I decided to fly to Dubai where I’m recovering. I’m really hoping that within 2 weeks or so, I’ll be able to rejoin the group when they get to Nairobi to either cycle with them or at the very least ride the support vehicle so I can still experience Africa. So here I am in Dubai, missing my riding buddies, and trying to stay positive. It could be worse – at least I’ll be back! Other people on this, as well as previous tours, haven’t been so lucky – for some, their tour was over following an injury/illness.

And since I now have reasonably fast internet, I can blog. Unfortunately, my camera has gone missing so there won’t be any visuals, at least for the moment. Instead I’ll recap some of my favourite moments and highlights of this tour:

The excitement of leaving the Giza pyramids on January 14 to start our expedition

Finishing a very long ride – 168 km. before it got dark. I didn’t think I could do it and was so happy not to have to get picked up by the support truck

Egyptian coffee

Egyptian falafel

Sudanese falafel

Sudanese coffee

Sudan. I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for Sudan. There is a quiet and peaceful vibrancy that I felt almost as soon as I got off the ferry at Wadi Halfa. Without exception, along the road and in villages, we were greeted with Salaam Aleikum (peace be with you) and warm smiles.

Playing and interacting with Sudanese children. One of the riders had brought a frisbee and at one of the camps she brought it out. Immediately several children, shrieking with joy and excitement, joined the game. At first it was just the boys, but after some coaxing the girls joined in. They were clearly delighted and it was such a pleasure to watch them at play.  A few times, an adult with a child in tow would ask for pens and papers so their child could draw. Everyone who had anything like that very happily gave it to the kids. Who needs video games or TV?

The delight of the kids whose pictures I took, both in Sudan and Ethiopia. They absolutely loved having their pictures taken

Completely losing track of time. Most of the time I didn’t know what day or time it was. The sun was my guide for the beginning and end of the days

Donkey showers in Sudanese villages

Kidfo, an Ethiopian dish of ground meat and spices served with teff (is it weird that food is a recurring theme here??)

Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and Ethiopian coffee in general

The simplicity of life now. We just get up, pack up our stuff, eat breakfast, cycle most of the day til we get to camp, put up our tents, eat, socialize a bit, then go to sleep. No responsibilities, no obligations, no deadlines

The (relative) absence of cell phones

The rare occasions when we were able to get hot showers

There are many more, but these are just a few that spring to mind

Categories: Before the Trip | 12 Comments

Earplugs are a girl’s best friend

Donkeys braying, camels growling, cows mooing, goats baaing, roosters crowing, dogs barking, chickens squawking, animals fighting. No, I’m not in a zoo, although it sounds like one. These are some of the noises that go on all night and either keep us awake or waken us much earlier than we’d like. Then, of course, there are the other very loud noises, such as:

-Transport trucks with weird and wonderful musical horns that the drivers like to play
-Mosques, usually at least 3 or 4 nearby while in Egypt and Sudan, blaring out the call to prayer, sometimes as early as 4:30
-riders having vivid dreams or nightmares (a side effect to the anti malarial med Lariam)
-loud snoring
-rider(s) stumbling out of their tent & cursing when they trip on a tent peg
-cows strolling around right outside my tent

Somehow, before all this started, the idea of camping in the desert conjured up images of peaceful, quiet nights with the sky filled with stars and being gently lulled to sleep by a soft breeze. Not. I must have read the wrong book. Right now it’s 1:00 am in Gonder and I’ll post this in the morning when I have internet. I’m in a hotel and for the first time in weeks I have complete silence. And I can’t sleep – its too quiet!

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Visiting a school

A few years ago a former TDA rider started an organization to raise money for school uniforms for a school in Gonder. This school is for kids from low income families, and as I understand it, if the family can’t afford to buy a uniform, the child is prevented from going to school. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the ceremony where the uniforms, along with backpacks filled with pens and pencils were handed out. I don’t know the ages of the kids, but they appeared to be between about 5 and 15 or 16. Many of the older kids were attending school for the first time, having been needed to work to help their family previously. If my donation helps to educate even 1 child, it pays off in spades as far as I’m concerned.

We were also treated to a traditional dance and a coffee ceremony, which involved a woman roasting the beans, grinding them, then serving us fresh coffee along with popcorn and a cookie. It was a real treat – a coffee ceremony is for special occasions. Coffee is grown quite cheaply mostly south of Addis Abeba, but because of world supply and market prices, it is too expensive for most Ethiopians to drink very often. Meanwhile, I used to think nothing of sitting in Starbucks or the like drinking $4.00 Americano’s.

Here are some pics!

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Categories: Before the Trip | 3 Comments

Pics of Ethiopia

Crossing the border into Ethiopia, having tea with some locals, kids trying on my sunglasses…

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Pics of Sudan

Sorry my posts are a little our of order – I’m using the iPad app for WordPress and haven’t quite got the hang of it. Anyway, here are some pics of villages, people, some riding buddies, donkey showers (where some local people brought us water via a donkey & barrel so we could wash), our support vehicle getting stuck in a dried up river bed….

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