#Africa 2009 - 2010

#The Gear

I packed my Deuter TransAlpin, a 30l backpack, 2 Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, a Dry bag with tent and mattress, an Ortlieb handlebar bag and put all of this, with about 25kg of luggage, on my Radon ZR 6.0 Team Hardtail mountain bike. It didn't last long (see story). The second bike was a 100€ Bauer City bike, that you really don't want to have for touring. The third bike was mostly self-build, a silver Mongoose Hardtail with rigid front fork. It cost 400€ in the end, so none of these bikes were as good as the Radon, but it shows that you don't need fancy gear, because I did make it to Capetown on these.

The tent was a Jack Wolfskin Weight Watcher, 1-person tunnel tent, a cocoon tropic traveller silk sleeping bag, a Thermarest mattress. I had a pretty cheap Samsung camera with 5 times zoom, Garmin eTrex Vista GPS, an Ipod and my Asus EEE PC. Its last tour, the display broke partly in Sudan. Rest was clothing, stove, (MSR Multifuel), cooking gear (Snowpeak Titanium set), and some random bits... a notebook, some maps, but nothing major. As you can see on the pics, I never used front panniers. The biggest item I didn't mention so far is probably the rain gear. I had some cheap Northface jacket and trousers from Nepal. They did work, but in the end were too warm to use often.

bike bike

#The Countries

Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa.

#The Story

After many tours in Europe, the plan hatched to do a large bike tour. I already tried to get to China, but had to abandon, because my cycle partner had to get back to university. The only other big route from Germany is south, to Capetown. The tour started on... lets say bad. That's a pretty fitting word, as simple as it is. I met someone online, only who wanted to go the same way, but being almost twice my age, we had next to nothing in common. We started, and the first day we had rain. Second day, rain. Third day, rain. Fourth day, sunshine and my bike gets stolen. Yeah. Unfortunately not insured, so I had to get a lot of paperwork done, stuck around for almost two weeks, played catch up with my "new" Bauer bike in a train, and found out that travelling with this online companion wouldn't work. Just one week later we split ways, in Croatia.

I continued on alone, cycling the coastline down till Dubrovnik, where I met two German cyclists named Christian. Both very nice people and we cycled a week together through Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia, before they had to head back home, and I went further and further from home. At this point it had already become my largest bike tour. I crossed Albania and Greece, saw Meteora and Thessaloniki, climbed Mt. Olympus and went by ferry to Turkey, to have a look at Troy. Since I have been in Turkey before, I tried to find a different route this time, heading to Ephesus and Pamukkale, with its fantastic mineral pools and roman ruins, and finally left by boat to Cyprus.

africa

The idea was to catch a cargo ship to Egypt, but I ended up in Israel, which wasn't too far off. Unfortunately the border crossing I wanted to take was closed and I had to cross the Negev desert, all the way down to Eilat. There, pure serendipity probably saved the entire trip. My bike was close to suicide at that point, and I hadn't even started with Africa yet. But I saw 3 cyclists on carbon road bikes. Amazed, I asked them were they had gotten them, here in this corner of the world, and they guided me to a bikes hop. I ended up staying at the owners place for 3 days, spending time building a new bike, which I acquired for 400€. Its the silver Mongoose you have seen above. I loved that bike. I actually still own it, ready to be converted into a fat-tire snow bike, if I ever have need for one.

The adventure started from that point on. I entered Egypt, seeing familiar places, made new friends, stayed a week in Cairo before heading south quickly. I bypassed most tourist sights, since I have seen them on my first visit, doing a longer stop only in Aswuan, to wait for the ferry. It sounds crazy, but the only way from Egypt to Sudan is by boat, and it only goes once a week. 1 hitchhiking Bulgarian and 2 crazy South-Koreans later, we arrived in Wadi Halfa. I filled my bike with 15l of water and headed down the Nile road, which was under construction at the time. Crossing the Sahara in summer was probably not my brightest idea, with temperatures of 50° at day. I cycled mostly at night, with starlight. It was new moon and absolutely glorious. Surprisingly there were enough smaller villages to fill up my water without problem, and sooner or later I managed the whole way to Khartoum. I got stuck for 20 days waiting for my next visas, and had a insane embassy and bank logic to content with (in the end it turned out like this: Embassy has my passport, cant give it to me if I don't give them USD. Banks cant give me USD, because I cant show them my passport, repeat ad absurdum.)

africa

africa

Ethiopia was next on the list, a country that left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand it was great. Harare and the semi-tame hyenas, Addis Abbeba, the Axumite empire, Lalibela... on the other hand, it was the most unfriendly of African countries I have been to. Large street signs proclaim useful tips like "Don't beat women, they are your friends" or "Corporal punishment is harmful to children, don't beat them", I was literally attacked by a guy wielding an axe, I got thrown at with rocks by different groups of kids, for absolutely no reason... It was weird. I since their border disputes with Eritrea are still ongoing, I never managed to visit this country, instead heading to Djibouti and Somalia, which is an entire different matter all together. Suffice to say that I was only allowed to move around outside of cities with military escort, and slept more often in military or police stations than not.

africa

I ended up bussing a bit to the Kenyan border, where I met a US entrepreneur and ended up hitching in his rented truck. The other passenger was a Yemeni "spice merchant", and both he and the driver were constantly high. Spices, alright. They dropped me off in Garrisa. I cycled the coast, Lamu, down to Mombasa, rested for 2 weeks at a friends place, went to Nairobi, Hells Gate National Park, Lake Victoria and onwards to Uganda. Rafting in Jinja, Waterfalls, Lake Bunyonyi... sadly, I did not go to the Gorillas, because it cost a small fee of 700$. Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I wanted to climb solo, was even worse. I couldn't get a solo permit, but would have to go in a tour, and it costs 1300$. Well, thank you, but no thank you. I ended up not going, which was probably the wrong decision. But when you are in Africa and food costs 1$, accommodation not much more, you question the logic behind prices with 4 numbers in them.

africa

africa

But from that point on the tour got much, much easier. Hostels started to appear again, I even met another cyclist, I road on a German steel ship on both Lake Tanganyka and Lake Malawi, hitchhiked with the foreign affairs minister of Malawi, crossed Zambia, got a malaria scare (tested negative, yeah. That was on the 22nd of Dec, I saw it as a Christmas present.) and arrived at Livingstone for New Years. I met some friends I made along the way again, among them the British cyclist, and rested a week in Livingstone. Climbing, playing chess, eating Braai (BBQ), going to the Victoria Falls (dry season) It was all quite relaxing.

I left together with 2 American cyclists towards Namibia, but it was soon clear that way of travelling was different. They preferred campgrounds and shorter daily distances, while I revelled in new daily "highs cores" and wild camping in the bush. We made about 500km together, before I headed on alone to Maun and the Okawango Delta. In a fit of randomness, I decided to hitchhike with a group a German tourists through the Chombe National Park back to the Victoria Falls. That way I get to see lots and lots of elephants, the falls again (in wet season that just started), and from the Zimbabwean side. I actually continued on eastwards, instead of doing Namibia and the skeleton coast, I headed through Zimbabwe to Southafrica and further to Mozambique. Lots of confusion, when I realised it was a Portuguese speaking country. I did not stay long, but long enough to get bitten by a crocodile. Again, different story.

africa

africa

The final stretch brought me through Swaziland and Lesotho, the Sani pass and the garden route all the way to Cape Aghulas and in the end, Capetown. The last 3 days were out of this world, I walked around in a daze. I made it. Capetown. What now? What will be next?