Again, a tour with sponsoring. Yeah for progressive outdoor and bike companies that want to help people do the trips of their dreams. I got a new bicycle for this tour, a Carver Evolution Carbon 110, a 7,6kg road bike. Very light, but also very breakable. Most of the luggage is on the frame, as you can see on the picture below. For the gear list, I want to try something different this time. Instead of making a table, I show the gear in picture form. The only thing not on the pics is the backpack, a Lowe Alpine Vaporlight 28, a 420gr wonder of a backpack. You will notice that I paid great attention to weight and volume. Its less than 10kg of luggage this time, and the bike itself is also below 10kg, even with the frame bags and accessories. This means that my bike and the luggage combined weights less than the backpack I carried in Asia.
To save so much weight, I did following changes to my usual pack list: I replaced a net book with a smart phone, 1,4kg savings. New backpack, 730gr savings. New tent, a Helsport Ringstind Superlight, 1,4kg savings. Victorinox SwissCard instead of Leatherman, 220gr savings. Silk inlet instead of sleeping bag, 330gr savings (its warm enough). Eva mattress instead of Thermarest, 340gr savings. Carbon Road bike instead of Aluminium Trekking bike, 6,3kg savings. (!!!)
Almost everything together
Tools & Spare Parts
First Aid Kit
Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mauritania, West-Sahara, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Andorra, France, Monaco, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, Germany.
As always, I want to try something new. Departing from normal touring bikes with pannier bags, I ride a full carbon road bike, as slim and sleek as they get. Luggage is stored on the frame and in a small backpack, and weight is reduced as much as possible. Lets see how well this idea turns out. - said the eternal optimist that is me, because the tour goes into extremely remote areas of Africa. Between rocky roads through the rainforest to the Sahara desert, the tour had some pretty challenging parts for bike and rider.
I started in the Gambia, a reasonably developed English-speaking country in Westafrica, with land borders to Senegal. The smallest country of Africa made a nice introduction, especially thanks to a couchsurfer host that showed me around for the week that I gathered visas. Since getting visas in Germany was a hassle, I opted to get them in Africa itself and it turned out easier, faster and cheaper. After a week I had 8 visas together and headed out with the bike to the South. South to Senegal, South to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony with beautiful islands, South towards Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. I honestly did not know what to expect of these countries. I never met anyone who has been there, guidebooks barely mention them and even maps are hard to find. 10-15 years ago these areas were civil war zones, which left much of their infrastructure in ruins and frightened all potential tourists away.
What you find today are barely developed countries with prices inflated by the UN and foreign aid, but optimistic locals that want to start over. When I found roads, they are new, European-made and empty. Perfect for the roadbike. When I don't find roads, its pretty hard to make any distance. Sandy, rocky tracks that wind through the hills with steep climbs and so many sharp rocks and thorns that I ran out of patches and spare tubes within the first month. When I cycled from Germany to Capetown I had 7 flat tires in one year. Now I had ~30 in one month. It went so far that I found myself pushing my bike in 40° weather through sand to the next village to have parts of old inner tubes used as patches, glued on with nothing but tree sap.
I really underestimated the state that these countries are in, mentally comparing them to the eastern parts of Africa, like Kenia, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda... but Westafrica turned out to be a bit tougher. While the people were just as friendly and I even caused more of an uproar by being the white guy on a bike, there was less pavement, almost no electricity except in larger town every couple of hundred kilometers, no internet except in the countries capital city, and no restaurants. For someone who decided not to bring cooking gear for weight reasons, and who did not speak French, it caused me more discomfort than expected. I have to admit that I did not enjoy Westafrica at all. Luckily the tour did not end there. My plan was to cycle down to Liberia and do a loop inland through Cote d'Ivoire and Mali. Yet the borders were closed because of an attack by Liberian rebels/bandits, which made that not an option. So I asked around for public transport, taking a bus back to Senegal to start the second leg of the tour: The Saharacross.
Turns out that there are no busses in Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia. Its taxis you use for that. Old Peugeot 7-seater, called bushtaxis, which leave when full, not on any kind of schedule. After I bought a seat on it, I was told to wait. After three hours I asked again, "how full is it by now?" "2 people" "And when I asked 3 hours ago?" "2 people". No problem, 17h later the taxi was full. Literally full, with 13 people and their luggage and my bike, occupying the space of the 7 seats. The 650km ride turned out to be quite short. With only 3 flat tires, 2 of which landed us in the middle of nowhere, constant stops and a speed of maybe 20km-30km on the dirt sections, it only took 26h to get to Senegal. A layer of very fine red dust covered literally everything.
Senegal proofed to be amazing after that. Good roads, people that speak English, affordable accommodation, internet here and there, access to ATMs, and a clear goal: Dakar. The start of the classic Dakar-Paris rally, which sadly has been relocated to South America for security reasons. I made my way to Dakar limping on tires that almost fell apart, with only one bike glove left (where did that other one go?), glorifying Dakar as some sort of paradise. I wasn't disappointed. A 4-day break with lovely couchsurfers, everything from Korean food to pizza, large bike shops with imported western parts (and tubes, I literally bought every single inner tube they had in my size. They had 4.) and a second visa run to embassies set me right up for part 2 of the tour. Crossing the Sahara.
Which turned out to be way, way easier than cycling around in the lower Westafrica. Its one road and everyone knows it, and everyone knows where you get resupplies, food and water. You can't get lost. The military checkpoints wave you through, the crazy person on a bicycle. Bordercrossing were simple and the climate was both cooler and less humid than the tropical region I came from. So much cooler that I often wore my windjacket and long trousers, while cycling against the headwinds. Unfortunately it was also quite empty, much more so than the western part I cycled across several years ago, Egypt to Sudan to Ethiopia. This time there were no pyramids of Giza, no temple of Luxor, no Abu Simbel, no Nile to follow, snaking through the desert dotted with villages. It was all just road, lined with shrubbery and rocky grounds, the occasional camel herder and Bedouin setup, and military checkpoints. The towns themselves were several days apart, since my average speed was about 15kmh instead of the usual 25kmh, because of the strong headwinds. I cycled a lot at night, when the winds were less strong.
Even so I decided to ask a group of French travelers, the most awesome crazy clown pirate punks with their dogs (one called Machete), to give me a lift in one of their caravans. I talked to the cyclist coming my way, all of which said that cycling with the wind was amazing but that there is nothing to see. At the West-Saharan border I overtook the French group that went slowly through the no-mans land, which is surrounded by landmines, and asked if I can join them. It was a good decision, meeting good people, and not worrying too much about water and food consumption for the 3 days that it took to cross the 800km of West Sahara. In Morocco proper I said my goodbyes and continued on by bike, the more welcoming sights of Marrakesh and Agadir, Casablanca and Talgier on my mind.
From that point on the tour got an almost trivial difficulty level, and for the first time I actually enjoyed it. Not the burning desire for achievement, not the proud headlong rush into a challenge, but simply saying "Oh, that's nice." Morocco is a very good country for budget travelers with many sights, a great history and culture, low prices on accommodation and good food. And its not all desert, you have anything from waterfall-filled forests, mountain ranges, beaches, ruins, old city centers with tiny alleyways, Arabic bazaars and western cinemas and shopping malls. A weird mix, that suited me very well. And after that, Europe. I don't think I have to mention at this point that its heaven for roadbikes.
I will let pictures speak instead of describing places most of you will know or know about. Lisbon and Porto. Sevilla, Madrid and Barcelona. Andorra, Monacco and the Cote d'Azure in between from Cannes to Monte Carlo. Pisa, Firenze, San Marino and Bologna. Suffice to say that I had no further problems, the lack of paved roads, food and electricity was a faint memory at this point. And the roadbike tires hummed on the flat pavement, riding me home.