Sunday, April 27, 2008


We entered our 8th country on April 24th. Just across the border Namibia seemed different: there was a hill. We hadn’t seen a real hill in Botswana in our 10 days there. Also, the vegetation changed a bit to tall grasses that lined the road. Apparently in the dry season, there are no grasses and only rocks. Thankfully, there was something to look at because when you are biking 6-7 hours a day having some scenery to look at makes all the difference.

So far, I have been the most surprised about Namibia. I suppose it is because I knew absolutely nothing about it. It is clearly more modern and western than the other countries we have biked through. And the landscape has been phenomenal to me. It is fall here so part of the riding feels very familiar and like home as the coolish breezes brush against our bodies as we are biking. It too is empty as Namibia’s population is only 1.8 million. As we are biking our long miles we see flat, flat land but in the distance the land is punctuated by three or four separate high hills. For some reason it is more fun biking in Namibia. I think it is because it is more picturesque to me, the wind reminds me of home, and the roads aren’t completely straight: there are some slight turns that one has to make. The ride into Windhoek was especially fun. There was a headwind in the morning which changed to a cross-wind thankfully. You are going along, going along and then you see these hills which are becoming bigger. All of a sudden, you are in the hills going up and down; in biking parlance they are called rollers. Windhoek was much higher than I imagined and set in such a pretty setting. Namibia is one place that I would come back to and spend some more time in. The Skeleton Coast is supposed to be something to see as well as the sand dunes and the Himba people who cover their body with ocher to protect them from the sun and plait their hair with mud. As the anthropologist, I certainly wish I had time to visit.

I think the most surprising thing to me is the presence of a lot of muzungus (white people). There are still more black Namibians that live here but the presence of white people, especially Germans is noticeable. Windhoek, the capital city, is modern, has German architecture, amenities galore, a mall (where I splurged and bought a pair of Levi jeans, an outfit for our last night, and some odds and ends) and loads of German restaurants. Ummm..ummmm good! We have two days off in Windhoek and my main goal was to eat, eat, eat, and relax. Boy, have I fulfilled that goal. Of course I have never biked 100 miles a day for 5 consecutive days before but I have an appetite like no other. For example, yesterday I had breakfast, then fish and chips for lunch, two cakes at the German restaurant, two cappuccinos, and later for dinner we went to the famous Joe’s Beer Garden where I consumed a plate of wild game: zebra, gemsbok, oryx, ostrich, and kudu. For dessert I had ice cream and another cappuccino. It is funny how much one can eat; I feel like I am back to my high school appetite. Apparently, some people’s GPS’s tell the number of calories that one consumes in a day of biking and it has consistently been around 8,000 calories.

I believe in the last blog I said that I was looking forward to the biking to be over. At this moment we have only 13 more days: one rest day and 12 more biking days before we enter Cape Town. The biking has become more fun again lately; we are going the same long distances but there is much to look at, I feel that I am getting stronger, and we are supposed to be doing a few off-road days near the Fish River Canyon. The off-road days of this trip have been fun so I am looking forward to more of them.

Still EFI! Barring any sickness, I will ride into Cape Town healthy and without having had to take the truck.

Sorry-no pics until there is a faster internet upload.

Botswana-Part 2

We left Maun and headed due west towards Windhoek, Namibia. We were told that there would be tailwinds as we were doing 162 k/100 miles a day for 5 days straight. This also included a 207k day into Namibia. The landscape of Botswana didn’t change too much: however, we did see lots of standing water off to one side of the road that consisted of a vast low-lying swamp filled with birds and trees.

One neat thing I did do on my day off in Maun was to go on a 45 minute flight over the Okavango Delta. This is located in the northwestern corner of Botswana. It was a 6 seater plane with windows on every side so you can spot animals. Having an aerial view of the delta gave us a nice perspective of where these animals live. And, we did see lots of animals from the air: giraffe, elephant, antelope, hippo, and African buffalo. Towards the end I was getting a little sick to my stomach as we would make great turns to the right and left when our pilot spotted some animals. The delta is a vast network of lazy rivers, green swamps and some higher ground thrown in between. There are trees spread throughout the delta in tight clusters.

My initial impressions of Botswana didn’t change too much. It is vastly empty. Compared to Ethiopia, you can ride for long, long stretches and not see anyone at all. Also, the infrastructure seems set up around game drives and bush lodges. You will be riding along the road and all of a sudden see a sign for a Bush Lodge. It seems to be located in the middle of nowhere but I suppose there are enough tourists to keep them financially viable.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Botswana-The Elephant Highway

Hello friends and family!

We arrived in Botswana on April 15th and now are in Maun, a dusty, outback-frontier feeling city. This stage is unlike all the others because it is FLAT! After tackling all these mountains and hills for the past 3 months, it is hard to believe that a country can be so pancake-flat. However, it has a beauty all its own with the tall elephant grasses, the long horizon, and if you are lucky--elephants! There are 1.8 million residents of Botswana and approx. 800,000 elephants! We have a pretty good chance of seeing them while riding. And, most of us have seen at least one! I spotted one by a watering hole off the side of the road. Enormous! It had its backs to us and we apparently got a little too close as it started flapping its ears. We backed up, stood still for a while and eventually it turned around to check us out. It made the long, windy day worth it!

This stage has pretty long riding days too. All the days are at least 100 miles and some are longer. In three days we have the longest day of the tour which is 207k. I pray for a tailwind that day. I am still enjoying the riding but I have to admit that the long days put a little dent in my enjoyment and enthusiasm. My butt gets extremely sore (like all others too) and after 6 hours on a bike you just want to be done. Well, nope, you have to push on sometimes for 2 more hours. Many people have commented on my positive attitude and generally I would say I am enjoying myself and have a smile on my face but 8-10 hours is getting a bit too much for me. Also, there are not as many coke stops in which to take a break. Consequently, we don't take breaks which makes the riding a bit tedious. Luckily, the conversations keep me from not concentrating on my soreness for a good part of the day. And, my riding partners and I vary it up a bit by doing a peloton of our own or intervals or racing each other just for fun.

Some people are counting down the riding days that we have left and now I enjoy being updated too and am mentally preparing for the end. We have 17 riding days left and 4 more rest days until we reach Cape Town. I know that I will be happy that the tour is over; however, I am still in the moment. There is still quite a bit to see as well. At 4:00 pm today, April 20th, I will be flying with 6 others over the Okavango Delta to spot herds of wildlife. I am excited for that.

One other very cool thing that many of us did on the first day we arrived in Botswana was go on a pontoon boat in the Chobe National Forest. It was a three hour cruise along the Chobe River. We spotted lots of elephants, two monitor lizards, a crocodile, hippos, tons of dragonflies, a fish eagle, and lots of birds. It was so relaxing to be on the water.

Enjoy the pics of elephants and riders!

The Zambezi Zone-April 4th-15th

Welcome to Zambia!!!! Zambia is the home of one of the world's most famous tourist spots: Victoria Falls. It is also a country that full of vast bush, a first world capital city, and friendly people. We also endured some of our longest consecutive riding days: 100 miles for 4 days in a row. Talk about tired legs! We were rewarded though by reaching Livingston which is the town that Victoria Falls is located in. Thankfully we had two full rest days in which to enjoy the falls and high adrenaline activities (many people went bungie jumping although I just watched!) and to recover!
I would say this about Zambia and riding: it is an extremely beautiful country in which to bicycle through and it offers you challenges. While seeing lush green desolate hills punctuated only occasionally by small villages, you have to work your way up and then up and then up some more to have a breather downhill. It is quite worth it though. The people are nice and seem genuinely interested in what we are doing. Occasionally you see cows, goats, and farmland. Mostly, you see bush. One of our riders, John Bell, lived in Zambia about 40 years ago and was anxious to get back and see what had changed. He was surprised and delighted to see that the bush was deforested! Some things do take a long time to change!
A couple of other things to explain. Tere are lots of dead snakes on the road. Hmmm...and we go to the bathroom in the bush? Also, baboons are everywhere along the walking trails in Vic Falls. My friend and fellow rider, Johanneke (from Holland) and I even got to see a couple of baboons mating! Wow! like 5 feet in front of us! Gross! Definitely put Zambia on your list of places to travel. However, I would warn you about one thing: it is pricey! Almost western prices!

Daily life of a TDA rider...

begins with waking up too darn early: 5:30 am. First comes the bathroom usage which consists of finding a bush to squat down behind, spread your feet far enough apart to not splash yourself, aim into the hole that you have dug, and then deposit toilet paper. Make sure to cover your hole with dirt. Ok...done! Not quite, use hand sanitizer afterwards. You need to pay extra special attention to hygiene.

Return to tent, begin dressing into bike shorts, jersey, bandanna, socks. Apply chamois cream to prevent saddle sores-try to do this in tent so it doesn't look like you are doing something illegal. Put on deoderant, take malaria pills, apply antibiotic ointment on infected mosquito bites. Brush teeth with camelback water. Pack up sleeping bag, pillow, thermarest. Put these items outside of your tent. Put on biking shoes. Take down tent. Stuff all your camping and toiletry bags into your infamous red box. Smoosh, squeeze, and sit on box to make things fit. Lift red box into the truck and then your personal slot-usually with the help of another person. Ok-cool. forgot to take out your spoon, bowl, and cup. Go back into truck-big, heavy step up-wait for others to be done with their red box, lift the handle that keeps your red box safe in its slot, yank out red box, can't find eating utensils. Rats again...pull box out of! Get another person to help you lift it back up in slot. Won't forget to set aside bowl, spoon, and cup again. Get coffee or tea and then oatmeal (so, so, so sick of oatmeal right now) or weetbix, or no-taste bran flakes, or Pro-Nutro (South Africa's family breakfast meal-an acquired taste). Coffee is good. If you are sick of oatmeal, which a lot of people are, you can slather two pieces of white bread with peanut butter, butter, and jelly. Never was a fan of peanut butter and jelly. Wash your bowl, cup, and spoon. Breakfast done!

Make sure your water bottles and camelback are full of fast fuel (an energy drink from South Africa) and water. Time to start biking! Leave camp around 6:45 am. Lately, we have been biking long distances: 170, 172, 155, 160 k. Enjoy the pedaling and the scenery. Eat a PVM energy bar half-way to lunch. Best flavors are apple, choco-nut, caramel nut, and apricot. What you have received in your box is: chocolate, apple, strawberry, and lemon-line. Will anyone trade with me? Have good conversations along the way to lunch which is usually around half the distance for the day. Get to lunch sometimes early and sometimes mid-morning: 9:30-11:30. Spot the lunch truck-yeah a break! Set down bike along the side of the road, take off camelback, refill water bottles, and chow on lunch. Oh wait...there are restrictions on how much we can eat. Sign says: one meat sandwhich, 2 spread sandwiches (peanut butter, jelly, chocolate sauce, etc.), one slice of pineapple, and two slices of orange. Hmmm....and we have how much more to ride? The tightening of food at lunch does anger scores of people. Spend about 20-30 minutes at lunch depending on how long the riding day is. Apply sunscreen and you are off!

Work off your lunch in the afternoon. Take pictures every once in a while. Enjoy the scenery be it the undulating green hills of Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania or the flat grasslands of Botswana. Hope to see some wildlife. Say hello to locals. Enjoy the pedaling motion. Sometimes the ground feels smooth beneath you and sometimes it is rough. A sealed tarmac is a luxury. Here and there try to push your speed-especially down the hills so you can get up the next one with not as much effort. Arrive at camp anywhere from 2:30-5:00 pm hot, sweaty, and tired but full of good spirits from cycling instead of having to go to work! Roll bike into camp, find a campsite, lay bike down to mark your spot. Get necessary camping items out of your red box, set up your tent and now relax with coffee, tea, soup, and bread. Soup is made fresh daily. Talk to other riders about the day or try and coax an interview out of them if you are me! Some people read at this point, take a nap, roll the lactic acid out of their legs, listen to their IPODs, or if one has enough energy you can explore the area.

Riiiiiiddddddeeeerrrrrr MEETING is called around 6:00 pm. We are briefed by our tour leader, Duncan, about the next day: directions, how many kilometers, where we will be staying, conditions of the road. The meeting is always followed by two words: Bon Appetit! We queue up for dinner; usually the racers have a 10 minute warning before the rider meeting and place their chairs near the food so they can hurry up and eat and get seconds. Dinner has been great! We have quite the variety of food these days since we are in the lands of plenty: squash, cabbage, beets, onions, star anise, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, carrots, and all sorts of meat. People cluster into small groups and sit on the camp chairs provided which are in a bad state of disrepair and at this point enough of them have collapsed that not every rider has one. Good conversations float around and you can either listen or partake. Tea and/or coffee completes the meal. Some people have found ways to squeeze wine or hard stuff into their red boxes so they might finish the night with one of these beverages.

Most people are in their tents by 8:00 pm. These days it gets dark by 6:30 pm. As you find that last place to relieve yourself, you see headlamps through the rainfly and you see people reading, typing into their computers, or listening to music. As you walk back from your bush toilet, you hear some snoring and/or sighing into the night. At this point in the expedition, if you are a light sleeper you know who not to set up your tent by: the snorers, the early-wakers, the late-night talkers, etc.). You wake up throughout the night and check your watch. Ahhh....thank god I still have 5 more hours before my alarm goes off! Back to my cozy thermarest and sleeping bag! Good night!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Malawi Gin

The title of the blog is also the name of this particular section! I suppose Malawi is famous for its "sunrise" gin but I wouldn't really know anything about that! Sorry for the delay in posting a blog, we haven't been anywhere that had fast internet since my last post! We arrived in Malawi on March 27th and we have only three more days left in this country. Malawi is known as the "friendliest country" in Africa. So far, I would agree. This is rated as the poorest country that we will travel through (even poorer than Ethiopia supposedly) but people wish you well, say a greeting as you pass them, and seem to have good dispositions. I will say that there does seem to be a lot of drinking going on during the day and we notice lots of kids sitting around during what should be a school day. Hmmmm.....

What struck me first about Malawi were the rice fields and the kids. Entering the northern part of the country it is relatively flat because of Lake Malawi. So, it is swampy and low-lying which are perfect for rice cultivation. I certainly wouldn't want to be a rice farmer with having to stand in mud water up to your knees for hours at a time in a rice paddy. Fishing is obviously huge for Malawians as Lake Malawi is quite the large lake-blue, sandy, and deep. As we pass small fishing villages you smell the fish, and almost taste it as it is drying on thatched roofs. Periodically while riding, you pass a local or two who are carrying a small load of fish on a stick. And, bus drivers hang their catch on their side mirror hoping to sell their fish along their driving route to earn extra cash. Speaking of which in the local paper we read how "Malawi women sell their bodies for fish." I clipped the article for the shock value: I guess you do what you have to do-prostitution for food.

Now to the kids. Well, it almost seemed like a repeat of Ethiopia: kids lining the streets and shouting in union "hello," "azungu (white person)," or "give me my money." It can get a bit frustrating especially if you are trying to have a conversation while biking. They totally want our attention, which is understandable. I will say that they have dirty clothes on but beautiful smiles. Both the girls and boys have short-cropped hair. One person we talked to said that there are a lot of orphans in Malawi due to the Aids epidemic. This could explain why a lot of kids aren't attending school: there is no one to force them.

The biking in Malawi is on good roads-they are not super smooth but nonetheless it is easier biking than Tanzania. Everything is green with the rainy season ending and the rivers are swollen with some rain still falling. I imagine there would be some great white water rafting. The biking in Malawi has also been extremely tough. In an unexpected way, I would say that it has been the hardest riding for me on the whole tour: even tougher than the mountains of Ethiopia. Why? Well, we have had headwind. For all the bikers out there, you know how much harder you have to push. And, there has been a LOT of climbing-no one warned us about that. I would say that the second hardest day of the tour coincided with the second most accumulative elevation climbed in a single day. I'll be posting that profile. I also have been feeling sick since Chitimba Beach. I couldn't even enjoy the beach day as I was achy, weak, and awfully tired. I do thank my blessings that I was feeling my worst on a rest day though so I could sleep or rest. After 3 days of feeling "not quite right" I am back to normal. I made it through the really hard day but thankfully Ashleigh rode with me and the "girl-talk" got my mind off the pain. Still EFI (Every Fabulous Inch)! I feel there is some pressure because I am the only woman. People keep asking me, "are you still EFI?" Despite the mounting pressure, I keep saying to myself "one day at a time and if I am vomiting and have a fever I will not ride." It is better to be smart! I think our bodies are not recovering as easily right now with almost three months of riding completed. Even small cuts are getting infected where that normally wouldn't be the case.

One more interesting thing about Malawi: the BILLBOARD signs. The funniest one I have seen is "Vasectomies are for men who love their spouses." They also have a lot of "speed thrills, but kills" signs all over-it is a curvy country. Over the break in Tanzania, some people went to Uganda and took several pics of a billboard sign that said "Don't have cross-generational sex"'; it had a picture of an older man and asked "you wouldn't want your daughter to be involved with him, would you?" Cracked me right up!

Oh-in terms of group dynamics, another relationship has started! I won't mention names but it involves two of the "younglings!" They seem to be doing it right though; they got to know each other for 2 months before they started their romance. The group dynamics are quite interesting and I am genuinely looking forward to analyzing my data.

Well, I have to keep this blog short because of a bike donation ceremony going on today at 3:00 pm. 28 bikes have been purchased from the money that I raised and will be donated to two local charities: CPAR and Coopi Maleeza. Many thanks again to everyone who donated money for a bike! Bikes really are crucial here and are a major means of transportation for a lot of people!

Oh and that is me holding an extremely dangerous but dead snake: a puff adder that the locals had killed with a machete!

I hope everyone is well!