Thursday, January 31, 2013

My most Favorite Border Crossing.

Alright, I've been on the road for nearly a month now and have posted less than 100 words.  Perhaps this says more than 1,000 words on how busy life on tour really is.

Truth be told if you really want to know how we're all doing over, check out the TDA blog, twitter, Facebook, or Instgram, as I'm the one putting all the updates up there anyway.  If you have been keeping tabs on there then you'll know about the swarms of insects, the fierce and painful sandstorm, and who's been fundraising for what, but you might not have gotten this little anecdotal story, of the immigration office aboard the Lake Nasser ferry...

It's just after sun-set, the ferry has departed, all the riders have settled in, either into their respective 'cabins' or sardined onto the top deck, and Ciaran and I decide it would be an appropriate moment of calm to deal with immigrations.  We have a container with 70 odd passports, passport photo's of everyone, a list of their occupations, places of birth, visa numbers, the works.  We fill out the 70 forms for the process, by hand,one by one, with the help of two other staff, and by the end of the hour or so, we're ready to head to the office for processing.

Where is this office you ask.  It's not entirely clear, the most official man I've met so far is wearing flip flops and a long white dress, and so I gesture to him as to where we need to go.  He takes me in past the cafeteria, through the kitchen, down a narrowing hallway, to the back of the ship, around a corner, and through the door.  We are instantly greeted and welcomed to sit down.  Our seat being on the immigration officials bunk beds, next to their desks, in a room the size of a first world bathroom.    

The officials were polite, welcoming and calm, already a 180 degree turn from getting anything done in Egypt.   Seeing our monumental pile to be stamped, paired with a clear language barrier, they decide to dedicate one of the men just to us.  Very nice.   As each passport gets processed and slowly searched through one by one, my one job was to dictate clearly and slowly, simply which country each rider was from, as this was all recorded by hand on 100 pieces of paper before the next one could go.  This took some time.

We take a step back just to look around at the chaos around us.   While the long laborious task is taking place on our end, there are also a few hundred other locals looking to get their passports stamped before sun rise.  Half of which are coming in through the door that we first came through, the other half hanging in through the port side window, reaching their arm in to be the closest to the officials face.  No one seems put off by this.

The next point of hilarity was the power supply.  Considering that we were there for closer to 2 hours getting all of this done, the power went out about every 5 minutes.  No one blinked an eye or said a word.  Work continued, and paused, continued and paused and the power came and went, came and went, came and went.  Very official.

In the midst of the power comings and goings I noticed a blue smudging of ink that was growing on the immigration papers.  It grew and grew until I had to gently point out to the man that his pen had actually exploded and their was ink, all over his table, some of the passports, and his hand.  Ah yes, no problem.  He didn't however have another pen.  Luckily I had an extra.  Wouldn't that be a story; one bic pen stops dozens of foreigners from entering Sudan.  He was quite pleased with the quality of new pen I had on hand.

At another point a ship worker came in with tea for everyone, glass cups, saucers, sugar and milk power bowls, when bham! the tray falls on the ground.  The tea and sugar were fine, but milk powder is everywhere.  Again, without blinking an eye, the man allowing all 70 of us to enter his country takes a pinch of milk powder from the floor (potentially mixed with glass) stirs it into his tea, and carries on stamping.

When the tea offer came to the two of us, again  without blinking an eye or making a stir, simply "Oh no thank you"  "No problem"

Needless to say, this one tiny snip-it of 'getting things done in Africa' is just one of 100 reasons why I absolutely love my job.

Till next time!

Friday, January 4, 2013


I found myself sitting with two other 30 ish year old expats on my last flight into Cairo.  Perhaps it wasn't such a fluke as the assigned seats are followed about as closely as traffic regulations in Cairo.  Just find a seat and sit.  It works.

He is with the US military, staged just outside the city, and she, a school teacher headed for her last connecting flight at midnight into Kuwait.

I wave the cover of my Canadian passport to the border official and I'm through.

The airport smells of cigarettes and the outdoors of exhaust fumes and burn piles.  A haze of city lights falls over Cairo as we make our way down the highway.   A soundtrack of diesel trucks with dinky-toy car horns abound and high beams flash like strobe lights in substitute of turn signals.

My bicycle and baggage have arrived in one piece.  I would consider this transit a success.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

It Begins Again

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when it all begins.  I left my home in Victoria a month ago now, packing for three trips at once.  First to Vancouver for medic training, then Toronto for friends and family, and then... Cairo!
Three cities, three seasons.

I revel in my last days of hot water and just about everything else about life in Canada, as I say goodbye to friends and family for the next 5 months, and try to answer the daily question of "Sooo, are you so excited?"
"Of coarse!" I answer, with a comparable sincerity as one would reply "Good!" to the cue of "How's it going?"

Now, don't get me wrong, I am excited!  My 'job' is to ride my bike from Cairo to Cape Town for crying out loud.  On top of that I will be taking on the role of Communications Officer this year, a job which will continue to be merely a dream until, lets say Friday when it all really begins.

Why so hesitant then?  I currently sit in the midst of the absolute least enjoyable part of any serious expedition: packing.  It's not like I'm headed to the moon, but it sure does feel like it.  'Things' of coarse can be purchased in Cairo, if you feel like spending half a day explaining to a cabby where you need to go, and then the other half of the day trying to find the place.  The other option being, to be left high and dry in the midst of the Sahara desert, short a few essentials which might have kept me on the right side of in/sanity.  There's just no winning here, so my list just grows and shrinks, grows and shrinks, grows and shrinks, as does my brain, grows and shrinks, grows and shrinks.
The saving grace here; one way or another, come Wednesday, I'm out!

Knowing that the focus of my time on tour this year will be spent in the realm of communications, it would be a great assumption to make that this blog will be a little more lush than last year, or at least we hope.
You keep reading. I keep writing. 

If there is any word that could describe the beginnings of great adventures...

 But all great adventures must come to an end.

...and here draws the line between adventures past and present.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hallas, Finish, Goodbye.

They say that it ain't over 'till it's over, but if you ask me... it really is over.  Today the riders disappear one by one, back to their repective homes, with months of stories and a feeling that can never be replicated again.  Tonight, the crew heads out for our final hurrah, to celebrate everything we've done together, and the possibility that we might never see each other ever again.

The momentum and speed with which we've been moving for the past four months doesn't exactly feel like it has grinded to a hault just yet, however the looming feeling of reality awaits us just around the corner.

Our last few weeks didn't exactly leave us with a smooth downhill to Cape City, what with one of our overland trucks ending up on it's head, filled with the gear of half of our riders, bikes, tour gear, everything essential to daily life for 4 months.  nbd.  By some strike of incredible fortune, not a single staff or rider was hurt in this accident, however  that's not to say that two riders didn't end up in medical care on our last day for completely separate and unrelated reasons...we've certainly lived this through to the limits. 

We've inventoried all our equipment, cleaned out every nook and crany of our 4 month stock piles, packed gear to be sent off to other various corners of the world, put on a fantastic awards cerimony, a dinner, dancing and carrying on, and at last, we can say we've done it.

Tomorrow, the A-Team crew takes the  'big bosses' car out for a trip up the coast on the Garden route... and then... home...  See you there!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Just when we thought it was over...

Nine days of off road.  We've done this before.  Smooth sailing?
Has it ever been from day one?  No.
Isn't this why we come here? Yes

We head out just before day break, lunch truck packed with the usual ingredients, a few bikes on the roof, ready to set up the mid ride refuel for the one hundred and twelfth time since Cairo.  Exciting day?  Well of coarse.  Western Namibia is currently experiencing a 70 year record in rain fall.  The desert is green and the roads are rivers.  Our Lunch truck; a custom 4x4 beast, but not exactly a great swimmer.

No need to ask what happened, but lets just say Lunch was set up a little earlier than planned that day.  After 45 minutes or so of digging, and rock placing, we had successfully plowed through 1 of 10 washed out sections of road.  Riding my bike into camp from that point on was a day of glorious victory where the bicycle was clearly the more amphibious option over any large cumbersome gas powered beast.  All 100 of us, plowing down the steep descents, through the rivers, the mud trenches, rock piles and back up the other side, just to do it all over again.  Every km coming across another pile of stuck 4x4's and land cruisers, as all our riders fly past a top speed.  ha ha!  we win!

Now we have a day at Sossusvlei.  Dramatic storm clouds blowing about, bursts of intense sun peaking through.  Grass so white it's glows in the sideways sun, steep, jagged mountains, with valleys deep and rocky peaks.  Laying in the middle of the plains, listening to the waste high grass blow by overhead, as the feathery wisps of seed pods take flight.   Scorpions and snakes rustling near by, and somewhere out there the great predators stalk their prey.  Oh no, it's not over yet.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Final Countdown

It's on, it's really on now.  2 more rest days.  11 more dinners to cook.  One more country.  Whichever way you look at it, we're almost there.  The blah blahs of Botswana are over now, thank god, and the excitement in the reality of our massive journey, now nearly complete, grows and grows.  We might as well be in Cape Town at this point, or at least our brains, as the celebrating is well underway.  It's party time on tour.  Never a dull moment, never a night ended too early, never an opportunity for shenanigans wasted.  I don't know when the last time I got a full proper nights sleep.  It seems a waste of time, with a countable number of days left in this continent, the best crew one could ask for, and 80 riders all up to something or another.

You won't be getting any sort of embellished, glorified stories form Botswana, other than the massive elephants, hippos and rhinoceros beetles everywhere of coarse.  Other than that, I rode nearly all of my sweeps without even touching my handlebars, watching the world go by, i-pod cranking the tunes in one ear, the other listening out for the vehicle that passes once every 30min. wooo eeee.  It's dead flat, dead straight, and I'm sorry to say, but even here in Africa, it can be dead boring.

Headed onto Namibia now, for our final stretch of off road from here to the South Africa boarder, a section that is said to be the most stunning on tour.  Our next rest day will be smack dab in the midst of nowhere, where we are well underway planning a staff evening of gallivanting way out in 'The Dunes'.  Fun.

No wild stories of adventures and misadventures for now.  Our Tour D'Afrique lifestyle is such a familiar world by now, that I'm not sure what falls under the category of 'New and Exciting' anymore.  We'll just have to sit around a few evenings back home, and laugh about the million details of what on earth is involved the life and times in Africa.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The S.S. TDA

I've spent hours now, sitting on my bicycle, watching the unchanging scenery go by and have asked myself, with not any sort of agreeable answer, what on earth to write about next.  

We're on a 12,000 km bicycle trip, and around now, we might finally be feeling that.  If  the average commuter rides 5km's to and from work in the morning, and they were to make this commute everyday of the year, perhaps the odd day off with the occasional longer weekend ride added in, it would take them approximately 6 and a half years to ride this.   For us, we'll make that in 94 cycling days.  Right.

We get up, we make breakfast, break camp, organize the vehicles, make a plan, pack the trucks, set the sails and send the SS TDA off on another 100+km's down the road.  Each staff with a entirely separate yet intricately coordinated mission for the day, sets off on our dozen or so tasks, and at the end of the day, it all gets done, we're all back together, and all are laughing about it all once again.  Every morning we wake, at least an hour before day break,  and we are ON.  Myself as Assistant Tour Director have become particularly prone to the social experiment of it all; the peoples people.   Before the sun has even risen, I am the approachable problem solver to no particular category of "problems".  My job, in that instant has come to be more of a problem sorter rather than a problem solver. There are two types of problems you see, there is my problem, and there is your problem.

For the riders, they wake, they eat, they bike, they eat, they bike, they eat, they sleep, they wake, they bike, they eat, they bike, they eat, they sleep, they wake, they bike and bike and bike and bike, and by now, might just be topped up on the urge to go for a bike ride.

We've hit the flats.  Straight flat roads.  Our cycling days now are mostly over 150km's every day.  The day's grow long, we are a well tunned machine, and, if you can believe it, not much is new anymore.
Is this to say that we're not having fun?  No.  This is just to say that the social experiment has begun.  What on earth do we do, stuck on a boat with 100 or so far from strangers now, with not too many resources at our fingertips.  We make our own fun.

Finishing our last stint of two glorious rest days here in Livingstone at Victoria Falls, with Cape Town on the horizon for the first time our tour, there is certainly a tour wide feeling, that each day is a precious last chance at something unexpected.   Nothing about what we are doing will ever be the same as it is now, from the places we are, to the people we are with, and everything in between.

Tomorrow, we have 12 new riders joining us, the largest number of new sectionals at once, the greatest number of people on tour now, a border to cross (always an adventure), and the Elephant Highway begins!  Stay tuned for updates on large mammal sightings and my 10 Stage rival rider competition known as the Bo-Bo-Bo-Bonanza with a dozen or so teams participating in 10 riding days of nut-bar challenges and antics.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hit the Ditch!

Eight days of glorious dirt through Tanzania, from Arusha to Mbeya, are now behind us.  Some asked why on earth we would take this gamble of a route over the all paved highway, taking a near identical distance.  Ask yourself.  Would you rather a) spend 1,000 kms cycling inches away from semi's and passenger buses clocking 150+km/hr on a road designed to fit precisely one truck and one bus in width, or b) spend 1000 kms on single track dirt roads past tiny villages, though jungle forests and over mountain passes to Mbeya.  Hrmmmm.  The choice is clear. 

Did I not mention that it was a gamble?  The rainy season is here, and we're headed off the pavement?  Confusing locals left and right, we stuck with the plan and headed off into the jungle.  Day 2, kilometer 60; the turn off.  Resembling not much more than a driveway, this was certainly not the road any of us would have guessed to be the one taking us another 800km's to the border.  Strategically placing our lunch truck at the juncture, ensured no riders wound up in Zanzibar or who knows where, and the adventure began.

The fact that our tour and all it's support vehicles made it through without any major hick-ups isn't to say that all was smooth sailing.  Bicycles and buses alike, all had their share of luck, and by luck I mean ditch time.  Passenger buses, much to our surprise, providing service to this route, shaving minutes off the ride in sheer speed and carelessness, all ended up adding hours back on as they dug their axles out of the ditch they landed themselves in.  Do I feel safer as a cyclist than a bus rider?  Sure do!

Sure our medic/lunch truck and land cruiser had their share of axle high mud.  Less from pushing 100kms/hr on the dirt and more from navigating off the off-road around our half swamped camp sites.  No need to digress into the smell of tents and sleeping bags after 8 days of camping on flood lands, but  I'm sure you can well imagine.

Now how did the bicycles end up in the ditch?  It's a single lane road with two way traffic for starters, but I'll get to that in a minute.  First and foremost the road is made up of dirt, sand, rock, mud, clay, gravel, stones etc, in no particular order and with no particular warning.  Fun.  Mountain biking on a cyclo cross bike.  Fun.  You're hammering down a nice descent of smooth dirt and gravel, you can see it's a more technical uphill ahead, you crank it, you get a good speed going, you're cruising, loving life, and then BAM.  Sandy river bed at the bottom.  Didn't see that one coming.  A moment of hilarity as you see all of the tire tracks of those ahead of you zig zagging  their way through the all-of-a-sudden deep soft sand, which, sooner or later, takes the best of riders down.  Fun. 

The second scenario of ditch hitting is another kind of hilarity, as it is even more self inflicted than the first.  The story starts in a similar fashion, cruising, nice dirt, good speed, loving life, narrow narrow road and grass growing well well above your head.  Growing well above the height of a land cruiser, the road twists and turns, making the approach of an oncoming vehicle near invisible.  Luckily, you can hear them.  Mathias and I, bombing a great little section like this one, laughing and carrying on, when in an instant, with out either of us evening having the time to utter a word, we're both plunging full-tilt-boogie into our respective ditches allowing the purring of the cruiser headed our way to pass without a hick-up.  It cruises past and we both laugh and congratulate each other on our innate ability, with not a single word or warning, to know exactly how and when it's simply time to, Hit The Ditch!

Brushing ourselves off we eventually make it over the mountain pass and into Mbeya, after a mere 12 hours of riding sweep together.  Again, Fun.

Now, it's my week off from the tour, as each staff does.  Here I sit on the shores of lake Malawi, a thatched cabin, and a dug out canoe all to myself, with a wide open view in front of me with Mozambique in the distance.   I meet up with the tour in Lilongwe on the weekend, but for now, it's time for a gin and tonic as the waves lap gently by and I debate whether to nap, read or paddle.  Rough. Life. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is having one better than none?

The events of the day ended with my contemplation of this very question as I spent the entirety of our hike down the mountain with sadly, just the one shoe.  Is it better to hold on to something that once was, or is it better to give in, offering the opportunity of appreciating what benefits there could be to one's new state of affairs?  To hold on, was still believing that I was the kind of lady who wouldn't just leave the house without her shoes on.  But it was uncomfortable with only one shoe.  The ground felt quite soft and cool beneath the shoe-less foot, yet somehow, if having shoes was the goal, how could I cast away the very object which I desired, and give up the one I had?

This story never intended to be anything more than the tale of a hike through the jungle, up the mountain to see the waterfall, in the foothills of Mt Meru, outside of Arusha, Tanzania.  Pretty run of the mill here folks.

Sitting satisfied at the accomplishment of reaching our end destination, laying in the sun, baking on a warm rock near the base of the 40 ft waterfall, surrounded by cascading cliffs of ferns, roots, vines,  mosses and beauty, our moment of heaven was soon to come to a swift end.

Over the previous few days, we had experienced brief flashes of torrential, classically tropical, monsoon moments.  What this meant for us now; flash floods happening further up the stream hit a breaking point.    Monsoons of water came rushing down the river without a moments notice, causing the volume of water flowing down stream, to double and then triple in size in an instant.  A waterfall of 4 meters wide, quickly transformed into 12m wide.  This of coarse, then turned the river bed which we had hiked up to get there from a 1m deep river to a set of rapids powerful and deep.

Our options, up the cliffs, roots, vines, down the whirlpools rapids?  Stuck between a jungle cliff  and a tourent of slippery rocks and whirlpools, we were really quite stuck.   With much humming, hawing, and circle walking ensued, circling round and around the little rock that was our one solace, the direction we were needing to head was soon clear; up the jungle cliff we went.

Now the ground cover and vegetation growing over our cliff was indeed quite thick, providing all sorts of nooks an handles.  However this mix-mash of textures and depths is not exactly the most stable mass to climb over.  There was a good amount of digging down to the soil below for each foothold and grip.

Digging down for roots and vines, searching for handholds and foot rests, was around the point where, as you've been on the edge of your seat about this whole time, was the last I was to ever see that left shoe.  Enacting the exact fear in Christiano's mind below me, of what would happen to him if one of these roots/vines etc broke free.  Plink, plank, plunk the shoe tumbled down our route and straight into the storming waters below.

We made it up our jungle scramble in good enough time, quite pleased with ourselves for making it this far, onto the flats now, only to realize that we had scrambled ourselves right into the middle of a feild of stinging nettles AND a raspberry-type vines (aka THORNS).  We could see a path in the distance ahead, the first sign of hope for our escape from this dead end mission, but alas, shoeless in the middle of a field of thorns and nettles, there was only one way to go; forward, and quickly!

Screaming and yelling our way through the thorns, we made it to our little trail, sat and laughed at ourselves for a minute.  Noticed the monsoon clouds that had presumably started the whole palava in the first place were now headed our way, and off we went.  Scrambling up our little trail, to another trail and another and another, until at last we reached the first mountain village, and hurrah, a new set of flip flops for the last hours hike down.

So much more to say about the mountains around Arusha, but they'll just have to wait.  I could quite easily spend a few months here, but alas, the tour goes on tomorrow.  Another week on the off road ahead, and oh yes, the rains are here...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The road less travelled.

Northern Kenya here we are.  Who comes to visit Northern Kenya?  No one.  Who lives in Northern Kenya?  Shockingly, a continuous sighting of individuals.  It's another desert here.  Nothing but lava rocks and sand into the horizon.  How these people live, I am still unsure.
We are in Marsabit now, possibly the most far out place we've been on tour.  It feels like an old country western town from another decade.  With our first day of cloud cover, with our first storm brewing in the air, the light a little softer than usual, an ominous feeling looms overhead.

Before I go on with life and times in Kenya, I must add one details to the last post, the most unbelievable difference about life in Ethiopia, so huge I don't know how I missed it, so huge you might not even believe it; Ethiopia does not operate on the same calendar nor clock as the rest of the world.  The year is currently 2003, don't ask me what month it is, but if it's noon your time then it's currently 6:00 Ethiopia time.  How awesome is that.  Eff you real world!  We work on our own time.  yes.

Life on tour since Addis.  One rider came out with the most brilliant line summing up life what life is like over here "The days are long, but the weeks fly by".  Nothing could be more true.  For ease of piling the weeks of tour highlights out to the world, I'll fall back on another trusted list.
A list of 'Things' that have happened since Addis Ababa:

So things go missing in Ethiopia.  There are always locals about circling closer into camp, waiting to see what they can walk off with.  Fair enough.  A few rider meetings back, we informed the group that 11 whole camp chairs have managed to walk off without any of us noticing.  11 chairs!  It's not like you can slip that under a jacket.  Unfortunate, not the end of the world, and really actually kind of funny in my books.

Funny until the next unveiling of theft a few days later.  2 pairs of cycling shoes....!  Cycling shoes might be one of the more central items to this here trip.  That was a bit of a kicker.  Still working on a solution there.

We managed to break the handle off of the door on the inside of our lunch truck/staff truck/ med clinic.  Ooops.

4 riders have left the tour for various periods of time, for various medical reasons, all headed off in various directions on and off the continent.

The front windscreen of the land cruiser is still intact yet completely smashed.  Not fallen in but does have a rather large spider of fractures splintering out from one corner.  For the full story on that you'll just have to wait until I get back.

About 100 new roads have been built since the last time the tour took this route, and as a result, our directions are not too too accurate.  Lead vehicles sprinting ahead trying to find the right route, flagging madly, hoping the kids don't steel the flagging tape and oh I can't tell you how much the riders loooooove biking 100+km's and then coming into town and being totally confused by the difference between the notes we gave them and the reality on the road.

The last few days we've been on a 'highway' that makes logging roads back home look like a freeway.  Little rough to say the least.  So rough that the two bench seats inside our poor lunch/staff/medic truck actually collapsed into the storage bins below.

Had an epic day crossing the boarder into Kenya.  Always a busy day at the best of times, paired with one staff needing a run to the local  hospital, a few blood tests later, and he's going home.  Hey, you haven't really been to the tropics unless you've picked up a tropical disease right?   This could be a blog posting in itself, but I'll just say that our man is fine and in good hands now.

As we've headed out of the hills and back into the desert, we've rejoined the ongoing hum of stress known as where the hell are we going to fill the water truck next?  Our first town out of Addis had it's water cut off that day, and so it began, and so it remains.  Come on rain clouds, we could use it.

With rain, come crops, with crops comes produce.  With our lack of rain, our ease of collecting enough food for our ravaged machine of riders has also followed a similar path teetering between stress and success.

 A few nights back we camped in the bed of a massive valley.  Unbelievably beautiful.  Steep dirt roads leading out in all directions.  One of our tankers of a support trucks, got stuck on the first up hill out of camp, then a flat tire, then of coarse ran out of diesel.  They made it.  Steve the magic mechanic.  That was just one day on the rough road though.  There have been air bags, shocks, flats, springs, all sorts of giant pieces of the toughest possible overland machinery that have crumbled like dust as we head further and further from civilization.

On that, cell coverage is nill.  Sat phone's it is, with 3 phones between 12 staff to coordinate the solutions to all the fun and games on tour.

This seems like it should be enough events for a two week stretch but I really do feel like I'm missing some big ones.  If you're wondering how the staff are doing after all of this.  Have a read of my latest TDA post.
'And The Staff Are OK'

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Alright.  I've been in Ethiopia for over 3 weeks now and all I can come up with is "I absolutely love it here" ?  Why?  As each day rolls by, with all the events that unfold, through all that we get up to, I still keep asking myself why, why exactly do I love it here so much.
It's not as though this has been an easy stretch of the tour.  With everyone on the tour getting sick at one point or another, paired with an assortment of mini-epics, I need not digress to, I still couldn't quite put my finger on it.
After many hours spent staring out at the landscape going by, day by day, it finally came to me. I realized that my love of this place could not possibly spur from something so small.  I couldn't possibly sum this place up in one single sentence or feeling.
My love comes in the differences. Since my point of realization, I stated compiling a list.  A list of all 'Things' different between my day to day at home in Victoria, BC to my day to in the country of Ehtiopia.

And it goes:
The sounds of the city
The smells of the small towns
How people move themselves from one place to another
What fills a typical road, or highway
The food, drinks, snacks, beverages
The music you hear.
The temperature outside
The language spoken
The written alphabet.
The way men interact with each other.
The places you look to buy the things you need.
Peoples reactions to you.
The cost of living
The average annual income
Government bureaucracy
Hair styles.
The way the dead are handled.
Local produce.
How children spend their time.
Where water comes from.
How meat is sold.
What houses are made of.
What fences look like.
The shoes people wear.
What nightclubs are like.
The prevalence of petty theft.
Nearly every plant and animal in view.
Just to name a few...

In two days we cross into Kenya, where a great adventure awaits;
switching which side of the road one drives on, from one landlocked
country to another.
I can just picture the scene at the boarder now.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How 'bout a boring one? Anyone?

With all the bantering and bambling this far, you might be asking yourself at this point, "Is this not a bike trip?" "She hasn't actually mentioned cycling once has she?"

It is true, amongst the road side adventures, and unexpected encounters there is also a great deal of riding going on over here.  Quite an epic amount actually. At this point I am seriously impressed with all of those fighting through the 40 degree heat, desert roads, and mountain climbs and still holding onto their EFI status (the Every eFFing Inch club).  In either contrast or conjunction, as the days have grown longer,and the riding ever more challenging, a new group has formed with an attitude I can really relate too, the EFCB club (Every eFFing Coffee Break).  Oh yea, this is the way to do the TDA. Any road side distraction, we'll take it!

I thought at this point I might step away from entertaining stories of adventure and shed some light on the reality of my life over here.  I thought I'd write a real dry toast blog on what a Day In The Life looks like for us staffy's.   

It is somewhat of a miracle how each day comes to be with all the logistics of travelling through unpredictable places.  Each day we have our specific duties related to our job tittle, and then on top of that we have an 8 day rotating schedule that dictates where and how we spend the time from one camp to the next.  The medics and mechanics do more sweep riding than the other staff, but we all have our turns with sweeping and all the rest.  Myself and Elvis spend more days running straight to camp and sorting logistics on the other side, but either way, every day is different, and keeps each day a fun new mission.

The Sweeps:X2
Quite simple.  One staff is the sweep rider in the morning until lunch, the other, from lunch to camp.  The lunch sweep hops in the lunch truck first thing in the morning, sets up and prepares lunch for the riders, blasts some hillarious and pumping tunes from the lunch tanker then tags off with the morning sweep and rides in to camp for the afternoon.  The sweep rides behind the last rider, with a first aid kit and satalite phone, keeping enough distance behind the last rider as to not make them feel they are holding up anyone's show.   Sweeping can be quite fun, as you're typically riding at about half the speed you'd otherwise be riding and as such is quite relaxing and gives a great chance to chill and check out the places you're going through.  On the other hand, when it's hotter than hot, you're riding down dusty dirt roads in the desert and you've just finished your 10th liter of water for the day, and you just want to be in camp, you might feel as thought this is some cruel form of slow and painful turture.

Yes. This is a good one.  You're up early, depending on the day and terrain, you might be taking off before sunrise.  You've got a GPS in front of you, flagging tape in one hand and a clipboard and pen in the other.   Off you head in our 4x4 runabout, heading for the hills, taking notes of all new additions to the route, and where much needed recources are available, such as water, gas and good markets.  Water: kind of a big deal in the desert.  At every turn, you jump out and flag the route, which for a few days this past week meant tying flagging tape the tallest peice of grass distinguising one dirt track into the sunset to another.  Fun.   Once you get to camp, you sort out whatever needs to be sorted in order for 2 massive overland trucks to come park and set up a kitchen to feed 100, set up the finish line flag and keep an eye out for the 1st racers.  You help out in the kitchen and keep a keen eye out for attendance of all cyclists coming in.  Once all the birdies are in the nest, high five with co staff and settle into dinner.  Not all riders in?  1 hour to sunset?  Load up some jerry cans with water, grabs some snacks, hop back in the runabout and go see how we're going on the road.

Yes we even have an official BS day.  This of coarse stands for something, something known as breakfast and sanitation, but BS really hits the nail on the head.  You get up at least an hour before sunrise to sort out the breakfast scene, pack up real early and be ready to just be in the kitchen until the last rider goes.  Next you hop in one of the big overlanders, drive to camp and set up our 'toilet' situation for all the riders.  Oh this is a good day let me tell you.  Hah... someone's gotta do it.

Kitchen Day!
Another fave.  A departure from the all-rider-all-the-time world of TDA. After breakfast, hop in the truck with the cooks and head to the market!  Fun.  Always an adventure, and guaranteed to be a bit of a mission.  Once you've successfully purchased more food that you can actually fit in your truck, you head to camp, start chopping veggies, telling stories of adventures past, bad jokes, inappropriate stories, lots of laughs.  Kitchen is always where the best party is.  This is a good one.  Dinner is a happy time at camp.  The food is always delicious, the heat is passing, the day is done.  Calm of the day sets in.

Everyday there is a mission, a unique circumstance to the day, an unexpected logistic that without this daily duty could turn into a gong show.  But no, expect the unexpected, shoot for the escape hatch and pull out your unscheduled card.  
Example of my day on this duty last week.  A hot hot day on dirt roads through the desert, a long day and predictions were that riders would need lots of extra water.  Adele and Claire get in the runabout at sunrise, rips ahead of the racers, get dropped under The Tree of the day with 4 jerry cans of water, a pile of grapefruits and see ya later.  We wait until the first rider shows up and spend the rest of the day refilling riders water for their last 20km of riding.  Folks were pumped on this, let me tell you.

Web and Waste.
Another goodie.  You are the garbage man and the journalist!  What a combo.  You deal with the waste of the tour in the morning.  I won't bore you with the finer details here, but it does involve a large burn pile.  For the rest of the day you ride, take photo's of the day, get some quotes, and good stories, and turn it all into a story for the TDA blog.

All right, there it is. Stay tunned for 'Why I love Ehtiopia' coming to a bambling blog near you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Engrish in Cartoon.

A disclamer, long overdue for this here blog; my overseas Engrish.  Keyboards are crap, keys get stuck or don't work, computers are slow, and my brain is usually pretty fried by the time I get to one.  My appologies, but I'm sure the typos are only just begining.

Here we are in Khartoum, alas not Cartoon, enjoying the luxuries of the big city.  Last night a few of us went downtown to a giant shopping center to partake in the Sudanese version of the 'western world' for kicks.  Engrish rount two.  We all had Spashal Purgers with chips for dinner (sound it out....)   Delicious!

I'm sure the Egyptian madness is all over the news back home, here you would have a hard time guessing anything was going on.  Not a lot of news stands or radio's in the middle of the desert.  Our last day of riding was our first sign that anything was happening as fleets of flat bed trucks carrying tanks, sped past us in the opposite direction, aka to the Egyptian boarder.  Looks like that route is closing up behind us.   A couple of sectional riders, who had bought connecting plane tickets home through Cairo are scrambling to re-book. As for the rest of us, all is tickity boo.

The second clue to a news story a thousand miles away, comes from the camp in which we are staying.   We are currently staying in a UN enclosure which they use as a distribution centre for relief efforts elsewhere in the country.  The last 24 hours have seen buses of Sudanese UN workers carrying giant blue UN bags, packing them into buses and hitting the highway headed south.  Even driving around downtown, the passing of a UN 4x4 is never more than a block away.

We hit the road again tomorrow.  In Ethiopia next week.
For my bantering and bambling interpreation of the desert, my TDA blog should be up in the next day or two:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Boarder Crossing: Round One

One boarder crossing down, eight to go.  They say this one takes the longest.  Let's hope.

A few days ago we made our first boarder crossing, across lake Nasser from Aswan Egypt to Wada Halfa, Sudan.  Easy.  You load the boat, you wait on the boat, you get off the boat.  This boat runs every week, has for years, and as such should be as simple as that.  Should.

Our boat was not a large boat, in fact as we reached the port, looked as the size and quality of the various vessels leaving that day, ours was in fact the least likely boat you would have guessed as being the 'official-boarder-crossing-boat'.   Or maybe you would have, knowing how 'official things' get over here.
At around 10am, the crowds start.  1000 Egyptians with 5,000 packages and us.  We're no help to the plan.  Close to 100 foreigners with 300 packages and 100 bicycles?  Thankfully the system here was simple enough.   You grab your belongings, head down the ramp and board the boat.  In order to achieve this, you simply start yelling, screeming, shoving, elbowing, ramming, pushing, more yelling, leaning, bracing some ducking, and then some squeezing, and you're in!  You see, all of these 1000 people, and 5,000  packages all have to fit through the same door, this one 2 meter wide door, so how else would it be done?   That 2 meter wide opening was not just the one 'In" door for both the passenger and cargo sections of the ship, but also the exit door to the hundreds coming back off the boat for round two.

I'm not sure which was harder, getting into the boat with giant bags or gettting out of the boat, salmoning up the stream of pushing, yelling, screeming, shovng packages coming your way.   The only thing I know, is that if someone were to ask me what a hell hole was, based on my personal experience, it would be the port-hole to that boat.  Did I mention that it was also 30 degrees that day?
Riders made two or three trips in and out of that hole, staff made about double that, loading all of our gear into closets with bunkbeds, and baced ourselves for the following 36 hours bellow deck. 

Thankfully I shared my 'cabin' with 3 other staff with high spirits and great humour, managing to pass the time with great hillarity.  There was enough room for one person to stand up at a time.  If you weren't standing you were in your bunk lying down, or out the door.  Good humour was a great asset as you can imagine.  I won't even go into what the 'toilets' looked like...
One or two hours of paper work on the other side and by 3pm the next day we were off!

Sudan is beautiful.  I absolutely love it here.  The people are peaceful, quite and friendly. 
Nothing like the news would have you believe.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Babysitting the Egyptian Army

As you can well imagine, 100 foreign cyclists, heading out on an epic bicyling journey where hardly anyone even rides a bike for fun, attracts quite the crowd.  At home, this would likely be a crowd of like minded individuals, fellow riders, keen travellers, friends, family, etc.  Here however, our fan club here, is slightly different. 

I guess you could say that in which ever country you look at us from, the one uniting factor is that we might be seen as kind of a big deal?  So if you were to have a job, say like a police man, an army official, or work for the Egyptian special forces, and you weren't really all that busy with your job, but you wanted to be a big deal, well, where else would you go?   You would go to where people might assume that you are also a big deal, right?

Now the Tour D'Afrique is required to hire a police car in Egypt as part of standard tourist regulations.  The army and some semblance of the CIA however, were never brought into questions, and yet, the snowballing of  the Very Important People that we collected during our desert stretch was a new exciting surprise each and every day.  For a few nights we were even blessed by the presence of a fire truck to accompany us all through the night. Thank heaven! What would we have doen without a fire truck?!

I suppose this would be fine considering the police are fairly useless and didn't do too much to help or hinder via there intentional actions, but what they did add to the tour, was at least an additional 10 extra mouths to feed each night.  It's not like you can say no in the middle of the desert, but it's not like you can just nip out to the store either.   We just started to expect new friends and prepare accordingly.
The real help that they offered us though, was they fact that they really had no idea what we were up to.  At night, they would be loud as hell when everyone who just biked 200k that day was trying to sleep.  When we would be trying to pack up and drive out at 6:30 in the morking so that the lunch truck could get to lunch before the fastest racers, they will have double parked all of our vehicles in, be hidden off somewhere smokng shisha, and would then have go herd them away and into their vehicles to get going.  It's not easy to explain why you're in a massive rush at 6:30 in the morning, in a country where nothing happens fast, especially to someone who is 'in charge' of all.  A little bit of yelling and gesturing goes a long way.

Some days the 'CIA' looking men, the guys in suits with biggie guns on their belts, would decide to ride with us instead of in their own vehicles.  Ok, so everyone has left, all the vehicles but one have pulled away, and now we have three men in suits that we have to pack into the one remaining back seat of the truck with everything else we're carrying for the day.  Cool, thanks for coming out guys, can't thank you enough. 

For the most part harmless, but just has to make you laugh when your only interactions with 'authority' are to feed them, tell them it's time to go to bed now, and then to rush them to put on their shoes and socks, put down the smoke and get the day started.

In two days we move onto Sudan.  I think I might expect more of the same.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Music is Happiness.

We drive a ways then walk a ways in search of somewhere different to eat.   Not different in the way of being special, like nothing else, one of a kind, unique.  No, just somewhere different as in, not the same Egyptian noodle stand we have been eating at for the past five meals.  Regardless of our intended hunt, we find ourselves in a restaurant more akin to this first interpretation.

Picture a small room; just big enough to sit the 10 of us around a long narrow table, and just small enough for our shop owner to barely squeeze past.   It’s a bit dark with one florescent light, a red florescent light to be exact, with our view to the outside world nearly cut off by the counter toppled high in pita and roasting chickens.   The walls, as if covered in tin foil, are actually decorated with the ‘best quality’, ‘most shiny’ wrapping paper.  Each sheet with its slightly different pattern, were all clearly chosen to work perfectly with our psychedelic red florescent.

At this point I'm looking to the front at our old man, dressed in long dull coloured garments, cooking up a storm on the grill, seemingly quite a quiet fellow, and I can’t help but ask myself “did he do all of this?”

This is not the excitement on the other end however.  The more exciting event, is the fact that there are 10 foreigners in this shop which, may very well have never had any foreigners  before. 
The level of activity quickly grows.

One man out front is running to get us pepsi’s, plates of salada’s are running down the table, bowls of tahini and piles of pita are appearing quicker than we can eat them.   We see they are cooking chicken and so order, “Chicken for all”.  
"Chicken for all?" 
"Yes, Chicken for all!" 
A couple more young men come in to see that we are happy.  
“You happy?”  
Yes, thumbs up, smiles, we are happy.   The young men are running in and out of the back to get cutlery and be sure that everything is ok as 'chicken for all' comes out.  One chicken for you, one chicken for you, one chicken for you, one whole roasted chicken for everyone!  
“You happy?”  
Yes, thumbs up, smiles, we are happy, only laughing maybe a little bit this time.  Ok, now everyone is REALLY happy.  Now it is time.  Our young man squeezes past to the sound system in the corner, plugs in his music player, and it’s on.   The music blares.  The ears are full, the mouth is useless, what is left but to continue to feast your eyes.  Our young man excitedly hops from one Egyptian pop track to another, each one as loud as the previous.   
“You Happy? ”  said like a question but the answer is obvious to him.  Yes, of course we are happy. The music is blasting so loud now that everyone is in their own little world, left to take in the furry ornaments hanging from the ceiling, the plastic wrapped wall hangings and the swirl of the disco ball lights humming past the front window with everyone’s faces clouded in a veil of the red fluorescent glow.   Yes. I am happy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

'Tweeting' from nowhere.

Tomorrow, a begining of another kind:  the first official rider meeting.
Our cover will be blown; from now on, will be recognized as 'staff'.  65 riders, 10,000 questions, and the real madness starts!
So far, just the one bicycle missing without a trace from the airline....that's just one $8,000 bicycle.  hrrrmmm. Problem.

We leave town on Saturday, so here I release myself off all responsibility of keeping any kind of promise of staying up-to-date.  If you must know, click below and hit the Twitter link!

Tweets from the desert?  Who would have ever known.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cairo. 30 million people in the middle of the desert.

Cairo!  10 million people in the middle of the desert.
What can I say but "It's Insane!". 

The most notable update detail of life in chaos: The roads on which we will soon be riding.

Everyone drives on the highways from BMW's to donkey carts and everything in between.
Lanes on the road are merely a suggestion.  If the car fits between one and the other, go for it!  The same goes for pedestrians.  Don't walk, run!!  You see a small gap in traffic, get in there!  If you need to turn left, you know, across 3 lanes of traffic, simply start ramming the bumper of your car across one lane at a time and in a minute or so you will have succesfully mashed yourself across the road. Trafic lights for a city of 10 million?  No that would be too crazy.

For now I should go.  Someone has just come over to tell me the hotel just lost all of our bookings. From what I have experienced so far, this is all too clasic for how things will be for the next 4 months.  Welcome to Cairo!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It begins

If one would have asked me last new years day what I dreamt I might be doing today, packing my bags for Africa would likely have been the punchline to a joke.  Now, as the reality of my departure draws ever crisper in the foreground of my mind, the reality of my adventure is decidedly just that.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing things by happenstance.  You run into an old friend on the street, go for lunch and end up with a story from their life you otherwise would have never heard.  You chat with a stranger who has a lead to rare secret you've always wondered the answer to.   You get an e-mail from across the world from someone who has been inspired by something you've done, and you realize how small the world is.    Or maybe one day you think you'll head downtown for a coffee with a new cyclist in town, and next thing you know, there is a job offer in you mailbox taking you to the other side of the world, to bicycle 12,000 kms across the African continent.

There is a quote out there for just about every situation or emotion, and this one really sums up my mental exit point when my brain swirls around trying to ask itself how on earth this massive undertaking managed to fall into my reality.

 "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans"
John Lennan

It will be a busy couple of days as I scramble around town for my last minute supplies to fill my bin allowance on the Tour D'afrique overlander.  If I get the chance I'll post an inventory, if for no other reason than my personal entertainment on the other side, and in the meantime I'll keep making other plans...