PANAFRICAN CYCLE PROJECT
Here is a quote from Kazimierz Nowak, a Polish man who cycled a very similar route to ours through Africa in the 1930s. His story is little known but is being resuscitated by his compatriots of today, who we met in the Namibian Kalahari. Nowak is thought to be the first man to have explored Africa solo and on bicycle.
“Generally speaking, there are two Africas: one for show, and the other inaccessible to the general public. No traveler writes about the latter, not least because in order to know it, one must sweat, endure hunger and thirst, and risk one’s health and very life. Moving by foot, bicycle, boat and camel gave me the possibility of bypassing the routes favoured by trippers. For they are a specific showcase, where only that which is meant to enchant the viewer is shown by the exhibitor.
I know Algiers, Tunis, Cairo, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Brazzaville… it is difficult for me to list all those small isles of civilization, set against the oceans of forests and deserts of Africa. Even though I briefly visited them during my wanderings, they were not the goal of my journey. I usually chose the wildest and least frequented trails. My route led me through lands devoid of roads, through deserts and entirely uninhabited regions. I saw an Africa which, in spite of the many works that have been written about it, is a continent still almost completely unknown. It is indeed like the mysterious Sphinx. I ventured to look behind the curtain that veils the face of that black Sphinx – and I have the impression that I succeeded, at least in part. “
As we read the leaflet that was handed to us on the roadside later that day, we were amazed at how Nowak’s words, in his prologue written in 1937 for a book that he never managed to publish (he died 2 years after his return to Poland), so perfectly captured the spirit of our journey over 75 years later. We saw, lived, breathed, and tasted Africa from the port of Alexandria to the Cape of Good Hope. We poured sweat over her deserts and mountains, and cooled in her rivers and lakes. We slept in her villages, in her huts, on her stretches of uninhabited sands. We met her people, as diverse in culture as they are in languages. On bicycle, where you stop for the night is determined by where your legs get you to in the day, and so you end up in many places that would have no reason to figure on a tourist’s map. Those, believe it or not, were often the highlights of our trip. The “nowheres” we saw and the “nobodies” we met were an incredible testimony to the beauty of the world and to the best of humanity. It was here that we witnessed the plain, simple, natural beauty of villages and their surroundings; it was them who welcomed us with open arms, a bowl of beans, a cup of tea and an under-the-stars bed.
It has been an incredible year. Sat back here in the comfort of our European homes, it is already hard to grasp the reality of our day-to-day lives on the road: the parts that were so hard we would scream at the road from our saddle, and push on, one foot after the other. The parts when, exhausted from effort and heat, we would crumble to the ground under the nearest tree. Or when we would wake up, cold, in our tent the morning after a sleepless night, and get up to move forward one more day. But beyond the cockroaches in the toilet, the grit in the bread and the grime in our hair, was one of the most wonderful and amazing experiences we’ve ever had. The physicality and simplicity of the task allowed our minds to gain a new clarity about our selves and the world we live in, to get rid of the inessentials, to gain new perspectives. We discovered a renewed faith in humanity: people aren’t perfect, but they are, for the most part, good. And from the bountiful orchards of Europe to the dramatic landscape of Ethiopia, the clear waters of Malawi, the extraordinary generosity of the Sudanese, the other-worldly tribes in Kenya, to the wilderness of Botswana and Namibia, we witnessed a striking beauty. This beauty, simplicity and clarity, we hope will stay with us forever.
Thank you to our parents and families for your boundless support and for seeing beyond the duties of parenthood to share our vision with us. Thanks to the friends who’ve visited us on route, Aedin, Nahid, Jamie, Diane, Megan, Ben, Emmie and Sam. Thanks to Shabnam who always sent us what we needed and more. Thanks to the new friends we’ve met along the way, Philip Baxter, Marco and Dolores, the SidiAhmeds, Malek el Nasir, Nasir in Dongola and his family in Khartoum, all the Peace Corps volunteers who put us up, Alex and Raphael in the Chalby, Rob and Beth in Zambia, DeChips and Banda in Botswana, Beth, Casper, Manni Goldbeck and the whole of the Gondwana crew in Namibia. Thanks to all those who’ve left us encouraging comments on the website or in emails. Thanks to all the friends, colleagues, organizations, acquaintances and family friends who’ve very kindly and generously donated to our NGO the OGRA foundation and the medical college ISMAT. We’ve reached our fundraising goal! Thanks to all of you at OGRA for welcoming us like old friends, and in particular, thanks to Jack, may his soul rest in peace, and thanks to his wife Judy for their special welcome into their family and home. Thanks for doing such an amazing job, we are very proud to be supporting you.
Importantly, thanks to all of the “nobodies” of the “nowheres”.
By the way...
If you think that you need to be super fit to do something like this, if you think that we are “athletes”, that we required training, or that we required anything more than just the simple ability to ride a bike (if that), please do think again. Anyone with a functioning body, half a brain and a little ambition can do it. If you want to.