In 2012, to reduce my carbon footprint and do something to combat climate change, I decided not to travel by air. It might sound terribly limiting, but it has resulted in the adventure of a lifetime. I am now in Jordan after crossing Africa on pure pedal power!
SOUTHERN AFRICA: bokdrol, spoeg, saltpans, an elephant chase and Victoria Falls.
Before I took my first pedal stroke at Cape Point, on Youth Day 2017 surrounded by friends and curious onlookers, I was afraid I was going to fall on my face! I had never cycled with panniers before, nor done any training and I had only been for a few short rides on my new touring bike.
Riding through South Africa I experienced the amazing friendliness of her people. Passersby hooted, waved and gave me thumbs-up in support. In the Klein Karoo, a local farmer generously opened his home to me and I was treated to game drives and challenged to bokdrol spoeg (a local buck dung spitting competition). Cycling up Swartberg Pass left me breathless and exhausted – only being able to cycle 100 metres at a time near the top – but the stunning view of the surrounding snow capped mountains and the descent down to Prince Albert on the other side was worth the hard work!
At the border with Botswana, I was very emotional as I was leaving South Africa, my home and friends. I cycled across the vast awe-inspiring landscape of the Makgadikgadi saltpans and explored the fascinating baobabs of Kubu Island. Out there, in the harsh nothingness, my phone and money were stolen! I was saved from dehydration by a lone 17 year old boy who was looking after his family’s cattle post. Amazingly, I actually got my phone and money back after a wild two-day chase by the police and locals! By chance I also got to participate in an awesome annual charity bike race for securing water for elephants. A few days later, I was chased on my bike by an elephant, just 200 kilometers short of the border with Zambia. I don’t find Elephants cute anymore.
My final memorable moment in Southern Africa was a thrilling swim at the very edge of Victoria Falls, in Devil’s Pool! Made even more special after having cycled all the way there from South Africa!
EASTERN AFRICA: lions, Mt Kenya, stick houses and police transport.
After a few days off R n R at Lake Malawi, I got back on my bike and pedalled north to Tanzania. Here I really got into the spirit of bicycle touring. I decided to get off the beaten track and cycle a 400 kilometer gravel road. Red soil. Blue sky. Afternoon thunder clouds. Tiny villages. Amazing hospitality. Lots of chai, carbs and beans. And… lions! Fortunately, I only saw their paw prints but that was more than enough for me!
I was sad to leave Tanzania, but crossing into Kenya I got a wonderful welcome and was invited to spend the night at a local Masai compound! Maybe it was the chai, the fire, the maharage, the questions whether I liked to drink cow’s blood, capitalism vs communism, or wanting to join the village celebration of a boy’s circumcision that made me stay the next day too.
I ended the year by climbing the second highest mountain on the continent (5000 m.a.s.l) and dancing at The Kilifi New Year festival on Kenya’s coast. On my journey I have been raising funds for Eco2libirum. In Kakamega I got to see first hand the important work they’re doing to reduce human impact on the environment and improve the lives of local families. Here their fuel efficient cooking stoves project is helping to curb deforestation of one of Kenya’s last remnants of lowland indigenous rainforests while stimulating the local economy and decreasing indoor air pollution from wood smoke.
Leaving Kenya, I chose perhaps one of the most difficult routes to get to Ethiopia – travelling along Lake Turkana! Sandy roads. Roasting sun. Rivers of sweat. Distant villages. Scarce water points. Food scarcity. Days of being able to cycle only 35 km. It was tough, but it was also here that I had some of my most beautiful experiences. I was taken in by a group of women, living off the land in igloo shaped houses built of sticks. We didn’t speak the same language, yet we were talking the whole time! Laughing, smiling, holding hands, drinking goat milk directly from the teats of goats, shaking down fruit from a tree, visiting an alcohol brewing neighbour. That night we sat around a bonfire and stargazed while eating World Food Program porridge for supper.
Here, I also had to put my bicycle in a police vehicle to transport me safely through high-risk bandit country. I teared up as we started driving, having pedaled every centimeter from Cape Point up till this point…
NORTHERN AFRICA: time travel, volcanoes, 50°C, pyramids, flying rocks and history making
Crossing into Ethiopia marked the first country I have not previously visited. I hiked the beautiful Simien Mountains, travelled back in time at the twelve ancient, rock-cut holy churches of Lalibela, AND went to the hottest place on Earth, The Danakil Depression! Deadly colourful sulphur pools. Active volcanoes. A lava lake. Saltlakes. Saltmining! It was harsh and breathtaking.
In East Africa I felt deeply grateful for strangers’ offers of shelter, safety and food. I often discovered profound connections. However at times I struggled with overwhelming attention, feeling like a circus animal. The kids and teens in Ethiopia took this to a new level. I was whipped and had rocks thrown at me as I cycled past! Not uncommon apparently, but it was extremely challenging to be open and friendly in these instances. I was happy to escape this aspect of cycle touring as I crossed into Sudan.
Here another challenge awaited me – cycling through the lonely desert in 50°C! I was not mentally prepared, crying a little everyday. The heat was so intense and all consuming. Instead of adapting by cycling only in the mornings and afternoons, I pushed on through the whole day. My tubes and tires even took a hit, requiring me to repair multiple punctures in the midday heat! At lower temperatures I found myself seriously enjoying the unique and spectacular desert landscape, feeling that I was almost cycling too fast to take in all the beauty.
Crossing into Egypt and riding from one ancient Egyptian temple to another was simply awesome!! I’d dreamed of seeing the pyramids, never imagining that I’d rock up on a bike that I’d ridden across a whole continent – from the Cape to Cairo – 11,000 kilometers! It was a solemn moment as I crawled into the world’s first pyramid. Having it all to myself, I sang an emotional Norwegian folk song in its depths.
Travelling through Egypt I unfortunately experienced sexual harassment (for example, a guy on a motorcycle grabbed my boob WHILE I was cycling). But in Cairo I was grateful to stay with a family of strong women who are at the forefront of making cycling for women generally accepted in their country. We had a blast and I was treated to the best home cooked food in an attempt to fatten me up.
I’d been travelling with a solar cinema (a solar powered projector and speakers) and screening awesome films along the way to inspire more people to be environmentally friendly. In Egypt, I was privileged to do a screening and share my journey with an audience of 3000 enthusiastic learners at the Library of Alexandria!
And to top it all, as I cycled my last kilometers on the African continent in the direction of the Middle East, I think I made a bit of history – I CYCLED through the Suez canal tunnel! No one is allowed to do this!! I’ve heard of only a small group of Egyptians and two solo male riders who had done it before. The former had ministerial support while the latter two riders were arrested because they didn’t have permission. Could I be the first solo woman to do it?!
I spent two days at the army checkpoint before the tunnel, trying to make it happen. It looked so hopeless for so long that I couldn’t believe it when I got the clearance. I was so happy and emotional, that I was even shaking a little as I got on my bike. A truly once in a lifetime experience! What a finale!
THE WAY FORWARD
In a short while, as winter starts, I’ll be heading towards in the most northern tip of Europe. It’s going to be cold, dark, wet and miserable, yet I’m excited at the prospect of this new journey. Your mode of transportation influences your experiences. What you see, who you meet, how you interact. People are more curious, more open, engaging, hospitable and generous when you rock up on a bicycle! You see and experience the landscapes you go through in a different way because you are not sitting inside a fast moving metal box. I would definitely not exchange my bike for a car in a million years. Next time you want to have a real adventure, just hop on YOUR bike!
What do you do when you need to return to Norway after living at the tip of Africa for six years, and you can’t fly? …You hop on a bicycle! Teresie Hommersand, shares the highlights of her epic journey from Cape Town, South Africa to Kapp, Norway by bicycle – an adventure of a lifetime!