Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Deep In The Heart Of Africa - On A Bicycle

Somewhere by Jennifer Stewart

Who would ever think of riding a bicycle through East Africa for fun? Only the young and foolish, surely, the restless in body and spirit, craving adventure. Once I rode my bicycle from Nairobi to Mombassa and down the coast to Tanzania, then Malawi. It used up a lot of need-to-fly energy, but it didn’t result in any sense of deep heart and soul satisfaction. So much for the pleasure of adventure. It’s not for nothing that armchair travel is such a popular pastime.

The roads go on and on and on in East Africa, and sometimes they’re like corrugated iron for days. Have you ever tried that, riding a bicycle for three days over a dirt-corrugated road? I don’t recommend it. Your bones get jolted to that painful point just before numbness should mercifully set in, except of course it doesn’t.

There’s no escape. Or at least that’s what you believe. Which according to Henry Ford is exactly why there isn’t – you know, I am what I think, I have what I’ve settled for…

The only food you get is salt-roasted peanuts and bananas by the side of the road, sometimes a bit of meatless chicken. You get to a cafĂ©, and they have huge vats of boiled tea. You’d be amazed at what deprivation makes you think you want. This boiled tea, it’s very milky and sweet. When you’ve been riding for three or four or seven hours, your throat caked with dust, and you’ve just taken the millionth midget out of your eye, boiled sweet milky tea can be very exciting.

As for salt-roasted peanuts and bananas, the truth is I’m pretty much addicted to them now, but that’s because I have a choice. Well, partly. The other thing you can get in the cafes is aspirin, and hot coca-cola. You’d be surprised how you can spend a day dreaming about a hot coca-cola. Actually, you dream about a cold one, and when you first taste it hot, something inside you jumps around frantically in frustration, but pretty soon you’re gulping it down. It’s either the sugar or the marketing.

Well there’s only so much a girl can take. One day in Malawi I stopped, threw my bike onto the ground, and had a tantrum.

Picture this. A violently hot deep in the heart of Africa day, dusty, no trees even to visually quench your thirst for shade, no water, no grass, no anything but dirt and dust. And a road that goes on and on towards nowhere, up hill down hill, up hill down hill, up hill - surely it will be flat from the top onward; please God no more hills. Down hill to face the next uphill, worse than the last.

Tsetse flies flying as fast as you can cycle, imagine that, keeping up with you for a whole day, wind in your eyes, hunger for good food in your belly, mouth dry, temper building. And building. And building. Until you leap off your bicycle, smash it down on the road and kick it, and shout and scream to the vast wild African foreverness.

The leaves of a palm tree rustle slightly, then settle to stillness.

Africa shrugs.