Monday, May 24, 2010

Thank you!!

When you think of Africa, what comes to mind?

The 2010 Tour d'Afrique is complete and I would like to thank you all for your contributions to SELF, for helping to spread the word, and for following my progress. Your involvement has touched me deeply.

I would like to say that in the past four months, I experienced an intimate discovery of African culture. I did experience an intimate view of some African roads, traffic and majestic landscapes; but the tour dynamic was my focal point, which seemed to leave little time to immerse myself in the African cultures. However, I did get a lot closer to Africa's vibe than my usual perch which can usually only see the likes of the New York Times or the BBC.

So what does the word "Africa" bring to mind? I'm guessing - poverty/war/corrupt dictators/lions and elephants. While I saw some lion and elephant, I saw no poverty I haven't seen in New York City, I didn't see any fighting, and I didn't meet any dictators(that I know of). This doesn't mean Africa does not have any of the above, it's just that those images should not define this large complex continent.

I chose to raise money for SELF - an NGO whose mission is to help developing countries improve their infrastructure. After my journey, I am even more optimistic that SELF's model will be more productive - then simply giving money - for Africa's future. As I experienced first hand, if you give a person some cash, they spend it to satiate an immediate desire, which is soon forgotten, but yet the expectation for a handout is even stronger. However, if you give someone the opportunity to make something for you, they might drive a hard bargain, but they take pride in the work they have done. Instead of exploiting Africa's resources, what if the developed world helped Africa learn how capitalize its own natural and intellectual resources?

Africa is the 2nd largest continent (bigger then North America and Europe) and it has 54 countries, where 2000 different languages are spoken by a billion people - this is what I found on wikipedia. What I found on our bike ride, is the people are proud, friendly, hospitable and willing to work for their future....IF left to their own devices.

Thank you again for your support.

P.S. I will close down the SELF fundraising at the end of this week, but will continue to update my blog with my observations of Southern Africa during the World Cup.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cape Town, South Africa

What a long strange trip it's been, as Robert Hunter once wrote.

This past Saturday morning we started our final day in nice calm crisp, but bitter cold weather. Soon enough the sun made an appearance and warmed us just in time for our arrival at our last lunch stop which was on the beach across the bay from Table Mountain. What an amazing backdrop for us to enjoy a gourmet spread and hold our bikes high in the air for the camera!!

From lunch we had a 30km convoy along the bay, and through downtown Cape Town, for an arrival at the V&A Waterfront. The expected elation I described previously, which had been building over the past few days, speeded the convoy up as we neared the finish. The finish line came quickly and so did the smiles, hugs, handshakes, jumping up and down, more smiling. Behind all of that, you could sense everyone experiencing a very calming satisfaction....we did it!

The rest of the day and night allowed us to roll in our accomplishment as awards were given, speeches made, beards and hair shaved, families and friends received, bikes donated, champagne bottles popped.

During the evening we had an awards and celebratory dinner, at which a slide show was shown - 500 pictures documenting the last 4 months. We had just crossed Africa, and yet most of the pictures were of us...the TDA riders and staff. That's what this journey was Yes we rode our bikes, and we saw a lot of 10 African countries, and we met and talked to a few African people, but this trip was defined by the interaction between the TDA people.

One day in January, 70 strangers all met at a hotel in Cairo, and for the next 4 months, lived within a few feet of each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our privacy was revealed. Alliances and friendships were formed...even a little love. Enemies made. Love and hate was displayed as was good and bad moods. And the only thing we all seemed to have in common was that our interaction for 4 months happened in Africa...oh, we also each brought a bike with us. And as quickly as we came together, we all went our separate ways. A lot of friendships will endure, but many of us will never hear from each other again, and yet I believe that the essence of our nostalgia for this safari will be the TDA riders and staff.

At the end, our race winner summed up his experience as "These were some of the simplest days of my life, riding from one camp to another, enjoying the day. Now it's back to the reality, back to the real world". All we had to do was wake up, put our tent in the truck, ride our bike to the next camp, eat and go back to sleep, while enjoying each moment of the experience. If riding on any given day was unappealing we hopped on the truck. All one had to do to get the most out of this trip was to accept Africa for what it was and accept TDA for how it operated. My experience left me with 2 disappointments. I was disappointed in myself for not being able to leave out my western expectations when dealing with vendors of all sorts in Africa. I was also disappointed in the TDAers who were unable to embrace the expected inconveniences of this trip and chose to display their perceived victimization through regular complaining.

The latter was fortunately overshadowed by an ongoing feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment that this trip provided...each ride, each starry night sky, each photographic view, each taste of a new cuisine, each healing, each challenge, each welcome, each laugh(lots of those) and the list goes on. I believe all of these individual experiences will slowly blend together and be remembered as one giant TDA moment...a memory that will be jogged by the most expecting occurrence.

And now what? As our chef pointed out the day after our arrival - once the celebrations have subsided, our feelings can turn to confusion. Waking up and realizing we don't have to put our bag in the truck and get on the bike, but rather deal with the choices and complications presented to us back in the "real world", can be confusing.

Once the confusion subsides, I will play back the slide show and enjoy the rich memories I have of the time I spent with 70 strangers riding bikes across Africa.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Out of Africa... the feeling I had soon after crossing the border into South Africa. The roads, traffic pattens, cars were the first clue, and as we have moved further south it has become more and more apparent...South Africa provides a stark contrast to the rest of Africa as I experienced it.

With that being said, the beauty was not left at the border. South Africa's west coasts weather and ruggedness provides a wildness that makes you feel like you are at a frontier. And as frontiers can be inhospitable to newcomers, so can this area, if the cold wind is coming at you, and there is 100 miles of hilly road between you and a warm shower. But that is behind us now...and so is the wind. The last 2 days the wind has come around and has joined forces with us, pushing us away from the rain and towards the finish line.

Tomorrow is our Champs the form of a convoy into Cape Town

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Felix Unite

Odometer - 11,000 km

I can see country #10

Looking across the Orange river, past all the bird life and the unidentified mammal that keeps surfacing, I am staring at South Africa. We have just enjoyed our last rest day at a river camp called Felix Unite, which is on the Namibia side of the river. In a few hours, we will pass through immigration and begin our run down South Africa's west coast.

Our arrival here completed a week of long days on friendly dirt roads, with back-drops which were a continuation of the beauty I described in my previous blog...southern Namibia will always be remembered as a place that is almost fantastical in its beauty, and even after seeing it first hand, I already sometimes wonder if it truly did exist.

Our last day of riding in Namibia made us earn the cold drinks waiting for us in Felix Unite. 174km, most of which was on dirt, with some nice long gradual uphills to keep the speedometer in check, but it was the last 30km or so that defined the day...headwind on tired legs, knowing that we are so close. The end of last week's riding for a lot of people seemed to come with an exhale of breath...knowing that we have had an amazing journey, and the end is just so close.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sesriem, Namibia

There is a scene in the movie, "Caddyshack", where all of the caddys have one day where they are allowed to use the country club's pool. The caddies converge on the pool, violating the peace, quiet and routine enjoyed by the club members. After the regulars have been horrified, the scene ends with an empty pool area...and pool, and a person in a hazmat suite cleaning up the "mess".

That scene is a good metaphor for what happens when the TDA converges on some sort of establishment. With very little consideration for its capacity or service standards, we eat it up, spit it out and then leave the horrified patrons in our dust. We can bring a small town to its knees, and can even leave our mark on a small city. But typically we like to prey on lodge and campground infrastructures. Sorry for the late notice but anyone who might be lying in our path, I recommend the following:
- overstock your fridges with cold cokes and beers
- fill your kitchen with comfort food
- install a speedy Wifi connection
- service and upgrade your sewer system
- make sure you take credit cards or currency from your neighboring countries
- fumigate - targeting mosquitoes and ants
- arrange a free shuttle service
- install 10 washers and dryers
- most importantly - double your staff and put them through the Ritz Carlton's service training program.

If you take these precautions, and are prepared to be at our bec and call 24 hours a day, it will be a pleasure doing business with us.

Our latest victim, is the town of Sesriem, which is the gateway to the red dunes of Sossusvlei. Our ride here from Windhoek took us through some of the most sensational countryside, that have struck an array of reactions. Some vista's are coffee table book material and hold your gaze, while others invite you like the Ulysses's Sirens. Even coming across the a very common antelope like the Springbok, for some reason makes you stop and stare.

Homestretch is definitely the vibe in the TDA camp. Realization has set in that we are less then 2 weeks from the finish line and people have been reneregized by this notion. And what a pleasure to ride out this tour in this landscape.

But, we must beware, there is some hard riding between here and Cape Town. High winds, dirt roads, a canyon, who knows what else, coupled with long distances will make us earn our finish line elation.