Southern Africa Cycle: Five Reflections

It is hard to put into words the impact this trip has had on us. It was eye-opening, refreshing and, at times, extremely trying. But, thankfully, mostly lots of fun! As we reflect on our experience we have tried to distill what we learned into a few digestible bites for other like-minded adventurers:

  1. Cycle in Africa. There are few continents as less traveled by cycle tourists as Africa. If you are looking for an adventure that will push you outside your comfort zone in beautiful regions with welcoming, curious people, this is the continent for you. We cycled through 7 countries in total (Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) and never felt threatened or unsafe.
  2. Plan and then let it go. Sometimes the worry can be worse than the reality. While there are a million and one reasons to worry on a daily basis we’ve learned to take each day as it comes. There is a difference between planning for potential outcomes, and letting them dictate your path.
  3. Learn the local tribal language. It makes a huge difference to be able to communicate in the local language, even to simply be able to say good morning/evening. It never failed to bring a few laughs or draw out a smile and helped to garner goodwill when we needed help or advice. If nothing else, a smile and wave are universal.
  4. Don’t say “no” for other people – Thank you Rory for passing on this bit of wisdom. It truly never hurts to ask someone for something. You may be surprised by the response.
  5. Its OK to park the bike for a bit. Sometimes you can explore more on 4 wheels than two. We hired a car/truck on two separate occasions (in Namibia and South Africa) and really enjoyed both road trips because they helped us explore places we wouldn’t have on the bicycle. Needless to say we aren’t EDMs (“every damn milers”), the common term for cyclists who must cover every part of the trip on the bicycle.

Overall, our experience cycling in Africa has been a real highlight for us. We felt we were able to immerse ourselves in the cultures of the different countries by making incredible friendships with people we met along the way. Each country was very different and has broken our stereotypes about what it means to be ‘African’. Africa is a very diverse continent, with a wealth of people, cultures, wildlife, and landscapes. From the wild Zambezi river to the Cosmopolitan Cape Town, savannah to lush coastline, sugar plantations to vineyards. We experienced so much more than we ever expected.

We’ll finish by by saying that our last week in South Africa was spent just how we would have liked – with amazing friends, who feel more like family, experiencing new things (even after 45 days in S. Africa). Since we booked flights out of Cape Town, we were able to visit Willem again, spend time with his amazing family, and learn more about grape farming by visiting his packing facility. The grapes grown on Willem’s and his co-workers’ farms are exported all over the world – including Europe and China. It was fascinating to learn how a bunch of grapes make their way from the vine, are picked by the hard-working male employees, packed in boxes by diligent female teams, and shipped in refrigerated containers to maintain their freshness. We were able to taste beautiful Sable grapes fresh from the vine – no doubt the freshest we’ve ever had. They were so crisp and refreshing!

Rather than having the stress of packing up our bikes and preparing to go home, Willem kindly arranged their packing with a friend of his who owns a bike shop. Even up to our last week, we felt so humbled by the kindnesses we received. Meanwhile, we went beer and chocolate tasting at the Spice Route, and experienced a Potjiekos at Willem’s friend/co-worker’s house. A Potjiekos is a traditional South African stew cooked in a three-legged, cast-iron pot over the hot coals of a braii (BBQ). We were also treated to Willem’s tender steaks, also cooked on the braii. We couldn’t have felt more relaxed leading up to our 24-hour journey back to Ireland, and we have Willem, Tilla, and Thinus to thank for that!

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