FAQs about cycling around the world.
Here are some of the questions we are commonly asked about the trip. Click on the question to see the answer.
Having backpacked throughout Asia and South America we know all too well the hassles and constraints associated with relying on public transport. We want to really get off the beaten track-- not just visit the sites listed in the Lonely Planet and spend our evenings swapping stories with other backpackers. Cycling will offer physical challenge, adventure and closer contact with the locals. Now that we've cycled through Africa, we have the confidence and experience to cycle through the rest of the world.
About 100 Kilometers. It all depends on the condition of the road, the terrain and where convenient stopping places are located. Average speed is about 16KM per hour. On flat terrain with a paved road we do around 20 KM. But in Africa this is a rare combination.
About 6 liters between the two of us. Normally we can find villages with pumps to refill our bottles along the way. In Western Sahara, Mauritania and some sparsely populated areas in the Sahel, we carried up to 9 liters.
Obviously bring a puncture repair kit with at least 20 patches per bike. Restock often in Africa because you never know when you'll be able to find more patches. Always carry a least two tubes of glue as one might dry out. Africans are good at finding a quick fix to most any problem. They are really amazing and guys in small villages have fixed problems that left us baffled. Take a look at Bike Accessories and Repair Kit on our gear page for complete details on tools and spare parts
215 kilometers in one epic ride between Nouakchott, Mauritania and Rosso at the border with Senegal. Average speed was 23.83 and total time in the saddle was just over 9 hours.
Bad roads: soft sand that makes you sink, corrugations that jar your bones, deep ruts that threaten to flip you out of the saddle,flooded areas with waist-deep water, pot-holes that can swallow a bike. Mountain passes are a cinch in comparison. Cycling Africa has intense highs and intense lows. People can be incredibly hospitable and kind and at the same time all the attention you attract can be hard to deal with. Sometimes you just want to find a quiet spot to pee without being spied on by a gaggle of curious on-lookers. And conditions can be quite basic in the villages. In retrospect, Wild-camping is probably better than stopping at cheap guesthouses frequented by lorry drivers. You won't have to deal with unsanitary conditions (many West Africans use the shower as a urinal) and it will be much quieter.
In West and Central Africa we saw very few tourists. In some less-visited areas (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria), we went weeks without talking to another traveller. In one year we met 7 other cyclists. There are a lot more cyclists who do the Cairo to Cape Town route.
On the whole, we receive a very warm welcome. African hospitality is impressive and we know we can count on the village chief for finding us lodging if we get stuck in a remote area. Some villagers,however, have the annoying habit of demanding money and gifts when we pass on our bikes. This, of course, gets tiring but is in part understandable. These people live tough lives and they see us as rich Westerners and a potential source of financial help. Locals also call to us constantly, and all the attention can get on your nerves after 6 or 7 hours in the saddle. But all in all, people are very helpful, kind, open and interested. Not speaking the local language has never really stopped us from having some basic communication. A need to eat or find a place to sleep is very easily communicated through gestures. If you need to know which way to go, simply saying the name of the town you're headed towards will do. More complex questions such as how many kilometers is it to the next town or what's the road like will be trickier. Colonialism has left it's mark on the continent and in West Africa you'll find plenty of French speakers, while East and Southern Africa is in the English speaking zone. Every village has got at least one person who can speak the tongue of the old colonial master's with some fluency.
In retrospect, not really. The road is fantastic--smooth and flat--and we had a gentle tailwind with us most of the time, so doing 150 kilometers or more a day was pretty easy. In Western Sahara there are service stations no more than every 100 kilometers, so you can fill up with water at least daily. In Mauritania there are tent rest stops along they way where you can get water and food.
We hardly ever buy bottled water (last time was in Senegal, I think). Normally we get our water from village wells that are meant to provide potable water for the local population--these have usually been constructed with the help of an NGO. When we have to get our water from an open well or river we always purify it with Micro-Pure drops. We don't carry a filter. In cities we fill our bottles from the tap water, often without treating it. So far, we haven't run into any serious problems. See the resources section Staying Healthy for more information.
Definitely. If you become seriously ill or are in a major accident it will be necessary to be evacuated to your home country or a regional medical center with first-world facilities (eg Johannessburg, Nairobi). This isn't cheap. The insurance company we recommend is World Nomads, based in the UK but serving customers worldwide. Rates are reasonable. We each pay 40 euros per month and receive fairly comprehensive coverage including reimbursement for minor medical costs incurred during the trip. Registration, payment and claims can be handled on-line and their customer service is top-notch.
Malaria is a serious issue for anyone traveling in sub-Saharan Africa, even more so for cyclists who will spend considerable time in villages and away from major medical centers. Your best defense is a good mosquito net, liberal use of repellent and covering exposed areas as soon as the sun starts going down. You'll also probably want to take prophylactics. These are drugs that guard you against the disease, but are never 100% effective. New, resistent strains of malaria are cropping up all the time so you have to stay abreast of the situation. Some medical professionals may tell you that you'll build up a resistance to malaria after having spent an extended period of time in a malaria zone. As far as we can tell this is absolute rubbish, because locals from Senegal to Malawi all complain of being effected by the sometimes deadly illness. Lariam, a once popular anti-malrial, has a reputaion for causing serious side-effects such as nightmares, paranoia, and in extreme cases, irreversible mental-illness. We decided those side-effects weren't worth the risk. Chloroquine alone is another option, but only in regions catorogized by the WHO as zone 1 (low resistence, eg Morocco, Egypt). In zone 2 (medium resistence, eg Mauritania and northern Senegal) one can take a combination of chlorquine plus proguanil, which is what we did. In zone three regions (high resistence, all other countries up to Zambia) we took a daily 100mg dose of doxycycline, which is actually an anti-biotic. One major side-effect of doxycycline is that it can make you more sensitive to sun. Fortunately we didn't have this problem. Anti-malarials can be very expensive when purchased in Europe or North America. We bought all medicines in Africa, where they are readily available and cost a fraction of what you pay in the West. Although there have been recent scares about fake drugs flooding the markets in Africa, most reputable pharmacies will stock drugs imported from India (one of the world's largest producers of pharmaceuticals) which are often manufactured in cooperation with a reputable Western pharmaceutical company. It is imperative that you carry an emergency treatment in case you come down with malaria and are unable to reach medical help. We carried a supply of coartum. If you fall ill and suspect it's malaria, you can use coartum for emergency self-treatment. Just follow the usual dosage instructions printed on the package. Even if you can find a doctor, in many out of the way places its unlikely that medical professionals will have malaria testing kits. They usually just assume it's malaria if you've got a high fever. Simple-to-use self testing kits for malaria are available in Europe and North America, so you may one to buy a couple before you head off on your trip. We each came down with a mild form of malaria twice. It was not the crisis we had imagined. Certainly no need to check and see if the travel insurance covers medical evacuation. Just a heavy fatigue, listlessness and high fever. Just a couple of days after beginning the treatment we felt better and were able to get back on the bikes. We were lucky, but malaria can be fatal so do take any symptoms seriously.
For non meat-eaters, finding food is one of the biggest challenges of travel in Africa. Breakfast is usually Quaker Oats with powdered milk and raisins. We stock up on these when we hit a major town because imported food isn't available everywhere. Lunch we usually find on the road. Sometimes it's rice and sauce or beans. This is usually served up in a roadside hut. Often there's just manioc and some sort of meat and then we're in a bind. Or maybe there's nothing in the villages we pass. If we're lucky we've still got a supply of Laughing Cow cheese and some bread to tide us over. Biscuits can usually be found even in the most out of the way places, so we can get some sugar at least. In most of West Africa, women sell a variety of dishes at small stands in the evening. This is a nice atmosphere--starlight and hurricane lamps and normally some good company with the locals. Real restaurants with menus are rare. When we cook, it's usually spaghetti with a tomato sauce. Unfortunately, vegetables are hard to come by in the markets. Sometimes there are aubergines, usually a few tomatoes or carrots, avocados in certain areas, maybe some potatoes if we're extremely lucky, onions but rarely anything else.
The alarm normally goes off shortly after 5AM. We prepare breakfast (oats, coffee and bread), pack our gear and set off around 6:30. We're slow in the morning and like to enjoy a fairly leisurely breakfast. By 10AM we're hungry again and stop to eat--beans provide the best energy, otherwise it's bread with some Nutella-knock off chocolate spread. That keeps us going till around 1:00 PM when we start looking around for a place for lunch. Mid-afternoon we might take a soft-drink break and stuff ourselves with biscuits, if we find such goodies along the way. We don't generally stop cycling until late afternoon--sometimes we continue until sunset if we want to make it to a particular town. There are seldom sights to visit along the way, but we stop to chat with villagers, fetch water and take pictures. After more than 20,000 kilometers, we are starting to have some mechanical failures too, so time is spent with minor repairs. Charming police at the numerous roadblocks also cuts into our cycling time. Once we've found a place to spend the night (usually a hotel, but sometimes camping or staying with the village chief) we hop into the shower and remove the thick layer of accumulated grime. Then it's time to search for food again. If we're not too exhausted after dinner (and we've got electricity!), we might read, do a bit of Sudoku or fiddle around on the computer. Lights out usually no later than 9PM.
Mostly we experience satisfaction at having pedalled so far. If we had wanted to simply enjoy ourselves, we would have booked a no-hassle package tour of Kenya. Our objective is to experience and explore the world first hand, not just have fun like ordinary, sane people. Plus we like all the sympathy mail.
We're flexible. It took us 17 months to cycle the 30,000 kilometers to Cape Town. Now we've decided to slow things down and enjoy ourselves more. We weren't under any time pressure to return to Europe, so we cycled at a rhythm that felt comfortable. To cross the USA and cycle through South America should take us about 18 months.
Back in 2001 Amaya ran across a book written by 2 sisters who had cycled from Paris to Beijing. They had absolutely no experience cycling long distances or even traveling for extended periods, yet they were able to realize their dream. That summer we spent 10 days cycling in France and, although we enjoyed the trip immensely, no other trips followed in the next two years. In spring 2005 we set out on our bikes again, having been inspired by some of Amaya's students (thanks Sylvia and Winfried!)who were planning cycling trips. And all of sudden Amaya got it in her head that the long planned backpacking Africa trip should be done on bicycle. 'Are you insane?' was Eric's knee-jerk reaction 'There are deserts to be crossed in Africa, wild beasts to confronted and half the continent is either in the midst of, on the verge of or recovering from civil war.' Undaunted, Amaya continued her subtle techniques of persuasion and eventually Eric too became convinced of the trip's feasibility. So, to sum things up, apart from a few week-long bike trips in France and Germany, we're new to long-distance cycling.
The trip is entirely self-financed. Based on costs of prior long-haul trips in Asia and South America we estimate average costs excluding medical insurance and equipment shouldn't exceed €10 per person per day. Of course the trip could easily be done on much less, but we want a certain amount of comfort. Many people ask us if we just plan to travel until the money runs out. Of course not. At our ages that would be nothing short of foolish. See the resources section Money Matters for more details.
It's sometimes hard to always be on the move and you miss being able to meet a friend for coffee or call somebody for a chat. We also missed being able to find decent reading material. Africa is nothing like Asia where you'll find loads of book exchanges or guesthouses that have a few novels lying around. In the end, we downloaded some e-books from the internet and started reading on-line.
We have rarely felt in danger while cycling in Africa. In our opinion it is much safer than Latin America, although probably not as safe as most Asian countries. Sometimes locals will tell you that a particular stretch of road is known to attract highway bandits, but fortunately we've never run into any of these scary guys. Mostly, you just need to keep your wit's about you and not do anything foolish, like cycling at night or going into an area that is recovering from civil war or is known for unrest. Africans in general are very honest and you can leave your fully-loaded bike unlocked while you have lunch or do some shopping and nobody will snatch anything or pedal off into the wild blue yonder. Eric once left his handle bar bag containing his passport, credit cards, expensive camera and loads of cash in a small shop and then rode away. When he realized his mistake we hurried back only to find that the shop assistant had already sent out a small boy with Eric's most cherished possessions to track we foolish foreigners down. When we finally caught up with the boy, he returned the bag with nothing at all missing! Nigeria and South Africa are probably the two most dangerous countries we travelled through. Nigerians were very friendly towards us, but we could feel some tension in larger cities. It is definitely a violent place, and if you read the newspapers too much or any security warnings from the US State Department, you'll be put off from going there. South Africa has got one of the highest murder rates in the world and most whites have barricaded themselves behind burglar bars, electric fences and intricate alarm systems. Not very comforting. But again, everybody was friendly towards us and we had no security problems. The vast majority of individuals we have encountered around the world have been warm and welcoming. The DRC is also a country in which you're bound to run into problems if you spend much time there. While the average man on the street is friendly and welcoming, police and military are hyper-corrupt and there are a lot of former soldiers turned unemployed youths cum thugs.
Prior to the cycling trip we were both working freelance. Since we don't have any fixed jobs or home to return to, we may find a job opportunity somewhere else. Being satisfied with a simple lifestyle means we have been able to put money aside fairly easily and therefore have achieved a certain degree of financial freedom.
Amaya: I rode my bike almost everywhere and I also worked out about 5 times a week at a local fitness club. Nothing too strenuous--spinning classes, aerobics and power yoga mostly. Eric: I cycled to work daily, but other than that I didn't really do anything special to get fit.
In Europe we stayed at campsites except on the Camino de Santiago in Spain where we stayed at the pilgrims' hostels. In Morocco we also stayed at a lot of campsites. In West and Central Africa we mostly stayed at small hotels, Catholic Missions that had guesthouses or with villagers, either pitching our tent in somebody's compound or being invited in to spend the night in someone's home. Sometimes we slept at schools or other public buildings. In Southern Africa we stayed at many campsites catering for overlanders. In Namibia and South Africa, many people invited us to stay in their homes. In Botswana we often stayed at police compounds. Most cyclists like to wild camp, and this is certainly feasible in many parts of Africa.
Didn't find your question on the list above? Email us at email@example.com and we'll be glad to help.