Saturday, April 25, 2020
THUNDER AND SUNSHINE (part 3)
Alastair met another friend, Rob, in Magadan and the two planned on riding together to Yakutsk. Magadan was an industrialized city, with lots of huge apartment buildings and factories. A not-so-subtle aura of decay permeated the place and there was quite a bit of garbage lying around. At first, Alastair couldn't locate a place to stay while getting organized for the next leg, but a friendly priest invited them to camp out in his church. Once again, everyone he consulted about bicycling the 727 miles to Yakutsk said it was out of the question and totally impossible. The local name for the very rough road was the "Road of Bones", in recognition of the millions of Russian citizens who had died building it in the Stalin era. It crossed soggy forests, vast stretches of taiga, and crossed innumerable rivers, and traveler accommodations were non-existent.
So the two decided they'd give a try, naturally. The first night they couldn't get their bullet-proof stove to work and the only wood they could find was wet, so they didn't get a whole lot of sleep. The weather was just on the edge of becoming winter, when temperatures could plunge to forty degrees below zero, so they were a bit concerned about surviving the long nights. But they got the stove operational by the suitable use of lip gloss(he wasn't very clear about this), donned all their clothes, and forged ahead. They made it to Kolyma after days of dogged pedaling and found it more or less deserted. The town appeared ravaged and decrepit, completely lacking in resources or information. The first stroke of bad luck occurred in a small village named Tomtor: one of the bikes broke the rear derailleur frame. Alastair caught a ride from a truck driver back to Magadan and found a local welder, Sergei, who was able to devise a new frame for it. His comment: "in Russia we just have to fix things". From this point on, they stayed nights in hunting huts, in the homes of villagers and sometimes with miners, trying to avoid camping out in the intense cold whenever possible.
In Ust-Nera they stayed with an amiable English teacher and practiced bicycling on ice and learned the Finnish word for "calm determination": Sisu. Later they followed along, riding in the tracks of a tank for a while and got acquainted with some of the local Yakut indigenes, who were very helpful and appreciative. They managed to ride 15 hours a day, knocking out the miles in spite of becoming aggravated with each others personalities, in a sort of "cabin fever" situation.
At Yakutsk the pair turned south toward Tynda and struggled on in the increasing cold and miserable terrain. When at last they had covered the 620 miles of rugged road leading to that city, they changed direction again and headed back toward the coast. Several days later they were passed by a couple of inebriated miners driving an old truck who stopped and robbed them at gunpoint (according to the Yakut people, all Russians were drunk all of the time). They forked over 50 pounds to get rid of them and, squashing their righteous feelings of rage, continued on. Then they came upon a cafe that had just burned down and was still smoking. One person died. At Vanino on the edge of the Strait of Tartary they arranged for transport to Hokkaido on a ferry and rode across to another ferry to mainland Japan. It rained a lot and they stayed in railroad stations quite a bit. Rob returned home and Alastair continued on to Tokyo.
Alastair stayed for three weeks in Tokyo, touring monasteries, watching a Sumo match and a soccer game and gave 30 slide shows of his trip up to that point. He biked through a tunnel under Mt. Fuji. After a peaceful ride along the coast he came to Kyoto and practiced meditation in the Ryosen-an temple. Rob rejoined him and they continued on to Fukuoka, where Alastair took a ferry to Qindao, China. Alastair loved Japan, finding it a neat, safe place, populated by bonkers people.
China was 180% different from Japan: the traffic was insane, intense and the people were rather messy even though their food was delicious. He got lost in the city, biking for an hour and arriving at the identical place he'd started. Once on the highway, the drivers were inconsiderate and the few persons from whom he asked directions gave him erroneous ones. And it was hard to find a place to camp because of the population density. He discovered that gas station owners were amenable to renting him spaces in their garages to stay overnight, so he did that a lot. He was a bit disconcerted about the total lack of privacy and it didn't take long before he came to understand that China's "great leap forward", advertised world-wide at the time, applied entirely to the upper 1% of the residents.
Beijing had bike lanes, a wonderful conception, and there were lots of skyscrapers and kites. After wading through "a labyrinth of bureaucratic pedantry", he was allowed to travel west. It only took one mile for the modern industry of developing China to be submerged in the ancestral China, consisting of small villages and local farms. He was making 90 miles a day and the landscape seemed never- changing. He was caught in a snowstorm once and spent the night next to a pig sty. He noted the deep poverty everywhere. The contrast with the jets flying frequently over the area was telling. Most of the villages were pretty squalid, with lots of spitting and garbage thrown around. Trucks loved their horns and Alastair invented a word for it: claxongrabulation.
Eventually he reached the end of the Great Wall and continued into Uighur country, following the Silk Road, having pedaled 2300 miles from Beijing. Crossing the Taklamakan desert on the recently paved road, he saw a dot in the distance that rapidly grew in size: it turned out to be a racing cyclist in full regalia, cap and all, pedaling like a demon through the sandy desert, going about 25 miles an hour. "Looking good!" he said as he blew past. One of those eternal mysteries...
In Urumqui he found that the direct route to Kazakhstan was closed to tourists so he took a side road instead and rode into deep snow. That day he made only 2.5 miles, the least day's progress of the entire trip. He was glad to get out of China and into the high plains of central Asia with its vast grasslands and snow-capped ranges and lower population densities. In Almatty, he waited for three weeks, trying to get a visa to enter Iran, but it never was approved. His current visa for Kazakhstan was expiring so he decided to head north to Kyrzygstan. He was accompanied by two other cyclists, Marlin and Christine. They were stunned by the beauty of the country, especially by lake Issyk-Kul near the capital of Karakol, the second largest alpine lake in the world and a tourist magnet for sight-seers.
After a 30 mile climb over the mountains they stayed with a Kyrgyz family in a yurt for a night and learned about a small dirt road leading into Uzbekistan. Alastair was worried about the police and border crossings because his visa was expired, so he took the side road and the guard let him through with even looking at his papers. By this time, Alastair was experiencing a lot of road numbness, just wanting to get home and just being tired of talking and relating to curious strangers. There was also a lot of unrest in the area he was in, with revolutionaries and soldiers parading around the various city streets and directing hostile glares at interlopers.
He found out in Tashkent that his visa was only good for 7 days in Turkmenistan, so he had to make time in order to avoid being arrested by the somewhat bellicose police. He made it to Samarkand and was duly impressed by the Registan, the blue-domed tomb of Tamerlane. In Bukhara he toured a 900 year old minaret and observed that the area had the least Russian presence of any Central Asian nation that he'd been in. Racing through Turkmenistan, he fought the permanent headwind and experienced the worst roads in Central Asia. Turkmenistan was a dictatorship whose ruler had arranged for his corpse to be shot into space after he died for all the world to admire. Alastair was pedaling like a demon, drinking 10 liters of water a day and at the same time dealing with mechanical difficulties. One of his bike rims split over 4 spokes and his tires were about worn out. At the Azerbijan border, the guards tried to charge him 480$ for leaving the country, but he just laughed and left and was glad he wasn't shot.
Staying at Baku in Azerbijan, he luxuriated at a Red Roof Hotel for a couple of days and enjoyed watching television. There was a lot of money in this country due to oil exploration and production, and the population seemed happier and less antagonistic. But there was a lot of pollution, and many Mercedes Benz autos were evident, being driven around by nattily dressed natives wearing expensive suits and high dollar dark glasses. Alastair had a friend in England ship him some bicycle parts so he was there for a while.
Entering Georgia was a treat, with great food and small farm holdings that reminded him of the fruit and tea farms he'd seen in Colombia. He crossed the Caucasus mountains and was relieved to find himself once more in Turkey. He did have an altercation with a truck driver who got mad at him for hanging onto the back of his truck while climbing a steep hill, a practice that he'd become expert at over the last few years. In Istanbul he stayed with the same family he'd lodged with four years before, and recalled the hundreds of talks he'd given to thousands of school children at that time. He crossed the Bosphorus Strait and made it into Greece, where he saw how much more expensive Europe was compared to the rest of the world.
Albania was rainy as well as being the poorest country in Europe, but Alastair greatly enjoyed pedaling through the pine scented forests and industry-free mountains. The Adriatic Coast featured medieval townships replete with Venetian/Baroque architecture. The people were quiet and civilized, but when he entered Bosnia, he had to be wary of landmines and the citizens seemed more truculent than what he'd been used to. He got into a disagreement with a driver who punched him twice and kicked him the stomach. "Bosnians are the most reckless drivers in the world", was his comment after a few days in the state. Crossing the Julian Alps his bike began ailing. A chain broke, the front wheel was warped out of shape, and the bottom bracket(the axle and bearings connecting the pedal cranks) was worn out. The back brake didn't work, he had three flats, the derailleur would only give him a couple of gears and he was having trouble keeping his stove working: necessary for making tea while camping.
But he persevered, crossing the Dolomites and the Alpine passes into Geneva, where he lingered for a bit, enjoying the many bookshops in that city. In France he began worrying about what he'd do after he finished, to the point that he almost missed the ferry across the channel. He met his family, waiting on the dock for him but continued riding up through cold and wet England to Yorkshire. On the last long day, his derailleur cable snapped, leaving him with one very high gear for the last 30 miles. At 15 miles to go, the bald tires slid in some gravel and he tore his pants and cut his knee.
Alastair's final thoughts were that "integrity is the basis of happiness", "the world is really a good place" and that his greatest discoveries were about himself.
After reading the book and typing out my impressions, i feel like i've done the trip myself! But it was a lot of fun and informative and interesting as well... If i hadn't of already read it, i'd read it again! Alastair is a good writer and has the gift of maintaining the reader's interest, which is not found in all travel books. I'll probably read more of his output: he's written quite a few books...
Saturday, April 18, 2020
THUNDER AND SUNSHINE (Part 2)
After nine months of strenuous pedaling Alastair found himself in Cartagena, on the edge of the Caribbean sea. He'd been struggling with the idea of skipping the Darien Gap, one hundred miles of relatively unexplored jungle, full of antagonistic wildlife, revolutionaries and bandits of one stripe or another. Finally, after becoming acquainted with Dale and Ed, two Americans who were lolling about the area in a 37" sailboat named the Hannah Rose, he decided to travel with them as a sort of super-numerary cook and bottle-washer while they visited fishing spots along the Panamanian coast and explored the tiny islands located in that region. They saw dolphins, turtles, and sunfish and explored islets until they reached the Panama canal. Passing through to the Pacific side of the isthmus, they sailed north to Zihuatanejo, a city on the same latitude as Mexico City, where Alastair left them to once more begin pedaling. His first goal was to spend two weeks in the capital with some friends. He noted that the city was sinking under the weight of 23 million people and the buildings constructed to house and employ them. He gave some slide lectures and noted that there was lots of garbage lying around.
He didn't have a lot to say about cycling to Guadalajara, other than to express his disappointment on not being able to tour the Barranca del Cobre, the deepest canyon in the world situated between Los Mochis and Chihuahua. He'd been riding along the coast for the most part until he was past Guadalajara, then he pointed himself inland, planning to cross the border at Nogales into Arizona. Before he got half-way, though he began having troubles with his pedals, possibly because of the dust and sand in the Sonoran desert. So he took them apart and removed all the ball bearings which improved things immensely until the pedals locked up and wouldn't turn at all. Stopping in a tiny village, the local blacksmith sold him the ones from his own bicycle. Bucking high winds and the extreme heat he made it to the U.S. at last and experienced a certain amount of culture-shock upon arriving in Phoenix and becoming lost in one of the largest shopping malls in the state.
The Grand Canyon beckoned and Alastair took a mini-vacation to go see it with another friend, and was suitably impressed. While still in Phoenix he was interviewed by Fox News and asked them for a new bicycle as his was worn out. A local church gave him one. He also visited Tom Whittaker, originally from Seattle and famous for his mountaineering prowess before leaving the city. For most of the way to Los Angeles he averaged 100 miles per day, pushing himself in his eagerness to see a lady friend and to get away from the constant heat and dirt. He was stopped by the California Highway patrol for illegally riding a bike on the freeway, but when they left he did it anyway, as there wasn't any other way to cross the mountains. Eventually he discovered a bike trail that led to the beach. Taking some more time off, he enjoyed himself for a while and then took the coastal highway, U.S. 1, north. He commented briefly on the beauties of the mountains and the ocean but didn't mention the up and down elevation variations common to that route. (I know about this first hand as i biked that road from Menlo Park to San Simeon in my teens). It's a spectacular place even if it's geologically unstable.
He lectured for several days in San Francisco and then continued up the coast to the redwoods. He viewed with disgust the tree that had a channel chopped through it to allow cars to go through, but loved camping amongst the giant trees all along the upper coastline. Oregon received not much mention even though it has one of the most picturesque shores in the entire United States.
In Seattle he and a friend tried to climb Mt. Rainier but were forced down by the weather conditions. So they ascended the South Winter Spire instead (i don't know what that was, aside from being cold and exposed). As he entered Canada, his final analyses of America were that it demonstrated "consumerism gone crazy" and that it was pathetic how the average citizen ignored and was ignorant of the environment. He was joined by friend Dave for the trek to White Horse. They saw bears, deer, beaver, eagles, foxes and coyotes all along the way and marveled at the green mountains surrounding them. Alastair also observed that the mosquitos in that area were the worst he'd seen in his whole trip. For a short while Dave and he rode with a couple of other cyclists who were headed to Moscow in Russia. They were traversing the Cassiar highway at the time, a road that leads all the way to the northern territories. Upon their arrival at Whitehorse, they were informed that through passage was impossible due to extensive forest fires, so the two decided to travel by canoe along the Yukon river to Dawson. They were informed by every person they consulted that that was also impossible because neither of the them knew anything about canoes and that there were fires there as well. So, naturally, that's what they did.
They acquired a large one and put their bikes and gear into it and set off. After a few hours of fumble-handed practice, they began to feel a bit more confident and blithely paddled their way to Lake LeBarge, the same lake that Service wrote a poem about. Camping in primitive forests was delightful and they thoroughly enjoyed the trip until they reached the Five Finger rapids, which they had been warned about from the start. Tying all the gear down, they pushed off and did pretty well keeping the front of the boat in front and evading the many rocks and shoals inhibiting their progress until, due to not being able to decide which of the five fingers to take, they capsized. The current was so swift that they almost lost everything, but at the last opportunity they managed to push the soggy load into a sort of backwater created by a logjam that permitted them to drag their water-logged outfit on to the beach. After a drying-out period, they continued on the next day to Dawson, where they followed the Top of the World Highway to Jack Wade, Alaska, and the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay. They pedaled over immense mountain ranges and crossed vast stretches of tundra. A trucker gave them some freshly baked cookies. After crossing the Brooks Mountain Range, the trees vanished and they traveled the rest of the way over the north slope to Dead Horse, near the Bay. They took pictures of some other cyclists who had also arrived there from Ushaia.
They caught a ride to Fairbanks and rode their bikes to Anchorage. Dave left and Alastair arranged for transportation to Magadan, Siberia on the Canmar Dynasty, an Indian cargo ship.
Once again my fingers are wearing out, so i'll finish the tale of this epic trip next time, through Siberia, China and points west...
Saturday, April 11, 2020
THUNDER AND SUNSHINE
Alastair Humphreys (1976- )
After working odd jobs for six weeks at the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Capetown, Alastair was offered a free ride to Rio as a hand on a sailboat participating in the annual Cape to Rio sailboat race arranged every year in January. He got sea-sick at first, but soon got used to the four hour on and off watches for the 4,000 kilometers to Brazil. He was mainly employed on the 58 foot MAIDEN as cook and cleaner, although he learned to steer and maintain a course fairly quickly. One of the crew got hit on the head at night by a flying fish, which he caught and fried in revenge. The trip was completed in 24 days and the captain donated 50 pounds in aid of Alastair's world tour. The money was used to get a haircut and to pay for a bus ticket to Ushaia, the southern-most town on the continent.
The route north began up the west coast and the highway meandered between Chile and Argentina, frequently crossing the border and avoiding much of the very mountainous terrain. Fields of daisies and clover alternated with evergreen forests and crystal clear lakes for a long way. The wind blew constantly from the north, cutting Alastair's speed down to 3 mph at times. But after several weeks he reached O'Higgins lake and the Villa O'Higgins, both named after a general famous for aiding in establishing the Chilean nation. At this juncture the 750 mile Carretera Austral highway began. Cycling through scenic landscapes including snow covered mountains and wild rivers, Alastair discovered civilization after a while when he started riding through more-or-less degraded villages situated next to polluted rivers that blighted the topography somewhat. He found the opportunity to give talks to a few grade schools, promoting environmental awareness and personal growth on a basic level. The road continued along the coast for the most part and his bicycle (the same one he'd used in Africa) started to experience mechanical difficulties. A couple of spokes broke, the derailleur was crankily consenting to operate in only a few gears and the rear wheel had a bad crack in it. In spite of these troubles, Alastair and his bike made it to Santiago where he gave a few more lectures and had the bike looked at.
Another 55 kilometers of uphill pedaling through hairpin turns and tunnels resulted in him being escorted by the police (he wasn't legal in the tunnels) up to the altiplano, the high desert region of the southern Andes, which led to the city of Mendoza. Taking a few days off, he enjoyed some of the cities and met some of the residents. One of them, Fabien from France, volunteered to accompany him on his trek. As the two biked through sand, dust and non-existent villages, feeding themselves with banana sandwiches and bland pasta, they gradually gained elevation until they reached 4,000 meters and the Salar, the high salt desert of Chile. Riding through the flat terrain they saw flamingos and volcanoes as they fought the unrelenting headwind for ten days until they reached another border crossing back into Argentina. The ensuing 80 kilometers took them up to 5,000 meters where the temperature at night dropped to 20 degrees below zero. Entering Chile again. Fabien had returned home at this point and Alastair proceeded alone, often pushing his bike due to sand and strong winds. He did this for 45 kilometers one day.
At La Paz he was joined by an old friend, Rob, who flew out from England to travel with him. On their way to Lake Titicaca, they cycled up and down 4300 meter passes and mountains, wearing themselves out with the high-altitude ascents and scaring themselves silly with the semi-controlled plunges into jungly valleys. They experimented several times with truck-assisted climbs, latching onto slowly moving vehicles as they were passed, while ascending steep roads. Dangerous, but a lot easier on the legs. Truck-surfing, they called it. A heady and overly-thrilling descent brought them to the town of Nazca after which they followed a comparatively benign coastal highway to Lima, where Rob went home.
Cycling along the Pan-American highway, Alastair rode through more tunnels, along the edges of steep cliffs, and continued his relations with the natives, talking, lecturing and thinking about the different and various sorts of reality he was encountering and reflecting on what it all meant. Eventually he arrived at Ecuador where he noticed that Ecuadorian drivers were unequivocally the worst ones on the continent. Talking to some of the inhabitants, he was informed that there was no way he was going to be able to bike through Colombia, much less the Darien Gap (100 miles of impenetrable jungle between Colombia and Panama) due to ongoing drug wars and revolutions permeating the country. So when he reached the border, he camped and dithered for several days, before, rather unconsciously, just going ahead just in order to see what would happen. In short order he met a bus that had just been held up at gunpoint. But he continued on and discovered that Colombians were the friendliest and most accommodating people he had yet seen. They fed him and insisted he spend nights with them and gave him provisions and advice about where he was headed as well as helping him with bike repairs and clothes washing. The only trouble he had was with his brakes wearing out while traversing the beautiful, forested mountain passes.
He reached Cartagena at last, after 9 months on the road and was faced with the decision involving crossing to Panama.
How dealt with this dilemma will be described in my next post, along with other adventures on his global tour. Stay tuned...
Saturday, April 4, 2020
MOODS OF FUTURE JOYS
Alastair Humphreys (1976- )
With a degree in Zoology and some post-grad work at Oxford, Alastair was feeling at loose ends so after due consideration he decided to bicycle around the world. He was interested in social things: mainly the oppression of the poor and the lack of education and necessities for children, so he became a sponsor/lecturer for the charitable organization, "Hope and Homes for Children", under which aegis he arranged with various organizations to give impromptu lectures in the countries he planned on traveling through.
He left his girl-friend, Sarah, and his family in the Yorkshire Dales in the spring of 2001 and began pedaling. The first day he made 85 miles, demonstrating that he was in fairly good physical condition, and continued at that rate, more or less, crossing the channel and traversing the Benelux countries in the teeth of wind and rain. It took him a while to establish a routine: deciding where to camp and what to eat and how to deal with curious passersby. Basically he just looked for a place out of sight of the road or local housing, that was flat and inconspicuous. Before leaving he had planned on meeting a friend in Luxembourg, Chris, and the two looked forward to cycling along the Danube, through Slovakia and the rest of the Balkan states.
Slovakia was scenic but replete with rifle-bearing soldiers; Hungary consisted of a vast plain devoted to agriculture, but with little of the grain being used to feed the poverty stricken populace. They saw lots of crumbling factories and the cities were old and worn in appearance. Romania featured giant above-ground pipelines running heedlessly through neighborhoods and fields, splitting up the country together with its culture. More rusty and degrading factories, with lots of scrap iron and garbage decorating the landscape.
In Bulgaria, nodding at someone meant "no" and shaking the head meant "yes". They crossed a range of mountains and successfully entered Turkey. In Istanbul, Chris returned home and Alastair had to make a decision as to whether he should continue through Turkey to Pakistan, Russia and China, or whether should try the middle East instead. The former would mean exposure to a fierce winter climate and to possibly hostile natives, as it was just after the 9/11 disaster in America, so he opted to take the second route, through Syria and Lebanon. He was warned of the dangers proffered by these countries, but it still seemed the best way to go.
Pedaling along the Turkey coast, he received nothing but friendly welcomes from the villagers. They would frequently invite him to eat or drink and tried to help him find the best or most scenic routes to follow. He noted the unusual rock formations in Cappadocia: cone-shaped pillars made of sandstone and houses and churches carved directly into the rock faces. Continuing on over several grueling ascents-mountain ranges- he entered Syria without any trouble and found hospitality at an orange farm. Later an old man shared his lunch of pita bread and cream cheese. In Lebanon he grabbed onto the rear bumper of a cement truck grinding up a long hill and discovered a new way to get over some of the higher elevations. He gave a lecture in Beirut and made some friends at the American University with whom he stayed for a week or so before resuming his course to Damascus. He encountered more soldiers but they were not unfriendly, and he briefly visited some of the largest ancient Roman ruins in the Mediterranean area. In Damascus, he became a bit disconsolate due to being lonely, and was on the verge of quitting his long trek. He became trapped on a sort of emotional roller-coaster, missing Sarah and home, and fearful of what the future might hold. After he saw a quote in a book, "searching for yourself you will always find demons", he began to realize that much of his unhappiness was due to trying to live the future before he got to it. So he consciously started to try living his journey one day at a time.
He spent ten days in Jordan with some friends who had flown out to visit. They floated around in the Dead Sea one day, were discouraged because of all the flies, but cheered themselves up with champagne. Alastair noted the continual expressed hatred of Americans and Israelis by the Jordanians. With another cycling buddy he visited Petra, the fortress city carved into the desert walls but abandoned centuries before, and continued on to brave hail storms and a fierce wind while traversing the Sinai desert.
In Cairo he was overwhelmed by beggars and vendors. Urban sprawl had extended itself right up to the edges of the pyramids. Cycling was not permitted along the Nile, so Alastair biked south along the Red Sea and was driven by truck to Luxor at the behest of the police. He had to wait several days for a ferry to cross lake Nasser and was awestruck by the over-the-top dirtiness of the boat and it's egregious over-crowding. Safely in Sudan, he progressed along dirt tracks for hundreds of miles, relating to and with the Sudanese people who were unfailingly polite and helpful. They had a sort of dignity and kindly self-assurance that made them very civilized and likable. So it was somewhat of a shock to encounter the Ethiopians who, immediately after he crossed the border, demonstrated a certain hostility and greed diametrically opposed to the demeanor of the Sudanese. The children were the worst: crowds of fifty to sixty of them would scream "YOU" and throw rocks at him while demanding money. He was only rescued at one point by a local school teacher named Peter who offered a place to sleep and eat away from the little devils. Alastair soon realized, though, that the anti-social actions were the result of severe poverty. There was very little to eat and none of the so-called essentials familiar to other regions. Even Peter was owed three months back pay; he lived in a one room mud hut with a chair and a cot. Later Alastair found out that all this was the result of corrupt government; all the money was stolen by officials, none being allowed to improve the infrastructure or to feed the starving population.
Upon crossing several more vast mountain ranges, Alastair arrived in the southern part of the country, which he found entirely different. There were efficient and viable farms, prosperous businesses, and well-fed and educated residents. Presumably this was all the result of more effective and honest governance. Another friend, Rob, joined the trek at this point, accompanying Alastair to lake Tana. They pedaled down the sloping mountains and up again, making pretty good progress in spite of mechanical difficulties with Alastair's bike. The frame had broken back in Sudan and had been welded back together twice by village artisans, and the rear derailleur was shot, only allowing a few gears to be used. In Addis Ababa the Sheraton Hotel offered a prime example of culture shock. Staying there was like being magically transported to Los Angeles; sort of a magic carpet ride out of the groaning poverty surrounding the building.
Following local advice, Alastair joined another group of cyclists to cross Kenya, but they were all halted at the border and trucked down to Isiolo because of the threat of bandits. But the Kenya they saw appeared prosperous and healthy with stores along the road and readily available food and services. At one point, Specialized, the brand of bike Alastair was riding, sent him a new one so his progress improved markedly for a while. He stayed for three weeks in Nairobi, visiting and partying and giving lectures. In southern Kenya he was bemused by the invention and zaniness of some of the natives: one was dressed like a bird while riding his bicycle; other riders had decorated their bikes with horns, decals, emblems, and often carried enormous loads on them: stacks of wood and mounds of produce; even a washing machine on one. Some indigenous entrepreneurs were making them out of wood and bamboo. There were a few close shaves with maniacal bus drivers.
Alastair cycled through Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe before reaching South Africa. Most of those countries were doing pretty well except in Zimbabwe, which was in the process of being totally destroyed by the selfish despoliation of Robert Mugabe, involving killing all the animals and cutting all the trees and stealing all the money. Entering South Africa was like coming home, as Alastair had worked there for a year after finishing college. There were still lots of mountain ranges to cross, the last being the Drakenberg mountains, but finally, he found himself staring out over the ocean toward Antarctica at Cape Point, the southern-most spot on the continent. The last part of the trip was made more eventful by mechanical troubles. He had continual hassles with his derailleurs, lots and lots of flat tires and broken spokes. He stated at one point that his bike weighed about fifty kilos, fully loaded. That would be about 120 pounds: incredible in my limited cycling experience; i can't even imagine trying to pedal that weight up a mountain.
I enjoyed this book. It was a bit more personal than i'm used to but it conveyed Alastair's impressions of the peoples and countries that he passed through quite well, i thought. Since this account was written, Humphreys has completed his initial intention of cycling through South America, from Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow Alaska, then across the Bering Strait to Siberia and down through China and across Asia to Europe and home. I've ordered the second volume containing the rest of his trek and will be reporting on it in due time. He also walked across India in his spare time. I ordered that one also. It will be interesting comparing it with my last post.