For the first time during my trip I did not need to show a passport as I crossed from Malawi over to Zambia. It was a backcountry border crossing, but I was prepared for it and got my exit stamp from Malawi 7 days prior in Mzuzu. No big deal and no one really cared. The road down to Chama was a perfect new tar built by a Chinese constructor. Chama is a bigger town than I thought it would be, I was able to get my passport stamped and payed the visa fee in local currency and not in USD (another first). Chama had exactly one ATM and luckily it worked, moreover I was able to stock up on all my food again since there were many stores all around town and even a well equipped food market.
I took a day off to do all the things that had to be done, and as it rained all day long I was quite happy not to be on the bike. As I was leaving early in the morning I asked some people about the correct direction towards the main road (120km towards the east). Some shook their head, some said it is not possible now to go there because of the rain. Whatever I thought and I went down to the river crossing. There I had my first surprise. Because of all the rain the river increased its water level and people needed assistance to pass. Wherever there is a business opportunity like this in Africa, you will find people who want to take advantage of it. Moments like this I will never forget, I just cycled around a corner, suddenly this big river appears and everyone is just starring at me like: what the hell is this white guy on a bicycle doing here?! Some young males quickly approached me and asked if they should help carrying my stuff over. We agreed on a price, I believe it was around 15 cents per guy, and suddenly it all went quick and before I was in the water, my stuff was already half way through on the other side. There was only one point where the water was as high as my chest, afterwards it was around my waste.
As in almost any river in that area, there are crocs. Some people might think now why did I cross this river if there are crocodiles around? The current was strong and crocodiles don’t like that, so one is actually pretty safe in a strong current, chances are low that a crocodile will attack. As I got to the other side I was quickly surrounded by at least 40 people, asking me all kind of questions: Where are you from, where do you go, for what purpose, are you paid to do this and so on. Usually the questions are always quite the same so I have my basic answers ready to go. From there on I had 40km of perfect tar road, I really don’t know why exactly this stretch, because afterwards the road became one of the worst I have ever seen. As I crossed another river, this time with a bridge, I filled up my water at a locals place, who’s job is to watch over the Chinese construction facilities. As I wanted to leave I realized I had a puncture. No clue where this one came from, but as I was used to fixing punctures already it was a quick job (Still takes me 20-30min). Then my adventure began, the road was narrow, muddy, many small creeks to cross, water everywhere and not surprising if the area becomes more wild, elephant dung all over.
If the dung still smells you know it is fresh, you know they are out there, what a weird feeling. First 10km went ok, I had to check the map a couple of times to not get lost out in the nowhere, but from time to time I met somebody again to ask. After 10 km the dirt path became worse and worse, I passed smaller cars and trucks that have been stuck in the mud for days. Pushing my bicycle through, it took me around 3 hours to do 10km. What a record!
Then, something unexpected happened. My belt (instead of a chain I have a belt), jumped out of place. The first time this happened I figured out a way to put it back into place. It took me quite a while to get all the mud off to put it back into place. To do that I always need to take off all the bags, turn the bike up side down and start working on it. I guess the belt dislocated because of all the pressure on it. The high pressure is caused by the mud clogging everything up. I checked frequently on the belt tension, so it wasn’t possible that it was too loose. Down the “road” the conditions became even worse and not only my bike was stuck in the mud, I myself was too. There were huge puddles all over the road around every 10 meters. It was like a 50/50 game I played. Either I take the left or right side of the puddle, hoping that I manage to get the less deep one. Sometimes I didn’t get lucky and my bike and all my gear took a big swim. If I happened to take the wrong side, the water got as deep as half a meter. Not only was it hard to get out again, my gear also heavily suffered. I lost one front bag which I had to attach to my bike with strings again. Fighting my way further on it happened again, my whole setup got filled with so much mud that my belt jumped out of place for a second time. This time it was impossible to put it correctly back in again. I tried and tried and tried, it did not work. Suddenly the truck which I passed an hour ago, that was stuck for 2 days already tried to overtake me. The driver stopped and asked me if I want a lift out of the mess. I shortly hesitated, but then realized that the suffering of my gear should stop. I want to finish my trip without having big time troubles with my material. So I jumped on and did 60km to the next town on the truck. Being in such a rural area it is quite interesting to talk to the locals. As it turned out the people on the truck were all cloth-merchants heading to the border of Tanzania to buy new clothes to sell in their region. It took around 3 hours of really bumpy ride to reach Matumbo.
As the night came there was exactly one guest house in Matumbo, I just asked around before and people told me to head down the road. Getting there two young boys came out of no where asking me if they could clean my bike. Smart business guys, for sure I sad yes, the way my bicycle looked I almost felt bad for them, but I mean, they asked me! The next day started off well, and I had a good ride until noon, when I wanted to fill up all my bottled at a village. Having done only 40km to that point I really wanted to head on. Suddenly, as quite often on this continent, the weather changed quickly. Dark clouds came up and it was purring down within minutes. I sought some shelter at a bar, waiting for it to be over soon. No chance, some of the strongest rainfall I have experienced on this trip so far.
I started looking for a guest house. Some people mentioned that there are only two. I checked the less fancy one out, why pay more for a bed if all you need is a bed. It turned out that the one I wanted was closed. To get this info I waited, and waited and waited. Even though it is hard to believe, but I was freezing. So I got the 20$ fancy room with a hot shower (didn’t work), and a huge bed. The right place to write my Masters application. As I was quite often in touch with other cyclists, I knew that 4 guys crossed into Zambia from a different border and that they should be around somewhere. Earlier on I asked street vendors if they had seen 4 guys on a bicycle. Those people are there every day, all day long, and they for sure would have seen them. I realized that they didn’t pass me yet, but who knows where they are.
As I checked into the hotel, I told the receptionist out of joke, if anyone else on a bicycle comes, please let me know when they arrive. I did this quite often, never happened anyway, but I just did it. However, as I was laying in bed and it was becoming dark outside, it would have just been like all the other lonely nights, which I also liked. Nevertheless, suddenly I hear a knock on my door. Damn, being under my blankets just feeling really cozy, I had to get up. There was the surprise, 4 cyclists in front of my door talking to the receptionist. Excitement came up, I finally met some one going the same direction! Hardy, a German, Q, Dan and Byron from America.
Meeting other cyclists can add a lot of value to a trip, exchanging stories, tips and tricks. But for me the most valuable was just to see how other cycle tourists travel, what they carry, how they deal with stuff, and what makes them special. After being on the road alone for 250 days, that is valuable change of curtains. Probably the biggest communality we shared was, that we all carried at least 1 kg of peanut butter with us. The peanut butter love was real! So we continued for almost 14 days together down to Livingstone.
Traveling with someone else was a totally new experience for me on the bicycle. Waiting for someone in the morning to have his coffee, breakfast, smoothie, you name it, was not only a challenge for my patience, but also something I had to learn. Step of your routine, just go with the flow and enjoy. Especially, days 2 to 5 were particularly a challenge. I had to adapt, learn a lot and strengthen my patience. It was 100% worth it. We took a huge amount of breaks, went swimming in rivers, tried to do 100 push ups every day, everywhere and just played ridiculous games. Sharing those special memories, becoming friends for life within a short period of time, struggling through the same circumstances was just something that I really appreciated. Especially the three Americans changed my view quite a lot. Q for example carried a tube of sand from every desert and beach he has been too. They all carried guitars. Dan used a wood stove to heat his meals (not very successful most of the time but he tried at least). Byron loved to leave peanut butter in his beard to eat it later on. Those are just a few things that I much loved about this kind of company. Without even being in touch with each other, since we all enjoyed some time off the Internet, we got to meet, Another lesson in life. You can plan as much as you want, but some things are just meant to happened out of nowhere.
Zambia was an amazing country to travel through, even though the landscape was quite boring some time, with my good company and the amazing local community it was def. a great time. Food wise nothing changed, a lot of Nshima (Ugali in TZ, that white maize food you can find all over Africa). In Zambia I reached another mile stone, the Victoria Falls. From the Victoria Falls on the 5 of us split up again. I headed towards Zimbabwe first, and the others towards Botswana directly. I am sorry for this late post, I hope I can finish up the last ones in the next few weeks!
Even from far away still on the Tanzanian side I was able to see the beginning of Lake Malawi. As people told me before, Malawi is the warm/happy heart of Africa and there are some beautiful National parks and lake side camps to visit. I was pretty excited. The border crossing was simple, but expensive, I had to pay 75$ for the visa which is a lot for such a small country. Fortunately, I did not get my bags checked like some backpackers before me. Sometimes border security wants to check my bags and this takes forever, very annoying! Usually, before I cross borders I check the exchange rate for my leftover money. What I know as a fact is that you never get the online exchange rate. So, I just approached one of the guys, told him how much I have and what I wanted. Without hesitation he agreed. That is never a good sign haha! As I did not have much left it was fine, a loss of few cents is ok, even though I really dislike their pushy behavior and I never want to let them walk away with a profit 😀
Riding along the lake was a fantastic experience. The road is new and in super condition. There are barely any cars and I had a slight tailwind! Wuhu! I heard people struggled with a lot of headwinds, which is probably the worst thing you can have on a bicycle.
I enjoyed some swims in the lake and also went on a fishing boat with two locals. It was interesting to learn the techniques they use as well as to see the very colorful fish we caught. From the Lake I went up to a first plateau where Livingstonia lays. I stayed at mushroom farm and had one of the best camping spots so far. The hostel was well run, with good food, guided activities and hikes. I continued further on dirt roads towards Mzuzu, as the distance was too much to do in one day I had to find a spot somewhere. As people in Malawi were super friendly, and the population density is pretty high, there are not many options left than pitching the tent in front of a family’s house. Everyone is always very welcoming, offering me water to wash, food and even a space to sleep inside, which I kindly decline since I sleep way better in my tent:-) I loved cycling off the beaten track in Malawi, people were so much nicer than along the main road. As once a big storm came up I sought shelter underneath a roof. I sat 5 minutes there surrounded by kids as one of them walk out of the house with a plate of food, some shima, vegetables and bananas, exactly what I needed! Just this kindness towards strangers made me feel exceptionally comfortable. In Mzuzu I had the chance to get into the first real shopping market since Kenya! So nice to find stuff you haven’t had for a long time! The only downside to those shopping centers is that I always buy way too much stuff that I don’t actually need, but it is just nice to have it.
I had many thoughts about my route in Malawi: Should I continue down the lake or go up again and visit two National parks? As I went down to Nkhata bay I realized that I have spent enough time in backpacker’s/tourism places and even though it won’t be easy, it would def. be more memorable than following the main road down. Most cyclist are cycling all along the lake down to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.
I relaxed 6 days in Nkhata bay, did a lot of reading, swimming and it just felt good not doing anything at all. The lake was wonderful, but as it is rain season, a lot of dirt gets washed into it. I had 3 small open wounds which all got infected. First time for me this happened and I thought it is better to see a doctor:) He cleaned my wounds, gave me some antibiotic pills , a cream and I paid a total of 6$, totally worth it Since I decided to go up to Nyika and Vwaza Marsh National park, I had to go almost the same way back for 200km. I first thought it would be boring… but since I mostly face forward it felt like I haven’t seen this part before.
Nyika National Park
As I heard from overlanders before, the road up to the plateau is in a very bad condition and some couldn’t even drive up because of flooding rivers and huge put wholes. Anyway, I thought I have time and I heard so many good things about this NP that I thought I cannot miss anything if I just try hard enough. The way to the gate was ok, some passages where I had to push, some where the road was extremely bad that I just jumped off the bike and walked the stretch. I slept at the entrance gate of the national park the first night, so I had all day the day after to get from the gate to the camp. Initially, I thought it is only 30km towards the park, but as I talked to a ranger he told me it was 60km. Oh well, I thought, I will not return now. The next morning started with rain, and it didn’t stop until high up above 2000 meter of altitude. I haven’t experienced that much fog yet on my trip but it was for sure a bit scary to see all the Elephant dung laying around but not being able to see more than 5 meters. It was raining buckets for at least 4 hours. Sometimes I really asked myself, Lukas, what are you doing here. My bicycle was super heavy since I had food for 6 days with me and water for 2 days. Pushing all that weight up from 1100 Meter to 2350 Meters was quite a challenge. It took me 8 hours to get the 60km done. However, I really don’t mind about those challenges anymore. I realized those are the days I will mostly remember; all the tarmac cycling days are not very memorable most of the times.
As I stayed at the Chelinda Campsite I was provided with firewood and hot water every evening. I felt so much at peace up there. I was able to read a lot, do some maintenance on my bike, cycle around and just watch the wildlife for hours. As it is quite a nobel campsite, you are kind of lost if you don’t bring all your own stuff. Food and lodge rooms are very expensive, camping is only 10$ and if you cook for yourself it can be quite cheap all in all. I am glad I have some big bags with me which I can fill up with food. If I would not do bike packing I would have no chance to go to remote places like that and stay self-sufficient. There were absolutely no tourists up there which is pretty common right now everywhere I go since it is rain season. I loved it and it was definitely worth all the effort!
Vwaza Marsh National Park
The beautiful thing about Vwaza is that during dry season all the animals from the whole park gather around the lake. During rain season however, you need to be very lucky to even see an elephant. I did not have any expectations going there, I wanted to cross over to Zambia from there anyway so why not sleep a night at Vwaza. I was very lucky and saw an elephant herd close by, what a great day it was. During the night was a bit at unease, I usually have no problems with wild animals around my tent at night, but that night I was a bit afraid from the hippos around. You never know what they might do. Even though the area and its surroundings are breathtaking, the campsite was very run down and filthy. I am always glad to have my tent with me, it is clean inside and no bugs will bite me at night.
From Vwaza I rode all the way to the border on dirt roads, roads I sometimes didn’t even find on Maps.me. People were welcoming, and I stopped a couple of times for a chat. Since I had a lot of time on that day I decided to head over to Zambia directly. It turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. For the first time on this trip I got completely lost in a forest. I tried to get to the great border road which goes along the Zambian Malawian border, however it took me over an hour fighting through thick bushes to find it. I always continued and thought yeah this road will somehow get me there, it turned out that most of them brought me even further away. It was totally an adventure, I didn’t feel lost, since I thought I can always pitch my tent and go back the same way on the next time, but I was really glad as soon as I got back on track again.
As anywhere where agricultural income is a big part of the economy, cash crops play a major role. For the first time on this trip I have seen Tobacco being planted. Depending on the region, I either see tea, corn, chilies, tomatoes, bananas and beans quite often, but tobacco was the first for me. As I talked to local families and farmers, they explained that they harvest the tobacco leaves once per year, it goes first to Mzuzu and from there to the capital Lilongwe, from where it is shipped to America. A farmer told me that prices fluctuate, as everywhere it is all about demand and supply, however, he also said that it is currently pretty stable.
I had the pleasure to be riding in Malawi on three Sundays, and every time the same thing repeated itself. It seems like the whole country is drunk on that day. Every man at the side of the road has shiny eyes, shouts something no one understands and usually cannot walk straight anymore. If you enter small stores, they usually have half of the shelf filled with stuff like biscuits, bred, washing powder, and the whole other part is filled with small alcohol bottles. One bottle contains around 200ml and costs 40 cents and has an alcohol percentage of 45%. No wonder why so many people have an alcohol problem.
It was raining the whole day on my way down from Nyika National Park, the roads where a mess and some people told me not to take the shortcut. As I did the shortcut before the other way and I didn’t want to do 10 extra kilometers, I took the shortcut again. Unfortunately, as it was already raining for hours straight, the red clay ground became really slippery and dangerous with the heavy bike. I sometimes got off and walked down, sometimes I just risked it to ride down. Unfortunately, it got me really bad at one spot and my bike just didn’t stop slipping down and I really fell hard to the ground. Luckily, only a couple of scratches, just the thought of what is if something had happened in such a remote area was a bit scary. This was the first time I fell off my bike, and hopefully also the last time.
I finally arrived in Tanzania, the country I will spend the most days of my trip. This has a few reasons. Firstly, if you look on a world map Tanzania is huge! Secondly, I did a longer route up to Arusha where I was fairly close to the Kenyan border again. Thirdly, I spent two weeks on Zanzibar with my family. As time flies, those 50 days passed by quickly. Heading out of Rwanda I hoped that the hills would stop immediately. It took around 150km until the landscape finally turned flat again. My plan was to cycle from Kigali without a day of break directly to Arusha where I will be hosted by a friend of a friend. 12 days, 1200km, this is not how I usually travel but there was no reason for me to just spend a day somewhere in the nowhere to relax. My days were long but not too long, I enjoyed it and it was nice to see how my body just plays according to my plans. More details below:
The east Africa visa I got in Moyale (Kenya) is only valid for Kenya Uganda and Rwanda, so I had to get a new Visa at the Tanzanian border in Risumu. It was a one stop border again, I first had to show my yellow fever vaccination card and they took my temperature to check for Ebola. As everything was fine, I could go into the immigration office. First, I had to stamp out of Rwanda, then step over to the next window to fill out the application form for the Tanzanian visa. It took around one hour all in all and I had to pay 50$ for a three months single entry visa for Tanzania. As I informed myself before, the ATM at the border is the last one for some days to come, so I had to make sure I got enough money with me. ATM’s in Tanzania usually only let you withdraw 400’000 Tanzanian Schillings (<200$) at once with a transaction fee of 4$ in addition to the fees you pay to your own bank (rip off). As I walked out of the office, I met two Japanese travellers again whom I first met in Khartoum, what a surprise! Crossing a border with a bicycle is super easy, no customs procedures, I just need to get the stamp and off I go. Those days are always exciting, a new country, new people, new cultures and traditions. It usually takes around 200km to show significant changes, as the border areas are quite similar (exception; Sudan –Ethiopia –Kenya, 100% different right away).
Seriously, I am never quite sure about the rain season, some say it is just starting, some say it is over already, who knows… I just know it has been raining a hell lot more in the last month, than in the first 6 months of my adventure. I started to wonder and googled: rain season Africa. There are different rain seasons per region but the one I am in now until Botswana has its rain season until March. This means: A lot more of rainy days to come.
In terms of clothing it depends how high up I am, if it becomes significantly colder when it starts to rain, I wear a rain jacket to cycle, if it stays fairly warm, I really don’t mind and just cycle through without any changes. What I can say is if it rains in these areas here, it is not just a few drops. Small rivers across the street and huge amounts of water that come down per square meter, sometimes the rain lasts for hours. As I wrote in an earlier blog, time is measured and handled differently on this continent. So as soon as it starts to rain workers usually stop their work. People just wait below a roof and watch the rain. When they see me cycling, they usually laugh and can’t understand why I am doing this. I really started to enjoy cycling in the rain, unfortunately there is no pictures of me in the rain, my electronics are not really built to get wet. Probably the biggest downside of the heavy rain is camping. I love camping and I have absolutely no problem with it, but when everything is wet in the morning and it does not dry all day long and in the evening, you want to camp again and it is still wet, that is just annoying. There is at least one guest house in every small town, and the prices range from 2$ up to 10$.
My rain break at an HIV/AIDS hospital
During a heavy storm I sought shelter under a roof, apparently it was a medical center for HIV patients. Really young men and women came there to seek help. On the wall was a list which states how much medical supply they received with the last delivery. Around 5% of the supply ordered was actually delivered. Having a little boy laying next to me, shaking, barely noticing anything around him was shocking. This inequality that persists on our planet, where people still do not get the appropriate medical help they need is devastating. It is also saddening to see how many people are infected with HIV on this continent. The further south I go the worse it gets. Eswatini and Lesotho have the highest rates at 25%, followed by Botswana South Africa and Namibia at around 20%. Think about those numbers, every 4th person is infected and alone is South Africa there are more than 100,000 people dying every year from HIV/AIDS. SOURCE
People along the road
Except Ethiopia, all other countries I have travelled to, the people along the road have been really supportive. Even though I barely speak any local language there is always some kind of communication going on, especially through laughing, waving and nodding. Tanzania has brought friendliness to a new level. I had rough days on which I arrived in towns shortly before the sunset, totally worn out and exhausted. What’s nicer than people cheering you up once you enter a town, clapping their hands, applauding? This just makes you feel so welcomed and appreciated. 9/10 towns I stay for the night there is no tourist around by far and the only people who sleep in those towns are probably the few cyclists, because they have to. This is the wonderful part about traveling on a bicycle, you are traveling local and away from the huge tourist streams.
The kids along the road are my biggest fans and supporters. Everywhere I go the little ones treat me like a rock star, shouting from far away, waving and just being super cute. It is really hard to put in words how those kids make me feel day in day out, they spread so much happiness, joy and yes, they are very curious!! From a young age on each of them already carries responsibilities (getting water and especially watching over the goats and cows) and it feels like they are mentally ahead of their age. Their toys are simple, and handmade (like a car on a stick, spinners or just and an old tire).
I believe my diet has improved in Tanzania, as I don’t find as many Chapati anymore I had to find something else, which wasn’t really hard. Absolutely every little town has a lady with a small restaurant that offers at least rice and beans and some green vegetables. This is what I basically eat for every lunch and dinner. For one meal I pay between 50 to 75 cents, this varies from town to town. Now you probably ask yourself: do you never get tired of the same food? Luckily, I don’t get tired at all from eating the same thing over and over again, I just don’t like to be hungry, what I eat doesn’t really matter. There are also french-fries or what they call chips-maya, which is french-fries cooked like an omelette with eggs, available everywhere. It may sound weird, but I love it! I still consume peanut butter on a daily basis, but the taste has changed. I liked the stuff I got in Kenya and Uganda way more and once I entered Tanzania I thought that it will still be good so I bought a 1kg jar. Big mistake, what do you do with 1kg of peanut butter if it tastes disgusting? The struggle to finish it was real! What is also annoying here is the bred. I for sure miss the good old swiss bread, however I really don’t mind the white, toast bred they have here. However, all the bred is wrapped in plastic. Being exposed to the sun a lot I need to finish a bred as soon as I bought it, otherwise it will have mould on it within half a day. Bred mould is the worst for the stomach so I have to be really careful.
Comparison to the other East African countries
As Tanzania is my last East African country, I thought about the biggest difference I have encountered so far between Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Food is always slightly different; however, the basics are the same, people are in general very happy, welcoming and kind. What struck me most is the difference with regard to the level of English. This is an observation, not a critique, since I should be the one speaking the local language. However, in my opinion the people in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya have a very high level of English knowledge. Even in remote towns I was able to have nice conversations with the locals. As soon as I crossed the border to Tanzania, even basic words like bread, water, rice, beans and the prices, were a struggle. It happened a few times that I wanted bread and the guy gave me a Sprite. I must work on my pronunciation I believe. Another difference is that Tanzanian people are very cheeky. They always try! What do I mean by that? Wherever you go to buy something, they will try to charge you more, every time! If you don’t know the local price, you always end up paying way too much! With that comes a certain problem, unlike in the other three countries were prices were always the same (Chapatti, Water, Rize, Soda, Bananas), you never know in Tanzania. This makes it hard for a Muzungu (White Person) not to get ripped off. Chapatti prices for example range from 200 to 1000. Imagine myself going to a store and the lady asks 1000 for a chapatti whereas yesterday at a different store I only paid 200. Apparently different factors play a role, the quality of flour that is used, the size and thickness of the chapatti as well. Additionally, I always need to be fully aware of the change I get from a purchase, seriously Tanzanian’s have tried so many times to give me less than I was supposed to get. I always need to count and then ask for more. They act like the didn’t know, yeah if this happens once, I believe it, but if it happens every day a few times everywhere I go, I grow suspicious.
As Pommi from Kenya who invited me to her place in November put me in touch with her friend Francin, who at the dinner table suggested to me that I should visit Gian once I get to Arusha, I already had a place to stay. She told me that Gian is also Swiss and has been living in Tanzania for his entire life. As always, I didn’t know what to expect, where I will stay and whom I going to meet. As I arrived, Gian came to the gate and showed me around. I was speechless again, what a wonderful oasis they lived in right below Mt. Meru. He lives there together with his mother Barbara, whom I met in the evening. Just wonderful how things sometimes unexpectedly turn out, I had such a delightful time at their place, and they are both such amazing, warm hearted and interesting human beings that I will for sure visit them again. It felt like I am a part of their family and on a travel like mine, this can be so valuable. I believe if I didn’t have to go to Zanzibar, I would have stayed with them for at least a week. If you ever think about going to the Serengeti, don’t do it the tourist way, there are thousands of tourists going to the Serengeti every week and you are never alone. There can be up to 10-15 cars around a herd of lions. HOW BORING! Gian does walking Safaris in the Serengeti, if you ever even think about doing a Safari in the Serengeti, go and do it with Gian, you will have the most incredible experience walking through the bush.
My ride from Singida up to Arusha led me through some beautiful landscapes. The lakes and mountain ranges and the border of the Serengeti and some other national parks were really nice. Everything would have been perfect if I didn’t have such a strong headwind for half the way. Headwind is just sooo soul crushing. I don’t think there is anything worse on the bicycle than headwind! This area is also Maasai area again, I love to see them, the adults are super friendly and welcoming, whereas the children are very annoying, harassing and begging. I heard from tour guides that there are tourists sometimes driving through Maasai villages throwing money out of the window. Even now writing about it makes me feel so sick! Some tourists really think they help with actions like that, where as they don’t realize that they are actually bringing way more damage to the culture and to the people’s attitude. Also, in Zanzibar I watched people walking up to little kids, giving them sweets and other things and recording themselves doing it. WOW, you are really making the world a better place… NOT! All you do is making those kids believe every Mzungu (white person) just hands out money, sweets, water etc. Those are the kids who then can annoy me all day long. It is not the kids to blame, it the reckless behaviour of those “making the world a better place” tourists.
How I got over to Zanzibar
As I talked with Gian from Arusha about my plans, he highly suggested me to go to Pangani and take a boat from there over to Zanzibar. I wasn’t really sure if I should take the risk, what if I cannot find a boat to take me over, what if the boat I get is suicidal. Many thoughts but Gian promised me he will take care of it and I decided to take the road to Pangani. One of the best decisions so far on this trip, I was able to escape the heavy traffic on the main road and cycle on a beautiful stretch towards the cost. Gian also put me in touch with Mike, a half Tanzanian half Swiss guy who has cottages in Ushurongo, a town next to Pangani. I arrived at nightfall, after having to fix a puncture and some dirt roading which always takes more time. After a quick shower I met Mike, we had a lovely dinner together and a few beers. It turns out he also does big game fishing and he might have customers from Zanzibar he needs to pick up in a few days. As sooo many times already on this trip, just out of coincidences the best things happened to me. I spent three wonderful days at Mike’s place, very peaceful, amazing beach and no tourists. As Mike had to pick up the customers at Zanzibar, he kindly took me with him, and I even had the chance to do some fishing on the way over. This was probably the sweetest “ferry” ride over to Zanzibar anyone could have gotten. Lucky me again.
Zanzibar was my first big milestone. I was more than half way through my trip already and after 7 months of traveling I finally got to see my parents again. I was so excited to spend some time together at a nice place. It felt really good to have a clean room, clean bed, clean and warm shower and the best food so far on my trip. I highly enjoyed it but after 2 weeks on that island, doing nothing all day long, this urge inside me came up to get going again. Every good bye is sad again, but it feels good to know that the next time I will see my parents again is not that far away. I plan to be home in May, so only about four more months to go. For my taste Zanzibar is too touristy, the whole island is basically about tourism and it was the first time I have seen so many white people since I left Greece. Personally, I enjoy off the beaten track places more.
Since my parents paid me a visit on Zanzibar, I had the chance to organize some spare parts beforehand. So far, my bicycle has been doing a great job, and except for some smaller things like punctures I really didn’t have any troubles yet. Still, I wanted to change my back tire, since I got a lot of punctures already and it looked really worn down. After almost 11’000km it was about time anyway. Furthermore, I was required to do an oil-change on my Pinion (Internal gear system). This took about five minutes and was no problem at all. I also checked my brake pads and they surprised me. My Magura brake pads look almost like new and only about 1/4th is gone. Before this trip I read on some pages that people managed to do around 3000km per pair, so I brought 12 spares with me. I kept 4 now but the rest I sent home. Since I am using a belt instead of a chain and I haven’t had a spare one with me so far, I have decided to take one with me from Zanzibar on. You never know what will happen and now I just don’t need to wait somewhere for a package to arrive. I am basically safe from anything now. Furthermore, I got some spare tubes and a spare tire again, just in case. Since I am traveling with 28” wheels I cannot really rely on local supply. Not many bicycles use 28” wheels. For my gear box I had to change all the screws who attach the box to the frame. I had some screws getting loose. This caused the whole box to move while under pressure. As I got in touch with Pinion, the producer of the gear box, they have sent me all the required spare parts and keys within 2 working day, all for free. What a great service!
Internet – A curse or a blessing?!
So far on this trip I had a total of around 5 days without any internet. Internet connection is usually everywhere I go excellent, at least 3G or even 4G. It is really nice to stay in touch with all the people back home, provide them with insights into my travel and inform them about what I am doing. However, I asked myself the question, who are you doing it for? Of course, it is nice to promote your trip, but in the end you need to do the trip for yourself. Nowadays we always have the urge to reply to messages instantly. This means a huge amount of time every day I spend on the phone talking to people. For this reason, I have decided to go offline. I will still upload all the stories, but not right away, once I get some Wifi again I will have time to do all the internet stuff, but once I am on the road I want to be off the line, being on my own, read and write more and it feels I have gained so much more time during my day. With no Internet I barely even look on my phone, this allows me to focus more deeply on my writings and readings.
Cycling through Mikumi National Park
I have heard stories about this national park already way before I entered Tanzania. It is one highlight on the way down as the chances are high that one can see a lot of wild animals. There are also pictures that show lions and other cats walking over the road at day time. I am not worried about buffalos and elephants, if you keep your distance to those animals and show respect, you will be fine, I just hoped not to see any wild cat besides me on the street. I planned my route ahead of time so that I will reach the National park entry at around noon. Usually during the heat of the day most wild animals are resting. I figured out why… It was blazing hot and I was completely in the sun. However, I didn’t feel any threat from wild animals being on the road, it was just too hot for them to do so. I had all the time of the world to pass through the 50km stretch and I highly enjoyed it. Even though traffic was quite high at times, I had my eyes out the whole time in order to spot some “game”. I was lucky and I saw everything I wanted (many times): elephants, buffalos, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, wildebeest, pumas.
Insects and small animals
As I was approaching Arusha, riding on the main road from the Serengeti something hit me in the face on a downslope. It hit my lip and I felt a sudden, severe pain. I have been stung by bees and wasps a couple of times before, luckily, I don’t show any allergic reaction at all, usually only a little swelling and it disappears quite quickly again. However, this time I felt a bit different, I am just out in the nowhere and something unknown has stung me right in the face, what is if it was something dangerous? Are there poisonous insects in Africa? Haha, if you are on a bike the whole day you have many hours to think about anything. With all those thoughts going through my head time did no pass at all. I checked my lip every minute. Luckily as I went on the swelling slowed down and after a couple of hours still being able to cycle, I was sure it wasn’t anything bad, I guess it was just a local bee. Other than that, I have been quite lucky with insect bites, a few mosquito bites and that’s it. Traveling along the equator can be quite wild in terms of insects. The most annoying insects are in my opinion ants, they get into everything and just love my food. Once they get a hold of my food the word spreads quickly and my food is completely covered. Every once in a while again I have mice or rats in my room, so far they have just passed by and didn’t get a hold of my food. Gekos are in almost every room I get as well, they come in once it is dark and eat all the insects, so I quite like them, they really don’t bother me as long as they don’t poop on my bed at night. They can be straight above you on the roof, and just pooping down. I had a few bedbugs until now, mostly in hostels where there are many travellers in a small room. Usually the beds I get in local guesthouses are very clean and fresh. Luckily, I don’t really show any signs of bites when I have bed bugs, I know people who get huge areas full of bites. I just see the bed bugs in my bed but usually I don’t see any bites on my body.
Crazies and drunks
It happens from time to time that I meet some drunk or mentally disabled people on the road. Alcohol is becoming a huge problem as well and there are more and more people who are addicted to it. It is very cheap to get a small bottle of gin or whiskey almost in every street shop. They mostly cost less than a dollar. As I was once riding on a long ans busy road I saw this young man (about my age) walking in the middle of the road, not getting off the street even with all the trucks and busses passing. The people along the road were just watching him and laughing. I had to stop the traffic, and then I took him off the road and set him down. He was completely in another world; on a drunk level I give him 9 out of 10 (K.O.). The crazies can be seen from far away as well, they are usually shouting around and walking in the middle of the street as well. Once you stop your bike, they come at you and just shout in your face, arguing with their hands and just acting “crazy”. The locals around just laugh as well, making signs that not everything is right in that person’s mind. It is sad to see those people; they have no chance of receiving any help. It happened only a few times that one tried to attack me, nothing serious, I just had to watch out. I didn’t feel threatened at all since the locals around would all come and help if needed.
The road to heaven
As I wanted to get out of my comfort zone again, I decided to take a road up the mountain through a national park. For a month I haven’t done any real camping and my last wild camping dates back to my final day in Sudan. I loved it in Sudan but after all I just didn’t feel comfortable sleeping somewhere in the wild by myself with so many people around. I had many thoughts about taking this route up the mountain, it is rain season, the road will be a mess, and it will take me from 1000 meters above sea up to 2900 meters above sea. This is a serious altitude difference, especially with a 55 kg bicycle. Up to my planned camping spot the road was in a good condition, barely any people around and I was able to sleep right next to a river in the national park. Unfortunately, it suddenly started to rain, and I had to hurry up with cooking. As I finished, cleaned all the dishes in the river I headed into the tent. It was just five in the afternoon, but I already fell asleep. I slept like a baby through the whole night, sometimes checking if my bicycle is still there but I really didn’t worry as no one was around at all and it was raining. I think I got at least 11 hours of sleep. My alarm went off at 7, not too early since I only had to cover 20km that day up to Matamba. The climb was around 1000 meters of altitude to cover. It got steep right away and I spent the next 4 hours pushing my bike up the mountain. I didn’t expect it to be that steep but no chance of riding it up. This was the most pushing I have done so far in a day, what a physical challenge. Once I reached the plateau, I thought the nice part would start. However, as the roads up there were so muddy and wet, I ended up stuck because of my mudguards being blocked. It took me some time to remove both, what a mess it was. I left my camping spot at 8 and arrived at Matamba at 13:30. Five and a half hours for just 20km, that is a new record! Haha. For the night I took a big room in a motel. Rain always means a lot of work. After I arrived, I had to unpack everything that was wet, hang it up and let it dry. Since I am still close to the equator and totally in the rain season, all my stuff had a hard time getting dry. I have decided to take a day off in Matamba, since temperature was very nice up there and I enjoyed the village vibe. I also had some time off to write my blog and application for my masters starting in the fall of 2019. From Matamba I had to climb another 800 meters of altitude to reach the plateau of Kitulo National park. The views were stunning and the whole effort to climb over this mountain range, to push my bicycle for hours, was totally worth it. The temperature was so nice up there, could have stayed there much longer if it didn’t rain half the day, every day. Additionally, there was absolutely no traffic. All in all, those 4 days in this area were some of the most memorable of this trip.
My travel planning
Since I left Switzerland there have always been some fixed points of time, I had on my way down. This required some more or less exact time planning of certain routes. How long will it take me to get there, how many days can I rest in between, which route should I rather take. After Zanzibar I have now decided to not have any fixed, prior arranged appointments, anymore. I planned to do a self-driving safari with a really good friend of mine in Botswana, but arranging all of it puts me on a certain time schedule again and this can be stressful. For the last couple of months of my trip I just want to go with the flow, cycle where and whenever I want to without be calculating any routes. Today I feel like this, so I will do it. This is something I also need to learn, to go more with the flow, organize less and just take it as it comes. I am not really good at that yet, but I am working on it. I have also not booked any return flight yet, I want to keep that freedom to finish my trip whenever I feel like it and I believe those extra dollars the ticket will cost more are totally worth the extra freedom I get. My guess is that I will be back home in the beginning of May, but as of now anything can happen, and it might be a bit later as well.
I have spent a total of 5 days in Addis Ababa, mostly inside the camping area at Wim‘s Holland house. A lot of overlanders go there, since it has space to camp, space for the car, the rooms are cheap, and they serve good food. Exactly what I needed. As always, I took off very early in the morning after sunrise at around 6AM. The ride out of Addis was very peaceful and not much of a hassle. I planned to stay in a town 130km away from Addis Ababa, but as I arrived at noon already, I continued on. Following, the hassle started, people started to become more and more aggressive. I had kids throwing rocks right in front of me, usually they would throw them after I had passed them. Families sitting at the side of the road throwing stones, even adults grabbed fist-sized rocks and threw them at me. Once I passed two young adults, I greeted them kindly and as I passed one guy smashed a stick on my back. Of course, I stopped, and they ran off into the field, it just made me feel said. An adult couple stopped as well and tried to help me, but the guys were long gone. I continued and continued until the sun was almost gone. I did 230km on that day, I was so tired of all the harassment that I just wanted to leave. The hotel I got was nice and also the people I hung out that night were kind and I had good talks with them. Even they couldn’t explain why stuff like that happens to cyclists. The following day I left early again. The next town I passed was Shasharmane, famous for its living rastafari culture. I didn‘t see much of that as people were so aggressive. I cannot explain how it felt, it was just not welcoming. On that day I wanted to make it to Sodo, a 130km ride. After 75km I was mentally so down that I called my mom. Never miss out on a mom’s advice. I couldn‘t handle it anymore, I was so angry, sad and just didn‘t feel safe anymore. Whole groups of people tried to get a hold of me, followed me on their motorcycles, the stone throwing became so bad that I just didn‘t want to cycle anymore. Every kilometre was hell and I just wanted to get out as fast as possible. Luckily, I met some American tourists on the way whom I asked for help. They organized a transport for me to the next bigger city. That was the moment in which I decided that Ethiopia was over for me, but I still had 400km to cover. I had to change the bus 5 times until I finally reached the border of Kenya. Imagine having 6 bags with you, a bicycle and 30 people constantly around shouting at you. I had to do everything myself, carry the bicycle up and down from the bus roof, since they always asked for money and when I said no, they just left. It was very stressful, but I managed to get to the border within 2 days. The reason why I called my mom is that sometimes I am struggling to jump over my ego, giving up is not an option for me but my mom helped me to understand that I was not giving up on anything, that it was just smarter to take the bus, that I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone and that I would regret it if something bad had happened to me which could have possibly ended my trip altogether. That’s what a journey like this is here for. I can improve on myself, my character every day and try to learn learn learn. What is the point of doing something over such a long period of time if you don’t like it? I just wanted to move on so that I have more time to spend in a place I could enjoy.
For some time now, Moyale had been experiencing regularly violent outbreaks. The area is known for tribal conflicts and I planned to get over to the Kenyan side as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, I couldn‘t pass the border in the evening anymore so I had to sleep on the Ethiopian side of Moyale, as the immigration dudes already left work at 5pm. Heavily armed man were walking around, some unrests occurred and big crowds of people gathered afterwards. This was the first time I didn‘t really feel comfortable. Usually, I never felt anything like this in all the other towns and cities I had stayed in. I got into the first hotel, organized a room, got out again to get water and bananas and went right inside the hotel area again. After sunset Moyale was like a ghost town, everything was completely shut down and I couldn‘t even leave the hotel anymore (not that I wanted to, I just checked). My night was peaceful, as always since I sleep with earplugs. I was the first person at Immigration in the morning, got the exit stamp from Ethiopia and went through „no-man’s-land” over to Kenya. As I went over, some Ethiopian guy didn‘t stop shouting at me, almost yelling. I didn‘t pay him any attention since guys have done this all the time. As I entered the Kenyan Immigration office, this guy showed up again, totally in rage, yelling at me, saying that I disrespect Kenyan orders and their law etc. For a moment I thought come on, please don’t make me stay here longer than I am supposed to. Then a really nice Kenyan military lady came, grabbed the man and took him out. As she returned, I asked her, what is if I leave and this guy is waiting outside? She just answered really cool, I locked him up in a cell for the day, you will be fine. This guy was totally drunk and high on Khat, he deserved it.
After I crossed the border I really felt at peace, no more youyouyou, no more moneymoneymoney and not a single rock! It’s crazy, 100% different. Kenya is such a beautiful, peaceful country, and the people are amazing, full of happiness & kindness. The level of English they speak is also exceptionally good and communication is great!
My interesting time in Ethiopia
By no means do I want to offend anyone by my post, but I try to write as accurate as possible on how I felt. Some unpleasant things can happen, but they do for sure not mean that I need to be quiet about it.
Yes, many people travel to Ethiopia, many people love it and have not experienced anything like I have. I can just say that there is a huge difference on traveling through Ethiopia by public transport, car, organized tours etc, and traveling through it on a bicycle. I can share some other stories with you from cyclists who also travelled through Ethiopia.
In any case, I would never dare to say that the whole country was bad, Ethiopia is beautiful, and the majority of the people is really nice. It is just that what happened to me cannot be just left away and I also want to share those experiences with you. However, some people ask me now: Lukas, will you continue to collect money for Ethiopia? I absolutely will continue to do so. You cannot throw all the people of a country in to the same basket. I have met wonderful people in Ethiopia as well, I visited places Green Ethiopia is active in and I have seen with my own eyes how much we can help to improve lives of less fortunate people. My bad experiences have nothing to do with my personal feelings towards Ethiopia and the people I can help. I still highly support the foundation Green Ethiopia and we should all take this as an example, not to judge a whole country just by single events and incidents that are occurring. Many Ethiopians couldn’t believe what has happened to me, and surely all of them have agreed that this cannot be tolerated.
Von Khartum, der Hauptstadt des Sudans, hatte ich noch etwa 550 Kilometer bis zur Grenze zu Äthiopien. Ich beschloss, einen kleinen Umweg zu machen, um mich von der belebten Hauptstraße fernzuhalten. Ich hatte die Hauptstraßen satt. Während den drei Tagen von Atbara nach Khartum stand ich mehrmals dem Tod gegenüber. Bus- und Lkw-Fahrer wollten nicht hinter mir anhalten, wenn ein anderes Fahrzeug auf mich zukam. Beim Vorbeifahren schoben sie mich einfach von der Straße und ich war manchmal kurz davor, von meinem Fahrrad zu fallen. Ich fing an, jedes Mal, wenn sich mir ein Lastwagen von hinten näherte, buchstäblich ein Handzeichen zu machen und ihnen zu zeigen, dass sie aufpassen sollen. Es funktionierte die meiste Zeit und ich war einfach wirklich glücklich, endlich Khartum zu erreichen. Die Straße, die ich in Richtung Al Quadrif nahm, befand sich also auf der anderen Seite des Nils, und ich fand sie sehr friedlich und mit wenig Verkehr.
Die Umgebung begann sich schnell zu verändern. Je näher ich an die Grenze kam, desto grüner wurde sie. Ich plante, die 550 km in 5 Tage aufzuteilen, in “Hotels” in den größeren Städten Wad Madani und Al Quadrif zu übernachten, und den Rest der Tage würde ich irgendwo neben der Straße schlafen. Wie du auf den Bildern sehen kannst, habe ich einige schöne Campingplätze gefunden, ganz allein, bedeckt mit Bäumen. Obwohl einige Einheimische mich bemerkt haben, habe ich mich beim Wildcamping im Sudan nie in irgendeiner Weise unsicher gefühlt. Während meiner 23 Tage im Sudan habe ich nur 50 Dollar für die Unterkunft ausgegeben, also habe ich die meiste Zeit in meinem Zelt geschlafen. Die Hotels, die ich hatte, waren schmutzig und wirklich nur gut für die Nacht, um sich mit Wasser und Essen zu versorgen. Im Sudan habe ich durchschnittlich 4 bis 5 Dollar für ein Zimmer pro Nacht bezahlt. Wenn ich in einem Hotel übernachtete, nahm ich immer mein Fahrrad mit in das Zimmer. Manchmal konnte ich mich kaum in meinem eigenen Zimmer bewegen, aber zumindest wusste ich, dass das Fahrrad sicher ist. Es gibt sicher teurere Zimmer, die ich nehmen könnte, aber was soll’s, ich würde dieses Geld lieber für andere Aktivitäten als für den Schlaf verwenden, und die lustigen Dinge passieren, wenn man aus seiner Komfortzone herauskommt. Aufwachen mit einer Ratte im Zimmer oder Durchfall die ganze Nacht über, wenn das Badezimmer 100 Meter von der Schlafstätte entfernt ist, sind Geschichten, die du nicht so schnell vergessen wirst.
Das Leben entlang der Straße wurde immer belebter, als ich weitermachte. Der Agrarsektor ist im Osten des Sudan dominanter als im Rest der von mir eingeschlagenen Route. Die Landschaft ist sehr grün und es gibt viele Tiere, die überall grasen. An einem Tag zwischen Khartum und dem Wad Madani gab es überall Menschen, Stadt für Stadt, also beschloss ich, eines Nachts an einem Polizeikontrollpunkt zu bleiben. Sie sind sicher und die Polizisten im Sudan tragen überraschenderweise nicht einmal eine Waffe. Sie boten mir eine Menge heiße Milch und anderes Essen an.
Die Gastfreundschaft hielt während meiner Reise durch den Sudan an. Auf stündlicher Basis luden mich Leute zu Kaffee und Tee ein, was ich meistens, offen gesagt, ablehnte, da ich viele Kilometer zurücklegen musste, und ich kann nicht den ganzen Tag Tee trinken. Allerdings habe ich nie ein Lebensmittelangebot abgelehnt, haha, also wurde ich zufällig von einem jungen Mann eingeladen, während ich eine Wasserpause machte. Ich dachte zuerst, er wollte etwas von mir, aber da ich an diesem Tag bereits mehr als 3/4 meiner geplanten Route gemacht hatte, folgte ich ihm einfach. Da es Freitag (der heilige Tag der Muslime) war, wurde ich zu einem riesigen Frühstück eingeladen, das einfach köstlich war. Es waren nur Männer im Raum, im Alter von 5 bis 27 Jahren. Ein Typ sprach fließend Englisch und es fühlte sich gut an, ein normales Gespräch zu führen. Nachdem er über viele kulturelle Unterschiede zwischen dem Sudan und der Schweiz gesprochen hatte, bat er mich freundlicherweise, meine Kleider auszuziehen, sie wollten mich nackt sehen. Ich lachte nur und zeigte ihnen meinen Oberkörper. Ich lachte noch mehr, als sie mehr sehen wollten, aber ich lehnte dann offen gesagt ab, und sie akzeptierten es. Später fragte ich mich, warum sie mich völlig nackt sehen wollten, liegt es an der Hautfarbe? oder wollten sie sehen, ob mein Penis beschnitten ist? Ich weiß es wirklich nicht, ich fand es einfach lustig, dass sie völlig gegen Homosexualität sind und mich dennoch baten, meine Kleider vor ihnen auszuziehen.
Die afrikanische Art Dinge zu tun
Ich liebe es einfach, Zeit in einem Dorf oder einer Stadt zu verbringen, irgendwo zu sitzen und den Menschen bei ihren täglichen Geschäften zuzusehen. Es gibt spezielle Ladestationen, an denen etwa 50 Telefone gleichzeitig aufgeladen werden. In Afrika haben mehr Menschen Zugang zum Internet als zu Strom. Was mir auch klar wurde, ist, dass die Menschen im Sudan wirklich keine Wartung ihrer Ausrüstung durchführen. Die Lastwagen, Busse, Tuctuc’s, wie auch immer man es nennt, sie benutzen es einfach, bis es nicht mehr funktioniert. Im Ernst, sie haben kein Profil mehr auf ihrem Reifen, sie tauschen keinen Reifen aus, bis er explodiert und vollständig von der Felge abgerissen wird, was manchmal noch weitere Schäden an der Karosserie des Fahrzeugs verursacht. In diesem Teil werde ich einige Bilder posten, die so typisch für die afrikanische Art, Dinge zu tun, sind.
Das äthiopische Visum
Da ich nicht mit dem Flugzeug nach Äthiopien kam, war ich verpflichtet, das Visum bei der äthiopischen Botschaft in Khartum zu beantragen. Ich kam an einem Freitag in Khartum an, und da das arabische Wochenende von Freitag bis Samstag ist, musste ich bis Sonntag warten, um zur Botschaft zu gehen. Ein Freund sagte mir, ich solle sehr früh dorthin gehen. Die Botschaft öffnet um 8:30 Uhr und ich kam dort um 06:00 Uhr an. Überraschenderweise war ich nicht der Erste, da ich mich beim “Wachmann” anmelden musste, wurde mir die Nummer 47 zugewiesen. Der ganze Prozess war so unorganisiert, dass niemand wirklich eine Ahnung hatte, was los war. Es gab etwa 4 verschiedene Linien, jeder schrie, hielt verschiedene Papiere in der Hand und die Botschaftsleute, die dafür zuständig waren, Menschen hereinzulassen, nutzten ihre situative Kraft und handelten wirklich arrogant. Anscheinend kamen die ersten, die sie hereingelassen haben, bereits 5 Tage zuvor in die Botschaft, und da sie nur 100 Personen pro Tag hereingelassen haben, war der ganze Prozess völlig verzögert. Um 11:00 Uhr machte uns ein Mann endlich klar, dass wir heute kein Visum bekommen würden, und er legte jedes unserer Visaformulare wieder eine Nummer und ein Datum auf, an dem wir unseren Visumstermin haben werden. Ich wurde am Mittwoch mit der Nummer eins beauftragt. Also musste ich drei Tage warten, um wieder zur Botschaft zu gehen. Da ich Zeit hatte und das Visum wirklich wollte, kam ich an diesem Mittwoch um 06:00 Uhr wieder an. Gegen 10:00 Uhr durfte ich hineingehen, und ich hatte wirklich Glück, denn die Nummer, der ich früher zugewiesen wurde, spielte keine Rolle. Es gab Leute, die sogar 2 Tage vor mir einen Termin hatten und es wieder nicht geschafft haben, hineingelassen zu werden. Der ganze Prozess ist einfach soooo ungeordnet, und als Botschaftsmitarbeiter, wie kann man damit jeden Tag umgehen, ohne es zu ändern? Ich musste weitere 6 Stunden drinnen warten, bis ich endlich mein dreimonatiges Visum bekam, das mich 60$ kostete.
Mein Kampf mit den Postkarten
Auf dem ganzen Weg nach unten im Sudan habe ich versucht, eine Poststelle zu finden, aber die Antwort war immer nein, es gibt keine im Sudan. Ich habe überall Leute gefragt und sogar Expats, die seit Jahren in Khartum leben, haben mir gesagt, dass sie nirgendwo von einer Post gehört haben. Als ich maps.me überprüfte, stand auf dem Schild Postamt Khartum. Nun, warum versuchen wir es nicht mal? Da ich für jede Spende, die ich erhalte, eine Postkarte schreibe und die meisten Leute eine Postkarte aus dem Sudan wollen, musste ich sie ausprobieren. Ich wollte nicht 20 Leute im Stich lassen. Als ich an dem Ort ankam, ja, es gab ein großes Gebäude, das aussah wie eine Post, aber ein Typ sagte mir, dass es sich um ein verlassenes Gebäude aus der britischen Kolonialzeit handelt. Ok, also habe ich mich einfach bei den Einheimischen erkundigt, wo es eine Post gibt. Wie immer hatte niemand eine Ahnung, aber plötzlich schien ein Mann zu wissen, wonach ich suche, hielt einen Kleinbus an und sagte dem Fahrer, wo er mich absetzen sollte. Tadaaa, nach einem kurzen Spaziergang kam ich wirklich an etwas, das aussah wie eine Poststelle. Das Durcheinander im Inneren war gross, aber es sah immer noch so aus, als wären sie unter Kontrolle des Durcheinanders. Ich habe überprüft, ob sie Postkarten und den Preis schicken. So fand ich endlich eine Poststelle, aber was ist mit Postkarten? Der Sudan ist kein typisches Reiseziel, also wo findet man Postkarten? Der Kampf war echt! Ich habe bereits Pläne gemacht, Bilder auszudrucken und in einem Umschlag zu versenden. Als ich aus dem SudaPost-Büro ging, sah mich ein Typ mit einem kleinen Straßenladen an und sagte: Postkarten?! Ich konnte mein Lachen nicht zurückhalten, ich war so verdammt, du bist mein Mann. Die Postkarten, die er hatte, waren mindestens 20 Jahre alt, aber meiner Meinung nach waren sie toll, auch wenn sie überhaupt nicht schön aussahen, es sind Postkarten aus dem Sudan! Ich meine, wer hat schon mal eine Postkarte aus dem Sudan erhalten?! Was für ein Spielmacher, ich habe es geschafft, eine Poststelle und Postkarten zu finden! Als ich sie alle zur Post brachte, sorgte ich wirklich dafür, dass die Frauen am Schalter auf meine Seite kamen. Ich würde es nicht Flirten nennen, aber wie ich ihnen sagte, sind all diese Karten für meine Frau, Kinder und Freunde, ihr Herz schien wirklich zu schmelzen und ich war mir ziemlich sicher, dass sie sich gut um die Karten kümmern werden. Ich habe alle Briefmarken selbst auf jede Karte gestempelt und selbst abgestempelt, um sicherzustellen, dass sie nicht nur die Briefmarken nach meiner Abreise wieder abnehmen. Es dauerte genau 18 Tage, bis die ersten Postkarten ankamen, und ich glaube, dass inzwischen alle 20 Karten den Weg zum Empfänger gefunden haben. Wie toll ist das? Es dauerte 6 Wochen, bis Postkarten aus Italien nach Hause kamen, die 200 km vor der Schweizer Grenze verschickt wurden!
Grenzübergang Sudan – Äthiopien
Grenzübergänge sind spannend, man betritt ein neues Land, eine andere Kultur. Sie sprechen eine andere Sprache, kleiden sich anders. Von einem Tag auf den anderen können sich die Dinge völlig ändern. Dennoch sind Grenzübergänge auch ein großes Problem. Die Leute versuchen immer, dich auszunutzen, sie wollen dein Geld tauschen, versuchen, dir mehr Geld für Essen in Rechnung zu stellen, versuchen dir zu helfen, Geld von einem Geldautomaten zu bekommen, sagen dir, wohin du gehen sollst, und es gibt etwa 10 Leute, die dich anschreien, wenn du woanders hingehst.
Ich übernachtete 50 km von der Grenze zwischen einigen Bäumen entfernt. Ich nahm es morgens locker, weil ich wusste, dass ich nur etwa 90 Kilometer mit wenig Höhenunterschied zurücklegen musste. Ich fuhr 2 km lang, als mir plötzlich klar wurde, dass ich meinen ersten Platten hatte, wuhuuu! Nach 5500 km, durch Dornbüsche, über Glasscherben und schreckliche Straßen zu fahren, ist das eine solide Leistung, würde ich sagen. Es dauerte etwa 30 Minuten, da ich es nicht eilig hatte und ich es lieber langsam und ruhig als zweimal tat. Ich tauschte den Schlauch aus und reparierte den defekten ein paar Tage später in einem Hotelzimmer, wo es nicht so staubig und voller Schmutz war.
An der Grenze angekommen, musste ich zum sudanesischen Einwanderungsamt gehen, um ein Formular auszufüllen, meinen Pass abstempeln zu lassen und ich war unterwegs, um die Brücke auf die andere Seite zu überqueren. Die sudanesischen Beamten an der Grenze versuchten, mein Gepäck zu kontrollieren. Ich tat so, als ob ich nicht verstanden hätte, was er tun wollte, und nach ein paar Sekunden winkte er mir einfach zu. Dann musste ich auf der anderen Seite genau den gleichen Prozess durchlaufen. Die Dame, die mein Gepäck überprüfen wollte, war etwas gespannter, um meine Sachen zu sehen. Sie checkte die ersten beiden Taschen vorne, aber dann wurde sie müde davon und ich überredete sie nicht weiterzumachen. Stellen Sie sich vor, es ist sooooo ärgerlich, wenn sie durch deine gesamte Ausrüstung schauen wollen. Es ist so viel und ich muss alle Taschen vom Fahrrad nehmen. Auch die Passkontrolle ist ärgerlich. Einfach normal gekleidete Leute tauchten an der Seite des Rittes auf und forderten, meinen Pass zu sehen. Ja, sie könnten Polizisten sein, und wahrscheinlich sind sie es meistens, aber da ich es nicht wissen kann, gehe ich normalerweise einfach weiter, ohne ihnen etwas zu zeigen. Die meisten haben kein Auto, also konnten sie mir nicht einmal folgen.
Die Freundlichkeit der Fremden
Als ich an der Grenze ankam, hatte ich noch etwa 10$ in sudanesischen Pfund übrig. Wie üblich versuche ich, mein ganzes Geld loszuwerden, bevor ich die Grenze überschreite, da das Ändern es einen immer schlechter weglässt, als es von einem Geldautomaten zu bekommen. Viele Leute sagten mir, es sei kein Problem, Geld von einem Geldautomaten direkt nach der Grenze zu bekommen, also machte ich mir keine Sorgen um Geld. Da das Glück ganz und gar nicht auf meiner Seite war, war der einzige Geldautomat auf der anderen Seite der Grenze außer Betrieb und mir wurde gesagt, dass es 40 km weiter die Straße in der nächsten Stadt einen anderen internationalen Geldautomaten gibt. Ich verließ Metama sofort, da ich den Ärger, der da vor sich ging, nicht ertragen konnte. Kurz darauf sah ich zwei Überlandfahrer mit der schönen BMW 1200 GS und GSA auf mich zukommen. Ich streckte meine Hand aus, um ihnen zu signalisieren, anzuhalten. In diesen Gebieten trifft man nicht so viele Reisende auf der Straße, so dass es sich immer lohnt, zumindest ein kurzes Gespräch zu führen. Es stellte sich heraus, dass es sich um ein belgisches Paar auf Hochzeitsreise handelte, das von Südafrika bis nach Belgien reiste. Wenn es da draußen eine Frau gibt, die auch so eine Hochzeitsreise haben will, melde dich bitte bei mir! Sie nennen sich die Belgium Gravel Cats und sie können ihrer abenteuerlichen Reise hierfolgen. Ich erzählte ihnen von meinem Pech an der Grenze mit dem Geldautomaten, und ohne zu zögern übergaben sie mir ihre restliche Birr, die etwa 12$ kostete, und eine SIM-Karte für Notfälle, da der nächste Telefonladen in Gondar, 200km entfernt, liegt. Mit dem Gesamtwert von 22$ Birr (Name der äthiopischen Währung) war es mir möglich, Gondar zu erreichen, wo ich wieder Geld abheben konnte. Ich hätte ohne ihre freundliche Geste überlebt, aber es machte meine kommenden drei Tage viel angenehmer und weniger stressig. Vielen Dank dafür! Die Freundlichkeit der Mitreisenden, besonders in Gebieten, in denen man nicht wirklich viele Überlandfahrer trifft, ist immer bemerkenswert und ich versuche wirklich, diesen Geist aufrechtzuerhalten.
Sudan – Statistik
Verweildauer: 23 Tage
Nächte wildes Camping: 10
Kosten für Essen: 124$
Kosten für das Schlafen: 98$, inklusive zwei Übernachtungen für insgesamt 50$ (Geburtstagsgenuss)
Lieblingsessen: Die Sudanesen nennen es Sahan ful (ein Teller Bohnen) oder ful masri (ägyptische Bohnen). Es ist ein vegetarisches, proteinreiches Gericht, garniert mit frischen Zwiebeln, Tomaten, Rucola, Fetakäse, gekochten Eiern und Sesamöl. Es verursachte den einzigen Rückenwind, den ich im Sudan hatte, haha.
Hey Lukas, when you ride to Cape Town, won’t you need to cycle through Sudan? Yes, I do. Ohh… isn’t Sudan a super dangerous country? I got the question asked so many times. It seemed very weird, people telling me how dangerous Sudan was, but they have never actually been there. This happens in so many everyday situations, people thinking they know everything, just from listening to the news, reading journals or even better; someone else told them… Since my preparation time was quite extensive, around 1 year, I had to listen to so many “No Sayers”. Lukas you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous, too hot, too sandy, too unstable, too whatever. I felt like a lawyer, constantly defending myself. So, what now, I have arrived in Sudan, cycled 1200 kilometres across the Sahara during summer. Can’t say it wasn’t tough, or that I didn’t have really long days, or that I slept very well because of the storms at night. However, I was having the time of my life. What an amazing feeling just to be out there, independent from anything. No one has any clue where the hell you are, it is just quiet, the sky and especially the stars were breath-taking. Mind-blowing, even for myself. This is what I had always been waiting for, the real adventure, my time to discover Africa has finally started!
Sudan – My arrival
Sudan, until now the most hospitable country I have been to. Imagine, for the first 7 days I did not spend a single dollar on food… feels very special. It is crazy how different the people in Sudan are compared to Egypt. Sudanese people are way more relaxed. Every day, I get invited several times for coffee, tea and food. I feel really great cycling through Sudan. All the people give you thumbs up, they cheer you on and just want to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. One time I was standing at a water station, asking a guy where the next restaurant was. It took 3 minutes and I was sitting in his house eating lunch. People here really don’t have anything, poverty rate is high, but still their hospitality seems to be boundless.
I arrived with the ferry in Whadi Halfa on August 27th. I spent a wonderful night on the deck of the boat, watching the full moon all night long. The whole unloading process took forever, but I didn’t care, I have so much time for whatever, why should I stress myself. I had to show every single bag to the customs officer, they checked it through, but really didn’t go deep. It just took forever, and I hate unpacking my whole bicycle with so many items loaded. It is like I am missing 6 arms to do all the things I have to do at once. Due to political sanctions, no foreign credit card works in Sudan. Travelers know, always carry enough Dollars with you. The situation in Sudan is kind of special. To exchange money, you must do it on the black market, since the official rate is like 7 times lower. Right now, the rate is quite good, it is 1 to 40. Imagine the highest bill is a 50 Sudanese Pound one. Changing 100 dollars gives you a huge pile of bills that don’t fit in a normal wallet. It is illegal to exchange your dollars on the black market. I mean it’s obvious, that’s why it’s called black market in the first place, but still everyone does it. People will ask you on the boat, after you get through customs, or you just go to random stores around town, through some backroom door and an old guy will be sitting there with piles of bills and he will change your dollars too. The rate changes on a daily basis, so bargaining is possible.
Some of you might ask yourselves, how did I get a Visa for Sudan? It is super easy. I just wrote to the Sudanese Embassy in Geneva; Hey, I will be cycling from Zurich to Cape-town and I need to pass through Sudan, can I get a Visa? Yes, just send me your passport and 100$, you will get it back within 4 days. Worked great, perfect service! I got a Visa that gave me 2 months to enter the country and 2 months to stay inside, this provides a lot of flexibility.
Sudan has special regulations on taking pictures. In fact, it is just one rule: you are not allowed to take any pictures at all. People love if you take pictures of them, they even throw themselves in pose, but the government just doesn’t want that you take any pictures of some infrastructure stuff. I only got into trouble once. In Karima, where one guy became kind of furious by me walking around downtown taking pictures. Haha, I apologized, and it was good again.
After getting a local SIM card, changing my money and buying food and water for the next 4 days, I took off in the afternoon for my first night in the desert.
My way down
Since I had only 12 days’ time to reach Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, before my birthday, I was on a tight schedule. Cycling for 12 days sounds rough, but your body gets surprisingly fast used to it. Out of the 11 nights I slept 3 times in a filthy hotel, costs per night were around 4-6$ so I did not expect much, something I never do. If you have low expectations, you cannot get disappointed. I rather sleep out in the nature than in places where you don’t know when the bedsheets were washed for the last time. Is it maybe 5 months, or rather 10? It’s better not to know those things I guess. The only thing I really take care of is that I always have enough food, for at least 3 days, with me and enough water for 1 full day, which is around 12-14 litres. Carrying more water just gets too heavy. Along the Nile you could find a water station at least every 50km. The water has the most diverse colours, from light to dark brown to grey, whatever colour you want you can find it. I always tried to filter the water. Sometimes when a truck driver handed me an ice-cold bottle of water I was too lazy to filter it. In the Afternoon at around 14:00 I always started to wave down truck drivers with an empty bottle of water. Seriously, 95% always stopped and handed me over water, mostly cold, sometimes frozen or when I got lucky even a cold Coca Cola. When you only had hot ass water for the last couple of hours and someone hands you an ice-cold Coke, you feel like you were in heaven. The next hour just becomes so much more pleasurable then. I usually got up at 4:30, sometimes 5 if I was not feeling it quiet yet. the Sun goes up at 5:15 and it is getting hot quickly after that. I usually took a break from 11 to 14:30, because it was just too hot, and it would have been a massive waste of valuable water. However, it was not always easy to find a good shade. I started seeking for a nice dune to camp behind at around 16:30, which gave me 1.5 hour to cook, set up the tent, and to put everything away again. I barely had any internet on the way until Atbara. I really enjoyed it and it was nice to just read in my book.
The Sandstorms and I
The first four nights were amazing, there was a breeze going, I only had the inner tent pitched so that I could see the stars, and no clouds at all. Afterwards, almost every night became a little nightmare. When I went to sleep at 20:00, the sky always looked perfectly clear, but at around 23:00, strong winds started to pick up and I found myself in the middle of a big storm. It is not a pleasant feeling, just being out in the middle of nowhere, by yourself, almost blown away by the wind, but what can you do? I wasn’t scared, I had everything under control. I was laying in my tent like a starfish, so the tent could not take off. It is hard generally to pin down a tent in the desert. The sand doesn’t hold the tent pegs. I usually hoped the storm would go away once the sun goes up. Unfortunately, this happened only once. The other two times I had to pack everything together under extremely windy conditions. Everything went well, I just felt it on the bike a bit that I had not sleep at all. During those 6 days, I did a total of 650 kilometres with constant headwinds. On the worst day I had an average of 10 km/h during the first 4 hours, which makes you quite tired on a 9 to 10 hour cycling day. In general, body feels great and I can really push. However, I always check to eat a lot of salt and magnesium. Treating my body well if I am putting so much pressure on it is essential.
My birthday, Alexander and lots of stories
It felt quite special to celebrate my birthday in Sudan. Surely something not a lot of Europeans can claim for themselves. Due to Sharia law, alcohol is strictly prohibited. So, I guess I will have to drink my birthday beer once in Ethiopia.
Zander is from the UK, currently living in Johannesburg and cycling from South Africa all the way up to Alexandria. I would have loved to cycle with him, hopefully we will be able to do that in the future sometime. It is not that I feel lonely, it is just cool sometimes to have a buddy with you to share stories, cook together or just to push through the headwind. Zander spontaneously decided to stay an additional day just for celebrating my birthday with me. We had great food and lots of interesting talks.
Woman in Sudan
I feel there is a huge difference to the women I met in Egypt. Here, women seem to be way more open. They say hello, smile, shake hands with men, and are not as separated from the male world as it seemed to be the case in Egypt. They also wear colourful dresses and I can tell you: It looks beautiful! I have not taken any picture yet. I always feel kind of touristy doing that.
Most people barely know any English, my Arabic is really not good but with hands and feet I always manage to get what I want. Usually when I do my lunch break I am surrounded by young guys. I figured out most of them are super into football, so it’s always fun to just name players and compare them. Most favourite one I always get asked is: Ronaldo or Messi? Ronaldo of course 😉
First, let me start with the good stuff. Luxor was the great capital of upper Egypt during the new Kingdom (16th-11th century BC). The valley of the kings, with the beautiful Luxor Temple right in the middle of the city as well as the astonishing Karnak temple, is close to it.
While in Luxor, you are definitely in the biggest outdoor museum on earth. With it comes tourism. I was told that before the revolution in 2011, it wasn’t as bad as today, but since fewer tourists visit the city nowadays, some locals try as hard as they can to get as much money as possible out of the remaining tourists. That made me feel really uncomfortable. Of course, in the end it is like 1% of the local population that gives you a hard time, which is a sad story, but it changed my whole attitude towards Egypt for some time. I just wanted to get out of this place because I literally felt like a walking ATM. Every time I had to pay something I had to be careful to get enough money back. Sometimes paying a meal, which was 35 Egyptian pounds, with a 200 pounds bill and only getting back 65 Egyptian pounds. This happened to me on numerous occasions and I just got really tired of it. I lost the whole trust in anyone just because of the few. I hate the feeling of getting ripped off every time I need to use money. Luckily the people in Aswan were friendlier again.
My way from Luxor to Aswan
I left Luxor at 05:00am to get a head start before the sun goes up. I don’t know if little boys in Egypt don’t need any sleep, but they started following me as soon as I had left the hostel. They were screaming and shouting at me, laughing about their jokes, which I didn’t understand and kept asking for money. I truly thought this would not start until Ethiopia… I always tried to be friendly, denying that I had money and pointed at my mean of transportation. Guys, I am riding a bicycle, I really don’t have any money. Some just turned around and left, others were saying Fuck You while they disappeared. Others tried to push me off my bicycle, and the most common thing was to throw stones at me whenever I told them that I didn’t have any money. I know they are kids, but if that happens during the whole day, and I am spending a lot of time on the bicycle, it can become really tiring. It is hard to switch from super happy mode, to being angry and back again to smile at people because everyone is waving at you. I guess that is also part of the experience of the way I travel. It’s tough on the mind but also a big learning. I will have many encounters with people in the future who might not like me, where they will try to put stones in my way, causing me to fall. However, I guess that’s part of life and I am in the process of learning how to deal with it. The physical challenge of my trip is way smaller than the mental one. The sad story is that 99 people can be very nice, and just one encounter can destroy how the other 99 have treated you. So, I am really focusing now not to get disturbed by the one that tries to do bad things to me, and rather enjoy how the other 99 brought happiness into my day. I am highly enjoying my trip, and no one said it would be easy. If I learn to accept everything they way it is, since I can’t change it anyway, I think I can benefit a lot from this trip. This is also an initial thought of why I want to do this trip. I have so much time to work on myself every day, so I might as well take advantage of it to look at everything in a positive way in order to strengthen my thinking and my mindset.
The beginning of Eid Mubarak
Eid al Adha is also called the Festival of Sacrifice and lasts for 4 days. As usual I went to sleep at 8:00pm to be ready at 04:00am again to leave. It is nothing special if the honking of cars, motorcycles and tuctuc’s goes on all night long. Even to the chant of the muezzin at 04:30am I got used to. Hitting the road again along the Nile towards Aswan, I was able to experience the holiest day of the whole Muslim calendar on my bicycle, cycling from one town through another. Before 05:30am the roads were very empty, and it was amazing to see the sun rise over the mountains in the background. Then suddenly people started to come out of their houses and walked along the road to the praying field. I think the reason for them to pray on large fields on that day is because mosques are not large enough to fit everyone inside. All the men and boys were walking together, wearing their Thawb or Thobe and everyone looked really nice. All the women and girls did their own thing, usually gathering in front of a bigger building, I guess it was a mosque as well to do their prayers. At 06:00am the praying started, it looked amazing all the men being lined up and praying together. Out of respect towards them, I did not take any pictures. After the praying was over, people moved back to their houses again. From then on, the slaughtering of sheep and cows started. I was passed by many cars and motorcycled loaded with animals. All along the road I saw the men butchering the animal, and the wives cleaning its entrails. I didn’t see what they were doing with it afterwards, I guess they ate it, but the skin and some entrails of the animals are still, as of now, laying all around Elephant Island, where my guesthouse is. The smell of rotten animal skin is not pleasurable at all. Nothing for a weak stomach. Nevertheless, it was amazing for me to experience this procedure on my bicycle. See, if you travel slow, you can experience so much more just by pedalling through the towns.
Daily I need to make decisions, sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not. While arriving in Aswan on Tuesday, I had to decide whether to wait until Sunday to take the ferry to Whadi Halfa, or to cycle to Abu Simbel on Thursday and take the Ferry from there. Taking the ferry from Abu Simbel would have meant to cycle 300km through the desert with barely any shops, but I kind of wanted to move on, I already relaxed a lot in Egypt and I felt bored waiting till Sunday again. However, I have decided to take the ferry from Aswan on Sunday, I heard it is a beautiful journey along one of the biggest artificial lakes on earth, called lake Nasser. It was the right decision, I needed some time to talk to my family since my grandmother peacefully passed away at the age of 95 last Thursday. For you it sounds like an easy decision, but Inreally had a sleepless night because of it, haha, but talking to my Mom always helps. I don’t think I could do all of that without my Mom and Dad as well as my brother at home, supporting me whenever I need it.
The ferry will approximately take 22 hours, until I arrive in Whadi Halfa. From there I will have only desert until Khartoum where I will hopefully arrive before my birthday. It is around 1200 km, and I am planning to do it in 11 days. I guess around 90% of the time I will be wild camping in the desert, but I heard from other cyclists that Sudan is amazing for that and that its people would be very very welcoming and friendly. As you might now, for my fundraising project I am sending out postcards. It will be interesting to see if I will be able to send postcards out of Sudan. Some people that live there even told me there is no Post service in Sudan. I really hope there is one, since sooo many people have already ordered postcards from Sudan and I am looking forward to writing them.
The closer I got to Athens, the more excited I became. The days were long, hot, and I’ve had some serious issues with my butt for the last 10 days. So, I was really looking forward to getting to Athens to treat it and give it time to recover. On both sides of my cheeks I had inflamed spots, that made riding seven to nine hours a day really tough. I did a detour to the island of Rovies, which has a beautiful costal line as well as country side, but it turned out to be hillier than I thought.
On my last day before arriving in Athens I got caught up in a big thunderstorm and sought shelter in a warehouse filled with beer and soda. Unfortunately, I still had 40 km to go, that meant no beer for me yet. The guys running the warehouse were very friendly and provided me with water until I couldn’t drink anymore.
I was glad that after an hour of heavy rain, I was finally able to hit the road again. People keep asking me what I do when I need to do number one or two. I highly enjoy doing it somewhere in the nature. At least then I don’t need to worry about how dirty the restroom might be.
Riding into a big city is usually pretty stressful, cars, motorcycles and reckless drivers. Ten kilometres away from downtown, I was able to pick up a cardboard box to ship my bike. I wrote a few e-mails to bicycle shops around 2 weeks ago and Serkosbikes immediately replied me and offered me a box for free. So, I got that settled. However, I tend to be uneasy until I have everything prepared. Taking the bike apart was straightforward, like always if you take stuff apart you believe that it makes sense the way it is assembled. Putting the bike together again needed some more braincells, haha. First, I didn’t believe that the whole bike would fit into the box, since I was told that I should only take off the front wheel. However, it all worked fine until I had to take off the pedals. My mini 22 tools broke while taking them off. I then had to walk for a about a kilometre with half a bike and everyone kind of looked at me like I were a thief. The bike shop was in the middle of a market, so I was able to get the pedals taken off, some extra Allen® keys and pliers.
Personally, I enjoyed Athens. The Acropolis is not that spectacular because there is a lot of construction going on and there is not that much left of it anyways. It looks way better from far away. What I really enjoyed about Athens were the many cosy restaurants and bars. The food was amazing, and I definitely regained some kilos, Gyros for breakfast was just too delicious. I also needed a lot of rest. I had to catch up so much sleep. The first two days I was constantly tired.
What did I do during my 7 day stay? I slept a lot, walked around the city, did some sightseeing, went to a close by beach and lake but what I probably did most was eating. It also rained very hard a couple of times, which I guess is unusual for that area during the summer months.
On one evening I also met Markus, the cyclist I had met three weeks ago in Croatia. While he was checking in at his Hotel, his whole bike was stolen with all his equipment. How sad is this, who would do such a terrible thing? I am very glad that everything went well for me up to now. However, this incidence makes me even more careful when it comes to the question of where to park my bike. For sure, I always lock it to a pole or tree if I can.
The closer I got to the departure date, the more I started to realize that I will soon be doing my first steps on African soil. What a feeling! However, the uncertainty of the unknown also made me kind of nervous. When all my stuff was packed I thought I was doing just fine with the weight, didn’t seem to be too much. I could take two 23kg bags as a free allowance. Once arriving at the airport, I had the chance to weigh all my stuff. The scale stopped at 60kg, which was a little bit too much… What should I do now? I tried to put as much as I could into my hand luggage, since airport staff almost never checks that. Nevertheless, the bicycle box alone was 5 kilograms too heavy. I guess with a friendly, innocent smile and telling the check-in lady that the bicycle is only 23.5 kg, I got through everything without paying any extra money. Still can’t believe it, but somehow it worked out well!
Arrival in Cairo
My flight was 2 hours delayed, the line at the customs was extremely long and once I got to the front, the officer barely looked at me. As usual they always try to act super serious, either they are very bored, or they are just never in the mood to smile. He asked me where I was coming from, I am like dude, you are holding my passport, what do you think??? Of course, I didn’t say that. He still didn’t like me and told me to wait aside. So, I waited and waited for at least 20 minutes until another guy showed up and asked to follow him to a small office. I was asked a lot of questions; what are you doing back home, why are you in Egypt, for how long, do you have friends here, are you Muslim, why do you wear such a big beard, is your purpose of the trip really traveling and not working? It all seemed kind of ridiculous, and in the end the other guy sitting in the room told me that there was some confusion with my name. I guess Lukas Caesar Steiner does not look as Arabic as my appearance…that confused them. In the end they let me go. Luckily my bike and the bags survived the trip without any damages. To get from the airport to downtown I thought to be super smart and order an Uber, however, it turned out that I got super unlucky and I got like the smallest Uber ever. Of course, my luggage didn’t fit in and I had to take a regular taxi downtown, with the bike being placed on top of the roof. Finally arriving at the Hostel, 4 hours after I had planned, I walked up to the elevator and saw a sign attached saying: Out of service. As you can imagine it was very enjoyable to carry three heavy bags up to the fifth floor.
Cairo itself is very hectic, a lot of traffic, honking and people everywhere. Nothing seems to be organized but it still works. I felt comfortable right away, those are the places that I enjoy most. The bigger the difference to Switzerland the better. The food here is amazing too. It is about time for me to hit the road again, otherwise I will soon need some bigger pants. I will head towards the coast of the Red Sea on Sunday morning. it is roughly a 130 km ride to the coast, and I don’t think I want to push it too hard on my first day after the break. I need to get used to sleeping everywhere, all by myself in a country I totally don’t know. It is not as easy as I thought it would be and it needs some time to get over the worrisome feelings. I will sleep somewhere along the road in the desert on Sunday, but since there is nothing out there it is my only option. I will take around 15 litres of water with me as well as 2 kg of food, so it should all be fine. Temperature is around 38 degrees Celsius with a slight breeze going here in Cairo. I am still not sure if I should take the desert road to the Red Sea, or if I should cycle along the Nile. Along the Nile is a very busy road, lots of opportunities to get water, food and shelter, however most cyclists are also escorted by the police on the whole stretch. The desert between Cairo and the Red sea will be very hot (40-45 degrees), as well as no villages and people. I think I will escape the busy road, head towards the coast and do some scuba diving in Hurghada. It is supposed to be one of the nicest diving spots worldwide, and I have time so why not. The people here are highly welcoming, and I feel very safe. Of course, as always in the big cities, many people try to get to your money, that’s why I love traveling on a bicycle, so I have the chance to meet the people outside the big cities.
Fundraising for Green Ethiopia
Until now, more than 2,000$ have been donated. Seriously, you guys are great. Every day I get so many warm-hearted messages, which really pushes me. It is such a nice feeling to know that people at home care about what I am doing here and that they enjoy reading my stories. As of now I have already written more than 10 post cards, and there are hopefully many more to come. Some people even ordered a post card from every African country I will travel through. I love writing them and I would be more than happy to write a post card to you as well!! You will find all the information about Green Ethiopia and what 100% of the money will be used for HERE:
The last 7 days were incredible. As soon as I entered Albanian territory I sensed a warm, welcoming and super friendly culture. People never stop waving at me throughout my ride across the country. Kids were running after me, everyone smiled and it felt like I was returning home from a championship. I was randomly invited for lunch while climbing up a hill, people offered me fruits and nuts as well as water along the way. Nevertheless, it seems like Albania is around 30 years behind. The roads are in bad condition, many potholes, many unfinished houses, people on wagons pulled by horses and donkeys, you rarely see a tractor.
It also seemed like many clothes donated to charitable organizations are worn down there. I saw a guy walking around in sweaters saying, “Squash Club Uster”, a local sports club of the region I live in Switzerland. People in Albania don’t have a lot. Everything, except gasoline, is very cheap. However, a surprisingly large number of people drive a Mercedes. Seems to be a highly valued status symbol in Albania. You can also find a car washing place every 50 metres in a town and people spend hours cleaning their cars. Until now, Albania was my favourite country to cycle through.
There are just like at the Tour de France longer and shorter stages. Let me take you through my longest day so far. I camped in Kashar, a town close to Tirana, the capital of Albania. I got up at 6:00am, and with a small breakfast, it takes me around one hour to get ready for the ride. I still didn’t know how far I wanted to ride on that day but generally getting up early is advisable because then you can invest more hours of the day to get kilometres done. I left the campsite at 7:15am and headed towards lake Ohrid, which is situated in the western part of Albania. At 10:00am I was already dying from the heat. My average speed was 12km per hour and I just didn’t feel like cycling at all. I had already changed my music a couple of times and podcasts or audiobooks didn’t help much either. While climbing up a street towards a mountain pass, a guy shouted at me waving me over. Not motivated at all I was an easy target to catch. He was fluent in English and just out of nowhere invited me for lunch.
I asked him about the road, which I was about to take and he shook his head and told me: “This is the old highway, it is long, steep and you are going to suffer with the current heat. It is better for you to take the new highway. There will be a tunnel at the beginning but this shouldn’t be a problem since local people drive carefully due to the installed security cameras and the police won’t care.” It was an easy decision for me, having a highway that only runs downward, or 600 meters of altitude to climb at lunchtime. Heading towards the tunnel a guy in an orange vest started shouting at me, STOP! I went over and told him with the innocence of a tourist that my GPS was leading me this way, pointing at the tunnel. He shook his head and told me that I needed to talk to his boss. It was clear from the beginning that the boss had no intention to talk with me whatsoever. He just pointed to a pickup truck indicating that I should load my bike on it. Super cool, I thought. I was about to be escorted through the tunnel.
They dropped me off right after the 3km tunnel and it seemed like I was the only one on the highway. Highways are not used as much as in Germany or Switzerland, and the hard shoulder is fairly extensive. I felt safer than on the roads before, where cars and trucks passed me with 100km/h with no hard shoulder at all. These two events pushed my feelings again and I was subsequently having the time of my life on the bike. A friend also messaged me that day saying that the Tour de France was doing Alpe D’Huez on the same day. For non-cycling fans: This is one of the toughest parts of the tour. So, I thought why not having my own Alpe D’Huez here in Albania. I continued to cycle for hours and hours, climbing meter after meter. I finally arrived in Pogradec at 7:30pm.
With a pedalling time of 9 hours and 15 minutes, 145 kilometres and a little more than 2000 climbed meters that was clearly the longest and toughest day I had so far but it felt great.
You might think now why am I doing this to me. I guess that’s just what I love to do, challenging myself every day, see where my limits are and push it even more when my mind thinks I can’t anymore. If you believe now that I am rushing through a country, please don’t forget that I am on a 50kg bicycle with an average speed of 15km/h. In my opinion rushing looks quite differently 😉
People I met along the road
Gioia and her Husband are walking from Milan to Athens.
Hampe and Andrej, two great guys from Aargau Switzerland spend their summer vacation every year together traveling around in their customized off-road Nissan seeking for adventurous roads and hidden places. The moment they passed me I started shouting and waving at them. They saw it and pulled over. Right away they offered me some cold water from their fridge and we talked for about 20 minutes.
Albania – Greece border crossing
My GPS suggested me a route, off the main roads, passing through small villages towards the Greece border. I asked three people before I took off if that road would be good. They all nodded and told me that I would be fine. I guess they have never been on that road, there wasn’t even a real road and I had to push my bike over the mountain to the other side, through a lot of sand and rocks. I was literally in the middle of nowhere, crossing a border with no border patrol, not even on an actual street. It sometimes feels like I am hiding something haha. Soon after passing the first town after the border the Police pulled me over and checked my identity. First, they didn’t believe that I came all the way from Switzerland but I think after I showed them my tan line, they realized that I had been on the road for some time (34 days today).
Wild camping Greece
In the northern part of Greece there are no campsites at all and barely any tourists. Either I sleep in the front yards of people’s houses or I find some hidden spot to pitch my tent. I decided for the second option. I found a nice and quiet spot close to a river. Nevertheless, I have to admit that just camping somewhere by yourself, all alone in a foreign country feels kind of weird sometimes. Every crack and noise could be something. Yes, there are those times where I wish someone would be with me.
Tomorrow I will head towards the Island of Istiea and I plan to arrive in Athens by Friday. Today is my day off and I will hike up the beautiful mountains of Meteora for to enjoy the sunset. Once I will arrive in Athens I will need to disassemble my bike and to put everything in a cardboard box to fly it over to Cairo. I am not very excited about this, but since there is no ferry running anymore, it’s the only way to get to Cairo.
It is a solid 2 weeks and another 1000 kilometres since my last update. During that time, I mainly cycled in Croatia, passing through cities like Rijeka, Zadar, Split, Makarska and Dubvronik. I was able to experience all of the Croatian elimination games while being in Croatia. The atmosphere was stunning! This was the first time I was in a country while its football team was playing the world cup final.
The scenery along the coast is breath-taking. However, there is simply too much traffic, as the summer vacation have started everywhere. You could also call it the road to heaven… as the number of gravestones I saw along the coastal road is just crazy. Most of them had a motorcycle engraved and the victims aged from 20 to 35. To all bikers out there: Please be careful on your bikes this summer.
Along the road you also find a terrible number of dead animals which got hit by a car. It’s especially rough for me in the mornings. The smell of decomposition makes you want to throw up.
I am really excited to move on towards the country side, staying off the highways. I have already been lucky a couple of times not to get hit by a reckless truck, bus or car driver. I will leave the coast tomorrow, heading towards Tirana, the capital of Albania and from there further up to the lake Ohrid.
Literally, there were many up and downs along the coast. It’s bumpier than I thought it would be and on average I needed to climb around 1200 meters on a 100km ride. Mentally, there have also been a few ups and downs already. There are those hours where I just ask myself, why am I doing this?
There are thousands of kilometres left to go, and the heat just keeps grilling me every single day. Just to make things clear: I am NOT thinking about quitting, not at all! It’s more like damn, there lie so many more tough days in the saddle ahead of me. However, these thoughts usually don’t last long. I just have to change the music, the podcast, or simply the direction of my thoughts. I am fortunate to do what I am doing, so why would I want it to change? (maybe sometimes a motorcycle would be nice). If you ask yourself what kind of music, podcast, audiobook I listen to right now, here is a list:
Music: Nick, a friend of mine gave me all his DJ tunes, mostly house and hip-hop. What I also really enjoy is the Spotify playlist “songs to sing in the shower”. People sometimes look at me while I am singing on the bike, but who cares?!
-“unsportlich“, this is a podcast a friend of mine produces weekly about sports news all around the world. It keeps me up to date and it’s good to hear some nice Zurich dialect every once in a while
-The Economist & McKinsey to listen to some business and economic stuff
NZZ: 9 Zürcher, 9 Chreis
– the 12 Rules for Life, which is a pretty exhausting book to listen to, that’s why I mostly avoid it.
-Extreme Ownership: good book to learn more about yourself and your mental/physical abilities
-Towers of earth, Ken Follet: really interesting book to listen to, it is like a movie playing in my head
-Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
Until now, almost everything with the bike went well. No flat tires yet, no crashes, no broken spokes whatsoever. The bike is just too heavy for the bike stand. The screws broke, so I had to get new ones from a local shop. I just got around 10 extra, because it’s probably going to happen again. Unfortunately, when the bike stand collapsed, it snapped the cable of my odometer in half. I was surprised by my craftsman skills but with some duct tape and a knife I managed to connect them again. The cable is a fair bit shorter now, but works again, wuhu!
Material wise the only part of my equipment I sent home so far were my travel boots. I don’t regret it, just unnecessary weight and I already have too much of that. I will check everything again once I am in Athens. I might send home additional stuff I didn’t use.
Before I took off, many people asked me why I do it alone. I usually replied that I will never be alone. So yesterday while I was enjoying a break along the road in Montenegro, Markus showed up. He is a German teacher who cycles from Hannover to Athens in around a month. His average stage is about 150 km per day which is way more than mine. Since I have time, I don’t need to hurry that much. I enjoyed very much having a cycling partner for the day, he really pushed me. Another story happened right after that. I went to the campground and a random guy named Oliver walked right up to me asking if I was Swiss. The guard at the entrance had told him that a second Swiss guy on a bike had arrived earlier that day. Oliver is travelling through eastern Europe with his Nissan Micra, doing skydives and paragliding wherever he can. You can follow him here. By the way, he is a close friend of a good military buddy of mine. See, you meet so many interesting people along the road and the world is actually a lot smaller than we think it is.
Physically I am doing good, my knee pain has gone. I just feel the knee for roughly one day after a break if I push it a bit too hard. However, I do have some issues with my butt now. I think some hair grew backwards and it makes it uncomfortable for me to sit on it for 7 to 8 hours per day. l am looking forward to getting some scarf-skin on my butt.
Regarding weather, I only had sunny days until now. Sometimes it rained during the night, but other than that the sun just keeps roasting me like a chicken every day. Still, I can’t complain since it will only become hotter and hotter the further south I go.
I have now booked my flight from Athens to Cairo. It will be on the second of August. I can’t wait for the Africa adventure to start. Europe is nice and easy to travel but too organized for my taste. It could be a bit more challenging sometimes but I think I will have enough of that once I arrive on Africa soil.