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No.80 Off to Africa!

Oct 14, 2018 | Belgium, Blog, England, Europe, France, Germany, Netherlands

Yes, time for Africa!

I would like to experience the many different cultures of Africa. Get to know the people and their way of life. To meet laughing children and to sort out preconceptions. To look at the world on the so-called “Dark Continent” for myself and form my own opinions.

Africa finally close up, a long-time dream of mine

It was clear from the beginning that I would start again from home like I did last time. To slowly but surely move away from home has its own charm. In addition, I want to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible and therefore not simply be catapulted by plane to a new continent.

As often is the case, I didn’t want to use the classic way to get there, but rather take a little detour through a few countries that aren’t on the direct route to Africa at all. Just like that, without any real reason. Or maybe to stay a little longer in Europe, a continent that is most familiar to me, but where I don’t feel all that comfortable.

 

Leaving home last time, I pedaled east, this time I decided to head north and west first and of course at some point turn south to start my African adventure in Morocco. (Route map and kilometer data)

I rode down the river Rhine, over to the Mosel and went to my only German destination, the castle Eltz, which has to be one of our most beautiful castles. Perched on a hill surrounded by forest the castle almost appears to be seated on a throne, truly magical and majestic.

My bum, back and legs got used to the exercises quite quickly again. I mostly stuck to normal roads, but changed from time to time to double and single track which I love to bring in some distraction. But these tracks often took a lot of time to follow and since I actually wanted to cover some ground and not get totally lost I had to curtail my desires.

My thoughts were not too negatively burdened, even if they were still searching and questioning a little as one might expect when leaving home for another big adventure. All in all, I would say things have gone well, especially in comparison to the last start, i.e. my bicycle trip around the world 5 years ago. I’m pretty much a professional now and know what my daily problems are likely to be. So, I wasn’t nervous at all, because Africa was still a long way away.

Meanwhile setting up my tent in the forest was routine for me. Shopping and cooking, getting water and finding my way in Germany or generally in Western Europe are no hurdles. Our infrastructure is really sensational – it leaves nothing to be desired.

Germany was quickly behind me and via Maastrich in Holland I soon cycled through Belgium where the landscape presented itself flat like a pancake. So, the scenery was not really exciting. But the people were friendly and the cities really well worth seeing.

Antwerp is a hodgepodge of different cultures. It felt as if almost all nations of the world were on the move here. Elegantly dressed Africans strutted along Chinatown. The scents of the Middle East were in the air at almost every corner and of course, the smell of hot oil for the fries, which can be found in abundance in Belgium. At the end of the day I had a nice break with a Tibetan woman and drank hot Nepalese chai.

Besides the people, it is of course also the architecture that is ostentatious and moving in Antwerp.

But my favorite place in Belgium was clearly Ghent. A great city. Not so much influenced by tourism as for example Bruges, one can enjoy the old town here in peace.

Meanwhile, I often pitch my tent in the dark. It doesn’t bother me anymore to be in a city at night in safe areas of this world and then just cycle back to the countryside sometime after my explorations and set up my tent somewhere in the fields in the middle of the night.

One day it rained heavily and I looked for shelter in a school. By luck I met the director who allowed me to spread out my sleeping pad in the kitchen of his school.

Otherwise I had not been invited until then. Western Europe is not the place where people invite you into their homes. Or let’s say it happens much less than anywhere else.

Arriving in Holland, however there was an exception to what I have just said as in the first town a woman on the street approached me and asked if I would like a place for the night. Turned out she is a host of Warmshowers and had no guests that day. Awesome.

Up to now I had not yet dealt with the Warmshowers community. In principle it is often simply inconvenient to know in advance when you will need to be where. I don’t really like that. Schedules are not my thing and limit me too much.

But of course, the invitation was extremely fitting and so I had a nice evening with interesting conversations. Freshly washed clothes and a warm shower as well as a cozy bed.

What is most impressive in Holland above all is the great fietspad (cycle path) culture. Respectful motorists, loads of cyclists riding for every reason on the path system. Young and old are on the way with their bikes in whatever wind and weather conditions. What I also like about Holland are the people. Friendly and often cosmopolitan.

From Hoek van Holland I took the ferry to Harwich in England and followed the cycle path towards Cambridge, which led me on small roads and through beautiful communities.

It was windy. But it had been windy since I started from home. Sure, I was heading west, the main wind direction in Europe. But the wind often came from all directions and began to annoy me. In Britain of course, there was some rain from time to time, but I didn’t find that tragic.

I like England. The architecture is appealing. The old cemeteries have that certain extra. The churches are simple but impressive. The landscape is lovely.

I didn’t want to stay too long here and took more or less the direct route towards the port. Besides I was not yet completely sure which port it should actually be ?

In general, England is quite different to Holland, Belgium or Germany. Poorer areas. More people who are a bit negatively conspicuous. More aggression among motorists. It was also immediately clear to me why the few cyclists I met were all dressed in bright signal colors. I was also thinking more carefully about where to pitch my tent.

But there were also great quiet tracks, which were really fun. I met a lot of friendly people too and found the mix of characters to be the attraction here.

Cambridge is a rich place. The architecture is pretty fabulous.

Riding along the canals I enjoyed seeing the people living in their houseboats. Of course, I chatted as often as I could. Topics like politics, what people think about Brexit and how they see their future. Certainly, the opinions varied a lot.

One night I camped in a barn on a farm. The wind was so strong that I was glad for the protection. The farmer wasn’t surprised when I knocked on his door in the dark and asked for shelter.

Originally, I wanted to leave France aside and take the ferry directly from England to Spain, but I would have had to book the ferry weeks in advance and that was not what I had wanted. In the end I decided to sail from Portsmouth to Caen and include France in my route.

Fish and chips turned into baguettes. And they’re great! Just like the other treats you can find in the Boulangeries.

From Caen I followed the GR 36. One of the many GR hiking trails that can be found everywhere in France. But after three days I left it. The trail had its charm but wasn’t worth the trouble. The area was simply not impressive enough to snake my way through France forever. After all, Europe was only to be the gateway and not the focus of my journey.

But I was happy for the change and that’s exactly what makes a bike trip so attractive again and again. Sometimes gravel and dirt roads. Sometimes small paths on which I might have to carry or push the bike and then again tarmac roads on which I can make kilometers. Sometimes it goes through the forest and then again through great cities. Every day is different and that is a fascinating thing.

La Suisse Normande or Swiss Normandy was a welcome interruption to flat regions. Hilly countryside and interesting stone houses and a lot of space.

One night I camped next to a church. Somehow, I found it inappropriate to spend the night directly in the church, although it crossed my mind for a moment. So, I camped in front of the small chapel but had to move into the church at about four in the morning because it got so stormy that I thought it would tear the tent apart.

Although I have stayed many nights in several places of worship around the world and I am not a believer, I have to say that I felt awkward pitching my tent there. Definitely my first night in a church.

My new way of keeping busy while cycling is to listen to audio books. I have a small speaker that provides me with stories all day long. Great, I can finally hear books I wouldn’t read otherwise, because it would be too exhausting for me to read them after a long day on the road. Really super.

The French are very polite. “Bonjour madame” is what I hear over and over again. Very friendly service no matter in which store I walk into.

From the Loire Valley I went to the Atlantic. More flat landscape. Corn fields, sunflowers and avenues with trees. In addition, river landscapes and many small villages.

It began to rain and I tried to find a shelter for the night. To be exposed to the crackling sound of rain on my tent all night sucks and I always try to avoid it if possible.

In a city park I found a dry and wind-protected place covered with a plastic tarp and called it home for the night.

I never thought anyone could find me there until a car drove up at 3am and the driver asked me to leave within 5 minutes, otherwise he would call the police.

I have no idea who the man was. I also don’t know if this city park was maybe a private park in the end. It really didn’t matter anyway, I had to move. I packed up in lightning speed and searched for a new spot in the pouring rain.

To find a tent spot in the dark is no problem. But it was so windy and so rainy and so densely populated that it was not quite so easy. I rode around for more than hour and ended up at an official camping site. When my tent was finally pitched it was 5 o’clock in the morning.

When I woke up I found myself in a nest of beetles. The whole tent was full of insects. Well, some days are simply less good than others.

The next night I was surrounded by wild pigs. A whole pack, altogether six animals. At first, I thought who let their dogs out into the forest, but the noises didn’t sound like dogs at all and when I opened the tent it was a bit unnerving seeing the critters so close to me.

But they didn’t care about me at all. They only ate with relish the cones from the fir trees and soon disappeared.

The city of La Rochelle by the sea was bursting with wealth. At the port there were more yachts than bicycles in the city.

On the well signposted Eurovelo 1 cycle route I rode further along the coast until I had had enough and cycled inland to find a prettier landscape in Gascogne. An interesting area and very sparsely populated.

At a house I asked for water shortly before darkness and was immediately invited to stay. A German lady with a Frenchman. They both had lived in Africa for 8 years. We had a lot to tell each other.

A shower and once again a comfy bed rounded off the day.

The closer I came to the Pyrenees, the wetter and colder the nights became. Every morning I had to let my soaking wet tent dry or unpack it in the course of the day to dry it in the midday heat. Also, my sleeping bag and pad were always damp.

Now that I had been on the road for 6 weeks and had not been able to enjoy many exciting conversations, I longed for a place where I could stay a few days. A place with interesting people that I could talk to.

By chance I came across the Camino de Compostela at the foot of the Pyrenees in Sarrance. The pilgrim’s way to Santiago. But here I did not only see the signs as in many other regions which I had passed through, no, I saw an actual pilgrim hostel for the very first time. A monastery in the middle of a small village. I liked it immediately. Some of the people I met here had come and ended up staying for months – others even for years, an easy place to get stuck. The weather was so bad that I settled down there for a few days.

I helped in the kitchen, talked to all the new arrivals. I philosophized about God and the world and noticed that almost every wanderer had his little package in his backpack. His very personal life package which he or she had to process for himself. One does not seem to walk the Camino for no reason.

They spoke openly here. People shared their worries and thoughts. It was a good place to be, interesting, a community full of common interest.

People from all over the world – exactly my thing.

And I was introduced to playing boules. I took note of the churchly customs, but did not pay any further attention to them. Pray before the meal is the custom here. Every day a small Holy Mass takes place etc. But nobody is forced to take part. Some pilgrims also told me that they were on a spiritual journey – but not as Christians.

The place gave me the necessary inspiration to get back to my journey. I also enjoyed the break. Not having to pack up every day is just great sometimes.

Being on the road often means dealing with yourself more than with what you see, hear and taste. Once again, I realized how much I had experienced in the short time I was on the road. For weeks I didn’t know which day of the week it was, because it’s just totally irrelevant.

I had my freedom back, doing what I wanted, when I wanted and I was enjoying it. I had arrived on my journey, although I had not yet arrived at my actual starting point, my homeland was mentally far away.

A new adventure had begun and I am right in the middle of it.

It was about another 1600 meters of climbing until Spain. I reached the Pass Col du Somport in pouring rain. I undressed from my soaked wet clothes, redressed dry and rolled warm and comfy in a hailstorm into the land of tapas.

49 Comments

  1. Excellent report. Very, very enjoyable and superb photographs.
    Are you still using your phone for photos?

    Reply
    • Thanks very much Derek!

      No I never used a phone – I hardly ever had one 🙂
      I am using a Olympus OMD – EM 10

      Happy days for you…..Cheers Heike

      Reply
  2. Ah, I think I have confused you with a German girl hiker.
    I did think they were remarkably good for a phone :0)
    Happy riding.

    Reply
  3. Stunning Heike! Glad to see you on the road and in good spirit again! We will be following along x

    Reply
  4. How wonderful to see you back on the road again.
    I will be vicariously riding with you for a while.
    Such wonderful images.
    Good on you,

    Reply
  5. Fantastic pictures, so informativ, wonderful. Good luck, enjoy.

    Reply
  6. Hey Heike!! I cant believe it you are crossing Col Somport!!! I am following you all your trip, but now I am nit in Jaca, place you will pase….????
    If you need something information not exitate….and write me!!
    Good luck!!! We will be by cycling next week until Valencia. Agur !!

    Reply
    • Hi Mamen, I am so sorry, but how could I have known that you are living in this area?
      Thanks for the offer – I might get back to you!
      All the best Heike and enjoy your trip!!!!

      Reply
  7. Tolle Fotos, und es macht Spass, Deinen Bericht zu verfolgen. Einfach mal nichts tun ist auch wichtig auf einer langen Reise. Bin auch seit 3 Jahren unterwegs und geniesse es, mal einfach nur im Hostel zu bleiben. Viele tolle Erlebnisse wünsche ich Dir. Pass auf Dich auf!

    Reply
    • Danke Hans, ja oft kommt durchs nichts tun eine neue Idee….ich werde diesmal öfters länger an einem Ort bleiben!
      Das ist einfach super wichtig um auch besser mit Leuten in Kontakt zu kommen. Am Ende ist weniger einfach mehr!
      Dr eine super Zeit…..Heike

      Reply
  8. thank you for letting me join your journey!

    Reply
    • Thanks Moni for reading and wanting to be part of it!
      Best greetings! Heike

      Reply
  9. I am happy to read your blog, again!
    I am currently on my way to South Africa too, so it will be really interesting to me to read about feelings and tales from another point of view!
    Good luck for your travel!

    Reply
    • Oh nice – great to hear!
      Happy trails for you….
      Cheers Heike

      Reply
  10. Love the pictures and your descriptive story. Do you scope out a good location to tent during the daytime, once you have decided to stay in a town and then go back in the dark, or do you actually find it when it’s close to dark? Happy and safe trails to you Heike ??‍♂️???

    Reply
    • Hi Rob – THANKS !!!

      It depends on the area. If it is safe – either way, dark or light doesn’t matter.
      When I am uncertain about the safety of the place I usually make sure to find a spot during the day and come back when it is dark.

      Searching for a spot in the darkness has some advantages. You know where lights might be turned on. Where people still roam around even after dark etc.

      Cheers Heike

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply. Good advice. Look ? forward to your future blogs and pictures. ?

  11. Good evening Dear Heike,
    Wonderful to know that you are on the road at last. Following your journey with great anticipation as usual. Many adventures ahead of you once again.
    I see you now have a rear side stand on the bike, also just wondered what method of maps do you use, maps, sat nav ?

    Reply
    • Thanks Mike 🙂

      Yes I found a mechanic who helped me to attach a kickstand. So much nicer with one than without one….so far it’s holding up well!
      I am still into paper maps, but slowly getting used to new technology 😉 I am now a proud owner of a smartphone and maps.me is of great help 😉

      Enjoy your day! Cheers Heike

      Reply
      • Hello again Heike,
        I would be interested to know what you think using the smart phone as a travel aid as against paper maps etc.

      • Paper maps: Better overview – better feeling for the distance, the elevation etc. (might be simply because I am much more used to it)
        You can write on it. You can feel it 🙂 You can share it better with locals. Battery is not running out. Not sensitive.

        Smartphone: mostly more accurate. In the long run cheaper if you have a phone anyway. Less weight and bulk. Easier to get new maps if you are on your way for a long time (in most countries paper maps aren’t all that good) And the most important one it is acting like a GPS and if you got lost you can always find your way again….but this also means you don’t need to ask anyone any longer for the way – and that means less contact to locals.

        ….I love my paper maps 🙂

  12. Paper maps, me too.

    Reply
  13. Just a note to say how much I enjoy looking at your lovely photos. So sharp and crisp catching the light and details of an area.
    Thank you for sharing your adventures.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the big compliment!
      Happy day for you…
      Heike

      Reply
  14. Nice to see you on the road again, and thank you for the wonderful stories and lovely pictures. Enjoy and be safe!

    Reply
    • Sorry for the late reply David…..thank you very much!!!
      Best greetings Heike

      Reply
  15. Dear Heike,

    Your blog posts are wonderful to read. A big inspiration to the world bicycle trip that we’re on right now.

    Nice to hear from your perspective that you enjoyed the Netherlands.

    Will be following your journey through Africa, very exiting!

    Greetings from Turkey, Maudi

    Reply
    • Hi Maudi….yes I always loved the Netherlands….not an outdoor paradise….but people are outdoor all the time 😉
      Best greetings Heike

      Reply
  16. As always, beautiful words and images. A couple of bike questions: Is there a reason you’re not touring tubeless (I’ve just converted my Trohloff and the riding really is easier); and why a saddlepack off the seatpost rather than a drybag, or small backpack, on the rear rack? Bon voyage!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Dave, thanks!
      Yes there is. First of all I don’t like tubeless. Second I am sticking to tires which last far longer than any MTB tires….there is not much available on good quality tires anywhere in Africa. The Schwalbe tires will last at least 15.000 KM and usually hardly ever get a puncture. THey are a compromise. You can use them on gravel and tarmac. Less comfort, but perfect quality.

      I thought about getting rid off the saddlebag but I can put my sensitive gear inside without getting damaged..lenses for instance.

      Cheers Heike

      Reply
  17. Another wonderful report, Heike, and such beautiful photos. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy pedaling!

    Reply
  18. Heike, super blog, really enjoyed this one and happy you had a good stay at home and now you’re back on the road where it seems your heart is.
    Thanks for showing us a bit of your home continent and best wishes for the adventure ahead. Cheers

    Reply
  19. Hi Heike – its Dean Olson from Minnesota – You stayed with us in Montana when we were on vacation and we enjoyed your company and stories very much! We are excited for you to be on the road again, as it is obviously what you love to do! So best wishes to you on your adventure!

    As when you biked into Mexico earlier, we (me especially) are concerned for your safety. You have traveled many places and made your way safely through many different countries and situations. In Africa, I hope you have planned your travels carefully as I am concerned you may encounter a situation that has not occurred before and may not go well….Your journey so far according to your comments suggests you do not always have a specific planned route, perhaps I am wrong about that…

    Learning that you are biking to Africa makes me wish I could follow you in my big American truck and let you sleep in the back at night for safety and comfort and provide assistance and some protection. I would not dare tell you where to go, of course! lol And see the country side for myself would be awesome, my wife would enjoy as well….

    Good luck on your journey and thanks for all the great pics! I am off work right now otherwise I would send you some money…

    -Dean

    Reply
    • Hi Dean, thanks very much! For sure I remember you and your lovely family. I can even still remember what we had for supper.

      I am trying to stay safe as best as I can. I hope I won’t get Malaria – something I am actually most concerned about – and of course the crazy traffic there is in parts of the continent.

      I rather stay in my tent at night and watch the stars instead of being surrounded by metal and glass 🙂

      Good luck for getting a new job.

      Say hello to the entire family please….
      Cheers Heike

      Reply
  20. So good to read you are on the next adventure. Interesting to see we share the joy of traveling from one conversation to the next. I just love stopping to chat to anyone I pass on the quiet backroads. Currently cycling through Canadian Rockies and a conversation with some moose hunters resulted in being invited home for a shower and bed followed by a wonderful flight over the Rockies in a Cessna. God’s blessings keep flowing from one day to the next.

    Reply
    • Dear Michael…..Oh I love those trail angels……and they are everywhere!

      Enjoy! Cheers Heike

      Reply
  21. Heike,

    Your blog is the best! And what you accomplish and where you go is just amazing. It makes me proud just to read it. All the best in Africa.

    Reply
  22. I just bought a New Toaks Small wood burning stove…it weighs 5oz. A little on the heavy side…but I like this stove…I also have a black frame bag on my Surly Troll from Rogue panda…I am from Prescott, Arizona USA
    Peace and all good, Friar Rodney Burnap…p.s.It a blessing to read about your tours…

    Reply
  23. outstanding pictures as usual. will be so interesting to follow your trip. Myself right now Big Bend Texas an area you would like I think. Thank you and best of luck

    Reply
    • Thanks Lars….YES…..I would love to see Big Bend one day….enjoy….Cheers Heike

      Reply
  24. Marvelous pictures (even my own city Ghent looks nicer than in reality)! Thanks for sharing your story. It realy makes me jealous 😉 You’re doing what we’re dreaming of. Keep going. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Thanks Patrick…..but your city Ghent is as beautiful as in the pictures…..I loved it!
      Happy day for you! Cheers Heike

      Reply
  25. Liebe Heike,

    So happy for you!

    Reply

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