Interview – solo female cyclist
Cinderella Servranckx – Cyclingcindy
Born in March 1972 in the Netherlands, Cindy is a curious active contemporary nomad who needs nature to connect with, people to interact with and animals to make the world a complete pallet of beauty.
I have cycled about 23,000 kilometer so far. This is my first cycle trip and I started in the Netherlands in May 2012.
So far I have cycled through 26 countries including Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Iraq Kurdistan, Iran, The United Arab Emirates, Oman and I am in India at the moment (June 2014).
1. Why are you going solo? If there was the perfect partner for you, would you consider sharing your adventure?
I am going solo because I have always traveled solo. Perhaps that’s because I am very comfortable on my own. It could very well be that on your own impressions are undiluted. No one is disturbing my feelings with their comments or thoughts. Perhaps I am quickly bored of guys I fall in love with. Perhaps I find it easier to be alone too, as being with someone most of the times requires compromises or adjustments. The older I get, the less flexible I tend to be towards lovers. Let’s face it: I am very happy! It takes very little for a partner to keep the balance I have, thus keeping my contentment. Most guys want to give me a lot, like giving me the feeling as if they have to protect me…
If there was the perfect partner I would surely let him join in my adventure, because I have experienced that happiness might become more wholesome if you are with a ‘perfect’ partner. First I cycled a few weeks with an American guy (who became a temporarily partner) but because of too many compromises and too big a difference in approach to life in general and cycling in particular, I soon wished to be on my own again. Later on I cycled a bit together with two Irish brothers and a French guy and we had quite the ‘perfect’ marriage. One would cook (me), one would gather all the vegetables, one would cut the veggies and one would relax. It worked out perfectly well. The secret was none of us had the feeling to be compromising. And none of them tried to protect me neither, on the contrary, having 3 ‘husbands’ made it rather difficult!
2. What do you like most while being on the road?
The simplicity. Relying on the nature and people. There is hardly any disturbance of unsettling needs like contracts, duties, bills or payments. With a few countries as exceptions (for example India) you only need to focus on getting from A to B through an abundance of nature. What drives me is the desire to get more of the beauty I am in, or to get out of the insanity I am in. Either way, cycling is about keep moving through the world, an incredible beautiful creation! Being on the road gives freedom in the sense that you make the decision.
I like the fact that everything I need is on my bicycle, there’s really nothing I don’t need other than what I carry. I like the idea that a bicycle, such a simple mean of vehicle, brings me all over the world, if that’s what I want to. It feels great to mount Shanti the bicycle and realize I am complete, without straps literal nor figurative. I like the natural circle of retiring when the sun sets, waking up with sun rise. It is a great gift to be able to notice the body reactions for certain additions needed, the balance within comes to an height by living like a nomadic one.
3. There also might be something you don’t like. What is it?
That after a long hard day, when you are tired, and want to rest, you are the only one who can get yourself tea and food. I don’t like authority from people in uniforms. I don’t like the attitude of wealthier people who think they are better than a poor guy also wanting to see me or talk to me. I don’t like it when in Africa, people call out to you ‘white, white, white’ and the almost constant demand for money while they are basicly sitting on their ass doing nothing.
I did not liked stones being trowed at me. I don’t like men touching me either. I don’t like to be seen as a prostitute. I don’t like air-conditionings. I don’t like to be a one-woman-show. A strong headwind. Car drivers who think you are non existent. I don’t like cars and trucks honking at me. Motorbikes too long behind me.
I don’t like authority checking my passport and going through all the pages they don’t need to see, actually, I don’t like checking my passport at all. I don’t like cycle partners who think they have to protect me. I don’t like men thinking women are weaker. I don’t like tea with too much sugar. I don’t like lodges rejecting me.
4. What does the perfect spot for the night look like for you?
Pitching my tent in the nature, where ever that is. Bush, forest, beach, mountains, fields, wadi’s… There might be shepherds around but preferable no one sees me, so I am completely hidden for any one else. The sounds of the nature and the knowledge that there’s no danger coming from nature is soothing. Also, the fact that you are able to just pitch your tent is very basic yet priceless, and almost always much more comfortable than a concrete room which only attracts the heat.
5. You have been to Iran just recently. A country a lot of people are scared of. How did you like it?
I like Iran. I have been there twice before (on my own too) and also have been to all the surrounding countries by public transport, years ago (again, on my own). Since I never watch television nor listen to people who have never been there, I can only rely on myself. Being there on a bicycle is even better than by public transport. People are incredible hospitable, they will invite you in for the night, feed you, offer you a shower and what ever else they think you need. Sometimes completely with a lunch box for the following day.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do is accept it and surprisingly keep accepting that this happens time after time, day after day. As you could have read in my blog, I had quite a lot of trouble too. Men seem not to understand that a women on a bicycle is there for cycling, and not for sex. So yes, I had to fight, every trip to Iran I have to defend myself from frustrated men who have the wrong idea about Western women. Well, they meet the wrong one at such attempt!
6. You are in India at the moment. How do you deal with being the center of attention all day?
I try to balance it out by enough time on my own, which is something I need anyway, because much impressions needs to be balanced. As I am an introvert person I find it difficult to be stared at as if I am a Goddess. I am not a performer, and although I am not shy I really don’t like crowds surrounding me to see how I eat breakfast, people gathering to watch me drinking sugar cane juice, men hurdling around me to see what’s going on and guys checking me out when I take a photo, try to pee, eat a mango or just simply rest. As soon as I am out I am a one-woman-show.
Understandable, but I try to keep it as ‘normal’ as possible, when I am going for lunch I choose hotels or dhaba’s (as restaurants are called here) where men will leave me in peace: truck stops with trucks only. Truck drivers are rough man and what’s usually the case with rough man is that they treat me respectful. They are friendly but leave me alone unless I start approaching them. I am not stopping for each guy who pass me on a motorbike, trying to flag me down for an interview, only for them who seems worth stopping for.
When stopping for chai or a sugar cane juice I choose a shack void of crowds. When needing a break I try to hide, although it turns out 9 times out of 10 I am spotted and visited. When I stop for a moment to watch the scenery or a photo and guys suddenly decided to join me, I tell them I am okay and I don’t need help. If they don’t get me I say ‘bye bye’ and wave my hand. Often they don’t get me anyway. If watching or trying to interview ‘the one-woman-show’ really get too much, when I am eating for example (I like to eat in silence so I can enjoy my food) I kindly ask to return to me after I have eaten my food. If guys watch me without blinking their eyelids I do something not appropriate but staring wide eyed back, helps. Or I sometimes ask ‘can I help you?’, usually I can not.
Every day I cycle through villages where people haven’t seen a foreigner, so being aware of this makes it understandable people watch me in awe, completely struck and it makes it easier to deal with the never ending attention. It really is not pleasant to drink a tea while even a small number of 20 eyes are watching you -not casually watching you but serious staring- and there’s no one to divide the attention with. It is all me who has to carry this Indian burden! To get some normality I halt longer at touristic places where accommodation is set up for travelers and where the locals are used to ‘us people’. In this way I get a better balance. A day in the hotel room does good too. I also use internet on my phone quite a lot to have normal contact. It might seem I’d better leave from India altogether but fact is that I enjoy cycling here, although it’s a whole different approach.
And uh… I am not avoiding the people I am being amongst but I try to lower the attention where possible, as not one nation is so remarkable well in staring at one and another, but mostly me! Also, the lack of impressive nature (I cycle from Cochin to Delhi), the sometimes very busy roads, the never ending honking, and not being able to camp makes cycling in India the toughest experience since I left home. Remarkable enough, no one is sexually harming me in the slightest way! I am pleasantly surprised!
7. Please tell us your best moment of the entire trip?
The moments I get goosebumps all over. The feeling comes when I am perfectly in harmony with what I am doing (cycling). When I see myself and realize that I love what I am doing. When my body seem to be electrified with joy and bliss from being on the road, from a glance human to human, from being in camp, writing my diary and quietly drinking tea when the sun stumble over the hills. From understanding with a person I don’t know. Eye contact with someone who must be a soul mate. An animal with a suburb spark in it’s eyes. The beauty of Nature. Making friends with dogs. Butterflies darting around me. The knowledge that the Universe will provide… Ah, it is all about connection!
8. Are you cooking while on the road? If so, can we have a look in your pot? Any recipes? What kind of gear are you using?
I cooked a lot while I was in Oman, mainly because I was camping each day. Same for Europe and Africa. I need a breakfast before starting to cycle, so I often make porridge, boiled with water and milk, together with corn flour, apples and/or bananas, raisins, dotted with cane sugar and cinnamon this is really tasty. For dinner it has turned out that noodles are easiest, quick and filling, I just add as much veggies as I can, and that’s it. Not the Maggi noodles though, but a decent thick kind of noodle, though a piece of Maggi taste enhancer I usually put in too. You can view easy to prepare recipes on my weblog ‘recipes for the road’. I use Primus Omni fuel and it works always. I use the stove often for making chai (tea with milk) where ever I am resting the day.
9. Any funny travel story you would like to share with us?
I have a lot of fun about little things, like jokes, mostly rough jokes about sexual matters (not with locals though). I had good laughs with a Dutch woman I met in Senegal, we would discuss men and their particulars, while her French speaking lover was sitting right next to us. Being with the two Irish brothers we had a lot of fun, we kept laughing about the tea cups one of the brothers bought: cups to wash your ass with. Many a good laughs with the Australian man I cycled with for about 10 days in Iran: he never cycled but had the wish to tag along with me.
He bought a bicycle, strapped his belongings to it and off we were. Eventually he could not avoid having ‘a dump’ in nature. And while enjoying ‘a wild crap’ we were soon visited by police men. I gave my passport and pointed to the ditch were the Australian was having his toilet. The two police men walked over to find my cycle partner on his hunches, his white long johns matching his equally colored bum, having a shit. They quickly backed off. Waited. Then my friend came out of the ditch, having had no opportunity yet to wash his hands, handing over his passport, most probably left handed too. The look on the police men their faces was good for a huge laugh after wards! I had much fun with Ivorian kids in a very small settlement where we stayed the night in our tents, at their school we start chasing a baby goat, we’d run and scream and finally catched the poor out of breath animal.
I have fun on my own if I see young pigs, goats or calfs doing funny moves, or I can laugh when I ask a police man: ‘Who are you? Are you a police man?’ and his serious reply is: ‘I am Superman.’ I had fun with the American too, splashing around in a roundabout fountain, drenched with it’s smelly mossy odor we went to buy our groceries in the local supermarket. We would roll down huge sand dunes, which was fun too. My latest laughs were about jogging bullocks along the road, many of them, with their owner running too. Many of the bullocks had pink ribbons tied around their head, and I couldn’t stop laughing, thinking: ‘Would the cows like that too?’ It happened they just visited a huge livestock market for cows and bullocks.
10. Are you scared sometimes? If so, what scares you?
No, I am not scared. As I see it, being scared is often made up by your own mind, before anything really happened. And also, being scared attracts the wrong actions. I have been scared once.
I was camping in the open on an empty beach in Oman when in the nighttime I heard voices.
Alarmed as I was I kept listening and could make up about four to five men. It seemed to me they were coming from the sea, rough voices loud and a bit panicky. ‘Shit,’ I thought, ‘they’re coming to rape me,’ my first though was not too positive. So in order to calm down I kept listening to their voices and it went on for about half an hour, then I thought: ‘Haven’t they seen me by now?’ To me the situation appeared strange, the men were not drunk, not having a party and obviously not searching for me. They were doing something else. But what? Nevertheless, I prepared for the worst and put the SD cards with photo’s and money and credit cards in my bra. Just in case. Then I sat back, listened some more. It dawned on me the guys were speaking… Arabic. And at once, without wanting to discriminate, I felt a lot safer. Soon the guys walked past my tent, a fishing boat wrapped within 10 arms, they as much alarmed by seeing a lone tent as I was of seeing them.
The next day they came back to repair their nets. It appeared they were shocked to see me, a woman. They did my dishes and offered me a fish for breakfast. And I, I felt so bad about my negative thoughts…
11. Are you thinking of cycling permanently or are you planning on going back home any time soon?
The problem with cycling is, once you started this, you can’t go back. Or at least, I can’t. Or not yet. I would like to continue this kind of life-style, as it is simple. I could settle for some time, I guess, as long as it is surrounded by nature and deprived of too many responsibilities. I don’t want to get stuck in an environment of obligations, appearance, duties and shallowness. I fear living a life in a Western society where these features are almost not to avoid. Could I be, I would become an old fashioned nomad, trading for a living, huge distances to be made… So, no, I am not planning on going back home, as my home is on the road mostly. But Heike, as you know, although it is not much, we do need money too ; )
Check out Cindy’s great and very imformative website cyclingcindy.com