In 2006, I began an amazing trip cycling England to South Africa. This 10 month adventure took me through countries such as Syria, Sudan and Tanzania, as I cycled across Europe, the Middle East and then East Africa. During this time, I had some incredible experiences, met countless friendly people, and cycled by the odd elephant and giraffe. Read all about it here…
Cycling from England to South Africa
Back in 2006, although Dave's Travel Pages was online, travel blogging was really still in its infancy. I updated every week or so as I was cycling England to South Africa, but it was written more with family and friends in mind. As such, my travelogues (as I called them then), have become buried a little bit in this site. They are sometimes hard even for me to find, and I know where they are! With that in mind, I decided to write a new summary article of my time spent cycling England to South Africa. Here, I have put links to all the travelogue updates for that trip, along with a brief description of each one underneath.
Cycling England to Cape Town Blog Posts
Starting the trip from my own doorstep (well, my brothers doorstep to be exact), I spent the first few days getting used to the bike with load. In hindsight, I should probably have gone out for a couple of test cycles long before, and at least made sure my bicycle pump worked!
For the first time in my life, I was cycling on the right side of the road (well, the wrong side, but you know what I mean). A poignant moment as I paused for a while outside of a War Cemetery marking the dead of Vimy Ridge.
I found out the hard way that in the smaller French towns, you can't seem to buy anything other than flowers on a Sunday. Weird occurrence – cycled past two police officers zipping up a body in a body bag.
This section of my journey cycling England to South Africa saw me discover some cycle paths more by accident than design. It also took me to Donnaueschingen which is the official start of the River Danube cycle way, a route I would follow through much of Europe.
I had a guide book for this cycling route, which proved to be useful for the trip, and I highly recommend the Cicerone Danube Cycle Way for other people thinking of cycling along a similar path. I found Germany to be a really pleasant country to cycle through, and after a few days, found myself in Austria.
On the border into Slovakia, I ended up helping another group of cyclists cross over (like I knew what I was doing!), before heading into Brataslava. From there, it was just another days ride to the border with Hungary. A very friendly cyclist guided me through one city going totally out of his way. An act of solidarity that transcends language barriers.
Nowadays, I would choose quieter roads, and even dirt tracks to get out into the countryside and avoid traffic. As I was on a bit of a schedule dictated by a small budget though, I had little choice but to stick with busier roads. What I gained in the directness of route was counteracted by heavy traffic though. Once I left Hungary, there was a notable change as I entered Romania, a country that was at the time receiving investment in the way of road infrastructure by the European Union.
The other downside to sticking to main roads, is that when it is possible to wild camp, it is often not in the most desirable of places! onwards I continued through Romania, which again is a country I would like to have spent more time in. In Bucherest I met an old friend who had travelled over, and who I would also meet up with in Istanbul.
Leaving Romania and entering Turkey definitely felt like stepping from west to east, although in a way, from Hungary onwards, Europe was always being slowly left behind. It has to be said, that there are very few cities in the world as absolutely crazy to cycle into the centre of than Istanbul! Only Cairo came close as I was cycling England to South Africa.
I took some time off in Istanbul, to catch my breath, regain some energy, have a look around, and meet up with a couple of people. One of those was my brother Steve, who flew over for a pint or two… very nice of him indeed!
On leaving Istanbul, I cycled for a while with a nice German guy called Rainhard (probably spelt completely wrong). The one interesting addition to his bicycle setup was a wire basket. It looked crap, but in all honesty, was probably more practical than a handlebar bag. I just can't quite bring myself to fit one at the moment!
You always meet someone doing a trip that you consider slightly ore “out there” than your own. During this section, I met a French couple who were walking from France to Bethlehem. It kind of put cycling England to South Africa in the shade a little. However, I did feel sorry for them as their feet were, to put it mildly, in complete shit state.
I spent a week off the bike as I explored the area around Goreme, which is full of natural and man made wonders. On leaving, I continued my journey through Turkey, which is a wonderful country to cycle through. Another one that I added to my “must visit again on a bike list”!
All politics aside, I wonder how many years or decades it will be until people can cycle safely through Syria once more? Many of the towns and cities I cycled through, such as Aleppo, have been virtually reduced to rubble during the recent civil war that occurred after i finished cycling England to South Africa.
More acts of generosity both in Syria and in Jordan after I crossed the border made the middle east a very welcoming place for me. I visited the Roman amphitheatre in Amman, and then cycled through to Petra.
The archaeological site of Petra was a truly amazing place to visit, and for others, I strongly suggest arriving before the tourist buses arrive if possible leaving . I spent two days walking around it. A caught a ferry over to Egypt, which was a somewhat complicated process in turns of sorting paperwork out. I also bumped into the Dragoman overland tour here, and our paths would leap frog until Sudan many miles down the road.
Cycled through Egypt and saw some pyramids… as you do.
From this point on through Egypt, having an armed escort accompany me in pickup trucks as I cycled along was a regular occurrence. it's a strange old life cycling England to South Africa.
It has to be said, that I was really looking forwards to this section of the trip cycling England to South Africa. Cycling through Sudan would be a real test, and so it turned out. the effort put on though was more than rewarded by the friendly, welcoming people and the sense of achievement at reaching Khartoum after riding through deserts.
After a little R and R at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, it was time to get back on the bike once more. Along the way, I experienced amazing generosity from the friendly, curious locals.
Now, I know it might not be PC to say it, but I hated Ethiopia. And it was all because of the people there. It was such a massive contrast after leaving the hospitable Muslim countries, that in the end, i couldn't wait to get out of Ethiopia.
The border section between Ethiopia and Kenya was considered a little unsafe at the time, and so i took a cattle truck a few hundred miles southwards until I reached a safer region. It was probably the worst ride I have ever had in my life, being thrown around like a rag doll in the back of a massive truck, which was later filled up with goats!
After resting at Jungle junction in Nairobi, I headed out once more. Sourcing bicycle parts was becoming a real issue, and so I arranged to have some shipped over from the UK to Dar Es Salaam. in the mean time, I was plagued by punctures as my tyres and inner tubes were becoming a bit of a liability.
I spent 10 days in Dar Es Salaam awaiting a parcel from the UK, which would have some much needed bicycle spares. If ever there was a lesson to be learned in using 26 inch wheels over 700c wheels for bicycle touring, then this was it!
At long last, I got to cycle out of Dar Es Salaam! One day I cycled over a snake, one day I cycled alongside a herd of giraffes and let a family of elephants cross the road. Same old same old cycling England to South Africa!
This travelogue update starts at the Tanzania border as I was crossing into Malawi. I found a lovely place to stay by the lake, which I wish even now, I had spent longer at. Another regret, is that I was too slow to take a photo of a local cycling down the road with a live goat strapped to the back of his bicycle.
Cycling through the last section of Malawi, a country which I thoroughly enjoyed, I then entered Zambia. Random bicycle malfunction when both pedals fell off simultaneously.
I bumped into the Tour de Afrique during this portion of my trip cycling England to South Africa. This is an organised overland tour, which enables people to do a supported tour of the continent in the company of others. For me, it meant a few free meals and cold drinks!
There was only a little bit more of Zambia to cycle through as I crossed into Botswana, and I was amazed to see some elephants crossing the road in front of me. they are quite big up close! I was also keeping pace with the Tour de Afrique for a while, and one night, shared a campsite with them. Once we went on our separate ways, I also had a somewhat raucous night out, of which the only thing I remember, was an American girl weighing her breast in a scale on a bar somewhere. Don't ask!
One memory of this section of the cycling trip, was the frustration I felt at trying to book a flight online. This has certainly become a lot easier over the years! Most of the actual cycling during this section was done through South Africa, which included some quite big days in terms of kilometres.
Nursing the bike towards Cape Town over the last few hundred miles, it was time to reflect a little over the previous 10 months, as well as looking towards the future for when the trip was finally over.
Cycling England to South Africa – Afterthoughts
Looking back on this cycling trip now, I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to undertake such a wonderful journey. Some countries, such as Syria, will be off limits to even the most adventurous of cyclists for many years to come, and they will be changed beyond recognition. From all reports, the ancient city of Aleppo which I spent some time in is all but rubble now, and of course, civil war will change the peoples attitudes towards each other and to those from other countries. A massive shame, as it was one of the places I enjoyed the most as I cycled through. Other countries, such as Malawi, would be interesting to visit again in a few years time, to see if there are any signs of economic development.
On a personal level, I took a lot away from the trip. A sense of self-reliance in trying circumstances, accomplishment at a cycling trip completed, and the knowledge that most people around the world are friendly folk, often bemused at a strange cyclist pedalling by with a loaded bike! It also made me realise that long distance bicycle tours are what I was made to do, and it wasn't long until I was planning my next adventure cycling Alaska to Argentina.