Thinking of embarking on a trip across Africa? Well you're mad. If you're still thinking of embarking on a trip across Africa then we've got some advice for you.
Rob Forbes: Tri4Africa
In 2010 Rob Forbes completed an incredibly impressive triathlon from his home in Cirencester to South Africa to catch the World Cup, all in aid of Re~Cycle. He has a lot of information on his website, but here's a bit of advice from the man himself.
Following on from "Lessons from the road Part I: Europe”, I feel that it is only fair that I impart some of my new found North African cycle touring knowledge so that others can learn from my mistakes:
Having established a relationship with your bike (see Part I for 'how to'), do not get upset when other men gaze longingly at her frame or try to squeeze her hooter. This was less of a problem in Europe where sleek thin framed models are all the rage but here in Africa where big boned women with lots of carrying capacity and durability are extremely sought after Bertha has received a great deal of unwanted attention.
To maintain a healthy relationship with your bike, spend some time apart - climb a mountain, explore a city, go for a massage - but whatever you do make sure she is under lock and key.
To eat on a budget, buy soup (50p) and fill up on the free bread, also carry plenty of pate, jam and fish for delicious and nutritious sandwiches. Supplement this diet with dried apricots and figs, as required, to keep things running smoothly. Please note this is a high risk diet - do not expect to be able eat a whole bag of sugared dates and suffer no side effects! Indeed other side effects include chronic weight loss and insufferable food envy that can damage friendships and destabilise international relations.
If you dislike bananas, bread or biscuits from the previous decade do not even consider embarking on a cycle tour of North Africa.
Play street food roulette but don’t gamble everything on your first spin of the medina, take things slowly, enjoy the experience and build your tolerance.
Despite the French colonial legacy, the cakes and patisseries are much closer in quality to the palate numbing Spanish brand of baking. Don’t set yourself up for repeated disappointments.
Finding accommodation on a budget is relatively easy, frequently included in the price are moving sheets and a range of the previous occupant’s short and curlies adorning the mattress. It is advised not to investigate stains too closely!
Unfortunately the sound of a sweet horn is just not enough for Moroccan kids who demand gifts off Westerners. Don’t perpetuate the problem unless you have fallen for some local biscuits or cakes you want to offload - be aware however, that even the street kids will reject these products and you may have to get rid of them by throwing them at chasing dogs.
Don’t be drawn in by the shovelling hand gesture or heckling, unfortunately you will be seen as a walking euro and every man and his donkey will want to 'just talk my friend'.
When you find yourself pondering why camels don’t have three humps and you have self analysed every relationship in you life to the point that you are questioning whether you spent enough time with your first pet, seek companionship urgently.
Always carry an emergency Malt Loaf, not only can it double up as a pillow but it also makes an excellent quintessentially English gift to give to hosts. Just as Doritos are the friendship chip of the crisp world, Malt loaf is rapidly becoming the sharing loaf of the baking world - so long as it’s not my last one!
Most of all, expect to have a fantastically real travelling experience. I was treated to some amazing Muslim hospitality, often from the poorest people, including the peasant farmers who took me in and cooked me up some fried chicken and chips, the Berber farmer who gave me apples, the truckie who gave me a bag of clementines, the calamari fisherman who cooked me up a fish feast and the countless villagers throughout the Western Sahara who fixed me up with water or invited me in for the traditional 3 rounds of intensely sweet tea.
- NHS - the NHS has a very comprehensive medical guide for travelling in Africa - start here.
- Sterile medical kit (Sterikit) - Chances are, where you're going there won't be a doctor on hand if something goes wrong. It's up to you to perform first aid.
- The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) - Travel Advice Notices aim to ensure that British travellers are well prepared before departure. Make sure you keep an eye on this when planning your trip.
Bike repair skills
- As well as fixing punctures, you'll need to be able to complete most basic bicycle repairs such as brake and gear adjestment.
Choice of bike
We've got a guide to choosing a suitable bicycle here, as well as a handy diagram
Many are very specific on dates, though you're not able to be - so you may want to be flexible with the dates. Check this Visa Information website for details of individual countries.
Things to bear in mind:
- Visas will cost a lot, more than $100 a time, doing it 'on the fly'.
- Some countries need a letter of invitation, and some of these have to be signed by local police.
- As a British passport holder you may not need a visa for Senegal.
- Can get visa for both Mali and Mauritania in Rabat, Morocco. Their embassies are literally 200m apart - each costs 340 moroccan dirhams, with a turnaround of about 24 hours. Don't do it at the border, and expect delays.
- Don't forget your yellow fever vaccine certificate - checks are more common at overland board crossings.
If you can swing by one of our projects, or our partners, it might be good for a bike check up, a chance to get feedback, a place to meet some nice folk and maybe even a bed...
For people to call you from the UK on your travels, find super cheap prefix here, from Money Saving Expert. They have lots of other good stuff on the site including travel insurance, and they're a big supporter of Re~Cycle.
Travel Guide To Africa By Bicycle - iBike's guide to touring in Africa
Tour D'Afrique - A website with a selection of pre-routed tours to choose from
World Biking - country specific bicycle touring resources
Cheap phone calls
For people to call you from the UK on your travels, find super cheap prefix here, from Money Saving Expert. Lots of other good stuff on the site, inc travel insurance... Journalisitc research, and they give Re~Cycle money.