13 Jun How I got into bicycle touring
The first encounter
It had been a long day crossing the border from Tanzania into Malawi, in and out mini-busses over bumpy roads. It was already dark when we finally arrived into Mzuzu. Besides my Kiwi travel companion Rosy (whom I had met in another big adventure through Nepal a year earlier), I hadn’t come across many other travelers since I had left home a couple of weeks before, so I was pleasently surprised to meet the English Andrew, hiding away in the tv room of the hostel. Most likely because the common room was filled with drunk locals and loud music – none of the rhythmic African tunes I had expected to hear all over the continent.
I don’t think I had ever met anybody who talked as much as he did at a first encounter. He told us he had been cycling for 8 months with his companion Rita, a fully packed touring bicycle.
He crossed Europe, the middle East and was now on his way down to South Africa.
Just like us he would move to Nkhata Bay the next day, where Rosy and I were planning to hang around for a couple of weeks and do some volunteering.
Over those next few weeks I listened to his adventures on the road, the freedom of cycling, the people he met on the road and the life lessons you learn from being in the saddle for days on end.
He was the first person I met that was on such a long adventure on a bicycle, and a little seed had been plant in my head. I learned that it was actually possible to cross continents on my favourite form of transport.
Malawi is a relatively small country landlocked by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Divined by it’s massive Lake Malawi, it’s a lush country with extraordinary friendly people. The lake is also referred to the Lake of Stars. Not because of the perfect reflection of the stars (which would also have been a perfect reason), but because of the fishing boats that come out at night and shine their massive torches on the water to lure the fish into swimming up. Standing on shore the boats and their lights make a beautiful sight of dozens of sparkles every evening.
How I really started
You might have heard this.. But The Netherlands is completely flat (ok besides that 1,5 hill in the south).
This probably being the reason why everybody uses their bicycle as transportation. Did you know that there are more bicycles in Amsterdam than residents?
I have 3 bikes back home, 1 road bike and 2 push bikes that we call “omafiets”. Literally translated this means grandmother bicycle. You sit up straight, can get in the saddle without having to swing your leg over the seat and can carry another person on the back rack. Ideal for the citylife.
But my favourite was ofcourse the roadbike, which I took on little trips through the Dutch flatlands, passing windmills and tulip fields. I had done a few overnight trips with a backpack on this racer, but never imagined to do months on end on a bike.
I had spent over 3 weeks in Nkhata Bay and went to the local market to pick up ingredients for dinner, when another cyclist asked me directions to Butterfly Space, the campground where Rosy and I were staying. 24 year old Thomas, also from the UK (London boy) had not done any traveling before he got inspired, read a few blogs, geared up his bicycle and flew to Caïro. He crossed the desert of Sudan, where a shepperd made him (unwillingly) trade his last liter of water for warm goat milk. He had cycled through the mountains of Ethiopia, where he was chased up steep hills by childeren throwing rocks and made it through kilometers of dirt roads in Tanzania. Rosy and I shared directions and invited him to have dinner with us that evening. Beerbonding and young romance followed (between Rosy and Thomas) and Rosy, our new Belgian friend Henri and myself decided to join Thomas on his great adventure.
He said you really only need a mountainbike and some spare tubes. He had all the fixing gear and we could easily strap our backpacks on the back of the bikes.
The 3 of us bought bikes in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, bought a basket and 2 spare tubes and left early the next day for a fresh new adventure!
Buying, testing and fixing my new bicycle in Lilongwe
The first day we didn’t cycle more than 20km due to some technical issues (like peddals falling off). Seemed like the $ 50,- Chinese bikes didn’t give us a great start. We soon pimped up our gear, learned quickly how to adjust breaks, fix gears and that you don’t really need a bike stand.