This is Africa – impressions from Peter

Arrive Kenya. Old airport. None of the plumbing in the toilets work. The button to operate them has been ripped out.

Go through baggage check to the new airport. Smell the new paint. Power points in the restaurant do not work. A cleaner sees us trying to charge devices. She leads me to the disability toilet. The toilet works. As does the power point. Plug everything in. “I watch for you while you eat”. Wonderfully helpful.

New airport Kenya. Two staff for every passenger. Most staff staring into space.

Arrive Rwanda. (Background – plane delayed by three hours. Been traveling 30 hours by then). No tour guide to meet us. We are told “he was here. There is his vehicle”. Our cell phones do not work. 4 or 5 people offer to help. Lend us cellphones. Talk to hotel. Help arrange taxis. After 5 false starts with the Hotel – “our limousine is 30 minutes away. Take a taxi and if you do not have money tell me at reception, I will pay and add it to your room bill”. The number of people looking to help is amazing.

Arrive at the hotel. Armed guards at the gate. Taxi inspected for bombs underneath. Baggage has to go through a scanner. Oh shit – what sort of a country is this?

Those beautiful african smiles everywhere.

The next day traveling through town. Armed policemen everywhere. Driver “there is no crime problem here”. Travelling out of town. Armed policemen in pairs every 5 km or so. Scans before we can go into museums and cultural sites. It gradually dawns on us – the issue is not crime but one of “terrorism”. I use inverted commas as I know there has been a long history of overthrows of government etc. Who is the terrorist and who is not. They seem to swap sides regularly.

Our tour guide can give us detailed malaria statistics but will not acknowledge HIV.

We arrive at a flash hotel. Six staff to meet us. Wonderful.

I go to the gym. Extemely expensive equipment. It has not been calibrated. Eg the cycle tells me my power output is 145 kwh. I know it is about 250 kwh. The TV is carefully placed on the side wall where no one on the equipment can see it.

There is a swimming pool with 2 full time attendants. (Background – it has been raining at 5 minute intervals since lunch time). As I arrive it starts to rain. Chair cushions and towels are removed. Stops raining. Chairs dried and cushions put back on. Starts to rain again. Cushions and towels removed. Ah Africa.

Start the chimpanzee trek. 7 of us plus a guide. There are 15 men standing the looking to offer a porter service. It made me feel sad.

At lunch yesterday I was was approached by a young girl with a baby. (Background I always say no to beggars). I said no. Her look of desolation. I gave her USD 1.50. The look of joy, relief and excitement on her face. She was still dancing as we drove away. I felt both so good and so bad.

Red soil.

We could be in most any country in Africa.

A guest blog from Peter on the cycling part of the trip

A quick debrief – particularly for those who have been here before.

Fantastic weather through out.

And the cycling is all I remembered it to be. One of the finest locations in Europe. World famous climbs and fantastic scenery.

But firstly Don and Gary. They arrived in Bormio fresh from the world age group championships. Gary 2nd again. This time to a Frenchman. Gary, the Frenchman and the Frenchman’s mate broke away from the pelaton on a hill climb 3 km from the start. The pelaton never saw them again. Won by the Frenchman in a sprint finish after a race of constant attacking with the two Frenchmen working together against Gary. Gary disappointed with 2nd – but an awesome effort. He comes home with a giant cup we had to lug all through Italy!

Don came in 18th. Same time as the fellow who took 6th place. Well done to Don who has only ever done fun rides! He was worried about coming last. Also awesome. He is proud of his cup but even more so of a photo of him getting it from a famous cyclist who’s name I cannot remember….

First day in Bormio was up Stelvio. A special treat. One day a year they close Stelvio to all vehicles. Some 10,000 cyclists descend on the surrounding villages and give it a go. A really fun day if you can accept all these super young super fit lycra warriors passing you effortlessly doing 20 km per hour up 10-12% gradients……. men and women…..

Good riding conditions. 16 degrees in the valley. 2 degrees at the top. COLD. No snow. And the signs counting the bends lie. They have removed the final steep ascent to stelvio replacing it with an extra switchback. And they have not renumbered. A typical sly Italian trick. You think you are on the home straight but no….

Gary some 2 hrs. And Don claims to have beaten Kevin’s time… (I look forward to hearing the debate).

No rest for the wicked. The next day was Mortirolo. A classic Giro climb – usually a finish but not always. Neither Don or I made it. Tough. Very tough. Lance Armstrong (when he was still a hero) famously described it as the toughest ride he has done. Still more unfinished cycling business and a good reason to come back.

Still no rest for the wicked. The next day is Gavia from the traditional side. Trip to the start by car. Then up and over and down to Bormio. A 100 meters or so lower than Stelvio. Similar gradients but for me a nicer ride. On the exposed upper reaches a head wind on alternate switches – which means you get blown up the alternate ones.

After three hard days the group opted for a rest day of only 1000 meters of climbing. I decided to do part of Gavia from the Bormio side. A nice quiet day at my own pace.

Accomodation was excellent. A hotel run by a cyclist. 5th generation in the family. Bike room equipped with workshop and bike cleaning bay with stand, running water, brushes etc. And best of all a laundry service for cycling gear done at no extra charge. Deliver by 6, back by 7 the next day. No spin drying. Wonderful. No more washing gear in the shower and draping it around the room trying to get it dry.

Excellent cycling friendly food with great wine. On has to keep life in balance….

But good things come to an end. In this case replaced by even better things.

Back up Stelvio. Down through the legendary 48 bends. Half way down the maybe 25km is a sign saying take care – winding road for the next 3km!!!.
At the bottom lunch. I joined the group for the 70 km trip to Lana. Bike path all the way – alternating river edge and winding through the apple orchards. Magic.

From Lana to Selva Gardena via Bolzano. Bike path from Lana all the way into Bolzano. Bolzano still sucks. We made the mistake of leaving the bike path to look for coffee. Landed in an industrial area. Eventually found the coffee. Hot footed it back to the bike path. Some 40 km of old railway line converted to bike path to the base of the Selva Gardena road. Our own bike tunnels all with their lighting. The Selva Gardena road was some 25km of 4-5% gradient. Once again good riding. But tired riders towards the end.

From Selva Gardina to Cortina. A short ride of 3 passes and 2000 meters of climbing. No one was interested in my offer of 6 passes and 3,500 meters of climbing to get to Cortina. Kevin, Paul and Greg know the latter route well. If I recall correctly it was so tough Kevin and Greg had to stop on pass 5 and fortify themselves with a few sips of Cognac before tackling the final pass. They only got in at 7.00 that night. Only one cognac?

5 days in Cortina. Mountain magic this time. Probably one of the most beautiful sets of mountains in the world. Pink cliffs that soar from the road and touch the sky. Sun rise and sun set the best times to bring out the color. And a huge number of fantastic riding options.

One day Gary decided to head up an unsealed bike path. Excellent condition. Some 30 km later close to Dobbiaco (sp ?) At the top of the pass we switched to the main road. A pleasant ride repeated by Debra the next day on a mountain bike.

The riding – some hard – some easy.
Never boring. And the Gaiu is still there – as hard as it was the first time.

Accomodation was once again excellent. Again 5th generation family. Proprietor who is a cycling fanatic. A huge source of information and recommendations. Laundry service. Food not so good which meant we ate out more.

A revelation I did noy fully appreciate. The mountains are criss crossed by ‘white roads’. 100’s of km of roads and tracks built by the Austrians in the first world was now converted to mountain bike tracks. Enough to make me want to take up mountain biking.

And thanks to Debra for providing car support when needed. Warm clothing at the top of cols etc.

From Cortina we now start wending our way home via Africa. And the rain started today!

For pictures have a look at Debra’s blog…