Jul 5th, 2009

Back Home

by Maria
Posted in Post Trip | 10 Comments »

We arrived back in Vancouver on July 16th, a whopping 17 months, 1 week and 6 days after we left. It has been truly fantastic to reconnect with old friends. That is one of the very few things we did miss.

Since we’ve been back in Canada, the same three questions keep coming up:

So, how does it feel to be back after so long? Ummm…how can I explain it? Flying into Vancouver was like…like that crushing feeling you get when you realize you just ate the last bite of that amazing ice cream cone (sorry, couldn’t resist one more food reference. ;-) ) Sure, you’re happy you had the ice cream cone, sure you know you’ve had more then you should have, more then is good for you. You know you should be happy, you know you can’t complain but you want more damn it…MORE…MUCH, MUCH MORE ….AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH…….. ARGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Sigh.

Thankfully though, we did have some time in South Africa to get used to being back in western society again and weed out some of the odd behaviours we were predicting back when we were in Cambodia; all but “eating enormous amounts of food at an alarming rate” that is. Oh, and I still reserve the right to steal your toilet paper. Hey, if stealing your toilet paper will allow me to feel alive again, to recapture some semblance of sanity after a few months of sitting in an office cubicle staring at a monitor, I’m gonna do it!! No apologies either!

So, as I was saying, we’re “back home”, it just doesn’t quite feel like “home”, at least not yet. We feel deeply pensive, a little dumbstruck and a little awkward. Oh, and more then a little gobsmacked by the cost of things here…groceries, coffee, transportation, everything. WTF?!!!

Which is your favourite country? That’s a really difficult question. I can’t pick just one. I loved so many for different reasons. South Africa for the inspiration, Ethiopia and Namibia for the beauty, Italy for the Tuscan landscapes, Tanzania and France for the cycling…I can go on and on. Overall though, I would say this: Europe is glorious, Asia is fascinating, but Africa…Africa gave my goose-bumps. I may be back amongst glass skyscrapers and big box stores but thoughts of sand dunes, camels and baobab trees are never far from my mind. It’s what I see when I close my eyes. As beautiful as she is vast, as mysterious as she is complex, I’m not quite sure how to get her, Africa, out my system. I don’t think I would want to anyway.

So what’s next? Well, we have some ideas but we’ll be taking it one day at a time. Right now the plan is to go to Costco to get a year’s supply of mac’n cheese (gotta save them pennies for the next trip you know) and then we’ll go for a bike ride. We hope to occasionally add some news to the blog, perhaps a rant or two, but we’ll have to leave the tales from the road, the tales about following your dreams to someone else for a little while. In fact, I believe it’s your turn now. ;-) Good Luck!

Over the past 17 months we have:

Seen some amazing places.

Walking on the Dunes

Witnessed some breathtaking scenes.

Elephants

Met incredible people…

Townships

and made many friends along the way.

Friends

We tried new things.

Water pipe

We fell in love with little red boxes.

Red Box

We got dirty.

Small

Occasionally, we cleaned up.

Cleaning Up

We stumbled.

X-ray

We got back up again.

Done

And of course we cycled…

Cycling

then cycled some more…

Cycling

and then a little bit more after that.

Cycling

We chased (and caught ;-) ) a 4 year old dream.

Dream

We learnt a few lessons along the way. Some were new to us, others we just needed to be reminded of. Here are just a few, in no particular order:

Life is short, chase your dreams now.

Time

Those steep hills up ahead always seem harder then they really are.

Hill

The world is a very, very friendly place.

Friendly Place

Curiosity is a wonderful thing.

Curiosity

A bucket can be the best fun ever.

Bucket

The desert is a great place to sing out loud, at the top of your lungs.

Singing

You really can’t have too much color in your life.

Color

Everyone loves an elephant.

Loving Elephants

Duct tape can fix almost anything.

Duct Tape

When it can’t, take a deep breath and trust that things will be okay.

Take a deep breath

Be open to spontaneity and spur of the moment detours, sometimes they are the most rewarding.

Detour

Laugh and smile every chance you get; there ain’t anything more beautiful than that.

Smile

Share what you have; your ride, your food, your life. What you get in return is priceless.

Share

The best bike rides are the ones shared with friends. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for sharing in our little bike ride…

Best Rides

…thank you for sharing our journey.

At the beach
Jul 5th, 2009

Goals Checklist

by Maria
Posted in Post Trip | 2 Comments »

Well, since we have reached the end of this journey, I thought it would be a good time to review the ol’ goals list we talked about in the FAQs. Here goes:

1. To give back by raising money and awareness for WaterCan and Against Malaria.
Over $6,500 was raised for the two charities combined. This is much more your achievement then ours. Thank you soooooooooo much for supporting our charities. Your generosity has in fact saved lives.

2. EFI (Every F********abulous inch) on the TDA. Status given to those riders who complete the entire tour on bike.
Well, a broken bone made that impossible. In retrospect, it really wasn’t all that important after all.

3. To keep the number of times someone finds me “curled up in the foetal position on the side of the road crying for my mommy” to a minimum. ***(Spiros would like to point out that this is Maria’s goal).
Done! I kept the number of times I was found “curled up in the foetal position on the side of the road crying for my mommy” to a very respectable 5 times. ;-)

4. To remind woman with thunder thighs everywhere, that “Strong is best baby!!!” ***( Again, Maria’s goal).
We got this comment a while back:

“I’ve been following your journal during my own preps for the 2009 TdA, and I wanted to let you know that you’ve accomplished at least one of your goals: To remind woman with thunder thighs everywhere, that “Strong is best baby!!!” I was hoping that with cycling some hundreds km a week, my legs would miraculously change into beautifully toned, long, slender, deer like limbs, but I appear to be blessed with the thunder thigh gene as well… But thanks to you I’ve come to accept this! GO THUNDER THIGHS!!!”

Done! Yeehah! Go thunder thighs indeed! :-)

5. Get down to the basics; eat, sleep, ride.
Done, done and done. It really, REALLY, doesn’t get better than that.

And, as a bonus, we are excited to report that I, Maria Abagis, personally, bravely and single-handedly have done the unthinkable, achieved something that even I thought was impossible at the start of this journey: That you can cycle 22,000 km and actually GAIN weight…a considerable amount at that too….YAY for me! :-(

Jul 5th, 2009

Comfortable

by Maria
Posted in Post Trip | 4 Comments »

MariaWe’ve made life choices that really don’t sit well with some. Some people get it, some don’t, still others get downright angry and can’t help but go on the attack. “How much money did you waste? Why would you leave security, good jobs, your home to cycle in the desert, get diarrhoea and have rocks thrown at you?”. A response of “For the experience” is rebuked with “But can you touch it?!!”. Sigh 8-O . “Can you TOUCH IT?” Sometimes these reactions are annoying, most of the time they are just amusing. For the record, I’m not blogging so that I can convince people to drop everything and travel the world on a bicycle. (I would be thrilled for you if you did, but that is not the point). At best, we hope to be teeny tiny reminders that there are options out there…lots of ‘em. Life is short, live it up now cause I’m pretty sure you can’t take those high definition TVs and all those other big, shiny things “you can touch” with you when you go.

I do realize that if you are actually reading my drivel, you are probably like–minded and I’m preaching to the converted. I’m sorry but, I just really, really feel the need to say one last thing: I’m quite comfortable in my skin, this dry, flakey, sun damaged, weather-beaten, wrinkly and scarred skin of mine. Our decisions, successes, failures are our own. They may not suit most, but they suit us just fine. This isn’t the life I thought I would have, this is the life I dreamt of.

Jul 5th, 2009

Seeds and a Mini Rant

by Maria
Posted in Post Trip | No Comments »

Life can change in an instant. We’re reminded of it every day; mostly we are being reminded of how it can change for the worse. The news, commercials, magazines, basically everywhere you look we are reminded of just how dangerous a place we live in. You can get hit by a car, you can be diagnosed with a disease, you can get mugged, etc etc. If you just think about it for one second a complete laundry list of things that could ruin your day, week, year and life spring to mind. Sure, there is a lot of scary stuff out there, sure you need to be aware and cautious but have we not gone a little overboard, are we now not scaring ourselves silly? Case in point: I passed by a rec. center the other day. There was a sign on the gym door that said “No hot beverages permitted due to safety concerns”. So, bring in as many cold drinks as you like but hot beverages are banned due to the extreme risk of injury, scarring and more to the point, litigation. Sheesh, how we are supposed to feel good about taking chances in life if a latte causes that much anxiety? Yes, safety standards and caution have their place but we still have to live right? I mean, that is the whole point, isn’t it? If all we do is run around putting up “caution’ signs and bathing in anti-septic gels, when do you find the time or energy to smell the roses? Huh? Huh? When? How? Guh, I digress. Somewhere in the middle of that little mini-rant I went completely off the point I was trying to make. Okay, mini rant over. Let me start over again.

Life can change in an instant. We’re reminded of it every day; mostly we’re being reminded of how it can change for the worse. Fair enough, it can happen, but we shouldn’t loose sight of the fact that a split second can also change your life, or the course of your life, for the better. It’s true; I’ve seen it happen many a time. Case in point: one day Spiros is bored out of his gord, craving a little adventure and googles “cycling” and “Africa” just for the heck of it. He finds the TDA; from that moment on we can’t think about anything else until, finally, 4 years later we are at the Pyramids. We’ve all heard a different rendition of that tale time and time again. Okay, so maybe you’re thinking life is a little hum-drum right now, but later on today, you may meet your soul mate or you may see something that plants some tiny seed in your head, some crazy idea or dream that just keeps growing until you finally have to do something about it. It might be today, it might not be, maybe you’ll have to wait just little bit longer but even the prospect is exciting, don’t you think? At least it is to me, a hopeless optimist, anyway.

Number of Countries Visited: 26 – Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Tunisia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, France, Monaco, Holland, Thailand, Laos Vietnam, Cambodia

Number of Countries Cycled in: 24

Number of Countries Missed Due to Civil Unrest: 1, Kenya

Total Number of Border Crossings: 49

Number of km Cycled: 22,600km

Km Cycled by Continent: Asia – 5,036, Europe – 6,344, Africa 11,219

Total Riding Days: 225

Number of Meters Climbed: 153,625m

Highest Total Vertical Gain in One Day: 2730m (Dolomites)

Average Cycling Day: 100.44 km

Number of 100 km Plus Days: 117

Number of Century Rides (100 mile rides): 10

Longest Cycling Day in km: 209km – Ghanzi, Botswana to Buitepos, Namibia

Longest Cycling Day by Time (riding time): 8:26:24 – Kalasin, Thailand to Mukdahan, Thailand

Highest Number of km Cycled in a Seven Day Period: 985km

Fastest Recorded Speed: 78 km/hr in Ethiopia, Spiros. (Maria reached 75 km/hr but that was head-first down a sand dune on a piece of particle board).

Hottest Riding Temperature: 44°C – Three way tie: Ethiopia, Croatia, South Africa

Coldest Riding Temperature: 4°C – Tie, Botswana and France

Fastest Time to Cycle From One End of a Country to the Other: 30 minutes, Monaco. Would have been faster without the traffic jam.

Number of Flats: Most of the flats we got (not many) were due to tube failures, (mostly in Africa). We can only recall getting 2 actual tire punctures where an object went through the tire….not bad for over 45,000km (Go Schwalbe!)

Number of Replacement Back Wheels Purchased: 3, not including the original. Croatia, Thailand, Vietnam (but purchased in South Africa)

Number of Breaks in our Tent Poles: 3 breaks, 2 poles

Number of Doors in our Tent that were Still Functional: 1/2 (tent came with two doors)

Number of Photographs Taken: 40,000 give or take a few

Number of World Heritage Sites Visited: 51

Maximum Number Elephants Spotted at One Time: 40, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Number of Rhinos Seen at One Time: 6, including a baby

Number of Coffee Joints Maria Declared War on in Tunisia: 3 (No, it wasn’t because they mixed up her order. It has to do with a common tourist scam and Lavazza. She may seem mild mannered but, umm…she ain’t always).

Number of Times we Secretly Suspected we Would Wake Up the Next Morning in the Sahara Desert with Very Bad Headaches, being Licked by Camels: See: Number of Coffee Joints Maria Declared War on in Tunisia.

Number of Times Spiros Got off the Bike in a Fit of Anger to Chase Down Adolescents for Various Reasons in Tunisia: 3 (A little side note: running at full speed with cycling shoes on is not easy.)

Number of Broken Bones: 1 (collar bone)

Number of Stanley Cups Won by the Toronto Maple Leafs Since we have Been Gone: 0 (No surprises there. :-P )

Number of Giant Celine Dion Billboards Encountered During our Trip: 1 Tataouine, Tunisia of all places

Number of Times we Got Shot at, Hypothetically of Course: Well, it was about 10 shots but only one instance. Does that count as 10 or 1? Hmmmmm. (Bosnia-Hercegovina)

Number of Cycling Shorts that have Completely Disintegrated: 4

Number of Operas Attended: 1 – Avida in Verona, Italy

Highest Number of People on a Single Motorbike: 6

How Many Years it will be Before Either of us Eats Oatmeal or Peanut Butter Again: At least one or two decades.

Number of Times we got Chased by Dogs: Plenty but zero bites. Woohoo!

Number of Times we got Chased by Baboons: 1

Number of “Animals in Distress” we Rescued: 5

  1. Tiny field mouse saved from Eddie and Scaffy (Mel’s cats).
  2. Eddie and Scaffy from the biggest, baddest, meanest, ugliest, hairiest, spider that has ever walked the earth.
  3. Pinkie, the cat, from abandonment in Chau Doc, Vietnam.
  4. Pepe, the travelling sheep, from a life endlessly roaming the Sossusvlei sand dunes.

Okay, the last two are stuffed but we still risked life and limb you know.

Number of Times we Almost got Arrested: 1. Oh, did we forget to mention that before? That’s a shame. That tale had intrigue, suspense, excitement, humiliation, shame…all the elements of a really killer blog. Oh well, it’s best not to dwell on the past.

Number of Countries we were Almost Thrown Out of: 1, South Africa. Apparently arriving at the airport in shabby clothing, with a year’s worth of stamps in your passport and saying “I don’t know how long we are staying. We really like it here.” is not a good idea. Okay, admittedly, not the savviest of answers.

Number of Regrets for Dropping Everything to Cycle the Road Less Travelled: A very big, very fat ZERO!!!!

Jun 9th, 2009

Not Yet Home but Back on Canadian Soil

by Maria
Posted in Montreal | 1 Comment »

We’re back on Canadian soil. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage another detour to South America or the Middle East…trust me though, I tried. ;-) We arrived in Montreal on the 24th. We’re thrilled to see family and friends but it does feel odd to be back, very odd. In a little over a week we head home to Vancouver.

If you are curious to know what we are thinking after over a year and half on the road or where we go from here, check back in a little while; we still have a few more things to share. (Sorry, I know it takes us forever to update, but we will update).

May 25th, 2009

Most Annoying

by Maria
Posted in Montreal | No Comments »

A while ago, we posted our best/worst. We left one out: Most Annoying. By far, the most annoying/disappointing has been other travel blogs that have copied, stolen ideas or downright plagiarized snippets of text from our site. Come on people, (you know who you are); that’s just sad.

May 23rd, 2009

Bags Packed

by Spiros
Posted in South Africa | No Comments »

Souvenirs have been bought, the bicycles have been boxed, the bags packed and tickets are in hand. It looks like we are all set to go. Too bad our hearts and minds aren’t ready to let go.

May 22nd, 2009

South Africa

by Maria
Posted in South Africa | No Comments »

South AfricaSouth Africa; now here is a country with a serious, serious PR problem. Whenever we’ve spoken to people and told them we’ve been or are going to South Africa, we’ve always gotten the same reaction: fear. “But it’s so dangerous!”, “I’ve always wanted to go but there is so much crime”, etc etc. For many, South Africa seems to conjure up images of complete lawlessness. We’ve spent over four months here. If all the rumours and speculation were true, then we should have been killed at least 20 times by now. We haven’t been, not even once. ;-) Would you believe people say “please” and “thank you” here too? Okay, okay. I’m being completely facetious; I’m just trying to make a point. Yes, the statistics are there, yes there is a serious crime problem, yes you need to be vigilant, smart and cautious but that doesn’t mean you will be mugged as soon as get off the plane.

SweetiesSouth Africa has a disproportionate amount of incredible and unforgettable places to see and things to do; in fact, it actually borders on the ridiculous. Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, the Garden Route, the Winelands, Drakensberg Mountains, Blyde Canyon, Kruger Park, Tsitsikamma National Park, the Wild Coast; the list goes on and on. Pass up on South Africa and you will miss out on absolutely stunning landscapes, tons of wildlife and endless outdoor adventures. South Africa is a country of UNBELIEVABLE, natural beauty and still that is secondary to me. To me, South Africa represents incredible dignity and hope. After almost two years of travel, it remains one of the countries where I have been humbled, taken aback and moved the most. It’s intoxicating. This is a critical point in South Africa’s history, a time of change and hope. Are there still issues? Yes, of course. You just need to drive around and you’ll see sprawling, world-class estates, next to shack-lands, mere tin walls held together with a handful of nails and rocks. However, despite this, there is an incredible, undeniable spirit and dignity that is both humbling and very difficult to explain, but we witnessed it time and time again as we travelled through the country.

I won’t claim I know South Africa or that I understand it; that is something that is reserved for those that lived here through the turmoil of that last few decades. I can however say, without any doubt, that it is a land of stunning beauty and even more stunning hope and potential, OMG the potential. Amazing people, things and ideas will come out of this land. I’m convinced of it.

May 20th, 2009

Souvenir Madness

by Maria
Posted in South Africa | No Comments »

Way, way back in September 2007, we blogged about being only a few months away from the start of our trip and not yet having purchased a single item, not even bikes. Too busy? Poor planning? Procrastination? Well all of the above, but mostly it was due to our shared, deep hatred for shopping and shopping malls. The last few months before we left were a complete blur of shopping, packing, painting, moving and training.

It’s a good thing people learn from prior mistakes…too bad we didn’t. It’s three days before we leave and we have over a year’s worth of souvenir shopping to do. :-D This inevitably means us running up and down the Green Market and the V&A Waterfront in a desperate panic, eventually settling on kitschy key chains and lighters for everyone! I know, I know, terrible, unforgivable. Sorry… :-(

Our first major stop after Lesotho was Golden Gate National Parks in Free State. Beautiful sandstone outcroppings, lit up with magnificent colors of golden yellow, red and deep purple at sunset. And of course, if that weren’t enough, they threw in a few wild zebras for good measure.

Golden Gate

From there we headed to the humongous Drakensberg Mountains. The first stop was the Royal Natal area where we did two incredible hikes. Hike one was from the Sentinel car park to the top of the escarpment. With the exception of the gorge, the hike isn’t that strenuous and the views are extraordinary from start to finish. The views at the top of the escarpment will blow your mind! The next day we hiked up the Thukela Gorge.

Drakensberg

Next up was the Central Drakensberg area where we stayed at Cathedral Peak Nature Reserve Home for two days. Our first hike was through Rainbow Gorge where the big treat was dipping our feet into the bone chilling water of the river. Our last walk was the incredible Cathedral Peak hike. This walk has it all: incredible vistas throughout the entire hike, a difficult distance and a significant elevation gain (18km and about 1600 vertical meters), two very steep gullies to climb and several grade c scrambling. Unfortunately, it is winter now and there isn’t too many daylight hours and since we woke up a little too late, we ran out of time to attempt the final 300 m to the peak. In retrospect, it was a good decision to turn back as we only had about 30 minutes of daylight left when we finally got back to Lucy. Nevertheless, it was spectacular, an unforgettable hike to end an unforgettable trip. Sitting at the base of the Orange Peel Gap, eating lunch and looking out at the amazing vastness before of us, was one of those moments that takes your breath and leaves you silent, in total awe of the world. Not a bad way to end our journey.

Our trip here was spectacular but too short. In reality, you need weeks, not days, to really see Drakensberg, but we are grateful for what we got to see nevertheless. We have to leave something for next time anyway. ;-)

Drakensberg
Drakensberg
View
Us

Us on Cathedral Peak hike. A bittersweet moment; a beautiful spot but also the end of this journey.