BEING attacked by an army of ferocious ants at 4.30 in the morning while sleeping in the bush is not everyone’s cup of tea. Neither is being bitten by swarms of tsetse flies while riding through game reserves. But for Alexander it was part and parcel of his 12,000 kilometre, solo cycle ride from South Africa to Egypt, which he started in March 2018.
SLEEPING IN THE BUSH
Zander, as he prefers to be called, gave up his job with a business consultancy firm in Johannesburg to start the venture, to raise awareness for the African Leadership Academy, a college that provides top-level education for youngsters from all over Africa.
“My highlight has been the kindness of the people, especially those who looked after me when I had malaria in Malawi. I’m lost for words at the extraordinary generosity showed to me by Chetwin Chizeza and his family. They gave me a room and brought me three meals a day. All of this was unconditional and they refused to let me pay anything.”
Zander passed his first 1000 kilometre mark while cycling through Botswana. He rode along ‘Elephant Highway’ where, he says, he had to keep his eyes peeled for wildlife. “I was pretty exposed,” he explains, “as there was a lot of game. I also had a stunning ride through the Katavi national park in Tanzania.”
“I HAVE TO CARRY 15 LITRES OF WATER”
He lost his wallet in the bush in Zambia, but was rewarded with four leopard sightings, two lionesses and wonderful elephants, giraffe and birds. On his 24th day, still in Zambia, he crossed his 2000 kilometre mark.
“Sometimes there are long stretches between villages, so I have to carry up to 15 litres of water. I also have one or two days of food with me, such as spaghetti, cereals and oats,” says Zander. “I don’t camp in the game reserves when I have food with me, as it attracts too much attention from the wildlife.
“I’ve had no problem getting visas at the border crossings and I ride through police road blocks without stopping! I carry a GPS tracking device that has an SOS passage on it, but I haven’t had any human animosity at all – I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
“I loved the ride,” he adds, “as so many unexpected things happen, like being invited to a black tie wedding in Botswana where there was a hippo grazing on the grass next to the seating plan!”
By the ninth of July Zander passed the 5000km mark in Kenya, after passing through Rwanda and Uganda, where he camped in the bush with lion, leopard, hyena, hippos and elephants chattering through the night. On 1 August he reached Ethiopia to be confronted by stone-throwing kids along the route, while in The Sudan he was met with incredible hospitality.
“I ALSO FACED MASSIVE HEAD WINDS”
“The Sudan was incredibly hot and humid, with day time temperatures of over 37 degrees,” he says. “I started early to avoid the heat and could rest between 10 in the morning till three in the afternoon. The Sudanese helped me out to find water, food and shelter, while there were terracotta urns along the road filled with sweet and delicious water from the Nile.”
Camping in the Sudan was no easy matter either. “At night it was sweltering and I was sweating buckets,” he adds. “One evening wind and sand ripped through my tent and covered me with a sandy paste. I also faced massive headwinds, where I found myself struggling along at 8kph.”
On 2 October Zander entered Egypt, his most complicated border crossing. He faced a full, three-hour interrogation by the Egyptian intelligence services (probably inevitable, given his hirsute, desert-island looks – think Tom Hanks in the film The Castaway). “They seemed to think that saying the same thing in Arabic louder and faster each time, at some point it would suddenly make sense to me!”
“SEVEN MONTHS ON THE ROAD”
After 1200 kilometres of tough desert riding, Zander reached Abu Simbel, where he rode past the 4000-year-old temples, including the Great Temple of Ramses. Later he passed by the Valley of the Kings, with the tombs of Tutenkarmen, Ramses IV and the Colossi of Memnon, and shortly after the temples of Karnak.
And finally, after seven months on the road, Zander arrived in Cairo, to be greeted by friends, family and the Egyptian Cycling team!
I asked Zander what he’d learned from his ride. Here’s his reply:
“If you keep pedalling you can go anywhere and do anything! It has given me more confidence to try other things which other people might think are mad or impossible – the hardest part of these things is often getting started as there will always be nay sayers, whether you are starting a business, or an adventure, or anything. You just have to back yourself and go for it. Also you don’t need all the answers before you start something. You just need enough and you can work out some details on the way. It has been a really liberating experience.”
Zander’s route: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt.
See more of Zander’s photos on his Instagram HERE
Olly Duke (June 2019)