Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rock and Roll: Leaving Cape Town Behind

On January 13, 2009, I took my first baby steps. I stepped up onto a loaded bike - 50 kg worth, including the cycle - for the first time and pushed down. The contraption shuddered with my weight and lack of balance, but rolled down the gravel driveway of our generous host Alvin, and into the street.
You'd never know I'd been a boy scout. This bike had never been ridden, never even been completely put together until the morning I rode it out of Cape Town. But it rode like a dream, thanks to Ian and Chris at the Recyclery, who helped me build it. It's like I traded in a rusty, dilapidated Toyota for a tricked-out luxury Land Rover; with all-terrain tires from Schwalbe and mud flaps from Planet bike; luggage racks and cup holders; even a leather seat.
Before we'd ridden half a kilometer, four kids with BMXs ran up.
"Where are you going?" asked one.
"Cairo," I replied.
"Cairo," he repeated. "Whoa..."
Alvin led us out of town on his Haro mountain bike. It wasn't long before the houses gave way to sandy, shrub-covered hills and soon Alvin took his leave as we reached the seaside.
A ways up the road we stopped outside a shantytown ("informal housing," Alvin called the masses of shacks, common around Cape Town and South Africa). A sign proudly proclaimed "This project is brought to you by the City of Cape Town."
In what had already become a theme of curiosity, interest and friendliness throughout our journey, four kids with one bike came out to talk to us.
"Can I ride your bike?" asked Quinn.
"You have to ask him. It's his. Can he ride your bike?" said one of the kids.
He shook his head "no," then "yes."
"You have to let him ride yours," the other boy joked. But the boy was too small, so one of his friends took Quinn's bike, with full packs, up a bit and back while Quinn did a trick or two on the boy's BMX.
Soon we stopped to lunch on peanut butter and garlic sandwiches (garlic is another theme - it helps keep the bugs at bay). Three boys walked by and we said hello.
"Water?" one said, and motioned that he was thirsty. Orian filled a disposable bottle for them and they went on their way.
Everyone honks at us. Kids give us high-five, men give us thumbs up. We passed a group of three men, standing around a pickup at an overlook.
"Where are you going?" one said.
"Cairo," replied Orian.
"Egypt," Orian clarified.
"Egypt?" the man laughed. "Rock and roll!"

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