Ten Myths about Touring Africa by Bike

Conquering Misinformation en Route to a Great Adventure.
By David Mozer
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It is interesting to observe people's reactions when they pick up literature on bicycling in Africa. Most people either think that such a trip is worthy of ridicule, or they think that it's the greatest idea they have heard in years. In reality, hundreds of Westerners have bicycled in Africa and have come back for more.

Certainly bicycling in Africa is not for everybody. But there are those who might really appreciate it, yet because of preconceived notions or false information have prematurely dismissed it. Bicycle touring in Africa is for the good-natured realist who can appreciate the rewards of not being confined by barriers of glass, steel, and speed. The potential participant doesn't even have to like dirt roads and rustic accommodations.
Here are some myths that outsiders persist in believing about Africa:

The Myth of Wilderness
Myth Number One: "Africa has(dangerous) wildlife," making it the most compelling reason to visit. Most wildlife is not dangerous. One can safely see zebra, giraffe, elephants, kudu, sable antelope, impala, and dozens of other varieties of animals from a bike seat. But Africa is more than wildlife and the bicycle is an extraordinary way to experience it.

Africa is about people and culture: people with a long history, a multiplicity of complex cultures with sophisticated governmental structures, elaborate artistic expressions, diverse religions, and colorful traditions. The land itself contains everything from modern cities with the latest in telecommunications to highly efficient, low consumption, small scale, sustainable rural communities. Within its borders are a full spectrum of micro-climates and geological formations from glaciated mountain peaks to verdant grasslands; from arid deserts to dense tropical rainforests. Climbing Kilminjaro is a great adventure, but misses a rich continent. As a footnote: bicycles are often are restricted from the national parks with the main concentrations of wildlife.

The Myth of Violence

Myth Number Two: Recent tourist attacks have, unfortunately, reinforced this myth that "the people of Africa are violent and dangerous." The exact opposite is probably closer to the truth. It is safer in many African capitals to take a late night stroll than in many North American cities. That is not to say that Africa is not without its problems and that one should not be "city-wise" in all countries, but when leaving the U.S. for Africa one is going from one of the world's most violent countries to some of the most gentle and hospitable.

Granted, people must be selective about where they go, but there are numerous choices. The violence associated with Africa is tragic, but it is also isolated to specific geographical pockets. A report of instability in one country has absolutely no implications about the quality of life in any adjacent country.

One must also distinguish between political violence and personal violence. A closer examination of the violence finds that it is one of the following: rivalry between factions in a country, the extension of Western violence through a proxy war, or the legacy of social dislocation stemming from the havoc brought on the culture during the colonial period. All of this is easily circumvented by a traveler.

While personal violence exists, the frequency should not be exaggerated. The people of Africa, even amidst vortexes of absurd violence, have a gentleness, humility, and optimism that we could all learn from. They do not run through the forest chanting and carrying spears, nor do they boil foreigners in large kettles. More often, those Westerners who do brave the myths of Africa are disappointed at the lack of "tribal rituals" in Africa.

Published: 3 Dec 1999 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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