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Cycling to Africa: Part 24- On African soil

16:25 29th August 2013 By Pavel Trcala

Part 24, and Pavel finally makes the continental jump to Africa.

Sea cycling

Sea cycling

God’s Port and Ferry to Tunisia

I woke up before dawn in the control room of the fire station. Maybe it was the incessant noise on the emergency radio, maybe it was because I knew that I had get going very early. Before the ferry to Tunisia I still wanted to get my daily dose in the sea. At the beginning of my trip I resolved to an every day minimum of Olympic triathlon swimming and cycling (that is at least 1.5km of swimming and 40km on the bike). Running is out of question for now which meant that this swimming and biking had to get done before nine in the morning.

Marsala, although the translation from the Arabic says “God’s Port,” was rather disappointing. Well, actually it should not come as a disappointment but a mere preparation for what I’d find in Africa.  There was no greenery- only concrete canyons.  The coast was not something that people would seek to relax at.

I read about good conditions for kite surfing in the vicinity of this city and I began to locate spots recently roamed by famous riders.  Earlier this summer the World Cup circuit had stopped here. I heard even about a Czechoslovak kite school.  Along the coast I saw other kite surfing bases, but none knew of the Czechoslovak kite centre. Out of time, I headed for the ferry to Africa.

Following the coast I tried to travel as near to water as possible on small asphalt roads to avoid the main road. On one turn I was not sure of the route.  There was a nice girl sitting in front of a house and drinking coffee: “Good morning, please, can I take this small road to get to Trapani,” I asked in Italian.  As she responded however, I noticed that I was standing next to a car with Czech number plates. More conversations were going on in Czech and Slovak and I realised that I’d stumbled upon the Czech kite surfing school after all.

The wind is said to be good every afternoon, with very shallow water, ideal for teaching beginners and so great for the school.  Although for pros who perform gymnastics in the air, it can be dangerous. “During the race, the ambulance had to come twice,” recalled one of the instructors.  The shallowness of the water also bothers him for swimming:  “Oh, you have it good, you are swimming every day somewhere else.  I also swim every day, but I have to always go by bike to the one and only canal, where the water is deeper. All beaches here have knee-deep water.”  My new kite friends had a computer and I tried to buy a ticket for the ferry.  But it did not work!  Is it full?  No, please, I hope not!

As I was approaching Trapani, I pedalled hard while trying to ward off thoughts that I would not get on the ferry. When I rode into town, I could immediately recognised the ship about to depart for Africa. The streets around the harbour were full of cars that looked like they were at a car boot sale. The roofs were packed with textiles and household appliances and there was not a single car that without a refrigerator, washing machine, and a bicycle strapped on its roof. The cashier sold me a ticket.  I had some time before the departure, so I rode to the other side of town, found a beach with a friendly looking beach patrol, parked the bike and swam to the lighthouse and back. “The last swim in Europe, now ferry ride to Africa, and then I will fly home,” I thought.

Ferry boredom

The Trapani ferry is long. Boredom quickly sets in.

The Trapani ferry is long. Boredom quickly sets in.

The ferry journey seemed endless. While from Sardinia to Sicily, I met some kindred Anglo-Saxon souls, here I was practically on the African territory and alone. Maybe they were some Europeans travelling on this ferry, but they probably had cabins.  Even though the ship was still in port, the passengers who were apparently all Africans, occupied all lying positions, such as various chairs and couches. When those were all taken, another group poured into the seating section with seats in the airplane seating style. However, the crowds tore up the seat cushions, put them on the ground and made do-it-yourself beds. When this option had been exhausted, people just lay on the floor, staircases, corridors – just about everywhere.

Later, a gentleman sat next to me and he said that he was going to Tunisia only to turn around and come back.  From northern Italy!  He said that he must deliver something there and that he would be returning the same day.  How strange, I thought. He warned me about cycling in Tunisia.  He said that the roads are chaos, cyclists are virtually non-existent and drivers would just knock me onto the pavement.  And if I ever bike in the evening, I would be robbed -even on the city streets.  “You have to bike at the most up to six in the evening and then find housing and spend the night in safety.” “But I thought that Tunisia was safe.  From the Czech Republic alone, there are many planes full of tourists flying there every week.  My mom and sister were just there on vacation.” “But they all fly to the resorts, there is completely different,” he explained.

The ship landed in Tunis and I measured my legs. Not that crossing to Africa would have made any difference, but to see the change over the course of the trip. The rehabilitation and strengthening of my body was one of the main reasons for this pilgrimage.  So, throughout the whole of my journey from Moravia to Africa my left thigh had increased by 3.5 cm and the right one by about 2.5 cm.  The problem was that both legs had increased and thus the right was still bigger.  Something was telling me that maybe I should not be at the end of this expedition.

African Skies

When my wheels touched African soil, I said to myself: “Hey man, you made it to Africa, you biked and swam every day at least your prescribed dose, sometimes much more, and you explored hundreds of miles of stunning Mediterranean coastline.”  But at the moment there was no mood for celebration.  I wanted only one thing – to find a hotel and sleep.