Like pretty much everything these days, this makes me want to travel and ride my bike! :)
Cyclists’ 3,000-mile journey through rural Africa an awakening
By Nancy Bartley, Seattle Times staff reporter
The dust from the miles of dirt trails through Africa still clings to
his well-worn bike, which leans against the wall in his Green Lake
apartment. For Aaron Bodansky, it was his vehicle for a journey to
change Americans’ views of Africa and its people.
Bodansky and a friend, Eric Silverman, were studying in Capetown,
South Africa, and quickly came to realize that the Africa they knew
from occasional travels around the continent was a safer and
friendlier place than most Americans realize. So the two created a
nonprofit called Cycle for Understanding, raised several thousand
dollars and planned to spend 70 days cycling from South Africa to
Dozens of flat tires, many new bike chains and rims, several
illnesses, lots of fatigue, and many new friends later, Bodansky and
Silverman flew back to the United States — Silverman to school at
Skidmore College in New York and Bodansky, a Lakeside High School
graduate on a break from Washington University in St. Louis, home to
Now the 22-year-olds are writing about their experience and turning
the film they shot en route into a documentary to share their image of
an Africa few in the West know — a primarily rural Africa filled with
caring and friendly people.
When they began the journey, they discarded the idea of traveling by
car, which would have given them some protection, and instead decided
to ride mountain bikes 3,000 miles from Capetown to Nigeria. The
mountain bikes meant they would potentially be exposed to climatic
extremes, wild animals, political instability and crime. But they’d
also be among, instead of isolated from, the African people.
“We didn’t want to sugarcoat anything. We wanted to give people a
chance to see what Africa is really like,” Bodansky said. And it was a
place where “you can ride your bicycle safely, being pretty much as
vulnerable as you can get.”
The U.S. State Department had issued precautions for virtually all the
countries through which the two traveled.
But Bodansky and Silverman instead relied on the opinions of locals in
making their travel decisions. And there were places they avoided,
such as parts of Sudan, Somalia and Congo. But the most dangerous
place, Bodansky said, was South Africa, because of the racial tension
The two left in June — with bicycle panniers stuffed with energy bars,
cornmeal, solar panels, a tent and a small video camera — and traveled
through South Africa to Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya,
with a side trip to Zimbabwe.
Just that month, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer
all travel to Zimbabwe, reporting cases of vote tampering, attacks on
opposition supporters, farm invasions, arrests and beatings of
And yet, when Bodansky and Silverman traveled there, “we made friends,
hung out with soldiers. They are just like us, if not friendlier.”
Camping along the road at night, drinking water wherever they could
find it (after treating it with iodine tablets) and cooking their
cornmeal in a pot they carried, they journeyed deeper into the
continent to places where they said some of the Africans had never
seen a white person before.
“Children were fascinated and yet fearful,” Bodansky said.
One morning, the two heard sounds outside their tent and opened the
flap to see 50 Massai waiting outside.
Bodansky spoke enough Swahili to tell them the tent was their “moving
house” and afterward there was a friendly exchange, Bodansky leaving
with gifts of a lion’s tooth and a pair of Massai shoes.
While urban areas came with problems — including graffiti and
corruption — in the country, the rural people were similar everywhere,
he said. “They were friendly, generous people and safety was not even
a concern,” Bodansky said.
The cyclists’ parents understandably were frightened, but as the two
began to call home — cellphone coverage being readily available even
in remote areas — parents turned into supporters.
“As the trip progressed we got more and more comfortable,” Joel
Bodansky, Aaron’s father, said. “We were impressed with how much
thought and energy they had going into it. We were quite supportive of
Yet, the trip was not without its harrowing moments.
In Malawi, “We decided to try and save time and avoid mountain ranges
by taking a dirt path along the lake. The path was fine at first, but
we came to a point where the path turned unrideable and instead of
going back and losing a day of riding, we decided to keep on going,”
They said they reached a point where they were dragging bikes up steep
hills of rocks and across rivers, hoping to find a village a few miles
down the path by night.
“However, our calculations were incorrect and we were still walking
our bikes long after sundown.”
The next day they ran into several men who took them to a village.
“We were fortunate to run into these men because I don’t think we
would have made it out of the mountains that night, and we were short
on food,” Silverman said.
Back in New York, Silverman is in class. In Seattle, Bodansky, who is
doing research here before returning later to the university for his
pre-med studies, talked about his views before the trip and after.
“I definitely had a negative view of those countries. It’s really just
a huge misunderstanding,” he said.