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“In six weeks, the Hippie Trail took us through varied Indian geography, UNESCO world heritage sites, and towns and cities rich in medieval history. What was really amazing was to arrive tired, dirty and sweaty on your bicycle at a majestic medieval fort or palace, get cleaned up, and spend the night there.”- Rae Simpson, 2017 Hippie Trail

We are very happy to announce the return of the very popular Hippie Trail cycling tour in 2020 with 2 major improvements.

Return To Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra

We have returned to Agra and the incomparable Taj Mahal for the start of the 2020 Hippie Trail. Riders should arrive in this historic city a few days ahead of their scheduled departure in order to explore some of Agra’s other incredible sights:

  • Agra Fort – one of the best examples of a Mughal fort in the country
  • Mehtab Bagh – restored gardens along the Yamuna River offer some of the best views of the Taj Mahal
  • Itimad-ud-Daulah – the ‘baby Taj’ and the first Mughal structure built completely from marble
  • Kinari Bazaar – located behind the Jama Masjid, this market offers an intense local shopping experience
  • Akbar’s Mausoleum – about 10km out of town, this beautiful mausoleum honours India’s greatest Mughal Emperor, Akbar, who ruled from 1556-1605
  • Fatehpur Sikri – 40km west of Agra, this sprawling ancient city is worth the effort to get there. Emperor Akbar moved his capital here from 1572 – 1585. It features a gorgeous mosque that is still in use and abandoned courtyards, pavilions and palaces.

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Change Of Dates

Pushkar, Rajasthan

The Hippie Trail has traditionally started in late January but that time of year meant the possibility of some cool, rainy, misty days at the beginning of the tour in Rajasthan. By changing the starting date to mid-November we are cycling during the best weather of the year. As Lonely Planet puts it for the months of November & December, “The climate is blissful…You’re guaranteed glorious weather.”

“The Hippie Trail…gave me the freedom to appreciate an age old mix of spiritual cultures, smiling people and open friendliness. I felt truly blessed each day.” – Gennesse Beadman, 2017 Hippie Trail

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British cyclist Linda Du rode the 2019 Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour last month and sends us this report.

I signed up for the tour, a six-week cycling trip in Madagascar, nearly a year in advance of its May 2019 start date. I had never done anything like it, although I did cycle almost daily as a commuter in my university town. I reasoned with myself that signing up for the tour was a commitment device that would motivate me into getting fit that year, but procrastination got the better of me. In the fall, my excuse was that it was nearly a year in advance, and who needed to start training that early? In the winter, I reasoned that the harsh East Coast winter was simply unsafe for longer training rides, although that didn’t stop me from continuing to cycle between classes nearly every day. By the time spring came around, I was busy with exams, but not too busy to jet off to Europe for a conference, or to take the train to New York for party weekends every other week. In short, I was putting of the training that I knew I should be doing to be prepared for such an expedition. I only started training a month in advance, after denial turned into panic, and I signed up to work with a personal trainer over five hour-long sessions and completed a 40-mile bicycle ride for charity in my city.

Boats on the beach by our starting hotel in Ifaty

That 40-mile (64 km) stretch was the longest I had ever spent on a bicycle in a day. I had seen the daily distances we would cover during the tour were just under 100 kilometres a day over 28 riding days. I had also seen that on the second riding day, we would cover 128 kilometers, which was twice as long as my previous record. “I’ll get fit after the first week or two of riding”, I told myself. The tour started exactly a week after the date of my graduation from my MBA program, and my panic about not quite knowing what I was doing dissipated during the whirlwind of packing up my life. I embarked on an odyssey of flights from New York, to Dubai, to Johannesburg, to Antananarivo and finally to Toliara where a shuttle took me to our starting hotel in Ifaty, the starting point for the tour. By that time, I had resigned to being unfit and unprepared for the cycling that was yet to come. And unprepared I was.

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Scenes from the road – the Pope’s hat

That first stretch of cycling was a short and scenic three days, ending up in Isalo National Park, the Grand Canyon of Madagascar. By the second stretch I was starting to regret my decision not to learn to use clip-in cycling shoes before I departed. My initial reasoning was that Mark Zuckerberg had broken his arm because he forgot to unclip. He went to Harvard and started Facebook, so evidently he was far smarter than me, and thus, I had no chance. This made hills much more difficult for me, or so I’m told. By the third stretch I was starting to feel exhausted and on more than one occasion was so slow in getting back to camp that the tour leader was on the brink of sending a vehicle out to rescue me. The last day of the first section, the day that we arrived back in Tana, was one of those days and I was the last to arrive 11 minutes before the designated cut-off time.

Taking in the climbs and the views in stride

I’m not sure what exactly happened in Tana, but the two rest days, fantastic food and five hours spent relaxing and being massaged in an upscale spa seemed to work their magic on me. From Tana up until Nosy Be, my pace picked up significantly. I was no longer one of the last to arrive into camp, often I was one of the first. The cycling felt easier and even with my running trainers I was able to manage most of the uphills that I would have winced at during the first section. Eventually I completed the entire cycle, and at dinner on our penultimate evening of cycling I was given an unofficial award of “most improved rider”. What I’m most proud of though, is that I attained the goal I set myself of completing “Every effing Inch” (EFI) of the ride, be it fast or slow, over sand or tarmac. For me, the Magical Madagascar tour was about physical and mental empowerment and achieving things with my body that were almost unbelievable to me before I began cycling. And the most magical part for me was flying back from Nosy Be back to Tana, looking down and thinking “I did that, and then some, on just my two legs and two wheels”.

 

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Full Tour Riders

“The Tour d’Afrique was my first long bike tour. TDA staff and procedures struck a good balance between providing the support and safety we needed while still allowing a good measure of independence and ability to explore and tailor our own experiences. Staff were fantastic in almost every way.” – Mike Mossing (USA)

“Fantastic!” – Fritz Renger (Canada)

“Great!” – Scott Burton (Canada)

“Memorable!” – Clement Rouleau (Canada)

“The Tour d’Afrique really challenged me physically and mentally. The experience changed my ideas about Africa and its people and allowed me to push past my own mental barriers. From that perspective, it was a life changing experience for me, and I’m 72. I’m grateful to TDA for providing me with that opportunity. Its not the kind of trip that I would feel competent to do on my own.” – Dan Frye (USA)

“The TDA team were excellent , hardworking and focused on helping us get safely from A to B.” – Paul Bullen-Smith (UK)

“Riding across Africa is a challenging and privileged experience. The support offered by the knowledgeable, accommodating, tolerant team from TDA was excellent.” – Peter Cox (Canada)

“Riding into Cape Town, after four months and 11,000 kilometres, I was overcome by a spasm of elation and wonder. I had come this long way; I had done something that I was greatly uncertain that I could ever do thanks to the support and sense of security provided by TDA. I was at the end of an undertaking that proved to be much more than a test of physical endurance. I came to see it as a pilgrim’s progress, a quest for the ways in which we construct meaning in our lives. In a dual movement, centrifugal and centripetal, we confronted ourselves in extreme situations and the Other through engagement with African lives that daily challenged our understanding of the world. Along the way we discovered that a motley group of ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds, occupations and ages could and did become extraordinary in the pursuit of our common objective.” -Tom Perlmutter (Canada)

“Extraordinary, life changing adventure.” – Tom Bell (Canada)

“The Tour d’Afrique is a life changing experience. I was challenged mentally and physically yet what growth ever occurs without challenges. Sharing these challenges with the other riders really makes the ride even more special. I have met friends for life that live all over the world. I love that my preconceived notions of the world were mostly shattered. The people of the Africa are amazingly warm and friendly and generous despite living a hard life with hardly any possessions. The support of TDA Global Cycling such as logistics and safety were critical. It allowed me to focus on the cycling and experiencing Africa more fully. They do an wonderful job. I was constantly amazed at how hard they work and how exceptional they are at meeting any unexpected “crisis”.” – Shirley Frye (USA)

“There is something special about cycling new roads. Slowly rolling into environments you’ve never seen, heard or felt the fragrance of. Images and experiences from bike rides are etched into your mind with special sharpness. I clearly remember moments from camps, roads, meetings, sunsets. I will wear them with joy for the rest of my life.” – Mats Wennerholm (Sweden)

“One of the greatest and most rewarding experiences of my life.” – Karl Siebart (Australia)

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“It is an experience of a lifetime – life changing – shifts perspectives. Got to know myself a lot better and got to spend four months with some truly marvellous individuals in a magical yet confounding place My advice is just do it. Its hard and tough and brutal at times but so, so worth it.” – Veronica Ruddenklau (New Zealand)

“The 4 months immersed in our tight knit “society” of staff and riders against the backdrop of beautiful, diverse and complicated Africa was the experience of a lifetime.” – Gerry van der Weyden (Canada)

Sectionals

“So fabulous. One section is way too short. A very tight well organized supportive organization.” – Jackie Silverberg (Canada)

“Ride, eat, sleep, repeat.” – Bob Kieckhefer (USA)

“Great people, great organization and a fantastic experience.” – Phil Miles (UK)

“I had an amazing time on this tour. From challenging myself to go distances I’d never even considered going, to becoming friends with people with whom I would have otherwise never spent time; from seeing places I’d only dreamed of seeing up close and personal, to sharing the road with animals I thought I’d only ever see in zoos; this was incredible. The staff did an excellent job of keeping us all safe, well fed and well informed – I’m not sure they ever slept, but they somehow kept going and did so with positive attitudes.” – Melissa Casey (USA)

“I felt like my comfort zone had been destroyed in a large explosion and fire, with the ashes scattered on the sand. That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back.” – Jonas Barter ( Canada)

 

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When we announced the 2020 Trans-Europa, it included a new route in Spain and a new finishing point at the rock of Gibraltar, making the Trans-Europa a truly cross-continental tour and the longest supported cycling trip in Europe. This just might be the year for you to jump on board.

If you can’t rustle up the three months to cycle it all, here are 5 reasons to consider joining the newest and final section –  El Toro.

1. Barcelona

Barcelona makes a great starting point for this amazing new section – beaches, seafood, bars, culture and street life await you. The art of Antoni Gaudi dominates the city and its proud people are more likely to tell you they are Catalonian than Spanish.

“Barcelona is an enchanting seaside city with boundless culture, fabled architecture and a world-class drinking and dining scene.” – Lonely Planet

On my first visit, I was amazed with how walkable the city is and how much it has to offer – great beaches right in the city and amazing museums like the Museo Picasso.

>> Related: 36 Hours in Barcelona: A Cyclist’s Guide

2. Valencia, the Homeland of Paella

My time in Spain felt like an unending, but very enjoyable, search for the perfect paella, the yummy saffron and rice-based dish that you will find across Spain.

The region around Valencia is known for growing fruits and vegetables. Of course, oranges are grown here, but did you know Valencia is also “Paella’s homeland” according to Lonely Planet. I never had the chance to visit Valencia, but it’s a stop on the new and improved Trans-Europa.

3. Alhambra and Moorish History

Most of the Iberian Peninsula, which makes up modern day Spain and Portugal, was ruled by the Moors from 711 until 1492 when the Moorish Kingdom of Granada surrendered to the Christian armies of Spain. The Alhambra became a Royal Palace and remains one of the most popular attractions in Spain.

4. Bull Fighting (and more) in and Around Ronda

Some consider Ronda to be the birthplace of bull fighting. Home to the oldest bullring in Spain, the city was also a destination for some famous writers. Ernest Hemingway visited often and Orson Welles’ ashes are buried there. If bull fighting isn’t your thing, than you can spend some time in El Torcal de Antequera – a nature reserve known for its unusual landforms. According to Wikipedia, it is regarded as one of the most impressive karst landscapes in Europe.

5. Nothing Like Shoulder Season in Europe

Cities like Tarragona, Valencia and Granada are all very, very busy during the summer months. On the Trans-Europa, you’ll feel travel-savvy visiting in late September, with its cooler temperatures and uncrowded beaches.

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“An incredible experience: challenging riding, fascinating cultures, tough conditions, brutal heat and humidity, and great company! I’m a fairly intrepid traveller, but I would never have tackled West Africa on my own, and the staff and fellow riders made it so enjoyable.” – Joseph Lee (Canada)

“I loved this tour very, very much. I was the oldest woman of the group as well as the weakest cyclist – I was aware of this before I left and it made me somewhat uneasy. But I never once got the feeling that I was a burden to the staff.” – Huberte Langteine (Canada)

“Phenomenal trip, the memories will last a lifetime. There were some tough moments but most days it felt like a real privilege to be there on my bike.” – Kevin McAleer (Canada)

“Experiencing the countryside and culture of West Africa was everything I’d hoped it would be, and the Tour gave us the freedom to do so in our own way, while providing excellent support and logistics. Most of all, being part of an extraordinary group of people facing extraordinary challenges was an experience that we have too rarely in life. Very glad I did this ride.” – Mateo Burtch (USA)

“Far out!” – Bob Whitehead (Hong Kong)

“It’s an amazing adventure, from the changing landscapes to the variety of cultures and wildly varied road conditions. The staff are great and camaraderie of riders keep everything interesting. The days are challenging enough that you always feel like you’ve earned the experiences.” – Dan Johnson (USA)

“Overall a great experience made possible by the hard work and dedication of a fantastic crew, and an amazing group of riders.” – Steve Winter (UK)

“Challenging and rewarding. Great support by all staff.” – Joost Kramer (Netherlands)

“Incredibly well organized by a hard working team, all I had to do was wake up and cycle.” – Craig George (Australia)

“An incredible experience that I am still trying to describe. I look at the photos and I am in awe of what we have experienced.” – David Jones (Canada)

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It is my next to last day in Madagascar and the Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour has come to an end. I am still staying at the hotel next to where the tour ended, a small establishment with six or seven rooms overlooking the beach. It is an idyllic simple place, run by a charming Malagasy woman whose father was Vietnamese and who speaks a dozen or so languages. She has worked and travelled the world and now runs her own little place which includes a day care for her employee’s children.

In the morning, I open the door of my room and find the table on the porch overlooking the beach is already set up for breakfast. A little green gecko is checking the butter and the jam and then stands still beside the warm container of tea as if to warm up before exploring the rest of the table. Peaceful waves rhythmically flow and ebb over the golden sand.

Many of the riders on our tours, in particular the challenging expeditions where we are all often beyond our comfort zones, have mentioned that TDA prepares them well for their tours, but that they feel lost once they return home after the tour. After cycling over two thousand kilometres from south to north in Madagascar, I feel the same way. I have been exposed to so many new sights, sounds and ideas that they are rushing around in my head like thousands of loose electrons bumping into each other.

The way I deal with the issue of being a bit overwhelmed is to try to find a quiet corner somewhere and just allow my system to adjust and give my subconscious mind the time to rest and do its work. I find that a period of two or three days usually allows me to return to my regular life at home with little or no disruption.

The way I deal with the issue of being a bit overwhelmed is to try to find a quiet corner somewhere and just allow my system to adjust and give my subconscious mind the time to rest and do its work. Walking the streets of cities for hours on end will have the same effect. I find that a period of two or three days usually allows me to return to my regular life at home with little or no disruption.

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Yesterday, as part of this simple routine, Ruth and I went into Hell-Ville, the largest town on Nosy Be. There was not much to do and see in the town in spite of its portentous name but a half hour walk outside of the city limits there was a place we had decided to visit.

It is there, around the year 1800, that a tree, now considered sacred, was planted by Indian traders. Though our expectations were low, once we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to find a colossal ‘ficus religiosa‘, also known as a Banyan tree. Unfortunately, I do not travel with a drone so I can’t really show you how impressive the tree actually is. Think of an area of a football field taken over by one tree.

There are other sacred trees on the island. As part of the Sakalava culture, one of the main Malagasy tribes, these locales are places where communication between heaven and earth takes place. It is in spots like these where the spirits of the elders (Razana) reside.

Madagascar has plenty of its own amazing trees and some have been designated as sacred places, but this one unique tree is an import. However, it was designated sacred by Queen Sakalava Tsiomeko because it was here that she was made the queen of the island. Banyan trees are also venerated by Hindus and Buddhists and it was under the Bodhi tree where the one called Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, attained enlightenment.

Prayer flags, Bodhi tree, Lumbini, Nepal

Seeking some enlightenment of my own, it did not take much time for me to realize that in just six weeks I would be embarking on another challenging bike tour, the Trans Himalaya Cycling Tour, from Kashmir to Kathmandu. One of the places we will have a rest day is Lumbini in Nepal, the birth place of the Buddha. Frankly, I have no idea what all of this means except that when I am there, I will likely be thinking of a tree in Madagascar and pondering my own future spiritual path. Stay tuned…

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“I loved the rolling hills, the UK countryside, Yorkshire and York. Everyday was an adventure, new place to explore with newly made friends. Sightseeing by bike brings out the friendliest locals- all interested in where I have been, what have I seen and what I should see. The camaraderie on such a tour is one of a kind, bringing together people from around the world with one common goal, to cycle the UK and Europe. Stopping in local pubs, cafes and mini marts made the days interesting and refreshing. At the end, I did not want to quit, just wanted to keep riding and exploring!” – Rhonda Aliah (USA)

“The Pub Ride simplifies life: Bike + Beer + Bed = Happiness! Great riding, excellent beers, and a nice hotel to call home for the night. Perfect.” – Joseph Lee (Canada)

“Great ride the name says it all and enjoying it with good friends from previous rides even better. We stayed in some great places drank some great beer.” – Kaye Hudson (New Zealand)

“The Pub Ride was a wonderful tour of the British Isles and Northern Europe. It managed to hit almost all of the highlights in just 5 weeks of cycling. The route through Scotland and England was especially memorable with plenty of challenges.” – Dan Frye (USA)

“Great trip; wonderful fellow riders, loved the pubs. The support from TDA staff is phenomenal. I enjoyed it very much and will definitely do another TDA tour.” – Karen Mazurek (Canada)

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“This is a fabulous introduction to long distance cycling tours. Wonderful country roads, and scenery to the excitement of big city attractions. This trip has it all. And no camping, just nice hotels!” – Ross Thomson (Canada)

“The staff were amazing. They made our ride with detailed route instructions and flagging, fabulous food, warm & friendly can-do attitudes.” – Barbara Smit (USA)

“The Pub Ride didn’t disappoint, the countries, the cities, towns and countryside were all amazing, with everything happening and changing at a quick pace. I can recommend the Pub Ride for anyone a little daunted and hesitant to sign up for their first tour with TDA Global Cycling. You’ll soon be in the thick of it, enjoying it all, and talking with others about your next longer trip.” – Brett Lanham (Australia)

“In French I will say : extraordinaire, étonnant, surprenant et merveilleux!” – Monique Grenon (Canada)

“Great experience and good group of cyclists. Lot of fun on and off the road. Great route and a perfect crew to travel with. Thanks TDA.” – Peter Ellis (Canada)

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“It is mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging. But you get to see more of each country than the average tourist.” – Rebecca Nation (USA)

“This adventure was the most remarkable experience of my life.” – Tom Bell (Canada)

“Support was excellent. Crew was outstanding. They worked incredibly long hard hours and never displayed anything but good humour and friendly attitudes to the riders. The dinners were terrific- both nutritious and tasty. The conception was brilliant and delivery nonpareil.” – Jim Boggeman (USA)

“This is a tour where you are going to experience every conceivable bike riding condition. Smooth paved roads, check. River bed like pounding, check. Fifteen kilometre climbs in assorted gravel and paved conditions, check. Fifteen kilometres descents in assorted gravel and paved conditions, check. Constantly rolling terrain with fifteen percent plus grades, check. Front, side and back winds from 5 to 70 plus k, check. Sunshine and rain, check. Riding alone, check. Riding in a group, check. New friends and learning about different countries, cultures and thoughts, absolutely checked.” – Dan Squires (USA)

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“This tour was as advertised. Challenging, both mentally and physically.” – Barb Sweeney (Canada)

“A great experience and I’m glad I did it!” – Nola Reynolds (Canada)

“The tour was a remarkable experience. With the logistical support of TdA, and the personal support of the crew and other riders, I was able to complete a bike ride that I had dreamed of for years. I am exceptionally grateful.” – Kent Kirshenbaum (USA)

“I would describe this trip as totally awesome on so many levels…Mind you this was the toughest tour I have ever been on, both physically and mentally. And now that I’m home I wouldn’t trade one minute of it. Pretty sure that I will be cherishing these moments for quite some time.” – Lloyd Strong (Canada)

“I was worried about joining the tour midway and for just 1 section, but the staff and other riders welcomed me and included me as if I had been there the entire time. It was difficult to leave after my section. The food was great and the accommodations were as advertised. It was great to ride at my own pace- hard if I wanted a good workout and more leisurely when I wanted to see the area more- very flexible. Tour leaders provided info for area sites etc. It was a great trip; I can’t wait to do another section.” – Wayne Brown (USA)

Read what 2015 South American Epics riders had to say about their experience.

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I like seeing wildlife. Over a life of outdoor living and adventures, I have inadvertently come across many potentially dangerous animals. Like the wolf that decided to check me over while I was napping in the forest while taking a break from mountain biking. When I opened my eyes the wolf and I closely looked at each for about thirty seconds and then he decided that I was not that interesting.

On my first visit to Banff National Park in Alberta Canada 45 years ago, I got off the bus in the bus station at 3 AM and figured there was no point in trying to find a place to sleep, especially being rather short on money. So I walked to a nearby city park and crawled into my sleeping bag only to be awakened an hour later by a black bear looking for something to eat. He looked at me for a while as I contemplated how to defend myself. Then the bear decided that nearby garbage can was more interesting than I was. I happily agreed.

A decade or so later, I decided to spend a night in Kalahari National Park in Botswana without a tent, which was against the written warning at the park entrance. I built a small fire and crawled into my sleeping bag only to wake up a little later surrounded by tarantulas, which I gathered were kind of deadly if they happened to bite you.

‘Hey this is my territory, buzz off’

On my first ever safari in Tanzania, after siting in vehicle for a couple of hours, I asked my guide if I could take a pee break. It was the dry season and the grass was a couple of feet high. The guide looked around and said ok. I jumped out of the Land Rover and, out of politeness to others in the vehicle, I walked a few metres into the grass and suddenly noticed right in front of me, at a distance of maybe three or four metres, a beautiful lion lifting its head and looking at me with bored interest, likely saying ‘Hey this is my territory, buzz off’. Being very polite, I started moving back very, very slowly.

My motto at all times is that catching a glimpse of other forms of life is wonderful. I try not to bother them and in return I hope that they do not bother me – a sort of mutual respect. Over all, with one unfortunate exception in India with an irate elephant, this philosophy has worked – until last week. In a previous blog, Wonders of the Magical Madagascar Cycling Tour, I wrote about all kinds of wonderful flora and fauna on this island. On one of the nature walks I took here, the guide pointed out, believe it or not, a large ant nest like sack the size of a very elongated large watermelon, suspended from a tree. This type of tree nest apparently is an adaptation by the ants to avoid having their nest being swept away during flooding.

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A couple of days ago as I was cycling and the day grew hotter, I needed to relieve myself, to find some privacy and a spot to squat and do my thing. The area we were cycling in had been pretty much deforested but in the distance I saw a tree not very far from the road. It looked secluded enough and shaded enough that I could squat for hours (after all I am of a certain age) without being stared at from vehicles, passers by and fellow cyclists, both local and my co-travellers. I dismounted, walked to the tree, found a nice spot, dug a little hole and did my thing.

After I was done, I got up, my head touched a tree branch and the next thing I knew was that I was being stung all over my head, my back and my arms. The pain was almost paralyzing. As you might expect, my reactions were swift, my arms moving in all directions like the blades of a high tech drone. Unfortunately, unlike a drone, with my pants around my ankles and acutely aware that I did not want to step into the little pile I just created on the ground, I was not able to lift off. I will leave the rest to your imagination.

For the sake of the well being of other innocent travellers in this part of the world, especially for cyclists on long travel days, when you need to do what you need to do, check to see what is above your head. Those large Madagascar ants have one hell of a sting!

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The day started like many others on the Magical Madagascar cycling tour. Make a right turn from camp, enjoy a nice downhill for a few minutes and then transition into a climb with a rather steep gradient. My body was rested, the temperature cool enough and I was making my way up the hill when about 25 m ahead of me I saw a man with a couple of zebu pulling a loaded carriage onto the road. As soon as the carriage was on the road one of the zebu slipped and fell. In the process the falling zebu somehow managed to free itself from the harness and the other zebu, the cart started rolling and the man struggled to stop the carriage from running away due to the steep road and gravity. The spectacle was mesmerizing until I realized that the cart with the stunned zebu was heading my way and getting uncomfortably close. Fortunately, somehow or other, the carriage driver and the remaining zebu managed to stop the potential runaway wagon.

Their world was not so different from those in the small towns I cycled past here in Madagascar.

The experience of almost being hit by the wagon brought up a story that is part of my life. You see, over a hundred years ago my grandfather was killed by a couple of runaway horses that were pulling him in a carriage to market. According to my father, who was only ten years old at the time, someone scared the horses, who took off. My grandfather fell and his leg caught in the axle. His head hit the ground repeatedly.

One of the most unique aspects of Madagascar is the reverence the people have for their ancestors and the power they carry. “The razana (best defined as “ancestors”) are the sources from which the life force flows and the creators of Malagasy customs and ways of life. The living are merely temporary extensions of the dead. Great hardship or trouble can result if the dead are offended or neglected.” – Wildmadagascar.org. The zebu cart incident started my own ‘razana‘ while cycling. I started thinking about my father, his life and his world. My father was born in a village in eastern Slovakia in 1910 and grew up in a world not very different from the world I was now cycling through. His family was poor and struggled to have enough food. At the same time my father would tell me they were not as poor as many others because they had a small shop, one I imagine not so different from the hundreds of shops I have seen here cycling through one village after another.

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As I grew older and the world around us changed, my father would tell me about the cold nights he spent sitting huddled on the oxen-pulled carriage heading to the big town for market day. He would tell me how he dreamed about a little heated hut on wheels so he would not be so cold, maybe already hearing about, or even having seen an automobile. Interestingly, my other grandparents lived in another town and also had a small shop from which they tried to support their eight kids, one of whom was my mother. Their world was not so different from those in the small towns I cycled past here in Madagascar. It was a world of daily struggle, of trying to put enough food on the table and experiencing life’s simple joys, especially on religious holidays.

I spent a large chunk of my life trying to bring a better life to thousands of poor farmers and villagers in Africa. In fact, TDA Global Cycling is a result of trying to bring ecological tourism to the area and thus contribute to the economy of Africa. Nowadays, when I think of these poor, struggling masses, with the challenges they are facing, I often get a hopeless feeling. Yet today, thinking of my grandparent’s world and how much things have changed in just a hundred years in that part of the world, I think that perhaps, just perhaps, in another hundred years there may not be thousands and thousands of hungry, barefoot children. Hopefully their world will be full of potential and possibilities.

I never met my grandparents nor for that matter my uncles and aunts. Tragically, they were killed in that horrendous cataclysm of the 1940s, which changed the world forever. I just hope that in order for a better world to come to the villages I am cycling through, the change will be gradual and no major catastrophe will come their way.

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