In 2003, for the first time ever, a group of 31 intrepid cyclists decided to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town calling the adventure Tour d’Afrique. The iconic tour takes four months and is now on the bucket list for many aspiring cyclists and adventurers. However, not everyone has the time to cycle four months. If that is your case, cycling the final month from Victoria Falls to Cape Town is a great alternative. Here are 8 reasons to make this your next cycle challenge.
1. The Smoke that Thunders
The Tour d’Afrique starts at the Pyramids of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Old World. Not to be outdone, the Vic Falls to Cape Town sections start at one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the majestic Victoria Falls. Or as the locals call it, Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders. The Falls are not only majestic, but the area itself also hosts a variety of activities that will satisfy any adventurer. These activities range from bungee jumping over the Zambezi River, cruises, white water rafting and kayaking, to helicopter or ultralight flights over the falls. There is a reason Vic Falls has been called the Endorphin Capital of Africa.
2. Elephant Highway
There are many places you can see elephants, from zoos to national parks. But there is no other route in the world where you will come across elephant droppings as you pedal along the road. These will become more and more frequent, and you better be on the look out, as the elephants can show up at any time, anywhere. And when you do see them, hopefully keeping a safe distance, you can ponder if there is a more magnificent experience to be had from the saddle of your bike.
The Bushman of the Kalahari and the pastoralist Hottentots, known collectively as the Khoisan, were the original inhabitants of what is now called Southern Africa. It was not until the mid 14th or 15th centuries that the spreading Bantu agriculturalist group that originate in West Africa displaced them. Agriculture was not suitable for the Kalahari Desert, and that is where the remnants of the Bushman survived until the 21st century.
The route from Vic Falls to Cape Town will take you through the heart of the Kalahari and you can find out yourself what inspired the bushman to think that the “Gods Must be Crazy“. Gods by the way refers to white people.
4. The Dunes of Namibia
Speaking of natural wonders, the dunes of Namibia did not make it to the list of Natural Wonders, but they are the largest, the most beautiful and the oldest sand dunes in the world. Just check out what David Attenborough had to say about them:
Great natural wonders - Namib Desert, Africa - David Attenborough - BBC - YouTube
The dunes are five million years old, and their red hue is caused by iron oxide content. Combined with the area that surrounds them, the dunes of Sossusvlei attract visitors from around the world. Imagine yourself climbing the several hundred meter tall dunes at sunrise or sunset and then sliding or rolling down. It feels almost as good as cycling there.
5. Amazing range of wildlife and nature Viewing
Cycling the Tour d’Afrique route from Vic Falls to Cape Town allows you to choose from several unique game viewing experiences. There are many wild animals to be seen from the saddle of your bike such as elephants, and a variety of antelopes such as the gemsbock, springbok, and did-dik. You could have the matchless experience of an ostrich racing beside you. There are also other unique opportunities such as taking a boat safari in Chobe National Park while enjoying a drink or a canoe safari in Okavango Delta. There are scenic helicopter flights over the delta and even walking safaris. And if your appetite is still not satisfied and your finances allow, you can have another extraordinary viewing experience on a balloon safaris in the Namib Desert.
6. Fish River Canyon
After a couple more days cycling south of the dunes you will arrive at the largest canyon in Africa and the most popular site in Namibia: the Fish River Canyon. The canyon is 160 km long, 27 km wide, and reaches a depth of 550 meters. For cyclists who are also hikers, sitting on top of the gorge can cause great stress due to a strong desire to abandon the bicycle tour and go for a five day hike at the bottom of the canyon.
The natural wonders continue. From Fish River Canyon the cyclists enter Namaqualand which is divided into Little and Great Namaqualand. Namaqualand nowadays is popular with local and international tourists particularly during the flower season when the area explodes with wild flowers.
8. Cycling into Cape Town
There are very few cities that have the attractions of Cape Town. Chief among them is the imposing Table Mountain which, on a clear day, one can see from miles away. Cape Town has wonderful nature, beaches, cuisine, the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, the great rejuvenated waterfront, and on and on. All of this is available to the cyclists completing the route from Victoria Falls with Table Mountain whispering welcome. Apparently, however, the welcome is heard only by those who have cycled from afar.
Somehow time has flown by and we’re halfway through this crazy adventure they call the Tour of Freaks, I mean the Tour d’Afrique. Crossing the equator last week in Nanyuki, Kenya made for some interesting conversation at camp. With the group realising they were approaching the halfway point of the tour (Arusha, Tanzania) they began reflecting on the tour so far and discussing what they’d change if they started again tomorrow.
Here are a few of our favourite recommendations from that night:
Ashley: Buy the biggest blow up mattress you can.
It’s a four-month adventure, don’t skimp on comfort. Buying a mattress because it’s on a ‘$50 off’ sale may sound like a good deal, but if it doesn’t make for a comfortable bed each night you’ll be regretting it quite quickly. At the same time don’t go too extreme, a nice mattress should also be durable, quick to setup and pack up small.
Remember you have limited space, so buy a great sleeping mattress… just make sure its small.
Sam: bring less shit.
You probably don’t need everything you think you do. ‘Dirty’ and ‘clean’ take on a new meaning here. If it’s not visibly covered in dirt or grease from your chain you’ll likely wear it again. So how much should you bring?
Fred suggests: Whatever you packed, get rid of everything but 2 shorts, 2 shirts and 2 pants.
Lenore: Save your gastro for a rest day.
Gastro isn’t fun, and on the Tour d’Afrique you’re pretty likely to get sick. Prepare for it. Always have oral rehydration salts & wash your hands, a lot. Also, if possible, save it for rest day. It’s a lot easier to spend a day on the toilet when there is a toilet.
On a serious note, always talk to our tour medic as soon as you are feeling unwell. The sooner you start fighting the illness, the quicker you are likely to get back to 100%.
Phillip: Be prepared to be amazed and challenged every day.
It’s a long tour. That’s the best and worst thing about it. When you’re amazed, you can’t believe you’ve still got months of this ahead, and when you’re challenged, you can’t believe you’ve still got months of this ahead.
Veronica suggests to: make yourself happy at least once a day.
Buy a doughnut at a coke stop. Have a nap at lunch. Drink a beer at camp. Something to make you smile each day, it’s the small things on tour that really count in the end.
Lucy: Bring a spare phone so when yours get nicked you’ve got another one.
We’ve had some phones stolen on the Tour d’Afrique. It’s not an enjoyable experience. While you could bring a second one, another great tip is to always stay alert, which is harder than you think after your fourth day of 130km in a row.
Baldr: Don’t underestimate the fitness required.
The cycling is tough. It’s not just about riding long days, it’s about doing serious millage day after day, for five days in a row before a rest day. That’s a different kind of riding. Try to incorporate this into your pre-tour training and practice the simple things that have big payoffs, like finding your pace and learning to stick to it.
Peter: When you’re on tour, life back home fades away.
In a good and bad way. Life on tour is perhaps the most ‘in the moment’ experience you’ll ever have. Everyday all you’re focused on is the life round you; the Masai you’re cycling past or massive hill in the distance. It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle. But it’s incredibly difficult to convey what that sense of freedom and exploration feels like to your family back home. Setting expectations is key. It’s unlikely you’ll chat every day, but perhaps you can find a schedule that works for you, each rest day for example. If you’re a family member who hasn’t heard from your loved one in a few days, just know they’re likely having the time of their lives enjoying the local food & culture in a way many don’t get to.
The word epic is so overused these days that it has begun to lose its meaning. So what do you do when your company creates a bicycle expedition like no other in the world? A tour that covers 13,405 km (8,330 miles), is almost half a year long (167 days to be exact), and goes through six countries from the top of South America all the way to the bottom?
Well, you can create a video that tries to convey the scope of the tour. Unfortunately, in today’s world, our attention spans are minuscule – a word which just happens to be the antonym of ‘epic’. And so you are left with only about 90 seconds before losing the viewer’s attention – assuming that you don’t have any cats or dogs in the video.
With those instructions, our intrepid office video makers Micah and Shanny came up with this. So, without further ado, I present to you the 2020 South American Epic.
The 2020 South American Epic cycling expedition - YouTube
One last comment – rumour has it that one of the best remedies to a short attention span is to go on a very long bicycle tour!
South American Epic
This challenging expedition offers you the best opportunity to explore the vastness and diversity of South America by bike. In keeping with the TDA...
Corsica isn’t known as one of Europe’s most popular places to cycle, but that is perhaps because people don’t know what they’re missing. So allow me to suggest six excellent reasons to cycle this Mediterranean island. It is officially French, but is closer to Italy than France – and not only in physical distance. It is for this reason – kind of – we included Corsica in the Viva Italia tour.
1. Cycling the Island of Beauty
The Greek called it Kalliste, the most beautiful island. The French call it L’Ile de Beaute. Others have called it Pleasure Island. I would say that if those are not enough of reason to cycle in Corsica, then your imagination likely needs a boost and there is no place better for it than Corsica.
2. Imagination Rules the World
It was a man who was born and grew up in Corsica who said “Imagination rules the world”. He must have had quite an imagination because he tried to rule as much of the world as he could. He even made it to an abandoned Moscow and his starving troops had to unceremoniously try to make it back home. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte and he was born in Ajocio – one place you need to make sure you visit when cycling Corsica.
It has been said that all roads lead to Rome and the Viva Italia cycling tour is simply more proof that this may indeed be the case. Participants will...
3. It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness
There are a lot of hills and mountains in Corsica. A couple of millennia ago, in 41 AD to be precise, a Roman emperor Claudius banished a man called Seneca – a philosopher, stoic, playwright, investment banker, senator and tutor to future emperor Nero – to Corsica. Seneca used this opportunity to study the island, but more importantly to write. His works are being read to this day, and it is he who said “It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness”. Seneca of course knew nothing about bicycles but every Tour de France cyclist can tell you that whoever wants to win Le Tour he better be a good climber. The 2013 Tour de France had 3 stages in Corsica. You too can try to find the road to greatness!
4. Classica Corsica
No, I do not mean an elite men’s UCI road race that was held in 2015 but rather the classic foods that you will eat on the island. Corsica being mountainous with goats and sheep everywhere produces excellent cheeses, most famous of them being brocciu, the ricotta-like cheese. And if you’re going to have excellent local cheeses, then you will of course have excellent local wines. Rosé in particular goes well with another local specialty, Corsican charcuterie, which is made using centuries old methods.
5. Vistas, beaches and aroma
There is a reason why the island is called the Island of Beauty. While there are remarkable views to be had all over the island, the most spectacular are on the west coast called Les Calanches de Piana. One of the most striking – a UNESCO protected rock structure site known as porphyry needles – is called La Tete du Chien (Dog’s Head). Riding here ranks as one of the most stunning coastal bike routes in the world. Another beautiful area is the long peninsula of Cap Corse in the north. And when you need a break from cycling, wining and dining, it is time to choose one of the many beaches along the 1,000km of coastline. And let’s not forget the ‘aroma’. There are not many places in the world where two thirds of the area is protected and just about wherever you go or cycle you will smell a scent that emanates from aromatic shrubs that cover the island. It is called Maquis – a mixture of fresh herbs, flowers, and grasses that covers the mountains.
6. Heritage and Culture
Corsica is officially French but you do not want to announce it loudly. The Corsican language is more a dialect of Italian and young Napoleon had this to say about his home: “On Corsica I was given life, and with that life I was also given a fierce love for this my ill-starred homeland and fierce desire for her independence. I too shall one day be a ‘Paoli’.” Pasquale Paoli was a Corsican patriot, statesmen and the first president of a democratic Corsica that existed from 1755 until the French took over in 1768. Napoleon changed his mind and he did not become Paoli, but even today one can see graffiti from FLNC the Front de Liberation Nationale de Corse, a nationalist movement who want independence from France. This proud identity is not the only heritage around. When cycling through villages one can overhear the ethereal harmonics of Corsican musical polyphony, no doubt created by the mixture of influences that had acted on this island from nearby areas of Mediterranean, Africa, Alpine regions, France and Italy.
In conclusion, here are a couple of quotes from Seneca that serve not only as reasons to cycle Corsica, but also as a guide to better living:
“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”
‘It is going to be tough, it’s going to be exciting, but it is also going to be beautiful’ – Ambassador Federico Hoyos
After inquiring with our Operations Manager, our South American Epic tour leader, the Ambassador for Colombia in Canada, and a Colombia based cyclist/filmmaker the answer to the question is an enthusiastic YES!, followed by a more measured but it will be tough. That is about the simplest way to sum up cycling in Colombia. But let me elaborate a bit.
You have likely heard of world class cyclists like Nairo Quintana, and you might have seen a video or read some stories of people cycling through Colombia – either solo or on organized tours (such as our South American Epic) but what is it really like as a cyclist? Is the traffic terrible? Are you going to be kidnapped or robbed by drug cartels or FARC rebels?
I have been fortunate enough to ride my bike in many places. Cycle touring through Romania, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Kyrgyzstan and beyond has taught me that very few places are what you expect them to be. I have travelled to Colombia but never on a bike, so I thought I’d ask around and get some further insight about cycling in Colombia by people who really know. I am sure many of you would love to hear what they have to say about cycling in Colombia.
Colombia is Stable and Secure Says Ambassador Federico Hoyos
Through the friendly Colombia Tourism team at ProColombia here in Canada I was able to pose a few questions to the Colombian Ambassador to Canada, the Honourable Federico Hoyos. He says that “21st century Colombia is a young and vibrant country.” More in his words…
Tourism in Colombia is steadily increasing year after year, due to a change of image and outside perception of our country. Colombia is an innovative and modern place…added to the fact of stability and security.
Colombia is very well-known for having some of the best cyclists in the world like Rigoberto Urán, Cochise Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana! Due to our beautiful topography, to our mountains, to our very steep slopes, Colombia is a great country for cyclists worldwide. It is going to be tough, it’s going to be exciting, but it is also going to be beautiful because you’re going to see everything: you can see the mountains,the beaches… deserts… in one single country.
Besides, you will sense the warmth of our people who will welcome you with open arms, and you will also get a taste of our food along our roads, which changes from one region to another. And we have great weather too, all year long. It is nice, warm and stable, which of course also contributes to making Colombia a great cycling destination.
Thank you to Mr. Hoyos for taking time out of what is surely a busy schedule to help us with this article.
Colombia is Full of Cycling Enthusiasts says Miles MacDonald
In Colombia, drivers are both used to cyclists, and also tend to go out of their way to give cyclists their deserved space on the road, and that is a great advantage for safe cycling.
From TDA’s experience bringing groups of cyclists to Colombia, and information from local Colombian sources, the security situation on the ground is stable in the vast majority of regions of the country. So it’s good to do some research when planning a route in Colombia. It’s also good to stick to a few good practices that are best followed anywhere in the world.
Miles’ Tips for Cyclists on Staying Safe in Colombia
Keep your cycling to daylight hours
Ideally cycle with a friend
Know where you are going, and read up on the area and roads you’ll be cycling and place where you’ll be sleeping.
Be wary of crimes of opportunity (such as bike theft from leaving your bike unattended or unlocked)
Be defensive minded towards traffic
Be cautious around dogs along the road
If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts
You Have to Surrender Yourself to Colombia Says Gregg Bleakney
Gregg cycled the Americas (North and South!) in 2006 and planted roots in Colombia where he runs his film production company, WhereNext. As he says “Colombia is the holy grail of both storytelling and travel.” His most recent project is The Birders – in search of rare endemic birds of Colombia. He also created this video for us: Why cycle South America – all shot in Colombia.
Just over a decade ago, most of Colombia’s spectacular landscapes were completely off limits… and unthinkable on a bicycle
Just over a decade ago, most of Colombia’s spectacular landscapes were completely off limits to road tripping in a car, and unthinkable on a bicycle. It’s so great to see the guys in our office, most of whom are cyclists, planning and plotting multi-day routes during their lunch break. Most of the time they are traveling on roads that have never been mapped on Strava. It’s truly a period of discovery.
Nothing in Colombia is easy. It’s a place where joy on two wheels is commonplace–but you’ve got to work for it. The more you surrender yourself to Colombia, the more the country will tow you in its wake of joy. My advice is to be like my adopted Colombian street dog, sniff around, talk to strangers, get carnal. Use your time in Colombia to indulge your curiosity.
Cristiano Shares Some Words of Caution About This Friendly Nation
Having been the tour leader for our various tours in South America over the last decade and having cycled throughout South America himself, who better to finish this off than someone with on-the-ground experience.
More and more international cyclists have been visiting Colombia, whether touring, racing or just attracted by world famous climbs like Paso Letras, which we take on the [South American Epic]
As long as you know where you are going [and avoid known narco guerilla areas] I consider it pretty safe. Having said that, in 2022 there are presidential elections and things could eventually take some kind of a U-turn, [or] improve even more. In my opinion, if you want to cycle in Colombia, now is a great time to do so.
There was a slogan from the government a few years ago that said: ‘Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay’… the main risk of cycling in Colombia is the same as cycling on any shared road anywhere in the world, motorized vehicles. Also, the ups and downs can be really long and really steep, so it is easy to gain a lot of speed on the downhills.
There is no other country in Latin America with anywhere near the amount of cyclists as in Colombia. I’m not talking only commuters and rural cyclists, I’m talking also about athletes. So in general drivers know how to behave when there are cyclists on the road, when they are not cyclists themselves.
People are extremely friendly! I do not remember one aggressive encounter there ever! People are always smiling. If travelling alone, you will always be invited into people’s houses etc.
So in conclusion, yes it is safe. And yes, there is many a hill to climb in Colombia. That is the one point everyone – including the Ambassador – all agreed on, so make sure you do some training.
When we haven’t been somewhere ourselves, we have no choice but to base our impressions of a place on a small fraction of reality, and a large amount of assumption. So check yourself and make sure it’s real risk and not just fear holding you back. This is certainly not the first time we’ve written on these topics of perception and risk.
That’s not to say there aren’t risks – there are. You need to educate yourself, and be cautious and clear eyed about any travel to a new place where cultures and customs are different than what you are used to. Use some of Miles’ tips above and once you have done that, take it all in. Pedal hard. Breathe deeply as you experience all that Colombia has to offer.
Luckily, after we leave the crowded big cities of the tour behind, our route mainly goes on smaller country roads.
With the 2019 Hippie Trail now complete Gergo reflects on the unique flow of Indian traffic and how riders learned to adapt their western thinking
When traveling in India, it soon becomes obvious: the Indian idea of how to use the roads, operate traffic, and transportation in general is fundamentally different than almost all other parts of the world. It is unique to say the least.
Just take a look at the speed: the traffic is slow. Really slow. Even on a freeway road layout with split lanes, toll gates, multiple lanes, and paved shoulders, vehicles travel at moderate speeds. 50-55 km/h is the usual, and if someone is in a hurry, maybe speeding at just 70 km/h. To rush doesn’t make any sense here, because they all share the same road. And when I say all, I really mean ALL: tuk-tuks, cows, mopeds (with the entire family and a friend or two sitting on them), cars, stray dogs, bicycles, tractors with trailers, and hand painted, overloaded trucks are all sharing the same space.
Using the inner or outer lane doesn’t determine the vehicles’ average speed. Neither does the direction of travel BTW. Why bother crossing the entire road, all six lanes just to get to the “right” side? My guess is, choosing a lane to drive on may be based on steadiness or more likely future turning plans. A dump truck driving steady in the inner lane will be pretty unlikely to leave it for the sake of faster drivers behind. If somebody wants to go faster, they will find their path anyways.
It is better to be prepared, eyes open, fully focused, and forget about daydreaming while in the saddle or behind the wheel. Watch what is happening in front of you (many vehicles simply don’t even have rear view mirrors), and keep listening to the honks. Yes, you heard me, all vehicles using their horn to tell the others: I am coming. Every single driver keeps a finger or a hand on their horn, and they use it. The most common hand painted requests on the back of the tuk-tuks, trucks and buses are: “Honk please!” or “Blow horn!” So they do. Cyclists may use their bells, or a bike horn with more or less success, or just shout out loud.
Than there is the “Goods carrier” written on the obviously oversized, overloaded dump trucks. But good to know it is carrying goods. Overloading is pretty common. The insanely tall, or ridiculously wide cargo, when the truck sometimes is not even visible underneath; that is all part of the Indian street scene. It is sugar-cane season. Let’s see who can pile more of it on a single truck!
The motorbikes here are used not only to take the rider and passenger from A to B, but also his entire family. They are also great to carry oversized items – you just need somebody behind to hold the cargo for you. It can be a 42″ flat panel TV, or a 3 m long roll of a carpet. No problem!
Riding a bike in India sometimes feels like a video game. You’re collecting points while trying not to confuse local drivers with your “western” behaviour. For them there is no such thing as a blind curve, or oncoming traffic that may affect their decision to start an overtaking maneuver. They will start it regardless. This is how it works: Do your half move, and we will all fit! This means every driver will make a slight turn on the wheel just before you would meet, but it is also expected on your side. If all happens in sync, traffic flows. Indians are great at it. For a foreigner it takes a little bit of practice to deal with, but daily riding here leads to mastery.
Luckily, after we leave the crowded big cities of the tour behind, our route mainly goes on smaller country roads where we are a little bit further away from the chaos and the honks, and we can instead simply listen to the birds singing along the way.
"Turn on, tune in, Drop out" It was 1967 - the Summer of Love - and Timothy Leary had this advice for his young followers at the Human Be-In taking...
One of the benefits of having a close encounter with an elephant is that twice a day I have to lie down on the floor to do some stretching and relaxation exercises. Without doing these, I begin to feel discomfort that quickly turns into aches and progressively to pain. So when I start the exercises, I often listen to a radio show that I have been following for decades called Ideas on CBC.
Recently, I tuned to a one hour documentary called “Wrestling with the Stoics: Tips from a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu philosopher”. So many people think that, cycling at my age, I must be some kind of stoic. I, however, have very little idea of what the Stoic philosophy is all about, so naturally I decided to listen to the program. The philosopher turned out to be a Canadian PhD philosophy student named Michael Tremblay who is also a world class jiu-jitsu competitor. He has chosen an ancient Greek Stoic philosopher by the name of Epictetus to be his coach or at least his teacher. According to Tremblay, Epictetus (who was born a slave) “says explicitly that philosophy is like wrestling. The wrestler has to use their tools to transform themselves. What you do is get these weights and lift them and exert effort. And that transforms your body and that makes you a better wrestler.”
As a master (senior) competitive rower, Prof. Irvine says that there are two things in competitive rowing which act as kind of an extension of his Stoic practice.
The first is voluntary discomfort, which “is when you go out of your way to do something that you know is going to make you uncomfortable. And why do that, sounds crazy but by doing that you expand your comfort zone and this means that you will on average be more comfortable than are those people who have a very narrow comfort zone.”
The second is what he calls Lazy Bill, who “is always trying to seduce me when I’m doing sprints, he reminds me that all I have to do is stop rowing and I’ll feel so much better….[it] may look to a casual observer like I’m trying to defeat the other rowers but that’s a mistake because they are in fact my teammates in the contest that really counts and that is my battle against Lazy Bill.”
He goes on to make the excellent point that success in life is about persistance: “All you have to do is the life equivalent of taking one more stroke in rowing and then take another after that.”
Listening to this modern Stoic made me think of a couple of blogs, one I wrote several years ago called Seek Discomfort and another simply called Comfort Zone written by staff member Stephanie Thornton on the 2018 Tour d’Afrique.
If there is one thing that is consistent on our company’s tours, it is that we all sooner or later need to face the limits of our comfort zone. And God knows that there is a Lazy Henry sitting on my shoulders continuously telling me to just give it up. We the riders also know that you cross a continent on a bike one pedal push at a time.
This of course explains why most people I meet tell me that they could never come and join one of our cross-continental tours. I suppose they simply do not want to be happy and satisfied. They are simply not interested in expanding their comfort zone.
Madagascar has been called the 8th continent. What is it about this island that would earn it such a distinction? After all, there are three islands on the planet that are bigger then Madagascar – Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo – but there are no suggestions that any of them should be labelled as a separate continent. So why is this island, separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel, often thought of as the 8th continent? Perhaps it’s the magic. Read on and decide…
The Elephant Bird – Just 1 Egg In My Omelette Please
Once, not that long ago, perhaps just before seafaring Europeans landed on Madagascar, a big bird, called Aepyornis Maximus ( ‘largest tall bird’) still roamed Madagascar. This elephant bird (so-called due to its enormous elephantine legs) was over three metres high and weighed over half a ton. Its existence is so recent that flooding occasionally reveals old egg deposits. One elephant bird egg is equivalent to 150 chicken eggs! Even if you are just a visitor and find yourself in southern Madagascar you may still find the broken shells of this large egg. . This big bird is not the only animal that disappeared fairly recently. Other fossils of creatures that lived until recent times reveal a Pygmy hippocampus the size of a dog and a giant lemur the size of a pony.
Lemurs – Speaking In Tongues
Modern Madagascar is home to 33 different species of the unique trapeze artists called lemurs. According to National Geographic these animals “resemble creatures put together from odds and ends of the animal kingdom: rodent’s teeth, bat’s ears, monkey’s hand and feet and a flowing fox tail”. Some lemur species dance and others sing. According to Wikipedia, all lemurs have two tongues; a main tongue used for eating and a second tongue hidden under the first that is used for cleaning each other. Here are 8 other things you may not have known about lemurs.
Tenrecs & Fossa – Not Your Mother’s Menagerie
Lemurs are not the only unique animals that roam the unusual landscape of Madagascar. The Tenrec (Hemicentetes Semispinous) bristles like a hedgehog. When it rubs its spines together, it makes ultrasonic vibrations that are possibly a means of communication. Another strange creature is the tree lizard. According to wildmadagascar.org, there are more than 210 species of this lizard. One takes on the colour of bark when the need arises and disguises itself as bumps on the tree, making it invisible to predators while another one (Calumma Crypticum) is a hallucinogenic mix of brown, blue, green, orange and white. Additional unique animals include the tortoise (Testudo Radiate) whose painted armour unfortunately often ends up in Malagasy jewelry, the colourful Painted Mantella frog, the Madagascar Long-Eared Owl, a nocturnal primate called Aye-Aye, the striking Madagascar Fogy, the Fossa (a relative of the mongoose), the Comet Moth and many, many others.
Join us for a magical cycling journey through one of the world’s most unique locations – a land of incredible vistas, diverse landscapes – humid...
Baobabs & Orchids – An Enchanted Garden
Madagascar’s flora is as magical as its fauna, starting with six species of baobabs (whereas Africa has only two). How about a tangled forest of thorn-studded Didierea? There are an incredible 900 hundred species of orchids, 85% of them endemic to the island. There are also 200 species of palms and, lest we forget, the Madagascar periwinkle which is a source of the drugs vincristine and vinblastine, used to treat cancer. There are unique plants for each region: humid forests, dry forests and thickets, grasslands, woodlands and bushlands as well as wetlands. There are colourful plants as well as weird plants like the Ravenala tree, the symbol of Madagascar, medicinal plants and poisonous plants.
Tsingy – Not A (Barefoot) Walk In The Park
For the curious, or should I say the adventurous, who feel that the unique flora and fauna is not enough, Madagascar offers the Tsingy – meaning ‘the place when one cannot walk barefoot’. These geological formations, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are made of needle shaped limestone formations which can easily cut through equipment and flesh and thus discourages any human activity. For those who dare, however, the rewards can be magical.
Ylang-Ylang – Just Lie Back And Relax…
Have you ever heard of a magical tree called the ylang-ylang which produces a yellow/green flower? ‘Cananga Odorata’ is valued for the perfume extracted from its flowers and for the essential oils that are used in aromatherapy. According to Wikipedia “the fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli”. Just imagine that smell! One internet site states, “Ylang ylang is known primarily as an aphrodisiac. It is also known for its use in treating sexual dysfunction such as impotence and frigidity. Its aroma is heady, deeply relaxing and euphoric. Ylang ylang is also indicated for use in nervous tension, in the case of frustration, restlessness, anger, anxiety, depression and stress. It is also the essential oil to use in the case of shock and trauma to body or mind”.
Malagasy Culture – Rum, Zebus & The Turning Of The Bones
Perhaps the most magical aspect of Madagascar is its culture. It reflects the origins of the Malagasy people – originally from South East Asia and East Africa but more recently followed by the arrival of Arabs, Indians, British, French and Chinese. Traditional practices such as zebu sacrifices, emphasize the links between the ancestors and the living, as does the famadihana, a ‘turning of the bones’ reburial ceremony. According to Wikipedia “the famadihana is an occasion to celebrate the beloved ancestor’s memory, reunite with family and community, and enjoy a festive atmosphere. Across the island, many Malagasy make offerings out of respect to the ancestors, such as by pouring the first cap-full of each newly opened bottle of rum into the northeastern corner of the room”.
Consider the pizzas, the pasta, the wines, the history, the sights, the sea, the sun, the culture, the markets, the mountains, the valleys, the lakes, the medieval towns and the many, many other hidden gems. What other reasons could a cyclist possibly need to hop on their bicycle and explore this amazing country on the Viva Italia Cycling Tour?
It’s A Circular, One Of A Kind Trip – Like A Pizza Pie
Sure, you could take a one week holiday and cycle a part of Italy. If you are really serious, maybe take two weeks and cycle twice as much. When you cycle the Viva Italia, however, you will complete a full circle and experience not only the south, the north and the middle but Sicily and Sardinia as well. We even threw in a place called Corsica, which is kind of Italian even though one of the most famous Frenchmen, Napoleon, was born there.
Ride In The Footsteps Of A One Of A Kind Cyclist
There are a lot of great cyclists who have won the Giro and La Tour but there is only one, Gino Bartali, who, when interrogated and threatened by the Gestapo and Italian fascists, responded “I do what I feel [in my heart]”. You will cycle in the same area where he smuggled messages and false identity papers while supposedly training for his next bicycle race. When Gino died in 1990 Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, called him “a symbol of the most noble sportsmanship”, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) called for two days of mourning and a minute’s silence was observed before all sporting events.
It has been said that all roads lead to Rome and the Viva Italia cycling tour is simply more proof that this may indeed be the case. Participants will...
La Dolce Vita – The Sweet Life
I have already mentioned La Dolce Vita – the sweet life. If you are my age or older, you probably remember the great filmmaker, Fredrico Fellini, and the classic scene in his movie La Dolce Vita, with Marcelo Mastroianni and Elka Ekberg at the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Of course, you will have an opportunity to visit the Fountain at the beginning and, if you wish, again at the end of the tour but I am actually thinking of the incredible desserts of Italy that you will have an opportunity to taste. The Canadian Food network even came up with a blog called 21 Italian Desserts You Need to Try Before You Die. What better way to do that than after a full day of cycling. On the other hand, if you are brave and decide to take a market food tour on your rest day in Palermo and are still standing by the end of it, you will be the recipient of the Passaporto del Mangione (Glutton’s Passport).
Where Else Would A Bicycle Be The Hero Of A Movie?
There are many movies that have something to do with bicycles or people that ride bikes but there is only one movie that is regarded as a masterpiece of Italian Neorealism and that is Ladri di Biciclette – The Bicycle Thief. If you have not yet seen it, be sure to watch it. It may just convince you to go to Rome. Considered as one of the 10 best movies ever made, the film will give you a sense of post-WWII Italy and recent Italian history. Another great film to see is called Il Postino – The Postman. This is about an exiled Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean poet, and a local postman who learns to write love poetry and is set on an Italian island. The postman, of course, delivers the mail by bicycle.
Fifty Reasons In One Paragraph
When one decides to write why anyone, and not just cyclists, should do a tour like Viva Italia, one does not know where to begin. Therefore I will now pretend to be James Joyce (think Ulysses) and let my stream of consciousness pour out on paper, or at least on my computer screen…Botticelli, have to go to the gallery in Uffizi in Florence, Caravagio, Rafaello, why is Italian government giving away free castles, I want to see them, want to walk where Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo walked, I wonder where Caesar was stabbed, gladiators (Russell Crowe) in the Coliseum facing lions that must have been pretty gory, Al Pacino the future Godfather, I wonder where it was filmed, would be cool to go there, was Nicolo Machiavelli so cold blooded or is the Prince a ‘how to’, I really should have finished that book, maybe I will do it when I am in Florence, the Medici’s one hell of family, they financed Michelangelo I think at least some of his works, what a great book Agony and Ecstasy, boy was I young then when I read it, 14 maybe 15 and still remember it now. I like to have a Chianti now, I wonder which part of Italy they come from, what did they drink in Pompeii, got to see that place, and those penises on the walls, crazy, what the heck were they obsessed with, palaces, gardens, cathedrals, operas, fishing villages, Naples should be cool, heard so much about it from my mom when she visited, when the commies allowed her to go for a visit, I was ten, man these memories sure surface, she brought home some Italian coffee, can’t wait to have real espresso, these Italian they invented it, ah cappuccino at mid morning stops, and than gelato for the afternoon stops with a tiramisu and they tell me cycling in Italy is great, the Italians just love cycling and fashion and their mothers, they sure make some great bikes, though I am not sure about towers, though I gather the Pisa tower is now stabilized. Can’t wait!
What I am really suggesting is that you turn off your cell phone, close your eyes and let your own stream of consciousness take you cycling in Italy. I am certain you will easily come up with 50 of your own reasons why you should open your eyes and sign up for the Viva Italia.
As the Romans used to say, ‘Carpe Diem’ – ‘Seize The Day!’
If I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you on tour, my name is Miles, and I’ve been working at TDA since 2006. I started off working as a Chef on the tours, which was great preparation for becoming the Operations Manager, as multi-tasking is definitely key to both roles. While I still head out on our tours once or twice a year, the majority of my time is spent in front of my computer, overseeing the overall logistics of our tours. Below are some of the more common tasks that I work on.
One of the most common activities is communicating with the tour leaders, both on tour and before and after the tours. We discuss tour morale, upcoming route challenges, administration tasks, security updates, accommodation information, and a broad list of other items. Sometimes it can be discombobulating when there are multiple tours occurring!
To facilitate this communication there are a few key apps on my phone. What’s app is always working on my phone, and there are days where messages are coming to me at all hours of the day and night from 3 or 4 continents. Skype is probably the busiest app overall, allowing me to communicate both with our tour leaders across the globe and with our head office in Toronto (as oddly enough I am based in Victoria, B.C., running a remote office)
Another important part of my day is reviewing staffing applications we receive and interviewing candidates for future staff positions, then trying to piece the staffing puzzle together for each tour. It’s inspiring to read of so many people who have a passion for working in the adventure tourism industry, and as many great staff as we have had, there are also many we haven’t had a chance to work with yet.
There is also time devoted to the overall style and framework of our tours and how we can improve our service. An important part of that involves carefully reviewing the rider questionnaires after each tour. Here we learn what worked well, what could use improvement, and what people’s future interests are as well. These are then discussed by the whole TDA team, and then over time we make adjustments to routes, accommodations, how we present information on our website and in many other areas.
Another group of people I am often communicating with across the globe is our local partners. At TDA we are running tours in over 80 countries, and in many of them we have local partners who are assisting with the fine details; accommodations, sub-contracted vehicles, supplying translators on tour, arranging security and updating us to any local news we need to be aware of. It is truly one of the great pleasures of this work to have had the chance to develop so many professional relationships around the world, and have made some excellent friendships in the process.
While there are many daily tasks that come up, the last one I’ll mention for now is regarding vehicles. Oddly enough as a bicycle tour company, I mostly think about diesel-powered vehicles and not bicycles when it comes to our tours. TDA now has a fleet of vehicles on 4 continents, and we use them across 5 continents. At times there are vehicles transiting across a continent to the starting point of a tour, being shipped across an ocean to return to their base, or working on the tours that are in progress. They can be our best friends and also our worst enemies☺ Luckily there are many mechanically gifted staff at TDA who take care of them and also arrange or assist with all the planning that goes into their readiness and care.