TDA March Book Review
Rustle up two determined friends, strap on your headlamps, and wander bravely into the dark Sudanese desert to the call of jackal before being instantly dunked into an inky insidious blackness, with only 3 tiny light beams as guides.
This is exactly what Gerald Coniel and two other desperados did one night in search of a drink of Fanta. Cycling for 100’s of kilometres through the blistering hot desert will do that to you. In 2010 Coniel cycled the nearly 12 000km from Cairo to Cape Town along with a group of adventurers from around the world. He faithfully documented the journey in his quest to cycle EFI – Every Fucking Inch of the way, but it’s clear that he got a lot more than he bargained for. Coniel is a serious cyclist on a mission and he explicitly describes his cycling quest, but he also often stops to immerse himself in the local culture or to go on curious side adventures, which makes this book especially fun and interesting to read. The writing style is conversational and it’s hard to put down once you get going. I feverishly finished it in one insomniac-filled night.
Having been on the Tour d’Afrique travelling circus for maverick cyclists and other serial adventurers, I can attest that Coniel’s book zapped me right back into the heart of Africa: the smell of a Tanzanian rainstorm brewing, the endless elephant dung riddled roads of Botswana; the trippy beauty of Malawi and the thrill of crossing yet another border into the unknown.
From the chaos of Egypt, through the draining heat of Sudan, getting pounded on the Kenyan volcanic rock roads and all way down to the finish in Cape Town, Coniel doesn’t spare any bit of gruesome detail of this epic journey. Feeding their shrinking bodies became a mammoth daily task together with battling dehydration, dodging donkeys, cars, camels and elephants. Battling loose sand, corrugated roads – and no roads – became their daily diet. Coniel explains that Africa made them into criminals as they went on a mission to buy an illegal tin of beer in Khartoum. And then when it gets to the breaking point, the unexpected kindness of strangers, sharing their meals and inviting them into their homes amazes them.
Coniel was also one of the now famous, or infamous, depending on whom you speak to, Locker 9 Business Class gang; a small group of cyclists that after months of suffering sometimes took taxis from dirt camps in the blazing sun to the nearest luxury hotel desperate for a hot shower and clean bed. They loved their wine, caviar, cigars and fine whiskies. Sometimes they phoned ahead to book the best rooms in advance which must have caused a certain level of unhappiness. I did not have a Locker 9 experience. For me it was all dirt camps, digging a toilet with a shovel, no washing water for days in a row and pitching my tent every night. Whichever way you choose to go about it – it is one of those experiences of a lifetime that will forever be etched into your psyche.
Coniel’s book is a reminder that the ability to roll with the punches, an excellent sense of humour, and an endless curiosity, are as important as being able to cycle for four months in order to make the most of this incredible adventure. The suffering and hardship is soon replaced by nostalgia and an intense longing to just turn your bike around and head back up into Africa.
Gerald Coniel’s book can be ordered online: www.theslowwaydown.com
– Astrid Stark