Tuesday, 7 May 2019

RECOVER AND REBUILD

No, don't panic! I have not been involved in another accident. The title of this post refers to some sort of financial recovery and a mission to get back on the road again. I arrived back hare in South Africa in January, just about penniless and without a bike and serviceable touring equipment. Fortunately I was able to stay at my sisters place in Sedgefield, where I have been living a type of beach-bum existence for a couple of months.
I was (and I still am) trying to raise some sponsorship during this time that I have been back in SA, but to no avail. However, I did fortunately get involved with an Expedition Touring company. I have recently returned from my first tour, which was a 2-week tour of the Western Cape in South Africa. I was the vehicle driver, bike guy, and also filled in wherever else I was needed in this hectic environment. The Guests were all Germans (fortunately my 2 colleagues are guides who are fluent in German).
The tour involved hiking, as well as bike rides (Bainskloof pass, Chapmans Peak, etc). The pictures here in this post were taken in the Cederberg, and on Lions Head at sunrise.
Soon I will be on my next expedition tour, primarily a bicycle tour from Victoria Falls to Cape Town. (Will let you know in about a month's time how that one went).
So now, for the moment, I am back relaxing in Sedgefield. I have found a good bicycle, have made an offer, and hope to get my grubby paws on that one. The bike needs some parts and TLC, but I look forward to taking the necessary care as and when I can afford it. I still need a lot of new equipment, starting with bike racks and panniers. There is some way to go before I am free on the road again.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

THE BEACH BUM

[NOTE:- I add something to this post every now and then, so please scroll down all the way to the end of this post - and there may be a surprise addition.]
OK, I'm not quite a "Beach Bum" yet, but perhaps not too far off. I have migrated along the coast East from Cape Town (South Africa). I am staying with my sister Olga, and her 3 pampered dogs, in Sedgefield town.
For the last few months on the road I'd been without an operational phone (used for GPS, Wi-Fi, and pics), but I now have the use of a fancy hand-set. Also, thanks to friends Martie & Piet, I have the use of a bicycle to get around, and for a bit of cycle training. I am trying to start a running programme, but after 12 years of hardly even walking, my body has gone into shock in response to this "new" activity.
In addition I am still acclimatising to the weather, which is somewhat cooler than what I have become accustomed to in the past couple of years.
So, for now, I am trying (hoping!) to find sponsorship for a new touring bike, equipment such as racks and panniers, and funds with which to sustain myself on the road. My existing bike and equipment was all in such an advanced state of wear, that I left it behind when I flew out of Malaysia in January.
[ADDITION 1 April] (No, this is not an "April Fool's" joke). I LONG TO GET BACK ON THE ROAD! Yes, I am living a very comfortable temporary life here in South Africa, thanks to my sister. However, my efforts to obtain travel/equipment sponsorship have turned up nothing yet. I have had discussions with people regarding work in the local cycle touring industry. Otherwise, perhaps I will try a bicycle delivery service here in Sedgefield (plenty of retired elderly folks have settled here!). But, I am not yet dead and gone. I will rise up and cycle on again - with or without assistance!
[ADDITION 3 April] It was great to meet up with my friend Mark Spengler! Thanks Mark, for driving down from Jeffreys Bay for the visit. We had run many a marathon together, and so we did plenty of reminiscing about the "Glory Days". He is in SA on holiday, and not looking forward to returning to work next week in the cold UK. I had last seen Mark 12 years ago on 10 April 2007 (see blog post of that time). Rumour has it that we also shared a beer or 2.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON

Well, I feel that the proverbial "Fattened Calf" has been slaughtered (and braai'd). Firstly, before I set foot on a single airplane, the guys at Pontian Cycling Club in Malaysia spoilt me rotten (and then they drove me hundreds of km to KL airport).
Dave fetched me at the airport in Cape Town, and I am currently staying with him and Kathy (gourmet food, the use of a bicycle, and more - very thankful).
It was also good to meet up with many old friends at the West Coast AC. I expect to stay around Cape Town for a short while, and wander off to my sister Olga in Sedgefield (South Coast village). I dumped my bike (number 2), and worn-out panniers, and a bunch of other things, in Malaysia. So now I dream of getting some sponsorship, a good new bike and equipment, and setting off into the sunset again. But that is just a dream at this stage.

Monday, 14 January 2019

END OF THE ROAD?

Yes, I am now at Pontian, in the SW of Malaysia, and close to the Southern most tip of Mainland Asia. There is a possibility that I may fly to Cape Town next week. That would signal a substantial break in my bike travels, and hopefully I can re-group and return to this nomadic life again.
For the moment I am again staying with the guys of the Pontian Cycling Club (PCC), where I also stayed last year. They are taking extremely good care of me (as before). They have also made some improvements to their "Club House", which now resembles something between a pub and a hostel (bunk beds and shower, etc.). These people know how to entertain, and I seldom get to bed before 3 AM. At the PCC there have been 2 other cyclists staying there during my current visit (Malaysian Matphi, and English Rowan). Of course, they were also dragged out for meals and drinks!
On my way South from the Thai border, I camped mainly at mosques, parks, and petrol stations (as long as there was water, toilet, and rain shelter). A few times people had gone and bought a T/A dinner which they brought to me (they must have really felt pity for this poor homeless sod).
Distances which I have cycled since crossing into Malaysia from Thailand are:- Alor Setar 82 km; Butterworth 92 km; Taiping 89 km; Lekir 92 km; Sabak Bernam 79 km; Jeram 77 km; Banting 67 km; Port Dixon 91 km; Mashid Tana 63 km; Jalan Muar 81 km; Bentun 95 km; and Pontian 42 km. The total distance which I have cycled on tour since 27 March 2007 is 170 716 km. (I hope to be back on the road in the not-too-distant future).

Monday, 17 December 2018

BACK IN THAILAND

Since my previous post (see below) I have returned to Thailand. I was denied a new Thai tourist visa, but at the border I was allowed a 30-day entry to Thailand. Now I am in Bangkok trying to get my bike back on the "GO" (that "Poor Animal" is suffering with each crank of the pedals, and roll of the wheels). And so, for now, I am probably heading towards Malaysia - OR WHEREVER?
Daily distances which I have cycled from Laos South until Bangkok are:- Ban Ta Ka 65 km; Udon Province 77 km; Nam Pong 95 km; Ban Phai 80 km; Nakhon Town 96 km; Nong Phi 47 km; Sikhio 84 km; Muak Lek 71 km; Ayuttaya 93 km; and Bangkok 101 km. Total distance cycled up to this point is 168 399 km.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

LAOS AND AGAIN

Hello Again! I am currently back in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, for the second time in as many months. After leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) in early September I cycled the central route North to the Thai Highlands and then I proceeded on down to the Mekong river. This was a route I had not taken before, and I had only seen this part of the river from the opposite banks in Laos.
To reach the main border from Thailand to Laos I traveled East before crossing and proceeding to the Laos capital, Vientiane. I had sent out some requests for sponsorship so I could complete my route through China. I was hoping for some money to drop from the sky (the best response was "God Bless You"). After I realised that there was nothing forthcoming from above, there was no point in wasting my meagre funds on a Chinese visa, and I saw another 2-month visa for the return to Thailand as the most viable option. However, due to all the previous Thai visas in my passport, I was denied another visa at this time (Vientiane has so far been the easiest place for people making a Thai visa run - so I guess they are tightening up their policy). And so I was off to the Vietnamese visa office where I was duly granted a month's visa (a bit expensive though).
I still had enough time, so I headed through Southern Laos towards the Lao Bao border, and into Vietnam. The past rainy season had taken its toll on this busy road. Now it was dry and breezy, and the broken road had turned into a dust bowl.
And so I was off to Vietnam for the first time in about 9 years (see that post for details). On my way back from Vietnam I crossed into Laos at a relatively remote border, at Nam Can. This border is situated in the NE of Laos, a rather mountainous region. I took it fairly easy along there, as bike parts were wearing out like popcorn. I also did not want to become part of the "popcorn festival" by wearing myself out. There was no need to rush, I had plenty of time (my problem was that I had no idea where to head next). So I made my way back towards Vientiane where I hope to get some clarity on my options.
I passed through Phonsavanh, a touristy town in the otherwise remote NE mountains of Laos. The reason for all the tourists is the famed "PLAIN OF JARS" (ancient large carved stone jars). I found this town somewhat disturbing. In a relatively isolated region, suddenly hordes of foreign tourists pop out of the woodwork. Busses, mini-busses, taxis, etc, are hauling the Farangs in from Vientiane and Luang Prabang cities. I am not at all fond of this place, as I was twice ignored as a customer (obviously I'm a small time player). The road is broken and terribly dusty (certainly muddy in the rainy season). Looking at the countless fancy hotels and guesthouses one may imagine that there is enough money for road maintenance. Anyway, those jars are about 10 km out of town.
On the way to another touristy town, Vang Vieng, I came across a rather interesting milestone (see the pic of the sign, the template for painting the name was probably used back-to-front, and the KM sign upside-down). Perhaps the sign was painted by one of the hordes of revelling young travellers (some who seem to get stuck here in VV).
My previous trip through Laos had been in the Rainy Season, and the Rice Planting effort was in full swing. Now, it was the start of the Dry Season, and the Rice Harvest was in the swing of things.
I stayed in the "Back-Packer Hangout" of Vang Vieng for a couple of days (cheapest room that I could find). Myself and my equipment were all in a mess, after an awkward period of time lately. Technically there is wi-fi, but it came and went at will (at least the hot shower worked, and I was in there for half the day). A highlight there was the Italian T/A Pizza shop next door, and I became their number-1 customer. While in Vang Vieng I replaced an O-ring seal on my stove (nearly caused unintentional arson recently!), and repaired the door zip of my tent (free game for mozzies).
Now I am back in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Two months ago I was prevented from applying for another Thailand tourist visa because I already had too many of those in my passport. After the whole Vietnam rigmarole, a number of thousands of KM on the bike, and the "almost" flight back to South Africa, GUESS WHAT?! Inexplicably my visa application was accepted. But my joy was short lived. Two days later I cruised over to the Thai Consulate to pick up my visa, but to no avail (the visa had been denied for the same reasons as before). There are always options, but those are rather slim, and not my preferred choice. Anyway, relax and look at the pictures.
The previous picture is of my bike on the porch of the Mixay Guest House in Vientiane. Previously I had slept on this floor next to the bike (if I arrived late, or if the GH was full). This time, the 2 days prior to leaving for Thailand I slept on a bench inside the hallway (again), after closing time. There I met Adam, English ex-pat with family and cafe in SE Thailand, who has invited me to come and visit some time, thanks (and also thanks for the Beer Lao's!).
Also at Mixay was French cyclist Thibaud, who I had met on the road from Vietnam a few days before reaching Vientiane. He is about twice my height, but gracefully bent his knees so we could fit into the same pic.
The photo below of Vientiane was taken across the Mekong river from Thailand (Still about 80 km via the border and back to what you see in the pic).
I had crossed from Thailand into Laos at the Nong Khai border-bridge across the Mekong river. On the following day I was at the Laos capital, Vientiane, about 30 km from that bridge border. For visa purposes etc I had to hang around in the vicinity, so some of these distances are not at all phenomenal, but mainly a search for accommodation. Then, from Vientiane I cycled through Southern Laos towards Savannaket, and then East up towards the Vietnam border at Lao Bao. Daily distances from Vientiane on this occasion are:- Nongtaeng 33 km; Nongkhankou 36 km; Mai 31 km; Vientiane (again) 27 km; Mai 25 km; River Watt 37 km; Mixay 26 km; Naxon 52 km; Paxxan 80 km; Pakkadan 50 km; Vieng Kham 72 km; Thakek 85 km; Ban Nao Nua 75 km; Dong Hen 76 km; Kethamouak 78 km; Ban Dong 80 km; Lao Bao (Vietnam) 23 km. Total cycled by this stage is 165 635 km.
From Vietnam I returned to Laos via the relatively remote Nam Can border post. After the 20 km climb up to the border the previous day, I was expecting some respite, perhaps even some downhill. Not to be! Still early in the day, but after torturing my poor overladen horse on the relentless uphill (sometimes over 10% gradient) on a somewhat broken road, I called it a day at Nonghet town. So distances into this mountainous part of Laos, from the Vietnam border, were:- Nonghet 18 km; Ban Pakho 32 km; Kham 41 km; Ponsavanh 43 km; Nongtan 59 km; Hinsua 54 km; Phoukoun 45 km; Kasi 42 km; Vang Vieng 59 km; Vankhi 40 km; Local District 59 km; Mekong Temple 40 km; and Vientiane 63 km. Total distance cycled is 167 590 km.
.