The First Time I Saw Africa

 

And so it is that we have started riding again. This time it is different though. We have given up our house and all of our stability, sold most of our belongings, pointed ourselves south, and have started riding. Our home is now the tent above our heads, the fire-station we are sleeping in and the field below the stars that we happened to have found for the night. Although we have done this before, this time, it feels different, really different! Almost as if somehow we know that this time it is for real. No more broken bones, no more hesitation! We are heading out to meet the world.

 

I have always had a goal when I imagined our "around the world" bike ride. Of course who knows if we will make it around the world. I suppose in the end it will more likely end up being a zig-zag around the planet. Perhaps, I thought, somehow it would be possible to let the children of the world see each other, and know that they all love to love and laugh and play and cry, just like the children on the other side of the planet. There is no need for war and hatred.

 

Today, as we bike through the maze of roads and highways that is Madrid, Xavier, an off-duty police officer out for a bike ride in the sunshine escorts us through the streets and out into the outskirts of Madrid. He is friendly, talkative. On the day that Spain was attacked by terrorists in March a few years ago, Xavier did not have the luck to be “off duty”. The train station where we first met him and where he was working that day, was a scene of death and carnage. Several stations were attacked at the same time, “at least 200 people died”. “I saw some very bad things” sais Xavier.

 

We are on our way now. Madrid is far behind. We set off though, with a reminder of what hatred can do. How many laughing children lost their mamas or papas that day. I do not know. And we ride on perhaps with the glimmer of hope that children from around the world will see each other through our eyes, knowing that there is never a reason to hate, only to laugh, play and eat together.

 

European, Arab, even from some other cultures as well. How many small children did I see running around the airport in Valletta Malta as I waited 12 hours for the flight that would bring me to Athens Greece to begin my first long bike trip through the Middle-East. They were all laughing and playing, just like the children we see running and playing in the villages we ride through today. Little did I know then that I would soon be stuck with my bike on the border between Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia because some people chose hatred above love…

 

It has been a long time ago now, many bike trips to seemingly far away places have happened since then. But today, as we ride out of Madrid with Havier, the memory and the message come back every so clearly. Almost as if our desire has become a mission. Let there be love and understanding in the world, not hatred!

 

A few nights ago, I stood out of the tent in the middle of the night. Not hundreds, not even thousands, but literally tens of thousands of stars light the pitch black sky. The milky way splashed across the sky, from one side to the other. The grass from the field we are camped in, wet under my feet. It is cold. I wish to see a shooting star. I have seen hundreds of them in my life. At that very moment the sky is split from top to bottom by a meteor, splashing a huge white trail across the sky behind it as it speeds thousands of kilometers per hour through the heavens above me.

 

I wonder then as I watch it’s momentary wonder, appearing the moment I thought it. Did this piece of space dust start it’s journey the day I was born 42 years ago? Pulled into it’s multi billion kilometer journey through space-time the moment that I thought about it. Or perhaps it has been traveling since the beginning of time, or since the start of the universe we are in, only to display its glory to me in a Spanish field in the middle of the night. I suppose I will never know, but the question stays with me.

 

It´s dark out. We have pitched camp along the river under some big eucalyptus trees just outside the small white village of Almodovar in southern Spain. A castle, perched on top of a steep ravenous hill above the village stands lit, guarding the rest of the valley and village. In the distance, as we talk quietly by candle light by the river, trains steam by the village, the lit passenger windows all we can see as they speed by.

 

I awake in the middle of the night. The river two meters below, lit by the almost full moon, has become a river of white milk. The fields around us, lit by the same moonlight, have also become as white as milk. Almost as if our camp has become a small island in a sea of milk.

 

Awakening in the morning, the moon is setting behind the castle, the village has become white again and slightly orange, tinted by the first rays from the early morning sun. The river has become green again, mist gently rolls across it.

 

What is left… sunshine… the sound of the wind blowing through bamboo on the side of the road… blue sky… open fields… the smell of wood burning somewhere nearby, of pine and eucalyptus trees…

 

Arriving in the evening in a small white southern Spanish village in the midst of cotton harvest. The sun is setting, an orange glow paints the white buildings. And then, the sound of laughing, singing… Some old men at a bar having the time of their lives outside on a terrace in the light of the fading day. One cries out, another laughs, all with their hats on their heads and their worn rugged look. This picture happens and then we move on. It will stay with me forever. The dark silhouette of palm trees surrounded by the deep orange glow of the setting sun.

 

We set up camp in a run down football field. Some children playing soon go off to join a soccer match as I pitch the tent and Chantal prepares dinner as the darkness of another night settles upon us.

 

Through all the chaos and beauty of thousands of tourists and amazing parks, gardens and cathedrals of Seville, roasted chestnuts being sold on just about every street corner. Cafés, terraces, all the sights and sounds of a busy touristic city. Nice. And yet…

 

A lone violinist, raises his bow, a policeman walks by. The sound of Johann Pachelbel´s Pachelbel Canon raises to the sky, a stilling note amidst the organized chaos of business all around. A subtle moment where the city itself seems to fade, replaced for an instant by another indescribable sort of beauty, one which can be felt instead of seen.

 

I once read the story of a man who set out to walk Across America. After so many days and weeks and months and perhaps even years. He met a woman on the way and married her. And together they made it, walking across America, from the East Coast to the West. I never forgot the dream I had since then, to walk across America. Instead of walking, I left on my bike. After a year alone, in the desert, on top of the world´s volcanoes, I met a woman and married her. And now together, on our bikes we are heading out, not to conquer, but to discover. In the end, instead of walking across America, I´m biking across, well… Africa and whatever part of the world will let itself be discovered by us.

 

Hoooot… Hoooot…

 

New York City, March 1972.

 

I am six years old. We’ve just stepped aboard the Italian Ocean Liner Rafaelo. An amazing moment, full of wonderment for a child such as I.

 

Hoooot…

 

The deep, heavy, ever so penetrating fog horn blasts so loudly as we steam through New York harbor. Through the mist I can see the Statue of Liberty as she stands proudly watching us as we head out to the open seas, to a new life.

 

We are moving to France, a place somewhere very far away.

 

Eight days I can and never will forget. The storms! The big waves! The cabin we sleep in, the games sliding from one side of the deck to the other as the ship gently and steadily rocks from side to side in slow heavy motion.

 

Marked in my mind, a moment from of my childhood. My father, my brother and I walking on the deck of the ship. It is dark out. We walk to the railing, the dark crashing waves so far below. He points out into the night. We have been sailing a week now. “Look, there”. Out in the dark, breaking through the night are the lights of cities, villages. “Those are the lights of Africa”, says my father. Taking us around the long deck and over to the other side of the ship. Pointing again, he shows us lights on the opposite side of the ship from where we were moments ago. “Look there”‘, he says. “Those are the lights of Europe”. A very impressive and memorable moment for me.

 

I suppose I would never have understood if my father had said “blink your eyes now, just once, and look again”. “There you are, on the beach, just over there, thirty five years from now. On the beginning of the biggest adventure of your life.” I suppose it would not have made sense if he had said “look, your beautiful loving wife waits for you on the campground as you look out over the waves, looking at us here thirty five years ago”. “Look, Antoine, if you try very hard, you can even see yourself waving at us through the mist of time. Perhaps you can even see yourself on those Spanish hillsides fighting 100 kilometer per hour winds, as you fight to reach your goal”.

 

Perhaps it is true, perhaps I would not have understood if he had said that to me. I suppose it was rather smart of him to wait and let me discover it for myself.

 

That was just last night. The waves from the Rafaello are just reaching shore today, as I crouch on the beach, watching other ships sailing through the straights of Gibraltar. Watching as the Rafaello sails through the straights, looking out, seeing my father, my brother and I on the deck. The mountains of Morocco rise in the haze, only a few kilometers away. So close and yet so far across the Atlantic Ocean from here. So close and so far as well, through the distance of time.

 

On to Palermo, Cannes, Marseilles, Grenoble, Freiburg… Just about every significant moment in my life has happened since then, and so many they have been.

 

Although we have have cycled already about 3000 kilometers to get here, our adventure started last night, as we have been beaten by four days of heavy strong almost 100 kilometer per hour winds.

 

Tonight, as I look out from the beach just beyond where our tent is pitched, I look out, and once again, I see the lights of Africa. The same lights that I saw thirty five years ago with my father. The lights of Europe surround me. A few more days and we will head out together, Chantal and I, on what is for us, the adventure of a lifetime! I will never forget though, the first time I set my eyes upon Africa.

5 Reactions to: “The First Time I Saw Africa”


  1. 1 Spencer

    Antoine, thank you for including me in your journaling as you journey around the world. I think of you often, Brother, wondering if you’re happy and doing what fullfills you, and your writing says yes to both. Perhaps the making of a future book? I’d buy it. What better way to sustain yourself than to do what you love and tell others about it.
    Anyway, many blessings to you and Chantal. love, Spencer

  2. 2 Dr Mary Elsea

    WOW!! I hardly know the words to write - how beautiful, Antoine, and how amazingly well you have captured these incredible magic moments in your life in words. I am sitting here in awe, and with tears in my eyes, that it seems we as human beings never slow down enough to truly appreciate what is important in this world, and what is common among us all. I rooting for you 100% to have these words published, and that just maybe, there can be enough shift in consciousness and return to those very simple concepts of love, joy, and laughter that so many have gotten away from in this life.
    Enjoy your journey, and I hope to see you in Capetown in early December!! “Dr Mary”

  3. 3 Marian Febvre

    Hello Antoine of today and little Antoine of 35 years ago. How wonderful to hear the connection you have made between then and now. At that time we worried that it was perhaps going to be too difficult for you three to be moved from your lives in Ft. Collins. I’m so happy to read the wonder and excitement and continuity of it all. I remember those lights: Africa to the right and Europe to the left. And just 8 months ago a little three-year-old voice in the plane in the seat behind us said, as we were coming to the eastern edge of the Atlantic: “Look Mommy, it’s AFRICA!!” I had tears, and memories of the same night you are now describing. I love knowing the wonder you felt and are feeling now. Bon Voyage!! Lots and lots of love follow you and Chantal as you continue ‘the dream’. M

  4. 4 Kathie Zier

    Antoine,

    I feel so priveleged to be sharing this amazing journey! Little did I know that talking to you on the phone in order to help you get special Nikken socks for your trip would allow me to be an armchair traveler with you.

    I do hope you turn this into a book. You write beautifully!

    And as I read Marian’s message about you leaving from Fort Collins when you were 6, I find the coincidence of my currently living in Fort Collins to be noteworthy. Has the universe connected us for some reason?

    I look forward to reading more and hope you and Chantal stay safe, healthy and happy!

  5. 5 sabine macwaters

    Dearest Atnoine and Chantal,
    Your struggle against the wind to make it just a few kilometers, to be able to stop and enjoy the most basic necessities, dinner and a safe place to close your eyes, contrasts so sharply with the one world view! This contrast or change of focus is the reality that we all struggle with at some level or another, every day. As you say, if only we could all understand that this is what it’s about for everyone, and that the only right choice is love, one step at a time.
    Love to you from Wild Wyoming
    Sabine

Leave a Reaction

You must login to post a comment.