It is not often that I get to meet awe-inspiring women, so naturally I felt honoured when I was offered to interview Annabel one Friday afternoon. Unprepared and excited to meet someone that I could delve into wanderlust with, I awaited the lady behind the astounding tale.
Annabel arrived with the brightest of grins, a habit I undoubtedly attribute to her experience with travel as well as her contagious positive energy. She sits opposite me and kindly ignores my lunch which is sprawled across the textbook filled table in the IB room. Annabel is a stunning British 30 something year old wanderer, who brave heartedly travelled from the UK to West Africa on her bicycle, and covered just over 8000 kilometres in total.
T: As for you previous occupation?
A: I worked for a public health charity which mainly dealt with drugs
I apologised for the cliché and she understood the formality for my first question as to why she decided to embark on her travels. She answered with a genuine love for travel.
A: I have been planning and saving for some time. I generally use any money I have to grab an opportunity to travel
T: Any difficulties?
A: Initially, yes. (She laughs). The first few days were tough. I cycled too many miles. I then took a ferry to France and it immediately relaxed me. I felt relieved. It was, and still is, the right thing for me to do. I have no regrets.
Seeing as riding a bike renders me breathless within seconds I asked her as to why she chose it as her main means of travel…
A: A bike is lovely because it provides a different level for interaction. If you fly, you miss it (the view). If it’s by train, you simply whizz past everything! The bike allows me to interact with people, animals and the environment that surrounds me
T: Was the trip spiritual or preferential?
A: Actually for passion. I adore meeting new people and seeing what makes them tick. I believe it’s good for the soul as well as for the mind. Cycling is hard but everything works out in the end
T: And the obvious cycling as a European woman in Africa dilemma?
A: I have never felt vulnerable. However as a woman you have a different level of awareness. You get a lot of attention because it is unusual. It elicits the maternal as well as paternal instincts from the people I encounter. Everyone (in Africa) wants to take you in because they think what you’re doing is crazy (she laughs)
T: What’s your most enlightening experience?
A: As part of my journey I wanted to see if my faith in humanity could be restored. It was amazing to see that oftentimes people who had near to nothing wanted to give me something. I was having lunch in the Sahara one day when a fisherman from a hut offered me an entire gargantuan fish. I couldn’t take it with me because it was impractical, however it is one of my most cherished memories. A simple fisherman offered to share with me the little he had with me. There are so many beautiful people here (in Africa) who will give you anything, it was nice to learn that not everyone is selfish.
T: Tying in with your answer, have you learnt any lessons?
A: Overtime, I’ve learnt that there is no need to stress. Anything can be solved and people are always willing to help you. If the bike breaks, for example, there is nothing wrong with arriving late. If you’re open with people, they will always help you.
T: Do you notice a significant change in your attitude?
A: I don’t have stress anymore. I’m actually dreading going back to the old 9 to 5 (she laughs). I am considering a career change. I have discovered that I need to be more creative and pursue my passions. So when I go back home, I will probably retrain, maybe pursue a medical course that I can travel with, such as becoming a nurse, doctor, or health advocate. Ideally, I would love to own a travelling company which tailor makes bike tours for clients… Who knows, maybe I’ll do both!
T: Before I forget! Which countries have you been to?
A: Well I started in the UK, then went to France, Spain, Morocco… Then I went to the West Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, and now Namibia. I’m here to spend time with my family, some of them are coming down to spend their holiday here.
T: Any validated clichés?
A: African Time! That very definitely exists! Hmm… West African culture and music is also as amazing as was promised and football! The entire continent is obsessed! To simply not like football is an unspeakable crime here! ( She jokes)
T: Any cultural surprises?
A: I don’t know if this counts, but I felt very comfortable in Muslim countries, especially coming from a Christian background. I found that they were more welcoming than Christian ones (countries)
T: Did you find that there was a change in mentality in Africa versus in Europe?
A: Not particularly… However I find that Africans tend to be all inclusive which is fantastic! On the downside though, everyone has an opinion in your politics. Women are also treated differently. An example is in Morocco, women are not visible. They are usually in their homes and the men are booted out. There was a time where I was the only woman in a café which was particularly strange. Women play a vital role in life because they work hard and then come back to look after the family and the home. I’m not sure how much would be done without women!
T: Tourist attractions or rural non emphasised areas?
A: A mixture actually… Because when I cycle it’s generally the latter. The more touristic areas were pretty vacant as a result of Ebola which slowed down tourism. I generally visit the more touristy areas to have a meal, a hot shower and new conversations.
T: I apologise for the million and one questions, I am nearly done, I swear! Any general advice to prospective globe trotters?
A: Just do it! Don’t be scarred, be open, positive and sensible!
*You can find Annabel on Facebook at Annie’s African Cycle Adventure for photos of her adventure as well as some blurbs!
Stay Gold, 🍂