Indoctrinating children on a farm

One night during our recent Western Cape cycle tour we slept at a stunningly beautiful farm guest house in the Overberg. I am not going to mention the name because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or show ingratitude to our lovely host. But watching the activities there on a sublime Saturday morning helpes me to understand why our carnist culture prevails.

We were lazing in bed at about 8 o’clock when we heard a noise outside. A group of moms and dads and their young kids had gathered by a gate to the animal enclosure. The moms were wearing shiny new designer wellies and their kids had matching versions and the girls wore pretty little sunhats. They  were preparing to enter the pen where there were geese, ducks and some sheep. The kids had little baskets of seed and were going to feed these birds. As they entered the enclosure the sheep, who were sheltering from the sun under the only tree, fled. Some of the children chased after them and threw seed at them. The parents said nothing at first. Eventually, one adult called out to her son and told him to stop.

I grabbed my Vegan is Love T-shirt and pulled it on and went outside. The next adventure for the curious humans was to visit the hen house and steal some eggs. Sven and I followed so we could watch what happened. About 12 kids and adults crowded inside the tiny hen house where some of the hens were still sitting on their eggs. The kids were encouraged to go and fetch 2 eggs each from the nests. The hens were panicked and began flying and flapping and squawking but two stubborn and protective hens stayed put, determined not to leave their eggs unguarded. 

Eventually each child had filled their basket with at least two eggs each, some of them snatched from underneath the hens. At the end of the raid they were all corralled for a proud group photo. “Say ‘eggs’ kids.”

After they left, one traumatised hen was still stubbornly sitting in her empty nest. Sven stroked her and comforted her. 

I often have conversations with people about veganism and many times they have said that they understand everything I believe in, but what is wrong with keeping hens and eating their eggs? Well just think about it for a minute. The eggs belong to the hens and taking their eggs is theft. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a grand crime compared to the horrors that are perpetrated daily on this planet. But just think about it from the hens’ perspective for just a moment… and you just might change your mind.

Warm Showers and French Hospitality

 

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Who knew that the French are so kind and hospitable? All I have ever heard about the inhabitants of France is that they are unfriendly and even grumpy. Well, I am happy to say that that has not been my experience. I have just finished a cycle tour from Le Havre to Avignon, going via Fontainebleau, Dijon, Chalon-sur-Saône, Lyon, Vienne, Valence and other small villages in between. With the exception of a few days on a friend’s boat, I stayed with local Warm Showers hosts every night. They knew ahead of time that I was vegan. None of them were vegan. Perhaps I was expecting the derision that often comes from omnivores when they encounter a vegan: The sarcasm, the joking, the teasing or even belittling that seems to be uncontainable by many omnivores. When I wrote to each potential Warm Showers host I always made it clear that I did not expect to be fed because I know this can be complicated for someone eating a traditional diet and I didn’t want to make it difficult for them. And I always carried food with me so that I could feed myself if necessary. It was never used.

So you may be wondering what Warm Showers actually is. It is a network of people around the world who have signed up either to host cycle tourists in their homes or are cycle tourists looking for accommodation in locals’ homes. It is completely free and is based on a sharing of ideas, cultures and language. This is not an easy concept for most non-cycling capitalists to understand. I have encountered friends who have even criticised me for using Warm Showers and have suggested I am just out there looking for free meals and a free bed. These are people who rent out spare rooms in their houses on airbnb and couldn’t imagine hosting a stranger for free. It’s a sad sign of the capitalist mindset that we can only value money as worthwhile, and not peoples’ stories and other gifts.

Some people cannot seem to understand that the person hosting a cyclist in their home is often gifted with an experience that money could not buy. They learn about you and your travels, your culture and home country. They ask lot of questions. You are tired when you arrive, and often just want to have a hot shower and go to bed, but your responsibility as a guest is to share your stories. In the case of France the hosts have been eager to practise their English with me and very interested to learn all about my journey. We have had some of the most fascinating conversations I have ever had with anyone, me speaking bad French and them either speaking English or French. Their generosity goes way beyond anything you might expect and for me has been unbelievable.

But I still am a product of my upbringing and have felt it was important to bring some kind of physical gift. So I travel with bars of (accidentally vegan) chocolate which I can share with my hosts after a meal. I also thought it might be fun to send them all a postcard with a sketch or photo of their houses. I have done this a few times so far. In fact, the giving back may only take place when the cyclist eventually stops traveling and invites other Warm Showers cyclists into their home to receive their hospitality.

So thank you, France, your beautiful country, your incredibly friendly and generous hosts, your wonderful food, and your drivers who didn’t kill me!

 

 

 

 

 

Découverte Shop and Organic Vegan Café

I cycled into Colchester from East Bergholt to try this tiny little organic vegan restaurant. I’ve been a bit disappointed with the food I’ve tasted in English vegan establishments but this place was an exception. Truly the best vegan meal I’ve had so far in England (except for the awesome food my friends cook.)

It is run by a family team of Joan the mum, her daughter Johannah who is the owner of the quaint gift shop upstairs, and Roderick who is Joan’s son. They are all vegan and eat and serve only organic food. They sure have their work cut out for them! We whiled away the afternoon chatting and eating and I made some new friends.

Decouverte is at 6 Sir Isaacs Walk in a 400-year-old Grade 2 listed building. It is tiny and that’s part of its appeal; I felt like I had dropped in at their home for lunch. My quinoa burger was the best burger I’ve had in ages and wasn’t heavy like so many vegan burgers are. They served Booja-Booja ice cream with the homemade crumble and I was a happy girl.

Upstairs is a gift shop selling all kinds of stuff: clothing, ornaments, jewellery, etc. I also bought some organic soy milk and a stem ginger cake. Piling on the pounds here… lucky it’s back on the bike again tomorrow.

I highly recommend this cool little find in Colchester. Here’s the Facebook link.

(Note: they are closed for a week and will re-open on Saturday 1st October 2016.)

Vegan girl not cycling…

 

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Just a little update to those of you expecting an adventure.  My over-enthusiastic 120km first day back on a fully-loaded bike after being a lazy, working, sedentary person without a bike has resulted in me injuring my knee.  So instead of vegan girl cycling to Europe it is vegan girl recovering and gingerly repairing said knee in East Anglia.  Hah!  Shit happens.  These things are sent to try us and to teach us (I suppose… not sure from whom or where they are sent but anyway) so stay tuned for more exciting stories about Colchester and surrounds (hint of irony.)

Gypsies… Tramps and Thieves? I think not.

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Joe and Mary are gypsies.  I met them today, parked by the side of the road, while I was out cycling the back roads of Oxfordshire.  Turns out Joe was born in Chelmsford – the town of my birth too – in St. John’s Hospital.

I am curious about people living slightly outside of the delineated borders of society.  I spent an informative half hour with this lovely couple interrogating them about their lives.  They were very patient and forthcoming and gave me some fascinating insights into their culture and life experiences.  Although they own a house, they take to the road every summer and get back to their gypsy roots, parking on their favourite grass verges and freely enjoying nature.

But, sadly, they are abused by passers-by in their cars who roll down their car windows and cry, “pikies”or “stinky gypsies” and various other rude comments.  And the cowards only do it from the safety of their cars as they drive by.  Joe said that people generally don’t give them the time of day, appreciating that I stopped by to chat and get to know them.  I asked him if he thought people were afraid of them.  He thought they probably were.  He thinks people just assume that because they are travellers they are criminals.  He acknowledged that some of them are, but he also pointed out that some people who live normal lives in houses are criminals.  Just like you get all types of people in the world you get all types of gypsies.  Good and bad.  Social and antisocial.

So gypsies are classified based on them owning a transit van towing a caravan.  If they wanted to, they couldn’t just pull up into a normal caravan park; they would most likely be turned away.  Sad, really.

They are also defined by their language or dialect.  They don’t readily share this language with non-gypsies but I did learn one or two words: they call a horse a gigi, for example.  And they have their own names for non-gypsies too: we are called gorgers or country people.  It was fascinating.

Why do people abuse gypsies?  Fear, I guess.  I suppose it is no different from any other kind of racism or discrimination; that which we don’t understand we tend to fear.

All the more reason to get out there in the world and experience how the other half live.

 

Stratton Audley Barn, Oxfordshire

I discovered a delightful coffee shop / tearoom / gift shop while out riding with Concordia and Juma today.  It is called Stratton Audley Barn and they were able to serve me vegan hot chocolate made with almond milk.  It has inside and outside seating – the outside area looks out onto farmland.  Inside is a gift shop with all the gifty-type things you would expect in a country store.  Nice place to go for tea or coffee.  Now all they need is a vegan cake to complete the offering…

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The verb: to uber

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While I have been away–about a year–Cape Town has embraced a new word: Uber. Like google, it is both noun and verb, but it is the latter form that has found its home in South Africa’s lexicon. I have concluded this because of three Uber encounters in as many days:

I met with a girlfriend who has two kids, each with competing after-school activities. That afternoon we drove to their school to fetch them. The older child had a ballet class that was 5km from school, and the younger one had homework to do. She sent the older one off to ballet in an “uber”, and took the younger one home to do her homework. Problem solved for the price of a fare.

Then, on Saturday afternoon I met my friends at a restaurant to watch the rugby. One of the husbands had arrived ahead of his wife.  When I asked him where she was, he told me he had “ubered’ there; she was arriving later with the car, and they would ride home together. Problem of two cars at one venue solved.

My third encounter with Uber-consciousness was early the next morning outside my apartment. Frustrated residents one block over, unable to find parking the night before due to an influx of cars (it was the World Cup Rugby quarter final between the Springboks and the All Blacks), had parked their car outside the pedestrian gate of my building. Checking that the gate would open and no one’s exit or entry would be blocked, they locked their car and went home. At 5h30 the next morning my neighbour, who was rushing off to an appointment, couldn’t get his moped out of the gate. He sat on his hooter, probably waking the entire block, hoping this would alert the owner of the offending car. When no one showed up, he knocked on almost every door of my building checking to see if anyone had a guest who had parked him in. This is not the way to make yourself popular the morning after a dispiriting rugby defeat by the All Blacks. Desperately frustrated and angry, he went to his flat and fetched a jar of peanut butter. Then he went downstairs and smothered the greasy paste over every window of the errant car. Later that morning I was packing away my possessions in the garage, when the couple came out to their car. Their dismay and anger at having their vehicle vandalised was understandable. Spotting me in my garage, they asked if I knew who had done this dastardly deed. I told them who it was and explained why my neighbour had got so upset. The female of the couple said, “But we would have paid for him to uber to his appointment if we had known!” I just smiled, thinking that if she had left her phone number on the car it might have prevented an entire building from being awoken at dawn and a frustrated moped driver missing his appointment. But there it was again… that uber word.

Uber Technologies Inc. is an American company headquartered in San Francisco. They market the Uber smartphone app which enables users to order an Uber driver to transport them, rather like a taxi service but using the driver’s own car. The company, which launched in 2009, is now said to be worth US$50 billion. The service is available in 58 countries and 300 cities.

Public transport in South Africa has a sorry history. In the early seventies, as a young teenager, the only public transport on offer was the train which I rode home from school.  Appended to both ends of the journey was a long hot trudge to and from the station. Things have vastly improved since then, with the MyCiti bus system, for example. But for a chaotic city like Cape Town, where everyone is rushing about trying to fit too much into one day, especially for busy children who are confronted with so many activities it surely makes them dizzy, the bus is not the solution. And mothers would be very unlikely to put their children into metered taxis in South Africa due to the uncertainty of the fare, and fear for their safety. Enter Uber.

When the infrastructure is found wanting, clever entrepreneurs invent solutions using the advancements of technology. By 2013 there were 59 million cell phones in South Africa, being used by a population of 50 million. The lack of land lines in the country, especially in rural areas, led to an unprecedented uptake of mobile phones, leapfrogging the traditional, inefficient telephone service being mismanaged by the parastatal Telkom.

Cape Town is quite a small city, and Uber is the obvious solution for this public-transport-challenged and traffic-congested place. But, more importantly, it is a very trendy city; Capetonians love to glance up from their iPhones and Samsungs and proudly state “Oh, I ubered here… didn’t you?”.

Why dentist Walter James Palmer is not the enemy.

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If you are outraged about James Palmer killing a lion, and you have just eaten bacon for breakfast, or had a bleeding steak for dinner last night, or poured cow’s milk into your coffee this morning, you are a victim of a culture that condones speciesism. You are now experiencing what is called cognitive dissonance. Which is: the anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes (www.dictionary.reference.com).

Or maybe not. Maybe you’re not anxious yet. But you will be.

Yesterday I changed my Facebook profile photo to that of this pig. A living, breathing, feeling being imprisoned behind bars, in a factory farm building, probably somewhere in the United States, but she could just as easily be in South Africa, or Australia, or the UK. It doesn’t matter where she is. What matters is that she has been sentenced to an end at least as excruciating as that of Cecil the lion’s. Unlike Cecil, however, her life has been a living hell since the day she was bred into captivity. Note that she is locked inside a cage, and not outside in the veld running around enjoying her life and loving her piglets. Cecil, at least, has been able to live out his authentic life for 13 lucky years. Lucky because it took that long for a human to come along and ruin his life (barring the time he was darted and collared by Oxford University for research). She is going to have a death just as excruciating as Cecil’s. That’s the truth. So that you can eat bacon. Pork chops. Pork rinds. Pork sausages. Pigs-in-a-blanket. Toad-in-the-hole. Ugh!

Cecil was sacrificed at the altar of human ego. The pig in this photo will be (or was already) sacrificed for the dinner table. Some, in fact most, humans have an illogical and bloodthirsty desire for dead animals on their plates.

Yes, Walter Palmer shot, injured and (eventually) killed a king of the Jungle. An animal we revere, partially because of his predatory prowess. After all, one of the highlights of a successful African safari is seeing a “kill”

A close friend of mine told me yesterday he might have to convert to veganism because of my “evangelism”. Really? I suspect he was winding me up. The dictionary definition of evangelism is preaching or promulgation of the gospel; the work of an evangelist. I am not sure that is an entirely accurate description of me, but I think it was his way of telling me my vegan activism smacks of missionary zeal. Yes, it probably does. And yet, it still isn’t powerful enough to make him stop dead in his tracks (if you’ll pardon the pun) and give up paying other people to exploit and murder animals on his behalf.

James Palmer is not the enemy. Yes, he is the enemy of endangered lions and bears (he was indicted and then fined for shooting and killing a bear). But the carnivorous populations of the world are a much greater enemy to the animals on this planet, and, therefore, indirectly to us all. We think canned lion hunting is a disgrace. How can you raise an animal in a confined space simply for it to be shot by someone, and even make a profit out of it? Erm… hello? Isn’t that what we do every day, to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys and even horses, dogs and cats in other parts of the world?

You can make an enormous difference. You can be part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem. Right now, if you ingest animals and/or their secretions, YOU are the enemy. Yes, that includes vegetarians.

Go vegan. Please. For the animals, the planet, your health, and to permanently free yourself from the pain of cognitive dissonance. Because I know, and you know, that somewhere inside you lurks a loving and compassionate being.

Musings about The Wild Coast, The World Peace Diet and Monsanto

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It’s 3h15 a.m. In England. It is already getting light and the birds are singing. Here I am working to fund my vegan activist lifestyle and remembering Stage One of an incredible journey. This pic is of a donkey Sven and I made at Amapondo in Port St Johns. I wrote the following blog back in March and forgot to post it:

We are here in Port St. Johns, and our ride has ground to a halt. First of all, the freewheel hub on my bike packed up on the road to PSJ, so we had to get a lift to Durban to get it fixed. After an interesting time in Durban, we got a lift back to PSJ to continue our journey.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on our ride up through the Wild Coast. It has been an adventure unmatched by anything I have attempted in the past. The sheer magnificence of the scenery along the coast between Cintsa and Port St Johns has overwhelmed me. I take photographs and share them on facebook and instagram, but they don’t do it justice. I try and explain to people what it has been like to carry a bike weighing almost 40kg, the size of a small person, up steep hills along sandy tracks, and they just shake their heads in wonder, not able to really comprehend the experience. It has been all about the peacefulness of the beaches, deserted but for the cows lying down on the sand, enjoying the environment, and each other, perhaps cooling their hooves in the water; the organically created villages, each with their own food gardens and individually painted mud huts; the friendly, relaxed local people who never fail to greet us as we cycle past, sometimes with a horde of young children running to keep up for as long as they can. It has been an incredible and memorable time, populated with many wonderful new friends.

We have just waved goodbye to JP and Justine, two cyclists from Quebec, who have been making their way south from Uganda. It’s interesting to be on the outside looking in at them, and comparing our journeys. Because they are travelling in the opposite direction we have been able to learn a lot from each other’s experiences. This happens all the way along the route. Travellers talk to each other about the places they’ve loved the most as well as the places to avoid. Watching JP and Justine ride away has made me keen to get back on the road.

We have been off our bikes for almost a month, doing some volunteering at the friendly Amapondo Backpackers in PSJ. We have a commitment to finish our training to become World Peace Diet facilitators, before we continue our expedition. The World Peace Diet is perhaps one of the most important books to have been written this century. It goes into great depth explaining how and why we have become a species that has chosen domination of the earth and all other species as its major modus operandi. The result of this is a world full of death, destruction, pain and cruelty in the name of food. There is one solution to this problem, and it is a conversion of the world to a plant-based diet. Slowly, but surely, various organisations and government departments are beginning to see this as a cure to some of the major problems of our planet, such as global warming, pollution, ill health. There is not one of our major world maladies that could not be cured by converting to a vegan diet, and doing away with factory-farming and our lust for animals. I urge anyone reading this blog to read the World Peace Diet, at the very least to understand why we are in the pickle we are in on Earth, and to understand some of the solutions and how we can be a part of those solutions.

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This is no normal bike ride. Most cyclists are moving much faster than us, because they are going from place to place with a definite plan for their route and an endpoint. We are doing something very different… which is trying to have as many interactions with people along the way, with the intention of sharing the ideas in the World Peace Diet. That’s why our expedition is called Peace Begins On Our Plates. It may take us years to complete, but there doesn’t feel like a  more important thing for me to be doing on this planet, right now. My family are at odds with me, not really understanding why a woman in her fifties would be cycling around the world talking about veganism and the plight of all our animals. Perhaps they even think I am a few sandwiches short of a picnic! I have even been told our trip is “futile”. Tell that to the pig who is lying in a steel enclosure and can’t even turn around. Tell that to the cow who has just been raped by the vet in order to get her pregnant so we humans can take away her calf directly after it is born, and steal her milk twice a day. If anything is futile, it is driving on the freeway to sit in a windowless box all day long, in front of a computer, making money for a nameless, headless corporation and its shareholders, while frantically trying to save enough cash for a retirement which will be spent doing nothing useful, just getting older and sicker and spending all the hard-earned money on medical bills, wondering where our lives went. Phew! I feel better after that rant.

Monsanto, that evil American mega-corporation, is casting its net far and wide, and has reached as far as the Wild Coast, with the help of the South African Police force. During February this year, helicopters were observed spraying the marijuana plants with Kilo Max, another name for their glyphosate curse. I say curse, because in the process of killing marijuana they are also killing the crops that the subsistence farmers of this area live on (in other words, everyone here, practically). I don’t smoke pot. I tried it when I was in my twenties and never liked it. However, I am in favour of it being legalised, and for potheads to be left alone to do what they want to do. I do not believe in the condemnation and control of plants that grow naturally on this earth. Who are we to say these plants should not be allowed to grow? Ridiculous arrogance. Of course, the local farmers were given/sold? seed packs of gmo corn a few years ago, by Monsanto, so that when the spraying happens, their maize will be immune to these dangerous chemicals. If you want to read more about this heinous crime, you can go here and learn all about it. Get involved. Join the fight against Monsanto and its collaborators.

Sven and I have decided to work through the winter to raise the money we need, so we can continue on in the Spring. Unlike other cyclists, we see our mission as a lifestyle choice rather than a simple trip. We might be on the road for the next three years, or even longer and we need to work to sustain ourselves during this time. However, if any of you reading this blog or following us on Facebook or instagram feel moved to donate to our cause to help us in our work, we have set up a page on our website for donations via PayPal. Heartfelt thanks from us both to those of you who have already sent money!

Wild Coast Beaches, Friendly Drop-outs and Capitalists

It’s been a while since I blogged. When you are pushing your bike along beaches and up steep ravines it’s hard to think about writing a blog. The Wild Coast doesn’t have many spots with 3G either. So there are the excuses… luckily we can always find many to justify our choices.

The Wild Coast of what was the Transkei, now simply the Eastern Cape, has made me more philosophical than usual. I am sitting at Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay, drinking an Americano coffee, writing this. The sun rises impossibly early on the East Coast and it feels criminal to lie in bed while the world wakes up.

Our bed last night was in an old funky caravan, generously donated to us by a great bear of a man called Mark, a friend of a lesser (in size, not stature) bear by the name of Barry, our now good friend at Cebe Cottages. Barry’s grandfather came from Lebanon and the little off-grid fisherman’s cottage that Barry now inhabits was bought by him. We had had a long day. It took us 6 hours to travel 14km. (Later on that distance was going to seem quite far by comparison.) Two hours of pushing the bikes through sandy dongas, often uphill, two hours of walking or crossing rivers, and two hours of actual cycling, mostly on the hard sand of the beach at low tide. We had reached Wavecrest Hotel (pic below) by 2pm and had to wait for the tide to recede before we could continue. It had been a good day so far because we left Trennerys campsite early (an unusual occurrence on this trip.)

At about 4:30pm we left our perch on the hotel verandah and Sean, the hotel manager, rowed us across the mighty Khobonqaba River.

An hour or so later, after riding on the beach, sometimes dragging our bikes over the rocks, we reached the tiny settlement of Cebe Cottages. Walking up from the beach we wandered right into Barry’s back yard, where he was standing watching us. He greeted us like long lost friends, with a big, warm smile and offered us a hut to sleep in. Try and imagine being exhausted after dragging along beaches all day with heavy bikes, the sun is setting and you are a vagrant with no idea where you are going to sleep, to 10 minutes later standing in a hot shower knowing a hot meal and warm bed is waiting for you. Sigh… it’s impossible to describe. Because of Barry’s kindness we have our caravan to sleep in tonight, after the full moon party.

Our sharing with Barry about veganism and health has led to him buying a high speed blender to replicate the green smoothie I made for him the next day. Perhaps we helped him too, just a little bit. Which brings me to my rant about capitalism.

Our experience with Barry has to be compared with our encounters with some (not all) hoteliers. (Trennerys is to be excluded from this comparison because they were amazing and gave us free accommodation and went out of their way to make us a special vegan meal.) Arriving at The Haven we were not so fortunate. Perhaps Nicola and Grant are regretting their decision to buy this hotel… some people just shouldn’t be in the hospitality business. After much haggling Nicola gave us a slightly reduced rate for a room. They wouldn’t allow us to camp so we were stuck having to pay hotel rates. They had already fleeced us of R60 to cross the Mbashee River in a canoe (nevertheless expertly rowed by Allerick) for which we normally pay half of that. The food that night had some vegan choices, but was presided over by a very domineering, scary woman who seemed intent on making sure we didn’t eat too much. Vegans need way more quantity of food than carnivores to make up the calories. Vegan cyclists… well! People just don’t understand quite how much food we have to eat! Breakfast the next morning was a carnivore’s delight. Even the potatoes were fried in butter. I think she might have done this on purpose…

So if you are running a business, like a hotel, every stranger that wanders in presents you with an opportunity for exploitation. This is sanctioned by the capitalist system, because it is morally acceptable to want to make a profit. More than that, it is your duty. If you choose compassion or kindness over exploitation, you are headed for business failure and not respected as a good “operator.” I have owned businesses, so I understand this thinking. But it is so much more interesting to be seeing life from the point of view of a vagabond, relying on the kindness of strangers. It is my firm belief that our world will ultimately be saved by the compassionate, not the greedy.

My heartfelt thanks to all the people who have helped us in the Eastern Cape. There are so many: Allan, Barry, Brian and Carole, Solly, Mark, Rahel, Gavin, Nosipho and Jeff, Kayden and Tamsin, the guys at Trennerys, Sean, Dave and Dali at Bulungula, Etienne, Michelle and Wouter. There are others whose names I have forgotten, but not their actions. It is an amazing world and an amazing experience.

Google Maps Leads Us Astray

On Friday morning 19th December we left L’Aquila lodge where we had been joyfully hosted by Susie, Roberto, Rafaella and Tamilla. Their lodge overlooks both the Kap River and the Great Fish River. We stayed two nights with them because they were such fun and it was so beautiful. One of our highlights so far was the canoe trip Sven and I took down the Kap River. I saw my first Trumpeter Hornbill and a pair of what we think might have been Narina Trogons… can’t cross it off though, coz I am not sure. The staircase to the river takes you down about 750 metres and the entire wooden structure was built, by hand, by Roberto, an Italian master craftsman. Hard to describe the peace and tranquility of that river at dusk, with just the birds and insects for company. We saw flocks of cormorants flying to their nesting place, sacred ibis, and heard much unidentifiable bird song. There’s a free standing private lodge you can rent, with swimming pool and braai area. It is not far past Seafield or Kleinmonde, which has a beautiful beach and estuary.

As we cycled away from the lodge two mornings later, on the sand road, the dogs chased us along the other side of the fence. Concerned the dogs might squeeze out of the gate and follow us, Sven was calling them and encouraging them, and not watching where he was going. Crash!! His bike slid out from under him and he hit the deck. Grazes up his leg and arm… not a very auspicious start. It set the tone for a day that was only going to get worse.

We stopped at the farm stall at the end of the track which meets the main road, and bought some freshly squeezed pineapple juice from L’Aquila’s peculiar neighbours. If that man could have sold us his dog, or even his wife, I think he would have! He offered us accommodation (even though we were leaving), and a box of Australian pineapples (a new kind, apparently)… erm… on bicycles? A more enthusiastic vendor I have not come across this side of the Indian subcontinent.

We eventually reached Wesley, which is basically a farm stall/restaurant, shop and a few homesteads. Scanning the menu for vegan food (haha… we do this all the time, unsuccessfully) we worked out a custom breakfast request of toast with spinach, baked beans and mushrooms. They were very accommodating, as restauranteurs often are when we tell them what to make for us and save them the trouble of trying to figure it out for themselves.

Sven is studying Google maps on his phone, and shows me a route we can take into the countryside, that avoids the main road and its tiresome traffic, and lops off at least 5km from our journey to Hamburg. Hmmm… seems to cross a few rivers… no worries, Google must be right, right? Just before we leave Sven dashes into the shop to get half a loaf of bread and a can of baked beans… emergency rations. We set off down a gravel road, through the village and its cows and goats and noisy children having fun. About two hours into the journey the road has become a jeep track, and is fast deteriorating into an animal track. No worries, Google can’t be wrong, can it? Finally, a small farm and a caravan. We ride over to the residents and ask them if they know the road to Hamburg. One doesn’t need to understand much Xhosa to recognise the look of astonishment on the man’s face as he shakes his head and tells us there is no road. Ah, there used to be a road, a long time ago. But no more. Hmmm… we don’t believe him, because Google can’t be wrong. So we say thanks, and goodbye, and trundle off in the direction of the “road”. What Google doesn’t show us, are the newly erected barbed wire fences, or the impenetrable bush. It also doesn’t show us the un-crossable river in our future. But the sun is setting and we are not turning around now. Somewhere along that non-road my bike rack shears off at the bolt. I wondered why my panniers were swaying from side to side. It is at times like this that I am so thankful that Sven can look at a problem and figure out a way to fix it. I have total confidence in his mechanical and problem-solving abilities. And cable ties.

Back on the bike just in time for the road to finally peter out and disappear into thick clumps of thorn bushes.  We dump the bikes and explore the area on foot, to see if we can find a way to pass through. Not a chance. The bushes just get thicker and eventually lead down to a deep and wide river. Dead end. No choice but to turn back, except that the sun has now set… This would be our first night of “wild camping”. If I wasn’t so pissed off, I might have enjoyed it more. It was, after all, very beautiful, and very safe. How could a place so inaccessible not be safe!

We erect the tent, cover the bikes with a ground sheet and settle down to a feast of peanut butter and lentil sprout sandwiches. Cold baked beans just had no appeal. My broken stove had not yet been replaced, so no tea. We climbed under our blankets and slept till dawn, which, thankfully comes early to these parts. Next morning Sven changes our tires and I get impatient, so I go off birdwatching. But the birds aren’t playing the game and I sit around till he is finally ready to go.

We retrace our route of the previous evening and finally see the little farm in the distance. But we have been spotted (not difficult, we could be spotted from a distance of 10km the way we are dressed.) A very large and imposing looking Xhosa man meets us on the path and says, somewhat angrily, “I believe you slept on my land last night.” We immediately go on a charm offensive and both reach out to shake his hand, big smiles on our faces. “Yes,” we say “we were following Google maps and it showed us a road but it wasn’t there!” Solly, the farmer, gradually softened up and turned out to be a nice, helpful chap. He instructed his son to drive the bakkie ahead of us and show us a shortcut to Hamburg. He told us he was considering building cabins down by the river to accommodate all the folks who get lost following Google maps! Good idea, mate. Perhaps put a fridge in there and stock it with food and beers.

Off we went again, but this journey wasn’t going to end any time soon. After three punctures, endless cow tracks and locked gates, we eventually reached Hamburg late in the afternoon, after encountering John, on his motorbike, when we were about an hour away from, but in sight of, Hamburg. He told us to meet him at the pub when we got there and he’d buy us a beer. Go on, twist my arm, I thought.

We finally arrived in Hamburg, tired, hungry, and relieved. It had taken us two full days to travel 50km. A new record!

One month on the road

By 1st December 2014 we had been on the road for one month. How would I sum up the experience? Perhaps I could say it has been the sharpest growth and learning curve of my whole life. In that month, we have cycled from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, via mountains, deserts and beaches. We have shown the film “Cowspiracy” to interested pre-vegans, debated veganism and climate change with strangers, been applauded, questioned and been given a lot of strange looks. We have been interviewed by TV stations and newspapers and have sometimes struggled to get our message across with clarity.

I could just tell you all the good stuff and leave out the dirt. Truth is, there’s been lots of good stuff. But there’s also been some fairly hefty challenges. To begin with, Sven and I disagree on most things! He is careful and detailed and slow. I am quick and less careful and don’t sweat the small stuff. So we argue. A lot. I have even said that the easiest thing about this trip is the cycling! Even when we had to cycle 85km through the long, boring, undulating Langkloof into a relentless headwind, or when I was struggling over Rooiberg, the most challenging pass in the Western Cape. All that is easier than two opinionated hotheads learning how to be with each other 24/7, and I have considered throwing in the towel on more than a few occasions.

One of the things that keeps us together is having similar values: veganism and our concern for the health of the planet, relieving the suffering of farmed animals, and caring about our community of Earthlings so passionately that we want to do something to help. Most people we encounter think we’re nuts to be living this lifestyle. They are the ones that look at us askew, with a raised eyebrow and you can see them thinking, “but why? Why would they want to take themselves out of their comfort zone and into danger and discomfort, all for the sake of a few animals? What difference could they possibly make, anyway?” When I come across these people I am tempted to ask myself the same question, especially if I am having a bad day. But then I think about what I would be doing if I was home, and I realise that my sense of adventure and challenge is more powerful than my need for comfort.

There are some people, however, who understand what we are attempting and just want to help. Like Mignonne and Andre Van Heerden, for example, the “boere vegans” in whose house we have been living for the past week and who have spoiled us with delicious vegan food and the most amazing vegan rusks. Thanks to them, we have been able to rest, regroup and plan the next stage of our journey. I have talked about this subject in my previous blog, but people keep surprising me with their caring and giving attitudes. We have created a page on our website to salute everyone who has helped us in a significant way. That is going to be a very long page by the time we get to Ethiopia!

If you are following our photos on Instagram you will have seen some of the incredibly beautiful countryside we have encountered so far. It is such a privilege to be out in nature in the way we are, listening to the bird sounds, the wind and feeling the sun on our bodies. The freedom and joy of being in constant contact with nature, from a bicycle seat, is hard to describe.

We leave soon for the next leg of our trip: hugging the coastline up to East London and on through the Wild Coast, all the way to KZN. We will probably spend Christmas and New Year on the beautiful beaches of the Transkei. Wherever you are, I wish you the most awesome holiday season and hope it will be a joyful time for each one of you. I ask you to take some time to think about how we live our lives and some of the ways we can each help to heal our planet and save our beloved Earthlings.

Love and lots of hugs for everyone, and thank you for following this journey.

Serendipity, flow… or just plain good luck?

After three weeks on the road, the longest time I have ever spent on a bike, I have seen the practical effects of getting up off my ass and doing something. That Goethe quote, “the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred” has travelled around with me all my life. It is only now, on this remarkable adventure, that I have really experienced it for the first time. There are many definitions of “providence,” but the one I choose to use to describe the incredible (literally) experiences of the past few weeks is “a manifestation of divine care or direction.” Not that I think there is a God sitting in the clouds directing me, I don’t. What I do believe is there is a universal energy within us and all around us – everywhere and in everything – and when we connect with it, we are “in the flow.” It feels like I am in harmony with the universe instead of at odds with it.

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Take Bonnievale for example: We had rolled into town quite late the previous evening and found a B&B (we try and avoid them because they are too expensive for us). Next morning, after shopping for new pedals for Sven, we stop off at Gecko Printing along the main street and meet the wonderful Chantel. She is so enthralled with what we are doing that she insists on buying us breakfast at Relish. So we go to the restaurant which is two houses away, and walk into the garden and see a fruit tree and have a conversation about what kind of tree it is. A woman pipes up from one of the tables that it is an apricot tree. This leads to a conversation, which leads to us joining them at their table, which leads to us not leaving Bonnievale that day. We are invited to their riverside cottage where Sven canoes in the river and I watch the birds, and we joined them for a braai (veggies for us) and spent the night there. Two new instant friends. Beautiful.

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Or what about the Brandrivier episode: We left Magic Mountains Retreat (a future blog) at about 1pm and cycled along a dirt road to Brandrivier, a tiny one-horse town without a horse. It was about 3h30 when we arrived there and we thought we’d better find a farmer to ask how far it was to Langberg, the next town. We knocked on Jaco Nel’s door and asked him. Turns out there is no such town! So we ask him if he knows a place we can camp, because it will take us a day to ride to Van Wyksdorp, the actual next town. He says yes, and we climb into his bakkie and he drives us up the road a few k’s to this incredible, solitary farmhouse. His family home, where no one lives any more, becomes our home for the night.

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Third example: While riding along the road to Van Wyksdorp the next day, we encounter two cars stopped at roadblock set up for road resurfacing. I read the words “Ricky’s Drift. A Chemical Free Place” on the side of the bakkie. We chat to the man in the bakkie, who turns out to be Ricky, and his partner Louise, in the front car. They are intrigued by our outfits and our story about cycling to Ethiopia that they insist on hosting us at their cottage in Van Wyksdorp. Ricky is a South African, recently returned from living in Australia for about the past three decades. He has Lyme Disease and needs to live in a completely chemical free environment. He is a lovely guy and has an awesome smallholding with an organic garden and guest accommodation just outside of Van Wyksdorp, a cute little town, set in incredibly beautiful surroundings. After dinner and breakfast with Ricky and Louise, we had gained two more friends and once again been the willing recipients of kind hospitality.  I even got to have coffee with almond milk! Anyone who knows me, know that this is a treat beyond words.

Things have gone wrong along the way… we have had punctures, a broken pedal, bolts falling off the bike. We have had fights as we learn how to be with each other for 24 hours each day. All these things just highlight to me how important it is to try to stay as conscious as possible and allow the flow to happen.

I also need to say thank you so much to everyone who has shown us kindness along the way. In three short weeks there are already too many to mention. In return, we hope that we have inspired you, in some way or another.

We just have to stay in the flow all the way to Ethiopia and back.

 

 

 

 

Greyton Transition Town

We spent a wonderful couple of days in Greyton at the home of my dear friend Rohan Millson. I used to live in Greyton so I felt sentimental about leaving the Western Cape via this special little town. Rohan, a fellow vegan activist, is a World Peace Diet Facilitator, a nutrition counselor and writes a monthly newspaper column called “Eating Ourselves Healthy.” He believes that the one simple thing we can all do to improve our health, and save our planet, is to eat like humans, in the way in which we are adapted, which means to not eat animals.

Rohan’s worthy goal in life is to inspire people, through his writing, social media, and his talks and lectures, to see the benefits of veganism. He reaches 10 million people every day through his social media posts of inspirational, vegan-related sayings from great people throughout history. Some examples of these great thinkers are Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, et al. Surprisingly high numbers of truly great people have seen the benefits of leaving animals off their plates.

Rohan is active on behalf of Greyton Transition Town (GTT) which is part of the Global Transition Town Network. Their goal is to make Greyton self-sustaining in terms of food production and energy, and to build a resilient, unified community. GTT incorporates the Pure Cafe a wonderful vegan/vegetarian restaurant in the village, as well as Greyton EcoLodge. The EcoLodge provides accommodation for groups who go to Greyton to do environmental training. The recently hosted Green Pop, an NGO, who planted 300 trees on the property to turn it into a biodynamic demonstration site.

Rohans place

Rohan’s house is made from straw bales and clay and has the most incredible view of the Riviersonderend mountains and valley. The farm runs on solar power and rainwater is collected. Their vegetable supply comes from their organic garden and they have an organic mushroom production facility coming online. They look after loads of rescued animals: 8 sheep, 2 goats, 3 cats and 2 dogs. The lamb in the picture with Rohan is called Chance, whom I had the pleasure of feeding with a babies bottle a few times during our stay.

From here it is onward to Riviersonderend, Bonnievale, and Montagu.

 

 

 

And We’re Off! But… Is It Safe?

I just want to get something out of the way, right now, that has been bugging me since I started telling people about this journey. We have been asked many questions, like how far are you going, for how long, which countries, etc. But the most commonly asked question is “but, is it safe?”

Erm… dunno. Is your life safe?

A better question might be: “What kind of safety measures do you have in place?” That question I can answer because it is practical. The former question is impossible to answer. Was it safe for a friend of mine to go to the grocery store in Gardens, a suburb of Cape Town? Yes, perfectly safe, until one evening she went shopping and was confronted by a gang of thugs who robbed her and her fellow shoppers leaving her seriously traumatised. All I can say is, we will do our best to avoid danger, by employing our common sense, experience, and whatever tools we have at our disposal. Pretty much like normal life, actually.

Our experiences in this first week of our adventure has shown us that people are generally wonderful. They just want to help. We have been offered lifts in the rain, given free luxurious accommodation and have been given donations in money and goods! So I hope that if we do run into trouble along the way there will be kind people around who will help.

We had a fantastic send-off at Green Point Park. New and old friends turned up to wave us goodbye. We were late, of course. Unless you have done a trip like this you just can’t imagine how much there is to take care of. Cycling through the docks we caused an uproar with the guards. They got so excited by our outfits and all our bags that they begged to have their photos taken with us, whipping out their cell phones. Normally, when we try and take a shortcut through the docks, they stop us at the barrier with a surly look and a shake of the head and send us off to cycle up the N1 (illegal). Funny the effect a Mohican wig can have on people.

First night we had another celebration with friends and family in Tableview. Next day we cycled to Paarl.. a long ride in the wind, arriving in the dark at Berg River Resort campsite. Waking up in our tent to a very dreary day with rain threatening didn’t encourage me to rush out to my bike. Luckily, Sven had to do some bike maintenance so most of the day was spent under the kitchen roof watching him change my pedals and sort stuff out. We got to Franschhoek that evening and stayed at a backpackers called Otters Bend. Beautiful wooden structures, with a bar cut out of a barrel, set in an orchard with stunning views. Thanks to Mark who gave us a big room so we could store our bikes with us. Would have liked to chat to him more as he is very involved in nature conservation and building affordable housing. Pics of all this are on Instagram and should show next to this post.

We had our second 15 minutes of fame the next day when Jessica came out to meet us and film us for CTV. She gave us both a War On Greed T-shirt to wear. It says on the back: “Live simply so others can simply live.” We are proud to wear them, Jessica, and are so grateful for the support we have received from you and Kent.

Finally the ascent of the much feared (by me)Franschhoek Pass loomed. I think a few of my friends thought I might pack it in at this point. Hauling over 30 Kg up the pass, plus my own weight, is not to be recommended for the fainthearted. But I did it, and the exhilaration I felt at the top shows in the photos. Sani Pass is going to make Franschhoek Pass look like a pimple.

If you are looking for somewhere to stay in Villiersdorp, I highly recommend de Villiers Country Lodge. It is owned by Johannie Barnard who is just the kindest, most mothering person. She couldn’t do enough for us, and was especially kind when I tripped over her rug and crashed onto the coffee table on my face, breaking her mug and spraying tea all over the lounge. My teeth made a hole in my lip, but I quickly recovered.

This morning we leave dear friends behind in Greyton in the mists, and tackle the long sand road towards Riviersonderend and on.

I am blogging this from my phone so forgive the lack of photos. As I said, the pics are up on Instagram. Just click on the thumbnails to the right of this post.

A Mystical Tree and Ubuntu Farewell

Last night we were hosted by Ian and Dawn Macfarlane at the beautiful and tranquil Ubuntu Wellness Centre in Cape Town’s Gardens neighbourhood. Gathered in the circle were the most inspiring and compassionate group of vegans I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They each brought a contribution of their most special vegan dish and we ate well, enjoying the spirit of Ubuntu that is sure to characterise our cycling experience through the countries of Southern and Eastern Africa.

We had a surprise in store for them in the form of the new movie Cowspiracy which we have been given permission to carry with us and show as we travel. What a brilliant and brave effort to highlight the “elephant in the room” within the global warming, environmental activism world. This movie will be premiering in South Africa in November. Make sure you take the time to go and see it. It is at once educational and entertaining, with very little of the gruesome footage that usually shows up in vegan films.

This event was surely inspired by the ancient fig tree, Nokuphila, in the courtyard of the MediSpa under whose wise branches Ian, Dawn, Sven and I first sat and planned how we would publicise our expedition into the new unknown (to us) world of Africa and her Ubuntu spirit.

Earlier this week we were miraculously whisked off to the Cape Town offices of Archbishop Desmond Tutu for tea and a blessing. I heard echoes of that saying in my head about once you are committed how the universe conspires to support you. Yikes! It is true after all!! I loved meeting him and his daughter Mpho and the beautiful people who run his office with such love and care. How many offices are run with the true spirit of Ubuntu, I wonder. That was always my goal back in the days when I ran my own record company.

In the pic above he was saying that no one ever tells you that when you get old you won’t be able to get up out of your chair!

We will carry his graceful energy with us as we leave next Saturday from Green Point Park.

 

 

A social lifestyle experiment

In a few days Sven, my partner, and I will leave Cape Town on a cycling expedition that could last anywhere from a few months to a few years. We will be cycling to some Southern/Eastern African countries, which will include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, … and maybe some others. But this is not just a normal (whatever that is) cycling holiday. It is more like a social experiment… or a lifestyle. We will be living as minimalists and will share ideas like you can cycle around Africa successfully on a plant-fuelled diet. We will experience how some people are living happily without the constraints and luxuries inherent in our western capitalist society. We will discover what we have to offer to others in exchange for what they have to offer to us. We will meet kindness with kindness and dissolve some of the myths about “darkest Africa.” And we will document this experiment on our blogs, with photos, and maybe even with video (if we get sponsored with GoPro cameras). This trip is not about getting to a particular destination in the shortest possible time, it is about a direction. In fact, it might end up being the longest cycle trip through Africa… ever! That’s a record we’d love to break.

In preparation for the trip we decided to get our health checked. Rather than go to my local GP and pay for the privilege, we decided to go to the local free government clinic and to document the experience. After all, this is how the majority of South Africans receive their medical care; they can’t afford expensive GPs and don’t have medical aid. I wasn’t keen to have this experience, being a privileged “whitey” who has only ever known private care. But, in preparation for what might be much worse to come in other African countries, I decided to go along.

Triage… What’s that? We started off at Somerset Hospital in Cape Town. After opening a file for me, I was sent to a nurse who took my blood pressure and various vital signs tests to determine whether I was an emergency case or not. This can take an hour or two, depending how busy the hospital is. It took us about an hour. This is called Triage and I suppose it identifies the emergency cases. I was a routine case, so, paperwork in hand, I walked over to the clinic, a few blocks away.

The clinic… scary! Yes, it really does say “Entry at own risk.” That was a bit daunting. I liked the art deco menthol paintwork though. I took a few photos while I was waiting for my turn with the doc (about 3 hours):

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X-Ray Service. Yep, that’s what it says above the doorway. Inside the door, however, is a tuck shop selling healthy delights like Fritos and Coke. The closest you will come to an x-ray in that room is the microwave on the shelf below the counter! We did get a bit hungry, actually, and we were glad of a vegan snack.

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Pap smear with a fire extinguisher. I kid you not. The mind boggles…

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Ah yes.. that old chestnut, the food pyramid. This, folks, is what you need to be eating to stay healthy: Cow secretions (really?), banana and porridge (ok), beans with some hardened secretions on a white roll (really?).. and then for dinner a dead chicken’s leg with potatoes (or pap) and two veg.  That’ll work to keep people out of the clinic.. surely?

But the greatest mystery of all from that day was this:

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What could it be? A gated cell with razor wire on top of the wall so you can’t climb out.. or in? We found it in the courtyard of the clinic. Apparently a relic of a former time… the result of someone’s brain-fart, or a serious idea? Here’s a close-up of the inside:

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In case you can’t read what it says on the wall, it is Sputum Booth Project Partnership. So I googled it, of course. Clearly it has something to do with TB, a huge problem in SA to this day. However, the workings of it remain a mystery to me. It looks more like an instrument of torture.

In any case, we are both healthy vegans with low blood pressure, normal blood sugar, and good heart and respiration rates. So off we go.. soon 🙂 Watch this space.

World Peace Day, pole dancing and unbranded calves

I woke up on World Peace Day to the sound of the Cape Town Marathon starting off in Green Point in Cape Town. Opening the curtain and staring up at the bluest of skies I felt really happy to be home again after 4 months away. There was a banner fluttering past in the sky above my window, pulled by a single engine plane. It said “Mavericks”. What a welcoming sight… not.

A maverick, if you don’t already know, is (in the US at least) an unbranded calf, cow, or steer, that is separated from its mother. Why would it be separated from its mother, you ask? Well, because its mother was a “dairy” cow who’d had a vet’s fist shoved into her vagina so she could be artificially inseminated. This, so that she could give birth, so that she could produce milk, so that brainwashed grown up humans could drink it. So they could get a milk moustache and look like Taylor Swift or William H Macy. The “unbranded” calf (like branding is normal and unbranded is a calf that is in some way deficient), having been snatched away from its mother awaits either a fate worse than death (imprisonment in a crate to be fattened up for the veal industry) or death.

Maverick has also come to mean “a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates.” That’s OK, but are we implying that these are the people who go to strip clubs? You’ll see what I mean…

It gets worse, because the third definition I am given by Dictionary.com is this: “Maverick, an electro-optically guided U.S. air-to-ground tactical missile for destroying tanks and other hardened targets at ranges up to 15 miles (24 km).” Interesting visual for World Peace Day.

Fourthly it means “unorthodox, unconventional, nonconformist: a maverick fiscal conservative willing to raise taxes.” Ah, so that’s the meaning the banner was referring to I guess, along with definition number 2 (really?). Because Mavericks is a Gentlemen’s Club, “the most sophisticated strip club in Cape Town” and the purveyor of “80 beautiful girls who will pole dance and lap dance for your pleasure,” where discerning women are also welcome. Call me unusual, but I just find it so hard to imagine discerning women choosing to go to a strip club on their night off. Mavericks chose to advertise their product to the families celebrating World Peace Day on the beach and along the promenade. Glad I didn’t have to explain to my kid what a Maverick is.There’s something about this that makes me most uncomfortable… Is there perhaps a link between imprisoned and sexually abused female mammals (cows) and human females who sell their bodies for the pleasure of men? Why is it so often the females of the species at the receiving end of human abuse. This can be seen in homo sapiens, without a doubt, in male on female rape. But then we have female chickens exploited for the products of their menstrual cycle (erm… eggs), and cows, sheep and goats exploited for their milk.

So you think there’s no connection between Mavericks and female animal abuse? Think again. Perhaps it was good to be reminded of this on World Peace Day.
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To change the subject completely, Sven and I did our bit for World Peace on our bikes: A bike ride and free hugs to the promenaders. 😉
And then we followed Jane Goodall’s request and asked our fellow citizens and cyclists what peace means to them. (Search for #PeaceDay and #RSvision on Facebook for more responses.) This is what they said:
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Tips for the novice cycle tourist

I was cycling along an English country lane and this post started to form in my head. It was so insistent that I had to pull over, take out my notebook, and write it all down. So here are some tips for intrepid novice cycle tourists:

  1. Carry 2 spare tubes. You have a 47 percent chance of puncturing again if you’ve already punctured once. How do we know this? No idea, but I have had 2 punctures so far on my trip around the Cotswolds, so I am not going to argue.
  2. Following on from 1, don’t even think of cycle touring if you can’t fix a puncture (by that I mean removing the front or back wheel and getting the tyre off and on, the new tube in place without pinching it, pumping it up and putting the wheel back on correctly. I am rubbish at it, and without the kindness of cycling strangers (warning: English, male, non-cyclist strangers run in the opposite direction when they see you struggling) I would still be sitting at the side of the road covered in grease.
  3. If camping, carry a solar battery charger to keep your devices working. This avoids the blank look you get from campsite managers when you ask where you can charge your phone. One woman very reluctantly agreed to unplug her kettle for me. Catastrophe!
  4. Know where you’re going. If you plan to Couch Surf, or look for Warm Showers hosts, you need to give them at least 2 days’ notice, sometimes longer. Most will not respond to last-minute requests. Hence the camping idea…
  5. If you do camp, take a stove with you. A rainy morning following a freezing cold English summer night is only bearable if you can brew a hot coffee.
  6. Take your GPS with you but don’t rely on it. Your batteries will go flat at the wrong moment, or it will mysteriously lose its signal. Carry Ordinance Survey maps, the latest release of which show cycle routes, both with and without traffic.
  7. Talk to other cycle tourists. They know all this stuff already and will give you lots of tips. Plus, they love talking about their gear.
  8. Even in England in summer don’t expect to be warm in an 11 degree sleeping bag if camping. Silly me… oh, and do carry a pillow.
  9. Take a friend or partner with you. It can be lovely on your own, but how do you explain the awesomeness you have experienced?
  10. Always carry bananas. Instant energy. You might be surprised how many English villages have nowhere to buy provisions.
  11. Don’t be too ambitious with your distances – have you heard that cliche it’s about the journey not the testosterone… oh sorry, I meant the destination?
  12. Get a computer for your bike. It is disconcerting not knowing how far you’ve cycled.
  13. You don’t need to carry a towel, just a kikoi. Google it.
  14. Motorists are generally miserable and want to kill you, especially truck drivers. You’d be miserable too if cooped up in a tin can on a gorgeous sunny day. Be kind to them.
  15. Take the B roads… they’re prettier. They are also slower, but apart from the odd raging BMW or Audi-would-be-Formula-1-driver, much quieter.
  16. Keep a notebook handy, and a camera. Record your trip. Otherwise you will forget where you went, and you will feel like such a twat when people ask you where you’ve come from and where you’re going.
  17. People will also ask you if you are riding for charity. I haven’t worked out a completely satisfying response to this ridiculous question. The best I have come up with so far is “No”.
  18. Look at the birds, animals, flora, and smell the scents. Listen to the wind in the trees. You are privileged to be able to travel in this manner.
  19. Dont get despondent when things go wrong (which they will, no matter how well you plan). What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Another cliche. Sorry.
  20. You don’t need lots of gear. You need a bike that fits you properly, a saddle that is comfortable… and panniers are fabulous.

I am a vegan cyclist. That’s two strikes

So there I was, cycling along an English country road, slowly, weighed down with panniers. Aware of the growing impatience of the drivers behind me, and knowing most of them operate with a very short fuse, I sometimes politely pull over onto the verge, if there is one, on very narrow roads, and let them pass without having to cross the centre white line. This behaviour of mine is probably beyond what is required by the school of safe cycling, but sometimes it gets me a hoot and a thumbs up from truck drivers, and I quite like that (let’s not delve into the psychology of this). Sometimes, though, I am not in the mood and couldn’t be arsed.

On this occasion the sun was shining (well, the sun always shines… thats what it does, but in England it is often invisible) and I was exhilarated being on my bike, smelling the scents, hearing the birds, feeling the wind on my face, etc. I became aware of a car behind me slowing down to my speed and sitting there in second gear. There was no oncoming traffic so I couldn’t understand why it didn’t overtake. If I had been in South Africa I would have begun to get dark thoughts, senses alert to the possibility of an imminent crime. But this was Blighty, so more likely a super-cautious road-hazard in the shape of a bad driver. Glancing over my shoulder I could see a woman with a child in the passenger seat. There was a narrow verge ahead of me so I pulled over, more to get her out of my hair than anything else. Then the weirdest thing happened: she drove past me, looked at me, and slowly shook her head from side to side wearing a withering look. Flashback to high school and my Latin teacher. Motionless, I stared after her trying to fathom what had just happened. I thought I was being part of the solution, not part of the problem. In fact, I felt quite hurt at being so unappreciated!

A few miles further on, after turning this incident over and over in my mind, it dawned on me what had happened: Cyclists are not wanted on English roads. To non-cycling drivers we are the scourge of the earth, sent up from hell to prey on motorists who just want to get where they are going in the shortest possible time, preferably with no obstacles. Her nasty look clearly said “you should be ashamed of yourself, riding a bike on the road, and wearing that get-up too!” (think mohawk wig helmet in rainbow colours, designed by my gorgeously creative cyclist sweetheart). Silly count…ry bumpkin. Get a life! Imagine if I had told her I was vegan. Then she would really have hated me! But that’s another story.