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Time to reflect and life off the bikes

It's been more than 4 months and still the feeling of being in one place hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I’ve started writing this piece multiple times, and every time I become overwhelmed and don’t know how to continue. Here a small peak at something I wrote back in December when visiting our family in Europe:


Adjusting to the ‘real world’

I write this sitting on a high speed train, racing through the dreary European winter landscape. I watch as we criss cross over highways, I watch people in the early morning greyness heading into even more grey buildings. Perhaps they are experiencing some kind of joy, but who would know. We are all plugged into our little machines, separate, experiencing different realities, creating epic journeys with our electronic soundtracks on full blast, I do this right now, making this whole process more or less dramatic. 

We cycled into Cape Town almost a month ago. That morning, leaving the tiny town of Philadelphia, I felt ready. As we got closer, enveloped in traffic, I became less sure. This day would mark an end to something that had become our lives, something that our lives had become. An anxious feeling filled my chest, how would we fit in to this busy world, a world so full of stress, stimulation. A world always on the go. We were also on the go so to say, but it felt intentional yet spontaneous at the same time. I don’t even know where to begin, the bodily feeling so overwhelming when we arrived in Zurich airport, or the sense of having no purpose anymore, no routine to make you feel connected to the world. Floating all over the place, yet heavy with so much love, responsibility to share new knowledge and experiences, and a serious wrenching open of the heart being vulnerable but free. 

It is pouring out in words, not sentences, but I think that’s ok. After all we don’t think or more importantly, feel in sentences. The rain is hitting the window of the train, making tiny little worms streaming away from me into the muddy world. I’m going backwards, but somehow it feels good. Back south, in a way I can comprehend more than being shot through the night sky in a big metal tube. It is incomprehensible for my body, let alone my mind, crossing a continent so entirely over more than a year, and then flying over it in less than one day. It feels like trying to squeeze the contents of an entire house into a little jar. I get the feeling that something will pop, the pressure is too much and the intensity of all these items so close to one another might just cause them to become something else entirely. Like a magic trick. How have we created a solution like flying without the majority of people ever experiencing the full magic of it?

Perhaps now is a good time, with the last 4 months to reflect and also having gotten back on the bike to accompany our dear friends Max and Fritz for a few days cycle out of Cape Town. To all of our diligent supporters who have probably been wondering where we have disappeared to since landing back in Cape Town, I apologise for our silence. It has been a huge adjustment fitting in to “normal” life and finding our feet again. 

Accompanying Max and Fritz for the first days on the road leaving Cape Town.

The time has flown by as we have been busy finding a place to live, establishing connections, looking for work and generally also enjoying the summer months in Cape Town. We have been extremely lucky in finding a beautiful home and a most wonderful housemate Sky. Often when one thinks of housemates, the reason people live together is purely practical, basically the rent is cheaper. But Oscar, Sky and I have become a little family. Since all three of us are mostly at home, we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together, even the afternoon coffees and post dinner teas are spent together. I am so grateful for the laughs, the strange conversations and support we offer one another. Not anyone would so openly welcome two siblings who are quite obviously joined at the hip, into their home, as Sky has done so effortlessly and graciously.

Candles are always a priority (even when there is laundry hanging in the background ).
Oscar, Sky and I

Our home lends itself so well to hosting people, our round table perfect for big dinners where everyone can be a part of the same conversation. Hiking and spending plenty of time on the mountain and in the ocean has also helped adjusting to our new life.

Camping out in the most beautiful cave up on Table Mountain

Our new little family - enjoying some good food

Making a home has been an interesting experience, something I have been completely and fully immersed in after 14 months without any space bigger than my tent to call my own. I love to make things beautiful, and have a space that makes me feel comfortable and able to be completely myself in. Even on our trip I would collect flowers to strap onto my bike and have a little set of battery powered fairy lights to string across my tent for extra cozy vibes before falling asleep under the stars. But still, there is not much space for much else when you are carrying everything you use on your bicycle. We both arrived in cape town almost dreading having to buy more things now that we had a whole house or even room to fill. Living with only the essentials is massively rewarding and feels much lighter, with less energy expended on all the objects that are somehow linked to your name floating around the place. Even choosing coffee cup every morning is a decision we didn't have to make while on the road.

some good wild camp spots in South Africa

It is strange coming back to a familiar city after a time away. And not just a time away, but coming back with a new set of eyes it seems. Arriving in South Africa by plane (as we have done so many times in the past) from Europe is always quite a shock, and feels like I am seeing my home a new, with a fresh perspective. But cycling from Europe, down the African continent, from one country to the next and finally arriving in South Africa at the Namibian land border and then eventually in cape town where we have both lived before, held a whole new definition of open eyes. 

Having lived in Woodstock a few years ago (a neighbourhood of cape town), I thought I knew the place. Surprisingly - or unsurprisingly - I have been discovering and noticing so many more things in the area. For example there is the sweetest Nigerian supermarket only 100m down the road selling fresh plantains, ground peanuts and about 20 varieties of beans. The elderly mama who runs the place is always surprised to see me walking in and asking for cassava flour or ground peanuts. The last time she asked me if I was from Brazil, which I thought rather interesting. Perhaps Brazilians eat similar foods, and I suppose there are more white Brazilians than white Nigerians? Woodstock is a very cosmopolitan place, with a large population of people from different African countries. Walking down the street even, with an awareness of my surroundings, feeling a part of this busy bustling life that is present in a city. Feeling confident to approach people, feeling comfortable in my own skin, breathing in the smells that are often not particularly pleasant but always nostalgic. 

Fritz and Max on day 1 leaving Cape Town

Cape Town will be our next home and realising this, making it real, is quite the task. Shortly after arriving we met up with an old acquaintance of Oscars, Max. Max and his brother Fritz were in Cape Town after their first attempt to run/cycle Cape Town to Cairo was interrupted by an injury in Windhoek. We immediately connected, as Fritz had also spent quite a few months cycling around Southern and East Africa only a couple of years before. He would be attempting to break a world record running from Cape Town to Cairo this time, with Max at his side on the bicycle as his support. This story was something we could relate to so thoroughly that we started hanging out fairly regularly. It is weird trying to reconnect with old friends, wonderful but also weird, when you realise your realities have been so completely different for the last chunk of your lives. With Max and Fritz it felt like old friends, there were certain things we just didn't have to explain, and there was always a lot of laughing involved. Over the next months Fritz would be recovering from his injury and getting fit again, and we would end up having many wonderful evenings around a big round table in our apartment, sharing stories and insights of our similar yet vastly different life experiences. And so, they became two wonderful additions to our already awesome little family. It only occurred to me later on that the 4 of us got on also because we were 2 sets of siblings that each had a special bond and had or would be so brave to adventure off together. The idea of going on a long distance cycle trip with my brother didn’t seem strange or brave at all to me, but sharing this fact with people has definitely got their eyes brighter and bigger when they express how they could never do something like this with their sibling.

Oscar and I were good friends before we left, we had shared an upbringing of course, but we had also lived together during university and mostly had pretty similar interests. I couldn’t imagine embarking on such an adventure with anyone else, it didn’t really feel like a possibility. Over time, we adjusted to each others habits (which to begin with weren’t that different). In the evenings, while cooking, there was always space for contemplation, reflection, and sharing frustration of that day. Having someone else there who had seen the same things, felt the same wind and struggled up the same hills was extremely comforting. Being able to express ourselves in our home language and be completely ourselves was vital after a long day of human interaction (especially in densely populated areas). In countries less populated, the days were a game of meditation and contemplation on the bike, or an opportunity to listen to hours of podcasts or have major discussions with one another about the books we were currently reading. Not many days felt uneventful, even if kilometres and kilometres went by without much change in the landscape. Neither of us had ever done a trip like this alone, so of course we had nothing to compare it to, but after meeting some solo cyclists I was very happy to have one person who understood me deeply at end of the day. We also motivated each other, inspired one another, pulled each other up when one of us was feeling low. 

The 2 of us chuffed to be cycling over the Swartberg Pass, after visiting our childhood home Prince Albert

Over time, we started to know each other to point where I would wait for Oscar to say the thing I knew he would say before I said it. It felt a little bit like we were the same person. We even started looking the same, same hair, same clothes, same sun tan. I was honestly surprised when people thought we were a married couple - the sibling vibes were strong! Most people ask us if we fought, or tore each others hair out…surely every now and then?! Not really though, only occasionally we would argue about silly little things, like which spices to use or how to set up the campsite. This mostly happened when we were already tired and hungry or frustrated because of some exterior factor like flies or wind or punctures. 

2 difficult days on the road - a motorcycle mechanic trying to fix a third broken spoke in Rwanda
Camping next to the road after a long day of heat, flies, many many punctures and a terrible road, northern Namibia

The search for work and for purpose have been and still are somehow inextricably intertwined, and questioning this has also halted the process a bit for me. The amount of pressure you put on oneself to find a meaningful career in the first try after an epic life changing journey can be a lot. After all we have had the privilege to not have to work for the last one and a half years, so now the pressure to do so feels somewhat higher. Trying to narrow down the things you are interested in, the things you are good at and the things that could possibly make you money, and find a common denominator is quite a challenging task. 

Some preparation for a dinner in our awesome kitchen

The idea of cooking for people came naturally, as during our first weeks/months in our new home we were quite social and I always enjoyed a good excuse to cook for some hungry friends. Not having any professional experience in the kitchen, I still find practice, experimentation and play definitely make for learning plenty of new skills. Starting a small business is also all about making connections, meeting people, finding your community and support network. This takes a fair amount more time than one may think, but is almost more important than other smaller logistical hurdles. Cooking for people in our home (which we have spent a lot of energy in making beautiful and cosy and homey) is something I can imagine Cape Town could benefit from. Cooking vegan food is still a relatively niche thing in this part of the world, and offering a space for more open conversation and discussion around the dinner table will become my form of activism. I want to show people that vegan food can be just as delicious as its animal based alternatives.

Oscar is looking for work in the sustainability sector, particularly in conservation in the South/African context. I have asked him to write a little about his interests as I would not be able to convey them properly: 

I am interested in the long game of understanding the local context of South African and African environmental and climate challenges.  Specifically, the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, and climate resilience through a socially just lens. At this point I would love to take on a role in which I learn new skills, gain experience, and meet like-minded, optimistic and curious environmental enthusiasts. Impact is an important factor, but I am aware that the highest impact roles sometimes come later in one’s career, so for now the priority is learning. I would like to be surrounded by a diversity of people, and work on projects that contribute to human and ecosystem wellbeing. I am realizing that I like people more than I previously did, and social connection has therefore been a priority for me. Prioritizing enjoyment and appreciating and embracing the freedom we have the privilege of has also been consciously on my mind since returning from our trip. I would love to lend my passion to solving the biggest challenges facing humans and our home.

So as you might see in this piece of writing, our lives are a little bit in limbo right now. We are trying to be patient with ourselves, be gentle with the pressures we are putting on ourselves to find a meaningful existence after such a life experience, but also feel inspired and motivated by our new surroundings and incredible people we are meeting every day. After all the time on the road, meeting people, learning about different cultures, landscapes, food and ways of life, we are faced with the biggest challenge yet. How do we consciously utilise all this knowledge and share these lessons and experience with a world that is so in need of more connection and love? How do we use what we have learned to become better human beings, feel confident in ourselves and still be open to new experiences?

We are so lucky to be able to have this time to discover what it is we truly want from life, who we are inside and be met with such incredible generosity, support and openness from our friends and family.

If I had to choose one important lesson or realisation from the last year and a half, it would be that all humans (no matter how different we may seem) seek connection, love and community.

Thank you to everyone that has made us feel at home!

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