Cycle Across Africa
Weird and Wonderful – Both sides of the Adventure
How do you judge whether you like someone or not?
I remember a secondary school teacher telling our class how “first impressions are most important”. She was right to give the warning, they are of course important but MOST important? is it not wrong that we base so much of our attitude toward others based on a quick observation?
When you think about it, it’s a bit insulting to believe you can correctly judge someone this way. We are all far too complex to have our character, attitude or personality determined based solely on a first impression.
Looking for somewhere to sleep
After pushing the bike down a 2km sand track, I finally arrived at a sort of farmhouse. It was all caged off in the middle of the bush and just while I was thinking how much the place reminded me of something from a horror movie (think “Texas chainsaw massacre” or “Jeepers Creepers”), no less than six barking dogs came from all sides. With no sign saying “campsite” I began thinking I’d taken a wrong turn but was so beat by then and with the dogs barking all around, I shouted into the house “HELLOOOOO?”.
I was really beginning to worry about the dogs until suddenly, they stopped and it fell eerily silent. This felt like it lasted an eternity, it was so cliche (“you’ve got to be kidding me”) and through the fence I started to make out an old white man moving painfully slow toward the gate, dressed in beige khaki shorts and tshirt he was stocky, scraggy hair, a round face with a big frown. “Sorry I might have the wrong place but saw a sign for camping up the road”, I offered…..no reply, he just kept on walking toward. Staring through the fence he spoke grumpily but softly “there’s nobody here at Christmas” – he opened the gate. “Is this the campsite” I asked, he just pointed into the yard. I’m properly freaked at this stage and surrounded by dogs again, the little black one keeps nipping at my leg. Asking how much the stay would cost he shakes his head and says “no”, I ask again….. “We don’t take payment, sometimes donations but you, no”, he points down the back of the yard again to where I could put the tent.
Straight out of a Horror Movie
I sat around for ages thinking about the situation and wondering how I would put this into words on my adventure travel blog – the tent stayed in it’s bag for hours. Walking around the yard I took several pictures, an old sofa, yellow stained beer glasses, a run down caravan, old farm machinery and tools – it seriously resembled the scene of a horror movie and I now cursed these same movies that had made me so paranoid in the middle of the bush. I kept looking around and up to the house, expecting to see more people hiding out somewhere. The fence around us was big enough to ward off any animals but still easy enough to climb over, the dogs – all six of them guarded the front gate and on the far side I camped next to the river, of which the hippos occupied.
Things that go bump
In the middle of the night I woke to the sound of big splashes, then soon the unmistakeable call of hippos on the river but could also hear something outside the tent. Usually this would be a sign to stay where I am but the yard was fenced off and I suspected it was the dogs messing with the bike panniers. Needing to go to the toilet anyway, I jumped out to take a look but the bike was fine, I woke to this sound several times again but soon fell into a deep sleep completely knackered from the days adventure.
Waking to tranquility
Next morning upon opening the tent zip, there were two beautiful horses grazing in the first light – a sight to remember. The sight and realization of how natural the tents surroundings were just brilliant. When I got outside, there were pieces and shreds of my Botswana map everywhere and one of the guilty culprits sitting smugly beside it – the noise during the night had been dogs chewing up the map.
I packed the bike in a hurry, still itching to get back onto the open road, away from scary old man and the eery farmhouse. While doing so, two horses came right up close – a bizarre seven minute video follows, the horses begin following and chasing me around the yard. Knowing next to nothing about horses, I just couldn’t (and still do not) understand what was happening – the horse had his head right in my face and I began asking them what they wanted. If I wasn’t freaked before this episode then by now I was truly mesmerized, however it felt very peaceful that morning (unlike the evening before) and it was easy to appreciate the surroundings and interaction with all these animals – I laughed the whole morning at this whacky chain of events and wondered what could possibly happen next on this adventure.
Pushing the bike through the yard, I just hoped this old man was still asleep. I wanted to say thank you but was so intent on getting out of there – I headed directly for the rickety gate. The dogs lay around sleeping, closing the gate as quietly as possible I began pushing the bicycle back through the sand and into the bush until, I was gone. I thought to myself “This is definitely going in the travel blog, what a crazy weird 24 hours but for all I know he could have been a nice old guy, maybe I’m just being paranoid because I’m on my own”
Meanwhile – An Extract from a Bushmans Diary
I was just about to sit down for a cup of tea and relax when someone shouted from the front gate, the dogs went crazy and I wondered who the hell could this be one day after Christmas? not even a days rest around here.
The “thing” outside
At the gate was this ginger guy, six foot, full of tattoos, a beard bigger than santa and a bicycle. The dogs were still barking and who could blame them, he looked scary and acting strangely – I was ready to say we were closed. In the end, I kinda felt sorry for him being on his own and it was getting dark so I let him in.
What have I let myself in for…
At first he seemed nice enough to talk to but acted strangely and it took him ages just to put up the tent. He walked around suspiciously and anytime I looked down there – he was staring back up at the house “I hope this guy is no trouble, he must be crazy travelling around Africa by bicycle and all”. I couldn’t sleep for a while that night, a mixture between it being my first Christmas alone and not knowing who the scary guy was out in the yard. Sitting on the porch, it was quite late when I saw a torch down by his tent, it was him again moving around suspicously – this worried me, it was straight out of a horror movie. Lone tattoo’d guy, beard, rough, straight out of the bush…. “I’ve got to stop watching those movies”
The man has lost it…
When light came the next morning I was relieved not to have been woken by any more strange noises and also because I realised this Irish guy was in fact, probably just crazy. He was having a long conversation with the dogs about something, I’ve never seen anything like it, showing them his map of Africa and by the time I sat back down with the cuppa he appeared to be interviewing the two horses with his video camera….the guy was nuts and now literally running around with the horses like some kind of fairy
He finally finished packing his gear and made his own way out the gate. I was hiding behind the curtain waiting for him to call out again but the cheeky bugger just left without even trying to say thank you. Regardless I wouldn’t have answered, not after seeing his carry on and was so relieved to see him disappear into the bush. I thought to myself “That was lucky, I should really start a diary about all these characters that wind up on my doorstep. For all I know he could have been a nice guy, maybe I’m just being paranoid because I’m on my own….
I would never have looked upon the farmyard as being eery if it wasn’t for my horror movies influencing that evil first impression. To someone more neutral it might have looked almost romantic, full of ageing machinery, a haven in a harsh bush, a picture of a more simple time gone by. The old man, I might have accepted he was just quiet in nature, he let me stay for free purely out of goodwill and his voice was soft because he spent half the day shouting at his dogs. How could I possibly determine anything about him based solely on this brief meeting, in truth it said nothing about him other than I had rudely intruded on his quiet Christmas.
Really, I knew exactly nothing about the farm yard and even less about this man but I still managed to conjure up a negative impression for what and who the place was all about. It suggested something I already knew, I have always been like this – judging people on first impressions, believing too much of what I hear, looking for the bad in situations….
The worst part in all of this is that I realise the natural reaction we have to some new people and experiences is based on false information. Never mind the experiences, it’s just crap to think back at all the amazing people I must have missed out on getting to know, just because of how easily I made a first impression of them.
Weird and Wonderful
First impressions are important but they’re only most important to people who don’t look beyond them. I think it’s worth just accepting others for being different and that we at least try to know or understand them before we decide whether to like them or not. We should think of things from their perspective too, It’s easier said than done but that’s why I had to tell both sides of the story:
Am I alone in thinking that we are all weird and wonderful in our own way?