In this informative blog, I will compare the bicycle and the airplane as modes of transport. Surprisingly, there are some similarities. For example, you can’t sleep on a bike, and you can’t sleep on airplane either. And both of them get you from A to B eventually, often with stops at C, D, and E, etcetera, etcetera.
But unsurprisingly, there are some major differences. For example, you enjoy way more leg room on a bike. And what the guy next to you had for dinner is of little consequence. On a plane, your neighbour’s diet is of much consequence, especially if the job lot of garlic chillies he enjoyed are repeating on him badly. And it gets worse. On a plane, they strap you in next to him so you can’t run away. You just got to sit there and suffer, looking out the window you can’t open.
And on a bike, you can eat prunes with gay abandon , but better to chew down on Imodium instead on the plane. And finally, you don’t get to spend 2 nights in Frankfurt if you come in one hour late on your bicycle.
I was able to conduct my weeklong study on a flying visit to the land of my fathers, although that makes me sound Welsh, not Dutch. It was my first visit to Europe since coronavirus, and I’d forgotten how much fun travelling was.
Unfortunately there were lots of people playing catch up on their travel plans, and the flights were all full. Luckily, I was able to snap up the last seat on Air Ethiopia’s direct flight to Amsterdam, via Lusaka, Addis Ababa and Vienna. Just 5 minutes into my 20-hour flight, I discovered my legs above the knees are four inches longer than the gap between Air Ethiopia’s seats. Alas.
Dinner was served early. I was offered a choice between chicken and some kind of meat a.k.a. beef, which is like having to choose between Trump and Biden. I think that Ethiopian long-distance runners are so skinny might be all to do with the food on their national airline.
With sleep out of the question after dinner, I decided to watch a movie. Air Ethiopia afforded me a rare insight in what it must be like for a psychic to watch a suspense movie. My soundtrack was thirty seconds ahead of my movie, allowing the bad guys in the movie to start screaming well before the good guy even walked into the room with all guns blazing. Alas.
So instead of watching the movie, I listened to the guy with the garlic chilli diet and collapsible legs sleeping next to me snore loudly instead. Which helped drown out the sounds of children screaming towards the back of the plane.
Before he fell asleep, the guy next to me told me he was a veteran flyer who travelled to Dubai every week, as in 52 times in the year, to fetch 100 cell phones for resale in Harare. Apparently, the first 10 cell phones sold allowed him to breakeven on his travel expenses, and the other 90 were pure profit. With half the flight still in front of me, I was not even remotely jealous.
We enjoyed a 5-hour layover in Addis Ababa, which was just as well, because they take their security searches seriously in Ethiopia. Boots off, belt off, watch off, laptop out of bag and all through the x-ray scanner.
Because I was flying into bitterly cold weather, I had decided to wear my Kilimanjaro boots to Europe. My boots had coped admirably with the ice and the minus 15-degree conditions on top of the mountain. But they come with a snag. They are to slip-ons what Donald Trump is to humble.
Getting my boots on and off my feet involves a minimum of 5-minutes of contorting, suffering foot cramps and hernia spasms, and then you’ve got to lace them up. And 5-minutes does drag on a bit when you have a plane full of grumpy passengers rushing for connecting flights bottle-necked in the security queue behind you, while you fumble hopelessly with boot and laces, belts and laptop bags, all the while trying to look innocent for the phalanx of border security police manning the scanners , all suspicious that my foot cramp theatrics were some kind of smoke screen subterfuge for some sinister contraband. Damn you, Richard Reid the shoe bomber.
With just 30 minutes between landing and my connecting flight to Amsterdam, Vienna Airport was even worse. Because forewarned is forearmed, I unlaced my boots and undid my belt buckle on the plane for the sprint race through security and to my connecting flight beyond. Which turned out to be not such a good idea. It is hard to sprint when your trousers are falling off your bum and your boots off your feet. But incredibly, I made my flight with just minutes to spare. Unfortunately, my luggage didn’t. Thankfully it arrived a day later.
Thanks entirely to Covid, I was able to take an even more scenic route home, via Frankfurt, Cairo, Nairobi and Lusaka. Because Frankfurt Airport had the presence of mind to lay off a huge chunk of their workforce during the pandemic, they now find themselves short-staffed and unable to cope with the busiest time of year, allowing me and seemingly half of Europe to miss connecting flights, allowing me to spend 2 nights in Frankfurt, which was an absolute bonus, because it is such a beautiful city, and the beer wasn’t bad either. But again, I was separated from my luggage, and my underwear. Thank God for the Jeremey Clarkson method of underwear rotation- right way, back to front, inside out, and finally back to front again.
I damned Richard Reid a total of 7 times on my trip to and from the Netherlands, and for the record, the border security at Frankfurt airport was the staunchest by a country mile. The Frankfurt x-ray scanner was manned by a lady with a face like thunder, forearms like Schwarzenegger but hairier, and a pair of industrial blue, purposeful rubber gloves. At the first sight of her gloves, my sphincter muscles slammed shut for the duration, and I started sweating like a drug mule. It is very hard to pull off innocent whilst suffering foot cramps and hernia spasms with clenched buttocks.
I greeted her in my best and only German, “Gutentag, Fräulein.” Clearly, she didn’t have Google Translate on her phone because she just grunted in reply. Thankfully, because of Me Too, she handed me over to one of her male subordinates for the full body and cavity search. He was two metres tall, but his fat sausage fingers in blue rubber gloves looked bigger.
Because I have no idea what the male version of Fraulein is, I had to resort to greeting him in English. Thankfully, his English was perfect, and he told me to assume the position. As he moved in to carry out the body search, I looked to lighten the mood with some humour, and asked him if he’d enjoyed garlic for lunch, dinner and breakfast. After 20 hours on Air Ethiopia, I know what garlic smells like. Rather than answer, he blushed. Alas, turns out dietary humour isn’t such a big thing in Germany. But at least his hands were warm, which is more than I can say about the rest of Europe.
But I enjoyed my brief sojourn in the First World hugely. It was very cool to be freezing cold for a change, and even more cool to catch up with family and best friends. I walked on the beach in the freezing cold with my sister Irene and brother-in-law Timmy and stoutly resisted the urge to skinny dip.
I enjoyed walking in Den Haag in bright and also freezing cold sun, despite being almost run over by every car, tram, bus, bike, motorbike, electric scooter and horse and cart in Holland. Alas, aged 63, I remain the country bumpkin personified. I look left, look right, look left again, as per instructions from my mom, and then almost get crushed to death anyway. My granddaughter would have been proud of me. Electric cars are the worst culprits by far the way they sneak up on you silently.
I loved that everything in Holland is so clean. People use dustbins, they don’t just throw litter out their car windows. I loved that the streetlights work, ditto the traffic lights, and ditto the Christmas lights. It was like walking through a winter wonderland and I wished I was a kid again.
I especially loved the roads with no potholes, no Honda Fits wreaking havoc and chaos at every turn. Bad roads, bad driving and all the roadside litter and filth are what I hate most about Zimbabwe.
I especially love that stuff in the first world works, electricity included. My sister and brother-in-law have lived in the Netherlands for 13 years and have had exactly one power outage in all that time, for all of five minutes. I bet that even with the Russians dropping bombs on top of them, people in Kyiv enjoy better power than we do in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Alas.
Despite the cold, there were many warm moments. I enjoyed an Old Legs reunion with Jaap, and Hans and we remembered the best and the worst moments of our Kilimanjaro Tour with equal fondness. It was the best adventure of our lives.
I drank a box of Belgium beer with Reinier, including a face-numbing German beer which weighed in at 14 percent, and made me sweat more than the Fraulein from Frankfurt. I sweated some more watching the Netherlands vs Argentina in the World Cup, and enjoyed hugely, apart from the final score. Normally I don’t enjoy football much, but it was so exciting, and with minimal theatrics. Holland, complete with 2 de Jongs on the team sheet, played very well and came a credible second.
I found the Netherlands more sober and subdued than expected, especially given the fact the Dutch football team were looking so good. I’ve been in Holland before during a World Cup, and the whole country suffered oranjegekte , or orange madness. People shrink-wrapped their houses in orange clingfilm from top to bottom, the trains were full of football fans in orange from head-to-toe, singing and chanting football songs. Even the milk on the supermarket shelves was orange. But I think the Ukraine and Qatar put a damper on all of that this year. Only 1400 Dutch supporters travelled to Qatar, as compared to 40,000 Argentinians. The Dutch take all that human rights stuff very seriously.
The other reason the Dutch never went to Qatar is because they worry about their carbon footprints, which is a hugely emotive subject in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands is now three years into a nationwide protest by farmers after government announced plans to halve the country’s livestock herd, because cows fart, burp and shit too much.
The protest was launched in October 2019 when farmers in their thousands brought The Hague to a standstill, blocking highways with their tractors, driving through fences, smashing signs, destroying the landscape. Please note though that the farmers offered to repair the damage afterwards.
Since then, the farmers have upped the ante. They’ve ditched the blockades because they made people angry, and they have now resorted to flying the national flag upside down on the flag poles outside their houses, along with their handkerchiefs for some reason. Powerful stuff indeed I’m sure, but I can’t see Third World protestors replacing burning tyres and looting with flying flags upside down.
Without understanding the science, the numbers would suggest the Dutch government is farting against thunder, pardon the pun. The Netherlands has a national herd of 1.6 million cows, which government is looking to reduce down to 800,000, as compared to the 308 million cows in India, the 94 million cows in the Unites States, the 61 million cows in China, etcetera, etcetera.
I appreciate that like charity, change has to start at home, and you can’t be waiting on the Indians, the Americans and the Chinese to save the world. And don’t hold your breath waiting for the Third World to halve their livestock herds because they are standing knee-deep in cow shit because they will continue to cling to the antiquated belief that cow shit makes for good fertilizer, come what may.
I have returned to the Third World suitably chastened by my carbon excesses, and promise to not get back on another airplane for at least another year, especially Air Ethiopia.
And to earn back some carbon credits, I’m going to ride my bicycle all the way from Harare to Zanzibar in June 2023. Al Watermeyer is the route master, and he has cast the first 15 days in stone. I think he might also be trying to kill us with 14000 meters of climb in 13 days of pedalling. Ouch. But for sure the best views are always from the top of the highest mountains.
We are joined this year by Cédric Breda, 48-year- old Frenchman and renewable energy specialist, adventure seeker, bicycle enthusiast and family man. Cedric will be in charge of translating should we blunder off course and end up in Francophone Africa.
Cédric was born and raised on a small dairy and wine farm in the village of Surjoux, population 65, in the French Alps. When he wasn’t helping out his grandparents to herd cows, he and his younger brother Ludovic would spend every spare hour on their bikes, exploring the mountains on the not-too-distant horizon. Even at a young age, he was fascinated by the big wide world beyond the mountains, and dreamed about seeing it, and exploring it.
Fast forward to Cédric’s 28th birthday, and he’d saved enough money, Cedric set off on his bicycle to start chasing down those dreams. 21 676 kilometres and 13 punctures later, he arrived in New Zealand.
On his travels, Cedric met and fell in love with his future wife, Jennifer, in Kathmandu, Nepal. She promised him downhill all the way to New Zealand and more adventures for the rest of their life together. And so far, so good. Jennifer and Cedric have lived and worked in East Timor, France, Mauritania, Zimbabwe and at present Kenya.
Their 11-year-old twins, Paco and Luka, share their father’s love for cycling and adventure, and they look forward to exploring the remaining half of the globe with him when they are old enough. When that time comes, it is a safe bet that the Old Legs Tour will still be riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners, and I have already penciled their names in on the Old Legs Tour team sheet.
In closing, I was very happy to be able to meet and hug it up with Mrs Triegaardt, ex- Chegutu Cloven Hall farming district. I introduced you to Mrs Triegaardt in my last blog. She had been rushed to hospital after suffering heart failure, and almost suffered further heart failure when she was presented with a $76000 hospital bill. With help from the Farm Family Trust, I am happy to report that the Old Legs Tour was able to settle Mrs Triegaardt’s hospital bill, and she is back on her feet and walking, complete with a twinkle in her eye.
To perennial good guys Finola Raynor in Canada, Eric and Fiona Dawson in Australia, Charles Waters in the U.K., Chris and Luisa Rika, and Old Legs veteran Reinier Pronk in the Netherlands, thank you, thank, thank you, for helping make it happen.
I am so looking forward to more adventures in 2023, and to sharing them with you. Until my next blog next year, here’s hoping you and your families enjoy the best Christmas ever- Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
Photos below – Cedric Breda and a Peugeot, me and Hans and Jaap, me and Frankfurt, more me and Frankfurt, and me and Mrs Triegaardt.