When I awoke the next morning I felt like death warmed up. I was convinced that I had contracted malaria. I had a pounding headache and a fever and all the muscles in my body felt like they were seizing up. I decided I would get out my first aid kit and test myself for malaria. I could test myself and I could treat myself with Coartem. It was still very early and I lay in my tent listening to the rain, still softly falling outside, as I tested myself. It takes a few minutes to get a result, so I started getting dressed. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. I felt that I couldn’t remain in my tent on the side of the road and at the same time, didn’t feel like it would be a good idea to be cycling in the rain.
How my day would turn out would soon be revealed. The malaria test showed negative and I figured I just had a bad bout of flu. I packed up camp and decided that I would take it easy out on the road, making whatever progress I could for the day. I had to push on as the expiry date on my visa for Angola was drawing closer.
The rain had stopped and I had just got on the road, when a black Ford pickup truck pulled over and stopped a few meters ahead of me. People stopping on the side of the road and wanting to chat to me had become somewhat of a normality, after all the publicity I received in Luanda, so I thought little of it. Four men got out of the vehicle and approached me. I got this uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and when they revealed that they were carrying machetes and knives, I knew why. Adrenalin shot through my veins within a split second and a dozen thoughts flashed in my brain, considering every possible outcome. I remained calm and waited for them to make the first move.
The leader of the pack spoke to me in French. I couldn’t understand all of it, but the gist of it was that they wanted me to hand over all my belongings. They were very obviously under the influence of alcohol. I was seriously outnumbered and although I did carry a knife, I knew it would be suicide to try and fight. Scenarios practiced during my self defense training came flashing back and I knew the best possible solution for me would be to make a run for it. I slowly prepared to hand over my bicycle to these guys and planned to grab one of the front panniers off the bicycle, which contained my journals, and make a run for it into the bushveld. I counted to three in my head and then turned around and ran away as fast as my legs would carry me.
It was only when I reached thicker cover that I dared to look back to see if any of them were in pursuit. They weren’t. None of them had even bothered to run after me. I immediately got the feeling that this was more of a practical joke to them than anything else. Of course, I didn’t think it was very funny at all.
On the upside, I still had my Camelbak, within which was my cellphone, passport and bank cards. I had also managed to get away with the pannier bag with all my journals in it. All was not lost!
As I watched the spineless “C-words” disappear over the horizon with pretty much all my possessions in the world, I took a minute to try and process what had just happened. It’s amazing how many thoughts actually go through one’s mind in just a few seconds. Standing there behind some bushes, I thought to myself, well, I guess I could still become the first woman to walk around Africa! Ha! I quickly crunched some numbers in my head and figured out that, at a pace of about 5 kilometers an hour, on average, for 8 hours a day, including rest days and possible delays in requiring visas, it would take me roughly 4 years to complete the journey. And that is when I had the thought that,
“There has got to be an easier way”.
I’m not sure how my brain even came to the next thought but, boom!
“I want to start over on a motorcycle”.
This thought was a bit curious for a number of reasons. Most of all, for the reason that I had never been on a motorcycle in my life before, except that one time when I was allowed to go on the back of my uncle’s motorcycle, when I was a little girl. I’d never ridden a motorcycle before and didn’t even know how to change gears!
It’s hard to explain, but somehow, I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do. It was like everything had led to this fateful point and now I finally knew what it was that I was supposed to do. I wasn’t supposed to travel around the African continent on a bicycle! I was supposed to travel around the African continent on a motorcycle! Hooray! Now I just needed to find the money to buy a bike and learn to ride it and Bob’s your uncle!
After considering all these thoughts for a few minutes, I figured it would be wise to notify someone of what had just happened. As I said earlier, I thankfully still had my Camelbak with me which had my mobile phone in it, so I took it out and sent text messages to my friend Hanret in South Africa, to Pedro in Lobito and Candido in Luanda, explaining to them what had just happened.
Next, I had to start making my way back to the nearest town, which happened to be N’zeto, about 8 kilometers away. And so, with my hydration pack on my back and pannier bag in hand, I started walking towards N’zeto. My phone rang and it was Hanret. She offered her condolences and support in whichever way she could give it. She has also experienced some horrific attacks on her person and told me that I needed to get rid of some of the adrenaline running through my body and that the best way to do this would be to stomp like a wild animal and scream at the top of my lungs. I’m not a screamer and don’t easily show my emotions unless I feel comfortable doing so, but I figured I didn’t have anything to lose , so I gave it a try. I jumped up and down on the side of the road and screamed until I didn’t have any air left in my lungs. And then I burst out laughing at myself as I could only imagine what I must have looked like!
Both Pedro and Candido called me and expressed how sorry they were for what had happened. Then, another call, unidentified Angolan number. I answered. On the other end, a man’s voice greeted me in Portuguese. He then switched to broken English and introduced himself as Pedro Sebastião, Governor of the Zaïre province of Angola and former General in the Angolan Army. He told me that he had just been informed of what had happened to me and asked that I remained where I was as he had instructed the local Chief of Police from N’zeto to fetch me. He informed me that he was on his way from his home in M’Banza Congo and would meet me in N’zeto. That was it.
Sure enough, about half an hour later, a police vehicle arrived to pick me up and took me back to N’zeto. There were three police officers in the car and, at first the driver took off in a northerly direction, away from town. I realized that he probably intended to go after the perpetrators, but I explained to him, in my best English with a Portuguese acc