Bicycling through Africa, excluding the big cities, I can easily imagine myself in a classic Western film. The land is dusty, sun omnipresent, buildings stout, industry absent, law more a suggestion and at every turn there’s the palpable sense of both opportunity and danger. The highway is littered with the hulking remains of automobiles stripped to the frame. Subsistence farmers with goat powered carts trot along as a 2011 BMW whizzes by. The highway is sparse, uninterrupted but for potholes and the few occasional cows.
Commerce and industry is practically nonexistent. From northern South Africa through Zambia, the rural “trading post” or “investments” carries but the same fifteen products: Coca-Cola, Fanta, Ginger Beer, Chabuka Shake Shake (hard to describe – think pulpy alcoholic grapefruit juice), bread, baked beans, lemon cream cookies, chips, slabs of beef, vegetable oil, salt, rice, maize meal and airtime for cell phones. Often times the store doubles as a bar, they play music and have a pool table.
A town is a broad main street and but some dirt tracts lined with homes. Delivery services are rare; people must come to town to buy things. People are always milling about, doing nothing. Storefronts are stout with false facades. Signs are painted. The atmosphere remains slow. Stores have a much greater selection than their rural brethren, maybe a thousand products, but a limited degree of specialization. The bar will fill up by three, entirely by men, excluding a couple prostitutes.
Even the way how people talk, it’s out of Deadwood. What happened to the cook? Oh, he drank himself to death. One time, I told this guy about my itinerary and he just shook his head. “Brother, you’re going to end up a pile a bones in the desert. A pile of bones.” Best quote of the trip was collected by Ben in northern Zim. “Zimbabwe very safe. Homosexuality is illegal. You won’t get raped. But watch out for the elephants.”