We sit on a saddle for up to eight hours a day. We have a lot of territory to cover each day so we spin the miles on a journey whose end is too distant to be real. Our reality is the road, which we consume and the road in turn consumes us. We are intent on our passing through until unexpectedly, we stop; it hits us. We are not on any road that could be anywhere; the experience is not fungible. We are in Africa and Africa is not “Africa”, the homogenous dark continent of so much Western imagining. We are in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa on our route from the northern tip to the southern tip. A journey of such length and duration is something, but the heart of it, the miracle of it lies in those moments when suddenly we stop.
We come to a full halt. We get off the bike and we look. Simply look. A strange, supernal wonder fills us. We are here; a tangible present and eternal here. The wonder is not at the sight of the spectacular or extraordinary: the view from 3,000 meters across the Tanzanian Rift Valley with its echoes of the birth of humankind; the Blue Nile Gorge, among the most dramatic stretches of road in the world; or Victoria Falls, “the Smoke that Thunders”.
These and other marvels of the continent evoke something else, the sublime, a greatness that lies beyond human ken. It is this very indifference to the human that both captivates and disturbs us.
The wonder that I am talking about is something different. It’s strangeness lies in that it emerges from the ordinary: rolling hills; tall grasses waving in the wind; the simple curved beauty of a thatched hut; an early morning greeting of a farmer, scythe lying across his shoulder.
Your breath is taken away for you have stepped through a magic mirror into a moment that is so present, so intense, so large. It is the inverse of the sublime, the world is not separate from you; in that moment you have become part of the universe in a way like no other. The landscape, the buildings, the people are merged into a one that is not an indistinct mass; it is a vital life force that binds and extends us. I stop and I am eye and ear and nose and touch and smell; Africa in all its rich, variegated splendid forms has entered me. I am in this Africa.