We cycle the last kilometers to what will be our last place of resort before leaving Spain and Europe. Algeciras is the port in southern Spain from which the cheapest ferries to Morocco depart. We meet Walter from Nigeria, who invites us to sleep at the construction site in central town that he guards at nighttime.
We sleep on mattresses underneath the stars, between a container, the corrugated iron sheets that frame the construction site, and the concrete skeleton that rises up towards the star-spangled sky. The container for waste construction material is also the toilet. “Go behind, do what you have to do in a plastic bag, tie it up well and throw it in the container,” Walter instructs. He shares his apple juice and explains, “The Moroccans told me about it. It’s great. We don’t have it in Nigeria!” It is as if we’ve reached Africa one day earlier than we had thought we would – but not a single day too early.
Europe was actually just a takeoff – both I and Lina looked forward to Africa. Although by starting off at home, we could easily supplement our gear in well-stocked shops along the way, at the same time it was difficult to travel so close to ones ‘normal’ life. On the days when we couldn’t find any place to camp – late afternoon became dusk, dusk went into evening and evening drew towards night – it didn’t get any more easy when we passed by a villa with a family eating Sunday dinner inside by the kitchen table, with lit candles. Warmth, food, a shower, a comfortable bed. You only miss it as long as you can see it; reach it.
The good part of cycling in Europe is that there are usually quite good bicycle paths. In northern Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, that was more of a rule than an exception. Some of the best routes were ex-railway lines that had been transformed into bicycle paths. Since those routes have been made for trains, they are naturally flat, moreover take a very short course from A to B as each extra kilometer was very costly when building the railway. Other good routes are those that go alongside canals – picturesque like anything!
The further south we came, the fewer choices of road were available. In Spain, we actually never found a real bicycle path. Sometimes, there wasn’t even any legal alternative for us to take – at times the highway was the only way. Even worse, we sometimes cycled through long tunnels with just one or two decimeters of verge for us to cycle on. Littered with rubbish and even empty wine bottles. Pitch dark. On one side the curved-in wall and on the other side cars rushing by fast. No matter what hid in the shadows ahead, we only found out a second or so before passing it. Those tunnels were the most scary part of the entire way to South Africa.
Even though Europeans generally are far from hospitable, the few meetings we did get were all the better. The one with a homeless woman in Spanish Vinaroz was probably the most memorable. She invited us to stay in her trailer in the outskirts of town, to where we couldn’t come until dusk since the property on which it was parked belonged to somebody else. “If I can earn two euros today, I am rich tomorrow,” she said and meant that with enough money for a cup of coffee in the morning, she’d have a good start of that day. Then, she’d be rich that day.