Sometimes you come across stories and meet people who you always want to write or hear one of their new adventures. Sergio de Arrola is one of them.
A few months ago we presented his last trip, nothing and nothing less than to cross Africa from north to south: 10 countries over 90 days of adventure and a bunch of stories.
He is currently editing the book Rolling Habits: Africa and preparing exhibitions on the experience in this magnificent continent which soon will take place in Madrid and Barcelona
We did not want to miss out all the details of this amazing journey.
Why did you choose Africa? How did the project come?
I was looking for a new destination for another photographic project that mix documentary and cycling. The US trip and its further book edition and exhibition had been great and I wanted to repeat. Also, when you do something like this everyone ask you what will be the next one.
I had to give a conference in Barcelona Cyclo Culture, in “la Fábrica Moritz”, and wanted to take the opportunity to make a first contact with Dosnoventa. I know them through my friends Hector, Sergi and Trilla who for a long time they have made videos for them. I was not sure how to set out the matter to let me a complete bike for my next adventure, so I decided to go riding from Madrid to Barcelona at least to show them that I have balls. Bad rider but getting balls out, I guess.
So I started pedaling with my friend Bob and let’s see if we arrive to Barcelona. And so it was, four days later we were arriving by Sitges.
I did the conference, however I didn’t feel good at the beginning. I guess the 180km of the day, the uncomfortable position and the excitement of seeing so many friends and acquaintances was a lethal mix. Some beer or something more could have an influence too.
The next day I meet up Juan, Juanma, Dani and Uri in the Headquarters of Dosnoventa. I started to get dizzy telling them that I wanted to cross Europe and suddenly the Africa Tour idea came. Then Juanma told me that they would make a complete bike for me if I cross Africa. And so the idea came. No more. Spontaneously, among friends.
I really like the idea. I knew almost nothing about this continent, except Morocco and it seemed a great opportunity to document the journey as I want.
First Part of the trip. We know that you had some health problems during the adventure, tell us a little bit more about it.
The first part of the trip was Egypt and Sudan. Everything was perfect until I caught pneumonia that kept me busy few weeks. I was acclimating and every time I felt better on the bike, the desert was being hard, flat and straight but I was holding up it well. One day coming to Wadi Halfa started giving me a pain in the chest. I did the animal and I was pedaling 130km with excruciating pain. Every 15 minutes had to pull me down in the middle of nowhere to squirm. I have never suffered so much on a bike. That night was horrible. I was sweating and delirious nonstop. So the rest of days in Sudan were in principle uncertainty and after torture. In a first checkup they told me that I had malaria. A lady in a black burka told me that after auscultating I think they hallucinated when they saw naked women tattooed on my side.
I did a second checkup which was negative and they started confirming the suspicions of pneumonia.
The hospital system in Sudan is disastrous. It is impressive to see the limited resources and lack of hygiene in hospitals in rural areas. So I was wandering to different health centers and pharmacies in the next few days. I went two days in a hellish hotel to see if I eased the pain, but looked to worse.
The next day I was moved to the capital in an ambulance. It was supposed that I should go to a good hospital with high level resources. It was a positive change, but conditions remained dire for a weak westerner used to cleanliness and personal attention.
We don’t know how lucky we are to live in the conditions we live in. And the worst thing is that most of us continually complain about something.
The big difference between a hospital in Sudan and one in Spain is that no one complains there. No cry is heard in the ICU where I spent a few hours. I guess being in the hospital there is already a blessing to them. Health centers are only for a few privileged, the other has to suffer at home, if they have one.
So I was moved from Khartoum to Cairo again. It had to be a couple of days until my status was normalized to travel. The insurance were being very cautious but I just wanted to get home. The change was brutal. From the worst conditions which I had been in my entire life to one of the best. In Cairo I stayed in five-star hotel next to the airport paid by the insurance. Coming from where I’ve been, the impact was incredible. A contrast very marked among the most extreme necessity and most ridiculous opulence.
The next two weeks I spent in Madrid. At first at home and later, when they saw that I haven’t improved, I was admitted 10 days at the Ruber Hospital. After those days, with my family and my dear Barbara, everything started to progress. Every time looked more closely at the possibility of returning to finish what I had left off.
After the scare, back to the road … Were you afraid of not being able to finish what you started?
It was pity to skip Ethiopia. Someday I’ll do what I couldn’t do. But I do not compete with anyone, so I don’t have to prove anything and as I said I am a common rider, I started in Nairobi to do the rest of the trip to Cape Town.
Doubt me of course. All the time. He had lost a lot of weight and my physical condition was not the best. But hey, nothing serious.
So I was courageous and I decided to finish the route…
Which part of Africa has impressed you the most during your trip?
To each his own. But I like the desert. Pedaling alone to nowhere is hard to explain. I’ve gone through different deserts on this trip as Egypt, Sudan and Namibia. But nothing like Namibia. It is only comparable to the Arizona desert of my previous trip or those lost or abandoned roads between workshops of Meth entering to California.
Do you want to tell us any story?
When I almost hit a guy who called himself DJ Peace in Arusha or when I got Pauline’s home because I died of thirst before reaching Solitaire, in the middle of the Namibia’s desert. It was such a nice portrait with desert background and pleasant conversation.
Of my “friend” DJ I also keep a spectacular portrait in a car when it was raining. As in the Pauline you breathe peace and closeness, in the first you breathe opposite. It is wonderful all the information what a look in a picture can transmit.
Try to describe different aspects of your trip in one sentence:
First photographer, then cyclist and finally adventurer.
People, people, people and amazing desert panoramic.
The world is much smaller when you cycle.
Choose a photo and comment it for our readers.
This photo is before one of the best downhill that I remember of the trip. Up a soil hill and meet the vastness of the desert and many kilometers downhill. Intense yellow colors, mixed with the ocher color of the soil and blue sky. The downhill where I was extremely thirsty and I meet Pauline and her family. Maybe I would have the mouth open amazed with the landscape.
The only bad thing is that they had “paved” with absurd entire road blocks, so you had to be careful and don’t speed up a lot and not come out in a curve.
In your photos there are always a number of portraits, what did you give this trip on a human level?
All. It’s lovely ride through the world. The communicative capacity can have an iron with two wheels is unusual.
People comes to you and it is easy to start a conversation full of confidence with a stranger.
Of course my family Dosnoventa (Juanma, Juan, Dani, Uri and the great Edgar), my family for always supporting me in my madness, all my friends for being so understanding and good people, my loved Barbara who every day I love her more, to Rula and, of course, to you for trusting me from the beginning.