behind the scenes: interview with Fengyan Du and Huaiyu Yang
photographer: Tracey AdamsThirty-five thousand kilometres after Du Fengyan climbed onto his bicycle in China he arrived in Cape Town. It took him two years, and pedalled through 22 countries across South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa, to arrive in the Mother City last week.
Since he was a child he wanted to travel around the world on a bicycle.
“Riding a bicycle is free and you can stop anywhere,” said Fengyan.
Fengyan saved for two years and quit his job as a network engineer in Beijing in 2011. He built his own travel bike and left with 70kg of luggage – a GPS, some clothes, cooking and camping equipment, medical supplies – and $3000 (about R30 000) and two good luck charms from friends.
He crossed over the 5600m high Mila mountain pass in Tibet, cycled though Vietnam during the rainy season, the low, flat plains of Cambodia, slept in temples in Thailand and arrived in India where he spent six months volunteering as a kung fu teacher in an orphanage.
Since he could not access a Pakistani visa, he flew from Mumbai to Shiraz, Iran and then continued cycling over the steep hills of Armenia, through Georgia, Turkey and arrived during Ramadaan last year in Jordan. “When you have trouble, you go to the mosque,” said Fengyan.
He slept in mosques and the locals shared their food and Arabic tea with him in the evenings. Fengyan and his bicycle were ferried across the Red Sea to South Egypt a year ago, where a police car followed him for protection and he slept in the soldiers’ check points from town to town.
In Egypt a teenager pulled out a knife and demanded money. Fengyan stared at him and the boy dropped the knife and ran. He felt safe enough in Sudan to leave his bicycle unaccompanied, but on the hills of Ethiopia three men surrounded him – two with stones and one with a knife. “I wasn’t afraid of them,” said Fengyan. After staring at them they dropped their weapons and welcomed him to their village.
In Ethiopia Fengyan tasted their national dish Injera, which he found to be slightly acidic, but it gave him energy to carry on cycling.
He met a cyclist in Addis who was also from China and told him of 22-year-old Huaiyu Yang, who had left China in 2012, and was also making his way through Africa by bike.
Fengyan and Yang crossed paths in Kenya. They speak the same language and cooked the same food – and decided to cycle together. “Two guys cycling together through Africa is better,” said Yang. It was also safer when sleeping in the bush. They saw lions and zebra while crossing the Serengeti National Park and encountered hyenas while camping in the wild in Tanzania. They cycled through Malawi and into Zambia and eventually entered South Africa through Namibia. They spent 10 days travelling down the West Coast.
“It was beautiful, green, with colourful flowers,” said Fengyan.
“(Cape Town) is like heaven,” added Du.
Both cyclists said their journey had changed them. “The difficulties in life are not so difficult compared to the difficulties on the road,” said Fengyan. He said he had a broader perspective of the world and has learnt that one must always have hope. “When you are in trouble there will always be good people to help you. We always have hope.”
They left Cape Town on Friday for Joburg by bus and fly back to China on 23 October.
(an edited version of this article was published in the Cape Argus, 18 October)