Posts Tagged ‘statistics’

South America: Of maths and memories…

Well I thought it would take me nine months, in the end my journey across Latin America by bicycle lasted two weeks over a year. There were a number of excuses I could offer up to explain my tardiness, but mostly it was because I wanted to savour the continent and I fell in love with those rough, high, slow-going back roads that twist and bounce through the Andean wilderness. Last week, as I cruised slowly towards the Colombian coast on the Pan-American highway which spiralled down a shrinking spine of rock, dropping into a steamy abyss, I remembered a friend’s description of my South American end point, Cartagena – “nice, but hot as hell“. She was mistaken. If Satan himself was holed up in Cartagena for a few days he would demand a room with air conditioning and keep his devil-tail dunked in an ice bucket. Cartagena is supernova hot and had me sweating like sumo wrestlers in crotchless leather suits making sweet love in a Turkish sauna, but I was glad to be here all the same.

Mountains have been the theme of the last twelve months of my life, it will be coastline for the next six. As I pulled into the city, my last of this restless, feisty continent, I had a moment of sentimental reflection whilst my eyes surfed the tranquil waters of the Caribbean and I recalled a similar moment in time from more than a year ago when I stared out at the Southern Ocean towards Antarctica but wondered instead what lay in the opposite direction. Between then and now there have been ups and downs, physical, literal ones and the more metaphysical type too. I have been evicted from my tent at gun point late at night in Peru, I cycled stark naked across the world’s largest salt lake in Bolivia, I survived a Colombian road known as The Trampoline of Death, I met a beautiful Australian girl called Polly, I cycled more vertical metres in one week than from sea level to the summit of Mount Everest, I was stabbed in the hand by a drunk, I got lost in the eyes of Colombian girls, I scared myself silly in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in Chile and I had a flour fight with 25,000 other people in an Argentinian stadium. A rollicking ride. Never plain sailing but despite all the effort, the pain and the fleeting bouts of boredom, loneliness and anxiety, it was worth it.

I’m not entirely sure why I collect useless information about my life on the road, but it has become habit and here are some stats about continent number three…

Time taken – one year and two weeks
Distance cycled in South America – 16,793 km
Proportion cycled on unpaved roads – 31 %
Greatest distance cycled in one day – 182 km (Peruvian coast)
Punctures – 45
Broken spokes – 12
Chains – 2
Brake pads – 6
Gear cables – 8

Tyres – I retired a Schwalbe Dureme after a very impressive 15,500 km, I got through a few Schwalbe Marathon Plus’s and now I have the new Schwalbe Mondials on, more than 3000 km and no punctures yet.

Coldest temp – Minus 15 degrees Celsius (Southern Bolivia)
Top altitude cycled to – Abra Loncopata (5119 metres above sea level), Peru
Toughest climb –  La Esperanza to La Miran Alto, Ecuador (unsealed track which climbs 1675 vertical metres over 20 km, an average gradient of 8%)
Most days without a shower – 10

My favourite photos from South America…

I have read 27 books over the last year. Here they are… amongst my favourites are Skippy Dies, White Teeth, Bad Science, Cloud Atlas, The Fountainhead, The White Tiger and Middlesex.
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Stephen’s south-america book montage

White Teeth
Cloud Atlas
Bad Science
I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
The Line of Beauty
The White Tiger
The Fountainhead
Skippy Dies
The God of Small Things
The Mosquito Coast
Tuesdays with Morrie
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Travel Writing: See the World. Sell the Story
The Help
The Art of Travel
Viva South America!: A Journey Through A Restless Continent
Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War

Stephen Fabes’s favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with Stephen, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

In other news – On the 10th I jump aboard a Catamaran bound for the San Blas islands and then Panama. It will be a sprint through Central America so that I keep deadlines in the US and don’t freeze to death come Alaska. There’s lots in the pipeline over the next ten months including…
  • I have written features which are due to be published in Outer Edge, Cycle, Verge and Wild Junket magazines plus an interview in Vagabundo. 
  • I start filming for an exciting documentary called Adventure Challenge next week. 
  • In California I am scheduled to speak in more than twenty events, schools and societies including the Rotary Club of Los Angeles and the California chapter of the Explorer’s Club (dates and details coming soon).
  • This blog will feature my 2012 equipment reviews.
  • I will soon launch a new blog called Riding Off-Route which will cover some of the practical details of touring and detail some of the more adventurous routes in South America.
  • This blog may even find a new format – as a (print-on-demand) book.
Finally as a happy coincidence I rolled into Cartagena on the Colombian Caribbean coast on just over 40,000 km which I have realised is roughly the circumference of the earth at the equator. So in terms of numbers, I suppose I have pedalled once around the planet. And to celebrate that fact I would love to reach another milestone – so far the supporters of Cycling The 6 have raised almost 20,000 pounds for the medical aid charity Merlin. If you can pledge a small amount and help to break the 20,000 pound mark now that I have completed continent number three, it would be fantastic. If you feel moved to donate you can do so on my fundraising page.

Have a great Christmas and New Year


I recorded various bits of useful and useless information as I traveled, mostly out of boredom but also because I thought that someone planning a similar trip to mine could benefit from some numbers. I made a note of the finances to remind myself how much I’m spending or rather to remind myself how much I need to stop spending, and I noted down where I slept each night. Here you go….

The bare facts
London to the Cape Town

23,215 km / 14,425 miles
27 Countries in 3 continents
1 year and 4 months on the road
Route and distances

Route: UK, France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa.

Europe (London to Istanbul)
5010 km over 4 months

The Middle East (Istanbul to Cairo)
3236 km over 2 and a half months

Africa (Cairo to Cape Town)
14,969 km over 9 months

Paved roads – 20,933 km
Unpaved – 2282 km (mostly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia)

Top altitude – 3050 metres – north of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Top speed – 75 km/hr (coming into Iskenderun, Turkey)

Biggest climb
The shores of the Dead Sea to the King’s highway, Jordan.
From 400 below sea level to 1300 metres above
Continuous ascent for 55 km and 1700 vertical metres
(although this is nothing compared to what’s coming up in South America)

Longest distance cycled in one day – 209 km 
Southern Namibia to the South African border (strong tailwind and lots of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)

Shortest distance in one full day of cycling – 47 km 
The remote Turkana region of Northern Kenya (lots of sand and lots of pushing)

Highest average speed over a day – 28.5 km/hr, Namibia
Lowest average speed over a day – 7.4 km/hr, Kenya

Longest stay in one place – 23 days – Istanbul


‘Other’ included churches, schools, hospitals, police stations, monasteries, convents, derelict castles, catholic missions, tourist information centres, rough on the beach, in a water storage tank, in the research facility of a crocodile farm and in the shed of a water buffalo (after the tenant was evicted).

Bike bits

Punctures – 113
How did this happen! OK, OK… it deserves an explanation – first of all I was under-inflating my back tyre towards the start of the trip, the pump had no gauge on it, so the tubes ruptured by the valve. It took me a while to figure out the cause. The replacement Chinese made tubes were so bad they often exploded whilst I was pumping them up before I’d got them to the right pressure and they never lasted very long. I got more punctures on the rough roads and some from thorns and the metal wire that comes from shredded truck tyres, both are all over the roads in Africa. I started off using the self-sticking puncture patches that don’t require glue, these all eventually failed and I ended up repairing punctures I’d fixed weeks before.

Tyres – 8
I changed my front Schwalbe whilst I was still in the UK and could still get a replacement when a large nail pieced it after just 20 km in the outskirts of London. It goes to show Schwalbe tyres aren’t invincible. I didn’t get another puncture for over 5000 km. My front Schwalbe Extreme lasted an impressive 15,793 km from London to Tanzania. The back tyres tended to last about half this distance. Occasionally I had to use local tyres whilst I waited for new Schwalbe ones, they didn’t last long.

Chains – 3
1. KMC Gold (titanium – nitride anti-corrosion) :  lasted 14,490 km
2. Sram : lasted 7187 km
3. Cheap local one : lasted 1538 km

Brake pads – 6 sets
Rohloff Hubs – 2
Bike pumps – 6 (thank you China)

Spokes – All intact – No replacements required


I’m sure people develop a sort of selective memory when it comes to expenses and underestimate how much they spend. I recorded everything except that of my biggest expense – food – as it would have got far too complicated. Clearly I could have been more thrifty but whilst I could happily sleep anywhere, I could never really bring myself to spend less on food. Dinner was too important and I wasn’t going to eat instant noodles every night.
  • The medical expenses relate to the expensive MRI I needed on my knee in Greece. 
  • The card charges and commission I paid for changing money came to a painful £341.50, but what can you do?
  • I spent £956 on accommodation, not too bad over 16 months and I slept for free 60% of the time.
  • I didn’t have a laptop with me so I had to use internet cafes. Wifi is everywhere these days and as you can see, I could have bought a laptop for the amount I spent on the net. A large proportion of this expense was because I uploaded photos onto Flickr which took time and money but which gave me piece of mind.
  • The costs incurred for ‘tourism’ included entrance to national parks, museums, sights of interest, transport around cities, activities and tours.
  • A note on VISAs… All VISAs were obtainable on the border with the exception of VISAs for Syria, Sudan and Ethiopia which had to be obtained in advance. Free entry / free VISAs included all of Europe (except Turkey), Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa
    Cost of the other VISAs:
    Turkey – £10
    Kenya – £16
    Jordan – £18 (includes departure tax)
    Ethiopia – £19
    Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia – all £31 each
    Syria – £37 (includes departure tax)
    Sudan – £107 (includes letter of intent from British embassy, VISA and registration fee)

    Total on VISAs – £310
Most expensive countries
Obviously France and Italy come out top. Then Namibia and to a slightly lesser degree South Africa. Tourism was especially expensive relative to the cost of living in Jordan and Botswana.

Cheapest countries
Uganda, Ethiopia and rural Kenya and Tanzania were probably the cheapest parts. In Europe it was Albania.


Lowest temperature – Minus 19°C
2000 metres up, Corps, mid-winter in the Alps, France

Highest temperature – 56.5°C 
I recorded this in sunlight, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
(note that the temperatures used on our weather forecasts are taken in the shade not in direct sunlight, although the shade temperature was still likely to be in the high 40s)


Highest body weight – 80 kg before departure (due to my training regime of pasties and beer)
Lowest body weight – 65 kg Ethiopia (due to all the crazy children and all the crazy mountains)
Books read – 20
Most days without a shower – 8
Largest amount of Dairy Milk Chocolate consumed in one sitting – 450 grams

Crashes – 2
Me verses motorbike in Uganda
Tyre blow out on a downhill in Tanzania

Cycle tourers I met en route – 24
Six were English, four were German, four were Swizz and the rest were a mixed bunch. About half were riding the length of Africa.

Worst book I’ve seen in a hotel book exchange
‘Candida infection: Could a yeast infection be your problem?’ – Turkey

People always ask me ‘what was the best bit?’ Well these are five of my favourite memories… 

1. My 30th birthday in Syria when a large extended family took me in and threw me an impromptu party
2. Free wheeling at over 40 km/hr on the flat for hours and covering 209 km in a day all with the aid of a magnificent tail wind, Namibia
3. Grabbing on to the back of lorries and being pushed uphill by a large group of giggling children, Ethiopia
4. Partying hard on the shores of Lake Malawi
5. Offroading through the Ethiopian wilderness

And in the name of balance – Five terrifying near misses…

1. Band of youths with sticks surround our tent and demand money in the middle of the night, Egypt
2. Accidentally picking up a Black Widow spider, South Africa
3. Collision with a motorbike, Uganda
4. Mob of children throwing stones and stealing our gear, Ethiopia
5. Pack of farm dogs trying to sink their teeth into my legs, Greece

Please vote…

What was your favourite blog piece?
The beginning…Lesson oneReggae rain and a dodgy beardParanoia and pesky poochesHeartbreakThe humble fareRecovery, japery and some summer shenanigansMeltdownDoctor, soldier, vagrant, priestAin’t no valley low enoughThe promise of AfricaLucky, lucky gitsThe Nubian waySuicidal goats and helping handsFrontier passage the Jade SeaThe people of the grey bullThe city of seven hills and le pays de mille collinesThe warm heart of AfricaLets go clubbingWhere the wild things areDeserts and dessertsDay 265 – Guardian of the south free polls 
Some of my favourite photos…

South Africa
And finally – here’s a video of the Milestones. Turn up your computer volume and if you like it then you know what to do.. like it, +1 it, share it and help me get it out there…