While on the bus from Rwanda to Bujumbura, I had seen them: cyclists with enormous loads, sailing down the mountains on their decorated bikes, often not able to see what was behind the next curve. They would have charcoal, bananas, or other goods, in large quantities (they must often have flat tires), and with a total disregard of the risks, plunge their bikes downhill, steering through the curves, around trucks, cattle, pedestrians, holes in the road. They seemed crazy to do so - and probably, they are; when I saw one bike up close, it did not even have breaks on the front wheel. Nevertheless, they fascinated me, especially when I saw how they worked up a serious sweat pushing their heavily loaded bikes up the countless hills and mountains of Burundi. Oftentimes, you can find groups of men pushing their bikes up in a group effort.
Not surprisingly, I found the city full of bikes, sometimes guys alone, sometimes someone on the back seat, and quite often, carrying that incredible cargo. Whenever a cyclist passed me, with cargo much higher than their heads, I greeted them, and believe it or not, they would even lift one arm to salute me with a big smile. But oh - if they would come across a big hole in the road, a particularly high speed bump, or one of the many other possible obstacles which forced them to stop - they could seem helpless. Their back wheel would get stuck, and often, someone would come to their rescue to push the bike to a better place. It was in these moments that I could see how heavy the bike was: even with two very strong men, it seemed hard to get the vehicle moving.
Whenever the cyclist would want a break: no problem! They all carry a wooden stick, and you often see bicycles parked in what seems like an impossible balance-act, until you realize that a stick is keeping the bike from falling. Outside Bujumbura, there is not much traffic - fortunately, but on the main roads, you do find quite a lot of trucks. The ingenious cyclists certainly knew how to take advantage of them: I more often than not saw up to three cyclists clinging to the back of a truck, going uphill, but even also going downhill. With a big smile on their faces - but I doubted they realized the risks they were taking. I could see so many what-ifs: what if they would hit a hole in the road that they could not see, what if the truck had to break, what if for some other reason they would have to let go of the truck? Given all the possible mishaps and accidents that I could imagine, to my surprise, I never saw a cyclist involved in an accident. I certainly hope they will be able to steer clear of crashes.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Burundi cyclists (Burundi). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Burundi cyclists. Read more about this site.