Thursday 20 November 2014

A Tour Through the Langa Township

After the Red Cross Hospital we were taken to the Langa Township to see first-hand the conditions most of the injured children come from. We were shown through a number of hostels and shacks that held families in cramped and extremely basic conditions. Overcrowding means paraffin stoves used for cooking and heating are often positioned next to children’s beds, or locations that playing children can easily fall on to.

View of what the shanty houses looks like. 

Cooking up some meat.. 

The conditions in the township were confronting for many of us. Multiple families were often crowded into single room shacks or condemned houses, with minimal hygiene and living facilities. The entrenched inter-generational poverty meant most residents had never, and would never know any other way of life.

Despite the overcrowding and tough conditions, the spirit and resilience shown by many of the township residents shone through. The sound of children playing echoed down the narrow alleyways, with toddlers appearing out of nowhere to hold our hands, be swung around and cast curious eyes over our watches and cameras.
Kids playing with their local "toys"
The little boy seeing his picture on Catherine's phone for the first time. 

Everyone loves swing time!
We were taken to a shebeen (pub) and taught township drinking etiquette. A large can filled with a frothy, fermented alcoholic beverage was passed around, each of us taking turns to blow away the froth and take a sip. It soon became apparent that the trick for us interlopers was to feign a long swig whilst consuming as little as possible. As usual, comedic relief was provided by Catherine, who despite her Irish genes was unable to swallow the noxious concoction. With nowhere to spit and in the glare of our cameras, frantic gestures turned to panic, until a kindly local brought her a tissue.

In the local pub, aka shebeen.

Now for some final words from some of our Phoenix Flyers, it's been a great ride!

This experience has reached my senses in ways I never anticipated.  The physical and mental challenges of 400km cycling was overshadowed by the team dynamics we shared, to seeing into the lives of children living in true poverty and the life-long effect and impact this has in their community.  While the children we met in Langa have no concept of opportunities outside a shanty-town life they are bright, intelligent, creative and talented deserving children.  It has been a privilege to be part of this experience - one that I cannot forget and hope to build on in some way in the future.”

The residents of the Langa township were happy and seemed very welcoming to all of us. As we were being shown around by a local resident, our visit connected us directly with the income we would bring to the stops along the way. The kids were happy and active, and there were lots of them. The best part was the dancing girls and boys, they really enjoyed dancing for us and it was great to see the African Style they had retained. The most confronting stop however was the little shack the beer was made and drank in. Earlier that morning we were told of the issues the communities face with alcoholism, and this being a major contributor to a side of what we had seen in the hospital that morning. I found this confronting as it seemed to be the major pastime of a lot of the males in the township.

Overall the experience was fantastic, I loved the variation in the weather, the hills, the views and even the headwinds. It was great to do it with this bunch, I can’t recall one disagreement for the entire trip!

This was an experience that I have truly cherished. Not only did I achieve something I never thought my legs could, but I also got to see the real effect of how something we consider to be so small (a stuffed toy), can have such a great impact on kids who gave grown up with the bare minimum. After visiting the hospital and talking to the nurses, mothers, and children themselves undergoing treatment – this really put everything into perspective and was a really touching moment to see that all of the hard work we have put into raising funds has gone to a terrific cause.”

Local girls dancing in the street :)

David (aka Andy Schleck):
I was impressed that all the children we saw in the township seemed healthy and happy, despite living in what looked like fairly modest circumstances. There also seemed to be a good sense of community in general.

The whole trip was great fun from beginning to end – there were a few challenging bits (involving rain, mud, hills and/or wind) but they quickly passed.”    

The local boys showing the girls their "gum-boot dance".
Kids in Township make do with what they have, Little girls playing games with little stones (throwing one up in the air and removing as many stones as they can from the circle and then putting them back in again) and boys running around with planks in tyres.
Although rough circumstances, quite a few smiles and people very welcoming.
Spectacular scenery, wind and rain on the ride and an awesome display of team work - second to none.

Great Team!”

Conrad with our favourite little man!

Wednesday 19 November 2014

A Visit to the Children's Red Cross Hospital

After finishing the ride on Friday and recovering our sore and tired legs, we went to go and visit the Children's Red Cross Hospital in Rondebosch on Saturday morning.

The Children's Red Cross Hospital, beautiful view in the background!
Everyone outside the Children's Red Cross Hospital.

While completing the ride during the week, we had donations coming through thick and fast as people could really see how hard and challenging the ride was, and the efforts we were pushing ourselves to. This made our trip to the hospital even more special. We were able to say that we had raised ~745,000 RAND/~$74,000 AUD (!!!!) which has the potential to really change these kids lives with burns for the future in a huge way, as well as the lives of their families.

Visiting the hospital was a really emotional experience, and I don't think one person left with dry eyes.

We visited the ward of children with 'minor burns', being dominantly hot water burns, however this can still cover up to 60% of the children's skin. While there, Dr. Roux Martinez gave us a really insightful overview as to how and why these children are burnt, the treatment process that they go through, and also what specific areas the funds we raised will go towards being burn treatment, rehabilitation, education for families; and also tangibles such as fire recovery kits, clothing, and toiletries for families who have lost everything.

While at the hospital, we were all able to pick out a few toys and present these to the children going through burns treatment. This was a real highlight for a lot of us as we were able to see first hand just how BIG of a difference such small gestures can make. The hand knitted toys from the August Ladies Knitting Club were a real treat and a definite crowd pleaser!!

Hand knitted teddies from the Augusta Ladies Knitting Club, so cute!

When we first met the children, you could see how much pain they were in through the bandages and the look on their faces, however when presented with the toys the expression on their faces as well as their whole demeanour changed to pure happiness! Even if only for a brief moment, it appeared that the children forgot why they were in hospital, and went back to being care free and excited to play dress up with their new toys. Within minutes, all children had also named their new toys - some with bizarre choices like Clive (a very fluffy elephant).

The visit to the hospital was a really humbling experience, and also eye opening. We learnt so much about burns treatment and the fantastic job the nurses do in such conditions, but we also learnt the root cause of the majority of the burns - being poverty within local communities.

After visiting the hospital we then went for a tour around one of the local communities, Langa, to see first hand the conditions and issues these communities are living within (this will be our next and last post - a few sneaky pictures below).

One of the local shops, burnt from fire. 
Matt found a new best friend.

Before leaving however, we left a special gift with the Red Cross Hospital from Phil's very talented daughter, Suzie Loader. The picture illustrated an intricate sketch of our journey through South Africa and also the beneficiaries of the funds raised. The picture itself is amazing and a bit of a mind maze - the more you look at it, the closer your eye gets, and the more you see…

Presenting the special piece of artwork to Dr. Roux Martinez & and the team.
The amazing piece of artwork! Look closely and you'll start to see a lot more than meets the eye…

Our last and final post will be tomorrow and on the local community that we visited, Langa.

One of the children from Langa.

Saturday 15 November 2014


Day 5

Boulders Beach to Camps Bay

Our last day! After dragging ourselves away from the tiny penguins, we started our last ride, with extremely sore legs, along the beautiful South African coastline.

When we thought that day 4 winds were strong, but we hadn’t seen anything yet! While riding along the coast, the winds were so strong that some of us were being thrown around like twiglets, and even got knocked off our bikes. It was no match for our legs however, which are now well-oiled machines and we all reached the peak of Chapman’s Peak in high spirits.

The beautiful view from the top of Chapman's Peak!

The final day showed us no mercy, with 3 serious peaks in between the finish line and us (and an ice cold beverage).

Our last epic day!

Hydration has been a key part of our regime throughout the trip, and the SCEE water bottles as well as jellybeans got us all through some tough and dark times on the ride. Unfortunately for the water bottles however, due to the tough terrain and weather extremes, they aren’t looking as white and sparkly as when they first started!

Our SCEE water bottles look a little worse for wear. Lex on the other hand, looks as though he hasn't even got a little bit muddy. 

To distract us while climbing the beautiful roadside cliffs, we couldn’t resist the local crafts. While Catherine used some local knowledge to pick up a bargain of a zebra, Fiona paid double and then some for her animals, realized she had absolutely no bargaining skills, and was easily swayed into purchasing more than she actually wanted. Some pretty cool purchases regardless!

A very persuasive sales lady. 

Someone that I think needs a special mention on this trip is Serena. Not only has she been our rock and captain throughout this 12-month experience, she also managed to pull an absolute magic trick out of the bag. Serena was only able to do 2 weeks of training before coming on the ride and while telling all of us that she would be “at the back of the pack, a slow Sally, and puffing all the way”….NONE OF THESE THINGS WERE TRUE. Each and every day, Serena smashed the rides without even breaking a sweat. She was also a really fantastic coach and mentor to Fiona and Catherine, teaching them the do’s and don’ts of butt cream application, as well as supplying us with multiple carbo shots to keep our energy levels up.

How she pulled this out of the bag, we don't know!

Barry the ninja has also been a solid rock throughout the bike ride. He has proven that he, like Matt, has far too much energy. Even though we all finished the bike ride on Friday in ruins and exhausted, Barry has already signed himself up for another competition this Sunday. How he does it, none of us know…

Now for some sad news. Throughout this whole bike ride, an animal that we were all so excited to see was a baboon. When we first arrived we were assured that we would see baboons everywhere, the signs throughout the roads also gave us high hopes that we would see some of the cheeky monkeys. Yet, throughout the 5-day of bike riding, we saw no baboons :(

You win this round, baboons.
Baboon’s – 1, Phoenix Flyers – 0

The ride has been a real mix of extreme emotions, with so many highs and low’s mixed in with a lot of muscle cramps and sore knees. We have all been so privileged to be able to travel through such beautiful parts of South Africa on wheels, and this last day was a fantastic way to end the bike-riding journey. 

Although a lot of us are feeling extremely tired and exhausted at the moment, it is nothing compared to the hardship that some families in the local townships have been through. The day after we finished the bike ride we went to visit the Red Cross Hospital where the child burn victims are treated, this was such a humbling experience and something truly life changing. Look out for it on the next blog post!


Thursday 13 November 2014

Being blown around in all the wrong ways…Day 4

Day 4

Honeywood Farm to Malagas

Waking up at the picturesque Honeywood farm we enjoyed a home cooked breakfast while looking at the endless views across the valley. Morale was high after the energy sapping 95km++ from the day before.

We left Honeywood and charged down the road as a powerful peloton covering the first 20km in 40mins. From here on the day got much tougher with strong head winds blowing everyone in the wrong direction, leaving riders desperate to find a wheel to hide behind. The 250km over the last 3 days have started to take a toll and many of us were well and truly in the hurt locker.

The boys fixing some sore knees.

The placebo effect…ICE. 

Conrad was having a tough day on the bike, but a friend in need is a friend indeed and the 40kg Catherine had no problem pushing the 115kg Conrad up one of the climbs. Her diet of spinach and energy gels is starting to pay off.

I feel a bromance coming on...
The final hurdle to cross was a pontoon crossing of a river. The pontoon was heavily laden with riders, bikes, and our support vehicle and powered old-school style by two burly locals pulling on a chain. The combination of the slow lumbering pace of the crossing and the promise of ice-cold alcoholic refreshments on the far bank proved too much for some. Matt and Lex ended up strapping on harnesses and giving the workers a much needed helping hand. So selfless.

This manly shot is for you, Phil.
Today’s 55km proved to be far tougher than the label and fatigue has started to set in, after be battered by head winds all day, to the point you had to pedal on the descents. Today left the riders, tired sore and looking for cover. A welcome sight at the finish line however – was PENGUINS. Some even braved the freezing cold ocean water (Matt & Lex) to get a close encounter to the cute little beasts.

The cute little beast.

For an update on yesterday…

While on the 95km crawl yesterday, we came across a group of kids coming home from school. During our rides, we are really starting to get some perspective about the local towns, and the hardship families go through. The kids we saw were walking home in the heat of the day without shoes. As we didn’t really need the extra bag of chocolate, jellybeans or energy bars, we gave all the goodies we had to the kids. They were all so grateful with smiles from ear to ear. and even a bit mischievous. After giving over a melted snickers to one of the happiest kids I’ve ever seen – he then quickly snuck it in his pocket and pointed at the crumpled up muesli bar in our bags.  There could have been some very energized kids that night.

Full hands of sugar and tasty treats. 
A man that we have to thank is Sele the support driver. He manages to find what must be the only place in South Africa that is out of the elements that we are facing that day, be it driving rain, gale-force winds or searing heat just as people can not turn their pedals around another rotation with a smorgasbord of energy drinks, power bars, lollies and Sele’s specialty “ Brown Cow” a combination of Coke and milk.

Our favourite man at the end of a hard ride, Sele! 
Jason took the idea of a brown cow a little bit too literally however…

Spot the brown cow...
After 88km of a 95km day most people would be thinking that they have broken that back of it, but in the case of day 3 the day had really just begun. A relentless 7km climb with some sections greater than 12 degrees, the lungs, legs and emotion were running hot. Dave the hill climbing expert was even sucking in the big ones. It is safe to say that he didn’t need to say BEEP BEEP as he passed people on the way up because you could hear him coming from 50m behind breathing like a steam train. The climb was heart breaking as you could see the other riders up the hill kilometers ahead. A flat tyre when you are already at breaking point is enough to bring even the toughest flyer to tears, Fiona managed to hold it together though and grind her bike to the top. Congratulations to Matt for having enough time to ride to the nights lodging wait, realize no one was there, and then ride back to the top of the hill again….(he was way too much energy!)

Tomorrow is our last day riding, wish us luck!