My hope is that BIKE AFRICA is a story which inspires respect for the people who share our world. I am privileged to support Keep the Dream 196 who provide care for kids who need a hand. The story of the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children is one we can help them to write with a happier ending.




Tierra del Fuego, Argentina



FACTS


HOME

Adelaide, South Australia

OCCUPATION

Primary Teacher

OTHER OCCUPATION

Travelling to unfamiliar places in unlikely ways to learn about the world.



BIOGRAPHY


The highlight of growing up was the family holiday: cramming our station wagon with everything we might need for a year and then heading off for a couple of weeks. Mum and dad sat in the front, Greg, Anthony and Keryn, my elder brothers and sister, sat on the rear seat and I was loaded into the back of the wagon with the luggage. This was in the days before seat belt laws, so it can't have been dangerous. My job was to keep watch out the back window for items falling from an overburdened roof rack. Once, a blue plastic bucket and pair of green rubber gloves blew from the top of the car. I notified the authorities (dad) and became promoted to a position of importance. It was probably even worth risking my life for; although we never found one of those gloves. Holidays encompassed months of expectation before the actual adventure. Life seemed defined by luxury when breakfast was delivered to our motel room on a tray through a small service door. Our family remember the adventures and, better yet, the misadventures with fondness and laughter. Just mention the phrase, ‘Bendigo soup’, at a family gathering and you'll be guaranteed a chorus of groans as if the infamous bowl were placed in front of us the day before.




Family Holiday


Sometimes my dad would buy us a small gift spontaneously. In my family, it was considered impolite to ask for something outright, but my dad never minded surprising us. One very special gift I received from dad was a small book; 'Wonders of the World'. Each wonder was described with a page of text opposite an accompanying black and white photo. Looking at those photos of Macchu Pichu, the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids, I dreamed about what it would be like to visit those sites one day. This book was like a passport to mythical lands. 'Wonders of the World' is a book I still treasure.


One Christmas, I received my red tricycle; my ticket to freedom. I distinctly remember wondering how far I could go. Where did the road end? There seemed no limit to life's possibilities with a red tricycle.




“Where does the road end?”


I had good friends at school, but otherwise school existed to place limitation on life. It seemed a lot like sitting at a desk for twelve years waiting for it to end.


In my final school year, horizons broadened and I travelled overseas for the first time to New Zealand with mum and dad. The idea of travelling overseas was incredibly exciting and the reality was a truly beautiful and pristine land. New Zealand introduced me to real mountains, lakes, glaciers and fjords.


Both my brothers, Greg and Anthony, became teachers and it was something I decided to do after leaving school. I began teaching in 1984 and it's still what I do after all these years.


Later, I travelled with my second eldest brother, Anthony, to Egypt. Egypt was a land with an incredible human history preserved by the dry desert air. Seeing bas-relief wall carvings, still perfect after 4000 years, on a Nile Valley temple was indescribable. Egypt was also my introduction to the idea that reaching a mountain top could be much more than worthwhile. While Anthony wanted to hike to the summit of Mount Sinai, I initially wondered at the value of going up and down some remote peak in a desert. Fortunately, I went along with the idea. When we reached the top soon after dawn, the clear air revealed an horizon broader than I had ever seen. It seemed for a moment, the whole world stretched out before us. I'll never forget those moments of wonder and awe. It taught me the meaning of the word, sacred.




Mount Sinai

 

The experience inspired later trips to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Wilhelm in Papua New Guinea and Mera Peak in the Himalaya. While a single mountain was the inspiration behind each trip, it was also an opportunity to visit places as diverse as the Serengeti, the highlands of New Guinea and the medieval city of Kathmandu. Each trip revealed the diversity of people from the Masai to the Sherpa and a single underlying human kindness and generosity.




Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania




Mount Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea




Mera Peak, Nepal


Immediately after visiting Nepal, I crossed into northern India and became reacquainted with three wheeled bicycles. Having read that cycling would be a great way to experience Indian village life in a more meaningful way than by bus, I decided to purchase a bicycle rickshaw. Actually, a team working from a small stall in Agra assembled a brand new rickshaw and wrote my name on the back with carefully aligned tacks. The Mark McNamara rickshaw taught me that riding in India was meaningful... and heavy work. I also learnt Indian people were proud and hospitable people. Their cultural heritage imbues India with a richness no glitzy Western shopping mall, hotel or television show could ever replicate.




My Rickshaw on the Road from Agra


Travel was an inspiration for more travel, but so was reading the stories of the adventures of Josie Dew, Pamela Watson and Sorrel Wilby. Having the times of their lives, their understanding and respect for the world also reflected the lives of our time. Written without self-serving ego, their stories included no mention of epic, gruelling or heroism; rather kindness, hospitality and awe. I couldn't imagine how they tackled these long journeys, but I really wanted to give it a go.


So in 2003, I took a year and my bike to South America. I began at the southern end of Highway 3 on Tierra del Fuego and headed north, beginning an unbelievable year. Unbelievable is an unbelievably overused word, diffused of meaning when applied to washing powders and headache relief. Yet, South America was nothing less than unbelievable. Its soaring mountains, sky-blue lakes, monstrous glaciers and icebergs, vast salt flats and surreal high plains were so soaring, sky-blue, monstrous, vast and surreal, I could only stare and try to believe.




Cuesta de Miranda, North West Argentina




Llao Llao, Argentina


Yet, if that wasn't enough, South America is a land of people conspiring to kidnap your heart. One day, on a lonely road in southern Chile, I fell from my bike and broke a leg. It seemed like a bad thing to happen until I was overcome with kindness from the people who took care of me for the five weeks I was in hospital. It was an unexpectedly amazing time.




Hospital de Coyhaique


After my year in South America, a friend wrote; 'I bet you don't regret a second'. Now that you mention it, there wasn't one second to regret!


The South American journey was also the impetus for a shorter trip back to South America in 2009. To revisit friends in Chile who cared for me after my accident and cycle again along the magnificent Andes was a return to paradise. The bike ride was a fundraiser and the support received was enough to purchase six bicycle ambulances for Malawi; a life-saver for pregnant women and other patients needing to reach medical care.




Riding for Bicycle Ambulances


Through 2010 and 2011, I’ve been researching and planning the trip in Africa. It’s the start of an adventure for me, but more than that, a tribute to the courage and hope of the children of Africa.


Mark McNamara, 2011


 

MARK McNAMARA:

BIOGRAPHY