WATCH: Charmed at first sight: Austrian tourists taken in by Victoria Falls

The Chronicle

Mashudu Netsianda, Deputy News Editor

THEIR hearts beat to the rhythm of their wheels as they cycled across the beautiful landscape of Southern Africa with only the sound of their own breathing and bicycle tyres on the road in their ears.

They cycled from Cape Town to Victoria Falls, negotiating steep mountain trails, narrow forest tracks, deserts in Namibia and Botswana and wide-open landscapes to reach Victoria Falls, their childhood dream destination.

Ms Johanna Hochedlinger (35) and Ms Tanja Willers (35) both from Vienna, the capital city of Austria in East Central Europe have embarked on an ambitious one-year 20 000km cycling expedition.

Visiting the majestic Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, was a realisation of a childhood dream for both Ms Hochedlinger and Ms Willers.

Austrian tourists charmed by Vic Falls

For the two tourists, telling a first-hand travel story about their cycling expedition in Africa, arguably one of our most epic biking journeys in the world, would not be complete without mentioning Victoria Falls. 

To them, visiting Zimbabwe’s prime tourist city for the first time was an experimental travel at its best. 

They couldn’t help but marvel at the natural thunderous sound of the mighty Victoria Falls, the world’s greatest sheet of falling water. 

Victoria Falls is significant worldwide for its exceptional geological and geomorphological features and active land formation processes with outstanding beauty attributed to the falls, the spray, mist and rainbows.

Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone, credited with a European’s first discovery of the falls, named them after Britain’s Queen Victoria. 

However, the local inhabitants had a more fitting name for this powerful, unbridled force of nature: “Mosi-oa-Tunya” — the smoke that thunders.

The two tourists, using a username “roaming_pedals” on Instagram share their experiences and post beautiful pictures of the places visited so far, including Victoria Falls and the country’s rich wildlife

A Chronicle news crew recently caught up with Ms Hochedlinger and Ms Willers during their visit in Victoria Falls and they narrated their experiences.

“We love to travel because one gets to experience and learn so much. In fact, you can only learn about a country and its culture by visiting its cultural heritages sites, museums and mingling with people in the streets,” said Ms Hochedlinger. 

“We have created an Instagram page where we post pictures and share stories and our personal experiences so that people can follow our travels.”

Ms Willers weighed in: “Through this trip we are learning a lot about Africa and its rich culture. This is our first time to visit Victoria Falls, and it is such a lovely and charming natural wonder. When we return home we will definitely tell people back home that Zimbabwe is a beautiful place with friendly people.”

Ms Hochedlinger and Ms Willers said when they informed their families about the trip prior to their departure, they were worried about their safety.

Ms Willers said while Western media outlets have framed and represented Africa in a negative light, they were shocked to discover that the picture is completely different.

“There is a general perception that South Africa has a lot of crime and we always thought it is happening in the whole of Africa, yet we have peaceful countries like Zimbabwe with friendly and hospitable people,” she said.

For Ms Hochedlinger, it is her first time to visit Africa. The two young women started cycling on September 21 and hope to end their African safari tour in September next year.

“Since we started our expedition three months ago, each day we are getting new experiences. My mother was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Tanzania and I hope to do a little bit of research on her family history when I get there,” said Ms Willers.

“We are using Velotraum bicycles, which are light yet aerodynamic, and they have broad tyres and are very steady and stable when carrying a load. This type of bicycle weighs 17kg and with the luggage being 30kg extra and then our weight making it a total of about 100kg.”

The bicycles were hired from a German company.

“We boarded a plane from Vienna, Austria to Cape Town in South Africa. We took our bikes with us and started cycling from South Africa through to Namibia and Botswana and arrived in Victoria Falls on November 30. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country with one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world,” said Ms Hochedlinger.

“So far, the journey is interesting and adventurous and we are enjoying different landscapes, the weather and wildlife. When we started, it was very exhausting since we were not used to cycling up the mountains and down in the valleys, the highlands of South Africa through the deserts of Namibia.”

In Botswana, the cyclists encountered herds of elephants on the road. Besides wild camping, the two tourists also get serendipitous invitations into villagers’ homes.

“We do wild camping by pitching our tents in the bushes and prepare food and sleep before proceeding with our journey the following morning. We also get invited by locals to their homes where we enjoy traditional meals,” said Ms Willers.

“This is a beautiful experience for us because back home in Austria, we don’t have oceans, elephants, zebras, deserts and it is very cold and snowy at the moment because it is winter.”

Johanna Hochedlinger (right) and Tanja Willers (left) at Victoria Falls

They said although sometimes elephants and other animals get closer to their tents, they have learnt to live in harmony with the wildlife without crossing their path.

“In Austria, we have high mountains and this environment in Africa is new to us and quite exciting. As we post our pictures on our Instagram page, our friends and relatives back home actually envy us,” said Ms Willers. 

As of Friday, the two tourists were now in Zambia having cycled over 5 000km so far.

“We travel between 70km and 100km per day depending on the roads, the topography and the direction of the wind. Where is it mountainous, rocky and sandy, we cycle for about 40km to 50km per day,” said Ms Hochedlinger.

She said their next country is Malawi where they intend cycling around Lake Malawi before proceeding to Tanzania then Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. 

“Our plan is not to take a flight back home. We will take a boat either at Port Sudan or Cairo in Egypt to cross the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia or alternatively cross the ocean to Europe direct and continue with our cycling back home,” said Ms Hochedlinger. 

“Our journey will end in our home town Vienna in September next year. It will be a one year journey and so far, we have cycled 5 300 and our ultimate goal is to cover 30 000km at the end of the expedition.”

Ms Hochedlinger is a Spanish and sports teacher in Vienna while Ms Willers is a bicycle mechanic. 

“Johanna is a teacher and I used to be a teacher as well. I think if you want to be a good teacher, you have to first acquire as much knowledge as possible and a broader horizon,” said Ms Willers.

Ms Hochedlinger said she took a 1-year break from teaching to embark on the cycling expedition to learn more about other cultures.

“As a teacher you should be a role model to your leaner and be open minded,” she said.

Ms Willers said she was also a teacher until she decided to exchange the chalk for spanners.

“I left teaching and I am now a bicycle mechanic and this expertise is coming in handy for us during this cycling expedition. If our bicycles develop a mechanical fault, I am actually able to fix them,” she said. [email protected]

Article Source: The Chronicle

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