Talking Africa perceptions vs reality with the first woman to bike around the continent

North African countries were also cheaper to travel across because of the low cost of fuel, noted Rust. However, of all the regions she visited, East Africa proved the most affordable in general.

Bribes and ‘playing the game’

“I was only asked for a bribe once and that was in Ghana. I was stopped at a check point and the officer asked if I have dollars for him. I said I didn’t. He then asked if I had any cedi for him, their currency. I said: ‘No I don’t have any money for you my friend’. And he just kind of laughed and gave me my papers back.”

Other than that, Rust found that she was never directly asked for bribes. However, she advises travellers to be aware of requirements to cross borders so that they are not scammed. For example, while trying to cross from Nigeria into Benin, a couple of officers said she had to pay a fee, which she knew to be false.

“I just refused. And then they would play this game of saying that I then had to stay there. And I would say, ‘Well, let’s see who has more time. I have all the time in the world’,” recalled Rust. “You have to read the situation, and just play the game.”


Why the Angolan government sponsored her trip

Rust was just 28 when she embarked on her journey around Africa, a decision met with mixed views. “People were obviously very sceptical, saying ‘you’ll probably get yourself killed’ or ‘there’s no way a girl can travel on her own around Africa’. You know, these pictures some people have in their mind of deep dark Africa being so dangerous.”

However, Rust was not naive, and understood the “possible risks and dangers”. The previous year she had attempted the same trip on her bicycle, and made it from Cape Town, through Namibia, and to Angola before she was attacked by a group of armed men on route to the Congolese border.

“Four guys with a Ford Pickup stopped next to me and got out, which wasn’t unusual – a lot of people stopped and chatted to me during my travels… but it wasn’t until they pulled out machetes and knives that I realised that they didn’t really want to chit-chat.”

The group stole her bicycle with her belongings, while Rust escaped into the bush with her mobile phone and passport. She called a friend in Luanda, who called the chief of police, who contacted the province’s governor. “And the next thing the governor phoned me and told me to stay where I was and a police vehicle was on its way to fetch me.”

In just over 20 minutes, Rust was picked up, taken to the nearest town, placed in a hotel and two helicopters were dispatched to search for the perpetrators. The governor also insisted she stay with him at his home over the weekend while the police searched for her belongings.

“It was insane. I mean it was like the whole country was just up in arms about this incident and I just felt totally overwhelmed. I received so many Facebook messages and emails from the general public of Angola apologising for what happened. And I just felt like, it’s only a bicycle. We are so desensitised in South Africa about stuff like this.”

Rust wasn’t deterred by the experience, and once she returned to South Africa, decided she wanted to re-attempt her journey around the continent, this time by motorbike. And the Angolan government decided to provide her with the bike and become her sole sponsor.