Travels like a tortoise

Athina May

Covered in stickers from countries all over the world, Leana Niemand’s mountain bike seems to have as much of a story to tell as its owner who quit her job nine years ago for life on the road.

The bike has carried Leana on a remarkable journey clocking up 130 000km – that’s a third of the way to the moon – and she’s replaced so many parts along the way, she doubts whether much of the original machine is left.

Armed with her Canon camera, laptop, tent, sleeping bag, gas cooker and a few items of clothing strapped to her bike, Leana has everything she needs to survive. And during her short stint in Table View, she propped her bike up against the outside wall at Pakalolo, in Bloubergstrand, and spoke to Tabletalk about her life as a nomad for the past nine years.

“It’s a life of a homeless person. Homeless by choice,” says Leana with a smile.

Her skin is tanned brown and curls from her fiery red bob hang over her shades. She casts her gaze out over Table Mountain.

Does she feel like she’s home again in Table View? I ask.

”It’s strange… When you travel so much you never really fit in anywhere,” she says.

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Before she changed her life around, Leana owned a business in Table View doing property evaluations. Then one day she decided to sell everything.

“How long can a person work doing the same thing?” she says.

“While I am travelling, I am moving all the time, I keep moving, and I’m never sure of where I’m going, or going to sleep.

“Every day is a surprise and I live in the moment, if you have a problem or a puncture, you deal with it now,” says Leana, sipping her coffee.

Dressed in three-quarter cycling shorts, pink sports hoodie and a necklace with a big peace symbol on her chest, Leana, 60, doesn’t look a day over 40.

“I do 150km a day. You can cycle from SA all the way to Egypt and to South East Asia by bike, because it’s all one piece of land. I’ve only flown to Australia and South America,” says Leana.

Although she may seem like a cycling fanatic, Leana says it definitely didn’t start out that way.

“It all started when I participated in a race from Cairo to Cape Town by bicycle.

“The race was a crazy thing to do because I’m not really a cyclist. But when I finished, it made me realise that one could travel long distances by bike.

“I’ve been using the same bike, but I’ve replaced many parts. I’ve done 130 000km on it,” says Leana who has left bicycle tyre tracks in Egypt, Turkey, Vietnam, Pakistan, China, Cambodia and Brazil to name a few of the 70 countries she’s visited. Of all of them, India is her first love.

“I may settle in India. I’ve just flown back from there. I like the food, weather, and smells over there. It is everything people say it is. It’s dirty, busy, overpopulated, but there is a blanket of spirituality over the whole place,” says Leana.

Many may wonder how one can travel the world on a budget, but Leana has perfected the craft and says not worrying about accommodation does a lot to cut costs.

“I have a tent and I just stick it up everywhere, outside schools, churches, gas stations, anywhere. You don’t need a lot of money; you just need to live on a budget.

“I sold everything before I started, and I’ve been working with that. I always travel with all my belongings. My tent, camera, sleeping bag, laptop, clothes and cooker – everything I own in life I carry on my back, like a tortoise,” laughs Leana.

The best thing about travelling, she says, is the random acts of kindness by those who stopped her and offered her a place to stay or a drink of water.

“When you travel by bicycle, it invites people to talk to you. I get stopped by people who give me water or cold drinks, or I walk into a store to buy something and they tell me it’s already paid for.”

As for bad experiences along the way, she says she hasn’t had any apart from bad weather in Patagonia, which rendered her incapable of cycling to shelter.

“In Patagonia the wind blows at 120km per hour, and it blew me off my bicycle three times. The next town was 250km away. I just had to wait it out, just me and lamas,” laughs Leana, recalling the memory.

Leana has no plans to slam on the brakes anytime soon and still hopes to explore Japan, Europe and the Baltic countries once she has secured the necessary visas.

“If I wake up tomorrow morning and don’t feel like it, I’ll stop. But my bucket list is only getting longer, not shorter,” says Leana with glistening eyes.

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