This week we interview Christo Coetzer a 24 year old South African Unicyclist who toured the island on his unicycle. He started his ride on March 28, 2011 at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston going from east to west through St Thomas, Portland, St Mary, St Ann, Trelawny, St James, Hanover and Westmoreland. He ended his ride in Kingston via the south coast. Here is our conversation with Christo.
1. What inspired you to ride around Jamaica on a unicycle?
After I successfully became the first person to circumnavigate the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius on a Unicycle there was an obvious question that arose which went something like: “Now you’ve done this, is it now back to real life or what’s next?” So when people asked me what’s next I naturally responded Jamaica because of my long standing love affair with reggae music and in particular the legendary works of reggae legends Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. So I would definitely think that Bob Marley was one of the main reasons and sources of inspiration to have chosen Jamaica as my next ‘World-First’ adventure destination. In my preparation I also discovered that Peter Tosh use to be a legendary unicyclist and that was an even further source of inspiration to embark on the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure.
2. Were you able to meet any of Bob Marley’s family?
Yeah mon! (I had a brilliant opportunity to learn quite a bit of Jamaican Patois along the way, it was part of my crash course on Jamaican culture).
I had the incredible opportunity of starting my journey from 56 Hope Road in Kingston which is now the Bob Marley Museum and I had the chance to meet 3 members of Bob’s direct family namely Rohan Marley who is owner of Marley Coffee, Julian Marley both sons of Bob and one of Bob and Rita Marley’s granddaughters Donisha Prendergast. It was an awesome experience to have met all three these members of Bob’s direct family as he was the main source of inspiration behind me choosing Jamaica. I had lunch with Rohan at the Goldeneye resort near Oracabessa (This is the resort owned by Chris Blacwell and where Ian Fleming wrote most of the James Bond novels) on the first Saturday of my journey and we had chance to discuss his relationship with his father, my relationship with my father and the impact that Bob still has on the whole world today. It was incredible to have the chance to discuss it with him personally and to spend time with the son of such a legend and to now be able to call Rohan, Julian and Donisha my friends. At the end of my journey on 16 April Rohan was waiting for me in front of the statue with a bottle of champagne and with great jubilation and celebration Bob was singing in the background mystically the track which summed up my entire adventure almost perfectly and he started singing ‘Dready got a job to do and he’s got to fulfill that mission, To see his hurt will be their greatest ambition, but we will survive in this world of competition, ‘Cause no matter what they do Natty keep on coming through and no matter what they say Natty de deh everyday. Natty Dread Rides again!!” But like Rohan said, Bob is just as much his father as he is mine and every other person he inspires around the world every single day.
3. What did your friends and family in South Africa think when you told them you were going to unicycle around Jamaica?
My friends and family were absolutely tremendous and very supporting when I told them about my proposed One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure.
My mother was very much behind the project and she prophesied that my father and manager, Theo Coetzer, and I would be like Joshua and Caleb going into the promised land and that if we kept positive that we would conquer the promised land and as one of my friends which I met in Bluefields Bay said “It’s like when Jah created Zion that a piece of it dropped off and landed right in the heart of the Caribbean and is now called Jamaica!’
Initially my friends supported it only verbally and after alot of struggle they started supporting the adventure pro-actively. After months of planning and essentially getting nowhere one of my friends, Muller Terblanche, came to me and said that he very strongly believes in my adventure and what I plan doing and that he is willing to sponsor me to go. So he sponsored my air ticket and that was it no more turning back. They helped me record videos and the like to make the dream a reality
My girlfriend, Miehe Eybers then went and asked all my friends to write letters of inspiration and encouragement for the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure which she brought together in great book which then served as a major source of inspiration before I left South Africa and also the entire time while I was in Jamaica.
One of my friends Piere Reynecke wrote me a poem which goes as follows:
‘Some people leave
Some people stay
Some move, others keep quite still
Some are always gathering up, others are always giving away
Some are waiting to die, others awake to a new life every morning
Some drive others walk
Some dream others criticise
Some believe others doubt
Some go to sleep others watch the sunrise
Some break into the new, others are happy with the way things are
Some sleep under a roof others under the stars
Some people collect things others go on walks
You get water that is flowing and water that is contained
Some cyclists use two wheels others use one
Keep that wheel rolling my brada!’
I hope this gives you an idea of how well my friends and family supported my adventure which in the end became much more our adventure than just mine.
. A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.
1 How wonderful and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in harmony!
2 For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil
that was poured over Aaron’s head,
that ran down his beard
and onto the border of his robe.
3 Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon
that falls on the mountains of Zion.
And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,
even life everlasting.
4. What were your main concerns when you planned your route around Jamaica?
Well after our initial discussions with the Jamaican High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa we set out to contact all the parties which may be interested in the project. We then in together with the Jamaican High Commission set up a proposed or initial route around the island.
Some of the major concerns were the actual distance that I would be travelling around the island as this had a major impact on both the riding and training schedules, the topographical dimensions of the island, the level to which it is possible to travel on the Jamaican roads on a unicycle, where we would be able to find accommodation around the island and also which towns were worth spending the night in and which we had to give a skip. Also we were told about the crime problem in Jamaica so this was another one of the factors we had to take into consideration when we planned our route around the island.
5. Tell us the strangest thing that happened on your journey around Jamaica?
Well that is quite an interesting question. I think riding around Jamaica on a unicycle is in itself a pretty strange thing to do but in terms of strange things that happened I would definitely say that a few incidents stood out.
The one day me, my dad, Theo and our photographer Ricardo Bailey from El Puru Photography were sitting in a mineral bath relaxing after a long day’s ride when Ricardo suddenly jumped out of the water and exclaimed that something had just bitten him. It turned out that with us in the mineral bath that day was an enormous crab which had made its way from the sea into the mineral bath with us and he was having a ball playing the fool with us!
We met a few vegetarians who eat fish..Not making alot of sense.
We stayed at a resort which had a nude beach and being unaware of this I made my way down to the beach one day after a long and grueling ride in my shorts. A minute later two ladies put their towels down next to mine, strip off completely naked and remarked: ” Boy you are so overdressed!’ and with that they disappeared into the ocean leaving me in a very peculiar position!
Also, on the day which I rode through Black River a man stopped me next to the road very interested he asked whether the Unicycle was a “meterfor the road” and if I was measuring the actual distance of the road around the island.
Another thing which I really found interesting and strange was the road between Alligator Pond and Milk River. It was like riding through the middle of the Kruger National Park in South Africa, completely surrounded by bush with real off-road conditions and told by everyone that it these roads are not at all accessible we made a way were there apparently was no way. Real pioneering adventure!
6. Can you tell us about your route?
Yes, certainly I had planned a route around Jamaica using Google Earth and Google Maps which then culminated in the Riding Schedule.
We arrived in Kingston on Wednesday 23 March 20111 and we had around 4 days to acclimatize and on 28 March 2011 I started the ride around the island from 56 Hope Road in Kingston.. Out of Kingston we traveled east past Buff Bay where I later met all the Jamaican surfing legends and in particular the Wilmot family. The first day took us out of Kingston into St. Andrew and then I finished the day’s ride on Morant Bay. I took me three weeks to circumnavigate the entire country. I rode through all 14 parishes with Portland and Westmoreland definitely being my favorite parishes and my favorite spot in Jamaica is Long Bay in Portland it has the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.
The roads were good on the North and West Coast and really rough and broken down on the East and South Coasts.
7. Where did you sleep at nights? What did you do for food?
Its actually quite interesting, we bought a 2 man tent along from South Africa which we were going to use to sleep in but we did not know about the Jamaicans legendary hospitality. We never used the tent and we were provided with accommodation everywhere we went. The second night we spent at Blue Heaven Guest House which was one of my favorite spots, in Port Antonio we stayed at the Fern Hill Hotel, in Robin’s Bay we slept at the Robin’s Bay Hotel and in Rio Bueno we were sponsored to stay in the World-Class Breezes Resorts and in Montego Bay we got a sponsored stay at the Palm View Guesthouse. It was incredible how the Jamaicans welcomed us and embraced the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure. So we got to stay in just about all the forms of accommodation which Jamaica has to offer and this was also an incredible experience.
For food we did the real Jamaican thing. I had loads of Jerk Chicken, jerk pork and lots of dishes with rice and peas as a side dish. I really love the Ackee and Saltfish which is usually on the menu for breakfast. The one thing which really stood out was the Original Jamaican Malta drink and I strongly believe that this is the best drink in the world. It also worked fantastically well as an energy drink all around the island!
8. Did you record or blog the experience?
Yes, I did record, blog, photograph, film and memorise my entire journey. I am going to use all that in media interviews, magazine articles etc and also to write a book entitled One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica in in which I will give readers the opportunity to relive the entire adventure with me through all the hills and valleys and a DVD which I will also entitled One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica. Early B’s song: ‘One Wheel Wheelie make me wheelie one wheel, tis is not bawgain tis is not a deal…’ will definitely make for a brilliant soundtrack.
9. What were some of the lessons you learned from the people of Jamaica?
Definitely the one thing which I learned from Jamaicans which stood out most for me was the way that Jamaican people embrace their culture and the way that they are so proud of who they are and where they come from it is definitely something which other people and nations can learn from Jamaicans.
I got quite a few other lessons from Jamaicans along the way like at the Peter Tosh Museum I received a very long lecture on the different ways of planting, growing, cultivating, harvesting, farming all the different types of Marijuana and also the best way to smoke it and keep it fresh for a long time after it has been harvested. Something that I am sure will come in very handy one day!
10. In a few of the news reports you have said this has been the most difficult thing you have done. Why is this?
Physically it was the most difficult thing to train for quite a few reasons. Firstly I could not find anyone that has ridden the route which I proposed to ride so nobody could tell me how to train for the adventure around the island. So taking some estimates into consideration with the help of my dad and Manager Theo Coetzer and Kris Holm who is also one of the leading unicyclists in the world we drew up a training schedule, the Riding Schedule around the island was also based on this Riding Schedule.
It was one of the most difficult things which I ever had to prepare for taking the huge amount of unknown factors which I had to deal with into account and also because of the enormous physical challenge which it was to ride around the entire island with Jamaica being very mountainous it made for a very hard physically challenging ride.
It was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done but certainly the best and most rewarding thing that I’ve ever done as well. I guess that falls in with the saying that goes: “No Pain, No Gain!”
11. Now that you have completed the trip what is the one thing you will remember about Jamaica?
You know so many people has asked me that question and to be quite honest I think it is impossible to narrow it down to one thing in particular but I think the one thing that will always remind me of my first time in Jamaica and the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure it will be when I hear Bob Marley singing Ride Natty Ride. The Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture the Hon. Olivia Grange asked me the same question during my courtesy call I told her that as far as I know the sense in our bodies with the strongest memory is that of smell. So according to that I will always remember Jamaica whenever I sense the sweet smell of Herb burning anywhere in the world.
12. You did a similar journey in India. How did this compare to this?
I did a similiar journey in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island. That was an incredible journey on its own but completely different to my journey in Jamaica.
It was a much shorter journey being only 233 KM long and being my first major adventure I learnt alot and experienced alot of different things for the first time. I was much better prepared for my journey around Jamaica than I was for the adventure around Mauritius in terms of the physical and mental challenges which a journey like this poses to someone.
Some of the things that are very similar between the two countries are, the the beautiful scenery with both countries being very mountainous with extremely beautiful sea life and inland scenery. Also both in Mauritius and in Jamaica there was a Rasta waiting for me at the finish line starting the celebrations. In Mauritius it was P.E.M RASTA the world famous Mauritian craftsman who presented me with one of his carvings and in Jamaica it was the Son of the Legendary King of Reggae and I suppose the most famous Rasta worldwide Bob Marley, Rohan Marley who was waiting for me at the finish line with a bottle of champagne.
Both times it was an absolutely incredible experience and two of the most beautiful countries in the world.
I wrote a book entitled Around Mauritius on One Wheel which I am busy publishing at the moment and now I have also started writing the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica book in which I want to give readers the opportunity to relive both adventures through my eyes through all the hills and valleys and make them aware of the power that lies in their dreams.
13. Would you ride around Jamaica again on a Unicycle?
Yes, I would definitely do it again. I won’t do it alone again and before I do it again I first have quite a few other adventures on which I will embark. The world is so big with so many possibilities and different places to go and explore that I will definitely return to Jamaica and I would love to ride in Jamaica again. Everything Irie in Jamaica Mon! I like to tink dat I’m not a topanaris anymore but that I am rada dat mi now real Jamaican mon!
14. Have you chosen a new country for your next unicycle adventure?
Yes, well there is a country which has captivated my attention but I will keep that a secret for now. But being an adventurer you can bet that I have already started planning my next adventure. After all that is what adventurers do. But I will let you know as soon as I have my logistics in place.
15. Thanks for your time any closing thoughts?
It is a huge pleasure. Follow your dreams, make life happen there are a million different reasons why you should not do something but I want to encourage that whoever reads this should go out and live. Make life happen, follow your dreams, defy the odds ( Jamaicans are incredible at doing that just look at the athletes and musicians you’ve already produced just to mention a few) and “Let’s get together and feel allright!”. In closing I want to thank Jamaica and its people for who you are and what you have meant in my life and for supporting and embracing the One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica adventure so brilliantly. All Jamaican now mi bredren!!
One Wheel, One People, One Jamaica..One Love, One Heart, One Destiny! Jah live children!