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Cycling Namibia and a family reunion

We had a straightforward cycle north (yes, north!) on the B1 from Windhoek before we turned west onto the B2. After 118km we topped up our water bags at a roadside farm at Okazizi and found a dried-out riverbed to pitch our tent for the night – which displaced the resident cattle from their usual overnight spot.

 

Camping in a dried-up riverbed at Okazizi

Camping in a dried-up riverbed at Okazizi

From Windhoek we’d been cycling on a large hard shoulder but this disappeared once we’d passed through the gold mining town of Karibib.

We reached the town of Usakos. Emily’s uncle had warned us that it was the kind of place that 1st first prize was a week in Usakos; second prize was 2 weeks in Usakos. Nevertheless, we begged the owners of a fuel stop/restaurant for us to pitch our tent in their grounds that, itself, was a closed campsite.

We had our first experience of the Namibian gravel roads when we took a detour to Spitzkoppe – a majestic outcrop of racks that have been weathered over the years into a beautiful collection of boulders, crags and arches. We even saw some ancient cave paintings.

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The road towards Spitzkoppe

Rock arch at Spitzkoppe

Rock arch at Spitzkoppe

Enjoying a shower and the solitude of the campsites at Spitzkoppe

Enjoying a shower and the solitude of Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe cave paintings

Spitzkoppe cave paintings

Star trails at Spitzkoppe

Star trails at Spitzkoppe

Not a bad place to camp: Spitzkoppe

Not a bad place to pitch our Vaude tent: Spitzkoppe

The gravel and sand roads are tough!

The gravel and sand roads are tough!

From Spitzkoppe, we had a punchy 154km ride towards the coastal town of Swakopmund. Although it was gently downhill all day, the wind suddenly changed direction meaning we had to pedal hard into a biting headwind for most of the day. We arrived exhausted but were pleased to see Emily’s uncles John and Nigel and Auntie Astrid who’d come over from Johannesburg to see us. It was the first time Emily had seen them in 15 years! The next day Emily’s folks arrived from the UK to join us and we spent a very fun few days in Swakopmund catching up and spending some precious family time together.

The Namib desert 'little 5'

One of the Namib Desert ‘little 5’

A chameleon catches and munches a worm

A chameleon catches and munches a worm

A very sandy snake

A very sandy snake

Emily then sprung a huge surprise on me, for my birthday, she’d organised for me to do a Skydive in Swakopmund. What’s more, she (reluctantly) agreed to join me. For somebody who’s terrified of heights, is a nervous flyer and hates rollercoasters, it was completely out of her comfort zone but, thanks to Eddie and the remarkably professional set up at SkyDive Namibia, we both experienced the thrill of freefalling to the ground from 11,000 feet. As I’d done a few jumps before, my tandem master allowed me to do a few turns whilst in free-fall and even let me pull the cord. I’m not convinced Emily enjoyed it quite as much as me however.

Freefallin'

Freefallin’

How do you do!

How do you do!

Emily's worst fear!

Emily’s worst fear!

...although she looks as though she's enjoying it!

…although she looks as though she’s enjoying it!

From Swakopmund, we drove north and spent a fantastic few days in Etosha National Park. Etosha is a vast National Park and we were spoilt with the huge numbers of animals we saw including giraffe, zebra, a catalogue of antelope and stunning birds but also huge numbers of elephants, 7 very endangered black rhinos and a leopard. When the time came for Emily and I to leave, we were disappointed not to see any lions or cheetahs – only for us to spot them as we made our way out of the Park. Thanks again to John and Astrid for organising such a memorable trip!

Oryx in Etosha

Oryx in Etosha

A family of elephants take a drink at the waterhole

A family of elephants take a drink at the waterhole

A black rhino takes a drink under the cover of darkness

A black rhino takes a drink under the cover of darkness

A black Rhino in better light

A black Rhino in better light

 

A cheetah poses for us

A cheetah poses for us

A lioness on the prowl. We were thankful to see her from the safety of a car rather than risking meeting her on our bicycles as we did in Tanzania and Botswana

A lioness on the prowl. We were thankful to see her from the safety of a car rather than risking meeting her on our bicycles as we did in Tanzania and Botswana

After Etosha, we were reunited with our bicycles in Walvis Bay where we’d left them with Warm Showers host, Brian. Sadly Brian wasn’t there but he kindly let us stay at his beautiful cottage overlooking the Walvis Bay Lagoon and its resident flamingoes. In Brian’s absence his landlady, Caroline, looked after us and, over a cooked breakfast, it transpired that she came from the same town Emily’s parents in and even went to Emily’s old school. Small world.

The notion of a small world soon disappeared the next day when we were back on our bikes. 115km uphill on gravel and into a headwind is tough. Even tougher when we have to carry 2 days’ water supply with us. We fell short of our intended camping site and so wild camped in the desert – too exhausted to enjoy the stunning sunset and star show.

There's no shade in the desert

There’s no shade in the desert

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Another milestone!

Another milestone!

We struggled through on the corrugated roads until we reached the Rostock Ritz – a desert lodge and campground which has an amazing policy of offering touring cyclists a free room for the night. The staff gave us an incredible welcome and we made use of the soft bed by sleeping for 10 hours straight!

Arriving at the Rostock Ritz

Arriving at the Rostock Ritz. The welcome was worth the 7km cycle up the ‘drive’!

We’ve had a shorter day today – just 45 kilometers form Rostock Ritz to the desert outpost of Solitaire where we’re incredibly grateful to Grant at the Solitaire Country Lodge for hosting us tonight. Nevertheless, today’s ride taken us over 5 hours as we’ve struggled over the corrugations, sand and dust of the desert road.

Meerkat in the desert

Meerkat in the desert

Just 3 days in to bumpy gravel and the skin on my behind has broken…which should make the next stretch south to Cape Town memorable for the wrong reasons.

Just 3 days in and the gravel roads are taking their toll.

Just 3 days in and the gravel roads are taking their toll.

We’ve set ourselves an ambitious target of cycling 1,800km from Swakopmund in just 20 days so we’ll arrive in Cape Town on Friday 3rd June. Please do follow our progress on our live GPS tracker and support our fundraising by donating to World Bicycle Relief – we’d really love to fund as many bicycles for school kids and communities in Africa before we reach Cape Town!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

Struggling through western Tanzania

After a couple of wonderful days with Mike, Jenna and their kids in Kigali it was time to hit the road again. We’d had such a great time with them all that it was hard to leave. Mike and Jenna met while cycling across Canada and never looked back! A few years later they married and spent their honeymoon cycling from North to South America – we had lots of great stories to swap and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.

We spent the first night after Kigali at the Discover Rwanda Eco-Lodge near Kayonza. It’s located within the Women’s Opportunity Centre where women can come to together and engage in different community and economic empowerment activities.

We were impressed by the eco lodge’s solar power and water heating systems, rainwater harvesting and composting toilets. They even had a wood-fired pizza oven. Although it was slightly weird knowing that the toppings on our pizzas had been grown in the kitchen garden using the very compost that previous guests had contributed to.

Discover Rwanda Kayonza Eco Lodge

The Discover Rwanda Kayonza Eco Lodge had great rooms, dorms, tents and a camping area.

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The Discover Rwanda Kayonza Eco Lodge hd a terraced kitchen garden that provided the toppings to our pizzas. But the composting loos helped the said toppings grow!

We would have loved to have stayed to visit the nearby Akagera National Park but we had to press on to get to Tanzania.

We crossed the border into Tanzania at Rusamo falls; a waterfall located on the Kagura River. Nearly every Rwandan river flows into the Kagura and it was at this point that, during the genocide in 1994, thousands of dead bodies flowed underneath the Rusamo Bridge while a simultaneous stream of refugees crossed over it. An estimated 500,000 people fled Rwanda; 250,000 of those crossed here in a single 24-hour period.

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Thousands of dead bodies flowed underneath the Rusamo Bridge while a simultaneous stream of refugees crossed over it. An estimated 500,000 people fled Rwanda; 250,000 of those crossed here in a single 24-hour period

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One of the many mass graves we passed in Rwanda

Rwanda has come so far since the genocide, but, quite understandably, there’s still a simmering tension across the country. It was a poignant end to our time in Rwanda as we gazed down from the bridge into the churning waters below.

As soon as we crossed the border into Tanzania, we were greeted with a few steep climbs that got our legs and lungs working. But it was great that, just a few miles into Tanzania, we saw the first lady on a bicycle since we were in Hungary. It’s incredible that the bicycle is such an important machine throughout Africa but, it seems, only for men. Traditional gender roles in Africa mean that women work in the field and home and then men venture out of the home. In many countries there is great stigma around women on bikes that prevents them from cycling. We learnt about this while visiting Team Rwanda earlier that week and Emily wrote about how hard it is for women to cycle in Rwanda in an article for Total Women’s Cycling.

At Nyakanazi we turned off the main road onto the B8 – a dirt road that that would take us 960km through remote western Tanzania to the border with Zambia at Tunduma.

Daily rains made cycling on the earth roads incredibly difficult. Car tyres formed some dry patches on the road but we had to negotiate the channels carved into the surface caused by running rain water.

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In most places the road was thick with mud making progress very, very slow!

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This little dude had the most amazing wooden bicycle!

In Swahili, the word for slow is pole. The phrase for very slow is pole-pole. And, with the tough road conditions, we were certainly cycling pole-pole.

One advantage of cycling pole-pole is we got a chance to see animal life that we’d have otherwise missed if we were behind the wheel. We saw dung beetles rolling balls of poo with their back legs, snakes, huge columns of marching ants and even a chongologo which raced us up a particularly steep hill.

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Although this snake was dead, it was sign that we were sharing the road with other creatures!  We think it was a juvenile mamba.

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One of many huge columns of marching ants that we passed

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This chongololo ‘raced’ us up the hill!

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This chameleon was apathetic to the traffic on the road!

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I named him Isiah;  One eye’s ‘igher than the other.

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Another day in the office

It wasn’t long before Emily became the first casualty of the conditions. Her front wheel snagged a rock and she tumbled from the bike, grazing knees and elbows.

The next day, she took a more serious fall, hitting her head and suffered a suspected cracked a rib.

On the 95km day’s ride from Kibondo to the tiny village of Makere we were just 1km short of our destination when the heavens really opened. We threw our bikes under a tree and ran across a courtyard where we were welcomed by a family and took shelter with them on their verandah. The torrential rain bounced off the earth and formed an instant flow of water across the courtyard. It was interesting to watch the woman of the house working away to collect the rainwater running off the roof in buckets, lighting fires in the kitchen and doing other chores whilst the men stood and stared at the rain. Amazingly however, in the hour that it rained, they had probably collected enough water for an entire week.

This chap had an innovative use for an old bike: he used it to sharpen knives

This chap had an innovative use for an old bike: he used it to sharpen knives

The next day, we reached Kasulu, the first significant town since we entered Tanzania and also the first place we could find an ATM that accepted Mastercard. Up until now, we’d been getting by on the tiny amount of Tanzanian Shillings that we had with us and we were getting worried that we’d run out. It was only 50km from where we’d stayed the night before but, after the torrential rains and the horrific roads, it took us the entire day to travel that distance! Ironically, it was our mudguards that held us back the most as the sticky mud would just collect inside the guard meaning we could not move forward! We could only laugh when a lorry passed us and hit a huge puddle that covered Emily from head to toe in glorious orange mud!

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We could only laugh when a lorry passed us and hit a huge puddle that covered Emily from head to toe in glorious orange mud!

Mud got stuck in our mud guards that made it very tricky to move!

Mud got stuck in our mud guards that made it very tricky to move!

Despite the road conditions, some of the views were pretty special

Despite the road conditions, some of the views were pretty special…

Although disheartening when you can see your next ascent coming

…although disheartening when you can see your next ascent coming

That night, we checked into a reasonable guesthouse and decided to take an impromptu but well-needed rest day.

We continued onward to a town called Uvinza. The stretch between Uvinza and Mpanda was incredibly remote and we had to stock up on food for the 2-day, 175km journey. All along this road, we have been passing ginormous refugee camps housing displaced people from Burundi and the DRC – we’d been told that some of the camps had over 250,000 people in them. In these damp, humid conditions, disease spreads rapidly and, despite the UN and aid agencies doing all they can to help, they have quite a humanitarian crisis on their hands. After we’d learnt more about the horrors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, it’s shocking to think that similar troubles are brewing in the neighbouring countries, forcing the mass exodus of refugees.

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We thought we were carrying bulky loads!

We wild camped in the forest and tried to light a fire to keep the mosquitos at bay but everything was damp. Even the sprinkle of petrol I used from our stove burned spectacularly before dying out just as quickly. Phone and sat phone signals also let us down so we were gutted not to be able to do the live call to the Tales of Adventure event as planned.

We finally reached Mpanda, a scruffy town that lies at the end of the railway’s branch line and checked into the ‘New Super City Hotel’, a disappointing choice which was neither ‘new’ or ‘super’ and, after a wander around town, it was doubtful that it could be described as in a city either.

Yet, the rooms were large and it kept the rain from our heads so we decided to take a rest day as Emily had managed to pick up yet another stomach bug and the prospect of continuing the rain in that state was not appealing whatsoever!

The first night we ate at the hotel’s restaurant. I say restaurant, but it was merely one charcoal fire with a few pots on it. Much like everywhere else in the region, the choice was chicken and rice, beans and rice or cow and rice. I opted for the cow. The ‘beef’ was so tough it was as if my molars had been entered as contestants in the Krypton Factor.

In fact, the food options in western Tanzania are as poor as the region itself. We’ve noticed that, in Africa, the poorer the region the less food there is on sale. This is possibly because there isn’t the surplus after the farmer has fed his family.  After the abundant fruit and veg in Uganda and in most parts of Rwanda, we were now scouring roadsides for onions and tomatoes. One thing we always found was the ‘Chipsi mayai’; it’s essentially a chip omelette with lots and lots of oil. Otherwise, we’ve been surviving on stale bread and honey, over-ripe avocados, and bananas that quickly putrefy in the heat and rough roads. When wild camping we’ve cooked up rice and beans and had a chocolate biscuit each for desert.

We walked into Mpanda to get a few supplies. Eventually, we found a small shop that sold bread. We needed two loaves but, although the shopkeeper claimed it was “fresh fresh”, I insisted that we bought one first to check whether it was as he described. Needless to say it was stale so, with a smile on my face, I demonstrated the fact by banging a slice on the wall and then on my head, much to everyone’s amusement.

Back at the New Super City Hotel, we were in our room when we heard a strange, loud chanting coming from hotel’s conference room. I walked down the corridor and peeked inside. What I saw was deeply disturbing. A man had whipped the room into a frenzy by getting everyone to shout “fire! Fire! Fire!” repeatedly. Frightened children ran from the room in tears as the crescendo of “fire! Fire! Fire!” continued. I then watched as he went round to each person, shouted something which included the words “Lucifer” and “Power of Jesus”, placed his hands on their heads and they fell backwards to the floor. Some people even writhed and convulsed on the floor

A screenshot from the clandestine video I shot of the prophet at work

A screenshot from the clandestine video I shot of the prophet at work

That evening, I bumped into the man I’d seen at the centre of that morning’s dramatics in the conference room. He was wearing a designer shirt, carried a smart leather briefcase and smelt of expensive aftershave. I don’t remember his name but he introduced himself as a prophet. I asked what had gone on in the room. He explained that it was the “power of God’ in action. He told me he traveled across Africa working as a “faith healer” and people with health and other problems travelled for miles to see him. He also had his own radio show. He’d hired the hotel room for a few days and invited me to attend the next day.

I couldn’t help myself and told him I didn’t think it was ethical for him to take money from potentially vulnerable people in this way; knowing full well that it was just the power of suggestion at work and that the only ‘prophet’ was the money he was making from the suggestible people in attendance.

In fact, since we entered Kenya, we’ve noticed many churches across 101 different denominations; most of which I hadn’t heard of before. It appeared to me that anyone could set up a church if they wished.

Back in Jinja, Uganda, we met an incredibly nice group of British Jehova’s Witnesses whilst rafting on the river Nile. We talked about the number of different churches across Africa.

To me, Jehovah’s Witnesses are the Jonny Wilkinsons of religion; they never miss an opportunity for a conversion. Part of the group’s time in Uganda was to speak to as many people as possible to show them the Jehovah’s way. Gavin, the leader of the group, confirmed my suspicion that churches sprung up left right and centre in this region and that, on many occasions, they’d be speaking to someone who’d say that their church leader was ‘encouraging’ his church-goers to give 10%-20% of their income to the church each month. Except in January when it was 100%. Gavin described the look on people’s faces when he explains that nowhere in the bible does it say that they must do this. After a long day rafting on the Nile, I didn’t have the stamina required for the resultant debate if I’d suggested to Gavin that there might be an alternative to the bible too. But, the fact remains that huge sums of money are ‘earned’ by ‘prophets’ across Africa, which, if you have a bit of charisma and a copy of a Derren Brown book, could be a very appealing prospect in an impoverished region.

After a mix up with camera chargers, I arranged to pick up my charger from Gavin’s office in Fort Portal a few days later. I quite enjoyed the role reversal of knocking on the door of the Jehova’s Witnesses.

Cycling Katavi National Park

Although we enjoyed seeing the tiny creatures on the journey so far, it was the larger creatures we had to be wary of for the next part our journey.

We stayed a night at the Riverside Camp just on the northern fringe of the Katavi National Park and spent a few hours sitting on the riverbank in the company of their resident hippos.

Cycling Katavi National Park - hippos

The Katavi National Park is Tanzania’s third largest national park and it’s also its most remote. The park is full of wild animals including elephants, buffalos and lions. The main road in the region slices straight through park and cycling through the Katavi National Park isn’t strictly allowed. But, it’s not strictly prohibited either. We did some research and got in contact with Nicolas Marino a cyclist who’d blogged about crossing the park in 2015. In Nico’s reply to us he strongly discouraged us from taking the park on firstly due to the tsetse flies and, secondly, the very real danger of cycling in the presence of wild animals. He even told us how stubborn he had been when he’d cycled across and avoided warnings not to do it (mainly due to the flies) and urged us to listen. It seems, however, that cycle tourists all have a stubborn nature.

Cycling Katavi National Park - Katavi National Park entrance sign

Cycling through the Katavi National Park isn’t strictly allowed. But, it’s not strictly prohibited either.

The crossing of the park was only 60km. And to get a lift would have set us back over USD$150. We figured that the flies “couldn’t be that bad” and lions tend to hunt at night so we decided to give it a go. How wrong we were.

We were up early and crossed into the unfenced park at 7am – before any rangers could take their post at the entrance. Within moments we saw a huge herd of impalas and baboons sauntered across the road in front of us.

But, very soon, the tsetse flies arrived in their hundreds. Tsetse flies are armour-plated biting machines. They landed on every bit of our bodies and bit any exposed skin and through even through our socks and gloves. They got so bad that, even though it was over 30°C that day (of course it had stopped raining that day!), we had to don our waterproof jackets to prevent them from biting through our shirts. We controlled our bikes with one hand whilst swatting the stubborn insects away with the other.

No matter how fast we cycled, the flies landed and bit. The extra effort we put into the pedaling made us hotter. We sweated buckets under our waterproofs and we were reluctant to stop to top up our water because we would get mobbed.

In short, they made our lives a complete misery and we were dehydrating fast in the waterproofs. But at least they took our minds off the larger creatures that lurked in the undergrowth.

From the road we saw a huge herd of zebra and I even saw a couple of giraffes before they ran into the trees.

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This giraffe stuck his neck out to say hello

Then, at the side of the road, we saw huge footprints from some very big cats. Our heartbeats quickened as we realised these footprints were very fresh and that lions were near. We stopped for the quickest of photos then got back on the bikes and followed the footprints for around 8km until they veered left off the road.

Lion footprints whilst cycling Katavi National Park

Lions are about!

 

We followed the lions' footprints for a good

We followed the fresh lions’ footprints for at least 8km

It was a good 20km after the park that the flies gradually petered out. But the effort put into cycling fast through the hostile Katavi National Park in waterproofs had taken it out on us and we were both massively dehydrated and exhausted. We limped to Chisi where we filled our two 10 litre water bags from the village water pump and found a wild camping spot just off the road a few KM further south.

After such a challenging day it was a delight to sit back under the stars and sip a cup of tea whilst watching fireflies streak across the sky tracing their paths with their intermittently glowing bodies.

For two more days we struggled along the bumpy earth road. 35km before Sumawanga we reahed the crest of a hill and the sight before us took us by surprise. A brand new road had been carved through the countryside. Like a river of molten lava it was unsympathetic to the environment and left nothing in its path as it tore through woods and carved deep gashes through hillsides. For two weary cyclists it was like looking at heaven, but it was a sight that would have given Swampy a coronary. But, where there’s a coronary, there’s a bypass, and we were overjoyed to see this ribbon of Tarmac nirvana skirting the villages and snake away from us into the distance.

The beautiful sight of a brand new tarmac road

The beautiful sight of a brand new tarmac road

This symbol of economic progress also meant that we could make better progress too. And we were overjoyed with the knowledge that we wouldn’t see another dirt road again until we reach Namibia.

One of the more impressive bicycle loads. We cycled past this guy pushing this insane load up a very steep 2km hill into Mbeya

One of the more impressive bicycle loads. We cycled past this guy pushing this immense load up a very steep 2km hill into Mbeya

Our time on the road along the west of Tanzania has been one of the toughest sections of our route so far.   The condition of the road, weather, remoteness and physical hostility of the region has taken its toll to the extent that we needed a break. We found a cheap flight from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam where we are now taking a little break. We are incredibly grateful to Ashley and Livi for hosting us in their lovely home by the sea. We spent our first night in Dar sitting by the sea eating fresh seafood and sipping cool, crisp wine. After a few more days like this we’ll be braver, wiser and more optimistic for the journey ahead into Zambia and beyond.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.