Cycling from London to Cape Town: The Final Chapter

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London to Cape Town by bike Table Mountain-7847

London to Cape Town Cyclists arrive in Cape Town

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Cycling Namibian deserts and the last push to Cape Town

It’s been nearly two weeks since we left Walvis Bay and set out into the Namibian desert and we are now just 142km from the South African border which we should cross tomorrow. The Namib Desert has been challenging but beautiful to cross and, despite some really bad sandy roads, we have actually been reasonably lucky with the roads and even managed to fit in a trip to the stunning sand dunes at Sossusvlei.

Exhausted after 12 days on the road and a 75km detour to get my bike fixed (I was riding single speed and had a broken bottom bracket for over a week – if you don’t cycle, be rest-assured, it’s not fun!) we are now on beautiful tarmac, with two working bikes, ready to take on the South African mountains.

There is so much to share about the past week but we are two weary cyclists and, after two weeks of mainly wild camping, we have been given a bed at the Grünau Country Hotel so we are looking forward to actually sleeping instead of shivering all night. Someone has turned down the thermostat over here!

So, for now, please excuse this brief update and enjoy some photos which should give you a flavour of what we have been up to.

Please follow our progress over the last week on our Trident Sensors GPS Tracker and do please consider making a donation to World Bicycle Relief and help us change the lives of some more people – we would love to raise as much as we can during this final stretch.

We’ll be in touch from CAPE TOWN where we will hopefully arrive on the afternoon of the 3rd June.

Long, sandy roads!

Long, sandy roads!

Beautiful stripey mountains

Beautiful stripy mountains

Emily's lost in the dust of the grading machine. Seriously, a graded road makes all the difference!

Emily’s lost in the dust of the grading machine. Seriously, a graded road makes all the difference!

Emily takes full advantage of the 'triangle of shade'!

Emily takes full advantage of the ‘triangle of shade’!

Emily takes to dune running

Emily takes to dune running

Admiring the view from one of the biggest dunes at Sossusvlei

Admiring the view from one of the biggest dunes at Sossusvlei

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Striking landscape of the huge dunes at Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sunset at Sossusvlei

Sunset at Sossusvlei

We've been on the road before sunrise on most days in order to get the Kilometers done

We’ve been on the road before sunrise on most days in order to get the Kilometers done.

And we've been lucky enough to see some spectacular moonrises!

And we’ve been lucky enough to see some spectacular moonrises!

Some of the hills have been just too steep to cycle...especially for Emily and her broken gears!

Some of the hills have been just too steep to cycle…especially for Emily and her broken gears!

We found a novel wild camping spot by a little-used railway track...only for the only train of the day to pass us just as we'd settled in for the night

We found a novel wild camping spot by a little-used railway track…only for the only train of the day to pass us just as we’d settled in for the night

Thanks to the efforts of JP at the UCI, the Namibia Cycling Federation and Mannie's Bike Mecca in Windhoek for sending parts, Louis at LTL Motors in Keetmanshoop helps with the fitting of a new bottom bracket and fixes the gears!

Thanks to the efforts of JP at the UCI, the Namibia Cycling Federation and Mannie’s Bike Mecca in Windhoek for sending parts, Louis at LTL Motors in Keetmanshoop helps with the fitting of a new bottom bracket and fixes the gears!

Wild camping under the main B1 road in Namibia. Nights are now FREEZING cold and we can barely hold onto our handlebars for the first couple of hours each morning because it's so cold!

Wild camping under the main B1 road in Namibia. Nights are now FREEZING cold and we can barely hold onto our handlebars for the first couple of hours each morning because it’s so cold!

Passing the 18,000km mark today

Passing the 18,000km mark today

We're now on beautiful tarmac...but we've still got 890km to do in just 8 days

We’re now on beautiful tarmac…but we’ve still got 890km to do in just 8 days

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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.

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Long roads, lodges, lions and a long ladder with baboon poo

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Zambia, Zimbabwe, Zebras and a hippo attack on the mighty Zambezi!

When we set out to cycle to Cape Town, we could never imagine that we’d be spending an afternoon watching a village cricket tournament in Zambia. But that’s exactly what happened. When we stayed at Shiwa we met a lovely man called Chris who worked for Greenbelt, a farming company, and was staying at the main house on a business trip selling fertiliser. As he left, he handed us his card and invited us to stay with him because we were due to pass straight past his house on the Great North Road towards Lusaka. We then discovered that, when we were due to pass, there was a cricket tournament in Mkushi, around 40km from where Chris and his wife Debbie live. James is a keen cricketer and therefore, when he heard about the tournament, he could not quite believe what we were hearing. We were left with no choice but to politely invite ourselves to extend our stay with Chris and Debbie to two nights so that we could join them at the cricket.

The tournament was an annual social occasion for the farming community in Zambia and many had travelled over 800km to get there for the weekend. With stalls selling Boerewors sausages, steak sandwiches, the best carrot cake we have ever tasted and beer on tap.

The cricket tournament was sponsored by various farming companies. But, one particular promotional event caused great controversy. During the semi final, a crop sprayer passed over the ground three times, spraying scented water over the players and spectators. But the dousing had unexpected consequences; it soaked the wicket meaning the ball no longer ‘came on’ to the bat. This made it difficult for the home team, Mkushi, who were bating and meant they failed to get the runs they required to win the match. In effect, the crop sprayer changed the match meaning the home team failed to get through to the final!

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Nevertheless, it was a truly awesome and thoroughly unexpected day. Thank you to Chris and Debbie for looking after us and being such an amazing support for our journey throughout Zambia. Chris and Debbie then put us in touch with a few of their farming friends who we have had the pleasure of staying with as we cycled south through Zambia and the next night it was the turn of Speros and Wendy to host the smelly cyclists at their farm! Another super evening packed full of delicious food and great company – we had decided that Zambia was suiting us rather well!

Speros and Wendy were fantastic hosts at their farm

Speros and Wendy were fantastic hosts at their farm

My mother grew up in Africa, in Rhodesia, where her parents farmed tobacco. I have grown up hearing about farm life in Africa and have often wondered what it would have been like to live in this part of the world on a farm. We’ve experienced the most incredibly generosity and hospitality from the white farming community pretty much from the moment we arrived in Zambia. The sad thing is that most of the farmers we have met are all Zimbabwean, driven off their farms in Zimbabwe by Mugabe and his war vets.

From Speros’s farm it was on to Lusaka, with a quick pit stop at Fringilla Lodge on the outskirts of the city. On our way to Fringilla James was cycling quite far in front of me so we agreed to meet each other there, as it was just one straight road to the lodge. My gears broke back in Tanzania and I was awaiting a new part and so had limited speed, the harder I rode, the more I was like a hamster in a wheel, going nowhere! I’m not sure whether it’s because I’d managed to convince James to do the bike leg of a triathlon when we get home with our club Clapham Chasers but we was off and made his own 40km TT to the campsite in record time! I limped in around 15 minutes after him – I think it was payback for all the ironman rides I made him come on then left him behind while doing TT sections for training!

There is not much to do in Lusaka however we stopped over in the city to visit the World Bicycle Relief’s distribution centre which is based in the city. It is here that the bicycles that we are fundraising for are assembled and distributed to people across the country. It’s been a privilege cycling across Zambia and seeing so many of the Buffalo Bikes in use. Each time we have seen someone riding a Buffalo Bike we have stopped them to ask where they got it from and it’s been awesome to hear a variety of tales. Buffalo Bikes are incredibly sturdy bikes make specifically for use in rural Africa. There are a variety of ways in which a bike can end up in the hands of a Zambian. We are fundraising for World Bicycle Relief UK arm of the charity’s program called “Bicycles for Education and Empowerment Program”. This program funds bikes for students (70% of which are female), teachers and education workers in rural Africa, which are given to children to get to school on. We’ve been lucky enough to meet many children who have been given bikes to get to school, and they are all so thankful. We were even stopped by a shopkeeper one day to thank us – he then said that 200 kids in his village had been given a bike and that it had genuinely changed their lives. It is just awesome to see that the bikes we are fundraising for actually being used and having a genuine impact. You can help change a life by supporting World Bicycle Relief and making a donation on our fundraising page.

Visiting the World Bicycle Relief headquarters in Lusaka

Visiting the World Bicycle Relief headquarters in Lusaka

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The bikes can also be bought by people to use as transport to work or to carry produce to and from market. In many instances employers will buy bicycles for their staff (especially on farms) and take micro payments off their salary. Some NGOs also buy the Buffalo Bikes to give to their workforce (e.g. healthcare workers) and to people within their project catchments that might benefit from the bikes.

After a restful couple of days Lusaka with our Warm Showers hosts Matthias and Karine (thank you!!) we took a side trip to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. James’s older brother Francis was due to join us from the UK with two of his four children Ben and Sarah and so we planned four day canoe safari on the Zambezi from Chirundu to Mana Pools. Francis was born in Zambia when his parents were working at Lwitikila School and so, prompted by our journey; he came over to Zambia to take a trip down memory lane.

On arrival in Kariba we spent a few days at Warthogs Bushcamp in stifling heat however we were able to sit in their bar and watch elephants and zebras stroll through the camp.

Hippo Attack on the Zambezi!

Francis, Ben and Sarah arrived and we set off to Chirundu in a 4X4 to meet our canoes. The trip was 4 days along the mighty Zambezi River to Mana Pools National Park camping each night on sandbanks and islands on the river. I was incredibly lucky to visit this park with my family back in 2001 and I was so excited to return. There is something so special about the Zambezi, it is a magnificent river, stunningly beautiful and peaceful despite the vast number of animals living within its waters – namely hippos and crocodiles.

So, after our safety briefing we were on our way. A safety briefing is incredibly important here as we needed to know what to do should a hippo interact with our canoe and how to get out of the water as quickly and calmly as possible should we capsize to minimise the risk of being attacked by a croc! All was good though as we asked our guide if he had ever had a canoe attacked by a hippo or a capsize and he told us that in 16 years of guiding he had never encountered such a problem.

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That was until Sarah and Ben Davis took to the mighty Zambezi.

Around 100m from our campsite on the first night Sarah and Ben canoed over a hippo. Hippos don’t take too kindly to a canoe brushing over their body while they are having a snooze under water so it stood up, knocking Sarah and Ben into the water. Luckily they were right next to our guide Norman’s boat so they grabbed on while he calmly stood up and started to smack the water (and probably the hippo) with his paddle to scare the hippo off into deeper water. While the commotion was going on though, the hippo managed to take a huge bite into the canoe leaving it beyond repair. Thankfully Ben and Sarah had fallen out of the boat and were safely moved onto the bank and everyone escaped unharmed. I can’t imagine what was going through their minds after Norman’s safety briefing which casually warned us that if we were to fall into the water we had a 50/50 chance of being attacked by a croc! Despite being clearly shaken by the event, I’m sure Ben and Sarah will be dining out on this story for years to come in the pub!

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Ben and Sarah scramble to safety after their canoe is overturned by a very grumpy hippo!

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The capsized canoe floats downstream – with all our kit getting wet

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Ben and Sarah inspect the damage caused by the teeth of the very hungry hippo

It was a 4 magical days where, after the dramas of the first day, we enjoyed paddling down this beautiful river sharing the water with elephants, kudo, hippos, crocodiles and a plethora of stunning birdlife.

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Camping under the stars on the Zambezi – spot the photobombing firefly!

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Sunset over the Zambezi

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You've got a 50/50 chance of being attacked by a croc if you fall into the Zambezi!

You’ve got a 50/50 chance of being attacked by a croc if you fall into the Zambezi!

It's not the ones you can see that are the issue...it's the ones lurking int the water below!

It’s not the ones you can see that are the issue…it’s the ones lurking int the water below!

As soon as we were back on dry land, we were back on the bikes to take on a 6-day ride to Livingstone, where we are now and to mark the end of the Zambian chapter of our adventure.

To get to Livingstone we had to climb back up a pretty steep escarpment back into Zambia – a somewhat brutal way to get our bike fitness back again! We’d been warned by a few people that this road was bad and that you will always see broken down lorries but we were not quite prepared for quite how many we did see. It was terrifying the speed with which these lorries flew down some of the steeper sections of this road and I guess why so many of them overturn.

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Baboons approach yet another overturned truck on Zambia’s dangerous roads

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Passing yet another crashed lorry

But before long we were back onto the main road to Livingstone. Our first night was spent at the magnificent Munali Coffee Farm. We’d been put in touch with the farm via my brother Jeremy as his colleague at the UCI had contacts there – plus one of their farm managers is a mad keen cyclist and is the president of the Zambian Cycling Federation. We had a lovely evening on the farm and even got a guided tour of the coffee production in what appeared to be a Dutch WW2 army vehicle.

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Peter Chintu – farm manager at Munali Coffee and president of the Cycling Association of Zambia.

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Seeing the coffee cherries being washed at Munali Coffee Farm

After a night back in our tent we spent the next two nights on yet more farms where we were so generously looked after by Sharon and Willy and then Hillary and Chris – both tobacco farmers forced to relocate to Zambia from Zimbabwe. We were both slightly blown away when we discovered that Chris has built his own pub in his house that had the most impressive collection of miniature spirit bottles and some whisky that would most definitely have impressed my old colleagues at Glenfiddich. Naturally, James kept the bartender company, which I think he may have regretted as we took on a 145km ride the following day into Livingstone (that’s 10 hours in the saddle when you have such heavy bikes!).

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Chris and Hillary had their very own pub…in their house!

Today we saw the magnificence of Victoria Falls and tomorrow from where we will close our Zambian adventure and welcome the wild roads of Botswana.

James's brother, Francis, Sponsored James and his niece Sarah to do a bungee jump of the Victoria Falls bridge for World Bicycle Relief. That's 2 more bikes earned!

James’s brother, Francis, Sponsored James and his niece Sarah to do a bungee jump off the Victoria Falls bridge for World Bicycle Relief. That’s 2 more bikes earned!

The mighty Victoria Falls!

The mighty Victoria Falls!

Reaching 15,000km on our 145km ride into Livingstone.

Reaching 15,000km on our 145km ride into Livingstone.

We’ve been so lucky to see two sides of Zambia and to learn quite a bit about what life is like here – both for the white farmer but also the local community. Zambia is a poor nation, struggling with a shockingly corrupt government. There is an energy crisis here and so the whole country is on a power sharing system meaning most people are without power for 8 hours a day – just imagine trying to run a farm when the electricity disappears half the time… There are challenges from all walks of life. AIDS is a huge issue here and a drain on the nation’s resource and unless things dramatically change after the elections later this year – it is hard to see things improving in Zambia for quite some time.

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We’ve had nothing but smiles and friendly greetings from everyone in Zambia!

However, Zambia is home to some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met so to everyone who has taken us in and fed us over the past few weeks thank you so much for opening your homes to us. But also to all the incredibly friendly people we have met along the side of the road. You have made each day, no matter how hard the going has been, a joy to cycle. The smiles and cheers of encouragement from all age groups as we have passed through towns and villages had been awesome. And to the lady that won the “can you life James’s heavy bike lifting competition” beating at least 5 men, you rock!

Botswana, here we come! – follow our progress on our live GPS tracker.


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.

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Cycling back in time to Shiwa and Lwitikila, Zambia

After our brief detour to Dar es Salaam for some well-needed r&r, we headed back to Mbeya.  From there, we cycled the short distance to Utengule Coffee Lodge, where we met up with Tom and Eva, whom we’d first met in the lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia.  They’d been stuck at the lodge for a week awaiting parts for their poorly Unimog and it lovely to see them once again.

We took a walk in the hills above the Utengule Coffee Lodge and came across this chap...

We took a walk in the hills above the Utengule Coffee Lodge and came across this chap who was also out for a walk…

The next day, we were both heading in the same direction so they loaded our panniers into their vehicle whilst we cycled kit-free for the first time since we left home. Unburdened of the 40-50kg panniers we’re each carrying was liberating and, as we crossed the border into Zambia, we were figuratively flying at an average 20kmph as opposed to our usual 10-15kmph.

We were delighted to meet up again with Tom and Eva but sad to hear that they were having problems with their Unimog

We were delighted to meet up again with Tom and Eva but sad to hear that they were having problems with their Unimog

We met up with Tom and Eva later that day at a small lodge in Isoka where they greeted us with a delicious home cooked meal and another evening in great company. It’s a shame that they were heading home to Johannesburg and weren’t able to follow us all the way to Cape Town! After a decent night’s sleep in our tent, we headed south to Shiwa Ng’andu; a place that’s very special to my family.

Shiwa Ngandu

Deep in the northeastern Zambia bush lies the crazy creation of a British imperialist who wanted to ‘live like an Emperor’ – a Home Counties estate in the heart of Africa

Shiwa Ngandu was the dream of an English army officer called Sir Stewart Gore Browne, who went to Africa in 1911 as part of the Anglo-Belgian commission drawing up the border between Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.  Whilst at Harrow, and, at the age of 16, he drew a detailed plan in his diary under the heading “House to be built at some future date for S. Gore Browne Esq”, showing a 12-bedroom estate with sweeping entrance, tower, billiards room, library, smoking room, long hall-cum-ballroom and servants’ quarters.

Although his family was relatively well off, he realised his income would “make little impact” in England but in Africa he could “live like an Emperor” and set off to find the perfect place.

In 1914, Gore Browne arrived at Lake Shiwa. In his diary he wrote: “It was all so magical that I felt I had entered a fairy kingdom.” Although he’d chosen the spot, war broke out so it wasn’t until 1920 before he returned to Africa to begin the monumental job of building Shiwa.

The resultant manor house, red-brick outbuildings, gate house with clock tower and walled rose gardens would more likely be found in Surrey or Hertfordshire rather than 13-hour drive north from Lusaka.

Gore Browne struggled to make the farm a success. In fact, it only made money for three years.  One of his many different ventures was to make low volume, high value products such as essential oils but, over time, he relied on frequent bailouts from his wealthy aunt back in the UK to keep his African dream alive.

In the 1960s, Gore Browne handed over the running of the estate to his daughter Lorna and her husband Major John Harvey. It was at this time that, whilst working as teachers at a nearby school, my parents met John and Lorna and were regular guests at Shiwa. To this day they have very fond memories of their times there.

In 1992, Michael Palin stopped by at Shiwa on his Pole to Pole adventure. But, tragically, just 6 months after his visit, both John and Lorna were killed by gunmen whilst at their other farm in Chisanga near Lusaka.

After their deaths, the house was left vacant and fell into disrepair.  That was until 1999 when their eldest son, Charlie, took it over and, together with his wife Jo, they set about the monumental task of restoring the house and turning the huge grounds into a fully-functioning farm once more.

For me, it’s been a lifelong dream to visit a place that has been talked about for so long in our family. Therefore it was an honour to be invited by Charlie and Jo to stay on the estate for a few days.

We were honoured to be guests of Charlie and Jo Harvey at Shiwa

We were honoured to be guests of Charlie and Jo Harvey at Shiwa

The main house has now been restored (although it’s a never-ending task for the couple to keep such a building intact) and, at over $400 per person per night, it’s the preserve of the wealthy that either come to soak up the history or join Charlie on safari or hunting trips. We stayed in a small cottage 7km from the main house, itself an outbuilding of the larger house named ‘Impandala’ which was built in 1930 for missionaries.

There, Tink Robey, a retired vet, and his wife Jen greeted us and they were incredibly kind by inviting two hungry cyclists to dine with them at Impandala – especially as their nearest grocery store is a 250km round trip!

Whilst driving across the estate, Tink pointed out some of the many varieties of mammals that roam Shiwa including Impala, Elands, Zebra and Lechwe, although he lambasted me each time I (innocently) called something a ‘deer’!

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To this day, it’s a gargantuan task to run an estate like Shiwa. Charlie has had to diversify as much as possible and grows several different crops and also breeds chickens, pigs and cattle.  The sheer distance from market and the fact that business loans are in dollars but income from agriculture is in Kwacha (which has recently devalued) makes running the farm tough.   Poaching’s also a problem and we joined Tink as he lead one of the regular ‘cattle counts’.

We joined the team for one of the regular cattle counts

We joined the team for one of the regular cattle counts

The name, Shiwa Ng’andu, means ‘Lake of the Royal Crocodiles’. A name that is as ever relevant because, just a few days before our arrival, three of the Harvey’s dogs were taken by a croc in one of the estate’s streams.

Three of the Harvey’s dogs were taken by a croc in one of the estate’s streams just before we arrived. Here's Emily making friends with the remaining ridgebacks.

Three of the Harvey’s dogs were taken by a croc in one of the estate’s streams just before we arrived. Here’s Emily making friends with the remaining ridgebacks.

We took a day to cycle 25km to the far side of the estate to Kapishya Hot Springs, where we met Charlie’s younger brother, Mark.  We soaked in the springs; the deliciously warm water bubbling up form the sands below.  My parents wouldn’t recognise the surrounds; Mark runs a successful luxury lodge, restaurant and camping grounds at the springs and they get over 6,000 visitors a year.

Taking a soak at the Kapysha Hot Sprints on the Shiwa estate

Taking a soak at the Kapishya Hot Springs on the Shiwa estate

It was an honour to join Charlie, Jo and other guests (including Chris Barker, who was visiting on business) for dinner that night in Shiwa’s grand dining room and, the feast of slow-cooked beef, followed by homemade fruit crumble and ice cream was heaven to the taste buds of two touring cyclists.

Dining with he Harveys in the main dining room at Shiwa

Dining with he Harveys in the main dining room at Shiwa

A spectacular lightning storm lit the night sky over Shiwa

A spectacular lightning storm lit the night sky over Shiwa

The next day, Jo showed us into the library and pulled out a few of the visitors’ books.  Leafing through, I found my parents’ signatures on a number of occasions, one of which was the day of Gore Browne’s funeral in 1967.  I even found an entry in Gore Browne’s diary that mentioned one of my parents’ visits.

Finding one of my parents' entires in the Shiwa visitors book from 1966

Finding one of my parents’ entires in the Shiwa visitors book from 1967

Zambia-2092

This chap was delighted to see his dad in one of my parents' old photos...but, for a while, he actually thought he was looking at an image of himself. Although unwell, we were pleased to learn his dad's still alive.

This chap was delighted to see his dad in one of my parents’ old photos…but, for a while, he actually thought he was looking at an image of himself. Although unwell, we were pleased to learn his dad’s still alive.

The history of Shiwa is described (or, perhaps romanticised) in The Africa House, by Christina Lamb.  There’s also an associated documentary; The Curse of the Africa House.

Lwitikila

After leaving Shiwa, we cycled 90km south along the Great North Road.  There, we stopped at Lwitikila Girls’ School; the school at which my parents taught between 1965 and 1968.

We camped at the nearby waterfalls and took a walk around the school to see the sports field that my dad built.  We even found the house where they both lived.  It’s now occupied by the deputy head, Mwila Martin.

The rear of my parents' house in 1965

The rear of my parents’ house in 1965

The rear of the same house in 2016

The rear of the same house in 2016

My parents' living room in the 1960s

My parents’ living room in the 1960s

The same living room in 2016

The same living room in 2016

The next day, he gave us a tour of the school and introduced us to a few of the classes. Today, Lwitikila Girls’ School is one of the top schools in Zambia and my parents would be proud that it’s such a high-performing school.

Meeting the kids at Lwitikila girls school - where my parents taught 50 years ago!

Meeting the kids at Lwitikila girls school – where my parents taught 50 years ago!

The school clinic

The school clinic

Meeting the head teacher at Lwitikila Girls School, Sr Clementina

Meeting the head teacher at Lwitikila Girls School, Sr Clementina

Dad left in 1966. Me right in 2016.

Dad left in 1966. Me right in 2016.

We explained to the kids the purpose of our trip and it was great that they’d all head of World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo Bikes. In fact, we’ve seen many of the Buffalo Bikes on the streets of Zambia; ridden by kids so that they can get to school and get an education.  We hope that, through our fundraising efforts, we can make education accessible to more and more children throughout rural Africa.

We've seen many of World Bicycle Relief's Buffalo bikes on the streets of Zambia; helping kids like this get to school!

We’ve seen many of World Bicycle Relief’s Buffalo bikes on the streets of Zambia; helping kids like this get to school!

We cycled south from Lwitikila, stopping briefly outside Chilonga hospital where my eldest brother, Francis, was born 49 years ago.  It was no real surprise that there wasn’t a statue or blue plaque in his honour (just yet) so, after a quick loo stop in his honour, we continued on our journey south.

The people of Zambia have been incredibly warm and friendly.  The kids shout “How are you?” from the sidelines and other road users we’ve passed have all shouted friendly greetings.  One minor observation, though, is that when you say “hello” to somebody, they’ll reply with “I’m fine”.  Much like Ethiopia’s “Where are you go?” It’s another small conversational error that, starts to niggle when you hear it a thousand times a day.  Still, at least the never-ending East African shouts of “Muzungu!” have disappeared.

The local staple of dried fish. They stink!

The local staple of dried fish. They stink!

We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Great North Road so far.  The Tarmac’s good, the traffic is light and has predominantly consisted of petrol tankers that pass by in convoy meaning we can relax and get the kilometers done rather than worry too much about what’s coming up behind.

Zambia is a beautiful country and it would have been a shame to just cycle through without venturing off the path to see more of the countryside.

So, we turned off the main road, struggled for over 3 hours to travel just 25km along a sandy track and made it to the Muntinando Wilderness Lodge.  Our effort was definitely worth it as we’ve been rewarded with beautiful tranquility; camping with views across to the South Luanga National Park.  Muntinondo Wilderness combines 10,000 hectares of pristine miobo woodland and has over 1,000 different plant species and 324 species of bird.

It’s a great place to explore by foot with over 50km of maintained and signposted tracks.  We decided to do just that, but our attempt at a walk in the countryside was cut short when the heavens opened and we got completely drenched.  We had planned to hike to the top of a nearby hill but, with a spectacular lightning show filling the sky, we thought it unwise to be the highest protrusions on the ground, perched on a granite mountain.

Instead, we headed to the nearby Chiso falls to relax the leg muscles .That said, it was slightly less relaxing for Emily. She’d volunteered to swim 300m up the river to help one of the local guys retrieve a welly boot he’d lost in the river earlier that day. The “300 meters” turned into a 1km round trip in the river, so she definitely earned her hot shower and a good meal!

If you’re ever passing though Northern Zambia, this place is an incredibly peaceful escape from reality.

We’re now back on the road and hope to cover the 600km so we arrive in Lusaka for the Easter weekend.


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.

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Struggling through western Tanzania

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Cycling a thousand hills from Uganda to Rwanda

We left Fort Portal on the promise that “It’s all downhill” to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We’d looked at the map before we left and saw that the elevation did drop by around 1,000 metres, but in Uganda that means that you’ll have to climb over 1,000 metres as well because the roads are continually undulating. The mind is a funny thing though, because it was nothing that we were not usually used to and, secretly, we knew that there would still be some climbing, it seemed so much harder because all we could think about was that is was meant to be all downhill!!

Momentous occasion as we pass from northern to Southern Hemisphere. Nearly 12,000km on the clock.

Momentous occasion as we pass from northern to Southern Hemisphere. Nearly 12,000km on the clock.

As we travelled, the landscape began to change from tropical lush green jungle to dry savannah as we approached the Queen Elizabeth National Park – famous for its tree-climbing lions. We spent the night at Simba Camp just outside the park gates, but sadly we did not have the time nor budget to stop and enjoy this park – we can’t do it all.

Descending into the National Park

Descending into the National Park

The next morning, we cycled along the road that runs through the park hopeful that some of the elephants might have taken a wrong turn and decided to hang out near the road. [Would that make it a trunk road? – James]. The reality is that this road is the main trucking road to the DRC border and, although we did see some water buffalo and impala, it’s no surprise we didn’t see much else with the huge trucks carrying shipping containers blasting pass. We then endured a long winding climb out of the park. Actually, despite the road surface deteriorating into patchy tarmac, sand and gravel, the climb meant we were able to enjoy some stunning views over the savannah as we climbed back into the tropical zone and passed hundreds of small hold banana plantations. Our day ended at the Cielo Country Inn in Ishaka; a lovely little hotel where the manager Ben hosted us for the night – thank you!

e saw plenty of wildlife on the road past Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

We saw plenty of wildlife on the road past Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

From here we travelled through the hills for two days to Muko, a small village on the banks of Lake Bunyoni, the second deepest lake in Africa. The road to Muko was breathtaking as we passed through tea, banana, coffee and cotton plantations on a brand new tarmac road (thank you Ugandan Government!). Despite the terrain providing challenging cycling, the views more than made up for it and when we turned the final corner of the day we had arrived at the shores of the lake where we would camp for the night.

We cycled through stunning tea plantations in Western Uganda

We cycled through stunning tea plantations in Western Uganda

We woke the next morning to stunning views of the mist rising off the lake; it seemed a great way to spend our final morning in Uganda, a country that we have so enjoyed cycling through. Everyone seems so cheerful, happy and helpful here and we had such a blast. It’s been great feeling fit again too – definitely helped by some great new roads, but I’d go as far as to say I’ve enjoyed almost all the cycling – no major heart palpitations and I even beat James cycling up a hill which has not happened since Bulgaria!

The stunning morning mist

The stunning morning mist

After a seamless border crossing into Rwanda we had arrived in “The Land of a Thousand Hills” and our first stop was a much-anticipated stay with Team Rwanda, Rwanda’s cycling team, in Musanze (Ruhengeri).

We’d been invited to stay at the Africa Rising Training Centre where the team was in the middle of a tough training camp. Some of the team is in preparation for the African Continental Championships in 2 weeks’ time. As the team was in really focused training we did not spend much time with them other than at meals, respecting their privacy and the focus they required. We did, however, have a great time meeting Kimberly Coats, the team’s marketing director, finding out more about the team and its ambitions. Of particular excitement was meeting Team Rwanda’s first female rider, Jeanne D’Arc. Jeanne is working hard as we speak to qualify for the Olympics in Rio and a win at the Continental Champs, which she is expected to do, will guarantee her that place. She’s recently competed at the UCI TT championships where she was the only female rider from Africa in the field – this young lady has incredible promise and we cannot wait to follow her career with interest. As it stands, Team Rwanda will now have two cyclists attending the Olympics in Rio.

Team Rwanda return from a hard training ride

Team Rwanda return from a hard training ride

Team Rwanda shot to fame at the London 2012 Olympics as they fielded Rwanda’s first ever cyclist at the games, Adrien Niyonshuti who competed in the cross country mountain bike event. The team was established in 2007 by ex-pro cyclist Jock Boyer, the first American to compete in the Tour de France, and is going for strength to strength with Jock and his wife Kimberly at the helm. The centre now has a strong men’s team and their first female rider and hope to have three athletes competing in Rio this summer. The team is based at a complex called the Africa Rising Cycling Centre just outside the Volcanoes National Park in North West Rwanda where they run intensive training camps for Team Rwanda as well as camps for riders from other African countries. We could not help but be impressed with everything we saw there with a hugely dedicated team of cyclists who, through cycling, have united their country in pride and passion for cycling.

Team Rwanda

Team Rwanda

That does not mean, however, that it does not come without its problems and the team struggle daily with the pressure of professional cycling in a country like Rwanda. It is particularly hard for Jeanne D’Arc, the team’s first female cyclist. She’s the only girl on the team and would absolutely love to have some female compatriots but finding women who cycle in this country is tough. We learned that throughout East Africa that many girls are made to stop cycling when they reach puberty, because it is commonly believed that riding a bike would lead to a young girl loosing their virginity. It’s such a sad belief and we can only hope that as education levels rise, this will one day become a legend and we hope successful young women like Jeanne will be able to become confident female role models in Rwanda.

Meeting Kimberly Coates at the Africa Rising Cycling Center, Musanze.

Meeting Kimberly Coates at the Africa Rising Cycling Center, Musanze.

The UK arm of World Bicycle Relief, who we are raising money for, provide their Buffalo bikes mainly to young girls to help them get to school and remain in school longer will help to improve education levels in rural communities where it is most needed – never have I felt so passionate about helping girls get an education.

From Team Rwanda we spent a truly magical day trekking to see the mountain gorillas; a day we will never forget. Before we left home we outlined a few things that we really wanted to do, regardless of cost on this trip and although this was by no means a cheap day, it was incredible to have the opportunity to spend some time with these unbelievable creatures. Sharing 97.2% of our DNA, they really are just like big hairy versions of us. The day involved a 14km trek through the bamboo forests and into the jungle where we hacked our way through dense jungle to find the Susa family of gorillas.

Gorilla Trekking Slide Show

What made it better was that we had such a great group of people with us – Matt, a Canadian living in Kigali with his young family and his parents and uncle and aunt who were over visiting from Canada. An highly successful and lovely group of people. It really is a small world as we discovered that Matt actually met his wife whilst cycling across Canada and they spent their honeymoon cycling from North to South America! We are now spending a couple of days with Matt and his wife Jenna in Kigali before we make our move to Tanzania.

We decided to split the journey to Kigali because, although it was only 100km, there is a lot of climbing and we wanted to go to the Genocide Memorial Museum on our way into town so needed enough time to do this. Our ride out of Musanze (Ruhengeri) was awesome as we passed Team Rwanda on their way home from a training ride – a great way to say wave them all goodbye!

Rwanda-1196

Coach Sterling Magnell in the middle, with Jeanne D’arc Girubuntu following closely

Bikes are used to carry everything here!

Bikes are used to carry everything here!

After a 7km climb we passed a small guest house around 50km from Kigali and decided, as we did not think we would pass anything else on the way, we’d take a look to see if we could stay the night there and have some time to do some much needed admin before arriving in Kigali. All was looking good – they had a simple room for $5 and a quiet beer garden where we could set up camp and get our work done – we just needed to pick up some food to cook as they didn’t have a functioning restaurant.

Once we’d settled in, the manager arrived and decided that, as we were Muzungus, we should pay extra for the room, no room for negotiation. Now don’t get me wrong, it was not much money more but the room was pretty gross and we were not going to pay more just because we had white skin so we decided to leave, thinking that they would change their minds. They didn’t. We took back the money we’d paid and set off.

One small problem, however, James’s helmet seemed to have disappeared…it was definitely there when we arrived but, having searched everywhere, we whizzed back to the nearest town to see if we had left it there instead but no joy. It was only when we cycled back past the guest house we saw that it had miraculously  turned up – and, funnily enough, they were happy to give us the room at the old price. Too late. We decided to wild camp instead so cycled along for a few more kilometres until we found a (very rare) patch of flat land with no houses or crops on it – just outside a church. We found some water from a spring and set about pitching our tent. Rwanda is incredibly populated so it was no surprise that within minutes we had an audience of around 100 people watching us! Even when I popped into the tent to put some trousers on I noticed the local women trying to peer into the tent to watch me. They stayed with us until sunset when we met the local pastor who kindly asked them all to leave us in peace! It was the same the next morning and when I emerged from the tent at sunrise, there was a new audience ready and waiting for us! We didn’t mind too much though, they quietly watched us, clearly fascinated by what on earth we were doing – it just made the morning loo visit a little awkward…!

Within moments of arriving, our presence drew a crowd of people which grew to be as large as 100 by sunset time!

Within moments of arriving, our presence drew a crowd of people which grew to be as large as 100 by sunset time!

Although brief, it is great to be in Rwanda, the second time for me. Aptly named the Land of a Thousand Hills, it is incredibly hilly on bikes but incredibly beautiful. In a country with such a dark recent history, it is humbling to meet so many optimistic, friendly people who all take the time to tell us that we are welcome in their country. Their recent past will never be forgotten, it’s hard to when so many people were affected by the genocide here is 1994 however the country is moving forward in the right direction.

For us, we have a few more days here before we hit remote Western Tanzania where we hope it will stop raining soon so that the clay road we intend to take remains a viable route for us!


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.

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Cycling Uganda

Emily was terrified. She’d been saying to me for weeks that she didn’t want to do it. And now, as we teetered at the top of a 10-foot drop, she was regretting that she’d ever followed my lead by agreeing to go white water rafting.

We were facing upstream but were stuck on rocks at the top of one of the most notorious grade 5 rapids on the White Nile near Jinja, Uganda. Behind and immediately below us, the water tumbled down as a ferocious force of froth and foam.

Further below, those in the other raft in our party looked up at us. For the group that had, up until now, been the boisterous banter boat, they were eerily quiet. Nervously watching us as we awaited our fate.

The guide had his leg out of the craft and eventually pushed us free from the rocks. The current caught us and we tumbled backwards down the rapid. A wall of water hit us full in our faces. Crouched low into the raft I clung on for dear life.

When the rush of water subsided I opened my eyes. Emily had vanished.

I looked across and I could see her head bobbing as she was swept along in the turmoil of the white water. Her eyes wide as she saw the rocks that were ahead. Emily was now being tossed about in what was known as “the washing machine”.

We all shouted for her to swim to the raft. As if a switch was flicked, she appeared to snap our of her panic and swim towards us. With a few powerful strokes, she was back at the boat and we hauled her into the raft.

After an age, we went down the rapid...backwards

After an age, we went down the rapid…backwards!

This was just one of the rapids on our daylong white water rafting trip on the White Nile. I too took many a tumble out of the raft on the trip. Although I’d rafted before, I’d never rafted it in warm water with warm sun on my back so I didn’t really mind if I fell in. In fact, on the traverse between rapids, we all got into the water and swam alongside the raft rather than cruising slowly.

Emily (in the blue shorts) manages to hold her nose as she takes another tumble form the raft

Emily (in the blue shorts) manages to hold her nose as she takes another tumble form the raft

We’d spent a few well-needed days off the bike at the Nile River Camp in Jinja, which is a secluded and peaceful backpackers that overlooks the White Nile. The rafting was of the many activities in the area they offered. I’d only ever rafted in the freezing waters of New Zealand, North Wales and Northampton before, so I couldn’t resist the warm waters and reliable rapids of the White Nile.

From Jinja, we made our way towards Kampala. But we had an important stop to make first.

When my camera smashed in Ethiopia, I needed to get a replacement sent to me quickly and, crucially, without being liable to a ludicrous amount of import tax. My mum swung into action and contacted Sister Mary Costello, a nun she knew from her time working in Zambia 50 years ago but who now lived in northern Uganda. Sister Mary put her in touch with someone she knew was travelling from Dublin to the convent in Mukono, near Kampala and also to another nun who was to travel from London to Dublin. The new camera thus made the trip from Hampshire to London, then from London to Dublin and on to Kampala.

We stopped in Mukono to meet Sister Mary – a name I’d heard over many years. It was great to meet her and learn of her order’s work with disadvantaged children across Uganda. Sister Mary also told us many stories from Lwitikila; the village in Zambia where my parents lived and where we are to visit in a couple of months’ time. Thank you mum for your work behind the scenes and to Sister Mary, Kay and the other nuns for welcoming us in Mukono.

After saying goodbye to the nuns and Kay, we continued our soggy ride towards Kampala. For the remaining 25km the traffic was some of the worst we’d experienced in the whole trip. Although the volume of traffic meant speeds were relatively low, the impatient drivers tried anything to make an advantage that meant they drove perilously close to us. We were limited to cycling well off the road on the potholed and rutted dirt. Progress was slow. On reaching Kampala city, it was rush hour so, instead of battling against the motorbikes, cars and trucks on the packed roads, we walked the remaining 3km to our central hotel on the pavement.

In Kampala we met with Anna, an old friend of Emily’s who just happened to move to Kampala a week before we arrived to start a new job. We’re thankful to Anna because she used some of her precious luggage allowance to bring out couple of essential items for us: we now have a chain whip!

We also met up with ‘Pikey’, another friend of Emily’s who’d made the trip down from his home in Juba, South Sudan, to see us for the weekend. ‘Pikey’ has been pivotal to our journey through East Africa and we can’t thank him enough for sharing his knowledge and contacts in the region. It was great catching up although quite a bizarre experience playing croquet in a garden in Kampala whilst being watched over the fence by the locals.

Whilst in Kampala, we visited the Rainbow International School to tell the kids about our trip. We knew that a couple of journalists would be there but what we didn’t expect was that a full press conference had been organized. We sat at a long table and spent half an hour or so fielding questions form the journalists lined up on chairs facing us. As a result, we made the Ugandan national TV news on their prime time news program. Sadly, the message about the charity element of our trip and the work of the Rainbow International School in supporting us was lost from the badly edited segment. And phrases such as “on the cusp of history” and “swashbuckling adventure” were used.

Fielding questions at a press conference at the Rainbow International School.

Fielding questions at a press conference at the Rainbow International School.

We spent the afternoon the as guests of the school’s directors, Mr and Mrs Kotecha and met the teachers and some selected pupils.

We are grateful for Mr and Mrs Kotecha for putting us up for the night in a great hotel that overlooked Lake Victoria and we returned to the school the next day to take part in an assembly that had been organized on our behalf.
Once again we were blown away by the facilities and ethos of an International School and how bright (and well-behaved!) the students were.

From Kampala we headed West towards Fort Portal. We spent nights in Mityana, Mubende, and Kyenjojo. The road was in good condition so progress was reasonable, although the terrain in Uganda makes cycling difficult. There’s no flat whatsoever and countless hills to climb – never more than 7% in gradient, but it meant that 50% of the days’ rides were uphill with no real time for recovery. For a 100km ride, 50km is uphill with no real time to recover on the disappointingly short descents.

The kids at the side of the road greeted us warmly although, in these Western parts, they tend to say “goodbye Muzungu” as we approach.

Friendly kids in Uganda. "Goodbye Muzungu!"

Friendly kids in Uganda. “Goodbye Muzungu!”

We passed miles of banana and tea plantations and also a forest reserve where the sounds of birds and monkeys in the trees made us feel as though we were deep into tropical Africa.

Banana Market

Banana Market

Tea pickers hard at work

Tea pickers hard at work

Butterflies

Butterflies

Now in Fort Portal, we’re staying two nights at the RuwenZori View Guest House; a beautiful and peaceful place. We sat at a huge table and enjoyed a sumptuous 4-course dinner whilst chatting to other guests about there travels and work in the area.

We've had some of the best fruit and veg we've ever tasted here in Uganda

We’ve had some of the best fruit and veg we’ve ever tasted here in Uganda

Electioneering is still in full force. And the government schools are closed until all votes are cast. We leave Fort Portal tomorrow and, for us, it’s a race to get cross the equator and reach the border of Rwanda before the election results are called because there’s talk of trouble on the streets regardless of who wins the election.


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.

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