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.

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.

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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Zambia-2006

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

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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.

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 Rusumo falls; a waterfall located on the Kagera River. Nearly every Rwandan river flows into the Kagera and it was at this point that, during the genocide in 1994, thousands of dead bodies flowed underneath the Rusumo 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 Rusumo 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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Cycling western Tanzania-1414

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.

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!

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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.

What a difference a week makes! Cycling from Lodwar, Kenya to Jinja, Uganda

It’s strange to think that just over a week ago we were arriving back in Lodwar in Turkana, North West Kenya from Nairobi, as it seems like a world away from where we are now in Jinja, Uganda. Just 600km separate the two locations but it feels like we have travelled from one universe to another.

Arriving back in Lodwar we had that same feeling you get when you are about to go back to school – you’re excited yet apprehensive at the same time. It was a shock to the system as well. After nearly a week indoors in hospital and then having some time out in Nairobi to rest up, arriving back in 40-45 degrees Celsius heat was not so fun. We headed back to the Nawoitorong lodge which is a basic guest house that supports a local women’s community project helping get women into work. We were able to camp there and get ourselves ready for our journey ahead.

The next morning we were on the road once again and heading some 85km to Lokichar. We set off bright and early knowing that the road would be bad, but we were not quite prepared for just how bad it was going to be! The road is famously known as one of the worst roads in Kenya, we reckon it could be up for an award for one of the world’s worst roads! We believe that it was tarmacked back in the 60s but no attention has been given to it ever since which is evident by the islands of tarmac surrounded by sand and gravel, most vehicles choose to drive off road just to the side of the road – but as this was mainly sand, it was not an option for us! The worst bit were the relentless corrugations in the tarmac, which are like the ripples you get on sand dunes when it is windy formed by the heavy vehicles bouncing up and down on the road. Nearly an entire day cycling over these bumps made for the most uncomfortable day in the saddle yet, and I think it might take the rest of the trip to recover from!

Lodwar to Lokichar road
The shocking state of the Lodwar to Lokichar road made for some very uncomfortable cycling!
Encountering camels on the road from Lodwar to Lokichar

Once again we were cycling in an oven with temperatures soaring over 50 degrees Celsius and with no cold water available we were drinking boiling water all day, which makes you feel so sick. There is no surprise that we were feeling a little dehydrated at the end of the day however, considerably better than a week before thankfully.

Kenya Lokichar to Marich-0938
Several bridges on the Lodwar to Lokichar road had been washed away

We’d arranged to meet up with a new friend of ours, Matt, who works for Tullow Oil who have a huge camp just outside Lokichar as part of their oil exploration and production work in the Turkana region of Kenya. We’d planned to meet in town for an early dinner but sadly this got called off during the afternoon due to a busy day in the office. However, what we were not expecting was the message that arrived a couple of hours later inviting us to stay at the Tullow Oil camp for the night. Suddenly all was good with the world again and, despite the extra 9km out of town to get there which nearly killed me off, it was an incredible morale boost for us. Matt had told his boss about our trip and we were hosted for the evening, fed an unlimited supply of amazing food cooked in their canteen and, even better and thoroughly unexpected, we had a night in air-conditioned rooms in comfy beds, satellite TV and a hot shower. All this in the middle of nowhere. The icing the cake was the water filter machine that had cold water with ice, which was such a treat. They even have a ‘snake man’ in the campsite who’s sole job is to catch snakes from around the camp.  Although Matt told us he was just returned from sick leave having been medevac’d after being bitten by a snake!

Kenya Lokichar to Marich-0952
The huge Tullow Oil base near Lokichar had to be driven in on the same shocking road that we’d cycled. It’s incredible, though, that every creature comfort was catered for.
The interior of a bedroom at the Tullow Oil base. Air conditioning, Satellite TV and a comfy duvet. We imagined this might be what it would be like sleeping on a North Sea oil rig.
The interior of a bedroom at the Tullow Oil base. Air conditioning, Satellite TV and a comfy duvet. We imagined this might be what it would be like sleeping on a North Sea oil rig.

Thank you Tullow for inviting us to stay, you made two incredibly tired (and one rather teary) cyclists very happy!

The next section of the road had the long shadow of death and robbery hanging over it.

The whole area has been blighted by conflict between the Pokot and Turkana tribes for decades. Every so often one of the tribes will storm a village at night with the intention of stealing cattle. Guns are used and deaths are many. Miffed by the attack on their tribe, the affected tribe will launch a counter attack in their rival tribe’s territory. And so it continues. The attacks are almost always at night so residents of the villages have taken to excavating the interior floorspace of their straw/mud huts so that they can sleep below ground level to avoid the bullets that are showered over (and through) the huts.

Aside from inter-tribal conflict, some residents of the area have taken to holding up vehicles at gun point- and often using the gun to get their hands on their loot. The hold ups and shootings aren’t always for loads of high value either.

We asked around locally what the current situation was. “It’s definitely improving” our contact told us optimistically. “There haven’t been any reported incidents for nearly 2 weeks now.”

That wasn’t good enough for us; two vulnerable cyclists.

Our only option was to take an armed escort through this bandit territory. So, the next morning, we met our guards who were to drive us from Lodwar to the Marich Pass.

No fewer than 5 armed guards escorted us on our 'bandit transit' from Lokichar to the Marich Pass.
No fewer than 5 armed guards escorted us on our ‘bandit transit’ from Lokichar to the Marich Pass.
James fancying himself as an armed policeman
James fancying himself as an armed policeman

Thankfully at this point, the road was now around 50% tarmac so things were starting to improve.

As we passed through small towns along the way, we were shocked by the harsh reality of the level of AIDS in this part of Africa. The number of AIDS charity vehicles we had passed on the way was a reminder of how bad the problem was. We’d now met quite a few people who had lesions on their hands and faces, a common sign of AIDS. It’s desperately sad. We’d met a lady in Lodwar who told us how bad the problems are in the tribal villages in Turkana as young girls are often raped by infected men and then forced to bring up unwanted children who are often also infected – with no family support. Life is desperate for these poor women and children who face a lifetime alone.

From Kitale we were reunited with tarmac roads at long last and we were able to cover some better distances once again. The landscape was beginning to change once again. Thankfully we were finally out of the sandpit and into a lush, green, rolling landscape where the streets are lined with mangos, tomatoes, avocadoes and even the odd pineapple – we were getting close to Uganda! We’d also noticed a change in the people we were meeting along the way. Children cheered and waved at us from the side of the road – shouting “Go Muzungo!” (the local term for white person) and waving at us with a smiles on their faces. After our experiences cycling in Ethiopia, we were shocked that they did not want to run after us, ask for anything or throw rocks at us – they were just little bundles of joy. Everyone speaks amazing English here as well and we’ve met many incredibly nice people.

We spent the night in a new hotel that is semi-open in a town called Bungoma, around 25km from the Ugandan border. In exchange for buying dinner from them they let us camp in their garden for the night for free. Excited about the prospect of a peaceful night’s sleep in a quiet walled garden with our own security guard we ordered some food. Then the heavens opened and we saw the first rain (minus the Simian Mountains when we were trekking) since Romania – but this was not any rain, this was torrential, monsoon strength tropical rain. Before we knew it water was flowing into the tent into the porch and it was a race to ensure that everything was watertight, sadly James’s sleeping bag got the brunt of the water so it was a rather uncomfortable night’s sleep. On top of this, we were kept awake most of the night by the security guard who had a few shouting episodes during the night – we are unsure whether he was shouting at another person or not. In-between this he spent the night chanting Christian prayers over and over again – we guessed this was to keep him, and us, awake.

The next day we crossed into Uganda – a country we had been so excited about visiting since we set off. Our target was a town called Jinja, which would take us two days. A traveller’s mecca on Lake Victoria where the source of the River Nile is reputed to be – although Rwanda also claims this too!

So far Uganda has welcomed us with open arms and although rather soggy as it has been raining more than it is sunny but we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It is election time here in Uganda and there appears to be fierce campaigning going on. It’s not quite how we do things back home though, the candidates’ campaigning appears to be more like a carnival than anything and we’ve enjoyed the atmosphere as we’ve cycled through towns. We’ve giggled a lot trying to imagine Cameron and Corbyn on carnival floats campaigning on high streets! They’ve even held a televised TV debate with 7 of the candidates (although interestingly not the current leader) however after 3 hours of watching it one evening as we ate, we gave up as the poor commentators were running out of things to say as nothing happenedwhatsoever while they sorted out the admin and waited for people to show up. Apparently it went on until the very early hours.

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The political campaigning was more like a carnival!

We’re staying for a few days at the Nile River Camp where we are enjoying the beautiful views, hanging out with the vervet monkeys and listening to doctor’s orders to take it a little easier (well minus the white water rafting that we are doing tomorrow – more for James’s enjoyment than mine – perhaps it is payback for loosing his beard!)

The Cairo to Cape Town adventurer's beard is no longer!
The Cairo to Cape Town adventurer’s beard is no longer!

Next stop is Kampala where we will be catching up with a couple of old friends before heading west and into our first national park with some of the ‘Big Five’!


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.

Walking back to recovery in the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

We reached the Sudanese border town of Gallabat at 11am and found shade in the café nearest the border post. The incredibly friendly café owner refused to accept payment for the Cokes we’d plucked from the fridge and he even gave us a couple of bottles of water. We obviously looked in a bad way.

We then went through the border crossing formalities. First we visited the security department where the chap wrote our passport information down. We were then escorted to Sudanese customs where another chap wrote our passport information down in a dusty book. Then, we wheeled our bikes round the corner to another building which housed the Immigration Department. Once we’d filled out a form, handed over photocopies of our passports we received the stamp in our passports allowing us to leave Sudan.

We didn’t do so immediately.

We headed back to the café where we’d intended to spend our last Sudanese pounds. I raided the fridge for bottles of water and drinks for our onward journey but, once again, the café owner refused payment saying we were visitors in his country and he wanted us to leave with a good impression. We were just meters from the border with Ethiopia and it was, yet again, an outstanding last-minute example of the hospitality that we’d experienced throughout Sudan. Although, ironically, when he offered to change money he gave us a horrendous rate.

Once we’d been stamped into Ethiopia the next stop was customs. We were directed to what looked like a bus shelter where a couple of bored looking chaps asked us to empty the contents of our panniers.

The customs post was in a public area and people were milling round. I wanted to ensure the chap was a bone fide customs employee before he started rifling through our things but he couldn’t produce any ID. Instead, he stood up and put on a high vis jacket, insisting that this was sufficient proof that he worked for customs. In return, I reached into my pannier, took out my high vis vest and declared to him that I now worked for customs too. It raised a laugh…and a short delay as he went to find someone more senior to prove that this roadside shack was official customs.

The world changed once we’d crossed the border into the Ethiopian town of Metema.

The dusty high street leading up the hill from the border is lined with seedy bars and shifty looking folk – all looking to make a buck from whomever they could. We cycled slowly up the hill, witnessing a bar brawl on the way and debated whether the hostesses’ main employment was from bar work or employment of a more ‘behind-the-scenes’ nature.  We read online that Metema was the centre of the people-smugglng trade.

We’d made the decision to take the bus to Gonder because Emily was unwell. We found the bus station and negotiated room on a bus for 100Birr (£3GBP) per person plus another 50Birr for each of the bikes.

Our trusty steeds were hauled on top of the Toyota HiAce minibus and strapped down with string. After a 2-hour wait for the bus to fill up, we departed Metema and clung on whilst we whizzed through the dramatic countryside towards Gonder – every clonk from the roof making us wince as we envisaged gears, disk brakes and frames being bashed with every pot hole.


If Metema was a shifty introduction to Ethiopia, then Gonder was the complete opposite.

After months cycling in the Muslim world it took a bit of time to get used to the things that we’d once considered ‘normal’. Smiling couples walked hand in hand. People enjoyed cool beers at roadside bars. Restaurants offered full menus with ‘farangi’ food: chips, pizza and spaghetti. The bread was raised…and delicious and the fresh mango juice was everything we had dreamt of whilst cycling in the desert.

The Muslim call to prayer was replaced by full Orthodox Christian services being blasted from the speakers of the nearby church. The Sunday morning service started at 2am and was still going strong at 8am.

Even the time in Ethiopia is different.

We’d read about ‘Ethiopian time’ before we arrived but thought it was something similar to Welsh: talked about but nobody knows anyone who actually speaks it. In fact, Ethiopian time is incredibly logical. The day starts at dawn. An hour after sunrise is 1 O’clock. 2 hours after sunrise is 2 O’Clock and so on until sunset, which is 12 O’clock. We had to make sure that any time given to us was ‘farangi time’ (meaning foreigners’ time).

We took a couple of days in Gonder to let bodies recover. And, with the cooler temperatures, great food on offer and large, comfy beds we were both fit enough for the next challenge: a 4-day trek in the Simien mountains.

We’d considered arranging our trip to the Simiens independently. It’s possible to do so but takes a few days to organize all the requirements: Transport, entrance fees, scout etc. Instead, we opted to let a professional take this pressure off us. And we’re glad we did.

Early in the morning (just as the Orthodox Christian service was finishing!) a minibus rocked up which contained our guide, Desu, a driver, a cook and an assistant cook. We picked up our scout in Debark, an hour’s drive away and then headed up the off road track to the mountains.

It’s a requirement to have a scout accompany any visitors to the park. The scout’s job is to carry a gun and shuffle behind the group for ‘protection’. There’s nothing, actually, to protect against (either people or animals) so it’s widely acknowledged that the park’s insistence on an accompanying scout is for job creation. It transpired our scout was actually a local farmer and scouted to top up his meagre wages – something we were happy to facilitate.

Our scout kept watch over us for four days

Our scout kept watch over us for four days

We laced up our Zamberlan trail shoes and, over the next 4 days we were treated to views like we’d never seen before. The paths clung perilously close to the cliff tops. And afforded us stunning views across the Ethiopian Highlands. But one small slip could have had us plunge thousands of feet off the sheer cliff face.

Trekking the Simien mountains: The World's best ridge walk?

Trekking the Simien mountains: The World’s best ridge walk?

 

The path clung to the cliff face

The path clung to the cliff face

 

Don't slip there!

Don’t slip there!

Simien Mountains Trekking-37

Simien Mountains Trekking-36

We were lucky to see some amazing wildlife too.

Friendly Gelada monkeys grazed (yes, they eat grass!) on the grassy hillsides. We learnt that, because Gelada monkeys are forever in the seating position as they graze, the females display their fertility through their pink chest plate – unlike other types of monkeys whose bums turn red.

 

Gelada monkeys grazed on the hillsides

Gelada monkeys grazed on the hillsides

 

Gelada monkeys have 'rubber lips' which they retreat to reveal their teeth when they're getting tetchy

Gelada monkeys have ‘rubber lips’ which they retreat to reveal their teeth when they’re getting tetchy

Gelada monkeys roam the hillsides

Gelada monkeys roam the hillsides

An incredibly rare sighting of an Ethiopian fox hunting for mice

An incredibly rare sighting of an Ethiopian fox hunting for mice

An ibex stands proud against the Simien mountains in Ethiopia

An ibex stands proud against the Simien mountains in Ethiopia

Additionally, we saw several ‘bone-breaker’ vultures. The diet of these huge birds consists of the bones of dead animals. If the bones they find are too big to swallow, they’ll pick them up and drop them from a huge height into the ravine below where they’ll weaken on impact with the rocks far below. They’ll repeat the process until the bones are of an edible size.

After months of pitching our own tent, it was pure luxury for us to arrive at camp after our days’ treks to find the tent pitched and flasks of tea and coffee ready for us. We shared popcorn with the ravens and watched the sunset from our high altitude camps – on the evenings it wasn’t tipping it down. In fact, we experienced our first rain since Romania over 3 months ago!

Although we missed the quality and spaciousness of our Vaude tent, we were happy to have a tent pitched for us each night

Although we missed the quality and spaciousness of our Vaude tent, we were happy to have a tent pitched for us each night

Our chef and assistant chef worked wonders too. They produced tasty, hearty meals from fresh ingredients. Our chicken meal could not have been fresher. In fact, I volunteered to help the assistant chef ‘prepare’ the live chicken for dinner. I held the feet whilst he used the knife.

 

Getting ready for a feast by the roaring fire

Getting ready for a feast by the roaring fire

The temperatures in the Simien Mountains were in complete contrast to the 50-degree heat of the Sudanese deserts from where we’d come. We huddled round the fire to keep warm whilst eating and nighttime temperatures went down to freezing.

Although we were between 3,500 and 4,000 meters, the hiking itself wasn’t too strenuous and, with the aid of great food cooked up by our chef, we were able to get our bodies back to normal, ready for the cycling ahead.

The Simien mountain views were stunning

The Simien mountain views were stunning

On our last morning in the mountains we discovered blood spots on our sleeping bag liners and bites on our bodies. Back in Gonder we inspected our sleeping bags to find we’d picked up bed bugs from the bedding that had been provided on the trek. Not content with letting them fester, we’ve delayed our departure from Gonder to get the critters dealt with.

All being well, we’ll be back on the bikes tomorrow (Friday) as we take on the 800km cycle for Addis Ababa. A ride that’ll certainly introduce us to rural Ethiopian life. We just hope we won’t get stoned too much by the small children we’ll encounter: a real hazard of cycling in these parts.  Please follow our progress on our live GPS tracker.

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Cycling from Khartoum, Sudan, to Gondar, Ethiopia

A lot has happened in the past week. Not all of it good. Our stay in Khartoum was extended after I endured two separate stomach bugs but, once rested and all systems were back up and working properly, we set off on our 5-day ride to the border with Ethiopia. The plan was to cross at the Gallbat/Metema border before heading into cooler climes and mountain air, something we were both excited but apprehensive about.

The ride out of Khartoum was quieter than we expected and, although we were cycling on a main road, we had plenty of space. Actually in Sudan the lorry drivers are incredibly patient and will wait their turn to pass you if there is oncoming traffic and most will wave and beep their horns at you. The buses however were another story – coaches whizzing across the country at an extraordinary pace pass you with far less patience and on many occasions forced us off the road.

On our first evening after leaving Khartoum, we’d stopped in a small town to pick up some vegetables and a cold drink – we have often found it hard to pay anything for vegetables in Sudan as the market vendors continue to tell us that we are their guests and refuse payment! Cycling out of town to find a spot to camp we were stopped by a man on the road, “Welcome! Welcome! Where are you going?” which is perfectly normal in Sudan however he then added, “But where will you sleep?” – so we stopped to chat and before we knew it our new friend, Ihad, had invited us to spend the evening with his family in their compound.

Both exhausted, we kindly accepted his invitation, as we were keen to learn more about daily family life in Sudan – and we were not disappointed. Ihad lives with the majority of his extended family (25 or so) in a compound just by the Blue Nile and we spent a fantastic evening meeting his children and his two sisters’ children and shared a meal with his immediate family.

Feasting with Ihad and family

Feasting with Ihad and family

Ihad lived with several of his nephews and neices

Ihad lived with several of his nephews and neices

By now, it was nearing 9.30pm and way past our usual bedtime so we were starting to make our excuses to get to bed when I was ushered away by his wife and sister to go and see where we were sleeping. They, however, had hatched another plan and I was whisked away into a room where they wanted to give me a “Sudanese bath”. Now, I know I was probably pretty stinky but I was not expecting what happened next. First, I was given a nightie to wear and told to hover over a scented fire and then before I knew it, they were lathering my body in a sort of body scrub which was rubbed into my arms and legs until most of my skin had fallen off. I have to be honest; I found the whole thing a little traumatising as I sat there trying to be polite, but at the same time slightly overwhelmed by my impromptu scrub! I just about managed to convince them that they shouldn’t put a bottle of olive oil in my hair, as it would run into my eyes the next day. I was then given a traditional Sudanese outfit to go and greet James before bed!

A "scrubbed up" Sudanese Emily

A “scrubbed up” Sudanese Emily

The next morning we were invited to a breakfast celebration as Ihad’s niece’s 2-year old son was getting circumcised. So, after tea and biscuits, we made our way across the town to the party.

Ihad had been to the market early to buy a lamb to feast on. Thankfully, by the time we arrived, the lamb had already been slaughtered and the circumcision had been performed – both tasks James had been willing to perform with our Swiss Army Knife.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-16

Ihad, his mother and son. Ihad’s mother was preparing the sheep’s stomach for the celebratory breakfast.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-17

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-14

Sadly we couldn’t stay for too long as we needed to get on the road but the Sudanese hospitality was amazing and we felt very lucky to have been invited.   Although we couldn’t help notice the forlorn look on the face of the poor lad who’d had the circumcision as he lay on a bed recuperating quietly whilst his extended family celebrated around him.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-13

The man of the moment forces a smile

Back on the road, we made our way to the border where we were due to arrive on Monday afternoon – 3 days ride away and around 340km. The landscape was beginning to change. It’s harvest time in Sudan and the farmers were busy in the fields and as we passed through smaller villages we started to notice a change in the people too with lots more shouting from the sidelines! The conditions were tough – a fierce cross wind had rejoined us and the temperatures were soaring once more; our Garmin actually hit 58 Celsius at one point but nothing we were not used too.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-26

The Garmin registered 57.9 degrees Celsius when we left it in the sun.

But then something changed. At the end of the next day I started to feel ‘not quite right’. We put it down to dehydration and stopped a little early for the day to rest up and drink lots of delicious warm filtered water! For the next two days, things didn’t improve; I was managing around 30 minutes of cycling at a time before having to stop to sit down off my bike, it was like someone had turned off the generator, there was nothing left. We took the decision to have much shorter days, stopping for water and Cokes whenever we could and it was a matter of taking things one step at a time.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-28

Grabbing any opportunity for shade

Just to add to the fun, I left my wallet behind in a small town where we had stopped for a few hours so that I could rest which left us in quite a tricky situation. We returned 20 minutes later but it had gone. We were still a couple of days from the border and faced with the prospect of no money for food and most importantly, in the state I was in, for sugary drinks. An exceptionally kind man came to ask us what he could do to help us although short of getting the wallet back, there was not much that he could do.

Panic set in – not because of the contents of the wallet as we have always been careful to only keep one credit card in there and limited cash – but due to the lack to cash and the seemingly never ending road to the border ahead.

What followed was unexpected and quite amazing – the kind man turned to the dozens of people crowding round us and organised a whip-round asking people to spare some money for us. He apologised on behalf of his people and handed us around 70 Sudanese Pounds (around £7) – which was more than enough to buy enough bread, vegetables and eggs to keep us going! We have been touched by the extraordinary generosity of the people here and will be forever grateful for his help.

Another day had passed and progress continued to be slow. After another extremely hard day, we camped around 25km from the border to Ethiopia, which we made the next day by around 11am after an early start.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-21

We had some unexpected guests as we packed the tent in the morning…

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-24

…although some guests stared more than others.

An incredibly hard decision needed to be made. We could continue to cycle, knowing full well that the mountains were right in front of us, knowing that we were not going to pass through any decent towns until the city of Gondar, 180km across the border, or we could take a bus.

We both agreed before we left home that we were not going to take a bus unless it was an emergency, our bikes were broken, the road was completely impassable, security risks or for health reasons. And I’ve never been one to quit – no matter tough it is – we set out to cycle to Cape Town and raise money and awareness for an incredible cause and did not want to have to stop. However, I just did not have anything left in my body whatsoever. Every time I tried to cycle I thought I was going to fall off my bike and I have lost count of the tears I have shed in the process and so, regretfully, once we were over the border into Ethiopia, we took a bus to Gondar where we are now resting up in a little hotel (L-shaped hotel) which has warm water and a bed. I’ve no doubt all will be right as rain within a couple of days once I have rehydrated and I’ve managed to eat some more and we can continue our adventure in the Ethiopian Highlands.

Cycling Sudan Khartoum to Gallabat-32

One thing is for sure; I could not have got through the past few days without James and his tireless support, words of encouragement, patience and love. I feel bloody awful that I have forced us onto a bus, but I know that it was for the best and now it is all about a focus on recovery and regrouping.

Getting a bus: James’s perspective.

When we set off for London on 12th July, the aim was to cycle all the way from London to Cape Town as ‘purely’ as possible. By pure, I mean that we would only be forced off our bikes if absolutely necessary.

Yesterday we got a bus. And I want to explain why we did so.

Sudan has been relentless. Sure it’s been flat. But the lack of gradient only goes some way to make up for how tough it’s been.

Imagine cycling the equivalent of Land’s End to John O’Groats through barren desert with only 4 towns of any significance en route, no shade, very limited water resources and battling against ferocious winds that whipped up sand that stung the skin. We arrived in Khartoum shadows of our former fighting-fit selves.

Add stomach bugs to the mix. I was able to get over mine by the time we reached Khartoum but, throughout the stay in Khartoum, Emily was unable to rest and rehydrate as she would have liked.

We extended our time in Khartoum but the following days were the toughest we’d experienced. Emily wasn’t in a great place so progress was slow and we dramatically reduced our daily distances. Where before we were cycling 120km per day we were now barely managing 60km. Emily had to stop every 2km or so and cower under thorn bushes for shade and retched at the roadside.

Fiding what little shade Sudan has to offer

Finding what little shade Sudan has to offer

Sadly a familiar sight: Emily slumped over her handlebars

Sadly a familiar sight: Emily slumped over her handlebars

Emily is not a quitter. A GB (age group) triathlete and Ironman competitor, her fitness is not an issue. She’s also been whacked by a few lacrosse balls in her time so knows what real pain is.

One of our stated objectives before we set out was to ensure the expedition was safe. The remote Sudanese plain is not the place to get ill. It was 500km back to Khartoum or 200km ahead to Gondar. Staying put was not an option. Firstly, we were far from medical help. Secondly, even resting in a stifling tent, which in itself can be hotter than outside, was not an option.

Taking the decision to get a bus was painful. But not as painful as seeing Emily suffer and deteriorate visibly without showing any signs of recovering.

Taking the bus meant we missed a 197.5 km section of sealed road which had an ascent of 3,452 meters and descent of 1,947 meters. We’ll be sure to make this up when we get back on the road, hopefully in a few days’ time.

Crossing the desert from Aswan to Khartoum

There are two ways to travel independently from Egypt to Sudan. The first is to take a ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa and the second is to cross the recently re-opened land border. Neither of which you can cycle (unless, of course, you are Mark Beaumont setting World Records with a full police escort, a lightweight bike and the ability to cycle 300km in one day!). The bus company was not keen to take us with our bikes so we opted for the well-travelled route by ferry.

Our extensive research told us that we needed to be prepared for this trip – we had read a number of blogs where travellers had been refused ticket sales and bumped off boats due to overcrowding even though they had a ticket, so we were keen to ensure that this was not to happen to us. Once we had our precious Sudanese visas we headed to the ticket office tucked away on an Aswan back street and asked for two 3rd class tickets. “Sorry, no 3rd class tickets available”. First class gives you a tiny cabin, second class entitles you to a chair and third class is deck space only. Since we were happy to sleep in our own space on deck on our sleeping mats third class was more than good enough. But not for foreigners it seems. Eager not to cause any fuss, we bought two second-class tickets for the weekly ferry on Sunday.

We got ourselves packed up and ready to go, bought enough food and water for a couple of days and alarms were set for 4am ready to cycle to the port. You see, we’d been warned that we’d need to arrive really early to get to the front of the queue to ensure we got on the boat (one blog we had read mentioned a queue of over 100 people by 6am). So, after practically no sleep we made the one-hour ride through Aswan’s dusty back streets in the dark and made it to the port by 6am. We arrived to find a ghost town. Were we in the right place? Turns out we were so we set up camp by the gate in time for it to open at 9am, bought some tea and did what us Brits do well, formed an orderly queue all by ourselves. It felt a bit like we’d arrived to start queuing at Wimbledon a week early by mistake.

Two very eager cyclists at the front of the queue for the Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry

Two very eager yet tired cyclists at the front of the queue for the Aswan to Wadi Halfa ferry

Before long, fellow travellers did start to arrive, with lorries laden with fridges, furniture, fruit & veg and many more household possessions. Still, not nearly as much as we were expecting.  Finally the gates opened and the fun started. No less than 10 stages of bureaucracy and border control later, taking at least a couple of hours, we were at last free to get onto the boat. We whizzed onto the boat keen to get a good spot on deck only to find that we were the only people on the boat! Where was everyone?  Still feeling a little like we had perhaps got onto the wrong ferry, we set up camp under the life rafts (the only place to guarantee shade all day) and went to sleep for a couple of hours. Around 6pm, once the boat had been fully loaded, we set sail for Sudan, although the deck was still pretty much empty.

Good morning from our cabin under the life rafts

Good morning from our cabin under the life rafts

Where is everyone?

Where is everyone? (You can see our makeshift den under the lifeboat on the left)

After a very cold and windy night, the boat docked at Wadi Halfa around 10am the next morning and before we knew it, we were cycling in Sudan!

Exhausted from two nights without sleep we decided to spend the night in Halfa. We checked into a lokanda, the local name for a budget guest house (at $3 a person, it was a revolting as you might imagine and I wasn’t too sure they were that keen on having me there either). We needed to register with the police on arrival in Sudan, pay our entry fees as well as register for permits to travel outside Khartoum which took some time but was all done at the police station. Next stop was to get our photography permit which turned into a two hour wild goose chase as we were sent from one end of town to another a few times. Finally we found the right place but the man in charge was not there so he told us over the phone not to worry about the permit…we have not had any issues to date in Sudan without this permit and have subsequently picked one up in Khartoum.

From Wadi Halfa we took the road to Dongola, which tracks the Nile most of the way. The wind was behind us and we managed our longest day yet (170km) before wild camping amongst piles of bat poo in a disused building behind a water stop.

Camping in a disused building in the Nubian desert

Camping in a disused building in the Nubian desert

In Sudan, you can find water pots alongside the road relatively frequently to allow people to fill up with water – which is vital in the extreme summer heat when temperatures hit around 55 Celsius most days. We’d timed our entire trip to ensure we did not endure these sorts of temperatures and although we did have one day when the Garmin told us it was 50 degrees, it has mainly been between 32-40.

Topping 50 degrees in the Sudanese desert

Topping 50 degrees in the Sudanese desert

Humps on the road in the Bayuda Desert

Humps on the road in the Bayuda Desert

Picking up supplies from a small Nubian village en route to Dongola

Picking up supplies from a small Nubian village en route to Dongola

The road to Dongola was very much the same for the next couple of days, although the wind was not quite so favourable. Along the road were small Nubian villages and mining towns where people were so incredibly kind and welcoming. We had heard how friendly Sudan is and it has been amazing meeting so many lovely people.  If you stop by the side of the road and someone sees you, they will immediately come and shake your hand and say you are welcome before leaving you to your own business.

Capturing the milky way as we camp in our Vaude tent in the sand dunes

Capturing the milky way as we camp in our Vaude tent in the sand dunes

Cycling Sudan desert-14

We stopped over in Dongola in a small guesthouse and stocked up on supplies before our first desert crossing to Karima, which would take two days. We had plenty of food and enough water with us however, we were now heading southeast and the wind had picked up again blowing into our sides, slowing us down considerably. We’d had our first stomach upset and when, by4pm, we’d still not passed any water stations, tensions were rising somewhat at the prospect of having to ration our water until the end of the next day. We had just about enough with us, but it was going to be tight. Around 5pm we saw what we thought was a building in the distance…praying that it was not a mirage we steamed on ahead to check it out and, to our huge relief, we discovered there was a well and a couple of men living in a big concrete house. We were duly given as much water as we could drink, some dates and offered a bed inside for the night which we accepted without hesitation!

Our very welcome shelter for the night in the Nubian desert

Our very welcome shelter for the night in the Nubian desert

Our very smiley Nubian host!

Our very smiley Nubian host!

The next day was 120km to Karima, a town famous for its pyramids and home to Jebel Barkal, the southern most point of the Egyptian empire. Along the way, we met our first overlanders! Libby and Paddy and their two young girls were taking a year to drive from Cornwall to Cape Town – it was so lovely to see such friendly English people (the first English people we had seen since Cyprus!) and hear about their adventure.

It was great to meet Libby, Paddy and their lovely daughters driving all the way from Cornwall to Cape Town

It was great to meet Libby, Paddy and their lovely daughters driving all the way from Cornwall to Cape Town

We mentioned that we were going to wild camp at the Nurri pyramids so we tentatively agreed to meet them later on. The day got the better of us both – the solitude of the desert and driving cross winds were exhausting and we rolled into Karima around 4pm and found somewhere to buy a coke and recharge. We had another 20km to our camp spot and just enough daylight to get there so we set off, excited at the prospect of camping at the pyramids and chatting some more with our new English friends. Unfortunately this was not to happen. Our route took us on a short cut through the town that ended up on a track with deep sand that made pushing our bikes painfully slow and exhausting so after 30 minutes we agreed we were just not going to make it and should fill up with water and find a camp spot. As if out of nowhere, we found a set of water taps and just beyond was a large shelter made from palm trees – a perfect place to camp out of the wind and out of sight! Just as we were setting up our tents two big 4x4s turned up and some extremely charming Sudanese men wanted to check that we were ok! They were on their way to prayers in town and after we assured them that we were fine and had an enclosed tent so no scorpions could get in they pressed on – but ensured that they checked in on us on their way back home! Such has been the welcome we have enjoyed almost everywhere in Sudan!

Camping under palm tree thatching

Camping under palm tree thatching

Once our tent was up and we’d washed, we sat in our chairs to relax for a bit before making some delicious rice and tinned beans. It was only then that we realised that we had accidentally camping right outside the tombs and pyramids of Jebel Barkal just in time for sunset! So, we may have missed the pyramids we were aiming for but we had a lovely surprise! We hope we might bump into Paddy and Libby again on the road as true to their word, they were waiting for us at Nurri Pyramids, just such a shame we never made it there.

The pyramids at Jebel Barkal, Karima

The pyramids at Jebel Barkal, Karima

From Karima it was time to do our second desert crossing to reach Atbara – this time the Bayuda desert – which would take us 3 days. Unsure what we could buy on the road, we stocked up with enough food for the duration and took as much water as we can carry (around 12 litres each).

Outside a nubian bakery

Outside a bakery

Inside another Nubian bakery

Inside another Nubian bakery

It was an incredibly tough three days with a crosswind with us for almost the duration limiting our speed to 12-15kpm most of the way.

Cycling across the desert in 50 degree heat is tough

Cycling across the desert in 50 degree heat is tough

We were still having to pinch ourselves though to remember how much we had been dreaming about cycling across a desert and here we were – living our dream (it would be boring if it was easy right???!).

A harsh reminder of just how hostile the desert is

A harsh reminder of just how hostile the desert is

On the second night it was James’s turn to have a stomach upset which left him drained and exhausted for our final day on this stretch – but all was good, it was just 100km to Atbara we could get through it. Not so fast. Overnight a mild haboob had started brewing and, although it was not as bad as some of the storms we have heard about, cycling for an entire day with sand blowing into your face and frankly everywhere else made for a thoroughly miserable and incredibly exhausting day on the bikes. Of course in hindsight we can now look back on it with a smile and put it down as one of our more adventurous days!!

Putting on a brave face for the camera after been blasted by the desert sand

Putting on a brave face for the camera after been blasted by the desert sand

From Atbara we cycled a further three days to Khartoum along a much busier road carrying trucks to and from Khartoum and Port Sudan. Our first night was spent wild camping at some more pyramids – this time the Pyramids of Meroe – the ancient tombs of the ancient Nubian Kings and Queens of Meroe. Meroe was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush and it is thought that these pyramids are over 4,600 years old. Sadly an Italian explorer called Giusepe Ferlini destroyed many of them in a fruitless search for treasure and, although some are being reconstructed, we were shocked at how unsympathetic the reconstructions are. We’ve since learnt that hundreds more pyramids are being discovered every year here in Sudan and it is thought that there are more pyramids in one small section of the northern Sudanese desert than there are in the whole of Egypt! We felt hugely privileged to be able to enjoy these pyramids to ourselves and have the opportunity to camp just behind them and watch the sun go down. All that we were missing was a gin and tonic!

The pyramids of Meroe

The pyramids of Meroe

Finally, after 11 days on the go (our longest stint yet without a break) we arrived in Khartoum, somewhat worse for wear. We are extremely lucky be staying at KICS, the Khartoum International Community School and to be hosted by Nigel, Natasha and George (Nigel is the school Principle). I’m not too sure what Nigel thought when we arrived looking a little bit like shrivelled up desert prunes covered in sand dunes!  After a shower and some food, we started to feel a little more like human beings and enjoyed our first night in a comfortable bed for some time!

We've arrived in Khartoum!

We’ve arrived in Khartoum!

We feel very lucky to be staying here at KICS – thank you so much to the incredibly lovely Winnard family for making us feel so at home (and Natasha we are so sad you could not be here too). This school is extraordinary. Both James and I have both decided we would like to go back to school here and start our education again. Nigel’s philosophy on education is inspiring and the children passing through his school are very lucky. We’ve enjoyed meeting and chatting to many of them during our stay.

It was our pleasure to meet the Primary Student Council at Khartoum International Community School (KICS). They had some great questions!

It was our pleasure to meet the Primary Student Council at Khartoum International Community School (KICS). They had some great questions and we were able to tell them about the @powerofbicycles

So, Ethiopian visas in hand, we are getting our kit together to hit the road once again with around one more week in Sudan, we should arrive in Ethiopia by the end of the month. Then life will change as we head into the mountains. Eek.


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.