Wednesday, 26 December 2018

TANZANIA BICYCLE SAFARI - Muddy Roads and Soiled Pants!

(Coming across the stranded passengers from a bus stuck in the mud - Tanzania Jungle)

The thing that really impressed me the most about Burundians, was they’re LOVE for bicycles. This little nation cycles more than the Dutch and seem awfully proud about it, always cleaning their bikes in muddy puddles by the roadside. And the thing that really pissed me off, is that they were even more competitive than me! I’d see them plodding along in the distance ahead……….then, the moment I'd pass…. they'd immediately attempt to re-overtake! "What the Fuck!", I'd think to myself! You could tell they were really going for it too, shoulders bobbing up and down, though always attempting to look relaxed, disguising the grimace and pretending not to have noticed you pass! “Come of if!”, I thought to myself, you've been creeping along for the last mile then your speed triples in a split second! I was having none of it, dropping the gears and re-taking my pole position! My signature move being to pull out the mobile phone and fake a chat as I passed. The problem was however, after a 100 mile day, being involved in an uphill international cycle race was completely exhausting! And, despite their heavy steel gearless African bikes, some of these guys were seriously fit and I was just too competitive to let them have me!


I left Bujumbura in high spirits after partying with the lad working at the hotel reception.  The boss might not have been so impressed that he locked the front door of the hotel the previous evening (trapping all the other guests inside!) so he could hit the local disco with me, though I thought it was exceptional customer service. Back on the Bicicleta I headed south along Lake Tanganyika leaving the city behind me and heading in the direction of Tanzania. Tanganyika was a beast of a lake, nearly a mile deep, the second deepest lake in the world and 2nd largest by volume, stretching all the way from Burundi south to Tanzania and Zambia with the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the west side, its mountains plummeting right into the lake and clearly visible on my right hand side as I pedalled along. A decrepit world war one converted passenger ship, the heroic “MV Liemba” apparently used to set sail from Bujumbura and chug its away along the lake right down to Zambia. Apparently, it was the oldest passenger ferry in the world and was used to rescue fleeing Burundians from the current political crisis.
MV Liemba

Unfortunately, it was frequently hijacked and is now broken down and out of service. If I wasn’t so stuck in my ways and adamant about cycling every inch of the way, it was the one piece of public transport I would have loved to have taken! Heading south, the road hugged the mountainside of the lake shore, and for the first time in weeks, was flat!  It wasn't all plain sailing though, with the heavy rains the earth had tumbled off the steep mountainside and covered big sections of the road meaning lots of pushing.


For some crazy reason there was no border crossing to Tanzania on the flat lake road and instead the road swung a dramatic left at the town of Nyanza Lac and ramped upwards inland back into the giant mountains. The Chinese were to credit for its construction, cheap paper-thin tarmac taking the most direct route regardless of gradient!  Being a Brit, a country that bullishly claimed half of Africa to be its own (former British East Africa), that’s a rich thing to say! Anyway, Considering Tanzania was literally a coupe of miles ahead as the crow flies, this was more than demoralising! My final memory of Burundi on that uphill road was a woman of around my age screaming for her life running uphill away from me. I know I'm ridiculously white, but she must have seriously never seen a non-black person before and thought I was some sort of ghost!! The problem was, on the steep hill she couldn't run any faster than I could pedal, on her left hand side was a mountain and on her right was a huge drop, and I was finding it too amusing to stop and let her get away! If only the Ethiopians found me so scary!

Tanzania

Burundi had been awesome, and from what I saw not the horror story the government and media had portrayed. Maybe that was a good thing, there were zero travellers, this magical country had been all to me. Crossing the border to Tanzania was easy enough, my visa already glued into my passport from the embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. In the short section of no-mans land after departing immigration, a sign directed me across the carriage way to drive on the left, I was back in the British Colonise, all be it a remote part. A tiny understated metal sign being the only welcome to Tanzania.

Before I write any further I have a confession to make.   This last and final part of my journey is written some 6 months after my journeys end in Cape Town. Like most things on my trip, the tablet that I was using to record my adventures fell to pieces and it was hard to get the motivation to finish the blog after I had landed back in the UK. Right this second, 13.13 pm on November 22nd 2018, I am sitting in a café at my favourite place in the whole of London, Brockwell Lido. I’ve just gone for swim in the 1930’s art deco unheated pool, where todays water temperature can only be described as “fucking freezing” at 7.6 degrees following a minus 1 overnight temperature.  Everyone in that pool this time of year are eccentric fruitcakes. Mainly middle-class hippies 20 years older than myself who despite their hippy appearance ride their bicycles to central London Law offices. After the swim everyone piles into a tiny wooden sauna on the pool side for a chit chat and to prevent the on-set of hypothermia! The conversations, on after-thought, are completely bonkers, “7 degrees Is  a perfect temperature for swimming, it’s just getting about right”, one older bloke with a badger-like beard said. To give you an idea of how cold that is, the sea on the south coast of England only gets down to 12 degrees in winter! Considering two people that week alone had to be wrapped in space blankets after falling unconscious from hypothermia, I’m not sure many would agree with that comment! I certainly enjoyed it though.
The only square being a know-it all well-spoken middle age bloke covered from head to toe in neoprene who insistently  started to lecture  me about the dangers and how its not about the bravado! Of course it is I thought....Bore off! This was a place where wetsuits are frowned upon! Why else would you swim in an unheated outdoor pool in British wintertime!?! “My goal is to push my body to its absolute limits”, I replied, not wanting to entertain the patronising conversation anymore. I think I need to get him a pass for an indoor kids pool!

Anyway, I'm waffling!.....10 lengths later some wicked endorphins were kicking in, my body was purple and had tuned from a tingling freezing sensation to misleadingly feel peculiarly warm. When the hallucinations started creeping in It was my warning to get out! Last year the record low temperature was 2 degrees, a layer of ice had to be broken to enter the water….bring it on! Feeling alive again, back in touch with the elements (as much of the elements as London life allows!) and with several friends telling me to write a book, it felt like the right time to finally finish writing the Pedaling Panther.

So, here we go, Tanzania! The home of the Serengeti, the big 5 and the roof of Africa, the snow-capped 5895 metre volcanic monster known as Kilimanjaro. I wasn’t particularly phased though.  Tanzania was at least seen as domestically stable (for African standards) and is one of Africa’s more touristy destinations. There would not be hypothermia and below 10 freezing temperatures of Alaska, stone throwers of Ethiopia or world’s highest murder rates of El Salvador and Honduras. What I did forget to factor in however, was that this part of Tanzania was a far cry from those celebrity organised tours to Kilimanjaro. I was in the remote west of Tanzania and my little road was heading straight for a remote national park full of deadly animals!

At first everything was going swimmingly, literally. The road descended down from the mountain border with Burundi and re-joined Lake Tanganyika, where I stopped overnight in the picturesque town of Kigoma on the eastern shore of the Lake. The thought of swimming in crystal clear water was one of my cravings throughout my journey and this was not the first time I’ve succumbed to that temptation, dropping hundreds of metres to a lake or ocean to go for a 15-minute dip, only having to climb the very same road at a 10th the speed the following day to re-join the main road!  Diving into that beautiful (apparently hippo free) water at sunset was not at all regrettable and gave an instant injection of energy into my battered body. Simple pleasures like this cycling the globe  made everything about what I was doing make perfect sense.

Things all of a sudden changed very quickly. It was monsoon season. The fact that the rain was lashing down was one thing I could have dealt with, even with my 10 quid crappy Decathlon rain jacket (never trust the French!) I often found myself soaked to the core and shivering at times, though It wasn’t cold enough to do serious damage. However, the game changed a bit when the Chinese tarmac was replaced with a mud track south of Uvinza. Chaos unfolded. Infrequent but overfilled battered buses pumping out enough toxic black smoke to convince Donald Trump in climate change had compressed the mud track so much it had turned into an African ice rink! It was literally like black ice. I woke up everyday nervous to get on my bicycle. Patches of “brown ice” could not be distinguished from any other part of the road and were often disguised by a thin foil of softer mud on top.



At least once an hour my front tyre would dramatically give way without notice and shoot under the bike, slamming my head and shoulder into the ground with huge force. It would happen in a millionth of a second. With my feet clipped into my pedals there was no way I could react. My pedal choice favored speed over safety, limiting my ability to react and intensifying the crash, as I hit the deck with my feet firmly attached to the pedals! The way it happened reminded me of when I crashed my motorbike on a wet wintery day coming off the motorway slip road. I’d just ridden back from York after visiting some friends from my former University, Lancaster. Like many people who crash, I was almost home as I came off the M69 motorway at my less than inspiring hometown, Hinckley. Braking towards the roundabout at the bottom of the slip road, my front tyre gave way and folded beneath me in a milli-second, leaving me in the middle of a roundabout with the whole weight of my 175kg Buell motorcycle resting on the peg - that was pierced into my ankle! In absolute agony I was in disbelief as the first few cars drove around me watching me screaming pinned onto the tarmac. Africa may have its problems, but that lack of empathy would never have happened here! Luckily, a big lump of a bloke ran over and  impressively lifted the bike straight off me, restoring my faith in British people! Things didn’t get any better when the ambulance and police turned up accusing me of the bike being stolen and having no insurance!

Each time I crashed in Tanzania I became increasingly concerned as I lay face down in the mud, though I kept reminding myself to “have some minerals”. Cycling the world is not for pussies or the faint hearted, and I forced myself to get back in the saddle immediately! Donating my helmet to an Ethiopian man a few weeks before may have been a symbolic moment to mark the end of the stoning, but was not the smartest move on hindsight! It was a good lesson to think twice before ditching my kit. Striking the balance between being light enough to push hard and do the big 100+ mile days yet having adequate equipment and food was a constant battle. Later that day the balance was wrong once again and I found myself in trouble. All my food rations had been consumed and there was no sign of civilisation in sight on the muddy jungle road. You consume huge calories exerting that much energy cycling 12 hour + days and it wasn’t the first time I’ve been caught out. I found myself very quickly going from feeling fine to dizzy and faint headed, a dangerous position to find yourself in, even in civilised countries. On the horizon ahead, I could see a big painted telegraph pylon braking the treeline. Throughout the 3rd world I’ve often found primitive huts and people living where energy infrastructure breaks miles of nature. Maybe this is because these people are tapping into the power networks enabling them to live more remotely. Luckily this was no exception. More hungry than scared I wobbled over to the mud hut sitting at the base of the pylon and peered my head inside.





To my great relief, three extremely poor but smiley indigenous Africans sat around a fire sheltering from the rain outside. Immediately I felt welcome and didn’t have to ask to be offered some warm food from the black pot sitting on the naked flames. It was a root vegetable I didn’t even recognise, never mind name, but  tasted delicious. How much of that was down to my state of complete starvation I’ll never know! I’ve rushed around the world at break neck speeds, but sitting in that hut was one of those moments I’ll never forget. I had left behind a world of hustle and bustle and obsession to have the latest I phone, I was now sitting in a remote mud hut with indigenous Africans. Eighteen years later my “A” level business lesson was finally making sense, Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs! We had food, water, warmth and rest, and everyone in that hut including myself were feeling pretty good about it. For that moment, I thought about the people back home, jammed on the tube in London, chasing higher wages whilst mundanely tapping away on computers in concrete offices………..and realised that right now I was living life, I wouldn’t have chosen to be in any other place in the world in that moment than that mud hut!

What was becoming increasingly scary as I progressed south was the fact I was now very much on my tod, busses passing by were becoming increasingly less frequent, down to only a few passes a day. The jungle vegetation became forever denser forming a wall either side of the single-track mud road, imprisoning me a narrow  jungle corridor. This was wild Africa, Big 5 animal country, and I was getting scared. Apprehensively pedalling into the jungle, a family of 10 chimps ran past me. This coupled with unfamiliar sounds from the jungle all around me and unrecognisable animal crossings in the distance ahead started to play havoc with my mind. The bravado was gone and I was no longer my confident intrepid cocky self! Despite the big painful wipe-outs, walking was definitely not an option! The less time spent in this environment the better, I was on the verge of my inner pants becoming the same colour as the road on which I pedalled.

Ahead of me on the horizon was a group of men all standing in the roadway. In many countries this was not a welcome sight, but in Africa, my fear of animals was significantly higher than my fear of man and lots of men represented safety from animals! As I approached the men they just stood staring intensely at me. Moments like this would have scared the crap out of me on my first day on the road. But the confidence you gain after being on the road for months on end becomes invaluable. I had learnt to fake confidence and never show I was scared or intimidated. I  immediately approached the men grinning like a Cheshire cat, looking directly into there eyeballs as I stretched out my hand to shake each of there’s one by one (see pic at beginning of chapter)

A smile is universally contagious all around the world and eventually seemed to do the trick. Especially when pulling a map out, men the world over seem to love maps and hauling around to discuss directions, and this was no exception! These people were stranded because there bus had slipped off the road in the thick mud and were awaiting being rescued.


It may not have been the most luxurious of vehicles, but after 4 continents the bicycle had only once or twice been broken to a stage that it could no longer be pedalled! And even then I could at least push or carry it. It did however offer no protection from Lions, a point reinforced by the men stranded on the road. “Many lions here, very dangerous, you not scared”? “Nah I’m fine” I lied. Rather naively, I was completely clueless to the dangers around me and had done zero research. This is a very stupid way of traveling I realise, but I figured if I were to ask people and be told about the dangers I would be more scared to continue pedalling! Naive bravery was the way I rolled, my only rule was no lifts and I was determined to stick to it at any cost. Though I cant lie, those “Many Lions!” comments had just made everything a LOT more scary!


That night I didn’t want to hang around, my biggest fear was being caught out by the sun set. Big cats would hunt at night and I wanted to camp as close to civilisation as possible. I pumped my legs to get over the hilly jungle terrain no longer feeling the pain from falling down. Literally as the sky tuned black I arrived in the small village I had been gunning it for, the first civilisation in miles. I gave an old lady a tip at the first house I came across and she allowed me to sleep in one of her tiny mud huts. I pitched the inner as a protection from both animals and any creepy crawlies, with vivid memories of waking up outside surrounded by scorpions in Sudan! The hut was barely big enough for me to lye flat, had a gap big enough between the straw roof and mud base for pretty much any animal to climb through and an open-door way wide enough for bariatric patients I had to block with my bicycle. Rationally It was no safer than sleeping on the floor outside! Though if psychologically it gave you the confidence to sleep most the night, then job done!




If the threat of animals that had gone before me was scary, then it was only a warm up for what I was about to encounter, the following day would be one I will never forget! That night I arrived at the village of Sitalike. Compiled of now more than a dozen tin houses and a couple of very basic guest houses, Sitalike sat literally a stones throw from the border of the very remote Katavi animal national park. When I say guesthouses, think more tin hut than travellodge! I knocked on the door of the first, the facilities on offer at this establishment included 4 walls and a dirty bed, though without some of the more exuberant luxuries such as a running water or a shower! I chose to upgrade and selected the second more high end option  complete with a bucket of water to bathe in. Though when normality is a tent the bucket was welcomed with open arms! If nothing more, cycling the world definitely makes you appreciate the simple things in life!

Before checking into the Hilton, I decided to ride my bicycle down the hill to the parks entrance. A few hundred yards after the passing the last tin house the jungle intensified and the road terminated as it flattened out into a bridge crossing. That river signalled the entrance to the Katavi National park. A rusty steel barrier and abandoned wooden hut being the only other acknowledgement I had arrived in a Jungle where man is not numero uno. Other than the sounds of some unfamiliar birds it was eerily quiet. This was no Serengeti, there were no Toyota Land Cruisers zooming around on Safari loaded with affluent American tourists. I’d always craved the road less travelled, but this time it was making me particularly nervous. Right now I was instead wishing for a steady stream of touristy jeeps  to break the deadly silence and frighten away and opportunistic animals! The Katavi National park was anything but touristy, the least visited park in Tanzania, tourism did not exist here, it was essentially a mud track through 4471 square kilometres of animal kingdom!

As the sun began to set I turned around to ride my bicycle back up the hill into the village, seriously shitting myself about what I was considering doing in 12 hours time. By now, everyone knew who I was in the village of Sitalike. A white boy that looks like a grown up Milky Bar kid can’t make 2 passes of a remote African village without becoming famous! I returned to my hotel for a bucket shower and popped out to buy some food from a street vendor, an attractive girl about half my age who was squatting on the dirt floor cooking on an open fire. Dining alfresco on a plastic chair eating some local grub under the bright night stars should have been a great experience, though I couldn’t help but think about being eaten by a lion!  The butterlies flying around my stomach were playing havoc with my mindset and the pedalling panther was beginning to feel like the pedalling pussy cat!  Then, with a mouth full of meat and vegetables, a voice startled me, “What will you do tomorrow!?” Like I wasn’t nervous enough already, a complete stranger who seemed to know both me and my intentions was giving me some serious Goosebumps.  The middle aged local man ressured me further still with his comments of, “many aninals, very dangerous, the park ranger will take your bicycle, no bicycles or motorbikes allowed, are you not scared!?” and more worrying still, “its been raining, lions come to the road when it rains!” It had indeed been raining! Before I knew what was going on other men joined the conversation with even more worrying comments! “I’ll be fine, I’m not scared!” I replied, with the conviction of a Rolf Harris appeal, not even convincing myself never mind the jury!

My mind was in turmoil, was I being a complete pussy by contemplating taking a lift, or was cycling tomorrow morning more suicidal than stupid?! The last few years of my life I’ve made a purposeful effort to take more risks and really thrived off the results. Was this one risk too far, unnecessary stupidity not calculated risk taking? My only rule was, NO LIFTS! Cycling a continent to me should be exactly what it says on the tin, every inch of it. I’d met a handful of cyclists on my round the world journey who self-labelled themselves as having cycled continents. Though whenever I pushed them on the subject of taking lifts found that virtually all had opted for the back seat of a car or bus when the going got tough! Ethiopia being a classic example. How can you brag about cycling the world if you sat on a bus with your bike strapped to the roof for half of it!?  I wasn’t going to be that fraudulent pussy! Since I had left Delhi, the only lift in the whole of Asia, the Americas and Africa up until now was a very short ride in Egypt when the police chief of my escorts ordered his 6 men to throw my bike into the back of a pickup at one of the checkpoints. That was already one too many and was still grinding on my conscience. Though this was a National Park I kept reminding myself, a different league of danger and stupidity to what I’d done before! The fine line between adventurer and idiot had been crossed, yet I was still so tempted!

On my way back to my hotel I saw a middle-aged man sitting outside on a bench, he was the final person I was to speak to that night.  And for the final time I asked, “Is it safe to cycle through the National Park?” …………….“YES!” he replied, “it is safe, the animals will not come to the road”, not quite believing what I was hearing, I probed further, “And may I ask what is your job?” to which the reply was an even more incredible, “A PARK RANGER”!!!! After so much doom and gloom I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing! Was I prepared to ignore everything that had been said before on the strength of a so-called park ranger!? ABSOLUTELY!!!

Ten long hours later after perhaps the worst sleep in the history of mankind the pedalling panther was less than roaring to go! I packed my bike early morning and rolled the short distance downhill to the parks entrance. The rusty barrier was still open next to the empty rangers hut. I waited in silence hoping for the sound of a motorcar, anything to disrupt the deadly silence of the jungle. A couple of old trucks had threatened to pass but disappointingly pulled up and stopped in the village centre. An overladen lorry crawling along at bike speed would have been ideal, but this was wishful thinking even for an optimist like me! Right now I just wanted anything to break the deadly silence of the jungle road and scare away any big cats still out from last nights hunt. I desperately didn’t want to be the first vehicle of the day to make the jungle pass!

The anticipation was gruelling, but then, in the distance I could hear the faint rumble of a motorcar engine in the distance. The rumble grew louder and louder and a small car appeared in the distance! I clipped my shoes into the pedals, began spinning my legs and chased it down like a panther after its pray! The joy was extremely short lived, moments after passing the bridge to officially enter the park, the road which had descended to the river crossing began to climb, and the car disappeared out of sight! As I started hopelessly ahead into the jungle I was left wondering why I had placed so much faith in following a car, it was gone in 60 seconds and I was riding a bicycle not a motorbike! What a stupid plan!!

I had just had to hope that all the animals were busy deep in the jungle. Though this hope was quickly dashed too! I kid you not, but within a minute of entering the park and hear a huge “ROAR”, turned to my right-hand side and saw 2 hippos in the river no more than 20 metres away from me! Hoping the hungry hippos were a one off a looked dead ahead and focused my mind on turning the pedals as quickly as possible and block out any familiar sounds! Less than a mile later I was surrounded by monkeys on both sides, though these guys were happy to leave the panther in peace. I just couldn’t help but wonder what else was roaming around the Katavi National Park. The numerous green wooden signs on my right hand side stating “DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS!” did my nerves no favours!

“IDIOTIC FIREMAN SELF-TITLED PEDALING PANTHER EATEN BY LION TRYING TO CYCLE THROUGH REMOTE AFRICAN NATIONAL PARK!”

I could already imagine the headlines in the tabloid newspapers! Though by now I was in too deep to turn around, which could have been equally as dangerous anyway. The park was only 35 miles across by road but each minute felt like an hour. At least when I’d cycled through Alaska and the Yukon I’d done some preparation; I had a Bear spray and knew to play dead if I was attacked by a Grizzly Bear and fight back if It was a Black Bear. But right now I’d done no research and was just a clueless idiot! My excuse to myself was that being naive was less scary than being acutely aware of all the dangers! Should I be as quiet as a mouse or make as much noise as possible as I rolled through the jungle?

“CRASH, THUMP, BANG!” Out of nowhere a noise erupted with such titanic force that the ground vibrated around me! My pants were already the same colour as the soil in the split second my head involuntarily/instinctively turned to the left to see what had happened. Not a lion, but a huge giraffe towered above me and galloped away crashing through the trees! The vegetation was so dense we had not seen each other despite only being 3 metres apart, the huge beast seemed to be as startled as me! Unnecessary risk taking it might have been but Jesus Cristo I felt alive!

My only break in that whole game reserve, the longest 35 miles of my life was when 2 men coming the other way parked by the side of the track in an old Land Rover Defender. For once I was able to let my guard down, have an almighty leak and a quick snack. The adrenaline was pumping so hard I don’t think I realised quite how knackered I was.  The sign which marked the end of the national park could not have come quick enough and I let out an almighty yelp as I passed it! Cilvilisation, tarmac and torrential downpours returned as I approached the Zambian border and briefly sheltered from the rain in Sumbawanga, capital of the Rukwa region. Its name translates as “throw away your witchcraft” as a warning to the barmy spiritual healers who claim they can treat everything from the African sin of homosexuality to deadly diseases for a hefty fee.
Road to Zambia

Nothing is a surprise in Africa, and the main road to the Zambian border was an un-signposted bumpy mud single track branching off the newly paved tarmac. The lack of signage made me overshoot the turn off by several miles,  back on course after a u-turn my speed dropped by 90% as I pedalled and pushed through the muddy bog, making it to the last town in Tanzania, a simple pitstop known Mtai before nightfall. It was a chance to get some supplies and fix my battered bicycle. I chose one of the better guesthouses in town where I got chatting to another guest also passing through. He asked me in which direction I had travelled, somewhat coincidentally he had also taken the same road through the Katavi National Park and reached for his phone to show me some  pics he had taken on that exact same road literally a day before I had passed through. I gasped…………….the road was covered with half a dozen Lions!!! Yet another lucky escape and cat life lost! bring on Zambia!
  

 


…fast forward a week I would





















Monday, 16 April 2018

The Road to Bujumbura...

As I looked into the distance,  the new Chinese tarmac  road through Ethiopian no-mans land came to an abrupt stop and was replaced by, well, nothing, it just stopped! A dilapidated military bunkhouse with a few Kenyan soldiers signalled the end of Ethiopia. This point was the tri-border and the coming together of 3 nations, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan, though there was nothing to tell you that you had arrived at any of them. A border which I was probably more happy to arrive at than  Ushuaia, the city at the bottom of the world, after cycling 27,000 kilometres from Alaska!

I reached out to shake the Kenyan soldier’s hand and impulsively said, “I’m very happy to be here!!”, with a huge smile on my face like Eddie Murphy in “Coming to America”. Considering there was absolutely FA there and the landscape which lay ahead  was an arid flat savannah of dead looking trees, a complete contrast to the dramatic green mountain scenery of Ethiopia I had just descended from,  unsurprisingly he looked at me like  I was completely bonkers! I could not hide my relief though, I’ve never cycled a country quite like Ethiopia...or had as many stones thrown at me in my whole life! A brilliant country, but to say it was stressful and scary to cycle would be the understatement of the century! The fact that this torment was all about to stop filled me with immense happiness.

I had bought a sticker for my bicycle from every country, ironically, the only one I could find in Ethiopia said, "I LOVE ETHIOPIA!" It wasn't until now that I was home and dry that I was prepared to stick it on my frame ! The Kenyan solider had a quick glance at my passport and promptly gave it back to me, no visa, not even a stamp!! Ahead was Kenya, the only sign of where to go being the odd 4x4 track weaving all over the landscape in different directions and the occasional stone road marker popping up on the horizon. Luckily I had something on my telephone know as maps me. I’ll explain.

I have long been a technological retard with neither the brain cells or desire to get to grips with the latest gadgets. Though I have come along way since first embarking out across India armed with a paper map, being swarmed by a 100 curious Indians every time I pulled it out at a confusing road junction. People I’ve met along the way have shown me google Maps and how I can download it on to my phone and introduced me to Maps me...  who should be paying me for this free advertising! Basically, you can download Maps of whole countries on your phone and use it offline. It tells you distances, hotels and campsites etc, and is so detailed it will pick up a footpath only evident by some bend over grass or odd footprint in the sand. On the downside,  It  takes some of the adventure out of cycling the world and stops you feeling like Indiana Jones.

Pedalling away through this hugely remote part of Kenya, apart from not being stoned, the first thing that hit me (excuse the pun) was the peace and quiet. Kenya’s  population sitting at 48 million with Ethiopia bursting at the seems and ever expanding with over 100 million! I encountered my first Kenyan a mile or two into the Savannah. A young lad walking aimlessly across the land dressed in Maasai Mara colours. In fact, for quite a while the ONLY people I met were of the Maasai Warrior tribe. They are Lean and muscular and look like absolute machines. Probably because they haven’t filled their bodies with processed shit like the rest of the world. Some of them had Kalashnikov Rifles and asked me for money, which could be somewhat intimidating when your in the Bush in the middle of nowhere! I would pretend I didn’t know what they were on about and handed them another piece of stale bread the more they persisted. When I offered them some water from my disgusting bottle caked in mud they normally gave up! They're  seen as the toughest tribe in Africa and apparently the British troops during the African war (WW1) were terrified of them. Becoming a Maasai Man was proven by  hunting down and killing a Lion with a knife, until stopped by the government as numbers dwindled. Today,  there’s  a bit of a war going on between the Maasai and the tribes in Ethiopia. An animal would be stolen by one tribe, which would be retaliated at by the killing of another tribe member, which of course would escalate. Luckily with my milky bar kid looks I wouldn't be mistaken for either tribe.
Masai Maria tribe, northern Kenya

Heading south the tracks in the sand merged together to form a more  obvious path. Tribes became less frequent and old trousers and football shirts became the dress code. The word for white man had changed from "Ferengi" in Ethiopia to "Mzungu!" The reaction to seeing me, Mr Mzungu,  was normally a high pitched scream from the kids as if they'd just see Santa accompanied with jumping up and down and clapping then running after me.....  The other, more rare extreme, was a terrified scream as if I was a ghost, whilst running for their lifes! Plodding along through the sand, on my right hand side were a row of mountains, perhaps a mile away. To my left was Lake Turkana. Like normal, I had planned nothing and had arrived in northern Kenyan just as the monsoon had started! Despite this being the driest part of Kenya, with the rains the road becomes impassable. Every few miles a huge wide river from the mountains would cut through the sand road on its way to the lake.  I got pretty lucky, the rain had threatened and come and gone, but not hit full swing. This meant my tyres were sinking into the sand, like I was on an exercise bike in top gear, and I was slipping off all over the place, but still moving! Some of the rivers were at knee height but I could still carry my bike across, with a heavy rainfall they swell and roar and your going nowhere!

The first real civilisation and town I came across was called Lowarengak. It was full of hotel’s. Well, it was full of metal shacks the size of a garden shed which were all called hotels! My favourite, one of the larger establishments, the size of a green house complete with a couple of plastic tables and chairs and cooking pots on the floor, The Grand Regency Hotel! “Good morning sir!” called out a man enthusiastically on the street! English (one of the official languages of Kenya) was spoken in an old school legendary way! The influence of the early British aristocratic settlers was clear to see. The other, and main official language of Kenya, had now of course changed from Amharic in Ethiopia to Swahili.
Lunch in a "Hotel"
My old waterproof bag on the front of my bike was my way of learning it, I write new words to learn in permanent  marker so I can see them when I cycle. It was time to rotate the bag and write down the basics.. saying a few words was a massive crowd pleasers among the locals. My favourite line being in Sudan....map suit in-e shuftak....its a pleasure spending time in your company. They went mental for it! Nothing would be as good value as learning Spanish (pretty much one language for the whole continent of South America) though I could at least use Swahili in Uganda too.

My first night in Kenya was spent in the very randomly located Spanish mission. It stood out like a saw thumb and seemed to have more money ploughed into it than all the villages along the lake put together. I went to find the father to ask if I could camp, in the hope of a free bed being offered. Unable to locate him, one of the Christians approached me and  told me they would “consult” the father. I was told I was unable to camp due to the rain!....but offered a room and asked to make a donation. I don’t think they were the most needy people in area but left the 10 quid note that had been in my wallet since leaving Heathrow  on the bed side table. On showing me the room I was repeatedly told “mass starts at 7!” On the 3rd time of telling me I figured it would be rude not to show my face at the chapel. When asking my religion, I boldly said, “Church of England”. I figured it was a smart move, enough kudos to rock up at a Catholic mission yet different enough to Catholicism to be able to turn down any crazy religious shenanigans if things started getting a bit metal in the mass! I arrived late at mass to limit potential damage, but timed it poorly. I had entered at the exact time the priest had asked all the worshipers to, “Reach out and hug the people around you!!”

I left the Spanish mission hungry. I wanted to fill my  face with food, the problem being that there wasn’t any! .....and even if there was, I hardly had a Penny...or Shilling! The nearest cash point was in the town of Lodwar a few hundred miles away. All that I’d managed to change was my remaining Ethiopian Birr before entering Kenya, giving me about 7 Quid’s worth of Shillings. The Kenyan’s weren’t interested
Mandazi and tea
In my US dollars from the post office in Hinckley town centre. The local people were waiting for the rain to come, without which they couldn’t grow anything. All I could get hold of was tasty milk tea and something made from flour called Mandazi. They looked like donuts but definitely didn’t taste like them. I had a bag of about 25 of the bland things, and that was pretty much all I eat for 3 days straight! When I finally reached the town of Kalokol (the first town of any size along Lake Turkana) and saw some old tomatoes for sale, I threw them down my neck like I’d never seen food before. They tasted better than rhubarb crumble (that’s saying something) The flavour amplified by 100 after all the Mandazi’s compared to how a tomato normally tastes!

I spend all but my last 100 shillings (one dollar) in Kalokol on food for the road and with zero funds kept pedalling into the evening. I’d been cycling for days on end without a break, but with no money left, needed to get to the ATM in Lodwar asap. I was told the road would be tarmac from that point. I stopped to spend my remaining shilling on a cup of tea at a stand alone hotel (shed). The lovely Christian man who lived there with his family cooked me a fresh roti and cup of tea, and said grace for me after placing it before me (possibly asking for forgiveness for my mass performance). I asked him how the road ahead was, to which he replied, “fine and nice just like this road!” It was terrible!
Fine & Nice Road! 

Lodwar was the capital of the province and a bustling town. A good chance to stock up, have a wash, and get some cash. 50km south of Lodwar saw a return to a paved road for the first time since leaving Ethiopia. Just as I thought I was retuning to some sort of normality a car pulled over next to me and shouted, “Be careful! Someone has been shot on the road ahead!” Indeed someone had been shot in the stomach by a madwoman on the loose with a gun, a gentle reminder I was not in the safe little England! I grabbed a cheap hotel and decided to splash out with my new Kenyan shillings and get my hair cut. I try to get my hair cut in every country, attempting to see if anywhere can out do the 7 potions and thumping my head ritual that was performed in India! This came close, the teenage hairdressers mate spent half of my time in the salon with his armpit in my face and arm wrapped around me trying to take selfies with me. After performing a wicked blend on the side of my head and covering the untouched top in hairspray to finish off I asked if he could give the top a snip too. “It will be of unequal lengths” came the typically genius reply. “No problem!” I said. As I sat in the barbers chair with a audience of 20 onlookers peering through the window, He attempted to cut the top with the blade of the clippers while his mate simultaneously had a go at another part of my head with a pair of kitchen scissors! He was dead right, it was definitely of unequal lengths! I admired the effort, and gave him 200 shillings instead of the 100 requested (1 US dollar!). He was delighted.
Uganda 🇺🇬 

Going Bananas... UGANDA 🇺🇬 

Nearing Uganda the flat road launched upwards into the mountains and immediately turned from incredibly dry to lush and green. There was just one little problem floating in my mind as I approached the border town of Malaba in the west of Kenya.... Explaining to immigration how I had travelled the whole of Kenya without a visa! “You don’t have a Kenyan visa!?” said the Ugandan border official with a smile on his face! “I thought I was supposed to get It here?” I said smiling back. He found the whole thing funny and was so blazzay about it I couldn’t help but start laughing! What a great continent! I’m going to struggle returning to the British ways of health and safety and law and order! I was made to pay 50 dollars (which no doubt went into his pocket) and cycled into the pearl of Africa!
Lake Burundi, Uganda 🇺🇬 
Uganda is a beautiful country of rolling green hills and is seen as one of the safest countries in Africa. Heading west along Lake Victoria I paid a visit to the town of Jinja, a nice moment as this is the source of the Nile that I have been following ever since leaving Cairo, before heading west to the capital, Kampala. My rest day in the capital was spent with my mate's uncle (the other idiot from my, "two idiots on a tandem"  adventure) , an absolute legend of a man in his 60's who had moved to Fiji and set up a nightclub before having to flee the country, he left marriage till nearly 50 and was now the big boss at Charity helping people with diseases. His beautiful house was simply styled with animals running around the place  and a wicked view over the lake.
Jinja - source of the Nile
Staying in style - Kampala 

Hilly Uganda turned into a mountainous and even more beautiful tiny Rwanda, a country just 26 thousand square kilometres with 11 million people. As I made my way uphill to the capital, Kigali (1567 meres) night fell...and it got wet, very wet! The rainy season had hit with a vengeance and the tarmac road turned into a big stream! The good thing about this was Rwandans were complete pussies when it came to rain, a hundred motorcycle taxis would cram under the petrol station forecourt and laugh and cheer as the idiotic drowned rat 🐀 Mzungu pedalled into the night.
Rwanda 🇷🇼 

Sun rose the following morning to reveal a beautiful green city spread out on rolling hills with more trees than buildings. With its shiny modern buildings on the hilltops it looked more like Beverly Hills than your average African city. It was hard to believe a genocide which wiped out over a million people occurred here as recently as 1994!

I decided I must go to the genocide museum, which is also a memorial and the burial site of a quarter of a million mascaraed  people. I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoyed myself there!... but it was both incredibly interesting and disturbing. It was strange to think that in the year of the Lillehammer winter Olympics, as a 12 year old kid, I was completely oblivious to a million people being murdered a few thousand miles away.   According to the museum, the genocide was really initiated because of the treatment by the Belgian Conqueror’s. There were 2 main ethnic groups living in harmony before the colonisers came, the Tutsi and the Hutu. When the Belgians  arrived they did there best to divide the nation and changed these ethnic groups into socio economic groups. Anyone with more than 10 cattle was labelled a Tutsi and everyone else a Hutu.  I.D cards were given to every citizen to show which ethnic group they had been assigned to. There are of course a lot of influencing factors, but over a period of time hate was spread using media, encouraging the Hutu to not speak, trust or do any business with the Tutsi, depicting them as being evil. The radio was one of the main things used to orchestrate the month long massacre, which began on April 7th 1994.
Bicycle 🚲 Taxi Kigali

The bloodshed was more brutal and barbaric than you would ever believe. Women forced to kill there own children, families murdering there neighbours and members of their own family who were Tutsi, women humiliated and raped by HIV infected Hutu men before being murdered. People stabbed in the eyes, limbs cutt off and humiliated before being killed by being hacked to death by machetes and blunt tools. The colonisers introduced  ID cards checked at roadblocks, village searches etc to determine if a person was Tutsi and should be massacred. All of this while the UN and rest of the world turned a blind eye. Entering the country, it  had surprised me the complete lack of French spoken, all the kids shouting, “Mzungo how  are you?” and not Bonjour. The reason being that the French had supported the political party responsible for the massacre throughout. It was hardly surprising the whole country wanted nothing to do with the French language....and I was very happy to say, “Good Morning Sir!!” and not Bonjour!

Cutting west across Africa had been a huge detour, but it was worth it. The most direct and flatter route would have been to head directly south from Kenya to Tanzania. But cutting into Uganda and Rwanda was way greener, more mountainous and more beautiful, enabling me to tick off far more countries. I had wanted to cycle into the Congo, but with only a photo of an out of date yellow fever certificate, a difficult visa process, and being told that cycling through eastern Congo was more suicidal than dangerous, I’ll have to leave that for another trip! I did have one other country in my sites though, and the more people told me not to go and that it was dangerous, the more adamant I became to get there!.....BURUNDI!!! Its capital being the flamboyantly named BUJUMBURA.

After researching “travel Burundi” the advice from all government and other sites was...“the entire country is NOT safe to visit, if you are in Burundi consider leaving as soon as it is safe to do so”.  It was on the lonely planets list of dangerous countries not to visit along with the likes of The Central African Republic  and Somalia. A number of reasons I should check it out then! Apparently, since a failed military coup in 2015 the situation has escalated into violence. Like in many African countries, the president had remained in power for an illegal third term and the people weren’t happy.  I had made my visa application before arriving in Kigali. After writing to the embassy they told me to fax them an incredibly simplistic one page application form and a copy of my passport along with a photo. Despite forgetting to attach a photo I received an email saying my visa was ready for collection! ....I didn’t know whether this was more worrying than it was good news! Somalia is another country where a visa is very easy to obtain, I guess single entry is all that’s required there! :-/ !!
Rwanda 🇷🇼/Burundi 🇧🇮 border

Descending  downhill after a relentlessly mountainous day in the saddle, I stamped out of Rwanda and  crossed the river which  divides the two nations, questioning exactly what I was doing heading directly into the heart of a  known danger zone! At the same time I was enjoying the nerves and the excitement that comes with it. Immigration was surprisingly easy and quiet, the small border town that followed extremely neglected, poor and decrepit looking, hardly surprising for a country ranked among the 5 poorest in the world. However, it was bursting with energy as every single person on the street shouted out to me and called me over, full of mischief with huge infectious smiles on there faces!  The energetic craziness, chaos and huge curiosity reminded me of cycling Bangladesh and Venezuela...where the country receives zero tourism and the locals go mental being entertained by the sight of the  alien looking foreigner!

Heading into the mountains of Burundi, what I couldn’t help noticing was that the whole nation were bananas about bicycles and all completely mad!!! Everything conceivable was transported on the back of them, from bricks (stacked 5 feet high) to bananas to sofas to boat engines! These people were hard-core! As I cycled up the mountain road a bicycle taxi came screaming the other way, passenger on the back, foot out as he flew around the hairpin corner cranked over at 45 degrees in the wet, the passenger must have been shitting himself! But things were about to get even more bonkers, a lorry came the other way, tanking it downhill, at what must have been 60mph, and...... hanging off the back were 3 guys on bicycle’s!! Even for a nation where hanging off a lorry on your bicycle is the norm, this must have been pushing it!......there faces in full concentration and whole bike vibrating like crazy with the insane speed! To make things worse, it was raining, the bikes were pilled high with  goods and the riders were sitting on the crossbar sideways wearing flip-flops! I was impressed with the guys in Rwanda flying downhill with virtually no breaks and 50kg plus of bananas, but this was the next level!

The road maintained an altitude of 15OO metres constantly climbing before descending to cross a stream before abruptly climbing  again, until I could finally see the incredible Lake Tanganyika below in the distance, the road then plunging downhill for 25 miles. Normally I look forward to downhill’s, though on this occasion I wasn’t, the locals were not the only ones with no brakes! I was using mechanical disc brakes for the first time, and by now 4000 miles from Cairo, the pads were completely worn, metal on metal. The friction enough to take 20 percent off my top speed at most and sounding like a train about to derail! I should have changed the pads weeks ago, but kept procrastinating, and to tell the truth had no idea how! I figured it would be better to have metal on metal than attempt changing them and lose all braking capability with a big downhill ahead (poor choice, when I did final change them the following day it was incredibly simple). Though the crazy locals loved the fact the Kamikaze Mzungu wasn’t the boring stereotypical privileged westerner! On overcooking it on one of the downhill’s I came flying downhill with my foot on the ground trying to stop before performing a huge U turn in the middle of the road, right in front of a fleet of bicycle taxi drivers. On squeezing my brakes to show they were completely redundant as I rolled in, I was greeted with smiles and applause! My cycling proficiency teacher at St Margaret’s  primary school did not have the same attitude to me puling a huge endo for the emergency stop test!
Burundi 🇧🇮 

Flying downhill with one foot on the front tyre to slow me down, the city of Bujumbura was now clearly visible on the edge of the beautiful Lake Tanganyika down below. On the far side of the lake the mountains of the Congo could be seen. Nearing the city things  finally started to look dodgy as I passed through sketchy looking towns. Armed Police and army officers  littered the steep downhill road  as it carved its way through mountainside towns mixed with lush green tropical vegetation. Military and police checkpoints armed with serious looking guns became  more and more frequent, I tried to turn my head the other way for most of them, though one guy wasn’t entertaining that and pulled me over. Like always, I tried to immediately distract his attention, telling him I’m from Leicester City and asking who he supported, the reply, “Do you have money?” Definitely a worrying question in a country which every government advises against travelling to and that has no British representation!!...but I managed to get away with it, arriving in Bujumbura as night fell. The city didn’t have any working street lights so felt somewhat dodgy at night, so I decided to check in to one of the better hotel’s. I was knackered after my 100 mile day in the mountains, but it was Saturday night in Bujumbura! I asked the young lad at reception if there was a good bar near by, there was, and after telling me I could take a lady home no problems!... he locked the front door of the hotel and came with me! Welcome to Bujumbura, Burundi!!!
🇧🇮 Burundi 

The young lad at the hotel in Bujumbura asked if I wanted any fruit with my breakfast!.... 








Wednesday, 21 March 2018

SUDAN & ETHIOPIA!...a sizzling and a stoning!

SUDAN!!!


A final stretch of desert road with literally nothing but sand all around brought me to the border of Sudan. 2 enormous intimidating iron gates stood in front of me. Once I’d finally past the Egyptian side and reached Sudanese immigration I was pleasantly surprised to meet the huge beaming smiles of the immigration officers in there bright blue uniforms, who were extremely black in colour, literally black. Apparently these extremely dark people were from the worlds newest country, South Sudan, which is now almost at civil war after its separation from Sudan in 2011. A bag search, a load of paperwork, a 550 Sudanese pound registration certificate and a  few videos blue toothed to me from the immigration officer about Islam and I was on my way! 


Egypt - Approx 20km from Sudan

Sudan was immediately much poorer than its neighbor Egypt and the wagons pulled by donkeys even more primitive! The other thing I couldn’t help noticing on the sandy desert road were all the dead camels and cattle carcasses rotting by the roadside...a gruesome sight. I was later told this was due to animals that had died on cattle trucks in the heat being dumped by the roadside. A few hours ride saw me to the first town in Sudan, Wadi Halfa, a friendly relaxed town which sold lots of chicken. Outside my guesthouse was a an old beaten up estate car that looked like something from the Sudanese ghost busters.
As I’d carried an Alaskan number plate all the way through the Americas, I wanted to buy one from Northern Africa (My final attempted at doing so in Egypt had ended with a bloke insinuating a knife chopping my hand off!). The bloke, who looked like a black Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movie told me to come back in the morning. The old wreck of a car had been washed and unbelievably he had got the engine running....which looking at that car was nothing short of a miracle! Doc Brown then handed me a bunch of paperwork for the car! I felt pretty guilty he had obviously been up half the night getting the thing running thinking I wanted to buy the whole car!

Back on the bike the next day I was smashing out the Kilometers on the freshly tarmacked road (no doubt build by the Chinese) which was in stark contrast to the mud huts along its edge. Stopping for lunch in what was apparently a gold mining town, It became even more apparent I was no longer in the developed world. As I sat in the makeshift marquee for some food, a couple of blokes were chopping up a camel on the sand in front of me, each limb was then lobbed over the blokes shoulder and hung from a hook on the old school scales a few feet in front of my table! The head was finally chopped off and put on top of the meat counter. 

Heading south the temperature went off the scale and hit 40 to 45 degrees Celsius, and this was apparently winter! Unfortunately the trail wind turned to a head on one, and with the dry hot wind my lips felt as though I had drank a pint of sand and put them under the grill for an hour! They were split to pieces. I found myself on the odd occasion drinking 5 bottles of soft drinks in a row!! My body completely depleted of sugar and salts. Outside of the main towns all that could be found along the road were mud huts and the odd metal shack. Literally all you could buy in most of them was black beans and bread!...whilst many had no food at all.  I asked one bloke where I could buy food, “Ethiopia” he replied!  Considering the huge lack of food people didn’t look so bad. These huts did all however have huge ceramic pots filled with drinking water. Despite the high temperatures the pots kept the water nice and cool. Most of it looked pretty clean, though some looked like it had been pumped out of the River Thames....which was always an awkward moment when a kind person offered you a glass of the stuff! If it looked drinkable I always chucked a purification tablet in for good measure. 
The great people of Sudan

"Ful" ... beans in Sudan..often all that was available outside of the towns

A free alfresco bed always available for me to sleep the night

Flag of Sudan

Amazingly I only used my tent twice in Sudan....and barely checked into a hotel either!! These motorway service stations (or mud huts maybe more appropriate!) had no chairs but instead metal frame beds with flat rope weaved between them, and I was always offered to sleep on one. My first night was even better than that...a bed in a mud hut. I couldn’t believe my luck when the bloke showed me to my hut. However, after returning to it an hour later it was bursting at the seems with 6 people now sleeping in there (bed frames touching one another!) I was slightly concerned when the door was bolted shut after I got in my bed...but slept well anyway! The only problem with my mud hut and alfresco sleeping was I was being eaten alive by insects and covered from head to toe in bites. Waking up one morning with a Scorpion next to my bed was also slightly concerning. On the plus, there was something very cool about sleeping outside at the local roadside stops and villages, chatting with the locals drinking tea boiled on an open fire with shishas bubbling away.

One day on the road I remember very vividly was taking the detour to checkout the abandoned city of Old Dongola. I had forgot to download my map but from recollection on my phone it was just off the main road. One bloke reckoned it was down a sand track of the main road. A few miles later I found myself at the bank of the Nile, where a dodgy looking bloke with a boat assured me it was across the Nile. I went with it and jumped into his boat, after dropping some passengers on the other side he took me half a mile downstream and dropped me off at the back of beyond, explaining old Dongola was over the top of the sand dune. After being bitten to shit by a million mosquito's on the river bank I attempted to climb the deep fine sand of the steep dune, slipping 2 steps back for  every one gained in 45 degree heat, swearing out loud with every step questioning what the F I was doing!! When I finally made it over the dune, Old Dongola was all to me, and was pretty cool (see pic below). Though even on the flat I could not push my bike in the deep sand and carried my bike for another couple of miles until I reached the relief of the tarmac road.....and a couple of nutters on donkeys pulling bicep poses!
Greetings from the man with the donkey after trekking across the sand dunes of Old Dongola with the bike on my shoulder

Old Dongola

My trusty captain taking me across the Nile to Old Dongola

Motorway Service Station!

 Riding into the night I eventually hit the town of Al Dabbah, at the first shop I woofed down every sugary food I could buy. Outside the shop I met a man in specs and a cricket shirt of around my age who spoke near perfect English and invited me home for rice. He turned out to be an Pakistani guy who had took a job in which he was told was in South Africa. That was until his plane landed in the middle of the desert in Sudan! Considering how badly he’d been taken for a ride he seemed pretty cool about the whole thing! He lived in a shared house with a couple of Pakistani and a few Indian guys (also tricked) who all worked at the agricultural factory. They were some of the nicest guys I’ve met all trip, they cooked me a stinking hot beef curry (yes beef!) Told me all about Pakistan, gave me a bed, and at 4:30 the next morning I left in the dark when the factory bus came to take them to work. It made me think how free my life had been over the last year not having to think about the daily grind like everyone else!
The spicy beef curry from the awesome guys from India and Pakistan

Arriving in the capital Khartoum 2 days later I went mental. I still can’t work out if the  food was really good or it was just a million times better than Ful (black beans and bread). The 7 million inhabitants of Khartoum lived at huge contrast. In the centre on Nile street there was a huge egg shaped glass hotel built with money from Qaddafi whilst a few blocks away were mud roads littered with donkeys and goats. Sudan is definitely not a country you visit to get laid...and you definitely don’t come for the scenery...its pretty much one big desert!...it does however have the most welcoming and friendly people I have ever met, at least if your a male anyway! Everyone I would pass would wave, clap and shout out to me and I could hardly spend my money If I tried with everyone insisting on paying for me. It felt pretty ironic that in the west we like to portray the Muslim world as being dodgy and full of Taliban who want to cut your head off, the reality could not have been further from the truth. I couldn’t have felt any safer. The strict law of cutting peoples hands off for theft meant I could leave my bicycle anywhere!
Cycling Sudan Style!

Some young bodybuilders
Ironically, it was the Christian world of fast approaching Ethiopia that was starting to haunt me! Ethiopia is seen as the worst country in the world to cycle...and there are numerous horror stories of kids chasing after you trying to rob your belongings, the legendary stone throwing...and worse! Two cyclists coming the other way had confirmed this as more than rumors. An angry Frenchman explained it as the worst country in 5 years on the road (he was armed with a catapult and wooden stick for defense). Even the happy go lucky chap from Morocco had a huge sense of relief as I passed him entering Sudan. There were even accounts of guns to the head, motorcyclist’s pushed off and one cyclist who was stabbed in the back for taking a stone thrower to the village chief. Even as I approached the border I had a stone thrown at the back of my head from someone on top of a lorry, a kid launch one at me (he used a straight arm sideways technique whipping it in like a baseball with a curl at tremendous pace) plus another thrown at my tent! I swear they were from one of the many Ethiopian immigrants!
Suffering in the heat...crossing the Nile to arrive in Khartoum

As if left there strategically for me there was a homemade whip lying in the middle of the road. I attached it to the front of my pannier rack and repeatedly practiced deploying it and snapping it at speed, to the amusements of the passing pickups loaded with people who clapped and cheered. The police checkpoint questioned why I was carrying it, though my honest answer of “for beating thieves in Ethiopia” seemed to suffice. My last night in Sudan was both a high and low one. I camped 30 miles before the border in a small village spending the evening sitting around a fire drinking tea with the locals. A group of kids were hanging around my tent all night peering in so I decided to tie the zips shut from the inside and piss in a plastic bottle to prevent drawing more attention to myself. In the early hours of the morning I reached for my water and took a huge swig feeling extremely dehydrated. It wasn’t water. I had taken a huge swig off my bright yellow dehydrated piss, to top off, for the life off me I couldn’t find my torch and un-do the knot in the zip door! It was rank. If anybody tells you your own piss doesn’t taste too bad they’ve clearly never tried it!!


ETHIOPIA

Arriving at the chaotic border town of Metema I was harassed by Ethiopian money changers who followed me everywhere from immigration to sitting next to me when I went to buy food! It caused a big row with the brutally honest Sudanese waiter who shouted, “leave this man alone, it is my duty to protect him, he is in my country not yours!” Without even crossing into Ethiopia a few hundred metres ahead of me I already realised there was a lot I was going to miss about the people of Sudan!! Expecting the worse I donned my helmet, pumped myself up and ventured into Ethiopia expecting a machine gun spray of stones fired at me!

I had made several preparations to deal with any potential issues:
1) A fake rubber snake costing 2 quid on eBay - Apparently the people are superstitious and terrified of snake charmers.
2) A menacing looking camel / donkey whip which I found on the road in Sudan, which was bungee corded to the front of my bike as a deterrent.
3) A load of cheap pens that I bought in Khartoum which I could throw in the air as a decoy.
4) Some local language (known as Amharic) written on my bag in permanent marker. A good ice breaker.
5) A locally bought Ethiopian football shirt.
A few seconds into Ethiopia! (Note the addition of the helmet!)
To my amazement, my first day in Ethiopia wasn't the horror story I had expected. The flat arid sands of Sudan changed immediately to a 2500 meter steep climb into beautiful green mountains. Apart from the villagers chasing after me shouting "YOU, YOU, YOU, MONEY, MONEY MONEY", and the whole village following me to the little hut where I had lunch, there were no serious issues to deal with and I was left thinking that "Ethiopia, the worst country in the world to cycle", was all a bit of an exaggeration. Even the 20 naked kids which came running out of the river were pretty friendly and only wanted to shake my hand and not rob me...they did however  leave  me feeling like a creepy Jimmy Saville on his bike! In fact, the worst thing that happened to me that day was when I  pitched my tent behind some bushes at the edge of the mountain road. Pitching on a steep slope with a rock under my back, my poor nights sleep was disturbed further still in the middle of the night when I felt some severe itching! I turned my torch on thinking I was just being paranoid, to discover my whole tent infested with ants!! They were in my pants, in my sleeping back....everywhere! The hours of 2:30 - 3:30 am were spent systematically searching my tent and squashing over 100 ants. My second crap nights sleep in a tent. 

My following days in Ethiopia were not to be as peaceful and the Ethiopian nightmare was about to unfold!! The next day the rock and stone throwers started warming up and a group of 15 kids chased me up a hill trying to grab stuff from my panniers. I threw 2 pens up and over my head and the kids sprinted for them like 100 dollar bills! My timing was poor and after the pens had be fought for they caught me up again on the steep slope, now knowing I had goods on board. Lesson learnt, the pen throw technique should be delayed until approaching the crest of a hill! These kids can run.....as in 5km uphill at pace without any training!

The most interesting and memorable of those nightmare days was my penultimate day before reaching the capital, Addis Ababa. A 100 mile day in the mountains between Dejen and a place called Muke Turi. I'd only been on the road a mile that morning when an old lady launched her stick at my bike! The road then took a huge 12.5 mile straight decent towards a bridge over the blue Nile which carved a enormous gorge out of the landscape. Huge well behaved monkeys crossed the road on the way down. At the bottom  a bloke was mixing up a tomato paste with water to which loads of men circled around dipping bread into the frying pan for a few pence. I gave it a bash. Beginning the climb I was advised the road ahead was closed. A few miles up a lorry smashed to pieces blocked the whole road, 100s of people circled around and the traffic piled up either side. I caused quite a spectacle as always carrying my bike around the lorry slipping on the spilled oil. An older man at the scene explained the lorry driver was probably going to die and had been taken to the hospital at the town at the top of the hill. He asked if I could go there and make a donation.
Scene of lorry crash
Mountains all the way

How could I refuse potentially saving the blokes life for what would be pocket money to me? I decided I would go directly to the hospital and donate the 100 dollar US bill I had in the bottom of my pannier bag. I went first to the private clinic, which was extremely rudimentary..... And then to the government one, overcrowded, basic and unclean would be an extremely generous description, I wouldn’t have fancied his chances there. Unfortunately he wasn’t at either. Maybe he'd be taken to Adis Ababa or had died before he’d arrived in the town. After a few chases and rocks being lobbed at me, the worst from on top of a hill landing like a Grenade at my feet, I came upon a poor horse that had collapsed under his overloaded cart. I stopped immediately and flagged over a lorry driver to lend a hand (being a white guy I have a bit more persuasion with these things!) After unloading a few bags off the cart we eventually got the poor horse to his feet. 
Helping the poor horse to his feet
Football shirt and whip at the ready! - I was eventually told, "You are not allowed to wear the traditional shirt!" by  a cheeky teen!

Further down then road the onslaught intensified. The cries of “YOU YOU YOU MONEY MONEY MONEY” which had been quite endearing at first, had now changed to a harrowing, “CHINA CHINA...give me  MONEY MONEY MONEY!!!”  often followed by a rock being launched, occasionally by adults as well as teenagers and children! The worst of these attacks happened when one of the players on a football pitch noticed me approaching early doors, within a split second 22 players were legging it full tilt to the roadside and began launching stones and rocks at me! Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, on approaching a small town a teenage lad throw a punch at me, it missed by a mile.....but then, literally a 100 yards down the road, another teenage, who looked bad to the bone, offered his hand in a high five motion. I cagily offered out my hand as I cruised past, he then peeled back and throw a punch towards my face!! I somehow manager to block it with my hand. Things had suddenly changed in my mind from  being slightly stressed but somewhat enjoying the challenges of cycling Ethiopia to simply not wanting to be there! The day culminated with a few sticks being jabbed at me from the roadside to  a guy lunging his hand towards my head whilst flying down one of the steep hills! It had been by far my most memorial day in Ethiopia!

I woke the next morning trying to be positive, but I won’t lie, even though it was less than 100km to Addis Ababa, I was dreading getting on my bike that morning. I cant exaggerate enough, cycling Ethiopia is not about the odd stone, its about being hounded, people grabbing your handlebars, shouting, stone throwing, every minute of every day! Thankfully, dropping down into Addis Ababa was  a more or less problem free day.  (Africa’s 4th largest city, altitude 2355 Meters) I was in need of a break. Instead, I eat some manky fish which left me running for the bathroom of my budget hotel and projectile vomiting all over the shower. The shits that followed were even more grim. I spent the morning clearing up my own mess, not wanting to put the cleaner through the ordeal of sorting it. I decided I needed to sort myself out! I checked into the high end Monarch hotel and treated myself to a hot shower and passed out in the big comfy bed. The area where I was staying, known as Bole, was the new glamorous down town of Addis, despite being located in the south east corner of the city near the airport. It was a contrast of Chinese built shiny high rise hotels and malls erected with wooden branches for scaffolding, yet mixed with huge poverty and crippled homeless people begging on the streets. I probably should have stayed another night as I wasn’t  close to being better, but at that point just wanted to escape from Ethiopia! ...and hit the road the following day.
Addis
 
I was told the south of Ethiopia would not be as problematic as the north. And for a brief while, passing through a Muslim area I was momentarily back to the Africa I loved. This blissful half day was short lived and the normal madness of tormenting me with sticks and stones returned! My skin had grown thicker and it was time to get my own back. I launched the snake at some of the tormentors faces and finally lost my rag with others and went ballistic. It was extremely therapeutic watching them shit themselves for a change! This may not be the lonely planets suggested way to behave in Africa but I couldn’t give a toss! Some people – that have clearly never cycled Ethiopia, have tried to justify this behavior to me with patronising mother Teresa style BS quotes!.... But for me you can’t just give justification  because its Africa! And admittedly, for every idiot I’ve come across I’ve had double the amount of warm smiles and kind offers (particularly from the elderly and middle class surprisingly!) I can justify poor people robbing me, pick pocketing me, even kidnapping me!...but for a nation to be full of angry young people that want to throw rocks, try and knock me off my bike and swing punches at me.....well, I’ve cycled enough poor countries in the world to know that’s pretty *untish!
Getting tribal - south east Ethiopia


A way more friendly southern Ethiopia!


But!!! As much as I hated Ethiopia at times, I’m not going to be that pessimistic French hater!! Its been a love hate relationship... And overall the LOVE is way bigger than the hate! Many people who cycle Africa bottle Ethiopia, but I’m too stubborn and sadistic to give in! How could I arrive in Cape Town knowing I’d given in when the going got tough!? And the highlights I'd seen on route had been huge, Gondar in the north on the edge of the stunning Simeon mountains, known as the Camelot of Africa with  European style medieval castles, Bahir Dar, which sits on a beautiful Rhino filled lake and is a paradise surrounded by palm trees, the south east and the lower Omo valley, who wouldn’t want to check out the tribe with the ridiculously large stretched bottom lips!?... not to mention the incredible Coffee! ........Gondar once more!...before I forget I must mention what happened to me in Gondar!....As I sat having a coffee, in a little cafe outside the castle, I spoke to an older bloke who was apparently a guide for the castle. I told him that Britain had suffered from a spell of cold weather from Russia and there was snow. I then searched on my phone for any snow pics friends had sent me from home (you know how they pop up automatically in your album). I managed to find a video I hadn't noticed before, pressed play, and passed my phone to the bloke. The video spanned round from an English bedroom window looking down onto the snowy street below, it then spanned to a video of  a black tribal guy with the worlds biggest penis hanging out!! Needless to say the bloke did not find it at all funny and definitely did not believe my plea I didn't know about  the 2 foot penis!

Without sounding like a complete gimp, I must also mention a little bit about Ethiopia's incredible history and how the Jamaican Rasta man comes from Ethiopia! Firstly, Ethiopia is the only African country never to be colonized by a European power. Which, from the way the people launch rocks at you is hardly surprising!  The Italians had a go in 1936 but were beaten back. Ethiopians actually use the word "Ciao" as part of there Amharic language today. The leader at that time (1930 - 1974), Emperor Haile Selassie, visited Jamaica in 1966 when the country was suffering from a huge drought. After Selassie's visit it rained for 2 weeks. Selassie's name  as a child was "Tafaria", and when he became the governor or Harar was given the name "Ras" for "head"....hence.... RAS TAFARIA! For Jamaicans, poverty stricken Ethiopia became the promise land and Selassie was a God! Selassie was overthrown in 1974 and power came to the hands of lower ranking officers known as the DERG forming a socialist state. The Derg ordered the execution of 61 ex-officials of the imperial government and were responsible for 50,000 deaths of opposition opponents in what is known as, "Ethiopian Red Terror."

Today, the Derg is still in power! Though at the moment without leadership, this meant as I cycled across Ethiopia the country remained in a state of national emergency. Just before I arrived in Addis there had been  a road block in which protestors had attempted to close the road. It had opened a couple of days before I got there after the government soldiers had shot people dead. The same had happened at the border town of Moyale. The new leader will be chosen from the existing party without election, hence the protests.
 

My last few days to the Kenyan border saw me to the town of Abra Minch before the roads turned to mud and I entered a remote area of south west Ethiopia which was...well...tribal! The main border was directly south at the town of Moyale, though I had taken the decision to head for the tiny little known about border near Omorate. This was a more direct route to  head for Uganda, Rwanda (possibly the Congo) and Burundi, which seemed a more interesting route than just Kenya and Tanzania. The only issue was that the monsoon rains had started and I was slipping and sliding everywhere on the mud road, the Kenyan roads ahead were supposed to be unpassable in high rain. However, the huge positive was that with the tribes the stone throwing diminished! Southern Ethiopia was definitely not without its highlights though! I had a grown tribal man with a spear chasing after me (thankfully with a smile on his face!) 5 topless tribe women try to do a roadblock whilst the younger one grabbed at my bag and I got to witness a tribal ceremony where the boy becomes a man, which involved the whipping of women, blood pouring from their backs (unbelievably, the woman were fighting over the privilege of getting whipped!) 

I eventually reached the final Ethiopian town of Omorate, which was a shithole and an odd mix of topless tribal women and poor western dressed folk. The immigration bloke tried to ask for paperwork for my bicycle license, "its a piece of metal", I told him, in a voice which suggested I wasn't a complete idiot. Ironically, with the exception of the odd tribe, the last 20km returned to perfect tarmac and almost complete piece and quiet, until, in the distance, I saw an old army barracks and the road just complete disappear. It was Kenya!!! Ethiopia was by far the most incredible country in Africa I've ever visited, though to say I was happy to reach that border, would be the understatement of the century!!! 
Insanely happy to reach this remote military post marking the start of KENYA!

Security guy liking the whip (known locally as a "Giraffe!")
 
Border town of Omorate
Monkeys - Simien Mountains


Ethiopia political map
Route taken is the road towards Lake Turkana, Kenya, where the road terminates.