Wednesday 21st of May – the sound of raining hitting the roof, trees whistling and me, well I’m half asleep and I need to get up to pack my bags and bike because today is that day that I leave my home, my little social bubble, my comfort zone and jump on a plane to Africa to begin riding my bicycle from Kenya to Cape Town.
It wasn’t a case of standing in front of the ‘departure’ sign at Sydney Airport for a photo and posting it on social media with some sort of caption ‘Ready for My Big Adventure’. It was a case of three months preparation, honing the mindset and concentration, because once I set foot on that plane I wasn’t coming back for six months. Africa was going to be my home for the rest of the year.
After the usual long haul flight my brother and I touched down in Nairobi, Kenya.
We were please to see our bike boxes swinging around on the luggage carousel; they are basically our life on this journey. Standing there also: our dad, Nige. He has been travelling for the past 4 years on his bike and for us to catch up with him and cycle down Africa with him is something we are sure not many people would get the opportunity to do. A slight tear was trickling down his face as we hugged him after not seeing him for a year or so. But before long we were back to the usual banter, laughter and family arguments, what keep us strong. It took us a good few days to get our bikes ready for the long haul south. Ben my brother had never done anything like this before so he was a fresher in the bike-touring department. We were soon on the road and with the first day riding through Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. Our overall direction was to head north to Mt Kenya and then West over to Uganda. This was to take us a few weeks or more.
Before leaving Australia, Africa had always been on my mind. To me, it’s where everything is going on. It’s that place where the world’s wildlife imprinted on my brain when I was a young boy watching National Geographic docos.
Before leaving Australia, Africa had always been on my mind. To me, it’s where everything is going on. It’s that place where the world’s wildlife imprinted on my brain when I was a young boy watching National Geographic docos. It’s that place where poverty is rife throughout the continent. It’s that place that for some reason everyone is scared of and that’s why Africa has always been on my mind. People were telling me, “why are you doing this? Are you crazy?” People are influenced and sucked in by the media, who portray just one side of Africa, but I wont go into any detail about that. After a couple of days of being here the biggest difference was that we were the so-called Muzugu’s – White Man. We stood out like dog’s balls. Hearing young kids and teens shouting out ‘Muzugu’ over 100 a day sometimes, well the sound of that was irritating our ears, but I can tell you that after being on the road for a while we were certainly used to it.
We reached Mt Kenya, Africa’s second largest mountain. Timing is essential when bike touring as you are outdoors mostly everyday when riding and camping. The wet season was slowing down and the dry season was rapidly approaching. The last thing we wanted was to ride on dirt roads with bucket-loads of rain, mud and pushing a bike weighing over 60kg. Kenya is over populated, like most countries here in Africa. We knew that we would have to stay in motels and guesthouses in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, as there is not much wild land for camping. It was definitely different to riding through Patagonia – that place is a wild camp haven. My brother was slowly battling the first few weeks. It took him a good month to get fit and into shape for riding everyday. We have been averaging around 80km per day, depending on the terrain and roads. Kenya and Rwanda have most certainly been the hardest riding, but Uganda too also had some hard days.
Timing is essential when bike touring as you are outdoors mostly everyday when riding and camping. The wet season was slowing down and the dry season was rapidly approaching.
When you mention or even think of Africa you straight away think of the wildlife. We didn’t come over here for a safari holiday we came here to ride our bikes and what ever happened, happened. Well we got lucky staying with a lovely farming couple who were from England. There are a lot of British farmers in Kenya. They all somehow know each other. Some of the families are generations old and some are just people who moved to Kenya. We stayed on Sarah and Laurie’s wheat and barley farm. He lived right next door to a Wildlife Conservatorium, which held most of the animals or you could say the ‘Big 5’. We jumped in his car and it was a big change from the bike, but this was to be the first real glimpse of the animal kingdom and we got lucky.
Driving around the conservatorium we bumped into wild elephants, giraffes, buffalo, baboons, zebra, rhino, you name it. It was such an amazing thing to see them. We pulled up and cracked a cold ‘Tusker’ beer, as the sun set over the dry plains of Kenya. Laurie produced part of the barley in the ‘Tusker’ beer on his farm. We knew this would never have happened if it weren’t for being on bikes. People have some respect and appreciation for what you are doing. They probably felt sorry for us for riding a bike around Africa, bloody crazy bunch of Australians, also the fact that there is a 58yr old man with us … Our dad!
So Kenya was a real warm welcome to Africa. Uganda was next on the cards.
Heading west was playing on our minds as we were meant to be riding south. That changed once we reached the town of Fort Portal in western Uganda. We stopped over in Kampala and did the usual city crap before leaving. Cities can drive you insane and Kampala did just that. We would never have the road to ourselves; we would take back roads and find hundreds of children just walking around yelling out Muzugu and asking us for money. It went on and on. There is a huge cap between the rich and poor. You can really tell the difference when basically the rich are those in expensive cars doing more than 100km through remote villages not giving a crap, it’s quite sad. This is only in rural and remote areas, obviously in most of the capital and major cities you will find well off people.
A piece of land to produce some food and to sell the goods at the markets, a family to give you happiness and a house to protect you from the elements and that’s how majority of African’s live. I arrived here thinking that there would be people everywhere on the street, poor and hungry. Well they are poor and probably earning less than 2 dollars a day, though like I said, they are happy. Just goes to show that as long as you are happy in life then there is nothing to worry about. This has really opened my mind up as to how we live in Australia and really…how shocking it is in some respect. They marry young here. It’s happiness and children that put a smile on your face everyday, or most of them anyway.
The food in Uganda was something else. Matoke, which is banana and potato … like mash. Beef and goat stews, chicken and fresh rice. It was really good food. You would see goat heads lying around in restaurants; meat hanging in windows and cattle grazing on the side of the road, definitely no rules or regulations. We rode over to western Uganda pretty quick, as the western side is a lot nicer and greener. Rolling hills were covered with Tea and Coffee farms left to right, as the scenery was super lush. We also joined up with my old man’s mate who he rode with in Sudan and Ethiopia – Pedro. He was riding down east Africa and then planning on riding up the western side. We basically hugged the border with The Congo for the next few weeks. Riding through Queen Victoria National Park and also The Bwindi Forest. We were passing buffalo, elephants just meters away from us. We sure did not know what to do if they started getting angry. Riding through Bwindi we reached the tops of the Gorilla Mountains and then made our decent into Rwanda.
Researching Rwanda, we had read about the genocide that spilt a blood blanket over the country in 1994, and made the effort to visit most of the memorial sites. The passport had yet again been stamped with another country. Changing over to the over side of the road was a bit of a mind twister as they have a French background. It was a good chance for me to whip out my year 8 French Vocabulary and give it a good crack. I didn’t get very far, though I do like to put a bit of ‘Ounff’ behind my words.
Heading west once again we rode down Lake Kivu. We took the ‘Congo Nile Trail’, which was a great little road before it turned into a goat track. Rwanda is also known as ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’. Well, we certainly knew what they meant.
The air is dry, the sun is hot and the landscape is flat as it reaches the horizon. We will be in Kigoma in the coming days as we battle it out riding through potholes, bull dust, speeding trucks and buses as they pelt and cover us with dust.
The great thing about this trip is that every country we visit holds its own beauty and personality. We said our goodbyes to Pedro somewhere along the line in western Rwanda and headed for Kigali to get some bike parts and a few other things that were not out in remote areas. and then after a few days started riding south again. We crossed the border to Tanzania and have spent the last couple of days riding to Kigoma. I would call it almost the road to hell. The air is dry, the sun is hot and the landscape is flat as it reaches the horizon. We will be in Kigoma in the coming days as we battle it out riding through potholes, bull dust, speeding trucks and buses as they pelt and cover us with dust. We will be in Tanzania for a month, maybe more, before heading down to Malawi. We have 1000 or so kilometers to ride through some pretty isolated areas. When we reach Malawi we will rest and ride around the lake before heading over to Mozambique. And the borders go on.
Overall the first 2 months have been a huge learning curve for me. Nearly most nights, I look up to the sky and think to myself am I really actually really here, a childhood dream that has turned into a reality. Sometimes it’s surreal and sometimes I feel it pounding in my heart, as a bunch of kids run after me on my bike smiling with happiness and laughter. Seeing elderly men and thinking what they must have gone through during the early years in their country and their life. To riding through remote areas waving to village people who would have never seen a white man before. I’m trying to breath in every moment, and sure I’ve had some pretty bad days during these first couple of months. Feeling the pain of potential malaria. Spewing for days at the start of the trip. Severe head and stomach aches while riding. Though this is what it’s all about, and this is where I wanted to put myself. Out of that bubble and thinking to myself that, man I love this world and that this journey is sure to change my life when I get back home.
Though there is one thing… I’ve still got 4 months left of it to go. So stay tuned!