DATE: July 18, 2006
CURRENT LOCATION: Amarat, street 15 - Khartoum, Sudan
GPS COORDINATES: ZZZ
I'm here! Ovah here!!!
I'm back in Khartoum, but for work this time, where it's 33 degrees by 7:30am Hitting 45 by the afternoon and will be 50 by the middle of July until Sept I'm told. It's not so bad - a dry heat you see. Riiiight. My eyes burn when I walk outside. To me that means it's FREAKING hot. Luckily, between the apartment, car, and office, I do live most of my life in air conditioning.
What I'm doing I'm on a consultant's contract for 2 months advising on running pilot peace building and community security projects in the South. There's a peace agreement and 'regular' troops have withdrawn, but there are heaps of weapons in civilian hands and in the hands of troublemakers, clashing nomad tribes, militias, bandits or other armed groups not party to either side. The South is also riddled with tribal and clan divisions and conflicts between arab nomads, cattle herders, and agricultural communities - some are like feuds, others are like ancient rivalries, some are low scale wars. It's part of a big hole in central Africa that is probably the most ungoverned and lawless place on earth. So there's a big security vacuum that the fledgling South government can't get a hold over just yet as it is building up its police and the peacekeeping deployment is taking its time.
Sooooo, me and the project teams will go in and engage these communities and support local solutions to their local security problems. Might range from limited disarmament to inter-tribal peace negoatiations, to community police capacity building, to setting village rules about what weapons can be carried, or maybe putting in bore holes so migrating herders don't collide on their migrations with farmers. Pretty big universe of things. Not sure how much will get done these 2 months, but will probably be back again for another 3 months in September, after having a 2 week visit to Vancouver!!
So that's where I am now. But need to finish up the chronicles of how the trans-Africa express ended up - just one last chapter to go!!
IT'S A BIG ONE.
I had seen Mandy back home after almost a month of meandering across South Africa with packs on our backs. Such a good time - wish we had MORE time, as it's such a big place and it rained half the time, but a heck of a time nonetheless. Everyone should really just grab a backpack and get themselves out here for a summer.
But I was chomping at the bit to get the bike rolling again. But I sat and wasted a week in Jo'berg waiting for some positive news from the mechanics until the rain rain and utter paralysing boredom nearly killed me. I reverted into the holding pattern trash TV and reading by day whatever's playing at the movie theatre by night mode. Had a night or two out here and there, but was starting to twitch by the end of the week. That is until I jumped back on a cheap flight back to Cape Town, the only part of south and central Africa that wasn't blanketted in continous rain.
Ahhhhh - Cape Town! Feels like home again
(oh - note: half these pictures aren't mine, but shared from various friends who also took them, thanks guys!!)
It was soooo dry and hot that the mountain was on fire again for the most part of this visit. But I wasn't here to climb it again. No, I jumped the flight with 2 American fellas who were also going stir crazy in Jo'berg. One, Bevan, had just finished cycleing across Australia and most of Southeast Asia - he wanted to get to Cape Town and take on Africa (or South Afrcia at least) and surf!! (I convinced him it was the thing to do). The other fellow, Brendan, had a S African buddy who trained JIU JITSU with the Gracies - the famed master fighting family from Brazil!!
So it was to be a week of surfing and JIU JITSU in Cape Town until I had a resolution on my bike!!
The waves were a mess that week. Offshore (or is in inshore?!) winds were turning all the breakers to mushy froth. No good no surfing 9
But there was plenty of JIU JITSU.
There's even vague photographic evidence! Bevan's not too steady with the camera - yes, that my torn body in that sweat-soaked ghi. What on earth was I thinking? So I though me, mr highschool wrestler, was gonna be able to hold my own..? I knew how to grapple and move a man around, and that's essentially JIU JITSU, a grappling martial art. Well you see, in wrestling the 'end point' to pin your opponent's shoulders simultaneously to the matt for 1 second. A quick touche and the mathc is brought to a nice gentlemanly close. So at the end of the first painfull session and we stepped up for full sparing sessions I had to finally enquire on the what was the 'end point' of a JIU JITSU match - I was told quite flatly it's to the death.
Ok, ok. That's what he said, but he quickly qualified it by saying, being choked unconscious or submitting in excruciating pain from a joint lock that will probably break the appendage in question if submission ain'y conceded tout suite.
That still didn't assuage my worries, but I was already in the middle of the matt. I did execute myself admirably I was told. Made swift work of my oppenent, taking him down first but I somehow also genrously put myself into the clutches of his defensive guillatine counter. Let's just say I thought he was going to cut my torso in half and I was slapping the matt faster than you can say Robespierre.
We did zee JIU JITSU every second verging on puking night stumbling back to the hostel around the corner bruised and puffy and broken. We told the staff and other travellers we were at ballroom dancing classes. Yeah, it was parole partner night at the club. But honestly, it really isn't a very gentlemanly sport. I mean hell, you're allowed to choke your opponent out with his own clothing!? That's not cricket.
Note: when in Cape Town as a budget traveller or even as a local, the only way to get around is the Riki Taxi. These are little yellow pickups converted with a roof and benches installed in the back. And it's justa few Rand for halfway around the city, and that's if you were going halfway round the city or just got on for the next neighborhood but got driven halfway around the city nonetheless. They're essentially share taxis and you can end up going very very very out of your way on your way, but you get a great tour of the city, they never seem to be farther than 5 minutes away, and you meet some interesting people - the drivers in particular. Can't remember all their names, though you do learn them, but there was: 1.) deer hunter Angola War vet guy packing a pistol who Brendan got chatting on prefered APC models; 2.) nervous cursing neurotic temper tantrum guy; and, 3.) supershag denimshort only wearing complete doped out dropped out Animal who drove bare foot while the other hung out the window and made Ozzy Ozborne seem lucid in comparison. There were more, and they all chat on their radio all day so even if you're with one you'll still get to know the other crazies over the CB.
I finally got a proper chance to see Robben Island this time around. A former naval base and leperd colony just a few miles out of Table Bay, it is now infamous as the prison for political opponents to the apartheid regime
That was Nelson Mandella's cell. You're given a tour of the prison by an actual former inmate so you get a genuine sense of the place. The prison made me furious, but it's not meant to be hateful. The guide at the end asked us to not go away angry, because they're not angry. Because apartheid was over, they had broken it, and now they were never going to let humanity forget and repeat it.
But heck of a view though, non?
Couldn't risk my life in the great white infested waters of the Cape, so instead got myself up Kamikaze Kanyon for a day
But it wasn't really as crazy as the bill said it would be. Really just a pleasant stroll up a magnificent canyon.
With a few 10m and 14m cliff jumps into river pools along the way, until
you come across the 65m abseil
through a waterfall. And if that isn't enough death defying
try the MARAUDING BABOONS at lunch time!!! Yes, they were really that close. This big alpha male walked right up to poor Sara and pulled the sandwich out of her hands. Then, because she had food in her backpack, there ensued a tug-of-war on the backpack until Sara smacked it on the hand- errr, paw, retrieved her digital camera from the bag before conceding defeat. Well, they do have teeth longer than a lion and are 4 times stronger than a man. And they also have those scary bums!!! Blech, you do not wanna see one of these mamas' in heat
Ok - enoughs, enough. During that week I had to make a very difficult decision. I only had 4 weeks left of travelling and the bike was going no where. I had to make the executive decision to call it quits on Mario. But how to get to the fabled waters of Victoria Falls via the great Namibian desertscapes???
I had to face the reality that I was now a chump 'passenger' and no longer captain of me own vessel So I resorted to the Nomad overland tour!!! The route was north from Cape Town through the dry Cederberg mountains and semi-scrub desert (think New Mexico/CalifornIA), into the depths of the Namib Desert in, well, Namibia until passing through moonscape desert plateua and smashing down on the flat coast at Swakopmund for the last taste of infrastructure. Then head further north through tribal lands, the great salt pan lions of Etosha National Game Park, to the Kavanga River along the Angola border before heading east for an excursion into Botswana for the Okavanga Delta. After a few nights on the islands in a wetlands the size of wales, we dart back into Namibia along the Caprivi strip headed for our destination: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
Phew!! Got it? No, then buy an atlas. Let's get to it - meet my home for 3 weeks - Billie (that can be a girl's name too!):
And Billie is a Truck, not a bus. A T.R.U.C.K. Got it.
I was in for a real taste of traveling overland in style, courtesy of our Driver and Guide with the mostest:
Todd and Charlotte!!
there were the majestic pee-stops, or 'bush toilet' in overland lingo.
lunch in the great outdoors with the amazing fold out canteen and buffet bar.
pitching your own tent and taking some quiet time to yourself.
the requisite flat and tire change, damn cheap retreads.
We had to get stuck in the mud at least once. Great thick slippery like the western front sloppy slop slop mud. Perchance the truck 3 days behind us came along and with re-inforcements Billie was freed.
Folks were assigned rotation for kitchen duty, which in some cases included fending-off wild animals duty like this promiscuous Jackel.
more glorious peebreaks.
lots of worldchampioship UNO!!
but sometimes the hours sitting on your ass, the rattle of the windows, and the passage of hundreds of hours of road in a day was too much and the whole thing just became a blur.
I guess we did take in a few sights.
Out in the Namib desert, one of the oldest in the world, at a place called Sossusvlei (where the water ends). An ancient place where dunes stand as shifting mountains. Some stay put, rooted down by an indigenous grass that lives within the dunes. Some slowly shift northwards. They're formed from silt carried from the heart of South Africa to the Atlantic by the Orange River, only then to be blown from the coast up Namibia to form dunes that slowly shift thousands of kilometers into Angola. In fact, some of the dunes that are on the cusp of Angola were blwon in from the Atlantic and formed dunes a the time the Pyramids were built. These are real temples of the desert.
Hiked 300m up Dune 45 at 5am in order to catch the sunset, i thought alone but there was a veritable army of us up there! So much for untouched nature.
Our desert guide found us all sorts of weird an wonderful creatures. From the little black beatle that stands on its head to drink water vapor condensing on its butt in the morning to that funny little lizard that does the ouch-ooch-ouch-oochy-ooch dance from two legs to the other two to two legs back to the other two again and again cause admnit that sand is mighty hot. It also happens to have an enourmously strong lockjaw - real tough guy. Also peered into the lair of an albino sand spider that looked you in the eye and had fangs which made the Baboon lunch marauders looks like company for afternoon tea.
I wasn't joking about the dune anchoring grass. It's mighty clear air out there.
Recognize this from The Cell? This is Dead Vlei where, a thousand years ago, a dune shifted and cut off this grove from the irratic flood waters. It died out but sort of fossilized above ground. It doesn't seem large, but it's a bit of an optical illusion and you wouldn't want to wander out and bake in that expanse of salt pan. To me it's a sort of living fossil, I don't think anybody should be allowed to step foot in it - every foot step permanently scars ground that hasn't changed for a thousand years. Practically a crime against nature.
Queue obligatory National Geographic moment
These are the Himba people of northern Namibia, where the land gets a bit greener and flater the further you go. They're semi-nomadic and the settlement we had the priviledge of visiting were living authentiqué traditional lifestyles. Either that, or they did a hell of a job hiding their iPods, cause all sights, smells, and sounds pointed to the real article. Cattle. That's the only business in town.
The men-folk were off wrangling when we visited, so we were shown around by the head man's wife. We got to cleanse our selves with smoke and take a bit of local snuff. I really dug the iron bead jewelry and décor the ladies sported - honestly, with leggings, belts, bracelets and other accoutrements they could be wearing 10-15kgs of extra weight. Need that extra weight training if you're going to spend all day shaking the calabash to make milk curd. Mmmmm, a little fresh milk curd in the noonday sun
Wasn't always hard sightseeing work. Even got some down time bush camping with our own private bush pool (complemented by hordes of tadpoles and probably cholera).
It had been too long since I risked my life
so in Swakopmund I had to talk the whole truck into SKY DIVING!!! If bungee jumping is terrifying, sky diving is superlative. It's too good a ride to be scared of. It is an incredible ride, and you really are flying. Man can fly. I even got to take the reigns on the way down and toggled around the heavens trapped between ocean and desert. I could wax on as I did with bunDo it. Do it.
The Korean boys loved it!!
After Swakupmund, we needed to keep an eye out for the wildlife in Etosha National Park
The best being trapped by this family of elephants!!
When I say trapped, I do mean come on out with your hands up, we have you surrounded.
And my favourite - early morning yawning hippo! in Chobe Park :
Up along the Namibia-Angolan border at Rungu along the Kavanga River, we had the chance to visit a genuwainie local school and village, of course involved in a participatory tourism benefit scheme - so cheer up me lad!
The genuwainie participatory part being you can buy a bit of the kids' craftwork and that pays for their fees for a term. I just had to have the glued on gold sparkle Fish from the river. Eat more fish. How can you argue with that?
In Rungu, we also took a lazy sundown boat ride out on the Kavanga that seperates the two countries. A little oevr 10 years ago this was a militarized war zone involved in South African forward support to their proxy side in the Angolan civil war. Now there's no sign that it's even a border as we sip beers and gaze across from the balcony of one of the few schnazzier places we stayed (though still in tents).
This is David. He retired early 10 years ago and has been travelling ever since. He has no addres bar a post box in New York. Honestly, he doesn't have a home - maybe tomorrow he might just settle down, until then he just keeps moving on
Well since no one was looking, Lisa and I thought we'd cross over to the other side and add another country to the list!! Granted, it doesn't reall count unless you spend the night, but what the hey. Oh, this is also the overland truck buddy who's nose I smashed out on the last day of the trip white water rafter the Zambezi at Victoria Falls (if you've been following ). Sorry again Lisa!!
We were also able to scrounge some ballons and have a great big birthday bash for Charlotte our guide. Though she did bake her own cake - she looks awfully afriad, is there something she should have told us about it!? And the party didn't stop there, had everybody back to my leaky-ass tent for the after disco party!!
I seem to have gotten the worst pick of the tent bunch, it leaked every rainy night which was most since it was rainy season and we had at least one solid shower a night. I became an expert in different rain shield configurations and adapting to the local flora for maximum rain protection. Would usually pack away all my kit in my water proof dry bag that acted as my backpack throughout - so even if I woke up on my matt surrounded by water my bag would float by with all my belongings safe and sound. Note: keep that damn zipper shut, or your tent will instantly become a mosquito hive. No stumbling in drunk to pass out before zipping it shut, as my good circumnavigator friend Spencer well advised me! Otherwise, it's a one way trip to cerebral malaria that no amount of oral prophylactic'll be able to prophylatize.
Speaking of water, comes a pretty cool part of the trip: the Okavanga Delta
It's again one of those tremendously in the middle of nowhere places in the world. Sure, sure, you could fly there in a few hours. But I had a great big red circle on the map for the Delta - I had pictured crossing half a continent on my motorcycle just to be lose myself in nowhere. No motorcycle, but on the truck after over 2 weeks it's anywhere but accesible. We jump in the back of a truck with limited kit and our tents to be taken to the base camp, from where we load up in mokoros (the canoes) to be paddled out through what seem to be impenetrable channels in a neverending marsh. We break out into great open lakes and shoot back into the reeds, until we get to our bush camp island.
This is real ass wilderness. Hippos attacked the group ahead of us and the poler fended off one toe to toe with his pole. The rag tag group that found their way back to base camp had to call in the Botswana Army in order to evacuate those stranded still in the Delta, staulked by bloodthirsty hippos. There are big cats and big animals.
I made sure the bush toilet wasn't ever too far away
Good times in the Delta!! Singing and dancing. Good fishing. Big BIG Baobab tress - my favourite tree : You can eat the reeds. We even challenged the polers to Delta water polo a few afternoons, but it all ended in tears when Charlotte was set up by leaches
Hey, wait . Shhhhh. What's that..?
Dems be the falls!!
There's either a big fence or a giant froth and mist filled chasm that keeps you at some distance. But as you walk along the path opposite the falls the air fills with wet and by the time you reach the suicide lookout you are drenched through past your petticoats. Honestly - like you just jumped in a pool wet. I couldn't take any pictures, bar the necessary momento polaroid, because it would have killed my camera.
Spent the next day river rafting and breaking noses
before jumping on the night train to Bulawayo in southern Zimbabwe. There's more that can be said about Zimbabwe at this time I had some expectations cause times are hard there. But I was surprised at how normal Bulawayo was and how terrifically tidy it was. There's a pretty groovy art scene there and later picked up some very coolio Zim carvings in Jo'berg on the way out. Could finally get some GOOD coffee there as well - COFFEEEE!! It had been awhile. I only had a few days before needing to get back to Jo'berg for my flight home to London.
Only got out into the coutryside once to visit the ruins of a once great Zim kingdom - hello!
one last African sunset. Den it was home.
dat's it, all done
People keep asking me I must have had an amazing time! Well, kinda. Good days and bad days. Nothing went according to plan - fortunately, I didn't have much of a plan to begin with. I didn't really know what I was doing
But, boy, I sure as heck'll know how to do it THE NEXT TIME!!
( queue ominous silence from Mandy)