East Africa -DONE

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March 15th 2016
Published: March 15th 2016
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Yes I survived 2.5 months in East Africa, cycling 4000 kms around Lake Victoria, through Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda before re-entering Kenya from the west, and from Uganda. After 1 day of rest, I flew back to Tanzania in company with a friend, Brian, who I first met on the Silk Route in 2014. The Tanzanian return was so that we could attempt the climb of Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet. We were successful in our climb, taking 7 days to reach the summit, in darkness at 5.55am. The temperature was -7c and we had been climbing for 7 hours, leaving the campsite at 11pm, after having had only 2 hours sleep in 24 hours. Following this successful climb, we flew onto Zanzibar, an island located off the Tanzanian coast. It is ruled by the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar, effectively an autonomous region, although under the flag of Tanzania. For centuries it was an state governed firstly by the Sultan of Oman, and later as a sultanate established by the son of the Omani Sultan. It was very exotic, a riot of colour and bustle and VERY HOT. The bike tour was challenging at times, 70% of roads were dusty, loose gravel, many roads were washed out and the gradients were steep. We ascended over 55,000 metres over 45 cycling days. I rode 40 days, which was quite enough, having a few rest days on the support vehicle. There was 35 riders in total, 7 riders were EFI, ( Every Fn Inch) in the vernacular!! The weather was generally kind, although we had a few showery days at the outset, but not enough rain to make it miserable. Whilst the tour was solely in equatorial Africa, loosely circling Lake Victoria, the temperatures were not extreme, most days low 30s. Most of the riding was at an elevation of about 1000 metres which assisted with cooler temps. Border crossings were mostly straight forward, with an average 2 hour process. Money changing was a hassle as we were surrounded by hustling local money changers whose rates varied throughout discussion. The money was grubby and looked, felt and smelt as if it had been hidden in the owner's underwear, if they wore them!! Luckily most of us had antiseptic gel to wash hands with before we ate! East African food is somewhat tasteless, vegetables overcooked, meat stringy and tough and far too little of it. The tour was conducted by a Dutch company and half the riders were Dutch. Individually most were likeable, but on mass, very loud, blunt to the point of rudeness, unhygienic around the meal and food tables (using fingers and hands to pick food off serving plates). The cook was a skinny,vegetarian,opinionated dutchman, who prepared tasteless food, not enough and to little protein or calories, but who had an obsession with poor deserts. No tip for him, or in fact anyone, as no effort made beyond their allocated duty. Just as well internet was sparse, as otherwise I would have annoyed you with overwhelming criticism!! Food away from the company was also uninspiring. The fruit and veg in the markets was often badly bruised, past a use by date or unripened! Saw very little evidence of East African coffee, Kenyan, Tanzanian or Ethiopian, mainly Nescafe in a bottle! Consumed probably too much coca cola, usually warm, but needed the sugar. Some of the Africans in the street side stores were chatty, and at each stop I was inevitably surrounded by hordes of kids and bored men. Vigilance was required to ensure nothing was taken from the bike. A few lost computers, drink bottles, and other odds and sods. We were the Muzungoes ( white people) and the refrain was " Muzungooooooes, Give me money". There were highlights, and I thought Bike Dreams planned the rest days in good locations enabling interesting side tours to be undertaken. The first major rest period, 7 days after commencement was 3 days near the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, in Tanzania. Brian and I and two others hired a vehicle and driver and went on safari, a Swahili word in case you didn't know, and which is the the language of East Africa. We stayed in tented accommodation with bathroom facilities, very civilised after our own tents. Saw 3 of the big five animals, Lion, Elephant, Buffalo with the Rhino and Leopard remaining elusive. Additionally saw Hyena,Hippo, Monkey varieties, Zebra,Giraffe, Wildebeest ( observed them in migration, an amazing sight, in the 100s, however weeks earlier they were migrating in the 100s of thousands), wild dogs, many variety of Elands, impala, buzzards, colourful bird life. All were roaming freely. Apparently the most human deaths are caused by angry buffalo and hippo. The Serengeti is the home of the Masai tribes, tall thin people, very dark skinned dressed in colourful robes and blankets, who value their worth by the number and condition of their cattle, and to a lesser extent, their goat herds. We headed west across Tanzania to Rwanda. I wasn't really sad to be leaving Tanzania, as it was a very poor country, the people in the west were dressed in rags, were unwashed and had little self respect and were somewhat aggressive in attitude. I realise this sounds harsh, but the people weren't overly friendly and the roads were shocking. We crossed into Rwanda, and immediately the country, people and roads were superior and much better. The people were proud, clean and all seemed fulfilled by employment. This was a country destroyed by Genocide less than 20 years ago when 1 million out of a population of 8 million were murdered in racial cleansing, encouraged by the Catholic Church, the Belgians and the UN. A visit to the Genocide museum in Kigali, the capital, explained the actions or inactions of these parties, and the history of the Hutu and Tutsi people. Rwanda is exceedingly mountainous and the two and a half weeks we spent riding were energetic. The scenery was superb, although a mist pervaded most days. The nights were cool and the dew was heavy, often the tent seemed wetter, than after a rain shower. The capital Kigali is modern and was where we needed to collect our permits to visit the Gorillas, fittingly in the mist. Two days north, near the border with Uganda, we visited the mountains, home to about 20 gorilla families. Each family is comprised of a large male, the Silverback, younger males equally large, at about 800 pounds, a harem of female gorillas, about 10, and juveniles up to age 5yrs. The visitors are assigned a family, along with trackers who have known the family over a few years. This settles the Gorillas. Once teamed with your guides, you trek into the jungle, generally about 30 mins. However our gorilla family had decided this day to descend into the crater, about once per year. Initially, the jungle was impenetrable, the crater was hidden. We searched for about 3 hours before our first distant sighting. The guides insisted on getting closer, which involved hacking thick vines, grasping both vines and stinging nettles to avoid falling up to 15 metres into the crater. Death felt close. Everyone was anxious, exhausted and fed up. Then suddenly, a male Gorilla appeared, perhaps 10 metres away. The group, 6 people were hushed and over the next 70 mins, the entire Gorilla family joined us, one even rubbing its body along my leg. Up close these animals are huge. A punch from the silverback packs 800 kgs of pressure, more than 2 heavyweight prize fighters. They have very liquid brown eyes and seem harmless, but constant reminders from the guide made us respectful. A member of our group, not a biker, an overweight Australian woman developed chest pains and needed to be rescued, a huge task involving a stretcher and 4 porters, who carried her down steep declines, through tunnels of bamboo, unknown to us, but covered by thick spiders webs and spiders. Thankfully we were looking down, the lady on the stretcher was looking up at them!! She got safely to the bottom and was able to join her vehicle for the trip back to her hotel Uganda followed Rwanda, again a very hilly country, seemingly much poorer than Rwanda, and perhaps poorer than Tanzania, very dry and dusty, rotten roads and in the grip of an election which was to be held on the day of arrival in Kampala, the capital. The president has been in power 30 years and is reluctant to depart the scene, despite earlier saying that he would. He has been highly respected and assumed power after Idi Amin and Milton Obote, both despots, responsible for the deaths of thousands. The election was held and the President won again. Little violence though, although there was some questionable practices reported. We camped at Queen Elizabeth Nat. Park opened by royal visit in the mid fifties. Here Hippos at night wandered the camp, elephants were also seen wandering close by. Very exciting. The lodge was magnificent and I spent my rest day most enjoyably at the bar and using fast internet! After Kampala, the worst traffic and city roads I have ever experienced on any of my past travels, we road to Jinja, the home of wild white water rafting on the headwaters of the Blue Nile where it starts from Lake Victoria. I went rafting, a Cat 6 river and rapids, the hardest I learned.The water flow was fast, the water deep, so the rocks supposedly wouldn't be as dangerous!! On a huge rapid, the boat flipped all occupants bar the tillerman and our 90% blind biker into the water. Not so bad as the water was refreshing. Our blind biker is Michel, the most inspiring man I have encountered. He has vision of only 5%, rode every kilometre with the aid of a cycling companion, sitting on his rear wheel, navigating harsh road conditions, potholes, water ruts, thick dust and slippery gravel. In fact they were the two fastest cyclists. Michel was Belgian and Rin was Dutch. They have partnered on journeys previously and were equally inspiring, humble, humorous, and made you realize peoples resilience. After Uganda we reentered Kenya, perhaps the worst roads of the journey, although a few very scenic camp sites. Mem was going to join me here and we were intending to visit some game parks, however after considerable frustration with trying to organise tours we gave up and Mem went to Paris! I feel this was a good decision although I think we would have enjoyed Amboseli Game Park. Lake Naivasha which we had intended visiting for the Flamingoes, as it turned out hasn't seen flamingoes for a few years due to rising alkalinity of the lake. This would have been a major disappointment for us. Returning to Nairobi after 8 weeks was a relief. Again I managed the ride without a puncture, the only cyclist, nor any mechanical issues. You wouldn't credit it, but after laying the bike down to celebrate arrival and drinks, when I returned to collect the bike 2 hours later, the rear wheel was flat!! I boxed it after extensive cleaning and will deliver it to my bike shop for servicing and tyre change!! Cleaning the bike took 3 hours, so hopefully it will satisfy the Aus. Quarantine inspectors on arrival. After a day off (cleaning the bike), Brian and I flew to Kilimanjaro to start our ascent the following day. We chose the Lemosho trek, 8 days up and back, and the track most likely to result in ascent. 35% don't reach the summit. The trek was usually about 6 hours hiking everyday, pole pole (slowly slowly) to facilitate better acclimatisation. The camps were stony, cold at night, and busy with other climbers, this was the last climb of the season, before the onset of the rains and snow. The weather affected everyones' bladders, resulting in everyone being overwhelmed by the starry nights, which were spectacular. Most afternoons it clouded over, sometimes it showered, but every evening it cleared brilliantly. On the night of our ascent, thankfully the sky was clear, as my headlamp ran out of battery power due to the cold, as did my spares, yet it remained possible to see with the night sky. As I have said we summited before 6am and sunrise. When the daybreak occurred we had incredible views over 2 glaciers at the summit and a brilliant sunrise. Daylight also revealed the huge drop offs either side of the track. Wandering more than a foot offline would have been very nasty!! The descent was fast, painful on the knees and toes, but equally exhilarating. We returned to Arusha. Tanzania for a well earned cold beer or four, hot chips and pizza, anything other than Tanzanian food!! The following day Brian and I flew to Zanzibar, very exotic, very touristy in Stone Town, the capital, very busy, reminiscent of Marrakech in Morocco. The old town twisted with narrow paths, some interesting buildings, smells of cooking food, the call of Imams, 98% Muslim, and welcoming shopkeepers. The street scenes were a riot of colour, the waterside cafes sold cold beer and average food, but had beautiful water views. It is only 90 minutes by ferry from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's biggest city. A few days rest was a great way to end what was a very gruelling and arduous tour of East Africa. I am very happy to have done it, survived, and have many great memories. I am now back in Nairobi, looking to join Mem in Abu Dhabi in two days time, for a few days, before back to the GC. Brian resumes his bike travels, cycling a further 6000 kms to Cape Town before meeting his wife. I am NOT envious! I wish him well.

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15th March 2016

Well Roger - you have done it again. What a brilliant achievement and I loved the way you "just" climbed Kilimanjaro at the end. I had been wondering how you were getting on but assumed poor internet, The cycling sounds tough but as you say what an experience. As I may have mentioned I have been to Kenya and your description brought back many happy memories. We actually took a hot air balloon across the Serengeti and saw the 1000's of Wildebeest you describe migrating. Didn't see any Gorillas though and that part of the trip sounds a real highlight. Debbie has climbed Kilimanjaro too although had not cycled for the 40 days preceding it ! So what next for you ? It will be hard to beat the adventures that you have been having. My end I had sad news while you were away in that my mother died. She was 89 and her dementia was deteriorating so it was the right time for her but I was very close to her and am obviously sad. Still it does now free me up to have longer holidays although I do not have the desire let alone the ability to participate in such mammoth cycles as the one you have just completed. I am off to Mallorca this Thursday for 4 days cycling with the "lads" prior to the across France cycle in May. Debbie and i are also off to Japan and for a brief spell South Korea in October/ November. We are also planning spending 6 weeks or so in the Caribbean in January ( the weather might be somewhat nicer than in the UK then ). Talking of the UK I think you mentioned that you might be over in London some time in the summer in which case it would be good to meet up. We could even go for a cycle although I think you will have to go for a 50 miler before I set off just to wear you out a little. Anyway really impressed with your achievement and hopefully see you soon. Peter
16th March 2016

Hi Peter, thanks for your email. Internet was the issue, but writing at the end kept the negative thoughts at bay! Sorry to learn about your mother's demise. Her health didn't sound very good, but it is always difficult losing someone close to you. Plans are afoot to cycle up the Andes in May, then trek from Cusco to Machu Pichu. 3 weeks in total, then maybe some travel in Brazil,Argentina and Chile for a month if I can persuade Merilyn. My daughter Georgina is relocating to London in July for 2 years. We are contemplating a visit in December. Will be in contact when details are firm. Nothing in the summer! Your plans sound exciting, have fun. The fellow Brian I mentioned is also thinking of Mallorica, he and his wife would like to buy a hostel and feel it would be a great place. They currently live in a cold part of Canada. I am going for a job interview(????) back on the Gold Coast next week. A moment of idelirium. I'll let you know the outcome. It may knobble my travels for a while if it eventuates. Best to you both Roger
15th March 2016

Amazing trip dad!! Great to read about it and see some photos - can't believe how close you got to the animals!! The sunrise from the top of the climb looks great! Looking forward to seeing you soon!! Xxx
16th March 2016

Hi George, glad you enjoyed the photos and blog. I am looking forward to seeing you soon. What are your Easter pkans? Love dad xxx
18th March 2016

Brilliant!! That was a story & a half, & enjoyed every written word!! I hope you do a photo book journal, as I would live to see it all put together!! What a journey, what sights, what inspiration as well. I'm so proud of you Roger, you go out and do things that many people only sit and dream if or dit & watch in TV. So so happy that you are following your passion & experiencing life!! Hope you make it home for Easter! Looking forward to seeing all the photos specially on top of Kilimanjaro!! Be safe, see you soon!! Love bub & mark xx

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