Throughout my bicycle ride around the world from China to Canada, I came to the grand realization that we are all very much alike. However, our locations, cultures and views threaten to divide us. They threaten to make us feel like we are different. That our common man or women are removed from our current reality. That we are somehow better than someone else by mere circumstance. These are dangerous notions which only perpetuate the feelings expressed behind the glass wall of social media forums or news programs.
We are all very much alike in our personal wants and desires. If you take away the money, greed and power, the root of the humanity can be found in a few basic needs. The need for food on the table, sanitation, access to healthcare, clean water, shelter and opportunity. Beyond these basic necessities, we all want to feel love and connection. A connection to family and friends. To call a few people our close ones. To feel that returning feeling of love, forgiveness and warmth.
We all deserve access to these basic and affectionate sides of the human experience. We can help people achieve the basic pieces of the puzzle, but the soulful side is in the hands of the individual. Share that individuality on a local and global scale.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ~ Ralph Emerson, Writer
The sun cracks over the walled green horizon. In the morning glow, the Maasai Mara comes to life. Roosters make their morning call, donkey’s neigh and the chatter of women can be heard in the distance. One of the oldest areas of human life begins another day. A life of simplicity, family and challenge.
The little things are but part of the daily existence called life. Words like water, food and shelter. We call these words basic rights, but for many these are in top priority for the day. The morning chores, the weight of the water bucket, the cleaning and preparation of available food are part of a greater effort being enacted here.
Arriving back in Kenya was one of those experiences which drove me down a tunnel of introspective nostalgia. I have now accepted a position at WE Charity as a Motivational Outreach Speaker. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity. It will be a unique chance to share my story of cycling around the world with youth and adults alike across Canada and the US, while promoting the sustainable development work of WE Charity. Though leaving my position as a Teacher after finishing my bike ride was difficult, it is an opportunity I could not turn down. I am incredibly proud and excited to share this news.
The new position prompted my return to Kenya on the biannual staff trip. It was in this capacity I could gain a stronger perspective of the work being done on an international scale, come to understand the programs in place and meet some of my new colleagues. It would give me an opportunity to give back to the communities I partnered with nearly two years ago.
As we drove out to the Maasai Mara, I relived my cycling route out towards Narok. Rolling along the hilly landscape that winds out of Nairobi, I found myself retracing my steps. I saw ghosts of conversations I had along the way. A shop where I had a broken bracket welded and a bottled Pepsi rest spot sped on by as my eyes wandered.
One spot in particular stood out as we stopped at the view point over the Great Rift Valley. The cradle of life lay before me once again. It was Canada Day July 1st, 2015 that I stopped there to have a bite of lunch and a view. Moments later a bus load of Canadians stopped by and I was able to share an afternoon break with some people from home. This was one of the more memorable look out points on my entire trip, not just because of the view, but because of the historical as well as the personal significance the valley represents. There I snapped the same picture and returned to our ME to WE lorry with a smile where new friendships were forming.
Arriving at camp was a welcome experience, getting to know our wonderful facilitators, Maasai guides and more team members. Over the next week we would eat, work and learn together. It was an action packed ten days at camp. We learned about the history, culture and challenges of life in Kenya, particularly for the Kipsigis and Maasai peoples. Here we made new bonds and came to understand the stark differences that separate our world. Access to water, food, education, healthcare and opportunity were always at the forefront.
“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” ~ Warren Buffett, Business Magnate
Throughout the week a variety of activities were designed to give you a sense of the daily reality people endure. We participated in traditional water walks where lugging a huge jug of water back from the nearest river is the norm. This experience gives you a deep understanding of how precious water is when taking into account the wastefulness of our Canadian brothers and sisters. If we had to walk a kilometre with a large bucket of water on our backs five to ten times a day, we would all reconsider our use of water.
We beaded like the Mama artisans who participate in the opportunity pillar projects making a wide variety of fair trade items for sale through ME to WE. You learn how important these types of empowerment projects are in the lives of the local people. It allows them to send their kids to school, buy medicines and provide for their families in a way that was previously impossible.
These projects are supplemented by ‘merry-go-round’ initiatives which enable women as well as men to make investments into larger items in their household or community through a roundabout style collection and distribution of money. Basically, everyone puts in $10 and eventually it will be there turn to use $100 or more for something that would improve their lives. It is amazing what these people can accomplish with a simple hand-up. It is not a handout, but a hand-up to create sustainable change for future generations.
During the trip we had a variety of local entertainers join us. We went on a safari drive deep in game reserve territory where we saw elephants, zebras, gazelles, warthogs, buffalo wildebeest, giraffes, vultures, hyenas and even watched a huge pod of hippos while eating bagged lunches. We participated in weapons training where we launched arrows and threw traditional Maasai weapons called rungus into the afternoon heat. There was a rungu making session as well as Swahili lessons.
There were two huge ceremonies for the surrounding communities while we were in Kenya. The opening of the boys High School was a huge highlight and a massive step forward for education in the community. We also got to experience the graduation ceremony at the Kisaruni girls High School. Of all the groups of young learners I have ever met in my life, these are the most dedicated, mature, strong and powerful young ladies I have ever met. When I first had the opportunity to meet these girls I was blown away by their enthusiasm and often thought about how often we take education for granted back in Canada.
For myself, one of the most amazing aspects was visiting the Baraka Hospital, especially the surgical wing. When I was in Kenya a year and a half ago the surgical wing of the beautiful Baraka hospital was only a foundation. During my time there I participated in laying some cement in the work site. At the time it was difficult to envision what the end product would look like. Seeing the finished product and realizing the greater picture of change it would enact is hard to describe. When people travel hours down bumpy roads to get to a hospital only to be told they had to again travel another few hours to a hospital which offers surgical procedures, must be crushingly difficult. Soon, that will no longer be the case with the surgical wing opening in February.
The list of experiences and accomplishments goes on. The work being realized by WE Charity in Kenya is truly inspiring and difficult to accurately describe in full. All of the projects are interconnected to one another. The model of sustainable development has been put in place to a point where life events are coming full circle. People who went through the school system in communities which are now independent have gone off to university and returned to become teachers that give back to the community they grew up in.
The work here is truly changing and improving lives on a daily basis. It is something I am very proud to attach my name to. Helping communities rediscover their independence through projects they can be proud of has shaped future generations to come. Of the many communities WE Charity has partnered with, many are now completed independent. They have worked to a point where they function as a sustainable unit through the projects that have been implemented. They work under the sustainable model that empowers people through empowering them with education, healthcare, water, food and opportunity programs.
As I transition into my new role as a Motivational Speaker with WE Charity, I thank all of the people who have supported my ride. I thank those that have donated to make a difference in the lives of the people in the communities we sponsored in rural China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. I thank most of all my wonderful wife, family and friends for being there through it all and helping me get to this point. I am now doing my best to live the message I have been promoting for over the last two years. Speaking for WE will allow me to get that message out there to a much later audience. For that I am eternally grateful for the people at WE Charity. I am so excited to join a team of intensely passionate and energetic people at WE. Together, through challenge and change, we can have a lasting impact on our world.
*I look forward to continuing to share my adventures on here as my new exciting role with WE Charity begins. I will keep updates rolling as I develop my new speech and take to schools across Canada and the US.
**If you are curious to read about my original time cycling through Kenya, please feel free to CLICK HERE.
***If you haven’t had a peek you can watch my GoPro cycling journey around the world at the bottom of this post.
2-Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
A Three Minute Read
(NOT INCLUDING THE VIDEO BELOW)
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch, Author
Looking back at old clips from my journey around the world, it transports me to a different time. It evokes a feeling of wonder inside, at all I went through to reach my final goal. Now looking back, it has all started to feel like a dream from yesterday’s past. Going through the thousands of hours of footage, one of the most important messages continues to jump out at me. It was always about what was in-between and never about the destination. I am happy that I learned this lesson very early on. Looking back on these videos of challenging, bright, tiring and beautiful days, I can honestly say it was worth it all.
Please take a look at my cycling video around the world. It was shot on my GoPro Hero 3+ and my DSLR Camera. For two years I kept the same mount and recorded it whenever I was able to do so. I have used those thousands of hours of footage and compiled it into a single video. I take you on a first person perspective journey around the world. Through 40 countries and five continents, from China back to Canada. Enjoy the wonder that this is our world. The struggle, strength and power of the human experience. A tour on two wheels.
The Video: 2 Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
*We totally did it. The ultimate goal of $50,000 to help build five schools in five different countries around the world is complete. Now that we have met our goal for the fifth schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua, the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity) are working on a full update. This review will include all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is a big update so it will take a bit of time. Once it is out I will be sharing it will all of my sponsors. Thank you everyone!
**You can see the completed donation page for yourself by CLICKING HERE.
***I will be condensing the video into a more succinct version for future presentations and speaking engagements, complete with all of my own music. In the meantime, you can check out videos, articles and podcasts on my ‘Media’ page HERE.
****If you are interested in learning more about my new side project, making healthy and delicious original recipe ‘Chicken Jerky’. CLICK HERE to check out my new website.
“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Writer/Historian
With over $30,000 raised, the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya is now under construction. I cannot thank everyone enough who rose to the call and gave what they were able. Together we are making dreams come true for young learners in different parts of the world. We have now accomplished building a school in Guangming, China and the second schoolhouse in Verdara, India is now underway. I am without words. When I look back at my humble dreams of making a difference in the education of tomorrows youth, I would have never expected this. Simply getting on a bike everyday and going for a ride, has given young children the opportunity for a better future. The dream of having a memorable childhood is the gift we are giving. Seeing the smiling faces in these communities is all the thank you we can ever need.
My next hope is an additional $10,000 and a schoolhouse for the children in Shuid, Ecuador. I know working together we can achieve this. Together we are powerful. Together we are strong. We can make a difference. We have already proven that. Giving others hope and a better life is one of the best feelings in the world. We are already off to a great start thanks to wonderful donations by Eleanor Glenn and the Rutherford family. Below is a look at Shuid, Ecuador. Some of the accomplishments, needs and details about the community are listed here. I hope to visit the site in the coming months, as I make my way up South America. Together our potential is limitless. We may not change the entire world, but at least we can give hope and alter the course of someone’s life forever. This is what it is all about.
“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~ Brian Tracy, Author
To make a difference in the world is not about throwing money at a problem and looking away. It is about extending your hand when someone else is down. When they are out in the cold both figuratively and literally. It is easy to forget about people worlds over or turn the channel. Those with the smallest voices need the most help. The people that just want to live in peace. My experiences throughout my journey are amazingly positive. If you open yourself to the world, you never know who you will meet. The people that had the least always seemed to give the most. When a little is a lot. When times are tough and they were still about to help. The places you’d at least expect kindness were the most giving. This world never ceases to inspire me. Something to think about:
Feels like Home
We closed up and left our shop,
We walked away, with no more talk.
Stealing away under darkened care,
Together we walked all the way there.
The heat rose from the daytime light,
While familiar noises banged in the night.
We took what we could drag, roll or carry,
We did it together, even if it was scary.
Arriving was not a typical scene,
“You’re a refugee.” What does that mean?
A girl I met had the same story,
There were no more bells, no more glory.
We waited in that place forever it seemed,
We talked knee to knee, in small spaces I dreamed.
Reports came in, they were always bleak,
There was no place to go, no shelter to seek.
Inside the gates, caught between curled spikes,
Out of mind and out of sight.
We finally got news of something good,
We packed our few things, happily with Mom and Dad I stood.
Boarding a big plane, it rumbled up high,
Into the night we flew, below dark as the sky.
“Where are we going?” I asked my Dad,
Looking off in the distance, a little sad.
He smiled and said “Somewhere beautiful where we can live free.”
“Welcome to Canada!” The man greeted happily.
I nodded and thought, “Feels like home to me.”
Pieces of people walk,
They pass and they glow.
Open books, filled up with talk.
Hopeful we all know,
Know that there is more.
Lifestyles built on a hollow core.
We pass on open roads,
Practical and passive,
Bearing secret loads.
The gap grows, it is massive.
Plugged into lives dictated to be free,
While invisible forces of spirit divide you and me.
We trowel for diamonds in the dirt,
Searching with broken tools and sun cracked eyes.
Amid all the shroud of veiled hurt,
A child’s voice muffled, silencing all their old cries.
Goals lost to political treason,
Hate falls, halting all for no reason.
Flickers of light stain the side of turned faces,
As unwanted feelings bubble deep inside.
Complacent looks shrug away the traces,
Moods dampened, that we easily hide.
Distractions come by the many, they are plenty.
Not my problem anymore,
Call it someone else’s war.
This is dedicated to all of the heroes who have made my journey every bit possible. To all the people who have opened their homes, lives and hearts to me. I am forever grateful. For every bit of freedom you gave me and all of the hardship you saved me from. Thank you for allowing me to show that the world is a good place. Thank you for reminding a guy on a bike, wherever I go, there will be kind people. I encourage those all over the world to look inside and reach out to people in need. Please welcome those the same way you would want to be. We are all of the same world. Just like you. Just like me. Just like us.
To join the cause and help give the children of Shuid, Ecuador a safe place to learn, CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Here is a recent article by Stacey Roy about my ride and charity from my hometown paper. A big thank you to all of my supporters back home! CLICK HERE TO READ.
“Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian Poet
The idea of becoming has been on my mind lately. As we grow we change. We move forward through different parts of our lives. We become sons, daughters, teenagers, adults and the elderly. Throughout our lives we have labels. They are placed on us without our consent. This is what we are, but not who we are. Later we can choose what we want to become. To become a chef, doctor or waiter. To become an amazing spouse, parent or friend. To be an ear to listen, a voice of reason or the responsible one. The slouch, drunkard or solicitor. We can be many combinations of these things. We can become anything we want, with the cooperation of mind, body and heart.
We change at different stages of our lives and have the ability to become more than we were before, or slip into obscurity. On the contemplative days on the bike, I look back with disbelief on parts of my life. Comments made as a child or recent transgressions. It is important not to regret but learn from past experiences. To move forward and grow. To become better. We must work as individuals as as a society to reach new levels of social development. To become the people we were meant to be. Growing as a whole.
As I left Africa and headed for South America, I had a lot to reflect on. The journey down had been anything but easy. It did however give me deeper perspective on the nature of our people and a continent that is often forgotten, avoided or stereotyped. The journey from Cairo to Cape Town left me feeling like anything is possible. It prepared me for the final leg of my journey. Toughening up my inner resolve to persevere and remember my goals. To ride for the charity, challenge and change I initially set out for. Looking at the map and the intrepid route home was a bit daunting. It would be hard and trying all the same. Each day is what you make of it and I was ready for the next challenge.
“One must harden without ever losing tenderness.” ~ Che Guevara, Argentina Revolutionary
I arrived in Buenos Aires from Cape Town after a roundabout flight pattern. I elected to fly instead of searching for a boat. I am happy with this choice given my present circumstance. I did this due to costs, time, motivational time-lapse and seasonal logistics. That night in Buenos Aires I found myself putting the pieces of my bicycle together at 11pm after being dumped off downtown from 42 hours of travel. A new land, language and beautiful challenge lay ahead. I biked off in search of my bed for the night.
While procuring travel visas for Brazil and Paraguay I spent some time exploring Buenos Aires. A bustling capital city with beautiful architecture. I enjoyed walking around the many parks and sitting around looking at beautiful cathedrals. During this time there was an upcoming federal election. The Argentinians’ are quite passionate about their politics I came to see. One day I found myself watching drums, trumpets and umbrella toting flag wavers from a high balcony. Everyone was kind of stopping to watch all the noise as the street filled with flyers of the next candidate.
Soon after I was off riding north towards Uruguay. Choosing my route through South America was not easy. There were a few locations I wanted to see very much and I based it on that. The route is always changing, but built on the same basic principles. It was a clean slate and I promised to ride it without any lifts. On the bicycle you are limited in your direction and you cannot have it all. Backpackers seem to flit about on 17 hour bus rides from one sight to the next. What I see and love is what is in between. The things most people miss and the experiences I gain from it. It has never been about the main sights, but the journey itself. The sights are but waypoints on the map. Placeholders and times for a break. I set out with that same old foundation of ideas that has got me to where I am today.
Leaving Buenos Aires on a Sunday morning was a relatively pleasant experience. Traffic was extremely low and the sky was a cloudy cool grey. After a good days ride, I found myself on a country road leading to Campana. I smiled at some unexpected nature and pressed on. Spending the first night with a welcoming young guy named Facu we chatted through broken English and Google translations. I made a promise to myself to truly begin taking Spanish seriously as a personal goal for this trip. The following morning we rode out of the city together towards a massive bridge. Facu waved goodbye and I was on my own again through rolling land punctuated by little streams and lakes.
I spent the first few days in Argentina camping out in nice campsites and eating really delicious sandwiches. I was enjoying the bit of tranquil riding before the real hectic sections of South America began. On one occasion I arrived after dark into a campsite and was welcomed to a bit of Argentinian style barbecue called ‘Asado’. Argentina proved itself to be a very developed, safe and a welcoming beginning to my South America ride.
On one day I pushed too hard with a 150km day and felt a strain on my knee. When I woke up the following day I felt a feeling I hadn’t experienced in a long while. A sheering pain in my left knee kept my days fairly short. At one point I wondered if that was it. Would I need to pack it all in because of a strained knee? I wouldn’t let that happen. Crossing the bridge at Colon I passed over into Uruguay for a bit of exploration while pedaling with one leg. I took a day off, explored the cobbled hilly avenues of Paysandú and rested my knee.
“I’m not the poorest president. The poorest is the one who needs a lot to live. My lifestyle is a consequence of my wounds. I’m the son of my history. There have been years when I would have been happy just to have a mattress.” ~ José Mujica, Former Uruguayan President
(Jose Mujica is one of the most fasincating people I have ever read about. Giving 90% of his wealth away and living on a farm down a dirt road. His country is a testament to his recent achievements and mindset. Read an article about President Mujica HERE)
Now that I am into the thick of chaos I reflect with great romanticism on my days of cycling Uruguay. The hills were rolling, low and slow. The temperature was wonderful with a gentle push from the wind. Camping was welcome mostly everywhere and people were superb. Things simply worked smoothly and there is a certain fluidity about daily life. No one seems particularly stressed out. Sometimes as I ride I feel the energy of the people run off on me. I am now becoming a combination of the many people who have accepted me at their tables and into their lives. I feel a strong sense of belonging in this world. A piece that fits almost anywhere. In every country I have been to, I try to picture myself living there in some way or another. What I might do or who I would be. I always end up being myself in the end. I’ll always feel a connection to the places I’ve rolled through and the people who welcomed me.
One day I asked a family to camp in their yard and they eagerly received me. Unfortunately, the repairs to my tent had given out and two of my poles snapped. The son was an enthusiast of fixing all things and we put together some repairs to get my tent standing. His work still holds up in the strongest winds. The following morning I joined his mother for breakfast. She was completely distraught when she burnt my toast. I told her it didn’t matter and happily ate it. I rode off on my merry way with black teeth. Beautiful stretches of farmland gave way to tiny towns with nice parks and plazas. In Uruguay things simply work. Life is pretty comfortable for the most part and life exudes a style of relative tranquility in the persona of the population. They sip stimulating hot mate on the street in social circles and laugh in cafés over litre bottles of beer. Read about the wonders of ‘Yerba Mate’ HERE.
From Salta I made my way through the sparsely populated northern region with roaming farmland and wild camping for the taking. I was cautious on my weak left knee and took my time to explore the countryside as I rolled forward. I arrived in the border town of Bella Union on a Sunday with a pesky broken spoke. In Latin America little goes on during a Sunday and most shops are closed tight. I stopped a man who was on a bike and he led me to the nearest bicycle mechanics house, who we appeared to have woken up. Clearly this was his day off as he unlocked the shop. He didn’t seem to care and got to work on my bike. When I tried to pay he wouldn’t accept it. I pedaled off from another act of kindness and devoured the biggest burger I’ve ever seen after many days of plain pasta. I will leave the story there, as I crossed the bridge to Brazil and a new land loomed in the distance.
*We are now $500 away from reaching our goal for the school in Esinoni, Kenya. Looking back at the beginning of my journey, I am amazed with all we have achieved and the impact we have had on the communities we have helped in China, India and Kenya. Updates to come soon on progresss & development. Together we can enact great change. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**At the moment I have made it to Villamontes, Bolivia after crossing the length of Paraguay through the sparsely populated, difficult and beautiful Chaco region. I look forward to sharing stories of these days in the coming weeks. I’ve cycled over 3,000km of South America so far and right now it is time for a rest. Thank you for reading and please continue to follow along!
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” ~ Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter/Politician
There comes a time when we must make decisions in our lives. Crossroads present themselves in a sea of uncertainty. Sometimes decisions are quick and without thought. Others linger for weeks and plague mental patterns day and night. If we value change or growth, these moments come with some frequency. These decisions mould us, shape our present reality and the roads which bring us to the next junction. We are never the same person twice. The goals which we once had years, months and even weeks back, may seem like frivolous bothers in the present. They look like minor deviations from the whirlwind of our daily lives. However, everything culminates during daily micro-decisions to bring us to new avenues of opportunity.
Letting worry take over and cloud your modern reality is a needless distraction to the bigger picture. I’m sure we would find it hard to look back and remember with fondness on our most recent worries. It is much easier and positive to look back on moments of nostalgia, even if they weren’t that great at the time. On a bicycle journey, there is a surplus of time to think. I’ve put in a great deal of time contemplating and arrived at a few conclusions. They are apparent in my present state. If you want something bad enough, you’ll chase after it, I know I have. The end is not reached with the rabbit, but only leads to another series of holes. Enjoy the hunt.
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” ~ Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country
It was an early morning entrance to Botswana. Another country with new sets of rules and geography. For the first time in months it was flat. I entered from the Plum Tree border station and rode on fumes to Francistown. Relaxing in the shade I made a forward plan towards South Africa. With the wide shoulder and a relatively uninteresting section of road ahead, I decided to make my break. Putting in my longest day in Africa of 176 kilometres from Francistown to Palapye I arrived after dark. Setting up my tent on some crusty ground, I cooked some tasteless pasta and it was lights out. The next day, it was up early again as I skidded off towards the South African border. There was no service stations until I reached the border over a hundred kilometres away. Drinking orange Fanta out of coolers from the side of the road, I spent my last bit of money on a fly covered bun with warm cream inside.
If you are wondering, why all the hurry? It was because I was running behind schedule for an important meeting on the horizon. My girlfriend and family were coming to visit. They were due to arrive in Johannesburg in just a matter of days. Every moment counted to get me there on time. I returned the bottle of Fanta and slugged my way to the border. Crossing into South Africa felt like I was returning to civilization. There were functioning stores in each town with a wide selection foods and affordable delights. South Africa is the most developed country, given most respects, in Africa. I quickly felt at home and the welcoming nature of the people. I saw the first McDonalds since Egypt and to say I didn’t order up the ubiquitous ‘Big Mac’ meal would be a lie. Sometimes on trips like this, that little bit of familiarity can go a long way to make you feel at ease. When everything is always new and unknown, those little pieces of the known go a long way.
Rolling into Lephalale, I was searching for a local campsite when a man almost backed his truck into me. After he saw me and we chatted a moment, he asked where I was headed. I explained my plan of action and he invited me to stay in one of his guesthouses for free. It ended up being my own apartment with hot water, kitchen and laundry. Cycling dreams are made of this magic. My new friend, Victor, introduced me to the welcoming nature of South African people. After I was rested up he invited me for a breakfast before I was off riding again. We had an instant connection and some inspiring chats. The local newspaper showed up and an impromptu interview took place. They sent me sailing with a happy first impression and a bag full of food. That night I slept on the soft green grass of the local golf course amid warthogs and skittish little monkeys.
“Travel is more than a seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” ~ Miriam Beard, Author
On route to Johannesburg a friend I had met in South Korea named Dene, had arranged for family members of her husbands to host me. They picked me up and took me off to their farm. Jaco and Jessie gave me the first taste of true South African ‘Braai’. You can read more on the process and style HERE. It is basically barbecue, but treated with a sport like seriousness. They even have a ‘Braai Day’, which I will get into on a following post. In any case, my first experience was a beautiful appreciation for food, as I slowly began to put on weight. One of the most amazing things they did for me while I stayed with them was returning my shoes, that were nearly headed for the garbage bin, looking brand new. At this point I only had one day to make it to the airport in time to meet my girlfriend. Jessie offered to take me most of the way into Johannesburg. I left feeling like I was part of the family and a warm energy bubbled inside. I made it to the airport with 20 minutes to spare. Cutting it close to say the least. I rubbed my burley face wishing I had time to shave.
Seeing a familiar person on a trip such as this can do more than you know. I didn’t need to introduce myself or be that guy on the bike. I was simply able to be me. With my family and girlfriend, Eliza, it was just like old times, only we were in South Africa. After a day of rest we went out on safari. Something I had only done by the seat of my bike all through Africa. Now I was the person that rolled past people in the big vehicle as hundreds of white kneed tourists had done to me throughout Africa. Only this safari was more than about just seeing herds of zebras and spotting lions. All down Africa I had thought about it carefully. On the top of a mountain just after sunrise I asked the love of my life to marry me. Slipping the ring onto her smooth trembling finger I felt all the world coming together. Looking up to see the tears in her eyes what I saw was my soulmate. The woman I would spend the rest of my days with. I am not sure what I said as the morning sun swallowed us up on that rocky outcrop. Nothing else mattered in that moment. Without the careful planning and help of my parents I couldn’t have pulled off the proposal. I am so glad we were able to share in it together.
“You must regard this deviation from plan as part of the adventure that you sought when you decided to embark on it in the first place…Absence of certainty is its essence. People…who choose to shun the mundane must not only expect, but also enjoy and profit from surprises.” ~ Adam Yamey, Aliwal
After a few days of wonderful wildlife, relaxation and full stomachs, a tearful goodbye was on the horizon as I prepared to get back on the bike. I knew saying goodbye to my parents would be tough, but seeing my new fiancée off was going to be even more difficult. I wanted to quit. I said that I had come far enough. That the end of Africa was achievement enough. I had accomplished more than I ever thought possible. I should pack it all in and call it a day, when I reached the southern edge of Africa in Cape Town. Eliza said that there was no way I was quitting. As hard as that may have been for her to say, it wasn’t what I wanted hear, but what I needed. She could have been selfish and let me take the easy way out. I could have quit right there at the airport and boarded a plane anywhere else. But I returned to my bike knowing I wouldn’t see her until I reached the finish line back in Canada, thousands of kilometres away.
Knowing everything I already do about life on the road, it would have been the easy way out. Returning to a life of comfort with vegetables in the crisper and 600 TV channels, would be ideal for a time. But, that route would have haunted me in years to come. Like a puzzle missing the final piece, I would only see that hole. The rest of the picture would be forgotten. Eliza could see this. As much as she may have wanted me to quit, she supported my dream without a doubt. This is what every man wants. To feel the support and understanding of his mindless plight. To be there for him when the future he presents is a bit hazy. She looked into my eyes and beyond the shadowy thunder that is my mind, she saw something more. On first day I ever met Eliza, I told her that I would ride a bicycle (which I didn’t even own at the time) around the world. She never thought I was joking and she stuck by me through all of those distant nights. If I were to quit now, it would be breaking the very first promise ever I made to her. Now, that is something I could never live with.
*The rest of the South Africa story will continue in the next post along with adventures through ruggedly beautiful Lesotho and eventually to the stunning coast of the Garden Route towards the end of Africa in Cape Town.
**Please continue to help support funding for the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya. We are less than $1,600 away from reaching our goal. Which is so amazing! Thank you for the surprise early donations from some of our supporting schools back in Eastern Ontario. You guys rock! CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***To follow along with daily photo updates from my phone through the South American section of the journey link to my Instagram by CLICKING HERE.
“There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.” ~ Tennessee Williams, Playwright
On the road there are few things that separate you from the raw forces and energy of the Earth. The bicycle puts you down on ground, where human ingenuity and nature collide. You feel every bump of the road and gust of wind. The calls of encouragement from strangers and heckles of mockery. There are no steel barriers or gas pedals to speed away. At times all the world seems to come down on you. It seems to trap you between two lines and a space. You are but at the mercy of whims will. Solitude is found in the wild places. Peace is found in quiet moments that pass and those idle spaces in time. When I unzip my tent, the window I gaze upon is but a static piece of canvas with familiar shades. It knows me and I dream to know it better. My legs can take me anywhere, but it is my mind that waves the green flag to carry on.
I crossed over into Tanzania from Kenya late in the afternoon. After filling out yet another immigration card. This one actually asked what Tribe I was from, I put Rideau Ferry. When I returned to my bicycle I noticed my tire had a puncture. Tired and irritated I found a dive of a guesthouse to curl up in for the night and called it a day. When I woke in the morning I made my way to Arusha, through a stunning though terribly windy landscape. A nice man named Erik and his family had agreed to host me. I shared stories of the road and found some welcome company. The following day we met up with another long distance cycling tourist named Peter Gostelow and had a bit of lunch. Chips Mayai for myself, which is basically eggs fried with potatoes, awesome stuff. (Read about Chips Mayai and get the receipe HERE) Nothing better than talking about the road behind and ahead with 3 passionate cyclists. To read more about Peter and his adventures, follow the link to his website HERE. He is currently riding from Uganda to Oman via South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Should make for some interesting stories Peter!
When I left Erik’s place I felt that same old feeling I always do. That sneaking little pull the fills my heart when I depart from a good place and nice people. The bonds you form on a trip like this are numerous and daily. The memories come fast and flicker on repeat as the long miles roll onwards. The next day it is someone new. A new city, new faces and new memories. They jumble around in your head as the moments form before your eyes. Old thoughts pushing to the front for brief dances of remembrance. A bite of food or a familiar sign, can bring back thoughts from continents ago. That nostalgia is something no one can ever take away.
“To be without a friend is to be poor indeed.” ~ Tanzanian Proverb
Sometimes people ask me, do you not get lonely? For me, I am almost never alone. On quiet nights all I have to do is think back. I have my memories. The hundreds of amazing people I have met over the last 14 months. Those moments are what carry me forward. If I have learned anything on this trip, it is about the giving nature of our people. The beauty of humanity. That unfailing selfless attitude we all have the ability to give to one another. When I finish my ride it will then be my turn to give back. I will spend the rest of my life paying back the debt the world and our people have given to me. I will share, help and smile onto others, just as others did to me.
The day I left Erik’s was very special. I had the opportunity to ride by Kilimanjaro on a clear day. The tallest mountain in Africa and a landmark of our planet. It was beautiful as the sun shone on the snowy peaks. I rode into Moshi and camped out at a new hostel with Kilamanjaro in view. Here I met more good people and smiled again. All was right on the world. Kilimanjaro was just a point on the map, but what I will remember most will always be the people in between.
From Moshi I turned my back to Kilimanjaro and made my way to the coast. Over a scenic but rough road the ocean finally appeared after a few days. I arrived at sunset and took a breather for a day, setting up camp on the beach. After a nice day of relaxation I hit the rough road once more and headed for Bagamoyo as the ocean peeked along my left. I left too late in the morning and had a tire puncture that wouldn’t hold. I wasn’t making any progress and stopping every few kilometers to try and fix the patchwork that was my rear tire. Not to mention I was breaking a spoke almost everyday for sometime. My bike was a wounded animal.
It was getting late in the day when I ran out of glue for my patches. A ridiculous error on my part. As I stood pondering my plan of action I heard some voices coming around the corner. Two shapes appeared on a tandem cycle pulling an extra trailer. I did not expect that. David and his son Steve from England had appeared just in nick of time. They helped me get my bike back on the road and we found a cheap guesthouse and prepared to cross Saandani National Park the following day. I couldn’t have been any luckier, not to mention having a bit of company for a change was nice. Little did I know they would become a bigger part of my trip than I knew.
After a few days of riding terrible roads together we said goodbye, as I headed for Malawi. I flew down a rocky road and stopped for a large and very cheap lunch. When I jumped off my bike the village drunk immediately started to harass me. I was completely rude to him and the other villagers laughed as I ate my lunch. One thing that bothers me more than anything is finally taking a break from riding and having someone there to bother you. Hot, hungry, sweaty and tired is no combination for a conversation with a stumbling man drinking alcohol from a little plastic bag at noon. I enjoyed my meal regardless in the end.
That same day I bumped into an American named James from Texas doing work in one of the smaller towns on the road. In fact he was setting up a gym for the local guys in the area. He was extremely taken with my story and insisteted on paying for a guesthouse that night for me as well as a full chicken dinner. I was blown away as usual by the kindness of people I had just met. It is these little moments that have compounded to make me feel like I could never possibly repay the amazing nature of our people.
“Everything you see is the product of someone’s imagination or dream. What is your imagination? What is your dream?” ~ Reginald Mengi, Entrepreneur/African Media Mogul
That night I had a rather terrifying dream. For some days now the thought of riding my bike through Mukumi National Park had been weighing on my mind. The main road through the country towards Malawi goes right through the park. It was supposedly 50KM of wild animals with lions, hyenas and unruly elephants. I dreamt of being surrounded by lions and pulled off the road. I awoke in my guesthouse in a cold sweat and a little unnerved considering I’d be cycling through lion territory later that afternoon.
Later that day I reached Mikumi and crossed over into the park. A sign warning of wild animals for the next 50 kilometers appeared as well as another sign dictating the cost if you hit one of those animals with your car. The elephant topped out at $15,000US while the lowly baboon went for $125. One guy in a big transport truck slowed down as he bumped over some rollers and yelled, “Don’t see a lion!” As he picked up speed and laughed out his window. I just starred back at him and thought it must be a joke. If he had seen a lion coming through he would have told me. Wouldn’t he have?
There was a strong wind in the air and I was on my toes. It was actually the most excited I have been in months on my bike. I wished I had someone with me though. I was motoring along with my head on a swivel. For the first while I only saw a few warthogs and then my personal safari adventure began. I saw a lone buffalo near the road and stopped to take a picture. After one shot it started making a break for me. I threw my camera back in the bag and hightailed it out of there. After about a kilometer I heard a quick pop and the air instantly went out of my front tire. I picked a two inch thorn out of my tire. Panicked about having a flat at this point I had two options. I could frantically flag down a car and hitch a lift out of the park with my tail between my legs or man up, fix the puncture and get on with it. I had biked hundreds of miles out of the way to get here, I wasn’t about to let a little thorn ruin my day. It was the quickest puncture I’ve ever fixed and people drove past me looking as if I were crazy. I would be lying if I didn’t say every time the wind ruffled the bushes, I jumped a bit.
When I was rubber side down again, I was pedaling hard. After a few short hills I was glad I stuck it out. Zebras, elephants, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests and impalas all made star appearances. Taking a picture of a giraffe near sunset I felt one of those amazing moments of peace. The kind of feeling you can only get from coming all this way on your own. As I gazed upon the tallest land animal on Earth I thought about all the miles it took to get here and I welled up a bit. I felt the gravel under my shoes and the wind in my hair. I saw nature and nature saw me back. We both gave a wink and went on with our days. That evening as I lay back in my tent, I had no trouble sleeping and no bad dreams. It was all games of the mind. Too much thinking and a little too much time.
“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” ~ Mohammed
The following days were met with some big climbs as I made my way to Mbeya and onto Malawi. At one point I took a lift when the road turned into a very narrow and busy stretch of highway. No shoulder and a lot of out of control buses made me feel very uneasy. The road though beautiful is known for some big accidents. From Mbeya it was finally downhill all the way to the Malawi border. It was one of those days that lives in a cyclists memory forever. Speeding downhill at amazing speeds for long periods of time is a wonderful feeling. I raced a local guy down the a long hill at 50 kilometers an hour. We were neck and neck, until he lost his hat. Coming to a stop at the end of Tanzania, I thought back on my days there. It took me a great deal of time to cross the country. The landmass of Tanzania is huge, diverse and beautiful. There is so much I still have to see there and many wonderful people to meet. I went to sleep that night, knowing my broken bicycle and I had another country ahead of us the next day. New surprises, people, language and money. A new game and a glorious lake waited on the other side of that imaginary line. I breathed one of those long tired satisfied yawns and went to sleep.
**Thank you to all of my recent donors to my charity with Free the Children. Together we giving children the hope of a proper education. Currently, we are well over halfway to reaching our goal for the new school in Esinoni, Kenya. Please CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
***I apologize once again for being terribly slow and behind on my posts. Thanks for following along!
A Sixteen Minute Read
“Leadership is a privilege to better the lives of others. It is not an opportunity to satisfy personal Greed.” ~ Mwai Kibaki, Third President of Kenya
The sun scorched and the wind whipped across the northern reaches of the Kenyan badlands. A battered and choppy road. Red dust caked to my clothes and coated my lungs. Cogged gears and stretching miles. Stops were few and shelter minimal. I cooked simple foods and relished in the purity of it all. Far off distances had a familiar flare. Almost as if I had been there before. Another life. Another tale. Pushing on and down, ‘The Road from Hell’.
Crossing into Kenya was as if someone had release me from the endless drip torture of ‘You, you, you’. I had escaped Ethiopia. I arrived at the border with zero Ethiopian Bir and a broken bike, as usual. The border town of Moyale extends to both sides. As I moved over that invisible line people became much more friendly and for the most part, left me to my own devices throughout Kenya. When conversations struck, they were once again genuine and enjoyable. The Kenyan people are very peaceful, with great English and vibrant pride. I was happy to have arrived, even in the dusty red of the Northern badlands.
After sorting out a bit of border business and a day to myself, I was off riding down an unpaved and very bumpy road. In the past many cyclists have elected to take transport all the way south to Isiolo, due to the insurgence of bandits in the area. Cattle thieves and tribal conflicts you don’t want to be caught between. However, the section between Moyale and Marsabit is said to be safe, or so I was told by the police. Everyone in town said that it was now safe, except for one man trying to sell me a bus ticket. He urged, “Mark! You cannot go, you will be eaten by a lion!” We all laughed at this man as other locals shook their heads.
I rode through a long stretch of insanely terrible road. From time-to-time a slow passing truck would appear covering me in red dust. The new tarmac came and disappeared in a few sections. Soon it should be all complete from Moyale to Marsabit. Even on the paved road high winds made going slow at certain points. Mostly, I was alone on long beautiful stretches of road. It reminded me of being in parts of Sudan and I loved the challenge of the wide open unknown. I saw baboons playing along the road and antelopes staring off in this distance like phantom mirages. Stopping one night for a 3 dollar ‘hotel’ I pitched my tent on the floor due to the abundance of mosquitos and no net. The sheets looked as if they missed a wash or two as well. I learned my lesson once again, as camping is much more rewarding, typically free and cleaner.
By the time I reached Marsabit, I was a little bit wind whipped and tired. I found a nice hotel but they were fully booked. The owner feeling bad for me, in some way I assume, said I could sleep on the floor of the meeting room. I set up shop in a corner, had the largest meal I could find in town and went to bed. Though the section of road from Moyale to Marsabit is now ‘safe’ the section from Masabit to Isiolo is supposedly not. The second section of ‘The Road to Hell’ is set to complete sometime in 2016. I asked around and the consensus was I shouldn’t be stubborn and take a bus. The bandits in this section would not hesitate to rob me of all my things or worse. I boarded a bus the following morning with my bike mounted on the roof and prepared for a very annoying journey. It was a tight squeeze with three people to a row and an off duty police officer beside me that had just begun his holiday who reeked of alcohol. He insisted on chatting in between his fits of passing out on my shoulder. His eyes blood shot and thoughts erratic. I missed the freedom of my bike and remembered how much I hate buses.
The northern section of Kenya is largely undeveloped or forgotten. A road will soon connect that part of the country with the capital and bridge a route for trade with Ethiopia. During my time there I was able to interact and watch the ways of the indigenous tribes that populate the area. It was fascinating. They generally live as simply as they have for hundreds of years, however, watching a bushman walk into the same shop as me to recharge the money on his phone was little funny. The women of the Samburu tribes wearing their brightly colored clothes and decorations was something I will never forget. I watched women chat to one another as they sold flavored sticks for cleaning their teeth. I felt completely out of place, but loved it all the same.
Arriving in Isiolo I escaped the unloading station and found a place to sleep. I began my climb into the Kenyan highlands the following morning. Mount Kenya eventually appeared on the horizon in all of its’ glory. Pedaling out on the clear morning from Nanyuki was a beautiful experience as it loomed for hours on my left. I was content as I flew around corners and bucked my way up steep hills towards Nairobi. I was pushing hard to make it to the capital to meet some Americans that agreed to host me for a few days. The hills into Nairobi seemed to go forever as I sucked back another gulp of black diesel smoke. The road widens into about eight lanes from a dangerous one, where trucks had previously no regard for my existence. Though Kenyans are very kind hearted people their driving is some of the most selfish and impatient I have seen on this trip. Terrible to say the least. Eventually, a cycling lane appeared to my surprise and I crawled into Nairobi very tired and hungry. I snacked on a meal of chips & choma(chicken) before being welcomed in by my hosts Eric and Dara.
I had the best shower of my life and sorted out my creaking bicycle at a proper, though expensive, bike shop for a much needed overhaul. I toured the National Museum of Kenya and spent a few hours looking at their awesome collection of early hominid evolution. The most complete in the world. I am a bit of a geek for this stuff after doing my undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Archaeology before Teachers’ College. To see these pieces of human history firsthand was like a trip down memory lane. There was also a very cool snake and reptile zoo out back.
“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson, Writer
I thanked my hosts for their hospitality and made my way towards Narok and the Great Rift Valley. After a climb out of Nairobi the road decends down a steep slope with a breathtaking view overlooking the valley. I took my time and enjoyed a nice break on the valley ridge with leftover pasta in a bag and some peanut butter sandwiches. It was Canada Day and low and behold a bus load of young Canadians pulled up for a break and a view. It was nice to have some conversation from home on that day. Their purpose in Kenya I’ve been sworn to secrecy until a later date. I love my ride and all that it offers, but on certain days it can be a touch lonely. The road to Narok was in great condition with a few large climbs and one mountain pass. Riding along I couldn’t help but feel small by the grandeur and importance of this part of the world.
“I have come to realize that money, power and fancy titles mean little in this world, that true power lies in the hands of those who can help improve the lives of others. The world around me has taken on an entirely different light, a clearer one.” ~ Craig Kielburger, Free the Children
The following morning I was to meet my hosts from Free the Children. I have been supporting their charity work, along with my wonderful supporters, since I began my ride over a year ago. I was very excited about seeing the great work being done to improve the lives of the local population of the Maasai Mara region. I was also anticipating meetings with the community members and seeing where the third schoolhouse, I am currently fundraising for, would be. I had been thinking about this part of my trip for hundreds of kilometers, as I peddled down Africa.
Free the Children does an excellent job at bringing the experience of fundraising for communities to life in the ever comfortable Bogani camp. Bringing Me to We. I got to help out with constructing the foundation of the new surgical wing of the Baraka Hospital, not to mention touring this great institution set up by Free the Children. It gives care to hundreds of people in the region with many aspects of essential health education free of cost. I did a water walk up a hill, the same as the mamas do with a big jug of water strapped to my head. I was greeted by countless children with a wonderfully friendly “Jambo!” (Hello!) It is one of the friendliest places I have ever had the privlege to visit.
I felt the warm nature and the power of change in the community. The pride in the people’s eyes as they talk about their flourishing communities is something truly inspirational. The students at the Kisaruni All Girls Secondary School talk with amazing enthusiasm about their surroundings and their futures. They have beautiful dreams, an unprecedented dedication to their studies and simply love having the opportunity of a true education. They are role models in their communities and beyond. I witnessed once again how a bit of help can change, impact and empower so many people in a positive way.
We are currently almost halfway towards the goal of $10,000 for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya, thanks to some surprise donors and the dedication of young learners throughout Eastern Ontario. Thank you all for being apart of the change in these kids lives. To read more about the history of the work being done by Free the Children in Kenya CLICK HERE.
To donate to the construction of the new schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya CLICK HERE. I always write a personal thank you to everyone. 🙂
Before I left the Maasai Mara area I had weapons training with a traditional bow and arrow as well as rungu throwing practice. (See info on Rungus HERE) Discovering I would would be riding through some National Parks in Tanzania my Maasai friend and guide Jonathon, gave me my own rungu to defend myself. An honorary and memorable gift that I still carry with me. Thankfully I haven’t needed to fend off any attacking lions yet.
There was a van heading back to Nairobi after my stay in Bogani and I was offered a lift. Having already rode the road towards Narok, I saw no need to do it again back the same way. A very nice gesture and saved me two days of riding. After arriving in Nairobi I took the rest of the day off and reflected on my wonderful experiences with Free the Children and Me to We. Over the next two days those great memories and carried me through all the way to the Tanzanian border town of Namanga. After a few months of hard riding through tough countries it was exactly what I needed. I truly loved Kenya. It was one of my favorite places to travel through for many reasons. My resolve and mind were rejuvenated. I was ready to continue my journey, while bracing myself for whatever lay ahead. Tanzania and Kilimanjaro within stride.
**At the moment I am in Malawi on route to Mozambique. Posts will continue to be slow to come due to internet connections and my interest in living in the moment. Africa has been nothing short of inspiring and challenging. Thank you for continuing to share in my adventures.
A sixteen minute read
“Someone who is pointing his finger to another person is not always aware that the four remaining fingers are pointing in his direction.” ~ Sudanese Proverb
Entering Sudan was unlike anywhere else on my trip. You are unable to simply cycle up to the border, given Egypt’s incesant control over internal security. Therefore, the option was to take an early morning bus ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, where after some confusion, it eventually drove onto a ferry and shunted down the Nile to the most chaotic border I have ever encountered. It was nuts. People pushing to get through security checkpoints on the Egyptian side. The bus was stuffed to the rafters with endless bags and boxes that they were transporting to Sudan, bicycles, fruits, ironing boards and everything inbetween. After the Ferry arrived we drove for a bit, unloaded the whole bus, went through security, loaded the bus and then 500 metres later unloaded the whole thing for the same ridiculous procedure and chaos at the Sudan border. No one seemed to know where to go. This border is newly open to land traffic. Until a fews months ago it was only a weekly Ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa. But I made it.
Finally arriving in Sudan and Wadi Halfa, the sun was going down on the dusty desert city. I was completely out of patience and time in this dusty down. Upon entering Sudan as a foreigner, one must register with the police and pay yet another fee. I did not care and decided to take care of it later. Wadi Halfa can best be described as the back-end of nowhere. As I pedalled around looking for supplies I ran into a nice Chinese man. Strange I thought. We got to talking as I revived some of my rusty Chinese skills. He worked at an electricity camp out in the desert. He and his colleagues invited me out to their company camp for the night and promised me delicious Chinese food. I was sold. I threw my bike in the back of their pickup and we were off through the desert on loose sand. I kept thinking, I have to bike back through this tomorrow. When we arrived they showed me to my ‘container’ where I would sleep. While we waited for dinner we played a quick round of ping-pong, no joke. The one guy was insanely good and took it very seriously. I guess thats what 10 years working in the desert with ping-pong as your only entertainment will get you. Dinner was completely Chinese and I ate like a monster.
“And the spirits of the desert are out riding, midnight driftin’ slow” ~ Matt Mays, Musician/Indio
The next morning they shipped me off after a simple Chinese breakfast and made sure I was stocked up on water. Dinging my bell twice I slid off through the sand with the heaviest bike since starting my trip. Over 10 litres of water and food for the next few days. Eventually finding my way back to the main road I charged towards Dongola over the next 3 days. Taking breaks whenever shade presented itself. May and June are the hottest months of the year in Sudan. This is saying a lot. Temperatures peaked at 53 degrees. By hiding in the shade there was a 15 degree difference. It was still hot. I learned quickly not to ride between about 11 and 4pm. The heat was simply too intense. I had cracked dry lips even with applying cream continuously and a bubbling sunburn on the back of my left leg.
On the first night I slept in the open desert with no settlements presenting themselves near sunset. This was a poor choice of camp spot. Even behind a huge rock the wind blew my tent all night like a hurricane and sand filled my tent. I got no sleep and rose early. The next day I rode hard through a terrible side wind and repeated the cycle of the previous day. Drink, ride, eat, drink, ride, eat. The scenery was actually pretty stunning though. This was turning into a proper adventure. That night a man gave me permission to sleep in his tea shack. With zero light pollution and clear skies, every night in Sudan there was an astoundingly beautiful showing of stars. I haven’t looked at such amazing stars since the Tibetan Plateau of China. It was always something to look forward to after boiling another pot of pasta for dinner. My meals simple, my days a little mundane, but this was adventure and survival at the most basic level. As I rode there was little other on my mind then one thing, water, unless I had just got water. Then, I was busy thinking how much I could drink and when.
After 400km I made it to the first ‘city’ after the border, Dongola. When I arrived looking at one shop for some food a man said, “Sit I will bring you something.” He brought me some bread and eggs with falafel, which would later become my breakfast staple. Seeing I was happy he said, “Would you like some cheese and olives?” “You have cheese and olives!?” I asked surprised. Turns out he was the owner of the shop next door and gave me some of what was probably the most expensive merchandise in his store. Fresh black olives and feta cheese in the desert. I was a happy, dirty man. When I tried to pay for the bread, eggs and falafel after finishing, I found he had already taken care of it. I went over to his little shop to thank him. He simply said, “You are my guest.” And handed me a cold sprite. I took a rest for a day, completed my annoying registration with the police and refuelled on supplies before I headed out into the desert. I packed extra water, knowing there would likely be no where to fill up along the way to Karima. I turned away from the life-giving River Nile and headed into the desert on my mission towards the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal.
I was met with a terrible side wind. There was nothing to protect me from the wind and the sun scorched the pure desert for miles upon miles. Making slow progress and with nowhere to hide from the sun, I was going through my water fast. In this type of situation you need to keep making decisions. If you don’t act, then terrible things can happen very quickly. I soon realized my speed and water were not going to match up with making it to Karima. It was decision time. I pedalled along getting hammered by the wind and hadn’t seen another vehicle in quite some time. When a large truck approached I hopped off my bike and waved him down. The driver happily greeted me with a toothless grin and heaved my bike in the back. We chugged along for the next while and I grew more happy with my decision to hitch a ride as the empty miles poured on. I simply wouldn’t have made it. I also learned a valuable lesson about the unforgiving nature of the desert and how dangerous it can be. We munched on juicy watermelon in the truck and stopped for obligatory prayers along the way. He let me off outside Karima and I waved a joyful thank you as I searched for a place to sleep.
The following day I was met with an unreal tailwind and flew south with relative ease. Along the way I explored the Pyramids of Jebel Barkal. These amazing ancient structures sit completely undisturbed by tourists. After gawking and exploring for a while, onwards I went. There are only a few roads in Sudan and very few towns with supplies. At a junction headed towards the capital Khartoum I stopped and drank down another glass bottle of Pepsi to energize myself. While I was stopped I asked a man for directions just to be sure it was the right way. When I first saw him he had tears in his eyes, which I thought at first was just from blowing sand. After showing me the way, he handed me the piece of paper he was holding. It was a medical diagnosis in English. It spoke of an inoperable cerebral cyst. He had obviously just received this news through the mail after going for tests far away. I didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want anything. We simply looked at each other for a while in silence. I slowly said goodbye and felt terrible for a long while afterwards. What could I have done to help him? Could anything have been done? Would he accept my help?
I stopped that night at a road side tea stand and repair shop. I pitched my tent and cooked my dinner while the family looked on with laughing eyes. It was a comfortable evening with a nice breeze. I woke early and continued on towards Khartoum. It was in my sights now. Distances between shops were long but I was making quick progress. On my final day towards Khartoum the wind changed directions and picked up drastically. By 10am it was a full blown sandstorm. I was trapped. I was getting whipped with painful sand and couldn’t find a place to hide and wait it out. I was dirty, tired and running low on water. Decision time yet again. It wasn’t safe to keep riding as visibility was very low with the sun blocked out by the blowing sand. The buses and transport trucks were barelling along still. Each time they passed it was like getting hit by a brick wall. I had to close my eyes and get off the road or be blown over.
The last 100km of desert to Khartoum was simply out of reach and not worth the risk. I was getting a bit worried until a nice man stopped with his wife and baby to pick me up. I thanked them profusely for their kindness. His name was Adam Mergy and he had excellent English. We exchanged many questions about our respective countries along the way. I even helped him push his truck out of the sand when we got stuck. We discussed Sudanese customs, Darfur and shared some fun stories. He dropped me off in Khartoum in time for me to find the only youth hostel. I pitched my tent at the hostel and had my first shower in over a week. My clothes were crusted with dirt and grime. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to reach civilization on this trip. I only later felt bad about the smell I must have brought with me into Adam’s truck.
“The issue in Darfur is complex, but like many matters in Sudan, it is not as complex as Khartoum would want the west to believe” ~ Dave Edgers, What is the What
After leaving Khartoum I was bound for the Ethiopian border. What I encountered was a thin road and some terribly dangerous traffic. Buses cruised at lightning speed and blared horns from behind as I dodged for my life off into dusty gravel. It was quite unnerving. My days were punctuated with tiny acts of kindness, a break here and a laugh there. I watched trains of camels walking by and donkeys pulling heavily loaded cart. Mostly, I was tired and pushing the long road to Ethiopia. The landscape relatively flat and full of annoying thorn trees. I rode carefully scanning the road so as to not puncture my tire on one of those two inch suckers. The wind had now begun blowing from the south and was regularly in my face. As I approached Ethiopia the landscape slowly got more fertile. However, the plastic bag trees became more frequent. In the desert if you throw a plastic bag it will eventually snag on a low tree or bush, revealing one of humanities most ugly of contributions to the world.
One day while idly having a drink in the shade two men rolled up in their Toyota Helix and started asking me about my trip. After a quick discussion they invited me for lunch. I agreed, always feeling hungry. However, it was a bit of a distance down the road and too far for me to follow safely. We threw my bike in the back and sped off. After sometime we turned off the main road and headed through the sand and a maze of straw and stick huts. Children waved happily and I got to see some pretty interesting ‘back road’. Eventually coming to a clearing and a few homes we got out of the truck.
What I stepped into was an unbelievable feast. A daily occurrence I was told. These twelve men all worked together at a nearby factory and had a lady hired to cook their daily lunch. Most of the men had already eaten when we arrived and were kicked back with some sugary tea. The wonderful lady brought us out a fresh tray of food. I have to say the best food I had the entire time I was in Sudan. Real Sudanese food. Amazing spicy goat, juicy pieces of beef, with fresh baked bread, veggies and some sort of raw meat with cheese that I steered clear of. At the end of the meal came obligatory sweet tea and something I had never tried before. Fresh milk mixed with sprite. A surprisingly good combination. They all laughed as I tried to figure it out. After we washed up and they dropped me back at the main road. I continued on full as could be and happier than ever.
On my final days as I broke towards Ethiopia I was welcomed to sleep almost anywhere. I never felt threatened or in the least or like anyone would give me trouble. I camped in places I would have never dreamed of in other countries. No one hassled me and people generally left me to my own devices or shared a bit of conversation. I remember talking with a man who was displaced from DARFUR and the bleak future life holds for his family in Sudan. I also discussed with a village teacher the difficult realities he faces on a day-to-day basis and the broken system that Sudan operates under. Along the way I recall one man telling me, “There are 150 villages along this part of the Nile, but only 10 schools and only 2 secondary schools.” There is great work to be done in Sudan to emphasize the need for education and childhood development to governments as well as parents.
People generally sleep outside on string beds under the night sky. Temperatures still hovering around 35 degrees at night, a welcome breeze is all you could hope for. On my last days in Sudan I camped on the side of the road, beside a broken old house, next to a gas station, on the floor of a nice man’s house named Wafi and actually in a bed at a Hospital research centre for tropical diseases that I was offered. I finally made it to Galabat and the border of Ethiopia on a never-ending road that started show signs of getting hilly. I had made it. After some ridiculous bureaucracy and a final egg and falafel sandwich I crossed out of Sudan and into Ethiopia. Things were immediately different.
As difficult as Sudan was, it would have not been possible without the kindness of the people. Sudan is a very hard country to live in. Intense weather, pounding heat, failing infrastructure and rolling blackouts make it one of the poorest places I have ever been. However, the people are what made it unforgettable and at all possible. What I have shared here is only but a snippet of the kindness and hospitality. I was given so much free food, tea, places to sleep and nice conversation. No one asked me for money. It may well be the most welcoming place I have been on the whole trip or ever travelled to. This is coming from a people who probably had the least to give and shared more than anywhere else. Almost everyone I met outside Khartoum said with a big smile, ‘Welcome, welcome to Sudan.’ They are an amazingly proud people, with a lot to share the world. Of course there is still conflict and unrest in some parts of Sudan, however, the vast majority of people are intensely welcoming and caring. They are the definition of what true Islam teaches. We can learn a lot from these kind people. We hoard our wealth in the west and hide behind fake smiles. To be truly without monetary riches, but full of inner wealth should be the ultimate goal of humanity. Sudan, I am without any more words.
**I would like to thank all of the recent donations from the schools back home that have tirelessly continued to fundraise towards the goal of building a school for the kids in Verdara, India. Thank you to the dedication and support of staff and students at St. Joseph School Toledo, Holy Name of Mary Almonte, St. John Elementary and St. John Catholic High School in Perth. Amazing stuff. We are almost there! To donate or continue tracking our progress CLICK HERE.