As you have probably gathered I am very close to home now and with one last push, I should be back at the Ace Cafe (where I started 4 years ago) on the 18th March. I will be escorted in from Newhaven by some of my family, friends and the Shropshire.Staffordshire.Cheshire Blood Bikers. I can't wait. It is going to be quite an emotional day for me I think. If anyone wants to join the ride anywhere along the way then I will be posting the route very soon. Otherwise you are welcome to join at the ACE where we plan to arrive around 11am.
To celebrate the homecoming, my good friend Paul Tomlinson of 2Can Design has come up with a great t shirt design. 50% of any profit will go to the Blood Bikers charity and the rest will go towards shipping me out of Africa and back into Europe.
I plan to make the order to the printers in the next 24 hours so if you would like to buy one please get your orders in as soon as possible so I can avoid any wastage on the order with guessed sizing etc. If you are at the Ace Cafe then I will also have some there.
To order please see the banner on the left of this post.
Thanks for your support and further update coming soon. Regards Steph
It always amazes me the difference a border can make. Neighbouring countries can have such obvious differences in the space of a few hundred meters. There were two that struck me immediately when I left Ethiopia and entered Sudan. The first was the lack of livestock on the roads. There were still camels and goats, but here the shepherds would keep them just off the road with a practiced crowd control that was impressive. No longer did I have to stop and weave my way through the herds. Secondly was the lack of people asking for money. We were back to the friendly, no-agenda waving now, and as much as I loved Ethiopia, I found this refreshing.
How many people does it take to fill up a tank of petrol? Well if you are in Ethiopia, the answer is 30! That's if you are buying black market in a small village and you just rocked up on an iron steed!
Actually I got an even bigger crowd when riding through a village with my visor up and got something in my eye! It felt like someone had stuffed an amazingly hot chilli in there. My eyes watered and naturally closed up. It stung so badly I felt it in the nerves all over my head! I pulled over making appropriate, 'arghhhh' noises and blindly jumped off the bike. I sucked water out of my Kriega bladder, spat it in my hand and frantically washed out my eye. Hair everywhere and dirt creating patterns on my face as I washed out the offending article. Eventually I could see again and looked up to survey my surroundings. I found maybe 50 surprised faces staring back at me. Someone from the crowd shouted 'What happened?'. I explained and smiled apologetically at the drama. As one, they decided I was not crazy and moved in to get a closer look! A friendly bunch, clearly glad of the distraction for the day.
I was so glad to be heading for the Ethiopian border after a long drawn out debacle at the Ethiopian embassy, who seem hell bent on stopping people entering their country and spending money there! Clearly they have enough already! Still - perseverance prevailed and we got there in the end! Heading towards the border from my last stop at Archers Post, I got a What's app from Chris and Erin. I had met these guys at the last campsite in Nairobi and we found we had a lot in common. Not only were we heading in the same direction, albeit they were in a Land Rover, but they were also bikers who had ridden around the world together as a team many years before. They had gone with another couple (Rob and Emi from Holland) on the Tracana route a few days before but sadly Rob and Emi lost control of their vehicle on the gravel and found themselves rubber side up a long way from anywhere! Thankfully noone was hurt, the car was recovered and they all made it over to Henry's campsite just south of the border. This is where I caught up with them all.
I woke at 5am to the sound of beautiful singing. It was clearly tribal and I could tell that something
was going down in Archers Post! Perhaps a wedding? Maybe a religious event? I lay in bed listening for half an hour before dragging myself into the shower (or the trickle of cold water, but a luxury nontheless) and washing off the weariness after a half-sleep night thanks to another mosquito torture session (I really must get more coils!). The singing continued as I headed out to meet Eric for breakfast. Eric grew up here, living off the land in one of these peaceful Samburu tribal villages in Northern Kenya. Yesterday we met so he could show me around. He helps to run the Samburu Project, a community run charity set up to help the local tribes with basic human needs like sanitation, education and especially fundraising for more wells. I was introduced to this project through Rally4Life - a charity some of you have donated to during my trip - so I was keen to see the work they do and the difference they make to the communities of this magical place.
One of the worst things about being British is that many of us are cursed with the ‘over polite gene’. Oh it’s all very well if you are born state side (come on! You know who you are! J), but for us Brits, there is nothing worse than trying to remain selflessly silent during long dark nights of social sleeping arrangements - especially when you are dealing with a mischievous, selfish and unyielding mosquito!
I optimistically pull the mozzie nets over the bunk early. I have another guest tonight and that makes it far worse when an attack happens. It’s bad enough that the bed creeks every time I move (of course I will lie uncomfortably for hours before I allow another creek to MAYBE disturb my fellow snoozer) but killing a mozzie at midnight is not a silent affair. When he comes to visit, like he has done every night since my tent leaked and I entered the dorm, I will have no other defences than a one handed clap, a swift swipe and a whispered curse. Frankly, this is just not enough!
I block all obvious exits and tuck myself in. Podcast on, skin covered…and sleep!
‘Are you ready?’, he shouted over his shoulder. I braced myself, held onto the bars, and looked ahead. I was not ready at all and didn’t think I would be anytime soon, ‘Yes ready!’, I replied. Just then the rope tightened and I felt myself being dragged off the dirt path and straight into the chaotic traffic of Dar es Salaam. Rhonda, for the first time in our 67,000-mile journey, had broken down!
The best bit about Malawi for me was not the lake! It was actually Lilongwe. The city was fine, but the bit that interested me the most was the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary right in the centre of the chaos. An oasis of calm in the most random of places! I was lucky enough to be invited to rest here a few days by the owners Kathy and Johnny who have been running the place since 2007. Their mission is to 'help Malawi's wild animals in need, combat wildlife crime and empower the guardians of the wild'. A truly worthwhile cause indeed. To help with this they have set up a program where volunteers can come and work here, learning new skills and caring for the animals that have yet to be, or cannot be released back into the wild. This is not a zoo. It keeps human contact to a minimum and only keeps animals that truly cannot be released, or need a bit more time and rehabilitation.
As I sit by the camp fire overlooking the Luangwa river that separates Zambia from Mozambique, I reflect on my last three weeks in the country formerly known as Northern Rhodesia. Tomorrow I will cross the border at Chipata and head into Malawi, waving a fond farewell to this little country with its big charm. I certainly hope to be back someday. Perhaps however, it will be in the cooler months next time around!
Zambia has its problems. It is one of the poorest countries in the world with a life expectancy of just 49 years old. The deforestation due to its rapid population increase and charcoal usage, as well as its over dependency on copper, is stripping the country of its natural resources and leaving its people, wildlife, and economy, exceptionally vulnerable. It is no wonder Zambia has so much illegal wildlife trafficking. The Chinese are always at hand to buy more than the odd pangolin or illegally poached elephant tusk, and who can blame the local man who steals them to feed his starving children? The problem, as ever, is global and it’s going to take a lot of time and hard work to put it right.
I'm with Livingstone when he said that Victoria Falls was a scene so lovely it must have been gazed upon by angels. I mean it probably wouldn't have been my choice of words when you consider the type of friends I have! They would have been checking my pockets for a secret stash of particularly intense marijuana if I had used EXACTLY those words! Non the less - our sentiments and the emotions it conjures up are still the same today as they were back then. Of that, I am sure. In fact, thankfully Africa still has many sights that leave you breathless and in awe of mother nature (no stimulants required!). But be careful! It's addictive!