• And the winner goes to: Reflections from 2011 January 3rd, 2012

    Another year passes by on the roads of Africa; this one spent between the mountains of northern Cameroon and the tranquil shores of Lake Malawi. I managed a modest 12,000km of cycling –  about the same as last year, and crossed through 8 countries.

    There were jungles and big rivers, endless palm-fringed beaches, bribe-demanding immigration officers and chaotic urban traffic. Last year I wrote a post summing up some of the memorable places and experiences of 2010, so here is a similar list of random highlights and lowlights from 2011. Feel free to comment and add a category. And a belated Happy New Year to all those who’ve followed the journey, whether it be from the beginning  or more recently.

  • Top 5 reasons to cycle DRC December 3rd, 2011

    This was written for and is posted on the World Biking website, which has a great section listing the 5 best reasons for cycling each country on the globe. I was happy to write something for The Gambia, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the last two of which see very few foreign cyclists.

    Rivers run through it

  • A post without much mileage June 10th, 2011

    “Uganda is from end to end a ‘beautiful garden’ where ‘staple food’ of the people grows almost without labour. Does it not sound like a paradise on earth? It is the Pearl of Africa”. (Sir Winston Churchill)

    I almost wasn’t going to write this post, and I’m still not completely sure why I am. I think it’s my internal blog clock announcing ‘Your audience, whoever and wherever they are, await’. Ten days have passed, but not a whole lot wildly exciting has happened on the road since then.

  • Anglophone Africa again May 30th, 2011

    When the traveller first enters Uganda, his path seems to be strewn with flowers, greetings with welcome gifts follow one another rapidly, pages and courtiers kneel before him, and the least wish is immediately gratified. (H M Stanley)

    Well that sounds very nice, but things have moved on a bit since 1871. Stanley would now just be another Mzungu in Uganda, and there are quite a lot here, comparatively speaking. But if 10 days in a country counts for anything, this one scores pretty high up on the friendliness counter.

    Banana boy

  • Into Bukavu May 12th, 2011

    Ascending a lofty hill my eye roved over one of the strangest yet finest portions of Africa – hundreds of square miles of beautiful lake scenes – a great length of gray plateau wall, upright and steep, but indented with exquisite inlets, half surrounded by embowering plantains – hundreds of square miles of pastoral upland dotted thickly with villages and groves of bananas.” (H M Stanley)

    On the way to Bukavu

  • East to Lake Tanganyika May 10th, 2011

    The wise traveller travels only in imagination” (Somerset Maugham)

    It’s unlikely you will have heard of Kasongo, unless you have a particular interest in Africa’s slave history. It was here, about 130 years ago, that a Swahili/Arab businessman named Tippu Tip established a headquarters for the shipment of slaves to east Africa. From this small provincial outpost, in what is now Maniema Province in the DRC, thousands of Africans were marched eastwards towards the Indian Ocean and the island of Zanzibar. Those that survived were held in chains and waited to be sold to Arab traders.

  • Congo Journal: Part 5 May 5th, 2011

    On the march rain is very disagreeable: it makes the clayey path slippery and the loads heavier by being saturated, while it half ruins the clothes. It makes us dispirited, cold and wet.”(H M Stanley)

    20/04/11 Distance Cycled 27km  03°08.292S    026°00.657E    No name village

    One of those annoying days when you want to hit yourself for being an idiot. I leave my wallet behind on the road – top of a rear pannier more precisely whilst taking off trousers. Only 15-20km further on do I realise what I’ve done. Fortunately not a huge sum of money– 6000CF or so ($7), but it annoys me and I only have my stupid self to blame. Other than money and wallet there were just contact cards with website written on, a key to padlock (have 2 spares). Could have been much worse.

  • Back on board: Up the Lualaba April 20th, 2011

    The sun sinks fast to the western horizon and gloomy is the twilight that now deepens and darkens.” (H.M Stanley)

    It was worth the effort again. The waiting, the inevitable haggling for the fare, the discomfort, the heat, the mosquitoes, and even the hunger that would accompany my journey by boat further up the Congo River.

    Beyond Ubundu, where the last set of rapids make it once more navigable again, the Congo River is referred to as the Lualaba, which is the greatest headstream of  the mighty river. Over 2000km upstream from where it empties into the Atlantic it is still daunting in scale, a silent powerhouse of a river, which for those who think beyond and below its placid brown surface remains wonderfully mysterious and enchanting.

  • Congo journal: Part 4 April 17th, 2011

    Drinking a bottle of Primus in the sweaty heat of Kisangani made me feel more in touch with the country’s recent history than almost anything else I did in the Congo. And another thing – it tasted great.” (Tim Butcher)

    05/04/11     00°30.554N     025° 12.247E     Kisangani

  • Upriver: A boat journey April 6th, 2011

    Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the World, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest.” (Joseph Conrad)

    Finding a boat to travel up the Congo River wasn’t easy. Firstly there weren’t many boats on what could and should be a major highway of traffic, and secondly those that did exist had no schedule for when they would depart. But waiting was worth it, for this was a journey like no other.