• Northern Uganda: Mwanza-Muscat Part 5 September 1st, 2015

    Not many people visit northern Uganda. This is understandable. For a number of years most areas were considered off-limits as a rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army terrorised villages and communities, effectively dividing the country in two.

    The LRA and their infamous leader Joseph Kony no longer operate from Uganda, but places ravaged by years of destruction, child abduction and neglect don’t recover all that quickly, and memories for people don’t fade.

    I had this in mind as I moved north from Arua. The road was actually only a few years old – a smooth ribbon of tarmac cutting a wide swath through a peaceful countryside of conical straw-hut villages.

    Rural Uganda

    The larger settlements, still villages, but usually labelled trading centres in Africa, consisted of more concrete buildings. Most of these were covered in bright paint advertising the companies who had obviously paid for this lurid spectacle. Soap powder, mobile phone, solar panel and of course paint companies dominated. The scenes on the roadside could have been from a number of African countries.

    There would typically be a small shop of some description, a wooden bench or two outside and perhaps a tree providing shade nearby. Within that shade sitting on those benches would be anything from two to a dozen plus boys or men. A few motorbike taxis might also be parked alongside. The people were always male of course. Just sitting, passing the time. Sometimes there would be a game of cards taking place. Other times it just appeared like people were waiting for something to happen or someone to arrive. At least that is how I interpreted it. I imagined there must be hundreds of thousands of people in the countryside, maybe millions, doing precisely nothing for most of the day. Too hot perhaps, although the women  were working.

    None of it surprised me. I’ve seen it everywhere in rural Africa. I would wave, attempt a greeting and pedal on in the heat, wondering what discussion would follow in my wake.

    The languages in fact changed too often for me to keep track of. In an area where Uganda, DRC and South Sudan – countries with years of instability and the subsequent movement of people, come together quite closely, I suspected there must be a complete mix of ethnicities. At least where English didn’t work so well Kiswahili sometimes helped.

    The children mostly seemed to entertain themselves with what nature provided them with. Had the water been clearer and cleaner I might have joined an excitable bunch as they hurled themselves off a bridge near some rice fields one afternoon.

    Water acrobatics

    Watch me!

    Kids having fun

    One of the most noticeable man-made features in many of these settlements were the churches. Uganda is predominantly Christian and there were no shortage of large missions on the roadside. Each one seemed to be demarcated on google maps. Little else was.

    Uganda church

    The landscape remained green, but the sun became hotter as I left the tarmac and descended back towards the banks of the River Nile on a dusty track.

    Dusty road from Koboko-Moyo

    Grass huts in view of Mt Otzi

    Descending to the River Nile at Laropi

    I was hoping the heat would actually dry out my GPS. It had stopped working in Murchinson Falls National Park following the mother of all rainstorms. I’d left it on the bike under blue skies for a few hours when I’d taken a trip up the river. The following morning when I packed-up to leave it went into a beeping frenzy and then switched itself off.

    For the next few days I observed the screen fogging-up as I had it charged into the e-werk electrical converter that is connected to my dynamo hub. Power was obviously going into the device as the battery was charging, but none of the buttons were responding.

    Fogged-up GPS

    In the town of Koboko a guy working in a phone-repair shop opened it up with a tiny screwdriver. No sign of moisture so I followed the advice from others on the Internet which was to leave it in a bag of rice for several days. A 1 kg bag of local rice was duly purchased and I crossed my fingers that this would do the trick. To date there remains no sign of life.

    Fortunately my smartphone can easily log the rides using the GPS function and be charged from the dynamo hub.

    Inside of a Garmin 705

    The Nile ferry crossing at Laropi departed 30 minutes before schedule. This rarely happens in Africa (it’s also a free service which is even rarer), but no-one seemed the least bothered because sitting in the heat beside a collection of wooden shacks serving tea and snacks provided little joy.

    Local cafe

    Boat across the Nile

    River Nile at Laropi

    I slept in simple lodgings most nights (£2-£5) and washed my shirt and shorts from dust and salt stains while I showered with cold water. It often seemed somewhat pointless as it would only take a few large vehicles to pass me the following day on the road to return my body and clothes to the state they were in before. Still, wearing something cleanish in the morning is a better start to the day than putting on dirt-encrusted clothes. When camping there is of course little choice unless one is fortunate to be next to a source of water.

    Dealing with dust

    I thought I heard a gun fired at my back one day on the road into Gulu. Within seconds the rear tyre had gone flat. I pushed the bike off the road and inspected it. A huge hole appeared in the middle of what are often dubbed indestructible tyres by touring cyclists. How had this happened?

    End of an XR

    For a number of weeks a split in the wall of the same tyre had occasionally pinched the inner tube and caused several punctures. Earlier on the same day the tyre blew-out I’d patched up a large tear in the tube and continued riding. Under what was obviously tremendous pressure I later cycled over a splint of metal, which not only caused the tube to pop again, but pop with so much force that it blew this hole through the tyre profile.

    Tyre wall split

    Fortunately I was carrying a spare, although hadn’t expected to need this for some time, if at all on this tour.

    North from Gulu I imagined a narrow bush track would lead towards Kitgum and the border with South Sudan. Several years ago that might have been the case. Now the track has been widened and graded. I suspect in the next few years another smooth black ribbon.

    Restaurant in Gulu

    Water collectors

    Rain ahead

     This track widening continued north of Kitgum – a new highway of sorts connecting Uganda with South Sudan, although for the moment there is practically no traffic other than work vehicles.

    Road construction

    Breakfast view

    Sign in Mada Opei

    I had no idea what the Ugandan border post with South Sudan was called or whether it even existed.

    I pulled over alongside a huddle of women beside a collection of grass huts. At first it looked like they were filling 20 Litre jerry-cans with water. But the jerry-cans were partly inflated and there was a sweet smell of alcohol in the air.

    ‘That’s gu’, said the immigration official as I at in the cool shade of another conical hut a short distance away some minutes later. ‘It’s a mixture of maize and sugar. Very strong. They will walk over there’. He pointed to a line of green mountains in South Sudan. It looked so far away.

    Ugandan immigration

    Ugandan immigration

    ‘So you’re a missionary’? asked the official as he continued to write down my passport details in a notebook.

    ‘Do a lot of missionaries come through this way?’ I replied, before explaining he could write ‘teacher’ instead.

    ‘They used to’. Just a few Ugandans come through here now.

    ‘So where is the South Sudanese border post?’, I asked another official as I stepped back out into the glaring sun.

    ‘It’s 22km away’, he said pointing down the road on which these women were now walking. I said my goodbyes and hoped the entry into South Sudan would be equally as smooth.

    Alcohol carriers

    The route for this section of the journey, up to Kitgum, can be viewed here

  • Talking gear: 20,000km April 4th, 2011

    Time for another gear review as my cycle computer approaches the 20,000km mark. Some 10,000km ago I wrote this as I waited for the uncertainty surrounding the Presidential elections in Guinea to pass over. Now I’m in the Congo waiting for a boat to transport me up the river here (I was when I wrote this).

    I shall follow the same layout as the last review. If there is a piece of kit or aspect of the journey you’d like me to pass comment on after 20,000km on the road please let me know. Also, any advice, tips or recommendations regarding any aspect of gear is highly appreciated. As I consider myself more a traveller than a cyclist please forgive the lack of specific bicycle terminology and simplicity in some aspects of gear.

    Narrow track

    Bike

    My Thorn Raven continues to prove itself a worthy bike to handle big distances on African roads. The frame remains solid and the paintwork mostly intact with no sign of rust. Any odd creaking from the bottom bracket has ceased since the last review and there is no loose play in the headset.

    After 14,000km I found the rear sprocket and chain had worn so badly that they needed replacing. This was earlier than I expected. The sand and grit from roads in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia during the rainy season certainly speeded up the wear effect.

    Removing the rear sprocket proved a gargantuan effort, requiring the strength of 4 people and a very long 21” spanner. Replacing it with a new one, which was sent to me in Abidjan along with a new chain, rear sprocket, sprocket removal tool and front chain-ring (also replaced) proved much easier. Had I known that it would wear this quickly I would have started the journey with those parts I replaced.

    I also installed a plastic chain-guard over the chain on someone’s recommendation. This is proving to be very useful. Whereas a day splashing through puddles and riding through sand would have required a daily cleaning of the chain, I now find that many days, even weeks pass without more than a few specks of grit finding their way into the chain. This current chain and sprocket might last almost twice the distance as the last, but I probably won’t wait that long to find out. The rear sprocket can be removed and reversed, thereby prolonging it, but given how much of an effort it was last time I’m reluctant to shift it at the moment (although perhaps I should?) I don’t have another chain or sprocket with me, but may have one sent out between here and South Africa.

    Hub

    I changed the oil in the Rohloff hub for the second time in Abidjan. This came after 14,000km (the first in Lisbon after about 6000km). Rohloff advise that the oil is changed every 5000km, which is possibly erring on the side of caution. It may well be possible to ride 10,000-12,000km or more with no harm to the hub or noticeable difference in gear changing performance, but given the cost of the hub I don’t think it’s worth finding out, particularly given where I am. As a gear system I find the hub offers a perfect ratio of gears, all of which I use, although an extra lower and upper gear would be useful. There are many times where a sudden shift of several plus gears is necessary to deal with the unexpected terrain here. With a Rohloff I can do this with no need to turn the pedals. Is it worth the price tag you might ask? I think if you’re going to use it over tens of thousands of kilometres, particularly on poor roads, then yes.

    The front Shimano XT hub shows no signs of requiring attention and I hope it will last the remainder of the journey.

    Tyres

    I’m still using the now dis-continued Schwalbe XR and will do until I can no longer get hold of them or another tyre proves equally as durable. Schwalbe created the Extreme as a replacement to the XR, but I found after several thousand kilometres on UK roads that the walls were already splitting. They may just have been from a bad batch, but I decided to switch back to the tried and tested XRs.

    After 13,000km a split developed in the front XR profile (it had been on the rear wheel for about 8000km). I replaced it with a new XR sent to me in Abidjan, and also replaced the rear tyre with a new XR. After 6000km both XRs are still strong and I have two replacement foldable XRs with me. Unless more than one of them suddenly fails these tyres will last the duration of the journey.

    Wheels

    The Rigida rims are proving to be as durable as they appear. No wear in the rim walls nor signs of cracking beside the spoke nipples. Strong wheels are a must for African roads and these heavyweights fit the bill.

    Spokes

    More a reflection of my inability to correctly true a wheel than the strength of the spokes, I’ve now had 4 broken spokes in the front wheel. Fortunately I’m carrying a number of spares (Sapim spokes). The last one was threaded by someone who knew what he was doing and for the last 2000km it has been fine. I’m confident that any more spoke breakages between here and South Africa will be rare.

    Brakes

    The ceramic break pads are proving very durable. I’ve changed both front and rear once and the current pads have plenty of life left in them. I’ve never used hydraulic or disc brakes when touring and find the simplicity of basic V-brakes to be the best system for a long distance tour.

    Racks

    I continue to praise Surly for their wonderful front rack. Another 10,000km on and still no sign of weakening. Having said this my Japanese cycling partner had one of the lower bracket attachments break after 25,000km of use. It was welded then soon broke again, and re-welded only to break again soon after. A new piece of metal was cut and attached, which looks like it will last. He has almost double the load on his front rack (20-25kg). The best feature of the rack is the large flat loading space it offers (spare bottles and flip flops currently occupy this space).

    Someone recently asked me about how the Ortlieb panniers fit on the rack as they are designed to be attached to Tubus racks. In order to provide a tight fit between pannier and rack I’ve wrapped duct tape around the rack so that the panniers clip on with no loose spacing. Thorn’s rear rack is proving equally as durable as the Surly. No problems whatsoever.

    Brooks Saddle

    A few small cracks have developed around the metal studs of my B17, but it continues to slowly age and gain the character of a well-worn saddle. Despite the sun, rain and humidity the leather holds up well. Brooks provide their own wax to protect the saddle, although I’ve been using tan shoe polish. And yes, despite it being very hard it is comfortable.

    On request Brooks kindly sent me some leather bar tape since the last review, which is proving equally comfortable and durable.

    Kickstand

    The ESGE double kickstand continues to be in my view the strongest stand available for a loaded touring bike. The stress and wear it may have on the frame is cushioned by several layers of rubber between stand and frame.

    Panniers

    The equatorial sun is proving to fade the darkness of my Ortlieb panniers, but more importantly they remain strong and waterproof. Unless one disappears in a river or some other unknown destination they will last the remainder of the journey. An extra external mesh pocket would be an added feature to the front panniers, but the simplicity of Ortlieb is their hallmark.

    Ortlieb Handlebar bag

    Equally as strong and waterproof as the panniers, my 10L handlebar bag contains my valuables (passport, SLR camera, compact camera, Ipod, mini-speakers, GPS, mobile phone, money belt, journal and paperback book). It goes with me when the bike is out of sight. I never use the lock that Ortlieb have developed with the bag to attach it to the handlebars. The mesh pockets on the side of the handlebar bag contain my headtorch and water purification tablets. It is this style of mesh attachment that would be worth incorporating onto the panniers.

    The Ortlieb map case, which sits on the top of the handlebar bag, has recently been disposed of – the plastic having ripped beyond repair. I hope to replace it in the coming months.

    Map case finished

    Camping bag

    The blue camping bag (manufacturer unknown) continues to hold my tent, sleeping bag and thermarest. My packing up time in the morning is far quicker with a bag which solely contains my camping equipment and I don’t mind packing the tent away wet as it can be easily removed later in the day to dry.

    Camp Gear: Tent

    My MSR hubba hubba has probably been pitched over 250 times now and remains intact. I occasionally cringe at the creaking of the poles as I bend them into the fittings, but they remain strong. The almost total mesh inner remains the best solution for camping in hot weather (it effectively doubles as a mosquito net) as it allows any air flow to enter the tent. There is plenty of head room and space for all my gear.

    Several weeks ago the tent withstood a prolonged downpour of rain, although the groundsheet could not cope with the surface water, which inevitably caused the floor of the tent to become wet. This is partly due to the lower hydrostatic pressure (1500mm?) but also the surface of land I was camping on. After several hours of rain the bare compact soil had become waterlogged.

    MSR could provide better tent pegs than the tiny ones that come with the hubba hubba. I have long since replaced them with more traditional pegs.  My only other criticism is the colour of the flysheet – yellow is not very discreet. Aside from this I think there are few rivals for a more suitable 2-men tent to tour Africa with. If you know of one, please share your comment.

    School camp

    Sleeping bag

    My Cumulus down sleeping bag (rated to 0 Celcius, weight 450g) continues to get frequent use, even in Central Africa. There are some nights in the tent when the temperature falls enough to warrant a body layer. Tucked down at the bottom of one of my panniers is a silk sleeping bag liner, which would easily suffice for the drop in temperature, but this has hardly had any use since starting the journey. I could probably do without the down sleeping bag for the next several months, but I anticipate camping at altitude again between here and South Africa to warrant keeping it. Even at temperatures of 20C the down sleeping bag doesn’t cause me to sweat. I would say that a similar sleeping bag rated to around 0C such as the Cumulus one is ideal for a long tour through Africa where temperature can fluctuate, but rarely drops below freezing.

    Thermarest

    Still going strong in its 4th year, despite two patches from former punctures (I camped on a bed of thorns in Tunisia during my last trip). Some people opt to use a roll mat to prevent this, but the comfort and compactness of a thermarest makes it more ideal.

    Pillow

    My inflatable Decathlon-purchased pillow is now no more. Small splits developed in the seams several months ago and I got tired of waking up in the night to re-inflate it, only for it to be flat again a few hours later. Repairing it was impossible. I’m hoping to find a replacement in east Africa.

    Camping stool

    Continues to get frequent use and highly recommended if you’re planning a long tour and plan to camp on rough ground. Seeming that it only cost 5 Euros from Decathlon it’s surprisingly strong.

    Primus Stove

    Now in its 3rd year my Primus omnifuel is proving very robust and managing to deal with the dirty fuel I use to power it here in Africa. The half-litre fuel bottle sufficiently provides power (when filled with Petrol) for several hours of high-powered burning, which very approximately is enough fuel for a week’s camping (boiling water for coffee and rice mostly)

    Cooking pots

    I continue to use the two Coleman cooking pots (1.5L and 1.7L) I started the journey with. The frying pan I picked up in Morocco has hardly been used in the last 6 months, but its light and slots into a space easily enough.

    Ortlieb water bladder

    During the first year of this journey I rarely used the 10L water bladder, but in recent months it has been frequently used when camping in the bush. Used sparingly 10L is enough water for two people to shower. I usually look for a water source late afternoon and then strap the bladder onto the top of my camping bag for the final kilometres of the day.

    Electronics: Laptop

    I’m still updating this website using my Eee PC 901. Shortly after the last review a number of keys on the keyboard stopped working (possibly trapped moisture?). A kind reader sent out a replacement keyboard to Liberia, which has functioned fine since. For its size and price it is hard to be too critical, but I miss having extra hard-drive space stored within the netbook and it could be quicker. The battery continues to give 3-4 hours, which is great considering its use.

    Portable hard-drive

    I store all my photos, music, videos and films on a 1tb hard-drive. In Nigeria I sent home the 500GB hard-drive I set off on the journey with. This one still has plenty of space, although I’d like to do another back-up between here and South Africa. I keep the hard-drive within a cushioned zip-case, which then slots into one of the pockets in the rear pannier.

    Cameras

    Still using the Nikon D90 and Lumix compact. I miss having extra focal length with the 18-105 lens that I bought with my second D90 of this trip. The 50mm lens rarely gets used as there is no space for it in the handlebar bag. I have 2 Nikon batteries, which provide enough power when fully charged for 600-800 shots at a guess.

    The Lumix compact is what a compact should be and takes very good macro shots. I use a 8GB SD card in the D90 and a 4GB SD card in the compact. When the cards are full I transfer pictures onto the portable hard-drive. I have several more SD cards of various sizes as a back-up.

    Ipod and mini speaker

    Touring without music would be hard for me. I try to collect new music as I travel, but most local music is not available digitally and download speeds are far too slow. My Ipod continues to get regular use nonetheless and several months ago I bought an X mini-speaker, which for its size and price tag produces great quality sound for music and films.

    GPS

    Since the start of this year I’ve been travelling with a small GPS, which was kindly donated to me by a South African traveller. There are no maps loaded onto the GPS and I merely turn it on every evening to record my position. At some point in the future I’ll put these coordinates into some kind of mapping software to track where exactly I stayed each night. I’m looking forward to tracking my progress across the equator.

    Solar charger

    My Freeloader Solar panel continues to spend most of the time in a pocket within a front pannier. What does get used is the solar battery. This can be charged by itself from my laptop and acts as a battery to provide a full charge to either my mobile phone or Ipod. Using the solar panel to fully charge this battery when on the move is not easy for a number of reasons (angle of the panel, tree cover, bumps on the road, which ause the battery to disconnect from the panel).

    Clothes

    I’m now so far into my trip that many of the original clothes I set off with are now no more. I still have my original craghopper zip-off trousers, which rarely get worn as it is too hot now, as well as a long sleeve and short-sleeve craghopper shirt. My craghopper fleece pullover resides at the bottom of a pannier, but will be necessary for the next place at altitude (eastern Congo, Rwanda?) Cycling clothes consist of one of two pairs of padded shorts and either the Against Malaria cycling jersey, or as I’ve been wearing more recently, a sleeveless shirt with the colours of the Central African Republic flag on.

    In Ghana I gave away what waterproof clothes I had as I found I was never using them. I also replaced my Karrimor sandles with a fake pair of Tevas here (still going strong) which I wear when cycling.

    Flip-flops get daily use off the bike and I continue to carry a pair of lightweight cross trekking trainers for colder weather or possible hiking.

    In Nigeria I bought wax-cotton material to be made into two pairs of shirts and trousers for off-bike wear.

    I think that’s almost it, other than my precious Tilley hat. One doesn’t need many clothes around the equator.

    There are various other bits and bobs in my panniers, such as the first Aid kit, which fortunately receives little use other than being opened to take out my weekly malaria pill preventative. Books wise I have several paperbacks with me, which might get finished if I end up waiting much longer for this Congo boat. All in all it’s about 25kg of luggage, minus the fluctuating quantities of water and food I carry.

    That just about covers it. Let me know your thoughts. In another 10,000km I should be quite close to South Africa, I think.

  • Hard roads ahead: Crossing Central Africa January 6th, 2011

    Up until quite recently I’ve not given much thought to how I will cross Central Africa. By bicycle obviously, but on what roads and through which borders and countries.? There aren’t many roads, which kind of simplifies things, and those shown on maps are probably no more than muddy tracks through the jungle. Not so simple.

    The road condition is far less of a concern than my personal security though. Bring on the mud, sand, river crossings, sweat, flies; if locals can navigate jungle tracks on a Chinese made bicycle loaded with 100kg+ then so can I, I think. But they’re local, they speak the native dialect and their bags and jerry-cans loaded on their bikes do not contain a laptop, camera, Ipod, cash and other desirables. Mine do, and the countries I’m about to talk about make me rightly hesitant about the roads ahead.

    Finding a recent account of someone travelling through the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is rare. Most people who know anything about the region will say don’t go. Too much insecurity and danger. But it is a vast region I’m talking about, and the reports one hears might be outdated, second-hand or refer to a region thousands of kilometres away from the one I’m intending to go to. It wasn’t until I arrived here in Limbe, Cameroon that I actually met someone who’d been to CAR.

    Let me introduce you to Dave Robertson, who by all accounts is quite a remarkable man. For the past two decades he has devoted his time and energy on the continent to preventing malaria, clocking up almost 200,000 Kilometres in his white land rover. An impressive distance, particularly if you only have one leg and one arm to drive with. How is it possible you ask yourself? Well it’s true.

    Dave Robertson and Drive Against Malaria

    I first stumbled across the Drive Against Malaria website a few years ago, but wasn’t aware until a fellow overlander had contacted me that Dave, who is English, had settled with his Dutch partner, Julia, in Limbe. The missing arm and leg had nothing to do with being in CAR, he lost them in a motor accident before he ever started his travels in Africa.

    I spent an afternoon with them, finding out more about Drive Against Malaria and their views on the most effective means to prevent, cure and tackle the huge problem of malaria on the continent. I also wanted to know more about one of the least visited countries in the World.

    “You went to CAR”? I asked.
    “Yeah, in February this year. No problem, although they’re more aggressive than the Cameroonians. You should be OK on the bike, at least in terms of travelling the roads. Best way to do it.”
    “What about DRC and the road to Kisangani? I want to travel east across northern DRC towards Uganda or Rwanda.”
    “That I haven’t done since 89”, said Dave, thinking back. “Or was it 88? Kisangani had lots of travellers then. No idea what it’s like now. I’ll be really interested to hear how you get on.
    “So will I”, I said.

    The second person I met who’d been to CAR was also staying in Limbe, although for a much shorter time. It was another Dave, also driving a white land rover, but he had his limbs intact. His vehicle had also clocked up a fair bit of mileage, which he’d rescued from the South African embassy in Lagos.

    Dave, also South African, had travelled as far as Nigeria from his home in Cape Town on a motorbike and decided he’d had enough, so bought the bullet proof vehicle, which had been unused for years, then drove it back to South Africa. And now he was travelling north again with his friend, (I wasn’t quite sure what the relationship status was) an older French woman who’d decided to rent out her Paris apartment and give up on European life. As far as I could tell it was the money from this monthly rent that was keeping them both on the road. “The people work work work in my country. And for what”?

    Dave and Marion were an interesting couple. I met them having a clean out of their land rover, which was packed and surrounded with a ridiculous amount of clutter: musical instruments (several drums and a guitar) plastic crates full of books, pots, pans, various cooking stoves and bags and other containers of all sizes. Underneath an enormous marquee awning, held up by drainage pipes salvaged from somewhere, Dave launched into his travel stories with gusto.

    “I have presents for you by the way”, he said after I’d heard the story of his ‘Manic Mission’, a 10-week tour of 10 countries in southern and east Africa. “Here take this, and these, and you will definitely want these”. Within 10 minutes I’d just become owner of a handheld GPS (he was using another that was given to him free by tracks4africa), two hard back books on the Congo and a pair of foot-straps for my pedals. What a score!

    “I miss DRC man, but don’t do it. They’ll fuck you up.”

    Dave had ridden his motorbike up through DRC, taken one of the famous Congo River barges, then exited the country into CAR quicker than planned when he got malaria. Why is it so many travellers in Africa opt to not take malarial prophylactics to protect themselves?

    “I think you should fly from Doula to Nairobi. Leave the Congo man. Those guys are drunk and armed.”

    Despite the bout of malaria and problems with corrupt police, the DRC turned out to be Dave’s favourite country, but here he was recommending I avoid going.


    “I miss it man”,
    he repeated again as he asked me to plot a route  for them through Nigeria. Dave and Marion had no idea where they were going, Dave literally flipping a coin to decide on a route. The next day they were packed up and leaving. I have no idea where they are now, and I doubt they know much more.

    Fellow overlanders

    Back at research HQ, which is the enormous and empty house that I’m staying in here in Limbe, I began to read accounts of people travelling the DRC, as well as putting questions on forums to see what the travelling community had to say. As I expected, adventure and danger featured highly. But there have been others – DRC travel agents and the odd adventurous aid worker, who’ve gone a bit further, which one needs when we’re talking about a country 80 times larger than the country that colonised it – Belgium. When one starts to get names of specific towns, the roads between them and advice pertaining to one or the other (some positive, others negative) progress can be made in determining what level of danger/risk is involved.

    Of course I won’t be alone. Hiromu, my Japanese colleague as I introduce him, will be alongside, or somewhere behind bargaining over the price of a handful of ground-nuts or bunch of bananas. I told him to come to Limbe rather than stay in Yaounde, where I imagine his room resembles a prison cell, but being Japanese (read stubborn) he has been unable to check-out, throw his bike on a bus or arrange to leave it in the Guest House.

    Well it doesn’t matter now. He called yesterday to say his parcel from Japan had finally arrived (the reason we’d split from Bamenda and he rushed ahead). I’d been waiting to hear this news before leaving Limbe and starting on the road to Yaounde, some 350km east of here.

    The last of the third crate of beer is currently in the fridge. Other than sharing one or two bottles with the guard during the past 10 days I’ve drunk them by myself. I never did find that drinking partner. It has been an odd situation to find myself in here. Big empty house, four semi-wild dogs (read good security dogs) and an attention-seeking cat have been my surroundings. I won’t meet the tenant who invited me here, unless he gets on his motorbike and continues the journey to South Africa, where I’ll happily buy the rounds.

    For those scratching/shaking their heads thinking why does he want to travel these difficult and uncertain/troubled roads the answer is twofold. Firstly I want to reach east Africa overland, rather than fly. It just so happens that there is no easy/safe/recommended route to do so by. And secondly I have a natural curiosity, like any adventurous spirit, to see just what that huge swath of equatorial Africa that few people get to visit is actually like.  In the words of someone who travelled this part of Africa long before people were riding bicycles in it:

    “Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look like that) I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up I will go there”.

    The question is at what point does a road, feared dangerous because of  reports of instability in the area, become safe? I can’t imagine many people would  have recommended the route I followed in Nigeria, Liberia or even Guinea, given my time there during the elections last year. Was I lucky? Maybe. Nothing is definite in terms of my route and I don’t want to put myself in ‘extreme danger’, just to say that I did it. I will apply for a visa for CAR and DRC in Yaounde and continue to seek advice as I proceed eastwards.

    New GPS