Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rwanda and Uganda


In 1994, I had just left high school and had started studying a Marketing Management diploma. Life seemed set and predictable. Some 7000km's due north in the literal heart of Africa, a small country called Rwanda was about to descend into a literal hell on earth.

For 100 days, men became beasts, took up machetes and whatever else they could find and began hacking up friends and family alike. Over one million people were killed in the bloodbath while the rest of the world looked on aimlessly. Loved ones turned on each other and in the days of terror, people were mindlessly killed at a rate faster than that displayed at Auschwitz! Rwanda is an extremely confronting country but that is not what we remember it for...

The people of this scarred land, are for the most part quite reserved and don't seem to display too much emotion. But, give them a smile and you will see a beaming smile being thrown right back at you. This is what we remember this country for, the wonderful smiles that seem to light up the faces of young and old. It was the first time we wished we had open faced helmets, so that the locals were able to see our entire faces and not just our eyes! They are also quite an inquisitive bunch and absolutely love loud motorbikes. We have some videos and photos of crowds gathering around us when we fire Yele up, they go
absolutely mental when they hear the sound of the throaty thumper, smashing stuff!

Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills. In between riding through these beautiful hills, we took a detour into the jungle to go and see the mountain gorillas. While a super expensive excursion (thanks Shari for organising the logistics of an international money transfer), it is a once in a lifetime experience and just magical. Sitting with a giant silverback, who resembles more an armoured vehicle than a gorilla, watching over his crew, is quite overwhelming. Equally amusing was our guide's ability to talk gorilla, seriously! I will try and upload this video we have of him, really funny! When he initially told us that he might have to do this from time to time I was like, "yeah here we go". Then we had our first encounter with these juvenile gorillas and he started going "mmmeeeeeemmmmm, mmmmeeeeeeemmmmmm", in a throaty type sound, they stopped and relaxed on cue. Sensational work by him we thought....

This tiny country also has hands down the best riding that we have come across in the whole of Africa. The sealed roads wind through lush terraced farmlands and the corners are endless. When you decide to go off road, again the riding is epic. Karla had to leave Rwanda early as she had to get to Kampala, Uganda for work commitments so I rode from the bottom of the country all the way to the top off road. Each day was hour after hour of standing up on the pegs, watching the gorgeous scenery glide by and letting the bike find her own lines through the ruts and the sand. Brilliant!

Another interesting point of discussion is the people in the orange and pink jumpsuits that we came across several times. Sometimes you might see them working on road works or rebuilding schools or similar. It turns out that orange uniforms are for prisoners who have been through the court system and are serving their sentences and pink uniforms are for those people whose cases are still before the courts. They are all genocidaires. A Gacaca law system was implemented some years after the genocide to speed up putting all of the responsible people through a judiciary system. This is because of the sheer number of people who were involved in commiting these atrocities, they say that it would have taken 110 years to put all of the people incarcerated through a judiciary system! For us, it was quite sickening to see these people walking in the streets, albeit with a guard close by with a machine gun. They would wave to us and whistle at our bike, in normal circumstances we love this and play along and rev the bike, here however, we couldn't look at these people as they were people who had in all likelihood butchered one and perhaps even several people! But the Rwandans favour this system and like to see people responsible brought to account quickly and directly in front of the victims families. Not really sure but what else can you do in a decromatic society? Everyone deserves a fair trial right? Even those who hack people to death with machetes...

I left Rwanda some weeks later and headed towards Kampala to go and catch up with Karla where she was nursing with Hospice Africa Uganda. Upon my arrival, the director of the Hospice, invited us for dinner and asked if I would help out in their IT department for a while. To be honest, I didn't mind and I spent a few weeks helping them out and it was a nice change to hang out in one place, eat cereal for breakfast and have a local coffee shop and bar to frequent way too often. Hospice is quite a remarkable place and they are seen as pioneers of the Hospice movement throughout Africa. Karla loved working with the Ugandan people, offering assistance to those with cancer and HIV and their families. She was able to spend time in the clinic at Hospice, in the local government hospital, but she particularly liked visiting the patients in their own homes. People were so open, warm and friendly and so grateful for the basic nursing care, support and pain relief that Hospice could provide. Enduring their illness without all the creature comforts and expectations, but so often with unparalleled faith and family love. It was inspiring and a privilege for Karla to do what she loves on this side of the world also. We made some great friends and got to see a localised view of Kampala which was great. It was a chaotic, vibrant city full of mud, rubbish and a million matatus that somehow worked very efficiently...helped in part by the crazy boda bodas that could take you from A to B in a matter of minutes. It was also full of matoke, the old green banana, that we grew to love... and our stomachs grew to accomodate.

We also did some white water rafting which was legendary! Karla and I had done some earlier on in Zimbabwe and decided that we would love to do it again so we took a crew of volunteers from Hospice and went down and made a weekend of it. We felt that the volume of water was heavier up here on the Nile, indeed there were some terrifying rapids that had us crapping ourselves silly! I am a sucker for pain so I went back down there the following week and did a three day course in white water kayaking which was a dam site harder than I thought it would be but I enjoyed it immensely.

In amongst all of the fun and activities you will be aware that our passports were misplaced. On the upside of this, whilst we waited, Karla was able was to complete a Course for Health Professionals in Palliative Care with Hospice and I went up to Murchison Falls National Park and did some camping. Uganda is the only place in Africa where you are allowed to take motorbikes into national parks, it was freaky riding around between buffaloes, elephants and giraffes knowing that somewhere close by lions were sitting in waiting. I made doubly sure that I didn't stall the bike and when I came to any muddy sections I made quite sure that I was on the gas and blasting straight through it. If I fell there, I'd certainly be picking the bike up fast!

Anyway, the lesson learnt with the passport fiasco is to always use DHL, never use any other courier company. Making things even more frustrating during this time was the fact that Australia has no representation in Uganda so there was lots of midnight phone calls to the other side of the world. We decided that it would be best for me to use my other passport and then head to Nairobi, Kenya (the next nearest embassy) and try and get some emergency documentation for Karla as she was essentially stuck! So I geared up, said goodbye to my wife and jumped on board Yele heading East to Kenya.

But that's for next time...

Love as always

P and K xxx

Lake Bunyoni, Uganda, I stayed in that little house en route to seeing Karla in Kampala

The lovely twisties of Rwanda

The eternal patchwork terraces of Rwanda

I'd prefer to be on my bike going up here

Lake Kivu Rwanda, the view from my room

Mountain gorilla, Rwanda

A colourful lizard, Rwanda

Our boda boda driver, Kampala, Uganda. These guys can whizz you around the city in a flash, carving through all of the gridlocked cars. We preferred to use our helmets as people are killed on these every day!

Spiced grasshoppers, a specialty at this time of the year in Uganda, they taste great!

Boda boda drivers taking a rest, Kampala, Uganda

Karla with a Ugandan family

Bottles of medicine, Kampala Uganda. The green one is morphine.

A local volunteer at the community outreach clinic, Kampala, Uganda

The pharmacy at the local outreach centre

Community outreach centre

Our guide for our excursion to the gorillas, Rwanda "MMMmeeemmmmmmmm"

Paul with the crowds gathering to see and hear the bike, Rwanda

Local village boys, Rwanda

The cows here have these abnormally large horns, check this guy out!

Matatus in the old taxi park, Kampala, Uganda

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Australia's third world postal service and what it means for us now


So for the third time running (not even a lie!) Australia Post's infamous courier service has #$%^*! up again and have lost our passports!!! This changes everything...

Three times, have you not learned by now? Au contraire mon ami, if we had known that the Australian clowns who we entrusted our passports to were going to use AusPost we would have run a mile. Twelve months ago the same thing happened with Karla's passport, we threatened to sue and all sorts of things and somehow it managed to turn up. Unfortunately,this story will not have as happy an ending. So what happened exactly? Allow me...

When the stars align in such a manner you really do need to take heed. From the word go everything and anyone has been telling us not to go to Ethiopia, in all sorts of sometimes subtle and other times dam blunt ways! Before we left Australia everything was in line, we would travel via Nairobi, get our Ethiopian visas there, and then do the much feared road north into Ethiopia. This was correct and being done when we left and has been done this way for centuries. Then about three months ago, I heard from some motorbike dudes that they were no longer issuing visas in Nairobi. As we travelled further north into Africa we confirmed that this was no longer possible. We discovered that there were Ethiopian embassies where we were going and would try there. Further on we find that no east african embassy will issue you with visas unless you are an east african national. Crap!!! What do we do now? Internet forums and other bikers, as well as our dear cycling friend Kevin, had couriered their passports back to their country of residence, had the visas issued in them and then couriered back. Scary concept we thought, imagine if they got lost. Not a word of a lie, we thought that when we sent them!!! We didn't really have a choice, we had planned to visit and were quite looking forward to this country. When I say the stars align, man, they appear to have been drawn with a ruler on this occasion!! We have met people the whole way up who have been through there and we have heard some hellish stories about Ethiopia. They came very close to having me rethink my plans to be honest but at the end of the day that was the plan and we were going to stick with it. Then a few weeks ago we heard that as of a few days before that, one needed a letter of invitation from ones embassy for ones motorbike. Something like, Dear Sir, we cordially invite Yele the Yamaha Tenere into your wonderful land and please look after her while she is there and prevent kids from throwing rocks at her and also prevent her and her riders from being hit with whips as they pass through villages. We thank you sincerely. The embassy of ...!!! What a load of snot!!! Seriously....

As I write this Karla is on the phone to Australian embassies, after fighting with police here for a police report for an entire week. They didn't want to give us a report as technically it didn't go missing in Uganda so why should they say it was lost there. It never actually got here. It made it to London and then it left there... and that is the last anyone has heard. Now one would think that they should be able to track this right? WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!! They just sit and wait until something happens!!! When we talk to Australia Post, "Well Sir, we sent them another remider"..... !@$^$&@^^^!!!! Let me remind you about something you*&^%$%#!!!!!

Am I angry?? I was, kind of over it now. So tomorrow I will make an emergency dash to Nairobi and from there I will try and hold my composure when dealing the local form of Australian beurecracy! Think about that for a second.... As if Australian beurecracy is not bad enough as it is now I have to deal with a Kenyanised version (sic).

Ultimately, there is no more Ethiopia for us on this trip. For a while this upset me slightly, while it might be frustrating and extremely difficult travel, it is apparently also home to some of the world's most amazing landscapes and it also has some of the most bizarre tribes. We had arranged to travel up in a vehicle convoy via Lake Turkana with a South African chap in his Land Cruiser (you need support up there) but that has obviously fallen by the way side. The upshot of all of this is that we have come across a whole lot of people who have absolutely raved about Kenya. So maybe these things happen for a reason? We shall see and we shall of course let you know.

So that means that tomorrow I cross into our last country on our epic journey through Africa on a motorcycle. Scarier still, we fly out of there in a month!! Our 6 month voyage is almost at an end. Sure there is still the UK and India to come but this was the biggie. It has been all that and more but more on that at a later date.

Once the next week or so of screaming at people subsides, we will write up our notes of Rwanda, a country that everyone knows about for all of the wrong reasons. Following that you will probably read our Uganda review when we are in the UK, don't think we will have time in Kenya to get any of that done.

To those in the parts of the world where things work, enjoy those little moments. Right now we are witnessing first hand just why things work on African time and why they most of the time don't really work at all. Sounds a bit harsh maybe, trust me this place is quite unlike any other.

And to Australia Post, when I become the leader of an empire I will ensure that you never ever get to lay your hands on anything that is deemed in the least bit important. You have my word on that.

With love

P and K


Monday, November 15, 2010



Well then where to begin on this one?? From the moment we crossed from Malawi into Tanzania we knew it was going to be special. How can it not? This vast land contains Mount Kilimanjaro, Serengeti National Park, Zanzibar and more Maasai warriors than you can poke a sword at... we loved it big style!!

We fell in love with their language immediately. Ki-Swahili is a very lyrical tongue and easier to have a go at learning than other African languages we have come across, Craig and Tinola might disagree with me on that one as they are studying it twice a week in Arusha :) The people were warm and friendly, the landscape varied, living outside of major tourist centres cheap and there was always something going on somewhere.

Our first day in Tanzania saw us stop off in some village over the border. With hunger pains gnawing we sat down in the usual 'plastic fantastic' restaurant and ordered a whole stack of bread type things and watched village life pass us by. My eyes met the intense stare of a young fellow who'd sat down at the table across from us. He was wearing a pinky purple dress with a sword tucked into his belt. He removed his gaze only when his friend arrived wearing similar garb and then looked back to us. Rather than giving the usual greeting he raised his arms straight out, pointed and jiggled his fingers. We looked at each other. Do we respond? Was it a greeting or perhaps some magic aimed in our direction? ...Ignorantly, I was expecting the Maasai tribes in Kenya, I didn't realise that there were now more of this tribe in Tanzania than Kenya. They are cool dudes man, seriously! I doubt you will find anyone who isn't a little bit in awe when you get your first glimpse of a Maasai warrior that isn't on the front of a national geographic. These dudes adorned in jewellery continue to herd their cattle with swords, spears and a skirt! They are also notoriously serious, don't smile a whole lot and have some weird rituals involving removing bits of men's parts.... at the request of the tribal women... no more info provided!

Our first big stop was Zanzibar. Actually, Dar es Salaam, where you catch the ferry from, deserves a bit of a mention. It has worse traffic than Melbourne and Johannesburg combined! For real! We were on a bike and it still took us two hours to get through it, including negotiating our way up and over pavements and all sorts of shenanigans. At one point our trusty GPS told us to turn down a one way street (apparently one way...the road sign was laying flat on the we obviously missed it) and we were promptly jumped on by the police. Here we go again! Luckily for us Tanzania has as much corruption as Zimbabwe, so I paid an agreed price to make it go away! I love Africa! Anyway, let's go to Zanzibar...a holiday in a holiday!

The nauseating ferry took three hours to reach Freddy Mercury's birth place, we definitely recommend travel sickness tablets if you ever intend on doing this trip. But the island is definitely all that you have seen and heard. It is exotic defined. The call to prayer from the surrounding mosques,the constant buzz of Stone Town through the narrow cobblestoned alleys, sipping cocktails from Africa house watching the sun dip into the Indian ocean, and that's not even having arrived at the infamous beaches. We spent three days wandering, admiring the exquisite Zanzibarian doors and getting lost in the maze of streets that have no names and meld into one another in an obscure fashion. Every night there is a massive sea food feast on the sea front and people come out in their thousands. Every type of sea food is on offer and we loved it. This happens every day, year round. We did wonder for how long these oceans surrounding Zanzibar would be filled with fish. Following this we spent four days kicking back on the white sandy beaches of Metemwe and thinking only of what we would have for our next meal. We swam in the warm waters, truth be told though there were millions of sea urchins. I stood on one of the savage things which wasn't so hot and Karla had to spend hours getting the stupid things out of my feet! We loved Zanzibar and we loved the diving we did there enormously. Two dives in Stone town, one wreck and one reef with great visibility. And then two dives in the Mnemba Atoll...well well! Unbeknown to us, a well known top dive site. Drift diving is quite incredible. You drop down to the dive's recommended depth, land in the current, and then float and watch the masses of fish, turtles and spectacular life under water just pass you by. I know of one recent convert to the world of diving, Jim-Bob, you should definitely get over to this side at some stage my man!

From Zanzibar, we headed north to take on the mighty Kilimanjaro. If you've been following our sporadic but lengthy tales you will be aware that we had quite an experience there. I still buzz when I think about the summit, especially when we meet people who are either going there or have been recently. We then moved due west, Serengeti National park was next.

A few phone calls and some negotiations and we had our own Land Cruiser and a driver for our safari. You can't get into the park without a guide and serious wheels, the roads here are rough. We saw countless fourbies changing tyres, broken down, rattled to bits. What's worse, every time they return from a single journey into the park, they have to be taken in for a service, this costs the locals who own these cars an absolute fortune!

So I thought that the Kruger National Park in South Africa was the be-all and end-all when it came to game parks and I knew it had a lot to live up to, even though we had met a few Kruger veterans who told us that the Serengeti was on another level. I am delighted to say they were spot on! We loved the Serengeti! It is a lot more expensive than other game parks we have been to, but the landscape is amazing and the actual driving is awesome, loads of rutted hills that definitely push the Land Cruisers towards their limits. It was also the first time that we saw cheetahs in the wild, two males right next to our car, they were so sleek and it was sensational. Hyenas, lions (many), elephants and a zillion giraffes! What capped it all off was that we could camp in our little tent in the middle of the park. No fences around us, you just pitch your tent in a little place that has a toilet and an enclosure for you to cook in therefore keeping the animals away from your steak (hmm, actually pasta). We started cooking and looked at our tent a few metres away and noted a rather large hyena sniffing around! Then, two large buffaloes and a lovely giraffe about four metres behind him. When I saw the hyena I was a bit concerned and asked this local chap who was cooking for another group whether they were a problem or not. No, he told me, but those two big buffaloes behind him are a big concern. Bloody hell!! Once the sun went down, the eyes came out...buck, jackals, hyenas and god knows what else reflected back from the light of our head torches. We were told that if we went to the toilet during the night we had to be careful not to walk in the path of a buffalo. We both decided that once in our tent we were going nowhere until the sun came up. It is amazing that you are allowed to camp like that! It gets better...

After dinner, we made doubly sure that our bladders were empty and that there was absolutely no trace of any type of food in our tent. Our guide slept in the Land Cruiser, smart man! Getting to sleep was not really that hard, there was the sound of the African bush, hippoes in the distance, lions somewhere not too far away, cicadas, and the haunting cackle of packs of hyenas. At about 2am I woke up to a noise, and my nose touching the edge of our small trusty tent. About 2cm's from my mouth outside the tent analysing my breath was a farging hyena!!! "Babe, babe..." Karla whispered. "I know, I can see him...", I replied before promptly deciding to stop breathing. Before sunrise we woke again needing a wee but decided it could definitely wait until the sun came up when we heard lions grunting close by. So no exageration, it is wild to camp in the wild...we were much more relaxed the second night when we pitched our tent amongst others and realised that these carnivores can apparently recognise the difference between a human and a buck. What a ride... We highly recommend a trip to the Serengeti at least once in your life, it is a magical experience.

From Serengeti, we had a projected five day slog through what appeared on the map and indeed was actually labelled as a "partly improved road or track". What a disaster that turned out to be. It was thick sand, blinding dust, bone jarring- suspension smashing rocks, and this was in the middle of being upgraded! Annoyingly, and I am going to be highly un-politically correct here, the Chinese don't know how to build roads! They have taken on this enormous project of sealing the road from Arusha to Dodoma which is around 1000km's. The locals tell us they have been building it for approximately three years and the entire thing is a big fat joke. They have not taken small sections, completed it and moved on but ripped up the entire length of it and finished none of it, set crappy diversions and basically condemned the locals to live covered in red road dust with no end in sight. Perhaps they were charging the Tanzanian government by the hour as it was a total shambles and they really didn't seem to be in any hurry to get anything finished. One part of the road was so bad that Yele was making some serious creaking noises but anyhow we made it out to Rwanda in 6 days but they were dam long and tiring rides. An afterthought and before I forget, let me just tell you that in these parts the locals just love the pop and crackle of our thumper and constantly whistle and cheer for us wherever we go. Aftermarket pipes are an absolute must have on any trip through Africa!

We have decided to cut down on the number of pictures for this post even though here we took the largest amount of photos to date. We have picked what for us epitomised that wonderful country. It is a magical place and its people are amazing. We missed the Wildebees migration due to timing so we definitely have to go back there one day which excites me massively. I think whether with kids, or on a solo jaunt, that place rocks!

Masses of love to you all, wherever you are.

Congratulations Alex and Doona...we can't wait to see your piccies!!

P and K


The magical Maasai warriors

The inhabitants of the fascinating Serengeti National Park

Mommy hippo and her baby

Two cheetah brothers, this was a first for us and simply defines the Serengeti

With age comes wisdom, the mighty elephant

Lions blocking our road

Another shot that defines the glorious Serengeti

Six days of literally eating dust will do this to you, on our way from Tanzania to Rwanda

The ferry in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Karla after a being in an aquarium!

The old fashioned dhows that sailed past made you remember you were some place exotic!

No sunbathers on this beach...just scooters, dhows and sea urchins!

A seafood feast every night on the waterfront at Stone Town.

Stone town's street life, Zanzibar.

Karla with Zanzibar's beautiful doors

This man was carrying some precious cargo...but not so precious as mine :)

Tanzania had an infinite number of violent speed bumps, an infinite number of crazy truck drivers and crashes, and as we found out an infinite number of giraffes

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Progress report, and the preparation for the last push north

13114km's from point of origin!!


That is the first time we have reported on distance for a while. Quite mad actually, Cape to Cairo, which is crossing the entire African continent is about 10000km's, by the time we finish our Ethiopian jaunt and head back into Kenya we will probably have doubled that!!! WOW!!! As you can see from the map we are in Kampala, Uganda. In a few days I will make my way east into Kenya ahead of Karla who will join me shortly after. Yele is booked in hopefully for some new shoes and a bit of a service before we make our way north into the wonders of Ethiopia. The road north is the much dreaded Moyale - Marsabit road, there are youtube videos about it and I have read no end of horror stories about it. There are people coming down now who are writing stories of ripping their bash plates off their bikes, rattling numerous bolts right out of the subframe and worse. We have known about this road for a long time and to say we are apprehensive would be an understatement. But we will give it a go and see how we go, one last speedstar, wooohooooo!!!

As you can see also, the yellow line is the projected route so Ethiopia is massive and we will be looking to cover some serious ground as all of the historical route is in the North. So we are hoping to make it up near the Sudanese border and then we will make our way back down to Nairobi where we are set to fly out of Africa in exactly six weeks from today!!! Unbelievable, we are actually nearing the finish line!! Ethiopia is going to be nuts, I know it, so we can't afford to think about the finish line just yet.

The long overdue blog entry for Tanzania is with my editor for final review before submission, expect that on Thursday or Friday as I am going kayaking down the Nile river for three days while K finishes up her last week here at work.

I thought that I would throw in a photo of us white water rafting last weekend here on the Nile river. This shot pretty much covers how the day was for us, we flipped at nearly every rapid and this river was really something else. I am under water somewhere and that is Karla on the back behind a friend of ours Becky, about to get smashed but doing the right thing and making sure we had hold of the rope.

Rock on...

P and K xxx