Check out this feature on our trip from KTN News shown across Kenya on 20th August 2011. Very exciting to see us and Turning Point on prime-time Saturday night TV!
I’ll start as I mean to go on. Ethiopia is a stunningly beautiful country… I can’t go on.
Yes, the Ethiopian landscape is quite simply YOU YOU YOU YOOOOU breathtaking; it was amazing to ride from the flat, barren, desert of Sudan into the lush, green, mountainous terrain of Ethiopia. The scenery changes so quickly as you climb towards the border, even on a bicycle. But that was one of a very select band of positives that we were able to find there. Sticking with our tried and tested strategy of MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY poor preparation, we arrived YOU in the most mountainous country of the trip -that makes it quite cold despite being near the equator- in the height of Ethiopia’s rainy season with a single waterproof between us and no fleeces or jumpers. These YOU had all been lost/or stolen along the way and not replaced. Not replacing them may sound a bit daft, but it’s quite tricky to find waterproofs in Egypt or Sudan because YOU YOU YOU, well, it doesn’t really rain and it’s similarly tricky to find waterproofs in Ethiopia due to a distinct lack of MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY outdoor shops. The locals take two approaches when it rains; they either get wet, or wrap a piece of plastic around themselves like a shawl. We got wet. MONEY
So we were soaked YOU through, cold, and miserable, and it soon became clear that Tatu felt the same way. On a fairly regular basis Tatu began to ask to give up and go home GIVE ME PEN in the only way a bike can ask – mechanical failure.
- Puncture – replaced tyre and repaired puncture
- Stretched Chain – chain between pedals kept MONEY falling off, replaced
- Buckled Chainring – person on front couldn’t pedal, hammered into shape
- Front Pannier Rack Collapsed – had a new steel one made for £20, amazing
- Rear Gear GIVE ME BIRRRRR Cable Snapped – bodged replacement with brake cables, lost four of eight rear gears (3 easiest gone in the mountains = struggers!)
YOOOOOOU After all this came another YOU YOU YOU YOU puncture that proved more difficult than normal to fix. We discovered that all our spare tubes had been pinched during one of the previous break downs and attempts to patch the already multiMONEY-patched tube were to no avail. So we had to buy some GIVE ME MONEY new tubes. Alas, the only inner tubes available in Africa are from China and have a very strange and very wide valve, too wide to fit through the hole in our wheel rims. So we were forced to drill MONEY MONEY MONEY out the rims, attach an odd adapter to our pump and adopt the ill fitting Chinese technology. Needless to say, there were plenty more punctures in store for us.
Anyway, enough about the bike. I guess you’re all starting to think we disliked Ethiopia WHERE YOU GO just because of a few bike glitches and a spot of rain. Well no, there’s a few more gripes to come yet! To be fair the food was much better MONEY than the Sudanese offerings –donut type things for breakfast and even some spaghetti- with tea and coffee available in every village and when it wasn’t raining the conditions were pretty much perfect for cycling. But tipping the balance back towards misery were the endless hills and the dreaded YOU YOU YOU YOU GIVE ME MONEY locals. We spent most of our time at altitudes between 2,000 and 3,000m negotiating valley after valley, until you eventually pass the capital Addis Ababa and start to descend towards the Kenyan border. However, before you reach Addis there is the Nile Gorge to negotiate. As YOU the name suggests, it’s a gorge with the Nile running along the bottom of it. What the name doesn’t mention is that it is chuffing deep and there is no conveniently placed bridge across the top of it (in the defence of Ethiopian bridge builders, it is quite wide). So down we YOU MONEY MONEY MONEY trundled from about 3,000m to around 1,000m, MONEY before then slogging back up the other side. In Tour de France terms it is an haute category/out of category climb, and crawling up it on a heavily laden and rather grumpy tandem with assorted war wounds proved quite tough.
Once we finally reached Addis GIVE ME CARAMELO Ababa we had a wonderful reunion with Wim, Pauline and BOB at a place called Holland House. Wim very kindly lent us a couple of jumpers GIVE ME PEN and, being fully versed in our lack of preparedness for just about everything, offered to email us MONEY MONEY MONEY MONEY a more sensible cycle-touring kit list for any future adventures! So we were much happier as we set off for the Kenyan border. The road YOU YOU YOU YOU eventually started heading downhill, the MONEY rain decreased and we were toasty warm in our borrowed jumpers, we YOU were very nearly comfortable.
So that’s about it for Ethiopia… Oh hang on… we forgot to mention the YOU YOU YOU MONEY MONEY MONEY locals. In a nutshell, if you had a crowd of people stood next to you screaming all the bold text and throwing an occasional stone at you as you read this blog in a cold shower, you would feel like you were in Ethiopia.
Eventually we were back on the road and scorching hot road at that. It was 42°C in Wadi Halfa and would hit highs of 47°C as we travelled south towards Dongola. In true Cycle2Kenya style we didn’t prepare for this very well. We stocked up on water in Wadi Halfa expecting a 60km stretch before the next town. This actually turned out to be a 100km stretch and we found ourselves woefully short on water. Thankfully after about 80km, absolutely gagging, we managed to get some water from a couple of locals camped out in the desert. We still couldn’t drink this for 30mins as we waited for the sterilising tablets to work their magic, But we could finally throw caution to the wind and gulp down the remains of our rationed supplies.
This first stretch of desert is not as sandy as you would imagine and has lots of rocky outcrops that the road winds through. Although you rarely ever see it, the roads tracks fairly close to the Nile river. At night, with a slight breeze and clear skies, it is fantastic to simply throw down a tarp and lie under the stars. On the other hand, the days are pretty brutal. From 11-3 we simply had to stop riding and get out of the sun as the heat was just too much. You crave the cold drinks at rest stops and start to look at empties by the side of the road and wonder if they might have a dribble of sweet cold soda left inside.
By the time we got to our lunch stop on day three Mat was really beginning to struggle. Dehydration and heat exhaustion left him unable to ride any further that day and he was again in need of a lift (cheating again!). Luckily Wim and Pauline, two Dutch overlanders who we had met on the ferry, caught us up at just the right time. They had already given us their spare speedo to replace the one stolen in Egypt and now they kindly gave Mat a lift to the next town to recover in a hotel. After plenty of rehydration sachets, a good feed, and lots of sleep Mat was ready to get back on the bike the following day, back to the joy of the open road?!?
We headed south towards Khartoum and eventually reached a 300km stretch of road that leaves the Nile and heads straight through the desert. There is almost nothing on this road apart from very basic truck stops roughly every 50km, and lots of dead camels. Ordinarily we would look to cover 50km in a little over two hours of cycling, so given that there is water and food (I use the word ‘food’ begrudgingly) at each of these stops we thought it would pretty straight forward to roll from rest stop to rest stop. Alas, we were mistaken. We had been informed by numerous different sources that the winds usually blow from North to South, which would have helped speed us on towards each rest stop. Unfortunately, when we set out on the desert road the winds decided to blow the other way and we struggled along into a head wind for the entire 300km. At times the wind was so strong that we could barely make any forward progress and on a few occasions it whipped up vicious sandstorms that brought the visibility down to a few feet. One morning we set off into a sandstorm and covered a pitiful 3km in almost half an hour of riding. At that speed it would have taken all day to reach the next rest stop so we had to turn back and wait out the storm at the previous nights accommodation.
After three slow, tough days we made it to Khartoum where we found a fantastic welcome. Large cities are a real pain to navigate through and have really slowed us down, sometimes taking several hours to cross. So we stopped to ask directions once we got into Khartoum and received an amazing response. First of all we were asked to join Ibrahim and his friend for a soda. We gladly accepted and also received some sandwiches and extra drinks for the road, before Ibrahim invited us to come and see his garage. He refurbishes old motorbikes and cars, mostly dating from the 1920s-1940s, and does a splendid job of it. After viewing his collection we bid him farewell and asked the best way to get out of Khartoum, he answered with action. He hopped onto one of his motorbikes and escorted us through the hectic roads of the capital, which still took a good 30 minutes despite taking shortcuts. It would have taken us all afternoon to figure it out with trial and error. On route he even stopped to buy us a sim card so we could ring him if we needed any further help, top lad!
After being safely delivered to the south of Khartoum, the road to the border began to get a little easier. We still suffered from more head winds, though not as bad as on the desert road, and as we began to slowly gain height we even managed to find ourselves a lovely thunder-storm to cool us down a little. At this point, still pretty frazzled from the desert sun, we didn’t realise quite how familiar we would become with torrential rain!
British Pair Ride to Kenya on a Tandem For Charity
9,200km journey from Woking to Nairobi completed in 73
days by amateur duo
SURREY, 26 AUGUST 2011 - Mat Smith (28) and Tim Simpson (26), two amateur British cyclists from Woking, Surrey have this week completed an incredible journey of over 9,200km (5716 miles) to Nairobi, Kenya for the Turning Point Trust – on a fifteen year-old tandem bicycle. The epic trip saw the pair go through seventeen countries, encountering local bandits and horrendous weather on the way to their intended destination.
Beginning in the town square of the pair’s home-town of Woking, Surrey, Smith and Simpson set off on the 3rd June, heading through Europe with the end goal of reaching the Kibera slum in Nairobi Kenya, where the Turning Point Trust, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) are based.
Turning Point Trust aim to improve the lives of children and single mothers from the slum by giving them opportunities to help themselves and ultimately change their lives for the better.
“Having heard about the trust and following a previous visit to the slum to see my sister, I knew this was the challenge we were looking for,” said Smith. “The adventure wasn’t just about raising money, it was about raising awareness of the Trust’s work too. Having been to Kenya and seen the great work the Trust do, we were keen to help make a difference.”
Smith’s sister, Emily Smith works for the Trust in Nairobi and highlighted the cause to the duo, who were in search of a charitable adventure to undertake, having been inspired by the activities of adventurers, James Cracknell and Ben Fogle.
“I was looking to do something memroable before starting university in September,” said Simpson. “However, once we’d decided on what to do, the main aim became securing funds to assist in the purchase of farmland outside of Kibera,” added Simpson.
“The land is used to practically teach some of the local mothers the skills they need to run a farm and provide themselves with a sustainable source of food and income. Turning Point also help put the children of Kibera through schooling, assisting parents in the community with a micro-finance scheme. The scheme provides families with small loans that can be used to start their own businesses; something we thought was incredible and really wanted to support.”
With little experience under their belt, the pair encountered every kind of culture and landscape, not to mention weather; from torrential rain in the mountains of Ethiopia, to the flat, dry, sandstorm-whipped roads of Sudan, this was the biggest and toughest challenge both Mat and Tim had ever undertaken.
“We didn’t get an opportunity to do too much preparation, bar two trips to the New Forest in Dorset, so we were really quite nervous about what we’d encounter,” recalled a proud Smith. “We’re thrilled to have made it back, but our work doesn’t end here. We’re keen to achieve our target of £11,000 and we’ve still got just over £3,000 to raise.”
Now back in the UK, the pair are keen to speak with media about the trip, and discuss the work of the Turning Point Trust, there is also talk of further adventures.
If you’d like to speak with Smith and Simpson, they are available for any media opportunities that will allow them to talk about their adventure and are available at relatively short notice.
We landed in Cairo excited to finally be reaching Africa but aware that this was the business end of the trip. We thought Egypt would be a fairly straight forward trundle south along the Nile before it then got tougher in Sudan. After a few days of admin faff in Cairo we headed out on the agricultural road. As the name suggests this passes through lots of farm land that occupies a thin vein of land that tracks the Nile. It is absolutely packed with not even a square inch of unutilised land. As a result the road is incredibly busy with cars, trucks, motorbikes and donkey carts. When you combine the heat, the volume of traffic and the excitability of Egyptians when they spot a tandem, you have a pretty miserable day in the saddle. The constant beeping alone was enough to make you want to pull your own ear drums out.
So the next day we tried the desert road instead. This was pretty bleak, was covered in litter and was much more difficult to get any ice cold mango juice at our rest stops. It also landed us with a reluctant police escort (they tried to persuade us to put the bike in the truck). The escort turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. It reduced the beeping and general harassment a little, but they tried to dictate our stops and route to match where their checkpoints were. The police also were likely to take a dim view of our desire for wild camping, but luckily we gave them the slip at dinner and spent the night under the stars in the desert.
Unfortunately Mat did a little more star gazing than anticipated as most of his night was spent squatting by a rock. After 20 km of riding the following day Mat was in a pretty bad way and not fit to continue. So Mat went with the bags on a bus to the next town with a hotel and Tim went it alone on the tandem, hoping (but ultimately unsuccessful) to pick up a stoker en route. Antibiotics, a good feed and loads of fluids and Mat was ready to get back on the bike the following day.
The rest of our time on the bike in Egypt was tough but productive. We made good progress and did meet some really nice people but it was the larger misfortunes that really stood out. On our final night camping before we reached Aswan we found a nice spot on some farm land. We checked it was OK with the farmers and they even cleared some thorns for us before heading off for the evening. A bit later one of the kids who had been asking for money came back with a different bloke and a strange tale of wild animals. They offered us security but wouldn’t let us sleep until we gave them some money. We tried to ignore them but they shook our tent until the central pole snapped, rendering it useless. So we packed up in the dark and hit the road again… we then noticed they had pinched our speedo, *@*#@!!… then our light ran out! We taped a torch to the basket and carried on to the salvation of a petrol station. The guys there were great. They gave us tea and offered us a place to sleep for the night, which we gladly accepted.
Then the next day we finally made it to Aswan where we had to wait for a ferry to Sudan. On the way our front bag rack snapped so we had a few repairs to do which taught us two important lessons:
1. Never let a 12 year old boy do any welding for you.
2. Irishmen can fix anything.
Initially our neatly sheered rack caught fire and started to shrivel up. This ended the 12 year old’s contract and we went elsewhere for a more experienced craftsmen. For the tent pole this was fixed by an Irish overlander called Jonny. It was quite an incredible bodge with a door hinge that left it in better condition than it started!
Egypt finally became a nice place to be as we spent the rest of our time relaxing and sailing on the Nile whilst getting to know the various overlanders stationed in Aswan. They were either waiting for the same ferry as us to get to Sudan, or were waiting to get their vehicles off the barge that had come from Sudan. Not an easy task as the constant stream of angry South Africans in and out of our hotel would attest.
As we were making our way over the tricky Turkish border we bumped into a couple of chaps looking even scruffier than ourselves. We introduced ourselves to Tom and Xani, a pair of Scottish students cycling from Edinburgh to Istanbul. The fact they travelled light (Xani had little more than a laptop, beard trimmer and a book of quotes) and make their money riding Rickshaws in Edinburgh meant they were monster cyclists. They were the first tourers we met who could keep up with us (actually we were keeping up with them) so we joined forces for the leg to Istanbul. It was great to have some company and it gave us some fresh impetus as we were starting to get a bit road weary. It was also fantastic to be able to chat with people who intimately understand the life of a mile hungry cycle tourer.
So we spent 2 days watching Tom and Xani disappear up the rolling hills to then trundle down past them on our heavy tandem going down again. After a much needed evening chilling in Istanbul the guys were even mad enough to get up early to ride out of Istanbul with us in the rain! We said our goodbyes thinking we were on the Asian side of Istanbul only to find that we were still well and truly in Europe!
We had a miserable morning trying to get out of Istanbul, getting hopelessly lost, ending up on motorways and even briefly finding ourselves being put on a bus to cross the Istanbul bridge. However the day ended well. While we were looking for a place to whack up our tent we were beckoned into a family’s home who let us camp in their orchard. They gave us food and water that evening and tea, bread and olives for breakfast.
Turkey continued in this vain all the way down to Silifke in the South. Fairly busy, hilly roads, making for some tough riding but delicious food and really warm helpful people. In Ankara we were guided to a bike shop by the head of the Police Academy (Aziz) and his son (Mikael). They spent a couple of hours helping us find the shop and stayed to help translate our various bike problems to the mechanic before they told us that it was Mikael’s birthday and he was now late to his party!
Our final day in Turkey proved to be one of the toughest on the road. We got up at half 4 to give ourselves plenty of time to get the 11.30 ferry to Cyprus but a puncture, scorching heat and some pretty mean hills slowed us down. We dug deep however and made it in time. Mat celebrated the accomplishment by scoffing a whole kg of Baklava.
Once in Cyprus with no maps or any idea how to get across the island we were helped out by some British teenagers holidaying in Cyprus and we were soon tucking into dinner in Nicosia. The next day we arrived at the airport early so were able to chill on the beach by the runway while waiting for our flight. Getting on the flight with Tatu was touch and go to say the least (think useless staff, a very angry Tim and trying to bubble wrap a tandem). But eventually the 3 of us were airborne and on our way to Africa.
Right, I think we may have promised a tractor update? Sorry that this post has been as slow to arrive as your average plough-pulling agricultural steed, but we have been rather busy absolutely flying through Eastern Europe in an attempt to get to Kenya before our slightly ambitious deadline.
Yes there is a lot of farm machinery in Eastern Europe, possibly even more than Ipswich and Norwich combined, but that wasn’t what captured our imagination. Serbia was the jewel in the crown of our trip’s European leg.
From Austria we continued along the Danube cycle route and smashed through Slovakia with a 200km day that included our second puncture on roads that would rival Africa’s worst for pot holes. Then came Hungary, which we dispatched in a couple of days racking up another 371km. Hungary seemed like a really nice country, if a little dishevelled, but their cycle paths need some work. Getting through Budapest was an absolute nightmare and at one point we were sent over steps?? Steps and bikes don’t really make cosy bed fellows at the best of times and a fully loaded tandem over steps certainly doesn’t constitute the best of times. So after navigating steps and some pretty dodgy roads/paths we decided to leave the Danube cycle route and simply follow the nearest road to the river. Just before entering Serbia we stopped to fill our water bottles and treat ourselves to a coffee. The Hungarian barman was quite concerned about our safety in Serbia saying that it was “very dangerous” and that there are “many men with guns”. This was music to Mat’s ears, a man with a gun is one of his Spot It’s! For better or worse we didn’t really see any men with guns in Serbia and it proved to be our favourite country by far.
As we entered Serbia there were a lot of bullet holes in buildings and there was a degree of trepidation in our first few pedal strokes. But, it quickly became clear that the Serbian people are as sunny as the fabulous weather and that the roads are flat and smooth. The food was a little hit and miss though and the menus were probably the only thing that could be described as dangerous. We got a taste for pancakes whilst in Novi Sad (we have a lot of time for Novi Sad) and tried to order coffee and pancakes for second breakfast a couple of days later. The cafe owner’s gesturing towards a picture of a sausage and chips did little to dampen our optimistic vision of pancakes. But, alas, instead of coffee and pancakes we received weak, tepid, ‘hot’ chocolate and two enormous burgers?!? Didn’t see that one coming.
As we continued up one of the rare Serbian hills, through a small farming village, our chain snapped. We managed to fix it pretty quickly, but got even greasier than the aforementioned burgers in the process. When we asked one of the locals if we could wash our hands, he invited us in to meet his wife and children before laying on a spread of crisps, chocolate and a homemade lemonadey type thing, which we think had elder flowers in? We get gestured at a lot with offers of hospitality, but because of our rushed schedule we rarely get the chance to enjoy the offerings. It was great to finally have the chance to experience the hospitality that other cycle tourists rave about.
Unfortunately, from Serbia we zipped through Romania in a day and had a rather unwelcome encounter with the locals. As we approached the border with Bulgaria we were expecting to find a bridge across the Danube. In part because the bridge turned out to be a ferry and in part because we were being chased by a vicious sounding dog, we missed the turn to the ferry port and ended up in the wrong end of town. As we asked for directions some of the local kids pinched a load of our tools from our saddle bag and scampered off never to be seen again.
Once in Bulgaria we finally said goodbye to the Danube and hello to some rather hulking hills as we headed south and crossed the Balkan Mountains. Most days in Bulgaria were pretty hilly, but one in particular was a bit of a monster. The morning began with some small rolling hills before the road started gently sloping up for 10km. This left us at the bottom of an 18km ascent up to the top of a mountain pass. The view at the top and the road down were fantastic, but were they worth the 3 hour struggle up?? Debatable. Mercifully the roads became a little flatter after this and we made it to the Turkish border in fairly good time for the final part of the European Leg.
More on this and some Scottish rickshaw drivers next time!