Wednesday, 25 June 2008

23rd June 08

Date: 23rd June 08
Location: Sehlabathebe, Lesotho
Weather: Clear night, very cold, clear day not as cold -2°c to 18°c
Status: Up in the clouds and loving it.

Chilly wake up this morning,-2°c and frost over the flysheet of the tent so a hasty retreat was made indoors to warm up in front of the gas fire the girls had been enjoying!

Decided that we’d like to try and get back to the warmth of the coast ASAP and that we’d drive for most of the day to get to Port St Johns in the Eastern Cape, South Africa by sundown – another epic day’s drive ahead then!

The twisting trail which we’d left last night continued but slowly became narrower and less well surfaced slowing progress with the average speed dropping to 17km/h and the low range box being used more and more to control our progress up and down the steep slopes which were often covered in ice where the sun rays didn’t reach.

We eventually arrived at the entrance to Sehlabathebe NP where we found the supermarket, run by a Chinese man which is no longer unusual to me in Africa, and bought eggs, bread and peanuts for breakfast. Drove on another 30kms until we found a remote hilltop surrounded by nothing more than the most stupendous views of Lesotho and the Drakensburg mountains, and got the cooker out to prepare fried egg sandwiches.

Drove on for another 30kms until we reach the border post of Rama’s Gate, did the formalities and entered South Africa 10 minutes later. The road down from the high mountain range continued as track and rock for another 30kms until we finally found some tarmac just short of Cedarville, filled up and started the 150km drive to the coast.

Again breaking an unwritten rule to myself for the third day in a row, the sun dropped behind the hills and over the horizon leaving me to navigate the twisting unlit, full of badly kept cars, Transkei roads……not ideal! But by an hour after sunset we pulled into the coastal town of Port St Johns, somewhere I hadn’t been for 10 years and was looking forward to revisiting.

Amapondo Backpackers was our destination of choice and we pulled into the car park, selected my campsite and retired to the restaurant after another long day on the road.

Good to be back to more bearable conditions at night as the temperature dropped to only 12°c…..much better!

End of day location: Port St Johns, South Africa
Distance covered: 320kms

22nd June 08

Date: 22nd June 08
Location: Sehlabathebe, Lesotho
Weather: Clear blue skies, really cold though 12°c in the day and 0°c night time
Status: New team moving along well now!

Left the backpackers around 7.30am and made our way out and onto the gravel road which led us up to the bottom of the famous Sani Pass, we could see as we neared the base of the climb the snow and ice which would greet us at the top.

Pulled into the South African border post and were stamped out of the country before passing through the fencing and onto the steeply rising track. It’s a mixture of solid rock, loose gravel, streams running over the route and towards the top thick snow with an ice bottom coupled with an upward slope of about 1:4!

The bottom of the rise was easy enough we passed another couple of vehicles coming down and they said that the top part was still in the shade, frozen and ‘interesting’ to say the least, awesome.

The South African traffic law states that only 4WD vehicles are allowed onto this road and as we neared the whiter section of the climb at about 2700m above sea level, you could clearly see why! A group of 4 motorbikes were pulled up at the edge of the road with the riders discussing the path and the problems they were having getting to the summit but they confidently said “you have no problems getting up!”

It was awesome seeing the road winding and snaking up above us with the border post into Lesotho just visible on the horizon, I locked the diffs in, selected the low range box and started the climb. We passed frozen waterfalls, streams that had set solid over the track and snow drifts which extended into our path.

The Colonel’s new tyres certainly helped as we slipped then gripped our way up the pass and it wasn’t too long before we reached the summit and the Lesotho border so made our way to the cold looking office for our passports to be stamped. Just over the road from immigration is the Sani Pass Lodge, Africa’s highest Pub) where we headed to for a Gluvein (almost exactly the same as mulled wine in the UK) and a selection of cold meats and pates for lunch eaten on the benches outside overlooking the pass from above and it was good to see where we’d just come up from!

We decided we’d like to spend a day or so in Lesotho and found on the map a lodge to the south, what we thought would be a half days drive away, enough time to get there in the light and settle in with a beer….or so we thought!

Lesotho is known as the Mountain Kingdom, and for good reason, as far as the eye could see from the Lodge (which is virtually positioned on the highest peak in Southern Africa) were mountains, some covered in snow with other lower peaks just covered at the tip, small thatched rondavels dotted the lower slopes with mountain roads winding their way between them.

After 5 hours of climbing and dropping through and over these tracks the sun started to drop out of the sky and the temperature fell accordingly with ice starting to form on the roads, so it was good to see the entrance to our destination in the glare of the headlights.

The girls checked into the dorm which had fantastic double beds and thick duvets together with traditional Lesotho blankets……and I made my way to the tent, my winter sleeping bag ready for a cold night!

End of day location: Sehlabathebe, Lesotho
Distance covered: 157kms

21st June 08

Date: 21st June 08
Location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 23°c
Status: Full Colonel which runs superbly and happy to be moving again.

Up to watch England get thrashed by New Zealand in the rugby, had the piss taken by numerous South Africans, just wait guys the Tri-Nations starts soon 

Left to go back to the Howling Moon tent factory in Durban as they’ve been repairing a zip and replacing the cover to my house for the last week, arrived and met the director David Fraser. Chatted for a while and discussed Afritrex and he asked me to give him the details of the project and website so they could set up links to mine, superb more coverage!

It was only when I opened up the tent in the evening that I realised they’d replaced ALL of the zips, fixed a couple of wear marks and supplied me with a complete new set of window poles…all for next to nothing! A really amazing service for which I am very thankful

Stopped off at The Pavillion shopping centre for lunch and then left for Underberg at the base of the Sani Pass, the famous winding, sheer drop surrounded unsurfaced road through the Drakensburg mountains into Lesotho.

A picturesque 120km drive to the Sani Pass backpackers and then a quick bite to eat before heading to the local hotel to watch Russia beat Holland 3-1 in the Euro Champs.

Bed….which I’ve totally been looking forward to, back in my own tent. Very cold night though on this the shortest day of the year here! 8°c

End of day location: Sani Pass, South Africa
Distance covered: 275kms

20th June 08

Date: 20th June 08
Location: Port Edward, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 25°c
Status: Ready to move again

Got up at 5am as I couldn’t leep thinking about packing the Colonel and getting back on the road again so headed out quietly onto the driveway to get on with the job in hand.

Checked my emails at 8am and sat in my inbox was a message from a friend Ana, from England. We’d been in touch over the ast few months as shes been travelling herself through Southern Africa and happened to have checked into a backpackers in Durban 24hrs earlier! I rang the hostel and spoke to her briefly and decided to pop in and see her on the way through to PMB.

Said my thankful goodbyes to the Taylor family, oh incidentally Nicolene, Bryan’s wife, shouted over the wall at 8.30am…”I’m pregnant!” so great new for the family.

Left Port Edward and headed up the coast to Port Shepstone straight to Tiger Wheel and Tyres as they would be fitting a new set of 6 BF Goodrich to the Colonel at cost price ready for the trip back up north. Also arranged an interview with the local South Coast Herald newspaper who liked the story of Afritrex and wanted to feature an article in next weeks issue.

Met Norman at TW& Tyre and as they changed and fitted the new shoes, he conducted an interview and took photos for the next edition. Will add it to the website once its out.

With the new tyre in place headed up the coast to Durban and what a pleasant, quiet ride it was on the new rubber, definitely an improvement on the last worn out set. Arrived at Nomads backpackers and had a beer with Ana, it was good to see a friendly face from the UK as it’s the first time since Luke left in March that I’ve had face to face contact with an old friend.

Ana has another 4 weeks left before she returns to the UK and leaves from Cape Town so she decided there and then that she jump on board for the ride down south….excellent, another passenger for the trip!

Headed to PMB to meet Patrick, Sarah and James as we’d arranged a departure braai for the gang who’d managed to make it down from Ghana and had a superb night of beers and stories.

Bed feeling happy….

End of day location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Distance covered: 220kms

19th June 08

Date: 19th June 08
Location: Port Edward, South Africa
Weather: Rain and wind, clearing throughout the day. 24°c
Status: Ben and Colonel – both repaired and ready to continue!

Spent the morning sorting out the boxes and contents of the car as tomorrow I have to try and fit every thing back in again…..and there’s been a fair bit bought since then to enable me to climb the mountains safely!

Headed over to Lance’s garage at lunchtime to collect the Colonel from his check over but didn’t end up leaving until late afternoon as there was still a fair amount of work to be done but did get given a bottle of stupidly hot chilli sauce to take away with me by Steve, the excellent mechanic, which should last well into north Africa!

Took Mr & Mrs Taylor and Bryan and Nix out to dinner to say thank you for allowing us to stay with them and feeding us both over the last week or so, to Glenmore Sands Hotel. Its all been redesigned and the layout and food was superb!

Headed to the pub to meet some friends Bronwyn and Dave (wicked people) for some bedtime drinks before sloping off to bed.

End of day location: Port Edward, South Africa
Distance covered: 25kms

18th June 08

Date: 18th June 08
Location: Port Edward, South Africa
Weather: Stormy….really stormy, wet and windy. 22°c
Status: Ben – feeling much better, Colonel – in being serviced

Woke up feeling much better, the muscles no longer ache and its now just the knees which will take another day or so to recover and be back to normal….i’ll be running again tomorrow!

During the night I woke a few times as the wind and rain outside my window were howling and lashing down, a low pressure system is sitting over the country and directly over the KZN coastline resulting in the 90mm of rain we had and also the tree down across the Taylor’s road – damn it, the one day I could test out my winch and the Colonel’s in being serviced!!

Helped Mr T clear the rain in the driving rain equipped in shorts and flip flops, most suitable! Creepers, even the Congo didn’t have rain quite as hard as this! Drove to the beach with Alex and Mr & Mrs T to see the state of the ocean and it was impressive – chocolate brown with huge tree stumps floating around a real mess and definitely not sardine beaching weather. The locals are saying that this has probably scared them away for the year now, shame.

Dried out and watched movies most of the morning, then headed to Lance’s in the afternoon to finish off some outstanding jobs on the Colonel. Grabbed a lift home with Bryan and had roast chicken, watched a movie and went to bed.

End of day location: Port Edward, South Africa
Distance covered: 25kms

17th June 08

Date: 17th June 08
Location: Port Edward, South Africa
Weather: Sunny and clear blue skies, warm days, chilly nights. 25°c
Status: Feeling sore – Ben, Being serviced – Colonel

So left the delights of Maritzburg, up in the Natal hills and travelled with Alex my Aussie friend down to Port Edward. She’s been staying with Patrick and his family but as his Mum has to go into hospital and she’ll be travelling with me in a week’s time anyway he has asked if she can come and stay with me by the coast. After consulting with Mrs Taylor, my amazing hostess, we headed down to the delights of Port Edward.

Woke up feeling like I’d run 87kms a few days ago, my knees are red, bruised and sore – I can’t imagine quite how they’d feel if I hadn’t have made the finish line though, a darn site worse I imagine! Used up the free Deep Heat bath gel which I’d been given as a freebie in the Comrades race pack! Felt slightly better afterwards…..

Dropped the Colonel at Lance Wheelers garage at 8.30am as he’s giving it the once over ready for the 2nd half of the expedition just to check everything as I feel its better to have a second pairs of eyes look over it all before heading north again in a few weeks. Did a few jobs myself as I discussed with him what needed to be done. Went with Nix, Alex and little baby Declan to the Shelly Beach mall and staggered around like an old man as I pushed the trolley as though it was a zimmer frame!!

Had stages throughout the day when my body really felt like it was trying to rebuild itself, my knees are boiling hot, I almost felt faint at times when I stood up too quickly and the only answer was to stuff down loads of food! So we went to a café for coffee and tasted sandwiches.

Took a drive back down the coast past Nix’s new shop which is just being outfitted and looks superb, in a week time it will be a fully operating beauty salon, and good luck to her in her new venture! Back via Offshore Sports in Margate to replace the pair of ‘bottle-top-opening’ flip flops I bought here 2 years ago which lasted me very well….i’ve only has them repaired in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon. time for some replacements I think!

Back to the Taylors for the afternoon to look at the maps with Alex and work out where I route down to Cape Town will take us, most likely back up into Lesotho and then down the Wild Coast, or former Transkei, towards PE and Jeffery’s Bay in time for the Billabong Pro surfing tour at the beginning of July.

A superb lamb roast for dinner and bed.

End of day location: Port Edward, South Africa
Distance covered: 50kms

Monday, 16 June 2008

15th June 08

Date: 15th June 08

Location: Durban, South Africa

Weather: Pitch black when I got up!

Status: Anxious about the next 12 hours, Colonel parked up.

As the alarm on my phone went off at 2.30am I was up like a shot in preparation for the most challenging and gruelling of the ten tasks I’ve set myself which make up Afritrex, the Comrades Race.

Nothing too heavy for breakfast, some porridge, some cornflakes, a few bananas and some energy bars should start me off on the right note ready for the longest of days ahead. The taxi hooted outside and I made my way down the steps of the flat to the driver waiting below.

When I got to the start area in the centre of Durban I was there two hours before I had to be so sat and gathered my thoughts by the edge of the road. There were a few other runners about also pacing up and down nervously in the dark streets surrounding the city hall.

I dropped my clothing bag off at one of the trailers and made my way to holding area F, my start point based on the qualifying time I’d achieved at the Marrakech Marathon earlier in the year, my god that race seemed ages ago and how much fitter I had felt then! The sheer amount of driving I’ve had to do over the past 9 weeks has meant that my training has been close to nothing with my last run being in Brazzaville nearly 6 weeks ago….Has anyone ever been so underprepared I kept thinking to myself!

As the crowd massed on the start line the PA system started to pump out Abba at top volume – great for a singalong, then with 10 minutes to go the traditional South African national anthem, followed by the sporting one, then Chariots of Fire followed by the starters gun…..we were off!!

You have 12 hours to finish the race and there are various cut off points along the course, which if you don’t reach in time, are closed and your eliminated from the race…pressure in itself!

As we wound our way out of the city’s limits the bunched up pack slowly thinned out and the first of the hills approached, Cowies. A gradually increasing climb which winds up the N3 highway and gets worse the further you get up it, so much so that everyone alternates between walking and running in 200m sections. They say that if you walk all of the Big Five Hills and run all of the rest, then you can make the finish – so this is how I’d play it.

As the sun rose over the Indian Ocean behind the course, people chatted and joked about the task ahead, the Comrades organisers have a great system which allows you to see from each runners entry number how many Comrades they’ve completed, which country their from, if their going for back to back medals along with different colours for 5 and 10 races completed. It’s a great starting point for conversation and I had good chats with lots of different people along the way about the whole Afritrex expedition.

Fields Hill was the next of the Big Five to aim for which approached ominously after 20kms and was another testing climb which got the thighs burning as I tried to keep the pace up always conscious of the clock ticking away, by this stage the sun was up and the crowds were starting to gather on the sides of the road offering support along with the smell of breakfast!

I was feeling good at this stage and was surprised by the lack of pain in my legs but was a little concerned as my right knee was becoming sore, the approaching Botha’s Hill would be a test to see how long it would last.

It arrives suddenly just before the 35km mark and is always packed full of people as it passes through a residential area, and I needed all of the support I could get as by this stage I was feeling tired, both knees sore and my thighs starting to cramp up; something I’ve experienced before when running normal marathons at this stage of the race but this time I had a few remedies up my sleeve!

The watering points which happen every 1.5kms also have feeding stations dotted along the route, essential as the body starts to eat itself after about 30kms! As I crested the top of the hill in some pain I saw the Game Feeding station and not a moment too soon…I scoffed down some salt covered oranges, potatoes and magnesium supplements (courtesy of Viridian one of my sponsors!). I kept the knees turning and within 10 mins was feeling good enough to get the pace up again and continue to the halfway line, a real mental target for me as it signalled the furthest I ever run before!

Strangely enough the next 20kms of the race seemed to fly by even though it took in another of the Five, Inchanga, and I continued to feel good and up for the challenge; the growing drunken crowds out for a Fathers Day bash helping all of the way!

The Harrison Flats are a lonely undulating part of the course and took some heavy mental concentration to get through as I followed other runners feet for what seemed like hours until I reached the base of Little Pollys; a name given to the short rise before the infamous Polly Shortts – the 2.5km steep rise which signals the last of the Big Five.

The approach to it is a steep downhill which got the knees and ankles aching beyond belief and then its there in front of you…..Polly herself! By this stage everyone is walking just to get to the top with frequent outbreaks of cramp happening all around to other runners, but the rules have changed this year which mean that if you are caught helping another competitor you can both be disqualified. This is after the unfortunate death of a man from 2007 who as he collapsed with 200m to go was carried over the line by his fellow runners, they say he’d have survived if he’d received medical attention immediately….oops.

As I reached the top of Polly’s a girl approached me from the RHS of the road and asked if I’d like to do a TV interview…..hell yeah! So I sold the Afritrex story as well as I could live on South African television!

With this huge obstacle out of the way it was a short 7.5kms to the end of the race, so with this in mind I upped the pace, felt the pain bite a little further and kicked for home. The floodlights of The Oval Cricket Ground came into view with 2kms to go and the quickened pace was starting to tell but the emotion was getting the better of me, so I moved on unabated.

The Flora Mile is the run up into the stadium and by this point I knew I made it so quickened further breaking into a full sprint for the last 300m only stopping to take a photo of myself crossing the finish line.

10hrs 20mins and 49secs earlier I had set off on the biggest and most challenging of the tasks I’d set myself and here I was crossing the line…..I’d only bloody done it!!!

I collected my bronze medal and badge and headed to the International Entrants area for a steak roll and beer before meeting friends Alex, Patrick and Sarah who’d come down to enjoy the days activities. It felt good, it felt hard but most of all it felt amazing.

Had a Nandos – Hot Peri Peri and went to bed……HAPPY!!

End of day location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

Distance covered: 87kms……….on foot!!

14th June 08

Date: 14th June 08

Location: Durban, South Africa

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 27°c

Status: Nervous as hell

Had a full day of shopping to re-equip myself with the kit I’ll need to climb the mountains later on during the expedition. The situations been rather been forced on me as my backpack and its contents went back to the UK in January and DHL want to charge me £256 to send it from the UK to South Africa so I’ve decided to replace everything instead.

After moving between 3 or 4 shops to get the best prices the total to replace everything came to less than half of the price DHL wanted to charge me to send it over!

Kathy’s headed down to the south coast for the weekend so I had her flat to myself, ate some dinner and went to bed at 7.30pm in preparation for the Saturday and the big day.

End of day location: Durban, South Africa

Distance covered: 10kms

Friday, 13 June 2008

13th June 08

Date: 13th June 08

Location: Durban, South Africa

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 25°c

Status: Mentally ready, physically unsure!

Been in Durban for a couple of days now, I drove up the coast from Port Edward yesterday and made a bee line straight for the Howling Moon factory to have my tent repaired as the mozzie nets haven’t worked properly since Gabon and they now have it for the next week to get it back into tiptop condition for the trip north in a few months time!

Went straight from there to Landy Parts for Africa, a parts supplier who I found on the GPS and spent a good couple of hours with them discussing the expedition, the Colonel and the Comrades – quite the hot topic in the Durban area this week! Picked up a load of replacement parts and serviceable items which when the Colonel goes in for its check over on Tuesday, will be used up.

Met up with a friend Kathy and her boyfriend Roy who live in Morningside, a region within Durban and my base camp for the next few days while I wait for the big off. Had a good night relaxing with them at the flat.

Up early and made my way to the Durban Expo centre for the International Novice Entrants tour of the Comrades course, it was an excellent trip which took us in coaches along the route of the course, and with the aid of a 14 time veteran commentating gave us all an insight into quite what a monumental task lies ahead on Sunday. We stopped off at Ethembeni School for handicapped children enroute to Pietermaritzburg as its one of the landmarks on the route, where they performed a really moving rendition of the South African national anthem and Shozaloza another song which had all of us in tears!

Once we’d arrived in PMB and had the shit scared out of us by the length and steepness of the hills, especially Polly Shortts towards the end of the 87km race, we entered the finishing stadium and saw the amazing set up they have there ready for the finishers on Sunday. A full spread of coffee and cakes was laid on before we got back into the coaches for the ride back in Durban. A thoroughly worthwhile morning.

Met an American guy called Josh in the coach and sat with him chatting about his previous races, most of which were over a normal marathon in length and left me feeling even more underprepared, but all I can do is turn up on Sunday and give it 120% I suppose.

Went to register at the Expo when I got back to Durban and collected my race number (12002), my timing chip and a shedload of freebies as usual! Excellent.

Quiet night watching Holland thrash France 4 -1 (love it!) and then bed

End of day location: Durban, South Africa

Distance covered: 170kms

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

10th June 08

Date: 10th June 08

Location: Port Edward, South Africa

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, chilly at 24°c

Status: Preparing for the next week….

The countdown is on, there are 5 days to go until I take on the biggest challenge of my life, I feel scared, nervous, unfit but mentally prepared to take on the Comrades. To keep the legs moving and the joints free I went for a light jog, it won’t do much for my stamina levels but will allow me to keep everything moving along for now.

I took to Colonel into Port Shepstone to my good friend Bryan Taylors workshop at M&F Tractor Parts and finished off the installation of my fridge. Its so much better than the last one, smaller, quieter, more efficient and even has a cute little freezer for emergency beer-chilling!

Had dinner with Bryan, Nicolene and his parents and went to bed.

Another day of vehicle maintenance tomorrow….

End of day location: Port Edward, South Africa

Distance covered: 60kms

Monday, 9 June 2008

7th June 08

Date: 7th June 08
Location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 24°c
Status: Happy to be nearly back in my spiritual home again!!

Up lazily at 9am and was greeted by a full English breakfast which was stunning before hitting the road east towards the Indian Ocean and Durban.

On the drive down from PMB to Durban I traced the route of the Comrades which I’d be running in 8 days time…..oh dear its SUCH a long way and the course is MASSIVELY steep!! Bring it on.

Arrived in Port Edward where I lived for a number of years and met up with some good friends to watch South Africa v’s Wales in the rugby (SA won convincingly!) and then headed to Darryl and Nicky’s wedding which happened to be on that night.

Awesome to catch up with so many good friends all in the same jovial environment. I’ll be staying with the Taylor’s over the next few days and headed to their house for a well earned rest.

As far as I’m concerned that’s Part One of the travelling over and time to repair, service and clean the Colonel. I said I wouldn’t wash him until I got to SA and now here I am!

End of day location: Port Edward, South Africa
Distance covered: 360kms

6th June 08

Date: 6th June 08
Location: Springbok, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, cold @ night 25°c
Status: Superb all round

Up early again with the destination for the day being Bloemfontein around 850kms away so we left the camp in the pitch black and after a couple of hours had the most awesome sunrise.

We made such good time on the road covering over 300kms in 3 hours that by the middle of the afternoon we’d already hit the outskirts of the city and decided to try and get all the way to Pietermaritzburg that evening at its Patrick, James and Sarah’s final destination for this part of the trip, another 600kms down the road.

We filled the cars with more expensive fuel, filled our stomachs and set about the long haul down to Kwazulu Natal. Once the Friday evening traffic had calmed down the roads emptied out and the average speed climbed again and by midnight we arrived at the last pass through the Drakensburg Mountains before dropping down the hill into the city.

It’s been 8 years since I’ve been here and the drive through the city was familiar and before long we’d pulled into the gates of Patrick’s family house a very welcome sight after 20hrs and nearly 1600kms of driving.

Good to get a comfy bed for the night in the very comfortable B&B they run!

End of day location: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Distance covered: 1560kms

5th June 08

Date: 5th June 08
Location: Maltahohe, Namibia
Weather: Clear blue skies and flippin freezing in the night down to 3°c, up to 27°c
Status: Out of Namibia today, another puncture for the Colonel

Another day on the road and the plan was to get to the border as soon via Fish River Canyon in the south of the country. A good road got us there in no time and we approached the canyon from the east and as we got to within a few kms of it we passed through a couple of impressive steep mountain passes which got the brakes of both vehicles warmed up to the point of almost smoking!

We arrived at the first viewpoint and it was pretty damn special, a huge view into the distance which sees the Fish River meandering through the sedimentary rock which over the past millennia has carved a mini Grand Canyon into the landscape. Took loads of shots and headed to the next viewpoint for another view of the vastness before us.

The border lay another 200kms away and on the good roads we made it there in a little over 2 hours. Amazing what sort of distance you can cover when you don’t have the big truck following to worry about all of the time!

Crossed the border with little problem, filled in my VAT return for the fridge I’d bought in Windhoek ready to send off and even Patricks importing of his UK registered Nissan went smoothly after we’d got the right person to talk to.

Drove for a few more hours before getting to the very Afrikaans town of Springbok and had a pizza before heading to the local campsite for a well earned rest.

End of day location: Springbok, South Africa
Distance covered: 521kms

4th June 08

Date: 4th June 08
Location: Sesriem, Namibia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine all day, colder 24°c
Status: Very happy and doing well

Up very early to catch the sunrise over the dunes. Tents were packed away and we waited patiently at the gate with all of the big chicken freight overland trucks…we were third in line. It’s a total distance of 64kms from the gate to the dunes and it’s a race between everyone to get there first. We let the trucks head off and within a few km’s had caught them up and overtaken them….there’s no way I’m going to let a 12t truck beat me so we flew past the quickest at 120kph the fastest speed of the trip so far!

Got to the dunes first and climbed to the top of Sossusvlei just in time for the sunrise after a 30min climb up steep sand….go for the heart and the training finally!

Took loads of snaps and headed to Deadvlei which is one of the places I really really wanted to visit on the trip and when we got there I was so happy we’d made it. It resembles the end of the earth, a lunar landscape or a old battle field with blue skies, red dunes and dead tree stumps. Along with Kubu Island which I visited on a previous trip to Africa this rates as one of my finest places on the planet for photography, awesome!

Left after an hour and headed back to the camp to pack up and hit the gravel road south. After an hour I was shattered and decided to have a power nap at the edge of the road and a coffee afterwards to kick start the driving again.

We drove for 8hrs and managed to cover 630kms in all, excellent progress, and pulled into the Lafenis Game Lodge for the night for some cheap camping and a cold beer before heading to bed.

End of day location: Keetsmanshoop, Namibia
Distance covered: 630kms

3rd June 08

Date: 3rd June 08
Location: Cardboard box backpackers, Windhoek, Namibia
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 26°c
Status: Sad to be leaving the group.

Its days like today that I hate, after 3 months of being together, training together and travelling the long road from Ghana Bre and I have to go our separate ways for the time being as I head to Durban for the Comrades and she continues with the family and Kees onto Botswana and South Africa. We’ll meet up again in around 6 weeks but departures and goodbyes have never been my strong point and it was hugely difficult to leave the group whom I’ve spent so any good times with over the last 2 months on the road.

At 9am I pulled out of the backpackers gates with Bre in tears and me not far behind, hiding things behind my sunglasses. This bit sucks…….

Onto the road south and east with the destination being Sossusvlei in the Namib NP around 300kms away. Alex my good Aussie friend has decided to join me for the trip across to Durban and she’s now the navigator for the time being, with Patrick, Sarah and James in the Nissan still with us as they complete the final leg of their journey home to SA.

The road was stunning, gravel and well graded but passed through some mountain passes which took our breath away. Photos galore and then as the sun was about to set we pulled into the car park at the Sossusvlei dunes, booked a campsite and lit the fire for the evenings warmth and food. Since dropping this far south, and today we even moved out of the tropics for the first time since Senegal, the temperature in the evenings drops down to below 15°c….yikes!!

Had dinner and bed as up early tomorrow for sunrise at the dunes….

End of day location: Namib NP, Namibia
Distance covered: 314kms

2nd June 08

Date: 2nd June 08

Location: Windhoek, Namibia

Weather: Stormy in the night, clear in the day. 28°c

Status: Preparing to leave some of the group, very sad day ahead.

Mission on for the day. I’d decided back in Ghana that I would replace my current 80l fridge with a more useable sized and placed 45l fridge. It would benefit me in a number of ways; less drain on the battery, free up the area in the rear of the colonel by moving the fridge into the space between to two rear seats and give me the option of carrying 4 people comfortably with no bags on the roof – essential for South Africa with its crime problems!

Spent the morning driving round various outlets to get prices and found a 45l fridge with 10l freezer for sale at less than the price in South Africa…where its made! Bought it together with a thermal cover and once back at camp removed the old one for Kees and temporarily fitted the new one between the rear seats….how much space have I now got in there!!!!!

It was the groups last night together so we all headed out to Joe’s Beer House, a popular overlanders haunt in town and enjoyed an evening of merriment and excessive meat and beer.

Cold night so cuddled up close next to Bre as it was our last night together for the next 6 weeks at least as she will leave with her family and Kees and I will go to Durban. Our paths will cross again asap but more than likely in Mozambique or Zambia. Life sucks again.

End of day location: Windhoek, Namibia

Distance covered: 10kms

1st June 08

Date: 1st June 08

Location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Weather: clear blue skies and sunshine, 27°c

Status: All gamed out and moving south again.

Up early again and then onto the road south to Windhoek to meet up with the Kees and the others who we’d left a few days earlier.

A simple drive of 420kms along some of the best tarred roads yet which after the delights of central Africa were actually damn boring! Made an average speed of 92kph and arrived at the backpackers easily with the use of the satellite navigation courtesy of Tracks4Africa which for the first time in the trip actually guides you by voice control!! Some thing are too easy.

Met with the rest of the group who seemed well settled in a booked our two nights accommodation. Used the facilities to clean and wash out the truck.

Bought some food for a braai and enjoyed boerwors, flattie chicken and salad for dinner.

End of day location: Windhoek, Namibia

Distance covered: 420kms

Monday, 2 June 2008

31st May 08

Date: 31st May 08

Location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine again…..30°c

Status: Off searching for game again!

Up early again for our final day of game viewing in the park so this time hit the roads to the west of where our camp site’s located and almost instantly we found some more interesting animals. First one, then two, then five more until there were 20 giraffes on the side of the road next to us in between the bushes and trees, awesome.

Moved on and 200yds down the road a mother rhino and her baby appeared briefly before dashing back into the bushes for cover. Springbok and Impala everywhere, zebra dashing out of the road, and giraffe dotting the horizon….this was turning into a good day of game viewing.

Stopped at one of the other camps for a brief bite of lunch, smoked salmon in rolls taken from the buffet the night before, and a magnum before heading back out onto the road.

The last part of our interaction with the park was the best as we drove for 20kms and the bushes thinned out until we were left with grassland savannah and in the distance saw at least 20 giraffe, 30 zebra and numerous gazelles….all trying to get to a waterhole. They couldn’t for one reason…there were 8 lion sitting lazily in the afternoon in sun relaxing by the water!

We sat for a couple of hours watching their lazy movements and then headed out of the park through the south gate and to another campsite with good facilities we’d heard about from some friends earlier in the trip, Etosha Safari Camp

Jumped in the pool, had some dinner and went to bed. Windhoek tomorrow….

End of day location: Etosha Safari Camp, Namibia

Distance covered: 180kms

30th May 08

Date: 30th May 08

Location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 28°c

Status: All very happy but could do with some more game!

Up early and went to the waterhole for fisrt light but found nothing there to see unfortunately so packed up the tents, had a quick bite of breakfast and headed back out into the park. Drove east and visited a number of waterholes but each one only had a few springbok, impala or zebra hanging around and none of the bigger animlas we were really hoping to see like giraffe, rhino, elephant or lion. Still it is Africa and somethings better then nothing!

After a morning of driving about we decided to head back to the camp, had lunch and relaxed by the pool as I wrote emails to the friends and the others did their washing, was good to relax in the sunshine with a cold beer…..obviously in the absence of being able to train for the next race as running in a national park is rather dangerous!

That evening we headed to the water hole and were amply rewarded for our patience as first rocked up a rhino, then a mother and her baby rhino….and ust after they’d left a group of 20 elephants who stayed for an hour drinking and playing in the refreshing water. Feeling most satisfied we headed to the restaurant for a buffet of Smoked Salmon, salads, Oryx steak and pork chops! Yum.


End of day location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Distance covered: 120kms

29th May 08

Date: 29th May 08

Location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, colder overnight, 28°c

Status: Very happy and slightly ahead of schedule.

Up at 4.30am, packed, had breakfast and hit the road to cover the 25kms to the park gates and my first experience with southern African parks on this trip!

Paid the entrance fees and then started the 75km drive to the Halali campsite area to book the next couple of nights and settle the bills. Only 5kms into the drive and out onto the road walk a pair of Spotted Hyenas so I stop the car and they continued to walk towards the car until they were 25ft away and then disappeared off into the bush…what a fantastic start to the day!

It had been decided by the family that they’d head off with Kees in the truck and go straight to Windhoek as they didn’t have the money to join us for the couple of days in the park but Bre had made the decision to come with us and split from them for a couple of days until we all meet up again in a few days time. So there was me, Alex, Kerry and Bre in the Colonel and Patrick, Sarah and James in the Nissan and for the first time in two months we wouldn’t have to wait at every junction for the Yellow Tortoise to catch up!! After so long with them behind me it was hard to break the habit of looking in the rear-view mirror to see if they’re still there!

Got to the campsite of Halali and paid the fees for the camping and found our site…unfortunately next to two big overland battery-chicken-frieght trucks full of ‘we’re doing Africa’ backpackers!! Cute…….

On the drive to the camp we failed to see much else apart from a couple of giraffe and some Springbok and Impala but these are two a penny and not that exciting! Once we’d set up camp we decided to head off for another hopeful game drive but failed to see much more so hope tomorrow bears more fruit!

I had big expectations for Etosha NP as all of the reports I’d read given it the thumbs up but after visiting Botswana on a number of occasions it really doesn’t scrub up as well a I hoped it would. Everything is so damn clinical here, the roads are two-car-wide perfectly graded white gravel, the camps are all immaculately set up with designated areas for each vehicle, quaint shops, and even the water hole close to the camp has water pumped into it with amphitheatre-style seating with floodlights on the pool.

Too me its far too engineered for the weekend traveller whose arrived in their immaculate soft roader BMW X5 that’s never even seen the dirt before, Botswana has unorganised dirt tracks, long drops, no running water and the thing that’s SO SO noticeable……they actually allow the wildlife right into the camp in Savuti and Chobe (Botswana) giving you a real feel of the national park whereas here they fence it all off so you never get to see a damn thing. Botswana 1, Namibia 0.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll actually get some game and justify the expense we gone to which allows us to spend the 2 nights here!

Cooked a poitjke and headed back to the water hole for a beer.

End of day location: Halali camp, Etosha NP, Namibia

Distance covered: 130kms

28th May 08

Date: 28th May 08

Location: Ondangwa, Namibia

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, typical Southern Africa winters day. 28\°c

Status: Relaxed and very happy, Colonel – needing running repairs

Up later today as we don’t have a deadline to hit finally, so cleared out the Colonel and gave him a full spring clean as the roads and dust of the past few days have left him looking and feeling messy. Serviced all the locks as they’ve almost seized up and then drove him down the road to have the puncture fixed, the wheels balanced and the alignment checked. All of which were necessary as the last few months have taken their toll!

Left the camp around 2pm and hit the road towards Etosha National Park, one of the highlights of Namibia, and found the simplest, straightest smoothest tarmac road for months! Averaged 79km/h for the 170kms and pulled into the delightful night resting spot of Sascheheim Guest Farm about 25kms from the park gate and what a find!

Stunning location with stocked fields of cattle and types of antelope and even giraffe. Its been beautifully renovated by the owners and after putting up the tents sat down for a beer and them decided that their buffet dinner sounded too tempting to miss.

As we were the only ones camping we had the run of the place and had a beer before being served a filling dinner of Kudu, Eland and other local delights! Trifle for pudding with fresh fruit salad,,,,god I hate this overlanding thing!

Bed as up early to hit the first of the game parks!

End of day location: Etosha NP, Namibia

Distance covered: 180kms

27th May 08

Date: 26th May 08

Location: Lubango, Angola

Weather: Clear blue skies and ‘Simpsons’ clouds. 27°c

Status: Marching south full of expectation….

Another early start as we left the quarry at 5.00am and hit the road south again for what we hoped would be the final day of driving in Angola. If we made it to the border we’d be inside our visa requirements and not be liable for the $150 per day fine!

Straight onto good tarmac for the first 100kms, good only another 360 to go! Slowly as we got closer to the border the surface changed from tarmac to broken tarmac to gravel and then lumpy gravel and the average speed suffered accordingly, but just we thought we might not make it in time the road became smooth and we reeled off the remaining kms in relatively no time at all, just one scare as Kees broke a fanbelt but we got it fixed and moved on again.

Arrived at the Angolan/Namibian border in high spirits and had to deal with the usual crap African diplomacy and no-one-knows-whats-going-on system! We were passed from office to office within the compound and finally got to the right desk an hour after arriving….its almost like they want to see us outstay our visas!

Had the passports and carnet stamped at passed through in to Namibia and within an hour were on the road again heading south east in a country that felt much more familiar as the road signs are the same as South African, we’re driving on the left hand side of the road again for the first time in 6 months and we’d made it through Central Africa exactly as planned!

Pulled into Ondangwa town and found the little bush camp which was wicked, big duck pond with campsites right next to it! Everyone was in the best of moods as we’d made it and this was our first little taste of civilisation – the sort we’re used to, in 2 months! To the bar for beer, biltong and fillet steak as its Namibia and everything is still filthy cheap!


End of day location: Ondangwa, Namibia

Distance covered: 485kms

26th May 08

Date: 26th May 08

Location: Huambo, Angola

Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 28°cold at night, 11°c

Status: Progressing very well, all people and vehicles happy!

Up bright and early for another day on the road, nothing much to report apart from the fact we covered 430kms and finally hit the city of Lubango late on in the afternoon, filled up with fuel and pulled out of the city to find a bush camp for the night. Drove for nearly 30kms before we found a side road with a perfect old quarry with masses of stars in the sky above!


End of day location: South of Lubango, Angola

Distance covered: 438kms

25th May 08

Date: May 25th 2008

Location: Luanda, Angola

Weather: Cloudy in the morning then the sun shone through brightly for the afternoon, Bloomin gorgeous but temperatures dropping all the way. 27°c

Status: Delighted with the progress made today!

I truly feel like I’ve entered Southern Africa today. The scenery has changed totally and is now what I feel very familiar with. The straightness of the roads, the vast distances to the horizon, even the weather and clouds feel as though I recognize them from previous travels here!

Set off at 5.00am to give us a quick passage out of the city and onto the highway south which had a good few cars and trucks on it already. Made good headway and left the outskirts of the city within an hour and managed to keep the good roads at the same time, we were expecting the tarmac to run out at km 60 but it continued all the way through to 120 and then only briefly stopped as we entered the town of Dondo.

Found a shop selling bread and liver sausage and mashed some together with avocado for breakfast. Hit the road and continued the drive with the scenery changing more than it has done for the last 3 weeks in the space of a few hours.

We were treated to steep hills and cliffs, open savannah and baobab forests lining the road, my ‘top tree’ in Africa and there were loads everywhere! Huge rocky outcrops spilled right onto the edges of the road and made the drive one of the best yet.

The Chinese have been doing so much work here in the last few years that the roads which we thought would be gravel and dirt roads turned out to be freshly laid tarmac and new white lines for almost all of the journey some 600kms. Didn’t think we’d cover 200kms today so everyone was feeling really good at the end of the day.


End of day location: Huambo, Angola

Distance covered: 638kms

24th May 08

Date: 24th May 08

Location: N’zeto, Angola

Weather: Cloudy skies with the occasional burst of sunshine, 28°c

Status: Slowly but surely moving towards the south. Colonel being bumped around like never before.

A stunning beach side campsite was what greeted me as I looked out of the tent for the first time in daylight this morning. The Atlantic waves crashing onto the sandy shore was a wicked place to wake up, stuffed down some cereal and hit the road expecting much of the same as yesterday.

Except that is was worse, really bumpy and washed out in places with an average speed of 32km/h over the first 4 hrs of the day. It was really depressing as the big truck just couldn’t keep up any sort of pace and I could feel our chances of getting to the border within the 5 days that the visa allows slowly slipping away and a big fine staring us all in the face!

Hit the outskirts of the capital and then the road works, oh and my god - are there some road works! Angola is hosting the African Cup in 2 years time and it seems they’re changing every engineering project within the capital to make it happen…with the help of thousands of Chinese workers to reach the deadline in time! Roads are being built, bridges erected, stadiums built and even land reclaimed from the ocean in the harbour area and this extends all across the city. Major work = major holdups and dust clouds covering the city. Hmmm another classic African experience.

Had the waypoint for the yacht club on the posh side of the city so made our way through the Saturday afternoon traffic until we found it, a relaxed little Portuguese style club house with bar and restaurant so had a steak burger with cheese, egg and fries…..damn gorgeous if a little expensive. Luanda is the third most expensive city in Africa and you’d know it as soon as you come down the hill and see the docks, oil rigs and marina – its almost like the south of France crossed with a military port.

Once we established ourselves there we headed back out to find the supermarket, got there and it was closed, headed to the petrol station to refuel and found THE cheapest diesel of the trip so far…..110 litres for £19.50! So Jerry cans filled too….

Went back to the marina and setup camp for the night. Early to bed as we’re up at 4am to get a good early start on the roads tomorrow as we expect another battle and onslaught from the crap surfaces.


End of day location: Luande, Angola

Distance covered: 279kms

23rd May 08

Date: 22nd May 08

Location: Matadi, DRC

Weather: Clear blue skies to start, clouded over then clear night, temp is dropping as we head south though, only 27°c today!

Status: Really damn happy with the progress we’ve made today. Colonel in need of running repairs; punctured tyre and bonnet fastener needs tightening.

Up at the crack of damn as we have the first of the big pushes today to get into Angola and as far south as possible. Hit the road out of the city, paid the toll road again and retraced the 80kms back to the junction at Sorongolo where the good tarmac ends and the fun of the dirt road begins.

Arrived at the border and did the usual formalities to get out of the country, then the usual to get into Angola except this time the language has changed to Portuguese which made everything that little bit more complicated….well its basically Spanish so the few words we had worked! Got on so well with the official who stamped our carnet for us that after we’d finished he even led me to his food store and gave me 6 tangerines for the trip ahead!

The road varied from graded gravel/sand to shot-to-pieces tarmac which slowed the pace every time we hit a section but by the time the sun went down we’d managed to cover 380kms and were just short of out target town of N’zeto when the first police stop halted our progress.

A bunch of drunk, lie could hardly stand cops talking quickly in Portuguese wasn’t too easy to deal with so when they decided to have a meeting together at the edge of the road we decided to hit the accelerators and drove out of the town as fast as we could. There was no way that one was going to end any other way but with problems, sometimes you just have to do it!

Using another preorganised waypoint we made our way 15kms down the coast and pulled onto a track which ran for another km before dropping down onto the beach with the Atlantic waves crashing onto the shore right by the entrances to our tents, perfect.

End of day location: N’zeto, Angola

Distance covered: 389kms

22nd May 08

Date: 22nd May 08

Location: Matadi, DRC

Weather: Cloudy and then clear, 32°c

Status: Waiting for embassies again

At the embassy ask they asked at 08:30hrs to get our applications in for the Angolan visa, not the ordinary tourist one as they’d promised us but a transit one instead which gives us 5 days to cover 2000kms on some of the most unkept and managed roads in central Africa!

Filled in all of the relevant paperwork and were then told we’d have to wait until the Consul arrived as they are the one who interviews us, vets the application and signs the visa. I had asked yesterday if it would be possible to have the completed passports ready for 11am so we could get a good head start on the distance we had to cover, but the assholes at the embassy made nothing easy for us all day!

The Consul eventually arrived at 11:50am and made no apology, then told us we would have to come back at 3.00pm to each be interviewed before we would have our visas issued. The cost of the visa suddenly and drastically increased from $50 to $80 taking us all by surprise and when I asked why my question was greeted with a “well if you don’t want to pay it then you won’t have the visa at all!” For god’s sake, I only asked what it was for….again embassy self empowered monkeys, but as we had to pass through their country we had to pay the cost, reluctantly.

We shopped for a few hours, filled with fuel and prepared ourselves for the next few days while we waited for the interviews, then returned on the dot of 3pm for the next exhausting stage!

I had to act as the translator for the group…no joke, and each person was asked the same series of questions relating to religion, cost of passport, uncles name and address etc etc all very random and unnecessary. Once the interviews were out of the way it was another hour before they’d finally filled in all of the passports and we collected them before heading back to the mission for another night, ready for the early start in the morning.

Another Landie was there when we got back with a South African couple called Stuart and Annaliese who are heading north up to Morocco but have hit problems in Angola with the vehicle and will be spending the next few days in Matadi to get everything sorted. It was really good to sit down with them and discuss the good/bad roads they’ve taken over the last few days and also to get the waypoints of some excellent campsites along the coast. We shared a beer and a laugh and who knows I may even meet them on the way back up the continent as our paths should cross somewhere near Egypt.

End of day location: Matadi, DRC

Distance covered: 0kms

21st May 08

Date: 21st May 08

Location: Kinshasa, DRC

Weather: Scattered cloud and sunshine, humid, 37°c

Status: Desperate to get a good day’s drive under our belts, me especially as time is pushing on.

Up in time for breakfast which was included in the cost of the room, so took full advantage even though time was against us as the rest of the group were waiting in the car park for Bre and I. Started with pastries, then full English (damn good) finished off with fruit and yoghurt and rich black coffee. Sweet.

The road between Kinshasa and Matadi is renowned for being a good tarmac stretch nd so it was to prove. It was a fantastic drive winding through the hills, only problem was the time it took the truck to catch us up after every steep section, the constant rolling of the body heated the tyres considerably and after an hour of this one of the inner tubes burst so Kees had to swap a wheel over.

We arrived in Matadi after a 7hr drive and with the waypoints of another Catholic Mission found our nights accommodation in the city. After we made our way to the Angolan Embassy to start the application process for our Ordinary Visas, or so we thought.

Again for the third time in two days we hit a damn brick wall, all of the good work which we’d done and been promised by 2 separate Ambassadors from the Accra and Brazzaville was thrown back in our face as they point blank refused to issue us with a 30 day visa and instead just with a 5 day transit one….not nearly enough to get us through the country in time.

This would result in one of two things; taking our chances and just using the 5 day transit visa and getting to the border as quickly as we could, something that could take up to 10 days and for each day we’d be overdue possibly be liable for a $150 per day fine! Or diverting to the capital Luanda to enable us to get our visas extended at the cost of another $50, a process which could take 48hrs and would againset back my already rushed progress to Durban in time for the race. Balls to the system and the idiots that run it.

I did take great pleasure in asking the official exactly how his country was meant to progress anywhere if they continued to refuse access to tourists especially as the African Cup of Nations is being hosted by Angola in two years time and a lack of spectators at the games would result in an embarrassing time for the country! Didn’t get me far though….

So we’ll have to divert to the capital and that sucks. Had dinner courtesy of Bre and enjoyed an excellent stir fry then headed out with Kerry to watch the final of the Champions League between Man U and Chelsea……THE two teams which are supported throughout Africa so the bar was full and the atmosphere amazingly friendly.

Ha we watched the final in the middle of the Democratic Republic of Congo AND had great COLD BEER!

End of day location: Matadi, DRC

Distance covered: 320kms

20th May 08

Date: 20th May 08

Location: Brazzaville, Congo

Weather: humid and cloudy, light rain overnight 34°c

Status: On high alert waiting for the call……

So we now have the contact number for the chief of the port, Albert Kankounde and on his word, whatever that means, he will call us once the boat has finished being painted, serviced or the river has been dredged whatever the excuse is! Think we’ll probably have to pay a backhander here just to get on the boat as it hasn’t run for a week and there’s a backlog of people waiting. So back to the hotel and sit….

Olivier phoned the ferry at 11am and was told there’d be no ferry today, so just as we were unpacking for the day I was surprised to get a phone call from Jose, the ferry chief, asking us to be at the port ASAP. Within 20 mins we were queued up on the dockside with all documents completed and passports restamped. We moved the vehicles down into the holding area and it was like a scene from hell. Hundreds of locals all desperate to get onto the boat and stampeding the arrival area so there was little choice for the army and military but to fight back and that’s when they got here whips out… didn’t matter if you were one of the infirm, elderly or disabled or even 7yrs old if you were in the way you got hit, and it looked like it really hurt judging by the reactions of the recipients.

We sat in the safety of the vehicles watching it all go on and even contemplated getting out of the cars to take the evil man on…best left to others me thinks! They let us onto the boat around 12am along with only two other trucks leaving the ferry half full, with only a handful of passengers, the rest seemed to be crammed onto two other vessels which looked ready-to-sink and were vastly overfilled.

The trip across the Congo was superb, a huge African-brown waterway with very little traffic between the countries and only a few palm lined islands in the middle. The result of the past few days rain upstream has meant that sections of the bank upstream have broken away and now act as obstacles for the big ferry, intermittently slowing the sound of the engines as the props cut through the reeds until they powered free.

Our arrival in the DRC was greeted by a number of different officials, immigration, customs and this time the department of health, in a country which suffers from Ebolo you can understand their caution. The Dept. of Health official told us that our vehicles needed to be sprayed with disinfectant, as they did with the foot & mouth outbreak in the UK, we would need to pay $60 per vehicle for this service!! So I asked them how much it would be if we supplied our own product (we had some Dettox in the box and the label was in English which would have confused them totally!) and the price came down to $25 which would have given us our certificate we needed to drive out of the port.

Being a vet Patrick had a spray in the back of his car and I then proceeded to to very professionally spray the underside of the trucks…looking like I knew what I was doing the entire time! It took nearly 5hrs to get through the different document checking processes and by the time we were ready to leave it was nearly dark so I recruited the services of a local policeman who directed us to the Grand Intercontinental Hotel for the night, the only safe place to stay in the city for newbies like us.

This was another epic battle with officialdom, the problem arose from the fact the the World Bank was having an important meeting with reps from the UN, governments and NGO with loads of dignitaries attending, security everywhere…..and we were trying to camp in their car park!!

In the end they’d only allow us to stay there if we were to buy a room for the night, so I had to stump up the money for one being the leader of the group and with absolutely no where else safe to spend the night. This was even the recommendation of the British Embassy who I phoned for advice that night! Ok it cost a stupid amount of money and it would have been good if the others had offered to split at least some of the cost with me, but it was a stunning room overlooking the city with all of the trimmings.

Watched BBC World and went to bed after a good dinner.

End of day location: Kinshasa, DRC

Distance covered: 24kms

18th May 08

Date: 18th May 08

Location: Brazzaville, Congo

Weather: Scattered showers and humid, 36°c

Status: Bored of waiting and concerned about the distance still to go

Decided last night to take advantage of the cooler conditions in the morning and also the fact we’re moving nowhere at the moment. Got up at 5.30am, changed into m running kit and hit the streets of the capital. Retraced our steps that we’d taken into the city a few days earlier and followed the track up beside the Angolan Embassy, past the football stadium and down the main road where the Congolese Parliament building stands alongside the Department for Foreign Affairs. Both are quite amazing constructions and wouldn’t look out of place in Europe.

On the way back decided to run right up to and around the city’s football stadium and found a whole plethora of people milling about, training and socialising even at 8am on a Sunday morning. The Congolese national football team as there in their red strips, a judo team practising, a boxing team skipping and even a veterans keep fit class, all were very welcoming and smiled and joked with me as I ran around the ground 10 times weaving in and out of the stands as construction work was also underway. For the last 2 laps a local boy ran around with me and we chatted about his favourite sports and stars, he told me as they all do, that he’d like to come to England one day. Shame, I would like to make it possible for him too but can’t……

Managed to run for 3hrs which is the longest I’ve done for a while, I’m more confident for the Comrades and feel I could complete a marathon tomorrow no worries, but a double uphill marathon is another thing altogether….that’s three times further than I ran today.

Pottered around for the morning and did some more maintenance on the Colonel, looked at maps and decided how we’ll all spend our last few weeks together and where we’ll meet up again after I’ve done my bit with South Africa, prepared dinner as I was my turn to cook; Coq au Vin which turned out to be good and simple.

After dinner sat on the internet for a while then watched Die Hard 4 – what a load of Hollywood shite, CGI crap, waste of overvalued dollars. Would much rather watch a good low budget film which takes you on a journey.


End of day location: Brazzaville, Congo

Distance covered: 0kms

16th May 08

Date: 16th May 08

Location: Brazzaville, Congo

Weather: Scattered clouds and sunshine, 32°c

Status: All ready to leave but now really pissed off L

Todays the day we head across the vast Congo river from this city to the next one and probably the most challenging of the trip so far, Kinshasa. Renowned for being a corrupt, hassle filled, terrible place for outsiders it sits on the opposite side of the river within view luring us over as we take on the next part of this challenge.

I’m ready, the Colonel’s prepared, I feel equipped enough both mentally and physically to take on the officials and people on the other side of the river and am ready for the task of the day – getting us over, through the formalities and down the 380kms of good tarred road to the border and the next visa collection point of Matadi.

Headed to the ferry port and instantly the problems hit us. We’d reserved enough money between us to buy the ferry crossing leaving us very little in reserve as it’s the last country we’ll be in which uses CFA (Central African Franc), so when we arrived at the gate to the port and the officials demanded 40,000 for the three vehicles to enter I’m afraid I blew off at them and had a good full on argument in French complaining that when we’d been there the day before no such charge existed and that we had nothing left in the kitty to be able to pay it! They were insistent but we didn’t move and inch and even pulled our 3 trucks straight across the entrance to the port blocking all access for the workers and taxis all arriving, a bit of a risky tactic but it got the attention it deserved and the Director of the Port was very quickly on site!

After a pleasant conversation with him during which I explained the purpose of the expedition and the fact that when we had received our quote for the boat a day earlier it had mentioned nothing about this new sneaky stealth tax (Gordon Brown style definitely) he understood and was willing to reduce the charge to a much more reasonable 10,000. Job done, I was happy as was he. A moral victory again but this time against the Congo Military – have that!

Pulled into the car park and made my way to the office of Albert Kankounde who’d given us the quote but was closed so we went to immigration and had our passports stamped with exit stamps and then headed to customs for the usual carnet stamp for the vehicles. No one there so back to the office to buy our tickets in the meantime, and then Albert dropped the bombshell……there would be no boats sailing across the Congo today by order of the Interior Minister due to the amount of flotsam coming down the river due to heavy rains upstream making it a danger to shipping! Crap, we’d signed out of the country and now were illegally there, probably for the next 2 days as the weekend is tomorrow and no-one will be in the office until Monday at least.

That well and truly puts the brakes on the emergency mission south and could hugely reduce the number of days I have to visit Namibia and the fantastic scenery there and also result in me missing Cape Town on the first trip across that side of SA meaning I have to transit the Trans-Kalahari Highway cutting of the corner in order to get to Durban in time for the Comrades. Nothing in Africa is simple.

Back to Hippocampe and now in much better spirits after a bacon sandwich and cold drink.

Wasted the afternoon away on the internet updating the site and also went to the expat supermarket to buy the ingredients for my dinner which I’ll be cooking on Sunday night.

End of day location: Brazzaville, Congo

Distance covered: 22kms

15th May 08

Date: 15th May 08

Location: Brazzaville, Congo

Weather: Blue skies in the morning clouding over in the evening, humid. 34°c

Status: Waiting waiting waiting……

Up after a little lie in and then off to the embassy to collect what we hoped would be the letter which would carry us off to the next stage of our trip. Arrived there as arranged at midday but were told that it wouldn’t be dome until 13.30hrs , so headed back to the camp via a Total station to buy new oil for the car for another service to keep the Colonel’s heart ticking along healthily. Even found exactly the right product!

Cleaned and swept out the entire vehicle and drive back to the Total station to have the service finished as they only charge £1.50 to have the filter and oil changed if you buy their products, much easier than me doing it this time too!

Back to the embassy at the right time but still had to wait for 2hrs for them to finish the details on the letter – another good example of African time! Finally had the document we desperately needed and made our way to the supermarket we’d spotted earlier in the day to stock up on last minute goodies for the next ten days of hardship as we drive south as quickly as possible.

Had dinner in the restaurant and tried to watch the UEFA cup final but the satellite signal was down and as a result Olivier the manager gave us dinner at half price….bargain!


End of day location: Brazzaville, Congo

Distance covered: 24kms