Wednesday 26 March 2008

25th March 08

Date: 25th March 08
Location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Weather: Scattered cloud and blue skies and really humid, 35°c
Status: Ben – bitten by mozzies, Colonel – blowing fuses

So Easter came and went, and with it lots and lots of people here at the camp too but excitingly a Dutch couple in their MAN truck turned up so we chatted lots about the potential for the journey ahead and the drive to Cape Town.

Its on, and we intend leaving in around a week once we’ve sorted the visas, vehicle repairs etc and exactly which way we’re going and who will be coming with us! There are two interested parties, one being an Aussie girl called Alex and the other a guy from Hong Kong called Kerry. I have sent them both emails letting them know our intended departure date and will await a response! Could be interesting….

End of day location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms

23rd March 08

Date: 23rd March 08
Location: Big Millys, Ghana
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, 35°c
Status: All good

Here we go again people, Ben’s heart is riding the emotional rollercoaster once more and this time is seems to have the biggest rises and falls yet. Compare it to the Richter scale!

After an amazing week together Silvi leaves to go back to the orphanage in around an hour and that’ll be the last time we see each other, unless something awful happens with her current relationship, and I’d never wish that on anyone. We spent our final evening together playing shithead by gaslight and sat talking until 2am and laughed til we were sore….this I will miss more than anything.

But I never came on this trip to fall for someone more to achieve the tasks I set myself in the UK and so the next paragraph explains how its all going to get back on track very soon.

Case, the dutch guy who holds the key to the next part of the expedition has been under the weather like his girlfriend but we still managed to have a quick chat about the way we’d like to approach taking on the central belt of African countries. Our biggest fear is trying to get hold of an Angolan visa and so I’ll make this my priority on Tuesday as we try and find out the best place to get hold of it, if it’s at all possible. Everything depends on this one.

So tonight will be a quiet lonely experience, Matt the Aussie should be back from his weekend’s activities so a beer will be the best cure for a damaged heart me thinks. And then I get on with it; too much time sitting still doing things I didn’t plan to!

Marching south again soon….

End of day location: Big Milly’s Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms

22nd March 08

Date: 22nd March 08
Location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Weather: Clear blue skies, slight breeze and still damn hot! 35°c
Status: All good

A few days on and I’ve had a good amount of time to sit and think about the decisions that I’ve had to make recently and they still feel like the right ones.

Went to visit MSC, the shipping company who’ll send the Colonel to South Africa for me and the earliest they can get in into a container is March 31st so another ten days or so of sitting still which infuriates me, but is also a very good thing as it allows me to recover totally and to up the training too. I’ll have to hang around for a few days after the ship leaves to sign the customs papers and then I’m off to Cape Town to continue what I consider to be Part 2 of the project, the easier part and the time to see and meet up with amazing friends I haven’t had a chance to see for years!

Moved out of the lovely fanned bedroom and back into the tent so woke up boiling hot and headed out for a run down the beach to the nearest village around 5kms away.

The beach is full of people as it’s the Easter weekend so running through and around the fishing boats, umbrellas and also the huge amount of human crap that washes up at high tide was certainly interesting! By the time I got the to village I was boiling up and decided to head inland and follow the coast road back to the camp and how it amused the locals “abruni, abruni” was all I heard (meaning white man) as I ran through the village!

Its Easter Saturday and the camp has filled up now to full capacity so its not quite the little oasis of peace and solitude that is has been for the past week but the vibe is good and Silvia is here until tomorrow and then heads back to the orphanage to work for another couple of weeks before coming back here to Big Milly’s with her boyfriend….I intend being long gone before that happens as I’m not sure if either my heart or head could take it.

The travelling life is a funny thing, it throws you into situations and circumstances you didn’t think you’d get into, challenges the body and mind more than you’d ever do stuck at home in a routine but also allows such fresh thoughts and ideas to be germinated from deep within that it constantly educates and changes your opinions and mindset. There’s nothing more meaningful behind this statement, purely an observation…..I think it’s a really good thing.

Then just as you think you’ve got everything straight in your head and you know where you’re going….everything changes!!

A M.A.N. overland truck pulled into camp this afternoon with dutch plates on so after a while up walks Case the driver and starts to chat about the usual things; vehicles, routes etc. One thing led to another and it appears that he needs to get to South Africa as quickly as possible to, has only himself to do it with once the girlfriend leaves in a weeks time and just wants to go for it……..SO THAT’S WHAT I’M DOING!!!
THE BIG PLAN IS BACK ON……. We’re sitting down today to talk about the logistics involved but its seems I’m back on to complete the adventure/journey/mission as I wanted to, by travelling all around the coast.


End of day location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Distance covered: 20kms running

19th March 08

Date: 19th March 08
Location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Weather: Scattered blue skies and sunshine, 35°c
Status: Ben – getting better, Colonel – 100% fixed

Got the answer I didn’t want but have expected all along from Owen yesterday after 3 months of waiting for him to arrive. He won’t be joining me for theexpedition and therefore the sole responsibility of completing Afritrex as I planned it originally comes down to my nicely browned shoulders so important decisions which I’ve been thinking about in my head can finally start to happen.

Owen is a great thinker of ideas and a very good friend but needs constant nagging and chasing to make things happen or they become irrelevant in his continually chaotic, self absorbed world. I wish him all the luck for the coming year but feel sad that what he dreamt of is now more than a world away from ever happening. Enough…

So next step is to get the vehicle booked on a ship and sailed down to SA, I will fly there in advance to welcome it into port and intend staying with friends in the meantime to train as hard as my body will allow to get ready for the Comrades in a jut 90 days time.

I am very fearful of not being able to make and finish what I set out to achieve and this set back has only made it harder but given me added motivation to make Afritrex the success I know it will be. The malaria seems to be subsiding and I’ll go for a short run this afternoon to ‘sweat out’ the rest of it. Doctor’s order of course!!

Easter will be spent here on the beach between saying goodbye to Silvia for the last time, drinking a wee bit so as not to set back the recovery and getting the truck packed up ready for shipping. Going to be a difficult holiday period me thinks!

End of day location: The Beach, Big Milly’s, Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms (but soon to be loads)

Tuesday 18 March 2008

16th March 08

Date: 16th March 08
Location: Big Millys, Ghana
Weather: Humid and hot 35°c
Status: Ben – very under the weather, waiting around, but being cared for!! Colonel – Oiled and lubed but electrics giving problems

Awaiting THE phone call from Owen on Monday which will give me a final answer on how exactly the next step of Afritrex will go and where and when I leave here.

Current mindset is that its now too late to drive south with the ever present problems of the forthcoming rains but if Owen says yes and gets out here by the end of the week then I’d love to give it a go and may consider it still.

Heard from Silvia when I’d collected the car from the garage as she’d been admitted to hospital in Kumasi, some 250kms/9hrs drive away, as she was vomiting uncontrollably. The doctors didn’t know exactly what was wrong so kept her in overnight as a precaution, but that in an African hospital can sometimes make you worse. Her reports of 10 people to a room, sick over the floors, full toilets and a three hour queue for the pharmacy rang true with my experiences in SA and so we decided to get her on a bus back down here as quickly as possible to recover by the coast.

As I waited for her to arrive it was time to get some more training done and headed off for my usual beach run, but this time I started to experience a dull pain under my RH ribs which got progressively worse. Later in the evening Silvia arrived feeling terrible from the bus ride down and headed straight to bed, and as I was now having hot and cold flushes did the same.

What a terrible night, every 5mins I changed from sweating profusely, to shivering violently and knew something was wrong. Wendy, the owner of the camp knew immediately I was suffering from the early stages of Malaria, as she’d had it 30 times in her stay in Ghana so she headed to the medicine cabinet and brought me the necessaries and some water.

4 Malarone and 2 Paracetamol started to bring me back to life and stopped the fainting feeling, with the same again 8hrs later and now as I write this sat in the hammock feel almost human again…luckily! Off for lunch now to try and get some goodness back in the system asap.

End of day location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms…..AGAIN!!!! ARGGHHHHHHHH

Thursday 13 March 2008

13th March 08

Date: 13th March 2008
Location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Weather: Blue skies and sunshine, little wind 34°c
Status: Mental rollercoaster, every minute of the day

Wow, what a week and what a mad, mad time for me! There’s so much going on in my head its going to be a bit of a strange diary entry today so try and bear with me……

4 days since the last diary entry and been in the same location now for a while as I wait for Owen and also for the car to come back from being serviced courtesy of fantastic man called Fraser.

Fraser used to be an overland driver and has spent many years travelling the world and has a vast knowledge of Africa, the roads, the people and how to do it, so we’ve sat and had many a chat about what lies ahead and how best to take it all on. Before the driving he joined the French foreign legion and served for 3 years, then on a piss up in London decided to quit, went A.W.O.L. and started the overlanding.

Since then his life has changed hugely; he worked for the Red Cross as a Logistics Manager in many difficult and dangerous situations including the devastating tsunami which effected my world in the biggest way with the loss of dear Char. He’s now a multi-millionaire who installs power stations in Africa, owns a goldmine, oilfield and also manages several hotel chains……truly incredible stories!

Fraser has been kind enough to pay for the Colonel to be fully serviced, cleaned and prepared for the next step….huge thanks obviously go out to him.

So the next step and where I go from here, obviously south in time for the Comrades but I’ve yet to decide how exactly I do it. Owen’s no-show has upped the anti and put the pressure on for a number of reasons, I can’t drive south alone for safety reasons so am looking for a temporary passenger to join me but most are too afraid of Nigeria and the Congo to jump on board so the options come down to shipping the Colonel to South Africa which defeats me and the mission but may be the only choice I have.

Owen has given me a final date of Monday for an answer and a decision so if he decides to come out we’ll probably take on the drive south trying as hard as we can to beat the rains which will arrive in the next fortnight and get there overland as we’ve always planned to do……but this is Owen and I will wait, patiently!

Stayed in a room here last night so was amazing to have a full nights sleep with a fan blowing away and caught up on some essential zzzz’s, then as I left in the morning almost had a heart attack as stood in the doorway was Silvia…..back here for only 20mins to find her friends glasses but incredible to see her again if only for such a short time. This is truly mentally challenging and hard work.

Luke leaving has been difficult too, he’s made the first part of the journey amazing and has been the best person I could ever have spent my time with and I miss his company, words and thoughts. Be strong Luke and set out to achieve what we’ve talked about and use this experience to better things, I know you will! Oh and give Roo a big hug from me J

End of day location: Big Milly’s, Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms

9th March 08

Date: 9th March 08
Location: Big Millys campsite, Accra, Ghana
Weather: Humid as ever, sunshine and 35°c
Status: Recovering……slowly

Been on the birthday mission for a few days now and having the best send off for Luke too! Daily life has been alternating between swimming in the ocean, eating amazingly well prepared food with the best service and drinking the local beer, Star!

This was always going to be the part of the trip where we kicked back, rested, and enjoyed the backpacker’s lifestyle of having fun in the sunshine.

Met some of the best people here as well, a Dutch couple called Anke and Tom who have made me laugh more than I’ve done in years. He works for the UN peacekeeping in Afghanistan, is 19 years old and so funny my sides split…..the phrases and words he’s learnt from us, however rude and crude, are now part of his daily……sorry hourly vocabulary, and we now know what a swaffel is too, I think in England its something to do with making tea, if you email me I’ll explain it further as its not the cleanest of humour!

Had some awesome bands playing in the evening here with acrobats, snake-men and dancing like you would never believe, Wendy the English lady who runs the site has done an amazing thing with her business and is a pleasure talk to and know.

Tonight is a quiet one……

End of day location: Accra, Ghana
Distance covered: 0kms

Friday 7 March 2008

6th March 08

Date: 6th March 08 – my birthday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Location: Accra, Ghana
Weather: Hazy sunshine, humid like never before and 35°c
Status: All good, mission accomplished…..part 1

We’ve done it!! Arrived in Accra after 3 days travel from the north of the country and we have found our little oasis by the coast!

So a hell of a long way travelled, through 3 countries (Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana) over the last few days and the destination which we set for ourselves back in Morocco has been reached.

I gave Luke a clipping from a paper which my aunty Jenny was reading in Essaouira which related to the African Cup of Nations and the title was “Ghana Bound”, I placed it under Luke’s beer as a fortune cookie-style message….at the time I didn’t realise its significance but my man has been, seen and delivered more than I could ever imagine. The perfect start to my mission and a warm up to the mad, mad experience I’m about to have in central Africa.

We left Mali and travelled as quickly as we could south through Burkina Faso but wish we could have stayed for longer as the introduction of green, lush fertile soil for the first time in 3 weeks was a refreshing change and well needed! We basically travelled through the country in 2 days only seeing what passed our window but as we went the temps dropped and the humidity rose until the point where we sweated more than ever before, even sitting down was an effort!

Through the borders with no problem as we had the visas we needed and stayed at another catholic mission in Ghana before taking on the long drive south to the capital. It was a 10hr slog but with the aid of the gps and some amazing map reading skills from Luke, and we arrived at Milly’s campsite right on the beach about 30kms west of Accra.

Today, the 6th March is Independence Day in Ghana and also my birthday so the bar was the first place to visit and we used it to its full potential…..hence my slightly disjointed diary report!

We will service the Colonel here, pack Luke off to the UK and think about the next challenge ahead…..travelling by myself for the first time on the expedition, it’ll be hugely different but in the same sentence, another part of the experience.

The camp we’re staying at has a BIG night on Saturday, tomorrow, so hopefully it’ll be a relaxed one tonight before… I think the phrase goes, “tearing the ass out of it!!!”. To celebrate Independence Day of course!!

Will write the next entry when I feel human again J oh and one more thing….just met a wicked couple of local guys after Luke had tried on ANOTHER local costume except this time it was in pure black….but here they wear it as a funeral costume, and as we haven’t one to go to they suggested wearing it for my birthday… “lets get DEAD!” love it!

End of day location: Accra, Ghana
Distance covered: 460kms

3rd March 08

Date: 3rd March 08
Weather: Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Status: All good

Up early, coffee, porridge and bread with choccy sauce J

Lots of km’s therefore lots of corrugations and boy did they feel like they were bashing the shit out of the Colonel, but he took it well and only questioned me at fuel stops!

After travelling down 120kms od roads that were supposed to be tarred and were actually dirt and roadworks, we finally arrived at our destination….the border!

Entered Ghana with all the visas, documents and local Cedi you’d ever need so made our way to another Catholic mission (there seems to be a theme running through here!) and ate a spot of lunch wellan omelette baguette anyway and Luke fell in love with the waiter, so he parted with his money, tshirt and mu,erous phtotos and we decided to go out to dinner!

Found a African-stytle western motel which was good for a chicken burger and chips and the headed home.

End of day location: Wa, Ghana
Distance covered: 290kms

2nd March 08

Date: 2nd March 2008
Location: Sikasso, Mali
Weather: Hazy blue skies and sunshine 40°c
Status: All good

Another day, another country so a good early start of baguette, chocolate sauce then porridge and coffee before getting the wheels turning again.

We made good progress on perfect roads, got to the border for lunch which was so shoddy its untrue. Half a baguette, with just mayonnaise and nothing else…..yum.

Checked out of Mali and into Burkina Faso with not a problem and said thank you to the police for being the best yet on the trip, and onto the next country. It’s difficult having so little time in some of these places, a year really isn’t long enough to stop and say hello to everyone and to meet their families and friends which is a real shame sometimes.

Got to Bobo-Dioulasso as the day drew to a close so cleared the city and found the newly finished, but not allowed to drive on express short cut to Ghana. Balls, again our plans have been thwarted so in the morning we’ll have to ses if the locals can tell us for how long the trees-across-the-road diversions will last for!

End of day location: Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Distance covered: 430kms

1st March 08

Date: 1st March 08
Location: Sikasso, Mali
Weather: Hazy blue skies and sunshine but cooler, only 38°c
Status: Ben – shit, Luke & Colonel – all good

Woke up feeling awful for some reason, spent the next two hours throwing up in the bathroom (will explain later), lovely feeling when it so hot and your surrounded by the most mosquito’s ever!

Got it together enough that by 10.30am we were on the road and heading out of Bamako, passing the airport we headed south and east from the capital to finally stop 320kms later outside a small village where we set up our bush camp and enjoyed a spectacular 400gm T-bone steak each washed down with a 2004 Bordeaux around our camp fire. Live is very very good again JJ

For the first night in about a week we’re moving quickly again which feels superb, the evenings are cooler and there’s no Mozzies here, amazing!

REASON FOR BEN’S DOWNFALL: uncooked egg in a Calzone pizza served at lunch

RESULT: 4hrs of visiting the porcelain telephone to god and speaking only in ‘hughie and ralphs’

METHOD TO RECOVERY: lightly season two oversized fresh T-bone steaks, cook over an open fire until rare, pour two glasses of fine red wine, served at room temp and consume with pleasant company.

End of day location: Sikasso, Mali
Distance covered: 320kms

29th Feb 08

Date: 29th Feb 08
Location: Bamako, Mali
Weather: Hazy blue skies, harmattan dust in the air and 43°c
Status: All back on track and loving it!

Second day of chasing visas and a highly successful outcome! We got to the Ghana embassy early, dressed in shirts and trousers to look our best and were instantly told that they took 48 hours to process and wouldn’t be ready until Tuesday…4 more days sitting still!!

Had a chat with one of the smart-looking top dogs there and put together a story on the spot, describing the urgency of our journey to Ghana to meet my sick mother whose arrived there and is all alone (sorry Mum!) and somehow it worked. He told us to complete the 4 identical forms and wait until 12.30 to collect them, as we were about to leave he said wait for another half hour and they’d be done!!!

Ha ha, how we laughed at the way we’d played the system and won….so we headed of to the ex-pat supermarket and spent the next hour marvelling at the huge range of western products and even a wicked range of French wines, vintages all at amazingly low prices. We bought enough to see us through the next week or two and couldn’t believe it when the bill came to £25 each….we had ground coffee, wine, t-bone steaks and more, tomorrow nights meal will be awesome!

Back to the mission to repack the car again and get our selves ready for the big off tomorrow. We need to get to Ghana as quick as possible now to get Luke home and to meet Owen, oh and also to be in Ghana for their Independence Day on March 6th….my birthday and a chance to have some fun!

Arrived there to find a group of 5 American girls staying….superb! so drank beer and chatted away for a few hours to the sounds of….”oh you guys are so cute”, “we’ve majored in…..”, “I’ve got a boyfriend but he likes it when I do this to his hair!”etc etc.

Morgan, Abbey, Emma, Madeline and ??? were brilliant company and off early in the morning so headed to bed. Quick note to the young ladies – Madeline you are SO cute !


End of day location: Bamako, Mali
Distance covered: 15kms round the city!