Saturday, 30 November 2013

Toubkal Winter Acsent

On leaving the Sahara after spending the last week trekking with camels through the dunes, I drove over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech meeting our next group who had come to Morooco to climb North Africa's highest mountain Mt Toubkal.

Before making our way into foothills of the Atlas and the village of imlil we had time to for a qiuck lunch in the Fma El Fna which is a world famous square in the old city of Marrakech and a complete sensory overload. 
Leaving the hustle and bustle of Marrkaech behind we made our way towards the High Altas passing through mud brick Berber villages where little has changed for centuries winding our way slowly to Imlil the main stopover for anyne looking to climb Toubkal.
After a good nights sleep plenty of great Moroccan food we loaded up our mules and headed for the hills and the Neltner Refuge at 3200m and our Toubkal base camp.
It took us a 7 hours in total climbing 1400m, normally during March Toubkal refuge is buzzing with groups from all over Europe mainline ski - touring, but this year we've had very little snow, so winter conditions haven't been great.

We began our climb of Mt Toubkal around 7am climbing slowly out of the refuge making our way up the South Cwm sticking to the snow as much as possible avoiding removing our crampons, by 09.00am the sun had finally hit us and it was warming up quickly in fact I think temperatures hit around 23 by mid day.
This made our climb really tough with high temperatures the snow melting which meant we kept falling through the snow, plus the glare from the sun it was a tough climb, 
We made it the summit all very short of breath bit rewarded with stunning views, I must admit this must  have been something like my 30th Toubkal summit and I never tire of the summit views.

We're now down at the Refuge enjoying a mint tea and all feeling very pleased with our day.
Tomorrow we head back down to imlil for hot showers and more great food, then it Marrakech time!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Sahara Explorer Trek

Leaving Ouarzazate early morning in our 4x4's we made our way southeast into the Moroccan Sahara to begin our 5 day camel trek in the little visited area of the desert between Zagora and Mazouga.
It took us 5hrs driving through the Draa Valley before turning off road and time for some 4x4 driving into the desert to meet up with our camels and nomad guides.
It tooks us some time to locate our camels, finally meeting up at the only large scrub land for miles.
On arrival we set up camp and waved good bye to our 4x4's, from now on we would traveling by foot and camel travelling as the nomadic tribes of Sahara have done for centuries, completely self sufficient and one with the desert.

Our first nights camp under the endless canopy of stars passed peacefully, we woke early morning to fresh mint tea Moroccan style loaded with sugar. After breakfast with the camels all loaded up with our kit and a good supply of water it was time to hit the desert as we crossed the first of many dune belts, after eating lunch in the shade of a small tree the afternoon trek was to take us a across a huge salt flats with the mountains of Ait Tamgharte ahead of us and our planned camp for night.
The crossing of any large expanse of open land such as the salt flats in the Sahara your camp always looks very close, however the camp never seems to get any closer even after hours of walking and it begins to feel like your in some kind of Monty Python sketch that when you finally arrive at camp you discover it's a miniature model.
We finally reached the other side of the salt flats just on sunset where a nomadic family had settled for the winter months to graze their goats, on arrival at the camp the head of the family very kindly invited us for mint tea before offering us a place to sleep for the night in their spare tent which was used to store rice and bedding for passing travellers.
Unable to turn down our hosts plus the opportunity to spend the night with a Berber nomadic family was an offer we couldn't turn down and felt very honoured to be invited into the families home for night. 
The following days route was through the Ait Tamgharte mountains a total of 24km was a tough day with really rocky terrain underfoot and very little shade, although we made good time and managed to arrive into camp late afternoon, camp was situated in a beautiful oasis at the entrance to a gorge, our reward for a long tough day trekking was a shower and old drinks from the local auberge. 
Deciding to spend a night under stars rather than the tent is always one my highlights to being in the Sahara with the night skies glittered with stars to the horizon and waking to a spectacular sunrise all from your sleeping is must if you ever visit the Sahara.

We had 5 camels with us to carry all equipment for the entire group but as the days passed one of the young camels began to slow down due to the pace and distance we where covering, so we needed an extra camel to help out, some how out of know where one of our camel guides returned in the morning with a new camel, we where told his name was Columbus, we were saved.
The following two days trekking took us across the Hamada and through a huge dune belt before finally arriving at a small village which farmed huge amounts Henna, walking through the village and seeing how people live in such an arid place where in the summer months temperatures can reach up to 50c was fascinating. 
Our final night in the desert was spent relaxing under the stars with a well deserved glass of wine and olives complete desert decadence.
The following morning we said farewell to our camels and guides before making the 4x4 journey through the Dades Valley also known as the Valley of a Thousand Kasbars and onto Ouarzazate for a hot shower and cold beer.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Malawi & Zambia Cycle

Lilongwe to Lusaka 

It was soon time to hit the road on again, this time I teamed up with some friends from the U.K. and our plan was to cycle 1300km from Liliongwe to Livingstone in Zambia in 10 days at the hottest time of year, it was reportedly 40c in Lwangwa valley the challenge was on.
Leaving Lilongwe at 5am we made our way southwest to the Zambia border a total of 150km on good roads with very little traffic, we arrived in bustling  town of Chipatta on the Zambian border at 4pm just in time to shop for supplies as the following days cycling would be fairly remote with little opportunity for resupply.
Cycling between the hours of 5-9am was my favourite time on the road with the sun rising, villages coming to life with locals heading to market or collecting water from the nearest well.
Every morning I'd always end up racing someone on there way to market with a pig or bags of charcoal strapped to the bike or a young boy on his way school riding on a bike way to big for him.
It was a 575km from Chipatta town along the Great East Road to the Zambian capital Lusaka, our first full day cycling in Zambia we managed a distance of around 120km which was our minimum daily target. The cycling conditions were tough going with temperatures reaching the mid 30's by mid morning with some long hill climbs.
We passed through a number small towns on the first 200km which allowed us to stock up on supplies and enjoy much needed cold drinks.

Our first nights accommodation since leaving Chipatta was in the small village of Sinda, we opted to camp at the Sinda Hotel, which  was basically a truckers brothel with no electricity or running water, somehow I think a bush camp would have been a better option.
As we continued eastward we were nearing the Lwangwa Valley with temperatures reportedly reaching 40c and some huge hills in and out of the valley, this was the section of the ride I knew would be my big test, Our plan of attack was to cycle 110km in the morning reach the Lwangwa valley and then chill in the shade until late afternoon as the climb out of the valley would be killer.
The Great East road is a major transit route for trucks and buses into Malawi and at times they would come flying past us doing at least 100km, you had two options at this point stick to your guns and stay on the road risking everything or drop off the road into the ditch this all made for some heart thumping moments.
Arriving at Lwangwa valley we found shade under the usual mango tree ate and slept waiting for the temperatures to drop before continuing out of the valley and finding a roadside bush camp. The remaining section of the route into Lusaka passing through the Lower Zambezi National Park did ease as we neared the capital.
Unfortunately for me my left knee began to give up, so much so I ended up cycling only with my right leg, I'd pushed too hard on he early stages of the ride, the rest of the group were pulling ahead of me and I was only getting slower and the pain was increasing. Feeling really fed up and annoyed at myself I decided to end the ride and hitch to Lusaka.
From the moment we decided to do the ride I never thought id not make it due to injury my only concern was if we had enough time, so leaving the ride left me very disappointed. 
The rest of team continued to Livingstone, Bob, Geoff and Russell managed to complete the ride 1250km in 9 days which is some going, Danny and Claire arrived into livingstone the following day. 
It was great to all join up again and share stories.
Cycling through Africa is a wonderful experience, never at any point did we feel intimidated in fact it was quite the opposite and overwhelmingly friendly.
Getting out the open road stopping in small villages, meeting wonderful friendly people, bush camping, huge hill climbs and the non stop cheering from the children made the trip an adventure of a life time.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Malawi Cycle

Malawi cycle 

Returning to Malawi after nearly 10 years, I was super stoked to be returning, my plan was to cycle from Liliongwe to just south of Chincheche to Kande Beach, a total of 350km, which would be the perfect warm up ride for our trans Zambia cycle.

On leaving Liliongwe I was on a high to be finally on the bike and hitting the road, although a little apprehensive due to the fact it was the first time I'd ever done any cycle touring.
Leaving Lilongwe the capital of Malawi early morning avoiding the heavy traffic it soon became apparent I was in for a tough ride, the heat was 30+ by 9.30am and climbing the escarpment before dropping down to lake Malawi in the Rift Valley was a tough day, at one police check the Officers insisted I stop cycling and take shelter as it was to hot, once I dropped down into the Rift Valley the temperatures increased and the cycling hit a level.. 

Day 1: I cycled 107km into Salima after finding a bed for the night I had time for some food shopping at market and early night.

Day 2: an early start as I decided to cycle before the day got stupidly hot, hitting the road by 5 was perfect with the air reasonably cool and the African sun slowly rising I was buzzing, finally back in Sub-Saharan Africa and on the open road. I made a few stops mid morning village stops and soon realised why Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa, I never for one minute felt any danger other than the odd crazy bus, but everyone I met roadside were incredibly friendly and interested in what I was doing and more importantly why ? 
The constant shouts of Mzungu and the kids sprinting to the roadside screaming and shouting was great fun, children would line the road on seeing me, dancing and singing so excited to see me cycling past it was a huge amount fun.
The word Mzungu which is used throughout East/Central Africa is the term used for a white man, although the originally comes from the meaning to wonder around in circles, when the first 18th century explores first came to Africa the local villages thought it was the same person walking in circles.

Day 3: I had Kande in my sights only 150 - 160km away so I decided to nail it get to Kande chill and party, today was to prove one of my toughest days due to heat in Central Malawi and holy hell was it hot, I managed to find bananas today which was a great treat as there wasn't much in the way of food supplies in Malawi, I just ate noodles for the first 3 days and I just have drank 9lts of water on day 3 and still never pee'd. At 18.00 I made it to Kande Beach after 13hrs totally exhausted and burnt to a crisp, I can tell you the first 2 beers were heaven, I now had 8 days at Kande to chill out on the lake before the next ride from Lilongwe to Lusaka in Malawi.