A photographic celebration of the final continent cycle – part 1 Zimbabwe

20 Dec

Hey Folks,

I know I’m meant to be going cold turkey on the blog posts so I focus on the book. But like a true blogaholic, just one more, well actually I’m going to put up three more posts.

I was thinking that my blog was looking rather bland as when I left the bike shop I never uploaded any photos due to the internet being ridiculously slow – when I could find it.

So, I have put some photos and videos up of my bike ride from Namibia to Malawi. These I hope will help to put a few pictures to the blog posts you have read over the past 4 months. To follow this blog post will be Zambia and Malawi. This blog post is of my cycle through the top of Zimbabwe and ferry on Lake Kariba. Here we go, ho ho ho.

 

Entering Zimbabwe from Botswana. This was the place where I was about to enter a game reserve. Everybody telling me I would be killed if I rode through it. But with anything you weigh up the risks, it is a game reserve, but it’s not a famous one like neighbouring Chobe that has a reputation of having a high density of animals. I was going to ride the 70km game park at midday when animal activity was at its lowest and it’s a big reserve, so you would be unlucky to come across something that wanted to eat you. Although when talking with the locals they told me that it was home to all the same animals that can kill you as everywhre else. Then speaking with an overland truck driver that night I told how he had seen a lion kill whilst driving the same road. All I know is that it was the fastest 70km’s I cycled of the whole trip. The only dangerous animals I came close to were elephants and buffalo (It’s surpirsing how something so big can be hidden until you’re right upon it. Check out my blog post of cycling that 70kms.

 

Victoria Falls (a very small insignificant part) in the background. I took the cheap option as Mandy and I had already visited the Falls from the Zambia side previously. I had heard about a track you could go down on the Zimbabwe side that led you down into conyon, and was free. Obviously from the photo you can see that you don’t actually get to see the falls, but it was a amazing, no one around, hanging out in this little rock pool below one of the natural seven wonders of the world.

 

A road side table in Zimbabwe, I’m feeling rooted, this photo sums it up for me. This was the day I was feeling sick, diareaha, headaches etc, but I had to cycle to make my ferry.

 

A day or two after the above photo, feeling better, feeling amazing actually at this point. I had turned off the main road enroute to get the Lake Kariba ferry. It was the first time of my trip where I had entered hills. I had the road all to myself, going up was tough but flying down the hills I would be shouting woooohoooooo like a little kid jumping in puddles.

 

As it had been the dry season most rivers beds were dry, but this river valley still had water, it felt like an oasis, and I had it all to myself. I was really tempted to go for a swim, but since I had already had enough wildlife encounters I didn’t want to take the risk with crocodiles, instead I just took in the silence and beauty of the valley.

 

 

Like many nights on the trip, the sun was setting and I needed somewhere to camp. I spotted some nice looking mud huts and approached them. I asked Mariam above if I could put my tent up, she said no problems. Behind the hut in the background was the scene of my naked bath whilst talking with Mariam’s extremely drunk husband who came home after a Sunday of boozing.

 

Sunset on the Lake Kariba ferry. STUNNING. Absolutely loved it, the ferry stopped off in the middle of the lake where it was too deep for Crocs and hippos and we went swimming. The passengers slept on the deck under the stars. Just spectacular.

 

An elephant paying my tent and bike a visit on the shores of Lake Kariba. Bloody glad I wasn’t inside this time. Luckily it gets a fright when the tent fly pings up. Check out the short video (a bit of wind noise but I didn’t want to go back to the tent to get the external mic, but I think you will forgiveme)

 

What’s Hap going to do next?

13 Dec

The last couple of years everyone has been asking me the same question, and for that matter I have been asking myself? What’s Hap going to do next? What crazy transcontinental goal will he set himself to do before 40? To get married and have a child in every continent? To collect the unemployment benefit in every continent?

No, for me it is a lot simpler. I set myself the working the world goal to see the world, to live my 20’s with no regrets, to live my dream. I have lived that dream, I have scratched that itch, and my god what a trip it has been! It’s time for a new chapter, or I suppose you could say it’s time for a new book.

The coming years are going to see me put a few of my theories to the test; do what you love and never work a day in your life, do what you are passionate about and you’ll be successful.

If you had asked me when I was 10 years old what I wanted to do I would have told you I wanted a job that involved public speaking. This is most people’s greatest fears, but for me it is what I love. I love to entertain. Since I was 10 years old doing school speech competitions I have taken every available speaking opportunity, from inspirational presentations at high school prize-givings to entering the Australian wide stand up comedy competition.

I want to tie my love of public speaking and entertaining with my passion, my passion to inspire people. I love nothing more than hearing about people’s dreams, hearing them speak about what they are passionate about. You see that glint in their eye, the way they rabble stuff off and then afterwards apologise for speaking too much, but for me someone can’t speak enough about what they are passionate about, I find it addictive.

I especially want to inspire the youth, the 15- 30 age group, to teach them what I have learnt over my last ten years. You’re never too old, but I really see these as some of the best years of your life to live your dreams, to follow your passion. There is nothing holding you back, you have no mortgage, no wife and kids, no real expectations from society, and you have your health. If you want to start a business, this is the time, if you fail, who care’s? You’re in your 20’s, learn from your mistakes, do it better next time. If you want to be an All Black, if you want to raise a family, if you want to be a builder, if you want to be a lawyer, if you want to be a photographer, if you want to research the mating habits of Hungarian albatross (I don’t know if there is such a thing), your 20’s are your time to shine.

When I was in Africa I wanted to see what was happening in NZ and checked out the online news. The first article I read was about New Zealand having the highest youth suicide rate of the OECD countries. For me this is such a tragedy. New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and the amount of opportunities here are tremendous. Especially when I compare it to where I read that article, in the heart of rural Namibia. An unforgiving place where kids are born into mud huts with no electricity, 40% HIV infection rate and 80% unemployment. If only these youth that had decided to take their lives had found what they were passionate about and followed that, would the outcome have been different?

So for the next couple of years I will be in my home continent, dedicating myself to my new goal, to inspire the youth.

One thing I have learnt from working the world has been that you can’t do anything by yourself. You need the help and support of others, something I have been extremely lucky with whilst working the world. If you think you know of anyone that maybe interested in my new goal, any companies or organisations that are passionate about inspiring the youth, or potential websites or books I need to check out, then please pass them on. Sharing is caring.

Now I have come to the end of this post, I have to do one more thing. I have to wrap up Hap Working the World. No need to get all emotional just yet, it’s not good bye. I’ll keep you all updated on important happenings but I really have to knock my blogging habit on the head. It’s going to be a busy summer as my book, Working the World has to be to the editor by April (my publisher Allen & Unwin will have it on the shelves October/November next year). I’ll also be busy working with the talented documentary maker Richard Sidey for our joint project, Bikes for Africa.

So that’s it folks. Thanks for all the support along the journey, you guys have been AWESOME!

Nuthin but love Hap

Actually ROBBED!

12 Dec

“We going to kill you mother**ker! You heard about the tourists that been killed in Dar Es Salam, that’s what we do, we kill tourist mother**kers like you. Now don’t try anything stupid”

I try to have a WWJD moment. I ask myself, “What would James do?…………………….Bond that is.” My mind fails me and just keeps flashing up the same thought like a Las Vegas neon sign, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

I draw on my last 9 years of travel experience and weigh up my situation. I’m in a locked car with tinted windows in the middle of an African ghetto with three gangsters. The one in the back seat with me is shouting they are going to kill me. To make matters worse I have with me basically everything of value that I own, including my passport and last remaining credit card. I come to the conclusion that my mind is right, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

Ok, so how the hell did I end up in this situation?

I had woken up in my muggy painted concrete walled room, a sweaty film covering my skin with the overhead fan blowing hot air on me. But I was in Dar Es Salam, a city I was falling in love with. The night before a complete stranger had driven me around on the back of his motorbike showing me the sights. It’s the people that make a city. Unfortunately during that night I had lost my credit card. So first thing on my day’s agenda was to skype the bank to cancel it. Luckily I still I had my Australian debit card to withdraw money.

Before exiting the room I looked for a new place to hide my money belt as cleaners would find it between the sheets where I usually stash it. My room was basically a glorified cell, there were no hiding spots, I reluctantly lift my T-shirt and clip it around my waist.

I exit the guest house like a walking tourist gold mine, lap top and money belt with passport, money and debit card. The only thing I was missing was a neon sign saying I was carrying everything of value that I own in the whole world (apart from my video camera that I had taken out of my bag at the last minute). Revelling in the generosity and sunshine of Dar Es Salam totally oblivious to what the day had install for me I turned onto the busy footpath of the main street.

As I was walking along feeling at home in this foreign city, a local guy comes up to me. This is normal in Africa, another local guy walking along talking to me with the usual questions or where I am from, where have I travelled etc. No doubt he wants to sell me something, jewellery, drugs, safari, cheap bus ticket or maybe all of the above. My way to deal with these guys is to be polite and keep walking. They are pretty harmless and trying to make a living, they aren’t drunks but rather have a good grasp of English and know about the world after years of talking with tourists. If they were born in my country they would be successful salesmen. But they aren’t, they are brought up in Africa where if you aren’t born rich you struggle.

His name is William, he’s roughly the same age as me. Like most guys that come and talk to me he knows that the capital of New Zealand is Wellington and New Zealanders are called Kiwi. But William is different. William is a local musician specialising in African music. He’s in his fourth year of music studies at the local university. He’s pretty well known in Tanzania but he wants to let the world hear his music. He has dreams to take his music to the world.

It looks like it’s Williams lucky day as I tell him that I’m making a documentary and looking for local African music. He became very excited about this and guess what, my good friend William had just released his second CD. He says he can ring his manager and get him to bring a copy of the CD down for me. He asks me if I have time and assures me that it won’t take long as he has a music lecture in 1 hour that he has to get to.

He gets on his phone and calls his manager, he’s speaking in Swahili and all I pick up is the repeated mention of CD. He gets off his phone and tells me his manager is at the studio and will come and meet us with a copy of the CD. As we continue to talk and walk in the direction of the meeting spot we cross the main road and head down a side road. As William is showings me his wedding ring and telling me how he met his German volunteer wife whilst playing a gig in Zanzibar a large white car pulls up besides us. Wow fancy that, the driver of the car is one of William’s friends who just so happens to love his music. His friend also just happens to want his new CD and offers to give us a ride. William says that’s fine just as long as he promises to drop me back to the internet place I was headed to as he doesn’t want to take up anymore of my time. No worries.

For some reason the part of my brain that is meant to send out warning signals about stranger danger and hopping into unknown people’s cars that I learnt back in primary school doesn’t trigger, I jump in. I do the African handshake with Williams driver friend who is a friendly smiling fella but doesn’t speak much English. As I settle into the spacious faded maroon interior of the back seat I think how friendly everyone is in this city, ahh happy days, another amazing travel moment. You lose much by fearing to attempt.

William is concerned for my back pack that I have lying on the unoccupied back seat beside me and tells me that there are many thieves in Dar Es Salam and they will easily open the door and snatch it. He would hate for something bad to happen to me and I leave with negative views of his city. I think to myself, I’ve been travelling for nearly 10 years, I’ve never had anything robbed, the windows are tinted, I have my hand on my back pack, I’m not that stupid, she’ll be right. As I put my bag between my legs I tell William how friendly everyone has been and the amazing time I had with Samir the night before.

William gets on his phone and tells me that he’s going to call his manager and organise for us to meet him at the studio, apparently there are a lot of cool musicians hanging out there. The car merges into the chaos of the mid morning traffic. William is rather animated on the phone, and once again the only part of the conversation that I pick up is the last word, CD. I’m sure that if I had understood Swahili the conversation would have gone along the lines of “I got this dumb arse tourist who looks like an anorectic version of Jesus sitting in the car thinking I’m a musician and we’re going to get a copy of my CD”.

William who is riding shot gun gets off the phone. He starts talking to me, but I can’t hear him as his window is down, so he jumps into the back seat with me so I can hear him. He offers me a cigarette, I decline. His forehead is covered in beads of sweat, I suppose it is bloody hot. He starts singing to me in Swahili, I’m tone deaf, he sounds unbelievably talented.

Next his phone rings and he’s talking away. Then the driver’s phone rings. The driver passes William his phone and William passes me his phone mid sentence as William starts talking into the drivers phone. With Williams phone in my hand I look to the driver to try and figure out who I’m meant to be speaking to. He says “sister”

“Hello, who’s this?”

A sweet female voice with only the slightest hint of an accent answers me “this is Williams sister, he tells me you are making a documentary and are going to use his music”

The small talk continues until William hangs up on his conversation and I pass his “sister” back to him.

We’ve been in the car heading out of town for about 10 minutes, William tells me we are close to the studio and seems a little stressed that he’s going to miss his lecture. I’m feeding off his music passion, he’s so dedicated. I really hope that Sich the documentary maker likes his music and wants to include it.

William gets another phone call and when he gets off he’s cursing his manager. He’s misunderstood the previous phone calls and has left the studio with the CD to meet us. William tells his mate to turn off the main road, we bump onto a dirt road. That little stranger danger alarm bell starts up an annoying barely audible beep like a smoke alarm that is running low on batteries. But then it stops as William points to a heavily trafficked main road ahead of us. We park beside a local eatery come bar that is situated on the corner of the busy main road and side dirt road. We wait for the manager.

The Manager finally arrives on the back of one of the many motorbike taxi’s that work the streets of Dar Es Salam. He’s a big hulk of a man that seems to walk with an arrogance of a man that thinks time stops for him. He saunters over to the car, not bothering to look at us. He opens the passenger side door and lowers his bulk onto the seat. Straight away I’m not feeling the love from him, my low battery sounding stranger danger alarm starts up again, but my good friend William seems in tune to my senses and taps the manager on the shoulder

“meet Hap, he’s the one who’s going to put my music on the documentary”.

The behemoth manager gives me a welcome you would expect from a concerned father meeting his 16 year old daughter’s 30 year old boyfriend who’s a DJ at the local university night club. As I’m being introduced the car moves off from the parking spot and is doing a three point turn back into the maze of dirt roads.

My primary school days are flashing back to me with teachers telling me not to take lollies from strangers. Then the message about getting into cars with people you don’t know flashes up in big red letters, the stranger danger alarm is more constant and beeping. As the driver finishes his three point turn I get more panicked I ask “where are we going?” as I go to open my door before we get more momentum. Fuck! My doors kiddy locked. Then on que, I hear the “clunk” as the driver locks all the doors and the electric tinted windows rise up separating me from the outside world into my nightmare.

In an instance William who is sitting beside me in the spacious back seat changes from my best friend (I do realise now that he wasn’t my friend) into a gangster. He pushes me against the door, shouting at me “We going to kill you mother**ker, you heard about the tourists that been killed in Dar Es Salam? That’s what we do, we kill tourist mother**kers like you.” Now my stranger danger alarm is wailing like a world war 2 bomb siren, all I can think is “you’ve cocked up this time Hap…………………………………….and the bastard didn’t even give me any lollies”.

In my infinite wisdom I had also figured out by this point that my good friend William is probably not a musician, is not married to a German volunteer that he met playing a concert in Zanzibar, that I didn’t talk to his sister and he doesn’t have a CD. Therefore I’m sure he won’t be missing his 11 o’clock music lecture and I can probably write off getting a lift back into town to cancel my credit card – ahhh yes, I do have some luck on my side, I don’t have my $6000 limit credit card with me as I had lost it.

I weigh up my situation. I’m in a locked car with tinted windows bumping my way down a rough dirt road into the heart of the ghetto with three guys that you don’t really want to be in a locked car with. The guy beside me is shouting he is going to kill me and wants all my money. I curse myself as I feel the weight of my money belt around my waist feeling like an anchor, I know it has my passport, my Australian debit card which is my only way left of accessing cash and there’s $70 worth of Malawian money. I curse myself for going against my usual travel protocol of not wearing my money belt. My back pack is between my legs it holds my new lap top that I bought before the trip that has all the documentary footage and photos on it, plus my camera’s SD card I had forgotten about. I do a quick mental check and I’m pretty sure I have back up of the majority of the footage.

Although I’m scared I’m also very calm and I’m calculating my available options. The doors are locked so I can’t get out, they are three guys and I’m one guy that has the upper body strength of a 10 year old girl. I’m a taekwondo black belt, well I was 8 years ago, but I know I would struggle to even touch my toes these days. I have thoughts of being taken hostage in a small dark concrete room and my family having to wire money over for my freedom. Stories of dead tourists go through my mind, like the 29 year old Australian 6 weeks prior in Nairobi who turned up dead with his bank statement showing his credit card had been stolen. Unlike the wild animal situations I had encountered on my bike trip where I was beside myself with fear, here I was calm – well I’m sure James Bond would have been calmer. I was dealing with humans, I knew what to expect, I knew they wanted my money, I could reason with them. I set myself one solitary goal, to get out of that car…..preferably with all my limbs and organs intact.

I’m brought back to my reality as William seems to read my mind that I’m weighing up my options, he shouts “You want to call for help? You want to call for help motherfucker?” His drivers pushes the electric window button and my back seat window slides down letting in the sun and the ghetto dirt road.

“Go on, call for help! Everyone here fears us, they’re scared of us. No one cares about you.”

I make eye contact with people on the side of the road. I make my eyes as wide as possible trying to telepathically tell them I’m in danger. They look through me. I’m a Mzungu passing through, they live here and if they interfere their lives will be made a living hell, fair enough.

I agree with William that nobody is going to help me and he gets the driver to put the window back up.

With his point made his attention turns back to me “Give us your money mother**ker?” he really should tone down his languge. William grabs my bag from between my legs and passes it to the giant in the front, good bye lap top. The stony eyed giant opens it up, takes out my lap top, then pulls out my swiss army knife that is engraved with my name and the number 1994, the year my Aunty gave it to me for my 12th birthday.

Then William goes about turning my pockets inside out like he’s preparing me for the old elephant trick. But he’s not interested in my trunk, he just wants money. He seems rather annoyed that I’m only carrying small change in my pockets.

“Why you a poor mother**ker?” where do you want me to start William

“Where’s your money? Is it in the hotel? Don’t f**k with us” With my money belt now feeling glaringly obvious underneath my damp T-shirt, I toss up whether to give it to him. I decide not to, would this be my second poor decision of the day?

With my tone sounding apologetic and my arms outspread, hands turned up, shoulders slightly lifted I tried my case “William, look at me, do I look like I have money? I’m not a rich tourist driving around in a 4WD, I told you I’m riding my bike, I’ve been volunteering here in Africa, trying to help your people, that’s what the documentary is for. When we first met I told you that I was off to the internet to report my credit card lost, I have no money, I told you that”

Unfortunately William was good at his job, he reaches over and pats down my upper bottom. FUCK! He rips up my shirt and tears my money belt off “Motherf**ker, you lied”

He passes it to the giant, he takes out the Malawi money and deposits it with the rest of the loot, then he finds my licenses, he’s not interested. Oh shit, there goes my passport. Thoughts of being held for ransom in that dark concrete room with cockroaches crawling over my sweat drenched bruised body lying on a thin stained mattress go through my mind.

Just like a burglar looking under the door mat for a front door key he flicks straight to the back of my passport. I can only see the side profile of his overly large head as he’s halfed turned going through my money belt. But I can imagine what’s going through his mind. BINGO! Dumb arse skinny tourist has his credit card in the back of his passport………I’m surprised he hasn’t engraved his PIN number on it. He keeps my passport and passes my debit card back to William.

“Motherf**ker, what’s your PIN number? Don’t f**k with me, if I go to the ATM and you’ve given me the wrong PIN we’ll kill you”

In poker I’m all about calling bluffs, but with my life on the line I’m not so confident. I’m unsure how much my life is worth, but I value it slightly higher than the remaining $300 left in my account. I give him my PIN. I thank my lucky stars that I had lost my credit the night before that had a $6000 credit limit.

As the car pulls to a stop in the vicinity of an ATM William asks “you sure you’re not fucking with me? I’m not going back twice.” I visualise an ATM key pad and tapping in the PIN number.

“Yes, that is correct. But William, my other credit card I lost is the one I use to get money out, this one doesn’t have much money on it and sometimes doesn’t work” maybe we could discuss lay-by options?

With William out of the car the driver and the giant felt obligated to entertain me. The driver gets into the Christmas spirit and starts doing his shopping. Like picking candy canes off a Christmas tree he takes my sun glasses, trys them on, he likes them. Then he looks me over like you do the top shelf whisky selection at your company’s Christmas party. He reaches for my right hand, and tugs at the silver ring mum and dad had given me before I started my working the world quest back in 2003. He couldn’t get it off, I had visions of my thumb being chopped off, I grudgingly assist him. As I hand it to him I tell him that my parents gave it to me, he doesn’t care. He tries it on a few fingers before settling on his right middle finger, he rests his hand on the steering wheel, tilts it back, he nods, another satisfied customer. To take the attention away from my last remaining ring I up sell the driver on my Casio watch. He doesn’t seem that interested, but I tell him it’s an original, just as the salesman at the Tanzanian market had told when I had handed over the $4 to buy it.

Now the giant took over the entertainment. I didn’t like this guy. He gave me the impression he could make my nightmare of that stained mattress in the dark room a reality. He was the boss of this operation. He was as cold as the concrete floor of that dark room I was imagining. His eyes that were blood shot and glazed and a little distant cut into mine. He coldly stared at me and in a low frosty tone of a voice talked to me in Swahili never shifting his focus. I squirmed like a constipated worm in my seat. Not too sure what the hell to do, I just put my hands up in the air and apologised for not understanding Swahili.

The car door opened and I had never been so happy to see someone who had just stolen my debit card. He hands my card back to the giant and we start driving. I was unsure if we were going to go and try another ATM or check me into my new concrete room. William asks me when I’m leaving. I’m unsure how to answer this question, I know I’m leaving in five or six days but I’m paranoid about them holding me for ransom. I try to figure out if its better to say I’m leaving tomorrow or in a couple of months, I end up saying “in two weeks”, why? I have absolutely no clue.

The car bumps down memory lane as I see the corner eatery where we had met the giant “manager” about 40 minutes prior. As the car starts slowing down my hopes rise, this could be the moment that I’ve waiting for since this ordeal started. Then like being handed a winning lotto ticket the giant hands me back my passport and debit card. But just as he’s about to hand it to me he talks to William in Swahili. William translates

“Motherf**ker if you go to the cops we kill you. When you get out of this car, don’t look back and keep walking”

Then I feel the plastic cover of my passport in my hot little hand. God bless and all that kind of stuff.

The giant then hands William 500 Tanzanian shillings, the equivalent of 30 cents. William explains to me that this is for me to get a local bus back into town. Wow, the people of Dar Es Salam are so friendly.

The giant quickly opens my door from the outside, I get out, the sun is bright after the tinted four door prison. The late morning heat that is usually oppressive is like a motherly hug. I get out, start walking, feeling violated but extremely relieved. I go into James Bond mode, I’m taking in all the characteristics of the car, four wheels, four doors and it’s white. I stop and try to memorise the number plate as the car is doing a 3 point turn headed back into the ghetto. It stops mid turn and the giant’s passenger side window slides down with his eyes burning into me. Get out, keep walking and don’t look back. I decide I’ve made enough stupid decisions for the day, I cross the busy road putting the four lanes of traffic between them and me.

I walk down through the chaotic mayhem that is roadside Africa. But I could be walking through down town Mars as I’m on another planet trying to comprehend what just happened. I arrive at a major four way intersection, there’s a heaving beeping congregation of local buses with guys hanging from the door shouting place names that I don’t know as the rest of the traffic rushes by. On the opposite corner I see a police booth with a uniformed police officer sitting in it.

I approach the immaculate uniformed officer

“I’ve just been robbed” He looks at me with all the enthusiasm as though I’ve told him I’ve just shat my pants, he replies

“OK”.

This is followed by a long silence that I was hoping would have been filled with sympathetic consoling and helpful advice. He goes back to reading his paper.

“Umm…………… can I file a police report?”

“Go to town”

“Ummm, where’s town?” Like a weight lifter going for the Olympic record he raises an index finger with excruciating effort to our left.

Like a lone plastic bottle floating in an oil spill I stand out as I’m the only white man entering the chicken fight of local buses heading to town. I ask a few people about buses to town until I find one man who kind of understand English. He points around and says “danger”.

I nod and say “I know.” On the bright side at least I have nothing of value on me.

He leads me across the road, I follow, I really hope he’s not a local musician.

He shouts out to a young guy with a stack of money in his hand hanging from the door of one of the many crammed buses that has slowed briefly at the side of the road to shout it’s intended destination. He confirms what my new friend has asked. I run and jump in while shouting “Asante” back to my helper.

I give the young guy my last 500 shillings, he gives me no change. I know it’s only 300 shillings but I’m over this shit, just get me back to town. I want to have a cold shower before spending the afternoon in the police station that I know from previous third world police station experiences will be more painful than a first world dentist visit. I have to do it that day as tomorrow I’m getting up at 4.15am to start my four day local bus mission to catch my flight home.

But Dar Es Salam is not finished with me. After five cramped minutes with some miscellaneous body part pushed against my butt the bus makes a left hand turn off the main road that leads to town. I tap the young guy with the stack of money and point to the bus and say “town”. He shakes his head. F**k! Wrong bus.

I get off, stand on the side of the road under the shining blue sky, not a cent to my name. I laugh, unbelievable!

I start walking. I think about my travel motto, “you lose much by faring to attempt”. I think of an alternative motto, “you lose a shit load if you’re stupid enough to hop into a strangers car in the middle of a notoriously dangerous African city”

OK, this is a good point to end, but I’m four coffees down and want you to come with me to the down town Dar Es Salam police station.

I approach the counter with no one attending it but with five official types sitting on a bench behind it fanning themselves in the heat. I stand there, smiling, they look at me with the same enthusiasm as the waste of skin at the intersection police booth. An eternity later after some coercing the big African momma comes over to me. I say that I’ve been robbed and want to file a police report. She thinks I’m just another tourist wanting to scam my insurance. She tells me it will cost me $US30 to file it. I laugh at her and laugh at the fact that now the Police are trying to rob me. Corruption, I love it. I explain to her that I have no money because I’ve just been robbed of it all. She points to the bench behind the counter and tells me to sit. She takes her seat back on the bench without doing anything. I sit, she sits, we wait.

Eventually smooth looking young guy who probably has his job because his uncle is high up in the Police finishes chatting up the young attractive girl at the counter. He asks big mamma what the Mzungu wants. She tells him, he must tell her to do something about it. I then get taken to a room with a noisy fan buzzing, introduced to a guy in plain clothes. He takes out his diary and under March 29th writes down the things I got stolen. He tells me my case is now open. For entertainment I ask him if I will see my lap top again, he laughs.

He then takes me back to the counter, I sit back on the bench and wait for the smooth talking young guy to fill out my police report that I need for my insurance. Three painful, frustrating, sweaty hours later I have a list of stuff I got stolen with an official Dar Es Salam police stamp on it. The ironic part of all this is that it’s not until I get back to Australia and go to make the claim that I remember I chose the cheapest possible travel insurance option, therefore my laptop is not insured. To make things better I have no receipts for any of the stolen items as they were all presents. And for good measure, the insurance company doesn’t insure stolen cash.

Well, at least it makes for a good story.

Robbed!

9 Dec

“We going to kill you mother**ker! You heard about the tourists that been killed in Dar Es Salam, that’s what we do, we kill tourist mother**kers like you. Now don’t try anything stupid”

I try to have a WWJD moment. “What would James Bond do?” I ask myself, my mind fails me and just keeps flashing up the same thought like a Las Vegas neon sign, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

I draw on my last 9 years of travel experience and weigh up my situation. I’m in a locked car with tinted windows in the middle of an African ghetto with three gangsters. The one in the back seat with me is shouting they are going to kill me. To make matters worse I have with me basically everything of value that I own, including my passport and last remaining credit card. I come to the conclusion that my mind is right, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

Ahhhh, and my time in Dar Es Salam had started so well.

After climbing Mt Kilimanjaro the world’s highest free standing mountain and celebrating my 30th birthday on the 11/11/11 I had made my way to Tanzania’s capital. Having spent the past months cycling through southern Africa it was the first time I had been on the eastern coast of Africa. I wanted to have a sun set beer by the Indian Ocean and celebrate. I wanted to reflect on having achieved my working the world goal.

Since I had no map or guide book I had found myself wandering aimlessly through the hustle and bustle of the Arabic influenced streets of Dar Es Salam in search of the water that I knew was close. I approached a young guy walking up to an ATM

“Hi mate, where’s the ocean?”

“I’ll take you there, just let me go to the ATM” he replies as he runs to the bank.

As per usual in Africa, there was a power cut and the ATM wasn’t working. He comes back and tells me to jump on the back of his motorbike as the beach is out of town. It goes through my mind that this is probably a bad idea since I’ve only known this guy for 10 seconds, but my travel mantra goes through my mind “you lose much by fearing to attempt”. Although this was the same mantra that found me in a Korean brothel when I was looking for a bath house and had seen me sitting in a dug out canoe with Africa’s most dangerous animal the Hippo coming towards me, I jumped on anyway.

His motorbike I noticed was not the usual Chinese produced motorbike that resembled a two wheel motorised Christmas tree with the imitation chrome bars and lights that seem to serve on other purpose except making it look like a Christmas tree. I knew he must have had money as his bike looked sporty, built for speed. My thoughts were confirmed as he accelerated and swerved onto the wrong side of the road to avoid the peak hour traffic that was bumper to bumper as everybody headed out of the city after work. Maybe I should have considered how he came to have money to afford an expensive motorbike. I didn’t.

I relaxed into the back of the seat taking in the beeping of horns, oncoming cars, the blur of lights and the glow of the setting sun whilst the wind swept through the 6 months matted bird nest that was my hair. I had only expected to be dropped off at the port that I thought was close, but now we were on the open road headed out of the city centre where I was staying. I thought to myself this is what travel is about, I go in search of some crappy polluted harbour water to have a sunset beer and now I’m on the back of this complete strangers motorbike weaving through rush hour traffic on my way to the ocean ……………hang on, where the hell are we going?

My paranoia settled as the coast and the ocean appeared on my right hand side. Finally I had set my eyes on the Indian Ocean and I had an epitheny (spelling?) it looks like all the other oceans. After 10 more minutes we pulled off into a beach car park. We walked through to a beachside bar situated where the waves were lapping on the golden sand beach, palm trees towering above like tropical high rises. I offered to buy my new friend a beer forgetting that he probably didn’t drink due to his Arabic culture, he ordered a coke.

The complete stranger’s bike I was on tells me he is 23 year old Samir, he works for a hardware wholesale company 6 days a week. His father passed away when he was 10 and now he lives with his mother and younger brother. He loves motor bikes and is very proud of his city. I thank him for taking the time out of his night to show me the ocean. I enjoy his company, he’s not one of these pushy types that has an ulterior motive, he’s not wanting to sell me jewellery or book me a tour, he’s just wanting to show me his city, or does he have an ulterior motive?

We finish our drinks with the sun having well and truly set behind the 25 odd container ships waiting out at sea for their time to enter Africa’s second largest port. I hopped back on Samir’s bike assuming we were heading back to the city. Unbeknown to me Samir had a different plan. He stopped along the way and showed me some famous cliffs, a board walk area, and took me on a tour of the flash 5 star hotel complexes which were a far cry from the mud hut villages that I had been camping in the past couple of months.

A couple of hours since first hopping on Samir’s bike we arrive back in the city but his tour has not finished. Since I’ve only been in this city for 6 hours nothing looks familiar and I’m totally disoriented. He pulls into a back street and parks his bike. I think to myself that this would be the perfect spot for me to be mugged, but luckily I’m with Samir, my new friend. I hop off and follow him back onto a street that during the day is bustling with business, but now has been taken over by wooden benches and locals drinking strong black coffee and smoking cigarettes.

He approaches a group of local men wearing Arabic style little hats sitting on roughly made wooden benches around a square knee height table. A young kid is serving coffee from a large stainless steel pot with a black handle. Samir introduces me to the eclectic group of men, from the old man missing teeth smoking a cigarette to the well dressed young professional. Everybody is friendly and welcoming. He orders us two small cups of coffee and picks up a packet of sweet menthol cigarettes off the table offering me one. The old man with bugger all teeth offers me some fresh leaves of spinach that he is munching on. So there I am in the old town of Dar Es Salam drinking strong dark coffee at 9pm (meaning I’m not going to sleep until the next morning), smoking sweet menthol cigarettes and eating fresh spinach leaves. This is what travel is about, these random moments, the rare snippets of insight into a foreign culture. You do lose much by fearing to attempt.

We leave the group of men without paying, Samir tells me not to worry about it as it’s his local, it will be put on his tab. After a tour of the old city we arrive back outside my hotel. Samir gives me his cell phone number and tells me if I need any help whilst in Dar Es Salam to call him. I offer him some money for petrol, but he doesn’t want anything. I sincerely thank him from the bottom of my heart for an unforgettable night and he drives off.

I go and sit down at street side eatery, the caffeine of the coffee mixed with the generosity of the last three hours buzzing through me. I feel like the luckiest person on earth. I pull out my diary from my pocket and start to write about the nights events. I go back to my hotel room, filled with the euphoria of travel, I love this city.

And yes, this story has nothing what so ever to do with me being robbed. Apologies if you think you just wasted five minutes of your life. I just wrote about this experience to show that when travelling you have to constantly toss up if you are going to trust someone you have just met, sometimes you get it right and have the most amazing experiences. BUT sometimes you get it wrong, that’s just the way travel is, sometimes they charge you the Mzungu price, sometimes they point you in the wrong direction, sometimes the “original” is a fake, and sometimes they rob you of everything. More on that in the next post.

Good people!

2 Dec

When you watch the 6 o’clock news (which I don’t, so I’m just pulling on childhood memories of watching the news with Dad) you wonder if there are any good people out there.

Well folks, Channel Hap news would like to announce that there are plenty of kind hearted folks out there, and since being back in Australia I have had nothing but good experiences.

In major breaking news I was tossing up whether I was going to ship my bike back to NZ or sell it. Obviously I have a special bond with my bike after spending 2,550km with its seat up my bum. But arriving back broke to the inflated real world after I was thinking of selling my bike.

I was talking with my good friend Patty about this and he said that he would have a talk with his company as it has a good heart and social conscience. His company just so happen to be the world’s largest privately owned moving company, Crown Relocations.

Whilst having lunch with another good friend Chiz, Pat rings me and tells me that he told his company about all the good work I had done in Africa and my little cycling adventure that ended with me getting robbed. And guess what? The kind hearted folks at Crown offered to ship my bike back to Nelson for no charge! How cool is that! So thanks to Crown Relocations I won’t have to be a 30 year old having my mum dropping me off at my friend’s house when back in NZ.

When I got off the phone Chiz who has a way of saying things how they are looks at me and says in certain words

“You’d be screwed without your friends”

To which I replied “you’re telling me…………………………….do reckon I can borrow your other bike for the remainder of my time in Melbourne?”

Since being back I have felt so lucky to be surrounded by such great friends. All who have looked after their bedraggled friend who literally got chewed up and spat out of Africa. And then there was all the help, support and donations that made Africa happen before even getting there. So I’m thinking hapworkingtheworld.com should be hapworkingtheworldwithlotsofhelpfromhisfriends.com.

Despite what the 6 o’clock news may depict, there are plenty of good people out there and some big companies that have a good heart.

Thank you to all my amazing friends, and Crown Relocations!

The final continent finale – Kilimanjaro

29 Nov

Hey folks,

So how was Kilimanjaro? This is a question I have been asked a lot. My standard response is, “that it was bloody hard, but exceeded my expectations”. Let me explain.

Day 1 Machame Gate (1800m) to Machame Camp (3000m)

I was doing the 7 day Machame route which is one of six routes on Kilimanjaro. It is commonly known as the whisky route as it is harder than the more commonly used Marungu route that is nicknamed the Coca Cola route where you have the luxury of sleeping in huts.

Day 1 we started at the Machame gate where due to my appearance I was offered marijuana. It’s rather funny, in Tanzania even though I don’t have my dreadlocks I was still called a rasta. Anyhow I suggested to the dealer that he rethinks his marketing strategy and sets up shop at the gate where you end the trip. Although maybe the dealer had been right as Day 1 was pretty chilled out, you probably could have shot up heroin and been fine (www.hapworkingtheworld.com does not condone the use of heroin, just an unusual figure of speech to go with the marijuana theme of this paragraph) and been fine. The path was basically a flat footpath slowly meandering through the beautiful rain forest. It felt like I could have been at home in New Zealand.

Although the Machame route is meant to be one of the harder routes, don’t be thinking we were roughing it. This was 5 star camping –although the tents could do with central heating-, you arrive at camp and your tent has been magically set-up. A porter who has no goretex in sight but more likely odd shoes and ripped jeans has carried your duffel bag up for you and deposited it in your tent. On arrival you are welcomed with hot drinks and pop corn, and of course all your meals are cooked for you. Majority of parties have porters carry up a mess tent with tables and chairs for eating, which I didn’t bother with since it was just me in my party, plus I’m a bit of cheap barstard. The more 5 star camping parties even hire a porter to carry up a portable toilet and shelter so they don’t have to use the toilets that us commoners use. In general the toilets were pretty good and you usually had the choice of a pretty modern one. After my unsupported cycle trip from Namibia to Malawi I certainly appreciated all the pampering.


One of the reasons I enjoyed my Kili trip so much was because my expectations were so low. I was expecting really busy trails with a lot of rubbish due to the fact that over 35,000 people a year climb the mountain. The advantage of doing it in November which is the low season/rainy season is that less people are climbing. For example on the Machame route there were probably about 80 people leaving the same day as our party, but in the busy season my guide said it would usually be around 300-400 just on the Machame route. You can imagine all the routes converging on the summit in high season. The obvious down side to doing it in the rainy season is the rain! Everyday except summit day it rained on our hike, but was usually only in the afternoon.

Camp on the first night was good times as the altitude wasn’t a factor and although I was the only one in my group I spent the first four days hiking with another group consisting of Rob an Ozzie pilot living in Hong Kong, Tim a Western Australian fire fighter and Carlos a Norwegian/Filipino nurse. There were plenty of laughs had, and I always believe it’s the people that make the trip, so it started off well.

Day 2 Up to Shira Camp (3800m)

Day 2 I can’t really remember. Just hiking up, nothing too strenuous, no longer the flat foot path but rather more bush tracks, rocky styles, climbing up into the fog and eventual rain. Beautiful mountainous alpine scenery. This was one thing really stood out for me, as I wasn’t really expecting it. As I said I wasn’t really expecting too much as I hadn’t done any research, I just booked it four weeks before the beginning of the trip as it seemed fitting to celebrate my 30th on the highest point in Africa.

Day 3 To Barranco camp (3900m) via Lava Tower (4600m)

As was to become the norm, this day started out with glorious sunshine and ended with cold rain. This was the first day that I felt the altitude as you hike up to 4600m and then go back down to camp at 3900m. It was pouring rain, my headaches and nausea had started and I was cold due to the fact I’m usually skinny and had put on as much weight the past 5 months as you would expect from someone who cycles and eats rice. So the fact that there were some plants (pictured below) that only grow on that part of the mountain didn’t really interest me too much. I just couldn’t wait to get to camp, peel off my wet clothes, force some food down, flop into bed and focus on not throwing up.

Day 4 Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp (3900m)

This was one of my favourite days. By this time Peter who was one of 2 Danish sheep shearers in the world had joined our group of ANZACs and Norwegian. This day had the usual rain and my afternoon of headaches and nausea from the altitude was becoming part of the routine. Whilst I was lying in my tent at Karanga only 3900m in altitude I was wondering how I was ever going to make the summit (5,895m). The Ozzies and the Norwegian were pushing up to the next camp. This was because they were doing a Machame 6 day trek. As I laid there feeling like a bucket of Kilimanjaro long-drop excrement I was very glad I was doing it in 7 days as when those boys made it to the next camp they would have 6 hours rest before making the midnight push to the summit (they all made it, although poor Carlos the Norwegian was looking rather worse for wear when he eventually made it down – great effort!).

By evening my nausea had stopped along with the rain and the headache was just the normal dull thump that was going to accompany me for the rest of the trip and is pretty common place. This evening was going to be one of the highlights of my trip, it was SPECTACULAR! There were bugger all people at the camp, the curtain of rain had been opened and let in a beautiful vista from the roof of Africa with soundtrack of silence to accompany it. The peak of neighbouring Mt Meru turtle headed its way through the blanket of clouds that separated us from the world below giving you the feeling that you were on top of the world.

There was no wind and a near full moon so Peter and I had a romantic dinner taking in the splendour that was Mt Kilimanjaro and shared sheep stories.

Day 5 Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (4,600m)

This was a leisurely day, 4 hours and we managed to make it to Barafu Camp and be in our tent before the afternoon rain came, which by the way gets rather old constantly having wet clothes in the cold environment. But in saying that, I would rather have wet clothes and have the mountain more to myself than packed with people. Luckily I had an Osama beard and plenty of warm clothes that I had rented, including my boots which miraculously didn’t give me blisters.

We arrived at Barafu camp after midday then had the afternoon to relax in the tent before getting up at 11pm to start the 7 hour hike to the summit. The name of the game was to do nothing and rest up, and get the old head in the right frame of mind as Kilimanjaro is definitely a mind game. I have to say it is rather intimidating. A lot of people were there for the “journey”, but for me I was there for the “destination”. This may sound like a bit of a cop out, obviously I enjoyed it, but I was focused and determined on being on that summit come 11/11/11. I couldn’t imagine having to say the rest of my life that I celebrated my 30th and completion of my working the world goal 200 metres below the top of Kili, although that is a lot better than getting acute mountain sickness and spending my birthday in a coma.

Day 6 Barafu camp up to summit (5,895m) then down to Mweka camp (3000m)

I didn’t get much sleep, I was excited, nervous but mainly my bowels thought they would throw a bit of a send off party which saw me frequenting the squatter – perfect timing! At 11pm I got up and pulled on every single layer of dry clothing I had including 4 pairs of socks, popped some Imodium that Peter the sheep shearer had prescribed me. It had been raining, but half an hour before departing it stopped and we were left with a glorious full moon that lit the way.

As with the whole trip the theme of the night was “Pole Pole”, which basically means “go slow or you will end up in an altitude affected pile of headaches and vomit”. So Pole Pole it was, although I didn’t really have much choice. Anyone that has experienced altitude knows that the higher you go, the less oxygen there is, therefore everything is harder. Walking becomes slower to eventually you can only walk a couple of wayward metres before having to suck in lungfuls of air. Some people get it worse than others.

Apart from a couple of path side squirt stops I made it to Stellar point (Photo above I’ve taken from xmingf on flicker – I wasn’t in much of state on top and didn’t take bugger all photos. Sorry if I’ve broken copyright laws, but bloody nice photo xming mate. Also other random photos throughout are from Tim and Rob). Stellar point is the edge of the crater rim a couple of hundred metres below the summit. This was another highlight for me…….umm so maybe it’s not all about the destination. For some reason I had expected the top of Kili to be just a peak. But it was like I was stepping onto another planet, and with my altitude induced stupor it felt like I was on another planet. From Stellar point, the walk to the summit was a gradual incline compared to the steep goat like track we had spent the last 6 hours hiking up. As I walked up from Stellar point I was a little overwhelmed, I didn’t know if it was the altitude, the surreal environment that I found myself in, the fact that the sun was rising signalling the beginning of 11/11/11 and my 30th, therefore the moment I had spent the past 9 years working towards. You know how there are a lot of times when in reflection the moment seemed amazing, but this was a moment when I was totally caught up in it all by myself. I was totally taken aback, I had just been expecting the top of a mountain but got so much more, the beauty of the ice fields, the sun rising above the clouds, magic.

But my euphoria slowly subsided, my head started to feel like a prison with inmates banging on the wall wanting out. My coordination went downhill as I kept pushing uphill, and every step was a wayward step in the general direction of the summit. Check out the video below (if it doesn’t come up go to this link). I would have liked to say something inspirational and life changing that would make you jump up in your office, clap your hands and scream hallelujah, but instead I make references to horse tranquilisers, swear and throw in some very average camera work. But one thing it does show is where I saw the sunrise on the 11/11/11, even if I wasn’t totally with it. I took it whilst resting with my guide about 30 minutes before the summit.

I would like to say I enjoyed my time at the summit, but I didn’t – umm once again maybe I should rethink the whole Kilimanjaro destination vs the journey discussion. The summit is 5,895m high, which to put that in perspective, Everest base camp which is another high altitude climb for non technical climbers is situated at 5,364m – although you go up 5,545m enroute. I was feeling pretty shit to put it mildly, but I knew I had made it, this was the point I had been aiming for the whole Kili trip, my goal. The whole night since leaving Barafu camp I had been saying the mantra of “summit” with every breath and every slow step as I consumed thoughts of standing at that point. I forced a smile for the photo I had been wanting, a photo that for the rest of my life would represent the end of my working the world journey.

Then as my guide and I started our descent my state also declined, and pretty rapidly. I was disoriented, more confused than usual, headache out of control, going fuzzy, and I knew I was in a bad way. Although I can’t remember my guide told me later that he was super worried when I didn’t know my name. Ahhhhh Hap, is it just me or does there seem to be a bit of reoccurring theme to my Africa chapter? Long story short my guide literally ran with me – run as much as you can when you have a disoriented bag of bones leaning on you- from Stella Point back to to Barafu camp, over 1000m vertical metres. Even though I spent most of the descent on another planet, I knew that it was paramount to get down before my brain started squeezing itself out my ears. As tired as I was, I just kept stumbling down as fast my legs and my guide would carry me with a stop every now and then to check my pupils and take on liquid. It wasn’t much fun. Man, you must all be getting tired of reading about these bloody “mishap” moments in Africa, don’t worry only one left to go about getting Robbed.

Back at camp there was talk of cerebal oedema and getting me back to Moshi , but Peter was there and was the voice of reason. I was fed some pills and given half an hour to see if the lower altitude would cure me before reassessing if I needed to be taken lower.

All I know is that I woke up still fully clothed, my head booming, but thinking clearly, thinking get me the f**k off this mountain! It was a GREAT relief to have my thoughts back. The funny thing is that altitude sickness of which they call acute mountain sickness is a part of most people’s Kili experience in some way shape or form, whether it being a headache or more serious. But that is why it is such a challenge. That is why I have nothing but respect for people that have climbed Kili or other high altitude mountains. Personally after Kili I have had my fix of high altitude, I’m glad I experienced it, and as stupid as it sounds that is the reason I wanted to climb so I could experience high altitude. But I’m definitely not one of these high altitude junkies that thrive off it, give me beautiful gruelling low altitude hike any day.

OK I want to warp this up. After munching a whole bunch of headache pills and having some lunch we started the descent down to Mweke camp at 3000m. This was where I spent my birthday night drinking cups of tea with Peter. And when it turned 7pm I could think of nothing better than going to bed!

Day 7 Mweka Gate

I woke up feeling enthusiastic as we only had a 3 hour easy stroll to Mweka Gate. At the gate a mini bus was awaiting our arrival to take us back to our hotel in Moshi. Ohhhh and how sweet it was to get back to the hotel where after 7 days we got our first shower (I had a cold one as never knew about turning the hot water switch on) and a cold beer which like most things in Tanzania is appropriately named “Kilimanjaro” –they have a saying in Tanzania that if you can’t climb it, drink it.

I really enjoyed this time back in Moshi with my fellow summiteers as I had time to reflect on the trip and truly appreciate what I had experienced and achieved. And you definitely achieve Kilimanjaro, there is nothing easy about it, but totally worth it! It’s a once in a lifetime experience and if you have it on your bucket list I say DO IT!

And I want to take this moment to thank Zara Tours and Abelly my guide who helped me reach my summit and make my 11/11/11 dream a reality. They are Tanzanian owned, professional, well organised and each evening at camp went the extra mile with acclimatisation climbs. But the one thing that I really appreciated about Zara was that the company treated their staff with respect. I knew this because they all spoke highly of working for Zara which employs 80 guides! In this industry and in Africa it is pretty easy to take advantage of the local labour and cut corners so It’s pretty cool when you have the workers telling you that when even the porters have a problem the big boss will take the time to speak with them and they all get paid on time. This showed through on the hike by having a chirpy jovial bunch of porters and guides which added to the experience. Thank you Zara Tours.

Chewed up and spat out!

25 Nov

Well after being taken into the ghetto of Tanzania’s capital Dar Es Salam and kindly relieved of my lap top, credit card, money, jewelry  sun glasses, pocket knife I then spent the afternoon in the sweltering police station (but that’s all another story).

The following morning I was up at 4.15am and caught the usual overcrowded unairconditioned hurtling coffin of a bus 12 hours to Mbeya in Tanzania’s south. In Mbeya I had a bucket shower and spent the night in a local hostel.

Next morning I was up at 5.30am to catch a collection of chicken buses (literally with chickens) and motorcycle taxis, cleared the Malawi boarder and arrived in Muzuzu, the big city in Malawi’s north. In Muzuzu I stayed at a place called the Zoo – yes that’s a lot of zoos if you say it, Moozoozoo Zoo. Which by the way it’s not a zoo, but a hostel. There I was welcomed by Phil, a long haired 60 year old Englishman that looks like he has partied everyday of those 60 years, “A f**king kiwi eh? no sheep here kiwi” – I liked this guy.

Over dinner I met some locals and they took me to the local night club. That was an experience in itself, I thought everyone on the dance floor were having sex with their clothes on, then I got told they were dancing – never seen grinding like it.

Following morning woke up thinking I had Malaria, then remembered that someone had invited Mr Tequilla to the party last night. I went in search of cardboard boxes to pack my bike up that I was going to go and get that day. It seems that cardboard boxes are like gold in Malawi, or should I say petrol, they are rather hard to find. Three hours of sweating later and 800 Malawi Kwacha ($5) I was the proud owner of 10 boxes of which like a true local I carried through town on my head. Once dropping them at the zoo I got a chicken bus to Nkhata Bay where I had locked my bike to a tree two and half weeks earlier before going to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro.

My bike was still there and a whole bunch of people that I had met during my time there. They excitedly tell me “theres a party tonight”, I unexcitedly reply “cool”. I get all my gear from a storage locker, and prepare my bike to cycle the 55km back to Muzuzu the next day where I would box it up.

Somehow I end up at the party that night, it seems I have a lot of “will power” but no “will NOT power” for  hanging out with cool good fun people.

7am the next morning I get on my bike, already sweating, my god it was hot. But it seemed the people of Malawi wanted to give me a send off. As they were all walking to Sunday morning church I was showered in smiles and hellos like a ticket tape parade as I wound myself through the lush green hills.

With 30km’s left of up hill -and I mean all UPHILL- my motivation diminished, tiredness and the beers from last night set in. What made it worse was that Nhkata Bay had been the end point of my trip, the destination I had been striving for, so this last 55km to Muzuzu was a little torturous and extremely annoying, it was like a rotten cherry on top.

I pulled over for a cold coke to try and left my spirit that was oozing out of my pores and soaking my shirt. I slumped down on the side of the mud hut selling coke with six young guys sitting around outside doing what young village guys do, which is sitting around.

I drain the last drops from the reusuable glass bottle and hear a truck approaching on the hilly road. I wave it down, $4 to take me and my bike the last gruelling 30kms – a bloody bargain. The locals on the back help me lift it on, and I take my place on the back of the truck beside a breast feeding lady on a sack of some miscellaneous vegetable.

With the sun beating down and the wind in my soap washed greasy hair I smile. I’m not guilty that I’m cheating and getting a ride, I’ve already cycled 2,550km and I can’t think of better way to end my trip than on the back of packed death trap Malawian truck with smiling locals crawling up the steep hill road.

I arrive at the zoo in the afternoon and Phil wearing a Hawaiian shirt is in his chair on the porch half way through a bottle of vodka. “Kiwi, you know where the key is”

“sweet, cheers Phil. You didn’t burn me bloody boxes did ya?”

“Nah. But what the f**k you wrapping with those, a truck?”

10 boxes later and three rolls of tape my bike is boxed. Under candle light (no electricity due to another power cut) I use another roll of tape and two bungy cords to tape up my broken Africa polyweave bag (like the ones you buy from the $2 shop) that houses all my panniers.

5am the next morning I’m woken by the taxi beeping at the gate and remember Phil telling me the night before to “make sure you at the f**king gate on time or the barstards will honk and wake me up you kiwi f**k” – I really liked this guy, he’s a real character, he’s interesting. Sorry Phil, but but my watch and lap top were stolen in Dar Es Salam and I lost my cell phone, therefore I have no time telling device, and anywhoo the taxi is uncharacteristically 30 minutes early! Adios.

I get to the bus station and have two guys in tattered clothes carry my bike and tie it to the roof of a bus with string that back in the developed world would have been thrown out a couple of years ago.

“You sure that going to stay up there?” 

“Yes sir”

I wouldn’t mind taking out some insurance on that reassurance. But hey, I’m in Africa, they been doing this for years, it will do.

Even though I was told the bus would leave at 6am, we pull out of the station at 6.30am – On African time that’s an early departure.

I can relax now, I’m on my way to Lilongwe the capital of Malawi.  I fly out tomorrow. But no, Africa will not let me relax. In Muzuzu we pull into the petrol station to fill up for the five hour ride to Lilongwe. No Petrol. Shit! Then I remember there is a petrol shortage in Malawi.  I mean full on no petrol kinda shortage, read, the first petrol station I cycled past in Malawi had 143 cars queing up as they had heard a rumour that the petrol tanker might be coming. Apparently Muzuzu had had petrol the day before. The second petrol station, no petrol. Shit!  The third petrol station, YES!  Fancy that, a petrol station that has petrol, I never knew I would be so happy to be at a petrol station that sells petrol. I pat myself on the back for taking the early bus as I know that by lunch time there will be no petrol left in Muzuzu.

I arrive at the hostel in Lilongwe where I had stored my bike helmet, carved wooden animals and other miscellanous stuff I didn’t need on the last part of my cycle journey to the lake. I bump into Greg and Chris who drive an overland truck, I had met them earlier in my trip.  They invite me to dinner and beers with their overland truck group for my final night in Africa.

The next morning before getting my taxi to the airport i transfer my last $100 into my account, actually it’s Mandy’s $100 but she loaned it to me from our joint account so I could get back to OZ – bless her soul. My taxi comes, i’m going to arrive at the airport four hours early, but I’m still nervous. There’s something nerve racking about only having a hundred dollars to your name and no access to a credit card. There is no error for mistakes, and in a continent where errors are a part of life and with my past weeks track record, I have good reason to be nervous.

And guess what? 

“Sir, you’re 25kgs over your baggage limit?”

“Ummm, there must be a mistake, I have specifically organised with my travel agent to have my bike shipped and he assured me that everything has been confirmed”

“Well, we have no confimration of this, you will have to show us the receipt”

After more begging and telling the lady how my travel agent and I emailed back and fourth 16 times especially so I would avoid this situation, she still tells me I need the receipt.

I try to find somewhere with internet and a printer. This is harder than you would expect, for example in Muzuzu Malawis 3rd largest city when I was trying to find out what day I was flying out on (my E-ticket had been on my lap top) the internet just happened to be down for 2 days.

Anyway I find an office that has a printer. I ask if I can use his internet, he says his boss is very strict, I tell him I will give him 100kwacha (60cents), he says OK.  I find the email from my travel agent with the receipt, I print out the receipt on his Amiga 500 printer, yep you know the one that prints out streams of paper with little holes along the side.

I take it back to the check-in lady. Apparently it’s not the official receipt. Bloody Africa and their bloody love for bull shit paperwork – sorry angry face.  

“Sir, you will have to wait for my superior to come”.  

“When does she come?”

“At 11.30″

Umm, thats only an hour and a quarter before my flight departs, nervous.

Well at 11.45 the lady arrives, my plane departing in an hour. My bike and bags sitting behind the counter next to the conveyor belt. My heart sinks as I set eyes on the superior. She’s a large lady that walks with the arrogance of an African person in a position of authority. She talks to the check-in lady, points to me, I smile and try to look charming -easier said than done when you look like Osama Bin Laden of which I get referred to on a daily basis in Africa, sometimes Jesus on a good day.

She waddles off out the back with the urgency of someone going on an hour long lunch break. What felt like an eternity, she comes back and confirms what I’m treading.

“There is nothing on your ticket that says you have excess luggage”

I plead and tell her the situation. She doesn’t care. I ask her what the solution is? She tells me that they charge $36/kg for excess luggage and that I’m 25kgs over, therefore I have to pay about $900. I say I only have $100 and my credit card has been stolen. She shrugs her shoulders and walks off. Gate closing in 20 minutes.

My options are to leave my bike at the airport and never see it again which doesn’t appeal as since my lap top has been stolen it is now my only asset I own in the world. OK, plan B, BEG.

I go to the check-in lady, and I beg like I have never begged before. She tells me that her boss has told me what I need to do. I put my head back, close my eyes, breath deeply, run my hands through my hair and have one last attempt. I plead and beg and let all my helplessness and vunerability pour out of me – doing everything except crying – thats plan C. 

“I’ve had everything stolen in Tanzania, including my credit card, I only have $100, I can’t pay. I had organised all my luggage allowances with my travel agent especially so I would avoid this siutation. I’ve been in Africa helping the people, volunteering, doing good. If you don’t let me on the plane I’m going to be stuck here with nothing, I have to get on that plane, I beg you (I even have my hands to my chest in the prey position), please, please let me on, I’ll do anything”

She tentatively looks behind her to see where her boss is. 

She exhails “Ok, if you can rid of 15kgs, I’ll let the luggage go through. You have 10 minutes till the gate closes”

I run behind the counter and attack my carefully packed bag with a set of keys, tearing the roll of tape apart and bungy cords. I rip open my panniers and take out all the heavy stuff, wrap the bungy cord around my poor excuse for a bag and put it on the scales.

“You’re still 4kgs over”

In a frenzy I pull more stuff out begging her not to close the gate. 

I place my ripped up bag with tape hanging from it being held together by a bungy cord on the scales. She gives me a look that says “my god you are a pain in the arse”. 

“OK”

She processes my bag and bike. I grab my ticket, and she tells me to run. I run, well I run as best as you can run when you are carrying about 20 kgs of gear that is hanging off you in the form of a back pack, two panniers, a dirty washing bag and a flimsy plastic bag that is falling apart.

I clear security, then with my array of bags I get to the air flight staff who are checking carry on baggage. The guy looks at me with a look that says “this Osama Bin Laden guy can’t be serious”. I empty my pocket of all the Malawi money I have. I go through.

As I enter the tarmac stumbling with all my hand luggage an official runs after me,

“Sir, our x-ray machine has broken down can you come with us so we can go through your checked luggage”

 I enter the baggage room. I pick up my misearble looking $2 shop broken bag, the policeman looks surprised that the bag belongs to a Mzungu. He gives it the once over which involves me battling to undo the bungy cord and him telling me not to worry. But then he points to my bike box. I’m like, you can’t be bloody serious, that took my three hours and three rolls of tape to pack, and I’m bloody sure that you don’t have any tape for me to re pack it, plus the plane is waiting on me.

I look at him, and feel like saying “mate does it look like a bloody bomb”, but I decide to use a different four letter B word, I point to my bike helmet hanging off one of my bags and say “it’s a BIKE” and walk back out to board the plane.

“would you like a water or juice, sir?”

“two beers, please”

A couple of hours later we touch down in Johanesburg, I have a eight hour stop over I spend lying on the airport floor, then another nine hours of flying and I’m on Australian soil, Perth. Five more hours and I will be back in Melbourne……….or will I?

I enter the airport later than expected due to a delay. Quarantine have a feild day with me, a bicycle, camping gear, and half of Africa’s wooden souvenirs in my luggage. But I enjoy it, the qurantine lady is friendly and chatty, it’s good to be in my home continent. 

Someone asks her the time “she says it’s 4pm” 

I say “what did you just say the time was?”

“4pm” – Shit! I thought I had a four hour stop over. It seems that has been eaten up, my plane leaves in just over an hour and I know from my time living in Perth that the domestic airport is atleast a 10 minute drive away.

I now just stuff all my gear back into the bag and bungy cord it up not worrying to do a good job. I push my trolley into the airport meeting area with the urgency of  homeless person who hears that there is a free burger give away at McDonalds.

Just my luck the of the past week the free transfer bus has just left and the next one leaves in 40 minutes.  I go to the ATM and withdraw my last $100.

I pay the taxi driver $21 for the 10 minute ride, a sum of money that I used to live off for four days when cycling in Africa – ahhh the real world. I go to get a trolley. Bugger me! $4 for a trolley! Although it does say its a “smart trolley”, I’m unsure what a “smart trolley” does differently to a normal trolley, but I have no choice so pay the $4. I remember back to the days of Africa where I could get five guys to carry all my stuff for that much and still have change to buy a coke. Ahhh the real world.

I arrive at the Virgin check-in counter with my smart trolley loaded like an African truck.

Ahhhh, you guessed it.

“Sir, our system says that you only have an allowance for 5kgs excess luggage, your 15kgs over”

I look to my smart trolley, If you so smart mate, how about you handle this.

To save you the details, just reread the Malawi check-in counter bit above and substitute in friendly, smiling, attractive Australian girls.

So after showing them the 16 email correspondence between me and my travel agent clearly showing that I had pre-organised my bike, I get the pity look from the senior manager

“Sorry, I know that your bags have been checked through to Melbourne in Malawi, and I know that you have pre-organised everything, but my hands are tied. If I let you on with this I could lose my job. There’s nothing in our system………………and sir we have to close the gate in 7 minutes”

“Ok, so whats the solution, can I leave my bike here?”

“Sorry sir you can’t store it here. You are 15kgs over, and we charge $15 a kg for excess”. I think to myself that that’s a bargain compared to Malawi where it was $36/kg.

Then I give them my sob story, everything stolen, no credit card, I only have $100 to my name, which after the taxi and smart trolley is now $75, blah blah. In return I get a sorry look. I hand them my debit card that I just used to withdraw the last $100 in the hope of some miracle has happened that $225 has appeared in it.

“Declined sir”

The manager steps in again, “Sir we are going to have to shut the gate soon”

The check-in lady asks me “Is there anyone else that can pay for you”

I remember that in my pocket notebook I have a few phone numbers. 

I ask the check-in lady “Can I use your phone?”

“Sorry sir, only internal calls”

There’s another guy beside me,

“mate, can I use your cell phone please?”

“Yeah, but hurry, I’m on the same flight as you and it’s leaving”

I dial my sisters number, but get a funny signal. the guy has to leave. shit.

I ask another guy who looks likes he’s in a rush. He gives me his phone. 

I try my last two numbers, all I get is friendly chirpy answer machines. 

“We’re closing the gate sir”

I punch in my sisters number one last time “Just wait, the phones ringing, please, please don’t shut the gate, if she doesn’t answer then you can shut it”

Hello Jarnia speaking”

In rapid fire speaking frenzied voice I blurt out “Sis, Hap here, whats ya credit card details?”

Hey Happy, how are you? You still in Malawi?”

“Sis, not Happy at the moment, emergency, about to miss my flight got no money, whats your credit card details?”

I pass the phone to Phoebe the check-in girl.

“it’s accepted. You’re really lucky” I ponder that for a moment, “I’m lucky”, ummmmm. I think to myself that I have a lot of luck in very unlucky situations.

The manager gives me my boarding pass with a smile “You really need to hurry, the planes waiting on you”

I run get to security, throw my day bag and dirty washing bag on the conveyor belt and empty my pockets of my passport and debit card. I pick them up and run up the escalator three stesp at a time.

With “final call” flashing at the gate I make it………..

Then I hear a kiwi accent shout out from behind me “Bro, you forgot your passport”

SHIT!

I sprint back from where I had just came but I can’t find an escalator that goes down. Stuff it. Down the up escalator I go, just as I jump off the bottom my dirty washing bag falls off and starts going back up the escalator. I jump back on, grab it and start running back down the upward moving stairs.

The security people are holding out my passport and debit card as I sprint to them.

“Cheers fellas” I shout behind me as head back up the escalator. 

I get to the gate, “boarding pass sir” 

OH NO, I’ve lost my boarding pass!

Just kidding. I get on that plane and slump into my chair. I wonder if I should use my remaining $75 to buy a beer, I refrain. 

I arrive in Melbourne, $4 more for a smart trolley and I hop into the taxi with my $71. Home safe, taxi to Matt and Linnleys is only $50.

But no, as it’s after midnight it’s a “special rate”.

$72.60 the meter says as I arrive outside their apartment. Luckily the driver is a young Somalian guy that grew up in NZ and says in his Somalian kiwi accent “no worries bro, $71 is fine”

I walk through the door at 1am at Matt and Linnleys my awesome hosts who have the spare room made up with clean comfy sheets, my mail from last six months, cell phone and an emergency loan. 

Matt walks out of his room in his boxers bleary eyed making sure I’m not a burglar

“hey bro, good to be back?”

I briefly tell him what happened and then he replys

“Sounds like Africa chewed you up and spat you out”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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