Archive | November, 2011

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 ( 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”. 


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”


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”.








Lap top stolen

17 Nov

This will require a blog post, but since my lap top has been stolen it will have to wait until I’m back in Australia in six days.
Quite funny after 9 years of travel it happens now. Sich don’t worry, I have all the doco footage.
There will be no more blog posts until i get back to Australia.
Off on mission back to Malawi starting 4.15am tomorroow, two day bus trip, one day cycling, one day bus and then have to find a cardboard box to pack my bike up somewhere, MISSION!

Kilimanjaro took a year off my life!

14 Nov

Hey folks,

Just a quick email to let you know that I’m back down safe and sound. And yep, on the 11/11/11 I was sitting on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro to watch the sun rise, pretty special.

On top of my final continent

My god it was bloody tough. It was my first birthday where I haven’t had a beer and have been in bed before 7pm. I will write more on my Kili trip when I get time. Big thanks to Zara Tours for getting me to the top.

Thank you all for your birthday emails, comments, donations, wishes etc. I will respond to them soon, but somehow I think this hour at the internet cafe isn’t going to be enough, but I will reply in time.

Wow, out of Africa in 7 days, back to Melbourne on the 23rd of November for a couple of weeks before heading back to NZ for summer and the writing of the book and getting the doco sorted with Sich.

So everyone on that side of the world catch you soon.

Nuthin but love Hap

11/11/11 – Worked the World

10 Nov

At 11:08am 11/11/81 I was popped into this world, no doubt crying – by the way for those of you who don’t know my nick name Hap is derived from Happy. When I was a baby I always used to cry therefore my father nick named me Happy and over the years has been shorten to Hap. Umm I digress, fancy that.

When you read this providing I juggled the time zones correctly it should be 11/11/11. I will either be celebrating my birthday on the highest point in Africa, or otherwise I will be dizzy and disoriented with altitude sickness spewing my ring out about 200m below the highest point in Africa. No matter where exactly on Mount Kilimanjaro I am, I would have completed my working the world quest.

It’s hard to believe that nearly a decade ago when I first started thinking about travelling the world, and then when I committed to this goal in early 2003 that I would be standing on Mt Kilimanjaro at age 30 having completed it. Wow, 2003 seems like such a long time ago. Well I suppose it was. When I stepped onto that plane bound for Korea on the 7th April 2003 I had never owned a cell phone and facebook was just an idea floating around in some soon to be very rich pimply faced teenagers mind.

Also in 2003 I wouldn’t have thought I would have had a blog, probably due to the fact that they also didn’t exist then. Back then I use to write bulk emails that were legendary due to their ridiculously long unpunctuated nature – a bit like my blog posts. I find it quite ironic that the reason this blog even started was because of that Sunday on the 14th of October 2007 when I fell off a rope swing leaving myself with a buggered back and doc’s orders to do nothing for at least three months while I recuperated. Three months later, my back was better and had been born. At the start when I use to get 20 hits in a day I thought it was amazing – that was probably mum going to it 20 times. Three years later I average between 150-200 hits a day with my biggest day being 1,900 and over the lifetime of the blog I have had 130,000 hits. And if you type “wet naked Korean men” into Google I come up as first on the list – you know you have made it when that happens!

When I started my working the world quest it never crossed my mind that I would write a book, in fact I hated writing. But when I collated all those bulk emails and created my blog I did so with the dream of one day maybe writing a book. Bugger me, this time next year “Working the world” will be on the shelves.

But enough of me. I know that if it wasn’t for all the support I have had throughout, then maybe 11/11/11 would only be special for me as there are so many bloody 1’s on that date. So I want to THANK everybody that has helped me over the past 9 years, to all those people that have had me turn up broke on their door step needing somewhere to sleep, to everyone that has given me employment, that has supported me and believed me, has donated money and time to the Final Continent Expedition, to all my blog readers for the comments and putting up with my poor grammar and spelling. THANK YOU.

But I also want to make a special mention of a couple of people that have played a big part in getting me where I am today. The first is obviously Mandy who spent about 3.5 years working the world with me (would have been longer if it wasn’t for US immigration giving us a 10 month break from each other). Although it may not have had the happy ending here in Africa there is still no changing the fact that Mandy has played a MASSIVE role in the recent years. Two moments especially come to mind. One while living in Paraguay when I hit the wall trying to get to Antarctica, and secondly all the work she put into Africa. Round of applause for Mandy please.

The Second person is Barney. Barney was around at the start of my working the world quest and came along for the ride for a couple of years. Barney and I went through a lot in those two years, some bloody great times, some of my best working the world memories were the 6 weeks we spent backpacking in Brazil. But there were also some tough times; sleeping in the car together in Canada for two months while trying to get work on the rigs comes to mind – We spent Barney’s 25th birthday at a soup kitchen! But as well as that two years, Barney has always been there and supported me from then on, constantly believing in me and helping out when the shit has hit the fan throughout, always a phone call away. Plus he’s basically been my PR manager. It is Barney that I can thank for my book contract as he was the one that went out of his way to get me on the Breakfast show with Paul Henry, the interview that my now editor saw and started following my blog. So chur bro.

Then there is also Mr Richard “Sich” Sidey. Before November 2009 I didn’t know who Sich was and he didn’t know who I was. But at a hostel at the end of the world in Ushuaia after I had emailed him he decided to come and meet this guyed called Hap while his cruise ship was in Port. Three weeks later after that 5 minute meeting I got an excited message from the hostel receptionist telling me to contact Richard. That was the break that got me to Antarctica on board Sich’s ship after nearly three years of exhausting every possible Antarctic working option. And it’s pretty cool that Sich has jumped onboard for the Africa continent adding a whole new dimension to it by volunteering his amazing documentary making talent. Wicked, I can’t wait to see what magic is conjoured up when Bikes for Africa hits the screens next year. Chur bro.

Last but not least, there is my amazing family who have been along for the ride for the last 30 years. I cannot have asked for more. When other people my age were chasing careers, having children, buying houses I was working the world, of which some families maybe have seen as “pissing about” and probably still do since I’m turning 30 and I’m broke going to live with Mum and Dad – Geoffrey make sure you got the beer fridge stocked up. But I have had nothing but support through all the ups and downs, support and encouragement always a phone call away. As the saying goes, “blood is thicker than water”, and my working the world quest has proven that to me. So a round of applause for the Cameron family.

OK, I leave for my hike in an hour. I will let you all know how it went when I get back. And guess what, the other guy in my group is a Danish sheep shearer! Considering there are only two in Denmark it’s pretty classic. So 11/11/11 will see a kiwi sheep shagger and a Danish sheep shearer standing on the roof top of Africa – Luckily there are no sheep that high up.

Enough of my sheepish thoughts, I really just wanted to THANK YOU for all the support. THANK YOU

Bike shop update and a birthday present idea

6 Nov

Hey folks

The other day I got an email from Moses the bike shop manager giving me an update of how things are going. As of last week they have sold all the bikes and are waiting for resupply. Yep that’s 356 (there were 406 bikes in the container but 50 went to resupply another bike shop 70km away) bikes that have been given a new life here in Africa thanks to all you that donated and helped out, so good on ya’s.

Moses has also been embracing his role as bike workshop manager with many new initiatives. Him the other hardworking men have been going to the local open market and setting up a bike stall and announcing on a megaphone. They have covered every corner in Katima with posters and Moses has made appearances on the local TV and radio stations advertising. Mose tells me that the local furniture and Chinese shops that sell poor quality Chinese and Indian colonial styled single geared bikes have even dropped their prices to compete. The work shop has recently acquired a second hand lap top and printer that will help them out immensely with their monthly reports and keeping in contact with the likes of me. It’s so cool to see how much pride the guys have taken in the work shop and how they are making the most of the opportunity. It’s pretty special.

As you may know my birthday is coming up in a couple of days. I just checked the fundraising website and see that a wooping $10,616.70 has been donated by you generous souls. But I was thinking that going with the 11/11/11 theme of my birthday it would be cool to reach $11,000. Even with work shop set, the money will still be going to the hardworking Melbourne bicycles for humanity crew and will help in the resupply of the Katima bike shop. So if you had wanted to donate before and never got around to, then now is the time. Or if you wanted to buy me a birthday present I couldn’t think of a better one than helping in the resupply of the bike shop. Just hit this little link.

Once again a big thank you to everyone that has donated.

I made it

4 Nov

Under the scorching Malawi sun I jumped in the back of a pick-up truck thankful I wasn’t on my bike as it wound its way up the mountain road. Then a transfer onto the usual overcrowded African mini van squashed between bananas, chickens and African woman. Five hours after breathing in the unique African body odour mixed with exhaust fumes we arrive at the border town. Then a crowded taxi ride later I arrived at the Malawi boarder with the sun about to set.

Stamped out of Malawi with not long before the Tanzanian boarder closed I was on the back of a bicycle taxi. In the nick of time I arrived before the Tanzanian boarder shut, light fading. I needed Tanzanian shillings. I changed money on the black market, all the money dealers telling me that my 3000 Malawian Kwacha should give me 3000 shillings, but I smelt a little rat. Sure enough after some investigation I found out I was meant to be getting 10 times as much –worth a try guys. Crisis averted.

With my 30,000 shillings in my pocket I jumped on the back of a motorbike taxi rushing to get the “last” mini bus headed for the Southern Tanzania city of Mbeya. I arrived at the mini bus, it’s engine revving and hoon honking, the motorbike driver took me for more than the motor bike ride as I handed over this new foreign funny money as I was hustled and pulled into the departing mini van.

After facing near death on the fast dark mini bus ride a couple of hours later I got herded off somewhere on the outskirts of Mbeya. I’m surrounded by darkness and a hoard of taxi drivers pulling at the lone white man standing on the road side left for the dogs. I have no guide book, I don’t know where I am, so I say “taxi, hotel’. They all shout 9000, I say 5000, Gilbert steps forward “Ok sir”. I like Gilbert, he’s tall and skinny wearing a second hand suit two sizes too big. He puts my $2 shop bag tied up with a bungy cord in the back of his unmarked car.

I tell Gilbert that I think I might go straight for the bus station and get an overnight bus ride to Dar es Salam. “No sir, buses leave morning. It’s 10pm, now bus station danger”. Bugger me 10pm. Having lost my cell phone I also lost my one time telling device. It seems that as well as crossing the border I also crossed a time zone as well.

“OK Mr Gilbert, take me to a back packer hostel”. I get a blank stare, I say it slower, still a blank stare. Mbeya is not really a tourist city, it’s a city you bypass on your way into Malawi, or on your way to the Tanzanian coast or Mt Kilimanjaro in the north.

I rephrase it, “take me where the white man with no money sleeps”

He laughs, “all white man have money”

We stop outside a black gate, he toots and a guard lets us in. Gilbert takes me to the reception of the local hostel, it’s cheap and Mr Mango the receptionist is friendly.

I can’t be bothered having a bucket shower. I ask Mr Mango where I can get food at this time of night. I walk out the gate down the dark street, find some street food which happens to be a chip omelette – I like this country. Off another street vendor I buy a big bottle of local beer that is called “Kilimanjaro”, apparently it quenches the big Tanzanian thirst. Perfect.

The next leg of my trip starts when Mr Mango knocks of my door signalling it’s 4.45am. Gilbert was right, all buses leave in the morning. I get to the bus station at 5.15am. The bus I want is fully booked, so is my second choice. It’s clear that you have to pre-book buses to get the good one. Now I only have one option any number of shit buses. My bus station touts tell me that the buses leave at 5.30am and arrive the following day at 12 in the afternoon. Ummm, shit bus or wait for tomorrow morning. Shit bus wins. With the bus leaving soon and no choices, my bargaining attempts are received with brick wall faces. I pay more for the shit bus than I would for the nice bus. What do you do?

Before I pay I make the guy show me my seat as I have specifically asked for a window seat and to be on the side of the bus where there are 2 seats instead of 3. Funnily enough he shows me the seat on my ticket and it has me in the middle seat of the three side. “oh mistake” he tells me. Fancy that. I pay my white man price and get my window seat. The bus leaves in a mist of exhaust smoke, toots, banging on the bus and shouting. Surprisingly the bus is only half full. But an hour later and a hundred road side stops we have 70 people packed on the bus. I’m squashed on my seat, the seats are ridiculously narrow, even with my 10 year old girl hips I’m squashed next to the young university guy beside me and the window.

We hit the open road that the Chinese have built. I have never been in a country that has so many speed bumps on a main road. The university student beside me tells it is to stop speeding. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell the drivers, they hit them at full speed, the bus passengers “urgh” in unison. I make an observation that there is a correlation between crying babies and hitting speed bumps at speed. As well as the babies not liking the speed bumps my bladder also is not a fan. The bus driver tells me he can’t let me off the bus to go to the toilet. OK, best I stop drinking water.

It’s only a 30 hour bus ride, could be worse.

After 18 hours of heat, sweat, no a/c, no dvd movies, no ipod, a swollen bladder, num legs, hassled by a drunk guy who is adamant I’m Israeli and only two toilet stops I get told we have arrived. What it’s only midnight, I had mentally prepared for 12 more hours. Now I realise I misunderstood the guys at the bus station, it was not midday they were meaning but rather midnight it arrived.

As I get a motorbike taxi from the bus station to a cheap hotel I think to myself how travelling as a backpacker and travelling as a cyclist are such different experiences. But maybe that’s another post.

All I actually set out to say in this post was that I arrived safely in Moshi, the town at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. I start my climb on the 6th of November. I have a few posts that I have scheduled to be published whilst I’m on the mountain.

The Final countdown has begun!!!!