Archive | December, 2011

Photo journal – Malawi

22 Dec

These are my photos capturing my time spent cycling through the warm heart of Africa. Unfortunately I don’t have many blog posts from Malawi as the four I had were lost when my laptop was stolen. There was one interesting blog post about getting hit by a dead flying chicken! Seriously I was cycling a long, this car came around a corner at 100km/hr, hit this chicken that then went flying (in regards to speed not flapping) across the road and smacked straight into my torso! As a villager ran to pick it up for dinner, I kept cycling and thought “I just got hit by a dead flying chicken!”

When the kids weren’t shouting “Mzungu give me”, they were inquisitive little critters. At times I would have a road side sleep and wake up with 20 kids circling me, but they always kept at a distance until they felt safe. My little trick I loved to play was opening up one of my panniers like in the above photo. All the kids would move in closer craning their necks to see what was in side. Then I would suddenly shout “BOO!” On one particular occasion I did this beside a ditch and one poor little fella went arse over tit down a ditch. Everybody including the elders sitting outside the mud hut were in hysterics as well the hairy Mzungu. The little fella luckily also saw the funny side.

I really appreciated finding a spot all to myself where I didn’t have a crowd of people sitting two metres away e watching the freak show that was in town.

Stopping off at one of the many road side chip stands. As usual getting a lot of attention from the friendly folk.

I lived off these wood fired chip stands. Super greasy and oily chips with lots of salt for about 30 cents. Carbs and calories, just what the doctor ordered.

This to you is just a whole bunch of cars lined up. And you are right, it is. But this is a 143 car queue at the petrol station! The funny thing was that there was no petrol at the petrol station, but a rumour that a truck was going to go there. There was a major crisis in Malawi, a lack of foreign currency meant they were unable to buy petrol. You can imgine the crippling effect this had on the economy. Most petrol statons were ghostly buildings with people having to buy petrol on the black market that was smuggled in from neighbouring countries. I had to buy a litre of petrol for my cooker and was told US$9 a litre, of which I declined. I ended up finding some in another town for $4.

Setting up my tent in a friendly locals front yard who I met whilst buying tomatoes in a small road side town.

Friendly strangers who showered me with generosity. I have never eaten so much, they treated me to a feast fit for a king. I actually felt like throwing up.

Most days I would cycle through lots of these little small towns, crackly music blasting from the speakers, chickens everywhere, fly covered raw meat hanging up, people sitting around and wall to wall shops selling all sorts of stuff for everyday life.

Finally arriving on the shores of Lake Malawi. This was the moment I had been cycling towards since the start.

I had heard about Kandi beach, a camping ground an overland truck driver had told me about. After a 120km day I turned off at a busy little roadside market with the sun getting lower in the sky. I cycled down a non descript sandy dirt road through villages to some big gates. The security guard opened up the gates and I cycled in and my goodness me it just so happened I had arrived in paradise! I went straight to the bar got a beer, walked to the beach, peeled my clothes and dived into the warm water.

Yep it’s hard to believe that the above photo is taken in a land locked African country. As you can imagine my 1 night turned into 6 nights and it was there along with 7 other overland trucks to watch the All Blacks beat the French in the rugby world cup final. Oh and somewhere on that beach is my cell phone.

Views like this whilst cycling along the lake make it pretty easy to keep on pedalling.

End of the trip, 2,550km ticked off. I locked my bike to a tree in Northern Malawi and did a 3 day chicken bus mission up to Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro for my 30th birthday!

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A SUPER AWESOME NEW YEAR.

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Photo journal – Zambia.

20 Dec

Here are some photos from my cycle through Zambia, with photos from my infamous blog post “The Road to Chongwe………………..maybe“.

I personally loved Zambia. It is described as the “real Africa”, where as Namibia is described as “Africa for beginners”. Zambia doesn’t have as much tourism, tourists usually just go to Victoria Falls then sometimes drive the 6 hours straight to South Luanga National Park before leaving. But on a bike, I had no choice but to cycle, and I took back roads. It was a tough time for me, as I was obviously alone and the memories of the break up still rather fresh. I had no contact with foreigners, there was no tourist infrastructure. But the beauty of this is that you end up sleeping in some interesting spots, in school class rooms, on the side of the road, in abandoned hotels, in villages, roadside truck stops etc. But it are these moments I will remember, the challenges. I loved the Zambians, great people, and yes it does have the sense of the real Africa, where things just don’t work and things aren’t polished, it’s Africa, raw, refreshing and friendly.

This photo for me sums up road side Africa, people walking in the sandy pot holed dirt. I took it at a boarder town between Zimbabwe and Zambia while I was trying to find out from locals where the road to Chongwe was (which by the way they told me didn’t exist).

Probably a crappy photo due to shading. But this is a common sight all through Africa. Ladies carrying stuff on their heads, fire wood, bananas, water, petrol, washing, basically anything.

This was the road to Chongwe. This is the sight of my first major crash. My front wheel hit a golf ball sized stone and I ate some gravel. A grazed knee was the result.

Flies. Luckily I had done a year working in the outback, so this was a bit of a walk in the park compared to there. But the reason I crashed above was because I was trying to out run the little buggers. They won.

Since I had no map or guide book, I never knew how far I had to go or what the terrain to Chongwe was like, but it was hills and mountains. This was little video with commentary shows how it was. Pushing my bike up and stopping every 10 metres to get my breath. This hill was the site of my leopard encounter. The whole time I was on this road I didn’t see any vehicle.

After having not seen people for what seemed like eternity, therefore being extremely worried as people were my life line to water, I spotted these guys in this dried up river bed. I was so happy to see people, god knows what they were doing here as it was literally in the middle of nowhere. But after my previous night with the leopard, and getting low on water, and worried about not knowing what lay ahead of me, or how far I had to go, it was refreshing and calming to see people. Even though they didn’t speak english.

This stagnated pool of water in the dried up river bed was the first bit of water I had seen in 24 horus and was where the guys in the previous photo had got their water. I asked if it was drinkable, they nodded, I wasn’t convinced especially as one of their drinking containers still bore the sticker of it’s previous life “batery acid”. But I filled up as a last resort.

Charcoal, it’s a big industry for village people all through the countires I cycled through. But it is devastating the deforestation that occurs, and this photos depcits it. Around all the villages is usually a tree grave yard, stumps littering what would have been forest. The sad part is that one of these sacks sells for a couple of bucks. But you can’t blame these people, they have nothing, and at the end of the day they need money to eat.

Local ladies outside the typical roadside restaurant where I would stop for my lunch. This usually consisted of goat and ensema (it changes name depending what country you are in) which is a white porridgey glug that is made from ground maize mixed with water. You eat it with your hands, it’s cheap, it fills you up although it has no nutritional value and best of all you are out of the midday sun.

This photo has a lot going on. This is your common scene in Zambia I would come across every 20kms or so. A water pump where I could get water, and a market behind the bricked wall where I could get my rice, tomatoes and onions for dinner.

Taking a rest.

Africa is home to crappy looking shops all selling exactly the same as the shop next to them but they have amazingly entertaining shop names with semi inspirational messages. I only wish I had started taking photos of them all. Anyway, I stopped off at the ‘Struggle shopping centre’. I like their quote on the right hand pillar “Survival. Never lose hope guys”.

At the struggle shopping centre I had one of those special travel moments. I sat here laughing with these guys as they taught me their local language and we listened to the music that one of the guys was selling at his cassette tape stall. These guys were so friendly and I wasn’t treated like a Mzungu which you really do appreciate. They didn’t ask for anything or give me the story of how life was hard and if I could pay for them to go to school. In fact after sitting and laughing with them for 40 minutes, he gave me a small bag of bubble gum for my bike ride. Which to them is a lot, he wouldn’t let me leave without taking it. I pedalled away smiling.

This road I loved, hills with gentle gradients, not bad to cycle up, but great for going down, and good roads.

It was getting bloody hot by this part of the trip. A lunch time road side stop. I did a lot of reading while cycling.

My truck with the African truck in the back ground.

Fancy seeing you here. Trevor was my hometown doctor growing up in NZ. Him and his wife Helen were working at a mission hospital in Zambia. After 2 weeks of cycling by myself through Zambia, it was great to see familiar faces. Great hospitality for the 5 days I spent with them, just what the doctor ordered you could say.

What I had feared cycling past on my bicycle.

Animals, it is the thing I love about Africa.

Bikes. The poor man’s truck.

The amount of things you see carried on bikes in Africa never ceases to amaze, families, live pigs, 120 litres of petrol, firewood stacked over the riders head, four crates of coke etc etc.. I wish I could have got more footage, but it’s always the way, when you get your camera out you never see anything.

The local beer truck. Classic! The locals leave their 20 litre beer containers on the side of the road. Like the milkman of yesteryear the beer truck comes and fills them up. The beer does not taste like the beer we know, think strong fermented rough textured vegetation in a glass.

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!