Stage 1 – Europe
London (UK) to Gibraltar – 3600km – August to October 2004
London – Portsmouth – Cherbourg – Mayenne – Saumur – Perigeux – Carcassonne – Andorra – Tarragona – Alicante – Granada – Gibraltar
On August 1st 2004, we were waved off from Greenwich by a fantastic crowd, and began our journey down to Portsmouth over a couple of days. We did in fact enjoy some lovely rays of English sunshine – our last for a while! We crossed the channel to Cherbourg, and then continued south through hilly Normandy, enjoying a huge number of Camembert cheeses enroute, before arriving in the Loire Valley and sampling Saumur´s excellent wines. A spell of very wet and unsettled weather saw us donning waterproofs and having to abandon canvas for the luxury of a hotel for one night in Perigeux, where the municipal campsite was flooded and deemed too dangerous! Some wonderful days cycling along the Vezere and Dordogne rivers, and through sunny vineyards brought us to the fairytale castle of Carcassonne, where we spent a few days recuperating before the challenge of the Pyrenees. Late August saw us toiling up the Ariege Valley with the lorries and the bargain hunting daytrippers destined for Andorra, and by early September we were crossing into Spain and heading for the coast after a brief visit to the mountain monastery of Montserrat. Then it was on down the coast towards Alicante, where we had a fantastic few days being looked after by the gang at The Orange House in Finestrat and catching up with Anna’s sister. Then we tackled the murderous heat of Murcia, the magically undisturbed and remote Sierra de Cazorla and arrived in Granada in need of the cool and calm of the Alhambra! By the time we reached the Costa del Sol via the bright white towns around Ronda, things were cooling off with the end of summer, and after a brief visit to Gibraltar, we crossed the straight to Morocco on the 13th October.
Stage 2 – The Sahara
Fnideq (Morocco) to Dakar (Senegal) – 4500km – October 2004 to January 2005
Fnideq – Fes – Rabat – Casablanca – Safi – Marrakech – Taroudannt – Sidi Ifni – Tan Tan – Laayoune – Dakhla – Nouadhibou – Nouakchott – Rosso – St. Louis – Thies – Dakar – Barra – Janjanbureh – Banjul – Ziguinchor
Entering African territories at Fnideq, we then headed inland, through Chefchaouen and the Rif mountains to the historical cities of Meknes and Fes, just as Ramadan began. Then it was on through the Middle Atlas mountains and up to Rabat and Casablanca. Some nice flat days along the coast as far as Safi, and then inland to Marrakech, Morocco’s most famous city and the Berber capital. The massive bulk of the High Atlas came next, freshly dusted with snow as it was November, and from the Tizi-n-Test pass we could look down onto the Souss plain and the Saharan fringes beyond! The Ante Atlas mountains proved to be a tough challenge, but the beautiful Ameln Valley and quiet town of Tafraoute were more than adequate compensation! At Goulimine we entered real desert for the first time, and sand was the order of the day for the whole of December as we travelled through a locust plague to Tan Tan, Laayoune and on to Dakhla. Into Mauritania, and a five-day epic from Nouadhibou saw us arriving in Nouakchott just in time for Christmas! After a well earned rest there, we reached St Louis in Senegal for New Year, before moving southwards again to the Pointe des Almadies in Dakar – Africa’s westernmost point.
Stage 3 – West Africa
Dakar (Senegal) to Kano (Nigeria) – 8000km – February to July 2005
Dakar – Ziguinchor – Bissau – Bubaque – Pitche – Faranah – Kankan – Bamako – Sikasso – Bobo-Dioulasso – Ouagadougou – Kumasi – Accra – Kpalime – Abomey – Abuja – Kano
Next came a dusty ride to the Gambian border before we struck off eastwards on a two-week tour of tiny Gambia, up the north bank road and then back to the capital, Banjul, on the south bank. With the tranquil, palm-fringed Basse Casamance district of Senegal behind us, we continued south again to Portuguese-speaking Guinea-Bissau, where we spent a few days on the stunning Bijagos islands. Leaving the coast at Bissau, we headed eastwards through cashew groves and farmland, crossing into Guinea at the tiny border post of Foula Mori. The Fouta Djalon provided the first serious hills for a while, but rewarded us with stunning views and a warm welcome. Soon we were descending into the heat of eastern Guinea’s plains, passing through Faranah, where we joined the Niger river. We followed the river as it wound it’s way past Kankan and Siguiri before crossing into Mali near Bamako. A scenic ride south from Bamako lead us to Sikasso, in the fertile land near the Burkinabe border, where we left the bikes and joined Luke’s parents for a tour of the country. Ten days later, having visited Segou, Djenné, Mopti, and the Dogon Country, we saddled up once more and crossed into Burkina Faso, where the first stop was the at stunning Pics de Sindou. Then came our first sighting of hippos at the Lac de Tengrela, and a visit to Burkina’s second city, Bobo-Dioulasso. Leaving Bobo, we headed east on a good road, spotting more wildlife (elephants this time) at Boromo before reaching Ouagadougou in time for Anna to fly home for her sister’s wedding.
Anna arrived back on the 30th April, looking rested and recovering from a bout of giardia – luckily she had been to the doctors while at home! Then it was on south again into Ghana, passing through the fascinating Gourountsi country of southern Burkina as we went. Once in Bolgatanga we caught up with the staff at Link, then headed on to Mole National Park. In Larabanga we suffered an armed robbery which left us stunned and shaken…as well as without several of our posessions. We rested up in Kumasi and at the fantastic Green Turtle Lodge once we reached the coast, which we then traced eastwards towards Accra, stopping off at some of the forts that line the seaboard here – once an active centre of the slave trade. After a longer-than-planned stay in Ghana, we headed eastwards crossing Togo and Benin, before entering Nigeria on a very rough route in the north. Then it was on to Abuja, the federal capital, to pick up yet more visas and then north again to the old city of Kano.
Stage 4 – Central Africa
Kano (Nigeria) to N’Djamena (Chad) – 900km – July 2005
Kano – Maiduguri – N’Djamena
So much of Central Africa is caught up in political trouble of once sort or another that this stage of the journey was always going to prove difficult. Many overlanders are taking the west coast route through Cameroon, Gabon, the Congos and Angola to Namibia, but for several reasons we decided to avoid this option (rainy season in the northern-equatorial countries making unpaved roads even less passable than usual; a very real risk of landmines in Angola, something we have to worry about much more than drivers as we can only cover shorter distances between safe camps; and much in East Africa to see)! We scooted across from Kano to Maiduguri and then followed rough roads across the northernmost tip of Cameroon – crossing two borders in one epic day and arriving late one evening in N’Djamena. Our plan to cycle via Abeche through Darfur and on to Sudan already out of the window due to the situation in Darfur, we had hoped to fly to the capital, Khartoum. But even this plan was scuppered by our inability to obtain a Sudanese visa – so Stage 4 ended prematurely in N’Djamena rather than Khartoum as planned.
Stage 5 – Eastern Africa
Khartoum (Sudan) to Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) – 5000km – August to December 2005
Khartoum – Addis Ababa – Nairobi – Kampala – Kigali – Dar Es Salaam
On the bikes again, we head southwards (naturally enough!) from Addis Ababa through the Ethiopian highlands towards the Kenyan border, making a detour to the Bale Mountains National Park – worth it despite the rough road and rather savage kids . We spotted the rare Ethiopian wolf and reached an altitude of nearly 3700m – the highest we’ll have been since Morocco, and the cycling “high point” of the expedition! From Ethiopia we crossed the Black Desert to reach Kenya, a gruelling ride through desolate landscapes and appalling roads. Then it was on to Nanyuki, where we stopped off for a week to climb Mount Kenya, and then on westwards to Nyahururu and thence the central highlands and Rift Valley. We crammed in a Maasai Mara safari before heading west towards Uganda, crossing in the shadow of Mount Elgon and making our way to Kampala. A side trip to visit LCD’s projects in Masindi follows, and next we head south to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. We will then resume our eastward and southward journey into Tanzania, passing the Serengeti plains and Mount Kilimanjaro. A long ride across to the coast should see us arriving in Dar Es Salaam before Christmas, depending on how distracted we get along the way. We hope to spend Christmas itself on Zanzibar – relaxing!
Stage 6 – Southern Africa
Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) to Cape Town (South Africa) – 5500km – January to April 2006
Dar Es Salaam – Mbeya – Lilongwe – Lusaka – Victoria Falls – Gaborone – Maseru – Cape Town
Early in the New Year, we’ll leave the coast at Dar and head up once again into the higher ground of the Rift Valley. Turning South at Mbeya, we’ll cross the border into Malawi and follow the shore of Lake Malawi through the country to Lilongwe. Here we’ll turn West again towards Lusaka in Zambia, and onwards to Victoria Falls. After crossing the Zambezi into Botswana, a few weeks cycling through the bush will bring us to the capital, Gaborone, on the South African border. One final detour to visit the highland kingdom of Lesotho, and with luck we’ll be in Cape Town by late in the southern hemisphere summer.