Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
Today was a phenomenal achievement by Mike and Emma. On top of what they do almost every day of this journey.
After a night in hiding, having run off from a camping place that felt dodgy – we had driven up to the local important persons house when he wasn’t there. It felt like we had arrived in a lions’ den and the remaining lions were so surprised they hadn’t quite worked out how to deal with this unexpected gift but were prowling in any case. It was the only time I got a bad vibe on the whole trip, beating even the 5 guys walking up to us with machetes. Of course, it may have been entirely in our imagination, nothing happened. They could be very nice lions.
Anyway, we set off early to be well out the area before people were up and about. Pretty soon we arrived at the biggest hill/mountain, a long twisting and turning 17km uphill. At the bottom Emma says:
“You might as well go to the top, I’ll try and make it.”
I have learnt, when Emma says she’ll try, it means she’ll make it.
17km later, after running and cycling uphill without more than a water and stretch break, Emma and Mike arrive very hungry for breakfast trailing a group of school children. Otherwise they seem pretty cool about their achievement.
I start chatting to the children, moving slowly away from the team, making sure to catch all of the children and draw them away. They are hesitant, initially, but the temptation to talk to me and poke me to see if I am real is much better than just watching a group of strangers. We walk casually and chat about their favourite food (“Mango” in case you are wondering) and other friendly things and quite by chance we have arrived at the school gate, where the teacher ushers them into class. Some of them give me a look like they know what I did.
Back at breakfast, Emma and Mike have eaten twice their usual amount and as Robert was digging out a flat spot for Emma to sleep on, a black snake undulated out. Apparently, it was not a poisonous one.
The border crossing itself is straightforward.
Emma and Mike carry on their way for another 40km or so through the heat.
Our evening campsite, complete with scorpions:
Not 3 yards from camp I came across this big guy and then another one and then I went to bed not to get up until the sun rose and sent them home.
Number of Days: 75
Total distance run by Emma: 3204 km, 1991 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.7 km, 26.5 miles
Whenever you dig into the heart of a country you will find hidden talent. Here, in Malawi, whilst Emma was running 26 miles with Mike beside her and Robert was teaching me to scrub clothes, Woocash discovered a young breakdancer in the making:
In case you can’t see the video. Here are a few happy photos of the young man dancing:
This day held one of my favourite moments of the trip and, of course, it involves children laughing. We had put up a tarpaulin to shelter from the threatening rain clouds but, as the crowds of children gathered, we shifted it to act as a privacy barrier. Emma and Mike had arrived for breakfast stressed from being screamed at by excitable children. A few of the watchers drifted off to school but the less well dressed ones stayed. I am guessing, but may be wrong, that they didn’t have enough money for a formal education. So, in order to enable the team to have some peace, I went out to the children to be their focus and had loads of fun.
The children were sweet and friendly and tolerated my lack of language skills and crazy antics. I taught them how to spin their leg under themselves, did a few yoga moves, sang songs – “heads, shoulders, knees and toes.” And several times I tried to teach them the Mexican wave (they had surrounded me in a circle and I thought it would be fun).
One girl, Margaret, spoke a few words of English and had the confidence to be the first to try things. Thank God for her. Mostly, the children laughed and giggled and looked up at me with shining eyes and smiles. Pushing in to touch me at times then running away squealing when I looked at them.
An old man came up to me and asked, “Why do you do this?”
“Because I like children.” I reply.
He smiles and says, “Thank you.”
He went on his way to the fields to work.
That thank you and smile that went with it and the sound of children laughing, will warm me for the rest of my life.
At last, I saw Mike and Emma setting off on their journey, hopefully at least a little rested, and disappearing down the road. I could stop, pack up the car, say goodbye to the little crowd and revert to being an introvert. Onwards we go to Mangochi and Lake Malawi.
A view of Lake Malawi whilst looking for a bit of privacy
Number of Days: 74
Total distance run by Emma: 3143 km, 1953 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.5 km, 26.4 miles
In Malawi, villages go on for miles before merging into the next village. As a result, we have to ask permission to camp and are directed to the Chief of the district’s house. Getting to his house involves driving up a narrow dusty path full of busy market stalls. Big car, awkward space, lots of people watching – Woocash takes on the challenge of manoeuvring Cleopatra through.
This little group of friends came to laugh and play whilst we were working out where to go
I am pleased to discover that the Chief is Muslim and his wife is Christian. Coming from a mixed religious and cultural background myself, I think they are going to be my kind of people and they are. The Chief is away for the week but his welcoming wife insists that we must stay with them.
The team with the Chief’s wife
As Robert begins setting up the fire to cook, a small crowd of children gather, maybe 20. I find them entertaining but we worry they will fall in the fire. We are constantly saying, “Move back, move back.”
The growing circle of children, there must be 50 now, around us wobbles back and forth as they push each other with excitement. Curious hands reach out to touch, poke and pinch. The naughty pincher is corrected on his behaviour and all the crowd calms down for a bit, they are a little embarrassed by their over excitement, telling each other to behave. When I pull out my camera some hands go up to cover the lens. Half of this group doesn’t want photos the other half are pushing to the front. I put it away as it’s causing more chaos.
Robert has to stay by the fire whilst I wade through the noisy crowd, that, happily, only come up to my shoulder, to fetch ingredients and tools from the car. Being a youth worker, I can’t help myself, and end up chatting with the children, giving them small jobs to keep them entertained. I make the mistake of telling them my name.
Woocash drives back down the market to fetch Emma and Mike. Returning, on his 3rd trip along the lane the stall holders are a little fed up of the giant car bumping her way through, dusting their produce.
Emma is tired and the big crowd of children fascinated by us and wanting our attention takes a lot of energy. Kindly, the Chief’s wife offers us a school room to eat in to escape the pressure and close window shutters on curious eyes.The children surround the room, banging, calling and chanting my name, “Aysha, Aysha”. Typically British, I’m embarrassed by the attention. There must be at least 100 by now. The Chief’s wife says that she doesn’t even know most of the children; they have come from miles around. She does not know how they found out we are there. She tells them off and they quieten a little. Enough so we can eat.
A nice custom across this region of Africa, is that we share food with our host, we win in this, as she brings sweet mangos for us. We talk softly and try to be as boring as possible for the children outside. The time is getting later and we pretend to go to sleep. Eventually, the children go home and I can at last cross the school yard to the toilets on my own.
Number of Days: 73
Total distance run by Emma: 3087 km, 1918 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 km, 26.3 miles
Malawi is flourishing green, although sadly all the big ancient forests have been cut down and sold. At 5.30am shops are open and people are busy.
The land of smiles is full of people smiling and waving. Food on the roadside is cheap and delicious. Ripe sweet mangos and home made doughnuts become daily treats. Insects are fluffy and the police are helpful. After a policeman checked our ID at a road block, he sent someone to fetch water for us from his house! A man we met along the way brought us sandwiches on our lunch break.
I must take up this habit of being so welcoming to strangers. It’s a pretty incredible experience to be so consistently welcomed in every culture as we travel.
However, fuel is expensive, and I am paying, so camel style we have filled Cleo up in Mozambique and she will have her next drink in Mozambique in 5 days time. I like our mini challenge to make it across a whole (very thin) country with no fuel stops.
Mike back on the bike for a bit
Cooking breakfast at the side of the road
Too many sticks suffocate the fire. And yes, that is a blow torch on the ground. That’s men for you. I like to use a single match if I can. And no, Lukasz doesn’t always look that odd.
Robert swaps in as Emma’s guard.
Many thanks to this kind family for letting us park in their garden.
Number of Days: 72
Total distance run by Emma: 3028 km, 1882 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.1 km, 26.1 miles
Living on a small island, I imagine that all border-crossing offices are back to back. Forgetting, of course that we have sometimes thousand of miles between border points but I have always been in an airplane or boat. Between Zobwe in Mozambique and Mwanza in Malawi is 6km.
The novelty of winding our way around the lush green mountain inhabited by people between the borders, delightfully surprises my brain. However, Emma, hasn’t had breakfast and there are no good places to park up and cook. I worry about her. She needs food. What are the legalities of stopping and cooking breakfast in no-mans land? 100 yards after the Malawi border we set up and wait anxiously. Emma and Mike seem to be taking a long time. I have prepared snacks and am about to take a taxi or something back to find them, when, to our relief, we see them coming through the barriers. Okay, my relief, I am the worrier in the team.
Otherwise the crossing is very easy. Having written down the exchange rate, my calculator can keep up with the swift thinking money men. At the Malawi border, we accidentally pick up a tout pretending to be an official. Fortunately, we figure this out in time. The real border guard is cross when he discovers this and stays by my side to make sure I am not hassled anymore. Clearly, they value their visitors.
At the end of that day, Emma was too tired to move and yet she had run 57 km. I was tired too but you kind of keep quiet about that when someone has run 3000km in 2 and a bit months. I think we may both have a bug. Its incredible that Emma ran a marathon.
Number of Days: 71
Total distance run by Emma: 2969 km, 1845 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.8 km, 26.0 miles
Emma had a planned a day off in Tete, which is lucky as she has had no sleep. In addition, her shorts soaked in oil from her daily massages, are frying her legs in the sun. We take the opportunity to wash them as well as possible. Mike and Woocash are not able to support Emma, so Robert will become her companion and guard. Robert has not ridden a bicycle for years but he steps up to the challenge admirably.
At dawn, I drive Emma and Robert the mile or so to where she stopped 36 hours before. As they are about to set off a policeman arrives demanding to see I.D. and saying there will be a fine if we cannot produce them. It causes a slight delay whilst I zip back to fetch their passports. Later in the afternoon, I pick them up 60km down the road and bring them back to sleep in Tete. At 2.30am, the next morning, we drive for 1.5 hrs out the silent dark city and through the dark countryside. The sun is sending its first rays as we arrive where Emma and Robert will start their day.
Emma and I in matching oufits!
Emma and Robert set off into the heat whilst Woocash and I head back to collect Mike. In the afternoon, there are some steep hills on the route and we are all wondering how Robert has coped. (We know that Emma will be fine, although I still think the hills are pretty big). Robert is exhausted when we find them and Mike discovers he has done 55km up and down hills with one of the brakes on! Mike says Alfredo, the bicycle, is misbehaving with out him. Robert and Emma are both an inspiration today.
How many seats on your bike?
Sunsetting and we still haven’t found Emma and Robert!
We are surrounded by tilled fields and wondering where to put up camp when a local man, kindly, says that it is fine to park on his field and sleep there.
Day 69 distance run: 60.57 km, 37.63 miles Day 70 distance run: 55.52 km, 34.49 miles
Number of Days: 70
Total distance run by Emma: 2912 km, 1809 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6 km, 25.8 miles
Emma and Mike are still on the road running and cycling in the heat. Tete has a reputation as the hottest city in Mozambique and we are here at the hottest time of year. The rains will be coming soon. Robert, Woocash and I are staying with the gorgeous Dora and her lovely dog, who turned out to be a total cuddle bug. Her, the dog’s, favourite thing is to sleep by the air conditioner or run about scaring passers by.
Tete is a mining town full of busy people in colourful clothes. Skin glistens in the heat. Driving is awesome, there aren’t so much rules of the road as flowing guidelines around walkers, cyclists, motorbikes, 3-wheelers and cars. Getting cash out of the machine takes an hour and a half, with extra delays when a pretty lady charms her way to the front of the long queue, which happens several times. Heat rises from the ground and falls from the sky, Some of the queue gets a bit grumbly at the soft touches at the front. But everyone lets the pregnant lady go first. I like Mozambican culture.
On the day Emma runs into Tete, the temperature is well over 40 centigrade! She calls us at the outskirts. Mike is ill and we need to come and pick him up. We scramble at once. Illness can escalate quickly in the heat.
Once again we call the fabulous Dr. Keletso Nyathi. He thinks it could be malaria and advises we put him on a drip. None of us are confident about doing this. We have testing kits for malaria in our first aid box. Mike tests negative, Emma tests him again to make sure. We decide not to put him on a drip due to our lack of practice. Keletso accepts numerous worried phonecalls in the midst of running his practice in Namibia. Emma takes charge of looking after Mike, whilst I attempt to contact the insurance company. They are helpful but the connection is so bad they can’t understand what I am saying. It’s frustrating and worrying.
Early in the morning, I meet Emma in the hallway, Mike has been throwing up and going to the toilet all night. Emma has been looking after him throughout and looks exhausted. I call Dora and insist that Mike needs to see the Doctor immediately. Dora arranges it at once. It all takes time and Mike looks terrible. The doctor immediately puts Mike on a drip and keeps him under his care. It’s a huge relief.
One medical emergency is unlucky; two in a week is uncanny. Both at the only place where there is a doctor with all the supplies he could need. And where we had the best accommodation for the invalids to recover in. Again, I am very grateful to whatever or whoever seems to be looking after us. A huge thank you.
Mozambique was the poorest country we visited. Pot bellies in children are a classic sign of malnutrition.
This a large almost dry river bed where people come to collect water and wash their clothes. The rains are only a couple of weeks away.
Day 66 distance run: 58.37 km, 36.27 miles Day 67 distance run: 50.94 km, 31.65 miles Day 68 distance run: 0 km, 0 miles
Number of Days: 68
Total distance run by Emma: 2796 km, 1737 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.1 km, 25.5 miles
It is still possible to donate to the charities here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/EmmaTimmis
Until August 2016
Emma and Mike set off running and cycling and we drive to the border, find it and double back to make breakfast (porridge). We have to set up on the side of the road, interrupting the crowded flow of curious school children who stop and stare. Luckily, for our self-conscious selves, education holds a strong force on these children and they hurry on to school.
Woocash starts behaving oddly, he keeps wandering off. It turns out he didn’t want to be sick in public. He is ill about 6 times in the hour before Emma and Mike arrive. I am deeply concerned and he has disappeared again. We could drive back to Harare where the nearest hospital is or we can risk crossing the border, hoping for no delays, and have another several hours drive to Tete. We are discussing our options, when Woocash returns saying that he is peeing blood. That is way beyond my medical knowledge but we have our doctor on call, the brilliant Dr Keletso Nyathi. (I found Keletso on the explorers connect website – if you are an explorer become a member, its superb).
Keletso is also worried: Woocash must see a doctor right away. I tell him we are about 5 hours from a hospital. Keletso tells me Woocash hasn’t got 5 hours before lasting damage could take place. I consider a helicopter. Keletso takes a deep breath and then remembers we have antibiotics in our medical supplies. They will work. Woocash must take the antibiotics, drink lots of water and then see a doctor within 24 hours. (Many thanks to doctors in the UK who gave the prescription.) I call the wonderful Dora to ask about medical facilities in Tete. She says we can see her doctor, if we get there by 5pm. No pressure then.
Crossing the border, we keep Woocash hidden in the car as much as possible and he is on strict instructions to look well when he steps into public. Emma and Mike go through easily but we, in the car, mistake a police officer for a tout. She doesn’t take kindly to this and plans to keep us there all day and night as revenge for the insult. Now is not the time. Never would be the time but now is really not the time.
Luckily, Robert has unparalleled charm skills. The lady softens and I apologise a lot. Woocash stays in the car pretending to be healthy. She lets us out to the Mozambique border. I nag Woocash to drink, which he does reluctantly, as he feels so ill.
On the Mozambican side, a rather handsome border guard helps me with the paperwork. We have half an hour left to find a secluded area for Emma to take a call from BBC Radio Manchester. We settle outside this closed shop. An alarmed owner comes out but he is entertained by our story, allows us to stay and kindly donates two Mozambican sim cards.
Emma on the phone to BBC Radio Manchester (live!)
Shop owner, Woocash and Robert
Unfortunately the sim cards don’t work. Emma and Mike will now be left on their own for a few days. A police officer tells us it is 47 Celsius in Tete, where we are going. I insist on us having sim cards that work in case of an emergency, especially in that heat. This entails a 100km round trip to the nearest town and narrowly avoiding being cheated by a wily young mathematician trying his luck with the confused tourists. Fortunately, Woocash is feeling a lot better, you can see, he’s even posing for photos. The power of antibiotics and fear of missing out. The day he refuses a photograph I will get a helicopter in.
We finally arrive after many hours into Dora’s lovely cool home and I am grateful to put a poorly Woocash to bed. He gets to see the Doctor in the morning and comes back with a bag full of green and pink pills in case it is a bladder infection or bilharzia. When he has to go back a second time, the doctor gives him even bigger and more colourful pills, as it may be a prostate infection. The doctor also insists Woocash has a full investigation when he returns to the UK. Peeing blood in men is a particularly serious sign. Lesson learned: drink water in hot climates, especially when in town and there is alcohol and coffee available.
That’s enough drama for one day. However, I sincerely appreciate our good fortune or the care of whoever is watching over us, this is the only time (apart from Harare) when we are near a doctor during Emma’s run and its when we needed it.
Number of Days: 65
Total distance run by Emma: 2686 km, 1669 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.3 km, 25.7 miles
Distance run today: 46.48 km, 28.88 miles
Thank you Keletso for being a fantastic doctor and answering the phone straight away. Thank you Robert for charming the policewoman.
Thank you Policewoman for having a kind heart and accepting our apology.
Thank you Mozambican guard for helping me with the paperwork when everyone else was busy doing something else.
Thank you shop owner for letting us hang out on your doorstep.
Thank you teenager for helping us get a Sim card that worked and explaining why the others didn’t.
Thank you Dora for arranging for Woocash to see a doctor and letting us stay in your lovely home.
Emma and Mike set off a few days ahead of us whilst we hang out at embassies sorting out visas. Mike who we met at dinner joins Emma for a marathon, which makes a happy day. Local people take care of Emma and Mike along the way and they even get to stay in a hut for a night to make sure that they are safe. (How great would that be?)
We think it was a cooking hut
Emma writing her diary or possibly practicing levitating
Early morning start
The outside of the house Emma and Mike stayed in
Mike, Mike and Emma
Free range pig
My driving licence arrives in Harare just before we set off again, luckily. I am delighted to leave the city and love being back on the dusty road with fields and trees for miles in every direction. We catch up with Emma and Mike just in time before the border with Mozambique: we have their visas and passports and we can all celebrate Robert’s birthday with watermelon and chocolate cake.
Day 61 distance run: 60.31 km, 37.47 miles Day 62 distance run: 61.86 km, 38.43 miles Day 63 distance run: 52.33 km, 32.51 miles Day 64 distance run: 53.68 km, 33.35 miles
Number of Days: 64
Total distance run by Emma: 2640 km, 1640 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.2 km, 25.6 miles