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.
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 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
We contact Mike and Emma regularly to check they are okay. Sometimes they whisper if it is after dark and they don’t want anyone to hear where they are. We meet them briefly in Chinhoyi before heading down to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to wait for them.
Harare is beautiful.
I couldn’t decide between that pretty photo or this weird one, so I gave you both:
Robert disappears to see his family and go back to project work for a few days, whilst Woocash gives Cleopatra a health check. I find the best café with internet and spend a lot of time there: photos, blogs and contacting journalists. Luckily for us, friends of the family, Bobby and Margie, generously put us up which saves a huge amount of money. Harare isn’t cheap. As a thank you, Woocash fixes Bobby’s car and we donate some spare car parts. We do a lot of scrubbing and cleaning kit. We also give a surreal children’s TV interview. Thankfully it is live which means that it will never be seen again. Hooray!
First the monkey now a dog, everyone wants to drive Cleo
At the children’s show
Harare traffic, usually only bad at rush hour
A few days later Emma and Mike arrive:
The team takes a trip to The SEED Project’s office to catch up with Robert and meet friendly Nyasha, who is SEED’s only other full time employee . Driving through the city, Emma photographs stallholders, people start shouting and frowning at us to put the camera away, it’s an uncomfortable moment.
Stunning architecture where The SEED Project is based
Look how clean we are!
Emma and Mike enjoy a couple of days of rest at Joy’s lovely home. Emma fits in an interview with a journalist, from the magazine Out of Africa, who writes a beautiful article. At a delicious dinner, organised by Bob and Margie, Emma meets Mike who decides he would like to join Emma on one of her marathons. Which is great.
“Queen of the Night” flowers one night of the year and it flowered the night Emma arrived!
Thank you Specialized for helping out with Mike’s bike
Emma and I found this chick confidently wandering the streets
Fantastic article in “Out of Africa”
The Water-to-Go bottles are perfect for Harare as otherwise the tap water isn’t safe to drink without being boiled. With the bottles we can simply fill up and er, go out and about on our business in the city!
We have decided to head on in to Mozambique. Last year there were civil disturbances and vehicles were attacked. But there has been nothing recently and we are avoiding areas that are considered at risk. Rumour tells us we may have to wait 3 weeks to get visas! Rumour turns out to be wrong. It is all sorted within 48 hours by a very organized and helpful lady.
Over at the Malawi embassy, Woocash has to write a letter explaining why he wants to visit Malawi. He does and the lady bursts out laughing when she reads it. We never find out why.
Huge thanks to Bobby and Margie Warren-Codrington for having us to stay in their gorgeous home, loaning us essential kit and arranging for us to meet with someone from the BBC. And perhaps most of all for linking us up with the wonderful Dora in Mozambique who looked after us through two medical emergencies.
Huge thanks to Joy Peacock for having Emma and Mike to stay and for all the help and connections to journalists that you provided.
And thank you to the Specialized workshop in Harare for helping Mike out with his bike.
Day 55 distance run: 56.21 km, 34.92 miles Day 56 distance run: 52.85 km, 32.84 miles Day 57 distance run: 53.43 km, 33.20 miles Day 58 distance run: 32.11 km, 19.95 miles Day 59 & 60: Rest days in Harare
Number of Days: 60
Total distance run by Emma: 2412 km, 1498 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 40.2 km, 25.0 miles
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We are secretly camped beside a farm that was forcibly removed from a white Zimbabwean farmer and given to black Zimbabweans. Robert is jumpy. Acting on his advice, we are cautious.
The redistribution of farmland was set as an objective by President Mugabe in 1980, when Zimbabwe gained independence. 20 years later the process had barely started. In 2000 government supported land seizures were enforced by armed gangs of young men, these were often unexpected and violent and farmers, their families and staff were sometimes injured and killed. The most recent land seizure in the area was in 2008, just 6 years earlier. That is why we are hiding behind a thick hedge.
Robert warns us that these people can be aggressive and may think that we are trying to steal their land. He also assesses the camping spot as likely to attract a lot of snakes. Everyone is wary when we hear cars passing, becoming silent and switching off torchlights. To add a little extra adventure, I have a stomach upset in the night and 3 times have to make a dash into the darkness. Given the situation, I wake Woocash to keep me company, which he suffered with surprisingly good humour. We are happy to get off the site as quickly as possible in the morning.
Number of Days: 53
Total distance run by Emma: 2204 km, 1370 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6km, 25.8 miles
I am running with Emma and as we come round the corner of a hill I see a class of children let out to play. Before they spot us I can see their skittish joyful runs around their school and then they see us. Excited shouts pour out as they race towards us and surround us. Emma wants to run free, so I slow down my pace and hold my arms out, guiding them to run in line with or behind me. Unsure how to entertain them, I encourage them to sing. One of the girls looks uncertainly around her and then takes the lead with confidence. My senses are overwhelmed with their energy flowing through their voices.
I could tell you many things about this day, about crossing the Tsetse fly border or the moment the team spirit was broken when something was said that took away trust, but this is the moment I want to remember, to share with you and show how wonderful visiting Zimbabwe and meeting Zimbabweans can be.
Cleopatra being checked for Tsetse fly
A Tsetse fly (big aren’t they?)
Number of Days: 51
Total distance run by Emma: 2109 km, 1310 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.4km, 25.7 miles
We are not meant to be here already. Emotions have swirled us up and now we have transported here to take a break and discuss ourselves, or rather each other.
With perfect metaphorical timing there is a huge storm in the night, puddles form inside the extension tent. Across Zimbabwe there are power cuts and flooding. I am struck by how fortunate we are to have not been camping in the bush as, when rain comes in the tent, Emma and Mike can swiftly put up another tent under shelter on a dry surface. In addition, the next day we are able to lay our wet things out flat in the sun.
Karoi, itself is a lovely town. The market sells the most delicious honey any of us had ever tasted. And we make someone’s day when we buy lots of our fresh food supplies from them. We find an electrician who helps to fix our inverter which we are using to charge all our phones, cameras and other electrical items. At night, there are no lights along the streets, our torches pick out a snake crossing our path, gliding along focused on its business. I’m glad we didn’t step on it that would have been bad for it and us.
We sleep, eat, and take a break from each other before we meet for some honest discussion. I contact two wise people in my life for assistance. After two days, we think we have solved the issues. The team is in good spirits and singing songs as Woocash, drives rollercoaster style, back to where Emma finished running 2 days before. Stopping only when we come across a bus crash to donate food and water to the shocked passengers on the side of the road – they had been there for hours. We arrive just before the sundown, in time for us to set up camp.
Number of Days: 47
Total distance run by Emma: 2056 km, 1277 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.7km, 27.2 miles
Distance run today: 33.48 km, 20.80 miles
On days 48,49 and 50 Emma did not run, her daily average distance on day 50 was: 41.11 km, 25.54 miles
Crackling bush fires start and grow around us, flickering high above our heads. We are parked in the middle of the dusty track waiting for Emma and Mike, Robert assures us that the fire cannot cross the road. I hop out to take a video of the fire, which suddenly swerves closer to me and Cleo, the car. I quick step back to Cleopatra and my video instead of showing the magnificent flames soaring above us, shows a crazy swerving shot of the inside of the car, as Woocash swings her around and out of harms way. Darn it.
We wait to make sure Emma and Mike get through safely. The fire swiftly dies down and makes a fool of our concern.
Children on their way to school
Number of Days: 46
Total distance run by Emma: 2022 km, 1256 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.0 km, 27.3 miles
Apples and chocolate wafers are good crunchy textures. Not so much water.
“Water is not meant to be crunchy” laughs Woocash, shortly after he has moaned at Robert for borrowing his drinking bottle and shaking up the water. Now, he needs to let the dust and twigs and grit settle.
It’s only for a few days when we have accidentally filled up from river water. You know how that is, you imagine the tap is treated water and in fact it comes direct from the river. Assumptions can kill you. In any case, we’re not picky and we survive and mostly use it for cooking. Normally, we fill up at boreholes, which is delightfully sociable. The local children come stare at us and laugh at the strange sight. The local ladies help us out. The most embarrassing moment was today, when I got out the car and they all burst out laughing at my dirtiness.
Water from boreholes comes in different flavours and colours. At one point, we can choose between green, orange and clear water. And I am sure the iron enriched water resulted in extra energy for a few days in Emma and I.
Today however, the water is hot. Hotter than warm, hot. It’s not a big deal for us, we have some cool water, we were just topping up, but it is a problem for the villagers. They have to wait for water to cool down before they can water their crops with it or drink it, which means that they need twice as many containers. And we are near the equator, at night it is so hot that we are all having trouble sleeping. I sit upright in the tent at times just to get some circulation. Cooling down isn’t happening very much. The villagers need a pipeline or perhaps someone clever to extract the heat from the water as energy. Hmm, maybe that’s an idea.
Emma runs on by.
Number of Days: 43
Total distance run by Emma: 1848 km, 1148 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.0 km, 26.7 miles
Shade is hard to find in the dry season and essential for Emma and Mike to be able to rest properly. Eventually, over a hill we find this green tree near a village. Apparently, the people use it as a church and take care of the area, which is why the tree is flourishing despite the lack of rain. The head of the village says that we are welcome to rest under there. Which is pretty amazing. Being a sacred area I chose to respect that and cook and eat outside the space. We use it only for Emma to sleep under and for us to have a quiet moment sitting under the tree. I found it soothing and joyful sitting the tree and it still makes me smile remembering that moment.
In searching for a nice breakfast spot, Woocash discovered the Zambezi. We have to keep a watch out for crocs but this has to be one of the world’s best places for porridge.
Emma’s massage and sleeping mat all ready. Robert kept guard and chased off goats while she rested.
Number of Days: 42
Total distance run by Emma: 1791 km, 1113 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles