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.
Almost half way we are treated to some of the most stunning views of the journey …
We went for a pee, over rising ground to this cliff edge and amazing view!
I love this Bus Stop.
… and it is the start of the most challenging time.
There is pain and there is pain and there is running almost 1700km in 6 weeks and knowing you have another 2300km to go. After toenails have gone and your knee has swollen up and you are wondering why you are doing this. I am guessing at Emma’s thoughts but I know about her feet. I can only imagine the powerful discussion between her body and head.
At first break, I walk over to her but her focus is within herself. Sensing anger, I move away. Mike stays silently with her. He has been with her every step of the way, whilst the rest of the team have been with her only for meals, rest times and the occasional run. I am surprised at how little opportunity we have had to chat. Even in Victoria Falls, I was too busy blogging, admin, shopping, cleaning. And now, right at the darkest point, what can be done to ease her pain?
Number of Days: 40
Total distance run by Emma: 1683 km, 1045 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42 km, 26.1 miles
To be honest, I just love this moment and wanted to share it with you. I don’t even know why I like it so much. Possibly, I like that we are helping people out, or may be it’s the whole male only moment of men working together with boys to resolve a mechanical problem and all from different countries – the boys from Zambia, Robert from Zimbabwe and Woocash from Poland. I think that must be it.
Did you notice the wooden pump? And the yellow containers are to be filled with water at the bore hole and then they cycle home with them. Many people don’t have bicycles and walk several kilometres a day to fill up. We often fill our water from the boreholes and don’t even need to purify it, which I find amazing as it wasn’t like that when I visited 20 years ago. But we rarely carry it more than a few yards to the car. Living as we do now, longing to be clean, makes me appreciate the easy availability of fresh clean water in the UK.
The scorched scenery in the first photo will be from fires that are set deliberately.
Emma continues her incredible achievement in a lot of pain. We are almost at the border and almost time for a rest. She keeps pushing herself to get there sooner. Mike is always by her side.
Number of Days: 36
Total distance run by Emma: 1591 km, 988.5 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.2 km, 27.5 miles
Alarmingly, we see wild fires less than a mile away. However, people, cows and dogs are going about their business without looking at even those fires that are near straw huts. So, we do what everyone else does and ignore it.
Robert explains local people start fires to flush out small animals, which are caught for food. I guess Zambians are as experienced with fire as the Swiss are with snow.
With fires around, I am not keen on camping beside the road. Luckily, we are allowed to camp here under this fantastic tree which makes Cleo look like a toy truck instead of the Landcruiser with extra suspension she really is.
Robert swiftly disappears to chat up the locals who are having a meeting about development in the area and receive some tasty meat and sadza, which I am very happy about. I still haven’t mentioned to the team the possibility we could run out of food as we don’t have any Zambian money to buy any. Why bother them?
In the night the wind gets up.
Advice Moment: When travelling in a windy place, do not take a roof tent. The wind sweeps between the layers of the tent and struggles desperately to get out, crashing the fabric up and down. At moments, shaking the whole car, I dreamily wonder if we will take off. Fortunately, Cleopatra is a big girl and all the kit inside and us on top, adds up to over a tonne so it would have to be some wind to fly us into the sky. In future, I think twice about putting a tent under a massive tree.
Nobody gets much sleep.
Number of Days: 35
Total distance run by Emma: 1537 km, 955 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.9 km, 27.3 miles
Brenda’s Best Baobab is a gentle giant of a tree. Wider than several people and disappearing into the sky, surrounded by a deck for tables, the Baobab stands quietly.
Upon crossing into Zambia we soon come across small shops catching attention with their delicious smells and fresh shiny fruit and vegetables. As predicted there are several banks in … but not one of them is working. “Maybe tomorrow” the locals tell me helpfully but tomorrow we’ll be miles away. I silently mourn the unattainable healthy fruit and vegetables available and decide, for the sake of team morale, not to mention that having cleared our stocks of food before crossing the border, we may be a little short for the next 5 days.
Unexpectedly, the Sesheke town rolls on and it is clear that we will not find a camping spot by nightfall, which is how we have found ourselves at Brenda’s Best Baobab, an immaculate looking campsite. But, with only 5 kwacha, we are hoping for Brenda’s generosity. Her encouraging staff usher me to her rich green lawn outside her house, where I stand scruffy, dirty and awkward.
Brenda herself is very friendly and happy to offer us free accommodation as a donation to the success of our journey. Her belief in us is yet another reason I hope we raise more money. I would show you a photo of this lady who is both the kind of person you don’t mess with and successfully puts you at your ease. However, when she got up in the early morning to say goodbye she said she was underdressed and did not want any photos going up. A friend of hers had had a photo taken when she was nursing a baby and it ended up on the internet, with the mother, someone who is normally well dressed, feeling extremely embarrassed.
Brenda kindly lets us use her kitchen and unimpressed by our dirty pots allows us to scrub the soot off the bottom of them. I also get to cook over a gas stove, I love cooking over a wood fire but a little variety and the easy cleanliness of gas makes for a nice change.
Emma is keen to get to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and have her very well earned 2 day break. She wants to start early whilst it is still dark but Brenda tells a story of a friend walking home at night from work, who was killed by an elephant. Emma agrees to wait until dawn.
What others have to say about Brenda’s and contact details:
Woohoo! We are heading into a new country. We stop for lunch in busy Katimo Mulilo before heading to the small border post Wenela. I have read that border crossings require cunning, preparation, bribery and patience. For our preparation we have eaten all the fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread as apparently taking these items across borders is illegal and can result in trouble with the officials which may mean unpacking your whole car – something to be avoided. In the early afternoon, we head towards the border. I have not prepared much for Zambia as the plan, until the day before yesterday, was to go through Botswana. But we are sure we can wing it.
Leaving Namibia is easy. Then it’s a short drive to enter Zambia. This is my first ever land crossing and there’s a long patch of no mans land in the middle. Who owns that bit?
We need $220 for all our visas and the car to enter Zambia. I have British pounds as back up but they turn out to be useless as I can’t change them at the bank or with the moneychangers on the border. I go to withdraw money from the cash point but its not working for me or anyone of the others hanging around looking frustrated. The Zambian border turns into a festival of queuing and machines not working and heat and people asking us if we want to exchange money and getting confused by all the different exchange rates for US dollars, Namibian dollars, Sterling and Euros and more heat and catching a taxi back through the border to Katimo Mulilo to get more money in an exchangeable currency and queueing for a visa, and queueing to import the car and queueing for insurance. And customs agents (genuine ones) guiding me and refusing to allow locals to butt in front when I am looking confused. I am immensely glad I have a carnet de passage, which simplifies things but not as much as I had hoped. All the while the team (Emma, Mike and Woocash) are peacefully waiting. And finally we are paid for and all our documents stamped and we are off. Not exactly stylish winging but we are through before the border closes.
The Zambian customs and guards are delighted with the story and smile and wave and tease Woocash and I for being lazy in the car whilst Emma is running and Mike is on his bike. They never ask to search our car or for bribe, it is all friendly and professional. We are about to slip past the barrier when an official comes running after us. We have missed paying a levy, which takes all but 5 of my final kwacha.
Never mind I think, this is a big town and there are banks.
The Zambezi is wide and wonderful and we are all excited to be entering a new country.
Mike and Emma continue their journey whilst I am anxious to buy fresh food and withdraw money.
4 Visas ($50 each) 200$
Cleopatra (Toyota Landcruiser) entry costs: 20$
Car Insurance: 200 Kwacha (40 cents or 30p)
Sesheke District Council Levy: 30 Kwacha (less than a cent or penny)
Remaining Zambian money: 5 Kwacha
No of days: 33
Total distance run by Emma: 1429km, 888 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.3 km, 26.9 miles
Distance run today: 30.7km, 19.1 miles – shorter day than usual due to crossing the border.
Before we enter the “risk of lions” area, we come across several villages on a Saturday. We are an unusual event and an opportunity for a new experience, food, medicine and fun.
In case you can’t download the video it is very brief and shows two lovely moments that day. One when 3 adults came over to find out what we were doing when cooking lunch and then showed their support for Emma by chanting “Go, Emma, Go!” The other was when two young people, barefoot, rushed to join Emma jogging on the road. They were there for a while.
However, there are also many people begging in this area. This group of children were polite and good-natured whilst asking if we had anything we could give them. They were pleased with tins of tomatoes and delighted with the pack of cards. What inspired the young woman to place the cards just there in the photo? There are no mirrors to check out her styling or magazines in shops to stimulate her imagination? More importantly, what are her opportunities for her creativity?
I would have liked to have got to know these children better, understood the roots of their poverty and most importantly to have found real solutions. On the return journey, I looked for them but travelling ten times faster we missed them in the blur of African landscape. Travelling more slowly gave greater rewards.
A lady comes over to ask for medicine for a friend, the nearest clinic is a day’s walk away. We have a friendly chat and I give her a few paracetemol and rehydration sachets. This isn’t the answer. I am no doctor. I hope it did no harm.
Other moments are not so positive. A blind adult approaches with his hand on the head of a 4 yr old. It’s an uncomfortable sight and I consider whether the child is being exploited, as a passerby it is impossible to know. In some communities, disabled people find it particularly difficult to make a living. Money isn’t the answer. Not in terms of a fulfilling life, only for survival. But who am I to judge in this moment?
In the afternoon, a crowd has collected around a bar beside the road and a drunk teenager moves towards Emma with his arms out. He doesn’t touch her, he’s simply being playful, pretending to grab the back of the car as we pass, until he gets yelled at by an adult. Frequently, dogs start barking, heading towards Emma. As long as there are adults present they keep control but these are two of the reasons Mike keeps close to Emma at all times.
” … giving money does not change anything. Instead, people most often use it to buy temporary things, which too often is alcohol or drugs. Better than giving money, she said, is identifying goals. When a villager sets a goal, he or she can assess what is needed to achieve it. One goal at a time, the village discovers that they are not excluded from financial opportunity. Then, in knowing that financial opportunity is something accessible, they find something to strive for. This changes a destructive cycle of dropping out into a productive one of self-reliance. In this way, they can find independence. Instead of depending on federal or foreign aid, they can depend on themselves while maintaining the traditional foods, products, and practices that they identify with. With this financial independence comes sustainability and peace of mind.”
If you want to help make sustainable improvements in people’s lives please consider donating to the SEED Project or our fundraising page, which was the reason for doing this run and writing this blog (I hope you are enjoying it).
No of days: 28
Total distance run by Emma: 1193 km, 741 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.6 km, 26.5 miles
Upon arrival in South Africa, the nice lady on the desk told me that the longest she could give me a visa for was 90 days (that’s great, I only need 12 hours) but I won’t be able to restart my visa unless I returned to my home country. Eh? Apparently, unless I return to the UK during those 90 days I will have overstayed my visa and on my re-entry in 5 months time, am likely to be arrested or refused entry! It seems too illogical to be true. I think/hope she must be confused and file it in my head under ‘problems to worry about later’. I ask her to give me a week’s visa. Wanting to be helpful, she gives me 3 months.
#2 South Africa to Namibia (Windhoek by air)
This is, frankly, a disaster. As I was monitoring changing visa requirements for 3 nationalities across 6 countries, I enlisted the help of a company who advised me that none of us needed a visa in advance for Namibia. So I was more than a bit surprised when I happily zipped through border control, collected our bags and turned round to see Woocash waiving and shouting for me. Polish people it seems need a visa in advance! I took some convincing that this was not a mistake on the customs lady’s part. To her absolute credit, she was amazingly helpful. Your average person would have found my disbelief annoying. Lucky for us, she was exceptional. She was not going to allow Woocash in but allowed me to check her assertion on the internet, helped us sort out return flights and allowed Woocash out to buy water and to go for a smoke, which he needed amidst all the stress (not that he was admitting any stress but this is his first time out of Europe). Woocash had to take the next flight back to South Africa and sleep another night in the airport, bus it to the Namibian embassy, where he was soundly told off alongside a lady from Slovakia who had made the same mistake, and then granted a visa 4 hours later. He and the Slovakian woman flew back that evening.
Emma, who arrived a few days later, in her turn, stepped away from customs only to discover that her passport had been stamped for 1 month, which is why she has been running so fast – in order to get to a border on time.
So here we are at Mohembo (which is inside a game park!). We have decided that we cannot risk taking Woocash out the country, as he might not get back in again. Which means Emma and Mike are stepping across the border, turning around and coming right back in again. We have been warned that customs officers do not take lightly to this kind of mucking about and can make travellers wait indefinitely.
We arrive at the crossing at 6.30am in the hopes that the officers are still in that sleepy stage when the most important thing is how many sugars there are in your coffee. Woocash and I settle down to wait in the car. I get to write two sentences in my diary and we see Emma and Mike are on their way back. I was told Africa was slow! What is this super efficiency? Emma and Mike have had a perfectly easy friendly crossing there and back.
I hope UK customs officials are as helpful and welcoming to foreigners, especially foreigners who accidentally mess about with the official rules.
For now, Emma is about to run through Bwabwata National Park, we make safety action plans in case we see a carnivore or elephants.
Advice for other travellers
Check your own visa requirements and advice regularly up until you leave (Mozambique became much more strict due to the civil disturbances they had).
Do NOT rely on advice from visa companies.
At the Namibian border tell them how long you would like your visa stamped for as you hand your passport over, before they stamp it.
Many thanks to the customs lady in Namibia, you were amazing.
No of days: 27
Total distance run by Emma: 1138 kms, 707 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.15 km, 26.18 miles.
Feel welcome to post stories of border crossing disasters in the comments or links to your stories.
No, I am not talking about Mike and Emma. I am not sure how they would take that. Hippos are wonderful animals. I know they’re the biggest killers in Africa. But really? Above Puff Adders, Mosquitos and Humans? They get a bad press because they are easily scared and then bad things happen as they are trying to flee to safety or defend their territory. Also, if you are in a green canoe they might mistake you for a crocodile and break the boat in half. Crocodiles are their evil neighbours, sharing the same river and occasionally attacking adults or killing baby hippos. It’s no surprise then, if you look anything like a crocodile, they are going to freak out. Admittedly, some of the males are inclined to show off and can be aggressive. But, as long as the hippo is not scared of you or one of those alpha male types hippopotami are adorable. They lie around in mud and harumph. Check out the story of a family and their friendly hippo.
Andy from Samsitu Camp has set us up with places to stay all along the river. At each stop I am hoping to see a hippo.
Frustratingly, we arrive after dark at Camp Ndurukoro and leave before dawn, so we don’t get to see any animals as Emma runs relentlessly onwards as she has to reach the Botswana border before her visa runs out.
At the last town on the way to the border, Divundu, the only fuel station is officially out of diesel and expect a delivery tomorrow. It is the first time a fuel station is empty and it would be when we really need to fill up. Woocash and I estimate, with careful driving, we could just get to the border and back. But we might be wrong. Luckily, the manager upon hearing our story, allows us to have what little they can spare. Which is really nice of him. And we sort it all out before Emma gets there.
Emma finishes early and we head south to Botswana. Finishing early always makes for a happy vibe. On the way, we camp at Ndhovu Safari Lodge and get to catch up with Ken, who is a bit of a hero. He defuses mines. Demining is incredibly dangerous as you probably know. But after a bomb exploded whilst Ken was working on it, the pain he had to go through made him even more determined to continue with this job and protect innocent people and animals from harm. A truly amazing person. Ken also got bitten by a poisonous snake that was sleeping under his desk, which he accidentally nudged with his foot. He still lives in that house.
At Ndhovu lives the lonely hippo. To my absolute joy, he makes an appearance tonight. He steadily munches grass through the camp, careless of the excited people and dogs around him. He’s an elderly hippo and gets attacked by other hippos. As a result, he took refuge where other hippos don’t go, in the human campsite. One time after a particularly bad fight, he headed into the campsite and put his head down on an old tyre round the back of the owner’s house. The owner’s dog took care of him, licking his wounds. And now they are good friends.
You can meet Chomp, the hippo, in this video. Ken tells Emma and I about Chomp. I particularly like the moments where Emma identifies with the hippo and Chomp considers a lifesize statue of a hippo.
Chomp continues eating grass on his way to his peaceful night’s rest. And we head back to bed.
Total distance run by Emma: 1099 kilometres, 683 miles
No of days: 26
Average daily distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 kms, 26.3 miles
By which Andy means someone has to get off the boat and step into crocodile infested waters. It’s our last evening at Samsitu and Andy and Karin have insisted we stop rushing about and writing blogs and instead enjoy an evening of relaxation on a boat on the Okavango river. Andy, the owner of Samsitu River Camp, has just been telling us stories about crocodiles catching dogs and people in the river. I think Andy is joking but no, the boat is stuck in some reeds and someone does have to get out. Woocash and Karin take their shoes off and step into the water whilst I keep a watch for crocodiles. I was once told if a crocodile gets within 10 metres of you in water, you have no chance of escape. Luckily, the crocs are busy elsewhere or their larders are full.
The whole experience is pretty amazing. It’s peaceful and beautiful. The Okavango river, at this point cuts between Angola and Namibia, which means there are moments when we are in Angola. An exciting thought.
At Samsitu we have comfy beds, running water and a huge room in which we unpack all our kit from Cleo (the car) so that we can give her a thorough clean. The open plan dining room, living room, kitchen has a table in it for about 20 people. It would be perfect for a party. The friendly bar has seats overhanging the river from which I try to spot the local hippo. Andy and Karin tell wonderful stories. Sometimes, in the rainy season, the area is so flooded that they can only use a boat to get to Rundu.
During the day we had been shopping and cleaning and other chores. Whilst Mike was finishing shelves for the back of Cleo, Emma writing her blog and Woocash fixing Andy and Karin’s car, I cooked up a tasty but time consuming lunch:
Pancakes and Tuna Wrap
Pancakes and honey
I could never make this on the road. The pancakes are made from flour, egg, water and salt. In the wrap, I put variations on request of: tuna, avocado, tomato, lemon, onion and salt and pepper.
After the boat trip, a running friend of Andy’s drops by. Katie is nice and friendly and impressed by Emma and decides to join Emma for her morning run through Rundu. This is good, Emma needs variety to keep her entertained. Andy and Karin also give us useful contacts for the rest of our route in Namibia.
At Samsitu Campsite we have beds, which importantly means that, despite having to get up in the night to drive back 35 km to where Emma stopped the day before, we don’t have to pack up the tent. Win. We are still up long before dawn, but get stuck at the padlocked entrance to the campsite. Doh! Mike and Woocash disappear to find someone to open it. I worry vaguely about crocodiles and snakes and the embarrassment of waking people in the night. Finally, we are on the road, it is empty except for a few people walking in the dark. I am struck by the silence.
As the sun rises higher in the sky more and more people start wending their way to school and to work. At breakfast, as soon as we get our porridge out, children come running. In a rush, we pack up our food and drive round the corner, where we can eat in peace in the car. But there is something I can’t put my finger on about this. We are running and hiding from children!
Later, whilst Emma is running and we are settled at a police roadblock, ready to go through together, I get chatting to a teacher who explains that we are in a very poor area and points out that many of the bins at rest points along the road are empty because children will scavenge for whatever they can. I remember how some children gasped in wonderment when they saw all our toilet paper. As a team, we have decided that we should not give away food and money and definitely no sweets. I’m against giving away sweets but I, and other members of the team, struggle with not giving away food to hungry children. It doesn’t seem right. Yes, it may only help them for that meal and it can create a culture of dependency but what are the alternatives. The SEED Project, one of the charities we are raising money for, works with communities to help them find long term sustainable solutions to their problems, this is a positive cycle, where communities better their situations and also increase their capability and belief that they can solve future problems for themselves. But there is no SEED here and we have to make a decision to do the run and hopefully raise money or, to stop and stay and do real long term work – that’s not what team members have signed up to do. I don’t even ask but it sits uncomfortably with me. I do, however, contact The SEED Project and encourage them to expand to this part of Namibia. If you know of a charity working in this region please post about them in the comments below.
Then Emma and Mike arrive and disrupt my thoughts and we are off through a police roadblock, where Emma is treated as a celebrity. The police are wonderfully friendly and call after us, “All of Namibia is proud of you.” I think Namibia may well say the same about them. The police made a good, professional, friendly impression on us.
I join Emma for her last couple of kms of the day as we enter Rundu, attracting friendly waves and shouts. At the finishing point, Emma stretches and a small group of children copy her movements – at least we can teach them this concept.
Rundu itself is a hot, dusty, busy town, with large supermarkets and fuel stations. We have 36 hours of shopping, cleaning, repairing and intermittent connection to the internet. Emma is happy to be on a break. I am hoping to see a hippo at the campsite.