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
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 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.
We emerge from our overnight hiding place in the bushes excited to be crossing into a new country.
In Livingstone we bump into my Mum. I mean I knew she was in Zimbabwe but, I was in the midst of fussing over something, when she pulled up in a taxi behind me. She had brought us cold drinks! Cold drinks. That needs saying twice or even thrice. There is nothing as gorgeous as a cold drink when you are sticky and stinky and have been sweltering in the hot sun for days. When I drink cold water in this state, it tastes like honey.
Livingstone itself, is a busy border town with everything we need. Money changers and diesel. I am worrying about Emma as she has been in a lot of pain but when she arrives she is in good spirits, particularly for seeing my Mum. Variety is an essential spice for Emma. I have no idea how she runs for hours a day.
Mum’s taxi driver knows of an idyllic place for our picnic lunch under a huge tree, where elephants like to hang out, and up a riverbank from crocodiles. The taxi driver is the son of a chief in the area and has extensive understanding of the local animals. I consider the impractical idea of taking him with us.
After lunch we head for the Zimbabwe border. Visa requirements for UK citizens are $50 and for Polish citizens only $30. I joke to the Immigration Officer:
“You like Polish people better than the British.”
“No,” He deadpans back, “We like you better, you pay more.”
The immigration officers, as always, are intrigued by Emma’s achievement, friendly and helpful.
The border is stunning. We stand at the top of vast cracks in the earth cutting down to the river below.
And then we are in Zimbabwe, a completely new country for Mike, Emma and Woocash, Robert’s home, and my history.
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.
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.