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.
The hotter climate brings more bugs and animals. Slow moving flies with teeth: attracted to warm bodies, they settle down peacefully and then without warning they bite. “Argh f…!” It’s generally a suicidal move for the fly as we smack them down with satisfaction. According to natural selection theory, these guys shouldn’t exist, they are too slow.
5 days after leaving Africat we trundle into Roy’s Camp.
Its shower time! Hooray! Clean flip flops and feet, (although, to be honest, we all seem to like not washing for 5 days and its better for our skin). Roy’s camp is an oasis with grass, a swimming pool, bar, a place for scrubbing pots and clothes, other tourists, wifi and electricity.
Cameras, computers, and radios all get plugged in and I get cracking making dinner before Emma arrives:
Tuna and Tomato Pasta
Eggy Bread with Syrup, Cinnamon and Banana
Eggs are good for runners, but Emma doesn’t like them so I’m trying out alternative ways of cooking them.
With clothes washed, team fed, and water containers filled, the wifi tempts. It’s in a quiet relaxing area under a tree. A friendly guy gives me some compliments and invites me for a drink at the bar … or his room. I’m easily flattered. But I am married to our cause (of course) and, er, in a relationship and instead stay up until 2am trying, with frustrating, occasional success, to upload photographs to the blog.
At some point the lights all go out and the people are silent in their tents and cabins. There are frogs rustling in the leaves around my chair. Snakes prey on frogs. In the distance, a yowling sound, possibly baboons or wild dogs. Antelope run silently through the camp. Not wanting to be eaten, stung or bitten without anyone knowing, I head back to our tent in the pitch black and only find our site because the bike has reflectors on it.
The next morning the alarm doesn’t go off which is bad for Emma – it means she’ll be running in the hottest part of the day and we’re getting nearer the equator.
Woocash has foolishly left his clothes drying on a rocky wall. As he lifts his underpants he discovers this little thing snuggled under them,
Africat is inspirational. Its a large farm that has been converted into a game reserve and educational centre on big cats. Its also good timing for Emma to take a break. She’s keen to get there and finishes early in high spirits.
We have a long drive from Africat’s entrance gate to their main centre. Happily.
As soon as we enter this oasis, there are antelope, giraffe,and more warthogs.
We stop so many times to take photos that the Africat team calls us to check we haven’t got lost. When we arrive,
the first thing they do is feed us lots of cake.
The way to a runner’s (and her support team’s) heart is sweet carbohydrates.
The rooms are white and clean. A little overwhelming for our dirty crew. Instead of being crammed in a tent, we have a bed each!
Being utterly exhausted, the first night is most definitely for sleeping. Followed by an early morning game drive, followed by an introduction to the work at Africat, then radio, TV and newspaper interviews. We’re not here for a holiday.
Africat started with a farmer who had a problem with leopards. When he found that killing the leopards was not reducing the number of cattle being eaten, he started to study their behaviour. He set up a platform onto which only a leopard could jump. Jumping onto the platform would pull out the batteries to a clock so he would know what time the leopard appeared and would cause a photo to be taken. Clever eh?
Over time he was able to differentiate between the leopards. He discovered that leopards hunt at night and occupy territory, removing one leopard simply meant that another leopard would move in to that space.
He found simple solutions to reducing the number of attacks, he began bringing the cattle in at night and keeping calves in protected kraals. (Or, apparently, you can send a mule out with your cattle. Not sure who told me that. But mules are bad and can beat up a leopard!)
This approach of living in harmony with the wildlife, having solutions that do not involve destroying wild cats is at the heart of Africat’s work. However, in the days after, on our journey, some generous and friendly farmers (they gave us sausages, we were going to like them) felt that Africat’s solutions were no good for them. Their cattle herds were too big to bring in at night. Others, however, were fully supportive of Africat’s work, agreeing that killing or capturing leopards and cheetahs was pointless.
Clearly Africat’s educational work is successful but it needs more funding to develop their important work and make sure it is relevant to all farmers. (You can donate generously through our fundraising site or direct to Africat UK or, if you can, go on holiday there.)
Africat also rescues animals that have been trapped by farmers.
One farmer told me he had heard stories that Africat simply release the leopard on the edge of the farm but I think this is unlikely. More likely, as others discovered, if you move one leopard out another one will take over the territory. Its pretty tricky to tell one leopard from another.
In the early morning, first thing, we are given something to wake us up:
We visit young cheetahs that have been rescued and are in a small enclosure before being released into the wider farm, where they can hunt for themselves.
Once a big cat is rescued, they have to be looked after. Fenced areas have to be built and food has to be bought for them. This is very expensive, which is why, sensibly, Africat is focusing on education and understanding to resolve this human animal conflict.
This is exactly the type of project the Head over Heels 2014 team wanted to raise money for. Managing the balance between humans and animals benefits everyone: cheetahs, for example, keep population of small animals down to levels where vegetation can grow and this affects soil erosion and the survival of cattle and larger herbivores.
After the morning game drive, Emma and I are interviewed by NBC with a cheetah relaxing in the shade in the background.
It was slightly surreal, as were some of the questions.
Africat isn’t all about cats though. On our way in, we see one of these:
A Pangolin, like an aardvark, but not. Not even related. These annoy farmers as they burrow holes. Some farmers kill them as they believe cattle break their legs in the holes they make. But Pangolins are really useful. They eat termites and a termite problem is not one that is easily solved by humans. They are also highly prized in China as a medicine to make your life perfect. That’s what we all want, a perfect life, but I think travelling across Africa without a wash for 5 days is a better way to find it. Each to their own imagination, I guess. Seems a pity to unnecessarily kill a Pangolin though.
Due to being extremely busy all day with interviews and learning about the work Africat does, we decide to take an extra day off our journey to clean, repack the car, write blogs and make use of the internet. Using the internet is a slow process in Namibia, particularly trying to upload photographs to the blog. Which would be bearable if i always load the photo I want but sometimes I wait 10 minutes to discover it doesn’t look right at all. Its very frustrating. At the end of two days we are all ready to get back on the journey. Before leaving, Emma eats her body weight in cakes and Africat send us off with a bag muffins. So yummy.
Okay, agreed, this photo technically has nothing to do with the game park (although it was just outside it.) But I really liked the photo and it shows a lot of things about our life on the road. Emma running in the heat and sand. Us finding the only good tree for shade near the distance Emma wanted. Also, during lunch break, a tiny dung beetle tried to push my toe out the way as I dozed. Little feisty one.
Then we drove round the corner and discovered we are about to enter a game park in the Erongo Mountains. Its not marked on any of our maps.
The guard assures us we don’t need to worry about the rhino and elephant as they are over the other side. Emma will be fine. He says its okay for us to camp, which surprises us.
Finding somewhere to camp is tricky. We’re a little concerned about elephants coming by in the night. Elephants killed 300 people in 7 years in Kenya. African elephants are serious business. Although, humans have killed 100,000 elephants in 3 years … so, I guess, we would be more at risk if we were elephants. Still, we don’t want to be near an annoyed elephant. As a result, I move our campsite a little as it looks like its on an animal path to me. (We miss having an animal expert who would really know.)
Robert and I have decided to sleep in the car to save getting the other tent out, as we need to leave quickly in the morning. Emma, Mike and Woocash are in the roof tent. Emma’s blog post, says that all sorts of exciting things happened in the night. I slept through the lot except for the snoring.
We set off early into town, as Emma starts her first 2 hr run of the day. The bumpy roads rattle Cleo (the car) and Woocash and I argue over whether it is better to go fast and skim over the top or drive slowly and boing up and down more. I want to travel as fast as possible as I worry about Emma and Mike.
We drop off Robert and head back as soon as we can. We return to find Emma and Mike alive and zipping along. Emma’s ability is phenomenal. When they join us Mike asks if a bolt he spotted in the road is important to Cleo. Amazing eyesight and luck. Its for the rear brake calliper! Bouncing along has serious consequences. Woocash instantly gets under the car.
Two bolts have fallen out. We are still missing one and will need to sort that out as soon as possible (several hundred kilometers later).
At the end of the game park, the very friendly game park guard dances with us and joins us for a photo. Special moments that make the journey.
We encounter more friendliness that evening when we find a lay-by to park in. A man and his digger/road flattener are already there. He only speaks portuguese so we send Woocash (Polish speaker), as Emma suggests they might speak international english. Sure enough, Woocash comes back to tell us Frantz has no problem with us staying and even offered to flatten an area for us. Later, Frantz generously sends over some wood for our fire.
I can’t believe we are in Namibia. The last few months have been frantic, getting the car ready, getting the necessary equipment, trying to get sponsorship. And now we are here. We are almost at the beginning.
Namibia is cold, not cold like the UK, but there is no central heating in the houses. The night we had to camp I barely slept for cold. It brings into perspective what it is like for people who don’t have money for warm clothes or a duvet. Windhoek seems wealthy but there are also those who live in shanty houses, and struggle for food and basic necessities.
But the cold will be good for Emma, it is cool enough to run until about 11am.
Nambia is also dry. We are in a desert. I’ve learned to keep lipsalve with me at all times. And the nights are long. It is dark from 6pm until 6am. Windhoek is pretty safe during the day but its best to be home by night. A couple of nights ago two men broke into the hostel and attacked one of the guests with a knife. He was swift and clever enough to be able to defend himself but the intruders stole several laptops. It is a reminder to be careful.
What strikes me most, however, is how friendly and helpful most people are. Villa Moringa, a gorgeous place, where we stayed initially, are storing most of our kit for us, whilst we sleep in cheaper places.
Drs Keletso and Barbaria Nyathi, who run Maerua medical practice have been looking after us. I contacted Keletso after reading his profile on Explorers Connect. (If you are planning an adventure you should check out Explorers Connect). Keletso is a doctor and ultra runner interested in adventure so, I thought he might like to join us. Sadly, due to work commitments he couldn’t but, he and his wife, have welcomed us, given us essential advice on what we need to do to be legal and will be teaching us first aid. They are incredibly hard working, constantly laughing at life and a pleasure to be with. I can’t wait for them to meet Emma.
Indira, Keletso and Nyathi’s receptionist, has been showing us around. She welcomed us into her story and educated me on what life is really like to grow up in Katatura. She took us to her grandmother’s house where she was raised and to a local restaurant. For dessert, we went to the meat market where we discovered the most delicious Namibian spice to have with a BBQ.
We have also been preparing for Emma, Mike and Cleo’s arrival: finding out where to get the last bits to kit out the car (Cymot); contacting radio stations (Kosmos, RadioWave, One Africa); making sure our agent who will be getting the car through customs has all the necessary documents; and getting to know the city.
Tomorrow, we shall set off on a 5 hour minibus taxi journey to Walvis Bay to fetch the car, Cleopatra. Fingers crossed she comes through with everything intact.
Things we learnt:
Its winter bring warm clothes in August
August is peak season, book accommodation in advance
Its very dry
You can buy almost everything here that you can get in the UK
You need a GB sticker for the car
You need to get a Cross Border Certificate for cars on a temporary import
Paint your car white, everyone else has, its probably a good idea.
Aysha: So it turns out meeting a top director in the business of adventure media isn’t as hard as you would think. I sent Paul Diffley an email, he replied and after several months of not much contact I asked him if he was serious about working with us. He said maybe, offered us a camera to use and suggested we met at ShAFF. Which was why we went. I’d never heard of ShAFF (Sheffield Adventure Film Festival) before.
Over the hills to Sheffield
Mike: Its my first ride in the 4×4. Well done Aysha, for finding that beast. Big, spacious, comfortable. And, its great to have the team on a road trip. It was hard work getting into Sheffield because most of the roads into the center were closed for the (cancelled) half marathon.
Aysha: It’s the first time I’ve really spent time with Mike. I’m normally shy round people but we’re going to spend 5 months together which makes being shy a waste of time. We arrived in Sheffield almost an hour early and were stumped to discover all roads to our destination were blocked off. With Mike’s great navigation, we found a car park, after 45 minutes! Emma bounced out the car to help me park and then remembered she needed to pee and went into a weird cross-legged position, which still makes me giggle when I think about it, I wish I had a photo for you to see.
Emma: Yes, I did take on a Tina Turner like posture for some time due to pee-need. We all have these problems! I loved seeing our team come together for the first time and I think we all really compliment each other. Our truck ‘Cleo’ is the coolest thing ever, I love her dearly.
Mike: I learnt lots of really good stuff from his lecture, like the rule of thirds and the 5 shot rule – take 5 different shots: establishing wide/mid shot; close up of hands; close up of face; point of view/over the shoulder shot; and a creative shot. How to set up interviews and where to stand when interviewing people.
Aysha: The biggest message, for me, was the importance of sound.
Emma: I felt completely out of my depth with all the technical talk. I’m very glad I have the excuse of running for not doing too much filming!
Meeting Paul Diffley
Aysha: I walked up to Paul, to introduce us all, expecting him to brush us off. Instead, he gave a friendly smile and said, “I’ve got a camera for you”. Which was a huge relief and delightful. Not everyone takes you seriously when you say you’re organizing a trip across Africa and you want to film it.
Mike: It was amazing to meet the Hot Ache’s guy and ace that he has lent us a camera for the training run on the Cotswold way. Just need to get some good footage now. I’m looking forward to getting to grips with filming.
Emma: Very scared of having a camera pointed in my face!
The running films
Mike: It was really cool to see the running movies, especially the one about the South African guy running in Namibia (The Penguin Runner). Seeing some of the terrain we will be going through and getting to speak to the guy who filmed it.
Aysha: The running films made me realise that we need to stick to one story: either its all about Emma, or our adventures as a team, or the people we meet along the way. But I don’t think it can be all three in one film.
Emma: I loved all of the films but ‘The Runners’ has inspired me to try and get people to chat to me (and a camera) when I go out for runs.
Aysha: There weren’t a lot of stalls to browse but this one was flippin’ brilliant. Emma’s been needing new shoes since January but not buying any, as she couldn’t afford them. We agreed to go halves on a pair, which then caused her agonizing pain in her foot after 5 miles. This hugely alarmed me (I still can’t run, I really don’t want to take her place). And we can’t afford to buy shoe after shoe until we find a pair that don’t hurt her feet. I’ve been arguing with her to go to a specialist shoe shop so I was dead pleased that Colin, in the photo, is a podiatrist. He talked through the problem with Emma, explaining lots of stuff and advising her what type of shoe to buy. We bought the pretty shoes in the facebook photo for the absolute bargain of £40!
Mike: It was really good to hear Aysha talk about the run and I’m learning lots from her.
Aysha: We work well together as a team. The fourth team member should probably be as chilled as Mike.
Emma: We are so lucky to have such great support from so many awesome people. Feet that have been in tights and boots don’t smell nice, sorry Colin.
Hooray, we have our first confirmed sponsor! Edible and we like their ethos!
I met the UK Market Manager of Clif Bar at Kendal Mountain Film Festival and after hearing our story and the challenges of the run, he offered as many energy bars as Emma can eat. These, the shot bloks and Clif bars, can be kept in equatorial heat and humidity and will retain their quality and shape. We will see. We shall test them in the deserts of Namibia and tropics of Mozambique.
I am hoping that we get a few extra ones for the support team, as they are yummy and some are dairy free.
The rest of the route is planned too but Google maps and I are in disagreement whether there is a road to Mukumbura. Just checking this out and whether the border crossing is possible. According to Google: A to I is 2,494 km.
The Namibian Embassy have emailed me back, I am to contact the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Youth National Service Sport and Culture to ask permission and advice! I’m a bit overawed. The Permanent Secretary!
As it turns out, the office of the Permanent Secretary advise me to call the Directory of Sport who advise me to call the Deputy Director of Community Sport and Development.
Luckily, I find www.planet-numbers.co.uk, and for £5 I buy myself 83 minutes worth of calls to Namibia. I have used 11 minutes and 70p.
I get through to Mr Bernard-Kaanjuka, who is a delight to speak to. It feels like he is gently laughing at me or may be with me, but definitely gentle laughter.
I’ve lost Zimbabwe again. I found it at 8.30pm and now it’s lost at 11pm. Rustling through layers of maps, it’s under Botswana. All the maps laid out end-to-end do not fit in the house. I am looking for a route that is comfy underfoot and flatish. There are snippets of information about road surfaces on Trip advisor and in Traversa, which I am now rereading as a guide for runners, highlighting words like ’gravel’.
According to the Lonely Planet guide there is a tempting ‘unexplored’ area in Eastern Botswana. It is more direct but few roads, which leaves us, potentially, a little stuck.
Stanfords is overly hot. Maps and books for Africa are in the basement. It could be the heat in the basement, but the information on the maps is making no sense at all. I collar a reluctant salesman who tells me that all the maps have a scale 1: x amount. The lower the second number, the more detailed the map. Landranger maps for the UK are 1:50 000 and Explorer Maps, used for trekking in the wilds of the UK, 1:25 000. The best I can find for Namibia is 1: 1 500 000! Easy to misjudge distances and the steepness of a mountain! On the plus side, I suppose, it does mean I get the whole of Namibia on one map, which makes for easier and cheaper planning.
Some maps have fences marked on them. I know. Are fences that permanent a structure in Namibia? Is the map that accurate? A friendlier salesman comes by. The fences are buffalo fences (and a controversial topic). He also explains that none of the maps are reliably accurate! Not reliably accurate!! I’m asking Emma to run a marathon a day but the occasional marathon might be a wrong turn!
The salesman advises that the “world mapping project” series are pretty good. Pretty good. I also buy a book on organising charity sponsored events. The nice salesman gives me a discount as I have BMC membership.