Monthly Archives: May 2015

YEAR TWO

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06:30, Melbourne, Australia, May 13th, 2013

It’s still dark outside as I sit in my car and contemplate what it is that I’ve decided to do for the rest of my life. I have stomach jitters, the kind you get when you jump off something high and realise, as the earth rushes up, that maybe it was just a little too high.

Then my sub-conscious starts to hound me.

“What the hell are you doin’?”

“I dunno.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“I dunno.”

“Dunno? You better know, mate. There’s no turning back. You’ve shut the door. Literally, you don’t have a key to get back in.”

I look back at the family home.

“Good point.”

I turn the engine and head off into the city to pick up Cookie, my travel buddy for the 5,400 K drive to Darwin through Australia’s outback.

Fast forward to May 13th, 2014, Mossel Bay, South Africa

The summary of the second year of non-stop travel starts from South Africa and continues on this amazing continent up to Kenya (all stats are just for the year between 2014-2015. To view Year One stats, click here: https://thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/year-one/)

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Distance covered: 17,065 km (10,603 m)

Total number of countries visited: 7

Total number of islands visited: 7

Total number of hitches hitched: 135

Total number of trucks hitched: 27

Total number of rides in police cars: 1 – From the roadblock to Big Blue Backpackers in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Total number of free rides on public transport (buses and taxis): 12

Total number of boat rides: 12

Total number of vehicle breakdowns: 2 (no fault of mine)

Total number of personal breakdowns: 0

Total number of phones dying: 1

Total number of items stolen: 1 small daypack lifted from my tent at the Zambian Oktberfest containing:

  • 12-year-old Animal
  • 13-year-old Leatherman multi-tool
  • Headlamp
  • Hoodie
  • 3L camel pack
  • Various gifts collected on the way
  • Sandals… again

Longest wait for a ride: 4 hours, 20 minutes in offensive heat, Salima, Malawi.

Shortest wait for a ride: 1.3 seconds, Mulanji Town, Malawi. Hopped off a ride and the car behind stopped for us.

Longest distance with one ride: 941 Ks – Iringa to Mwanza, Tanzania

Longest time spent on a single ride: 2 days on the truck from Iringa to Mwanza, Tanzania

Longest hike until picked up: 10 km

Total number of books read: 20

Total number of places gigged: 37

Total number of gigs played: 83

Total number of gigs played for rides – on rides: 6

Best gig: The Lively Lady, Arusha, Tanzania. Small place, heaps of people. Great vibe.

Worst gig: Rafiki’s, Nakuru, Kenya. Just couldn’t connect with the electric guitar. And I was shite.

Favourite saying: Pole-pole (pronounced: Pol-aye-pol-aye). Means, ‘slowly-slowly’ in Ki-Swahili

Easiest language to pick up: Ki-Swahili

Most random moment: Meeting Irish Dave (corktocape.blogspot.com) in Livingstone, Zambia. He started his long-distance motorbike ride from Cork, Ireland to Cape Town, South Africa on the same date in the same year (and at almost the same time) as I.

Irish Dave

Total number of visas denied: 1 – Ethiopia doesn’t issue overland visas unless you’re a Kenyan resident. Bastards.

Longest time spent away from the ocean: 10 months (have yet to surf. Merde)

Total number of reefs snorkelled: 5 – Mnemba, Bawe (x2), Tumbatu, Nymevemba – all in Zanzibar

Deepest free-dive: 10 meters – Mnemba, Zanzibar

Total number of scuba divers spooked from said free-diving: 3 – Mnemba, Zanzibar

Total number of sea urchins stepped on: 1 – 6 barbs in the bottom of my left foot, Zanzibar

Total number of jellyfish stings: 1 – blue bottle, Zanzibar

Total number of jellyfish hitting me in the face: 1 – Zanzibar

Total number of near death experiences: 5

– Chased by a hippo while I was on a boat in the Zambezi River, Caprivi Strip, Namibia
– Charged by an ostrich at Lake Kariba Bush Club game reserve, Zambia
– Almost slipped off a mountain hiking up to The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia, Malawi
– Almost slipped off a cavern wall at Menengai Crater, Nakuru, Kenya
– Almost runover by a matatu (mini-van bus), Nairobi, Kenya

Favourite Conservation Project: ALERT Lion Conservation, Livingstone, Zambia lionalert.org

Total number of sexual propositions for money by local women: 15 (all were turned down)

Total number of hammocks fallen out of: 1

Total number of snakes relocated: 3

Total number of snakes successfully operated on and released: 1 – it had impaled itself on a thorn which lodged in its side.

Total number of snakes eaten: 1 (tastes like chicken)

Total number of chickens slaughtered: 1 – Kasama, Zambia

Total number of times arrested: 1 – full story here: https://thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/jailbreak/

Best barter: 3-day safari at Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya with bigtimesafaris.co.ke

Total number of publications written for: 5 – Travel News Namibia, Current Conservation, Zeta Media, Africa Geographic Magazine (current) and an African hitch hiking guide for hitchhikershandbook.com (current)

Total number of night outs with loss of memory: Can’t remember

Total number of mountains climbed: 2
– Mt Mulanji, Malawi (2,700m. Missed the 3,001m peak due to bad weather)
– Mt Meru, Tanzania (4,566m)

Highest peak summited: Mt Meru – 5th highest in Africa at 4,566 meters

Favourite beer: Mosi, Zambia

Best acid trip: Vortex bush doof, South Africa. Tab called ‘Dolphin’. And boy, was I swimming.

Best weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi

Best music festival: Sauti za Busara – Sounds of Wisdom – every February, Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Total number of mosquito bites: 67

Total number of fire ant attacks: 1 – stepped into a nest while taking a photo at Lake Duluti, Arusha, Tanzania

Total number of emergency toilet situations: 2

Total number of times caught-out without toilet paper during emergency: 1

Worst injury sustained: Ear infection. Whilst free diving in Zanzibar, some cheeky little bacteria wiggled itself into my right ear and made friends with some fun-guys (get it? Fun? Guys? Fungus? Meh)

Total number of hospital visits: 2 – to sort out above mentioned ear infection

Total number of nicknames: 11 – Jesus, Moses, Noah, Chuck Norris, Jack Sparrow, Ntingo (means ‘someone who can survive anywhere’ in Ki-Swahili), Hamlet (don’t ask), Osama Bin Laden (not my favourite), Robinson Crusoe, Castaway, Rasta-mun

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Hitch Hiking, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Sailing, South Africa, Tanzania, The Indian Ocean, Zambia, Zanzibar | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

BIGTIME SAFARI

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Another adventure on Africa Geographic magazine with the help and generosity of this awesome company:

 

 

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LOVE THY SOUL

P1040022“I’m going to play you my favourite jazz album,” Hassan said as Ana and I sat down at a table in his sweets and coffee shop. “If you can guess who it is, coffee is on the house.”

He pushed play on the stereo and I listened to the opening chords of what appeared to be a pop-rock song. A husky voice began to emit from the speakers. I’m no jazz aficionado. Rock’s more of my expertise, which is what I told Hassan when he challenged me.

Two minutes in I turned to the shopkeeper. “It’s not Joe Cocker, is it?”

 

Hassan’s jaw dropped and a glint in his eye suggested, ‘The prodigal son has returned’. “You’re the first to guess right in the many years I keep challenging people.”

Ana was shocked. Heck, even I was shocked. Hassan rose, came over and shook my hand. “Coffee’s on the house.”P1040036

The coffee shop was located right behind the old market on the outskirts of Mombasa’s Old Town. Resembling Zanzibar’s Stone Town, it’s full of alleyways, 400-year-old mosques and a Portuguese fort, Fort Jesus, on the coast line.

Hassan offered coffee with ginger, cumin and cardamom spices. “They cool you down quicker,” he said.

A religious man of the Fatimid dynasty (named for Mohammed’s daughter) he had, “Hitch hiked 15 countries in Africa back in ’69. I studied archaeology in Glasgow, Scotland. My roommate at the university introduced me to jazz. John McLaughlin was my first session. But my favourite would have to be George Martyn.”

He has a collection of 8,000 vinyls.

“This shop has been in my family for 145 years,” he proclaimed. “Since 1868.” Although a man of religion he also believes in science. “The words of the Bible and the Koran must be taken esoterically and not literally,” he explained.

As we sipped the spiced coffee he shared with us his tales of his Indiana Jones-styled expeditions during his time as an archaeologist. “I was working with the National Geographic Society excavating in Jerusalem and discovered the House of Simon and Daniel’s grave,” he reminisced. “I also found Queen Sheba’s house – the one she got after King Solomon divorced her – in Ethiopia.” He also discovered five ancient mosques in Egypt’s Alexandria and resolved what was –at the time – one of Egypt archaeology’s greatest mysteries.

“Ramses the first and Ramses the second were both buried with their wives,” he began his tale. “But Ramses the third – the pharaoh during Moses’ time – wasn’t and for many years archaeologists dug and excavated looking for her. They thought she must be buried deep within one of the pyramids. I told them, ‘You’ll never find her because she followed Moses’ religion. Therefore she isn’t buried with Ramses.’”

“Abraham had two sons,” he drew up on a piece of paper. “Itzhak and Ishmail. God told him to sacrifice Ishmail but then that would mean he was a pagan God so it couldn’t have happened. Through the lineage of Itzhak we get the prophets Noah, Moses and eventually Jesus. Through Ishamail’s line we get Mohammed who was only proclaimed a prophet at the age of 40. Each prophet teaches mankind a valuable asset.

Adam taught agriculture. Moses taught pastoralism, Noah carpentry, Abraham navigation by the stars and sun, Jesus the dying of cloth and Mohammed was business savvy.

Mohammed, in fact, was an orphan raised by his uncle. When he was 14 he went to Damascus which was the main business hub of the day. He and his uncle met with Rabi Buhaira who warned the uncle that he must get Mohammed out of the city for there was a murder plot against him. He had been discovered as a future prophet.

Abraham had built the kaba, the black rock in Mecca.”

“What does it represent?” I asked.

“Beit – house,” Hassan said. “When the bible speaks of loving thy neighbour it doesn’t mean it in the literal sense of the guy next door. No, it means love your soul. Your soul is your nearest neighbour.”

Love thy soul. I like that interpretation.

Hassan had given us a plate of what appeared to be chips and a honey glazed pretzel which turns out, wasn’t. “You eat them together,” he explained. “It’s an Indian breakfast.”

The pretzel melted in my mouth with a sweet honey-like filling oozing out while Hassan grew quiet all of a sudden and apologised that he needed to rest a bit.

“I’m feeling a bit dizzy,” he said.P1040031

We took it as a cue to leave him be. We warmly shook hands and parted ways. I’m no religious follower or student.But Hassan’s interpretation and world view were a breath of fresh spice after visiting incredibly religious countries that took the Bible literally. On top of everything else he was also a scientist and still believed in the teachings of his favoured religion without taking it too gospel as most believers do.

 

“The Bible and Koran should be taken esoterically,” he had stressed repeatedly. “That’s how you avoid fanatics that give religion a bad name.”

It really was down to a simple belief – love thy soul and everything else will fall into place.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Kenya | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN KENYA – PART III

P1030888“What is wrong with you?” asked the driver as I leaned in through the passenger side window of the large tinted-window SUV.

“Nothing,” I grinned, holding up my sign that no one seemed to be reading. “I’m trying to get to Mombasa.”

“Oh,” smiled the driver. “There’s a stage back there where you can take the bus.”

“Yeah, I don’t take public transport. I hitch hike,” I explained. “Don’t suppose you’re going to Mombasa?” I was hoping for a tinted-window SUV to play chariot.

“No,” the driver laughed. “I’m just around. But I’ll be back soon. If you’re still here I’ll help organise something for you.”

I stepped back to watch him pull away, the last of his cooling aircon evaporating in the day’s heat.

The morning had started with an 8-K hike to reach the A104 highway to Mombasa, 500 K’s south of Nairobi, on the Kenyan coast. I awoke at sunrise to beat the heat but still arrived soaked in sweat under a shady tree. I held up my sign and stuck my thumb out, even though the conventional way of hitching a ride in Africa was to flap your arm. The hike had taken about two hours and I had been hitching for about an hour before a young couple pulled up.

Linda and Paris took me a few K’s down the road to a service station where I stood on the corner where a driver of the parked van approached.

“You need to get to Mlolongo,” Kennedy explained, writing it down for me. “Here,” he shoved 30 Kenyan Shillings into my hand (also known as bob), “take a matutu. That’s where you’ll find a truck to Mombasa.”

“Don’t suppose you’re heading that way?” I asked.

Kennedy laughed. “No, I’m just around. Good luck.” We shook hands and I flagged down a matatu, the local suicidal-driven mini-vans that serve as local buses.

“50 bob,” the conductor said.

“Yeah, for tourists,” I grinned. “I’ve got 30 bob.” He slapped on the side of the van and drove away.

Sonofa… another matatu pulled up. “I’ve only got 30 bob to reach Mlolongo,” I said to the conductor.

He looked at me in disappointment (or was it pity?). “You’ll have to buy another seat for your bags,” he said.

“Nah, I can put them on me.” I climbed in and buried myself under my packs, my head forced to stare out of the dirty window. I didn’t know how far Mlolongo was but I was in that mini-van for at least 40 minutes before we reached a barren, slummy, dusty strip of land.

I set up shop right by the speed humps that someone thought would be a great idea to put on a national highway. As the cars slowed down I stuck my thumb out and pointed at my sign, indicating my want to reach Mombasa.

Most of the drivers smiled back and gave me a thumb’s up.

“I’m signalling for a ride,” I said aloud. Not giving you a thumb’s up.

Some shop vendors came out to see who the crazy foreigner was that was by the side of the road, eating up dust and diesel fumes.

I tried the flap method, pointing in the direction I needed to go.

Most of the drivers smiled back and waved.

“I’m not waving, I’m indicating the direction I need,” I called out.

After almost two hours, on the brink of grabbing my packs and just walking down the road to take on a coat of self-pity, a truck rolled slowly by and the passenger called out, “Come with us.”

He was sitting in a 20-wheeler which pulled over from the middle lane on the 3-lane highway connecting Nairobi to Mombasa.

“I don’t have money,” I explained to Alex who had hopped down to let me up.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,” he grinned. “We are going to Mombasa.”

I threw my bags up to David who was sitting on the bunk, welcoming me aboard. Raphael, the driver, shook my hand. “I don’t have money,” I explained to him so as to avoid tension of expectations.

“Don’t worry,” Raphael grinned. “We’ll take care of you.”

“We always pick up travellers,” explained Alex. “We just want to learn about different cultures. We decline money when it is offered.”

Well, this was some bit of awesomeness.

“Where are you guys coming from?” I asked, settling in comfort.

“Kampala,” David named Uganda’s capital. “We drive all over East Africa. We drop off this container and collect another one to head to South Sudan.”

“I’m heading there in September,” I exclaimed. “What’s it like?”

“Life is very hard there but it is peaceful and the people are nice,” Alex said. “Do you know the supreme leader of Iran?” he suddenly asked.

“You mean the Ayatollah?”

“Yes,” he pointed to a rocky hill coming up past the runover hyena that lay dead by the side of the road. “People think this rock looks like him.”

The truck pulled over at a bus stop. “Come,” Alex said, hopping down. “Bring your camera.” I followed him down the road and took a photo of the rock.

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“Yeah, it kinda looks like him,” I said not really seeing the resemblance. “When will we reach Mombasa?”

“Tomorrow,” David said as he switched with Raphael on the driver seat. “We’ll unload the cargo in Machinery village and then continue to Mombasa empty.”

Empty might mean more speed.

“What’s the cargo?

“Maize from Uganda,” Alex said. “Our gross weight is 47 tonnes. The truck is 20 and the cargo 27.”

“Sheesh, that’s heavy,” I watched the needle of the speedometer hovering on the 40 mark, tryign to Jedi force it to rise but to no avail.

“Do you know what this is?” Raphael lifted up a plastic water jug with a misty liquid in it.

“No.”

“It is Changaa,” he grinned. “African gin!” He opened it and urged me to smell it. I took a whiff almost passing out.

“Wow, that’s strong,” I said hoarsely, clearing the water from my eyes. “Say, what’s that beeping?” I referred to the constant alarm ringing out in the cabin.

“It is the door lock,” Alex explained. “We had changed the lock and now the electronics can’t sense that it is locked. It rings like this from Uganda.”

Merde.

This had happened to me before, on a truck to Arusha from Chilenze, covering the same distance as Nairobi-Mombasa with a constant ringing alarm in the cabin. At least the radio was on, albeit to a gospel station, it was still better than listening to Celine Dion and Michael Bolton as I had suffered on that truck to Arusha.

“Come,” Alex got up from the passenger seat. “Sit here so you can take photos.”

I plonked down to enjoy the open grassland scenery. Alex pointed out the gazelle as we headed downhill, David pressing lightly on the brakes. Unlike other truckers I’d ridden with who allowed gravity to pull their vehicle to within Mach speed going downhill, these guys were the first responsibly safe drivers I had come across.

“This place is called Salama,” Alex explained. “It means ‘peace’ in Ki-Swahili but the place is not peaceful. There are road bandits here. Men wait for a truck that goes very slow up the steep hill. They pour oil on the road so the wheels slip and then they rob the cargo.”

“Jesus.”

“Uganda is safer, people are more honest,” said Raphael. “Here, in Kenya, everybody will rob you or ask for a bribe.”

P1030179Indeed, Kenya was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. When you have signs that proclaim, ‘You are entering a corruption free zone. Do not accept or take bribes’, you know you’re in the land of corruption. In Nairobi they have a building called the Integrity Centre where they ‘investigate’ corruption.

We stopped for lunch – rice with beef –  in a roadside village called Sultan Hamud. As we walked back to the truck a woman called out to me,

“Muzunghu!” which I replied with,

“Mambo?” How are you?

“Eh! Something-Ki-Swahili?” You speak Ki-Swahili?

“Kidogo-kidogo,” I grinned. Little bit.

Then she said something that David translated to, “She wants you to fuck her so she can have a white baby.”

Raphael added, “She wants your seed.”

I cracked up laughing and continued towards the truck before I’d be dragged off into a dark shed.

“You see that hill?” Alex pointed ahead while Raphael snoozed on the bunk. “It is called Mbuinzau. It means White Goat.”

I stared at the pile of rocks. There was nothing white or goat about it. “Why do they call it that?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” Alex shrugged.

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We slowed down as we went through Makindo, “This place is historical,” Alex explained. “It was from here that the old railroad in Kenya was constructed.”

We stopped to buy watermelon and oranges. The watermelon was refreshing although the abundance of black pips had me spitooning like a Howitzer.

“That is Chulu,” Alex pointed out to the far hilltops as we resumed our journey. “It is a volcano. In the dry season you can see steam rising.”

“Over, there, you cannot see it now, but that is Kilimanjaro,” David pointed to the bank of clouds on the horizon.

“So that’s Amboseli National Park?” I queried.

“Yes,” he nodded.

I was getting sleepy and began to doze off when I was slapped awake. “Elephants!” Alex cried out excitedly. “We’ll stop so you can take photos.”

Not wanting to be slowed down any further than what we already were I said, “It’s fine. I have many photos of elephants.”

Ahead of us, clouds had collected to form a huge wall of dark grey. Rain began to patter down lightly and a rainbow appeared as David guided the truck into the village of Machinery.

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“How many bags to unload?” I asked.

“219,” David said. “Each bag weighs more than a hundred kilos.”

I blinked.

It took about two hours to rustle up some workers to move the old maize bags onto a pickup truck to be moved to another warehouse. Then the workers, all skinny looking chaps, proceeded to carry the hundred kilo bags of maize on their shoulders and throw them down in a pile on the canvas floor.

These guys looked like they hadn’t eaten for weeks and they carried these immense sacks as though it was just another day at the office. Which, I guess for them, it was. With not much to do, I sat reading Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, his experiences of overlanding from Cario to Capetown (although he did fly into Sudan and Ethiopia).

I was a hundred pages deep when the rains started to pound. And then the power went out. The workers stopped unloading and David suggested that I could continue reading in the truck cab.

Raphael was asleep on the lower bunk while Alex snoozed on the top bunk. I continued to read until I dozed off. I was stirred awake when David revved the engine.

“Are we going?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

“Not yet,” he said. “Just moving the truck to the next warehouse. We are almost at halfway.”

Half-fucking-way.

The rain was still coming down so I made myself as comfortable as possible and slept until David climbed aboard again.

“Now we are empty,” he grinned.

“How far to Mombasa?” I yawned.

“240 kilometres,” he said, turning the engine, reviving the beeping that had escorted us all the way.

It was three in the morning as we hit the road which was tarred and smooth. But I was thrown around the cabin an hour later as the highway to Mombasa became a patch of artillery craters. Sleep was futile and I was slapped awake again by Alex who pointed to the horizon.

“Look, the sunrise.”

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I sat up, rubbing my eyes as the golden hues that spark the day radiated across the great African sky.

“There is Mombasa,” Alex pointed to the sheds and huts that began to dot the grasslands. We pulled into the truck depot as I contacted Winnie, my couchsurfing host. She explained to Raphael how to get to town where she’d pick me up.

Raphael’s family lives in Mombasa. He invited me to his place but really, I just wanted to have a shower, settle into my host’s couch and catch up on some sleep. Every matatu and bus that passed were full so I hitched us a ride into town with Issac who dropped us off where we grabbed a tuk-tuk to where I was scheduled to meet Winnie.

Raphael stuck around. “Mate, you can go home. Go see your family,” I urged him. “I’m a big boy.”

He grinned. “I cannot leave a friend until I know that the friend is safe.”

So we waited until Winnie rocked up in a 1974 VW combie, a surfer’s dream ride.

“You might need to push it,” she said as she tried the engine. “I’ve been having some battery issues.”

Indeed, I ended up pushing it with the help of a local passer-by. We waited by the roadside for about an hour, talking about this ‘n’ that when Winnie tried the engine again and it came to life.

“Yeah, Bonnie!” I slapped the side of her van. “Why did you call it Bonnie?”

“My friend has one,” Winnie explained as she guided us through tight traffic. “He calls it Clyde. So we are Bonnie and Clyde.”

I smiled, looking around at the busy town which was situated on a small island off the main land.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Kenya | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

AFRICA TRIED AND TESTED

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A day in Arusha’s National Park thanks to Africa Tried & Tested:

http://africageographic.com/blog/monkeying-around-in-arusha/

Categories: Conservation | 1 Comment

HITCHIN’ IT

Forgot to market my ‘Hitch hiking in Africa’ guide as published on this great and useful website:

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http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2015/01/05/zambia-hitchhiking-essentials/

http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2014/12/29/backpacking-and-hitchhiking-in-zambia/

More to come about Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Zambia | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

NORTHRIDGE – YOUR TICKET TO THE OUTDOORS

North-Ridge-logo

It’s been a year since I was lucky enough to get sponsored with a 65-litre backpack – the model aptly named ‘Nomad’ – by the South African company, Northridge. I’ve given it a year until this review so that I could experience the gear in every possible climate (aside snow and ice) and terrain.

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I’ve hitch hiked with it, throwing it in the back of trucks and pick-ups, placing it on tarred and dirt roads whilst hitching, climbed mountains with it, hiked down endless, empty highways in extreme heat and finger-freezing cold.

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I have no idea how much my pack weighs. It’s anywhere between a bit heavy to fuckin’ heavy, depending on how much sleep I’ve had the previous night or the heat of the day. But before I get into the technicalities of my home-on-the-road, allow me to reveal what I pack in my pack:

– 2 T-shirts
– 1 Long-sleeved shirt
– 1 African shirt
– 2 button-up shirts (gotta look good when giggin’)
– 1 vest (see above)
– 2 Shorts (one being me bathers)
– 1 Bell-bottom jeans (yeah, I rock the bell-bottoms)
– 1 cargo pants that zip off at the knees to create my third pair of shorts
– 1 Waterproof jacket
– 1 Neck-warmer
– 1 Chuyo beanie
– 1 pair of gloves
– Thermal underwear (top and longjohns)
– 1 Maasai blanket
– 1 Kikoi (African sarong)
– Technical bits ‘n’ bobs (adapters, charging cables, batteries, deck of cards)
– 1 First Aid pack
– 1 Ticket To The Moon travel hammock
– 1 Ticket To The Moon mosquito net for said travel hammock
– Ropes for tying up annoying drivers. Or a travel hammock
– 1 Sleeping bag
– 1 headlamp
– 3 Notepads (2 of which are full)
– 1 travel pillow (yet to find the hole where air is escaping from)
– 3-litre Source camel pack
– Snorkel mask, pipe and fins (yup, I carry my own fins)
– 1 pair of hiking boots
– 1 tent and blow-up travel mattress (strapped to the outside)

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But like with any product, there’s the good and the could-be-better: 

THE GOOD THE COULD-BE-BETTER
Lightweight with a sturdy steel frame to support the weight when it’s fully loaded An air vent between back and pack will save you from dehydration due to the amount of sweat you’ll drain out in intense heat or strenuous climbing
Thick and comfortable hip padding on the hip strap The side pockets stick out a little too far limiting access to the side net-pockets
Easily adjustable straps for the hip, shoulders and back There are only up-down straps. Side straps would be a great advantage
Zipper divider between main compartment and bottom compartment (but for squeezability needs, it’s always unzipped to create one main compartment) The splash guard rips too easily and wears out quite quickly. It’s still waterproof but I fear it won’t last for much longer
Separate zipper access to bottom compartment
Large side-pockets
Outter straps that lengthen to almost double the pack’s height
Stitching is made to last. Not a single stitch has come undone or is even showing signs of coming undone in the near future – and I’m not gentle with it.
The straps are tough, durable with large plastic connecters and, most importantly, comfortable without causing any chafing.
The overhead has two compartments: one on the inside and one on the outside.
The zippers are large and withstand the pressure of being fully packed without fear of destroying the zipline.

In general, it’s a great pack for either long term travel or an overnight camping trip. I’ve hiked two mountains with it (Mt Mulanji, Malawi and Mt Meru, Tanzania) and so far have travelled over 17,000 kilometers with it, only cursing it on extremely hot days when I’ve had to hike a few K’s to get a ride.

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Most of the time – and maybe it’s because I’m used to it – I don’t really feel it on my back when I hike the distance as most of the support is placed on my hips with the comfort of the padding.

Bottomline, this pack was made to last, made to endure lengthy, rugged, non-conventional travel and at a very affordable price.

And it makes a great leaning-post for my guitar.

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For more information and pricing, check out Northridge’s website at www.north-ridge.co.za

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Reviews | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

NAIROBI – ONLY WHEN NEEDED

P1030848“Just be careful in Nairobi,” Amy had warned me back in Malawi. “My first day I arrived I got off the bus and was robbed at gunpoint – in daylight.”

This was just one of the many traveller robbery stories I’d heard about Kenya’s capital city, a fast-growing crime-infused locale in East Africa. I didn’t really want to go to Nairobi – or Nairobbery as the locals coin it. My only reason for hitting this place was to sort out some visa queries at a few embassies for the countries I’d be going to further along the way.

 

I’ve been here for two weeks now, walking everywhere and going out on the weekends with friends. Sure, one of them is a professional kickboxer which adds to personal safety feelings but in general? People are nice, the police – those who know directions – assist when I ask how to get to where I’m going, it’s easily navigable and, like most Western cities, traffic is a confusion of standstills, inching along at snail pace.

In fact, I’m surprised by it’s modern, Westernised look. Large billboards (one advertising a reward for the head of Al Shabab), tall skyscrapers, more shopping malls than a shopaholic’s sale dream, timed traffic lights – and in true African style, no one that heeds to them – and large city parks to take a break from the urban jungle.

Security is tighter than a US embassy in an Islamic state. I get searched three times before I can even enter a shopping mall (for no other reason than to use the fast internet connection to supply you with my adventures). There are female and male guards – each for conducting searches on their genders, then there’s security guards on every floor of the shopping centre, in the car park, in front of most shops, banks and a few soldiers that patrol around.

But like in most African cities, bus and matatu (mini-van bus) drivers are suicidal maniacs, auditioning to become the next James Bond stunt driver. Rarely I have been close to meeting my end due to the incompetent hands of a reckless driver as I have been in African cities.

This after being pinned down by six 9-foot waves on sharp, shallow reef in Lombok, Indonesia, crossing the Indian Ocean for five months – off-season – surfing next to the highest population of Great White sharks in South Africa and being stung by a Portuguese Man O’War during said ocean crossing.

It’s not because the drivers are more focused on the text message they’ve just received and feel inclined to respond to whilst doing 80 K’s an hour within city limits with 23 people in their 9-seater mode of transport. Or playing with their ear-rupturing foghorn, flattening trees and villages due to the volume. They seem to have a blatant disregard for pedestrians which I find ironic since pedestrians are their bread and butter.

I was walking down Ngong Road, a main artery of western Nairobi, going with the jammed traffic on the footpath. So called because its sole purpose is to allow people a safe place to put one foot in front of the other as they amble pass the standstill cars and trucks. Next thing I know, something’s brushed past my right shoulder and as I dive out of the way a matatu speeds by to overtake the slow line of cars – on the footpath.

“Oi!” I yelled out. “At least honk your fuckin’ horn!” And perhaps use the road designated for your vehicle since I’m on the fuckin’ footpath!

Oblivious to the danger the driver had put me in he sped on, weaving into traffic. An image of myself running down between the line of cars like Jason Bourne, grabbing the reckless driver by his Adam’s apple and pulling him through his window to encounter a severe beating played momentarily in my mind as I calmed my racing heart.

The main problem I’ve found with Nairobi is the city’s polluted and dusty air. The main cause, as far as my investigative abilities have concluded, is due to the diesel-powered vehicles – mainly trucks, buses and matatus.

They spew out black, toxic fumes with all the tailpipes angled so that the fumes are directed at pedestrians – those that survive near-runovers. I’ve almost passed out having to hold my breath as a buses rumble behind me, coughs and splutters, dowsing me with a black cloud of lung-collapsing CO2.

So even though I haven’t encountered anything to justify the city to be called Nairobbery, it’s not somewhere I’d suggest to linger for too long in general.

Only when needed.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Kenya | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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