From the monthly archives:

August 2010

Puntland – The Finish

by Kate on August 31, 2010

Title: Garowe to Cape Hafun

Dates: 11th - 16th August GPS:

Distance: 585km Total Distance: 22.040km

Roads: 210km tarmac, 375km rough tracks, stones, sand

Weather: Extremely windy (tail, side and head winds), hot

Due to the tail wind and the fact that I was cycling with very few breaks, I arrived with my five vehicle entourage in Garowe by mid-afternoon on the 10th. Security was incredibly tight. We had guards at our side all the time. This may have felt very constricting for us but Issa, the president and all the government officials and their families must live this way all the time; virtually imprisoned in their own homes and offices. They can’t venture down the street or wander off for a walk. Issa’s wife, Anne-Marie and their two children, Bishaaro and Bilan have just moved to Garowe in the last month. It’s a huge commitment to move the family there. In the late afternoon after it had cooled down a little, everyone (except me) was in need of some exercise. Going for a walk however involves rounding up the security guards and bulletproof vehicles and driving to the hills out of town. Issa has to don his bulletproof vest and carry a gun. Anne-Marie and my sister Jane up the intensity of the exercise by jogging as we didn’t have long – just enough time to watch a beautiful sunset over Garowe. Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland isn’t a very large town. Prior to the setting up of the state government in 1998, it was just a village.

The plans for the last stage were constantly evolving. There were two major issues to consider which affected our security, and ultimately whether or not I would have the opportunity to complete the expedition at Cape Hafun, the most easterly point of the African continent. The government was waging a war with Al Shabab just to the west of Bosaso, but the location of the conflict was not static. The military intervention had begun on 7th August, three days before we arrived in Garowe. I had been in constant communication with Issa over the last few weeks and knew about the pending conflict. The government forces were winning, having stormed the main training camp during our day in Garowe. A major concern was that splinter groups of Al Shabab soldiers had fled to hide in villages near our planned route to regroup. This was perceived to be the main danger for us.

There were a couple of route options. The original suggestion was to travel along the main road to within 60km of Bosaso before turning east to Hafun. This would have taken us dangerously close to the combat zone. The second option was a more direct route from Qardho to Hafun. It is a shorter distance but it was very hard to get reliable information about the rough road (tracks). The land is very remote so if we did get into trouble, it would have been very difficult to rescue us. The government has access to the best intelligence and were monitoring everything as it happened.

Even when we arrived in Garowe there was no foregone conclusion that I would be allowed to cycle to Cape Hafun. The other problem to bear in mind was the pirates. They are basically operating along the coast to the north and south of Hafun at this time of year, sheltering from the dominant north westerly winds. It would have been extremely disappointing if I had made it this far in a continuous line but couldn’t complete the ultimate goal. At the same time, I respected and trusted the advice and decisions made by the government. If the risk was too great I would never wish to endanger any of the team; my sister, Zdenek, Issa, Abdiwali (Deputy Minister for Livestock who volunteered to accompany us to the finish) or the soldiers.

The following day, after a visit to a private school (up to year 10), we had a meeting with Ali Yusuf Ali, Deputy Minister for the Interior, Local Government and Rural Development. We discussed the route plan and risks. He basically gave us the all-clear to travel to Qardho and then on the more direct, least travelled route to Hafun. This was pending the final word from the president whom we were going to meet over dinner in the evening. At this point I was able to prepare myself to at least cycle the first leg, 210km up the main road to Qardho.

We were honoured to be invited to dinner to meet the President of Puntland State, Dr. Abdirahaman M. Mohamed. During the first meeting in the reception room, he warned me of the potential dangers ahead from Al Shabab and the pirates. I explained that I fully respected his advice, but once the risks had been assessed, if it was deemed possible for the team to reach Cape Hafun safely, I was prepared for the challenge. Jane and I sat at the head of the table for dinner, either side of the president. During dinner (which included camel and goat meat, spaghetti, rice, salad and fruit), we were able to ask questions about the priorities of the Puntland government, what kind of international assistance they require, what kind of action is needed to improve the situation in Mogadishu and southern Somalia. Zdenek sat beside me capturing great images and recording our conversations.

Before the 1991-92 civil war, Mogadishu the capital of Somalia was the centre of everything; government, the education system, health, communications and development. To receive a higher education, for example, students from Puntland would need to travel to the capital.

During and after the war, anyone not from southern Somalia was expelled back to their homeland, such as Puntland, with no access to healthcare, education and little opportunity to generate a reasonable income. The Puntland government formed in 1998 as a response to the anarchic situation which evolved out of the failed central government in Mogadishu. The state government is made up of 66 politicians who represent each of the clans so that every clan has government representation and therefore a voice. Members of parliament are nominated by their clan elders and are expected to make a financial contribution. The members of government then elect the president and office bearers.

Most of the ministers grew up in Puntland but then left Somalia before or during the civil war to live and study in Western countries such as Australia, UK, Canada, US and New Zealand. They have all made the choice to return to form a government to make a difference to their homeland. Their commitment I find inspirational – the fact that they could have continued to have a comfortable Western lifestyle, but elect to return to their country and face constant danger and difficulties in order to improve the lives of their fellow Somalis.

The Puntland government does not wish to secede from the federal government, as they do in Somaliland, they have elected to work with Mogadishu and govern their people until such time as the Somali government can regain control. Their hope is for a federal government which would retain overall control of the Somali states including Puntland.

War and conflict pares development back to ground zero. With limited resources and funds, the government has a seemingly impossible mountain to climb, but the priorities the president outlined make perfect sense to achieve a more stable and sustainable future. Nothing can work without peace and justice, so eliminating Al Shabab and piracy is first priority.

Education is a major focus. With inadequate facilities and number of teachers, the education minister is procuring scholarships in neighbouring countries such as Sudan and Kenya to educate their stronger students to a higher level. Encouraging trade and investment is essential to kick start the economy. Currently the main source of trade is from livestock export. Encouraging exploration for oil and minerals should inject funds into the state. Of course there is much more that I have not outlined here.

Dr. Abdirahaman, Issa Farah (Minister for Petroleum and Minerals), Abdiwali Hersi Nur (Deputy Minister for Livestock and Animal Husbandry), Farar Ali Jama (Finance Minister) – all of whom we met – are Australian Somalis. They looked after us like family, even contributing financially to help us through to the end. Issa basically mobilised the whole Puntland government who were unified in their support of us and the expedition. They ensured that we had the protection we needed, constantly accessing the best intelligence. The president gave us his blessing and provided us with his own special security forces for the first two days from Garowe to Qardho. We decided we should set off the next day. The longer we hung around Garowe and the longer I took to complete the journey, the greater the security risk. We continued to take care not to publicise our intentions or even write them in emails as they could be accessed by the wrong people.

We set off on the morning of the 12th for Qardho after President Abdirahaman farewelled us. This was the beginning of the end. The president’s guards led the way in their ‘technical’ through the streets of Garowe, sounding the siren every time the route was impeded by traffic. One bulletproof vehicle followed along with a normal 4×4 for a short while. Abdiwali, who committed to accompany us to the finish, travelled in the car with Jane and Zdenek. (Issa had to deliver intelligence materials to the war front and joined us in Qardho to travel to Hafun.)

A raging tail wind made my job much easier and I reached Dan Gorayo (112km) in very quick time. The landscape was fairly featureless until passing through a few hilly kilometres before our destination. The plains were vast with limited low vegetation supporting some grazing animals. Dust storms whipped up all over the place. I took just one tea break in a small village. While we had contact with a few of the women, the soldiers tended to keep most of the villagers away.

In the late afternoon we walked through a small IDP (internally displaced person’s) camp on the outskirts of Dan Gorayo village. Many who lived beside the coast lost their homes during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Most however had lost the bulk of their stock during fierce hail storms which occurred at around the same time. Abdiwali spoke to one woman who explained that she had lost more than 90% of her goats and sheep but she was gradually rebuilding her stock numbers.

In the meantime, life was hard in the IDP camps. The shelters provided by the UNHCR were helpful but not sufficient for her family of six children, so she had manufactured a larger, sturdier home from whatever she could find to use for building material. Her flock had increased to 30 and she hoped to have 80 animals before too long. That would be enough for her to move on.

Between Dan Gorayo and Qardho, the road direction changed 90 degrees and I was battered by the strongest cross wind I have ever had to deal with (at this point). I was tossed around like a rag doll, often leaning at a big angle into the gusts. At our tea break we had a very interesting discussion with Abdiwali about the situation with Al Shabab and why they have become a formidable force.

Somalian soldiers are trained at great cost to the government but some defect because Al Shabab can afford to pay their soldiers more. Al Shabab is funded by Al Qaeda and certain Arab businessmen and organisations. Abdiwali said that it is often difficult to know where some soldiers’ allegiances lie. The extremists prey on the vulnerable; the illiterate, poor and young, brainwashing them into believing that they will be better Muslims if they adopt their extreme practices. By sacrificing their lives they would be glorified in the name of Allah.

Their extreme practices have a negative effect on education, women, the economy, freedom… The purpose of the present conflict is to prevent these ideologies spreading like a cancer through communities and taking a stronghold.

In Qardho there was much discussion about the best route. I met the mayor who advised us about the distances, villages, terrain and road conditions. None of our maps showed all the settlements and the tracks they depicted were too general and often incorrect. I changed my tyres over to the off-road Schwalbe Marathon Extremes in readiness for the rough and sandy roads ahead.

Issa arrived back from the frontline, tired but ready to travel with us for the remainder of the journey. He said that the president had been very nervous about allowing us to go that morning and nearly called a halt. The fact that we were using two bullet-proof vehicles along with the ‘technical’ unit helped convince him to let us go through. We also said goodbye to the president’s guards as they had been called to the frontline. A new set of soldiers joined us having just returned from the conflict. Sadly we later learned that three of the president’s special forces who had protected us between Garowe and Qardho had been killed in an ambush.

I could not have imagined how the final three days unfolded. Sixteen kilometres out of Qardho we turned off the main tarmac road, heading east along a minor dirt track. I moved along well with a strong tailwind. Initially the terrain was flat easy-going clay pan, but then it deteriorated into stony outcrops and generally rough surfaces.

For much of the day I had to inhale thick, fine dust. The plan for the first day was to slog it out and cover as much ground as possible. Small settlements were generally about 30-50km apart. After 67km we stopped for a small break in Cabaar village.

The reception was typically friendly – the women especially were intrigued. The fact that I looked very different to them in my cycle gear (I did wear long below-the-knee loose-fitting shorts) did not matter. We were treated like family and they cheered and danced to wish me well as I pushed on.

It was here that Issa explained the drill I had to follow if there was a gun shot. If I heard a shot I had to fall to the ground immediately and the two bullet-proof vehicles would drive either side of me forming a V-shape. One of the guards would then drag me in. I had been making such good progress, so this discussion was sobering. It was still not very likely, but it was essential know the plan.

The tracks cut a path through crumbling stony terrain and much Nullarbor-like country. The commander in the technical vehicle leading the way, followed by me and the two bullet-proof 4×4 vehicles. I felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity to cycle through this part of the world.

I was making such good progress by early afternoon that I mentioned to Issa and Abdiwali that I could easily cope with doing 150km or so and they altered the plan accordingly to reach a certain village. Issa was regularly on the phone though trying to get directions and information from local sources. Also travelling with us was Yassin Mussa Bogor, security advisor to the president of Somalia. Yassin is also the grandson of the last king of this region.

I think only the commander and one of the 4×4 drivers had travelled through to Cape Hafun before although I am not sure whether any of them had taken this route. There were unmarked tracks peeling off regularly; some rejoined the main route although quite often it was impossible to tell which was the right option. I was still going strong as the sun set.

We were trying to reach a particular village called Marer because security-wise it was preferable to stay in a settlement than out in the open. The vehicles lit my way and I continued until about 8pm. Finally they conceded we were lost. I had done 190km by this stage and was well passed the tired stage and in to overdrive.

My Somali colleagues could not believe that I could keep going after nearly ten hours on bad roads; they thought I might be overcome with exhaustion and not be able to continue the next day. Although a little tired I was fine (albeit my knees were sore from having to absorb all the shocks), having done it all before.

The most worrying issue being that we were lost in the dark and in open space where we could be seen for miles. We waited while Abdiwali and the commander drove off to try to locate some nomads. They returned unsuccessfully and so we decided to set up camp near the best cover we could find.

Another important issue to consider was that it is Ramadan and the entire support crew (apart from Zdenek and Jane) were fasting during sunlight hours. The soldiers were supposed to organise their own supplies, but having joined us directly from the frontline, they did not have any food. We gave what we could, but it was not enough to sustain them through the night while they guarded the camp and the following day. I refuelled on spaghetti and a tin of tuna. Not fancy, but it did the trick.

Despite all the work Issa had been doing – travelling to the frontline, coordinating our journey and travelling with us – he insisted on doing a shift with the soldiers and had very little sleep. He is very much a team man and led by example. He showed great empathy with the troops who were so exhausted that some of them fell asleep on the ground as soon as we stopped.

At daybreak, Issa, Abdiwali and the commander were able to locate the nearest group of nomads and find out directions. The previous night they had thought we may have travelled about 20km in the wrong direction (rather frustrating for me), but we were pleased to learn that we had strayed only about 5km. Abdiwali bought two goats from the nomads to feed the soldiers. They had decided to break their fast to keep their energy up for the next couple of days. The goats were loaded on to the back of the technical and we returned to the junction where we went wrong.

I continued the line, cycling to the next village only six kilometres away. We then had to wait for four hours while the goats were slaughtered and cooked. Initially I was frustrated because having done so well the previous day we were in a position where we could reach Cape Hafun a day earlier. For security reasons, this was preferable. The longer we were out there, the more likely the wrong people could hear about our journey and plan an attack. I did not want to undo all the good work either. As it turned out, we were closer to our destination than we thought and the schedule was not altered.

We did not get going until 11.30am and so I had to pedal through the heat of the day virtually non-stop to reach our destination at a road builders’ camp called Foar, just to the south of the Hafun peninsula.

The final two hours of the day’s ride were particularly memorable. We had reached the coast.

Dry wadis (ephemeral rivers) carved their way through rugged cliffs and a broad valley to the Indian Ocean. Cycling-wise this meant steep descents and ascents and some very stony ground. The river beds were deep sand, but not too extensive to cross. Again I arrived in the dark, this time completely drained of energy.

At Foar we were greeted by the villagers who prepared food (the usual goat’s meat and spaghetti) and honoured us with a traditional welcome. The Mayor of Hafun and a highly respected elder drove from Hafun to greet us and escort us through their region to the finish.

Hafun, an ancient port town, is virtually cut off from the mainland (by land). A sandy limestone-based 45km isthmus connects Ras Hafun to the mainland. An inadequate track which winds through the sand dunes is difficult for 4×4 vehicles to navigate.

The people of Foar are working to build a better road to connect Hafun using their own resources. Until now, no one from the government had been out this way, but now that Issa, Abdiwali and Yassin have travelled there, seen what they have achieved with their own motivation and efforts, they have promised to provide some support.

There air of excitement was palpable on the final morning; not just me, but from the whole team and villagers. In fact, Issa, Abdiwali and the soldiers seemed more excited than me. The women cooked a huge stack of Somali pancakes to sustain me throughout the morning. I knew that this day would be tough physically and reminded myself that many people fail at the last hurdle. I had to remain focused to reach the finish safely.

Issa, Abdiwali, myself and Yassin all made thank you speeches; the politicians reaffirming that they would assist them to make the road. The village leader in turn mentioned that they may name the road after me – a great honour I said.

The road quality for the first few kilometres was quite good, even though I had to battle the strong crosswind which lifted sand straight off the huge ergs (sand dunes). The road quickly degraded into sand drifts and then deep sand.

Cycling this section was no different to cycling on normal beach sand. The road builders had placed large stones like loose pavement where the sand collects across the path in the hope of stabilising the track. Unfortunately the sand between the stones had blown away leaving gaping crevasses, making it almost impossible to cycle. Then came the deep sand.

I managed to find slightly firmer ground away from the track (which had been churned up by vehicles). All three vehicles became bogged and so the soldiers ran with me where they could. Eventually the commander caught me and asked me to stop to wait for the entourage. All I wanted to do was get to Cape Hafun as quickly as possible. Issa eventually caught up too.

They had been worried because all they could see was me disappearing off the track and through the bush. I am used to cycling in sand and searching for the best path and was confident that I knew what I was doing. They didn’t know that. A nomad they’d just met had just lost a number of his livestock due to hyenas. Issa decided to loan me his 9mm pistol so that I could protect myself from hyenas and to attract attention if I became lost.

I was a little hesitant as I had never used a pistol before and thought I’d be more likely to shoot myself in the foot or something! Issa and the commander gave some instruction and I practiced squeezing the trigger before it was loaded and the safety catch set. The pistol sat in my barbag for the rest of the journey.

I decided to further reduce the tyre pressure while I was in the sand. At that point I noticed a split in my rear wheel rim. The crack was about four inches long and leading towards the hole for the valve. This was a serious injury for my bike. I had been carrying my spare bike all the way across Africa, but decided to leave it in Berbera and just take essential tools and spares.

The wheels had been hand built and I was impressed that I had not broken a spoke for the whole journey. I had checked the rims which remained perfectly true and as there was little room in the vehicles, decided to leave the spares behind. I was worried about the rim and removed the rear bags. If I was going to hit rough road, I approached the obstacles gently and leaned as far forward as possible to take the weight off the back wheel. With just 50km to go, I was afraid it would not last.

It wasn’t long before we had traversed the neck of the isthmus and turned on to the tidal flat, led by the mayor and his vehicle. I made reasonably good pace along the flat. Although it was heavy going at times there was effective shelter from the wind. The vehicles had to hug the more solid beach, otherwise they would become bogged. There was a race against the rising tide. At one stage, not long before we headed away from the beach towards Hafun, the sea was only a couple of metres from the beach.

Turning away from the beach I had to struggle along a sandy track with gale force cross winds. Sand blasting was severe and I joked that it was blowing in one ear and out the other. I kept getting grit in my teeth. We paused in Hafun for a short break. Hafun has an ancient history as an important port dating back to Egyptian times.

The town was destroyed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 when the wave washed right across the isthmus, wiped out the buildings and messed up the open sewage system. The town had to be rebuilt beside the old settlement. The Italian-built salt works and jetty lay decaying beside the old town along with some garrison buildings before the entrance. The salt works was only used for about 15 years and had been disused since the Second World War.

Jane and Yassin attached the Australian flag to a makeshift pole. I had carried the flag right across the continent to fly at the finish. The Mayor of Hafun attached a Somali flag to his vehicle’s antenna. Issa arranged for me to be interviewed on BBC World Service – Somali section.

We were ready for the final stage; 22km up the mountain and across the tabletop. The mayor wanted to get full value out of the moment and led me up and down the main street to parade the event to his people. I obliged, smiling and waving to enthusiastic townsfolk.

Climbing away from the town, the wind became worse. I was constantly blown off the road and it was even more difficult to control the bike as I had to deal with large loose gravel stones and steep inclines.

The track – I called it a billygoat track – wound up through a dry wadi and the side of the 210m Ras Hafun. The limestone plateau was completely exposed. Nothing grew more than a foot off the ground in this desolate place. Spiky acacia trees and shrubs grew flat over the surface due to the constant wind.

Our path across the island gradually deteriorated. The protruding pavement of stones had weathered into sharp edges. I had to be careful with my broken wheel while avoiding punctures from the thorns.

Finally Issa and the mayor pointed out a speck in the distance – the lighthouse. Now I was becoming excited. The track basically disappeared and about 2.5km from the lighthouse we had to walk. Of course I had to drag my bike over stones and around thorny acacias.

Some of the party raced ahead to cheer me as I arrived. There were very happy scenes. No one had been out there for a long while (the lighthouse and buildings are in disrepair) and the elder and mayor confirmed that they had never seen a cyclist reach this point.

They should know because any cyclist would have to pass through Hafun and would need directions and a guide to find the most easterly point of Africa. I was very proud – as was my sister – to complete the journey from Point Almadies, near Dakar in Senegal to Cape Hafun in a continuous line.

Not a kilometre has been missed (except for river crossings). I could see that Zdenek was quietly chuffed with himself too. He has done a great job.

It was a huge commitment to drop everything and join the team in northern Cameroon and then to see the expedition through to the finish. Issa, Abdiwali, the Mayor of Hafun, the soldiers were all celebrating; the soldiers fired into the air to signal the finish.

While I am the only cyclist, this has been a team effort which has been made possible by a large number of sponsors and supporters. A special mention must be made to the other team members on this expedition who have been involved in expedition support and filming; John, Zdenek, Daniel, Simon, Paddy and Stuart.

Of course I would have never had the opportunity to reach the most easterly point of Africa without the support of the whole Puntland State government mobilised by Issa Farah. Omer Jama from Somaliland had a significant part to play as well.

I would have liked to stay around longer to absorb the moment and what has been achieved but the sun would soon set and we had to get back to Hafun.The return journey to Bosaso was interesting and eventful too, but I will have to write about that in the next instalment.


Prelude to the Finale

by Kate on August 30, 2010


Just a quick update to say that  I have made it! After 22,040km I arrived at Cape Hafun, the most easterly point of the African continent on the 16th August, 4 days ahead of schedule. Our journey through Puntland was absolutely amazing and I have a great story to tell. I arrived at the remote lighthouse with a pistol in my bar bag and a split wheel rim. The wind was so strong that I was constantly being sand blasted and blown off the road. We have had incredible support from the Puntland government, from the president down. The final blog is almost ready – it has been hectic since returning to Melbourne and I am struggling to finish off the story. I promise I will be able to post it in the next day or so. Here are a couple of pictures from the finish. 



by Kate on August 23, 2010

Title: Hargeisa to Garowe

Dates: 2nd to 10th August GPS:

Distance: 697km Total Distance: 21,455km

Roads: tarmac, some mountains, open plains

Weather: Very hot and extreme winds, most cross winds, two good days of tail winds.

1c. With Omer, looking at TSC work in the Sanaag regionOur two days in Hargeisa were extremely busy learning about some of the many projects Omer’s Taakulo Somaliland Community is undertaking and ensuring the right security plan is put into place for our journey through Somaliland. It was hectic. On the security side, the process was set in motion when we consulted the National Security Advisor for NGOs. Yusef agreed to consult all traditional leaders in the sensitive areas from Burao to Las Anod and then the Somaliland side after Las Anod, near the disputed buffer zone between Somaliland and Puntland. The result was positive and the following day he set up a meeting with the chief of police. Again we received the all clear and he wrote an official letter for us to present at all checkpoints when required. We also had to apply for visa extensions as immigration would only give a seven day visa initially. All parties warn us of the dangers but when they learn about the expedition and the back-up we have planned, they have given us permission to go through. Somaliland is a peaceful country but Al Shabab is present and in recent times have blown up three key sites in Hargeisa. Ever since they killed two NGOs on the main road between Hargeisa and Berbera (in 2007 I think), the Somaliland government has vowed to protect visitors. Omer arranged for us to be protected by two security guards, Abdul and Karim (trained by the British army). I also took the decision not to publicise our intended route to Las Anod and Puntland for security reasons.

3b. Market street, HargeisaTaakulo in Somali means ‘to help’. Omer’s Taakulo Somaliland Community (TSC) is certainly making a difference to many who are in need in Somaliland. In particular the TSC focuses on clean water, hygiene and sanitation, education, health issues and empowering women. They partner with many international organisations to ensure their expertise and funds are directed to those who most need assistance.

2b. Women's ward, Hargeisa HospitalWe first visited the Hargeisa Group Hospital. The public 450-bed hospital is the only one serving Hargeisa, population approximately 800,000. It was built by the British in 1952 when Hargeisa had about 10,000 people, so the city is crying out for more hospitals equipped with better facilities. Structurally the buildings are in urgent need of repair; walls and ceilings are leaking, there are bullet holes and shrapnel damage from the civil war in the 1980s.

2e. Outdated X-Ray equipmentMost equipment is worn out and needs updating. There are limited numbers of teaching professionals to train new local medical students and healthcare workers. The TSC is working with Australian Doctors for Africa (ADFA), a Perth-based organisation which sends small teams of orthopaedic surgeons and medical professionals to Hargeisa (and Bosaso in Puntland; Ethiopia and Madagascar) to perform stints of much needed surgery, provide medical training and provide supplies and equipment. They are also raising funds which are used to renovate the dilapidated infrastructure. They may be a small organisation but they seem to be changing the lives of many – I have not listed everything they do, but to find out more, please visit their website at

4d. Sign for Australia (kangaroo)Over the two days in Hargeisa, we also visited Hargeisa School for the Deaf, the Disability Action Network, Somaliland Special Education School and Caritas. TSC partner all of these organisations. Somaliland has an estimated population of 3-5 million – 11% are disabled in some way. Each of these organisations is responsible for enabling those with disabilities to maximise their potential and integrate with and contribute to society to lead more productive lives. These organisations improve self-esteem and social status.

4b. Teachers at Hargeisa School of the DeafAt the Hargeisa School for the Deaf (HSD) we were shown around by Yasmin Abdirahman, the Director. The organisation was set up by parents of hearing impaired children. Before the HSD deaf people did not have a chance to go to school in Somaliland. (To contact Yasmin: The Somaliland Special Education School caters for a wide range of disability categories. Many are taught at home and the school sends out teachers to oversee their learning. They also recognise the need for adult women to improve their education by providing basic education and vocational learning, such as tailoring. The TSC have a child sponsorship program to ensure more children can afford to go to school. He handed over some donors’ contributions while I was there. The Disability Action Network is a physiotherapy centre focussed around getting people up and mobile. Equipment such as wheel chairs, crutches and prostheses are made there, often by improvising with whatever materials are available. The TSC has contributed by providing wheelchairs and other equipment.

The best way to contribute to the TSC in Somaliland is to contact Omer at:, or via the TSC website (or click on the TSC logo on the Partners’ page). The website is currently under construction but should be up and running in a couple of weeks.

6a. Preparing to blend in, a gift from Omer's wifeOmer invited us to his home for lunch – well feast! Omer’s wife produced an enormous quantity of food; goat meat, rice, salads, watermelon juice, fruit… She then presented me with a dirac and scarf to use when I am off the bike and in villages where there are more likely to be extremists.

7a. A Russian tank left over from the civil war in the late 80s between Hargeisa and BerberaJust before leaving Hargeisa Omer introduced me to Seyid, the secretary to the new president. A couple of months before I arrived in Somaliland, the country had peaceful democratic elections. While the international community recognises Somaliland as a part of Somalia, Somaliland operates as a separate country. They say that the main hurdle which prevents official recognition is that the dysfunctional federal government in Mogadishu does not want to let go. Most of the administration is made up of Diaspora – those who have left the country (mostly after the civil war), educated abroad in Western countries and chosen to return to make a difference to their homeland. They also inject much needed funds into the country to bolster and stimulate economic growth and help relatives living in Somaliland. Seyid and Omer are good friends even though they were in opposing political parties. Now in opposition, Omer is happy to work with the new government for a greater good of the country. Providing a stable, peaceful environment allows the government to attract international investment and assistance.

9b. Gorges and rough terrain outside BerberaA Somali satellite TV network filmed my departure from Hargeisa; again I was careful not to publicise the intended route. I was aided by a decent tail wind and gentle downhill most of the 166km to Berbera. The landscape was very open, dry desert with sparse tree density. Half way to Berbera I passed through a rugged mountain range. Once through the mountains and down on to the windswept desert coastal plains, the temperature increased significantly well into the 40s with a moisture-sapping hot north-westerly wind. Berbera at the head of the Red Sea has been a strategically important port for many centuries. The Egyptians first used the port to transport frankincense. The Turks built a settlement there followed by the British. Somaliland was a British colony. The town was much smaller than I expected, but as we toured around I found the ramshackle, old, poorly maintained buildings and dusty streets very interesting. There is a lot of shelling damage from the civil war.

From Berbera we headed east towards Las Anod and the Puntland disputed border. I had a very tough ten hour day climbing away from the coastal plains and up through the Goolis Mountains. The side-head wind was so strong that I could only average about 11-12 km/hr. Once I had conquered a 10km climb through the spectacular range – the greenest part of Somaliland – the land levelled out and I was able to ride at a more normal pace. Burao had a very different atmosphere to Berbera. I didn’t feel so comfortable and our security guards were much more on edge. The region around Oog, where I reached the next night (150km from Burao) is much more of a security risk. While the traditional leaders had already been consulted when we were in Hargeisa, we were advised to speak with the head of the regional police force to gain his authority to pass through. This we did. I had a great chat to the chief of police as he spoke good English and he said we would not have any trouble. During the night at the basic hotel in Oog, our guards kept watch. At one stage I was awoken by gun shots. Some nomads had appeared from the bush and were shining torches at our vehicles, approaching rapidly and treating them as suspicious. Abdul said they did not heed his warnings and so fired two shots above their heads,

10b. Desert tortoise beside the roadFrom Oog I knocked off 102km by noon to reach Las Anod, battling an incredibly strong side wind. The main reason for this was that my sister, Jane was due to fly in to Berbera the next day and our security guards had to drive back to collect her and bring her to join us. Las Anod is a real frontier town. Our hire vehicles were not permitted to be driven beyond the town as it is a lawless region. At the check point we were held up while the chief of police was consulted. To drive through the town, Abdul stood up through the sunroof of the LandCruiser surveying the town. I followed closely with the normal security car tailing me. This was not a place for us to spend time.

Some of the townsfolk were welcoming while others were not too positive about our being there. We were whisked away straight to the hotel; a quiet sanctuary on the edge of town. We were spotted by the local press who followed us to the hotel. I was interviewed for Somaliland TV. Again I was very careful not to reveal our intention of crossing into Puntland. The story was aired that night on the news. Strangely enough there isn’t a tourist industry at the moment, so we were the only customers for a while.

We had a day off in Las Anod but had to stay within the walls of the hotel (apart from a quick excursion to an internet cafe). Jane phoned early the next morning to say she had made the connecting flight from Dubai to Berbera. I had been very concerned because if for some reason she missed the flight, or the flight was cancelled, we had to go the next day through the buffer zone. This was to be a major security operation which Issa and the Puntland government had been working on for a week and Omer had been coordinating from Somaliland. I was only going to get one shot at cycling through the no man’s land. The day passed slowly for me – our guards were calling regularly updating Omer on their progress. Finally they arrived in the early evening. It was great to see Jane. Our reunion was a little emotional. I had not seen a member of my family for about 11 months and it felt strengthened by her support and commitment.

10c. Hills near Las AnodAll of that strength was needed the next day. With no man’s land in front of us it was like D-Day. I felt genuinely nervous about the journey ahead. Issa had mentioned a few times that I had to prepare myself for the possibility that I may have to put the bike in a vehicle to cross the disputed zone between Somaliland and Puntland. He had been working with the Minister for Aviation who is a clan member and the government representative of that region. Negotiations had been going on for a week or so. He had also arranged substantial security from the Puntland end. We were unable to take our hire vehicles or police security guards from Somaliland past this point.

11b. Our militaryescort through the buffer zone between Somaliland and PuntlandOmer had to arrange for a local vehicle and driver who was willing to take us/accompany me to near the buffer zone – a village about 40km away where we would rendezvous with a vehicle from Puntland and security reinforcements. The person he was recommended refused to accompany me cycling (he wanted to put my bike in the car) and so Omer, knowing how important it was for me to complete the journey in a continuous line, found another driver willing to do the job. I am very appreciative of Omer’s persistence. We also took one local security guard in the normal estate car and set off at about 7.30am from Las Anod. Omer, Jane and Zdenek sat in the back; driver and soldier in the front. Omer had to keep in constant contact with Issa who had already started driving from Garowe, 130-odd kilometres away. The president of Puntland would not permit Issa, or any other member of the cabinet to pass through the buffer zone as they are too much of a target.

10d. Check point at Las Anod, a real frontier townThe good news for me was that I had a raging tail wind and was able to average nearly 30km/hr. The vehicle followed about 50m behind me. We passed through about six check points within the first 40km. Each time I arrived and waited calmly at the barrier and let the guard and Omer do the talking. The police commissioner’s letter organised in Hargeisa proved to be useful. Sometimes I was asked a couple of questions and usually shook the hands of the local clan’s people on patrol. Just after the village at 43km from Las Anod, the “Technical” military escort vehicle met us – exactly as planned.

Technicals are old anti-aircraft units. The technical carries eleven men – driver, captain, gunner and eight regular soldiers. They escorted us through the buffer zone which was only about 10km wide. There was resistance at both the entrance and exit. Entering the zone, the soldiers went first and after some heated discussion, the clansmen replaced the barrier in front of me and our vehicle preventing us from going through. Our security soldiers then stopped and reopened the barrier and after more threats and some push and shove, I was let through. A bit more discussion and the vehicle was allowed through. We then met Shorely (probably incorrect spelling) who Issa had arranged to drive through to meet us in his LandCruiser. Omer, Jane and Zdenek moved into Shorely’s vehicle, transferring all our gear. The Somaliland local driver was then able to return to Las Anod. Leaving the Buffer Zone involved much more confrontation. There were many armed people around and they clan had set up a customs post to collect large fees from people like us. Again the technical was allowed through but the barrier was quickly replaced.

I sat calmly on my bike, hoping I appeared confident and in control. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and heated arguments. I was asked to move my bike over to a tent, but did not think I should leave the road and so just moved to the side. Eventually the technical driver reversed back over the bollards to clear a path. The soldiers would wave me through but then the clan guards would stop me. Eventually our soldiers insisted I cycle through while they protected me, holding the locals back. I moved on about 300m and waited for the others. We congregated away from the blockade, but then one of the clans people called the main negotiator and apparently abused us saying they did not want whites on their territory. The soldier took this personally as he considered us as a team, revved up the engine was started on his way back saying he was going to shoot the bastard. Fortunately for all of us, his colleagues stopped him and we moved on.

11c. The entourage following me in to GaroweA few minutes later we met up with Issa’s party. There was Issa’s car and his security followed by the Minister for Aviation and his security technical vehicle. We were very pleased and relieved to see them and ecstatic to make it through the buffer zone. I had met Issa in Melbourne before I left for Senegal. We discussed the plan then and during the expedition we have remained in touch. He has put a lot of work into ensuring a successful finish to the expedition, mobilising the support of the whole Puntland State government from the President down.

Apart from a couple of short breaks this was pretty much a non-stop riding day for me. We did have a tea break after 95km in a small village. From there I cycled directly to Garowe, Puntland’s administrative capital accompanied by an entourage of five vehicles. The whole day was surreal. The plan worked without a hitch, but it is a day I wouldn’t want to repeat. I felt extremely vulnerable, but always felt in control and positive that we would get through. This was Jane’s first day travelling with me – the beginning of her adventure.

Here is a map showing the disputed regions between Puntland and Somaliland:


Made it!

by Kate on August 19, 2010


Just a quick update to say that  I have made it! After 22,040km I arrived at Cape Hafun, the most easterly point of the African continent on the 16th August, 4 days ahead of schedule. Our journey through Puntland was absolutely amazing and I have a great story to tell. I arrived at the remote lighthouse with a pistol in my bar bag and a split wheel rim. The wind was so strong that I was constantly being sand blasted and blown off the road. We have had incredible support from the Puntland government, from the president down.

In Somaliland we took the decision to not publicise our movements or intended route for security reasons. I have two more blogs to write about our journey through Somaliand and Puntland, so please stay tuned for the story.


Title: Awash to Hargeisa

Dates: 26th July to 1st August GPS:

Distance: 594km Total Distance: 20,758km

Roads: All tarmac except for 40km, mountainous before Harar, hilly to Jijiga

Weather: Cool and wet until Jijiga, then warmer on the Somali Plateau

1a. High in the Ahmar Mountains, 20km after Asbe TeferiWe had heard that there could be difficulties as we
neared the Ethiopia/Somaliland border so Ismael (from Logia) put us in contact with a well-connected guy in Awash, Kome Mahammed whom we looked up on our return from the Afar region. Kome gave us some good advice and arranged for someone (Abdul) to contact in Harar to organise our security to the border.

1b. Happy girl, same placeThe two and a half days ride to the ancient walled city of Harar was always going to be testing. The road crosses the Ahmar Mountains, wriggling its way up and over numerous folds. From Asbe Teferi, I had a tough day, climbing up to 2500m and down, up and down several times. The land is intensively cultivated most of the way and the population is concentrated along the roadside. Once over the first big climb, the problems with the kids returned. It was even worse than before I think; stones, manure, sticks… Then just before lunch, pushing up another huge climb a man with a scythe grabbed on to my bike. Think he must have been high on chewing chat leaves (a very strong stimulant which many men chew for hours every day). I asked him to let go politely, then less politely, then very assertively. This not working I slammed on the brakes so that he fell into my bike. I confronted him and he ran off.

Needless to say I was pretty stressed by the time John joined me to ride the last couple of kilometres before lunch. After the break I found a small green stick, stripped off the leaves and kept it with me to help ward off anyone who looked like they were going to hang on to my bike. It is against what I would normally do, but I do have the right to defend myself. Holding the stick reduced the problem and I never used it. Thunderstorms built up and ‘exploded’ during the afternoon. I continued cycling through lightning and torrential rain. Eventually I endured the storms too. By the end of the day I had covered 130km in eight and a half hours and was absolutely freezing. John found a building site to camp beside – our last night of camping together. They were building a museum and hotel on an ancient battleground. The locals fought the Italians in 1895, who were trying to take Ethiopia by force, but never succeeded.

I was looking forward to reaching Harar, one of the most important cities on the Muslim map. The city is 1002 years old. Harar developed as an important trading town, owned by its people until Emperor Menelik finally conquered it by force. Harar and Axum in the north were the last two cities to be incorporated into the diverse country Menelik unified (kind of). Abdul arranged for us to stay in a traditional Hararian guesthouse tucked away within the old city walls.

2a. Feeding the wild hyenasFirst priority was to see the feeding of the wild hyenas. It is a century-old Muslim tradition unique to Harar which began when the hyenas were fed porridge at a certain stage in the Harar calendar. Over the last fifty years the hyenas have been fed daily, whether there are tourists or not. The hyenas are fed just outside the city walls at the back of the abattoir. A group of about eight showed up to be fed leftovers from the day’s butchery. Once the feeder (who inherited the job about eight years ago from another family member) had started them off he invited people from the small audience to have a go.

2b. Necking with a hyena!I was one of the first to be offered a go, then John and a few others after that. They are such powerful animals, yet so gentle when they accept meat off a stick held either by hand or by mouth. Zdenek was able to get right in close to film; so close that a young hyena mistook the fluffy microphone for someone offering it a titbit!

We took a day off in Harar to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the town. Abdul took us on a three hour tour. He led us out of the main gate which displayed a sign advertising that Harar had become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. Abdul said the main benefit of the recognition was that it had encouraged tourism, which in turn had improved the town’s economy. We walked through the Smugglers’ Market in which you can buy materials and various items from all over the world. Harar is not far from the Somaliland border where just about anything and everything is imported.

3a. I bought some beautiful Somali material from this lady, Smugglers' MarketI bought a beautiful piece of Somali material made with traditional dyes. The Smugglers’ Market led to the Recycling Market. Abdul said that anything which is lost in the town ends up in this market. John was like a kid in a lolly shop looking at all the spare parts and tools. Even coffins were available; two were being carried off somewhere. The Recycling Market led into the Christian Market. This was an older section where people can buy spices, grains, vegetables, fruit, chickens and other types of food.

4b. Cleaning impurities out of the grainWe wandered through many of the 368 alleyways. Originally they were all natural stone and rendering, but now most have been painted up. There are numerous mosques scattered amongst the streets; most are private houses of worship incorporated into the family homes. The small private mosques are used during the week, but people generally attend the main mosque on Fridays.

Abdul introduced us to Mahammed whom he’d arranged to travel with us for the next two days to the Somaliland border. Mahammed is a Somali, born in Harar with duel Ethiopian/Somaliland citizenship. He seems to be very well connected and it is important to have someone who knows the region with us.

The LandRover has developed a major problem – John pulled a fragment of a gear cog out of the gearbox back in Awash. He kept losing use of some of his gears and the major worry is that there are likely to be more pieces floating in the oil which could become jammed and strip more cogs. Then again, we could be lucky and nothing happen at all. It was a bit like playing Russian roulette and stressful for John especially. He kept draining and checking the gearbox twice a day. Finding LandRover parts, or better still a reconditioned gearbox is difficult in Ethiopia. John had to deliver Zdenek and I to the border (where we were due to meet Omer Jama, who will look after us in Somaliland) and then drive all the way back to Kenya. John was most worried about travelling over the rough road in northern Kenya as he thought this would certainly break up the transmission.

8a. Leaving HararThe road to Jijiga from Harar was one of the most picturesque and enjoyable. The first 30km continued with the same kind of problems I’d had before Harar with stone throwers and even more men sitting around chewing chat. After the first decent climb to Babille however, I could draw a line. From that point on the people, including kids were friendly and the hassles ceased. It was an amazing transformation. East of Babille, the scenery was superb.

8c. Valley of incredible rock formationsI climbed up a short hill and then descended through a stunning valley speckled with spectacular rock formations on both flanks. Then the land opened out into more vast mountains and green valleys; maize and chat being the main crops cultivated. There were plenty of nomadic livestock herders, camels and a huge troop of baboons beside the road. In the past some of this region was treacherous because of armed conflict. Land mines had been laid and the road blown up.

9a. Land begins to open out near Jijiga - looking down on former bandit territoryOnce over the final long steady climb, the vast Somali plain stretched to the horizon, Jijiga ten kilometres below. During the day, the LandRover had lost 3rd and 4th gear for a couple of hours, but then it returned and behaved as normal. Mahammed took John and Zdenek to meet the best mechanic in Jijiga, but he didn’t have any parts which could help fix the problem. We drove on.

11b. Camels use the road still under construction, 20km from Tog WajaleThe road to Tog Wajale at the border has just about been completely sealed. The Chinese are about 40km short of completing the job. This made my ride much easier than expected. We had allowed an extra day to reach the border in case of difficulties, but didn’t need it and arrived a day early. I had been coordinating the transfer into Somaliland for about three months with Omer Jama. He has organised visas, the support vehicle, the security car and two security guards and has committed to accompanying Zdenek and me for the ten days we are in Somaliland. Arriving a day early, Omer simply adapted his plans once again and drove out from Hargeisa the next day.

This was the end of the road for John who has to return to the UK for harvest. With the vehicle not behaving as it should, I was pleased that Mahammed was with him at least as far as Harar. Having someone who speaks the language and knows the region is a comfort. It was strange saying goodbye to John. He has done such a brilliant job driving and coordinating the expedition support and I could not have asked for a better person for this expedition. He not only drove safely and maintained the vehicle, he also got involved in the project visits and enjoyed cycling a few kilometres just about every day. We emptied the vehicle and sorted all the gear out at the very average hotel in Tog. John could not drive over the border and Omer was unable to cross into Ethiopia, so they arranged to load all of Zdenek and my belongings on a couple of wheel barrows with a few more valuable items being carried by what was at this stage a little entourage. Immigration was straight forward; getting stamped out of Ethiopia and in to Somaliland. The next and last couple of weeks will be an adventure of a different kind.

I set off at about 2pm towards Hargeisa, one vehicle in front, the other behind. The first 20km was rough, but after that it was all plain cycling. I made it into the Somaliland capital just after 6pm. On the way we made a short stop to see some of the work that Omer’s Taakulo Somaliland Community (NGO) is doing, building a water tank and new latrines at a school. This is a part of their commitment to improving clean water supplies, hygiene and sanitation. They have 24 similar projects on the go, partnering with the Swiss organisation Caritas. Much more about the TSC in the next blog.


Title: Awash to Mille

Dates: 22nd to 25th July GPS:

Distance: 320km Total Distance: 20,164km

Roads: Excellent tarmac, gently undulating

Weather: Warm (mid 30s), thunderstorms

1a. Entering the desert region, typical scene after rainsOnce we had turned away from Awash, a sensitive military region and headed towards the desert, I felt a sense of relief. I pedalled north through scrubby acacia bushland and vast open plains; some spectacular mountains in the distance on either side of the road. A tail wind enabled me to zip along the tarmac. The road is the main trucking route for Ethiopia which ends at the port in Djibouti. The highway was very busy however I found the truck drivers, on the whole, very friendly and respectful – they gave me plenty of space. 1e. Goat and sheep herding children who watched us on our lunch break, probably no schooling for them.As I headed towards Mille, 320km from Awash, the vegetation gradually petered out and the plains resembled the Nullarbor, although a little more undulating. The people were different too. Afar nomads, often children, tended to their herds of sheep, goats, camels and/or cattle. Adults, even some women carried guns as a normal part of life, which they needed to protect their livestock from Somali animal rustlers and hyenas mostly. The number of guns around was a bit unnerving initially. In general, the children were inquisitive and friendly and I wasn’t hassled by aggressive begging kids.

1d. Coca-Cola drivers stop to offer me a drink. Celebrating 20,000kmA few kilometres after Gewane, half way to Mille, I clocked my 20,000th kilometre. The scene was rather different from the 10,000th kilometre and the shooting incident in the Republic of Congo. We camped after 190km at a communications tower which was protected by armed police. Nearer to Mille, the land became stony and desolate. Normally at this time of year temperatures soar into the mid-40s most days, but the rains over the last few days had kept the climate cooler.

2a. With Valerie BrowningCommunications in this region are unreliable and so while I had been emailing Valerie Browning, the person we had come to see, I wasn’t sure whether she would be in Mille, where she is building a hospital or Logia where she and her family lives. We were just about to give up on Mille and head for Logia when she appeared, looking for us. Diminutive in physical size but with a huge presence, she martialled all who were with her, shooed away those who were standing and staring at us (we are used to attracting a crowd at this stage), and brought us to a cafe for a drink and to discuss plans.

I particularly wanted to see the hospital she and the Afar Pastoralists’ Development Association (APDA) are building, learn about the mobile health units and mobile classrooms they have pioneered, and other community work of the APDA which benefits the Afar. We sat together on the way to Logia, getting to know each other and discussing development, poverty, various projects and NGOs. I was mostly learning.

2b. Ishmael in his Logia office of the APDAValerie, an Australian nurse, has been living in the Horn of Africa for more than thirty years. She has nursed famine victims in Ethiopia, helped independence fighters in Eritrea, supported guerrilla soldiers in Djibouti and reported undercover on human rights abuses in Ethiopia; risking her life many times for her belief in justice. Valerie has been married to Ismael, a clan leader of the Afar for 21 years. They have two children, Aisha who is studying in Australia and Rammid (8) who was determined that he wanted to cycle with me through to Somalia!

Together they have created the APDA which brings education to a culture which had 2% literacy before they began their work and life-saving medical aid and community empowerment to the nomads. The APDA started with 34 committed staff and has now expanded to 750 workers. The Afar people regard Valerie so highly they call her ‘Maalika’ which means ‘Queen’.

We drove directly to the Logia office to meet Ismael and clean up. It had been two long days on the road and even a cold shower was particularly welcome. It was a pleasure to meet Ismael too – a gentle character who also works tirelessly for his people. While the other two were freshening up, Valerie explained that she believed poverty is not simply about living with less than one or two dollars a day, it’s all about lack of empowerment. Not having enough money is a part of it, but often it is a consequence of not having a voice. Education she believes is the key to alleviating poverty (and I agree whole heartedly). Educated people are better able to make decisions and choices. They can learn about the importance of cleanliness and sanitation, understand about the risks associated with FGM (female genital mutilation), they can understand laws, vote and learn life skills for example. Educated people have better health on average, fewer healthier children and have capacity to earn more money. Educated people are empowered to take control and make better decisions for their livelihoods.

The only worthwhile, sustainable type of development is community-based, where local leaders make decisions about their direction and cultural development. Empowering communities with an emphasis on skills transfer is the best possible leg up organisations can give.

3c. With 0% literacy before the work of the APDA, these girls have much to celebrate

3d. Boys performing a traditional danceThat evening we attended a youth dance performance which was to celebrate the end of a week-long Afar youth conference. Youth from all over the huge Afar region had congregated to exchange ideas and discuss their direction, interact and make friends. The performances were a mix of traditional dances which tell stories and new compositions which generally educate about good health practices and the importance of education. It was an uplifting evening supported by at least a couple of hundred locals in the audience.

3b. Young women are empowered and celebrate the conferenceA particular highlight for me was to see the girls perform. This would not have happened a few years ago. Afar women, before the ADPA had 0% literacy. Now these girls have the confidence to sing and dance in front of a crowd. Once the girls had finished, the youth congregated and I was introduced and invited to say a few words (Ismael translating). I kept on with the education theme with the message of the importance of going to school and learning new skills.

4b. The 28 bed hospital should be ready by the end of the yearThe next day we returned to Mille to look at the hospital. It is getting there, just needs internal furnishings before it can start to be equipped. The main section will contain 28 beds. One end will house all the operating and technical equipment. The other end will have space for teaching to train Afar nurses, birth assistants and medical professionals. Funding is still being sought to complete the centre by 2011.

5a. A typical Afar home or deboiterThe basis of the APDA health plan is the mobile health units. It is the most practical way of administering healthcare, such as vaccinations to the nomads. The reach communities where there are no roads, Valerie and the team must carry a generator by camel to make ice to keep the vaccines cold. Once they reach an accessible distance, they carry the vaccines packed in ice and walk with the heavy packs for anything up to 14 hours. Over a week she and her team may walk about 300km. The purpose of the centrally located hospital in Mille is to service those who cannot be treated by the mobile health units.

8b. The young women gather

Valerie made particular mention of the major problems the Afar have with women’s reproductive health. 1.7% of Afar women die in child birth and 35% of children don’t live past the age of five years. Millennium Development Goal 5 is the most difficult to deal with due to the traditional practice of FGM. All Afar women traditionally undergo the most severe form of FGM which involves removing both labia and clitoris and then stitching them together. This causes dreadful complications in child bearing and with the kidneys. Valerie explained that one girl at the age of 23 needs a kidney transplant to save her life, due to infections caused by FGM. Valerie had offered one of her own kidneys.

I had also wanted to visit one of their mobile schools to see a class in action. So far the APDA has delivered education to 85,000 children. Students are educated up to year 4 level, learning in their own language. It seems an impressive amount but Valerie is not content with this when there are so many more to educate. There are approximately 1.4 million Afar people. Given that there are 74 million Ethiopians, the Afar are very much a minority group whose rights and needs are generally overlooked by the government.

6b. Valerie finds out from those displaced the scale of the emergency and who needs helpOvernight storms had caused local flooding; the Awash and Mille rivers and swelled and caused severe flooding so school was off. Three people had died and many were fleeing to higher ground. Our plan changed. Rather than visit the mobile school, we had to drive the long way round from Mille, back down the Awash Road and along the flood plain to Galha village to where many were seeking refuge. Valerie was on the job immediately, talking with the community leaders and women to find out the extent of the emergency and what the people needed.

6a. Emerging from the flood waters, escaping with very little, if anythingThe waters rose quickly and many of the men had to swim their families to safety. About 165 families were displaced at that stage. The people seemed in reasonable condition, but without food and supplies, their health would deteriorate after a few days. Valerie was going to report it to the correct authorities first and wait for their response before going any further.

6c. A group of displaced Afar; 165 homes destroyed and three people dead at this timeFloods are becoming more of a regular occurrence for a couple of reasons. Over the last seven years, the region has experienced more extremes of climate. Secondly, the flow of the Awash River has been altered since the government built a dam just west of Logia. The reservoir extends for over 30km upstream making the waters behind it susceptible to flooding. The purpose of the dam is to supply 60,000 hectares of prime riverside land with water to irrigate a sugar cane plantation for ethanol production.

For the Afar this is having devastating consequences. Other than the increased susceptibility to flooding, the most fertile part of their land which they use for grazing during the driest part of the year, has been taken. This is a threat to their livelihood as there is nowhere to graze their livestock. When Ethiopia struggles to feed its people, and they do have oil reserves untapped, it seems a very strange decision to be producing ethanol from sugar cane.

9a. Below the old MSF built water tower in Galha villageGalha itself was an interesting because it was originally built by MSF (Medicines Sans Frontiers) in the 90s. Their project didn’t work and they pulled out of the region, leaving the empty buildings. According to Valerie, they wasted millions of dollars setting up a health centre, but there was a real division between the MSF and local workers and no real skills transfer. MSF didn’t stay long and left Gahla as a ghost town.

We returned to Logia and stayed in Valerie and Ismael’s compound. There is plenty more to write, but I will never get this blog posted. In Valerie’s book, Maalika, there is a quote which says:

To give and not to count the cost.
To fight and not to heed the wounds.
To toil and not to seek rest.
To labour and not to seek any reward,
Save that of knowing that we do your will.

This sums up Valerie’s attitude to her work and passion. We all found this visit to meet Valerie, Ismael and the Afar people incredibly inspirational. To buy Valerie’s book, or to support the APDA, please visit their website (by clicking on the logo on the Partners’ page) or contact AngliCORD,

We returned to Awash, a full day’s drive, in readiness to start the next phase to Somaliland.


Ethiopia: You, you, you

by Kate on August 2, 2010

Title: Moyale to Awash

Dates: 12th to 21st July GPS:

Distance: 884km Total Distance: 19,844km

Roads: Rainy, overcast mostly

Weather: Tarmac, mountains, generally hilly

After all the problems we had securing our Ethiopian visas, entering our 19th country was a doddle. Getting through immigration was simple and while customs were more particular, there were no major difficulties. It was back to cycling on the right hand side of the road. All the former British colonies which we had been travelling through in east Africa had all left-hand side driving. 1a. Italian fort near MegaCrossing the border, there was immediate changes in climate and people. It is the wet season in Ethiopia, but I couldn’t have imagined that we would have crossed from dry desert to drizzly, sometimes heavy rail. People shouted you, you, you almost constantly. It is their way of saying white person, especially in the southern regions. The landscape opened up and it was open plains all the way to Mega. That is where the climbing started again. Our first night in Ethiopia was spent camping beside the ruins of an old Italian fort 3km north of Mega. Ethiopia was never successfully colonised like all other African nations. The Italians tried in the late 1800s, and then from 1936-1941 they occupied the country which emperor Menelik unified by force.

2a. Salt crater lakeI was pretty tired and so took it easier for the first couple of days to Yavello, most likely fall out from pushing so hard across the shocking north Kenyan roads, and the last gastro. The landscape was stunning; dry scraggy mountains with spectacular rock formations and Sahel-type dryland vegetation. Fifteen kilometres north of Mega we made a short diversion to visit a salt mine and crater lake. The crater is about 600m deep. At the bottom a black-looking lake provides the villagers with an income.

2b. Donkeys descending from salt stores to the lakeThey traditionally use donkeys to transport the heavy burden up the impossibly steep track. The journey takes two hours each way. There are four types of salt; black salt used for animals, fine white salt, crystallised and rock salt. Traders came from far and wide to buy the salts, but these days the villagers gain a substantial income from tourism. They sure know how the take advantage and the village certainly looks like it has all the basics; electricity, school, health centre, etc.

2c. On thew way to harvest some salt

3a Friendly faceCommunications in Ethiopia, away from Addis Ababa and a couple of the main towns is impossible. The only mobile phone company is run by the state and only Ethiopian nationals are permitted to have a phone. Therefore, until we reached Addis Ababa, where a friend was able to set us up with a sim card, I had no phone to use. Internet is non-existent, or at least never working. Setting up and coordinating details for the finish of the expedition, now just five weeks away was made very difficult.

Ethiopia, and specifically the Rift Valley is well known as being the home of coffee – where coffee plant were first cultivated. Small cafes sell very good coffee just about everywhere – there is no instant coffee. The Rift Valley in Ethiopia and Kenya is also generally considered to be where humankind originates. Therefore this might explain why so many people in the world don’t feel human until they have had their coffee in the morning!!! From Yavello I cycled up and up (actually up, down, up, down,up…) to about 2500m. It was really tough work, though not unexpected. I didn’t mind the climbing, but unfortunately it was the kids which were a serious problem.

The adults could not be more friendly, and I welcome enthusiasm, but my days cycling up the Ethiopian Rift Valley, all the way to Addis Ababa and then later to Harar were perhaps the most stressful and unpleasant of the whole journey. At every opportunity children would run at me, often in mobs shouting you, you, you…money, money, money; give me money.

Of course struggling up the steepest of inclines, I could only manage about eight kilometres an hour and so could not outpace the kids. They would grab on to my bike, throw stones, swipe at me with sticks, try to strike me with whips, they would spit and beg – nonstop. If I did the usual friendly thing and say hello, wave and acknowledge their presence, this only encouraged them. It was better for my own safety that I ignored them completely, which was totally against my instincts. This was not an isolated incident, the responses were constant, like in a relay. Even if I managed to burn off a group of attackers, there would be another wave swarming just down the road.

Many children were plain enthusiastic and it was difficult to give them all a fair hearing and a positive response when others were trying to dislodge me from my bike or throwing stones when I did not give them money. If I stopped and confronted them, they would run away. I did two nine hour days taking this abuse, trying to get through this part of the journey as fast as possible. The hassles really clouded my enjoyment. I was disappointed because I had really been looking forward to travelling through this country. The scenery was actually stunning much of the time, although being the rainy season, it was not very conducive to photography. For this reason, but mostly because of the kids swamping me everywhere, I did not take many photos.

There are a couple of reasons as the why this is such a problem – or why I think it is such a problem. Firstly Ethiopia’s population has exploded from 30 million to 74 million in 35 years. The Rift Valley is one of the most populous regions where I don’t believe they all have access to education. The mobs of children probably don’t go to school. I learned from a German woman who had been living in Ethiopia for eleven years deciphering languages so that students could learn in their own languages, that both the Christian Orthodox and Muslim churches teach their children to beg…What is your name; give me money… As soon as they see a white person, doesn’t matter if like me they are struggling up a mountain, or in a vehicle, there is a terrible culture of wanting to be given something for nothing.

The other main problem is that Ethiopia has been the victim of so many years of hand outs from the international community. A generation of Ethiopians, especially since the droughts of the seventies and on, have grown up receiving the wrong type of aid, lacking in community development, skills transfer and empowerment. Money has just been poured into a bottomless pit. Therefore every time they see a white person, they believe they are owed money, that they should give the shirt off their backs, whatever they own.

While there are some good things happening, handouts are still an issue. Money desperately needs to be spent on their ‘ABCs’ rather than teaching children to beg (meaning literacy and population control – ABC = Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms).

I reached Awasa in good time but then came down with a violent gastro. Something did not agree with me and my body simply pressed the eject button. I could only lie in bed and sip rehydration salts all day. I did seem to recover well though from gastro number 5 and was able to continue after a wipe-out day. I caught up time, even in heavy rain.

I didn’t need to cycle to Addis Ababa as it is 70km off the route I had chosen, so after staying the night in Debre Zeit, just south of the capital, we drove in. This was an opportunity to meet up with some friends – those who had worked hard to help us get our Ethiopian visas – while catching up on the usual admin bits and pieces in readiness for the next stage. About ten years ago I did a walking holiday in Ladakh, northern India. It was the leader of that trek, Suzie Grant and her Ethiopian travel industry colleagues who had fought for us so hard with the immigration department. It was great to meet Suzie again and say thank you to Gebre and Misgane for their efforts. Suzie has been battling with Ethiopian authorities to build her dream guest house in a beautiful part of northern Ethiopia. After initial encouragement, the bureaucracy of trying to set up a culturally sensitive establishment has taken its toll. In short, we were both fed up for different reasons.

One of the big plusses about Ethiopia is the cuisine. Other than good coffee, they have a distinctive cuisine which we sampled when Misgane took Suzie and me to dinner. Over dinner he confirmed what we both had been thinking about development in Ethiopia. They don’t need hand outs, they want education and they want to take control of their own development. He found most of the Western aid responses patronising. He says that when they see westerners driving around in LandCruisers and staying in expensive hotels when they are meant to be directing aid to where it is needed most – the people, it sends all the wrong messages. Misgane has his own very successful travel business and, having lived in Europe for ten years, can see both sides of the story.

I restarted the journey at Mojo, the village at the turn off to Addis Ababa, cycling east towards Awash, direction Somaliland. Before heading for the border, there was one very important project to visit in the Afar Region (Ethiopian desert lowlands). From Awash I made a big diversion 320km north to Mille and Logia to meet Valerie Browning, her husband Ishmael and learn about the NGO they have set up called the Afar Pastoralists’ Development Association. If I have been rather negative and upset about development in Ethiopia in this blog, then the next story is a great counter balance.

3c. Attracting an inquisitive crowd whenevre we stopped

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