I am extremely proud to announce that NJINGA, the long-awaited book about the Breaking the Cycle in Africa Expedition is now available to purchase from my new website, www.KateLeeming.com.
To go straight to the NJINGA shop; http://www.kateleeming.com/product/njinga/
NJINGA the feature documentary has recently won Best Documentary, Best Cinematography and was runner up for Best Director at this year’s Action on Film International Film Festival in Los Angeles. We are now aiming to enter it in to several other international film festivals before making it into a TV series.
2012 was a year of working on the book and documentary of Breaking the Cycle. The projects have taken longer than I had hoped
as I had to juggle work at the Royal Melbourne Tennis Club (to pay the rent) with everything else. The good news is that the end is in sight and I have another exciting expedition in the development stage.
Breaking the Cycle in Africa is being made in to a feature-length documentary. I am working with an independent Irish production company, Lateral Vision, based in Dublin. With 160 hours of footage and a multi-faceted story, the film has been complex to make. But the good news is they are nearly there. Martin and Peter will be visiting me in February to do the voice-overs. By then the composer will be working away on an original score and the colourist will be grading the images. We aim to have it completed by April in readiness for the film festival circuit.
With the book I am up to the second last chapter and hope to have the first draft completed in a month to six weeks. From there I have everything in place to publish Breaking the Cycle in Africa worldwide as a hard copy and as an e-book. I plan for the book to be published in July/August this year. In the mean time, my first book, Out There and Back will be published as an e-book.
I haven’t been focusing on giving presentations and therefore have only done a few. The next will be at the Australian Adventure Travel Film Festival in Bright, Victoria from February 15-17.
It’s a little early to announce the next expedition, but the purpose will be to raise funds to support some of the causes I learned about in Africa. A small clue though – I am going to Svalbard to do a training run in March.]]>
Well, I’ve been back a year now and can hardly believe it. The last twelve months has been all about documenting the story to realise it’s full potential – to be of most value to others. My book is coming on slowly – I’ve written about 60,000 words so far and I’m generally very pleased with the result. Things have slowed up as I have to work when I can to keep my head above water. In the mean time, this feature article was published in the latest edition of Outer-Edge: Outer Edge magazine, August September 2011 There are more articles in the pipeline.
I’ve been giving a number of presentations to corporates, school students, Rotary Clubs and in a couple of weeks I have a corporate speech to give to AMP in Sydney. As a result of a speaking at The Melbourne Club at their Members and Daughters evening, funds have been donated to the East African famine crisis.
I’ve been mentoring and assisting a number of people with organising their own journeys. Take a look at http://sarahkent.com.au/2011/0
Another interesting contribution I made was making an appearance in the “Hot Seat” for Super Clubs Plus, an exciting new educational organisation based in Australia, New Zealand and the UK (but available worldwide) that encourages safe social networking for 8-14 year olds. Here’s a promotional piece: Sport_Fest_2011, SCPlus
I will again be an ambassador for Plan’s Because I Am a Girl campaign – more to come on this one.
The documentary hasn’t got much further, but I’ve been rethinking the pitch and making some more positive connections. It will happen.]]>
It’s been a while, so I thought I should update you on what I have been working on.
Speaking at the Halogen Foundation’s National Young Leaders’ Day
Last Friday I was honoured to be asked to address 4500 young primary school leaders in Melbourne at the Halogen Foundation’s National Young Leaders’ Day. Young leaders converged from about 300 schools from all over Victoria to hear Matt Preston (Master Chef judge, food journalist), Stevie Nicholson and Tim Maddren (Hi-5 members), Craig Lapsley (Victoria Fire Services Commissioner) and Mike Martin (Halogen Foundation GM). Have a look at www.halogenfoundation.org to see what they are all about.
We’ve been working away on trying to get the documentary up – just need some funding.
I’ve just written the first draft of a feature article for Outer Edge magazine, who have been good supporters of the expedition. After much deliberation and baulking at the enormity of the task ahead, I’ve finally started writing the book. So there’s plenty of work ahead.
Another exciting project ahead involves connecting the Hargeisa Group Hospital with the Royal Melbourne Hospital. As I learned during the journey, Hargeisa Hospital was built by the British in 1952 when the population of Hargeisa was about 10,000. It is now around a million. The 450-bed hospital is in dire need of just about everything, from basic supplies and equipment to the need for teaching local medical staff. There’s nothing concrete yet, its just an idea with a lot of potential. They do receive some good assistance from Australian Doctors for Africa, but they could do with some extra help. I’ve made a few other connections too which are benefiting some of the projects visited during the expedition.]]>
The ‘sizzle pitch’ for the documentary is almost complete, but already it’s a big step up from the previous videos we’ve produced. Here’s a sneak preview.]]>
Here is the video from the 7PM Project . To see the full version which includes the studio appearance you need to go to http://7pmproject.com.au/video.htm, then Highlights and go to 1st September. You will need to sit through the first interview (Adam Bandts, Greens MP) for a few minutes before my segment.]]>
By completing the expedition, the job is only half done. Since returning to Australia I have been exceptionally busy and apologise for having not yet reported on the return journey from Hafun to Bosaso, Bosaso to Berbera, then Dubai – Melbourne. Here’s a brief account of what happened.
We started late from Hafun as our hosts had caught and prepared us some beautiful fresh fish for breakfast. There were a few difficulties during the fourteen hour journey from Hafun. Four vehicles started; the two bulletproof vehicles which had kindly been loaned by Range Resources, the technical and the Hafun mayor’s vehicle. The later two did not make it out of the sand on the isthmus and eventually we had to leave most of the soldiers and locals to fix their vehicles – awaiting help which had been organised by Issa. One of the bulletproof vehicles also broke down, but they were able to make running repairs.
The countryside on the journey to Iskushuban was dramatic with craggy wide canyons and open plains. Crossing a wadi, we both managed to get bogged and everyone contributed in stabilising the sand (with rocks and I found a sheet of iron which was used effectively as a runner). The ancient royal seat of Iskushuban is a stunning oasis. We made a brief break there for dinner. We certainly could have spent more time looking over the historic fort and oasis.
Everyone seemed to know who we were and what we were doing thanks to the story aired on the BBC World Service (Somali) – an interview I did just before cycling up Ras Hafun.
We took a few wrong turns travelling in the dark, but eventually made it into Bosaso at about 1.30am. There we spent two days, organising ourselves and waiting for the connecting flight on Juba Airways. This was an opportunity to meet a few more government officials including the Deputy President, ministers of Finance, Ports and Counter Piracy and I spoke to the Minister for Education over the phone. Like in Garowe, we were very restricted in our movements due to security, but looked after incredibly well. Issa and Abdiwali stayed with us until we flew out. Jane, Zdenek and I felt very priveleged to be able to see Puntland and be so well cared for by the government and welcomed by the people. It was overwhelming at times. It was inspiring to learn about the practical plans being implemented by the various government departments to ensure sustainable improvements the living conditions of their people. With no effective federal government and the devastating civil war, they are starting from scratch to achieve peace, develop infrastructure, education and health services and encourage investment. There is a very long way to go, but if the spirit of the people that we met is anything to go by, the only way is up.
Travelling on a Juba Airways plane was very dubious! As we walked out on to the runway, our friend who was travelling with us exclaimed, “Oh, we’ve got one of the scary planes today”, which didn’t instill a great deal of confidence. Few of the seatbelts worked and much of the interior was worn out or torn out – but the take off and landings were perfect!
Back in Berbera we were looked after by Omer who drove down from Hargeisa and we are indebted to him for his efforts. He even managed to convince Africa Express airways to support us. They very kindly waived my (huge) excess baggage. I was out of funds, so this was very timely. Jane, Zdenek and I spent two days in Berbera before we said our goodbyes; Omer returned to Hargeisa, Zdenek to London and then Prague and Jane and I to Dubai, then Perth and Melbourne respectively.]]>
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.]]>
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.
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.
Our 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.
Taakulo 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.
We 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.
Most 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 www.austdocafrica.iinet.net.au.
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.
At 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: firstname.lastname@example.org) 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: email@example.com, 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.
Omer 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.
Just 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.
A 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,
From 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.
All 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.
Omer 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.
The 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.
A 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: www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-10761968]]>