RSS

Category Archives: Adventure Travel

Assignment: Zambia

Beautiful Zambia: the "smoke that thunders"

Beautiful Zambia: the “Smoke That Thunders”, Victoria Falls

Well, no sooner was I back from my wonderful road trip in the States than I got a call from a BBC contact about a new assignment – in Zambia! With barely a week in the UK – and most of my stuff still packed in my suitcase! – I was suddenly skidding back to Heathrow and flying south towards Jo’burg, then on to Lusaka.

My last trip to Zambia, maybe 3 years ago, was an unforgettable journey, entering the country’s western border via Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and driving up through Livingstone with a stop-off to gaze in awe at the mighty Victoria Falls before exploring the endless delights of the Zambezi River. Coming back to Zambia, this time for work, has been an altogether different kind of experience – though no less memorable!

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location: shooting with the Zambian TV crew

I’ve been working as Consultant Producer on a UK AID/DFID-funded documentary being made by a Zambian documentary crew. I’ve had the privilege of working with this small team of local film-makers, seeing how they work and advising them on technical and creative aspects of the production. I can assure you, it’s been a learning curve for all of us! And working with them has once again afforded me the chance to see a country in a different way from your average tourist or traveller.

Filming in all kinds of locations from remote maize farms to local downtown markets and back-street nshima (Zambia’s staple dish) restaurants, we’ve met an amazing cross-section of people in a very short space of time. As ever, I’ve been struck by how little people survive on here in Africa, but how happy they are regardless – and wondered at the poverty that still exists, even in the heart of big developed cities like Lusaka.

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels: not for the faint-hearted!

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without some forays out on two wheels. On my weekends off, I’ve been exploring under my own steam on a little Chinese-made 125cc bike that goes like a bomb and is great for dodging Lusaka’s burgeoning traffic – though nerves of steel and lightning-quick reflexes have been required on many an occasion: the combination of sudden pot-holes and things you wouldn’t expect to see shuffling across the tarmac (where did that one-legged woman come from?!) certainly made me feel well and truly alive out there on the road!

So it’s been work combined with a little bit of pleasure and, all too soon, my three-week stint here is coming to an end. I have a feeling I’ll be back here very soon, though. One way or another, Africa just keeps a-calling! :)

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

US Adventure – The Grand Circle

Monument Valley - like a huge movie set!

Monument Valley – like a huge movie set!

Well what an amazing time I’ve had on my latest adventure here in the United States! Five days hiking the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a few days down at the 2014 Overland Expo – presenting my African Film Adventure and taking part in a couple of roundtable sessions, talking all things adventure – and ten days on the road touring “The Grand Circle” in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

As ever, it was great to hook up with adventurous friends old and new at the Overland Expo. I had a blast presenting my African Film Adventure (last year’s Uganda expedition) – the session was pleasingly well-attended and it was such a boost to get positive feedback and questions from folks afterwards. Moderating the Africa/Middle East roundtable was also great fun, corralling speakers including Rene Cormier, Ron and Viv Moon and Fred Cook, as well as participating in the How To Integrate Travel Into Your Daily Life session (my key piece of advice, as it turned out, was “F*** it, just get out there!” which caused much mirth from the assembled crowd!). Huge thanks to the organisers for another fantastic event, and for inviting me to speak.

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Hitting the road after the Expo was what I’d been craving. I’ve always wanted to explore “The Grand Circle”, which apparently has the USA’s highest concentration of National Parks – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I covered well over 1,500 miles and although every day presented a new and amazing vista, stand-outs for me were Monument Valley (Thelma and Louise country!), Utah’s Grand Staircase (which was like crossing a vast, empty alien planet), and Mesa Verde in Colorado, an archaeologist’s dream containing hundreds of amazingly-preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages dating from c.1200 AD. Incredible, all of it. 

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

As usual, I could have kept going forever – there’s something about being on the road, just travelling where you feel like from day to day, that’s incredibly freeing. But with just a few days of my trip left, it’s time to turn my wheels around and head back to Phoenix, and then I’m London-bound.

Once again, the US has delivered those wide open spaces I was seeking – and a whole lot more besides. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure of it. :)

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

News: Presenting at Overland Expo 2014

Commandeering a boda boda in Uganda

Commandeering a boda boda in Southwest Uganda

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be a Presenter at this year’s Overland Expo in Flagstaff, Arizona, 16th-18th May 2014.

As many of you know, I was there last year manning the Charley Boorman stand with my friend Billy Ward. I had a great time meeting lots of fellow overlanders, adventure motorcyclists and 4×4 enthusiasts, and really loved the adventurous spirit and camaraderie that filled the air over those three days at Mormon Lake, about 2 hours’ ride from Phoenix.

This time round, I’ll be doing a one-hour session about my recent three-month African Film Adventure in southwest Uganda, down by the border with the Congo and Rwanda. I’ll be showing some clips and photos from the trip, talking about some of the challenges of travelling and filming in this remote part of Africa, and fielding questions about how to combine overlanding adventures with volunteering. 

I’m a big advocate of doing good while travelling and have done a number of trips now which have combined adventure with “giving something back”, including my big Sahara trek with UNICEF Ambassador Russ Malkin in 2010. This year I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Africa (most recently Ghana) as a Journalist with Comic Relief to film and report on the many charity projects that are being funded by them there.

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

Exploring the Grand Canyon after the 2013 Overland Expo

I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences with the OX14 audience, not to mention hearing about everyone else’s adventures. It will be great to be back at the Expo, which is now one of the biggest overlanding/adventure events of the year. I can’t wait to be back in Arizona – last time, I borrowed a motorbike and toured Route 66 and the Grand Canyon; this time, well, let’s just say I’m going to be having another good look around!

Details about session times and venue for my talk at OX14 are still being firmed up by the organisers, but keep an eye on the Overland Expo website: http://www.overlandexpo.com. Hope to see you there!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Adventure Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ace Cafe: Overland & Adventure Bike Day

Steph and me, flanked by Ed March and Austin Vince

Steph and me, flanked by Ed March and Austin Vince

Well it’s a bright but chilly Sunday and I’m down here at the legendary Ace Cafe, hanging out with hundreds of other bikers who, like me, have come to wave off Steph “One Woman One Moto” Jeavons on her round-the-world bike adventure.

Despite the cold, the air’s been buzzing with the usual chatter that happens when you get a lot of adventure bikers in one place – talk of two-wheeled trips to far-flung places, exchange of notes on travel gear and bike bits, and, on this occasion, lots of envy about another biker setting off on another exciting round-the-world trip.

Steph waves goodbye to the crowds atop the Ace Cafe

Steph waves goodbye to the crowds from the Ace Cafe roof

Steph rode off on her epic journey a couple of hours ago now. I chatted to her just before she climbed onto her bike to head off. She was feeling a mixture of trepidation and excitement, and genuinely pleased at how many people had turned up to see her off. Austin Vince was there to give her a few final words of encouragement – and a “lucky” Mondo Sahara badge to wear on her travels. All around her, people pressed forward to get a good look at “Rhonda the Honda”, her CRF 250L, all packed up and ready to roll.

And she's off! Steph sets off with the cheers of the crowd behind her

And she’s off! Steph rides out with the cheers of the crowd behind her

After waving goodbye to the crowd from the Ace Cafe roof and hugging friends and family, she was off! I could only imagine what must have been going through her mind at that moment – probably something like, “Please don’t drop the bike!” or “Did I turn the oven off?” Whatever, Steph’s got a whole lot of adventure ahead of her and I for one will be following her all the way.

Sunday afternoon at the Ace Cafe

Sunday afternoon at the Ace Cafe

After the excitement of the send-off, the Ace Cafe is still buzzing here. I’ve been catching up with lots of familiar faces including the lovely Sam Manicom and Iain Harper, as well as ogling all the bikes that are parked up here. (Well, seems rude not to!). I’ve also had the opportunity to say a proper hello to Dom Giles and tell him how much I loved his book, Gone Riding. If you haven’t read it yet, jump on Amazon and get a copy right now: it’s the story of his 30,000-mile bike ride through 18 countries, including Panama to Alaska and Southern Africa. Today Dom told me he wrote it “from the heart” – and trust me, it really shows in his writing.

Well it’s freezing cold here at the Ace Cafe and I’m off in search for another hot coffee. It’s been a great day all round – and of course, good luck to Steph on her epic adventure!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 23, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Three Days In Ghana

A backstreet in a Greater Accra suburb, Ghana

A backstreet in a suburb of Accra, capital of Ghana

Barely two weeks after starting work with Comic Relief, I was last week sent on my first overseas assignment – to Ghana! As a Journalist on the Editorial desk, I was asked to go out as part of a small Comic Relief media team to help two You Tube vloggers, Lily Martin and Anna Gardner, make short films about some of our projects for International Women’s Day on 8th March.

With just two days of prep time, I suddenly found myself skidding onto a BA flight to Accra. Within 7 hours, I’d left the cold and rain of London behind and was back in tropical sunshiney Africa.

The Comic Relief Team: (L to R) Anna (You Tuber), Jeanie, Lucy (agent), Nathan (fixer), Lucy (Media Officer), Lily (You Tuber), Abudulai (fixer)

Jeanie (second from left) with the Comic Relief team in Ghana

And so began a whirlwind trip through Ghana. First up, we jumped on a plane to Tamale, about 600kms north of Accra, then took a two-hour drive through arid, flat savannah to Bolgatanga, about an hour from the Burkina Faso border.

There, in a small dusty village, we met a wonderful group of women benefitting from a Widows and Orphans Movement project funded by Comic Relief. They’ve been given the chance to own micro-businesses making and selling shea butter – an opportunity which has taken them out of poverty and enabled them to become self-sufficient so they can support their kids. These women have lived unimaginably hard lives in rural Ghana but their new opportunities have definitely given them something to smile about! It made me smile too.

Then we headed back to Accra and drove (on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve ever travelled on!) to the outer suburbs, a beautiful region of tropical impossibly-green forests – what a contrast to the arid north! There we met women who’d been given small grants by the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) to set up small businesses in dressmaking and hairdressing. In their tiny shops, crammed into the middle of noisy, bustling markets, we heard how these women are “paying forward” their opportunities, training dozens of other women and passing on their skills.

Lily and Anna, our two You Tubers, were great fun to travel with and they’ve produced some cool films about our trip. See my Twitter feed @jeanied1 for the links to their films.

Spotted this little beauty in downtown Accra

Spotted this little beauty in downtown Accra

It was a tantalisingly short trip. As you all know, I love to explore under my own steam and I hope I’ll be able go back to Ghana one day, commandeer a set of wheels, and get to know the country a little better. Till then, I count myself lucky that I was able to go and witness the good things happening in the country because of Comic Relief. It’s yet another adventure that will stay in my mind for a long time to come. :)

 

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Adventures With Comic Relief

Capturing a story in Africa

Capturing a story in Africa

After coming back to the UK for a couple of weeks to consider my next move, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: six weeks working as a Freelance Journalist for Comic Relief. This high-profile charity supports projects in the UK and overseas, mainly in Africa, and my job in the coming weeks is to gather stories from some of those projects to show how fundraisers’ money is being spent.

With Comic Relief’s Sport Relief 2014 campaign coming up (21st-23rd March), it’s a great opportunity to get some “good news stories” out there and I’m excited at the chance to be part of it.

My Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My regulation Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My first week has already been fantastically busy. I’ve interviewed a Ghanaian woman from a remote African village who pulled herself out of poverty to become President of one of the most successful Fairtrade cocoa farming co-operatives in Africa. I’ve covered a story about women being saved from the Nairobi slums by a project that promotes boxing as a way to combat social problems. And I’ve talked to a doctor in Ghana who’s at the forefront of delivering life-saving vaccines to remote village communities via the “cold chain” process. (Remember Ewan McGregor’s recent UNICEF Cold Chain Mission documentary on the BBC? It’s the same kind of thing.) Diverse work indeed – and I’m loving it!

After my 4 months in Uganda setting up Film Africa, a community film project for local people to share their stories using video, it’s fascinating seeing charity work from a different perspective and realising what’s involved, not just in the projects themselves, but in promoting awareness of their work. And as someone with a passion for Africa, I’m pleased to see so many people there benefitting from Comic Relief-funded programs.

So I’m throwing myself into the next few weeks. Apart from anything else, it’s a good opportunity to put some money in my pocket to help fund my next adventures. Because yes, as ever I’m cooking up some more overlanding exploits for 2014: more on that to come very soon… :-)

To find out more about what Comic Relief does and see how you can get involved in this year’s Sport Relief campaign: http://www.comicrelief.com.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Adventure Travel Show 2014

Ready for new adventures!

Ready for new adventures!

Well, it’s a new year and it finds me flying into London after a couple months in beautiful Granada, to scope out new opportunities for the coming months.

If in doubt, I find getting together with like-minded, adventurous people always helps – and this weekend has been no exception! By chance, the Adventure Travel Show’s been on at Olympia – a great opportunity to hear some inspirational speakers and catch up with some UK-based adventurer friends.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes delights a punter at his book-signing

Sir Ranulph Fiennes delights a fan at his book-signing

And if I was looking for inspiration, I certainly found it after listening to some of the show’s speakers, who reminded me that life really is short and we have to make the most of every moment. Sir Ranulph Fiennes was definitely a highlight – talk about a guy who’s lived life to the full! Aged 70, he’s planning his next intrepid expedition! I love his attitude to life: no matter what obstacles you come across, there HAS to be a way to get where you want to go. His trademark sharp humour and no-nonsense approach had the packed auditorium well and truly captivated.

Finding peace at the Grand Canyon in 2013

Finding peace at the Grand Canyon in 2013

Dave Cornthwaite also got the audience going with his Say Yes More philosophy – another guy who doesn’t let difficulties stand in the way of a good idea! His determination to stay off the sofa and get out in the world on amazing, self-propelled adventures is truly infectious. And Russ Malkin – my former Sahara trek buddy! – gave a really interesting perspective on adventure travel as a form of meditation: an idea I absolutely subscribe to, as I find that travelling is when I feel most happy and at peace.

Hearing adventurers speaking on subjects as diverse as cycling a pedal bike thousands of miles round the world (Josie Dew) and scaling one of Antarctica’s most challenging peaks (Leo Houlding) has given me a much-needed boost to continue pursuing my own adventures this year.

Last year saw me having motorbike adventures in Australia and the US, setting up a community film initiative in Uganda, down by the Rwanda/Congo border, and re-discovering Spanish life in gorgeous Andalucía. Now I’m cooking up even bigger adventures for this year…Watch this space! :)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 26, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

African Film Adventure: The Final Week

Well, here I am at Kigali Airport, Rwanda, looking back over my final week in Uganda with Film Africa. Yes, after an incredible three months in Rubuguri, the last week has gone in a flash – and what a week it’s been!

Film Africa's first graduation ceremony

L to R: James, Justus, Amos, Kobs – here I am with Film Africa’s first graduates!

My first four Ugandan film trainees graduated with flying colours, becoming Film Ambassadors who will spread skills throughout their local community, as well as making their own short films. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved, and although it’s time for me to go, I’ll be remaining as Film Africa’s Project Director, so I can keep raising funds, equipment and awareness of the initiative, no matter where I am in the world!

In a second ceremony, the “stretcher groups” I’ve been teaching First Aid and disease prevention to also got their certificates. It was a wonderful community event and I felt so proud to have contributed something else in addition to the Film Africa work I’ve been doing – health education is desperately needed in this far-flung community and their appreciation of my teaching was so heartfelt. A wonderful day.

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

I also went gorilla tracking in the gorgeous Mgahinga National Park right on the border with DR Congo – another one of those life experiences I will never forget. Scrambling around in the steep muddy rainforest to find the gorillas, accompanied by trackers hacking their way through the foliage with machetes, was memorable enough (!) – but finally coming across the gorillas in their natural habitat was surreal. The group were sitting up in the trees feeding, including a huge silverback, and unbelievably they seemed happy to pose for photos while we just sat down below observing them. The physical exertion it took to find these amazing creatures was more Bear Grylls than David Attenborough, it has to be said – but wow, was it worth it!

Saying goodbye to some of the kids

Saying goodbye to some of the local children

All up, my three months in rural Uganda has been an incredible experience and the people I’ve met here – fellow volunteers and locals – have been wonderful to work with. Very sad to leave…but I know I’ll be back!

And so, what next? Well, the plan is to head to London Heathrow via Doha, pick up my motorbike gear, and then go back to beautiful Andalucia, southern Spain, to plan my next adventure… See you on the other side!!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film Africa: All About Bikes

At Film Africa HQ, Rubuguri

At Film Africa HQ, Rubuguri

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks (again!) here at Film Africa. With training of the local project co-ordinators well underway, I’ve been exploring some other avenues to take our Ugandan “Film Club” to the next level. And this week, as ever, it’s been all about bikes…

A 90-minute motorbike ride on one of the most horrendous roads I’ve ever ridden on took me from Rubuguri to Kisoro and a meeting with a wonderful guy called Denis Agaba. He works for GAFI – the Great Apes Film Initiative – a UK-based organisation which is pioneering something called “pedal power cinema”. Denis showed me the kit – it’s amazingly simple. Any pedal bike (adult or child’s) can be bolted to a special frame, then pedalled while stationary to power a dynamo connected to a DVD player/projector set-up. This ingenious little kit means you can screen films in the most remote areas of the world where there’s no access to electricity.

Pedal power!

Pedal power cinema – it really works!

Denis is using the kit to educate kids here in Africa about the importance of conservation and wildlife, and specifically about the population of mountain gorillas that this part of SW Uganda is famous for. Tourists pay up to $550 for a gorilla tracking permit  – but most locals can’t afford this so they’ve never even seen the gorillas, let alone understand why it’s important to protect them. Denis is clearly passionate about his work – and good at it too! I’m really hoping Film Africa can partner in some way with GAFI to get access to the pedal power gear and help Denis with his fantastic activities.

Roadside bike maintenance, Africa-style!

Roadside bike maintenance, Africa-style!

Fittingly, the journey back from the meeting was also full of bike action. There’d been a downpour while we were inside and the un-paved road back to Rubuguri was washed out with sluices of thick mud, making it hard to see treacherous rocks buried underneath. After one especially horrible bump, the front wheel started thudding as if it were now square – a puncture!

Halfway up a steep mountain valley, apparently deserted, it wasn’t long before help arrived – of course, this is Africa! Just round the next bend, a couple of guys were fixing a puncture on their own bike and were more than happy to lend a hand with mine! With the usual African ingenuity and limited tools, the men set about the task and had me back on the road in no time – and just before dark, I arrived back at Film Africa HQ, mud-spattered, rain-soaked… but very happy!

For more about GAFI’s work, check out their website: http://www.gafi4apes.org/pedal-powered-cinema/

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

Adventures in Uganda

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Got the keys to the company boda boda!

Hard to believe, but I’ve been out here in southwest Uganda for over 2 months now. And what an amazing eight weeks it’s been!

Living in the small town of Rubuguri, on the edge of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, has been an absolute eye-opener in terms of seeing the basic living conditions of the community here – few have running water, flushing toilets or electricity, and most live off the land, eating what they grow. Meat is a rarity – eaten only at Christmas or on very special occasions – and the shops (such as they are – little shacks on the side of the road) stock only the bare essentials. Luxuries like chocolate, wine and muesli are hard to come by – I’ve had to send out for supplies to the nearby town of Kisoro when the cravings have got too much!!

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

Teaching local project co-ordinator Justice some camera basics

The Film Africa project is hard work and a real challenge in such a basic environment. Oftentimes, I’ve been really frustrated at the lack of electricity and how basic our camera and editing equipment is. Nonetheless, what we’ve achieved here already is pretty wonderful, I think.

I’ve devised a training program to teach our four local project co-ordinators basic camera, directing and editing skills. They’re having a blast learning production techniques and the basics of storytelling, and I’ve already been using them as trainee cameramen to film local events, including the recent Uganda Independence Day celebrations and a local talent show featuring lots of amazing cultural performances – Best of Bwindi.

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

Kids steal the show (again!) at Uganda Independence Day celebrations

With four weeks to go, I have a big decision to make – whether to keep going with my work here at Film Africa (there’s so much to do!) or hit the road, possibly by motorbike, and head down through Africa towards the south in search of new adventures. Money’s a big issue – I’m already struggling to cover the costs of volunteering here with Film Africa – so that will undoubtedly sway my decision, ultimately. Right now, I can’t contemplate leaving all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know in Rubuguri through my film work here. But having budgeted for only three months here, it could be time to move on.

So some tough decisions to make in the next week or so: watch this space…

If you’d like to support my volunteering endeavours here in Uganda, please consider donating to my fundraising page: http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

Want to join us by volunteering at Film Africa? Please drop me a line via the CONTACT ME page on this website or get in touch with lizzie@bigbeyond.org for details on how YOU could make a difference here in Uganda!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 18, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Road Trip To The Ssese Islands

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

After five weeks of pretty hard work setting up the Film Africa project here in Uganda, I decided it was time to take off for a few days and see what else this amazing country has to offer. And craving to see open water again, I decided on a trip overland to Lake Victoria to spend a few days in the glorious Ssese Islands.

With only a few days to spare, fellow volunteer Louise and I decided to split the cost to hire a car and driver. A wonderful guy called Godfrey, who’d driven us from the Rwandan border to our new home in Rubuguri, said he’d do the trip to and from Kampala/Entebbe ferry port for 1 million Ugandan shillings (about £250), which sounded like a bargain to us. So at 7am on Thursday morning, we hauled our luggage into Godfrey’s battered Toyota Corona and set off for the long haul northwards.

For the first two hours to Kabale, we enjoyed the notorious “African massage” as we bumped along precarious dirt tracks through the mountains around Bwindi. Early-morning cloud hung in the trees, giving everywhere a magical feel – we truly were “Muzungus in the mist”! When we finally hit tarmac – the first we’d seen for 5 weeks! – there was elation at the smoothness of the ride. The 10-hour journey overland to Kampala was a profusion of roadworks, dusty bustling towns, markets teeming with produce, and occasional wildlife-spotting.

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

After a night in bustling Kampala, we battled through the capital’s chaotic traffic to the Entebbe ferry port, to pick up the MV Kalangala across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands. The ferry was crammed with people, goats and all manner of produce – our First Class tickets afforded us a cushioned seat rather than just a wooden one, but otherwise we were squashed in alongside dozens of other passengers.

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Three and a half hours later, here we are on gorgeous Buggala Island, the largest of the 84 Ssese Islands. I’m writing this by the lakeshore, sitting on a pristine white-sand beach with the soporific noise of the tide washing in and out. How wonderful it is to be back by water again!

The bird life here is extraordinary – I’ve already seen shoebills, herons, storks and dozens of other varieties in the past 24 hours (apparently there are 240 bird species here!). Vervet monkeys scamper all around us, watching us cheekily from high branches. The Mirembe Beach Resort we are staying in is basic but clean, and the overwhelming sensation here is of enjoying unspoilt natural beauty.

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Looking out across the vastness of Lake Victoria, our home down in the mountains of the southwest seems a world away…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Film Africa – Shooting Starts

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

Screen grab from video shot with the Batwa near Nkuringo

It’s been a busy week down here in southwest Uganda. After a few weeks of field research and collating some basic bits of camera equipment, we’ve been able to do our first shooting for Film Africa – or “Film Club” as the locals have dubbed it.

On Tuesday, we headed up the mountain on motorbikes for a first meeting with the Batwa tribe near Nkuringo, to broach the idea with them of documenting their culture and way of life on film. I’d always wondered if pygmies really existed – or whether it was just an outdated term for indigenous tribes – but as soon as we met the first Batwa, I realised that at 5″4 I towered above them all! Moments later, we were heading deep into the pocket forest with them for a first taste of how they live. After showing us various medicinal herbs and some “chat” leaves (“These make a very strong drink!”), we went to one of their settlements, where they live in small huts made of mud and leaves and a rather spectacular two-storey treehouse.

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

The Batwa come to welcome us into the forest

We then found ourselves huddled in the dark in one of the small huts with all twelve tribe members staring at us expectantly with wide eyes. The moment had come to talk to them about our film project. With the help of Kenneth, our local guide and interpreter, we talked the Batwa through our hopes of capturing their stories and way of life on film. When we said we wanted to get to know them better, they broke into wide smiles, clapped excitedly, and invited us to come back soon to spend a full day and night with them – and they would bring their questions for us to discuss things further. We left on a high, knowing that the first step towards filming with the Batwa was done. A special day indeed and one I will never forget.

One of the local kids plants a tree at the TRees For Life event

One of the local kids plants a tree at the Trees For Life event

Then on Friday, we filmed our first big community event – Trees For Life, a tree-planting event organised by Louise, a fellow volunteer. The whole town of Rubuguri turned out for a day of ceremonial tree-planting, speeches, music and dancing. As usual, the kids stole the show with their colourful costumes and enthusiastic singing as they led everyone down the town’s main street towards the ceremony.

So the Film Africa project is well and truly up and running. It’s been a struggle with limited electricity and minimal equipment but, undeterred, we’re now forging ahead!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uganda – The Adventure Begins

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

First boda boda ride from Kigali, Rwanda

Well here I am in Rubuguri, southwest Uganda – a remote town near the border with Rwanda and DR Congo. It’s exactly three weeks since I came here overland from Kigali and I hardly know where to start in describing this place where I’m setting up a new film project for the local community.

It’s a dusty one-street town teeming with life and typical of many in remote, rural parts of Africa. Women carry all manner of items on their heads, picking their way slowly but surely along the sides of the road. Men drive goats and cows in front of them to distant mountain pastures, while others come off the land back to town, wielding huge lethal-looking machetes and sweating in the tropical heat. Kids with bare feet and dirty faces run along, calling out to me: “Mzungu, mzungu!” (“white person!”) and sometimes, “Give me money, give me pen!”

A music roadshow rolls into town and I'm caught up in the middle of it!

A music roadshow rolls into town and I’m caught up in the middle of it!

Motorbikes are the main form of transport here – cars are rare, apart from the odd 4×4 carrying tourists through town to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to go gorilla tracking. All bike riding is off-road here – there’s no tarmac for miles in any direction and the local boda drivers could certainly teach budding off-road motorcyclists a thing or too about handling bikes on rough, rocky, steep terrain! I’ve been using the boda bikes to commute to and from work so far, but I’ve got my eye on a sturdy little 125cc Suzuki I saw the other day…

Things are more basic here than even I imagined – limited electricity, patchy internet, and the shops (such as they are) stock very little other than basic foodstuffs and vodka sachets! The poverty here is quite confronting – and yet the local people are incredibly warm and friendly, some of the most welcoming I’ve ever met on my Africa travels.

Entertaining the local kids!

Entertaining the local kids! Photo courtesy of Louise Henry

It’s in this environment that I’m charged with the task of starting up Film Africa – a film project that will enable local people to use film to tell their own stories and spread vital health, conservation and education messages. With resources painfully limited, it’s going to take a lot of improvisation and a large dose of patience to get anything off the ground here, I think.

Armed with one small camcorder-style video camera (I desperately need a bigger one!), we’ve already made a start. On Friday, I filmed with the local Sunbeam Project, a music and dance project for orphaned and vulnerable kids. They were rehearsing for a performance at a local event and their sweet, perfectly in-tune voices filled the skies above with a rich, full sound that was unmistakeably Africa.

There are some big challenges ahead, but this place has already captured my heart. Happily, my work means I’ll have to integrate with the locals and I can’t wait to see Uganda through their eyes. And with a new set of wheels, I can’t wait to explore further afield – Lake Bunyonyi, Lake Victoria and the National Parks are already calling me! Yes, my African Film Adventure has truly begun…

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

African Film Adventure 2013

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

The magical landscape of Uganda

Well after a few weeks back in the UK, I’m now excited to reveal the details of my next adventure! It will star Africa, volcanoes and great lakes, rare mountain gorillas, a rural village tribe called the Batwa, and yes…motorbikes!

On August 15th – yes, in just over a week’s time – I’m flying into Kigali, Rwanda, then heading overland into the southwest corner of Uganda. I’m joining a small international team there to help get a new filming initiative off the ground that will tackle conservation, health, education and cultural issues.

For three months, I’ll be immersing myself in a tiny village in the Great Rift Valley near the border with the Congo and Rwanda, filming local stories and development issues, the rare mountain gorillas in the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and training the locals to get behind the camera themselves and make their own films. I’ll also be part of a pioneering project to bring mobile cinema (via “pedal power”!) to the region.

Filming in Africa

Filming in Africa

Living conditions will be basic – no electricity or running water, everything runs on solar power – and the location couldn’t be more remote, on the edge of dense jungle in the very heart of rural East Africa. But I can’t wait to be on the ground, bonding with my new team, getting to know the locals, and tackling the challenges of setting up a filming initiative in a far-flung but fascinating part of the world.

Those who’ve followed my UNICEF adventures will know how much I enjoy projects that combine adventure, amazing locations, and the chance to give something back. This expedition, spearheaded by a fantastic grassroots organisation called Big Beyond, really caught my eye as an experience that would supply all three!

As well as bringing my TV/media skills to the project (on a completely voluntary basis), I’ll also be mucking in with many other daily tasks in the village. And I’ll be doing my best to learn the local language, Rukiga, a form of Bantu – I’ve already got my first word: Agandi! Hello! Motorbikes (or boda boda, as they locals call them – my second useful word!) are the key form of transport here and I hope to use them not just for work but also for exploring the terrain in any free time I have. By all accounts, it’s an absolutely beautiful region, so I can’t wait to get on two wheels and explore further afield as soon as I can.

It’s a daunting challenge, but one I’m definitely ready for. With barely a week to prepare, I’m now in a whirlwind of packing and planning. Once again, I’m excited to say: Africa awaits…

For more details and to show your support for the African Film Adventure 2013 expedition:

http://www.gofundme.com/3tev04

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hubb UK 2013

Hubb UK group photo © Horizons Unlimited

Group photo in aid of prostate cancer – I’m in there somewhere! © Horizons Unlimited

This past four days, I’ve replaced the heat and dust of Arizona with the more temperate (!) climate of Donington Park. I’m here at the annual Hubb event, the UK’s largest gathering of adventure motorcyclists, 4×4-ers and other overlanders of all descriptions. It’s been a packed few days, with a schedule featuring many of the great and good of the adventure travel world. And if ever there was an event to re-kindle old adventure dreams – and inspire new ones! – this is it.

Ed March takes a well-earned break after an entertaining presentation

Ed March takes a well-earned break after his hilarious talk

Hubb UK campground - a great atmosphere!

Hubb UK campground – a great atmosphere!

Here we have a fantastic mix of hardened overlanders who’ve seen the world (some many times over!), those about to head off on big trips, and those still fantasising about taking off somewhere. And the huge variety of speakers here means that, no matter where in the world you want to go or how you want to travel, there’s someone to inspire you to get out there and do it.

I’ve been particularly inspired by the small-bike travellers. Ed March gave a couple of hilarious presentations on tackling the world (including the Arctic!) on his Honda C90 – his video snippets of oddities he’s seen on the road included a tractor going along a road in India with a wheel missing and an eye-watering tanker crash that happened right in front of him! Nathan Millward was equally entertaining about his travels from Sydney to London to the USA on his trusty postie bike – his stories about how little his bike cost to repair along the way (£280 for a complete rebuild in SE Asia!) must have made many a BMW owner’s eyes water!

Clare Elsdon talks about crossing Africa on a DRZ

Clare Elsdon talks about crossing Africa on a DRZ

The ladies have been well-represented here, too. I loved hearing Jupiter’s Traveller Clare Elsdon talking about crossing Africa solo on her DRZ (something I still hope to do in the near future). And Jacqui Furneaux gave a fascinating presentation about travelling the world on her 500cc Enfield Bullet – she even rode her bike right into the presentation hall so we could all pore over it afterwards. In both cases, I was inspired by their courage to throw up lives/jobs that were making them unhappy and venture out into the world in search of excitement and fulfillment – which, happily, seems to have happened to both of them.

On the 4×4 front, Toby Savage gave a really insightful talk about his adventures taking two 70-year-old jeeps across the Sahara desert. He showed some brilliant footage of an interview with war veteran Arthur, one of the original jeep drivers, which gave real context and history to the whole presentation.

Ted Simon talks about his new photobook

Ted Simon talks about his new photobook

An inevitable highlight of Hubb UK was hearing the great Ted Simon speak again – this time about his new photobook Jupiter’s Travels In Camera, a wonderful collection of stills taken on his many travels over the years. He also talked about the work of the Ted Simon Foundation, which supports adventure travel that aims to open people’s eyes to what is happening across the globe – a worthy cause indeed.

It was also, predictably, a packed house for Austin Vince who was here to talk about his latest Mondo Sahara adventures. As usual, he captivated the crowd with his trademark humour and enthusiasm. I’d actually heard him do this talk at the Overland Expo in Arizona – but it was just as enjoyable second time round, I have to say!

These are just a few highlights of what has been a great event. Hats off to Susan and Grant Johnson for their ongoing work with Horizons Unlimited and the Hubb website. And congrats to Sam Manicom and Iain Harper, the Hubb event organisers, who were flying around the entire time making sure everything ran smoothly – your hard work has paid off, guys, thank you!

And as we all disperse to our various corners of the country – and indeed, the world! – it’s obvious that yet more dreams are already being hatched and realised as a result of the last few days. My list of places I want to see in the world just got a whole lot longer…! :)

Hubb UK 2013

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: