Category Archives: Motorcycling

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!

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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. 🙂

 

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.

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! 🙂

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!!

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!

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…