Place of Magic/ Broken Stories/ Winds of Change/ Preparations/ Departure
I should have been born here. I feel that way, anyhow. Since the first moment I touched this place back in 1995, Africa made deep ruts in my soul. I had the darkest moments of sorrow and loss here, and the greatest moments of joy and peace. It was Africa who broke my heart, and it was Africa that picked the pieces from her red dust and patched them back together, so it beats now with an African rhythm.
For most of the last 20 years I lived, traveled, worked and explored in Africa. From the meeting of the Oceans in the Cape to the Algerian border of the Sahara. From the depths of the Congo jungles to the enchanted drums of Zanzibar. I slept in the huts of the Pygmies, shared stories with the San (Bushmen) of the Kalahari, played soccer with the orphans of Zambia and held in my arms children dying of TB, malaria and AIDS. On this continent I laughed like I have never before, and also cried like never before as well. It is this duality that conquered my heart and made me determined to travel the globe for my orphans and to tell the world about them. It is the potential that lies undiscovered and the tragedy that has been misunderstood and misused so many times that make me ride my bike around the world and convince me that there is hope in saving Africa still.
Riding a motorbike in Africa is like running the marathon on steroids; it tickles your skin from the desert winds, it flares your nostrils from the Acacia blooms, the village fires and the African food that hits you as you pass by. It is a full sensory experience, not just sight as it is when you drive a car. You smell, you hear, you see, you taste (bugs and beetles) and believe me, you touch and get touched! Carmen, my wife, and I have been riding our motorbikes for more than 60,000 kilometers (37,282 miles) in Africa by now and we fell deeper in love with this place.
(Above) For most of the last 20 years John and Carmen have lived, traveled, worked and explored Africa. (Below) Soccor pitches will be just one of many features of the John Nomad Sports Academy.
We worked with many tribes and after almost 20 years and realizing how many orphans are in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, we found a way to not only feed them and send them to school but to give them pride in training as athletes on our Sports Academy that we established in 2011. By the vision and grace of a great leader in Livingstone, Zambia, King Munokalya Mukuni (the descendant of the great King of the Tokaleya people with the same name that welcomed David Livingstone at Victoria Falls in 1855), we obtained 40 hectares of land on a 99-year lease, 6 km (3.7 miles) from the Victoria Falls, where we are surrounded by traditional local villages and lots of children including orphans.
Here we plan to build the Nomad Sports Academy for Orphans and Underprivileged Youth. We will build dormitories for boys and girls, soccer pitches, swimming pool, gym, tennis courts, volleyball and basketball courts, cafeteria, sports medicine clinic and more. To date, we fenced the whole property, installed the water system and the irrigation piping, dug the borehole, planted 440 fruit trees in our orchard and cleared the land for the sports facilities. Once we established that, Carmen and I jumped on our motorbike and headed East first to Dar Es Salaam and then North on our RTW motorcycle expedition to raise awareness and funding, as well as talk to sports organizations and interested parties on six continents.
We worked for three years to be able to pay for our expedition. The development on our property was done with our funds and a handful of personal friends, so we not only know how this works, but we also have full control of the funding. No overhead, no rental expenses, no secretaries or paid executives, no bullshit of the sort. This would be a different kebab altogether. We employ only local people to do the work, creating jobs and stability for the families in the village. Yes, it takes longer and it requires patience and wisdom but in the end the community benefits tremendously.
November 14, 2013, we woke-up at 4 a.m. on a very humid, sticky morning and left Livingstone for Fringilla Farm, 50 km (31 miles) east of Lusaka and about 500 km (310 miles) from Livingstone. We were fully loaded and the gas attendant at the station that took our photo shook his head in disbelief when he heard we are going for 18 months on our bike. He wouldn’t be the last skeptic to do that.
The trip to Fringilla took us by the beautiful Kafue National Park, and after Mazambuka, the sugar cane town, we entered the rolling hills of Lusaka with its coffee plantations and beautiful farms. We were happy, the morning was getting better; the humidity passed as we left the Lower Zambezi Valley on the South Barotse Trails and the air was crisp. We had this deep feeling of awe because we knew the next time we get to Livingstone would be from the other side of the planet, 70,000 km (43,500 miles) later and hopefully on the same motorbike – a new Yamaha Super Tenere.
In Fringilla we enjoyed a beautiful camp, a great dinner cooked on our camp stove and the friendliness of the owner. We left the next morning towards Mpika, in the mountains, about 570 km (354 miles) from Fringilla. This day would see us rattling our brains out on the road – not because it was bad, but because it was brand new. This is a frustrating possibility in Africa: a brand new road full of terrible vibration because they did not do it properly from the beginning. Probably the amount of gravel was not enough (materials tend to be redistributed to the foreman’s driveway, or the engineer’s yard, etc) and the heat and the trucks had already made deep wash-board ruts for almost 400 km (250 miles) on that road.
It was hell, I couldn’t go fast because we were overloaded and I feared the Tenere’s side cases would break. Our bones shook during the ride, and I must have bitten my tongue several times from the vibration. As we approached Mpika, the road company had a truck with gravel driving in front of us and the people in the back were dumping the gravel on the fresh tarmac right in front of me: thousands of pebbles hit my bike, our helmets and arms. I got so pissed, I started to honk and rode very close to the truck waving like a maniac to be allowed to pass. They were waiving back and smiling but still dumping gravel. Welcome to Africa!
We reached Mpika exhausted, scratched and furious (at least I was). We slept uneasy that night, in a crappy motel without a mosquito net and we were miserable. I feared Carmen would want to turn back (I write this from Belgium, 20,000 km (12,400 miles) down the road on our epic journey, and Carmen is still here, thank God).
In the morning, after a cold coffee (the electricity was out) we headed for the last 400 km (250 miles) towards the Tanzanian border. We hoped for a better day…
The road to the Tanzanian border is the major lifeline for oil from the Indian Ocean to the interior. Hundreds of Tanzanian petrol trucks came from the front on a very narrow (more like a single lane) road, speeding like maniacs and literally pushing me out of the tarmac into the bush. I wouldn’t have had a problem with that if I was able to go into the bush, but the road was very high with a very broken shoulder and large potholes on each side. We would have been swallowed immediately. We saw the most overturned trucks that we have seen in our entire 40 years (plus) of life, broken in two, rolled over in the bush, oil spilled all over the road, etc. We were horrified that we would never make it even to the Tanzanian border and our RTW dreams would have to be buried with us somewhere in northern Zambia. It took us 11 hours to arrive at the Tanzanian border. We climbed off our bike, sat in the ditch in the shade and breathed deeply. We had avoided disaster so many times in just three days and we were just beginning…
Stay tuned for Tanzanian adventures.
John Nomad writes from his RTW expedition by motorbike to raise awareness and funding for Nomad Sports Academy for Orphans, Zambia