A number of people ask me why I do the sometimes-silly things I do, but there is no real answer to that. Most of the time, my life is normal and uneventful. I write, I give talks, I house-sit and I live as most other people live in an ordered society.
But every so often I get a sort of masochistic urge to get away from the rut of daily living and lose myself in a challenge of some sort. This has led to some frightening moments over the years but has also built up a wonderful store of memories.
Apart from running away from home at the age of fourteen and being brought back to my long-suffering Mother by the police, my early life was uneventful. I married early, fathered three wonderful children, had a good job as a policeman and played a lot of cricket.
Then came the Rhodesian war and life took a different turn. Fear and excitement were feelings shared by everyone in in my embattled country and when the war ended, normality seemed to end with it. I left the police and settled down to write, but deep down inside I was bored. I needed something to push myself on with.
Thus it was that in my forties – everyone said I was too old – I fitted Hobo, my ten-foot open dinghy with oars and set out to row Lake Kariba from end to end and back again. Those who have read or will read my book Hobo will know what that entailed, and for a while, it kept me vaguely satisfied with life.
Then in my fifties, the bug started biting again. This time I cycled alone from Nairobi to Cape Town, a journey I had done previously in a car with my wife Missy and her family. That ride had its bad moments, but again it turned out well and soothed my troubled soul. Two Wheels and a Tokoloshe will tell you all about it.
Then came my sixties and time was running short. A walk from Kariba Town to Binga provided more solace to my soul – as well as a few scares – and resulted in the book, Blood Sweat and Lions.
But three score years and ten was approaching fast and although I tried a ten-week kayacking trip on the lake wherein I came very close to losing my life, I needed something worthwhile to finish (perhaps) with. Somehow, I cannot envisage a great deal of physical challenge in my eighties.
An Englishman called Ed Stafford became the first person to walk the Amazon, so I contacted the Royal Geographical (why they use that last syllable I really don’t know) Society and asked them if anyone had walked the Zambezi. They had no record of such a feat and so the Zambezi Cowbell Trek was born. It proved far too much for my sixty-seven year old frame and I had to take a long rest half way through, but after two hundred and ninety two days of actual walking, I duly reached the Indian Ocean and became the first person in recorded history to walk the Mighty Zambezi.
I took a lot of photographs on that walk and most of them have never been seen except by myself, so on this page, I want to show you some of them. From time to time, I will upload – or is it download – a couple of pics and tell you about them. I will also try and include the odd meeting or scrape from my walk that has not been recounted in Cowbells Down the Zambezior In Livingstone’s Footsteps– the two books resulting from my journey.
I hope you enjoy my ramblings.
For me, one of the most incredible parts of the Mighty Zambezi is the source. Deep in forest near a little town called Mwinilunga in the North Western corner of Zambia, this immense river begins as a tiny spring in the roots of a Msasa tree. It trickles away as a stream for nearly fifteen kilometres before becoming an actual river. When one considers that the river itself is two kilometres wide in places, this all seemed pretty extraordinary to me. Whether that expression on my face reflects amazement or ‘what the hell have I let myself in for now,’ I am not entirely sure.
After the obligatory sip from the source – I was to drink a great deal of Zambezi water over succeeding months – it was time to load up. Ouch! That pack weighed thirty four kilograms and my poor old legs literally buckled but it was too late to pull out. I had sponsorship – that is Andy Taylor of Cowbell on the right and a lot of people following my progress.
So I had to go but it was a lonely moment indeed. That great American sports writer of the 1920 said that the loneliest place in the world was a boxing ring when the first bell sounds. He wasn’t quite correct. I have experienced that and setting out on an adventure like walking the Zambezi is lonelier.
My first real problem came when I arrived at iZhimbe, the border post with Angola. The Angolans would not allow me through and I had to make my way back to Mwinilunga and then Solwezi to obtain the necessary permits.
Wandering around Mwinilunga I came across Debs’ office and wondered if it had been named after my Daughter. After all, she lived in Zambia for years and we Lemons tend to make a name for ourselves.
Anyway it probably wasn’t and after twelve frustrating days getting nowhere with Angolan officialdom in Solwezi I started again from Mwinilunga but used roads rather than following the river through Angola. It was a pity, not only because it meant missing out on one section of the Zambezi but also because it meant walking three hundred kilometres through Zambia rather than two hundred and forty through Angola.
The road itself was long straight and dusty with very little traffic although the folk I did meet all thought I was crazy. Oh well…..!
That first three hundred kays were pretty hard going. Although I would camp well off the road, I did stop in at the odd village and one night was entertained by the fellow in the left hand photograph. He came from the Congo or had spent a lot of time there so we conversed – somewhat hesitantly on my part – in French. People everywhere were so pleasant and helpful but horrified that I wanted to sleep in the bush.
Gradually – ever so gradually – I began to get fit and the weight started to drop off me, but oh it was hard going over that first bit!
I met a number of families living just off the road on this stretch. All of them had numerous children and lived the same simple, rustic lives as their forefathers generations ago. Yet all of them welcomed me and tried to feed me. If I declined they looked hurt so I eventually asked for ‘just a little bit’ and honour on both sides was satisfied.
It took me roughly two weeks to reach the Zambezi again at a little town called Chavuma, notable for some spectacular rapids. I spent a couple of days there, relaxing my battered body and wondering whether I could possibly complete this trip. I had already covered over three hundred kilometres which was more than the two hundred and forty I would have needed to negotiate through Angola. I was tired, sore and somewhat dispirited by it all but knew that I had no choice but to go on.
When I started again, everything had changed. Instead of plodding down a dusty road, I stuck to the river bank and often encountered dense patches of vicious vegetation which necessitated lengthy detours. The bank itself was often very rocky and I suffered numerous falls so my first aid box was often in use.
I saw very few people during the first couple of weeks and my morale kept plummeting. But at the end of every day, I would make camp and look out at a spectacular sunset that soothed my troubled soul and assured me that I would continue and I would reach my destination, however long it took. I always was a bit of an idiot I suppose!