My time cycling to Rwanda

Since I’ve been back in the UK people have been asking, “What was the highlight”. To be honest there were so many, it’s hard to summarise just one highlight.

 

I’ve decided to write a small recap on the epic journey from my point of view.

I am hosting a photographic exhibition with images  from the adventure at the Forum in Norwich from 20th August 2012, with images which will not have been seen before, so please do pop along and say hi.

Setting out on the 28th April the four of us knew we had a massive task ahead us. The months of training, preparation, talks and the hunt for sponsors and donations had certainly taken its toll on my life. I had put on hold many elements of my daily routine, including trying to manage my business so that I had some work to return too once I got back from Africa. This trek was more than a cycle ride, it had consumed my life for months prior and the start on the 28th April signalled the beginning of a wonderful experience.

 

The European leg of the trip was a lot more eventful than I ever imagined. The road surface and general conditions were, as you would expect pretty good. The map reading was, at times difficult, but it was something we expected, there are so many roads and cycle paths in Europe, that it’s pretty easy to get lost and take the wrong roads and when you’re attempting to cycle 120miles a day, that doesn’t leave much room for wrong moves and time wasting.

One thing that did surprise me in Europe was the high temperatures we experienced. Often hitting 30degrees and with the big hills of Germany and Austria, it gave me some perfect preparation for the heat and hills of Africa, which seemed an age away at this early stage.

 

Battling through mechanical failures and food poisoning, I arrived in Athens having really enjoyed my cycling through Europe. The three highlights had to be, the immense scenery of Austria, a country I have never before visited and is now firmly on the ‘to do’ list.  The friendly nature and helpfulness of the people of Serbia was a key part of the experience. It surprised me just how willing the Serbians were to help and assist at any moment they could, plus the scenery near the border towards Macedonia was amazing! Lastly, the scenery in Greece was totally awe inspiring. I didn’t quite feel the love from the Greek nationals, but the stunning vistas and atmosphere more than made up for that.

 

Arriving in Egypt was great. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Egypt and instantly felt comfortable in my surroundings. It was a real highlight being in the country when their historical elections were taking place. Little did I know that I would be hanging around in the South of the country for an extra week!

Sudanese visa in place, we began cycling south, following the Nile. Navigation was far easier in Africa, there were really only two roads to follow, one of which hugged the Nile, cutting down the chances of getting lost! Although I fell Ill again (thankfully my final time of being sick on the trip, which was ironic given some of the countries I still had to visit) I really enjoyed Egypt. Of course the level of hassle is pretty intense, but mixing with local people that you normally wouldn’t speak to or mix with was a super experience. I guess that’s one of the key elements with riding a bike..it breaks down barriers so easily. The kindest of people remained so wonderful and genuinely helped make the riding so much easier. There were moments when I wanted to sleep during the heat, scream at cars and shout at passersby, but on the whole it was a wonderful experience.

We had sorted an agent in Cairo to buy the tickets for the ferry from Aswan to Wadi Halfa in Sudan, but due to the elections and the laziness of the chap he didn’t bother to get us tickets, which was a massive hammer blow. So, joining the hundreds of people in the scramble for tickets was the only real option. It set me back a week, but I eventually got a ticket, sleeping on deck (another experience). My time in Aswan wasn’t wasted though. I managed to meet some great local people and really sampled a side of Egypt which I hadn’t experienced before. The time allowed me to enjoy breakfast with families, dinner and tea with friends I had made and generally soak up the vibe of Aswan, as well as seeing the almost daily protests that took place regarding the elections.

 

Sudan was going to be tough. Everyone had told me how hard it was going to be and it was difficult, but strangely manageable as well. The temperatures were at times insane, but the roads were immense (thank you China) and the people were again so friendly and completely different from the Egyptians.

The Sudanese were a little more subdued and clearly not used to Tourism. I hardly got ripped off at all!

The main pain in the backside with Sudan was the fact you had to register with the police and army upon arriving into the country and then within a few days you had to get stamps and registration again.. Needless to say, I didn’t bother with this. I ended up paying the fees and explaining my way out of the situation when I was at the border with Ethiopia.

SO, onto Ethiopia… within a few miles the change was noticeable!  It was cooler, it was hillier and the people far far more intense! Sure, everyone was again really friendly, but I would describe the situation as hysterical at times! Pulling up to get a drink in a local village would often result in me being swamped by literally dozens of kids and teenagers! It was all very friendly, but with that many people it often felt a little uneasy!

After my new frame was delivered and I rebuilt my bike, I headed back out in the hills and out of Addis…It was great to be riding again! The weather remained pretty cool, with the scenery changing at the drop of a hat. It was pretty lush and green, then would come the sands and dry nature of the Rift valley, before starting to get incredibly lush and hilly again around Dila. Unfortunately I missed cycling some of the scenery around Dila. It was getting late, I still had miles to make up from my time in Addis, so I had to jump in a pickup to Yabello, which was a great shame, but it was the only way I could make the time up.

Cutting through the final part of Ethiopia was lovely, I was secretly looking forward to a new country and also looking forward to getting away from the insane kids, who would run hundreds of yards just to stare and shout.

 

The first 500km of Kenya (from the border) are pretty insane. There have been numerous deaths in recent months and it’s unwise to cycle this stretch of road. The army will let you, providing you pay them enough (hundreds of dollars). Having spoken to the military at the border, they said there was no need to go in convoy or with armed guards, so I hitched a lift in a truck..This was an awesome experience! It cost about £11 and I was sat in the back of the truck, on bags of rice, corn and coffee, talking to locals, singing songs and enjoying the moment. Arriving into Isolo at 4am was not good! Seems I picked the slowest truck possible…but it was all part of it! What an experience!

Kenya is so progressive and modern compared to the other parts of Africa. It was certainly tourism friendly! I rode long hours and pretty hard throughout to make time up… I loved the country. Staying in small villages in accommodation that cost between 50p-£1.50 helped me really mix with the locals and on several occasions I enjoyed eating and drinking with them. I really felt I made progress here. It was a great experience. I was riding well, the bike was riding well and everything seemed great (aside from the terrible road surface!)

The descents into the Rift Valley were incredible! The climbs were equally just as incredible but for very different reasons! ( i can still feel the pain now!)

 

Coming to the end of Kenya saw me enter Uganda.. It’s strange how you get a feeling for a country. This was my 13th County and I didn’t have a good feeling. The roads were hard. Traffic was insane, often buses and trucks would literally force you off the road… I could feel the road rage building…snapping a few times at various drivers. It taught me one thing, to concentrate 100pc on everything! No MP3 or music here! You had to be switched on all the time.

Thankfully after Kampala things began to brighten up, the roads became less busy and the people slightly less intense and more peaceful. I began to love the country! Its incredible how quick impressions can change. The hills remained pretty intense, but I was starting to enjoy them, thinking to myself if only the guys at GYCC could see me now! No Hanging at back on hills anymore!

 

The final leg of the journey was amazing. As I’ve already mentioned, I almost instantly fell in love with Rwanda. The people are beautiful and so gentle. Smiling and keen to exchange thoughts and ideas with westerners.  When we eventually arrived in Kigali we had press conferences, TV interviews and receptions and invite to numerous events the British High Commission and the Olympic Committee had organised. It was a truly surreal experience.  Although the best moment of my time in Rwanda, was a visit to one of the schools which the fundraising is directly helping, it was naturally a very moving and emotional experience. The joy and excitement in the children’s faces was incredible. I could have stayed for days, taking care and teaching those children. I feel privileged to have had the experience to meet them, but also to be providing sports equipment for them and hopefully helping them to improve their fitness and opportunities in some small way.

 

Best day in the saddle                    Kenya. The mist rolling off the hills as I hit the Equator

Worst Day                                           Food Poisoning in Egypt – I’ve never lost so much fluid so quick

 

Will I go back? Damn right! I’m looking at working with an NGO in Kenya – producing a series of stunning visuals for them. I’m also looking at working with an award winning film director, who has offered to teach me video! It’s all very exciting and pretty life changing!

About Julian Claxton

My passion for photography is supported by experiences gained on exciting travel adventures and through working for fantastic photographers. In 2006, I made the exciting step of realising my dream of becoming a freelance photographer. Since this pivotal moment, I have held numerous exhibitions, been featured nationally & internationally in print and won numerous awards, including being a finalist in the National Geographic Photographic competition in 2013 with one of my documentary images from the Sudan. From an early age I began to enjoy taking pictures of my daily life, basking in the thrill of sending the film to the printers and eagerly awaiting the pocket sized prints. My first foray into the world developing and printing strangely began at school when I was asked to produce a descriptive photo for the school newspaper. A front page shot later and I was destined to start the long arduous journey of becoming a photographer. In between exciting travel adventures and working for fantastic photographers, I graduated from college and at a crossroads in my journey to becoming a pro photographer, I embarked on a career working as a medical photographer. Learning new skills and dabbling in video production as well as progressing design skills, I yearned for the challenge and freedom of becoming a freelance. I have been fortunate enough to work on some amazing assignments which have included shooting a documentary assignment with an air ambulance, gaining full access to a British Pro cycling team during an international UCI tour, cycling to Rwanda and creating a photographic documentary of my journey. The experiences continue to grow, meeting wonderful people to photograph and telling the story of their journey. The list of events and striking moments that have played out through my viewfinder continue to grow and provide me with ever increasing snapshots of life to capture. One of the highlights of my career thus far has been staying in rural Uganda, teaching photography to the kids from the region, in a project I set up in late 2014, entitled ‘Give a child a camera’. The basis of the project is to supply 35mm cameras and film to the rural schools in this region of East Africa, teaching the children how to shoot photographs. After a week of taking photos of their life, an exhibition is held at the school and the children leave with their very own album, camera and film. One of the images I shot at Eden school in rural Uganda, during morning chapel won the 2015 Travel Media Tourism and Photography award. A great honour and one that I wouldn’t have picked up had it not been for the wonderful children of East Africa. For further information please visit www.julianclaxtonphotography.com
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