People have asked me what the differences are between the Cape Town to Cairo ride and the Silk Road and South American tours. The off-road riding here has been spectacular, even better than in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. There are two stand-out examples: first, the Rhino Camp road - rocky, twisty with steep inclines and descents, sand patches, lots of ruts and gulleys. I think it is my favorite ride ever - although I fell a lot. I wish there was something like that around Cleveland. Second, the 600km dirt road between Isiolo and Moyale in Kenya. The road was populated with sharp rocks, sandy patches, gulleys and ruts. The road passed through numerous villages and we saw huge herds of camels and were constantly encountering livestock in the road.
Witness to how rocky these road have been, we have had three tire slashes where the tires needed to have innertubes inserted - the normal tubeless tire plugs would not hold.
The animals have been extraordinary. At our camp in Uganda we were sharing the sidewalks with a troop of gorillas. When we went out on our gorilla viewing trek, there was one point where the alpha gorilla moved by us so quickly that he stepped on Helge's foot! We on another trek to look for rhinos and we ran into a family and got perhaps within 200 ft. of them. The male actually walked toward us in a menacing way. We quietly evaporated. We saw virtually every animal imaginable in Botswana - leopards, elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, antelopes, baboons, and all sorts of birds - up close and personal. We were in vehicles but in one case a leopard went under the vehicle and in another location we saw lions just a few feet away. I have never been to Africa and I have never been that close to wild animals before - this was transformational.
It is phenomenal how many residents of the ex-English colonies that we are passing through, speak English. In the most rural cities you always run into someone who is fluent and can translate or answer questions. On the Silk Road hardly anyone spoke English.
Poverty and people
We were surprised by the number of people barely living subsistence lives. The populations of these countries are huge, but the Silk Road countries are almost depopulating. For example, in Ethiopia, where we are now, the population is 94 million. The population is growing at 3.2% per year. The average woman has six children and for every 11 deaths there are nearly 42 births. The whole region is a family planning nightmare with little being done about it. The focus has been on feeding, vacinating and treating disease. Education and family planning have not been emphasized sufficiently. AIDS is coming under some control but is still rampant. One-third of the population of some of these countries is HIV positive. In Uganda, the wife of the current leader has successfully discouraged the use of condoms and the AIDS infection rate has almost immediately responded upwards.
The leadership difference between the Silk Road and Africa is dramatic. On the Silk Road, leadership was authoritarian, oppressive but not necessarily thoughtful. Here we see more of an absence of leadership, both in the manner in which the government is leading, and the way the NGO's (non-government organizations) and non-profits and church groups are leading. Much of the revenues spent are wasted on higher level bureaucracy and in the field of education, little finds its way to the student. Many of these countries have a fertility rate of 6 (number of children per woman) compared to a U.S. fertlity rate of 2.1. In some of these countries one-half the population is age 15 and under. Can you imagine how different the U.S. would be if we had demographics like that?
Traveling through these countries on a motorcycle gives you a strong understanding of the difficult problems facing Africa. I have read about Africa for years, but getting down on the ground, talking to the people, visiting the villages, all of this makes more clear the huge challenges in this area of the world.
Tomorrow we take off from Addis Ababa north toward the Sudan border. It is the rainy season here in Ethiopia and the dirt roads will be too muddy to traverse. We are looking forward to some beautiful rides up through the mountains. None of us brought rain gear but rather have waterproof suits - we'll see if they work.
Dan T. Moore