The ultimate road trip: 12,500 miles across Africa on a motorcycle

Thomas Tomczyk is serious about motorcycles. He’s done three motorcycle trips across India, from the steamy southern tip all the way up to the frozen highlands of Ladakh. Now he’s starting his childhood dream–an epic trip 12,500 miles (20,000 km) across Africa.

His zigzag tour will take in 22 African nations including South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Saharawi Republic, and Morocco. . .

. . .before he ends up skinny, exhausted, and happy at my house in Spain, where my wife will fatten him up with her excellent paella.

Full disclosure: Thomas is a friend of mine. We covered the massive Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela together in 2001 and barely managed not to get trampled to death by hordes of naked holy men. But even if I didn’t know him, this trip is so thoroughly cool I would have reported on it anyway.

Thomas isn’t just going on vacation; he’ll be visiting innovative grassroots projects that are making life better for the average African. Through his website Africa Heart Beat he’ll be telling us about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as creating a job center for landmine victims in Mozambique, an AIDS theater group in Botswana, and a Muslim-Christian vocational center in Mali that’s bringing the two communities together.

“The idea of crossing Africa came to me when I was 10,” Thomas says.”A large map of the world hung above my bed in a small Warsaw apartment. I would study the geography of each continent, its road and railroad network. The most prominent continent would be Africa, placed in the middle of the map, right above where my head would rest on the pillow. The idea stayed in my mind for years. I would eventually learn to ride motorcycles in India and cover the Horn of Africa for publications in Poland and US. In January 2009 my grandmother passed away and I decided it was time to do the trek I’ve been thinking about for so long. Traveling for travel’s sake was past me, and I decided I needed to find a purpose as I travel, something that would give meaning to the journey and benefit others.”

While 20,000 km is a long way to ride, he’s done it before in India. His longest journey there was 20,000 km on a 1950s technology 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. I’ve ridden that bike and it’s a monster– heavy and tough enough for the task. This time he’ll be probably picking up a KTM 640 LC Adventure, a lighter but rugged off-road bike from a dealer in South Africa when he flies there Thanksgiving Day.

He’ll be crossing some very remote areas but will keep in touch as much as possible with an array of communications equipment. There will be regular updates on his blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. On the day after Thanksgiving, when Thomas is safely in Johannesburg and on the first day of his eight-month journey I’ll be writing about some of the gear he’s bringing along and share some advice he has for covering your own journeys as you do them.

Know of a project Thomas should cover? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Dispatches from Lesotho

Back in my heady days of ultimate Frisbee stardom, I used to have a mighty forehand flick, but it was nothing compared to Mr Will McGrath’s. Now, in our sodden old days Will has moved on, to the small country of Lesotho, where he works in the education system and maintains a blog called Pudgy Millions.

With apologies to my sister, I rarely post personal blogs onto Gadling, because there are many irrelevancies among them that just don’t apply to the greater travel audience. But Will’s is different. Reading his words you get a real feel for the kingdom of Lesotho, the gravity of its inhabitants, the color and shape of its land. Will tells the story that I’m sure many foreign workers experience in Africa, of plight of AIDS, the poor education system and the general madness of the Dark Continent.

Start by taking a look at a few of his more gripping articles, covering none other than scrabble, getting mugged in South Africa and an bittersweet essay centered around a local boy named Thato. Yes, they’re long, but they’re good lunchtime reading.

If it suits your fancy, take a look at the rest of Pudgy Millions and say hi to Will while you’re there.

Photo of the Day (9.21.08)

Doesn’t this image have a great personality to it? Flickr user a31sierra caught this shot of two girls while traveling in Lesotho. Photo portraits can make for extremely rich material for any traveling photographer.

I especially like the expressions on their faces. Both girls manage to maintain a shy body language, but you can still catch the faint smiles that peek out just under the surface of their gaze. The bare brick wall behind the girls further emphasizes their dominance in the photo frame. It also makes a nice complement to Abha’s recent Photo of the Day entry.

Have any great travel photos to share with our readers? Why not post them to our Gadling pool on Flickr? We might just pick it as our Photo of the Day.

Word for the Travel Wise (06/11/06)

Swaziland FlagLast week sometime Brendan Hayes of Young Heores stumbled upon my last siSwati lesson and had a thing or two to add about visiting the site to learn the language. He recommends anybody with a true interest in visiting Swaziland consider volunteer travel to help save the life of an orphan. Apparently there are some 70,000 orphans in Swaziland due to the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the country and with numbers that large I’d say it’s time we all try to take action. Check out the website for additional details on how to help.

Today’s word is a siSwati word used in Swaziland:

kukhuluma – to speak

Also known as Swati, Swazi, and Seswati; siSiwati is a Bantu language from the Nguni group spoken in Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa. There are an estimated 1,706,924 speakers across the four countries and is listed as an official language in South Africa and Swaziland only. There are a few sites to visit to assist in learning this African tongue. Start with the Swaziland tourism site. The homepage has a sample dialog including the response to today’s word. Young Heroes has their site set up to learn one word a day, but you can refresh as many times as you wish in one day to learn multiple. Lastly, I would search around Amazon more, but this Essential siSwati might be a good start for those really wanting to learn.

Past siSwati words: ninjani

Word for the Travel Wise (04/02/06)

SwazilandScore! Another cool African language to enhance our experience on the diverse continent. This one comes from southern Africa and is spoken in a country that has one of the only three monarchies left in Africa. Know where it is? I mentioned a popular festival called Umhlanga held every August in the area not too long ago. You can check that here if you missed it, but enough guessing games for now.

Today’s word is a siSwati word used in Swaziland:

Ninjani – How are you?

Also known as Swati, Swazi, and Seswati; siSiwati is a Bantu language from the Nguni group spoken in Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and South Africa. There are an estimated 1,706,924 speakers across the four countries and is listed as an official language in South Africa and Swaziland only. There are a few sites to visit to assist in learning this African tongue. Start with the Swaziland tourism site. The homepage has a sample dialog including the response to today’s word. Young Heroes has their site set up to learn one word a day, but you can refresh as many times as you wish in one day to learn multiple. Lastly, I would search around Amazon more, but this Essential siSwati might be a good start for those really wanting to learn.