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!

List of World Heritage Sites grows by 13

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee just wrapped up its 33rd annual conference in Seville, Spain, where they added 13 new sites to their list of amazing locations around the globe, and made the unusual move of dropping one. The new list of World Heritage Sites now stands at 890.

Of the 13 new sites, 11 are cultural sites and 2 are natural. The two new natural sites are the Wadden Sea on the border between Germany and the Netherlands and the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. The cultural sites include such places as the Tower of Hercules in Spain, The Sacred City of Caral-Supe in Peru, and Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain in Kyrgyzstan. For a complete list of the new sites, check out the official press release here.

The former World Heritage Site that was dropped from the list was the Elbe Valley in Dresden, Germany. The committee expressed concern over the fact that a new four-lane bridge was being built through the Valley, and even attempted to give warning of this action, placing the site on the Danger List back in 2006. When construction proceeding anyway, they felt they had no other choice, but to drop the Valley from their list.

Three other sites have also been put on notice that they could also be dropped in the future. The Belize Reef Reserve System in Belize was put on notice mainly due to the harvesting of mangrove trees and excessive development in the area. The Los Katios National Park in Columbia was added at the request of the Columbian government to help mobilize international efforts to protect the region and The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta in Georgia were listed as “in danger” over concerns with the preservation of the edifices located there.

Despite reports earlier this week, the Everglades National Park has not yet been placed back on the danger list. The committee intends to study the situation and make a more informed ruling in the future.

The new additions to the list are excelent, and it gives us an amazing life list just pursuing these World Heritiage Site. Forget the “1000 Places To See Before You Die” and just focus on these 890.

UNESCO adds sites to World Heritage list, and drops one too

The UNESCO World Heritage List has just gotten a lot longer. Officials meeting for the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee have added more than two dozen sites of great cultural, historical, or natural value to the list, and they’re considering more.

Among the new entries are an aqueduct in Britain, a stately home in Belgium, and a sacred Buddhist mountain dotted with monasteries in China.

Two lesser-visited countries got sites onto the list. The ruins of Loropéni in Burkina Faso, a massive thousand-year-old fort that guarded the Saharan gold trade, was added, as well as Cape Verde’s Cidade Velha, a 15th century Portuguese colony that was the first major station for the transatlantic slave trade. Cidade Velha includes a fort, ruins of houses, and a grand cathedral, the slave traders being devout Christians.

There have been some losers too. Several sites have been moved to the endangered list, and the Germany’s Dresden Elbe river valley was dropped from the list entirely after “developers” put a four-lane highway through it. Ironically, the old city of Dresden was Germany’s most historic city, but was leveled by Allied bombing during World War Two. The nearby historic landscape dotted with castles and palaces escaped damage, but now the Germans have destroyed that themselves. Nice going, guys.

UNESCO’s website is posting up-to-date information on new additions and changes.

Trivia questions: What does UNESCO stand for? And what World Heritage site is pictured above? Click “Read More” to find out.


1. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

2. That Chomsi Stupa, Mount Phu Shi, Luang Prabang, Laos. This center for Buddhist learning contains a giant gold statue of the Buddha and was a religious center for the first capital of Laos when it was built in 1804. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995.

One Day in Africa: Lives of six ordinary Africans

When I watched the trailer of One Day in Africa, the latest documentary of Brook Silva-Braga, the resonance of village and city life in most African countries was immediately evident. It’s a resonance that often doesn’t make headline news. It resides in the pattern of each day that starts before the sun comes up when Africans, in particular women, get busy.

The shot of women pounding grain comes to mind. When I lived in a Gambian village for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, the thwack of a wooden pestle against a mortar as it removed husks from grain was like a heartbeat.

What Silva-Braga shows about African life is that it has rhythm and cadence and is not totally embroiled with AIDS and poverty. There is another theme to explore, one that involves the complex melding of African traditions with the modern world.

Sure AIDS, poverty and violence do exist, but they are not what Brook Silva-Braga set out to show in his second film project. His first film, A Map for Saturday, was a documentary about around the world travel–his and others. That film included every continent except Africa.

One Day in Africa is a companion project in a way, but the focus is different. In this latest project, Silva-Braga got up close and personal with his subjects– six Africans, both men and women, whose stories are typical of the stories of others who live in this vast continent. [For the trailer, keep reading.]

These six could be like any other six, but in their typicality, their uniqueness also comes through. Athough their lives may not look anything like ours, the essence of what they are after is recognizable. How they resonate in their own lives is an alluring tale.

  • Titus, a store owner in Kisumu, Kenya has just reopened his store after it was ransacked during the presidential election. For him, life is about moving forward.
  • Howa, a young woman in Farge-Fundu, Niger starts her household chores at dawn in a place where it’s hard to imagine that anything could grow in the dry landscape.
  • Bridgete, a pregnant woman in Lilongwe, Malawi is hoping for a son and is unsure how she will get to the hospital since her husband is a bit lackluster about the idea of driving her to the hospital in his taxi.
  • Sali, a university educated woman in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, has high expectations despite living in a mostly male dominated culture
  • Osman, a merchant in Fez, Morocco, has many “brothers” who help him sell his goods to tourists.
  • Brahim, a farmer in N-8, Mali, feeds a family of fourteen from his efforts

From the snippet I saw, part of the film’s charm and interest lies with Silva-Braga’s questioning of the subjects. As they go about their day, his voice is heard asking them questions about how they see their lives. Through the interactions, the viewer is led into the intimacy of conversations that are similar to the swirl of dialogue that happens around us every day. Conversations about life, hairstyles, work and the mundane.

Look for the film’s screening schedule on March 1 at the One Day in Africa website. It will be making the rounds at various film festivals.

Brook Silva-Braga graced Gadling with a stint as a guest blogger in 2007. His posts, grouped together as the series “Across Northern Europe,” are a thinking person’s missives about aspects of travel. Reading them is also a look into Silva-Braga’s head, not a bad place from which to view the world.

Travel Channel to show Season 12 of Amazing Race

To tide you over until Amazing Race 13 begins on September 28, tune into The Travel Channel. Starting September 3 at 8 p.m. EST, season 12 will be shown.

Although the winners from season 12 are known– Rachel and T.K., the couple who had smart ideas about how to use the dough (although with the abysmal showing of the current market and housing crisis, I wonder how that went?) there are travel tidbits about each of the countries the contestants visited and host Phil Keoghan’s commentaries.

My favorite episode was the Burkina Faso leg, particularly when most teams didn’t know how to say the capital Ouagadougou when they found out where they were heading. The camel milking made for the best TV. Plus, of all the locations, this was probably the one that was the most obscure to many of the folks who tuned in to watch.

Here’s a review of that episode on TV Squad to refresh your memory or to catch you up to the crazy antics that can happen as teams of two people race around the world on a chase for a million dollars.

Jason Hughes, at TV Squad wonders if The Travel Channel’s airing of the show may mean that CBS is thinking about pulling the plug since it is only picked up season by season. In that case, The Travel Channel could take it over. I hope it will stay on CBS so people can see it without cable.