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!

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

A few months back I heard a fascinating bit on NPR’s All Things Considered about a coffee table book that was recently published called, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats,” by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio. I had been meaning to find it in the bookstore, but like most things in life the intention was lost. Then, earlier this week I stumbled upon the book sitting on a table in my sister’s living room and immediately immersed myself in its contents.

The premise of the book is fairly straightforward: Identify 30 average families from 24 countries around the globe and photograph the family with a week’s worth of food. The results, however, were astounding. For instance, the family in Bhutan eats meals made up entirely of fruits, vegetables, and rice, which by the looks of it barely appears to be enough for its 7 adults and 7 kids. In contrast, the family of four in the United States has a diet almost completely made from processed and packaged foods.

Each family is profiled with illustrations, a back story, as well as a catalog of food items and how much it costs to feed the family for a week. To give you just a sense of the stark contrast, the Bhutan family spends just $5 per week, whereas the family in the U.S. spends about $350 per week. In Chad, though, the situation is quite dire. A family of six (3 adults and 3 children) eat a diet of beans and rice with a small portion of veggies and fruits, spending a mere $1.25 per week.

This coffee table book is truly a fascinating look at what the world eats, and really demonstrates the difficulty for developing nations to provide a balanced diet for its people. Based on my own travels abroad, and my experience having difficulty striking the same healthy balance of eating abroad as I do at home, I found the book to be a very accurate portrayal of how average families can still struggle to eat nutritious meals.

The World’s Most Dangerous Destinations for 2007

BurundiHere at Gadling, we usually profile places people WANT to go. However, sometimes it’s useful to mention places to avoid. Consequently, here’s an interesting (and not altogether surprising) list of the 2007’s 12 Most Dangerous Destinations:

  • Somalia
  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Pakistan
  • Burundi
  • Sri Lanka
  • Haiti
  • Chad
  • Lebanon
  • Liberia

Of course, you probably don’t think of these places as vacation destinations, unless you’re a whacked-out Robert Young Pelton. However, employees of governments, oil and mining industries, and telecom industries are increasingly being dispatched to these locations. If you work for one of those groups, be certain to ask about insurance, hazard pay — and a bodyguard.

Interestingly, the piece argues that the world is NOT getting more dangerous right now. Rather, globalization and the attendant “shrinking” of the planet is largely responsible for making the world APPEAR more dangerous now than before. Whether or not you agree with that assertion, the article is interesting, and the gallery is frightening.

Polo’s Bastards Top 10 Worst Destinations

Worst DestinationsWith the current conflict going on between Ethiopia and Somalia, my mind immediately began to wonder what the writers at Polo’s Bastards had been up to and what dangerous lands they’ve been exploring. Last time I checked in they’d just posted a piece on Rio’s favelas. Since then North Korea and Chechnya have also made their blog pages.

To round off the year though, Lee Ridley spent a little bit of his Christmas day highlighting some of the world’s worst destinations in 2006. Iraq assumes the position of No. 1, which doesn’t come as a shocker at all. The conflict created by the Hezbollah kidnappings of Israeli soldiers earned Lebanon the No. 10 spot, and in the middle you’ll find Haiti, Afghanistan, the entire Horn of Africa (poor Eritrea), Nepal, Chad, Chechnya and North Korea. If you’ve been in the dark concerning the political climate of these particular areas, you might want to mosey over and see what the deal is. Otherwise, just be sure to proceed with caution in the upcoming year. It is a far, far more dangerous world out there.