Slowing Down – Part 2

It’s quite a shock to look back at the calendar and realise that it’s been 6 months since we arrived in Cameroon intent on hitting South Africa in the next couple months! As our last blog post alluded to, we’ve not just been bumming around but have actually been quite productive working on a few ideas that will hopefully come to fruition in the next few months.

There was a bit of speculation after our last post that perhaps one or other of us had met a woman that had held us up, unfortunately that isn’t really the case, but I think the truth is actually pretty exciting too!

During our time travelling through Africa and the months volunteering for Pandrillus in Nigeria both of us started to get a sense that we really wanted to stay and start something in Africa. Our long term dream has always been to start our own business, and when the stars seemed to align fortuitously we both grabbed the opportunity with both hands!

It all started when Keith’s bike broke down once we got to Limbe and we had to wait around a couple weeks while a tiny spare part was sent out from Europe. In that time we met a bunch of really cool people in Limbe, fell in love with the place and decided that perhaps there were some great opportunities for us here.

This was coupled with the fact that the company I (Jeremy) was working for was having another round of redundancies with a very attractive voluntary redundancy package… so I went for it, seeing it as the opportunity it has been to start something new and exciting.

Another exciting development for us was meeting Bill who is another like minded individual, interested in IT, development and social entrepreneurship. We hit it off from the beginning and have been collaborating ever since.

So sorry for the silence on the blog, because we didn’t want to reveal too much until all the paperwork had been done for my voluntary redundancy and my final leaving date had passed, however we are now ready to reveal a bit of what has been keeping us busy!

Our main work has been to start setting up a consulting company called BryL Consulting (combining the first two letters of our surnames). BryL has done a number of websites as well as consulting and IT support for a few companies operating in Cameroon. We are also developing a few products and services that we will be offering later this year to SMEs in Cameroon. Our strategic location only an hour away from the main commercial capital of Douala should allow us to tap into a bigger market there as well.

We have also started something with Bill we are calling Limbe Labs – a not-profit we are setting up which will develop local IT skills and also act as an incubator for people to start their own IT businesses or startups. We would like to develop a strong IT community by starting things like bar camps that encourage local developers and entrepreneurs to get together exchange information and network. Running alongside this we want to start a couple income generating projects for the Labs. One is an evening course doing training in various higher end IT skills that Keith, Bill and myself have. Another is to act as an incubator for startups – we would identify good ideas, give seed funding to the entrepreneurs and help them obtain angel or venture funding for these businesses. We will provide facilities and mentoring and take a small slice of the equity in the business in exchange. This would give our Labs the income it needs to be self sustaining.

Aside from this we have a beach project, we want to develop a low cost, low impact eco tourism beach place for people to come and chill out. We will use local materials, electricity will be hydro powered from a nearby stream and we will get fresh water from the same stream. We intend to build a number of stilt wooden lodges right on the beach front, with full privacy, though they will be hidden from the beach because of the tree line at the edge of the beach. We will also have some dorm rooms and also some hammocks/tents for the volunteers and so on that kick around this place! Our goal is to have an environmentally friendly place with a great atmosphere, ice cold beers all time time and awesome food at an affordable price – with perhaps some kick ass cocktails thrown in!

So you can see we have plans… many of them!

What I (Jeremy) would like to do is to develop things that enable people to earn a living, have dignity and their own successful businesses. Capitalist development I guess! It would even be cool to have an NGO that generates it’s own income for it’s activities, rather than getting lots of grants for small projects – it would be great to generate real autonomy, not dependency on donor organisations with their own agenda.

As you can tell we are planning to be in Cameroon for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind Keith, Bill and I have moved into our own place. A shock to the system after spending so long in tents, hammocks, hotels and couches! But having your own bed and a place to call home does feel pretty good too!

We’ll try and keep blogging about our progress and share some of our stories, as well as put some pictures online of our place and the work we are doing.

Slowing Down

As most followers of our blog will have realised, our progress through Africa has been slowing down considerably as we progress further south! From what was originally meant to be a four month jaunt from London to Cape Town followed by an equally rapid return ride up the east coast to the UK has turned into a gentle meander through the west coast of Africa, lingering longer, enjoying the atmosphere, the people, the food and the climate. We often catch ourselves watching on in wonder at some wonderful sight or laughing at some strange event that has happened and we comment to each other that we are so glad we aren’t sat in a cubicle in a large office in the middle of London.

So after taking four months to get to Nigeria last year it took us another seven months to finally leave into Cameroon! Our plan when entering Nigeria was to spend 10 days in what was supposed to be a rough and dangerous country that few travellers took the time to stop in except to buy cheap fuel and to get their next visa, plans went out the door pretty quick when we stumbled on Peter and Lisa from Pandrillus in Calabar! We even had our visas for Cameroon already stamped into our passports and were only visiting them on our last day or two in Nigeria!

The same thing has happened to us here in Cameroon, our initial 2-3 week plan was upset initially with a problem with Keith’s bike when a sensor failed and we had to get a new one sent in from Europe. The extra time in Limbe allowed us to get to know the people and the place a lot better and we really started to love it here. Four months later and we are still here and still have no plans for when we are planning to leave!

If you think all we have been doing here has been going to the beach, learning to surf, meeting people and generally having fun you would be partially right. That is what we have been doing, but there has been a whole lot more going on in the background too. We have actually been pretty busy doing a bunch of other stuff too!

There’s going to be another blog post in a few weeks that will reveal all, needless to say I’m sure you are all going to be slightly surprised (or perhaps not!) at the turn of events that has taken 2wheels2africa to a complete standstill!

Bat Island Trip

A couple weeks ago I (Jeremy) had a chance to go on a small boat trip out to an island that we affectionately call Bat Island. Funnily enough because it has thousands and thousands of bats living on the island that fly out to the mainland in the evening to eat the fruit in the trees. They make quite a spectacular sight flying overhead, dark clouds of them all streaming overhead. I was joined by a few friends for the trip, Robbie who organised the boat and Jane who was along for the ride like me.

I made a short video and have uploaded it to YouTube for you to enjoy.

G’day! Yemen Mission!

It’s been quite some time since I (Jeremy) made a quick 3 week trip to Yemen with one of the very cool people we met along the road in the past year. If you have been following this blog closely you will probably remember Richo from our escapades in Ghana – he was the Aussie doc who we met along with his pals in Burkina Faso and then randomly bumped into them again in the Green Turtle Lodge in Ghana, when we all arrived on the same day – what a great co-incidence!

Here is a pic of Richo from our time in Ghana.

So somehow it ended up that Richo and I linked up to do a quick “mission” (as Richo calls his trips) to Yemen! I’ve been pretty lazy/busy to write much about it, but Richo kept a good account of things during the trip and ended up sending out a version of the report below by email to all his mates.

Here is a slightly edited version that Richo said we could post up on our blog.

G’day Trippers!

Having been back at work for a coupla months since the last mission [Richo travelled around South America and West Africa – Ed], I suddenly felt the urge to bugger off again, so what better country to suss out than bloody Yemen?! Famous for terrorist attacks, the Queen of Sheba, qat chewing, frankincense and myrrh, huge curved daggers, the world’s first ‘skyscrapers’ (constructed from mud), coffee (mocha originates in Yemen) and the stories of the 1001 Arabian Nights, rocking up in Yemen feels like stepping straight back into Biblical times – in fact the locals reckon that ‘God’ himself says Yemen hasn’t changed since the day he created it! With shades of Afghanistan, reflections of Morocco, flavours of Africa, and reminders of Arabia, Yemen really is a unique country and is well worth a visit despite its dodgy reputation. If you can put up without drinking alcohol for a while then it’s a really cool place to hang out, and during my three week sojourn I: visited a little town called ‘Al Qaeda’; dodged crazy looking Arabs with huge daggers and ducked for cover every Thursday as they fired machine guns into the air; attempted unsuccessfully to perve on hot Yemeni chicks covered from head to toe in jet-black burkas; trekked in the rugged Haraz mountains; dined on delicious Yemeni tucker called ‘fool’; learnt to speak some half-arsed Arabic and decipher their scribbly script; got ‘high’ on the local herb ‘qat’; became so desperate that I bought and drank non-alcoholic beer; and ‘did a Moses’ by parting the waters of the Red Sea with a massive Red Sea poo! Read on….

So why Yemen? Well I dunno really, but I once met a couple of hardcore travellers who raved about the place, plus I’d never been to a country that starts with ‘Y’ before! But geez Yemen rocks, and is now one of my favourite countries. Located in the Middle East at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen shares borders with Saudi Arabia and Oman, as well as having Red Sea coastline (a stone’s throw from Djibouti in East Africa) and the Arabian Sea to the south. The countryside is spectacular, ranging from rugged dry mountains with deep fertile wadis (canyons) to classical Arabian desert with towering sand dunes dotted with oases. Yemeni tucker is bloody delicious too, with ‘salta’ and ‘fool’ being served bubbling and spitting in piping hot stone bowls with crisp fresh bread straight from the tandoor, all washed down with sickly sweet tea or fresh mocha coffee laced with cardamom. The local blokes have big bushy beards and walk around wearing those Yassa Arafat head scarves and a huge curved dagger called a ‘jambiya’ in their belt, but as soon as you hit rural areas they all carry bloody AK-47 machine guns and other huge fricken rifles! Despite that I always felt pretty safe, except for the time a fight broke out in a local restaurant – daggers were quickly drawn (thankfully not AK-47’s!) before the fight was broken up by some gutsy local blokes… Despite looking scary in that ‘Crazy Arab’ way, the local blokes love to hold hands, kiss each other, and hang out with their mates all the time, including dancing with each other with daggers drawn. The women are still widely oppressed and are locked away behind closed doors; whilst in the public eye they must be completely covered from head to toe in jet-black burkas (‘hejab’) with just a tiny slit for their eyes – that made perving bloody hard, but geez Yemeni chicks have hot eyes!

Home to 21 million, Yemen is Arabia’s poorest country – despite oil accounting for 70% of the economy, it has only modest reserves compared to other peninsula countries. Just 50.2% of the population are literate, 45% live below the poverty line (US$2 per day), half are under 15 years of age, and women average 6.5 babies each! The state religion is Sunni Islam, and most of the original Jews have pissed off to Israel since being told by Islamic fundamentalists that they were to bugger off immediately or be killed… Yemen still has a real ‘Biblical’ vibe, with white robed locals living in stone villages surrounded by city walls with huge gates, using donkeys for transport, practising traditional agricultural techniques, remaining devoutly religious and God-fearing, being a warrior race, and maintaining a simple lifestyle that hasn’t changed for millennia – I didn’t know anywhere like this still existed in our awesome world…

Yemen first came to light in the first millennium BC when a sweet smelling substance called frankincense hit the world’s markets, the lucrative trade being controlled by the Sabaeans. Over the centuries Yemen was invaded by the Ptolemaic dynasties (Egyptians), the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) and Persians (Iranians) but the entire country was never completely conquered until the early 7th century AD when a more significant invasion than ever before occurred – Islam swept through Arabia and has been the dominant religion ever since. The Ottomans (Turks) hung around for a few centuries til the end of WWI and the Poms occupied the port of Aden in southern Yemen (to facilitate control over the Suez Canal) from the mid-1800’s until withdrawing in the 1960’s after relentless attacks by Yemeni guerrillas. Then came a period of civil war until the 1990’s, Yemen’s support for Iraq during the first Gulf War, the suicide bombing of the US warship the USS Cole in 2000, and following the September 11 attacks Yemen was viewed with suspicion by the US because its remote and little-policed interior unwittingly provided a refuge for Al Qaeda and militant Islamists. Despite international fears that it could become a new Afghanistan, Yemen signed up with George W’s “War on Terror” (unpopular with most locals) but continues to oppose the war in Iraq…

One of the biggest drawbacks about Yemen is that because it’s a strictly Islamic state all alcohol is banned – boo! But every culture needs its fix, and in Yemen they compensate by chewing qat (pronounced ‘chat’) – the leaves of the shrub Catha edulis, a coca leaf-like substance which induces a mild ‘high’, hones attention, increases talkativeness, suppresses hunger, reduces the need for sleep and allegedly improves sexual performance! Classed as a drug of abuse by the WHO, qat has been banned by most Arab and Western countries but chewing it remains an important national pastime and social activity for Yemeni men – after a big lunch they buy a couple of bags from their qat dealer and the chewing begins in earnest; massive bulges soon appear in their cheeks as the green cud accumulates. Each chewer spends an average of four hours chewing every afternoon, meaning Yemen loses over 14 million working hours every bloody day! It’s a massive social problem too, consuming 30% of household income, being a leading cause of marital break up, and causing ‘high’ locals to pass out in the streets with green spit dribbling from their mouth! Also, qat crops consume vast quantities of water (55% of Yemen’s supply) in a country where it’s already scarce, and because it’s so lucrative the farmers chose to grow qat rather than food! I’d tried it before in Ethiopia and had another good crack at it in Yemen, but to be honest it isn’t all that stimulating – it’s like chewing on gum leaves, roughs up the inside of your cheek and tongue, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, and I reckon four hours of chewing qat is about equivalent to drinking half a stubbie of Aussie beer…!

The Aussie government currently issues their second highest travel warning against Yemen – “we advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Yemen because of the very high threat of terrorist attack” and “if you are already in Yemen, you should consider leaving”! It’s probably fair enough I s’pose, given the shit that’s been happening here – a month before I arrived they blew up the US Embassy in Sana’a after having killed a couple more people in a mortar attack on the embassy in March. In April they blew up a Canadian oil company office and a housing compound for foreigners in Sana’a, whilst in January four gunmen attacked a convoy of foreign tourists in Wadi Dawan, killing three. In August 2007 seven Spanish tourists were killed when a suicide bomber drove a car into a convoy of tourist vehicles, whilst earlier that month terrorists armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a power station… Oh yeah, you’d also probably remember the Al Qaeda suicide bombing attack on the USS Cole whilst docked at the port of Aden in southern Yemen, killing 17 American sailors in 2000. Thus the travel warnings… but despite all that shit Yemen really is a cool country, and the locals are amongst the most friendly and hospitable I’ve ever met.

Anyway, I tried to rope in my usual travel buddies from back home to join me on the Yemen mission but no bastard was mad enough to come with me, so I hooked up with my awesome motorbiking Irish mate, Jeremy, whom I’d met in West Africa earlier this year – he was the one who stacked his motorbike badly whilst dinking my mate Kru in Ghana, and he still has the scars to prove it! That mad bugger had just spent a few weeks hanging out in Afghanistan (where his parents now live!), and he personally knew that Pommy chick who was shot dead in Kabul – boo.

Righto! After a massive weekend of beer drinking, nude floating and open jamming at the inaugural Murray River Music Festival, I jumped on a plane via Singapore where I found out that Yemen had just been hit by massive floods which killed hundreds of people, trashed some famous sites, stuffed up their already underdeveloped infrastructure and lead to the government to declaring a state of emergency – how’s the bloody timing? And I thought Yemen was a fricken desert! Anyway, I jumped on a Qatar airlines flight via Doha and eventually touched down in Sana’a, the fabled Yemeni capital which dates back to the era of the Arabian Nights. Famous for its 14,000 stunning mud brick ‘tower houses’ (the world’s first ‘skyscrapers’) reaching up to six or eight storeys high, whitewashed with lime and topped with colourful moon-shaped stained-glass windows, Old Sana’a is so perfectly preserved that you can walk a kilometre in any direction without encountering a single new building. The dark cobbled laneways between the huge stone and mud brick towers are so narrow that even the smallest of vehicles scrape the walls, packs of barking dogs roam the streets, and the bustling souqs (marketplaces) are packed with medieval traders and haggling locals as life goes on as it has for millennia. Surrounded by huge city walls giving way to the majestic Bab Al Yaman gate, the Old City is packed with caravanserais for wandering traders and myriad mosques which spring to life five times a day (including at bloody 4am!) with an ear-splitting azan, the Muslim call to prayer. We spent a couple of days recovering from jetlag just wandering through the meandering alleys, haggling at the qat and spice souqs, checking out the abandoned Jewish quarter, and kicking back in a rooftop ‘mafraj’ (like a sunroom, decked out with colourful mats and cushions) chewing qat and watching the sun set over the Old City…

Needing to detox from the qat and hankering to suss out the rest of Yemen, we bailed up a local bloke with a big Landcruiser to drive us up into the Haraz Mountains for the next eight days, climbing high into the spectacular rugged range via myriad police check posts – you need a special police permit to travel around Yemen due to security concerns, and all Yanks are given an armed escort because they’re considered a target! As we left the smog of Sana’a behind and climbed into the rugged surrounding valleys our first stop was at the rock palace of Dar al-Hajar, an impressive mud brick palace perched precariously on top of a boulder and decked out in stained-glass windows and flash furniture for the imam. The trippiest thing however was the random machine gun firing – being a Thursday it was the traditional Yemeni wedding day, and to celebrate the mad fucken locals fire their bloody machine guns into the air in short bursts…! We spent the next few days sussing out amazing mud-brick citadels scattered all over the rugged Haraz mountains in the most improbable cliff-top locations, seemingly straight out of Biblical times with majestic city walls and gates, tiny muddy alleyways reeking of donkey shit, and old Jewish quarters abandoned since Islamic extremists told them to fuck off to Israel. The locals still live in and amongst these citadels, and in order to farm the surrounding mountains they’ve constructed amazing terraces over the centuries to provide just enough flat ground to eek out a living and, of course, grow some qat… We did a couple of short treks, including one in the incredibly spectacular Bura Protected Area which reminded me more of Himalayan foothills of Nepal than bloody Yemen.

After a few days in the highlands we dropped down to the steamy Red Sea coastal plains where the locals were notably more African in appearance, with darker skin, curly hair, plus they’re a lot more relaxed and liberal toward their chicks. Zabid is a formerly famous centre of Islamic learning surrounded by huge city walls and chockers with whitewashed mosques (86 of them!), medressas (Quranic schools), souqs and mafrajs, but despite its UNESCO World Heritage listing is falling to bits and poorly maintained. Being so bloody hot there it was a major relief to finally make it to the Red Sea, the first time I’d laid eyes on it since Bakes, Leeroy and I sussed out the Suez Canal back in 2000. Kicking back at Al Khawkha on the beautiful palm-fringed coastline, we couldn’t quite see Africa but the sunset burned a brilliant red due to the Saharan dust, and whilst swimming in the balmy water I seized the opportunity to ‘do a Moses’ and part the waters of the Red Sea with a massive Red Sea Poo…! After smashing some of the most delicious fish I’ve ever tasted, we followed the Red Sea coast south via a salt mine to a melancholic little village called Mocha, formerly a thriving port town famous for exporting one of the world’s favourite ‘spices’ – coffee! Peaking in the 17th century as the original coffee port, it’s buggered now and absolutely trashed after years of neglect – in fact it’s hardly worth the effort to visit, unless you like scorching heat and swarms of flies…

Next stop was the south western city of Ta’iz, where tragedy struck – after only a week on the road I bowed out of Iron Guts following a couple of spews (no diarrhoea, though)! Boo. I think my couple of months in Australia softened me up a bit… Known for it’s massive ‘Lord of the Rings’-like castle “Qalat al-Qahira” looming high over the chaotic city, it was here that we found out that Barack Obama will become the next president of the USA! Geez I was stoked to hear the news, as were most people around the world – you should have seen the Yemenis going nuts, and as we walked through the streets they’d randomly yell out ‘Obama! Obama!’… On the way back to Sana’a we passed through a little town called ‘Al Qaeda’, but rather than cash in on its quirky tourist potential the poor locals were actually very embarrassed, had taken down their town sign and were considering changing its name!

After another qat chewing session back in Sana’a we jumped aboard an internal flight (we were forced to fly coz of the extremely dodgy security situation on the ground, and the cops refused to issue us a permit to travel overland) to an amazing place called Wadi Hadramawt, a huge Grand Canyon-like dry river valley between shear rocky cliffs, chockers with fertile green oases and completely surrounded by barren, sterile, sun-blasted desert. The highlight is a wicked old village called Shibam, a UNESCO-listed 2500 year old walled city of seven and eight-storey tower houses built out of mud, surrounded by a lush oasis of date palms and massive dry rocky cliffs – known as the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’, this joint should be way more famous. It was here that those floods hit hardest, trashing lots of the old mud houses, leaving massive piles of palms trees that had been swept downriver by the torrent, and burying the roads under several feet of silt and mud – we saw heaps of Red Cross and Red Crescent (the Muslim equivalent) workers as part of the international relief effort and United Nations emergency tents for those who lost their homes. It was also in Shibam where the friendly local kids called us ‘infidels’…! After checking out some cool old Arabic manuscripts at the mosque in Tarim we paid a dodgy bloke with a beat up old Peugot to drive us through the beautiful Wadi Dawan (where three tourists were murdered earlier this year), another amazing palm-filled gorge cut into the surrounding rocky desert and packed with camouflaged mud villages – its main claim to fame is being the ancestral home of the Bin Laden family… Oh yeah, it was also here that we finally became so desperate that we bought and drank non-alcoholic beer – the shame…!

Finally, we cruised south in a share taxi to the Arabian Sea coast (geez the road was trashed from those floods, completely washed away in some places) to kick back in a village called Al Mukalla, a hangout for rich Saudi Arabians in a bloody spectacular location with huge rocky mountains dropping down to the sea and river outlet. However, the beach was pretty ordinary by Aussie standards, and the complete lack of beer and bikinis meant there really wasn’t much to do at all – geez Saudi Arabia must be a boring and repressed place to live! After a couple of days we cruised back to Sana’a for another qat session before starting the homeward journey, but the bastards at airport immigration wouldn’t let me leave their bloody country until I paid a fine of US$25 because I didn’t register my visa with the cops – no prick told me I had to do that… Oh yeah, at the airport we killed some time in the duty free shop where they had the Muslim equivalent of the barbie doll – covered from head to toe in a jet-black burka!

So that’s another mission done and dusted. Yemen was really cool except for the lack of beer with alcohol in it, but I’ll definitely be back to finish it off – there’s a wicked Yemeni island called Socotra in the Arabian Sea near the horn of Africa which I want to check out, and also an ancient city called Marib (where the Queen of Sheba used to hang out) which was off limits due to the security situation. I am thoroughly ashamed to admit, however, that I only nuded up for a photo once for the whole mission, but I did add two ‘Major Bodies of Water’ to the list… For such an amazing country Yemen isn’t realising its tourist potential, mainly because of the dodgy security situation but also because of the poor work ethic, excessive qat chewing (such a rubbish ‘drug’, a bloody waste of time) and lack of business acumen amongst the lethargic locals – in that way it’s reminiscent of Africa… In fact Yemeni blokes in general are pretty stupid, I reckon – they’ve banned beer (and all other alcohol), they cover all their chicks from head to toe in black burkas so they can’t perve on them, and then perform female circumcision (where they cut off their wife’s clitoris) and wonder why she doesn’t want to shag them at all… dickheads!

Despite that, Yemeni blokes are pretty cool and very mellow, and they’re always laughing and joking around – at one stage a friendly local bailed us up to tell us this Arabic joke: A bloke was walking home to his wife one day when he heard the sounds of hundreds of wailing women crying in the streets. “What’s wrong?” he enquired. “Ali Hussein has died” sobbed the distraught women. Curious to know why Ali Hussein was so popular amongst the ladies, he went into the house to view his body and suddenly realised why – Ali Hussein had a massive dick! Keen to become popular with the ladies himself, he discreetly approached the corpse, cut the dick off, and took it home with him, leaving it on the kitchen table before retiring to chew qat. Suddenly he heard his wife yelling, screaming, sobbing and wailing from the kitchen where she’d just found the dick. “What’s wrong?” he yelled. His wife replied, “Ali Hussein has died!”…!

On that note I’d better bugger off! If you ever have the chance, I thoroughly recommend you cruise over to Yemen to have a squiz – it really is a fascinating and unique country, but once again I’ve arrived at the same conclusion: Australia is without doubt the best country in the world!

Go nuts. Richotallica!

There are tons more pictures in our Yemen gallery.