Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dear friends

When we got back to Uganda after my leukaemia treatment, Chami was anaemic and thin while Nali was flat and on his forehand. We did blood tests and the vet found babesia and theileria (tick borne diseases) in Chami and babesia in Nali, as well as a hind hoof abscess. Just before we treated I had the vet take blood samples again from the tail, ear and dock. No sign of babesia or theileria… We treated anyway. Christine and I pumped them full of multi-vitamins and herbs that Honeyvale Herbs (SA) had sponsored. We also injected iron and vitamin B12. Whether or not this had any effect we don’t know but it made us feel better.

The fitness training programme was too much for both boys. I also felt Nali’s hip give during an early morning session. An old injury during his castration when they roped his hind leg behind his ear. We gave the boys rest and then decided to use our good friends Bob and Laura’s method of bringing an endurance horse back into work. Starts with 3 months of just walking. So we walked the boys in Lake Victoria; walked them on the hard gravel roads to get their hoofs tough as well; towed them behind the Landrover so they weren’t carrying weight.

Our 3 month visa had to be extended for 2 months to get the boys walking fit and even then we planned only to walk through Tanzania doing 20km per day. This meant Christine and I had to do a lot of walking ourselves because our kit with horse feed means we ride between 90 and 120kg. This extended period gave us the opportunity to spend our birthdays, Christmas and New Year with wonderful friends. Christine loved Uganda’s lifestyle and wonderfully kind people. She was also surrounded by animals and was in her element. When the day in January 2013 came to leave it was a very tearful experience. Nobody wanted the wonderful 5 months to end.

We trucked to Backpackers in Kampala, our last riding point in 2011. Christine was so sad and yet excited to be on the road again…

John Hunwick of Backpackers organised a police escort for the restart of our journey through the centre of Kampala to Port Bell. We turned many heads while flying the African Hoofprints, Long Riders Guild and South African flags. Got cheered the whole way and stopped to be interviewed by the main television station for East Africa. Christine gave a lovely interview.

At Port Bell we encountered theft, the wheeler-dealings of the ferry captains and the direct approach of Port Authority, Customs and Immigration for bribes. The little boys who stole my headlamp out of a closed tent got the shock of their lives when they were caught by passers-by. Same passers-by gave them the hiding of their lives for embarrassing Uganda. The father embarrassed me when he came hat-in-hand to apologise. The kids never gave up the headlamp but fortunately I had a spare. A headlamp is vitally important to the way we travel.

The ferry Captain and the Head of Port Authority took pity on us eventually and had the freight charges and passenger charges radically reduced with phone calls to the Tanzanian Shipping Company. The Customs and Immigration officers signed and stamped everything with not a bribe being paid! All wished us well and we swopped email addresses to keep in contact. Friendships take time though but are well worth the effort.

“Be ready at 11h00 to load your horses and get the load of sand for bedding ASAP!” “No, this is too much sand who will clean it up!” Duh!!  By 3am next morning I sent an exhausted Christine to bed. 04h00 we were ready to load and by 05h00 ready to set sail for Tanzania. I had loaded the horses leaving my Treasure, the love of my life, to sleep. When she awoke, as we set sail, I was in big trouble!! I had not woken Christine to load her own horse and she was livid never mind how caring I was being… It was in my best interest to find a quiet spot to get my head down and sleep with plenty of apologies later. (21hours to Mwanza)

The ferries are massive! You can fit a whole train, including locomotive, side-by-side on the deck. Our ferry however had maize on and below decks. Must have cleared Uganda of all its maize… The maize is supplied by small scale farmers at one to two tons each. The ferries need to be reversed into a specialised dock in order to drive lorries and the trains on and off. Even though the bloke guiding the captain by radio into the dock was speaking Swahili you could feel the tension between them, and boy did it get heated…

The Tanzanian Port Authority had decided before anyone could disembark that the horses needed to be taken care of first! The veterinary officer, a nice guy, was most satisfied with the health, documentation and behaviour of the boys. (Their behaviour impresses everyone!) He assisted us with customs, immigration, shipping company and Port Authority.(Who charged us handling fees ha, ha…) When it got too late to leave he organised a safe spot to camp and ablutions. The boys had thick lush grass for the night. When I asked if there was anything more that I must do he simply said; “Yes you can give me phone money” (A tip)

This set the tone for Tanzania and upset Christine and I greatly. Where ever we had been people had been so kind to us never wanting anything in return. We usually tipped but on our own terms. The second thing that upset Christine is people who asked for money pleading poverty when clearly they were not. We had lived with the extremely poor and knew the difference. Young guys would cycle up to Christine on a fancy bicycle, take a photo with the camera on their phone then ask for money. We finally came to the conclusion that tourism, mainly westerners, had probably created this situation. We were more understanding and just said “no” without being judgemental. At this point we both started enjoying Tanzania and its people more. What a beautiful country! Lovely huge plains with small hills. Mainly we saw cattle farming and rice paddies.  Plenty of waterholes for the boys to enjoy.

Suddenly the beggars were few and far between and the kind, generous people were everywhere asking us to eat with them and chat. Hundreds of people took to following us just to experience the horses and foreigners that were prepared to engage. The noise level was huge as if we were at a football match. We met fantastic people where we overnighted. The Witch Doctor we stayed with watched us closely to see our reaction when he told us what he did. Christine and I have seen it all and Witch Doctor was deflated when these 2 foreigners thought that only slightly interesting. We had a terrible experience in Old Shinyanga town where we stopped briefly to buy a cool drink and water the horses. A soldier, only a private, screamed in Christine’s face that she must leave immediately. I got back to find a seething Christine starting down the road with our horses. I had never seen her so angry!

An Indian Moslem family stopped on the road and invited us to stay at their house in Shinyanga Town, 2 days ride away. When we got to the outskirts of Shinyanga I gave Abu Bakr a ring and he told us to meet his brother on a motorbike. By the time we got to his brother we had a huge crowd of a couple of hundred following us and no matter what we said or how fast we went we just couldn’t shake them. When we got to Abu Bakr’s house we had to tie the boys outside so people could have their photos taken with them. Later Christine gave them a galloping demonstration on Nali which they all loved.

Abu Bakr is the Youth League leader of the governing party and his dad is the Mayor of Shinyanga. We spent an extra day with them and I went exploring the outer lying districts and Christine socialised and spent time fussing over the boys. Later the Youth League came to have their photos taken with Christine and the horses which they will turn into a calendar. Abu Bakr’s family were wonderful; feeding us, doing our washing and giving us the main room to stay in. We were all well rested! Kind family!

The following day was hard particularly after the rest but the horses were going well and dealing so well with the crowds following us. Drunkenness is a problem in all countries but for some or other reason we could not avoid drunken people that day. We asked if we could overnight in the village of Samuye. They asked us to pay for horse’s drinking water for the first time on the journey. I paid with a bitter taste in my mouth! Christine was more disappointed than angry and told me in no uncertain terms we were moving on to get away from the drunks and greedy people.

We overnighted at the village of Kijjicha Bingo 3km away. The headman’s wife gave Christine her last water for our water bottles and to wash in. I remained grimy but Christine smelt wonderful. We ate maize meal and spinach with Mabula, the headman. The maize meal burnt our “tenderfoot” fingers and the spinach was full of sand but it could have been Sunday roast we were so famished. It had been lovely to meet Leah, a nurse, who translated for Mabula and his family’s kindness made Christine feel better. She slept well so in the morning when it was drizzling at feeding time and I got the look that means “you’re feeding the horses!”  

I came back to the tent and had a snuggle with my wonderful companion who I was so in love with. We packed up when the rain stopped and the sun came out (07h00). Strangely it was the earliest we had managed to get on the road even with photos with the village elders and Mabula. (08h03)

We always walked our horses the first 5km. It was a long downhill with beautiful surrounding views. Christine took some photos. Already we had at least 70 people following us. Small kids through to old grannies, a dwarf making fun of her size.

Four buses came hurtling past and it looked as though they were racing. We crossed over the road onto the left which was more open and had space for all the people following. When we got to the bottom of the hill the river forced us to the shoulder of the road in order to cross the culvert. There was a truck (horse and trailer) coming slowly towards us (vehicles drive on left hand side) and a truck (horse and trailer full of cement) going in the same direction as us. Last mentioned truck had slowed down next to us to take photos of Christine. I was worried being so close to the road that the kids might walk in the road and get run over by speeding buses.

I was in the process of telling Christine to get well off the road when the bus side glanced me from behind. I got thrown about 7m sideways into the riverbed. I woke, stood up and fell like a stone. My femur head was broken off. (08h40)

I crawled on my bum towards Christine who had been knocked some 50m away. I knew she was dead and despair entered my heart.

I worked out that the speeding bus had come up behind the truck with the intention of overtaking. When the driver finally realised he would have head-on collision with the on-coming truck he decided to go off the road through us. He hit Christine and the truck with cement at the same time. 3 people killed and 23 injured some quite badly, all with cement in their wounds. Miraculously both horses which were between us and the bus escaped death. Chami had a graze on his bum and Nali unfortunately grazed through the front of his right hind fetlock so that one could see inside the joint capsule. That meant his extensor tendon and the ligaments holding the joint together were severed. A career ending injury… (He is currently recovering fantastically, just can’t swish his tail).

I put my scarf over Christine’s body as her clothes were ripped and lay next to her holding her hand. I made the necessary phone calls while people crowded me taking photos. I rang Abu Bakr to come to my assistance. I also sent for Mabula and asked him to take charge of the horses. They took me to Shinyanga Clinic where they x-rayed me then gave me a pain killer and put me on a drip. Abu Bakr was fantastic leaving a guard with the horses and sending a man with me when I was moved to a hospital in Mwanza. A second chap organised by Christine’s brother in law was also sent with me.

The Hospital:

·         Removed empty drip with no thought of how dehydrated I was.

·         Left in casualty for about four hours with about 10 other people all being ignored.

·         Taken to a “VIP” room with another bloke in traction and his wife who is nursing him.

·         My minders leave to get me dinner and are refused re-entry. (No dinner or water was offered.)

·         No urine bottle or bedpan. Had to urinate in water bottle.

·         Florescent light stays on because there is no light switch or bell to ring the nurse.

·         Minders have to go to town to buy me breakfast. (Hospital doesn’t supply food)

·         Pay 100 US dollars please. (A small fortune in Africa)

A doctor finally came to see me just on midnight. They will put me in traction until they find someone to do the elective surgery and then another 3 months of traction. I asked about the nursing care and he shrugged his shoulders. My medical aid was speaking to him and he was adamant that they could fix the fractured femur head. The medical aid was happy… I asked him for some pain killers and he sent the nurse for 2 diclofenic tablets.

Belinda and Bernard, Christine’s sister and brother in-law, flew in to take care of things. Amongst the many things they did, one was to find a caretaker for the horses. Their uncle Martin had used his friend network in East Africa to find Don and Paula McBride from Mwanza. Bernard arranged with Don to take the horses into his care. I also asked Katia, the lady who had taken care of our horses in Uganda, to send Peter the groom to take care of the boys. He loves both horses and the boys know him well. We left them at the crash site with Peter and a guard and Don built a shelter for them. I was worried that Nali may have a fracture and transporting him would be dangerous. Both Don and I got a lot of flak for leaving the boys on the Tanzanian plains, but they were well taken care of. Don, Paula and the vet have been tireless in their efforts to treat and rehabilitate Nali. Don has subsequently moved the boys to a farm on the southern bank of Lake Victoria near Mwanza and they are thriving.

Bernard, Belinda and Bernard’s sister, Julia got stuck into my medical aid and pressured them to get me out of “The Hospital”. Finally I was flown to Nairobi and operated on, all thanks to the 3 Musketeers. My blood counts crashed and I would have to go to South Africa for possible treatment of leukaemia. I desperately needed platelets so Julia got most of Nairobi to donate blood and save the day. Julia got stuck into the medical aid again to get me flown to South Africa and they finally succumbed to the pressure. In South Africa it was confirmed that I had relapsed into leukaemia.

 People have been kind and caring, motivating me not to give up. Our Libyan friends phoned to ask whether or not I would complete the expedition and when I said yes they were so relieved saying; “William you have to finish for Christine! For her memory.”  Little did they know at that time I felt like my guts had been slit open and I had been left to die… I had lost my Treasure and nothing else was important anymore.

Christine’s body was repatriated to South Africa. She was cremated and her ashes scattered on Glencairn beach where I had proposed marriage to her. The service at the church was packed so full that many people had to stand outside. Friends and family from Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mozambique, and England came to pay their respect. Liesel, her cousin, arranged a memorial service in London which was well attended. Khartoum International Community School in Sudan held a memorial service with a mango tree and roses planted in remembrance of Christine. The Henchie family and I have received many wonderful condolences, THANK YOU!

Christine was a wonderful woman who left friendships in her wake. The Long Riders Guild called her the “most experienced female Long Rider of the 21st century”. There is no better example than Christine in her faith, humbleness, and her kindness to others, her tolerance for all and her ability to deal with tough situations.

Best regards


+27 (0)76 457 2220   FB: Christy Billy Africanhoofprints


Friday, 4 January 2013

Rahaal - The Traveller

Rahaal was born in Libya, when we don't know, but we guessed him to be about 10 when we bought him in May 2006. He was a local Libyan pony, chestnut in colour and full of character. When I say bought, I actually mean swapped! We had needed a pack animal and had purchased a donkey, but soon discovered that she was too slow although very strong. We did what the Libyans call an "Afari" and swapped her for Rahaal, with a little extra payment from us.

When we first saw him, there were 3 or 4 horses to choose from. We looked at him first and I just knew he was the one, so much so that I became rather irritated with Billy for even bothering to look at the others!

He did not have a very illustrious start as one of our horses - the very first thing he did was to chop our good friend Abdallah on the head! Billy started working with him and he soon became a special member of our herd.

He taught Chami everything he knew about foraging for food... Chami would be seen following him everywhere and before he ate anything he would get Rahaal's approval. He allowed Nali to be the youngster that he was, playing with him for hours on end.

He had a tough castration and so we didn't ask him to carry any weight until we reached Egypt. Here he stepped in when Chami got laminits, carrying more than his fair share and Billy!

He was a pleasure to ride, always willing and happy, a real plucky little horse. On arrival in Khartoum, he and the others were struggling with the repercussions of heat stroke from the severe heat wave in the desert. He got laminitis and biliary and despite our best efforts he died in September 2007.

He remains in our hearts and we remember him with love.

Here are some photos of his short time with us...
What he looked like when we bought him - Libya
The start of his training - Libya
Look out, here I come - Libya
Shaggy boy with very knotted mane - Libya
First time in the sea - Libya
Training continued - Libya
Helped out by Abdallah - Libya
Tired boy - Libya
Yummy watermelon - Libya
Look what I found - Libya
Good morning! - Egypt
Afternoon Nap with my buddy - Egypt
Settling in - Egypt
Caught in the act! - Egypt
Beautiful boy - Egypt
Get this thing off me! - Egypt
Hurry up with those dates - Egypt
I'm not sure I like this guy - Egypt
Woolly boy! - Egypt
On the road - Egypt
Look how strong I am! - Egypt
Me and my buddies - Egypt
Play time - Egypt
Yes I know I'm cute - Sudan
Rodeo pony - Sudan
Speedy pony - Sudan
Kiss my foot - Sudan
You can't catch me! - Sudan
Desert pony - Sudan
Drinking from the Nile - Sudan
Nile at sunset - Sudan
What you looking at? - Sudan
Oi, that's my water! - Sudan