Welcome to mad nomad’s adventurous website! This site is about travelling the way I’ve been dreaming of as a child! When I took the decision to make my dream come true, it seemed remote and totally unfamiliar to me. Finally, after two years of profound research and intense preparation, I hit the road!
On the 14th of April 2007 I set off solo from Thessaloniki, Greece by my small motorcycle (Honda XR 250S), on a journey to four countries, for ten months’ time: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. During my trip, however, there were many changes in my schedule, and, finally, I ended up returning to Greece after two years and two and a half months, having covered 73,000 km. (45,361 miles), after travelling to fourteen Asian countries: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh! This was my journey known as “greece2india“. You will find my trip reports from that time at: http://www.moto.gr/forums/showthread.php?t=38448
On July 18th, 2013, we hit the road for an even longer journey! Africa and Middle East are calling us and we are eager to explore those lands! Why do I use the plural form? This time, Christina, the she-mad nomad, was travelling with me for 10 months. Therefore, we were riding two motorcycles of the same type (Honda XR 250), travelling according to my usual recipe: innumerous detours, in order to visit everything interesting, years on the road, to catch the scent of the local societies we are visiting, always guided by the love for People and Nature. Since August 2014, I keep traveling solo, as Christina decided to fly from Zambia back to Greece because of some personal reasons. This is the expedition called “mad about Africa“! You can check out our route on Live Trip Traveller and you can enjoy our reports at the Trip diary section.
Mention to anybody you are going to Rwanda and most probably you’ll hear: “Oh, really? Is it safe?”. People know Rwanda just for the horrible genocide which took place in 1994. The funny thing is that it’s one of the safest countries in Africa now, if not the safest! Despite that, first of all I had to ride safe… I was used to drive on the left side of the road for almost a year. In Rwanda I had to remember how it is driving on the right side. Wow, when I was on the right side, I was feeling I’m on the wrong direction! The problem was occurring when I was stopping for some reason… A few times I started unwittingly on the wrong side of the road and I was only reminded I shouldn’t be there when I saw a truck coming towards me! Happily I had the time to move to the other side.
Of course, a visit to Rwanda is first of all a history lesson. I visited many genocide memorials and I started with the one in Kigali, the capital. It was shocking to learn the details about the atrocities that happened. I visited the memorial with Jacques, the young Rwandan who was hosting me. While walking through it, he was telling me his own story… He was just ten years old when the whole country was full of roadblocks and fanaticized Hutus were looking for Tutsis to kill. The names of the targeted people were even broadcasted through the notorious Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. That’s how thousands of people got brain washed and they took their machetes to kill their friends.
Jacques couldn’t understand what was happening at that time. He just knew he had to hide in the bush because they would kill him! He ended up eating scraps or whatever he could find in the bush. He was the only one out of the three siblings who finally survived the genocide… He was a young boy and he didn’t even know the story between Hutus and Tutsis. After all, this segregation had started only a few decades ago, when the Belgian colonists introduced the identity cards. The ancient tactic of divide and rule works for millenniums all around the world… People who had more than ten cows were considered wealthy, so Tutsis. The rest were considered Hutus. The colonists were also taking in account the physical characteristics of the indigenous people. Tutsis are usually tall and slim with a characteristic long nose. So, suddenly people’s race became very important and it was even written on the identity cards that were introduced by the Belgians!
The colonists favored the Tutsis initially. So, they were the ones who had better access to education and they held important positions in politics and business. Naturally, Hutus were frustrated. Starting in 1959 there were many bloodsheds between the two tribes. Both in Rwanda and Burundi tens of thousands of Hutus and Tutsis were massacred over the years. In 1962 Rwanda became independent and the situation escalated to the genocide of 1994. Those one hundred days almost a million people died. They were not only Tutsis but also Hutus who were suspected of sympathising Tutsis. Whoever wouldn’t kill for the ethnic cleansing would be killed himself. Don’t think people were simply killed by guns. Most of them were tortured and killed by machetes, clubs, spears or whatever was available. The streets were littered with dismembered bodies and dogs were shot en masse as they had become very aggressive. They had developed a taste for human flesh…
Despite UN Force Commander Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire was asking permission to do something, he was clearly ordered not to intervene. So, Rwanda was left absolutely alone by the international community. Right after the genocide, RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) attacked and took control of the country. That was a paramilitary group which was formed by Tutsis who had fled already Rwanda because of the massacres that had happened the last decades. The head of the army was the current dictator of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. As you can expect, then they were the Hutus who were massacred and actually the RPF didn’t even bother to check if they were Hutus who fought for the genocide or against it. RPF even attacked the Hutu refugee camps in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I was shocked to see that today the genocide is formally presented as a genocide against Tutsis! When the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire returned from exile in 2010 to challenge Kagame on the elections, she was sentenced to eight years in jail. The justification was that she asked why there are no memorials in Rwanda about the hundreds of thousands of Hutus who were killed. Presenting only the Tutsis as the victims doesn’t make justice and unfortunately, I don’t think it helps the trauma of this nation to be healed.
The most moving moment for me was not learning about the atrocities that I had already read about. It was when a Rwandan school visited the genocide memorial. After a while, I saw the teacher sitting down and bursting into tears. That was when my eyes became wet. Who can imagine what kind of images she had from that dark era…
In Kigali I was hosted by Jacques and his wife Marie. They live in a simple house but they did everything to make me feel as a king! Marie was cooking everyday on charcoals meals with chicken, rice, beans or chips and of course ugali, the African staple, equivalent to bread, made out of maize or cassava flour. They are a lovely young couple who were making jokes and teasing each other all the time!
What a visitor in Rwanda seemingly realizes is that a miracle is happening there… Can you imagine how would a country look like after such a horrible genocide? It’s unbelievable to see that nowadays everyone talks to each other and Rwandans are friends again, no matter their race. It’s actually not even allowed to ask somebody in which race he belongs. Everybody is considered just Rwandan. On top of that, the country is remarkably well organized, with little corruption (seemingly), tidy and clean. But unfortunately, that’s only the surface…
As somebody would expect, this peace and unity doesn’t come out of peoples’ heart but it’s imposed to them by the totalitarian authorities. Of course, it’s still important that peace prevails but I’m wondering if that will be the case in the future… The international community turns a blind eye on the dictator’s heavy hand and on the crimes that he has committed. It serves everybody’s consciousness to think that Rwanda nowadays is an African role model and finally the international community does something about this long-suffering country. However, a very interesting documentary by BBC, called “Rwanda’s Untold Story“, reveals a truth that is hidden for decades. Just make sure that if you watch it, you are not in Rwanda… As you would expect, this documentary is banned there, as is BBC in general!
I visited the churches in Nyamata and Ntarama where thousands of people were massacred. I headed south to Huye and I visited the Murambi Genocide Memorial where the visitor can see almost a thousand bodies preserved with lime on their last position before being killed. After all those terrible stories, I was thinking once again how lucky I am that I was born just a generic human and not a Hutu or a Tutsi…
As a human, it was easy for me to travel around Rwanda and experience the pleasant side of it… I could cross the gorgeous Nyungwe Forest National Park and play on its inviting curves with those two cables going from my motorbike’s throttle to the carburetor. I could enjoy the dirt rides and the amazing views of Lake Kivu. But I always had the dark history in my mind…
If someone achieves to overcome the past, he will see the country of a thousand hills, as it is nicknamed… Rwanda is full of green hills which are cultivated all the way to the top, since there is not enough space to grow food. This tiny country has one of the highest population densities of any African country. As you can imagine, going up and down those hills through dirt roads is very enjoyable. One of my favorite routes was on the north, around Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera. The landscape was amazing! These lakes on 1,900 m. (6,234 ft.) altitude are full of tiny forested islands. If somebody would tell me that I was on the Scottish Highlands, I would have no doubt!
You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller
Tanzania welcomed me with lush, mountainous areas… The rolling hills around Tukuyu have a beautiful, green carpet of tea plantations on them. After exploring the mountains around Mbeya for a few days, I headed east. I passed through Iringa town and I enjoyed a nice ride through the Baobab Valley. I was riding between hundreds of those characteristic trees and next to a river. Then I had to cross Mikumi National Park. Motorcycles are usually forbidden in areas where there are wild animals but the highway crosses this unfenced park, so all traffic is allowed on this road. I finally saw giraffes, warthogs, plenty of impalas and a lot of baboons too!
My first impression from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, was a terrible one… It’s just a huge, crowded, noisy and polluted city. The traffic there is hectic. Cars, buses and trucks manage to block each other on junctions, so nobody can move, sometimes for half an hour! Everybody tries to find a way through this chaos without minding the other drivers… What happens usually is that he comes to face a truck which is blocked on every side by other vehicles and at the end nobody can move! I was very grateful once again that I was on a motorbike…
My getaway from this frenetic place was Zanzibar… That’s a different story: an island with exotic beaches on the Indian Ocean and a unique melting pot of civilizations! Ships were mooring on its coast for centuries from as far as India and Middle East. They were bringing spices, glassware and textile, while they were taking slaves, ivory, gold and wood. They were also bringing the Eastern civilization and Islam, which stayed until today. Zanzibar was united with the country of Tanganyika in 1964. Using the first three letters from the name of each country, Tanzania was just formed.
Back in Dar es Salaam, I made a very special friend: Costas Coucoulis! As he says, he is an African, born in Burundi, with Greek origins. He has not only spent almost his whole life in Africa but he has actually dedicated it to Africa. Through his NGO called SANA (Saving Africa’s Nature), he struggles for years to save some of the last pristine areas that are left in our planet. That has become his life goal! His most special characteristic that I admire is that he tries to do that by educating and collaborating with the local communities. He doesn’t want to be the hero behind this story. He wants the indigenous people to be the heroes of their own story… Despite he has seen the atrocities of the human race, experiencing the genocide in Burundi and the disaster of our planet, he still believes in humans like a child who always hopes… After all, if it’s not humans who will make this change, who will be?
Saadani National Park is Costa’s baby, as he says. He first visited that place when it was not even a national park. That’s where the bush meets the ocean and one of the very few places where you can see elephants in the sea! Costas fell in love with a spot under a tree, next to the river. He immediately decided that this is the place he wants to make his home and spend the rest of his life.
Since then, he is struggling to stop poaching, save the forest, build schools, dispensaries and whatever else is important for the neighbouring communities. Imagine that in this part of the world even clean drinking water is a luxury. Now they have access to it through a wind-powered pump. You cannot make these people care about the environment without satisfying their own basic needs first. Over the years, they have destroyed a big part of the forest to make charcoal. Costas knows he must offer them an alternative because they cook everyday on charcoals. He is trying now to make charcoal out of organic waste.
Poaching is a big issue there. Tanzania is Africa’s largest source of poached ivory. Every single day 25 to 30 elephants die in this country. Their population now is alarmingly low. It’s obvious that educating these people is necessary. SANA has built a school and provides education to tens of children. They are also planning to establish an environmental training centre. Funds don’t come easy, so if you want to support these amazing projects, donate to SANA or visit Sanctuary Saadani Safari Lodge to experience all these firsthand!
I couldn’t miss to see all this paradise by myself, so I visited Miseni Camp, just out of the national park’s border. I spent several wonderful days next to the spiritual hill on top of which the indigenous people used to pray since centuries ago. I enjoyed a lot the beauty and the silence of the nature… In the evenings, I was lying down in my tent listening at the concert of the bush babies and the birds, before my eyes were closing under a sky full of stars…
Through some narrow trails, I enjoyed a great dirt ride which brought me to the coast. I visited Pangani with its Arabic and German colonial buildings. After a break in Tanga, it was time to explore the Usambara Mountains… Wow, unexpectedly, that became my favourite part of Tanzania! I was riding mountains up and down as high as 2,000 meters (6,562 ft) through remote dirt roads and trails. Some of them were full of stones and ruts while there was some mud too. I was passing through small villages, blurred by fog, where smiling people were covered in fleece blankets. I even enjoyed a short hike in Amani Nature Reserve. I visited some scenic waterfalls and an old hydroelectric power station from the colonial era.
There was something around there that I wanted to see before I close my eyes… It was Kilimanjaro! I was in Moshi town when the clouds were gone for a while and I laid eyes on Africa’s highest mountain for first time! I wanted to see the characteristic shape of this mountain and its snowy peak at 5,896 meters (19,344 ft). Unfortunately, the last snow on Kilimanjaro is estimated to melt forever by 2020. I rode all around the mountain and I enjoyed a great dirt ride on its foothills, through thick forest, which brought me to Marangu village.
My next destination was Rwanda. I was riding on cool plateaus for four days through dirt and paved roads. Every night I was wild camping in the bush and that’s how I enjoyed the 27th full moon I saw during my African adventure 😉
You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller
Malawi shares its name with the lake which defines the whole country. Lake Malawi is 580 km (360 miles) long and 75 km (47 miles) wide. It covers almost a third of Malawi’s total area. When I entered from Mozambique, I rode straight to Cape Maclear to enjoy the famous beaches of Lake Malawi. It was hard for me to believe that this is not the sea but a lake.
I took a traditional, wooden pirogue to West Thumbi Island. I was paddling with my kind guide, Enock, for more than an hour. Lake Malawi has more fish species than any other inland body of water in the world! The turquoise fresh water around the island is an ideal spot to swim among the plethora of colourful fish. I never had such an enjoyable snorkelling!
I wouldn’t miss the Mufasa Rustic Camp in Monkey Bay. That’s very close to Cape Maclear but it’s a different world… Cape Maclear has a long beach and you stay in the village between the local houses and huts. Mufasa has a tiny, secluded beach and there you live in harmony with nature in a very beautiful setting.
It was time to make a detour south to Zomba. I was hosted in a township and that was nice. I was there to explore the Zomba Plateau, a mountainous area full of nice forests, waterfalls and a small lake. It was a really beautiful setting! We took my motorcycle and we visited some relatives of my host in a remote village. Nobody could speak English there but my host was translating for me. They were insisting to cook something for us. They took some fresh rice and they skilfully peeled it by hitting it in a big, wooden mortar like those ones that are used all around Africa. They laid a mat on the ground to sit on and they served us the rice with some brown sugar.
I headed back north and after a long day on the road, I arrived at the touristy Nkhata Bay. It is built around a picturesque part of the lake. I enjoyed some hiking on the neighbouring hills but the best thing I did was a boat trip to a remote village called Kawanga. I camped on the beautiful beach and the first thing I enjoyed when I opened my eyes was the crystal-clear water! I sat on some rocks in the middle of the water and I was admiring the beauty of the scenery. I was helping the local fishermen to pull the nets out of the lake, I was playing with the children and then I was enjoying the night with my friends around a warm bonfire…
My last stop in Malawi was at Livingstonia, a small, former colonial town which was set up as a Christian mission in 1894. A rocky dirt road took me to the plateau from where the views over the lake are gorgeous! I did some hiking and I enjoyed Manchewe Falls. After almost three weeks in Malawi, it was time to exit the country from its northernmost border. Tanzania was waiting me…
You can check out the map with more photos and reports at: Live Trip Traveller