I'm so glad we went through Zimbabwe in the end. There was much hoo-ha beforehand, deciding whether it would be foolhardy as a journalist/ex-BBC reporter to enter the country, whether there would be google checks on the border post, whether we'd get searched etc.
Anyway, it turned out that the border post didn't even have a phone, let alone search-engine capability, no one searched us as I don't think they could be bothered, and the police on road blocks usually wolf-whistled, grinned, and waved us through hooting.
It is an extremely beautiful country full of patient people.
It was confirmed a few months ago that a chap called Mark Beaumont would be joining us for the last two weeks of our journey. Mark’s record-breaking round-the-world cycle and our expedition share Artemis Fund Managers as title sponsors, and the synergy when the two converged on the plains of the Masai Mara in Kenya was marred only by Barty’s poorly concealed smirk at Mark’s clean shaven legs.
As Barty pointed out in his last diary entry, not one of us has been able to use the term ‘cyclist’ as a descriptive adjective in the first person yet. For me, this prejudice is multi-faceted and I will admit that I was entirely disinclined to spend the last two weeks of my great journey with someone who talked about sprockets and derailleurs and wore lycra better than he did jeans. When Mark arrived, I quietly noted his strong, wide buttocks and smooth, curvaceously muscled calves, and thought ‘Cyclist’.
It took me all of fifteen minutes to realise that Mark is very entertaining and that I am a bigoted witch for thinking otherwise. He certainly comes from the breed of sportsmen that take up rowing and cycling over rugby and cricket (my cursory assessment of his hand-eye coordination supports this argument), but he has an extraordinary character. This year, Mark smashed the round-the-world cycling record, bringing it down from 276 days to 194. Over-achievement sits well with him, though - because he loves what he does, I think. You get the impression that he’ll never ever run out of genuine enthusiasm for talking about that which he has achieved.
When first Mark arrived, he really had very little idea of what to expect from us. We were at the time sipping cold sodas and nibbling toasted cashews with conservationist Ron Beaton at his home in the Masai Mara region of Kenya. “I thought I’d be getting straight on the bike!” he said, with wide blue eyes and a strong Scottish lilt. “Er, no, Mark… no bicycling today. Or tomorrow, in fact. Indeed, Mark, it would seem that you’ve arrived very much in time for the finale part of our trip… the part where we ditch the ‘no booze before cycling’ rule and sleep in beds more than we do tents”. Luckily, this pleased him. It also pleased me, as I struggle to keep up with Barty on a bike (who’s a ball-sport kind of guy), let alone this world-record-breaking-cyclist! I suspect Mark would have been less than impressed by us and our tin-pot cycling outfit, had the actual cycling been the expedition’s focal point. As it was, conservation in communities was order of the day, and we on the Cycle of Life team have nothing to fear when it comes to discussing all things animal. Yep, when it comes to the interaction between communities and their wildlife, we have a good three months of learning on Mark.
Tusk Trust was one of the beneficiary charities of Mark’s round the world trip, so he had some prior knowledge of how it operated – providing carefully selected conservation projects across the continent with financial support where they need it most. He was childishly excited to be in Africa for the first time and visiting some of these projects that he’d heard about. Ron took us on a phenomenal game drive in the Masai Mara game reserve that took in Buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Zebra and Giraffe, and when Mark fell off his seat, I presumed it was over-exuberance, until I realised that the poor guy hadn’t slept in 36 hours.
After a good sleep and a day spent as a team visiting an incredible school that trains young Masai tribesmen to be safari guides, the only thing that stood in the way of Mark being ‘one of us’ was his costly, super-lightweight titanium camping-cutlery which we thought it only right to take the piss out of. Mark threw himself into everything with intelligence and a sense of humour, and we were genuinely very impressed by how quickly he picked up on the issues Ron was facing in Kenya, where the Government’s environment agency had just imposed a blanket ban on development in the Mara ecosystem.
Mark’s documentary came out yesterday and we wish him the best of luck with it. Our many thanks also go to Artemis Fund Managers, who made Mark’s presence on the expedition possible.