Rory Mackay, Round Square 2007, CEO Wild Hong Kong
Cycling across Africa ... and Life
I reflect on my school years and mixed emotions are unstirred in my mind. Memories of rules and thick stone walls, made habitable by the friends and characters bound (for the most part) within them. Back then I would not have regarded myself a high achiever, a late develepor perhaps. However, my Gordonstoun education rubbed off on me in a manner I could never have predicted and I have reached this juncture with a story to share. A story of achievement.
Fresh off an absorbing three weeks sailing the ‘Ocean Spirit of Moray’ up near the North Pole, I was thrust into the world. After spending the best part of two years working odd jobs around Southeast Asia and New Zealand, I moved to Australia to study architecture. It was during my years in Brisbane that cogs began to spin and stars aligned. Late 2010, I undertook an internship with an architectural firm in Hong Kong. This entailed spending three hours each day riding the metro, an experience more akin to that of a tinned sardine than a human being. This commute either side of days stuck in front of a computer didn’t endear me to life in an office. My favourite activities soon became reading adventure books and admiring the view from my desk. A seed for adventure was planted in my mind.
Fast forward one year. Having restored an old road bicycle in Australia, I flew it over to Vietnam and set off from Saigon heading north. A month and 2500km later I had reached my target of Hong Kong! It was such a satisfying endeavour as I really got to know myself and the places I passed through. As people, we all seem to be searching for a purpose. There was something beautiful about the simplicity of cycling as a form of adventure; getting from A to B felt immenseley purposeful because my progress was tangible. I knew this would spur me on to bigger and better things.
Another couple of years passed as I knuckled down and completed my architecture studies in Australia. During my final year, I hatched up a plan with an old friend to do trans-Africa on four wheels. I worked for a while longer Down Under to raise funds and made preparations to head to Cape Town at the end of 2013. Only three weeks prior to departure, my friend wanted to put the trip back one year, I however was not in a position to oblige. This was the time, this was the chance to do something great! Travelling alone I lacked sufficient funds to purchase a motor vehicle, so was pressed into a last minute decision as to my means of transport across the continent. Sod it, why not by bicycle?
Without a moment to lose (literally on the day of departure), I grabbed my old mountain bike from the garrage, whacked it into a cardbord box and made haste for Africa. After a few weeks of preparation and travel around South Africa visiting friends, I embarked on what ended up becoming a 16,000km adventure across eleven nations.
At the outset I wasn’t very sure how far I’d get and took it very much one country at a time. First things first, I forged my way up the west coast of South Africa. Riding north, the landscape became increasingly arid untill I reached the heart of the Namib Desert. Crossing Namibia was one of my favorite experiences; the rugged beauty of her landscapes making the enormous expanses and searing summer heat worth the toil; running out of water hundreds of kilometres from anywhere a dicey exercise. I headed inland to Botswana and the Okavango Delta, hitching a few rides across parts of the vast Kalahari Desert. The riding and bush camping amongst lions and elephants in these parts was absoloutely awesome.
Continuing in a north easterly direction I hit Zambia and Victoria Falls. The nature of riding thereafter changed, as the empty deserts of the south transformed into the populated forests of Zambia, Malawi and Southern Tanzania. An abundnace of people on the roadside bringing with it a new set of challenges. Riding the Indian Ocean coastline of Tanzania and Kenya was a great experience, backed up by then circumnavigatiing Kilimanjaro. Onwards to the mountains of Ethiopia and one of the most unique countries on this earth. Exploring at the pace of a bicycle, I trully got a feel for the cultures and landscapes navigated. Ethiopia was nothing short of a revelation.
This was folowed by an epic descent into the Sudan and onwards to the Sahara Desert. Crossing this part of the planet tested every fibre of my being. Getting poisoned in Khartoum and spending time in a Sudanese hospital was a definite low point of the trip. I somehow found the fortitude to continue, following the Nile up into Egypt and gradually regaining my strength. Needless to say, it was sureal and incredible to reach Cairo on that crusty old bicycle! Cycling from Edinburgh to John o’Groats with my father a fitting way to cap an epic five months on the road.
After working for half a year in Scotland, I went on to travel the Americas and Caribbean before settling down in Hong Kong where I founded an adventure and eco tour company called Wild Hong Kong and my next big adventure is always just round the corner.
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