On a mission to complete an epic cycling journey covering the entire African continent, a young Moroccan adventurer, Adil Boudraa, this week faced a precarious and perilous journey through northern Kenya on the border of Somalia where al-Shabaab militants are waging war.
“Adil is currently in a very uncharted and volatile area,” said Durban Architect Yusuf Patel, a follower of Boudraa’s travels, earlier this week.
“There is a lot of civil unrest near the border of Somalia. At every encounter, army and police search him. Villagers, living in fear of al-Shabaab, are also reluctant to engage with strangers, but Adil is determined to carry on.”
Patel, together with a host of friends, formed a support group last year after Boudraa arrived in Durban on a bicycle that was utterly kaput. The cogs were worn thin, rims battered and tyres balding and patched.
But Boudraa was high spirited as he recounted the high and lows of his pilgrimage through Africa.
It was two years ago that Boudraa set out from his home town, Kenitra in Morocco, with $300 (R3700), a $70 bicycle, a GoPro camera, two pairs of pants, two shirts, a tent and rudimentary cooking utensils.
Having since traversed almost 40000km exploring remotest regions of the continent, Boudraa has been likened to a modern-day Marco Polo, but given his background it would perhaps be more apt to compare Boudraa to the 13th century Arab scholar and medieval explorer, Muhammed Ibn Battuta, also from Morocco.
“Moving by sea, by camel caravan and on foot, Battuta spent half his life traversing vast areas of the Eastern Hemisphere, venturing into over 40 modern-day nations, often putting himself in extreme danger just to satisfy his wanderlust,” writes History Channel author Evan Andrews.
In Boudraa’s case, wanderlust struck after he walked the Moroccan desert in 2014 into Mauritania. Soon after, Boudraa got on his bike with no itinerary planned beyond the goal of exploring Africa by cycling through West and Central Africa down to the Cape and then returning up East Africa.
Boudraa reached Cape Town in October last year. After having traversed many severe and rugged African terrains, Boudraa found cycling up to Durban a cinch.
“The roads here are definitely the best in Africa,” he told a gathering organised by Imran Bobaat of Rocks and Roots Adventure group. The evening included a slide show about Boudraa’s travels through Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, Gabon, the Congo, Zambia and Mozambique.
Boudraa said the money he had left with had all been spent before he reached Senegal in the early stages of his journey.
“I relied entirely on the hospitality of strangers to survive. People in Africa, no matter how poor, have big hearts,” said Boudraa.
Besides dealing with punctures, worn shoes, insects and wild animals, Boudraa was struck by malaria several times, but managed to find treatment, mostly in bush hospitals.
Boudraa also had frightening encounters with soldiers in the DRC and, on one occasion, was captured by a remote tribe of rebel fighters, believing him to be a government soldier.
“I was wearing khaki fatigue pants. Luckily, I speak French and could convince them I was just a traveller. Like the soldiers, they first found my story hard to believe and threatened to execute me. In the end they just thought I was crazy and let me go,” he said.
After his presentation, a support group was formed in Durban to help him on his journey back north.
Boudraa left Durban with a refurbished bicycle, a new tent and camping supplies, spare cash and new friends he could call on when in need.
After crossing the equator in November, Boudraa was rammed by a vehicle in Uganda.
“One moment I was cycling toward Kampala, the next moment I woke up in a hospital,” Boudraa wrote to his WhatsApp support group.
“I was told that I had been involved in a road accident. I do not know whether it was a car or truck,” said Adil.
The support group contacted Riaz Kurji and his wife Menaz, from Nairobi, who had Boudraa seen to by a doctor and then transferred to a hotel to recover.
Boudraa was soon back on the road and crossed into Kenya last month. This week, concerns mounted as messages started coming through about Boudraa’s experiences in the war-torn north-eastern province of Kenya near the border of Somalia.
“Police have been stopping him all the way, suspecting him of being an al-Shabaab militant,” said Hassan Kachbal, a former Moroccan now living in Durban.
“And in the villages, people are scared to talk to him, so he just goes to fetch water to continue his journey.”
Latest news from Kurji is that Boudraa got through to Ethiopia safely on Friday.
“We are relieved,” said Kachbal. “Ethiopia will be a lot safer to travel through, but he still has a way to go to get back to Morocco and, at this stage, we are not sure what route he will take as there is also war in Libya.”
To follow Boudraa’s journey, visit the Facebook page: Adil Traveler.