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The Route

Posted by: Mat Oxley | Date posted: 24/04/2007

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Ewan and Charley had plenty of fun planning Long Way Down - the route's going to show them sights they'll never forget.

Long Way Down starts in Ewan's homeland, kicking off from the UK's most northerly point at John o'Groats and ending pretty much at Africa's most southerly point: Cape Town. It's north to south instead of west to east, and shorter than the Long Way Round. This trip's a mere 15,000 miles instead of the 20,000 covered from London to New York. But Ewan and Charley are expecting it to be every bit as tough.

During those 15,000 miles and three months, the daring duo will travel through as many as 20 countries: Scotland, England, France, Italy, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. And they are hoping to catch many unforgettable sights as they travel through what's arguably the world's most fascinating continent.

'There's a huge amount we're really looking forward to," says Charley. 'The pyramids, obviously, the Nile, and Ethiopia, which many people say is the birthplace of mankind, so that should be amazing. Then there's the mighty Okavango Delta wetlands, the bushmen in Namibia, I could go on forever.

'Of course there's a few places we're a bit nervous about, such as Sudan, where there's been a lot going on recently. But going down the east side makes more sense than going west, where there are probably more problems.

'The important thing is to learn to stop and look around. We're not trying to break any records, so we try not to get into the headspace of having to get on and on and on. Otherwise you'll do massive miles but won't see anything."

Director of photography Claudio von Planta has wildlife in his sights: 'A few years back I saw the gorillas in the Virunga National Park, and we're hoping to get back there. They're very curious; they come to check you out. But you mustn't look into their eyes because it's provocative. You've got to be shy and look down."

Cameraman Jimmy Simak is looking forward to the hearing the rhythm of a continent famed for its music. 'I'm a huge music fan, so being in a place that bursts with rhythm is going to be incredible," says Jimmy. 'I think this trip is going to be overwhelmingly intense for all my senses."

Likewise, producer/creative director Russ Malkin can't wait to experience Africa's sheer diversity. 'We're looking forward to understanding Africa more, and intrigued to discover the differences between, let's say, Libya and the Congo," he comments. 'The mixture of terrain, from the Sahara to the jungle to the savannah will be amazing. There's probably more geographical variety and wildlife in that one continent than anywhere else in the world. So being able to go from top to bottom is incredible. I'm looking forward to the wildlife and being out in the wilderness.

'That's what we liked on Long Way Round - just being on your own with nothing else around, nothing Western. I'm also looking forward to getting to Cape Town. Not because I want the trip to be over, but there are a lot more hazards on this project. There's a much greater chance of road accidents, and we're travelling through some very unstable areas. We've got our work cut out getting through it without incident."

Long Way Down also continues the team's association with the charity Unicef, for which it helped raise money during the last epic. Ewan and Charley plan to visit several Unicef projects as they work their way south - in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. They'll also check out a Sudan project linked to Riders for Health, the charity supported by the MotoGP World Championship.

'We had a fascinating and humbling experience with Unicef on Long Way Round," says Ewan. 'That was quite a big part of the trip for us. We went to three different Unicef projects, in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Mongolia."

Of course, much of the riding will be off-road, as was the case with the Long Way Round, although it's difficult to gauge conditions before the trip. 'It's always nice to have an idea of what you're getting into, but some people exaggerate," says Charley. 'You hear people say 'Oh, Sudan will be a nightmare'. But trucks go down there, and if a truck can do it..."

You can't always trust the locals either. 'We learned on Long Way Round that you don't ask the way from people on horseback," explains Charley. 'Because they'll send you over mountain passes that horses are OK with but which are no good for cars or bikes."

'Still, we're thinking Sudan and Ethiopia will be the toughest going. In Namibia you can have as much off-road as you want and nearly all of Tanzania is a dirt road. In fact, in a lot of the countries most of the time it'll be dirt roads, and we're perfectly happy with that," adds Charley, who's been competing off-road for years.

Ewan meanwhile learned to ride the dirt before and during Long Way Round. 'Ewan's very good off-road now. He's had plenty of experience of bad off-road terrain. Mongolia is the size of Europe and there's only 300 miles of tarmac!"

Sometimes it seems that riding the route is the easiest part. They had plenty of interesting visa and border experiences during the planning and filming of the Long Way Round. However, the success of that trip may just ease their passage through Africa. 'Long Way Round and Race to Dakar have come out on BBC Prime, which covers a lot of African countries. A lot of people have seen it, so that should help at borders, but you never know. It's taken a while to sort visas, and you can't apply for a lot of them until close to the date of travel. Visas are always the toughest part of the whole thing."

Charley recommends a well-planned route but not being afraid to diverge from your chosen path. 'It's important to have your route planned, because with some visas you have to be out of a country within a certain time. Also, if you've got a route you can wander off when you feel like it, but then return to it easy enough later."



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