Elvis Munnis and his bike
Interview Words : Peter Moore | 25 July

Tanzania's first round-the-world cyclist

Meet Elvis Munis: the first black African to cycle around the world. And he needs your help

Elvis Munis, 25, of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, is bicycling around the world to raise awareness about environmental issues and funds for scholarships to support students in Africa to study resource management in college.

He will cycle 28,000 miles and pass through 41 countries, completely unsupported.

Elvis’s journey started in Santiago, Chile and takes him through Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, USA, Canada, Alaska, across the Bering Sea (by any means) into Russia, Mongolia, China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea into Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and ending at the foot of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – Elvis's home.

Elvis must locate and carry his own food, shelter, and resources throughout the trip. Most nights will be spent camping in tents or staying with local contacts.

Elvis passed through London this week and took a few moments to talk to Peter Moore about the challenges and highlights of his journey so far.

What is the aim of your trip, both as a challenge and philosophically?

The aim of the challenge is to encourage people to donate for my cause of scholarships, to address the need of education in my community. I hope the challenge will also raise the awareness of need to conserve nature through sustainable growth and living, the other pressing need in my community. It is also global concern, and hence why I decided to cycle from Chile to Kili.

Philosophically, I want to be a catalyst of change, to inspire and motivate, especially the youth of where I come from. In short, education and conservation for sustainable development.

How long is the trip and how long do you think it will take?

I planned for it to take two years, but so far it has already taken 18 months. It will take me another ten months to reach Kilimanjaro.

What gave you the idea to do this trip?

The idea grew out of my life experiences, growing up in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro. As a village boy, my first knowledge of life was of nature, biodiversity and sustainable living. When I started running to school, bare foot, education opened my eyes to the world and never stopped amazing me. So much can be achieved through learning, but the opportunities to obtain further education are limited by high poverty which I think comes from illiteracy, or at least luck of proper training, in the first place.

You're also drawing attention to the environmental challenges facing Africa and the world.

Over the past 15 years I have observed tremendous environmental degradation on the foothills of Kilimanjaro. In the dry season we had to trek up river to find water which meant we missed school and had less time for other productive work.

Why cycling?

When I was 17 I learned to cycle, and when I was 24 I set off to cycle around African countries with the aim to witness African environmental issues first hand. My bike took me to 16 countries and, in the end, rewarded me with work as co-tour leader for cross continent bike tour, Tour d'Afrique. 

After cycling through 20 African countries and saving some funds, I planned to continue with my formal education, but when I sat down to write applications for scholarships I remembered all the young people I encountered across the continent who were in the same situation as me. They did not have the same opportunities to solve their problems or improve their lives through education. And the effects of global climate change means that it is increasingly difficult for them to scratch out a living. So I decided to do something to try and change the world.

How long have you been on the road?

18 months doing Chile to Kili. Two years before that, just in Africa.

What are the practicalities of attempting such a massive expedition? What do you eat? Where do you stay?

I travel on a tight budget, with dwindling funds, US$3-$7 per day. I camp mostly in the wild and cook my food which is mainly pasta, porridge, rice and protein like eggs when available. I supplement it with food and fruits from the respective area and regions.

How are you funding the trip?

With the money I started with. And I'm raising about 20% more to sustain other goals on the road.

What have been your biggest challenges?

There have been two big challenges – to acquire the required visas and to raise more funds. Of course, cycling for such long distances, being constantly on the move, and being in foreign lands is a challenge too.

What have been the highlights?

There have been so many! Cycling in the Andes, meeting and staying with Indians, cycling in the Amazon basin and cycling in Norway are just a few. The kindness and warm welcomes I have received along the way are also a highlight.

Any disappointments?

Being so behind in my goals, especially in fund raising. The world has a lot of resources and if we shared them the world would be a better place for everyone.

What has surprised you most about the trip?

There have been lot of surprises. This has been my first time out of Africa. I only knew the modern and sophisticated world from pictures. It was a real surprise to see the level of sophistication in the developed world. Lack of awareness and things been taken for granted was another thing that left me with lot of questions. It was also a surprise to find out that as a man of different colour I could be treated different in some places.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Oooh yes! I have felt like giving up twice, when there seemed to be no clear way of getting visas – it felt like mission impossible.

The Andes mountains, especially when I had to cycle from the Atacama Desert to highlands of Bolivia, also tested my resolve. The physical challenges of extreme heat to icy rain, loneliness and lack of oxygen all made me think of the distance I had to go to get home. I was convinced that when I reached La Paz, Bolivia, I would fly home!

Another big test was in North America when I couldn't obtain visas and a new passport to continue my planned route. Winter was already starting and I was still two months short of reaching Anchorage. I thought it was the end of the mission.

Charity rides are a very ‘western’ concept. How have people reacted to an African doing such an amazing journey?

Yes, charity is a totally different concept for most Africans. Also, taking on such long travel, not just by bicycle, is difficult concept to understand for most Africans. As such, I have received minimum support from back home, although it seems like it is growing. I hope Chile to Kili will help change that by showing that change has to come from within.

Have many people joined you on your ride?

There haven't been many people join me so far – only one friend from America joined me in Mexico for a week. Maybe in Africa there will be more.

When do you think you’ll reach Kilimanjaro? And how will you celebrate reaching it?

Tentatively March or April 2014. I'm not sure how I will celebrate, but I'll definitely be happy to finish this long commitment.

How can people help you achieve your goals?

People can help by donating to the funds I'm raising for scholarships by logging on to www.chiletokili.com. People can help my environmental goal by increasing their bike commuting or start and cut off emission as well as being positive change in their respective area so we can make better world for all of us! At the very least, they can follow Chile to Kili on Facebook and Twitter.

Chile to KiliYou can follow Elvis's epic adventure on the Chile to Kili website. He will also be talking about his adventures when he passes through London on July 29. Join him at the Exhibit Bar (12 Balham Station Rd, SW12 9SG) at 7:30pm.