• Zama school refurbishment

    We just had some great news from Tunisia. At the end of On Hannibal's Trail we rode through a village there called Zama - it was near here that Hannibal fought and lost the final battle of the 2nd Punic War. While we were filming we watched villagers walking a kilometer down the hill, past the ruins of Roman water reservoirs, to fetch water from a muddy pool/well. So we thought we'd raise some money for them. Danny found a local NGO (enda, http://www.endarabe.org.tn/) and lots of you donated money to the cause and we've just heard that they used that money to refurbish the local school. Here is the report:

    I reckon you've had time to forget you ever came to Tunisia or made contact with me for a project to help the people at Zama!

    But I have remained dissatisfied at never really accounting for the use of your kind contribution or what was done to improve the village. So at the risk of repeating myself on some points, here is a brief definitive account of the project:

    1. We adopted a participatory approach, organizing a meeting, and imposing the women as well as the men, to determine what was the most pressing problem in the village. Of course, the viewpoints were almost diametrically opposed! The consensus was finally to refurbish the school.
    2. This entailed the following actions:
    - the toilets (50m from the actual school and in a disgraceful condition : no water to flush them and so on) were rebuilt 
    - the doors, windows and shutters of the classrooms were repaired or replaced
    - the doors and windows of the canteen were repaired and repainted, as well as the walls and ceiling 
    - enough new desks and chairs were purchased in the classrooms for all the students 
    - the three blackboards (still using chalk) were replaced by modern ones using felt pens
    - a wall was built around the school.

    But more than this, your $1 500 had a substantial multiplier effect, since Enda contributed the equivalent of about $ 4 000 and the ministry of education some $ 30 000 to the project.

    Ouf! I now feel good at having got this off my conscience.

    The digs on the site have advanced substantially and this will doubtless give rise to direct (the work) and indirect (more visitors) job opportunities.

    Enda now serves Zama from our branch at Siliana. Currently, we have 60 micro-credit clients in that small Zama community with a portfolio (the value of their loans) of DT 89 000 (about $ 60 000). That's out of a total number of Enda clients of 250 000 for a portfolio of DT 200 million.

    I hope you're all fine and getting lots of contracts. Tunisia has been through some difficult times since the 2011 revolution, with terrible economic conditions (partly a spin-off of Europe's doldrums but mainly disastrous management by the islamist government). Unemployment continues around 800 000 with some of the attendant "idle hands" being put to devil's work.
    There are elections at end-October and everyone hopes there'll be a balanced government. But they'll have a tough time improving peope's living conditions. It would require a pretty big starting contribution to improve the whole country as yours did for the school at Zama!

  • On Hannibal's Trail sold to Viasat

    Viasat, a Scandinavian network, has bought On Hannibal's Trail and plans to broadcast the series starting this August. 

    So the 'lucky' people of these countries will get to see the series:

    Czech Republic

    If we manage to get Napoleon off the ground we'll be visiting a few of these places next year - this is our proposed route:

    Napoleon Paris to Moscow bike route - click for a Google Map 

  • Hannibal of Carthage, Missouri

    The place names in the eastern part of the state of Missouri make you feel like you've been transported back to the Punic Wars. This section of the USA, once part of France, was surveyed in about 1800 by a Frenchman, Antoine Pierre Soulard. Soulard loved his classical history, particularly it seems, Hannibal's war with Rome. Apart from the town of Hannibal, there are locations called Scipio and Fabius, and, indicating a wider antiquarian interest, Palmyra. Driving along a lonely highway in the Midwest corn belt and seeing signs to these places makes you feel like you might have entered a different dimension. 

    Some American patriots didn't like the idea of a Frenchman naming their towns. A 1905 book - that modestly claimed to be "beyond doubt the only authentic and complete history of Hannibal ever published" - contradicts the town's history museum. The authors write, a little oddly, that while Soulard owned an "extensive library...there should be no doubt that instead of being named by the French Surveyor General, the Hannibal site was so designated by the American Surveyor General, William V. Rector."  They quote from a book called Rural Hours that with southern vitriol refers to the "direful invasion of the ghosts of old Greeks and Romans headed by the Yankee Schoolmaster with an Abridgement of Ancient History in his pocket." 

    Anyway...the town of Hannibal sits on a beautiful stretch of the Mississippi River and is famous as the birthplace of author Mark Twain, the creator of the characters Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and those fun stories about being a naughty boy. You can visit his original family home, his dad's office, the local Hannibal History Museum and stroll down historic Main Street and along the river. Many signs about Twain around the town call him by his original name, Samuel Clemens - I was a little bemuzed until I made a giant mental leap and worked that out! 

    Mark Twain is very popular in China and translations of his works are on school reading lists, according to a fellow guest in our bed and breakfast (another story, but we later discovered on the local 'haunted Hannibal' ghost tour that our bed and breakfast - the Garden House - is regarded as the most haunted place in Hannibal Missouri, with much of the activity in our bedroom!). We did actually see a small minivan of Asian tourists in town and apparently the Chinese premier visited here during his recent tour of the USA. When you consider how far away Hannibal is from anywhere, that's quite amazing. 

    Another curious item. In the local history museum there was nothing about the Carthaginian Hannibal apart from an old, brown photocopied page. It briefly outlined his exploits and referred to him as an African leader and showed a picture of him as a blackman. Of course, whether Hannibal was black, white, yellow or inbetween is not important, but its almost certain he was of semitic ethnicity and so very likely, physically, of Middle Eastern appearance (whatever that is exactly).  It made me wonder whether the occasional references you find on the web to Hannibal being a black leader might have started in Hannibal, Missouri and be tied up with the civil rights movement here. Missouri was a slave state and schools were segregated in the town of Hannibal until the 1960s. 

    But rather than Hannibal of Carthage, Missouri's Hannibal belongs to Mark Twain. Intriguingly, his autobiography was only published two years ago. On Twain's instructions, out of sensitivity to those still alive, his autobiography couldn't be published until 100 years after his death! Twain was very quotable. Here are some of his quotes 

  • BBC Radio 4: In Our Time: Hannibal

    Melvyn Bragg's radio show has discussed Hannibal's war against Rome.  It's an interesting listen:


    There's a also a bibliography and some readable musings on MB's blog here:


  • On Hannibal's Trail on National Geographic TV

    Ben and Sam are cycling in Tuscany with Sam's company Ride & Seek Bike Tours, perhaps that's why I was reminiscing...and just did a quick search and discovered that On Hannibal's Trail has now been scheduled on National Geographic TV and is broadcasting during October on their Asia, Middle East and Oceania feed. Here's the link: http://natgeotv.com.au/tv/on-hannibals-trail/

  • On Hannibal's Trail sold to the National Geographic Channel

    Our distributor Optimum Television in partnership with BBC Worldwide, Regional Wine Taster,  Ride and Seek and Ramapithecus Corp has sold On Hannibal's Trail to the National Geographic channel. The series will be aired on National Geographic's Asia, Middle East and Oceania feeds which broadcast to these countries:




    Gaza Strip (not recognized)


    Hong Kong





    Iraqi Kurdistan (not fully sovereign)







    New Zealand

    Northern Cyprus (not recognized)



    Palestinian Authority (not fully sovereign)




    Saudi Arabia

    Sri Lanka





    United Arab Emirates



    A potential audience of well over 2 billion – although nowhere near that many have access to the National Geographic channel of course.


    We have no scheduling information as yet but will post that as soon as we find out.


    Well done to Manoj and his team at Optimum, we look forward to another wave of rude emails but from outside the UK this time at least!

  • Obsessive Compulsive Cycler Starts Maiden European Touring and Organic Farming Adventure

    For some time we've been getting friendly tweets and general displays of camaradery from a fellow fan of bicycle touring called Specialized Guy.  He's just set off on an incredible mission to bicycle around the UK, Ireland, the rest of Europe and possibly beyond while working on organic farms (called WWOOFing).  He started out a couple of days ago on April 1st and he's regularly tweeting and blogging about his exploits.  Things could start to get interesting because Europe's weather has just taken a turn for the worse and Specialized Guy is about to start camping!  Good luck Specialized Guy! Stay warm! Think of Hannibal's men in the Alps!

  • Tonight on BBC2: Hannibal Double Header Grand Finale

    Tonight starting at 1120pm on BBC2 in the UK, it's the final two episodes of On Hannibal's Trail. The Alps were spectacular - but if you like Italian countryside, Roman ruins and wine contrasted with the colourful, chaotic Maghreb, you should enjoy 'Hannibal the Great' and 'Hannibal at the Gates'.  We were filming just before the Arab Spring so it's also a chance to see what Tunisia (home of Hannibal's Carthaginian civilization) was like before the fall of dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In fact, it's also a chance to see what Italy was like before the fall (again) of il Presidente, il Cavaliere, Silvio Berlusconi! (not much change there). We enjoyed Tunisia a lot, the cyling was tough at times (on one occasion Ben screamed, "Get off!" when a truck looked like it was coming straight at us - not caught on film) but generally great once you were out of the city of Tunes.  As you may know, the ancient ruins scattered about the countryside in Tunisia are spectacular.  Between filming and cycling in Tunisia I have fond memories of cafes, shisha pipes, old men in their groups and a very old world, atmospheric place.  There are some sad bits in these final Hannibal films - it really takes Hannibal's story from triumph to tragedy.  I still feel sad when, at the end of our somewhat amusing battle of Zama recreation, the music rises up and Ben describes Hannibal's defeat. Incidentally, the theme music to our Hannibal series is also used in other places too - I was surprised to be listening to it again in the National WWI Museum here in Kansas City, Missouri.  The museum here uses it to accompany its introductory museum film, and there's also a "WWII in HD" documentary on the History Channel that uses it as well.   Enjoy the Hannibal grand finale!

  • Tonight on BBC2: Crossing the Rhone & Over the Alps

    So we're back tonight on BBC2 at 1120pm in a double bill! Some of the best scenery and cycling sequences filmed by cameraman John Bretherton are in these two episodes of On Hannibal's Trail.  There's also a lot more story to tell about Hannibal's expedition once we get to the Rhone river, so there's also more history content in these episodes compared to the last two. In 'Over the Alps' we split up to test three of the possible pathways Hannibal and his army with elephants might have taken over the Alps.  The question of which route did Hannibal take is still a subject of heated debate among historians.  Patrick Hunt from Stanford University (who doesn't feature in the documentary but was very helpful and is in our 'The Experts' section on this website) is doing his best to find archaeolgoical evidence supporting one of the routes we test out.  Put the coffee on and enjoy! And if you aren't in the UK, here's a short sequence you can watch from episode four's Alpine adventure:  http://vimeo.com/27610431

  • Wood Brothers: The Early Years

    When there's a re-schedule on BBC2 that effects a program you love, you start by looking in obvious places for explanations.  When you can't find satisfactory answers there you might tear your hair out a bit and then start a long period of introspection. During this period of personal reflection that followed the surprising interruption to the broadcast of the On Hannibal's Trail series I've been looking into Wood Brothers' past for clues.  Did something happen a long time ago that pre-ordained a rocky road ahead?  This picture turned up in a box of photos dated 1981.  It's taken in the Spanish port of Marbella by Tom, a friend of our grandparents.  It really has nothing to do with Hannibal except it shares a Spanish location and brings back fond memories!













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