Chapter 1 – How it all started … Africa 2007

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Much is said and written about men in their forties and fifties worrying about the ageing process and the uncertainties of what lies ahead. If you do reach a half century of existence on Planet Earth without experiencing body parts going wrong, stressful and unrewarding work, toxic relationships, money problems, hair loss and black dog days you have been very lucky indeed.

Most of us are not so lucky, and I for one can tick off a list of disappointments, regrets and failures. I have hit rock bottom and bounced back up more times than I care to remember, clearly evidenced by the number of times I have had to revisit IKEA to buy exactly the same “stuff” I had in the first place.

At the start of the new Millennia I was working in the fraud investigation practice of one of the worlds largest consulting firms based in Hong Kong. I did challenging and occasionally rewarding work, usually got paid each month, and on the face of it life was pretty OK.

I lived in what can best be described as an “illegal hut” right next to a popular beach on the rural south side of Hong Kong Island. Various females, none of whom I liked particularly much (except for a cat), came and went. I swam in the sea all year round, regularly ran along the mountain trails, kept myself extremely fit, rode to work at warp speed on a racing specification Yamaha YZF R1, and I could fly my paraglider up above Sek O Dragon’s Back Ridge, and land back down again right next to my hut.

However, I was becoming increasingly restless. Whilst I am very good at what I do, the pettiness and unpleasantness of the corporate world, office politics, and in particular the Hong Kong Knitting Circle, was really beginning to irritate and annoy me

Time to clean out the sock drawer.

Not being someone to do anything by half measures, I decided to press the reset button, resign from my job, leave Hong Kong, and chart a different course by enrolling as a mature student at one of the best universities in China. My plan was to differentiate myself from my peers by being able to speak, read and write Mandarin fluently, immerse myself in all things Chinese, and run my own practice.

As it turned out, it was a highly successful strategy.

As my first semester on the Mandarin language course at Tsinghua University (清華大學)in Beijing did not start until September 2007, some six months away, I had some time on my hands, and so I decided to challenge myself by riding a motorcycle across Africa.

I was allowed to resign almost immediately having completed all my projects as I am quite sure the painfully dull accountants and consultants I worked were glad to see the back of me. I sold my cherished Yamaha R1 to an Italian chap, handed over my “hut” in Sek O to some French hippies, gave away the remainder of my few possessions, threw some t-shirts in a suitcase, and flew out to Cape Town.

I had done some long distance motorcycle rides in Asia and Europe, but had never done any true “adventure riding”.

At the time legendary motorcycle riders like Ted Simons of “Jupiter’s Travels“, Sam Manicom of “Distant Suns“, and Nick Sanders of “Journey Beyond Reason: Fastest Man Around the World” had been riding all over the world and writing fascinating accounts about their adventures.

Also, like many other people at the time, I was captivated by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s  Long Way Round motorcycle expedition that had taken place a few years before, and vaguely aware they were completing yet another expedition in the continent I was planning to go to.

There was not a great deal of information about adventure riding on the internet, but there were a few decent “how to” books on planning, preparations and kit that I bought and digested. In particular, Chris Scott’s “Adventure Motorcycling Handbook” that I have to say was very informative.

I had virtually no motorcycle maintenance skills, and most of the bikes I had tinkered with over the years had been thoroughly wrecked by my complete incompetence. No real “off road” riding experience either,  other than collecting cows on an old Matchless 350 cc motorcycle from down the meadows on the farm I worked on as a young kid, and of course hooliganing around country lanes and fields on my 50 cc moped … as all we 16 year old lads who were brought up in the English countryside were prone to do.

Given my time and available resources, I planned to ride for about five months and up through the Cederberg and Karoo of South Africa from my home in Arniston (www.weaverarniston.net) on the southern tip of Africa. I then planned to cross into Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania (if I can get in without carne de passage), Mozambique, and back into South Africa and through the Kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho, and perhaps see the Wild Coast, again.

A few year earlier I had yomped for several months down this spectacular coastline, sleeping under the stars or in a bunk in a backpackers hut, swimming and paddling across shark infested rivers, walking alongside whales and dolphins, and occasionally evading shiftas who were ambushing hiking tourists and relieving them of their possessions! It was a truly amazing experience and I definitely wanted to see it again, but this time on a motorcycle.

 

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My Yamaha YZF 1000cc R1 motorcycle outside the hut in Sek O

 

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My bolt hole in Arniston, on Southern Tip of Africa.

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Running everyday along the beaches near my home in Arniston, South Africa to get fit for the expedition

 

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My KTM in 2007 ….just after I bought it… in my garden in Arniston.

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My KTM 990 Adventure on the day I sold it in 2011….four years and several expeditions later…spotless.

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Clueless

 

So, to the planning and preparation.

I had read enough to know that the biggest dilemma when planning a long distance motorcycle expedition is the balance between carrying all the kit (you think) you might need and keeping weight to the bare minimum. I also didn’t have a great deal of cash to spend as I was paying alimony and also had to budget ahead for at least two years of self funded study with no income, and an uncertain future.

Even back in 2007 there were some decent bits of kit around that would have been useful, like GPS and satellite telephones. I didn’t have any of those. What I could muster together for navigation purposes were some basic tourist maps; a guide book on Namibia; a paragliding compass and altimeter; an old Garmin GPS that only showed longitude and latitude readout (not particularly useful without a map); and sufficient lack of knowledge not to worry too much.

Anyway, I threw myself into the project and used my house in Arniston near the southern most tip of Africa as a base to get things ready.

But what bike?  This is the biggest decision and the choice really comes down to budget, riding ability and more often than not … just personal preference.

In recent times adventure motorcyclists have circumvented the globe on nearly everything on two wheels: 105 cc Australian “Postie” bikes; 50 cc mopeds and scooters; classic adventurers like the Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha XT 500; and of course the BMW GS Adventure series bikes used by Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor on their Long Way Round and Long Way Down television productions.

As a fairly experienced rider of sports motorcycles, like the Yamaha R1 and Honda Fireblade, I had come to expect a bit of speed and excitement and so I narrowed down my choice to the big powerful bikes, not knowing any better, and so my choice was between the BMW F1200GS Adventure, Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere, Honda XRV750T Africa Twin, and the KTM 990 or 950 Adventure.

I couldn’t find a decent second hand Africa Twin, and would probably have bought one if I had found one, the Yamaha was a distant fourth choice, and so it came down to the BMW or the KTM?

One of my first tasks on arriving in South Africa was to test ride the bikes and so I went to BMW Motorrad in Cape Town who I found to be extremely helpful and professional. However on the day they didn’t have a decent second hand bike and so I tested a new BMW F 1200 GS and found I really liked it. But it was very expensive, especially so with all the extra kit needed for the trip.

So off to KTM Cape Town who just happened to have a 1 year old low mileage black and grey KTM 990 Adventure with some of the kit I needed already fitted, and so I took it for a blast.

The KTM handled beautifully, was fast, powerful, reliable, balanced, looked the part and with the beautiful titanium Akropovik exhausts sounded absolutely glorious. Of course KTM were dominating (and have continued to do so) all the motorcycle rally competitions around the world, including the famous Dakar Rally and so my decision was an easy one.

A motorcycle is of course the most obvious thing you have to buy and probably the most expensive single item.  I also needed a decent helmet, protective boots, gloves, motorcycle adventure trousers and jacket, panniers, a duffel bag, camping gear, cooking gear, and perhaps some oil and maintenance tools! All these things add up.

KTM Cape Town (who happen to have relieved me of a lot of money over the years, sometimes for things I haven’t even bought !), sold me some Thor Blitz boots (half length boots that remain my favourites to this day), an Arai adventure helmet (a very good helmet that I never liked much, and many years later my other half, Fanny used it to ride around the world on her KTM), and very very expensive Touratech aluminium panniers … no other choice in South Africa at the time … and so I have used them for many other adventures since.

I really liked the KTM orange funky riding gear, but it was way too expensive and so I found some cheap three layer trousers and jacket (water proof lining, detachable warmth layer, outer tough material, and some basic internal amour) from a local manufacturer called Lookwell.  As it turned out it did look well, I thought, but wasn’t very warm, and certainly wasn’t very waterproof. That said, in Africa it did the job most of the time, and I lived in it for months on end and for many years.

Only years later did I realize that an initial investment in some higher quality, lighter and more comfortable riding gear with better protection might have been a wiser idea. I really like Rev ‘It and Klim motorcycling riding equipment, but then again I also like Ferraris and fine wine. I guess we all have to live within our means.

One of the good things about South Africa is that it has great camping equipment and 4×4 accessory shops, and you are spoiled for choice. I was also very lucky to get a North Face “Tadpole” tent that was on display in the shop and had 70% knocked off the price because there was a small hole in the fabric that I patched up fairly easily. I already had a ground mat, sleeping bag, head torch, MSR pocket rocket gas cooker, a basic first aid kit and some kind of hallucinogenic anti malaria tablets called Meflium, my digital camera, and some pots and pans. No funky light weight titanium anything… just odds and sods I took out of my kitchen drawers and cupboards.

So, that was about it. I didn’t need a carne de passages (the document used to guarantee to foreign customs departments that you are temporarily importing a vehicle) because the Southern Africa countries I planned to travel through allowed South Africa registered vehicles access for just a few dollars, or even free of charge. As a British passport holder I didn’t need a visa for any of these countries either, I suspect because Britain used to own them all during the colonial years!

So nothing left than to get going. It really was that simple.

 

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View from my friend John’s flat where I lived while visiting Cape Town

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The Yellow Peril near my home in Arniston. Nothing to do with motorcycling, but a car that will live long in my memory and used to lug things between Arniston and Cape Town… beer mostly.

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Garden of the Weaver

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Southern Right Whale and calf just outside my house

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Arniston

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At home at the Weaver

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Joined by a local dog for a walk along the long stretches of deserted beaches around Arniston.

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Arniston Bay

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May and June is winter in South Africa … so a fire takes the chill off in the evenings

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This was about it. Traveling light and with paper maps.

 

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I would later ride through mountains with snow… not what you expect in South Africa

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A few trips on my new KTM between Arniston and Cape Town

 

I left Arniston and headed north across the Overberg, across the winelands in Robertson, and up into the snow capped mountains north of Worcester, as it was early May and therefore winter in the southern hemisphere.

I headed towards Ceres, Porteville and Citrusdal, all places I knew pretty well, but from several thousand meters above the ground whilst competing in the “All Africa Open ” paragliding competitions over the years. It is here that the tar roads suddenly changed to the ubiquitous hard packed gravel roads that would continue pretty much for most of the trip.

I had driven a Toyota Hilux across Southern Africa a few years previously as you could rent one very cheaply for a Windhoek to Johannesburg stretch, being the hire cars that were left in Namibia and needed returning to their hire base in South Africa. In fact, it was basically a free way of traveling, and on that occasion I managed to put 5,000 kilometers on the clock, and only lost control and spun it in the desert a couple of times! A very valuable lesson about speeding on sand and gravel. I slept in the back of it, a type of vehicle that is known as a “bakkie” in Africa, or a “Ute”in Australia,  and so I only had to pay for petrol and beer.

Now I was on two wheels, and despite very little experience on this kind of road surface, I was doing OK with only a few “dramas” when the bike occasionally veered off where I wasn’t pointing it, or the front wheel slid away on scree like gravel.  Later on when the gravel got even deeper, or was rutted and corrugated, or very sandy, did I start to struggle and fully appreciate my own limitations and the weight of the bike.

I have always been of the mind set that if someone else can do something, so can I.  There are of course some off road riding skills and fundamentals, especially on the dreaded sand, that I wish I had known about and been better at, but I just soldiered on and day by day I got used to the slightly “out of control” feel, and I guess by trial and error, stayed upright. I only dropped the bike much later on in deep fess fess talc like sand in the north of the Skeleton Coast, where no damage was caused to me or my bike, and no one around to see me make a hash of it. The only other big dramas involved some animals in Mozambique, but I will come on to that later.

About 300 kilometers after I set off I entered the magnificent Cederberg region and it was from here that I felt I was on a proper adventure. This is a mountainous and remote region of South Africa and home to Cape Leopards which are a tad smaller than their African cousins further north, but will still rip your head off, given half a chance. The locals say if you are out and about hiking in the mountains you will rarely see one, but if you do, you are being stalked and its already too late. A sobering thought!

At a place called Cederberg Oasis I stopped, set up my first camp in their field, bounced on their trampoline, swam in their pool, went for a short run, begged for some fuel, enjoyed a huge T-bone steak and chips, drank beer, did some organised stargazing at the crystal clear heavens above with my eccentric host, tried to chat up some Swedish girls (unsuccessfully) who were traveling in a two wheel drive VW Polo hire car, drank “Klippies and Coke”, got absolutely pissed, and woke up the next morning …sprawled out on the ground about 2 meters away from my tent.

All in all a very successful first 24 hours of my expedition.

During a huge cardiac arrest breakfast where I was nursing a well deserved hangover I found out that the way ahead through a remote little town called Wuppenthal required navigating along a twisty and sandy 4×4 route for about 40 kilometers.

It was indeed a tricky bit of trail, but as it turned out, this was enormous fun, a great bit of training, and gave me a huge amount of confidence and improved my handling of the big bike with all its luggage.

It is probably a good time to point out that my KTM had a 19.5 litre fuel tank that was good for a range of about 250-280 kilometers.  This range is good for weekend warriors in Europe and America, perhaps not so great in God’s backyard and the Cradle of Humankind.

I had pondered about getting an after market 38 or 45 litre tank, but at nearly a thousand quid a pop I balked at the idea, and so I decided to carry two 10 litres of extra fuel contained in yellow petrol cans I bought in a camping shop in Cape Town for ten quid each (technically diesel cans based on the yellow colour of the cans … a fact I found out 6 years later!)

As anyone will know, a litre of water is equivalent to a kilogram and so I was carrying nigh on 20 extra kilograms carried over the back wheel. Also, these petrol cans filled up most of my panniers and there was little room left for anything else apart from a few tools and other heavily kit that I stuffed around them to keep centre of gravity low.

This forced me to carry my few clothes and the camping gear in a North Face duffel bag that was tied at right angles over the top of both aluminium panniers using compression straps. An optimal luggage configuration that I have used ever since. Later I will swap the metal panniers for much more versatile soft panniers, such as those from Wolfman. http://wolfmanluggage.com/

In this particular part of South Africa, in fact in most of the rural areas, fuel was not readily available, and even less so in Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia and so I really needed the extra fuel. Later I would more accurately appraise the route ahead and only fill them up if I needed to in order to keep weight to a minimal. I would also do my best to keep my main tank full whenever I could, even if I had just filled it up. Nothing is worse than the stress and worry of riding in the middle of no where on “empty”. Something all adventure riders can relate to.

 

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Cederberg roads

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Cedarberg Roads – (pic a few years later)

 

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Bouncy bouncy at Cedarberg Oasis. An overlander truck and its occupants also enjoying a beautiful part of South Africa

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You can’t go wrong with beans and boerwurst

 

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I later got this tank bag and it was something I should have used on this first expedition. The map is the same though and I tucked it in the gap between the front of the seat and the tank. yep! … that was the extent of my navigation.

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Karoo

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Wuppenthal

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The Wuppenthal to Cederberg 4×4 Track I took… 6 years later on my RTW Adventure R

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RU swimming in the Orange River at border between South Africa and Namibia

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Camping at South Africa / Namibia border

 

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Orange River

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Master Chef

 

I made a lot of progress on the second day and rode long distances across the huge expanses of the Karoo desert, rode alongside ostriches that ran and tried to keep up with me, open and closed a lot of gates on cattle farms, mastered riding over cattle grids (get them wrong and you’ll come off), had lunch in Clanwilliam, headed off east into the Karoo again towards Calvinia and reached the northerly South African town of Springbok as the sun was going down where I found a secluded spot and camped up.

The next day I stocked up with fuel, water, food provisions for a few days, checked the tension of the drive chain, engine oil, tire pressures, and bought a cheap sleeping bag from a Chinese “peg and plastic bucket” shop as I was absolutely freezing during the night. This low tech 60 Rand sleeping bag combined with my other sleeping bag kept me warm in the freezing nights ahead in the desert where the temperature sometimes plunged to minus 7 degrees centigrade and also acted as a nice mattress in the warmer climes of Zambia and Malawi.

All stocked up I then took the N7 highway from Springbok in north South Africa to the border post with Namibia at a place called, Vioolsdrift. The route up the highway was fast, but extremely windy as I passed through a dusty, orange and rather moonscape like terrain.

At this time I was riding way too fast, as was my habit at the time, often at 160-200 kph. This, I think, was because I was used to riding sports bikes at 240+ kph, which I will admit was not an uncommon occurence. Later, I slowed down to an average 100-120 kph as this is the optimal speed for tyres, fuel consumption, and to my mind the ideal adventure riding pace for comfort and enjoying the surroundings.

It takes a while to get into your head that this isn’t a race, I didn’t have to make an appointment, meet anyone, or get home quickly. I was in the moment, looking at new things, close to nature, enjoying my bike and riding in amazing places.

On average my riding pace would go down to about 60-120 kph on gravel, 15-50 kph on sand,  and a snail’s pace of 20-30 kph in African villages as children, goats, horn bills, pigs, dogs, cows, and other critters would feel compelled to jump out in front of me.

I would also have to wave a lot, as every human being I encountered in Africa would wave enthusiastically at me as I rode by, especially children. With the waving back and taking film and video using my left hand I think I have ridden across Africa using one hand more than two.

The ride up to the border was a particularly windy leg of the journey and my bike would often be leaning at a steep angle into the wind, something that would happen a lot in the early afternoons in southern Africa.

I arrived at the border about 2 p.m and decided to turn left and follow the Orange River westwards to find a campsite I had heard about. The gravel road was extremely dusty and it was quite hot as I slid and weaved along the sandy and rutted trail.

After about 30 kilometers I found the campsite, checked in, set up my tent next to the river, found the bar and some other travelers, chatted with the friendly staff who worked the bar and restaurant, and had an early evening swim in the river, oblivious to black mambas and cholera bacteria that were both reported to be in the water.

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Now where?

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Long roads … no people

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On the Namibian side of Orange River

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Ahh!  Corrugations….judder judder.

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Fish River Canyon towards Ais Ais.

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A nice campsite in Ais Ais … with hot springs

 

The campsite was a really good one. It had a very nice bar with a veranda on the banks of the Orange River, decent food, cold Windhoek and Amstel beer, good company, and later I slept really well in my little tent next to the river.

In the morning over coffee and breakfast I decide to stay another day and go for a hike with the new friends I made. After lunch I rode my unladen bike for an explore further west into the Richtersveld National Park and further west towards Alexander Bay. This is a very remote part of South Africa, and I thought it would be a missed opportunity not to explore it by rushing into Namibia without seeing the southern side of the Orange River.

Tough riding, but well worth it, and I got back to camp after dark and again chanced my luck with a swim in the river, and actually swam across to Namibia and amused myself that I had entered it illegally without a formal border crossing.

The next day I really did have to get going. I packed up and I had some breakfast at a nice cafe next to the border crossing, filled up all my fuel cans and petrol tank, and had a very easy crossing through both sets of immigration and customs gates. Very easy.

I rode along a tar road for a while and then saw the sign indicating the route towards Ais Ais at Fish River Canyon, and so I turned left onto a dusty gravel track that had been grooved out by heavy traffic. Within a few minutes a large bus loomed up in my rear view mirror and as its soporific occupants gazed out of the windows it barged its way passed me at well over 120 kph, as that was the speed I was doing, and in its wake left me in a thick plume of dust. In doing so I was immediately blinded, unable to alter course, and briefly panicked. In the thick brown haze I was forced off the track and ran off at a tangent into the desert, narrowly missing large rocks, bushes and trees.

This was not my first encounter with “African driver”, but it was my closest shave so far. I had traveled this region before in a Toyota Hilux and been overtaken by trucks and buses with the drivers foot buried into the gas and at full pelt. Now I was on two wheels, feeling much more vulnerable, not least because changing direction meant leaving my chosen grove, sliding over the high grooves and ridges at speed and finding another grove in the road, if there was one.

Another notch on the learning curve.

 

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Small baobab tree in Namib desert

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Canyon Lodge

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I continued on across largely deserted gravel trails through stunning scenery, rarely seeing anyone else. Namibia has one of the lowest population densities in the world, and its small population had recently been culled by the effects of AIDs and HIV.  Its one of the few countries where the population is actually declining, and most of the people that do live there are living in and around the capital city, Windhoek. A lot of the time I never saw anyone, and any other traffic could be seen miles away due to the telltale plumes of dust churned up in their wake.

Within a few hours I started descending down into the Fish River Canyon where I found the Ais Ais campsite and resort. It is a rather strange place and has several thermally heated swimming baths that were full of Afrikaners or Cape Coloureds and their kids. South Africans (black, white, pink or brown) are very fond of camping and the great outdoors, which they do with gusto, armed with various types of “bakkie” (pickup trucks), safari tents, portable “braai and potjie pots”, alcohol, and meat… always lots of alcohol and meat.

I was often asked to join them for beers and a chat as I was clearly a lone wolf traveler on an unusually large enduro style motorcycle. Charlie and Ewan and their round the world TV productions must be credited with the rise in popularity and development of adventure motorcycling and all the associated adventure equipment.  Before 2007 there really weren’t that many of us about and we were something of a rarity.

I had a very cold night in the tent, all my water bottles were frozen solid, and in the morning I was feeling stiff and sore. No worries. A few minutes wallowing in the thermal pools had me thawed out and loosened up. I made myself some coffee and ate some rolls I bought at the border, packed up my kit, and prepared for what would turn out to be an awesome day’s riding.

I was finding my rhythm with gravel riding and thoroughly enjoying the southern Namib desert scenery. Namibia is one of my favourite countries, perhaps my favourite because its so unspoiled, beautiful and wild. The riding is on the enjoyable side of challenging, the colours are unearthly, the air is pure, and there are African wild animals and birds everywhere.

I was riding in a particularly desolate area when I saw a figure simmering in the distance ahead. As I drew closer I realized it was a man, and closer still, a European man. He looked strange and like a sort of street sleeper tramp you see in an English city, except without a dog or selling the “Big Issue”. I drew up along side him and asked if he was OK, or needed anything.

‘Nay, I’m fine, mon’, came the reply in a thick Scottish accent.

Intrigued, I took off my helmet, looked around me from horizon to horizon and asked where he had come from.

What he said to me surprised me to my core. As I write this ten years later I remember the feeling of revelation it brought me. I have written before that I just bumped into a scruffy man in the middle of the desert who had been wandering about for a decade or so, but in actual fact he was a time tourist. He had come back in time from the future and was looking for desert elephants. On a time traveling safari!

I tried to get my head around it all as he was completely ill equipped to be where he was, and was literally in the middle of nowhere. I had been riding for hours in the Namib desert and there was absolutely nothing. And yet here he was. I guess time tourists are among us all the time with nothing to distinguish them from us, unless they come from the far distant future and their appearance has evolved into a seemingly different being.

I asked him if he was hungry. But, he said he was fine. Nonetheless, I fished around in my supplies and gave him some bread rolls with ham and cheese and a bottle of water. He took the rolls without any expression of obvious gratitude, but gave back the water saying I should keep it to stay hydrated. I was in somewhat of a state of shock and he was just fascinated by my motorcycle. I guess it would be a exhibit in a future museum, as indeed the Namib desert elephant must later become.

As the thoroughly bizarre encounter came to a sort if natural end, he waved goodbye and then walked away.  I found it difficult not to watch him as he trundled off and disappeared into the heat haze of the desert. I thought about it for a bit, tried to work through some rational explanations, wondered what to do about this revelation, and decided not to say anything about it again. No one ever reads my blogs anyway. Still, it vindicates my belief that alien encounters are really just humans from today bumping into other humans from the future.  真奇怪

The riding in the Namib was glorious. It was beautiful. I felt very free. I could go and do anything I wanted. No pressures. My only sadness was that I could not share it with anyone. On other expeditions I would.

I did a circular route out toward the canyon and by mid afternoon ended up at strange bar cum restaurant in the middle of nowhere called Canyon Lodge that was surrounded by sand and the rusted shells of 1950s cars with large cactus plants growing up through them.

I called into the bar for a cup of coffee and met the proprietor and her daughter who looked like they had Namibian “Bushman” Khoisan ancestry. They were very entertaining and funny people and we had a good laugh together. A unknown quantity of beer and many hours later I staggered out of the bar into the crisp coldness of night and an enormous star studded sky, stumbled about for a bit, and staggered back into the bar, collapsed on their couch and fell asleep.

The next day I woke up and after coffee and breakfast with my new friends, filled up my petrol tanks at their ancient looking hand pumps, gathered some more water and supplies, bid them all farewell, started up the bike and blasted off back into the desert.

I had a great ride along virtually deserted roads. I rarely saw anyone. I consulted my tourist map of Namibia and using basic navigation that included orientating myself by the sun and consulting my compass aimed for a way-point about 300 kilometers away in a northwest (ish) direction. Botswana on the right, Atlantic Ocean on the left, and a few places dotted about, such as Solitaire and Sesrium. Its not that difficult as there are signs at every road intersection.

As the sun was setting I reached a rather scruffy town called Bethlehem and thought I should ride a little further away, find a quiet spot just off the road, set up a fire to ward off the ghosts, and basically free camp. However, as I was riding along I saw an isolated green coloured farm house and as I got nearer there was a sign indicating that they offered accommodation, and so I pulled in and was received by Mr and Mrs Schmidt.

I explained that I couldn’t really afford a room, but would be happy to pay to pitch my tent somewhere and for something to eat, if they had anything.

Mr Schmidt said that I could have a room in a cabin, as it was very cold during the night, and also have dinner for a total of one hundred Namibian dollars (US$7). That sounded a very good deal indeed and so I accepted. Even my KTM got its own room under a thatched porch and the dinner was superb… a hearty meal of South African style bobotie, aniseed flavoured cabbage, sweet potatoes, Melva pudding and custard, and coffee. Outstanding.

After dinner I got chatting with Mr Schmidt over a beer and he asked if I wanted to go with him in the morning and shoot some baboons that were killing his sheep. Apparently, a troop of baboons were coming down from the rocky hills and indiscriminately killing his sheep so they could tear open the udders of the ewes and drink their milk.  He said we would only have to shoot a few ringleaders for the message to get across!

In the early morning before the sun had come up, having allegedly agreed to kill some of my fellow primates, I got geared up with a rifle and ammunition and headed off with Mr. Schmidt to confront the planet of the apes. We walked for miles, patrolled a good part of his immense farm, saw the sun rise, and never saw a single baboon.

I was glad for the exercise as the first couple of weeks of my expedition had involved drinking my body weight in Windhoek beer, and I was secretly pleased I never had to shoot anything. During the hike I was thrilled to see all the birds, springboks, impala, dik diks and kudus, and when we got back I was fed a Namibian farmer’s breakfast, several litres of coffee, and had my fuel replenished for free, plus a packed lunch and a bag of delicious pomegranates to keep me going. What wonderful people.

Sad farewells, but a joyous sound as my motorcycle roared back into life at the first press of the starter. As I pulled out of the driveway and back onto the gravel road I saw the entire troop of baboons sitting about at the side of the road and on rocks, probably laughing at me.

 

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Car park of canyon Lodge…2007

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KTM camping with the Schmidts

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Hiking about…

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Why the long face?

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Nothing is as glorious as an African sunset

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Dinner for one

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Those elephants are fast

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Map in pocket

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Quintessentially Namibia

 

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Sun on the left? Going north.

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I can see the road stretching and meandering into the far distance.

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On a lean in the Skeleton Coast

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Sussesvlei and dunes

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Left or right?

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Scenery like no other

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Not very polite

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Perhaps even less so!

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Classic Namibia… storm , lightening and rain in distance

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No Chinese, no McDonalds

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The Schmidt’s farm…. and Mrs Schmidt waving goodbye.

 

I rode across long stretches of gravel road and noticed that the general conditions of the road was getting worse. The ruts and corrugations were higher, the crevices were bigger and deeper and there was an increasing number of deep sandpits and potholes.  Often the road had been washed away leaving an uneven rocky surface that bore no resemblance to a road. The road would descend down steep ramps, across dry sandy river wadis, or streams and then rise up again.

I refueled at an isolated and very welcome petrol station, and while I was filling up and drinking water I noticed a South African registered Volvo SUV with a family pull up, its occupants filling the quiet of the desert with a cacophony of family sounds, refill, and then roar off back into the desert. A little while later, and in less of a rush, I left the petrol station and after about 10 minutes I came across the same family standing by the side of the road.

I stopped and asked if they were OK, and they said they had crashed, were uninjured, but they were obviously quite shaken, especially the kids. It didn’t require much investigation to realise they had lost control on the gravel road and rolled their car several times into the desert, and about 50 meters into the desert I could see the crumpled mess of their Volvo SUV.

They had called the automobile rescue services already and were waiting for a tow and a rescue. I asked if they needed me to go back to the petrol station and get help and they said they may have to wait for a while and could I go back and alert the petrol station attendant and bring back some cold drinks, which I did. Back at the petrol station the attendant already knew about the crash, and said this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence.

From my own experience driving a Hilux across Namibia, I knew it was very easy to lose control on the sand and gravel if you drove too quickly, or employed incorrect driving techniques, as I did on a few occasions. Like a motorcycle the only way to correct the back end starting to slide round is to apply gentle acceleration. Applying brake will cause the back end to slide and if you are going too fast that will drop a motorcycle, or cause a car to slide sideways and roll if its going too fast. Something I will see again many times, on this expedition and others in the future.

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Quite a roll

 

Southern Namibia is made up of large European farms, but to the west there seemed to be more and more sand and dunes. I rode for about 350 kilometers and was running low on fuel and needed to get to a place called Sesrium, which would have fuel, a campsite and is the gateway to the huge sand dunes, the largest in the world.

When I got there by mid afternoon I was quite tired having had a couple of sections of rough roads with lots of dust and sand. I pitched my tent among quite a few vehicles at the main campsite. It seemed there were two classes of visitor. Super rich ones who stayed at a five star luxury hotel at several hundred US dollars a night, and riff raff like me who were camping, drinking beer and burning boerswurst.

As a famous tourist destination, it was quite crowded and there were lots tour operators offering all sorts of activities, from hiking, hot air ballooning, quad bikes, and microlight flights.

The best time to see the dunes is at sunset and sunrise when the colours are most radiant and the sun less hot. I decided to go very early in the morning and ride there myself and brave the soft sand.  I got up while it was still dark, quite cold and packed up all my stuff and rode west into the park.

As I was riding along and the sun just starting to light up all the dunes into a vivid reddish orange, I saw some white gazebos and a group of people in the middle of the pristine desert, dressed in finest “Out of Africa” khaki gear, sitting around a huge table that was set with a white linen table cloth, and I assume silver cutlery and bone china plates, uniformed waiters and the whole shebang. It was like an officers’ mess dinner, except in the middle of a desert. Quite bizarre.

As I got nearer to Sussesvlei the dunes got taller and I could see signs indicating the name of each dune, unimaginatively with a number. Quite an impressive sight.

I parked up my bike, changed into running gear and decided I would run up and down a few dunes and take some pictures, which I did. Running up the sides was very difficult as you go up 3 steps and slide down 2, rather like staggering home from the pub. Eventually I made it to the top of the tallest and most famous dune and ran along the ridges for several hours until I was thoroughly exhausted. That burnt off some carbs and earned some beer points.

I then rode back the way I came as there is no road, on or off, connecting Sussesvlei to the Atlantic Coast and continued riding for some time to my next resting stop at a place called Solitaire, which is a campsite, hostel, petrol station and restaurant located at a cross roads between Windhoek and the towns of Walvis Bay and Swarkopmund.

I pitched my tent on the rocky camp ground along with some 4×4 SUVs with Safari tents, and another adventure motorcyclist from Australia who was riding around the world on a 25 year old BMW R65 with very minimal kit. He had ridden across Asia, and just completed the more technical west route of Africa through the deserts and jungles of the Sahara, Mauritania, the DRC, Nigeria, the Congo, Sierra Leone and Angola.

He told me about his adventures, the technical riding challenges, repairing damage to his elderly BMW,  smashing the “sticky out” boxer engine cylinder heads on trees in the jungles of the Congo, and some close shaves with dodgy soldiers and the like in west Africa. All admirable derring do stuff, but Bush, Obama and Blair had yet to mess up Africa and the Middle East and inflame radical Islam. In 2007 adventure travel and the Dakar Rally had yet to be ruined by the idiot office wallahs from Brussels, Washington DC and London.

I felt a bit daft with my state of the art motorcycle and its shiny panniers having only ridden up from neighbouring South Africa, but fascinated by his stories. I offered him my house in Arniston to stay in for a few weeks when he got to South Africa and he accepted. There is a strong community spirit between adventure riders and I was very happy to help out.

The next day after a decent breakfast and a slice of the famous Solitaire apple pie I headed off towards Walvis Bay, again along quite rough and sandy roads. I crossed large expanses of rocky desert and saw my first giraffe of the trip, running elegantly, as giraffes do, across the road in front of me. Its a strange beast, and even more odd to see in the wilds. Like the desert elephants, one wonders how they survive in the deserts of Namibia.

I enjoyed this stretch of riding as the scenery was magnificent, but as I got nearer to the coast the air became rather humid, and the surroundings became greener and more lush. Having reached the coast I could see people surfing down the dunes on snowboards and there were a couple of people paragliding in the ridge lift which I thought looked fun.  I continued through Walvis Bay and into Swakopmund. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swakopmund)

Here I found a campsite on the beach, bought some supplies and prepared for the next leg of the trip up the skeleton coast. This stage was going to present my first real challenges as there are no supplies, no petrol, and technically motorcycles are not allowed in National Parks, which most of the skeleton coast is. Also, I heard it was very sandy, and the route up to the border with Angola largely inaccessible.

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Vehicles can be seen miles away due to plume of dust

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Road to dunes

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Australian rider at Solitaire… having ridden across Asia and west coast of Africa on his old BMW R65. Respect!

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Camping at Solitaire… good Apple Pie

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Doogle up a tree

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Nice bit of tar road

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Dunes

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Yours truly at Dune 7 or 45 in Sussesvlei

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There to be climbed

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My bike down in the car park

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Walk along the ridge is the way to do it

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Dune beetle

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View from the top

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Back on the gravel

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Salt pans of the southern Skeleton Coast

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Bikes are not allowed in national parks  … wait until nobody is looking

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Seek forgiveness … not permission

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On the way to Palmwag and my encounter with Sebastian the Bull elephant

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Long Long roads in north Namibia

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Bit of bike maintenance

 

With all my fuel cans full, plenty of water, and with enough food for a few days my bike was now totally unsuitable to ride on soft sand. But I needed all this stuff, and sand is what I would have to try and ride on.

As I was getting the last of my provisions in Swarkopmund I bumped into a group of British guys who were riding KTM 250 cc enduro bikes. They had joined a tour in Windhoek and were being guided along a circular route of Namibia for 10 days. It all sounded super fun, but they seemed more interested in my journey and impressed with my bike and what I had ahead of me. They asked me if I was really going to ride my big KTM 990 along the Skeleton Coast?  Umm, yes!  But that got me thinking… what do they know that I don’t?

The initial ride up the Skeleton Coast was along amazingly flat and white salt pans. The wild Atlantic Ocean is on your left as you go north, and the desert and dunes are on your right, formed into strange multi coloured structures by ancient volcanic activity.

Also in the night and early morning the difference in temperature and humidity between the cool sea air and the hot dry desert air causes a lot of fog, some of it extremely thick, and it takes a few hours for it to burn away each morning, only to reappear again in the late afternoon and evening.

After several hours I found a very basic fuel station and topped up, and then carried on to the entrance of the national park, which is gated with an impressive skull and cross bone design and large elephant tusks. There is a manned office that takes tolls from cars, but motorcycles are not allowed in. All that said, I have to date crossed it twice. Once on this trip, and again two years later with my friend Nick Dobson, when we had to bribe our way in with 5 cigarettes and two peaches.

On this earlier occasion I just rode through the gates when nobody was looking and kept going. I hadn’t come all this way to turn around. Seek forgiveness, not permission, and all that stuff.

The riding was fine to start with, but later there were long stretches of deep sand and I struggled somewhat with either the front wheel washing away, or the rear wheel not getting enough traction and burying itself deep into the sand. Sometimes I would have to get off the bike, walk alongside the bike, and throttled it carefully through the deep sand traps until the road, if you could call it that, got better and I could get back on and get going again. Exhausting stuff.

I rode for a few hours until it started getting dark and turned left onto the beach behind a small dune and set up my tent.  I collected drift wood and made an amazing fire which I sat next to, staring out to sea until the sea mist came in and made everything a bit creepy, being on my own and all. The sound of the waves during the night was quite loud and the mist was quite thick, damp and smelt very salty and slightly fishy. Not the greatest night’s sleep of the trip.

The next day everything looked different and not so threatening. Remote, beautiful and unearthly. Any thoughts I had of John Carpenter’s movie, “The Fog” had melted away.

I had to plan the next stage, but my maps were not showing any roads north of Mowes Bay and so I carried on through Terrace Bay and along sand trails until it became apparent why there wasn’t anything on my map. There was no road.

The M34 just stopped. A 125 cc trials bike might make some progress, my 1000 cc adventure bike definitely wouldn’t, and so I plotted another course to Palmwag that would later route me up to the river at the border with Angola.

So, I headed back the way I came, and after about 100 kilometers took a left turn onto a gravel road that took me up into the mountains and through very remote, barren and beautiful scenery.

After about 50 kilometers I came across “the other gate” and there was a park ranger standing at the gate indicating for me to stop.  I was expecting a “bollocking”, or perhaps have to pay a fine for illegally entering the National Park, but he just laughed at me, and waved me on.

Without my 20 kilograms of extra fuel I wouldn’t have made it.

I then rode along long stretches of gravel trails and eventually into the small town of Palmwag where I found a very nice game resort managed by a young English couple who had given up their life in the UK to do something completely different.

I paid for a camping spot, but actually slept in my sleeping bag in a hammock by the pool which was quite eventful because a huge bull elephant, called “Sebastian”, paid me a visit in the night and “snuffled” me with his truck. I can’t think of another word other than snuffle to describe being snorted on and prodded with an elephant’s truck. After all, it doesn’t happen that often!

This encounter wasn’t a complete surprise because I heard from the English managers that this elephant was legendary, very big, very pale grey in colour, wandered around the resort at night, and provided you didn’t startle him, would tip toe about and snuffle things, like he did with me.  The strange thing is that I could hear this enormous creature snapping off branches and twigs from the trees, but I couldn’t hear him actually move around, and I was excited and slightly anxious when he was suddenly towering above me and feeling around with his trunk.

Eventually Sebastian found something else to snuffle and disappeared as silently as he arrived. I heard cracks of branches in various parts of the resort all the way through the night, and in the morning there was no sign of him.  I mentioned the fact at breakfast, just to assure myself I wasn’t having one of my vivid dreams, and everyone just nodded matter of factly that it was indeed Sebastian.

I should note that it is at this time of the expedition in northern Namibia that I started taking my weekly meflium anti malaria tablets, which had a side effect that they gave me very weird and vivid dreams. I believe this particular medication is the cheap stuff the Americans developed for the Vietnam war that sent some of its soldier doolally, and today is routinely sold over the counter at any South African pharmacy.

I now had a long stretch of riding ahead of me north to the Kunene River at the border of Angola and then south east around the top of Etosha National Park and towards the Kalahari. Should I admit that I crossed into Angola, or not, given there is no stamp in my passport? Perhaps not.

I was now out of white farmer Namibia and into African tribal Namibia and so I encountered a lot more people, some of them Bushmen who spoke with a clicking sound and who are indigenous to this part of Africa, and have been around these parts for tens of thousands of years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6WO5XabD-s

Other tribes like the Himba people are adorned in red clay and very handsome. Further east towards the Kalahari Herero women dress in vivid bright Victorian style dresses with head dresses that look like horns. I have to say some of the maturer ladies I bumped into were absolutely huge and quite a sight as they moved very slowly about their business.

 

I didn’t go into Ethosa Game Park, although I did a few years later on another motorcycle trip in 2009, but I did see a lot of animals, both domestic and wild. Lots of springboks, ostriches, elephants, giraffes, impala, zebras, hippos and crocodiles in rivers and water holes, and lots of birds, especially hornbills and the funny drongos that would follow my bike as I rode along and eat the insects unearthed by my tyres running over the mud and gravel.

As I headed east towards Botswana and the Okavango Delta there was something that I really wanted to see near Grootfontein. The Hoba Meteorite sits in the Kalahari after crashing into Planet Earth 80,000 years ago. It was found by a farmer whilst ploughing the land about 90 years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoba_meteorite

Again I had a long ride to get to Grootfontein and when I arrived I was surprised how accessible the meteorite actually was. Sadly, since it’s been discovered it has been vandalised over the years, with bits chipped off it, and graffiti scrawled into it. That said it is a very impressive hunk of metal, about 60 tons in mass, and is shiny in places where its been scuffed or damaged. It also seems unnaturally square, like a cube.

As I got there late, there was nobody around and so I pitched my tent about 5 meters away from the 2001 Space Odyssey like object. Its strange that it hasn’t been moved to a museum, and despite the effects of recent human curiosity and vandalism, I am sort of glad its still where it landed. During the night I brought out my sleeping bag, climbed on top, and slept until the morning. I guess few other people can boast that they have slept with an alien.

 

 

 

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The Hoba meteorite

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Some spiel about where it came from, how it was found and what its made of.

 

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Caprivi Strip

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After you, Sir, or Madam

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People I bumped into along Caprivi Strip collecting a green fruit

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Okavango Delta in Botswana

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Local huts… with fence around to keep livestock in… and hyenas and leopards out

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I rode over 900 kilometers on this day across the Kalahari desert… absolutely shattered

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A beer by the fire is all I could muster… out for the count

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Okavango, Botswana

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Zambia/Boswana border

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Elephants …and a lot of them

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Eagle

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After my alien encounter I continued along some dusty yellow trails for many hours towards the border crossing with Botswana. I have to admit I was not entirely sure where I was, except that I was generally heading east.

The scenery was now Savannah scrubland with lots of bushes, baobab trees, the occasional wooden village, long stretches of gravel and sand roads, and lots of wildlife.

At one point in seemingly the middle of nowhere I stumbled upon a solitary little girl standing on the track in front of me. No more than four or five years old, she was dressed in traditional Kalahari clothing and carrying a stick twice as tall as she was.

She was quite startled to see me, but held her ground as she gazed at what must have seemed to her to be a black spaceman emerging on a noisy monster from out of the bush. I stopped next to her and we observed each other for a while, and so I took my helmet off and she seemed even more startled at the sight of my red face and blood shot blue eyes, rocking on her feet and on the verge of running away. I smiled and waved, and she suddenly beamed a huge smile, the sort of smile only Africans seem able to do.

I looked around and could see no sign at all of habitation, or where she had come from and why she was on her own. I asked her if she was OK, but she didn’t understand and just pointed into the distance and said something in her clicky dialect. Then I spotted what she was doing. She was guarding goats that were scattered here and there, and indeed some were perched precariously high up in the branches of some trees.

We had sort of run out of things to say, and I didn’t want to alarm her anymore, and so I started up my bike, the loud “braaaap” like noise breaking the silence of the bush, startling the birds, and making the little girl rear back in surprise, forcing a nervous laugh. We waved goodbye at each other as I disappeared off into the bush.

Even after ten or fifteen minutes of riding, I could see no sign of habitation. No smoke, no dogs, no people. My goodness, what a difference between her life and those of all the snowflakes in the West. Just a small little girl all by herself in the middle of the Kalahari desert.

I eventually reached the border crossing as the sun was going down, and I had missed the chance to cross it as everything was now locked up, and nobody was around.  It was one of the most basic border crossings I have ever seen, consisting of nothing more than two huts and two gates, one for Botswana and one for Namibia. So, I stopped, unpacked, set up my tent, made a fire, made some tea, and rummaged around for food.

All I had was some Simba peanuts with raisins, and a Bar One chocolate bar …both sold in every shop, however remote, across Africa and both would make a regular appearance in my supplies. There was nothing around me except bush, no signs of human life, and since it was now dark, it was probably very unwise for me to venture off exploring.

My tent was a small red one man contraption, quite well designed and rather compact. I had a thin ground mat, two sleeping bags (one inside the other if cold, or used as a mat if not), a torch, and that was about it.

I did have a small Nokia phone that I could put local SIM cards into, and occasionally I had a signal, but it wasn’t a smart phone like we have today…just a mobile phone that could also send text messages. I also had a small Mac Book 10 inch laptop in which I downloaded my pictures of the day and wrote up my blog… all of which are now lost (stolen in Windhoek a few years later). The only pictures of this trip I still have are those I posted on Facebook at the time.

I had two books, a novel I was reading, that I swapped over for different ones at various lodges and campsites along the way, and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook by Chris Scott which I read cover to cover and acted as my sort of bible. I did attempt to read the classic  Jupiter’s Travels by Ted Simons, but it is more a travel book than a motorcycle adventure book, it just so happens he travels by motorcycle. In any case, I couldn’t get into it, or relate to his observations, and so it remains unfinished to this day.

When it came to the end of the day, especially camping in remote places, there was not much to do other than prepare the bike for the next day, cook up food, listen to my MP3 player, read my book, and more often than not just think about things. My expeditions over the last few years have been more Hi-tech and most of the time I have access to the Internet through my iPhone with the ubiquitous 3G coverage, but back then it seemed more isolated and remote.

This trip more than any time in my life gave me a time to reflect. Being solitary and in the wilderness takes some getting used to, but it is good for connecting with the Soul of the Universe and understanding one’s place in everything.

And sitting in the middle of the Kalahari gazing up at the night sky? My goodness isn’t the sky big and our world small.

I got in the habit of wearing ear plugs as I am a light sleeper and would wake up if I heard a noise outside, or was disturbed by the strong winds as the tent flapped and cracked violently in the gusts whipped up in the night. The other disturbance is caused by birds which can make a real din, especially just before the sun comes up. Good if you need an alarm clock call at 3.30 to 4 am, not so great if you don’t.

There are lots of insects in the African bush as you can imagine. Lots of spiders, centipedes, mosquitoes, midges, moths, various types of beetles, and a fair few scorpions that will climb onto things and into your boots and jacket if they can. I have definitely had nocturnal visits by snakes, but apart from the psychological fear of them moving about, they cannot get into your tent while you are zipped up inside, but small ones can crawl underneath, and its a bit of a surprise to find one when you pack up, as are scorpions and large beetles to a lesser degree.

I have seen footprints of large cats, weasels, porcupines, honey badgers, elephants, antelope, and other furry critters that have obviously walked around the tent while I was fast asleep, and left their telltale footprints in the sand. I imagine many of these animals could detect my presence by smell, especially the way I did for most of the time, but I think they are just not programmed to recognise an inanimate object like a zipped up tent, and so they leave you alone.

Later on in this trip, when I am camping in Swaziland, I had a visit by a pack of hyenas and no amount of ear plugs was going filter out their cackling and screaming.  All part of the big adventure I suppose, and in reality one should be more concerned about the very small critters such as parasites and microbes that can crawl up your orifices and really ruin your day.

The next day I was up early, due mostly to the cacophony of the dawn chorus, and packed up ready for the immigration officials to arrive. Everything looked different in the light of day, but it was undoubtedly a very remote part of the world.

The Botswana officials turned up first and only an hour later did some old chap rock up on the Namibian side. He saw me waiting, smiled and greeted me, stamped my passport, and let me through. The Botswana side took no time at all either. All sorted without any drama, and off I went again, aiming for the huge swamplands of the Okavango Delta.

After a couple of hours I came across my first tarmac road for days and I had a decision to make. Do I head south and towards Maun and then up to Zambia via Chobe Game Reserve, or go north towards the Caprivi Strip?  The decision was simple, I was hungry and could see a sign advertising a game lodge to the north where I could probably get some brunch. And that is what I did.

The Okavango is a stunning bit of Africa and Botswana is probably the most well run country in the African continent at the moment.  Lowest levels of corruption, reasonably competent and clean leaders, decent infrastructure, a very mature and well run tourist industry, but rather expensive. The Game Lodge I pulled into was very “larnie” (as South Africans say) and I had an all day breakfast sitting on a veranda overlooking the waters. Very picturesque and peaceful.

This would turn out to be my only meal of the day as I would do some serious riding and complete over 900 kilometers before it got dark. I pitched my tent right next to the the river near the border with the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, cracked open a beer, gazed at the bush TV (the fire), and was out for the count. No need for ear plugs.

I got up as the sun was rising above the wide Cubango River that feeds the enormous delta and gazed out at a quintessentially African scene. My fire had pretty much burned through all the wood during the night, but I was able to warm my hands on the remaining embers whilst taking in a view that was hidden by the darkness when I arrived. Everything was beautiful. The river, the trees and bushes, animals and birds, right through to the perfect climate and smell. Africa has the best smell in the world.

I sat and watched some hippos and white egrits in the water, was slightly alarmed to see dozens of crocodiles not very far from where I camped in the night, and various birds, including my first glimpse of the lilac breasted roller, a perfectly beautiful creature.

As I massaged my hands by the remaining heat of the fire I was still feeling rather stiff and sore, especially my bottom and my hands. My rear end because of an accumulation of nearly two month of riding, and the webbing between my fore fingers and thumbs because this small part of my hands is in contact with the bike all day long and takes the brunt of a lot of pressure whilst standing up on the foot pegs.

My KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle is a big and comfortable machine. It has a very powerful 1000 cc V-twin engine, and it quite smooth and balanced. The shock absorbers, made by WP, are some of the best there are, and take up a lot of the abuse as the front wheel crashes across potholes, rocks, and bumps. It is made for this kind of riding.

Riding for 10+ hours every day, for months on end will take its toll on your body. I was still a little inexperienced to this off road riding lark, and perhaps gripping far too hard on the bars when things got interesting, which most of the time it was.  Later on, during subsequent expeditions, I would become more relaxed as I rode, grip my hands less firmly, and generally ride more confidently. A later addition to my bike of an after market gel seat and sheep skin seat cover would prove to be a saviour to my poor arse. For now, however, I was beginning to suffer a bit.

I was pondering whether to ride south and enjoy more of the Okavango (which I did years later on the ride to Shanghai with Fanny) or head north towards Livingstone in southern Zambia and rest up for a while.

I needed a bit of a rest. Victoria Falls it is.

I passed through the Botswana / Namibia border very easily and both sets of officials were very friendly, quick and professional. No dramas at all, and so at the end of the road I turned right and followed the Caprivi Strip, which is a pan handle extension of Namibia that squeezes between Zambia and Angola in the north, and Zimbabwe and Botswana in the south.

It was a very enjoyable section on pretty good tar roads passing by lots of very primitive looking African villages, consisting mostly of circular rattan fences, surrounding ten or so thatched wooden or mud huts.

Near these villages the road would become an obstacle course of chickens, pigs, goats and donkeys. There were loads children everywhere, and they would run out excitedly, and waving furiously. If I was going slowly enough, I would high five the braver kids, much to their delight, and their mothers’disapproval.

Whenever I stopped I would be swamped by kids, they would often appear from nowhere, demanding pens and sweets. They would clamber onto my bike, and hands would ferret around in my pockets for anything they could relieve me of. Earlier on I had stocked myself up with large bags of toffees which I handed out like Father Christmas.

Maybe I was setting an annoying precedent for other adventure riders who would be pestered by little urchins demanding pens and sweets, but I did enjoy giving out something, and as it happened I found it a useful way of escaping, as the kids would have to let go of me, my bike, and its luggage, and use both hands to free the toffee from the wrapper. That said, on more than one occasion I had set off only to see a small grinning face in my rear view mirror perched on my panniers and hanging on for grim life.

In Africa, unlike in the US and Europe where the little snowflakes are driven everywhere by mummy in her Prius, the local kids walk really long distances, either to and from school, to collect water from wells and rivers, or to run errands for their parents. I would often pick up children, children with animals, women carrying large loads on their head, and even old chaps, who were in the middle of no-where and obviously hiking a fair old distance, and deposit them at their destination, much to their delight, and their families’gratitude.

As I was wearing a helmet I felt it appropriate for any of my passengers to wear one too, and so I invested in a Chinese open faced helmet at a local store, and insisted that everyone wore it, despite the fact that most of them didn’t have any shoes either.

In the West you would never do such a thing, as you would probably be accused of child abuse, breaching road traffic and safety regulations, kidnap, or worse!  The days of collective guardianship over the children of a community are over in the West. A European adult male like me, especially as I am no longer a police officer, will never engage or talk with a child one doesn’t know. However, here in the Africa bush things are different. I felt that if I could help and give someone with a lift, or lend a hand, I would. After all, as a child in 1970s’ Britain, I also hitch-hiked everywhere… no transport, no money, no choice.

Today, my sisters and friends in the UK would be no more inclined to have their kids walk anywhere, than encourage them to get a job sweeping chimneys. Hitch-hiking?  No way. Their “most special children in the world” are closeted, surgically attached to smart phones, and their every waking hour is strictly monitored and controlled.

When I remind them that our own childhoods where conducted with minimal adult supervision and zero regard to health and safety, they retort that the 21st Century is a much more dangerous time than when we were kids.  Well no it isn’t!

In the 1960s and 70s, all cars had leaded fuel, no one wore a seat belt, we all worked on farms, dentists gassed us and filled our teeth with mercury, and Myra Hindley and Jimmy Savile were on the prowl.

Anyway, I digress.

It is a little further along the Caprivi Strip that I actually ran my petrol tank dry, thus giving me a decent indication of exactly how far I could travel on one tank of fuel at 120 kph. The answer is 280 kilometres.

As I was refilling my tank at the side of the road from one of the yellow petrol cans stored in my panniers, two cyclist rode up to me to see if I was OK. They were a German couple who had ridden all the way down from Europe through Africa and were heading to Cape Agulhas, near where I lived.

We got chatting and I was intrigued by their bicycles, one of which was pulling a small trailer containing their possessions and covered in solar panels for re-charging their electrical equipment. I was so impressed with their achievement, and their kind attitude that I offered them to stay at my house in Arniston, and at the end of my expedition when I returned home, I discovered that they had done so, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. To my mind, this is what the adventure travel community is all about.

A day or so after this encounter I arrived at the border with Zambia and this was to be an indication of what officialdom was really like elsewhere in Africa. It was also going to be an important lesson on how to avoid being targeted for, lets call it, facilitation payments. No… let’s call what its is …bribery.

My first impression on arrival was that it was chaotic, with lots of vehicles queuing up to get through. As an important crossing point over the Zambezi River into Zambia there were commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses, South African SUVs towing safari tents, a few 4×4 overlander trucks, local people in various types of vehicles, blue Toyota taxis, an assortment of government vehicles, and loads of people milling about. I seemed to be the only motorcycle.

Getting out of Namibia was easy, getting into Zambia was going to be less so. The first thing that I was confronted with was that in addition to immigration and customs taxes and inspection, I would have to pay a vehicle emissions tax, a vehicle licence tax, and local insurance. As I didn’t have a carne de passage, but was driving a South African vehicle, I had to pay a customs import tax, that was about US$20, which I thought was fair enough. I had to pay an additional US$8 dollars to get a receipt for my contribution to a vehicle emissions tax.

Ironically, my bike produced nearly no emissions, being an EU category 3 vehicle, but I had no choice and had to part with my cash for this emissions tax in a converted ship container that had a charcoal fire outside belching out smoke!

Armed with all my receipts I joined the immigration queue and witnessed everyone… foreigners, Zambians, and other Africans being fleeced for a bribe. There always seemed to be something that required paying something to get round it, and the white South Africans with their Land Cruisers and Land Rovers were getting the brunt of it. The officials had this off pat, and knew that Afrikaner man was more scared of upsetting Afrikaner woman than relieving himself of a couple of hundred Rand. They complained bitterly, but still coughed up.

When it was my turn I handed everything over and was asked for a certificate of insurance, which I showed them. Inevitably enough my insurance policy was not good enough.

‘Yes, it is’, I insisted to the disinterested looking official.

After about 5 minutes of arguing the toss I was sent to the naughty corner.

As I had no Afrikaner wife, no game resort to check into, loads of time on my hands, and no inclination to be given “the treatment” I went over to the wooden bench where I remained singing to myself, farting loudly, doing press ups, pacing about, and generally being very naughty indeed.

After about fifteen minutes maximum the immigration officer called me over to his desk, asked for my passport, stamped it, and basically told me and my “morta sickle” to fuck off.

So, I was now in Zambia.

As I left, and with the general encouragement from what seemed like an entire infantry division of the Zambian Army, I wheelied away from the border post. I don’t normally pull wheelies, as I’m not very good at them, and it damages the chain, sprockets and clutch, but this little victory was worth it.

I then rode along a rather potholed tarmac road, weaving around the craters like a 1980s video game, missing most, but occasionally crashing into a few with a thud, bottoming out the suspension and clanging the rims as I climbed out. I was starting to think that it was far better riding off road in the desert than on Zambian tarmac roads.

Livingston was about 120 kilometers away from the border and I planned to stay there for about a week, do some side trips, see the magnificent Victoria Falls, and generally idle about.

 

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Route

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Bumped into these cyclist who rode from Germany… here in the Caprivi Strip near Zambia

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Crossing the Zambezi River into Zambia

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Zambezi

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Victoria Falls

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Edge of Victoria Falls

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Bridge to Zimbabwe

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Lots of mist at Falls

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Victoria Falls at sunset

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My wonderful bike at Victoria Fall in Livingstone

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Wandering around a local market in Victoria Falls

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Agricultural display a fete I went to in Livingstone

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Two lady police officers who I hung around with for while… lovely girls

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My friend, Stephen in Livingstone

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Booze cruise on Zambezi

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Water Horse

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Not the time for a swim

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Drinking again.

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Elegant Zambian ladies

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Having a coffee in Livingstone

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Me writing my first blog … which was subsequently lost in 2009 with most of pictures and website when computer stolen in Windhoek. This blog 10 years ago is pieced together with pics found on facebook

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Vic fall rainbow

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They will steal your food, and anything else when you turn your back.

 

Despite having to navigate the mine field of potholes, I got to Livingstone quite quickly and searched about for a backpackers that I could stay at. I found one called Jollyboys and camped in their grounds and used the bar and restaurant for a couple of days, but later found a much nicer place called Zigzags who offered me a room in a cabin for the same price as camping, and so I booked it for a week.

I was really enjoying the break from long distance riding, and found Livingstone to be fascinating and thoroughly good fun. I met a lot of interesting local people and ended up hanging about with two very lovely Zambian female police officers who showed me around the tourist sites and took me out drinking at night. I met their friends, was invited to their homes for dinner, did a river booze cruise, and generally had a great time.

I helped with preparing a farm produce stall for a fete, and we were entered into a competition and came seventh or something out of ten against very stiff competition. I thoroughly explored a good radius of 50 kilometers around Livingstone on my bike, down single tracks and animal trails, hiked about, and went over to Vic Falls in Zimbabwe to have a look about, but without my bike.

I made friends with an American lady I met in a bakery who was in her mid 70s. She was a remarkable lady, a widow, had recently had a full heart transplant, and against the wishes of her children and friends had decided to backpack across Africa, which she did with the gusto of a twenty something.

I remember an occasion when we were on an evening booze cruise together with some other people from Zigzags and Jollyboys and my American friend got absolutely “trolleyed” on whiskey and coke and had to be restrained from jumping off the boat in the Zambezi. Another one of my new Zambian friends, who ran the evening booze cruises, said that they had lost an Australian chap earlier in the year who striped off and jumped into the river … and was immediately taken under by crocodiles never to be seen again. Serious stuff.

I got to like the local food quite a lot, mostly variations on the theme of nshima (cornmeal pap), cabbage and chicken or fish. The locals loved it and my friends admitted they really didn’t like anything else. Without nshima in their stomachs at least once a day they said they felt as if they were starving. Windhoek beer was replaced with Mosi beer, and I was no stranger to the bars and clubs where I seemed, as a middle aged forty something chap, to be surprisingly popular. I will leave it at that!

I think I stayed in Livingstone for a couple of weeks. I really enjoyed myself, and fell a little bit behind the fairly loose schedule I had set myself. I had partied hard enough and was ready to get back on the bike and head off to Lusaka to visit my uncle, Mick.

I took the main road, but because of the huge number of buses and trucks, which drove really badly and dangerously, I decided to detour along some trails and tracks and this added a day to my schedule. When I did eventually arrive in Lusaka I was a bit taken aback at being in such a large city after so long in the bush. Livingstone is a town, Lusaka is a proper city.

In addition to seeing my uncle, I also needed to collect a set of new Pirelli Scorpion tyres from the airport that had been shipped in from South Africa. I had been monitoring the decline of my tyre thread, that had received quite a beating on the gravel, especially in Namibia, and they were full of nicks and cuts. That all said, I never had a puncture on the entire expedition and the tyres were to be more resilient and last a lot longer than I initially thought.

Getting new tyres in Zambia was not cheap, and to be honest a bit of a hassle. The 90/90 21 inch fronts are quite common, but the back tyres are 150/70 R18 for the KTM 990 Adventure and not used on other bikes and therefore not easy to come by. For instance, the more common BMW GS used a 17 inch rear tyre and there was a lot more choice of tyre brand and type.

I picked up the tyres at Lusaka airport warehouse, got messed about a bit, paid some duties that were more expensive than I anticipated, and strapped them on the back of my bike until my current tyres were essentially threadbare and on their last legs (which happened much later than I expected when I entered Mozambique)

In the meantime I spent time with my uncle who I hadn’t seen much in my life. As a kid he was seen of as a sort of legend, he had been married to several very glamorous and beautiful women, was an artist and photographer, hill climbing rally driver, lived all over Africa, and when he was a young man part of the cool swinging sixties set in the King’s Road with Terrance Stamp and all that lot.

When I caught up with Mick he was divorced, again, and living in a small apartment in an interesting suburb of Lusaka. On the first night he took me to the famous Lusaka Club for steak and chips of which he ate hardly anything, but drank quite a lot as he was in the habit of doing.

I stayed with Mick for three days whilst waiting for the tyres and I think in that time we ploughed through a case of wine and half a case of scotch together. Its no mean feat I can tell you. On the day I left we had had a session the night before and I was feeling particularly fragile as I ventured off to my destination of Mama Rula’s Guest House near Chipata (http://www.mamarulas.com/) from where I intended stay and then to ride to see Mick’s Children, Nathan and Rosie, in South Luangwa National Park.

As I was riding along about 50 kilometers outside Lusaka I saw in the distance a convoy of motorcycles with their lights blazing. It took my befuddled brain a while to realize that this was the Long Way Down bikers on their way to Lusaka.

This made sense now as I had read on the internet that the LWD team were in Malawi and as I left Lusaka I saw some big motorcycles and their riders who shouted out something to me as I cruised by, but I didn’t stop, and I didn’t really hear what they said.  Now I assume they were Zambian fixers waiting for Ewan McGregor, Charlie Boorman and their entourage to arrive in Lusaka.

As my brain was registering that Obe Wan Kanobe was on the same road as me they just rode by and waved. I wondered if I should stop, but as they didn’t I felt a bit stupid and carried on. I kept a look out in my mirror and saw that they had indeed eventually stopped and so I turned around and met them. Ewan McGregor and his wife then carried on riding towards Lusaka, and Charlie Boorman and Claudio Planta stayed with me for a chat, which we did for about an hour at the side of the road.

It was good to meet them, not only because I enjoyed the Long Way Round TV series, but it was good to bump into and have a yarn with fellow bike riders and share our experiences. They were riding BMW F1200 GS bikes with all the extras, and of course film and communication equipment necessary to make a top quality TV production.

I was filmed and said what I said in the clip below, and more, later signing a disclaimer from the producers to allow the TV footage, and waited for the Nissan Pathfinders  with the support crew and spare equipment to arrive. As I was looking at their bikes I could see a six inch nail sticking through the tread of Claudio’s back tyre.  All OK, I was informed, they were changing them all in Lusaka!

Charlie Boorman saw that I had the Dakar logo on my bike and told me about his recent experience competing in the Dakar Rally and the subsequent Race to Dakar TV series. I knew nothing about this and found it fascinating. We also chatted about their route so far through Africa, some suggestions on places to stay, and about our bikes. Charlie seemed to like my KTM, especially the Akropovik exhausts, and I offered him a ride, but he declined, saying he was contracted to BMW and it would not be a good idea to be seen on a better bike. Actually he never said that, but I am sure that was what he was thinking. After that we bid each other farewell and went off in opposite directions.

When I got back from the trip I of course told everyone I was filmed on the Long Way Down TV series which was to be shown on the BBC in England. Of course, the series went by and there was no footage of me at all, which was a bit disappointing and I think everyone thought I was making it up.

A year or so later,  I received a lot of emails from my Australian friends who said they saw “my ugly face” on the LWD TV series that was broadcast in Australia on the Discovery channel. Later, when I got a DVD box set of the series, the original six episodes had been extended with extra footage, and so I have a small clip of talking scribble with Charlie Boorman in the middle of Zambia.

 

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Local village in Zambia

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An alien spaceship concealed in a cloud … obviously

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Following my Uncle Mick in Lusaka

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Dinner at the Lusaka Club with Mick, my mother’s brother

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Mick’s home… the scene of the two bottles of scotch incident

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New tyres picked up from Lusaka airport and carried until I fitted them in Mozambique

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Charlie Boorman and Claudio

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Video below:

 

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Meeting a group of volunteers from Scotland

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On way to Chipata and mama rula campsite

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Cotton trucks on road to South Luangwa

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Not the greatest roads

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Zambia bush

 

After the LWD encounter I pushed on towards Chipata, passed by their support vehicles that waved furiously at me and flashed their lights, but I ran out of fuel just before I completed the journey.  In one day I had ridden the same distance the LWD guys did in two days and burned through 39.5 litres of fuel with no sign of a petrol station along the whole way.

Fortunately, after an hour or so I was rescued by a entrepreneurial young chap who appeared out of the bush on a bicycle with two corn oil drums containing rather murky looking fuel. I worked out how much I needed to get to a petrol station in Chipata, and bought 5 litres, but at triple the pump price.

Well the price was what is was, but even in those early days of my motorcycle expeditions I knew putting dodgy fuel in my tank was probably a bad thing. In fact, the biggest threat to motorcycles doing long distance journeys in Africa, or indeed Asia, is putting poor quality and contaminated fuel in your tank. The risk is that it will block the fuel pump, clog up the filter, knacker the EFi fuel injection system or carburetor jets, mess with the mapping, and more besides.

In fact, two years later a blockage of my fuel filter will cause my engine on the very same bike to stutter for many miles and eventually stop in the middle of Namibia. The cause was undoubtedly putting contaminated fuel straight into the tank without filtering it properly. In the Kenyan chapter of this blog you will read that Fanny and I prevented such problems by using a very effective home made petrol filter. Nobody ever takes any notice of my ramblings in these blogs, but I can tell you that is the way to do it. Watch and learn.

With enough petrol to get me to Chipata I got going again and managed to find a petrol station and fill up. I then checked into Mama Rulas Guest House who had received the LWD expedition a few days earlier and quite excited about it, and pitched my tent in the same place they did, probably.

My cousin, Rosie, told me that the road between Chipata and South Luangwa, about 150 kilometres in length, was absolutely terrible, and in recent months was impassable. That said, she was currently in South Luangwa and had presumably driven there in her beaten up Toyota Corola, and so I guessed it was probably OK for my bike, especially if I reduced the weight by leaving what I could at Mama Rula’s Guest House.

So, I dumped my spare tyres, my panniers, and strapped my camping gear and a small bag on the back of my bike and headed off down the muddy track which had been gouged out badly by conveys of very overladen cotton trucks. There were sections where the road had fallen away and I saw several trucks that had rolled over and been abandoned by the side of the track. This was quite a technical stretch of my ride and for the first time on the trip I had to ride across streams and small rivers, plough through thick mud, and ride very steep slopes.

With all the extra weight off my bike I was quite enjoying the ride that seemed a lot longer than 150 kilometres, but still had to keep my wits about me as I tackled the worst road I had ridden so far.  I was reading the road and plotting my track much better. I guess with confidence comes skill, and with skill come confidence. Its a gradual process and I was gradually getting better.

I eventually reached the Luangwa Valley at Malama and Kakumbi and found a route to my destination, Flat Dogs Camp (www.flatdogscamp.com/), named after the slang for a crocodile.

As I got nearer to the mighty river the surrounding land undulated with dry river wadis, streams, and small marshy tributaries. I was really enjoying the ride and the scenery notched up another level in African beauty. As I descended down a steep slope into a dusty dry river valley I ran straight into a herd of elephants.

This was the closest I had got to so many elephants, and was a bit alarmed when a young male mock charged me making one hell of a noise. Unlike many of the dramatic incidents on my expeditions, I had the presence of mind to take out my camera and snap a picture of the irritated elephant as he put on his show of defiance.

What a welcome to South Luangwa, probably the best game park in the whole of Africa.

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This young elephant mock charged me… not a KTM fan

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A safari tent … too expensive for me

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Buffalo….African ones so much more aggressive than their Asian cousins

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My home up a tree

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Frequent visits by elephants, hippos and monkeys

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What can I say … girls love motorcycles

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Riding around Zambia …sans kit

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My neighbours

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A heron cadging a lift on a hippo

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View from my tent which was up a tree

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heck ….

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Riding into game park…

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A mating couple … more on their mind than eating me… fortunately

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Sandy trails in Luangwa

 

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Lots of animals … luckily they don’t like the bike or can’t catch me.

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Stripey horse

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Long neck deer

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Riding in Luangwa

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Local family living near river

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Girl who took my picture riding across river

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My cousin Nathan on my bike… he is Zambian and a wildlife film maker

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Nathan

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Hyena coming out at night

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Something is definitely looking at me … nice puddy puddy

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Leopard in the bush at night

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More elephants

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Nice puddy

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Wirly wind in the Chivimba village near South Luangwa

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Market in Chivimba, Zambia

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Shopping Mall

 

My cousin, Rosie was working at Flat Dogs at the time, and responsible for guest relations and organising tourist activities like walking safaris in the game park.  She was pretty preoccupied with what she had to do and so I booked a camping spot at the cheapest location which happened to be a platform about 5 meters up a tree.

There were rather nice safari tents and Rosie later arranged for me to move into one. For now, however, I moved into my new home with monkeys above me and elephants down below. Later I would also have nocturnal visits by hippos and crocodiles.

I really enjoyed my stay and would venture down from my tree tent and spend time with my cousins, eat and drink at the bar, and swim in the swimming pool, when of course it wasn’t being occupied by huge grey things with long trunks and big ears. I went for hikes along the Luangwa River, careful not to be on the wrong side of a hippo, or the right side of a crocodile. Many locals had lost their lives to these creatures over the years.

Our camp was shared by a large herds of elephants who would walk through at various times of the day and night. Whilst the elephants give the appearance of being docile, you do have to keep your distance otherwise they will charge you, with the real possibly that they could trample you to death. Elephants are wild animals and the staff of the various game resorts had to keep reminding their guests as they often became far too complacent.

I watched from the bar one day as an Italian tourist, who had been told many times not to go near the elephants, got chased at high speed by a huge trumpeting elephant as he attempted to get “just one more” close up photograph. It was all very dramatic as he was chased right up to the steps of the bar by a very disgruntled and noisy elephant. It was a rather ridiculous, if not dangerous sight, and I fell into fits of hysterical laughter, much to the Italian’s embarrassment and annoyance.

If I was up my tree in my tent I would have to wait until the elephants had slowly trooped by before I could come down. They would often butt and shake the trees, knocking off marula, mangoes and monkey pods that they liked eating very much.  On a couple of occasions while I was in the “heads” I would get barricaded inside until the elephants eventually wandered off. On one occasion while I was having a shower I heard a scream from the cubicle next to me. Apparently a trunk came through the open window and gave the occupant a fondle.

My cousin Nathan is a wildlife film maker and lives for months on end in the bush trying to get just a few minutes of footage of animals such as wild dogs or cheetahs. He came out to see me at Flat Dogs and after spending some time together he encouraged me to go for a ride into the park, directing me to an off the beaten track route that the locals take. Like most of Africa, motorcycles are not allowed in game parks, and so I thought this would be a great adventure.

I started off expecting to ride for just a few hours but didn’t get back until well after sunset, riding along single track sand paths among probably the largest concentration of African wild animals anywhere in the world. I assumed if the locals do it, what could possibly go wrong?

First, I went off without my helmet, or even a hat to screen me from the sun. No phone, no money, no nuffink!  Just a t-shirt, cargo trousers, my boots and my unladen KTM. What I hadn’t anticipated was that I would ride across rivers and streams and have to navigate windy narrow trails with no room to turn around.  Only when I was out in the bush for a few hours did it dawn on me that if I run into any large animal, or creature that might like to eat me, I would not be able to manoeuvre very easily and escape.

By mid afternoon I emerged from the dense bush and rode down to a river where I could see local Zambians washing themselves and their laundry in the water. I took some pictures and showed the people their photographs on the digital camera display and they were absolutely thrilled and excited. I suspected they had never seen such a camera before, nor their own images.

As I rarely got pictures of myself, being on my own and all, I asked a young teenage girl if she would take a picture of me riding across the river, and showed her how to operate the camera.  To set up the shot I rode across the river and hoped she would get a snap of me and my bike in the river. When I returned and examined her handiwork I was absolutely delighted that she had taken seven or eight perfectly framed action sequence pictures that I treasure to this day, and which some are reproduced in this blog.

I then rode back into the bush and into more open ground where I could see zebras, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, kudu, sable, elan, and more elephants. The rivers were full of hippos, and I could see lots of crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, and scurrying back into the water at the sound of my exhausts. I didn’t see any cats, and I hoped they didn’t see me. They would certainly hear me though.

It soon became apparent that elephants absolutely hate motorcycles. Maybe its the noise, the size, the speed, or whatever, but they really react badly and I had to keep my distance from them as they became visibly agitated whenever I encountered them.

The animal I was most wary of were buffalo. I was told by my South African friends and Zambian relatives that these were the animals to keep well away from. As someone who grew up on a dairy farm in Staffordshire in England and handled cows everyday I found this rather strange, as buffalo do look like cows. Also, on Lantau Island in Hong Kong where I live, and in Thailand and Malaysia where I have visited often, there are big water buffalo, but they are very gentle and not easily roused.

The African buffalo is not a friendly beast. It is big, has a serious attitude, a lightening turn of speed, and is super aggressive.  If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time they will kill you. I did see many buffalo from a distance and they always reminded me of the Kray Twins, particularly the bad tempered mad one.

I got back to the camp in one piece with just enough fuel and shared my experience with my cousins, who of course had seen and heard it all before, but gracious enough to allow me to wax lyrical about the country they grew up in.

The next day I decided to go back into the game park, but this time in a safari game viewer (a long wheel based Landrover with open view seats for passengers) where my experienced guide could locate and introduce all the animals in relative safety.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got a chance to tick off all the animals I hadn’t seen so far, including rhino, leopard, cheetah, hyenas, wild dog, lions, meercats, servals, caracals, and even a Rock python. Also, lots of birds, too many to name.

I hung around Luangwa for a few more days enjoying the amazing scenery and wildlife and then decided to ride up through central Zambia towards Tanzania and then into northern Malawi and ride south along the coast of Lake Nyasa towards Blantyre.  The problem was I had left my tyres and most of my luggage at Mama Rulas Guest House and so I had to backtrack along the challenging mud road, collect my stuff, and then plot a northerly course through Zambia and up into the mountains and forests near the north.

I was becoming a lot more confident in my riding, as one would expect riding for ten or so hours everyday on every surface Africa has to offer, and so I was not too daunted about a more off the beaten track route. After all, you can always turn around if it gets too difficult. It wasn’t a race, and as a solo rider I didn’t have to confer with anyone. I could do what I liked.

So, I rode for a couple of days directly north along the M12 that ran parallel to the Malawian border, and into the coniferous forests in the mountains near Lundozi, then headed west along the D104 towards North Luangwa and through the bush and mountain trails towards the border with Tanzania.  As I didn’t have a carne de passage riding into Tanzania was not impossible, but would have incurred a lot of expense and hassle.

I wanted to go to a game resort in Tanzania called Uwanda and so at a border town called Tunduma I rode around looking for a resort or guest house that would look after my motorcycle for a few days while I ventured on foot into Tanzania for a few day.  As I was looking around I saw a police station and so I rode in, introduced myself, and use a few “I used to be a policeman, don’t you know” credits. The local officers were happy to store my bike and kit for a few days. A case of Mosi beer didn’t go unappreciated either.

With KTM and kit secured in the safest spot in town, I packed up my day sack with my light sleeping bag, mozzie net, ground mat, some spare t-shirts, and my valuables. I then wandered down to the nearby border crossing, stamped out of Zambia and stamped into Tanzania. Not quick, but no real hassles. I then searched around for a cab, trying to avoid all the touts and border wallahs, and found an assortment of mini buses, cabs, motorcycles and tut-tuts parked just beyond the immigration complex.

Eventually, after the usual annoying and unnecessary haggling and jostling, I squeezed myself into a tightly packed and rather niffy mini bus, and when it was full, just beyond bursting point, it set off along fairly decent tar roads to a huge and rather chaotic town called Mbeya.

Around mid evening I hopped off as soon as I caught a glimpse of a backpackers sign, and checked into a dorm room with about 6 bunk beds. I didn’t hang around and quickly escaped to wander about town and find food and beer, which wasn’t difficult. Now I had a choice of four brands of beers, Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Safari or Tusker. After trying them all over a few days I settled on Tusker, for no other reason than it had a picture of an elephant on the label.

In the morning at breakfast I was sort of regretting leaving my bike behind and having the hassle of trying to find my way around on foot and by uncomfortable and crowded public transport. Mbeya was definitely not worth it, but I planned to go to Uwanda Game Reserve and see the lake, see some coffee and tea plantations, and then double back to Zambia and get my bike.

The backpackers was an easy place to plan excursions and get transport to various places. By far the majority of people who were staying were on the way to Dar Salam, Zanzibar, Serengeti, or Mount Kilimanjaro… or had come back and were going to Zambia or Malawi.

I thought about going further north and decided against it, vowing to go there another time, as indeed I did with my lovely Fanny in 2011. Now all I wanted to do is just have a few days exploring a bit of Tanzania, get a feel for the place, and then carry on with my original plan.

Also, in my mind at least, I was a “lonely wolf motorcycle adventurer”, not a common or garden 20 something dread locked hippy bouncing from internet cafe to internet cafe, with a copy of the Lonely Planet, eating banana pancakes, and all that. Arrogant? Of course, its my best trait!

I took a mini bus in the late morning to Uwanda Game Reserve that I read in a guide book was famous for its flora, rather than fauna, and a must go destination for any budding botanists. It was also a paradise for water birds being on the shores of Lake Rukwa. The journey was quite long, but I managed to chat with the driver and arrange for a vehicle to take me straight from the game park campsite back to the border crossing with Zambia where I could retrieve my bike.

I didn’t have my tent and there wasn’t really an option to free camp and so I checked into a grass hut that was pretty comfortable with access to showers and the resort restaurant. I got chatting with the bus driver’s friend and he said he could organise a drive across the south of the park, see the lake and drive out of the west gate and into Tunduma at border with Zambia. After a bit of a haggle, a price was arranged which was fair to both of us, especially as I was cutting out a lot of hassle, the cost of a further nights camping, and could do a sort of mini safari at the same time.

After breakfast I caught up with my driver and to my surprise he had recruited a couple of young Dutch girls who also wanted to do the same route and so I had the extra benefit of reducing my taxi fee, and some not too unpleasant company to share it all with. The vehicle, as it turned out, was a dilapidated van of some kind, with a huge sunroof that we could stand up in, or in my case, sit on the roof.

I have to say the day was a very pleasant one in which I saw some rather different scenery than that of Luangwa. Not as many animals, but still very interesting and pretty, and as promised lots of birds and wild flowers. The Dutch girls were very friendly, quite funny and were also heading to Malawi. I don’t think they believed I was riding a motorcycle until I rocked up on it at the backpackers we all stayed at that evening on the Zambian side of the border.

We all had a few drinks and dinner together and I promised to look them up again in Malawi, which I actually did at a place called Kande Beach, some few weeks later.

After breakfast we all said goodbye and I was absolutely delighted to be back on my bike. The few days had given the blood a bit of time to recirculate in my bum, and perhaps my energy and enthusiasm for riding was renewed, as I had really missed the freedom, excitement and exhilaration of riding an adventure motorcycle.

However, I had perhaps not focused enough on the exact route I should take to Malawi and how I could actually get in. If I had crossed over into Tanzania it would be quite straightforward, but I wasn’t allowed to do that, and so I had to weave about and frequently get lost, often having to backtrack many kilometres until I found the correct route. I was fortunate enough after many hours on trails and mud roads to come across a young man who I gave a lift to, and who guided me to the border crossing into Malawi.

When we got to the crossing it was a very basic one, and apparently I was not allowed to use it as it was restricted to local Zambians and Malawians. Luckily I was on a South African registered motorcycle with current tax and insurance, and my Zambian riding companion made a passionate plea to the officials to let me through. If not, I would have had to ride another couple of hundred kilometers south to get across. As it was, I nipped across, got my passport stamped at both sides, and headed off towards Lake Nyasa.

By the time the sun set I was still on gravel tracks, winding through mountainous tracks and was still a long way from the lake. It was treacherous riding in the dark, very hilly, quite wooded, roads were awful in places, and so I had no choice but to pull off the road, find a reasonably flat space, and set up camp.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was completely lost, but at least I was somewhere in Malawi, I still had enough fuel to get to the north part of the lake, and it was a nice temperature, if not a tad cool up here in the hills. I nearly always carried a couple of bottle of beer in my pannier, and so I had those for dinner ….with half a chocolate bar. In the morning I made tea and had the other half of the chocolate bar for breakfast. Not so bad, I thought!

The next day I set off rather excited about the coming weeks ahead in Malawi. Everyone had told me it was really nice country and the people were very friendly. The first thing I noticed, however, was that it was possibly the poorest country I had been to so far. Everything was very basic and it had far less infrastructure, vehicles, or significant buildings than Zambia. The roads weren’t great, a lot of people seemed to live a rather primitive existence and the kids didn’t seem to go to school. The food the locals ate was mainly cassava, a white powdery starchy substance with the nutrition of a flip flop. The diet of the extremely poor.

I weaved left and right through quite steep hills and on gnarly gravel roads, and then by midday, I suddenly spotted the lake. My goodness, it looked like the sea. I knew that Tanzania and Mozambique were on the other side, but I couldn’t see anything except water.  As I got nearer I started to encounter more human activity, more animals, more village huts, and could see dugout canoes with fishermen on the water. All very beautiful and very exciting.

I decided to head south towards Livingstonia and look for a campsite by the lake. After about an hour, riding along a pretty decent tar road that ran parallel to the shoreline, I arrived at a section of resorts near Mushroom Farm. Having surveyed a number of signs for resorts and accommodation, I randomly picked one and rode down a sandy track for about 5 kilometres until I was in a cluster of thatched holiday huts with European looking tourists milling about.

For the next week or so I gradually migrated down the coast, stopping at lakeside resorts, pitching my tent, swimming in the lake, kayaking, snorkeling, meeting fellow travelers, twiddling with my bike, eating and drinking very well, and generally idling about.

Malawi is a very relaxed place and had a reputation as a source of cheap “weed” which all the young hippies were into, and much of the local community survived on. It was sold in corn on the cob sized packages which would keep the dread locked hippy brigade stoned for several days. For the rest of us we had more than enough beer and dodgy Malawian gin to keep us amused.

At a port town called Nkhata Bay I met fellow bikers who had ridden down from England on Honda XR 250 cc Baja motorcycles, like the ones Fanny and I rode ten years later in Sri Lanka. They had ridden down the west route of Africa through some challenging places, and even got engaged along the way! A lovely fun couple and I enjoyed their company. Later I would stay at Kande Beach resort where I think the LWD guys had stayed a few weeks before, and I met up again with the Dutch girls I first met in Tanzania.

The girls, like most other people, were partying hard. They easily encouraged me to join in and I can report I did so disgracefully, and as hard as anyone else. Although technically middle aged, I was not letting down the side, and gave the guys half my age a run for their money. I also had a motorcycle, enough said.

Things carried on in a similar vein when the Zambian and Malawian ladies I met in Livingstone decided to all come out to Monkey Bay and Cape McClear on the very south of Lake Nyasa. As did the Dutch girls, and several other groups of people I met at various backpacker resorts as I meandered down the shores of Lake Nyasa. I think it would be wise, for the sake of my children, relatives and any reputation I have left, that I employ the Kai Tak convention and say no more.

I’d like to say it was the “last hurrah”…. except it wasn’t. Things got much worse over the following few years as a student in Beijing. You’ll have to wait until I publish my memoires for anything more salacious.

I spent some time in Blantyre, getting prepared for the ride into Mozambique, and by all accounts I was to have a rather technical and extremely long stretch of sandy roads to the coast at Pemba.

I decided it was now time to replace my back tyre which was not only bald, but there were bits of fabric and radial lines sticking out of it. It was a bit gung ho, but I was trying to squeeze every last mile out of it. Strangely, over the last couple of thousand kilometres the back tyre just didn’t seem to wear down as much as I thought it would. I was expecting it to pop at anytime but it just kept going and I think I got a total of about 13,000 kilometers out of the rear Pirelli. The front looked fine, good for another 10,000 kilometers and so I didn’t change it.

Rather than hand the bike to someone to change over the tyre, or do it myself with three spoons and a rock, I found a small garage in Blantyre (aptly named) and paid a very small fee to use their tools, including a mechanical bead remover and do it myself. The beading on a tyre is the reinforced edge that fits securely into the rim of the wheel and can be the trickiest bit to get off and on.

As it turned out it wasn’t difficult and the new Pirelli Scorpion that I had been lugging on the back of the bike since Lusaka was replaced in no time. I also did my own wheel balancing using the axle spinning technique, gradually sticking on small lead weights to the inside rim until the exact balance point when the wheel would stop rotating on the axle. If the wheel isn’t balanced the heavier part of the wheel will rotate to the bottom through gravity. When it is balanced the wheel doesn’t move.  Quite easy when you know how.

I was a bit alarmed to see the tyre I had removed as the centre strip was so thin it was almost translucent and not far off splitting down the middle. Just in time principle, as Japanese logistic managers would say.

With my new back tyre fitted, chain adjusted and oiled, and fully laden with 39.5 litres of petrol, loads of water, Simba peanuts and Lion Bars, I was ready to go and I am guessing the border crossing from Namibia into Mozambique was pretty easy as I can’t really remember any drama or excitement.

Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony and so this would be the first country on the trip that the people didn’t speak English. It was also probably the poorest country I was to ride through and had been ravaged by a brutal and devastating civil war that not only decimated the population, but with hunger and no other choice, most of the wild animals had been eaten, which ordinarily would have been as abundant as they were anywhere else in Africa.

There were a lot of people moving about and I heard that there was a very porous border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe which at the time of my trip was suffering under the effects of Robert Mugabe and his henchmen, and so people were moving fairly freely between the two countries, trying to deal with the effects of hyperinflation, source food and fuel, and eek out some sort of an existence.

There is in fact no need for either country to be poor as they are both blessed with natural resources, rich agricultural lands and human beings who are perfectly able to make it all work. The problem, like in most of Africa, is that their leaders are all kleptomaniac despots, surround by self interested sycophants and cronies, and supported by brutal soldiers and evil secret police.  Any semblance of democracy is only used to hoodwink Western liberals and secure aid and money, which is inevitably squandered on palaces, motorcades and presidential jets.

The curse of the African continent is tribalism. Now, just as the Western Colonialists did in the 19th century, China has sidled up to these corrupt dictators as it sees Africa as an easy place to plunder and exploit. Mozambique with its empty national parks and dearth of flora and fauna is perhaps a blueprint of what the rest of Africa may look like after its been completely fucked up. All very sad.

Of course, the last thing an African needs to do is bring anymore hungry mouths into the world, but that is exactly what they do, and ironically the poorest people have the most kids. Condoms? Don’t get me started on organised religion and superstitious cultures!

I had also heard that I was riding into perhaps the more dangerous of the countries on the trip. Poverty and the struggle for survival causes people to engage in crime, or so Strain Theory of criminology tells us. I have to say that I generally found most people I encountered to be very nice, but like the Sinai of Egypt, there were places that it was wise to avoid, or at least have your wits about you and not do daft things like wandering around at night.

On my first day of riding I covered a lot of ground and because of the need to refuel and buy provisions I had to ride into populated areas eventually. For most of the first day I had ridden on hard packed gravel and my progress had been pretty good. I rode through some very run down villages and dodgy looking towns and decided against stopping. I therefore pushed on along narrow roads just south of Niassa National Park and had perhaps pushed my luck as the sun set quickly and I was now riding in the dark. A big no no in adventure riding and so I had no choice but to find a place to camp, or bite the bullet and check into a hotel in a town where I could try and keep a low profile and secure my bike.

Riding in the bush at night is quite challenging and I really could not see anything that wasn’t illuminated by my headlight, which I have to admit wasn’t the best headlight in the world. I had no spotlights and just a weak narrow beam, meaning everything left and right of me was completely black.

I eventually pulled into a very run down town and at the first sign of a hotel I pulled in. I wouldn’t say my reception was hostile, but it was decidedly frosty. Anyway, I managed to get a very cheap room, parked my bike right inside the lobby, and a lady cooked me up some Nshima and cabbage, with a rock hard chicken. It wouldn’t get a Michelin Star, but I have eaten a lot worse at my schools in England in the 1970s.

I looked around for a beer, and found some warm cans of Manica in a refrigerator that didn’t work. Conversation with my fellow guests was a bit stilted as everyone spoke Portuguese, but I understood “no” well enough to mean they thought it probably wasn’t a good idea for me to go wandering about in the dark by myself. But I did anyway, I couldn’t sleep, I had nothing to do, and I needed to stretch my body. And I was curious to just look about.

I walked up the street and despite the fact that the streets lights were either absent or not working, I could see it was actually quite a big town. There were little pool halls and shebeens here and there. I saw an auto repair shop and wandered in and looked about, and was pleased to be able to find a brighter bulb for my headlight, a replacement rear light bulb, some more electrical fuses, as occasionally they would go, and a Chinese made torch as mine had broken back in Zambia and I couldn’t find anything in Malawi.

By now I had a wallet full of an assortment of African currencies that I didn’t need anymore and so I swapped them all for Mozambique Meticals or Meticais, or whatever they were called. I think the money tout I found lurking outside a convenience store had done well on the deal, but I was happy enough with the wad of grubby notes I got back and generally used South African Rand that everyone seemed to accept, anyway. I also bought a Mozambique Sim card that was surprisingly good value, actually worked, and seemed to have a signal in most places.

Telecommunications was one of the few industries that was really flourishing in Africa, and I could often tell if I was getting close to a town by the telltale communication antennas on the hillsides. There were lots of advertising billboards promoting the local mobile phone operators, which of course all the Government cronies had a vested interest in. There were also lots of billboards advertising beer brands, and soap, for some reason.

The next day I got going very quickly as everything was already on my bike which I was thankful was still in the hotel lobby. As I rode through the town it looked completely different, and much less threatening than the previous evening. I filled up with what I remember to be quite cheap petrol, and continued on my eastwards journey to Pemba.

It was not long before the gravel roads turned to sand tracks and my progress really slowed down as I slid and paddled my way through long stretches of deep sand pits. I was not always confident to stand on the pegs in sand and often sat on the seat and waded along. Later, after a few courses, I conquered the sand, but for now my riding was rather ungainly. It took me a good eleven hours to actually get my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean and it was absolutely glorious.

Pemba is actually a popular tourist destination. It is situated on a small peninsula and surrounded by the sea, a huge lagoon, and lots of rivers and mangrove swamps. There were palm trees along the white sandy beaches, a few rather nice looking colonial looking hotels, small resorts with thatched huts spread out on the sand, restaurants, bars, and shops selling tourist stuff. There was also scuba diving and snorkeling, boat trips, canoes and hobby cats to hire. A real surprise compared with what I had seen in Mozambique so far. It was like a tropical paradise.

Unlike the wild and cold Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Africa, the water at the same latitude on the east coast of the Indian Ocean was calm, crystal blue and warm. There were quite a few tourists, many who had come from Europe and it reminded me a bit of Thailand in the early days before it got developed. Very nice.

I decided to find a camping spot, but I found it just as cheap to rent a hut on the beach, and that is what I did. As was my habit now, after being bitten by some bed bugs and insects at other similar places, I dumped all their bedding, sprayed the mattress with some pesticide that was probably illegal in the West, set up my sleeping bag, and replaced their moth eaten mozzie net with my own one. I then stripped my bike down to bare minimum and changed into my beach riding gear of flip flops, shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses and my Dad’s old Tilly Hat and went to explore the area.

Like Malawi I idled about in the sea during the day, and joined the party at night. There was quite a bit of diving activity going on, but at that time I had not got my PADI qualifications and so I settled with swimming, snorkeling and canoeing in the mangroves.

After a couple of day I decided to start pushing on further south. I only had a few weeks left before I need to fly out to China and start my Mandarin course at Tsinghua University in Beijing. I was very much aware that my adventure was coming to an end and so I really tried to squeeze as much out of the remaining weeks.

There was only one fly in the ointment, and that was that my chain and sprockets on my bike were starting to disintegrate. I had a couple of thousand kilometers still to go and thought if I really clean and oil it well, I may make it.

The other annoyance was that the brand new front tyre I had been carrying had been damaged by the exhaust heat and fumes coming out of my Akropoviks. I had been careless and strapped them on too near to the exhaust outlets and some of the rubber had been burned.

Luckily the tyre on the front of my bike looked OK and had lots of tread left.  Still it was an annoying waste and an expensive lesson, especially as I had lugged it across Africa, and so I gave it to a local biker who didn’t think the damage was as serious as I did.

The road heading south does not always follow the coast, but often cuts back into land by quite a long way, looping back towards coastal towns every now and again. The surface was extremely sandy and of variable depth and softness.  On a rare stretch of gravel near a village I was cruising at a rather quick pace of 120 kph when a dog ran out in front of me and I literally ran over its neck launching me into the air for a few meters and luckily landing back down on my wheels and staying upright.

That was a shock, and I u-turned around and rode up to the dog which was clearly dead. I got off my bike and started hauling it to the side of the road when a woman came running out of a hut shouting at me, then a few more people followed her, and so I decided to scarper, quickly. Anywhere else I would have apologised and perhaps compensated the owners, but I knew this could easily escalate, and so I “hauled arse” as the Yanks say, feeling upset at killing the dog, and rather dishonourable at escaping.

Towards the end of the same day after doing many hours of tough riding a large cow walked out in front of me and I panicked, not being able to go either side of it, as I had done numerous times before with donkeys, pigs and other cattle, and I skidded on the gravel and sand for several meters and crashed into the cow, hitting it at about 20-25kph, but sufficiently fast enough for me to go right over my handles bars, clean over the cow and come crashing down on the other side.

The shock of my first ever motorcycle crash filled my body with adrenaline and I have to say I felt nothing and was completely uninjured except from grazing my gloves and my elbows. I had pretty much come off unscathed and even my helmet was undamaged.

I walked back to the cow, where my bike was laying on its side on the sand, and examined the cow, and it seemed perfectly fine. I had skidded sort of sideways and hit the cow on its rump. Being very used to cows from my childhood on a dairy farm, I examined and massaged its rear leg and bottom and could find no sign of injury at all.  She was still standing by the bike and so I pushed her forward and she walked OK. I rubbed her head and apologised and she seemed fine and eventually ambled off to the other side of the road. I then looked nervously around to see if any people were rushing out with pitch forks and lighted torches, but nobody was about.

I was a bit shaken and it took me a few attempts to lift up my bike and wheel it to the side of the road and examine it for damage. The mirror had turned around on the bracket but was OK, the hand guard was a bit scuffed, and there was a very small scrape on the pannier. The worse damage seemed to be to the crash bar that had a distinct silver scrape through the black powder coating, and apart from that, nothing. The handlebars were true and forks had not slipped in the triple clamp, and there was no damage to bodywork. Remarkable. I guess if the road hadn’t been so sandy or if I was on tarmac both KTM and Rupert would not have fared so well.

After dusting everything down and rearranging my mirrors, I set off, with the cow standing on the other side of the road looking at me. It was a big one and she didn’t look at all fussed by half a ton and motorcycle and rider whacking into her arse. What a strange world… it could all have gone terribly wrong…but I suppose it was a wake up call from my complacency as I was really pushing the limits on occasions.

Suffice to say, for the rest of the few hours before I stopped and set up camp I went a bit steadier, still a little shaken, but happy in the knowledge that the KTM really is a solid bit of kit. Later, while sleeping on my ground mat in my tent in the middle of nowhere did I feel the twinges of having hurt my neck and shoulder, and I could see I had bruised my forearm and hand. I guess not so bad, but a wake up call about the risks of charging about the bush on a motorcycle.

Over the next three or four days I worked my way down through Mozambique on very similar sandy gravel roads, rode some extremely long stretches, pushing my fuel range to the limit, and occasionally passing through some large built up port towns like Beira.

I was aiming for a couple of resorts called Vilankulos and Inhambane where I heard you could go swimming with Manta Rays, Devil Rays and the biggest fish on the planet, the Whale Shark.

I camped in Vilankulos for a night which was famous for scuba diving and excursions to the nearby islands, called Bazaruto and Ilha de Benguerra. Lots of interesting and relaxing resorts, but I needed to push on and so I ended up at a place called Tofo Beach near the town of Inhambane which was not as pretty as Pemba, but still pretty nice with long beaches and dunes.

Yet again I moved into a basic straw hut at one of the resorts where I made friends with my fellow travelers, that included a very adventurous couple from Japan, and two nurses from the south of England, who had moved to Mozambique to do voluntary aid work at a local hospital and to teach at a school.

I became very good friends with all of them, and particularly so with one of the nurses who would often join me on the back of the bike as we explored the lagoon and surrounding countryside. We canoeing in the lagoon, hiked, and the highlight of the stay, swam with Whale Sharks and Devil Rays. In the evening we would all eat and drink together, and join the inevitable party in the evening.

The food was excellent in Tofo Beach, but what I remember most was that a baby whale got washed up on the beach and was descended upon by the locals who butchered it up for meat. I was a bit shocked when my Japanese friends returned to the resort with a huge slab of whale meat that they were going to cook up. Would we join them?

Um no, I was suddenly inflicted with a severe bout of veganism.

It was now early September and I really did have to get going. My nurse friend was visibly upset, we had got on very well, but it was what it was. She was staying in Mozambique and I was going to Beijing. We were both grown up enough to know the way things are “on holiday” and so I headed off south towards the large city of Maputo that I was told was not a very safe place, and there were many stories circulating about tourists being robbed, assaulted and raped.

As it happened, when I got to Maputo I just rode straight through it and down to the border with Swaziland where I crossed without any drama and camped in Hlane National Park.

This was to prove to be a very strange experience.

First, I don’t recall anyone else being in the campsite at all. I paid to enter the national park and assumed I was in a campsite just outside the perimeter fences, or whatever they had.  I was to find out that I was in actual fact right inside the park, there were no facilities for food, a sign post indicated that the water was unsafe to drink, and during the night I became the center of attention for most of the wildlife, including a pack of hyenas that came right up to my tent.

Oh, shit. All this way and nearly home, and I get eaten.

I had a big fire going, that I stoked up while I still had the courage to stay outside, but eventually I went into my tent, closed the flysheet and zipper, and spent the night in abject fear listening to a cacophany of howls, roars, squeals, trumpeting, insects bouncing off my tent, and worse, things pacing about outside. It was a long night and I am not sure my pulse went below a hundred.

Dawn could not come quick enough, and as soon as it was light enough I was packed up and ready to ride off.

As I was leaving I saw a local lady and asked her where the game reserve actually was. You can imagine my alarm to discover I had been in it all the time, and the camp I was in was only supposed to be used as a day camp with caravans. Hey Ho.

I explored the Kingdom of Swaziland, which is quite interesting, but very poor. A lot of Red Cross, United Nations and other aid agency buildings and goings on. I did a sort of exploratory circular route around the country, camped up again, in a remote, but safer location near the border, and when the gate opened in the morning made my final crossing back into South Africa.

I drove down the coastal route to a town called St. Lucia. I vividly remember the cultural shock of suddenly being back in a 1st world country. Everything was familiar, but it also seemed very strange. I pulled into a typical South African shopping mall and parked outside a coffee shop called Mugg & Bean where I had a full English breakfast and some decent coffee. Zambia has some of the best coffee I have ever drunk, but Malawi and Mozambique have awful coffee, if indeed the brown liquid I drank really was coffee. I was a little taken aback about being back where the supermarkets are full of luxury good, the petrol is real 95 octane stuff, and the coffee was real.

I decided to push onto Durban as I was invited to stay with a friend. The first thing I did when I arrived was to get a pint of Guinness in a pub by the sea and I still have a picture of me, pint in hand, looking a bit worse for wear. I was very grateful to get a proper bed, a decent shower, and a delicious meal with good South African wine.

In the morning I decided to make a detour to Lesotho and climb up into the mountainous landlocked country from the Drakensburg up along the Sani Pass. I have done this route a few times since, but this first time was the best and I breezed up the twisty pass without difficulty. I rode for many kilometres across a very remote and very cold plateau, passed by very basic cattle farms and farmers wearing thick blankets, though steep twisty roads and passes and towards the source of the Orange River. Eventually after after a couple of days I rode down the pass at Telle Bridge and revisited a pretty Afrikaner town called Lady Grey, a place I stayed a few years earlier.

I stayed in the same hotel, had breakfast at the same Lady Grey cricket club house, and then headed through Umtata to the Transkei’s Wild Coast that I hiked along back in 2002. I wanted to revisit Port St.John’s, The Kraal, Hole in the Wall, and Coffee Bay.

It took me nearly three weeks back then, encountering Puff Adders on the trails, Zambezi Sharks in the estuaries, armed robbers in the woods, lightening strikes, and several days of fever. Now on my KTM I skimmed across the gravel roads, past Xhosa traditional huts, across rivers and streams and arrived in Coffee Bay by early evening. Again I camped at a very nice backpackers, called the Coffee Shack that was pretty much as I remembered it.

I now had the final leg of the journey and it is at this point that my bike developed a serious problem that I had probably caused by over tightening the chain. The front and rear sprockets were now seriously worn, to the point that the teeth were bent over or worn nearly away. The chain was now missing many of the O-rings and starting to disintegrate, and worse, the chain had gauged a nasty groove in the swing arm, removing the plastic guards and cutting deep into the aluminium. Not good.

I still had a journey ahead of me of about 1000 kilometers down the garden route through the cities of East London, Port Elizabeth, Knysna, and George all the way to Swellendam, which I not only did with a chain on the verge of disintegrating, but in heavy traffic on the N2 highway, and in extremely heavy rain.

Given the limitations of my riding gear I was frozen to the core and completely soaked through.

At a reduced speed it took me two days solid, stopping in Knysna along the way.  When I got to Swellendam, having been stopped by the local traffic police at road blocks three times on my last day, I still had to ride the very last 80 kilometers across the windy farmlands of the Overberg, back to my home in Arniston.

It was a strange feeling to pull into my driveway at the southern most tip of Africa. My house suddenly seemed very luxurious and comfortable indeed, and it was odd to be sleeping in my own bed with the rhythmic sound of the waves churning over the pebbles and rocks on the beach below.  There was no reception committee, no one was around, in fact no one was particularly interested in what I had done, but I felt a huge sense of achievement.

Coming to the end of the expedition did make me feel a bit “low” and I was out of sorts, but all that subsided after a few days as I got back into the swing of things, keeping myself busy, cleaning things up, putting stuff away, morning swims, a bit of fishing, and going for long runs along stunningly beautiful stretches of sandy beaches with only Seagulls, Black Oyster Catchers, Arctic Terns, Cormorants, and the occasional Southern Right Whale to keep me company.

I often flicked through the photographs of the trip on my laptop and relived and reminisced about the many wonderful moments, the interesting people I met, the amazing things I saw, the tough challenges, and the sheer excitement of a real adventure. Nobody can take that away from you.

After about a week I left Arniston and rode my trusty war horse 200 kilometers to Cape Town. I had to nurse the bike back extremely gently as the chain was completely shot, no O-rings left at all, and it was sliding on the worn out sprockets. I literally crawled into the KTM workshop where the chain finally gave up the ghost. That’s perfect timing for you. Over the next few days the damaged swing arm was replaced, it got a new set of tyres, and a brand new chain and sprocket set. My wonderful motorcycle looked like new again and ready for another adventure.

But all that would have to wait. I had a completely different sort of adventure waiting for me in Beijing!

 

 

 

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North Zambia

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North Zambia as the sun was going down… must find a camping spot

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The view from my place at Lake Nyasa in Malawi

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Breakfast

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Local boys swimming outside my hut

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My home for a few days in Malawi

 

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A biking couple I met in Malawi… Riding Honda Bajas 250s from UK down west of Africa

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Honda 250 Baja near our tents in Malawi

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My friends having a go on a proper bike

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Monkey

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Malawian boys football league

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Ferry across Lake Nyasa

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Mango tree … Malawi

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Typical sandy roads

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The laundromat… Malawi/Mozambique

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Local boys visiting my tent

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Dug out canoes on Lake Nyasa, Malawi

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Lots of these blue tailed lizards in Malawi

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Schools out for summer

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Lots of baobab trees

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Cape McClear

 

 

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My friends at Cape McClear

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Two wheels good

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One of my favourite pictures… filling up fuel in Malawi. Bike looks huge next to the fuel attendant. Note map tucked between seat and tank. No GPS.

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Stalls in South Malawi

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Beach in Malawi

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Rhino near Tanzania/ Zambia border

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One of huts that I lived in …Mozambique

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Beach in Mozambique next to my hut

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Emergency helicopter (casevac) in Malawi

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Local Mozambique people butchering a baby whale that washed up on the beach

 

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One of my favourite pictures …. a typical stretch of sandy road in Mozambique

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Picture taken by me with underwater disposable camera while swimming with Whale sharks in Mozambique

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One of my temporary homes in Mozambique

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Going out diving with Devil rays and Whale sharks in Mozambique

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Camping inside a game reserve in Swaziland where I received a night time visit by a pack of hyenas… possibly most risky camp of the whole trip

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Having a Guinness in Durban, South Africa after long trip …. quite exhausted.

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Video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFTmtSkc6fA&t=4s

 

 

 

Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

Having been unceremoniously thrown off the Chengdu-Chongqing highway by the local rozzers we were faced with at least a days ride to Chongqing along indirect and badly maintained triple digit “G” and “S” roads (i.e. the really really bad ones). Unfortunately, my  GPS had completely given up trying to calculate where we were, let alone set a route to where we wanted to go. It was confused, no doubt by the rapid pace of road construction and deconstruction in this part of the world, and so like all electronic devices when you really need them, had decided to go into “freeze” mode. No amount of shouting and cursing was going to change its mind.

There were many road signs showing the characters 重庆 (Chongqing), but apparently there was no consensus of opinion and they indicated going left, right, back, forward and even up. I couldn’t even tell which was east or west as the sun was hidden behind the smoggy haze that often envelops much of China.  So we stopped to ask for directions.

My carefully constructed questions were met with shrugs, blank stares, embarrassed grins, pointing in all directions, and occasionally dashes for freedom.  Annoyed that my years of Chinese study had come to nothing I asked Fanny to take over the local interrogation, but I soon realized when I heard her doing a Chris Rock like “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT MY MOUTH” that she was getting nowhere either. So we did what all couple’s do when they are completely lost on a road trip. Blame each other.

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

The Bund in Chongqing with the mighty Yangtze River, colourful skyline, barges and impressive bridges.

Our brief, but noisy exchange in the middle of a concrete purgatory drew a bit of a crowd, but did little to help our situation other than blow off a bit of steam. I remembered I had my Casio watch, that up until now I had only used as an altimeter, and so I used the compass function to set a vaguely south east course.

I had studied and become quite good at navigation when I did my Royal Yacht Association Ocean Skippers sailing course some years back in South Africa, but navigation requires a compass AND an accurate map or chart.  We only had a map of the whole of China and a freebie tourist map, neither of which were good enough and so I pointed in a south east direction and declared in Maggie Thatcher style,

‘We go that way and we are not for turning’.

Chongqing

Chongqing province, with its capitol city being one of the largest and most crowded cities in the world.  It is a center for China’s “Go West” policy and famous for heavy manufacturing, especially the growing motor industry. The mighty Yangtze River cuts through the hilly capital city which is navigable all the way to Shanghai. Like Sichuan province, which Chongqing used to be part of until 1997, both of these south western provinces are extremely motorcycle unfriendly and their officials and local government are unruly, unaccountable and institutionally corrupt.  It is the wild west of China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We followed a route that can best be described as “urban off roading”.  Ignoring signs, ignoring traffic signals and heading along whatever surfaces aimed in a generally south east direction. The route took us through scruffy towns and construction sites and occasionally along roads that were still being built. There were often concrete bollards or barriers placed at the entrances and exits to these stretches of virgin concrete and tarmac, but these were no obstacle to two wheels and clearly the local bicycles and scooters had already found some convenient short cuts and so we followed them too.

Surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop us and I was actually beginning to quite enjoying this little bit of adventure riding. Our CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles are technically touring bikes that are in their element cruising along smooth roads, but they seemed perfectly able to tackle the ramps, holes, mud and gravel that we encountered and so we weaved over and through whatever obstacles lay ahead of us.

A bit dangerous in places as the flyovers under construction would occasionally come to an abrupt stop, leaving a high precipice which would definitely be a bad idea to fly off.

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

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As they first said in China, and still do in other parts of the world  “All roads lead to Rome” and in this case all the roads went through Chongqing first. Somehow or another by riding along unfinished roads we had managed to get onto a national highway without passing through any of the tolls.  Also, my GPS came back to life, showing that we had only 35 kilometers to ride into the center of the city. Phew! However, my euphoria was short lived as I saw a tunnel ahead of us and at the entrance were about twenty police and highways officials directing the heavy traffic into various lanes.

I knew they would attempt to stop us, but the traffic had come to a halt and that gave me a chance to covertly weave through the stationary cars and trucks and avoid most of them. One official in a hi-viz jacket caught sight of me and bravely lunged in front of me and so I slowed down, punched my arm in the air and shouted ‘Chelsea’. I couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it worked and as he reared backwards in surprise, I rode around him and entered the tunnel and escaped.

Ha ha! Oh! …..Fanny?. I was hoping she would follow my lead, but as I checked my mirrors there was no sign of her. Maybe she had shouted “Arsenal”. Nobody likes the “Gooners” in China and I had to agree that would be cause enough to lock her up.  There was no sign of her as I rode through the entire five kilometers of the busy highway tunnel and as I exited in the outskirts of Chongqing I was immediately faced with a dilemma.

The highway divided.  Four lanes going left and four going right and so I stopped, a bit precariously, right up against the central concrete divider with traffic hurtling both sides of me and waited, and waited and waited. Unlike throughout most of the expedition I actually had a charged up mobile phone, with a local SIM card inside, and there was a strong signal and so I called her, but there was no reply. Tamade! I had made a stupid mistake because I did not know where we were going to stay that evening as Fanny dealt with all those sort of thing in China.  I guessed it was probably near the Chongqing International Exhibition Center, but I didn’t really know where I was going and I couldn’t leave Fanny lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. What if she really had been detained or had had an accident?

I was starting to get anxious when I saw the headlights of Fanny’s bike emerge from the heavily congested tunnel and she pulled up behind me as traffic whizzed by either side of us.  I asked what happened and she said the police stopped her, but she explained that she was with the “lao wai” on the bike ahead and must follow otherwise we would get really lost.  ‘In the end they just let me go’, she explained, but continued, ‘What did you shout? They thought you were mad’.

East

Eastwards…..

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After programming the GPS with the location of the hotel that the Chunfeng Moto delegation had booked us into near the exhibition center we cruised along Chongqing’s  city highways down to the formidable Yangtze River and crossed one of the many outrageously enormous bridges than spans it into the commercial heart of the city where we eventually found our hotel. After settling in, there was only one thing to do. Have some hotpot (火锅), the quintessentially Chongqing dish.

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

Chongqing City centre looks pretty much like most other large city centres in the world. Absolutely heaving with people, very noisy,  busy public squares, bright advertising lights, sky scrapers, heavy traffic congestion and poor air quality.  However, everything is on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world and, stating the obvious, “Very Chinese”.

There are restaurants everywhere from small “da pai dang“, palatial “fan dian”  to fast food stall, including not only local Chinese snacks, but western fast food chains like the ubiquitous “mai dan lao” (McDonalds) and “ken de ji” (KFC).  Also, in the early mornings and evenings thousands of middle aged and elderly women fill the public spaces and practice synchronized  “line dancing” or “tai ji quan” to a cacophony of music ranging from traditional Chinese folk, Canto pop, Western classical, trance anthems, bass and drum and hip hop.  It is extremely popular throughout China. Sometimes hundreds of couples practice ball room dancing in the streets as well. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I think I can very safely say Chinese people love food and love noise.

I too love Chinese food, but increasingly as I get older I hate noise and if I can will avoid crowds like the plague. I had to admit I was hoping to get the next few days in Chongqing over and done with, but the reason we were in Chongqing was to meet our kind sponsors and participate in the China International Motorcycle Exhibition. I knew it was a showcase for the Chinese motorcycle industry and would be a far cry from the bike shows in London or Italy.

There would be no KTMs, nor the latest European or Japanese speed machines on display, but I like motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, even if they are all 125cc.   Fanny was very excited though, not least because she would meet her friends from CF Moto and many of her growing fan club.  Quite rightly many Chinese are proud of her motorcycling achievements and she was looking forward to the attention. She is a woman after all. So, I put on my happy face and got stuck in.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will ride in Hong Kong.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013.  The white fox hat might not be needed though.

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

"And there we were heroically riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti" blah blah blah ......

“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……

The last time we faced our lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

Fanny facing the press

Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.

Heaven forbid I am becoming politically correct... but what is this bimbo doing on a motorcycle. Pointy end forward, pet

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

And free of charge our demonstration rider "Mad Max"  putting the 650 NK through its paces. A wheelie, perhaps?

Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from Rupert, but from Hu Hai who really knows what he's doing.

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from me, but from Hu Hai (CF Moto’s stunt rider) who really knows what he’s doing.

Hu Hai on the ATV doing ... what do you call it? ... a sidey?

Hu Hai on the ATV doing … what do you call it? … a sidey?

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Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.

And what's this idiot doing?

Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK. This is bike Fanny will ride in Hong Kong next year to get to and from work.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.

Fanny on a bike like ours... the touring CF Moto 650 TR. It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon.

Fanny on a touring CF Moto 650 TR like the ones we rode 12,000 kilometers across China It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon in this diary.

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

CF Moto is famous for these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

CF Moto is famous for manufacturing these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

I used to have one of these ... if I ever get job again I will get another.

I used to have one of these … if I ever get job or money again I will get another.

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese magazines and also publishes a very good blogg at www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Having dinner with imotor.com

Having dinner with http://www.imotor.com.cn

getting into the mood ..can't stay  grumpy with all these bikes to play with

Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke  … or a ????

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev'It kit. www.527motor.com.cn

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn

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Beijing Motoway Motorcycle
http://www.527motor.com.cn

Gary from Yingang motorcycles.  If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers on a tank and take one spanner with you then the Yingang 125 is the way to go.

The charismatic and entrepreneurial Gary from Yingang motorcycles. If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers out of a single tank of petrol and just take one spanner with you, then the Yingang 125 may be the way to go.

The Yingang 125 adventure bike... its go around the world and keep going on vapours. But will you?

The Yingang 125 adventure bike… it’ll go around the world, cost very little to buy, is cheap as chips to run and very easy to maintain.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the press.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the Chinese motorcycle press.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford them and drink in their club, but not for the light of pocket. The bikes and a drink in their club (above). Unfortunately, far too expensive for Fanny and I.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford their motorcycles, accessories, and shiny bits and bobs, and to drink and eat in their club (above) in Chongqing. Far too expensive for Fanny and I …which I guess is a good thing as I look really daft in leather and tassels.

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

CF Moto's stunt rider -- Hu Hai  ( or as I call him Hu Li  Gan) ... I have seen many stunt riders and none as passionate, fun and skillful as Hu. Great guy.

CF Moto’s stunt rider — Hu Hai ( or as I call him Hu Li Gan) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.

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We had three days at the Chongqing China International Motorcycle Show and we both enjoyed ourselves in the end. But, clearly starting to show the signs of becoming a rather fat and prosperous looking, it was time for me to stop wining and dining and for us to get going again.  As motorcycles are banned, not only in Chongqing, but on all the highways in Chongqing and Sichuan, Fanny had been in discussions with many experienced bikers about the best possible route out of Chongqing towards Yichang in Hubei province. It was decided we would leave very early in the morning to escape the traffic and get onto the G50 highway, as many large bike riders from the east of China were planning to do, and had done in the past with success. If we could get out of Chongqing and into Hubei we would be OK as motorcycles are allowed on highways in Hubei province, and indeed later in Anhui.

We got out of Chongqing City quite quickly as it was early and rode through the toll of the G 50 highway without too much hassle from the officials, but after 20 minutes of riding along the highway I saw some officials in hi-viz jackets run into the carriageway and wave their arms about. I slowed down, but easily rode passed them. I then looked at my mirror expecting Fanny to do the same and was absolutely astonished and shocked to see one of the officials pick up a two foot high traffic cone and throw it with force at Fanny’s bike,  causing her to come off and skid on her side with bike on top of her for several meters.

I screeched to a halt in the middle of the three lane highway,  U-turned and rode back to her. I couldn’t really hear what the officials were saying as I ran up to Fanny, but I saw she was crying and had clearly hurt herself. Her bike looked damaged, but not too seriously. I picked Fanny up and checked her out and she seemed more shocked than injured ( a few bad bruises as it turned out) and then I saw the official who threw the cone.  He immediately put on a show of bravado, but he was clearly nervous as he suddenly realized I was a foreigner and extremely angry. I charged up to him like a raging bull, and really considered thumping him, but controlled myself. I was desperately thinking of what to say in Chinese and all that came out of my mouth was a rather lame and pathetic admonishment. In the heat of the moment my Mandarin let me down and all I could think of calling him was a “bad egg“.

One of officials who throw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph... causing her to come off.

One of officials who was involved in throwing a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph… causing her to come off.  It says “Traffic” on his hi-viz jacket. Irresponsible beyond words.

Huai dan ... the bad egg who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he deserved... I took this picture.

The 坏蛋 … the actual “bad egg” who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he thoroughly deserved… I took this picture.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

When I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid eighties all the expatriate Inspectors had to learn Cantonese, and of course the first thing we learnt were all the swear words (of which there are many good ones that are frequently used). This was followed by chat up phrases so we could attempt (and always fail) to impress the local talent. My Mandarin, however, was learnt at Tsinghua University  in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions, and although I can chat almost fluently about magical phoenix(s) in mysterious forests and use impressive “cheng yu” (idioms) that nobody really needs, my “ma ren de hua” (cursing ability) is extremely poor.  My “How do you say?” requests to become more acquainted with China’s more colourful and fruity expressions have always been met with embarrassed chuckles from my teachers and Chinese friends. Fanny is no help either as  I rarely hear her say anything impolite. In fact, mainland Chinese are much more polite and cultured than the southerners or Hongkongers and so there is a big void in my Putonghua street credibility. Perhaps its a good thing. Of course it is.

So, having used up all the “egg” terms I could think of I reverted to tried, trusted and universally understood Anglo Saxon, took some pictures of the offending officials and got Fanny back on her bike as quickly as possible before anyone else turned up. I know all too well in China that things can escalate quickly as indignation rises and face is lost. Fanny’s bike was damaged on one side, as bikes with plastic fairing tend to be after a crash, but it seemed 100% roadworthy and so we made our escape as the officials got onto their mobile phones to plan their alibis and excuses.

I remember years ago in Hong Kong getting stopped on my motorcycle at a police  roadblock. I had done nothing wrong but I guess they needed to make up their numbers and in Hong Kong a police officer in uniform needs no justification to stop anyone. Strangely, and very unfairly they had waved on a Mercedes Benz luxury car that had dangerously cut me up and stopped me instead. I remember it vividly because it was on the very same day my son had been officially diagnosed with autism and so I had “gone off” on my bike to collect my thoughts and reflect on the lack of prospects that lay ahead for us all. Of course I was not in a particularly happy mood and unwisely remonstrated against the police officers’ surly behaviour and unfair actions towards me. This was a very bad idea as at the time I was also a police officer, more senior in rank, and a 鬼佬 (‘foreign devil’) to boot.  So, in order to protect themselves from a potential complaint from me they embellished a damaging story against me instead, and to cut a sad and long story short I ended up getting disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and was thrown to the dogs. Life is unfair sometimes, but the lesson learnt was that the police, not just in China or Hong Kong, are not shy in making something up to protect their necks, and as a foreigner or outsider one is always in a much weaker and vulnerable position.  As hard as it is, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation, swallow your pride and turn on your tail, regardless of the provocation.

As we rode away along the rather deserted highway I suspected that this was not going to be the end of matters and I was right. At the next toll we rode through the gap in the barrier, as all motorbikes do, and a group of about twenty uniformed traffic police ran frantically up to me and surrounded my bike, much like pit crews do when a Formula One racing car pulls into the pits. Clearly they were waiting for us, but Fanny was not in a good mood and she explained in no uncertain terms what happened earlier, but the traffic police seemed uninterested and completely unconcerned. To them, riding a motorcycle on a highway was a much more heinous offence than deliberately causing a road traffic accident and injury. Initially I though Fanny would be able to explain the seriousness of the incident and we would be allowed to carry on, but that was not to be. We both got a first hand lesson about the lawlessness of officials in Chongqing.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged... but could have been worse.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged… but could have been worse.

Despite being on the road for nearly 18 months, we had both heard the recent stories about organised crime in Chongqing and about the scandal of Bo Xilai and his wife who had murdered a British businessman. Clearly this unethical tone at the top had permeated throughout all of the public sector in Chongqing and government officials and the police alike were unaccountable for whatever their actions might be.  I was resigned to just getting off the highway and escaping these fools, but Fanny was very very angry and quite rightly so. Someone had tried to seriously injure her and it could have been very serious indeed. After an hour of arguing the toss, our fate was clear. No action would be taken against the officials whose reckless behaviour could have killed Fanny, and we were being kicked off yet another Chinese highway in the middle of no where.

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

I had regained my composure and while Fanny was alternating between crying and arguing I had structured a little speech that I gave to the most senior officer in as calm and articulate manner as I could. I told him about the accomplishments of Fanny–a fellow Chinese citizen, a woman and a proud ambassador for China throughout the world, and that a Chinese law enforcement officer had deliberately tried to injure her. Not only had she been injured, but her motorcycle had been damaged, she had lost serious face and the actions of the officer were reprehensible. It was quite a speech, grammar a bit dodgy in places, but it hit the spot and the officer literally rocked and recoiled on his feet. He made an attempt by telephone to persuade more senior officers to allow us to continue, but alas it was not to be and so we were escorted off the highway literally onto a sand track in the middle of very rural Chongqing.

Where are we?

Where are we?

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

I think at this stage both Fanny and I were hoping we could get the trip over and done with. I assumed the most interesting riding in China was behind us and all we had ahead was a slog of 2000 kilometers plus eastwards to Shanghai. Riding on the highways, unlike motorcycling in other parts of the world, is actually quite enjoyable as the route passes smoothly through valleys and mountains and you have time to take in the view as you cruise along. Riding off the highways was a battle of survival against appalling traffic and road conditions. In my mind Chongqing province was just another sprawling conurbation of concrete and chaos. How wrong I was.

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

The stress of the previous few hours was starting to fade, and although technically we were still lost I think both of us could not care less. We rode along a sand track for a while until it stopped and became farmer’s field and went no further. Like many roads in rural China it was no longer used as the highways now took the bulk of the traffic. I looked at the only maps we had of the area, one a freebie tourist one that Fanny used, but was pretty useless for navigation, and the other showed the whole of China that only reminded us we were right in the middle. I looked at the GPS and it showed a red line of the highway we had been turfed off and nothing else at all except the mighty Yangtze River and its tributaries meandering all over the place.  I surveyed the land around us we were surrounded by green fields, small thatched farm houses, small streams, rice terraces, and quite steep mountain slopes which were covered in mist. It looked like one of those Chinese paintings of idyllic rural landscapes and I think we both accepted that our China adventure was far from over.

Lots of different types of bamboo...  and other grasses

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

I am a true country boy and  life here moved at the pace I like

I am a true country boy and life here moved at the pace I like.

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Our meandering around the villages of rural Chongqing was very pleasant, but we seemed to be making no progress at all and so I made a concerted effort to try and work out where we were by asking the locals. For some bizarre reason I was having more success asking directions than Fanny. I think foreigners who speak Chinese as a second language can guess the meaning of people who speak with strong regional dialects better than say a native speaker from elsewhere in China. I knew Fanny was having trouble with the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, as opposed to me who was having trouble with all of them.  Anyway, we decided to adopt a “get from village to village approach” and get to the border with Hubei even if it meant traveling in the opposite direction to get around the mountains ranges. It might take three days rather than three hours but we were OK with that.  We had accepted that against our original plan we were now exploring a part of China very few people will ever go to. It doesn’t really feature as a tourist attraction, despite being infinitely more interesting, beautiful and tranquil than the so called official tourist destinations.

Cruising

Cruising …

Still cruising ... where the streets have no name sort of thing

Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We rode through many beautiful villages and some how or another were gradually making tracks in an easterly direction. We took each village as it came and asked for directions to the next passing over mountain and through valleys and paddy fields. We were aiming for Fengdu where we planned to spend the night. It is located on the banks of the Yangtze River and in China is known for its “Ghost Culture“, hence its called China’s Ghost City.  Fanny found a pretty good hotel and after a good spicy catfish hotpot we went for a walk along the banks of the river and saw many of the locals dancing the evening away in the public squares.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square i the evening.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.

More ghosts dancing in Fengdu.... they really like dancing

More ghosts in Fengdu…. its true.. they all come out at night and it seems they really like dancing.

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River. When its grey , its really grey in China.

We could see the highway high up above us... passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges for many miles.

We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

IMG_0536

Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

This part of China near ShiZhuTuJia mountain ( 石柱土家)

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

IMG_0592

Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding

Goes on a bit

Goes on a bit

Fanny trying to avoid another mudbath

Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud. On the right is the G50 highway which we are banned from riding on..       Of course, who wouldn’t want to go this way?  Its the spirit of free adventure motorcycling, so we’re told.

Passing under the G50... its for wimps

Passing under the G50… its for wimps

If we had gone on the highway we would have missed this little chap's happy smiling face.

Look .. its a ... (but you'll never know because you were on the highway.)

Look .. its a … (but you’ll never know because you were on the highway)

get off my land....

“ge roff roff my land….”

or I'll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti

“….or I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.

I hope you like corn on the cob.

corn on the cob.

or chili ..

or chili ..

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Rising up into HuangShui (Yellow water) national park at border with Hubei

Rising up into Huang Shui (Yellow Water) National Park at border with Hubei

So China

So China

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

Agricultural Artwork

Agricultural Artwork

Deserves a second picture

Crossing beautiful valleys and rivers… very remote … very few people.

China... a place of stark contrasts

China… a place of stark contrasts.

IMG_0688

Crossing another valley and up into mountains .. surrounded by autumn colours.

Look back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

Looking back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I found it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I later researched it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

Forget at Fengdu, this is the real ghost town in Chongqing. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Forget about Fengdu , this is a real ghost town. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Remote farm houses

Local farm houses

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

One of the first humans we had seen for a while. Not often you can say that in China.

One of the few humans we had seen. Not often you can say that in China.

Our last mountain pass before we ride into Hubei. Misty up at about 2000 meters and we encountered very few people.

Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.

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The ride through eastern Chongqing was awesome. Fate had forced us off the highway and into a part of China that it seems few people venture into…because of the efficient highway system I suppose. We thoroughly recommend anyone wanting to experience an unspoiled trip back into the rural China of old to visit.

Next…….

…. a bizarre and enjoyable encountered with the Hubei traffic police, a long long night of riding in the dark and rain, the Three Gorges Dam project, idyllic rural Anhui, my first puncture, and arriving back in Fanny’s hometown of Shanghai and the end of our big bike trip (for now).

Chapter 15 – He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

So… did we do Turkey for Christmas?  Alas No.

Syria and Libya were descending into civil war and chaos, all the ferries from Egypt had been cancelled, and Fanny was not allowed to ride or drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia (not for being Chinese, but because she’s a woman!). 

Also, the prospects of motorcycling in Europe during the freezing cold winter were not particularly appealing to either of us and so we decided to stay in Dahab, a small and beautiful town in the Sinai on the west coast of the Gulf of Aqaba….at least until the end of February when, one way or the other, we would have to get our KTMs and ourselves across the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.

After a moderate amount of hassle and a few long detours to various government offices in El Tur, Cairo, Sharm El Sheikh and Nuweiba we extended both our Egyptian visas and our bike permits for a few more months.  This included Fanny, because she is a Chinese citizen, having to be interviewed by the head of the Sinai’s “Security Police”  which involved Fanny not being interviewed at all, and the Chief and I swapping police stories over tea in his office for several hours.

The force is strong, young globetrotter.

Whilst we were in “form filling” mood Fanny also managed to extend her British visa in Cairo and so Dahab with its sunny weather, reasonably cheap accommodation and Red Sea activity is where we slummed out Christmas, Chinese New Year and the worst of the northern hemisphere winter.

We also managed to extend our stay at our apartment at a fraction of what similar accommodation would have cost anywhere else in the world. We chose a German owned apartment as opposed to any Egyptian run place because Fanny is allergic to sewage coming out the shower head and being electrocuted by all the appliances. She’s fussy like that.

We also got our bikes serviced at the very impressive KTM service centre down in Sharm El Sheikh and they did an excellent job, although the bike service parts and oil are hard to come by in Egypt because of high import taxes and a loused up economy and so it was not cheap.

More details on all the technical stuff of our bikes and kit in the “Bikes and Equipment” page of this diary.

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

Look Fanny … mini pyramids

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Relaxing next to the sea at one of hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops along the Dahab front

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right  next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our apartment.. nothing worked in it and it was a health and safety nightmare .. but it was right next to the sea and the views were amazing..

Our garden

Our garden

Riding around in the Sinai on our motorcycles

The Sinai desert is absolutely stunning, but locations near its human occupants are often dirty, scruffy and littered with human detritus, such as this abandoned tank… or is it an armored personnel carrier?

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Our home for the winter… Dahab… a narrow band of human development between the beautiful Red Sea and the bone dry red mountains of the Sinai

Attack of the goats

Christmas in Dahab.

Sunsets and sunrises were always spectacular times of the day

Fanny learning to windsurf

The KTM garage (background) and enduro race track in Sharm El Sheikh

The super staff at the KTM Centre in Sharm El Sheikh where we serviced our motorcycles.

Learning to dive with my very patient instructor,  Laura from H2O Divers

Laura and I preparing to dive – PADI Open water and Advanced Open water courses with H2O in Dahab. I was not particularly good at scuba diving as I suffer slightly from claustrophobia and thrash about too much and consume too much air. Later after many failed attempts to teach me to conserve air the dive masters gave up trying and decided to give me huge yellow air tanks… far larger than anyone else’s.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

http://www.h2odiversdahab.com/ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-tJRZueVSU

So what have we been up to?  Well serious idling of course. When there was nothing on Fox Movies (the only English TV channel) and nothing to do to the bikes, we mooched about town chatting to people and wandering around.

Fanny became immersed in local life and community and was greeted with “ni hao?” where ever she went and occasionally “konnichiwa,” which she wasn’t so keen about. Through her Chinese websites she had become “our woman in Egypt” and was an unpaid ambassador and fixer for the increasing number of visiting Chinese to the Sinai peninsular.

 

I kept myself reasonably occupied and did manage to get my PADI Open water, and indeed Advanced Open water diving qualifications. Swimming with the marine life in the Red Sea is fascinating, unworldly even, but the real joy of diving is that you don’t have to listen to or talk with anyone for 50 minutes while you bob about underwater looking at seaslugs, coral and your depth gauge.

Fanny persevered and mastered windsurfing, but I abandoned learning to kite surf.

Whilst I am pretty good at handling and controlling kites and parafoils–through many years of paragliding I suppose–no amount of time was going to keep me upright on a wake board on top of the sea and I got fed up being dragged through the water inhaling plankton …and so I  jacked it in. A man’s gotta know his limits. My other activity was annoying the local police on my KTM as I cruised about in my standard Sinai biking configuration of flip flops and shorts, refusing to stop and refusing to pay bribes.

The incompetence of the local old bill was only matched by their colleagues in the ubiquitous Egyptian military.  How they must miss their despot dictator, but at least Mubarek told them which end of a falafel to start eating and stopped their incessant bickering.  Now they wander around like lost souls with only calls to prayer and loading their AK 47 rifle magazines to occupy them. Pointy ends forward, chaps.

As well as practicing my sand riding and off road motorcycling, I decided to get back into serious running mode, get fit and so found some amazing runs in the desert mountains that surround Dahab. The only fly in the ointment was that I became aware of a creature called the Burton’s Carpet Viper that makes its home in south Sinai.

Damn those Wikipedia people — I was quite happy in blissful ignorance.  Apparently, this evil viper is a monster of legend and is lurking in every nook and cranny and under every stone in the desert, poised to give anyone who crosses its path an agonising death.

If I am to believe the numerous emails from my friends and former colleagues in the Big 4 forensic accounting practices and consultancies around the planet this might be preferable to going back to work, but even so, evil vipers that one doesn’t share children with? It doesn’t bare thinking about.

Serious idling

Fanny windsurfing in the lagoon.

Back in Dahab

The view from our apartment in Dahab

Dogs and cats run amok in Dahab.. it’s a bit like Mui Wo on Lantau Island.

Moggy and I writing up this blog in our apartment in Dahab. How do you spell “kat”?

Look “Health and Safety” Brits… no green hi viz jacket and no safety goggles either.

A truly daft pose in the desert mountains (pic by Gary Corbett)

Lion fish … no touching

Going for an evening ride in the mountains …. and another wonderful evening sky in Dahab. The KTM 990 Adventure R is such a superb bike. They have taken us across Africa without any problems at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the interest of my continuing pursuit of Mandarin fluency, I continued to work on my Chinese everyday and wrote some rather basic articles for various magazines and websites which seemed to be appreciated by my three followers. Fanny was also very busy with articles for various publications and continued in her attempt to secure sponsorship to cover the pricey entry fees for both of us and our KTM bikes to enter into China, but times are tough and I suspect that the funding will never materialise. I am inclined to miss out riding into China and finish our trip in Europe unless Fanny achieves the impossible.  She is very determined though, has a following of more than three million people and has some influential people and Chinese PR companies on the case so you never know. (Note: we did ride 13,000 kilometers across China in the end .. but on CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles which were excellent)

Video links to China and Africa below-

http://youtu.be/XjPi7XJ9xdc

It seemed I was not the only Englishman to find refuge in Dahab during the winter months and we became close pals with two others.  One a retired and rather smashed up former 22 Regiment Special Air Service non-commissioned officer in his 70s from Merseyside and the other a chap about the same age as myself from East London who was studying for an Anthropology degree at Oxford University and in the distant past would have been a Metropolitan Police C11 (flying squad) target.

So…  an ex special forces soldier cum dive master, a London blagger cum academic, a Chinese intelligence specialist cum biker chick and a Hong Kong cop cum forensic accountant … what an eclectic bunch to hang out together drinking Bedouin tea and putting the world to rights.

Occasionally when the internet was running I would chat with friends around the world on Skype, including my friend, Nick Dobson and his Dad, Chris, a former Daily Telegraph war correspondent, war historian and author.  On one call Chris Senior reminisced back to the late 60s and early 70s when he rode on the back of an Israeli tank through many of the places we had ridden our bikes in the Sinai.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/3710300916/ref=cm_cr_rev_prod_title

Amazing tales.  So, friendly and chaotic Egyptians running Sinai, or grumpy and efficient Israelis?  Seems you can’t have everything in life… but perhaps the Egyptians have it. We like friendly.

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name … “not” an internet search term!

Our buddie, Tony

Andrew Durant and I exploring  Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

Our respective landships parked up in Dahab

Andrew and I go for ride through the Sinai desert to St Catherine’s monastery

Diver Rupert & Windsurfer Fanny

The H2O team doing a clean up dive of bay (Tony, Andrew Durant and myself included)

 

I also spent time with an old colleague from my Arthur Andersen days who has now become a serious motorcycle fan, with five very nice bikes in his garage in Kent, UK and an assortment of off-road and track courses under his belt. Apparently arriving to work in Surrey Street, London on my Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa one day sparked off his interest in bikes.  And quite right too… awesome bike.

Andrew came out to Dahab for a few days vacation, mainly to scuba dive, but we took the KTMs out for a spin to Saint Catherine’s monastery– which lies just below Mount Sinai where the Old Testament says Moses received the ten commandments.

Although it was very a bright and sunny day in the desert, it was uncomfortably cold on the motorcycles in the morning shadows and I should have worn many more layers of clothes. However beautiful the surroundings, it really is miserable being cold on a motorcycle.

We toured around the fascinating monastery buildings and then on the way back to the coast I had a big wobble on a bend in the middle of the desert.

I initially thought I had veered into one of the large cracks that the desert diurnal temperature difference makes in the road surface through continual expansion and contraction. But after wobbling to a stop I discovered that I had in fact picked up a six inch nail in my back Pirelli tyre.

To exacerbate my misfortune I had left all the tyre levers, the air pump and puncture repair kit back in the panniers back at the apartment in Dahab and so we managed to flag down a Bedouin pick-up “bakkie” and load my bike onto the back and return 100kms + to Dahab.  It required manoeuvring the bike from a small sand embankment onto a flat back truck and then pushing the bike off the flat back onto the back of the pick up and securing it with my tow rope.

Off roading

Off roading in the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Six inch nail embedded in my back tyre in middle of Sinai desert… annoying!

Fanny, myself and friends from China in Dahab

We had to take ferry up Lake Nasser (dammed upstream) of the Nile from Wadi Halfa in Sudan to Aswan in Egypt. I would have loved to have ridden this part of north Egypt, but the human inhabitants have some scam going on so that you cannot actually ride across the border. In Egypt we would run into literally hundreds of police and military road blocks across the entire country.  we would

 

Like my home in the small village of Arniston on the southern tip of Africa, each day in Dahab was like an episode of  BBC Radio 4’s “The Archers”, but without all the British mealie mouthed political correctness and popularized deviance.

Always some minor drama that got all the locals excited and yet in the big scale of things, irrelevant and unimportant. The real troubles in Cairo seemed a long way away.

I am not sure how long one has to stay somewhere before a place becomes “I lived in” rather than “I stayed at”.  Perhaps being given the  local “German Bakery” coffee shop discount card was a defining  moment in permanent residency.

Fanny got heavily involved with helping visiting Chinese find accommodation, transport and general assistance in return for them bringing in supplies from China.  Such supplies included a new Canon camera to replace the one I dropped, a helmet video camera to replace the GoPro that was stolen outside the Mosque, and an intercom set kindly donated by a Chinese OEM manufacturer. We also got very welcome supplies like Chinese spices, chili sauce, green tea, food ingredients and daft but useful things like flip-flops.

I checked out a few more dive sites in the Red Sea and got into the swing of scuba diving, free diving and snorkeling, but was getting itchy feet to go exploring again and so I decided that since we were unable to travel through Syria on the bikes that I would hike through Jordan and Israel and to the Syrian border to do a recce and generally do the tourist thing.

Fanny was not really interested in backpacking and sleeping rough in ditches (no idea why), and had friends coming over for Chinese New Year and so she decided to relax and hold the fort in Dahab. I packed a very small rucksack lent to me by our lovely landlady, Beatte (from Germany) and took an early local bus to Nuweiba where I hoped to catch the ferry to Aqaba in Jordan, which is just north of the border with Saudi Arabia.

I very much wanted to ride my bike but the temporary import duties and custom fees for Jordan and Israel were far too expensive, especially the fees to get back into Egypt and so I decided to travel light and use public transport instead. When I got to Nuweiba it was full of Syrian trucks queuing up to take the ferry to Jordan.

I wandered through the port and up to the ferry which was moored up and chatted with various drivers who all seemed very friendly and told me all about their woes in Syria.  I was very disappointed we could not travel through Syria and as each day passed the situation seemed to get worse and worse.

Two hours after the ferry should have set sail we were invited to board and my passport was checked and I was sent back to immigration as somehow or another I had managed to navigate myself around every single security, customs and immigration check point in the port during my walkabout.

Passport now stamped with an exit chop I boarded the ferry and after settling down I realized I was the only non-Arab passenger on the ship.

As we cross the Gulf of Aqaba we sailed close to the deserted coast of Saudi Arabia, a country that looked, at least from the sea,  pretty much like other parts of the Sinai.  However, because of the restrictions imposed by Saudi’s ultra extremist inhabitants could have been the far side of the moon.

As I scanned the deserted coast I pondered that the diving must be absolutely glorious because Saudis just hang about in air-conditioned shopping malls and rarely venture away from creature comforts.  It seemed strange that it is a land that Fanny is not allowed to ride her bike in. Indeed I don’t think women are allowed to do very much at all except hide in the shadows and make new little Saudis.

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

Another road block

Another road block

Fanny and I loaded up and parked up for another great Egyptian lunch

On the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

The Saudi coast.. looking very barren. Everyone is in the city shopping malls buying Victoria Secret’s knickers.

Huge Jordanian flag flying above Aqaba. Could see it for miles

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

On arrival at Aqaba port I was given a free visa, but I had to wait for an hour as the immigration officer had left his post and gone AWL.  As the only foreigner, and indeed only person left in the terminal I paced around looking at the numerous pictures of King Abdullah II Al Hussein that adorned the walls of the arrival hall.  In fact his portrait is all over Jordan and he always looked cheerful and well dressed in western suits, Arab finery, or more often than not in various types of military uniform with a chest full of medals that he had actually earned through military service as a young man.

The King is a well-educated chap and has been recognised for promoting progressive policies, economic growth and social reform since he came to the throne. Rare qualities in a leader and a stark contrast with Jordan’s neighbours.

As I exited the port I was descended upon by a huge number of touts and taxi drivers and to their surprise I sprinted away into the darkness of the desert. My escape and evasion was successful, but a few minutes later I realized my mistake as Aqaba town was actually about 8 kilometers away from the port and so I orientated myself, programmed my GPS and started my hike along a well made but deserted motorway into the town.

Actually I had walked only a few kilometers when a friendly bus driver picked me up and dropped me off in town by the biggest flag pole I had ever seen with a tennis court sized flag billowing in the wind… a flag I would later see from miles away on the Israel side of the border.

I wandered around town and found a restaurant that served excellent sheesh kebabs and barbecued chicken, after which I wandered around a bit more looking for a place to rough camp in my sleeping bag.

The town was very modern and had lots of bars and clubs and fast food outlets, but there was something strange about Aqaba that I could not immediately fathom and then it dawned on me. There were no women. I suppose there were woman, but definitely not on the streets after sunset.

I inquired about staying in a hotel and found out another interesting fact… it is bloody expensive in Jordan and so I found a quiet bit of beach, unpacked my sleeping bag and went to sleep. One of the joys and freedoms of traveling alone.

I woke many times in the night as you do when you are roughing it on an uneven surface and was quite pleased when I saw the red glow of dawn and got up and headed to where I had been told the mini buses go to Petra.  I found one, but it was not moving until it was full and the only occupant so far was a Chinese guy from Canada called Yee.

We decided we would upgrade and share a taxi and entered into negotiations with a local driver. Eventually we agreed on a trip to Wadi Rum, where we would stay for half a day to look around and then continue on to Petra. I found out that Yee also lived in Shanghai and worked for Disney Education.

Whilst Yee could also speak Mandarin he seemed more comfortable in English, although he spoke with exactly the same accent as Agent Smith in the movie “The Matrix”. When we were chatting about previous work and things he said ‘Oh, yes, the famous OORTHOOR ANDERRRSEN’, which made me snigger out loud, and so I had to tell him.

 

IMG_0163

A desert dog running with us in Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Amazing colours….

Petra in winter

Riding aboard a Bedouin 4×4 in Wadi Rum in Jordan

 

Wadi Rum is an absolutely stunning bit of Planet Earth. Beautiful.

On reflection even better than Petra which is pretty damned amazing in itself. We hired a Bedouin guide and a rather ropey 4×4 “thing” and toured the famous landmarks, including a Spring named after Lawrence of Arabia who camped there, allegedly. Our guide pointed in the direction of a gloriously picturesque open valley that disappeared into infinity and told us that Aqaba was three days camel ride away. Now that would have been an adventure and in retrospect I wish I had been impulsive and just done it, camping each night Bedouin style by a fire with the camels under the stars.  It would be damned good fun on a KTM 450 EXE as well.

I was wishing Fanny was with me and could see the desert. If she had been we would have probably have been impulsive and done the desert hike.

It was a crisp day, dry as a bone, the sun was blazing in an otherwise azure blue sky with just a few whiffs of cloud here and there. The desert colours were truly breathtaking and so we hiked around a bit taking in the amazing scenery. We were shown a small mountain with high sand dunes and our guide said he would meet us on the other side, no doubt so he could save fuel and whittle away some client time as we climbed the rocky hill.

Yee was not a Bear Gryls type of person, in fact far from it and he struggled a bit in his totally unsuitable shoes but eventually we made it to the peak and slid down the dune to the other side and carried on with our hike.

I was regretting not being in the more flexible position to change my mind and spend the whole day hiking about and then camp up at night in the desert by a Bedouin fire, but I had a taxi driver waiting and a companion who was keen to get on to Petra.

Another time.

After getting back in the taxi we had another 100 kilometers to drive to Petra and slowly climbed up into the mountains to an altitude of about 2000 meters. As we drove along deserted roads high up on the plateau I had to double take at the surrounding hill tops outside.

The pink landscape was dusted with white snow and ice!

I hadn’t seen snow since the summit of Mount Kenya but a bracing stop to take pictures brought it all flooding back. Bloody hell it was cold.  Freezing my nuts off on the equator in Africa and now re-freezing them in the middle of the desert in Jordan.

It’s not what you expect.

Hiking in Petra. The rock colours were amazing and some had distinct layers of colours  that looked like Licorice Allsorts and so I added some good specimens to my world tour rock collection that I keep in Arniston.

Icy Petra… I was not expecting snow in Jordan

 

As we got nearer to Petra I could see the deep valleys that the famous pink rock-hewn churches and monasteries were cut into.  I could also see hundreds, if not thousands of caves where the ancient troglodytes had lived, and some Bedouin tribes still do. A bit drafty, I thought.

Both Fanny and Yee had researched and recommended the same backpackers to stay in called, for some unknown reason,  The Valentine Inn  and that is where we decided to go.

http://www.valentine-inn.com/

When the taxi arrived I saw that the Valentine Inn was decorated with lots of red hearts like a garish brothel in Kowloon Tong. Oh Lord. But as it turned out it was actually a pretty decent hostel, warm, with very reasonably priced dorm rooms, and with an excellent and very reasonably priced evening meal and breakfast.

On arrival Yee applied all his attention to a young Korean lady from New Zealand who lived in Hong Kong teaching music, and I was left on my own, as indeed middle-aged sole travelers usually are in such places. Glad I had a book.

The next day I escaped from the prowling guides and touts and blagged my way into the grounds of Petra for free using the remains of someone else’s three day ticket thus saving a staggering 70 UK pounds!

It was also the first day of the Year of the Dragon and so there were hundreds of Chinese on holiday to annoy and impress with my cunning linguistic skills. As I was wandering about I bumped into a Hong Kong movie star wearing an Indiana Jones hat… de rigour attire for all the well-heeled tourists in Petra.

I tried out my Cantonese on Mo Lan-yung, or whatever he was called, and he asked me, how come, since I was a former Royal Hong Kong Police officer, my Cantonese was so rubbish.  A bit blunt I thought.

I was quick to retort and he seemed a little taken aback when I suggested Cantonese in this day and age was as much use as Welsh or Afrikaans and was therefore a language destined for extinction and thus pointless making any effort to learn or remember.  I waffled on about how I thought the only languages worth learning were Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic and English.

He was no more impressed or convinced by my argument than my Boer or Welsh friends.

Petra is quite an amazing place, especially the rock formations and colours. It was bigger and more dramatic than I expected, but unlike my fellow tourists I refused to ride a donkey up the 800 steps to the famous monastery at the top of the mountain and so I yomped up.

There were many sheer cliff walls with long drops and of course no western style “health and safety” fences to prevent people inadvertently cliff diving off the edge.  At the top on a precipice was a small hut with a breathtaking view over the valley and deserts that stretched out towards the horizon.

caves

Of course, that famous shot in Petra .. Indiana Jones style

 

There was a Bedouin man warming himself by a small fire inside the hut and I asked him if there was an alternative route back rather than hiking along the well trodden tourist path. He said there was,  but I would need to employ a guide. There was no way I was going to employ anyone, but it did mean it was possible. ‘How long would it take?’ ‘About three to four hours’, he replied.

Of course, that meant it would take two hours. Everyone always exaggerates, I thought, and so I disappeared quickly before his sales pitch could start and I scrambled down a cliff path into a dry wadi that suddenly fell away to a sheer drop of about 4-500 meters.

‘kin ‘ell. I looked back up at the Bedouin guy and he looked down at me and we both contemplated the situation and then he disappeared and I escaped before he could appear and say he told me so.

Through trial and error I tried every path I could see and could not for the life of me find the alternative route down to the valley. And then I saw it. A goat path zigzagging along steep slopes above more sheer cliffs. I nearly gave up, but then I thought bugger it, don’t look down and take it steady.

And so started my rock climbing challenge for idiots without proper kit. It seemed I was steadily climbing higher and higher rather than going down into the desired direction of the valley ….and then it happened.

The path momentarily disappeared and started again a few meters away. Between was a crevice of only a meter or so, but a seemingly infinite way down.  Nothing I thought. Pretend its just a short stepping stone and jump.

But I hesitated.

I was suddenly flushed with a severe bout of acrophobia. What if I fell?  That would be it.. game over. Worse… what if I fell and got stuck 127 hours style?

And then I just did it. I jumped and felt elated for a nano second until I realized my surroundings and discovered I had in fact jumped onto the top of a Wile E Coyote cartoon type column of rock.

For crying out loud.

Breathe deeply, gently turn 180 degrees, focus on a  landing spot on the other side of the chasm and leap.

Except I was still completely frozen on the spot …on all fours.  Petrified in Petra.

I reflected on my predicament for what seemed like an age. No one knew where I was. I had no phone.  No ID. And I had someone else’s three-day ticket–with their name on it. 

And then I thought through the indignity of being rescued … probably by some  “I told you so”  Bedouins on mountain camels that would tip toe along the narrow and precarious mountain ledges.

Before I could think too much more I was back across the void and scrambling away the way I came. Thank fuck for that was my only thought.

When I got back to the wadi the Bedouin fellow was waiting for me and I flinched and cowered in embarrassment as he said,  ‘Not that way- it’s very dangerous’….. ‘That way’, and he pointed to a glaringly obvious well trodden path that had somehow been invisible before. ‘Oh yes’,  ‘just looking around’, I lied, ‘ Thank you…’ and waved as confidently as I could and started along the “correct” route which took pretty much four hours of hiking, exactly as he told me it would.

While I was hiking back I managed to see some amazing temple ruins and caves that were off the tourist trail and also passed through the local village known as  “Little Petra” that appeared very run down and very poor.

I smiled at some small grubby children who were playing in the road and they looked up at me in astonishment, burst into tears and started howling and so I quickened my pace and checked frequently over my shoulder to see if an angry mob with burning torches was in pursuit.

As the sun was setting I entered the common room of the Valentine Inn and could see my traveling partner, Yee still trying his luck with the Korean girl, but clearly getting nowhere. He was waffling on about reading palms and deciphering human auras and the girl was doing a really bad job pretending that she was interested.

I wondered whether I should intervene and help him out, but I decided chatting up girls is something he is going to have to work out by himself and so I left him to it and set about planning my route to Jerusalem.

The next day Yee, two Japanese guys and I shared a minibus to the Jordanian Capital, Amman from where we intended to get another bus to the King Hussein border and into Israel.

When we arrived at the Jordanian side of the border the crossing was thankfully very quick and we took a bus for another 5 kilometers across no-man’s land to the Israeli border which is called Allenby.

There were many rather striking Israeli female soldiers in combat uniforms with M4 machine guns and punk haircuts manning the checkpoints and public areas.  As expected the security was tight, but the immigration and customs process was pleasingly efficient and quick.

Lunch at bus station in Israel

 

 

I had heard you could get an Israeli immigration stamp put on a piece of paper as a stamp in my passport would prevent me from entry into Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, and perhaps Iran and Pakistan.

They interviewed me politely and were very interested in our adventure, especially our trip through Sudan.  I waxed lyrical about how amazing the country was and what wonderful people the Sudanese were, and did they know Sudan also had pyramids like Egypt? Blah Blah!

What I had realized throughout the trip was the quickest way to get through immigration and customs was to bore the officials to death so that they would quickly process the papers.

They did ask me if I wanted a piece of paper stamped, but I said ‘No’,  I didn’t see why I had to pander to childish and petty political nonsense. However, I had an ulterior motive as this would give me justification to apply for a second passport from London.

I had tried unsuccessfully to get a second passport from the British Consulate in Hong Kong and now I had a plan.

In any case, I have been to Sudan already, Fanny is not allowed to ride in Saudi Arabia, my connections at the border with Syria told me it was about to descend into civil war, and at the time Iran and Pakistan were at risk of being nuked by Israel and the US.

I managed to lose my Japanese fellow travelers somewhere near Syria and Yee had stayed in Amman, and so I got a cheap  mini bus back down and through towards Jerusalem which I was thoroughly looking forward to.

Israel already looked the most advanced country I had been to since South Africa. Trees everywhere, smart shops, well-built cream coloured stone houses and offices, and generally a feel of being well organised.

The most striking initial impression was that there were military personnel everywhere, mostly young teenagers armed to the teeth.

The second was that it is a smorgasbord of races and religions.  The most obvious are the Haredi or ultra orthodox Jews who scurry about in their black uniforms, eccentric hats and religious paraphernalia. They were not very friendly, I guess because they make a serious effort to isolate themselves from everyone and look disapprovingly on anyone else’s lifestyle.

There were also a lot of Palestinian, many more than I expected to see and many were quite aggressive looking and again, unfriendly. Adding to the mix of cultures and beliefs were lots of orthodox Christians and pilgrims from Greece, Turkey, Russia and Armenia.

With such a mixed and eclectic population, and with such a long and violent history you would expect Jerusalem to be a tinder box, and I think it is. It felt edgy and hostile, but the police and security forces looked professional and well able to deal with it.

With all due respect to the Israelis, I think it is fair to say it is not a particularly friendly place, in fact many of the people I met were rude and overly aggressive.

There were also a lot of tourists milling about, especially Americans who were noticeably absent in most parts of Africa and the Middle East that we had traveled through thus far.

Some of the tourists I met were open-minded, moderate and interested in visiting the epicenter of the Holy Lands;  others were clearly barking mad religious extremists who were engaging in some kind of spiritual orgy.

Still, each to their own. So long as they don’t make it compulsory is my attitude to religion.

Where the crucifixion is said by many to have been… Jerusalem

An Orthodox Jewish chap bustling along the streets of Jerusalem

Tourist tack being sold next to the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been crucified.

 

I stayed at a very well run and clean backpackers in the middle of the city called Abraham Hostel

 

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/

 

It offered a very good breakfast, cheap dorms, good facilities and a travel center that could arrange all sorts of tours, including the free Old City tour that I went on the next morning. A bit of an evangelical happy clappy youth missionary feel about it, but then Israel is what it is, the 51st State of America and so I suppose it was to be expected.

Whilst the tour was ostensibly free, Naomi, our four foot tall and four foot wide tour guide reminded everyone on the quarter of the hour, every quarter of an hour that she survived on our tips and our generosity-just like those irritating waiters we Brits have to suffer every time we try to eat something in America.

My name is like Chuck and I’ll like toadally be your like toadally tax dodgin” wayda and like interrupt you like toadally like through your toadally like entire meal …like”….. “Have a toadally like nice day like”.

 

Anyway, despite being in the middle of winter, it was a sunny and stunningly beautiful day and we were shown around the maze of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters of the ancient city.

We were also  given an introduction to the incredibly rich and complex history of Jerusalem, much of which was new to me and I have to say absolutely fascinating. I actually spent quite a bit of time researching and reading up about places I visited, although getting a secular or independent version of events was not that easy. Most people are already indoctrinated and convinced of their own point of view that little they see or experience is going to change their mind.

For me my visit to Jerusalem has strengthened my view that all the religions are manifestations of superstitions that play to the frailties of human beings and have been used very effectively by the powerful to control other human beings, and for the powerless to tolerate being controlled by other human beings.

Whether there is in fact a God or Soul of the Universe I still don’t know …but the reality is neither does anyone else. I feel there is, but such beliefs are private matters and not to be inflicted upon others.

Amen.

People  who know me will be astounded that many years ago as a small boy I was actually an Alter-boy and I used to serve at Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church in Burton Upon Trent in Staffordshire.

On occasions, usually Good Friday, we used to perform a Benediction Mass and “Stations of the Cross”, a service that requires a meditation at each of the 14 stations that feature around the inside walls of all Catholic Churches.  Now in Jerusalem I was able to follow the real thing up to the The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the 11th Station there was a small stall renting out wooden crosses to pilgrims and even some shops selling crowns of thorns and little baby Jesus dolls.  I knew Filipinos were prone to mixing up their Catholicism and Austronesian superstitions and were particularly fond of  a good torture re-enactment when the supply of Virgin Mary-like tree stumps and mud fish was running low, but I was surprised such superstitious devotions occurred in Jerusalem.

Of course I had to try one out and immediately thought of the Monty Python film, “Life of Brian”  with all those great sketches and stir it up blasphemies.  The crosses were all half scale sized, either for crucifying dwarfs or because the Israeli department of health and safety was worried about tourists putting their backs out.

As Naomi was telling us about a recent punch up between Greek and Armenian Christian monks outside the site Jesus was allegedly crucified, I was caught singing and whistling,  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the cross on my shoulder and was immediately admonished and left in no doubt I was in disgrace by everyone around me.

No sense of humour some people.

He’s not the Messiah .. he’s a very naughty boy.

Wailing Wall

 

So what else was there to see?

Well no trip to Jerusalem is complete without a visit to see the West Wall which in itself is just an old wall, but the wailing and head nodding by the faithful was mildly interesting, if not rather bizarre.

I had to buy a Jewish skull-cap to go in and look at the wall myself, so I bought one from a stall that was selling an assortment in different colours and patterns. Some had Rastafarian colours with five leaved plants on them (?), some with pictures of Homer Simpson (??). All very at odds with what I thought the point of the bodily adornment was for in the first place. Anyway, I found the perfect skull cap….  embroidered with the Chelsea Football Club badge. It looked great and I thought might come in useful one day if I am ever granted an audience with Comrade Abramovich.

I also saw the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount.

We were told we would not be allowed bring in any Bibles or engage in any praying at the Temple Mount and this prompted a huge Texan in our group to ask if he could bring in his iPhone as it had a Bible App?  This caused a bit of a debate as I think the Romans, the Knesset, Mohammed, King David, Angel Gabriel, Herod and the whole bunch of humans who make up these rules had overlooked the possibility of this technological advancement.

The foundation stone in the Temple Mount is believed by some, including many in our tour group, to be the first ever rock from which the world was created and so arguably the most religious site in Jerusalem, if not the World.

I was reliably informed by my Jewish guide, and this was confirmed by a lady from the fundamental autonomous region of South Carolina that it is the oldest thing on the planet… and therefore about 5,000 years old.

Huh?, I thought.  My mother’s pug dog in Abbots Bromley is older than that!

But there was no point arguing the toss. It seems that Jerusalem has been argued over, conquered, knocked down and re-built over and over again throughout its 3,000 year old history. It’s difficult to keep track of which religious group or sect owns which bit.  According to Wikipedia Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Enough religious stuff, it was now time for a bit of shopping, not that I could afford much.  I wanted some Israeli Defence Force T-shirts for Fanny and as presents for friends. An Israeli flag to stick on my panniers to match my Israeli stamp in my passport.  I also wanted to replace my punctured inner tube as the bastard Sinai 6 inch nail had done a bloody thorough job making several large holes. I had in fact patched up the inner tube but I had nagging doubts about the quality of my handiwork.

The T-shirts were easy to find from one of the many army surplus shops in the city.  I got the inner tube from KTM Jerusalem, which didn’t have many KTM bikes or parts because imports are taxed sky-high in Israel,  but they did have a 150/70 -18 ultra heavy-duty tube and so I took it.  My efforts to find an Israeli flag sticker were not so successful so I bought a Palestine Liberation Organisation one instead. No one will know the difference.

For me, two days in Jerusalem was enough. I am glad I went, but wont be disappointed if I don’t go again. It’s like being a kid and living in a household with parents who fight all day. Tense, miserable and damaging to the soul.

I wanted to leave Israel by the Eilat/Taba border back into Egypt, but also wanted to stop off by the Dead Sea for a swim. The buses took a bit of juggling but I eventually found one and was thrown off at a place called Ein Gamph, right next to the salt encrusted shores of the Dead Sea where the water is ten times more saline than normal sea water.

Israeli emergency response police with a BMW GS 800 they use for patrolling.

Rupert having a swim at Dead Sea

I wasted no time and I stripped off down to my underpants which really needed a wash anyway after five days hiking and jumped into the water which turned out to be warmer than I expected and had a sort of slimy feel to it– I think due to the salt rather than my underpants.

Of course, the oddest thing is the incredible buoyancy and you float on top of the water rather than in it.  No Dead Sea swim is complete without getting some water into your eyes which is excruciatingly painful. It also burns your tongue if you stick it into the water, which of course curiosity dictates we all have to do.

After a dip in the water and a wallow in the medicinal mud, which is supposedly good for one’s health and skin, I got out feeling good, but no different to how I normally do and went to the bus stop and waited optimistically for the No.444 bus to Eilat which eventually came 2 hours later and swished by me without showing any inclination whatsoever to stop.

It was the last one and so when my jaw lifted and my mouth finally closed I accepted that I might be staying a bit longer in Mein Kampf. In fact another 14 hours until the next No.444 came by at 8.00 am the next day.

I thought how lucky we were to have our “go anywhere” bikes on this trip and really missed my KTM which would have been great fun in Israel and wouldn’t have left me stranded.

Anyway, there was no point blubbing by a lonely bus stop and so I wandered around for a while, found some crisps to eat for dinner and watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on my laptop whilst wrapped up in my sleeping bag by the shores on the Dead Sea…. as one does.

I had a good night’s sleep under the stars at 480 meters below sea level and despite a very rare rainstorm during the night I stayed warm and dry in my sleeping bag. As the sun was rising I had a dawn dip in the Dead Sea and later found a fast food kiosk that opened up early, made me coffee and some toast for breakfast and had an interesting yarn with the ever so slightly insane owner.

I then went to the bus stop and boarded the bus which arrived at exactly 8.00am and then I got dropped off at 11.30am in the sunny and very touristy southern Israeli town of Eilat. It was from here I could see the huge Jordanian flag in Aqaba on the other side of the gulf.

I arrived at a completely deserted border crossing as all the officials had either gone off to prayer or to have a midday snooze and when they arrived back I breezed through the Egyptian border town of Taba.  Again as far as I could tell I was the only tourist at the border crossing and I was the only person to board a mini bus that took me down the beautiful Sinai coastline, and by 3.00pm I was back in Dahab.

After telling Fanny about my adventures over tea and falafels I spent an afternoon wrestling my tyre off the rim of the rear wheel and fitted the new inner tube I bought in Jerusalem. I thoroughly cleaned both bikes, re-greased and oiled whatever parts required and pretty much got the KTMs looking like new, although I had to admit both could really do with new tyres.

After 23,000 kilometers both sprockets and chains looked in great order. That proved we had the bikes perfectly set up and our campaign of reasonably limited hooliganism had been successful.

Meeting one of a very few fellow adventure riders in Dahab. This German RTW rider had a beautiful BMW, one I would far rather ride than a modern GS1200.

Biking meet diving – Dahab

Andrea, Gary (The Corbetts) and Rupert preparing to dive at Canyon, Dahab. A deep dive into a volcanic fissure

John (dive instructor) and Gary and Andrea Corbett, Canyons, Dahab

Camels and KTMs at Blue Hole, Dahab

 

We also had some more visitors to Dahab– Andrea and Gary Corbett from Derbyshire in England. I went to school with Andrea in Staffordshire back in the day and she is a Ducati Monster rider. Her husband, Gary, comes from Scotland and is a fairly recent convert to motorcycling and rides a Yamaha XJ 900.

They are both big climbers and ex mountain rescue team members in the Derbyshire Peaks and they had come out to Dahab to join us in some diving, snorkeling, biking, running and of course idling about.

As luck would have it, their visit coincided with Dahab’s once a year storm and so they endured not only the less than perfect weather but my constant reminders that the weather wasn’t normally like this and that it was very sunny before they arrived.

The politest way I can describe Andrea is that she is vertically challenged and this clearly annoys her because her feet cannot touch the ground on 95% of all motorcycles. This meant that Gary, with much less motorcycling experience than Andrea would have to ride Fanny’s KTM with Andrea on the back as pillion.  She was not happy about this at all.

As we went for a ride we used Fanny’s new Chinese helmet video camera and managed to record Andrea looking absolutely terrified perched up on the back of the pillion seat. She was especially displeased when we decided to do a bit of off roading and racing about, particularly when Gary decided to steeply lean the bike around corners despite me warning him that the tyres really were on their last legs.

We left Dahab at the end of February with mixed feelings. It’s a beautiful place, and we enjoyed the laid back life by the sea, but we had both started to get itchy feet again and wanted to move on. Fanny had been told that China Shipping had a Ro Ro (Roll On Roll Off) leaving Alexandria on the 28th and we aimed to put our bikes on it and take a flight to Istanbul and then take a bus to Mersin on the south coast of Turkey to meet the ship a week later.

China Shipping promised to pay all the fees at the Egyptian side, a promised they later reneged on and in the end we had to cough up. Not sure what went wrong, but for other potential explorers coming through Egypt please note that everything to do with customs, immigration and import and export of vehicles in Egypt is hideously expensive, risky and uncertain, and will take considerably longer than anyone tells you it will.  Copious amounts of patience, good humour and good luck is needed.

Like any good plan, always have fall back options and contingencies. Since we had seven days to ride to Alexandria we decided to spend a few days on the most southerly tip of the Sinai, called Ras Mohammed. A diving paradise and a beautiful place to camp and relax. After we left Dahab we got there fairly quickly and had a chance to dust off the gear and do some snorkeling in some of the best coral reefs on the planet.

While we were camped on the deserted sandy beach I actually decided to sleep outside the tent under the stars and give Fanny a break from my feet.  There was no one around, we were on the isolated southern tip of the Sinai peninsula and because of the dry air and lack of pollution the northern hemisphere constellations were crystal clear and an amazing finale to our unintended five months stay in Egypt.

Ras Mohammed, south tip of Sinai

Camping at Ras Mohammed, Sinai. Fanny reading a copy of “Ride” magazine, not that she needed to because we were having the ride of our life.

Sand riding at Ras Mohammed, Sinai

Its a beautiful world if you make the effort to see it

Our boots on the KTM mirrors look like creatures against the setting sun

 

The next day was gloriously sunny and I decided to go snorkeling right in front of our tent and bikes. The water was a degree or so warmer than Dahab and that made all the difference. Once inside the water there were initially only sand beds but in the distance I could see an underwater coral island teeming with every fish in the Red Sea “Marine Life” book.

I knew it would be my last chance for a while, if indeed ever again, and spent a good part of the day free diving down to join by far the best life in Egypt. We spent another glorious day at Ras Mohammed and then we then decided to join up with John and Jan, fellow KTM 990 Adventure riders from Sharm El Sheikh and take a few pictures and join them at the local English pub for a very well attended boule competition.

Given the number of evenings I have played this game with my cheating friends in Arniston on the cliffs above the bay with a glass of cheeky I breezed through to the semi finals, but ultimately it was not to be my day and I was beaten by determined local talent.

Jan very kindly put us up at his villa on the cliffs above the harbour with his five dogs. A beautiful house from the days when style was en vogue and dustmen were in employment in Egypt. On the way to Jan’s house we had to ride the bikes precariously close to the edge of the crumbly cliff. As I had been drinking in the T2 pub and Fanny had not I decided to ride the bikes. Naturally.

Bright and early the next day we set off north to Port Said on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the port closest to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Although we had about 600 kilometers to ride we were in no real rush and I savoured probably my last ever view of the Sinai, the Red Sea and the desert mountains. It really is a barren, but beautiful bit of Planet Earth, spoiled only by us, its human inhabitants and our debris, pollution and trash.

We stopped off for lunch at the best falafel restaurant we had been to in the whole of Africa, at a place called Ras Sedr just south of the Suez tunnel.  Falafels, bread, salad, tahina and bedouin tea with mint… the whole lot for a quid. Very very delicious and made a very slight credit to our “being ripped off on the trip” account. Huge debits are to come later on in Alexandria. Oh well, one should enjoy the little victories when one can.

T2 English pub in Sharm El Sheikh with four KTM 990 Adventures in the car park.

These bikes are the real deal and between the four of them have seen some real adventures.

Port Said… continuing troubles that plague the whole of Egypt. Having chatted with many Egyptians and Sinai/Sahara Beduoins I predict even more trouble.. sadly.

I love this picture. This one image describes what our adventure was all about. The bikes in full adventure mode, a new and exciting location, meeting the locals, eating and drinking the real deal, relaxing, and being with Fanny

Cruising along good roads towards Suez. The same stretch of road we experienced a huge sand storm a month or so early.

We had a bit of a refueling crisis after lunch as Egypt, which sits on huge oil and gas reserves and has oil refineries polluting the environment up and down the Red Sea, often has no petrol at its own fuel stations.

My particular theory is that this fuel shortage is due to the urgent demand for oil to make gel and hair products for Egyptian men. Anyway, this particular town had not only run out of 95 octane which our bikes like, but had no petrol whatsoever.

After a frantic double back along the road we had just ridden we found 90 octane at a grubby station and so I thought it wise to add the remainder of our octane booster additive as I really hoped that would be the last that we would need it, going to Europe and all.

That said we kissed goodbye to 15-20 pence a liter fuel and braced ourselves for the most expensive fuel in the world…Europe, and in particular, Turkey.

As we approached the Suez the military presence got heavier and heavier with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and armed soldiers at every junction. They never gave us any problems and always waved cheerily at us, and if we did get stopped went through their usual practice of asking pointless questions and giving our bikes a cursory “look up and down”.

Not once did they ever check what was in our panniers or perform a proper check. If I was their commander there would have been some well delivered lectures and quite a few “bollockings”. But it’s not my problem and never will be. We are just guests in a country going through a very turbulent and often violent transformation. The best one can do is keep the good-humoured smile going, despite one’s mind thinking otherwise.

Inside the Chinese Consulate and Ambassadors home in Port Said.

Fanny and our bikes outside the Chinese Consulate in Port Said. A big thank you for their help.

While we were in Port Said we went to visit and say thanks to Mr. Xu (徐先生), the Chinese Ambassador in Alexandria and Port Said who also happened to be the head of the Chinese state-owned firm, COSCO in Egypt. He had been kind enough to help us with various things and had got to know Fanny very well.

He lived and worked out of probably the nicest house is Port Said, an art deco palace of sorts that used to be an Italian residence in better times.

After drinking tea in the Ambassadors office we waved our goodbyes and headed off along the International Coastal Highway to Alexandria which was about 250 kilometers from Port Said.  The coast was not that pretty and the towns were chaotic and run down.

When we got to Alexandria I was a tad disappointed.  Its glorious Greek, Hellenic, Roman, Ottoman, and British history, architecture and monuments had been obliterated over the years and what we found was a crumbling version of Bognor Regis surrounded by a sea of rubbish and environmentally hostile factories and grubby warehouses.

What a karsi.

All that is left are the ruins of a small Roman theater, the new and forgettable  Bibliotheca Alexandrina (!) and  Pompey’s Pillar (!!).  Alexander the Great might well be a tad disappointed as well.

The Bay in Alexandria

Whilst in Alexandria we stayed at the Union Hotel, which was not bad and had great views over the harbour, but it had no car park or secure parking and so we had to park our bikes outside the front door on the pavement and pay a watchman,  who subsequently disappeared, and so Fanny and I maintained a vigil on a bench in our sleeping bags throughout most of the night.

Despite our efforts we found in the morning that both bikes had been subjected to minor acts of vandalism such as pulling off indicators, bending mirrors and peeling off country flag stickers from the panniers. Some people, huh?

Later in the day we were met by one of Fanny’s Facebook motorcycle buddies, called Omar, who had ridden a Honda Africa Twin across Africa in 2009.  We were later to accept his kind hospitality and stayed at his house on the outskirts of the city where, importantly, we could safely park our bikes and have peace of mind.

Whilst riding with him through the city I quickly discovered that I had got a puncture in my rear tyre.  It was very soon after we set off and so I do not think it was an accident, but rather another act of mindless vandalism as a small nail had clearly been pressed into the rubber tread and I suspect while it was parked overnight outside in the street.

So, I set about repairing the puncture near a busy road junction and I quickly got the tyre off and found that the inner tube I had bought in Israel was seriously perished and had a huge tear where the small nail went in. This inner tube must have been on the shelf in Jerusalem since Pontius Pilate was a boy.

It was too big a hole to patch up and so I threw it away and replaced it with a normal gauge (thin) inner tube that we carried along with other spares in my panniers and which is better suited to riding on the tar roads ahead anyway. AND SO….  was to begin our day(s) from hell in Alexandria.

After wrestling the beading of the rear tyre back into place with water, washing up liquid, blowing it up to 3 bars and bouncing it about I put the wheel back on and I discovered that I had lost my sunglasses. Not only that, one of the legs of my only trousers had finally given up the ghost and literally fallen off, but worst of all I found that the rear WP shock absorber of my 9 month old 2011 KTM 990 Adventure R had failed.

Luckily, unlike a BMW rear shock that will collapse, the WP shock on a KTM will support the weight of the bike, just, but there is no rebound and so it will bounce about and bottom out very easily. It is just about ride-able on very flat and smooth surfaces and very slowly, which of course is nigh on impossible in Egypt.

The suspension was now extremely spongy and research through KTM forums on the internet suggested that the gaskets had failed and the nitrogen and oil had probably escaped. Clucking Bell. What else could go wrong? Clearly a lot– there were still a few more hours left in that day for fate to ruin the day even more.

Omar supervising, while I repair the puncture to my rear tyre on the side of the road in the city center of Alexandria

The gasket seal has ruptured and the nitrogen gas and oil has leaked out of the WP rear shock . Luckily the KTM WP suspension allows the weight of the bike (and me) to be supported by the orange spring..just!. Its not ideal but allows you to ride slowly to a location to get it repaired. The strong point about WP suspension is that it can be rebuilt and made as good as new. However, this is not something you can do yourself and it needs to be sent away to an expert with the correct tools and of course re-build kit. This is an advantage over the BMW which is not as robust as the KTM for true off roading and RTW adventure.

I’m looking for the right word to describe my state of the art WP rear suspension… ???

I contacted  KTM in Cape Town, from where I bought the bikes and from where over the years I had spent in excess of half a million Rand, and they said the shock absorber was not covered by the warranty and further added its to be expected on a trip like ours and best that we ride to an authorised dealer to get it repaired. Wonderful advise, thank you so much.

So to all Cape To Cairo potential explorers make sure you are always near an authorised dealer, and carry a clean handkerchief and don’t talk to strangers. Deep breathes and relax… aaahhhh!

That said one must note that the Long Way Down team on their BMWs had several suspension failures and so it happens to all the best adventure bikes I suppose. Still, the reason why I chose KTM was that this should not happen. It’s a hassle of note, and a very expensive one which will make a huge dent in the expedition budget.

We were also very excited to find out through various forums and from Omar that a new ferry service was being introduced between Alexandria and Mersin and that the first would depart Alexandria on the 28th. Of course we were very keen to get on as it would be quicker, cheaper and easier than the RoRo cargo ship from China Shipping… but sadly like so much good news in Egypt that wasn’t going to happen… not for now anyway.  Oh well, 没办法。 http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/middle-east/trying-reach-turkey-egypt-any-62770#post368714

The next day whilst enduring yet another day of bureaucratic purgatory and being shunted from one squalid “government” waiting area to another I was to find out that the offer of free shipping for our bikes by Mr. Mohamed Roshdy of China Shipping Line wasn’t free after all either.  In fact, we had to pay everything at both the Egyptian and Turkish sides.

Certainly, if I had been on my own, I would have risked riding through Syria at that moment. In fact, all in all I regret that we did not make a run for it. It was still in the early days of the civil war and we could have made it over the Jordanian border and skirted the trouble zones up to the border with Turkey.

Or we could have got shot or captured by Syrian rebels or Government forces. Either way we would not have had the chance to actually enjoy Syria or see Damascus which was on our list of things to see.

Decisions decisions.

Fanny (center) and the Chinese Ambassador  徐先生 (right)

 

The whole idea of riding to Alexandria rather than going through Jordan and Syria was predicated on the fact that Syria was risky and China Shipping Line had promised Fanny they would help us cross the Mediterranean for free.

Of course, I was annoyed about the extra expense and paying ten Egyptians to a do a job that doesn’t even need doing by one person, but what upset me the most was that Fanny was extremely upset and hurt by the whole incident and had lost face.  A very bad thing for Chinese people.

As far as bureaucratic red tape goes, the whole Egyptian leg had been seriously time-consuming and ten times more expensive than all the other African countries we had been through put together. It is very fair to say that Egypt is a complete rip off and in all honesty I cannot recommend that anyone brings in their foreign registered vehicle, unless they have serious money to burn and have some sort of perverse masochistic streak.

I was reminded of the German expedition we met just south of the Sudanese border who were fuming about how they were treated in Egypt and now I knew how they felt. Scuba divers and sun-seekers on a package holiday to Sharm El Sheikh may not know what really goes on under the surface of Egypt and they don’t really need to.

They breeze in on Easy Jet, get picked up by a charming hotel driver from the airport and are deposited on their beach deck chairs and then a week later they go home with pictures of Bedouin fires and stripy fish, whilst clutching a stuffed camel.

Any foreigner living in Egypt for any length of time will know all too well what all the negatives, dangers, and inefficiencies are already, and for those that don’t live there they will not stay long enough to worry.

But I will say that for a country that sits on oil and gas reserves, generates huge revenues from the Suez canal and is blessed with both natural and historical wonders you would think Egypt has it made. However the reality is that it is quite the opposite.

Five thousand years of civilization …  in reverse.

Some of the receipts and invoices we incurred in Egypt totally over US$1000 for absolutely nothing…

Our wonderful bikes left in a very dusty Egyptian Customs Department warehouse in Alexandria… I felt like a parent that had left the children to be looked after by Jimmy Savile.

Anyway, suffice to say after 5 months a move was well overdue and we were very exited that we were moving on to Turkey and Europe.

Predictably, I suppose, the ship never arrived on the expected date and so we had no choice but to leave our bikes in a customs warehouse in Alexandria in the hope that three days of excruciatingly painful and expensive paperwork will see them eventually loaded onto the cargo ship, the MV Grand Napoli on the 1st or 2nd of March.

This cargo ship, once it actually sets sail from Alexandria, was scheduled to arrive ten days later in Mersin on the southern coast of Turkey from where we planned to collect our motorcycles from the port. We were to take the short cut and fly to Istanbul and after a few days take a bus across Turkey to the south coast. 

I am pleased to say that we eventually managed to get both motorcycles’ carnet de passages (trip ticks as the locals call them) signed off by the authorities and we were both very relieved to get our passports returned to us.  

Assuming both bikes actually arrive, as there is always a risk, my KTM 990 Adventure R will go into the KTM garage in Mersin where the mechanics will attempt to re-build the shock and then we will ride along the southern coast in early spring, an area of Turkey that is supposed to be amazingly beautiful.

(Post Note : KTM Turkey did an awesome job and rebuilt the WP like new and shipped it to Mersin where it was expertly fitted by the local KTM garage… job done) 永不放弃   or perhaps  愚公移山                                  

The MV Grande Napoli .. taking our bikes from Alexandria in Egypt to Mersin in Turkey…or so we hope!

Chapter 10 – Egypt – (Part 2)

As we were now stuck in Egypt we thought we should make the most of it and see the country and take in its amazing culture and history. To do that we were going to have to extend our visas and also the permits for our South African registered KTM motorcycles, and that meant we needed to go to the capital, Cairo.

Riding a motorcycle into Cairo isn’t for the faint hearted. As we exited the Suez canal tunnel and found our way onto the correct highway into Cairo the peace of the desert finished and road madness began and got steadily worse until we were grid locked in the heart of a city with perhaps the worst driving on the planet.

All the signs were in Arabic and despite memorizing the hieroglyphs for a few words like Cairo, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, entrance, exit, etc…  I was still having some problems making sure we were heading in the right direction. For a reason I was only to discover much later in our expedition, the GPS was showing the most basic of details in north Africa and was for the large part no more than a compass with a few out of date roads. In fact the Garmin Zumo GPS became more and more erratic and dangerous, to the extent that sending one up the wrong way of a Cairo street is pretty damned dangerous.

Again, we would get honked at, shouted at, waved at, and people would start animated and persistent conversations with us out of the windows of their vehicles that we could not hear in our helmets. Egyptian drivers might not think its important to look where they are going but my experience of motorcycling is that its a very good idea. The millimeter collision avoidance style of  driving could almost be described as skillful, but it would scare the hell out of me and so when we did arrive in Cairo we both decided to leave the bikes at the hotel and walk for most of the time. Occasionally we took a taxi which is an experience most people should also consider leaving off their “things to do before I die” bucket list, unless of course its the very last item on such a list.

We decided to head to the Zamalek area, an island in the Nile in the center of the city, where we heard there was a decent backpackers hostel called the Mayfair (http://www.mayfaircairo.com/). After riding along every single street in Zamalek, twice, sometimes three times, we found the hostel four hours later and then I had a pointless argument with their management and security guard about where to park our motorcycles. In the end I relented and moved our bikes all of three meters right into the middle of the footpath to where they said we should park them. Why?

I never found out, there was no given or obviously logical explanation for placing the bikes in the center of the footpath causing what looked like an obstruction. However, the night guard of the hotel,  at least a hundred years old, parked his chair under a tree right next to the motorcycles and waved his stick at anyone who dared to look at them.

We got to know many of the local people and soon after everyone in the immediate vicinity of the hotel got to know the bikers who had ridden up from South Africa and greeted us warmly whenever we walked up and down the street.

The motorcycles stayed in the center of the pavement unharmed for five days among huge crowds of pedestrians and protesters, not 50 meters from the Libyan embassy where celebrations started the day we arrived as Kadaffi had just been captured and summarily executed. The crowds were quite big and the noise they made was loud and unrelenting. We were after all right in the middle of the Egyptian “Spring” Revolution.  History was being made right around us.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

Me and my bike at the pyramids in Giza, Cairo.

The natural and the unnatural.

Hope it doesn’t roll off

Bikes squeezed into a space in Cairo

Bikes squeezed into a space in Cairo outside the Harley Davidson show room

I know him... lives in Hong Kong

I know him… lives in Hong Kong

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square with the government building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side of the photo.

.

Zamalek and Old Cairo reminded both Fanny and I of Shanghai–a lot.  Splendid British colonial architecture that had either been restored by the new elite into hotels, clubs and apartments, or more often than not, allowed to decay and left to deteriorate.  By far the nicest places were the embassies and consular homes in the diplomatic quarter. Many of the building had classic Art Deco style lobbies staircases, windows and verandas, including the Mayfair hostel we lived in. Many of these large houses had beautiful gardens right in the middle of prime real estate. All very impressive, but many had seen much better days.

Perhaps the most ostentatious and vulgar symbol of the huge gap between the “haves” and “have nots” was a golf course right in the middle of Zamalek. At first I assumed it was a public park, but as we tried to go in we were herded away by dozens of white clad security guards. Later, I peered through the fence into a huge expanse of privately manicured grass that had a total of two people wandering around wearing ridiculous golfing clothes and pulling along their golf bats in shopping trolley things. Perhaps in this post Mubarek era it will be turned into a public park that more people can enjoy? It seemed there were many places that were private in Zamalek and off limits to riff raff like us.

The main reason to be in Cairo was not to allow Fanny to eat at every street-side store, although she tried, but to keep up efforts to get to Europe and extend our visas and motorcycle permits. We also wanted to see the pyramids and the Egyptian museum, both very much highlights of our trip to Cairo.

The pyramids in Giza really are on the edge of the city and its quite an astonishing surprise to see them looming up above the buildings and houses of Cairo as you approach them from the city center about 10 kilometers away. Some people literally have them as their next door neighbours. As we approached the pyramids on my motorcycle I had to be careful not to stare at them too long and get distracted from the important task at hand of proactive impact avoidance.

When we arrived there were some security people manning various gates and so I parked up my bike next to the security gate and Fanny and I went in and wandered around. The pyramids are quite the most amazing human constructions I have ever seen. Firstly, they are absolutely huge, the largest being made up of 2.3 million limestone blocks and nearly 500 feet high, and secondly they are some of the only structures that have survived over four thousands years of modern human history. You are mesmerized just looking up at them. Also, like much of ancient Egyptian antiquity they are extremely accessible and I was surprised that we were allowed to climb and scramble over them.

Unlike more famous motorcycle adventurers who have visited the pyramids we did not go inside them. There was a fee for doing so for a start and both Fanny and I suffer from claustrophobia. I was of course interested to know what was inside these gargantuan tombs, but not so much that I would ever venture inside and so we spent the morning hiking around the two huge pyramids, one medium sized one and three small ones.  We could also see the Sphinx from a distance but it was much closer to the built up part of Giza and so we decided we would go back to our motorcycle and ride over to it for a better look.

I was surprised to see that the Sphinx was not only much smaller than I expected, but also very badly eroded and it seemed to be crumbling away. Our attempts to