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 7 – Kenya

Kenya– Chapter 7

The first thing we noticed at the Kenyan border was an elderly couple being towed in a magnificent MGA sports car behind a Toyota pick-up. Whilst we were mingling with the crowds waiting to clear customs I remarked to the owners on what a splendid car it was and inquired why it was being towed. The lady, in an extremely plummy English accent, replied that she and her husband were Kenyan and had been having a wonderful adventure, but sadly their dear old car had broken down, but they were muddling through and confident it was just a minor glitch in their grand plans to drive across eastern Africa.

In the chaos of the border crossing, which in reality was no different to any of our previous crossings, I thought that the image of the classic British sports car and their vintage owners presented a rare snapshot of a bygone era when style and unflappability in the face of adversity were the way things were done. Later, I witnessed the old fellow being messed around by an oafish customs officer who insisted that his stricken MGA be towed back, all of some 50 yards, to an inspection bay to be looked at.  From where it was parked, towing it back was going to be very awkward and the customs officer could very well have got off his ample bottom, walked over and inspected the vehicle where it was already. Nevertheless, the old chap was too gentlemanly to complain and resigned himself to this completely unnecessary and troublesome task.

Fanny and I, armed with passports and the Carnet de Passages for our motorcycles, breezed through the immigration formalities. I made good use of the Tanzanian vehicle licenses that were valid for three months, and the supporting yellow Comesa insurance documents that would cover us for the remainder of the African countries we planned to travel through, after of course I made some minor amendments and circled some additional countries that I thought should have been included on the certificate in the first place.

I was asked by an immigration and customs official how long we planned to spend in Kenya to which I replied about thirty days. He then demanded that I hand over US$20 for each bike as additional import duty, or whatever. “I thought the carne de passage covered all the import costs”, I complained? It seemed not. For any period above seven days an extra charge was levied. I then asked, ‘If I say we are going to spend just seven days in Kenya how would you know if we stayed longer?’

‘We wont’, he replied.

‘I’ve changed my mind, we’ll stay seven days’, I quickly corrected.

‘OK’, he replied, ‘No charge then, ‘Enjoy your visit’.

As I was leaving the official added, ‘Which border will you leave by?’

‘Not this one, Sir’, and with that I scurried off to the bikes that Fanny was guarding and we got going again.

Kenya ... a bygone age

The Kenya/ Tanzania border  … and a car from a bygone age.

Political Map of Kenya

Arriving at the border control point in Kenya

At border crossings one of us had to do the paperwork (usually me) while the other (usually Fanny) looked after and guarded the bikes.

Riding through Nairobi… I am sure 40 years ago it would have been very nice.

Nairobi streets

Looking at the bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop

Looking at the other bikes in the Jungle Junction workshop

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Either side of the Tanzania/Kenya border is pretty much the same geographically, but Kenya was clearly influenced by having many more people.  The main north/south road which passed through beautiful African bush lands on the Tanzanian side, now passed through dusty, crowded and very scruffy villages which got closer and closer together until they were just an catatonic sprawl of dusty grey mayhem. The traffic density had multiplied to saturation proportions and the Chinese road construction activity was in chaotic full swing with endless diversions onto appalling gravel roads, across small streams and occasionally open sewers.

When we could we weaved our way through anarchic traffic conditions coming in all directions and coughed and spluttered in the dust and black diesel fumes all the way into the center of Nairobi which to my mind might have been pleasant once upon a time, perhaps when the MGA owners were in their twenties. There were parks and tall building, but like modern day Lusaka, the infrastructure hadn’t kept pace with the growth in human numbers. Too many people and too few who give a damn.

I followed a track on my GPS towards a campsite in town called Jungle Junction (http://tracks4africa.co.za/listings/item/w171200/), our intended rest stop while we serviced our motorcycles and applied for visas for Sudan and Ethiopia.  But first, we scanned the centerof the muddled city for a place to stop and find something to eat. After weaving about in the maddening traffic and crowds we stopped outside a Kenyan version of KFC and found a willing “lurking person” to guard our bikes for a few shillings while we had a break.  I don’t really trust lurking people as a rule and so I found an observation spot on a balcony where I kept a constant vigil on our KTMs and our worldly possessions while we munched through congealed oil covered in bits of chicken and lard. Quite tasty, actually,  in a calorie explosion heart clogging sort of way.

We then went back to our bikes which by now were surrounded by dozens of people. Luckily they appeared to be intact and we thanked our bike guard and handed over the agreed fee. A quick blast of our Akropovik and Leo Vince exhausts and the crowd reared backwards and we headed out of the center of the city towards a more leafy part of town.

It is here in a residential area behind tall gates and high fences that we found our small oasis for a few weeks.  Jungle Junction, famous to overland adventurers is owned and run by Chris, a German chap who used to work for BMW Motorad in Kenya. Chris run a very nice lodge and has a well organized and fitted out workshop and garage.

It also had a good sized lawn for camping and a small lodge with rooms for the wealthier guests. The main house had a sitting room, dining room, and kitchen that all residents could use, and there was free WiFi that worked most of the time. Outside in the garden and driveways were an assortment of adventure motorcycles in various states of disrepair, adventurer campers and trucks and other weird and wonderful vehicles that were crossing Africa.

Some had given up, some were in for repairs and some just taking a well deserved break and like us applying for visas or waiting for spare parts to be shipped in from various parts of the world. Everyone had stories of daring do, adventure and misfortune.

Soon after arriving and setting up our camp we saw vehicles limping in from various parts of Africa where the treacherous roads had broken them down into their component parts, often destroying their shocks, suspension, fuel filters, fuel injectors, tyres, bearings, electrical systems  and frames.  Some bikes came in on the back of trucks and were unceremoniously dumped onto the lawn, together with their distressed and fatigued owners.

Chris had seen it all before and I realized that there was a pecking order for his attention. BMW bikes came first, naturally, then other motorcycles, and then vehicles with four wheels or more.  This upset some people who thought that their needs took priority, but Chris had a business to run, a life to lead, and only so much time and was, for all intents and purposes, a bush mechanic. I got to like and respect him very much and he was very good to Fanny and I as we went through what was to become a rather frustrating time. He was a fountain of knowledge on routes, weather, road conditions and general local know-how and with his friendly staff made us feel very welcome.

Camping at Jungle Junction in Nairobi… a trans-Africa adventure travelers oasis

The world record home made adventure 4×4 that has been around the world many times

Almost the perfect combination … an off road 4×4 camper with a Yamaha XT 660 on the back… how good is that?

Chris of Jungle Junction

An extremely nice place to stay in the center of Nairobi and a hub of useful information and advise

Jose and Noah from Spain with their BMW F650GS …and its dodgy fuel pump.

Adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Other adventure bikes at Jungle Junction

Jungle Junction...A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi

Jungle Junction…A little oasis in the middle of Nairobi

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There were already some people at Jungle Junction who had been there a few weeks for whatever reasons. Some waiting for parts and repairs, and some taking stock before heading off again into the bush and deserts.  It reminded me of entering the Officers’ Mess on the very first day I joined the Royal Hong Kong police back in the mid eighties. The more senior intakes at the training school had taken up the best positions in the “Mess” and lorded it over the newbies. Here in the sitting room of Jungle Junction in Kenya the “seniors” had done the same. There was a particularly irksome Australian who had taken up residence who was seemingly the world’s authority on everything to do with adventure travel.  In fairness he did have some credentials to this claim. He was a former Dakar Rally mechanic, had built a very impressive adventure car that looked like a huge Caterham 7 with a tent on its roof and had a diesel engine that could run off old chip pan oil.

He had already entered the Guinness Book of World Records by traveling 250,000 kilometers around the world—the longest for a home built car. What he did though to upset me from day one was to endlessly criticize our bikes and was the prophet of doom about every aspect of our trip and planning. According to Digger, our bikes were going to fall apart, we would not find any fuel, there would be no chance to get Ethiopian visas, and if we did managed to get on the road to north Kenya I would be murdered and Fanny raped, or worse, Fanny murdered and me raped.

He was of the school that believed the only adventure motorcycles were the old style bikes he owned himself, maybe the Honda Africa Twin or perhaps the Yamaha XT 500 and that the modern electronic fuel management systems on bikes like our KTMs were not appropriate for adventure riding. In fact, motorcycles that did not run off steam were totally unsuitable for the task and the only really suitable vehicle was his mutant Caterham 7 thing. According to him, if you couldn’t repair the bike with a flint strapped to a stick in the back end of beyond you were not worthy to be a member of his “Destination Unknown” adventuring community.

His boastful exploits about journeys in the Congo and Amazon rain forest would have been interesting under any other circumstances, but he went on and on until I decided with Fanny that we would have no more conversations in his hearing in English and so we switched to the Mandarin channel until he got bored of me and found a Kawasaki rider to persecute.  He only turned his attention back to me again when he overheard my stage whisper that it was possible to cross the river between north west Namibia and Angola on a rope pulled pontoon which I had done a few years previously. “Hey! Charlene”, he bellowed to his other half who was cooking pies in the kitchens, “this pom reckons you can cross into Angola from the Skeleton coast”…. “Nooo Way” came an Aussie reply from within a cloud of chip fog in the kitchen.

What I had neglected to share was that the pontoon could only take a vehicle with a maximum of two wheels.  I would like to think that one day when Digger of the Bushveld is stuck on the banks of the Cunene River in the north of the desolate Skeleton Coast looking towards the other side he thinks back fondly of me. He’ll be OK, though. No doubt in true adventure survival style he could cook up his wife’s large and prosperous looking buttocks and use one half for fuel and the other for a tasty roast with lots of crackling. Don’t blame me… its the bloody Larium malaria tablets…they give you all sorts of strange thoughts.

One of many strange adventure machines crossing Africa… (or not)

Me on one of my kit tidying up campaigns… checking Fanny’s panniers for contraband hair conditioner

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out visas and get bikes  serviced for next leg through to Egypt

Our home at Jungle Junction for a few weeks while we sort out Ethiopian and Sudanese visas and get bikes serviced for next leg through to Alexandria in Egypt

ECU cable

 

KTM Nairobi

My lovely bike, oh and some other people at KTM Nairobi

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My efforts, however, to champion the cause of KTM were not helped by several limping into Jungle Junction with fuel injector problems. They were not alone. In fact, many different types of bikes were limping in with the same problem.  All bikes have their Achilles Heals, and for the LC4 and LC8 engines that power the KTM 640/690 and 950/990 Adventures (respectively) the three main ones are … or at least used to be on the older models:

1)      the fuel filter, and in particular its inaccessibility and difficulty to replace easily in the bush. Also, there is no space along the fuel line to add another fuel filter (as you can do with some other older bikes).

2)      The clutch slave which had a tendency to fail; and

3)      the water pump which also had a tendency to break and allow radiator coolant to escape into the engine oil.

Its a well known and obvious fact that KTMs, and indeed most modern bikes, do not like bad fuel, especially the low octane and contaminated petrol commonly found throughout this part of Africa.  As a rule, motorcycles, and any other vehicles for that matter, do not like fuel mixed with kerosene, diesel, water, or dusty red sand, and sadly that is the cocktail that is commonly served up at most petrol stations, particularly the road side vendors who sell fuel from grubby yellow cooking oil drums.

I was not really aware of the clutch slave issue and we never had a problem anyway, but when we did get to the UK, as a purely precautionary measure, I replaced the standard ones with more robust after market Oberon clutch slaves. Could I tell the difference? Not really, but they looked pretty.

We had not brought spare water pumps with us because they were too heavy and in the end we did not need them either. The water pumps had already been fixed on later models, and many older models had already been upgraded during routine servicing cycles.  I did, however, bring spare petrol and oil filters for both bikes…. and just as well as these would have been difficult to source on the road in Africa and were items that needed replacing during normal servicing and oil changes.

The other thing I had not done and perhaps should have known about was to have sourced an ECU diagnostic and mapping program, installed it to my laptop and had a USB to ECU cable to connect to the bike. Without attempting to go into detail I do not really understand myself, modern KTMs do not have carburetors, but rather electronic fuel injection systems, much like modern cars and so when things go wrong tuning with a screw driver and unblocking jets with a  piece of copper wire will not suffice anymore.

What is required is that the electronic fuel injection system is connected to a computer that will check all the electronics and adjust the mapping to differing conditions …such as type of fuel, octane levels, altitude, and none standard exhaust systems like the Akropovik and Leo Vince cans we had on our bikes.

My view about adventure travel is that one can do it using whatever vehicles one likes, and so called bush mechanics and maintenance will inevitably change with the times. If you can afford to buy and have the space to carry the latest tools and spares, that’s fine. If not one must improvise using whatever one can get one’s hands on, be it a rock or an electronic ignition diagnostic kit. There is no need to be afraid of new technology and modern electronics on motorcycles and cars. We all carry smart phones, ipads and laptops nowadays and these small and light bits of kit can be uploaded with all sorts of useful electronic tools, maps and “how to” guides and manual.

Later, after I had already paid KTM Nairobi an astonishing amount to connect both bikes to their computer for just a few minutes, did I find out about, and download, a free program called “ECU Tune” from the internet. However, I could not use it because I did not have the necessary ECU to USB cable. Later I would get hold of the cable, but in the end we never needed it. The bikes were fine, mostly due to good maintenance and (as I describe later) filtering the fuel before it went into the tanks.

The main reason for stopping in Nairobi was to get the bikes serviced. I can’t think of any other reason to stay there for any length of time as it’s a bit of a dump. Its polluted, dusty, smelly, overcrowded, run down, a bit boring, falling apart at the seams and a bit edgy… apart from all that it’s alright.

Later, when we were in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia we caught a glimpse of some news on the TV that over a hundred people, mostly children had been burnt alive in a ghetto only a few kilometers from Jungle Junction.  Apparently some people had been stealing petrol from a tanker and it exploded, tragically incinerating them as they were scooping it up, probably into dirty yellow oil drums to sell to people like me.

The KTM garage in Nairobi  is run by a man called Ian Duncan, and I had contacted him repeatedly in advance about tyres as we made our way to Nairobi.  When we arrived he was not around and had in fact disappeared off to Uganda to compete in a rally race and the garage was left in the hands of a teenager called Adam. Adam told me they weren’t really interested or geared up to deal with adventure bikes and only really looked after the rally cross and enduro type bikes that KTM are famous for.  That said he was energetic and keen to please and so we did manage to book the bikes in for a service, albeit at an extortionate price for the pair. When we came to collect the bikes later that day I found that the chains had not even been adjusted or oiled. 

‘Oh!’ Adam said, ‘Oiling the chain will be extra’.  So much for a professional bike service, huh?

As for tyres?… we had no luck. We would have to try and find suitable tyres for the tough roads ahead from somewhere else, most likely at enormous cost and delay to our schedule.

Kindly, Fanny’s aunt, Song Feng Mei who lives in Polokwane, north of Johannesburg, came to our rescue and went to a local motorcycle shop, the infamous “KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd; Straat 92, Petersberg 0700, South Africa” with the exact specifications and sizes for two sets of Continental TKC80s which are the ideal tyre for our bikes and recommended by KTM for the gravel, mud, rock and sand roads that lay ahead. My good buddy Dan Kaufman from Cape Town managed to call on some contacts that would be able to airfreight the tyres from Polokwane to Nairobi airport.

So, while we were waiting we decided to risk a trip to the Masai Mara on our balding tyres where, in late August, three to four million wildebeest were grazing as part of the greatest migration on the planet.

But first we would go to the baby elephant sanctuary and see some of the rescued elephants and rhinos that had been orphaned, some because the babies had got separated from their herds, fallen down drains, or got stuck, but mostly because they had been orphaned because some idiot Vietnamese and Chinese still have some ridiculous need for ivory trinkets and rhino horn and have killed their mothers. In fact, while we were on the expedition the West Africa Black Rhino became extinct. Dead as the proverbial dodo. never to grace the planet again.

I really hope the Asians (and let’s not beat about the bush .. they are Asian) who actually bought the very last West African Black Rhino horn meet the same fate as the dodo. I am quite sure that if things continue the way they are that I will see in my lifetime the complete extinction of the rhino species. Poaching levels of ivory and rhino horn are increasing exponentially and the solution is not an easy one. Its as if the rhino has 15 kilograms of gold stuck on the end of its nose and wanders around free in impoverished places with poor security, incompetent law enforcement and corrupt authorities. With the economic growth in China and more money to spend of traditional medicines the smuggling of endangered African animal parts is only going to increase. I fear, just like the war on drugs, that the battle to protect these animals will be lost.

Anyway, for now, at this sanctuary in Nairobi the keepers spend all the time with the elephants and try to replicate the socialization they would ordinarily get in a natural environment. They even sleep next to their baby elephants in hammocks. At this sanctuary the infants wean on elephant sized bottles of milk until such time they are big and healthy enough to go to the next stage, an intermediary location away from people before they are finally released into the wild.

The healthy baby elephants are shown to the public for one hour each day, for a small fee to help towards their up-keep and running the sanctuary, but some of the animals are injured and are cared for in the hospital while they recuperate and get well enough to be released back into the wild.

Elephant numbers have been actually rising due to successful conservation efforts, but the increase in both elephant and human populations has and will inevitably lead to conflict, a conflict in which the elephants will lose.  Elephants only have a few calves in their long life. The population of African humans, on the other hand, fueled by AID from the West and do-gooders like Bob Geldof are rising dramatically, with each family being artificially aided, regardless of resources and sustainability, to produce 7-9 off-spring, who in turn multiply again putting a strain on finite resources, space and food.

Tribalism continues to place loyalty to kith and kin before logic and efficiency. Tragically, Malthusian population checks such as war, disease and famine will continue to make life miserable and tough for Africans. And what of all the African animals and natural resources?  Traded with the Chinese for tarmac roads and concrete hotels in a seemingly inescapable new era of dependent colonialism.

You have to ask why Africa has to import everything from China. Why can’t they build bicycles and plastic bowls themselves?  The raw materials come from Africa and there are enough people idling about everywhere without jobs. But I may be wrong and Geldof and his rich hippy friends correct. Heart strings will be pulled and guilt manipulated by Sunday afternoon TV campaigns in the west to “spare a pound” to feed all the starving Ethiopian and Somalis babies so they can grow up to beg for money, throw rocks at motorcycles, kidnap hostages and extort money from shipping companies. Do I sound contemptuous?  Perhaps I am. TAB.

I am sure most people who read this couldn’t care less about my ramblings concerning environmental conservation and the evil secrets behind the Chinese R5 shops that have sprung up across South Africa. After all, “Here comes Honey Boo Boo” is about to start on the telly and the delivery man is due with a family sized KFC bucket of tikken and tips…ho ye!. Anyway, too much thinking and fretting, back to the big bike trip. We decided to set off to the beautiful Masai Mara for some happy thoughts and a chance to see something natural and special before its turned into “glorious peoples number one” Africa world adventure park with polluted grey/green lakes to peddle fiberglass swan boats on, live chickens for little Xiao Long to throw to the dog that looks like a lion, and a garish parade with loud canto pop and people dressed in cartoon rhino, dinosaur and dodo costumes. I told you, its the Larium wots to blame.

Jungle Jungle common room and dining room.

An assortment of vehicles and an eclectic mix of adventurers

While we were staying in Nairobi Fanny taught herself to cook. Prior to this I had never seen her cook. This was to come in very useful when we got to Europe. Not only could we have healthy Chinese food,  save costs, and clear a camping space with chili pepper fog.

KTM Nairobi …… I will concede… KTMs are not cheap to service, especially here.

Stella without her wheels

Stella without her wheels

The main man called Duncan was not at his workshop while we were in Nairobi and had gone off to compete in some Rallye races in Uganda

Baby elephants at rescue center in Nairobi

Nellie and Ellie

Nellie and Ellie

They move very quickly when its feeding time and drink out of elephant sized milk bottles. They have very coarse hair on their heads, but surprisingly their skin is much softer than it looks.

A sick rhino …

Milky time

Milky time

Riding along Masai herdsmen paths in the Masai Mara … enormous fun and very close to the animals that happen to make up the great migration between the Serengeti and Masai Mara, such as Wildebeest and Zebras. We were not allowed to ride in the game parks themselves, but it seemed the animals were free to go where they liked anyway and we saw a lot.

Waiting while the BMW guys who traveled with us tried to repair their bike. One hour later they gave up and I towed the stricken BMW F650GS over 35 kilometers to the nearest town. It was a challenge and not that good for my clutch given all the streams and banks we had to cross… but I feel a sense of achievement that we made it. KTM 1 – BMW 0

Fanny and I in Masai Mara

Swollen rivers and streams … the smaller ones we crossed

 

A twenty liter battery acid drum on the back of my KTM for more fuel. Just above the Akropovik exhausts that occasionally spit blue flames. Very healthy no safety.

Packed up and ready to go with an extra 20 liters of fuel in an old exide battery acid drum… Not the safest thing to do… but necessity and improvisation etc… A bigger fuel tank ?  Good idea.

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara

Another KTM rider in the Masai Mara

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The distance between our intended destination at Aruba Bush camp at the Masai Mara gate and Nairobi was only about 350 kilometers but the road conditions to get there were tough, and because of the heavy rains some of the routes were blocked because the river crossings were too deep.

We decided to ride there with reduced luggage which I would carry on my bike and together with a couple of Spaniards, Jose and Noa who arrived at Jungle Junction with their BMW F650GS on the back of a truck having broken down in southern Ethiopia. Jose and Noa had had a terrible journey to Nairobi in the back of a truck for four days and on one night been abandoned without food while the driver disappeared without explanation to nearby villages to rest.

This road from Moyale that straddles Ethiopia and Kenya, which we were to travel along later, is notoriously bad and renowned for having bandits and highway men who allegedly set up ambushes along the remote desert track. A story was circulating about a French couple who refused to hand over their goods at an ambush and the man was shot in the face as he tried to escape. Then again I have heard the same sort of things happens in places like London, Bristol, and indeed Burton on Trent on market day. There are bad people everywhere, but I will concede that Somali and north Kenya probably has more than its fair share of them.

With the Spaniards’ BMW now fixed by Chris at Jungle Junction we all set off out of the grime and decay of Nairobi towards the stunning Rift Valley escarpment and down a thousand or so meters into the Masai plains and villages that stretch out towards the unmarked boundaries of the game park.

For the first 150 kilometers we rode on decent tar roads and by midday we stopped in a small town for a spot of lunch at a local restaurant. In time honoured fashion we pointed at someone else’s food and said we’d have that… 2 kilograms of Chomba, (roasted goat meat on the bone) and chips…very delicious, but perhaps not for everyday unless one wants a Diane Abbot like bottom.

After our carnivorous lunch we went for a ride in the town to look for the petrol station less likely to serve up the usual kerosene/grit fuel mixture that ruins our engines.  As normal, while re-fueling we attracted a huge crowd who would ask the same questions about where we had come from, where we were going and how fast the bikes could go. Our answers of South Africa, China and 240kph were usually met with incredulity and disbelief.

After about 10 kilometers we turned off onto gravel tracks that got progressively more challenging as we headed further into the Masai Mara. Fanny had been improving her riding skills all the time and we considered this a training exercise in preparation for what was about to come. What we had not banked on was thick gooey mud and long stretches of deep puddles, and in one particularly bad section Fanny dropped her bike and got absolutely covered causing both her and her motorcycle to remain a reddy brown colour for the remainder of the trip. A suitable baptism to “off roading” I thought.

Often when the track was very bad we would ride up over the banks and onto the herdsmen tracks that would weave through villages, woods, bushes and grasslands. This was what adventure motorcycling is all about and it was enormous fun.

About 35 kilometers away from our destination the Spanish crew’s BMW stopped and never started again. Their fuel pump was apparently broken again and after a futile hour of trying to make a multi-meter out of bits of wire, a battery and a bulb they admitted defeat. I suggested I towed them to Aruba Bushcamp where at least we could camp before it got dark. It was apparent that the animals, including the many lions and hyenas did not recognize the man-made perimeters of the national game park and so it was definitely not a good idea to be out in the open after dark. This meant that I was now to use the tow rope which up until now had remained coiled and strapped to to crash bar, and also employ the towing skills I learned from Leon and Wayne at Country Trax in South Africa on my big bike sand course (highly recommended for anyone who is thinking of riding a BMW 1200GS, Ducati Multi Strada, Triumph Explorer, Yamaha Super Tenere, Kawasaki KLR or KTM 990/1190 Adventure on anything vaguely off road).

After a briefing to Jose about keeping the rope tight and securing the ends offside to nearside foot pegs on our respective bikes we edged forward, sliding and weaving in the gravel and mud. Occasionally we would have to descend into muddy streams and power up out again, keeping the speed constant and the rope taught. On one occasion we got it wrong and I catapulted Jose and 200kgs of BMW off the side of the road, through the air and into a ditch. Both bikes fell leaving Jose lying prostrate in a ditch. I inquired if he was OK and he just said that he’d like to lie there for a few minutes staring at the sky.  After what seemed like an age I inquired again and he said he was ready to go on, and so I hauled him and our bikes out of the ditch (not that easy in mud) and set off again, both of us getting better at the towing and being towed experience all the time.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNjyOyJVeWY&list=UUaD3A6IHJlyfTEuHqeZ_DLw&feature=share&index=11

At one location the road was too muddy and we rode off road in the middle of the plains alongside thousands of wildebeest and I managed to take some video whilst towing the BMW. It was very tiring and very technical, but I found some time to look around and reflect on what we were doing. I certainly wasn’t going to forget that it was a KTM towing a BMW and I was going to enjoy gloating over this for some time to come.

As we were getting in our stride and I was getting used to my bald front tyre being yanked sideways every now and again I noticed in my mirror that Fanny was no longer behind me. I had been keeping to a pretty steady 30 kph, with all of our luggage, a Spaniard and his BMW tugging on my LC8 engine and its clutch. The sun was going down and I was not entirely sure where we were as the GPS just showed our position in the middle of no where.  No indication of the road, or our destination. The GPS just showed a green background with a bike symbol in the middle.  Dilemma…do I carry on with Jose, or go back and find the others? In the end I discussed with Jose whether it was OK for me to leave him and his stricken bike in the middle of lion country as the sun was setting and he replied with a southern European shrug and said, ‘no worries’.

So I turned the bike around and rode rather anxiously—perhaps at reckless Dakar Rally pace of 120kph plus– along the mud and gravel tracks. After a few kilometers I saw Fanny’s orange headlight weaving in the fading light through the bush and when I came alongside her I could see she was head to toe in wet mud again. I was relieved she was OK and making progress, but I was my usual terse self and reminded her in no uncertain terms the situation we were in and the urgency with which we should get to camp before it gets dark. Fanny was a little annoyed with me and said she was doing her best. ‘Well make your best a little better’, I said rather too harshly.

TA MA DE’, she yelled back, quite rightly.

I theatrically skidded my bike around and tore off back to where I had left the Spanish Omelette stranded in the bush at dusk surrounded by one of the largest concentration of predators. Luckily I found him uneaten and wandering about taking sunset pictures of the Masai plains and wildebeest and so I finally relaxed a little. In fact, we were only three or so kilometers away from the relative safety of Aruba Bush camp and its human settlements which was just as well as within a few minutes it was pitch black and the air filled with the sound of various beasties and birdies howling, growling, squawking and squeaking.

When we arrived at Aruba Bushcamp we were warmly welcomed by the staff who had been expecting us and I felt a mild sense of cheng jiu gan (sense of accomplishment) and quite a bit of ru shi zhong fu (sense of relief) as Fanny reminded me, keeping up my Chinese lessons and practice. After our now extremely well practiced and fast pitch of our tent and tidy up of our kit and bikes we went to the very nice game lodge restaurant where we had a superb dinner alongside various people who were on their safari holiday and who had arrived with Gucci style suitcases and luggage, wearing kharki green and leopard skin pattern “Out of Africa” ensembles, and no doubt having had far less exciting journeys to Masai Mara on Virgin Atlantic or private charter flights. I reflected on this and on the fact that its true… money can’t buy you everything.

The food and cold beer was very welcome and we ate in exhausted silence until a very muddy Fanny suddenly piped up with, ‘I think I’ve mastered this off roading now’.  Indeed, she had done extremely well, but still had a lot to learn and she still kept dropping her bike unnecessarily and making me mad as I would have to keep repairing the damage and banging out the dents in her panniers. But really, she really had done very well and made a lot of progress and I was very proud of her. Not bad for six months riding experience and on top of a thousand cc best of breed adventure bike.

The next day we went off in search of a vehicle and driver who could take us for a game drive into the Masai Mara park. Motorcycles, as we learnt trying to get into the Serengeti in neighbouring Tanzania, are not allowed in game reserves. I have actually ridden my bike in a game reserve in South Luangwa in Zambia and I have to say on reflection it really isn’t a good idea. It does scare the animals. Elephants in particular hate motorcycles, and stating the obvious, it isn’t very safe.

After wandering about the local village and inadvertently running into a pitched and very noisy battle between a pack of village dogs and a troop of baboons we found a driver who was willing to accept a lower fee than that offered by the drivers in Aruba camp.  He showed us his Land Cruiser which looked perfectly up for the job and he asked, as it was just the two of us, whether he could bring his friend, a Masai herdsman who was a great game spotter. Perfect.

The safari was awesome and lived up to all our expectations and more. We drove with hundreds and thousands of wildebeest and zebras which could be seen as far as the eye could see. The plains were spectacular, surprisingly lush green in colour and teeming with life. It is real “Lion King” country and must have influenced the animators of the movie with the scenery and atmosphere. I really liked the Kudu and Eland antelopes which were in huge numbers and looked very shiny and healthy.

Stopping off for lunch in Kenya with other bikers from Jungle Junction

It was very muddy on some of the trails

We literally ran into this lioness that was sleeping under a bush

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What a strange creature.

My bike with an extra 20 liters of petrol in a battery acid drum I found in Nairobi. This provides about 280- 350 kilometers depending on how fast and in what conditions we are riding. I’ll admit, not the safest way and if I had the money I would have invested in the after market 45 liter tanks for both bikes. That said it worked.

Lots of mud and puddles. The great migration follows the rains and now these rains and the lush grasslands was in Kenya

Our camp site at the gate of the Masai Mara game reserve. Tea anyone?

Some of the Wildebeest that often stretched out as far as the eye could see. Definitely something to see on life’s bucket list.

Me

I believe this is now called a “selfie” … a horrible new word that sprang up while we were on the road.

Good fun on the dirt roads

A cheetah lolloping along …. one of my favourite animals and the fastest mammal on the planet.

Our campsite and a fire ready to be lit when the sun goes down

Fanny and our Masai guide in front of dozens of hippos in the river

Going for a game drive and crossing one of many water ditches left by the rains

Beautiful antelope

There were lots of very well fed lions … not surprising given the huge number of game everywhere

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Fanny was really taken with the warthogs and how they ran along with their tails up like aerials with the babies following behind in single file.  We followed a mother warthog and her babies into the bush and were surprised when they suddenly doubled back towards us in alarm. We immediately saw why. They had literally run into a lioness and roused her from her sleep under a bush. She seemed a bit put out by this and was looking left and right in a confused manner as if dinner had just landed on her plate and then disappeared.

We looked at the lioness for a while and she looked back at us and then we reversed away and immediately got a puncture. Fanny and I looked at each other with amusement and with a little bit of apprehension, ‘Now what?’  We were a little surprised when our Masai guide jumped out the vehicle right next to the lioness, kicked the tyre, muttered something in Swahili, threw at rock at the lioness and then asked us (from our lookout on the roof of the Land Cruiser) to keep an eye out for her mates while they changed the wheel.

A bit of fun and drama added to the tour, after which we carried on, spotting cheetahs, buffalos, hippos, giraffes, eagles, vultures, jackals, and of course thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebras.

There was a leopard up a tree across a river, but there had been a lot of rain and it was flooded and we couldn’t get across the swollen river to get a better look. The high waters also took a few human victims and on several occasions we rescued fellow tourists who were stranded in their two wheel game mini buses in the middle of rivers, their occupants looking anxiously and nervously out of the windows.

I think it was one of the best game drives I had been on. Our driver and guide were great fun and very knowledgeable, we were at the right place at the right time to see the great migration and the weather was kind to us. We got up early the next day, abandoned Jose and Moa to get their bike transported back to Jungle Junction, to get repaired yet again and we headed off along  Masai herdsmen trails and across the vast grasslands and bush back towards the human settlement and detritus of Nairobi.

Fanny was going from strength to strength and at one stage we rode off road together with thousands of running wildebeest twisting and turning like a large flock of birds. We decided to stay off the dreadful road as much as possible and followed trails inaccessible to cars and four wheeled vehicles through village after village and across lush mountain pastures, navigating through zebras, antelope and Masai domestic cattle and goats.

Fanny and I on a game drive in the park

The things you see. Fascinating.  Here a western hemisphere Homo Sapien family in a two wheel drive minibus getting stuck in a mud pool … also being watched by local Masai herdsmen and, for all we knew, some predators.

Two lionesses and about seven lion cubs “lion” in the sunshine

Buffalo … one of the most dangerous animals you can encounter in the Africa bush.

This cheetah tried to catch some prey and failed and so it has slumped down on the grass panting. It seemed unconcerned when we approach it

Its difficult to get a feel of the place from a picture, but we rode for hundreds of kilometers along mud/gravel roads like this in the bush

You have to keep your eye out. There are three cheetahs near this tree

Fanny getting to grips with riding the KTM on mud and across streams and ditches

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest

Fanny in the Masai Mara among zebras and wildebeest (background). Love this picture.

More meat …..

Fanny tucking into a kilo of chomba

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We decided on a second helping of chomba for lunch when we got to the first town and then carried on through the Rift Valley plains that were churning with dust devils and mini tornadoes in the early afternoon heat. We had been lucky with the weather so far, but as we ascended the great escarpment the sky turned black, the heavens opened and we got truly soaked.

When we got back to Jungle Junction we learned that our passports, which we had to courier to Beijing for Fanny, and to London for me in order to get Ethiopian visas had not returned yet. Always a worry being in a foreign country without your passports. But no choice. The tyres, however, were en route and the next day I went to Nairobi International airport to get them.

I knew they were being held by customs and I was prepared for some hassle and delays and to part with some cash to release them and that is what I got. Five hours faffing about filling in forms, explaining to officials, pleading that the tyres were not being imported permanently, and negotiating with whom I should part with cash and how much. Eventually I was taken into a warehouse where two boxes were opened up. Like a parent who gets red headed baby, I nearly fell off my perch when they came out. Not only were the tyres not the Continentals we ordered and needed, they were the sort of tyres unsuited for anything but driving on tar roads and we had the worst roads just ahead of us.

DIS AHHHHHHH POINTED!

Extremely annoyed and frustrated, I paid the duties and custom fees for the unwanted tyres and returned through the crazy traffic of Nairobi city centre directly to KTM.  They said they were experts at fitting tyres and I was very much hoping I could exchange these tyres for anything remotely off road orientated.

Soon after I arrived at the KTM garage Fanny joined me, having ridden solo through the city, and we pleaded with the KTM Nairobi staff to part exchange the unwanted road tyres for anything with a tread.  They refused, and so I had no choice but to buy whatever tyres they had in stock that fitted our wheels. Despite going against Adam’s recommendation, I bought Pirelli MT/21s for the front and fitted the standard Pirelli Scorpions MT/90s to the rear. A wise choice as it happened and despite everything a bit of luck.

Sadly, in the process of fitting these new tyres, KTM did a Friday afternoon job (which it was) and scorched and scratched all our black wheel rims in the process. So much for the professional tyre fitting service KTM Nairobi promised. I would have done better myself with three kitchen spoons, a blind fold and a bowl of soapy water in the bush. Later I would become very accomplished at tyre fitting and puncture repairs in BFNW, but now I was just plain annoyed at their incompetence. As the adage goes… if you want a job done properly ….. !!

I remembered the Long Way Round series and the guys getting let down by KTM back in 2004 and it seemed they still haven’t learnt about increasing their market share of adventure motorcycling by supporting their customers. BMW have decent enough adventure motorcycles, not as good as KTM to my mind, but where BMW excel themselves is in after sales support. KTM? Could do better… says the school report.

The reality is following the “Long Way…” expeditions, that the BMW R1200GS is now the all time best selling bike – ever -, having sold half a million in the last few years. Ducati, Benelli, Aprilia, Yamaha and Triumph are also pushing hard in the growing adventure bike space and I really hope KTM will not only make 650, 800, 1000 and 1200cc adventure bike versions, but think carefully about their marketing, brand image and after sales service.  BMW definitely have a lead on KTM in this respect.  We intend to go to the KTM factory in Austria next year and I am wondering if there will be any interest in our feedback (post note from May 2013 Post note….the new KTM 1190 Adventure and R version are looking like awesome globe trotting machines, as for KTM marketing and after sales service we wait and hope.

Anyway, I lugged the unwanted tyres back to Jungle Junction teetering in a tower on the back of my bike, together with the old front tyres which still had a few thousand kilometers left and so they were salvaged for use by other adventurers whose 21 inch front tyres might be even worse. I told our sorry story to Chris Handschuh and he didn’t sound surprised.  He very kindly offered to buy the Dunlop road tyres sent erroneously from South Africa and we kindly accepted. Chris had earlier offered to fit the tyres for us and I wish we had had the BMW Nairobi guy do the job rather than KTM Nairobi. We contacted KR Motorcycle (Pte) Ltd in Polokwane who sold the wrong tyres to Fanny’s elderly aunt, but they were uninterested and unapologetic.  Like a lot of sales and business people I have encountered in South Africa they couldn’t really give a damn once they had relieved you of your cash. Or in this case Fanny’s aunt.  Mei banfa, you zhe yang zao gau de Nanfei shengyi ren.

We were still waiting for our passport to be sent back with Ethiopian visas via an agency (www.VisaHQ.co.uk). The reason why we had to take the risky option of sending our passports out of a foreign country back to the capital cities of our respective countries was that the Ethiopian High Commission in Nairobi refused to issue visas to anyone except Kenyan citizens and residents and our attempts at persuading them otherwise were unsuccessful. We attempted to get support from the British and Chinese Embassies in Nairobi, but they were both uninterested to help us.

The British officials were truly disappointing and unhelpful.  They wanted eighty pounds just to issue a standard verification letter … a letter you can print off the internet for free and which is actually of limited value.  “One should of got one’s visa in London, shouldn’t one?”, I was told with a sniff.  “Well one has ridden one’s motorcycle from South Africa hasn’t one”, I replied, but already Ponsenby-Smythe or whoever had turned on his heels and gawn. Clearly under achieving British diplomats were sentenced to Nairobi in much the same way as sheep thieves used to be sent to Australia.

The Chinese officials at the embassy in Nairobi were equally as unhelpful, in fact worse.  I find British officials are rarely corrupt….at their worst just they are just snooty and gormless. However, at the Chinese embassy we were dealt with (unusually I might add) a particularly corrupt, repulsive and nasty individual who made it clear we would have to part with a lot of cash to get him to do anything… that I would describe as “consular”.  Ta zhen shi yi ge shabi  – not a phrase I learnt at Tsinghua University I might add, but an accurate description of Mr. Fubai.  Luckily the letter we got from the very supportive and professional Chinese Consul General in Cape Town, the lovely Ms Li Li Bei, was very useful and this allowed Fanny, and strangely also myself, to successfully apply for our Sudanese visas there in Nairobi.

We later heard that some people found a stamp maker who made up Kenyan resident chops for their passports, with which they successfully applied for visas from Nairobi. Given my previous profession I am not a big fan of forgery, but nonetheless marveled at this ingenuity. Being long time adventure travelers, these (lets just call them resourceful travelers) advised me that one should always carry a date stamp and an old coin to make up official looking entry and carnet de passage stamps when traveling through third world countries with ridiculous red tape and unreasonable procedures. Necessity prevails I suppose.

Jose and Noa off again on their repaired BMW… Via con Dios

Fanny cooking our dinner on the fire

Fanny horse riding in foothills of Mount Kenya

Our camp in lush fields at Mountain Rock on the equator near Nanyuki

Our friends from South Africa camped up in their safari caravans

The famous “Wobbel” from Holland … been around the world

Fellow creatures who shared our camping filed...

Fellow creatures who shared our camping field…

A peaceful place to live right on the equator

A peaceful place to live right on the equator

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While we were mooching about waiting,  Fanny had started doing something I had never seen her do before. Cook. In China, where we normally live and work, great food is found everywhere, is absolutely delicious and is cheap. There is no point cooking in a city like Shanghai, nor indeed Hong Kong or Beijing.  Fanny subjected not only me to her experiments, but also any other hungry lost souls at Jungle Junction. In fact she got very good and said she thoroughly enjoyed cooking, which was a good thing because we were going to have to do more of it later on.

Whilst on one of her shopping expeditions to “Nakumatt”, the ubiquitous supermarket chain found throughout Kenya, Fanny bumped into our friends from Cape Town, George and Alice.  We first met them in Malawi when they rescued us by giving us some fuel and then later in Tanzania. After catching up over coffee, they invited us for a barbeque with them at their nearby campsite, Karen Lodge and we braved the awful traffic in the dark and rode over. Riding at night is a big “No No” and I was repeatedly alarmed along the way at three abreast sets of headlights coming straight towards us. One vehicle in the lane it should be in, one in my lane and the other on the verge that I really needed to swerve off onto.  Having miraculously made it to the camp it was with great relief when George kindly paid for us to stay at the lodge overnight, which also meant we could have a few toots together and ride back in the daylight, soberish.

Thank you, George.

George and Alice having finally woken up at camp 2 on Mount Kenya. I had already climbed to the summit early that morning and was now on way back to camp site as I was cold and wet and not keen to hang around.

Mountain Rock … our camp. I seem to be mincing about … unintentionally of course.

Climbing Mount Kenya

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The next day we bumped into several British guys who had been driving a German fire engine from Cape Town, but had given up on their intended destination in Germany because of worries about safety, visas, quality of roads, and how to cross from Egypt to Europe. The same challenges everyone has I thought. The fire truck had originally been driven down to Cape Town for the World Cup in 2010 by some young Germans and now five out of the six British guys, all in their sixties, had thrown in the towel… much too early in the view of George and myself. All that was needed was for two mechanically minded and adventurous Brits to fly down to Nairobi and join the remaining chap to carry on what would have been an awesome adventure. Takes all sorts I guess, but what a missed opportunity.

Fanny’s passport arrived back from China with a month long visa for Ethiopia that had already started on date of issue in Beijing, but mine was still missing. Fanny had got a Control Risk colleague of hers, Brenda (she was also an ex-colleague of mine from Downhill & Associates days) to help her in Beijing, but I had no one willing or able to help me in London, my family are useless, friends too idle etc.. and so I had to use a visa agency called Visa HQ.  However, because of weekends and UK public holidays I could not contact them until the following Tuesday and when my passport was eventually tracked down it had been found to have been placed in the safe at Jungle Junction the previous week, having been addressed to a female who once stayed at Jungle Junction a year ago and must have been on the Visa HQ database at the same address.

Anyway, we had the bikes serviced (sort of), had new tyres (sort of) and had our visas (eventually) and so we could not wait to get away as we had stayed in Nairobi far too long. Our plans to go to Lake Turkana and Omo Valley were scuppered by having the wrong tyres and by reports of heavy rains which had turned the trails into streams and mud. In fact, we had been advised against this route by several locals, including Chris who said we would also struggle with fuel. That said, in retrospect I wish we had taken this remote and interesting route and just “gone for it”.

We heard our Dutch friends, Paul and Marja aboard their Mercedes truck/mobile home, the “Wobbel” were going to head north to Moyale via Mount Kenya and they had offered to carry some of our kit for us to lighten our load and also carry some extra petrol in proper Jerry cans.  Paul and Marja and the “Wobbel” had been on the road for two and a half years and already driven through the Sahara and southwards through the west of Africa. Nothing seemed to faze them and they were in no hurry and so they seemed the perfect team to travel with.

I told George and Alice (www.macsinafrica.com) that I would consider climbing Mount Kenya with them provided I could find some suitable clothes, a pair of boots and that it was not too expensive. Fanny had absolutely no intention of getting wet and cold, nor paying good money for the privilege of doing so. She decided to relax and guard the camp.

I was delighted to be escaping from Nairobi and its grubbiness, dust and road diversions and we were soon climbing up into the foothills of Mount Kenya and back into lush African bush. In fact, we were in lush rain forest as we had now reached the Equator.

We decided to set up camp at a beautiful lodge, “Mountain Rock” near the town of Nanyuki where the British Army have a base and prepare for operations in Afghanistan and train the UK special forces in rock climbing and whatever else they do.

Nanyuki is also notable for two other reasons: firstly, the equator passes through it; and secondly, every sign or name of business has a religious connotation. Shops have weird names like the “Blood of Christ Auto Repair”, or the “The Lord is Merciful butchers” .  It seems if you want to make money in Africa you are either a mobile phone operator or a Christian church.

When we got to Mountain Rock, Paul, Marja and the “Wobbel” were already in residence on a green pasture next to the river. So too were the South African off road caravaning club: George and Alice from Cape Town; and Steve and Paula, the Brits from Durban. There did not appear to be anyone else, except for a troop of baboons, including an alpha male that had been spray painted blue and had a bell around its neck. This sentence was imposed upon him because he was repeatedly convicted of stealing and fighting and had lost on appeal.

There was also a large troop of black and white Colobus monkeys in the trees; an assortment of frogs that produced a cacophony of warbles, croaks, clicks and burps and often got blamed for repeated farting noises; a herd of cattle, the bulls of which would often ruck and jostle into our tent; a flock of sheep /goatie things, an eerie of eagles, a river full of brown trout and several termite mounds of ground sheet eating insects.

We put up our tent very wisely on a small mound as each afternoon it would rain very heavily and flood the pasture and leave a small island on which our tent was pitched. After the down pour the water would drain away quickly, the sun would come out and it would be very pleasant again. Occasionally the river looked like it was going to burst its banks and wash us away. It was evident that it had done so in the past, but we were assured by the lodge staff a lot more rain would be needed before we would float down river in our Vaude Mk II tent. Nevertheless, Steve and I set up marker sticks in the bank which we monitored like hawks.  I also made a large and impressive fire that lasted the whole six days we were camped up, often bringing it back to life after the heavy rain with a cup full of Kenyan petrol mix.

Nanyuki … equator

Our campsite was also home to sheep, goats, horses, cows, daft clumsy bulls, and thieving baboons and colobus monkeys… among others

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Trout restaurant up a tree above trout pools and rivers in Nanyuki

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Despite me being less than enthusiastic, George seemed very intent that I should join them on their climb up to the peak of Mount Kenya and had arranged with some local guides for a five day hike. I met the chief guide, Joseph, a former Kenyan Olympic boxer, at Nanyuki. My attempts to talk my way out of the ill fated expedition by claiming lack of kit were countered by being coerced to hire a very well worn pair of Hi-Tech size 12 boots and a Chinese made day backpack. George maintained that my motorcycle jacket would be more than adequate to keep me warm and so I was set up to climb a 5,000 meter mountain on the equator with snow on the summit. Mount Kenya is just a few meters shy of its more famous brother, Mount Kilimanjaro.

I couldn’t help remembering my last snowy hike early in the year with Andrea and Gary Corbett on Kinder Scout near their home in High Peak, Derbyshire and the very professional kit I borrowed from them that kept me warm, dry and cheerful. There is no bad weather, just bad clothing was their mantra. The same when I hiked Snowdonia the previous year with my old Metropolitan police colleague and good friend, Alan Jones.

Both the Corbetts and Alan Jones were ex-mountain rescue team members for their respective areas and kit freaks with the very best togs.  I also remember paragliding off the summit of Mont Blanc in Chamonix many years ago and being very ill from altitude sickness on the way up. I was decidedly unprepared and under equipped for this expedition and a little apprehensive, but as always up for doing something new and a challenge.

The beginning of day one did bode well. The mini bus taking us to the Mount Kenya park entrance got stuck in deep mud and after forty minutes of rocking the van to and fro it continued on its bone shaking and bumpy ride before dumping George, Alice, myself and several porters at the start of the hike. After 10 steps in my hired boots I realized that the seams were cutting into my heel and so I repaired them with the remainder of the duct tape that had not been used on Fanny’s bike.

I was also a little uneasy about the porter’s bags which were to carry all the provisions to various camps … plastic shopping bags!  Lack of professional kit aside, we started off and I remember from ‘O’ level geography that Mount Kenya is wet and has very different types of vegetation and climate as you ascend. At the base there was tropical rain forest and it rained. Half way up it was very boggy with large cabbage-like plants everywhere and it rained. The last bit to the peak was steep, icy and snow covered rock and bitterly cold.  Nevertheless, each stage was quite interesting. The rain forest section had huge deciduous hardwood trees and bamboo forests and was home to various animals such as elephant, buffalo, leopard and monkeys.

I found the going a bit slow and so I abandoned George and Alice and teamed up with a young racing snake porter called Stephen, a 6 foot 6 inch university student who was earning money portering during his holidays to pay for his college fees. Later I found out he was born and brought up on a small farm by his elderly grandmother at 3,600 meters. His tolerance to altitude and the fact he was 30 years younger than me kept me on my toes, but even so I was huffing and puffing like a fat chick at a cup cake sale.

The lower levels of Mount Kenya

Unloading the kit

Rain forest and jungle in foothills of Mount Kenya

Looking chirpy at 1st base camp

A bit bleak.. and very cold and damp. My clothes and boots were soaking wet the whole time

Camp 1... damp and cold and a bit bleak

Camp 1… Old Moses

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The first camp, called Old Moses was at 3,300 meters and was bleak. There was no electricity, no heating or fire, basic bunk beds, and it was perpetually cold and damp.

The only place even more miserable was the next camp further up called Shipton camp. At 4,200 meters it was as bleak as Old Moses, just colder and even damper. As I raced there too quickly I had to hang about in freezing cold and wet clothes with nothing to do and no way to get warm. Fires were banned outside and the only wood from the big cabbage trees was toxic.. allegedly. One of the guides suggested I hang my wet clothes up and after 6 hours they were just as wet, only colder. I smelled pretty badly and had no choice other than to have an icy shower of the smelly parts and put on the only semi dry things I had left which made me look rather odd.

I decided I was too cold and miserable to acclimatize to the altitude and would move forward my plans, ascend the peak at 3 am the next morning and then leg it in my damp clothes 55 kilometers back to the gate…all in the same day.

At 2 am I woke up, had some coffee without milk (because milk makes you more nauseous at altitude), stuffed some biscuits in my face and some in my pocket and put on my uncomfortably damp clothes and got on with the ascent with Stephen. He was promoted from porter to guide as it would be me who carried the rucksack and it was Stephen who knew the way. It was pitch black and fortunately all I could see when I climbed was a circle of light from my Chinese made head torch which illuminated about 2 meters in diameter and nothing else.

I was going well but as we started to climb the rocky bits near the top I had to walk 10 steps and then stop for 10 seconds to catch my breath and then start again. I got to the peak well before anyone else in less than two hours and sat huddled in my motorcycle jacket with my sleeping bag liner as a scarf with frozen solid boots and numb nuts wishing the time away for the sun to rise.

I tried to take some pictures of the summit but my fingers would not operate the camera controls and I put them quickly back in my winter bike gloves where the feeling came back several hours later. As soon as there was a glimmer of light on the horizon I agreed with Stephen that as we were freezing we should go and so we hurtled off back down the peak passing people still ascending.  A few asked me, ‘Aren’t you waiting for the sunrise?’

‘No’, I chattered inaudibly with my sleeping bag liner wrapped around me like a scarf.

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography... and now I was experiencing it for myself

very interesting flora and fauna on the mountain side. I remember studying about how the vegetation and soils changed on Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya when studying geography… and now I was experiencing it for myself

Believe it or not... this is the elephants closest relative

Believe it or not… this is the elephants closest relative

Camp 2 … improvising with whatever clothes I can find.

Strange large cabbage plants on the slopes of the mountain

A strange world up there

The summit .. at 4.30 am…. really really cold on the equator

Frosty and cold… using my sleeping bag liner as a scarf

Stephen…my racing snake guide to the summit…

Mount Kenya … on way down from the summit

Someone else’s boots … don’t quite fit, seen much better days and now soaking wet

Not a bad view though

 

Josef .. my chief guide and owner of safari company …If anyone is looking for a great guide in Kenya or Tanzania give Joseph a call. +254722853625 (www.josesafaris.com)

The summit of Mount Kenya ... first ones of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.

The summit of Mount Kenya … first people of the day (early morning) and I am bitterly cold.

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We got down very quickly, trotting down the paths like fell runners and I was back at Shipton camp before it was properly light. I did manage to get a few pictures coming down and was grateful I could not see the sheer cliff drops on the way up.

Back at camp George and Alice were still asleep in their maggots and so I decided to wake them and tell them of my revised plan to get off the mountain as quickly as possible as all my clothes were wet, I was freezing cold, nauseous from the altitude and generally miserable and grumpy.

George, clearly pleased that I had woken him, said, ‘What about the hotel on the other side?’

‘I’m afraid I’ll miss it…. you guys enjoy it’, I replied ‘I have to keep moving, see you back at the camp’

Joseph, the head guide said that I was a bull elephant, a compliment I think and congratulated me on my quick ascent and gave me some encouragement for the hike back, not that I needed much to get off that damned cold mountain.

I tried to eat some breakfast with the others but felt sick and so after a swig of something hot I motored solo back along the boggy paths, across the streams and lose rocks, up and down valleys and ridges, passing miserable Old Moses camp and back down through the rain forest to the park gate.

Having started the yomp at 2 am, ascended the peak of Mount Kenya and hoofed it all the way down I got back to Nanyuki town by mid afternoon. A real mountain marathon of about 55 kilometers.

I was still wet, but felt much warmer and after a coffee and a cake I returned the remains of my boots to Stephen, gave him as handsome a tip as I could afford and then discovered that nobody was at the camp. Never mind I thought, I will have a warm shower, but alas no, the fire under the boiler had not been lit yet.  Dooh!

When Fanny and the others returned to Mountain Rock an hour or so later they were surprised to see me as I was not expected for another 72 hours, or it might have been that I was completely naked. Either way there was a lot of commotion. I was very glad to be back and eventually did get a hot shower, a change into dry clothes, a warm by the fire, but still had a headache of note.

Fanny broke the bad news that while I was away the baboons had raided our tent and eaten all the Paracetamol, a tube of Germolene antiseptic cream, all my vitamins, including a packet of cod liver oil tablets and some of Fanny’s face cream.

If that’s not enough to turn your fur blue I don’t know what is.  The damp and cold of Mount Kenya had also helped give me a very bad chest infection and luckily our neighbour, Paula Thomas from Durban had some very good antibiotics that cleared it up in a few days. She also added that the tablets will clear up any venereal diseases I may have. So that was good.

The remainder of our time at Mountain Rock was spent preparing for the most difficult bit of our trip, the road to Moyale. Steve Thomas had been working hard making us a fuel filter out of a Milton disinfectant bottle, a washer made out of an inner tube and an old Lister petrol filter he found in town.

This piece of improvisation was to prove an extremely important aid to our expedition as I could now filter all the fuel before it went into the petrol tanks. The design of the KTM 990 Adventure does not allow for additional filters to be placed along the fuel line and my earlier attempts to make funnel filters out of stockings, gauze, socks and anything else were rather disappointing.  I also managed to source several bottles of octane booster and some bottles of injector cleaner. zhong zai yu fang.

Fanny Craddock, now an expert with a fire and pan was preparing our food and provisions for the next few weeks in the middle of nowhere. Noodles with veggies, noodles with meat, noodles with ginger nut biscuits, and noodles with noodles. We did take a break from Fanny’s mian tiao and went to a nearby restaurant called “Trout Tree Farm”.  So called because all they served was trout from their farm which you ate in the dining area up a huge tree with views of the surrounding trout lakes and the rain forest full of Colobus monkeys.

This would be the last larnie place we would enjoy for a long while and two days later Fanny and I set off towards north Kenya. For the first 280 kilometers the road was perfectly built Chinese tarmac, weaving through stunning mountain scenery not unlike remote parts of Namibia. The weather also got warmer as we descended from the foothills of Mount Kenya, the bikes were handling really well with the knobbly Pirelli MT21 Rallycross on the front whistling slightly on the tar. Then suddenly the road turned from perfect tarmac to dreadfully corrugated mud and stones as we entered a very African looking village with people wearing very colourful tribal clothes and jewelry . It was here where we saw the Wobbel again and were greeted by Paul and Marja.

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp

While I am climbing, Fanny is looking after the camp with Paul and Marja.

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2

Hiking with my guide up to camp 2.. these guys have a tough job

The Summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking back down to Nanyuki

The craggy summit, which I had just descended and was now hiking all the way back down to Nanyuki

Back down… I  jogged down mostly by myself. All in all about 14 hours solid hike to the summit and back down again to Nanyuki and our camp

you looking at me?

The making of the Steve Thomas petrol filter

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers.  I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The making of the invaluable petrol filter. Someone needs to manufacture a really good one for adventure travelers. I would even invest myself if someone could make a 100% efficient filter that could take out water, grit, and dust

The "Steve Thomas" petrol filter ... it worked really well.

The “Steve Thomas” petrol filter … it worked really well.

Steve repairing our mud guards that had been been badly bashed on both our bikes… getting ready for rocky roads to Moyale at Ethiopia border

Paul and Marja and Fanny … last stop before venturing into the wilderness of north Kenya

Fanny and Marja

Fanny and Marja having a last tab before we set off…

Bikes just before we set off towards Moyale

Bikes and The Wobbel just before we set off towards Moyale

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Paul and Marja had already gone ahead of us in the “Wobbel” with our extra fuel and water. They had bush camped the previous night while waiting for us and had got to know many of the people in the village already.

After we arrived we had some local food and prepared our bikes. One of the prudent measures was to reduce the weight of our bikes as much as possible and since we were camping each night with Paul and Marja we decided to take off our metal panniers and store them inside the Wobbel. The panniers and bags would have caused even more wear and tear on the bikes as they bounced and crashed along the corrugations and rocky road surface.

I guess we could have carried them but there was no need as for the next three days we would be traveling, or at least camping with our Dutch friends and could therefore take advantage of their assistance off-loading some of the weight. We then pointed north and tried to keep just ahead of the Wobbel (the globe trotting Mercedes bread van) and set off at the racing speed of 25-30 kph and sometimes were reduced to even slower as we tackled a surface that looked more like a dry river bed strewn with rocks and sand than a road.

Fanny was doing really well until she hit a bank of sand and went completely out of control, narrowly missing one of the few trees we saw for the next 500 kilometers. During the crash her windscreen and mirrors came off and we decided that from then on “Stella” should be ridden topless for the remainder of the Moyale road section as it would be cooler and safer and I couldn’t be bothered to put it back on again.

I had to admit that the riding was tough and I was nervous the violent shaking was dismantling the bikes to their component parts and perhaps even smaller. On my own I could perhaps ride very much faster along the corrugations and hit the sweet spot where you glide over them, but doing so presented a risk of seriously damaging the bike when eventually the front wheel would clang against a sharp rock sticking out of the road, possibly throwing me off, and possibly damaging the wheel rim and tyre walls. We had seen a KTM 990 Adventure ridden by an Australian who said he had done the whole section in a day at over 100 kphs, but despite his undoubted riding skills his bike was severely damaged due to several serious falls and his tyres? Well they were completely shredded and in all had lasted less than 2000 kilometers. Nope. Slow and steady was the name of the game and I had to get Fanny and her bike from one side to the other intact and look after our bikes until the next service in Egypt, and potentially another set of tyres in Europe.

Fanny had one more fall in deep sand and the bike went over the edge of an embankment and was incredibly difficult to get back up the sandy bank again. With a huge amount of effort the bike was manhandled back up the bank and righted. Those KTMs are tough bikes and so is Fanny. She dusted herself down, got back on the bike and we carried on.

Sometimes I would ride with earplugs in to drown out the racket of wind and other worrisome sounds caused by being thrown about on rocks. Rocks would constantly “dink” off the belly plate, wheel rims and frame.  Often hitting our footpegs and boots with clunks and pings.  Other times, I would listen to my Chinese lessons or music. Joy Division, New Order, UB 40 and Faithless would be common albums, sometimes the Tiesto podcasts and sometimes Vivaldi and Albinoni, although the latter classical music would often make me ride too fast and not concentrate as carefully as I should.

I reckon 99% of all motorcycle riders would really struggle on this road for so many days in the blistering heat and unrelenting dust. Not to mention shy away from riding through an area where there is a real risk of bandits shooting you.  Only a few days later when we reached Addis Ababa did we see the news on the TV that a British tourist had been shot dead and his wife kidnapped in north Kenya by Somali thugs, not too far from where we had been riding.

sandy gravel roads … not so bad

Marsabit

Up on the pegs all day …. I loved it. Tiring on the wrists though

Fanny … you have a very dirty face. Where have you been?

The Wobbel gets a puncture so I ride back to them to help them fix it… but Paul and Marja are experts and have spare on by time I get back

Meeting the locals

Shake, rattle and roll

Iconic picture of Fanny in the middle of nowhere… very gnarly road.. lots of rocks. Wonderful, actually.

video 3

KTM 990 Adventure in its element. Still taken from the wobbel of us on the go. We didn’t go fast and we never got a puncture… unlike everyone else.

video shot

Scooting along

Scooting along

sandy bit of road

Fanny and the Wobbel on a sandy bit of road

The bikes were superb … I could have ridden at 100 kph… How long I would have stayed at 100 kph is another matter. Lots of rocks to knock you off or clang the rims. So we took it steady at 40-60kph.

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture.  very barren and rocky stretch of road

Me coming back to look for Paul and Marja who had had a puncture. very barren and rocky stretch of road

We would pass or come across these trucks with livestock in the back and people perched up on top .  Sometimes we would see them repairing punctures somewhere along the 450 kilometers of rocks and sand and gravel. The roads were awful and most vehicles got at least one or two punctures along the way.

Eat my dust

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When it got to about five O’clock each day and we still had an hour of daylight we started to look for a place to camp. As we had started late the first day we did not get as far as Marsabit as we originally intended and so as we entered a small village we decided to ask the local police if we could camp on their grounds and they agreed. Fanny and I were absolutely filthy but we dusted ourselves down as best we could, put up the tent, and then had a very welcome cold beer with Paul and Marja whose 15 second camping preparations extend only to putting their table and chairs outside so they can crack open a beer.

Marja cooked a delicious Indonesian style meal and Paul and I later took a bottle of whiskey over to the police station to express our gratitude and numb the aches and pains with our new neighbours.

The village was interesting in a “never seen it before” sort of way, but this particular village was blessed with more than one idiot. In fact it had three who would not leave us alone as we prepared our bikes and tents for the night and bounded about like the Michael Palin character in the movie, “Life of Brian”. They did this for hours and despite threatening to shoot them with my catapult, electrocute them with our zapper or pepper spray them they just carried on jumping about saying daft and annoying things until one of the police officers came up and threatened to shoot them. I could really do with a Kenyan police issue AK47.

The next day we packed up, had a look around the sprawling scruffy village for anything that looked like food, but there wasn’t any and so we had some of our supplies and got going again.  The unrelenting road continued from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm with half an hour break in the dusty and slightly threatening town of Marsabit. A sort of half way point. We had a very welcome lunch, refueled our bikes and got some water for the days ahead. The only hassle we had was from a “chancer” who tried to charge us for stopping in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have to tell him what to do, Paul and Marja did a good job of expressing what we all thought of his entrepreneurial parking fee business plan. We had originally intended to camp in Marsabit as there is actually a game farm and a good place to stay, but we had arrived there far too early given the previous days delays and so we carried on.

The scenery on the route, I expect, was absolutely stunning, but I could rarely take my eye off the road, such was the concentration needed where we had to fight every meter standing on the foot pegs absorbing none stop shaking and rattling and twisting. Occasionally we would power the bike through mounds of gravel and huge sand pits with the back wheel snaking about violently. Huge sharp rocks would often threaten to puncture our tyres and did so on two occasions to Paul and Marja’s Wobbel, in addition to a number of trucks and buses we saw changing wheels in the middle of nowhere. At one stage in a very remote and barren section of the road that looked like an alien planet the Wobbel went missing and I elected to ride back to find them. 

As I cruised back the way we had come about 5 or so kilometers I could see the stricken wobbel, starkly contrasting against the surrounding nothingness in a sea of fuzzy heat haze in the rocky desert. As I got nearer I could see Paul bent over the rear wheel mending a puncture and Marja videoing taping me riding back towards them. They didn’t actually need any help as they were experts at mending punctures, but the incident allowed us to get some rare video footage of me riding in this amazing bit of the planet.

http://youtu.be/IkGSkKAwtxQ

As they were perfectly alright and having a beer while the tyre inflated with a very slow and pump I decided I better ride back and make sure Fanny was OK and having ridden the same rocky stretch of the road to Moyale for the third time in the day I saw her and her KTM far up ahead in the heat haze, completely surrounded by a vast expanse of desert and looking every bit the quintessential round the world adventure motorcycle rider. Covered in dust and sitting by the side of the road having a tab she looked the part and I was very proud of her. She was doing fine. In fact, like me she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

This stretch of road was very isolated and we passed though a massive desert of strange and rather hostile looking volcanic black rocks embedded in sand. As we got further on we occasionally had to avoid trucks charging down the road with livestock in the back and human passengers on the roof. These trucks created huge plumbs of dust behind them that lingered in the windless conditions. Despite the harsh road and challenging riding I managed to take quite a bit of video and a fair few photographs. On the whole I was relishing the challenge and really enjoyed riding a superb motorcycle in a location very few people know about, let alone venture to.

Our hydration packs were a God send and we both had to make a concerted effort to take small sips the whole time. We were both getting in the rhythm and again Fanny was riding really well and riding at just the right speed, taking it in turns with me to lead. It was difficult to choose the correct track on the road as all options were equally bad. One could fight the thick sand at the sides of the road or bash on through the rock fields, troughs and ridges. Any good track we decided to navigate along quickly petered out and we would then have to ride up over a sand bank or gnarly rock to find another.

As it got near to our “find a place to camp” time we entered a small village called Torbi where the road passed over a small mountain range and again we asked at the local police post if we could camp up for the night. Again they agreed. Unlike the previous police camp this one was amazing and located on the hill side with panoramic views across huge expanses of desert. It was Fanny’s turn to cook for everyone and both of us managed to get some water from the police station well and fashion an outdoor shower to wash off some of the grime and smell before we climbed into our tent and collapsed. We were at the exact site, (incidentally shown in the Long Way Down TV program), where dozens and dozens of little school children were massacred by “brave” African men with machine guns and machetes.  TAB….That’s Africa Baby

In the morning I had a chat with the outpost commander and shared a few police stories and watched the police officers doing their morning drill. As a former Royal Hong Kong Police Drill & Musketry Instructor I recognized that all the commands and drill movements were the same as those in Hong Kong, the link being that both were former British colonies. They did seem surprised that I knew the drill commands, but I resisted the temptation to bark out, ‘As you were’. We are very grateful to the hospitality shown to us by the police in Kenya.

Day three of the road to Moyale was more of the same, except that there were loads of camels everywhere and very remote African tribal people going about their business in the middle of seemingly nowhere wearing beaded collars with ornate piercings and colourful face paint. It was like something from the Discovery channel. I guess due to the remoteness and harsh conditions that things had not changed for centuries.

Again Fanny and I ploughed on, with the Wobbel following up behind us.  Another long day on the foot pegs and the webbing between my forefingers and thumbs were beginning to throb and ache quite badly. Fanny had been riding superbly and it proved the wise advise given by Leon from Country Trax that extreme off road riding is a mind game. My confidence in the ability of the KTMs was vindicated and despite the aches I was loving it.

By early afternoon we started climbing up into the mountains that separate Kenya from Ethiopia and we knew that our destination, Moyale was not too far away and indeed within an hour we started riding through the outskirts of a noticeably Islamic town.

When we got to the very busy centre of Moyale we seemed to be the only foreigners around. We didn’t want to draw attraction to ourselves while we waited for Paul and Marja to arrive at the border town, but being in the state we were in and on two dust covered huge motorcycles we could not anything but. Not that we cared much. We had made it and we both had a strong sense of cheng jiu gan and relief.

We had some local street food to eat and some fruit juice and then sat by the side of the road until we were reunited with the Wobbel as it wobbled up the road. Moyale spans the border and after some failed attempts to find a suitable and safe place to camp up, we decided to suffer the hassles of a late border crossing while fatigued and ride into Ethiopia.

Getting ready to camp in a small village

I take Fanny to all the best places… look at her happy face.

Marsabit … a bit of a wild west town

We saw lots of very interesting people and each tribe had ornate necklaces, or earrings, or discs in the lower lips…

Umm….

Scenery becoming a bit more sandy and mountainous

You can see Fanny’s tyre track meandering across the road to find the best route through the rocks and sand

Its like a moonscape … not that I’ve ever been to the moon. Lots of dust devils and whirly winds in the heat of the day. No vegetation at all for long stretches.

We camped at a Kenyan police post. Very kind and friendly officers

The police did drill in the morning … exactly the same orders and drill movements as the Royal Hong Kong Police in the day. British colonial legacy I suppose.

I prefer the traditional look … or perhaps a Chelsea beanie

Lots of camels as we got further north

“Hey Fanny… can you believe where we are??”

” You OK?” .. “Good, let’s gooooo”

Last camp with the Wobbel …. not far to Ethiopia now

My wonderful KTM

My wonderful KTM in north Kenya

We all made it….. a real sense of achievement

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Next chapter………..ETHIOPIA ….

.Stone throwing kids, rock hewn churches, Wims Holland Guesthouse, excitable aggressive people, Ethiopian New Year, coffee ceremonies, the biggest turd hole  in world (Addis Ababa), stunning mountain vistas, lush valleys, twisty mountain passes, bowls of  Tibis, Man U vs. Chelsea in a boisterous cinema, ticks & fleas, ‘ YOU YOU YOU, the catapult comes out the bag and is used in retaliation….

Chapter 2 – Botswana

We were now truly in Africa, so it seemed. The landscape had changed to classic bush colours and there were many signs warning of African animals that threatened to leap out onto the road. If that meant donkeys, goats, cows, dogs, human boys and yellow hornbills then that was true. We decided to stick as much as possible to the tarmac roads, even though the routes were a bit longer, the traffic a bit heavier and the scenery not so interesting, but Fanny needed to get her confidence back after her big crash in the Namib desert and start getting some solid hours in the seat… although I feared riding at 100 kph along a straight tar road was not steepening the learning curve enough.

That said, our expedition was all about the joys of riding excellent motorcycles in interesting and wonderful places and that was what we were doing. We would overcome the challenges ahead all in good time, and so it was with a great sense of achievement that we arrived in Maun, the gateway to the magnificent Okavango Delta.

Geographically the “river that never finds the sea” disappears into 6,000 square miles of lagoons, channels and islands and is the largest inland delta in the world and absolutely teeming with life. Two million tonnes of sand and silt flow into the system from the highlands of Angola and the 2 % that doesn’t end up in lake Ngami or 300 Kms across the Kalahari in Lake Xau and Makgadikgadi remains in the delta to make a truly magnificent oasis in the desert, the Okavango Delta.

Inhabiting the delta are 35 million fish (allegedly) of almost 80 species, the most abundant being a type of Bream that the crocodiles regularly feast on. Hippos flatten paths through the papyrus on their nocturnal forays to graze and this creates more channels and paths for other animals such as situatunga and antelope. There is an abundance of Impala, described by the locals as “Big Macs” as they form the diet of many of the predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena and wild dog. The are a huge number of elephants and giraffe and other grazers include buffalo, wildebeest, kudu, sable, roan, waterbuck, and the fastest antelope in world the Tsessebe.

 

Fanny making friends at the Namibia/Botswana border

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P1000186

Border crossing from Namibia into Botswana… very easy and quick.

We went on safari with two Canadians, Matt and Michael.  Michael who took some of the following pictures is a keen and talented photographer, and with his funky camera took much better pictures of the wildlife we saw whilst in the Okavango.

A magnificent Kudu in the Okavango

A big boy .. or is it a girl? It is very big.

A hareem of Impala…shiny healthy coats

This elephant just appeared out the bush.. it was not actually in the park but on the road to the park. We would see a lot more in Botswana.

P1000242

This lion was outside the park as well. We might as well have stayed outside and saved the entrance fee.

On safari in Okavango

Fanny and I in the Okavango

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Ah yes…. the rare lesser spotted Fanny … look out for those lions…and snakes ….and scorpions!!

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Technicoloured paradise

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New friends in Maun

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Roller

A Lilac Breasted Roller

Hammerkoft waiting patiently to catch a fish ... which it did.

A Hamerkop waiting patiently to catch a fish … which it did.

More Impala

One of the joys of camping in the bush is getting a big fire going and sitting around it and gazing at the flames (bush TV ). We became very accomplished firemakers.

We stayed at a superb camping site right next to the river, called “Old Bridge Backpackers”.  Website at:

http://www.maun-backpackers.com/

It seemed to be a very popular staging post for safaris, Mokoro expeditions (dug out canoe safaris), walking safaris, bush camps etc…  We did a one day safari and teamed up with Winfred, a forester from Bavaria and Matt and Michael (of Michael Heuchert photography fame ) from Calgary, Canada who were proving anything could be done by traveling through Africa and exploring the bush less traveled in a two wheeled VW polo. It is true, the best offroader in Africa is a hire car…don’t tell Avis.

Little did we know that our safari, which started very early,  would take 100 bumpy kilometers just to get to the entrance of Moremi Game Reserve, nor that we would all be absolutely frozen in an open top game viewer the whole way.  Everyone laughed at me for insisting that Fanny and I take our sleeping bags with us on the gameviewer, but I think we had the last laugh.

We were all chilled to the bone and it took two hours after sunrise for the temperature to become tolerable.  That said even before we hit the game reserve at the centre of the Okavango Delta we saw plenty of elephants, lions, impala, hyena and impressive kudu.

All the game we saw in the park looked beautiful and we were fortunate to see so much wildlife, but I guess I have been lucky and seen quite a lot of the Big 5  (Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino and Leopard) in my life and now my interest lies much more in the diverse flora and bird life across Africa. I am a bit of an amateur twitcher and take as much pleasure spotting a Lilac Breasted Roller as a Hippopotamus. I have lots of wild life and bird books at my home in Arniston on the southern tip of Africa and enjoy recording sightings and researching the various and fascinating birds I have seen on my travels in Africa. Throughout the trip, when I wasn’t looking in my mirrors to see if Fanny was still behind me, my head was constantly turning left and right as I scanned the trees and bushes.

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"Old Bridge" Okavango

“Old Bridge”  Backpackers in Maun, Okavango Delta

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Good food

Fanny and I having breakfast and doing our homework at Old Bridge, Maun.

The next day we decide to splash out on a flight over the Delta in a light aircraft. Maun has a lot of flight operators and again we teamed up with Winfred, Matt and Michael and had a sunset flight with Major Blue airlines, piloted by Andrew.  Sadly aerial photography requires some skill and special equipment, none of which I have and so I took lots of blurry pictures of black dots on greeny grey backgrounds that were allegedly animals.

Also one tends to expend too much time looking for creatures and shouting out ” Lion” or “Elephant” and too little time trying to focus the camera. By the time the camera was actually focused on something other than the perspex of the cockpit we had usually flown over our photograph target. It was however a truly magical landscape and it was a privilege to see it from 400 feet. Highly recommended, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Going for a sunset flight over the Okavango Delta.

High up above the Okavango

High up above the Okavango Delta at sunset

Can you see the wildlife? ….  Maybe a giraffe or an elephants… but very difficult to take a picture from an aeroplane.

Below .. lots of animals. Look at that Meercat

Look at that Banded Mongoose down there.

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Rupert & Fanny’s Big Flight Trip

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Our campsite at Old Bridge from the air.. you can actually see the KTMs and our tent if you look hard enough.

Fanny and the Canadian guys, Matt and Michael after a great sunset flight over the Okavango Delta

Fanbelt and myself back at camp with Michael, Matt and on the right, Winfried who we will meet up again with at his home in Bavaria, Germany much later on in the trip.

The young travelers sat in the bar and drank beer and surfed their Facebook and we older ones drank beer and sat by the fire and chatted.

The young travelers we met in backpackers and campsites along the way often sat in the bar during the evening drinking beer and seemed to be fully absorbed with their facebook and computers. We older travelers also drank beer, but preferred to sit by the fire and chat with each other. The generation gap, huh?

Baobab trees at our campsite at the aptly named Planet Baobab

Some of these baobab trees are thousands of years old.

Some of these baobab trees are thousands of years old.

Another camp

Big Fire at Planet Baobab.

Some of the campsite we stayed at in Botswana were beautiful. There were often chalets to rent, but we always camped. It is at this campsite we were visited by a leopard in the night

Some of the campsite we stayed at in Botswana were beautiful. There were often chalets to rent, but we always camped. It is at this campsite called Planet Baobab we were visited by a leopard in the night

We saw a lot of baboons throughout Africa.

We saw a lot of baboons everywhere. Later at our campsite on the slopes of Mount Kenya a blue baboon and his troop raided our tent. A blue baboon isn’t a sub- species of baboon, but rather a very naughty alpha male Kenyan baboon that was spray painted blue and had a bell put around his neck by the Kenyan locals because he was a recidivist thief.

Still cold at Moremi Game Reserve. I did bring our sleeping bags and was still freezing until at least 10 a.m.

There were as many animals to see outside the park as inside.

There were as many animals to see outside the park as there were inside.

Oh please come up sun....

Hurray the sun….

Yes... we are looking at you.

Yes… we are looking at you.

Something's been here. In fact we saw leopard prints outside out tent in Botswana, Namibia and Kenya. I think these are lion prints though. Luckily saw none of these outside out tent.

Something’s been here. In fact we saw leopard prints outside out tent in Botswana, Namibia and in Kenya. I think these are lion prints though. Luckily we never saw any of these outside out tent. I don’t think!!!

Beware of things that come out the water

Zambia on the other side of the Zambezi River

Zambia on the other side of the Zambezi River

After a relaxing and enjoyable few days at Maun we headed north east towards the Zambezi River that separates Botswana from Zambia. This was quite a long stretch of riding through amazing bush lands that surround quite a few national parks on the east of the Okavango. We camped along the way at some superb places, one of which was called Planet Baobab and is beautifully set among hundreds of Baobab trees, many of them thousands of years old.

The website for Planet Baobab is at :

http://www.planetbaobab.co/

Planet Baobab not only had very reasonably priced campsites, but also some quite luxurious lodges and chalets set among the baobabs and well tended gardens. As always, there was a great bar and a huge fire place around which the guests could relax, eat good food and drink. It was also a popular stop for the overland trucks and their young travelers. Quite a good way to see Africa and this must have been one of the more popular campsites on the overlander itinerary.

Fanny and I had pitched our tent on sand and in the morning we noticed paw prints circling our tent. I asked one of the local guys what animal they belonged to and was rather startled and quite excited to learn they were leopard paw prints and that we had had a nocturnal visitor. We were told there were actually a lot of leopards in the area, but that they were very stealthy and quite shy of humans. I asked if it was dangerous and whether they would attack humans and was not entirely reassured with the answer, “Not usually”.

We had now crossed Botswana from the Kalahari in the west and were not far from the border with Zimbabwe in the east and now planned to ride northwards to Zambia. We had been told by nearly everyone we met that the roads were bad, and I suppose they were, but our KTMs had no problem making progress along overladen truck destroyed roads that were reduced to gravel, sand and huge potholes.  A particularly long stretch that actually went through a game park was described by many 4×4 drivers we encountered as particularly bad, but our bikes were made for such surfaces and had no problems at all.

For some reason our four wheeled cousins were having a bad time of it and we saw many broken down vehicles, and on one particular occasion a South African “bakkie” that had been towing a trailer tent upside down with all the contents of the trailer strewn about. We saw the occupants sitting by the side of the road and stopped to ask them if they were alright. They were, but a Botswana ambulance arrived shortly afterwards and also some park rangers. I suppose it would be bad luck to survive a car crash in the bush and then get eaten by the local wildlife. Judging by the extensive damage to the bakkie and the complete destruction of the trailer tent it was probably the end of their own particular expedition.

We actually saw quite a few accidents involving 4×4 vehicles on our trip through Africa, and I would venture the cause in most cases was because they were driving too fast on gravel surfaces or suddenly hit huge potholes and lost control. Often they rolled their vehicles causing serious damage and occasionally serious injury to the occupants. Given all this we still saw far too many 4×4 cars driving too fast and taking too many risks. Like motorcycling it takes experience and skill to rally race on sand and gravel.

For us on our “off road” orientated motorcycles it was much easier along this stretch of road because we simply weaved between the huge potholes, rode over obstacles, skimmed across corrugations and could squeeze along narrow tracks by the side of the road when it was very muddy or very gnarly. There was actually a new road being constructed in places and often we would ride up the steep embankments and between the traffic cones and ride along new and pristine tarmac before it had officially opened and thus make good progress and keep out the way of the trucks and other traffic. When we came up to the sections of road construction with heavy plant equipment we just rode on the grass or the verges and managed to easily bypass any traffic jams or obstructions.

It was also along this stretch of road we ran into dozens of elephants, some by the side of the road pulling branches off the trees, some plodding across the road, but more often than not just standing in the middle of the road looking at us. If they didn’t get out the way we just rode around them. It was at times like that we really appreciated just how lucky we were to be here, riding our bikes in beautiful Africa.

Our last camp in Botswana was in Chobe and we pitched our tent right next to the Zambezi River and next to signs warning about the creatures that make the river their home. Years before, I camped on the banks of the Luangwa River in Zambia, but perched seven or eight meters on a platform up a tree, safely away from the hippos and crocodiles that came out at night. This time we were on the ground, although with a lot more people. Like many in Botswana it was a good campsite and we were kept amused by the commotion caused by hippos and other creatures regularly jumping into the swimming pool and scaring the guests.

The next day we packed up early, fueled up our bikes and crossed the river by ferry boat into Zambia. Country number 4.

Fanny ...wandering about in her knickers as usual. Anyone would think she wants to get those enduro trousers off

Fanny …wandering about in her knickers as usual. Its something both professional beach volley ball players and lap dancers do for a living

Our campsite next to the Zambezi River in Botswana

After you, Sir……… or is it Madam.

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Impala … beautiful coats. This lovely picture was taken by Michael Heuchert from Canada with whom we went on safari.  Better camera than ours and more importantly much more talent.

Zambezi River ... Zambia on other side

Zambezi River … Zambia on the other side

Do you ever get the feeling you are being looked at?

Do you ever get the feeling you are being looked at?

Sundowner with Fanny on the banks of the Zambezi... raaaah!

Sundowner with Fanny on the banks of the Zambezi… raaaah!

Africa.... its harsh, man.

Africa…. its harsh, man.

 

 

Friendly police in Botswana

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