Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

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

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

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

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

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

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

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

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

Chongqing

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

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

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

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

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

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

East

Eastwards…..

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

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanny facing the press

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

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

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what's this idiot doing?

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

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

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

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

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

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

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

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

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

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

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

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

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

Having dinner with imotor.com

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

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

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

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

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

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are we?

Where are we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

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

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

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

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

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruising

Cruising …

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

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

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

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

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

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

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

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

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

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

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

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

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

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

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

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

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

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

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

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

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

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

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

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

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

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

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

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Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding

Goes on a bit

Goes on a bit

Fanny trying to avoid another mudbath

Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.

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

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

Passing under the G50... its for wimps

Passing under the G50… its for wimps

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

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

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

get off my land....

“ge roff roff my land….”

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

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

I hope you like corn on the cob.

corn on the cob.

or chili ..

or chili ..

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

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

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

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

So China

So China

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

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

Agricultural Artwork

Agricultural Artwork

Deserves a second picture

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

China... a place of stark contrasts

China… a place of stark contrasts.

IMG_0688

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

Look back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

Looking back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

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

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

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

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

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Remote farm houses

Local farm houses

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

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

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

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

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

Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.

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

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

Next…….

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

Chapter 1 – Part 2. Rupert & Fanny are on the way!

So we are off.  It’s an early start as we head north on the N7, stopping just outside the Cape Town suburbs for fuel, a quick check of the bikes to ensure that everything that should be attached actually is –  and a petrol station Wimpy fry-up breakfast with the truckers.

It took a while for the sun to come up, but it was still very cold until we passed the mountains where I used to paraglide two decades ago around the Porteville area. We rode across the vast valley full of wheat fields and up over the pass into Citrusdel, an town surrounded by fruit orchards and where I once landed in an “All Africa Paragliding competition” almost 15 years ago. It seemed a long time ago but the scenery remained the same.  It was definitely faster on a motorbike. As we headed north the scenery changed quickly from green Cape vineyards and mountains to the brown and yellow of the Cederberg and Karoo.

map of south africa

South Africa is a magnificent country and a perfect adventure riding location. Our first leg was from Arniston on the southern-most tip of the continent to one of the best cities in the world, Cape Town. From there we rode more than 700 kilometers on the N7 due north to Vioolsdrif at the border with Namibia

Our first stop for petrol and a Wimpy breakfast … we are on the way

Northwards

Northwards

Porteville and Citrusdel from a paragliders persepéctive

Porteville from a paraglider’s perspéctive… the N7 is to the left of this picture and then crosses over a ridge pass and down the other side towards Citrusdel at the top right. From there on it is due north all the way to Namibia.

The N7

The N7

Tarmac roads replaced by gravel and sand… the KTMs are in their element in such environments being the true “go anywhere” adventure bikes

Fanny’s KTM 990 Adventure (2008 model) fully laden with everything she will take around the world

My new KTM 990 Adventure R (2011)

The Vaude MkII Light tent .. which will be our home for many months in some amazing places

Always a sense of achievement crossing a border into another country. This particular border is an easy one, but they get more tricky, expensive and lengthier the further north we went

Orange River between Namibia and South Africa

The Orange River between Namibia and South Africa

You have to be careful of ferocious animals that might come into your tent in Africa…

On the banks of the Orange River…. 18 months later we will camp on the banks of the Yellow River on the other side of the world.

We made good progress to the northern South African town of Springbok, but did not stop  and carried on up to Vioolsdif at the border with Namibia where the scenery had become very much dry reddish brown desert and rocky mountains.

Just before the border crossing we turned off the main road and headed west along the banks of the Orange River to a camp site which was pretty much deserted. We pitched our tent in the same location my friend, Nick Dobson and I camped at two years previously on another motorcycle trip. At that time it was the Southern Hemisphere summer, baking hot and the air thick with insects. In order to keep cool we wallowed in the river and illegally swam over and entered Namibia a few times with an unusually lean Labrador dog.

This time it was quite cold, definitely no swimming as the water was quite high and there was a rumour of cholera reaching this far down river.  It was very quiet and there was no food to be had in the camp site, except a couple of beers which we drank whilst exploring the banks of the river and wandering through pumpkin fields with various dogs that decided to adopt us, including the yellow Labrador that befriended me the last time I was here.

Surrounding the thin green ribbon that surrounds each side of the Orange River were very arid and red looking mountains that stretched as far as the eye could see.  As we settled in for our first camp after more than 700 kilometers of riding from Cape Town I could not help but think that we had far too much kit and it took an age to unpack it, sort it out and of course re-pack it the next day.

The Vaude Mk II Light tent we got from China was excellent and was to prove throughout the expedition a very sound investment indeed. It was to be our home for many months and protect us not only from the rain, sun and sand storms, but also keep out any critters that came sniffing around in the night, such as leopards that paid us a visit on at least a couple of occasions, but most importantly insects and the dreaded mosquito.

Camping, of course, was all new to Fanny and she was not sure what to do, but after a few days it soon become a fine tuned procedure with each of us doing our setting up and getting packed tasks in perfect sync.

I had a change of mind in Cape Town as we were preparing our equipment, and despite the added expense, I had replaced our 2.5 cm standard sleeping mats with 7.5 cm ones – a very wise decision as it turned out as sleeping on these thick mats was like sleeping on a proper bed. These South African mats (Thermal Comfort 7.5) also had velcro down each side so that they could be joined together to make a pretty decent double bed inside the tent.  A thin mat is perfectly OK for hiking and short adventures, especially if you have to lug it around in a rucksack, but when your adventure is going to last months, or perhaps years as ours did, getting a comfortable and decent nights kip is vitally important.

Here in northern South Africa and Namibia at this time of year (June/July)  the temperature plummets during the night, often to below freezing and so the heat insulation from a good sleeping mat was also very important. We would later camp in the more chillier climes of the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, Himalayas and, lets not forget, England and Wales!

Deciding what to carry (or not) is always a judgment call between keeping all the equipment on our bikes as light as possible, and the benefit that particular piece of equipment actually brings. Often when planning an expedition adventure bikers will bring too much and its only when you start riding your large and heavy adventure bike on sand or “off road” that you start to reassess whether you actually need all the things you brought along.  These sleeping mats were not exactly light, perhaps a couple of kilos, and they were quite bulky,  rolling up into a 1.2 meter long by 35 centimeter diameter tube.  However, they actually fitted very nicely strapped down against our North Face bags across the rear seat and metal panniers.

Our sleeping bags were actually quite cheap ones and not that warm and at about 3-4 am each morning in the Namib desert, for instance, we would both wake up cold and try our best to ensure all the warm air was sealed inside and that there were no gaps for cold air to creep in.  Its always coldest just before dawn because the ground and air has had longer to cool. Wisely, we bought small and light hi-tech sleeping bag liners which not only allowed us to keep our sleeping bags relatively clean inside, but added 15 degrees of warmth as the desert temperatures plummeted. They could also be used as light sleeping bags on their own in warmer conditions.

On the border with Namibia and RSA in the middle of winter it rained often during the night, but as we headed north it got dryer and the diurnal temperature range widened to below freezing point at night with dazzlingly bright sunshine during the day. Surprisingly, it was still very chilly riding on the bikes, even in the brilliant sunshine of the desert, and so we were heavily layered up with fleeces and thermals under our riding gear.

I was using my old riding gear made by Lookwell and Fanny had some pretty good, but cheap Canadian brand enduro clothes she found online in China. Although my kit looked the part, it was not very good, being neither warm nor water proof and so I often had to pile on layers of clothes underneath. When it rained, which wasnˊt actually that often in Africa, I got soaked through… as we both did in some heavy rains in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Later when we got to Italy we were given by a Chinese sponsor outstanding adventure motorcycling jackets, trousers and base layers made by Revˊit. (See Kit & Equipment Page). This kept us perfectly dry and warm and was extremely comfortable… and with built in body armour kept us safe and well protected too.

On the second day we woke up early, but faffed about packing and re-packing kit into the panniers and kit bags and strapping things down in intermittent rain. The South Africa/Namibia border crossing was fairly smooth and non eventful as we filled in forms at exit and entry immigration stations. We were both excited now as the adventure was truly underway. No turning back now until Shanghai. Our target today was not a very long way away, but we would be riding on gravel and sand and so I set our GPS for Ais Ais in Fish River Canyon. After crossing the border it wasn’t long before we turned off the smooth tarmac road that leads to Windhoek and onto the usual Namibian road surface… gravel.

A farm house in the middle of the Namib Desert

Our standard camping configuration with the bikes being used to secure the guy lines which double up as washing lines. Boots upside down on the mirrors which protect them from the rain and “sort of” prevents scorpions and spiders crawling inside. No animal with a nose would dare venture into mine anyway.

We are really in the adventure now… everyday we get further and further away from where we started. I have Fanny and everything I need with me and so home is where we pitch our tent each evening. No mobile phones, no internet… life is the here and now. Its very liberating.

 

Fanny, with very little experience under her belt is guided along by her KTM. She is still a little unsure of everything but by being on the bike most of the day and every day she quickly settled into the riding routine and started notching up the biking hours.

Namibia is very wild, but there are little oasis here and there to relax and re-fuel. This is the famous Canon Roadhouse that I have visited five times in my life and is now a motor museum in the middle of now-where. Solitaire, for instance, a little further north , has a great cafe which serves up some of the best and most welcome apple pie in the world.

Canon Roadhouse.. a very welcome break.

Canon Roadhouse.. a very welcome break.

Canon Roadhouse

Canon Roadhouse

Good, she's there. Well done, Fanny .. only another 50,000 kilometers to go

Good, she’s there. Well done, Fanny .. only another 50,000 kilometers to go

  。

Fanny was doing OK, although she often fell behind and her inexperience started to nag at me and I had the first inklings of doubt as to whether she would manage the expedition or not. She had already dropped the bike several times and remained unable to master U-turns and slow turns on hills which are quite technical maneuvers and not easy on heavy laden bikes when your feet barely touch the ground. Fanny continued to struggle and her confidence was waning with my increasing impatience and overt anger each time she dropped the bike, leaving behind scratches and minor damage to a hitherto pristine condition motorcycle.

In fairness, I have fine tuned my riding skills over more than 30 years. Fanny has less than 5 months experience and was now committed to riding a KTM 990 Adventure around the world and so my impatience with her not being able to do this (yet) was unwarranted and unfair. In fact one had to admire her courage and determinism. She is a very tough girl, a real ambassador for China and a champion for women.

I think this picture is one of the iconic images of the trip. You cannot imagine how happy and proud I am to see Fanny in full flight in the Namib desert on the best adventure bike in the world. She is an athlete, a former professional one no less, and that means not only physical strength, but mental toughness and a disciplined mind. Experience? It will come.

Looking good.

Looking good.

Camping up....

Camping up….

You have to see Namibia to appreciate it… the scale and isolation is like nothing else. Despite the arid desert it is home to an abundance of fauna and flora.

Fanny … adventure biker

The road to Ai Ais was familiar territory for me as I have been along this awesome route on several occasions. My new KTM 990 Adventure R was handling very well and Fanny was getting better and better on her orange 990 Adventure,  handling the windy descent along a very gravelly road into the valley with relative ease.

We set up camp along the banks of Fish River in the canyon and took advantage of a restaurant at the camp site and have an early dinner. The food served at this overly expensive camp site consisted of standard Southern African stodge and was bland and faintly lacking in nutrition. I think I now know why the butts in this region (both black and white) are excessively large…generous and regular portions of lard and sugar, perhaps? There is actually very good food to be had in southern Africa, but my advise to anyone visiting Ai Ais is bring your own, cook it yourself and then wallow in the hot spring pools.

Our tent was set up in the configuration we often used when camped up with the tent guy lines being replaced by the bungee cords anchored to our bikes, clothes pegs on lines and boots in anti scorpion & anti spider position upside down on our bike mirrors.  We had another very cold night and our water bottles froze in our tent as the temperature plummeted to below -7 degrees.

Only when the sun light streamed down into the valley above the sheer cliffs of the canyon did the temperature rise slightly above freezing.  I had not had a chance to do any running for a while and my broken ribs were still aching every time I breathed which did not help my gloomy mood. I had given up my career and spent a huge amount of money for this trip and so I should have been enjoying myself, and I was a bit, but this particular morning I was not.  I was cold, my body ached, and was increasingly nervous for Fanny.

We packed up and continued riding and camping across Namibia and headed towards the highest sand dunes in the world at Soussesvlei. To get there, as Nick Dobson can testify, we had to cross dreaded SAND, but I settled into my Dakar fantasy, employing the skills I recently learnt with “Country Trax Off  Road Riding Academy” in South Africa and breezed across whatever presented itself with relative ease… and with improving mood. All was going well.

The gates to the Skeleton Coast

My tank bag with maps, GoPro (later stolen in Egypt) and Power Monkey solar charger. GPS on dash.

Is it a road or is it a desert? Its both. Yeeeehaaaa.

Taking a break….

A coffee latte or an orange fanta? It'll be one of the other for Fanny. One of the great things about Namibia is you can enjoy one of the most remote places in the world and still find some very nice rest stops.

A coffee latte or an orange fanta? It’ll be one or the other for Fanny.

 

When riding off road the standard and recommended riding position is to be standing on the foot-pegs, thus lowering the motorcycle’s centre of gravity and absorbing the slides, bumps and shakes. I focused on where I wanted to go and battled against the natural instinct to look at where I didn’t want to go. Head up, knees and elbows out and smile is the mantra of off road riding. In much the same way as landing a paraglider, if you look at something you will get target fixation and inevitably fly or ride into what you are trying not to, and so it is a test of confidence to always look ahead. On a motorcycle that means you always look up and never look down, otherwise “down” is where you will end up,  inevitably with painful consequences.

Riding on the pegs is very exhilarating and both Fanny and I enjoyed it very much. It also gives the numb bum a rest and exercises the legs and stomach. However, you cannot see in you mirrors which are usually set to the normal sitting position and so in order to check  mirrors I had to squat down and crane my neck to check behind me. On one of these infrequent mirror glances I was suddenly flushed with alarm to find that Fanny’s orange light was no longer behind me.

Except for the plume of dust from my tyres it was completely deserted, no sign of her at all.  TA MA DE!

My heart pumped and I was filled with a sudden panic and dread. I quickly slid my bike around in a rather dramatic style and rode back the way I came and saw Fanny kneeing down by the side of the road and her bike literally upside down with a trail of luggage strewn across the sand track. Fortunately, Fanny looked OK (ish) and insisted she was fine.

She explained that she rode off the road and into the sloping kitty litter sandy gravel and lost control. ‘I was looking at the pony’, ‘and then suddenly I was off the road and came off’.

‘WHAT?’  I ranted, ‘I told you about the camber of the road many times’.

I was stressed and worried about her rather than angry, but I had probably not done much for her confidence by berating her.  Her bike looked OK, but one of the panniers was no longer a rectangle shape, but rather a sort or squashed shape, the name of which escaped me, but I remembered from mathematics problems at school that the shape definitely has a smaller volume than a rectangle… AND the buckle fasteners were missing. Lost somewhere in the sand.

Fanny looked forlorn and in retrospect must have been in shock. We righted the bike, detached everything, considered what equipment I had (or not) and I started a futile attempt to straighten the panniers with a rock. After about 15 minutes a South African registered “bakkie” pulled up with a family group aboard and asked if everything was OK. It was not, I was pretty grumpy and my mind was saying ‘GO AWAY… AND LEAVE ME ALONE’,  but perhaps as I reach my half century I am mellowing and instead said,  ‘Had a bit of a spill, you don’t happen to have a hammer do you’?

The edges of the road have sand traps and you need to be careful not to drift onto them at high speed. The video on Youtube shows this bit of the route http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TSyYwZGcsg

Long gravel roads

Why the long face?

A lot of roads in Namibia are like this.

The elephants move quickly here

A minute later I was furiously panel beating in the midday sun with a semi circle of South African children being introduced to various Anglo Saxon and occasionally Mandarin expletives…. much to the distress of their parents who quickly decided I should keep the hammer and hand it back to them at Sussousvlei (or whenever). They then disappeared off as fast as they could in a cloud of dust and Fanny and I were left in the middle of the desert.  It took me about an hour to hammer the aluminium panniers back into a shape that was as 99% close to how it should be.  I would get better and faster at panel beating later on in the expedition as I would get much more experience doing it than I bargained for.

I successfully fixed the indicators which had broken off and smashed using  gaffer tape (duct tape – a motorcycling adventurer’s “must have”) and created new lens covers with some transparent and curved cellophane packaging from the GoPro camera. Later I would buy some new indicators from KTM in Windhoek, but we kept the repaired indicators on the bike pretty much until we got to Europe where I knew the police would quibble over my master pieces of ingenuity.

We then continued on, but just outside Helmingshausen, or Hell’s Kitchen as Nick Dobson and I had aptly called it two years previously, we had yet another drama.  Again, I could not see Fanny in my rear view mirror and so like the last time I swung my bike around and dashed back full of panic and worry. Because of standing up high on the pegs I could not see out of the mirrors all the time and when I did I would usually see the orange glow of Fanny’s headlight just behind me. This time there was nothing again. Heck!

As I rode furiously back I could see in the distance that Fanny and her bike had parted company. As I got nearer I was alarmed to see her lying by the road, bike upside down again, but on this occasion she was not looking that good. Now my panic had been replaced with concern and intense worry. I knelt beside her and checked her out and discovered that she had injured her stomach, arms and legs. Her helmet had a huge gash in it and it was clear that the neck brace she always wore had undoubtedly prevented serious injury. She had had a big one.

Fanny later told me she came off at about 90 kph whilst trying to keep up with me and somersaulted off the bike into the roadside. I anxiously eyed the rocks and trees nearby that she miraculously avoided and visibly winced as I pondered over what could so nearly have been a very serious crash. I surveyed the crash scene and using my basic accident investigation skills picked out the tyre and skid marks which had veered off from the gravel track onto very steep sand ridges and then meandered and weaved aggressively into the desert. Fanny had ridden onto one of these sand ridges, gone into an uncontrollable wobble and was catapulted over the handle bars into the road side. The bike had also somersaulted over several times and it was very lucky it never hit her.

This accident was my fault. I had been riding too fast, in my own little world and enjoying the technical handling of the KTM in amazing scenery and had sort of forgotten about Fanny trying to keep up. Not good.  Also, I could see that her motorcycle appeared to be quite badly damaged, at least cosmetically.  A mirror had broken off and damaged the brake fluid reservoir it was attached to and the remaining indicators had smashed off and the new touring windscreen had come off, and although intact, was completely scratched and grazed and I was not sure if I could put it back on.

Both fuel and water were leaking from somewhere and the bike was generally looking very sorry for itself… but not as much as Fanny who was in shock and was fearing the trip was over, after only 5 days, and worried she had let me down. My fears for Fanny were compounded when she unusually asked to stop and rest for a while. She is the toughest woman I have ever met and not one for drama and theatrics.  If she says she is hurt then she is really hurt and probably quite badly. Having been trained in first aid on numerous occasions during my police career and having a very well stocked first aid kit I was able to do what was needed at the scene. But we were in the middle of the desert and Fanny needed to rest.

8-20-2007 (1246)

Yep…

Sand dunes in Namibia with my motorcycle below

What sunsets

What sunsets

Dunes

Dunes

.

After fifteen minutes or so I asked Fanny is she was able to limp the bike back to Hell’s Kitchen. Unfortunately, Fanny cannot ride my bike. The suspension of my KTM 990 Adventure R is much longer than on her standard bike and as such Fanny cannot put her feet down on my R version. Also, Africa, like many other places, is not the place to leave a motorcycle unattended, if you would ever like to see it and its contents again, and so she was insistent to ride her own bike. We definitely couldn’t stay where we were, the next town was 180 kilometers away on quite bad roads, and so we had to get back to the nearest habitable place we had ridden through. We had no choice.

In true Fanny determined style she did so and we hobbled 20 kilometers back to the nearest village, set up camp and continued the first aid on Fanny’s wounds. A day or so later livid bruises appeared all over Fanny’s body and she had a deep cut to her lower stomach. If she had been a man I think the handle bars she flew over might have removed some important appendages. Fanny being a woman was clearly a little more streamlined in this particular area. My eyes were watering thinking about it.

Back at camp and with Fanny patched up and rested I started on the repairs which required “bike band-aids” ( i.e. gaffer tape) on nearly everything, removing remaining extremities and stripping everything down to the bare chassis to examine the damage. What concerned me was that the front forks seemed out of line. Had I more experience I would have realized that they had just slipped in the triple clamp.

As it was I was not entirely sure what remedial repairs could be made or indeed how to do them. I did my best and then we made use of a local restaurant and sat by the fire in the chilly evening air and contemplated the options ahead.

The next day we both felt slightly better, more positive and made a plan to try and get the bike to a KTM garage I knew existed in the Capitol city, Windhoek. We would stick to the best roads possible as Fanny’s steering was about 15 degrees out… which meant riding with one arm stretched out and the other bent as if turning a corner. Not a great way to ride a 1000cc adventure motorcycle across a desert in Namibia, but Fanny managed with ease and we made steady progress to a highway town called Kalkrand, reaching it just as the sun was going down.

Kalkrand is not really on the tourist itinerary and so it was difficult to find anywhere to eat and sleep. I asked at the police station and they said we could camp in their compound and use the court room (adjacent to the police station) for light and electricity. Our mood had lightened somewhat and we had a fun night chatting with the police officers and making a video of a night courtroom drama in which we all larked about and played roles of judge, defense attorney, defendant and police prosecutor. The things you can do when there is no computer, internet or idiot box (TV).

In our mock trial with the local police,  I was convicted and escorted off to the jailhouse which looked like it was from a scene in the movie “Saw”.  Note for file – In real life don’t get locked up in Namibia. The cells would make the Turkish prison in the 1980’s movie “Midnight Express”  look like the Ritz. The karzie was particularly bad too… but I have seen worse…. I do live in China after all!

Kalkrand is basically just a fuel station and a popular rest stop for truck drivers between South Africa and other parts of Africa, and so naturally it also attracted the local “ladies” of the night who ply their trade. On a visit to the local petrol station to buy some provisions we saw that one truck driver was having a full blown party in his cab, music blaring, dancing and singing. Looked like they were having a good time, but what we were actually witnessing was one of the various ways that the deadly  “ÄIDS”  is spread across southern Africa and why its so rampant in these parts.

The next day we continued along the main highway into Windhoek and searched around for a place to stay. I decided that we should fork out and stay in a lodge so that Fanny can relax and recover and after a police like sweep of various roads leading in and out of the city we found a decent enough, albeit above our budget place to stay.

I also tracked down the local KTM garage and handed Fanny’s bike into the very capable hands of Kevin who runs the Windhoek operations and no doubt has seen many broken KTMs as Namibia is a very popular destination for off road and enduro motorcycling. In fact many off road expeditions are run from Windhoek using various types of KTM enduro and Rallye motorcycles. Namibia is the sort of Morocco and Tunisia of the southern hemisphere and there are some truly spectacular and amazing rides to go on.

The school of hard knocks.

Poor Fanny… all part of her education at the school of hard knocks.

Our campsite while we fixed Fanny and her bike

The Dunes

They are not poodles stuck up a tree, but elaborate Weaver nests

Camping (sort of) in a canvas hut at the border of Namibia and Botswana

.

BMW has done a better marketing campaign with the likes of the Long Way Down/Round guys championing their brand, but I think the Austrians at KTM actually have the better range of bikes for adventure riding on all terrains. Better chassis, better balance, a much more off road adventure orientated bike. The only negatives I have about our KTMs are  describe later on in Chapter 7, but these are minor and most things like poor water pumps and clutch slaves have been upgraded and improved upon in later models.

I held my breath as Kevin checked out “Stella”, the name Fanny had given her bike. He paused and blew out his cheeks. I raised my eyebrows in anticipation.  And then he informed me that the bike needs crashing in the opposite direction. ‘What?’ I think out aloud… ‘Yaah!, he exclaims. ‘Crash the front wheel in the other direction and the forks will straighten out in the triple clamp…. its minor’. ‘The rest is just cosmetic and we can fix’. ‘Come and get it tomorrow afternoon… is that OK?’

Too right….I can’t say how relieved I felt… and it was a great birthday present, although the crashing repair job nagged at my mind somewhat. There again,  I suppose so long as you keep the crashes to an even number on each side you will point straight!

On the 29th June I turned 48 and we had a very relaxing day in Windhoek doing touristy things and later had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I am unapologetic about eating Chinese food in Africa. It’s my favourite food and its my birthday and so shui zhu niu rou, suan la tang, chao qing cai,  qie zi and qing dao beer cheered both Fanny and me up and the rest of the time we idled about looking around Windhoek and eating a huge chocolate birthday cake from Mugg & Bean coffee shop in the city centre.

Lots of these in Namibia

Lots of these in Namibia

Visiting the China-Namibia tourist office in Windhoek

Visiting the China-Namibia tourist office in Windhoek

 

Staying in Windhoek

Staying in Windhoek

At the KTM doctors

Back on the road again… bikes as good as new. Even if Fanny’s isn’t looking as shiny new as it was when we started. But then one could say it now has true gravel track cred. A real adventure bike, not a commuter.

Kudu (an ex one)

 

The next day I arrived at the KTM garage and I was a bit alarmed to see a naked KTM on the mechanic’s work bench. Trying to disguise my disappointment I asked Kevin if everything is OK and he explained that both his mechanics were in hospital after being T-boned on their motorcycle at a junction in town by a truck. But, Kevin reassured me, he will personally work on the bike through the evening. I opened my mouth and for once in my life no sound came out and I gulped and thought of something nice to say and appropriately asked, ‘Are they OK?’ when I in fact I was really thinking ‘Thank heavens the bike will get fixed’.

So we had another night in Windhoek which is quite a nice city and I think was good for both of us … especially Fanny who had been pushing the limits in these early stages and trying above and beyond.

She really needed some down time and I was quite happy to chill for a bit longer in Windhoek. In the morning we were pleased to find that “Stella” had been fixed. It turned out there was nothing really wrong with it. The fluids I saw were of course caused by the bike being upside down as it somersaulted through the air and nothing was damaged or broken. The steering was still, to my eye, a fraction of a degree out when compared with my bike, but Fanny said she couldn’t tell the difference. In any case, I did a few more lamppost adjustments and it seemed just fine.

Eventually we had the front forks looked at by KTM in Nairobi and they basically did nothing and seemed to think they were OK. However, much later on at the superb KTM centre in Sharm El Sheihk in Egypt the talented Egyptian mechanics did a thorough service on both bikes and properly re-aligned and re-torqued the triple clamp on Fanny’s bike.  Since Fanny had ridden it across the whole of Africa by then it was academic, but we just wanted to make sure the bike was 100%. These KTMs are tough machines and the actual WP front forks themselves were absolutely fine and lived up to their reputation of being the best.

Kevin told me that he managed to find new indicators and he had put them on the bike. The brake cylinder had been mended with a new cover, seals and gaskets, fluids re-bled, cooling system and radiator checked, and broken off mirrors re-attached to a more robust KTM handlebar attachment. It looked the part and dare I say like a true adventurer should, unless you are selling one and every scratch is being scrutinized by a potential buyer for his commute into the office each day.

I decided there and then that the new indicators would come off as soon as I got a chance and indeed they did at our next camp on the Botswana border crossing. The old bashed up ones that I mended with the cellophane lenses were put back on. It was a wise move as Fanny would no doubt have a few more indicator jarring incidents before we reached Europe, from where she would really need to start using the indicators… and I suppose more importantly, other road users would actually start taking any notice of them!

In fact, the old indicators stayed on the bike until we reached Alexandria in Egypt, albeit heavily taped up and increasingly opaque.

We had a great ride to the border with Botswana along the Trans Kalahari highway and camped in a “deliverance – esque” camp site that was a bit odd.  Is that the sound of banjos or the happy clappy Big J squad?. Who knows?  A very strange place run by some seriously odd people, but we did manage to rent a cabin for the night, have a good meal and a few glasses of South African wine. All was good.

The next day Botswana immigration processed our papers in remarkably quick time. I think because it was 5 minutes to lunch time. Another note for file—arrive at border crossing just before meals for speedy processing. Arrive at borders just after a meal has started and you’ll be hanging about a lot lot longer. We handed over 180 Pula (US$20) for both bikes that included insurance, tax and vehicle clearance. This was quite reasonable and so there was no need to get the carne de passage signed and stamped.

My best birthday present was that Fanny was in a great mood, she had recovered from her ordeal and was raring to go again.  Later, however, I was a bit annoyed to see her drop the bike again when we pulled off the highway to have a rest.  Every single road that leads off a tarmac road is either sand, gravel or steep –  mostly all three and Fanny at that time continued to struggle on all these surfaces… especially when trying to U-turn on a slope.

This is mainly because the bike is quite big, a bit heavy, and her feet barely touched the ground on slopes.  At that time she didn’t have the confidence and subtle throttle control to keep the power on when performing tight turns. In fairness, the KTM’s throttle is a bit snappy and takes a bit of getting used to compared with other bikes.

After we got going again I suddenly noticed I did not have my Canon IXUS camera that was normally attached by a bungee cable to my wrist so I can take videos and pictures on the move. This was the very same camera that I have had for years and used on all the expeditions in Africa, China and indeed all around the world. Despite retracing my steps I could not find it. Perhaps a five year old camera is too much of a precious item in Africa for honesty to make an appearance. It was apparent that I dropped it whilst picking up Fanny’s bike at the coffee shop. As annoying as losing the camera is, I lost three days of pictures and many videos taken whilst riding one handed through Namibia and Botswana. Hey ho!

Fanny making friends at Namibia/ Botswana border

A bottle of plonk for my birthday

Writing this blog (that nobody reads) and trying to upload pictures.

Anywhere will do… as the trip went on both of us made less effort to actually bother to hide. Not that there is anywhere to hide in a desert or salt pan in the first place.

At this time of year it is dry… but in the rainy season the lightening in the desert is terrifying and there is no-where to hide.

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Yellow Hornbill… often flying across the road in front of our bikes

Ever onwards…and so we continued eastwards and saw the landscape change from brown/yellow/orange desert to classic South African Springbok colours –green and orange. There were more and more animals, although mostly cows, donkeys and goats by the side of the road and a few weasely things that often waited until the last moment and then dashed across the road in front of us. The bird life was truly amazing and will admit I am a secret twitcher and many of the birds I managed to recognize from the wildlife books I keep at my home in Arniston.

A very common roadside bird was the yellow horn bill…a bird that is caricatured in “The Lion King”, a Disney animated movie that I have watched a thousand times with Max junior over the years. It really is a fascinating creature with its over sized beak and full of character.

Whilst cruising through the bush I also recognized Africa’s largest eagle perched on a roadside telegraph post and so I U-turned and went back to take a picture. Whilst I was snapping the birdie I noticed Fanny also started a U-turn and then, all too predictably, she stalled the bike and dropped it right in the path of an oncoming “land train” truck that was charging towards us.  With not a little amount of panic and rapid heart beat we scrambled and picked up her fully laden bike and thereafter had a full and frank exchange of views by the side of the road, mostly concerning throttle control and the physics of inertia involving rotating and suddenly non rotating engines before we headed off again in a huff.

After I got going I noticed that my iPod Nano was no longer attached the the end of the earphones inside my helmet.  I realized that whilst I was wrestling Fanny’s bike from being ploughed into by a 40 tonne land train I had dropped it.  I was so annoyed at myself that I decided to find the iPod Nano come what may. Unfortunately said iPod Nano was one inch square in size and for good measure the same orange colour as everything else around us… from one horizon to the other.

After a fruitless twenty minutes searching up and down the road I swallowed my pride and asked Fanny in which of the hundred similar looking telegraph posts along the exact looking road was the African eagle perched upon.  Fanny has a photographic memory and immediately pointed at a pole some three hundred meters away. I gave her my “Why the clucking bell didn’t you tell me before? look.

She just shrugged her shoulders and gave me the annoying, but classic reply, “You never asked me.”

And so I stomped up the road in the middle of no where, muttering to myself ….AND LO AND BEHOLD …  right next to the very same telegraph pole and apparently NOT run over by any of the many trucks was the small orange MP3, perfectly camouflaged in its Kalahari desert colours.

Luck at last… hurray!

As I marched back triumphantly to my bike waving the Nano above my head I am certain I heard Fanny call me a ‘lao touzi’ (old fart).  

Males!?.. we can’t help ourselves.

We were riding in the dry season fortunately… two years previously I was in Namibia during the rainy season and the sudden storms and particularly the lightening strikes were terrifying.

Namibian wilderness

Namibian wilderness

Its not uncommon in Namibia not to see anyone for day. I love it and perhaps its my favourite place to motorcycling in the whole world.

Its not uncommon in Namibia not to see anyone for days. It is perhaps my favourite place to motorcycling in the whole world.

KTMs belong here