Chapter 35 – Sri Lanka

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Sri Lanka –a tropical island off the south coast of Indian and famous for Ceylon tea, Tamil Tigers and Arthur C Clarke. A lot of people who have visited have been singing its praises, but what’s it like to explore on a motorcycle?

Picking the slightly out of season period of early July, Fanny and I flew on the surprisingly good value Sri Lankan Airlines from Hong Kong to Colombo, and then took a taxi from the airport to a colonial style house that Fanny had booked on the outskirts of the Capital.

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Srilanka

Our motorcycle route… mostly the south west, south and central highlands ….still a few places to visit in the future.

 

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Yasmine’s house on the outskirts of Colombo

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Yep… all to ourselves.

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My new friend … guarding the pool

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Sri Lankan breakfast

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Fanny and our lovely host, Yasmine

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Lush tropical gardens

 

OK…. so enough holiday snaps of Rupert and Fanny idling about and stuffing their faces … for now!

What about the motorcycles?

We searched online and found a place renting out scooters not too far from the airport and we arranged to hire two Honda XR 250 Bajas… an iconic bike and one I have seen being ridden very successfully in remote parts of Africa.

Austin Vince would no doubt approve because its a small 250cc Honda and I can see the logic for having such a bike for a long expedition. I think they look like classic adventure bikes, and I really like the two big headlights and gold wheel rims.

Honda XLR 250R Baja

The Honda XLR 250 Baja … our choice for the Sri Lanka trip

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The actual bikes we hired… the pictures not doing justice to what dogs they really were.

 

I hired a modern Honda XR 250 for a tour of Thailand a few years back and it was in good condition, well looked after, and everything worked. I really liked it.

These bikes were not in good condition, but they were reasonably cheap at US$21 per day. I was assured they were road worthy, although it was obvious that if you actually owned either of them you would have to spend hours in the garage with a full list of repairs and maintenance to do.

Fanny’s bike was slightly lower in the seat than mine, in slightly better condition, but the handlebars had slipped in the triple clamps and were a few degrees out which is something I find incredibly irritating.

Fanny on the other hand didn’t seem to mind…. after all she had ridden across the whole of Africa on a KTM 990 Adventure that had “out of true” handle bars after she crashed her motorcycle spectacularly in the remote deserts of Namibia.

To start the the Baja required a contortionist effort to pull up a broken toggle above the carburetor and engage the “choke”. The bike simply would not start without doing so. With practice I got used to this, but it meant I started the day rolling around on the floor and getting my hands covered in oil and grime. Not a big deal, but annoying nonetheless.

After a good nights rest we took a tut tut scooter taxi from Yasmine’s house all the way up to Negombo in the north where the bike shop was located. It was further than we thought and took a couple of hours, but it did give us a chance to look around and alerted us to the atrocious traffic conditions in and around Colombo, and indeed across Sri Lanka.

 

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I smashed the opaque yellow plastic obscuring the digital display… so I could see the speedo and odometer. It didn’t seem to distract from the overall run down look of the bike. The black bungee held my iPhone in place so I could follow the GPS. It worked “OK”

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Fanny collecting her bike from the shop.

 

We were told by the owner of the shop that we must both get Sri Lankan driving permits and that could take a few days.

Oh?

Or….. we could risk it and deal with the police as and when?

OK, we’ll do that.

We wanted to get on and I was confident I could handle the local rozzers, who seemed to be nice British Colonial types, like I used to be. How hard could it be?

I handed over a deposit and Fanny paid for for 13 days bike hire and we got going along a back lane route I set around the outskirts of Colombo back to Yasmine’s house on the east of the city, in a vain attempt to avoid the heavy traffic.

I was a bit nervous that Fanny had not been riding much over the last year or so, but she quickly got back into it and we both navigated and weaved through the appallingly bad traffic with no problems at all. In fact, the Honda Baja seemed perfect for Fanny.  I had to remind myself that this is a woman who has ridden around the world on every surface and in every condition Planet Earth has to offer.  Fanny is perfectly fine.

I had downloaded an iPhone App called “Sygic” and also the maps for Sri Lanka. This meant that unlike Google or Baidu Maps we could navigate without having to be online. Much like digital cameras put Kodak out of business, these new GPS apps are a free alternative to a Garmin or Tom Tom GPS.

I also bought a Sri Lankan 4G Sim card with internet access for 2 weeks at next to nothing and despite my reservations that there must be a catch, it worked perfectly for the whole trip and the signal coverage was pretty good. I was able to use the online maps as well and tether my phone to Fanny’s iPhone so she had internet access the whole time as well. Isn’t technology great?

The only issue was that the bracket I bought in China to hold the iPhone onto the handlebars?  It was still on the kitchen table in Hong Kong!

Like many occasions on our motorcycle adventures we came up with a work around and I used some bungees and strapped the iPhone onto the dash over the instrument panel that I couldn’t see anyway because the plastic was now opaque yellow.

Fortunately there was a USB power socket that I could power up the iPhone battery … otherwise it would only last a few hours with the bluetooth or GPS activated.  I did have to turn off the headlights as the electrics and battery were a bit dodgy.

Normally you cannot turn off motorcycle headlights, as its a safety feature, but we were in Asia and safety comes second to practicality and so the owners had fitted an on/off switch to save power.

Anyway, bikes and navigation sorted, ready to go.

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Fanny is a really good bike rider and the Honda 250 was perfect for her.

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Blue helmet, blue tinted glasses and headlights on full beam to “try” and scare the locals … all good.

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My Honda Baja had a particularly uncomfortable seat so I bought a seat cover!  A toilet seat cover to be accurate.  Nice.

 

During the trip I carried all the luggage and used my Givi water proof panniers that I had bought in the UK,  and our waterproof North Face day sacks. We were traveling light… just how we like it.  I think we could have gone even lighter, although not much. We wore our light weight motorcycle jackets for protection from sun and because they have a bit of armour inside. Perfect.

After about 50 kilometers in the saddle I came to the indisputable conclusion that my bike had the most uncomfortable seat I have ever sat on. Where was my black sheep skin cover when I needed it? Ah yes….on the kitchen table in Hong Kong with the iPhone bracket. Ta Ma De !

So, I made an emergency purchase (30 UK pence) of a rather lovely toilet seat cover, that whilst not being anywhere near as comfortable as a sheep skin, was Ho Gwoh Mo (better than nothing).

It did mean we had to stop quite often so I could get off the bike and walk about, or stand on the foot pegs for the blood to start flowing into my aging numb bum. Also, it was very hot and quite humid so we needed to stop and take a drink. I have learned from past experience that dehydration creeps up on you quickly on biking expeditions and so water discipline is vital, even if you are not thirsty.

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Bikes parked outside our room at Yasmine’s place in Colombo

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All ready to go …..but first more tea …. my passport says I’m British and it is Ceylon after all!

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Off we go…. a nice anti clockwise trip around southern Sri Lanka

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Not something you see everyday

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And coming to a grinding stop …. less than 50 kilometers into the trip to get carburetor jets cleaned by side of road. And a piece of wood wedged in to stop the plastic panniers melting on the exhaust. See we have done this before!!

 

 

The route out of Colombo and onto the coastal road to Galle, about 170 kilometers away, was like many we had done in third world cities where the locals drive badly and the police don’t care.

Slow and steady wins the race, keep away from nutters, animals and moving lumps of metal, and shout a lot. The shouting is actually pointless, but makes me feel better. Even fanny does it now in various languages.

Our host Yasmine had warned us that the driving could be interesting, and that the arch deacons of terrible driving were the buses.  My goodness, how right she was.

There were two types of bus… a blue one with a man hanging out the door waving his arms and shouting a lot, and a silver one with lots of chrome and lights … but without a man hanging out the door.

They are both awful, but the blue bus particularly so.

I don’t know what the Sinhalese or Tamil is for, ‘get out the friggin’ way… we’re coming through’, but I guess that was what the “hanging out man” was employed to scream at everyone as the bus continually cut everyone up.

It was difficult to get really road raged at Sri Lankan drivers whatever road genocide they seemed to be up to because they were so damned friendly and smiled all the time.

There was quite a lot of Indian style wobbly head, arms waving, and shouting things like ‘What for you kicking my dog calling him fuck off‘ … but in a very friendly and smiley way that immediately dampened any annoyance and made me laugh…even as they attempted to impale us on their front bumpers.

For Fanny?  Nothing unusual… just like a normal day riding in Shanghai. I think she was enjoying it!

About half way down the coastal road my bike stopped and I could see petrol pouring out of the carburetor and dripping straight onto the red hot engine. Holy shit?

After standing well back, scratching my chin and thinking aloud, ‘that’s not good’ over and over again a crowd gathered. After a general consultation with most of Sri Lanka in several languages I didn’t understand, it was opined that the jets were blocked.

We were told that for about 500 Sri Lankan Rupees (a quid or so) any street side mechanic, of which there seemed to be many, could fix it …and that’s what happened. Bike sorted…off we go again.

My bike was not a good specimen of motorcycle. It was 1990s purply blue in colour with those daft graphics they used in those days, and everything was in poor condition. The clutch, the brakes, the engine, the suspension, the bearings, the tyres, every cable, the bodywork, the pegs, the levers, controls, hand grips, ….. everything. I had to keep saying to myself, ‘its still going and its not mine’,  ‘its still going and in 10, 9, 8, etc… days I will never see it again’.

Fanny on the other hand seemed to really like her bike with its non perpendicular handlebars and bent levers.  ‘How’s your bike?’, I would ask her all the time.

‘Fine’, came back the answer every time.

As far as Fanny is concerned, she rarely gets upset by anything… all part of life’s rich tapestry is her mantra. If it goes… all is fine.

I did, however, have to rescue her a few times at traffic intersections when her bike stalled and she couldn’t get it started again.  These Hondas will only start in neutral, not as KTMs and most other bikes will do with the clutch engaged in any gear. The gears were so clunky and stiff to click up and down, and with no green neutral indicator working, it required some serious manual labour and bikers tradecraft to locate neutral and get going again.

The Baja engine is a single piston 250cc, has a simple carburetor,  the frame is quite big in size, and to be honest more than fast enough for everywhere we went to in Sri Lanka. Its just they were both in such a shabby state that I thought mine was going to break down all the time. It also sounded awful…just like a motorcycle about to break down… but it didn’t.

One of the reasons for the noise was that the drive chains were bone dry and hadn’t been oiled, ever.

We were explicitly told not to oil the chains, the reason given that they had ‘O’ rings that would get damaged by oil.  Of course, this was nonsense.

I was unable to tune out the dreadful noise my bike was making as its crunched, screeched  and scraped along and so as soon as I could I put both the bikes and ourselves out of our misery and doused both chains in oil.  Lots of it.

Better.

 

 

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I don’t think elephants or human females should have to wear body covers and masks.  A very bling burka nonetheless.

 

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Sri Lanka … a colourful surprise around every corner

 

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Demonstration ….  “Elephant lives matter”.

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A bit of gravel

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A quid to fix the carburetor and clean the jets

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The Baja is a great bike. Good engine. Some strange quirks, though. For instance the engine oil is poured into a filler in the bike frame near the handle bars… never seen that before.

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Arriving in the Old Fort at Galle on southern coast.

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Street dancing procession… very lively, colourful and loud!

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One of many temples we saw here and there.

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Fanny and her silver XR Baja

 

 

We arrived in Galle by late afternoon and rode around looking at the ancient walled fort, built by the Dutch many centuries ago.

When we got there it was packed with tourists, many from China who were doing the things Chinese seem to do everywhere. Posing for photographs in borrowed traditional clothing, doing ‘V’ signs (??) and repeatedly jumping in the air to get that “joyous jumping in the air” picture to put on Weibo (Chinese Facebook). One person does it… they all do it.

We thought of booking a place in Galle, but the few rooms we saw were a bit grim and expensive and so Fanny found a really nice hotel about 10 kilometers out of town that had a seafood restaurant serving the Sri Lankan specialty of chili mangrove crabs.

A very very happy Fanny indeed.

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Lots of churches

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Galle lighthouse

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Pretty streets and historic buildings in old Galle

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Exploring the walled fort

 

After Galle we headed along the south coast road to Dickwella. Not the greatest name I have ever heard for a place, but as it turned out it was a small coastal town with a beautiful beach in a secluded horseshoe bay. Fanny again did her research magic and booked us into a boutique hotel called “Salt”.

Here we idled about, swam in the sea, read books, Fanny had some body massages, we ambled about on the beach and along trails, ate every hour, and drank continuously.

The rooms at Salt were very tastefully designed with open to the elements bathrooms and semi open bedrooms, in the sense they only had three walls. Quite a few mosquitoes so the fan and mosquito net was really needed.  Sort of luxury camping.

On the top floor was an open plan lounge/bar that served very tasty meals and drinks by very attentive and friendly staff. Simple and stylish. Web link below.

http://www.salthousesrilanka.net/

I am not much of a beach person, nor is Fanny, but we can say this is one of the best beach locations we have ever been to and we will definitely go back for a short break in the future, provided that the commercial developers don’t ruin it.

We discovered the Indian 傻逼 who got me fired from my job in Hong Kong a decade or so ago was building a resort in Dickwella to add to his collection of Monopoly board hotels around the World. Would I like to send him a message, Fanny asked me?  No I friggin’ wouldn’t.

 

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Dickwella…. Horseshoe Bay

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Fanny starts her transition from a light skinned person to a very dark person within 48 hours. I on the other hand went from light pink with red spots to dark pink with red patches.

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For some bizarre reason … the dogs found me and followed me around for the whole stay. To Fanny’s amazement this always happens where ever we go…from China to Asia to Africa.  I had a pack of pugs follow me for 3 days across Sichuan and Yunnan once. Pugs!

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Warm sea, blue skies, the sound of breeze in palm trees, a book, a hammock, shade and beer….  Idling 101.

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Tea, fresh local fruit and buffalo curd… nice

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Breakfast looking at us

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A particularly gormless expression … That’s me .. not the dog.

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Ms Fang enjoying herself

 

 

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Yes… I have barely moved

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Like Thailand 30 years ago

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Tea anyone?

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We ran into a 3 meter snake on the road. I was jumping around  and screaming like a 3 year old girl as it slithered over my flipflops. The snake didn’t seem to care.

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Time to get going again after a relaxing beachy thing and head to Yala…. a large National Park in the south of Sri Lanka

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More elephants…

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South Coast

 

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‘That will be two bananas for guarding the bikes’

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Hello

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Wild coastline near Yala… reminds me of Overberg in South Africa where we have a house

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The pool at our place in Yala

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Going for a drive in Yala Nature Reserve… lots of elephants and a few leopards

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Even on the beach

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Packed his truck for the seaside

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Huts we lived in on beach near Yala

 

 

 

On the way to Yala National Park we ran into a police road block. As we approached a police officer noticed us and he raised his arm, and so thinking on my feet, or my numb bum more accurately, I employed Rupert’s police avoidance technique and waved enthusiastically back at him and smiled inanely.

As we passed the rather astounded and clearly flustered officer I allowed Fanny to pull up along side me and instructed her, ‘Don’t stop’ and we sped up somewhat as I plotted an escape along less obvious roads to Yala.  I never pay bribes.

We found a pretty swanky apartment right on the beach next to the main gate of the national park, again found by Fanny using online accommodation apps like Expedia and Air BnB. Always much cheaper to book online and you can check the reviews.

I did some investigation near the entrance of the game park and found some local boys who would give us a safari tour in a game viewer at a fraction of the cost being offered by the hotel.

Having been to Kafue, South Luangwa,  Chobe, Okavango Delta, Masai Mara, Etoshe, Kruger, Serengeti, Lake Charla, Ngorogoro Crater, Kilimajaro, etc… we were prepared to be a bit underwhelmed, but to our delight the park was really good.

Yala is mainly famous for leopards and Asian elephants. Alas,  we didn’t get close enough to see any leopards, but there were lots of elephants that for some reason in my mind I thought would be more even tempered than their African cousins.

Much to my absolute delight, and I have to say one of the funniest things I have ever seen, we spotted an elephant ambling along on a beautiful beach. This was too much of a photo opportunity to miss and a bus load of Fujian and Zhejiang peasants (Fanny assured me they were from their appearance and accents) rushed up to the elephant and started snapping away and making a lot of noise.

The elephant clearly took exception to these ivory and rhino horn smuggling 傻逼 and let out a roar that would put its African cousins to shame. It then started chasing after the Chinese whose little legs couldn’t move quick enough in the sand.

Cameras and selfie sticks went flying as they ran away in panic to their bus. The local tour guides rushed into action to shoo the elephant away as I was wiping tears from my eyes. This is too good. I couldn’t help myself as I told one group of thuggish looking Fujian “xiang ba lao” dog eaters that it was karma for all the environmental plunder and ivory smuggling they inflicted on the planet.

They looked absolutely crest-fallen…. not least for being laughed at by a Chinese speaking European.

Brilliant…

The safari got even better as the sun started to fade and we saw other animals emerge from the bush and many beautiful indigenous birds. What could be better…. Chinese being chased by elephants and seeing a beautiful green Sri Lankan Bee-eater swooping the skies catching,  bees, I guess.

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Yala beach house

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Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) , perched on twig in forest, Yala West National Park, Sri Lanka

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Visit by a monitor lizard while we were having lunch

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oink oink

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Bit of lunch and time to move on to the mountains

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One of many waterfalls we see as we climb up to over 2000 meters into the central mountains

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Stopping off for coffee in a place called Ella in the hills. It was full of the hippy traveling types that you always encounter in certain parts of Asia. Lots of banana pancakes, lardy pretend effnic food, body piercings, tattoos, Bob Marley on the stereo and more baggy bright hippy uniforms than you can shake a stick at. Not my cup of tea.  Nor fanny’s … so we move on!

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Funny Fanny

 

 

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Not a bad view …Ramboda

 

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View from our hotel room window in Ramboda

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Looks like the Lake District in England.. or Wales perhaps. It is raining after all.

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Long hike up the hill in the rain to the Mackwood tea plantations

 

 

The ride from the hot sunny south coast of Sri Lanka to the cool misty mountainous interior couldn’t have been more dramatic. Within a few hours we rode up nearly 3000 meters, and the temperature dropped from 35 degrees to about 14 degrees….and it started raining. All in 200 kilometers. Some of the time in thick cloud as we rode up and down the twisty roads surrounded by lush green tea plantations.

We stayed at a hotel in Ramboda perched on the hillside with spectacular views of waterfalls and valleys.

The food in the hotel was the usual tourist buffet fodder and so we explored the local villages and ate authentic local dhal, roti, pol sambol, rice noodles, veggies and curries. As usual we had to persuade the waiters and shop owners that we wanted the real deal, not the tourist slop. ‘Are you sure?’, they would always ask. ‘Absolutely… don’t spare the chili and spice and leave the heads on’.

One of our greatest joys traveling around the world is eating local authentic food and its one of the reasons I would struggle living back in Blighty again. I know I always make a fuss about western food being so bad, but with rare exceptions it usually is. The vast majority of my countrymen treat mealtimes like some unpleasant chore and feel guilty for being hungry. They make one concession to healthy eating… the salad.

By contrast, eating in Asia is a joyous occasion and Asians treat food very seriously. With the exception of the Philippines (yes, you know its true), food across the whole of the Asia Pacific is exciting and delicious. I have tried to educate my western friends and relatives about the merits of authentic Asian cuisine but they usually respond with exaggerated theatrics, glaring accusingly at their huang hua yu and yelling, ‘Its looking at me’, or  ‘I ate a chili –I can’t breathe’.

This all said, I would like to point out to my sister Amanda, and her daughter Sally, that my disdain for western food does not apply to cake…. or pudding.  Heaven forbid.

We explored the local tea plantations and at one place called Mackwood we saw how the tea was made and sampled a few cups of rosie leaf, with chocolate cake. There was a flow diagram on the wall of the factory that explained the eight stages of tea production and I am almost sure its the same chart Ms Hingorani, my school teacher at the Holy Rosary Primary School, used in a lesson about tea manufacture some 45 years ago. Maybe there are somethings that never need to change.

We had taken a tut tut scooter taxi up the mountain as it was a fair hike and raining hard, but on the way back we decided to spend the whole afternoon hiking 15 kms back to the hotel through the tea plantations and alongside the waterfalls. Very interesting.

The following day we decided to ride to Kandy in the center of Sri Lanka and have a look  at the temples and Buddhist relics and then ride along the country lanes back to Colombo. Our advise to anyone wanting to do a motorcycle ride in Sri Lanka, or anywhere else for that matter, is to set the route to all the “B” roads or less. This can be done on some GPS navigation programs in the route menu, but its better to plan the route ahead by setting way-points to avoid congested and hectic main roads. You see more and its much more enjoyable.

The bikes were still ticking along OK, although no more comfortable, but they had done the job and so far nothing had crashed into us, despite a few close shaves.  As we took a break I asked Fanny what she wanted to do for the next few days. She said she wanted to return the bikes and go back to Yasmine’s house and relax.

Wow… just what I wanted to do too.

We telephoned Yasmine and she had a couple from Canada in the guest house we had stayed in previously, but she said we could stay in a spare room in the main house…a beautiful room like the rest of her house. Very stylish and tasteful.

The bike shop we hired the Hondas from were less than accommodating and said, ‘a contract is a contract’,  and they would not return the balance of the rental. Really?  Yes, really.  After so many years I should have realized what these types are like. Always friendly when taking your money… not so much if you ask for it back.  Suan le ba?

So, the rest of the few days we had in Sri Lanka we relaxed in the peaceful gardens of Yasmine’s home and explored around Colombo, eating chili crabs and mooching around the shops and back streets.

Sri Lanka is a great place. Very friendly people, some absolute gems of places to see, tropical sunny weather, lots of elephants, cheap and excellent food.

Would we do it on a motorbike again? Perhaps not. But thanks to the British Empire and its talented Victorian engineers if we ever came back to Sri Lanka we will get around like the locals…..  by train.

 

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Nice view from the bog.

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Goodbye Bajas… you made it…just

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My riding partner

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Back at Yasmines with Kumari, our excellent chef. Thanks Kumari.

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Oh go on… another meal!

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Bit of warm rain from the monsoon that was affecting the west of Sri Lanka and India

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I have no idea what Fanny is doing. Sitting on a throne?

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Exploring Colombo

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Buying tea

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Colombo … will not look the same in 5 years for sure.

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Wandering around Colombo

 

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Sundowner in the sky lounge of a hotel in Colombo

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Our last sunset in Sri Lanka … for now

 

 

 

Next Chapter ….. Colorado and Utah BDR on a Honda Africa Twin

 

 

 

 

Chapter 28 – The UK revisited – on a KTM 990 SMT

The Summer of 2013

The Brits dominating the world sporting scene with wins in the Tour de France, The Lion’s rugby tour, Wimbledon, AND the Ashes…..  and glorious weather!!

Can it last? Of course not, English sport will settle back to its usual disappointing form, and the weather is bound to change.

But not in the summer of 2013…it could not have been better. The British people were in a good mood, they had pulled themselves out of economic recession and the sun was shining.

I rode three thousand miles across the UK and through as many of Britain’s beautiful national parks as I could on perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden, the KTM 990 SMT.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

Modern travel... the superb Emirates Airbus A380.

On the way back to the UK on the superb Emirates’ Airbus A380.  Once I get to the UK I plan to buy a motorcycle. Renting a car is 20-40 pounds a day and to be honest I find driving cars extremely dull. Renting a motorcycle would be much more fun, but extremely expensive at more than 80 pounds a day. Public transport? Ridiculously expensive, unreliable and not very convenient outside the cities. Buying a motorcycle makes perfect sense, provided I can find a good one at a decent price. In actual fact, the overall cost is quite low and its the best way to explore the British Isles if the weather is good. I have reached my half century and so motorcycle insurance is also very cheap and easy to arrange. The question is which motorcycle do I buy?

Arriving back in Blighty ... looking unusually pleasant down there

Coming into land at Heathrow airport and England  looking surprisingly pleasant down there

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer I saw in Hong Kong

Was thinking of getting something exotic for the ride.. like this Moto Guzzi cafe racer 7 I saw in Hong Kong

However, Fanny decided I should buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours which I found on ebay and managed to buy on the spot after successfully negotiating down the price. This bike shares the same DNA (LC 8 engine, WP suspension, ) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customed it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, for long distances.

However, Fanny recommended I buy this KTM 990 SMT in Red Bull colours that I found on eBay. This bike shares the same DNA (V- twin 1000 cc LC 8 engine, WP suspension, Brembo brakes etc) as my KTM 990 Adventure R. The difference being KTM have customized it to roads and unlike the standard Supermoto, adapted it for long distant touring.

TECHNICAL DETAILS OF KTM 990 SUPERMOTO T

ENGINE

Design 2-cylinder 4-stroke Otto motor, 75° V arrangement, water-cooled
Displacement 999 cm³ (60.96 cu in)
Bore 101 mm (3.98 in)
Stroke 62.4 mm (2.457 in)
Performance 85 kW (114 hp)
Cold start device Electric starter
Transmission 6-gears, claw-shifted
Engine lubrication Dry sump lubrication system with two rotor pumps
Primary transmission 35:67
Secondary drive ratio 17:41
Cooling Water cooling, permanent circulation of coolant by water pump
Clutch Multidisc clutch in oil bath/hydraulically activated
Ignition system Contactless controlled fully electronic ignition with digital ignition adjustment

CHASSIS

Frame Lattice frame made of chrome molybdenum steel tubing, powder-coated
Fork WP Suspension Up Side Down
Shock absorber WP Suspension Monoshock
Suspension travel Front 160 mm (6.3 in)
Suspension travel Rear 180 mm (7.09 in)
Brake system Front Double disc brake with radially screwed four-piston brake calipers, float-mounted brake discs
Brake system Rear Single disc brake with dual-piston brake caliper, rigid-mounted brake disc
Brake discs – diameter Front 305 mm (12.01 in)
Brake discs – diameter Rear 240 mm (9.45 in)
Chain 5/8 x 5/16” X‑ring
Steering head angle 65.6°
Wheelbase 1,505±15 mm (59.25±0.59 in)
Ground clearance, unloaded 195 mm (7.68 in)
Seat height, unloaded 855 mm (33.66 in)
Total fuel tank capacity, approx. 19 l (5 US gal)
Super unleaded (ROZ 95/RON 95/PON 91)
Weight without fuel, approx. 197 kg (434 lb.)
On arrival I went straight to Crawley to P&H Motorcycles to buy the bike. My friend Nick Dobson had already given it a test ride and inspection and I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage and then started off on a tour of the UK. However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house in Netheravon, near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was getting it going. I suspected the fuel pumps had gone...

On arrival at Heathrow I went straight to my bank to withdraw cash, and then to P&H Motorcycles in Crawley to buy this bike that I found on the internet before I left Hong Kong. My friend Nick Dobson had already given the bike a test ride and general inspection and after agreeing a price I bought it on the spot, loaded my luggage on the back and then started off on a tour of the UK …. all within a few hours of arriving in the UK.  It really is that easy.  However after riding along the south coast of England and across Salisbury Plain to my sisters house near Stonehenge the bike suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere and no amount of tinkering was able to get it going again. I suspected the fuel pump had gone… The very “bling” Red Bull paint job must have been hiding some “issues” in its four year history.

Staring at the bike and chuntering to myself was not helping and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his sheds and gave

Staring at a motorbike that didn’t want to start and chuntering to myself was not solving the problem and so I wheeled the bike to a nearby farm where a very kind farmer put it in one of his cow sheds for the night and gave me a lift to Salisbury where I found a pub, drowned my sorrows with a few beers, and called my sister and my niece to come and rescue me. As I had just bought the bike the RAC vehicle recovery service on my insurance policy had not started yet. I could have pretended it broke down the next day, but dishonesty is not in my nature and so I would have to make another plan.

Ta ma de. My bike outside Midwinter's Farm on A30... fortunately the farmer was a top guy. Thank you.

The Red Bull KTM outside Midwinter’s Farm on the A30… Fortunately the farmer was a top guy and was really helpful.  A big “Thank you”.   At the time it “stopped” I thought I was heading to my sisters house in Netheravon. In actual fact I was on the wrong road and heading towards London. No GPS and clearly no sense of direction.   It was obvious that I had broken down by the side of the road but the other bikers, of which there were many that day, just whizzed by without stopping …. Having ridden around the world I can say this is not the attitude in other countries, where the general biking community always looks out for each other. In fact, all the way from South Africa to Turkey and even in China people always asked if we were OK whenever we stopped by the side of the road.  That said,   I am pleased to say things got much more friendlier the further north I went on my UK trip.

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me

After being rescued by my sister and niece and getting fed and watered, I contacted P&H Motorcycles in Crawley and told them the bike that they had sold me earlier in the day had broken down and would not start and that I was stranded. They could not do anything that evening, but the next day theyvery kindly dispatched one of their recovery vehicles all the way to Wiltshire to pick me and the bike up.

We got back quite late and I am indebted to the driver who recovered the bike some 200 miles away. He was a very nice guy

I am indebted to the P&H Motorcycles’ driver who collected the bike and drove us 200 miles back to their garage in Crawley. He was a very nice guy and as we were chatting on the way back he asked me why on earth anyone would want to go to a foreign country with all the strange food, odd people, hassles and dangers?  I always think  that if you are asked such a question there is absolutely no point trying to explain and so the conversation was restricted to finding a very narrow strip of common ground and making obvious and safe observations …”This van goes nicely doesn’t it?” and “I think I prefer the chunky kitkats to the regular ones, what about you?”… etc etc…

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then took then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley's magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in.  The next day P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to

I left the Red Bull KTM at the garage and then walked through the town looking for a place to spend the night before returning back to the garage the next day to get the prognosis. Despite Crawley’s magnificence and architectural splendour I decided to take the train to Brighton and find a back-packers to stay in. It was a good choice, although in the evening I joined a group of rowdy lesbians in a local pub and drank far too much Harvey’s bitter.  The next day I wandered around the streets of Brighton buying junk from pound shops and eating “festival food”… whatever that is… curry I think.  In the afternoon I took a train back to Crawley and P&H Motorcycles confirmed that the petrol pump had indeed died and it would take 3-4 days to get a new one and then a day or so to fit it. “You mean a week?” I suggested.. unable to hide my irritation. “Ummm .. maybe”, came the reply.  I  asked if I could have a KTM courtesy bike, but was offered a very dull motorcycle to use, the sort that I don’t bother read about and skip past in bike magazines,  AND I would have to return to Crawley in a weeks time to pick up the repaired (or not) KTM.  Given that the plan was to tour the UK, and my time was ticking away this wasn’t an option and so I asked for my money back… which they did …as a cheque.  This of course presented me with a clearing issue and I needed ready cash to buy another bike that day. But no choice, and so I went to the local HSBC bank (First Direct) and they very kindly gave me the cash without waiting for the garage’s cheque to clear… how’s that for service????   With the cash I started out with in the first place back in my pocket I then trawled the internet again and found a few bikes I liked in various parts of the country.  I was quite interested in a Honda Africa Twin (pictured above) which is a classic, but not in the same league as a KTM Supermoto… and the price the garage were asking for a 10 year old bike was way too expensive for what it was. I gave it a test ride, and iconic as it is I couldn’t see me having as much fun on it as a KTM, Triumph or even a Moto Guzzi.

The day was Triumph UK's open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test drives of all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me to several dealerships and we rode a few good bikes. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger, and it would have been a good bike for the UK tour, but there were none available in my price bracket, and I really do not care for the Explorer and the XC 800 is not what I'm after.

The “find another bike” day coincided with Triumph UK’s open day and across the country every Triumph dealership was having a party and allowing test rides on all their models. My friend, Nick Dobson took me in his car to several dealerships in Sussex where we ate all their food (a very nice hog roast) and then rode a few good bikes, including the XC 800 and the 800 Tiger. I really liked the Triumph 800 Tiger and it would have been a great bike for the UK tour.  The sales people seemed quite taken aback that someone actually wanted to buy a bike there and then. “Yes I want to buy a 800 Tiger….now… I have the cash in my pocket and I have insurance cover”.  Sadly, there were none available.  There was a  Triumph Speed Triple for sale and it would have been great fun…for all of about 100 miles until my backside and joints surrendered!!

The Triumph Tiger 800... a superb around bike with one of the best engines that there is on two wheels.

The Triumph Tiger 800… a superb all round bike with one of the best engines there is on two wheels. Sadly, none were available.  I would like to have gone British, but I think I’ll carry on with Austrian. I did ring up a guy who was selling a BMW F800GS and when I asked him why he was selling it, he said he was buying a new KTM 1190 Adventure and seemed very excited about it. Quite right.

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My bike. One of several KTM 990 SMT advertised online that I wanted, but the private seller of this one was overseas when I arrived in the UK.  I was particularly interested in this bike because it was in excellent condition, three years old, low mileage and had lots of extras, including Akropovik exhausts that I also have on my 990 Adventure R and know really make a difference to performance of bike and exhaust note.  Now that my trip was delayed this was now the object of my desire and so I went to the location that it was being sold from, the magnificent town of Slough just west of Greater London.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting to be.

The view from my bed and breakfast in Slough was better than I was expecting it to be.   I knew that most of the residents in the Slough area were recent immigrants to the UK and the Windsor family who lived in the big castle were no exception… Germans and Greeks I believe.

Take two...

Take Two…  I bought this superb KTM 990 SMT motorcycle in grown up colours from the very accommodating and patient Jon in Slough, all the documentation was sorted, it was loaded up with my things in a North Face dufflebag, and I had a bum friendly sheep skin seat cover over an already comfortable KTM ergo seat. The sun was shining, the birds were singing (well when I left Slough anyway) and so I aimed west towards Wales. Although first I would call in to Bristol and see my daughter Becky for tea.  I then rode over the Severn bridge and into motorcycling heaven. Wales.  The riding was glorious and I did sweeping classic “A” roads and also a fair few stretches of what should be called “Green Laning”.  I tried to follow, to the extent I was able, the Offa’s Dyke route that I hiked along a year ago that separates England from Wales. As I didn’t have a GPS  I relied on memory and that took me on some unsuitable single lane gravel tracks, but the bike handled marvelously all the same.  It really is as capable as a sports bike and I was able to ride as fast as I dare on an R1 or Fireblade… maybe quicker. I am familiar with the v-twin LC8 from my adventure bikes, but what makes this bike so special is the ability to be ridden like a crazy sports bikes scrapping the pegs around the corners and when you want like a placid, comfortable and smooth touring bike.  A gentleman’s hooligan bike or the other way round…. perfect. The Marchesini wheels are the same as those fitted to Ducatis and the tyres were the standard Contis that come with the bike. Sticky enough for sports bike handling and hard enough for touring endurance. Whilst not designed like the 990 Adventures for off road and gravel, the bike is strangely familiar and easy to ride. I only had a few surprises on wet sand and mud near farm entrances when I felt the front slip slightly, but my sand riding experience and growing skill kicked in and any bike will straighten up with good throttle control and looking where you want to go.  Pictured here parked up outside a very comfortable B&B that I stayed in in Hay on Wye (the UK book capital).

meeting

I met another KTM rider, John at a McDonalds in the middle of Wales. McDonalds across the world always has the cheapest and best coffee, you can keep an eye on your bike, and more importantly your luggage outside while you eat, you can use the restrooms to clean up, and they always have free WiFi. The only other places I (and especially Fanny) like to stop at in the UK are the layby mobile cafes for tea and a cardiac arrest breakfast. Fanny was actually online at the time I met John on the WeChat (like WhatsApp, but better) video on my phone and joining in the conversation and looking at his KTM from 8000 miles away. Modern technology, amazing huh?  After coffee we had a closer look at his beautiful KTM 990 Adventure and admired all the extras that he made himself such as fog lights, brackets and GPS mounts. It looked marvelous. John was getting ready to head off on a expedition with some British soldiers to India and so I wish them luck and look forward to hearing about their adventures when they get back.

Crossing the Black Mountains... Paragliders high up above Hye.

Crossing the Black Mountains in Wales… There were paragliders high up above me soaring the thermals at Hay Bluff.  I have also paraglided here and had walked passed this exact spot almost a year ago to the day when I hiked the length of the Offa’s Dyke from the south to the north of Wales. At that time I was in agony as my feet were torn to shreds by very badly fitting boots. This time I couldn’t be happier.  There must be a moral in this story somewhere.

Perfect biking country... high up above Hay on Wye

Perfect biking country and perfect weather… high up in the hills above Hay on Wye in Wales

Akropovik carbon fibre exhausts... very nice

Akropovik titanium and carbon fibre exhausts fitted to my KTM 990 SMT… improves performance, looks awesome and has a glorious exhaust note.

Dropping in for tea to see my daughter, Rebecca

Dropping in for tea in Bristol to see my beautiful daughter, Rebecca

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm I was able to ride around most of the time in summer kit.

Even though I packed my old adventure kit, the weather was so warm and pleasant that I was able to ride around most of the time in summer jacket and cargo trousers. My waterproof Timberland hiking boots doubled up as excellent motorcycle boots. I had managed to buy a brand new Airoh Adventure helmet (my favourite) for a fraction of the UK price from a shop in Hong Kong and a new pair of gloves from China.

After Wales to Derbyshire to ride High Peak and the Dales. The authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett's "50 People Who Buggered Up Britain".  I agree that  speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas zones and areas near schools etc... in fact even slower, but the practice of tricking motorists by placing cameras in remote places and where speed restrictions change is the epitomy of meallie mouthed -ness. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty ... but they don't.

After the beautiful biking roads of Wales I went to Derbyshire to ride the High Peak and the Dales. Like Wales nowadays, bikers have to be very careful as the authorities in the UK have gone mad against speeding and have a particular hatred vented towards bikers. There are speed averaging cameras on many roads and increasingly police are tasked to enforce the Road Traffic Act speeding offences .. quite clearly to bolster government coffers than protect life and property. Senior police officers like the anti hero Richard Brunstrom have quite rightly earned themselves a chapter in books like Quentin Lett’s “50 People Who Buggered Up Britain”.  I agree that speed restrictions should be enforced in built up areas and high risk zones near schools and pedestrian areas etc… in fact I recommend even slower.  But the practice of tricking motorists by placing speed cameras and radars in remote places and where speed restrictions suddenly change is the epitomy of mealie mouthed officialdom. I would not mind if the authorities applied the same rigour to fraudsters and crimes of violence and dishonesty … but they don’t. Bankers, politicians and lawyers steal billions from hard working people, fleece their savings and destroy their lives, but ordinarily law abiding citizens in high tech and safe vehicles get slammed daily for speeding and petty driving offences. This famous stretch of road near the Cat and Fiddle is a classic example. Completely unnecessary and ugly speed averaging cameras blight the landscape. Its a very stupid system because the equation …distance divided by time….  can easily be defeated by stopping and having a pee between the cameras and then accelerating back up to warp speed.

Going for a ride in Derbyshire with my  friend (from schooldays) Andrea and her Ducati Monster.

Going for a ride with one of my oldest friends… not that I am saying Andrea is old. far from it, she is exactly the same age as me and therefore a mere whipper snapper.  What I mean is we went to school together in Staffordshire back in the day. Pictured here on a sunny day near her home in Derbyshire on her Ducati Monster.

Derb

Derbyshire countryside.. very lush and green.

"Andrea... when you've finished polishing my bike ... a tea no sugar... oh and a biscuit".... what are friends for??

“Andrea… when you’ve finished polishing my bike I’ll have a tea …no sugar… oh and a biscuit”.  What are friends for, huh?

Spooky... how did they know I was coming.

Spooky… how did they know I was coming.

My goodness ... an Utley Store

My goodness … an Utley Store. Surely we don’t need any more?

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley ... Rachel and my niece, Jessie. And Bear the cat

Talking of Utleys.. the former Miss Utley, my sister Rachel….. and my niece, Jessie together with Captain Pugwash, which I believe is a sort of cat

Derbyshire into Yorkshire... beautiful roads and stunning scenery.

Derbyshire into Yorkshire… beautiful roads and joyous scenery.

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiget which he had since new.  (Derbyshire ...High Peak)

One of many new friends I made on my trip. Riding a Classic Triumph Tiger 100 which he had since new. (Derbyshire …High Peak)

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

The real deal .. even down to the oil leaks

Arrivin

Arriving in Keswick in Cumbria, the Lake District.  I borrowed a very small one man tent from my friend Andrea so I would not have to stay in B&Bs and could free camp in Scotland. Here it is pitched near one of the many lakes in the area. While I was in Keswick I bumped into one of my Royal Hong Kong Police colleagues (still serving as a Chief Superintendent) who was riding a bicycle from Land’s End in Çornwall (the most south westerly point of the British mainland) to John O’Groats in Scotland (the most n0rth easterly)… about 1000 miles.

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Keswick… starting my hike up to the peak of Skiddaw (931 meters). Here in a small hamlet is an honesty egg stall… one puts money in the box and helps oneself to the eggs one has paid for… doesn’t one? Fanny and I saw such honesty stalls in Bavaria in Germany and I personally think this is indicative of the height of human civilization. When we posted the pictures of our trip in Bavaria on this blog we got comments from South Africa and China stating that in their countries the goods and money would be stolen and the table kicked over. Well quite. As I said……

Keswick from Skiddaw

Looking down at Keswick from the slopes of Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Looking West towards the Irish Sea from Skiddaw

Hiking in the Lake District

Hiking in the Lake District

On the way down ... a perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England.  Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. A joy. Highly recommended.

A perfect day hiking in one of the most stunning parts of England. Not high by Tibetan or even European standards, but clean, fresh, well looked after and thoroughly natural. I had a picnic on the grass , did a spell of fell running and returned back into Keswick for fish and chips… Perfect.

Meeting Steve Wordsworth from Hong Kong in Keswick. Steve and I worked together in Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land's End to John O'Groats.... which he completed successfully  a week later.

With Steve Wordsworth in Keswick, Cumbria (Lake District).  Steve and I served together in the Royal Hong Kong police (he still does) and he was riding his bicycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats…. which he completed successfully a week later.

From the Lakes I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond

From the Lake District I rode to Scotland and passed Glasgow to Loch Lomond and Ben Arthur (“the Cobbler”)

Sun, warm water and pretty girls... yes its Scotland.

Sun, warm water, and pretty girls… yes it really is Scotland.

The guys I met at Loch Lomond camping by the water and enjoying the summer of 2013.

The guys, Paul, Pauli, Filiz and Taylor, whom I met camping by the water at Loch Lomond and enjoying the summer of 2013. You can’t have everything though, I guess. The water in Loch Lomond was so warm at the time that the champagne wasn’t cooling down enough. Shame. (Paul contacted us in comments)

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

Heading towards Glen Coe and skirting around the many lochs on the western coast of Scotland

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautifulness. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see and ride through the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, Guilin karst mountains, the Rift Valley, Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, Masai Mara, Ethiopian Highlands,  Qinghai plateau, South Africa’s Cederberg, the Atlas mountains etc etc… but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

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Breathe it in….

Camping in Glen Coe

Camping in the woods near Glen Coe

Glen Coe.... the area where the Skyfall

Glen Coe…. the area where the movie, “Skyfall” was filmed.

Glen Coe ...

Loch Leven near Glen Coe …

Glen Coe

Crossing Loch Leven, Glen Coe

What about bikes?

What about bikes?

Bobby and Willie who took me for a ride around the Ben Nevis area

Bobby and Willie (Yamaha XT 600 and BMW K1000) who took me for a very civilized (i.e. slow) ride around the Ben Nevis area.

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Visiting the Bonnie Prince Charlie statue at Glenfinnan

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

The viaduct bridge shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

The railway viaduct shown in the Harry Potter movie near Glenfinnan

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around with for a few hours.

Saying goodbye to my new friends, Bobby and Willie with whom I rode around western Scotland and had a great day.

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Making friends in the Highlands of Scotland

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine... reminded me of Tibet.

Riding through the Highlands in beautiful sunshine… this bit reminded me very much of Tibet. I rode up the twisty road at some pace and was surprised to be overtaken by a Swiss registered sports bike with a rider in full race leathers. When I got to the top I saw it was a BMW S1000RR…. OK… fair enough.

Taking ferry over to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a can of  Avon skin cream all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges.... its really does work. thanks..

Taking ferry over to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. This biker from Durham, who lives on Skye introduced to me and gave me a jar of Avon skin softening cream that all the locals use to ward off the scary Scottish midges….Despite being an odd substance for a hairy biker to rub over his skin it really does work … and added a fresh fragrance to my normal smell of sweat and petrol. Many thanks.

Ferry to Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw less and less people.

Ferry to the Isle of Skye with the other bikers. It seemed with the good weather a lot of international bikers (the Moto Guzzi belonged to a French couple) were touring Scotland. That said as I went further north I saw fewer and fewer people.

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages along the west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world.

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye... now where do you start. Well, from the beginning is a good place ... hick!!!

300 Scottish malts at a pub on Skye… now where do you start? Well, from the beginning is a good place … hick!!!

I rode many miles along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and small towns all the way through the Highlands and to the north west point a

I rode many miles zigzagging along the sea coast and along the many lochs of west Scotland. Passing through picturesque villages and pretty towns all the way through the Highlands and to the remote north west point at Cape Wrath. I must say it was some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Very friendly and welcoming people and none of the English/Scottish rivalry we all come to expect. As difficult as it is to explain, Scotland actually seemed more “British” than England does.  In parts looking like Tibet and other times like Ethiopia. I am a big fan although I will still be supporting Ingeerland in the footie… someone has to.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Palm trees in Scotland!   Due to the Gulf Stream that courses up from the tropics to the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland are far milder than one would expect given its proximity to the Arctic Circle. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious as when I was there and can often be decidedly wet and blowy.

The flower of Scotland....I remember as a small boy going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my friend, Joe Muriel and his family and some local bully boys grabbed us while we were playing near a small cliff and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn't sing "Oh Flower O' Scotland".  After about 15 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea. After we surfaced and started to swim away we cheerily told the local lads what we thought of their flowers accompanied by some good old fashioned hand gestures that were popular in English play grounds during the early 70s . Oh happy days... !!!

The flower of Scotland….always reminds me of going on holiday to the Island of Luing off the west coast of Scotland near Oban with my best friend and his family when I was a small boy. Whilst playing near a small cliff with a sheer drop down to the sea some local bully boys approached us and threatened to throw us into the sea if we didn’t sing “Oh Flower O’ Scotland”.  After about 10 seconds of making up a song about some thistles we gave up and just jumped off the cliff in the sea below.  After we surfaced and were bobbing about in the waves we cheerily told the local lads who were now high up above us what we thought of their flowers,  accompanied by some hand gestures that were popular with naughty boys during the early 70s.  Oh happy days… !!!

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland.

Lots of white sand beaches along the west and north coast of Scotland. The water looked crystal clear, and unlike beaches in China and Hong Kong, not a single item of litter or garbage. I did meet a lot of Chinese tour groups at the usual tourist spots like Glen Coe and Ben Nevis and they remarked how clean everywhere was. I couldn’t help respond in Mandarin that this was because “WE THROW OUR RUBBISH IN THE BIN>>>NOT IN THE LAKE >>>>>AAAAAHH MAAAAAA”

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains, valleys, lakes and big hairy things with horns in the road.

Fellow bikers from Canada... They had very nice kit... a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and good camping gear. Always something to learn from fellow adventurers.

Fellow bikers from Canada… They had a BMW F800GS with all the accessories, great tent and excellent camping gear.  Their navigation and photographic equipment was particularly impressive.  There is always something to learn and admire from fellow adventurers. Whilst chatting with them they suddenly got very excited and burst out, “Hey…you are the couple riding around the world… we read about you on ADV Rider…. where’s Fanny?” (scanning left and right eagerly).  I explained that she had to work and wasn’t with me. Absolute silence. They could hardly disguise their disappointment and turned around and sauntered back to their tent with their heads hung low and banged in a few more tent pegs. Now I know what Charlie Boorman feels like… “I’ll see you in the pub later shall I?”, I shouted over to them, but they mumbled something in French and didn’t look up. I thought of shouting back … can Fanny do a one handed wheelie in the sand? Noooo. But I didn’t .. petulance is an unattractive trait in a human being … even if I can ride better than her… so there.

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Landrover were expecting to see in north west Scotland...

I am still not entirely sure what these German tourists with a safari tent on top of their Land Rover were expecting to see or encounter in the Highlands of Scotland… a ferocious otter or a terrifying haggis. Anyway, they were well prepared.

Perhaps the Loch Ness sheep

Perhaps the fearsome Loch Ness sheep?

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland

A ferry to Skye and a bridge back to the mainland. Some people told me they had seen some killer whales (Orca) further up the coast… but I never saw them. Riding along the single track roads required more attention to the road and hedgerows than staring out to sea.

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature , and glorious scebnery

I challenge any biker to show me a better stretch of road. Zero traffic, twisty road, perfect temperature, and glorious scenery.

Roads and scenery all to myself

Roads and scenery all to myself

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what adventure motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery, meeting friendly people and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the KTM 990 SMT

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In Scotland there are no trespass laws and so provided you respect the countryside and the property of others you can camp where you like. Here I am camped at the most north west part of Scotland, enjoying the fresh air and sea views in complete peace. Earlier I went to a nearby pub for a seafood dinner and a pint of Scottish ale and listened to a folk band. Being so far north in summer it did not get dark until after 11pm. I will definitely have to bring Fanny and my children one day.

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O'Groats. I then turned south and rode down

I then rode along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly part of mainland Britain, John O’Groats. Funnily enough the rock structure looks like those at Cape Aguilas on the most southerly tip of Africa where Fanny and I started our Big Bike Trip expedition in 2011. After a brew and a Scottish cake  I then turned south and rode down the east coast of Scotland towards Inverness, rode along Loch Ness and then headed in the general direction of Edinburgh, passing through dozens of beautiful towns and villages and across glorious mountain roads.

Yous can take me BMW, but yous no be taking my KTM  ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

“Yous can take ma BMW, but yous no be taking ma KTM” ( William Wallace Memorial near Stirling)

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over into Northumbria. Whilst I was there a British MP suggested that

I continued riding through Scotland to the border with England and crossed over Hadrian’s Wall into majestic Northumbria where the accent abruptly changed from Scottish to Geordie. Whilst I was there I heard the news about an ill informed and rather gormless British MP who suggested that shale oil mining using the controversial “fracking” method should be conducted in the north east of England because its barren and nobody lives there. Having ridden across this lovely part of England and met some wonderful people in Newcastle, Durham, Middleborough etc…and at the Wagon Inn in Westgate on the A696 I can refute this. Who votes for these idiots? Anyway, this picture was taken after I arrived at the Wagon Inn and asked if they knew where I could pitch my tent.     “In our beer garden”, of course” came the reply from the friendly landlord. Fantastic.  So after some beers I retired (staggered) to my garden retreat.

Not something you see everyday ... unless you live in Gateshead.

Not something you see everyday … unless you live in Gateshead. (Angel of the North)

Has to be done .... a road side fry up on road between York and Harrogate.

Has to be done …. a road side fry up (on the road between York and Harrogate). I wanted to see the Viking museum in York and then go to Betty’s in Harrogate for tea and a teacake. So I did.

Harrogate ... outside the famous Spa... or is it a Chinese restaurant... ?

Harrogate … outside the famous Spa… or is it a Chinese restaurant… ?

My KTM 990 SMT's status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken by this big boy.... the KTM 1190 Adventure R ... yours for 13250pounds.

My KTM 990 SMT’s status as best road bike I have ever ridden could be taken away by this big boy…. the KTM 1190 Adventure R … yours for 13,250 quid. I mean, who in their right mind would buy a BMW 1200 GS? ( golfers and lao touzi excepted of course)

I continued on the trip all the way through the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire where I

I continued all the way through Northumbria,  the Yorkshire moors, back to Derbyshire High Peak where I did some hiking on Scarfell Pike.  I then continued on to Staffordshire to see my mother in Abbots Bromley where I grew up, then back south through the Black Country to Tewkesbury where the local KTM garage replaced the mirror I smashed in John O’Groats (bike fell over on soft ground while I was having a cuppa), then through the beautiful Coltswolds and to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire where I stayed with my sister. The next day I continued to the South Coast of England through the New Forest and to the fascinating town of Old Hastings where I stayed in a superb Inn called the Jenny Lind (highly recommended). The next day a short ride to Bexhill on Sea (bike pictured outside the interesting art deco De Warr building) and got the bike MOT’d as it was just about to reach its 3rd birthday.  It passed after a 1 pound reflective button was put on the number plate…  Next stop… Hong Kong.

No trains either.... drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped. Thanks to Nick for rescuing me and ferrying me to Heat

No trains either……..   A bit of drama on the way to the airport as the train from Bexhill to Gatwick just stopped and never moved again. The dozens of staff belonging to ” Southern Rail” in these daft t-shirts wandered about like headless chickens panicking, or lurked out of sight in cafes to hide from irate passengers. Wouldn’t happen if I was in charge.  Investigate what happened, evaluate best options and then clearly communicate plan to staff and passengers. How hard can it be? Anyway, a big thanks to my friend Nick Dobson for rescuing me from Eastbourne train station and ferrying me to Heathrow Airport just in time to catch my flight back to Hong Kong.

Fanny on KTM 690 SM in Hong Kong

Fanny on a KTM 690 Supermoto in Sai Kung, Hong Kong

Chapter 27 – Back to South Africa

As the cold weather descended on Shanghai, and indeed the rest of the northern hemisphere, Fanny and I escaped our second successive winter by flying to South Africa. Last year the Arab Spring and fighting and disturbances in Libya and Syria had delayed our progress to Turkey and so we saw out the European winter by the shores of the Red Sea scuba diving, wind surfing and generally idling about in the sun and enjoying the cheap prices afforded by the drop in tourism to Egypt.

Now we were going back to South Africa where we started our expedition in June, 2011 to be reunited with our KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles which were being shipped from the UK and due to arrive in Cape Town at about the same time as us.

Arriving back where we started.... Cape Town

Arriving back where we started…. Cape Town

South Africa, 24th largest country in the world

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We took an Emirates flight which was by far the best deal from China to South Africa, but there was a long stop over in Dubai and so when we arrived I left the airport to visit my friend, Brian Kelly who is in the same sort of business as I am, but focuses on investigations and security in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Fanny, due to her Chinese passport and visa restrictions was not allowed to exit the airport and so she had to wait in the lounge while Brian and I wandered around the bright and dazzling Dubai Mall, stared up at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa and drank coffees by one of the largest, and certainly most impressive aquarium in the world, the Burj Al Arab Aquarium. It seems rather short sighted of the Emirates not to allow, or indeed facilitate Chinese transit passengers to spend their lengthy wait, and more importantly their money in the luxury shops of Dubai. When we were in Venice, the new moneyed Chinese were the biggest spenders on luxury goods and in fact many of the shop assistants in the famous fashion houses were in fact Chinese themselves.

Dubai Mall Aquarium

Dubai Mall Aquarium

Stop over in Dubai

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When we did arrive in Cape Town the weather was absolutely glorious –blue skies, twenty eight degrees, fresh breezes and brilliant sunshine. We were very grateful to be able to use our friend, Jono’s apartment in the Tamboerskloof area of downtown Cape Town from where we actually started our expedition on a chilly June morning in 2011. Unfortunately, on this occasion the immigration department of South Africa had only given Fanny three weeks stay in the country and our attempts to extent this at the Home Affairs Department were fruitless as most government departments in modern South Africa are in complete chaos and stretch the concepts of inefficiency to new levels.

Enjoying the fresh air, blue skies and sun.

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Table Mountain and the Waterfront harbour in Cape Town

caricature - DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS

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After two hours of making absolutely no progress in an enormous queue we gave up and Fanny resigned herself to going back to China at the end of December where she could at least spend Chinese New Year with her family in Shanghai and properly prepare herself for her new job with the Risk Advisory Group in Hong Kong. She is going to be busy because she also plans to do the Hong Kong law conversion course and take the bar exams, as well as join the local volleyball, Gaelic football teams and continue with her windsurfing which she started in Egypt.

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Walking along beaches around my home in Arniston with “Rugby” dog

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Back in January 2011 Fanny had only just got her motorcycle licence and whilst on holiday in South Africa over the Chinese Lunar New Year she got some adventure riding under her belt and did a bit of off road training on her Kawasaki 650 KLR. Little did we know that three months later the company I worked for, LECG would go the way of many other companies during the financial crisis and be broken up and largely acquired by our direct competitor….well at least in China.  Not being at all keen to dumb down and join this merry band of buffoons the big motorcycle trip was conceived and so we returned to South Africa sooner than we expected to start the adventure of a life time. We also decided it would be an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for our individual charities, Autism Research Trust and Half the Sky.

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Fanny walking along the dunes and beaches near our home on the southern tip of Africa

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On the first day of our expedition back in 2011 we had ridden over 700 kilometers up the west coast of South Africa all the way to the Orange River at the border with Namibia. Given our purposeful quest to get going and get to the border in a day, Fanny did not get a real chance to explore some of the impressive scenery that South Africa has to offer and so now we were back in the Cape, and with a lot more experience we decided to do some exploring on our “go anywhere” KTM motorcycles.  When Fanny eventually did go back to China, I used the time before I had to do the same and did some serious gravel track and off-road motorcycling in the mightily impressive Karoo, Swartberg and Cederberg regions of Western and Northern Cape. Quite possibly some of the best adventure motorcycling in the world.

Fanny at the Weaver in Arniston

Fanny at the Weaver in Arniston

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Boogie boarding at our local beach

Cape Town Traffic police and Fanny

Cape Town Traffic police and Fanny.

A friendly South African

A friendly South African

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On this occasion we had planned our return to South Africa to coincide with the arrival of our KTM motorcycles, but some bad weather and faffing about with customs and the shipping agents meant we had to wait a few more days. Given that both bikes are registered in Cape Town and were returning to their “home” I couldn’t understand what the delay was about or why, but as usual with anything in South Africa it was solved by handing over a huge amount of cash.  As we watched the crates being opened it was like opening presents on Christmas day and the bikes emerged looking just like the day we bought them. Not bad given where they had been and the fact they had done some serious mileage in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Annoyingly, my KTM 990 Adventure R had cost 80 pounds more to ship than Fanny’s identical bike. Why? Because I neglected to take off my windshield and as such it slightly increased the cubic capacity of the crate.  As compact as possible is the name of the shipping game and I learnt an expensive lessons all for the sake of  six screws and 3 minutes effort.

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It was strange riding our big powerful KTMs again after very recently riding 12,600 kilometers across China on the CF Motos. I couldn’t help think that riding the KTMs would have been more fun, but it would have been at a huge cost financially and not without a lot of hassle and red tape trying to get the bikes in and out of China.  I had also realized that although Fanny can now handle the KTM 990 Adventure pretty well, it is actually a tad too big for her and in China she handled the smaller CF Moto 650 with much more ease and confidence. Although it would have been brilliant to have showcased the KTMs in China, I have to admit the CF Moto 650 TRs were faultless and the backup and support given to us from CF Moto throughout the vast country was superb. In fact, we are both very excited about  seeing and riding the new CF Moto 700 Adventures at the end of the year. These smaller twin cylinder adventure bikes look like they are going to fill a void in the market because adventure bikes are getting heavier, more powerful and complicated and there is a strong case to ride lighter globe trotters.

Fanny's bike being unpacked

Fanny’s KTM 990 Adventure being unpacked from its crate at Bibbulphs Shipping warehouse in Cape Town. It had taken 6 weeks to travel by container ship from London and cost her about 600 pounds.

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My beautiful KTM 990 Adv. R that took me around the world.  It had not been dropped  or damaged the whole way and it looked perfect.   We had tackled sand, gravel, mud, potholes, corrugations, streams, rivers, forests, grasslands, mountains, snow, ice, rocks, boulders, being hauled on and off ferries, -10 to +54 degrees cold and heat, wheelies and, power slides. It had  purred along at 125 kph with the occasional hooligan race along deserted roads at its maximum speed of 220 kph;  been loaded up with over 70 kgs of tyres, spare parts, inner tubes, a bag full of cloths, air pumps, repair kit, tyre levers, engine oil, clutch fluid, brake fluid, a multitude of tools,  scuba gear, tents, sleeping bags, ground mats, cooking kit, utensils, food, AND me (ranging from a slim 82kg to a chubby 90 kgs at different legs of the trip)
Often it was loaded with up to 30 liters of water, 20 litres of spare fuel and food when we crossed remote places like the Sahara, Nubian, Namib, Kalahari, Sinai deserts etc .  Oh..and let’s not forget … rescuing and towing a broken down BMW F650GS 35 kilometers out of lion territory in the Masai Mara.   I have often watched the DVDs of the Long Way Round guys heroically struggling with their heavy and agricultural looking BMW GS1150s and 1200s, and sometimes breaking or damaging them.  On all those challenging surfaces and off road conditions the KTMs would have breezed through… as they did on our expedition.  What on God’s good Earth were the KTM marketing people thinking of back in 2004?

Connecting up the batteries again and checking the fluids before its ready to race again.

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Fanny and I spent a few days before Christmas in the fishing village of Arniston which is on the southern coast, not at our small beach house , but in the camp site just 500 meters up the road. It was good fun to be back in the tent, but the neighbourly “Klippies and coke” sessions with the Afrikaans campers next door bought back  headaches of the “drinking at high altitude in the Himalayas” variety. Not good at all. A few days later we returned the 200 kilometers back to Cape Town and spent Christmas itself with friends we met in Malawi, but all too soon the time had arrived for Fanny to return back to China.

Riding about in South Africa again… except Fanny … who is having a snooze

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My home, Arniston

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Fanny enjoying the sun in Arniston.

 

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On our last evening together, Fanny and I decided to revisit the Royo Chinese restaurant in Kloof Street and this time the food was truly appalling. It was very expensive too and we had to sit next to a group of twelve customs officials from Fujian province who were clearly up to no good. What they were all doing in Cape Town is anyone’s guess, but after eavesdropping into their conversations they were obviously collecting kickbacks for doing what they shouldn’t, or for not doing what they should. They were typical low life Chinese government officials—corrupt, rude, coarse and vulgar. Watching the minions all toadying up to the laoban (boss) was nauseating enough, but having to endure the nominated red faced sycophant toasting “ganbei” enthusiastically while the others feigned laughter and secretly discarded their baijiu under the table was laughable.  By Fanny’s own admission, they were thoroughly vulgar and revolting people, the sort who spit on the carpet, eat sharks fin and rhino horn and think cheating and lying is a virtue. Unfortunately, they are the very sort who are giving the Chinese a bad name in Africa.

Every Chinese tourist who visits Cape Town is marched into this restaurant by their tour guide. Pity for them because the food is lousy and extremely expensive.

Every Chinese tourist who visits Cape Town is marched into this restaurant by their tour guide. Pity for them because the food is lousy and extremely expensive.

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Sad Fanny saying goodbye to her bike at Cape Town airport

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The next day I was very sad to see Fanny leave. The time had passed by far too quickly, but her South African visa was about to expire and unlike me, she had a proper job to go to and prepare for. Even though Hong Kong is technically a part of China (since 1997), Mainland Chinese like Fanny still need to jump through many administrative hoops to secure the permits and authorization to live and work there. As with most things Fanny breezed through all the formalities in record time and while she was in China she was also informed she (in fact we) had been awarded the “Shell Advance Individuals of the Year Award”, beating several high profile nominees. The organisers, Shell Advance and a popular Chinese media group had arranged and paid for Fanny to fly to Xiamen in south east China to collect the award at the ceremony, which she did, very proudly.

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Fanny receiving the “Shell Advance Individuals of the Year Award 2012”  on behalf of both of us.

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I had a couple of tasks to attend to, one of which was to sell Fanny’s KTM, “Stella”. After advertising it on gumtree.co.za I got a surprisingly high number of replies and so the bike with all its accoutrements was sold almost immediately. It was a good bike– in fact, it is a great bike.  I have to admit it was quite emotional parting with what is essentially a big orange inanimate object. I was quite pleased Fanny was not around to see her beloved “Stella” go otherwise she would have been even more upset than she was already. Over the phone I had a tearful…“Will it be OK?”, “What’s he like?”, “Can he send me pictures now and again?” Questions you would associate more with parting with a puppy than a bike. But then again, Stella had taken Fanny around the planet and she had been an integral part of both of our lives.  Only adventurers can rationalize how their vehicles become more than just a vehicle. Your bike develops a personality and you become one with it. A bit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and I can see how it must all seem very strange to the non-adventurers. But RTW adventurers will know exactly what I mean.

Coen , the new owner of "Stella"

Coen , the new owner of “Stella”

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Goodbye “Stella”. I would love to have kept her but times are tough and as a 2008 model it was best that she was used rather than sitting in a garage.

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It is almost hard to believe this bike was ridden so far, dropped so many times in so many challenging conditions and had several high speed accidents, the most serious in the Namib desert where it and Ms Fang somersaulted several times after she lost control on rough gravel, sand and rocks at more than 100kph.   It really is the toughest of adventure bikes and the only damage, apart from detached windscreen, scratches to the plastics and broken indicators, was that the forks had slipped in the triple clamps… which were easily adjusted back to true when we got to KTM Windhoek after a further 500 kilometers of gravel and sand riding. The scratched fairings were repaired and resprayed in the UK and it is as good as new. Amazing machine.

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I was relieved and happy to see how excited the new owner was and if Coen is reading this I hope you are looking after “Stella” otherwise you’ll have the hardest hitting female you have ever met on your case. As Stella disappeared from sight I could still hear the Leo Vince exhausts blasting off in the distance and thought it would be a good idea if I find and hand over the “previously removed” exhaust baffles in case Coen gets stopped by the police. After all, if you get handcuffed and pulled behind a bakkie until you die for parking on the wrong side of the street, imagine what the South African police will do to you for having noisy exhausts!

So what now? Well I had a few months in South Africa before I had to return to China and so I got stuck into some maintenance work on my house in Arniston, which being on a cliff on the southern tip of Africa gets a good pounding from the southern storms every now and again.  I also had some work projects to attend to and focus on getting back to regular work, which meant responding to various head hunters and dusting off the CV. Immodestly, I suppose, I should say I am pretty good at doing what I do for a living, but having been away on such a long global motorcycle expedition it was going to take quite a while to get back into corporate mode again.

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Fanny hated riding on sand. The KTM is better off road than a BMW, but it is still a big bike and perhaps a tad too much so for Fanny. Me on the other hand? Where’s my bucket and spade?… bring it on.

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So now I was on my own I decided to do some off road riding in places and on surfaces that Fanny does not care for too much, primarily mountain trails, deserts and sand and so I put new tyres on my Adventure R, cleaned her up, did a bit of servicing and prepared her for a blast towards the mountainous country of Lesotho and into the Karoo desert and across many of the stunning mountain passes and trails. I wanted to ride up into the northern territories of South Africa, but in the summertime, as I know all too well from a previous trip with my friend Nick Dobson in 2009, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and the borders with South Africa are often beset with storms, heavy rain and worst of all, terrifying lightening strikes. Therefore I made a plan to explore the Cape provinces…Eastern, Western and Northern, which together are still bigger than most European countries..

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4×4 track over the mountains between Wuppenthal and Cederberg Oasis … an absolute joy.

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Because I planned to ride on gravel and sand I made a concerted effort to lighten the load in the panniers and take as few clothes as possible in my North face , and to this extent I was successful in reducing the normal laden weight by more than 50%. No snorkelling fins this time. For some reason I had lost my 10 litre fuel can during the shipment from the UK and so I had to make do with a rather nifty little 2 litre petrol can given to me by my friend Paul Chapman from (http://www.adventureparts.co.uk), who also gave us the very useful camel toe that was later to come in very handy in the desert by preventing the bike falling over on its side stand in sand. This extra 2 litre can, although small, is robust enough, and in the event the 19.5 litre KTM fuel tank did run dry, it allows me to top up the tank and get lost a further 40 kilometers into the desert!

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My next door neighbour, Francois owns a winery near Worcester called Du Toitskloof and so I went to stay on his wine farm for a few days. On arrival my friend inducted me into the local protection detail that was put together by the local farmers to protect the vines from vandalism by some striking and militant workers. Never a dull moment in South Africa and after prepping in the local pub and drinking a quantity of ale I haven’t drunk since I was 18, we patrolled the vines in the early hours looking for strikers with petrol cans and evil intent. Under the headlights of Francois’ bakkie he pointed out all the different varieties of grape, from Shiraz to Merlot to Sauvignon. I have to admit that they all looked the same to me other than being either green or purple.

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Francois and one of his dogs at his wine estate near Worcester

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Another one guarding my bike

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Du Toitskloof winery and some of the vineyards

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A Merlot grape .. or is it Shiraz? I’ll try a glass of both and see.

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Wine making is a complex business

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Du Toitskloof wines .. reds, whites, roses and champagne types that you can’t call champagne ….but they taste like it.

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The next day, after my first night duty in two decades, I was shown hundreds of hectares of vineyards with their complicated irrigation systems and perfect orientation to the sun. I was also shown around the winery, the laboratories, the fermentation vats, and the financial and marketing side of wine producing. It’s a complicated business and the farmers are not only at the mercy of the weather gods and market forces, but also from increasingly belligerent worker’s unions in South Africa that are being whipped up into a froth by political activists who are playing the race card to devastating effect. There is a big worry that South Africa is following in the footsteps of Zimbabwe which, under the insane leadership of Uncle Bob, has now completely ruined its once agricultural greatness and the lives of many people.

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Doing the rounds on the estate

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At home in Arniston on my old KTM 990 Adventure

Me with the Yellow Peril on road to Arniston

The “Yellow Peril” on the road to Arniston… slow and steady wins the race

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For whatever reason, although I suspect because it’s the most beautiful country in the world, I have made South Africa my “bolthole”. I first went there when I was competing in paragliding competitions in early nineties and it was love at first sight. It’s an amazing place full of wildlife, colour and natural beauty. In the spring (September, October, November) Southern Right Whales and the occasional Humpback breach in the ocean right outside my home. Three species of dolphin swim through the bay and Great White Sharks swim uncomfortably close to where I swim each day. Fortunately, they are not interested in me because I am not a seal, and due to my daily runs, I don’t look like one either and so I am oblivious to their presence underneath the turquoise waves. I do keep a watchful (and perhaps perverse) eye out when the rotund European tourists enter the water at Roman Beach, half expecting a frothy red feeding frenzy. Its only a matter of time.

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Hiking about at my home

Different hat

Runs along the beach

Runs along the beach

Wildlife

Wildlife

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My garden is full of Sunbirds, Mouse birds, Rollers, Bulbuls, Weavers and Cape Robins, to name a few. The Fynbos (the smallest of the six flora kingdoms in the world) covers the Overberg around where I live and is abundant with wildlife and exotic looking plants and flowers. It’s a twitter’s paradise of some of the world’s rarest and most spectacular bird life and I am not “too” ashamed to say I have created a spreadsheet of sightings. Its better than vouching dodgy fa piaos for sure.  I keep fit by running along deserted white sand beaches that stretch further than even the most accomplished long distant runner can run.  And most days local fishermen come to my door with freshly caught Cape Salmon, Yellow Tail, Octopus and Oysters. Alas, if only Fanny was around to cook the bastard things.

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My new garage in which our bikes, tools, surf boards, fishing rods and other beach paraphernalia live .. and on top I have a stoep to watch the dolphins in the ocean by day and star gaze at night…. The English hating MacIntosh’s from across the path had blocked my planning and building permission for many years.. but they were defeated at the “Battle of the Weaver” by the invincible John Miller, my builder and shi fu from Bredasdorp.  Hurrah!!!

Windy day in Arniston

When the wind blows in Arniston, it really blows

Sunbird in Overberg Fynbos

Sunbird in the Overberg Fynbos… I have three pairs living in my garden

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Arniston Bay

My bike outside my home

My bike outside my home

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Beautiful trees

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The Cape has beautiful wild flowers all through the year… but Springtime is particularly magnificent

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Hiking up another route to the top of Table Mountain

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Nick Dobson and I relaxing at Kalk Bay near Cape Point

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It’s hard to believe that in such a paradise so many humans live such a miserable life and it’s easy to blame all the evils and woes on the legacy of Apartheid, a word many feel compelled to spit out in a Bono accent. Apartheid was indeed an unfair and a cruel system of racial segregation and inequality enforced for 50 years by the law of a minority. I can say when I was a child my family did our bit in defeating it by not eating Cape apples or pears. But since the collapse of Apartheid, almost 20 years ago the ruling African National Congress has failed to exploit the moral high ground. All it has done is louse up the economy, create a new elite (a different colour) and place unqualified and incompetent bums on seats. It has allowed savage behaviour to go unchallenged and the tone from the top has resulted in, like in other African countries where despots rule, an unethical and corrupt culture that nurtures high crime rates, immoral judgement, cruel superstitions and continued racial discrimination.

Protest in one of Joburg's townships

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Protests outside the court house in my local town, Bredasdorp where three men are being tried for a brutal rape and murder of a local woman. The SA news is always full of these type of cases. Oscar Pistorius shooting his girlfriend, a Mozambique guy being dragged to his death behind a police bakkie and widespread government corruption and dishonesty. These stories are just tips of many icebergs as crime is rampant in South Africa with rapes occurring every minute or so… many of small children and babies. Today in 2013 children still get abducted in South Africa and cannibalised because some people still believe eating them is good “muti”. This extraordinarily high crime rate and moral decline is almost certainly a result of the appalling tone set from the top, general incompetence by many in government and a savage polygamist kleptomaniac leading the government.

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At this very moment tens of thousands of South Africans are currently sitting outside various bottle shops throughout the country intoxicated out of their skulls on cheap alcohol and drugs like tic with no jobs or prospects while their leader, among other excesses, fritters over 200,000,000 Rand of public money having his home renovated, spends 20,000,000 Rand a year supporting his collection of very prosperous looking wives (polygamy and bigamy are in fact illegal in SA), and has managed to wriggle himself out of countless racketeering, embezzlement, corruption, fraud, and indeed rape charges. He thus sits alongside the ranks of many African kleptomaniacs who engage in their own tribal enrichment and self-aggrandisement.

If Fanny decides to shoot me on Valentine’s Day while I am in the throne room contemplating the meaning of life I shall know who to blame.

He must have a big bed..!

He must have a big bed..!

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Anyway, enough of the politics, back to riding motorcycles….

First, I headed east along the gravel tracks from Bredasdorp to Witsand, past the nature reserve of De Hoop and across the Breede River which is famous for having huge Zambezi Sharks (also known Bull Sharks outside SA) which can be found up to 50 kilometres up river. One big girl that was caught and tagged recently was over 4 metres long, which is something to bear in mind if you fancy a paddle and certainly something I thought about as my KTM and I crossed the river at Malgas on a rope pulled pontoon.

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Pontoon crossing Breede River at Malgas

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The pontoon is pulled across manually using cables

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A group of girls riding BMW F800GS and F650GS waiting to cross river.

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As I took a break from peering over the side of the wobbly pontoon to look for nobby clarks I saw that on the other bank waiting to cross the river were about eight motorcycles. As I got nearer I noticed they were nearly all BMW F800GS motorcycles which are very nice adventurers, and also that they were nearly all being ridden by girls. I chatted to the tour guide when I got over, at the same time making a lot of effort not to fall over in front of all those Beemers, and girls to boot. He said they were doing a guided ride along the Garden Route for five days. These motorcycle tours are now very popular and even Charlie Boorman runs a Cape Town to Victoria Falls tour each year.

This lady was caught in the Breede River. Some of these Zambezi Sharks (or Bull Sharks as they are called outside SA) have been found 50kms up river.

This lady was caught in the Breede River. Some of these Zambezi Sharks (or Bull Sharks as they are called outside SA) have been found 50 kms up river.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………There are a lot of bike operators running bike tours in South Africa and one very good one is run by my friend Alex Jackson (http://www.kaapstadmat.com) who is not only an experienced adventure motorcyclist, but also a game park ranger. He has been able to negotiate with some South African national parks to ride inside and see the wildlife, up close and personal. He has also negotiated accommodation at some awesome bed and breakfasts and lodges and so you get to have a great South African holiday and ride an adventure bike at the same time. These tours are for people who would like to enjoy the riding, but would like to have itinerary, bikes, food, accommodation and entry to game parks etc arranged in advance. A very good option for those mortals who only have a few weeks vacation every year.

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I had ridden about 450 kilometres that day and whilst looking for the campsite I got lost and ventures into a sort of ghetto in the “rough end” of Mosselbay with a maze of roads and thousands of people milling about in the streets looking at me. I was a bit alarmed at first as I stood on the seemingly expensive KTM, but like the rest of our trip as we passed through a few dodgy areas, confidence, a constant smile, and waving to everyone calms things down. Fanny and I learnt in Ethiopia that if you wave to the darling little children they can’t throw stones at you while they are waving back.

The campsite I stayed at was a bit too expensive for what it was, but in South Africa, like England and China all the land belongs to somebody and you can’t just pitch your tent and free camp like you can in Kenya or Sudan. The best places to camp are actually in the gardens of the established backpackers, and that is what I did later on.

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Riding along gravel roads near Swartberg Pass

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Fanny at the most southerly tip of Africa … where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. Fortunately we live 30 kilometers east up the coast where the Indian Ocean water temperature is considerably warmer than the chilly Atlantic around the Cape.

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Me at Cape Aguilas — the most southerly tip of Africa

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Arniston …. surrounded by beautiful beaches, sand dunes and Fynbos.  Great places to go hiking, exploring and bird watching.

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Hiking up Table Mountain … there are many routes up the mountain, some more challenging than others, and Jon Bean and myself have climbed most.

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Swartberg Pass on the way to Prince Albert

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One handed photography … well practiced on the big bike trip

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An adventure biker who rode from his home in Greece to the southern tip of Africa on his Honda Africa Twin

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Riding from Sutherland to Calvinia on the gravel roads through the spectacular Karoo

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Riding from Sutherland to Calvinia on the gravel roads  Then up and down the mountains along 4×4 tracks from the Karoo desert into the northern Cederberg

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For most of the day I never saw another human being… lots of bokkies and buzzards though.

 
The waterfront in Cape Town … a popular tourist spot with Table Mountain in the background
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We love sand …

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Going for a long walk along beaches and dunes with “Rugby”.

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The Weaver

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Walking from Die Mond back to Arniston along the beach … about a 3 hour walk at low tide.

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Paragliding the big sand dunes at De Hoop

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The locals …

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Willen’s restaurant in Kassiebaai (Arniston) with Nick Dobson

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Remains of a wreck on the beach… not sure if its the Arniston which sank in a storm 1815

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Penguins on the beach

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Worcester dam … at sunset

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Tell me about it …. one of the more challenging routes up Table Mountain … unfortunately it has claimed a few lives in the past.

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There is a path up to Table Mountain there someone. Not being a rock climber and slightly acrophobic I do not care for this route very much.

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Hiking from Die Mond to Arniston along the beach. Incredible bird life, including flamingos and Black Oyster Catchers,  to name a few.

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Jon Bean and I hiked up Lion’s Head most mornings when I was in Cape Town. Magical sunrises if you can be bothered to get up at  5.30 am to see tnem from the top

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Beaches around Arniston. In the Autumn and early winter you can see Southern Right Whales breaching out of the sea.

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Double rainbow outside my home

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Struisbaai …. a great place for seafood

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Braai time ….a favourite pastime of South Africans… as well as drinking wine, of course.

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Beaches around Arniston

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Inside my home, the Weaver …

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Arniston Bay

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Fanny at Nacht Wacht .. one of our local restaurants

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Hiking up Signal Hill … FIFA World Cup Stadium at Green Point below

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Me … in standard configuration

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Fanny and I parked at lovely little restaurant in Napier

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Hiking with Jon Bean again … this time above Chapman’s Peak with Hout Bay in distance

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More hiking

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Stunning views on the many trails around Cape Town

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Top of Lion’s Head on our early morning hike

Black Oyster Catchers

Black Oyster Catchers

The Blue Crane... National bird of South Africa and although rare, found in the Overberg around Arniston

The Blue Crane… National bird of South Africa and although rare, found in the Overberg around Arniston

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Riding around Cape Town

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Fanny trying on the expensive KTM gear in Cape Town… way too much wonga for us… but Fanny can pretty much source anything in China for a fraction of the price its retailed for elsewhere in the world. Why? Because nearly everything is made in China and despite lots of unemployment, natural resources and poverty in Africa the manufacturing industry is next to zero. There are loads of middlemen in South Africa and they just mark things up, so together with extortionate taxes and import duties everything costs a fortune.

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The KTM Onyx 690 Adventure… and its fabricator from Cape Town. A rare bit of innovation to create a much in demand adventure bike.

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Bikes parked zebra style in Hout Bay

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Ancient Khoisan cave paintings in the Cederberg.. showing that people and elephants lived much further south in the Cape in those days

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Cederberg landscape …

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Camped up in Cederberg and getting a “braai” going.

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Picture taken by Oliver Hemming from his car of me and my bike riding through the  Cederberg

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A KTM 690 Onyx …. assembled in Cape Town. A truly awesome motorcycle.

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Fanny with literally hundreds of kite surfers at Tableview near Cape Town

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Arniston

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BMW HP2 belonging to one of our camping neighbours in RSA

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Fanny and I camping in Arniston

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Camping in Arniston

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Nacht Wacht restaurant … just up the road

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Miles away

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Fanny at Nacht Wacht

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Paraglide SA …. who lent me a paraglider so I could go for a fly. Thanks guys. If you fancy a tandem flight in Cape Town give these guys a call.

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Having breakfast at Willens in Kassiesbaai

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The beach in the distance is the one I run along at low tide everyday I am in Arniston.

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Riding along gravel trails in the Cederberg .. superb riding but my camera is clearly in need of a clean and a service due to the dust.

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Me flying above Cape Town on a borrowed glider. There is no better way to see the sights.

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Taking off from Signal Hill.

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I hadn’t flown for two years and I was using someone else’s kit… but no problem.

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Perfect conditions for a fly

A rare email to me..

A rare email to me..

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Lovely Fanny

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Riding in the Cederberg… I rarely saw another soul all day

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The Muslim Quarter in Cape Town

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The Cape Doctor has arrived judging by clouds above Table Mountain

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Hout Bay … near Cape Town

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Fanny doing her thing

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Ride up to Signal Hill, Cape Town

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Talk to the hand

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Still doing her thing

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Some other bikers arrived at Willen’s for coffee and drinks

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A sandy bit on the 4×4 trail from Wuppenthal to Cederberg Oasis. I have got this sand riding sussed now so it doesn’t worry me so much. A lighter bike would be better, and glad I am not on a GS1200

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A narrow bit of trail high up above the valley … best not to come off here

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I went charging passed this place in the Cederberg. Would be worth going back to stay one day…

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The school bus in Wuppenthal

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On the trails in the Cederberg

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Last bit of concrete before sand and gravel

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Many gates to open and close.

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I haven’t come off… I am trying to set timer and see if red light is flashing in the brightness of the Cederberg. When this picture was taken it had just gone off….doooh!

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Crossing a sandy valley

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Karoo desert

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I rode with this ostrich (just ahead of me) for about kilometer.. Each time I sped up to try and overtake it .. it would speed up.

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Another 100 kilometers in the wilderness and I never saw anyone

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Except a handsome chap in my mirror

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There he is again

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Somewhere in the Karoo

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Taking a break and finding something flat to put the camera on …. Karoo

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More Karoo… its a big place .. and hot, about 40 degrees that day

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Stopping off in Sutherland for breakfast. Nearby are the famous telescopes and its also the site for the new observatory because of the crystal clear atmosphere. One of best locations for optical astronomy

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Umm… self explanatory I guess

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Entering Sutherland

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Stupidity is not a disability … I would disagree.

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Rupert (and Jono) on another hike … I have forgotten what the place is called and will see if Jono actually reads this blog and tells me… its above Chapman’s Peak (somewhere). Probably some of best views in South Africa, if not the world.

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Some seriously fit mountain bikers on some seriously challenging routes.

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Climbing Table Mountain .. from Skeleton Gorge side (I think)

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The local rozzers …. NOT pulling a Mozambican behind them.

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The famous Ronnies Sex Shop on the biker’s road .. Route 62. Its a bar and a restaurant with underwear hanging from the ceiling. Not much sex going on. Odd.

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A great bit of riding between Matjiesrivier and Kraaisdoring (near Calizdorp)

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A great bit of riding between Matjiesrivier and Kraaisdoring (near Calizdorp)

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Have I posted this picture before … can’t remember … internet so slow

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More of the route between Matjiesrivier and Kraaisdoring (near Calizdorp)

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More of the route between Matjiesrivier and Kraaisdoring (near Calizdorp). A fantastic ride or drive through some very lovely little hamlets and across streams and rivers.

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Swartberg Pass

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A gorge near Prince Albert

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Just me and my bike … South Africa

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As I was riding out of the very nice town called George and along the Outeniekwapas towards Oudtshoorn I was joined by two fellow bikers. One on a KTM 950 Super Enduro (superb bike with same engine as mine .. although “carbaretted” .. not Efi) and a Suzuki 650 Enduro.   To keep up with these local guys  I had to put on a bit of speed and slide round corners on the gravel parts (hence no one handed picture taking). Great guys,  a great route off the beaten track, and am all round  great day hurtling along at break neck speed …

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As I was coming down a steep, gravelly, narrow and twisty pass in the Swartberg a small hire car driven by a young Brit came hurling around the corner and I had three choices: — collide into him; –ride off the edge of a 200 meter cliff; –or drop the bike.  I choose the lesser of three evils. The damage looks minor (just a scratch, a broken indicator and loosened mirror) but I was mightily pissed off.  I had ridden around the world andin 18 months had not come off  or damaged my bike. Now on a jolly in my own backyard (so to speak) I had a stupid and unnecessary fall. Very annoying.

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I rode to Prince Albert .. had some breakfast .. and then rode back up and down the Swartberg Pass which is one of best in South Africa, certainly in Western Cape.

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View from Swartberg pass

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I met this great family who were sight-seeing in their car on Swartberg pass.

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The KTM 950 Super Enduro has a puncture .. guess how? Too many wheelies had put a strain on the tyre and it slipped against the rim (no lock) and ripped the inner tube valve off. There is no easy repair. They were not carrying anything except for air cartridges, but luckily I was fully laden with all my adventure kit and had a spare inner tube in my pannier

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A shady spot and a bit of head scratching before wrestling the tyre off. This KTM 950 Super Enduro  doesn’t have a centre stand (unlike my KTM 990 Adventure) and so repairing a puncture requires the bike to be balanced on a rock so the back wheel can come off.

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I also had tyre levers in my panniers and an electric pump …. Oh yes… “Failing to plan is planning to fail” as we said in the RHKP

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Black Mountain Pass … I guess

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The chaps and I having a great day out on the bikes

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I was following and taking video and pics – but it was very very dusty in their wake and now my camera  is now full of fine dust and so all subsequent pictures are a bit hazy

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IMG_1486 A ride along gravel roads near Huisrivierpas

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The Cape Doctor has arrived

My friends Oliver and Sri and their son Louis from Hong Kong joined me for a tour in the Cederberg

My friends Oliver and Sri and their son Louis from Hong Kong joined me for a tour in the Cederberg

My stay in South Africa was nearly up and so I prepared my KTM for a lengthy period of storage by spraying metal protector on all the exposed nuts and bolts, attaching a trickle charger to the battery and covering it up inside my garage. As my bike was now in hibernation until the next big adventure (when ever that will be) I was presented with a problem. How do I get to Cape Town –200 kilometers away. There is next to no public transport in South Africa and I live in a very remote part of the country and generally keep myself to myself when I am there.  After such a huge worldwide adventure, it seemed ridiculous to be stuck, but I categorically refused to take a taxi which would cost more than a flight from Shanghai to UK and so I decided to walk or perhaps catch a lift from Caledon. Luckily I was rescued by my friend John Miller and his wife Em, who very kindly dropped me off In Cape Town and the next day I flew back to Shanghai.

Fanny was already in work in Hong Kong and so that is where I went and where I started looking for a job myself. What does the future hold? Who knows?

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My trusty steed.

Chapter 21 – 西藏 Tibet

When we rode through Tibet (西藏) in September 2012, the People’s Republic of China was restricting access to Chinese citizens only. The only exception being that a “Tibet Travel Permit” might be granted to a foreign tour group, provided they all come from the same country, that their itinerary is organized and strictly supervised by an approved Chinese travel agency and they are accompanied by a guide at all times.

All very bureaucratic, restrictive and undoubtedly expensive.

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

So, how could we ride into Tibet on motorcycles? For Fanny? No problem. Unlike the rest of the world she can move freely about China with her Chinese travel document, bian fang zheng ( 边防证)。 As for me?  I could exploit a very slim loop hole in the current policy as I am a permanent Hong Kong resident and hold a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Identity card. The reality is of course that the Chinese consider anyone, not ethnically Chinese, a “foreigner” and so using my Hong Kong ID holder status was at very best, “tenuous” and would mean I would have to be a bit lucky and apply whatever charm and wit I could muster to pass through the multitude of road blocks and security check points to get from one side of Tibet to the other.

We had already ridden about 6,000 kilometers from eastern China through the central and southern provinces on our Chinese made CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles and now we were entering the truly spectacular province of Tibet from the equally impressive province of Yunnan. It is a vast region on the far west of the PRC that averages 4,900 meters in altitude and shares the highest point on Earth,  Mount Everest  ( 珠穆朗玛峰), with the Kingdom of Nepal.

Video at https://youtu.be/jZK3Jv1g9ng

Tibet

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The reason why very strict travel restrictions were in place is that this so called “autonomous region” of China is in dispute and many of the indigenous Tibetan people want independence and greater freedoms. However, China keeps a vice like grip on the territory. China increasingly calls the shots in the new world order and pretty much does what it likes.

It is fiercely patriotic and defensive about what it calls domestic issues and sovereignty issues concerning Xinjiang, Xizang (Tibet), Taiwan, Diao Yu Dao and Xi Sha Qun Dao are not for discussion… especially by foreigners. The current situation and history of Tibet is extremely complex and its well worth actually visiting and studying its long and complicated history before forming any opinions ( http://www.tibet.org,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibet  or http://www.dismalworld.com/disputes/tibet.php).

Despite the geographical splendour, fascinating culture, friendly people and some of the best adventure motorcycling I have ever experienced, our ride through Tibet was one of mixed feelings. Relatively speaking, I would probably have felt more at ease had I ridden through Vichy France in 1943. It was without doubt one of the most thought provoking places I have ever been to.

Like many parts of China access by foreigners to many of the historical sites or places of natural beauty is highly restrictive or unreasonably expensive. I wonder what Chinese visitors to the UK would say if the British authorities banned them from visiting Scotland or Wales, or charged them twenty to thirty times more than local people to visit tourist sites and attractions. I think they would protest loudly that its 不公平 (unfair).

 

Leaving Yunnan and climbing up thousands of meters into Tibet

A bit muddy and rocky in places … no real problem though. Our bikes are not true adventure enduros like our KTMs, but these CF Moto 650s are very decent long distant tourers and seemed fine with everything that we came across.

Steep drops and spectacular views.

3,000 – 4,000 meters towards Mang Kang. We have started taking Chinese medicine called ” hong jing tian” for altitude sickness.

A bit like Ethiopia … we shared the road with many creatures… but none as dangerous as “Fujian peasant”  in his Toyota 4×4 with Shanghai racing circuit diagram on the back window, a years supply of instant noodles on the back seat and Mrs Fujian constantly throwing rubbish out the windows into the Tibetan lakes and streams. They did it all the time.

There were many cyclists on the Kunming to Lhasa road. An amazing feat and respect to them. When (and if) they complete the arduous ride and get to Lhasa they usually ship the bikes back by the very efficient Chinese postal services or Kuai Di. We saw very few bikes going the other way, and virtually no bicycles beyond Lhasa. I think we saw a couple of local small cc motorcycles and absolutely no other foreigners beyond the famous tourist attractions in Lhasa where they were being shepherded from site to site like sheep.

The CF Moto 650 TR bikes have been awesome… a big surprise. I would use them again if I did the same ride, or perhaps the Royal Enfield …. after all it is the Himalayas. 

In eastern Tibet the road goes up and down between 3,000 meters to 4,000 meters  – many times.  The roads are often carved into the side of very steep slopes and sometimes the road has completely or partially collapsed or has debris strewn over from landslides. It was a bit nerve wrecking on our bikes and I cannot imagine driving one of the trucks with the wheels hanging over the side. We did see some unlucky ones that had gone over the side.

Fanny cautiously looking over the edge of the road. Much more precarious than the impression given by the photograph.

The roads wind up and down for hundreds of kilometers. Some have dozens and dozens of hairpin bends and make European switchbacks look positively tame. I’d like to see the Top Gear guys try this…

We rode through massive pine forests around the 3,000 meter mark for hundreds of kilometers. So much for the deforestation debate. Seems  Chinese forestry is as advanced as that in Bavaria or Canada.

A typical Tibetan farmhouse in the eastern side of the province.

Our first 5,000 meter pass… many to come. The last time I was at 5,000 meters was on the summit of Mount Kenya and I was out of breathe then too.

Taking refuge in a local shop during a flash storm. The storm charged through the valley with lightening and thunder crashing around us and then disappeared as quickly as it came. We became all too aware how quickly the weather could change in the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau.

I thought we had it bad going to school by Stevenson Rocket… these kids got dropped off to school soaking wet in an open tractor trailer

Yaks milk tea …. takes a little getting used to. Not sure what smelt more lively.. my wet sheep skin seat cover or the tea.

I told Fanny it would make her eyes water. 

Our kind host… but no more yaks milk tea for now … thanks

Storm rapidly approaching down the valley. Like something out of the film “The Mummy”. Within minutes we were in the middle of a storm with lightening and thunder crashing around us. I have developed a particular fear of lightening having narrowly escaped being zapped in the Nubian desert whilst riding my motorcycle across Namibia. Here high up in the mountains I felt particularly exposed again.

Being probably one of few foreigners in Tibet at the time and stretching the rules somewhat, Fanny told me to cover up as I walked about the first sizable town we rode into, called Mang Kang. As I walked about in my masterful disguise people would greet me and say, “Hello foreigner”  and I would say “Ni hao” in reply. I’ve seen the film, “The Great Escape” and know how Donald Pleasence got caught out…

Gazing out of our hotel room at yaks wandering through the town center. As we got deeper into Tibet Fanny became more anxious that I should conceal myself. I was the only foreigner in this town, and indeed only saw other foreigners when we got to the capital, Lhasa. Even then they were in a tour group and being herded about under strict supervision. Luckily most of the time I was in riding gear with a crash helmet and riding a Chinese registered motorcycle … with a Chinese woman.

Back on the road having managed to get through the first real challenge at a security check point on the exit from Mang Kang. I think it was the “Hong Kong Pacific Place Cinema Movie Magic discount card” that got me though or my ”警察兄弟“ patter… probably the latter.

Entering town called 左贡。。。Tamade…. this time there were 特警, 警察, 军人 at the security post. Until this point we had ridden around them, under the barriers and confidently BS’d and smiled through the previous security check points.  This time they were not impressed with my selection of Hong Kong discount cards and so we were detained. Two hours later after boring the pants off them they let us go… with a proviso that I shut up.

Like much of our expedition, the bikes always got lots of attention, as did Fanny。

Whilst pondering whether we will run into another road block we saw some Lamas sitting by the side of a river in a very peaceful and idyllic location. We asked if we could camp with them and they said kindly said yes… and so started a lovely two day chapter of our adventure where we forged some wonderful friendships.

We were putting up our little expedition tent, but the Lamas gave us this much more impressive one to use.

Fanny wrapped up in her North Face expedition sleeping bag together with our bikes inside Lamas’ tent. We were at 4,400 meters and it was bitterly cold during the night and I discovered that drinking beer at altitude gives you the mother of all headaches. Lesson learned, and clearly forgotten as later on in central Tibet at 4,900 meters we drank a bottle of champagne next to Sky Lake (Nam Tso) to celebrate.  So!!!!   Word to the wise… don’t drink alcohol at altitude. In fact, just drink the local tea. The salty sweet earthy tasting yaks milk brew found everywhere does help with altitude sickness, as did the Chinese medicine we were taking.

Our idyllic camp site with the Lamas

Giving one of the Lamas (Si Ba) a ride up to the temple higher up the mountain so he could charge his mobile phone… somethings are the same where ever you live.

A visit to the Lamas’ temple with our friend Si Ba.

Fanny and I … still laughing after 18 months on the road together

Fanny interfering with the cooking plans….

We moved to our own tent so the Lamas could prepare for the special visit of 小活佛 (little living Buddha) from Lhasa. During the night we could hear the Lamas chanting and playing drums, cymbals, trumpets and the eerie repetitive low bass of the Lama long horn… As they say, you have to actually be there to truly experience the ambiance and spirituality. We were very privileged and this bit of our trip will always bring back fond memories.

The next day we were invited to join the festivities. Unlike the monks I lived with in wu wei si in Dali, Yunnan, these Tibetan lamas are not vegetarian. They do eat meat and yaks meat, yaks butter, yaks fermented cheese, and yaks yogurt seemed to be staple foods, along with fresh vegetables from the local area. I am eating for the first time yaks yogurt and rice…. a sort of variation on the famous British rice pudding. The taste is somewhat challenging, as is eating it with chop sticks.

Little Living Buddha … 小活佛。 A very shy boy who bears a striking resemblance to another shy boy I know when he was the same age. Our friend Si Ba is one of the Lamas who looked after him and ensures he receives the correct education and upbringing.

We were constantly reminded of the Chinese influence in Tibet by the new middle class Chinese exploring the mountainous province in their Hi-Tech 4x4s, the young cyclists performing the Kunming to Lhasa right of passage, and more acutely by the extremely long military supply convoys that sometimes consisted of a hundred army trucks heading back and forth to Lhasa. These convoys are often used in propaganda films as they evoke images and impressions of “Long March” heroics.

A picture paints a thousand words

I politely declined to participate in the Lama tug of war games for obvious reasons.  Right next to the temple (sen above) the Chinese authorities are building a new four story concrete police station with all the architectural splendour and creativity used in every second and third tier cities we saw across China… i.e. zero.  A slightly disturbing sight to my mind, but the explanation given by the omnipresent plain clothes “protector” person was that for the first time in centuries the temple was being burgled and so a police presence was needed. Really? I doubt it.

 Happy peaceful people.

The bikes always popular with everyone.

Little Living Buddha (小活佛) has a look at our bikes with the other Lamas. 

Lounging about after lunch by the river. This young fellow was a real character. His only English was “Let’s Goooo!” which he used often and between the many chores he was given he would spend time with us.  Little living Buddha is seated in the background. The contrast between the lives of both “Lama” boys who were about the same age was immense.

Eventually we had to go and all the Lamas came out to bid us farewell. It was a bit tearful as I think Fanny had made a real impression and they seemed extremely fond of her. Fanny, is extremely smart, gregarious and easy to get on with whether you are from the east or West. She is a true ambassador for all that is good about China and should be in their diplomatic service.

As we rode along the beautiful river path towards the main road that will take us to Lhasa, two hoopoe birds flew alongside us with their crests extended as the Lama’s waved goodbye…. if that isn’t spiritual I don’t know what is…..

Riding along generally good tar roads, with occasional potholes, and stretches of gravel, mud or water flowing from streams across gullies. Biggest hazard is other drivers. This guy in front is on pilgrimage to Da Zhao Temple, Lhasa and every few steps lies prostrate towards direction of Lhasa. Some of these pilgrimages can take years and occasionally people die.

Ran Wu …. Tibetan side of town

The Chinese side of Ran Wu …. nearly every small village and town in Tibet has a Chinese garrison regardless of how pristine or historically relevant the place may be. There are thousands of uniformed and plain clothed security police, army and often huge barracks for the military supplies conveys. Invariably ugly, intrusive and looking like an unfinished construction site. No National Trust in Tibet, nor any architects apparently. Rubbish and sewage strewn everywhere. Nearly every Chinese person we saw just throws rubbish straight into the lakes and streams or throws them out the windows of their vehicles onto the hillside. Everything is slovenly…..and with no respect for the environment, nor with any real respect for the indigenous people. The Chinese government needs to start acting responsibly.  

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Ran Wu.. with beautiful lake, although waters have receded for many reasons, including climate change and hydroelectric projects upstream.

There is definitely a live goat at the bottom of this Tibetan building, but I am not sure about the other one up in the rafters!

The geography of Tibet is always spectacular, fresh and BIG. Its pleasing that it will be there long after man has gone.

I am reliably informed by a Hong Kong friend, Franki  that these are Char Char stones. If anyone knows anymore about what they are and for please leave comment.

Under ever nook and Fanny are tiles carved with Tibetan prayers.

Its as heavy as a BMW or Triumph, but handles better off road

One of the photos that was sent to us by the travelers we met en route. Their cameras often better than ours.

Riding towards Lhasa high up on Tibetan Plateau… Beautiful lakes and forests.

We did the back of the RMB 20 note in Guilin, now the back of the RMB 50 note in Lhasa.

Riding about in Lhasa

Be a good citizen and make sure you are flying a crispy new red flag.

The most sacred “Da Zhao” Temple in Lhasa

Our Lama friend Si Ba outside the holiest temple in Tibet, “Da Zhao” in Lhasa.

Lhasa back streets

The Tibetan’s have a very different language, customs, appearance and way of life to that of the occupying Han Chinese.

Some beautiful alleyways and courtyards in Lhasa.

In addition to road blocks and security posts, garrisons and army barracks in every town and village in Tibet, there are police checkpoints on every street corner in Lhasa and Tibetans, particularly Buddhist lamas, are constantly stopped and searched. Whilst spending an afternoon with our friend Si Ba, I noticed he was constantly stopped and frisked by Chinese authorities.

Keeping a close eye on the “lao wai” who didn’t appear to be in a supervised tour group.  Some of them friendly enough young lads doing their job, but….

This yak seems to be missing some major body parts

Local ladies walking through the markets and praying.

Lots of people walking clockwise around the “Da Zhao” Temple with prayer beads and prayer wheels.

Tibetan streets, Chinese flags and skyline dominated by the beautiful mountains that surround Lhasa.

The “Bu Da La Gong” can be seen where ever you are in Lhasa.

Fanny at “Da Zhao” Temple.

Lhasa

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots… which got lots of admiring looks and comments from the local Tibetans.

Tibetans are very devoted Buddhists and can be seen praying at most times of the day. Many spend years on pilgrimage to Lhasa.

Exploring Lhasa with Fanny

Just to remind everyone whose in charge.

Goose-stepping down the main road. Always a crowd pleaser.

Who are you looking at?

Having yaks milk tea and walnuts in a local tea-house with our friend Si Ba.

Many of the Tibetans look very much the Cow Boys and Girls that they are.

Handsome people.

Si Ba and Fanny in the market buying incense for the temple.

An interesting picture on many levels.

These guys offered me their prayer beads to hold… so I did.

Si Ba getting stopped and searched again, and again, and again. I asked him how he puts up with it and he replied ” mei ban fa”.. (no worries)

The tank of Fanny’s bike sprung a leak because a rubber supporting mount was missing and after 6,000 kilometers “on road” and “off road” it vibrated a crack in the attachment. A bit dangerous,  especially as self immolation is illegal in Tibet. Therefore we had to ride with no more than 30% of fuel in the tank at all times which meant siphoning fuel from my tank for several hundred kilometers until we got a new tank in Lhasa sent from Hangzhou. All part of the testing program, I guess.

And so we set off from our hostel in Lhasa…

We continued with the totally ridiculous practice of having to fill the bikes with petrol in open watering cans, kettles and tea pots. Unsafe, annoying and a hassle that invariably resulted in our petrol tanks being not full enough, or with petrol left over in the tea pots that we would donate to a fellow biker. Invariably we got petrol over everyone and everything as we trudged back and forth from the pumps.  The logic was that nearly all motorcycles in China are peasant owned small engined machines that are neither safe nor well maintained and so prone to leak or even explode. The local authorities, therefore, stipulate that motorcycles and their cigarette smoking owners be kept a safe distance from the petrol pumps.  In most of China, and particularly the wild west, modern large engine motorcycles found elsewhere in the world are unheard of … and so given that they have two wheels are subjected to the same logic…. just like their ban on Chinese highways. I am surprised there isn’t a Chinese Chengyu (idiom) “Four wheels good… two wheels bad”.

Back riding with the big peaks again.

Beautiful roads weaving between peaks and rivers high up on the Tibet-Qinghai  Plateau.

Mount Everest (珠穆朗玛峰)… which I never saw because the authorities would not let me ride the 80 kilometers or so from Tingri to Base Camp. Despite having Hong Kong papers and documentation I was deemed by my fellow human beings to be the wrong race to look at the tallest mountain on our shared planet.   Fanny did all she could to help and support me but it was no good …. I guess we’ll see it from Nepal one day.

The sacred Sky Lake (Nam Tso) with 7,000 meter peaks in background.

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping next to sacred Nam Tso Lake at 4,900 meters. The mountain in background is Yan Qing Tang Gu La  at 7,800 meters. There is a local saying that when you are here you never think of home.

Our remote campsite at Nam Tso

There were lots of semi wild, huge and woolly Tibetan dogs. During the night the temperature plummeted to minus 15 degrees and so the dogs slept right outside our tents pressed up against us… keeping us both a bit warmer.

A lot of Yaks … very likable creatures

Tibetan Antelope … quite rare ( near border with Qinghai)

Beijing to Lhasa Railway… at this point in north Tibet around 5,000 meters. An amazing bit of engineering on the perma-frost plateau

Hundreds of kilometers of good roads in north Tibet

Geographically, Tibet is stunning.

North Tibet…. remote, big, beautiful