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

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

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

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

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

The force is strong, young globetrotter.

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

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

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

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

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Fanny and I riding around Dahab

Look Fanny ... mini pyramids

Look Fanny … mini pyramids

Fanny making friends as usual

Fanny making friends as usual

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

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

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

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

Our garden

Our garden

Riding around in the Sinai on our motorcycles

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

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

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

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

Attack of the goats

Christmas in Dahab.

Sunsets and sunrises were always spectacular times of the day

Fanny learning to windsurf

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

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

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

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

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

Beautiful marine life and coral reefs along the entire coast.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serious idling

Fanny windsurfing in the lagoon.

Back in Dahab

The view from our apartment in Dahab

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

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

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

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

Lion fish … no touching

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







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

Video links to China and Africa below-

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

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

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

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

In Egypt, Fanny is a popular name ...

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

Our buddie, Tony

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

Our respective landships parked up in Dahab

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

Diver Rupert & Windsurfer Fanny

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Off roading

Off roading in the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

Middle of the Sinai

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

Fanny, myself and friends from China in Dahab

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Rupert & Fanny in the Sinai

Fanny of St Catherines

Fanny of St Catherines

Another road block

Another road block

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

On the ferry from Egypt to Jordan

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

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

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Wadi Rum in Jordan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A desert dog running with us in Wadi Rum in Jordan

Hiking in the stunningly beautiful Wadi Rum in Jordan

Amazing colours….

Petra in winter

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Another time.

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

The pink landscape was dusted with white snow and ice!

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

It’s not what you expect.

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

Icy Petra… I was not expecting snow in Jordan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

But I hesitated.

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

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

For crying out loud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch at bus station in Israel



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Orthodox Jewish chap bustling along the streets of Jerusalem

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

No sense of humour some people.

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

Wailing Wall


So what else was there to see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert having a swim at Dead Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biking meet diving – Dahab

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

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

Camels and KTMs at Blue Hole, Dahab


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ras Mohammed, south tip of Sinai

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

Sand riding at Ras Mohammed, Sinai

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the Chinese Consulate and Ambassadors home in Port Said.

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

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

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

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

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

What a karsi.

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

The Bay in Alexandria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decisions decisions.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five thousand years of civilization …  in reverse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rupert and Fanny are on the way!

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

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

Our first stop for petrol and a Wimpy breakfast … we are on the way
Porteville and Citrusdel from a paragliders persepéctive
Porteville from a paraglider’s perspéctive… the N7 is to the left of this picture and then crosses over a ridge pass and down the other side towards Citrusdel at the top right. From there on it is due north all the way to Namibia.
The N7
The N7 Highway across the Karoo
Tarmac roads replaced by gravel and sand… the KTMs are in their element in such environments being the true “go anywhere” adventure bikes
Fanny’s KTM 990 Adventure (2008 model) fully laden with everything she will take around the world
My new KTM 990 Adventure R (2011)
The Vaude MkII Light tent .. which will be our home for many months in some amazing places
Always a sense of achievement crossing a border into another country. This particular border is an easy one, but they get more tricky, expensive and lengthier the further north we went
Orange River between Namibia and South Africa
The Orange River between Namibia and South Africa
You have to be careful of ferocious animals that might come into your tent in Africa…
On the banks of the Orange River…. 18 months later we will camp on the banks of the Yellow River on the other side of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A farm house in the middle of the Namib Desert
Our standard camping configuration with the bikes being used to secure the guy lines which double up as washing lines. Boots upside down on the mirrors which protect them from the rain and “sort of” prevents scorpions and spiders crawling inside. No animal with a nose would dare venture into mine anyway.
We are really in the adventure now… everyday we get further and further away from where we started. I have Fanny and everything I need with me and so home is where we pitch our tent each evening. No mobile phones, no internet… life is the here and now. Its very liberating.
Fanny, with very little experience under her belt is guided along by her KTM. She is still a little unsure of everything but by being on the bike most of the day and every day she quickly settled into the riding routine and started notching up the biking hours.
Namibia is very wild, but there are little oasis here and there to relax and re-fuel. This is the famous Canon Roadhouse that I have visited five times in my life and is now a motor museum in the middle of now-where. Solitaire, for instance, a little further north , has a great cafe which serves up some of the best and most welcome apple pie in the world.
Canon Roadhouse.. a very welcome break.
Canon Roadhouse.. a very welcome break.
Canon Roadhouse
Canon Roadhouse
Good, she's there. Well done, Fanny .. only another 50,000 kilometers to go
Good, she’s there. Well done, Fanny .. only another 50,000 kilometers to go
At this time of year it is dry… but in the rainy season the lightening in the desert is terrifying and there is no-where to hide.

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

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

I think this picture is one of the iconic images of the trip. You cannot imagine how happy and proud I am to see Fanny in full flight in the Namib desert on the best adventure bike in the world. She is an athlete, a former professional one no less, and that means not only physical strength, but mental toughness and a disciplined mind. Experience? It will come.
Looking good.
Fanny riding across Namib Desert on her KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle
Camping up....
Camping up….
You have to see Namibia to appreciate it… the scale and isolation is like nothing else. Despite the arid desert it is home to an abundance of fauna and flora.
Fanny … adventure biker

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

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

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

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

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

The gates to the Skeleton Coast
My tank bag with maps, GoPro (later stolen in Egypt) and Power Monkey solar charger. GPS on dash.
Is it a road or is it a desert? Its both.
Taking a break….
A coffee latte or an orange fanta? It'll be one of the other for Fanny. One of the great things about Namibia is you can enjoy one of the most remote places in the world and still find some very nice rest stops.
A coffee latte or an orange fanta? It’ll be one or the other for Fanny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanny looked forlorn and in retrospect must have been in shock. We righted the bike, detached everything, considered what equipment I had (or not) and I started a futile attempt to straighten the panniers with a rock. After about 15 minutes a South African registered “bakkie” pulled up with a family group aboard and asked if everything was OK.

It was not

Stating the obvious, I asked, “Had a bit of a spill, you don’t happen to have a hammer do you’?

The edges of the road have sand traps and you need to be careful not to drift onto them at high speed. The video on Youtube shows this bit of the route
Long gravel roads
Why the long face?
A lot of roads in Namibia are like this.
The elephants move quickly here

Skeleton Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sand dunes in Namibia with my motorcycle below
What sunsets
What sunsets


Our campsite while we fixed Fanny and her bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The school of hard knocks.
Poor Fanny… all part of her education at the school of hard knocks.
The Dunes
They are not poodles stuck up a tree, but elaborate Weaver nests
Camping (sort of) in a canvas hut at the border of Namibia and Botswana

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

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

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

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

Lots of these in Namibia
Lots of these in Namibia
Visiting the China-Namibia tourist office in Windhoek
Visiting the China-Namibia tourist office in Windhoek
Staying in Windhoek
Staying in Windhoek
At the KTM doctors
Back on the road again… bikes as good as new. Even if Fanny’s isn’t looking as shiny new as it was when we started. But then one could say it now has true gravel track cred. A real adventure bike, not a commuter.
Kudu (an ex one)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanny making friends at Namibia/ Botswana border
A bottle of plonk for my birthday
Writing this blog (that nobody reads) and trying to upload pictures.
Anywhere will do… as the trip went on both of us made less effort to actually bother to hide. Not that there is anywhere to hide in a desert or salt pan in the first place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luck at last… hurray!

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

Males!?.. we can’t help ourselves.
We were riding in the dry season fortunately… two years previously I was in Namibia during the rainy season and the sudden storms and particularly the lightening strikes were terrifying.
Namibian wilderness
Namibian wilderness
Its not uncommon in Namibia not to see anyone for day. I love it and perhaps its my favourite place to motorcycling in the whole world.
Its not uncommon in Namibia not to see anyone for days. It is perhaps my favourite place for motorcycling in the whole world.
KTMs belong here
Gates into Skeleton Coast National Park