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  #61  
Old 3 Sep 2009
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The first to loop the entire island of Borneo on two wheels

Nunukan Island
August 4
Kalimantan, Indonesia



As the Russian experience began aboard a Russian ferry in Japan, so did the journey into Indonesia from Malaysia. Packed nearly on top of each other in the sticky heat of an overcrowded ships hold, curious crewman and inquisitive passengers edged closer to share handfuls of dried squid and initiate sign-language interrogation. No one spoke English, yet after drawing a map, they understood where I was headed while remaining unsure why. Using a reliable method for learning basic communication by first memorizing the five Ws, I begin scribbling pocket notes for the simplest of phrases. “Hello, thank you and please, no onions in my food.”



Loading the motorcycle onto rusted decks of the passenger ferry had been an over-the-plank roll-on under power, yet, by shaking their heads repeating “Nunukan,” dubious shipmen hinted that offloading could be another matter. It was, but nothing a dozen anxious helpers couldn’t handle with a cooperative captain running the hundred-foot-long ship, bow-first, direct against wharf for a team-effort manhandle on to solid ground.

Once exploring the island, stopping to investigate a roadside gathering of costumed natives results in joyous invitations to join an Islamic wedding procession. Muslims are as liberal as they please in Indonesia--women wore garments from white-laced headscarves to see-through blouses with black brassieres. Far too crowded for up-close ceremony photos, tittering bridesmaids and decked-out relatives were anxious to pose for the foreigner while eating and drinking. Although there was little to offer, the men insisted I sample a small table buffet of smoking hot chili dishes—as always, it’s those with the least who share the most.


























Last week while traveling further east through Sabah, the economic situation had deteriorated as evenly as the infrastructure until a pitiful crumple in Kalimantan. But Indonesians shouting greetings today seem content and friendly enough as it took an hour threading through throngs of beckoning islanders to reach the town’s lone hotel. Two bucks buys a tidy cubicle with a drooping mattress and coldwater bucket bathroom. But the manager lets me use his office electrical outlet to charge my laptop and the café next door sells bargain seafood dinners.



Although the answers varied, when questioning locals in East Malaysia, they were confident a bigger boat sails from Nunukan to Tarakan Island. From there, it’s land-based travel until completing the loop back to Kuching.



That is, except for a variety of unfamiliar rivers and swamps.
The truth is, there are only two small passenger ferries, both lacking deck space for motorcycles. Anxious to help a wandering foreigner, my new-found friend, Abdul Kahar relates information regarding a twenty-foot wooden fishing boat sailing at dawn to arrive due west on the mainland—even better for setting a record because it’s right on the border instead of further away where the previous team began.



To my dismay local Kalimantan maps still don’t show roads connecting villages in remote Dayak tribal regions. Although I still believe it’s possible to complete the intended loop around Borneo, upon further examination the estimated distance has stretched to a zigzagging three-thousand miles from here. Barring typhoons and other mishaps, I could reach the other border of East Malaysia in three weeks.



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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:29.
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  #62  
Old 25 Sep 2009
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Hola mis amigos! Sorry that I have been away so long but I've been sidetracked with other projects--and also because of publishing contractual obligations, unable to post further text. But I can load a few more images taken during the remainder of that journey. And the good news is that my new book has been printed and at this moment, is being distributed to stores and online companies like Amazon.com and so forth.

Since there is a new rule here regarding SPAM, I'll wait to hear if it is ok with the Grant and the mods if I can post a link. But hopefully they will take note that we donate 100% of the book royalties directly to Room to Read, a project that builds schools in Cambodia, Nepal and Viet Nam.

Here are a few more shots of riding around Borneo.













































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  #63  
Old 6 Oct 2009
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Sumatra












Entering the Aceh province during the military withdrawal



Post tsunami Banda Aceh





200,000 swept out to sea, 200,000 left homeless after the Tsunami crashed through Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia






Tsunamis
September 27
Banda Aceh, Sumatra

Shortly after he turned sixty-three, my father died of a long anticipated, second heart attack. Even though I had left home as a teenager and we weren’t close, the anguishing aftermath of disbelief and denial lasted years. But since the age of sixteen, learning to cope with fending for myself without family ties fortified an independent spirit. While devastated at his funeral, I recall wondering, what is death of a loved one like for those with deeper roots? How painful is the passing of a child or spouse?

In developing nations, extended families are so tight-nit they often live together in one house. Elders are respected and depend on those they raised to care for them in their twilight years--the reason for overproducing offspring in countries without government safety nets. Children are Social Security; the ones that live long enough to work will feed them when no longer able to so themselves. Maybe that’s why natives smile and laugh while complaining less than Western counterparts— they might like a new color TV but know they will survive without one as long as they have each other. There is also far more open love and warmth between relatives--with that open love comes positive attitudes regarding their fate.

Throughout Asia, it’s unusual to find villagers not smiling. Is it the simple life minus anxiety over stock market prices or which conniving politician has stirred more animosity toward the other? There are no worries about evaluating portfolios and counting money--there isn’t any. As long as the basics of human survival exist, natives enjoy each other. Yes, they would prefer accessible health care, everyone wants to live better and longer but the hand they are dealt doesn’t include social remedies available in the West. Yet somehow, those of lesser means navigate life’s complications with little help from corrupt governments conspiring with greedy corporations.

But how do the vulnerable in a developing nation contend with one of the worst natural disasters in human history? In a ruthless rush of nature’s fury, on a sunny 2004 December afternoon, enormous ocean waves previously unknown to humankind penetrated three miles inland to pummel and consume all in the unsuspecting path. In a single wicked hydraulic pulse, two hundred thousand innocent mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters were instantly crushed or swept out to sea.

Riding over rutted trails among the remaining concrete foundations of a city that used to exist is an eerie drift among forsaken tombstones as a silencing hell flickers with smoldering images of eternal agony. Twisted steel rebar poking from jagged brick ruins reach out as skeletal fingers toward the sky, beckoning for remembrance. A gasping scene of heartbreak brings the despair into focus watching ragged young orphan boys with filthy faces, sniffing bags of glue. Gazing into the lingering carnage is a similar experience to visiting the S-21 Torture Museum in Cambodia with the same sense of breathless horror.

Yet, again, the human spirit prevails. Among sun-bleached, frayed canvas tents flapping in the salty tropical breeze, splintering plywood shelters and makeshift noodle stands are being hammered into shape. Survivors too busy for pity are hauling wood, digging trenches or loading trucks with sacks of cement and homemade tools. And still, workers laboring in the sticky heat stop to smile and wave, pitching familiar questions. “Mistah wahs you name?” While reeling from the stomach-churning shock, what does one say to the humble brave who just lost what little they had and everyone they love? “Salamat siang, apa kabar?” Good afternoon, how are you? To relieve my discomfort, an elderly, crooked-tooth rickshaw driver paused roadside asks, “You have come to see Tsunami?”

Knowing much can be spoken with just the eyes, I touch mine, then his, “No, I have come to see you.” In a moment’s locked gaze I try to convey that the world has not forgotten the tragedy he recalls every second. Traumatic events that jolt into the mind eventually spew out—I can’t help but wonder what could these tormented ones dream of at night. Happy faces and steady smiles can’t disguise what they relive when clenching their eyes. But with two hundred thousand still homeless and hungry, maybe a world preoccupied with newer disasters, is forgetting.
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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:30.
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  #64  
Old 16 Oct 2009
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Onto the West Coast Wasteland
September 28
Lamno, Aceh Province, Sumatra



Accumulating travel information for roads and places that no longer exist is difficult in Banda Aceh. Since their limited world has ended, surviving inhabitants were unsure of what was left down the next stretch of beach. Trying to convey how I wanted to ride back along the devastated west coast of Aceh province was as difficult as explaining why. Since their answer to everything was “Soo naam mee,” it was best to proceed and update along the way. By all accounts, the single lane highway on Sumatra’s northwest coast was consumed by the Tsunami and the few remaining isolated villages were being supplied by airdrop.



Learning the road to Lamno had been cleared was encouraging. Lamno, as the site of the first major bridge collapse, is the last stop heading south along the Indian Ocean with relatively fresh food and supplies. A beat down flophouse hostel became a welcome refuge at the end of the day while gauging the terrain. An optimistic native’s suggestion that riding the waterline at low tide could connect to more intact roads on higher ground further down was the spark I needed to gamble.



There wasn’t much to go wrong except a time-consuming retreat to Banda Aceh if encountering solid jungle or open sea. UN relief workers insisted “It takes five hours on the good road just to reach Lamno, that’s only the first sixty miles. Then comes the hard part, finding a way around washed out bridges to reach the next organized city one hundred fifty miles south to Meulaboh.” But their five-hour ride was in convoy under military escort, mine, including photo stops was actually three and most of this was passable asphalt that ran from the seaside, twisting back through delicious, isolated coastal mountains. Without using his weapon, a BAM fighter along the way hand-signaled me aside offering tea and rice cakes. So much for rumors of Muslim guerrillas murdering civilians.






Investigating a variety of exaggerated tales alleviates apprehension. Two German backpackers killed for violating the curfew were actually accidentally shot by the military and much further south. Tourism has been non-existent since the fighting began and the hikers had been camping in a combat zone when a jungle army patrol stumbled upon them sleeping in their tent. Failing to communicate understandable commands to exit with their hands up, and unable to see who was inside, they were presumed rebels and wary soldiers promptly opened fire. The wounded woman survived but her husband did not. Still, hearsay panics the listeners.
There is plenty of fuel in Sumatra but unfounded claims of supplies diminishing, caused city-block-long lines at gas stations. But as a Westerner, accommodating attendants assumed I was an NGO worker and waved me to the front.



Wild tales of two young un-chaperoned couples whipped and caned by religious authorities were also unfounded. They were actually caught illegally drinking together and as a lesson to others disregarding Islamic Law, were unceremoniously paraded around the town square in the back of a pickup truck. Even though regulations regarding male-female contact are strict, Muslim women in groups are always anxious to talk, displaying sweet, open personalities that defy their conservative dress.
While on an after-dinner ride on the outskirts of Lamno, four young native women waved me over to warn of the 6:00PM curfew outside of villages.

After pantomiming gestures of firing invisible pistols and rifles, they were convincing enough that staying to chat with them was a better idea. As our conversation progressed to wanting to be photographed, one in particular displayed a noticeable liking for foreigners by standing closer than normal with a longing smile. In surprising contrast to local custom, in front of the others, she invited me to sleep at her house. For wandering motorcyclists, come-ons from local girls are common, but in the past, were always in private, away from prying eyes of gossiping town folk. Yet most of those opportunities were accompanied by optimistic agendas followed by sullen faces when learning I was back on the road at dawn. It has been proven wise to avoid them.



Still, specific intent gets lost in translations, especially when using sign language with limited vocabulary. But this bright-eyed, olive-skinned beauty skipping and laughing in the deep silvery moonlight was persuasive. Placing clasped palms together next to her tilting head, then touching two index fingers in parallel while next pointing to her and then me, was a significant gesture too obvious to ignore.

There may have been another meaning but recalling earlier when examining her recorded images on the camera playback screen, she had pressed a set of very firm breasts on my arm—combined with not wearing a headscarf, her gestures sure looked like a green light from here. But what may have been okay with her was likely to be reported by nosy neighbors resulting in a public caning or castration or both. In a region that just fought a bloody war to return to biblical values, no matter the lure, the very least of consequence was a machete-induced marriage in the morning.

Back in the mosquito infested hotel room beneath the monotonous hum of the lopsided rotating ceiling fan, the bulk of the night was consumed pondering undergarment colors and the garden scent of a young woman’s hair. In the morning, I resisted a hormone-influenced urge to return for reconsideration—but a lesson well learned is that if turning down a woman once, you will never be given a second chance. (No matter how hard you beg)

After a cool water-bucket shower and four greasy eggs, I repacked my gear and proceeded to the knoll where the first major bridge had been yanked out to sea. Proving once again mastery over man, aqua tinted ocean waves continued to brush against remaining fragmented pillars. Standing alone on the brim of a forbidding wasteland extending to the horizon, gazing across the gaping expanse was a sobering warning of what lay ahead.

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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:32.
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  #65  
Old 17 Oct 2009
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Absolutely fantastic Glen! Keep it coming.

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  #66  
Old 25 Oct 2009
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Coastal Drift
September 30
Meulaboh, Aceh Province, Sumatra



In the summer of 1978, curious about sensational media reports of feuding Protestants and Catholics blowing each other up in Belfast, I boarded a flight to Dublin to see for myself. Was the whole country at war and were Christians, and Irish in particular, somehow more violent and dangerous than the rest of us? Backpacking through rich green farmlands and contemporary cities by thumb seemed a good method to investigate.

Spending a month hitchhiking cross-country doesn’t qualify anyone as an expert but while questioning the Irish kind enough to offer a lift and sleeping with families in Bed & Breakfasts, this was a decent way to catch a glimpse into the mind and soul of the people. Yet despite sensationalist US media reports, outside of certain sections of Belfast, I could only find working men and women quietly sharing their lives in white plastered cottages nestled in between sections of neat, stone fences dividing emerald green pastures. What about alcoholism and the proverbial Irish temper?

It’s true they love their Guinness and are better than average boxers, but while recording impromptu private interviews using a pocketsize micro-cassette, I could not find anyone who condoned sectarian violence. Instead, like a chorus of typical country folk, they all repeated a slogan hard to forget--“Aye, it tis’, it tis’ that we are all God’s creatures.” Although the Northerner’s disagreements and sometimes violent confrontations involved more politics than church, the rest of the otherwise law abiding Catholics and Protestants were being instigated by extremists. With an occupying British government stuck in the middle, violence was begetting violence, but still, only in a few counties of Northern Ireland.

Religious zealots killing each other is nothing new, but recently the art of mass murder in the Islamic world has been refined with car and suicide bombings. Now, instead of bloodthirsty Christians, images of fanatical terrorist Muslims dominate the media. A similar struggle within Islam between Sunni and Shiite factions rages in Iraq and on a much milder scale between moderates and fundamentalists here in Indonesia. It’s not a matter of crazies being either from Christianity or Islam; it’s ignorant people taking religious doctrine out of context to justify extremism.

But if nine of the finest legal scholars in America cannot interpret the carefully worded US Constitution unanimously, how can simple villagers understand difficult to read Bibles and Korans thousands of years old? No matter how clearly ideas are written, either side can manipulate them to rationalize their position. In the Bill of Rights, US gun laws underscore the point.

Despite the confusion, brokered settlements over regional conflicts by disinterested parties sometimes succeed. Just this month, in Indonesia’s Aceh province, optimistic Finns negotiated hard with intransigent political leaders to align government and rebel positions. And finally, thanks to the persistence of interested foreigners combined with recovery from an enormous disaster, there is a chance for peace and a return to Islamic law acceptable to all.

With most of the International aid workers stationed in Sumatran cities, I’ve only seen dedicated foreign AMM members out spinning their tires in the mud. An aggressive Aceh Monitoring Mission has dispersed a fleet of late model four-wheel-drives equipped with satellite communications and window stickers showing circled machine guns with lines drawn across.

Their mission is to scour rural strongholds collecting weapons surrendered by rebels and then trade them to military officials in exchange for repositioning troops. The results are astounding, as everyone I encountered has insisted the program is ahead of schedule. If there is a silver-lining to merciless disaster, it is in pulling sworn enemies together for the good of humanity.

Today is a new start and even the clear cobalt sky is empty, as a radiating mid-latitude sun holds monsoon rains at bay and soggy trails firm enough to ride. But while balancing motorcycle tires over flexing coconut tree bridges and dragging through the bog, it’s difficult to understand this need to witness devastation. As the roadway ends again in a swollen estuary requiring another backtrack, I wonder “What’s the logic of witnessing tragedy with those whom I’ll never see again?”

Except for AMM personnel, I have not seen any other Westerners. Foreign relief workers in larger cities coordinate from a distance but it’s the silent, surviving mothers, fathers and siblings who provide the grinding labor to reconstruct their lives. Scattered down the coast, surviving villagers stoop in the heat replanting flooded rice paddies while others hand cut timber to build new fishing boats. None are idle or complaining in a struggle to walk together for the common good—crisis has brought peace to Indonesia, though it’s a long road back.

Bottled water is everywhere but my stash of bananas and canned fish paste ran out yesterday. At a thatched roof noodle stand, an old woman flustered by having a customer, smiles while clearing a place to sit on sawed-off tree stump chairs. Five dollars buys a scoop of cold rice and three shriveled chicken necks refried everyday because there has been no one with money to buy them. If chewing long enough, fishy-smelling flesh cooked hard as plastic turns stringy bits soft enough to swallow. I can only imagine what mealtimes are like for locals.



Roads along fluffy, pale beaches were long swept away but as suggested by villagers, at low tide they connected to solid tarmac on higher ground.



A Ritcter scale nine point zero originally triggered the main Tsunami but sporadic aftershocks of fives and sixes have continued since. Reports of yesterday’s are unnerving. With one eye on the waters edge, I constantly measure the terrain for rapid escape routes through shady palm tree groves to higher ground.

Once above sea level, controlled slides over mud and sand surrender their hold into a euphoric glide through a pulsating jungle reclaiming multi-mile-long strips of asphalt not used anymore.



Soaring beneath refreshing canopies of towering hardwoods stimulates troubling introspection as the splendor of solitude in paradise turns grimacing horror. Each time reaching another fallen bridge formally connecting villages across deltas, ghastly reality strikes hard while understanding the reason for this blissful isolation is that those who once lived here, recently perished. I shudder at the irony that it requires dreadful catastrophe to bring such peace and I wonder if this is a message.
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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:32.
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  #67  
Old 26 Oct 2009
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Just received a few good books in the mail

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Old 1 Nov 2009
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Sumatra

What was left of Banda Aceh, Sumatra. (A few months after the Tsunami)





It was so difficult to imagine that a city once existed here as aid workers, journalists and a wandering biker knelt in what used to be the downtown center, reeling total shock. It was though a nuclear bomb had exploded.







Tossed around and crumpled in the waves





Three miles inland this boat came to rest



In search of stranded villages





The only way out was a low tide ride





Heading into Java



More tire repairs crossing Java

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Old 16 Nov 2009
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Continent hopping

Stumbling Through the Clouds
November 11
Airborne Over Madagascar

From five miles up, I drift into a sensation of whirling displacement, staring out the dual-Plexiglas window of a roaring jet missile. While suspended in motion among idle puffy clouds, a muted fiery sun rises against the curve of the earth. Trapped in the disorienting daze of the continental-hop, while on a precarious slide into the role of uneasy alien, I wrestle to contain images of primal cultures I’ll soon invade.

In 1988, when first returning to California from living in Asia, culture shock did not strike me until re-encountering familiar surroundings. Even promptly barging back into old routines with lifetime friends, social adjusting took a year. No one but other long-term travelers understood the misalignment that occurs when attempting to return home. Similar feelings intensified in 2002 when completing my South American ride, resulting in an about-face from Palm Springs for a four-month retreat to Central America. After that, still restless inside, I embarked on another extended visit back to Mexico, only to return to California long enough to organize the present journey. So where does all this wandering lead?

There is a psychological line that long-term international travelers cross that marks a point of no return—that is when we surrender to the lure and take the expatriate plunge by deciding to live in a foreign country. I grapple with these sentiments daily, often by the hour—what to do once back in the US or where to finally settle and grow old. This morning, when boarding a plane crowded with package-tour Europeans exiting Bali, culture shock exploded like a series glaring light bulbs. One would assume that with time spent in sociable Indonesia, these tired tourists would have adopted some friendliness and lost the unpleasant frowns.

To smooth jagged edges of a harsh life in the Developing World, no matter their circumstance, everyone smiles. As learned in Tsunami ravaged Banda Aceh, not even the horrors of nature’s ruthless rampage could smother the local’s heart-spun smile. If by chance I encounter a native not smiling, I fire one first and immediately that little brown face erupts into a mouthful of sparkling pearls. But smiling at strangers causes suspicion in the West where it signals attempts to manipulate, or becomes a cocktail waitress’s favorite tool. The most dreaded effect aboard this hurtling capsule is being trapped in the awkward chill of subdued spirits.

Since most hotels in Bali were empty, it was an annoying surprise encountering partitioned rows of emotionless Caucasians with sunburned faces and worn expressions. And how is it I can be so uncomfortable with my own kind? Have I become the dog who has played with the ducks so long, he thinks he is a duck? In thirty years of wandering seventy countries, from Mongolian nomads to Amazon Indians, I have interacted with almost every major race and culture except Black African. And now, to the dismay of those at home, that questionable exploration awaits when this 747 lands in Cape Town.

When first explaining to friends and relatives wild ideas of continuing my global ride after unfortunate events in Colombia, there were long faces with forced smiles. They may share the splendor of adventure reading these journals but they also suffer unfairly worrying about the pitfalls. Even though the South American adventure turned out for the best, the horrendous hell my loved ones endured for five weeks not knowing if I was dead or alive took its toll, probably more on them than me. Announcing I was subjecting them to a second round of grating anxiety had a price.

Although everyone appeared positive and feigned excitement, no one but my closest brothers really understood. Cracks and distances between rock solid relationships widened in the deepening gloom of an approaching departure date. None of us could stand the strain of another emotional train-wreck. India, first of the two biggest risks on this route, has passed with only a stomachache and frazzled nerves. Now, a glowing African sky pulsates with forbidding images of genocide, famine and disease, jabbed with sporadic states of civil war. But somehow, I know it is going to be different and the Dark Continent will welcome this curious Gringo.

When first committing to embark on this odyssey, I told Brad that I would only be gone a year with no intentions of leaving the pavement. I aimed to confine the ride to developing nations but also to sidestep even the most remote hazards. And today, with recent pledges to be home by January, my course has veered again. So far, I’ve been a traveler without an established itinerary, just a general direction around the earth that was subject to change by political barriers or weather patterns. Originally, Africa was not an option, but a lengthy conversation with a fellow traveler, stimulated further consideration. “Glen you have to do Africa, life won’t be complete without visiting the Masai of Kenya.”

That very same afternoon an experience while questioning a cashier in a Seattle convenience store cemented my determination. While paying for a tank of gasoline, hearing a shiny-black-skinned girl’s unfamiliar accent sparked my curiosity. “Okay, you’re not British or Jamaican, where are you from?”

In a laughing voice behind sincere brown eyes, she answered in a series of soft jingling bells, “I an fron Eet tee oh pee ah.” A homely girl with a happy face--she flowed lithe as a hand-carved ebony figurine and during twenty minutes of dialogue between attending to customers and answering her cell phone, she spoke of a distant homeland. “I con to Ahmeerica to be weet my famalee but I mees my contree so much. I an goin back to there soon.” Her comment caught me off guard. From the security and affluence of America, how can anyone miss the suffering of Ethiopia? What could cause such yearning for the tragedies reported about one of Africa’s poorest nations?

As of that moment, the solution was simple, I had to go and find out for myself. Now when meeting black Africans while traveling, I startle them by boldly announcing “I’ll be in your country next year.” But I am not proceeding blind--this time I am protected by omens.

Is there such a thing as prediction and prophets? There had better be. While standing in line transferring planes in Malaysia, an Indian Sikh sitting in cross-legged meditation suddenly opened his eyes to wave me closer. With his bulging head layered in a white linen Turban, he radiated a sage’s wisdom. From behind a scraggly beard framing a tan wrinkled face, he stared direct into my eyes--uttering simple words “Many great things lie ahead for you.” As abruptly as he surfaced, he cast down his gaze and retreated to where he had been journeying, and I, with no further apprehension, took another confident step ahead toward the immensity of Africa.









Yes that's a bird's nest







And how does one escape an empty desert with a six inch slash in a rear tire--complicated by not having a spare?


After a few days pondering and running out of water, the solution became simple. Just use the same sharp volcanic rocks that originally ripped the gash to pound the locks off of a security cable and fashion a tournaquet.

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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:33.
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Old 2 Dec 2009
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Namibia

Approaching Namibia from South Africa





After near extermination of the indigenous tribes, southern Africa developed from European stock in a similar time-frame, though on a smaller scale than the US. Roads, terrain and architecture look the same except that cities are further apart with less development in between.



Entering the Namib Desert north bound.





In Namibia, when I am not camping in the desert, scattered remote farmhouses established by eighteenth century German immigrants provide soft spongy beds in hundred-year-old, but polished clean wooden bunkhouses.







Overnights with old-time homesteaders are refreshing upgrades with outdoor stone bathrooms and communal kitchens to cook fresh butchered lamb chops that farmers sell.





But the repeating scenery grew old as roads toward the coast remained washboard gravel with endless miles of beige colored sand.



Then suddenly Africa erupts into the glory of geological splendor.











Approaching the celebrated Red Dunes of Sussusvlei, diesel truckloads of young European overland voyagers rumbled in for their share of tourist gouging. Prices are shockingly high. With southern Africa lacking a competitive industrial base, most goods are imported and heavily taxed while greedy merchants also take advantage by exploiting budgeting travelers who have no choice where to shop. Compared to Asia, this region is unreasonably expensive, so trucking overlanders spend most of their trips camping, with occasional evenings in Backpacker hostels for hot showers and Internet connections. Before the rampage of civil war in Sudan made it too risky to traverse, the common route for these hearty adventurers was through Eastern Africa, beginning from Cairo and ending in Cape Town.



But recently, combined with the open banditry of Northern Kenya, the new course has become Nairobi to Cape Town. (Now the genocide in Darfur can continue with fewer witnesses.)

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Last edited by strikingviking; 12 Dec 2012 at 03:37.
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  #71  
Old 4 Dec 2009
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This is a real treat! Thank you Glen.


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  #72  
Old 14 Dec 2009
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Zigzagging Africa

With two thousand miles left to Livingstone, Zambia where fresh tires are scheduled for delivery, timing is going to be close. Anyway, the newly paved double-lane Trans-Kalahari Highway beginning from the coast is easier on rubber than the previous long stretches of sharp gravel road. Riding east out of the hot desert sands leads into a cool, pleasant plunge through a heavily wooded landscape.



White African cities were interesting but departure was a welcome relief as the last one, Swopkupmund, disappeared behind me into foggy ocean breezes. Once back into the countryside, among the occasional leaping gazelle and black masked Oryx, herds of three hundred pound demonic-faced warthogs stood their ground staring while grazing roadside. Rippling with thick shoulder muscles, and coarse haired swaybacks, double rows of upturned tusks make them the ugliest beasts of the jungle. With every mile, Africa now displays its wilder side.



As warnings and concerns of robbery and murder in South African cities faded, the time had come to see how simple jungle villagers live. Swirling orange-purple flares during a primal Namibian sunset signaled that the moment had arrived to seek black Africans in their tribal environment.






Riding the first suitable footpath through a tree studded thicket led to a sprawling enclave of random mud huts reinforced with wooden poles. With a worn-out sign painted in English words, one building stood out from the rest. Mbeyo Baptist Church.



At the sight of an invading alien, twenty of forty lounging natives fled as the others watched warily from a campfire. Eventually, a hesitant yet curious, tall scraggly elder approached to investigate. Holding forth my hand with a mighty Viking smile eased the barriers.











“Greetings from America. Is it okay if I camp with you tonight?”
Answering in British accented English, he sounded so proper, “Yes, of course you may sleep wherever you please, all visitors are welcome in Mbeyo.”
“So, why then have those people run away?”
“When some of us see white men, we are afraid that you have come here to kill us.”
“No, I am only a friend who has traveled around the world for one and half years to learn from your village.”
“But you are from a great country, what can we teach you?”
“We are both from great countries and can learn from each other. Maybe you can remind me of what’s been forgotten.”
“We are the Kavango and this is our church. We are Baptists but others here are Catholic and Evangelicals. Can you help us contact American Baptist missionaries?”
“Well, I don’t know any but if you write a letter, I’ll photograph the page and post it on the Internet. Why do you want to contact them?”
“Because the missionaries will come and make electricity for us.”
“Why do you want electricity?”
“So we can have computers and Internet.”
“And televisions and stereos too?”
“Yes, yes, of course, we want everything just like American people.”
Pointing to a single room mud hut, I ask, “But if you acquire those things, you’ll need a bigger house and an extra job to pay for it all.”
This confuses him. “But if the missionaries come, unemployment will end and everyone will have lots of money.”
Pointing to groups of idle men standing next to women busy tending fires and stacking wood, I ask “What do you do all day now?”
“There is nothing to do for many months while we wait for the rains. Then we will plant seed. Anyway, you are in time to hear our choir practice.”

















The Mbeyo Baptist Church was built with the same mud and pole materials as the rounded huts, only bigger and square with a hard-packed dirt floor and rows of uneven sawed wooden benches. Inside as two young boys warmed up on goatskin drums, the low humming choir began to shuffle with gyrating hips, matching the rhythm of a hollow barrel beat.

Between powerful harmonizing vibrations and subtly stamping bare feet, a fine dust filled the air, almost obscuring the undulating slow-motion dance. Clear, alternating octaves from converging voices gave me tingling goose bumps and shivers with hairs on end. Although airborne swirling particles made breathing difficult, it was impossible to rise or resist the hypnotic lure of entrancing upbeat hymns. As the Mbeyo Baptist Choir erupted into spellbinding synchronization of explosive melody, I found myself sucked into layered extremes of primordial life emerging in African song.









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Zambia!

Exiting Namibia for Zambia



As one of Africa’s poorest countries, Zambia still holds its head up from primitive villages accepting roving strangers who happen by. Lacking the fanatical friendliness of Asia, acceptance here requires explaining this journey with photographs through fire-lit evenings winning hearts and hesitant smiles from wary natives. Histories of slave trading and genocide may be old to Westerners but not to Africans. Over the centuries, during lulls in exterminating or enslaving each other, colonialists arrived to take up the slack. Today, if not soldiers, other foreigners in Africa are aid workers living here to tie assistance to converting to new religions.
Africans should be grateful that thirty-seven separate Christian and Muslim sects landed in time to explain to them that for the last ten thousand years, they have been worshipping the wrong Gods. Yet, less populated and poorer than other African countries, Zambia’s future is promising.





Still underdeveloped in hotels and lodges, two main asphalt roads connecting borders east to west make it possible to cross the country in any weather to discover what is in between. Run by European ex-patriots, backpacker hostels continue as the slums of adventure travel with greedy owners exploiting the unsuspecting.
Cramming tiny rooms with rows of narrow bunk beds and one hallway-broken-down bathroom for twenty or more, these pitiful hoaxes appear at first as bargain accommodations for ten bucks a night. Lacking private transportation, a captive audience of trucking overlanders gets hoodwinked into paying over-inflated prices for food, Internet and laundry. Vagabond motorcyclists dodge the gouging by venturing around town to determine where locals eat and shop services.


It has been over a year since encountering another long-rider so I was surprised to meet a trio of bikers touring Southern Africa. No matter the nationality, motorcyclists share a common bond. Just as these German bikers had assisted in my parking lot tire mounting,


we noticed a missing bake plunger pivot bolt. Never mind, a metal pin dug from of their spares along with electric tape made a decent substitute.



Benefiting from Mugabe’s chaos in neighboring Zimbabwe, tourists exploring Livingstone have stumbled onto superior views of Victoria Falls and less commercial game parks much richer in animal life.



















Still on target for following the sun, southern hemisphere rains have begun with ferocious evening thunderstorms lasting until midmorning. Crossing the equator again next month in Kenya marks the beginning of dry-season and a clear, although rugged journey north. Even occasionally drenched, the ride across Zambia was pleasant with sporadic stops to chat at dilapidated roadside produce markets.



Across the road, licorice-skinned women in colorful long dresses balanced reed-woven baskets high on their heads while they chattered and bargained for shriveled vegetables. Vivid patterns of blues and reds contrasted with their shiny black skin.



After quizzing loitering truckers about their homes and families, I asked for a picture and received an unexpected reply. “How much are you going to give me?”
Surprised because cheerful natives are usually first to ask for photos, I countered, “How much is it worth for a memory of meeting a friend?”
Embarrassed with head hung low, the barefoot young man clad in ragged, brown shorts shuffled away only to return moments later with handfuls of soft yellow fruit. “I am sorry, please take these mangos and always remember the people of Zambia.” In the heat of an afternoon tropical sun, we joked about life on the road and shared sticky succulent pulp.





Unlike Asia, camping in Africa has been convenient and economical, but wildlife threats on the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia now made that questionable. At night, the jungle is an aggressive world of predators battling up the food chain. Survival is the only given. Although strict herbivores, in Africa, more unsuspecting people are killed by hippopotamus than scorpions, snakes and lions combined. Standing between a hippo and its water refuge results in a stomping, crushing or tossing into the air. With that in mind, it was better to sleep in a farmhouse campground while deciding where next to proceed.

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Malawi!

Wandering eastward across southern Africa from Zambia into Malawi, lush tropical fields waver in warm afternoon breezes.



Wary natives greet me with mild suspicion, wondering about this strangely-dressed foreigner's intentions--am I there to convert them to a new religion, to kill them or feed them?









As usual, curiosity prevails amongst the youngest.





With English spoken as a first language, communication everywhere was easy. After selecting a dirt road entering the forest leading toward the mighty Lake Malawi, I sought refuge for the night.





Villagers seldom refuse a stranger shelter for the night



But there are always questions first. Who am I? Where do I come from? And why am I there.



After explaining that I've come a long ways to meet them and to learn from them, the mood changes.







Relaxing along magnificent Lake Malawi for a few days was the perfect way to recuperate and study maps revealing the route north into Tanzania.

An elongated body of water covering half of the country, life centers around gigantic Lake Malawi for fishing and maintaining surrounding rubber tree plantations. A long tiring day ended at the edge of darkening blue waters lapping at pebbled beach coves. Ringed by simple huts hidden in shaded forests, this scene has likely not changed for a thousand years. Camping in native villages evolves into a deeper experience as the lives of locals unfold. Crowded and lively, after sundown every hundred yards another group of laughing youngsters kicked up dust as they practiced singing and dancing for upcoming tribal festivals. If lacking a drum, they clapped in encouraging beats as performers in the middle shimmied and pranced to chanted rhythms. Wandering through the smoke clouded village, fire lights and a full moon reflected off shiny black faces flashing dazzling white teeth. While passing in between huts made of simple material, teenage natives grabbed my arms, guiding me into their circles to see the clumsy white man flail.



At dawn, with a last glimpse backward at an east African sunrise scene to be remembered, I bid farewell to new friends who I will never see again.

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Thanks again for making the effort to share your ride...we sometimes forget how much work it is not just to prepare and do a ride, BUT be organized/diligent enough to share your experience with our community!

Looking forward to more pics...as it may convince me to get back on the piste
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