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Cape Town to Victoria Falls and back again
The Long Way Around
Cape Town to St Francis Bay
Day 1 – 29 Nov. 2009.
Cape Town to Abequa River Camp Richtersveld Namibia
A 5am start saw the 9 of us snake our way out of Cape Town on a fairly cool and sleepy Sunday morning, six BMW”s, 2 X GSA’S, 2 X GS1200’s, 2 X GS800’s and an SVX Landrover Defender 90 with trailer in tow. The first leg, although a fairly boring route all the way on the N7, offered the novices an opportunity to get accustomed to their steeds. We had a broad range of “novices” 6 in fact - of the riders we had the two 20 year olds (Dean and Ashley) on the 800’s who had never been in the saddle for longer than 50km at any one time. In fact Ashley had a total of a mere 200km on a motorcycle. Collin on his GSA was on his first long ride (on his new 2nd love – or, after 6000km is it possibly now his 1st love?). Our only woman, Kirsten, was the Pillion on her dads GS1200 and although she has often been ferried across Cape Town, her longest saddle time was about 30 minutes. Finally, our back up vehicle was manned by two 70+ relative novices, Ron and Don having been introduced to the Defender 24 hours before we departed. For Ron it was love at first sight and his teenage exuberance showed with each passing kilometer. Don was at first skeptical about its luxury and performance, the Range Rover next to it was a better bet! But this soon changed – on arrival at our first stop in Clanwilliam having taken the first shift, his demeanor was to behold, his enthusiasm for the little car was clear “did you see the way this thing powered through the mountain pass???” Don had blurted with the same zest as his fellow “teenage” co driver.
Highlights? If we could have captured the mixed feelings each of us was having as we left Cape Town it would have made interesting reading and analysis for Sigmund Freud. We could almost feel one another’s emotions; it’s a strange thing the first day of a long trip as you enter the silent lonely world inside your helmet.
It was a special trip for me; I was setting off on an adventure with my son Stuart (GS1200), my father Don (landy) and my brother Scott (GS1200) with his daughter Kirsten as pillion.
Our 1st border crossing was slick and without incident, the 20km ride to Abequa River Camp offered up a few kilometers of gravel road, which the novices handled with aplomb. The camp was great, on the banks of the Orange River with a well stocked bar was all a thirsty bunch desired,
Day 2 – 30 Nov 2009
Abequa River Camp to Hardap Mariental
Breakfast eaten and camp packed we were on the road by 7:30, we made our way along the B1 for 170km to Grunau where we took the gravel road to the Fish River Canyon via Ais Ais. The 130km rather straight gravel road was a great introduction to dirt road riding for the new boys. We passed through Keetmanshoop as quickly as possible (if the world had an arsehole … we had just passed through it!). We continued on the B1 to Mariental and then to the Hardap Dam resort. For those who knew or lived through the ins and outs of the previous regime this would be a blast back into the past. Clearly this was a resort that had been built for the Generals and politicians as a stop over point on their way to bullshit the troops up north. The Hardap resort had an eerie feel about it – we could almost sense the spirits of Botha, Malan, Vorster and Viljoen as they cavorted in the resort while we toiled in the bush. At sunset we realized why they chose this place – see the photo below.
Scott and Colin buried a Spice Gold bottle and then followed it with the funeral of a bottle of Baileys that was consumed with ginger . I can only imagine that the spirits of the former regime were at play with their minds! Their revelry was interrupted by a scantly clad and clearly sleep deprived Ron who reminded them of the planned early start … and the 300km of dirt that lay ahead!
Highlights? The early morning sunrise that greeted us as we rode the first few kilometers into Namibia. The first taste of gravel road that runs along the length of the Canyon. Then watching the myriad of purple hues as the sun set over Hardap Dam.
Day 3 – 1 December
Hardap Dam to Thakada Rest Camp, Ghanzi, Botswana
The sunrise at Hardap was as spectacular as the sunset, this time however it was a golden hue that bid us farewell. We made our way eastwards along the C20 to Aranos and after a quick refuel we headed north on the C22, a gravel road to Gobabis. Now I have read that the “C” grade roads of Namibia are based on the California standard of dirt roads – if that’s the case I think the California roads are in a bad way!!! The 230 of gravel road served up some interesting challenges, every know and again some Californian road engineer decided it would be a good idea to have a 200m section of thick red sand to keep weary riders from falling asleep along the way, he strategically placed a few of these on the bends in the road for some reason. “Speed is your friend, speed is your friend, speed is your friend” hurtled through my mind as my Adventure began to slither beneath me … I rode at the back and noticed my fellow riders were having the same challenges, the red sand revealed their snaking lines and near falls. “speed is your friend, speed is your friend ……”.
The six riders made it through without incident, but as we sat alongside one another at the T junction to Gobabis waiting for the Landy there was clearly a sense of relief, the repetitive “Speed is your friend” slowly fading from our dusty lips and foggy minds.
After a lavish lunch at Ernies Bistro in Gobabis we decided to push on through the border into Botswana and then look for a campsite near Ghanzi. The tar road was a welcome relief however a combination of a late night and a testing ride behind us the sand man decided we needed sleep. The long hot road hung heavy on our eyelids, we stopped regularly and it was almost a welcome relief to have to negotiate the rural speed traps – donkeys and goats that litter the Botswana highways. 10 km before Ghanzi we were beckoned into the Thakadu Rest Camp by an evil woman owner who said the sandy road into the camp was only 500m long. 3 km of thick grey sand (with 50cm midlemanekies) was followed by a kilometer of rocky hell. Everyone had a chance to taste the grey sand – speed is your friend wouldn’t work on this windy windy excuse for a road. To spite the evil woman we chased all her 4 X 4 guests from the pool and we wallowed in it until the sun began to set.
Highlights? Surviving the California standard roads and the lunch at Ernie’s. As we sat there enjoying the Gobabis standard “bistro” fair we were each filled with a kind of relief. I had promised my wife and the parents of the two 20 year olds that I would take good care of them – I felt a mountain of guilt having put them through it – ALTHOUGH as Colin later quipped after another testing ride “I would love to bottle this feeling and take a sip of it every now and again”. I don’t think we quite realized what a fete we had accomplished. The highlight would clearly be that we got through the 230km without a scratch.
Day 4 & 5 – 2nd and 3rd December
Thakadu Rest Camp Sepupa Swamp Stop Okawango
The morning dawned with a pregnant silence … none of us was looking forward to the 4km stretch to the main road. We left cautiously at 7:30, the ride out was a lot easier – the previous days ride must have taken it out on us because the ride out was a breeze. The anticipation of reaching the Okavango Swamps this day may have had something to do with the renewed energy. The A3 road didn’t offer much, it disappeared into the horizon with laborious monotony – we stopped every now and again to wrestle the sand man out of our helmets and just enjoyed the fellowship.
The 4km sandy road into Sepupa was a nice end of day challenge and arriving on the banks of the Taokhe River that meanders through the Okawango Swamps was magical. After hundreds of kilometers through arid, lunar-like landscapes this blue green python of water was a pleasure on the eye. We set up camp amongst the lodges “fixed tent” facility and then set off in their charter boats to try catch the illusive tiger fish. Stuart caught a couple; the rest of us jus took in the spectacular sunset and the ambiance that this special place exudes.
We stayed two nights at Sepupa, relaxing at the pool and fishing through the lazy day.
Highlights? Arriving at the rivers edge, the boat ride in a maze of 2m high reeds and the laughs we had around the evening fire. Funnily enough leaving Sepupa Rest Camp was a highlight too – the camp had a sadness about it, the following day we were chatting about it and we all had the same feeling. It was as though we were imposing on the owner and staff, we were the only people at the camp and somehow we felt unwelcome. The swamps are amazing, just avoid Sepupa Swamp stop!
Swamp Stop Camp
Day 6 7 & 8 – 4th December
Sepupa Swamp camp to Victoria Falls
From Sepupa Swamp camp we headed north to the Caprivi, passing through the Mahango Game reserve, the customs officials at the Namibian border warned me to be careful of a rather testy bull elephant that frequents the road through the reserve. I think we were up too early for him and other than a startled herd of zebra the 50km of gravel road surrounded by pristine African bushveld didn’t offer much of a hurdle.
Riding the Caprivi Strip was something we had all talked about; it traverses the Bwabwata National Park and is littered with signs of elephants and warning signs of elephants! It was a beautiful ride, although very straight it was devoid of traffic and standing up on the bikes with the hot wind and the promise of thunderstorms ahead we felt the true freedom of biking. Colin stopped in at the border camp where he spent 9 months fighting Nelson Mandela’s comrades who were going to rape our wives and sisters and steal all our wealth – the guys who frequented the camp at Hardap in the 70’s told us that so it had to be true! Sadly the new occupants of Mapacha wouldn’t allow Colin any nostalgic moments and he joined us in Katima Mulilo for lunch.
We were to enter Zambia and make our way to Livingstone but were advised that the low water at the falls meant the Zambian side was not that spectacular. We took heed and headed southeast to Ngoma and entered the Chobe National Park (back into Botswana). The ride through the park was awesome and being a big 5 reserve we were quite surprised to be allowed through on our bikes – I guess the tourism board believes in the old adage that ‘any publicity is good publicity!’ We passed through comfortably seeing elephant and buffalo along the way. It’s amazing how nakedly vulnerable one feels when riding a motorbike past a herd of elephants!
ZIMBAWE WELOMES YOU! We exited Botswana with the usual friendly banter from the customs officials, our average border crossing took 30 minutes all told – Zimbabwe was another story, after 2 hours (having been the front end of a long queue) we managed to get “permission” to visit uncle Bobs’ pitiful land. Amongst other strange costs they charged us emission fees!!!, they had to photocopy the entry permits because they couldn’t afford printed form (someone should tell them that making a photocopy is 20 times more expensive than printing them). This hand–to-mouth manner was prevalent throughout our visit to Bobs spot, I felt pity for the Zimbabweans, I’m not sure if any of you know Bob personally, if you do just let him know he has a beautiful country with wonderful people that really need him to f%@& off this coil.
The delay in getting through the border meant that the 70km to Victoria Falls was in the dark, most of it through the Zambezi national Park, the elephants that loomed on the roadside had the sense to stay there but it was a hairy ride all the same. It wasn’t a clever thing to do … and it wasn’t our last!
We made camp in the dark at Victoria Falls Rest Camp and then headed into the metropolis to have a pizza, a welcome relief from our own cooking.
The youngsters found a nightclub and trundled back to their tents at 4am, fortunately like everything in Vic Falls it was close by.
In the morning we drove down to the Falls – and the assault began, I give it to the Zimbabweans, they are a persistent bunch (you just have to look at their leader to know this I guess), we were offered every conceivable trinket (thrice), even hashish, cannabis et al. We found out that in trinketology lingo “No” means “maybe”, “I already have 10” means “I think I need 10 more” and “F@$% OFF NO!” means “I’m still thinking about it! What’s your best price?” Never the less we did some good trading, after some great investments I am worth $150 000 000 000 000 (that one hundred and fifty trillion dollars) for you who aren’t well versed in the 000’s. Every trinketer offers you these unique investments at every corner so get there soon!
The Falls were beautiful, it was amazing to see David Livingston’s statue still standing proud in the pathways – I would have thought Bob would have melted him down into 1 Trillion dollar coins by now.
I mentioned earlier that we did something else that wasn’t very clever – we decided to go white water rafting when the water was at its lowest – so the rapids are at their worst! After a 30 minute descent on rickety ladders and slippery rocks we reached the river and boarded our rubber raft, for some obscure reason they gave us a paddle, we would have been better off with a teaspoon as the rapids took control and ripped us down the river as it felt fit. 27 jarring rapids and 22km later we emerged from the great Zambezi … only to be told we had a 250m, 80 degree climb out of the valley ahead of us – we were promised or fanta if we made it – wow what motivation! It was an amazing experience, something that will stay with all of us for a long, long time.
Highlights? The visit to Vic Falls was very special, we learned to forgive the Zimbabweans for their persistence, and you have to understand their plight! The visit to the falls and the rafting were impressive. But we look forward to leaving Bobs spot!
Day 9 and 10 – 7th December
Victoria Falls to Planet Baobab
We made our way back to the border post at Kazangula and left Zim without incident. We had planned to stay in Nata for two days and explore the Makgadikgadi Pans from there, the Nata Camp was a joke both price and facilities so we made the 100km trip east to Planet Baobab. What an amazing place, the camp was great, awesome facilities and good people there.
Early the following morning we decided to try finding the Pans and after some cryptic clues we made our way to Gweta. The guys at Greta Camp were as helpful as possible, when they said that it was difficult to go without a guide and that its impossible to explain the route we were somewhat skeptical – but we went anyway with a few waypoints from the Greta Camp guys.
It is a ride I will remember forever, a soft drizzle fell constantly through the 6kilometers of hellishly thick sand suddenly opened up into grass plains and scattered acacias, tracks crisscrossed one another and we now understood what they meant by being difficult to explain a route. After an hour we saw our first zebra and learned from the locals that there was a zebra migration on the go. We soon found the entire population of 1000’s of zebra making their way across the plains to the now watery pans, amazing to see.
It was here that Colin quipped “I would love to bottle this feeling and take a sip of it every now and again”. We reached the border of Twetwe Pan but didn’t venture into it, there was a massive storm brewing and we were concerned about getting bogged in. We stumbled upon Chapman’s Baobab, which dwarfed us in its shadows; it was the first tree I’ve ever hugged (I may go back to do it again someday soon). It’s a pity that Hannes, Dewald and Marcus found the need to tattoo the tree with their names – I hope Lizele still loves Etienne because it still says so on that magnificent tree. We left only our tyre tracks and took only photos and memories. The journey back was as special, we thought we had ducked the sandy road by taking an alternative route back but with 7km to go the slippery snake of sandy hell jumped up and bit us, we all fell in its greatness! The GPS (Zumo 550) I have on my bike was an absolute blessing on the trip – I swear by it, it guided us faultlessly back to Planet Baobab (like it did everywhere else) where we were greeted the torrential downpour that had threatened us all the way back. It was an awesome day, the rain stopped late in the evening and it rained again but this time it was flying ants that poured down onto the camp. They flew into our fire by the thousands, but hundreds of thousands made their way onto the ground … waiting for them was a plethora of frogs that ate themselves to a standstill (or is that a hop still?)
Highlights? Every minute we spent in the area!
Planet Baobab to Zeerust
The mood when leaving Planet Baobab could only be described as solemn. An absolutely lovely place that will definitely feature in our next trip. We had a long road ahead of us, along a horrible road that was being resurfaced. The rain from the night before turned the roadworks into a quagmire – the four-wheel locals were having fun playing bumper cars in the mud! The motorbike wasn’t made for mud – we proved that.
About 50km from Francistown the intake pipe on the Landy’s turbo slipped its mountings and we managed to dawdle into the Land Rover dealership where they had us back on the road in 30 minutes. The road was long and boring and we once again stopped regularly to freshen up and pour cold water down our backs. We reached Gaborone during peak hour traffic, funny how the illness known as taxi-driver-horribilus has spread across the borders and infected the Botswana community. They don’t know how to drive through roundabouts either!!
The sun had set by the time we crossed the border into SA, then we did another stupid thing. With a massive storm hammering down we rode the 100km to Zeerust – stupid stupid stupid. We made it without incident but we all felt jaded from the experience. Pouring rain, massive trucks and howling wind, unknown roads can unsettle you. We found a tidy lodge just outside of town and after a hearty meal we collapsed.
Highlight? Hmmm none! Perhaps only the helpful Land Rover dealership in Francistown.
Zeerust to Kimberly
With Zeerust behind us and the big hole beckoning we made our way to Kimberly, an uneventful ride until the intake pipe in the Landy blew off again (Can I take back the compliment I paid the Land Rover dealer in Francistown?). We pulled into the BMW dealership that used to own the now closed Land Rover dealership where the dealer principal helped us out by having a former Landy mechanic fix the car at no cost. I saw the new GS800 model, its white – I think the salesman was somewhat concerned about sales when he looked at the colour of our bikes Makgadikgadi Grey - the colour the 2011 GS range should be in.
We went to see the big hole and took the biker package which was R20 each – walk out onto the platform, bounce it a bit and then head off to lunch somewhere. I must say what they have done with the museum is pretty impressive.
We traveled 50km south to the River Camp on the Riet River, beautiful green grass and great facilities.
Highlights? The white GS800 – NOT! For those who hadn’t seen the Big Hole before it was pretty amazing. The BMW guys who did the repairs at no cost.
Kimberly to St Francis Bay
Other than the trailer deciding that it wanted to go into retirement by snaking off the back of the Landy and spreading its load all over the R717 it was an uneventful trip to our final destination. Fortunately the trailer was the only casualty in the 6000 odd km trip. When we sat down to chat about the trip it was amazing to hear the impressions of three generations that were on the trip. The older guys seemed to get younger while the youngsters matured – but what was most amazing was the bonding and camaraderie that was forged between us. The few day that followed have been filled with thoughts of the fun, the challenges, the ups and the downs that occurred over the 13 days. And now a week or so later we all feel the need to be back on our bikes, back in the Landy – sans trailer, heading for those places that give you the feelings that you want to bottle and savor another day.
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