The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
Gear Up! is a 2-DVD set, 6 hours! Which bike is right for me? How do I prepare the bike? What stuff do I need - riding gear, clothing, camping gear, first aid kit, tires, maps and GPS? What don't I need? How do I pack it all in? Lots of opinions from over 150 travellers! "This DVD will save you a fortune!"See the trailer here!
So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
On the Road! is 5.5 hours of the tips and advice you need to cross borders, break down language barriers, overcome culture shock, ship the bike and deal with breakdowns and emergencies."Just makes me want to pack up and go!" See the trailer here!
Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
"It has me all fired up to go out on my own adventure!" See the trailer here!
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About half-morning on the fourth day since we had climbed aboard, the ship was not alone anymore. The sea appeared to be as changeless as always, but in the early haze of sun, a couple of ships - of which not a glimpse had been given before - littered the horizon. At last! We were waiting for something big to happen today, but again, nothing did. Our guilty indulgence was nursing the postpartum of leaving Africa behind and planing how to come back. We felt cheated by the mellowness of the easy life onboard, the seamless transition between two continents. My usual nightly rituals used to include climbing a hill (no need, we have stairs), clearing a bit of bush (the interior designer had taken care of that), hitting the sack around 7 p.m. under the stars (couldn't, unless we slept on deck). Sailing just wasn't jazzy enough to keep us interested. And frankly, it was taking a LONG. DAMN. TIME. After marinating on the sea since forever, we had marmalade for brains, flabby muscles and cloudy eyes.
Only at noon the horizon cracked open and Asia gleamed in the form of Mersin. Truckers maneuvered, sweat flowed, hours passed, and us and bike were out of the ship gut and on Turkish soil. Not the bit we had planned, but as least this side the border was really easy. Turkey is striving for some reason to join the EU, so formalities were a breeze. There was no talk of bogus customs clearance, even if we had arrived in a port. No costs, not even a visa, and of course that minutes into the process we were sipping on free turkish tea. The only downside was the abominable price for petrol: 2 bloody euros per liter! Frankly, I don't know how these people cope. Maybe the world renewed turkish cuisine helps.
What we have here is a southern special: spicy sausage on charcoal. The 'chef' carried a spring of fresh parsley and mint into the kitchen to chopped us a sumak-sprinkled salad. Of course tea was still on the house, and it did a lot to pop my bubble of scorn for the world we were to adapt back into. As soon as I could, I took my bike off the main tar, to where the Mt. Demirkazık of the Ala Dağlar National Park blocks the sun.
Soon there was not an ounce of steaming memories left, either — it was again just us and the bike. It was a great place to start making peace internally with our feelings for Africa and to strengthen our resolution to nomad back on its less beaten tracks as soon as we could.
Keyword: KaBOOM. I was a spring of energy, and it felt great. Dormant villages, donkey lazying, the smell of mountain grasses. Our day was happening, right there.
Wild camping is rad, because it gives us unrestrained chances to revive our connection to our environment in an intimate way. But what good is a camping spot if it’s on fenced land? Cappadocia, situated in central Anatolia solves this problem, offering access to plenty of unclaimed 'properties'.
Those stars had seen quieter campers. By this time into our two-man show we had grown quite anxious at the proximity with our departure spot and we had an itinerary to plan. We were not ready to hit that invisible finish line yet, nor were we able to to continue our quest further east. Moneywise, gearwise, GPSwise, we needed a pitstop badly. Traveling like we did had done both good and bad to our longtime relationship. Our living space had shrunk to a moving chair by day, and to a 3 sqm room by night. But that was our mobile home, an essential constant in an ever changing world. Even when things got sketchy, we managed to hold onto our jeu d’esprit, a low-stakes way to keep a hand in the game, while trying to deal with the problem with some charm and a few laughs. Which is more than what could be said for what was going on now. Really, though, there wasn't much to discuss. Unavoidably, we were going to Romania to sort our shit out for a while. Coming to Cappadocia to get lost among its surreal fairy chimney and pink canyons was just being in denial.
Luckily Cappadocia delivered. 10 years ago Ana was spending a lot of time in Turkey and this place, she told me many times, was an offroad paradise. It was not my first time in Turkey, but it was in Cappadocia. I was eager to verify that information.
3800 years ago, during the late Bronze Age, the Hittites started to settle on this land which was to be colonized by Persians and Romans, until becoming a refuge for early Christians in the 4th century. The arrival of Turkish didn't disturb life in Cappadocia, which grew even more isolated from the rest of the region. The relief played its part. Vaguely delimited by the upper Euphrates to the east and by the Taurus Mountains to the south, historical Cappadocia consists of a high plateau over 1000 m in altitude. Volcanic peaks, one of which reaching almost 4000 m, piercing through a semi-arid, landlocked territory. There's nothing quite like it on Earth.
10 million years ago this was an inferno of bubbling volcanos. Temperature differences of the lava layers generated a soft color harmony that speaks nothing of such a violent geological past. The eruptions continued until recent times, further shaping a surreal landscape. It's a world renowned ballooning destination, and indeed, it must be wonderful to float above such a beautiful place.
We set off from Göreme village, the tourist hub to the region, towards Ürgüp, through the pinkish folds in the Red Valley tuff.
The view required a snack, feet dangling above more beautiful geological freaks.
Where some sort of erosion resistant basalt caps the softer, 100-150 m thick tuff stratum, the Cappadocian land is populated with strange columns. These are hoodoos (also called fairy chimneys), tall, totem pole-shaped spires of rock, shaped over millennia by flood waters and wind, protruding from the bottom of the arid consolidated volcanic ash.
The fragmentary, Dadaist moonscape was proper detox for our Africa postpartum. I was again in my prime environment.
We took a small path that eventually freewheeled us through a diminutive village hidden in the bush-littered valley. A man on a donkey gave us the 'what planet are you coming from' look. No wonder. If a decade ago Cappadocia was a place where the traditional life magically coexisted with the arrival of tourism industry, today that trickle of vacationers has become a flood, and such villages have become almost extinct. Anatolian apricots are still grown in the valleys and gözleme still cooked on hot plates at home, but tourists are rarely aware of all this. Where Ana spoke of dusty gravel now lays an efficient network of tarred roads. Avanos, where she once informally played with clay, has become a proper town and pottery legend, with its own Hilton resort. Of course, we must not fear modernization, and I suppose it is more democratic to allow more than the regular hippies into the region. But man's appetite for profit has little if any boundaries, and for Ana it was difficult to look in vain for traces of lost Cappadocia. These are photos from the Love Valley taken more than ten years ago.
The landscape has retained its mesmerizing allure. We thought the absence of punctures in our well worn Heidenau would be reward enough, but somewhere between Avanos and who-knows-where, white sandstone started glowing.
Romanticizing the past, talking and riffing an occasional fully formed joke about the rocky genitalia of mother earth, we had effortlessly rolled into a particularly fantasyland section. Any sense of order and any imagination provoked, and subsequently defeated by the many colors, textures and irregularities of the land. I could have been in a whole other galaxy for all I cared — this landscape was making my Yamaha look good.
Cappadocia doesn’t overbill the 'you’ll love to ride it' angle, either – there's plenty to knock things off any offroad to do list. Like deep sand in a forest of fairy chimneys.
Soon sunset was getting ready to happen and tuff and I were getting serious. I had to get over the touristy layout of the next site, but once I did, the cameo that rock and sand made in a day filled with tarmac and resorts was like having Cyril Despres step out of your closet and asking if you want to borrow his life for a day. I was chuffed.
Troglodytes have carved churches and homes in the soft tuff, and even built underground cities. We waited for the sun to set, while trying to imagine what it must have been like to squat in this unworldly place, and listening to sparrows ending another day in the sky. Soon the authority of the starlit sky over everything below it could no longer be questioned. The earthy boulders, the sand-hugging vegetation, the hoodoos, all frozen in silence.
That evening we stayed in Ibrahim's guest house. We did not plan to, but it turned out he had been born in that very house, carved in the age old tuff by his grandfather. His mother still lived there as well. Ana mentioned how Cappadocia had changed and that kickstarted a conversation that required more time. Zapping through one of his books, Ibrahim told us his own story of how to cope with the boom of tourism. Of how what is left of older generations has become home prisoner in a land conquered by 5 star resorts and a bit of corruption. We shed a tear for those people we had searched in vain for all day long, for those white-scarfed ladies who used to cook lunches on their kilim-covered platforms, for those donkey riders Ana could vaguely remember. For our own grandfathers, whose pigskin shoes and wooden tools have long burnt into the pits of modern Romania. The photos below are from a government sponsored album and some are more than 30 years old.
A few old bits hanged on the walls of the inner yard: a comb for weaving kilims (traditional Anatolian wool carpets), a spinning wheel, a saddle. Once useful tools, now charming decoration.
Göreme itself hardly resembles a village anymore. There are fancy establishments and cafes everywhere, an information touchscreen and even a bus stop, and streets are lined with vehicles of all description available for rent.
Despite being on the territory of one of the world's best cuisine, we were fueled by nothing but white cheese, olives and tomatoes, all good, but all bought from the supermarket. The restaurants are no longer for budget travelers, and traditional food is virtually nonexistent. We did find mantı (turkish hand-rolled ravioli), künefe (a honey drenched pastry with a cheese filling) and lentil soup. They tasted nothing like they're supposed to. But gastronomical and cultural disappointments aside, this place is still undeniably alluring.
One pleasure still afforded by Cappadocia — whether because of public demand or a sensible development policy — is a relative lack of the commercial ethos that consumed so many other places. Of course, as we visited during a heatwave when few people were around, our optimism could be unfounded. If developers stay within the confines of settlements and common sense, the legend will have to adapt, but it will be allowed to go on. With its impossibly beautiful landscape and its constantly changing sameness, Cappadocia is only advertising the love for freedom, to create, and to be, and that in itself is enough for us.
We knew the drill. We had a killer time. We came, we saw, we hung with the people, we went to bed late, we forgot to stay with the programme. Next morning our mission was to cut across central Turkey, from Cappadocia to the Aegean coast. Too tired, man, I gotta hit snooze, again.
Enter the Turkish tea, a perfectly brewed solution for the un-frisky.
The road from Nevsehir to Kayseri was once dotted with Hans (travellers’ rest houses) and was part of the Silk Road. It doesn’t look that offerable today, so we pushed on to Konya, the most conservative Turkish city. It was a long day. As we started to climb the central plateau, the landscape became sweeter, the rolling hills rounder and the bees on sunflowers buzzier.
In Romania we are fed up with the tasteless Turkish produce that have been flooding the market. Listen to this, my fellow salad munchers, do not mistake that sorry-ass tomato you buy in Bucharest or Cluj for the real thing. Which is what the hard working Turkish farmer grows, and what the Turkish man eats. We soaked in the images of peasants caring for their crops, tools in hand, like they’re supposed to. And in Afyon we lunched on their tasty yield. A simple snack of tomatoes, olives and figs. Everyone was lining up to get their freshly baked Ramazan pidesi for the fast-breaking iftar meal. This traditional flat bread with a characteristic grid of puffed up pockets of dough is a staple of Ramadan. The Afyon variant is 80 cm long and super thin. A hefty compliment to our meal.
Turkish produce is regional: we rolled into the sour cherry country, so we bought a handful of organic dried fruits sold streetside by a green-eyed lady. Sometimes our foodie ‘compulsions’ push us to the more interesting stories that food so often tells. Frankly, after so many food-centric reports, this time we couldn’t be bothered. It was about time to find a decent camp spot.
It was a home-run. Our free-spirited attitude landed us in deer country.
We felt the soft wind on our face, saw a giant sun set behind the hill, knowing it was again one of those raw, unfiltered experiences we’ve grown accustomed to feed on.
It has been incredibly freeing to move across vast distances for months. To claim our spot for the night, to FEEL that energy that keeps it all together, to experience rain, wind and sun. We’d never felt so alive, so in the moment! On that hill, with those golden grasses shedding smells of summer, and with those unseen beasts scavenging for food throughout the night, we needed nothing more to be happy.
Morning came, and a countdown started. Plan was to do the final leg to Bucharest via Bulgaria – within the pinch-yourself parameters of one day. That would leave us with one more night on Asian soil, ‘so let’s find ways to pipe in some adventure’, I promised, knowing how important that was for my girl. Sometimes, though, adventure looks for you as much as you look for it.
First, we arrived in Izmir, and because Turkish infrastructure is so complex and we were using a map taken from a notebook, finding the right exit to the seaside town of Çesme was an overkill.
Nerding-out on the enlightening thought of the day, we must have looked a bit lost in traffic. Not a bad look, I’d say, because it led to good stuff. Two dudes on a moped approached us and asked if they could help with directions. We were fine, thanks. Shouldn’t we all celebrate that fact with some lunch? they said. Adana kebap? Kebap is nothing special – but this south-eastern Turkish variety most definitely is. Hand-diced hand-sculpted, juicy. Half an hour later we were all dissecting our respective samples in the laid back office of Mehmet, together with his buddy, Tümer.
It turned out that Mehmet is a mechanic and enduromaniac. One day we hope to cheer him as 'Romaniac'. We spent a few hours with the guys: both totally into bikes and totally in sync with what we dig as well. Check out more pics on our Facebook page.
They asked how have I changed as a rider and how have us both changed as human beings. It is easy to answer the first, because no matter what I’ve done before, how many wheelies I’ve pulled and what bikes I rode, the great outdoors has had the biggest impact on what I can do now, and what I want to do next on two wheels. The latter question I love: we could spend days answering it. But I’m not going to do that now. Two years ago the sidewalk near my place had petrol from my Yamaha all over it, and I was taken by ambulance. 14 months ago we were stuck in the middle of an Italian highway with a broken car filled with my Yamaha and too much luggage. Life travels by so quickly. We are both so happy and thankful that we were able to complete this journey. It was all I could think about for a long time and something once we both couldn’t dare to set out to do. If you too dream of adventure, do it, there’s never a better time than now.
Lunch done, ready to go. ‘Do you need anything done?’ said Mehmet in a classic ‚why the hell didn’t we think of that’ fashion. Why not discard the shredded Heidenau?
We ended up sweating buckets just to pull the tyre off the rim: that desert heat had baked it well. More biker friends and clients showed up, everybody wanting to participate, because people are so friendly here that any small detail like this is just a reason to stop and chat and make friends.
Time to leave these lovely chaps and hit Foça. Thank you from our hearts, guys, see you next time!
Foça is a quiet little town sitting on the tip of a peninsula. Because of the Aegean Sea, deep blue stretches up to the pontoons of Eskifoça (Old Foça), where locals gather daily to bathe and hang out.
Many of the islands dotting the bays and coves are actually extensions of the mountains on the mainland. Apparently the word ‚archipelago’ was originally used for them and the Aegean Sea!?
We found the small beaches and the coastal area too dirty for something that is supposed to be under some sort of environmental protection, so we went back to the old town for the sunset. The sinking sun made us think of Namibia, where we had experienced the most glorious skyscapes, and we wondered ‘what are our Himba pals talking about right now?’, ‘who is Vital drinking with?’, ‘is it cold in the Namib?’.
It was time to feed ourselves. By night, the old town is even more romantic.
The fishing harbor had filled with people, mostly tourists, who strolled about and dined on the local staple: deep fried calamari and stuffed mussels.
The fishermen were also enjoying their meal right on their boats, and I must say that looked more tempting than the regular seafood joints. A man was selling some unidentifiable snack on ice: fresh almonds! The last bite before pitching camp on a glass’n caps littered beach.
Have you watched ‚A Nightmare On Elm Street’ as a kid? In one of the installments of the francize, there was a scene when Freddy Kruger thrusts his arm with blade-covered fingers through wallpaper, nullifying the threshold between real and imaginary. We were sound asleep when the wind became our nightmare, and a snapped tent pole our Freddy. The pole ripped through the outer layer, waking us up. Wind took over. First we were too sleepy to think clearly and we tried to keep the tent in place with rocks. It only caused another part of it to break. Then we tried to remove the structure and sleep inside as it was. The noise itself was more unbearable than the feeling of fluttering fabric against our face. So we pulled our mattresses out, and slept like we used to on the Romanian seaside during our teenage years.
In the background, three enormous caravans, inhabited by three Italian retirees who had been living on that beach for a while. The morning view was splendid, and the wind softer. If only the beach wasn’t so appallingly dirty: on waking up I had to kick a used nappy off my flip-flops. Yikes!
We took a swim in the gloriously clear water, and moved on.
We had few kilometers of Asia left, before crossing in Çanakkale, the second Turkish city situated on two continents. Outside town there’s a replica of the legendary Trojan horse. According to Homer’s Iliad, this thing ended the ten year siege of ancient Troy (which contemporary scholars have agreed to place in the small village we passed on earlier).
The wooden horse from the movie Troy is also exhibited in Çanakkale: it’s an improved design. Next to it, the ferry docks, with boats crossing the Dardanelles strait every hour. To save time in the morning, we grabbed a bite and took the 10 p.m.: the town was vibey, the night was warm, but it was hard to be in the moment, our minds drifting to past adventures.
This journey has redefined how we see ourselves. I always thought that riding my bike across Africa with my love would be awesome, but never imagined it would be quite as rewarding it has turned out to be. From the first month in Morocco to the last days spent in the searing desert, with a couple of life-changing events and a ‘team’ performance that exceeded even our most optimistic expectations, Africa gave us fourteen of the most remarkable months of our lives. We are now facing the challenge to build on the legacy of these months.
It was done. We were on the Gallipoli peninsula, back in Europe. We couldn’t spend the last night in the tent. For us it was symbolic, and sad. The tent had taken us thru thick and thin, and now it needed us to take care of it. There’s always a better way to do things, and we’ll get our chance. That had been our last sunset as nomads, but there will be another, if we do what’s right.
The Dardanelles looked more like a winding river than one of the most hazardous waterways in the world. At its narrowest it is hardly over a kilometer wide. We lingered by the waterfront while the super jolly waiter kept forking out an amazing breakfast: boiled eggs, white and yellow cheese, veggies, olives, simit (Turkish bagel), tea, jam, more eggs! (in the shape of menemen, a Turkish dish with onion, tomato and green pepper), orange juice, even watermelon. I don’t think there is anyone actually capable to eat all that, and indeed we never needed to eat again that day.
Our last stop before the border was Edirne (Adrianople), the former capital of the Ottoman Empire before Constantinople took over. After passing by it many times in the past, we were finally going to visit a masterpiece of classical Ottoman architecture, the Selimiye Mosque. It dominates the city, and at 83m its minarets are the tallest in the Muslim world.
But the genius of the architect whose apprentices would later design the Taj Mahal doesn’t shine in the monumentality of the exterior, but in the simplicity of the interior. The mosque and its complex of schools is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
At that time the dome of Hagia Sophia was the largest in the world and Selimiye was to surpass it. Under an octagonal central dome the space flows symmetrical, unsegmented, allowing the mihrab (which points to Mecca) to be seen from any location within the mosque.
Light floods this culmination of a lifelong search for perfection.
After the nerdy intermission, we crossed the first border in ages where we didn’t need to remove not even our helmets. Suddenly we were surrounded by familiar things. We had crossed Bulgaria without stopping many times before, but always in the night, so we were not aware it looked so weirdly similar to Romania. Except for the language and obviously for the Cyrillic alphabet, nothing felt foreign, not even the people. We bought a map from a gas station and set out to cross this strangely ‘Romanian’ country as fast as we could. Dusty provincial towns, dilapidated roads, a ski resort on top of a mountain, and coffee in a gas station just like the ones we had designed and built what it felt like ages ago. It was a surreal afternoon, progressing to an inevitable that we somehow imagined and knew, yet didn’t perceive, nor were we sure about. To be the same people we could not pretend we were, but did we hope to find significant, or should I say ‘satisfactory’ change at our destination as well? There was only one way to find out:
On that last stretch before Bucharest we had a lot on our minds. Traveling, vagabonding we had reached far and wide, we had achieved freedom. Instead of imagining how things might be, we were so lucky to see them as they are. We were humbled by nature, blown away by its wildlife and touched by the kindness and limitless generosity of total strangers. The question now is where it all goes from here. Do we look back, and say: ‘Well that was wonderful, but it all will kind of go downhill from here?’The sun set over Romania, and it was just as beautiful as elsewhere in the world.
My mom was waiting for us in the empty apartment where one room contains our previous life packed in cardboard boxes. Ana opened the garage for me. I parked the bike and removed the camera. I was on cruise control, exhausted, not really registering what was going on.
Even now I struggle to remember those details, and I fail. I knew every molecule of that outside, but not the quiet cataclysm unfolding inside.
Ana’s parents were on the train, and when they arrived, we had already tossed the smelly gear and showered, as if we had never left. I saw the poster Ana had made for me in 2010, when I arrived there from Germany, soaked and shivering with cold, but a victor on my first Tenere, the one that should have taken us to Africa.
I noticed that Ana’s mum had made a note for us saying ‘welcome back!’
An hour later we were hugging more people and choking with more emotions. We had missed these people, as they had missed us. But the love that connected us survived the distance. So why shouldn’t you, dreamer of the open road, fear to follow it? We risked our significance, and we’ve grown, we became better. We challenged ourselves, and it stretched our limits. We’ll never regret it, and we do not regret that the adventure is over for now, because, as our friends wrote on this quirky ‚trophy’, the reality and the happiness of the next 'round' depends on us.
Enjoyed every minute of it along with you guys, great trip, nice writing and good photos. Setting off ourselves in November for a Argentina - Alaska trip. Meanwhile we live the dream on here (passed through Romania 3 weeks ago , the roads in the North are all new now, best roads in Europe! big change from 5 years ago!)
Hopefully you can settle down and plan the next one!
Gino & Fiona
Enjoyed every minute of it along with you guys, great trip, nice writing and good photos. Setting off ourselves in November for a Argentina - Alaska trip. Meanwhile we live the dream on here (passed through Romania 3 weeks ago , the roads in the North are all new now, best roads in Europe! big change from 5 years ago!)
Hopefully you can settle down and plan the next one!
Gino & Fiona
Cheers Guys! and thanks a lot for the help! Happy you enjoyed romanian roads and safe travels in your SA trip. Maybe we meet someplace in America :P
Romania 02 - 31/08
It took a while to see this, and now we do: the Zaïre crossing was the pivotal event that springboarded us to the next level. Sharing our various memories of Zaïre and of what happened after that with Alper in Curtea de Argeş, we realised that the whole experience continues to simmer on.
Wait wait… Did I say Alper was in Romania with us? Wasn’t him the German dude who joined us on a race across Congo Brazaville in December? Hell, yeah, he is back in our life, and boy, are we glad! First, I’ll give you a recap of what he’d been up to since we split. It was December 2011, and me, Ana and the four Vidals from Toulouse were stuck in Kinshasa, while Alper and his then-girlfriend were sharing our faith, but in Matadi. There was no way any of us would be allowed to enter Angola overland, and we had all the same big decision to make. Give up, fly over, or push forward on routes that aren’t on any map. Do or die. Each of the three teams had a different set up, different strengths and weaknesses and different objectives, but we all ended up choosing the same way out. Alper and Esther left first, and based on their initial SMS we decided to take a different route, which in the end proved even more treacherous. The Germans suffered a lot, so did the Toyo. They crossed in a little under four weeks, breaking the suspension just on the finish line. Then in Namibia disaster hit: Esther was taken down by malaria and kidney failure, which abruptly ended their adventure. After accompanying Esther home, Alper returned to sell the Toyo, not before driving it all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope. Here is their story in Motorrad magazine.
Back in Germany, they got back to work. Alper is a motorcycling tour guide. If you are a biker and want to head out to the best roads of Europe and Turkey, he’s your guy. Twice a year Alper takes his clients across Romania, so we jumped at the opportunity to get together. Exiting Bucharest I was filling up the tank with Romanian petrol (well… that’s a bit of a stretch, it was just a Romanian gas station) for the first time in quite a heck of a while. The price of petrol: 1,40 Euro/l. Ouch!
My Tenere was thirsty and it showed. As soon as the horizon opened, the race was on. We were meeting Alper in Curtea in a couple of hours. When we saw the KTM 690 Enduro we felt a tingle in the heart: the gang was reunited!
We had Romanian wine with pork steak, while the garage reeked of pickled cabbage. That’s what Romanian folk does with cabbage in autumn, making our neighbours suspect the biological war has started. No matter how many things we had to chat about, there was one word that kept creeping into our conversation: CONGO.
It had been the most difficult mental and physical challenge of our lives. It demanded everything. Weatherwise it was no joke: downpours, cotton mud, pockets of swampy water under layers of moving sand. Wearing the same damp muddy clothes and sleeping in a wet tent day in and day out. Most of the day was usually spent with orientation and assessing the terrain. When we were still reasonably sane. Once fatigue and stress took over, we become disorganized, less focused. We started to make mistakes. Then it was digging and operating whatever tool we could harvest to extract us from random swamps, trenches and holes. Finding food was a bit challenging. We subsisted on fruit & veg, insects, scavenged corn or nothing at all for parts of the journey, which was fine with us, but less fine for the kids. We bought pasta and rice three or four times and bread about 5 times during those 4 weeks. I remember the feasts we had in Mbuji Mayi and Kamina: it was not the nutrition, it was the diversity that lacked and that we were cheering back into our lives. But even though we have all described the trip on our respective blogs as ‘horrible’ and ‘crazy’, we enjoyed stretching our limits to new extremes. Congo made us stronger, more focused, albeit less prone to luxuriate in the modern amenities of ‘civilization’. Since Zambia there have been no more bug eating, no more digging for hours in swamps, no more sleeping in rainstorms. Ok, except for that weird Sudan storm, which maybe a brainiac out there could sometime explain to us. Is it crazy then that the two of us and Alper were still talking Congo hours past midnight?
Eight months ago our party of six adult and two kids had had an intimate encounter with the unseen Africa. All of us travellers secretly believed that the Wizard of that Oz could free us from our pole of prejudice, remove that routine rust, encourage us to disregard limits, help us rediscover our heart and our courage. We found indeed many adventures and overcame many obstacles on our journey together, just as we did on our separate ways, but most of all we found the Congolese, these special breed of people we knew next to nothing about. The Congolese are volcanic, resilient, relentless, and once you've showered in this, you're hooked. Eight months after returning from the African Land of Oz, we realised that the two of us and Alper are obsessed with our memories of it.
In the morning we said our goodbyes till next next time.We had a simple plan to make the best of our day: ride the Transfagarasan, arguably one of the best drives in Europe.
Hairpins, pine forests, naked rock, maybe a waterfall, a spring or a glacier lake. The staple on this infamous road built in the 70s. But there’s more to Transfagarasan than the call of the bends.
When I was a kid that's where I was spending most holidays. I remember climbing it on new year's eves, loaded with pots of Romanian dishes, snow up to my waist. It was crazy, it was fun. Me and Ana also have a thing with Transfagarasan, where we would escape during our busy years. There's this small waterfall we love, the weekends we would come braai, the full-throttle drives we pulled just for the sake of it, the sparrow-infested lake at the 166 m high dam. That’s where we started our climb, taking a right turn off the tar, into the forest.
We had left Bucharest without a map, with just a rough idea of how we would cut across, and chased this barren peak we would occasionally spot through the pines. We gave up control to the journey and let experiences materialize.
Coursing through we met this team of overlanders. They didn’t appear to own a GPS either.
We crossed into bear country.
The bears had finished harvesting the season’s berries, which can be clearly seen in the photo below. That means that in spite of the overzealous poachers, our bears are still hanging in there.
You’d never see me without a smile on my face on these empty roads. The smell of pine leaves and wild herbs crushed under the wheels give a soul tingling joy.
And like that.
Or like that.
But a man’s gotta take a break at some point…
Especially before a climb
When the slope jumped the 45 degrees limit, my tires gave up and I needed a different bike for the task. Next time!
The mountain doesn’t only feed the soul, it also quenches the thirst. We stopped by a spring where a trailer had been parked. The owner must have been out with work. Our city-folk tendencies for inequity, waste and abuse of finite resources always seem vulgar in the face of such humble set-ups. We drank our water in the sun, thankful to the anonymous host and enjoyed being alive.
It was almost lunch time, so we turned back to Transfagarasan. The climb never fails to deliver. It's not a road you can easily summarize, except to say you'll invariably want seconds.
At 2040 m altitude there’s a glacier lake and a chalet. In winter it is only accessible from Brasov, but as the sun was up we enjoyed our meal on the terrace. Fresh trout, tripe soup, apple pie… Romanian stuff. Nothing too fancy, but if cooked with fresh ingredients and love, can be a welcome discovery. So if you’ve seen the Top Gear episode and you’ve perused the magazines, here’s another reason why you should not exclude Romania from your to-ride-list. Of course give us a shout out, ‘cause even if we’re not around, we can assist with a friendly couch and more.
Lots have changed within the year. There’s a heap of tourist activities being developed and the denizens and their traditional produce stalls have multiplied. Smoked bacon, sausages, cheeses, preserves etc. And no, this article has not been sponsored by the inept Romanian ministry of tourism.
Worrying a bit about the potential boom of the industry and of how it could bring down the charm of Transfagarasan – still a lonely road in my book – we started the descent back.
Nothing beats the views, the smell of wind threatening to take you down, the open valley where cloudscapes conglomerate. I’ve driven this road in all seasons and I think early June is best, when snow caps aren’t yet melted and the waterfalls are in full swing.
We took a peek at the abandoned mine
We stopped by our ‘place’, the Goat Falls. The sheep were being herded home by the handsomest canine militia.
It was a long ride to Bucharest, but we were glad to have such a tangible target to aim at. Home is a place of great meaning, where we can rest and where we can be near to people we care about. We have been away in the wilds of Africa for many months, we’ve seen a lot of amazing places and met many incredibly kind people, and now, after recharging with nature, we are hungry for more. There’s just a lot to sort out. I wonder if I can roll up my sleeves and make all the administrative bullshit that comes with it my bitch.
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