The roof of Africa and for all that effort of trekking for four and a half days to see the spectacular views of precisely……..nothing! We almost walked straight past the sacred sign post at 5895M due to the lack of visibility in the ensuing snow blizzard. High winds, a temperature of -20degC and poor visibility, what a strange way to see in a new day. This was one hell of a surreal experience. To start with you get up at midnight to start walking, very slowly, up the final ascent to Gilman’s point at 5681M in total darkness on a path that can be best described as unsure with all the packed snow on it. Then comes the altitude sickness which is equivalent to being drunk to the point of passing out, splitting headache, vomiting, the lose of balance and consequently no coordination. Not good when you’re just about to walk the snow covered craters edge in gale force winds. One slip and you could find yourself sliding down 3000ft into the crater or worse; off the mountain altogether. All makes you feel a little……………
The best part of the whole trek is the descent which takes one fifth of the time and you start to get some good old oxygen back in the lungs; very welcomed. I will have to change the name of the trip to Chelmsford to Cape Town via the roof of Africa. So if you have been sitting there thinking of donating but not sure when to or even wish to donate more. Then there’s no better time than now. Congratulate me in getting there; a lot of people who do try do not make it.
After all that excitement a rest on the beaches of Zanzibar was in order to take in the infamous sunsets and hot weather. Managed to get in a bit scuba diving, however this turned out not to be all that it is cracked up to be. A big disappointment.
Back in Nairobi and the bike is apart again getting fixed after the rough roads that I encountered on entering Tanzania last month. Also a service and new tyres to make it feel like new again, the last set have long past their best having covering over 6000 miles.
Encountered my first real breakdown with the bike during the transit of Tanzania from Kenya on the way to Malawi. This was the consequence of picking up a tank full of bad fuel and resulted in a truck ride back to the nearest town. I got to experience first hand why it is that these trucks are seen on their side in the ditch on the side of the road. It was a frightening ride at some speed for something weighing many tons and controlled by someone scarcely old enough to have a driving license.
With the fuel draining and some proper gas in the tank I set off for a second attempt to reach Lake Malawi. You get a good impression of how poor this country is as there are no other vehicles on the road for miles after mile. This is true for the most part until you reach a city. Had my first running with the officials on the ride and placed under arrest for violation of a traffic law. Not stopping at a police check point, apparently. Fortunately this did not last for too long on the arresting officer being handed a book that I had recently finished reading. This is the flip side and for the benefit of myself the better element to the well know fact that African officials are corrupt.
Having spent too many days relaxing on the lake which is so vast that it confuses you in to thinking that you’re at the sea it was time for the obligatory stop over in the capital city on the road to Zambia. To avoid those famous riders on their Long Way Down, this seemed to be on everyone’s lips that I spoke to during the last month. Have you seen them, are you part of the trip, do you know where they are? etc, etc, etc….
The decision was taken to spend a few nights at South Luangwa National Park, more off road riding. The campsites there are open for the wildlife to freely roam which is all well and good until being awoken early one morning to the sound of an Elephant eating the tree that my tent was camped under along with the bike. I don’t remember getting much sleep for the remainder of the time there. Must have met the same animal again on leaving the park as it chased me down the track with ears flapping for some 30 meters. An exhilarating few seconds of riding, these things can run fast through the rough bush when they want to.
Next stop was to Victoria Falls which is some distance. Consequently we did one of the most stupid things on the trip that is very much advised against doing; riding at night. It was fucking scary, trucks blinding your vision, your eyes playing tricks on you and the local wildlife deciding to be kamikaze and run out across the road in front of you. A Kudu in this instance; don’t do it! On the second day with daylight diminishing we took up the offer of a free house on a farm that is being converted into a game lodge. Ended up being there for a few days being put to work, not so much the free house that was initially offered to us.
At Vic Falls took to the skies in another form of transport to see this great spectacle and later at night under a full moon to see the lunar rainbows.
It is easy to become complacent of just how fantastic things are in Africa as you get sensory overload. The falls under full moon is nothing short of spectacular.
Heading south and the temperature was starting to get noticeable colder and news was that SA was not any better so the trip headed back to the East coast, crossing over into Zimbabwe to visit Riders. First we had to get supplies due to the problems there; loading up with 50lt of fuel should see us get at least half way through the country before trying to source some on the black market. From what was already seen of Vic Falls it was thought that it could not get much better however on the Zimbabwean side the water seems to fall in much greater quantity making for an impressive showering from the splash.
The roads in Zimbabwe are all but deserted of traffic there are more donkeys pulling carts than anything that is propelled with an internal combustion engine. Arrived in Bulawayo before it was necessary to top up the fuel reserves, the hunt for black market liquid gold took us to a guy called Fuzz. Name aptly given on meeting him at his house, just slightly crazy, however he had the necessary stuff hidden in his garage and even at the black market price this was cheaper than in Zambia. After headed for Harare to visit the Riders organisation where the money that has been kindly donated is going too.
At their head quarters I got shown around and was impressed by the number of bikes they have in the workshop waiting to go out to support their operations in Africa. The money that is being raised from this ride is going to be used to support the purchasing of much needed tools in the workshop. This will enable the bikes to be prepared ready for distribution to their designated projects over the coming months.
From the head quarters it is a short trip out of town to the training facilities where they teach those who will be using the bikes how to ride, service and maintain their bikes. This training facility is situated nicely in the middle of a karting circuit, motocross track and a 4x4 off-road circuit so the rider training is very comprehensive.
As fuel is in short supply in Zimbabwe it is best to ride at a slower than normal speed, so you could imagine my surprise on leaving that I was stopped for speeding. 120kph apparently ‘Would you like to contest this sir’ I was asked, ‘bloody right’. ‘Well then you can go’. Easy as that; off of paying any fine.
Got to the Mozambique coast which was as expected hot so time to relax for a few weeks, filling in the time doing some impressive diving. All the usual suspects expected along this coast were present, when diving with such big sea life as whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays you feel very small. The experience is similar to that of visiting the gorillas in Rwanda.
In Swaziland ventured off in to the hills with the bike unloaded which for a change was nice to ride. This did involve getting a little lost and having our path cut off by a few boulders and river crossings. This made for a challenging ride, at times fun with both wheels off the ground.
Might even make it to Cape Town next month!
Almost in Cape Town, I got the first sign once I crossed over the border into South Africa. Only 679Km a short run down the home straight.
Over the past month I have however traversed the continent to the Atlantic Ocean in Namibia. Crossing through Botswana with its limited roads and vast flat open desert this makes for a very dull country to ride across. The only entertainment is to avoid the many Ostriches that occupy the side of the roads. I did take in the impressive sight of the Okavango Delta. Having been in areas of Africa where water is like a liquid gold commodity it is absurd to see such an abundance of water in this desert, which are effectively the rains from Angola .
Moving onto Namibia was with much anticipation with its natural beauty and gravel roads. This country is ideal for motorcycling with some of the most spectacular landscapes that I have witnessed in Africa, the gravel roads are well maintained so can be fast if you wish. This is probably why I see so many other motorcycle groups on these tracks. The only concern you have is that you can ride all day and only see a handful of people hence you don’t want to be breaking down. Then there are the high temperatures and strong crosswinds that are relentless.
A reference to your position of latitude in the middle of the desert on the way to Sesriem; useful?
Took to doing some sandboarding in the Namib Desert, this may be on a snowboard however this is nothing like riding on snow. The idea being to go as fast as you can and keeping the board as flat as possible.
The highlight being an 80kph run down the dunes on a high tech sheet of ply wood.
In the middle of the ephemeral pan at Sossuvlei amongst the high red sand dunes getting hot and it was still only half past seven in the morning. An incredible dry and intimidating place.
On the road to the Fish River Canyon with the Schwarzrand mountain range in the background.
The Fish River canyon, not as grand as what North America might have to offer but in it's own way more beautiful from the vast array of different colours from the flora. The Fish River (bizzarely enough) has gouged out an impressive canyon as it has twisted its way down to the Orange River. Living up to the san people's believe of the work of an escaping snake being chased by hunters.
Cape Town, only days away…………
…………..259 day, 18,572 miles, 18 countries, a fuel bill of £827.24 and no GPS just maps I finally get to see my chequered flag. Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. Unfortunately it was only a mere glimpse as Mother Nature had decided to be cruel on crossing the finish line by shrouding the land mark in substantial cloud cover. A couple of hours later and its raining, my first rain in over a month. Thanks for the memory.
The final miles in to Cape Town riding down the R27 were terrifying; listening and feeling every new noise and vibration from the bike, having the fear of an imminent breakdown so close to the finish. Having ridden the bike for so long it has almost become a part of me, I was worried for it. Having crossed the finish line I think that it fair to say that both the bike and I have performed admirable well over the past nine months. Looking at a map I am amazed and in many ways can not believe haw far we have gone together. From the top to the bottom of such an expansive continent, on good roads, on bad roads and on no roads at all. What was I thinking; it has been an awesome trip.
And the best of all, from now on when some asks me, ‘where are you going?’ I can say, ‘nowhere, I am already there’. No more, ‘to Cape Town’, ‘where’, ‘South Africa’. Once this is established the normal response would be, ‘on this bike, on your own, it’s not possible on these roads, do you have a gun?’ Generally after a bit more gibberish about travelling further south they finish with, ‘you must have a lot of money?’, ‘no not really, not anymore’. So don’t ask for some I am not a mobile ATM!
So what now? Well it’s my birthday soon so I think a celebration is in order and once I have got over the fact that I no longer have to think of where it is to next I’ll take to exploring the Western Cape before heading back to working for a living, again.
Africa at times is difficult to describe in words so I don’t think that I will try here. Never the less I will say that my best experience has been all of it and that what I’ll miss most of all is the experience that Africa offers to anyone willing to come here.
For now I am signing off, leaving you with some random photos of the trip. I hope that you have enjoyed the read, laughed at some of the stories, even possible been inspired yourself. A big thank you to all those of have donated to Riders, from my experiences throughout this trip and having visited the organisation I know that your money will be going to make a difference to the people here in Africa where it is needed.
Ten months in Africa travelling slowly overland and soon what will be a short flight back to London. That will be a culture shock!!
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