January 11, 2008 GMT
Congo

Congo

If theyíre was one country that I was a little apprehensive about passing through it was Congo but as usual all any doubts about the country I left at the border. There were police and military checkpoints at the border and then we were free to pass into the country. We waited for someone to open the boom gate and waited some more. Weíve lost the key I was told by a one of the police. ďSo youíve lost the key to CongoĒ ďOuiĒ the policeman replied. Half an hour later the key was found in another policemanís pocket he was having a kip.

We rode into Congo and had one last checkpoint, as they were going crazy with the stamps using up precious pages in my passport I noticed a British registered Rangerover coming in the opposite direction. It was Chris and Jackie, (although I didnít know there names at this point.) Shortly followed by a German fire engine with Chris and Jessie inside. The first ďover landersĒ that weíd met, so far on this trip coming in the opposite direction.

By now it was three Oíclock so we decided to have a few beers and exchange some info. It was a most enjoyable evening, we pretty much camped right there on the border and Jessie cooked us some fried plantains for dinner. Chris just asked if he could sleep in the police station, this was no problem at all and they set him up a bed complete with mozzy net. More rain during the night and after we said our farewells to new friend we were off down the road. Thomas was joining us for a few days with his Landcruiser, he was good company and he had a fridge in his car, cold beer.

Although it was more of a very long pond rather than a road there were deep puddles all along it, by lunchtime we had only made twenty kilometers. Before we could ride across one of these puddles we had to walk it first to check the depth and work out the best route to take. I miss judged one and had water come up as high as the tank. At the same time the engine took a gulp of water through the air intake and stopped. I pushed the GS out and got busy with the tools, and soon enough I was running again. Then Chris got a puncture it was one of those days, I like the days like this in a funny sort of way, character building!

There were some deep ruts that I had to take the luggage off the bike to get it through and for the first time on the trip the BMW cylinders were getting in the way. It was an exhausting day! Although as the day went on the sun was shinning and the puddles got fewer. By five Oíclock I think we had made one hundred and twenty kilometers not very far but not the worst day weíve had so far on this trip.

I really enjoyed the ride across Congo it was around five hundred kilometers of the worst roads. More beautiful scenery and in every village we rode through we would be greeted by many waving and smiling kids and adults alike. There was more deep mud to pass and at one place I counted forty truck stuck in the mud. All the drivers were shoveling earth to try to make the road passable. It was no problem for us though as a local showed us some tracks that led us around.

The pool region is located just west of the capital city of Brazzaville and is still subject to sporadic rebel activity. We were warned that there were some rebel checkpoints that we would be stopped at and they could try to extract some money from us. So it was not too much of a surprise when we came across the rebels or Ninjas, as they are known. There was a large group of them ether side of the road and as we approached they moved into the road and started to wave at us to stop. Fortunately I couldnít see any visible firearms. I started to change down through the gears and slow down as I approached them. As I was about to put a foot down and shift to neutral I noticed there were no nail boards on the road and the way ahead was clear. So with Chris close behind I accelerated through them and away.

The last hour into Brazzaville was on yet another brand new still under construction road and we were soon in the capital. The Catholic Mission has let us camp inside their holy walls on a bit of lawn next to their bar.

Brazzaville seems to be a prosperous city set on the river Congo, the streets are wide and it is very clean for an African city. There are many restaurants and a lot of things are available to buy here. There is still evidence of the civil war here itís easy to see bullet holes in some walls and other large houses and office blocks that have been left derelict.

We are stopping here for a couple of days to relax and I have spent a day giving the bike some TLC. It is all sparkly and clean again with fresh oil and filters. The starter motor hasnít been sounding so good since itís stint in the muddy water so I removed it and cleaned out all the muck from inside. Apart form that the R1200GS has been holding up exceptionally well but I better not say too much too soon. Not until I get to South Africa.

Across the River Congo is Kinshasa the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (yes there are two Congoís). Tomorrow morning weíll be taking the ferry across and yet another border crossing and another country.

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Posted by Michael Beckett at 06:44 PM GMT
January 29, 2008 GMT
DRC

Getting out of Congo was time consuming and very bureaucratic itís all part of the trip I know, but there is a lot of admin to cross Africa! We eventually rode onto the boat to cross the mighty Congo River. The boat left the dock and headed up river a way and rafted up to two other boats. When the vessels were secure we got underway once more, three boats chugging away at about one knot, it took us about an hour to get to the other side. When we arrived at Kinshasa there was a stampede as everyone fought to get back onto dry land. I changed some money on the black market and got stack of local cash, which filled a few different pockets.

Kinshasa, the capital of DRC is an interesting city, we went for a stroll and it wasnít long before we found ourselves on the terrace of bar, drinking beer and eating good but expensive European food. Along the main street there were a few shops and a supermarket, which catered for the wealthy and many people driving around in Mercedes and four by fours. This was yet another African country with large natural resources of which only a tiny, tiny percentage will ever benefit.

We walked down another street and found the UN building, which was protected by a barricade of razor wire and armored cars with huge machine guns on top. I wandered up for a closer look, then thought it best to move on. There is a huge UN presence here; most of the trouble is in the east of DRC fortunately we didnít have to go through these areas to pass through. We moved on the next day, twenty hours was long enough in this city. I didnít want to risk taking any photos, Kinshasa is a city not used to tourists!

We headed to Zongo falls, which were, immense and spectacular camped up on the riverbank at the top of the falls the whole place to ourselves. It was an amazing place, definitely worth the 50km ride down the rough track to get to it. That night there was a huge thunderstorm, which made it a wet and muddy ride back out again, although in this part of Africa this is becoming the norm.

We arrived in Matadi to obtain our visas for Angola this took the whole day and cost $80. I was asked dozens of obscure questions, the relevance of which I wasnít quite sure but by the end of the day I had my five, day transit visa for Angola. Five days is all you get to ride 1600 km not a problem in other parts of Africa but I think you would have to use the term road very loosely when in Angola.

Just as we were leaving the consulate the Angolan officials just happened to mention that the border was going to be closed for the next two days. We had about an hour to get back to where we were staying pack up, fuel up and get to the border. We managed to get to the border in time and get stamped out of DRC. Although when we arrived at the Angolan immigration point we were too late. Stuck in no mans land for the night! Then the border guards said we could sleep under the porch of the police station in Angola. Which had a beautiful view across the green hills and the River Congo. We met three South Africans heading the same way as us on KTM 640ís; we all agreed a beer would be good after our taxing day. Unfortunately there was no bar this side of the border, but the AK47 totting border guard let us sneak back into DRC so we could get a couple of drinks.

In the morning the Angolan border guards who had slept in the police station all night. Stamped our passports in, although they couldnít stamp them the previous night. They still put yesterdays date on the entry, so we lost a day on the visa now only four days to cross Angola. We hung around for another hour for the customs to stamp our carnets but they didnít show. So we ended up leaving without the stamp, hopefully it shouldnít be a problem at the other end.

Posted by Michael Beckett at 05:24 PM GMT
February 16, 2008 GMT
Angola

The cockerels woke me at some ridiculously early hour as I slept on the front steps of the police station. While I was waiting for the immigration to open I sneaked back into The Democratic republic of Congo to find some breakfast; baguettes and La vache quirit that is a one of the good things the French did for Africa.

At eight oíclock the policeman came out with our passports, which he held in the police safe over night. The six passports had been stamped in using yesterdays date so we had already lost a day off the expensive and stingy five-day visa.

Customs hadnít shown up for work apparently he was still sleeping. We didnít have time to wait so headed off without getting our carnets stamped in.

It was time to ride! I had been looking out over the beautiful view of the Congo River and the green hills for too long, I wanted to get amongst it.
So with only four days to cover one of the biggest countries in Africa and no stamp in the Carnets we rode off into the valley. We would over stay our visas and no stamp in the carnet could be a problem at the next border but this was going to be next weekís problem.

It was a technical ride along rocky and wet roads in the north of Angola after eighty miles we still hadnít seen another vehicle and I was concerned about getting petrol I hadnít topped up fully in DRC as fuel was sup post to be super cheap in Angola. With only enough fuel for twenty miles left in my tank there was no way I would get to the next town. I ended up buying some brown petrol out of a jerry can from a midget I canít imagine what he mixed with it, it didnít even smell remotely like petrol but the trusty GS lapped it up and didnít let me down. The machine had to have a couple more drinks of this suspect fuel before I reached Luanda, which had petrol pumps and fuel for a very reasonable price. (Twenty-five pence per litre).

Angola has only been at peace for the last five years but no one has told the millions landmines which still scatter the countryside. After the heavy rains these mines move and sometimes they are washed onto the roads, nowhere is one hundred percent safe. There are reminders of the war everywhere you look I donít think I saw many building that werenít riddled with bullet holes.

The country has had more war than any other country in Africa over the last forty years. The war of independence, from Portugal between 1961 and 1975. Followed by the civil war that waged between 1975 and 2002 one side was funded by diamond sales and the other by crude oil. There were also many international influences from the USSR and Cuba and the US and South Africa. Iíve heard that this got as complicated as US oil companies Chevron and Gulf drilling for oil with Cuban soldiers defending the rigs from American armed rebels. Stupid it may sound but then that is the word that best describes war!

We decided to stop for the day in a little town called Tomboco, the nuns at the catholic mission took us in for the night and weíre very welcoming! In the morning we rode the short distance to Nízeto and made camp on the beach we bought some crayfish from the local fisherman and cooked them over our campfire on the beach, it was good to have a relaxing day.

The traffic into Luanda was like running the gauntlet sandy streets filled with trucks, buses, cars and motorcycles. People dashing through the traffic it was complete mayhem and thick with fumes we rode through the ďsuburbsĒ which were ramshackle and rubbish strewn. The centre of Luanda was completely different. There are many ships anchored in the bay of Luanda the city has coloionial Portuguese architecture alongside modern buildings it has the energy of a prosperous thriving city. Although itís very similar to other African cities where the people ether have money or nothing at all.

Luanda yacht club allowed us to make camp on their hard right on the waterís edge. Carlos and his friends made us very welcome it was a real shame that we could only get a visa for five days, everywhere I stopped in this country made me want to stay longer and not one of us had to pay for any accommodation once during our stay in this country.

I went for a walk along the spit of land, which surrounded the bay of Luanda past flashy waterside clubs, kite surfers, Porsche Cayenneís, and shanty towns the contrast of wealth in this capital city is huge!

After the jungles of the Congoís Angolaís landscape was rocky rolling hills and plains I loved the ride through this stunning country. You could see for miles and miles, which is how far we had to ride, well around fifteen hundred miles. In between the terrible roads there would be brand new perfect tarmac. The Chinese are busy building all these new roads it seems crazy that Africa imports labor from China!

The roads in Angola are hard going pothole after pothole; this is extremely hard going on the bikes. I hit one pothole hard; the rear wheel took off when it landed again something didnít feel right. I stopped to check it out and could immediately smell burning rubber. The torsion bar that runs along the top of the swing arm had bent and was rubbing against the rear tyre. This was the first major problem that Iíve had with the BMW and I was going to have to pull some creative bush repair to get rolling again. Nothing a tyre lever, hose clamps and cable ties couldnít fix. I ran eight hundred kilometers all the way to Windhoek in Namibia like this.

While we were filling with fuel after an epic dayís ride a few sports bikes past us and signaled for us to follow. We did and they led us to the Falcon motorcycle club. It was Joseís place and he welcomed us with cold beers, he fed us all and gave us a place to stay as well as welding up Chrisís frame and a luggage rack on one of the KTMís. Jose really was a top shelf bloke! He showed us his old yellow land cruiser, which he had owned for twenty-eight years. In the frame of the windscreen was bullet hole he then pointed to a scare on his ear lobe, the bullet may have only scared him but it went into the arm of a soldier that was sitting in the back.

So I was ridding along, lovely blue sky the only clouds are the clouds of dust in my mirrors dodging the potholes and loving life. Thinking that itís pretty good making it this far through Africa, and then I see another bike approaching in the opposite direction. Thatís not an African bike, we both pull over on the road and introduce ourselves itís Richard heís ridden from England to the Cape down the east coast of Africa and now heís heading home back up the west coast but the best part is heís ridding a 1956 Royal Enfield. Heís keen to make it home for Easter so we all have a quick chat and exchange road info before we head off in our different directions.

It was a shame to leave Angola, only just seven days. There was no problem over staying the visa if Iíd known I would have stayed longer the people we met were very warm and friendly and Angola has fantastic scenery. Iíd like to return one day.

Posted by Michael Beckett at 12:48 PM GMT
May 18, 2008 GMT
Namibia

Namibian customs were friendly and efficient and in no time we were riding into a shabby frontier town. Shabby yes but with ATMís, shops, petrol stations and under the tyres smooth tarmac. A swerve to the left was needed to avoid an oncoming car Namibia drives on the left hand side of the road. I hadnít ridden on the left since England. There were also traffic lights I hadnít seen any of those in a long while ether.

It was only eighty kilometers to Oshakati where we would camp for the night. The first warm shower I had experienced for many months and steak for dinner. We were back in civilization.

Riding on these roads in northern Namibia was a welcome break after the Congos and Angola. Smooth, straight tarmac it didnít take too much concentration to keep in-between the white lines so for the first time for many weeks I could let my mind wander. I thought back over the previous four months and fourteen thousand miles, only thirteen hundred miles to Cape Town it was going to be easy from now on. Iím almost there I thought to myself.

After a huge breakfast Chris and I said goodbye to MJ, George and Francois. The South African guys that we rode with through Angola they wanted to get to Cape Agulhas and home to Pretoria in only five days so they had to get a move on.

Chris and I rode road 200km to Etosha National Park. As we approached the park along a dusty road I came round a corner as a herd of giraffes ran across the road they were closely followed by a dozen zebras Iíll never forget this moment it was incredible to see these animals running next to me as I rode along.

Motorcycles are unfortunately not allowed into National parks where game roam freely. So we had to take a 4x4 to go on safari. We saw lions, an elephant, springbok, ostriches and buffalo as well as many other birds and animals.

In Windhoek the capital of Namibia I checked into a backpackers named Chameleon. This was a perfect place to enjoy some comforts and relax for a while. While I waited for some parts for the BMW, a new swing arm torsion bar and oil seal for the rear drive.

Chris Bone turned up on his CCM 400 and the next day we rode out of Windhoek and into the vast desert landscape. We both loved the dirt roads which wound up and over mountain passes which reached an altitude of 1850 metres, through dramatic scenery. Ostriches and springbok would race along with us. I clocked them running in excess of 40mph.

We passed the Tropic of Capricorn; the invisible line marks the most southern limit of the tropics. It was good to be moving further away from the equator not just because we were getting closer to our goal but also because the temperature was cooling and it was now light to almost seven thirty.

We arrived at the turning for Sossusvlei dunes it was late in the day. So we headed on in search of a place to camp, easier said than done in this vast country all the land is owned and fenced off. So we pitched our tents by the side of the road.

The next morning we headed back in the direction of Sossusvlei. During the night there had been a major flash flood. It hadnít rained where we were camped but to the east it must have poured with torrential rain. The small stream, which we had forded the evening before, was now a raging torrent. A tree and some telegraph poles had been uprooted and washed away. We struggled just to walk across; it would be way too risky getting the bikes over. So after a morning of hanging out chatting with locals by the river we rode off hoping that the water would fall enough for us to cross the next day.

We returned twenty-four hours later and the water had dropped enough for us to cross. To say the red sands of the Sossusvlei dunes were dramatic would be an under statement. I love the feeling of space in this country standing at the top of one of these dunes looking around you feel like you have the whole world to yourself.

Ridding further into the dunes involved more water. A stream ran in the same direction that we needed to go it was good fun. The only trouble being that the brown colored water was less than transparent and it was difficult to judge the depth. On a couple of occasions I got the weighty GS stuck.

There was no need to ride on tarmac through the rest of Namibia the dirt roads were well maintained and there was no other traffic. We would camp by the side of the road each night and watch the sunset as we cooked over an open fire.

During a fuel stop Chris was checking his badly worn front tyre, it was now down to the canvass in places. He was going to have to go directly to South Africa and try to get his hands on some more rubber. I didnít want to miss out on seeing Fish River Canyon so I took the road to the west and Chris took the road to the south. Iím glad I didnít miss out on the canyon the view was breath taking!

The next morning I crossed the Orange River which marks the border between Namibia and South Africa. Next stop Cape Agulhas, the most southern tip of Africa.


Posted by Michael Beckett at 11:31 AM GMT
To the Cape

Once I was across the border into South Africa I decided to make a bolt for Cape Agulhas. I was so close now I just wanted to get there. Chris had gone on ahead to try to find a new front tyre and I was hoping to catch up with him. Although we now had no way of contacting each other as our Namibian mobiles didnít work here in South Africa.

I only stopped when I needed to fuel up every one hundred and eighty miles or so. It was good to see the first signs for Cape Town counting down the kilometers. I had decided some time during the journey to head directly to Cape Agulhas the most southern point of Africa that was the destination.

I wasnít going to make Cape Agulhas in one day so I started to find somewhere to lay my head for the night. Many people had warned me not to bush camp in South Africa, so it was going to have to be a campsite or hotel. As it was starting to get dark I still hadnít found anywhere to stay. Night driving in South Africa is made all that more difficult by many drivers not grasping the concept of dipping their lights for approaching vehicles so I was constantly getting dazzled.

I was now only twenty kilometers from Cape Town and I really didnít want to enter the city at night. Even though I had left home after dark five month previously I really wanted to see Cape Town for the first time in daylight!

I eventually came across a trailer park and after getting someoneís attention through the locked gates I was inside pitching up my tent. That evening I met some interesting characters in the camp bar.

The next morning I was on the road again heading for the Cape. It was a shame not to have picked up Chris Bone on the way. It was looking like I was going to have to celebrate alone. Dan, Ed and Chris had already been in Cape Town for a week or so and weíre pretty much on their way home.

Dan and Linz that I had rode with in Senegal, Gambia and Burkina Faso were still in Cameroon after an unexpected six-week stop in Niger when Dan had broken his arm.

With only twenty kilometers of riding in the drizzle left to do before finally reaching my goal. I had an urge to stop and have lunch. I wasnít particularly hungry I just think that I didnít want to finish the longest ride of my life.

After taking my time eating a toasted sandwich I rode off. The rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to brighten. I followed the signs to the most southern point of Africa and pretty soon I had Cape Agulhas lighthouse in my sights. I pulled up and felt a sudden rush of emotions. Iíd made it! What a good feeling! Iíve made it! The bike and I have actually made it and in one piece! Just now a few KGís lighter and perhaps a little wiser.

The BMW R1200GS after 136 days, 15.176, miles, three punctures, two sets of tyres, 1400 litres of fuel, seventeen countries and eleven ferry crossings she is looking in pretty good shape! Was it the best choice for the trip? Yep!
I must have radiated my elation, as it wasnít long before I had a little crowd around me congratulating me and asking questions. Once I had taken the obligatory photos I found a rock and looked out it sea I was enjoying the moment and didnít want it to pass. I sat there for a couple of hours just letting it all sink in and thinking back over the last five months.

It was a shame I had forgotten to pick up a bottle of bubbly but everything happens for a reason. I returned the next day with a bottle of pink fizz to toast the Cape with a couple of people that I had met at Cape Agulhas Backpackers. We pulled up in the van and who was there? Chris Bone!

After a couple of days we found ourselves in Cape Town what a perfect city to unwind in after this epic adventure!

To be continuedÖÖ.

Posted by Michael Beckett at 11:34 AM GMT
 



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