28th January 2009
We waited for the later ferry which arrived a couple of hours later. I've ever seen so much commotion! The passengers disembarking in a rush to be at the front of the queue for the formalities and the cargo being unloaded by hand.
Bales of cloth, second hand clothes, palm oil containers by the hundred and then comes the embarkation... Wow! Even more chaos! There were people pushing and shoving anyone, including us, out of the way, some guys swinging underneath the loading platform to avoid the officials in charge, fare dodging and the police and customs dispensing 'immediate' justice to anyone crossing their path. Whips made of old rope, belts, car belts from engines etc and the good old fashioned truncheon. Of which I saw a guy for whatever reason take a good hit from one truncheon wielding cop and he must be still hurting two days after!
Getting the bikes aboard required extra help as the platform was slippy with oil and the final few steps were really steep but all was done reasonably quickly. The bikes positioned on deck and the usual awe from the passengers.
The other side, DRC,
awaited us with a little less chaos but we'd heard of the formalities and the problems we may get from Migo who did the crossing 4 days earlier. We'd not printed off a copy of our Letter of Introduction for Angola so when asked for one I opened the laptop and showed the emailed copy. The laptop itself brought a lot of attention which diverted their thoughts from whether we had one or not. Strange I find that the DRC officials want to see an LOI for Angola before letting us into DRC..?
It was gone 4pm by the time we left the Immigration and Customs with Mark telling me to quickly start the bike and get going so I did. He later told me he was requested for a Yellow Fever vaccination card, which he produced and knowing I haven't got one he wanted us to be away before being asked for mine!
Entering into Kinshasa was pretty easy with the centre of town being very near the port but boy did we find the hotels expensive. The currency of preference here is the US Dollar and being the tourists we are looked at strangely when we want to pay in local money, of which we had wads of the dirty notes and really wanted to get rid of it soon. The hotel prices ranged from $50 for a dosshouse to $200+ for a more salubrious 5*. Of which we went for the middle and chose $110 to share a room! Expensive and not really good value, even the breakfast was $20!
Next day we set off to Matadi, the DRC's southern stop for us and 350kms of good tarmac roads. I enjoyed it for the testing as the bikes new pistons rings were only brief and I needed to get some mileage done before the bad roads of Angola would push the revs up high. I had a puncture and was fortunate enough to be close by a 'vulcaniser' (puncture repair guy) and let him do the job. 20 minutes and I was back on the road, these boys know how to change a tyre and should work for a racing team! During the puncture Mark passed me by and not seeing me he thought I was still ahead. It took me over an hour to catch him! That's when the weather drew in.....
The rainy season here in Central Africa is a strange one, starting in November, finishing in March. We are slap bang in the middle of it and have noticed the increasing rains. The last 100kms of the Matadi road it was constant and made the road very dangerous for the residue oil on the tarmac had risen in the centre of the road and the bike was sliding all over the place in stretches. I crashed just after a bridge where both front and rear lost complete traction as if on ice and the bike went down on the asphalt. No injuries or damage but the bike stopped in the oncoming lane of a downhill blind bend and I was really fearful of another motorist or truck sliding as I did and hitting the bike or myself. The other vehicles were losing steering as it was so slippy! One car barely missed the bike and I moved it across to the other safer side. Funny thing, I'd not been to the bathroom all day and it's amazing what a crash can do to get the bowl movements going! I must have looked a sight to the local walking over the bridge, seeing big white guy clutching a big blue and white umbrella nipping into the foliage, loo roll in hand trying to prevent another 'accident'! Ha Ha Ha!
The rest of the route was with myself soaked to the bone, constantly wiping my goggles and smarting from the sting of the rain on my top lip and we couldn't wait to get to the Catholic Mission which Migo had organised rooms for us to stay. I wish I never gave away my rain suit in Portugal! With the rain filling my clothing and the wind chill dropping the temperature I was feeling the cold and started shivering when we stopped in Matadi. Shivering, I don't mind for I knew I'd warm up quickly but Mark did look at me puzzled but then again he had a poncho on and wasn't as soaked.
The Mission also doubles as a primary school so the morning was full of the sounds of children doing their classes. 200 or so all reciting words after the teachers made a noise more effective than any alarm clock!
Our applications for the Angolan visa were put in straight away, $30 + 1,000FC, 2 passport pictures, copies of passports and a whole bunch of form filling and questions for names of parents, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, how much we paid for our original passports and explained that it's only for a 5 day transit visa. We were told to return the next day at 11am, so we'll see..? If we get it I should be in South Africa in less than 2 weeks!
1st February 2009
I'm in the town on Nzete on the Northern Angolan coast. A quiet town and I mean really quiet, There's nothing here of a commercial value or trade and although finding a hotel wasn't too difficult, finding food is! The prices quoted in Lonely Planet for Angola is $100-$120 per day, which obviously doesn't include fuel and it is expensive here for accomodation and food.
After getting the 5 day transit visas I was so relieved as it's the last one I have to apply for in advance. Namibia and South Africa I can get on the border. So the mad scramble began! Crossing the border from DRC was an event with an early start from ourselves at 7am and then having to wait for the chief to turn up on the DRC side to stamp the passports. I was approached by an official asking for my Yellow fever vaccination card, of which I don't have. The vaccination I have had but as it was in the military no cards were issued. I lied and said my bag was stolen in Mali and the card was with it and on no account was I to go back to the UK just for a card!! George an English over lander I'd met the day before came to the rescue with a vaccination card from one of his buddies who'd gone home, the name details were absent so I filled out it out with my details and hey-presto, one vaccination card for me. So I'm now 'officially' safe! Ha ha ha! I've promised to return the card upon entry to South Africa, so I'll mail it back to him. Thanks George!
I had to push on with the riding as 5 days for a large country like Angola isn't easy, over 2,000kms and the roads are difficult in the north from the border to the capital Luanda. The bike is still vibrating like mad with the busted suspension at the rear and the top end of the engine is still making a lot of noise although it's pulling quite well. I need to get to Windhoek in Namibia as soon as possible in the hope of getting bike repairs. The roads were in different states from rough piste to new Chinese constructed tarmac.
The visa issue was going to be a problem as by the 2nd day Mark had developed an illness. First fears were for malaria but this was discounted and i think it was a mild fever and exhaustion. A malaria test was done in Luanda which ruled out the dreaded 'M' but we'd lost a ½ day for he needed rest. So we knew we were going to overrun the allocated 5 days but we'll figure that out at5 the border with Namibia.
I've heard about overrunning the visa and a 'fine' of sorts to be paid. We'll soon find out......
7th February 2009
Birthday.....! Whey-hey! I'm 36 years young today and to make it even better I'm in Namibia, a first world country, food in the restaurants, petrol in the fuel stations, good roads, actually...... bloody wonderful roads! Long stretches of mile after mile of billiard table smooth tarmac. The adventurous side of Africa has finished, the bad roads, broken bike, unpredictable fuel situations, dodgy police and officials, sickness, foreign languages and I've loved it!
I'm in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, sat in 'Joe's Beerhouse' enjoying a birthday pint. Actually I've enjoyed a pint nearly every night on this trip, throwing the budget out of the window but tonight I'm getting shitfaced and will recover tomorrow with the worlds largest hangover.
The push through Angola was completed in 6 days, 1 day over the visa allocation. Migo and I went through the formalities of the border rather quickly, the immigration officials ensured we paid a 'fine', initially demanding $300 for the 2 of us but the price dropped to $150 and not being in the mood for negotiations I agreed and just wanted to get into Namibia soonest. We very nearly got away with not paying and after the carnet was stamped we returned to the bikes but were 'captured' by a guy who claimed to work for the immigration and wanted the $150. I asked for his ID and as he didn't have any then I told him to go away, which he did only to return with the official, Bugger! Who ensured I paid up.
Arriving in Windhoek felt a relief as there's a Yamaha dealership in town. I was shown there by a lovely couple, Paul and Brigit, riding their Honda CBR 1000. They also were kind enough to show me the hotel, Kubata lodge and Joe's.
After waiting out the weekend and getting to the Yamaha garage with a bad head and not feeling too good, either recovering from the weekend or getting some illness of sorts, I was disappointed to find the repairs on the bike wouldn't be worth the money value of the bike. $1,000US for the parts and then labour charges on top! I only paid £1,250 for the bike initially and the rigours of the trip have taken their toll. So I've decided as it's only 1500kms to Cape Town and the roads are good, I've replaced the rear brake pads so I can at least stop now, fill in the holes from the blowing exhaust and see if it makes it to the Cape!
Namibia doesn't have much of a reputation for violence, unlike South Africa and further north but I'm finding it to be really violent! The obvious dodgy countries of 'Congo', 'DRC', Angola, etc were rather pleasant and nothing like I expected but here in Windhoek after 3 days there's been 2 knife attacks on tourists already! A Dutch guy from the 'Chameleon Lodge' was robbed in a taxi and he was a big guy. He had to escape by climbing out of the car window after relinquishing his wallet, watch, phone, etc and the second was near my hotel, a tourist/white was stabbed and robbed by unknown assailants and left bleeding. “Watch yourself Geoff my boy!”
A couple of days here, where hopefully I'll feel better although I may go for a malaria test to rule that one out then I'll head down towards the border with ZA and ultimately Cape Town. I hope the Yamaha reliability God is looking favourably down at me...........!
22nd February 2009
Big sky and lovely people. South Africa, what a lovely place. I've been here before to Cape Town, doing work training in 2006 and have been looking forward to getting here but it wasn't easy. The bike was getting more problematic everyday.
Leaving Windhoek for the 400km down to Klipmanshoop was a good ride, playing cat and mouse with the rain clouds visible from 20+kms away I was able to keep the bike at a constant 100-120kph even though the engine wasn't feeling too good with sudden power cuts of which I was to find out later what it was. Namibia is a very flat country along the main north/south highway with only light rain clouds to dodge. Entering 'Klip' was marred by the chain jumping the sprockets and to my suprise the thing had stretched so much in the last few days I was unable to extend the rear wheel to accommodate it or even remove a couple of links for my 'punch' had mysteriously disappeared. So in the hotel carpark I changed the chain for my spare I'd kept from Cameroon and replaced the rear sprocket which was getting dangerously thin on teeth.
So the next day I headed south for the border and after 65kms the 'new' chain snapped at 120kph! Jamming itself into the front sprocket housing with a horrible crunch. After luckily being able to coast to a halt I inspected the damage and found 4 links bent out of shape and minor damage to the rear sprocket. With no spare chain and not enough links to repair I was stuck. 65Kms into the desert with a half bottle of water and a packet of 'biltong' (dried meat) as my only supplies. After a short while a couple of cars stopped to offer assistance and one of them was a pick-up and trailer with a kind old couple Max and Myra, heading north back to to pick up their furniture. They kindly took me and the bike back to Klip where I was able to order a new chain and wait till the next day for delivery. The owner at LSL garage in Klip allowed me to do an oil and filter change using the garages facilities at no charge and fitted the chain for free too! Nice one mate! I also found the oil sump plug was badly stripped of threads from the crankcase which was done by 'Tony Togo's' in Lome. Thanks guys!
So off I headed back down the road I came from to the RSA border and accepted the offer of a bed for the night with Max and Myras daughter and family and the chance of a home cooked meal, wonderful. I uploaded a whole bunch of music into the youngest daughters computer and wrote a nice letter of thanks with some money to cover costs and departed for RSA.
I had 750kms to go, will the bike make it for the noises in the head are getting worse and the power loss is dramatic!
Crossing the border brought a feeling of elation, I had crossed Africa, country number 20 and 23,000kms made me feel pretty good about myself. A quick overnighter in Springbock and gunning for the last days riding into Cape Town, praying the bike would make it when 80kms north of the city, BANG! The head gasket blew! Aaargh! I could taste Cape Town yet it was to be denied at the final post. But again my luck was in...! Within 20 minutes a BMW rider pulled up by the name of Jimmy offering to head back home, get his bike trailer and recover me to his house, spend the night and take me to a garage in Cape Town in the morning!!! So a night having a 'braai' (bbq) and drinking scotch with him and his lovely wife Kerry was to be had. The bike was knackered but my luck was well and truly in.
So here I am in Cape Town, the bike is in the garage being repaired and will be ready in a day or two but the damage is done and I'm feeling the bike will stay in South Africa for it's in too much a state to be able to continue with anything else.
The list is huge.......
front sprocket nut welded on requiring a gearbox strip down,
Front fork seals need replacing
Rear shock failed
oil sump plug needs rethreading in the crankcase
new front sprocket
Head gasket replacement
cam chain needs replacing
and on and on and on...............
So, I'm going to stay in South Africa for a month or two after being offered free accommodation and food in return for helping out at a training academy then off to Australia for a different adventure. Soon the RTW will be put on hold for a while as I need the rest, a new bike, some more money and a chance to figure out what to do next.
But what have I achieved in the last 5 ½ months? I fugured out it wasn't the adventure I was looking for but myself. I'd been living in Hostile environments due to my work for years and thought I needed another similar environment and challenge. The environment...... NO, the Challenge.... yes and I got it in spades!
I've covered 24,000kms and learnt that Africa is beautiful! Not the completely dangerous place as previously thought. I've had a share of danger and dodginess but have come away feeling a love for Africa, it's scenery and it's people. I was told a few years ago by a South African, “Geoff, you don't know Africa unless your African!” well, I think I can look him straight in the eye and say I do know a lot more of Africa than he takes me for. I know a lot more about myself for I've had it all, the highs, the lows, met some wonderful people and some not so wonderful, I challenged myself and feel good for it and as I see other tourists here I feel I deserve this pint I'm having for I rode here and it feels good. I love being a biker!
My trip hasn't ended, just a pause is required, a time to gather my thoughts and put my mind onto something else. The last few months really does take it out of you so I'm going to put my mind onto other challenges and take the opportunity to advance myself in fields I've previously enjoyed like medicine. I'm not wanting to be a doctor but would love to be a paramedic and be able to use my skills of being a biker and and go for a job that encompasses both. Riding around Africa for me has changed my outlook on life, it's not just about getting around it all on two wheels but where and what it takes you to. It's a life, a passion but also a means of getting around and meeting new people and situations where you would never get to do on a plane or even a 4x4. I think to myself about the amazing thing I've just done and in reality I'm still doing it. I'm not the only one whom has figured that maybe the full RTW is a bit too much to do in one gulp and I'll take what I have and come back later with more ideas for the next leg.
For anyone out there in cyberspace thinking of doing a trip of distance, I fully encourage you to go for it, don't let the excuses get in front of the wonderful experience you'll embark upon. The time will come where you'll kick yourself for not doing it. Ok, you may have really good excuses like family, kids, money, job and time but if you want it hard enough, it'll come and grab it with both hands. Even if it's just to the next border or to the sea but as long as it's unfamiliar territory it's a challenge. Even the bike breaking down has been turned into some of the best experiences throughout the trip and meeting the 'Samaritans' has brought me closer to the countries and it's people. Hopefully I've made some friends for life, riding companions and locals alike. I feel privileged and humbled.
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