Well, I finally manged to set off from the UK after so much faffing about, getting the bike ready, quitting the job in Iraq and leaving the loved ones behind. Setting off with a lump in my throat to the adventure ahead. I'm a month into my trip and have only managed to get an internet cafe that'll allow uploading of pictures, But, the pictures are too big, Aaargh! Next time.
I'm hopefully going around the World from the UK via the west coast of Africa, across to South America continuing to Alaska and finding someway across to Russia and back to the UK! Sounds easier to say it now but it'll take a least a year, if not two. I only hope my finances and work opportunities allow it to happen. As a break in phase I went to the HU meeting in Malaga. What a good crack that was!
I've spent the last 4 years working for the security industry in Iraq and did a few years in the Army before that so have decided I needed a break from all of it and go do something completely different. Well I think I found it and biking around the world is a little different. I've previously ridden to Morocco and Norway and ridden around India and Nepal which was a blast!
I'm on a Yamaha XT 600E, a 2003 bike bought from a member of Horizons Unlimited and just so happens he was the guy who'd puirchased my extra centre stand for the bike. So not only did I get a good bike for 1250 quid but my centre stand back! Cheers Len!
I prepped the bike as best I could with a set of Touratech Panniers, Acerbis 23ltr tank, Sump Guard, tool box, spares and a set of Knobblies, 2 rear and 1 front. The rest of the bike had been looked after by the previous owner. I did paint the tank after taking advice that it was possible, only to find out that it wasn't to be and in a few weeks it looked like it had some weird disease as all the paint bubbled off!! Bummer.
Having a good send off from Edinburgh, my adopted home town from the HU, Edinburgh Community was excellent and the ride out was fun. With the obligatory cheesy photos in view of the castle. Brilliant! Thanks guys!! I even had a member of the public enquire and after telling him about the RTW on the bike, he looked at me strangely and said 'On that.....!?! Good luck pal!' Erm, Thanks mate....
After setting off from the ferry at Santander, Spain with a couple of riding buddies, we headed off for the meet in Malaga, Mike with his XT600e and Dai with his BMW1150GS.
Knowing it was going to take a few days to get there as we had a week spare we went to the 'Peakos De Europe' a nice park in Northern Spain to have our first camping and for me, the first time I'd set up my tent! (I'd just bought it the day before!) with a new anthemn for the trip coming from Dai of 'Shuuuut the F*****k UP!' to a local family gassing ALL night. Oh, That welsh accent, ha ha ha! Now I know why they sing so much!
Getting kicked off the pc in the caff, be back later..
After getting down to Malaga with the boys and taking part in the HU meeting, I did a presentation on first aid for bikers and really enjoyed it.
With the expert assistance of Elle, the organisers lovely daughter as the casualty and the nerve wracking feeling of being filmed I managed to settle into it and even have a laugh or two, if it gets on the dvd the outtakes will be hilarious.
Once the meeting was finished and all the goodbyes to new freinds done, a couple of us took of to the coast and Gibralter, where after a day or so it was time to head off further upthe Spainish coast for Portugal and meet up with Mark, a fellow rider to ride down to Africa.
As I'm also trying to do a bit of free camping I found out excatly how heavy the bike is. I went down what appeared to be a nice bit of forest on the side of the road and a strange white pathway, not feeling too fussed about it I pushed on. Only when it was too late I found it to be deep sand!! Aaargh.. and down I went as the front wheel dug into the soft sand. Bugger. it's getting dark, I'm knackered and I've just dropped the sodding worlds heaviest bike! AND deep sand in a Portugese forest, this trip is getting wierd already!
So after much humping and heaving, i managed to get the bike upright and 'walked' it out of the forest, prefering a campsite with more solid flooring and my hammock. I'll get enough sand to fall over with in Africa methinks!!
Mark and I met at the airport as planned and we quicly managed to get his bike out of customs without much bother. Once out headed for the campsite in Lisbon where Id been staying for a couple of days then out for dinner and getting to know each other; sounds like a mills and boon doesn;t it:
the keyboards are still an unknown entity to me so please be patient.
Anyhow; we set off soonest south to get for the ferry port the next day and after having an initial hiccup of Mark putting DIESEL in his tank we got down to Algecieras witin a few days. Deisel; whod have thought it hey. ha ha ha.
Im jumping on this blog a bit and know Im missing loads out but the backtracking is killing me.
We met up with fellow riders; brit on their way down to Morocco on their BMWs and continued south with them quickly overtaking us doing 90 or so.
Once we got into Morocco; it was a blast down the coast through Rabat and Casablanca where we met up with Migo; another rider for the trip to Cape Town. A cool German on his KTM 950 Adventure. We had time to do a couple of touristy stuff like see the Hassan 2 mosque, which is the worlds third largest mosque and really impressive. Seeing mosques has never been my thing but this one is well worth the visit.
Once that was done we have bomburst down south and spent the night camping in marrakesh visiting the famous market square where Mark had a monkey jump on his head, but the constant barrage of hassle from the locals annoyed me slightly and welcomed the cab ride back to the campsite.
Next day we headed down to Ouarazazate, one of the main jumping off points for desert travellers, or so it seems, with loads of 4x4 convoys coming and going with bikers on all sorts of enduro machine ploughing the roads. we had a blast getting there as the road from Marrakesh is superb for bikes and the scenery is awesome.
Once in Ourazazate, we pitched in the towns campsite and bumped into the fellow brit bikers and their BMWs again, but they were a man down after he,d had an accident with a local in another town and decided there,s no place like home.
Todays ride has taken us to Foum Zigoud, a few km;s south of Ouarazazate and closer to the desert weve been craving for and again the ride was a blast but started to run short of fuel for marks bike, ending up with a couple of litres left and bartering a price from a vendor and a hand operated pump. At the place seen below.......
Tomorrow, were headig for a town called Tata and the great scenery to look forward to............
Them Thar Hills over Yonder...
Now the month and mileage is really kicking in. Im now in Nouchkutt, Mauritania after a mad few days putting in some hours on the bike and am having a wee rest in town.
After leaving Ouzazate we headed down south to Tata and Foum Zigoud it was starting to get interesting in the scenery, being dryer and more arid. i was enjoying with the bike the hill climbs and the awesome views around each corner but felt the bike was struggling somewhat carrying my fat arse and the 1/2 ton of kit ive brought with me, I need to dump sopme of this and give the bike a break.
i,ve been looking for maps again and as usual come up with bugger all for africa, only Morocco and Spanish maps on offer. Thats even in the main cities which was suprising.
Headed off to Tiznit, further south and had an admin day for the bike as we were waiting on a fourth rider to join us, Peter and his BMW. So the bike had a fresh change of oil, the chain was taken off and given a good clean and lube, spokes and tyres checked and a general look see to make sure everything was in shape. No problems found but managed to the reichmarschall off, the camp ground manager, by spilling a little oil on the gravel. So he went into a bit of a huff.
After evening meal we went to a town hotel for a beer and am not sure if the credit crunch has anything to do with this trip but its gonna be the killer of me and my thirst for beer as after paying exhorborant amounts for a beer and asking why its so expensive, the answer was....... Credit crunch in the world. ha, cheeky git!!
Pushing further south from Morocco I was aching to get away from the place and into the desert areas and into `real` Africa, not it`s european wannabe brother. So firstly Western Sahara had to be crossed and the bugger all nothingness inside it. good tarmac roads but I was glad when it was finished. When I worked in Iraq there were many days on the roads with nothing to look at but straight roads and the chance of devices left for the unsuspecting and found myself in excactly the same train of thought in the Western Sahara. (I was tempted to go counterflow ha ha ha).
I southern Morocco and wester Sahara the police checkpoints were becoming more frequent and proper checks on passports instead of the usual wave through. So with each checkpoint and extra 15 or so minutes had to be added to the trip and it didn't take long for them 15 minutes to add up to 1 1/2 hours or more in the days total.
Just before we hit the border we stayed at a the town of Dakhla and I felt as rough as a dog, waking up with D&V and as the day progressed it was getting worse, with the shivers and sweats. Obviously something I had eaten the day before which was kicking the hell out of me and riding the bike was a real struggle having to halt, hop off and either try and rip the pants down at the side of the road, luckily it was the desert, or spew like a Saturday night 4am lager lout!! Jesus I was rough so a hotel was required instead of a campsite so I could die in peace.
I had to go to a chemist and drug myself up for the forethcoming crap nights sleep and amazingly found a store that sold GPS car charger cables! As my GPS was going through batteries like a tramp eating chips then I shelled out the 200DhM's and went to bed feeling a little better with myself.
Not feeling the best after having a nights sleep we pushed on and headed for the border with Mauritania and some of the suprising sighhts we saw en route down......... Mines, Jesus Christ!! what next.... a london cab?
Well, again it's been a whike and the search for an internet cafe that allows the uploading of anything for the blog is proving to be a task and a half. Pobably too many people trying to upload virus's etc and probably dodgy pictures too...! So at the 'mo, Peter has generously allowed me the use of his laptop,which I think I'll name the 'Battletank' as it's the 'take anywhere type and has a certain solid construction necessary for the rigours of motorbike travelling in Africa.
So I'm sat here in a hotel resteraunt by the river feeling the cooling breeze, watching the boats from the locals do their business and Ian Brown has just kicked in on the MP3 player, Bliss, but trying to recollect the last week or so's events is a bit harder as it's been a bit mental as I'm now well and truly in Africa!
I'm now in Southern Senegal and just crossed the border from The Gambia yesterday with Peter, Mark and myself. Leaving Morocco, I decided to go alone for a day or so and attempt to find the root cause in my head as to why I'm doing this and explore the ideas and strange things that's happened to me over the last few years in a completely different enviroment, thinking, in vain, I may come to some peace and allow myself to enjoy the trip a bit more relaxed and not think about what I would be doing otherwise. Would I have been back in Iraq? Sat in the UK doing some job that would be driving me nuts? Or have I made the right decision to do this trip? It's not suprising that I was thinking like this as I was well and truly 'Not in Kansas' anymore and considering the options of pulling the plug as the honeymoon period was over. But NO! Bugger it, I'm here and gonna damn well ensure I do the best I can, accept the challenge and try to enjoy the hassles without wringing some buggers neck thinking I'm a walking cash machine for being white and travelling on a bike. Chill Geoff, Chill....... The next border is soon to come and that will be a bloody big suprise for sure.... AND IT WAS!
After taking advice from Mark about the Mauritanian border about avoiding the Rosso border post and it's hassles I Headed for the Djemma crossing. The problem is trying to find the Djemma track and the 90kms of pite that required to get to it and the track is very close to the border town of Rosso it's difficult to find. I asked the locals but after soo many wrong answers, quizzed looks and some obviously down right misleading directions I decided to take the hit and hit Rosso thinking it can't be that bad, Surely?
Coming into Rosso I was stopped by some 'orrible little git in uniform, so as usual it's all smiles and 'Bonjours!' and hopefully he'll let me continue. After the initial request to show my papers he insisted I gave him the Carnet de Passage and said 'we go to Rosso'. Oh no! This doesn't look too good from the outset and he jumps into a locals car and heads off into the distance for Rosso at breakneck speed with me in pursuit desperatly trying to avoid the hagglers and touts jumping in front of me to stop or slow me down and ply their trade of conning the ignorant tourists of their cash in various deceptive and outright criminal ways. Pessimistic? Damn right! I'd not heard a good story about this place yet and I can already see my world going tits up and I'm not even there yet!
The guy eventually stops at the Port gate and dives inside, so I have to demand to be let in with the bike and as soon as I'm in he's got me! I know I'm gonna have to pay this guy to 'do the paperwork' after refusing to give me the paperwork back and me wanting to do it myself. So I was ordered to park the bike and wait. Soon as the bike was parked up I was surrounded by cops and hagglers enquiring about the bike, not giving any space and a barrage of questions, whereas I pride myself on being a confident guy but this was unnerving from the start. Once the cops had pushed off the hagglers and kids it was time to get down to business and hit me for money, pens, cadeaux, even the bloody spare tyres from the bike! I eventually gave in a gave them their cadeaux's just to get rid of the gits and all the time thinking Peter was perfectly right, this place is a nightmare!
I then decided enough was enough and the next guy or cop asking for a cadeaux would be told to piss off and in due time one did arrive wanting his piece after hearing his buddies had theirs. True to form I told him to piss off and he was REALLY pissed off! So then he insisted on his cadeaux, again, Piss off! I repeated to ensure he had the right answer. Looking at me angrily he looked around checking for anyone watching and pulled out his pistol pointing it at the floor, giving a brief pause he then asked, well told me he wanted not only his cadeaux but the bike aswell! Jesus Christ! Well I am in the shit now, c'mon Geoff, you tit! Sort this one out and be bloody quick about it. You started this and now bloody finish it before it gets really serious! So with a deeply apologetic look on my face, hand clasped together I then pointed to my pocket and slowly 'Magicked' my wallet out. Not having much bargaining power at this point against a guy with a sodding gun I opened the wallet and allowed him to take what the f**k he wanted, to the tune of 140 euros.
The killer thing about it was and some of you may think this is dumb. I would have been able to take the pistol from him without much bother. My work experience and training has taught me enough that the pistol wasn't cocked, probably not even loaded with ammunition and the guy was close enough to have the pistol in a couple of seconds, if that! But then looking daft as I'm in an enclosed compound, full of cops, with a stolen pistol and probably looking at getting shot by his mates or locked up in a Mauritanian jail getting bummed for the rest of my life! Nah, better to pay the little s**t and live another day!
After that episode I just wanted to get the hell out of there and get into Senegal soonest. So after a couple of hours hanging around feelish foolish, I was able to get the bpaperwork back, paying well over the odds with whatever cash I had left and embarked on the ferry to the Senegalese side.
Terrible day! But the adventure continues but I quietly said to myself, not on my own it's not! You Arse!
Getting into Senegal was a hassle but it's a pretty cool country and the city of St Louis is as chilled out as can be.
Exploring the town was easy starting with the Isla de St Louis and the bars, sorry! Nothing else interested me until that avenue had been well and truly explored with the local Gazelle beer.
I met up with some interesting expats, mostly French and namely a guy by the name Nicolas. The owner of the Iguane Bar who we got on well. Ex military and looking for work in the Security industry, so I put him in touch with buddies of mine and he repayed the favour by allowing me the free use of one of his quads for the afternoon, but as I'd already had a few beers by then I politely declined till the next day and proceeded to get a p****d as possible, throwing caution to the wind! St Louis, nice place, crap hangover food though!
After St Louis, Dakar was my next port of call and again, my luck was in and was approached in the city center by a fellow biker and being truly lost he directed me to his gaff in the middle of town. Jean-Hugh, a four times DAKAR rally rider and now the successful owner of a bar, 3 nightclubs, a rester aunt and a small hotel. En suite of a discounted cost of 23 Euros! I'm in Heaven!! Directly above the pub!!
That night I was introduced to some locals in the hotel complex, who were the Senegalese National Boules team and their French Coach Simon. They were off training in preparation for the world championship, in Dakar on the 6th of November and would I like to join them? Why not! So I gave it a try, supported the boys kicking one of the other teams arses and my own being embarrassed by what a crap shot I am. I attempted to throw one of the balls so high it landed on the road and nearly caused an accident!
When we finished and the boys having a good laugh at my I kicked their arses at arm wrestling, getting my revenge in good natured humour.
I was in Daker not only to see the fabled city of the Rally but also to receive a package of a new oil cooler, some maps I'd ordered and a personal gift from a friend. But the African customs will have to wait as I'm getting pissed in the bar downstairs
After an interesting time in Dakar, Mark and Migo arrived in town which was great to be reunitied with the boys again and tell them of the times of woe in Rosso and making up for it in St Louis and Dakar (purely medicinal and sensible alcohol consumption of course!) and after a couple of days with the boys and Migo getting his package comprising of a tyre, badly needed for himself and a chain breaker for myself, not necessarily as badly needed but I'll need one at some time for sure! I have a spare chain but fitting it would be a pain.
So after Dakar we pushed up to Lac Rose, the famous end to the Dakar Rally. A bit disappointing with no-one there but locals touting for money, services, etc. To be honest we were only really there to get the sticker and to see what the place was about. Strange really, the Dakar sticker with the Tuareg emblem is a REALLY famous image seen on vehicles and bikes throughout the world but at the end location of the rally none of the locals had much of a clue as to what the heck we were on about!! One even offered to cut up a painting and glue it onto the panniers for a fee! Ha Ha Ha! So we settled on a ride around the lake, a beer and a negotiation for a camp fee with an Auberge, Ah-ha....... he's heard of the Rally as he's still charging the same fees methinks!
After Lac Rose we had arranged to meet back up with Peter in Thies and head down to The Gambia and hit the border there. Hoping for the best we turned up enthusiastically, a quick fine received by myself from a delighted copper upon finding one of my papers was out of date! Ooooh! Chuffed to bits but keeping a serious face telling me of the big serious infraction this would cause with the chief, how he couldn't possibly let it go and possibly the bike being impounded, blah, blah, blah...... Ok, dumb copper, how much? Twenty Euros..? Nah, lets go for 5, cool! and he was a happy bunny.
Even though it was late the crossing went well with just a bit of messing about with the customs and searching the bags etc. Christ was I sweating though!! I lost at least a couple of pînts during the border crossing. It's amazing how everything changes when the night arrives. I mean, as were only used to riding in the day and being able to see nearly everything, at night it's bloody dangerous, with a great pothole or daft donkey ready to be ridden into.
A night spent in, Farafenni, The Gambia and next day head down back into Senegal and in good time for the border crossing which turned out to be easy as pie. Albeit a couple of requests for payments but with my requests for receipts, which are never gonna be given and Peters resistance to paying anyone unless it's absolutley necessary. He's not tight with his money but he's not daft either and with a combination of his elder years and patience he generally gets away with it.
Our entry to Southern Senegal went without a hitch and the three of us (Peter, Mark and I) headed down for a couple of relaxing days by the river in Ziguinchor. A relaxed little town where Peter and I did some bike maintenance after the rattling we took crossing from the north. The bike got a good clean in the towns main petrol station, even though we did the washing we still got stung for 2,000CFA. I explained to the attendant that it was important for us to wash our own individual bikes as it was the best way to inspect for damage but as usual he just looked at me like a berk! Meaning, I was the berk as such a rich westerner washing his own bike, Jeez, this guy must be tight!! Ha Ha Ha.
Peter and I decided to set off and go for Mali border, leaving Mark in the hotel to do some work. Plus we thought we might meet up with Migo en route after his little charity visit.
Upon setting off, we did the usual of fuelling up were upon I decided to let the attendant put in the fuel, silly mistake as per normal they try to get 24 litres into a 23 litre tank and end up with fuel everywhere! I asked him to stop at an appropriate level but he ignored me, I repeated for him to stop and again he ignored me insisting he can get more fuel in the bloody thing! I resorted to shouting, well, screaming at him to stop but the result was the same. Fuel evrywhere and my MP3 nearly took a bath in 'Leaded Super'. He understanably got the hump for shouting as I hurt his feelings. I'd really hurt his feelings if the spilt fuel ignited on the hot exhaust. My protective clothing would help for a minute but he'd torch quite nicely.
Thinking that would be the excitement for the day we headed off towards the border a good few kms away and we needed to get cracking.
After a minor detour (lost) we got onto the road/track required and on the pegs it was negoitiated. After a couple of hundred yards or so Peter pulled over and said did you see that child? What child, I didn't see anything. So again with a shrug of the shoulders we set off with Peter in the lead. Less than a minute later a white pick-up full of men in the back bashed into my side knocking me off the bike with the driver screaming and going nuts!
What the hell did this guy think he was doing...? I got into defence mode thinking a robbery was happening and I was to be the victim seeing the guys unload double quick from the truck! Oh S**t!! I can't exactly make a rapid exit as the bike was on it's side and I was wrapped up in biking gear, helmet on and Peter a 100 yds or so up the road, so the fight commenced. I thought the need top get the bike upright and the driver insisting it staying down....? Strange robbery this is?
It transpired when somebody came, speaking some english, an accident had taken place with a kid back down the road!!!!!!!! Bugger, Peter mentioned about a kid!
So after all the messing about Peter came back, sorted the kid to hospital and I had to take the driver of the pick-up to the hospital on the back of my bike. With him obviously not a happy bunny after receiving a slap from me thinking he was gonna nick the bike.
When we arrived at the hospital and woe betide any poor bugger spending time in there! It was a dump but good by African standards. Peter not only had the mother and child being seen by the doc, well, bloke in a blue dirty gown. But he also had 2 Catholic nuns in tow that had seen the whole thing! Nice one Peter!
It transpired the kid had, unseen by me, run into the back of Peters bike not looking where it was going suffering a smacked face from his left pannier and a cracked tooth with the usual river of tears from it and the Mother! Meanwhile, I was getting the blame for hitting the kid!
Peter owned up to me saying he wasn't sure what went on and though the kid got bloody close to the bike but not hit. he did the nice thing of offering to pay for the treatment and the nuns did the negotiations with the mother who was paid for the kids treatment and taxis but no compensation as it as the kids fault, not Peters after all.
The nuns explained this to the mother, she was happy, the nuns were gracious and everybody went away satisfied. I mean the whole bill was less than 30,000CFA (less than 40 quid) So again, off we went being graciously led by the nuns to the correct road and set off again with eyes like hawks for dumb kids!
Thinking that was the end and now no more than a blog entry to remember but how wrong we were.......!
Happily buzzing down the road 40+ miles from Ziguinchor, we stopped for lunch, played with the local kids for a break and resumed the trip. After running into a (bad terminology I know) roadblock consisting of 3 Gendarmes in military uniform our passports were taken from us and insisted we go to the local cop shop. Nothing too amazing there by that request till we got to the police station and informed , after an bit of waiting, that they knew of the accident in the morning and the CHILD WAS DEAD!!!
After some questionning about ourselves, pqrents names, etc and this being relayed by radio to their base, we were ordered to ride our bikes with Gendarme passengers (armed of course!) to the next police station to be met by a commander of sorts to finish questionning. I ended up with the young 'un on the back of my bike insisting ' faster, faster, faster', loving the loud horn I had fitted and waving his arms like a demented road cop! Idiot! With Peter, the older, fatter and decidedly more worried cop on the back of him, none too plussed of the prospect of coming off the bike following the high speed junkie 'young 'un' in the lead!
Once in the next Police station the atmosphere changed from not good to not bloody good at all! With the bikes being impounded and us put in the back of a pick-up and cuffed to one another! After being informed we were going back to Ziguinchor and made to answer for ourselves and all the cops giving us the daggers for killing a kid, my thoughts weren't too good at this stage apart from the fact it wasn't actually me that hit the kid but at this stage I was the one who had the blame upon them, S**T!
After an hour or so were were finally taken in front of the Battalion Commander, who amazingly spoke good english, after training in the states and explained to us they had received a phone call that morning, saying a child was a victim of a 'Hit and Run' by two white bikers fitting our description and resulting in the childs death!
It was explained to him about the mornings events, the payments and the two nuns.
'Ah.. 2 nuns you say? I know them!' said the Commander!! F******G WHEY HEY!! was my initial thought to hearing that lump of gold come out of his mouth!! One thing they don't do in Senegal is piss around with other peoples religions, especially as he was Catholic too. This just couldn't get better! So the Commander brought before him the family and the supposed 'Dead' child, remarkably alive and looking really bemused as to what the heck was going on. Also the 2 nuns and the arse that knocked me off the bike. Thankfully throught the entire 'capture' (in the Commanders words), our personal belongings were still with us. So I was texting a good friend in the UK organising British Foreign Office numbers and the option of an international lawyers to fly in and bail us out if required.
It all ended up with the family trying to pull a fast one and demand more money for the childs supposed lifetime disfigurement. A cracked tooth, Yeah, cheers pal! To be told by the Commander that we'd already done a good thing in the first place and to piss-off home!
Peter and I got released, passports handed back and handshakes all round. I could have bloody kissed the 2 nuns as if it weren't for them we'd probably still be in Senegal being lined up for a few years!
That night a few beers being drunk, the best meal I've tasted in a while and the days events being recounted a few times it was time for an exhausted sleep.
Next day, we had to go over the scene and when we asked for a lift back to the bikes we were shown the bus station! Thanks guys...Not!!
The picture is of Peter and I in the battered Mercedes bus heading back for the bikes feeling greatly releived!!
get me the hell out of Senegal, Sharpish!!
My last real blog insert was from Senegal and the hideous events that were the arrests of Peter and myself. Shame really as the impressions I got from Senegal is that it was a really beautiful country. A lot of really nice people, the cool cities of St Louis and Dakar, vibrant night-life and general good feeling. Only for it to be upset by a person who thought it okay to have us arrested in an attempt to extract money and misery from us! B****rd! I hope his balls turn square and fester in every corner. Not that I hold a grudge Tee hee hee!
After Senegal, Peter and I met up with a fellow rider Jean-Marie, on his BMW1200gs. A Frenchman who was pottering about West Africa having a ball. We were honoured to have him join us as I'm sure Peter fancied some intelligent conversation for a change and J-Ms english was excellent which in turn gave us a break from doing more damage to the French Language.
It was amusing to find that as Peter readily admits, his mechanical knowledge isn't great but when J-M disclosed to us over dinner that he still couldn't find where to put in the water for the radiator on his new BMW1200gs. We had to stare at each other in disbelief and have a good chuckle. I'm sure that made Peters blog entry!
So onto the formalities of the border with Mali, crossing the frontier bridge after completing the immigration formalities but failing to get my carnet stamped I had to return and seek the customs post. Slightly annoyed with myself I pushed onto to complete the Malian side and found Peter and J-M waiting for me at the Customs building. Onwards and upwards we went and after a couple of long days found ourselves in Bamako, the capital city.
I had done some work on the bike back in Dakar by fitting a new oil cooler as the temperature wasn't being too good. Readily hitting red as soon as 10 minutes into the days ride but I figured it out to be a combination of ambient temperature, lack of airflow around the engine and me kicking the arse out of it doing 120kms per hour for hours on end! However even after fitting the oil cooler the temp was down but I wasn't convinced I had done the job properly and needed to check it, air lock in the system maybe? Or as mark would put it 'Nut loose behind the steering!' i.e. ME!
So Peter and J-M headed off the next day from the Catholic Mission to Djenne and the Famous mud mosque another 600km ride to the East.
After checking all's well with the bike, obtaining stickers for myself and Mark I pushed on towards Djenne and stopping off in Sejou for a night. I met up with J-M on his return from Djenne whilst I was sat in a restaurant. I had told one of the local hotel touts I wasn't making a decision for what dive I was going to stay in until my friends were to be informed. I was alone but use this ploy as a breather from the incessant touts. It happens that J-M was returning through the town when one of the touts jumped in front of him, shouting 'Geoffs over here, come quickly, follow me!!' So in curiosity he did. Ha ha, what a surprise!
As usual I managed to fall foul of the law as I asked a local for the road out of town in the direction for Djenne. The mistake I made was to ask a pedestrian...! For he pointed down the road, I happily thanked him and set off only to be stopped by two gleeful coppers for being the wrong way ON A ONE WAY STREET! Of course the pedestrian I asked gave me the correct answer, for a pedestrian! Doh!
The cops then gave me the usual babble and then hit me with the fine 16,000chf! Jeeezzus Chriiist! How much? That's a months wages. I'm not paying that. So I stuck my heels in and refused politely whereas another two cops turned up, then another then finally a cop whom everybody smartly stood to attention, saluted and stared straight at me. They'd obviously been chatting to each other and brought in the 'heavies' to wear me down and it wasn't until bigwig turned up and said 'we got you bang to rights (artistic licence) my son, now pay or jail!' So I paid! Feeling pissed off but relieved to have my bike and paperwork back I quickly hopped onto the steed fired her up and got out of there only to look back and see the cops dividing up the money I'd just paid them! Wonderful!
On to Djenne and the Mud Mosque..........
The route to one of the World Heritage sights, the Mud Mosque at Djenne, was interesting as it incorporates a 'roll on roll off' ferry. I love taking ferries. Dunno why? It must be a boyish thing of anything mechanical that can be incorporated into a trip, then the more the better. The ferries themselves are a strange affair. A simple flat deck, a control/steering tower to one side and hand raised/lowered ramps front and rear. Looking reasonably new and with my interest in engines I sought out the location for the noise of the beating thumping diesel, powering the boat along at a steady 3 knots, to look up from the inside to the water and see what could have been the remains of the previous ferry! Ha, that'll explain the new looks of this one.
Something else I found out, I never saw anybody pay for the ferry services, only me! I was the only white guy on the ferry at the time and being polite I never questioned but kept it in mind for the return trip. But then again, less than two quid for a ferry and the bike being a terrible swimmer I paid up without much fuss making a mental design for a high speed flotation pack for the bike...!
The short hop over the river, dash to the town of Djenne and the opening of the market square for the mosque wasn't the best of eye openers. Actually the town is scruffy, unkempt and the only catering for tourists to see the Mosque is the touts, hankering you as soon as you arrive in the town till you finish and leave. Sometimes as the touts can be annoying they can be really distasteful in their services too. I've spent lot of time in countries of other faiths and religions and no matter what my thoughts are about them I still respect their rights to be respected themselves. So when it says on a bloody great sign outside the World Heritage Mud Mosque in Djenne, 'No entry to NON-MUSLIMS' then it means as it says! When touts offer to get me inside for 5-20,000cfa depending on my bargaining skills should I be inclined and then say the money goes towards the mosque, I know damn well it isn't but into his pocket. I'm not religious, more agnostic but if I were of any faith, I certainly wouldn't lie and use it to my advantage to line my own pocket. Shame on them!
Anyhow, after a brief stay at 'Chez Babas' a cheap and cheerful establishment in the centre of town I opted to head off and go to Mopti on the road to Timbuktu. A well travelled tourist trail with being overtaken by local maniac driven 4x4's full of 'whites' and scant regard for sharing the road with a biker and strange quizzing looks from the 'whites' as I waved to them feeling a strange sense of wanting to say 'Hi' when you see fellow foreigners on a far away trip. Their sense of possible aloofness or maybe even jealousy to my way of travelling differentiates us immensely so I can understand their strange looks a little. They flew here, I rode, I feel elated and knackered, they just feel knackered.
Mopti, a town that serves as a land/ river junction. Traders of times gone by barter with traders of modern times for the best prices/services and deals from each other, passers by and tourists alike. Ceaseless trading on land and in the water, families bathing and washing laundry next to the boats loading and unloading cargo from the trip north to Timbuktu. Market stalls full of everything from cheap Chinese 'Joakley' sunglasses, a 14mm spanner I'd broken, to cast off seconds piled high from European clothes charities and my favourite... Mutton street vendors! These used to turn my stomach in disgust, vowing to Peter never to each street meat. I did decide to change my mind and give it a try and the chunks of greasy mutton, cooked for hours and tougher than a pub full of Glaswegian hookers spiced up with some unidentifiable sweet powder and salt. The jaw ache after eating 500cfas worth makes a better alternative than vegetables left soaking with bad water in some café, just waiting to turn my stomach inside out for a few days! Plus there's always some kid I can give the remainder to and make his day.
Staying at Hotel 'Ya Pas de Problem' in Mopti I came across a British couple who were on their honeymoon and a Dutch and Canadian couple on vacation. One of the things about heading to Timbuktu was the fact that I had already been to Kathmandu and would have been the first person I know that's been to both. That dream has been going on for 3 years and was shattered not once, but twice by the British and Dutch couples who's husbands had been to Kathmandu and had just returned from Timbuktu the day before! Bummer but I suppose the closer I got to 'Tim' then the chances are somebody would have been to 'Kat'. Still quite a sense of achievement I was looking forward to
I moved out of the 'Ya Pas de Problem' as I fancied the quiet of Sevare, a small town 12kms away, whom Peter had been telling me about it's quietness and chance to rest after the hustle and bustle of Mopti and the sellers. So off I left and moved into the Hotel 'Maison Des Artes'. A lovely, quiet, peaceful place where I was well received by the owner Kay. A wonderful British lady who provides a refuge for weary travellers to recharge their batteries, have a good natter in english plus she speaks perfect french too and for me to do some maintenance on the bike. It was nice to be told a price and not feel the need to negotiate for what you may or may not get. Kay immediately had my trust as you would with a dear aunt. Her husband, Amadou, a Malian Chasseur d'Animiste was a fountain of enthusiasm for help with the bikes and a greatly respected man in his own right.
Things were coming together with the boys. Peter was just leaving 'Maison des Artes' to go dogging, Sorry, I meant down to the Dogon Country, Mark was shortly arriving from Senegal to meet me in Sevare and Migos bike was coming together when the parts arrived from Europe. So all I had to do was chill and wait for Mark! Aaaaahhh..!
Meeting up with Mark at the 'Maison des Artes' was a cool thing. He writes his own blog (www.ridefar.typepad.com) a great writer about his trip, meetings and reunions with fellow riders, the whole catching up with stories, experiences and thoughts of the whole biker mentality. A shameless plug for him but deservedly so.
It is funny because there's many different types of biker in my mind, those who love the image look, the power thrill, the coolness in being the lone wolf, surviving alone whether accepting life's fate or marking out your own. There's also other types of person who looks into the technology part of the whole experience, what can they do to the bike, how much will it take, the type of machinery, v-twin, single, carburettor or injection, old style or new ideas, even frames. “I've spent more money than you” or “I've spent bugger all!” a motley collection of people we've come to meet and it's great to catch up with mark and his views. I felt relieved as to be able to speak to someone whom I'd spent a time with and we had something in common. Our lives, nothing similar and totally different backgrounds but his saying goes 'beer drinkers with a motorcycle problem!'
I've a lot of time for Mark and getting to like him more everyday, he's so cool and chilled out he's almost horizontal to the point of frustration but it only frustrates me cos what I've been brought up to be, more military minded in thinking but I'm getting used to it now. He likes nothing more than to be able to bang away on his laptop writing for some article or the blog. I'm convinced he's rewriting Tolstoy, Hardy or Sterne as he spends so much time but he's happy. So I leave him be.
We headed north back towards the Sahara and the noticeable change in the scenery, not too much but any greenery we'd seen before was diminishing en route to Douentza, 200kms north of Sevare, the town, well..... strip of road that serves as a collection point and junction for the turn off to Timbuktu is a sad affair but we were well received by the locals, taking on board food and fuel and drawing a crowd as usual. Staying in Douentza for the evening and making use of the internet café, which I believe was the towns radio station too. We prepared for the next days assault on the road to Timbuktu.
The road itself prior to this point had been a good piece of asphalt and we'd not really come up against a difficult road in quite some time. Mostly asphalt, if not sometimes badly pot-holed and even when the road disappeared it was because of roadworks and we were back on it pretty quickly. But this was something else, 220+kms of piste all the way to Timbuktu from Douentza. The night before we were listening avidly to Peter, a South African cartographer who'd just been on the road and listening to his every word on corrugations, sand traps, bellowing dust from other traffic and so on. So as you'd expect, the next day we were apprehensive, at least I was! How's the bike going to cope? How am I going to cope? What if we crash in the middle of nowhere? Breakdowns, etc, etc,
So we loaded up with extra food and water and off we went...........
The day started early with final checks and locating the road, a dirt track and certainly not obvious as the road to the fabled city. I almost expected something bigger, more used, signposted even! But it was flat or it appeared so at the start but one thing certain, it was daunting and exciting. The scenery initially was breathtaking with the rock formations in the distance too much to ride straight past but to photograph as well as could be, the sun was shining and the weather wasn't too hot to be uncomfortable.
The locals with their loaded donkeys weren't too pleased when Mark and I started taking photographs with one saying in french he wanted 100cfa to allow us to take pictures. We weren't even taking pictures of him, he chanced his arm and was ignored as a result. It did make me wonder however, he had 20 or so loaded donkeys going to some undisclosed place and as far as I could see there weren't anywhere on the map less than 100kms away, some life!
The road did offer us plenty of camera opportunities and when we came across our first sand pit the time was taken to ride through it on video. The bikes hitting the sand with enough speed to keep the front wheel from digging in but the back wheel snaking about nearly unseating both riders!
Both our riding styles are different, mine is quite aggressive which suited the corrugations where speed allows you to almost glide over the vibrations but having to be wary and look as far forward as possible to avoid hitting the sand traps unexpectedly. Marks riding style is more cautious, looking after his bike more and wary of the chances for a spill, he prefers 'waddling' through sand thinking of the risk and rewards to riding faster and the possibility of damaging the bike. Not a bad idea as we were in the middle of nowhere at the time.
There were other traffic, mainly 4x4's and their tourist passengers and going at a rapid rate of knots, their drivers, knowledgeable of the road of which they'll have travelled hundreds of times before, having the luxury of 4 wheels and the stability they provide being able to travel at 60+mph! I did see a pick up truck in the opposite direction, on a side track which must have been doing 90+mph! The passengers must have been good tippers or terrified!
I stopped occasionally for Mark to catch up, ensure he was fine and then set off again at my usual quick pace, enjoying the workout my arms and body was taking after the long hours of the road. After what appeared to be 10 hours of good work (it was only 6) and the final destination was so close yet denied by a ferry crossing. I almost wanted to ride into the town like a rally rider at the end of the race, triumphant, the crowds cheering, cameras pointed avidly taking pictures and reporters waiting for my every breathless word, but it was not to be. I rode along a peninsular to the ferry port, a motley collection of reed built huts and a bunch of undressed children, their eyes lighting up at the sight of a bedraggled rider and his machine, hot and pinging from temperature loss as the engine was cut off. I knew I had time to wait for Mark to join me and enquired for the ferry, 45 minutes or so came an answer from a local stall holder dressed in a tracksuit and Manchester United football shirt. Occasionally asking if I wanted Coca-Cola, desperate for the business. It was warm and uninviting, coming from a dirty container so I politely declined. My stomach was in 'rag-order' (military speak for not good!) and I felt more like throwing up, dehydration kicking in so I settled for more water from my Camelbac and waited for Mark with a child or two holding my hand seeking attention and a Tuareg or two seeking cigarettes. .
Mark arrived all hot and sweaty and so did the ferry. The same roll on/ roll off type as before and we boarded for the 45 minute trip down river to the town. Our entry to Timbuktu was punctuated with photo opportunities for seeing the 'Centre ville, Tombouctu' sign was an opportunity not to miss and the sight of the Saharan dunes encroaching on the town gave it a real sense of being on the edge of nowhere. The Sahara is another challenge in my eyes. To be able to cross it whether by bike or even camel is something that allures me and is an adventure in itself, one day Geoff, one day.
The town itself is a bit of a disappointment. I didn't expect Shangri-La but something a little better than a dusty outpost seemingly forgotten save for the tourists and the Tuareg traders. I suspect again it's another subsidised town where people are paid to live there and keep it alive but I was here and going to make the best of it. So I spent the next 3 days exploring the market and meeting up with some pretty cool people. Mick, a Scottish postman from Aberdeen on a trip by buses and public transport around West Africa. An older guy, 50's with a big bushy beard looking rather like father Christmas, a kind and gentle fellow. He told Mark and I a story he's heard about a guy, who throughout West Africa was having some strange adventures on his own with a motorcycle. This guy was 6 foot tall, big build and has been robbed in Mauritania, arrested in Senegal and was having some crazy times. Mark and I looked at each other hearing this and realised IT WAS ME!! He'd come across people on our route and had been picking up stories on the way, obviously with some exaggeration. By this stage I was 7' tall, an ex high ranking officer in the army, massively built, etc, etc.... HA HA HA, I did laugh! It was good to put the stories right and was nice to catch up with a Scotsman as I do love the place.
One thing that dawned on me whilst in Timbuktu was the way my life had become up to this point, the actions I had done and some that I'd not done. Here I am listening to a guy who'd heard all about me, having never met me but the stories he'd heard and the mental picture he'd thought up and then, out of the blue we met in a dusty bar on the edge of town. Did I dash the ideas in his head with the truth of just being a normal person or was it better for him to continue with the picture he'd built? Embellished by the retelling of stories as Chinese whispers always does. I ended up thinking back to my past life prior to the trip and it hit me, I had made some grave errors in judgement and I couldn't shake the thoughts out of my head and realised as to why I wasn't enjoying the experience of the journey as it was troubling me and had only just surfaced. It was to bother me for some time till I took action and resolved the matter, come to a decision. So my quest for answers became the priority and I wasn't to rest till It was resolved. It perturbed my that here I was hearing about myself and was vainly thinking about myself in the light of others.
So my departure from Timbuktu, the fabled city but only in name became a hurried affair, my head full of thoughts and scenarios, emails to write and answers to receive. I attacked the route back to Douentza with a fervour, a man on a mission, one goal in mind, riding recklessly through the piste, the sand traps, the corrugations, not stopping to rest but looking forward to an answer. Needing it, demanding it, never looking at the speedo but knowing it's high, 60kph,70, 90, 100+, way too high for a loaded bike, something's gotta give and it did. I crashed out 50kms from the end of the piste, hitting a long sand trap going way too fast! The sudden rush of panic trying to dump as much speed as possible but it was too late, I was committed and there's no way off slowing down enough to control what is an inevitable crash! After slewing and snaking the back end of the bike, it's weighted arse having a life of it's own, twisting and protesting it finally gave up. Like a horse that spent it's life being whipped ceaselessly, uncared for by it's owner but demanded of more and more each time, it threw me off in spectacular style in a thorn bush and dumped itself on the ground. Shrieking and kicking before calming for a moment then dying. The horse gave up, my demands too great.
Sounds cool but I'm not writing a 'Western' here, In reality I'd messed up, rode the sand too quickly and as Mark would put it 'STFFC' 'Speed to fast for conditions' and obviously the dumb riders ability too! I miscalculated the throttle, opened and closed it at the wrong time, my mind not on the road, mistiming badly and jammed the front wheel into a pile of sand which sucked all the bikes forward energy and propelling me over the handlebars!
I was an idiot and I knew it. I could have seriously damaged the bike badly and more importantly myself. I laid for an instant, jacket and leg studded with thorns, the sound of cracking of breaking twigs, adrenaline and shock kicking in and waited for the pain. The chances of a leg or limb giving out, broken should I try to stand filled me with dread. I did a mental check of myself and stood up. The relief of everything as it should be gave me joy, so much I jumped up and down to check. Not the best way of a diagnosis but it worked. Quickly righting the bike made more difficult by the soft sand it was embedded in I looked over to the right and saw a tourist truck deviating from it's course towards me. They'd seen the crash and I felt foolish. Coming to my aid, cameras ready, the tourists all chattering away at what exciting thing they'd just seen stopped 50' to my front. Approaching the truck and gabbled away that I was fine, thanking them for stopping and jumped back on the bike, “Sorry, can't stop.... in a race!, bye!” I felt dumb, wanting to be away as soon as I could, hoping the bike would start and no obvious damage seen I set off at a more ginger pace looking for a quiet corner to lick my wounds and feel silly.
I got to my destination, the bike and I fine, sent off my email and felt a sudden numbness. What had I just done? I looked at the watch and realised, what had taken me over 6 hours to get to Timbuktu had been done in 3 hours 20! Wow! The risks I had given myself and the trouble I could have placed on Mark should I have injured myself or the bike. An irresponsible action for I could have sent the email the next day or that evening. I should ride more carefully in future and be more considerate to my riding partner.
For the trip back from 'Tim' and Douentza I was looking forward to heading back South on the bearing that would lead us eventually to South Africa. Off the piste that had so nearly cost me and Bully a downturn I rode a more attentive ride toward the bike. The gearbox wasn't feeling as crisp as it had, it felt clunky and stiff as if protesting the changes I asked of it. Full of false neutrals and hated going into first gear, like a friend that had been neglected and quickly wanted again, not wanting to open up to the usual rapport and banter but remained subdued and sullen, I felt sorry, guilty even. It'll work out I'm sure... I hope! Where the hell am I going to get another gearbox from in West Africa?
Mark and I went back down to Sevare, the only route available to us from the North, staying again at 'Maison Des Artes' and full of knowledge that Migo has repaired his bike and was hot footing it towards us. Still with problems of an overheating rear brake and no lights! I was keen to meet up with him again to assist in any help I could. I was prepared to ride back towards Segou, a few hundred kms away but he ended up only in Djenne so I decided to ride down there again and see if I could help. Mark had work to do and stayed in Sevare. It's a nice quiet place so who could blame him.
Migo had done really well whilst on his own in Senegal, the damage to his bike of a busted pump was a daunting task for anyone to deal with and I'm sure would have been a trip stopper for lesser men but he endeavoured to complete the job and I have admiration for him. I'd have been tempted to get drunk, burn the thing and gone home!
Migo is a computer guy, his trade comes from his head in a methodical way, a typical German as we Brits may see it and his European traits show through quite quickly. A thinker, enjoying his own company and not used to the brashness of people like myself. A runner, recently trained for a marathon and enjoys his morning yoga sessions, a good guy, I have a lot of time for him. He's more of a technical rider, thinking through his actions, always planning his next few moves and enjoying the ride, especially through towns and cities of which I also love. I enjoy riding with Migo and although our two bikes are vastly different in power and speed I enjoy his pace and manoeuvring on the road. It shows when we three ride together. Mark, the experienced traveller, slower and steadfast but the experience shows, Migo, the technical rider, thoughtful of the next moves, sharp eyed and sharp thinking. Myself........ neither of the above, lacking in patience and skill, enjoying things I'm not quite fully understanding, not as effective as a firearm or calculating as a knife but more of a club!
So we all met up again in Sevare and moved onto the next calling, Burkina Faso. Meeting up for dinner and discussing the best routes etc we agreed to meet up the following day and head towards the border taking in some of the Dogon Country en route.
The Dogon Country in the South of Mali is a big tourist attraction for not really having changed in thousands of years, the people not having changed and refuse to do so but I was a bit full of tourism and decided not to join the guys on a little side trip to one of the villages but to move further towards the border having found my own little mission to do whilst there. Not only check out the border formalities for us but I'd come across a Dogon Mayor, staying at the Maison des Artes and during our conversation he mentioned he had a busted Yamaha XT660 Tenere with electrical problems. Being armed with an electrical tester and not being too dumb about bikes I offered to take a look as it was in a town called Koro. The last town before the border with Burkina.
So again we split up and I headed to Koro. Firstly with the boys riding through some of the most beautiful scenery I have come across yet, the guys getting video of me chasing the local shoolkids well into Dogon country, splitting up where they went to a village called Ende for their night of 'traditional tourism'. No lights and warm beer in my eyes, so I set off seeking out the bike garage with a letter of introduction in my hand. Quickly finding the town I asked around for the place and was guided and shown the garage, formalities made and letter shown I took a look at the bike. A sorry looking, piece of motorcycling history looking very sad indeed! The problem, I was shown was a blown CDI unit and a very expensive bit of kit to replace! Even for me! Even if it was obtainable and certainly not in Mali, the bike was too far gone to repair and I had to resign it to it's fate of a lonely death in the back of his garage. I tried for days after to get an email address for Kay, to tell her there was nothing I could do but couldn't.
My night in Koro after checking out the border formalities was a quiet affair with only the task of finding somewhere or even something to eat being the hardest task. The Auberge I was staying in was a dump so I opted to sleep outside in the carpark with the tent inner serving as a mosquito net. I opted to eat at a mutton vendor again and was annoyed as to the lack of meat he gave me when I requested 500cfas worth, I politely asked him for some more, protesting at his poor servings. He looked at me then mentally agreed, went back to the 'hotplate' and started cutting away at a weird looking piece of flesh, not the usual joint of mutton I was accustomed to but darker, rounder and proffered up a half dozen pieces and dumped them on my paper portion of meat.
After taking a look inquisitively I figured out, well I think I did, as to what the hell it was........ Circular, like sausage slices and fleshy, whiter then most but the distinctive 'hole' in the middle gave the game away! Sheep Dick! It was obviously a food source as to the way it was cooked with everything else so I figured 'what the hell!' and scoffed a fairly sized chunk! The locals looking at me, not trying to feel too paranoid I swallowed rather quickly and would have paid a tenner for a glug of beer at that moment! I've eaten a few things in my time, snake, rat, dog even but that's the first time I've eaten sheep dick, thinking about the lack of food in these parts and the need to make use of everything the animal can provide but I'm sorry, still a squirmish European but I did try.
I'd gone off eating any more after that and offered the remains to anyone else watching me, I needn't have asked twice as the rest was snatched from my hands and devoured by a man who had a hell of a smile on his face and thanked me profusely! Each to their own I suppose! I did growl at the vendor for taking the p**s and the whole scenario left a funny taste in my mouth, Boom! Boom! (Here all week, try the veal!)
The following day I met up with the boys and we hit the border. My previous days recce ended up a farce as we missed the customs post and had to ride back 30 kms for the carnet stamps. The ride into Burkina was a long one with a 'no-mans' land of miles and miles .............
The entry to Burkina Faso was a strange one, a 'no-mans' land of 30+kms where we took the time to make a little video for Migos blog, the three of us riding together towards the camera. We also rode past three strange tourist buses, pink in colour, a Swedish group touring West Africa. They'd stopped and what seemed to be camped for the night in the no-mans land! We enquired as to their well being, for they could have been broken down. But all was well.
From the border we headed south, stopping to eat and after ordering lunch we got the surprise of lot's of plates of food! I mean, three each! When we chose our meals they, the staff told us the choice was chicken, fish, haricot vert, rice and some sort of cabbage and sweet potato. We, thinking they were all together and part of the same ordered something like, “Chicken with rice, haricot vert and cabbage please!” Only to find out they were all a meal on their own!! We needn't have worried about the price as when the bill came it was less than a couple of beers in Mali! Cheap as chips! What we didn't eat I gave to a street kid plus a few pennies, he was chuffed to bits at his haul for the day!
We were heading for Ouagadougou, the capital, known as 'Wagga'. A great sounding place and surprisingly a good city with modern amenities, even casinos. After spending time in the north it was nice to find some neon lighting for a change. Migo and I headed off, leaving Mark to do some writing again.
The onward route we knew was taking us towards the National park of Nazinga. An elephant reserve the boys had told me about. So when we arrived at the gate, paid entry and travel 35kms INTO the park on dodgy piste! I already had some problems with the bike for when I fitted the oil cooler back in Dakar it had recently sprung a leak and and was pissing oil all over my leg! Not at a huge rate but certainly enough for me to be concerned, a lot. Having to top up oil every 30kms or so didn't bode well in my eyes! I had realised the problem, a bleed vale I'd not loctited and it required the whole thing removing before repairing.
Making it to the reserve and seeing our first wild elephant, we were quite impressed with the park. The facilities not being the best but certainly lots of elephants, bathing in the watering hole and with a big bull elephant wandering through the camp, ripping off branches and eating what it sodding well liked! I was impressed with the proximity that could be gotten with the animals. I was soon to find out just how close we could get....!
After a couple of days chilling out at the camp, searching for the electrical problem on Migos bike and renewing the rear brake fluid, Mark joined us we headed off again for Ghana. The 35kms to the camp in the park was to be a long day out, for Mark and Migo wanted to attempt a new route to the West which wasn't to be. So we set off on the route back the way we came.
Heading out of the park Mark happened to have a spill, not a great spill but one that deserved a photograph anyhow.
Once we'd chilled out, had a cigarette and come to righting ourselves we got an almighty crashing from the grasses to the sides of the road and here comes a bloody elephant, all trumpeting, ears flapping and definatly pissed off at us!! We quickly jumped on the bikes, mine stalled, I think I shat myself and then shot off sharpish! Migo and myself in one direction, Mark in the opposite! After stopping in what was a couple of hundred metres or so Migo and I burst out laughing, for want of anything better to do, the blood pumping wildly at such a close shave we'd just experienced and waited for Mark to turn around and catch us up, always watching and listening for elephants, nerves on edge, rogue or otherwise!
Mark caught us up, getting a good trumpeting as he went past the offended elephant which I'm sure increased the revs on the bike a touch! I was thinking of how on earth would you explain that one to his mother? “Sorry....... raging elephant, motorbike, Africa........ oops!” We certainly got more than we bargained for!
After the elephant incident we visited Mole National Park across the border in Ghana. Another country, another stamp.
Just pulled into 'Chez Monique' a camp-site and Auberge which is in the 'book' (Lonely Planet). After having a difficult day I've dived straight for the easy option, getting myself a room and a beer quickly! The run from Lomé to here wasn't bad save for the accident this morning when some idiot on his scooter ran into the back of me! I was just pulling up to the insurance office to re-validate my cover, Crap timing for an accident! The guy and his passenger were fine, a couple of scrapes but nothing bad. But you'd have thought they were going to die the way they were putting it on. I had a passenger at the time who spoke excellent French so I asked her to tell these guy that even though I'm going to administer first aid, it's by no means an admission of guilt! I'm giving first aid and then if there's any damage to my bike there'll be the police involved and they'll pay me. Obviously the driver of the scooter knew he was in the wrong so after a clean up with a couple of plasters (band-aids) and two Ibuprofen each for the 'pain' I went to look at my bike for the damage, They scooted off quite quickly! There wasn't any damage to my bike and I knew it but the little Yamaha looked like it had a full frontal with a car! The panniers have had some beatings and I'll be surprised if they make the trip through Africa
The border crossing unnerved me a bit when the immigration stated that on no account can they give me a visa on the border without first going through the consulate in Lomé. Shite! I showed him the book and as hundreds of people before me have received a visa then why can't I? He invited me to see the boss in his office who looked at me surly, nodded and said something incomprehensible, which meant 'yeah!' So a two day transit visa it is then f. or 10,000cfa.
As I arrived here in the 'Chez Monique' I was offered a guide, he told me he'd taken other bikers to a voodoo ceremony only last week, after inquiring, I found out these 'bikers' are Mark and Migo! So the boys stayed here too, ha! I unfortunately had to say no as I'm leaving to catch the boys up soonest and said my route was Benin City and Calabar in Nigeria tomorrow As to which he gasped “Ooh No!,Very dangerous!” and proceeded to give me a full account as to why Nigeria is not the best place for single white travelers and the Niger Delta in particular. No shit Sherlock! I do know and thanks for shitting me up some more!
I am a bit concerned as the Niger Delta isn't a wise place to go, especially alone and I've head a lot of stories about robbers, kidnappings etc but the one that gets me the most is the guys that are so called 'repairing' the road and do not let you pass until payment has been received. They're the guys who are unpredictable! They boys before me have said they didn't have problems and I hope everything goes well for me too!
Not to my wisest decision and to one that I told the boys I would definitely NOT do was to travel through the Niger Delta but here I am! And WOW! What a place!
I was pushing to cross this area in as few as two or three days to try and catch up with the boys, knowing of it's reputation and general stories I've heard over the last few countries, Benin and Togo and thinking about it, most of the world! Tales of bandits, robbers, corrupt police, kidnappers and general scoundrels was unnerving me terribly being a biker, white at that and on my own traversing through one of Africa's dodgiest areas. Hey-ho, lets go!
Initially there were numerous roadblocks consisting of guys with planks of wood across the road with nails sticking out of them. Often calling for me to stop, but a polite wave, smile from under a helmet (it's amazing that I still do it!) and slowly but surely progressing didn't bring any trouble. I found out later that they were 'drivers unions' and obtained money from people importing cheap cars from Benin. The problems I had were later. To get to Cameroon there's two routes, one southern and the other to the north. The northern route is considered safer but takes 4 or 5 days, the southern should take 2, so I chose the 2 day route and considering the dangers that come with this decision I rode on anyway.
Heading into Nigeria was easy, the customs and immigration were friendly and helpful, offering advice, a months full visa stamp even though I only requested a week and wishing me a happy Christmas. It left me to head off to Benin City with a full day of light to navigate the roads and a smile as my phone was working again and numerous texts were coming through. The roads were tarred but potholed badly in places but that didn't slow down the Nigerian drivers who treat the roads like the RAC rally, if their cars go a 100mph, they want 110! The 4 lane express way must have been beautiful in it's day but was lacking maintenance and it showed! Checkpoints here are numerous, sometimes every mile with police of two types, black uniforms and grey uniforms carrying rusty automatic weapons, also the army checkpoints asking for 'Merry Christmas presents!' but again, a smile and polite decline led the way. I was stopped numerous times by the police to ask me about the trip and the bike, after a couple of minutes I asked to go on my way and they obliged with handshakes all round and sometimes pictures of which all Africans love.
Nearly 90kms to Benin City to go and over an hour of daylight things were going well until the bike went all swirly, the back end shifting and sliding like something was loose, a puncture, Bollox! I cracked on soonest finding a quiet place just off the road to deal with the tyre and fortunately the bead was broken as I turned which made removing the tube easier. A sizeable nail was found sticking out of the tyre. Replacing the wheel was easy but then the rear brake pad fell out, in two pieces! So then I replaced the pads and thinking nothing else could go wrong I proceeded to put air into the new tube only to find I'd pinched it when inserting the bead onto the rim! Bummer! Two flat tubes! So I patched the original tube prior to taking off the new one, replacing and reinserting the bead and air only to find I'D PINCHED THE TUBE AGAIN!!! AAARGH! It was getting dark and two policemen were watching and telling me to hurry up as it's very dangerous in this area from armed robbers. I had to resort to accepting their offers of taking me to a tyre repair shop as the pump I had was taking too long . Obviously concerned for the safety of the bike I had to go and the tyre repair guys ensured I paid handsomely!
After replacing the tyre and the two cops bugging me to get away soonest I quickly rode back to where I'd just been and was stopped again!! At a Police roadblock who insisted I take a name of a hotel and lodge there. Normally dubious of such an offer I had to accept as I didn't know the area and knowing the place was full of cops then I figured if I did get robbed again they wouldn't shoot me as the normal robbers here would!
The night ended well with the police showing kindness and hospitality and I joined them for dinner and drinks on the 'patio' (Nigerian posh for a car park!). They were good people, never asking for a 'dash' (bribe/gift) and we took turns in getting the rounds in! The chat was mainly football of which I know nothing off but the famous names of Lampard, Drogber and Beckham of which they broke into an argument of which was the best between Chelsea and Man United! Here I am, from the country that invented football and I know squat! The picture is showing the policemens kids the route through Africa!
It was a slow day getting to Benin City, refuelling in a petrol station where a fight broke out and the two guys arguing, an attendant and an irate customer were grabbing the fuel nozzle and squirting petrol everywhere! They just love a good argument and fight here! Concerned of another flat tyre as my TWO air pumps both failed me the day before, I searched for a replacement but it's Sunday and everything is closed! I booked into a hotel from the book and was accosted by a drunk Immigration Officer demanding my passport and 'Interrogating ' me in his slurry voice. I did check his ID but wouldn't know a good one from a fake. He wanted to take me to his office for not registering with him today or I could 'maybe' give him and his buddies a Christmas gift or tomorrow spend the day in the office! He was piss drunk and seeing some cops I walked towards them to ask them about this guy, he saw this and took off. Obviously a chancer! I stayed a while outside the bar at the back but went to my room as the prostitutes were annoying me.
Riding the 500+kms from Benin City to Calabar was exhausting work! The roads here are as dangerous as hell, many driver not caring by taking HUGE risks and the littering of the roadsides with smashed vehicles goes to show it doesn't always work. Mainly trucks wrecked but they drive at foolish speeds relying on their size for everyone to get out of their way. Nutters! I even had a crash myself, behind an ancient truck which quickly braked, I misjudged a raised section on the roadside and the bike went down at 30+mph, pirouetting down the road with the bloody great truck behind me, I was a bit worried but he pulled away, narrowingly missing me and the bike, Phew!. The bike has so far gone down at least 12 times to being dropped and 3 times in crashes! I wonder how long it will last? My elbow and knee aches but nothing bad. I certainly hope I don't break something, me or the bike!
I saw 3 accidents on the road to Calabar. The fuel situation here isn't too good with long queues waiting for their turn and fist fights breaking out at the pump.
I quickly received my Cameroon visa and decided to get the ferry to Limbe, Cameroon and save the three day trek through piste roads and catch the boys up early, not wanting to spend New Years eve in Nigeria but with familiar faces and a less dodgy country. The ferry ticket was an easy buy for 5,000 naira (€25) but the fun starts when the issue of the bike transportation came up! Bartering the agent down from 34,000 to 10,000 naira (€50) and so the formalities of the Customs and Immigration came and went without too much ado. The boat is supposed to leave at 10pm for the 10 hour crossing but due to piracy it didn't leave till 5 am the following morning so I hunkered down for the wait, buying food and water for the trip as the boat is merely a freighter, secured and covered the bike with my blue tent cover, strung up the hammock and slept on the top deck.
The crossing went well but not in the 10 hours but 13 and the boat docked SIDEWAYS to the harbour at Limbe! Which meant getting the bike off the boat via the ramp wasn't possible and the bartering started again for the bike to be carried off by the dockers. The docker boss saying I had to wait till friday, 2 days time or some 'arrangement' could be made. I was terrified the bike would be dropped into the sea and anxiousley waited for the process to begin after taking off the panniers and other luggage. I mistakingly didn't arrange a price to start with so when he bike did get off the ship and in one piece the 'arrangement' was then to be discussed with the inital price being 50,000 XOF (€85) and getting it down to 15,000 XOF. Handshakes to seal the deal and payment made, I made my way out of the dock and met up with Mark at his hotel. New Years Eve was spent having a few beers in the bar and some arse in a Peugot reversed into the bike, knocking it over and took off without even saying sorry! Typical, bent pannier and a broken indicator!
Moving onto Yaounde the capital the next day was a pleasant trip, enjoying the new sights and sounds of a new country Cameroon. The driving here is less hectic with less motorcycles trying to barge their way through the traffic unlike Nigeria. More lush is the vegetation and the roads are in much better condition than Nigeria. Some visa shopping required for The DRC (Dem Rep of Congo) and Gabon and inner tubes for the bike after having a tube valve failure.
The border town on Ndende, Gabon is a small one of maybe 2 thousand people, situated on a junction and our arrival was smooth as the only hotel is behind the only petrol station. Easy peezy! Alas no chance of changing money again, so the 'Bank of Migo' is in full swing, good lad! For some reason there's a demand for €s but non for $'s.
The tarmac road finished 35 miles after Lambarene and it's piste in it's place, albeit so far in very good condition but we've been assured that just over the border the roads get really bad, my rear suspension is 'bottoming out' constantly and is really bothering me. I attempted to take it off and crank up the spring but the bottom pintle is jammed and no amount of hammering is freeing it! I'll have to go to a mechanic shop in Brazzaville and see if he can free it without damaging the bike. The stock suspension when it arrives, I'll need to change the spring for the stronger one I have and see if it lasts till South Africa.
In the town centre there's a prayer session in full swing with singing, dancing and a lot of 'hallelujahs' going on so I returned to the hotel to find a chimpanzee being the centre of attention. I had a hold and it was a cute thing but boy did it stink or was that me? Also a guy with a strange hat who kept on popping up, wierd.
The weather is also changing for the worse, dark clouds are hovering and the evening is giving me a good lightening show. Hopefully the rains will not start again until the bad roads have finished but just my luck, there'll be loads of rain, the roads will turn to mud and my suspension is knackered, not to mention my 'Touratech' panniers are falling apart!
But then again, as I'm writing this it's started to piss down, the lightening show is even better, I'm listening to Led Zeppelins 'Kashmir' on the MP3 with a fresh beer in my hand, a full pack of cigarettes and am in Africa. Can life get any better?
I can't believe we made to Brazzaville, what originally was 300kms+ of Michelin Map red tarmac road was nothing but a myth! 4 days of very hard work but the sense of achievement was amazing when we dragged our weary bodies and bikes onto the tarmac, kissing it in sheer joy and took a team picture. There were 3 local boys watching us from a ledge overlooking the start of the tarmac, laughing at our silly actions but we didn't care, hey, we've looked strange and silly since we've been here anyhow!
Once in Brazzaville and seeing the mighty Congo river we felt much better. The lack of local money and the chance of an ATM was one of the most pressing points, we were skint! Coming across an ATM that took Visa was great and also we met a few 'whites' offering advice, a place to work on the bike, internet access and general niceties which was really cool, I thank you all! But in reality all I wanted was a good hot shower, a cheap hotel with a comfortable bed and a few beers! Of which I got............ beer! The hotel wasn't cheap at 20,000cfa ($45) a night, cold water if any, electricity failures and the bed sucks. Oh well!
The city is quite a nice place itself, still bearing war damage but repairs are being done and new buildings going up. Bars and restaurants have a relaxed feel and it's pretty safe at night. Albeit the power cuts happen at awkward times typically during internet access but generally not bad.
Due to the time frame of asking for parts sending from the UK, suspension and piston rings I had to consider applying for an extension to my Congo visa as it would run out on the 23rd of January, considering the time it would take for the DRC visa application I had to weigh this up carefully. So I opted for the DRC visa first thinking if the Congo extension was denied I could jump the border and MAYBE get the piston rings sent from DHL to Kinshasa, a big maybe. The bike was in such bad state that I dreaded to think that maybe the bike could fail with a buggered starter motor, shot piston rings and a collapsed shock absorber! I was worried to say the least!
After a night on the piss which invariably happens in a new city, knackered but I can still push myself for a few beers if I really want to! Migo and I applied for visas with DRC, a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and the applications were in, 35 grand, two pics and all's done. Mark decided to leave it to another day seeing no rush. But the rush came when he did the application the next day and found he had no pages left in his passport.......... Oooops!
Migo and I received our visas, bunging the 'Chief' 5 grand for some 'phone call' to Kinshasa..? and I went to the DHL office to see if my shock absorber had arrived. It had in country but not at the office of which I'd paid for. Finally it did arrive not the day I expected but the next. When I outlined I wanted DHL to deal with customs and bring the package to the office, accepting the horrendous charge of £120 because I'd dealt with African customs before and hated it, Mark collected a package for himself at the airport and from the original quote of 240,000cfa ($600) FOR A TYRE..! He got it for 25,000cfa and all smiles! I however picked mine up, got it scanned and what should have been a charge of 84,000cfa was ignored and I left, BIGGER SMILES!! Dancer!
The application went in for a Congolese extension, explaining for 2 hours my bike problems, I love Brazzaville, buddies here, blah, blah, blah, and my application was accepted. “Come back tomorrow and we'll see” The usual African answer again.
In the mean time the bike needed to be dealt with so I cracked on, firstly the shock. Disappointed with the 'Hagon' shock I'd bought (20,000kms and busted!) I had the stock shock to fit and what a bugger it was. When I fitted the Hagon I didn't grease the bottom pin and it had corroded so much that thing wasn't budging an inch! I had to dismantle the entire swingarm (with again, much difficulty. Thanks 'Tony Togo's' for not greasing it as requested and paid for!) and literally beat the hell out of the pin with the bigger hammer I'd bought, if in doubt, hit it harder and it worked. The whole swingarm needed a good clean and regrease and it and the new shock fitted sweetly. 2 days to get it off and a half hour to put it back on! I did some sweating and the locals stopping me every now and again to look at the fat bloke with the tattoos! .
The starter motor was another problem, after opening it up it was as black as the ace of spades! Everything in and around the bushes was full of carbon and I feared a burned out starter motor. When I opened it up in Dakar, Senegal it was as clean as a whistle so the only explanation was I didn't correctly refit it to the aligning marks. So I cleaned it up, following the manual, greasing the bush mounts etc and it now turns like a dream! Lesson learnt......... read instructions you arse!
Next job.... piston rings! I'm not looking forward to that one especially in a hotel carpark! One of the things that bothers me is if the barrel is scored then the whole thing is buggered and will need a rebore but I'm optimistic for a change. If it works well then good, it may last till South Africa if not then Hey-Ho! I'll push on as far as the bike will go cos there's no chance I can get a rebore here, DRC or Angola and the only place, maybe will be in Namibia! The way the bike is going, it'll not last another 500kms. The other one bothering me is I'm hoping the rebuild will be okay for if the valves move position once the cambelt is off, a bolt snaps or won't free, etc, etc. If I'm sat in a garage in the UK then no probs but I'm in The Congo! Ha Ha Ha! (slightly nervous laugh!) I have the instructions on paper and PDF so that will be the bible.
Mark has received the extra pages for his passport inserted from the US embassy here in Brazza, good on him but a slight oversee on his part as he readily accepts for the problem in the first place. No DHL package has arrived for me today and the visa runs out today too! If I get my extension then great, if not........... ? Dread to think!
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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