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Stephan and 'Chenda Solon, UK

Round the World, in Africa

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Kenya to South Africa


... So, after virtually 4 weeks in Mombasa and starting to feel like we were in the film Groundhog Day the real travelling could start. They day we left we met a Dutch couple who'd travelled from South Africa on a Honda XL600 with no real difficulty. They were able to reassure us about our choice of bike although they did say the road out of Mombasa was practically non-existent for the first 40kms.

This was indeed true but at least it was dry despite a fair amount of recent rain. That stretch was slow going and on one occasion the bike grounded but it only hit the centre stand and no damage was done. After that until we reached Tsavo National Park the road was reasonable although potholed and we could make reasonable progress. Through the park the road was brand new and I could relax a bit. There were no animals other than baboons and vervet monkeys to be seen but as the land 10m either side of the road appeared to have been churned up by road construction activity this wasn't surprising.

We spent that night in Voi at the Wakesho Guest House which I highly recommend for its setting and food. The services are good too. It's about 1km up a dirt road from the road leading into town. The junction is by the cemetery and is signposted. We camped and were the only people there that night.

Continuing to Nairobi the road deteriorated again after Mito Andei. The potholes had largely been repaired but the road surface was so uneven speeds had to be kept down to 60kph in order to maintain some comfort. People using trail bikes will of course have no trouble at all with that bit of road and it did improve considerably 100kms from Nairobi. Traffic of course didn't but it was no great problem.

It's amazing how used you get to facing oncoming cars on your side of the road when they have committed themselves to overtaking someone at a stupid moment. In town traffic may have been chaotic but it was generally slow enough to take evasive action. These general conditions continued right the way through to Zimbabwe when speeds increase with the improved condition of the roads and, to my mind, riding becomes far more dangerous.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of time spent waiting for the bike we didn't feel able to linger in Kenya so after a trip to Lake Naivasha and spending time to get the necessary temporary road tax from Nyayo House in central Nairobi, we moved on to Tanzania. As for a place to stay in Nairobi, The Upper Hill Campsite near Kenyetta Hospital is a good secure place where most overlanders, backpackers etc seem to end up.


We took the main road to Arusha, crossing the border to Tanzania very easily at Namanga. The surface was good tarmac with few potholes and this was to be the case most of the way through Tanzania. Arusha is a mad place for safari touts – worse than Nairobi and although it was less frenetic we didn't hang around any longer than necessary to sort out a safari. We stayed at the Michele Guesthouse – ask any safari tout – where for about US$4 per night we had a basic room with shared toilets and cold showers. There is plenty of space to securely keep a bike and although it is a typical Tanzanian place it strangely seems to be full of western backpackers. We were not worried about leaving the bike there while going off for a six day safari but in the end didn't need to as one of the directors of the safari company we used offered to keep it for us in a locked garage at her place.

The safari was amazing. We used a company called Safari Makers – again, ask any tout – and had a great time with a great couple from the Netherlands. The safari was supposed to be for 5 days but was extended for a day as our Landrover broke down on day two at Karatu, the last town before Ngorongoro Crater. It is a dry dusty place with a very nice campsite and we were fortunate enough to meet a man at a roadside stall who invited all of us to his place for a few hours. As he was related to the local MP it was very nice indeed and quite innovative using gas from cow waste for cooking. Not at all the common shack we'd expected. Aside from the layover at Karatu, our safari took us to Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks and Ngorongoro Crater and when it came to animal viewing we were probably the luckiest people around getting to see just about all there is several times. It was over all too quickly. I just wish the road from Tarangire through to Serengeti was tarmac rather than painful, dusty dirt that goes on for hours'... Still, it was a great time.


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After that very interesting diversion we continued following the main road through Tanzania staying with friends of friends at Moshi and stopping at Soni half an hour off the main road on a good tar road to Lushoto. I do recommend the Soni Falls Hotel which, aside from being the only hotel that is at all pleasant in Soni, is located a short walk from a picturesque waterfall as the name suggests. Food was great and quantities huge although in true East African tradition is freshly prepared so takes two hours prepare. Meeting up with a party of about 10 Spaniards there and getting to practice my terrible Spanish was fun'...

South of Soni there seemed to be little of interest on the main road to Dar Es Salaam until either Dar or Morogoro depending on which way you turn at Chilanze. Pangani on the road to Tanga is supposed to be very nice as is Bagamoyo but as they are both reached by dirt roads they were out of bounds to us. In fact we attempted to get to Bagamoyo but advance roadworks to upgrade the road to tarmac prevented us getting more than 2/3 the way there from Dar. Earlier that day we ran out of petrol 20kms from Chilanze and later had to ride through a series of dirt road diversions on the way into Dar so being completely knackered checked ourselves into a dead posh hotel near Kunduchi just before sunset. At least we got a special weekend deal on the price and to be honest, at that point I didn't care.

On running out of petrol, I do recall reading in this very ezine there is no petrol between Segera where the main road splits to go to Tanga or Dar and Chilanze, a distance of 160kms, before we started this trip. I really should have made a note of that'... It only cost us an hour and a half round trip on the bus but if we'd run out midway between the petrol stations it would have probably cost us a day.

Tanzania is a vast country with some seriously interesting places which, like Kenya and everywhere else we passed through we now want to return to and visit the bits we missed. We didn't stay in Dar and after a dip in the Indian Ocean we headed west towards Malawi via Morogoro, Iringa and Mbeya. The road from Mbeya to Malawi is brand new and wonderfully twisty with lots of changes in levels – absolutely perfect for a sports bike if it wasn't for the usual semi-pedestrianised nature of large sections of it typical of roads from Kenya through to Zimbabwe.


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No problems crossing into Malawi although it is apparent that Malawi is far poorer than any other country we've been to with more people asking us for money than normal. There is some investment however with the road between Karonga and Chitimba being rebuilt. This was a big pain for us though – 100kms at about 20kph and it was dead hot. No problem on a trail bike of course but at times bicycles were overtaking us. With all the weight on the back, a 17" front wheel and street tyres steering was difficult and braking near impossible. On some downhill sections which weren't even that steep I had to ask ‘Chenda to walk!

We made it with no misshaps but were told by an overland truck driver the road by the lake south of Nkhata Bay was hit and miss with some bridges out so after a pleasant night there we headed to Lilongwe via Mzuzu on the very good main road. Be careful here though – no petrol between Mzuzu and Kasungu, a distance of 250kms. This time we were ok. At Lilongwe the best place to stay is the campsite at Lilongwe Golf Course. Secure with good facilities and a short walk from the centre.


Although we were considering crossing the Tete Corridor to Zimbabwe we were not sure about the petrol situation there so decided on Zambia so we could enter Zim at Victoria Falls where if it was dodgey we could easily divert to Botswana. This turned out to be a nice surprise. We had no idea what Zambia would be like and immediately noticed that people were nowhere near as desperate as people in Malawi. We walked around a market in Chipata, just over the border, and had no one beg us. It was really nice to see people who seemed fairly upbeat and when we came across a modern supermarket better than any in Lilongwe we couldn't believe it.

From Chipata to Luangwe Bridge the road is very uneven in places and in others quite potholed. From there on to Lusaka and then to Pemba is very good tarmac. On the way to Lusaka, the last chance to get petrol for 300kms is Nyimba. We weren't caught out but that is another place where if you don't have a huge range you must be careful. There is a good campsite at Luangwe Bridge with an expensive (by African standards) restaurant.

Outside Lusaka we were stopped for speeding together with everyone else using that stretch of road'... We paid our US$20 fine to a cop sitting under a tree with a plastic lunch box full of cash, took our receipt and left with a slightly sour taste in our mouths. US$20 can go a long way in Zambia. In fact that day was to get worse as we came across a serious accident far from any town. A car had ploughed off road turning over leaving the driver seriously injured and his passenger dead. A lorry carrying about 30 people was the first on the scene and we helped to get the victims out of their car. One of those who pulled the driver out reckoned he was drunk. A passing pick up took the driver and dead passenger to hospital. We left feeling vulnerable as other than our boots, helmets and gloves we have no protective equipment.

We passed straight through Lusaka spending the night at another good campsite of a farm just outside Choma – Gwembe Safaris –as we really wanted to get to Vic Falls. There we stayed at an idyllic campsite – Maramba River Campsite – between Livingstone and the falls which I can't recommend highly enough. The restaurant is even reasonably priced!

The Victoria Falls are amazing and I really do recommend seeing both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides although if you can only see one side the Zimbabwean on is where you get to see more. Despite that, I must admit I found the Zambian side more fun as it was far less touristy and, being the dry season (August) it was possible to walk across half of the Zambezi to Livingstone Island and go swimming in various rock pools. A slightly sour point was one youth trying to extort money out of us by saying we had gone to a place we shouldn't and threatening to tell the police. We told him to bugger off and on the way out told the security people at the entrance who asked us to wait while two of them searched for him. Twenty minutes later they returned, the kid having long disappeared. In the meantime a young woman who had been badly beaten by a couple of men was being attended to by the one remaining guard. Overall I'd say that as much as I liked Zambia, it did have a menacing air about it.


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Although the Zimbabwe side of the Falls was far more touristy and there were apparently nothing like the numbers of tourists normally there. We did meet a Japanese biker on a Suzuki Djebel 250. He'd ridden from Barcelona to Cameroon and then shipped the bike and his gear to Cape Town. When he opened the crate he only found his bike inside... He was heading north hoping to get to Egypt via Sudan although he'd heard the border between Sudan and Ethiopia is closed for the time being. After Africa he plans to go back to Japan via Russia although I'm not too clear on his intended route. We wished him luck!

We were advised there would be no problem getting petrol at Victoria Falls but we should fill up half way to Bulawayo. We resolved to fill up whenever we could and had no problem up till Half Way Hotel. From where there was no petrol for the next 240kms to Bulawayo and as we arrived on a Sunday night there was none to be had there either. We stayed at the Municipal campsite – very nice – where we met a dispossessed farmer who was previously a cardiac surgeon. He bought two farms as a retirement nest egg but lost them in the farm invasions in March. During the invasion he lost his wife who panicked and crashed her car into some farm equipment. Now he was selling everything he owned and leaving the country he was born in and lived all his life. A very sad story.

He advised us we'd be unlikely to find petrol near Great Zimbabwe where we wanted to go and if we couldn't find petrol in Bulawayo he'd give us some. The lack of petrol around Great Zimbabwe was confirmed again later so we decided to head to Botswana unless we could find a way of carrying more assuming of course we'd actually find some in Bulawayo. The following day there was petrol to be had and as we got out early we didn't even have to queue. No one was filling up containers however so we decided Botswana it would have to be although we did have enough fuel to go to Matopos National Park, a lovely place with the strangest rock formations. We camped and as it was a weekday pretty much had the place to ourselves. The stars were the best we'd seen but it did get very cold – a real contrast to the heat of the day.


We arrived at the Botswana border at Ramokgwebana at 3.30pm giving us plenty of time, in theory, to get to Francistown, less than 100kms away. I like theory. In practice loads of people were trying to leave Zimbabwe. There were 2 buses of people ahead of us and only 3 immigration officers to process every one. We cleared immigration and customs 3 hours later which meant riding in the dark. I felt sorry for the people in the 2 buses behind us...

Luckily roads in Botswana are about as good as they get and, apart from a dead donkey on the the road and realising I didn't adjust the bikes headlight aim to compensate for all the weight on the back, we had an easy journey to Francistown. We didn't linger in Botswana, crossing into South Africa at Martins drift three days later.


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South Africa

South Africa has been amazing. It is incredibly different from the rest of Africa with only a few places reminding us of where we've been. Marabastad in Pretoria and a number of towns in the Transkei come to mind. The whole country seems incredibly rich and well developed in comparision to countries north of Zimbabwe. There is considerable poverty but it is ofted hidden. Every town has its associated township(s) located a couple of kilometres away giving a good impression of a sprawling suburb where people drive everywhere but few people seem to own cars there. As they are so spread out public transport is awkward, time consuming and, if you're poor, expensive.

We are now in Cape Town after a very wet few days ride. Apparantly the rain is very unusual this time of the year and I am assured we did pass through some wonderful scenery even though we could't actually see it - visibility was often down to 100m and rarely more than 500m. On the plus side, the roads are excellent here - frequently better than those in the UK and with much less traffic although what traffic there is does travel incredibly fast and the idea of maintaining a safe distance from vehicles in front is obviously a completely alien concept to most. I strangely felt more vulnerable on the road here than anywhere else in Africa.

Stephan and bike at the Cape of Good Hope. A proud moment! Cape Town, South Africa.

Stephan and bike at the Cape of Good Hope. A proud moment! Cape Town, South Africa

Airfreight and flights to Buenos Aires have now been organised on Malaysian Airlines. Air tickets cost 3350 rand each and airfreight together with assiciated documentation cost 5900 rand. John Carr at Trefco was very helpful and let us have an old crate which previously accommodated a R1150GS. A bit larger than necessary but it was free as was the loan of tools and the weight lifting ability of the workshop staff. Transport to the airport was carried out by Central Transport for 450 rand.

All seems well for the trip to BA - I'll let you know what happens...

Some details:

Trefcos address is now 8 Northumberland Avenue. Thats just east of junction 23 on the N1 (Durban Road junction) rear of Barons VW dealership. Telephone numbers are unchanged from those on the website. (Link updated - Grant)

Malaysian Airlines are at 8th floor of Safmarine House, 22 Riebeck Street, Cape Town Tel: 021 419 8010

Cargo on Malaysian Airlines is dealt with by a company called Airreps. A good contact there is Delan Leo - a very helpful chappie as are the rest of the staff. Airreps are at the Swisspoort Building in the new cargo centre. Cargo is received on the ground floor and the offices are on the first floor. Airreps number is 021 934 8800.

Must go. Next stop Buenos Aires!

Stephan Solon and 'Chenda

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Story and photos copyright © Stephan Solon 2000-2001.
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Grant Johnson


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