September 30, 2010 GMT
A Trifle Weary Of Mr. Einstein's Theory
Crossed into South Africa today, hopeful of twistier roads.
And I now think Einstein got it wrong.
He claimed there's no such thing as a straight line. Because time and space are all curved (he said).
Well, look at the picture:
The camera never lies.
"I thought of that while riding my bicycle," he claimed, about his General Theory of Relativity.
Well, not while pedalling along this road he didn't!
This is about 2,000 feet higher, and not very far from, the border crossing at Noordoewer. And this will be the last photo here of a straight road for a very long time, curved or straight (the time, that is).
There was no insurance office at the border. In fact, another one of those borders where there's nothing to pay at all. All very quick.
"Buy insurance in Springbok," said the customs man.
I tried, all afternoon, after ordering a new front tyre to be delivered from Cape Town.
The tourist information office spent about an hour phoning all over the place, to no avail. That left just the South African AA to phone. No luck there either.
As time went by, I remembered reading something about third-party motor insurance in South Africa, in the forums on this very website.
Search again - ah, here it is:
"Third-party insurance is included in the price of petrol."
Good! I'll use as little petrol as possible, that'll keep the insurance cost to a minimum.
Err, does that make sense?
Or is it like the madman who rushed into the bazaar proclaiming, "The moon is more useful than the sun!"
"But why?" asked someone.
"We need the light more during the night than during the day."
.......... Soon be time to go home.
Anyway, with new front tyre I can take the gravel roads along the coastal towns to Cape Town and get away from this insomnia-cure of a route.
While we're rambling, I'll mention that I was in the Post Office in Noordoewer a couple of days ago. I know more than one reader of this account has issues with the TV licencing people back home. Add me to that when I return home having cancelled my TV licence and not replied to any of the letters they will have sent me over the past year.
On the wall of the Post Office was a huge poster explaining, in simple steps, what you have to do in Namibia when you buy a new TV, a secondhand TV, receive one as a gift, sell a TV, export a TV, throw one away, or emigrate.
(I just realised, it didn't say what you have to do when you throw a brick through the screen in despair at what's on it. They must have better programmes here).
Well, the process in all these cases is the same as buying or selling a car back home. TVs must have number plates in Namibia, because the government keeps a close record of who has which television set. With the addition of, if you dispose of one in any way, sale, gift or scrap, or emigrate, you have to swear an oath at the police station and pin that to the papers you need to send off. So maybe Auntie BBC's system isn't so bad after all.
I'll find out when I arrive home.
While we're rambling (again), I've asked Caroline and Beau if they have any photos of life and work in Khartoum to pin up on here. And also if Beau can set to music a little poem about sleeping bags, that I had reason to dig out a short while ago.
Campers who ride bicycles or motorbikes have to pay some attention to how small a sleeping bag rolls up. Well, at one time sleeping bags were made of reindeer skin, and you'd certainly need two bicycles to carry one of them, maybe two motorbikes as well.
This ditty was written by Herbert Ponting while he was working as photographer on R.F. Scott's second voyage to Antarctica. It may be more entertaining to regular sleeping-bag users than a straight road:
THE SLEEPING BAG
Herbert George Ponting
On the outside grows the furside. On the inside grows the skinside.
So the furside is the outside and the skinside is the inside.
As the skinside is the inside (and the furside is the outside)
One ‘side’ likes the skinside inside and the furside on the outside.
Others like the skinside outside and the furside on the inside
As the skinside is the hard side and the furside is the soft side.
If you turn the skinside outside, thinking you will side with that ‘side’,
Then the soft side furside’s inside, which some argue is the wrong side.
If you turn the furside outside – as you say, it grows on that side,
Then your outside’s next the skinside, which for comfort’s not the right side.
For the skinside is the cold side and your outside’s not your warm side
And the two cold sides coming side-by-side are not the right sides one ‘side’ decides.
If you decide to side with that ‘side’, turn the outside furside inside
Then the hard side, cold side, skinside’s, beyond all question, inside outside.
...... What tune will that go with?
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:12 AM
September 27, 2010 GMT
The Orange River
From Keetmanshoop southwards the road was more of the same, like this:
This road, all the way from Windhoek, is called the B1, and that's about all it deserves to be called.
Any name more descriptive than that would be an overstatement.
Or maybe the Trans-Nowhere Highway.
Nothing to take note of, except it became colder and colder, needing a stop to put on the winter woollies. Hence the photo above.
A little later, approaching the Orange River and the South African border, the river valley appeared.......
......... and we dropped about 1,400 feet in the short distance to Noordoewer.
You can't fall off the edge of the world anymore, since those flat-earth people retired, but you can fall off of the edge of South Africa. It ends at these near-vertical cliffs above the Orange River.
Which made me think. All those bungy-jumpers must be kicking themselves, being born too late to bungy off of the edge of the world itself.
On this, the Namibian side, it's all volcanoes. This must have been another of those boiler house/engine rooms full of fiery activity back in pre-history times.
It looks like one of those volcanoes went on a dodgy brick-laying course.
View on the Namibian bank of the Orange River.
(And at last, a picture without that funny little blue motorbike lurking. Let's give it a rest from modelling duty).
These volcanoes must really have been vying for space. Maybe they had parking attendants.
"No, you can't erupt here, you'll block up that exit. Go over there, squeeze between Stromboli and Vesuvius. Ask Etna to back up a bit. And listen, there's a limit now on how many boulders you can chuck out. There're so many rolling around down in the valley that we'll soon be right out of dinosaurs."
And so, all being well, we'll shortly cross the final frontier into the final country.
H.M. The Bike just complained about not being in the last two photos. So here's a few more.
I'd noticed recently that stuff in the right hand pannier had been warming up. Even yesterday when it was so cold I had to stop for more layers.
The pannier rests against a plumber's heat-shield mat. The combined effects of the heat from the silencer underneath, and constant rubbing vibration has caused a few holes in it, and a lot of thinning. So it's not as effective now. It looks like this:
Under the mat is a coil of rubber gas hose. This is largely unaffected.
And is pop-rivetted to the plastic side panel, as here:
(From a very early posting)
The side panel is now in a very sad state. It's taken on the shape, more-or-less, of the silencer underneath and is almost wrapped around it. A metal bracket on the silencer, designed to maintain space between silencer and panel, has melted its way through the panel.
The only thing that has withstood the heat of the silencer and the weight of the pannier is the coil of rubber gas pipe. Except there are spaces between the coils, through which the bracket on the silencer can now contact the pannier.
So I've been casting around for ideas for a solution or improvement. These panniers are one of the best bits of equipment of the whole set-up, and should last a couple of lifetimes at least if reasonably protected from the heat. They're unaffected at the moment but that won't continue much longer.
This morning I visited the supermarket here in Noordoewer. It has the sort of little hardware department that you usually see in a supermarket where the customers live over a hundred miles from the nearest town of any size. So it had a roll of rubber gas pipe at about a pound per metre. From that I made this:
With coils close enough together to give more support and protection. I hope it's as heat-resistant as the pipe it will be assisting.
It fits here:
With camera in hand, I photographed this:
The small split in front tyre from the Boshua Pass.
Small, but quite deep, I think it might go all the way through.
So no visits to the Fish River Canyon. Despite what I'd been told by at least two people, one living in Keetmanshoop, both roads there are gravel, not tarmac. I passed and checked them yesterday.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 08:24 PM
September 25, 2010 GMT
Here I am in Keetmanshoop. Plans in disarray, trying to make sense of the options available.
Well, not quite like that.
I'll stay here one night instead of the three days I'd planned earlier, and continue tomorrow to the South African border at Noordoewer on the Orange River. Maybe stop for a day at the Fish River Canyon on the way. But, "If you've been to the Grand Canyon, it's another one of those but smaller."
And no doubt more expensive. At the Grand Canyon there's a special cheap price if you arrive by bicycle, which I did. In African parks there's a special expensive price if you're foreign, which I am.
But that wasn't the plan first thing this morning.
I ended up staying four days at the very nice B&B just outside Mariental, which itself was a nice, tiny, sheep-market town. Taking a breather after the adventure of the Boshua Pass road.
I also fitted the chain guide roller I bought in Swakopmund. It has two bearings inside it, looks a lot stronger than the original Yamaha one, and fitted exactly. I hope now you won't have to read any more about that long and boring saga (been going on and on since the Western Desert in Egypt!)
I'll think of something else instead, see below.....
So this morning I planned to reach Keetmanshoop, stay here until Monday when the shops open, put a new front tyre on and head off to the border. When I arrived in town, Saturday afternoon, everything was closed. (It's civilised in Africa, people have time off). But I fortuitously wandered into the area with all the tyre dealers, and one was still open dealing with a customer emergency of some sort.
"No, there are no motorbike shops in town at all, and no tyres. Are you headed north or south?"
"Your first place then for a tyre will be Upington, about the same distance away as Windhoek is. This split doesn't look bad as long as you stay on the tarmac."
That sounded OK and I'll only stay here one night instead of three.
I consulted my map to see where Upington was.
Oh dear! The road forks a little way south, one fork going to Cape Town, the other to Johannesburg, and Upington is on the Johannesburg road. No good then.
On the Cape Town road there's only one sizeable town marked on my map (but lots and lots of small ones); Springbok.
So a new tyre will have to wait until Springbok or Cape Town.
The road to here from Mariental was the same as previous Namibian tarmac roads. Straight, if not straighter, and almost as featureless. First, we had 'spot the celebrity'.
As I've said, the changes are subtle travelling from east to south-west. Now, there are very few buses. But quite a few people in remote countryside thumbing for lifts. And private cars are back. Not seen many of those since Egypt, except in the capital cities. Now, they overtake regularly, and at least two today carried a passenger determined to get an action photo of me as they went past! Not really the Africa I came to see.
The other feature was a complete lack of any wires along the road, no telephone wires, no power lines, but a railway instead staying close to the road all the way.
"Wouldn't it be an adventure to actually see a train travelling along this line," I mused.
Instead, about halfway to Keetmanshoop, there was a "Commonwealth War Graves" sign leading to another, just across the track:
Then a mile of stoney track led to this, alongside Gibeon Station.
German graves from a 1902 conflict, with white headstones, left of picture. German graves from WWI, with headstones close together, centre. And Commonwealth graves from WWI, right of picture.
Closer view of WWI graves. Commonwealth nearest, German further away.
Still remembered, side by side.
As in Jinja, Uganda, there was no cemetary register containing a narrative so I don't know the story behind this, but as this is probably the furthest from Europe I'll see a Commonwealth War Cemetary, I took the pictures.
There's even a shop here at the trackside:
So I bought a bottle of lemonade and a toothbrush. They even sold Kiwi Black Shoe Polish, and I think I can now confirm that wherever you are in Africa, you're never more than a couple of miles from someone selling Kiwi Black Shoe Polish.
I received some nice comments about the photos of the Bulawayo Railway Museum, so here are some more railway pictures.
I suppose this is an African railway 'No Entry' sign. The piece of bent and painted rail is hinged over the working rail and held in place with a padlock. I can't see it stopping the Flying Scotsman should it hurtle along here one day.
The track is as straight as the boring B1 Windhoek to Keetmanshoop road alongside.
I was happy that an express wouldn't suddenly appear and remove my front tyre before I purchased a new one, having asked the people in the shop when the trains come along.
"Only at night, about ten in the evening."
A train must have passed this way recently with a wagon misbehaving, trundling along on the sleepers instead of the rails. I tried a photo of the damage but it doesn't really work.
There's a long line of wheel damage (maybe hundreds of miles?) to the sleepers between the rails, (to the left), and on the right-hand end of the sleepers. For railway enthusiasts only, you understand.
As the trains run at night here, it reminded me of an incident many years ago that I thought might happen here on this line, and provide a little entertainment for the rest of the way to Keetmanshoop.
For both motorcycle and railway enthusiasts.
I was bowling along to Paris on the motorway from Calais, alone, quite late at night. And it was raining, cats and dogs. I had given up hope of reaching Paris that night and was hurrying along as quickly as possible to reach a Formule 1 hotel that I knew I'd find in one of the motorway service stations.
I don't really remember what "hurrying" amounted to, but the bike I was riding was capable of a shade over 140mph and I don't remember there being much unused throttle movement left. But this was France in the early 90s - not much speed discipline in those days - and there was zero other traffic. Also, I always felt comfortable at speed in these sorts of conditions, masses of rain washing the road absolutely clean of all oil, diesel, rubber and everything else. Plenty of grip with high-quality tyres. When I used to race on tarmac tracks, I always got better finishing positions in the wet than in the dry, I seem to find the knack of staying on the bike in the rain.
But, fairly suddenly, there was blue flashing light......
"Don't panic, Mr. Mainwaring!"
An easing of the throttle seemed sensible, just a little, not a lot.
However, the rear-view mirrors were absolutely as black as the ace of spades. Not a twinkle of light behind.
Looking forward again, the dense sheet of large and fast-moving raindrops was definitely being illuminated by blue flashing light. But the mirrors still black.
"Maybe they're in front, and I'm catching them up!"
But nothing at all in the distance. Not the dimmest of red lights.
I turned off my lights just for an instant, to be sure.
"Argggghh, turn those lights back on quick, that's just too scary at this speed!"
But no, it was all blackness ahead, as well as behind. And on the carriageway going in the other direction as well. Empty. This was too strange for comfort.
"I know! This superb Ducati has reached such a speed that I've leapt across a divide into some other world! The police here are descended from the Invisible Man."
No, that can't be right. At least be sensible about it. But the blue was definitely getting brighter.
Next, I spied out of the corner of my right eye, a strange long black thing maybe fifty yards from the road, coming alongside me. Above it were two brilliant blue dancing flames. One at the front, one at the rear. In fact, the colour was electric blue.
The London-to-Paris Eurostar train glided past me, at, I assume, its operating speed of 186mph.
A bit humbling in a way. Must be quite something to be the driver of that in this weather.
"Drat!!" I thought. "Too late now! I should never have eased up on the throttle. I might have beaten it to Paris! Now I'll never know!"
In this downpour there must have been a river of water hanging from the overhead power line, producing enough sparks to illuminate most of the rain all around the sky. Quite a scene as it disappeared into the murky distance.
Couldn't happen here though, of course. It's the dry season.
Have to find some other entertainment.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:33 PM
September 22, 2010 GMT
The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times
A tale of two days.
Let's start with the worst of times, part one.
The morning after exploring the coast and desert around Swakopmund I decided to return inland and then south towards South Africa. First I needed some cash from the ATM.
You know that feeling you get, when you're a long way from home, in a strange country, in a far-away land that everyone says is dangerous, and you go to put your cash card in the ATM but there's no cash card?
"Don't panic, Mr. Mainwaring!"
Well, it's not easy and I supposed I failed a little.
Firstly, if it's gone it's gone, and I had a credit card, so I used that. But later it turned out I didn't need to.
With cash, I headed into town for petrol and to visit the big Yamaha dealer, just to look.
And I thought of where the card might be. Slowly it came back. I withdrew some cash the Saturday before from the bank next to the cafe where I parked the bike. I remembered it all being in small notes making a doorstep that just about fitted through the jaws and filled my pocket to bulging.
But no memory of filing away the plastic card. So I return to the bank, maybe I left it in the machine.
On the way was the police station - pop in there.
The attendant pulled out a huge cardboard box full of keys, cards, purses, spectacles, wallets and watches. But not my card.
But in the station there was a reminder of two things I'd not seen elsewhere in Africa. Posters all around the room imploring lorry-drivers not to pick up women touting at the roadsides, which reminded me of the other scene a few days earlier, quite a few women standing along the verge of the north-south motorway out of Windhoek, waiting for clients. As I said, the changes are slow and subtle.
So off to the bank, where the attendant at the enquiries desk picked up the phone and dialled an extension.
"Someone will be out in a moment with your card."
Phew! What a sense of relief.
My saviour appeared, saying he thought maybe the buzzer that tells you to take your card away with you wasn't working over the weekend.
"The machine pulls the card back in for safe keeping, here it is, sign here and here and let me photocopy your passport."
So that was all right then.
Then off to the Yamaha dealer. I thought it might be wise, if they have one, to buy a chain to carry as a spare. Eighteen thousand miles across tarmac, desert and dirt is quite a test of a chain, and although I'd only had to adjust it once, you never know.
They had one, so I asked about guide rollers.
Yes, they have those too, after-market ones much stronger than the original. By the way, they recently heard that four brand-new TTR250s had been found in Durban and they had earmarked two of them to put in their showroom.
With things looking good, or at least better than when I tried to locate my plastic earlier, I asked about the routes back inland.
There are three. The tarmac I'd come in on that takes a big loop to the north through Karibib, or a dirt road due east to Windhoek (which I'd explored a bit, finding the "Dust free" sign the day before), or another much longer dirt road south-east to Mariental which is on the main road south to South Africa.
I'd already asked at the hotel and the consensus there was that the due east road to Windhoek was fine, shorter than the tarmac and much more scenic. (That tarmac road, although not straight, had been pretty much as featureless as the rest of the Trans-Kalahari from Botswana).
"Ordinary cars do it all the time, you don't need 4X4 or anything like that," they assured me.
The advice in the Yamaha shop was the same.
"The south east road is a long way. There's somewhere to stay along it, but lots of bad corrugations further east." I'd already discounted that option because of the distance.
"Don't go on the tarmac, you've already seen how boring that is. The C28 direct road to Windhoek is fine. You'll have a great ride. It's flat straight desert at first but then there's the Boshua Pass (which I'd seen signposted), then you're up in the mountains to Windhoek. Two hundred miles in all. We wouldn't go any other way."
All this from a Finish ex-pat Yamaha dealer who wanted to know about my ride to North Cape and Lapland on a Yamaha Serow. He'd never heard of a Serow but knew straightaway what an XT225 was (its other name).
So that seemed fairly sound, just needed petrol and then back to the "Dust Free Zone" and onwards and upwards over the Boshua Pass.
Except it was already eleven o'clock by then. But that's eight hours of light so should be OK.
The previous day I'd been as far as the 1km of dust-free tarmac and then returned. Today I continued beyond, on pretty good hard graded dirt and gravel, fairly straight but weird Namib Desert all around. Then another sign ditto, "dust free 2km ahead."
Tarmac again. And it went on and on, and on. About ten miles and I was thinking, "Hey, where's my adventure gone that they promised me. It's all tarmac!"
And another five miles. The lonely signposts still said Windhoek so it was the right road alright.
Then, a massive Uranium mining area with no-entry signs all over the place and huge trucks dotting the skyline. And the end of the tarmac, back on the good hard gravel.
And onwards deeper into the Namib, some strange scenes.
Distant mountains and trees hang in the sky above the mirages.
Approaching halfway we start to climb up into some foothills.
The road a bit stonier but still fine.
The volcanic activity returns. I'm pretty certain this is lava solidified in mid-flow. The larger ones are often hollow inside forming lava tubes.
Around here, groups of gazelle appeared, leaping along across and away from the road as I appeared. At one point a particularly large one, I thought maybe a springbok, came bounding alongside on the left of the road, overtook me and bounded across a little in front. Then disappeared off to the right. It had a very determined look about it, with shoulders sort of hunched as though it was on a very serious mission. I was going at a shade under 30mph at the time. Maybe it was just a race.
Deeper into the Namib and further into the foothills.
The volcanic stuff looking back.
A little before halfway, the turning north to Karibib, the Boshua Pass is dead ahead.
Two miles or so before the pass.
The sign says "Steep Gradients Ahead. No Trucks Trailers Caravans."
That's got that lot out of the way then.
But - one mile later..........
The sign said nothing about punctures.
Ignition off. Gloves off. Hat off. Coat off. Tools off. Wheel off. Tyre off. Tube off. As quickly as you can say it ideally - but this added an hour to the journey. So not too bad, but serious doubt now about reaching Windhoek before dark. The Worst Of Times part Two.
But, if you have a puncture in the desert, the Namib is the place to do it. Not hot, in fact the temperature is very pleasant.
Puncture mended, the climb through the Boshua Pass.
Steep and vertiginous. On some of these inclines the little loaded Yamaha came close to needing some clutch slip to reach the top.
The downhills were just as tricky. The tyres were getting quite a battering on the stones and rocks. I hoped my faith in the repair I did back in Kenya, to the inner tube that was now inside the front wheel, was not misplaced.
Road surface deteriorating amongst the hills. Shadows lengthening.
Like the teacher appearing when the student is ready, stuff you really need has a habit of turning up in time.
Well, it did on this occasion in the form of Harmonie Camping, a little way past the pass and about two-thirds to Windhoek. And not on any map or internet site I've seen.
Everything you need for an overnight including electricity and hot shower. Maybe it's true what they say, there's nowhere left in the world where you can have a true adventure.......
Even a little table made from an old cable drum on its side, just right for three patches and a breakfast in the morning.
I had fitted my spare inner tube to fix the puncture, but the damaged one has to be mended as soon as poss, specially in this environment.
The tyre went down just after I hit something quite large and unseen, it must have been a big rock the same colour as the road surface, or maybe I just didn't see it.
Anyway, it made two small tears in the side of the inner tube. How, I don't know, but I do wonder now about the usefulness of these heavy-duty 5mm thick tubes.
Because when I removed the tube the day before, the first thing I saw was a tree thorn that had pierced it, with a bit of the thorn still in the tyre.
But that must have pierced the tube as I removed the tyre, the same as happened when Caroline changed her front tyre in Egypt.
So these tubes may protect against pointy things in the tyre going right into the tube, but on two occasions now they have eventually made a hole during all the huffing and puffing of removing the tyre. Maybe at least that happens when you've got the tyre off anyway, but these tubes also weigh a serious amount more than ordinary ones and I wonder if it's worth it.
So the net result was three holes to mend, then pack the tube back where the spare one belongs. And also to report on The Worst Of Times part Three. After replacing the wheel the day before and packing up everything, everything was certainly on the bike. But chains are heavy things and the road over the pass was fearsomely steep and bumpy. Well, the new chain, wedged under the bungy straps, fell off and is in the road somewhere along the Boshua Pass, so at least I don't have the weight of it any more.
Ready to depart, we continued a short distance to This:
One of many cattle grids, and a sign.
The Boshua Pass leads up to the Khomas Highlands, and the adventure continues. With a name like that maybe you'd expect it to.
The road simply got worse and worse. More and bigger stones, loose gravel, and the arrival of corrugations. Sometimes pretty serious, requiring braking down to almost walking pace. And these too became worse and worse.
We were only about twenty miles from Windhoek now but still no traffic. For the whole distance since the campsite nothing had overtaken me and only about three cars went the other way. The day before, the score was one vehicle overtaking me and maybe five going the other way, in about 120 miles.
So I got to thinking, where are all these people who 'always use this road - wouldn't go to Windhoek by any other way'?
Where are the 'ordinary cars'? They'd all been 4X4s with half-metre-wide tyres.
Yes, it's like Australia still, everyone has a lot of brash pioneer spirit. "No worries mate! That road'll get you to Windhoek before you know it. My Granny drives it everyday to get to the corner shop!"
And as usual, just as the corrugations grew so bad I thought I might have to get off and push, the Star of the East appeared. Tarmacadam!
Never is relief so immediate!
"Well, that was quite a two-day adventure! I'm glad all those people recommended this road otherwise I would have just gone on that boring old road round to the north. Perhaps we can make Mariental before sunset."
I headed straight for the western bypass, turned south, and hoped for a simple ride to some nice accommodation for rest and recovery.
So here I am at a nice B&B just outside Mariental, well on the way to the South African border, now about three day's riding away.
But there's still no rest. Today was oil-change day. And the front brake pads as well, which I noticed, when mending the puncture, were in need of replacement. They've done eighteen and a half thousand miles across mainly African roads, so you may expect the caliper sliders to be a little jammed up with red dirt, and they were.
And just to finish, although I had a reasonably good look at the front tyre when it was off of the bike in the desert, I also spotted, while changing the brake pads, a small but deep split in the tread (which is pretty worn down now, just about legal in the UK I think). No doubt caused by hitting whatever it was that I hit.
I'd already decided that both tyres will probably need changing before Cape Town, so now I'll be looking for a front replacement in Keetmanshoop, the next main town along the way. It's probably not an emergency thing as this split tyre has, after all, survived the worst third of the road to Windhoek.
There'll be another oil change needed before Cape Town and I think the total mileage by the finish line (wherever that is) will be over twenty thousand.
I think that's over the 'qualifying distance' to be ridden for an around-the-world journey. So that'll do for now.
I made a map on GoogleEarth of the route so far:
Posted by Ken Thomas at 07:28 PM
September 21, 2010 GMT
Job Half Done
I haven't completed the north-to-south traverse of Africa yet, but I have done the east-to-west.
(Or should that be, an east-to-west. Hardly the widest part).
Windhoek was a bit time-consuming. It seemed to take forever to come out of the western side of the city and eventually reach the bypass, and the decision that had to be made.
There was also the Kalahari.
A couple of weeks ago I thought, from my map, that I'd just be crossing the north-western corner of it in Botswana. But now, reaching Windhoek, I find it stretches westwards past this city all the way to the Atlantic, the Namib desert and the Skeleton Coast.
Which also solves another puzzle. Although it's generally referred to as a desert, all the way to Gobabis and beyond it was fairly full of vegetation. A bit parched maybe but a fair amount of vegetation nevertheless.
Now, on reaching that Western Bypass at last, the right hand indicator suddenly started winking. So right it was, to the north, where the real desert started. And it's a funny thing, but the road became more interesting. That desert mystery returned, the weird colours and shades, the strange light, and the flowing dunes.
And it became quite hot.
The weather had already warmed up quite a bit between entering the country and reaching Windhoek. Now it was pretty hot. And for a while, heading north, we climbed from 5,500 feet to close to 6,000. But I knew that soon the road would swing round to the left and head westwards to the Atlantic and down to sea level. So how hot will it be down there?
I stopped overnight in the pleasant little town of Karibib, at about 5,000 ft and still hot, making me wonder again what the temperature would be on the coast.
After Karibib a steady descent started, with more distant mountains appearing, the grass disappearing, and many different colours in the sandy scenery.
And strangely, the temperature dropped. A steady cooling until it became, errrr, quite cold.
Then a roadsign: - "Fog
Fog in the desert, how does that happen?
Well, there was no fog on this day, but the far horizon slowly disappeared in a distant mist. And out of it, eventually, came the seaside town of Swakopmund, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Namib Desert, the Skeleton Coast and the Kalahari.
It was quite an event really, departing Mombasa on the Indian Ocean about five months ago and arriving today at the Atlantic, all on little TTR250, via Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Job half done!
H.M. The Bike and an audience with the Atlantic Ocean.
And with an Atlantic breaker.
You can probably guess from these photos that the weather was, well, a touch English. Just like a dull day in Brighton in fact. Cold and damp.
Or the west coast of Ireland - it's the same ocean.
North from Swakopmund - the Skeleton Coast. Atlantic Ocean is on the horizon, swimming in the mist.
Earlier, along various featureless bits of road between Gobabis and Windhoek, I'd computed that if things continue as successfully as hitherto, and I don't veer off into any significant detours between here and the south, I'll still be able to reach Cape Agulhas, see the sights of the Western Cape, and wrap things up at the Cape Town airport cargo area before the expiry of my Carnet.
I also computed that it would be better to arrive home feeling, "Well, that was a nice little trip, I'll plan another one in the New Year somewhere else in the world!" than, "Phew, that went on too long - that's me done with motorbike rides for a few years!"
The next day was sunny and more of the coast beckoned.
Namib Desert sand dunes.
Off-road 4X4s and quad bikes are big business here, so a lot of the dunes are roped off to prevent them being destroyed by tyres. Not much chance of my tyres getting up one of these.
The Atlantic on a sunny day.
Gingerly leaving the tarmac further into the Skeleton Coast.
Followed by this......
Am I glad to see that!
Beware heavy vacuum cleaners crossing ahead. - Or are we supposed to pay for the dust here??
It turned out to be a 100-yard section of tarmac, in the middle of nowhere. One of the mysteries of the desert.
But this part of Africa isn't really like Africa. Riding around this modern seaside town, complete with Wimpy bar and 50-metre indoor swimming pool - "..... will be closed permanently from 30th June 2010,
" - roads full of 4X4s carrying racks of sea fishing rods or towing quad bikes, or both, it was more like being in Australia than where I was supposed to be.
Changes are quite subtle.
On greeting someone, in a shop, cafe, someone coming to look at the bike, it's no longer a serious race to be the first to say, "How are you?"
And the response isn't always all smiles and white teeth.
I can't imagine an incident ever happening here that occurred, I think, in western Tanzania:
"Hello, how are you?"
"Fine, thanks. How are you?"
"Very well, thanks. My name is Simon. Nice to meet you."
Now, my name often gives speakers of other languages quite a problem. Strange!
It can be Kin, or Kan, or Kent, or all sorts of permutations. One chap in Kenya was having particular difficulty in working out the pronunciation.
I told him it was no good listening to me, and wrote down the name of his country with the last two letters crossed off. Then we had the big "Ahhhh! Ke
n!" with Swahili accent and lots of white teeth.
Back to Simon, he got my name wrong a couple of times. "I know," he said. "Cain!"
"Noooo," I said. "It's Ke
n. Not Cain. That's from Cain and Abel."
At that his eyes lit up enough to illuminate the whole room.
"You know the Bible?" He almost threw his arms around me (that happens in Tanzania) but settled for another long and vigorous three-way handshake instead.
"That's wonderful. I'm so glad you know. I'll see you again."
We met a couple of times after that, I think he either worked in the hotel I was in or was another guest, and he always treated me like a big celebrity.
Religion is no longer a big thing here binding people together. There's a distinct space between black and white people. No sense of everyone looking out for everyone else, and certainly less sense of local people looking out for, or looking after, visitors.
Another change, all-pervading and yet almost unnoticed, the red earth has gone. The dust no longer the colour of post office vans. All is neutral grey, almost white.
And finally, I noticed a place on an internet map that maybe encapsulates the difference between this part of Africa and the eastern side.
It's a luxury lodge out in the dunes not far from where I'm staying now. In its blurb it says "The atmosphere is the real 'Spirit of Africa'........ What makes it one of the last frontiers is the lack of water........... Accommodation offered is ............. chalets all with luxury .......... en-suite bathrooms including an indoor and an outdoor shower....."
I know Africa is perhaps one big dichotomy, but that's a dichotomy too far!
So, time to move on south and maybe complete the job before the customs papers expire.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:30 AM
September 16, 2010 GMT
The Trans-Kalahari Highway
I'm reviewing the situation.
It'll be decision time again in Windhoek (Namibia), on which route to take thereafter.
Firstly, I stayed a few days longer in Ghanzi (Botswana). It's a cultural centre of the San bushman tribes. I read a little about their situation in the Ghanzi public library.
Travelling along the roads east to west in this part of Central Botswana it's noticeable that there are numerous large billboard signs on the outskirts of towns, urging people to "Know when to say No!" With an additional slogan about responsible drinking, in English and the Botswanan language.
On arrival in Ghanzi I saw a large hotel sign above a bar area inside a parking compound. So I rode in, to find quite a lot of people drinking merrily, outside in the compound and in the bar. I couldn't find any hotel reception and the customers were keen to help me, but it took a while for them to string the words together to explain that the sign for the hotel above the bar was only an advert, the actual hotel was two buildings further along. So I don't know if there's an alcohol problem around here or not, as I never saw any other indications that there might be.
In the library I learned that the San people don't actually refer to themselves by that name, it's a label that's come to be used by western publications. Up-market guide books and holiday brochures for instance, refer to the San people in advertising their luxury safari package holidays in Botswana, and particularly in the Okavango Delta. In some communities the word 'San' is considered derogatory.
The people themselves use names that refer to the language group that they come from, there being about eight different languages in use, although all generally related. These names were deemed too complicated to use in adverts for posh trips to indigenous villages.
Also, on average, one western film crew per month descends on the villages on the north-western edge of the Delta, to film advertising material, glossy magazine features or TV travelogue footage. The usual set-piece demand is for the villagers to dress up in their tribal costumes (which they do anyway), and walk across the salt pans for the cameras, armed with ceremonial spears - which they never normally do.
"Why would we do that, there's nothing out there on the pans. We don't live near them and they're empty except for tourists on quad bikes!"
But the enigmatic image is of a 'San Bushman' walking across a salt pan in his tribal garb. And like everyone else, they need to earn the money that makes this world go round so they accept the film companies' fees.
I also learned a little more about Cecil Rhodes, in particular his dealings in what is now Botswana. He was more of a rogue than I thought he was, and that was quite a lot of a rogue.
In the late 1800s a group of Botswanan chiefs travelled to London to lobby the then government. They accepted the idea of their territories being protected by the British against incursions by other enthusiastic European colonising countries, but had two demands for the government.
That the land taken from them by Rhodes in fraudulent deals be returned, and for the British to ban all import and carriage of alcohol into their territories. Rhodes tried to stop them in Cape Town on their way to England but failed.
The chiefs' two demands also failed, the British view being, more or less, 'a deal's a deal'.
(Rhodes did later lose the land he took from the Botswanan people, as punishment for launching his abortive 'Jameson Raid' from Botswana against the Transvaal. But the land was then appropriated by the British government rather than being returned to the tribes).
After a few more days in Ghanzi, and marking the one-year point of this journey, I departed for Namibia and Gobabis. But took this photo first of some local widlife that seemed to spend time around the hotel building but left the campsite alone, I'm glad to say.
Back on the Trans-Kalahari Highway,
the road continued as featureless as before.
Right up to the Namibian border. Which was the quickest border-crossing so far, I think. And the emptiest. Only me and one truck, carrying brand new cars into Namibia. (But a big tour group going the other way).
Then the road continued, even dryer and bleaker. And maybe even straighter.
And then this, about halfway to Windhoek:
It's like that restaurant I mentioned once before, called 'Three Chairs Missing'.
I'll call this place 'One Letter Missing'.
And things became a little more interesting. Trees returned.
And distant mountains.
And a distant horizon at last.
And I began to review the situation of the next bit of my journey.
I stopped in Gobabis that night, within easy distance of Windhoek and the next major crossroads.
The last few day's travelling had brought about quite a change. In the scenery, the atmosphere of the towns, in the people, in everything really. And memories of what many other travellers had told me over previous months began to queue up to be reviewed.
"Isn't it funny, how the more prosperous people become, the less happy they are."
"The further south you go, the more expensive it becomes."
"You have to remember, the people who say how wonderful the south-west coast is, the Namibian deserts and sand dunes - for a lot of them that's the only bit of Africa they've seen. They've never been to Ethiopia, Sudan, western Tanzania, the Sahara."
And so it goes on. And it seems to be true.
Just recently I've heard from Sabine and Bodo who accompanied us on that other highway, the Trans East-African Highway of northern Kenya. (Unlike that one, this Kalahari version is all smooth tarmac, neat verges, straight, and so boring.
They are ahead of me, and have had their Mercedes truck broken into and cameras stolen, inside a fenced and security-guarded campsite on the Namibian coast.
And there was Pedro, an American who has lived in Johannesburg for many years but is now on an open-ended journey going generally northwards to see the rest of Africa. I met him in Gweta on my way to Maun and we exchanged lots of information.
"Be careful in Namibia and South Africa," he warned. "Lots of thefts are inside jobs, arranged inside guarded hotels and lodges. And Windhoek may not be a good place to stay in, there are reports of travellers witnessing violence on the streets."
A couple of days later I happened to read Sabine's blog: "We have our cameras returned, the police seemed to know where to find them being sold on the streets, but no one is arrested. And as I write this, a man is running down the street being chased by another wielding a machette. And a car is involved as well."
In Mikumi, southern Tanzania, I met Max, a Kenyan documentary film maker returning by road from the World Cup. He had been making a documentary about the effects of the football competition on the lives of ordinary black South Africans in and around Cape Town.
We talked quite a bit, and he said, "You may not like it when you reach South Africa and Cape Town after travelling all down the east coast."
"There, society is still white-dominated. In a restaurant everyone will be white, the only black people will be doing the cleaning and washing-up. Despite all that Nelson Mandela did, things haven't changed very much. I've been making a film about that and who the World Cup really benefitted."
He had been a journalist on a national Kenyan newspaper but went freelance with a camera after he found his stories were never published as he wrote them. "Everything is edited so that it falls in line with the western view of Africa."
He had two Italians with him who were independent film-makers and helping to get his documentary published.
"No one in the established film industry will touch this stuff because of what I've filmed, but these two may be able to get it out to the public."
So, things may be different ahead.
Certainly, over the last week, the number of 'large' people in the streets has gone from zero to a noticeable amount, and the number of morose and sullen faces, ditto. The cheery welcomes and greetings and hospitality aren't so cheery now.
There's also the paperwork.
My customs Carnet for H.M. The Bike expires at the end of October. Renewal shouldn't cost an arm and a leg, like the first edition, but will be well into three figures. And being in the Southern Africa Customs Union means I have to deal not only with the RAC back home but also with the South African version of the RAC, with papers, forms and phone calls passing between all three of us. The courier charges for sending all those papers around will probably be three figures as well, and I have to have a postal address for a while. So is it worth extending it? To stay longer in an area I might not like?
So, a decision needs to be made in Windhoek.
I can either turn left, to the south and the South African border, missing a lot of the Atlantic Coast. But arriving in Cape Town in time to ship the bike back home before the end of October.
Or, turn right, to the north, the Skeleton Coast, the Namib Desert, the Swakop river, and a few hundred more miles and more time.
Well, for a few moments I thought on that in Gobabis, but decided that I'd decide what to do once I'm on the road to Windhoek the next day. See how things felt, how the bike was going, what the weather was like.
So I set off west the following morning, thinking I don't really need to decide, left or right, until I've been through Windhoek on the way to its Western Bypass on the far side. And really, I can even wait until I approach the bypass junction, so
......... I think I'd better think it out again.........
when it's time to press the L-R indicator switch.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:33 AM
September 13, 2010 GMT
Ghanzi, Edge Of the Kalahari
After a few days in Maun it was off to Ghanzi. A little more colour in the scenery with the trees, but really, another long boring straight stretch. We crossed the Ngwanalekau Hills (why should I be the only one trying to pronounce these names?) and Tsau Hills, but as far as I could see, all was as flat as a pancake.
Which was not surprising as we were back in salt-pan country, one of them being called, according to my whimsical map, Peter Pan, just inside the Kalahari Game Reserve.
On uninteresting stretches of road the GPS can sometimes be a bit of a diversion to play with, but I'd long since run out of things to do with it.
But, I thought, I'd set it to point at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the continent and my final destination (I hope).
Ahh! We've broken one thousand! Only nine hundred and ninety five miles to go, as the crow flies.
And even better, the bearing is 199 degrees and our track right now is 192 degrees, so only seven degrees off. And would you believe it? Ahead is a slight, imperceptible bend to the right...... and now our track is 199 degrees, dead on course!!
What's our Estimated Time of Arrival? (One of the most useful features of GPS devices in my opinion).
It says 9:30am. But sadly, doesn't say which day, or even the month.
Some mental arithmetic makes 995 miles about twenty hours of continuous riding, so that's 9:30am tomorrow!!
Wow, only one day to Cape Town, if the road continues dead straight at 199 degrees and I don't stop for anything!
But I did stop, for this photo, about halfway to Ghanzi across this north-west corner of The Kalahari:
"Steer 199 degrees, Mr. Helmsman, and be careful of Peter Pan. It's a few miles off our port bow."
"Aye aye, Cap'n."
So I won't be in Cape Town tomorrow I'm afraid.......
But - it all helps to keep the mind active in retirement.
(I don't suppose you'd say the same about reading this stuff......)
Tomorrow is one year since departure, I'll probably still be in Ghanzi, maybe crossing a bit more of The Kalahari and into Namibia on the 15th.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 01:16 PM
September 11, 2010 GMT
The Okavango Delta
Another country, another change. After the verdant and colourful vegetation of Zimbabwe, Botswana is a bit bare by comparison.
Dry flat savannah traversed by straight flat roads, all fairly unremarkable. But cattle and goats still roam the highways.
No balancing boulders or whalebacks - they almost stop dead at the border.
The formalities for Botswana were straightforward, no visa required, but road tax, insurance, and 'road safety levy' to pay for. About twelve pounds in all.
The cashier explained what I needed then showed me where the bank was to obtain some local Pula currency. He seemed a jovial character.
When I returned he said, "I was just discussing your accent with the man behind you. You Europeans always have very different accents to African people. Where is your accent from?"
I told him.
"Ah, well, tell me if this is right. Another visitor told me they speak a different language in Ireland. Is that so?"
"Gaelic," I said. "A lot of people speak it and it's still taught in schools."
"Well that's interesting. And then there's Scotland and Wales as well. But they speak English don't they?"
"In Wales some people speak the Welsh language which is also taught in schools, and in the west of Scotland they speak Gaelic."
"Are those languages like English?"
"No, completely different and unintelligible to us English!"
"That's complicated. But it's all one country isn't it, United Kingdom? So who keeps it all together?"
Well, that got me thinking. But inspiration arrived just in time.
"The Queen, of course!"
The cashier's eyes lit up with a big smile.
"Well, thank you very much. I think I understand you English a little better now!"
At that I entered on to the Botswanan roads equipped with my road safety token and road tax voucher.
This is the scene between Nata and Gweta (after an overnight in Francistown), dry grass and a few trees to the distant horizon.
Then the first small salt pan, before the huge Sowa and Ntwetwe Pans over to the south of the road.
And a magnificent baobab at one of just a few roadside picnic places.
It even looked as though its legs were crossed sitting on the ground.
(At least it did in real life, if not in this photo)
That was the last item of any interest. The road from Gweta on to Maun (rhymes with 'town') takes the prize as the most boring road of the journey so far. Even the desert roads in the Sahara had atmosphere and mystery, but this road is 140 miles of desolate boredom. Mostly dead straight, dead flat, next to no other traffic, and absolutely no people.
And hot. Summer is here now.
The boredom moved me to stop to take a picture of the only things to catch the eye.
A couple of donkeys and a rubbish bin. Nothing else of note.
After a while I came to think that even a few telephone wires would add a bit of interest. But they too had stopped dead at the border, having stretched all the way across Zimbabwe from Mozambique, providing a little reassuring company.
Then the boredom must have got serious, because suddenly I realised I had some different company that just might provide a little mental entertainment.
Not telephone wires, but power lines, a completely different kettle of fish. You plug your kettle into these, not your phone.
I found myself trying to judge what voltage they were carrying. The insulators were about six inches high with lots of thin ribs, so maybe quite modern. I couldn't find any other feature that might give a clue.
But then, joy of joys! A couple of poles had bright yellow labels on them proclaiming "33kV".
Well, that removed all the guess work. Maybe working out the power being carried by these wires would add something to the passage of time and ease the tedium on this endless road. (Or add to it maybe).
The conductors looked about six or eight millimetres diameter, a ladder and a micrometer would be handy - or even a clippon ammeter on a long pole!
No, this is 3-phase delta configuration, that wouldn't help.
In Bulawayo an electrical contractor's depot had a prominent position in town with its name in big letters: "Star Delta Contractors." Ah, that's what I needed, to remember the star-delta conversion formulas from college! Errrr, forty five years ago.
And power-factor corrections!
Nope, don't remember those either.
So I'll have to have a guess at the power being carried. At 33,000 volts I'd assume these lines are quite long, but don't know how long, except its another eighty miles to Maun....... and there are twelve spans between each joint......
No, I'm not interested in that either - but how else do you keep your mind active in retirement??
.......... you get the idea (I hope) about how boring this road was.........!!
And just in time, Maun appeared. Suddenly, like most African towns do in this part of the continent. A couple of tarmac side roads, traffic lights, followed by stacks of chrome-plated banks and supermarkets crowding the roads, Wimpy's hamburgers, shiny Shell and BP filling stations.
And colourful vegetation again. Almost, but not quite, tropical.
This is the south-east corner of the Okavango Delta and Maun is filled to bursting with safari operators in shiny chrome offices. But it seems not yet high season, so things are fairly quiet.
I set off up the road, followed by the powdery track, that stretches along the eastern side of the delta. The delta itself is all National Park with a hefty entrance fee. And the roads away from this track looked far too sandy for HM The Bike and I. Especially as one is on one's own.
So here are some photos from the track.
To the east of the delta is a massive salt-pan area. This is one tiny corner of one of the pans.
Huge signboard with list of environmental rules.
Plenty of parking on the Okavango Delta.
One of hundreds of posh water-front lodges on the Delta, concealed from view.
24 Hours after Air-Filter Washing Day.
Further into the Delta. Finding that they've built bends into the road, I wasn't sure about continuing.
A Delta river bed, dry at the moment, crosses the track. They say the Delta has received more water from the feeder rivers this last couple of years than for many years before.
"Another fine mess you got my airfilter into."
Delta trees in early summer.
The Delta village of Phologelo.
Okavango United football stadium out-of-season.
Between Francistown and Maun I stopped a couple of days in Gweta where I met a couple of French riders on KTMs, on a round-the-world trip. Travelling about three times as fast as me. They need to be in Buenos Aires before Christmas so aren't hanging about. They're doing some minor servicing so the conversation wanders in that direction. I learn that these bikes have a paper airfilter, which I think is necessary on this continent, but have an oil-impregnated foam filter as well, in front of it.
So, they told me, the foam filter can be washed in the normal way and makes the paper filter last a long time. The whole lot keeping a whole lot more dirt out of the engine than my little foam device.
That conversation, added to the never-ending need to 'do laundry' must have awakened a few slumbering brain cells, as I had the brilliant idea to wash the dirty filters in washing powder instead of petrol. And it seemed to work, and made the whole job a lot easier.
It certainly did work in one aspect. That is, I actually washed both of them at last as I no longer had to look around for empty plastic bottles and some way of disposing of the petrol. But just looking at those filters, and their open structure, tells me they're no good for this environment. Not when you've reached seventeen thousand miles with still a few thousand to go to the final goal. (Meaning another oil change just completed in Maun).
Posted by Ken Thomas at 12:13 PM
September 03, 2010 GMT
The Khami Ruins And On To The Atlantic
No, not leaving Bulawayo just yet, but have completed some exhaustive research on where on earth to go next.
Bulawayo is at a crossroads on the route to Namibia and the African west coast, there being at least three different ways ahead. All three traverse pretty remote and empty country, require at least some planning and provisioning, and are all equally highly recommended by guide books and other travellers.
The possibilities are:
- North west to the Victoria Falls, the Caprivi Strip, and round the north of the Okavango Delta to Windhoek.
- West to Nata, Maun on the south of the Okavango Delta, across a corner of the Kalahari and thence to Windhoek, or
- South west to Gabaronne (Botswana), and across, more or less, the Kalahari to Windhoek.
One of my considerations is the distance. I've travelled 16,000 miles now since Whyteleafe (how, I don't know - must be all that zigzagging - arriving here from Cairo on the Cape Town road for instance). And I don't want to suddenly find myself not wanting to go much further before Cape Town is in the bag. The shortest route onwards is the western one, so I've been studying that on the internet to check there are no distances of space-travel proportions without food, water or petrol. And it all looks OK.
The south west route is too long and requires almost a complete diagonal crossing of the Kalahari that I didn't even bother to check up on.
For the north west option, I've visited Victoria Falls before, and more than one other traveller has now told me that the Caprivi Strip is "just boring."
So all being well the next bit should be via Francistown (Botswana), Nata, Maun, Ghanzi, Gobabis (Namibia) and Windhoek.
And the thing that really called out to me from my maps, was that this route goes through that well-known bit of Namibia called 'Khomas'. So I couldn't miss out on that!
A couple of days ago I visited the Khami ruins to the west of the city. It's a smaller version of Great Zimbabwe, reaching its peak of influence about a hundred years later.
('Zimbabwe', by the way, literally means 'stone houses')
And some other bits from Zimbabwe.
In Masvingo someone was giving me directions to a hotel.
"There are only two robots in town, so it's easy. Turn left at the first, then right at the second, and it's a couple of kilometres on from there."
Luckily I had overheard someone a day or so before talking about 'robots' and realised he was talking about traffic lights. In Zimbabwe they're 'robots'.
And the cash limit from ATMs has disappeared, the limit previously being eighty pounds or less in Mozambique and Malawi.
Here, the first 'quick menu' that pops up on the ATM screen is for:
That's US dollars. From the sublime to the ridiculous.........
If you dare to enter "$200", the counting machine inside goes "click-click" and out pop two one-hundred dollar bills, that you can't spend anywhere.
Certainly not for fifty cents worth of bananas on the street.
And "cents" are an interesting concept here. There are none.
The only coins in circulation are South African Rands. So if you're due fifty US cents in change, you get about four or five rands, depending on what exchange rate the shopkeeper is sticking to. Anything between five rands to ten rands per US dollar is the norm, also decided by what particular coins the shopkeeper may have at that time. Or, you get sweets to the value of the change if no coins are to hand......
As in Malawi, most of the traffic here sticks to the speed limits. And in Bulawayo, radar speed traps are not uncommon. Someone was telling me that on a straight stretch of road (no attempt is made to hide the tripod-mounted device) the range is as much as a kilometre. I thought it a little strange at first that of the three or so I've seen in town, no one (including me) was ever stopped and receiving a ticket. (Then I realised, the traffic goes quite slowly).
"Ah!" said my informant. "That happened to me once. I was waved down and decided I'd ask to see the calibration certificate. They never have it, you see. But before I could say anything the policeman told me their shift had finished, and could I give them a lift back to their station? I seemed to be going in the right direction they said!"
"Once they were in my car they said they were in a hurry, could I go faster? I was already almost over the speed limit!"
That explained something that had puzzled me for a while. At just about every roadside police check in Africa, and all the radar speed checks, there's never a police car in attendance. Even on the most remote bits of road.
"How on earth do they return back to their base?" I thought.
Now I know.
Sorry, will try again to find some motorbikes to photograph........
Posted by Ken Thomas at 11:25 AM
It's not difficult to see why Bulawayo became the favorite home town of many, if not most, of the British colonialists during Zimbabwe's time as Southern Rhodesia. It certainly is a very pleasant place.
Having the layout of a typical mid-west US town, wide streets and pavements in a simple grid formation, low rise buildings, parking for all the cars that might need it, a spacious City Hall, and room for everyone with public parks dotted all around (even a 50-metre swimming pool). It's easy to spend quite a while here. And there's plenty to see further afield as well.
I left Great Zimbabwe after about four days, spent another day in Masvingo, and headed here along very pleasant empty roads through more lush Zimbabwean countryside in glorious weather. Then turned south to spend some time in the Matobo National Park.
It's not a particularly notable park by African standards but is supposed to be the most visited park in the country. That's probably because it's close to Bulawayo where a good proportion of Zimbabwe's population lives. And the scenery does have some interesting features, namely more 'balancing boulders' and 'whaleback boulders' which seem to be a significant part of the volcanic landscape in these parts. And kept me there for three days.
So some photos:
On the way out of Bulawayo to Matobo NP is this sign. The first I'd seen in Africa, I think, bearing a traditional regional name.
These teetering tons of old stones are all over the place, and I've decided that having a crash helmet to hand when out and about in this countryside is quite an advantage, safety-wise.
Cecil Rhodes, who gave his name to what was then 'Rhodesia', is buried in this park and this is one of his favourite viewpoints.
He called it 'The View of the World'.
To me, along with other similar scenes in other places in the world, it certainly looks like this was one of planet Earth's busiest boiler houses and engine rooms during its fiery formation.
Rhodes built a railway line here so that "the people of Bulawayo may enjoy the Matopos from Saturday to Monday."
This is the station and what remains of that line.
The station sign just about says "The Matopos," the name of this part of the park.
Clearly Rhodes' "Saturday to Monday" stipulation didn't provide enough passenger journeys to make the line a going concern as it closed in 1948 after only forty five years in service.
Here's a photo of a photo hanging in the Bulayawo Railway Museum, of the station in 1935. (Reflection of a window in the glass).
Also in the park is a shrine to The Memorable Order of Tin Hats, or MOTHS, which I had vaguely heard of once, so it was interesting to read about it on a plaque at the site.
The MOTHS shrine. MOTHS was founded in 1927 to help ex-servicemen from World War One, this shrine consecrated in 1947.
Back in Bulawayo, this is the Cape To Cairo Pub on the main crossroads opposite City Hall.
If it's only 4,650 miles from Cairo to Cape Town via Bulawayo, why is it taking me so long to get there?
Because it's a wonderful continent, that's why!
And also because, I came in from Cairo on the Cape Town road (from Masvingo and Mozambique), not the Cairo road. And the road that I'll be leaving on for Cape Town is the one behind the camera (to the Kalahari and Okavango Delta) not the Cape Town road. (I did say that maps of Africa are a movable feast, and so are the routes).
So, Bulawayo was once firmly on the 'Cairo to Cape Town Route', which may raise the question as to why, very sadly, it isn't nowadays. Coincidentally, I read a piece in a Zimbabwean newspaper last week that leads me to the following ramble.
This is my second visit to Zimbabwe, the first was in 2001 when I spent a little time in book shops and newspaper offices in Harare, gleaning information on the real situation here. (You may remember that the British press was reporting at that time that Harare newspaper offices were being raided by police and army and set alight on a daily, or maybe weekly, basis. Well, I remember the tea in the office being very good).
Beforehand I had read, buried deeply in tiny corners of a British newspaper or two, snippets that raised my curiosity about what was actually happening in the country during the early 2000s and the hand that 'western' interests had in those events. And it was an interesting education on my 2001 visit to Harare to say the least. I'll just say that if your opinion on what has been going on in Zimbabwe over the last ten years has been informed by reading and watching the British news media, then you may hold the precise opinions that western interests in Zimbabwe want you to have, which is the opposite of the opinions that I hold and is why I am here again, enjoying the country. (Yes, terrible things did happen here, and similar events continue today in Sudan for instance. But misrepresentation of Africa in western media is endemic).
I'll finish this bit by paraphrasing what was in that newspaper last week. It was written by a visiting British journalist. (Yes, a British journalist being published in a Zimbabwe newspaper, an impossibility according to the mainstream media back home). She was here during the World Cup to report on the masses of travellers that would be passing through the country on their way to South Africa, and to find out what they thought about Zimbabwe.
Well, she found none. Which is what she thought might happen. She writes: ..... why has everyone diverted through Tanzania and Mozambique? Or through Zambia and Botswana? Why has no one come through Zimbabwe? The streets are safe, the people cheerful, polite and welcoming, the weather wonderful, shelves full, souvenirs plentiful, hotels smart with plenty of rooms, opportunities for sightseeing endless.......etc etc. You get the idea.
And her answer is simple - because of the way the country has been heavily misrepresented in the western media for so long.
So, if you're planning your East Africa journey don't spend time plotting a route to avoid this country, just go through it. You won't be disappointed. And as you can see from the picture above, there's plenty of room, sunshine, and bars for everyone. And, moreover, what little traffic there is drives on the left, as traffic ought to - what more could you want?
I had lunch in the Cape To Cairo.
The inside looks as though it was built in the pioneer days, although it says 1931 above the door. Around the walls are photos of early settler times, including an impressive picture of the Harare - Bulawayo passenger and mail coach. Arriving outside the Post Office, it's a typical wild-west type stage coach pulled by a team of eight huge horses. The whole thing looked longer than any freight truck I've seen on the roads so far. Now that must have been real adventure travelling!
And there was good South African jazz playing in the bar - Abdullah Ibrahim.
For the jewel in the crown of these parts, there's the Hillside Road Dams in the south of Bulawayo. A neat little community park next to the main dam, with smart bistro restaurant (with internet when the power's on) and 'tuck shop', all developed out of a derelict river-side area over a period of three or four years by the voluntary efforts of the Hillside Road community. (Hillside Road being the main N - S thoroughfare on the eastern side of Bulawayo).
Probably, only residents of a certain other Hillside Road will be interested in any of this.......
The Hillside Dam.
Dam wall at the far end.
(The real name is Hillside Dams - I made up the 'Hillside Road Dams' - just for effect)
One of Rhodes' top priorities in Southern Rhodesia (even encouraged in his will) was irrigation. Consequently this part of the country at least, including Matobo National Park, is dotted with dammed-up rivers all over the place, built a hundred years or so ago so that water could easily be extracted from all those rivers. The result today, as well as this little community park, is a chronic lack of water in Bulawayo, with insufficient financial resource to relieve it.
So a little correction to a previous paragraph, there's not quite enough water here for everyone.
There's another jewel in the crown if you're of the railway persuasion - the Bulawayo Railway Museum.
This is a huge area of old railway engines, paraphanalia and memorabilia spread out across numerous tracks in an old sidings, some under cover. It takes a long time to see it all as you have to walk up and down all the rolling stock to get across the tracks, unless you're able to climb over or clamber under the couplings between all the engines and carriages.
A lot of it is claimed to be in working order, other stock is clearly derelict and a little sad looking.
I think there's at least one reader interested in this wonderful stuff, so some more photos:
A little one to start with, 'Rhodesia No.1'.
This is the biggest steam locomotive I've ever seen. Fourteen axles. It's a Beyer-Garratt, made in England according to the curator, but I've never seen one before, nor in any model shop.
The other side of it. It's like two separate locos, articulated, and sharing a common boiler and fire in the middle. Water tank at one end, coal bunker at the other. This one claimed to be in working condition.
A poster of emotive times past.
Inside Cecil Rhodes' personal carriage. This is particularly well preserved. Also well preserved in a separate display is a complete set of furnishings, china and silverware used in trains during a royal visit to Rhodesia in the 1950s.
Another Beyer-Garratt, not in working condition but mostly complete by the looks of it.
And another - who'll start the bidding?? - not complete, the water tank removed I think.
More stuff in the out-doors junk yard.
And a couple more preserved in-doors but with window box growing in the sunshine.
This was quite an amazing place, and probably sees many a day with absolutely no visitors, although it comes highly recommended as a place to see. There's quite a collection of telecoms stuff, old valve-operated line testers and a few old mechanical facsimile machines, the ones with the large rotating drum that take about half an hour to send a small picture. Don't know why Rhodesia Railways would have wanted all those. And quite a large room stuffed full with old railway books - it was opened specially for me so probably hardly ever sees the light of day.
Now, will try to find some motorbikes to photograph.
Posted by Ken Thomas at 10:34 AM