Archive for the ‘Africa Orbital’ Category

Russell writes 12/1/12, photo’s by Rob:

The last day, at last. Full of nervous excitement, what was it going to be like turning up at number 13 in a little street in Hereford after 13 and a half months on the road? The ferry was British run and not French thankfully, so we sat in front of the TV with the BBC news making sandwiches. Seeing the white cliffs appear on the horizon was a very pleasant sight and it was time to check for phone signal and order a nice rib of beef for Sunday lunch. You cannot beat a bit of mum’s cooking and although I’d enjoyed the variety of foods in each country, there was only going to be one winner for me! The journey from Munich to Dunkirk yesterday had been our longest distance in a day, so this morning we were still quite drained, but our friends and families awaited a joyful reunion, giving us energy. Thankfully the weather held off and we had a dry run all the way through central London and west to Hereford. I still managed to stop 3 times to take my fuel filter off and blow it through as it became blocked, the bike by now had become very tiresome but I just wanted to get home. After all we’d been through a piffling fuel filter was not going to stop us now!

Lovely bubbly

We’d given our friends and families a best guess at an arrival time so we could have a few of our closest supporters there when we landed. Coming back into our home city was a little surreal as nothing seemed to have changed but it was completely different to any of the cities we’d just been to. Turing into my street with only seconds before the end and quickly scanning around for signs of familiar faces, we pulled up onto the pavement and announced our arrival with vigorous revving! Our good friends Rob Breeze and Ben Voden quickly appeared with many manly hugs and a bottle of Champaign each, which were soon exploding over the bikes and each other. More friends arrived, more hugs and the next hour was quite chaotic as we tried to greet everyone. Our parents were able to make it which was very pleasing and it was a very happy reunion. They have been such a huge encouragement ever since the beginning and now after many months of love and support the prodigals have returned! With 27 African countries, 3 in the Middle East and 8 in Europe under our belts, in my view, we live in the best one, so for me it’s true; there’s no place like home!

Champaign proof jacket

So from myself and Darren we must say massive THANK YOU to everyone who has been following and supporting us through the good times and the hard. And a special thank you to everyone who has made a donation to the charities. We would also like to remind everyone else that the JustGiving page for Send a Cow is still open and two new, easy ways of donating to the Romanian children’s work at Bethesda are as follows:

1. Send a text message with the following text, ‘RUSS11’ and the amount ‘£10’ for example. Send it to 70070 and it will come out of your next phone bill. Your gift will be gift aided so the charity will get even more.

2. http://www.justgiving.com/AfricaorbitalRomanianCharity We now have a JustGiving page for Bethesda, the money will go through our church Christian Life Centre (www.clch.org.uk) in Hereford and the extra money from the gift aid will also go to the charity.

We don’t have any amounts to announce yet as we still want to push the fundraising when we get a mention in the Hereford Journal and from this blog. We are planning a little trip out to Romania in the early summer to make a visit to the children’s work and present a cheque. They are only a small charity and do a great work, we would love to make a difference.

Reunions

Reunions

Life in the Shire was not quite ‘back to reality’ as we had arrived in time for Christmas and a little overkill on the whole ‘busyness’ of the season and too little focus on the reason. But it was so good to have the family around over Christmas, and even a special guest from Germany, Daniel. Then off to Manchester for new year’s to meet up with some great old friends Paul, Anita and new baby Samuel, also Pete and Vix who were over from New Zealand. The plan now is to fix up the bike, prepare presentations for various interested groups and find a job! Watch this space for a few of our Africa Orbital top 10’s looking back at some of our favorite things from our adventures.

Glad to be home!

Russell writes, pics by Darren 18/11/11:

Sunset over Wadi Musa

After our tiring yet exhilarating ride through Saudi it was a welcome break to arrive at Aqaba, a Red Sea resort town in south Jordan, however, it was a little strange suddenly seeing multitudes of holiday makers. I had quite liked being the only foreign tourist and now during Eid festival all the Jordanian families had flocked to the slither of coast on the Red Sea. Our little bubble had burst. We camped overlooking the Red Sea and Egypt, however, the prices had doubled for the Eid holidays. Darren took the opportunity to join a few other campers to dive the reefs that line the shore on Jordans Red Sea stretch, I took the opportunity to look at my fuel injector with the aid of a very helpful Dutch biker. A few days of rest and relaxation were welcomed, and a good chance to meet other travellers (including 2 bikers) and NGO workers, swapping stories and making friends while being treated to a glass or few of Jordanian wine.

Inside Petra

I even met a lovely Romanian chap, Razvan, who was born in Galati and whose parents go to the same Bethesda church as our charity, amazing! He gave me his gran’s home-made jam and a tipple brewed by his father to celebrate our meeting. We will have to make a visit another time, but its great how we’re making friends all over the world. The two bikers who had both come south through Syria said it went fine, so it got us wondering, maybe this way won’t be so bad after all, and it would mean we could call by Lebanon. The cost and availability of visas for those not obtaining them in their own country are our only concerns.

Petra's entrance Siq

The Treasury entrance

Next on our unusually touristic trail was the ancient city of Petra. So shocked by the expense of a day ticket we decided to take out own tour, however, this ment missing the main attraction, the entrance to Petra. Our route took us scrambling over rocks and into ravine to find a sneaky way in. We ending up stuck on some rocks with the Bedouin entrance visible but no way of getting ourselves safely down. Sheepishly we were guided down by a Bedouin shepherd boy who embarrassed us with his bare foot climbing skills. To see Petra today is quite something, but in its day it must have been quite amazing. Dwellings hollowed from the sandstone, and not just caves these were square-cut rooms with side rooms and ornate facades. Making the climb up to and looking out over the Treasury (the Indiana Jones one) is quite special as you stand above such an impressive monument of masonry.

Worth visiting from several angles

An impressive Monestary

The next worthy sight is a bit of a trek up to the Monastery where you can look out over to the Dead Sea and into Israel. Its worth spending some time with this one as its possibly more impressive than the Treasury , they must have cut back a whole mountainside to reveal this masterpiece. The trouble we’re having these days is that the nights are drawing in and by 5 we’ve lost all our light, so we had to speed back to the proper entrance to see it at all. The entrance is a 1.2 km long canyon or siq with water channels for the city’s supply running its length, and with the grand finale of the Treasury, in its day, I think it had to be one of the most impressive city entrances.With all the skill a man possesses, I still think the natural structures out shine mans best efforts.

Looking over to Jordan Valley

Dropping down into the Jordan valley and the Dead Sea was breathtaking with its views across to the promised land, Israel. I ts amazing to think that thousands of years ago Moses stood on these heights looking across at what we were seeing, it was actually quite exciting. At 428 meters below sea level its the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth and we just had to go for a dip. The shore of the sea is encrusted with white salt crystals and the water swirling with saline. Once you’re in it’s just surreal, you really do float quite high, you just can’t push yourself or anyone else down.

Boiuyant on the Dead Sea

Its not table salt sadly

We had quite a bit of fun playing around, ‘standing’ in the super dense solution. After a wash off we were on the way to Mt Nebo when we came across 4 burly bikers on some very bling cruisers. A group of friends called the Jordan Bikers meet up on the weekend for a cruise, sunset views over Israel and a gourmet burger at the 5 star Marriott on the Dead Sea. They were a very friendly and welcoming bunch, and soon they took us under their wing. We looked like a pair of scruffians next to their bikes, they were so bling and ours were so dented, but that didn’t stop them inviting us to join them in the Marriott.

Rockin up at the Marriott

It felt a little strange in the middle of this unusual procession as we were ushered to a 5 star hotel, but we had a great meal and a great time with the very big-hearted guys from the Jordan Bikers. A big thank you . They guided us to Amman and directed us to downtown where I tried navigating for a change, to a hostel in the guide-book, and boy it’s not easy, no wonder I let Darren do it, its his 6th sense I think.

I didn’t hold out any hope really for fixing my fuel problems in Amman, but I set off to try. I’d discovered my filter was blocked and needed replacing but really didn’t want to delay things by ordering from the UK. Eventually I found a bike mechanic who punctured my filter trying to clean it so he had to bodge a fix. A standard bike filter, a pressure regulator from a Toyota and some extra pipe-work got me going, well, sort of. I need a BMW filter really, but it should get me home.

Looking small with the Jordan Bikers

Our route home: we have decided to take the ferry from Ashdod in Israel to Savona in north Italy. This probably isn’t the cheapest option but with doubts over getting a Syrian visa it’s one of a very few options. It also means we miss some cold weather riding through Turkey and eastern Europe which will be a relief as we’re still used to an African climate. A new trip to Romania next summer would be a much better time to visit our children’s charity in Galati. This could put us back in the UK for early December 🙂 and much celebrating!!!

But now we must exit Jordan with its glorious landscapes, sites of antiquity and the famous Arabic hospitality, and hopefully exchange it all for an Israeli / Palestinian one. I’m looking forward to it, and a step closer to home!

The road through Saudi was goooood!

Saudi Arabia 6/11/11, pics by Darren, words by both:

A constant chug through the desert brought us to Suakin (near Port Sudan) by the following evening. No mishaps along the way gave hope and it felt good to be finally on the road again and making positive progress towards our exit from Africa and starting a new chapter in the Middle East. The following day was spent in the Port waiting for our ferry to Jeddah and processing numerous papers for emigration and copious more in order to export our bikes from Sudan. Russ in fact counted 7 different offices were visited for each purpose.

There are very few motorists taking the route through Saudi Arabia but by chance a Swiss couple loaded their truck upon the same ferry as us. Being with 4 wheels, they had secured a 3 day visa in Khartoum (only place available) and had little problem with boarding along with the multitude of pilgrims bound for Mecca and the Haj. Russ and I set up camp on the top deck and it was here we met them. Their first question was to ask how we had got hold of our visa as they understood it wasn’t possible for motorcyclists. After explaining our story we also shared our concerns of turning up in Jeddah wIth bikes. ‘If we can just get there I’m sure we can work it out.. I mean, whats the worst that can happen? We can’t be deported back to Sudan at least.’ Russ and I were feeling quietly confident and planned to go through Saudi immigration showing no sign of having bikes. We would then deal with customs after our entry stamps were firmly in our passports. Of course, we were still concerned to what we may happen and this was exacerbated when the Swiss told us a offical on the boat, who had our passports, was looking for us. Lets try to avoid being found before the boat leaves. The ferry left shortly after mid night.

Tramp camping outside Saudi customs

Arriving into Jeddah was exciting. Almost a forbidden country for tourism meant adventure awaited. The swiss bid us luck – needed luck. We had to leave our bikes on the ferry and catch a bus to the immigration which suited our plan. An hour or two of paper work and waiting produced no questions of our mode of transport and with big smiles on our faces, entry into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia was granted. Now for customs and the first thing we were told was that we couldn’t ride our bikes in Saudi. We were not put off and replied ‘Of course we can. It’s in our Visas.’ The truth was they just didn’t know as they didn’t seem to have experience of motorcycles. As we attended office after office a question mark remained to whether we would be riding through Saudi or not. The Saudi officials were very friendly and made it easy for us to remain positive. The Swiss couple, however, were soon told that they wouldn’t be driving through the Kingdom as their truck was right hand drive and required a truck on which to truck their truck.. I suppose it would have to be a rather large truck to do that. I felt bad for them as their downed mouths conveyed their disappointment.

The last office we went to was the office of the official who first told us we couldn’t ride in Saudi. He wrote our temporary licences then smiled as he welcomed us into his country. YES!!.. Two very happy chaps picked up their bikes in the area of inspection where they had been delivered. From being completely unsure of what to expect and at the worst fearing deportation we were now feeling blessed to have achieved the impossible.

Street tramping in Jeddah

The sun had fallen and with the infamous dangerous drivers of Saudi speeding around the city of Jeddah we decided to camp outside the port and start our journey at first light. We would have 3 days from then to drive the 750 miles to the Jordanian border. Thats enough time to do a spot of sight-seeing if we rode a decent distance the first day. I went to get take away chicken to share with the disheartened Swiss before we peacefully slept ’till morning. They went to a hotel after being quoted 1400 USD for their transport. Ouchh!

Saudi beach camp

With our successful entry into Saudi we were excited and looking forward to travelling through such an untrodden-by-tourist country. We made our way north on massive motorways after Darren had skillfully negotiated the Arabic signs and junctions of Jeddah. I had to continually check my mirrors on these roads as they all drive enormous V8 trucks and fly past us, even a lorry over took us at 100kmh! We made really good progress on the first day and it felt good, despite the hours of riding in a straight line, we were on the road in Saudi – brilliant! There were a few road checks to go through, and being such a novelty on Saudi roads we were pulled over, but we had the visas and Saudi licence to keep everyone happy. Its getting quite hard now to explain our route through Africa and into the Middle East, but at one police stop we got the chance to explain over Arabic coffee and dates in the captain’s office. Again we are made to feel like very welcome guests in SA as we banter with the traffic cops, this was rather nice, I like this off the trail travel. The second nights accommodation was a nice little beach location, just over 450 miles north of Jeddah, with a camp fire and noodles under the stars. Our first time to cover over 400 miles in a day, but no whisky to celebrate, it’s the home of Islam of course.

Enjoying the freedom of Saudi

As we’d done so well yesterday we could afford to take it easy today so we headed a few 100km to the coast where we could see the Sinai peninsula and the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh across the red sea. Here we found a nice spot on the beach with a pill-box (gun turret) for shelter from the strong breeze. We took a dip in the Red Sea and met a group of lads from Riyadh who were very interested in the bikes and quickly gave us cans of Pepsi and a bag of chocolate croissants and biscuits, sweet. Then as we waited for the sun to set the coast guard came along to say hi, see what we were up to, invited us over to the base for dinner, Arabic coffee, dates etc. So we went along and enjoyed lamb, lamb soup and flat bread with the officers, explaining as best we could to the one English understanding officer our trip and what we were doing in their country.

'Our' pill-box!

Ok they checked our passports (they couldn’t believe it), but we were made to feel very welcome and felt like special guests! That night we rather fancied camping in their pill-box and once back from dinner we made our beds and settled down to a film. However, at least three sets of officers came by to ask us to sleep in the base but we insisted we were ok in the bunker and had already made beds. Reluctantly they agreed, and the following morning we could see why… Two of them were camped outside of our bunker all night long to make sure we were ok, or that we didn’t cause any trouble in a gun turret!

Who'd have thought...

In the morning we went over to the base for breakfast with the captain, more lamb and bread, but it was good, and Arabic coffee is very nice. We said our goodbye’s, hugs, Salam Alaikum’s and were back on the road to Jordan as this was the final day on our visa. The road north from here took us over a mountain range and our first taste of cold for a long time, we even had to stop and put a layer on. I’m not looking forward to travelling through Europe in winter, we’ve been used to the warm for too long. But I want to get home more so we’ll just have to get cold. All too soon Saudi came to an end and we were through to Jordanian customs, it had been a fun few days enjoying the Saudi landscape and hospitality and the whole route felt like it had been blessed a long time ago.

Sunset over Egypt

Boredom in the frying pan. We’ve been a month in Sudan, mostly in Khartoum. At last, this morning the call from DHL wakes us and informs us of our awaited delivery. A part for Russ’ bike; a sensor that will control the fuel injection. Alas the second-hand part came broken and with no time left to wait, there is no decision to make but to head for Saudi and Jordan on a wing and a prayer. We think the bike will make it but our concerns are still residing on the moment we hit Immigration in Saudi. Saudi is darn near impossible to get a visa for and ours is a 3 day transit. One which is not allocated to persons travelling by motorcycle but acquired with a little imagination saving the alternative of life in the oven of Sudan or a flight home (Egypt not a possibility as we don’t have the appropriate paperwork).

So we are now packed and ready and are just about to take to the road which I am very happy about. Our hopes and prayers are now lying in what awaits us across the Red Sea and for which I admit I am somewhat nervous about. One week and we will be in Jordan.We hope. We’ll let you know! There wont be a blog ‘Into the fire’

The moment we left ..24th Oct 2010

Swimming through the Congo

One year, today, we left Hereford and headed for the dark continent expecting to travel around it and return via the middle east it in about 8 months. Well here we still are and as the cold sets in over the U.K. we seek shade in the mid 40 degrees in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. And being Sudan, a nice bottle of wine to toast the occasion is probably not going to happen. Have one for us!

Horizon to Horizon.. we've never seen the stars so bright

 

In one year we have travelled 23,400 miles across 26 African countries and 2 European. Off road, dirt tracks, desert dunes, good and bad tar and the occasional swamps have been our route . Through the Sahara, through the tropical rain forests of Gabon and the Congo’s, over mountains and ranges above 3000 metres, crossed rivers by canoes and rode savannahs vast and wide. We have seen Cobra to Black Pantha, Cheetah to scorpions and  gorillas too amongst other very varied animals of the African wildlife. We’ve crashed slowly and fast more times than I care to remember and injures have included bones broken like ankles and ribs, sternum  and shoulder. Malaria has visited a couple of times as did typhoid. We have most likely and regrettably forgotten more people than we remember but those that we do will linger in our memories and have been an encouragement to our trip. Weve seen stars from horizon to horizon and looked into a breathing volcano. An array of visas and cultures have graced our journey around every corner as have spanner days and breakdowns.

We could do with a decent peice of meat

From here we will soon head for the Red Sea, Saudi and the Middle East. This will be the second attempt to escape Khartoum after the first was halted by a broken piston and cylinder. From there the plan stands to be Jordan to Israel and then shipping into Europe, maybe Italy. With Syrian borders closed and Iraqi visas illusive to tourists this remains our only way home but the short cut should bring us to our families and friends for Christmas.

Spectacular veiws along the way

 

 

Tequila to Turkey roast is the adventure awaiting! We look forward to seeing all you peoples at home and some of our new friends we have made on the way.

Dasrren Writes 14/10/11 Pics by Darren

Tents packed away, Our parts were cleared from customs by mid-day and onto the repairs we hastened. A phone call to our visa agent and told to call back in 15 mins. Another call 30minuets later and advised to call back in 2. So we went there. Russ Came out with my passport, handed it to me and told me there was a problem with mine… But he couldn’t hold back the grin! As rode away towards the place where we had left our motorcycle kit, Russ slapped my shoulders in the excitement of our achieved success and the bridge out of Africa and into the middle east. Saudi here we come.

were we really here.. In spirit at least

The time was already 4.30 but with 600 miles between us and the shores of the red sea, we agreed to ride into the night as our welcome visa into Sudan was about to expire. We managed 130 miles before coming off the highway and into some dunes to sleep the night. The Moon was a full one and though it hid the stars, it illuminated the desert and prompted an evening excursion. We had chosen to stop in the area as there were pyramids here which wanted to quickly visit. From the top of the Dune, under which we later slept, we could see the pyramids near by and took a sneaky visit. We clambered atop of one from where we enjoyed the views of the others and carefully climbed down the steep-sided ancient structure as not to fall and hinder our progress out of Africa.

Pyramids on the desert

That little dot is Russ sleeping.. He refuses to wake before the sun does

The night in the open was met with a small sand storm where a buff over the face helped though we’re still picking out sand from the corners of our eyes and our ears. But it was a problem quickly forgotten shortly after beginning the second day towards the port and our ferry. 50 miles later and disaster. The red light on the bike flicked on indicating overheating and I quickly pulled over. We stripped the bike down enough to check some basics and knowing we’d been here before we were quite sure the head gasket had blown and that’s not a small job to fix. But hey, not to lose spirit I confirmed we had a spare, town was a 20km tow away and with some new oil, coolant and diesel for a flush, we could make a repair in a day and ride through the night. We got to the cylinder head and the gasket beneath and sure enough it was in need of a change. Some rubber bits in the oil, though, were a concern and I wanted to look further. Off came the cylinder to expose the piston and our hearts sunk. One broken piston meant our return to Khartoum and the process of ordering another.

A very nice man, at the garage, helped organise a truck that was going to the capital. Bike on the back, fee negotiated but as for our step forward, it felt like 2 back. Russ rode on ahead and the driver of the truck, at the half way point, indicated he was going home to sleep. So in my best (non-existent) arabic, let him know I still had his fee. I  arrived to our camping area just before mid night and met up with Russ.

So here we are again.. We have a chance tomorrow to extend our Sudanese visa but not sure at what cost. The good news is we have a month to use our Saudi visa but still its hard to keep a smile when Déjà vu of this kind strikes.

Russell writes 11/10/11:

At the moment we only have 4 days left on our Sudanese visa, parts still in customs, ferry tickets to Saudi but no visa. Hopefully all this will change tomorrow, in fact I’m sure everything will work out, even if we had to back-track to Ethiopia for a while. The plan is to collect the parts from customs in the morning, we said it would be a wrestle, it was a 3 day wrestle with multiple layers of bureaucracy, inefficient staff and a labyrinth of offices. And that doesn’t nearly describe the hasstle it’s been in this heat. Next, fit the parts, pack, collect Saudi visa and leave in the evening for a night under the stars between pyramids. The next section will be a bit of a blur as we race the clock through Saudi, 900 miles in 3 days. I will look forward to soaking my sore bits in the sea at Aqaba, Jordan, for a couple of days while Darren goes diving. We are both really looking forward to the Middle Eastern leg of our adventure, with it’s many trials and complete unknowns still to overcome. We’re coming home, slowly but surely.

Saudi visa was initially turned down on the basis of us having mortorcycles. We have therefore, with the use of a pc, printer, a pair of scissors, a pritt stick and a photocopier, turned our motorcycles into a pair of BMW 316i’s. Hoping to get the visa. Hoping not to get into trouble landing in Jeddah.. We will let you know when we land in Jordan!~

Russell writes, pics by Darren, 6/10/11:

Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Usual traffic

Mekele was our first stop after escaping the Afar and it was a sight for saw eyes and empty bellies; we headed straight for a café and energized ourselves with burgers and coke. We stayed a couple of nights allowing ourselves to catch up on the rugby and sort out the parts we needed and place an order. After all our suffering in the Depression I can tell you it was a refreshing couple of days resting and recovering. Next on our route was Axum, however, while enjoying the local cuisine and honey wine in Adigrat we decided on a detour to Debre Damo, a remote Orthodox monastery. Northern Ethiopia was completely different to what we’d seen before with its dramatic valleys and verdant slopes, and as we twisted our way toward the monastery we stopped frequently to take in the beauty.

The family cow, right

Distant Debre Damo

View from our barn

The next morning we made our visit to the monastery which was built in the 4thcentury high on a sheer sided table top mountain. The only access was via a 20m climb up a leather rope on a vertical cliff face, and only men are allowed to make the ascent. It’s not a rope climbing macho thing; it’s an Orthodox monastery thing. But with all the wall kissing, pictures of saints and focus on the tourist Birr, the best thing about this site was the panoramic views from the top.

Living on the top

This photo cost a pen

Viewing Eritrea

The road to Axum was lovely tar that twisted and turned through more amazing hills and valleys, but we had to restrain ourselves as donkeys and cows could pop out at any moment and the bends often has some loose gravel on them.

Its a man thing

The Ge'ez translation

We took a day to do the tourist thing and hired a guide to take us round some of the ancient sites of Axum, once the heart of a large and powerful empire in the 4th century BC and home to the Queen of Sheba and the Arc of the Covenant (as legend has it). We saw some impressive stelae, a granite obelisk erected above the tomb of a king, predating the arrival of Christianity. On the arrival of Christianity in the 4th Century AD the king suddenly stopped building himself a grand burial chamber and started building churches, monasteries and removed pagan symbols from coins. Really though, for us, all of this was a little boring compared to the awe inspiring natural beauty of the area and in particular the Simien mountains.

Stelae in Axum

It was a tough but rewarding day’s ride from Axum to Gonder over 350km on mostly rough track through the Simien mountains. Rewarding not only because we made our destination but because of the sheer wonder of the mountains we’d passed through. For me, this was the most amazing scenery I’d seen from my motorcycle the whole trip.

The wonder of the Simiens

Our mountain road

At one point we were riding along a road carved into a steep verdant slope, and glancing right was like looking out of an airplane window to the valley floor some 1000m below. Here you can use words like ‘wonder’ and ‘amazing’ and you won’t ever have to worry about missing the true sense of the word! However, it was a tough day because it was all day concentrating on keeping the bike upright as we descended and ascended gravel mountain roads. Add to that the 60km at the end we had to do in fog and darkness with only one headlight between us, we arrived quite tired. More stress the next day though as England played Scotland in the rugby world cup, but with a few pints of St George on board the losing position soon improved and England grabbed the victory. We seem to arrive at town just in time for the sport, strange that.

Lovely northern Ethiopia

Following the obligatory lunch stop on the Blue Nile we have made it to Khartoum, where your coffee never cools. In the morning its 30 degrees, in the afternoon its 50! We have a few monetary issues to sort out as there are no ATM’s linked to the international Visa system and the few US dollars we have we need for buying visas and use in Saudi. And we have quite a bit of business to attend to with 3 visas to acquire, a shipment to wrestle from customs and parts to fit to the crashed bike. Not to mention the rugby of course.

 

Cold, lazy monks

Darren Writes 30/09/11. Pics by Darren

It was just after 5 pm or 11 o’clock, Ethiopian time. An hour and a half before dark and 6km lay between us and a camp from where we could climb Arta Ale, or more importantly a place to get water, shelter and rest. With little more energy than before that which we had before we had stopped to rest beneath our bikes and with the heat radiating from the volcanic rocks, maintaining mid 40 degree winds, it was hard to get up, pack and traverse the final stretch of the former volcanic flow. Out of breath before even sitting atop our bikes, the next 6 km took us an hour of determined battle. But determined we were and our battle bought us to our base camp.

The Afar dont carry mobile phones...

We were greeted by the few locals there and then crashed (not with the motorbike this time) in a stone walled, grass roofed hut. Well water from 25km away, or camel water, as they called it, was gladly received and gulped down but more was needed and more wasn’t available and so we slept. The following morning was spent negotiating the cost for a camel and a guide and as time passed, so did the rising sun. We then made the decision to climb the 12 km in the late afternoon and rested through until then. Unfortuatly, we had food enough, that day, for one meal and so Russ heated a tin of beans which was mixed up with some ‘rock’ bread and back to our rest mats we laid.

Fuming Arta ale

With guide, camel and camel driver, we were set to climb up to the lake of magma. I found myself dizzy after just a few steps and was aware I hadn’t recovered from the heat exhaustion. I was even concerned of something more serious, but with what the goal was before us, no matter the struggle, I had nothing else but determination to achieve the experience of looking down into an active volcano.  With frequent rests, we continued on and then Russ found himself in difficulty as his energy had also depleted. Just 12 Km took us an incredible 5 hours to climb. Nether the less, we made it. We made it to the top and to a place to camp for the night and from there we could see the red vapours of Arta Ale. An hour of further rest and then the last short trek to the crater, we ventured. All of the exhaustion and hard work, our risk of travelling thorough the Danakil without armed escorts and permits were forgotten as we peered down intoa bubbling mass of Lava just meters beneath us. Black crusts of solidifying rock were pierced and stretched by the supper heated molten rock that belonged to the depths of the earth. Bubbling, spitting and swirling of masses of red were certainly a sight like no other and to be so close, feeling the burning heat and smelling the noxious sulphur, was a spectacular assault to our senses and an experience unlikely to be easily equalled. We had made it! And it was worth it!

Inside a volcanoe! wish the pic was as impressive as the experience

A few hours of sleep and then our decent as the sun rose. We packed up and left before we would again become valuable to the heat. Our return across the lava rocks again exhausted us underthe burning sun and by 11am and only 6km travelled, we made shelter between our bikes and rested through till the following morning. The morning was given to finding the well we had heard of and after acquiring 2bottles of life saver; some Afar men came and demanded ridiculous amounts of money for the muddy water. We refused for what we had already got but had to leave without more. We knew, we were in no condition to progress north and so headed, south, towards the town of Lake Afrera where we could find food and water.

It was late morning and the sand plains were reasonably negotiable despite the heat and things were going well. I explained in the first part of this chapter that the Afar people were somewhat a hardened race. They are in fact, in general, a dislikeable, aggressive people and not hospitable towards tourists or even each other. Money, of course, can make persuasion, but cash was now something we had also become short of after our tour toArta Ale and was also going to be an issue with our next encounter.

West out of Danakil.. first village for 0ver 100 KM

Riding through the lonely plains we saw a pick up speeding towards us. It came to a stop and man carrying an Ak47 jumped out and stopped us. Then half a dozen men similarly equipped piled out of the back. Some were uniformed, so we understood it to be the police/ military, but they weren’t there for our support. ‘Permits?!’‘Where’s your escort? The first man barked. ‘Passports. Give me your passports!’ he continued to shout. We showed copies and despite his demands for our originals, we refused knowing how helpless we would be with them in his hands. He demanded that we were to go with them, north, to a military point but to his demands, I refused on the basis of insufficient fuel. It was a very uncomfortable moment as I knew that large sums of cash were the only out and that we had very little. We stood our ground not to go with them despite their aggressive persistence. Then a solution was made for one of the soldiers to escort us, south to Lake Afrera on the back of a truck that was passing. We were to follow. We followed but as it passed through some more difficult sections we would find alternative routes, at the same time allowing some space to lengthen between us. The soldier would at these times show us his gun and the truck would stop for us to catch up. Our plan was to make a break for it but our opportunity would be near to where we knew there to be a dirt road due west out of the Danakil. This break was about 30km away and gave us some time to allow the soldier to relax a little as we played the game of lagging behind and catching up. There were two things we didn’t want. One was to end up being detained by these aggressive Afar and secondly we wanted to avoid being shot at. We came to a rocky section near the point which we were planning to make our great escape.

The truck had stopped on a small hill and we started to creep by. The soldier beckoned us to stop but slowly we continued over the rocks as I illustrated it was difficult for us to stop there but we would at the brow. We slipped over the brow and were now out of sight. This was our chance. We knew the truck wouldn’t be able to match our speed and so we opened up and sped through the rocky section and found our track, west. We rode as fast as we could before we were reported and our worry of road blocks ahead eased as we realised how much of a back water route we were taking. As we rode as hard as we could we knew that weren’t quite ‘out of the woods’ (wish there were some woods though.. anything for some respite in the shade). Low on water and energy, the heat, exasperated by our work rate, continued to make us venerable to lapses in concentration and of course, worsening heat exhaustion. I couldn’t help thinking, though, it was still all worth it and that some of the greatest adventures do require hard work, discomfort and sometimes a risk of danger. Russ agreed Arta Ale was worth it and hard work had been something we had become accustomed to.

Afar wommen

We started to climb a rocky mountain range. Our route took us past a mining camp at which we stopped. We asked for water and were given ice cold bottles of the stuff by the Chinese manager. He also feed us which was defiantly a need met, almost as much as the replenishing liquid. Like a super charge pit stop, we felt fit to continue and though we never made it out of the mountains that night, we did find a beautiful little place to sleep under the stars and awake to stunning views. We also felt out of danger and were able to marvel as we reminisced our journey through Afar.

Wakey wakey Russ

Wakey wakey Russ

I’d like to say, had we haveknown of the difficulty and danger, we wouldn’t have undergone such a challenge unsupported but actually, we think that moment of peering into a breathing volcano was defiantly worth it. However, in respect, maybe if things had of gone wrong then it wouldn’t have been a good idea at all. In the end it was a fantastic adventure and an experience that will forever stay with us and, of course, one to be shared with our grandchildren. (If we ever have any)

Darren writes 19/29th September (Sorry.. No pics as internet connection too slow)

Into Afra.

Addis had given us rains daily. We had been at Wims restaurant and bar, lodging for almost 3 weeks because of the latest mechanical issues but on the 18th September we woke early to warm sunshine and packed motorcycles. It was time to continue our journey. We had planned a ride into and through the Danakil Depression to see its geological wonders and the last couple of days had mostly been given to preparation for this trip. We were told about the Afar people and the volatile tribal conflicts within their region and of course the area, north, in the Danakil, has remained sensitive since Ethiopia’s war with Eretria. However, at the present time, there’s ‘peace’ within the whole region and so we planned to travel trough from the south, heeding the warnings to avoid photography, gatherings of people and riding after dark.

A couple of hours of crazy congested traffic, descending south from Addis, gradually thinned as we turned North-eastwards and approached the infamous Afar region. We stopped at a small town called Awash, ate some enjura and rested from the rising heat. No real issues here but as soon as we tried to drive out of town a man started shaking an automatic weapon at us. We sped past! As we descended a hill, on coming trucks flashed their lights at us prompting us of something ahead. Before us was a military guarded bridge. They couldn’t speak English but made it quite clear that we couldn’t pass over the bridge that spanned a deep, narrow gorge. We were confused and they were insistent. Other vehicles passed one at a time and eventually someone who did speak enough English for us to understand, explained that motorcycles were legally prohibited from crossing the bridge for security reasons and we should turn back. Even trucks and cars were only allowed to pass one at a time and if they were to stop they would be fired upon. No way had we come this far just to turn back so we found another option was to courier our bikes, one by one, atop of a pickup. Eventually a man called Abdela Mohammed came to our rescue. First he wanted payment but then agreed he would transport our bikes free of charge. It was the first time we had found our bikes lashed atop a vehicle when they were in perfect working order and we were still bemused to the notion of this motorcycle ban. I went first and after being dropped the other side and awaiting Russell, I discovered that the bridge was venerable to strategic strike by the warring factions of the Afar people. The last bombing was by motorbike, hence the 2 wheel ban! Russ arrived and Mr Mohammed kindly warned us to arrive to a village 2 hours north to sleep before sunset as the road became more unsafe to banditry after nightfall.

We became more and more aware of just how volatile the region was as men, young and old, armed themselves with Kalashnikovs and knives. The Pastoralists here are a tall and thin race and though beautifully dressed, appeared a hardened people as was the environment they inhabited. The highway was sporadically peppered with military protecting this logistical route and as we passed we would stand and salute them which was normally reciprocated with respect and surprise. This was the road from Addis to Djibouti and because of its status was protected. Soon we would have to turn off north into the Danakil and into the geographic depression of below 100m.

Samara was the last town and the last chance for fuel before turning off the main highway and into the Danakil. We had to buy it on the black market at 150% of its value and probably 80% in quality. We filled our tanks and our 24litres of containers. The next stop would be Lake Afrera, just over a 100miles away through a scorched volcanic landscape that as we continued to follow dropped in altitude and rose in temperature. This part of road was new tar and could have been an awesome winding ride with sweeping curves and a smooth surface but with temperatures in their 40s we kept our speed to a maximum of 50mph in order to protect our bikes from overheating. 50mph soon was found to be just a little too fast though. The heat on the tyres/ inner tubes was too great and without warning my front tyre burst. I lost all control and after a short fight against the inevitable, I smashed into the rocks that lined the sides of the road. Another dent for my helmet, a few cuts and bruises but by God’s grace, I could stand. The bike, however, looked a bit of a mess! Russ and I dragged it on the road and started the task of making it rideable. Most of the front, around the head light had been smashed beyond repair and various parts were consequently left as a monument at the crash site. With inner tube replaced and my dials taped to the mud guard, we rode on.

The heat was unbearable and the winds were like a million hairdryers, sapping our energy but the rugged beauty of the region and the fascinating tiny villages with their colourfully dressed women and gun clad men kept our attention eased away from the need to drench ourselves in freezing water. We had a hundred more miles to ride before a town where we could sleep. We knew we couldn’t stop and as the sun was falling we agreed to ride side by side by the single beam of Russell’s bike. After an hour of riding by night and only 30 miles to a bed in the town of Lake Afrera , a rope stretched across the road brought us to an abrupt halt. A heavily armed roadblock was our next obstacle and the military and police there forbade us to continue. Not because I was without a headlight but for our own security. They provided us, instead with a patch of ground on which to sleep and a few of the young soldiers made for some interesting conversation.

In Samara, 100 miles south, we were supposed to have bought permits to enter the Danakil but as we knew we were also expected to have a guide and a military escort we had spared the expense. It would have been impossible to carry a guide and 2 soldiers on our bikes and so our plan was simply to try our luck without. To have an adventure under our own steam, though, was soon going to prove to be something more of a challenge and difficulty than almost any part of our whole African adventure so far.

Sandy plains and rocky tracks led us to our final 12.7km to a camp from where we could climb up to Arta Ale, the magma filled creator and highlight of the Danakil Depression. By the beginning of this track were already suffering heat exhaustion and had become low on water which incidentally may have been tea. It was about 11am and the temperature had already been in the mid-40s for a while and the altitude had also been 100m below sea level since Lake Afrera. ‘12k.. we can get there and rest’ ..so we thought! The track had other plans for us! It was a tormenting rocky pass over an old lava flow and required concentration and endurance which was beyond us under the severe sun. With our energy levels at minimum and our continuing struggles to simply to breath, we were forced to seek shade. But there is no shade in this burnt desert. We made shade by sheet tied to the two bikes that stood parallel to each other and under sheet we laid exhausted and breathless! The hot wind was no relief but our motorbike clothing was protection from it.

5 or 6 hours passed, some of which had been slept through and the others were spent wondering what we were putting ourselves through! By 5pm the heat hadn’t eased and our rest hadn’t replenished our energy by much. We contemplated if we could ride the last 6Km or to sleep the night where we laid.

Food, water and morale were low!

To be continued….