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….

Russell writes, pics by Darren 14/9/11:

My preconception of Ethiopia was of the images of parched landscapes and starving millions, however, that was in the far south east. They surly have their millions, 85 million, and the sizable population can mainly be seen from the road, or so it seems. Travelling from Moyale in the south to Addis Ababa right in the centre of Ethiopia it was clear we were in their wet season with lush highlands, swollen streams and muddy side streets. The road was tar which meant the 800 km to Addis could be done in 2 days, however, you had to keep your wits about you. Cattle, goats, donkeys, horses and dogs lurking on the side of the road could step out at any moment, and very often did as one poor dog tried, to his demise on my pannier. Add to that large numbers of people who needed constant reminding not to walk out in front of us, random knackered old horses standing still in the middle of the traffic and crazy drivers who indicate one way and turn the other. I nearly came unstuck with the latter, locking up the rear in an emergency stop avoiding a deceptive lorry.

Sharing a meal by the fire with the lovely Holland staff

At the end of the first day from the border, we had achieved a first for our bikes (despite leaking water pumps and no shock absorber): 250 miles before the reserve light, which equates to 88 mpg, one of the reasons we chose this bike. To most bikers this isn’t particularly cool or something to blog about, but when you’ve done 20,000 miles living atop a single cylinder, it is! Once we’d finally pulled over, relieved after fighting through the dark on these roads, we were guided to a pension by a nice lad called Seaside. Yes, we had to double check we heard him right! We enjoyed a drink with him that evening celebrating fuel consumption and our 25th African country.

Coffee princess

Addis Ababa; not a holiday destination with its belching busses, uncontrolled emissions, crazy drivers, run down grey buildings, and daily rains. But we found a haven in the nice little Dutch place called Holland House with lovely staff, hot showers and cold beer. The building we stayed in was soon overtaken as we utilized rooms as a kitchen, drying room and workshop, all at no extra charge. It was really handy to have a dry place to work on Darren’s bike and to keep it while waiting for a new suspension to arrive from the UK. Being stuck again with break downs and waiting around for parts with nothing to do was really beginning to wear us down, and after the first week, I was finding it quite depressing. There were a few things to enjoy as we waited; the smiles of the staff here who make us very welcome,amazing coffee, finding a good pizza, finding a gym (running on these polluted streets was not an option) and a place to watch the opening games of the rugby world cup. The thing that really lifted me though, was realizing that this is another trial, it has a weight I have to endure, however, there is one who’s weight or presence is immeasurably greater than any weight or trial that we could be under. This makes a trial bearable and even allows a little joy to lift a heavy brow.

Coffee ceremony at Holland House

We have now received the parts from the UK and Darren’s bike is up and running. The week is peppered with world cup games, so preparations to leave could take some time. But preparations for the next section must be thorough as we travel through the Danakil Depression with scarce fuel and water, lava lakes and 50 degree C temperatures. If we can slip pass the traffic cops, who we’ve been annoying for the last 2 weeks, then we will be off early Friday morning, possibly before dawn judging by today’s run in!

The road to Moyale

Russell writes on 4/9/11, pics by Darren:

Our time in Nairobi at Jungle Junction had been quite productive and provided an ideal place to relax, wash out the desert dust from everything, buy the Sudanese visa, tinker with the bikes and swap movies with other overlanders. There is a fully kitted commercial workshop on site, which was handy when I needed some help with my seized rear brake and changing the destroyed bearings in my rear swing arm. Darren also had a few odd jobs to do as well, like replace his leaking water pump and put in new steering head bearings. The bikes have been about the bush a bit by now and work seems to be getting more and more regular. Just as well our mechanical confidence and skills are rising to meet the growing challenges of taking two F650 GS Dakars around Africa.

One of the little luxuries we enjoy while on the road is being able to watch a movie on the netbook, and meeting other overlanders is like finding a little movie club. At Jungle junction I hit the jackpot with a lovely Spanish couple and their 7 Top Gear episodes we’d not seen, amazing! So we left Nairobi heading north towards the Moyale border crossing with Ethiopia rather than the Uganda / South Sudan route which was an option for a while. We chose not to take this option as it was much further and we didn’t know how long it would take considering the rains, river crossings, unknown border situations and known inter-tribal killings. The ‘bad’ road north into Ethiopia seemed to be the most sensible and timely choice.

Cheers to the northern

We made good progress on the tar road northward and past Mount Kenya, which sadly was shrouded in its cloud blanket. A few kilometres past it we stop at the equator as it’s a bit of a landmark for us, crossing back into the northern hemisphere. In fact a little celebration was in order with a drop of the local brandy. A few more kilometres down the road and we were starting to see evidence that we were entering the rainy season. Bush camp that evening was hiding on the side of the road north of Marsabit dodging the thorny bushes. No tea tonight but an early night with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1, thank you José.

At least the suspension won't go on them

The next morning, no punctures, so we set off on the ‘bad’ section of road to the border, and yes, it is as bad as everyone says it is, especially for motorcycles. Not quite the 50km in 5 day slug through the Congo jungle, but it’s the unavoidable corrugations that rally slow you down and destroy your rear shock absorbers. About 20km into the corrugations Darren pulls over, oil pouring from under his bike, I’m thinking this looks like a show stopper. The shock absorber reservoir had popped as it over heated, and as it’s a seals unit there was no road side fix. I checked on mine, it was ok but red hot after absorbing all those corrugations. We let it cool, loaded what we could onto my bike to take the weight off Darren’s and steadily rode on. The corrugations continued into two gravel ruts with various gravel passing points, this was hard enough on a working bike, I didn’t envy Darren at all on his bouncing bike.

Bush camping goat pen style

This gravel section had taken us into far northern Kenya and into a very rocky desert peppered with stone walled goat pens. We pulled off the road for another bush camp, clearing out one of these pens we put the ground sheets down to camp under the stars. So this evening we had a noodle bush meal followed by snuggling down to Deathly Hallows part 2 with all the stars in the sky as our movie backdrop, lovely.

Back in camel territory

The problem with this road is that you can’t avoid the corrugations, even on the bike, you just have to aim for the least affected part. You can try off road, there is usually a track on the side but these are just as slow and very often deep fluffy dust. The last day on the bad road was very tiring as we had to do 170 bone shaking kilometres. We stopped to fix a pannier after Darren came off on a gravel rut, stopped to let my suspension cool down, and we also didn’t eat anything that day until we reached Moyale that evening. What did cheer us up, despite the annoying border town hassle, was Manchester United unleashing 8 goals into Arsenal against their 2. Tea that evening was a large zesty pancake type of thing with a bowl of spicy stew, a very typical Ethiopian dish, normally meant for sharing, but we had one each of course.

And into Ethiopia

In the morning as we went to complete the normal border formalities I noticed water dripping from my bike, the water pump seals were leaking and would need replacing, great more spanner time. Thankfully both bikes would be able to make the next 800km on the tar road to Addis Ababa where we could order parts and do the work ourselves.

Darren writes 24.08.2011, Pics by Darren

It's hard work being a Lion

The Masai Mara is the northern continuation of the Serengeti which is the Tanzanian counterpart to this incredible Kenyan National Park. Within the parks borders are the wildebeest which have migrated north from the drying Serengeti in search of greener pastures that come in Kenya’s rainy season. Of course Wildebeest, like the Masai people, don’t recognise borders  and many miles before arriving to the park one can  find these animals in there masses.

Chasing the wildebeest on the bike like a lion

 Though some of the Masai Mara’s wildlife, like Giraffe can be found all year round, much of the herbivores migrate with the wildebeest and the carnivores follow their food. Therefore, this time of year, with the presence of these beasts, the Masai Mara is a savannah green and dense with Antelope, Zebra, Cats, Elephant, Hyena and pretty much all of the East African wild life you can imagine. In it its rivers also can be found numbers of Hippo and Nile crocodile as well as the floating bodies of the wildebeest that were trampled in the frenzy of their crossing! The crocs need not to do too much work as the rivers they inhabit are a dinner table already set and from the banks these ancient predators can be seen biting at the carcasses floating past.

I will fight you!

We arrived to Nairobi and to an overlanders haven known as Jungle Junction. Here is a place to camp or take a room (we of course camp) and has facilities geared for the wheeled traveller like internet and a workshop and mechanic. Russ wanted to change his chain and sprockets here though the rear sprocket he cannot find. He has however found other issues like swing arm bearings broken and has needed to do some work on his brakes. With the help of the resident mechanic he is sorting these issues and took his turn to acquire the onward visa for Sudan. Myself, I took the opportunity, to join with a few other travellers and bike to the Masai Mara. A Spanish couple, Noah and Jose and another couple; an English guy, Rupert and his Chinese girlfriend, Fanny were to make the 250 km journey and hire a car once there.

Marking his territory

The two hundred km of tar went smoothly but as the road became a rough track things became more difficult. Noah and Jose, who share an F650gs, broke down with an electrical fault with 30km to go, Rupert, on a KTM 990 jumped at the chance to get out his tow rope and put a training course into practice. I carried Noah and Fanny carried my bag. Thinking Rupert was actually competent, Noah and I let him go ahead, towing Jose, whilst we went to play with the wildebeest as well as sourcing routes and looking for lost water bottles. We would do these excursions and then catch up. Rupert had left behind Fanny who, courtesy of him was riding the same bike as him and with very little experience, and not being able to touch the floor, she was struggling. We helped her to pick her bike off the floor and then we followed her. I took over at a difficult section and on we slowly continued. With a few Km’s to go Rupert tracked back and when he saw us, he gave Fanny abuse and then turned it on me. He’s a military person and not one given to reason so I just told him ‘where to go’. Later he continued in his aggressive abuse and for me that’s journey together over! His strop led him to loose Jose who I then towed the last km to our camp site. It was a horrible and unnecessary destruction of our tour which I later understood was because he had so much trouble with towing and needed more support. Nether the less the Spaniards and I had an amazing day ahead of us in the famous Masai Mara National park.

Zebra / Impala

After entering the park we soon found some lions. One of the males had won the right for mating with the lioness there. From his slumber she beckoned him and a tentative mating ritual began. All was over pretty quickly and back to his slumber he returned but not before marking his territory on a nearby bush and a yawn worthy of a lion. Mating takes place only once a year and lasts for a week, so we felt pretty lucky to be witness. Luck wasn’t going to run out there neither…


You'll have to enlarge this one. Cheetah v Fawn

My favourite animal as a child and one that I’ve been trying to see since my first safari in Africa more than ten years ago, is the cheetah. We passed through plains full of antelope and Zebra and then there she was. I couldn’t believe it as we approached her, that at last the dream of seeing this beautiful sleek cat had become reality. She walked from one side of us to the other and if the experience of, at last, just seeing one of these gracefully spotted felines wasn’t enough, she was just about to give us a show our guide told us was a very rare delight. As she passed our landcruiser she spotted a grants gazelle and her young fawn, some 500 meters away, and her stalk began. We drove diagonally away from her and her intended kill so as not to disturb the hunt. Through the yellowed grass she moved with stealth occasionally peering above it  until, like a sprinter from the blocks, she exploded, speeding towards her focus which being the fawn, had little chance to out manoeuvre the fastest creature on our planet. We drove to within metres of where she laid, panting with the young gazelle gripped by the throat slowing being choked as it kicked. It’s tongue which flopped outside of it’s mouth became blue and then more blue and then the fawns kicking ceased!  The cheetah loosed her prey and took ten minutes catching her breath whilst looking around for other predators that could snatch her meal from beneath her.

Poor thing..

 Once recomposed she picked up her kill, walked with it hanging from her mouth and found a spot where she would then devour her meal whilst maintaining a watch on her surroundings and possible threats.

Now I just need to find a knofe and fork

And things didn’t stop there. At the river we watched the wildebeest  being indecisive about crossing, though I don’t blame them with the amount of crocodiles and floating comrades  in the brown depths. More lions and cheetah as well as hippo, giraffe, Zebra, hyena, jackal, elephant and countless different  antelope amongst other wildlife was around every corner and finally, before we left, we came across the ’three brothers’.  These are a hunter band of three related cheetah. They wanted to cross a river but like most cats, they don’t like water. For a while they sat atop of the bank until one descended to the river’s edge. His brothers followed. More time was spent growling at the water until eventually one leaped in. He was closely followed by one brother and then the next.  Wet and dripping they one by one appeared in front of us after their successful swim and ascent up the opposing river bank. What a day!

It's Yum ...and It's Mine!

Back at the camp and noodles for dinner again. The Spanish couple had there broken bike before them but a camp fire and memories of the day lingered. The following day I spent until two O’clock with them trying to fix their bike but without success.  Once the decision was made to truck the bike back to Jungle junction, I started alone on my journey back to Nairobi.

oi.. get you own patch of water. You’re like this with the grass

Time was now ticking for a long journey of which 60kms would be off road or on a pretty bad track but a bit of rallying allured me. 10 km later my front tire blow a puncture.  A slow puncture had allowed the pressure to fall enough for the inner tube to be pinched by the wheel rim and 3 holes in my tube needed repair. The sun was hot. I was hot. And the tire was hot.. It was hot enough to easily remove from the rim without lube but tire levers were the only tools I had as I’d left everything else with Russ. Someone came with a pump. That was great but I needed patches and glue. A scooter passed and patches from the village were fetched. In all, I was away again within an hour and now was hurrying to cover as much ground as I could before the rains caught me. From hot to freezing in minutes. I Didn’t have water proofs and with being wet to the skin, 2000m up, and the wind wicking through my jacket, I gritted my teeth and pressed on.  Mud became like ice and my speed slowed to at some points not much more than a walking pace. I took various paths, dirt tracks and gravel but all had become slippery for my tires. I slid to the ground twice and stopped a few times to help other bikes out of ditches but I dideventually reach the tar and a town where I quickly filled the bike and my stomach. It was now getting dark and with the rain blurring my visor, worsened by the lights of oncoming traffic, I tried to maintain a speed that that would get me another 150km back to Nairobi. So cold, I thought about being so hot earlier in the day and as I listened to my mp3 I had a strange feeling of enjoying another challenge and the memories of the day before kept me cheered as I ached with shivering.  I managed to arrive in one piece to Jungle Junction.  Russ had had success with visas and the following evening Jose and Noah arrived with their bike in the back of a car. Russ has just about finished working on his bike and I’ve just about sorted out a whole load of photos.

Hoping the water's not too wet

Now we just have to decide on a route northwards and with the rains in South Sudan and Ethiopia, crossing from one to the other, off road is looking to be a time consuming challenge. Violence in South Sudan is also pushing us to omit it from our itinerary.  Whichever way we go now the rain and dirt roads will present a certain challenge! But they will later be challenges overcome!

At least I'm not a hippo


There's gotta be a little space I can squeeeze into





Whats She Roaring at? (Nogorogoro)

Darren Writes 18.08.11 pics by Darren

Sunrise from the tent on our off road safari

I really couldn’t pass through Tanzania without seeing at least a couple of the big five and with the Serengeti virtually en route I was going to find it difficult to pass by without saying hello to a lion or two. Russ wasn’t too bothered about wildlife watching.. He prefers to see game on his plate but he was happy to come to Karatu, near Serengeti and wait a day or two and catch up on chillin’. 

Ahh... It's just a Hyene (Nogorogoro)

Of course things aren’t that easy. No motorbikes in the National parks! I would have to go ‘organised’ and that was something neither of us was very used to. We first arrived to Arusha which is the Capital of the north and though a few hours away from Serengeti, It’s the place to safari from! Straight to the tourist info office to discover it wasn’t going to be cheap.  I needed to share a vehicle with as many people as I could find. I did find a couple of polish girls but Serengeti wasn’t on their safari itinerary so after enjoying lunch with them, we continued to Karatu to try from there. From campsite to campsite we went but didn’t find luck. Eventually we set up our tents outside a bar and in that bar I met a South African who put me in touch with a company with whom I later joined and though not to the Serengeti, the Nogorogoro creator was soon to be proven to be something special. Nogorogoro is a large volcanic creator, steep and high walled and home to a dense ecosystem of African wild life! It was awesome with Lions, Buffalos, Leopolds, Hyenas and lots of herbivores all making appearances.

Wouldn't like to be between these two (Nogorogoro)

Just taking a stroll (Nogorogoro)

Nogorogoro, Serengeti or whichever park you go to, its great to see these wild animals but there’s something about it being organised that makes it just feel a bit tame and commercial! So we planned from there a bit of adventure and an off road route along the east of Serengeti and then east riding parallel to the Kenya border back to the main road linking Tanzania to Kenya. Didn’t have a clue what was ahead of us or what we would see or experience, but the not knowing bit, is the adventure.

Off roading it

Masai Herdsman (our off Road Safari)

140km in all and it all started on pretty rough track but it wasn’t long before I came skidding to a holt after seeing the heads of some Giraffes poking out of the bush. Camera in hand, into the bush I went and found a herd of a dozen of these strange ‘long necked deer’ (the Chinese translation apparently). Riding on, I almost lost control after my front tire blow out. The inner tube had moved around with ‘tire creep’ and ripped at the valve. Good job we carry spare tubes and after a quick fix, off we continued on our moto-safari. Herds of zebras grazed in the planes and impala bounced about as we passed. The odd Ostrich dotted the savannah and other antelope like Kudu graced us on our journey.

Long necked Deer (off road Safari)

We worked hard for our safari as the terrain became more and more difficult, riding through dry river beds, tufty grass and sections of dust as fine as talc and as much as a foot deep, sometimes disguising volcanic rocks beneath.  The first section led to a lake where a handful of tourists in 4×4’s would venture, but as we travelled east and through the plains and into mountains, signs of tourism were left behind. We passed through a couple of Masai Villages and greeted the odd Masai, herding cattle. The Masai are an incredibly decorated people and good to see were maintaining a traditional life. They were, however, not unaware of the outside world by any means but were still amazed by our motorcycles.

The Masai Hitch-Hiker (Off Road Safari)

After a night camping and waking up to the noise of galloping Zebras past our tents and peering out to antelope and ostrich, it wasn’t long before reaching a rough track and being stopped by a Masai woman. At first I didn’t understand what she wanted but eventually it seemed like she wanted a lift. I unstrapped the bag that straddled the back of my seat and Russ lashed it on top of his. It became obvious she was new to bikes in the beginning as she tried to climb aboard my Dakar like it was a pile of boulders.  The track was pretty rough and I really don’t think I was riding fast but could feel the fear of woman through her strong grip that tightened to my jacket pinching my waist more and more as we rode on. I couldn’t help chuckling to myself with this bizarre situation of a Masai woman chatting away on the back of my bike. I’m sure she got off before her destination, though, and left thinking she had an odd experience too!

No respect for the dead (Vervet monkey sat on Bufalo skull, Nogorogoro)

By early afternoon we arrived to the road 15km south of the Kenya border and back to normality. Normality continued with the normal border crossing with its touts and immigration/customs bureaucracy. A few hours later of steady riding brought us to the traffic jams of Nairobi and a world away from our off road safari and unique experience. We are now at a camp called Jungle Junction in Kenya’s  Capital with our kit and bikes in need of a good clean and some TLC.

Veiw from the other side of the tent (Off road Safari)

From here we will go north but which way, we are still not sure. But it is good to be back on the road and adventuring again!

Russell writes 16.08.11

Actually, our journey hasn’t continued for a while now but our knowledge of bike mechanics continues to grow in leaps and bounds. With both bikes in need of serious work, parts to order from the UK, route issues through a drought and troubled countries, the prospect of arriving into Europe during winter, shipping the bikes home from the port in Dar es Salaam was never an option for either of us. Even though our families want us home sooner rather than later, and so do we, we’d both rather completely disassemble our engines, diagnose and fix them than give up this far into our trip. This is exactly what we had to do with my bike. After replacing a part in my engine it ran for a while and we thought ‘job done’, however, we hadn’t got to the route cause – swarf!


These little metal menaces destroy engines; they run around like London looters damaging everything they touch. The swarf from a worn out bearing circulated in the oil system scoring key metal on metal surfaces in the cam shaft and piston. They then congregate around a magnetic terminal causing a short in the starting circuit – time to get your spanners out! And we love our spanners now, especially the 13, you can press valves into a cylinder head with that one. The good news is that our spanners worked and both bikes are now up and running, well, nearly;  300 miles north of Dar, Darren was Q-bonding  an oil leak from my engine shell around the gasket, it worked wonders by the way.

The 3 Fantastic kids of Lulu and Malcom

Wedding Dance

We arrived one last time at Mama’s to say goodbye and a huge thank you to Mama, Malcolm, Loulou, Natasha (10), Natalia (4) and Nathan (2) who have helped up, fed us, played with us and tolerated us for so long; it really is appreciated. This time though we must say goodbye to our family in Dar, we will miss them though, it’s so nice to finally have working bikes and to be on the road again heading towards home. Although after leaving Dar it only took half an hour before we saw a motorcyclist lying on the road, Darren thought he saw him move, I thought he was lying in the ‘dead’ position, but either way it was a timely reminder to switch our wits on and pray for protection as we push on

Russell writes, pics by Darren & Russell 6/7/11:

Well, normally, we quite enjoy crossing a border seeing the change that happens when entering into a new country, but Tanzania would soon prove to be bittersweet. Just when we were wondering where the adventure was on the east side, we found it in Tanzania, but not from anything we had expected. The first of the unexpected was being conned at the border by money changers. The trick they pull is to agree a rate, exchange the notes, change their minds and ask for the money back, then disappear. You look at your note and find they’ve switched it for a much smaller denomination and it’s too late, they’ve all gone. Trying not to feel bitter we rolled through the beautiful countryside all planted up with tea into the next unexpected turn.


Boom… a combined impact of at least 120 mph into the side of Darren’s right pannier, kicking the back of the bike out sending him into a huge wobble before eventually sliding the bike and himself 40 m up the road. I was a few meters behind as we headed round a left bend, Darren was hanging off the back of a truck trying to peak round when a Land Cruiser came by cutting the corner. I thought ‘this is going to be tight, but Darren knows what he’s doing’. Not this time and thankfully it only resulted in damage to the pannier and the shredding of his jacket and trousers. Actually the impact destroyed the pannier and sent the contents all over the road. Crashing at 60 mph has never been good for the panniers, as we found in Angola, and it shouldn’t be good for us, but in the mighty hand of grace we are protected. Dusk was upon us and we pushed on to the large town of Mbeya where we could find accommodation and possibly someone to fix the alloy pannier.  Tanzania started tough, and tough it would continue to be.

We were guided through the Mbeya dark to a friendly, cheap, church hostel by ‘James Bond’, the first of many Tanzanians characters who would come to our aid. The next morning he helped Darren find a welder to patch up his pannier and a haberdasher to patch up his trousers. We also put on our nice new tyres which meant we could finally lose the old ones from Hereford and save some weight from the back of the bike. Here we met Mhini, a sweet guy, and Muslim gentleman, who was also a guest and working in Mbeya. Meeting him was no coincidence as we made friends, went for meals, drinks, exchanged numbers and headed off towards the dirt roads and Burundi.

Leaving Mbeya we travelled 290km up the dirt road to Chala, a small village in the west of Tanzania, not too far from Lake Tanganika. By 10 am the following morning as we continued northwards – both bikes were dead!

Broken and beaten

We’d left a tiny village, with no electricity, heading for some time out in a national park that was en route. Minutes after leaving, my bike had a spasm and stalled while riding along. I pulled over to avoid the crazy busses from behind and tried to start it – nothing. I tried to do what I could, but Darren had the tools so I waited for him to realize I’d broken down. Eventually a teacher on a push bike said ‘your brother is 2km down the road pushing his motorcycle’! What was going on? Within a few minutes both bikes were completely out of action! Darren had turned round to come back to me, worried I’d crashed, but had dropped his bike. He picked it up and carried on, not realizing a stone had smashed the radiator and fan, as he sped back towards my stricken motorcycle. Minutes later he was pushing his bike! All the water had come out of the radiator, the engine overheated to the extent that the engine casing had started to melt, the piston had cracked and all the piston rings had broken. On top of that the engine valves were leaking, the ignition relay broke and the clutch adjuster snapped.

The rescue begins

Darren spent most of that day pushing motorcycles, he met up with me after 12 km and together we pushed another 6 km back to the village we’d started from. Exhausted and defeated our route north had been blocked, like someone really didn’t want us to go that way. I reached in my tank bag and got out Mhini’s number and gave him a call. The next day he’d called in a favour and got us on the back of a pick-up to go to Sumbawanga, and was instrumental in our rescue journey to Dar es Salaam where we could get help to fix the bikes and order parts.

Guess we're going to Dar then

In Sumbawaga, Julius, the human resource manager of a power companywho’s truck we’d been in, a lovely guy, helped us to arrange transport on a lorry to Dar. In the meantime Mhini contacted his colleague in Dar who would be able to assist us in fixing the bikes and look after us as we got back on our feet. The 52 hour, 1400km, journey in the cab of a Scania truck wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the truck from hell in Angola, but we were comforted by sachets of the local liquor, Konyagi, sleeping tablets and episodes of Heroes. Our driver was comforted by joints of dope, surprisingly, but thankfully they weren’t too strong and we made it safely to Dar es Salaam. This is where we met Malcolm and Loulou Doherty, our new Tanzanian BFF’s, a lovely family who are helping us in our time of need, and have been a real blessing to us.

Tanzania has been really tough; with unexpected twists and turns we’ve been brought to the end of ourselves and have had to rely on the grace of God and the blessed help of others.

Mhini and Malcolm, thank you!

From having no hope within our own abilities on dirt track miles from anywhere, to no hope in our own abilities figuring out what was wrong with one of our bikes, we have been assisted externally all the way. This we have needed and God has blessed us with the right people all along the way. My bike’s problem has now been diagnosed (thanks to Malcolm’s research and persistence) and fixed while the parts needed for Darren’s are on order from the UK. Whilst here at ‘Mamas’ (Malcolm and Loulous mum’s house), Natasha, the 10 year old daughter, wrote us a letter which has made us laugh. Quote: “The Story of Darren and Russell. One upon a time there was a man called Rusle, he had a girlfriend called Suzie. Apparently she broke up with him and there was his friend Deroen he had a girlfriend called Christina he left her. And at the end of the day they had the girls but they still lose them like a needle in a hey stack.” With thanks to Malcolm, Loulou and family, we are back on our feet, sense of humour restored, ready to face the next part of our adventure.

Belated birthday message for Russ

Posted: June 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

Belated birthday wishes from friends in Hereford! We had an amazing bbq last Saturday to celebrate your birthday… and Russ, your Mum’s birthday cake, which she made for you tasted lush!!!


Malambe Camp. meters from a swim

Darren Write 29.06.11 pics by darren except the nice veiw

Leaving the coast and Mozambique’s beaches and warm sea, we rode a steady and continuous pace, managing to cross into Zimbabwe the same day. We were only going to Harare for one thing. It was quite a detour to our original route but we would find there, an embassy of Ethiopia and the only one, other than in Cairo, reputed to issue visas to non-residents of the host county. Disappointment was met though, at the consular department, when we were once again turned down. Such a detour and such a waste of time and money.

Passing back through Mozambique

So on we continued, back into Mozambique, over the Zambezi, a bush camp and another steady day across the Malawi border and to Cape Maclear.

Laundry on the lakeside

Cape Maclear is a small national park at the bottom of Africa’s 3rdlargest and cleanest lake, Lake Malawi.

Pic by Russ from atop tof the hill behind

It was time for a short break after several 300 mile days and few enduring border crossings. We checked out a couple of places at which we could camp and settled, not at any of the best appearing ones, but at one where we felt hospitality was genuine. Thanks to Tracy and her mum, we were made to feel more than just welcome at Malambe Camp/lodge, but more like friends. Laundry and the normal chores were caught up on and then some time to relax!

the kids catch for the day

We hired a dugout canoe, the most uncomfortable one I believe to have ever been carved. Yet it was great to be out on the beautiful lake, paddling a couple of km’s to a nearby island. Snorkelling and free diving there was joy amongst the myriad of colourful, endemic fish.

Takes Balance

Back on the bikes and 300miles later we arrived to the northern part of the lake. The journey, as in the south of Malawi was as if we were travelling through one long village. Along the side of the road people walked, women with their buckets of water on their heads, men cycling with stacks of fire wood 2m high and the children playing and waving with big smiles as we passed by.

Wishing we had more time to enjoy Lake Malawi, we camped overnight only, before pressing on to the Tanzanian border…Completely unaware of the events that were to follow!

Athe present time we are in Tanzania and have had a challenging week. Some of you guys will know some of it already.. Will write it up soon. Now I will go and help get our bikes on a truck for the 2 day trip to Dar es Salem where we will hopfully find somewhere, where we can fix them!…