Posts Tagged ‘Dunes’

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.

Namibia written by Kristina.. Pics by Darren

Apologies for the size of the content, there was just too much going on… Russ suggests to put the kettle on…

1.

Beautiful Namibia, as seen falling from the sky

Namibia – wow! This was my first impression overlooking the landscape from the window of a plane on the flight from Cape Town to Windhoek. The same was Darren and Russell’s first impression, when they crossed Angolan border, though for a different reason: ‘’Namibia has road signs!’’ they told me, which apparently makes navigation somewhat what easier. ‘’They’ve got roads! There’re shops, where you can actually buy things! …Are we still in Africa!?” Later we all agreed that the country is incredibly beautiful and Darren said that it was the most beautiful one in Africa so far.

The guys were already camping in Windhoek for couple of days when I arrived. Darren eventually managed to jump-start Russ’ bike  to pick me up from the airport, but on the way to the airport a few streets down from the Cardboard Box Backpackers (the campsite they stayed at), oh dear, the bike died. After 2 more jumpstarts the smoke started coming from under the fairing! “Time to get back to the campsite.” Da, fortunately, managed to get a 4×4 to tow him; otherwise it would have been a matter of pushing the bike for couple of kilometres up the hill! Meanwhile, I was making friends on the border, because the kind officers couldn’t let me into the country until I’d had given them the address of where I was staying and my phone wouldn’t ring Darren for some reason, so they rang him for me, found out the address and said that it would be a good idea to get a taxi.

All good, half an hour later Darren and I were jumping around, hugging each other and being happy to see each other after 5 months. It felt a little bit strange, as if all the good byes, we said to each other in Hereford, were just the day before. At the same time it was unbelievable that it’s actually been that long and that we finally met again. Well, Russ noticed me only about an hour later when I brought him some droewors! It’s a dry sausage that I got in SA – good snack for beer! Or just a good snack…

Ship wreck on the Skeleton Coast

When I first saw the bikes, they looked like wrecks. Apart from serious mechanical problems, mudguards were gone, fairing was all scratched, panniers were bent,  Darren’s windscreen was missing, Russ’ was cracked, indicators didn’t work and were just hanging on the wires, tape patches here and there and only one mirror between both of them. Hm…

We stayed at the campsite for another 4 days. Beautiful weather, pancakes every morning, sightseeing around all the building and tool shops in Windhoek… I actually started suspecting the guys are breaking their bikes on purpose, because they seem to have developed an addiction to taking them apart. This time Darren went as far as changing his head gasket. It’s blown due to overheating in towing Russell in Angola and all the water and oil mix got into the engine and turned into disgusting slime – the sight not for the faint-hearted. All the liquids drained, kerosene/ paraffin put through the system, couple of oil changes, a lot of head ache and we’re ready to get back on the road! As everything breaks on this trip, I had to have something broken as well. So my precious SLR failed in the very beginning of the travels. Unlucky!

The beautiful weather was not very bike repair friendly, because regular thunderstorms in the afternoon were forcing us to go to the bar, which was right there at Cardboard Box, to watch TV and socialize. At some point there was a big Brazzaville reunion. The overlanders, that Darren and Russ met on route and made friends with in Brazzaville, eventually all arrived to the same campsite with a day’s difference from each other. Angolan roads didn’t have mercy on a single vehicle, but everyone made it through, so we all celebrated it with “springboks” (shot of Amarula and mint liquor) and an impressive pizza feast!

Da, Russ and I also treated ourselves for a meal in the restaurant (Joe’s Beerhouse), with loads of beautifully cooked game meat. Between three of us we ate ostrich, zebra, crocodile, springbok, oryx, kudu and chicken! Don’t know how the latter got on the plate, but I liked oryx the best.

Anyway, the idea was that, when the bike is up and running Darren and I will tour around Namibia for a week or so, starting in Windhoek. Then we catch up with Russell again and carry on all together. Eventually the day came. We packed up, finally had a swim in the swimming pool at the campsite, which was so inviting for all this time, but with the amount of things, that had to be done before we shoot off, never spared any time for it! Had some lovely burgers made by Russ, waved good bye to all the lovely people, hoping to catch up again in South Africa or elsewhere. Handshake with Immanuel (handyman at the campsite), who was an absolute star, helping out with the tools to repair the bike and all sorts of stuff. Take care Russell!

Let the holiday begin!

2.

Brandberg Mountains

It is incredible how little populated the county is. More than three times the size of Great Britain with population only about 3 million people (including immigrants and tourists)! From Windhoek we headed north-west towards the Skeleton Coast. We took the minor road and on the first day we encountered only 2 cars while riding, but the amount of wildlife we saw in first couple of hours, was unbelievable: oryxes (gemsboks), baboons, a wild dog, kingfishers and, Darren reckons, a kudu. And actually, unless we were in the city, the situation was similar all across the country – 2% humans, 98% wildlife. Tranquillity.Beauty wherever you go: vast planes with silver grass, an odd tree in a dry riverbed and mountain ridges. We were passing green rolling hills, canyons, sand planes and sand dunes. Pretty much every evening we were observing a display of the most unexpected colours in the sunset that were making the sky look very unnatural And you can see as far as the eye stretches. All these surreal landscapes make you never want to return to civilization!

Before we got close to the coast, every evening there was a thunderstorm with lightning and a downpour. Each time though we were fortunate enough to set up a tent and stick in it all our possessions and ourselves seconds from a chance to soak. In this part of the world even a tiny little cloud has to have its own storm.

Tree of the Petrified Forest and Welwitschia mirabilis

Due to excessive amount of rain all the rivers were in flow and to enter the Skeleton Coast from the north we had to cross two big rivers, and one of them had no bridge. From the beginning we were told that it’s impossible. We weren’t even sure if they let us in to the Skeleton Coast on the motorbike. Thanks to Darren and his determination nothing is impossible. We better go and check for ourselves. Majority of roads were gravel roads, but were in a good condition. It still was quite a demanding terrain for Darren to ride on, with me as an extra weight on the back, especially on sandy stretches. On the way we stopped in Brandberg mountains to appreciate some ancient rock art. These paintings did look amazing and took us back in time. The one we saw is a very well known one, that I’ve never heard of and it’s called “The White Lady”. Then it all gets a bit confusing, because the “lady” is actually a man, the paining depicts the hunt, where some humans have animal heads and some animals – human legs. Very fascinating!

After we stopped at Petrified Forest and had a wander around those trees that had turned into rock millions of years ago. It was hard to believe that this wood is not wood any more, because it hasn’t changed it’s appearance what so ever. Another bizarre and peculiar thing in this area was the plant Welwitschia mirabilis that lives up to 1500 years, but the ones we saw were relatively young – only about 150 years old. It has a hollow wooden stem underground and apart from all the leaves that it grows and sheds, there’re two that the plant keeps for life!

The poisonous one

The rivers that we were worried about, didn’t cause us any trouble, which was a big relief. Approaching the Skeleton Coast park we saw a springbok and got really excited about it, in 5 minutes we saw hundreds of them hopping around. It was brilliant. Inquired by the gate about the permit. Luckily got a free transit for the day, so we refilled our water supplies and off we went into the land where there is nothing. Time stands still there.

We left the national park part of the Skeleton Coast and stayed camping in the dunes. In the morning packing the tent away I saw a little pale scorpion next to it. Quite cute, most likely very poisonous. Later we found out that their poison kills within couple of hours. Probably shouldn’t have been walking around with bare feet so carelessly. By this point of our journey Darren’s bike started seriously leaking oil, so this morning he tried to find a problem and hopefully solution. He fixed the tube going from the oil tank to the engine, but this didn’t improve the situation. Russ had most of the tools, so there was nothing much could be done on the bike in the middle of nowhere and we carried on. The day we spent in the seal reserve in Cape Cross. There were thousands of them! And watching all these seals was like watching a wildlife documentary live.

Cape Cross seal colony, Skeleton Coast

In the evening we arrived to Swakopmund and stayed there for a few days. Shortly after Daniel and Anika also came there from Windhoek and we spent the rest of our time together. (This is the German couple that Darren and Russ first met in Cameroon, then in Congo, Brazzaville.) Beautiful Sunday morning, people do all sorts of things – we all went to skydive! Some basic instructions and into the skies. The air gets warmer as you go higher, so you falling from 10 000 feet with the speed 200 kph in this pleasant medium: on the north and on the east – Brandberg mountains and Naukluft mountains – two highest ridges in the country, Namib desert dunes on the south, right underneath massive Swakop river, which hasn’t flown in 3 years and waves of the Atlantic on the west… You can’t wish for more for the skydive! Especially if it’s the first time experience.

Flamingos

Next stop – Sesriem and Sossusvlei, where some of the highest dunes in the world are. On the way there we saw flamingos and pelicans on the coast. Futher inland we saw two massive birds of prey gliding through the air, not even a single flap of the wings. Supposedly they were bateleur eagles. Then there was an oryx that we had to chase for the photo, off-roading through grass and rocks at 50 kph. It did make me nervous, but eventually Darren took THE photo and it was time to camp. There we saw something furry and nicknamed them “koala-rabbits”, they looked very random and were hopping around (later turned out to be Bat-eared foxes). Also lots of ostriches and springboks that we got used to seeing by then. Next morning we woke up surrounded by all these animals, which was quite spectacular. But it took us some time to find the road again, because chasing oryx took us 20 km into the wilderness.

The best time to see the Sossusvlei dunes is in sunrise. We arrived to Sesriem by lunch time, and to avoid disappointment next morning went to the park gate straight away, to see what they think of the motorbike. They didn’t think much of it, and said it’s not allowed. We’ve got no transport… Tourist option, like safari type 4×4 shuttle, cost was ridiculous. What do we do? Hitch-hike in the Namib desert! We were lucky. Soon after we were admiring the red sand sea from the top of one of the dunes. What also catches the eye is that the oldest driest ecosystem on Earth is covered with patches of grass! Who said the climate isn’t changing?

3.

Corn Crickets, they like to eat each other!

In the meantime, in Windhoek Russ managed to put his bike back on track, get some rest and have some good time with friends. Seems like he really got into cooking since. Now it was the time to carry on our travels together.

Just before meeting up, turned out that there’s no fuel stops on the way and neither of the bikes had enough till the next one ahead.. so Russ had to travel back 60 km and Da – 40 km. But in comparison with 400 – 500 km a day, 40 – 60 km is really nothing. It’s funny how perception changes with circumstances.

That night we camped in the dry riverbed, nothing special, but what a shock in the morning! We got under attack of stink bugs infestation. Our tents were entirely covered with them. Hundreds thousands, they were everywhere! And the corn crickets… We used to like watching them, until they turned out to be filthy cannibals. They fight to eat each other! And they were also everywhere. It was like a plague. So we got out of there as quickly as we possibly could and headed towards the Fish River Canyon. It is the second largest canyon in the world and the largest in Africa. The views from the top were absolutely breath-taking!

The next day we got to the border, where everything went quick and smooth. Big smiles , thumbs up and “welcome to South Africa”!…

Together again at Fish River Canyon

Darren Writes 23-nov

Hi guys.. Sorry no pics this time. I haven’t really stopped to take any as we have persisted onto the Gambia to fix Russ’ bike before it explodes… BOOM! Seems like the other fork seal has gone and we’re in the process of diagnosing an over heating problem. Here we can get parts shipped to, and then there’s no stopping us!

The story so far. Weve been riding morning to night with no time to fall off. In the south of Mauritania we stopped in a village where we were put up in a communal building (a bit like a small village hall). We were entertained and supplied with endless tea and finally the best nights sleep for days.

A 60 mile track to a back water immigration post in to Senegal made the crossing a bit easier though fighting not to pay the ‘extra taxes’ still a challenge.. one we overcome most of the time. Border crossing are a pain. Leaving Mauritania we had also to wait whilst they sat around a big bowl and ate. This was the same too entering Senegal though this time we were invited to join in. Good food too. We then stayed in St louis and road to 11pm the next day to the Gambia border. Same usual stuff  and then a ferry into the capital, Banjul. We almost arrived to our camp site when Russ fell on a sandy street on top of his bad ankle. Ouch. My injuries are slowly improving but im realising it will be a while before im better. Thanks for all your prayers. I hope it’s not too cold in the UK. Till next time.

Darren writes 18/11

I almost rode off this one

Hi All, It’s great to get all your messages (including yours Ben ch). I read them last night as we are now in Atar, Mauritania. But with such slow connection speeds and a key board with keys in different places than what I’m used to, replying to them all in the time we have is tricky. Just putting the blog update takes as long as digging ones bike out of soft sand! We did a lot of that recently!

Russ digging out... Again!

 To let you know Ben, bikes have taken a bit of a hammering.. Mine seems to be ok with routine maintenance although my water pump may be on its way out and I did break my screen. Russ’ latest problem is fork oil everywhere with broken seals. We will bodge something this morning and get some more seals sent fedexed when we get somewhere sensible. Kris, you’ve done fantastic things looking after this blog and the face book page… everyone should know your hard work.

So what’s been up since the last update? Right now we are in the desert town of Atar repairing our bikes and recovering from our most challenging ride in the Mauritanian desert of mostly sand dunes and sand planes.

One of our campsites

 It took us 4 days to cross 300miles and the sun is so hot. Starting in a village of deep soft sand, Russ boiled his radiator coolant as we took an hour struggling through their streets. We were passing along a train track which carries the world’s longest train and later that afternoon, as the sun was setting, the 2 km long ore train passed… an amazing sight. With hard work, deflated tyres and determination we rode the sand and its dunes the following day. Then disaster… On one of Russ’ falls, he trapped and twisted his foot under his bike… it’s now wrapped in cabbage leaves, which seems to be the local thing to do with swelling.

typical killer sand dune

 Maybe we could get some ice fedexed? Then later in the afternoon, I rode straight off the steep side of a small dune. Through the air and front wheel into the sand beneath. Landing head first, still on the bike and upside down its weight came down on me crushing my upper torso and shoulders. Lying there after I thought I had broken ribs and shoulder and possibly sternum and back I couldn’t move and somewhat worried about being in the desert in this state. A prayer, Mandatory! We camped under that dune with the idea to wait until the morning to see if Russ would ride out for help or sit it out to recover some before me getting back on the bike.

the village of choum. kids fight for photo

 Thank God, it seemed the next day that nothing had broken though the pain was pretty intense. It would have been best to have stayed there to recover but with dwindling food and water, Russ set up our bikes, after test riding mine which seemed to escape with only a broken screen and cosmetic stuff, and we continued. It was about as far to go in both directions so onwards we went. Riding was agony and when the bike started to fall there was no way I could have a chance of keeping it up so Russ spent a lot of time picking my bike up as well as his own. And with a sprained ankle. The thing with sand is you have to maintain good speed or you sink and every dune we went up we would have to slow near the top to see if there was a drop off. If there was, then ditch the bike, if not, back on the throttle down the other side! Though extremely challenging it was a beautiful place and 2 days later we made it to the town of Atar where we have rested the last 3 nights. That said we had to change tyres back, do maintenance and sort out all our dirty stuff. Russ has done the heavy work… which includes picking up even the light things. Thank you Russell! Today we hope to mend Russ’ folk seals and travel south east to Nouakchott. The road will be tar so I should be able to just sit there on the bike and cruz! From there we will head to The Gambia via Senegal where we will service and repair the bikes.

So it sounds a bit cold and windy there… Just think of us having to put up with constant sunshine!