Posts Tagged ‘f650gs dakar’

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

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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!

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.

Chala

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.

Russell writes on 11th June 2011: Pics by Darren apart from the one of him.

Russ 'At one with nature' ...He could be mising the shire1 Business wise we didn’t do so well in Pretoria, we only managed to get the Tanzania visa and failed to get the Ethiopian, Sudanese and Saudi visas. I was quite hopeful for the Ethiopian one, but it turns out they require a 6 month South African visa and that would mean at least a 30 day delay. I had been thinking about how so many of the doors northward seemed to be as closed as the Syrian border and questioned how we were going to get through. Then I remembered we ride with the one who is able. This gives me great hope, doors will be opened and a path levelled out for us! Pretoria was by no means a total loss, we met some great people, saw some live bands, Darren had a good time in Soweto and Jo’burg and I spoked a new rim for my front wheel (ok now I’m sounding like a complete bike nerd!). However, one thing about Pretoria we won’t miss – always being cold! At 1300m we were either huddled by the log fire in the backpackers lounge or in the tent with blankets over and under us. With the cool chill of Pretoria behind us we were keen to press on toward the warmth of Mozambique and its beautiful beaches. This would mean just a small glimpse of Swaziland.

Camping in a Swaziland park

We stopped only for one night in a game park and pulling into the campsite we were greeted by leaping impala. No one else was here, just us, the animals, a thatched roof shelter t and soon a large open fire. We only had a couple of visitors that night, a lone impala and a strange cat/rodent creature with a stripy tail. Our meal that night was cheese and biscuits as we only had enough water for a cup of tea. By lunchtime the next day we were already fighting our way through some crazy traffic in Maputo. Mozambique had brought a change of language, currency, temperature, faces and architecture – it was nice to be back in Africa!

Definately back in Africa!

There are some great town names here; Xai-Xai however, wasn’t as cool as it sounded so we rode on. Straight into a speed trap. The policeman said we were speeding but didn’t show us the reading, because we hadn’t been. Darren told him ‘Rubbish’! However, as soon as he found out we were English he changed his tune, was impressed with the trip and let us go. Ah, back in Africa.

 

 

Ok, seems Russ got bored – Darren Continues: 16.6.2011

 The second coper did legitimately catch us a few kph over. ‘1000Mt please’! ‘Ahh. I think we have some Rand’. ‘That’ll do’ he replied. We didn’t have any rand and I wondered over to Russ whilst the officer started to write our ticket, and told Russ to make accessible just 200Mt. ‘Well it seems Mr Policeman we only have 200Mt before our next ATM stop. Do you take Credit cards?’ Can you believe it.. He gave me back my licence and said we could go. He didn’t even take the 200! I’m confused… I’m still confused!

Tofo Beach

 

We arrived to Tofo. A chance for Russ to take his hour long swims in paradise and chill for a bit and for me to don on a BCD and do some scuba. A pretty decent package including 3 dives, accommodation, all be it in a tent, and meals. The first day started well.. Very well! Our 40 minute boat trip took us through dozens of dolphins.

I swam with these!!!

 

The boat stopped, masks, snorkels and fins were put on and under the water I went… and there they were, the dolphins! 20 or 30 or so. Above, below and to each side we swam together checking each other out. I’d once swam with the pink, river variety in the Rio Negro, Amozonas, but this this was something I’d only dreamt of. A very good start to the day! The dive, afterwards, went well as did the following two the next day with a few varieties of water dwellers I hadn’t seen before including some odd looking Rays and rare a Dragon Morey eel. Problem is I have a fever for more but not the cash. So I left it at that and Russ and I agreed it was time to move on.

A promised rainbow

A few hundred miles took us to Vilanculo, another paradise but with our lack of funds we enjoyed what was free and made haste for the Zimbabwean border on a full on, non-stop, bum and mind numbing slog that just about got us over the border. Ethiopia visa here we come!

Thanks Danny.. Just having the last drop of whisky you gave me on our leaving

 

Darren sitting atop Sani Pass

Russell writes 1st June 2011: Pics by Darren

Standard dress for the mountain kingdom

What’s the national dress of Lesotho? A blanket. Why? Because it’s southern Africa’s ‘kingdom in the sky’ and most of it above 2000m. To say it’s a bit nippy doesn’t do it. Ok we did go at the beginning of winter, but it was ‘sleeping bag and 5 blankets’ cold and ‘battery power draining’ cold.

Thankfully the mountain pass into Lesotho only had a few patches of snow on the track, and overall, the Sani Pass route wasn’t as forbidding as I had envisaged.

But what a route into a country, we followed a jagged valley that narrowed and climbed sharply toward the top and terminated at the highest pub in Africa! We stood on the balcony enjoying a local brew and the view from Durban (at sea level) to the top of the pass at 2880m. However, that didn’t last for long thanks to the cutting wind chill and we set about finding our dorm and warming ourselves with a log fire and noodles.

Enjoying the road and the view

The dorms were the most we’d ever paid for accommodation, but probably worth it as it was -60C by 9pm. We checked before coming that the pub had Super Sports 3 for the Champions League final, but really, I don’t know why. It was a freezing cold room, with freezing cold beer watching Man U receive Spanish lessons. We’ve been too used to warm Africa to cope with this for too long, this was ‘frozen water in the toilet’ cold!

Heading up to another 3000m pass

Getting going in the morning took some time – we had the bikes hooked up to a Hilux for 10 minutes each while we turned the engine over. They liked the cold even less than we did. Sadly we didn’t have much time to explore this beautiful rugged land, but I really enjoyed the route from Sani Pass to the north through the mountains toward the South African border. We stopped frequently for photos along the track over the mountain passes and valleys in this extraordinarily photogenic landscape. According to the GPS altitude graph we’d been riding along a saw blade and we hadn’t dropped below 2500m for most of the day.

Life on top of Lesotho

Actually the GPS was quite handy, we could tell when we were at the highest pass (3276m) on our route and the highest we’d ever taken a motorcycle. For you in Hereford and Wales that’s around 5 times the height of Hay Bluff and for everyone else it’s two and a half times the height of Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK. And you guessed it, we were cold. But we soon forgot all about the cold just after Oxbow and a 2820m pass. Below the pass we climbed down the most amazing valley road and at such a rate we had to check with our GPS.

They love the camera and their blankets

We’d dropped to 1900m in only 10 minutes, that’s a fall of 1.5m per second. Dramatic, dangerous and very repeatable. Sadly though we had to push on as the sun was setting, we were shivering, and needed to find some noodles and a bed for the night.

Lesotho, a different country and different Africa, yet again we get to enjoy the variety of this amazing continent. For us most of Lesotho must remain unexplored, but for anyone in South Africa, Lesotho is a must. A crown of mountainous glory in southern Africa.

Lesotho traffic

Africa's most southerly point, half way, and homeward bound

Darren Writes  26May 2011

After about six weeks in Cape Town, we were at last ready enough to pack our bikes, put on some warm clothing under our motorbike gear and bid farewell to Tanja, giving her back her peace and quiet after her generous hospitality. Thanks again for everything, Tanja! We were happy to be on the road again and had lots of smiles per mile, winding our way through the mountains of the Western Cape towards Cape A’gulas, the most southern point of Africa and where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. So about four hours later we arrived there, rode our bikes over a walkway and parked in front of the Monument that told us we were about as south as we could get on the continent. Incidentally, a borrowed GPS showed our Easterly bearing to be 20 degrees, zero minuets and zero point zero seconds. Seems that this could be the point that the earth’s meridians have been set.

Where the Indian Ocean (left) meets the Atlantic (right), can you sea the join?

We had at last achieved, after many months, to arrive at our half way point. We celebrated with a shot of cane spirit and then drank another to our journey home. It was a great feeling as we reminisced some of the adventures that had bought us here and wondered also what might lie before us. We decided to jump on the bikes and find out!

Some of the treats on the road to Durban

Our travels took us towards Port Elizabeth, via some beautiful dirt gravel mountain passes and some decent winding tar. From here, the next morning, we rode a straight 3 hours and 200 miles until our bums were sore, our knees  were stiff and our bikes thirsty for fuel. A half hour stop for rest and lunch and off again, through the transcape. Through here we started to feel like we were back in Africa with livestock to dodge on the road and the odd crazy playing ‘chicken’ in the road! 394 miles that day just about made a record distance ridden in a day as had it been a record first 200 miles/ 3 hour ride earlier as a non-stop leg. Overnight at Port St Johns and some more beautiful winding roads took us a couple more hundred miles to Warner bay, near Durban.

On the road to Cape A'gulas

It is here we are now. More mechanical work to do on my bike, changing folk seals and I’ve my leaking oil tank out, which I will hopefully seal today. The main reason we are here though is because just down the road is Aliwal Shoal. One of the world’s top ten dive spots and time to spend some Rand on scuba instead of bike parts. Here, on a baited dive I took the chance to see a Tiger shark. The day before had been warm and sunny but when I woke at 6, the pitter patter of rain on the tent don’t put smile on my face. The thought of diving soon did though and I rode Russ’ bike though the rain to arrive at the dive shop ‘The Shoal’ for 7. We launched our boat in the rain which soon became torrential. Basha, one of our brilliant dive guides and I, enjoyed the effect of the Rain on the swell of the sea which made it appear to be a mist. Within a couple of hours  we were already cold, with numb fingers but enjoying watching all the black tip sharks swarming our boat as the skipper threw sardines overboard. Then into the swarm we back rolled off the boat and dived 9m to where a large metal ball of sardines was the focus of the frenzied 2-2.5m sharks that numbered about 40. Just being amongst such numbers and proximity of these feeding predators was exhilarating and for an hour we stayed. I started to become disappointed not to see a Tiger shark but towards the end of the dive the black tips thrashed around me and one hit me in the head. I put out my hand to feel the rough skin along their sides and then found, as I stroked along the belly of one passing over me, how soft and smooth its underside was. I should have kept a bit more distance but instead I took hold ones fin hoping to be taken for a ride. It thrashed me off immediately. Soon after, however, a larger one passed close enough for me to grab hold of. I don’t think I was supposed have my hands out at all, but wow… it was amazing, I’d never touched a shark before and now I’m riding one! I looked back at Basha and I could see, though she shouldn’t have, she approved with a ‘nice one’ in underwater language. Freezing cold, nothing could have taken the smile from my face on our rough return to the coast.

I want to tell you now about Rizél, a lovely lady who is taking care of us at Irie, the place at which we are camping. She’s here looking after the lodge whilst the owners are away. She has been great company, has taken us shopping and last night offered for us to sleep in the lounge instead of going to our tents in the wind and rain. We shared a bottle of cane and showed her the pics of our journey, along with some stories. She’s presently writing a book about the Taureg people of N.Africa which I’m looking forward to reading when published. So thanks for being a great host!

They really don't like baboons around here

After sorting out our latest mechanical issues, we will climb the Sani pass into Lesotho. The weather has plans to snow over it today so we are hoping this 4×4 only pass isn’t going to beat us along its 3000m accent!

Thanks everyone for your comments and mails. Always good to get feed-back. All you people that we’ve met along the way let us know how you’re getting on and remember if you don’t want your comments posted on the blog write ‘private’ at the beginning or email.

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

Russell writes on 18/3/11 (Photos by Darren)

 

Red sky at night...still rains every day though

Democratic Republic of Congo: The calm before the storm of Angola, which is strange as Kinshasa is one of Africa’s most infamous cities, but all I remember was a great breakfast – toast, real butter, eggs and a good coffee. Our stay at the Catholic HQ in Kinshasa was our last bit of luxury for, well, we’ve not had the next bit yet, we’re still camping. It took so long to get out of that city, it sprawls forever, but Darren’s navigational skills kept us on track and no problems with Kinshasa to report. We camped on the border having sussed the customs and immigration for an early start at Angola. We got to know the friendly officials who looked after us by letting us camp by the night guards and took Darren to the village clinic with an infected insect bite on his arm. It can’t have been pleasant; they first dug around the wound pulling bits out and then injected him with penicillin in each buttock. A massive oozing crater on his arm and the mad dash across Angola to deal with, but on he bravely goes.

Angola; the task is massive, 1400 miles with only a 5 day visa and a 150$ per day fine if you go over, oh, and roads from hell that just want to kill you. And that’s what nearly happened as we rode on a knife edge to get to the Namibian border on time.

Angolan skies

The start was quite smooth and sophisticated; this was the first time our passports had been scanned into a national computerised system, but that meant there would be no escape if we were late to the border. The road to the first main town was track, but it was dry, the surface firm, this was ok. The next section would take us on a more direct route south trying to avoid a lengthy pass through the capital Luanda. The track was quite reasonable, you had to watch the assents and descents as the rain they get here washes gullies into the road and are best avoided. I hit one going downhill, the bike spat me forward and I ended up underneath it between the wheels, I’ve still got the swollen hand from that one. It was funny because we got 40 miles down this track to discover it just ended at a village, there was no bridge(probably blown up some time during their war) or possible boat crossing at the river, so the road just did a big U turn. Back to that first main town then. However, this is where we found a lovely tar road, only this was the route to Luanda and some notorious bad sections. Cruising along our lovely tar road at 80, trying to put some miles down, my bike suddenly starts revving and slowing down – my chain broke! I had been ever tightening it but it always went slack, and now I find out why, it was disintegrating and taking my rear sprocket with it. A poor quality chain from Cameroon and my lack of attention to it would be the main cause of our Angolan migraine. Thankfully Darren was able to insert some spare links on the roadside and we went on for a few more miles into the night before bush camping and catching some z’s after a long first day.

Miles of bad roads await

The next day saw the end of our tar and the start of the ‘bad’ section as we headed south from a town on the coast. This was the mud rut section, and mercifully it wasn’t raining. Lorries use this road so it has deep ruts and water filled craters reducing our speed to 30 mph max. Lunch was interesting, Cobra stew, didn’t realize they had so many little rib bones, must have been a big fella too. Back to it and now it’s very hot with added chain misery. The back wheel is on its limit for chain tensioning but the chain is so slack now it keeps coming off the sprocket every 10 minutes. When the inevitable chain break happens we’re still a long way from Luanda and out of water. It took us (well, mostly Darren, I just filed metal pins) most of the afternoon taking links out, putting ones back in and stopping people to give us water before using up the last of our spares. I should thank Darren here as he was the chain master able to bodge together parts from 3 chains to get me going again. The road now was a pain, small sections of pot holed tar then back to pot holed track, but the average speed was on the up and the prospect of ever improving road pulling me forward. Then joy of joys, back on smooth tar, and better for my delicate chain. But the fun wasn’t over as we hit Luanda at night and discovered the roads in the capital are made of dust, so dust and dark and oncoming lights! Still, we managed to find our free camping on the harbour at the Nautical Club and set the tent up in front of quite a contrasting sight in Angola, with high rise buildings, bright lights and flash yachts.

Luanda, Angolan capital

Day 3 and we started by looking for a new chain, but being Sunday no one was open! The prospect of completing the rest of Angola on this chain was now comical in its lunacy. Maybe the next city tomorrow would have one, so on we went. I managed a hundred miles, and it did better than expected, but it was all over now, the links were collapsing and there was nothing more we could do, except bring the axe out. Then the lunacy grows to a new level, being towed by Darren with a 2 metre luggage strap! Yes, we really did this, and yes it worked! We had arrived to the knife edge of riding; Angolan roads at night, towing and being towed! We both look back at this section and laugh, absolutely crazy, and God kept us, somehow, from being hurt.

By any means!

The fourth day I was towed all day, we did stop in a city to find a chain, but nothing besides a young lad wanting 200$ for 2 worn chains that we would then have to fit together. I saw bullet holes on some of the run-down buildings and it dawns on me that only 10 years ago these people were still at war and it was a shame only to charge through the country and hardly scratch the surface of culture and history. The road soon descended into rough track, interspersed with wet muddy sections through the forest. It was now impossible to be towed and so we flagged down a truck to take my bike through until the road improved. Unloading the truck I was getting ready to pay but the driver refused and I hugged him!

Can't tow in mud!

After hours of track and a crash I was praying for a runway to appear, and suddenly it was like being back in Europe with smooth tar, white lines and reflective markers. ‘Great!’ we thought, we can put some miles in before bedtime. But even the good roads in Angola are bad. Coming down a dip to a bridge (they are usually detours over a big pipe) and seeing the way was clear we kept speed up to take the climb on the other side. Then with no warning we both bounced up into the air, the back end kicking up and thankfully landing without any dramas. We pulled over to see the ramps on the bridge and to wonder at how we got away with it. Back up to speed, about 50 mph on this ‘good’ road, round a bend, but this time we didn’t get away with it – BOOM! The road became dust and troughs and we were up in the air again. I knew we weren’t going to land this one when Darren’s bike turned left in mid-air, the next thing I knew both bikes were on their sides, panniers off and their contents spread over the road. Someone must be watching over us because we only came away with only a bruised wrist, scuffed body armour and torn clothing. The lengths we went to to try and get through Angola in the 5 days they’d given us. We look back at the craziness with a shake of the head and think ‘what on earth we were doing’.

A contrast to the capital!

Day 5 and the drama deepens. We get to Lubango to look for a truck going to the Namibian border, but not just for one bike, now its two. By towing me 400 miles through Angola Darren’s bike had done a lot of work, too much work actually, and the head gasket finally let go. Again, the lengths we went to to try and get through in 5 days. It took all day to wait for our truck to finish loading before the most uncomfortable journey ever, 6 people crammed in the lorry cab with no proper seat over bad roads with a block of wood holding up the suspension. We arrived at a town 30 km from the border at 11am (day 6) having agreed that we would be first off, but no, we had to wait for them to visit the different drops to unload the goods first. We had saved our last dollars to pay for this truck, not even any left to buy food or water, but they didn’t care, didn’t respect us and only took us to the border because Darren refused to pay up until they delivered us. Thankfully some people did care and we were given some water, a bit of food, and to stop us camping in the street, a free room in a motel on the border.

Angola got both bikes in the end

Finally at the border, it wasn’t quite over, our passports were scanned into the central system and sure enough a fine was handed out. A day’s fine of 150$ each, and there was no getting out of it, no one was bothered by our story, it was pay up or be banned from the country and have 150$ added to your fine each day its unpaid. However, someone did hear our story and was bothered. We had no dollars left for the fine so a very kind Angolan lady lent me 400$ so I could pay the fine and have some left over until we could get to an ATM. Angola was certainly a country of contrasts, the people, the roads, the cities, the weather and the countryside. It left us exhausted, injured, with two broken motorcycles and with no experience of Angola other than the pressured journey on terrible roads from north to south. The 5 day visa is a real shame, a beautiful country by-passed. This chapter lingers on in Windhoek as we deal with the aftermath, fixing bikes (changing the head gasket ourselves), ordering parts and mending panniers. But I made it through Angola, thanks to Darren and a luggage strap!



Gabon
Russell writes on 4/3/11 Photos by Darren apart from the one of him:

 

Bathing in Lope

We could see Gabon, but we were just too late for immigration and so had to camp on the other side of the river border in Cameroon. That was probably a good thing because it gave us the whole of the next day to enjoy ourselves on the most amazing road of the whole trip so far! After getting stamped in we set off south to see how far we could get into Gabon, however, it felt like we were in Spain! The road was so smooth, well maintained, curvaceous, with nicely strimmed road sides. What was going on, had we arrived to Europe? With big smiles we made the most of our last day on road tyres and a tar road. We’d almost made it to central Gabon by night fall when we turned off the tar to hit the compact track to Lope, our destination for the night and home to the national park we wanted to visit.

Praying Mantis

After a few hours of travelling we stopped on the track for a break, it was completely dark, no other traffic or people or villages around. Then I froze as I heard what could only be something very large moving and breaking the thick jungle that was our roadside. A deep roar confirmed what Darren was thinking, a gorilla. We sat with lights off waiting for an appearance, one of us with hand on ignition button, the other was getting the hammock out!

We're on the equator then

Lope was smack on the equator, and with some amazing thunder storms we could feel it, literally, the room shook. We hung out here a few days enjoying the chance to relax by the river, swim in it, wash in it, and enjoy some stunning views from its banks.

Sunset over Gabon at Lope

We stayed in the cheap place in town, which was ok, it had electricity, a fan and bucket shower. But it also had the drunken mother and grandmother in the evening, not to mention the very armours daughter!

The locals

Anyway, we decided to try a gorilla trek and arranged what we thought was an afternoon trek, camp over, and another trek in the morning. However, after a 6 hour mission through the jungle we discovered either a complete misunderstanding or a complete rip-off. There would be no camp over or morning trek, it was back to Lope. This was very disappointing as we only managed to see gorilla poo, and some knuckle prints! We did however see some monkeys, including Mandrills, and get a little too close to a large jungle elephant.

Cobra sticks around for a photo

We left Lope via a little detour as Darren’s eagle eye spotted a snake striking at him from the side of the road. We’d not come across many snakes yet and this was a rare sighting of a small cobra. Also along this stretch of road Darren saw the even more elusive Black Panther, leaping from the road into the bush. Finding our track we headed along a forest route to a barge river crossing and on to Makouku in the east. It was along this track we met Rene, who started by helping us with directions in the forest track. We got to know him a bit more as he bought us a drink after the river crossing and we agreed to travel with him as we were going to the same town. When we arrived he offered to put us up for the night with the words ‘my house is your’ marking his generous hospitality. Rene treated us to a lovely meal out that evening and in front of a Manchester United game with a glass of his whisky we relaxed. After the rainstorm the next morning and once the petrol lorry had made it through from Libreville we said goodbye to Rene and headed further east towards the Congo boarder.

Welcome to the jungle!

The route now was more into the jungle and along some logging roads, so we went for a few km and found a place off the road to set up hammocks. Our first jungle bush camp, but with a bottle of French red wine from Rene!

Nice easy logging route

For our next installment from the Congo and our continued trek through the jungle check out Darren’s update above.