Posts Tagged ‘Hereford’

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

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

Lovely bubbly

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

Champaign proof jacket

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

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

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

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

Reunions

Reunions

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

Glad to be home!

Darren Writes 20th Dec 2011, pics by me

Our Cargo ship bound for Savonain N. Italy from the port of Ashdod was running a couple of days late. However, on entering Israel we had purchased bike insurance valid thru ‘till 26thNov only, which was the original departure date of the Grimaldi vessel. In respect of this our bike import papers also ran until this date and caused the legal problem of them being in the country. There were a couple of options but the most sensible, which of course, would be the one for us, was to take and leave them in the port and the other side of customs. There was one problem with this idea and one that scared me more than what most of the African continent had thrown at us. An option that could leave us powerless and frightened. Public transport! Travel by bus!

The Israeli people can be quite hospitable, as described in the last update but put a uniform on one and give him security detail and it can make for quite a contrast. Be patient, polite and keep good humour – just don’t laugh out loud. I couldn’t help myself. They can be more ridiculous than believable. It took a few hours having our bikes and possessions searched. ‘Do you have any weapons?’ Seems like a fair question. ‘I have a leather man tool and an ornamental knife from Tanzania’ I replied. I had already laid some pepper spray on their desk. The knives were removed and then my pannier was x-rayed. ‘I will ask you again. Do you have any weapons?’ ‘Hmmm, Russ, can you think of any thing?’ We scratched our heads. I don’t know if we were just tired or simply used to our axe being a tool, not often used a weapon and so by us not thought of as one. Then another of the security found a retractable utility knife in the bash plate tool box behind the front wheel of my bike. ‘This is a weapon!’ ‘Well yeah, there’s that too.’ I blushed. ‘I will ask you one more time. Do you have any more weapons?’ Just the phrase made me want to laugh but I managed an expressionless face which did turn a little sour after he told me he wasn’t going to be so nice next time. ‘But you haven’t been nice the whole time.’ I complained. He searched my tank bag and pulled out the pepper spray that I had returned. With a face turning to thunder whist his thumb and index finger dangled the new potential threat toIsrael, I couldn’t help the corners of my mouth rising and letting out a little laughter. Whilst he was not impressed, my protests of the ‘weapon’ having already been declared didn’t help because that would just have meant that he was stupid for missing it in the first place.

To make things more difficult, I had left my passport in Jerusalem and so Russ only was allowed beyond this point to ferry the bikes into a warehouse. He was gone a good couple of hours and left me in a declining state due to the contemplation of the forthcoming public transport journey back to the hostel in Jerusalem. It seems like he got the raw deal though, as we had missed some procedure to leave our bikes in the warehouse and eventually they were left in the car park inside the port. He had done lots of waiting too, though with bursts of running to collect the second bike and try and sort some paper work. It was getting dark.

We left the port and our bikes and carried away a particularly odd carrier bag of weapons. The 10 inch blade from East Africa, an axe and the pepper spray were not allowed in the port but they couldn’t care less about us travelling back to Jerusalem with them. We then walked to a bus stop. We waited for a bus and then we actually got on a bus with a bus driver, other passengers and everything else cliché about a bus. It was 2 miles into town but as it happens, once we arrived, we got off the bus and then the bus drove away. And there it was, we had just survived our first bus journey. It actually turned out to be good introduction as the next bus would be for much, much longer and I’m talking a good hour and a half and we would have to go through a shopping centre to get on it too. We needed something to take our mind off the ordeal. After working out that we had to go through a shopping centre we approached the security to enter into the mall. More baggage checks and metal detectors. ‘I have some weapons’ I confided in the guard. He wanted to see. He was a nice older chap and kindly suggested I kept the weapons in the bag, not to take them out and to declare them to any other security. It had taken a little explaining on my behalf but I didn’t want to just chuck them away but instead give them to some of the hostel staff, I had come to know. We then got on bus number 2of the day. This was endured by watching a movie on the lap top Russ was carrying though I couldn’t tell you what the movie was called.

Abraham Hostel

We arrived in Jerusalemand had another x-ray to go through and so I declared my bag of weapons. This time the security didn’t know what to do and after some time and phone calls he made similar suggestions as the previous security and allowed us to pass. Next was a tram. Public transport number 3. I wasn’t sure how much more we could take and though it seemed to last forever whist travelling on it, it was soon over and across the road was the Abraham Hostel – a fantastic hostel with some lovable staff and owners. We had come all the way back to Jerusalem ‘cos it was a good place to hang out for a couple of days and also because it was the hostels birthday. Inside was a party started.  Time to relax.

Of course the next couple of days were spent here and though reasonably relaxed, the idea of busing it back to Ashdod lingered in the back of my mind. The journey back to the port, however, was more of a dread in consideration of going though the security again and sorting out all the paper work required and hundreds of pounds for the privilege. After all day of this we eventually were done and just to wait for the ship to come in. We met another couple who were to travel the same ship as us and looked forward to our onward journey out of the Middle Eastand into Europe. Before midnightit eventually arrived and after the morning had started the gigantic hunk of metal set sail towards Italy. Barbara was the 5th customer on board. We were on our way home to our own continent.

The draw bridge on the gigantic cargo ship

The Italian Grimaldi company, according to Marco, an Italian we had met in Jordan, had a bad reputation. Ok, it was a few days late but after all it was a cargo ship and the food was fantastic eating with the Captain and his officers. The steward was all that could be expected from a Neopolitan in his kind, firm way of making you want to explode after the 4 courses served at both lunch and dinner. However, I had to agree with Marco when a couple of days before landing we were told that the ship wasn’t going to Savonain the North of Italy but to Salerno in the south. This was going to set us back a couple of days and a 1000km. On the bright side it was one day to Florence and a visit to this beautiful city and a ‘hi’ to Marco. We stayed under his hospitality for a couple of nights. The next day we would try and ride from there, over the Austrian Alps and to Munich where we had another couple of friends we wanted to visit.

Florence is beautiful

Daniel and Anika were a couple we had first met in Cameroon. We joined them to Caribe on the coast and later met them in Brazzaville and then arranged to meet in Namibia and finally in Cape Town. They were some of the very few that take a west of Africa route and did so in a van, returning 6momths ago to Germany. Passing over the Alps was the worst part of this leg with heavy snow obscuring our visors and making them mist inside. Of course it was quite cold for motorcycling too and something of a contrast to the dunes of the Sahara and the hot humid jungles of central Africa. It was something we were very unused to. All this was worth it though to see Daniel and the next day Anika too. A couple of nights were spent at Daniels and a beautiful meal made by them was very much appreciated. An early start from Munich to Dunkirk would take us 570 miles through sometimes wet and other times freezing conditions but within a day’s reach of home and our loved ones. 570miles was incidentally the furthest we had managed to travel in a day, with 450 in Saudi being the previous record.

A cheap F1 room and some goodies from a French supermarket would be our last night for over a year outside of our home country and our own beds. Or at least we hoped. By this point we had told family and friends to expect us by Saturday afternoon but Russ had a continuing problem with his fuel filter. A problem that he had to keep clearing to be able to continue, it had become worse since Florence and particularly bad on the journey to Dunkirk, sometimes needing attention just minutes after fixing. It’s a strange feeling being at the end of something so long and knowing after 13 and half months the last day and just 250 miles would be the end of a great journey of exploration and adventure. But our families and friends were around the corner and were soon to be embraced as well as a few bottles to be opened in celebration. We were both very much looking forward to our home coming.

 

 

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

Sunset over Wadi Musa

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

Inside Petra

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

Petra's entrance Siq

The Treasury entrance

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

Worth visiting from several angles

An impressive Monestary

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

Looking over to Jordan Valley

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

Boiuyant on the Dead Sea

Its not table salt sadly

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

Rockin up at the Marriott

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

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

Looking small with the Jordan Bikers

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

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

The road through Saudi was goooood!

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

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

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

Tramp camping outside Saudi customs

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

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

Street tramping in Jeddah

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

Saudi beach camp

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

Enjoying the freedom of Saudi

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

'Our' pill-box!

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

Who'd have thought...

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

Sunset over Egypt

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.

Russell writes 11/10/11:

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

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

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

Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Usual traffic

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

The family cow, right

Distant Debre Damo

View from our barn

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

Living on the top

This photo cost a pen

Viewing Eritrea

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

Its a man thing

The Ge'ez translation

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

Stelae in Axum

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

The wonder of the Simiens

Our mountain road

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

Lovely northern Ethiopia

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

 

Cold, lazy monks

Darren writes 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.