Posts Tagged ‘Kristina Valenkova’

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

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

Lovely bubbly

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

Champaign proof jacket

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

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

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

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

Reunions

Reunions

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

Glad to be home!

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

Sunset over Wadi Musa

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

Inside Petra

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

Petra's entrance Siq

The Treasury entrance

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

Worth visiting from several angles

An impressive Monestary

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

Looking over to Jordan Valley

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

Boiuyant on the Dead Sea

Its not table salt sadly

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

Rockin up at the Marriott

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

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

Looking small with the Jordan Bikers

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

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

The 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.

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.

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

 

The technical issues with JustGiving site for “Send a Cow” charity were resolved and you can happily donate again at 

www.justgiving.com/africaorbital!!!

I know, that it’s a great motivation and support for Darren and Russ to see you guys helping to raise money for the charities, that they are doing this challenging trip for!

 So Thank You all very much!!!

Kris. 

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