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Hungary to Germany


Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
Australia

31/07/2011 Sydney to Germany - the African way

It's only one week to go, one week and the greatest adventure of my life will start. On Sunday the 7th August 2011 early in the morning my good old bike will be packed and I will leave my lovely hometown Sydney, not seeing this beautiful city for a whole entire year.

The plan is to first ride across Australia from Sydney to Perth, 4000km away. When I say 'we' I mean my humble little Suzuki DR650 and myself because for this first leg of the journey it's only gonna be the two of us. From Perth we will fly across the Indian Ocean to Johannesburg, South Africa. And then keep heading north towards Westafrica and Morocco. Catching a ferry from there will see us arriving in Gibraltar and will start the final leg of the journey to Germany. Finally we will arrive in the small town of Schoenheide in Germany, the place where I grew up and which most of my family still calls home. But at this stage Germany still seems a world away, much too far to worry about. For now.

Somehow our story will remind you of the famous tales of Don Quichote and his fearless horse Rosinante. A very able horse ridden by a rather clueless hero through the most incredible of adventures.
The 'hero' in our story would be me. A 1977 German born Australian who, until last year, has never ridden a motorbike. So the term 'clueless' fits perfectly. My own 'Rosinante' stood by me on the big adventure of me learning to ride motorbikes. And she is the one who paid the price, being dropped many times in sand and dirt and dust by her swearing rider. She's the one teaching me the secrets of her kind while bits and pieces of her spread out across the footpath in Sydney during various 'improvement' surgeries. She was always there and never complained and we properly checked each other out on a 3700km team bonding tour through the Australian outback and became good friends there and then. By now we are a proven team for almost 10000km worth of good times together. I am a very happy man to have her by my side for our first ever adventure trip.

But back to the real topic here – the journey. Once we made it to the other side of Australia we will both fly across the Indian Ocean to get the adventure really started. My old best friend Martin will be eagerly waiting for our arrival in Johannesburg. He will be there on his Honda Africa Twin. And we all will then travel together through Africa. Back to the old home country, back all the way to Germany. Passing through Central and West Africa on the way and meeting as many people as we can.

At this stage I would be incredibly nervous if I hadn't had the support of the Horizons Unlimited community. You guys gave me lots of great advice and patiently answered all my questions . So here I am, still nervous but ready to go. On a second thought – still incredibly nervous actually.

Provided there is an internet connection where we are going this thread will tell our story in text and pictures live from the road. So stay tuned and wish us luck and see if this newbie on his bike can make it through Australia and Africa and Europe!


04/08/2011

Just a quick update about the remaining few days. Departure day is getting really close. Everything is still set for an early Sunday start. And Sunday is only THREE DAYS away!

All those of you who went on a big trip before surly can remember what the last few days at home felt like. It will be the first such long adventure for me. And so, not unexpectedly, I feel like living on pure happy adrenalin at the moment. There are lists everywhere: Things-to-do-lists. Stuff-to-buy-lists. People-to-call-lists. And whenever something gets ticked off a list it results in another little celebration. The perception of everyday’s things seems to change because these everyday’s things will soon disappear for a long time from my life. Things like having a place to live. Or a TV. Or a job. Day after day means saying good bye to another friend. And there is all those little farewell dinners, last drinks, going-away-lunches to go through, each putting a big smile in my face.
And despite all those million things in my head my life has now such an incredibly intense focus. What a feeling!

Can’t remember the last time when excitement did let me get some sleep at night but that doesn’t matter because adrenalin keeps me awake during the day.

Three more sleepless nights to go!


08/08/2011

Finally the big day has come. I can't believe it myself but the tour has started!
Early today, after another sleepless night in an empty appartment, it was finally time to get the packed bags onto the bike and get started. Some of my good friends in Sydney got up really early to come around to say good bye, some even joined me for the first few km. It all mixed around heavily with my emotions. Excitement to get the trip started, sadness to say good bye to good friends, happiness to sit on the bike riding west and more sadness to ride out of Sydney, my beautiful home for many years. But alltogether an overwhelming urge to go and live the life on the road. Just go. We started with four bikes from Sydney, riding west, along Broadway, Parramatta Road, the M4 motorway and the Bells Line of Road through the Blue Mountains, a beautiful winding road through the National Park. One by one my fellow riders had to turn back to Sydney. The last one in the town of Orange, some 250km away from Sydney. And then it was only me, still going west.
And so I kept riding, happy for having had such a great start to the journey. And for having had such good company at my departure and for the first leg of the trip. The sun was shining now, the sky was blue. And west we went, my little Suzuki and me. With a big smile on my face. And a happy bike enjoying 5th gear. Just cruising. Cruising west. Into the sunset. As we will do for many more days to come.
It really feels good to be able to just keep riding without the need to be somewhere at the end of the day. I finished the day camping in the Goobang National Park near Peak Hill. I have never heard of this National Park before. And it might not be as spectacular as the Blue Mountains. But for my little Suzuki and me - it was just perfect. Perfectly located for our arrival at sunset. And it is a great spot for camping. Not much else to say about the first day.

The plan from here is to go along the Barrier Hwy through NSW and via Broken Hill into South Australia. Going the distance mainly on paved roads but also finding little loops of gravelroads whenever possible to have some extra fun.
I'll keep you posted...


09/08/2011

Three days into the tour - it's time for some pics!

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About to play with the big fellows.

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The old open cut gold mine in Peak Hill. One big hole.

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The Barrier Hwy - not changing my road for a thousand km.

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Aboriginal rock art at Mt Grenfell.



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How would you like a few thousand km of this? Just you and your bike? Same in the rear view mirror.

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For all you Mad Max fans out there: this is Silverton, NSW, where Mad Max was filmed. And this is the original Mad Max film car. Chatting to my proud little Suzuki.


12/08/2011

Just a quick update from the 5th day on the road. I am typing this in my tent, somewhere nowhere, a little conservation area 100km east of Ceduna in South Australia. Yep, I made it across the border to South Australia yesterday. And will cross another border once I made it across the Nullarbor, entering Western Australia.

There is actually not too much to write about. I wouldn't be able to point a finger towards any particular highlights during the last few days. There has been just an abundance of nothingness which in itself is a highlight. The road simply stretches on forever. Straight and flat. And there is nothing beside the road either. Just more flat ground. Some might find it boring but I love it. I can't really explain why. Being just a little dot in such a massive landscape is just awesome. It is hard to tell how far away the horizon is, maybe 10km, maybe 20. You are able to see such a huge and vast area, it just makes you feel ever so small. And free. There are some scattered trees, pretty far away from each other. But because you can see so far, you see so many of them, it looks like there is a forest at the horizon. But it's not, it's just scattered trees. With lots of space in between. So as you go along you will always find yourself in an empty landscape with an imaginative forest at the horizon. And because you can see so far, you see areas of rain with towering clouds and rainbows. And at the same time you see other areas of sunshine where the redness of the ground shines bright within the grey areas of shade. And you can see this spectacle many times as you look around you. There is hardly any others on the road. A big road train every now and then. Or a 4WD towing a caravan. But I have not seen another motorbike for probably 1000km. Sometimes it is hard to stay focussed and I need to stop, dismount and have a short brake. Once the engine stops it's dead silent. There is no sound at all. You can hear your own pulse. Every now and then I find a little dirtroad bypassing the highway which is good fun and a welcome change. There are some roadhouses every few hundred km which are a livesaver, serving hot coffee or Milo to warm up a bit.
Some other travellers told me that after a few days on tour you develope a routine. And they are right. After a few days I learned what works best and what does not work, learned where in my panniers I can find my stuff without unpacking the lot. Getting up at dawn means being on the road at sunrise. Just cruising along till around 5pm by which time the 400km mark is achieved, looking for a nice spot to camp, pitch the tent and watch the sunset for dinner. Not missing a sunrise or sunset in five days, pretty much owning these days completely, is quite an amazing feeling. Quite cruisy really.
At this speed I will reach Perth Wednesday or Thursday next week which gives me just over a week time to get the bike prepared for it's flight. And to get some bits and pieces replaced. Thought about putting a new chain, new sprockets and new brake pads on. And a new set of tyres, just dont know which ones yet. Considering some Heidenaus or Pirelli Scorpions. And then, in less than 3 weeks time - we will be in AFRICA!!!
My travel mate Martin and his bike are already in Africa. It is just awesome to read his emails and I can't wait to get across there myself...

01
Anywhere really.

03
The official halfway mark. Kimba, SA

08
Almost forgot to introduce ourselves: that's me and my little Suzuki


15/08/2011

It's the end of day six into the trip. And I made it across my last Australian border crossing: this morning I crossed from South Australia into Western Australia. 3000km since leaving Sydney. All day yesterday and most of today I spent in an area called the 'Nullarbor'. It is huge plains along the Great Australian Bight with, as the name suggests, no trees. Not one single tree for almost two days. What remains is the usual flat landscape and the narrow straight line of the Eyre Hwy. It feels like an ocean, just made of land. But, for a change, there is a real ocean as well. Through the Nullarbor NP the Eyre Hwy runs just a few km parallel to the Southern Ocean. The Nullarbor plains is an elevated plateau around 60m above sea level. So if you just venture off the Hwy a bit you arrive at the cliffs where Australia ends and the Southern Ocean starts and you are looking straight towards Antarctica (which unfortunately remains hidden behind the horizon). It's quite a spectacular sight after days of desert and I just couldn't get enough of it and tried every little dirt path off the highway to adore the beautiful ocean from the cliff tops. I noticed then how much I missed the ocean.
It was one such spot where I camped last night, on the cliffs with the ocean in hearing distance. It is hard to describe the awesomness of a sunrise and a sunset over a landscape which is flat all the way to the horizon, in every direction, half land half water. No one else there. And listening to the sound of the waves breaking at the rocks below while falling asleep. I really love camping for moments like these.
Travelling further west today I reached the end of the plains just this afternoon. Crossing the border into Western Australia had a feel of an international border crossing to it. First a friendly roadhouse with the big 'border kangaroo' sculpture, then a quarantaine checkpoint where you need to stop and declare pretty much all food items in your luggage to the friendly officer. I had to negotiate a bit to keep my bag of fruit and nuts but at the end the officer was happy for me to 'import' them into WA. Once through there, one or two km down the road there was the Police checkpoint. Every one had to stop, the vehicle was briefly checked for it's roadworthiness, the driver was checked for the correct licence and had to pass a breath test. No drunk people will get into WA today!
The rest of my time travelling through WA went by rather eventless. Tired and exhausted from so much riding in a straight line I was looking for a suitable spot to set up camp near the Madura roadhouse. There is a dirtroad connecting the Transaustralian Railway Line and the Eyre Hwy near Madura, the railway line runs approximately 100km parrallel to the North of the Hwy. Sounded like a good road to look for camping. So I went up from the plains onto the small escarpment. And what can I say - just a few hundred meters along a small dirt track - the best ever camping spot. It's in the middle of nowhere but there was a little fireplace and two chairs, overlooking the plains from the edge of the escarpment, surrounded by beautiful grass. No idea what two chairs were doing there so far from civilisation. But I took it as it came, sitting on a comfy chair watching the sunset over the plains. And typing this report. Life is awesome!

09
The eastern entrance to the Nullarbor Plains

10
Back at the ocean

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Sunrise in the Nullarbor

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The border into Western Australia - the 'Border Roo'

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Two chairs with a fireplace in the most unexpected place - thanks, much appreciated.

Thanks for the thumps up guys! And sorry for the time lag. The post above was written a couple of days ago but today is the first time to have mobile internet reception. I made it all the way across the endless plains and am having now lunch in Norseman, WA. Good to be back in civilisation. From here it is only 600km to Perth, the end of the first leg of the trip. And admittedly the easy leg of the trip. And from now it's only two weeks till Africa!
I'm extremely happy with how it's all going. Apart from a few lost bolts on the bike (just can't keep away from shaky dirt roads) everything just works out perfectly. People, the weather, the roads - all have been very friendly to me so far.
I will go through my pics tonight and will send an update with some more photos soon.
See you all later...


16/08/2011

As promised another quick update about the last couple of days touring Australia. It's the end of day nine into the trip. And I am back in an area where actually people live. Which is cool after a lot of nothingness. I could even buy stuff in a supermarket today! The place I'm at when typing this report is called 'Disappointment Rock', around 85km west of Norseman in Western Australia. Don't get what they're on about with this name but it's an awesome spot. A big red granite block rising out of the plains, it takes around half an hour to walk around it. And there is a great view from the top. After getting here I thought it's the perfect place to camp for tonight. And it is.
It has been another couple of days in an amazing landscape, flat, vast and empty. Kilometer after Kilometer of nothingness flew by beside an endless straight road, in fact the longest straight road in the country. One section was called the '90 mile straight'. The name is absolutely correct, 146km without the slightest bend in the road. You can see the headlights of an oncoming car ahead of you appearing on the horizon and it still takes nearly exactly 2 minutes before you actually meet that car! The road just disappears into a mirage like appearance at the horizon, a picture which does not chance for one and a half hours. And who did I meet there? A cyclist! Carrot and his dog Coffee on a bicycle on a fundraising trip for the Cancer Council and MS Australia. It really puts things into perspective when it will take them the most of two days just to get through this one straight section of highway. Carrot & Coffee have a few months of cycling ahead of them before they reach their destination Sydney. Please say hi to them when you see them in Sydney, they deserve it!
There is actually a lot of great people out there. Whenever I stopped at a roadhouse or a viewpoint I got easily into a conversation with someone, a retired couple on a four year trip with their caravan, a motorsport fan driving almost 4000km to see that Bathurst 1000 supercars race, a road train driver who does the distance Sydney - Perth in three to four days and has done this countless times, another Sydney guy who's girlsfriend broke up with him so he is now on his way to Perth to try a new start or the motorcyclist who is about to ride from Perth to Sydney on a vintage BMW airhead. The stories you hear on the road are quite different from the ones you hear in the cities. And you meet a lot of happy people on the road.

It is now only 600km to Perth along a 290km gravel road from Norseman to Hyden where I plan to see the Wave Rock, a big red rock shaped like a breaking wave (what else?). And the rest of the distance will be on paved roads to Perth. My current plan is to reach Perth Wednesday morning, take the bike straight to the guys at the motorcycle shop for them to take measurements for the crate and to order the few bits I want to have replaced. And then explore the area around Perth a bit, visit a few friends who live in WA and then prepare the bike for it's first ever flight. Less than two weeks to go till Africa!

My little Suzuki has done an awesome job over the last few thousand km, she's been to places she's never dreamed of. Starting out in her first few months being a city bike she really enjoys as much as I do the open road, the use of more than just first and second gear, the rocky bits and sandy bits and muddy bits, the little wobbles along gravel roads, both of us getting wet, getting dirty and being covered in a thick layer of red dust. Chasing road trains, going for hours at a time and going where there is no road, we're a great team!
Doing one of my walkarounds around her today I noticed a few missing bolts. They must have shaken loose on those corrugated roads, pretty much all bolts on the underside of something (fuel tank, bash plate, horn mount) were either gone or halfway there. But only $1.90 in the local hardware store in Norseman bought me a handfull of new bolts and washers. And a friendly guy from the caravan parked next to me gave me a helping hand replacing them all. Good to be in 'no-worries-country'!

15
The next bend in the road will be in 146km from here.

16
Perfect mirror effect at a small lake in the Dundas Nature Reserve

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A rather rocky bit of road

18
Ever ridden through a lake? Near Norseman, WA

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Endless spaces - that's why I like Australia

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290km of this will take me to Wave Rock

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At 'Disappointment Rock'

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Eagle over the plains

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Sunset at 'Disappointment Rock' - nothing disappointing here!

18/08/2011 The final stretch of Part 1

Time flies and a lot has happend since my last update from 'Disappointment Rock'. It was meant to be an easy few hundred km, the last stretch to Perth. But the event that really started up the adventure was the rain. While camping at Disappointment Rock it started raining heaps during the night. One of those strange nights when it keeps bucketing down for 10min, followed by the clearest sky imaginable with millions of stars, followed by another downpour. It was the wind that made the rain clouds travel so fast. And since my old tent has proven many times before that it can withstand whatever the weather throws at it, I wasn't worried. The big awakening came the next morning, reminding me that I was some 80km into a 290km dirt road. Or now: mud road. The rain overnight transformed the top few centimetres of the road into a brown slimy slippery something to negotiate a way through on my little Suzuki. It was a really wobbly affair, often going more sideways than forward, just impossible to judge the depth of the soft surface. And not helped by the hidden ruts under the soft stuff either. Throw into the mix a few oncoming trucks and you can imagine the walls of brown stuff that followed them. If I was lucky they only created a cloud of fine brown mist which instantly turned hard on contact with my visor. If I was unlucky it was a whole swell of mud being flung right towards me. The average speed was down to 40km/h or less, so it took the best part of the day to get through this. I will never forget the sweet look of the tarmac when it finally started in Hyden. By then bike and rider where just soaked in brown stuff, head to toe, helmet to boots. There were kilos of mud, now hard as concrete underneath the fenders, the panniers enjoyed a new nature inspired look. And me, pretty much wearing all my clothes because of the cold had suddenly all my clothes looking a bit brownish.

Apart from that the route between Norseman and Hyden is really stunning. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. The state government introduced a discovery trail along the route with many viewpoints and displays, picnic areas and free camping spots. There are dry salt lakes, huge granite rock outcrops, weathered cliffs etc. , all stretching along a beautiful winding road. However, it was all dwarfed by the giant Wave Rock at the Hyden end of the road. That rock is just massive! Wave Rock is a huge red granite boulder, so big that they collect the surface flow of rainwater from the rock to fill a dam as water supply for the town of Hyden. One side of the rock, the famous one, forms an impressive huge shape of a breaking wave of granite. Really awesome and worth a look if you are in the area. Also, much to my enjoyment, the compound included a picnic area with a water tap. Still proud of my invention of a high pressure bike cleaning device I was actually able to clean at least the moving parts of my little Suzuki from their brown mess. If you ever find yourself in this kind of dirty situation: just have lunch, finish all your sliced bread, take the empty plastic bag the bread used to be in, fill it with water and poke a little hole in it and voila! - you've got a stream of water with adjustable pressure! Easy bike cleaning.
In the meantime my own clothes dried nicely in the sun and a bit of shaking changed their look from deep brown into a hint of brown, overlaying their original colour. It took a while but at the end both, bike and rider, were a happy and presentable team again to take on the big city - 320km to go.

It was already late and the sun was low so we wouldn't make it that day. But we would give it our best shot to get as close as possible. So in the town of Hyden we stopped to get some food for the road. For me in the town store, for my little Suzuki at the town's service station. Which was appropriately branded 'Liberty'. Now it was time to hit the road, heading west in a race against the setting sun, powered by Premium 'Liberty'. I gave up setting my clock and adjusting it to all those time zones we travelled through. Some time zones only affecting two roadhouses. Usually it was time to find a camping spot when the sun was only about 200mm above my left mirror, thus just running on my own time. Today the sun was still above that benchmark. So we kept riding. The bike was just running perfectly, smooth and powerful along a beautiful road lined with tall gum trees, winding it's way west through yellow fields of canola crops. The air was filled with the sweet smell of the canola flowers and the aromatic eucalyptus oils of the gum trees. No one else was on the road. Just my little Suzuki and me, flying towards the setting sun. Hell yeah, we were the kings of the road. It was one of the most enjoyable bits of roads we ever travelled on. Humming the theme song from the 'Where the hell is Matt' Youtube video inside my helmet over and over again.

As many of you might remember from your own big trips, after a few days on the road you stop worrying about things and then things just tend to work out in your favour. You set the parameters of what you want and things in between happen automatically. And so it happened to us that day too, just as the sun reached it's critical level above the horizon a little nature reserve appeared just North of the road, with a little dirt track leading into it. The perfect camping spot for our last night on the road. 160km to go to Perth.

Those were easily done the next morning and all too soon we were back inmidst multiple lane roads, traffic lights, cars, bicycles, pedestrians and tall buildings. That Wednesday morning the first leg of the trip ended. In the sunny city of Perth at the Indian Ocean. 11 days and over 4000km since leaving Sydney in the far East on the Pacific coast.

Some people asked me why I was not flying from Sydney to Johannesburg but adding these extra 4000km to the tour. It's hard to tell. It's not the money since flights to South Africa cost roughly the same from Sydney as they do from Perth. It was more an inner urge to go and ride. Ride from my own door step. Start the tour at home. Start the tour riding. Not cheating and taking the shortcut. There is a big distance between Sydney and Germany and I want to see most of it. There is no other reason behind introducing this first leg to the journey than that I really wanted to do it. And indeed I loved every bit of it, the long roads, the far horizons, the people along the way, the camping, the riding, even the cold, the rain and the mud. And when I finally get onto that plane to Africa in ten days I will smile and I will think to myself: man, what a farewell from Australia!

...and some pics from the last stretch of the road to Perth:
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Three gumtrees in the dried out Lake Johnston

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one of those big granite outcrops - McDermid Rock

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Little bushes at McDermid Rock

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It is approaching spring and flowers start appearing everywhere

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A little natural 'garden' on the granite of the rock

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The 'Breakaways' - a weathered cliff formation in many pretty colours

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At the end of the mud road in Hyden - finally getting the look of an adventure touring bike

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Wave Rock - you can judge the scale of it by the size of the little kid playing on the floor

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Arrival in the big city

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Made it to Perth


28/08/2011

It's been a while since the last update and it is certainly time for a new one. The last one to be written on home turf. Because tomorrow the big adventure will begin with me boarding the plane to South Africa.
There was not all too much to do here in Perth since I arrived last week, quite a relaxing time really. Visiting friends in the area. Some sightseeing. And enjoying good times at friendly backpacker hostels. My little Suzuki had to be prepared for the flight which would take around a week to do. So I took her to a motorbike shop near Perth Airport on Monday morning. A shop which sounded good on the internet and the guys seemed to be friendly enough on the phone as well.
And in reality they did an AWESOME job. Awesome in terms of getting all the parts together within a week, installing the lot and packing the bike up. And also awesome for their flexibility amidst the chaos caused by the freight forwarding company.
Freight forwarders are very special people indeed. In the belief that we sorted out terms and prices for the transport months ago I suddenly got emails along the lines of: important paperwork was forgotten to mention which would cost an extra $300. Or accidentially the quoted price was based on actual weight and not volumetric weight which is twice as much. And culminating in the fact that a flight was booked for the bike leaving Sydney instead of Perth. It was quite scary really and I hope so much to see my little Suzuki again in Johannesburg. It took a few angry emails, a few annoyed phone calls and information gathering from a competing cargo forwarder until the mess was sorted. So the bike has been booked from Perth, the price was suddenly based on volumetric weight and alltogether with the $300 for the additional paperwork the final quote was even below the original one. With the only difference that the bike would depart on Friday, not with me together on Monday. So the pressure was on for us to finish up crating the bike for delivery on Friday morning. And I was happy and so relieved having the guys from the bikeshop on the phone calmly declaring it a 'no worries' issue. And after all they were able to reduce the dimensions of the crated bike to a degree that saved me another $500 compared to the freight quote based on my estimated dimensions. So a huge 'Thumps up' here!

The way it looks like my little Suzuki should be in the air right now. While I'm typing this. Fingers crossed...
Also she has a brand new set of Pirelli Scorpion MT90 A/T tyres on. And a new chain. And a new 15T front sprocket. And a slightly larger than the original 42T rear sprocket. And a set of new brake pads. And new spark plugs. In other words - she is as ready for Africa as I am. Or more.

So yeah, I am flying to Africa tomorrow!!!

Whatever it is that will start tomorrow, it will be big, adventurous, awesome. And unknown. And probably very different to the first leg across Australia. And more fun for there will be two of us.

Also unknown is the fact of how easy it will be to find internet in Africa. So I hope to be able to stay in touch and keep posting how we go.

Crossing fingers.


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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann