It really happened! Finally I am in Africa, I am here and my little Suzuki made it as well! What a feeling!
Since this date is so significant, lets start numbering the days from my
arrival in Johannesburg. 30th of August 2011 - day 1. I will do my best
and continue typing the reports as we go. And upload them in bulk as we
find internet connections. So the reports might not be up to date when
you read them but they certainly are when the are written.
I have been on the move for almost 20 hours between the departure from
Perth and the arrival in Johannesburg, including a four hours stop in
Kuala Lumpur. My little Suzuki should be in Johannesburg since the 28th
and hopefully be waiting for me. Martin, my friend with whom I will be
travelling for the next many months through Africa just sent an SMS that
he is still in Port Elizabeth and will meet me on Wednesday, day two in
our Africa timeline. With so many hours in the plane I started mentally
preparing myself for day one. A to do list to hit the ground running
along the lines of: getting myself through customs - easy, find the
cargo terminal - medium tricky, get them to hand over my little Suzuki -
complicated, unpack and reassemble the bike - easy, find petrol for the
fully drained fuel tank to make a short (?) drive to the next servo -
potentially very tricky, find a place to stay and get the contents of
the panniers back in order - medium tricky, go to sleep and meet Martin
the next day - big relief.
The uselesness of planning became evident just after arrival. Tired and
groggy at 6am local time I made my way through customs and baggage
collection into the terminal and look who was there: Martin just waiting
outside the barriers! AWESOME I thought, it was so cool to see him
there so unexpectedly. Martin did some insane mileage to get to
Johannesburg in time from Port Elizabeth, slept in the airport terminal
over the night just to be there and pick me up. At 6am. It was almost
unreal to see him there waiting. Everything else seemed a lot easier
now. On his bike we quickly found the Cargo terminal, on the way there
we bought some fuel too. And Martin already arranged a place to stay for
two nights with friends he just made in South Africa and who kindly
invited us to their home in Pretoria. So all we needed was my little
Suzuki and off we would go.
And it all started so smoothly. The bike was quickly located. The fact
that is was the freight forwarder's name and not my name in the
Consignee field of the paperwork was quickly fixed with a few phone
calls and a faxed letter of authorisation to release it to me. Customs
clearance was quickly achieved thanks to the Carnet I had available. So
all there was left before they could hand over my little Suzuki to her
proud owner was the payment of a small handling fee. Easy you think? Me
to. But not the payment system of the airline. Which simply stopped
working. With no payment system there was no way of payment being made.
And with no payment there was no way the bike could be released to me.
But at least there was a promise the bug in the system would be fixed
within 10 minutes. And it was this promise which I heard repeated many
fimes over the next few hours. Unfortunately there was no backup system
and there was nothing that could be done. Except for waiting. And the
queue grew longer. And no one in the queue had any trouble with waiting.
Well, I have of course heard that patience is a valuable skill in
Africa. I just did not expect it happening that soon. And also, where
the cargo terminal was there was nothing else. No drinking water. No
food. Waiting for a payment system to accept a laughably small payment.
Waiting for 6 hours. After 20 hours of overnight travel.
However, it was all worth it. Just for the moment when finally the
forklift came around the corner with the crate with my little Suzuki on
it. Oh, she looked so beautiful that moment!
The two of us quickly took the crate apart, got the handlebars back on,
filled in a few litres of fuel and it was finally time to push the start
button. And well, she just did not seem to feel like starting. It took
us a while until we noticed the duct tape across the exhaust. And once
that was removed she started straight away. What a beautiful sound that
was, the sound I was missing so much during the week in Perth when she
got serviced and packed up, the sound I was so anxious to hear while
being stuck in the plane and later stuck again at the airlines office.
Finally there it was - the beautiful sound of a 650cc single cylinder
engine. My very own bike's single cylinder engine. Breathing in African
air. The sound of freedom. And it sounded beautiful.
The first few km on African roads felt great, the excitement quickly
overcame the tiredness and not much later we arrived at our newly found
friend's place in Pretoria. Having picked up some groceries (finally
FOOD!) along the way. And two sixpacks of
to celebrate the occasion. And we were treated with some fantastic home
made South African dinner (a meal of which I forgot the name) and some
Our to-do list for day 2 was to get Martin's bike sorted. The day before
we did find a friendly repair shop and would go back there today to get
Martin's mighty Africa Twin a set of new tyres, new sprockets, a new
chain and her oil changed. I also noticed that my own new front tyre has
been installed the wrong way around in Perth so the guys here kindly
offered to turn it around for free. So quickly our two bikes were lifted
up and the wheels taken out. And not much happened thereafter. For many
more hours. While waiting for a courier to deliver the new sprockets
for Martin's bike. Stuck with both our bikes partly disassemnled all we
could do was waiting. And it was not until almost 7 hours from when we
presented the bikes that we got both our bikes back in action. So far to
the link between 'being in Africa' and 'patience'. However, it was also
worth it for the fact that the guys in the shop did an extremely
thorough job and both our proud bikes are now ready to go the distance.
And their riders are keen to start going too. So tomorrow it will
finally be time to hit the road and go and explore and ride Africa!
05/09/2011 Day 3 in Africa
Finally meeting each other in person Martin and I could do some
planning. We heard of other motorcycle travellers about their experience
in Botswana, the country we initially planned to travel to next. And
what they said sounded rather less encouraging. The Chobe NP cannot be
entered on bikes. That was our main point of interest in Botswana. Also
they said Botswana is incredibly expensive. As a result of that and our
common interest for exotic places we decided to skip Botswana and to
head straight east to go to Mozambique instead. About Mozambique we
heard a lot of good things, describing beautiful landscapes, beaches,
wildlife. So east we headed today, first proper day riding in Africa.
And although I can not point out any spectacular highlight of the day
the day was very exciting. The chaotic traffic in the towns, the
unfamiliar sounds and smells, the golden colour of the huge dry grass
plains. Just a beautiful warm and sunny day, so much warmer than I
expexted South Africa to be in the late winter. People were lining the
streets, either selling things or trying to catch a lift with someone.
The first golden African sunset. And a great camping spot somewhere just
down a small gravel road. And the same clear night sky as I became so
used to during my camping nights in Australia. The Southern Cross
dominating the millions of little dots above.
I guess we are very lucky to find ourselves in these circumstances: we
are in Africa. And we have our bikes. And we have time. Lots of time.
And no comittments. Finally the dream comes true.
Our plan is to ride to the Blyde River Canyon tomorrow, spend however
much time we like to spend there and then head further east towards
Swaziland and Mozambique.
See what happens...
05/09/2011 South Africa
Days 4 and 5 - Blyde River Canyon, South Africa
I can't believe we are already at day 5 of our Africa Trip. We still
have not come across any internet cafe so I hope all of you are patient
with me and keep following the reports when there is an opportunity for
me to upload the bulk of the last few days onto the HUBB.
The reason why we have no internet anywhere near us is our location. We
are in the wild. In the Blyde River Canyon to be precisely. It is an
incredibly beautiful place, a couple of days ago I didn't even know of
it's existence. We arrived here yesterday after a long day of riding
with many highlights in between. Once we reached the small town of Sabie
there was just loads of stuff to see. There are waterfalls, so many of
them I forgot the name of most. There is the 'Mac Mac' pools where we
could go for a short swim in the cold water of the natural rock pools
along a little river. And there are viewpoints into the canyon which
defy belief. Unlike the Grand Canyon, the Blyde River Canyon has no
steps in it's canyon walls. It is much more an area of steep vertical
walls, some weathered rock domes on the top, sometimes plane rocks not
unlike table mountains. They are coloured in red and often coated in
some oxidised copper green or sulphurlike yellow. And these walls are
high, man are they high. Standing at those viewpoints it is rarely
possible to see down to the bottom. Add to this the haze of some grass
fires in the area and the typical smell of burning grass in the air, add
a warm spring evening, warm enough to wear T-Shirt without being cold,
add a clear blue sky and no wind at all and you get the idea. However,
before I keep writing and writing about the canyon, I am aware that this
is a motorcycle forum so let's come back to the bike stuff. And riding
skills. Or the lack thereof.
Apart from some little dirt roads yesterday today was a pretty hardcore
day in dirt riding. Our map showed an unpaved 'Panorama' road just on
the north east of the canyon, leading to a picnic point at the river
inside it and a waterfall from the rim of the canyon. So 'cool' we said
and set off to find that road. And we did. It started pretty easy with
some sandy patches, nothing much to worry about. Just enough to give me a
little scare every now and then because I still find sand a pretty
tough challenge to my riding skills. Soon enough sand turned to rocks.
Flat road turned to incline. Incline turned to steep incline. Rocks
turned to big rocks. And soon big loose rocks covered the whole width of
the steeply inclining road. So finally we found our first real riding
challenge. I kept reminding myself of all the rules - weight forward,
look ahead not down, stand up. And it just happened again and again: oh
s...t look at this massive rock, don't hit it, oh NO don't look down...
and there it goes, the massive rock, flying away, catapulted off the
road by my front tyre. If it wasn't for the awesome easy handling of my
little Suzuki we would be in big trouble. But she was just flying across
the terrain, over the rocks, up the hills and along the ruts with no
complaint. She is an awesome little bike and surprised me once again of
letting me go where I never thought I can go on a motorbike. Focussing
on following the rules makes it actually quite easy. And I can't wait to
get more experienced in that sort of stuff and can match the
capabilities of my bike because it is already so much fun. Martin's
Africa Twin handled the road equally well but came in trouble a few
times for it's lower ground clearance when you could hear the typical
bang and grinding noise of rock against aluminium bashplate over the
intercom. Many of the rocks were pretty sharp edged but I am also glad
to say that our new tyres held up very well and my fears of flattening
one were unfounded.
The waterfall up on top was still hard to find and required some
bushbashing to get there (on foot though) but was very well worth the
Coming down the road from the waterfall to the canyon picnic spot was
more of the same in reverse. Truckloads of loose sharp edged rocks, ruts
and a steeply declining road for another ten odd km. Which we navigated
through, rolling down in first gear, blood pressure and pulse through
the roof for the focus it seem to require to get through. At one stage I
had to stop because the road declined so steeply that my panniers kept
sliding forwards to a degree that they almost slipped of the racks.
7km before we reached the picnic spot there was the usual scenario for
this part of South Africa. In the middle of nowhere, hours away from any
town or even paved road, there was a hut and a boom gate across the
road. And one lonely figure appearing from the hut and selling us the
permit to go the remaining 7km down to the bottom of the canyon. I mean
what a job - sitting there miles away from everything, waiting for the
one or two cars a day which are even able to navigate this sort of road
without falling apart halfway through and selling permits for 16Rand a
person (= $2.40). He mentioned something about camping would cost extra
but we were only to go down and have a look around. The guard also said
he would be leaving at 4pm which was only half an hour away. How he
would get away from there is still beyond me because there was no car in
sight. However, he would leave the boomgate open for us and asked us to
close it when we get back which we promised to do. Once we made it down
that road and blood pressure and pulse normalised after another million
rocks threatening to send us sliding off the road or slice our tyres in
pieces we found a beautiful spot down right in the canyon. The clear
and cold Blyde River making it's way over and through the rocks in the
riverbed, huge walls of rock forming the canyon walls towering on either
side, the setting sun intensifying their red and green and yellow
colour. And a friendly young South African couple camping down there,
chatting to us and inviting us to share their fire.
So quickly our decision was clear to stay and spend the night down here.
While I am writing this I still don't know what will happen once we
reach the boom gate back up the hill tomorrow. How badly the poor guard
will tell us off for not closing the boom gate as promised and for not
paying the camping fees the night before. But I guess we will worry
about that one tomorrow.
Our two bikes the moment just before leaving Pretoria
First sunset in Africa...