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Hungary to Germany

Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012
South Africa

05/09/2011 First message from Africa

Hi everyone,

just a quick update that finally we are in AFRICA!!! I am typing this in the first internet cafe we found in a week. It's in Mbabane, the capital of the tiny country of Swaziland. It's amazing to be here and everything went fine so far. My little Suzuki arrived just like myself in a really good state. Only one mirror did break on her flight but that one was easy to replace. The Perth bike shop did an awesome job in packing up the bike on a crate too, so no worries here.
The Cargo forwarder has always been a bit chaotic but still friendly enough and at the end everything worked out just fine. So if you are the type of person to check and doublecheck things, I would even be able to recommend them. It's a company called WWCF, based in Melbourne. The bike flew over on South African Airways.
However, during the last couple of nights I typed a few reports which I will upload below for you guys to read. Unfortunately photos don't seem to work for an upload in Mbabane.

Thanks for your messages again and hope from here it will be easier to conect to the www.

05/09/2011 First days in Africa

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.

Day 1
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 great company.

Day 2
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

Day 3
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 effort.
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...
...and the sunrise the following morning

The 'Pinacle' near the Blyde River Canyon

The 'Berlin Falls' in the Blyde River area

The road just east of the Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Canyon

The Blyde River Dam inside the canyon

Blyde River Canyon

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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann