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Africa Tour August 2011 - August 2012

20/09/2011 Zimbabwe

Day 16, 17 and 18
Another day, another country. Mozambique has been a fantastic place to ride a motorbike. However, there is huge distances between tourist highlights. The only other significant one on our list of interesting places would be up in the far north. More than 1000km along a straight stretch of road did seem too long for us though to just see another archipel of islands. So we turned left instead, onto my favourite road so far. It's the one connecting the N1 main road with the little town of Espungabera on the border to Zimbabwe. It is a beautiful gravelroad, meandering through some typical Mozambiquean bushland with tiny villages dotted along the road. Villages no bigger than three or four huts. It is just the perfect road to ride my little Suzuki on and she totally agreed with me in that, smoothly rolling along with her little 650cc heart calmly beating. Switching into 3rd gear and accelerating up the hill, little pieces of gravel flying either side. Top of the hill, switching into fourth gear and letting her roll down, slaloming around rocks and potholes at around 80km/h on a perfectly warm spring day. Martin on his bike on my right hand side to avoid any of us breathing in the big orange dust cloud which covers everything behind us. Close to Espungabera the road finds it's way through the mountains where we got rewarded with some beautiful views back into the plains of bushland in Mozambique.
Our strategy is to cross borders in rather small crossing points, not the main road ones. So we hope the officials are less stressed and less prone to bribes or money extorsion. And well, it sort of works. We crossed from Espungabera into Zimbabwe. Leaving Mozambique was a friendly and easy affair. Entering Zimbabwe seemed to be too. We paid our $30 and got issued a 30 day visa straight away. The bikes got in with a Temporary Import Permit so we did not need to use our Carnet. And that was it. But then, just before the last boom gate the Customs officer insisted that everyone (not just us) showed all items to be imported into Zimbabwe. Which means for us completely unpacking all our panniers and explaining every single item. But hey, it was a sunny day and the officer was a really friendly one. Just doing his job. So we had a friendly chat about our underwear, our spare spark plugs and the mosquito spray, explained the can of chain lube and the camera zoom lens and two hours later were free to pack the lot back in with the words 'Thank you for your patience, have a wonderful stay in Zimbabwe'.
Ten minutes later we were stopped at a Police checkpoint. The two officers simply bombarded us with questions, faster than we could reply. Almost in military style. So we stopped the bikes again, parked them out of the way and in our most friendly manner went through all their harshly asked questions with them, making things up as we went along (where will you stay tonight? And tomorrow night? etc). Ten minutes later they were running out of questions and we were out of there. And from then on we were cruising along in another super friendly country in Africa. Here we are, Zimbabwe, under the care of Comrade Robert Mugabe.
The first Zimbabwean town behind the border for us was Chipinge. And what a difference it was to Mozambique. There were fully stocked supermarkets, delicacies like yogurt and chocolate and orange juice in them. ATMs tendering US$, the (temporarily) official currency here. Which is really handy to be able to stock up on hard currency for the onward travel. Prices are similar to Mozambique. And people just as friendly. And English is again the official language which makes communication very easy.
Let's just pick one example of our experience with Zimbawe people: as usual we just camp somewhere off a little road and not on any official sites. This time we just went off the main road, the terrain either side was really flat with a few bushes and some big Baobab trees and some little rocks. No problem for our sturdy bikes. Once out of sight of the road we looked around and collected some wood for a little campfire to barbeque our tasty looking sausages from the supermarket. All of the sudden this guy appears, bare foot but wearing a shirt with 'Police' written on it. After our earlier experience we now expected trouble. But with a big smile on his face he was just saying hello and was laughing a bit about our pathetic little pile of fire wood. He offered us to camp next to his house some further down the road. But at this stage we were already too set up to move on and declined his offer so he just disappeared into the bush again. Hours later, after we gave up our unsuccessful efforts on the fire and cooked our sausages on the camping stove, two people stepped out of the dark towards us. It was him again with his wife. Just saying hello again and dropping off a perfectly dry and big log of timber for us to use for cooking. And disappearing again into the night with a smile. Really cool, hey?
The landscape is also quite different compared to Mozambique. Just behind the border we rode through some beautiful dark green rainforest in the southern part of the Eastern Highlands. But very soon it changed to a brown flat landscape with scattered bushes and huge Baobab trees. Some of those are just massive, trunk diameters larger than the lengths of our bikes. Also part of the mix are some huge rocks, almost mountains of granite. And a couple of round brick huts with straw roof.
People are very friendly but appear to be in more hardship than their Mozambiquean friends. We are asked for money more often but still left alone when we say 'no'. There are less colours around and more people walking barefoot.
The roads we travelled on so far are awesome quality. Main roads are tar. And even gravelroads are nice and hard and of the kind that you only need to focus not to get trapped in minor ruts. Or run over a sharp edge of rock. 60km/h is no problem at all on Zimbabwean gravel. So far.

After three weeks and more than 3500km since Johannesburg the bikes are holding up fine. Only some minor things come to the surface every now and then. Just today I had to repair the fuel hose which started to leak a lot. Where it connects to the inline fuel filters the rubber hose started to develop cracks and one of those became big enough that a small continuous stream of fuel shot out. Luckily it happened while the bike was parked and not too much fuel poured over the hot engine. I cut off the cracked ends of the hose and also filed the outside diameter of the fuel line connections on the filters smaller to reduce the outwards pressure onto the fuel hose. And reinforced the hose with duct tape. And hope it will last a bit.
Martin had to fight with his bike too. After all those dust roads he was keen to check the airfilter. But the three small bolts which hold the airfilter cover did sit so tight that none of us could get them loose. And we ended up pretty much destroying the bolt heads. And one screwdriver. It was only later in a small workshop and with the help of an electric grinder that we got access to the airfilter.
Also recently we developed a habit to thoroughly check our tyres after we discovered some big thornscembedded in them. There is a lot of stuff with massive thorns growing here and often some twigs or branches are just blown on the road. So far we managed to gercaway with no flats ( touch wood).
Till now our tyres are holding up actually pretty well. But latest before we enter the DRC we will need new ones. Has any of you been able to source some tyres in Rwanda or Burundi? These will most likely be the last countries before we enter the Congo. Our last resort would be that the tyre shop in Pretoria which fitted Martin's new tyres could send some across to Burundi. But that sounds rather expensive.
Riding my little Suzuki is still so much fun, even after all those km. Or probably because of them. It sounds odd but I start to know the bike to a degree that I can hear and feel if something is wrong. Something like my dirty air filter. The bike handles so well on the roads in Zimbabwe that even sandy bits start being fun. If they are not too deep. Then I still panic. And curse. However, we met two touring motorcyclists from South Africa here in Zimbabwe which their big ccm shiny european bikes. And then again I realised, while we are here in Africa, you could offer me any bike in the world, I would not swap my little Suzuki for it. She somehow seems to be made for this adventure of ours. And is truly fun to ride in the

2terrain we encountered so far. So keep your Katooms. And keep your Beamers. At least for now. I'll stick to my little Suzuki. And Africa is still heaps fun.

20/09/2011 Zimbabwe pics

...a few pictures from our first few days in Zimbabwe:

These Baobab trees do make you feel like you're in Africa

I tried to hire a driver but unfortuately his feet could not reach the footpegs.

Wherever we go in Zimbabwe - we are found by some lovely locals.


The 'Great Zimbabwe' monument near Masvingo- an ancient city of the Shona people which gave it's name to the country. These 1000 year old ruins cover a large area, so huge that they are classified as the number two prehistoric site in Africa (after the egyptian pyramids).

Small town snapshot

Donkeys and cattle often walk along or across the road, totally oblivious to passing cars. Or motorbikes.

My search for a qualified driver continues with no luck

A rather rough road to the Matopo NP

Random scene


We found another beautiful corner in Zimbabwe today. And best of all, we've got internet. So before we venture back into internetless African countryside let's just write down a little wrap up of our visit to Zimbabwe.

Currently we are camping at Victoria Falls, the town on the Zimbabwean side of the famous landmark. This will also be our last destination in Zimbabwe before we head off to see the Okavango Delta in Botswana tomorrow.
Since the last update we went through some exciting times. Mostly visiting National Parks in Zimbabwe. Which can be tricky on motorbikes.
Since Bulawayo we started with a trip through Matopo NP. It is a beautiful area of mostly arid high lands. Part of the park is a game reserve which cannot be entered on motorbikes. But the other part is really cool too. It's dirt road all the way. Quite rough in places with massive rocks to climb over or to climb down from along the road. And some extremely steep uphill and downhill sections. In combination with the big boulders embedded in the road it was mostly first and second gear territory. But just perfectly matching what our bikes were made for. We went through stuff even a month ago I wouldn't have thought a motorbike can get through. But it was now actually heaps fun. And every now and then we found a great viewpoint or some age old bushmen paintings. And all day long we did not meet anyone in the park. Apart from a ranger or two. No tourists at all.
The other park we visited was Hwange NP which ended up being more adventurous than we would have liked it. Our so far reliable map showed two roads connecting the park to the main road. So we took the first one. Which ended up being very sandy after 20odd km. And sand still raises my blood pressure and panic level to the extreme. However, we dug our way through to the gate. And when I say 'gate' it was more an empty hut and a lifted boom gate. So 'cool' we thought, just keep going and pay the entrance fee on our exit through the other gate the next day. And in we were, riding in beautiful Hwange NP next to jumpy antelopes and big elephants and tall giraffes. Hwange is a top highlight for tourists in Zimbabwe. And for good reason. It is simply stunning, waterholes are topped up by pumps so there is always water. And always animals. Absolutely recommendable. It was also here that my little Suzuki went through elephant droppings for the first time. How cool is it to say that you rode your bike through elephant shit! The real stuff!
What we were not aware off though was the fact that the entrance we went through was the old entrance. And no longer an official entrance. And that bikes are not allowed in the park. And that the rhinos in the park are a prime target for poachers. And that the National Park Rangers are very concerned about the rhinos and therefore are not happy about people appearing in the park through inofficial entrances.
Long story short - we quickly got restricted to the nearest camping area and escorted to the main camp and ranger station the next day.
I think it was very quickly obvious that we were no poachers. Lucky for us. Because even though we stirred up a small storm everyone was extremely friendly and helpful at the end to resolve the situation. And by the end of the day we were free to go. Sort of. Except for Martin's bike. Which kept having a flat tyre. First we woke up to a flat tyre. The first one on the tour so far. So us being not too familiar with the subject had to get the tyre on and off 3 times before it kept the air. But I can proudly say the last attempt only took us half an hour between getting the wheel off and the wheel with patched tube on again. Just the timing was no good because our escort was waiting for us to take us to the main camp. Nothing better to get the work done than some pressure and a couple of guys with big guns waiting around. And it did work. Well, for more than 50km. One km before the Main Camp the tyre was flat again. And because in the sandy conditions Martin was not aware of it straight away the whole valve ended up being ripped out. Fortunately we had our escort on a pickup truck. So soon the Africa Twin was on the truck and caught a lift for the final km. And the tyre got fixed in the workshop for free while we were in discussions with the rangers.
I know what you're saying, how we must have gotten into deep trouble for entering the park unofficially. But the Zimbabwe we found is very different from the Zimbabwe you see in the news in Australia. If you think we had to pay massive bribes to get out of there - nothing like that happened. Pretty much everyone we met in Zimbabwe and particularly in Hwange was extremely friendly and professional. The conduct of the rangers was absolutely on the same level as you would expect in Australia. And considering the difference in their pay that is indeed extraordinary. No bribes were asked. Ever. All payments were listed in advance on official lists and receipts were issued. Not just in Hwange. But everywhere. When we got stopped by Police on road blocks it always ended up a friendly chat. People on the street and in shops are super friendly and open for serious chats about everything. Not just the typical 'where do you come from' and 'where do you go'. And you pick up a vibe about them being very proud of their country. Even though they are living through tough times and a not too certain political situation with new elections on their doorstep. There is a vibe of optimism and a perceived certainty that it will go uphill with Zimbabwe in the future. And numbers seem to support their opinion. Even though we were completely by ourselves in Matopo NP and did not encounter many tourists in Hwange NP (not many for a park that size and reputation) everyone is expecting things to pick up big time towards the end of the year. I remember an old guy walking around selling little spongy scrubs on a service station. I asked him what it is he is selling and we talked for a bit. And what impressed me the most was the fact that, not once he asked me to buy one of those things. But he was very keen to get the message across to me that Zimbabwe is save to travel again and I should tell my friends so more tourists would come. And we had similar situations elsewhere. So what I guess is really hard for Zimbabweans is the fact, that they now better times. Zimbabwe used to be a safe tourist destination, similar to maybe South Africa. There are big hotels still there but empty. Beautiful lodges with view to waterholes and elephants. With one or two families staying there. Big expensive looking restaurants. No one in there. And even the big game parks. Where you can be undisturbed because there are many more elephants than tourists. Also the famous Victoria Falls we only had to share with two groups of people until many hours after sunrise when more tourists arrived. In many aspects the Zimbabwe for tourists is a bit like a ghost town. Whereas the Zimbabwe for locals is still a colourful place with many smiles and some worried faces. Not as colourful and happy as Mozambique maybe. But a bit of the old booming country has certainly still survived in it's people. And a lot of hope too.
We also were approached by undercover Police a few times. They appear a bit suspicious for their rather fine clothes and unusual questions (e.g. about our family names and how we see Zimbabwe from overseas and political opinions etc). And later did identify themselves as Police with their ID tag. But still, they were always friendly and professional and never caused us any hassle.
In terms of motorbike travel it is an easy place to be. There are a few petrol stations which had run out of petrol but usually there is another one within 10-20km which still sells it. We stopped at a real Suzuki dealer in Bulawayo and had a look at their bikes. They had the little sister of my bike, a Suzuki DR200 and lots of smaller bikes too. However, they had no 17" tyres and spare parts only for the small bikes. I got a new fuel hose from them. In Bulawayo there is also a few shops for bike repair. They had all the tools but no spare parts fitting onto our bikes too. So if you travel here it is a good idea to bring your own spares. What we heared there might be stuff for western bikes available in Harare but we did not go there. And we did not need stuff anyway.
So tomorrow we leave Zimbabwe again. Open for our short excursion into Botswana and the Okavango Delta. With our bikes being up to scratch again. Martin's with a new rear tube. And mine with a cleaned air filter. And both with riders keen to see more of Africa.

25/09/2011 Zimbabwe pics

'World View' in Matobo NP

Little Suzuki really close to some elephants in Hwange NP

Sunrise over Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

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(c) 2012    marco hoffmann