South Africa

I was across the border and riding through South Africa right in time for the mid-day sun. I headed for the town of Springbok about 110 km from the crossing and found a shack in a campground to call home for the night. Here I met up with a fellow adventure rider from Holland named Jaap. Jaap and his buddy Mat have also been riding through Africa but have always been a few weeks ahead of me.

Jaap has been in Springbok for a while awaiting a new rear tire for his KTM. Mat had decided to ride on towards Cape Agulhas. I had dinner that evening with Jaap and some friends of his at their home where I was filled in on some of the recent history of South Africa.

The next morning I headed off for a place near Stellenbosch about 40 km outside Cape Town. I had to ride through a couple of Townships to get here which made the ride a little exciting. I had been warned not to stop for any reason while riding through these places. Stopping here could the last stop you ever make. I skipped through every opening in the traffic and ran all the red lights, something I had been doing since Italy anyhow. I even ran a red light in front of some cops but they couldn’t have cared less. It was easier to let me go than have to deal with a robbery and perhaps murder.

Here I met up with a guy called Duncan who runs a shipping business and a camp-ground called African Overlanders (http://www.africanoverlanders.com). Duncan has been arranging to ship my bike home for me. Here I met a few other overlanders who were camped out for the holidays before heading north in their 4×4′s. I pitched my tent, unloaded everything from the bike and set up camp.

I had been so lucky to make Cape Town with the bearings as bad as they were. Actually I couldn’t believe I had made it but I still hadn’t finished what I had set out to do. I wanted to ride from the very north to the very south of Africa. This meant I still had 200 km to go to reach a place called Cape Agulhas on the southern tip of the continent where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. I was confident enough with all the weight removed from the bike that I could make it but just in case I organised with Duncan that if I broke down he would come rescue me with his trailer. Just before dark and the electric fence being switched on Jaap arrived at the camp-ground having received his new rear tire earlier that day.

The next morning Jaap and I set off together on the last 200 km ride of this epic adventure.  Along the way I stopped off at a BMW garage to see if they could fix my rear wheel but they had little to no interest in helping me. They told me it would take 3-4 days to fix it and would cost $700-$800. I bid them good day and headed off with my fingers crossed that the last 150 km wouldn’t kill me.

We reached the town of Cape Agulhas around 10 am and  met up with Jaap’s buddy Mat from New Zealand. From here it was only 5 km to the end of the continent. There is a car park on the point with a board-walk to the actuall end. There was a sign forbidding bicycles or anything else from riding to the finish line but after riding all this way we thought it best to ignore this sign and rode right to the southern tip of Africa. There was a large crowd here already but they all moved aside to let us through when we arrived. We celebrated with some champagne and got a round of applause from everyone.

I rode back to Duncan’s that afternoon a little pissed but without any hassle. Here I spent another night before taking the bike apart and getting it ready for the shipping. I then moved into the city for  three nights of rest and celebration before boarding a flight home.

The ride through Africa was defiantly the hardest one I have undertaken to date but it has also been the most rewarding. Each country and its people are unique. From the Arabic north to the Dark centre and the Western south. From the mountains to the deserts, the wilderness to the cities, the remoteness, the jungles, the poverty, the overpopulation, the crime, the hunger, the wild animals, the weirdness, the strangeness, the friendliness, the danger and the excitement, I loved it all. I will defiantly be back one day.

I hope you enjoyed the journey.

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Namibia

The Zambian/Namibian border crossing was the easiest I have ever undertaken. The whole thing took fifteen minutes and that included time spent changing money. The difference between the two countries is immediately noticeable. About 2 km from the border there is a petrol station with food and even a restaurant. Here I also had to pay some “cross border charges” for some reason. I only found this out when I was sent back by a cop from a checkpoint 10 km outside town.

The main roads in Namibia are smooth, flat, straight and really boring but I had no choice only to stay on them. The main and needle bearings in my final drive (rear wheel) started to fail in southern Tanzania and they have been steadily getting worse. If I didn’t stay on the smooth main roads the bike would suffer a lot more damage. The main bearing is easy enough to get but the needle bearing is BMW specific. I didn’t want to try and replace the main in case the needle baring falls to pieces in the process so I had no choice but to ride on and head for Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.

Along the way I came across a sign warning for elephants in the area. About 2 km later I spotted a mother and calf, another 5 km later a whole heard of these wild beasts crossed the road right in front of me. I was able to get to within 20 meters of them before they took notice of my presence. One or two started to come towards me so I thought it best to ride a little further away. These were truly majestic wild beasts. I feel honoured to have been the only one around and to have been able to get so close to them.

I spent the night at the magnificent N’Kwazi Lodge situated on the banks of the Okavango River about 20km outside the town of Rundu. The waters here are full of hippo and crocs so it’s best to swim in the pool. I also had the best meal of the whole trip here, eating Impala for the first but defiantly not the last time. During dinner wild birds and strange wild cats wandered into the restaurant snatching food when no one was looking, well I was looking but I couldn’t have cared less, there was plenty to go round.

From Rundu I rode 800 km to Windhoek in one sitting. I reached the town about 4pm found a place to stay and had a few beers while waiting for BMW to reopen the next morning. At 8am I was outside the garage with my fingers crossed that they could fix my bike. I really wanted to get back to the dirt roads and out to the coast. The mechanic took one look at it and told me he didn’t have the parts, in fact he didn’t have any parts, I think I had more spare bike parts then him but unfortunately I didn’t have the right ones. He rang BMW in Cape Town to order them but they were closed as it was a public holiday there. Because he wouldn’t have been able to order them until Tuesday it would be Friday at the earliest before the parts would arrive and guess what, they were closed on Friday. I had no choice but to ride on but first I changed the oil in the final drive to see if it contained any bits of metal. There were a few tiny pieces in the oil which had me worried and gripping the bars tighter as I rode out of town. If these bearing went the whole final drive would most likely seize up and have me careering into whatever lay in my path. Subsequently I had to keep the speed down to 104km. The back wheel found a sweet spot and stopped wobbling at this speed.

There were many things I wanted to see in Namibia but unfortunately I will have to wait till a later time. I didn’t want to risk riding the bike in this state any further than I had to so I just headed for South Africa. Along the way I stopped off at little lodge outside Keetmansshoop for the night. From here it was a short 300km to the South African border.

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Zambia

Zambia

The border crossing was a breeze just like every other African crossing bar Egypt. It took an hour or so to undertake the formalities before I was free in a new country. The people here are fantastically friendly and very interested in where I was coming from and where I was going. They really can’t believe that someone could ride a motorcycle all the way from Europe. As I crossed the border the heavens opened up and the rains came heavy. The rainy season that was well over a month late had finally arrived. I sheltered from the storm while having lunch with a petrol station owner and his friends in the little border town.

When it finally stopped I headed off in the direction of the capital, Lusaka. I had no route worked out or no destination for the night as I left town. The roads are quiet here, very quiet. There’s not much traffic or people around. The houses are all made of sticks and mud, weatherproofed by thatched roofs. Every now and then I came across a little settlement but mostly there was nothing along the way. I rode until it was almost dark and then tried to find a place to stay for the night. I was about to pull into a little huddle of huts and ask if I could camp in there yard when I saw a sign for a guest house down some dirt track.

I headed off road to see what could be down there and to my surprise there was a few brick buildings nestled next to a river. As I parked the bike I noticed a few mazungas (white people) peeping out the door at me. They were as shocked to see me as I was to see them. This really was in the middle of nowhere hundreds of miles from any city. It turns out there was five of these girls in total, four Dutch and one Swedish girl all working on various projects from helping orphans to help setting up clinics and vaccinating the children. It’s just as well they were there as the guest house had no running water or food of any sort. The caretaker had to get water from the river in buckets for me to wash with. The girls had been there for eight weeks and fortunately they were well set up. They were able to give me water to drink and even shared their dinner and a few beers with me. They filled me in on the local way of life which I must say is fascinating.

They had recently caught their security guard stealing money from them. When they went to the police the cops offered to let them decide the guy’s punishment. They would have given the guy twenty years for stealing a few hundred dollars if the girls requested but after the girls found out the guy had the crap beaten out of him they decided to let him go free. He still waves at them each morning while cycling his brand new bicycle in his new clothes. They never did get the money back. There was also a story about the local electrician who was given $350 (a year’s wages here) to get supplies; he hasn’t been seen since.

The next morning I left at 6am thinking it was 7(there was a time difference) and headed for Lusaka which was almost 850km away. The weather stayed dry except for the odd shower so the ride was very enjoyable. As I reached Lusaka traffic started to form. There was a queue a few hundred meters long that was at a standstill so I just shot up the outside. When I got to the end I found out its cause. There was a police checkpoint which I shot through at around 80kph. One cop ran after me while another ran for his car. I saw the flashing lights come on but that was all. I was gone into the city running red lights and stop signs. I saw no more of them.

I spent the night in Lusaka backpackers in the city. The bar here is frequented by the cities expats and locals, the beer is cheap and the craic is good. I overindulged into the early morning before returning to my dorm room for a few hours’ sleep. After breakfast and fairly hung-over I headed out into the lashing rain for Livingston and Victoria Falls. It rained the whole way there but finally cleared up as I got to town. I have been very fortunate with the rain so far as this was only my forth full day of rain since Europe. I reached town early enough and went straight to see the falls. I must say they are pretty impressive but they lack flow at the moment. The rains have just started so there is little water cascading to the Zambezi below. I reckon it would be spectacular in a few weeks. I went to the top to have a swim in devils pool but it wasn’t very safe. The water is beginning to surge down river and it could wash you over the edge very easily if too much comes at once. I had planned to go white water rafting here but for the same reason I declined. I didn’t fancy getting hit by a giant tree coming down towards me at speed.

After a night spent in Jolly Boys backpackers I headed to Namibia. The rain finally stopped and the sun came back out as I crossed the border.

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Tanzania

Tanzania

The border crossing was a breeze except for the constant hounding of insurance salesman. I didn’t purchase any here as I believe it to be a scam. Here’s hoping it is. Even the Kenyan customs officials were in on it. They don’t want to break the law in their own country but they have no problem telling you that you need insurance in Tanzania and pointing out a guy that will help you obtain it once you are across the border. I suspect they receive a commission.

From here the road took me to Arusha near the foot of Kilimanjaro. The mountain is some site for sure; the peak is covered in snow. It takes 8 days to walk up but you won’t catch me doing it, I’ll wait for the road or cable car to be built. I spent a night in Arusha and organised a safari to the Serengeti national park and Ngorongoro crater. Motorbikes aren’t allowed in the park as they offer no protection from the vicious wildlife that inhabit the parks so I had to go in a 4×4 with another 5 people. I left the bike and my gear at the L’Oasis lodge before departing early the next morning.

The Serengeti is an amazing place and well worth the ridiculous money charged. On the way in we spotted a pride of lions stalking hundreds of buffalo. Unfortunately for us and the lions the buffalo wised up and charged the lions before they could strike. The lions casually strolled off and hid behind our land cruiser no more than 3 meters away. The presence of people in 4×4’s doesn’t bother them at all. In fact they have learned that the trucks provide excellent stalking opportunities and they will walk along side out of sight as the trucks move along, then they will pounce on the unsuspecting prey.

Soon enough the weather closed in and we had to make our way to camp for the night. The rain was so heavy my tent leaked and I spent the night lying in a pool of cold water. After biscuits for breakfast we departed again to explore more of the park. Within minutes we spotted a Leopard, elephants and countless other things. An hour later we came across another pride of lions that had just made a kill. They were feasting on a buffalo as we arrived. We were able to get within 10 meters of the blood covered beasts, there were seven in total, and the male was already asleep after gorging himself. He gets to feed first and will go straight for the intestines and the softer parts.

From here we went to the Ngorongoro crater and camped in an amazing campsite on the craters edge. There were about fifty people camping here besides us. While having dinner an elephant wandered into the camp and disrupted things. About 3:30 am I was awakened by someone shouting “get back, get back”. I opened my tent and stuck my head out to have a look. A woman was on her way to use the shit hole (I literally mean Shit Hole) and there was a guy inside shouting at her to get back. I couldn’t really see what was going on because it was dark but apparently there was a male and female lion right outside the toilets about 20 meters from my tent and the woman was walking right towards them in the dark. The guy was shouting over the top of the toilet door. Soon some Masai guys appeared and frightened the beasts off. The whole camp was in commotion after this so there was little to no sleep had on night two as well.

The next morning we descended into the creator for a tour around. Here I spotted a rare cat that our guide hadn’t seen in three years. We also spotted more prides of lions, hippos and Rhino’s. By the time we were on our way out we didn’t even bother slowing down to see anything else we had seen so much. The trip itself was marred by car trouble (we had 4 punctures) and sleepless nights but it was defiantly worth it.

After the Safari it was back to Arusha for a night before heading 450km to a place called Pangani on the coast of Tanzania to have a day on the beach. I spent 2 nights here relaxing at the Paponi lodge. It was 60 km down a dirt track but I decided to take a shortcut and ended up riding through people’s yards through tiny villages. Everyone was friendly and wanted to point me in the right direction to keep me from destroying their crops so all was well.

From the beach I rode 700 km towards the Zambian border through some of the best twisty roads I’ve ridden, best in Africa by far. The road would have made my all-time top ten only for the suicidal animals and the constant murder attempts on my life from oncoming busses and trucks. I spent the night camping at an old farm house which was a fantastic place to stay. The next ride took me 600 km through some national park and across the border into Zambia.

It takes too long to upload photos, so here’s a small selection.

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Kenya

Hell road certainly lived up to its reputation. We left at dawn heading out through the sleeping town of Moyale into the unknown. A few km out there was an unrolled truck tire full of nails lying across the dirt road and a little sign saying checkpoint. The military officer in charge sauntered over wiping the sleep from his eyes and enquired about our travel’s. He then wished us luck and dragged the spikes from our path before waving us through.

I have known of this road for years, I’ve also been excited about crossing it for as long. The road from Moyale to Marsabit it 250 km. The first 200 are made up of dirt, rock, corrugations, mud and whatever else you can think of. The last 50 km to Marsabit are now paved. From Marsabit there is another 120 km of terror until the Merille river. This road is just as bad if not worse but everyone fails to tell you this. If the road is wet it can be totally impassable in parts. Buses and trucks are abandoned and left to fend from themselves from the bandits that frequent the area. People are regularly robbed and killed on this road. A few years ago an overlander on motorcycle was robbed, shot and killed trying to cross this part of the country.

Luckily we had the sense go slow over the last few weeks while waiting for the weather to clear up. It had been raining hard here for a while so we had to give the road had a chance to dry out. It was real hard going in parts, 100% concentration was needed at all times. I averaged about 35 km an hour over the 9  hours it took to get to Marsabit. I don’t mind the dirt and the rocks but its the washboard corrugations that drive me crazy. There is nothing you can do but watch your bike shake to pieces km after km. My shocks also reached melting temperatures. One time while checking the rear I got a blister on my finger it was so hot. I had to stop every 40 minutes and let them cool down for 20. I also poured water on them every time I was able to get some out of puddles or rivers. When there was no water available I relived myself on the shocks to help cool them down. This might seem drastic but I reckon that 90% of the bikes that cross this road need their shocks replaced afterwards. Mine are fine.

About half way through we were held up by a road block in a town called Turbi. the residents were protesting because they want military escorts reinstated on the road. They are sick of being robbed by bandits. I quickly found a way round and into the town. While there I attempted to negotiate Gianni and Fabi’s release from the wrong side of the blockade. It all seemed to be going well until the main man in charge found out about it. He came storming over shouting at me to get lost.

The crowd then started to become hostile and ask how much everything costs. I always tell people my bike costs about $3000 when they ask, any less and they get suspicious. Like clockwork they will then pull out their phones and begin calculating it into their funny money. Suddenly an audible hush will go out and everyone looks at you as if they are whale sharks taking a mouth full of krill. The crowd surrounding me then started pulling at everything and one guy was attempting to get on the back of the bike. I thought it best to get out of there and wait down the road. My efforts of getting Gianni and Fabi through were not in vain though as a concerned citizen went up to them and showed them a way through. The whole thing delayed us an hour on an already exhausting day.

We spent the night at a place owned by Henry the Swiss baker just outside Marsabit. Henry moved here 35 years ago, married and has 7 kids with a local woman. To look at Henry you’d think he just stepped out of the Alps or off the set of that TV series “Heidi’. Here we camped and were well looked after. The next morning we set out early for the remaining 120 km of dirt road. This part was just as bad but if the road had been wet it would have been a hell of a lot worse. Luckily I only had one close call on this section. To have an accident here could set you back weeks if not months.

Completely exhausted and soaked wet from a sudden downpour we  pulled into a lodge just off the road for a well deserved rest. Unfortunately the mosquitoes had other ideas and kept me awake most of the night. I’ve not being taking mosquito tablets mainly because they are poison so I have to do my best to deter these bastarding things from sucking my blood and laying their eggs in me. Sometimes that involves staying up half the night.

From here we rode 320 km in the terenchal  rain through the mountains. We crossed the equator twice while making our way to hell’s gate national park. As we approached the weather cleared and the place dried up. When we reached the park entrance I discovered that motorcycle’s aren’t allowed inside because they are too noisy. Trucks are allowed inside though. They finally gave in to our pressure and decided to let me enter if Gianni towed me and I didn’t start the bike. So off we went me in tow through the dust roads off to a camping area. By the time I got there I was about 10 kg heavier with the dust that was kicked up by Gianni’s van.

We camped on the side of a cliff overlooking paddocks of zebra, giraffe, warthogs and gazelle to mention a few. Here we made dinner, lit a fire and had a great night. Then next morning I jumped in Gianni’s van and we explored the park fully before I had to get towed back out. At the park entrance I started the bike once again and headed for the capital of Kenya, to Nairobi.

I spent 3 nights in Nairobi at a place called Wild Beast lodge. I had some work to do on the bike at Jungle Junction a few km away. It was nice to spend a few days hanging out with a few other overlanders while getting some advice and travel tips. I had the bike serviced and replaced my front tire. It’s nice to have no movement in the handlebars once again.

I said good bye to Gianni and Fabi as they were heading to the coast of Kenya and I was heading on Safari. It was great travelling with ye guys, best of luck for the rest of the trip. From here I headed off alone to the border on one of the worst roads I have ever experienced. The shortcut I was advised took me through what I suspect to be one of the worst parts of town. All I could here was Mazumbo, Mazumbo from the people in the street as I rode by. The road had more holes in it than tar which made it real slow going as well. I finally reached the Tanzanian border around 1pm happy to be leaving Kenya. I was really sick of watching my back the whole time.

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Ethiopia

Part II

From Argash lodge we headed back around the Lake Awasa. To a place called Arba Minch on Lake Chamo where we stayed at a place called Paradise Lodge. The roads were good and the ride easy enough. Paradise lodge was a stop along the way to a place called Jinka. In Jinka you can see the tribes with the dish lips. They also have ceremonies where the men lash the women with sticks across the back slicing them open. The women freely participate in these events. They want to be lashed for some reason. Paradise lodge was full of tour groups and they were all heading to see this ceremony in Jinka so I decided not to go. It sounds like this whole show is put on for the tourists. I was a bit apprehensive about seeing this in the first place but I don’t want to see anyone get lashed for my benefit.

We decided to head for Kenya instead which was a two-day ride away. Here we hope to see tribes in their natural existence living a natural life, not a circus performance. The ride towards Kenya took us on a 100 km dirt road to a town called Yebelo back on the main road south. It was a fantastic ride through the dirt; it was actually the quietest place in Ethiopia I’ve seen. We spent the night in some lodge run by an Italian guy or should I say owned by an Italian guy, he certainly doesn’t seem to run the place or have any control at all. The staff here have taken over from what I can see and they’re a creepy bunch who lurk in the shadows watching you all the time.

From here it was a three-hour ride to the border of Kenya and to the infamous “Hell Road” or “Road through Hell”. This 250 km stretch of mud and dirt has a reputation in Africa, a reputation for robberies, car-jacking and murder. The border crossing itself was a breeze and only took an hour or so. I had to get a Kenyan visa which was $50 but besides from that the crossing was free. I’m now holed up in a hotel on the Kenyan side of Moyale. The town itself is a sight for sore eyes. The streets are dirt and there’s rubbish everywhere. The important thing as always is the people and so far their fantastic. Everyone I’ve met so far speaks english and  they joke all the time. We will depart at first light through the “Hell Road” towards Marsabit.

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Ethiopia

Part I

As soon as you cross the border the road starts to raise, the landscape changes and the temperature drops dramatically. This was a most welcome change.

Ethiopia, 13 months of sunshine the slogan reads. The date in Ethiopia today is 22/03/2006. They have a 13 month calendar, 12 months of 30 days each and one month made up with the spare 5 or 6 days depending on whether it’s a leap year or not. The day begins at 6am but to them it’s 0 o’clock, makes sense really.  Ethiopia is a land shrouded in magic and mystery. Over 80 million people live in this land locked country and I reckon most of the population must be under 15. There are children and animals absolutely everywhere. It’s almost impossible to find a secluded spot anywhere in the country. I can stop in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road and within minutes there will be a crowd around having a good stare. Ethiopians give the people of India a run for their money for sure.

The first ride from the border took me to a place called Gondar high up in the Simien Mountains. The roads are ok but there are people and animals everywhere so it’s best to keep the speed down. Around every corner you come across either cows, donkeys, goats or camels being herded mostly by children.  Along the way to Gondar I stopped to chat with some cyclists along the road. These guys are cycling from Cairo to Cape Town and have been on the road about 6 weeks. There is one Spanish guy, one Irish guy and two Irish women. How they made it through Sudan in the 40 + degree heat is a mystery to me. They plan on being in Cape Town in April. All I can say is good luck. Their website is www.rotharafrica.org if you’d like to see if they make it all the way.

From Gondar it was off to a place run by a Dutch couple, Tim & Kim’s on Lake Tana. This was about 80km away mostly on dirt roads so it took a few hours. I arrived at Tim & Kim’s just as they were finished chopping the head off the biggest pig I have ever seen. The blood was still dripping from the headless corps as I pulled up. I had been told beforehand that’s its best to let them know that you’re coming so they will have enough food for you but I could see this wasn’t going to be a problem. I got myself a bungalow and settled in for a massive feast that night. I ended up staying there for two nights because the pig was so good although I wish I had spent more time there.

From Tim & Kim’s it was off to Lallibela to see the stone churches carved from the rocks. Along the way I met up with Gianni and Fabi again. The ride was exhilarating to say the least. The last 48 km was on a pretty bad dirt road that meandered around the interlocking spurs on the mountainside. It took us 3 hours to go 50km but it was a very enjoyable ride.

The stone churches of lallibela are dam impressive because many are not carved into the rock, but freed entirely from it. They are then hollowed out from within. They are still used today as places of worship and well worth a look.

The next morning we took the road towards Woldia which was supposed to be shorter that the dirt road we entered from but it ended up being almost twice as long and in a lot worse condition. I loved every minute of the 3 and half hours it took to ride 60 km. Along the way the mountains are dotted with mud hut villages. When you ride in to the villages the kids coming running out shouting either “you,you,you” or “money, money, money”. Some of the adults are shocked to see white people on these roads. I went to shake a guy’s hand in the middle of nowhere and he jumped back with the fright. I feel very privileged to have seen those villages.

When we reached the tarmacadam road again it was getting late and the weather had turned. It was the first rain I had since leaving Italy. We ended up in some dump of a hotel in some little town. It really was disgusting but the food was good.  I actually think the hotel may have been a brothel. After little to no sleep we departed at 7am heading towards the capital, Addis Abba. It’s tough riding in Ethiopia and takes all day to go a few hundred km so we never made it. We ended up in a little town called Debra Bashir for the night. The poverty here was something else to see but the people are fairly happy. I was feeling guilty for walking down town in a decent pair of shoes. There are guys wearing combinations of shoes and people wearing no shoes at all but there are shoe shiners everywhere. It seems to be a pastime to get whatever you have covering your feet polished.

The next day took us to Addis Abba, the capital of Ethiopia. It was only a short trip of 200km or so and took 2 hours to reach the city. Addis is having a new metro installed and instead of constructing it in stages the Chinese constructors decided to dig up the whole city at once. The traffic is chaotic. There are dead ends everywhere and giant 20 meter deep holes in the roads. It took another hour to ride the 6 km to Wims Holland House where we stayed for 2 nights. Here I met Ron again, the butcher from Tim and Kim’s. Ron is also a mechanic and everything else you can imagine. I spent 2 days here and serviced my bike; I also change my new front tire back to the old one. I couldn’t ride with the bulge anymore. The old one only has to get me another 2000km to Nairobi, Kenya where I have a new one waiting. Wims Holland House is owned and run by Wim, a Dutch guy from some other lifetime. It’s a great place to meet other overlanders and get some info. I met a few people going north and we were able to swap information about our prospective routes.

The day of departure I struggled to mount the bike and get out of the city. I was sick as a small hospital again. It was a real hard day and a real hard ride of 350km to Argash lodge in Yirga Alem but it was certainly worth it. The lodge is run by an Ethiopian/Italian couple. It was full but they let us camp in the grounds for a small fee and did their utmost to make us welcome. Here I saw eagles, Vultures and for the first time live Hyenas in their natural environment.  It’s been one of the nicest places I have stayed so far on this trip.

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Sudan

Sudan,

Getting off the ferry was as delightful as getting on. For some reason some dignitary pulled up alongside and decided to join the overloaded boat with his entourage in tow. We had to fill out some paperwork on board before alighting. Why we couldn’t have done this while sailing is beyond me. Soon enough we were fighting our way off and into the midday heat. My bike was already there alongside Gianni’s van and both were already cleared to depart customs. We met up with a guy named Mazzar who sorted everything else for us for a small fee and soon we were free in Sudan, well kind of, my front tire was flat again.

My first experience of this country was getting a tire repaired again. I asked the guy to put a tube in it this time but he refused and said he will be able to fix it and to my surprise he has managed to get it to stay up. This hasn’t repaired it by a long shot as its complexly warped and oval shaped but it’s staying up. It’s like riding with an egg for a front wheel but it’s going to have to do till I get to Nairobi. My buddy Steve in Kearys BMW Cork has come to the rescue again and DHL’d a new one out there for me. I just hope I make it that far.

We spent the first night in Sudan camping alongside a full hotel in Wadi Halfa. I didn’t get much sleep after hearing about the biker that was eaten by Hyenas some time back. There were packs of wild dogs roaming the streets barking all night long as well. From Wadi Halfa we (Gianni and his wife Fabi in their VW camper) headed off to a place called Gondola where we had to register with the alien police and pay more money. This took 2 hours for some reason. Then we went in search of a hotel. There were a few but after seeing the first one we decided to head out of town and camp. Gianni said he wouldn’t mind staying in the hotel for the experience as he has never been to prison.

We spent a nice night camping along the banks of the Nile but it was so windy I kept waking up thinking hyenas were pulling at my tent. I had my knife at the ready but I don’t know how successful I would have been in defending myself. The next ride was to the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. It took most of the day to get there tiding in temperatures of 40 degrees plus. It was a nice ride though. The desert had a strange and unique beauty of its own. Along the way there were heaps of camels both dead and alive. You know it’s hot when there are half rotten carcass lying everywhere in the sand.

We camped in the Blue Nile sailing club in Khartoum that night. The club is right in the middle of the city which is very handy. There wasn’t much sailing going on there though, I’d say the last time a vessel was launched there was a long time ago. It’s a nice safe place to camp if you’re coming this way. The next morning we were at the Ethiopian embassy for 8:30 am and out again at 10:30 am visas in passports, it couldn’t have been easier once we found the place. We thought it was going to take the whole day and were presently surprised when we were told we could have the visas in an hour. Rather than stay another night in the city we decided to head out and camp outside. We rode for 350 km and camped in a field. The next morning it was a 220 km ride to the border of Ethiopia. The landscape changed dramatically as I rode along. I was really beginning to feel I was in Africa now with mud brick huts dotting the roadside on route. The border crossing was a breeze; it only took 2 hours for exit and entry and cost $3 in total.

I only spent a short time in Sudan mainly because of the heat. It’s really uncomfortable to ride in from 11 am onwards. It was 32 degrees at 8:30 am one morning for the love of Allah. Sudan was fantastic and a real pleasure to travel through. The people are kind, generous and helpful. I only got to see the north of the country which is mostly desert, there’s a war about to start raging in the south again and obtaining visas is pretty difficult. I really enjoyed the bit of the country I was lucky enough to see and hope to return again one day.

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Egypt part II

The following morning I left Hurghada and set off through what I presume to be the Sahara desert for the ancient city of Luxor. Along the way I pulled over to have a break about 100 km from anywhere. As I was pulling back onto the road and riding on soft sand the bike suddenly sunk. I got completely bogged down in this powder up to my panniers. The day was hot, dam hot and I was running low on water. I tried to get it out but it was stuck fast. I tried flagging down a few passing cars but no one would stop. I had no choice but to remove all my gear and panniers and drag the bike out sideways. By the time I was finished I was soaked with sweat and parched with the thirst.

I rode on and found a little town an hour later where I sculled 2 litres of water. Another hour later and my front wheel went flat again. Adventure riding at its finest today that’s for sure. I found another tire repair place and had the guy remove the tire and put it back on again properly this time. An hour later I was back on the road riding down along the Nile to the city of Luxor.  After finding a hotel and trying to rehydrate through osmosis by soaking in the pool I headed into town to see the sights. There are some ruins here for sure. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them all as everything closed at 4 pm and I had to leave early the next morning. I saw what I could though and was well impressed. Why they can’t build architectural wonders like those today is beyond me. Contrary to popular belief slaves were not used to build these places, they just had better system of governments back then.

I left my hotel the next morning at 9 am for a 200 km ride. I reached my destination of Aswan just before 4 pm. The first problem that morning was my front tire; it was flat again when I got to my bike. I had noticed a tire repair place across the road on my way in so I went over to see if he could help. He pumped up my tire and started hitting it with a hammer. Even though it was still leaking I congratulated him a job well done gave him some money and told him to stop hitting my bike. I rode off in search of another shop. Halfway through Luxor I discovered my GPS was missing. I quickly shot back to the hotel and found it in the hands of the housekeeper as I walked in. He didn’t know what it was so I had to show him, thank god for honest people. I then went back in search of a tire repair shop and found one on the other side of town. This guy looked like he knew what he was doing but I was taking no chances. I removed the wheel and asked him to remove the tire. I then cleaned the tire and wheel toughly in a bath of water before greasing the wheel and getting him to put the tire back on again. Hey presto it looked fine; but it isn’t. I reckon the tire is a defect, there is a bulge and buckle in it that vibrates through the handle bars but I have no choice but to keep it on; I was just happy it stayed up this time.

Next it was off to get some petrol. Luxor is a fairly big town but none of the petrol stations had any gas. I did manage to find one with a secret stash out back though which was sold to me for 4 times the price. Finally about 2 hours later I was ready to leave town. I had been told to take the desert road as the main road would be congested with traffic so that’s what I did. As I was trying to persuade the army at the next checkpoint which was about 10 km out of town that I would be fine taking this route a car pulled alongside me. The driver honked and handed my gloves. I had them strapped to the back of the bike and they must have fallen off. I have no idea where they fell off or how this guy found me but I can’t thank him enough. The only other ones I have with me are winter gloves and there is no way I could wear them here. Again I was astonished by this man’s generosity; for him to go out of his way to find me was unbelievable. Diamonds in the rough and all that.

Instead of taking the desert road I took some other one by mistake. It ran alongside the Nile on the right hand side. Traffic was light but there were so many villages along the way I couldn’t make up time. I had to meet a guy named Kamal in Aswan at 2 pm.  Although riding through the villages gave me a fascinating look into Egyptian life I couldn’t stand the pace. It took me an hour to ride 50 km. I cut back across a bridge and back onto the main road. What a nightmare this was. Thank f**k the traffic was light because it was a holiday of some sorts as there were speed humps every km or so. These are the type of speed humps that you almost have to stop to get over. There is a Q of traffic at every one of them as well. The biggest distance between humps I reckon was about 3 km and that was only once, most of the time it was a km max. It was one of the worst rides I have ever faced.

I stopped in some delightful town for lunch parking outside a little cafe. As soon as I got off the bike I was accused of being Israeli. I almost had to pull out my passport and show them I wasn’t. These guys then just walked off without even apologising. What a thing to be called! I think they were just looking for someone to vent their anger on or someone’s head to bash in. I was real glad they said “Irish ok, Ireland good” before heading off in search of another victim. I was soon surrounded by another bunch with sticks so I decided this may not be the best town for lunch and popped back on my helmet and took off. I grabbed some fruit at a stall down the road and just eat as I rode along.

I had planned to stay at a place called “Adams House” about 9 km out of Aswan so that’s where I went. Just before I unloaded my bike Kamal called to find out where I was. He told me I had to come meet him that night as my bike was going on a barge first thing in the morning. I had previously thought my bike wasn’t going until the next Saturday and that I was going the following Sunday. (Vehicles are not permitted on the passenger ferry so you have to travel separately). Well this changed everything because there was no way I could be stuck out of town for six days without a bike. I had to find a hotel in town. I found one on an island in the middle of the Nile that would do just fine. It was far enough away from the traffic and city noise but only took five minutes to get to by boat. I checked in and met Kamal who explained the procedure for getting myself and the bike to Sudan.

At 7:30 am the next morning we were off to customs down in the docks. It officially didn’t open until 9 am but Kamal picked up a few customs officials on route. Money talks in a big way in this country. When we arrived the whole place was still locked down but we managed to gain access. Kamal had the paperwork sorted in 20 minutes. I then had to push the bike through the offices as the gates were all still locked. We got some abuse for this by the staff coming into work. I then rode down to a little barge and straight onto it parking beside bags of rice. I met the captain who was from Sudan, gave him all my paperwork and keys and waved goodbye as the barge was pulled away. There was another 4×4 on the barge beside my bike; they had an email address on the side so I emailed them to tell them the boat had left. I got a very warm reply, these guys are already in Sudan and have been waiting god knows how long for their car.

We then set off for the Sudanese embassy so I could get a visa. I filled out some forms showed my passport and was told I could pick the visa up on Sunday morning before going to the passenger ferry. It was all straightforward and easy with Kamal’s help. We then had to go to some other government office to give back my licence and make sure I wasn’t wanted for any traffic offences; to my delight I wasn’t. I don’t think I’ve stopped at a red light since Switzerland. To get anything done by government officials in this country you have to bribe them. They are perfectly open about it as well. 5 pounds here 5 pounds there and you’re done. If you’re not willing to pay well then you had better take the whole day off. I also needed a visa for Egypt as I never got one on the way in because they don’t issue them at the border I crossed. It costs 15$ but for 20$ I was told I don’t need it which saved a lot of hassle.

I spent the next 2 days in bed with food poisoning, a departing gift from Egypt. I hadn’t been that sick in a very long time. On the Sunday morning I departed for Sudan aboard a boat loaded to the sky. The boat trip was an adventure within the adventure unlike anything I have experienced before. It was a real African voyage with people piled atop of cargo and more cargo atop of the people. It was chaos from the moment I reached the docks. The gates to the boat were closed and there was a mass of people lined up behind them ready to board. Then people started to literally climb over one another to get to the front. Parcels of all sorts of everything were also passed up and thrown over the gates and soon the mass started to climb over. Soon enough the gates were opened and everyone was in a comical heap buried in TV’s, fridges and who know what else.

The boat itself was about 60 years old and had originally been made in England. I couldn’t get a first class cabin as they were all booked up ages ago but I did manage to bribe one of the 5 captains on board so I could sit in front of bridge for the night. I was joined by a Swiss couple Gianni and Fabi who I met in Aswan so I had company and someone to look after my stuff while I explored the boat. 3rd class on the bottom deck was some sight. There were people crammed all over, even lying on the shelves; food and filth covered the floors. The toilets were overflowing into the corridors and people were walking through it spreading it throughout the boat.  2nd class was no better but a little less crowded. We spent the whole journey on the deck away from it all up the front. It got a little cold at night but luckily I had my sleeping bag with me. 18 hours later I was in Sudan where people wear smiles on their faces and don’t look on you with disdain.

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Egypt part I

Egypt part I

I left my hotel in Tobruk Libya around 6:30 am and reached the Egyptian border an hour and a half later. Exiting Libya was a breeze; In fact I didn’t even know I had exited until I was in Egypt. The Libyan side has an enormous new complex for their border control but the whole place was shut down with massive mounds of earth piled around the whole perimeter which must have been a km in circumference. I couldn’t find anyone there to return my Libyan number plate too so I by-passed the compound and kept the plate as a souvenir.

As soon as I entered Egypt the hassle started. Soldiers wearing all sorts of technicolor uniforms were demanding to see my passport and nose through my stuff. Half the guys that did look at my passport didn’t even know what they were looking at. I have a visa for Myanmar with my photo on it and they thought it was the main page. None of them could speak any English either so it was a complete waste of time, well mine anyway; I suspect their whole lives are a waste of time.

I carried on checkpoint after checkpoint until I got escorted into a complete run down disused looking building. I have literally seen nicer crack dens. The place was disgusting, the walls were all filthy, and the bare concrete floors full of holes. It was packed with people giving me dirty looks, shouting and screaming, and pushing and shoving. This was emigration control although it looked like they lost control a long time ago. I had to leave my bike and all my gear outside but I asked some guys from Sudan to mind it for me. I had no choice but to trust them.

I was then told to fill out a piece of paper and sit in this filthy office on some scraps of furniture surrounded by about ten guys with menacing heads. The form and my passport soon disappeared from sight. I sat there for 3 hours in total. Every now and then I demanded to know what was going on but all they said was wait, you wait. Then a plasterer came in and started scraping the remains of the 50-year-old paint from the walls just to fill the already smoke-filled room with dust. While all this was going on people were arguing and abusing each other all around me. I just sat on the floor to annoy them and tried to get some sleep.

After 3 hours some dude with stripes all over his uniform marched in and everyone but me sprung to attention to greet and kiss him. He told me to follow him down the hall to another office. Here we were joined by another big wig and I was told to sit opposite them at a desk. One of these guys spoke perfect English and the conversation started off pleasant enough. They asked me where I came from even though they had my passport, what I did for a living, where I was going, was I married? Before one of them said “now I have to ask you more serious questions, you understand?”

He asked if I had ever worked in security to which I replied no. He then said are you sure to which I replied yes. “So see here we have a big problem, big problem” I know you worked for the CIA, we have found this information from the CIA website. I started laughing not knowing what the hell he was on about expecting someone to bust in with a camera. Then he asked what the picture on my Facebook profile contained. I told him there was a picture of me and my wife when we got married and a picture of me riding my motorcycle through the Atacama Desert.

He then mutters something to the other guy who pulls out his phone. Guess what on it; it’s only my Facebook profile. Then it clicked with me, I had the CIA down as my employer on Facebook. I started laughing thinking this can’t be serious but they were very serious. It took me ten minutes to explain that I wrote that years ago as a joke. I wasn’t even going to point out that CIA agents hardly have Facebook pages and if they did they hardly wrote that they worked for the CIA on them, there was no point. As Mark twain said, “Don’t argue with idiots, they will only drag you down to their level of stupidity and win from experience”.

Then they wanted to know what my thoughts were on the Egyptian revolution were. I told them I was a tourist and here to see the pyramids and that was all. I said I didn’t even know there was a revolution going on; that I figured it was over. The whole thing was like something you’d see in the movies, I was slightly amused but a little worried that I could be there until an embassy bailed me out. They left the room for about 10 minutes before coming back and telling me to go back to the other office.

About 20 min later one of the guys came down and told me they believed me and that they were going to let me in to the country. It only took another hour or so to get a stamp in my passport. I then had to go through more rigmarole with customs trying to get the bike in. This only took another 2 hours because I managed to find someone to do all the running around for me. It was straight forward enough and only cost $150 for something that should be free. As soon as I had my new number plates I shot off as fast as I could not daring to look back. I got stopped another 5 times by more idiots in uniforms over the next 10 km or so. They all want to see your passport and look in your bags. I had at least 4 different guys try to steel my Leatherman. The last guy I caught red-handed grabbing him by the shirt, and even though he had an AK47 over his shoulder, I managed to get the knife back. I shot straight through the last checkpoint that day sneaking out from behind a truck at the last-minute. They all shouted but I just lay across my petrol tank as to avoid getting shot in the back as best I could and took off. I managed to get away and find a hotel along the coast where I had dinner, swapped my number plate and crashed out.

I have since found out two guys a few months earlier were actually accused of spying while attempting to cross the same border and they were actually locked up for five days before being deported minus their car(Alps 2 Africa). If you’re thinking of crossing this border bring plenty of food and water, cancel all appointments and delete your past!

The next morning I removed the chair that I had barricading my hotel room door, had breakfast and got the hell out-of-town. It wasn’t long before I was stopped at another checkpoint. This time there was something wrong with my visa, probably because I don’t have one. When ordered to pull over I parked in the sun instead of in the shade like they told me too. I figured maybe the heat might hurry these guys up and deter them from searching me again and it worked. I just sat on the bike with my helmet on and didn’t say a word, I just pointed to the entry stamp and the writing underneath that explains that no visas are issued at my point of entry. It actually also says to charge me 15$ for the visa on the way out. Eventually they either got sick of me or the heat but they let me go.

I headed for Alexandria, Egypt’s second city. It was only about 300km away so I was able to take my time and enjoy the scenery and the ride. I didn’t come across another checkpoint for about 100km and these guys just waved me through, as did the next one. The country is a little more relaxed away from the border areas. I reached Alexandria about 2pm and met up with a fellow adventure motorcyclist named Omar. Omar a native of Alexandria kindly put me up for the night and fed me delicious groper fish that his father had caught the previous day. Omar has ridden the length of Africa before and was full of useful information on places to stay and places to avoid. Thanks very much for everything Omar; it was nice to meet you.

The next morning I set out for Cairo around 8 am. It was only a short 250 km ride and I was there in no time at all. As I entered the traffic chaos of Cairo my GPS literally went haywire. Instead of bringing me to the bike shop I was looking for it was diverting me 160km around the city. I had to keep stopping to reset it. I did manage to find my hotel easily enough as it was next to the pyramids; there are road signs pointing to them everywhere. I gave up looking for the bike shop after 3 hours of sweltering heat and traffic jams. It literally took me an hour to ride up one street that was 6km long.

I spent the next morning gazing at the wonders of the ancient world. The Pyramids are pretty amazing for sure and well worth a look if you get the chance. Tourism has taken a complete nose dive in Egypt since the revolution so you will get hassled quite a bit by people trying to make a living but it’s still worth coming for a look. I think I only saw two other foreigners at the pyramids. On the plus side 5 star hotels will give you a room for 40$ a night.

The next morning I rode to the red sea resort town of Hurghada. Getting out of Cairo was some craic without a GPS but somehow I managed. It’s one huge traffic jam in a city of 20 million people. You can taste the smog as you ride along. My eyes were sore and I had a headache by the time I reached the desert. It must have been 50 km or so before the air cleared and I see the blue sky again.

The ride took me through the desert for a while then skirted the coast of the red sea before making its way back inland. I stopped in the middle of the desert to take some photos and out of nowhere a truck full of cops appeared. They all jumped out of the back and surrounded me. It was lucky I had just put my camera away. They asked me why I was stopped and what was wrong. I told them I just stopped to eat something and they went crazy. They started shouting at me to move, “Go! Go now!” I rode off wondering what the hell is so important out there in the middle of the desert that you can’t even stop for a minute. I must check those photos.

Tourism in Egypt is virtually non-existent at the moment but for me that’s not all bad. I got a room in the Hilton in Hurghada for 40$ a night so I stayed for 2 nights. Hurghada is a nice little town spread along the red sea. It’s full of resorts and a few Russian tourists. It’s a popular diving spot with its turquoise clear waters. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore under the sea. I had to work out my route for the next few weeks and I had work to do on my bike.

I have been carrying spare tyres since Ireland and I decided it was time to put them on. I found a little tire shop on the side of the road and set about changing them. The rear went on smoothly enough but the front was a nightmare. The guy couldn’t get it on for the life of him. It took the two of us about an hour to finally get it on but then it wouldn’t fit right. We had to beat it as we pumped till finally it went up.

I rode off on my next mission, to find US$ for Sudan as their ATM machines will not work with foreign cards. I pulled into a bank but they would not change money unless I had an account. I asked to open an account and was basically told to piss off.  This also happened at the next bank. I asked them where I was supposed to change money and they said they didn’t know. As I was leaving a customer who overheard me approached and told me about a whole street of money changing shops a few blocks away. It seems the banks don’t even know where their opposition works.

When I jumped on my bike the front wheel was flat again so I had to push the bike back around to my new friend the tire repair man. He removed the bead again and cleaned it more thoroughly before pumping it again. This time it seemed to be holding, the guy was so happy he even tried to charge me again.

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