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Offline maria41

Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« on: November 04, 2018, 06:43:22 pm »
Hi everyone,

Some of you may remember all my silly questions few months ago, as I was doing the research for our African trip. As promised here is now my trip report. It won't be the hard core that some have put (I read them all  :drif:) but I hope you will enjoy it.

Few words about us.
I am Maria, a grumpy french, and Alistair, my other half, a nice (and way too polite) British lad.
Together we have been travelling on our motorcycles in many places around the world. Our big first overland trip was in South America for a year, back in 2007/2008. Many trips followed, some shorts, around Europe, some much longer (3 to 4 months), across Russia and central Asia in 0214 and 2016.
Africa was never in the cards, until we got inspiration from someone who spent 3 years around the world.
I did the research, and for an easy life, decide to narrow it down to southern Africa. We had 4 months and 2 small bikes.

What could possibly go wrong?  :biggrin:
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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2018, 06:45:31 pm »
So, let's start!
Our rough itinerary:

And few photos:

No driving service for campers:

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2018, 06:49:19 pm »
I feel I should put a post about the bikes (and luggage).

Let's start with my XT250. It is a 2009 grey import (to the UK) from Japan. It has probably bewn badly crashed over there and has few issues with the electrics, but nothing major.

Modifications / preparation:

1 / Tubeless back wheel (and front wheel): fitted with heavy duty inner tube and filled with "green Slime". It seems to have done the trick as both during my 2016 trip and this trip I had zero punctures.
Fitted with Shinko tyre at the back in Kyrgyzstan in 2016. Not replaced as it was truck back to the UK.
Front tyre: Pirelli MT21.

2 / handle bars replaced by rental ones.

3 / full service, new sprockets, chain, fluids, K&N air filter, (new wheel bearings if I can remember?)
And that's about it.

Alistair's bike: Honda CRF 250
This one, we spent more money on it as it was its first overland trip.
In addition to the XT250 point 1 and 3:

1 / 12 litre fuel tank fitted

2 / custom made frame to fit our soft panniers, as well as fitting under the luggage frame a 5 litre fuel canister. (My XT250 has a 10 litres tank and I did not want to change that - I carry a 5 l fuel bladder instead for extra).

3/ Alistair fitted a small tool box on the tail, to be used as a top box, for tools and waterproof.

We also got a £20 horse riding gel saddle over the seat, about 2 inches thick, for comfort, identical to mine. They remain in place with just some elastic.

That is about it for the work done on the bikes.

How they look like:

Now, why do we travel with such small bikes? Only 250cc, I hear you ask!

First, I did the one year long trip (around South America ) on a BMW 650 GS. For me, it was a complete nightmare.

First, it broke down pretty much everywhere. Then it was way too heavy for me to handle, once we ran out of tarmac. So in the end there were lots of place we did not go as it was too hard for me to ride through that. At the time my only experience of dirt roads was the BMW weekend course in Wales. Not enough.

Then we rented 2 small YBR125 in Vietnam a couple of years later, for few weeks. For me, it was a revelation.
All of a sudden, all those terrifying rough tracks were actually fun to ride. So from there, we decided to downgrade.

No point in Alistair riding a 1200 something if I cannot keep up. It would cause a lot of trouble in our couple  :BLACK2:.

I have seen enough couples, him on the big bike, her on the little one. Him pissed off because she is going so slow, her pissed off because she struggles to follow. Not good!

With our 250s, outside of the western world, we have enough speed, and they are light enough to go through anything. Also, they are very simple to repair. With my BMW, 10 years ago, finding someone with a computer to plug the beemer in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia or Patagonia was impossible, unless trucking it to the capital city.
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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #3 on: November 04, 2018, 06:51:01 pm »
I often get questions about luggage., so here we go:

Another important lesson I learnt, from my 1st long trip 10 years ago, was to travel light. Weight is a killer once I run out of tarmac. So all our subsequent trips, we have packed very light.

We always change some things and keep experimenting. Some stuff we keep with the method, some we keep trying different stuff. So let’s start.

On the XT 250.

I carry a tank bag with my iPad, small camera, phone, guidebook, bottle of water, and the occasional small pack of snacks (peanuts or nuts).

At the rear I have a 49 litre  Ortlieb bag. One of the main straps broke within a couple of weeks of starting our trip. I think I will avoid that brand in the future, as they seem to have dumbed down in quality but sill demanding high price.

In the bag I carry:
Big Agnes Dome tent
2 down sleeping bags
2 thermarest
Fuel stove and kit
Small Titanium cooking pot, aluminum plates, titanium forks & knives and collapsible cups.
Fuel bladder
4 litre water bladder (it was a waste of time, never used)
Mini kit of water filter (never used but tiny)

At departure my bag weighted 10kg.

Once the weather got warm I was able to ram in some of our waterproof (the over trousers and my jacket liner insert).
On occasion I also added few tins of baked beans, bag of instant noodle etc…

In addition to my riding gear I also had a backpack with some copies of my documents (like passport), bike docs as well as the “Carnet de Passage en Douane”, etc.… I never left the backpack out of my back or sight. The carnet is essential.
I also used to carry the bread in there so it is not squashed.

Some tools were also packed under the plastic frame, each side of the fuel tank, as there is a nice space for that.

In addition, I had a small 10 or 15 litres auxiliary bag, once we started cooking our food, that we called the Food Bag. This was strapped on top of the big roll bag. It contained often a jumper or light down jacket, instant coffee, powder milk, selection of salt, sugar and pepper, spices, as well as peanut butter and tins of food. 

That’s all.

On the CRF.

The small topbox contained tools, few spares like cables, sprays like WD40 or chain lube, and few of Alistair ‘s stuff (like winter / spare riding gloves and insert liner for his jacket).

The panniers contained all our clothes.  Estimated weight was about 12kgs.

In the right pannier we put the stuff we will need every day: Clothes we would need for the evening, towels, shoes, toiletry bag, cables and plugs for our electronics.

The left pannier had the spare clothes and stuff we would not use often (like swimsuit) , the clothes washing kit, pharmacy, flip-flops.

Bulky winter clothes like feather jacket, fleece, my winter/summer gloves (depending which ones I was using) were moving from one place to the other depending on requirements.

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Offline Goingnowherekwickly

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #4 on: November 04, 2018, 06:52:37 pm »
Great intinery, looking forward to the report :)!!

Offline Antonie

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #5 on: November 04, 2018, 06:52:41 pm »
:sip: :popcorn:

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2018, 06:52:57 pm »
So we shipped the bikes to Cape Town by sea freight. We delivered them to the shipping company near Heathrow, early April, with some of our luggage and camping gear.

On the 28th of May, we got to London Gatwick and landed in Cape Town the following day, after a change in Istanbul. The flight was uneventful.

One of my ex-colleagues and south African friend, Johan, came to collect us at the airport in his massive Land Rover. Soon, we arrived at his house and as he returned to work we made ourselves at home. In another words, we just crashed out and rested.

Johan, Jo Ann and the kids, arrived soon enough in the afternoon. They had a South Africa treat for us. And no, it was not the fabulous South African wine, which is a given, it was Braai! What we call BBQ in England  :biggrin:!

We discovered Springbok meat! Oh My God! The best meat I ever ate in my life! I am a convert! It was amazing. We also tried the local delicacy Boerewors ( local beef sausage). It was quite a feast!

It was great to catch up with them and discover the local life style, much more laid back than in London. Last time we saw them, as they were about to leave London and go back to Cape Town, Lexi, their first kid, was just few months old, now she was running around. 18 months later, another baby girl had arrived. Remarkably well behave toddler and baby!

The next day, Johan worked from home as he insisted on driving us to the shipping company headquarters. We found the bikes on a pallet each, wrapped in bubble wrap and plastic, as the shippers had already removed the surrounding frame. As Johan went back home we got to work.

We had to reconnect the batteries, fit again the top box, fix the chains that had been left way too tight by the mechanic who changed the chains and sprockets… there was a lot of faff around to retrieve the tools from the small cubicles on the side panels of the Serow but after a couple of hours, we were ready to go.

Less than 2 miles from the shippers, I ran out of fuel on the motorway. Not the best place to breakdown, the area was far from glamorous! It is south Africa after all, probably one of the most dangerous countries in the world, in some areas at least! Rape and murder rates are off the scale here! So I was a bit concerned!
Luckily, I managed to stop on the emergency lane, and luckier yet, Alistair noticed.

Obviously, the shippers in the UK drained my fuel a bit too much! The Reserve light did not light up, my metre tends to play up a bit. For shipping, the bikes are supposed to be on reserve, not empty of fuel though! Thanks to the fuel canister, in the CRF rack, Alistair got a bit of his fuel in the canister and generously shared it with me. It was just enough to make it to a petrol station.

With no other problem, we rode the 20 kms back to Johan’s house.

We then repacked everything.

In the evening, Johan got another local feast on the go: Potjie ( pronounced “poeet-kee”). While it simmered for few hours, I offered my bike to Johan for a little test ride, while we seeped beer with Alistair and Jo Ann.

After another great evening in great company, it was time for bed. We were ready to hit the road.

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2018, 06:54:36 pm »
Thanks guys! Always nice to have a couple of readers! at least it won't feel like I am just talking to myself!  :ricky:

Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #8 on: November 04, 2018, 06:55:26 pm »
Thursday 31st May – Paternoster – 180 kms

(All distances will be in kilometers because my bike is a Japanese import and only shows kms)

The next day, we woke up to a downpour! Typical. They are supposed to have drought down here, yet, when we turn up, it rains! Would you believe it, the only time we crossed Death Valley in the US…. yes, you can guess, it rained too! As for our previous trips across Russia and central Asia, if you read my RRs, rain, hail and storms have been a constant. We even had torrential rains in July in the desert in Kazakhstan! Go figure!

Anyway, we waited a bit and by late morning, after getting all our waterproofs on, we made our goodbyes and left. It stopped raining eventually, but instead, we had much worse. A horrendous wind, with gusts so strong, I felt my head would be detached from my body and my helmet was inserting itself into my jaw!

Our initial plan was to ride to a coastal town called Lambert’s Bay, about 250 kms away. An easy ride under normal circumstances. After 180 kms however, we ended up cold and exhausted in the small resort of Paternoster, where every other house is a hotel or guest house! All painted white! This being winter, it was rather dead. We found a place open and took a rather amazing room with a spectacular view over the beach and the grey sea and heavy sky, with the wind blowing  dog walkers almost off their feet!

After a light breakfast and skipping lunch that day, we were rather hungry.
We found the local minimarket where we bought some amazing local fish and chips, for an early dinner!

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2018, 06:56:32 pm »
Day 4 – Vredensdal – 285 kms (Friday 1st June)

We left the beautiful but empty white town of Pater Noster and joined the N7, riding north.

The wind was much better, the sky blue, and we managed 100kms/h. The previous day the wind was so strong that we could barely manage 80, and our fuel consumption was up by at least 30%.

We stopped here and there to refuel and rest. The road was long, flat and boring. There was not much to break the monotony and we failed to see much wild life, although I spotted few ostriches once!

We arrived at a very reasonably priced B&B (Vinie’s Cottage) that I spotted in Booking.com the previous night. The owner, Vinie, is a lovely lady and gave us an amazing and very big room, filled with jars full of sweets and biscuits. We made the most of it. The day was a bit warmer but we till kept all our layers.

As we were rather out of town, Alistair jumped into the bike (we cannot remove the panniers form his bike, without unscrewing the top box) and rode to the supermarket to get us some food for dinner and breakfast. We sat in the rear garden, by the small pool, to eat our dinner, although the evening was rather cold.

The next day, Vinie asked for our picture with the bikes for her website. It seems we are her first bikers. Definitely a nice place to stop over.

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #10 on: November 04, 2018, 06:58:36 pm »
Day 5 – Springbok – 300kms (Saturday 2d of June)

We continued on the long boring road north, the wind was still strong and exhausting, and it was cold, very cold.

Silly me! I knew that going to the southern hemisphere; it would be winter down there. But hey, it’s Africa, so surely, it is supposed to be hot!?

Well first you must understand the size of Africa.
This little stuff should help:

It term of square miles, you could fit the USA 3 time over in Africa and still have spare space left!  So, of course, when you get songs about saving Africa and stuff like that, you really have to understand that only a fraction of Africa is in deep trouble or dangerous.

This trip has been a journey of discovery for us, reassessing my views about this vast continent. We never planned to cross Africa. Like many people, we thought the whole continent was dangerous and troubled. Exploring a small section of it was quite an eye opener, to say the least.

 Springbok was our last stop before crossing into Namibia.

We arrived at Springbok mid afternoon. It was a short ride to Namibia.

I always plan to get to a border in the morning, to give us time to cross and find a place to stay in the other side, find local currency and other other issues we may have to sort out, like local insurance for the bikes.

The guesthouses were a bit pricey in Springbok but we found one a bit cheaper in the town centre. We got changed into our normal clothes and walked to the local Spar. It was closed! Argh!

Shops close at 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays in this part of South Africa! The liquor store was open though, so we got some water, beer of course, and crisps.

For dinner we had to go out. We were usually told not to walk out after dark, but it seems in Springbok it was ok. So we walked the few 100s metres to the most famous restaurant in town (according to the Lonely Planet!): Taurean. It specialises in meat! Well, it’s South Africa after all, so what else? They love their meat around there.

Outside the restaurant, we saw a big motorcycle, a BMW800GS with all the gear and panniers for long distance travel. Closer, we saw that the number plate was from the USA! Interesting!
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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #11 on: November 04, 2018, 06:59:21 pm »
Inside the restaurant, set as an American steakhouse, with little booths and tables, we sat and I tried to spot the American. I saw a lone guy with an iPad. He was not wearing motorcycle gear and I could not see a helmet around, but I had the feeling it could be our biker.

Never the shy one, I got up and asked him if the bike was his. It was!

That is how we met Clark (like superman alter ego he said!). He had shipped his bike from London to Cairo with Motofreight (the same shipping agent that we used) and rode all the way down Africa by the East Coast!

Meeting a fellow motorcycle traveller is always good. Car travllers don’t pass the same relevant information, as they have no clue of what can and cannot be done with a bike.

We spent the evening talking and exchanging info. As it happens, Clark lives in London, so we hope to catch up later this year! He wanted to ride north by the west coast back to Europe. I am not sure it is wise. He will have to cross countries like Mali, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire etc where there have been lots of kidnappings.

These days very few people seem to cross all of Africa. I have friends who did, via Syria and the east coast of Africa, all the way down to Cape Town, but that was over 10 years ago. The world has changed a lot since then.

I ate a massive steak washed down with the local wine. Bliss!

Back at the guesthouse, the WiFi was down (not a rare occurrence in our trip) so we went to bed early.

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #12 on: November 04, 2018, 07:00:33 pm »
Day 6 - Ai-Ais, Namibia – 250 kms – (Sunday 3rd June)

We left Springbok after a huge breakfast, including some very tasty boerewors sausages, and stopped for fuel. Then we rode the 120kms to the border. The weather was nice and sunny with not much wind for a change.

Leaving South Africa took about 10 minutes, as there was very little traffic.

Entering Namibia did not take much longer, riding over the Orange River.

We didn’t need to do any paper work for the bikes, as Namibia and South Africa share a custom agreement. So our Carnets, stamped in South Africa when the bikes arrived in a shipping container, would be valid across Namibia.  This custom agreement also include, we found out later, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. It makes for very easy and fast border crossings.

The whole process was calm with no chaos or hangers on loitering around as I was expecting. It was very civilised and efficient. The staff on both sides was friendly.

Once we paid our road tax in Namibia, we were good to go. We stopped few hundreds metres later to get fuel and local currency.  The local currency is called both (Namibian) Rand or (Namibian) dollar, which can be confusing when being quoted prices and they say “dollars”, as the Namibian dollar is about 14 to the US$! !

There was a fuel station with a small shop and an ATM machine, in the middle of the desert.

The owner came to speak to us. We asked about insurance for the bikes but he told us that it was not necessary.

We discussed about our destination fro the day: Ai-Ais,  and he advised us to take straight away the small road which follows the border with South Africa, and the Orange River, rather that the main road, much further north. That ride was supposed to be more beautiful. At least there would be less traffic!

We followed his advice and, as we rode through the desert, surprisingly, we came across vineyards. It was quite extraordinary and surreal to see large vineyards along the road, in the desert!

After a while we saw, among the vineyards, a sign for a Spar supermarket. We followed it and came across a sort of shopping mall, smartly built, with bank, shops and a SPAR, all those building inline, planted in the middle of the desert, facing a large car park and beyond, a village! All the shops were closed as it was Sunday.

The surprising thing was the “village” on the other side. It was only small shacks with tin roofs. We assumed it had to be the vineyards workers there. The contrast between the well build commercial buildings and living quarters was quite surprising.

« Last Edit: November 12, 2018, 11:42:03 pm by maria41 »
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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2018, 07:01:56 pm »
Soon enough we ran out of tarmac and rode a gravel road. It was not too bad and we were able to make good progress. It felt so good to finally leave the tarmac and head through the desert on those empty gravel roads. I had had that image in my head for so long, preparing this trip! So many dull winter days, at work, staring at my computer screens and spreadsheets, dreaming! The only thing that kept me sane!

Ai-Ais is a large campsite and hot springs, near Fish river Canyon, the biggest canyon in Africa, which really compares to the Great Canyon in the US, for scale, according to my Lonely Planet.

For a campsite (which also has lodges and flats) it was rather expensive. We paid 20$ per person per night. Not cheap! But to be fair the facilities were amazing with very clean shower blocks, separate cooking and washing up block, drinking water on taps, spring swimming pool, a small shop etc…

The campsite seemed very popular with South Africans. The majority of people staying were from there, with very few Europeans on rented SUVs with the tents on the roof.
South African seemed to love Big off road cars pulling all 4X4 trailers!  Those trailers are amazing, with everything in there, including a full fitted kitchen, it seemrd to me, and more food than necessary to survive a nuclear winter!

As we had no food at all, on the other hand, we ate at the restaurant. The choice was grilled pork, chicken or Orix, with few vegetables.

After that we read a bit and decided to go for an early night. We set the tent in a grassy patch, near a shower block, between two palm trees.

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2018, 07:03:24 pm »
Day 7 - Ai-Ais – 0 kms – Monday 4th of June

I woke to the birds’ songs and the staff chasing the raiding gang of baboons that had descended into the camp. The weather was splendid.

A group of baboons was near our tent. They sent 2 young ones up the palm tree next to our tent, and from up there, they threw what looked like yellow dates, to they family in the ground.

The staff kept chasing them with the use of slingshots.

At first I thought how exotic this was and how charming they looked. With time and experience, over the following few months, I came to totally dislike the baboons! Little did we know to start with! Don’t they look cute?!

 We made coffee and with bread and jam from the shop, that was our morning breakfast.

While I did some laundry, Alistair did the washing up.

Later on we got in search of the hot springs. At 65 degrees Celsius, they were too hot to bath in. But the swimming pool next to them was still super warm. It was fantastic and we swam and lazed a bit by the pool for a while.

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Offline maria41

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #15 on: November 04, 2018, 07:03:54 pm »
We spoke with various people in the camp. The South Africans were super friendly I must say and they came easily to talk to us.

Late afternoon, while I was busy near the tent, Alistair got talking to 2 women near a small tent, at the very edge of the campsite. That was when we discovered how canny and intelligent those baboons could be!

While a couple of female baboons broke into the small tent that the 2 ladies were sharing, stealing a camping mat, and sending the 2 women and Alistair running after them, another very large male Baboon got into the open boot of a car, parked about 50 m away, and tried to get away with a very large plastic box containing food and wine.

When I spotted that fellow, I shouted to alert the others, as I was too far to do anything about it (and not keen to get into a fight with a large baboon!).

The female baboons scattered toward the hills with the mat, while Alistair got near the large male baboon, which was not ready to give up on his very valuable loot.

After a small staring contest with plenty of teeth showing, the baboon gave up on his loot. That was lucky, as it had very big sharp teeth! An adult male baboon is a very large beast!  You don’t mess around with them! Alistair got quite a fright, as they stared at each other with only the large plastic box between them, the male baboon measuring his chance of winning the fight! !

Staff, a bit later, managed to retrieve the mat. That was lucky as the owner, with a large group of friends, was going to hike the canyon for 5 days. Without a sleep mat, sleeping would be have been rather uncomfortable and cold.
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Offline Welsh

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Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #16 on: November 04, 2018, 07:23:37 pm »
Enjoying the RR, first time I went into the Ockavango in 1982 I was on the open back of an F250 when we went through a BIG troop of Baboons, those Alpha males are SERIOUS... 8)
Putting the Drunken Pagan Debauchery back into Christmas.

Offline Goingnowherekwickly

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #17 on: November 04, 2018, 07:33:22 pm »
Hey Maria
You type much faster than most south africans, brilliant :)
looking forward to following your journey..

Ja, try not tangle with a fully grown baboon, over the years, they have become accostomed to people & unruly..
especially if alone..  keep up the good work, enjoying the ride :)


Offline skydiver

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Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #18 on: November 04, 2018, 07:45:37 pm »
Very interesting read so far.....I will follow this trip to the end   :happy1:

Online Oubones

Re: Around Southern Africa on 2 small bikes
« Reply #19 on: November 04, 2018, 07:48:42 pm »
Nice trip and following with interest.
Springbok meat is tops! :thumleft:
Thanks for taking the time and effort to write this RR
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