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Offline mikeb8man

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Journey to the Equator
« on: April 25, 2009, 07:02:15 pm »
                         

This is a story about a father and son, expert and novice duo, who rode 20,000km through eight southern African countries on their KLR 650's. Retirees at 22 and 55, we rode for 3 months, straying away from the tourists and tar roads. The stories that follow are our daily journal entries from the time, along with photographs...enjoy!


It had never really dawned on me, exactly what it was I was doing, until I pulled up alongside my dad, out from under his dust, on our first real dirt road. I did not need to be able to hear him; I could tell so simply by his facial expressions just how much he wanted that moment.  On a dusty gravel road passing through the outback of South Africa, father and son were screeching like excited school children on tuck shop day, hooting and hollering at each other, the vast emptiness of the Karoo swallowing up any evidence of their boyish behaviour. As if to say to each other, finally the teachers are not around, we can play tomfoolery. Yet we were men now, men amongst the mayhem of Africa.



The preparation had begun. It was like being offered our own continent to discover, like some early sixteenth century explorers. Our journey will start at the very landing spot of the first South African settlers and continue its way north, following the rivers and pathways that connect Africa. Departing on January 2nd 2008, we will travel for four months, listening and learning about how Africans live in every country we explore. We want to discover what their normal day is like, where they go to work, what their lives are truly like – a view into the hearts of people that represent the countries we will be discovering for ourselves. For us it is a chance to learn, a chance to be truly humbled, a chance to be taught about Africa.



We will travel from Port Elizabeth in South Africa up the east coast through Mocambique, into Tanzania and to the equator in Kenya(Uganda), our half way point. From here we will drop back down into Tanzania, slip down Malawi, skirt through Zambia, zig zag through Angola and head back down through Namibia before returning home. We will stop at five scheduled fishing stops along the way, namely Pomene (Mocambiuqe), Kilwa Ruins (Tanzania), Rubondo Island (Tanzania) Zambelozi Lodge (Zambia) and Flamingo Bay (Angola), to rest our weary bodies and minds. In total, 20, 000km, with no support vehicles, one novice son with 4 months riding experience and one retired father of fifty odd.

Yet, as one can imagine, these words can be easily seen and spoken in a dream. It is months of research, paperwork and bike work amongst other things that are required for the dream to be seen in colour, and full of life.




We chose the Kawasaki KLR 650’s for this trip due to their reputation for simplicity, hardiness and cost. We knew that some after market replacements would be necessary but were slightly complexed about American slang words like Doo-Hickey. After intensive research on the many websites available, a repetitive list became obvious. The short comings of the bike, besides the fact that it does not perform, will not stop, has no suspension and will vibrate the fillings from your teeth, included, rear suspension and front fork modifications, replacing the Doo-Hickey thing with an aftermarket one and changing the sub frame and other mounting bolts. All the necessary bits and pieces are available from a number of American suppliers. However dealing with these American suppliers initially proved difficult. They sleep while they are suppose to be working, so you can never phone them during our business hours, and they don’t talk like they mean what we do.
   
Expert

The KLR 650 2005 model with roughly 8000km on the clock cost between R33, 000 and R35, 000. They are seemingly bullet proof. We purchased two of them and set about organizing the accessories and luggage. All in all we have completed forty eight separate modifications for each KLR 650. Including a last minute cut-in-half rusty braai grid to stop a soft pannier burning/melting on the exhaust.  Our luggage comprises of fully waterproof soft side panniers which are fitted to customised side frames and a waterproof soft top bag, which is fitted onto a customised aluminium plate to spread the weight.

Novice


For South Africans, the countries that make up Southern Africa are actually highly accessible, with all our visas being obtainable on each countries border post.  Angola has been of recent complication for us though. The South African government have in late November made relations between the countries very comforting, apparently allowing South Africans to enter with no visa. It’s just a matter of whether this news reaches the far corners of their country to the Angolan border posts or not, that worries us. If you are less hasty than us and want to take the probably more sensible option of obtaining visas beforehand, then use a visa courier service, just be sure to take out a second bond on the house, sell the car, TV and dog and get use to riding your bicycle to work.



To be honest with you, we have had little worry surrounding the non-bike preparatory issues for this trip. Although perhaps this is due to the fact that one of our trip motto’s is “Life’s not about packing, it’s about going!” None the less we have had the necessary needle therapy sessions with the travel clinic. Yellow fever, Hepatitis A/B, Cholera and Malaria tablets are dead certainties for a trip of this degree. Along the way, just to keep the ladies of the house (girlfriends and mothers) happy, we will be carrying our cell phones with free roaming. “Really there isn’t that much you need to organise”, one guy told us, after he explained how his best mate had simply jumped on his bike with R3000 on him and left on a similar trip. Somehow we wanted to believe him but felt compelled to speak to our bank manager who mumbled something about no ATM’s in most of the countries we want to visit and how our pin numbers change length etc…We listened a bit but got bored after the part where he asked, “So Tanzania, ok that’s right up there near Cameroon right?”
None the less we are taking ATM cards and hoping for the best.

Satellite Communications

It was with a “Life’s not about packing, it’s about going” attitude in mind that my dad and I ended up hollering and hooting like school children, out on the wire, going balls to the wall, heading in land toward yonder Karoo, on our first preparation tour. Yet between the coast and the Karoo lands of South Africa is a barrage of mountains that stand mean and unforgiving, as if reminiscent of the Berlin wall and its entrance to another world. This is where you would think good navigation would come in handy. I felt compelled to not interfere with my dad’s map reading what with the hierarchy and all, but after riding for three hours with no towns popping up, and getting one solely response of “I’m lost as hell son!”, I chose to interfere. Needless to say we now own one GPS navigational tool.

Learning to "ride"

Our chosen route was not a new one though. The missionaries and traders used this route, as their oxen pulled carriages laden with supplies, barely made it through these mountains passes hundreds of years ago. Yet these lands now have permanent settlers here, small populations that one can simply drive through, glancing quickly at the few houses that make up each town, before it fades into the distance, shrouded by the dusty silhouettes of mountains and scrublands that make up the Karoo. We stop in one town and my dad asks a young waitress,
 “Is the petrol station here open?”
 “No sir” she replies.
“When will it be open?”
 “Maybe next year”.


On our way home the next day, riding back through the Karoo, back toward our mountain pass, a young springbok suddenly sprang out into the road, hitting my father’s tires, then mine. After coming to stop some thirty yards passed the animal, I turned off my engine shaking in shock. I turned my head. Looking back I could see the animal was struggling to walk, its hind leg bones piercing through the skin. We both rode back to the animal, which was lying almost peacefully, just waiting.
My father told me I did not have to watch. I chose to.  I thought he would break its neck. Yet when he stepped forward, I had no idea of his intentions, until he raised his boot to the animal’s skull. Three times in all!  A grimacing reminder of the reality of our journey.
As my father said, “just hope that along the way, this won’t be our blood on the ground.’

                   

Jan 1 2008

“Father and Son, there and back!”

“When we are riding on our motorbikes through the desert in Angola on thick sand roads in amongst the thorn trees where you cant turn around or get off the road and you come around the corner and here is a pride of lions lying sleeping in the hot African sun, twenty feet in front of you, and you are travelling at 60kph….what are you going to do?

This is the email I received from my father, a year ago today. It was my father’s way of testing my nerve on the idea of riding our motorbikes through eight African countries, as a pair, for over three months. Well, since then the dream has become a reality and we have spent over a year planning our “Journey to the Equator” which will lead us up the east coast of Africa to Kenya and the equator before we cross down through Zambia to Angola and make our way home via the west coast.

My dad is a long time adventure motorcyclist; I myself have merely been riding for the past four months on and off. We hope however that between the two of us we can lift a bike sunk knee deep in thick gooey sand while fifty degree heat scorches our backs. We aim to follow no particular roads, make no reservations and have no real plan, apart from reaching the equator, and back!

We now have ten hours before we leave. Just ten measly hours after months of paperwork, visas, phone calls and bike work into the early hours all in honor of this great adventure. This daily blog will allow you to be a part of our journey, venturing into the Mozambique fish markets we explore at night, measuring our kingfish caught on lure in Tanzania and being on the back of our bikes as we duck and weave through thorn bush hollowed out sand roads.

Well, here is to a good first days riding and three months of adventurous, boyish and traditional “just wing it” type adventure…

Jan 2 2008

“Day of days”

What a day to remember. The first time you do something, you never forget it and well, today certainly will be in my mind forever. My father and I left our house this morning at 6:30am to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime, which unfortunately had the most uninviting start to it.

The day began with tears, sadness, joy, fear and excitement all rolled up into my pounding heart which was bursting at the seams with all these different emotions. Within twenty minutes of being on the road, something was wrong with my bike. My back tyre was rubbing violently to the point where it locked up once on the swing arm (frame) causing me to almost stop, turn around and go home right then, it scared me such. We figured it was due to the weight and no doubt I feel even worse about packing my last minute guitar, tripod and other luxuries. But “What wears away today, won’t have to wear away tomorrow my son”, my dad laughed at me, which should have eased my worries but it did not.

The morning finally got rolling as we made our way through the Zuurberg mountains and on into the Karoo towards Hogsback. Most of it was spent skirting round flamboyant brave warthogs and bush buck that sprang and leaped through holes six foot high in fences, as we drove through the Double Drift Game Reserve. Yet the afternoon was not without its problems. As we pulled into the outskirts of a rather nameless dodgy remote scary town, my engine cut out. Completely. I tried starting it, but it just lulled. We tried and failed numerous attempts at getting it started as a crowd of eager looking “entrepreneurs” gathered. Finally after holding the throttle wide open and pushing the starter for a near thirty seconds it started, but the revolutions counter would jump from one to six thousand like a jack in the box. Like this I stalled, started and made my engine scream all the way till we limped into Hogsback, forty kilometres short of our destination at Stutterheim.

But the problem has been solved. We drained the carburettor which had water in it, from where we don’t know, and it works like a charm now. Now for dinner of biltong, biscuits and left over sandwiches and a lovely cup of tea as the mist encircles our tents and the gathering thunderstorm makes the Hogsback back mountain forests seem like a far off mysterious fairytale land.



Jan 3 2008

“Rain, oh sweet rain”

Ok, I promise that is the only inkling of moaning you’ll get from me. By my oh my how it has “rained on our parade” to put it plainly. This morning as I crawled out my tent smothering myself head first into a fog that was like gelatin as it filled every gap in the air, it began.

At first it fell slowly and light across our goggles as we skirted pot holes filled of murky chocolate water, the road much the same colour. The rain struggled to really pierce the forest tops as our bikes crawled slowly along the enchanted road that connects Hogsback with Keiskamahoek, its pathway covered by trees that towered over passing waterfalls.

Now that we were essentially forty kilometers behind on our plan, we had aimed for a solid days riding. Our only real set plan on this journey is that where is there is an alternative road, a road less traveled, one of clay, mud, dirt and sand, then we shall choose it. However this reasoning soon clashed with the likes of mother nature’s virtue.

It was to be a morning of slow riding. My mind was so deep in concentration, as we passed jumpy calves at their mother’s sides, loose goats being chased by their herdsmen, stray dogs fighting in the rain like giant wet rats and the most daring crab who thought doing battle with a 200kg bike going 60kph was a good idea. All the time battling thick mud that seemed to have the claws of a devil. Mud that I swear lines the top of hell. You are gripped by its vice, then as soon as you feel safe in its traction, its hurls you away, left and right as you plummet into the depths of melted red chili chocolate mud that jerks and fishtails your bike from side to side.



There is a point where adventure unbalances the scale between fun and fear. We ended up sleeping all night through the rain, rich fog and dense cold wind at Gubu Dam near Stutterheim. A days mileage of sixty kilometers, putting us a whole day behind “schedule”.

Jan 4 2008

“Good fortune”

I awoke this morning to find that I had wrapped most of my clothes over me in the night and had my sleeping bag over my head. I poked my head out and lifted my tent edge. It was cold enough for my breath to be seen on the air and the rain and fog had still not lifted an inch. Isn’t this supposed to be summertime?

We awoke in the rain, packed in the rain and were finally back onto the slimy glassy mud…in the rain no less. We came slowly tottering out of Gubu Dam campsite, our legs folded out, acting as learner wheels in the conditions. Like this we slid and twisted down what felt like a slip ‘n slide course laid between the rich emerald green fields of farmlands.

If you had been watching our tracking beacon you would have been able to view our whole days riding over a quick cup of tea. We covered a mere twenty km’s before the recklessness of passing traffic and the state of the roads pushed us to the ditch at a junction where above us sat several B&B, hotel and campsite signs. We felt it was a sign (Pardon the pun). We chose Eagle Ridge Hotel and spent the rest of the day engulfed by their helpful staff, drying our clothes, bikes, tents, even guitar cases that were all sopping wet.



We finally spent a great evening at the Stutterheim Engine Museum, the largest in South Africa, watching some of the world’s first engines being run. I now know how an engine works; something I thought would have been good to know before we left, but what a fantastic way to learn.

Jan 5 2008

Canned vs. Real McCoy:

The choice is simple. You either ride on or off road. Our bikes are dual purpose and thus we have the power of choice. The comparison is much like that of canned vs. home made soup. Let me explain.

The first, is simple. It’s effective, always the same and immediately pleasing. The latter however, is unpredictable, challenging and requires great deals of preparation. Yet, if paid due attention, has the potential to be the best bloody well home made soup you ever had or on the other hand you could burn the whole lot and not eat anything at all.

Today, we wanted immediate satisfaction. Immediate results. Reliable mild mannered pleasure. Due to us being already two days behind our trip, a rough 600km, we needed to put some inches between us and Port Elizabeth on the map. And with the weather still being of the “English winter” variety, we had but no choice to stay on tar.

I must admit though I quite thoroughly enjoyed my first real today of tar riding. After an hour of 90km/h riding, the scenery begins to slow down, your concentration seemingly extends into your peripheral and the country becomes part of your view. You begin to absorb the candy floss pinks and bubblegum blues that reflect the shape of the Xhosa peoples thatch roofed circular huts, which at glance appear to have had the surrounding boulders and scrawny foliage placed by hand around these huts so as to provide a surreal setting. 



When the going is easy though, one must take advantage. We rode for 450km today. Much of it spent waving to passing children, being chased by boys on their bicycles through busy taxi infested, music blaring city streets and dodging the odd stone being hurled at you from passing youngsters.

So as you can imagine, we are both exhausted. Our luck has spun a little though, as the weather has finally cleared and we now sit, in shorts, drinking a cold beer and admiring the surrounding hills of Matatiele, our rosy burnt cheeks tickling in the warm wind.

More to follow....


« Last Edit: April 26, 2009, 10:11:40 pm by mikeb8man »
 

Offline BMWPE

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2009, 07:16:21 pm »
keep it coming  :thumleft: :thumleft:
Rallye
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2009, 07:35:54 pm »
Jan 6 2008

I am absolutely exhausted and three beers under, so I’ll apologise in advance. Today has been our first real day of effortless riding, with the sun on our backs and a cloudless sky, the journey has never been sweeter.

We awoke this morning, for the first time on our trip, to a clear sky. What a pleasure. We breakfasted on oatmeal, two biscuits and a cup of tea and were on the road by seven. Our previous days’ efforts had paid off and we managed to beat the weather to a dry, sun baked clay dirt road which was pure bliss as the early morning crisp valley fog lifted around us.

Our route followed the elongated fingers of high ridge’s that extend off the edge of the Drakensburg Mountain range, before steadily winding down steep curves into lush, sweet green valley basins that hold simply the most beauty in South Africa, that I have ever seen.
 
This area has some of the most exquisite mountain lakes. The water on them seems to have a glass film that reflects the mountain tops almost as purely as they are seen, standing atop the horizon.



However, I feel that today the journey has finally settled down a little. In and amongst all the grand beauty and history that surrounds the Drakensburg, we have managed to settle into a rhythm and steady pace.  As with everything though, it is a pity we can not stay for longer to admire this majestical area, especially to tend to some of the highly regarded trout fishing lakes.



The border is now nearing and a new country is just days away, lets hope it can match up to the likes of our home country…


Jan 7 2008

Riding in water knee deep…

I have been waiting to write this entry all evening, but the local school children on their way home, have been singing school songs and screaming in the neighboring park.
A delightful, yet hard to concentrate with, background music to the evening.

As I write this a warm gusty wind has begun to blow strong fierce looking clouds, smudged with gray blotches, across the evening sky. Today has seemingly been a day filled with extreme conditions from all ends of the scale, so a thunderstorm to end the day would be most appropriate.

This morning we spent our first 60km quivering along a thin maze like line of concrete that formed the only real surface amongst a minefield of 20inch deep potholes. This kind of riding was very new to me, and was even more challenging to concentrate on when the scenery was beyond anything I have ever seen.

Guitar and Fishing Rod strapped on back!

If you have not been to this part of the country, then you must before you seen anything else. I completely forgot what country I was in. Farmers fields filled with dark green maize crops extended as far as one can see, in lines across rolling hills, dissected by red dirt roads lined with tall droopy willow trees, the colours of the landscape seeming so saturated with health and freshness.

We came across many small streams amongst these fields, but we approached one where the water was knee deep as I tested it and I could feel the loose chunky gravel underfoot. Even though our GPS read “Washed away bridge and road” we chose to continue, hoping to get a little adventure under our belts.

The road was completely submerged with two feet of water. We had to saddle up onto the side grass bank for two hundred meters before we tried the water levels again. This time we were unlucky and my father ended up with water up to his middle wheel line, his tires sunk in soft sand. We spent the next ten minutes heaving and grunting at the handle bars to push the bike back. The only relief from the sun’s pelting rays was the cool muddy water that washed into our boots.



Finally we came to our senses and chose an alternative route. We have both commented on what a majestic part of our country this is and that it is beyond any words as to describe it’s wealth of beauty. So to end up in Newcastle for the evening, in rush hour taxi traffic, was horrific. We are nestled comfortably amongst the mayhem though, in our campground fitted with a complimentary security guard, making the inner-city camping experience all that more “extreme”.

Jan 8 2008

A call to arms

The thick mist lies low against the earth, gray and dense. His eyes spread open, twitching, straining into the clouded vision ahead. Next to him a thousand more lie in wait, all with cold, red raw fingers wrapped around the smooth but ends of their rifles. He hears a low bugle ring out and lunges forward blindly, into the unknown.

Today we rode up through part of the South African battlefields area. Not only to pay respect to the past in some way but to see for ourselves the famous area. Our path was slowed by a dramatic layer of valley mist that only added to the picture that our minds were trying to paint.



To see the terrain, be it varied from before, was phenomenal. Hills as high as storm sea swells that roll and roll, with rivers sweeping in their troughs and outcrops of rocks that jut out into the hill face, crashing down boulders where they lay. The bravery and courage to do battle amongst these hills, was simply part of a different man than we see today.



This afternoon, we have stopped at the edge of Vryhied town to stay at a game farm for the evening. Whilst making our fire for diner, two bush pigs began grazing on their forelegs, like a pair of tame lawn mowers, meters from our tents. They were later joined by Ostrich and Springbok, to contest the terrain.



Christmas came late for us today as well. I received my much needed E3Gear “Element” tent, which now allows me to fit all of my bike gear inside it, and means I don’t have to sleep half on top of my laptop or helmet. Our Buff wear “Polars” also arrived which has meant some super warm comfy riding with no more sunburned noses or frozen Adams apples.

Tomorrow is our final day before entering the mighty Swaziland and our second country.
To see the recent areas of South Africa has been so amazing and has made me believe in our country’s wealth and diversity even more. Even though it is only a small segment of South Africa, I will most definitely journey there again.

Jan 9 2008

Ghost town

It’s the type of place where homicide detectives stay on their weekends off, just to be fresh on the next scene. At the only stop street in town, you glance left and right down the one red clay gravel road that makes up this place. You feel the icy grip of the cold in the rain, and shudder, knowing there will be no one else at the motel.

We arrived in Amsterdam at mid-day in the light drizzle and mist that have darkened the sky all day, making it seem like late evening. Our friendly nod’s at passing street folk, merely returned a stern glare. We got off the road and pulled into the only lodge in town.

There are forty three rooms, a chapel, full restaurant and outdoor decking area with fully thatched roof. All of this is empty. Not a soul around, well, a visible one anyway. At dinner the cutlery is perfectly placed for a seven course meal, every table the same. We dine alone, amongst early settler’s paintings and silverware. The chef looks surprised to be serving anyone else rather than his own staff.

We later learn that the Glen Oak Lodge where we are staying use to be the gateway to Swaziland. Returning travellers, young marriages and business men were the weekly norm. Now its damp dark hallways and rooms are littered with enough light for one to peer into a passing window, through the cream curtain cloth, and see nothing.

For two intrepid travellers, who interests lay in the irregular; this lodge has been a diamond amongst the dirt. .The lonely rooms, dark passageways and empty dinner rooms have been a wonder to explore. Now for the imagination to rest and absorb our first new country, Swaziland.

Jan 10 2008

 “Swaziland mayhem”

Through the rain droplets on my goggles, I could just make out the twinkle of my fathers brake light glowing bright red. I was going to watch a collision between him and a bakkie at 70km/h. My heart leapt from its place in an attempt to shock my nervous system into a reaction, it was too slow.

Before you even think you know what is happening, it has happened. There is nothing you can do about it. The white bakkie just kept veering onto our side of the road. My father had not seen it and I was hopeless to do anything, but watch.

The bakkie came within three feet of my father’s bike. The driver had veered away quite casually at the last chance. After I realised what had just happened, my nerves went haywire. My hands were on my head, I was shouting to someone, somewhere, thank you, thank you, thank you.

But, the journey must continue…



When the rain and fog mulch lifted, and we were able to see Swaziland, it was of mainly timber.  As we drove through the west country, all was but forestry operations.  Overloaded logging trucks, the sharks of the road. We finally sourced a Mocambique visa in Mbabane, and will be crossing our second border post tomorrow, if all goes to plan.



We have ended up at a game reserve, visited by a close family friend. We dine on his famous Lebanese chicken, washed away with a few bottles of red wine and catch glimpses of Bontebok with their young through the fog and rain, all from our fire place warmed cottage on the hill.


Jan 11 2008

“A spark of passion”

We have swapped the timber plantations, sticky jungle weather and soggy red mud roads of Swaziland for the chaos, mayhem and intensity of Mocambique. It makes you feel so alive, like an electric current bursting throughout your body, flowing with the sounds, smells and smiles of true Africa.



We arrived in Mocamobique for the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. At least that is what it felt like. We were travelling at a gentle pace, absorbing the maize plantations, rickety road side vendors where paws paws, bananas and mangos where all stacked up like soldiers. Our nostrils, filled with a sweet, putrid, human waste and raw fruit smell that makes our eyes water. And then it hit us.

Before you know it, there is a sixteen wheeler truck with his bumper inches from your back tyre and you have stopped, completely. Your back wheel is sunk half way into a pot hole the length of your bike and your front wheel feels like it is up in the air. You are on the only bit of tar, a two lane highway that stretches through the town.
   
You dip your left hand, lean over your handle bars and check down the left side of the bus in front you to see a further twenty feet of a sand and mud mix extending off the road, which is half used as a pavement and half as an over (or should I say under) taking lane. Before you can make a decision, a 50cc moped with two people with no helmets, comes flying past your head and bounces over the soft sands, closely missing a lady selling rugby ball sized crabs on a string, before ducking into the traffic and vanishing.

I glance back to catch a glimpse of my fathers back tire accelerating round the right side of the bus. I drop my right shoulder, slip the clutch and fly out round this bus into a blinding cloud of black charcoal like diesel fumes, to re-emerge on the other side with another sixteen seater taxi filled to the brim heading straight for me.

Mayhem, mayhem, mayhem. Needless to say, we arrived safe and in one piece, finally, here at the Blue Anchor Inn. This afternoons riding has been beyond anything I have every imagined. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the excitement of playing ‘real’ bumper cars, without the bumping, dodging and ducking through the streets of small town Mocambique.

Jan 12 2008

“A day by the sea”

Apologies, but there is a reason you haven’t heard from us. We have finally made it to the ocean! After months of seeing it everyday in our hometown, two weeks away from it was just too much. We have arrived at Xai Xai (“Shy Shy”) beach, and are officially in ‘relaxing’ mode.

However we did do some riding today, we aren’t that lazy. Well, only 150km worth and we were in camp by 10:00am. Our journey to Xai Xai was our first real glimpse at Mocambique countryside.  The havoc and mayhem of yesterday are all forgotten and the road ahead was beautiful.



It winds its way along a pancake flat horizon, the banana’s tree’s thick leaves and its brother jungle plants growing systematically, inches from the road side. They are only set back by a few feet of sand, with thatched roofed houses, their walls made with perfect vertical wooden precision, towering over the road edge.



Often these houses have the siblings of the family selling everything you could ever imagine. Prawns as long as your hand, crabs on a string, fresh fish as long as your leg and fruit of all varieties lay at the road side. But my personal favourite has been the Cashew nuts, which are simply so delicious and very cheap.



We have spent the afternoon lazing along the golden pastry coloured beaches, strolling along the high tide mark for sea artefacts, whilst the ocean, warm as a cup of tea, plays gently at our feet. Every few metres we have been lazily throwing a lure for Kingfish, but to no avail. Tomorrow, we head further up the coast, in search of ripe mangoes and freshly caught fish.

Jan 13 2008

“Learning to fall”


I fell for the first time today, on my 357km of the day. It was our ninth hour of riding. With sun stroked eyes wobbling over the horizon, I had no strength to pick the bike up. Eight kilometres later, I fell to the ground, over the right handlebar, in soft golden sand up to my knees. As I looked up, a bead of sweat broke the setting suns light over my eyes, I was exhausted.

This second time, I was through the barrier. Through the temptation of defeat. I was right and the bike was wrong. I owned the bike, it did not own me. I buried my knees in the sand, rocked back on my heels, and drove deep and hard through my back to lean the bike over and straight up. I felt the strain of the days riding, as a rush of hot liquid spread over my arms.

We had been up since day break, fishing in the early morning light, the ghost crabs scampering over our toes, as they frolicked in the shore break surf. So it was with understanding that with the good comes the bad.  After 50km of blissful early morning riding, we hit “The land where potholes began”.

You may not remember it as a horror film, but in our minds we do. They are as deep as your knee to the ground and as wide as the road is. I quickly learnt that one little mistake and the game is over. I took a corner, perhaps a little fast, and went through a deep hole with a full tire, but came out on the other side, barely hanging onto my handle bars, with a flat tyre.



The force of the tire had ripped the valve off the tube. Not fun. But we were practiced, and managed to fix our tire in under an hour. The journey continued, amidst inshore lakes holding pure blue water, where you ride below overhanging coconut palms that have grown in the creamy white sand that lines the road side. And you taste pineapples as sweet as honey from the beautiful ladies shying away in the palm tree shade.

Life in Mocambique, what can I say…We are camped on the beach, literally. Our tents are a hundred feet from the transparent turquoise water, and the beers are cold…now to just catch some fresh dinner!

Jan 14 2008

 “Bongile (Bon-Gee-Le)”

It means thank you, in Shangana, the people’s language. The language that was spoken before the Portuguese colonised Mocambique and continues to be spoken throughout the country. I learnt a small amount about the Shangana people today, from my friend “Roger the shop keeper”, let me share it.

At 5:30am this morning I sat empty handed on the beach, staring out over the sea at the horizon. Three young spear fishermen were wading out their rubber dingy, two flopping over the side into the boat while the youngest kept rudder as the water deepened.
By six thirty I was fortunate enough to be able to find some shade, while the working men and women began their day.



One old man spent all day, in 38 degree heat, bent over double, cutting a rugby pitch size field of grass, with his panga. Others collected dried coral for making cement, walking over the scorching hot sand till dusk.

Today, we were taking a zero day, to rest and inspect our bikes. I bumped into my friend Roger, whilst looking for fresh bread from a bakery in the local village. Roger took me on a tour, along sandy paths, lined with cassava plantations that pass behind stick wood houses, roofed with light brown coconut palms. We stopped at the church, a longer building with higher walls, and he spoke of the ease at which different religions congregate here each Sunday. Zion, Catholic and Anglican followers were all neighbours.



I tasted some of the local maize drink, a seemingly thirst quenching cold mix made from maize and sugar cane. We collected six small buns from the baker. They were still warm. Later, whilst sat on the wooden stools at his shop, we talked of life in Mocambique.

He told me of how the village well had been broken for a month and would probably never be fixed. Some people before use to walk for five hours, one way, to collect water from here. I asked where they go now, but he simply shrugged. The local lodge, where we are staying, has stepped in as their “government” and supplies them with water.

The clothes he was wearing were all handed off from tourists. His food was one meal of fish a day, with tea for breakfast and dinner. He gave me a look of disgust, when I spoke of the future, and he simply laughed.

His hope? He says that everyday he must pray to his God, even though he is hungry and his village are hungry, because he knows that some day Jesus will come and surprise him.
Walking back toward my tent, I bumped into the spear fishermen from this morning. They had a string full of palm sized tropical fish, their last resort, in a land where even the locals, as Roger put it plainly, “Are bored of the coconuts”.

« Last Edit: April 25, 2009, 07:36:35 pm by mikeb8man »
 

Offline Ratel

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2009, 08:29:02 pm »
 :thumleft:

waiting...waiting...
"Stercus accidit..."
 

GreenMamba1974

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2009, 09:26:19 pm »
very nice, have read part of your journey already on the getaway site i think.  brilliant!  :thumleft:

  i know your dad from a while back, hopefully he will still recognize me. 


 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2009, 09:50:56 pm »
Jan 15 2008

The warm enveloping wind that brushes over my hair and cheeks, is so fresh off the sea, I can taste the salt in the air. I am sitting in the far corner, under a single disco orange bulb, on this elevated wooden balcony, a shadowy outline of my form, glowing against the dark sea backdrop. I can feel the boredom in the gazes from the staff sat at the bar picking their teeth. The tourist season is officially over.

It was nearly all over for us today, in a flash. Well to be precise, in the twist and turn of an ankle and knee under 250kg of bike, being squashed into the soft sand, the wrong way. Saddling my bike like a horse, legs outstretched skirting the tops of the sand next to me; I rode in the hollow made by previous traffic. I felt my left foot stop, catch and turn, the handle bars moving with it, and with that came all of the bike’s weight and me, over my ankle.

Within an instant I realised my ankle was going to snap ninety degrees in the opposite direction. There was little I could do to stop it. My knee began to turn first, the ligaments clicking and crunching as they twisted over each other, like snakes fighting for space in a burning den.

I yelped in alarm and fought to twist my body over my left leg, urging my ankle to land in the sand the right way. It did. But the pain was beyond me. I yelled to my father, screaming at him hoarsely, my face resting flat on the sand, lower left limb, trapped under the bike.

He ran back to me and lifted the back wheel. I felt a release of pressure, joints being allowed to slide back into place. The ordeal was over. My first semi-proper fall. At least it was in soft sand. The ankle is fine now, a “Walk it off son” type injury.



As we watched the last of the day dip over the horizon at dinner, a commotion broke out further down the beach. Women, children and men everywhere, fighting for space in a tightly huddle circle. I grabbed my camera and soared down the beach. It was the local fishermen and their net of the day. A huge net, maybe 250m in length, being unloaded for the local village.



Except there was little control, and after an hour of being tossed around in this circle, kneeling down to take photo’s, being elbowed and shoved as the crowd began more tense and furious over the chief fishermen’s servings, I felt something would erupt. And it did. Someone said one word, and with in an instant, a free for all was declared. Mother, father, son and sister were in, over, under and around each other, fifty odd people fighting for the catch of the day, all in good spirit. A cheery end to a day of near disaster.

Jan 16 2008

“Dispute in the Jungle”

We began our slow move north west today, away from our last coastal place of rest, Inahassora, before the mighty Zambezi River. We have heard different reports on whether the rivers ferry was in fact working, due to all the rain and flooding in Mocambique recently. But, as with all our plans, we simply turn up and hope for the best.



As we stepped away from the coast today, the country side and the terrain, changed. Coconut palm and jungle foliage turned to tall grass studded with flat top shrub’s and baobab trees with trunks as thick as silo’s, their colour and texture that of an elephants grey wrinkly body. I can feel the typical African safari landscape slowly appearing.

As the country changed, so did the people and their lives. The road stalls bloomed with colour, with bright florescent clothing of all kinds for sale, a very different market to the south. Buildings no longer made of wood, but held together with mud plaster. Their huts are round, dome shaped, with the skeleton wood frame wrapped with this dark chocolate mud.

It seems that with all these changes occurring, so there was a need for a change in us. Like any healthy father and son relationship, we had a bitter feud, which continues now, the awkward body language around camp, the low grunts and sighs, just to break the silence. In the morning, no doubt, the new day will turn a brighter leaf, I hope.

It has been a tiresome day for your adventure duo. Some 660km, riding in the 38 degree heat, from 7am till 6pm. Still here as the night covers camp, I sit sweating, trying to control my body temperature. We are in a bush camp, the kind where spiders the size of mugs crawl through the outdoor furniture and it is out of necessity that you check your boots for visitors in the morning. Let’s just hope, I have no one else to share my tent with tonight…

Jan 17 2008

“Zambezi Crossing”


Today was the first time I have ever sworn directly to my dad’s face, starting straight into his eyes. I was raging with anger and my temper exploded with an array of four letter words. These are traits that I simply just do not have. As you can imagine, it has been a long day for father and son here in Africa.



This morning we laboured for two hours at the Zambezi River crossing, waiting for our ferry. It was a highly eventful wait, because as with wherever we go, our bikes and our story are of high interest to most locals. We learnt a great deal about the local floods, and how according to one local it had been over-dramatized in the media.



One truck driver told us that people here are not stupid. They know when enough is enough. They have secondary homes to evacuate to when the floods do come. It’s the desperate ones, who have no were to go that have to stay in their homes on the river bank. These light wooden houses were saturated, sunk over like wet newspaper, with water half way up them.



Another young boy we met, just sixteen, from Tanzania, was on his way to Pretoria to work in his brothers business. He spoke of his journey taking over a week of travel by public bus, with no understanding of Portuguese or the local languages. I exchanged some of my English and Xhosa for a few Swahili slang words, he thought would be helpful in Dar Es Salaam.





We have finally ended up on the sand, again, camping on the edge of a Cassarinah Tree Plantation, which lies amongst the dunes before the beach. Whilst walking around the owner’s camp, a thudding shock made me turn my head in anticipation of a truck or lorry. It was in fact, two men, one of 70, the other 35, who were chopping the rich dark wood, by hand axe, and do so everyday, from 6am to 6pm. Their stamina, especially the old man’s blew me away, a most graceful rhythmic motion to watch, there muscled forms black against the dropping sun.



So here, we argued properly, face to face, for the first time. I am glad we did. We are now sipping cold beers, sat around a slow burning cassarinah wood fire, the natural incense from the wood washing away the days troubles. 

Jan 18 2008

“Camping in classroom No.7”

With pad pressed against bent knees, my back to a cold grey concrete wall, bare feet curled up on the damp floor, I struggle to think aloud as the evening’s thunderstorm rain drops shudder the tin roof above.

Our target today of 590km, was hugely underestimated, and by 3:30pm, we had done 295 km, were bumping along construction dirt roads at 40km/h, and a horse shoe shaped cloud bank, the same fierce colour of a great whites navy blue back, was towering over us, about to close its jaws.

We then rode head first into a wall of tennis ball sized rain droplets, that began to smash against the plastic of our bikes. I held my left hand up to gain a small view of the road ahead. I just made out my fathers brake light in time to stop aside him, we were not within 100km of any accommodation, and were amongst hundreds of roadside huts. That meant no were to camp.

Riding up and down the same road, looking into the grassy mud banks, the fate of our evening was looking to be a very wet one. Then we struck gold. We rode up a muddy driveway to set of mud huts, surrounding two long white buildings, unordinary in the circumstances. It turned out to be a school, run by a very pleasant head teacher, who came to be our saviour. 





And so, with an empty classroom, we have set out our tents, a dripping clothes line, and our little stove burner is warming potato mash made with powdered milk and heated sardines in tomato sauce. Perfect!



Jan 19 2008

“Horn Blowers”

My chest pressed against my tank bag, looking ahead, through the smoky heat haze that lifted off the tarmac, a dark shadow shot out across the road. It passed one side of the road, and half way through the other, time slowed. A van breached the oncoming hill and my heart stopped. The van swerved dramatically and expertly to miss the child, no older than five years old, by inches of metal.

Needless to say, I have felt like a king being paraded through all the small towns this afternoon, as my father has been constantly pressing his horn, alerting every single creature to our presence, twice.



For our time here in Mocambique, I have been drinking the tap water, and today it caught up with me. The last few days, we have been riding so long and hard, that I never really noticed the pains to much. Last night I lay awake in agony, cursing my stupidity. So as we approached Illha de Mocambique this afternoon, it was with 400km under the belt and with very tired eyes.

As we crossed the bridge to the island, over light blue water, a bowl like island filled to overflowing, emerged on the horizon.  Rustic, crumble cylinder block houses, with faded bright greens, blues and yellows spoke out loud their Portuguese heritage. Side streets, with white chalky sand, led you deeper in the islands secret alleys and four walled court yards.

Yet, as soon as I was on the island, my natural want was to leave. I felt uneasy. Each corner seemed to hold a pair of bright eyes looming from a shady corner. The island actually just made me want to visit Cuba, as it had that feel about it. I wanted to be amongst the Portuguese, their alley markets and fish stalls to capture a little of the real “Indiana Jones” feel of the place.



We were offered everything from guns and ganja to beads and old coins as we entered the Portuguese built fort at the far end of the island. Its chapel, built in 1552, is the first European building every built in the Southern Hemisphere, according to our self proclaimed “unofficial” tour guide.





A tour of the fort was stunning though, our student guide actually studied in the school that is run inside the fort during term time. His story was a prime example of the lack of governments investment in the islands historical value. His four brothers were sleeping in the one room in their house, himself asleep at his parents bed, when a thundering crash awoke them to find his brothers all crushed to death. An original old building with no restoration was the fault, and the government continued to offer them no help.






Jan 20 2008

“Heroin and Emeralds”

If you need them, I can get them. This is the message my father got as he walked with the sinking sun, down Pemba main beach. For the first time since we left, we are amongst other travellers, and the territory that comes with it.

I must apologise for the lack of updates, but one of the main ingredients to all this, electricity, has been avoiding us. Nights spent camping on beaches and in school classrooms meant that our supply ran out.

With three long days behind us, we have arrived in what feels like a trendy “place to be” beach town. The language is of dudes and dollars and babes and beers. Something that I have not missed since we departed.

But with all this comes the luxuries of the modern world. We will be recuperating here for a few days, drowning ourselves in 1st world luxuries, before heading off. My bike, has decided that the battery is a goner, lost to the battery grave world, and so tomorrow we will begin the search in town for a new battery and pick up our freshly air freighted back sprocket for my dad’s bike.

Right, back to cold beers, “supreme” pizza and easy living…

Jan 21 2008

Heat as thick as soup

The heat. It sucks onto you, like a bed of leaches, drying you from the inside out. I lay at night, slipping in my own sweat, struggling against the fist like grip of heat, wanting to breathe some cool fresh air, but the air is still, still, still.

All day, it has felt like I have been rushing around Pemba, like a madman on our stripped down bikes. With all the freedom of light bikes, as all our gear was in camp, I have been laughing at our white skinny legs poking out of our shorts as we ride through town.

So we finally figured out what was wrong with my battery. Quite a simple error really. No acid in the battery." Dry as a dead man's penis", as my dad would say. But, after some local help, we have one freshly very acidic battery, a killer sounding starter and my father managed to get his second skin head of the trip. This evening has been spent labouring over the only fast internet connection we have seen in weeks.
And so, all of our latest photographs are up on our site. If you look at our "Where are we now" block, you can also see a pin point GPS location on a Google earth map. Were under the big green tree camping! Tomorrow we are just one day away from a new country, new language and new African flavours. Well, until the morning, "Chow", as seems to be the new phrase here in Africa.

Jan 22 2008

“On the road again”

After careful calculation of remaining local currency, we drew out our last amount of cash and set out for a little island hopping before heading into Tanzania. One expense, we did not cater for, was a $50 fine, each, for speeding…ouch!

Needless to say we crawled through the rest of our journey today, sticking to the speed limits. As soon as you exit one town and begin to pick up speed, you enter another small village and are restricted to 50km/h riding. A very frustrating experience indeed.



Our destination today, has been the small island of Ibo, which lays an hour off the coast, as one of a series of islands running down northern Mocambique. The road, well down hill mud slide, was treacherous going for 70km to the coast. The sand had mixed with passing thunderstorms rains to provide us with the type of sinking sand you find at the beach inches from the waters edge.

You slip one way, then dive back over your handle bars the other, pulling pushing, fighting for control. I was beginning to enjoy myself and laughing at my dad almost about to fall ahead of me, when I suddenly realised that I was side onto the road and at a 45 degree angle, going down.



Experience stepped in and I was not about to get hurt this time. I leaped from my bike, like a young fledgling fleeing its nest for the first time, clearing it and landing knees first onto the mud, gliding over my open palms and shins. A little shake and walk soon burnt off the sting.



Right now, I am curled up under my mosquito net, huddled over my laptop, wondering how many sets of eyes there are peeking over the surrounding bamboo fence. Ibo, has been disappointing and felt very unwelcoming. I feel uneasy, as we lay like wounded young, in a prison compound like back garden, the owner having left for the evening, his gate, still wide open.

Lets hope I awake in the morning, still clutching to my belongings….

Jan 23 2008

“Second thoughts”

I am lying on my back, watching the sky darken, my hand held up to the cool breeze that flows through the mesh gauze in my tent. A low rhythm from a foreign samba like music plays against the crinkly leaves in the wind. The evening tonight is somehow cooler.

By six ‘o clock we were running for our tents, in a frenzied haste, to escape the dive bombing kamikaze mosquitoes, that fly over you like spilt salt, into every crevice, piercing the skin with needle precision.

It is no wonder though, as we are camped twenty feet from the mangrove swamps that enclose the shore line of this region. Our last few hours on Ibo Island this morning, were actually quite pleasantly surprising, after last nights naivety in declaring it an entire waste of time.



Roaming the sandy streets, we walked between limestone coloured rubble piles, some with walls, some with window framed spaces. All were entwined with thick green vines and plants, like that of a lost Amazonian tribe’s jungle temple, heavy and thick green trees growing in their back gardens.



Still the people seemed almost not interested in us. We both felt almost awkward, like trying to “make yourself at home” in a strangers house. Often our hellos were blanked. We were later told by an English local, that these people are simply not use to foreigners.
They are often very shy. Children even scampered away from us, at times crying as they did so.

The tourist population is still growing here. Little has been done to accommodate their needs and so it was perhaps a little more of a “traditional” experience, seeing the more honest reactions, the less “trained” responses from people.



Life flows in and out of work, as it revolves around the tide here. So our arrival back on the mainland at high tide meant that we are trapped between the sea and a large lake inlet that covers the only road out. So we must wait for the morning, and hope the rains have been kind to us…and the roads!





 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2009, 10:18:16 pm »
Jan 24 2008

“Adeus Mocambique”

Sadly, we have spent our last full day in Mocambique. A new language to learn, different people and a change of beer, hopefully, await us tomorrow in Tanzania.



I feel quite selfish at the prospect of simply moving onto a new country. A humbling awakening that arose whilst meeting local people here in Mocambique. It might not surprise you, but people here don’t even know what happens at the end of their own road.



To be on holiday just passing through, wanting to meet people and visit exotic places, always brought about a puzzle look on locals faces, like I just told them that the world was in fact flat and the rest of the planet was inhabited by aliens.



They understand their small provinces language, their absolute need to work, to fetch water and coconuts, and above all to just try and survive. The mood of these people has never before crossed my mind. There is a reason for that. They are simply plain faced, neither sad nor happy.

Two weeks, I hate to say it, has been enough. Perhaps because of our journey, the knowledge of a new country closing in. I am sad to leave Mocambique, but only as a visitor, not as someone who has seen a place he might come back to in the future.

Jan 25 2008

“Blinded by the light”

For a novice, riding in the dark, has been much like laying to next a women for the first time with the lights out. You know where all the good and bad bits should be but spend most of your time in the ‘middle’ ground, where your future success, lies in trembling hands that feel out the dark.



The government of Mocambqiue obviously have little interest in the welfare of foreign patrons departing their Tanzanian border posts. The outgoing road, or should I say motocross track, is jungle soil, that has been freshly chewed by the grazing jaws of a bull dozer. Following trucks have only added to the madness by mixing one part sand with one part water, then squelching, as if to make wine from grapes.



We managed only 155km of this riding in near twelve hours. This included a two hour ‘wait’ as a kind old lady filled out our much needed files of paperwork at the border post. She would fill in a slow perfectly handwritten sentence and then stop to gaze out the window, lifting her chin and raising an eyebrow, as if to say “Oh, the world is still out there”, before carrying on.

The "river" crossing into Tanzania








We finally left at 5:00pm with a storm a brewing. As our vision clouded with the falling dark, the world around us seemed to turn into their nightly Halloween setting. Motionless bodies hung on the dim light of small road side fires, stepping from the dark to hiss like spitting cobras as we passed.

The night fell hard to the ground, dark as sin. A galloping horsemen, his dark robes the face of the chasing storm, his reigns cracking violent lighting, sparking open the clouded heavens above. As if to say welcome to Tanzania, now leave.


26th Jan 2008

“Heavy guts”

The gathering storm finally caught up with us last night, while we eased our taste buds into Tanzanian flavours, sipping a Kilimanjaro beer, dining on pepper squid and chips.

Rain dripped through the ceiling onto our plastic chairs, while we sat in the local restaurant, outside the gutters flooding waves of water into the street. We ran back to our tents, cutting a path through the small river of raw sewage, human waste and other atrocities that flowed down the road.

After all, it is the rainy season here in Tanzania, someone told us this evening, as we sit again, with the rain dripping through our restaurant bars roof. I am attempting again the local dishes, my father has chosen not to.

Last night both of us awoke from our tents to tippy toe to the hotels toilet, as last nights squid emptied us of all possible bodily fluids. As my father said, “I could have killed a chicken at twenty yards”…need I say more?

We have therefore rested here in a small port town. Tomorrow we shall continue our journey northwards to Kilwa, where giant game fish hopefully await….

Jan 27 2008

“So, how will I sleep tonight?" - Ken Bateman

My tent was half pitched… I sort of leaned on it and the feelings overwhelmed me… I grew increasingly emotional as I gazed out over the paradise of Kilwa bay.



Africa has a way of stripping you out; Zack Edwards had said that to me. The dhows were coming in from their days fishing, the water glassy. They drifted over it effortlessly, the mangrove reflections silhouetting them. I just couldn’t get the horror of Ibo islands fort out of my mind. My body crawled with gooseflesh and I shivered every time I thought of the place.

I didn’t have a clue. I just couldn’t fathom the haunted, guarded looks of the people on this island, as I had wandered along its leafy avenues that had once been proud Portuguese boulevards….
.
I just couldn’t get it. The people were avoiding me for an unknown reason. The demonic, semi-voodoo performance of a kid on the beach as we arrived, that had maybe unsettled me. But it was there in the streets and almost hidden deep inside the populace, a kind of an atmosphere of guilt and sadness. Their attitude reflected the shallow concealing of a deep guarded secret, one “you-will-find-out-about, cause -we-cannot-forever- hide-it from-you” type attitude-but somehow deeper and stronger…such that you couldn’t grasp it or understand it…only because you had never known or been exposed to anything remotely like it….ever..….the people avoided me and eye contact with me…

I wandered on to the old Portuguese built fort at the northern end of the island …a bunch of silversmiths were at work in the cavernous dark hallways of the entrance …pretty spooky….tall thick walls…an upper level with cannons…..all rusty and old…looking over a beautiful bay…..I checked out the huge officers dining room and the kitchen and the other many smaller rooms for powder magazines and stores  and stuff…Then I saw the new bars in the old style windows and the newish thick wooden  doors and the broken glass on the parapets and slowly it all came home……
Ibo had been the capital of these territories during the civil war and this had been a civil war prison……this was where the good okes brought the bad okes to interrogate them and sort them out….African style….

The trucks used to arrive full of prisoners every week and leave empty…their bones lie buried in the islands soil and their flesh has fed the fishes…..
I realised this was not a nice place…after all it had been built by the Portuguese who took it from the islanders by force….there was a history of slave trading……but the horrors of what must have gone on in an African civil war prison…this is unimaginable in the civilised sane mind.

A kind of a feeling oozed through my pores and into the very marrow of my bones and has not left me since……evil and suffering and abuse have a cloying presence that is not washed away by the rising and falling of tides or blown away by the seven winds…..nor does it filter away with the sands of time….
It hangs and clings…..I leaned on my tent and gazed at the beautiful bay…….

I then saw the hard-core face of the maybe 6 year old girl in her traditional dress as she and her baby brother hid under the truck on the Zambezi ferry crossing……fiercely protective of him and herself. They had nothing. No ferry money. Nothing. Where were they going to and why?
And then….the captain of the ferry, when he found them, how kindly
 he took them to the shade of his cabin, like he was carrying eggs…

Man……where are they now……I thought… as I perused paradise…..

Africa was stripping me out……

And how will I sleep tonight?

The inside of the Mozambique we had ridden through is a hard place…..the scabs of the war have not yet formed scars……it shows on the maybe misunderstood or hostile or frightened faces of a people who are hungry all the time and thirsty half of it……I was glad to be through it and in Tanzania …which so far has felt better….

Then……tears welled in my eyes. that gazed out over the paradise of Kilwa bay……I had seen on the lovely ride here today from Mtwara, a small boy and girl carrying a bed on their heads together. He in the front under the bed with a panga in his hand and she to his rear….bed on her head…carrying a small basket of fruit….

Where could they be going and why? It was all getting a bit much…..the tears welled and I choked them back.

Africa was stripping me out…

And how will I sleep tonight…

So…I walked down to the golden sands of Kilwa bay and put my stuff down, donned my mask and snorkel and Michael and I dived amongst the tropical fish of the reef.
Iridescent blue wrasse…triggerfish…..clear  tropical water….I was under it….it enveloped me and I lay motionless in it……..
That seemed to take the edge off things a bit……



I wandered over to check out the different fish brought in by the dhows…I mixed in between the fisher folk of the village next to our campsite and saw some lovely fish…big fat red snapper and grouper…….everyone was happy and the fish were fetching good prices…The sand was warm and soft under my feet…the luke warm waves washed my ankles….

Then I saw  him down the beach….he came out of the bushes at a crouch and slithered up to the rock where I had left my shoes, he was maybe 20 yards away. He grabbed them and darted back into the bushes…quick as a snake…..
I yelled and bellowed….thief….thief…..hey…..hey…..and ran towards him…..
The folks on the beach all laughed and looked away as he vanished into the bushes…..
I ran to the campsite reception …..alerting a security guard on the way…..and bellowed and complained like a stuck pig…

Management and I headed for the beach and a few minutes later an entourage of camp staff brought a youth out of the bushes……they beat him up …..Properly….really properly….. and presented him for identification……jeez……these people are cruel and don’t mind hurting others….they really hit, kicked and punched him and at one stage took to this guy on the ground with sticks…..a normal man would be dead……me and mike walked away when one raised a rock the size of two soccer balls above the prostrate youths head,…..

Then they got my shoes back and stuffed him up again and brought him to me for judgment as whether to press charges or not…..I chose not to but asked for a priest or chief  if there was one present…..the best they could come up with was the thief’s brother who attended a mosque.

I asked that he see to it that the boy work for the mosque for 29 days…….they stuffed him up a bit more and then  he and his entourage left the campsite for their  village maybe  200 yards away from our campsite …other side a bamboo fence…

The security guards of our camp came out armed with .303 rifles and all dressed up…complete with epaulettes…..the manager of the camp assured us all is well…they will shoot any intruders tonight……I rewarded the guard who caught the thief with 5 dollars and we went to eat supper……a party seems to have started up in the village next-door….loud drumming and singing and chanting…a bit unsettling.

Now…..after supper I was a bit worried about walking back in the dark to our unlit campsite ….its 300 yards from reception and an armed guard lurked in the shadows….guarding my tent….looking for burglars to shoot…….
What if he mistook me for a thief?

But I need not have been in the slightest worried …..he was in the television lounge…next to the dining room…slouched in an easy chair….he’d fallen asleep watching the  African cup of nations soccer match between Nigeria and Ghana…. 

And I asked myself that question again…….

How will I sleep tonight?

Jan 27 2008

“Theft in Paradise”

I had left the Kilwa beach feeling the most content with life in a very long time. Our campsite overlooked the bay where we had snorkelled in clear water, eyeing luminous fish of all colours and now I was sipping a cold beer at the bar.



Then my dad came tearing into the bar, spitting white foam at the mouth, raging and cursing. He had watched a little boy, twenty feet from him, creep from the shore bushes and steal his shoes, one at a time, as bystanders watched and laughed as he screamed “THIEF THIEF!!”
   
Then all hell broke loose. The bar staff, gardeners, fishermen and even house wives came from everywhere to see what was happening. The security guard, who my dad had alerted, had caught this boy, empty handed, coming out of the wrong bush at the wrong time.

Then I saw a part of Africa that I have read about, and never wish to see ever again. The thief was no older than fourteen, and was being beaten like a rag doll. The ease, with which the staff and locals began to beat this boy, was putrid. His head was bouncing around amongst a swarm of fists, sticks and elbows. When one man scooped up a rock the width of a grown mans trunk, everyone screaming at the boy to show them the hidden shoes, I thought this was the end of this boy’s life.

If this was you or me, we would be still curled up in a ball, lying amongst the dirt, concussed. In the end the boy was sentenced, on the spot, by my father to work in the local Mosque for a month. As the boy was dragged away along the ground by his arm, the manager put it plainly, “Whether or not this happens my friend, is another story”.

And so, we creep to bed, along the gravel path that connects the bar with the camp area. Our security guards shadow plays against our tents as he lights up the area with his torch, .303 rifle strapped over his right arm. A sleepless night for us both, Im sure…

Jan 28 2008

“Fishing rewards…finally”

Paradise, simply does not explain this place. Our day has been fill of delicious food, world class snorkelling, quality fishing and cold beers…what more could a guy want?

After all of last night’s shenanigans, we were into the safety and comfort of the Kilwa Ruins Lodge. Today has simply been an absolutely perfect day for us. We awoke this morning to luxury. Fresh fruit juice, cooked eggs and all the joys we haven’t had for nearly a month.

We spent the morning fishing from a surf ski, drifting along the edge of a reef drop off, king fish and gar fish lurking below. My luck was still at home, after having nearly five hits but no takes. Then all hell broke loose from my dad at the front; “Yes, Yes, Yes!” comes the call from my dad…but it lasted no longer…Another good drilling by a king fish.



Between tides, we snorkelled the reef drop off, floating above an alien world of glow in the dark luminous fish. Turquoise blue, neon pink, deep purple and “Finding Nemo” type colonies just everywhere. And then we saw a deadly, deadly brother of the sea. The stone fish. Its poison has killed many fishermen who have been found swaying in the shore dump, corroding against the rocks. Needless to say, I stopped walking around and got into the ski.

Our last efforts of the evening saw my father hook and land a lovely “Green Spotted Kingfish” which has been just delicious, cooked by the house chef in a peri peri sauce.





I leave you with very little words to explain paradise. I can say, that this has made every sweaty, sticky, sandy night sleeping in a tent washed in rain storm water coated in human waste, worth it! Tomorrow, I hope to get my own back and hook a good sized Kingie!

Jan 29 2008

“A new species”

“Actually, I would rather just go fishing, I’m kinda sick of ruins and temples” my father told me as we headed out on a small tender boat to another guided tour of an ancient ruin.



Kilwa ruins represent some of the first Mosques, palaces and houses built by the Omanians who settled here nearly a thousand years ago. Their architectural design, from back then, still has the same oval scooped out roofs and prayer rooms with arch ways between pillars, that seem to make up a great deal of their design today.



After our tour, we thought it would be rude not to stop by the mangrove shoreline, with the high tide pushing up against its roots, to indulge in some light tackle spinning.
Well, the efforts paid off.

My father caught a “Torpedo Scad” and me a “Blue Fin Kingfish”. Both were a new species for each, and were caught on fly rod, which made the evening that more special.



Then we struck gold. A friend Noel, who is a South African small plane pilot, will be taking back a bag for us to S.A. Now when I say a bag, I mean a full 70 litre rucksack and two fishing rods. It is going to feel so great having all that less to haul around.



But all good things must come to an end, and tomorrow we are back with the rubber side down and will be for 350km to Dar Es Salaam, were we plan to hopefully buy some new tyres for the bikes…
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2009, 09:58:48 am »
Jan 30 2008

“A new time zone?”

There is an earthquake like open fracture of the earth, filled with ruts, deep crevices and high walls, that runs alongside the main tar road to Dar es Salaam. It is the old road north, left to be admired perhaps, but thankfully not used.

So yesterday, we discovered, whilst seeming a bit puzzled eating lunch at 11am that we have in fact “missed” a time zone. We figured out that we have been an hour behind everyone else for over a week now. And there we were thinking we were whimps going to bed at 6:30pm when in fact it was 7:30pm…

We have decided to not “play” on the streets of Dar yet and instead are again, it is getting harder each time (not), tented on a creamy white sand beach with green coconut shells drifting precariously above while the ocean is at our doorstep.

As we rode along today, the shading effect of the border area finally lost its grey tone, and true Tanzania was able to shine out to us free of Mozambiquian colours. There is room to breath here. The foliage has thinned. The bush floor has become less dense. Pastured fields, maize crops and water bedded low paddy areas are sunk into the ground in wide fields that sink below road level.



And the children, the children are back at school, and in force. They come running out at midday, all in bleached white shirts, with navy blue pants and long skirts, lining the streets like a festival, as they walk home to town. Some school names are traditional, like “Saint Matthews” but others are perhaps freer thinkers, like “Bright Angels.”



The battle on the streets of Dar begins tomorrow, where we aim to ascertain where tyres are sold, no doubt involving a series of broken English/charades lessons all over town. Such hard work, it’s making me thirsty, “One cold Kilimanjaro please sir…”


Jan 31 2008

“Doing business – Dar es Salaam style”

I feel like such a yuppie as the plastic chair I am sat on sinks into the sandy beach, metres from the shore line. I am overlooking the Tanzanian ocean, Zanzibar on the horizon, with my laptop outstretched and my satellite modem sat next to me, pitiful…I know.

But we have just reward, well a little, after we spent hours crawling round the maze like one way system in down town Dar es Salaam. Our mission was fairly simple, gather two new back tyres, money, and contact lens solution and try to get out…fast…

Well, after our second quick attempt at bending my exhaust, with the rope round the tree and the exhaust pipe method, little was accomplished. We gave out on the thing and decided breakfast was in need, Tanzanian style.



We dined on road side vendors foods, cooked mostly in oil over fires outside mud huts that almost melt into the side of the road they are so small.



We ate samoosa’s filled with potatoes, pancakes with honey and fresh bread with peanut butter. The pancakes were classed as chapattis but there texture was a soft fluffy warm one, sweet to the taste and perfect with honey.



Dar, was actually a great deal less “crazy” than I thought it would be. There is a certain manner to the chaos, cars actually adhere to stop signs and let you in from side roads. We bought two new tyres from “Tuk Tuk” store. They are made of Nylon and are from a blend of countries apparently…So who knows how long they will last. They will be firmly strapped to us for the next week or so…

This evening, once again, a light cooling breeze wraps off the sea, blowing into my tent. We have stuck to local food after this mornings tasting, and had Ugali (maize staple) with fried goat, peas and spinach, eaten all with our right hands, which was just an amazing meal. The total coast, with five beers for two people was less than R60 – crazy….


Ugali

Now to test the stomachs and hope that we don’t have to make any night time trips to the toilets….


Feb 1 2008

“Cape to Cairo Highway”

Today we fed ourselves, breakfast, lunch and dinner with drinks for under R20 each. That’s less than two English pounds, which is simply amazing. We have found our style, and it is local food all the way…

This morning we ate four pancakes with honey and drank a cup of warm sweet Chai tea. We dined sat huddled next to each other like school children as our knees bumped over the small wobbly wooden table. We sat and ate at our roadside eatery, watching the morning traffic pass by on the Cape to Cairo highway, as the locals call it.



Our journey has finally reached a dramatic change in its appearance. By mid afternoon, for the first time in weeks, we approached a mountain range. We chose to take a side road, after having not ridden on “enjoyable” dirt roads in a while, and began to climb high into the mountains.



Immediately, the scenery went from tar road highway freight train like trucks and suicidal overloaded minibuses to quaint hill side mud villages, with an eerie peace and tranquillity that caught me by complete surprise.

The road had been cut into the mountain side, like someone has sliced a ridge into the side of a block of butter. The hill above and below the road is mostly farm lands, the pickers working at a 45 degree slope to the ground.



Tea bushes lay green and dense against a deep brown earth, planted perfectly in their hundreds. Banana plants lay drooping their leaves against the road side, as jungle vines and thick ferns drench the scenery in green colour, making clear waterfalls stand out against the black rocky outcrops.



Children here were at times, petrified of us. We must look like horrid aliens. Metal bowls strapped to our heads, black goggles and masks over our faces, tubes sticking out of our mouths and all the time we roar like dying lions as we pass by. One young girl threw herself off the road, down a 70 degree angled rubble earth path and clung to a tree mid air as she fell. It is all too hectic to see their response sometimes. I felt embarrassed almost.



Feb 2 2008

“In Kilimanjaros shadow”

There was a haze of almost risen steam clouds that covered the dry cracked earth, sucking out any moisture from the day, the lifeless yellow bushes and light brown grass adding to the look of desolation. We had awoken true Africa…

“I should perhaps check my tyres over tonight” “How much fuel is there” “Quickly, lean over and check” “Man, that was a full taxi” – Thoughts that caught me day dreaming, when I suddenly felt a feeling of total calmness come over me.

The rushing wind in my helmet stopped. The vibrations on my handle bars eased. I could hear my engine clearly. Time slowed and I felt like I was in a bubble of pure bliss. Just me and the road.



Then, like I was attached to a dropping anchor, I began to be pulled to the right. The bubble, was an air pocket, an eddy of serenity, created by a 16 wheeler truck moving within four feet of me at 120km/h. As it passed, its wheels came into view and I was shocked as my “bubble” popped and I began hurtling toward these churning giants of rubber.

I reacted out of instinct, dove over my left hand and leaned hard on the foot peg, accelerating toward the outside yellow line. Within seconds I was reversing my course, hurtling back toward the truck, avoiding a collision with an oncoming bicyclist, a wooden bed frame strapped over his head and to his back carrier.



And so the day went, being tossed around like a crouton in a French salad, ping ponging from one side of the lane to the other. Luckily we managed to by pass Arusha, under the glorious view of Mt.Meru and are camped on the outskirts of town. The thunder from the freight trucks gently vibrates our pillows, letting us know, even at 3am at night, who is still king of the road.

Feb 3 2008


A Diversion for two “Muzungus”

Unfortunately, due to the current violence and general public reactions to the new political situation, we have pulled the plug on Kenya but not on Lake Victoria, and aim to reach our equator goal, either lakeside or through Uganda…



I am finding it hard for the first time to place the people of Tanzania. The countries beauty has astounded me today, just plain blown me away. But in amongst all this, stopping in numerous small towns, I have felt, well I have been, laughed at. It is difficult to deal with, being called Muzungu (white man) to your face; well it is something I have simply never experienced.

It is often not the friendliest of feelings, being laughed at by a group of strangers, knowing that they are doing so, and simply not being able to understand or speak back is highly frustrating. But I guess it comes with the territory…

Our dirt road simply deteriorated beyond belief today, and so we road along already human made sand side paths that divert off the main road. With the sand pushing at our wheels, the green flat top trees above, the open veld at our sides with its knee high wavy grass and thorn tress scratching at our jackets, I felt truly to be riding in Africa.



We stopped at one point to admire a group of giraffe, their dark yellow and brown peppered hides standing bright against the green bush, as their muscles pull tight slowly and their necks move forward, seeming to almost drag their legs and body behind.



Truly, this countries beauty is simply amazing. Every second of today I have wanted to stop, and just sit and watch. I would love to just follow their daily lives. Walk with the cattle boys as they herd through the veld. Admire the Masai up close, their red robes pulled over their shoulders, coin sized holes in their ear lobes and always a smile and a wave as we pass by. A place in Africa I shall definitely return to…

Feb 4 2008

“It’s an Muzungu thing”

We sat down to lunch today, in a house made entirely from mud, as two black pots sat atop coals, warming rice and kidney beans and chai tea. As with most of our meals, there is always a crowd of spectators watching us spoon our every mouthful.

Again, the Muzungu (white person) shrills and laughter as we arrived for lunch. I am beginning to see it as a joke, trying to just laugh with it. But when we were half way through our lunch today, and the price of our meal suddenly tripled, I was fed up.

Now with a group of thirty strangers crowded around you while you eat, touching your bike while some talk to you and you try to keep an eye on your bike, the others at your feet just staring, it can be very intimidating. So when I put the original amount of shillings in the ladies hand, refusing to pay anymore, this great crowd at my back, I felt the laughs, oohs and aahs grow louder and sturdier in their nearing approach.

The crowd were on there feet now supporting the lady. She was at my face and getting angry and I was giving it straight back. I held my ground. The principle is important here. If the price was set from the start, then no problem, but when it soars because of who we are, then that frustrates me to no end.



As I began to fix my helmet, the crowd moved again and the lady came to the opposite side of my bike. She then did something beyond belief. She began to make sexual connotations to me. Laughing and offering a price in dollars. I stood staring at her. This old lady, children and men all around us. I was speechless. Just plain speechless, shocked and appalled.

It left me with a horrible feeling of distrust and unliking. But most of all being ashamed.
To be treated in this way so boldly, in front of children, old men and women and to have them ALL laughing has just shocked my emotions completely. Why, why, why? Questions I would love answers to



Well the day ended with a cold Kilimanjaro, while we ate our diner at the Mwanza Yacht Club. Looking out over Lake Victoria, the sun was melting into her side, dressing her with an orange robe, lighting the boulders that line the lake like show pieces, crisp dark images of boys standing out against the evening sky…For now we were safe Muzungu's, settled in our cocoon of security guards and fences…



Feb 5 2008

“The road to Rubondo”

This morning I awoke like any other in the past month, folding over my fly sheet and staring into the sky to see what the day might hold. But by mid-afternoon, the ordinary had changed and the reality of our whole journey came to life.

Our morning was spent pacing one road at a time through Mwanza, being shepherded through its one way system by aggressive taxi horns as we attempted for the umpteenth time to go against the traffic.



We had arranged with the parks board to accommodate us for four days out at Rubondo Island, which lies in the very bottom south west of Lake Victoria, highly secluded, full of Nile Perch fish and visited by few. As nice as it all sounds, it required a crack Navy seal team to reach it, such was the extent of a mission to get there.

A 30 minute crossing on a public ferry is followed by 90km of riding over a road resembling the ridges of a corrugated tin roof, which won’t allow your bike to travel faster than 40km/h, let alone keep your fillings in place for very long.





You must then ride for 60km, through beautiful tediously slow countryside, picking out giant pot holes, filtering around, between and under people on bicycles, running school children and roaming animals, all on a dirt road bordered by thick bush, so you have no idea what is on the road side, until you are on virtually on top of it. This was all the easy part!





Now, we had to come to some agreement on the price of our visit, with the parks “Rangers” who discuss matters with an Automatic rifle strapped over their shoulders, teetering with it like one might with a weathered toothpick.  With the price of dollars soaring, and everyone asking someone else the price of this and that, we just packed our bags and boarded our banana boat, hoping for the best.



It was then that I had to re-check myself and remember just exactly where it was I was going. “You are in the middle of the African continent.” “You are healthy, alive and young!”

As Rubondo Island emerged on the horizon, its green tangled jungles over flowing almost onto the lake, my father and I turned to each other, shook hands and smiled, I think realising for the first time the true extent of our journey and its meaning to us both…



Feb 6 2008

“The real Jurassic Park”

As my father pushed off our small fishing boat this morning, I looked back over the lake beach, toward our bungalow engrossed in towering jungle vines and palm trees, and felt without any doubt in mind, the most alive I have in my life…



Rubondo Island feels like our own personal Jurassic Park to explore. It is a constant source of pure beauty. As our boat paraded the shore line, the lake stretched on our one side to the horizon, bulging with elongated islands that are home to Nile crocodiles, hippos and an abundance of bird life.



The cliff faces have pin like hardy trees sticking out of them, with blanketed nests swaying in their tops, home to the satin white and brown feathered Fish Eagles that majestically float effortlessly along the cliff line, the one calling to their mate, as the pair then bank and glide past our boat, turning their bellies side on to show off their plumage, flying boldly as true wild African animals, always in control.

The light shines down through the jungle foliage that creeps and hangs over the cliff base; dark brown water lapping at the boulders that create a dark shadowy passageway of tunnels below the horizontal hanging trees. This corridor made from natural necessity provides a resting spot for cactus green lizards baking in the precious spotlights of sunlight, otters as black as the depths of the lake and white Egrets and numerous Cormorants that pepper the lake surface, stretching their necks to feed on the tad pole sized fish.



We sat watching this natural wildlife “movie” play itself out in front of us all morning, as we fished standing upright in our boat, our mirror reflections glittering on the glassy lake surface. What lurks below the surface here is just as wild as what lurks above.



We landed three Nile perch, the largest at an estimated 20kg, which did not even lift an eyebrow or raise a small amount of interest from the ranger who filleted them. This was small fry; the largest here is a catch of 108kg, which is a fish longer than the average human body and twice as wide.

It's heavy!



This is a wild place, inhabited by gun wielding rangers who fight poachers by night and fillet fish by day and equally wild animals that clumsily crawl along your bungalow porch at night, alerting you to just how little space there is between you and them…



« Last Edit: April 26, 2009, 11:00:00 am by mikeb8man »
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2009, 10:31:54 am »
Feb 7 2008

“Life on Lake Victoria”

I can feel the day’s heat that has been absorbed into the concrete seats that look out over the grey horizon of Lake Victoria. Swamp grass grows at my feet and to within a metre of the shore, allowing a strip of beach to stretch across the bay, while a solemn single palm tree sticks out against the dimming sky, composing the perfect evening.



As we pulled off the luxury of heavy blankets and slid into our soggy fishing gear, the light in the east had already begun to shade a grey over the night and the parks rangers were walking up the shore, landing their evenings catch. There are islands on the lake here that are still inhabited, and thus as everywhere we have been, the immediate surroundings resources become depleted rapidly.





Each night, the rangers here round up at least five poachers. Not the gun wielding, helicopter kind, but the dug out canoe with a fishing hand line kind, who are simply doing all they can to survive. If there is an option to find food, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the treacherous paddle through the dark evenings shadowy waters, then they must try.



I thought about this as we trolled for the second morning, up and down the cliff faced point, and wondered how our “hunting” would go today. Perhaps I was relieved when all I caught was a view of my first Elephant, breakfasting on the lake shore driftwood, its grey giant shape perfectly placed against the natural canvas of the jungle backdrop.



Rubondo has parched me of a thirst for the misty jungles of the Congo, wild waterways of the Amazon and the Jurassic nature of the Galapagos Islands. I thought about all this as I palmed the crystal clear water lapping at my feet, gazing toward the navy top on the lake horizon, trying to understand the same deep yearning that controlled the minds of the early explorers on these waters so many years ago…







Feb 8 2008

“Kwaeli (Goodbye) Rubondo Island”

As our banana boat slid off the shores of Rubondo for the last time this morning, and the islands dark green presence on the horizon became lighter and lighter, I felt like we were ending something that had only just begun…



It had been a pleasure to stay on the island, meeting the few local villagers, Gregory the carpenter who was building a sitting area out of an old Dhow frame, Dotto our housekeeper who kept a constant source of Serengeti beer at hand and Simon our much needed manager who spoke the best English I have heard from a Tanzanian.





Honestly, I could have easily stayed here, exploring the islands open grass lands and jungle tracks on foot, learning a little Swahili each day, interacting with the locals; a true chance to blend in with a small humble community.





We have half jump started back into the rhythm of riding this afternoon, reaching only 200km down the road, in what felt a stiff wobbly ride. Perhaps because we were being chased by a building storm, its colour that of a swelling deep blue bruise, towering above our heads, just out of view.



We limped into a small road side village; it seems made out of necessity for truckers to have a place to stay. A walk through the one street of the town found us dodging old used corn cobs being hurled by rival gangs of children battling for their muddy cow shit infested territories, their paper thin flip flops their only layer of protection from the shrapnel of metal spreading out from the bicycle repair shop.

It would not surprise me if the bicycle business was the largest growing industry in Africa. One man quoted me less than $100 (R700) for a brand new bike with carrier shipped from China.

I spent the last of the evening learning a few new words of Swahili from a local bar manager. His name is Lucas, he is 24, and is in Standard 7, the equivalent grade in a South African school of a child of around 14 years of age. He was the only one in a group of friends who could afford to go to secondary school.

I was happy to pay the R5 for my beer and fade away off the main street into the shadowy lanes between the mud huts lit by distant light from a single bulb and slide quietly into my guest house…

Feb 9 2008

“Bright and Dark”

One moment you have unimaginable beauty ahead of you that only true Africa could hold, and within an instant all of this could change and a cloudbank containing a forgotten dark venomous poison flows into these people, shrouding their land, and bright turns to dark. This, is Africa….

“Bright”

Looking out over a wide bowl shaped valley, a single brown serpent like river pushes its head up through the flat plains. A shingle dirt path lies beneath; the grass is tall at your sides, the light filtering between each dew soaked blade as you ride through dancing beams of golden rays. The shadow of a flat top tree lays etched on the road ahead, a kaleidoscope of colourful butterflies dance in the trees broken frames of light. The air is saturated with the morning’s cool moisture; it is cold but fresh against your lungs. Atop the next hill, your sight follows the same serpent river, the grassy plains, flat top trees and you smile, knowing there is more and more and more. This, is Africa…





“Dark”

A stale drift of grey smoke hangs over the border post, trapping an old atmosphere beneath it, one that rots with decay from years of abuse. Putrid mucus green waste has created its own gutter down the sides of the street. Luminous eyes creep from the dark alleys, their bodies of scavengers crawling to the kill, teeth yellow from their vile breath. One latches onto you, pulling you along behind a rusty trailer, through puddles of decaying matter, to a concrete prison. The officer inside beats on a child heavily, the dull thumps vibrate through the cell bars. The child slumps below a faded poster stating “Offenders have rights too, protect them”. You gather a smile for the officer as he lurches over to sign your border papers. This, is Africa….



Feb 10 2008

“Uganda and the Equator”

We are here! Finally we are here! The half way point has been reached, the totally unfathomable before, has been conquered. We are half way up the entire continent of Africa, something I just can’t believe…



Last night, as the settling dusk enveloped around us like a laying mist, we limped into a home away from home backpackers, its dorm empty but still full of life. We had a glorious home cooked meal and fell into bed content with a late evening crossing into Uganda.

As we awoke this morning, gathering dark clouds versed with thunder and chorused with trumpeting rain, rain that almost stood straight up, its white walls were so thick. As lightning licked the underlying layer of clouds above, we were forced off the road and into the shade of a petrol stations vehicle garage. We sat peering out over the road, cursing the sight of rain, as we knew the days riding was to be a very special one.

Finally we were underway after an hours wait. I refused to miss the scenery of Uganda and ripped my goggles forward over my mouth piece on my helmet, and as I did so, the sky began to clear. We started our climb up one hill, higher and higher, and then suddenly the rain stopped, and my jaw dropped from its place.



In an instant, literally rounding one corner, Uganda’s landscape overpowered anything I have seen on this trip or before. The land is saturated to over flowing with colour, deep ivy greens of the hills of tea plantations rising through the valley mist and rich black browns of the clay mud brick ovens that line the road side, coal being made in their interiors.



In the late afternoon though, we reached our goal. Our descent from the lush hills brought up the flat, open valley of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. As far left and right as the eye can see, lies a low grass and shrub land, scattered lakes, and brimming with animals.

In the dying light, we came across, by complete surprise as we had not looked at a map in a while, the Equator line. I am glad we reached it here, alone and without the tourist crowds and haggling touts.



I was happy to enjoy the moment together with my father. We have made it there, now to somehow turn around and go back!

Feb 11 2008

“Ugandan Rains”

A Jimi Hendrix blues number plays softly, as I lean against my creamy yellow motel room wall, legs outstretched across my bed. My feet hang in the air, an unattractive white wrinkly mess, weeping moisture from spending the day underwater in my riding boots.



An obtrusive loud American candy pop DJ woke me throughout the night, bellowing music from a cheap stereo in our motels bar, making the irritably hot and uncomfortable room unbearable. I gave up around 6:00am and gasped outside for fresh air, straining through one eye, peering into the breaking light. I swore blindly that I would never drink cheap African beer again. I was hung-over, mosquito bitten and itchy with the heat rubbing on my skin…it was going to be a long day.



A concoction of kidney beans and diced chapattis washed down with a cup of strong black chai tea, we have nicknamed “Commando” eased my thumping head ached and we officially began the long journey back home.



Our southing course through Kibale National Park was on a hardened clay road enclosed but for a small passage of light by 80 feet high trees wrapped in jungle vines, moss beds lining their roots at the road side. We stopped at one point to admire a rainbow coloured cloud bank of butterflies, all dining on a squashed fruit on the ground.





As we left the park, we ventured high into the Ugandan tea plantain hills, and met a few of the leaf pickers. Always they want you to photograph them, which is so easy when their tea fields are a playground of National Geographic cover shots. Something they were startled at when we commented on their countries beauty. One man turned around and glanced out over his plantation, looked back at us and smiled, as if to say “It is isn’t it”





I jinxed our day though when I asked one of the pickers if he thought it would rain. He said no. He was wrong. Badly wrong. Put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wall paper in my room peeled over night the air in here is so full of moisture…



Feb 12 2008

“A thing with bicycles” – Ken Bateman 

I must have been about 10 years old when I had my first proper bicycle crash.
I was racing down the steep part of Van Niekerk Street as fast as my BSA golden de luxe 3-speed could carry me….you see……. I’d been up at the Scala café taking part in the coca cola yo-yo competition and had won 5 or 6 cokes and had drunk them all straight away.
So, now I had to get home quickly ‘cause I was busting for a piss.
I spotted the big fat nanny when she still quite far ahead of me…. She was dressed to the nines….. huffing and puffing her way up the hill…..but she was crossing the road I had to turn into….
She went left….I went left……I went right …..she went right……she went left…I went left and BANG….I  smacked straight into her…….and we both went down….me and my BSA golden de luxe 3 speed and the big fat nanny went spinning across the tarmac of Van Niekerk Street.

Before I had time to start to cry or to get up or to even think of  about damage to my bike she was upon me….she really laid into me….she lambasted me with her handbag from the left and from the right….all the time cursing me in Xhosa at the top of her lungs…
She beat the living daylights out of me before I managed to pick myself and my bike up and to make an escape. The beating I took from the nanny was far worse than the cuts and grazes from the tumble on the tar.

On our travels through Tanzania we must pass two or three hundred bicycles a day.
I treat them with absolute caution…..I don’t want another thing with a bicycle.
They are mostly a type of a ‘dikwiel’….of Chinese origin and called a phoenix……they cost R600/700 brand new. You see the frailest of people pedalling them up the steepest hills.

I’ve seen them carrying the most amazing loads….400 bananas…..150 pineapples….6 cases of beers…100 kg of charcoal…..even a double bed frame…  and sometimes up to 3 people. I saw 2 Massai men in their red blankets carrying spears on one…..the passenger had sunglasses on and was chatting on his cell phone while his mate pedalled furiously. An entire roadside industry and profession exists around the maintenance and repair of these fleets of bicycles.



Then, while riding along the red clay roads through the Rubondo forest to the island,  I spied a group of 5 bikes with passengers ahead of me…..they somehow seemed of common purpose…..
As I came up behind them on a steepening downhill I observed that each young fellow had a smartly dressed girl sitting side saddle on the carrier behind him……and that each girl held a live chicken on her lap.
The downhill steepened as I passed the tail enders and as I passed number three I realised  that these guys were actually racing each other……
HEY……I thought to myself…I’ve stumbled upon the Rubondo –girl with chicken-downhill world championships….
I drew level with number two and he wouldn’t give way…..this is crazy…I thought …..  as I glanced at the speedo……we were doing 48 km per hour….bear in mind we were on wet red clay forest roads.
As I passed him I thought……jeez…wish I’d known about this….I’d have found a girl and a chicken some where…..this is great…..I’d dig to give these guys a go….

Then I came up behind the leader….this guy was bent forward over the bars….elbows raised and…… man …….was he focussed…really going for it…...the Louwrens Mahoney of the Rubondo downhill scene…!

Then from somewhere some sort of a sick thought came into my head……
I wonder if I can get this girl perched on the carrier to wave at me with her chicken…..
That would be a first……girl on bicycle waves at motorbike man with her chicken…..
I drew level with her…bear in mind she was riding side-saddle so she faced me…. And she was only 3 or 4 feet away from me….so I took my hand off the bars and waved vigorously at her……
 
Then……To my absolute amazement…she hung onto the chicken in her lap with her right hand but loosed the grip that she had on the carrier with her left hand and returned my wave with that one…
all the while giving me the most lovely smile….
I  couldn’t believe what I was seeing……..she was riding untethered side-saddle pillion on a dikwiel bicycle travelling at nearly 50km per hour on a slippery red clay forest road while holding her live chicken in her lap and waving at me………
I backed off and let her champion have the day…...
‘cause then I realised ….. boet….you way out of your league……..

Feb 12 2008

“We don’t want to leave”

I am sat at the end of a wooden jetty, my feet dangling above the lakes surface, a glimmer running a purple pink mirage of water paints out across the water as grass reeds sway to the rhythm of the frogs.

My tent door opens up onto a short cut grass bank, its front garden bed filled with roses, lilies and cacti. Beyond that, the muddy bank side’s reeds grow tall out of the water with Weaver nests bobbing their heavy ends as they twine together their homes, their plumage a bright yellow with black.





We have reached the shores of lakes Bonyani as our last stop here in Uganda. The bikes are in need of some tender care and perhaps so are we. Being forced off the road onto a two feet wide gravel ditch at 60km/h by an overtaking twenty wheeler truck twice a day is enough for any persons head to handle. Yet the further we delve into the people’s lives and their surroundings here, the harder it is to leave.



Gazing out over a perfect valley at midday, my father spelt out my thoughts clearer than I could ever,
 
“The endless natural beauty and wonderfully friendly hospitable people of Uganda, creates a feeling that plumbs the depths of a mans soul, changing it to blotting paper, that sadly can not absorb the bounty that surrounds him.”

We came for one night, and this is now our fourth…



« Last Edit: April 26, 2009, 11:01:34 am by mikeb8man »
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2009, 10:58:02 am »
Feb 13 2008

“As it is in Uganda”

I had two hosts today that led me through their village atop Lake Bunyoni, down the slanted alleys that run between their mud houses, into people’s homes and business’s. I felt safe and at home in this tiny village, and delved into learning about Ugandan life.



I ate Irish potatoes with ground peanut sauce, cooked by a mother in a silver dish over a round coal fire. We ate in her establishment, a pigmy sized mud building, the floor higher by a foot in one corner. We sat on wooden benches that allowed your knees to tower over your meal as the table was as low it was. The outside light shone through the low doorway into one back corner of the small room, allowing us enough light to joke and laugh in this shadowy cellar.



While we ate, an old man in an identical room to ours, crouched over his Singer replica sewing machine, the spreading dusk creating only black and white distinctions across his body and trembling hands as he fingered the ripped cotton on my shirt, mending with perfection.



Uganda has little petty theft, no rape and no murder, my friends assured me. They can walk the streets in the cities at all hours and feel safe. They are comparatively well educated, learning English amongst other subjects from the age of seven till twelve, as free education from the government. This shows as their English was superb. They pay however for further education from aged twelve, which extends until they are twenty one, before they can apply for University.

I left my new friends, feeling very content with the evening, to their evening ritual of MTV’s Top Ten videos. It starts at 8:00pm apparently. They watch it at one of the local guest houses. One popular Ugandan activity I chose not to indulge in…

Feb 14 2008

“Homeward bound”

As if to add to the unique style and ease of Ugandan life, we crept out a quite “back door” border post in the lazy afternoon heat today, entering Tanzania in the exact opposite corner of the country to where we entered.

We had spent two blissful days on the shores of Lake Bunyoni, staying with the most honest and genuinely great host we have had the pleasure to meet in a long time. “Kalebas” is owned by Bas, who is one of a mixed blend of foreigners out here running their businesses in this area.



We spent most of last night drinking and discussing the virtues of life in Africa. Bas is about to set up a charity for orphaned children whose parents have died of Aids and have little future ahead of them, a common problem in Africa. I asked him his opinion on the state of the numerous “charities” being set up by local business men who advertise the selling of handicrafts made by these very orphaned children, so that they may raise funds for these children’s education.

I had felt very weary when being shown school children’s papers and being pushed to buy factory looking made papyrus products, similar to the other three different entrepreneur’s products I had been shown earlier that day in one small village and questioned their genuineness.

I felt their intentions to be beyond simple charity objectives. We came to agree that the locals were very good at copying the foreigner’s new business’s which was important for their development, especially in tourism, but perhaps their intentions at times with regards to the charity initiatives were sketchy.

We could not leave this morning without purchasing two of Bas’ masks, which were part of his amazing collection of indigenous wood and rock carvings from parts of the Congo, Sudan and Uganda, that dated back to the 30’s and 40’s. A souvenir that will have many a tale to tell one day I am sure.







Upon entering Tanzania in the dropping afternoon sun, we crawled along an almost jungle trekking trail, such was the state of the road and surrounding banana trees, grass’s and plants. As the road climbed steeply, my ears began to pop with the pressure and the “sharp bend” road signs, led us high onto a ridge. We paused and gazed into the Tanzanian plateaus, wide plains and arid veld, the sun shaping our long shadows, father and son, about to begin the journey south…the journey home.



Feb 15 2008

“V-day plus one” By Ken Bateman    16th Feb


We’d spent the night in a scuzzy roadside hotel, The Great Western Lodge, where everything was broken and no one spoke English. It was the only lodging place in the village and we had stopped there the previous evening cause it was getting late and we were exhausted after the day’s lovely long hard ride through lower Uganda and over the border.

We were in deep rural north western Tanzania near the Congolese and Ugandan borders. I’d had very little sleep, my room stank of Africa and the wafts of fresh and stale sewage permeated from the cavernous dark hole-in-the ground toilet attached thereto. There had been a Valentines Day party going on in the lodge, everyone was drunk and un-friendly, and the music was loud and terrible and people kept trying to open my door all-night long. They were banging and shouting some unintelligible stuff, screaming and yelling and shouting and the couple in the next door room were having their own jolly good valentines day party, really going at it, and for far longer than was decent.
.
Eventually Morning had broken…

Outside in the car park I found the smiling Ak47 armed guard that had sat next to my bike all night long, “Welcome” “Welcome,” he said. I was pre-dawn ready to hit the road, the  R21.50 we’d paid for bed included breakfast and we sat down to luke warm oily boiled goat in milk and ground-nut juice, .all heaped over boiled cassava,
I nearly puked at the first mouthful.

As we were leaving the proprietor warned us that our journey was a risky one, he didn’t specify and we didn’t ask. We got ready to leave and did our early morning checking at the map and GPS.

“Where are we?” I asked mike.
“Dunno” he replied, “this towns not on the map.”
“Where are we going? I asked
“Dunno” he said “this roads not on the map either”
Neither the road nor the town were on the GPS. We knew we would be travelling southward adjacent to the Congolese, Rwanda and Burundi border, but we really didn’t have much choice as where to go to anyway. There was only one road in that village; and both us and it were going the same way, south. So we set off

We stopped in the crispy early early morning on a red mud Tanzanian road overlooking a valley where the filmy mist hung among the banana trees that filled valleys which stretched as far as the eye could see. I gazed encaptured as the first rosy feathered fingers of dawns early light crept over the distant gold rimmed hills and inch wormed their ways into the mist filled emerald green bowls below. A panorama too beautiful to accurately describe with words, this vision mutated to a feeling that goose pimpled over my skin, choked at my throat and squeezed red hot tears from my eyes.
Africa has a way of squeezing you in places you never knew were there.

We rode for km after km along perfect red gravel roads lined by acacia trees and tall grasses, strangely I remember thinking there was absent the population that had prevailed all along these rural byways. That morning we travelled roads and enjoyed riding that could best be described as an adventurer riders dream come true. Beautiful wonderful lovely great and fantastic. We soared through mile after mile of perfect riding terrain and over the hills and down the valleys of Africa’s glorious heartland.

We passed through a police checkpoint; the copper waved us through from 200 yards away. On we rode. Next police checkpoint, the second one, we met a big tough policeman called Abdul who was friendly and chatty and waved us on, he and his four buddies all carried automatic rifles.

On we rode; we’d done about 200 km now since crossing the border.

It started to get stormy and to rain, so we stopped to put on our bad-weather gear.
The road turned to red slushy slippery porridge and we rode on a surface best described as glass covered slime that slowed us to about 20km per hour. At the beginning of a mountain pass descent, a trucker, only the 2nd vehicle we’d seen all day flashed us down and waved insistently at our approach. He was gesticulating wildly, he shouted from his window in Swahili “Danger!  Danger!  Danger!” and pointing in the direction from which he had come.

Next to the truck was a road sign that meant steep downhill, one of those truck on a half triangle things facing downwards. “This blokes never ridden cortinas crack in the Transkei with Mike Glover,” I thought to myself, and anyway “that’s the way I like it, it’s a highway.”
Anyway I’m immortal.

So off we went, slowly and carefully on these heavily laden bikes, down the steep winding muddy rock strewn road into and through the valley below. I remember there was a small very narrow bridge over a fast flowing flooding river in the bottom of the valley, the road wasn’t any more hectic than the one’s we’d been riding all day, I was happy. This lovely riding carried on for another 60km or so, with more rain, all at about 20kph.

We must have been 30 km from the tar road when we got to the last police check point, and it was starting to get a bit late by now. I was amazed to see this third checkpoint, but unfazed. These guys had all been really polite and friendly. I was how ever unprepared for what followed.
I stopped at the barrier, Michael behind me, the main guy and three other guys, all armed with Chinese made automatic rifles with fixed bayonets, stared at us from the plastic chairs they were seated on. No-body moved for about half a minute.

Then the big guy ambled over and shouted at me, “Where are you coming from?”
“Uganda,” I said.
“Where are you going?” he bellowed.
“Malawi,” I said.
“How did you get here?” he yelled.
“Along this road,” I said, impatiently, as there was no other way.
Then he shouted at me, “Take off your helmet to talk to me!”
“Ok, ok” I said.

I was taken aback because, as I said, these guys had always been really polite and nice
“Where is your escort?” he was shouting angrily.
“I have no escort, what escort? I replied.
“Did they not give you an escort at the last checkpoint?” “There are bandits here where you have come and they are sacrificing many people here, they will want your motorcycle and your clothes,” he screamed at me. Shocked and confused I thought for a moment there that he was going to send me back.

I was really shocked, he was really cross, the conversation continued but I cant remember it. It seemed that as how we’d made it through that there was nothing more to be done so he sent us off on our way. As we left he said what most Tanzanians say when you see them or leave them. “Welcome, Welcome, You are welcome.”

“Hey,” I thought, this is no place for a city boy. We were really just two very naive white boy’s way way out of our comfort zone. No matter how laterally you think and a very long way from home. Not only did no-body know where we were, but we didn’t even know where we were.

Bandit Lands
.
So, on we pushed to the next village, about 70 km away. “Jeez” I thought, as we passed four cops on scramblers wearing bullet proof vests and armed to the teeth with machine gun, “I’d rather be lying on my bed eating nik-naks and watching fashion T.V.”

So, in the gathering darkness we get to Nyakanasi village. It’s a kind of stop-over border town populated by refugees from the Congo and Uganda and with desperados, prostitutes and bandits and refuse and poverty all imbedded in this red Tanzanian mud ghetto, and shadowy alleyways and falling down shanty shops lit by low paraffin flames, blaring boom-boom music from broken speakers. The flash of welders torches and the fumes from diesel engine’s barely running, while drunken semi-human forms stagger along through potholed smoke filled soggy mud pathways known only to them whom by divine misfortune or Gods saving grace have been cast here. Then, the manageress of the new nyakanasi hotel, finest establishment for 100 miles, sidles up to me and strokes my arm and says, “ooh, ooh, mzungu, mzungu, I like you, give me money.”

She was young and genuinely attractive or even beautiful in her cheap dirty Chinese embroidered clothes, a sort of patterned ivory colour pants-suit. She had a colourful blue wrap-around thing as well, but she was properly squint and she kept changing the eye that looked at me. I couldn’t follow her and she was also a bit mad when she chose to be. She had a bad scar down her cheek that detracted from her otherwise noble, even beautiful features, and when she moved away from me and her shoulder fell bare of her top it exposed a long wide scar  that ran down her back and forward into her ribs, which by its stretched  and spread appearance, had never received medical attention.

I got the room on the street in the front part of the new Nyakanasi hotel, R16.50 with a sheet and blanket. The welded steel bars on the window were half an inch thick and the door locked from the inside and the outside and what worried me most was that right outside my door was the hotels collection of paraffin drums and lamps. Inside my room hung the haphazard wiring that sporadically provided electricity to one very weak yellow light.

An armed guard sat behind a desk in the foyer outside my door, the front door of this prime establishment, facing onto the highway, was of rusty steel plates with big bolts.
We pushed our bikes up the front steps using two planks and a rock, past the guard, and down a corridor  and into the filthy courtyard amongst the water drums and cooking fires and washing lines, just outside the communal hole-in–the-ground toilet and washroom. We leaned them against the walls of the other inward facing rooms.



Steel doors with spikes atop enclosed this courtyard. A small kind Tanzanian lady travelling with her husband offered to cook for us over a charcoal fire in the courtyard between the toilets and water drums and we sent her off to the village for rice, beans, tomatoes, onions and beef to make a stew, all for less than 3 dollars. She whipped up a feast on the small charcoal brazier in her odd collection of battered pots and pans and we ate on the veranda next to the road and I had a bad argument with another prostitute who tried to short change me of R2 for a beer I bought from her.
 
I tried to sleep, with the noise of the road, a blaring nearby radio next door that never let off all night, squabbling whores and punters, and truckers that stopped outside and argued violently by my barred window before lying down on the veranda just outside to snore and sleep for about 2 hours before taking off again. My bed broke in the middle as I sat on it, at about the place where the girls bum goes, the point of punch so to speak. I lifted the mattress to fix it and found a lattice work of cardboard and planking that would defy the ingenuity of an Egyptian pyramid engineer. If it weren’t for my off-road experience I’d never have figured it out. I fixed it.

So, with the stink of Africa in my mattress and the stench of fresh human sewage, wood smoke and paraffin strong in my nostrils amongst the blaring radio and arguing truckers on the veranda I pushed my earplugs in deeper, wrapped my kop torch around my left wrist, gripped my tyre lever in my right fist and laid my head on my riding jacket and closed my eyes.

With a prayer on my lips I shut off v-day plus one, for a couple of hours. 

Feb 16 2008

“A united Tanzania”

As a crowd of passing public huddled around an assembly of plastic chairs in our hotel courtyard, their faces lighting up with the intermittent glow from the security mounted television on the wall, the arrival of George Bush and his entourage at Dar es Salaam airport, played out live on the news for all to see.

All I could understand from a few locals was that he was here to unite with Tanzania to provide financial support and aid to the country. I got bored during the second verse of the American national anthem, and went to decide the fate of our diner.

Its carcass hung by wire against a mesh window netting in a makeshift filthy kitchen. What worried me was the fact that it took me a few close glances to identify whether it was either a darker than normal piece of beef changing colour in the shining moon light or chicken crawling with black flies. I gulped hard and said yes to the only choice, roasted chicken (minus the flies), Ugali (maize staple) and a banana for desert.



I felt decidedly nervous today after yesterday’s escapade with the bandit lands, especially after being informed last night from a friend that our chosen route today, was just as serious a “bandit area”. This made both of us very weary, and every blob that formed on the horizon, we analysed thoroughly and approached cautiously. Each time though, it turned out to be a harmless man with his goat on a lead or children herding their cattle.





As we rode this afternoon on fresh tarmac, the police check points became fewer and fewer and we are now officially in a safe zone. Tomorrow we head to Dodoma, where we shall prepare for a full day on Monday of shopping for new front tyres….



 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2009, 11:45:43 am »
Feb 17 2008

“Mudslide blues”

Imagine a perfectly normal gravel road passing through the remote African bush. Now picture gallons of chocolate milkshake looking mud being poured over the top of it, so a creamy froth layer of slush settles over it…



This is what we had to ride through today. This frothy layer, would congeal in caramel like thick rows, crusty on the outside but gooey on the inside. If your wheel touched this, then it would be thrown from side to side, like a bull dog wrestling with his chew toy, your back wheel being the chew toy.



In amongst all this, there were swimming pool sized pot holes full of muddy water, hurtling passenger buses and twenty wheeler trucks with a no-stop-for-no-one rule.  I was fortunate to have my dad as the guinea pig who would test the unknown depths of these pools. In one, his front tyre dove so deep I thought the whole bike would disappear.



Upon reaching the tarmac, and the last 80km to Dodoma, we both had to stop to knock out the mud that had sealed our back brakes shut. As we did, a man pushing bicycle, loaded with around 50 two feet long Catfish came past us. He was struggling with the weight, and we were both amazed at his catch, each one apparently valued at $2 each.
We then saw, stoned to the spot by locals probably, a dead hyena. Its body was the size of a donkey, gigantic proportions for an animal I always thought to be dog sized.



I am needless to say glad to be sleeping in a hotel, where the bikes have been put through their very first “hose pipe” wash and are sparkling with bravado. Now to just try and find some new tyres in this “gun town” looking city.



Feb 18 2008

"some of my best friends- ken bateman"

today we rode from dodoma to iringa.....we took the short cut again...but at least this time it was on the map and the gps.

we had been going for about 160 km and enjoying the very absolute best adventure riding that 2 little fella's could be privileged to have.

we were cruising along through semi-unpopulated rural tanzanian counrtyside .along good condition red clay roads .....still a bit damp from recent rains with a couple of potholes and a few mudholes here and there.



i was riding at about 60%...managing up to 70 km pper hour......and the loaded klr was purring along.

i was really enjoying the thrill of the ride and the countryside.....man was i styling......i was picking better lines than Alfie...i was smooth like Louwrens ard..and i was wild and brave as
Darryl......it was a Mike glover highway! i was riding with my heroes.

i even managed a few front-wheel-sideways through the mudhole things without shitting myself'.
i was loving life...cruising through a lush tropical forest high in the mountains.... along a lonely pass....overlooking a beautifull calm lake and i had turned to daydreaming...  of the iringa campsite  100km ahead where in my wildest imagination they'd be giving us free ice cold killlimanjaro beers while we sat on the banks of the river watching  the miss tanzania beauty contsetants taking their evening bathe in the  sunset lit pool below.......

this all happened very quickly
 i saw a telephone-pole in the road in front of me...i was coming up fast.....then the telephone pole began to move and the  front half of it reared up...the end part turned into a hood about a foot wide..... and as i sped past ...i looked  into its yellow eye and saw its little black tongue dart out......it was about a foot from my head and above me.....

when my heart and my brains   turned  from gooyey jelly back into flesh and blood ...and  i stopped shaking...
i thought to myself.....well.....some of my best friends are snakes.....
.there's zak edwards...the famous spy
    and   mike glover...who gave me this crazy idea
.. and john stevens whose birthday i share and thats coming up soon
.....and then i started daydreaming thinking again about those ice cold killimanjaros...
and stoodup on the pegs and opened the throttle.

Feb 19 2008

“Those okes?”

The okes in 4x4’s think the okes on motorbikes are just plain mad. The okes s on motorbikes, think the okes on bicycles have lost it. The okes on bicycles think the okes who run all the way, are just insane. But all of us, guaranteed, think the okes who stay at home, are truly the crazy ones.



As we rode past a pair of overland bicyclists today, I thought about this. “Are they bloody stupid?” Surely they must end up in the most horrible of small towns, with the deathly dark of night closing in around and nowhere to go. The trucks. They must get hurled around like a pin ball from those things. Then I thought hay, this is probably exactly what those two are thinking about us right now.



It is unfortunately our time to part ways with our chapatti and chai breakfasts, dabbling Swahili and warm Kilimanjaro beers of Tanzania, and move into a new country, Malawi.



We have pulled into the southern main port of Mbeya, where the suburbs stretch up to the base of its surrounding mountains, and a low cloud cover encloses the city in a valley mist that leaks through the forest covered hill sides, hanging there till dawn. It seems a 1950’s version of small city Cape Town.



Tomorrow Malawi awaits. What’s there? What we aim to do? What language do they speak? I have absolutely no idea, but that is the pure joy of this adventure. “We’ll just find out about it all when we get there” I keep telling my dad.

Feb 20 2008

“Asante (Thank you) Tanzania, no more”

Even though we never spoke of it, a rhythm of hesitation was part of our movements this morning, and we both knew it. We had dined in our last mud hut for chapatti’s and chai and said our last Swahili “thank you’s.” We left Tanzania with lead weighted hearts that have sunk to the very bottom of it all with, raw and exposed. 





“Enough” my dad said, gesturing with his hands, as a policeman said thank you to us for visiting his country. “I must leave Tanzania now with tears in my eyes” my father told him. And so we did, into Malawi customs.






But, we were in some way, fresh and ready for a new scene. You have to be. Border posts require you have to your lips pouting and alert, ready to kiss ass at no hesitation. In the end, the Malawian border post, was a pleasure. (Just to clarify, we did no ass kissing)



There were no visa fees for South Africans or British citizens and no secret last minute costs. Just insurance at $20 and vehicle import tax of $8. Bob’s your uncle; fanny’s your aunt, welcome to Malawi sir. Bonza!



Like any self respecting tourist, we have headed straight for the honey pot, Lake Malawi.
We had the luck of meeting a young man, Reynard, who laughed till he cried when I told him how much our hotel wanted to charge us for lunch. “It’s the race you know, white skin” “Yes,” I told him with open eyes and a nodding head. “I know!”



Reynard spoke flawless English, and took us on a tour of Karonga, where we ate a late afternoon lunch of kidney beans, rice and spinach. He pointed out to us how little Malawians there were here, and that when we journey south tomorrow we shall leave the bottle neck of northern Malawi and its natural osmosis with Tanzanian cultures and start to discover the real “Land of Flames.”





Feb 21 2008

“The JJ lifestyle”

If your young and listen to music, you probably already know what I’m talking about. If you have travelled a fair amount, then you might even be sick of it. For us, it is a “sweet” change from the norm and so refreshing.

By “JJ” of course I mean the Jack Johnson, easy going chilled out lifestyle. The lodge where we are staying is the epitome of it. Gap year students, volunteers and backpackers swarm like bees to the nectar around this place.

It is a village of wooden huts built into the shores of Lake Malawi that resembles a Peter Pan fairy tale of tree houses. A maze of moss covered stone steps leads a pathway that runs throughout the place, ending at the thatch roofed bar and decked seating area that hangs out over the emerald green crystal clear lake. Pasta’s, salsa, guacamole, steak and milkshakes run down the menu and Mick Jagger jams on the stereo to the rhythm of the shore waves.



The life that lies below the surface here is world renowned, and perhaps the real attraction for us, not that were complaining about the cold beer and steak. Palm sized fish glow electric purple with black stripes, blue stripes, pink blobs, yellow dots, white bodies and a turquoise shine. I hang in an imaginary sky dive position, parallel to the sea bed, eye to eye with these guys, as they check their reflection in my mask.





Our tents, mats, clothes and riding gear hangs in places from the tree braches, drying in the sun from today’s thunder showers. We had to cower in two separate family’s front porches on the roadside today, huddled out of the rain, fumbling friendly body language to the owners.





But now, to sit down to our strips of stir fried steak, pumpkin fritters and mashed potato and gravy, as “JJ” flows a laid back lifestyle through the air….

Feb 22 2008

Another perfect day in paradise”



I might have said this before, but drop it all, everything, and come live in this fairytale paradise with me for a second, and gaze upon the golden green water through a brushed aside curtain of branches, and marvel as a tube of light filters from above illuminating the bubblegum blue tropical fish just below the surface.



Last night, I kept my body awake after 9:00pm for the first time in over a month. A full moon party was the occasion, and we drank Mojito cocktails made with rum that smelt and tasted of gasoline till the early hours.



Needless to say, we dozed in hammocks between meals today, slumped like sloth’s on the lake shore, our slow movements due to the feast of flapjacks, bacon and eggs for breakfast, or was it the minestrone soup with fresh bread and avocado for lunch…I forget..



So, a fully furnished BBQ (braai) with all the trimmings seems to me not too bad a way to end another perfect day in paradise…don’t you?



Feb 23 2008

“Drifting slowly by”

As if Moses himself had just parted a way, perfect tarmac unrolled ahead of us, through a light blue cloudless sky, as we raced against approaching vertical walls of black envious atomic mushroom clouds that rose endlessly up on either side of us.

Out there runs the distant mountainous horizon, and the eye leads back over a grassy savannah plain scattered with natural lakes where the wild beasts come to drink in the morning still mist air. Closer still, the village mud huts begin to appear, set back from the high banks that steep off the road side.

Still the towering clouds move nearer and nearer, the head high grass that is set back from the tar by a pedestrian dirt walkway begins to sway briskly in the building winds. And life here goes on unfazed. There are no rain coats, simply a hat will do, and the reed roofed stalls selling food on the road side, have little or no plastic tarp to protect from the rain.

We arc and bank, back and forth, as the road moves inland then out, then suddenly the sharp anvil-like descent of the rain to the earth is upon us, we bunch our shoulders up and put chest to tank, trying to hide, but to little avail.

A clearing in the sky allows us to breakfast on sweet baked bread and tea by the roadside, the kindness and curiosity of the people infectious, so much so that one ends up deep in personal conversation in minutes.





We toss the dregs, say our goodbyes, and button just the two on our jackets, so that the sun warmed wind off the mountains can bake our clothes crisply, and we set again to the arc and bank of the tar, inland then out, spotting the distant horizon, the savannah plains and drinking lakes, then finally children’s faces peering from the roadside grasses, and feel warmed by the tea in our bellies and the beauty at our sides…





Feb 24 2008

“Make yourself at home”

A bright house with clean floors, electricity 24hrs, a fridge, cold milk, a lounge to relax in and hard chocolate to eat. All the norms that you are probably use to, but after fifty four days on the road, a home away from home is exactly what we need.

Our journey yesterday down the side of the lake left us at a quaint set of cottages, caravans and tents, spread out under a spacious forested area with lush grass growing right down to the lake beach. Here our tents lay on their sides this morning as they aired in the sunshine that swayed with the tree tops.



We had come to see a Chiclid farm; these small fish are dominant in the lake and had been the jesters for hours of entertainment in our last two days spent swimming and diving with them. The farm had hundreds of holding ponds, each with their own separate type and each fish is fed for two weeks after being caught before being shipped straight to customer’s fish tanks in Europe for R10 a Chiclid.





Yet as we pulled into Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, I was not thinking about tropical fish but instead the taste of kebabs, chicken and vegetables cooked over an open fire at a friends house. The streets in Lilongwe have been like no other major African city we have seen so far, they are fairly clean, have working traffic lights, which people obey, and their traffic flows. A blissful sight after Dar es Salaam and Arusha.

But oddly as I gorged on barbequed chicken, potatoes and salad, sat in borrowed sparkling clean board shorts and a surfer t-shirt, I snuck a glance as to not be rude, and gazed out over the city from the balcony, and thought about rice, beans and tea in a mud hut in some rainy deserted village and smiled as I knew I still had it coming… 
 

Offline JourneyMan

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2009, 12:08:05 pm »
Awesome report so far! One of the best. :thumleft:
He who angers you, controls you.
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2009, 12:24:12 pm »
Feb 25 2008

“Wheel ‘n Deal”

“Ok, so that chap wanted six grand a tyre, right?” “Yeah’ “No wait” “Five I think, but he wanted to buy our old back ones for seven a pop” “Ok,  but I thought that was the other guy at the end of town in that third shop we visited earlier behind that fifth place run by that old man…right?”

Confused? We certainly were. We were three white guys in an even whiter land rover, bounding and splashing through the afternoon storm waters that cascaded brown with the dirty earth through the equally flooded with people market alleys. We were after two new front tyres and were determined to find the cheapest price in Lilongwe.



One place we visited was an open scrap yard filled with hundreds of separate lines of chained tyres, each line hundreds long. As we pulled into the yard, a swarm of black faces appeared running at our vehicle. Now this I could handle, in fact I kind of enjoyed haggling from the safety of the land rover for tyres, that had all apparently fallen off the back of numerous trucks.



Satisfied with our hunt, we returned to the flat triumphant having bought two new front tyres of the same Nylon pencil thin quality we had bought in Dar es Salaam. That night, as we struggled to identify the origins of our Bolognese meat, some arguments in favour of goat or beef, I personally thought it was horse, we toasted to our days achievements and I personally felt like I had risen in the haggling skills department…

Feb 26 2008

“Zambian Heartache”

“$150?” “Are you serious?” “Ah, yes sir.” “You want me to pay you a $150 to enter your country?” He just smiled, and as I handed over the visa fee, he handed me today’s newspaper with a headline story of a British citizen complaining about the same thing to a tour company.

At least I am not the only one I thought. Alongside this, there was $15 for “Carbon emission tax” for our vehicles. I began to think that somehow the Zambian government are thinking about themselves and perhaps not some of the road side vendors who might depend on tourist business, because as sure as rice is white, the tourist industry is not going to be booming in the next few years at those prices.

All this only added to my building frustration that had its foundations concreted in a 5:30am wake up this morning. As I turned over from my side onto my back, I felt suddenly to be falling, before landing flat backed onto a carpet of furious red hot coals. I was horribly sunburnt, wrinkly tired at the eyes and had six hours of bike work in the battling sun ahead of me.



By midday we left our friends in Lilongwe, even more sunburnt, but with new back tyres on, spare front tyres strapped like oversize giant safety pins to our bags and only 150km to our camp site, where we now sit in the dark, talking to each others fading body outline, as we await dinner and the evening’s ration of electricity…

Feb 27 2008

“South to meet the Zambezi”

Looking out over an endless grey tarmac road, the faded yellow lines in its middle marking its straight course, it falls and rises in humps toward the horizon, its grassy edges becoming hazy and diluted by the absorbing heat.

This place is decrepit of life. A building bleached white as animal bones, concrete broken through in places; lays slumped in the shadows of a baobab tree, its appearance as old as its shadow bearer. The small pockets of life around it resemble classic dome clay hut groups, but of no purpose or sustenance other than for survival.

Few villagers bothered us when we veered off the main road to shade under a tree for thoughts of lunch, their town one of few made up of the row of small business on either side of this east west highway that scars across Zambia. The little traffic we encountered were piglets and goats as they dawdled unshepherded as we drove by.

As we rode the afternoon up, the sky billowed behind and overhead with blotched clouds of white that began to congeal as the earth curved away over the distant mountains, pooling the clouds silver like mercury, their trim purple, signifying the awakening of the afternoons approaching thunder storms.



The storm luckily has yet to arise, and merely thunders in the distance. Our forested bush camp is situated at the bottom of a bend in the Luangwa River, with Mozambique on its distant shore. The double decked lounge and seating area has a view that pans through gaps in the surrounding trees and looks out over the swirling river as it makes its way south to meet the Zambezi.



Feb 28 2008

“On the overland route”

As we left the Luangwa River behind us, we waved goodbye to an overland couple, the first real ones we had met. This afternoon we welcomed them again at the same campsite in Lusaka, 250km away. It seems that we have stumbled across the “Overland Highway.”



Different paths run different ways, but a popular route for touring the East Coast is through Botswana across into Malawi and then north. So when I sat down in a shopping centre car park, and ripped my teeth across a fresh piece of biltong, with a pint of juice in my other hand, I thought it brilliant to be back on the tourist road.

But still the Zambian rural areas lie quite and still as if haunted by an irregular past, which has left their people afraid to creep from their circular huts with single low slanted doorways, ducking under their thatch covered tops to explore the outside. We struggled to find an easy breakfast on the roadside, and had rumbling guts all the way to Lusaka.



We arrived with the mid-day heat pouring down from above, and so when thoughts of unloading bags and then having to pack on all that sweaty heavy riding gear and venture back into the thick unforgiving heat that dwells in any major city for new tyres, was unbearable for my father.

“Son, your time has come”
“Fetch two new tyres, and sell our already bought Nylon specials.”
“I’m off to the pool to read and drink beer, enjoy”

“Great! “
“Thanks dad!”

Four tyre places and two hours in an internet café left me with no new tyres, just our old ones, but a successful mission at the café. I rode back through the five pm traffic, almost bumping my knees on the taxi’s as I filtered between lanes, before opening onto the highway. Thumping my KLR into its highest gear, I began to chase the fanned out rays of light that coloured pink and purple against the cloudy sky, and returned to our overlander friends, for a feast of boerewors (sausage) and lamb chops….

Feb 29 2008

“Searching in a tyre heap”

Between Nairobi (Kenya) and Lusaka (Zambia), there is over 5000km of road; all part of the overlander highway, so there is bound to be tyre stockists somewhere…right? Standing in a rubbish heap behind a small warehouse, on the outskirts of Lusaka, my father handed me another sun perished worn motorcross tyre in disgust… if only we had known.



We now have one new nylon “delivery boy special” tyre which appears to almost snap every time I squeeze it with my strap onto my back luggage, and one old crumbly motorcross tyre worn flat from abuse on the Lusaka track.

So we now continue to struggle with the wobbling and precarious swaying of our original front tyres just to try and extend their life, before we have to use one of the two that hang like decaying animals to the back of our bikes.

Our journey south from Lusaka began at midday and so inevitably we struck the afternoon storms, so rife to Africa. With an artist’s pressed brush stroke, black on squinting white, the sky lay untouched but for a layer of deliberate mass, its connection to the wind savaged savannah plains below, a single piercing strike of violent cobalt light, a sledgehammer to the earth. Silence then erupts into a chorus of shattering thunder, I feel my front wheel shake and grip my hands tighter, squeezing the rain from my soaking gloves.

A “Home away from home” sign board draws us to the road side, and down a gravel driveway. The interior is of open brick work, brass ornaments on the wall, a shadowy dark hallway into a lounge lit only by dim light through closed thick curtains. I can only make out three blurred oversized shapes, all in a square shape.

We retreat down a second badly lit hallway and into a room, to lay warm and dry atop woolly winter blankets, and hug cups of tea while the rain outside ceases to a light peppering…




 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2009, 12:53:52 pm »
March 1 2008

“A bridge too far” – Part 1

“Excuse me sir” I said, as I gestured the old man over from his sitting position among the grass reeds. We had just passed through his village, the last before the deserted shores of Lake Kariba, and we now wanted to follow an unmarked road, parallel to the lake.

“Tell me please, this road here, does it go to Shinazongwe?” 
“Yes! Yes!” “This road it goes there”
“But boss, the bridge, she is washed away!”
“Washed away, what like completely?”
“Yes boss”
“How far is the bridge?”
“Some maybe 5km”
“You must go like this (he gestured a curving arc with his left hand) at last shop in village”

Left or right?

For the first time in almost two weeks, we were riding on back country dirt roads and loving every second of it. To get to this point where the man spoke to us, we had done some 80km, and were now fairly deep into the Zambian plains, the ones we had so eagerly admired on the horizon from the previous days tar riding.

The last “shop” in the village turned out to be a mud hut shaded by a baobab tree, underneath which ran an ancient looking track or path where the remnants of a road lurked. We both stopped to turn to each other. “You want in?” my dad said. “Damn straight I want in!” I replied. We had visions of Lake Kariba being a tourist hub of fishing lodges, ski boats and waterslides…we were badly wrong.

The road deteriorated dramatically in an instant, as it acted as a natural wash for the storm waters from all the rains. One side of the two single lanes made by previous trucks collapsed into a sludgy sand mix that bit hard to stop our tyres moving. Then it would harden into clay, yielded by the day’s heat, before banking so steeply you had to ride into another stream bed of watermelon shaped rocks.

We rode up and down through pebble covered river beds, the steep muddy banks crowded over by thorn bushes and trees, with only paths resembling walking trails as a route up. At times the actual ‘road’ became a single track path, the one side overgrown with grass, the other just impassable. Then we came upon the bridge.

End of the "road"

Its cheap concrete looking road extended out from our side for fifty metres before its end disappeared, a raging torrent of brown water severing it from the far bank side. Down river the water tossed and fought over rocks bulging on the surface in deadly rapids. Up river, a shadowy figure stepped from the jungle side, his bicycle over one shoulder, and began to lurch across the river, water up to his hip at times, his diagonal path suggesting a fast flowing current.

Severed bridge

“Ok, look here,” my dad said.
“The thing is, if we stuff up here, that’s it, the whole show is over”
“We are in no-mans land”
“No vehicle can reach us to help drag a bike from this river”
“There is no medical support”
“None! Anywhere”

“Yes ok, I understand”

“Ok, well its now midday, clouds are gathering, and it is only going to get hotter”
“If we are going to do this, then we need to do it now”
“Our only chance is this, to gather as many of this watching locals, have a quick bike lifting demonstration and carry it, dry, over this river”

With that, I was knee deep wading out, placing all my trust in the locals saying “There is no crocidills or hippo’s boss.” Underfoot was loose shingle sand that sank to the ankles with each step. It would be desperately heavy work, but a route was accessible, and either way, this was called adventure riding for a reason.

Seems ok?

With the bikes unloaded, and our luggage being shipped onto a network of youngsters backs as they trudged back and forth, the river crossing had begun! It would be ten men, using a deathly grip on whatever they could find; frames, luggage rack, handle bars or tyres, as long as the bike kept dry.



The test run on the bank went perfectly, and the bike lifted into the air as if part of a magic trick. Shyly they placed foot in front of other, sliding each into the sandy crevice between the bank side boulders, moving as gingerly as ten men holding 200kg of machinery crossing a river can I suppose.

The situation was this. If this bike toppled and fell onto someone, crushing a limb or worse, trapping them under the water, we would be two naïve white guys, 100km from civilisation with one guy who spoke English. I prayed it wouldn’t be that guy!



I quickly learnt not to underestimate the sheer brute force of man power. The bike seemed to float across the river, drier than before from baking in the sun, the ten men including my dad treading warily but successfully up the steep far muddy bank side. One down, one more to go.



And still, the youngsters kept their procession of river crossing going, carrying our side bags weighing 15kg each in their arms. These boys grow up like this, solid as oak, all over Africa.
Well with experience under their belts and cheers of accomplishment, the bike carrying work force forded back over. It was to be my turn, and I was on the down river side.

Now where?

Nervous and scared, both by the thought of the bike crushing me flat against the river bottom and my hopefully proud father looking on from the far bank, we trudged forth, as the water rose higher and higher above our knees. The men handled the machine expertly, as if their days as children have been spent performing this very activity.



Success! as two bikes and all our gear had done what an hour ago seemed virtually impossible. The bikes loaded, and a handsome reward spread between the men and boys, thirteen in all, I pushed my bike into neutral, and the KLR spurted into action.



We then had to push the bikes up,down, through streams to find the "road"

Nearly there

One last lift boys

Finally we found the "road"

It was 1’o clock. Storm clouds beckoned far off, and our paper map read 80km to the nearest town. My helmet was cool with sweat, my arms heavy from the soaked shirt upon it. I lifted my head, eager and content with the crossing, and to my horror had completely forgotten where I was. Virtually on top of me  was the rest of the road lurching up the extended bank side, a deeply rutted and boulder filled near vertical track, with one pathway, knife edged above these deep boulder filled ruts.

This was to be nothing as the days riding hardened. Parched dry to the core, we dove under a hand pump in the first village and drank litre after litre of water. It was passed mid-day; we had eaten two pieces of toast for breakfast, drank nothing, and would not eat again till 8:00pm.

Just as the riding settled in, bouncing from stream bed to dry clay, to grass single track, ducking under thorn trees, jolting over raw jagged rock formations and round giant tree roots washed exposed from the rain, my fathers back tyre ran flat. It was 13:25, by 13:55 we were grotesquely sucking on the saved water and were back on the “road.”

Flat change

If you make a mistake now Michael, if you fall over into this six foot gorge to your left, that’s a high drop from way up on this bike, and you’ll have 250kg of bike crushing you like a limp puppet doll, Concentrate! Concentrate!

The afternoon went like this, and at times it was overwhelming. “Where were we?” “Why were we here?” “Is this safe?” There are no villagers, people or even animals. We had half a bottle of honey, a litre of untreated water and were one washed away bridge and 120km away from civilisation.

At times we found small villagers, but by accident. We would ride down their single track grass enclosed paths thinking they were the track we were on. Only when we looked down to see we were in a farmers freshly ploughed field did we realise our mistake. I turned my handlebars, but too hastily. Exhausted and with no strength to hold the bike, it fell and I simply stepped out away from it.

All afternoon this continued, the sky somehow holding dry and the sun baking our skins in our riding jackets, bubbling my brains with steam in my helmet. The heat, the thirst. “You need to concentrate Michael!” “Just focus on this river bed, then you can rest; it looks easier on the other side. Over and over the bike went, each time my muscles simply too depleted of everything to hold it upright.

At near to five in the afternoon, we met a villager on the outskirts of his mud huts. “English?” “Speak English?” “I made a feeding gesture with my right hand” “No speakie English boss”
“Where is English?” “How many minutes” They had gathered now and consulted one another. “Three minutey.” And waved us on with the back of their hands.

Three minutes, beautiful! The ‘road’ looks great, soft sand, but at least there are no rocks. We rounded what was to be our last corner of the day and literally rolled without thought, exhausted and unable to physically control our bikes, into the bottom of another rock strewn river bed. Once in, I looked up to see my father steam rolling up a ‘bank’ that was a towering wall, with three ruts, six feet deep each, running like flicks of fire up its centre, with a single path, maybe two feet wide, the only choice.

Momentum, that was what I had read and been told. To break a leg here or worse, open a heavily bleeding wound would be devastating. My father at the top, staring into his mirror and down onto me in the bottom of the river bed. This was not going to be it, I am not falling now. No way.

I thumped up the steep side, putting my front wheel into the air as I topped out. I was going too fast, but I made it. We were physically and mentally toasted to a black crisp. We rode straight into the nearest village and stopped, loudly, in front of their most ‘modern’ looking tin roofed building and just waited.

Chisanga school

Then a duo of Gods in the form of two teachers named Kennedy and Francis arrived. Their ‘modern’ looking building we had seen was their school. It had been built in 1966, and was simply beyond derelict. The window frames, empty of glass for decades, lay balanced against their bricks, as their concrete holdings were long devoid. When we had arrived a church service was ending in the classroom.

Classroom

I lay slumped on my back looking skyward, my head aching in pulses, face bursting red and sweaty, and the sky swirled as I tried desperately to concentrate on not fainting or vomiting.

Exhausted



Then I sat up and began to take my surroundings in, just as the church choir voiced into beautiful song. There I lay, as streaks of golden light fanned the far darkening horizon and lavender coloured mists lay clouded amongst an ocean blue sky, seen all through the dark trees and shrubs of the savannah plains that engulfed us.



I have little else to write about this moment, but it was truly magic, real magic, that only the inner depths of Africa’s people and their lands can produce. So natural and majestic it ached my soul into pure wonder. A school aged years before I was even born, a choir of Mothers and old men in chorus in its classroom; and we simply wept as grown men with our heads bowed.

Feb 2 2008

“A bridge too far” – Part 2

“Another bridge?” You’re serious Kennedy?’ He simply dropped his gaze and lifted it with a cheeky smile, laughing, and nodded. Another bridge! We were trapped between two washed away bridges, in the middle of Zambia’s rainy season, with no food and depleting petrol…

Our night with Kennedy, Francis and his ‘family’ of teachers and classroom builders that were living in their communal house, was more humbling than any of my life experiences. Their story is one of many throughout Africa, but one to be told here about life in rural Zambia.

It was while sat in their back garden, under their cooking area and kitchen, a thatched roof pitched on stilted poles that we learnt about their lifestyles and their surroundings. They are teachers here by choice, placed by the government for years at a time. Their pupils number 720 and their teachers a mere four!





Their families live in the nearest town, which is a 15 hour walk through the Zambian bush, as there is no transport. Why don’t they live with them? There is no health clinic. No response to malaria, a snake bite, a simple cut infects with disease, killing where it would be treated instantly in an urban setting. “People just die here, there is no other answer.”

My hands covered my face, admittedly I wanted to block my ears; it was dreadful to hear this in person. Astoundingly they make this trek once a month to see their wife’s and children for a night and morning before walking back. The builders who were with them, had walked from their broken down vehicle, which we had passed 20km into the road, sunk to its axels.

It had taken them 14 days, yes! 14 days to cover just 20km in their Bedford truck loaded with supplies meant for the building of a new classroom for their pupils. This had happened in December, it was now March. The answer? They must simply wait for the rains to subside and then walk back to their truck, and keep trying.

We dined on superb rice and a soup of eggs, stunningly tasty after our day’s efforts. We fell into our tents exhausted and bursting with warmth from our diner. I had left my tent waterproof outer off in hope of pleasing the ‘gods’ with my optimism, but my trick failed to work. Around 1am I dove from my tent flap door to begin pegging my tent guidelines out, in a hail of lightning and rain that felt as if I was dancing like in a wet disco.



As I slumped out of my tent door this morning, the under of my eyes swollen like saturated bread, my head still ached with dehydration, and the suns heat struck me violently. How was it his hot this early?

“We must leave Kennedy, we have to bid you farewell I am afraid!” my father gurgled in a teary voice. “You come by a small stone, and you leave by a small stone, this is the way of our people here in Zambia, it is our culture,” Kennedy replied. They would not let us leave without breakfast and also seeing us over the next washed away bridge, no matter the consequences.

Well, the consequences were to be lengthy. In fact as we stood looking over another savaged concrete bridge, its centre parted in two by the rivers force, I felt we would be under this Zambian ‘culture’ for a while. Francis and six teachers walked the 6km’s to the bridge from the village simply to help us with the crossing.

Testing the waters

End of the "road" at the 2nd bridge

But the river was dangerously too high. We must wait. Amazingly, Francis demanded we must return with them to the village, but our petrol was too limited, we had to sit fast. “Ok, we will be back with food and water this evening!” Sure enough, another 6km trekking back, and 6km more to us later that day, they arrived with warm food and water.

Technique?

I was shocked. Astounded. These men were not real. They were not humans…surely? Kindness like this surely does not exist. While countries are torn apart by war and men dissipate women and children with bombs and bullets, surely there can not be such kindness on this planet?

Waiting



We sat and closed the evening talking about rural Zambian life around a single flamed fire at our feet. We talked of rural Zambian ways, teaching children and missing family, but mostly we talked of the rain and whether we were to cross the river tomorrow or if the rains, as they do at this time, would continue for weeks on end.

Astoundingly Francis and his men had already re-organized their next teaching day, so they could return the full 12km to help us potentially cross an already dropping river….words of pray passed around the fire as the men began their 6km walk, in the dark, back to Chisanga and their home.


 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #14 on: April 26, 2009, 01:04:07 pm »
March 3 2008

“A bridge too far” – Part 3

10:00am passed by, then 11 and 12, still no Francis and his crew of eager boys. There had been little rain in the night. The river had dropped dramatically, and the water looked as good as it might ever be. If we were to cross, it must be now!

By 1:00pm I could not wait any longer. Clouds were gathering in flamboyant vertical mushrooms over the distant horizons, building winds blowing them ever near. I had to react. I did not want to wait here any longer! I grabbed a passing fisherman pushing his bicycle, and began to bargain for a labour force.

Within an hour, we had our luggage at the shoreline and the first bike, inching to the shoreline. I took a final glance to the distant hill that had been my focus all morning waiting for the trustworthy Francis and his men. A figure appeared, then another and more followed! We were to be rescued!

But now we had a battle on our hands. We had bargained eagerly with these other fishermen already, and paid laboured was promised, but as Francis had appeared, argument began to bubble and tempers roused.

Finally and perhaps by the ever impatient mood of my father, men were assembled and our bikes took flight, again, for the second time in days, floating in the arms of muscled Zambian men while a torrent of fleeing mountain waters anchored at their legs.







But our route was to be a far more treacherous one than was previous. The river bed rock, as if split like peas from their pod, lay strewn in small heaped bundles of dry rock, which acted as zig zag way points across the river.

Halfway

"Tricky" bit

We were through! Two bikes and our gear!



But still, their was argument. A raging fierce mood erupted on the far bank, between Francis and his own men! What was the problem now? Surely we should be happy, their guests were triumphant and all was well. I had to probe the problem.

Francis explained that he and his men were furious with the other fishermen group who had demanded a monetary reward for their efforts. They were simply arguing about how rude and nasty that group of men had been, taking advantage of us. This was not the way and culture of people in Zambia he explained.

Francis and kennedy

Parting with Francis

My jaw dropped! Surely this was a set up. Men, anywhere, are not this kind! Are they? At that point Francis broke open our lunch. Yes! They had brought us lunch of soup and rice, which was still warm. To part ways after this was heart aching. We shared contacts and promised to send pictures of the battle we had done with the mighty river and eased into the seats of our KLR’s, wet to the seats but glad to be through our last river crossing…

The riding eased slightly from this point, but still we had the virtues of typical flood washed African dirt roads. Once, we had to ride on a close to near forty five degree angled earth above a gaping crevice, a single foot wide bridge, four feet in length, the usual path for passing villagers, but too risky after our past two days efforts.

With red hot tears and a jerky throat my father mumbled a “well done son, I am so so proud of you” as we reached the safety of the beautiful tar. We were free. Did it feel great to be soaking in a warm bath and eating fish pie that evening?, of course, but if I told you that I did not think about Francis and his band of brothers walking the way home, 6km with our empty used food jars and water container, then I would be lying to you…

March 4 2008

“A natural theme park”

My arms outstretched in front of me, hands locked to the iron railing bridge, I stood hooting and screaming in joy at the overwhelming constant eruption of thundering noise and thumping down ‘rain’ that engulfed me as I looked out over Victoria falls in flood!



We were both shockingly wet, all our clothes stuck to us like honey, as we smiled looking out over the gaping crevice of Victoria Falls. I have been to all the world class theme parks in North America, but this, without any doubt in my mind has to beat any rollercoaster you can go on. It is just such an awesome display of natural power, sheer raw and devastating power that only Mother Nature can truly produce.

We have arrived in Livingstone, the bottomless pit of adventure tourism; street touts and craft work that besieges any tourist on their way in our out of Zambia. We have sat drinking beer and lounging round the hostel pool, but still with thoughts of rural Zambia afloat.

Tomorrow we shall journey to the far south western corner of Zambia, and to the Zambezi, where tiger fish await and hippo’s and crocodiles are to be beckoned away from our camp sites at night. To the bush again!

March 5 2008

“Luxury on Zambelozi Island”

Once again, we have found an island paradise. It sits above the surface eddies, swirls and currents of the dark Zambezi river that pulls by its jungle fringed shores; a jungle of ferns and baobab trees that covers the entire island, engrossing the wooden walkways that connect its luxury bungalows.



The owner is a long time friend of my fathers, and we are the Kings of this island as there is no one but us to sit atop its throne. Like any king, we have our drinks filled at a slight hand gesture, our food is of gourmet standard three times a day, and equally befitting is the world class standard of fly fishing to be had.

At the southern point of the island, as a group of friends we sat on rose wood chairs, a warm late evening breeze brushing the day’s toils away, as the cracks between the wooden deck at our feet revealed the dark brown waters home to crocodiles and hippos. 

Later that evening as our fire turned to coals, we all gazed through the gaps in the jungle tops as the Milky Way and it stars pulsed with electricity against an ever deepening darkness, and we  talked of times come and gone.

With swaying torso’s we went tip toeing through the blackness of the raised walkway that crawls like a serpent through a tunnel of dense foliage to our hidden oasis lodge nestled atop the dark river waters, now shimmering with the moons glimmer through the branches, and finally curled up under our heavy blankets to dream of monster Tiger fish and the days to come…
 

« Last Edit: April 26, 2009, 01:05:23 pm by mikeb8man »
 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #15 on: April 26, 2009, 01:29:16 pm »
March 6 2008

“Oscar from crocodile harbour”

As Oscar, our fishing guide, drove our boat up a six feet wide channel, governed on one side by grassy reeds and the other the river bank, he told the story of this place and how it came to be known as Crocodile Harbour and himself the hero of the village.



It is a story told before in an article written by my father but I feel it deserves its place here. Oscar played out the story with his weathered hands and began by shaping the scene and the screams of horror he had heard in the distance.

Dusk was settling and Oscar was working in his village set back from the shore when a scream from a women yelling please help me! please help me! echoed from near by. He was the first one to the muddy bank, its shores lined with overhead bushes with a gap at water level for washing, incidentally where the croc had taken her.

Without thought he waded out, falling deeper into the dark murky water to his waist and watched as the women was being rolled sideways by the animals jaws latched to her hip, her only life left were the screams as she gasped for air when turned to the surface.

The women told Oscar to just pull on her arm, but the beasts grip was too fierce, and the deafening grinding of bones and muscles forced him to stop. All the time more crocodiles began to gather and the hesitating men on the shoreline were forced to aid Oscar in his rescue. Two others joined him, and together they put an axe to the crocodile’s head and it separated its lock to the woman’s thigh and slid silently below them to the depths.

Three days later its body was found down river and the women returned from hospital to tell the tale of Crocodile harbour and Oscar’s heroics.

A stupendously brave and courageous man, it was beyond humbling to hear his story in the very channel where it took place. And still as we drifted down river, we saw children playing and washing in the river water and Oscar merely sighed and said they will never learn,



As the day’s final curtain of light drew to a close upon the Zambezi, we rejoiced out our first glimpse of the small Tiger fish we had caught and we will sleep early tonight ahead of a sunrise session in the morning…



Feb 7 2008

“A hard days fishing”

The dried pink underskin of my blistered fingers wrap tight around the cork of my fly rod gripped in my right hand, as the green line hangs in the air and unrolls its final piece, the fly hovering in disposition above the brown waters sparkling golden into its depths.

As the mornings evaporating mist lay motionless on the surface, as if pumped by a hidden fog machine from the jungle foliage, the first lick of my line wisped like an ice skater over the eerie dark swirls and eddies below.

I could feel my left below, stiff like an aged hinge, wincing back and forth, apparently the first signs of ‘casters elbow”. My first cast went astray the fly tangling in the overhanging twigs and leaves above its desired watery landing spot, I heaved and pulled, it flew back bounced once and the hook slipped barb deep in the soft flesh of my right calf…it was to be a long days fishing.

But rather a long one than none at all; yet the lack of fish was made up for by the assortment of birds spotted at an advanced distance, the names of them expertly put forth before they even came into the normal mans view by Oscar our guide.

This was world class fly fishing though, with an expert fly fisherman, my father, and the boat set at a hard drifting pace down the bank side. Each gap in the trees, grassy reeds and twigs creating an eddy provided an opportune hunting place for a Tiger Fish. But if you missed your spot then that was the opportunity gone.



We ambled the afternoon down river, motionless with the silent rhythm of the paddle for direction, betting one another to land casts in the most inaudible of places, all of them expertly placed by father, a few of mine rising to the crop.



The last night of matured red wine warmed round an open fire that sears rare steak was over fifty days ago, so I must bid you farewell and head to the flickering flames and smells of creamy pepper steak filets…

March 8 2008

“3 bottles of wine and the rest..’

After our three bottles of red wine and a fourth of Port, last night was the first time we had ‘let our hair down’ (not that we have any) in what seems an age. I say this because my body definitely felt ‘untrained’ this morning when what felt like a spade swung flat into my face, woke me up…

Without ease or any want for the day to continue, I fell out of bed this morning, onto the floor of our jungle chalet, and walked through the cavern like wooden walkway shrouded in foliage to its balcony end, where the morning was pestering me with its blinding light.

We made it to breakfast somehow, and even down to the boat docks, where the day before, the resident crocodile had not been seen but smelt, the salty decaying stench of his gut, a clear indication of his creepy lurking presence.

Silently we hopped over the fifty metre river on one of the flat open decked fishing vessels to the main land, and to our bikes which were tucked away in the garage. Here we baked our already throbbing heads in heat that surrounded us like a portable oven enclosed round our heads, swamping everything in sweat.

The bikes were given a wash and maintenance, a much needed treatment before we scout along the Caprivi Strip tomorrow and poke our heads out of this neck of land and enter the wilds of Namibia…

March 9 2008

“Riding 'the strip’ in Namibia”

Elephants. 80km/h. It was red on white on a road sign. I dropped my gaze for an instant, we were at 120km/h, and had been so for hours. I lifted my view to the hazy horizon, and there standing bold in the middle of the road, was a giant dark figure.

As we drew nearer, its bolt was faster than that of a rifle, and the beasts legs strode hard and long, carrying its enormous body at speed toward the bush. It stood at the height of a horse and was equally as long, but its horns were its distinction.

A Kudu of this size was astonishing, and was without a doubt the largest my father or I had ever seen. We slowed to watch, but its hide soon melted into the thick shrubs and vanished. We were to see another giant of the African kingdom later on; a python laid wrapped and mauled from a vehicle collision at the road side, its body as thick as the tyre that had squashed it.

If you look at a map, you will notice that the Caprivi Strip sticks out like an extended thumb. Its borders are straight and knife edged, just like its roads. We turned five corners today, and raised over one bump of a hill, otherwise the horizon ahead was a mirror image of the view in my rear mirror all day, straight and plain faced.





This allowed for a long day of contemplation, and it felt awkward and uneasy thinking that we had entered our third last country and were within a month of reaching our destination. BUT! We both agreed of the boredom of today’s riding and are thrilled about venturing in the coming days onto the dirt roads that follow the Angola border to its most western point, and our destination, Ruacana. 


March 10 2008

“Tiger Fish – 3 / JTTE Team – 0”

“What colour is that fly you have on?” “Luminous green’” “And it works with Tigers?’ “It is supposed to” “But in the past I have…YES YES! I’m in on one!” Then suddenly, ping! And the line whips out into thin air, without a fish or any sight of our tiger toothed friend…

We thankfully rode our last stretch of the Caprivi Strip today; it’s a flat, mundanely boring straight road, one that bores holes into your eyes with the same never changing picture. When we did reach civilisation, Rundu, we ventured around town asking local people for an internet source; the one reply I got was “Stranet? Who is that? A town near here?” After nearly shouting IN-TER-NET into one mans ear, we finally found a place.

Our reason for the town excursion has been to source a tide table for our coming week in Angola, where we aim to do some beach riding. However, the tide is a vital part as where we want to ride can only be reached on a spring low tide – “Watch this space for some more advanced adventure riding”

Eventually we snuck out of the booming pop music and taxi cab filled streets, and rode onto a quaint sand road to the nearby Okavango River. Here our tents are perched metres from the river, which in we have been ‘hunting’ the elusive Tiger fish but to little avail.

Twice we hooked one, but twice we came out with nothing. The evening has succumb now to the sizzling of a curl of boerewors (farm sausage) above the coals, a tin of beans set bubbling at its side and the sounds of the local children splashing on the far bank side..

March 11 2008


“Floods in Namibia?”

When one thinks of Namibia, they see sand, gravel and desert dunes. Well apparently it also rains here, so much so that the mud huts in some places are swimming up to their thatched roofs…



We have kept our due west course since existing the straight and narrow of the Caprivi Strip, and run parallel to the Angolan border. Since we left this morning from our river side campsite, we have averaged only some 40km per hour and totalled 480km in eight hours of riding, our first long day in weeks.

We soon realised an hour into our morning, that when we left Rundu, we left the urban Namibia behind us, and so with it any chance of tar roads. Immediately, the road became a slip ‘n slide of watered down brown slush layered over a hard clay underground, perfect for sliding, just not on 250kg motorbikes!

There were ‘construction repairs’ underway, but this consisted of simply widening the main road so that two more ‘lanes’ running parallel added to the height of the roads already concaved shape.  At times this was our only chance of moving forward, the mud behaving like a parasite and sticking to our bikes, slowing us almost to a halt.

The mud is terrible in these situations, getting between our brake pads and working like grinding paste, clogging our sprockets so the chain chokes on mouth fulls of it and all this while the already dried clay hardens on our ever overheating engine.

But this was merely a drive through the fringes of the aftermath; we had missed the epicentre of the rain storms. As the Angolan border neared, and so with it the deeper blues of the awakening evening light, we came across our hotel.

We were met with closed doors. Its back garden was a river of rain run off, the water reaching the lodges back windows. All along the road to it, boys had been fishing in farmer’s fields covered by the floods and the cross bars of one goal post could just be seen from a far off soccer pitch.

We thankfully found the only dry lodge in town, but unfortunately so have the hordes of homeless mosquitoes that inhabitat our room ceiling. Now to try and sleep while I listen to my neighbouring roommate blast out MTV on his digital television…

March 12 2008

“Driving south”

This time, it is just too much for us. R2000 ($280) to enter Angola, and a wait of a week if not more, and even though we are a stones throw away from Angola, we have turned around and are heading south…

Tied in with this is the news of trucks and people being stranded for weeks over the border, as the floods have simply covered the main highway. Another man told us that locals evacuated from their drowned houses were moved to tents in some places, and were then washed out of these.

All day as we drove along the main road travelling south, there was just water everywhere. Restaurants and bars under water to their window sills, trucks axel deep as they crossed submerged junkyards and all the time old men and young boys were waded thigh deep in the baking trays of water that lay at the road side, fishing with short lines on sticks for tiny barbell fish washed into these natural out of place fish traps.



But as we head south, the thoughts of dried deserts and sand dunes will hopefully become concrete in view. As bitterly disappointing it is not to be seeing Angola, as I feel it is to be a spectacular country, this does quite nicely leave open the west coast of Africa for a much needed return trip, and what better a place to start than here…


 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #16 on: April 26, 2009, 02:48:00 pm »
March 13 2008

“Us vs. Lion”

Its 6:00am, and the cover of darkness still lays host to the nocturnal beasts of Africa around our campsite, a single tall light above us tainting our vision outside so that we strain to see into this wall of black night that has besieged our tents.

 “Jackson!” my father yells to me, “Did you hear that?” “Ergh, yes” I reply with a head still clouded with dreams, before startled I realise what I just heard; “Wasn’t that a flippen lion!”
I now lay with stiff straight legs and my heart begins to thud, back and forth, against the walls of my chest.

“There it was again,” a low gurgling snarl, which felt like metres from my head, then nothing. We both lay in our tents, eyes wide open, searching with our eyes as one does when fear can only be heard and not seen.

Slowly, the blanket of night lifted in the east and we boldly stuck out noses out of our tents to see into the vaguely lit morning. Whilst breaking camp later, my father noticed paw prints near to our tents, of an animal larger but similar to that of a domestic dog, and was further informed by the owner after questioning her that the locals call them “Wolwe” (Wolfs).

Well with eyes still patrolling from the back of our heads, we left this camp site and returned to the tar which for the fourth day running was as my father best described “Felt like our rubber wheels were gliding over a mirror covered in a film of warm runny golden oil.”

And still the constant pitch of buckets of water thrown flat into our faces by the twenty ton trucks that seared the air at our sides as they overtook, and the relentless piercing of rain soaking us so that cool water runs the length of our thighs.

Gladly we cowered from the outside world to a German run lodge, and are housed in a two bed room that feels like the sleeping quarters on a navy vessel, even more equally befitting as the water continues to thunder around outside as we peer through the port hole like windows in our room..

March 14 2008

“Postcard Namibia, at last!”

We dipped through the trough of a dry river bed, my motorcycle and I, and began to rise with ease up its sloped side, and just then the horizon broke ahead, and I had my first view of the endless straight gravel road, shrub lands with flat top trees, giant ant hills and the mountain peaks of a far…

I could feel my motorcycle just brimming with excitement this morning, after it had been for its first “manicure and massage” at a garage in Grootfontein. The owner, and his mechanics, gave both of our bikes a close up inspection and clean, and finally a pair of new front tyres, since our first pair had been pushed to the limit and beyond, doing over 15,000km.



I actually felt the bikes steering stiffen to the point were I was searching for a problem around my front wheel, but after some thought I realised it was merely due to the fact that I had a tyre now that actually gripped the road and required some effort to steer.

When we left here, we still had 360km to journey before our days end, and as we did so the Namibia that we had both been waiting for, erupted with life around us, the bushes, trees and grass all saturated with health after such a heavy rain season.

We then came upon our lodge for the night. The road to it, leads through a community of staff houses resembling shacks and their small vegetable patches, animal pens and gardens that surround them. The road then cuts steeply into the mountainside and up, up, up you go, before you reach a plateau on the crest of the mountain, where a rustic bar and restaurant are set, their balconies hanging over the cliff edge, and the luxury bungalows lay dotted along the rim of the mountain side, set perfectly with a dramatic view over the plains.





Open savannah plains that stretch in every direction, with long ridges of flat mountain that extend across the horizon, in places there are small separated peaks dotted to create the perfect symmetrical setting as a straight dusty road cuts through all this to the horizon, and draws your focus toward it, before you realise that all you can think of is riding flat out along it, just to see where it ends….



March 15 2008

“Riding a ‘trail’ through rural Namibia”

This way to rural Namibia

It is near dark and we have lit a small fire, its flames flickering above an earth of dry clay, its intention is for cooking and as a safeguard against uninvited wildlife, as once again we have wondered the path less travelled and found solitude on the empty savannah plains of rural Namibia…



This is a hidden hinterland encircled by a mountain rage, its interior floor a typical picture of safari Africa, grass swaying at the knees and to the roots of the short trees, and all this to the horizon in every direction, with the deafening silence awakened only by the birds that bask and sing in the evening fading light.



As we rode into this enclosure, the two lane track dipped through dry river beds of loose boulders spread over thick sand, sucking our tyres side ways, threatening a fall onto the awaiting rocks at our sides. This river bed led us further into deserted terrain as the mountain sides grew steeper and taller, before we burst finally into the savannah enclosure. Here we rode in channels through a plantation of deep grass shining silver in the streams of light that beamed from a cobalt blue under rim of pearl white clouds, a picture reminiscent of the ‘fields of wheat’ scene from the movie Gladiator.





Still, people inhabit this lonely deserted place. For need of perhaps safety or security against the darkening unknown, as dusk feel we crept into a village of cattle workers, men, women and children, all living in square cream mud huts around a wooden fenced ‘kraal’ (pen) enclosing their cows and bulls, and here we sit all together sharing meat, fruit and tea round a lonely fire…









March 16 2008

“Elephants and Flash Floods”

Our map read a rabbit warren of ‘walking trails’ through this savannah plain encircled by high mountains where we were camped, the most governable for our loaded motorcycles to exit on was a route following up a dry river bed, in a canyon where the GPS stated “Warning, Elephants and Flash Floods.”





The fact that it was the middle of the rainy season and elephant dung littered our loosely distinguishable river bed trail, should have scared me, but as we lost the trail again and again, and I sunk heavier into thick sand and dove to control my bucking handle bars, the adventure and beauty of the surroundings made my heart beat faster coursing addictive adrenaline through my body.





We were both a bit upset when an identifiable road surfaced, well, one which we could follow easily and was gravel based. So, we broke for breakfast just off the river bed side, as the darkening walls of the canyon began to receive the warmth of the rising sun, and a cool wind tunnelled down to the trickling waters surface, soothing our overheating engines.





Deserted stunningly beautiful riding continued, and all on a ‘road’ that is clearly marked on a national map, and this in a country where there are 37,000 kilometres of gravel road and only 2.2 people per square kilometre.



I thought about this and the fact that we had only travelled 1000 kilometres in Namibia so far and continued to chew on my cold kudu meat from the night before and fathom how with all this unimaginably perfect riding we would ever make it through this country and back home….

March 17 2008

“Sun and sand in the Namib desert”

We are in North Western Namibia, Damaraland, and have entered the Namib Desert which runs parallel to the country’s coastline. We have been travelling all day on what feels like a hidden passageway of roads that maze through this vast deserted land, and with dusk settling and warnings of desert elephants from travellers, we are lured to the roadside to make camp..





The category of roads here range from “B – solid tar riding”, “C – good gravel roads” and finally “D – destructive tyre swallowing sand gravel pits.” But be warned, at any point a C or D road can turn AWOL and become a mountain pass walking trail or a swimming pool of dark sinking sand.



The lure of a “D” road passing through a distant desert was just too great for us, and we stretched our legs this morning to reach the last town before midday to stock up on fruit and dried meat before venturing into the unknown.



After an hour of riding, we stop to stare. It is empty of life, and totally silent. Then the whistling wind picks up a dust devil and dances with it in the far off dusty plateaus, and the sand blows in waves across the barren land, bare but to the bristle thorn tree and faded grass clumps.



Perhaps this place is a piece of Mars befallen to earth, as its craters lined with craggy rims and ancient dried river canyons, depict an uncanny likeliness. A visual wasteland at times, but still a wildlife sanctuary if one is lucky to stumble upon a wandering creature.



At one point I caught a blur of movement in my left mirror and thereafter a darkened image in my peripheral. Here were two Springbok, racing our front tyres, like dolphins chasing a bow wave, springing into the air and eluding our 60km/h speed and leaping the road ahead and vanishing.

Dipping into a shallow river bed, the evening sun blocked by the following hill, we began to rise up the far side and just as the light broke over us, a cartoon like dust ball spat from the roadside with two black legs fighting over each other in a fleeting dash of speed. An Ostrich, silhouetted black with the golden light boasting its plumage through the misty dust trail.

With the evening come to an end, and the sun blinking her final tears through a layer of silver sky, the wind dies and our campfire of thorn tree is lit, thoughts of mindless city life are resented and fought off  and only the stark silence beckons the mind to ease…

March 18 2008

“Fish and chips by the sea”

As I crouched from my tent door, and stood tall to the windless night above, a slither of yellow light pierced through the mountains of afar, still air crept to my side and the stars shone their last for the night on this desert land. I lifted my gaze and searched into the silence to find nothing but my own thoughts.





As we broke camp, the east broke bright and the heat began to starch our skin red, and so we stepped through the gap in our luggage and sat over our seats, and eagerly headed west.

There in the distance, over a shimmering fake lake of mist a white curl broke the horizon then turned deep blue and white again. We had reached the Atlantic Ocean, the first of the sea we have seen in near two months and over 10,000km since we departed the Indian Ocean way back in Tanzania.

But we were stopping, why? A t-junction out here in the desert, and cars, trucks, saloons, fishing rods, tourists, sea gulls and fish and chips. Traffic in the desert? This must be a miss print in my brain, surely?



We had reached the infamous salt road that runs this highway show and is filled with family saloon cars brimming with the smell of sunscreen and fish bait, as they barrel past our sides on their way to set their tracks amongst the many already making their way down the beach.



We have settled amongst the travellers, tourists and numerous adventure centres of Swakopmund, and will be heading south to do battle with the stray quad bikers and sand boarders that horde each day to the area surrounding Dune 7, the highest dune in the world…



March 19 2008

“A ‘filler’ day in the sand’

Today was one of those ‘filler’ days that form part of every journey, a time where you simply need to get from A to B. One tries to avoid them wherever possible, but unfortunately today we found ourselves right in the thick of it….

20 minutes into our morning desert excursion, my back tyre sizzled loudly and fell flat. With hung-over bodies from the night before, blood shot eyes and throbbing headaches, we began work on what felt like a mammoth task in the sweltering mid-morning heat. Needless to say we were not our usual get down and dirty and finish the job in 12 minute selves.

We paid a quick stop and go tour to Dune 7, but with the towering tidal wave like proportions of the dune and our current vulgar state of body and mind, we chose to take pictures rather than go “charge it in the desert man” as one tourist suggested to us.

Our continuing ride for the day was made up of as much going forward as sideways, due to the gravel road being a mix of children’s play marbles and fine grainy sand splashed over it. I have a very funny image in my mind of my father and his bike being completely sideways to the road yet still travelling at 80km/h as he went hurtling from side to side through a thick sand river bed.



Even though the day ended with tears of mud in the corner of our eyes from the day’s dusty riding, the headaches were cured and again we marvelled at a rich sunset over Namibian sky and landscape, a daily occurrence here that never ceases to impress…




March 20 2008

“Cowboys on the plains”

I am urging you to not go on the tar roads if you ever visit Namibia and spend as much time exploring the endless network of gravel roads and trails that perforate deep into this countries glorious landscapes where you can admire it all to yourself with not a soul around for miles…

As we sat and ate freshly baked Apple pie by the slab this morning, at a peaceful farm stall in the rural country, we were suddenly engulfed by an onslaught of organised mayhem, as double decker tour buses, complete with ‘hotel’ sleeping quarters, one after another began their attack on our small farm store, flanking us on the right with noisy dirty children clinging to each other and on the left hordes of video cameramen all wanting to capture our filthy shirts and bikes and hear our courageous story.

We both nearly puked at the site of all this and shoved in our last handfuls of pie and mounted our stallions for another day on the open Namibian prairie. Father and son, roaming cowboys set out to explore the uncharted back roads that twist, bend and fade over yonder grassy hills.



The dust and dirt were kinder to us today, but not so to some others we passed who had been in a two car collision, a horrible thought when the nearest medical care is half a day’s travel away. As their ambulances hurtled past us, the realisation of just how far we had come, over 17,000km jolted into my mind, and I eased on the throttle and focussed that bit harder on what lay ahead.



Again, the luck of the gods has somehow put us amongst the most beautiful open setting. It is a flat ground campsite cut out in the side of a mountain, that overlooks rolling grassy hills and our quite gravel road that cuts between the surrounding mountains.



As dusk settles, so does a fine spray of red dust over the hill tops and the sky turns an even richer blue. I view this all from a mountain peak atop a conquered walking trail, and breath in the last heat of the day before making my way down in the shadow of the hill side to where my trusty stallion awaits…




 

Offline mikeb8man

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #17 on: April 26, 2009, 03:32:00 pm »
March 21 2008

“Riding the Orange River”

At times our home country was a stones throw away today, as we jolted and twisted in our seats, following the road cut into the hill side that runs along the border, with vertical rock faces on one side and the banks and waters of the Orange River to the other…

The Orange or Gariep, as is its traditional name, runs from far inland, and separates the South African and Namibian territories before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean, near to the very site where diamonds were first discovered in Namibia in 1928.

We were aiming for the third border crossing point along the rivers shores, due to the first being a restricted mining area and the second rumoured to have a ‘broken down’ ferry service. Well as we patrolled the river and came nearer and nearer to its junction with the Fish, one of its largest tributaries, we could not help thinking of our last river crossing episodes and began to pick out imaginary lines to cross as we rode alongside each other.

We had been warned of the Fish rivers bridge to be a low one, and that at times of heavy rains it became impassable. Bring it on I thought, the river levels were perfectly low, it was a sunny day and had not rained in weeks and besides, by now we were hardened river crossing experts. Well, what we came to was just a little out of our league.

The key ingredient, the end of the concrete bridge that crosses the Fish River, was once again, for the third time on our river crossing episodes, gone. The road simply cut off completely into the murky orange waters at our feet and we both stood there staring into before finally looking at each other and bursting out laughing.

Another broken bridge

So close to home, yet so far away. And so, we did what feels like the ultimate sin for any traveller, we went backwards, all the way back for 70km to a rest camp. Luckily we have bumped into some similar minded travellers, who although thought the idea of us running our bikes over the roof of their 4x4’s a funny one, told us that the 2nd borders ferry was in fact working, and so tomorrow sadly we must depart Namibia by ferry and return to our homeland, after leaving it over 18,000km’s ago…

March 22 2008

“After 18,000km, we are back in S.A”

Who would have thought it, but there actually exists a ferry In Africa that is on time, has working engines, and amazingly has weight restrictions, yes, I said weight restrictions. In fact this was no ferry, but a platoon, with two giant engines and a safety cable connected to high wires, and all this drags you across the Orange River, and onto South Africa soil…



The border post I am referring to is Sendelingsdrift, a compound of such modern and authentic looking buildings one could easily mistake it for a luxury rustic lodge set into the hills overlooking the Orange River. I got the feeling that the officials here were very happy with their posting, as it was only smiles and politeness through until we had the last stamps in our passport.



But there is equal reason for all this, because after one leaves the border gates, the bleak stark surroundings reappear, and the gravel road returns to a crumbling mess. There is little movement on the empty sandy hills and scrublands, but for the odd mining truck that moves between fenced in quarries and restricted roadblocks.

The kind of place where old westerns were filmed, and the people died badly out in the empty desert, alone and scared. As we slowed down to see a rusted and wrecked car in a roadside ditch, I got the feeling of being watched from a pair of binoculars on a distant hill, and thoughts of diamond smuggling deals ending horribly came to mind.

We did reach civilisation though as we rounded a high mountain pass to look down into the next valley basin, where in its entirety the town of Springbok lay sleeping, quite on a lazy Saturday afternoon…

March 23 2008

“Small town South Africa”

We are up in the Northern Cape, and have been riding along forgotten country roads, where lonely farms sit atop barren hill tops. At one, an old estate farmhouse, an elderly man in a doorway sits looking out over an empty valley, with only a squeaking windmill near his side, to count the seconds as they go by…



These farms lay deep into the hill side and away from the road, at times looking totally inaccessible, as if they have been there for years and without occupants. We follow the road higher and up through a mountain pass towered by steeples of rock on either side. As we exit its tunnel like sides, a vertical drop appears ahead and below it a grand valley basin, with a flat floor that extends to the horizon.

Two roads run down its centre, and fork like a snakes tongue. At its junction, I lean over the handlebars and peer left then right into the nothingness of these roads that dilute into the shimmering heat on the horizon.

We turn right, and not before long come to a tarmac road, the N7, deserted, even on Easter weekend. It’s nearing the days end, and so we idle into this ghostly town, a single street tarmac road running for 500 metres from its one end to the other.



We pitch our tents in an empty ramshackle municipal campground, and my father goes to ‘town’ to fetch firewood. I can hear his bike stop on the far side and his conversation with the men, the town is so small. Old bungalows with faded coloured roofs make up the town’s street, with a café at one end floored with chequered purple and white squares, all a feel of 1950’s living…

March 24 2008

“Smelling the barn”

Like two hungry cows, we have smelt home, and are tracking our way fast across the Northern Cape toward the coast. We clocked over 400km today on dusty dirt roads and have slumped with wrinkly baggy eyes and dusty cheeks into a hotel in main street Sutherland…

It’s coming to an end, how is it all coming to an end? I felt exhausted just thinking about all the different species of roads we have ridden, the towns we have pulled into at the end of each new day, the thousands of faces and now it is all smudging to a blur, already and we are not even home.



Trolling my dads back tyre like a fishing lure all day, there was only time to think between the puffs of dust that allowed my mind to open up and breathe in a gap of fresh air and a new view, before I drove headlong into another wall of red mist that hung ahead of me.

At one point I was so deep into thought, that with sheer subconscious handling I pulled off the road without knowing it. I looked up to see I had followed my father and we were now both staring at a farmland, and a dust devil, spinning and twirling tall against the sky, and then quite suddenly it evaporated and a layer of its red shell form lay subdued in the air as we rode past.

All day our hips bounced from side to side on our seats as the bikes back tyres got spat from sand pit to sand pit, grinding over ridges of hard gravel, skimming past the middle pile up of dirt, and all the time the dust sifting through our clothes and creeping into our lungs.



But our bikes are definitely working overtime, and are taking the strain. My fathers back sprocket has all of its teeth chipped down (this is not good) and the second hand chains we put on in Northern Namibia are each day becoming slacker and appear to waver under the strain every time we sit onto the fully loaded bikes in the morning.

With two more hard long days of riding left, we can only hope our trusty steeds keep their heads high and take us all the way home...

March 25 2008

“History in the Karoo”

We entered the Great Karoo today, through a gated fence high up a mountain side, looking out over the valleys, ridges and rivers below. The scenery was stunning and aged with history, at one point we eyed an old farming dry stone wall running up a hill, and at another closely followed original trekker’s wagon roads, that lay faded into the landscape.



We yielded to the beauty of this place too often, and spent most of the morning taking photographs of the landscape and of each other riding along. But the highlight was the journey through the Swartberg mountain pass, a steep majestically built road, that with astounding engineering, manages to climb high with the craggy sides towering above, and a sweeping stone wall at your side separating you from the drop off into the valley below.



At intervals as we rode, we stopped to take photographs and my father began to remember his first trip here when he was my age, and at intervals along the road, stopped to lay out parts to the story, and so it goes,

“This was now circa 1974 hay, and this road had only really been around for about ten years, so all these tourists and tea rooms you see were non existent. So it was myself and Tony, with our dirt bikes in the back of the bakkie (truck) and we were driving up this pass in the afternoon, and around dusk we pulled in under were these pine trees are. Well, use to be. (They were lying chopped at the road side, being put aside for a viewing point perhaps.) Anyway so we camped the night and in the morning stashed the car and set off on our scrambler bikes to try and tackle the still now derelict mountain pass to Die Hel (The Hell) community.

But the road was terrible hay, not much wider than half a normal road, and just strewn with rocks and really steep, man was it steep, at one point we had to do like forward, backwards, forwards, backwards turns, inches at a time, just to turn a corner. Anyway, so young and looking for adventure, we began to race each other, and my friend Tony crashed badly into the mountain side, popping his front wheel and hurting himself quite badly. Plus at this point we realised that there was actually no way we would have enough petrol for the return ride from Die Hel (The Hell), if we made it there.

So I returned to the car and met up with Tony where the bike lay, and loaded it all into the back of the bakkie (truck). Eventually we get to Die Hel (The Hell), and as I said, the road was still fairly new and the only way in and out, so these people were living a still almost ancient lifestyle, cut off from the outside world. As we stepped from our car, people ran into their homes, and one lady shut the door to a shop in our faces. It was such a strange community. Everyone was still dressed like they had not seen any recent civilisation, and the women even still wore bonets (traditional hat) and the only car there was from the 1950’s. It was shocking, these people were dressed and living like the original voortrekkers (front pullers) had in the beginning of the last century (1820’s). The road out was uneventful and quiet, but I will tell you something, those people living there then, was different thing to see hay, you will not ever see  something like that anymore.”




March 26 2008


“One last day in the wild”

We rode aside each other all morning, along a gravel road that follows the Baviaanskloof valley and the river that flows through it, and together experienced our last full day of our “Journey to the Equator”, in true style…



My father rode slightly behind me and on the left side of the road, and I on the right, goggles off and free from his dust. By now it was midday and the light shaping the valleys streams and grassy river crossings, was bright and exquisite against a cloudless sky.



Suddenly, ahead of me lay a length of water, as if trickling along the ground, but without a source from where to flow from in sight. As I passed, its glimmering yellow back shone, then moved, a snake! Before I could react, my father’s front tyre was merely feet from its body, and the snake had lifted its chest and half its body into the air, flaring its wide Cobra hood in an attacking manner.

With a swaying motionless stall, it pulled its head back and then thumped forward with hooded head and biting jaws toward my fathers boot. Its attack was too late, and the Kawasaki’s lance, my dads boot, won the battle, and the snake twisted and fell to the spot, like a cowboy covering his gun shot as he slumps to the ground. My heart was jerked into reaction and I slowed down to see that was he ok, but he came hurtling by me screaming like an excited schoolgirl. Another Cobra was to be seen later that day, this one choosing to scuttle to the safety of the bush and not attempt battle with the galloping men on horseback and their deadly lances





This whole area through the Baviaans was my very first preparation trip before this journey began, and so it was a befitting end to ease through the same river beds I had dreaded before, and hop from boulder to boulder as we climbed tall passes and fell back into the steep sloped valley sides.









We have come to our favourite camping spot, a quite patch of open grass aside the river, to spend our last night together as father and son, expert and novice, on the journey of a lifetime. And with the moon glowing above a darkened mountain that hangs over us, and the last days calls from a Fish Eagle returning to its bed post, we turn the coals one last time on the campfire, and fall to bed, with nervous thoughts of tomorrow and what the next chapter of our life’s might bring…

March 27 2008

“Last thoughts”

We are home! 20,000km and 85 days later, father and son, have been to the equator, and are now back! With the last whimpers of life left in our sprockets and chains, we turned the last corner this morning into our quiet village, and left behind the adventure of the road…



We awoke this morning to a lazy mist hanging over our riverside camp, and celebrated our last meal in true style, canned peaches and cream! We broke camp and were just about to be on our way, when I glanced to my back sprocket, and to my horror saw that eight teeth had snapped off halfway. We had planned a long off road detour home, but with a grinding noise emanating from my chain and sprocket, we settled into the smooth tar road. And so, just a few hours later with tears of joy and grinning smiles, we brought our bikes to their final halt.

Looking back now, there was a great deal I wrote about, some of it true and some false. There was also parts that I could not write about, instances where I simply did not have the courage to put down in words what we had seen, experienced and felt.

Now what?

All I can do now is encourage you to stop what your doing, get out your office, send the kids to bordering school, buy a bike, throw the wife on the back and stuff as much money as can fit into your pockets, and just go! If your reading this, then you are already half way there, the preparation is laid out for you in the above lines; all you need now is some petrol and a little luck.

As I sit and write this, a giant map of Africa looms over my head, with a tiny trace of where we have just been. To see the insignificance of our trip, the little part we covered, is to tell you the truth, inspiring. Now all I have to do, is lay out a new route, convince my mother to buy a bike, and attempt a new journey, maybe this time up the west coast, Mother and Son…What do you reckon mom?

April 26 2009

It is now over a year since my father and I returned from our journey to the equator. It is also over a year since we have seen each other. Since then we have both been on our separate adventures. My father continues to ride a great deal in S.A, and I hear he is still king of the waves on his paddleski. I have continued my travels, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Scotland and this May/June I shall be crossing the Atlantic as a crew member aboard a 52ft private yacht.

Regardless of where we are in the world, my father and I still remain so strongly bonded because of all the adventures, explorations and amazing journeys we had on this trip. My only concern now, is not how to convince him to do the next trip, thats the easy bit, but just how the heck we are going to manage to top such an adventure?

Any suggestions are welcome -

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it!
Mike and Ken Bateman


 

Offline Horsepower

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #18 on: April 26, 2009, 04:19:27 pm »
very good read, thanks
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Offline Crab

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Re: Journey to the Equator
« Reply #19 on: April 27, 2009, 01:59:28 am »
Well Mike, and Ken, it took you four months to ride this and it has taken me four beers to read it. What a wonderfull journey. I had heard of the chemist and his son who went to the equator and back, and had actually read some of the early posts on the blog site. It is fantastic. Thank you.
Look for a shooting star and see Lynda's trail and remember all the great places you shared with her,she will never forget what she shared with you and will show you that in every starry night .