Mission Accomplished. Tom and I arrive at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s most southern point. It was a good feeling to have finally made it, albeit with one bike and one team member less than we intended. You belong in this shot Jerry. And so does the Odyssey. The BMW F 800 GS is a fraud – we had to push it the final 20 metres through the rocks for this picture.
95 days, 25 countries, and 23,000 kilometres after leaving London, we have finally arrived in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa. At least two of us have arrived. Jerry is still somewhere in Namibia, stranded because of s sheared piston pin and bent valves. He is still determined to make it the last 2400 kilometres to the Cape. It’s a shame that circumstances did not allow the team to reunite in Cape Town, but I am grateful that we have all come out of this trip with no serious injuries.
The last week has been a relaxing denouement to a trip of a lifetime. When Tom and I rode into Johannesburg a week ago, we were spotted riding two-up on the freeway by local motorcycle enthusiast Andre Haasbroek. Andre waved us over for a chat and before long had invited us to stay at his home. Andre owns 4 motorcycles, including a 2008 KLR 650, which he favours over all the others. After a few brandys, it was easy to convince Andre to join us for the last leg of our trip to Cape Town. He decided to take his V-strom for the trip as we were planning on riding mostly asphalt and his KLR 650 was in need of some repairs (not from flipping the bike as happened on a recent trip but due to dealer negligence on his last servicing).
Andre Haasbroek joined on his V-Strom for a brief one week tour of South Africa. We had a great time and I look forward to returning and going on more rides. The above picture was taken at Cape Point.
We had been hoping to get Tom’s bike fixed at Russell Campbell Kawasaki and be on our way. Russell Campbell, ex-racer and owner of the dealership, has been incredibly helpful and refused to take any money for servicing my bike. Moreover, he have us the name of a good friend of his in Port Elizabeth where we could spend the night. South African hospitality has been mind blowing.
Unfortunately Tom’s KLR (which was supposed to have been shipped to Russell by truck from Lilongwe, Malawi) was missing in action. We would eventually learn that the bike was still in Malawi. Apparently there was a diesel shortage and no trucks were able to leave the country. Tom decided to rent a new BMW F 800 GS (traitor!) to take him to the finish line in Cape Town. After having ridden for nearly 3000 km two-up (from Lilongwe, Malawi to Johannesburg, South Africa) we were both suffering from separation anxiety at the prospect of going back to solo riding. Somehow we got over it, although at first it felt weird not to be crotch to butt for hours on end. After a week we had gotten used to it.
We rode nearly 3,000 kilometres two-up a la Che Guevara and Alberto Granado. Pictured above is a timed shot of us in Botswana’s Sowa salt pan, the second largest salt pan in the world after Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni.
Our two-up adventure began in Malawi, continued through Zambia and Botswana, and eventually came to an end in South Africa. During that time we both experienced what it is like to crash as a passenger. I guess it is fitting as Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado had their fair share of spills. Luckily Rosa proved more reliable than her namesake (La Poderosa II or “The Mighty One”) and made it the whole way.
Our crash fest began in Botswana. We had decided to attempt the Sowa salt pan two-up after that route was recomended by a friend, Heiko Held, whom we met in Livingstone, Zambia. We met Heiko because we had gone for a microlight flight to view Victoria Falls. One of the most memorable images I have from the trip is seeing the splendour of Victoria falls from above in the glow of sunset. I will not try to describe Victoria Falls, as Livingstone has already aptly described it is a scene “gazed upon by angels in their flight”. Amen to that.
As luck would have it, Heiko was the pilot of my microlight. Heiko, originally from Germany, was a Kawasaki enthusiast and had been watching us ride around Livingstone from the air. He has spent years travelling the world by motorcyle, including two trips across Africa – all on Kawasakis. He put 100,000 kms on his first KLR before giving it to a friend. (He makes sure there is oil in the engine). It is still in running condition today. Flying a microlight seems like the next logical step to take for someone with motorcycling in their blood. In many ways it is similar but you get to fly too.
Heiko invited us to stay at his home in Livingstone. We were treated to some hair-raising adventure stories from Heiko’s travels. Our trip seems like a picnic compared to what Heiko has been through. Both him and his riding buddy are lucky to be alive. In any case, we told him our predicament – we had to get to Johannesburg to reunite Tom with the Odyssey. He recommended we save Namibia for another trip (planting the idea in our heads of storing our motorcycles in South Africa) and to head south through Botswana instead. The Sowa salt pan was close to our route and would give us one last taste of adventure before we hit the smooth tarmac highways of South Africa.
The Sowa salt pan was indeed an adventure. It took us an entire day to ride less than 200 kilometres. It was hard work to get there, and even harder work to get out, but the effort was well worth it as the salt pan was beautiful and otherwordly – a highlight of the trip. Plus we got the chance to take off our helmets and have some fun.
The trouble began when the surface of the pan went from hard and crunchy to soft and muddy. The bike started struggling to keep a decent speed because of worsening traction on the back tire. Eventually we had to stop because riding fully loaded two-up over mud was too much to ask of Rosa and she was starting to overheat. Unfortunately once we stopped to let her cool down, we could not get her moving again because she could not get any traction in the mud.
After much effort involving pushing the bike over and cleaning mud off the tire, we finally got her going again. We found a vehicle track that was harder packed and were making good progress. It was almost sunset and we had a long way to go to get to the next village. We couldn’t really bush camp because we had dumped all of our camping gear in Malawi to lighten the load for riding two-up. Thus we had to make it to a lodge or hotel for the night.
I was driving, and could feel that the ground had firmed up again. There is nothing quite like bombing at full speed over a salt pan, so I left the track and blazed my own trail. Soon I was going 90 km/h. In hindsight, traveling at that was not the smartest decision as the back tire was completely slick with mud. Suddenly I hit a section of mud again. With no traction the bike started to fish tail wildly. I kept trying to save it. I succeeded a few times, but every fish tail was bigger than the last. Soon we were basically sliding sideways. Then we slid out completely and we went down. Tom and I came off the bike in one unit and slid across the muddy salt pan. When we came off, I had managed to get the speed down to about 60 km/h. We slid farther than the bike, which embedded itself into the mud. It was one of the longest crashes I have ever experienced. I’m sure it felt even longer to Tom, who as a passenger could do nothing but wait for the bike to finally go down. Luckily we were both unhurt, although we were coated with mud.
We continued with Tom driving (I figured it was his turn after I sent him flying across the salt pan). We had about 80 kilometres to go, almost all of it on dirt, to get out. Little did we know that we would hit the most challenging riding conditions of the entire trip. At night. Two-up.
Tom would repay me for the treatment he received as a passenger by sending me flying. More than once. We made quick shift changes because the riding was exhausting. It was no fun being a passenger either because the guy in front had to stand up the entire time. Not only do you have a butt in your face, but you can’t see anything. You can only feel the bike slide around and brace yourself for a fall. Often the driver could save the bike from going down (we almost crashed a lot more times than we actually did) but sometimes not. And you’d go down. (For the record my only drop of the day was the crash on the salt pan, but I made up in quality for what I lacked in quantity).
The track got so sandy that we abandoned our attempts to ride two-up. One guy would walk ahead and the other would ride the bike (usually after waiting for her to cool down). Once, while trying to get Rosa moving again with Tom somewhere up ahead, I have to admit that if a truck had come along at that moment I would have flagged it down and put the bike in the back. We had 40 kilometres to go, it was almost 9 PM, and we were moving slower than walking pace. Also, I was wondering if there lions in the area. There was nothing but dark bush on both sides of the track. I was exhausted. We had run out of water. But no vehicles came, let alone a truck with room for a bike. We were on our own. We had to find our own way out. Eventually we did. A few kilometres later we emerged onto a gravel road. Although it was full of loose gravel and corrugated, it felt like a superhighway after what we had just ridden. I am glad that no truck came and that we got out. It was a satisfying feeling to have made it.
That night the beer tasted extra good in the luxury hotel that Tom and I seemed to have a knack for finding ever since we ditched the camping gear. Soon we were joking whether 3 star hotels were “up to our standards”. We stayed in some places that would make anyone soft. We ate excellent meals. I didn’t realize that if you choose to do it, you can ride around Southern Africa without giving up the comforts of white linen, soft pillows, excellent meals, and hot showers. And it was all actually very cheap by Western standards. The pinnacle was probably the Arniston hotel in South Africa, where we indulged in 4 star luxury and an ocean view. The cost for the room (which included a mouth watering breakfast buffet) was only about $40 per person. It would have been $400 in California.
I am sad to leave South Africa. It is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The coastal highway, the mountains, the desert – it has all been stunning. And the people have been going out of their way to help us ever since we arrived. South African hospitality is among the world’s best. There is a special kinship among motorcyclists in particular. It feels like you are part of one big extended family. People are happy to stop and chat and exchange route information. South Africa is such a treasure for adventure motorcycling that there is always somewhere new to explore, even if you have been riding here for years. People will also happily invite you into their homes. We found this out when we stayed in Andres house when we first arrived in Jo-burg, and again in Port Elizabeth when we stayed in the estate of former racer Ian Mirk and his wife Jenny. We were treated to stories from the racing days and helpful advice on where we should go for our next adventure.
Both Tom and I would love to return to South Africa to continue our adventures. So much so that we have decided to leave our bikes in the care of our South African friend Andre so that they will be here waiting for us to come back. We have left so much unseen in Southern Africa, including Namibia, which by all accounts is an adventure motorcyclist’s paradise. Leaving my bike here also takes some of the sting out of the fact that the current adventure has come to an end. There will be opportunities to return and pick up where we left off.
Our arrival in the Cape Town area was marked by yet another beautiful sunset. If anyone knows why sunrises and sunsets are more beautiful in Africa than anywhere else in the world, please let me know.
PS – You might be interested to know that the Sunday Times has picked up our story. Check out the In Gear section of the September 7th edition – the article is called “Eat My Dust, Obi-Wan“.
PSS – I have uploaded some new pictures from South Africa and Botswana