A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: igotlostagain

The First Few Weeks

There are good days and bad days on the bike. Today had been a good day. Many of the tar roads through Africa, when crossing vast open areas and plateaus, make use of the shortest distance between two points, and are dead straight - which after a short while can become interminably boring. Initially the ride from Harare had been like this, but once on the Eastern Highlands side of Zimbabwe I had decided to take a longer, off the beaten path route via Chimanimani, close to the Mocambican border. This was the sort of road that made me think, I dearly hope that Jeremy Clarkson and his minions don't ever learn about this place. A dead-quiet road, other than the usual road-crossing wildlife, that tends to include, but is not limited to, donkeys, goats and their kids, dogs, humans and their children, pigs, snakes, chickens, horses, walking beetles, cows and their calves, donkeys and butterflies. A road that hugs the hillsides in a long series of switchbacks that helps reinvigorate the tired rider. The previous day I had been at Great Zimbabwe, the historical stone 'city' akin to Machu Pichu, that definitely exceeded my expectations, and is claimed to prove that sub-Saharan Africa had progressed far beyond the simplest form of hunter gatherers, prior to the European arrival, that is so often cited in any discussion on the subject with a 'traditionalist'. The direct influence from Middle Eastern traders could well be argued, but I'll simply keep clear of the topic for fear of upsetting more sensitive readers. Suffice to say, the site is of such note that the entire country was named after it in 1980, at the time of independence, when Southern Rhodesia didn't roll off the tongue so well any more.

The day had been happily augmented by several dips into a couple of lovely waterfalls at Chimanimani, claimed to be the highest waterfalls in Africa, which turned out to mean, if you add all the drops together. A claim I'd definitely heard at least once before and expected to hear several times more. Added to this joy was the fact that I'd negotiated a discounted entry fee, from the standard $25, to a more reasonable $6, since I was only popping in and out for an hour. This was a problem I'd come across a few times already in Zimbabwe - the quite exorbitant entrance fees to many of its parks and attractions, based on the idea that you'll be staying for the entire day, braaing, swimming etc, and then be staying the night too. For the fly-by-night, whistle-stop-tour, 27 countries in 10 days sort of traveller who just wants to nip in and see something on their way past, there doesn't seem to be any dispensation, and all these fees are set and controlled centrally by the Government. I'd sadly missed the opportunity a few days before of seeing the burial site of Cecil Rhodes, in a beautiful National Park close to Bulawayo. On arrival at the Park I was informed that I couldn't be allowed in, on the fact that I was on a motorcycle, and there were potentially dangerous animals within the Park. After a little negotiation, and a quick call to the boss, it was decided that, since I'd come all the way from Scotland, especially to see the gravestone of my National Hero, and that the park was closing in ten minutes, and the sun was close to setting, ensuring my visit would be extremely brief, I would be allowed to fulfil this lifetime ambition, for the insignificant fee of, as always, $25. I think they were genuinely surprised when I explained that this wasn't great value for money for my 20 minutes and that I`d just ride back to Bulawayo, unfulfilled, and maybe look at pictures on the internet one day instead. They called my bluff, and didn't just let me in for free anyway, and away I went with my tail between my legs (had I not explained to them already that I was Scottish?)

The day finished in Mutare where at Anne Burke's Backpackers I was informed that there were no rooms left and I`d have to camp in the small garden. I was planning on pitching my tent anyway and this just helped to make them feel sorry for me. It turned out, when I spoke to fellow travellers in the morning, that the rooms were roasting, and filled with mosquitoes, forcing that horrible choice between being eaten alive or sweating out half your body weight. I`d been on the road for two weeks at this point, having left Mtunzini in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal on the 9th March. My route had taken me via Vryheid to see my dentist and friends Hanco and Lida, and from there into Swaziland to see Marc, Sergio and Paula and Toby, good friends at Sundowners backpackers where I spent a happy month working in May last year, whilst resolving a visa issue. It was a magnificent ride up to Pigg's Peak and down to Barberton, half technical off-road and half nerve-tingling switch-backs, then to White River in Mpumulanga, almost on the boundary of Kruger Park, where I met up with one of my English language and culture students, Eudiet (pr. You-deet). She was kind enough to borrow her father's 4-litre veritable tank of a Landcruiser and we spent the next two days spotting everything you could hope for throughout the southern half of Kruger, including some high-speed military people carriers, brought in to try and reduce the horrific rise in horn and ivory poaching, although in this case we suspected that they might've just clocked off rather than be chasing down suspects. From there I went to Blyde River Canyon and caught up with Riesa, who'd been working on the Australian set of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. Blyde River Canyon has a series of geological attractions along its length, from towering granite columns to a heavy concentration of riverside potholes, and is without doubt a pretty stunning area. My day was made all the sweeter for finding a loophole in their 'carpark' fees, which saved me over 200 rand. Small victories! I was fairly rushed for time as I was trying to get to an exquisite sounding campsite hidden away on the other side of the canyon on the banks of the Blyde river, below Marianskop. After an arduous 30km of tough off-roading I found that the entrance gate, supposed to be manned until 5pm, had already been abandoned at 4. Fortunately some insider knowledge meant that I knew a spanner would assist me in removing the gate from its hinges, and half an hour later I was the sole camper at this exclusive site. My expectations were high, but the campsite was dilapidated, no running water, no rubbish bags in the bins, baboon-strewn litter everywhere, no working showers or toilets, knee high grass everywhere. But still, the setting was great and it was all mine and before long I had a roaring fire with plenty of wood, and I'd had a brief swim and wash in the river, not entirely sure if there were crocs in the vicinity or not (apparently not).

Next stop was up to Louis Trichard to see a cycling friend, Casper, from the TransAfrika, where I was especially well looked after by Casper and Sarah, at their beautiful family home. What was to be a single night stay turned into two after discovering that my smart phone had a burned out charging port, and a helpful Indian at a little tucked away repair shop managed to track down a replacement part. It's surprising how quickly you can become heavily dependent on these sorts of technology - I realised that as well as my main means of communication via WhatsApp and email, it's also my main means of research (internet) and navigation (Osmand Maps for Africa loaded onboard so I don't require data packages), not to mention an emergency call device. Louis Trichard was also an opportunity to stock up on anti-malarial prophylaxis (doxycycline) and do an oil change on the bike. Coincidentally, Sarah informed me that her grandfather was the first man to motorbike through Africa, travelling from South Africa to England on an old Royal Enfield (I saw the 1933 photograph to prove it), which seemed to me a most auspicious start to my travels.

I was then just an hour from the Zimbabwe border-crossing at Beit Bridge (where we'd started the TransAfrika back in September), and although I'd been warned of what a nightmare crossing it is, I persisted on a Saturday nevertheless. Five hours later I finally made it through into Zimbabwe proper! Because of this long delay I would have to ride at night for a few hours if I was to make it to Bulawayo, and since there was nothing to stop and see inbetween, I pushed on, although Sarah's warning about the number of motorcyclists killed by riding into cows at night was never far from my thoughts! Now, there are a lot of random police and customs and military check-points everywhere throughout Zimbabwe (come to think of it, it's been the same through Zambia and Malawi so far also). Pretty much before and after every town. Amazingly, apart from one overly officious policewoman demanding paperwork from me on my first night, I was by and large left alone. The few times I have been stopped has been purely to break the tedium and boredom of the Officer's day, and so I don't begrudge them a little conversation and banter on those occasions. In fact recently when riding in Malawi from the old capital, Zomba, to Monkey Bay on the southern edge of Lake Malawi, a young police officer rushed to greet me at the police stop boom-gate to shake my hand enthusiastically, ask me where I was going, warmly welcome me to the local area and wished me a very safe and very enjoyable onward journey, all the while with a beaming smile on his face. This kept me smiling for the next half an hour and conceding that a similar experience was fairly unlikely for a foreign visitor to British soil. Bulawayo is a fairly small, but very pleasant, wide avenued city full of colonial era architecture and streets you could turn an ox-cart in. It was from Bulawayo that I headed for Great Zimbabwe.

I'd been warned not to expect too much from Harare, and even the hostel receptionist who was born and raised there couldn't think of anything distinguishing that I ought to see whilst passing through - no architecture or fountain or sculpture that every trigger happy tourist need have a photo of.

The day I left Harare was a fine example of a bad day on the bike. I'd been experiencing starting and firing problems with the bike since in Zimbabwe, similar to an experience I'd had before and so I put it down to dirty fuel causing problems in the carbureta. As these had been getting progressively worse, despite my every effort to undo the blockage without necessitating the complete removal and stripping of the carb, I was headed to Honda Harare to seek some assistance, or alternative (from an actual qualified mechanic) prognosis. Whilst en-route I could feel that my rear tyre was rapidly deflating. It's a funny thing, the connection between the rider and the bike - you spend so much time in such an intimate relationship with this machine, that an almost 6th sense-like bond starts to form, where the slightest out-of-norm behaviour in the bike is immediately picked up. OK, sure, noticing you've got a flat rear tyre isn't a fine example of this phenomenon, but there are others to come! The flat was my first on this trip and more than a little exasperating given the lengths and expenses I had been to to reduce such a likelihood. I had a brand new German imported rear tyre, recommended by a long history of overlanding gurus, with the potential to easily do over 30,000 km, on top of a new tube filled with the best tube sealant known to British military Landrover drivers. Clearly this was the work the metal-litter strewn Harare roads, or perhaps a vengeful cuckolded husband in the middle of the night. (only joking parents and GF!) So, on I crept, slowly, trying to ensure the integrity of my tyre, tube and rim, only to discover at Honda that the tube was screwed and spilling out green sealant, and the tyre wasn't looking too happy about everything either. Any concerns about the carb were long forgotten by this point, and the more important issue of ensuring that my $200 tyre with barely a mm lost on its rubber could still be used. Some of the metal wiring around the lip of the tyre had become exposed and damaged, but a quick repair was carried out and a new tube put in place as the bike was put back together. Together we decided that I should begin gingerly, and gradually build the speed on the highway and if all was well after, say, 100 km's, then all should remain well. 100 km's later and all was, indeed, well. I had a long two days ahead of me to get to Vic Falls in the far northwest of the country, in time to meet Eudiet for some watersports. On the Zambezi.

Close to 200 km's later all abruptly stopped being well. I had just overtaken two of the ever-present haulage and oil-carrying trucks on this main road to Bulawayo when my rear tyre blew out at 100 km/h. This was a first for me. The rear of the bike immediately started moving around to the right-hand side as it essentially locked-up, and I was pretty sure my goose was cooked, if not in an end-of-this-mortal-coil way, at least in a, you're gonna-be-pretty-fuc*ed-up-before-this-ends kind of way. Through more luck than judgment and use of the front brake I managed to keep the bike upright, and heading towards the left-side hard-shoulder, with the knowledge that I was rapidly decelerating to 50 km/h with two trucks only metres behind me. The final battle was to ensure the direction I was being carried in didn`t have me dropping off the small, but still serious drop off the left side of the hard-shoulder. When all was said and done, and the adrenaline had worn off a little, I examined the damage and long skid-mark marking my path. From the wrecked look of the rear tyre it was time for another new one, and obviously the tube too, but otherwise relatively unscathed. Perhaps calling it a bad day is the wrong way to look at it. A couple of medium-sized towns lay equidistant infront and behind me, and after assessing my options, I stuck out my thumb. Hoping for a truck or buckie I could maneuver the bike into the back of, I wasn't too optimistic of the first kind samaritan who pulled over in a small saloon: little did I know what a guardian angel he would turn out to be. Given was a local young Zimbabwean who ran a small borehole drilling company, and he'd assumed that I'd fallen foul of poor petrol management, something he later joked was more of a local driver issue, as opposed to the more careful-planned foreign adventurer. Again luck was on my side as Given was heading up the road to drop off some cash to a client and was heading all the way back to Harare. On his suggestion I left the bike plus all my luggage (I'll go into more detail about that in a little while) at a conveniently close radar mast, that also boasted a 24hr security guard, who for a few dollars was more than happy to vouchsafe my wordly possessions. Under the assumption that I was heading nowhere without a new 17" rear tyre, and both local towns turning up empty in that regard, we headed all the way back to Harare. Given was a naturally optimistic guy, convinced that despite the already late afternoon hour, I would be continuing my journey again that same day. Throughout the journey to Harare he was texting and phoning, and stopping briefly to buy more cell-phone credit, his friends and colleagues ahead of us who might ensure that we arrive at a shop before 5pm that definitely stocked the correct sized tyre. To cut a long story short, by dusk, several hundred dollars lighter, I was on my way back to the bike with a more than adequate new Michellin tyre, still in the company of Given. Naturally, I had reimbursed all of his fuel and cell-phone expenses, but I could never have covered his time and truly generous nature, which he had gladly given up for me. In the many hours of driving through Zimbabwe together I had also discovered in him a sharp intellect and a huge source of information on modern day life and politics in the country my press had painted a very different picture of. His breadth of knowledge extended to bringing up the recent Scottish independence general-election. Having picked up one of his colleagues on our return journey, the three of us got about replacing the tyre and tube and an hour later, much to my surprise, Given’s prediction was seen out. My little, mini-electric compressor had struggled to get the tyre sitting entirely on the rim bead and so we travelled in convoy to the next town where a man-sized compressor was able to put things right.

By eleven I’d even managed to get another 150 km under my belt and having filled up on a $4 chicken and chips special set about finding a place to camp. The one campsite in this town was either closed or everyone including security was fast asleep so I started looking for a house with a front garden and with lights on, whom I might be able to approach regarding erecting my tent in their garden. I know full well that some of you with a filthy mind will have sniggered at that sentence. Having failed in that attempt I started cruising the non-residential areas of town for any patch of grass tucked away behind trees or bushes, and happily stumbled upon the gardens of a municipal building, with no apparent security presence. Well past midnight by this point, and after 20 minutes of having my head down, on the verge of sleep, the bright beam of car headlights, various other torches, and numerous people talking excitedly reawakened me. They disappeared, and returned ten minutes later only this time it turned out noticing my tent as well as just my motorcycle. I was commanded to come out and talk to them, and I made every attempt to be friendly and jovial and explain that I had been terribly delayed during the day, the campsite was closed, needed to get my head down for a few hours, and would be off at first light. I believe they had thought the motorcycle was an abandoned joyride and they mentioned something about having informed the police. However, with all the charm I could muster at that point I did get away with leaving all my details within a sign-in book and once again I had my head down. Twenty minutes later, on the verge of sleep once more, bright headlights and loud voices reawakened me. Again, commanded to come out, this time by a significantly more authoritarian voice, I discovered that with no thefts, muggings, beatings, rapes or any other crimes of note that lively Saturday night, the police force had actually decided to turn up and investigate my outrageous crime. The long and the short of it was that I wouldn’t be left in peace as I would apparently cause fear in the shaky-knee’d local population that I was robber or bandit of some description. The original book-sign-in-group had also returned to enjoy the spectacle (well, it’s gotta be more interesting than the local ZTV, eh? Does `Bob make Christmas speeches and that sort of thing for his people?) No amount of reasoning worked and so the entire group of 13 or so stood around and watched as I packed away my mattress, sleeping bag, pillow, silk-liner, flysheet, ground sheet, pegs and pole over the next 15 minutes, I hoped in some discomfort but this is probably optimistic. From there we went in convoy to the police station, where I’d been told I would be able to reverse the previous process and finally, after 3am, get some sleep. My words from the previous night were my undoing in the morning, as the constabulary indeed came to rouse me at first light (well, 6am), and off I headed into a very good day! That’s the way these things work I suppose.

Posted by igotlostagain 12:48 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Vic Falls and Zambia

I do enjoy riding on a motorcycle, I really do. The only time when I don’t like riding on a motorcycle is when it’s raining (it’s cold, visibility is bad, your grip on the road is less, other drivers drive even worse), and when there are lots of animals or people in the road, or when it’s a multi-lane highway and you need eyes in every direction, when there’s lots of gravel or sand or oil or bits of metal on the road – particularly the corners! I don’t particularly like riding through cities and I don’t like riding when there’s snow and ice on the road, or when you’re stuck behind an oil-burning clapped out truck/bus/taxi pouring black smoke into your face, or when there are loads of potholes, and I really don’t like riding through deep, loose sand or deep, wet mud. I hate it when an oncoming overtaking vehicle doesn’t give a sh*t about you and forces you off the road (happens literally on a daily basis, especially in Tanzania), I don’t like riding with a hangover (which is fortunately seldom since I’m pretty close to tea-total), or when all the bugs in the vicinity make a bee-line for my face, or a wasp gets stuck down my neck and stings three times, or when I`m tired, oh and I hate riding at night time, or when teenagers on the side or middle of the road make a `joke` throwing-themselves infront of you, or when a much anticipated petrol station never materialises and you’re riding with your revs as low as you can to try and squeeze out a few more kilometres and you’re kicking yourself for not having filled up at that one place 100km before (I can get an impressive 500 km out of my tank if I ride like a granny). I don’t like riding westwards at sunset when for the final hour I can`t see much, and I don`t like riding eastwards when the drivers coming towards me can`t see much either, and I hate riding behind vehicles that obviously have head-gasket or piston ring issues and are spewing out large clouds of black smoke that both line the lungs and make visability an issue (these vehicles are invariably travelling slowly due to their engine troubles and overtaking swiftly is a necessity), and on a good day in Africa these cars only make up every one in three vehicles on the road. Other than that, I really do enjoy riding on a motorcycle.

I had a great days ride up to Livingstone, including a 200km shortcut off road section that avoided passing through Bulawayo again, and rendezvous’d with Eudiet, who’s English language skills were starting to suffer since I’d set off on this trip. Vic Falls is everything they say it is – expensive excursions, but breathtaking majesty and awe-inspiring views. We were lucky that the season’s rainfall had been less than usual, and we were still able to go rafting when they would normally be shut down. The highlight of the stay was without doubt a somewhat illegal, and somewhat dangerous walk the two of us did from the top of the Zambian side, with two local “guides”, across the lip of the falls. A short walk upstream from the falls and we plunged into a deep and fast-flowing section of the river and had to quickly swim across to the first of many vegetated divides. At times the river was shallow and could easily be walked across, at others deeper and fast flowing and either had to be waded at an angle against the current, or swum as fast as you could. The trip took 2.5 hrs and we made it within spitting distance of Livingstone Island, were frequently stood on various rocky outcrops at the top of the falls with millions of gallons of water falling all around us, and spent 15 min plunging and swimming in a couple of pools at the fall’s edge. A private company has a stranglehold of the tourist excursions to Livingstone Island, and has done since 1982, charging up to $150 per person for the 2 hr trip, so controversial as it may be, I admired our guides who did a fantastic job, and were just trying to make a living in a place that had always been their home. I assume that they will inevitably “lose” a few tourists every so often, but then so do the rafting companies, so let’s just put it down to natural selection.

The pleasant few days rest at Vic Falls meant that I was again rushing against time to meet up with my old school friend Dan, who was working in Malawi, and was flying into Zambia to meet me. Instead of the more direct route to Lusaka I followed my old Belgian friend’s touring advice (Hans) and followed the Zambezi River upstream, and so began several days of hell, interspersed with brief moments of joy, elation and relief. The troubles began a few hundred kilometres up the Zambezi after the tarmac had turned to very bumpy off road. I’d stopped for a 5 minute break and found the bike wouldn’t start. In fact the headlights and even power lights started to fade and disappear. This was a three week old battery. The previous one had died abruptly also, but I was living in denial and couldn’t believe that the battery was dead – there must be something else going on. Anyway, I was push-started by some local guys – it actually took about 8 goes, which was very unusual, and I put down to the continued dirty fuel problem. I then reached a tiny ferry-crossing over the Zambezi from the west bank to the east, and discovered that the other side would involve around 10 km of loose deep sand. Knowing it would be impossible to push-start again in the sand I had to leave the engine running until the boat arrived, and I was safely across on the other side. Keeping the revs high to reduce any chance of stalling I managed around 3 km fairly well, until an oncoming car forced a diversion and I stalled. A little flummoxed I was delighted that the drivers of the other car insisted on helping me, and after various attempts at push-starting I was persuaded to be dragged behind the car by a rope in order to jump-start it, still through loose, deep sand. Miraculously this did work and without serious injury, and off I went again, for another 1 km until I stalled again (I blame the dirty fuel rather than rider-error!). The day was coming to an end, I was a good 6 km from a tarred road and surrounded by Zambezi riverside vegetation, and whatever riverside animals that comes with, and I prepared for the prospect of pitching my tent here until sunrise. My saviours then arrived in two vans and a car, a total of ten local men, who insisted that it wouldn’t be safe for me to stay, bandits being the biggest danger once the sun goes down, and they wouldn’t rest until my bike and I were safely ensconced in the next town. It took us about 2 hrs, and I’ve never sweated so much in my life, but between us we managed to push and jump-start and stall and push my bike and all its luggage all the way to the tar-road.

I left the bike and luggage at the local police station and went immediately to bed, having given my saviours enough money for a few beers each. In the morning I found a local mechanic, and between us we stripped the bike down, emptied the tank (oil found), removed and cleaned out the carburetor, checked all the wiring, and got the bike back on the road, albeit still needing to push-start each time. I was now on the main road to Lusaka, and if all went well I would be there the following night, and still be only 24 hrs late to meet Dan at his chosen meeting place, as close to Malawi and as far away from where I was as he could find, South Luangwa National Park. Despite a good ride for the rest of the day, I was noticing that push-starting the bike was getting harder, and perhaps the cleaned out carburettor was not the solution to the problems. The next day I managed to start the bike, but it was stalling easily whenever my revs dropped, and eventually, about 200 km from Lusaka, stopped, and wouldn’t start again, despite spark-plug cleaning and topping up with new fuel from some roadside salesmen. My objective now was to somehow get myself to Lusaka and then get everything checked there, including a new battery, which I still couldn’t believe was part of the problem. I met a chap on the roadside who was also looking for a lift to Lusaka, and he confidently assured me that we would find a lift no problem for the two of us and my bike. An hour later he had successfully negotiated us a four-hour ride in the back of a truck for a fairly small fee, and off we bounced down the road. I was disappointed that my first opportunity to ride through a game park was lost to me, but revelled in the relative luxury of sitting back, not having to pay attention to the road, and getting from A to B, and it occured to me that the elephants and antelopes that I did see from my vantage point would most likely have been obscured by tall grass had I been riding. I ended up in a backpackers in Lusaka paying $13 for a tiny, dirty room with four bunkbeds squeezed into it. On the road I can normally find a truckers lodge, or the like, where for $2-3 I can have a double bed and room and toilet to myself. However, the backpackers was close to a few motorbike shops and the next day I spent 7 hours running around the city trying to find the correct sized battery for my bike and carry out an oil and spark-plug change. A friendly local chap with a small Chinese motorcycle, with an enormous white storage box on the back of it, escorted me to various shops. The presence of the box on the back meant that I was squeezed into the bike seat with the rider literally sat in my lap. This was not only a little close for comfort for a prudish Brit, but also forced my knees out far to either side, and as we swerved and wove our way through the thick congestion of Lusaka, I was forced to squeeze my thighs together as my knee-caps narrowly missed the rear corners of cars and trucks by mere millimeters. On enquiry it turned out that my escort was a courier delivery rider. By 4pm I was able to head off and knock 350km off the ride towards Chipata, finishing quite late at night and pretty exhausted since much of the road was undergoing improvements and necessitated long offroad detours, and the intermittent showers did nothing to help matters. The dark, one street town I found myself in was pretty much shut up for the night and whilst failing to find anything to eat that night, as I wandered the street, two giggling young ladies of the night invited me to join them for some restitution. Laughing awkwardly and declining their offer, I rushed back to my room, but this would be a recurring occurrence throughout much of Africa that I would need to get accustomed to. Prostitution is another thorny topic that rightly stirs strong feelings on the subject and is probably best avoided in this journal; let’s simply agree that they all charge too much.

My poor friend Dan had by this point resigned himself to having a pleasant but somewhat lonely mini-break in South Luangwa National Park, so I think he was quite pleasantly surprised when he heard the sound of a motorbike approaching and finally saw me riding up to him; although having a natural predisposition to moodiness it’s difficult to say for certain. I’d headed off early in the morning so met Dan in time for a pleasant lunch. We had 24hrs before his flight back to Malawi so I made an exception and joined him for a few drinks at various local drinking establishments and a great dinner back at our lodge, and a few nightcaps next to my tent, which was drying out from an out-of-nowhere storm shower that flooded my groundsheet during dinner. I should mention my tent was carefully selected for it’s large internal volume to weight ratio, claiming to be a 5-man tent and weighing around 2kg. It’s a GoLight Shangri-La, a Tee-Pee design with a single head-height pole holding up strong mesh that’s attached to the groundsheet, perfect for keeping cool on hot nights, and for enjoying the stars without suffering the mosquitoes on cloudless nights. So far on this trip I have been woken up in the middle of the cloudless-night by sudden and heavy rainshowers four times – I guess what you get for travelling during the rainy season! The very waterproof groundsheet, which has a two inch lip around its edge, is exceptional at containing any rain that falls on it much like a swimming pool liner.

One has to learn pretty quickly in Africa to not make any assumptions. Almost every time I have made an assumption about something or other, it’s always come back to bite me in the ass. The latest assumption I had made was that after meeting up with Dan I would be able to drive northwards and explore some areas of Zambia less travelled. My plan had been to then cross into northern Malawi and ride all the way through it southwards, before entering central Mocambique and riding up the coast into Tanzania, enjoying three meals a day of freshly caught seafood. As it turned out the roads from Chipata either go back to Lusaka or various entries into Malawi: I was stuck on the wrong side of South Luangwa National Park. With little options available I headed off to Chipoti and met the nice South African owner of the local Spar and managed to stock up on his recently introduced biltong and chilli sticks. A relatively painless border crossing later and I was into Malawi – country number five!

Zambia had been quite a test for both the bike and for me, but sadly I hadn’t been there long enough to be able to talk knowledgeably about it’s people, politics, culture etc. but I’d certainly enjoyed myself very much and only met extremely kind and helpful people. Hygiene is taken far more seriously than I had expected, with facilities for handwashing next to every eating and drinking establishment, even when running water isn’t available. A good example of this was when I went for a beer with a friend of mine at a small makeshift shabeen (local bar) close to South Luangwa National Park. To protect anonymity I shall make an anagram of his name and call him Nad. So Nad had asked where the toilet was, and disappeared down the side of the shack to pee against a plastic sheet, but upon his return walked right past the plastic water-container with tap and bucket beneath it, and soap and towel on the adjacent plastic chair, and came to sit back next to me. The outraged look on the face of the young female shabeen proprietress was quite a picture! She came and collected all the hand-washing paraphernalia, and painstakingly rearranged it immediately next to Nad, who was obliged at this point to wash his hands, to her obvious satisfaction.

Posted by igotlostagain 12:53 Comments (0)

Malawi

A couple of my brother, Ewan’s, friends, Mariana and Drew, live in Blantyre in southern Malawi and I had set my sights of getting to them before the day was out. Other than a quick ATM visit in Lilongwe, the capital, and a fierce, heavy downpour half way through my journey, it was a pretty and uneventful journey to their house, although I had managed around 700 km, my longest day. The last hour or so was in the dark, but thanks to the exemplary directions provided to me by Mariana, I found their palatial home with no difficulty, and provides testimony to why one should never make sweeping generalisations, like 'Women are terrible at giving directions'. Having said this, you may find that this ‘journal’ is brimming with sweeping generalisations. I find them to be a useful tool in painting a picture, so long as all parties know that there can be many exceptions. Whilst on the topic, I should warn you that I use a lot of what I call ‘pub knowledge’ – I will give pieces of information I have weaned along the way, by word of mouth from people I have met. This is not always reliable so I wouldn’t quote anything I say here as factual, I have seldom researched and proven one way or the other the voracity of what I have learned.

Speaking earlier of sudden downpours I would like to mention this in a bit more detail. I always feel a little hard done by when the heavens open, but in reality I would guess there have been just as many times when I was certain that I was in for a soaking, seeing the rain falling all around me, when I’ve by some miracle come through it all into sunny weather without a drop falling on me. Before I left South Africa I had used a can of waterproofing spray that promised to waterproof whatever fabric it was sprayed onto. My motorcycle suit is a tough fabric material, but provides no waterproofing whatsoever. It has protective armour in the shoulders, elbows, spine and knees, and although leather is by far the best choice for when you’re sliding down tarmac at high speed, it is incredibly hot, less flexible, less breathable, more expensive, bulkier and heavier than the fabric alternative. Plus, at the more sedate pace that I had always planned to travel at, a cooler fabric suit was the obvious choice. Plus I got it on Ebay for $50. The first rain shower I encountered was on the way to Blantyre, and within five minutes it was obvious that the waterproofing can had done absolutely nothing to improve the situation, and if anything might have made it worse. When confronted with menacing-looking dark clouds in my path I’ve found so far along this trip that the best thing to do is to just plough on, especially if you can see lighter clouds in the distance beyond them. If you’re lucky you might get through unscathed, and if unlucky, it will end if you just keep going – unless you’re particularly unlucky and the raincloud above you is moving at the same speed and in the same direction that you are. I have a small visor on the front of my bike and if I dip my head down so that my chin is resting on my tank bag, I find that I get a few square inches in my chest that stay dry for a little bit longer, and my view is ever so slightly less impaired than it would be otherwise. My hands stay fairly dry from the plastic hand guards infront of them, and my boots are pretty waterproof, so my feet stay dry. My crotch seems to be the delta at which the majority of the rain collects, but if the rain is hard enough, there’s very little that will stay dry. This is one of the unavoidable downsides to riding a motorcycle. Oh – I should mention that I do actually have a set of bright yellow waterproof overs that are strapped to the right and left engine guards close to my knees, but I have yet to use these once, whilst riding, mainly due to the faff of getting them out, the even greater faff of trying to squeeze them back into their pockets again, and the general (and often misplaced) optimism that it’s just a light shower and I’ll be through to the other side in no time at all.

It turned out to be a Thursday prior to the Easter weekend and I had arrived just in time for a big foreign NGO-worker, charity-volunteer, foreign doctor etc. party. After a couple of 'Greens' with Drew (Carlsberg came to Malawi many years ago and decided that the local beer simply wasn't up to scratch, so returned a little while later and built an enormous brewery that supplies almost all the beer-swilling demand throughout the country), we headed to a wonderful party where I not only got well fed on three different types of curry, but met a whole bunch of people with whom I'd be crossing paths with over the next few days. Drew and Mariana were heading off at 5 a.m. for an easter holiday at Cape Maclear on the southern shores of Lake Malawi and I decided to head to Mount Mulanje, Malawi's highest mountain, about an hour's ride southeast of Blantyre. Luggage space on my bike being at a premium my selection of footwear was limited to my large, bulky, protective riding boots, and a pair of flip-flops. Drew had given express warning that it was a fairly tough climb and very kindly provided me with a pair of trainers for the hike. After a pleasant and dry ride to the start of the hike (there are various starting points all around Mulanje, which essentially resembles a crown with a steep and long climb up to a plateau, of sorts, from which various peaks arise) I set off swifty with the hope of catching up with some of the folks I'd met at the party. I had to negotiate a price for a mandatory guide, and after ninety minutes of steep climbing, against a tide of women of all ages, carrying at least half their body weight in freshly felled timber atop their heads, my guide was delighted when we caught up with Maxi and Adam and he was able to about-turn with a full day's pay in his pocket. The three of us along with their two guides (main guide plus trainee) had a very pleasant and beautiful climb up to the first hutted accommodation along the route, Chambe, from where I continued alone up to the final hut at the base of the summit climb. Here I bumped into a number of the guests from Thursday's party, whilst we cooled off our feet in a very welcome, very cold, mountain stream. The expat community here in Malawi, of whom there are a very great number, appear to all know one another and socialise well together. The hut was full with sixteen of us huddled together on the floor, with only a few of us being tourists, and not a single local Malawian. Clearly hiking isn't a popular pastime in Malawi, or they just know to keep away on holidays when it's packed. The second day was far more tiring, heading up to the summit and then all the way back to the bike. The descending fatigues my legs faster than the climbing, but suffice it to say it was a stunning climb up to the summit, far more beautiful than I had expected, and a fair bit tougher. I then had a beautiful, somewhat detoured (I missed a turning) ride home through vibrant green fields of tea plantation all around me. The detour turned out to be a blessing.

I should probably mention Jack and Ed. Just as I neared the bottom of Mt Mulanje I saw a familiar pair of faces, looking a little red and sweaty already, making their way up. Jack and Ed are the only other overlanders I've met doing a similar trip to me, albeit in a Landrover Defender, and we first met at the hostel we were all staying at in Bulawayo. Ed's a Kiwi and Jack an Aussie, but I refer to them as the Kiwi boys for simplicity; since Bulawayo I've had the good fortune of running into them time and again, all the way north. In fact, it's largely due to them that I didn't turn south in Kenya, but continued heading northwards. They will crop up again in this journal. And again...

The following day's ride took me to Zomba, the old capital city of Malawi, which takes you by surprise when you hear it, as there's really nothing about Zomba that suggests in any way that it was once the national capital - only that it's a tiny town of mostly dirt streets, a school and a market. However, on my way there I was flagged down by the Malawian traffic police for speeding. I believe I was perhaps doing around 60 kph in a 50 zone out of a small town. They had me banged to rights, they even had it on camera - a video camera filmed the small screen of the speed trap, and I appreciate they were only doing their job. But I also have to do my job, and that includes trying everything I can do to avoid paying unnecessary fines. I had a lengthy 'conversation' with the three officers that was at times quite energetic and theatrical. Initially they weren't accepting any of my arguments, but it became more jovial and relaxed. On stating that in the UK the police are required to calibrate their equipment on a daily basis or else the evidence can be thrown out of court, they very proudly showed me the sticker on their machine to prove that theirs had also been calibrated. This can only be done in South Africa, the equipment having to be sent down there and back again, so the sticker was over three month old. At this point I didn't want to belittle their efforts, which they were obviously pleased with, but the conversation had turned into laughter and they let me go with a warning to ride slowly through towns, for my own safety. To be perfectly honest though, this is something I had already taken to heart from the outset of the journey. Mostly for safety, but also due to fuel economy, my average speed was often sitting around 70-80 kph. For anyone interested in nerdy fuel economy things: for the previous three years riding this bike around South Africa, I had for the large part discovered that the bike would get around 400 km before having to twist the nozzle on the pipe leaving the fuel tank, putting me into my reserve, and I might get another 70-80 km. If I was doing higher speeds of 120+ kph this would drop drastically to maybe 340 km plus 45 in the reserve. So as I adjusted to the new weight on the bike that all my luggage added (I shall discuss all my luggage at length at a later date - bet you can't wait), and I rode fairly slowly over the first few days, I was amazed to discover that not only was I still getting 400 km before switching to the reserve, but was actually surpassing it. As I continued to get used to southern African roads strewn with animals, humans, gravel, sand and pot holes, it seemed prudent to keep the speed to a sedentary 70-80 kph, I was often getting 440 km from the main tank, and on one occasion 486. Just went to show that the weight and aerodynamics of the bike has far less to do with its fuel economy than the speed I was travelling at. Since fuel would be the largest expenditure on this trip a 10-20 % change in fuel economy can make a pretty big difference on the wallet, and the conservative speed certainly saved my bacon on many occasions as I rounded a corner to Planet of The Goats, or a small girl ran out into the street from behind a bus.

A good bit of fortune coming as a result of something that at the time seems bad has happened to me many times on this trip, or perhaps it's just how one looks at it. As I walked back to the bike from the traffic police, I noticed some liquid underneath the bike that I didn't remember being there when I stopped. I couldn't see any liquid coming from the bike, but I had my suspicions that there might be a coolant leak, and so was on my guard as I set off again. Perhaps if I hadn't been made aware of this problem I wouldn't have noticed that my temperature guage was rising rapidly and above where it normally tends to sit. Suffice to say there was certainly a leak somewhere and my radiator needed regular topping up, until I managed to limp into Zomba, thankfully free of any permanent damage to my engine or gaskets. I had to hunt around a number of small hardware stores that sold a tiny selection of auto bits and bobs, and found a radiator 'sealant' that very much resembled a tube of sawdust mixed with black pepper. I've actually since been told that in a really tight spot, black pepper does work really well, and perhaps this actually was black pepper in the tube. Finally I found a shop closer resembling an auto spares store, that offered the choice of the same mixed tube, or a triple the price imported American liquid sealant. By this time I had stripped away the engine faring and radiator guard and after running the engine for ten minutes, at about the time the fan kicked on, the pressure inside the radiator reached the point at which the leak became apparent. In the form of three high-pressure jets that shot out, the points of damage within a milimetre of each other. Clearly a stone had been thrown up at just the right angle and location to pass through the guard and hit one of the miniscule vertical radiator pipes. I'd experienced radiator leaks before with cars I've owned, and these have always sealed quickly and efficiently with some radiator sealant, so I had high expectations of the pricier imported sealant, once I had haggled the price down to something slightly more reasonable. Cutting a long story short, after numerous attempts, and using up the entire bottle, designed for the proportions of a much larger car radiator, the leak had still not gone away (always: looks great initially, but leaving the engine running until it gets really hot, and the jets leap forth once more!) An external sealant was then used, a stick of flexible putty that hardens with air, heat and time, and again, no joy. Finally, the owner of the shop, perhaps out of a small sense of guilt for flogging me the most expensive sealant, along with every assurance under the sun that it would do the job, came up with a plan. He was heading back to Lilongwe early the next morning, and if I could remove the radiator, he would take it with him, get it welded, and bring it back later the same day - this being a more permanent and reliable solution than the options we'd tried thus far. So it was that a night in Zomba was forced upon me, and this turned out to be an extremely exciting night, when a shop fire broke out a few hours after dark, and what had seemed like a fairly empty, dusty little town, became a sea of a few thousand locals rushing back and forth to gawk and gasp at the inferno (plus one traveller). At one point a 'fire engine' of sorts arrived, trying to push through the crowds, but quite by surprise the crowd as one turned against it, throwing stones and smashing the windscreen, forcing the truck to reverse as fast as it dared through the crowd it had already parted once, this time forcing people to throw themselves out of its path. On enquiry I was told that the crowd was probably displeased that the fire department had taken so long to arrive. I was just amazed that such a little town in Malawi even had a fire department. To chase away the only group of fire-fighting professionals from an on-going shop-fire, located in the middle of a line of equally flammable shops, purely because they were a little late, is surely a fine example of cutting your nose off to spite your face. By this point the fire was spreading to the neighbouring shops, but the group of closest men at the front of the fire had started to do what they could to slow it's progress. Metal awnings were being attacked and pulled down, and men on top of neighbouring awnings were being passed full buckets of water and were emptying them through the collapsed roof next door. It was a little like being at Bonfire Night, everyone was enjoying the entertainment, other than the shop owner, I imagine, and it was really interesting to see how the local Zombians reacted and interacted, and came together to fight the fire's progress.

The following day, early afternoon, my radiator made a healthy reappearance. With no coolant to hand I had to reassemble the bike and fill it just with water, until such time as I could find a proper radiator coolant. The shop owner, and his assistant, who would insist on helping me with everything, were extremely friendly and helpful and I was much in their debt. I didn't really pay much of that debt off when the total bill came to around $7. Despite the late start, a lovely ride northwards brought me up to Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi. I spent a night here, and a second night 25 km west around the lake at Cape Maclear. These two spots are often raved about by tourists as stunning examples of lake-side holiday destinations on Lake Malawi, so my expectations were high, and then were sadly deflated. Actually, the backpackers I stayed at in Monkey Bay was pretty nice, and the water was pretty clean (Mufasa Rustic Camp), but at Cape Maclear, I couldn't help but notice the sad and often inevitable pollution that comes along when more locals move to an area popular with tourists, in the hope of finding work. I can imagine Cape Maclear has expanded rapidly in the last 5-10 years - one of those places where you'll hear old-timers exclaiming how it was a thousand times better twenty years ago. But my experience was one of litter, non-biodegradeable materials, everywhere, a small scratch below the surface. Twenty metres back from the beach front, or sticking a mask on your face when in the water, there was plastic and metal cans, sheet plastic, bottle caps - you name it, everywhere and in quite dense concentration. The beach is also full of locals in the evening washing their motorcycles and maybe doing a quick oil-change. Being a motorcycle enthusiast I don't like to winge about that, but as an amateur environmentalist I can't help but notice. It's also sad to say that it's actually not the tourists responsible for this (the litter, that is, not the motorcycle cleaning) - the vast majority of tourists are pretty conscientious these days. It's generally the local population, or an unavoidable consequence of a non-existant waste and refuse management strategy. I don't mean to be all Bah-Humbug, there are still lovely views, nice places to swim, without a mask, and boat trips out to nearby islands to snorkel with the fish, hopefully where the plastic hasn't yet been washed to. I should say Malawi is not alone here - responsible waste management is a common problem, throughout Africa, and particularly in the touristy spots. It was not so long ago that plastic wrappers and bottles didn't exist here, but natural and renewable wrappings. Drinks were, and still are to a smaller extent, sold in fully reusable glass bottles, the way milk used to be when I was a child. On the plus side, I once again ran into the Kiwi Boys, and I let my guard down for a little while and joined them for a few Frothies!

My next destination was a marked improvement, a couple of hundred kilometres up the coast, camped next to the water at Steps campsite in Senga. After chatting with the barman for an hour, he decided to be my chaperone in the adjacent Village-proper after his shift ended. We jumped on the bike and our first stop was a local restaurant where I ate a pleasant rice and meat dish for less than a dollar, followed by a lean-to bar down a backstreet, a short and convoluted ride further on. The locals were all extremely friendly, and most could speak English reasonably well. It's worth mentioning that I normally like to learn a smattering of the local languages wherever I travel, partly out of politeness, partly as I find you can barter a much better deal if it's done in the native tongue. I guess they might just be inclined to give you something closer approximating a local price in return for you making the effort to speak a few words in their language. On this trip I've had to sadly neglect this tradition since I'm on the move every day, and with the variety of languages from country to country, and even more so the tribal dialects within each country, I would need to learn a new language every day, and my mind is not the dry, ready to absorb sponge it once was (que - old teacher's hysterical laughing, falling off chairs). The locals were tending to drink small bottles of Malawian gin or vodka, at around two dollars a bottle, and I stuck to the Greens. My chaperone was keen to take me on to another venue, I believe with dancing, but I called it a night and headed home after dropping him off. Once again I was awoken by magically appearing rainclouds at 4 a.m., and quickly threw on the flysheet, before bedding down again in a somewhat more sodden environment.

Throughout much of Africa I've said to myself, ah, the Bicycle is King here, or the Cheap Chinese/Indian Motorcycle is King here, as these modes of transport dominate the roads, not just in the cities, but really far out in the rural areas. Bicycle taxis, which despite recent construction in China, resemble bicycles from the 1950's, even use rod brakes instead of cables. Local welders will have attached a robust-looking pannier rack on the rear, along with two foot pegs, and the owner will furnish the seat with some padding and cloth if the customer is lucky. It's then not uncommon to see the rider struggling up a gradient with two or even more (think mother and two children) squeezed onto the back seat, or scarily freewheeling down a hill, putting far too much trust in that very old braking technology, and their invariably extremely bald tyres. And it really is no exaggeration to say that these are everywhere, so far on my trip. In Malawi, however, despite the presence of these two wheeled transportation devices, I was saying to myself, Ah, the Foot is King here. The road sides (no pavements/sidewalks) are busy thoroughfares between every town and its nearby villages, for workers getting to and from their jobs, or off for another day job-hunting. It was explained to me that despite putting in a full day's work, 5-6-7 days a week, many of the Malawians still can't afford to take a bus to or from their place of work, their pay being so meagre (and these combi-buses are not expensive) and the greater importance of housing, feeding and clothing their families. More so than in any other country did I notice this in Malawi. It got to the point where I couldn't stop for a pee on the side of the road - I'd be riding for over half an hour trying to find a quiet spot with nobody walking past and eventually have to capitulate and join the local men in peeing wherever the urge takes you, for fear I was going to damage my kidneys.

My route up Lake Malawi took me next to Nkhata Bay, a well established touristy town in a small but bustling fishing and ferry community. I opted to stay in a pleasant, small, wooden hut dorm, since the weather was inclement, and it was only $3 at the Butterfly Centre, a backpackers-come volunteer centre. This place actually did seem to have a strong social conscience: every day they were providing education and support to the locals, and on my departure day I saw a large gathering, conference even, of the town's women, of all ages, for what purpose I couldn't be entirely sure, but I imagine something along the lines of encouraging independence, education for women, and taking control of the purse-strings. I met a variety of foreign volunteers, who after three months stay were on their way home, and a couple of English girls, newly arrived for their three months. Free internet was also provided for any locals wishing to use the computers, only banning Facebook during this time. All in all I was quite impressed with what they had succeeded in doing, and sadly was an exception to the general picture I had so far seen of Malawi. Now that my bother Ewan has left his NGO job in Rwanda, I don't feel any disloyalty in mentioning the depressing state that Malawi has been left in after decades of handouts from Governments, charities and NGOs. The negative impact that giving has had on Africa is only slowly coming to light, but it's a strong and growing consensus that it has done far more harm than good, and my time throughout Africa, but particularly in Malawi, really brought this home to me. Malawi seems to have the biggest NGO presence so far on my travels, and yet despite all of the help it has received it is probably the least developed country that I have been through. The opinion of many that I have spoken to is that the NGOs all have their own agenda, their small area, project that they are working on, but the different NGOs aren't working together. The left hand and the right hand aren't communicating. And the left hand and the right hand are still giving fishes, rather than teaching fishing. Or perhaps teaching fishing to one person who isn't passing this knowledge on. Anyway, I shouldn't get too wrapped up in this, this forum isn't the place for too much African politics. They always say that religion and politics are the two things you shouldn't talk about, nevertheless these are without doubt the two topics that have cropt up in conversation with the greatest frequency throughout this trip. But let's be honest, it's because they are the most interesting and divisive topics! Throughout Africa, but more so in Africa, there is a legacy of children of all ages that you pass on the street, on the road, on a hiking trail, that have their hands out and they know the three words "Give Me Money". Although I have heard several variations that included "Give Me Monday". It's not just children, some adults too. It has been identified as a result of a generation or two who have grown up with the strong social idea that they can get whatever they want if they put their hands out, and it is reported to have led to a complete apathy within the population, of not just Malawi, but many African countries, to work, to be industrious, to be entrepreneurial (and I acknowledge many of you will be thinking, who am I to point the finger at other people...) For decades many countries have put their hands out, and 'The West' has provided whatever they needed, from Governments, through NGOs and from charities. And the saddest thing is that when you look at where the billions of dollars have gone and what good it has done, there is very little to show for it. I do believe that far more will come out about this, and I think it will influence the way that aid to Africa continues. Anyway, enough.

I'd been hearing some worrying murmers from other guests about the inability to withdraw any cash from ATMs over the last day due to some international banking communication breakdown, and on my arrival in the nearest town to the north, Mzuzu, I discovered that it was true. It was one of those times to make use of the emergency dollars all travellers carry with them. During the preparation months (realistically though, let's call them years) I had exchanged some savings into dollars, which were to be secretly stashed away in various bundles, in various locations, within my luggage, and secreted away in hiding places within the bike. I won't go into too much detail about these, just in case I ever do a ride like this again, and someone who's read this blog finds my bike. The general idea, stolen from other overlanders, is to stash your money away in various nooks and crannies, such that if the worst does happen, and you get robbed, there's a good chance that at least one of your stashes will remain untouched, enough at least to get food, fuel, accommodation, and a means to contact your banks and cancel all your cards. Since it's not one of my stash locations, I'll give the example of one I read where a rider had rolled up his dollars and shoved them up the tube that is his side-stand, with a cork to keep everything in place. In a similar vein, I also keep a spare key for the motorbike secreted away in the bike, such that if needs be, I'm always able to get the bike started, and roll away, no matter what else might have happened. It's not that I don't trust you, but I'll keep that location to myself too. Predicting how long I would still be in Malawi and my daily expenditure, I exchanged some dollars, filled up the tank, and headed off again, very thankful to have these dollars, but also hoping that these instances wouldn't cause me to exhaust them too quickly.

There's a campsite further up the Lake Malawi coast called Mushroom Farm, that's pretty well known and has great reviews online, and this was to be my last night in Malawi, prior to entering Tanzania. Sadly, it's not an active mushroom farm, and appears to never have been. I propose that someone had eaten some mushrooms sat on the side of this hill when they came up with the name. Nevertheless, it is perched very high up on the side of an enormous hill, just near to Livingstonia, and has breathtaking views over the lake. It also has a thoroughly enjoyable, off-road, 9km ride up to it, and back in the morning. Slightly more testing if it has rained all night and the mud has turned into a quagmire. Funnily enough, it also had the Kiwis, along with their latest passenger, another Kiwi, Mike. By now we'd come to realise that we were more or less heading in the same direction, so perhaps we should liaise a little and that it might be nice to rendezvous every so often. Particularly for me, travelling on my own. It was at the Mushroom Farm that I also ran into a very pleasant South African couple, travelling with their young daughter in a Land Rover Defender, who had heard about me often, and had wondered if I'd ever arrived in South Luangwa National Park. It turns out that they had acquainted Dan during his long and lonely wait for me, and they had often wondered if the Pom had ever met his other Pom-mate. When they had seen my bike and tent, squeezed onto the plot that had previously parked their Defender (I had thought it was an empty plot, and the paraphernalia strewn around drying was owned by the Kiwis), their first thought was that it perhaps belonged to the erstwhile Max. These poor guys had made it initially into northern Botswana, a river crossing from Namibia and Zimbabwe, and had been awoken and robbed at gun-point of all their small items of value (i.e. the most valuable stuff), including passports, by a small group of good swimmers. They'd only recently returned from a hurried round trip to South Africa to replace everything, and commendably, undaunted, were persevering with their Southern Africa tour.

Posted by igotlostagain 03:46 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Tanzania (Part 1)

From leaving Malawi, through to Dar Es Salaam

sunny 35 °C
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The Kiwis had made good friends with twins, Mark and Gregory, from Tanzania, thanks to their generosity with their bountiful supply of biltong, at the Hong Kong sevens earlier in the year. Little did they know what an amazing return on investment this chance meeting would result in, and by some luck I was in the right place at the right time to benefit from it also. The twin's family owned a guest lodge on Kisolanza Farm, a few hours into Tanzania, and the Kiwis had kindly suggested that I come with them, and perhaps I might benefit from a free night's accommodation. So it was I left Malawi a few hours after the Kiwis (slipping and sliding down the muddy, rain-drenched, steep and winding cliff-side descent from the Mushroom Farm) and entered Tanzania - as border crossings in Africa go, a relatively painless experience. I also finally managed to organise my Comisa yellow card insurance. This is a smart bit of organising by the African Community, and I thought was precluded for non-African citizens, but will give you the most basic third party insurance cover for just about all the African countries that you might plan to pass through. It's well worth getting this for the time-saving it affords you at each border crossing alone, if not for a cost saving. And you might imagine it would be a set-price, but with a bit of haggling I did manage to get it down from around $100 to $70. Considering you'll be paying $20-30 per country you enter for insurance (although a few don’t even raise the topic of insurance), you don't need to go too far before it pays for itself. Just a little bit frustrating that it took until country number six on this trip before I was able to find someone willing to provide it to me.

It was a very pleasant countryside-cruising ride up to Mbeya in southern Tanzania, but from here you hit the main transit road between Dar es Salaam and the Atlantic Ocean, and the interior of Tanzania and access to Zambia and eastern DRC. As such, this single carriageway road (i.e. one lane in each direction) is heavily laden with heavily laden double-bed trucks, generally moving at a snail’s pace, and buses bursting at the seams, moving at ludicrous speeds, well above their safety rating. Speed bumps at the entrance, throughout the middle and at the exit of every town, has been embraced throughout Tanzania, and with few exceptions, throughout Africa, as the cure-all solution to any speeding problems. And to be fair, the majority of drivers are so protective of their vehicle’s shocks that they drive frustratingly slowly over every speed bump. Particularly for an adventure motorcyclist who can bounce over any of these as fast as he pleases, if he has the right technique. Nevertheless, the carnage of mangled rusting steel chassis’ litter the road sides of Africa and show that these speed bumps are having a limited amount success. So far on this trip the roads and traffic that I had encountered had been testing and a little dangerous, to be sure, but it wasn’t until I arrived in Tanzania that I truly felt like people were actively trying to kill me. The clash of high numbers of slow moving trucks and fast moving buses meant the buses would take horrendous risks to get past any trucks that might impede their progress. This is when I discovered that motorcycles are clearly seen as nothing more than a small annoyance that better clear well out of the way or you’ll end up much like the colourful bugs smeared across the windscreen. The on-coming buses will quite literally look you dead in the eyes as they pull out into your lane and charge at high speed straight towards you as they try to get past a truck. The only option is to move rapidly left onto either a gravel siding, or if you’re very lucky a small strip of hard shoulder; however, this being Africa, there’s a perfectly good chance of there being humans and or livestock blocking your only escape path. This now started happening with such frequency that you realise you’re just going to have to suck it up and play these cards you’ve been dealt, otherwise things really will end badly. I have since heard from a few Tanzanians that the local motorcyclists give as good as they get, particularly in the cities, weaving around and cutting everybody up, and in general are fairly disliked, which goes a very long way to explain the treatment I was receiving from my fellow road users. Nevertheless, I felt that I was conspicuously different from other motorcycles on the road. For one thing I was wearing a bright white full-face helmet, which isn’t enforced anywhere in Africa, from what I could tell. A large motorcycle, with working headlights and additional auxiliary lights, with enormous bags on the sides and rear-rack and a rider in a riding suit and high-viz jacket, is the polar opposite of the local motorcyclist, but still did nothing to improve my situation on the roads. I get very upset when I feel that other people are putting my life in danger and the sort of language that you might have heard on the inside of my helmet each time I have to take emergency evasive action in lieu of a bus ten metres away from me would make Gordon Ramsey blush. It wasn’t much, but flicking the bird for as long as I could hold it, as I steered the bike one-handed, helped make me feel a little better.

Although the Kiwis had left the Mushroom Farm a few hours ahead of me, the speed bumps in every town, and their blown Defender turbo meant that I was able to catch them just before dark and went on ahead for the last hour to try and find Kisolanza Farm, approximately 50 km before Iringa. With a bit of luck I managed to find the right turn off and not long after I heard the diesel grunt of the Defender catching up with me at the Twin’s guest farm. We were well spoilt by Nicki Ghaui, the twin’s aunt, shown to our delightful converted stable rooms, and straight on to the restaurant for a three course meal. We spent two well-earned rest nights at Kisolanza Farm, which gave us all the chance to roll up our sleeves and get oily fixing up any bugbears with our respective vehicles. Compared to the old Defender, I felt I had a very easy time of it with my small and simple, and pretty reliable Kawasaki!

The Kiwis had been hooked up with a local touch rugby game in Iringa by the Twins and it was an enormous sense of normality to have a run around with a group of expats and Docs and NGO workers, and the occasional local. A few Frothies ensued after darkness fell, and after our three course meal back at the Farm, a few more with an overlanding truckload of Aussie tourists. Foolishly, this was poorly thought out, since I had a very long days ride along one of the most dangerous roads in Africa, all the way to Dar es Salaam, the following morning. Rather worryingly Nicki had emphatically warned us about the dangerous buses and trucks that I’d already experienced on my first day in Tanzania, explaining how she was often called out to clean up the pieces every time a foreign motorcyclist fell-foul of the psychopathic drivers, sadly often resulting in fatalities. As it turned out, the day was, for the most part, without much incident. I did skip a petrol station in the morning, in favour of utilising my entire tank, but regretted this when no petrol station appeared for the next hour, and I was forced to crawl along at 60kph, and literally sputtered into Morogoro, where I rendezvoused with the Kiwis for lunch, and to compare hangovers. Earlier in the morning I had also been pulled over by a large and jolly police woman for speeding through the town of Mikumi. Again, she probably had me banged to rights, but I went on a charm offensive, which led to an hilarious conversation, that went along the lines of:

Me: I definitely wasn’t going faster than the speed limit.
Large Jolly Police Woman (LJPW): How fast do you think you were going?
Me: I was only doing 45kph.
LJPW: Ah, then you were breaking the speed limit.
Me: Actually, I was doing less than that speed.
LJPW: So, how fast were you going?
Me: What is the speed limit here?
LJPW: (Laughing)…. It’s 40kph.
Me: Ah, then I was doing 39kph.
LJPW: (Laughing and shaking) I will have to give you a fine.
Me: Can’t you just let me off with a warning?
LJPW: Mmmmm……Oh, OK then. But please drive carefully through towns.

When I caught the Kiwis for lunch and we compared notes on the morning it turned out that they too had run into LJPW, and after some bartering had gotten away with a bar-of-chocolate fine, which I suspect might have led to her jolly disposition when I saw her a short while later. I say the day was without much incident, but the night most certainly was not. We had over 600 km to cover that day to Dar es Salaam, and twilight fell at around 6pm, and I was still 40 km outside of the capital. The next two hours were spent negotiating a way through the absolute mayhem of traffic coming from all sides and at all angles along narrow, very dusty and litter strewn, pothole covered streets. The traffic was largely at a standstill, spewing out billowing clouds of poorly combusted fossil fuels, and myself and fellow two-wheelers attempted to weave our way through, wary of trucks and buses rolling backwards as we squeezed through narrow gaps, like a climber fearful of the glacier rock ice sliding down as they make their way through the Khumbu ice fall. It’s very difficult to describe exactly how bad this was, made worse by poorly executed road works along much of its length. I feel that only someone who has been there and tried to make their way through during night time rush hour could ever hope to really appreciate how awful it was. It was almost a miracle that I made it through to the centre of Dar es Salaam, and made my way to the Doubletree Hilton Hotel, where the Kiwis were rendezvousing with the Twins.

I suspected that the Defender of the Kiwis would take a lot longer getting through the gridlock and so I made myself comfortable in the Hotel lounge bar, and began working through some restitutional draft beers. In the process of attempting to find out if anyone, perhaps two identical looking people, had been enquiring about the arrival of three white foreigners that evening, I had become quite chatty with the female concierge at reception. It was then to my great amusement when I went to the bathroom after an hour of to-ing and fro-ing around the hotel lobby, to discover in the mirror that my face, in an almost perfect outline of the full-face helmet opening, was jet black with soot, oil and a plethora of other pollutants. It took a good ten minutes to scrub most of this off, and when I returned to the reception I couldn’t help asking the girl there, with a grin on my face, why she hadn’t mentioned that my face was jet black. Her reply, through a restrained smile, was that she really wanted to mention it, but didn’t want to be rude or upset me, which I thought was very cute. A couple of hours later an exhausted and bedraggled looking trio of antipodeans fell out of their Defender, into the hotel bar, and within an hour, we’d met the Twins, found a cheaper place to stay, showered, changed and headed off to a popular rugby supporter’s bar in town. It’s difficult to describe effectively, but the relief felt after a long and highly stressful journey like the one into Dar es Salaam that evening, brings on a strong thirst.

The Twins had arranged for the Kiwis to join them for the weekend as they ventured all the way north into Kenya to play a league match (rugby union) against one of their arch rivals, Mombasa. The invitation had graciously been extended to me too, but I had a growing race against time of my own, if I was to see and do all I wanted to in Tanzania, and still get to Rwanda and see my brother Ewan and his wife Jayshree, before their contract ended and they departed. I should explain here a little bit more about my luggage, how much I took and in what form, as it’s often a query I’m asked about; I appreciate how tedious this could be for some readers, so by all means skip to the next paragraph. From the largest to the smallest, I shall begin with the 100 litre waterproof-canvas zipped duffel bag (Mountain Equipment), which sits perpendicular on the back of the bike, secured by two diagonal Rok-Straps (invaluable on any trip like this, amazing for securing things down) and one lengthwise over the bag from one side of the bike to the other. This bag is so large that it not only covers the spacious luggage rack on the back of the bike (10kg limit), but also half of the pillion area behind where I sit, and hangs out on either side of the bike just above the rear indicators, contained only by the tension of the three Rokstraps. Beneath the duffel is a pair of Givi soft-fabric panniers, which hang on either side from three adjoining Velcro straps, two that go above the seat and one that sits beneath it. These have a combined capacity of 70 litres, with the expansion zips opened up, and I keep them secured with four bungee cords to the pair of steel rear luggage racks, which have the bonus of acting as an additional pair of crash bars for the rear end of the bike. There are waterproof, drawstring covers that fit over each of the panniers. For security I have a pair of good quality padlocks (using the same key, of which I have five) which keep the large zip opening of each pannier securely locked for whenever my back is turned. The 100L duffel is also contained within a Pacsafe wire-mesh, locked at the drawstring (wire) top with a combination padlock, which acts to prevent a knife slitting open the soft rubberised canvas and removing the contents. There was nothing really to prevent the same happening to the fabric panniers, but the fabric is reasonably tough and I imagine wouldn’t open too easily.

Next in size is a cheap but thick 30 litre waterproof rubberised canvas stuff bag, canary yellow and storing all of my camping gear together in one place. This includes my 5 man tent, three season sleeping bag, pillow (inflatable), silk sleeping bag liner, Thermarest Neo inflatable mattress and a camping chair (of the variety that the Thermarest folds into). This stuff bag sits on top of the 100 litre duffel and is held in place with two good bungees, doubled over to provide four straps. Next is my 4 litre tank bag, made by Oxford, which is just big enough to hold all the readily-accessible essentials (sun-cream, sunglasses, Leatherman, pepper-spray, hand-sanitiser, lip-balm, Sat-Nav, charging cables, iPod, penknife, condoms, um, I mean, candy, water-purifier, torches, plasters, sterile latex gloves, camera and spare batteries) and a clear waterproof screen atop in which to place maps/GPS/phone. This is held in place by four strong magnets within its base, holding it securely to the steel petrol tank, and a security strap around the steering column gives me peace of mind. Much larger than 4 litres and you risk it getting in your way when you stand and lean forward on a steep off road climb. A few extra storage options I integrated onto the bike, namely two canvas pockets sitting within the frame of the crash bars on either side of the engine, near my knees, that contain my waterproofs, top one side and bottoms the other; two plastic tubes are secured to the bottom of the rear pannier racks. These have screw on lids and are large enough to accommodate a 1 litre water bottle, and although in a previous life they were made to hold tractor manuals in the cabs of John Deere’s, motorcycle forum enthusiasts the web-wide have endorsed their use today on overland-motorcycles. Lastly, I have a small canvas bag secured to the top of my front mudguard, just in front of my headlights, that contain spare tubes for the front and rear wheel. In summary, I have been riding with the potential to use over 204 litres of luggage space. That sounds like a huge amount, and the longer I ride the more I agree that I should have travelled with less rather than more, but when I compare myself to the photos I see online of other overlander’s loaded bikes, mine often doesn’t look so enormous any more.

Posted by igotlostagain 11:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged overland tanzania klr 650 Comments (0)

Tanzania (Part 2)

Zanzibar, and a quick return to South Africa

The following morning, the Kiwis left our shared room early in the morning on their way to Mombasa for their rugby fixture, and a few hours later I groped my way out of the room, and headed towards one of very few camping sites located in Dar es Salaam, albeit on the southern side of the natural harbour, around which the city developed. This was after I managed to track down the name and location of the bar we’d been drinking in the night before, gone there and collected my driving licence and paid my tab. The Mikadi Beach campsite is a very pleasant and cheap ferry ride south of central Dar, and very prettily located, but I was a little shocked that the only running water came straight out of the ocean, and the bottled water they sold was about five times the price of a shop a couple of minutes ride down the road. I wouldn’t be shocked by this through most of Africa, but I was in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, with half a million NGOs working all around me. The manager was very helpful, nevertheless, and agreed to store my bags and let me stash my motorcycle under the eaves of one of the few sturdy structures on site, and off I headed the following morning to Zanzibar. This required a hitch back to the ferry and over the river to the main quayside, and a kilometre run upstream to the Zanzibar ferry quay, and an expedited barter session with the ticket touts to get my ticket just in time to board the 10am speed catamaran, getting me in to Stonetown in time to see and do something with the day. My MO to date on such expeditions is to do a little research the night before, particularly when Wi-Fi is available. I have a tablet with me (LG G-Pad 8.3) which has proved to be invaluable throughout the journey, and luckily have various versions of the Lonely Planet, from various years, for almost all of Africa and Asia. Although significantly smaller than the softback paper varieties, the limiting factor you then have to keep on top of is your battery life. A quick Google search will help confirm things if you’re worried the LP info is a little dated. I headed straight to the Flamingo Hotel in the centre of the twisty, narrow, maze-like lanes of Stonetown, and again thanks to the GPS built into my phone, made it there in a cinch. For only $14 I had a delightful double-bed room to myself, with air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, and free breakfast on the terrace, accompanied by beautiful roof-top vistas of Stonetown. I spent just one night there, enjoying the window-shopping at the nearby Spice Market, along with the fish and meat market (not that sort!) and just generally getting a bit lost wandering the streets. The evening food market down by the waterside close to the port is a pleasant place to while away a few hours, more to enjoy the spectacle of young men and boys running and jumping and spinning and diving and flipping into the waters from the stone walls, rather than the repetitive tables of overpriced skewered meats and seafood. It was a little sad to see the young women and girls looking on with longing at the blatant joy and fun that their opposite sex were enjoying, whilst the constrains of their religion denies them any such frivolity. Even sadder, it denied me the chance to check them out in their bikinis and one-pieces ( just a joke, any radicalists reading this!) Passing on the opportunity to party at a Freddy Mercury bar, I opted for an early night and headed off in the morning to the north of the island on a two hour bumpy, but cheap journey squeezed into the back of a mini-truck, fairly resembling a milk truck, to Nungwi. Nungwi has long been a lure for honeymooners and the like for its beautiful white sand beaches and small rocky outcrops fingering into stunning turquoise coloured, bath-warm waters, with good quality restaurants perched on top. After a scout along the beach-side accommodation options I opted for a basic room 100m back for a 10th of the price, and went exploring. My first stop was the Turtle Sanctuary, about a kilometre along the beach to the east, where a natural salt water lagoon has been fenced off to provide a secure sanctuary to the regular number of turtles of all ages that the local fishermen catch in their nets. I was surprised at the $10 reward they give for each turtle handed in, which is more than the fishermen will earn for several large fish, and means that they might well be financially incentivised to intentionally catch turtles as a bonus to their fishing catch. A friend had recommended the place to me, and I have no doubt that they do a lot of good work, helping move the shockingly low survival rates for newly hatched turtles living to adulthood just very slightly in their favour. I couldn’t help but notice just 100m before the sanctuary I had to step over a sizeable flytip dumping site on the beach, clearly used regularly by the local residents to dispose of their refuse. Why, then, would the sanctuary allow this practice to go on, practically on their doorstep, when anyone who’s watched a modicum of David Attenborough knows how human-produced and discarded plastics have a large hand to play in the tragic and avoidable killing of a wide variety of marine life, including turtles.

Later, when walking down the beach I was approached to take a dhow ride with snorkelling included, and since I hadn’t used my mask and snorkel for a while, and I bartered him down to $15 for the three hour excursion, including some food and drink, I agreed to go. A bit of shambles later, and I found myself on-board said dhow with four attractive young Dutch girls enjoying a sunset cruise, but sadly the enticing snorkelling was a figment of the middleman’s imagination. It was still a pleasant experience, seeing the sailors manoeuvre the rather cumbersome looking vessel around with the unusual Dhow sailing rigging. A number of people I’d spoken to that day had informed me about a big party going on that night at one of the many large resorts along the coastline here, and this one happened to be just 15 minutes walk away. In mixed minds I impulsively decided to head along, not really knowing anyone who would be there, but in the end very glad that I did. It was a few dollars to enter and inside I was quite surprised to find the vast majority, by around 95%, were local Tanzanians, and not all white tourists. It consisted of a large enclosure, the central building of which was an enormous barn-like structure, but well equipped and fitted out with mezzanine bar and DJ levels. The dance floor was packed with enthusiastic dancers and I was welcomed along by one and all. Particularly one enthusiastic male dancer who danced just a little too close to me, and constantly reassured me that this was perfectly normal in Zanzibar. A quick quiz of other Tanzanians that evening confirmed my suspicions that he was definitely interested in more than just dancing with me. I don’t remember what time I tripped home down the dark and rutted rocky lanes, but I managed to dance off whatever I had drunk as I didn’t feel too bad in the morning, as I made my way back to the milk-trucks.

I had to travel via Stonetown in order to get to the southern end of Zanzibar and headed on to the kite-surfing Mecca of Paje three-quarters of the way down the east coast. Dropped on the side of the road and using my phone GPS to orient myself, I found the beach side resorts, only to discover that the vast majority of them were closed, including all the kite-surfing shops. It turned out that I had arrived in Zanzibar at the one time of the year when there is zero wind, meaning anyone in Paje involved in the wind-dependent tourist industry takes this opportunity to have a holiday themselves. Finally I found the perfect dorm room – perfect as I was the only occupant of a 20 bed dorm – and settled down to enjoy a day of rest and relaxation from the stresses and strains of daily motorcycle riding through Africa. The evening was only slightly marred by a dodgy king prawn in my evening meal, which when I went to suck the remaining meat from the large head did I discover how rancid the head stank. I had to bring this to the attention of the Chef, I had literally nearly emptied my stomach when the fetid stench hit me. It was a small restaurant tucked away in the usually busy streets around the large empty resorts, and the Chef was barely apologetic, agreeing that it was certainly off, but that the prawns travel all the way from Dar es Salaam, sometimes further, and this was an unavoidable consequence. My stomach started making angry growling noises as I settled myself down to bed and I prepared myself for a long night with little sleep. So I was delighted when I awoke in the morning having had a long and restful sleep, and I felt perfectly well. My earlier meal in the day had been some street food amongst the locals of Paje, some sliced up and fried potatoes and an interesting vat of boiling bones and weird cuts of meat which produced a strange and yet tasty bowl of broth. In general, for culturally explorative as well as economic reasons, I tend to always eat the local food with the local people, and although my expectations are that periodically I will have to suffer the occasional bout of food poisoning, this was a small price to pay, and in the meantime the exposure might help improve my stomach flora and help make me a little more immune to such bouts. However, in reality, I hadn’t suffered a single upset stomach yet, and the one time I came close to it was in a more “touristy” restaurant, eating curried king prawns.

My fourth and final night on Zanzibar was going to be spent back in Stonetown, enjoying the best of the sights, sounds and smells I had discovered on my initial explorations. Whilst waiting on the side of the road in Paje, however, I bumped into an older fellow with a distinctive face I recognised from the beach side campsite where I had spent my first night on the shores of Lake Malawi. He recounted the story of his morning, walking along the side of the road, from some accommodation around 7km further south of Paje, where he was accosted, bounced around in a circle and robbed by a group of seven men. Sadly they had taken almost all he had, including computer and phone and cash and cards. He had a few pennies to his name, his clothes, and a credit card somewhere back in Dar. It was a bit of an alarming story, reminding you that there is a lot of poverty all around you, and understandably desperate people, and that this occurrence could quite easily have happened to me or anyone else. We made our way back to my favourite Stonetown hostel and he put a plan together, involving getting his sister to send him out some more money. The rest of his day was spent with the police in Stonetown recounting the story, there being no closer police station to Paje. I went shopping for spices and vanilla and baobab seeds, and headed back to the mainland the following morning.

The next week involved a return to South Africa in order to attend a good friend’s wedding in Cape Town, provide a few more much needed English lessons, and crucially, obtain a visa to enter Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the first thorn, and possibly main thorn, in the side of any Overlander taking my sort of route. For some reason, known only to themselves, they will not provide visas to non-Africans arriving at their land borders, but have no problems whatsoever in providing one if you fly in to Addis Ababa. Furthermore, you cannot simply get one from the capital of the previous country you are travelling through, such as Nairobi if you are coming from Kenya. In fact Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali nor Dar es Salaam Ethiopian embassies will provide you with a visa. What you are supposed to do, by their own instructions, is apply from your home country, i.e. from London, for your Ethiopian visa. What I have heard many Overlanders do is DHL or FED EX their passports back home and get a loved one to apply for their visa on their behalf, before sending it back to them in Kenya. This is not only quite risky, should your passport go missing, but also illegal, I think, to post your passport internationally, and also time consuming and expensive. Since I was going to South Africa anyway it certainly seemed like a good idea to see if I could kill two or three birds with one stone. As with most seemingly small beaurocratic hurdles in Africa, this turned into a debacle, the beginning of possibly the greatest risk to my completion of this adventure!

I arrived in Johannesburg late on a Wednesday night, stayed with a friend of a friend in Pretoria, and made my way directly to the Ethiopian Embassy first thing on the Thursday morning. This little excursion to South Africa had begun with an inauspicious start. I spent an hour winding through the horrible Dar es Salaam roads on the way to the airport wearing only what I was prepared to take with me on the trip plus a small backpack. Once at the airport I discovered that they must be one of the few airports in the world that has no carpark. No carpark at all! There is nowhere for people to come and leave their vehicle when they fly somewhere for a weekend, or a week, or a month. Everyone else in the country is probably well aware of this peculiarity and hires taxis or get friends to drop them before their flights. I arrived, without an awful lot of time to spare, and had a series of arguments with various officials until I finally understood the lay of the land. The carparkless lay of the land. The best idea anyone could come up with was for me to ride my bike a couple of kilometres around the airport perimeter to the local police station and ask them nicely if they would let me park there, with an offer of a small contribution to the local Dar es Salaam Airport Policeman’s Ball. I’m not too sure how well they understood what I was asking, but my flight was leaving shortly, and I hoped things couldn’t ever get that bad, leaving your motorcycle parked at a police station? I left my bike in the shade of a tree, helmet locked to the bike helmet locking mechanism, and the keys left with the station Sergeant, with all my personal details written down.

The application process for the Ethiopian visa was going swimmingly, even after rushing off to find an ATM mid-way through, and only began running into difficulties as I was about to walk out the door. On a whim I thought I might just confirm whether this one month visa I was applying for would begin from the day I enter Ethiopia, as I assumed would be the case, or might, quite unusually, actually start counting down those 30 days from the moment the stamp makes contact with rapidly dwindling untarnished paper in my passport. Lo-and-Behold this visa obtaining process is made more complicated by the latter. I rapidly explained that I wouldn’t even arrive in Ethiopia for another month, first having to make my way through the rest of Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, before knocking on the perimeter gates of Ethiopia. The only solution: double up the cash, and get a two month visa. Off I went, back to the ATM, which I should mention was around 2 kilometres away, and finally I managed to confirm my application for a two month Ethiopian visa. I would be back on Monday, and I confirmed, not only with the girl dealing with my application, but with her boss, in the back office, a large, suited man, who seemed remarkably helpful for a man of some beaurocratic seniority, that their office was open on Monday, and I would definitely be able to collect my passport.

Two hours later on I was aboard my Mango flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, sat next to a glamorous woman in her fifties, who was, by all accounts, a successful business owner, and learning that Monday was a bank holiday in South Africa. Back on the ground I was straight on the phone to the Embassy to discover that indeed they would be closed on Monday, and my flight back to Dar es Salaam flew out on Monday evening! When you first move to Africa, in my experience, the discovery of this sort of scenario, being burdened with problematic situations because of misinformation from people who should know better than anyone, is a constant hair-pulling, stressful, experience. Slowly, but surely, you kind of get used to it, and become better equipped to not waste your energies getting too worked up about it, but adapt to find the best solution to the latest kerfuffle you find yourself in. There was no two ways about it this time though, I had to get in touch with my generous host of the night before, and persuade her to visit the Embassy the following afternoon before they closed and collect my passport, as if she didn’t have better things to do with her time. Of course I also had to speak to the Embassy again and explain the situation, and ensure that they would have my passport, with visa safely stamped with it, ready for collection the next day, Friday. A very pleasant wedding weekend later, I was back in Pretoria, rendezvous-ing with Gherdy, and collecting my passport. A quick check confirmed that my Ethiopian visa was indeed stuck in place, taking up a whole page. It was only two weeks later on, when arriving Rwanda, that I discovered that the Ethiopian embassy in Pretoria, after all that, had only given me a one month visa – not the much needed two month visa! This is not the end of this story, but I’ll need to pick it up again later on….

I took Gherdy out for something to eat as a small thank you for all her help, and kept a careful eye on the time, needing to take the Gautrain down to the airport from Pretoria in plenty of time for my flight. I had confirmed what time the Gautrain stopped working, and left in plenty of time, only to discover once on the train, that although the train does run until 10pm, the section that connects to the airport, for some unknown reason, stops running an hour earlier. The closest I could get was a station called Marlborough, a good twenty minute drive away, and also about to close for the night, with nothing open in or around the fairly isolated station. So it was, ten minutes later, with the help of a complete stranger working in security at the station, calling a contact of his, that I found myself in a private taxi, with the driver and two other strange men, driving around fairly unsafe areas of Johannesburg at night time. In somewhat security stressful situations like this, I have a habit of subtly removing my most important bank cards from my wallet, and secreting them elsewhere on my body, along with my passport. This is all in the hope that I may lose many valuables if things all turn bad, but all won’t be lost if I can retain the bare minimum of essentials, and my life. Since you’re reading this you can probably guess that I made it safely and with all my personal belongings to the airport: one of the other two men was dropped off en-route, and as we progressed I checked on my GPS to confirm that we were at least heading remotely in the correct direction. I flew through the night, arriving in the very early hours, and made my way back to the police station, delighted to be at least visually reintroduced to my motorcycle. I had a very long wait though for the station Chief to arrive. Many hours later, in his wood-panelled office, he began the negotiations on how much I might wish to contribute to the station, for the burden of looking after my bike. I won’t bother going into too much detail, it was quite a palaver though, but wasn’t all unpleasant, and at times we got on fairly well. In the end he let me go without having made any contribution at all, which wasn’t actually my end game, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Posted by igotlostagain 11:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged zanzibar Comments (0)

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