When we decided to actually go on this trip it was nearly the end of May. The lease on our apartment was up on July 31st. This made August the natural starting point for the trip, but it only gave us 13 weeks to plan the trip and get everything else done. Excited about the idea, we went to the travel section of Powells Books and pulled out the Lonely Planets. We quickly came up with a list of countries we’d like to visit and of those we wouldn’t. Central and South America are natural destinations for North Americans, but given the security concerns, we quickly crossed them off our list. We had traveled in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago and loved it. We wanted to return to see the places not easily accessed via public transportation, so we put it on our list. We had already done a bunch of research on India and Nepal, so they went on the list as well. Also on the list was riding across the US from Portland, Oregon where we lived, to Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio, where we had family and friends. This left the question of how to connect the east coast of the United States and India. We briefly considered Europe but nixed it due to the expense and relative cultural similarity.
That left Africa. But where? Central Africa was never on the list- visiting active war zones like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia was not an attractive proposition. Northern Africa also seemed iffy with the unrest of the Arab Spring and recent relocation of the Dakar Rally. That left Southern Africa. So we filled our shopping basket with the Lonely Planet Southern Africa, India, and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and headed home.
The next day, we consulted weather charts on the internet, which pretty much set our schedule. Our route will (hopefully) hit the dry but not too hot path around the world. We also made a list of countries that require Carnet, visas in advance, and made a quick list of comparative costs by country. After doing some ciphering on the money, we decided we could afford the twelve to fourteen months of travel our trip now encompassed.
So, decision confirmed, I headed down to Classic Scooter and Cycle in Portland and purchased two brand spankin’ new, baby blue Symbas. I spent the next couple of weeks glued to the computer screen scouring ADVRider, HUBB, and Symforum for advice on gear, the bikes, and travel planning. We soon started making decisions on gear purchases, and boxes began to arrive at our door. It was like Christmas every day! At the same time, I started working to arrange Carnet du Passage for the trip. This was a relatively easy process; Suzanne Danis, at the CAA, is great to work with. The only hitch in the carnet process was a strike by the Canadian Postal Service, but a digital camera and email got our documents to Canada without trouble.
Re was in charge of medications and vaccines. She did the research as to what we needed and set up the appointments. We added yellow fever, polio, and our final hepatitis shots to our list of immunizations. We also got prescriptions for Cipro, Azithromycin, and curative doses of Malarone (for malaria) to include in our first aid kit.
The bikes were prepped for the trip- we had a blast putting on the break-in mileage. We installed various racks and a 12V charger to keep our electronics juiced up on the road. Spare parts were difficult as SYM has recently changed importers, but Michael at Alliance Powersports came through for us in a big way. Because of the lack of spare parts in the country and the time involved in getting them from overseas, Alliance actually pulled our spares off of the last new Symba they had in stock.
Shipping the bikes was a nightmare all on its own and almost stopped our trip before it began. It turns out that getting bikes to Europe is easy, but to Africa, not so much. Re spent untold hours on the internet and telephone trying to find anyone who would even give us a quote for shipping to Africa. I also spent hours scouring HUBB and ADVRider for any possibilities. Re finally got a quote from a US shipper of around 4200 USD for a 20 foot shipping container, which would take a mere 50 days to get to Durban, or 8500 USD!!! by air to Johannesburg. That seemed like an awful lot for two tiny, little 199 pound bikes. But Re persevered and out of a call to Royal Air Maroc, the idea of shipping from Canada arose. Re then researched route maps from eastern Canada to Africa and discovered that British Airways has service from Toronto to Cape Town, South Africa. She definitely didn’t have her hopes up when she called British Airways Cargo in Toronto and was connected with our new best friend, Savio. When asked about shipping our bikes, Savio said, “sure, when do you want them there?” He followed this up with an email quote and an explanation of weight by volume. Basically, if we pull off the front wheels and fenders, detach the handlebars, and stuff both bikes into a crate, the rate will be approximately 1800 USD. He also recommended a crating company and a company to handle the dangerous goods paperwork.
All in all, with the help of the internet motorcycling communities and the wisdom of others who have done it before, it was surprisingly easy to plan this trip. It’s not that hard, and it doesn’t take two years. If you are thinking about it, just do it!