|06-06-2011, 01:47 PM||#107|
Joined: Apr 2010
Into South Africa
Boy, have I been lazy lately.. let's get back a couple months to mid-March, when I left Mozambique.
I've decided to skip the northern part of the country, even though I wanted to visit Kruger. But bikes are not welcome and I hate going in a tour in one of those trucks. Also I had no use going to Jo'burg or Pretoria, I just hate large cities. So I'll be going down the east coast of South Africa, but first into Swaziland. After a small road tax I'm in. Good roads, lots of sugar cane fields. I find a nice backpackers where I spend a few days. It's run by whites of course, first hint that I've moved into a new world. Very friendly guys, the owner even shows me around nice tracks on introduces me to a large group of South Africans coming in for a ride.
Other than that, not so much to do, so I move on. At the South Africa border they don't want my carnet: I just get stamped in and that's it. Cool.
3 major things put South Africa apart from the other African countriesI've been to, all three of which I noticed very quickly:
My first stop along the highway after entering South Africa was therefore in a steak house, buying a huge rack of spare ribs. Lekker, as they say here.
Another thing I noted is all the game reserves in the country. Besides the big national park such as Kruger, there are literally dozens of small private or public reserves, where game is kept fenced off like a giant zoo. One of my picnic stop was in a nature reserve where zebras roam freely among the braai pits and picnic tables. Very surprising for a European, even after having crossed half of Africa.
Thanks to metaljockey I had an appointment in Durban for a much needed servicing of the bike in a few days time, enough to go to the Drakensberg, a mountain range that should be more interesting than the highway hugging the coast.
An opportunity also to feel the Zulu culture.
Indeed the mountains are nice, but the thing is, there are almost no road going into the mountains. As a Swiss I expected nice passes and twisty roads, but I found none of them. The mountain range lies mostly inside a series of national parks, which is fantastic for hikers, though much less interesting for bikers.
The Drakensberg range marks the south-eastern border with Lesotho. This small country lies entirely in high altitude, and I was been hyped about it by South Africans I've met as a must-do destination for bikers. So there's only one pass across the Drakensberg, the famous Sani pass. Sounds good to me, the weather is locked on "sunshine" so the conditions are perfect for a ride in the mountains - except for the totally slick rear tyre of course. But what the heck, let's go!
|06-07-2011, 02:42 PM||#110|
Joined: Apr 2010
Lesotho - and mountains in general - is wonderful when it's sunny, as much as it can be miserable in bad weather. I have apparently a few days of sunshine in front of me, so I can't wait to get there. And the right way to get into the country, for a biker, is through Sani pass of course.
I stop in the last town before the border to buy some supplies, not knowing exactly what I could buy in Lesotho. There are dozens of small travel agencies advertising a trip to Sani Top (as they call the top of Sani pass), so it is a big deal here.
The road up to the South African border post deteriorates a lot, until I reach that sign, the first one I've seen, which probably adds to the hype surrounding this road.
Even though my vehicle isn't equipped with four-wheel drive the customs officer stamps me out and off I go. Here's the pass seen from below
and from the top
The road is indeed pretty steep and in bad shape, with big rocks protruding everywhere. You need to work a little on a heavy bike with a slick rear tyre but it's only a few km, so pretty straightforward.
At the top I pay a road tax of some sort and get stamped in. Lesotho have their own currency but it's pegged to the rand, and the rand is accepted everywhere so no need to change.
There's a "highest something in Africa" sign on the restaurant up there, which is probably bogus because it's only 2800m high, whereas many roads and villages in Ethiopia were above 3000m.
The view is magnificent, but it doesn't end there. The road keep going up, and still in a very bad condition. The temperature has dropped markedly to about 15-17 degrees, but as I go slow and have to work hard, it doesn't matter. The landscape is beautiful, but most striking is the difference in infrastructure and lifestyle with Kwazul-Natal.
I cross many herders on horse or on foot, wearing little clothes on them.
I don't think they travel on horse anymore in South Africa, it's all motorized. Here it's very basic. The huts are simple but very nicely built.
They remind me a little of the high villages of Ethiopia. Maybe it has to do with the cold forcing you to seek better protection from exposure.
The ride is perfect, until I hit the tar. I didn't come here to ride on tar roads, but there was this dam I wanted to visit. On the GPS (T4A) there's a road crossing over marked as "off road". By experience this can mean anything in T4A, so I just try it and check the condition. It's actually nice gravel, but I stop after a few kms because it's already late.
I haven't crossed any sort of accommodation until there, so I stop at the village and ask where I could sleep. There isn't anything, so I ask to pitch my tent in front of a house: they're happy to let me do it, and soon enough I'm surrounded my the village kids, watching me pitch my tent and start to cook dinner. Some speak a little English, but clearly it's not as widespread as it is in South Africa.
The next morning I leave for what I reckon should be a 2- or 3-hours ride given the state of the road. Little do I know that it would take me the whole day. After 10 kms or so the graded road just stops and it's big rocks and holes again. I think (hope, really) that it must be temporary, so I carry on.
But it doesn't improve, on the contrary. After an hour or so of very slow going, I start to wonder if I shouldn't turn around. I have food and water, so the timing is not important, but I start to bottom out on the big boulders and drop it a couple times, so I'm afraid I might break a rim or something important which would mean having to organize a transport to get it back to SA.
Of particular concern is the very much worn out chain that is rattling pretty badly. If it breaks I'm toast.
But what the heck, the scenery is fantastic, the weather is beautiful, and after all I came here to have it hard, not easy, right ?
Looking at the grass that grows on the road, there must be very little traffic here. Indeed, I only cross people on horse or foot for most of the day.
The place is not empty, there are little villages every few kms.
and kids watching after the cows, who are not yet used to tourists enough to come and beg for money.
Communication is difficult because they mostly don't speak English. Once I get help from a guy to pick up my bike when I crash right next to him. What must he think of this lone biker on this crap road, looking for trouble ?
All this is hard work and pretty tiring but the vista makes up for this. No modern infrastructure anywhere, just nature and traditional villages.
I keep riding for a few more hours, and the road doesn't get any better.
Sometimes I have to get off and walk the road a few meters to figure out the right path to get through without breaking anything. Often there's really only one way to do it, and a few centimeters right or left and you crash.
.. which happens anyway when you're distracted one second.
Sometimes there's enough room to put your tyre in
More often there isn't
About midway there's a shop stocking very basic stuff. It's run by this funny character who's apparently bored out of his mind.
There are also the occasional river crossing, fortunately nothing big. Of course, on horse you don't even get wet feet.
But no way to get lost, there's only one road. When it gets like this
it means I missed a turn off.
I start to get pretty knackered after a few hours of this. One thing you have to remember in these situations, is to stop to rest and eat. It's all too easy to keep riding until you're totally exhausted, because you haven't drunk or eaten anything in the day. I reach a village that seems a bit larger, good spot to get some food.
I'm quickly shown the way to the local shop/bar, where I'm met by some young guys who're obviously already wasted.
The want me to buy them beers, but I convince them instead to go buy some food and have it cooked by a woman. The guys are teachers, but the school ends around 1PM and they have a few hours of walking to go back home. So they lose no time in getting drunk. Waiting for the meal, I snap a few pics of the kids, which inevitably bring a lot of chaos.
There's a guy dressed like a painter who fiddles around a truck engine linked to some kind of belt.
He's running the village's mill, and the mask protects it from inhaling the flour.
I spot a car in the village, and to me this is a good indication that I should be not far away from a "normal" gravel road. So maybe I won't have to bush camp in one of the villages (although I wouldn't mind really). It turns out the graded road starts just a few kms after the village. From there on I make good progress, and aim for reaching the dam before sunset. But not without stopping to snap a few pics of the amazing landscape
and local on horse, cars are still a rarity here.
Finally I reach the dam, which is pretty impressive from there.
I'm allowed to camp at the visitor's center, which even has a shower - although pretty dirty. The sunset sky is wonderful, but this usually announces bad weather.
After a cool but restful night, I leave under sunshine and on tar, to find a very welcoming sign
The road is great but unfortunately just as I reach the bottom of the pass it starts to rain.
That's good for me, even though I would have loved to visit Lesotho some more, now I need to get to Durban to meet with the BMW guys, and fix up the bike.
|06-07-2011, 03:41 PM||#111|
Joined: Sep 2007
Location: Cape Town, ZA
Great trip so far, im loving the pictures!
just a mention on tires. I run an online store in South Africa and I sell most tires available here.
While the k60 heidenau is not a bad tire, the current tire of choice is the mitas e07. It lasts much longer and does not square off as bad as the k60. Both of them are only availble in a 140/17 and cost about 100-120 euros. (1100zar)
I would choose an E07 over the K60 anyday of the week. For the front, TKC80.
Let me know when you are in Cape town. I would also suggest visiting the winelands, Malmesbury, Riebeek Kasteel, Paarl, Franschhoek.
Ill buy you a beer :)
|06-08-2011, 12:29 AM||#113|
Joined: Apr 2010
actually I've already left SA, in Namibia right now. Thanks for the offer, that'll be for next time! I'm currently catching up with my blog from 2 months ago.
I agree about the tires. I met a bunch of riders who were running K60s and were happy about it. So I went for the hype. But I'm not that happy about it, it has little grip. In fact it's probably not better than the original mount Battlewings which I had on the mountain roads of Albania. And it does seem to square off badly. Thanks for the tip, I'll try the Mitas next time.
I sourced TKC80s here in Windhoek, I'll keep the K60s until I leave the tar/graded roads of souther Africa and throw it away when I hit the muddy roads of central Africa.
|06-10-2011, 06:01 AM||#115|
Joined: Apr 2010
|06-10-2011, 11:02 AM||#117|
Joined: Apr 2010
Back in Durban I drive to the BMW dealer that was recommended by Metaljockey: Ryder Motorrad. Roger and his team gave me a fantastic welcome, and really went out of their way to make my stay as comfortable as possible. And of course, they're very skilled and have first-hand experience of those bikes. What a change from the cold and purely commercial relationship that I used to have in French or Swiss dealers. Outstanding, and warmly recommended. Thanks again guys.
I settled in a backpacker in Durban, pitching my tent under the rains which have arrived in force. I even found a tick on my skin, which I ripped off without a second thought. Durban in peculiar in that it has a very strong community of Indians. And even quite a few muslims. That makes for quite a diverse population, although it seems that downtown is 95% black while the fancy shopping malls are 90% white and Indian. But it seems to work out pretty well, at least in appearance. You still hear many whites thinking otherwise and talking of emigrating, which sounds too bad.
Mechanic-wise, the shock absorber was worrying me, and I didn't know quite what to do. The solution was easy and solved by the workshop: changed under warranty! I'm not sure it would have been as easy back in France. My rear tire was totally busted and I was keen on testing the Heidenau. Supposed to last much longer. I got it through the workshop as well, with the help of metaljockey. I also changed the chain kit, with a DID chain that I'd been carrying all the way from the start (..) and a smaller front sprocket (15 teeth). It gives me better control at low speed, on tricky off-roading. Do I wish I had it in Lesotho.. but also to cross Kampala, which was even slower.
I get the bike in great shape, ready to tackle the return leg, but not before visiting the Easter and Western Cape. The first target is the Wild Coast, an unspoiled stretch of nature that lies in the former bantoustan of Transkei. Even after the reintegration in South Africa, the construction remains very limited and undeveloped. Mind you, the roads are also terrible, but that helps keep the mass tourism away from it I guess.
I wasn't disappointed, the landscape is beautiful, and there is a sense of emptiness and virginity that is quite moving.
The villages are small, made of thatched huts and in different colors (okay, some are also pretty crappy, but let's ignore them for now..). They blend very nicely in the country.
The weather is a bit cold, very windy and stormy, which makes for very nice skies.
The next stop is in Coffee Bay, a very nice backpacker with a laid-back atmosphere, and lots of beers of course. Unfortunately, for a couple days I feel a bit shitty, with frequent bouts of fever. A bit of flu I guess, but it just wouldn't stop, strange. Malaria ? well, it's much worse than that, with Malaria you're completely wasted. Then I remember the tick I removed in Durban.. could it be that it's transmitted some virus ?
Metaljockey had told me to stop by his place near East London. That also happens to be the next major town. I show up at the hospital there, and after a negative malaria screening that told me I probably had tick bite fever. I must say that the help I got from the doctor or the rest of the staff was very nice. Of course, it was also a private hospital, and I had to pay up front for the consultation.. But after a few days of antibiotics I'm feeling just fine. Ironically, I've been prescribed doxycycline, which I had just quit as a malaria prophylaxis. It seems locals are used to this; in Europe the ticks carry the Lyme disease, which can be quite serious. Fortunately this was quite minor.
The stay at Erik's house was great, another case of the wonderful hospitality of the South Africans. Thanks dude. Unfortunately Michnus wasn't back from Ethiopia yet, but I'll meet him another time, hopefully in Europe when he gets there.
Leaving Eat London I head towards the Little Karoo. This part of Eastern Cape, and Western Cape, is fantastic to ride through.
I found excellent gravel roads, and so didn't see much tar for almost a week. And generally little traffic, except for a couple of buffaloes in the middle of the road in Baviaan Kloof! What more can you ask ?
oh, a bit less rain maybe..
I forgot the names of all the "kloof" and "poort" and passes, but the pics are all geotagged in the album.
I used mostly the campsites, sometimes I managed to bush camp, but it's not easy as much of the country is fenced off.
I show up at the gate of Sambona reserve, reading this sign:
Nice! I discuss a bit with the Congolese gatekeeper, but the accommodation is totally out of my budget. On the other hand, the road that goes through the park is public, so they have to let me pass. They call a bakkie to "escort" me to the exit. In fact, they drive behind me so that I don't get too much dust.
That allows me to spot a family of elephants drinking just next to the road. Cool. But clearly the escort is to make sure I get out of their property, it clearly would be no help in case of an "aggressive" encounter.
I only stayed once in a guest house, just when a huge storm was falling on me. I haggled hard and got an OK deal, the advantage to get there in the off season. Shortly after I had settled, a couple bikers arrived (on BMWs of course, as it seems to be the vast majority of the bikes sold in SA).
We had a nice evening swapping stories with beers and red wine. The next morning we leave in different directions, but not before Wessel invites me to stay at his place, near Cape Alghulas. Did I mention the South African hospitality ?
The wind is blowing hard, nonetheless Wessel rounds up a couple friend bikers and we head 1/2 h away to Cape Alghulas for the obligatory picture.
Cape Alghulas sits at the very bottom of South Africa, it's the southern-most point of Africa. From there on, following the coastal road toward Cape Town the temperature drops considerably. You can really feel the effect of the Atlantic, it being much colder than the Indian ocean.
It's also the point where I'm effectively going back home. But there is no bad feeling, the crossing of the continent on the west coast looks like it's going to be much rougher, and the adventure is far from over.
|06-11-2011, 10:28 AM||#118|
Joined: Apr 2010
I had already been to Cape Town a few years before and I would have enjoyed stopping there for a few days, as it is a very enjoyable city, but I need to be in Windhoek to meet my girl-friend who's taking a few weeks of holidays with me.
So I leave the ocean behind me - gaining 15 degrees in a matter of 10 km or so - and head north on the highway. I had been told about Cederberg by the SA bikers, so I paid a visit to area on the way. It is indeed beautiful, and the roads are just perfect.
I skip Naqamaland, people go there to admire the flowers in spring time. I also reluctantly give a miss to Richtersveld, too hard-core to tackle with my schedule, so I end up eating a lot of asphalt, straight north across the border to Namibia. Shortly into Namibia I take the road that leads to Fish River Canyon, a first sample of the fantastic gravel roads in this country, on which it is much too easy to get into less-than-safe speeds.
Somehow the crickets are out in force, maybe the result of the recent rains, and the road is literally covered with these large insects, that look much like some aliens whose spaceship had blown up in the air.
I stop for the night shortly before the canyon at Cañon Roadhouse. The owners made a nice job of decorating it with all sort of vehicle-related paraphernalia.
The camping area was nice, although I had to cope with noisy and obnoxious German tourists in their camping-equipped rental bakkies. I will see many more of the same kind during my stay in Namibia. It turns out, even though they'd colonized the country for only 30 years before being kicked out by the South Africans, more than 100 years ago, they still keep strong links and the tourists flock en masse during the high season - fortunately still a few months away. I prefer to walk out to watch the amazing sunset that the stormy weather produced on the nearby mountain.
And to complete this excellent day I top it up with a delicious oryx fillet at the restaurant! I think I'm going to enjoy this country..
The next morning I leave early and head for the Fish River Canyon, for which I have to pay an entry ticket. Not cheap for a few hours. Fortunately the place is pretty empty, and I reach the canyon before the other tourists. It's probably different in July/August.
There's a track following the edge of the canyon, with various viewpoints. If you want to hike down though you need to ask for a special permit, as there is absolutely zero infrastructure down there - and rightly so I would say, unlike Arizona's grand canyon. I won't bother you with pictures you've seen hundreds of time, anyway a photo can't do justice to the sheer size and beauty of the place. You have to go there and see it to get a sense of the dimensions.
On the way back I follow another track to Keetmanshoop, to see the quiver tree forest. This time the road has suffered from the recent rains and is still flooded at places. In the coming weeks I will also experience the damage that the rains have done to the roads. They've had exceptional rains last summer (Jan/Feb), and they haven't been able to fix them all yet. The farmers are ecstatic about it, the grass has grown very tall and the cows are eating as much as they can.
I find a camping that is just next to the (protected) forest, with dozens of very picturesque trees all around.
The same place also houses a few cheetahs, one of which you can actually pet while she's having her dinner. Surprisingly, the cheetahs are not protected in Namibia, they're considered a nuisance by the farmers who are authorized to shoot them if they wander on their farm and kill their cattle. Some of them are captured alive, though, and end up in a place like here.
With only a couple days to go, I have a long day's ride on tarmac to Windhoek, where I settle in a nice backpackers. I pay a visit to the BMW dealer, and give it the bike to service (I know, I know, but I want to keep the warranty; more about it later) and have a look at the ABS unit that won't turn on. It's actually a good thing for the most part, but if I paid for it I want it to work...
I've rented a bakkie for the next few weeks that I'll spend with my girl-friend in northern Namibia and Botswana. Yes, a hard-core biker would have done it all 2-up on the bike, but I can tell you, having a fridge in the back loaded with cold beers is a luxury I can live with. More annoyingly, the best places in Namibia are extremely bike-unfriendly (deep sand, destroyed roads).
..and plainly forbidden in all the game parks. And there's a pretty good reason for this..
Advrider is not the best place to talk about a 4x4 ride, so I'll spare it to you - unless there is a strong demand for it. Meanwhile you can have a look at the photos of northern Namibia.
I'm writing this now back in Windhoek, busy sorting out an itinerary and the necessary visas for the next leg, and giving the once-over to my bike. Stay tuned, and thanks for the nice comments.
|06-11-2011, 12:37 PM||#119|
Joined: Apr 2005
Location: South Africa
Hey you crazy bugger good to see you are still going well! Your photo's are stunning, love them. Markus and Kariina from Estonia is in Oshakati I am sending them parts for the BMW Monday. They will then go into Angola, if you want to team up with them.
Keep it going although I know it's going to get more difficult to post as you go North.
|06-29-2011, 07:48 AM||#120|
Joined: Apr 2010
Yes, I'm going around Angola, I've arrived in Lubumbashi, but haven't had time to post. I'm heading next across DRC to Kinshasa, it looks like.. rough!
Note: no bribe paid yet ;-)
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