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Old 06-30-2013, 10:31 AM   #16
JoRust OP
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Joined: Jun 2013
Location: Africa
Oddometer: 50
Cameroon - A mix of kindness!

I left Libreville on Sunday, 3 June ’12. I left from Kathie and Fernando’s house where friends and members of the motorbike club gathered to see me off. Kathie had prepared breakfast with croissants and coffee and juice. They hung balloons outside on the porch to mark the occasion. Kathie, Fernando, Vanessa and Bruno would follow me out in Bruno’s car and some of the members from the motorcycle club would also accompany me outside of town.

We set off around 09:00. My next destination: Oyem, in the North of Gabon. Bruno and Fernando had phoned ahead to organize a place for me to stay with friends of theirs in Oyem. What I had forgotten is that I had to cross back over the Equator seeing as there is only one road in and out of Libreville! So I got to take a photo of the Equator sign after all. I ended up crossing the equator three times!! Haha. Going into Libreville, going out of Libreville and then turning back up North to Oyem. I had a good day on the road, no issues whatsoever. Kathie had packed me some croissants and cheese, which I had for lunch next to the road. I reached Oyem around 19:00. My new hosts were waiting for me as I entered the town. Henry and Yvette Weber, French citizens working and living in Oyem. Turns out they’ve been based all over Central and West Africa. They led me to their place, situated next to Oyem’s brewery, which they happen to be in charge of.

After I had a chance to relax for a few minutes and have an ice cold Coca-Cola, we went out for dinner. Even though they could only speak French, we were able to communicate pretty easily. My French had now improved to the point where I could have a full on conversation. Not in perfect French of course, but I can make myself understood. I spent a wonderful evening with my hosts. We chatted about my trip and experiences I have had on route. About Africa and places we have all visited.

I turned in for the night around 23:00. The next day I would cross into my fifth country – Cameroon! Before leaving Oyem I was given a tour of the brewery that supplies beer and some soft drinks to surrounding towns, covering a 600-kilometer radius. It was my first time in a brewery and I found it really interesting. The processes involved in making beer. Since I’ve grown quite fond of the stuff on this trip and try to sample a bottle of local beer in each country, I found it all the more interesting. LoL.

From Oyem I headed off towards the Cameroon border. Just outside of Oyem there is a Police control point where I was stopped so they could take down all my details. I had a nice chat with the police officer on duty whilst he wrote down my passport details in his register. From Oyem I made my way to Bitam, which is situated about 30 kilometers from the Cameroon border. What I didn’t know is that I had to stop in Bitam to have the Customs Police stamp my passport as they are not actually situated at the border. When I arrived at the border I stopped at the “Duane” office to have my Carnet stamped. From there I made my way to what I thought to be customs to have my passport stamped. Here they told me that I had to go back to Bitam to have my passport stamped there. I was annoyed, not with the border control but rather with myself. Andrei and Chris, the riders who I met in Namibia had told me that sometimes the customs police are situated in the last town before the border and not the actual border. Bummer!

So I made my way back to Bitam where I had my passport stamped and then returned to the Police control at the border as the officer in charge asked whether he could have a photo with me when I returned, before continuing on to the Cameroon side.

When I crossed the border into Cameroon, the first stop was at the Customs Office. At least on this side the Customs Office was situated at the border. The officers on duty invited me in and sat chatting to me for about 15 minutes whilst flipping through my passport and writing down my details. They then stamped me in and welcomed me to Cameroon. All of them asked for my number before I left. I just smiled and explained to them that I would be changing numbers in Cameroon. They accepted this information and sent me on my merry way. The Duane office was situated about 5 kilometers further on. It didn’t seem like there was much going on when I stopped outside the offices. When I went inside I found the officer on duty lying on his desk…asleep. I unfortunately had to wake him up because I needed him to stamp my Carnet. Lucky for me he didn’t seem too annoyed at my having interrupted his seemingly blissful slumber. He didn’t have a pen to fill in the necessary details, so I gave him mine. At least he was quick about stamping my Carnet and I was out of there in no time.

I was now officially in the fifth country on my trip. Next stop – Yaounde! Here I would meet up with a friend of mine named Divine Ntiokam. Divine and I met each other through and NGO we both supported whilst I was still going around Africa on my bicycle. We kept in contact and had become friends, although this would be the first time we would meet in person. Divine was very happy and excited when I phoned him up to tell him I am in Cameroon.

I almost immediately noticed certain differences in comparison to Gabon. The building styles were different. In Gabon you are more likely to see wooden houses in the villages all alongside the road. In Cameroon you have more brick houses. In Gabon the villages seem to be build into the dense jungle surroundings. In Cameroon I could notice the jungle starting to thin out. And in Cameroon just about every second person I passed would signal to show me that my lights are on. This would carry on all the way to Nigeria!! This would also be the main reason why I would get pulled over at Police and Military control posts. Every time I get pulled over the first thing that gets pointed out to me is that my lights are on. Then I have to explain that it’s automatic and that my lights cannot switch off. Only when I switch my bike off does the lights switch off as well. (In reality I could switch the lights off by pulling out the connection to the lights but seeing as there’s duct tape over the unit this would prove a bit of a mission, so I rather opted explaining my way out of it every time).

The roads in Cameroon are good. Tarmac almost all the way to the Nigerian border. Although I had planned on making it to Yaounde, I didn’t count on the delays at the border or the delays on route being stopped at the control posts on route. It was starting to get late and it became obvious that I wouldn’t make it to Yaounde. I phoned Divine and we both agreed that it would be better if I stopped and stayed over in Mbalmayo, the town before Yaounde. Divine had phoned a friend, who phoned a friend in Mbalmayo who happened to have a guesthouse. The guesthouse turned out to be situated about 500 meters off the main road. The only problem with this is that the roads that lead off the main road into the villages are very difficult to negotiate on a bike. Especially a heavily loaded bike! These roads are more like jungle trails than actual roads.

I had to stop a few times to ask for directions to the guesthouse. The last 50 meters was a really bad stretch and I ended up putting the bike down. Two young guys passed me and helped me push the bike to the guesthouse. The staff at the guesthouse were already expecting me and were kind enough to help me carry my bags inside. It is a humble establishment that makes up in lack of facilities with kindness. The staff prepared me some food that consisted of fish and rice. I hadn’t eaten all day and certainly welcomed the food. I washed myself out of a bucket and settled in for the night. Though around 23:00 I received a call from Divine telling me that he had to go to Bamenda, which is on route to the Nigerian border. So we decided it would be best if I carried on to Bamenda the next day rather than stop over in Yaounde. This would place me closer to the Nigerian border.

It started pouring down with rain and one of the staff members had to bring a bucket to place behind my bed, as there was a bad leak in the roof. I was tired and even the persistent dripping all night couldn’t keep me from sleeping. The next morning at 6:00 Divine phoned me again to let me know he had arrived in Bamenda around 4:00 that morning. He had taken a bus from Yaounde. I snoozed until around 7:00 and then got up to pack the bike and hit the road. The only thing that was bothering me was what the downpour during the night had done to the route leading out to the main road. The staff helped me to push the bike all the way out!

Heading out of town, I stopped at a Total garage to fill up with fuel and then headed for Yaounde. Getting into town I had some traffic and it took me about half an hour to make it through the town. Once through I stopped at another Total garage to check my tyre pressure. With the previous day’s riding I could feel that I was running on really low tyre pressure. Some of the garage staff came over to chat to me. There was a shop at the garage, just like back home and I went in to buy myself a snack and a cold drink. I asked the staff whether they knew where I could get an MTN sim card for Cameroon. They sent one of the attendants to buy me one! I was able to sort out fuel, tyre pressure, food, drinks and communication at this garage. Not bad at all!!!

The ride to Bamenda took a bit longer than I had anticipated though! In essence it’s not THAT far, but you have quite a few control posts you have to pass through and navigating your way through the towns can be challenging as well. At one of these control points I was able to witness a spectacular fight. I was pulled over by the two officers on duty. A military control point. They were rather friendly and just asked for my passport. As I stood there, a truck came past and the driver was shouting through his window. It stopped right in front of me. The female officer walked up to the truck with her firearm hanging over her shoulder and pulled the driver out of the truck. By now everyone and their dog were getting involved in the fight and they completely forgot about me. So I just smiled and rode off.

The next interesting encounter came in the way of a few people trying to sell me monkeys and rats next to the side of the road. They would hold the dead creatures by their tales and run after you to try and make a sale on their daily catch. I’m not really into monkey…and or rat meat, so I just rode on.

Just before Bamenda you get to a town called Bafousam. This town had crazy traffic and I got lost several times. I stopped at a garage to ask for directions and a man was kind enough to help me. Though further on I came to a roundabout where my GPS took me to the right. About 15 minutes out of town I stopped for a break. It was getting late, almost 18:00 now. A man stopped next to me and we started chatting. I told him that I was on my way to Bamenda. “You’re going the wrong way”, was his reply! Damn!!! He explained to me that I had to go back to Bafousam and at the roundabout as you get into town, you have to turn right. I knew exactly which roundabout he was talking about and immediately made my way back.

By the time I got to Bamenda it was dark. I stopped as I got into town and phoned my friend Divine to let him know that I had arrived. Divine took a taxi and rode to where I was to pick me up. It was a joyous occasion, finally meeting in person. Big hugs and even bigger smiles followed. We then made our way to the hotel where we’d be staying. “Clifton Hotel” in Bamenda. Here, more people speak English as it’s nearing the Nigerian border. It was nice to be able to have a conversation in English. I unloaded the bike and the hotel staff helped me to take my very heavy bags to my room. It was a small room, but more than sufficient for my needs. Plus, there was HOT water in the shower!! Which is always a bonus. I cleaned up and then we had dinner at the hotel. A dish with chicken, vegetables, peppers and grilled bananas... all mixed together in one dish. I have come to grow quite fond of these grilled bananas. They cut it up in slices and then it gets grilled. Some grill it in oil, others on an open fire. I’ve been eating this since Congo. I wonder what bananas are good for. You know how carrots are supposedly good for your eyesight? Because I have certainly been eating a lot of bananas.

The next day I took the day off to prepare myself for the border crossing into Nigeria, one of the most notorious countries in the world. I met Nina; she was the girl who had organized for my stay in the guesthouse in Mbalmayo. Turns out she actually stays in Bamenda and after Divine had phoned her she phoned a friend of hers in Mbalmayo to organize a place for me to stay for a night. That’s what you call ‘team effort’! Divine, Nina and I spent the day together. First we had breakfast and then headed off to the Internet café. Here I was able to catch up on emails and Facebook etc. We were at the café until lunchtime. After having lunch at the hotel I had a nap. Divine had decided that he would hire a transport bike (taxi), so he could accompany me to the Nigerian border. He was very concerned about my having to ride through Nigeria!

We left the next morning around 8:00. Divine, his driver James and myself. Our first stop would be a town called Mamfe, which is about 60 kilometers from the border. The road up until Mamfe is a good tarmac road. From Mamfe onward it would be off-road. I just didn’t know what ‘kind’ of off-road. It took us about two hours to get to Mamfe. Divine and James would ride in front of me and could only average between 60 – 80 kilometers and hour. One can see that this is a fairly new road as the Chinese are still finishing off the last touches. They’re also working on the road between Mamfe and Ekok (the Nigerian border).

In Mamfe we met with some of the Community Leaders at the Youth Center. We sat in on a community meeting for a few minutes. I found it very interesting, listening to how the communities here organize the way their villages run. The particular topic they were discussing was what the youth should do during school holidays. They felt that more and more of the youth are getting involved in ‘unhealthy’ activities and should be outdoors exploring their environment or engaging in more intellectual activities.

We left Mamfe around 12:30 to make our way to the border. Only 60 kilometers…that would take us near to 3 hours to complete! Mud, mud…and more mud. We passed a ceremonial convoy for the inauguration of a community center. First a group of men dressed in their police and military uniforms, then community members and after a group of dancing girls dressed in traditional clothing and two men in big wooden masks that reach to the ground! This was the first time that someone shouted out: “White, white, white”. It caught me off guard at first and I thought to myself: “Huh? What are you referring to”? Of course it didn’t take me too long to realize who and or what they were referring to!

There is a stretch on the route where you make your way down a mountain pass with waterfall running over the road. Although it was challenging to negotiate my way down this road, I had a great time admiring the surroundings. The tall trees again. The greenery is absolutely beautiful. There were points where we had to stop and wait for trucks that had fallen stuck. The road isn’t wide enough for trucks and other traffic to pass next to one another. So when you get to a point where a truck has fallen stuck, you have two options. Stop and find a shady spot or pitch in and help dig it out. We were lucky in that whenever we got to a truck that was stuck in the middle of the road, we were either able to pass around or it didn’t take too long to get the truck going again.

We finally reached the border town, Ekok, around 15:30. First things first I changed money and went about getting something to drink. I bought myself and Divine a Sprite each and then we went to have passports stamped and paperwork sorted out. Divine had decided that he would cross with me and accompany me all the way to Ikom, which is the first town on the Nigeria side. James, the taxi bike rider was too scared to cross with us and stayed in Ekok.

Getting through customs on the Cameroon side of the border went without hassles. Though when we got to the Nigeria side I was met with a rather unfriendly female customs officer. Even though my Nigerian visa clearly states that I have 14 Days in Nigeria, she only wanted to give me three days!! I asked her whether she would be able to ride my bike through Nigeria in three days time? So she gave me 7 days and nothing more. I figured I could have it extended in Lagos if need be and left it at that. Divine hired another rider to take him to Ikom and we were soon on our way.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 10:38 AM   #17
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Joined: Jun 2013
Location: Africa
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Nigeria!!!! - A quarter of the way!

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when crossing into Nigeria. Well, truth be told, I wasn’t nervous once I had entered the country. The night before, in Bamenda (Cameroon) I had butterflies in my stomach. In my mind I had always told myself that if I could only make it through Nigeria, I should be okay on this journey.

I realized that the only way I could keep myself focused is to treat Nigeria just like any other country. It’s just another country that I am riding through. This way I could just focus on where I needed to be at the end of each day and getting there in one piece. For my first day in Nigeria I needed to be in a town named Ikom. I needed to go to GT Bank and ask for Nkem, the branch manager. He was my contact in this town.

I had been in contact with riders in Lagos since Congo. News about my arrival had spread across the country, to all the different motorcycle clubs. So by the time I had arrived I had contacts in every town I would stay in. Nkem took Divine and myself to a hotel in Ikom where we could stay for the night. I paid for both my and Divine’s accommodation. I felt it only fair as Divine had paid for my stay in Bamenda. We went to have dinner at an eatery not far from the hotel where I tried out some of the local food. It was the equivalent of “Pap en marog” in South Africa. My Afrikaans friends will know what that is. It was rather tasty and I enjoyed my meal. Afterwards we went to another hotel where we had a drink before heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest. I was tired and could see Divine was at the point of nodding off at the table.

The next day I would ride to Calabar. Andrei and Chris (The riders I met in Namibia), had told me so much about this town and how they enjoyed their stay here. A friend of mine back home, Ingrid, who had lived in Nigeria for quite some time, had told me that Calabar was her favorite place in Nigeria. So I was looking forward to reaching this town!

Divine left at 6:00 in the morning. I got up to see him off and then went back to sleep until around 8:00. I knew I could afford the sleep-in seeing as Calabar is about a 3-hour ride from Ikom. I sat outside the hotel waiting for Nkem who were supposed to meet up with me before I left. By 10:00 he phoned to say he wouldn’t be able to make it. Many people at the hotel came over to chat to me. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. I finally left around 11:00 and first stopped to fill up with fuel. Luckily for me the hotel was situated right on the road that I had to take to Calabar, so that meant there was no way I could get lost, seeing as my GPS wouldn’t even pick up Calabar when I tried searching for it!

The road from Ikom to Calabar is pretty good. It’s just the first 100 kilometers that you have stretches of corrugation here and there…but I’ve definitely seen worse! At first I was a little nervous about being on the road on my own, my main concern being the notorious military control posts one gets stopped at. I’ve heard SO many stories about these stops. About how they get aggressive towards you and only try to scam you out of money and will intimidate you with their firearms. Well I can certainly report that I did not experience anything like this whilst on the road. I did pass a couple of military control posts. But all they would do is wave at me and shout out: “You’re welcome”. So either things have changed…or I’m just the luckiest person on Earth.

The roads are always busy in Nigeria no matter where you’re heading and traffic can be a little scary at times. It’s like there are no rules on the road. First off, there’s no speed limit (seriously). Secondly, it would seem that the first rule of survival is that: “he who is fastest, wins”. Trucks come at you from the opposite direction, in your lane…and you just have to either duck or take your chances with playing chicken with a ten-ton truck.

Nevertheless I made it to Calabar safe and sound. First things first, I phoned my contact in Calabar: Chief Matthew Olory. I had made contact with him before I entered Nigeria so he knew when I would be arriving. He directed me into town and organized for someone to meet up with me seeing as he wasn’t in town that day. From the pick-up point I was taken to my hotel where I would spend the next three nights. I spent my first evening in Calabar just relaxing, and got to bed pretty early.

The next day I got to meet Chief Olory when he came to my hotel. I also met with the club’s road captain: “Kenny G”. Olory took me to have my bike washed and we spent most of the day meeting up with other riders and riding around town. Late afternoon we went to a restaurant on the Calabar river where we had something to eat and drink. There are two things I wanted to see in Calabar: The Calabar river and the Slave Musuem. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Slave Museum but at least I had lunch on the river. Here I met the Nigerian National Motorcycle Club President. They call him “the King”, seeing as he’s the president over all the existing motorcycle clubs in Nigeria. There are quite a few clubs all over the country. The Easy Riders – in Lagos, The Millenials in Calabar, The Angels – in Lagos, The Crazy Riders – in Port Harcourt, and a clubs further North as well.

I really had a good time in Calabar. It’s a beautiful town and has a very laid back energy to it. When time came for me to leave Calabar, Olory rode out of town with me. He accompanied me to the turn off that would put me on the road towards Benin City. He had written down the directions for me as my GPS wouldn’t pick up the route and I would have to make a few turns in the different towns I would be passing through. The clouds overhead seemed threatening and I was really hoping it wouldn’t rain all the way. It didn’t. Only three quarters of the way!

The road wasn’t too bad. Tarmac road with potholes. From Calabar I had to make my way to Ikot Ekpene, then Aba and onwards to Owerri, Onitsha, Asaba and finally Benin City.

I will never ever, for as long as I live forget the town of Owerri. It is officially THE most chaotic town I have had the misfortunate privilege of having to negotiate my way through! First off, it was pouring with rain. You have single lanes going in and out of town. In the middle you have huge rubbish dumps dividing the two lanes of traffic all the way through town. On the roadsides you have thousands of little stalls covered with umbrellas and even more people! Luck would have me fall stuck behind a truck for about half an hour. All around me little yellow, three wheeled taxi cabs (exactly as the ones you see in India) gathered in anticipation of squeezing past the truck. People zig-zag through the traffic between stalls. All around me people would point and shout at me (in local language so I couldn’t understand what they were saying)…and even if I could understand, I wouldn’t have been able to hear them as I just cranked up the music playing on my headphones in my helmet, allowing me to almost disappear into my own little bubble. At a junction a female police officer was directing traffic with a baton in hand. If anyone dared ignore her instructions or jump the queue, they would have to face a whack from her baton on their vehicle or any body part that might happen to stick out! I witnessed one such unfortunate queue jumper receiving a whack on his car’s bonnet!

I was just too happy when I finally made it out of there! From Owerri I made my way to Onitsha. About 20 minutes from Owerri I stopped for a break and noticed a car turning around and pull up next to me. A news reporter from NTA (Nigeria Television Authority) introduced herself to me and inquired as to who I am and what I am doing? After I had explained my mission to her she pulled out a camera and asked to conduct an interview with me. This interview would feature on that night’s news. I spent about twenty minutes riding up and down the road so she could get a few shots of me in action. Then she asked me a few questions and gave me her card. She was also kind enough to direct me to the Asaba road. If not for her I might have missed it because of detours on the road.

From Owerri the road got much better and I was able to get on the “Express” road (like a highway). The road was good and I could get up to speeds of 120 kilometers an hour for the first time since Angola! Asaba is a town just after you’ve passed through Onitsha. There is a big bridge crossing the river that divides these two towns. I was told to stop after I had crossed the bridge and phone up the contacts I had been given in Benin City. So I did just this.

As I stood just a few meters from the bridge, waiting for information from the guys in Benin City, a car stopped in front of me. Two guys got out and ran up to me, greeting me in German! I just smiled and told them that I’m not from Germany. I let them play the guessing game for a while, to my amusement and then eventually gave them the answer they were looking for. Once they heard that I am a South African they both hugged me and told me how much they love South Africa. These two guys bought me lunch and drinks in town (Asaba) and helped me get to a fueling station, before I had to carry on again. They tried really hard to get me to stay in Asaba for the night, offering to have my bike washed and serviced and to put me up in a hotel etc etc. They were two really nice guys and I could tell that they were sincere. But unfortunately I had to get to Benin City. A bunch of riders were waiting for me and I had to get going again.

I met up with one of these riders just before getting into Benin City. He then took me to a hotel; the Uyi Grand Hotel. Here I got to meet about 4 riders who had ridden from Lagos to meet up with me, and two riders from Abuja who also just happened to be in the area. I was very happy to meet up with the guys, especially knowing that I wouldn’t have to ride alone into Lagos. Plus, I got to meet Mohammed Ducati. The guy who’s T-shirt I’ve been carrying since Namibia! One delivery made successfully! That T-shirt went from Romania, to Namibia and then back up to Nigeria!

We only left around 12:00 the next day for Lagos. We were six riders, though I would only stick with one of the guys (Busayo) all the way. He was kind enough to slow down to my speed and stick with me throughout the ride. The other guys sped on ahead, then stopped and waited for us to catch up and then sped ahead again. Speed, that’s the name of the game in Nigeria! 250/260 kilometers per hour is the average speed of these riders. It rained pretty much all the way to Lagos! A few kilometers outside of town, more riders from Lagos met up with us and rode with us to the hotel where I would spend my first night.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 10:39 AM   #18
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Joined: Jun 2013
Location: Africa
Oddometer: 50
Nigeria to Cote D'Ivoire

** Please forgive me. I don't have photos for this post. If you read to the end you'll understand why **

I spent five, very enjoyable days in Lagos. For my first night, one of the members of the ‘Easy Riders’ motorcycle club sponsored my stay at a hotel in Ikeja. For the rest of my stay a number of riders pulled together to sponsor my stay in the PENTHOUSE of another hotel! They surely went all out to make sure I was comfortable and enjoyed my stay in Nigeria!

I arrived in Lagos on Tuesday, 12 June. My visa would expire the next day, so I had to urgently have that sorted by way of an extension on my visa. Chris Odigie, one of my newest close friends in Lagos, helped me to get this sorted out. In the end I received a one-month visa (although I only needed 4 days), and it only cost me $120! That’s double what my original visa cost me! LoL

I met a number of riders from the club during my stay, as well as Gemina, one of only a few daring female riders who is a member of an all-female club in Nigeria known as “The Angels” which currently has about four members. Even here it is a novelty to see female riders. Though I have no doubt that the sport will see significant growth, especially under the female demographic in the near future, judging by the enthusiasm I have witnessed amongst all the different motorcycle clubs across the country.

I did not stay in Lagos proper, but rather on the outskirts in an area known as Ikeja. It is situated on the mainland, whereas Lagos city is situated on the island. I did make my way across to the island with Chris when we went to have my visa extended. You can see the high-rise buildings from the bridge as you cross over from the mainland and I could sense the energy of city life. Lagos, in all honesty, was like any other big African city to me. What I found extremely funny is how Lagos’ reputation precedes it as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa, but when I told people in Lagos that I am from Johannesburg they would respond by saying: “Wow, that’s a dangerous place!”

I got to attend a birthday party of a friend of the club Here I was interviewed by a journalist from one of the local newspapers. I rode around with members from the club all over Ikeja and also got to see their training school which another member, Busayo runs. I ate some local food and hung out with friends at restaurants and bars. All in all I had a great time in Nigeria! Plus I was able to deliver the T-shirt that I offered to carry for Andrei Georgescu, the Romanian rider I had met in Namibia, to Mohammed Ducati! That is now one very well traveled T-shirt!

From Lagos I would make my way to Cotonou, the economical capital of the Republic of Benin. The border to Benin is not that far from Lagos, but the traffic will delay you some. I had five riders who would accompany me to the Benin border. It was raining when we left the hotel and before we had even made it out of the city one of the riders had a crash. Not a major crash but enough to ensure him having to go to the hospital for a potentially broken arm. To me, this incident was a reminder of just how vulnerable I am out here.

It turned out that his arm was not broken, thankfully, and we were able to proceed when his family arrived to take him home. Getting closer to a border always means chaos! Border towns are always crazy and you have to have your wits about you, especially when travelling on a bike. With the rain it meant a lot of mud and traffic delays for us to negotiate through and around.

When we finally arrived at the border I had to say my farewells to my Nigerian friends and fellow riders. Though Mohammed would cross the border with me as he had some business to take care of in Cotonou. Even though we would both be crossing into Benin, we would not cross at the same border control post! The expression: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat”, comes to mind here. If you know the right people you can cross the border without needing any paperwork or even a passport. I opted to rather cross at the conventional point, as I needed to have my passport and Carnet de Passage stamped. Though it took me three times longer to cross than it did Mohammed.

This is what I recall from my time crossing the border from Nigeria to Benin:

First off, it looks like one big mud bath that you have to negotiate your way through, which in itself can be a cause for fun and games for my heavy bike and her wide load! I had no issues stamping out of Nigeria. Everything went quick and easy with no hassles. Stamping in to Benin was a completely different story though!

First I arrive at customs to have my passport stamped. This goes without hassles. Next up comes the issue of having my Carnet de Passage stamped, and this is where everything goes pear shaped! The Customs officer tells me that I must pay him fCFA 35 000 to have my Carnet stamped. I refuse and tell him I need to go to the Douane office to have my Carnet stamped there. This argument lasts for about twenty minutes. Then he tells me to go ahead to the Douane office, as they’ll just tell me the same thing.

When I get to the Douane office I see five uniformed men, four of whom are sitting and drinking beers and either watching a football match on the television fixed to the wall behind the door, or chatting on Facebook on the computer on the desk situated in the middle of the little room. Behind the desk there is a man sitting and sleeping on his arms. The guy who is sleeping turns out to be the ‘Chief’ and I unfortunately have to awake him from his slumber to have my Carnet filled out and stamped. He sits flipping through the pages of my Carnet and just stares at each page for about two minutes before flipping on to the next page, even though every page has exactly the same information on it!!! I realize that he actually has no idea what to do and out of pure agitation I take my Carnet and his pen from him, fill out my Carnet myself, stamp it and then show him where to put his signature!

After all of this, sleepy returns to his drunken slumber, happy at the door gives me a cold drink and grumpy next door remains huffing and puffing because he wasn’t able to get a cent out of me after all. And yes, as you might have guessed, in this bizarre fairy tale that would make me, (pun intended) Snow White!
Back outside three riders from the motorcycle club in Cotonou had arrived to welcome me to Benin and accompany me to town. A few hundred meters ahead Mohammed was waiting for us. He had gone to have a coffee, went for prayers and changed money in the time it took me to cross the border! We stopped for a quick photo opportunity and then the five of us started making our way to Cotonou. The muddy mess that is the Benin border would give me one last ‘welcome’ to Benin before finally letting me go by way of a drunk old man on the side of the road with a long grey beard and stick in hand, whacking my bike with his stick as I rode past him!!

Needless to say I was just too happy to finally get away from the border and make my way to Cotonou. Even if I actually had no idea as to what Cotonou would be like, it certainly could not get any worse?! Mercifully it did get much better as we got closer to Cotonou. The city has a far more relaxed energy to it and I instantly felt safe and secure as we entered on the main road leading into town.

First off we stopped at the president of the motorcycle club, Djamiou’s house (read mansion) where I would be staying whilst in Benin. From here we made our way to the airport to welcome a friend of Djamiou’s, who he hadn’t seen for thirty years and would be arriving from Libreville. I thought this very interesting as a friend of mine in Libreville had given me a number of a friend of hers in Cotonou in case I needed any help, and now here I am in Cotonou and the person I will be staying with has a friend arriving from Libreville!

I did phone the contact my friend Muriel, in Libreville gave me. Sylvie met up with me at the Airport and I was able to at least say a quick hello to her before we left for a ride around town. At this point we were about twenty riders at the airport to welcome Djamiou’s friend when she arrived. Afterwards Djamiou took his friend home and the rest of us left to meet up with more riders before heading out for a drink. Djamiou has eight bikes and gave me his Honda CB 1000 to ride whilst in Benin. With this I was easily able to keep up with the other riders!

After we had stopped to pick up more friends, there was a bit of confusion and Mohammed and I lost the rest of the gang. We were now lost! Since I don’t know Cotonou at all I followed Mo around and we made our way back to Fufu’s house. (One of the riders). We sat around waiting for about half an hour until Fufu eventually found us and we were able to rejoin the group. Instead of going out we made our way back to Djamiou’s house where we had a drink and played some music in Djamiou’s very impressive studio! As a last performance, Djamiou and I played drums together with Djamiou on the bongos and yours truly on a djembe.

Benin is voodoo country. Here about 50% of the population practices voodoo from what I was told. And for such a small country they have a pretty dense population of 12 million people! I thought we (South Africa) had a lot of people at over 50 million, but right next to Benin, Nigeria has over 120 million people!

Djamiou took me to see Porto Novo, which is the capital of the country. From what I saw it’s a very quiet town with some stalls next to the road selling all kinds of merchandise. A lot of people are either sitting and chatting next to the road under a shady tree or sleeping under a shady tree. We drove a bit further North so I could get to see some of the country side. There are many small villages spread out all along the roadside, just like I had experienced in Gabon and Cameroon. Tropical surroundings and lots of greenery, but not as dense as in Gabon and or Cameroon.

Djamiou helped me to sort out my visa for Togo and Cote D’Ivoire. I knew that there is a common visa for French speaking West-African countries and inquired as to whether I would be able to obtain one? We went to see a friend of his at immigration who told me that only citizens of these countries (Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Mali and Cote D’Ivoire) could apply for this visa. After some negotiating and sweet-talking he eventually agreed to help me out. This would mean I would have to get a visa for Benin. As a South African passport holder I do not need a visa for Benin. But now I would have to get one in order to get the Entente visa for Togo and Cote D’Ivoire. I agreed of course and paid the fees so they could start processing the visas. It only took 24 hours to process both visas and soon I had my passport back in hand with my Entente visa valid for 2 months!

Now I still needed to sort my visa for Ghana. Djamiou phoned Fufu who phoned a friend in Togo, who in turn phoned a friend at the Ghana border and they assured me that I could get a visa at the border. Okidoki, so now I was set to make my way to Cote D’Ivoire!

Djamiou and four other riders would ride out with me to the Togo border. From here I would make my way to Togo and cross the border into Ghana and on to the capital, Accra. Three countries and two border crossings all in one day! The roads are good and we flew to the Togo border. Here I thanked Djamiou and the boys and crossed over into Togo without any hassles. Within an hour I was at the Ghana border! Togo is really tiny!

Fufu gave me the contact number of his friend at the border. He would help me if I had any issues with obtaining a visa. So when I arrived I gave him a call and he said he’d be there within 20 minutes. In the meantime I was swamped by border ‘fixers’ who offered to help me with getting all my paperwork stamped. I thanked them but denied their help, as I knew this would just result in my having to empty my pockets to them. I slowly started making my way to the Ghana side. Though after I had my passport and Carnet stamped on the Togo side, my contact was still nowhere to be seen and I had no choice but to cross to the Ghana side of the border and see what I can do about obtaining a visa.

The Ghana immigration officials were very helpful and after I had explained my situation to them they said that they could do one of two things: 1. They could give me a 48-hour transit visa, which would cost me $35. 2. They could give me an emergency visa for up to two weeks for $120. I opted for option number 1! As they were busy processing my visa, Fufu’s contact arrived. Although I had already been sorted he stuck with me and gave a contact number for someone that would help me to find a place to stay when I arrived in Accra.

I have always heard so many stories of how friendly the people are in Ghana. I was looking forward to experiencing it first hand and already had my first taste of Ghanaian hospitality at the border.

The roads are good in Ghana! Every twenty or thirty kilometers you find a village. At just about every village there is a Police control point. Some of them would stop me to ask the usual questions and then send me on my way with big smiles on their faces. At one of these control points I was asked for my driver’s license for the first time on this trip, which I happily produced. He barely looked at it and then said to me: “Give us some Cedi (Ghana currency) then you can go”. I laughed and told him that I do not have any Cedi on me. Then he asked me for some CFA. So I told him that I do not have any money with me. I guess he could see that I wasn’t going to pay up so he just sent me on my way. This is the only disappointment I had in Ghana.

I arrived at the outskirts of Ghana just before sunset and phoned my contact, Abam. Whilst waiting for him a number of people stopped to chat with me. Very friendly, outgoing people. When Abam arrived he greeted me with a big smile and then took me to his house. We left my bike in front of his house and he then took me to a hotel around the corner from where he lives. I had a look at the rooms and was very happy to spend the night in Apple Hotel. I had a bed, television, ceiling fan and bathroom with a shower and a toilet. Perfect! I was tired and really just wanted a shower and a bed to sleep in for the night. So I was very happy with what they offered. The room cost me $30 for the night, but I paid it with a smile.

I only took what I needed with me to the hotel and left the rest of my baggage and my bike at Abam’s house. He later brought me a 1.5 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and a bottle of mineral water! I had some food left from the morning, which Fufu had bought me in Benin. The only problem was that it was fish pies and with the pies having been in the sun all day, I wasn’t too sure as to whether it was still okay for consuming, but took a chance anyway. I suffered some minor stomach cramps the next day, but that was the worst of it.

I had underestimated how far it is from Accra to Abidjan. My GPS doesn’t have maps of this area so I had to stop a few times to ask for directions, just to make sure I was still on the right track. I can navigate by just using the compass on my GPS, problem comes in when getting into a little town and you have to take a left turn here and a right turn there to get out of town. Back home in South Africa, Hanret was trying to help me by sending me town names via sms.

Getting out of Accra was fairly easy as there is a great highway leading out towards the towns on route to Cote D’Ivoire. Whenever I would get stopped at a Police control point, I would double check with the officers whether I was still on the right track. They are usually fairly friendly and willing to help.

Nearing the border it started raining and would carry on raining all the way to Abidjan. I had gotten so used to passing through so many towns and villages situated next to the road, but after passing through Axim the villages became few and far between. The road also started deteriorating slightly with more potholes and muddy patches. Next to the road I would see signs indicating that I was now riding next to a rainforest and a National Park.

Arriving at the border I passed a very long line of cargo trucks. The usual chaos that Central and Western African borders bring with it ensued. First stop, as per usual, the customs office. The customs officer wrote down all my and Dax’s particulars. Afterwards I was shown to the Douane office to have my Carnet stamped. I did not have my Carnet stamped when I entered Ghana, so slipped past Douane to go straight through to the Cote D’Ivoire side of the border. Here I met a customs official that could speak a bit of English and took it upon himself to assist me in getting all my documentation stamped. The other customs officials were not as friendly and would stare at me blankly, shooting questions from all directions. Who are you, where are you going, what’s in your bags, where’s your driver’s permit, where’s your bike’s registration papers, etc etc. If not for my new friend, I’m sure I would’ve only made it through the border by nighttime.

I made it through the border by 17:30. The journey from the border to Abidjan would take me two hours. This meant that I would indeed have to ride in the dark. Riding at night in Africa is not easy at the best of times. Riding at night and in the rain makes it a nerve-wracking experience! I stopped to refuel at the first town after crossing the border and asked about the road to Abidjan. Because my GPS had no information on this area I wanted to make sure about the directions. I was told to keep on heading straight to Abidjan.

I finally made it into Abidjan by 20:00. As I entered town I stopped at the first landmark I could see to phone my friend, Jackie, with whom I would be staying whilst in Abidjan. I explained to him where I was. As you enter town, right across the road from the first Shell service station you see. As I had just finished explaining to him where I was a guy came past and snatched my phone out of my hands and made a run for it! I called after him and then realized that it wouldn’t do me any good. I just burst out laughing, quite honestly. Because what else could I do? It’s just a phone, right? The only really annoying thing is that almost all my photos and videos from Nigeria to Cote D’Ivoire, were on that phone. As well as all my voice notes about my trip all the way from Angola!

Welcome to Abidjan. Or as the locals would say: “AKWABA”.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 10:49 AM   #19
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Cote D'Ivoire and the Elephant's Bikers...

I spent sixteen wonderful days in Abidjan. The main reason for my extended stay: to decide on how to proceed from Cote D’Ivoire onwards. A friend of mine in Libreville (Gabon) made me promise him that I would not go through Liberia, after he spent a month in captivity in a prison somewhere deep within Liberia’s jungles – stark naked! Now, captivity I could probably deal with. Considering I had a small taste of what it’s like when I had a full-on abduction/torture/interrogation session on my last night of training with a few military operators, who offered me training because they were concerned about my safety, before leaving on my trip. But the mere thought of what mosquitoes (these bloodsuckers seem to consider me a delicacy) might do to my naked body sent shivers down my spine! I asked around and the feedback was mixed. Some said it was okay-“ish”, others said it was a total no-go. If someone had given me a clear: “there are absolutely no issues”, I might have considered it.

So my options were: 1. Liberia. 2. Head through Guinea (but here I was told that there’s growing unrest in the West of Cote D’Ivoire and the Guinea border). 3. A boat from Abidjan to Dakar. (Though there are only cargo ships running this route). 4. Ride through Mali to Senegal. The growing unrest in Timbuktu with Islamist radicals breaking down sacred tombs and a growing number of kidnappings is a cause for concern, but seeing as that’s in the North and I’d be heading through the South, I decided Mali would be my best option.

Though it took me almost two weeks to finally arrive at this decision. I spent my days carefully weighing my options against one another. The rest of my time was spent hanging out with fellow bikers in Abidjan, (members of the Elephants Bikers Motorcycle Club – mainly Harley Davidsons) and seeing the sights. The president of the club (he shall only be known as Mammut), kindly took me in for my entire stay in Abidjan. Everyone made sure I was well looked after and had everything I needed.

Seeing as my phone was stolen upon arrival in Abidjan, Bruno, a member of the club, gave me his phone so I could at least phone the mother ship and inform those concerned that I had arrived safely. Ivan, another member of the club, very generously gave me one of his back-up phones for keeps the very next day!

Abidjan, to me, is a vibrant city with a mix of cultures from all over the world. I ate at so many different restaurants ranging from local, to Vietnamese, Lebanese, Chinese and French. The people are very friendly and courteous. (Just don’t lose sight of your phone – hehe) I got to experience the nightlife that the city has to offer on numerous occasions. Admittedly sometimes greeting the sunrise on our way home from the previous night’s excursion.

I stayed on Boulevard de Marseille. Across the road there is a Lebanese restaurant that looks out over ‘Lagune Ebrié’. Here you can sit and drink strong Turkish coffee, smoke Sheesha pipe and look out over the lagoon. I was there only once, after we had returned from a ride out to Grand Bassam. A 30-minute drive from Abidjan, it used to be the French colonial capital city from 1893 until 1896, when the administration was transferred to Bingerville after a bout of yellow fever.

Now Grand Bassam is a city lined with stalls stocked with local art, clothes, statues, jewelry and all kinds of souvenirs all along the roads. The beautiful beaches host an array of restaurants where you can relax and enjoy some good food, massages and sunbathing. Every now and then you have entertainment in the way of traditional dancers and drumming. I really enjoyed Grand Bassam.

I took a trip out to Yamoussoukro with a group of Chinese friends. We wanted to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. Listed by Guinness World Records as the largest church in the world. This would also give me an opportunity to see what the road looks like as I’d be heading out on this road to Mali. A three hour drive from Abidjan, our first stop was to see the crocodiles that live in the lake surrounding the presidential palace, a thirty minute walk from the basilica. We then went for some lunch. I’m very sorry to say that my pasta (Bolognaise with Tagliatelle) was THE worst food on my entire trip so far. It tasted like it had been lying around for about a decade. The rest of the food wasn’t too bad. I even enjoyed some frog legs.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is a pretty impressive sight and something definitely worth seeing.

Côte d’Ivoire President Félix Houphouët-Boigny chose his birthplace of Yamoussoukro to be the future site of the new capital city of his country in 1983. As part of the plan of the city, the president wanted to memorialize himself with the construction of what he called the greatest church in the world. He is even pictured besides Jesus in one stained-glass panel.

Back in Abidjan my friends Sunny and Ivan Bouquet treated me to a massage session at a local Chinese spa. The very next week they treated me to an acupuncture session at the same spa! Sunny also took me to a local market as I wanted to find the next edition to my growing ‘ride report’ on my arm. A collection of bracelets from some of the countries I have traveled through thus far. I love markets. The energy about a market as every stall keeper tries to attract your attention. The goods and the bargaining for prices, it’s a lot of fun!! Sunny bought me a silver bracelet and I bought myself a bracelet made of elephant hair.

When I finally decided on making my way through Mali, the issue of obtaining a visa came up next. Mammut organized for his driver to take me to the Malian Embassy the next morning. At the Embassy I was shown to an office where a woman indicated to me to have a seat. She gave me a form to fill out whilst she jotted down all my particulars from my passport. Afterwards she told me that it would cost CFA 20 000, which I handed to her. She stamped my passport and that was it! It took only a few minutes, no hassles, no queries, no issues whatsoever and I had a one-month visa for Mali! Fantastic!

The day before my supposed departure my friends from the Elephants Bikers held a farewell party for me. We rode out to a very nice hotel/restaurant where we were showered with food and drinks. I had great fun and it only cost 1000 euros! WTF??? (Luckily I didn’t have to pick up the tab, otherwise I’d have to push my bike for the next 10 000 kilometers!) I never left the next day as the party just carried on and we finally got home around 4am the next morning! After the farewell lunch, a number of riders asked me to stay another day. When I agreed, the wheels came off! Dinner, then bars, clubs and karaoke! Who would’ve thought I could sing in French?? LoL. (I actually do know one song in French, now I know a couple!!)

I had a wonderful time with my friends in Abidjan on their Harleys. Especially Mammut, Bruno, Clotilde, Ivan, Sunny and Sylvan. I spent most of my time with these people and they really looked after me like one of their own! For that I say: Merci beaucoup!

On Monday, 9 July 2012, I set out from Abidjan towards Mali. The plan was to ride from Abidjan to Dakar in four days. 2500 kilometers and three countries in four days! The reason for the rush was that I didn’t want to tempt fate and spend too much time in Mali. Just in case, you know.

Ivan would accompany me until just outside of town. From here I was familiar with the road to Yamoussoukro. From Yamoussoukro I would make my way to Bouake, Katiola and finally Ferkessédougou where I would spend the night before crossing the border into Mali. From Abidjan you have a beautiful tar road pretty much all the way to Yamoussoukro. Just outside of town you reach a big Police control point. They stopped me here and just had a quick chat. Further on the clouds hung low, threatening to open up at any second. It’s rainy season in Western Africa, so I am bound to hit some rain on the road at some point! We had a lot of rain whilst I was in Abidjan. Though Mother Nature seemed to take pity on me and didn’t throw even a drop on my helmet!

From Yamoussoukro the road gets a little trickier with big potholes all over. Not really an issue for a bike as you can just ride around these suspension killers. Though you do get stretches where there is no road anymore. Not long stretches, maybe 20 meters or so. But these stretches would sometimes resemble a pool of mud with treacherous rocks sticking out all over. I had more and more of these stretches as I progressed towards Ferke. I’d have to slow down considerably and this caused for a miscalculation in how long it would take me to reach Ferke from Abidjan. I finally reached the town just before nightfall. Luckily the sun only starts setting around 19:00, which worked in my favor this time round. I am trying my best to not reach towns at nighttime anymore. I’ve done so a number of times and know it’s not a good idea.

I easily found a hotel just before entering the center of town, on the right hand side of the road. Five hundred meters off the road lies Hotel Le Chateaux. Prices range between CFA 15 000 and CFA 50 000. I took something in between. A room with a bed, air-conditioning, television and toilet with a shower with HOT water!!! If it has hot water, it’s a bargain! I decided to make up on spending a bit more on accommodation by not eating out. I rummaged through my dry bag and found a tin of bully beef and a tin of mixed veg that I’d been carrying from…South Africa!! Hey, if you haven’t eaten all day, these make out for a fantastic meal! I left some for breakfast and turned in for the night.
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 01:55 PM   #20
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Mali! Plan for two days...stay for a week!!

Next morning I ignored my alarm and only got up around 8:00. I quickly packed up, loaded the bike, thanked the friendly staff and headed out. I filled up with fuel at a Total garage in town and bought myself a Coke and a chocolate bar. My GPS doesn’t work in this area but I consulted my maps the previous evening as to which route I’d have to take to reach the Malian border. If I took a wrong turn I could end up at the Burkina Faso border. In reality this wouldn’t have been a problem as I have an Entente visa which allows me entry into Benin, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. So if I happened to take a wrong turn that would only mean heading through Burkina Faso a bit and then entering Mali from another angle. Though I found the route pretty straightforward, so chances of my taking a wrong turn was pretty much zero.

Forty kilometers outside of Ferke, you have a road splitting off to the left. They even have a sign up that indicates that this is the road to Bamako. Then from the split you have another sixty kilometers to the border. As a delightful surprise the road instantly improves and as soon as I turned left towards the Mali border I found myself on a superb tar road with absolutely NO potholes! If you’re pushed for time, good tar roads always help a great deal.

As I reached the border I rode right past the Senegal customs post, by accident of course. I somehow just didn’t see them and just kept riding. Luckily I was going at a slow pace and when I heard people calling from behind, I looked back and realized that they were calling me back! Oops. No harm done though. The customs officials were very friendly and I had a long chat with one of them who seemed very concerned about my safety in Mali. He asked me whether I was SURE I wanted to ride through Mali as: “It’s very dangerous”. “Do you have a map”? Yes. “Do you know the roads”? No. “But you know where you’re going”? Yes. “Good, go quickly”!

On the Mali side things went quick and easy. I was ordered to sit and eat peanuts with the customs officials whilst they went through my paperwork and stamped my passport. I didn’t argue. Had my passport stamped and then went to have my Carnet stamped. Here I was shown to a yard with a few busses and cars parked next to a building. Obviously the Douane building. I was left standing next to my bike as one of the uniformed officers went to have my Carnet stamped. This is the first time someone had something stamped FOR me! I felt rather spoiled! Whilst standing next to DAX, an array of people came over to have a look at the bike and to chat to me. Some guys gave me their numbers and told me to call them when I got to Bamako. Some offered me tea and others tried to sell me bracelets or clothes. A few minutes later the officer returned with my Carnet in hand. Luckily I checked and noticed that they had not stamped my Carnet, so I had to send him back. Once I had all the stamps in the right places, I greeted the crowd around me and pushed on towards Bamako. The officer who had my Carnet stamped shouted after me to be careful of the potholes in the road!

I am yet to find these potholes, as the roads in Mali are beautiful! Okay, I think I maybe saw ONE pothole on my way to Bamako. From the border I made my way to Sikasso, from here my GPS had information on routes again. The first thing that hit me upon entering Mali is how QUIET it is here! There’s this tangible calmness in the air. In stark contrast to the North! There aren’t as many people on the road as I’ve become used to in Central and the rest of Western Africa. On the contrary I noticed that mostly people are working in fields all along the roadside. You don’t hear anything. People just go about their daily lives, working in the fields. Whenever I stopped for a break next to the road maybe one or two people would walk past me. I would greet them and they’d shyly smile and move along. It’s like I’ve entered a completely different Africa now.

That’s until I reached Bamako! From Sikasso I made my way to Bougouni, heading west. Then from Bougouni I turned north towards Bamako. I underestimated just how big Bamako is and only arrived around 20:00. From about 10 kilometers outside of the actual city I could see long files of traffic snaking through the countryside, making their way in and out of town. I followed my GPS into town and then I got lost! Crazy traffic EVERYWHERE! I was trying to find a good landmark to phone my contact, Valerie, from so they could then meet up with me. But it became impossible and as soon as I found a gap to pull off to the side of the road I phoned Valerie and we agreed that I should make my way back to the “Tour de l’Afrique” statue you see as you enter Bamako. I would estimate the statue/ memorial to be about 12 meters tall, so it’s not like you can miss it! It’s situated in the middle of a big ‘rond-point’. (Roundabout) I found myself a spot within the roundabout and parked off to the side, waiting for Valerie and her friend to meet up with me.

Whilst sitting on my bike, watching the traffic playing ‘ring a ring o’ roses’, a guy stopped next to me on a scooter and asked whether I needed any help in perfect English. I told him that I was waiting for my friends. And so we started chatting and my new friend Ali, told me how he had to flee from Timbuktu with his family because of the violence and unrest in the North. He used to be a travel guide in Timbuktu and showed me pictures of many a traveler he had taken around. He stayed with me until Valerie and Paul arrived. It took them about an hour to get to me and in that time many guys stopped to chat to me. Ali just showed them away. At one point a guy insisted on wanting to buy my bike from me! He obviously loved my bike and hung around up until the point that I left; probably hoping I might change my mind! Sorry buddy!

I thanked Ali for keeping me company, greeted Valerie and Paul and then followed them to my hotel. Hotel le Campagnard. My original plan was to stay here for one night. I would spend the night and then carry on early the next morning to Kayes just before the Senegal border. Little did I know I would spend the next four nights and I’d never get to Kayes either!

The decision came the next morning when I woke up around 05:00 from the prayer calls coming from the surrounding mosques. I promptly turned around, switched off my alarm and went back to sleep. I was tired! I could feel it on the bike since the previous day. I don’t know why I am so tired. It’s not like I have any reason to be after over two weeks rest in Abidjan! But the little voice told me to stay and rest.

The reason would be revealed later that day by way of three strangers who ended up in the bar downstairs from my room, by ‘chance’. I went down to the restaurant/bar around 12:00 for a cup of coffee. Whilst sitting there Paul also arrived and introduced me to some of the people around the bar. The guy sitting next to me starting chatting to me and asking me about my route to Senegal. Whilst chatting to him three more people arrived. They sat down at the bar across from me. Whilst chatting to the guy sitting next to me I overheard the newcomers talking in English, and I recognized the guy’s accent. When I had a gap I leaned over and asked him: “Sorry, where are you from?” South Africa. Then I smiled and asked: “Ja, maar van waar”? To which they burst out laughing. Here in my little hotel I ran into Francois and Janita from Bloemfontein! They were on their way back to South Africa after a three months working on one of the mines near the Senegalese border. They work three months and go home for one.

This is the first time since Namibia that I got to meet fellow South Africans on the road. I know we are all over Africa, but I always seem to miss everyone! So I was very happy when I met Francois and Janita. This also meant I could speak my home language, Afrikaans, for the first time since leaving Namibia. Every now and then it really is a treat to bump into fellow countrymen.

With them they had Pat, a French born Aussie. Now there’s a confused accent if you’ve ever heard one! But an awesome guy! Upon hearing my story he immediately got to work on sorting my visas for Mauritania and Morocco. He phoned a friend at the Moroccan embassy, organized an appointment for me and put me in a taxi. Upon arriving at the embassy I was asked by the security officer whether I am the South African? I was shown to an office and told to take a seat. A few minutes later a lady arrived and handed me the application form to fill in and with that, two photos and CFA 20 000. I was so happy about the opportunity to have these two visas sorted in Bamako. I always feel much more at ease once I have the visas needed for the next country in my passport. Having the next two countries is a bargain! I don’t need a visa for Senegal, so that’s an easy one.

Though, sadly, after about twenty minutes the woman returned with my passport and my CFA 20 000. She told me that they could unfortunately not process my visa application and that I’d have to do it in Mauritania. From what I understand with my little French is that it was because I am not a citizen of Mali. A bit confusing and disappointing. You win some, you lose some. It was worth a try.

I headed back to my hotel. By the time I got back it was already very late in the afternoon and Francois, Janita and Pat had already left. I went to my room and checked my emails, Facebook messages etc. I had an early dinner and then went to bed.

I spent the rest of the week in Bamako. For no reason other than I enjoyed it! I would walk around every now and then, down the street to the bank to draw some money. Then stop off at the garage shop to buy a cold drink. Then explore the area a bit before heading back to the hotel. Downstairs from my hotel there’s always at least five guys sitting and selling their goods. They’ve tried flogging everything from clothes, to bangles (I did buy one…my Mali addition), sunglasses, shoes, cd’s, dvd’s. You name it, they’ve got it! Everyday when I came out of my room they would call up to me, greeting me and asking me if I had a good sleep? Persistent salesmen that they are, they’d throw out the bait to see if I didn’t want to bite and buy at least one CD or one T-shirt. I give them a ten for determination!

Francois and Janita had given me the contact number for one Derick du Plessis who is another fellow South African working in Gounkoto, right on the Senegalese border. Turns out Derick did a stint with his dad last year August/September from Mali to England. Yay, a fellow adventurer! And this is how the route change came in from heading to Kayes to rather heading to Gounkoto. You won't find the route on any map or GPS as the new road leading to Gounkoto only opened in December. When I told my friends in Sali (Senegal), that I’d change my route they told me that I would struggle as it’s a bad road and with all the rain recently I’d only reach Dakar in a month’s time!

Though I had faith that I’d been given the correct information, and armed with a hand drawn map that Pat had drawn me whilst we sat in the bar, I set off towards Gounkoto on Saturday 14 July 2012. And indeed, there is a brand new tarmac road leading all the way to the Senegal border! I phoned Derick on route to keep him updated on my progress. I must just say once again, I find Mali to be a very beautiful country! Beautiful landscapes, lush green grass and trees all over. It reminds me a bit of the Lowveld in South Africa.

I had no issues with navigation. Pat’s map drawing skills proved to be very good. I made great progress and landed in Gounkoto around 16:00 the afternoon. Yay, I reached a town before nightfall! Before you get to Kenieba, which is the town just before you get to Gounkoto, you go through a police control point. Just before this point there is a service station. I stopped here to fill up and as I was about to pull off again a white Toyota Land Cruiser just nicked me from behind, on my right side pannier. But it was enough to just push me over and have me drop DAX. Before I was even up on my feet, three of the attendants rushed to my side to help me pick up the bike. The first time I’ve put the bike down since Gabon! Grrrrr.

After I had passed through the control point a yellow BMW f800gs pulled out in front of me and I immediately knew it was Derick. He had ridden out to wait for me and lead me to their base. On route we saw a guy on one of those 100cc Chinese jobbies with a monkey as pillion!

When we arrived at the base Derick introduced himself and I also met Chrisjan. First things first, they invited me in, gave me a cold and we watched some rugby whilst they asked me some questions in between. I felt right at home. I also met another South African family here; Stefaans and Colette with their three children Jancke (10), Inge ( and little Faans (2). I arrived just at the right time it would seem as Jancke celebrated her birthday on Sunday and the little one turned two yesterday. So we’ve been spoiled with potjie, steak and chips and lots of cake! Yum.

I’ve now been here for almost a week. The guys keep telling me to please stay as long as I want. In the meantime we’ve sent my passport back to Bamako to give the visas one last try. Once I have the visas in hand, I’ll head over into Senegal and on to Sali where I’ll spend my first night. Then it’s off to Dakar, St Louis and finally Mauritania and Morocco. I’ve heard SO many horror stories about the Rosso border between Senegal and Mauritania. I’ll post some here later. And then soon I’ll be in Dakar, with my BMW Dakar. And riding through the desert. Meeting up with friends in Morocco. So there’s still so much to look forward to! In the meantime, I’m enjoying the sights.

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:12 PM   #21
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Mali to Mauritania!

I had a wonderful time in Mali! Despite all the unrest and turmoil going on in the North, the rest of the country is very peaceful. People go about their daily lives and shyly smile when you greet them. I stayed at the G&S camp on the Gounkoto mine, almost right on the Senegalese border in the West of Mali. I never even planned on riding through Mali! But ended up spending almost a month! It was a good choice!

I had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people! I felt right at home with Derick and Chrisjan who kindly took me in and gave me a place to stay for as long as I needed. On my first attempt I was not able to acquire my visas for either Mauritania or Morocco. Right after I had reached the mining camp a friend in Bamako said he could help out and I immediately sent my passport back.

It took about two weeks, but ‘Pat the miracle worker’ was successful in getting both my Mauritania and Moroccan visas in Bamako. To top it all off he hand delivered my passport back to me and refused to let me pay for anything!

Everyone welcomed me with open arms and made me feel to be part of the family! I got to explore the area a bit, get to know loads of interesting and wonderful individuals, go on rides with my buddies Derick and Chrisjan, and got to meet Mr. Mark Bristow. (Another avid adventure rider and CEO of Randgold Resources)

I would’ve loved to stay even longer, but my visa for Mali was about to expire. Originally the plan was to ride to Saly (Senegal) and spend one or two days with friends there. Then ride to St. Louis to stay at the Zebra Bar before taking on the Rosso border into Mauritania. Though Mr. Bristow invited me to stay at their guesthouse in Dakar for a night.

I was up at 4:30 to load the bike and get ready to leave for Senegal. The boys at the camp were up early as well and we enjoyed our last coffee together. Derick would accompany me to the border (about 10km away) to see me off. A friend, Abdoulaye, arrived just before 6:00 and took my passport to the border. He sorted everything out before I even got there. I said goodbye Derick (knowing that he was itching to join me to Morocco! I knew how much he misses the road after he and his dad rode to the UK last year) and crossed over into Senegal.

Abdoulaye rode with me to the first town in Senegal (Kedougou), filled up my bike at his expense, shook my hand, wished me luck and turned back. What an awesome guy! I knew what to expect from the landscape and surrounding as Derick painted a colorful picture when reminiscing about his trip.

This new road that was built in December 2011 is known as the Millennium Highway. It lasts pretty much until you reach the national park. The surroundings are beautiful and wild. For the first time in a long time I got to see animals, other than cows, donkeys and goats. I saw monkeys, warthogs and meerkats running across the road.

After exiting the park the land suddenly starts to flatten out and you quickly drop in elevation. On my GPS I could see the saltpans that stretch from the coastline to Kaolack being indicated to my left. The geography changes so dramatically and suddenly you’re riding through flat terrain, surrounded by water and salt mining heaps on both sides of the road. And it’s windy!

The distance from where I was staying in Mali to Saly is about 750 km’s. I reached the town of Mbour (just before Saly) around 6:30pm. My friends Laurent and Sahar Desmarets were waiting for me at the Shell garage as you enter Mbour. First things first, we headed to a local restaurant for ciders to celebrate my arrival! And then I dropped the bike! Hahahaha. (It was before I had the ciders!)

I spent a wonderful day relaxing in Saly. Sahar took me into town because I needed to do some shopping! Saly is a lovely little town with stalls lining the streets with merchants selling their goods. People are extremely friendly and warm and welcoming! Love it! I needed to find a bracelet for my ever-growing collection! I met a Touareg who has a shop making silver jewelry. He didn’t have any bracelets I was interested in, but offered to make me one. I explained to him what I wanted and he said he would deliver it to me later that night. A few shops down the street I met a tailor and an artist who had heard about me from Sahar. They both welcomed me to Senegal and gave me two bracelets as presents! Awesome! I went about shopping for some clothes and by the time I got back to the Touareg’s shop, my bracelet was ready! Hand made, especially for me!

That night Laurent and Sahar invited another South African over and we all had dinner together. I was almost sad to have to leave so soon! I would’ve loved to stay in Saly for a few more days! Though I really wanted to get the Rosso border crossing out of the way as soon as possible! So the next day it was off to Dakar. It’s only about an hour’s ride from Saly so there was no real rush. I only left late in the afternoon and reached Dakar just before dark.

Reaching Dakar…on my Dakar! A joyous occasion! A driver escorted me to the guesthouse where I would spend the night. Later on David and Moustapha arrived so we could discuss how to go about the Rosso border crossing. Mark had asked them to assist me! I was given a contact number for another David at the border who would meet me there and run me through the procedures. Next morning I was up at 5:00 and left Dakar in the dark.

Senegal, to me, is horse and baobab country! All along the roadside there are horses! And they’re well looked after. The baobabs I started noticing from Kaolack onwards, spread far and wide across the countryside. Absolutely beautiful, these majestic giants! Vegetation starts thinning out as you close in on Mauritania and starting noticing old Arabic style structures. And then, I reached Rosso!

I did not stop until I reached the border gate. The street is filled with hordes of people, small bikes and donkey carts. The second I stopped I was surrounded by at least six men. Frantically talking to me in a mixture of English, French and Arabic. I calmly got off the bike and asked for David. I was instructed that once I located David I needed to phone Moustapha so he could talk to him and verify that it was indeed the right guy. I did as instructed and after I was satisfied that this was indeed the David I would be dealing with, we started with processing my paperwork. Within about ten minutes I was standing on the other side of the gates in the holding area where everyone waited to board the ferry to Mauritania. The ferry arrived before long. Though I could not board, as there were no less than 100 camels waiting to be loaded first. A crowd had gathered around me and we stood watching as the men in their white and light blue robes rounded up the camels in small groups to get them onto the ferry. It was a timeous and ‘not-all-that-fun-to-watch’ procedure. I hated how they kept hitting the camels with their big sticks!

On the second round I boarded the ferry with the rest of the camels. It only takes a ten-minute ride over the Senegal river to get to the other side. Though it was a Friday and Ramadan, so by the time we reached the other side I would have to wait for about two hours as everyone was off to pray. In the meantime a couple arrived on a red BMW f800gs. They were from Spain, riding down to Dakar. The man started chatting to me and complained about how bad this border is. I smiled at him and said: “Well brace yourself, the other side is worse”! Which is true, in my opinion. I found the Mauritania side to be much more relaxed.

By the time I had my passport stamped and all the paperwork filled out, it was too late to try and gun it for Nouakchott. I would certainly only reach it by night and Mauritania is not really a country where I felt comfortable riding around at night. Just after you cross the border there is a hotel on your right. Clean and cool, I thought it a good idea to rather spend the night and get an early start the next morning. In retrospect, I should’ve pushed through to Nouakchott.......
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:23 PM   #22
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Mauritania to Western Sahara

I settled into my hotel room. It was hot as hell outside and I was really grateful for the air conditioner in my room! I checked in around 05:00pm. Being Ramadan, I knew I would only be able to get food a little later that night. David (the man that handled my paperwork when I crossed the border) kindly offered to bring me some food later on. With accommodation and food sorted, I had a shower and a nap. It had been a long day and I was exhausted! The TV in the room even had movies showing in English! I felt comfortable that I had made the right choice in rather staying than trying to make it to Nouakchott before dark.

Around 09:00pm there was a knock at my door. Yay! David had brought my food, as promised. I was very happy to see him as I hadn’t eaten all day (Ramadan), and I was super hungry! He put the food down on the counter. Grilled chicken with fries and salad!

Though my happy feeling suddenly disappeared when I noticed him closing and locking the door to my hotel room. He then approached me and tried to kiss me. I pushed him away and made it CLEAR that I was not interested. Of course he became even more persistent. He pushed me onto the bed and a wrestling match ensued. I completely lost it and went into ninja mode! I managed to fight him off and started shouting at him and told him to get out! He stood staring at me with wild eyes for a few seconds and then became apologetic all of the sudden, saying: “Excusez-moi. Ce pas moi, c'est mon cœur.” You’re aiming too high asshole! I promise you it’s not your heart! And then he left.

That's him, sitting next to me on the ferry from Senegal

Apart from experiencing intense anger and a few bruises in my neck, I was fine. Even managed to get in some sleep. I was up at 6 again the next morning. I loaded the bike, paid for my room and left for Nouadhibou. I didn’t want to hang around in Mauritania and rode through the country, border to border, in one day. I had been warned about all the security control points on route and came prepared with my “Fiche”. Control points are spaced only a few kilometers from each other and you run into one about every 20 kilometers or so. They’re usually situated before and after towns and villages. What’s different from these control point, in comparison to control points in most of Central and Western Africa is that you MUST stop at the sign that says STOP. This might sound as a given, but all the way up until here I’ve noted that one only stops at a control point if the officer on duty signals you to do so. I didn’t stop at the first sign, but did stop in front of the officer and he asked me why I didn’t stop at the sign? I noted the line of cars that had stopped behind me, behind the sign, and then I understood.

Every time I reached a control point the officer would greet me, and then just say: “Fiche”. Fiche is basically a copy of your passport with details written on it, such as: your vehicle’s make and registration number, your visa number and occupation. I prepared about 20 copies before entering Mauritania. I ran out of copies before I reached Western Sahara!

It’s a very long road leading up to Western Sahara. I was very excited to get into the desert though. It’s a bit of a ‘shock to the senses’ after emerging from Central and Western Africa’s jungles. (Literally and figuratively speaking). The road is in good condition and ranges between light grey shell-grit and black tar sections. The light grey road sections mostly consisting of shell grit and the black sections normal tar road.

The two biggest cities on route to Western Sahara are Nouakchott (the country’s capital) and Nouadhibou. After stopping at no less than fifteen control posts, I finally made it to Nouakchott. I stopped at a Total garage to refuel and asked about fuel availability on route to Nouadhibou. The stretch between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou is about 480 kilometers. I can reach around 360 kilometers on a full tank (17 liters). The attendant assured me that there is no fuel available on route to Nouadhibou, so I filled my two 7-liter fuel bags as well. That ought to do it!

Though I did find a Total garage about halfway between Nouakchott and Nouadhibou with fuel! And a little shop where I bought myself a nice cold Coca-Cola! It is HOT out on the road and I was lucky enough to ride through two sandstorms on route to Nouadhibou. What I loved is watching how the sand gets blown over the road. It never settles ON the road, but would rather just blow across the road in thick streaks or in beautiful patters if the wind is from the north or south.

When entering Mauritania you have proper sand dunes surrounding you. Then as you progress through the country the scenery changes to a more rock desert environment. There are small villages next to the road and nomadic tents that I could spot every now and then further in from the road. The only animals I spotted were camels (of course), donkeys and dogs. There are also a lot of dead animals on the side of the road. Throughout the country I would catch a whiff of a decaying animal on the side of the road every now and then.

The second sand storm I went through was quite intense and reduced my visibility to about 20 meters. A crazy wind blowing in from the coast – west to east. It felt like I had to hang on for all I was worth! And even in that sand storm I got pulled over at a control point. The officer on duty had to hold my bike whilst I fished out my Fiche for him! We couldn’t hear one another but I knew he wanted the Fiche, so I handed it to him and then carried on.

By the time I reached Nouadhibou the wind had subsided somewhat. The sun starts setting around 07:30pm, which gives me lots of daytime to work with. It took me close to 10 hours to ride through Mauritania with all the control point delays. I had the name of a hotel that Moustapha in Dakar had given to me and immediately went about searching for said hotel. After riding around for about half an hour without any luck in finding the hotel, I decided to try a different tactic. I rode right into the middle of town and stopped in the busiest intersection, got off my bike and removed my helmet. Knowing that this would attract attention, two men approached me in no time flat. I told them I was looking for Tiriz Hotel and they kindly pointed me in the right direction. Five minutes later I arrived at the hotel and checked into my room.

Street in Nouadhibou

Next morning when I woke up, I looked out my window and noticed someone was sleeping on the rooftop next to the room I stayed in.

Another wonderful day on the road, exploring, riding and experiencing!
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:30 PM   #23
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Crossing into Western Sahara

During Ramadan, the towns are jam packed at night and dead quiet during the day. Which suits me just fine. Makes it easier to negotiate any traffic (though the only traffic you’ll experience around here is when you ride through a town…and towns are few and far apart), and by the time the streets get crazy I’m already cozy in my hotel room.

I had a bit of a lie in and only left Noudhibou around 09:00am the next morning. The staff at Hotel Tiriz were very friendly and helpful. The concierge brought me some food the previous evening (Okay this time I stood by the door and kept it open…just in case). The staff helped me drag all my bags up and down four flights of stairs. (It’s the small things that count, I feel very spoilt when someone actually helps me).

It’s about a 50-kilometer ride to the Western Sahara border. You turn off the main road; cross a railroad track and then about 5 kilometers later you’re standing at the border gates. Then it’s the usual routine. Get out my passport and Carnet de Passage and start getting them stamps. All went fairly easy and without hassles on the Mauritania side. Then when you pass through the gates, you enter ‘No Man’s Land’. The 3-kilometer stretch between Mauritania and Morocco. There is no road! You have to make your way through some rocks and sand and a vehicle graveyard. There are signs that warn you not to wonder off in the wrong direction, on account of you might just run over a landmine! The best way to cross this stretch is to wait for another vehicle and then follow them to the other side!

I made it to the other side, unscathed and rode past customs. Oops! I do that on a regular basis! Hee hee. A group of robed men sitting on the side of the road was shouting and waving at me, indicating that I needed to go back. No harm done though, when I got back to the customs window the officer on duty just smiled and asked: “France or Spain”? “Neither, I smiled”. He tried a few more: “Germany, Italy, Sweden…”? “Afrique du Sud”, I finally replied. “Ohhhh, you’re from Africa”. Ummmm, yes…and you must be from…Uranus??? He was very friendly and efficient though. Even added me as a Facebook friend whilst processing my details.

After having my passport stamped I went about having my Carnet stamped, but then things turned into a bit of a run around. First I had to go to Douane. They then sent me back across the road to the Police who had to search my things. Police searched my belonging and stamped my little blue form, and then it was back to Douane. Where is your insurance form? I don’t have one. Okay, see that office over there? You have to buy insurance. Off to the office, I go to buy insurance. The office is just beyond the border gate entering Western Sahara. I buy insurance (900 Dirham for one month’s insurance). Then it’s back to Douane once more. They process all my information and stamp the blue form again. I ask them to please stamp my Carnet. They stamp both the entry and exit forms. Huh? Okay, whatever, I’ll sort out later. It’s hot as hell and I need something to drink. Finally with all the right stamps in the right places I head towards the boom. There is a long line of trucks waiting to get through. The officer manning the boom asks for my passport. He supposedly cannot find my stamp and tells me to park to one side. I do as I’m told and follow the officer around as he quibbles with the truck drivers. I follow him around for about 15 minutes. He just ignores me. He finally hands my passport to another officer who just hands my passport back to me and tells me I can go. Huh again? Just beyond the border there is a hotel on your left with a little shop next to it. I buy a one-liter Sprite, a buddy Coke and 1,5 liter water and hit the road. I passed the line of trucks and found a quiet spot a few kilometers away where I stopped and downed the Coke and half the bottle of water.

The border is in the background, where you see that cellphone tower

I was now in Western Sahara! Woohoo! There’s just something immensely intriguing about the Sahara. The vastness, the mystery, the world’s largest hot desert!

Next stop: Dakhla! World renowned for kite surfing action! About 380 kilometers from the border and the road carries virtually no traffic. Whenever I’d stop for a quick break, the sudden intense silence that surrounded me would make my ears ring! I could hear a vehicle approach from miles and miles away. Even the simple act of swallowing a mouthful of water made me feel like the nomads might have heard me miles into the desert.

On route to Dakhla you’ll come across camels grazing next to or lazily crossing the road. You’ll see one or two cars and lots and lots of desert! The sun will turn your ATGATT into a cooking suit. But you’ll love it. Because you’re in the SAHARA baby!! Well, the Western part of it anyway.

One of the questions I get asked the most is: “What goes through your mind when you’re on the road, all day, on your own”? Well…if you were to go to a travel agency they would tell you that Mauritania and especially Western Sahara are no-go zones for tourists! It’s very dangerous and you might get kidnapped. So that’s what went through my mind on route to Dakhla. Say I got snatched, dumped in the middle of the desert with only the clothes on my back…how would I survive? How would I survive long enough to reach civilization? This is what I came up with: I would try to figure out at what time I got snatched and based on the time lapse between time taken and consciousness regained I would try to work out how big a radius I’m looking at, based on last known destination. Assuming that I’m still in Western Sahara I would start heading in a northwesterly direction (to reach the coast). And then, maybe I’ll eat that blue camel hovering over there…or maybe I should get out of the sun!

Just before you reach Dakhla you really hug the coastline for some distance. There’s a particular stretch where you can turn off the road (if you want to) and have a great view looking out over the ocean. In some sections it really looks like the earth just broke off into the ocean. Vertical cliffs with about a fifty-meter drop in some sections (guesstimate). Then as you start turning to get to Dakhla you cross over a hill and then all of the sudden, literally hundreds of kite surfers to your left! It’s a pretty awesome site and not quite something you’d expect if you didn’t know about it!

I treated myself when I got into town and booked myself into the Sahara Regency Hotel. A few Italian guys outside the hotel were very interested to find out where I had come from and helped me unload the bike. Turns out they had ridden from Italy to Dakhla a few years ago. Now they were just here for the kite surfing. There were quite a few foreigners in the hotel, here for kite surfing. There’s a camp outside of Dakhla as well where most of the kite surfers stay over.

The kite surfers

I settled into my room and had a view over the main street from the second floor. Later at night I watched as the street filled up and people walked around, kids played on the sidewalks and men sat at café’s drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Entrance/Exit - Dakhla

Next stop…Laayoune! (A.K.A El Aaiún)
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:32 PM   #24
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Interview on television in Laayoune. It's all in Arabic though. (Interview at 8:50)
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:43 PM   #25
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Laayoune to Rabat

I left Dakhla around 09:00am the next morning. Riding out on the peninsula heading North I noted a train on the tracks to my left. A caravan of camels was lazily shuffling through the desert sand. On top of the train I noted men standing with their robes blowing in the wind, like something out of Lawrence of Arabia! And then I think to myself: just a few months ago, Morocco seemed so far away. I romanticize scenes of being swept off into the desert by an Arabian prince whilst sweeping through the South of Morocco with DAX faithfully roaring underneath me as I steer us further north.

The stretch from Dakhla (pronounced Daghla – ‘g’ as in gooi) to Laayoune is about 540 kilometers and the road leads you all along the coast. For the first time in a long time I am actually cold! Riding next the coastline with the wind blowing in from the ocean turns it into a huge natural air conditioner! The day is fairly uneventful but I am happy riding along with a feeling of absolute contentment. There’s a certain feeling of calmness here.

The ever-present control posts carry on throughout. Though I never have any problems. I get stopped at each and every single one, but I just greet the officers with a friendly smile and hand over my paperwork. They return my greeting and react with astonishment when they open my passport. “Vous êtes une femme?” (You’re a woman?) I smile and just nod. They never ask me to take off my helmet like in Central and West Africa. Seems the guys are more trusting up here.

The coastline is dotted with men casting their lines into the ocean down below. The wind is insistent and I contemplate stopping to take out a jacket. The road is starting to carry more traffic and I can feel myself getting closer to the bigger towns. Whenever I do stop for a break, passersby greet me by hooting and waving, carrying a smile on their faces. I also start passing through small towns more frequently.

Just before entering Laayoune I am stopped at yet another security control point. Here they keep me for almost half an hour. I do not really understand why? They keep asking the same questions over and over – where are you heading? What is your profession? (Always a tricky one – apparently ‘adventure motorcyclist’ does not exist as a profession? Says who??? LoL) I am asked where I will be staying in Laayoune? Luckily I do know where I will be staying as one of my best friends in Rabat, Larbi Sbai, had organized for me to stay at his cousin’s hotel in Laayoune. I tell them that I will be staying at the Parador Hotel and that my contact is the owner, one Abid Sbai. With this they immediately hand back my passport and even give me directions to the hotel. I thought it all to be very odd!

On route to the hotel, a car stopped next to me and asked whether I was looking for Parador Hotel? This left me really puzzled. They told me to follow them, which I did. What happened next I really was not expecting! As I pulled up in front of the hotel a sort of welcoming committee was waiting for me. The owner of the hotel as well as the staff and a television crew. I was a bit stunned. They gave me a warm welcome and then took me on a quick tour of the town with the television crew in tow. In the middle of town there is a big square where, especially in Ramadan, people come together. I conducted an interview with the crew and afterward we returned to the hotel.

I was given the residential suite and the hotel staff helped me unload my bike. Later on I was back outside working on my bike. A strange site in these parts I’m sure. A few men came to stand and watch, asking about my journey. I even met a bunch of guys from Ghana. I had a wonderful evening meeting people over dinner and being taken on a tour of the town at night. A family welcomed me into their home where I drank tea with them (the wonderful Moroccan mint tea I have come to love) and ate all kinds of wonderful food. Once again back at the hotel everyone gathered to watch my interview from earlier on, they were already broadcasting it!

Next morning I was packed and ready to go around 09:00am. Abid was there to bid me farewell and lead me out of town. Laayoune is a small town, but navigating through it can be a little tricky. It’s a bit like a maze and if you don’t know where you’re going you could easily find yourself going in circles. This busy little town remains one of my favorites!

The next stretch was from Laayoune to Agadir – about 600 kilometers. The surroundings started to change a little and instead of flat desert-like typography it now changed to more ‘mountainous’ scenes. The road started snaking through and around more hills and it was a nice change in scenery. I stopped for a break about 200 kilometers into the ride. Next moment a KTM pulled up next to me. He waved (the rider, not the bike) and asked whether everything’s okay? A quick introduction followed as he got off his bike and lit a cigarette. We inspected each other’s bikes. Very little was said. And then, as if we’d been riding together all this time, we gave each other the nod and got on our bikes to carry on toward Agadir, together. (Remember what happened the last time I rode with someone?)

I was later able to figure out that he was a psychologist from Italy and that he had ridden down to Mauritania for a holiday. He had ridden most of Northern Africa and was now on his way back home. He didn’t seem too happy about it though…the having to go home part. He was a real gentleman though. When we stopped for fuel, he bought us each a cold drink. We stood chatting, giving each other the nutshell version of who we are and what we do.

I led our two-man pack as we made our way, snaking through the hills and plunging down into valleys. It was evident that we were closing in on the bigger cities as the road started carrying more traffic. There were two memorable mountain passes where we had to leapfrog a few trucks slowly making their way up some impressive inclines. Riding on these roads can be a bit like playing Russian roulette. Everyone is impatient and you have a line of cars behind you, honking for you to get past the truck so they can pass as well. If you take too long, they’ll shoot right past you with colorful hand signs! No matter if they can see whether there is a vehicle approaching or not. Though, apart from the few close calls, I loved this stretch between Laayoune and Agadir. It really is beautiful!

We finally arrived in Agadir just as the sun was setting. Once again, I had a hotel and contact name and now had to set out finding it. My Italian companion proved to be a walking, talking GPS and had us parked in front of Hotel Royal in no time! Although he had planned to stay at another hotel, he negotiated with the concierge and booked a room for the night. We unloaded our bikes and each settled into our rooms. I had dinner with the owner of the hotel later on that night. I went searching for my KTM friend but could not find him anywhere. He wasn’t in his room and I figured maybe he had gone out to search for something to eat. Being Ramadan, the hotel wasn’t really serving food but made dinner especially for me.

The next morning I was up, loaded and ready to go around 09:00am again. I still had loads of fuel in my fuel cells and decided to fill up the bike using that, seeing as I wouldn’t be needing to carry extra fuel again for the next month or so. I waited around for a while, hoping that I’d see my KTM friend to wish him Godspeed. Alas, I eventually had to get going and left a note on the KTM.

My GPS was directing me to the “old” road between Agadir and Rabat. I decided to take the highway. I haven’t really been on a highway in quite some time and although the adventurer in me was telling me to seek out alternative routes…I was tired and wanted to see my friends in Rabat.

I made my way past Marrakech, through the mountains, past Casablanca and on towards Rabat. My good friend Larbi was waiting for me when I arrived and led me to my new home in Harhoura, right on the beach! I spent a week in their beach house just relaxing and having some me-time. Not like I really need it, I have me-time all the time! After Ramadan I moved in with Larbi and his family in the city of Rabat and this has now been my base for the last three weeks. And what a crazy three weeks it’s been!!!

Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 06-30-2013, 02:46 PM   #26
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Location: Africa
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From Morocco I had to return to South Africa, on account of not being able to get a Schengen visa and/or visas for Algeria and Tunisia. I was told that I'd have to get these in my country of residence.

When I got back, I took part in a number of route scouting outings with friends. On one of these scouting trips I rode pillion on a BMW 1200 Adv. My buddy slipped with us in some mud and put the bike down...on my ankle! LoL

This caused quite a delay, as you can imagine!
But I am happy (read ecstatic) to report that I will be returning to Morocco next week to continue my trip around Africa!
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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Old 07-01-2013, 06:14 AM   #27
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Goeie donner - dis n moerse trip!!
Love the adventure, story and photo's.
Stay safe and keep on writing!!
Yamaha XT1200Z
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Old 07-01-2013, 07:26 AM   #28
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What an Adventure!
Great pictures, and a great story.

Thanks so much for sharing.
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Old 07-01-2013, 09:57 AM   #29
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Location: The Frozen North
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Wow. Great to read your story, and I look forward to more. You are one hell of an adventurer!
“How do I stay so healthy and boyishly handsome? It's simple. I drink the blood of young runaways.” - Shatner

Mid-America -- Ozarks (Darkrider) -- Lake Superior Circle Tour -- NW US -- Labrador -- Big Bend (Darkrider) -- Yukon/Dempster Hwy -- WTX/NNM/SCO
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Old 07-01-2013, 10:48 AM   #30
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Thanks everyone!

I'll have more to write on from next week when I'm back in Morocco. In the meantime, here's what the second half of my route looks like:

Looking forward to sharing more soon!
Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: "Holy shit!! What a ride!!"
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