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Old 02-13-2015, 01:51 AM   #1
Osadabwa OP
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Cool2 Osadabwa’s Retro-Africa Ride Report: 2004 - 2005



Eleven years ago, I embarked from Lusaka, Zambia with a friend on a once-in-a-lifetime-across-Africa ride. We took our sweet time about it, exploring nine countries and covering 20,000 km in ten months of riding from March 1, 2004 to January 2005.

I intend to write this report more or less in real-time, but 11 years later using a mix of my hand-written trip-journals and hindsight to paint the picture. It's going to be fun for me. Hope it’ll be a good one for you too. Welcome.

Now, let’s back up a bit…
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Old 02-13-2015, 02:08 AM   #2
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Thumb Origins

The year: 1998
Scene 1: Kakuma, Kenya, Turkana District
The last month of a study abroad in Kenya, a 21 year old me takes 3 days of public transport to Kakuma, Kenya to investigate an Oxfam pastoral development project. I was housed in a thatched hut and given access to the project’s well-used DT 125, the first motorcycle I’d ridden since I was a kid. We took it out to the bush to speak with project beneficiaries, averaging 4 punctures a day in the thorn-strewn desert. Never has an experience impacted me in the same way.


Above: Me and the DT in Turkana - 1998


Above: 21 year old me, my hut and the DT in Kakuma, Turkana District, Kenya 1998


Above: Boys and men, 1998


Above: Turkana woman, Kakuma, 1998


Above: Turkana women, 1998


Above: Turkana District views, 1998

Scene 2 (one month later): Nkhata Bay, Malawi.
After several excruciating, 18 hour days of matatu, pickup and bus rides from Nairobi through Dar es Salaam, down to the shores of Lake Malawi, I crawl on my dusty face toward the shore of the lake, Carlsberg beer in hand, exhausted and weak from a wicked case of intestinal revolt. I collapse with one hand in the water, lips curled around the beer, laughing and cursing and thrilled to be here, but half dead from the journey.

Then, a distant rumble. Closer, it thump-arump-pumped, and, like a vision rolling into view come two massive bikes (an Africa Twin and an big BMW 1150), kitted to the nines. Their pilots, in cordura and plastic, faceless, helmeted and stoic, alien to me after so many days of seeing nothing but pit-stained t-shirts and hand-me-down clothes, nod as if to say: “Yeah, son, enjoy that beer… you still gotta go back to Nairobi the way you came, and we're riding theeeeese babieees!”

That was the day I made a vow to myself. I swore then and there that I would one day cross Africa properly: On a proper goddam Motorcycle.


Above: One transport option of the time, 1998


Above: Bus service, Tanzania, 1998

The year: 2000 - Zambia
I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer in Eastern Zambia repairing boreholes, building bridges working with health education drama groups, living without water and electricity in a mud and thatch hut, eating fried mice, the works. JFK would have been proud. Our transport options were: For short trips, the Peace Corps Issue Trek 800 Bicycle, or for long trips, whatever crappy, scary bus came along. By the time I was done with Peace Corps, I was suffering a form of PTSD with respect to African transport and constantly, endlessly dreaming about riding a motorcycle instead.


Above: Fixing my Trek at my house in Chipungu Village, Petauke, Zambia, 2000


Above: Reading by candle light, Chipungu Eastern Zambia, 2000


Above: My house in the dry season, Chipungu, 2000


Above: Local drama group drumming out humor and health information, Chipungu, 2000


Above: Field mouse feast, Chipungu 2001-2002


Above: Toilet slab material transport, borehole repair and bridge construction, Chipungu 2000-2002

Lusaka, Zambia, 2003
I finish my two years in the Peace Corps and fall right into a job with USAID in Zambia’s Capital, Lusaka monitoring food aid contributions after a region-wide food shortage.


Above: Food aid distributions, Zambia 2003

Finally, I could start working on my motorcycle fantasies. A one-year contract, shorter hair, no dependents, and plenty of time, I took the first opportunity and bought myself a bike. After very minimal research, I picked up a brand new BMW F650 Dakar 2003 in Pretoria, rode in the engine over the course of a weekend in Mpumalanga, and had it shipped up to me in Lusaka. My reality was catching up with my dreams.


Above: Running her in: 1000 km from Pretoria to Mpumalanga and back... is this how you're supposed to sit?

I dubbed her “Rosie” after a mix of AC/DC’s big woman of the same name and Don Quixote’s love Rocinante. With Rosie in Lusaka, I took every opportunity I could to ride. I made numerous trips out to rural Zamiba, returning to my Peace Corps village, visiting friends etc. On tar, she was a dream. On dirt, I was less sure, but figured practice would make it better. It was the first bike I’d ever owned and I’d never ridden off-road to any extent. With that in mind, I took an unmarked 4x4 track over some hills and promptly dropped the bike and broke off those silly BMW panniers and the flimsy taillight/number plate and mud-guard assembly… known rubbish items on the Dakar. This was all good news, because I had no choice but to upgrade to Touratech Panniers and a home-made rear-light assembly featuring Land Rover taillights fabricated in Lusaka.


Above: The trip when the panniers died (left), and back in my village with Rosie (right), 2003


Above: The new Taillight/indicator/numberplate bracket and Touratech kit

Psyched by my new gear, I set out for a multi-day trial run with all my kit. I made a big loop out to Eastern Zambia, climbed up the Nyika Plateau in Malawi and re-visited Nkhata Bay, this time on 2 wheels as I'd always dreamed. Verdict: I was ready.


Above: Rosie in Malawi’s Nyika Plateau, 2003


Above: Rosie in Nyika, 2003


Above: Rivets didn’t hold the numberplate, Nyika 2003

A couple months later, my friend, 620 brought up his 1997 KTM LC4 620 and we were ready to roll. Our contracts were ending and our travel-lust was raging. Over beers we poured over maps and hatched plans. We would look for dirt as much as possible. We’d take no cell phone, no GPS and no laptop. I had just bought a new-fangled digital camera that had a whopping 4 Megapixels and two 258mb storage cards to go with it. I would burn DVDs of photos as I went and send them back to my parents’ house in the US. I wouldn’t see the photos til the trip was over and I would keep a blog the old fashioned way: pen on paper by campfire light and email updates back home every couple of weeks.

Nothing to do now but go!
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Old 02-13-2015, 03:11 AM   #3
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Cool2 Mudflaps and Mottos

Having lived for several years in Zambia, we were steeped in the nonsense of the times. I had picked up a fair amount of Chinyanja in Peace Corps, and was able to communicate fairly well with people in the city. At the time, there was a song doing the rounds on the radio called Osadabwa which means “Don’t be surprised”. The chorus was something along the lines of “Don’t be surprised, it’s a new day” and was about a guy making it big I suspect… anyway, it was blasting out of all the bars and minibuses.

I decided Osadabwa was the absolute perfect term for a long-distance motorcycle ride in Africa. Over time, I learned that things just work themselves out. They go wrong, they go right, but they go. Don’t be surprised either way. So, I set off past Cairo Road in the CBD and found the makers of mudflaps, adorning mine with Osadabwa. Later, 620 and I went down to get one made for his. “Ili Che” was the name of another song popular at the time and meant something along the lines of “it’s cool”.

Now we were ready to go. Okay, lets go.


Above: Lusaka mudflap central - the making of Ili Che

Check out the songs below. Ili Che is a shout-out to Zambia and is in English. Both worth a listen.

OSADABWA


ILI CHE
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Old 02-13-2015, 09:54 AM   #4
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Very Cool. Keep going.
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Old 02-14-2015, 06:11 AM   #5
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Agreed
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Old 03-01-2015, 08:40 PM   #6
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Thumb March 1, 2004 - Test run

We just needed to move. I was sent off with a kiss and a wave from the girlfriend and with the sunshine on our backs, 620 and I lit out for the East to a spot I knew where we could camp and try our setup.

It rained on us, Leap Year Day night. We’d gone to sleep knowing the storm was advancing, seeing the pop of the flashbulbs in the East and the clouds drifting over the half-moon to the West. I was sure I’d be soaked in my Zepher, the little 1 person, 3 season, 8’ x 3’ fabric coffin that had accompanied me to the Big Horns of Wyoming, Kenya in ’98 and survived all through Peace Corps. This was clearly going to be heavy rain.


Above: Our test camp site, before the rain and a celebratory cigar


Above: A soggy test camp

We learned a few things. 1) While my tent is, in fact, waterproof, 620s leaks like a sieve
2) In order to avoid being awakened at first light, we must camp farther from the track (a band of villagers on their way to a funeral can be a startling alarm clock) 3) bring insect repellent.


Above: Cozy in my Eureka Zephyr!

Okay NOW we’re ready to go.
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Old 03-01-2015, 08:41 PM   #7
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Thumb March 2, 2004 – The trip finally begins

The Royal Macho, Choma, Zambia.

620 describes it as “finally living in the present, no more ‘we will’ now it’s ‘we are’”!


Above: Osadabwa and 620, day of departure, Lusaka 2004

We returned from our damp adventure out east yesterday and resolved to start this ride post haste. By 15:00 we were on the road after strapping on our goods and kissing everyone good-bye. I’d say we fairly flew out of town. Overloaded with two tires, massive panniers and everything I’d need for a year of travel, my bike looks and rides like a tank, but the wheels turn and the sun burns and we are on our way.


Above: Finally on our way
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Old 03-02-2015, 08:38 PM   #8
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Thumb March 3, 2004 – Livingstone, Zambia

We left Choma with food in our bellies and menacing clouds on the horizon south. We dashed leisurely, taking turns on point, dropping and donning our rain gear as needed, avoiding flocks of potholes near Zimba. The world was funhouse mirror blurry by the time we passed the New Freemont into town.

We spent a few days in Livingstone making small repairs to our bikes and reconnecting with a friend, Heiko, who had done cross Africa journeys in the past. We kept busy. 620’s KTM side-stand had failed and dropped his bike so hard it broke the headlight switch on the handlebar and the pannier rack. To the welders! Meanwhile, I was busy improvising a tool box to hold spanners and things from PVC pipe and pineapple tins.

In truth, we were still complete novices completely unaware of challenges what lie ahead and totally unfamiliar with even basic bike mechanics skills. Heiko took one look at the BMW’s weak suspension setup, and helped me come to grips with the fact that I’d chosen a bike that’s “Autobahn perfect and Africa hopeless – but only if I believe it. Heiko eventually got my head right: the bike is both infinitely flawed and ultimately perfect while at the same time being only so-so for the job at hand. Paradoxes, I figured, would probably accompany us along the length of the journey.
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Old 03-08-2015, 10:37 PM   #9
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Thumb March 7, 2004 – Sesheke, Southwest Zambia

We’ve taken another critical step. Leaving Livingstone felt great. We packed up, said goodbye and aimed due West along the Zambezi, past Kazungula to Sesheke where we met a drizzle that never worsened. The pontoon looked ridiculous and dangerous, sputtering across the river at a list of 15 degrees, especially compared to the new, though not yet opened, bridge spanning the gap downstream.


Above: Zambezi River crossing (on ferry, bridge in background) heavy bikes

After some chicken and nsima, we took the dirt scratch that passes for a road toward Shang’ombo 37 km. We both had some awkward riding moments and I nearly ate it in some deep sand before finally dropping Rosie in the muck just inside the fishing camp gate. We had a beer for sunset, another for supper and the moon hasn’t said a word from behind its bank of cloud all night.


Above: 620 by night on the Zambezi, Zambia 2004
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Old 03-08-2015, 10:40 PM   #10
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Thumb March 8, 2004 – Popa Falls, 5 km from Dlvundu, Western Caprivi, Namibia


Above: Okavango river and 620 en route

The moon has finally broken through the clouds that greeted us at the end of our 300km journey straight -----------> straight --------------> straight West from Katima Mulilo. Today I’d tied a rubber strap around my twistgrip to make a cruise-control and was more content to watch the clouds pass than I expected. Probably just being on the road was key. We had left Zambia at last!


Above: Elephants

Upon our muddy arrival, setting everything out to dry, I find my chain lube had leaked a yellow, sticky goo all over my rucksack that reeks of chemicals and will never wash out. Some tea and porridge (and biltong of course) have settled me down, as has the moon and the rush of the rapids from the Okavango River. Nevermind the large snake we found in the roof of our shelter…


Above: Map so far, one week in
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Old 03-08-2015, 10:42 PM   #11
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Thumb March 9, 2004 – Rundu, North Namibia

I love the atmosphere this time of year. Soon the skies will be blank faces, now they have character. The air is crystal clear, the clouds build and vanish. Today a cloud lifted up before us, came closer and closer, then the road bent right and we skirted its rain speckled edge. It was the only drama of our otherwise mind-numbing, monotonous Caprivi Strip ride.


Above: Rosie and hippo skull


Above: Katy, 620’s LC4, loaded

At the campsite, swapping our slick tyres for knobbies, we noticed that 620’s rear sprocket had lost two teeth. Good thing we’re in something like civilization where we’ve heard about a guy named Yuri that has a workshop to help us swap sprockets and chains. In the meantime, it’s a beautiful cool night – Angola and the Okavango River lie over my shoulder through the crickets and the darkness and I have a Tafel Lager. I love Namibia.
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Old 03-09-2015, 02:27 PM   #12
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Excellent!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 03-09-2015, 03:16 PM   #13
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already addicted
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Old 03-09-2015, 05:45 PM   #14
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Oh yeah! Thanks and keep it coming.
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Old 03-09-2015, 10:17 PM   #15
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The beginnings of another awesome ride report!
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