Tuesday 29 March 2011

Home time..

Two weeks in Cape Town and we have wined, dined, enjoyed the stunning Cape coast, shipped our beloved bike and camping gear to Australia and morphed out of biker mode. We arrived here tired and have enjoyed having this time reflect on our 163 days on the road.

It is difficult to explain what this journey has been like, but throughout those long rides in the heat and wind or hours taken to cross a border in the north whilst the cogs of bureaucracy turn at a snail pace – we have laughed. In this light I have tried to come up with the 10 things I learnt whilst riding through Africa, they are in no particular order:

Riding pillion is not exercise; you can gain weight in Africa!
I love riding across open plains and the desert in particular.
I have seen things here that I will never understand.
African women are incredibly beautiful and strong.
I was surprised at the adrenalin rush of seeing animals in the wild.
The African culture is colourful, the Arab the most hospitable in the world.
Financial and voluntary aid is definitely not always the answer.
Some people are content without progress and should be let be.
Africa is nothing like I expected, or had been led to believe by the media.
Tilmann is the best person in the world for me to travel with.

On a serious note, we gave ourselves the opportunity to live out a dream and ride through Africa. We have had endless conversations about what we have seen, what is right, what is wrong, who says everyone must progress, what is really important to people and what right or place do westerners and Europeans have to ‘guide’ Africa through change?

We have been welcomed so warmly by locals in the north of Africa and had the opportunity to meet some incredible people on our journey, Africans and other travellers alike. We came all this way without any problems, a super KTM bike, good health and nothing ever but the feeling of being safe and secure.

We would like to thank our parents, Fiona, Kevin and Helene for their support and enthusiasm despite their worries about our safety and to
all our family and friends who sent their best wishes throughout the trip.

People keep asking if this has been an adventure of a life time for us, it has, but surely you are allowed more than one - right??

Friday 18 March 2011

The perfect last ride...

On entering South Africa we had the sense of the end coming near, a feeling that brought mixed emotions for both of us. We rode quite quickly through the north Springbok, Clanwilliam and then Stellenbosch. The landscape in the North is dry but beautiful with the Orange and Opliphant Rivers winding through the valleys and feeding the many wineries one encounters further south.

Stellenbosch was of course lovely but for us highlighted the differences between the haves and the have nots in South Africa. We spent a day being driven around on a winery tour, tasting what was on offer and enjoying a bit of luxury after months of no wine and not so much civilization! After travelling through Africa it is a surreal experience to sit in Franschoek or Stellenbosch in a lovely café or restaurant, just like being in Europe in the summer. Whilst in Stellenbosch we visited Lanzerac Winery which is where Tille’s cousin got married, a lovely spot and great for us to see it first-hand.

Wanting to savour the last ride into Cape Town we rode from Stellenbosch to the Cape and after an afternoon of visiting penguins at Boulder Beach camped at a place called Miller’s Point which was the perfect location for the last tent night. Must admit the good restaurant next door raised the standards somewhat and we weren’t exactly roughing it!

The day of our final ride had come; we cruised along the coast of the cape, savouring the feeling of freedom on the bike. First stop was the Cape of Good Hope to take a picture of us with the bike at the most south-western point of Africa; this caused much amusement (and frustration) to the bus-loads of tourists all wanting their photo too.

Feeling elated that we had made it we rode up to the lighthouse on the Cape and then along the western side through Chapman’s Peak which with it’s incredible views and sheer drops down into the sea before you arrive in Hout Bay was indeed – the perfect last ride.

From Heidelberg to Cape Town took us 148 days in which we covered 20,647km. We sit in Cape Town where we have some time to enjoy what is an offer here and attempt to let it all sink in and reflect on what we have achieved – it is hard to imagine now that all of the experiences in our heads and hearts are real, but when asked would we do it again? Yes, is the resounding answer.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Namibia for nature lovers...

We had been expecting rain in Malawi, Zambia and Botswana but felt confident that the deserts of Namibia would be dry. Turns out we were lucky in the other countries to have as little rain as we did and that Namibia has experienced incredibly high rainfall this year! In fact the blackboard outside the shop in Solitaire informed us that they had experienced more rainfall in January and February this year than the last two years together.

The high rains meant that we were not able to go into Etosha National Park as tours were not running and that the gravel roads, which make up about 90% of the roads in Namibia, were sometimes not passable and often laced with rather large puddles, running creeks and not so glorious mud!

Not to be deterred by mud, creeks, rivers and rain we headed into the Damaraland and were treated with incredible scenery, 260 million year old petrified trees, 6000 year old rock paintings of the indigenous people and a great campsite surrounded by riverbeds and red mountains.

We had said goodbye to the sea in Dar es Salaam and were very pleased to reach the west coast of Africa in Hennties Bay, a town built between the sea and the desert, a strange place to say the least. We rode south from there along a salt road to Swakopmund, a town this time wedged between the coast, sand dunes and flat desert. After some 19,000km of sitting pillion it was my turn to take the reins of quad bikes that we hired to ride through the dunes – I was petrified for most of the time, opting not to ride my quad bike up the side of ridiculously sloped dunes, Tille needless to say excelled at it and had a ball!

Lovely as it was to see the sea we headed back inland through the Naukluft Mountains towards Sossusvlei. Two very long days of corrugations, gravel and puddles later we reached Sesriem, the last camp before the Sossusvlei Park. After months of being woken up early in the tent and going to bed at the grand hour of 8pm we were easily up at 5am to drive the last 60km into the park to enjoy the sun climbing over dunes that rise up to 350m – the colours, the scenery, the quiet – it was just magic. The Dead Vlei with a white stone base, dark dead trees and surrounds of red dunes equals the Sossusvlei in beauty. We climbed up huge dunes, enjoyed the view and must admit it is a highlight of the trip. (Note to other bikers, you can NOT take your motorbike into the Sossusvlei Park and must use the shuttle service the whole way, not just for the last 5km which is 4WD only.)

Our ultimate day of gravel for the whole trip (our asses and my hips yell yeeehaaaa) took us through a river that was a bit deeper than anticipated, over a mountain pass and ended with 20km of slippery mud which tested my nerves, Tille’s riding and the bike’s endurance… Needless to say on arrival in Maltahöhe with a beer in hand all were well! Our ultimate day of gravel was followed by a long drive south on some lovely smooth bitumen to a wild camp ground surrounded by kokerboom trees, huge piles of rocks that looked as though they had been built by humans and a rather odd collection of people made from straw and metal and old cars and motorbikes to keep us company.

The time has come however for the last border crossing of the trip, the last country and the last 1000km. We have had such a wonderful experience but as we ride towards the finish line we must admit that our heads our full, our bums are a little sore, bodies are tired and we are very much looking forward to seeing family and friends.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

The peace and magic of Botswana...

There is something a bit magic and definitely something very peaceful about Botswana. With a population of two million in a land area the size of France, after the hustle, bustle and occasional hassle of other countries in Africa, Botswana is incredibly peaceful.

We arrived in Kasane and boarded a small boat for a cruise along the Chobe River which runs between the Chobe National Park and Namibia – sighting elephants, baboons, crocodiles and kudu on the banks of the river and drifting between reeds teeming with hippos. Further along the river we sighted a pair of lions on the bank and another one amongst the reeds – it is incredible to be so close to nature.

The Batswana, as the people here are known have been lucky in comparison to other countries we have been in to find masses of diamonds in their land – the government has clearly directed this wealth into infrastructure, education and health. In fact they are the only African country to provide free HIV medication to those in need, which at a rate of 25% is a large portion of the population. In 2006 their life expectancy had dipped to 33 years of age, meaning that Tille was already ‘old’ but now in 2011, the rate is back up to a respectable 77 years of age.

Our next stop was a place called Elephant Sands where the motto states ‘that Elephants rule’ and do they what! We camped at this lovely little lodge, sat around a campfire drinking a beer and watching a herd of about 20 elephants bath and drink from a water hole not 20 metres away. Once they had drifted away a leopard (now we have the big 5!!) came to the water hole to see what was for supper. We had been promised that elephants will not walk over tents, but at 1am when there was one literally less than a metre away (foot prints to prove it!) we were feeling a little unsure! To be so close to nature is magic indeed.

After a short stop at Planet Baobab which was a little bit like a Disney inspired African lodge we rode across the top of the Kalahari to Maun where we camped on the edge of the Okavango Delta. Our final day took us along the western side of the Delta where we spotted zebra, marabou and ostriches on the road.

Between the vast open plains and wilderness left untouched by the small population, friendly smiles from the locals and the western comforts of home (Tille keeps saying he feels like he is in Australia), Botswana has been simply magical and peaceful and a place we would love to return in the dry season to make the most of the Kalahari and the Okavango Delta...