Simon and Lisa Thomas discover a world of unimaginable driving, impressive wildlife, and type strangers as they experience by way of East Africa.
Words: Simon Thomas Photographs: Simon and Lisa Thomas
We are in Cape City, South Africa, our bikes parked behind us. We’ve simply ridden 24,000-miles via 11 African nations and, bathed within the pink glow of the evening sun, our bodies really feel worn and weary. We stroll over the sand right down to the water’s edge, where the cool green waves of the Atlantic lap towards our bare ft.
This can be a moment to savour – it feels so bloody good to have the boots off. It has taken us almost eight-months of demanding driving to traverse Africa’s brutal west coast, and yeah, we’re sporting our cuts, bruises and scars like badges of honour, commemorating each hard-fought mile. We earned every certainly one of them
Addicted to Africa
Africa, in all its intoxicating glory, has us hooked, and we’re longing for more, hungry for our subsequent fix. Once rested, our plan is to journey north, relying once more on my R 1100 GS and Lisa’s F 650 GS to see us via Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, before returning to Cape City by way of Mozambique and Malawi. Lisa and I think about the journey ahead whereas the lights of Cape Town turn on, glinting and twinkling within the shadow of Desk Mountain.
In the chill of the early morning we pull our riding-jackets close around our necks. We are north of Gordon’s Bay. The rugged peaks of the Western Cape’s coast, recognized regionally as the ‘Twelve Apostles’ are behind us, and we are driving the quick sweeping again roads that skirt the vineyards of Stellenbosch. The laden vines, heavy with dew, scent the air. It’s mid Might, and we are sure for South Africa’s northeast area, the place we’ll begin our northward leg.
We shun the primary N1, choosing as an alternative the smaller roads, which lead us by means of the gorgeous however arid Klein (little) Karoo and the Dutch settled cities of Villiersdorp, Stormsvlei, Warmwaterberg and Ladismith. Simply north of Oudtshoorn city our bikes kick up the filth as we swap asphalt for a slender, dry, unfastened filth monitor that climbs and climbs.
Up on the pegs, we’re driving into one of the crucial spectacular passes on the planet, the Swartberg Cross, and throughout what was as soon as thought-about impenetrable, the Swartberg Range. Our eyes flit from the winding monitor ahead as our minds wrestle to absorb the awesome views.
A cautious descent
Cool, shaded kloofs (Afrikaans for ‘gorge’) present sanctuary to delicate swaths of deep-green fynbos (positive bush) on this UNESCO recognised micro-climate. Small rocks tumble from above, loosened by the skittering hoofs of three klipspringers (small antelope) who, startled by our look, now miraculously scamper greater on the just about sheer rock face. We reach the summit (1,582m) and begin our cautious descent, the tight hairpins and sudden switchbacks stealing our consideration away from the beautiful photographs of the brilliant yellow and peach-coloured proteas (South Africa’s national flower) that bedeck the upper ledges.
Deep on the valley flooring, we journey within the shadows, our eyes adjusting to the gloom. The air is cool as we snake by means of the engulfment of a slender cape sandstone gorge. Previous the shut convolutions of the rock-face strata, Swartberg’s crimson peaks pierce the deep blue cloudless sky. Spat again out into the world, into the sunshine and warmth, we’re simply 5 miles from the small Karoo city of Prince Albert. The experience’s been breathtaking.
Approaching the small border crossing from South Africa to Botswana at dusk, we’re now 1,200 miles northeast of the Swartberg Vary and 200 miles northwest of Pretoria. The panorama turns into savannah as we draw closer to Botswana, a land-locked country through which the good Kalahari Desert takes up 70 % of the area. It’s just before dusk as we pull to the aspect of the street and cease by a makeshift shed.
Above a low window and in the dusty gloom, we will just make out the phrase ‘Immigration’ which has been handwritten on a grubby scrap of cardboard. After disclosing that our bikes are overseas registered, we’re stunned to then be asked to pay 180 Pula (£19) for the street license. The immigration guard does little to ease our nervousness as he mumbles a half-hearted warning of bandits on the outskirts of the capital, Gaborone. Rapping his knuckles on the desk, he leans ahead, and earnestly admonishes us to “experience with warning”!
With these words nonetheless ringing in our ears, we experience into the capital in the dead of night and examine in at the Lion Lodge. The dim lights of our worn room flicker and crackle as we examine the day’s digital pictures. The tiny area, only £5 for the night time, is a discount, and a minimum of the bikes are protected, we’ve ridden them into the room! It’s a comfortable fit, they usually barely squeezed by means of the door. The cylinder heads of my 1100GS are crammed between the bed and the wall, and I can really feel the warmth still ticking off both engines.
Escaping Gaborone’s congested, trendy streets early, we cease 100 miles north to sip heat water from our drink-bottles, pausing at the Tropic of Capricorn at S23 30.003 E26 36.764. Once probably the most impoverished nations in Africa, Botswana has flourished since gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1966, and it’s now benefiting from the immense mineral wealth beneath its sandy soils. The nation’s current stability and affluence is proudly reflected in the freshly laid black asphalt now passing beneath our wheels.
We make camp to the east of the Ntwetwe Pan, an enormous saltpan teeming with wildlife. We’d planned to journey across it, but current and unusually heavy rains have submerged the normally navigable tracks, so that’s buggered. As the day closes out and we re-plan the experience ahead, our bush-camp glows within the flickering orange mild of the hearth cooking our night meal. A sluggish steady chorus of tiny, painted reed frogs and barking geckos serenade us as we tuck into our meal. That is our time to ‘soak-up’ Africa. I’ve by no means felt extra alive!
Right now we’re heading into the guts of the Okavango Delta. Surrounded by the parching Kalahari sands, the Okavango is the most important inland delta on the planet, a labyrinth of lagoons, lakes and hidden channels spreading over 11,000 sq. miles – an oasis attracting hundreds of species of wildlife, giant and small. Thirty miles south of Kasane and simply two miles from the Zambian border, we’ve handed numerous signs emphatically warning: ‘DO NOT STOP!’ which, we presume refers back to the risks posed by the native wildlife.
“Properly, the signs aren’t only for fun,” I yell to Lisa over the bike-to-bike comms system. “It’s only for the vacationer,” she yells again. “It’s 11am and we’ve not seen even a hint of wildlife,” Lisa’s snuffs, clearly disgruntled and disenchanted.
Like clockwork, 10m ahead and unfazed by our presence, a huge, tusked bull elephant meanders throughout the trail and magically disappears into the bush. Now driving aspect by aspect, the second takes our breath away as we share excited glances. “Did that just happen?” Lisa asks with a giggle in her voice. The thrill brought on by that massive boy’s sudden look retains grins plastered on our faces all through the day as we continue driving north.
Two days later, at one other campsite, we cautiously choose the banks of the Chobe River, an African crossroads, where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. In the silky nonetheless black water, crocodiles slowly veer in stealth mode, their scales barely breaking the water. To our left, 20 hippos munch ceaselessly, sometimes yawning to show nature’s most dangerous jaws.
Hippopotami kill extra people annually than snakes, sharks and crocodiles put collectively. The sundown, a deep orange, colors the riverbank a delicate mauve, and in the distance, giraffes amble in silhouette. On the base of an historic tree, pressed back beneath its uncovered roots, two younger lion cubs devour a freshly killed kudu (a woodland antelope), their engorged stomachs spherical and tight as drums. They roll and play with the mauled flesh and saunter right down to the water to drink. These moments will stay with us all the time.
Getting into Zambia
Within the warmth of the day, we acquire our exit stamps out of Botswana, journey previous the queue of automobiles for the ferry, and 20 minutes later we make our approach up onto the pontoon’s rickety planks. Ten minutes later we are in Zambia, nation 31 on our journey.
On the northern shore of the mighty Chobe, the bikes roar as we climb the steep embankment, the wheels spin, slipping on the thick algae masking the ramp. An previous, rusted delivery container serves as the Zambian immigration workplace. Lisa and I are all too conscious of Africa’s fame for outright bribery and corruption, and we’re ready for a prolonged stop. But this time, exiting solely 40 minutes later with our paperwork stamped, we’ve cleared customs without any ‘financial lubrication’ greasing palms.
Outdoors, the heat and hospitality with which we’re acquired is overwhelming. Barefoot youngsters with large smiles cheer and wave, operating excitedly after our bikes. Alongside the roadside, brightly dressed Zambian ladies, with unattainable masses balanced on their heads, smile warmly as we cross.
We cease briefly for photographs on the celebrated Victoria Falls, and are quickly soaked to the skin and refreshed by the plumes of atomised spray the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water cascading a whole lot of ft each minute produce when smashing into the rocks under. Throughout the Victoria Falls Bridge we will see Zimbabwe however, unfortunately, on account of their ongoing gasoline disaster, we will’t detour to discover this troubled nation.
Driving the Great North Street
Our subsequent pit stop is in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, to select up our Tanzanian visas. The sights and smells on the northern aspect of city remind us of Mali, the place squalor and filth are the norm, crammed with households eking out an existence any approach they will.
We continue along on the Great North Street, which rises, seemingly endlessly, before us – the best way to Kenya. On the outskirts of Mkwamba and keenly aware that we are dangerously near the border of the Republic of Congo, a brief quarter-mile to our west, we pay additional consideration to the GPS to ensure that we don‘t wander any closer.
Farther northwest we turn from the patchy asphalt of the Nice North Street (T2) onto a sandy monitor lined with hardy wide-leafed timber and the spiked foliage of the stout acacia. The bikes squirm in a well-known style within the tender orange sand. Right down to our left, Lake Ishiba Ng’ahdu, the Lake of the Royal Crocodile, shimmers pinkly within the fading mild, hemmed in by the smooth, rolling, western hills.
Our camp on the manicured grass of Kapishya Scorching Springs justifies the 25-mile detour in sand. This was as soon as the personal estate of Lt Colonel Stewart Gore-Brown, an eccentric Englishman who erected a brick mansion right here in the 1900s. He paid the native tribesmen to cut a monitor and carry in by hand his beloved grand piano.
Time to chill out
For therefore lengthy in ruins, Brown’s folly is now being lovingly restored by his great grandchildren. Deep thermal fissures heat the property’s effervescent emerald pool, vast leaves brush the water, the dense, dark foliage of surrounding jungle shimmers. Shaded from the sun’s intense heat, we soak for hours, easing away the day past’s journey of 520 miles.
At the T2 we pull over to re-inflate our tyres to street strain, instantly attracting an audience of youngsters, all of them excited and curious concerning the bikes and the Martians driving them. Answering every of their questions, we are lastly allowed to take a number of photographs. The large smiles come easily, in stark distinction to the lives these youngsters lead. Torn t-shirts, ripped previous trousers that don’t match drag the ground skirting their bare ft. These youngsters are so remarkably resilient.
It’s mid June and although we enter Tanzania without fuss, we’re baking in the arid air. Dry, gnarled acacia blanket the land; their needle-like thorns able to puncture tyres that stray too shut. Above the clouds, we will see the turquoise ice-capped summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (the world’s tallest free-standing mountain). Intently skirting Killi’s rugged, southerly flanks, we surrender the asphalt for a unfastened gravel monitor that leads us to the outskirts of a Maasai village.
A large, ringed stockade manufactured from spiked acacia branches surrounds the dung-and-straw huts, and the smaller ring inside that one safeguards their valuable livestock at night time. Swathed in vibrant purple and holding lengthy spears, tall, elegant Maasai males gather around the bikes. Seven beautiful Maasai ladies wearing cobalt blue whisper and giggle within the background. With a sigh, Lisa lifts off her helmet and a surprise whisper of “it’s a Ma’ma, it’s a Ma’ma” erupts by means of the now gathered crowd.
Eating with the locals
Having acquired permission to camp inside the protection of the village, we be a part of Ayuna in his hut for dinner. A clay pot is crammed with what appears like milky porridge, simmering above a small hearth pit. As we share our food, Ayuna describes the normal male rites of passage. On the age of 15, the boys from the village each armed solely with a spear and a knife are sent as a gaggle into the bush. Collectively they need to stalk and slay a lion earlier than they will return.
The pelt is then hung within the village, as a trophy of their bravery. Flashing a proud smile, Ayuna factors to his lion’s pores and skin, draped throughout his doorway, and holds up for inspection the graceful yellow lion’s tooth that hangs from his neck.
Within the morning, lion tracks are spotted across the village, however the Maasai appear unalarmed — for them this is an everyday prevalence. As we put together to go away, a sea of joyful, gap-toothed youngsters encompass us. Noses operating, their faces clotted with flies, they eagerly pose for footage, taking mild and coy stances. The oldest amongst them, ensuring that the smallest of them might be seen by the digital camera.
Past Iringa, the countryside modifications. Hilly and mountainous terrain closes in, and the dryness is changed by lush vegetation. The journey curler coasters as we climb and dive: over excessive mountain passes and down by way of lengthy, winding valleys.
The Baobab Valley
By mid-day our eyes are strained from the views and all the best way purple mud houses line the trackside, every with its own small dust path trampled clean underfoot over time. Banana timber grow to the roadside, their vibrant yellow blossoms dangling like jewellery.
By mid-afternoon we’ve entered The Baobab Valley, an historic website carved out by the as soon as fast-flowing river, which now runs lazily at the backside. Centuries-old baobab timber, the dimensions of dinosaurs, have taken the valley over, with their numbers in the tens of hundreds. We’ve never seen so many in a single place.
‘You’re getting into Mikumi Park Recreation Reserve, please drive rigorously,’ reads the massive street sign. The A7 passes by way of the middle of this massive, dry savannah, strewn with bouldered outcrops, residence to huge cats, impala, giraffe and the like. A small herd of zebra stand to consideration a brief distance from the street, watching us as we slowly come to a halt, hoping to get a quick photograph. Feeling like intruders, we feature on and depart the zebras to their grazing.
On the outskirts of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania’s capital), the Arabian sway of life is abundantly clear, with the minarets of its many mosques punctuating the skyline. Alarmingly, the variety of suicidal coach drivers passing us on blind bends and on steep hills has been growing. We’ll be glad to stop a while very quickly.
Directions asked and acquired, we head for Silver Sands, a campsite right on the seashore and a favourite with the overlanding truck drivers we’ve met en-route. Over the previous few months, we’ve passed dozens of these heavy-duty cargo vans, every kitted out with home windows and seats carrying adventure-seeking vacationers for days or perhaps weeks by means of Africa.
We will odor the sea
Banana and palm timber line the path to the seashore, and we will odor the salt in the air and really feel the swampy embrace of the coastal humidity. On the finish of the monitor a younger gate porter yells “Karibu, karibu, welcome, welcome,” over the noise of our engines, as he pushes open two giant rusting iron gates. We use the final of our power to face on the pegs and journey across the delicate, dry sand of the seashore. A half hour later, the tent is up and chilly beers are in hand, as we watch the solar dip under the distant ocean horizon.
Sitting outdoors our tent, the tumbling rhythm of the waves on the seashore close by is calming. We realise that Africa is every thing we’d ever dreamt of and extra. We’ve witnessed the perfect of human nature, the place probably the most impoverished of people, these seemingly possessing nothing, readily and graciously supply to share half of what they don’t have, and without any expectations of return. The heat and resilience of the individuals we’ve met travelling this continent has left us both humbled, and with each encounter, they’ve left us richer for the experience.
Sat on the warm wet sand of the seashore, the excitement of Dar Es Salaam whirls about us in the mild breeze. As we mirror upon our journey and sip on our beers, the distant lights of Zanzibar sparkle to life.
Need to journey in East Africa? Right here’s how you can…
African nations are often stereotyped for violence, energy struggles and corrupt governments, army and police. Nevertheless there’s a extra constructive aspect to South Africa and its neighbors to the northeast. There’s genuine human heat experienced day by day, and for probably the most part, you possibly can easily be forgiven for considering you’re in a scene from a National Geographic documentary.
Usually, the rainy season lasts from October to April. During this time it may well develop into exceptionally scorching, and heavy rain might make some roads muddy and impassable. The dry season runs between Might and September, and is usually the most effective time for viewing animal migration, especially in Botswana and Tanzania.
Methods to get there
U.Okay. citizens should have a legitimate passport, related visas and a yellow fever vaccination certificates for entry into most East African nations.
There are lots of international flights to South Africa, often flying instantly into Johannesburg. Nevertheless, you possibly can simply get a connecting flight into Cape City should you wish to begin by exploring the Western Cape of South Africa.
Get your bike there
Moto Freight can take your bike from the UK to South Africa for a very affordable charge. At current prices, sea freight from London to Cape City costs from £745 for a BMW R 1100 GS-sized motorbike, whereas air freight prices from £1,625. Head to www.motofreight.com for more info.
Meals and lodging
The delicacies of East Africa varies from area to space. Within the inland savannah, cattle, sheep and goats are considered a form of foreign money and a store of wealth, and aren’t usually consumed as food. Maize is the idea of ugali, a starch dish eaten with meats or stews. One-pot goat or lamb stews are in style (round £1).
The cuisine of South Africa and its neighbouring nations has advanced from the pioneering days of the 17th century, and such foods as biltong, droë wors (dried sausage) and rusks are favoured.
Costs are all the time larger within the extra touristy city eating places, compared to food purchased in the local cafes and vendor stalls.
East Africa presents many decisions in lodging, from first-class inns, luxury lodges and safari camps to finances guesthouses and camping grounds. The main vacationer areas have personal lodges, safari camps, and public camping websites. Wild tenting is possible outdoors the key cities and cities. All the time scout the world first before placing up your tent, as chances are you’ll be in the midst of an animal monitor or walkway between villages.
Roads and Biking
There are a couple of inter-city highways which might be maintained and have affordable tarmac; nevertheless, even these good roads deteriorate through the rainy season (usually late March to mid-June), and lots of roads, each urban and rural, develop into flooded and very muddy!
Driving on the gravel roads and sand tracks definitely requires some follow, and chances are you’ll be deceived by a very good part of street, only to return up towards a huge crater-like pothole, a rock, a boulder, a patch of heavy sand, diabolical corrugations, or an animal. The dust raised by different automobiles additionally makes it unattainable to see at occasions. Driving blind is not any fun! Holding your velocity down is advisable.
Off-road driving isn’t allowed within the recreation parks, however then once more neither are motorcycles!
Our motorcycles and kit
Simon rode a BMW R 1100 GS
Lisa rode a BMW F 650 GS
Baggage Techniques: Touratech Zega
Jacket and Pants: Hein Gericke Tuareg
Helmets: BMW System four
Boots: MX boots – Alpinestars Tech 6 and Gearne SG10
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