Note: When I'm working as part of the Globebuster's team I have a job to do and that limits the time I have available for making notes and writing my journal. In addition, out of respect for the customers who I am supporting on their adventure, I have changed their names, although it is still likely that anyone on the trip will be able to recognise themselves (and possibly their travel companions). I just hope I haven't offended anyone, and if I have I would ask that they forgive me (and drop me an email and I will try to modify the text so they are no longer offended!).
After waking up at 6:45am and a quick breakfast in the hotel it was off to the freight depot with Kevin to meet up with our local agent Gabriel. It soon became apparent that he had some running about to do before he would be ready for us to start the process of getting the bikes through customs, so we left him to it with a plan to return later. When went back at 1pm they were all closed up for lunch, so we returned the hotel again. The customers had been told to hang around the hotel so they would be ready when they were needed, as we can't get their bikes out without them being physically present, so we went about managing their expectations some more – this was going to be a long day, and they had to be very patient!
At 2:25pm we went back to the customs office and I dropped off Kevin and Julia with Gabriel and went back to the hotel to await their call to start bringing the customers over. With the customs office closing at 5pm, we planned to return at 3:30pm, but agreed I would wait until I got a call to avoid the customers hanging around the customs yard. That meant they had to hang around the hotel instead, and I told them all to try to relax and that I'd come and get them when needed. Just before 5pm, I heard from Kevin that the customs boss, who needed to sign the carnets (a customs document that acts like a passport for the bikes, allowing them into the country), had agreed to stay late to sign them. Gathering the customers in the hotel lobby, I then tried to keep them entertained as they were getting a tad fed up with waiting and starting to get very restless. They were already forming into a good group, though, with lots of banter and when I finally got a text to fetch them round to customs at 5:56pm, it was smiles and excitement all around as they boarded the coach I'd arranged for the hotel to lay on to take them the half-mile to the customs building. I drove round in the van, and then began herding cats as we only wanted a couple of the customers to pass through security into the customs yard to avoid over-crowding. Once it was clear for the rest to pass through we all went into the customs yard and we organised ourselves into teams to take the crates apart and release the bikes – the customs guys had moved the crates into a large yard. The crates are assembled by our agent in the UK (MotoFreight) and are works of art – wooden pallets to which the bikes are strapped, then stiff carboard attached to a wooden frame surrounds the bike, with a raised portion for where the screens are. They each have hundreds (or so it seems) of screws securing the carboard cover to the pallet, which need to be undone before the 6 straps holding the bike down can be released (a process that has to be done systematically to avoid the bike falling over). We had an electric screwdriver that had been fully charged in my room earlier to undo the screws, but that ran out well before we had released all the bikes, so we had to resort to brute force to remove the final few from their crates. Eventually the yard was filled with empty crates, 18 motorcycles, and 40 litres of AdBlue in containers. We reconnected batteries, refixed mirrors and panniers and checked all the bikes over – all but one started OK, but as we were still 4 customers short we had to leave 4 bikes behind as we took the first batch back to the hotel. Kevin, Julia and one of the customers jumped in the van with me as we went back to collect the remaining bikes and AdBlue – loading the dead 1250GSA in the back of the van. We finally got back to the hotel at 9:30pm, had a snack and a beer to celebrate getting all the bikes from customs and went to bed.
Once again I was up early as I had a list of jobs to do. A quick breakfast and then I was out of the front of the hotel where the bikes were all parked up with the van, and I set to work. First job was to remove the dead battery from the 1250GSA and put it on charge in my hotel room, then I was out checking tyre pressures, tightening mirrors, refitting screens, and generally checking the bikes over, then I tidied the van and reorganised the contents ready for departure. I had a shower and joined Kevin and Julia to prepare for the group welcome meeting at 3pm, then we had a photo shoot on the steps of the hotel with the General Manager (I missed the group shot as I was busy moving bikes around!). The welcome meeting was good fun as we all introduced ourselves and enjoyed a welcome drink, then it was downstairs and into a coach to take us to the group meal at the Carnivore restaurant, where we overloaded on meat – including crocodile and bulls balls – and had a few drinks (not many for me, as I'm trying not to overindulge!). Then the coach took us back to the hotel and bed.
I was up before dawn at 5:30am so I could get my jobs done before the group was up – first of which was to fit the charged battery to the dead 1250GSA and try to get it running. This was simple enough and soon the bike was running just fine – the battery should have been disconnected before freight but hadn't been, and as the bike was fitted with a tracker, the battery had been drained in transit. A quick check showed it was charging just fine on the bike, so all was good. I then went around checking more tyre pressures (I hadn't managed to get round all the bikes yesterday) and attended to one or two other little jobs on the bikes before heading inside for breakfast.
Today was a shakedown day, as we headed north out of Nairobi and on to the equator, following the route we had reccied a couple of days ago. It was great to be part of the group, and as I was at the back as we left the hotel, I had a great view of the convoy heading down the road. I soon got separated in the heavy traffic, though not by too much, and we regrouped at a café-cum-souvenir shop for a brew and the inevitable fridge magnet. Then we continued on to the equator where there was a sign we could stop at for photos, although it wasn't at the actual equator! (Interestingly, neither was the sign and visitor's centre at the equator in Ecuador when I was there!) We had to drive a further 200m up the road to actually cross the equator, before turning round and heading back the way we'd come. The traffic on the return journey was very heavy, so I kept losing and then catching the group, and we had another coffee stop, then before arriving at the hotel we stopped to fill up with fuel. Once again I had a problem with the nozzle size at the Shell garage, so had to find an alternative.
Back at the hotel we counted up all the bikes and there were only 17 – a quick headcount and we worked out that Nigel (not his real name!) was missing. When he finally arrived he was complaining about a noise and vibration from the rear of his bike, so whilst he went to shower and change I investigated. It transpired his rear ABS sensor was fouling his wheel, so as this is a safety critical feature I told him the problem and suggested a solution, then watched and checked as he fixed it himself (replacing a missing washer to relocate the sensor to where it should have been). With that sorted I replaced a broken indicator on another bike (broken by one of the group and mentioned at the previous day's welcome meeting), adjusted some more tyre pressures and then fixed some trip stickers to the van's doors. I then loaded all the customers' soft bags – the luggage they use to carry kit when they fly out then don't need again until the end of the trip – and their spares (rejecting numerous items that were not “spares” as the van is not for general transportation!) into the van. With the van now fully ready for departure, I loaded the GPS route chip into my GPS unit, sorted through my route notes and packed ready for the off. Then it was down to the bar for a burger and some beer before checking out. Whilst I was paying my bill, the receptionist commented how much she liked my earing, and asked about the trip (we'd become something of minor celebrities amongst the hotel staff!). She said she'd love to be able to do a trip like it, so I told her we'd be back in a couple of years as we run the trip every other year, then made her jealous by telling her that when it was over I was returning home to collect my wife before flying to Australia for 3 months! When she replied that when she got married she wanted it to be someone like me, I blushed and replied “Only younger!” and rushed off to bed to hide my embarrassment!
The first day of the return leg began with me loading my stuff in the van and then once again putting some air in a bike's tyres (everyone seems to check and adjust their tyre pressures daily!) before breakfast. Once on the road it only took us 2 hours to reach the Tanzanian border and the chaos that existed outside the border compound, with people everywhere. In the chaos, one of the group had his camera stolen from his tankbag (he had taken some pictures, then put it there for safe keeping, but someone had obviously seem him do it and as the bag is only fastened with zips…). I also saw my “friend” Grace (the agent who had tried to fleece me on the way through as I passed north) who had come to see us off (in the hope of getting some work – no chance!). Whilst Kevin dealt with getting everyone signed into the compound, I tried to keep an eye on things, then we were through and into the relative peace of the border compound and the familiar one-stop border building. Here we were processed out of Kenya (immigration) and then into Tanzania (immigration), but the customs process was very slow – as it so often is when it has been computerised! There were lots of mistakes made on the documentation that had to be spotted and then corrected, further compounding the delays. In addition to the process for the bikes, I also had to pay a road toll fee for the van, and then we were all done – 18 bikes and one van in around 3 hours.
As the group had fragmented leading the border, I drove alone for a while until on the outskirts of Arusha I saw some of the group having lunch. With nowhere to park the van I left it in a car wash being cleaned and joined them. I didn't order any lunch as I wasn't hungry and I was glad I hadn't as the food looked disgusting! After that we made slow progress to Karutu and the Kudu Lodge where we are staying. Just before arriving I went to fill up, but the fuel station wouldn't take a card and I had no cash, so couldn't, then I found an ATM and withdrew some cash for the next few days. The lodge is lovely and I had a big room with 2 large single beds and a separate changing room as well as an en-suite shower/toilet. We had our usual evening meeting, with no dramas to report, then a buffet dinner before heading off to bed early.
I was up at 6:30am for a buffet breakfast and then at 7am joined the group for a jeep safari into the Ngorongoro Crater. This was a spectacular day, the crater is simply massive – 20km across, 600m deep and covering some 300 sq km – and full of wildlife. We saw giraffe, zebra, gnu, buffalo, lions, hippopotamus, elephants, baboons, monkeys, gazelles (both Thomson and Grant's) and lots of different species of birds. Lunch was a packed lunch eaten by the side of a large lake where hippos were basking. Simply wonderful!
Back on the road again today, heading via Arusha, and once again the Tanzanian police pulled me over for another attempt at extorting money. But now I'm on a mission to be the first Globebusters van-man to get through Tanzania twice without paying anything, so I talked my way out of anything, politely explaining that I hadn't been speeding, and so wouldn't be paying anything!
Just before Arusha my phone rang, but the signal was poor and the line was dropped before I could answer it. Then the satellite phone I carry rang and I knew there was a problem somewhere. On the line was Bob with news that one of the other members of the group, Lenny (not his real name), had come off his bike on the dirt road leading to the recommended coffee stop and hurt his shoulder. He was otherwise unhurt, but his shoulder was very painful and they doubted he could ride. The other problem was there wasn't a dirt road on the way to the recommended coffee stop! I got Bob to agree to wait by the main road so I could see where they were and then rang Kevin to let him know what was going on – he was with the bulk of the group with Julia at the recommended coffee stop (the Arusha Coffee Lodge) and said he'd get Julia to get going with the rest of the group and he would wait there for further information. I found Bob at the entrance to a sandy dirt road by the airport next to a sign that pointed to another (different) coffee lodge, and a little further down the dirt road, in an area of deep sand, was Lenny's bike, together with Angus's bike, with both Angus and Lenny standing in among the trees at the side of the road. There were a few locals stood around too, but the scene was under control. I parked the van to block the road and went to check on Lenny, who was in some discomfort from his shoulder, but due to his tight-fitting pullover I wasn't able to perform a full checkover, just enough to confirm he wasn't bleeding. His shoulder was dropped and so looked likely to have been dislocated, but I couldn't get under his body armour sufficiently to check, so loaded him carefully in the van so I could drive him the few hundred yards to the coffee lodge where Kevin was for a proper examination. I asked Bob to ride his bike round and left Angus to look after the other two bikes, saying I would return with Bob to collect Lenny's bike shortly. I dropped Lenny off with Kevin so he could be checked over, and returned with Bob as arranged, and when I got back to the coffee lodge again Kevin had confirmed my initial diagnosis of a dislocated shoulder having managed to squeeze Lenny out of his armoured pullover. Kevin and I then went to the lodge's reception desk to ask where the nearest hospital was, and to arrange for a taxi to take Lenny there (no ambulances were available). Whilst we waited, Kevin looked after Lenny whilst I loaded his bike in the van, then we thanked Bob and Angus for their help and told them to continue on the route. Once the taxi was ready we gingerly loaded Lenny in and then drove off in convoy to the hospital, Kevin riding his bike and me following in the van, the taxi leading as the driver was the only one to know where the hospital was. To cut a long story short, once at the hospital Kevin arranged for the doctor to examine Lenny, who had an x-ray confirming a dislocated shoulder, which was put back in place under anaesthetic, whilst we waited and dealt with the necessary payments using Lenny's credit card and stash of emergency cash. Lenny was later discharged with a sling on his shoulder, but the news was not good as he had also stretched the tendons and so he wouldn't be able to ride for a few weeks, meaning he wouldn't be able to complete the trip. With Lenny in the van with me we resumed the route to the hotel in Moshi, which fortunately wasn't too far away.
With a long day ahead (354 miles), we were on the road early, with Lenny riding in the van with me and his bike in the back. It was nice to have some company for a change, although I would have much preferred to see Lenny uninjured and riding his bike. He was good company, too, and we chatted about all sorts of things, and the time passed most enjoyably. That was, except for the police checkpoints and roadside stops. I was stopped 3 times by police with radar guns complaining that I had been speeding. Determined to maintain my record of not paying “fines”, I managed to talk my way out of all of them, but the last one was particularly difficult. The group of police that stopped me included one very senior looking official with a big belly who kept repeating that I had been speeding and therefore had to pay. I argued that I hadn't, as the point at which they claimed I had been speeding was a 70kph stretch between two villages and I had slowed down to 50kph before the sign at the entrance to the village where they had pulled me over. I insisted on one of the officers accompanying me back up the road to look at the signs to prove my point. He climbed in between Lenny and me and we set off back up the road, and on the way out of the village I pointed to the sign showing the start of the 70kph stretch on the left, then we turned round and headed back into the village. Only where there should have been a corresponding 50kph sign on the left opposite the 70kph one, there wasn't! Back with the senior officer I argued that it was impossible for that stretch of road to have two different speed limits (70kph going back and 50kph coming in), so my speed (56kph) was appropriate and under the 70kph limit. That didn't work, so we were at a stalemate. I had already explained I carried no money, simply being support for the motorcycle group who had passed through earlier (several of whom had been stopped and fined!). So I waited patiently until eventually after 20 minutes or so he got bored of me and told me to go on my way. Lenny was more than a little impressed when I told him I'd once again avoided paying a bribe, sorry, fine!
As we reached the outskirts of Dar es Salaam the traffic built up and we were stuck in the usual chaos as everyone jostled for position and got nowhere. At every set of traffic lights there were people selling all sorts of things, walking up and down in between the queues, plying their wares. I saw one guy with a mug tree, selling mugs. Now, ever since I'd arrived in Africa I had been unable to get a decent sized cup of tea, as all the hotels used small cups and saucers, so I had to use several just to get more than a mouthful. So I called him over and bought a mug, which for the rest of the trip went down to breakfast with me, much to the amusement of the hotel staff and the rest of the group (who, I suspect, were also a little envious!). We finally got to the hotel at 6pm and the rest of the group was already there, thankfully without any drama.
The group was heading to Zanzibar, an island off the coast, for a day tomorrow before returning to the hotel the day after, but with Lenny and his bike needing to be repatriated, it was decided that Kevin and I would stay behind to sort things out. With us staying in the same hotel for the duration, we also agreed that the group could leave their luggage in my room, so after a curry for dinner I started receiving visitors and stacking helmets, bike jackets and panner inner bags all over my room. With some of the group requesting some time to re-pack, I agreed that the remainder could drop their gear off at 5:30am before they head for the ferry.
Despite me not going to Zanzibar, I didn't get a lie-in, as at 5:30am there was a small group of people outside my room ready to drop off their gear. By the time that was done there was hardly enough space to get to my bed, and my room resembled a junk-shop for second-hand motorcycle gear. After breakfast, I set about sorting out Lenny's stuff from the van, taking out what would travel back to the UK with him and what would go back with his bike, then fixed the van's air-compressor hose and the licence plate on one of the customer's bikes that had worked loose. Whilst I was doing that, Kevin had arranged to meet up with a freight agent at the airport to try and sort out getting Lenny's bike back to the UK. Customs rules mean that it is not possible for us to take a bike across borders without the owner being present (at least using the standard carnets we have), and we also needed to ensure the van was available should another emergency arise. So Kevin and I went round to the Emirates Freight office, where we met a friendly chap called Ahmed who was something of a petrol-head and very interested in our trip. He was also very helpful and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we were ready to unload the bike in the freight area. There we had to drain the fuel, disconnect the battery and remove the screen and mirrors, before waiting for Ahmed and the customs people to sort out the necessary paperwork, arrange the flight and then stamp the carnet to prove the bike had been sent out of the country. This is vitally important, as the purpose of the carnet is to ensure that the bike isn't imported and sold avoiding tax, and it acts as a guarantee of payment should the bike not leave the country. There was a lot of waiting around for all this to happen, during which it started to rain, and even when the carnet had been stamped we had to wait until we met the guy who was going to build the crate around the bike for the return journey and pay him. He turned up eventually pushing a cart loaded with planks of wood and a couple of pallets, and we left him to his work. By now it was 5pm and we were ready to get back to the hotel and in need of a cold beer. Despite it only being 10 miles back to the hotel, the traffic was that bad it took us an hour and a half to make the journey. On the way back we marvelled at the goods on offer from the street sellers weaving between the queues – everything was for sale, including cashew nuts, fluffy steering wheel covers, phone chargers and fire extinguishers!
Back at the hotel we met up with Lenny and Sajid (another of our group, who had spent the day getting his Visas sorted as he couldn't get them before joining the trip) and we walked to a rotating restaurant that had a good reputation for excellent curry. This was on the 21st floor of a building a few blocks from the hotel and was well worth the walk, the food being truly excellent. Full and content after another successful day, we returned to the hotel and bed.
Today I had a little lie-in, getting up at 7:30am for a leisurely breakfast before heading down to the bikes with Kevin. With the group still away, we moved the bikes around so we could check them all over (the Ducati Multistrada Enduro is a surprisingly heavy bike, being harder to move around than the enormous BMW R1250GS Adventure). We checked tyre pressures, spokes, oil and coolant levels and lubed the chains. Then we jumped in the van and went in search of a tool shop to get a better compressor hose (they didn't have one) and some gearbox oil for Helga's bike, which she had ridden to join is in Dar having arrived in Tanzania ahead of the group so she could visit some places she used to work at and drop off donated laptops. This bike has an interesting story, as it is called Paul, after me, because it is the bike I rode when guiding the southern section of the TransAM in 2016 and had lent to her so she could ride into Ushuaia after her own bike was damaged and unrideable. Fame at last! Unfortunately, like me, the bike has had a hard life and is no longer in good condition – the latest issue is a leaking final drive unit and emulsified gearbox oil suggesting a couple of damaged seals. Once I returned to the hotel we set about tackling the issues in the scorching heat of the hotel car park. First we replaced the gearbox oil, then removed the drive shaft dust seal and outer oil seal, which we could clearly see had been leaking. We then replaced the seal with a new one we had in our spares and put everything back, topping up the drive shaft oil and checking for leaks. It all looked OK, so we then moved on to replacing both front and rear tyres, a job made all the more difficult by the heat and humidity, the end result of which was by the time I'd finished I was drenched in sweat and very dirty.
A shower and change of clothes was followed by a few well-earned beers with some of the group who had returned from Zanzibar early. At 7pm I returned to my room to allow the group to collect their belongings before finally getting a burger for dinner in the hotel restaurant. By the time I fell into bed, I was very tired and soon fell into a deep sleep.
Another early start today as we have some 340 miles to cover, and almost the whole group had already left by 7am, except for Arthur and Matt (not their real names), meaning I had to hang around to wait for them to leave. The van-man is always last to leave, waiting until 30 minutes after the official departure time, or 15 minutes after the last bike, whichever is the earlier. With a long day ahead in the heat, it's not unusual for the group to get on the road ahead of the official leave time, which works well, except when one or two of the group hang back and leave “on time”, spreading the whole group out even more. Whilst I was waiting for them to leave, the hotel manager rushed out to me in something of a panic, complaining that the bill for the rooms hadn't been settled. I went into the air-conditioned splendor of the reception area to sort it out, and having checked my notes knew that Julia had paid it in advance. I rang her to check, and then we had the usual back-and-forth as the hotel checked their records, Julia checked hers and I relayed messages from one to the other. Eventually the hotel agreed that I could leave my credit card details as a guarantee before I was finally able to get underway at 7:50am.
Getting out of Dar es Salaam was slow due to the traffic, and then I was pulled over again at yet another police checkpoint. This time the officer adopted a different tactic, showing me a picture of the van with a 60kph sign imposed over it, alleging it was an image from a laser speed camera that had been forwarded to him by the officer with the camera. I laughed out load before telling him I had no idea where the image had really come from, but that firstly I hadn't been speeding and that it had taken me two-and-a-half hours to cover just 42 miles, and that he was clearly trying it on. He then told me to continue on my way, confirming yet again that these speed stops are just a scam!
The rest of the day was a long, and relatively uninteresting, drive, with no sign of the group all day. I didn't bother to stop for lunch as I wanted to try to get closer to the group, and only stopped once for fuel and to get some cash from an ATM. Towards the end of the day I entered Mikumi National Park and things got more interesting, as I saw zebras, gazelles, monkeys and water buffalo, before I arrived at the lodge around 5:30pm.
The lodge was beautiful, with individual houses built from local materials dotted around the grounds, and I had one to myself, which meant I had plenty of peace and quiet. At the evening meeting we had two birthdays to celebrate, and the lucky birthday boys were treated to the traditional Globebusters celebrations, which included presents wrapped in newspaper and gaffer tape. Whilst I can't recall what the gifts were, I do know they were all representative of the region and included hats (which must be worn all evening), and were well received. We then had a group meal consisting of soup followed by roast beef, vegetable rice and finished off with birthday cake. We concluded with a wee dram of Dalwhinnie 15-year old single malt whisky from the large collection of spirits carried in the van (most donated by the group, although this was one Kevin had brought out). I only had the one as I'm still restricting my drinking, before leaving the group to it and retiring for an early night at 9:30pm.
I was up before 7am to sort out some old laptops from the luggage in the van for Helga, UB and Francois, who were leaving the group to head to a school that Helga worked at when she lived in Tanzania. Once they were sorted and handed over, I headed into the lodge's restaurant where I had a lovely breakfast and watched the group heading off for the day. I had a late departure, not leaving until 10am, and then I had a very leisurely drive to the Utangule Coffee Lodge, retracing the route I'd taken on my way North. This time there were no radar stops, apart from one where Kevin and Julia were stopped chatting to the police. As I was pulled over, Kevin shouted “He's with us!” and I was waved on again. Later I found out that Kevin had talked their way out of a fine using charity work as an excuse – well, some of the group were doing just that, so it wasn't a total lie! Ten of the group had been pulled over at that one stop, a long straight stretch of 50kph with no houses, side-roads, etc, and they had paid 20,000Tsh (just over 6 pounds) each in fines. With corruption rife, it's no wonder the police stop every white person they see to try their hand at extortion.
Once I arrived at the lodge I checked in and then met up with Kevin and Julia for a meeting to discuss the next few days before having an early dinner before the group meeting. After attending to a few minor jobs I retired to my room where I was able to FaceTime Tracy and read before turning in for the night.
With the prospect of a long day ahead – some 340 miles plus the border crossing into Malawi – I was up at 5:45am and had breakfast before checking that the group had their packed lunches, then I helped them get their bikes out of the lodge car park. This was sloped and cobbled, and with fully laden heavy adventure bikes, some of the customers were in need of a push, but all managed without incident. I then hung around waiting for the last 2 (no prizes for guessing who) to leave before I was able to leave myself, finally getting on the road around 7:30am. The route first went back through the chaos of Mbeya, the nearest town, before turning right into the hills towards the border. This was a beautiful road surrounded by wonderful scenery, with rolling hills either side of the road dotted with coffee plantations and through a number of small villages. For a change, I was not stopped at any of the police checkpoints, most likely because I knew where they would be and slowed down well before reaching them.
I met up with the group at a fuel station just before the border, where I was able to change the last of my Tanzanian Shillings into Malawi Kwetcha with one of the money changers hanging around. It was then a short 3 mile drive to the border itself, which I reached around 10:30am. Just as I was pulling up behind the queue of bikes waiting to be processed, Julia came over looking sheepish and told me that she'd had a call from the lodge to inform her she'd left her laptop behind and that “the boss says you should go back and get it”. So I turned round and drove back at speed to cover the 150 or so miles back to the lodge. With an extra 300 miles to do, I knew now that I was in for a very long day, so I upped my pace when outside the villages. Having had a quick look at the map and the GPS, I saw a dirt-road short-cut that would avoid me having to go via Mbeya. So opted to try that as a way of reducing the delay. It turned out to be great fun, the narrow and twisty dirt road turning into a rally stage as I hurled the Transit van around the twists and turns, bouncing around and kicking up a large plume of dust in my wake. It was exhausting, though, and by the time it deposited me on the main road south of Mbeya I was knackered from wrestling with the steering wheel. I reached the lodge at 12:30, having taken a full hour less to make the return journey, grabbed Julia's laptop and apologised to the friendly host, and turned the van around towards the border once more.
I opted not to take the dirt road back as it was too much like hard work and I didn't want to risk damaging the van on the bumps, but still made good time. I did get pulled over once, though, as I passed through a small village and didn't slow down enough – 70kph in a 50kph and caught on a legitimate looking radar gun. Once again I managed to talk my way out of it, explaining I was rushing to catch up the group and was very, very, sorry and wouldn't speed again. Once again I had to stop just before the border to change the 20,000Tsh I'd taken from an ATM in Mbeya in case I needed fuel, then I started the border formalities. These were straightforward, except for the road tax which had to be paid in US dollars not Kwetcha, and the Carbon Tax which I also had to pay before getting the stamped carnet back. A final document check as I was leaving the border and I was into Malawi, where I was immediately stopped at a police checkpoint for an insurance inspection. Which was OK, as I'd bought the insurance previously and soon I was on my way. The GPS showed it was 220 miles to the hotel, but the van showed a range of only 190 miles, so I knew I'd have to stop at least once more. I passed through a number of police checkpoints where I was pulled over, but they didn't bother with radar guns or attempts to extort money, just a short friendly chat, a handshake, and I was on my way again. They didn't even bother checking my documents. I found a town with a row of fuel stations and so went in search of diesel, only for all 4 of them to be no use – 2 had nozzles that were too small, one was too big and the final one didn't have any diesel! So on I drove into the dark, blinded by oncoming vehicles with lights on full beam. The drivers all seem incapable of dimming their lights as they approach another vehicle, so for an instant it's impossible to see anything and you just have to hope there isn't a bend in the road. Or a goat. Only there was one of the latter. I had no chance to see it as just as the blinding lights of the oncoming vehicle started to pass me I saw it's ghostly shape emerge just a foot or so from the front of the van. I hit the brakes hard, but there was a loud “thump” and I knew I'd hit it. Now, there are rules about this sort of thing in the UK, but here, not so much. There were people milling about everywhere and the last thing I needed was a mob trying to force me to pay a large sum for a goat I'd run over. So I carried on, hoping that the van wasn't too badly damaged. I passed through the next police checkpoint after a couple of miles, and felt I was then far enough from the incident to be able to pull over and inspect the damage. Fortunately, that was limited to a dent in the front bumper and some goat hair wedged in the numberplate.
Driving on into the dark, unlit roads, passing through villages with people milling about on the road and on blind bends, with the diesel range dropping faster than the miles-to-go was quite stressful. The road crossed a steep hill in a series of pot-holed hairpin bends, which proved the usefulness of the Transit's cornering lights – the relevant fog light come on when the wheels are turned, illuminating the road in the direction of turn. With 67 miles to go and a range of around 40 miles, I saw a fuel station and pulled up, praying it had the right sized nozzle. It did, and I almost danced with joy. I sent a message to Julia letting her know where I was as it was now very late, then continued on my way. I got a reply a while later asking if I was alright and how long it could take to do 6 miles, my earlier text being auto-corrected! I replied it was 67 miles, but I still had 27 left, and after checking I'd sent the correct message, carried on. Towards the end of the drive the road became wonderful, a wide, twisting road with cats eyes down the middle, and I wondered if I was hallucinating. The final stretch returned to the usual bumpy, broken, tarmac, with people walking, cycling, pushing carts and with cats and dogs and goats wandering across the road, all unlit.
I finally arrived at the hotel at 9:30pm, which was really 10:30pm for me as we'd crossed a time-zone, some 15 hours after I left the lodge that morning. As I walked into the restaurant the group, all sat around a large table, began cheering and clapping, and Julia went off to get me a pot of tea, which was just what I wanted. The hotel staff then produced my dinner, which they had kept the kitchen open to cook for me, and I sat and listened to the group's stories from the day. It seems they, too, had enjoyed some adventures, with one puncture that needed a tube fitting, one rider being knocked off (unhurt) by a bus, a couple riding two-up also being knocked off but unhurt, one rider dropping their bike and then knocking the couple's bike over as he went to pick it up. Oh, and one rider also hit a goat, but didn't kill it or come off. Six of the group had also arrived in the dark, something that must have been even worse on a bike than in the van! Fortunately, despite all this drama no-one was hurt and no bikes were in need of repair. Friday the Thirteenth strikes again!
After a whisky night-cap I retired to bed and unsurprisingly fell into a deep sleep almost immediately!
After a great night's sleep, helped by the mozzie coil keeping the biting buggers at bay, I woke at 6:30am and went for some breakfast. I took my time eating it and enjoying the spectacular view of Lake Malawi over the hotel's grounds, then set about my jobs for the day. First up was sorting out the contents of the van, which had been dislodged somewhat during the previous days cross-country rallying, then checking bike tyre pressures before checking over Helga's bike, which sadly is still leaking oil from its final drive. I spoke to Kevin and we concluded that it would be OK for the next 2 short days, but would need to go into the van for the long day that would take us into Lusaka. I then changed one of the rear wheels on the van as it had a slow puncture and then found a sun-lounger next to the lake to relax in and read my book for a while. That afternoon a local band turned up and began performing on the lawn, so I joined the group watching them and had a cold beer. Just as I was getting into fully relaxed mode, some of the group turned up wanting air in their tyres, so I went back to the van to sort them out. Then I managed to grab some more time to take a swim in the lake, which was lovely and warm, with crystal clear water. All in all, a relaxing day, and much needed after yesterday.
In the evening, we had a group BBQ on the beach, and we all sat at a long table with fires burning close by to keep the evening chill at bay, and the sound of the gentle waves lapping at the lake shore for company, all under a startling red African moon. Simply perfect. When I finally retired to my room, I sat up reading before finally turning in around 11:30pm.
I woke with the sun around 6am and watched it rise over the lake before showering and heading to breakfast. Today was supposed to be a late departure, with an official leave time of between 9 and 10, but most of the group were on the road by 8:15!I had to hang around again for the last of the group to leave before departing myself around 9:15. I caught up the rear of the group and drove nice and slow at a steady 50mph to keep back and to take in the beautiful scenery, and to wave to the smiling kids in the villages that lined the road. At the first petrol stop, Bob and Angus were mobbed by a large group of happy, smiling, kids as they tried to hand out pencils they'd brought with them. The chaos was so great that the petrol attendant stepped in and organised the kids into lines before offering to hand out the pencils on their behalf. There were lots of high-fives and cheers as Bob and Angus remounted their bikes and rode off. At the second fuel stop I stopped to get some local currency from an ATM so I could buy some more gear oil for Helga's final drive. From there it was a lovely steady drive until I saw some of the group stopped at the final fuel stop, so I pulled over an bought an iced coffee drink. We were quickly surrounded by kids asking for anything, but sadly I didn't have any pencils or pens to give out (and we have been advised not to hand out sweets as it ruins the kids' teeth).
When I arrived at the hotel by the beach and checked in, I discovered my room had low water pressure, so went and got the room changed. Once I'd dropped my bags off, I went back to the bikes to top up the oil in Helga's final drive, only to find I couldn't loosen the wheel bolts that Kevin had tightened – a sign of my loss of strength following my latest heart problem. I borrowed a torx socket set from Bob and managed to get the wheel off before cleaning up the final drive and filled it with fresh oil. Then I checked the tyres and discovered a slight bulge where the front tyre had split and the tube, fitted when it was punctured, had started to bulge out. There is now no way we can let the bike be ridden all the way to Lusaka. I showered and spoke to Tracy before the group meeting and a buffet dinner, then crashed out for an early night.
I was woken at 6am by the sound of the wind, but no sooner had the sun risen that the wind subsided. I showered and packed then went down to breakfast to discover once again that everyone was already up despite an official leave time of 9am. I washed the van whilst watching most of the group depart before 8:10am, then waited for the later risers to leave before heading out myself, leaving the hotel at 8:25am. Having left 5 minutes after the last rider, it wasn't long before I'd caught him up in the traffic, and then he pulled over, so I followed and pulled up behind him and got out to check he was OK. He wasn't happy about the van being behind him, saying it would ruin his day seeing me in his mirrors, so I told him it wasn't a problem and I'd sit and wait for a good 10 minutes to give him a head start, then would drive slowly and stop again if I saw him ahead. Whilst driving slowly I got a text message from Julia about a change to the planned coffee stop and shortly after that I arrived at a Total garage with a large, modern Mugg and Bean Coffee Shop attached, just in time to see Kevin and Julia and most of the group about to leave. I blagged a cup of tea off one of the group that was still in the coffee shop as I had no local currency, then waited for Helga to re-appear after she had dropped the last laptop off at a local charity that provides glasses for locals who can't afford them. There was still no sign of the rider who hadn't been happy to have the van behind him, so I can only assume he's now enjoying his day!
When I met up with Helga, I followed her to the border into Zambia, which we cleared quite quickly and easily, taking just 30 minutes. I even got to re-use the road-tax from earlier to save money, then we continued on to the hotel just a few miles down the road. When I pulled into the car park I was met by Kevin as one of the other riders had a puncture in his rear tyre of his KTM. We quickly plugged the puncture and re-inflated the tyre, then checked over Helga's bike. This was now in a sorry state, with oil from the final drive now coating the rear brake disc and tyre, so we loaded it straight into the van as was clearly no longer safe to ride. That evening, Helga bought the three of us (Kevin, Julia and me) dinner as a thank-you for trying to keep her riding as long as possible.
Yet another early start saw most of the group once again off before the official leave time, with Kevin and Julia being the last to leave, still 20 minutes ahead of schedule! The 350 mile drive to Lusaka was another long day in the van, but still an enjoyable one. I stopped for a cold drink when I saw Amy, Bob and Angus stopped at the first waypoint, then again at the recommended lunch stop where the group had been arrived and been waiting for their pizzas for nearly an hour (this is Africa!). The afternoon was a long drive through African scrubland, waving at smiling children and chatting to Helga, who was accompanying me in the van as her bike was unsafe to ride.
When we got to the hotel, one of the group asked me to have a look at an oil leak on his KTM, which to me looked like an accumulation of chain lube under his front sprocket, so I cleaned it up and said I'd keep an eye on it. I checked his engine oil level and it was still on the upper level, so I reassured him it would be OK. Dinner was another buffet affair, and very good, which of course meant I ate too much, so I headed to bed with an over-full stomach.
After another good night's sleep, the group was once again off early for the ride to Livingstone, but Helga and I went shopping instead of just following the route. We headed into Lusaka to AutoWorld to try and get a replacement compressor hose and tyre inflator gun as the original one is too short and has a difficult-to-use valve on the end. We then spent about half an hour being sent from shop to shop in vain – but at least all the auto parts shops were in the same few blocks in town! I did manage to buy a torx-50 socket so now I'll be able to remove BMW rear wheels without borrowing one from the customers in future. Having been delayed leaving Lusaka, I put my foot down and we made “good progress”, only stopping once when delayed in some roadworks after a lorry jack-knifed in the sandy diversion, and once for a drink and to use the loo of a grotty pub/restaurant (we missed the nice-looking recommended stop which was just a couple of miles further up the road!).
We arrived around 4:30pm to be greeted by 3 zebras in the hotel car park, then checked in and after dropping my bag off I went back to the car park to check on the KTM's “oil leak”. I removed the front sprocket cover and checked the seal behind the sprocket, which was dry, so put everything back together and went to tell a much relieved customer all was well. After a meeting with Kevin and Julia to discuss the latest plans for dealing with Helga's bike and the activities on offer for tomorrow's rest-day in Livingstone, we went to the Golden Leaf restaurant for a curry. The starters were excellent, Kevin's chicken tikka especially so, but the main course was disappointing. I'd tried to order the chicken jalfrezi “hot and spicy”, only to be warned it was “very spicy” so changed my order to medium. When it came it was no hotter than gravy, so I asked for some fresh chillies to compensate, but they didn't have any! How they could have made it “very spicy” without fresh chillies is beyond me! Instead, I ate most of Julia's curry, which was at least a little spicy. Once full we walked back to the hotel for a nightcap, and joined most of the group around the hotel bar, where there was clearly a lot of drinking going on! After two double rum and cokes and watching around six bottles of wine being consumed by a small handful of the group, I made my excuses and went to bed!
With the group having a day off and a number of activities arranged, I set about some sightseeing of my own. After breakfast I drove to the entrance to Victoria Falls with Helga and Phil, and we had a walk around. The falls were mostly dry, as this is the dry season, but we could see a large waterfall in the gorge closer to the Zimbabwe side of the falls. We saw a troop of baboons as we wandered along the path by the falls, then went shopping in the tourist-tat shops in search of presents for Fred's birthday. We managed to procure a suitable hat, a loud shirt, and a small toy hyena (which looks like a dog and so would be ideal for his KTM – there being a long-standing joke that you get a free dog with every KTM, to keep you company when it breaks down!). We then walked onto the bridge that crosses between Zambia and Zimbabwe for a view of the falls, admiring the bungee-jumping station mid-way across, but being unable to convince each other to have a go (I'm prohibited on medical grounds, thankfully!). We walked far enough to cross into Zimbabwe, but not far enough to enter the country proper, then returned to the van and drove back to the hotel, passing an elephant on the road.
Once back at the hotel we gathered for a real treat. One of the group (I won't embarrass them by naming them) had arranged for us to go on a helicopter flight over the falls and had paid for Kevin, Julia and me to join them. This was truly spectacular! We clambered into a small helicopter and off we went, flying over the forest and then over the falls, dropping into the gorge and making steep, banking turns. It was like being in a James Bond film! We saw herds of elephant and hippos swimming in the river and listened as the pilot rattled off interesting (but forgettable, obviously!) facts about the falls.
Once back at the hotel, I set off into town to do some more shopping. I finally managed to get a new compressor line and tyre inflation gun, before finding a supermarket where I was able to stock up on water for the van and a bottle of local gin for Fred's birthday. Back at the filling station next to the hotel to refuel and then into the car park to try out the new compressor line by checking all the bikes' tyre pressures. It worked great on some, but due to the length of solid pipe was a pain for others, damn! Fortunately, one of the group had a 90-degree valve adaptor which solved the problem and now I have the tools to do the job properly at last!
I ate dinner in the hotel, a slightly over-cooked chicken and pasta dish, then had a relatively early night, but not before trying a Black Sambuca on Amy's recommendation. With two of my favourite flavours, liquorice and aniseed, it should have been my ideal drink but it was disappointing. (Side note: since returning home, I was bought some for Christmas and it is delicious! I can only assume it doesn't travel to Africa well!).
After all the excitement of yesterday, today was the shortest riding day of the trip, just 52 miles into Botswana and on to the Chobe Safari Lodge. This entailed a late departure – 9am – and a short drive to the border which included just 2 turns. That didn't stop one of the group getting lost, though! With the rest of the group present and ready to take the pontoon across the river, and it being very hot, I was left to wait for him to arrive. This meant I wasn't on the same pontoon ferry across the Zambezi as the rest of the group, but it was still fun. Alongside where the ferry crosses they're building a new bridge, so this is probably the last time the trip will cross the Zambezi this way. On the other side we entered Botswana, having exited Zambia before taking the ferry, and continued the last 10 miles to the hotel.
Once checked in to the lodge, Kevin, Julia and I got down to work sorting out arrangements for the next few days whilst sharing a burger, then joined the group for a river cruise. We had a large, flat-bottomed boat all to ourselves, complete with bar, and gently sailed down the river in search of wildlife. We saw crocodiles, two types of antelope, buffalo, hippos, lots of elephants and two huge male lions. A real highlight was just floating for half an hour watching a large herd of elephants, including several very young ones, grazing on the land and drinking from the river. Simply magical!
We also had to come to the rescue of another boat which had run aground on a sandbank in the middle of the river, dragging it clear, with much cheering and laughter. Back at the lodge we had a group meal from the buffet, which included Kudu and Elan meat (both delicious) as well as lamb, and even a cheese board with proper blue cheese! As it was Fred's birthday we also had birthday cake, which was brought to the table by a choir of waiters/waitresses singing a traditional song and dancing round our table.
As usual I woke early and was up and showered fairly quickly so I could reorganise my bag ready for my side-trip to Windhoek, where I'm due to meet a couple flying in to join the trip tomorrow. Once the group was on the road, Helga and I also left, taking the route through Chobe National Park, where we caught up with Arthur and Matt who were riding slowly on the lookout for wildlife. Which they soon found when a herd of elephants crossed the road just in front of them! Sadly, my phone camera chose that moment to freeze on me, so I couldn't get the picture!
After around 40 miles we reached the border and quickly exited Botswana – a process that now only involves passports and not the carnets, as Botswana, Namibia and South Africa are all in a customs union. This would have made the whole border process much quicker, were it not for the coach-load of middle-aged German tourists that arrived just before us, along with several safari vehicles loaded with more tourists, all of whom needed to be processed by the single, over-worked, customs official. Entering Namibia also required the purchase of a cross-border toll fee, but even with this the process, once we reached the counter, was quick and efficient. From the border it was just 40 miles to our rendezvous point at my hotel, the Protea Zambezi, situated alongside the river. Here we met up with Kevin, who was going to take over driving the van, with Helga riding Julia's bike and Julia taking over Kevin's Scrambler. With the handover done and after checking we all had what we needed, they set off and I checked in. Once in my room I set about checking the details of the next 2 days again, locating suitable coffee and lunch stops for Monday's ride from Windhoek to Etosha, whilst watching MotoGP qualifying on the TV. After I was fully prepared I went to the restaurant where I ordered a beer and calamari rings followed by a burger (the menu being the same as the other Protea hotels I've stayed in and so I was getting low on variety!). I then had time to write up my journal whilst watching hippos swimming in the river. I was starting to get worried about what was to come, as I'd had so many good days, I was concerned it couldn't last!
Dinner was poor, not up to the usual standards, and by the time the sun had set the mosquitos had engaged in a frenzy of biting my legs and arms, but the sound of the bellowing hippos was great! The mosquitos drove me to my room early, so I watched a film before turning in for the night.
I slept well again, waking at 6:30am, and got organised before breakfast which was again disappointing by Protea standards, then settled the bill and re-checked that the taxi to the airport was booked for 9:45am. I then returned to my room to relax before it arrived. A half-hour journey took me to the airport, which was very small and had just one single-storey building with a small group of mostly white middle-aged people hanging around outside. I joined them by the closed and locked “Departures” door and wondered why there was no sign of an airplane on the runway behind the building. Now it was time to once again do what we do best at times like these – “Hurry up and wait”.
Eventually someone came and opened the door and we all filed through, checking in and having my bags scanned. I was expecting some questions, as my luggage contained a tyre plug kit complete with some very sharp tools, not to mention my liquid toiletries, but nothing was said and my bag was cleared and fitted with a “fragile” label as it also contained my laptop. Then more waiting before we were called for boarding, 10 minutes after we had been due to depart. We then walked out across the apron and up the steps to the small plane – similar to one I used to catch between Manchester and Edinburgh when working for HBOS. A short while later we took off for the 1hr 20 minute flight, landing at Windhoek City Airport (Eros) about half an hour late. I then took a taxi to the International Airport, and was surprised to find a woman already seated in the back – she was being dropped off at a guest house in town and it seemed I was sharing the taxi, whether I wanted to or not! The International Airport is some 40km outside Windhoek and the driver got there quickly, not by driving smoothly but by lots of harsh acceleration and braking, adding to the slight nausea I was feeling after the flight. Once at the airport I located the Avis counter and went through the process of booking out the hire car, changing the return destination to their downtown office and ensuring Helga was down as a named driver. Then I collected the car – a Toyota Corolla – and drove back towards town and the rather splendid Am Weinberg Boutique Hotel where our two new customers – George and Tracy – were waiting. I got a call from Julia to say they'd had problems checking in as there was no room reservation, but when I arrived it had all been sorted out. I checked in and then sent George a text to let him know I'd arrived and that I was expecting to hear from the rental guy, then immediately received a reply telling me all 3 of them were in the bar! So I joined them and introduced myself over a beer, then went to double-check the rental bikes were OK and to note any existing damage to avoid problems later. Having arranged to meet George and Tracy back in the bar at 6:45pm, ready for dinner at 7pm, I went and showered and caught up with some admin.
Dinner in the “Butcher's Block” restaurant attached to the hotel was excellent, I started with black mushrooms in melted cheese, followed by a 300g fillet steak all washed down with a good bottle of Pinotage. It was a great opportunity to get to know George and Tracy, too, and we got on very well. I ran through how the tour had been going so far, and as this was their first Globebusters trip, explained how it all worked on a day-to-day basis. Then we all retired for an early night, as they were tired from their 3-flight journey from the UK.
I was up early again as I needed to try and resolve some issues around the hotel bill, due to the lost room bookings (which had been paid for) before I managed to grab some breakfast and try to be ready for our scheduled departure at 7:30am. Due to the time it took to resolve the room bill issue, it was gone 8am before we rolled out of the hotel car park, with George and Tracy riding ahead on their BMW R1200GS bikes, following the route I'd given them. I got held up at some traffic lights as we went through town, so I didn't see them again until much later. The slip road onto the B1 North, which was our route, was closed, so I found my way through the back streets to join it further north, wondering how they had fared with this navigation challenge so early into their trip. As I joined the B1 dual carriageway, I reasoned they must be some way ahead of me, so put my foot down, hoping to catch a glimpse of them up ahead. After around 50Km there was a police checkpoint, so I asked if the bikes had come past and was told they hadn't, so I dropped my speed right down to 70kph for the next half hour hoping they would catch me up, but they didn't. At the first turn off I pulled over and parked up and waited for 15 minutes but there was still no sign of them. So off I went again to our scheduled stop in Otjiwarangoro, where I discovered the GPS waypoint for our chosen coffee stop was wrong! I stopped at the only petrol station on the main road and asked if the bikes had stopped (they would have needed fuel by now) but was told they hadn't, so I sent George a text and waited. After about 40 minutes I saw them ride past, so set off in pursuit and arranged to meet them back at the petrol station when I caught up with them at a set of traffic lights. Once they'd refuelled, I led them to the Bohemian Bookshop and Coffee House for a brew (and for them to have some lunch). Once back on the road, I managed to keep them in sight which was easy despite their speed as the roads were long and straight. We stopped again at Tsumeb for fuel and to ensure we were together for the final stretch to the lodge. Here we met up with Bob and Amy, then Kevin arrived in the van. We all set off again, with George and Tracy riding very fast, for the remaining 60 miles to the Onguma Fort Lodge where they were staying. I went in with them to help them get checked in and met up with Julia, and we waited for Kevin to arrive. I then took the van and headed across to the Makuti Lodge, where I'm staying with the rest of the group (the couples were all staying at the Onguma Fort Lodge). I checked in and joined the group in the bar, then held a short briefing before heading into the restaurant for an excellent buffet dinner and then off to my room, which I was sharing with Francois.
As usual I slept well and was up early, had my breakfast, then was met by one of the group who had a problem with his room. He politely explained that it had a bad smell and asked if I would have a look, so I went to his room and opened the door, intending to enter and investigate. I didn't, as the smell when I opened the door was enough to send me reeling. It stank of death. I told him not to worry and went straight to reception to get them to move him to another room. They took some convincing, as the lodge was “full”, but I insisted and they managed to find him another room, albeit at the opposite side of the lodge. With that resolved, I met up with Bob who had kindly volunteered to help me changing tyres on the bikes. We drove over to the hangar by the lodge's airstrip where I'd stored the new tyres on the way up, and started to work in the cool of the workshop. We changed the front and rear tyres on Julia's bike, UB's rear and then Kevin's front and rear. The remaining bikes were all doing well, so we loaded the unused tyres into the van (meaning we now had 14 new tyres in there!), then drove back to the lodge for lunch. After a chicken wrap, I went and took a shower before gathering with the group ready for the afternoon's safari game drive at 2:30pm. The group from the Onguma had been collected as arranged and we all left the lodge in 3 large safari jeeps with Emma, our guide for the safari. Just outside the lodge was the entrance to Etosha National Park and we went through it and into the park. This spreads out around the Etosha Pan, a large endorheic (basin that normally holds water with no outlet to other bodies of water) salt pan. It is a hollow in the ground in which water collects and evaporates, leaving a deposit of salt and for most of the time is a dry lakebed. It is 120Km long and its surroundings are Namibia's second-largest wildlife park, covering 22,270 km2. It's very spread out, but we still managed to see plenty of wildlife, including giraffe, zebra, springbok, other antelope, kudu, ostrich, elephant, two black rhino, and two male and one female lions. Sunsent was spectacular, especially when we stopped to watch a giraffe passing in front of the setting sun – magical!
Back at the lodge we were gathering in the bar prior to the evening briefing, when one of the group – the same one who had had to change rooms earlier – arrived looking pale and with a tale to tell. It seems he'd been walking from his room at the far side of the lodge, along one of the narrow, unlit, footpaths that wind in between various bushes, reading his phone (!) when he suddenly saw movement under the foot he was about to plant on the ground. He stepped back, and lying across the path, just where he was about to tread, was a snake! He went and got a couple of the hotel staff from nearby, but they took one look at the snake and ran away to get the “snake man”. Apparently there is a snake house on site, and when the “snake man” arrived, complete with protective gear and a bag, he explained the snake was a Puff Adder. A very venomous and dangerous snake and that if he had actually trodden on it, he would likely have been bitten. Shaken, he asked if they carried anti-venom on-site, only to be told they didn't!
Once we'd all recovered from the shock, and checked all around and under our chairs, we held a short briefing before the couples headed back to the Onguma Fort lodge, then the rest of us had another buffet dinner. I feasted on a bowl of vegetable soup and a large plate of salad, trying to be good, then I caved in when someone mentioned there was a pot of spicy lamb curry as well as the BBQ, and again when I discovered there was bread and butter pudding with real custard! So much for trying not to eat too much!
I slept well despite sharing a room, waking at 6:10am, which was a surprise as Francois had said he had set his alarm for 5:45am due to the relatively early start. It transpired he had actually set it for 6:45am, which gave me plenty of opportunity for some gentle piss-taking about “Swiss Timekeeping” (yes, he's Swiss!). After a light breakfast I left the lodge after the last of the group had departed, retracing part of the route I'd scouted out on my way north, with most of the group opting for the gravel road (C39) to Outjo, where I met up with a few of them for a brew and a slice of delicious orange cake. From here the route kept to the tarmac C38 to Otjiwarongo then the C33 to Kalkfled before turning onto a 20-mile stretch of gravel to the Mount Etjo safari lodge. This allowed the group to avoid the M63 I'd taken on the way up and the deep sand there was on it. Arriving at the lodge I saw some elephants on the hillside, baboons by the road side and springboks on the driveway. Once checked in and my smalls washed, I joined some of the group for tea and cake, reasoning that was we weren't eating until 8pm it would stop me getting hungry. Then we retired to the bar, where we sampled a Namibian Chardonnay (which was very good) as a couple of elephants arrived to join the kudu and geese on the small island in the pond overlooked by the bar's terrace. We then spent a very pleasant couple of hours drinking wine (mostly South African) and watching the elephants no more than 50m away. After our usual evening briefing, held on the terrace under the watchful eyes of the wildlife, we went in for dinner. This consisted of some delicious dim-sum style starters followed by a buffet/BBQ with Oryx, Springbok sausages, chicken and a fantastic Kudu “pie” (more like a stew). Once again I ate too much, the food too good not to, especially when it was accompanied by a nice bottle of Pinotage.
Having over-eaten I slept badly, waking several times and finally getting up at 5:30am. After a shower I was on the way to put my bag (which is one of those roller-bags used for carry-on luggage) in the van, wheeling it noisily through the hotel grounds, when I was attacked. I felt something grab my calf and which then let out a loud barking noise, which startled me somewhat. It was UB, and as soon as I recovered from the shock I chased after him but was unable to catch him and repay him for almost giving me my third heart attack. I loaded my bag in the van and put some air in Bob's tyre (he'd repaired a puncture he picked up the day before) and then had a light breakfast, over which I made a point of telling UB that revenge will be mine, but only when he least expects it (for the rest of the trip, he lived in fear of retribution!). Most of the group were quick to get away, but as usual Arthur and Matt took their time and were last to leave. They rode understandably slowly along the dirt road leading away from the lodge, which meant that the main group was long gone by the time we reached the tarmac road. Once on the tarmac to Omaruru their pace increased a little, but only to 60mph, so once I again I was concerned I was a long way behind the main part of the group. After Omaruru we turned onto a dirt road to Uis, which had a good surface, but the speed dropped to 40mph and lower. I caught up with some of the group when they stopped, then followed them to Uis for a brew stop. Back on the gravel we had to stop when the headlight on Matt's BMW F800GS nearly fell off after a bolt had been shaken loose. We quickly fixed it and were back underway, but the going was very slow, and it was getting seriously hot, with the temperature reaching 39-degrees. I drove at the back, to make sure they were ok, all the time worrying about just how far behind the main group I was in case they had an issue. We reached the coast and turned south, then skipped the recommended coffee stop as time was passing, but we did stop to see the ship-wreck just off the shore. It wasn't very impressive, but we saw Francois there who informed us that Kevin and Julia were still at the coffee stop with a few others, so I waited a while, then decided to go back to the coffee shop to see if they were still there. On the way back I saw Kevin and Julia pass me going the other way, but not the rest of the group so I continued on, only for them to pass me a few minutes later. I hung a u-turn and followed them back to the ship-wreck, where Chas announced he wanted to go for a swim. This seemed like a crazy idea, as the waves were really high and it was blowing a gale and quite cold. But I opened the back of the van so he could change and he waded into the waves, before swimming a few strokes and then returning, his mission accomplished. When I finally arrived at the hotel I took Ducati Simon round to the local Yamaha dealer so they could fit a new rear tyre to his Multistrada (a job we could have done but was easier to get a mechanic to do!). I then had to dash back to the hotel to give George and Tracy their bags (as they're on rentals, the van carries their luggage) before going back to the Yamaha dealer to check on progress and to give them the front tyre as well as Simon had decided he also wanted to change it. With that sorted I went back to the hotel again for a meeting with Kevin and Julia, a quick shower and then the group briefing, which included warning them of an impending storm for the morning, and to warn about conditions on the roads for the next couple of days. I then went out to George's bike to remove the “Riding Modes Pro” dongle so he could use Enduro and not Enduro Pro mode (the latter being a tad extreme for his needs). I then had dinner with George and Tracy at the Cai Tai Thai restaurant, which was very disappointing – lots of food but more like Chinese than Thai. The walk back was through a deserted town, even though the storm hadn't yet arrived.
I was up before the alarm at 5:45am to load the van, then had cereal and poached eggs for breakfast before returning to the van to inflate a couple of bikes tyres (they had lowered the pressures for the dirt roads the previous day), top up another bike's oil and to tighten the headstock bearing on one of the Tiger 800s that had worked loose (again). I then waited around for the group to depart before hitting the road myself around 7:50am. I stopped for fuel before Walvis Bay and then as we headed inland we were hit with a strong cross-wind. After only a few miles of the dirt road I caught up with the back of the group, so stopped and waited for a while to let them get further ahead. This happened another couple of times before I saw some of the group stopped at a roadside picnic table with a shaded viewpoint. I pulled over and joined them to admire the views, then waited for a good while after they had left before setting off myself. I'd not gone that far before I caught up with Arthur and Matt travelling very slowly (20-25mph) and stopping to take photos every few miles. We passed over some rocky hills and I kept stopping to try to let them get away so I wasn't in their mirrors all the time, whilst at the same time suffering the usual anxiety about being so far behind the bulk of the group. We dropped back into the dessert landscape and then crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn, stopping to take photos at the sign. Not much beyond this point I saw Arthur have a massive wobble and drifting across the width of the road. Conditions weren't bad, a little sand, but his slow pace was compounding the problem as his bike was sinking instead of “floating” on the surface. I stopped to check he was OK, and he complained he was feeling pressured by having me behind him, so I told him I'd drop back 500m and stay that far back and not to worry. He was still very slow and stopped again just 1 mile from the noted stop at Moose's Bakery, clearly struggling in the heat and not used to riding on dirt. At Moose's I met up with some of the group, then went and joined the queue to get myself a chicken and mushroom pie and a brew. Ahead in the queue was a tour guide and he was directing others into the queue behind him, effectively encouraging them to jump in front of me. When he brought the fifth or sixth person into the queue ahead of me I complained, explaining that I, too, had a group to look after. He apologised and insisted I went ahead of him and his group, and that he pay for my pie and brew!
When Kevin, Julia and the rest of the group left, just Arthur remained, still not looking happy and avoiding me. I had discussed the situation with Kevin and agreed I would leave it a good 15-30 minutes after Arthur left before I did, so I settled down to exploit the café's wi-fi. He finally left at 3:15pm, and we still had a good 65 miles to go, which meant that at his current rate of progress it would be dark before we arrived at the lodge, especially as I knew the road deteriorated beyond this point. The going now was very tough, with severe corrugations, where the traffic has turned the dirt road into a mass of ridges that resemble a corrugated roof, interspersed with sections of deep gravel and sand. Despite having left half an hour after Arthur, and travelling slowly, I caught him up again after just 30 minutes – he was down to 15mph now. And so it continued, with me stopping and waiting for 10-15 minutes before setting off, only to catch him up some 20 miles down the road, and have to stop again. Compounding our slow rate of progress was the fact that he kept stopping for a rest and a cigarette. But such is the job of the van-man, and I was enjoying the scenery, which was very remote and dessert-like, with colours becoming more vibrant the lower the sun got in the sky. At 6pm we still had 20 miles or so to go, and with sunset at 6:45pm it was looking highly unlikely we would arrive before dark. There was no point in pushing him to go faster – that would risk disaster – slow and steady means arriving in one piece and he clearly lacked the confidence to ride quicker. At 6:20pm we had stopped again having covered just 5 miles in the previous 20 minutes (15mph) with Arthur now needing very regular stops to keep his concentration and to take on fluids. 6:45pm and we stopped yet again, with 6-9 miles to go and the sun setting behind the hills and the light fading. Dust from passing cars was also creating a problem, as they reduced visibility to zero for a minute or so after they'd passed. It got properly dark with a couple of miles to go, and we had some Kudu cross the road in front of us, reminding us that with the dark came additional risks.
We finally arrived at the lodge at 7:15pm and I was greeted by Tim offering me a cold beer, but I needed to head to the other lodge we're using to drop off George and Tracy' bags and the pillion bag I had in the van, their owners no doubt desperate for a change of clothes as they would have arrived several hours prior. So I drove back into the dark and made the 6-mile route trip in record time, enjoying being able to use more than first and second gear for a change. Back at the lodge I finally got that beer and joined the group for dinner, and enjoyed the banter as Francois was cajoled into buying wine for the group as revenge for grassing to Kevin about some of the group riding too fast. The food was excellent – a small cup of butternut squash soup, tuna tartlet, 3 medallions of perfectly cooked beef steaks with veg and a light chocolate pudding. After a few glasses of wine, I fetched the bottle of Balvenie 21-year old scotch from the van and we had a nightcap or two, finally hitting the sack around 11:30pm.
I woke at 7am feeling slightly worse for last night's drinking and had some breakfast before going back to bed for an hour after taking an Alka Selzer XS. When I woke again I felt much better, and set about checking the bikes over and investigating an engine management light and ABS light that had come on on one of the F800GS. I concluded that neither was a cause for concern, except that the ABS was definitely not working. I then had the rest of the day free, so spent the afternoon relaxing and doing nothing in particular. At the 6pm briefing we offered the group an alternative tarmac option for the following day's ride, recommending that those who were struggling take that instead. Hopefully that means we can avoid a situation where I'm too far behind the group to help should something happen. After the briefing I set about another round to inflating tyres, particularly for those taking the tarmac option, and noticed that both Arthur and Matt's pressures were very (too) low. I had to replace the valve core on one of the bike's tyres, as the tyre had been fitted with “Slime” (the puncture sealant gunk) which had blocked the valve. When it was time for dinner we gathered in the restaurant for yet another excellent meal – a small cup of tomato soup, asparagus tartlet, Babootie with veg and a traditional Malva pudding with custard. I had a dry day too, avoiding all alcohol as I'm still trying to balance out my drinking and wanted to avoid another hangover!
I woke feeling refreshed at 5am, so was up and showered before packing up and driving the van around to reception, where I loaded up some of the customer's bags as we've offered to carry them to lighten their load for the final tricky dirt section. Some of the group were already off early – at first light at 6:10am – and the remainder were on the road by 6:50am. I drove to the other lodge to collect the bags for those staying there and was then on my way around 7:25am. After about 40 minutes I caught sight of a bike ahead going slowly, so stopped for a further 10-15 minutes to give it space, then was once again on my way through the dessert landscape. The road was in excellent condition, much better than it had been when I drove up some 5 weeks before, but it wasn't long before I'd caught up with the rider travelling slowly once more. It was Helga this time, and I followed her into Maltahohe. I saw Kevin with 2 riders departing as we entered town, and Julia as she was leaving the petrol station, where Fred and his pillion, Judy, were just finishing filling up. As they were opting to take the tarmac route from here, I re-inflated their tyres then turned my attention to Helga's tyres. I noticed her front tyre was completely flat, which would have made riding the heavily-loaded bike very difficult – no wonder she'd been going slowly!
Helga had not been having much luck with her bike (called Paul – see earlier) on this trip and her luck was not improving. The bike had arrived in Dar es Salaam, where she joined the trip having made her own way into Tanzania from Germany, with a leaky shaft drive. We had patched that up and changed the tyres there, but the leak had got worse to the point the bike had to go in the van before Lusaka. We then arranged for her to travel in the van to Etosha, so that she could then drive the hire car I would be driving up from Windhoek having collected George and Tracy who were joining the trip at that point. We arranged for her bike to be collected en-route to Etosha and trucked down to the BMW dealer in Windhoek who had arranged for spares to be available. She would then ride from Windhoek and re-join the group at Swakopmund. Whilst in Windhoek, the dealer would also replace the front tyre, which had a split and had been fitted with a tube, as we didn't have a spare of the correct size. Which all went according to plan. Now, examining her bike in the petrol station in Maltahohe, I saw the front tyre had split again, and the tube was protruding (which was unusual, as a new tyre would have been tubeless and so shouldn't have needed a tube). Clearly the tube had punctured, so I set about removing the wheel, taking off the tyre, removing the tube, cleaning it all up, fitting a new tube, replacing the tyre, re-inflating it and checking for leaks. When I was satisfied all was well, I re-fitted the wheel, made some final checks and then she was off, following the same route as Fred and Judy but some way behind. I packed away all the tools, washed my hands and set off again, following the dirt-road route the bulk of the group had taken.
I set off at a pace, as now I was some time behind the group. The road to Helmeringhausen was in very good condition, clearly having been recently graded. In town I met Kevin and Julia and a number of the group, and we had a discussion about an alternative route, which 4 of them (including Kevin and Julia) decided to investigate, leaving me with just 2 others, Bob and Angus. Angus's bike had a puncture which Bob had fixed but which had taken a number of plugs to seal, so we checked that it was still holding air before setting off. I gave them a 10-minute head start but the road was good and they were making good progress. About 40 miles from the end of the road conditions deteriorated – something we had warned the group about the previous evening – and one of them had a little tumble on the deep sand, escaping unhurt but with a few extra scratches on the rental bike. The last 20 miles or so were slow going for those on bikes but everyone was going well. About 6 miles from the end I caught up with Arthur, who had opted for the dirt road option despite his obvious lack of comfort on the dirt, and followed him to the end and onto the tarmac into Ais. At the hotel there was an issue with room lists (as there nearly always is, despite us sending them on in advance) which I quickly resolved before turning my attention to changing Angus's rear tyre. I then set about re-inflating tyres on all the bikes, only to have the compressor overheat and cut out. When it wouldn't restart I thought I was going to have a problem, but hoped it would be OK if left to cool down. It was a huge relief when it started working again after half an hour.
I ordered some dinner of chicken and pasta before the evening meeting and then sat in the living room which had a roaring fire going as the temperature had dropped dramatically, all the while listening out for the sound of Helga's bike arriving. Julia took a phone call in the middle of the group briefing, so immediately it was concluded Kevin and I joined her to find out the news. The call had been from the hospital in Windhoek and the only news we had was at that stage was that Helga had been involved in a road traffic accident and had been taken there with an open fracture to her right leg. Using the phone in reception we contacted the hospital for more information, and the police in Mariental which was near where the incident had happened. We had to enlist Francois to help with the call to set the wheels in motion with her travel insurance company as he speaks fluent German. We spoke to Helga in the hospital and ensured that she was in good hands and being taken care of. I won't recount the details of her accident here, but suffice to say she was taken good care of in the hospital and re-patriated to Germany some days later. Her bike was very badly damaged and written off. She's now back riding and as cheerful (and amusing!) as ever.
As is always the case on a group tour like this, the tour continues for the benefit of those remaining, and whilst the group was shocked and upset by her accident, once we knew things were under control and she was in capable hands, we continued on with the trip.
Unsurprisingly, I had a slightly disturbed night and was up early, making myself a brew in my room before packing and heading down to breakfast. The topic of conversation was as expected, and we updated the group with the latest news, before reminding them of the plan for the day. With a departure time of 8:30am, it wasn't a surprise that most of the group had gone by 8am, with the exception of Arthur and Matt, who were once again last to leave, bang on 8:30am. With the second half of the day's ride on dirt, I hoped they'd get a move on or once again I'd be a long way behind the group when the risk of incident was higher. I stopped for fuel at Rosh Pinah after a gentle drive on a smooth tarmac road, then drove past rocky hills that showed clear evidence of the different sedimentary layers from which they were made. The sun was shining high in a clear blue sky, and with a temperature of around 16degrees it was a very pleasant day, ideal for riding. Or driving a Transit van. At the next petrol stop were Arthur and Matt, together with Bob, Angus, Amy and Tim, all enjoying a cup of coffee. I filled the van with fuel and had a chat and a coffee myself before Bob, Angus, Amy and Tim left, leaving Arthur and Matt taking their time. They left around 10 minutes later, taking it steady, and I hung around a further 15 minutes before setting off myself, it being now 11:15am, with 158 miles still to go (of the day's 242). The rest of the ride would be dirt once we'd left town, as we skirt the South African border along the banks of the Orange River. The drive alongside the river was truly beautiful, with a great surface (for a dirt road), undulating in places as it meandered alongside the blue waters of the river. Just before the turning to Ais-Ais, two large green vineyards covered the land either side of the road, nestling between the rocky hills striped with the various colours of the different sedimentary layers, the angles of which suggested there had been significant upheaval during their history. Arthur signalled me alongside with around 40 miles to go, once again saying that he felt pressured knowing the van was behind, despite me hanging back so he couldn't see me. He said he wanted to go “unsupported” and wanted me ahead, so I agreed to go on to the Fish River Canyon viewpoint and wait there until he arrived, before going on to the hotel ahead of him.
This I did, stopping at the viewpoint for a look around, then ensuring he was ok before continuing on the final few miles to the hotel. The Canyon Roadhouse is a lovely place, set back from the road and with a driveway complete with a collection of old cars and then a large bar/restaurant area with more old cars, numberplates and garage memorabilia. I'm sharing a room with Francois again, and once I'd checked in and dropped my bags off in our room, I returned to the bar to meet up with Kevin and Julia and prepare for the evening briefing over a cold beer or two. After the briefing we had dinner of chicken wings and a massive burger, some wine and a whisky nightcap.
Despite the late start time of 9:30am, I was still awake at 6am and took an Alka Selzer XS to settle my stomach (must have been the burger!) and snoozed a while before getting up at 7am. I loaded the van and inflated several people's tyres as today is mostly on tarmac, then sat with Kevin and Julia while they contacted the German Embassy to try and get Helga some more help. Due to the time this was taking, Kevin left and Julia and I finally got underway at 10am. Not long after I'd set off I saw a bike approaching me, which turned round as I got closer, which I recognised as being Sajid. A little farther ahead, UB was parked at the roadside, taking photos of Sajid as he rode past. I pulled over and stopped, initially thinking they were just taking photos. It turned out UB had a flat rear tyre, and he was convinced I'd let it down as revenge for him attacking me a few days previously. I protested my innocence, explaining that wasn't my style and I had something else planned for my revenge (to keep him on his toes!), then set about repairing it. He'd ridden on it for some distance, though, so I told him to take it steady (he was one of the faster riders in the group, his little KTM ideal for blasting along the dirt roads). I followed them to the end of the dirt road at Grunau, where they went the wrong way, heading into the town rather than around it. I waited at the junction for them to appear, then decided that as the road they'd taken rejoined the route a little farther on, set off again, waiting briefly where the roads met in case they still hadn't reached that point. Some 40 miles or so later, as I was arriving in Karasburg, I saw Sajid approaching from behind, so pulled over as he reached me. He said UB was having a problem with his tyre, so I turned round and went back, passing UB going towards town after about 10 miles. I turned round again to follow him and could see the problem – the rear of his bike was bouncing up and down with every revolution of the rear tyre. It was clearly still inflated, but there was something definitely amiss. At the garage in Karasburg we pulled over to investigate and it was clear that in riding on the flat he'd damaged the sidewall of the tyre, making it unrideable. As time was against us, I decided to load the bike in the van and continue with UB as passenger. Whilst UB and Sajid went into the supermarket to get some snacks and drinks, I unloaded the tyres to create space for his bike, then loaded it onto the van and re-packed the tyres. Then we were off again, heading the 70 miles or so to the South African border. Once there we crossed without difficulty and were on our way when we saw Kevin and Fred at the roadside. Fred had suffered a puncture which they'd repaired, only for it to fail again, so we set about changing his tyre at the roadside, which went well apart from some difficulty re-fitting the wheel (made possible only after removing the rear brake pads). Once Fred was on his way we set off again, retracing my original route to Uppington, and filling up with fuel before arriving at the Protea Hotel. Once checked in, I immediately set about replacing UB's rear tyre, taking the bike out of the van and removing the rear wheel with some difficulty as the paddock stand wouldn't lift the bike high enough until I put some bolts in the swingarm and used the hooks instead of the standard cups. I quickly got the old tyre off and the new one on, then had to use a strap around the tyre's circumference to get it to hold air whilst the bead popped into place. Then I had all sorts of trouble trying to fit the rear wheel until I worked out the best way to do it – from the rear as the brake caliper mount has a slot into which the wheel spacer needs to be slotted. Typically KTM, more complex than it should be, until you know how! Finally, at 6:50pm I was done and put all the tools away before grabbing a quick shower and change of clothes and dashing to join the 7pm group briefing.
I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with Kevin, Julia and Amy (fish and chips followed by ice-cream with chocolate sauce and beer). Back in my room I managed to ring Tracy and update my notes before bed. With a long, 350 mile day tomorrow to Clan William, I wanted a good night's sleep.
I woke at 5:15am and snoozed, then was disturbed at 6am by the truck parked outside my window loudly starting up. With no chance of any more sleep, I got up and showered, then went to the van, once again helping riders with some little jobs on their bikes, then went for breakfast. I decided on a leisurely start to ensure the group got some distance ahead of me and was just enjoying the peace after they'd left in the restaurant when Amy returned with tales of another puncture. So I joined Kevin and Bob in the car park and we quickly removed the wheel, tyre and inner tube, replacing both tyre and tube before refitting the wheel, all in less than half an hour. As they departed, I returned to my room to clean up, then reception to check out, where I was given the charger UB had left in his room. Then I was off through town, stopping at a supermarket to buy a 5-litre container of water and onto the long, very straight and quite boring road out of town. I caught up with Bob, Angus and Amy when they stopped for fuel, and again later for a break, and again when they stopped for coffee, seeing Kevin and Julia at the coffee stop as they were leaving. I caught up with them again at Calvinia, where we filled up, glad of a break from the monotonous drive. In town I saw Kevin and Julia leaving the recommended next stop, everyone ahead of them, so didn't stop. The road then turned off and became dirt – a good dirt road undulating towards the distant hills. A few miles later, at Botterkloof Pass, I caught up with Kevin and Julia again as they'd stopped at the sign, and saw other bikes just ahead of them, going slowly. Kevin said Arthur had been going slow (20mph) so they'd passed him, only for him to speed up and overtake them back, travelling at around 55mph! It seemed to them that he didn't want to be at the back of the group with the van behind him again!
I stopped at the top of the pass and listened to the end of my audiobook – Stephen Fry reading his excellent Mythos, a collection of stories from Greek mythology that I've been listening to on and off for the past few days. Half an hour later I set off again, driving slowly (below 40mph) so as to not catch up the bikes ahead, but I was also conscious I had no mobile phone reception. I didn't catch any of the group up and arrived at the hotel after everyone else was settled in, to be handed a cold beer by Tim even before I'd switched my engine off. It transpired the hotel bar didn't open until 6pm, so he'd been to the supermarket and bought a job lot!
I checked in and showered in time for the 6pm group briefing, which caused some consternation as one of the group had a minor strop after arriving late, complaining they didn't know it had been brought forward from its usual 7pm slot (despite this being made clear at the previous night's briefing). After the briefing we walked down the road to Byron's Pub where I had a beer and a pizza, then we went back to the hotel bar for a nightcap (or two). When the group arrived in the bar there was a rowdy conversation about Francois not buying the wine despite being the 5th person to arrive in the car park (the group having invented a game by which they would randomly allocate a number to decide who should by the wine). He was unhappy about UB's tactics of being 5th into town then disappearing before arriving 6th! For the following day, the unlucky person will be the 7th to arrive, and 3 of the group have opted out, making the maths even more complicated. I worry the group is gradually going insane!
After several more double rum and cokes, the bar closed, so I went to get some beer and wine from the van, then the hotel security guy appeared and we convinced him to open the bar again on a cash-only basis, with UB acting as barman. After one more drink I made my excuses and went to bed, leaving the rest of them in the bar…
Despite the late-ish night I still woke at 6am, emerging from a dream involving my late brother, which left me feeling slightly unsettled. Down at the van it was the usual routine of putting air in a bike's tyres, then off to breakfast before hanging around waiting for the group to depart. Due to the change of rules in the whole “who's buying the wine tonight?” game, several riders who normally set off early were holding back, but they were all on their way before the official leave time of 9am. I then went to the local car wash to get the filthy van cleaned, then left town around 9:30am. The road out of town was another great dirt road, narrow and bordered by shrubs and trees with the river meandering slowly down the valley off to our right. About an hour after I left I saw UB stopped for a ciggie and he mentioned a bolt had dropped out of his gear linkages and he had had to wait until Bob came by as he was carrying lots of spares, including luckily a bolt of the right size. I then spent the rest of the morning following a group of 5 riders from a distance as the landscape became more rocky and hilly until Ceres, where we all stopped for lunch along with Kevin, Julia, George, Tracy, Ducati Simon, Francois and Sajid. I made the mistake of ordering a chicken and mushroom pie (normally a personal favourite) which wasn't very good and left me with a bloated stomach all afternoon. The road after lunch was great – twisty tarmac up and over the hills and then over Bains Kloof Pass before descending into Wolseley, where I met up with Fred who was stopped at the roadside, whilst his pillion, Judy, had gone to the bank to exchange some currency. This took a long time, so Fred and I stood around in the shade of the van, chatting. Then was the short drive to Stellenbosch, whilst the landscape changed again to more vineyards and greenery, and the faces changed from deep brown to pale white. The area had a distinctly Southern European feel, no longer feeling at all like Africa. I parked on the street opposite the hotel, as the underground car park where the bikes are is too small for it, and checked in, then grabbed the tools from the van and once again set to work. Bob had once again volunteered to give me a hand, so we changed both his and Sajid's rear tyres and then cleaned up and got ready for the 6pm briefing. After that I paid for tomorrow's wine tour (900Rand) and went out with George, Tracy and Amy to a Lebanese restaurant for dinner. Whilst I was still full from lunch and didn't want a lot to eat, the portions were huge. Back at the hotel I had a quick FaceTime conversation with Tracy and an early night.
For once I didn't wake until late (6:45am) and then went to the van to check to see if we had a spare rocker cover in our spares for the one damaged in a little spill on one of the rental bikes. Unfortunately, all our spares were for older generations of the bikes and not suitable. I topped up the AdBlu for the last time and then went to get some breakfast, keen to get something inside me to line my stomach before the wine tasting. I then made a quick trip to the Bureau de Change to get some US dollars for Kevin and Julia, then we had a short wait before the minibus turned up to take us all out for the day's fun and games.
The minibus took the group, minus Phil (who's teetotal), UB, Sajid and Tim (who had something else planned) to our first stop at the very posh-looking Waterford Vineyard. Here we were ushered into a courtyard and sat at long tables adorned with crisp white tablecloths where we were served with samples of 3 of their wines (in small amounts) that had been matched to tiny hand-made pieces of chocolate. The idea being that the chocolate enhanced and amplified the flavour of the wine, and we were encouraged to mix-and-match to see the effect the different chocolate had on the different wines. After a tour of the cellars and a chance to peruse the price list (unsurprisingly very expensive!) we got back on the minibus for the short drive to our second stop, at the very large family-owned Stellenrust Vineyard. After a welcome glass of their “pink champagne” style sparkling wine and an introduction to the vineyard's history on the rooftop terrace overlooking the expansive grounds, we were ushered downstairs to a large ballroom in which 3 tables had been set out. We were divided into 3 teams of 5 or 6, with Kevin, Julia and me taking a team each and giving our teams suitable names – Julia's was “Premier Crew”, Kevin's “Globeboozers” and mine “Paul's pissheads”. That set the tone for what was to come next… Our host explained that wines produce in the area are mostly blended, carefully balancing different grape varieties to produce the best tasting wines. Our challenge was to blend 3 wines – a shiraz, a merlot and a cabernet sauvignon – to produce a blend that matched the flavour of one of our host's own blend. We had tasting notes to help, explaining the main character of each of the wines we were to blend, plus a bottle of each, a measuring tube and some glasses. To make the maths simple, the ratio of the blend was in increments of 5% (for example, 25% shiraz, 30% merlot and 45% cabernet sauvignon). Needless to say, this turned into a hilarious afternoon as we drank plenty of wine, took the mickey out of each other (especially anyone who appeared to be taking things too seriously) and generally had a great time. When our time was up the host judged our best attempts, announcing Julia's team the winners, although if the prize had been awarded for most wine drunk my team would have won easily (we even “borrowed” some wine from the other teams when we'd used ours up!). We were all presented with a bottle of wine each and then staggered back to the minibus for the final leg of the journey. This took us to another vineyard – Guardian Peak – for our 3-course lunch of soup, harissa chicken and ice-cream, which was a lot of food and was washed down with yet more wine. Suitably fed and merry, the minibus transported us back to the hotel, where most people put their wine in the van for safe keeping and went to their rooms to sleep off the day's excesses. I, on the other hand, went to the craft beer pub on my own for a couple of thirst-quenching pints before also calling time on the day, turning in around 9pm.
I woke feeling refreshed at 6am, showered and breakfasted, then watched the group depart before paying the parking attendant and setting off around 9:30am. What followed was a lovely drive over mountain passes and through green fields to Cape Agulhas, the southern-most tip of Africa, where I met up with the entire group at the designated regroup café. Whilst the group had lunch – which looked huge, with massive portions of fish, calamari and chips, I settled for a brew and the odd piece of Kevin's calamari. Then the group made their way to the monument at the southern-most tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and I waited, once again, for Arthur and Matt to get their act together and join the others for a group photo. After the photoshoot I sat on a rock in the sunshine, looking out at the ocean and contemplating how fortunate I am to get opportunities to travel the world like this. Eventually I left this peaceful spot, took some photos of the 3D-map of Africa that was by the spot, tracing the entire length of my journey on it before heading back to the van. I stopped at the café again as UB and Sajid were there, and had another brew and a slice of carrot cake. When they were eventually ready to depart we drove the last 28 miles to our hotel in Arniston Bay. On arrival, Kevin and I re-organised the contents of the van to help speed up the process at the freight warehouse - getting the customer's spares back out, making their bags accessible, sorting out which tyres needed to go with which bikes, etc. I then washed the van before checking in to my room, which was very spacious and had a fantastic view of the ocean from the large window. I made myself a brew and FaceTimed Tracy before the 6pm briefing, after which we went into the hotel restaurant, where I had mussels in white wine followed by a huge seafood platter which I shared with Kevin and included fish, calamari, prawns and more mussels. I then decided to have an early night to make the most of my last single room, as I'll once again be sharing for the last 2 nights in Cape Town.
Once again I woke with the sun – and what a beautiful sun it was, the sun rising over the ocean directly outside my window – before showering and packing. I then caught the end of the Moto3 race from Thailand on the TV before heading down to the van and the usual job of inflating tyres. I then had a breakfast of cereal and mushroom omelette before heading outside to watch the bikes depart. Arthur told Kevin he was going to do his own thing today, so I expected the rest of the group to be off by before the official leave time of 8am, but as so often happens, there was someone determined to wait until the very last minute before setting off (despite Kevin's request they get going as early as possible!). Once on the go I followed the last rider to the first town, where I stopped for fuel, then I had another lonely but enjoyable drive on great roads inland and then back to follow the coast. There were lots of bikes on the roads, like any Sunday during summer back home, all making the most of the good roads and great weather. The car park at our recommended café stop was rammed with bikes, it obviously being something of a biker café, and I met the back of our group there. Having lots of other bikes on the road made it confusing, as I tried to work out which were part of our group and which were locals. Then I saw a KTM up ahead that had obviously had an accident with a car, both vehicles looking badly damaged. At first I was worried that it might be one of our group (we had 3 KTMs on the trip), but I soon spotted the bike's SA numberplate and that allowed me to breathe again. Farther round the coast the traffic got heavier and I received a text from Kevin about a long delay in the queue to get into the park that leads to Cape Point, where the group was due to meet before the final group ride to the hotel in Cape Town. When I eventually arrived and joined the back of the queue it was clear we were going to be significantly delayed, so I rang Kevin and told him I'd wait by the entrance rather then try to get into the park in order to save time. I also heard that Ducati Simon had gone direct to the hotel, which wasn't that much of a surprise as he'd struggled with navigation on previous occasions! Phil had also got lost somewhere and opted to ride straight to the hotel, so I informed Kevin and waited for what was left of the group to return from Cape Point.
They finally rode out as one long group around 2:25pm, all 16 bikes in a constant stream, so I tagged on the back and we rejoined the main road. Group rides are rare – the last one had been leaving the hotel in Nairobi and heading to the border – but it makes an impressive sight and I was happy to be a part of it for the last 30 miles of the trip, even if I was in a van. The route took us on some fantastic twisty roads before the coastal toll road of Chapman's Peak, on which we stopped for another group photo. The road continued in a series of tight bends before reaching the coastal towns around the peninsular, where I got held up behind a couple of open-topped sight-seeing buses and lost sight of the group. Arriving in Cape Town I recognised some familiar sights as I neared the hotel, reflecting it had been seven weeks since I left Cape Town on my trip north. At the hotel we unloaded all the bags from the van before organising the guys whose bikes were being freighted back to go to the freight warehouse. At the end of this trip there is another trip – the Garden Route – which departs and returns to Cape Town and is a popular extension for many, so not everyone was leaving at the end of this trip. We then drove in convoy to the freight warehouse, were there was a short wait for our agent to turn up, so we distributed some beer from the van, then when the agent arrived we moved the bikes into the warehouse before returning to the hotel. We then loaded Julia's bike into the van ready for morning. After the briefing at 7pm we gave the customers their wine from the van and Kevin, Julia and I snuck out to the pub on the waterfront for a team dinner – fried prawns washed down with a large mojito – before heading back for an early night.
Despite Tim warning me how badly my new room-mate snored I slept well, then after breakfast I drove down to the Triumph dealer with Amy, where I unloaded Julia's bike and updated them on the group's servicing requirements. Then I drove to the freight warehouse to disconnect the batteries on all six bikes being shipped back. That done, I searched, unsuccessfully, for a car wash to get the van cleaned, so returned to the hotel, where I cleaned the van in the car park. I then sorted my bags, creating a pile of stuff to return to Kevin and Julia, then as they weren't around I went for a walk. I bought some Jelly Babies and a Get Well Soon card for Julia to take when she went to see Helga (who was still in hospital in Windhoek, Julia heading to visit her in between this trip and the start of the Garden Route trip). I went to a bank for some cash and then bumped in to Ducati Simon in the pub we'd been in last night, so joined him for a beer. Then we saw Kevin and Julia, who also joined us and after another beer I returned to the hotel to perform the handover with Kevin and Julia, then I relaxed in my room until it was time to meet up again.
The final night of the tour is a group meal, so we all met up in the hotel bar, where we were joined by Lenny and his wife. If you recall, Lenny had an off early in the trip, dislocated his shoulder and had to be repatriated from Tanzania. Whilst travelling with me in the van following his off, he mentioned that his plan had been to have his wife join him in Cape Town at the end of the trip so they could take a trip on the Blue Train (a luxury sleeper train akin to the Orient Express) for a couple of weeks to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I had encouraged him to do that regardless and had been hoping they would join us for our last meal, and it was great to see him looking so well, even if his arm was still in a sling. Before we set off to the restaurant, Kevin presented everyone with a small card signed by the 3 of us and a souvenir hand-painted elephant fridge magnet (I also received one of the fridge magnets for my collection). We then walked as a big group to the Den Anker restaurant on the waterfront, where there was a very long table laid out for us. On arrival we realised that 4 of the group were missing, so I rushed back towards the hotel to find them and bring them to the restaurant. Once settled down we had a very good meal, which is always a surprise to me when we are such a large group (there was 24 of us), and we feasted on mussels in cream sauce, followed by fish and finished with crème brulee, all washed down with copious amounts of red wine. Between courses Kevin gave a short speech, thanking the group and embarrassing me by thanking me for all the work I'd done, not just on this trip but over the last 10 years, then handed me an envelope from the group. I was too embarrassed to open the envelope at the table, so put it away for later. After dinner I rounded up the group and ushered them off to the pub we'd visited the night before, where there was a DJ playing old sing-along classics instead of the previous night's live band. Within minutes several of the group were in the middle of the crowd in the large tent with the DJ, boogeying like their lives depended on it. I had a mojito, then UB slipped me another envelope, saying his heartfelt thanks for all my help and for not extracting my revenge! I pointed out that watching him double-check everything and keep looking over his shoulder whenever I was near was revenge enough! He laughed and said that we should visit him at his place in the Florida Keys, something I would love to do, he's another great guy. Eventually we left the bar and returned to the hotel for a nightcap, before I finally went to bed around 1am.
Despite the late night I was still up at 7am, showered and down for a light breakfast and then packed and kicking my heels for the day. My flight home wasn't until 11pm, and I had to vacate my room by noon, so most of the day was spent wandering around the waterfront or simply chilling in the chairs in the hotel lobby. With some of the group also departing today, there was lots of hugging and goodbyes before it was my turn to climb into a waiting taxi and begin the journey home. It had been a great trip, a really enjoyable experience, and I had met some really lovely people who I would be delighted to join on another trip (quite a contrast to my last trip in 2016!). I would only be at home for ten days before flying out to Australia with Tracy for 3 months, but you won't find me complaining!