First the trip around the various government offices to get the crated motorcycle through customs and past the harbourmasters and get it legally imported in the country. This goes smoothly so that we are able to free the Enfield from its crate on 13 April and refit the front wheel, hitch up the trailer, mount the mirror on the right-hand side (people drive here on the left hand side of the road), connect the battery, fill it with petrol and kick it over. After three weeks on the high-seas the Enfield has not yet found it’s ‘land-wheels’, but in the warmth it recovers quickly. Soon enough he awakes with a roar which shakes the African continent.
At last the three of us set off. The tension and exhaustion of the months of preparation slowly ebb away. Euphoria takes its place; we feel as if we are floating through Cape Town. This comes to an abrupt end as a fist punches me in my side “drive on the LEFT!!!!” yells Thecla, “sigh………..!” Cape town is a beautiful sight situated between the Table Mountain range; it is spacious and peaceful, with many old colonial buildings. It feels like a safe place and both black and white inhabitants seem friendly. The whole Cape is beautiful to chug through; past each pass there is a beautiful view of yet another peaceful bay, with here and there we see a basking seal and sometimes even penguins. At one stop, a whale leaps out of the water not 50 meters in front of us. They hang around for a while and wave to us, we take a look at each other and wave back………and off they go again.
We stop here and there for a walk. On the first walk Thecla steps on a fat yellow and black snake. She manages to pass it, now me. The path is 50 cm wide and is bordered by high, thick undergrowth. I throw a small stone at the snake to frighten him away. Sisssssssss! We haven’t yet managed to master the local language, but by the look on his face it was not difficult to interpret this as “hey, do us a favour and walk around!” This made us decide to backtrack! The Enfield feels like a run, so we ride past Buffelfontein, Gifkommetje, Simonstown, Muizenberg, Gordensbay etc. We come across many a township, the sight of which is quite shocking; they are a miserable sight, especially because they are in such stark contrast with the neighbouring western-looking towns - even though the smiles on those black African faces is difficult to erase! Everywhere we go we are received with smiles and waves, wonderful!
On the way we pass through a place called Tullbach, where a Dutch festival is taking place. Music, straw bales, dancing, drinking, Dutch delicacies such as “kroketten” and “poffertjes” (ask for them the next time you’re in Holland if you want to know what they are – ed) and delicious wines. Straight away we are photographed and give an interview for the local paper. “Have you come all this way from Holland on this old banger?” “No we have just come from Cape Town in the last two weeks” “Ooooooh?!” “But we may be riding all the way back to Holland……………”
We chug onwards, in a south-easterly direction, through the Karoo. Little traffic, beautiful mountain scenery. Many authentic houses: Bainskloof, Wellington, Worcester, all wine country (vineyards). Here and there we see baboons, eagles, klipspringer (mountain deer-red) or other antelopes and ostriches.
At the first real mountain pass (Zwartebergpass) we immediately have our first problem. We don’t make it. Thecla gets off and gasping and groaning the Enfield struggles uphill. Stones slip under the wheels. Yes, visions of a 500cc engine flash through ones mind eye on occasions. But no complaints; in comparison to the Rockies or the Andes, Africa is flat!
We chug on in the direction of Oudtshoorn with its many ostrich farms, Cango Caves and wonderful scenery. We are mostly the sole occupants of campsites. Occasionally we camp out at the side of dusty roads. In Graaf Reinett we visit the ‘Valley of Desolation’. After that we travel through savannah landscape with many antelope towards the coast and Port Elizabeth; along the coast and slowly back in a westerly direction. In Tsitsikamma N. P., we make a few hikes through the coastal tropical rainforests. Here we bump into the warden of a wolf sanctuary, who offers us a night’s stay in the reservation. Surrounded by 30 wolves and a 16000 volt electric fence, who could think of a safer place to camp? Thecla thinks differently about this however, when she sees that the man is armed with a revolver and locks us in at night – he might just shoot us and feed us to the wolves. Mmmmm, this makes for a strange start to a nights sleep which is accompanied by the cyclone-like swelling howl of the 30 wolves. But morning arrives safe and well!
On we go in the direction of Nature Valley where we have to pass through two rivers to reach the coast. The first one goes well! Thecla says that the second is much deeper! That can’t be that bad! I can see abandoned cars! Mmmmmmm! The engine is submerged and the Enfield stops. I jump off quickly, try to turn around. This doesn’t work with a trailer full of water. I unhitch the trailer and with a bit of a struggle manage to get the bike onto dry land! Makes sense…..all of those cars stranded in the water are 4-wheel drives and our 4-wheeler has but one drive! The rest of the day is spent drying out the Enfield and getting it running again.
Before we continue our journey northwards we re-do Cape Town, and stop by coincidence on a street corner and bump into Guy and Marlene. This is a Belgian couple who we met 7 years ago in the Argentinian Patagonian wilderness riding a BMW. We camp a night out with them in the wilderness and go our different ways in the morning. They are presently living in the very street on whose corner we just happened to stop. Crazier coincidences do happen! We continue on our journey northwards, Lambartsbay with its Jan van Genten colony. In Cederbergen we make a couple of hikes. During one of these trips it turns out that our petrol burner has leaked into our rations (how could that be otherwise?). Yes and if you still have 20 km to go you eat your bread rolls with their super leaded spread! (A result of this was that we burp up petrol for the following three days, proceded by periods of feeling sick and keeping out of the way of open fires!)
On return the Enfield is amused by our predicament. Oh yes! Laugh, will you? We will see what you feel like if we fill your tank with bread, carrots, muesli and tea! That’d make you sing a different song! Slowly we reach the foothills of the Kalahari desert and the Table Mountain range; red soil and an endless expance of land in which is broken by solitary trees full of weaverbird’s nests, sometimes as many as one hundred! We visit the Augrabies waterfalls on the Orange river, follow the western route past Pofadder where we fill up at “sukkel vir een centje” (idiot-for-a-penny). We camp at “wag een beetje” (have-a-bit-of-derring-do) en via Vioolsdrift we cross the Orange river into Namibia. It is good camping next to the river an in the midst of this bird paradice.
In Namibia 85% of the roads are dirt tracks, which (we think) is much better suited to the surroundings. The route to Fish River Canyon (something like the Grand Canyon) is in such a terrible state; varies from washboard to huge boulders, that we start to worry about the Enfield’s undercarriage. Caramba! What a struggle – we don’t get past 2nd gear, oil and sweat pour out of all seams, wire and tape begin to win terrain. Even so, the views are of a glorious calibre and are followed by nights spent sleeping (or better said, lying awake) under the sort of star-filled skies of fabled beauty, which shed so much light in this climate that you would think it was cloudy. You soon see that it is in fact whole shrouds of star – clouds – phew – another one! – Just as if someone has dropped a cigarette end into a sack of fireworks. Now and again you bury yourself deep in your sleeping bag so as not to get hit by a shooting star. Apart from that there is a deadly silence. At night the temperature falls to round about 0 degrees centigrade. In the day time this rises to between 25 and 30 degrees. Even the crickets and locusts avoid this place. The Enfield gets on well in these temperatures. The nightly temperatures are especially beneficial. At the end of the day everything seems to rattle more, to have more play, from the undercarriage to the depths of the engine, but when the morning arrives all its muscles seem to be taught and the Enfield struggles bravely on again through the dust.
Full in the brakes! The ABS engages simultaneously and with a wide slalom we narrowly manage to avoid a cobra crossing the road. He turns around, rises up and fans his neck out. Thecla utters a yell, I accelerate and crack! The throttle cable breaks. The cobra resumes his path, we repair the cable and off we go again in the direction of Keetmanshoop. From here we go to the Bruccoro volcano where we hike right up into the volcano itself. Here you realise how few human inhabitants there are in Namibia compared to the size of the land itself and the number of flies. Flies are thirsty creatures and with so few rivers we are a good mobile source of moisture. They are waiting behind every stone. Pop, pop,,,,pop, pop, they find any moisturous cavity on your body- the corner of your mouth, in your nose, ears, eyes. Any irritation and the body begins to excrete sweat, causing you to itch all over. At regular intervals I sweep my glasses off my head with my arm and begin to pay more attention to the flies than to the surrounding landscape and my walking pace increases to a speed which is faster than I would like or that the terrain permits; the result of which is that I miss my step and stumble regularly. By a nice view I am tempted by some mad delusion to stop and let the flies have a drink. They’ll have had all they want to drink at some point, won’t they?...and then depart. No, they won’t! Then I will resort to taking a quick photo. They even manage to creep in between eye and glasses and between glasses and lens – even though there is nothing for them there! Just to be a nuisance!!
But relief comes as the sun starts to sink. Suddenly they disappear. Alright! Time to cook dinner. But after a ten minute break the mosquitoes arrive! Although these are somewhat more polite, by the fact that they give forewarning of their warning of their arrival, they do not first ask your blood group. They prick and suck your blood and for a curtain call leave you with a fantastic itch. Once darkness falls these luckily also disappear. Connect the torch to the bike battery – have a little read, thinks Thecla. From a distance I see how Thecla is bombarded by all sorts of night insects – moths, locusts (8cm long) and other such like creatures- whack, thwack, splat, ow, ooh. Light off. Peace at last!
Towards Helmeringhausen (yes, we really are still in Africa) we quite often ride along the grass verge next to the rutty road; but this is for the last time. We get frequent punctures from the thorns. Yes, the only plants which can survive in the desert either have thorns or are poisonous. We chug along the coast towards Luderitz, a charming old German colonial town and on northwards via Aus through beautiful desert landscapes in varying colours, strange mountains, sand dunes, broad unusual valleys, again, uninhabited and where you meet nobody. Everything is dirt track which blocks up the air filter within two days. The tyre pressure in the front tyre decreases to 0,5 bar and in the back tyre to1,8. This makes the bike handle well in the sand. Occasionally Springbocks, kudus jackels, oryxes cross the road, or a herd of ostriches run with us or in front of us along the road. Absolutely fantastic! In the meantime we have blocked all possible holes around the air filter where dust can get in with plastic, which seems to work reasonably well. Unfortunately, not for long, during a hike through the Naukluft mountains a band of 10/20 plundering baboons strips the Enfield of the tank bag plastic and raid the tank bag itself. All the plastic around the air filter is in shreds. Anything which potentially has anything to do with food is broken or gone. Luckily we find various things in the surrounding area and are provided with a catapult by a Namibian because baboons can be quite troublesome creatures. In the Sossusvalley, in which you ride between hundred meter high red sand dunes, we see a fireball in the morning and meet a sandstorm at night so that the last dust free supplies are no longer dust free. We look like we have really been living rough! Everything is coloured grey with the dust; here and there an oil trail and all sorts of repairs have taken place, even though the Enfield keeps going through thick and thin.
On we go towards Whalebay, a route through en endless flat plain, no trees, bushes or grass, no animals and no people, not even ants. Behind you, an unfathomable dust cloud, and somewhat sunk in white expance, we ride towards the white horizon, all of which seems to be travelling at the same speed as us. When we stop there is only silence. All around us is the same. Only the shimmering position of the sun betrays the fact that time exists here- time for a cup of coffee. Coffee is ready! Hey, what’s that coming in our direction? The trunk of an elephant – without its elephant? You would have thought that there is plenty of space around, but that small whirlwind just has to decide to come our way. It’s probably the heat from the Enfield which has created a high pressure area and has attracted this wind. Not a very suitable place for an Enfield rally. It would probably cause a tornado!
Aflter Whalebay, on towards Swakopmund, where we meet a Swiss couple on Yamaha XT600s. We exchange a lot of information and after a couple of days we set off again along the coast to Hentiesbay and further to the Spitzkoppe mountains where we spend a few days walking . Which way now? On the way we decide to do the 400 km to Windhoek – the capital city of Namibia. We want to say hello to a friend of a friend/acquaintance of ours. They (Liesbeth and Sebastiaan) run a guesthouse in Windhoek, called Terra Africa. They are at home, we receive coffee, we get chatting – he has done a lot of travelling; the evening becomes progressively more enjoyable and we are asked to stay the night and receive a meal fit for a king. After two months of sleeping on the ground, the bed feels like sleeping on a cloud – divine! We wash some clothes there and receive a lot of (travel) information and after a few days decide to resume our journey. We are given a heartfelt send-off and need only to phone if we are in need of help. Fantastic!
In the direction of Twijfelfontain we see two groups of giraffes. We visit many rock carvings by Bushmen and a 120 million-year-old fossilised wood. Here you can come across the Welwitschias (strange one-leaf plants) which can live for a couple of hundred years. We enter Damaraland with its many table mountains. After Palmwag we go in the search of desert elephants, of which only 300 remain. We leave the main road onto a 4WD track. We soon see many springboks, mountain zebras, oryxes, ostriches, giraffes. We struggle through river beds, areas of sand, huge boulders, where Thecla often has to dismount. Once we even fall over. The weather is very hot. The oil temperature reaches 90 degrees and suddenly the Enfield gives out – no compression. Gulp! What do we do now? I feel the valve play. That’s alright. Then we look for some shade and make a pot of coffee. Is there enough oil? Has he been smoking? The decompressor is allright, no strange sounds on kicking it over! It must be that there is a bit of carbon stopping the valve closing properly. Thecla advises: he needs some rest. How much water do we have – yes, luckily we have enough for a couple of days rest! After an hour of trying (deep sigh of relief) the Enfield starts again. Off we go again till we hit a river. Here we see many elephant tracks and also fresh dung. We don’t pitch the tent and seeing that there is no moon, we once again enjoy a fantastic star-filled heaven. At night we hear many jackals and sleep with our shoes in between us (apparently they are very fond of shoes!). A bit later we hear a hyena to the left of us and another one behind us. Bit too dangerous for us, so we quickly put the tent up. Strange as it may sound, a tent sheet is supposed to be a formidable sight for wild animals, so in a tent you are relatively safe! During the night we hear zebras snuffling around the tent and didn’t we hear a catlike growl??
The next day we look around some more, but unfortunately see no desert elephants. Onwards to Warmquelle, Sesfontein, where we find ourselves in the Kaokoveld with the beautiful Himba people. Here we ask how the road to Purros is. Is it very sandy? Are there many boulders? or are there any steep parts? It appears that it is not too bad. We’ll see. Those who travel by car here do so in a 4WD. So, how seriously should we take this ‘not too bad’? Just try it. We have enough water and enough petrol on board. If it is not passable then we just turn back. TAKE YOUR TIME AND YOU CAN GET ANYWHERE!!! It turns out to be a fantastic adventure, a rocky ground, boulders, kilometres long sand tracks of about a meter deep, river beds and up and down mountains. In the morning a group of giraffes crosses the road. In the meantime it is sweltering (40 degrees) and we see that the new rear Konis are leaking. Adjust the suspension and off we roar. Once again we tip over – trailer and all. Yes, everything is beginning to look as if had seen better days. Apart from that, the Enfield is still running nicely, even though we ride the whole day in first and second gears. After a day and a half we see a group of 9 desert elephants – fantastic!
We stay a couple of days in Purros to recover from the journey, camping next to a water source. We visit a Himba village where the women walk around topless wearing a goat skin skirt. Their hair hangs in beautiful red clay moulded plaits. They cover their bodies in a mixture of grease and red stone powder and spices for perfume. This is a really beautiful sight. There are also many of the other previously named animals in the area. The camp warden tells us that an old bull sometimes roams the area and that there is no reason to be frightened. And, just as he said, just before darkness falls we hear a cracking sound coming from about 50 meters away and we watch as a massive bull shakes huge trees and then eats the seeds from the ground. He moves from tree to tree in our direction. I go for my camera. Thecla says that he is going this way behind these trees. We cut a corner through the bush, but the bull changes direction and moves towards us, flapping his ears and sweeping the dust up with his trunk. Before we are aware of it he is within a 8 meter radius. Thecla dives to the right and I to the left into the bush. The bull has come to a standstill next to the Enfield. The bullet doesn’t bat an eyelid, just ignores him completely. They silently accept one another’s presence. They grumble a bit to each other and the bull disappears again. During the night we hear him rummaging around the tent. He pulls on branches and his stomach rumbles. Now and again we hear him sniff. This is repeated three nights in a row. In the morning we also see signs of hyenas round our tent. After three sleepless nights we travel on again towards Opuwo.
Again we see a group of elephants crossing our path, now accompanied by a small calf. How great it is to chuff through the wilderness on the Enfield and at the same time see so many wild animals. We have been warned for one “very steep hill” one the way to Opuwo. And indeed there is one very, very steep hill. I first try without Thecla. She promptly dismounts. The tyres are pumped up hard, but even that is to no avail. We bail out all extra oil, petrol, water-filled jerry cans and we still don’t make it. Another attempt – this time without the trailer: 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st gear, jump off and push. Thecla is waiting half way up and pushing, gasping and panting we just manage to make the top. We remove the panniers and return downhill for the trailer. Hitch the trailer on, Thecla again waiting half way up. 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st gear, jump off and push. After 50 meters we are exhausted. Thecla puts 4 stones behind the wheels and we lie down half dead next to the bike. Caramba! We must be crazy, but the other route is 500 km longer, so it’s not really worth considering. I reach a trance state from the lack of oxygen. I hear only the knocking of my heart, or is it a bike, or maybe an elephant – bonk, bonk, bonk, bonk. I am past caring: bonk – visions flash past my minds-eye: bonk, a 500 engine flashes past, bonk, another one, bonk, another one, bonk, bonk, bonk. We look up and the dream becomes reality: the first car of the day is driving down the trail. 4 amazed faces gaze at us questioningly. On the top of the hill lie some helmets and panniers and jackets. 2/3 up the hill stands a motorbike with a trailer and next to it lie two red-faced white people. ½ way up lie some clothes and bags and in the valley are the remaining jerry-cans. We hitch the bike’s front forks up to the bumper of the car and are given a tow by a 4WD – Fantastic. Absolutely dumbfounded the people bid us farewell, and we from the one “very steep hill”
In Opuwo we meet a wonderful mix of peoples: Himbas, Kwangos, Owambos, Hereros. For the first time we have the feeling that we are really in Africa. There is even an internet café here, where we read the message from the home front announcing death and consequent funeral of my eldest brother.
We decide to go home immediately.
A few months later...
As is apparent, we have resumed our journey and are chuffing down the road in a northerly direction from Opuwo (Namibia), through a beautiful autumnal landscape in the Kaokoveld to the Epupa Falls. This turns out to be a terrible desert route, huge boulders and very hilly, though river beds, with giraffes, warthogs, apes, ostriches etc crossing the road. Tough on the Enfield. We lose our hooter and it appears that both engine nuts have disappeared. We temporarily secure the engine bolts with wire and reach the falls on the Angolan border. Here we hike for a few days through Himba country. Himbas are tribes who still live in the traditional nomadic fashion, with their cattle in simple mud huts. On the way back we stop in Okongwati in the search for replacement nuts. We park the Enfield in front of a shack where wrecked cars are parked, which we take to be the local garage. We walk round the back – it turns out to be the local butcher.
The butcher comes to meet us with bloodied hands and a sword. We tell him about the nuts, he walks with us, runs his bloodied fingers over the thread and returns to his work. We take it that the next laughing man who approaches us is the owner. This man feels on the thread as well. A third man approaches, does likewise and stops for a chat. This repeats itself with all passers-by. At a certain point it has become so entertaining, we nearly forget why we have stopped. If any more people run their fingers over the thread there will be none left so……………. After about 1 1/2 hours we ask about the nuts. Oh, yes………the owner isn’t here, and his son gets out of school at 5 o’clock, so hang around for a while. After an hour the son arrives. We remove some nuts with a similar thread from an engine; they won’t come loose in any case!
We follow our route along the Angolan border, miss a huge boulder because of a low sun and fall over against a huge rock. The pannier attachment breaks off and the hooter and hinges get mangled, levers bent – no matter, we’re starting to get used to it.
In Otapi, we weld and knit everything back together again as well as we can and follow an asphalt road via Omblantu to Oshakati, a good car-free road. We do, however have to share it with a lot of cattle. Who is actually supposed to be using the road? Whole herds of donkeys, cows, goats, and sheep are being driven down the road and, of course the Namibiers, themselves who are very fond of walking. The Enfield’s ABS system is often engaged, without too much problem. From Tsumeb we visit Etosha National Park by car, after which we continue en route via Grootfontein, Caprivistrip, Rundu, Divindu, towards Botswana. Here we visit the Tsodillo Hills with their Bushmen drawings. After this we want to cross over to the west side of the Okavangadelta. Here we manage to become so sand-logged that we are cannot move, neither forwards or backwards. Smoke is coming out of the gearbox and the clutch is red-hot. What to do? Luckily the African’s fall out of the trees like the morning dew so that with 4 helpers we are first able to move the bike a few kilometres further on to harder sand and then return for the trailer – pushing it through the soft sand and many acacia thorns. We ride carefully on to the next town and take a look at the damage. Metal against metal! Luckily I have had enough forethought to have packed 1 extra cork plate. Right!...... and the rest then? Do we phone PTM (Peter Tromp Meesters) to post a set? Or shall we first have a look around for some cork. After all, there are enough cork trees! We buy some wine and champagne at a hotel and first drink ourselves into seventh heaven – in which there are neither burnt clutch plates, nor other problems. On coming down from our drunken high of Theo en Thea impressions (= Dutch children’s comedians) and start our creative cork cutting session. After a day’s work the plates are cork-filled again, swelled with water and off we chug again. After 9000 kilometres everything is still working fine. For safety’s sake we have built up our own cork empire, so if we do happen to end up submerged somewhere there will be no problem.
In the Okovanga Delta we spend 3 days in a Mokoro (vessel made out of a hollowed out tree trunk) with a guide, canoeing through the delta (the Enfield could use a little rest). The delta is a swamp, filled now with between 30cm and 1.5 meters of water with hundreds of islands of between 5 to 500 meters in length and covered in bush. We hop from island to island, see many animals (mostly birds), camp on any island we feel like, or make a fire for coffee or food. A long story, but on the last day we push off from the last island to return to the mainland shore when our guide looks at us in earnest and informs us quietly that there are some l-l-l-l-lions at 30 meters distance. We look and at the same moment three lions head directly for us, leaping and splashing through the water. We sit rooted to the spot. Thecla drops to the bottom of the Mokoro and lies flat as the lions approach to 10 meters. “We’re not going to survive this!” I think. The guide yells; “PULL…..” We pull the three of us free from the reeds, but get stuck again a few meters further in shallow water and reeds. At 5 meters, the lions suddenly change direction and scramble up the bank. Straight away we hear another splash behind us and see another 2 lions at 15 meters distance. This time all three of us play dead at the bottom of our Mokoro amongst the reeds. These two lions also luckily disappear suddenly. Caramba! Half numbed by fear, the guide tells us that they were hungry lions – that is why they were moving around by day.
We realise that if we had left the island a minute later we would have had five lions joining us for a cup of coffee. And that lions are not satisfied with a cup of coffee which would probably have meant that the rest of us would have been excreted as compost or that the dung beetles would have make little balls out of us. The thought of this is enough to make one feel slightly sick.
Enough of that, we set off again from Guma towards Maun, where someone suggests that we could write a book on our crazy caprioles on the Enfield and the suchlike. After our last adventure, I agree with him and he says that that was a coincidence because he was a cameraman for the BBC and he filmed swimming lions. They had been following a group in the north for the last 4 months. The following year (January 2005) it was to be broadcast as “Swampcats” (1st or 2nd week in January). We travel from Maun to Gweta and then on to Nata. Halfway we leave the main road and travel along a track through the bush to find a place to pitch the tent. A bush track is generally just about wide enough for an Enfield with trailer.
Every evening round sunset the birdsong is one loud cacophony of noise, but once night falls it is often so quiet that one could hear a beetle approaching from 5 meters away. Strangely enough, though, not an elephant until he is next to the tent and clears his throat. Caramba! that is a frightening sound – which he repeats three times just as we are falling asleep again. The next day we leave again, not totally rested, en route towards Kasane, winding in and out of the piles of elephant dung. Failure to do so would be sure to make the trailer upturn. The road surface is good. The sun rises slowly. The roads are empty – great! We accelerate to 70 km per hour and chug on in a relaxed fashion through the endless chicane of elephant dung! Then there’s something in front of us lying in the road which looks like an extra large pile. As we approach, we see that it is a leopard. Full in the brakes, but as the Dutch saying goes: nothing will make a leopard move over. By throwing the bike to one side we manage to avoid him by three meters. We glance at each other and engage our 18 horse power. Thecla gives a war cry and away we go. 50 meters further down the track I decide to take a couple of photos which cost me a couple of bruises (Thecla didn’t think this was a very good idea).
In Chobe National Park we take a somewhat larger boat down the river and see many elephants, waterbuck, buffalo, sable antelopes, hippos, crocodiles and many birds. After this we travel back through Namibia via Katima, Mutillo, Mudumi National Park, after which we enter Zambia to visit the thundering Victoria Falls. From there we go to Lusaka and on to Lake Karibe, where we stock up with petrol before we enter Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe only one in four petrol stations still have petrol! Here the campsites are beautifully situated, deserted and cost next to nothing. This was also a good test for the clutch. From Karibe we go to Harare, where we ride through beautiful landscapes and see many deserted farmsteads (formally belonging to white farmers). We also ride past many cemeteries, many new, as one out of three to four people has aids. Now and again we see someone cycling with a coffin on the back of the bicycle as if it is perfectly normal, and taking the terror regime of Mugabe into consideration, one can understand why the whole land is going to the dogs. In Harare we visit Augie and Donja (en ex colleague) and continue on via the monumental Great Zimbabwean Ruins , Kyle Lake, and wind down to the lowlands full of monstrous baobab trees, some of which reach 10 meter in radius.
From Mutare we climb to the highlands of the Chimanimani Mountains take a couple of hikes. We also do the same in the forests of the Vumba Mountains. After this we enter Mozambique where we are welcomed by the first serious rainfall, but a flat landscape so the Enfield can proceed with ease. Rough camping is not advised because the countryside is littered with mines. This is especially obvious on arrival in Beira, where many one (no) legged people are walking (potter) around. We don’t feel too comfortable with our two legs. Beira is a beautiful, old Portuguese town which we spend time exploring. The animals in the safari parks of Mozambique have been systematically eaten as a result of the wars. We therefore travel from town to (small) town. Where possible we stock up with petrol and travel on northwards as a huge mobile petrol bomb. We pay a visit to the idyllic Isla de Mozambique, with its beautiful beaches and wooden trawlers, on which we travel to other palm tree covered islands and very friendly inhabitants.
We chug on westwards through a rough wilderness full of vertical spikes of rock. The inhabitants here seem afraid of us more often that not. Maybe because we are covered from head to toe in red dust? Our appearance as hellish red devils probably doesn’t help. People only possess bicycles here or maybe it’s the heart beat of the Enfield which reminds them of the bombs and grenades which have exploded in the area over the years. At Malema we arrive in Malawi on good road surfaces and, strange enough, we have three punctures in one day. Not nice with 40 spectators and a temperature of 40 degrees, with no shade. Strange enough the inner tube was worn out and wafer thin. From Cuamba to Linwonde National Park which we pay a visit. We chug on in the direction of Mangoni over a Swiss cheese-like asphalt to Cape Maclair and Lake Malawi. This lake covers the whole of Malawi and is about 600 km long and is gorgeous: palm trees, white beaches with blue, turquoise water, pretty huts and fishing villages. They have an interesting fishing history, seeing that the lake was cut off from other waters millions of years ago and contained a cycloid fish which evolved into many different meat eating, algae eating, rock scraping or mud slobbering etc, cycloid fish.
The Enfield is running well in the wonderful surroundings, standing in the shadows of the palm trees, while the riders enjoy a cool beer, or a splash in the cool waters with the prospect of finally travelling in a northerly direction. From Lilongwe we deviate from the main route into Zambia to visit South Luanga National Park. This turns out to be a real struggle to reach, there is no 20 meters flat road, trench in trench out, full of powdery dust, which results in two falls from the bike. But our efforts are rewarded with a beautiful African wilderness. Camping on the banks of the river we see groups of elephants crossing or groups of apes passing, antelopes and at night, roaring lions and howling hyenas. In the mornings and evenings we go on a game drive (by car) where we see still more lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and all sorts of antelopes, in short - great!
A couple of days later we make the return journey following the same route, which goes reasonably well, but in Malawi once on asphalt again we get a blow out in the rear tyre at 80km per hour. We slide down the road on our backs and the Enfield makes a double somersault. We get slowly to our feet again, check each other over; everything seems to be working properly. The Enfield looks worse. Oil, petrol and water pouring out on all sides. Set it upright first. The friendly Malawians swarm like ants from nowhere and help us remove the wreckage from the road and pile it up on the side. Handlebars bent, mirror and speedo smashed, dent in the tank, levers bent steering head damaged, pannier brackets broken, leaking oil jerry can, petrol jerry can squashed, trailer wheel spindle bent, bearings broken and the cover resembling softened liquorice. We are a sad sight standing there surrounded by 50 Malawians. In the meantime a long traffic jam has developed consisting of curious, but helpful people. Luckily an Italian stops who has enough luggage room to transport Thecla and the trailer. Just check if the Enfield is rideable. Yes, it is, so that we can limp the last 60 kms like a crippled dog. In Lilongwe he takes us to a local garage where we are aided by the local mechanic named ‘Useless’! He turns out not to be true to his name. After a day’s effort with burners, pipes and welders the bike takes on a more workable form. The sun on this side of the equator has in the meantime has caused the temperature to rise so that the oil temperature, even at night, does not sink below 40 degrees Celsius.
We travel on in a northerly direction along Lake Malawi. We hang around in Nkhatabay for a while and then ride on via Mzuzu, Chitimbe and enter Tanzania at Mbeya. The people here are noticeably less friendly. Riding the bike here is potentially lethally dangerous, because the roller behind the asphalt spreader was not totally round. Another reason is that the kamikaze bus drivers have the tendency to nearly run us off the road. The idea did occur to us to arm ourselves by filling the panniers with stones, but there are so many upturned trucks and buses anyway that we don’t bother. We chug on through the Mikumi National Park, where we are again accompanied by elephants, giraffes, buffalos, impalas, warthogs and zebras. Via Mgorogoro we see many traditional Massai. We arrive in Dar er Salaam from which we pay a visit to Zanzibar. The Enfield can take a rest on the mainland and we can do the same on the palm covered island with its ancient Arabian, Aziatic, African culture and fishing villages, pearly white sands and azure waters. Unfortunately we are also visited by fleas for three days long so that we decide to hop from beach to beach so that the tide cuts us off totally from the mainland and we remain isolated on our own private beach to remove the fleas at our leisure. Once back on the mainland we do the same to all our clothes and much refreshed we travel on towards Moshi. On the way we pitch our tent in an area covered with rainforest, where beautiful black and white Columbus apes jump on us out of curiosity and then proceed to build a nest above our heads.
In Moshi we enjoy a wonderful view of Kilimanjaro between the tropical rainstorms. The Enfield is now on the tried and tested route of 14 years ago (when we rode from home to Tanzania – a distance of 22.000 kilometres. At this point in time we have put 21.000 kilometres between us and Cape Town and are planning on riding home via Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, etc, Enfield willing!
We chug on to Arusha and on to Manyara and Serengenti, through Masaailand to visit the Ondonyi Lengai volcano, which is the only active volcano in the area and also Lake Natron. After 60 kilometres we strand in the fine deep powdery dust and, still maintaining the idea of riding home, we attempt to borrow a Landrover from Masaai, in which we succeed. We leave the Enfield with a local chief and with a Masaai driving we set off on yet another adventure. The brakes of the Landrover only react after pumping the pedal 5 times, the road is too steep and the only way to slow the vehicle down is to down gear. Soon after the whole dashboard falls off onto the drivers lap and not once, but twice we nearly upturn. One time we get so stuck in the sand that we spend 1 ½ hours digging ourselves out with a piece of leaf spring as an excuse for a spade. A while later the petrol filter is so full of sand that the car comes to a halt and not once, but three times the engine stalls in the middle of a river because of water in the ignition. The tyres are pumped up so hard that driving up over the scrubbing board road surface everything begins to vibrate and the car has no grip on the road and our vision is restricted to a mirage-like image. This is solved, not by letting some air out of the tyres but by stopping and filling the boot of the car up with about 800 kilos of boulders – but OK it seems to work. Strangely enough, Thecla, who is sitting in the middle, gets spattered with drops of oil. It gets so hot that Thecla begins to look like a sun-ripened tomato. Sometimes when the car dips into a dust bowl we can’t even see the window screen in front of us – the only window (luckily) still present in the vehicle. We keep this up for two days. The hike up to the top was magnificent. At the summit at 2900 meters there are huge hissing, gurgling chimneys excreting steam. Three days previously it appears that the volcano had produced a small fart, which could be seen on the fresh stream of lava. After walking for 11 hours we arrive at the bottom again and backtrack on another Landrover adventure to the patiently waiting Enfield.
From here we chug on again over the border to Kenya and on to Nairobi, which has received the nickname of Nairobbery. We are not yet decided as to whether we will deviate from our path to visit Uganda or follow our original plan to move on slowly northwards to Ethiopia. One of the most infamous routes there is the 500 kms through a desert and wilderness over one of the worst dirt tracks in Africa and which is also the haunt of many Somalian Shiftas (highwaymen who attack at whim). But with the monsoons approaching we have to travel on, seeing that Zaire and Chad are impassable.
First of all the Enfield needs a bit of maintenance, new chain link, new battery (not much charge left after the accident, change tyres: Peter (PTM again!), your tyres are really great – the rest too, for that matter! Maybe there is need of a new set of piston rings because this seems to be costing some oil loss through too much pressure in the crank cases. I have an extra set so no problem.
It is now the end of October.
Here is a continuation of our journey through Africa. From Nairobi we chuff towards the Great Rift Valley lakes, Lake Elementiata with its thousands of flamingos and on to Lake Baringo with birds of other plumage, lizards, tortoises and chameleons. The Great Rift Valley consists of a great crack in the earth’s crust from Mozambique right through to Ethiopia, which have been filled with Africa’s greatest lakes and many volcanoes full of wildlife. After some discussion we toss a coin and decide to go to Uganda. On the map there appears to be a great deal of asphalt, so, why not? Here, again it turns out that even a dirt track is better that a Ugandan ‘motorway’. Uganda is beautifully green, with here and there a tuft of rain forest.
At Jinja, we cross the Nile for the first time in the direction of the enjoyable and chaotic Kampala. Onwards towards Fort Portal, where each late afternoon the forest receives its dose of tropical rainfall, which makes travel all but impossible. The Enfield coughs and splutters onwards with determination. The mountains in the Kibala forest, is again an eldorado of animals including the Vervet, Colobus, Blue-faced and Red-tail monkeys, baboons and our friends the chimpanzees. The latter greet us with friendly grins and if we get too close drop fruit on us accidentally on purpose which weighs in the approximation of 5 kilos. The rest of the fruit pulp is sprayed over us.
From here we descend towards the savannah of the Queen Elizabeth Park filled with Impalas, until we slowly ascend again to the mountainous tropical rainforests of the 3-country intersection: Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo. Here we have a memorable experience of mountain gorillas at 5 meters distance. We camp in this area on the edge of a rainforest. A beautiful area. After this we slip and slide back to the lowlands and cross the equator for the fourth time. We growl back into Kenya where we catch another glimpse of the eternal snow which caps Mount Kenya. We now commence on the feared part of the journey to Isiolo, Marsabit and Moyale.
In Isiolo we have arranged to meet up with our Swiss friends, Yves and Tanja who are travelling in a Toyota 4WD. An extra and ulterior motive being that we can share the potential troubles of the road – both mechanical and the danger of being ambushed by bandits on this 500 kilometre stretch. We prepare the Enfield to the last nut and hide our money in the rear wheel and with some anticipation, we set off. The road is a rough washboard surface through a bush covered landscape. We encounter only a few locals, mostly with a gun strapped to their back. We imagine a bandit behind every bush, but these turn out to be only antelope or poultry rising up in fright. We proceed at a speed of between 25 to 40 kph to Marsabit, where we spend the night recuperating and checking the vehicles. We also gather information on the next leg to Moyale.
The next day we descend into the Dassut Desert through endless stone-filled expanses, with nothing for company than some vultures who are scavenging on one of their colleague-scavengers, a hyena. To make things worse, it starts to rain, to pour even, reducing the range of vision to a mere 30 metres. We slide from left to right, interrupted by minor falls. After 50 kilometres the mud begins to cake on – as if we were travelling through snow with clogs on. Not far further and the rear wheel gets stuck in the mudguard. Thecla dismounts, but after 30 metres we get stuck again. We look around somewhat foolishly – 360 degrees of horizontal emptiness. What to do? Yves comes up with the idea of connecting a thick piece of wire around the rear tyre so that while riding it will scrape the mud out of the mudguard. This seems to work! We ‘muddle’ on. After another 20 kilometres the front wheel begins to wobble. One of the nuts of the right fork leg split clamp is hanging on for dear life – the other one has disappeared. Tighten it and carry on! Then the trailer gets a puncture. The rain continues unabated and with a speed of 10 kph, we reach Turbi, a half Somalian village consisting of traditional huts, where we spend the night. A Dutch prison would have been preferable to this, but one gets used to the discomforts and we at least have a roof over our heads.
We tarry a while before we get on our way in the morning. We are stopped by soldiers who compel us to accept an armed guard, not understanding that we are not circus artists and that the chance of a breakdown is far greater than any other danger which could overcome us. The canvas layer in the tyres is damaged, but splashing through troughs of water keeps the Enfield running. Every few kilometres we capsize, which is of no real significance seeing that we are covered in mud from head to toe anyway. Now and again the Enfield becomes completely bogged down and we both have to jump off and push. When the troughs are too long Thecla jumps on the footboard of the Toyota. After the sixth time, the Toyota nearly upturns and Thecla takes a dive into the mud. She all but disappears. For a moment we hold our breath, but then we see two eyes blinking up at us. We burst out laughing. Thecla clambers dripping onto the bike and off we go again.
The tension luckily decreases as the sun comes out and transforms the liquid mud into a stiffer consistency which flies in cake form around our ears. The rear shock breakers of all vehicles are constantly hitting the bottom, but we can travel again in second gear and before dark reach the long awaited Ethiopian border.
The border guards have rolled out a red carpet for us. People take fright as we approach, as if we are from Mars. Children run off screaming, women retreat into their huts. Men stand petrified along the roadside, but we have asphalt under our wheels again.
Ethiopia takes some getting used to. People are more curious. On stopping our vehicles were immediately surrounded by large groups of people who squeeze levers and turn throttles. Hooters are pressed and tyres prodded or kicked (even spare tyres?) – they even check whether the jerry can is attached properly. It gives us the feeling that we are experiencing a pit stop. And the time, here: they have a thirteenth month, so it is 1997 here!! The day begins when it gets light, so 7.00 our time is 1.00 their time! 2.00 midday is 6.00 in Ethiopia.
In Moyale we give our Stone Age Flintstone vehicle a clean which reduces the total weight by some 8 kilos. The rear wheel has to be removed to hack off the last 3 kilos of baked-on clay. We travel on northwards. The Bullet feels especially at home here seeing that practically no one here goes around without a weapon. We do not share the feeling. The locals are more aggressive and noisy. From Yabello we turn off the main route and rattle again over a good old dirt track to Konso. We have a few more punctures and just before dusk we enter a rainy region and slip on the wet road again. The Enfield is alright but we both suffer from bruised shoulders and collarbones. We put up the tent next to the road and continue our journey to Konso on the following day.
Here we decide to park up the Enfield and to hitchhike into the Omo Valley with a UN food transport. There are many tribes there which still live in a traditional fashion, amongst others the Ari, Banne, Hamar, Karo, Mursi, and Sarma. Some are totally naked or wear only a goat skin loin cloth. Hamar men sometimes wear a small clay skull on the back of their heads decorated with feathers. Mursi women wear 10cm in diameter clay saucers in their lower lip. Their trade consists mostly of barter. We hoped this would give our shoulders a bit of rest, but here even the lorry gets stuck in the mud and off we go , digging, branches and stones underneath the wheel and before we are mobile again. By now we have the idea that Benno has malaria. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. The medicine is on the bike; supplies of food and water are near depletion. Half way the lorry breaks down and we wait two hours for help to arrive. Then Ben has a go himself and after another two hours the lorry is running again (feed plunger of the petrol pump is stuck).
After another 40 kilometres we encounter the main river, where a number of lorries have been waiting for days. What now? To kill time one of the local warriors ( who walks around naked with only a AK47 machine gun (‘to protect their cattle’) asks if I would like to fire his weapon. Ah! Why not? – Try the tree at 30 metres distance, bang! A cloud of smoke, glasses crooked on my conk. I can’t even see the tree I aimed at. A group of spectators walks to the tree. It grows quiet. It’s a bull’s eye! The admiring locals congratulate me and we are received as heroes. Little do they know that we have been shooting around on a Bullet for the past 8 months – even though the northward journey hadn’t been quite as straight as my shot today.
We decide to wade across the river and continue our journey on foot. At the first village with a clinic we do a blood test and luckily they have medicine for the malaria. After a week and a half of travelling/hanging around we leave the area and return to the bike. We travel on to Arba, Minch and Awasa where we rest for a while on the shores of a lake to recover and eat and do some maintenance on the Enfield. The right fork leg split clamp has come loose again, the oil pump is leaking badly, the drive chain is starting to resemble an elastic band and other minor ailments have to be seen to. We continue en route eastwards in the direction of Harar a beautiful scenic route through the mountains. To our slight disappointment the local culture has slightly spoiled the surroundings.
Here, as in all Ethiopia there are people everywhere on the roads along with camels, donkeys, cattle, goats and sheep. Strangely, the animals here react differently than in the rest of east Africa. Just past Nazareth a serval cat (small leopard) crosses over the road in front of us, a beautiful sight!
Harar is an old, walled, Islamic city. Typically medieval, full of beggars, tramps, lepers, cripples, the blind, the mad and also flies and mangy dogs. At night you hear groups of hyenas entering through the city gates and fighting with the stray dogs. It sounds as if they are being skinned alive. Just outside the gates of Harar lives the hyena man. During the last 40 years he has built up a bond with the hyenas which he feeds regularly. At dusk we see shadows sniffing around his hut and before long we are surrounded by a group of about 16 hyenas. We put our trust in the children who are sitting with us. They point at the shadow of the hyena man who crawls out of his hut with a bucket on his arm. Sitting on the ground outside his hut he holds out lumps of meat. One by one the hyenas approach him greedily, sometimes four at a time. Those who are too greedy get a kick in the chest and retreat. This keeps on for about 15 minutes until the shadow crawls back into his hut. The animals hang around for awhile before they disappear into the darkness again, Great!
The Enfield receives a dose of clean oil, the chain is shortened, the pump is re-sealed, valves adjusted and we chuff on again in the direction of Addis Ababa . We travel through Tribal regions where the locals are less than friendly; they throw stones and sticks on the road in front of us (even the women), shout at us and try to stop the trailer. Caramba! Suddenly a heavily loaded Peugeot careers around the corner and makes a bee-line for us. He hasn’t seen us. We are unable to move out of its path; on our right hand side is a ravine. Just in time, he corrects his course and just misses us, after which he nearly upturns. Ten minutes later we stand shaking on the side of the road. Time for a cuppa. Strangely enough, this sort of thing always seems to happen on a perfect stretch of road. Later we see seven upturned lorries.
The Enfield is also a bit put out by the chain of events and misses a few beats. It hiccups up the mountains. We mess around with the sparkplug gap and carry on, but it won’t run smoothly. We try another couple of adjustments, but still it coughs and splutters. Actually we are bent on leaving this area with its unfriendly inhabitants as soon as possible. Pop! Just before dark, a burst rear tyre. What to do now? The canvas layer has torn. This is quickly replaced; luckily we see nobody. We quickly put up out tent and hide the bike in the bush and carry on with the maintenance. Thecla opens a can of beans and we eat them in the dark. Soon we hear hyenas yelping around the tent and we dive deep in our sleeping bags. That night Thecla is unwell and has to leave the tent to be sick. Later on I get the runs. In the darkness we can enjoy the shinning starry heavens above us. We can’t sleep. The endless silence is broken by the laughter of hyenas of the growling of an upset stomach. We get up early in the morning, open the tent and to our surprise stand face to face with a sheep, who immediately starts to bleat –shhhhh! We pack up quickly and proceed coughing and spluttering on our way.
In Addis Ababa we have trouble finding our way because there are few road signs and sometimes roads have 3 different names. It appears to be a friendly town with coffee bars and patisseries, terraces and bars. It is at an altitude of 2400 metres, with a fantastic climate, reasonably safe and very cheap. The only thing is that every hotel looks like a brothel. It turns out to be a wonderfully relaxed town, where we are obliged to stay for two weeks while we wait for our Sudanese visa before we chug on further!!
It turns out to be a real struggle to cross the mountains. The roads are steep and full of boulders and on the second day we get an extra bonus of heavy rain. Thecla has to dismount regularly, me too sometimes and we have to push together. The Ethiopians manage to choose even these moments to beg for money: “Hey mister, money, you, you, give me” while we, absolutely knackered, attempt to push our iron steed up the road. But on arrival at 3500 metres we find ourselves on a plateau above the clouds, which makes for pleasant riding. During the descent into Lalibela we hear a ticking sound coming from the front wheel. This progressively worsens. The front wheel bearing has given up the ghost. We change it. The trailer wheel bearings also turn out to be knackered and this are also replaced.
Lalibela consists of a number of monolithic rock churches (literally hacked out of the rocks), connected by a number of tunnels, through which numerous pilgrims and an equal number of fleas regularly journey. The fleas are so abundant that the visitor has to be really determined if he wants to complete his Hail Maries. However, the medieval glory does win from the fleas eventually. Here we meet an American who lives in Tunisia and also claims to own an Enfield. He tells us that he sometimes tours with the Dutch Ambassador on a Harley and if we happen to be travelling via Libya and Tunisia then we would be more than welcome.
The road to Bahar is a real killer. A deep layer of dust peppered with sharp rocks. The front forks make AK47 noises as they are given a pounding by the road surface. It is New Year’s Eve, so our aim is to reach the town and not have to have to party in a field full of happy grass shoots, dancing stars, surrounded by silence. So we open the throttle but get two punctures before dark. The headlamp is repaired, but the spools are not connected so we enter the town without lights. The police follow us to inform us that we took the corner wrong….? (Sorry sir….). No lights are obviously no problem here. We hurry over the pavement to a small hotel, where I accidentally knock over the support pillar of a grocer’s stall – Bang! The whole stall collapses and all the goods roll over the street. “£*&”%*!! Construct something decent, we’re not in Africa here!! Back at the bike we realize that it is not much better; it is covered in wire, pieces of cloth, tins, dents, tears and bolts which do not belong: brackets picked up from the street, clutch plates lined with wine bottle corks, leakages here and there and all sorts of unsound repairs. In short, a reflection of the same Africa, which itself survives from day to day and takes tomorrow as it comes.
Today it is a party day…………………. We get permission to camp next to a hotel on Lake Tana, where beer, wine and lemonade has been laid on. Here we meet Chad, a National Geographic photographer and an Irish couple. We drink and dance the New Year in with Ethiopians. The next day we meet Gerrit and Ria, a Dutch couple who have been travelling around Africa in a Land Cruiser for the last 20 months. It’s great to talk Dutch again. It is so enjoyable that we don’t move for the next 3 days, only to get another wine or beer. We have a wonderful view over Lake Tana, where we see many pelicans bobbing around in the water; fishermen in their reed boats whose catch we consume in the evenings. We visit islands with orthodox churches, after which we plod on again towards the Simian Mountains where the Enfield carries us up to a height of 3200 metres, even though we have to dismount now and again to give the bike a hand. On the way we ride through groups of Geleda apes amounting to between 100 and 200 strong, which don’t seem to be alarmed by the noise enitted by the Enfield. Here we take a 3 day hike accompanied by an armed guide through this unique mountain area.
Back in Gondor we travel on towards the Sudanese border. But as we stop at a local bar, we notice that oil is pouring out of the engine. It appears that there is a crack in the top of the oil filter and there is a tear in the oil filter gasket (probably caused by a stone). We replace the gasket and with the engine ticking over we work the top of the filter with a round-ended hammer which closes the crack sufficiently. Gulp! Luckily we noticed this in time as with the speed at which the oil had been pouring out, the engine would have been empty within the hour. After this we descend slowly towards the border, which makes for a pleasant drop in temperature, suiting the Indian blood flow somewhat better. The oil temperature decreases to around 60 degrees (it is normally around 40 degrees above the temperature outside).
Suddenly we see a snake cross the road and smack into my leg. We hear a rummaging sound under the trailer. We stop. The dust subsides and we see that it is a cobra with a tyre track across its back. He wriggles a bit and then carries on on his way………… 50 kilometres further on we meet a Japanese man who is traveling around the world for 5 years on a Jebel 200. The Ethiopian Sudanese border is crossed without too much of a hitch so that we were able to continue our journey within 4 hours. 10 kilometres further on we meet a German, Lutz, on a BMW 100 with whom we turn off into the bush and set up camp………..we exchange information and the next day we each set off on our different ways……… the road makes for very tough going. Again it consists of a wash board surface and is full of rocks, so we spend most of the journey riding on the sandy track next to it, past beautifully situated hut villages full of friendly, waving Sudanese and here and there a herd of camels.
On reaching Gederef we once again have an asphalt road surface on which we reach Khartoum within two days. Here the Blue and the White Niles meet which we will be following all the way to Egypt. Just outside Khartoum lies Omdurman, which is a traditional meeting place for Sufis (a mystical branch of the Islam). We pay a visit and watch an exceptional spectacle as about 600 Sufis dance in a cloud of dust to reach higher plains. After this it is time for prayer, all facing the east. It is getting dark and our lights have failed us, so we think of leaving. Caramba! We see that our Enfield is parked ten metres in front of the hundreds of praying people. In the distance a vast emptiness of silence. Yes, what to do? To walk in front of them, start the bike and roar off in a cloud of dust would have been a bit cheeky to say the least. We decide to wait a while……….and a bit longer. Riding in the dark would be dangerous, so we decide to walk around in front of them, push the bike 50 metres further up and start it there. Nerves fail us and we don’t get the bike kicked over straight away so that endless muscle wrenching kicking is the result. Once started, we, of course, open the throttle too much and without a backwards glance, we set off into Khartoum.
The next day we chug on to the north-east and the pyramids of Meroe, beautifully situated between the sand dunes and not one tourist to be seen so that we can pitch our pyramid tent next to those of the Sudanese. Once again Malaria seems to be rearing its ugly head again, so we start another course of medicines, because we would like to be fit before we enter the desert of Northern Sudan. We follow the course of the Nile to Jebel Barkel where we visit another field of pyramids. At one point when we are trying to free the bike from deep sand, the tow bar breaks off. Once the wheels are again on hard sand we lash the trailer to the bike with the help of carrier straps and plod on to an oasis. Local Sudanese bring us to a workshop where they weld it back together again. We are fed and one of the workers invites us to sleep at his place. Wonderful! We spend an evening there sitting in the moonlight on the bank of the Nile, enjoying ourselves immensely. The next day is a holiday so we don’t have to pay for anything – not even our petrol (a gift).
During our journey we pass through an area where thousands of trunks and roots of trees have lain for millions of years; the sort that you only see here in a museum. I decide to take a piece with us, which Thecla thinks is ridiculous – we take lightweight cutlery and pans, hardly any extra clothes and then decide to transport a piece of stone that weighs 8 kilos! I search on and eventually find a nice piece which weighs only 2 kilos and I promise to throw it away again if we get stuck too often. Halfway towards Dongola, we get caught in a dust storm, so that we constantly take the wrong path and get stuck in the sand. It is a real killer to continually have to drag the Enfield out of the sand at an angle to the track, followed by the trailer and in the meantime to have your head sandblasted. Important is to keep a level head and to do nothing but struggle to keep the bike upright and running. Whoops, down we go again. Up we get, kick it over and off we go again. The Enfield undergoes the torment without complaint. We don’t realize how hard the wind is blowing until we take a tea stop in a hut. At a distance of 10 metres, the Enfield disappears at times behind a curtain of dust and sand.
And now the decision. What do we do? Take the boat from Wadi Halfa (the only boat connection between Sudan and Egypt) which goes once a week if there is room. We decide to go to Dongola, where we stock up with food and petrol for the last – and they say the most difficult – 500 kilometres. We run a check over the Enfield and from here navigate with a map, compass and the sun and now and again simply allow the course of the Nile to determine our route. There doesn’t seem to be a main road, but there are many untrustworthy tracks and much sand. We chug on for three days without too many problems past small settlements and waving Sudanese. When, on occasions we lose our way we keep to the left until we catch sight of the Nile again. On the last day we have to do without the Nile and settlements, through many sand flats and stony expances and eventually reach Wadi Halfa.
The next day we organize the necessary papers, pop the Enfield on the boat amongst local Egyptians and Sudanese. If the boat should sink, I don’t think we will have to worry about the Enfield. Since the burnt-out clutch in Botswana we have been saving all corks we came across. Our cork emporium may well keep the whole boat afloat. In 18 hours we sail to Aswan where we have to fill in another mass of paperwork, receive 2 Arabic registration plates and off we go again! – with asphalt under our wheels again! Pop – 3 kilometres further our inner tube explodes again on the wheel rim side. Via the desert route we reach Luxor where we sand down the rim and apply a coating, replace the left hand rear shock absorber with a replacement, clean the air filter, adjust the chain, apply oil where necessary, adjust the steering head (bearing are rattling around in the frame), empty some oil from the front forks, repair the lights, weld the pannier brackets. We decide to take the desert route to Cairo, because one is obliged to ride in convoy on the short main road route.
We chug on over the Nile into the desert on a perfect asphalt road surface, what a relief, sun on our backs, a rather strong wind, but the Enfield rumbles on at a speed of 80 kph. Suddenly there is a bang and the back wheel squeals – the wheel has blocked. We slip, but manage to keep the bike upright until we are all but stationary and then perform a slow-motion somersault over the handlebars. And there we are again, on our backs on the road. We are uninjured so up we get and right the trailer, unhitch it, remove the panniers and drag the Enfield to the side of the road. The chain has broken (the link has come loose) and has jammed in the closed chain casement, which is in no fantastic shape anyway. We remove the wheel and sprocket and spend the rest of the day messing around with stones, hammers and screwdrivers (and anything else we can get our hands on) to get it back into reasonable working shape. We have a great time messing around in the sand watched by a myriad of merry flies which are later joined by a handful of soldiers.
Before sundown we are on the road again so we can bid a respectable farewell to the flies and their companions. After this we chug on for 1 ½ weeks to Cairo through the White Desert where we also spend a few days walking through a landscape decorated with surrealistic erosion sculptures, a wonderful silence and here and there an oasis. At night time the temperature dips down to around 0 degrees so that we are obliged to retrieve our insulated trousers from their 9-month storage place. Anyone pertaining to be an archeologist would have made more of these than the Dead Sea scrolls – they resemble parchment. When rolled out, they roll themselves up again and tear. The last couple of hundred kilometers take us through an endless expance until the magnificent pyramids of Giza rise into view – Yeah!!!!
The Enfield has triumphed again – wonderful! 36,000 kilometres behind us! Now we have to come to terms with the 20 million inhabitants of Cairo and the accompanying chaos to find us a hotel. We remain here for about 2 weeks, as Luuk, Saskia and the kids have arranged to meet us there (friends who have been with us to Enfield rallies in England in the past). As expected we had a really good time, visit the many monuments and museums, wandering through the ever wonderful old Cairo. Here we also acquire a number of visas, amongst others one for Syria for which we a required to become honorary Egyptian residents. For this we visit a council building which is manned by no less than 18,000 civil servants. We fill in the necessary paperwork at locket 47, receive a couple of stamps at locket 15, pay 10 pounds at locket 88, more stamps at locket 88, more stamps at locket 18 , go out for a cup of tea and coffee. On return we elbow our way through a crowd and receive our passports. For 6 months we are now Egyptian!!!
After this we go to the Syrian Embassy where we will receive our visa on the following day. We can leave Africa now and travel on to the Middle East…
After enjoying two fantastic weeks in Cairo we chug on out of the chaos and are immediately confronted with the contrast of the silence of the Sinai desert. It is as if we have shut a door behind us, as we travel under the Suez Canal. This is a joy to the eye of the beholder – wide expances full of strange rock formations. Occasionally we meet a Bedouin, hardly any traffic, slightly misty, but with the rhythmic beating of the Enfield heart, it is sheer delight. We do manage to get stuck in the sand now and then, where the asphalt road has been sprayed with a thin layer of tar which forces us again to ride next to the main road, seeing that we have had this experience before in Ethiopia when the Enfield collected more tar over a distance of 3 kilometres on a similar road surface than an average chain smoker. We don’t really mind if he puffs a little, but this was really too much! Everything was absolutely covered in the stuff. It took us two days to remove it from our various surfaces! Caramba! But now after 50 meters we sink up to the engine in the sand. Of we go again! Trailer off…….still no movement ………..baggage off and within the hour we make the ten metres to the asphalt. And after this we settle for the layer of tar, no matter how slowly we travel.
From Nuweiba we take the ferry to Jordan with the realisation that we have said a definite __goodbye___ to the African continent. The African smile with her unbearable beauty! We are silent and wistful as we think back on it, as is the Enfield. As we leave the boat, he refuses to fire up. Of course we are right in the front and my joints suffer from the frantic kicking over I give him. The Jordanians and Egyptians wait patiently behind us, nobody hoots. Strange – it has driven onto the boat – what could the problem be? Thecla has already disembarked to organise the paperwork. In the meantime darkness has fallen so that I have to adjust the points with a torch strategically poised in my mouth. The batteries were all but empty, so that I have my nose nearly stuck in the ignition if I want to see anything at all; result of which being that it is covered in tar again……………… forgotten to turn it off, resulting in a shock received through the screwdriver and a consequent bash on the head as it collided with the handlebars on which the dear little pointed decompression lever is situated! @**&^%!! The spark plug is blown. After 15 minutes we chug off the boat into a dark Jordan where we bump into Gerrit and Ria again who lead us to a nice campsite on the Gulf of Aqaba. We again have a great time – do a bit of snorkelling, exchange a few (tall) stories and information and follow our route northwards.
Like Egypt and Syria we have been to Jordan before and we visit the Old Roman town of Jerash. In Damascus (Syria) we enjoy the old town centre with its monuments and Islamic, Jewish and Christian quarters. We decide to sidetrack through Lebanon, where we visit the old ruined Roman town of Baalbek with its impressive temple dedicated to Bacchus. Drivers here leave a lot to be desired, which makes for somewhat treacherous traffic situations. Strangely enough, one adopts some of the local road habits and become somewhat more aggressive, as we continue to do over the last mountain pass descending into Beirut which lies on the Mediterranean. At a certain point I realise that the rear brake is losing some of its breaking power so that we nearly coast into another vehicle. We decide to stop for a while, the back brake smoking and hissing, followed by a stench of something similar to smouldering chicken feathers, hair and burnt chain grease.
After half an hour, the brake is working again, so that we chug safely into Beirut, where we remain for a few days: a town with a history of a thousand bombs and grenades which is noticeable everywhere. The centre is being renovated in classical style, full of outdoor cafes, a promenade along the Mediterranean into which we take a dive. Bit crazy, really seeing that not too far away in the Lebanese mountains, as we have been told, there are a couple of ski resorts. We go in search of them so that our Enfield brings us up to the snowline. We are a popular sight there and the Enfield is mounted by a number of Lebanese beauties and is much photographed. We receive free drinks for two days long, reduced ski hire and are allowed to camp on the slopes. This produces a problem in that the tent pegs have no grip in the 1,5 metre deep snow. This is solved by using some old skis and ski sticks. It works! And so we ski for two whole days from the mountain right into our tent. In the evening the place is deserted and we take our après ski under a starry sky in between the virginally white mountains in blissful silence. Only the Enfield seems to shiver in the cold.
After this we descend to the coast to ‘do’ Tripoli where we just happen to stop at a restaurant. The owner invites us in for something to eat and drink; we are even allowed to use his mobile to ‘phone home – fantastic! After this we chuff onwards to Syria. There has been a bomb attack on the ex president which does nothing to improve the climate between the two countries, which is not a very comforting thought. In Syria we again visit Aleppo. We lose the trailer twice because it jumps of the tow bar connection, which we resolve with string and plastic.
We continue on through Turkey. Filling up the first time in Iskenderun caused a bit of a shock as it costs 2 dollars per litre. Through Turkey we take the B roads as often as possible, which makes for wonderful riding: mountains, forests, quaint villages, hospitable people and picturesque scenery in which we are free to camp out – even though progress is slow as a result. In the evenings we sit out round a camp fire on which the food is cooking enjoying a bottle of wine. It is, however, bitterly cold. On the evening of the fourth day it begins to snow so badly that we have to stop on top of a mountain pass and quickly put the tent up. We warm up some food by candle light and slip into our sleeping bags. Outside it snows ceaselessly – Caramba! Just hope we don’t get snowed in! But no worries, we have supplies for a week and water is no problem.
In the morning we are awoken by the chirping of a bird which probably means that the sun is up, which it is. We clear the entrance of the tent and see that the landscape is covered in a thick blanket of snow. The Enfield seems unmoved and stands there without shivering. The sun gleams on his white coat and for one moment it seems he is wiping away a tear………..sorry, mate, we do seem to bring you time and time again in the harshest corners of the world, don’t we? After Africa, this was the last thing we had expected. Now and again we see a lorry creeping pass and after a while decide to follow suit. The heartbeat of the Enfield somewhat impaired by the thick oil running through his veins, but he visibly enjoys the landscape, just as we do. The cold is no problem, the saddle sores have disappeared, tiredness vanishes in thin air (or as the Dutch say “as snow in the sun”).
e next. On most of the passes there lies a metre of snow and Thecla finds herself dismounting and walking at regular intervals. It takes us a couple of days to reach Cappadocia where we hike around for a couple of days. From Urgup we travel to central Anatolia to Konya, Sedysehir, Akseki………..caramba! It is so fantastically beautiful. We decide to take a southern route as it is becoming a struggle to keep warm in the tent at night. Our equipment is not really suitable for this climate, especially as it was geared for the African continent. Via Manavgat we travel along the coast to Antalya and ar Burdur climb once again into the mountains: Yesilova, Denizli, Alasehir, Koprubasi – again forests, mountains, rivers and more snow – Iznikgol, Yalova and Istanbul.
Here we remain for a few days together with Gerrit and Ria who are waiting here for a visa for Iran. We purchase some extra protective clothing here, gloves and thermal underwear. After 5 days we attempt to say farewell to the Asian continent, but again the Enfield seems reluctant to leave. The battery is flat , trailer tyre has a puncture, gear box leaks badly and somebody seems to have stood on the gear lever which is bent. However, after an hour of repairing, bending and a bump start from Gerrit and Ria we continue on our way in the direction of Bulgaria which presents some fantastic locations for camping rough You take a path into the forest, pitch your tent, find wood, build a fire, cook some food and when the birds call it a day, eat dinner in a total silence. The nights are also dead quiet, except for an occasional breeze through the branches and a distant howl of a wolf.
We travel along the Black Sea – Burgas, Varna – where we are invited into a café by the ‘Bulgarian Wolves’ a local patch club, which was very enjoyable. After this we enter Rumania, straight through Bucharest, Ploiseti, Sagov, where the temperature rises above freezing for the first time. The Enfield is doing its very best, not even the chain needs adjusting due to the Luuc’s grease which we have brought with us. We travel on through Transylvania into the Karpat range where we again see much snow. En route we hear that there are some medieval monasteries which are well worth a visit in the north east of the country. And so we chug on following the Moldavian border and Ukraine through Burkovian to Maramures. After this into Hungary where oil starts to piss out through the oil pressure switch. We solder this up and carry on towards Budapest. After this: Slovakia, The Czech Republic where we visit Prague and enjoy the Prague spring for a few days.
We carry out a final check for the last leg and then enter East Germany where we are immediately stopped by a police control. “Zie must virst remoof zat face vrom zie head lamp”. “Yes I will do that in the car park over there” “Nein, mine colleague says that zie must take it off schnell!” What’s the matter with these people here? Remove the Enfield’s face? Pair of woerstenbrod! 50 km further we are pulled again – this time for papers “Zie ef travelled from far, ja?” We have just come from South Africa. Two bewildered faces look us up and down. Our papers are returned and we continue on our journey home which we reach on 6 April.
The counter reads a total distance of 43,587 km. The Enfield had behaved in an unprecedented manner besides oil pump leakages, rupture in the oil filter lid and oil pressure switch, 3 broken throttle cables, two front lights, one back light, I broken shock breaker, 1 leaking stanchion, 3 charred clutch plates of which, two we relined with wine and champagne corks and after 33,000 km are still working well, one defect battery, a knackered front wheel bearing, 3 spark plugs, 8 punctures, 1 broken chain and once home it turned out that the rear brake lining was burnt. Not speaking of the tens of things which broke off, bent, came loose and ruptured mostly during the numerous falls. Besides this the Enfield’s counter went round the clock without a hiccup for the fourth time in Ethiopia.