Cape Town

With 50km to go, my chain jumps the sprocket for the first time.  So close to the finish line!  I have one more adjustment I can make, so I pull over on the highway and get to work.  At this point, there isn’t much left of the rear sprocket and the chain has stretched far enough that is doesn’t fit in the grooves of the sprocket any more.  It’s now riding on the peaks instead of the valleys.

I tighten the chain to the maximum distance possible and limp the bike into CT in the slow lane.

It’s been a great trip and a bit different that what I envisioned.  Certainly much easier riding than Mongolia or Central Asia, and not the logistical challenge I was hoping for either.  To sum it up, I guess I would say it was a social studies experience of the drought and famine problems facing many of the countries in East Africa, not to mention the population control problems the severely impoverished are facing.  This trip was enlightening to say the least.

I’ll be in CT for a week working on sea freight passage for the bike.  Looking forward to getting home.


The end is near

The traveling portion of my trip is starting to wind down.  Paved roads and good people doing noting really all that exciting. The further south I get, the more civilized life becomes. No more petrol bombs, native tribal face paintings, or even skinny little rock chucking bastards – I’ve even met several nice people from France.  Who would’ve thought.

I passed from Namibia to South Africa today through another easy to navigate border crossing.  Amazing how much easier they are when you can speak and read the language!

Today was a bit of a rough day as I dropped my bike twice for no real good reason. Total that brings me to about 5 times the bike has hit the dirt or pavement since I left Cairo.

  1. Sudan sandy road – I got caught out in some really deep sand while going a little too fast.
  2. Ethiopia border crossing –  As I casually leaned against the bike…over she went.
  3. Malawi sandy road – Again the sand caught me out, its really challenging on the big bike loaded down with gear
  4. South Africa border crossing – I’m not entirely sure I did it this time; I’m pretty sure the border guard was playing with it.
  5. South Africa – Again, I’m not really sure this one was me.  While I was bent over inspecting my wheel (See below as to why), she toppled on her side.

My trip almost came to a premature end today when a lady backed into me at a gas station.  She drove right up onto my front wheel in the process.   I have no idea how the bike held up, but it doesn’t appear to be much more damage than a slightly bent front rim.  I’ve got a very slight wobble at speed, but all in all, it seems pretty good.

I have 4 more days of riding left and my big bike is ready to hit the shop this winter for an overhaul.  I now have a slightly bent front wheel, leaking engine gasket, and most disturbing, a chain that is stretching significantly every day.  As we all know, metal will only stretch so far before it breaks.  I’m not really sure if it will make it then last 4000km or not, but I don’t have too many options at this point.  So I ride on….

This will be my last post until I reach Cape Town on the 3rd of Dec.  Here are a few photos from the last safari drive I did in North Namibia.  Click on any to enlarge.

Malawi and the Mob

I arrived in Malawi the following day to the lakeshore which reminds me of Mexican fishing villages.  A series of villages with plywood box built homes littered along the coastline, just above the grove of wooden fishing boats lining the beach shores.  A great scene of classic fishing villages, old wooden boats as well as dugout canoes still being used.

I found a great little African/Caribbean style resort in a secluded bay where I spent a couple of days.  The most amazing setting with standard African amenities; no hot showers, rolling power blackouts and no fan inside the room, and a great chef.  The setting was perfect and straight out of a Corona beer commercial on a deserted island.  I’d go back in a heartbeat.

I checked my email upon arrival and was alerted by the US Embassy STEP program, there was a coup in Zimbabwe last night and the president has been captured and thrown in jail.  The country is now under military control.  So… I spent a fair bit of the days running up an international data phone bill trying to line out a new route around the country that includes the west cost of Namibia instead of the direct route through Zimbabwe.  The next couple of weeks now looks like: Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Big Sky.

It could be the 100+ degree heat of the last couple days, or the Tanzanian border guard who sneezed a gross mixture of bodily fluids my direction, or the countless bug bites I have, but I don’t feel very well.  It’s always a little unsettling when I get sick in developing countries, as it could be a host of items my body isn’t used to.  The last time I got really sick, I way laying on a cold clay dirt floor of a subpar Uzbekistan B&B, with my own bodily fluids spewing uncontrollably out of me. It took 3 days of that before that fever broke – not a great experience.  Anyway… after crossing into Zambia tomorrow, I’ll try to find western style accommodations with A/C, something better than a dirt floor, pop a few pills, drink some whiskey and hope for the best.

Leaving Malawi was quite a scene.   There was a semi-truck overturned in the two-lane road and completely blocking passage.  Most vehicles were parked alongside the road, waiting for what certainly wouldn’t be a quick fix to get the road clear.  A brave few in 4×4’s drove off embankment, down into the thick brush for an alternate route back to the road.  I decided to drop in, and as soon as I entered the brush was quickly surrounded by a mob of about 30 villagers all carrying “beating sticks”, shovels, hoes, or any other weapon they could thing to bring.  They surrounded the bike and demanded I pay for passage.  What’s a guy to do when surrounded by a mob of farmers…? I exchanged a few glances with several of the village people to understand they meant business, gladly paid their “toll” and waited for them to clear the way for me.  Makes you wonder if they caused the truck accident so they could capitalize on the toll road business.

Had another odd encounter just before crossing into Zambia.  I see a procession of cars coming slowly coming down the road in my direction.  They’re swerving all over the road, hanging out of windows, riding on the tops of trucks, waving flags, honking horns and yelling.   As they approached, I assumed they would leave enough road for me to pass, so I moved to the shoulder – I was wrong.  At the last moment before impact with the lead vehicle, I turned the bike down into the ditch and somehow kept it upright as they passed.  Not sure what they were celebrating or protesting, I imagine it has something to do with the overthrown president in Zimbabwe.  I worked my way up out of the ditch and onto the border crossing.

Thank god for a little excitement today – ever since I left North Africa, the trip has been a bit of a yawn.


Tanzania and the Roach Hotel

Tanzania – A blur to say the least.

The “Northern Circuit” as they a call it, is a series of National Parks in the northern section of Tanzania.  It’s the same ecosystem as Southern Kenya and in some instances connected with the Kenyan parks, as well as the same migratory animals.  Having just come off several days of safari in Kenya, I couldn’t bring myself to park the bike again after the short four-hour ride that put me in Arusha, Tanzania.  So…I’m “skipping” Tanzania.

I left Arusha at 7am and drove through the brutal heat of the central Tanzania plains to arrive in Mbeya at 7:00 that evening.  I did 1100 km on the bike with very little food and certainly no rest stops.  It was pit stop style, rally driving at speeds I shouldn’t have been reaching.  My highlight of the day was the 100+ km of off road detours around construction zones, along with a couple of windy roads up mountain passes.  It really was some fun driving for the day – I’ve missed the long days on the bike.

I arrived at the hotel to find out they were fully booked, but they generously put me up in their employee quarters.  If I would’ve known about the infestation of cockroaches, I would’ve opted for my tent.  The roaches kept getting inside of the mosquito net, crawling to the top, then dropping on me in the night.  It made for a restless night of sleep.  Still, maybe better than sleeping outside with the rat and snake problem they are currently having.

At least the shower was warm.



Education in Kenya

I’ve been having a great time in Kenya and spending quite a bit of time checking out the locals, both animals and people.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with some members of the Samburu tribe in central Kenya.  What I’ve learned has continued to enlighten me on the social and economic problems many Kenyan’s are facing.  Here’s a snapshot.

The Samburu are one of the local tribes still holding onto some of their traditional beliefs and patterns.  They do not hunt (as no Kenyan is allowed to) or gather for food.  Their diet consists of corn, goat milk and blood (which they cook several different ways).  They don’t often slaughter their animals and have very few livestock consisting of goats, sheep and a few cows.  They cannot produce enough food to feed their rapidly growing population, so they are primarily reliant on economic aid in the form of maize (corn).

They circumcise both men and women – yes, they still circumcise women so they are “less inclined” to fool around with another man.  Each male will take as many as 5 wives and each will bear 5 children on average.  I couldn’t get an answer on what happens to a woman if she is fertile, but my understanding is she is cast out of the tribe, never to be seen again.  Basically, left in the bush for carnivore food from what a local tells me.  When asked about their polygamy belief and population growth; their belief is the more children they produce, the better chance the children will bring the parents wealth, in the form of livestock.  Although they desire wealth in the form of livestock, all funds are pooled with the tribe for purchase of supplies by one of the elders.

Some of the Samburu are starting to attend school, but even the local schooling may be cost prohibitive as they don’t have any real source of income.  The strongest and smartest kids do not attend school, as these kids are needed to tend the livestock.  The less desirable kids are sent off to school.  A few of the local tribes are now starting to get on board with tourism, by the means of allowing tourists into their camp to take photos and ask questions.  This is what the Massai has been doing for the past 10 years or so, and have become a fair bit more successful by selling some handmade crafts.  Unfortunately, the Samburu are a fair bit behind with the quality and extent of any product.

As many already know and as I’m just learning, with rapid population growth, no schooling, no source of economic income, the problems the tribal populations are facing are growing quicker than the economic aid can sustain.  Obviously this why education is so important to everyone living in developing countries.

Here’s a different life story of a Kenyan.

A young man from the Meru tribe attends school from a very young age.  He learns to hunt and gather from the time he was able to walk (and when the Kenyan could still hunt).  He continues his education through high school, then starts a career as a “driver” for locals and tourists needing a lift.   Shares his knowledge of the outdoors with his passengers and turns this into a National Park “driving” job.  A very humble term he uses to describe his job.  He’s a guide.

After some years of guiding in Africa, starts his own “driving”  business and builds a consistent and repeat clientele from around the world.  He does such a stellar job with his business, ends up being mentioned in the New York Times as one of the star guides in Kenya, still referring to himself as a driver.  Keep in mind, he is still an owner operator – no employees.

The man takes his profits from his guiding business and buys a second piece of property where he starts growing bananas, raising cattle (with primarily purposed for banana fertilizer), and goats. This is his retirement as he describes it.  He has employees that watch over his property, tend his livestock and harvest his fruit for sale.

I had the pleasure of spending 4 days with John, his Christian name, touring several different parts of Kenya and doing my best to blend in as a white local.  We’d spend the days driving around viewing animals and talking about life.  What a wonderful person with a wealth of Kenyan knowledge.

With education and ambition, there appears to be no reason any person in any part of the world can’t succeed.   What a major issue some of these countries are facing without the proper support to build schools, educate teachers and promote the “elders” to allow all of their children to attend schooling.

I am know understanding the double edge sword the NGO’s are facing by supplying aid.  They are certainly keeping some people alive with food source aid, but also enabling the same uneducated people to rely on the food subsidy without any required change.

It appears Ethiopia is leading this problem with the overpopulation of the uneducated, with no clear answer on how to handle the problems.  But in the meantime, a big Thank You to all of the hardworking NGO folks out there who are donating their time, money and lives to make a difference!

The Central African rainy season is sticking around this year, which is good for the locals, but bad for motorcycle travel.  I won’t be making it up to Uganda do to mudslides on some of the routes I had planned, so will be headed straight into Tanzania today and start working my way down south.  Looking forward to another long cold and wet ride today…

The day of my birth

Today is my birthday and a day off so my body can recover a bit.

I spent the morning at the “crocodile market” as it’s called, looking for crocodiles with a pretty Italian woman named Sofia and her Spanish friend, Mariana.  They were staying at the same “lodge” and I ended up being the third wheel on the tour, as I was the only loner in the crowd who didn’t have anyone to go to market with.

The crocodile market isn’t a market as one would suspect where you can buy yourself a snazzy pair of croc cowboy boots or a sporty croc leather jacket, it turns out it’s just the name someone gave a beach on the lake where crocodiles lay around sunning themselves.  As it is flood season in Ethiopia, the market was apparently closed as we only saw two crocs.

Regardless it was a fine morning and I was in good company with Sofia and Mariana.  As it turns out, Sofia has spent the last year living in Ethiopia, helping homeless children with adoption, setting up schooling for the kids and building women & children community programs.  Basically, a really good person who is dedicating this portion of her life to helping others.  No shit, what are the odds?  Although I was certainly enlightened on the issues Ethiopians are facing, it didn’t change my thinking that general financial aid is just making the problem worse.

Mariana was also volunteering her time to helping the kids. Seriously, kinda uncanny I meet these two.  When not helping out in the orphanages, I’m pretty sure Mariana is a political refugee from Barcelona.  She was quite cagey when I pressed her for info on the situation there.  I think helping impoverished children is her cover.

Anyway, I wished them the best after the market, as they were headed into town to meet up with another good Samaritan who enjoys helping others before themselves.  Not exactly the trip I’m on….

They went to town and I went to the bar that night. What else does a guy do in Arba Minch on his birthday when he’s alone?  So I bought a bottle, sat at the bar and silently drank, while wishing I was home with my BFF – Nettie.

Tomorrow I leave for the Kenya border.

Skinny little rock tossing bastards

After a few days traveling through Ethiopia, I really see no change from one location to the other. I’m not sure what to say, other than Ethiopia has issues.  I’m sure we all remember the TV commercials with the little starving babies and a message at the end telling the fat Americans how much they waste in food every year, and where to send their money to help.

This may be where the problem started.  In 2017, the US will pump in $454 million in food and medical aid to Ethiopia.  Here’s how I see it.  You have a garage with a few mice in it.  Now throw a handful of corn into the garage every day and see how that helps with your mice problem.  The mice won’t leave the garage and will only multiply.  Now your mice problem is much worse, and to top it off, some of the mice will start dying because their all competing for the same food.  So, now you need to throw two handfuls of corn into the garage to help with the starving mice.  See where this is going?

With no real infrastructure and no apparent desire to practice birth control, I don’t see this problem getting any better.   Most women I see working the fields beside the roads have a baby on their back and or one in the oven.  Where are the other 4 they’ve already had?  The kids are uneducated, flat out ignorant, and certainly not attending school.  They’re hanging out on the roadside or in the small towns and tossing rocks at people like me.

I’ve traveled through what some would call some fairly “sketchy” areas, but for the first time, passing through some of the towns in central Ethiopia, I was really concerned for my well-being.  Not in a truly intentionally harmful way, but in a completely reckless, somebody is going to hurt me way.

On my way to Arba Minch, I was intentionally ran off the road while passing a car, had a machete pointed inches away from me while riding through town; I thought I was going to impale myself on it – way too close, and got blasted in the ribcage by a baseball size object at 60 mph.  It left a mark, and not an emotional one.

When I’m off he bike and walking through town, it’s a different story.  Sure, there’s lots of begging and prodding, but not the harmful type I experience on the road.  Not sure what it’s going to take to help the problem, but population control seems like a great place to start.


Ethiopia first impressions

After a couple days in Cairo, Egypt, I can only describe it as apocalyptic with “rats” running everywhere.  A city so old and broken down, lack of infrastructure, too many people for the amount of housing and no employment to find housing if they wanted it.  I spent part of a day walking streets and alleys that tourists done walk down.  I didn’t take any photos as it doesn’t seem right capturing images of the extreme poverty.  “Hey mister, let me take a photo of that splintered bone sticking out of the end of your finger.  Hey lady, I realize you cant see me, because you don’t have any eyeballs, but I’m going to take a photo of you, to show people back home.”

Extreme poverty with the worst possible conditions you can imagine.  Old Cairo reminded me of rats – not that the people are bad or have any control over their situation, but certainly very overpopulated with an older population and nowhere for the people to go, nor any way to get there.  People who are just a bunch of rats crawling all over themselves.  Wicked sad and depressing.

So, if Cairo is filled with rats, Ethiopia is filled with mice.  There is obviously an extreme overpopulation problem here as well.  I’m not talking about the tourist cities or areas tourists frequent, but the backroad villages I pass through on a daily basis.  The children are like mice running everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE.  With nowhere else to go, they line the roads and city streets, begging, pushing, shoving, and grabbing at you – they’re crawling all over the place.  With this may children, it’s quite apparent how pack mentality sets in and bad things happen.  Now, put a machine gun in one of their hands and look out – when the young men are packed up, they become completely unruly.  There isn’t a place you can stop along the road without kids coming out of nowhere instantly mobbing you.  I know it’s sad to say, but it’s like walking into a barn infested with mice.  The countryside is literally infested with children.  Ethiopia’s population problem is going to explode in the nest 10 – 20 years when all of these kids grow up.  The mice will become rats with nowhere to go.

So far, it’s really just sad traveling here.  I’m headed south tomorrow to the capital of Addis Abba.  I’m going to try and find a place to stay outside of the city and skirt my way around it on Sunday.


Ethiopian border

A nice drive through southern Sudan to the border crossing, where I arrive in plenty of time to still arrive in Gondar later in the afternoon.  My good fortune in Sudan continues as I immediately pick up several people at the border who want to help me get through.  It’s a good think, because instead of the bureaucratic mess I had on entry, this crossing is anything but formal.  No gates, no guards, no real delineation between borders except 2 ropes strung across the country lines.  I quickly get my passport stamped from a shack about a half block off the main road, get my carnet stamped at another non-descript building and I’m into Ethiopia in about a half hour.

The same man Sudanese man who pointed me in the right direct on the Sudan side, follows me to Egypt and does the same again.  Immigration is very non-formal with a young nonmilitary Ethiopian woman working the desk to process my paperwork.  She’s what I would consider average looks, weight and height.  A very nice and helpful lady who was very personable and made the experience quite quick and painless.

The next and final building is similar, an office cut into the side of a shipping container with two desks and a young nonmilitary man anxious to help me out.  I sit down and let him know how easy the previous process was and how nice the lady was.  He says, “oh, the large lady”, I give him a puzzled look.  He responds again, “are you talking about the fat lady?”.  As I’m sitting there looking at the skinny little Ethiopian who weighs about 90 lbs, it dawns on me; this guy thinks anyone over 100 lbs is fat.  How funny.

We begin the process and it’s going quite smooth until he asks to see my motorcycle documents, so I hand him my carnet, which is an international document showing ownership of the vehicle, required to cross the majority of country borders.  He tells me Ethiopia doesn’t recognize carnet’s, so I hand him a copy of my title (registered in the business name).  He reviews and then asks for the Ethiopian vehicle authorization paperwork.  This is where it started to go south.  I don’t have any such paperwork, nor have I ever heard of it, so I try to re-direct him to the carnet, title, authorization of use from RMR, amongst articles of incorporation from the business showing me as the sole owner.  He makes a couple of calls, then somberly tells me I cant enter into the country with the bike.  He recommends I send someone to the capital (which is two days away) to secure the paperwork for me so I can continue on.  So….I can’t get into Ethiopia, I can’t get back into Sudan because I had a one entry visa – I’m essentially stuck between the borders.  There are movies about this sort of thing – stuck in no man’s land, and in this case in the middle of f!*cking nowhere.  No problem – I subtly offer the young man a bribe to look the other way and I give him my word I’ll go straight to the capital and get this worked out.

As it turns out, I may have come across the only border guard who takes offense at the offer and threatens me jail time for the mere mention of a bribe.  He steps out and cools off for a bit before coming back to find out what I want to do – like I have any choice in the matter.  I go through my documents with him one more time and urge him to call his superiors to get authorization.  Whether Ethiopia recognizes the carnet or not, it is still an international document showing ownership of the vehicle.  He picks up the phone and after a half hour or so, apologizes to me and says I may pass.

Holy shit that was close!!!