Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Everything Can be Mended with Duct Tape

Angela writes:

So now I must explain the duct tape across the windshield of my bike that is holding the plastic together.  It happened during our 500 km + of dirt/sand off road riding in order to see the sand dunes of Soussesvlei, Namibia.  For the most part the road was hard packed dirt that sometimes had small piles of gravel on it’s surface.  The road also had piles of slippery sand across it that lasted anywhere from  a meter to a kilometer and varied in depth from a few inches to a few feet.  For the really deep sand I would slow down to first gear and paddle my bike with my feet to get across it.  Back in Cape Town I had had Zimpeeway the cobbler add about 6 inches of rubber to the bottom of my riding boots so that now I can touch the ground better on my tall bike. The obvious sand patches were not a problem but I found that it was the sand patches that weren’t as deep that could really sneak up on you. During the first day of our dirt riding I was concentrating very hard on riding slow and careful.  When I approached sand I made sure that I was going slow enough upon approach so that I could speed up in the sand to make my front tire skip over the sand and let my back tire with it’s thick, solid tread carry me through it.  I was glad to make it to our campsite that night after 100km. On the second day  with my confidence boosted from the success of day one, I decided to ride a bit faster. This is when I hit a sand patch and fished tailed four times before I landed on the ground.  I cracked my windshield in half and ripped my pannier off the bike (the opposite one from my gravel fall back in Argentina– yay!).  I wasn’t hurt, just surprised and  Daryll and Pat came to my rescue with duct tape and a huge metal pole to straighten out the frame for my bike’s panniers.   Days 3, 4 & 5 of this Namibia dirt adventure were uneventful as I watched out for sand, controlled my speed and stood up on my pegs almost the entire rest of the way!  I looked well ahead in the distance while riding and when I arrived at any sand patches I took Pat’s advice and said convincingly to myself “I’ve already done this bit of sand!” which has successfully helped me ride it upright on two wheels:)  For now our riding has turned back to tarmac but I am anticipating more dirt days to come.


After our stunning visit to Soussesvlei as per Daryll’s previous post, we rode on to the Atlantic Ocean at Swakomund – a German town in what feels like the middle of nowhere.  This is the second largest city in Namibia and we were content to have internet access to catch up on emailing and our blogs. It was also Easter weekend so we indulged in some chocolate treats which would never have lasted in the desert due to the heat so we had to eat them all and quick!   Upon arrival in Swakomund we noticed a dirty, fast flowing river about 100 meters across, draining into the ocean.  Prior to the week before the “river  bed” was a dry valley that hadn’t seen water in over 30 years!  Due to the rains in the northern part of Namibia (the most in about 80 years apparently) there is a great deal of water flowing to the middle of the country and then out into the ocean. The ocean waves were brown with sand, dirt and sticks. Nobody ventured into the water.      

Currently we are camping in Tsumeb – roughing it with our Olympic sized swimming pool, internet cafe, and full laundry facilities. We have again met up with our friend Tom who has healed his foot and is ready to ride with us again which we make us a pack of 6 on 5 bikes.  Right now Daryll is doing an oil change on both the bikes and I periodically return to camp to dry out some of our stuff that got wet in the tent during last night’s thunderstorm.  I keep having to chase frogs away from climbing under our tent as they are attracted to the cool, moist shade under there. So far the bugs haven’t been too bad but there are lots of them and so many different kinds - 6 inch grasshoppers and praying mantis’s, huge cockroach/spider things basking in the sunshine on the road (as per Daryll’s last post).  We are starting to get into malaria areas so we have started taking our daily malaria pills as of yesterday.  As for animals, so far we’ve seen a crocodile basking in the sunshine on the highway, baboons and springbok running across the roads, monkey’s swinging in the trees, herds of ostridge running through the fields, and two giraffes walking through a private game park along side the highway.  

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Dunes of Namibia

Daryll writes:

Our ride towards Soussesvlei was going to be a long tedious ride as the only road to get there was a gravel/sandy road.  Since January, Namibia has had more rain than the entire of last year, but we were in luck, as it hadn’t rained for the last few days and with the baking sun during the day, the road was hard packed and baked solid in some spots.  Pat and Dom where up front and after every 30km or so, would stop for a break as Angela and I joined them.  At one of the rest stops, Dom had taken a photo of a local farm worker and his family and printed it out on his small polaroid printer.  The farm worker was ecstatic as Dom gave him the photo of all of us together.

The road was good, however there were a few sandy spots which got a bit tricky and had us slowing down to almost a crawl.  We spent 4 days riding in the dirt and had a few water crossings enroute and thanks to Dom, got a few amazing pics of us along the way. 

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles
We camped in a few small town and got in our first few real Africa sunsets and sunrises.  At one of our campsites, we met an Australian couple coming from the opposite direction that gave us some tips on road conditions and the heads up that we weren’t able to ride our bikes into the Soussesvlei National Park

Sunset in Helminghausen, Namibia

Sunrise in Helminghausen, Namibia

Even though we weren’t able to ride into the park, we decided to camp there nonetheless and take a shuttle into the park the next morning to watch the sunrise and spend some time in the Dunes of Namibia.  Our shuttle driver took us to Dune 17, which was fortunate for us, we where the only ones there and away from the hordes of tourists that had already started climbing the more popular dunes.  As the sun rises, the colors of the dune changes and goes from a deep red to an orange tone. 

Dune 17, Namibia
We also stopped off at Dead Vlei (Dead Pan), where the river was cut off by the dunes surrounding the pan, which later dried up leaving behind 900 year old trees still being preserved as there is no moisture in the air.

Dead Vlei
Our last stop was at the most photographed Dune in the world, Dune 45 and those that have visited us at our home in Vancouver would have seen this photo that I had taken 11 years old.  As it started to warm up, we hit the road yet again to another small town (Solitaire) which is known for it’s apple pie.  So even before setting up our campsite, it was time to indulge in some divine apple pie, yum!

Dune 45
As we left Solitaire and headed towards to touristy dune town of Swakopmund, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn again.


 New photos added to the Namibia photo album.
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Riding into Real Africa

Daryll writes:

We spent four wonderful evenings with our couchsurf hosts (Marlies & Chris) in Cape Town.  There were so generous and hospitable to us and it was a sad farewell as we rode off to try to catch up with our friends who where waiting for us in Luderitz, Namibia.  We hadn’t planned to see much of South Africa as we would always come back.  South Africa for us was a stop over point to visit family, get some R&R in and have a few things looked at on the bikes.  We had two long riding days and headed for Springbok in the Northern Cape about 550km from Cape Town.  It was an uneventful ride, but the ride reminded us so much of the harsh Patagonia conditions with the fierce wind beating on us.  For some reason, we failed to fill up in Springbok thinking that there would be a gas station at the South African border town of Voolsdrift, but with the wind, Angela’s bike went into reserve 50km before the border.  Not wanting to take any chances, we stopped off on the side of the road and transferred 2,5 liters from my bike into her bike and kept our fingers crossed that the gas station would be close. 

As we rode up to the South African side and no gas station in sight, Angela’s bike went into reserve for the 2nd time that morning.  We quickly learnt that the gas station was about 3 km into the Namibian side.  Lesson learnt and we have been filling up whenever we see a gas station.  It is going to be a long road ahead.  Our passports were stamped out of South Africa and the Immigration guy questioned why I was entered into the country as a citizen vs. a tourist, so had to explain about the problem I had arriving in Johannesburg.  Once that was taken care off, we went over to the tax refund office to see if we could get our VAT back on some of our purchases.  We hope that once we arrive back in Vancouver, we will have a cheque waiting for us.  We crossed the border into Namibia and it now seemed that our Africa trip was really starting.

Crossing into Namibia was a relatively easy process, but we did have to pay US$20 each for a road tax.  After a few miles into the barren landscape, we started coming across the most gigantic bugs on the road and at first I tried to avoid them, but after a while got tired and just ran right over them as the road was littered with these bugs.

Giant Bug
After the border, we headed for a small non-descript town called Keetmanshoop where we camped at a Municipal Campground where we where the only ones in the campground.  It was a little unnerving as the entire campground was surrounded with barbed wire, but a security guard had come by to let us know that he will be around the campground that night and keep an eye on us.  Some service.  We set up our tent on a grassy bit and after dinner, as the clouds rolled in, had a spectacular lightening display. 

We left Keetmanshoop the next morning and headed west to Luderitz to meet up with Tom, Pat, Chris and Dom who had arranged for us to stay with Brad, another couchsurfer.  Brad was with the US peace Corp and was assisting at the local school by teaching English. 

Pat (Africa Twin); Dom (BMW 1200GS); Tom (V-Strom 650)
Luderitz is a small town stuck on the edge of nothingness and was developed to sustain the diamond mines close by.  Nothing much happens here, but the church overlooking the town gave some spectacular views.

On the way into Luderitz, we stopped at a ghost town, Kolmanskop.  This town was abandoned when the mining companies pulled out and now sand fills in the homes.  There are a few mines still in operation and there are several signs all over the dunes warning people not to enter.

Tom, had a fall the day before leaving Cape Town and had visited a doctor in Luderitz who had suggested that he needed a few more days of rest before riding, so he decided to head towards Windhoek and the rest of us towards Soussesvlei.  The others had stopped off for breakfast while Ang & I stopped off at the bank and upon our return I found I had a flat.  Upon inspection, I found a 2 inch metal spike embedded into my new tire.  Pat noticed it from the restaurant and came to help change the tube.  30mins later and with several onlookers, the tire was removed, tube replaced and tire re-fitted and we were all hitting the road.

Tire repair on the streets of Luderitz

New photos added to the Namibia photo album.
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The Mother City

Daryll writes:

Our friends (Tom, Pat, Chris and Dom) had decided to leave Cape Town and head north a day after we arrived, but had agreed to go slow so that we can finally catch up with them.  With our free time in the “Mother City”, we took in a few of the tourist sites, Robben Island being the main attraction and had a set of tires (TKC 80’s) fitted to both bikes. 
New TKC 80's
I also picked up a spare rear for each bike which we have strapped to the back.  It’s extra weight, but we would probably need new rear’s around Kenya. 

Vancouver - 16,912km
Robben Island sits 11km from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront from downtown Cape Town and gained notoriety for it’s imprisonment of South African political prisoners and the incarceration of former President Nelson Mandela during the apartheid years.

V&A Waterfront

Table Mountain
With spectacular views of the city and Table Mountain, the prison was a harsh climate for prisoners though.  Our tour guide was a former prisoner himself and gave a candid insight of what life was like inside the prison. 

Entrance to Robben Island Prison
Many prisoners were sent here for speaking out against the then National Party of South Africa and the inequalities against Blacks, Coloureds and Indians.  I can go on about Robben Island and the years of apartheid, but this isn’t a blog about South African politics, so will shorten it to a few pics.

Mandela's Cell

The Rainbow Nation

New photos added to the South African photo album.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Coastal South Africa

Daryll writes:

After spending a few days in Durban catching up with family and a few close friend and running around looking for a stove as our’s decided to pack up, we made our way down the south coast.  The stove saga started in Piet Retief when I tried to use it for breakfast and realized that it didn’t work.  Even after taking the stove apart and fiddling around with it, we had no luck and decided to give up on it.  I really like the Coleman 442 stove that we had, but alas it failed after 7 months of daily use. 

All the store attendants of the camping stores that we visited looked at me funnily when I asked for a stove that ran off gasoline or was multi-fuel as they’ve never heard of such thing, yup, they’ve never heard of the MSR brand of stoves.  I’m still shocked.  We finally gave up hope of trying to find a stove in South Africa and got our friend Harry back in Vancouver to purchase a MSR multi-fuel stove and courier it out to Cape Town, Thanks Harry – you are a life saver.

Durban's World Cup Soccer Stadium
We wanted to go up the Sani Pass and into Lesotho or even do a part of the Drakensburg range after leaving Durban, but with the daily rain, and the knowledge that our friends, Tom, Pat & Christine where already a few days ahead of us and wanted to catch up to them so that we could ride together into Africa, we decided against it and continued down the coast.  I did however stop in Umzinto, the little town that I grew up in, stopped outside my old high school and went onto the one main road of the town and stop by our old home.  The town still has one main street, but boy have things changed.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there again.  There were people everywhere, the traffic was insane and it was a dusty old town that wasn’t anything like what it was when I lived there.  I was probably last there about 23 years ago, and things have changed.  It was definitely nice growing up in a small town, but feel sorry for any teenager that now lives there.  We had an early stop that day as the heavens opened up on us as it did everyday whilst we were in Durban.  We had passed a caravan park, so as it started to rain, decided to turn around a go back a few km’s and hunker down for the afternoon/evening.  It was a bit pricey, but once we had our tent set-up, we stationed ourselves in the entertainment room for the rest of the evening and planned out our route for the next few days, so a productive day after all.

Dusty Umzinto
As we were forced to shorten our riding day on our first day out of Durban due to the rain, it made our ride to East London a 530km day the next day.  We meandered through the former Transkei and everyone in Durban had warned us about the dangers of this area.  It seemed peaceful enough during the day, but not somewhere I’d want to drive or let alone ride through at night.  There were animals all over the road.  This is meant to be the main highway that runs down the coast to some of the most beautiful coastline of South Africa and it had animals all over the place.  The road was in fairly good condition and bad sections were being worked on, but it puts Central America to shame with the lawlessness of the farmers letting their cattle and goats wonder the highway.  So it was slow going at times and especially when we were stuck in traffic as the main road went through many small villages along the way.

We finally got to East London around 5:30pm and gone are the days when the sun sets at 8:30-9pm.  Here it sets around 6pm.  After a few wrong turns, we managed to find the Hostel that we were planning on camping at and learnt that the only parking that they had was on the main beachfront road.  They did suggest that they had a security guard to watch over the vehicles/bikes that were there.  I wasn’t too comfortable with the idea and after such a long day, the thought of having now to put up the tent in the dark, lug all our stuff from the road up into the camping area wasn’t appealing and had learnt about a Backpackers that wasn’t too far from us that had secure parking for the bikes from a local fisherman, so decided that we will settle there for the night.  It didn’t take us too long to be seated at a local restaurant as well and we were in bed soon after.

The next few days were to be short days as we stopped off in Port Elizabeth to visit family for the night, then on to Mossel Bay were we stayed at one of the nicest caravan parks with the most amazing sea view from our tent which wasn’t expensive either, and then on to Cape Agulhas, the most southerly tip of Africa.  Our visit to Ushuaia was just over two months ago and was still fresh in our minds, and now to be at the most southerly tip of Africa was another tick off our checklist.  It wasn’t the same feeling though as we had ridden almost 25,000km to get to Ushuaia, and had only done about 2,500km after arriving in Johannesburg to get to Cape Agulhas.  We had our customary picture with the sign which also demarcated the meeting point of both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.  One is meant to see a color difference as the Indian Ocean brings a warm current to the shores of South Africa while the Atlantic is the “cold” ocean.

Cape Agulhas
We were keeping tabs on our friends Tom, Pat and Christine, and now Dom an Englishman that spent the last 6 months between Alaska and Panama and was also setting his sights on his ride north (The Dom Way Round), so arranged to stay with the same couchsurfing host and touch base with them for the evening as they were planning to head out the next day.  Our hosts in Cape Town are Marlies & Chris and have extended their home to not one biker, but a family of bikers over the last few days.  On our first evening here, they treated us to the most amazing snook (local fish) on a braai (bbq).  The others have left, so we hope to catch up with them over the next few weeks as we still need to do our sightseeing around Cape Town, have new tires put on our bikes (TKC80’s, just fitted today) and patiently wait for our Mountain Equipment Co-Op stove to arrive.

New photos added to the South Africa album.
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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hit the Road Jack

Angela writes:

The weekend before departing Johannesburg Daryll’s sister, brother-in-law, and nephew took us to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre where we were loaded onto a large safari truck to drive through the enclosure amongst the 60 or so resident cheetahs.  Cheetahs are the fastest running creatures on earth and reach speeds of up to120 km/hr.  They are each beautifully decorated with their own unique pattern of spots.  In the wild cheetahs often get their food stolen by lions because after they run so fast to catch their prey, they have to rest from exhaustion for like 15 minutes before they are able to consume their food.  This is where the lazy lions come in and muscle the meal away from the cheetahs.  As fascinating as it was to watch all these exotic animals, it was equally enjoyable to watch our 2 year old nephew Kuval embark on his this wild adventure. He held on tight to the bars of the seat in front of him while we bumped along in the truck and he watched the big cats enthusiastically.  Later when we were allowed to walk on the ground in front of 3 fenced-in cheetahs,  these young cats started stalking Kuval!  They realized he was tiny, young and most likely easy prey and they would not take their eyes off of him.  We were all perfectly safe from attack however it was really scary watching these wild cats hissing and sizing up our baby boy!


While maintaining our bikes in Johannesburg we were lucky to meet with local rider Andy and his wife Michelle who were very helpful with local tips and tricks. They were also hosting another group of friends that we must introduce you to - Tom, Pat and Chris as they are fellow motorcycle riders from North America, who will be travelling the same route up Africa as us and we expect to meet up with them often on our journey north.  Tom is from Bellingham, Washington and is riding his Suzuki V-Strom 650 http://tomrinbellingham.blogspot.com/ and Chris & Pat are from Montreal, Quebec riding two-up on their Honda Africa Twin 750 www.sur2roues.blogspot.com .

During the hours spent throughout our stay in Johannesburg watching World Cup Cricket, news reports on North African politics and eating delicious home-cooked meals, we also visited with many family and friends.  This was only my second time in South Africa and the first time since we’ve been married, so it was great to meet and reacquaint myself with so many family members on Daryll’s side.  Time flies while you’re having fun and it was very quick that our departure day from Johannesburg had arrived on Thursday March 31st.  Our bikes were packed and our panniers were full with as much food from Daryll’s mom and sister as we could possibly carry and we hit the road on a sunny morning heading for Piet Retief, South Africa.

After weaving our way out of the big city, the day’s ride was peaceful as we sped by windy fields of long grasses and cosmos flowers. 

We were stopped several times for road construction but passed the odd town and speeding train, and eventually arrived without incident at our first campsite or “Caravan Park” as they are called here, in the town of Piet Retief.  The caravan park was home to some of the managers of the road construction crew that we had passed during the day and the first character to welcome us to the park was Dani.  Dani came over to our site to look at our motorcycles and in about 15 minutes told us his very interesting but difficult life story.  He explained that he used to be in the Special Forces in Angola and that many of his army friends in the past few years had committed suicide.  He said he had recently stopped drinking, he was close to being 50 years of age and was still trying to deal with the experiences he had had as a 16 year old soldier fighting in the Angola war.  Later that evening as he was preparing to drive to his permanent home for the weekend, he came back over to our site to say goodbye.  Since his last visit he had also strapped a semi-automatic rifle across his back to ensure his safety for his nighttime drive! I sure am glad he liked motorcycles and called us friends.

As Dani exited stage left, our second welcoming character came by our site and proceeded to give us unsolicited travel recommendations for the whole of southern Africa!  Ross, of the “Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus South Africa” fame, had the best intentions of providing good travel advice to us but for an hour he touted off vague details about a guy he knows who he can’t remember the name of, in such-and-such town located by the gas station, who may or may not be retired, who back in the day ran a good tour/restaurant/hotel business.  I understand Ross simply wanted companionship while walking down his memory lane, but the worst part of this one-way conversation was that he kept insisting that I write all the details down on paper!  Just when I couldn’t take it anymore Ross went back to his cabin with the promise of returning later that evening with a letter of introduction for us to show to his friends when we caught up with them.  He very kindly called on us several hours later while Daryll was asleep and I was reading by flashlight in the tent. As much as we missed the comfort of our home-sweet-home tent that we hadn’t been in for six weeks, it was impossible to hide at night from late callers!

The next day of riding was along the border of South Africa and another country called Swaziland where we were stopped often in the baking sun for road construction. 

That afternoon we arrived at the third ocean of our adventure, the Indian Ocean, beside a breezy little city called Richard’s Bay.  Driving along in Richard’s Bay we found signs warning of hippos crossing along the main roads and signs asking us not to feed the monkeys. We were happy to arrive in Richard’s Bay to visit Daryll’s friends Ashnee & Wayne and their children Tyra and Aiden. That night we went for a lovely water-front tour and dinner beside the bay.  The morning was spent unpacking and blowing up a big bright pink & purple bouncy castle for Tyra’s birthday party that afternoon.  Definitely a fun first for us!

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