Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Quick Update

Daryll writes:

Yup, we have been slow in updating the blog over the last few days, but finding wi-fi now is few and far between.  We are currently in Arusha, Tanzania and going out on Safari for the next 4 days to the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater and should have a few more blog posts picking up from Dar Es Salaam when we get back.  We are doing well, bikes are fine, just need a few basic maintenance items done once in Nairobi.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just Another Day in Africa

Daryll writes:

The next morning, we spent some time posing for photos in front of a boabab tree before riding through the Mikumi National Park. 

After riding through 2 other parks and not seeing too many wild animals, I wasn’t expecting too much from this park.  The sign didn’t convince me either.

Boy was I wrong.  It wasn’t too long when we stopped after spotting some Springbok and Wildebeest, the first Wildebeest we’ve seen thus far.  Going on safari is always spectacular, but when you can see wildlife wandering around from the saddle of our motorcycles reminds me how amazing this trip is becoming.  Just Another Day in Africa!

On the opposite side of the road, there were a few Giraffe looking curiously at us.  We pulled the bikes over immediately and tried to get the post card perfect shot of bike and wildlife together.  Dom, Ang and I were parked on the side of the road, helmets & gloves off and walking around and not giving the possible dangers a second thought. 

After watching the giraffe and zebra cross the road, we moved on and spotted a baby elephant in the distance.  There wasn’t much else, however as we passed the main gate to the park, Dom slows down and yells that he remembered staying there a few years ago within minutes of going on safari in this park, they had spotted a bunch of lions.  Glad that we were back on the bikes when he decided to bring this up.

As we slowly got closer to Dar Es Salaam, the more people we saw wearing traditional outfits whilst the traffic got heavier and there were more and more people at the side of the road that had set up little stalls selling their goods.  Tanzanian drivers are insanely crazy as well and don’t hesitate when it comes to cutting corners or passing when they can see that there is oncoming traffic.  We literally had to brake and move right over for a truck coming in the opposite direction.  On this occasion, our timing sucked, we approached Dar on a Friday afternoon during rush hour; however after talking to a local later that evening, the traffic was normal.  When the traffic lights work, they stay on for a really long time, fine when it’s green, but sitting on a red in the heat wasn’t fun and we had switched off the bikes a few times. 

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles
The camping spots that we had found were on the other side of town and we had to take a ferry to get across.  The GPS navigated us to the ferry terminal and after cutting through the line-up as I couldn’t bear to wait the 2-3 hours that one of the drivers had mentioned when I had asked whether the lineup was for the ferry.  As we got closer, a police officer had directed us around the corners to another lane.  I prayed that he wasn’t going to pull us over for cutting the queue as he was pulling cars over that tried to butt in.  It turned out to be a designated lane for motorcycles and tuk-tuks.  We paid the .25c for bike and person and lined up with the locals. There were people everywhere and after enquring, there were 2 ferries, one that mainly took foot passengers while the other took vehicles.  When it was time to get on, we moved forward and I just followed the local bikes as they pushed their way on board as people hurried to secure a spot for themselves.  It was insane.  I stopped at the top of the ramp, reluctant on whether to actually get on as I wasn’t sure if we would all fit.  I probably stopped for a few seconds, but the local bikes continued to honk and pass us and they were getting on fine.  I didn’t want to wait for the next one, so dropped down the ramp and onto the ferry.  As the foot passengers gave way, we barely squeezed all 3 bikes on and at one point I had to get some locals to get a tuk-tuk driver to move a bit, so that I could find more space.  Ang wasn’t sure if this was a good idea as we were squeezed in.  It was such a tight fit that there wasn’t enough space to get off the bike and leave it on the side stand, so we just sat on them and held them up.

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles

The M.V. Magogoni survived the 15 minutes that it took for us to get to the other side.  Whilst on the ferry, I started talking to a young lady on the tuk-tuk that I had moved and she was impressed with how far we had come.  The other locals gave us a weird look as we took photos and video of the experience.  Getting off the ferry on the other side wasn’t easier either.  Everyone gets off at the same time.  So together with the 200 odd foot passengers that are walking off the ramp, the bikes are trying to weave through the crowds.  We all get off unscathed and I stop to wait for the others when the lady in the tuk-tuk stops as well and invites us over to he place to spend the night.  It was an amazing gesture from a someone I had just met.  Aisha lived a few minutes away from the ferry terminal so we followed her tuk-tuk driver to her new home that she just finish build.  She had only been living in it for a week and made us feel at home.  Thank you Aisha!

Aisha our wonderful host for an evening
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Currency on the Black Market

Daryll writes:

After spending 6 nights along Lake Malawi, it was time to leave tranquil Malawi behind us and cross into Tanzania.  Our last campsite though along the lake proved to be another amazing site where we were the only ones – we did luck out again.  The downside though was the 4km of sand, deep only in some spots where I walked the bike through.  I almost lost it getting to the campsite, but managed to keep the bike upright.  We had some Quecha (Malawi currency) left over and desperately tried to change it into Shillings (Tanzania currency) at various banks at the last town before the TZ border.  The 3 banks we stopped at didn’t have any Shillings and suggested that we change it at the border on the black market.  While in the parking lot at one of the banks, we met a group of 4 English overlanders in a landrover that had just entered into Malawi.  They had tried to enter Libya in February and were turned bank and had to backtrack to Italy and take the ferry directly to Egypt to continue their trip south.  This option is becoming more and more the plan for us once we get to Egypt as things aren’t looking good in Syria at the moment.

At the Malawi border, once we processed ourselves and the bikes, we needed to change the Malawi currency that we had.  Even though the banks that we had visited earlier in the day had suggested us use the black market at the border, it is still illegal and the police that patrol the border keep an eye on the suspected money changers.  We discreetly spoke to a few guys while standing at the bikes and settled on a rate for the exchange and then had to walk down an alley to a small shop where we will do the transaction.  I was a bit nervous as I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen.  Ang stayed with the bikes while Dom and I went down the alley passing little shops and everyone looking at us strangely.  It was stinking hot, but I kept my riding jacket on as I had cash in various of the pockets, so I was dripping with perspiration.  When we got to the little soda shop – yup that’s all they sold, I had to pretend to buy some water as a policeman walked by – really, he just thought that these 2 tourists walked all the way passed all the other shops to buy a coke.  Dom literally had my back as we did the transaction as a groups of guys sat around the shop watching us.  The guy that I was dealing with went to another guy who pulled out a wad of cash from his sock and started counting the money out.  We were almost done and they had owed me a remaining 6,000 shillings and gave me 600 shillings instead.  it was so obvious that they were trying to rip me off and I said no.  He apologized and said it was a mistake and gave me the correct money back.  Really, they do try to rip you off point blank.

Once we got back to the bikes, it was time to get to the Tanzanian side which was the easiest so far.  The border officials were joking with us and it was pretty quick for us to exit the border and stop just past the gates to sort out our insurance.  I ended up getting the COMESA Insurance (Yellow Card) that will be good till we exit Egypt.  Dom had decided to use the guys that had surrounded the bikes to change a bit more money and all hell broke loose.  The guy that he was using was shorting him 90,000 shillings and counted really fast and was rushing Dom.  With the heat bearing down on all of us, Dom handed me the cash and asked for me to re-count.  I came up with the same figure and we were still 90,000 shillings short.  I was starting to loose it.  I had more guys yelling at me and trying to convince me that the amount was right.  I shoved the money back to the changer and said that we aren’t going to change our money with him.  As soon as I did that, the crowd seemed to have disappeared and then another guy handed us cash to count.  Dom agreed on a rate and we counted it out and it was correct this time round.  Dom handed him the US currency and we started to put our gear back on.  The money changer came back to us and said that we owed him change.  More guys started approaching us and started shoving the US currency back to Dom.  We stuck to our guns and continued getting ready to leave.  It wasn’t looking good.  Dom asked Ang to start her bike and get going and we will follow as we weren’t sure if they would chase us down.  We continued saying that we had agreed on a rate and refused to give them the US currency back said that we were going to leave, started the bikes and hit the road.  The guys didn’t follow us, good thing.

Gang of money changers

As we rode into Tanzania, we climbed to an elevation of 2200m.  The temperature dropped, so much so that I was forced to zip up all my vents while riding and then descended to about 1700m onto a plateau of tea plantations.  There was tea growing as far as the eye can see. From the research we had done, there wasn’t any formal camping near the town of Mbeya, the first town we would have got to after the Tanzanian border.  There was however a mission (The Karibuni Centre) that offered camping on the lush grass of their volleyball court for a small fee.  The downside was that it was right next to the Church so we got the full effect of the church service both in the evening and in the morning.  The singing was good though, so I shouldn’t complain.  There were lots of foreign missionaries busying them around the property; I greeted a few, but they didn’t reciprocate – possibly bikers were associated with Satin.

The Karibuni Centre

From Mbeya, we were making our way to Dar Es Salaam but had to stop midway for the night.  It wasn’t a particularly exciting day.  We were in the saddle for most of the day covering 475km with lots of rest and fuel stops in-between.  We passed through several small villages where the speed limit dropped to 50km/hr and after my ticket in Malawi, I slowed right down.  There were speed humps on either side of the villages and there would be police with radar guns every so often, so we were forced to slow down.  More good luck when we arrived at our camping spot for the night in the middle of a Boabab forest.  We were the only ones there yet again.  After eating our own dinner, the staff made us a fire and we spent the rest of the evening around a campfire. 

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles

 New photos added to the Malawi photo album.
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Monday, May 16, 2011

A Day in the Life

Angela writes:

I decided to write a blog post that simply describes things that happen to us in one day since we might often forget to describe the little things of our adventure.

Today I woke up voluntarily just after 5 am to watch the sunrise over Lake Malawi.  I walked past the sand pit where we had had our camp fire last night and had polished off a couple cold Carlsberg beer (price $1.50 each).  This morning I sat down in the cool white sand on the beach and swatted away a few stray mosquitoes that would soon disappear after the sun appeared.  I watched the black and orange sky subtlety change  moment by moment until it became blue again.  Watching the sunrise always brings a good start to a day.

Afterwards I climbed back into our tent to begin the day’s gentle and unhurried routine of packing up my sleep mat, sleeping bag and sleep sheet. Then I got dressed into my bike t-shirt and shorts that I wear under my motorcycle gear.  I slipped on my motorcycle pants, socks and motorcycle boots (after dumping them upside down to make sure that creatures hadn’t found their way into my boots during the night) and moved my other things close to the door of the tent so that they would be easy to grab and pack later. The other items in my tent include my ipod, head flashlight, travel alarm clock, bag of clothes and my motorcycle helmet.  I used to keep my motorcycle helmet outside our tent in the “vestibule” but once I got up to find that a spider had spun a web inside of it and the spider was still in it!  Dom kindly removed the evidence of the creature before I freaked out! I have also found a gecko in my helmet previously so now I’ve decided that only my head should ever go in there and keep it safely in the tent. 

After our breakfast of oatmeal with chocolate milk powder, coffee and rusks (hard, sweet bread thing kind of like a scone), we packed up our camping dishes, stove, and the rest of our belongings on to our bike.  Packing our bike is not difficult at all any more (except when trying to find spaces for food after a trip to the grocery store) as everything has it’s place on the bikes. We leave our waterfront campsite just after 7 am and we are glad to do much of our riding in the morning to beat the heat of the day.  I ride my bike to the beginning of the campground and then Daryll gets on it to bring it through the 10 feet of deep sand that for some reason has been dumped in front of the gate.  Security opens the door for us and we ride out and up a dirt/gravelly path for a couple of kilometers before reaching the main paved road that will take us to our next destinations along Lake Malawi. 

During the day’s ride we stop every hour or so for a break. It’s nice to stand up after sitting on the bike for so long.  We drink some water, eat some peanuts and grab our cameras for any photo opportunities that come up during the break.  On this morning’s ride we met a local guy who was riding his bicycle by us and stopped to talk.  Dom decided to take a photo of this guy with Daryll and then Dom printed out a copy of the picture on his travel photo printer – a Polaroid Pogo (I need to get one of these) and gave the photo to the guy.  The guy was super excited about being able to keep this little memento and photo of himself and was Praising Jesus!

Once or twice a day, depending on how long our ride is that day,  we have to stop at a gas station to fill up our tanks and lately we’ve been having to specify to the attendants that we need  unleaded fuel.  Today we only rode for 207 km but when we stopped for gas in our destination town we discovered that the power was out and that they could not pump fuel for us.  Oh well, we are here in Nkhata Bay for 2 days so I’m sure in that time the power will come back on and we will get fuel on the day we leave.  We are camping at a hostel on Lake Malawi and the cool breeze off the lake is lovely.  I would love to go swimming in the clear, blue water but apparently there is a parasite in the water called Bilharzia. From all the bathing and laundry I’ve seen being done in this lake over the last few days I am going to play it safe and avoid swimming – go ahead call me conservative.

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Cops & Lake Malawi

Angela & Daryll write:

We spent six days at the Small World Backpackers in Harare and we were glad to finally leave the partiers and disgustingly dirty kitchen behind with our Ethiopian AND Egyptian visas stamped safely in our passports.  We made a “run for the border” and crossed from Zimbabwe into Mozambique for the night.  Even though we were told that we did not need a carnet for Mozambique the border guards filled it out anyway and we and the bikes made it safely into our new country. 

Although we only stayed in Mozambique for about 24 hours, the people seemed very friendly and everyone, old and young waved at us as we rode through their villages.  There were many beautiful boabab trees and the little grass huts seemed like a little romantic enchanted forest, although I’m sure reality for these very poor but happy people was very different.  We camped in a secure campground along the banks of the Zambezi River (a river that Travel Canada warned was flooding it banks and to proceed there with extreme caution)  and had hot showers where the water had been heated by a wood fire. The smell of campfire was lovely.

The next day we crossed another border into the tiny country of Malawi and made our way to Blantryre, the second largest city in Malawi.  A few days earlier, a politician had been killed in a road accident and hence the police where out in full force with road blocks every so often and some with radar.  As we passed through smaller villages on the way to Blantyre, the speed limit dropped to 50km/hr and with just under 40,000km on the road, it was about to happen – as I (Daryll) came around a corner, I noticed the neon green vests of the police officers a head off me and braked really hard.  I thought I got the better off  the radar gun and as I approached the officer in the middle of the road, he waved me to pull over and waved Angela and Dom who where behind me on their way.  Shit!  He took took his time to walk over to where I was and asked for my drivers license and not saying anything else.  I switched the bike off and walked over to the police vehicle where another officer sat.  The officer in the vehicle said that I was speeding and the radar had got me at 57km/hr in a 50 zone.  I knew I braked hard, but wasn’t certain what I was doing so questioned the fact that I was speeding and asked to see the video which they had rigged to the radar gun.  In the mean time, Tom who had already been pulled over had paid his fine and a few more drivers where lining up next to the police car waiting to pay their fine.  Guess I wasn’t the only one and those officers had hit the jackpot for the day with the number of drivers they had pulled over.  The on the spot fine was 5,000 Quecha (US$30). and a lot more than I wanted to pay.  I begged and pleaded making up excuses that I didn’t have that much money on me, but they weren’t having anything of it.  After a few minutes, I relented and coughed up the fine, still mad as well.  Once back on the bikes, I took up the rear position and slowed down to 40km/hr in to 50 zones to make sure I was slow as I didn’t want another ticket that day.

Trying to talk my way out of a ticket.
Our stop in Blantyre was merely administrative as we needed to change some money and stock up on groceries.  For the night, we camped at Doogles Lodge across the street from the local bus terminal.  I remember this spot as I had stayed here the last time I traveled to Malawai; however it was a lot nicer then.  It seemed run down and the common areas where old and dusty.  We had read that the little towns along Lake Malawi didn’t have any banks or means of exchanging money and didn’t want to trust the smaller grocery stores on what we had needed.  We were given directions to a cash & carry place on the main street.  It wasn’t too difficult to find and seemed like a wholesale grocery store.  We found a few items, but still weren’t able to find items like oatmeal, crackers and other vital items that we would normally snack on during the day.  There was a stark contrast between this Malawi grocery store and the last one we visited in Zimbabwe and I’m sure the food items that we were so used to having would be difficult to find further north we went.

Our direction in Malawi was to ride north up Lake Malawi, the third largest freshwater lake in Africa after Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganika.  At one stop, Pat decided to stop in a village and as usual, the entire village where around our bikes.  At first it is a bit nerve wrecking as you are concerned that someone is going to pich something of the bike as the children point and touch things on the bike.  I really wanted to get something to eat, but just didn't feel right about taking some cookies out and eating it in front of all these children, so I just waited for the others to be ready to move on again.

Angela surrounded at a rest stop
While in Buenos Aires, we had met a South African couple at the hostel we were staying at and they had suggested Fat Monkey’s at a village called Monkey Bay on the southern shores of the lake and suggested that it was a spectacular spot to chill out for a few days.  We had also learnt that there was a ferry running north up the lake that left every Friday from Monkey Bay.  The others were interested in taking this ferry north and we were considering taking the ferry half way to make some time.  After arriving at the ferry port in Monkey Bay early afternoon and talking with the ferry officials, Pat, Chris and Tom decided to take the 3 day ferry the whole way.  Dom was still undecided, but was thinking of taking it half way up and we decided not to take the ferry at all.  The beaches along the lake are spectacular, and we wanted some R&R beach time along the lake.  We had all been together for just over a month, a long time for a large group to be riding together and it was time to bid farewell for now.  Pat, Chris & Tom decided to stay at a campsite closer to the ferry while Dom and us decided to stay at the Fat Monkeys that was recommended to us.  Dom was still thinking about returning early the next morning to catch his ferry.

We had 18km of some steep gravel and washboard to get to Fat Monkeys so it was slow going.  About 7km before the campsite, we came to a junction and weren’t sure which way to go.  The sign posting wasn’t very clear, so took what we thought was the right way and ended up having to ride through a little village to get to the campsite.  There were little huts on either side of the gravel bumpy road as we rode along with kids running out and waving at us.  We were going really slow not to hit the children or the chickens running around and greeted and waved back to the people that thought we were just mental riding through their narrow streets.  The campsite was worth the ride and after the 45min of washboard in getting there, decided to spend 2 nights.  Dom decided against catching the ferry and decided to continue riding north with us.  Our decision not to take the ferry was mainly due to us missing all of Malawi by spending 3 days on a ferry, sleeping on an open deck and having a crane lift our bike up and strapped to an open deck and was proving to be a good decision after seeing to what we had arrived to.  Monkey Bay was situated on an inlet and would be the only spot where we could watch the sun set over the lake.  Nothing can prepare you for an African Sunset and every one is different and magnificent in it’s own way.

Fat Monkeys
Sunset over Lake Malawi
During the night, I heard something hit the tent, like little plopping sounds, but didn't think anything of it and thought that it was leaves hitting the tent.  In the morning, we awoke to a tent covered in bat poo.  It was aweful, so we spent the next hour moving the tent to another spot and washing the poo off.  Thinking that we would avoid the bats for the next night, it seemed they had a vendetta against me and poo'd on the tent during the night again.  Darn bats!  After relaxing at Monkey Bay, we continued north again along the lake and found another amazing spot at a Pottery Lodge.  We were the only campers and think the only patrons at the lodge as well and got all the staff’s attention.  That evening, we made a camp fire on the beach and spent the rest of the evening with a few beers watching another sunset over Lake Malawi.  As we sat next to the fire, 3 different security guards came by and introduced themselves saying that they will be taking care of us for the evening.  We were the only ones on the property and guess we had all the security that we needed.  Wasn't sure if we should really be scared.

Camping at the Pottery Lodge
We didn't have too far to go the next day and stopped a few times for breaks.  At one stop, a little girl came over and just watched us for a while.  She moved towards Angela and had taken up a spot just behind her bike.  I gave her a cookie as we ate, but the stranges thing happened next - she held the cookie and instead of eating it, she licked it a few times and then held it in her hand till the heat of her hand and the mid-day sun started to melt the cream in the middle of the cookie.  I walked away towards my bike and the girl then braved it and started talking to Angela.  He name was Emily and then started asking for money and then Ang's sun glasses - brave girl.

Emily with the cookie still in her hand
Most of the camping spots along the lake are off the main road and are always down a gravel, sandy road.  The short 50m of the steep boulder filled path to our campsite the Big Blue Star in Nkhata Bay wasn’t that different.  We were on the lake though and it had free wifi which was the draw card.  Nkhata Bay is over rated and the camping spot we are at isn’t anything compared to where we were for the last 2 nights, though we decided to stay an extra night to catch up on emails and blog updates.  The next morning Angela and I were up at 5am to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Nkhata Bay

Sunrise at Nkhata Bay

New photos added to the Malawi photo album.
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Embassy Contrasts

Daryll writes:

Angela and I walked to the Ethiopian Embassy while the others rode their bikes, but got their at almost the same time.  It was 7:45am and the Embassy wasn’t to open till 8am.  We patiently waited at the security gate on the edge of the property.  Just after 8am though, a very friendly lady walked out, shook our hands and introduced herself.  She was Agfa, a Zimbabwean who was the Administrator for the Embassy.  She explained what we needed to do, however said that we had to wait for the lady in charge of issuing visas to arrive which wouldn’t be too long.  We chatted with Agfa while we waited and got her to sing a song for us.  She had such a lovely voice.  The lady that issued the visas was Ethiopian and once she arrived, she also introduced herself to us and led us onto the property.  We walked through the security gate, not being searched, not signing in and into the Embassy into an office where we filled out the necessary forms.  Agfa sat behind a large desk in a small office and suggested that we get a 90 day visa instead of a 30 day visa and instructed us on how to complete the form, took payment together with our passports and asked us to return at 3pm that afternoon to pick them up.  That’s how easy the whole process was.  No mention of an invitation letter and no scary stories of waiting days or weeks to be issued the sought after visa for Ethiopia.  All the stories that we had read about getting this visa was very far from what we had experienced.

A day earlier, we visited the Canadian Embassy at at the security booth to enter the property, we had to sign in, show our passports, leave all electronics in a security box and go through a metal detector before entering the compound.  Once we entered the building, we spoke to a Zimbabwean through bullet proof glass and then set in a waiting room to be served which had security cameras around the room.  The contrast between these two Embassies were shocking as later that afternoon when we went back to pick up our Ethiopian visa, the key for the security gate was in the lock, the guard wasn’t around, so I stuck my hand in, turned the key and opened the gate.  As I opened the gate, the guard peered from behind a building, recognizing me, gave me the thumbs up and went back to what he was doing and let us enter on our own.

We had to wait for the Counselor lady to run an errand before signing off on our visas, but chatted to Agfa in the mean time.  She was one of the friendliest Embassy workers we have dealt with and finally when she handed our passports over, we all posed for our photo with her.  She was so ecstatic that we enjoyed her company and wished us luck for the rest of our travels.

SANY0615                     Agfa handing over our passports

Now with our Ethiopian visas in hand and being Friday, we were going to patiently wait out the weekend to visit the Egyptian Embassy on Monday.  We decided to get our Egyptian visas in Harare instead of Nairobi as we were comfortable camping at the Small World Backpackers, the Embassy was close by and we had all the amenities accessible to us.   To kill the weekend. a few of us took a ride out to the Bally Vaughan Wildlife Sanctuary, about 45 km outside of Harare.  The sanctuary takes in all kinds of animals that have been injured and rehabilitates them to be released back to the wild and is solely funded by donations.

It was a nice pleasant ride out on Saturday morning, not too much traffic as we navigated through downtown Harare as people started setting up their market stalls.  Once we hit the outskirts of town, we started hitting the police road blocks.  We were stopped at one and waved through a few others.  Just a friendly chat and we were off again.  As we rode into the Sanctuary, we passed a few monkeys playing around, a few horses, a zebra and a zorse – a combination of a zebra and horse.

DSC_4908          Zorse & Zebra

As soon as we parked the bikes and locked our gear to the bikes, we were in close proximity to the lion enclosure.  There were 2 lion enclosures, the very first one held 2 female lions and the second one further into the sanctuary held 2 more females and a male and apparently the owner was in the process of building another enclosure for 4 more lions that were due to arrive in a week.  It was midday and the big cats were taking their afternoon siesta as we walked through the sanctuary.  The predators were in enclosures while the zebra’s, horses, goats, cows, donkey’s, chickens and ducks freely wondered around the grounds.


Sarah the owner of the facility takes on volunteers from around the world to help her with the daily tasks in rearing these wild animals and getting them ready to be released back into the wild.  I forget the guy’s name, but we met a guy from Fort St. Johns, BC that was on the volunteer program for 3 weeks before returning to Canada.

We spent a couple hours walking through the sanctuary oggling over the parrots, bunnies, turtles and tried hard to spot the leopard who was in hiding.  Had some lunch at the cafe and I took a nap sitting and listening to the sound of the animals while the others ventured to the small creatures area.  If you are in Harare, the Bally Vaughan Wildlife Sanctuary is definitely worth a visit.
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Embassy Hunt

Daryll writes:

The main reason for coming to Zimbabwe was not only to stop off at Victoria Falls, but to also head for Harare, the capital city and try to sort out our Ethiopian visas.  Prior to us leaving Canada, we learnt that the elusive Ethiopian visa can no longer be issued in Nairobi, Kenya and Harare was the best place where we could pick them up beside having our passports sent to the Ethiopian embassy back in Canada.  I didn’t really want to have our passports sent via courier service back home and us being stuck in an African country without our ticket out basically. 

From the small tourist town of Victoria Falls, we headed to Bulawayo, our first big African city.  The roads leading to Bulawayo were in good condition and as usual, the radar guns and traffic cops were out in full force.  It helps as Ang and I tend to stick to the posted speed limit regardless of how slow it is and how painful it can become, but the others that we are with, tend to go slight over.  Pat on the Africa Twin was triggered at 87km/hr in a 80 zone, but apparently was going to fast for the officer to safely stop him, so got away this time.  Dom who followed in his tracks was triggered at 86km/hr and by this time the officers were already on the road and stopped him dead in his tracks.  Apparently the fine had started off being US$10, but Dom gave the officer a really true sad story of how he was fleeced of US$20 earlier that morning from a t-shirt guy that he had ordered a custom t-shirt from who never showed up, so the officer felt sorry for him and had to pay a $5 fine instead and he even got a valid receipt as well.  We spent the night in a Municipal Campground in Bulawayo that barely had any hot water for a shower, so we were quick to leave the next morning and do another 440km day to get to Harare.

I envisioned Harare or even Zimbabwe as a whole to be a dark, scary place and to the contrary, we have found the people to be incredibly nice, polite and friendly to us.  Everyone smiles, greets us and always courteous when approached for directions.  We set off the day after we arrived in Harare to see if we could get our Ethiopian visa.  We all decided to walk from the backpackers we were staying at as we were told that it wasn’t too far.  Most of the embassies are all situated in close proximity to each other and thought that it would be easier without the bikes.  We got to the Ethiopian Embassy only to find it closed as it was a National holiday in Ethiopia and learnt from the security guard that it would be open tomorrow (Friday, May 6th).  Info on the internet had indicated that Ethiopia will only issue a visa, if our Embassy issued an invitation letter, so we headed to the Canadian Embassy.  This is now the second Canadian Embassy we visited on our trip so far.  We visited the Canadian Embassy in Buenos Aires to tried to get some document notarized but were told to come back later that afternoon.  We never went back though and managed without the notarized documents.  The lady that was assisting us said that they have received strict instructions from Ottawa and are not allowed to issue such later for Canadian travelers.  We pleaded with her and she relented and said that she would contact Ottawa and also copy the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to see if how she could assist us and for us to return the next day.  Without this invitation letter, we could possibly be refused entry into Ethiopia, which means our trip ends in Kenya or we fly over to Sudan.  Our plans change all the time and we trying to keep an eye on the situation of Syria as well.  I think we are on Plan C at the moment and may have to resort to a Plan D to get ourselves and the bikes to Europe.

We were still hopeful as we left and as we passed through the security gate to leave the property, a gentleman came up to us and introduced himself as the First Secretary to the Ambassador (can’t remember his name).  He had heard about these 4 crazy Canadians trying to get an invitation letter and had seen our passports and also owned a bike, so wanted to come and meet us.  We chatted a bit and said that he would have one of his staff call the Ethiopian Embassy tomorrow to let them know that we will be coming and gave us directions to a few other embassies we wanted to visit viz the Kenyan Embassy and the Sudanese Embassy. 

We received an email from the Canadian Embassy this afternoon letting us know that they had contacted Ottawa and the official response was that the  Canadian Government does not approve of any travel within Ethiopia or Sudan and thus won’t issue the letter of invitation for us.  We are going to the Ethiopian Embassy tomorrow anyway and try our luck.  Wish us luck.  On a side note though, we did go to both the Kenyan and Sudanese Embassies and everyone that we spoke to were extremely helpful and gave us the information that we were seeking and asked for us to send them pictures once we are in their respective countries.
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“The Smoke that Thunders”

Daryll writes:

Another one of Dan’s suggestions was to cross from Kasane, Botswana to Zimbabwe instead of going into Zambia as the Falls are better viewed from the Zimbabwe side.  Our timing wasn’t great when we got to the Zimbabwe border and got stuck behind 2 tour groups so waited about an hour before we were allowed to enter.  Entering Namibia and Botswana was plain sailing compared to this one and I expect border crossings to be similar to the ones in Central America from now on.  Canada must charge a hefty fee for Zimbabweans to enter Canada if they were ever granted a visa as we had to pay a hefty US$75 each for a visa to enter.  Once the formalities of paying for our visa and paying for insurance, carbon tax and road tax were completed, we were allowed to ride into Zimbabwe.

Judging by the roads, you automatically knew that you were in a new country.  The roads here were much narrower, no shoulders were present and the tall grass along the roadside ran directly up to where the pavement started.  Some stretches had really good pavement and there was only a small stretch with potholes but the signs warned us of the potholes coming up by signs that indicated “Deadly Hazard Ahead”.  Zimbabwe drivers are definitely on the same level as the drivers in Peru who I still consider to be the worst.  Here the drivers come speeding up behind us, tailgate for an extended period of time, not sure why and when they do eventually pass, don’t realize how wide our bikes are and come extremely close when they want to get back into their lane.  The good thing about Zimbabwe though is the number of speed traps and police that are present.  In a stretch of about 100km, from the border to Victoria Falls, we went through 3 police checkpoints.  We were only stopped once and the officer asked us where we were from and where we were headed and then ushered us through.  They do use their radar gun in and out of little villages when the speed limit drops to 60km/hr.  We haven’t been fined yet, not that we speed though.

After arriving in the little town of Victoria Falls which was primarily developed because for the tourism that the might Zambezi River attracted, we wandered over to a Pizza place.  Even though the camp ground we were at was a few hundred meters away from the Pizza place, we were accompanied by two vendors that first trip to sell us some souvenirs and once they realized that we weren’t going to buy anything, turned their attention to trying to trade for our t-shirts and hiking shoes.  Even though they were a bother, they were pleasant and respectful and friendly all at the same time, so we enjoying talking with them.

The next morning, we took a walk to view the Falls.  We were warned to take our rain jackets with us, but nothing could protect us from the rainstorm that we were to endure.  The morning started off well.  We wandered into the town and met a wonderful Tourist Police Officer who showed us the way to the lookout with a spectacular view of the gorge and the Zambezi that ran between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  As we wandered back to view the main falls, we spotted some elephant tracks and several warthogs.  No elephants in sight though, but lots of poo on the road.

Victoria Falls Gorge
Entry to the Victoria Falls NP was a bit steep at US$30 per person and noticed that it was cheaper for South Africans, which I told the lady I was together with Angela.  She asked to see some ID and I politely said that I didn’t have any on me at the moment and she charged us the lower local rate.  I also used the South African card at Soussesvlei which worked there as well.  As we entered, I could see that the people walking out were drenched.  With all the rain, the Zambezi was at its high and water gushed off the edge of the falls creating a rainstorm that engulfed us as we walked through the park.  It was awesome seeing the power of mother nature at its best and the shear velocity of the water coming off the falls.

Victoria Falls or Mosi-Oa-Tunya which is taken from the Lozi language and means “The Smoke that Thunders” is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World which also include the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis); the Grand Canyon; the Paricutin Volcano; the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro; Mount Everest and the Great Barrier Reef.  All worthy tourist destinations in it’s own right.  Victoria Falls, Niagara Falls and Iguazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina are the 3 of the world’s largest waterfalls in terms of height (Iguazu Falls); width (Victoria Falls) and volume (Niagara Falls).

Photo taken by Dom Giles
Standing in front of one of the might waterfalls in the world gave me goose pimples or it could have been because we were dripping wet by the time we had left the park.  The area is a natural rain forest and during the dry season, one can see the rock formations both on the edge and at the bottom of the canyon.  We got to see a glimpse of the falls and the rest was covered in a cloud of mist.

New photos added to the Zimbabwe photo album.
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King of the Jungle

Daryll writes:

On Dan’s suggestion, we skipped crossing into Zambia and crossed into Botswana instead and headed for Kasane, a town close to Chobe National Park.  Chobe is meant to have the highest concentration of elephants in the world and as we drove to the little town, we had an elephant cross in front of us.  Pat, Tom and Dom were ahead of us while Ang and I hung back as not to scare the big guy. 

Elephant Crossing
There wasn’t much camping in Kasane, as many of the campgrounds were a part of fancy lodges, so we couldn’t resist and camped at the Chobe Safari Lodge.  In the car park of the lodge, there was over 10 overland vehicles with roof top tents – guess all of them just wanted some comfort for a few nights.

Chobe Safari Lodge

We bit the bullet and booked for a game drive early the next morning.  I was so excited before going to bed that I was up at 3am even though we only had to meet our Guide for 5:45am.  The 6 of us were all together in a landcruiser and were joined by a South African couple that weren’t interested in speaking to us and just spoke Afrikaans to each other.  The vehicle we were in had open sides and just a canvas roof, ideal for game viewing, but not much fun to be in at 6am on a paved road going at 80km/hr.  We were soon through the gates of the park and it wasn’t barely 10 minutes into our drive when we spotted 2 female lions and 2 cubs playing with each other and following along.  The light this early in the morning wasn’t that great, so no great photos.  We watched these 4 for a few minutes and then decided to move on and it was only another 20 minutes later that we spotted the King of the Jungle.

King of the Jungle

I’ve been on a few game safari’s now and this was the first time I saw a male lion out in the wild.  He was majestic as he lazily wandered towards us, totally oblivious of the numerous vehicles with tourists gawking at him.  Everyone was so silent as he approached our vehicle.  All you could hear was shutter clicks from the numerous camera’s that were firing off.  It was a magical experience watching him for those short few minutes before he gently drifted back into the bush and out of sight again.

Chobe National Park is meant to have the highest concentration of elephants in the world, so we were expecting to see more families of these gentle giants.  The sun was still rising and most of the elephants hadn’t come down to the side of the park we were on, so only spotted one male elephant snacking on some foliage. 

Lonely male
As the morning went on, we saw a few more animals and a family of giraffe.  The rest of the morning wasn’t as exciting as the first 30mins, but I guess everything will be a let down after seeing the King of the Jungle close up.

 New photos added to the Botswana photo album.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Caprivi

Daryll writes:

Since leaving home, now 8 months ago, we’ve always traveled on our own, so being in a group of 3 other riders is all new to us.  Each one of us has our own rhythm, but we seem to blend with each other.  We normally plan a few days ahead of where we want to be and what we want to see, set a start time for the mornings and normally stop along the way a few times for breaks so that all riders can catch up.  Pat is always up ahead while Ang and I or Dom and Tom follow at our own pace, so Pat & Chris end up being really patient and waiting for all of us.

More and more of the campgrounds that we are finding now are of the rustic kind as compared to the ones we stayed in while in South Africa and Namibia and they tend to be near rivers with lots of warning signs.  The funny thing about these warning signs though is that people tend to just ignore them and camp right next to the sign.  We have been guilty a few times as well. 

Not sure where to camp
While in Swakopmund, we started taking our Malaria pills as the mosquitoes are starting to get really bad in the evenings.  We haven’t noticed any side effects yet, so hope that we can stay on them without any side effects later after a few weeks on them.  After leaving Swakopmund and entering into northern Namibia, we were concerned about the conditions of the roads as the northern parts of Namibia had received record amounts of rain over the last few weeks.  The rains just seem to follow us regardless of which continent we are on.  We stopped to talk to several overland travelers and they confirmed that the roads we were planning to take were passable, so we headed for the Caprivi Strip.  200km of highway runs through the Caprivi National Park, one of the few parks that we can actually ride our motorcycles through and heard that we could spot wildlife as we traveled through the park. We were all excited and planned our route so that we hit the Caprivi early in the morning when it was cooler, so the chances of seeing wildlife were greater.  The speed limit through the park was 80km/hr, however we sat on about 60km/hr for most of the 200km and peered left and right as we rode to get a glimpse of an elephant or possibly a lion.  To our disappointment though, the only elephants we saw were on the road signs warning us of elephant crossings, so when we got to the end, we were tired and grumpy.  The one consolation though were the children from the small villages located in the park.  I was surprised as well.  The children would hear the roar of the engines and come running out of their kraals with waving hands and the broadest smiles I’ve seen and their white teeth glisten in the sun against their dark skin.  Most kids would wave as we passed through their villages but we did encounter a few that held their hand out as to beg. 

Local kids keeping an eye on us
The Caprivi Strip was a big disappointment for us, so we decided that we would continue to the next town (Katima Molelio), even though it was a border town with Zambia and Botswana and cross early the next morning into Zambia to see Victoria Falls.  At our last rest stop before heading to the border town, I started up a conversation with a few locals who had suggested that we rather stay in their little town vs. going up ahead as many of the campgrounds along the Zambezi were flooded.  Dan, who conveniently owned a campground and ran river safaris offered us a good price and suggested that we would be the only ones on his property for the evening, so we followed him to his piece of land.  We followed Dan in his bakkie (4x4), while his friend Lisa followed us at the back in her bakkie.  I later learnt that Lisa was studying Hyena behavior patterns in the Caprivi and lived on a piece of land next to Dan.  We followed Dan for about 12km down a dirt road and then we turned off, thinking that we were there, but we had another 2km of sand, our favorite riding conditions.  Again, our hosts were patient with us and it took a while for all of us to finally get to his place.

Photo courtesy of Dom Giles

Dan, an Englishman came to Namibia to do a tracking course 4 years ago and decided to stay and now leases some land for his campground that he runs in partnership with the local community and does his own river safaris.  Prior to us getting there, he did mention that he had a group of orphaned children there the night prior, but they were packing up and would be gone that evening.  The children were from an orphanage from Katima Molelio whose parents had died from HIV Aids.  It is estimated that 51% of the population of Katima has HIV.  The kids were out when we arrived, so we ended up having a nice cup of tea in the mean time, before we could set up our tents.  A few minutes later, the children arrived and were all curious when they saw us and the bikes.  I can’t imagine their hardships, but they seemed so happy to be there.  Dan had taken them out on a river safari earlier that day and he said that’s his way of giving back to the community.

Children from the orphanage
Dan also managed to convince us to go out on his boat for the afternoon/evening which was a magical experience.  We were on the Okovango River that flowed into the Okovango Delta and with the rain, the river was higher than normal.  As Dan maneuvered his boat through the papyrus reeds, we came across our first group of hippos as they waddled in the water.  We kept our distance as hippos are extremely unpredictable and do not mock charge like elephants or lions but attack voraciously.  It is estimated that hippos are the cause of death of more humans than any other animal in Africa.

As we ventured deeper through the waterways of the Caprivi, we came up close and personal with a male elephant.  I’ve seen elephants before, but being in a boat and watching them from the water’s edge gives a different perspective of game viewing. 

Young male elephant
We didn’t see too much more that evening, but Dan was extremely helpful and gave us a ton of suggestions of where we should go and places to stay.  We caught another brilliant sunset as we made our way back to camp while he had his staff get the hot water heated by a wood fire for our showers and had the dinner table laid out with a nice warm fire going as well.  He had to go out that evening, so we stayed up sitting around a fire into the night whilst listening to hippos in the distance.  Dan did warn us though that elephants usually wander through camp in the evenings and early mornings and if we do stumble upon these giants, give them the space they need and back away.  We heard hippos and elephants all night, but didn’t catch a glimpse of any.  If you ever in the Caprivi Strip, look Dan up as he has a wonderful camp, runs amazing river safaris and is really passionate about what he does and it was a pleasure meeting and spending some time with him. 

Sunset over the Caprivi

New photos added to the Namibia photo album.
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