Think I'm gonna give painting the hall and stairs a miss this morning.
So. The Zambian border at Katima Mulilo was a piece of cake. Everything looked very business-like when we arrived, despite warnings of chaos from the owner of the place we stayed at the previous evening.. Had he ever been to Zambia? Changed some money pretty quickly at a reasonable rate (I think) and completed just about everything in one room - immigration, carnet, insurance, road tax and ebola check. Thought we'd aced it in an hour when we got stopped at the gate by a friendly soldier who pointed out that we'd missed some bit of paper. He wasn't too bothered, but warned us that a picky policeman may use it as an excuse for a fine. One wierd thing was the number of UK registered vehicles in the compound, including a furniture removals van from Sheffield.
Next stop Livingstone which is on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls. This was supposed to just be a staging post on the trip as we'd already seen the falls from the Zim side on a previous trip, but it actually provided one of the absolute highlights of the trip, and motorcycles weren't involved at all!
I was expecting the road to be a mess, but it was quiet and mostly in good shape and we made good time to our camp. We did go out towards the falls and got a couple of pics, but really you need to be on the other side.
Believe it or not, this is Victoria Falls, from the non-spectacular side.
Or, if you fancy something different, take to the air in a microlight. Helicopter trips are common, but this was something else. Not as expensive as you might think, and there's a definite motorcycle-with-wings thing going on.
Ready to go from a dirt runway just outside the town. There was a nice reception area (terminal?) and the whole thing inspired confidence. The microlights are equiped with cameras to catch everything as you are definitely not allowed to take your own gear in case you drop it.
Mrs 3D has a very firm grip on those side rails.
can see the bridge in this one - remember Ian Smith holding a conference in 1975 on a train stopped in the middle - you can now bunjee off it into the croc infested Zambezi.
You can just see ellies in this pic - about 45 degrees to the right of the prop - my pilot cut the engine back to an idle to get nice and low to them
Anyway, despite initial misgivings it looks like Mrs 3D enjoyed the flight. OK, not the cheapest excursion (I think each flight was about 75 quid), but I remember worrying about having a meal in the very swanky and colonially splendid Vic Falls hotel last time we were here - out on the terrace with the spray hanging in the air over the falls and risking the bill because who knew when we'd be back - totally worth it and an experience to treasure, just like the microlights.
That was definitely an unexpected treat. One of the main reasons I'd wanted to come to Zambia was to see the 'Africa House', Shiwa Ngandu. This is where Michael Palin comes into it - he visited the house, a manor built in an Italianate style during his Pole to Pole expeditition, and more recently the actor Stephen Tomkinson had featured it on a programme about ballooning in Africa. Shiwa was on the other side of Lusaka unfortunately, with no way round. I was mighty thankful of having Tracks4Africa loaded into the Zumo which got us through the city to a very indifferent hotel on the northern side. We passed the 'German Residence' too, but as we hadn't let them know we were coming decided it was best not to just drop in, despite our invitation.
The landscape wasn't desperately interesting, but there was the odd entertaining sight - usually in the form of truck wrecks in unusual places.
In fairness, I only had to get off the tarmac the once to avoid being mown down by a truck.
We had one more night on the road before Shiwa. Shortly after setting off in the morning we were stopped by a policeman for a document check. This happens regularly. Sometimes you're waved through, sometimes you're brightening up a bored copper's day.
Cop: Where are you going today?
Me: Shiwa Ngandu
Me:Shiwa Ngandu, see here (points to GPS)
Cop: Ah, Shiwa Ngandu
Me: Yep, that's it
Cop: You're saying it wrong. It's Shiwa Ngandu.
Me: Yes, Shiwa Ngandu.
Cop: No, Shiwa Ngandu
Me: Er, isn't that what I said.
Mrs 3D: No you said Shiwa Ngandu, but you should say Shiwa Ngandu.
Cop: Yes, your wife has it!
Me: OK, Shiwa Ngandu.
Cop: You've got it, well done! You may go.
I really wasn't any the wiser, although I notice that on Wikipedia you can spell it Ngandu or Ng'andu. Guess I don't have much of an ear for apostrophes.
Anyway, although you can pay to stay at the house, we were staying at Kapishya Hot Springs, a little deeper into the estate. The road in was good fun after a lot of tarmac, although I was given a fright bay a very large antelope bursting out of the bush and crossing just in front of us.
I'll cover a bit of the very interesting history of Shiwa later, but at Kapishya we found a nice spot to camp (they have lodges as well) and had a soak in the hot springs. These are so warm, and unlike many have no sulphurous odour.
Now, Shiwa Ngandu has a very interesting story:
It was built from 1920 by Sir Stewart Gore-Brown, who was minor British aristocracy. He fell in love with the area while working on a commision to establish the border between Rhodesia and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). He had always wanted an estate aparently, and was very influenced by his aunt, Dame Ethel Locke-King who owned the estate that contains Brooklands race circuit in Surrey. He didn't have the money to build in England, but land for white settlers was cheap in Rhodesia.
The task he undertook was difficult. Shiwa was 400 miles from the nearest railhead through difficult territory, but he managed it, and carved out a large estate run on patrician lines with it's own schools and hospital for the workers. Gore-Brown was known to have a furious temper and became known locally as the Rhinoceros. The estate never made much money as the land wasn't high grade, but the family did do well out of essential oils after they became scarce after the second world war. Gore-Brown died in 1967 and is to date the only white man to have been given a state funeral in Zambia. The eulogy was read by President Kenneth Kaunda
The estate passed to his daughter Lorna and her husband John Harvey. They were interviewed by Michael Palin for Pole to Pole in 1991. Unfortunately about 6 weeks after this Lorna and John were murdered during a botched robbery at another property of theirs near Lusaka (not at Shiwa as Wikipedia has it.)
Three of Lorna's children inherited the property, but a fourth, Charlie, was left out. I'm not sure exactly why, but the three must have made suitable arrangements for Simon because he and his wife Jo run Shiwa now, and Charlie's brother Mark Harvey runs Kapishya.
Mark is a Zambian born and bred, but apart from speaking fluent bemba, you'd think he'd never set foot outside Knightsbridge. He's tremendously good company and unfortunately got on with us so well that he got the malt out at the end of a very long evening and sent us back to our tent very much the worse for wear.
Mark and his wife Mel. We've kept in touch and I very much hope he'll come up and see us some time when he's over in the UK.
After our evening with Mark and Mel we staggered back to our tent and went swiftly to sleep. For about four hours. In the pitch black we were woken by a crunching sound. Investigation showed our little canvas home was being eaten by biting red ants who were really reluctant to piss off out. We had no option but to grab our sleeping bags and go and try to get some kip on the benches of the kitchen 'boma'. We didn't sleep much, especially with our dry throats...
In the morning we went to inspect the damage. We'd inadvertantly pitched over a nest and the ground sheet wasn't going to stop these little buggers. It was peppered with holes. Mark was sympathetic and offered to have the tent patched from an old one someone had discarded.
Some of the damage
Where the corner of the tent was.
The staff sowed the patch on, and I sealed it up with some duct tape. It held for the rest of the trip and I had it repaired properly by a firm in Musselburgh when we got home. We moved up the hill away from the grass and weren't bothered again.
Anyway, we talked to Mark about going to have a look round Shiwa. He offered us his 4x4 and said breezily we could just turn up and his sister-in-law Jo would show us round, oh and first pop in to see the couple running the old mission station farm.
Well we did go to the mission station and had morning tea with the elderly couple running the farm. They didn't seem to be put out at all by us just rocking up, and were very hospitable. It was very Happy Valley I can tell you, sitting on the verandah sipping tea out of china cups.
Continuing on to Shiwa we did indeed find Jo, who seemed quite happy to show us round.
Gawd only knows what it takes to keep this lot standing.
When it was time to leave we asked if we could give something to the estate, and gladly handed over the 20 US$ that Jo suggested for the school.
Back at base we found a group of about nine 4x4s had turned up. It was a tour led by a chap called Alex and his wife whose name unfortunately I've forgotten. Turns out he was taking his group to the Serengeti through the Tunduma border post into Tanzania, which was the same one as were were going to use.
So Alex, what's the border like then? Absolutely terrible my friend, he replied, the worst in all Africa. (It's not, I think the one from Mauritania to Senegal takes the biscuit there from what I've heard, but I digress) Gulp! But we have a good fixer- ask for 'MP' - or you can tag along with us. Sounds good, but we're staying at a place about 70km short of the border the night before we cross. Turns out so were they, and also there was no food at the mission run camp. But being hospitable people they invited us to join them for dinner. Sorted, and thank you!
Alex, who was a colonel in the SA forces, cooking up a storm. Not a bloke given to taking much nonsense from anyone, I suspect.
Next up, a mad border and Tanzania.
We had a gentle trundle up the road from Shiwa to the next overnight. The campsite was run as part of a mission as far as I could make out, and offered rondavel huts, dorms and camping but no food or drink. We took a rondavel and brewed up on the doorstep.
In the evening we joined the happy campers for chicken piri-piri a la Alex (after saying grace!) and drank a few of Alex's beers. His vehicle was like the tardis, and he seemed to have no trouble rustling up meals for twenty people. He also changed some money for us from a vast bundle he was carrying, which removed one hassle from the following day.
At 5am the next morning were off to tackle Tunduma. Up until now I found the roads in Zambia generally in pretty good shape. This one wasn't. It's the main road into Zambia from Dar es Salaam and carries a lot of heavy traffic. It was probably built by the Chinese, who are everywhere in Africa building shitty roads in return for mining rights. It's just a massive con - you can see from the picture how badly they are made.
It was very slow going as we had to follow the 4x4s as they weaved in and out of the potholes.
At the border we joined the others for the usual formalities. It was fairly straight forward, but pretty crazy - it was very useful to have MP run off and sort out insurance for us and show us where the various counters were for immigration, customs and so forth. There are stupid taxes you need to pay (carbon tax? C'mon, but it's legit)
The biggest problem was the heat - one of the people in this queue isn't dressed correctly for standing around in the sun. At least there were people wandering around selling fruit, which was very refreshing. We had to leave the bike unattended, but of course it wasn't touched.
Eventualy, having completed the paperwork, we were on our way, after giving MP 20 US for his trouble. I guess he must do quite well - probably made a couple of hunderd dollars for a morning's work, but I was happy to pay, he was a straight up guy.
We were heading north to a town called Sumbawanga. Battleing the traffic out of Nakonde (the town on the Tanzanian side of the border) was something of a mission, but soon we were out in the countryside on a beautiful piece of tarmac laid down by the Americans. Gawd bless yer Uncle Sam, you give good road.
After a night in Sumbawanga at a rather eccentric guest house - I wouldn't have been surprised if it was once a haunt of Ernest Hemmingway - we continued north towards Kipili on Lake Tanganyika, our most northerly point on the trip.
Gassing up in Sumbawanga. The shape of the pump is funny, right?
About 4kms out of Sumbawanga the Yank tarmac stopped and the roadworks start with the usual shitty diversions. At least it wasn't wet - the clay soil would have been very slick. Eventually we turned west towards the lake through delightful countryside, although the road was a pain. Not technical, just very rocky, so the bike was being shaken to pieces. I probably should have attacked it harder. This was the second and last time I used my fuel cell. I love a full tank...
After hours of banging down this crap track and a couple of police checkpoints, we reached Kipili on Lake Tanganyika. It didn't look half bad...
Yes, this would do very nicely. There are luxury rooms here, but we opted to camp. We were the only ones so again didn't have to share our ablutions block.
The lodge din't have many guests, and most of those were NGO types. Nice work if you can get it. The NGOs were doing good work (for a change) in the DRC across the water, but weren't exactly roughing it during their time off in their luxury rooms. We loafed around, paddled on the lake in canoes and drank beer. The lake is lovely, and bilharzia free, a good place to unwind for a while. I had hoped to see the MV Liemba, the famous old ship that's been plying its way up and down the lake for about 100 years, but it was being used to ship refugees from some trouble up in Burundi.
The Liemba. It's NOT the boat from the African Queen
Credit Wikipedia commons.
There was a dock for the boat just down the lake, but unfortunately no one had checked the draught of the ship and, er, it couldn't pull up close enough to tie up. TIA (This Is Africa) eh? There were also a couple of water ambulances there, tied up and useless because no one knew how to run them and there were no medics anyway. Someone had nicked the motors too... What a waste of seventy thousand US. This is entirely typical of well intentioned but misdirected western aid. And don't even get me started on the evangelical christians...
One surprise was this church built by the White Fathers. It was a short walk from the lodge.
From the water you get a good view of the lodge - absolute paradise, and the couple running it weren't that old either. There is some deal with the govenrnment where they will pretty much give you land if you develop it.
I would have liked to go further north as it was on Lake Tanganyika that Stanley 'found' Livingstone at Ujiji, but unfortunately this wasn't an open ended trip. Next time.
After three very pleasant nights we had to start heading south, and back to Sumbawanga before crossing into Malawi.
This is a taxi rank.
Well with Wee Nicola advising no travel, and me increasingly pissed off not being able to plan anything meaningful, I'm going to continue to inflict one of my previous holidays on you all.
Right, where were we? Ah yes, Mbeya in Tanzania, on the way to Malawi, having a drink at the very odd hotel (our room had no windows and only three of the ten lights in the room worked) with a guy who swore his name was James Bond. As you do.
Once out of Mbeya the following morning, we climbed up into the mountains which were very lush- this was the first time I'd ever seen a tea plantation. The road was a real treat, in good shape and not too many animals or people on it.
We were heading for the border with Malawi near Ipinda. It was pretty quiet, and we got through easily enough. We changed some US at a bureau de change rasther than the not very pushy touts and were given a wad of Malawian Kwatcha about an inch thick. Their biggest denomenation seems to be a 1000 kwatcha note, which at about 460 to the dollar really isn't enough. Insurance obtained from an office in a ditch near the border compound and we were off. To the roadblock capital of Africa.
We had about 100km to go toour stop at Chitemba and hit 10 police roadblocks. Most waved us through, but not all - one asked for our insurance. Good job we didn't skip that bit. The road that runs south along the lake is very pleasant, with mountains to one side and the lake to the other. But the main thing that strikes you is the vast number of people on the road, about 50% of whom are aged between 7 and 12 years. You absolutely cannot relax for a second because of the people, goats, pics, cyclists and traffic, so we trundled slowly on staying as near to the middle of the road as possible.
This amused us. Bet their lawyers haven't seen this.
Eventualy we got to our camp at Chitemba - the aptly named Hakuna Matata. It was in a lovely spot, but a bit hippyish and run down for my taste. The guy running it was a lazy arse who just shouted for his local lady cook if anything needed doing.
However, it was right on the beach.
The lake looked very tempting, but you should enqure about bilharzia before having a dip.
At Hakuna Matata we met a Swiss couple who were working for some NGO in Kenya. They told us that there are something like 1500 NGOs al doing work in that country, and they do not cooperate or liaise with each other at all, which means tons of money is wasted. We came across several examples of this on our travels, and it led to me becoming a bit cynical about western charitable efforts in Africa. You hear of priviledged kids going over there on their 'gap yahs' to do things like thatch roofs or build churches. What bollocks, the locals know perfectly well how to do those things, but if we do it they'll just sit on their arses and do nothing. And who can blame them? If you're a doctor, a nurse, a civil engineer, agriculturist or whatever then you've got something to offer, but don't go out there to tidy up the village or plant trees.
The lake is suffering because apparently the locals have been using mosquito nets kindly provided by Comic Relief (or whatever) to fish. They are far too fine for this, so the tiny fish that would normally escape and mature get caught...
Anyway, after a misunderstanding over breakfast- yes we'd like some- we got away two hours later than planned. These kids outside the gate were fun.
t's funny, I don't have many pictures of Malawi at all. After being delayed by the pillock who ran the camp at Chitimba and knowing we had a pretty long day ahead I just wanted to keep moving and not stop for photos. Oh well. This is leaving Chitemba. Uurgh, sand.
We stayed on the main M1 road south, which wound up into the mountains in the direction of Mzuzu. This was a real treat with plenty of opportunities to get some wear onto the side of the tyres. At one point we found ourself on immaculate tarmac threading through a very neatly kept rubber plantation. There were few people on the road here apart from some youngsters trying to sell big balls of rubber. Soon though, we were back among the pedestrian traffic, made worse by the fact that it was Sunday and lots of people were strolling along on their way to church.
Anyway, it was lovely run and the clouds that looked like rain didn't, and eventually we ended up back down on the coast at Ngala Beach Lodge near Nkhotakota. The campsite there is very pleasant, situated as it is in a shady area very near the beach.
On our second night, one of those big overland trucks showed up. They kept themselves to themselves pretty much on the first evening, but most made it to the bar on the second. It was amusing to see the oldsters sitting at the bar (with us, the managers (Barbara and Alan who we are still in touch with), two Scottish nurses (ditto) and a hippy dude canoing the lake) making an evening of it, while the young 'uns sipped sodas and went to bed early.
Alan appeared in the morning with a gash in his leg having slipped climbing the stairs to their lodge, He might have been slightly 'in his cups' at the time...
Barbara and Alan were originally from Zimbabwe and told us about living with hyper inflation. Prices went up so fast all you had to do was reach to the back of the shelf in a store and find what you want cheaper as the stuff at the front was already priced higher. And they used to radio each other is something desirable suddenly appeared (like tinned tomatoes) because you never knew when the next lot would be available. I have a fifty trillion dollar note somewhere from this period. You can buy them from souvenir sellers in Zim for a buck or two.
Coffee on the beach. Luvverly.
Onwards to the Malawian capital Lilongwe. I think we need to come back to Malawi to do it some justice, it's a beautiful country, and I suspect that there is a lot more to it than the lake. I would have loved to have gone up to Livingstonia for example, but the road was reckoned to be in a very bad state, and having seen videos (and Long Way Down) I felt it would be too tough.
Some where along the way we needed fuel and pulled in for gas, but none available, apart from some stupendously overpriced stuff dispensed from a vegetable oil bottle by a dude in shades. It was still cheaper than at home and only five litres. Don't think the trip would have been complete without buying some black market fuel.
Lilongwe. Meh, just an overnight at some backpackers. Africa is not really the place for a city break, apart from Capetown and maybe Durban. The camp was full of of smug kids doing 'good works'. While ignoring and being ignored by the 'gapyas', we were cornered by an American Dentist. Now, we have a friend with a daughter who is autistic, so we know an 'aspie' when we meet one. He was literally over in Africa to fly around visiting as many countries as he could in a fortnight. He didn't see anything, just spent a night and moved on. He'd done the same with all the states in Australia and presumably the US too. We made our excuses and left. We did meet a guy from Cape Town who was cycling home from London, and had the beard to prove it. He was cheerful and happy doing it the hard way.
On the other hand, this thing...
...was parked up ready to do battle with Africa. I cannot imagine a worse way to see Africa than from one of these- the couple who were in it literally looked down on us from their eyrie- and I would reckon generate absolutely the wrong sort of reaction wherever they go. It even had a picket fence!
Unfortunately, Mrs 3D got the Lurgi in Lilongwe, bad news as we needed to cross back into Zambia the following day to get to South Luangwa National Park for more encounters with the wildlife. Oh dear.
So, back to Zambia at the well known crossing at Chipata - Mama Rula's campsite and B&B is at Chipata and is a favourite with overlanders. Fortunately we had a double entry visa from the border on the Caprivi, along with insurance and so forth, so things were very straight forward. Good thing too, as Mrs 3D was still feeling awful.
Back in Zambia it was very noticable how few people were walking along the road compared with Malawi. We rode on generally excellent tarmac- just what was needed given Mrs 3D's fragile state. We were heading for The Wildlife Camp just outside South Luangwa National Park and apart from 6km of pretty sandy track to get into the camp it was an easy day.
We set up camp next to the river not far away from a pod of hippos. To get to the main part of the camp you had to walk along the river bank, something we were told was forbidden after dusk- they come and get you in a vehicle if you need to go to the restaurant for example. There is a good reason for this, the camp is crawling with animals....
First morning an ellie wandered through, apparently on its way to the restaurant.
We, ahem, tracked it (from a respectful distance) as it headed through the camp down the sandy road we'd ridden in on. GULP!!!
We had to go and sit near the camp office to check business emails. I looked up and this was just wandering through...
Who knew ellies loaf?
Anyway, you get the picture, this place was crawling. The most alarming thing was that there were hippo prints all around the area we were camping in. How could that be? The river bank was very steep. I'm thinking even a decent tent wouldn't be much protection agains a ton and a half of dim bulb river cow.
On the second day a convoy of 4x4s roared in to our part of the camp, clearly hoping to bag spots on the river, but oh dear, all taken. They 'laagered' right between us and the nearby ablutions making us feel more than a little crowded out. Funny how the guy in charge of these things can set the tone. This one (unlike Alex who was leading the nice lot we went through the border with) marched up and announced that they would be using our braai (better be careful of the tent then, cautioned Mrs 3D giving not an inch) and then cracked open the first of many beers. He just didn't stop drinking. Anyway, they were a bunch of noisy inconsiderate gits who got a tongue lashing from Mrs 3D when they woke us at 5 in the morning to leave. We found a note later apologising for their behaviour, so at least one of them was embarassed. The couple camping next to us, Doug and Giovanna from South Africa were not very imressed with them - "bleddy Africaaners, think they own the place" was Doug's take on them. May a thousand thorns puncture their tyres and baboons shit in their tents.
Unfortunately we were with these clowns on a game drive into South Luangwa. They walked to the main reception to make sure they got the front seats, while we waited (as instructed) for the vehicle to come to us. Never mind, South Luangwa is a lovely park, and we got our first ever leopard sightings.
Later that evening we realised the hippos were nearby. This picture was taken from next to our tent.
We woke about two in the morning and realised they were right in the camp a few meters from us. We kept quiet as possible because if they are disturbed they just make a run for the river and all hell could have broken loose. At least they didn't knock the bike over!
It took us a little longer to get away from Wildlife Camp as the staff seemed to have gone on strike that morning, and I wasn't leaving without a decent breakfast in me. Eventually the owner got everyone back to work, but there were clearly some problems that needed to be ironed out. I was somewhat aprehensive about the ride out as I really didn't want to meet anything on a narrow sandy track, but luck was with us and we made it to the tar road without incident.
We were heading back to Lusaka and from there to Zimbabwe. We had thought about trying Mozambique, but the information we had suggested that you could only obtain visas in Lilongwe, and I didn't fancy hanging about an embassy for hours even if riding the infamous (and potentially dangerous) Tete Corridor might have been an adventure.
The ride south was straightforward with no gravel to entertain us other than a long section of roadworks which helpfully was sprayed with water to keep the dust down and rendering it slick as hell.
Half way to Lusaka we had an interesting night at a place called Bridge Camp. We'd been warned by the owner of Wildlife Camp that there were issues with the owners. She wasn't wrong! Man alive, the people in charge there have problems, mostly due to uncontrolled alcohol consumption. Which is a shame, as it's in a lovely spot looking out over a river to Mozambique and the accommodation was pretty decent, as was the breakfast. We were joined after dinner by the owners, an English woman and a Dutch bloke. They raved and bitched about their situation and each other while drinking like the utter alcoholics they were. The other people staying had made themselves scarce, I guess they'd had the same treatment the previous evening. I truly hope they have divorced and gone their separate ways, or they are going to drink themselves to an early grave.
The view over to Moz from the deck at Bridge Camp. Best thing about the place really.
I was hoping to get fuel near Bridge Camp, but there was none to be had, so it was a bit of a slow one to get to the next place showing fuel on Tracks4Africa, but we made it. Just. Never pass a fuel stop without gassing up. You'd think I'd know that by now.
Once again we had to cross Lusaka, and once again Tracks4Africa kept us right. You have to stay alert in the city as you can easily be mown down by a fast moving armed convoy containing some government apparachik. They stop for no one and nothing.
At our camp in Lusaka we ran into a couple of English guys, Mole and Michael who were riding towards Cape Town on well 'ard KTM singles. They's flown the bikes into Addis Abbaba in Ethiopia and were having a blast. Mole owns a brewery in the west country, and Michael is a retired aeronautical engineer. They are both the other side of 65. We spent a very pleasant evening with them dirinking fizzy yellow beer that didn't particularly impress Mole.
Michael (on the right) turned up on his 1200GS at our place in Inverness a year or so later while doing the NC500. What a guy!
KTM aventure weapons.
There are a couple of borders we could have used to cross into Zim from Lusaka, but crossing the Zambezi at the Kariba dam sounded cool and definitely quieter, so that's what we did. Riding across the famous dam seemed somehow very cool in my fevered mind, dunno why. That said, I have no pictures. They were doing a lot of work there - the Chinese were burrowing into the hill on the Zim side which I believe was something to do with repairing the structure so there were lots of construction trucks coming and going.
The Zambian border was dead as a doornail, so once a customs official could be found we were through easily enough. On the Zim side the immigration facilities were housed (if that's the word) in a M*A*S*H style tent that was about 45 degrees inside. Man it was hot. Mrs 3D tried to sneak in under the wire by presenting her NZ passport for a visa (about 20 US cheaper than the one for Brits) but as she'd been stamped out of Zambia on her Brit passport they refused. At least we already had US dollars (the legal currency in Zim) so that was one less hassle. Again, the border was very quiet, and after a long chat with a young chap from the touristt police we were in, destination Lake Kariba, and the very wonderful Karribea Bay hotel.
The holel (80 rooms) was nearly empty, which is a damn shame as it's in a fantastic position overlooking the lake, but that didn't seem to bother the staff who were cheerful and helpful from start to finish. Within about an hour just about all the staff had sussed out we were the two mzungus on the motorbike and were greeting us by name. Highly recommended.
Heading south the next day towards Harare we could see what a brilliant job of running the country was being done by the geriatric bonehead in charge.
Farms lay abandoned with their buildings rotting, and nothing much seemed to be growing in the fields apart from the odd patch of maize, although in fairness it was after the harvest. One thing that was doing well was tobacco - the smell if you got behind a truck hauling fresh leaf was mighty powerful. The state of the country is brought into sharp focus when you compare the vibrant and prosperous capital of Zambia with the bust up gentility of Harare. Zimbabwe's capital was clearly once a lovely place, but now the rot has set in good and proper. Naturally there was no power when we rolled in to town, and the whole place looked bust up with shattered pavements, wonky, rusty lamp posts and all the rest, but the tree lined streets spoke of a more gracious past, at least for the wealthier (read white) residents. Anyway, after a bit of faffing around we managed to find our lodging somewhere out near the race course without getting flattened at any of the junctions with non working traffic lights. Fortunately they had a whopping great generator (as most of the wealthier residents do) to ensure the beer was kept cool.
We were joined for dinner by a Russian oligarch from Siberia and his personal cameraman who came from Pretoria. The oligarch was over for a 'safari' (one where they must have been expecting trouble, as he had brought all his guns ) and the cameraman was there to film the thing for posterity. This was a regular job for the cameraman he made no bones about toasting his wealthy client during the meal. Nasdrovia!
Next morning I moseyed out to the bike which, much to my surprise, sat gleaming on the driveway in a puddle of water. Yep, the gardener had taken into his head to wash off something like 10000km of accumulated (and very cool looking) dust and grime. Now I looked like I just arrived, not what I wanted at all. Oh well, he was only trying to help, I suppose.
Anyway, next stop Great Zimbabwe. Some of the traffic lights were actually working in the centre of Harare, and Tracks4Africa took me straight out and put me on the right road without a hitch. The road was in reasonable condition and the traffic was light, at least once we cleared the city.
Not far from where we were due to stop near Great Zimbabwe (GZ) we got stopped at a roadblock. Normally not a problem, but the young copper in charge wanted to see some cross border permit, which I didn't have. I could tell he sensed an opportunity for a fine and made us park up by the side of the road, although after a rowdy and cheerful exchange between us and a minibus full of local guys he looked as though he knew he was losing the situation. Anyway, I think he was after some bit of paper which maybe travellers (South Africans?) who don't need carnets get, so eventually after some to-ing and fro-ing I produced my carnet and showed him the stamp from Kariba. That seemed to satisfy him with no loss of face, so off we went.
For about 300m, when we got busted for 'speeding'
Before I'd even killed the motor Mrs 3D had jumped off and begun arguing with the guy with the radar gun. Not possible to be doing 77km/h (in a 60) so soon after setting off she said. Are you saying that this large motorcycle is not capable of that? replied the plod with a smile, fingering his fine book. (me: thinks, yep perfectly capable, but I don't think I'll join in just now)
Then suddenly something changed and the cop asked where we were from. Scotland! replied Mrs 3D. Ah, said the cop, I thought so, I could tell by your accent! (you may know Mrs 3D is from New Zealand and I am English) Well, we weren't going to correct his take on things and he decided at that point to let us off. Hooray! Or should that be Hoots!
Anyway, that encounter was typical and any animosity that Uncle Bob feels towards the UK doesn't seem to have filtered down to the people on the ground- everyone we dealt with was friendly and polite, and I wouldn't hesitate to go back there.
We stayed at a good campsite about 5km from GZ called Norma Jeane's. The main house is a lovely colonial style homestead which was built by a man of Scottish descent called Murray MacDougal who was involved in the building of the dam nearby. This place is a little oasis with beautiful gardens and great food. Oh, and marble tiled ablutions, probably among the best I've ever seen.
Norma Jeane's. A little oasis.
We arrived in good time, so after setting off we went exploring. This is the lake. Could it look any more like Scotland - maybe up by Lochinver?
The following day we rode up to Great Zimbabwe (which means great stone house). Happily we were able to dump our riding gear at reception; you do not want to walk around that place in bike boots clutching a lid. Everything looked tidy and well kept- I suppose they make sure of that given its UNESCO status. We hired a guide to show us round, a young chap who was on placement from university where he was studying anthropology. He was very knowledgable and I hope it works out for him.
Our guide using a cave to reflect his voice over the valley.
Great Zimbabwe gives a lie to the idea that nothing much was happening in the south of Africa before the white man arrived. This 'city' was started in the 11th century and building continued until the 15th. Some of the defensive walls are 11 meters thick, and beautifully constructed without mortar. The whole site is very imressive indeed.
Back at Norma Jeane's we found we were sharing our campsite with a couple of New Zealand girls who were touring around in a 4x4. They had come through Beitbridge (the main southern border between Zim and SA) and had been royally fleeced by the touts there. They were nice girls, but perhaps not the most, er, worldly, which is why they didn't know about not being able to get visas for Moz at the border. They just rocked up and got their passports stamped into Moz no worries! Sometimes ignorance is bliss. The didn't know who Madonna was either...
Anyway, we were heading down that way, overnighting at a famous roadhouse called the Lion and Elephant. It was noticable as we got closer to the border with South Africa how much crap there was everywhere along the road and all the seats and tables in the rest areas were bust up, but I suppose it is a very busy road that takes some hammering. There were a vast number of massively overloaded bakkies and cars with trailers piled way high with things like matresses and furniture heading north, and lots of packed busses thundering along.
Blimey, and this lot goes through Beitbridge, no wonder it has a fearsome reputation...
One of the best ride reports I've seen, ever I have been following your route in detail, really great route, well done.
Well done, I think you have spurned us all on to achieve greater things during these dark times.
The time is not far away, of that I am sure. Maybe not so far away as in this great RR, but at least something to look forward to.
Keep sending us more of your adventures, sure beats watching crappy tv.
Glad you're enjoying it - I'm enjoying reliving the experience too.
Onwards! We had one last night in Zim at a roadhouse called the Lion and Elephant. It definitely looked like it had seen better days, but it was pretty much the only place to stop along the main road south. It was a pretty big complex, and must have been a real cash cow back in the day, but of course, like most things in Zim it was falling into oblivion. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the so-called War Veterans claim it one day and that will be the end of it. I'd like to think things in Zim were getting better now Uncle Bob is dead and gone, but I'm not seeing many signs that things are improving. It's a shame, because Zimbabweans are among the best educated people in Africa (Mugabe kept the British school system going which was something I suppose) and are valued workers in the countries nearby, but the corruption is just endemic and ordinary people are being crushed.
I got a good picture for my 'Abandoned Gas Stations' collection at the L&E.
In the bar of the L&E we talked to a Zim couple who had been robbed at gunpoint a few days previously when they were heading south to see family in SA. They stopped in a layby for a pee - probably a mistake! Sounded properly scary, but they seemed pretty relaxed about it. Funny thing was, they said that as a result there were loads of roadblocks between the L&E and the border, but we saw none. I can't believe that they were making it up, but...
The next morning, somewhat aprehensive about armed robbers and a notorious border, we headed off to Beitbridge. Well, to be honest it was bit of an anti climax- no roadblocks, no problems, no nothing. We got through both sides in under two hours. Easy peasy, although on the side heading north it looked properly mad, to say the least. If I were heading north I think I would get into Botswana at the Martin's Drift border which is easy, and then head for Bulawayo - I've heard of Saffer riders getting into difficulty heading north at Beitbridge (as did the Kiwi girls we met in Zim), so what chance to the rest of us have?
Anyway, entering SA was like stepping in an instant from the third to the first world, an amazing difference. Just after clearing the border we ran into this Aussie guy (Mark) on his KLR650 called Rosie who had been travelling for some time and was heading to Livingstone to work for a while.
Why do all KLRs look like they're held together with baling wire and gaffer tape?
Heading south we basically needed to make some time so stayed on main roads dicing with GP (Guateng) plated SUVs driven by madmen. Taking a breather at a gas station we ran into a father and daughter on an F800 who knew of a biker friendly place to stay in Polokwane- The Devenish Guest House. Better still, they were heading down there and would take us right to the door. Thanks Skul, it was a great recommendation.
We'd decided to stay in Dullstroom for the next night, we'd been there before and liked it. The owner of the Devenish (who had a Goldwing, I think) recommended we headed down through the Verwoerd tunnels which was a great runthrough some beautiful scenery. We were near the very picturesque Blyde River canyon and God's Window,, but we have ridden that before.
I like Dullstroom, it reminds me a little of a place called Tekapo in New Zealand. We found a guest house cum shop with a massive selection of rare malts (I mean epic), while we were looking for somewhere to stay, but they were so snooty we didn't bother. Much better was a place off the main street- you'd want to be because of the trucks going through using their engine brakes- which was recommended by a the owner of a nice looking restaurant called the Art of Food. Anglers Court - super secure parking, quiet and dead central. Oh, and The Art of Food was very good, although don't go there if you want a kilo of steak and a mountain of fries...
I would have enjoyed myself more if I hadn't tripped up a step outside, and in trying to save my lid from damage fell on my side and cracket a rib. Bloody hell it was painful! Fortunately we found a pharmacy and I was able to get some stuff for the pain.
Dulstroom an a previous visit.
Anyway, by now we'd decided to cut across country rather than go down the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast- pity, as I would have liked to go back to Warner Beach which is near where I used to live as a kid.
We stopped at a hotel we'd used before called Little Switzerland, which was a bit quiet compared to last time, which unfortunately meant awesome buffet (7 courses!) was closed which was a damn shame, but the views of the Drakensburg and Losotho were as magnificent as we remembered. And the zebras are still there...
Lesotho mountains from our previous stay.
I would have really liked more time - we had a plane to catch unfortunately - as I have unfinished business with the Sani Pass into Lesotho. Last time we were here it was very wet, and on 80/20 tyres we came unstuck trying to get up the pass. This time the weather was much better, and the tyres were still in decent shape. Unfortunately the Chinese will have tarmaced the lot by the time we get back there so I think I missed my chance to have a proper go at one of the most awesome rides there is.
Another pic from from our previous trip - the Sani - it was a bit slick for Michelin Anakee 2s.
After Little Switzerland we made our way south towards Capetown through pretty unremarkable scenery across the high veld. It looked as though it was going to snow when we left Zastron and we had all out layers on by then. An overnight at Graaf Reinet saw us staying at a comfortable but eccentric guest house owned by a woman who had once been engaged to former South African PM PW Botha. There were framed press cuttings everywhere!
I was hoping to get at least one more day of gravel riding in before we got to Capetown, and I'd read about the Swartberg Pass which is outside the old 'Ostrich Capital' of South Africa, Oudtshoorn. Arriving in Oudshoorn we found a decent place near the town centre - Gumtree Lodge- for a couple of nights, and rode the Swartberg Pass the following day. What a lovely ride that was - it's about 23 km to the top of the pass which is at just over 5000 feet. and all gravel. The pass was constructed about 130 years ago and many of the retaining walls are original.
We had lunch in Prince Albert and then looped back round via the tarmaced road through Meiringspoort and De Rust.
Amazing rock formations on the descent
The owners of the Gumtree recommended that we took the back road to Calitzdorp the next day en route to Montague. What a lovely road that is. You go up towards the Swartberg pass and then turn off onto a beautiful gravel road that leads straight to the centre of Calitzdorp. Sad to be on the last bit of gravel, but a good way to go out, I suppose.
Nicked from Google. Swartberg escarpment in the background.
After we got back on the tarmac at Calitzdorp we had an uneventful ride through the Klein Karoo to Ronnie's Sex Shop near Barrydale. It's one of those places that has become a bit of a baking hot Green Welly and was fun, but a bit further on is the Country Pumpkin where on arrival we were offered a free glass of something like schnapps. Very civilised.
Well what did you expect to find inside?
Oh Lord, I wish we hadn't stayed in Montague for two nights. Nothing wrong with the place at all, it's charming, but when we set off for Cape Town we could see something really nasty in the way of weather coming our way. Now I've ridden through some shite in my time, but the rain was just biblical and the wind was howling, so everything sprayed up by the trucks went straight at us like insult being added to injury. It was properly scary, and I wished the Hugenot tunnel went all the way to Camps bay. If we'd got there a day earlier we could have just sat out the storm in comfort. Still, 10 weeks without a drop of rain I suppose we can't complain - if you manage 10 hours up here in the Highlands you're doing well.
Ah, Camps Bay. I love it there, and the manager (who owned a GPZ1100) of the place we stayed upgraded us, so we basically had the entire top floor of the building to ourselves. For all of fifty quid! It was a great place to swig a bottle of bubbly with Altus and Simone who schlepped all the way from Durbanville to help us celebrate the end of the journey.
One last African sunset.
The following day we had to find a jetwash for the bike and get down to Econotrans in Paarden Eiland to drop the bike off. They took care of the crating but I had to remove a few bits and pieces like the screen and the rack extension, as well as disconnecting the battery. Adrian Schultz who runs the office there was extremely helpful and makes shiiping in and out of Capetown so easy. Econotrans is just down the road from a big adventure biking store called Flying Brick, a Yamaha dealer and a camping superstore. If you ever decide to do a trip like this, make sure the bike goes to Adrian.
All that remained for us was to pick up our luggage and have a wash and brush up before flying home to our new house and business in Inverness.
It was very pleasant to arrive back in Scotland during the summer - normally we come back from our trips in winter and it is a very unpleasant contrast. We picked up the car and trailer at my brother's place in Oxton and Mrs 3D and I headed north, she towing up the A9 and me happily riding my Laverda RGS up though Glenshee. Boy it felt small and fast after the beemer.
I don't suppose this trip would amount to a hill of beans in some circles, but I think it shows that it is possible to travel around Africa on a bike and still do normal African holiday things like game watching. The camping (29 days) was great fun- apart from the commie ants- and all the gear, especially the Mosko panniers and the Mitas E-07 tyres which worked a treat. At no point was anyone less than friendly (although one or two pissed up lodge owners need to take a good look at themselves), we met loads of great people, including all the Dogs at the Oasis spitbraai, the borders were a laugh and nearly all of the lodges and camp sites were very pleasant indeed. I have no problems with the driving (although GP drivers in SUVs are a bit of a menace ) and I think I may even have learned a thing or two about riding in sand. I wish we could have done the whole trip we planned- right around Lake Victoria- but we will at some stage I'm sure.
Total distance (in Africa) 13200km. Breakdowns: 0. Spills: 2 minor, 2 that hurt (but no bones broken). Problems and annoyances: 0.
PS Kevin (Alfie Cox's brother in law) who we met at Kunene has got himself a bike now. A KTM perhaps?
PPS Pooratech/KLR alert- very useful (near essential actually) 'accessory' - an ice hockey puck attached to a string loop to put under the side stand. Stopped the bike trying to flip itself over every time I got off it...
About 5 weeks later the bike was delivered direct to my door. An oil and filter change, check the valves (still fine) and the balance of the throttle bodies (ditto) and she's good to go again. As you may see from my reports from later trips it's still going strong.
Brilliant ride report, loved every bit of it. Especially liked the photos
Glad you enjoyed it!
3dawg, that was surely a great trip - and Write Up.
No issues with the bike ?
Many thanks for posting, not at all envious.
Thanks. No problems with the bike at all, not even a puncture. The old GS is remarkably reliable, never given me a moment's trouble.
Just to let you know, I’m reading all this and enjoying!
Very awesome Ride Report
Huge thanks for posting
Pleasure, as they say down there. I forgot to add, as you may have gathered we spent time with several of the owners of lodges - this led to job offers (like running the place) at two of them. I think I would have had a nervous breakdown before the end of the first week!