In East Africa we are welcomed with "jambo, habari?", which means hello, how are you? in Swahili. In 1995-1996 we traveled in 5 months from Delft in The Netherlands to Capetown in South Africa. We covered 18 countries and rode more than 25.000 km on our Suzi's. We got lost in a minefield in the Sahara, got twice arrested in Zaire and climbed the highest mountain in Africa. And met many beaufiful people. Curious?????? Read the stories below or buy Harald's book:
In Morocco our African Adventure starts. In Fez we see the old medina with little shops and leather factory. We take lunch in little restaurants and learned to drink the very sweet mint tea. We ride through aride landscape that turns into desert. Then Udo's bike start to shake and it turns out that the rear tire is flat. A big nail punctured it. One hour later we are back on the road.
The landscape gets drier and sandier. Only camel grass grows here. A hot strong wind blows our suzuki's over the monotonous road to Dakhla in South Morocco. From here we have to go in convoy to Mauritania because of the civil war between the Moroccians and the minority group the Polisarios in the late seventies. After four days of paper work we can join the convoy that will take us to Mauritania. It is an international group of travelers. Germans in a Unimog, Australians in a landrover, Spanish in an old peugeot, Dutch in a very old VW bus and we on our Suzuki motorbikes. While we are waiting for the papers, we change our tires for the desert.
The whole convoy gets together at 8 o'clock in the morning. A militair is collecting all the passports in a plastic bag. Time to go... But nothing happens. For unclear reasons we wait and finally at 2 o'clock in the afternoon we start riding. This is Africa... After a long day riding it gets dark and we get cold and hungry. We stop to put on a fleece sweater and eat something. But the convoy is moving on. We loose sight of them. We kick on our suzuki's and try to catch up, because we don't know where to go.. With 90 km/hr we ride in the dark over the detoriated tarmac. More and more sand is over the tarmac and then suddenly Udo see that Harald is not following. Udo turns and then see Harald laying next to his bike on a sand dune on the road. He hurt his knee badly. He cannot ride. A few minutes later the Dutch couple Paul and Marja in their VW bus show up. They missed us. Lucky Paul knows how to ride a motorbike and Harald takes place in the bus with Marja. Finally at midnight we arrive at the others, that made camp just before the border with Mauritania.
The next day Harald's knee is swollen, but not broken. Helmut, a German from the Unimog volunteers to ride Harald's bike. A few kilometer further we arrive at the Mauritanian border. A desk middle in the desert and a few miIitairs, thats all. It is already 30 degrees C and we wait a few hours until all the papers are checked. Then we can continue. The road has ended and takes place for sand with many deep tracks. The most cars get stucked and we help to dig them out. On our motorbikes we are much lighter and quicker and we go ahead of the convoy. After a while we are stopped by Mauritanian militairs. They say that we took the wrong track. But one of the soldiers is friendly enough to show us a shortcut back to the main track. He guide us on foot and we follow him on our bikes. After a while he stops and says: "follow this jeep track and you will find the main track". "But stay between the tire tracks because this is a minefield", he says with a smile on his face. We look to each other and then we kick on our bikes. Carefuly we ride over the little sand dunes, trying to stay between the tracks. After a few 100 meters the tracks are gone, blown away by the wind. There we stand in the middle of a minefield and no idea which way to go........
We decide to stay some time at the campsite in Nouadhibou to heal Harald's knee. The travelers from the convoy left all, but twices a week new travelers arrive. Unfortunately 2 more motorbikers broke an ankle and their trip is over. We meet Eric in his old Mercedes. He wants to sell the Mercedes and repair a truck that was stored at the campsite from a previous trip. We arrange that we help to fix the truck, called "Alice", and for the help Harald and his bike can go in there to pass through the Sahara. Days we work on the truck and we get help from 3 spanish guys who are lifting their way through Africa. When "Alice" is ready, Eric, the 3 spanish guys and we decid to go together from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott. This means 500 km through the Sahara desert. So we fuel up, take water and food. Eric could not sell his Mercedes and Harald joins him in the car. Two spanish guys drive "Alice" and Udo and one spanish guy, Ismael, go on the bikes.
Deep sand makes it difficult to ride, but the way to do it is to keep speed. After a while it goes more easy and Udo really starts to enjoy it. "Surfing" over little sand dunes. I feel I do the "Dakar" rally...
From Dakar in Senegal we plan to go by train to Bamako in Mali. Harald injuried his knee badly in Morocco when he fell off in the sand dunes and is still painfull when he stands on it. We buy tickets for ourselves and then we deliver the motorbikes at the back of the train station. There is no ramp and the platform is almost one meter high. But 8 guys want to help us to lift the bikes up. Ofcourse they want some money and suddenly 15 ! men helped us, they all want money. For the transport of the motorbike we have to pay per kilo. So the bike is put on a balance and weighted. 337 kilo's.....What!!!! This is not possible, we know that our bike weights about 250 kilo with all the gear. But than we see that one of the guys is standing on the balance......Nice try guys, I love these Africans......
With a speed of 60 km/hr the train moves slowly ahead. The rail track is very bumpy and it feels that we are driving over a corrugated road. And that for 31 hours.... At almost every little village the train stops and the local people sell their stuff. Bread, tea, fruit, fish and even watches or sunglasses. At night the train stops at the border at Kidira and Harald goes out to pick up the passports that were taken by the train guard. At the immigration office Harald wants also that the "carnets de passage" for our bikes get stamped. While he is waiting he hears a whistle and the man at the immigration say: thats your train, you better run.... Harald grab the papers and hops to the train. He can not run fast because of his injured knee. The train is speeding up and Harald is just able to jump on the footstep of the last wagon. For more than 20 minutes he stands on the footstep. In one hand the papers and holding himself with his other hand. Then somebody sees him and opens the door. At a train stop he wants to walk to our wagon but the train starts to move again. He jumps in a carriage wagon and when somebody turn on a lighter he is surrounded by 30 people. They look very strange that a white man is traveling in the cheapest wagon..... At a next stop Harald goes out and walk to the wagon where Udo sleeps. When the train pulls up Udo wakes up and see Harald coming. "You can go to sleep", Harald says", I already arranged all the papers...
The road is good. We pass a river where fishermen are throwing their nets. A bit further people doing their laundry in the same river. A truck pass with a super load of hay. The Harald stops. Again a problem? No, he has 100.000 km on his Suzuki! A toast.
In Bamako we find a nice hotel. Well, it's more a house from a family that has a bed extra. For one more bed, the daughter of the house has to sleep with her sister. By renting a room this family can make some extra money. Around the corner we find the smallest restaurant we ever seen. From some wood panels and reet Mohamed made some walls and roof and a small bench to sit. "Cafe Mohamed". He wants to make breakfast for us. OK, that's good. So he walks away and some minutes later he comes back with fresh French bread and some jam. Then he boiles water for instant coffee. We talk with him and one day he wants to have a real restaurant. We really like his attitude and entepreneurship. So the next days we come back to have our breakfast.
The Sahara make place for the sub-Sahara. More bushes and trees appear in the landscape. On our road to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso Udo's bike stops. It starts again but when he opens the throttle it doesn't rev up. Where did we had this before??? Yep, in Australia in 1993... we take out the carburator and fix the screw to the gas slide.
We pass little villages with thatched huts and we stop to see. A woman is grinding rice with a piece of wood in a bowl. Some huts are build on stones, so animals has no access. And everywhere when we stop, people are gathering around, as we are a tourist atraction. I guess we are.
For days we did not see any travelers. Many travelers we met were traveling til Senegal, but not further into Central Africa. Well, we do. As we approach the Nigerian border we are a bit nervous, because what we hear is that there is a lot of corruption. So surprising is the welcome from the immigration police. And they tell us that corruption is over due to a new president and new police. We see indeed a lot of young policemen at the many roads blocks we pass. But they are more interested in our bikes then our papers.
A paved road slides through a landscape with many boulders. On a roadside a man is making kebab and we stop to have lunch. When we walk away we see a sign with "goat head". Did we eat this??? We walk to a cow market. There are a lot of long horns and we are afraid that they will spear us... When we walk back to our bikes they are surrounded with so many kids that we hardly can see them. Even when Harald starts his engine and want to ride away, the kids stay around. We are the happening of the day...
Back on the road we pass many colorful trucks. Usually packed with a lot of people. When we pass they always wave. We wave back. Then we see a hole in the road. Well, it's more that the road collapsed and a truck could fit in. This is a reason not to travel in the dark...
At some petrol stations there is no petrol and the servant point to the edge of the city. When we go there, we see big metal vessels and a handpump. It seems that there is an issue about the petrol prices, so it is not delivered to the petrol stations. But we can fill up our fueltanks. The road is dusty and we cruise through green forests. Harald notice that he has a flat rear tire. One hour later it is fixed and it is time to find a place to sleep. We find a hotel with round huts to stay. We clean our dirty faces and our air filter of the bikes. Then we take an african shower. Meaning a bucket of water to throw over your head.
Troubles in Zaire.
As soon as we enter Zaire the problems start. At the immigration we have to pay $10 to get a stamp in our passport. In the next room we have to pay for our Carnet, the paper for our bikes. They charge $20. And $5 for overtime. And it's only noon... An english couple who are just leaving tells us that they waited for 3 days because they didn't want to pay. After 3 days they still payed $300 for their landrover. In the last room at the immigration we have to pay road taxes. ,,But there are no roads in Zaire", I say. The custom officer smiles and charge us for $50. Each! We start to play harder and show our empty wallet. After 2 hours they are getting tired of us and let us go...
A small dirt road passes little huts and the road is filled with potholes. Our speed is not going over 30 km/hr. It is a good thing that we didn't paid the roadtaxes... People wave from their gardens and little kids stare at us. They are not used to see white men on motorbikes. After a while we face the next problem. Not corrupt officials, but a bridge. Well, bridge is not the right name, only some trees are put over the river. And there is a lot of space between the trees. We choose the thickest tree and carefully with our feet on the tree we ride over it. Wow, we made it... A few kilometers further an other bridge. And one more... At the fourth tree bridge it goes wrong. Halfway on the bridge Udo loses his balance and the front wheel slips from the tree. Udo flies over his bike and land on the bank. His bike hangs on the panniers between two trees. How the hell we get the bike out of here????? First we decide to take a tea break and eat some bananas and then suddenly a few locales come out from the jungle. They see our problem and together we lift the bike up and put it back on the road. Thanks my friends!
The first 200 km we need 3 whole days and we passed more than 50 tree bridges. But it gets worse. After a night of heavy rain the road changes into a big mud pool. Normally the roads are difficult to ride but now it is almost impossible. Every few 100 meters we get stuck in the mud. One time Harald try to pass a big mud pool but his bike slips and he fall down in the mud. Harald and his bike are totally covered with thick, oozy mud. It looks like he has shit all over him... Potholes in the track are filled with water and it is difficult to how deep it is. Sometimes we can go around, but most times we have to go through. At one pothole water crossing Udo takes the right track and comes through. Harald takes the left track and that is more deep. He got stucked in the mud. We can push the bike out, but one of his aluminium pannier is leaking (due to the crash in Morocco).When the bike is on dry road, minutes long water drips out the pannier. We decide to push the bikes in the high grass, put up our tent and dry all his stuff. It is very tough to travel these roads but we have a lot of fun. When we reach a bigger river at the end of the day we cannot cross. A man, Gilbert explains that we can cross tomorrow when the ferry will come to this side. He invites us to his place. We ride back our bikes and come at 3 huts. There is his wife and friends. We can pitch our tent between the huts. They are amazed about our stuff and we show to them. Gilbert's wife cooks rice and fish on a woodfire and it is shared with us. They are so hospitable. The next morning when we say goodbye, we give a few lighters to the wife, a t-shirt and some money. We take the ferry and Harald make a picture. Arriving at the other side a police officer and 2 militairs with rifles, pull Harald's camera out of his hands and they say we are arrested for espionage. WHAT? We follow them to an old ruinous office. The policeman explains the situation and that it will cost us a lot of money to move on. OK, we start to play the game of showing our wallet with only 5 dollars. That's not enough. We explain that for safety we have only traveller cheques. That can be changed for cash dollars at a bank. After 3 hours the policeman is convinced. We have to hand over 200 dollar in traveller cheques. But what we did not tell him, that we have to sign the cheques a second time...
We ride a few kilometers further and when we see a little open space we pitch our tent. At dark different sounds of the jungle appear and makes us snoozing to sleep.
Sometimes we only have a small jungle tracks, and we have doubts about our route. But this is the only "road", so we cannot be wrong. In a village with a market we find some fresh baked pancakes and bananas.
As usual we make some pictures, after asking, and then a young soldier shows up. He says that it is forbidden to take pictures and point his rifle to our face and wants the camera. No way dude. We are sick of these guys. We pack our camera in our bag and wait. People from the market gather around and we see that the soldier feels uncomfortable. Then he tell us that we have to ride up to the police station at the border with him. Good idea, that's our direction. But then he wants to step on Udo's bike. No way, man, If you want to come, find your own transport. Well, there is non. It's already getting late and we decide to pitch our tent next to the market. We make a coffee and eat our pancakes with bananas. The soldier is guarding us all the time, all night..
The next morning we pack everything together and ask the soldier what the plan is. He say he will arrange his transport, still pointing his rifle in our face. The soldier takes a moped of one of the locals and we have to follow him. After two hours we arrive at the police office. We have to wait in a room and a time later the head of immigration comes. We explain our story that we only made pictures of the market people. He is convinced and stamps our passports and carnet and we can cross the border. No more bugging...
Uganda, Mountain Gorillas.
A green valley, that looks like a patchwork is all around us. We ride through the Semliki valley and meet 2 men from the Batwa-pygmy community. They have the same hight as our bikes...
For the first time since weeks, we have asphalt under our tires. That rides smooth. We head to Kampala, the capital of Uganda and go to the Thomas Cook travel office. Here we declare that a few travelers cheques were stolen in Zaire. The very friendly servant take some papers that we have to fill in and those cheques will be blocked and we receive the money back. Now I would like to see the policeman's face when he goes to a bank in Zaire...
We are allowed to ride with our motorbikes into Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is rare for African national parks. So we are also a but nervous,because there are still lions... From the campsite we make a boot tour over the river and within 5 minutes we see an elephant on the shore. Phantastic! Then we hear some snorring sounds and it comes from the hippo's in front of us. Back to back they lay in the water. We see many birds and, warthogs. This is why we came to East Africa, to see the wildlife.
We ride to the south of Uganda to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. We would like to do a Gorilla tracking but we did not made a reservation. At the park office it is all booked for weeks, but the nice park ranger say that often visitors don't show up and then there will be a place available. He say, why don't we try tomorrow morning. Allright. We camp put up our tent af the campsite and we make a nice cup of soup.
The next morning when the office opens, we are the first. Then some time later a bus arrives and a group of visitors arrive. The ranger comes to us and tell that it's full. Only a small group of 5 persons can do the gorilla tracking because they don't want to disturb the gorilla's too much. Since we have no fixed travel schedule we wait another day. And then we are lucky. Two persons did not show up and we can go. Together with a tracker, that goes ahead, and 2 armed park rangers we walk up the mountain. With a machete they have to cut our way throught the thick jungle. And then, after a 5 hour harsh climb we see a group of mountain Gorillas. This is AMAZING! A huge silverback sits in a tree and eat some leaves. WOW!
On our way to Kenia we pass the equator en see baboons on the road. Thats cool!
In Tanzania we want to climb the Kilimanjaro. With 5895 meter, it is the highest mountain of Africa. You don't need special equipement to climb this mountain, only be in good shape. After we arranged the obligated guide and porters we start with the Marangu route. The first day goes over an easy trail to the Mandarra hut at 2700 m. But there is not only one hut, there are dozens. It looks like a whole village. We take a bed in the big dormitory and our guide makes a nice spaghetti diner. The next morning we leave at eight. The trail gets smaller and first we pass the rainforest, which ends at a wide plain. From here we see for the first time the snowcap of the "Kili". Wow, that summit is far away... Do we have to go there all the way????? Slowly we walk on and enjoy the nice views. After a 6 hour walk we arrive at the Horombo hut at 3720 m. There are many organized groups and all the cooks of the groups prepare the diners on a wood fire. Therefore they chopp off all the trees and plants. The mountain is devastated and starts to erode. Ofcourse as tourists we are also guilty because we want to eat, but we pay a lot of fees for the climb, so the Tanzanian government could invest a part of the money in gasburners so they can safe the ecology of the mountain.
The third day we stay at the Horombo hut to acclimatize.
The weather is nice and 'Kili' smiles at us. We walk through a semi-desert and after seven hours we reach Kibo hut at 4703 m. The temperature in the hut is 2 degrees centigrade and with all our clothes on we lay ourself in our sleeping bag. Because of the hight we can not sleep and at midnight everybody gets up. We
start at the last and most difficult part of the climb. Outside it is -10 degrees centigrade but because of the windchill it feels much colder. The track is made of loose grid and goes steep up. Step by step we go higher. We pass somebody who is throwing up. He climbed too fast and has altitude sickness. ''Pole, pole, slowly, slowly", says our guide. When I look down I see dozens of lighted headlights crawling up the mountain. I think at myself these people are stupid to climb a mountain at - 10 C in the middle of the night.......
At six in the morning we arrive at Gilmanspoint at 5700 m. We walk over the snowcap and wait until the sunrise. This is beautiful. The sky colors orange-gold and the ice peaks at the glacier changes colors every time. I'm so impressed that I forgot that I took off my gloves for making photo's and my fingers starts to freeze. We walk two more hours and then we reach the summit at 5895 meter, Uhuru peak. Uhuru means freedom. And it feels free from up here....The view is breathtaking. We are standing at the highest point in Africa.
Where the road ends.
Maybe is traveling in East Africa less adventurous, the roads are getting better and some countries are more developed. But what makes this part of Africa very interesting are the National Parks and the wildlife. We did some safari's, like in Ngorongoro Crater and saw lions, girafs, buffalos, rhinos, baboons, impalas and much more. This is so beautiful. And do believe the road signs if it say: Elephants crossing!!!!!!
At the border Zambia-Zimbabwe we stay a few days and watch the spectaculair Victoria Falls. Over a length of 1.8 kilometers the water drops with the sound of thunder 108 meters down and clouds of spray are send up 500 meters into the sky. This is why the Africans call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, "smoke that thunders".
After 5 months intensive traveling and many adventures we reach Cape of Good Hope. On our 25.000 km trip our Suzi's did not let us down. At Cape of Good Hope the road ends. Our journey ends here, but not in our mind. This trip made us rich inside....
When you are traveling you meet a lot of people. Sometimes they only pay you a visit when you having lunch by the side of the road. Other times you are surrounded by dozens of kids that give you the idea that they see white men for the first time. Or you get invited to share a meal (even if they have not much to eat themselves) or give you shelter for the night. These are memorial moments, that makes a journey what it is all about. Thank you beautiful people.
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