South Africa Wednesday, 23 July 2008


Sawubona

That's local lingo for hello, directly translated as 'I see you'.

This final blog post picks up from the Mozambican border of Ressano Garcia where my exit & entry formalities were undertaken with ruthless efficiency. I suspect this was aided by all the border-post experience that I had garnered on my trip, and the 'border-face' that I was sporting; a smug grin that suggested to the mustached official that there was no manner of red tape I hadn't seen before.

I briefly stopped-over at a petrol station in Komatipoort to see if I could exchange my leftover Mozambican cash. I was approached by an inquisitive gentlemen, who remarked in Afrikaans: "..and all that gear, you've just come back form the bike rally haven't you?" "No, I'm....ah....I've just....um.....Yes, I've just come back from the rally". There was no simple & efficient way of my explaining that I'd just ridden a shade over the 150kms from the local bike rally.

I then made my way towards Shane & Gina's farm nearby (brother-in-law & sister). I was looking forward to the bumpy & wet dirt road that leads to their house but sadly it had recently been renovated; or perhaps my expectations of a fun dirt road had been altered. I'd be lying if I said my pulse wasn't slightly elevated at the prospect of seeing the first human beings I was acquainted to for the first time in two months. As I rounded the corner to their farm gate the said pulse increased yet further; there was the security guard at the boom gate waiving an orange checkered flag and standing next to a welcome sign (to right).

As I approached their house I was greeted by more orange; Shane riding towards me on a KTM dirt bike. His front wheel was considerably elevated from the ground. Gina was standing next to a large canvas poster that she had painted the night before (to left). We promptly moved to their neighbours place for a cold beer, victory cigar and a typically wild Komatipoort braai; guinnea fowl and impala. This was to be the first treatment of my dietary rehabilitation program (I had lost 10kg's during the trip). Despite protests for me to stay the night so as to be able to imbibe much more alcohol, I didn't want to rest until the job was done and desperately wanted to press on to my final destination of home in White River. My chain and sprockets were still playing on my mind and I had to find out whether they would convey me the last 100km's.

The ride from Komatipoort to White River takes one through a gorge at Kaapmuiden. To native Lowvelders (myself included) this gorge is quite often taken for granted as one focuses on passing slow-moving trucks & buses. After seeing many places of superb natural beauty on my trip I was attuned to paying attention to my surrounds and must say that this gorge is quite breathtaking when viewed 'for the first time'. As I wound my way up from Karino to White River I passed a large rock on the side of the road where my Grandfather and his brother once sat and observed a motor vehicle for the first time in their lives. As special moments go that was pretty much up there.

As I got into White River I could taste victory and I was ringing the neck of my bike regardless of the chain woes. I was over-cooking each corner, locking the brakes, and on the odd occasion liberating the front wheel from the terra firma. Apparently the noise of my approach was observed from some distance. As I entered the driveway a small welcoming party was on the scene; Mother figure and closest family friends the Tates. The overriding emotion was one of relief and not achievement - that would come later.






I needed a quick 'warm down' ride so after taking a final picture of my GPS odometer (below) I went to see my good friend Hennjean for a drink from the hip flask he had given me for the trip.

Both the bike & I spent the following week on a hygiene & nutrition improvement program. I was prescribed beer and biltong at regular intervals during each day, and my bike was in the hands of the best KTM mechanic I have come across a third of the planet; Mark of ReAction racing in Nelspruit. After the extensive service and then a clean by Michael Thabete the KTM looked and felt brand new, despite having 17,000 hard km's on the clock.




Examples of dietary rehabilitation



Recreational riding in the Lowveld

I then embarked on the final leg of my trip, a 'warm down' run to Durban to visit Monique (other sister). I had also caught wind of a necessary detour on-route; the Alfie Cox dual sport festival. The Northern interior of Natal (to left) were quite pleasant, especially considering it was the middle of winter. On-route I misjudged the amount of fuel in my tank and ran dry on the N3 highway, at night. Clearly some more lessons needed to be learned. The event was a rally-raid type friendly enduro for dual-sport bikes like mine. It was particularly good fun, especially riding my bike competitively against others, and without any luggage and on proper offroad knobbly tyres. I was surprised how my riding skills had come-on during my trip, the number one skill being that of not falling off - an essential when overlanding by ones self.


After the long weekend in Durban I headed back to White River, tracking along the North coast of Natal and then into Swaziland. I headed through a fairly remote part of Western Swaziland and the appalling roads were great fun to ride up until the tiny capital Mbabane and then along the King Mswati II highway (a single track barely tarred road). At the old gold prospecting town of Piggs Peak I hooked a left and proceeded along the very slippery but scenic dirt road through the plantations to the Bulembu border post. The mountains in this part of the world are incredible (pictured to left) and put any others in the Eastern Transvaal in the shade. My Grandmother (Jackson) spent here childhood here exploring the mountains on horseback with her sister while her father was catching Tiger fish.

After conducting my formalities at the border-post I rode along the South African side of this road, which sadly is being significantly upgraded. Then it was past the old mining town of Barberton, through Nelspruit and back to White River. My trip was now well & truly over. Although it was sad to unpack my luggage for the very last time I realised by my constantly shaking hands and much deteriorated dexterity that I need a break for riding all day every day.

I was asked many questions by family & friends on my return, so thought I'd share a few answers here. As you can imagine there is more than just one favourite of each.
  • Best day; a tie between the first day on African soil in Tunisia and riding through the trackless Sahara in The Sudan.
  • Hardest day; both days on THAT road in Northern Kenya were tough, but the first 50kms of Mozambique after the Rovuma river was insane.
  • Scariest moment; being mobbed by a crowd of very poor & hungry locals in Isiolo, Northern Kenya. It put the gunfire in Khartoum in the shade.
  • Best food; the fried goat in Ehtiopia, despite the goat being slaughtered in front of me an hour before supper time. Also the fresh seafood in Southern Tanzania. I was presented with a menu three hours in advance so that the cook had time to go out & catch it on his dugout canoe.
  • Best beer; St Georges beer in Ethiopia (probably due to the lack of beer in The Sudan)
  • Worst beer; Stella in Egypt. Nothing like the European stella. It's official slogan is "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger". Say no more.
  • Biggest annoyance; stone throwing kids in Ethiopia.
  • Funniest moment; countless locals on bicycles bit the dust due to not being able to take their eyes off team orange. The funniest was seeing a guy on his motorbike do the same. His wife was was sitting side-saddle and she disappeared into the tall grass.
  • Lowest moment; missing the ferry from Aswan to The Sudan due to being detained at a police checkpoint. My anger was off the scale.
  • Highest moment; 3,400ft above sea level in Ethiopia. No seriously probably riding into White River and up the driveway after experiencing all of the above.
Before I sign off for the last time some thanks are in order. Due to the difficulty of finding decent internet connections on the road there is no way that I would have persisted with the blog postings if it wasn't for all the warm words of encouragement (and the odd heckling) I received on the Interact page.

Thank you Monique, Alan, Gina, Kevin, Kathryn, Robert, Bruce & Irene, Hennjean, Gareth, John, Colin, Bronwen, Jason, Irene vd M, Bruce L, Nicky, Craigh, Lynda, Michael, Braam, Charlie & Rensche, Brett T, Jill, Sean, Jaime, Shane, Shaun, Gene, Brett W, Tash, Gary, Will, Sue, Piet, Hylton, Darrel, Ivan and Lisa & Ulrik.

Many people asked whether it wasn't lonely travelling by myself. The answer is absolutely not. When travelling on your ace you're much more approachable to the locals, and there are people EVERYWHERE in Africa. Despite this I really felt close to home each time I could read the messages you left on the site.



Also special thanks to my Mom for being so mega supportive & brave and such a good Mother figure. I'm also thankful to my Dad for my passion for motorcycles and ability to fix stuff.

I took a few thousand pictures on my trip, and have selected some of the better ones and put them online. They're available from the photos link at the top of the page. I've also published a cut-down version of the track saved by my GPS, in google maps format.

Until next time*

Mark


* www.southernenduro.com

# posted by Mark @ 18:01