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Reflections on the Africa 100 adventure

Blog, Photos — By on November 23, 2012 7:24 pm

I am writing this at Jo’burg airport having just left the Africa 100 team after completing my stint of 5 weeks on the road. We have done so much in that period I don’t quite know where to start to give a flavour of this section of the trip, so I have selected a few of my most memorable moments.

1. A biking baptism of fire!

After leaving the luxury of Singita Lebombo and saying goodbye to wives, partners and friends we flew back to Rocktail where the bikes had been left a week earlier. My biking adventure began immediately the following morning with a 20 kms of quite a difficult, damp, sandy track. I admit to being very apprehensive as I knew the other guys had been already riding a month and I thought they might all now be experts in the dirt and would leave me for dust!……….. Luckily for me they hadn’t encountered much sand, so apart from Sam and George whom both have youth on their side as well as great natural ability on any surface, we were broadly all in the same boat.

We knew this was to be a long day, but we had no idea just how difficult it was to become………After passing through the Mozambique border at Cosi we immediately encountered ‘deep deep sand’ and within the first 50 metres we had four bikes on the floor. What we didn’t know was that we were to have tricky sand for over 200 kms! During the 8 hours we were riding on the dreaded sand , we all had multiple ‘offs’, Tim G managed to get his bike stuck in the middle of a muddy pond, Alessia fell in deep water and we were concerned that she had flooded her engine, so that bike finished the day on the trailer, Jim, Tim D and Felicity badly bruised themselves in separate falls.

We finally made it to the Maputo river crossing to catch the last ferry of the day, the deck crammed with cars, brightly dressed locals carrying all sorts on their heads ( in one case a pot of stew as well an infant carried in an improvised sling on her back!) and numerous teenage ‘entrepreneurs’ selling cans of coke and lollipops from their cardboard trays……..There was an overpowering competing stench of raw sewage in the river, impoverished humanity and dried salted fish being sold by vendors on the river banks! This felt like the real Africa.

Having run out of time and missed our pre-booked accommodation, we rolled into a ‘simple’ lodge camp named Casa Lisa, after dark, having completed over 400 kms – my first days biking was a true ‘ biking baptism of fire!’

2. Hippos and Crocs.

We had all heard the horror stories about the Mana Canoe Trail on the Lower Zambesi………. Regular occurrences of tourists being ‘taken’ by crocs, guides tipped into the water by hippos and random charges by angry river bank elephants. Understandably, i think we were all slightly anxious as we sat in the flimsy Canadian style canoes for the first time. We had to cover around 60 kms over two and a half days, our ‘out of Africa’ style camp being moved for us each day. From the first moment on the water we were surrounded by pods of hippos – quite unnerving I have to say, however our skilful guide Henry, a veteran of 17 years guiding on the river steered us safely around each pod. As we followed the river and rounded each bend, countless huge crocs slithered menacingly into the deep water only metres away from us.

The most thrilling section of the river is aptly named ‘adrenaline channel’. This narrow side stream of the main river is home to many lurking, stroppy male hippos, as well as huge crocodiles. It is also the location where many of the aforementioned horror stories have taken place due to the fact that the channel is narrow and it’s sometimes impossible to avoid close encounters!

Fortunately our 3 days passed without any major incidents, but this was a trip to remember and is not a trip for the faint hearted. We certainly all felt a huge sense of both achievement and perhaps just a hint of relief when we arrived at our camp site on the final evening.

3. Off road and uncharted to Harare

When Greg said ‘ How about trying an uncharted dirt road from Mutare to Harare without the Land Cruiser?’ we jumped at the chance, but we had no idea what a great days riding was in store. It turned out to be 300 kms of fast, wide, undulating, unused dirt roads through the foothills of the Chimanimani mountain range, we were flying along, skipping over the top of the corrugations in the dirt surface – just magic off roading.

Using a combination of Gregs instinct, my GPS, a compass and some local directions we wove our way through remote rural communities inching towards Harare. We noted that in Zimbabwe, this historically troubled country, there were schools seemingly every couple of kms. We happened to stop outside one school to mend a puncture and were immediately invited in to meet the teachers and kids. We had a great time with them all, laughing and joking as the kids (and rather flirty young female teachers) took turns sitting on the bikes. The headmaster gave us a personal tour of the school, which although incredibly basic appeared to be doing a great job with absolutely minimal resources. I think the sight of 6 BMW motorbikes in the school yard will be something they (and us) will remember for a long time.

4. Tiger’s on the Zambesi.

For anyone even remotely interested in fishing, catching a Tiger Fish on the Zambesi is right up there on the game fishing list along with Bonefishing, Marlin and Salmon. Tigers are very aggressive boney game fish with huge sinister looking teeth that once hooked, make repeated energetic runs for freedom! We took every opportunity to try to hook a few. In fact we did rather well on both the Zambesi and the Chobi rivers. I think we probably caught around 20 in total from both riverbank and boat over a few days on both spinners and dead bait. I really loved this fishing.

 

5. Up close and personal with the Lions in Hwange

Whilst staying at Little Makaloo in the Hwange National Park several of us took the option of a game walk with our guide Dixon. Frankly it was a fairly uneventful walk learning about the local trees and a long discussion about the fascinating life of the termite and how they create the huge termite mounds that have been such a dominating feature in most areas of Africa. After a couple of hours we were strolling back to the jeep turning away from our path slightly to look at a Leadwood Tree, you can image the surprise when glancing back to the path about 30 metres from us were two fully grown male Lions snoozing under a tree. Once they had noticed us, one ran off, but the other took a few paces towards us and let out a deep menacing growl. Dixon put a bullet in the chamber of his rifle and cocked the weapon, he told us to freeze. After several seconds (which felt like minutes), feeling no threat from us the remaining lion strolled off. Once our heartbeats returned to something approaching normal Dixon told us that he had mentally selected a point on the ground, which had the lion crossed he would have shot to kill!

6. Lord of the Dance

Our travelling ‘rock star’ Nick (alias Shrek) wrote the Africa 100 theme song on his way to Jim’s birthday at Singita Lebombo. Since then, whenever he gets the guitar out after dinner he ends up playing this number by popular demand of the team. At various points along the way the camp staff have joined in the chorus – which has always been great fun. The pinnacle impromptu performance to date was at Chobi Chiwara where our arrival was greeted by a traditional African dance troop. It didn’t take any persuasion before the 20 strong troop together with the other lodge guests and the staff were singing, whooping and jumping around to Nick’s song, it was actually hilarious watching these traditional tribespeople mimicking Nick………a truly memorable moment!

7. Sand, sand, sand. 

The uncharted dirt tracks are by definition the most exciting riding, it’s a love- hate thing, the state of the surface means that sometimes its terrifying and sometimes its the most exhilarating feeling in the world.When we set out a few days ago from Chobi on our way south to Nata, Greg once again gave us the option of taking a long uncharted section of dirt track running along the Botswana side of the Zimbabwe border; of course we jumped at the chance. The first few kliks were just fantastic, a perfectly flat, wide, compacted dirt surface that had us all dancing around on the bikes like real pro’s, but then the horror started……….we were faced with deep sand! Too far committed to turn back we knew that we had 100’s of kms in front of us and frankly, other than a vague idea, we didn’t know how to get off this track. We collectively had quite a few falls, I think I had more than most that day, one quite heavy one on the same shoulder I broke a year ago after a fall on the bike….ouch! The track went on and on, the cruiser got stuck several times, it was 40 degrees and we were manhandling the trailer to get it moving again. We were drinking litres of fluid each, but just could not get enough into our bodies and certainly nothing coming out the other end! It was slow progress and light was fading fast when Kani, together with confirmation from the Garmin GPS, we eventually found a hidden track that led us 20 kms to a tarmac road. Nata was our destination, we arrived almost in the dark, in my case bruised and a bit sore, we were dehydrated and exhausted. I don’t remember the cold beer on arrival ever tasting better!

8. The Makgadikgadi Pans

The last stop on my section of the trip was the ‘safari chic’ Jacks Camp on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans, this extraordinary area lies deep within the Kalahari Desert close to the line of David Livingstone’s ‘road’ from Cape Town to Cairo. The Pans are seasonally dry salt flats which cover an area the size of Switzerland, the surreal experience of standing in a space without any reference to any living or geographical feature, is truly unique. These silver grey flats meet the sky at the 360 degree horizon with just a subtle change of colour tone from grey to blue, other than that it is just reference-less, soundless space – even the moon has craters!
Accompanied by Super our charismatic 7ft tall Zulu guide, we rode our bikes and quads across the flats slipping and sliding on the odd unexpected wet areas. I will never forget those days.

As everyone will by now understand this has been a trip of a lifetime, for me a 5 week ‘assault on the senses’. Amazing experience followed by amazing experience……….I have absolutely loved being part of the team for this period.

Messages and thanks for the team:

The Bok – (now referred to by me as ‘Sir Edward, after we encountered a whisky bottle of the same name in Zavora). Thanks Greg for your brilliant organisation, expert guiding and above all a great sense of fun.

Butch – Sam has – picked us up, mended our bikes, glued us back together and been the powerhouse of reliability on the trip. His work ethic and selfless attitude belies his years. I would always want him on my team……Great rider too by the way. Thanks Sam.

Gobby – Tim, now I am back in ‘planet normal’ I will miss your morning till night running commentary on the days events, always great fun – I do not know a kinder man.

Biggles – Bravest man on the trip by far. The teams ‘statesman’; interesting and interested in everything and everyone. A real asset to the team.

The Kid – was sorry not to spend more time riding with George (having known him probably longer than I have known any other person on the trip). A talented rider who helped the average age equation no end. Enjoy the second half George.

Imelda – My first ‘tent mate’ who famously said he would like me to sleep with his wife (Kitty) so that she would know a real snorer sounds like! – as if!!  Thanks Chris for all the laughs, sorry you weren’t around longer. Enjoy the second half.

Shrek – My second ‘tent mate’ and very often my close riding companion through some of the dodgy sandy sections. Great to spend time with you mate. On the music front, you just get better and better, thanks.

Sleazy Rider – Tim and I are veterans of numerous motorcycle trips, we always have huge fun. Very sad you could only manage a short stint, missed you in the past couple of weeks. Tim’s a very accomplished rider and a good person to follow through the tricky stuff.

Hot Lips – Adam, great shame we didn’t actually end up ‘on tour’ at the same time. But none the less, thanks or looking after my bike on the first leg. It continued to perform brilliantly for me, apart from a few more scratches from my ‘sand falls’ and a broken headlamp lens it’s as good as new – actually covered in Kalahari sand it really looks the part!

Etna and Double D – It was great to ride with you both on the trip albeit for a short, but epic section. Very good to have the female presence, which has been sadly lacking since you left! Sorry not to be riding with you on the leg back to Cape Town.

Tony & Kani – our support. Thanks guys, not only the total reliability, brilliant truck & trailer manoeuvring, tireless fetching & carrying and great story telling. But above all for the great ‘can do’ attitude – top guys.

BusPass – Jim, we have all had and I am sure you will all continue to have, literally the trip of a lifetime. Your generosity knows no bounds, but its the inspiration and then attention to detail in executing the trip that has left my head spinning.
I don’t really know how to thank you adequately, so simply ‘thank you’ for everything and including me on this very special adventure – it’s been a blast. Thank you Jim.

p.s. Take care of the foot, otherwise you could be confined to the cruiser with your knockers, searching for more sparrows and green pigeons!  Also for your sake, I hope the word has got around the rest of the route that ‘the old geezer with his foot in plaster likes scolding hot milk in his morning coffee’!!!!!!!!!

Stelios

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