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    Blog 60 by Mick: Preparation, or is it Procrastination?

    Blog 60 by Mick: Preparation, or is it Procrastination? We met our friendly detective, the ‘good cop’ half of the dynamic duo, a few minutes after sunrise,...

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Blog 60 by Mick: Preparation, or is it Procrastination?

We met our friendly detective, the ‘good cop’ half of the dynamic duo, a few minutes after sunrise, which was a few minutes before his shift started. We had concluded our negotiations with the hotel owners and collected the settlement cash late in the afternoon the previous day, which presented us with quite a predicament. 5 million shillings is equivalent to about USD2300, but in 10,000 shilling notes, the largest note in Tanzania. It was a huge wad of cash and we guessed quite a few people in town would know we had been in negotiation with the hotel owners. During the previous 5 days we had made a conscious habit of making ourselves very visible, riding through town, past the police station and past the old hotel especially, to remind anyone who knew of the robbery that we weren’t going anywhere. Everyone else who didn’t know about it – we told. We figured the more people who knew what had gone on, the better, and would ultimately work in our favour by either putting pressure on the thieves to return our stuff of the hotel owners to settle.

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One of our last tea breaks before leaving Tanzania.

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Titanic Café where we had a great breakfast of hot sweet tea and chapattis fresh off the fire.

Our issue now though was security, USD2300 is a small fortune in Tanzania and would make us a pretty attractive target. Our friendly cop suggested we keep it secure for the night and offered to lock it in the safe in his detective’s car. He and his partner had been very honest and open with us from the start and had given us no reason at all to question his trustworthiness, so we jumped at the chance. We had been very happy and relieved to have two guys like this in our corner, they gave us advice and helped guide the negotiations to the outcome we received. And while cops in Africa generally get a bad wrap for corruption, not once was there any talk of “presents” or “gifts” or other bribe code-words. So to anyone who ends up in a similar circumstance to us; don’t succumb to the negative stereotyping/gross generalisation BS and write-off the police, trust them and you might just end up pleasantly surprised.

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On the way to Zambia

Before we had been robbed, I had planned for us to take a relatively direct dirt road to the border and avoid the highways and the homicidal bus drivers. Other traffic, without doubt, is our biggest threat in Africa and that goes triple in Tanzania. The bus drivers make for a hair-raising ride, and the endless villages with 50kph limits and overzealous traffic police make swift progress impossible. So hitting some corrugated dirt roads through sparsely populated bush would have made for a pretty pleasant ride in comparison. But now we had way too much cash on us and had to come with a plan to change it into something useful.

Our original ‘Plan A’ of going to the border down the dirt road was pretty quickly eliminated. While we could have changed the money at the border, the thought of even legitimate money-changers knowing we had so much cash on us made us quite uneasy. Border towns are dodgy… way too dodgy to be flashing around cash of that magnitude. Nope, that option was out.

That left 2 cities as legitimate options; Arusha, the major tourist town to the north, or Dodoma, the administrative city and capital of the country (in name at least) to the east. Not wanting to go backwards, we chose Dodoma, which was a fortunate choice as we hadn’t told a soul we were going there. We had told the police on the night we were robbed we were heading for Mbeya on the border with Zambia, so we just continued to tell them that. The people in the hotel we were staying, including the negotiation team, we told we were heading back to Arusha to hunt for our stuff. It was the logical place for stolen electronics to be sold and was a credible story, especially after the fuss we had put up that we wanted our stuff back. Everyone else we told we were heading for Rwanda – Singida is at a bit of a crossroads and sees lots of trade from the port at Dar es Salaam heading up to the landlocked countries of Rwanda and Burundi, so it was believable.

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Another day – another bloody flat tyre

So, with the cops thinking we were going south, the hotel owners thinking we were heading north, everyone else thinking we were heading west – we legged it east. Maybe we were a little paranoid, but as our robbery had just proved, you’ve only got to cross paths with the wrong guy one time to ruin your day. We were in Dodoma mid-morning and swapped our gangsta-wad of ‘fatcashmoni’ for far more convenient and concealable US dollars that we quickly stashed in a few places in our luggage and immediately left town.

Onwards towards Zambia we rolled. We were looking to make up for lost time so we pounded the tar all day stopping only for a brief chapatti and tea break. Our progress was hampered though by the abundance of Tanzanian traffic cops armed with foreign aid supplied speed guns lining the route. Apart from maniacal bus drivers and badly rutted tar from the overloaded trucks coming from Dar, the traffic police are the major pain of travelling the main roads of Tanzania. It seems the buggers are under every tree, behind every rock and in every tuft of grass. It is extremely difficult to avoid getting a fine due to their overzealous enthusiasm for speed traps combined with a lack of enthusiasm for speed signs.

A couple hours south of Dodoma, when rolling into a very sparse and very empty little village of maybe 8 huts and with not a car, person or animal in sight, I copped a $US15 fine for doing 54 in a 50 zone. Four kilometres per hour over! I had been riding very carefully, slowing down for villages and making a conscious effort to ‘not speed’, so when the cop walked out onto the road with a speed gun in his right arm and left hand up in the air, well, lets just say I wasn’t a happy camper. I was confident I was not speeding and demanded to see the speed gun. These traffic cops had brand new wiz bang speed guns (donated by the English government I am told) that capture a full colour photo, and there I was doing 54kph. So I resorted to pleading… But there was no way around it; over the limit is over the limit in Tanzania, so we paid up…

To make matters worse, the next day we got caught again. Both of us this time.
After leaving a village we were on the look out for a 100kph sign that never came. Then we were overtaken by a new 200 series landcruiser as we diligently snoozed along at 50kph on the open highway. We figured we had to have missed the sign, so I sped up and sat in behind the ‘cruiser doing a 100kph. A few kilometers a cop came out from his camouflaged hide-out, or took off his speed gun sniping fatigues, or maybe uncloaked his new foreign aid sponsored star-trek invisibility suit and waved us down… after waving the 200 series ‘cruiser on!

We pulled over. All the cops have phones these days so if you just keep riding they call the next town and they get you there… only they are way more pissed off at that stage. The cop came up and asked why I hadn’t stopped immediately… “you waved me on”. “No, I waved you down” and then went on to say that I was speeding. I responded with a playground-esque reflex “No I wasn’t”. He hops on the figurative merry go-round when he repeats that I was speeding, that I was doing 102. What? 102! Only 102! After a few run-ins with Tanzanian cops I know the ins and outs of this ‘bizzniss’, so I just straight up demand to see the speed gun. He can’t show it too me and is visibly frustrated because of it, he knows I’ve got him. The reason he doesn’t have my speed in the gun is because he has an older type gun that only records one vehicles speed at a time, and that speed was Tanya’s. She is also speeding he says… 94kph, a little slower than me as she had been stuck behind and had just overtaken an overloaded mini van blowing copious amounts of black smoke as it struggled to not explode while it crawled up the slight rise in the road.

The cop informed us we were both getting speeding fines, we exploded. “You cant do that! You have to show us the speed, you have to show us the speed in the speed gun and you cant! You’ve only got one speed, you can only give us one ticket! Not two!” The cop, probably quite peeved by this stage quickly had his revenge. He knew he couldn’t do us both for speeding, but countered to Tanya “you overtook on a double white line, down there, around the mini van. You overtook when you could not, that is also a fine. 30000 shillings. So 60,000 shillings for two fines, for speeding and for overtaking”.

Tan looked over her shoulder at where she had overtaken the near stationary mini-van… and knew she was “done in”. It was indeed double white lines. After a while in Africa, and we had been riding on the continent 14 months at this stage, well… the local driving culture starts to rub off and you find yourself doing things you would never imagine doing at home….
• Is your destination at the other end of that one way street? Whatever man, just stick to one side of the road and ride down there – if you’re feeling nice, flash your headlights like a conscientious local because that makes traffic infringement a-ok.
• Traffic blocking the road and no chance for lane splitting? No problem, there is plenty of space on the footpath for a motorcycle. Just make sure to rev your motor so the pedestrians hear you coming.
• Round-about completely gridlocked to a standstill? Well, there is a reason god invented off-road motorcycles – so you can ride straight over the top of said roundabout. Go for it! Double points for popping the front wheel on the kerb and triple points for roosting stationary traffic with roundabout grass.

Yes – we have done all these things, and many many more, in our time here. Sorry Africa, we are bad tourists… So, crossing the double white lines to overtake (when safe to do so of course) had sort of become an instinctual action as we really didn’t see the lines anymore. We paid the fines, got our tickets and rode off really annoyed which set us up for the next downer experience of the day.

We both had a shared moment of introspection at lunch that made us realise that our trials and ordeals in Ethiopia had more than a superficial effect on us. We pulled up for a rest and some food in the same little town on the highway we had stopped on our very first night in Tanzania after we had entered from Malawi about 5 months earlier. We had fond memories of this little nondescript roadside town of ‘Chimala’, where we had enjoyed Tanzania’s calm hospitality and spicy milk tea for the first time.

We parked up our bikes and walked up to the tiny roadside shoppie we had a simple meal and wonderful ginger masala tea at months before, but were a little disappointed to find it closed. We wandered back towards our bikes and started to scout out a second option. At that time a young local fella walked up to us, rubbing his tummy and saying something in Swahili. We were both so conditioned to the constant harassment, aggression, begging and hostile demands in Ethiopia, that even though we had left that country over a month beforehand we both instinctively snapped at him to leave us alone, which he did.

It was only once our meal of chicken, beans and rice (Tanzanian staple) had arrived that we realised the young fella wasn’t actually begging or demanding anything, he was asking if we were hungry and directing us to a nearby restaurant which was his job. To say we felt sorry for the young guy and disappointed in ourselves is an understatement. We realised we had to make a mental shift and try and chill the hell out. We were not in Ethiopia anymore, people in this part of the world on the whole are incredibly nice and we needed to ratchet back our defenses a couple notches, be more patient and act more kindly. Ethiopia had beaten all the empathy out of us and we needed to take some proactive measures to restore it. Maybe we needed a watershed moment like this to really understand what Ethiopia had done to us before we could move on? When leaving the little restaurant, we went looking for the young guy to apologise but couldn’t find him, which was a shame. Hopefully he didn’t take it to heart and won’t judge future tourists on his interaction with us, which ironically is the exact courtesy we did not give him…

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Our first night back in Zambia

We arrived at the border with Zambia with enough time in the afternoon to cross before they closed. We were using the main border between the 2 countries, Tunduma, which is something we generally avoid, but in this instance we were pounding the main highway in a rush to get to Lusaka. The second we stopped the bikes, we got hounded by the “helpers” that hang around at major crossings like this one. Thankfully the Tanzanian side wasn’t too much of an issue, and after some searching for the correct offices and a few firm rebuttals to our ‘helpers’, we were through to Zambia.

Tan ‘hit the wall’ a bit on the other side. The constant attention of the helpers, compounding on top of the last couple months of on-and-off stress, meant she wasn’t keen on doing any more than sitting on the bikes with her headphones in. These little moments happen on occasion, I’ve had my fair share as well, so by default I had this border to deal with this time. One of the major benefits of being a 2 person team is we get to share these activities and effectively half the administration burden. At times like these, it is an immense luxury.

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A typical Zambian fella – friendly, smiling and keen for a chat.

Being late in the afternoon introduced a few complications. While immigration and customs were fine, the government cashier in the local bank was closed so I couldn’t pay the road tax. I figured wouldn’t be too much of an issue; last time we were in the country we were never asked for it. So I didn’t bother. Soon enough we were on our way.

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Meeting a fellow rider at the local servo. Now this fella is on the right bike for crossing the Congo.

After spending the night at a hotel not far over the border, we got up with the sun and hit the highway with vigour. The highways in northern Zambia are in pretty decent condition and don’t have a huge amount of traffic so maintaining 110kph is totally doable. We stopped for food and fuel and made great time, at one point I thought we were a decent chance of making it all the way to Lusaka which would have been about 1000kms for the day. That was until Tanya disappeared from my mirrors and I went back to find her with a flat rear tyre. She had quite a moment when her rear tube exploded… I had forgotten than in our constant battle to keep our tubes patched and holding air, I had put in a 100-120 18” tube in Tanya’s rear wheel, obviously undersize for her 140 wide tyre, but in eastern Africa you cant be too picky sometimes. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

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The blow out.

We had gotten a few flats through Ethiopia, even with slime in the tubes, and had a great deal of trouble getting patches to stick. They would stick, then come off 12-48 hours after pumping up the tyre, that is if they really stuck at all. So in frustration I had put in a new but undersized tube. But after my concussion and then the robbery I had totally forgotten about it… until it exploded under the stress of 6 or 8 hours at 110kph in 33 degree heat.

So another patched tube went in, and with that I pledged to replace our tubes in Lusaka and ditch the idea of slime in the tubes. It had worked short term, sealing thorns which would have definitely resulted in punctures (confirmed, when the tubes came out I found good sized thorns in the tube all sealed up with slime), but long term it is a pain in the arse. If the slime doesn’t seal the puncture, it makes tubes very difficult to patch, to the point they basically have to go in the bin and be replaced. Which is a pain in the arse in East Africa, so you end up with undersized tubes because that is all you can get. And they explode. Lesson learned.

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Another day, another tyre change.

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Quality road-side cuisine.

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Tan’s lunch.

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Some curious Zambians wanted to know what we were up to on these big bikes.

Tanya was part shaken, part triumphant as she told me how she was coming up to a bend in the highway at about 100kph when the rear tube let go. Luckily Tan’s instincts kicked in and she kept off the brakes and slowly washed off the speed. It was a close call but she pulled it off, and so I got to hear Tanya describing herself as a zen master moto-god for the next few hours. But forgetting about the under-sized tube was a stuff-up, and Africa is not the place to stuff-up in. So we resolved to try get some rest and get in a good headspace before tearing up the Congo.

So back by the side of the road, by the time tools were unpacked, tube replaced, everything repacked and us dressed again, we lost an hour or so. Bummer. And with the time lost, we fell 130kms short of Lusaka and pulled up in Kabwe, the last decent sized town before the capital. Even with the flat we still managed 880kms for the day – a big day, and our biggest of the trip (2nd is 850km – Grootfontein, Namibia to Mwandi, Zambia, and 3rd is 810kms – Stellenbosch, South Africa to Ai Ais, Namibia).

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A benefit of being behind schedule was we got to watch some of the rugby world cup.

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This might look like two blokes having a romantic meal but I assure you this was all in aid of Tanya’s birthday. Donna also arranged a spa massage type thing that Tan went a bit nuts for.

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Birthday dinner with a great group of people. Not something you expect living on the road.

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Tan’s birthday present.

The next day we rolled into Lusaka, and so started what turned into a 2 week stay. We had been in a great rush to get to Lusaka and then into DRC before the wet, but time flew oh so quickly, although in retrospect it was quite an easy thing to do when you consider the southern African hospitality we received on the farm of friends Doug and Donna.

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Oh…yeah…and then there way the Halloween party. We’d been told by our friends we had to experience a Zambian farm party. So that sounded like fun so went for it.

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It all started out good.

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And descended in to drunkenness

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Messy drunkenness.

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In amongst watching rugby and braaing, we applied for our Nigerian visas which turned into a bit of a battle, one which we ultimately prevailed, but it was a battle nonetheless. It looked all rosy to begin with, even though we were not Zambian residents, we met with the consul and explained our predicament. He seem reasonable enough and said “no worries”, took our money, then a week later when we went to pick up our visas, he denied us, oh and USD100 visa payments are non-refundable. We dug our heels in, and managed to sway him. One benefit of spending so long in Africa and getting to know the place and how the cultures work, we can keep our cool when necessary and can politely and simply not take no for an answer.

Whilst waiting for visas, we sorted a bunch of random issues, like we got our new InReach setup and a new service agreement sorted, fixed my intermittently malfunctioning Sena SMH10R (broken wire – diagnosing that took some serious hunting), and more bike maintenance. We also bought a replacement laptop. Thanks to Zambia’s rapidly deflating currency, goods imported when the kwacha was worth 6 to the USD were very cheap when the currency crashed to 12 to 1. So we got a Macbook Air for the equivalent of 850 bucks, it was too good an opportunity to pass up on. We just had to take the gamble that if our original Macbook Air was found we would have to return the money we had allocated for it (as per our settlement agreement) and end up with 2 laptops. As it turned out, we never got any of our stuff back in the end so it was a good decision.

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Christmas in October! Picking up all the gear we’d ordered from South Africa. Yes you can get a lot of this stuff in Zambia… but they order it from South Africa themselves. And you pay an absolute mint. We priced Pirelli Rallycross tyres for $US250. From South Africa Michelin Deserts were $US200.

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My big crash in Tanzania highlighted the fact my riding armour needed replacement – the elastic was gone and the elbow and shoulder guards were hanging loosely. So that went on the shopping list. Thankfully our mate Michnus contacted a friend he knows at Leatt and I’m guessing told them our tale of woe and they gave us a nice discount. It is seriously ridiculous how many people we have looking out for us.

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Going back to running goggles. Crashing with sunglasses on jammed the frame into my eyesocket, giving me a light black eye and maybe contributed to my concussion. That sucked, so we went to googles offraod. On road I still wear sunnies though I gotta admit.

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Michelin Deserts will do nicely on the Congo crossing…. Very nicely indeed.

One exciting job we had to take care of in Lusaka was pick up the massive swag of stuff we had purchased from South Africa. Way back when we were in Mozambique we were lucky enough to camp next to bunch of South African bikers who on top of being expert braaiers, were top blokes too. One of those fellas, Leon, went above and beyond for us by trucking a huge pile of bike gear to us in Lusaka. Leon saved us a fortune in import duties and transport costs and dealt with all the order stuff ups in Johannesburg. We look forward to repaying the favour when he comes to Australia by showing him some proper outback trails.

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New handle bars to replace my badly bent and mostly straightened ones.

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And a new helmet to replace the old one. My old helmet did its job in the big crash but we couldn’t rely on it to do so again. In the days after the accident we ordered a new onw from South Africa. I used my old helmet to get from Tanzania to Zambia where I could receive the new helmet figuring a buggered Shoei is better than anything I could find in rural Tanzania. When we put in the insurance claim for the hospital treatment Tan thought we might as well try to claim the cost of the written off helmet. And they granted it! Though it took a while to convince them there was no way to get a repair quote for a helmet that has been in a big crash.

Leon arranged for our gear to be delivered to another South African biker mate who lived in Lusaka named Etienne. As has been the theme of the trip it seems we made fast friends with Etienne who is simply one of the nicest fellas you are ever likely to meet.

While we were in Lusaka we also managed to catch up with a bunch of overlanders. There are not so many overland bikers getting around Africa these days so its always nice to touch base and exchange info with others when you can. We’d been talking to Pat, an Aussie on a KTM 690 and Mark, an American on a DR650 for over a year. And as fate would have it they were both in town at the same campsite at the same time. So between these guys, and the bikers they had in tow, and our new mates in Lusaka and our old mates from Lusaka it really turned into a 2-week eating and drinking socialising-fest. So much for resting and mentally preparing ourselves for Congo.

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The campsite in Lusaka where the bikers were staying.

Initially we had been planning to cross paths with Pat somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo as he was traveling northwest to southeast along our planned southeast-northwest route. But with my crash putting us behind schedule and then the robbery even further behind, the Congo rendezvous never happened. So it was in a campground in Lusaka that we first met in the flesh.

It was great to finally catch-up and I hope Pat won’t take this the wrong way but… well… having just crossed Congo solo… he looked like shit. At best, shit warmed up. Pat had been unwell since he finished that mammoth off-road leg across DR Congo and the rigors of the trail were all over his face and his skin and bone frame. Just the look of him gave us an insight into what lay ahead for us. Not for the first time we worried about the wet season which he confirmed had started.

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Pat the tough bugger who crossed DR Congo solo. We’ve nagged him into submission and he is finally sharing his epic ride through Africa on ADVRider, check it out. Both he and the bike took a beating. The damping on his custom rear shock failed part way through. He had no choice but to press on and endure a pogostick ride all the way to Lusaka where he could receive a replacement.

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Important thing to keep in mind for overlanders in Africa – Bloody customs duties. If you get a $2000 shock sent to you in a place like Zambia, customs will be looking for a cut of about $800. Sometimes you can avoid having to pay these customs duties if you have a Carnet de Passage and a whole lot of patience and a day free. This had worked for us once in Kenya. The Carnet de Passage angle also worked for Pat on this occasion and another biker from the same campground getting a replacement fuel pump (F800GS). It took Pat 6 hours and a lot of convincing but it worked.

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Oh and we also managed to fit in a bit of bike work. Valve clearances in progress here. Both bikes in spec… of course.

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I removed the swingarms…

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…to replace the bearings and fit new chain sliders. In the last blog post we mentioned that I replaced the swingarm bearings in Arusha – but I didn’t, I only fitted the linkage bearings there and never removed the swingarm. We have been writing these last posts from memory as we lost our diary entries with the stolen laptop.

The Biker Network

After a quick catch up with Pat we returned to the farm to work on the bikes again with plans to meet up once more. When we heard from Pat the next day he was still struggling with his health, and mentioned that even though he didn’t have a lot of the common symptoms, he was afraid he might have malaria again. Pat had not long ago recovered from cerebral malaria which is an unpleasant and bloody serious business to say the least. He was a bit worried about a relapse but was also aware that he felt nowhere near as bad as the last time.

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Fitting my new handlebars.

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Old vs new. Another good stack and the old and straightened bars were sure to bend again, potentially even snap.

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Well used spark plugs were replaced with new ones. Mixture looks good, I was happy to see both bikes running nicely.

We were worried to hear this and encouraged him to get a malaria test done asap. Personal self-test kits are easy to come by and cheap. But with Pat unwell and his bike in pieces he couldn’t get a ride to a pharmacy until the following morning. But knowing how serious cerebral malaria can be we knew he shouldn’t wait, so we resorted to the ever-reliable biker/friend network to help a fellow biker in a bind.

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Getting some route info and tracks from Pat. Pat still looking a bit rough.

With us being an hour and a half’s drive at night away we got our host at the farm Donna, to call her sister in Lusaka who lives just round the corner from the campground to run to a pharmacy and buy a malaria test kit and drop it to Pat in his tent. Within 10 minutes he had a test kit in his hands and a few minutes after that, a confirmed case of malaria. Now a lot of people will have you believe that malaria is not a big deal in Africa. Tough talking travellers often say things like “don’t worry about malaria, they know what they are doing with malaria in Africa.” “Just carry a treatment and take it if you get malaria, easy.”

While that can often be true, in some cases that is outright bullshit. Malaria is a killer, especially if you are on your own and especially if it is cerebral. The over-the-counter malaria treatments are effective but they rely on a strict time schedule, which is hard to follow if you are rocking a 40-degree temperature, passing in and out of consciousness and having seizures. And it is not always clear that you might have it. Our friend Donna told us of a friend who was born and raised in Zambia (so knew very well the symptoms and dangers of malaria) and was camping with friends down at Lake Kariba. One afternoon she was feeling unwell so went back to her tent to rest. Later that evening she was found to have passed away in her tent from cerebral malaria.

Knowing Pat’s last bout of malaria he had in West Africa was deadly serious we pushed him to go to a hospital. If this case was a relapse of that malaria strain, he needed someone with him. We figured we could go down to Lusaka and bring him back to the farm, but the way Pat described his last bout was not something we felt equipped to deal with. If he started having seizures again, he would be 1.5 hours from a hospital, which was way way too far. We spoke to his girlfriend in Oz and Pat once more and we all agreed that to go to hospital was the safest bet.

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Me with a post-malaria Pat and Etienne – braaing and sharing stories.

Our Zambian friends were able to recommend a well-regarded mission hospital in Lusaka that wouldn’t break the bank or make him sicker than when he first arrived. We then called on our new biker mate Etienne to ask a favour, to pick up Pat (a bloke he had never met before) and take him to the hospital. This is not the small favour that it sounds given Lusaka’s rush hour traffic problem. Etienne spent hours driving from one side of Lusaka to the other to care for a complete stranger. Once at the hospital Pat was put on a mass dose of intravenous quinine and he made a rapid recovery. Pat assumed this bout of malaria was not a relapse of the strain he caught in West Africa, but potentially a more mild strain he might have picked up in DRC. The next day he was discharged, picked up once more by Etienne and taken back to his campsite. In no time he was getting better and ready to roll once more.

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Tan with the fellas. Like us Etienne is planning his own RTW ride for the future. One’s thing’s for sure he’ll have a big reserve of good biker karma to draw on when his trip is underway.

This I think is a great example of the biker network in action and also a demonstration of how, even as transient foreigners, if you’re lucky, you can forge some fast and strong bonds with people while on a RTW trip. This is as aspect of the trip that we never anticipated. For us, when we left Australia, we figured we would know no one and it would be the two of us taking on the continent. Very quickly we found this to not be the case at all. In fact, we experienced the exact opposite, and made some fantastic friends and been on the receiving end of wonderful hospitality. It has made the trip so much richer and the time spent with unanticipated friends has eclipsed almost everything else we have done in Africa.

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When it rains, it pours. We hadn’t seen any other bikers in ages. Then all of a sudden they are all over the place. Here is Mark, the American on a DR650, who was travelling up the east coast of Africa having previously ridden down the west of Africa. He was riding with another American named Crawford and Murray, who lives on the Sunshine Coast in Oz but is originally from South Africa.

In an incredible twist of fate we got talking with Murray about riding in the north of Namibia. He mentioned he’d been in the South African army’s Bike Squad during the Bush War. We asked him if he knew our buddy Danie we’d stayed with in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Turns out they were Bike Squad mates and they were among the very few who’d gotten through the war without injury. The danger wasn’t the enemy so much as the riders themselves. Danie told us how when they were on reconnaissance on the bikes they were heard from miles away giving the enemy plenty of time to get elsewhere. Which left a squad full of young guys armed to the teeth on XR500’s in awesome terrain. Naturally, the inevitable happened. In Danie’s words “every patrol was an enduro.”

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Tan sent this picture of her with Murray to Danie. Danie I think was rather surprised and excited to see we had somehow run into an old bike squad buddy he hadn’t seen in decades. According to Danie, Murray was the ‘wheelie king’ back then. If we’d known at the time we would have made him put on a show for us.

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In case we ever thought we were tough on our bikes we have this photo to show us otherwise. This is how the Bike Squad rolled. Murray had this picture of Danie, which we also sent on to him. Danie didn’t have many pictures of that time in his life. His son was so taken with the photo of dad in his glory days he got the photo (sent via Facebook) printed and framed for the family members.

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You don’t expect to see zebra and giraffe at a campsite in a capital city… but there you have it.

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Tan and some giraffe on the way out of the campground

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Pat on his Rally Raid 690. A nice set up indeed.

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Looking every bit the hard core ADV biker gang…

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…congregating out front of the local shopping centre. After we dragged ourselves away from the coffee shop we went back to our trip prep while the four fellas went riding together in South Luangwa NP.

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Looking forward to getting a chance to ride with this bloke again. Our ride from the campground to the local shopping centre was a bit on the lame side. Finke 2019?

Once we parted ways with the other bikers it was just a matter of polishing off the remaining bits of trip prep. While I saw to the last of the bike maintenance Tanya sorted out our food for the DRC crossing.

While we were in Nairobi we met an English guy named Richard who’d crossed DRC four times, twice with a car and twice on a motorbike. This unassuming guy was all kinds of hardcore and full of advice on the Congo. He’d advised us to take our own food for the crossing and generously gifted us his leftover dehydrated hikers meals. According to Richard there wouldn’t be a lot of food to be purchased along the route we were taking, and based on his experience any food that was available would be likely to give us gnarly stomach bugs. He specifically advised us not to eat any meat beside chicken as any red meat we’d encounter would be ‘bush meat’ which is more often than not monkey. Clearly it wouldn’t be like the rest of Africa where food of some kind is generally easy to come across. So we took as much food as we could realistically carry, which would be not quite enough for the whole crossing. If we came across food to buy we’d do it. But otherwise we could get by with our haul.

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Here is what we took along with us. But we ended up culling some of the items in this photo before leaving. We decided to ditch the bag of powdered milk (good move), the artificial cheese with biltong flavour (mistake – craved it on some tough riding days), the tin of lentils (sound decision – but we would have happily devoured them if we had them) and the second tin of sweetened condensed milk (in Tanya’s opinion one of the worst decisions of the trip).

What we took: * denotes the stuff that we relied on the most ** denotes the stuff Tanya relied on the most.

Pasta and some instant pasta sauces
Instant soups
Strawberry protein powder Etienne gave us to take
*Huge amount of beef biltong
**Lollies
*Lots of nuts
Dried apricots
*Muesli bars
**Sweetened condensed milk
*Sardines
*Tuna
*Crackers
Coffee and tea
Granola
Chilli sauce (that we always carry)
*Rehydration sachets
Dehydratated trekking meals we’d been given by other travellers

In the end we had none of the “snacks” and a fair bit of the “meals” left over as we were generally too exhausted at the end of the day to eat or we were camping in poor villages, and lacking enough to go around we couldn’t bring ourselves to cook and eat nice food in front of people. In these instances we just had some crackers or nuts before bed. If we hadn’t had this food with us we would have been in a frightful state by the time we got to Kinshasa. But no more spoilers.

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Carrying out tent repairs in anticipation of rain.

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We just bought new mics for our Senas, which had both failed some weeks earlier. The Sena units themselves are good but the cords and attachments are far too fragile and unreliable. Having replaced 3 batteries, 2 microphones and 1 headphone cable at our own expense we decided we’d had enough of this shit and bought in the big guns… duct tape.

Before arriving, we had told ourselves we would only spend enough days in Zambia to get the Nigeria visa before heading for the Congo. We felt physically and mentally exhausted by the last couple of months of travel and we recognised this wasn’t a good frame of mind to be tackling the DR Congo crossing with. Knowledge of the impending start of the wet season was a weighing heavily on us. The wet season had the potential to turn a tough but doable ~2500km crossing (approx. 1500 of which is off-road) into a very difficult mud-fest. The choice felt like one between a dryer crossing with a fatigued and jaded mindset or a wetter and tougher crossing with a more rested and positive frame of mind. We thought the latter scenario had a better chance for success. So we decided to stop looking at our watches and compulsively checking the weather in Congo, and just focus on replenishing the batteries. We would leave when we were ready to duel with the DRC.

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Bikes ready to go. We had 900km of tar to cover before hitting the dirt at Kolwezi in the DRC. With plenty of life left in our current tyres and not wanting to burn the knobbies on tar, the choice to carry the tyres for a few days was obvious. As much as I don’t like carrying tyres, sometimes its gotta be done.

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Now all that was left for us was to gear up and say goodbye to our friends. It was even tougher than last time tearing ourselves away from Donna and Doug and the family. We’d had such a great time in Zambia and found ourselves in the company of so many great people that we couldn’t help but imagine ourselves living here and working in one of the countries copper mines once we run out of money or the copper price recovers… whichever comes first. We shall see.

It was about two weeks after we arrived that we felt like it was time to ride across the Democratic Republic of Congo. At this point it was early November, the clouds were brewing and the first storm of the season had already hit in Lusaka, which means the wet season would have well and truly started in the DRC.

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Back roads to the highway.

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It felt good to be riding but the bikes felt porky.

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In Kitwe near the Zambian-DRC border enjoying one last feast before the hard work begins. Before leaving for the border we decided to treat ourselves. We figured it would be our last decent food for a while… we were right.

Getting visas, dreaming about routes and telling people you’re going to the Congo is very different to actually hoping on the bike, pointing it north and riding to the Congo. It’s a pretty serious place and crossing it is a pretty serious ride, and everyone we told we were going there reminded us of these very facts, which did nothing to ease our trepidations. But the day came. We were out of excuses and up for the challenge. It was time to go.

The Congo was calling.