Blog 16 by Mick: Mis-Adventure Riding – A ‘How-To’ Guide


While we were not bothered through the night by any loud visitors in the campground, in the morning over coffee we did find evidence of a very sneaky one. Around 8 or 10 metres from our tent, we found some rather large footprints in the sand of a rather large pussycat. Tan got the shivers when we later confirmed from a wildlife book that it was in fact a leopard wondering around in our campsite.

The night previous, we had discussed our plans for the days ride with all the bikers that turned up. After a couple thousand kilometres of commuting tar highways I needed some adventure, a challenge, to break the boredom, to peak my interest in the trip and get the blood flowing again. South-west of Elephant Sands is sparsely populated Botswana bush with many saltpans, sand tracks, baobab trees and not much else. I was going to go ride there.

In the morning we were greeted with the news that Ireen and Alan (2-up on a F800GS), Peter and Gabriel (both on R1200GS, the air/oil cooled versions), and Ido (F800GS) would be joining Tan and I on our adventure to Kubu Island, an isolated campground in amongst baobab trees in the middle of Sua Pan. With that news, it didn’t take much peer pressure to get Mark and his gen 1 KLR650 to come along too making a total of 7 bikes and 8 people, a group about twice the size of what is probably ideal. But we weren’t going far – what could go wrong?


Peter and Gabriel on their R1200GSA’s on the track out of Elephant Sands


All the big beemers would leave all their luggage but the bare essentials at Elephant Sands so they could ride the tracks as unencumbered as possible, whilst Mark, Tan and I all had places to be after the Kubu Island assault so we would go fully loaded – soft sand be buggered. We had been carting knobby tyres for the last 2000kms in anticipation of some actual proper offroad riding, so I finished the last of 4 tyre changes that morning. And with 90% of our stuff packed up, I heard the thoroughly deflating sound of my front tyre rapidly…. err…. deflating. Bugger.

Now the sun was very hot and angry and we were running a late. I wanted to be on the road by 11 or so at the latest, but replacing the front tube in the sun (I picked up a thorn for the record) and then a relaxing cool-down in the shade meant it was after 12:30 by the time we left. We only had about 175kms to travel, of which 91kms was bush track, but it still wasn’t a good start.


Alan and Ireen 2 up on their F800GS. It was great to watch these two ride together – together being the operative term. They really rode as a team.


In Nata, everyone fuelled up their bikes and had one last kind-of civilised meal at a local Portuguese chicken joint. Discussing rations for the ride, I was expecting about 3 and a half hours for the 24kms of tar from Nata to the turnoff and then 91kms off-road to Kubu Island campground, so Tan and I took 6 litres of water each being ~3 litres for the hot afternoon riding and 3 litres spare. Everyone else did about the same.

We re-grouped at the turnoff, let down tyre pressures and hit the trail at about 3, well and truly behind schedule, but we should still make the campground with at least 30 minutes of sunlight, probably more if we had a good run. Within about 200m of the tar, the trail turned to deep soft sand and the group quickly spread out as Ido and Alan got a feel for riding in sand – something they hadn’t done a lot of before.


At the Kubu Island turnoff – only 91kms of fun and excitement to go!


Mark lead the way for the first little while as he had done this route before


We stopped a few times to regroup and take photos and after about 30 minutes I found myself as tail-end Charlie, where Murphy’s Law kicked in and I soon got that horrible feeling of a flat front tyre. Shit. I nearly had the wheel off when Mark and Gabriel arrived to investigate why I’d disappeared from the back of the group. Pulling the tube out that I had only put in a few hours earlier, I found a patch failed over the massive pinch I got in the slippery culvert in Namibia, the same pinch that went through the side wall of my front tyre. I had patched the massive hole knowing full well it was pretty risky, but figured for the cost of a patch it was worth a shot, and now at ~15psi in the baking hot afternoon sun (the BMW’s told us it was low forties for the record) it failed…. terminally. In retrospect, no patch could cover such a massive tear.


Peter monstering the track on his big beast


Ido on his F800GS


The group waiting for me while I fixed my flat


We probably lost 40 minutes by the time I’d put in a spare tube and packed up all my tools again. With Tan in the lead we soldiered on and were making good time, Tan looking back when she could to check I was there, and me doing the same to check on Peter or Gabriel behind me. Everything was going quite nicely and we probably knocked off 20kms when we stopped for a proper break and to re-group. Every 30 to 60 seconds or so, enough of a distance between bikes to not ride in too much dust, another bike would arrive – until we got to 5. Mark and Ido never showed.


The DR ready to roll


We waited patiently and at one stage I was convinced I saw a motorcycle glinting in the sun way way off in the distance. But when it never came, I went back looking. And rode and rode and rode to the point were I actually stopped and considered whether maybe Mark and Ido might have taken one of the small sidetracks and gotten lost. However Mark had come this way before so the idea of him getting so “geographically compromised” was a little unlikely, even for a Victorian, so I kept riding.


Waiting for Mark and Ido


Milling around… we got lots and lots of practice at this


I finally stumbled on them a good 20 minutes back riding at a fair clip on a tight sandy bush track. Turns out the heat had delaminated one of Ido’s patches on his front tyre also. With that changed and pumped up (killing my neat little motorcycle compressor in the process – failed inlet valve) we made our way back to the group, arriving with the sun going down and finding Alan’s bike with only one wheel. Turns out he had a flat too – a thorn went through his rear tyre. It was official, we were having one of “those” trips.


Back with Mark and Ido and the F800 listing heavily at the bow


Everyone pulled off the road about 20m down to a flat spot near the edge of the salt pan and we made camp. Due to the oppressive heat, everyone was pretty much buggered, “utterly shagged” maybe is a better description, me especially so. It had been stinking hot, and changing my front tyre twice in the sun really took it out of me. We put up our tents and lit a fire and were instantly inundated in a tempest of suicidal beetles attracted to the light and cooking themselves in the flames like popcorn, complete with a rather satisfying “snap crackle pop”. The dead beetles were literally 10 to 20mm deep for a 1m radius around the fire before they collectively realised getting that close to the flames was a really bad idea and they should all just go to bed.


Gabriel and Peter helping Alan with his flat rear tyre


Getting the big 1200 off the trail so we can make camp


Ido and Ireen generously volunteered to cook dinner and did a camping-Michelin star job of bully beef in tomato and garlic sauce on rice, and Tan volunteered up peaches in custard with crumbed cinnamon biscuits for dessert served in the cut-off bottoms of water bottles. It was all rather civilised after an afternoon of labouring in the sun, and we went to bed well fed and happy and exceptionally tired.

After breaky and a couple coffees we hit the road again about 8:30am. Considering yesterday’s issues of bikes separated up hill and down dale I was especially conscious of the group getting split again, so I made an effort of stopping regularly to regroup. Thankfully this was easy as the next section of track was especially soft and deeply rutted sand, so stopping was only natural as a number of bigger bikes went belly up.


A 1200GS resting on its “off-road sidestand”


Gabriel giving it some to get through the deep soft sand


…and making a dust storm. These guys did really well on these big machines


And it didn’t take long before the group was split once more. Gabriel, Peter, Tan and I waiting under a tree before the others arrived after not too long, maybe only 15 minutes this time, Ido’s front tyre was once again the culprit. This time, in an effort to keep the group moving, Mark pumped a bunch of sealing goop into the tube and it seemed to hold. We kept going for another couple kays, and you guessed it, the group split again. This time it was Gabriel, Tan and I waiting in the nearest bit of shade, which is pretty meager below the collection of sticks that pass for trees in this part of Botswana.


Tan smartly took the ‘B-line’


We figured it must be another flat, so we weren’t too concerned that no one had arrived after 20 minutes or so. And even if it was an injury or something mechanical, with 4 bikes and 5 people back there it was obvious there would be little we could add to any situation. However after a good 40 minutes we went back to investigate and yep, another bloody flat. Ido’s heavily patched tube couldn’t handle the heat of the day and the low pressures for sand and duly expired, the sealing goop had merely prolonged its life a little.


I’m so ronery, so ronery…


Gabriel, Tan and myself. This is as far south as we got


By now it was 11:30am, the sun was blaring in full force and we were still 30kms from Kubu Island. Tan and I were still ok with 2 to 2.5 litres of water each, but some of the others were down as low as 1 to 1.5 litres with the nearest source of water being an adventure camp about 15kms away. However being the off-season, no-one was 100% certain it would be open. With that uncertainty, the heat, and the difficulty we had been having making progress, it became clear that the mood of the group had switched from going to Kubu Island to returning back to Nata.

As Tan, Mark and I were handling the conditions a little easier on our 650’s, and we had all our possessions with us to continue on afterwards (us west, Mark east) it was suggested that we go through to Kubu and the beemers would all return. Considering the water situation though I didn’t feel it was such a good idea to split the group, if something went wrong on the return at least a couple of us could make a mercy dash to town for water if necessary. So we all spun around and started to head back.


On the return journey, a re-group stop and the bikes are all coming!


With a change of direction we had a change of fortunes and we started off well, making light work of the trail in reverse. Who knows, maybe it was downhill that way? (it isn’t btw). I lead and stopped periodically and the group would always come back together, an unfamiliar phenomenon for us up until now. We made good time and rode back past our campsite and all the way back to where Ido had his first flat tyre the previous afternoon when I noticed Tanya had disappeared from my mirrors. I rode back maybe three of four hundred metres and found all the bikes parked on the trail and Tan looking a bit shell shocked sitting under a bush.

Turns out Tanya had hit a square edged lip while riding on a clay pan at about 60 or 65kph, her front tyre pinch flatted and instantly deflated and she binned it pretty hard to the left. The bike came down on her left foot, twisting her left knee a little and pinning her to the ground. Thankfully her right leg was free and she was able to kick it off. An impressive thing was that a lot of the weight of the bike was resting on the corner of the bashplate which was on the ankle of Tanya’s Sidi Crossfire, yet she had no pain or foot injury whatsoever. Thankfully it was one of those instances where you get what you pay for and the boots paid back that investment with interest. The Sidi’s really are a bloody great boot.

More time was lost and energy expended fixing the flat in the heat, the beemers again confirming a +40 day. Once underway again Tan went first so she could set a comfortable pace and regain some confidence after a heavy fall. Soon enough the group split again, with Tan, myself and Gabriel out the front and no sign of the others. After a sizable wait, Gabriel offered to head back and investigate the problem. 15 minutes later we heard the boxer twin return with the news that Alan’s F800 had died and was being towed by Ido’s F800! Alan had previously suffered some intermittent fuel delivery problems and assumed that a vacuum was forming in his tank, however this instance proved it wasn’t that – with the cap off it still wouldn’t go. So Ireen jumped on the back of Peter’s 1200 and out came the tow-rope.


The 3 of us waiting unknowingly while Ido is towing Alan through the sand


This sent shivers up my spine as I instantly thought we were about to have one F800GS with a fuel problem and another with a burnt clutch from dragging it through soft sand. But with that thought we heard the sound of motors coming up the trail and suddenly there is Alan’s bike going again….. an intermittent fuel problem on an earlier model F800GS? Sounded like a dodgy fuel pump to me. It was agreed he should lead the group and get as far up the trail while the bike still went, and Ireen would follow with Peter. It wasn’t long later though that Peter had an awkward drop, hurt his back, and Ireen got handballed on to Gabriel who took her the rest of the way. Fuck me, what a trip. But it got worse, I don’t know how, but it did.

With the beemers out front, Tan, myself and Mark ended up at the back of the group. Tan dropped her bike in a tricky soft bit not far past where Peter hurt his back. Mark and I helped her up and got her started again, but we hadn’t gotten far when Mark suddenly wasn’t behind me. I waited by the trail for a couple minutes, then went back looking to find Mark chilling atop his fallen bike.

The KLR is a bit porkier than the DR and in the heat of day it’s definitely a lot easier to right that cruise ship with 2 sets of hands. I made Mark pay the fee for me helping him lift his bike – a shaming photo as evidence – and when the right way up it cried the dreaded rrrrer rrrrrerr rrrrrrerrrrrr. Bloody flat battery, the stop start riding with the KLR’s thermo fan running combined with Mark forgetting to turn his ignition off with the bike on its side meant we were stuck, and with one last suck off my Camelbak, now out of water. What a bloody day.


Mark relaxing on his KLRmchair


Tan and I have Merritt plugs directly hooked up to the battery which in a pinch we can jump start from bike to bike with a special jumper cable I carry, however that is no good for helping anyone else. We made some vain attempts to move the bike but the strain on us in the heat with no water meant moving the bike by brute force wasn’t a clever idea at all, and the strain on my poor DR’s clutch if we tried to tow it was also out of the question. That meant that getting some help (we knew Peter had some conventional jumper cables) was the only real option. Mark parked himself under the nearest tree and I rode the last couple kms, maybe only 3 by this point, to the tar road.

Out at the road everyone was completely out of water and looked half dead. Ireen and Alan had gone, they went straight for town trying to get as far as possible with their intermittently functioning bike. Tanya was also gone; with me not showing she rightfully assumed that something was wrong so went for water, which was now critical. Everyone else was struggling for some shade under a tree. Tan returned with a backpack full of water bottles and was set upon like a sad victim at the start of a bad zombie movie.


Water! Water!


Hydrated again (well, at least not so thirsty anyway), Peter got his jumper cables, fired up his 1200 and we went back for Mark. He might be a Victorian with a bad haircut and a KLR but we went back anyway, which was worth it as we got another fantastic shaming opportunity. While Mark was waiting on the side of the track, 2 blokes turned up with a nice new Landcruiser and offered Mark some assistance which he politely declined when he sighted an M16 assault rifle in the cab, claiming that the bike was too heavy to lift on with 3 people (not far from the truth). The heavily armed good Samaritans then went for muscle and returned with a couple local lads and lofted the bike on the tray and Mark too, and presented them to Peter and I riding up the trail. My immediate thought, what an ideal photo opportunity!


Peter preparing to go back into battle and retrieve Mark


The KLR was simple enough to bump-start when back on the tar road, and we all returned to Elephant Sands licking our lips at the thought of some cold beers and a hearty steak.


The KLR – recovered by some guys we are guessing were anti-poaching authorities. Nice one Mark! A rhino probably got killed while these guys were saving your arse! ☺


To wrap up though, I think everyone rode very well. Gabriel and Peter were impressive on their big 1200’s, proving that in the right hands the GS can take on sand. Alan and Ireen were exceptional, as Alan was not so experienced off road but took to it like a duck to water, and Ireen was a fantastic pillion moving in perfect unison with Alan. It was great to watch them ride together as a unit and they really managed very well. Ido was also not so experienced off-road but he also rode really well and learned fast on his F800. Although Mark claimed he hadn’t ridden a great deal of sand, he rode dirt bikes a lot as a kid and it showed having minimal issues on his KawaPiggy.

It’s just a shame we got an awful lot of bad-luck all come together in one trip. In retrospect we probably would have been better off to split into two groups riding independent of each other so that everyone would not be delayed by every issue. That really consumed our water reserves – sitting and waiting in the heat. The second issue was the tubes; old patched tubes and extreme heat don’t mix, and we paid the price with my flat and Ido’s as well. But it was a great trip nonetheless, everyone dropped their bike at least once, but we had some good times and some great riding and made many good war stories to recount drinking beers that evening back at Elephant Sands.

Blog 15 by Tan (Rhino bit by Mick): Horny Africritters

Our last week in South Africa was beyond rough on us. The 7-day timeline had us dragging our tired and stressed bodies through 3 different countries in what has to have been the hottest, driest week of the trip. Things had been so busy I had no time whatsoever to study for the exam that I was travelling all the way to the British Embassy in Gabarone, Botswana to sit. And in the midst of all this I got the devastating news that my most amazing granddad (the biggest fan of our trip) passed away suddenly.

For the most part riding a bike is a great way to clear one’s mind but speeding along the monotonous roads of the Kalahari instead provided fertile ground for thinking for hours about just how sad I was. Hours and hours straight, crying into my helmet, rushing for the border. It was simple. I was not liking the trip at all at that point. I suppose it had to happen at some time.


Rex – loved by everyone – ‘No doubt about it’.


After such a long and hot slog to get to the border we were pleased to be met with some friendly Botswana border staff who recommended a place for us to stay for the night. We rode on 260kms to the little town of Tsabong and headed for Berrybush Camp. It was getting toward the end of the day and we were both well and truly destroyed. Arriving at the turnoff for Berrybush Camp we were greeted with 3km of thick sandy bush track to negotiate in our ridiculously fatigued state and on road tyres at road pressures. A nasty little challenge at the end of a long day but we managed it without mishap.

Berrybush Camp with its rugged simplicity and calm was a Godsend in the end. Being the low season we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We stayed on for three nights where we rested, enjoyed the peaceful location, ate wonderful home cooked meals and fell in love with Jill the proprietor. Put simply, she is a legend of a woman. A genuine, loving and tough old lady. She worked harder at 70 than we are likely to ever work at anything. She has led an incredibly interesting life and shared stories with us of the years she had spent living with Kalahari Bushman and the perilous trekking of cattle across the country she had done, among many other impressive feats. She was an instant fan of what we were doing with our round the world trip. Her enthusiasm for our journey served to buoy my spirit at the time when I was not really feeling it.


Jill – the kind-hearted and formidable owner of Berrybush Camp


In Jill we had found a kindred spirit and we were sad to be leaving so soon but with the dreaded exam looming we had to be on our way. However that was only after fierce negotiations with Jill over the bill for our stay that she flat out refused to give us. It took us quite some time to realise that we were never going to win against a woman who has come face to face with lions. This trip has been a constant display of the generosity of strangers (that quickly become friends) and the way in which our little motorbiking jaunt engages people. Throughout the trip, over and over again, we have been taken into peoples’ homes, been given free nights accommodation and meals and constant advice and endless good will. We cannot believe how lucky we are to have experienced such kindness so far from home.

The generous support continued when we stopped for food at a service station in a blink and you’ll miss it town called Sekoma. The owner looked like he had his hands full dealing with non-functioning bowsers (quite a problem when trying to sell fuel) but took the time to talk to us and hear our plans. He wanted to know where we were staying when we got to Gabarone and naturally we had no idea yet. He went ahead phoned a place that he knew to be good and told them to expect us late. He also got them to double check that the wifi is working so I could do some last minute study. When we arrived in Gaborone on the eve of the exam, instead of studying we opted go out for dinner and treat ourselves to our first lot of Indian food since our fantastic bunny chow experience in Durban. I figured that if I didn’t know my stuff by now a couple hours of study would be of less benefit to me than a stomach full of butter chicken and mango lassi would be.

The next morning I donned my lucky pair of underwear and we rode in the rain to the British Council at the British High Commission in the centre of town. The lady there kindly informed me 10 minutes before the exam was to start that there had been a location change as they were renovating and that they had no way to inform me. Luckily they arranged for one of their employees to immediately drive me to the new location (the Botswana National Productivity Centre – love it) and I managed to arrive right on time and smashed out the exam. I was happy to find out later that I aced it and the subject as a whole, which made all the effort and inconvenience of studying while on the road worth it.

I had a pretty idealised view of Gaborone having been a long time fan of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency book series where the city of Gaborone features prominently in the quaint detective exploits of Precious Ramotswe. The real Gaborone is far busier, modern and larger than the books suggest and we were surprised to see that, for an African capital, it was pretty neat and orderly. Another pleasant surprise was the openness of the people. Whenever we stopped somewhere people didn’t hesitate to chat with us and ask us about our journey and impressions of Botswana.

Gradually we made our way north to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary for a couple days of camping and rhino stalking. Now, most of the time I would say that riding motorbikes beats driving a car in Africa but where that argument falls down is when we go to places like the rhino sanctuary and cannot ride around the park due to the danger of wild animals. At this point we have to pay for a tour. That in itself is ok when considering some of these parks have some pretty scary animals who might well mistake the DRs for a sick lumbering beast worthy of attacking. However, at this place we had to pay a vehicle fee per bike for each day in the park but we were only permitted to ride from the gate to the campsite. We were paying the same price as a car of up to 1.5 tonnes for each bike to sit in the campground located a km or so from the front gate. It made for some pretty expensive camping.


While chilling out in the cam ground Michael did a bit of maintenance


So did I


I think motorbike tourism is probably the best form of tourism around as we biker folk, with our limited space, by necessity spread a trickle of money the whole way along the journey, putting money in more pockets than conventional tours or travel by car. With a car you can stock the thing with food, water and supplies to last a week between visits to the supermarket if needs be. On the bike we spend money every few hours as we can’t carry much or keep anything cold. Beyond tuna and crackers we can’t prepare lunch for ourselves on the road and often by dinnertime we are too exhausted to cook and clean up, so generally pay for dinner too. It would be great to see Africa become more of a motorbike tourism location but for that to happen places need to cater to bikes more. I.e. not charge $10 per bike, per day to sit in a campground. Rant complete!


A Windhoek draft after the completion of chores

While at the rhino sanctuary we lined up an early morning game walk. It was just the two of us and two guides who seemed to know what they were doing which was encouraging. Even more encouraging was that they brought a rifle along with real bullets incase things went pear shaped. We drove until we found some fresh rhino tracks and started following them into the bush. The guys soon found some very fresh rhino urine so we knew we were close and before long we were able to see the party of three white rhinos through the scrub. We got very close but even with their poor vision, they knew we were there and we could hear them snorting and running around to try and see what was near them. When these guys move it is rather scary as with each step you get a real sense of the massive weight and power they have behind them. We kept following them and gradually got within 20m when they eventually got scared and ran off. It was all pretty intense and a lot more interactive than sitting in a Landcruiser. Having said that I think I will be sticking with the 4 wheeled enclosed cabin transport options from now on. I don’t like my chances against any of the animals they have over here.


Looking for rhinos


Hot on the trail


After that we did a quick spin around the game park in the Landcruiser where we saw a heap more animals such as wildebeast, hartebeast, springbok, impala, warthog, ostrich, zebra, bustard and quite a few rhino. We were lucky enough to see a very old female and her still quite young baby. We also got to witness an enormous male get chased off by a large but not nearly as enormous female who was protecting her baby. When she charged at him and whacked him, their horns clashed making the most awe inspiring cracking sound.


Lady impala




What makes the old rhinos so special is that their horn is not a bone, its more like a finger nail (and its made of exactly the same stuff: keratin), so its not attached to the animals skeleton and it never stops growing. If left alone (i.e. not poached) the horn will just keep growing and growing until the rhino dies of old age, which is around 40 years old. With a 16 month gestation period and then at least 18 months of suckling, it means that a mature female can only produce about 10 babies in its lifetime. That is if its not poached for its horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine for many purposes except growing boners; interestingly its use as an aphrodisiac by the Chinese is a myth spread in western media.


The backsides of a mother rhino and her baby


So while using rhino horn its not so uplifting as we would love to believe, apparently the keratin that comes from rhino horn will cure everything else that ever affected man kind EVER; from nose bleeds, strokes, convulsions and fevers to hallucinations and bewitching nightmares. Also treats typhoid, headache, and feverish colds. Its good for carbuncles and boils full of pus. Also for intermittent fevers with delirium. And if needed, it will expel fear and anxiety, calm the liver and clear the vision. And if that doesn’t sell you on it, continuous administration lightens the body and makes one very robust. Oh, and here are a few more treatments; dysentery, violent vomiting, food poisoning, poisonous drug overdose, snake bite, arthritis, melancholia, loss of the voice, hematemesis (throat hemorrhage), rectal bleeding, and heavy smallpox. And the best one yet, it will cure devil possession and keep away all evil spirits and miasmas. Considering what it can do, I’m surprised it can’t manage a simple erection. Unfortunately the keratin that comes from your fingernails doesn’t do any of these things (stiffies included I would assume), it’s only the supernatural keratin from rhino horn that has these magical medicinal powers. Ahem.


A couple of white rhinos. Unfortunately we didn’t see any black rhinos


Another pair of rhino


Black rhinos are considered “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and wildlife experts estimate that only 4,240 black rhinos remain in the wild. White rhinos are classified as “near-threatened,” and there are an estimated 20,150 white rhinos in the wild. In 2013, 1004 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Kruger National Park, which is home to South Africa’s largest population of rhinos (both black and white), was hardest hit, with poachers killing 606 rhinos within the NP. Figures just released state that 1215 South African rhinos were poached in 2014. You don’t need to be sum mafs geni-arse to see that rhinos will be soon completely gone from the wild.

Ok everyone – this is a controversial opinion warning. I appreciate that this is a very sensitive topic and some people will not agree with us, but please hear us out.

Due to the scale of the problem and the rapidly reducing time left to solve it, legalising rhino horn production and farming rhinos is being discussed here in Southern Africa as a potential solution. It’s a gruesome thought, however it has significant merit. If rhino horn were legalised and regulated, there would be incentive to keep rhinos alive as they continue to grow their horn their entire life. Whereas poachers at the moment simply kill the animal because they have to, if it were a commercial farming operation a female could produce 10 babies and have its horn harvested 3 times in a lifetime. As pathetic and ridiculous as using rhino horn as a medicine is, the industry is not going anywhere, certainly not for a few generations of Chinese (overwhelming to principal consumers) to be change their habits. Even if demand was eliminated in one generation, rhinos will be soon extinct unless something drastic changes.

Ok, end of controversial opinion piece. That’s one paragraph discussing a massive issue with many pros and many cons. Normal programming resuming….. now!


The oldest rhino in the park, a mother and her baby. The long, straight horn is a sign of her advanced age


After our time with the rhinos it was time to spend some time with elephants we thought. We had heard of this great campsite called Elephants Sands from another Overlander couple we met all the way back in South Africa. Not knowing anything more about the place we rocked up with the hope of seeing some elephants. Within a few hundred metres of the highway turnoff to the campsite we did just that. It was rather incredible that we managed to stay on the bikes in all the excitement of getting spitting distance of wild elephants while riding through the thick, soft sand. I think we knew the stakes were high with there being some baby elephants in the mix. Dropping the bike was potentially a big problem as there is no way would could out ran an angry elephant. With all our riding gear on we can run about as fast as if we were wearing 4-inch stilettos. Fortunately the elephants seemed relaxed enough and not all that concerned that we were there.


Sunset at the water hole


This is the time most of the family groups come along


The ride in was reasonably challenging with soft, deep sand that was particularly chopped up at the end. As I got to reception I was informed by one of the managers that had been watching our ride in, that usually when they hear motorbikes coming the staff go to reception to get a good view of the ensuing carnage. She says the bikers almost always go down in the last section of sand and admitted on seeing a chick on a big bike she thought I for sure was going to crash. I was glad to fly the flag for the lady riders by staying on and apparently making it look easy.


Elephants showing what they think of us staring at them all day


Mick and I have ridden a lot of sand back in Australia including the crossing of over a thousand (literally over a thousand) sand dunes of the Simpson Desert. Yet despite this exposure to sand riding I must say that it NEVER feels good riding it at the time. The level of comfort I feel riding in sand would be the same as if I walked around with a hand grenade in my underpants. Sure, probably nothing bad would happen but it would make for a tense afternoon out and many questions as to why on earth you are putting yourself through it. Riding in sand is like this. I love it like a cold sore.


Mum and bub


The young male elephants play fighting


Another mother and young elephant


Arriving at the end of the dry season but before the rains is the best time to see elephants at Elephant Sands, however it is probably the worst time to be camping there. At the end of the dry, countless elephants come from far and wide to drink at the only reliable source of water once everything else has dried up. At this time the pump can barely keep up with dozens of elephants. A grown elephant drinks about 400L of water per day I am told. Some enterprising elephants look for alternative sources of water. First target is the ablution blocks and its pipes. When we got there, the campground looked like a war zone with trees knocked down, a few chalets destroyed, holes everywhere and with only a single toilet and shower still working. The elephants had taken all the doors off the toilets and most of the cisterns and toilet seats too. While most of the damage was done in the noble pursuit of water, there also appears to be an element of curiosity to the destruction with the highly intelligent animals breaking stuff to see what happens. The staff had been referring to the damaged part of the campground as Baghdad and the big bull elephant responsible for the bulk of the damage is known as Saddam. It made for very rustic camping with very limited amenities but you can’t really complain when it is the elephants you come to see that are the ones responsible. We set up camp in amongst the elephant shit and admired the carnage they had wreaked on the camp. We then settled in for some sundowner drinks and to watch the elephants mill about the water trough.


A juvenile


A fellow Overlander doing it in style


An excellent set up – much jealous, many envy


During the heat of the day there is only the odd elephant at the waterhole. The others of off busily eating the 400 odd kilos of vegetation required to get them through the day


It was very interesting watching the complex interplay of personalities and the rigid hierarchy at the water trough. We witnessed human like demonstrations of utter disappointment and frustration on the faces of the elephants that had obviously trekked a long way without any water before arriving at Elephant Sands. When they are within sight of the water hole the let out excited trumpeting and sprint to the edge of the water trough. These creatures can move extremely fast, especially when thirsty. The looks of devastation on their faces is so clear when they get to the trough and are swiftly informed by the king pin elephant throwing his ample weight around, that they are just going to have to wait until they say so for a drink. They looked so much like a worn-out human family at that time. The non-alpha male had to walk back to the family and break the bad news. Wifey elephant is all indignant like ‘What do you mean we can’t drink? What about the kids? What did you say to him? He can’t treat us like this, I’m going to talk to him.’ And non-alpha male is like ‘I said we have to wait goddammit woman!’ Meanwhile the younger ones are getting all stroppy and frustrated and go to the waterhole and get quickly put in their place and run back to the family. Then they all stand there quietly fighting their thirst, staring dejectedly at the elephants drinking until finally a family group leaves and they can see if they can have their turn. It is seriously better than tv, especially at night where things tend to get rowdier at the water hole.


Undoubtedly a male enjoying what looks to be a harty ball scratch


A great way to pass the day


We were happy to find another Aussie biker already settled in at the bar (where else would he be?). Mark had been working in Zambia and is riding around on a KLR while he sorts out some visa issues. It was great talking with a fellow Aussie and biker and we passed the couple of days chilling out by the elephants, eating toasted sandwiches and shooting the breeze.


Aussie Mark the KLR pilot


We heard the sounds of a elephant in distress all through the night. The next day we saw this little fella


About 12 hours old at a guess


That night, I woke up to the quiet sounds of an elephant walking around our tent. Looking up I could make out the tip of his trunk at the top of our tent sniffing and investigating what was going on in the strange green fabric dome. This was all well and good and not too much of a worry as he was clearly just being curious. I can’t say it enough, elephants are very inquisitive and intelligent animals. However the next night was very different.


King Pin keeping an eye on the tourists


This guy was huge


These hornbills are generally hard to photograph but these two were right outside our tent carrying out a raid on another bird’s nest


Tyre change interrupted by marauding elephants


The Elephants enjoying the drink by the pool


We woke in the middle of the night to a deep guttural growling sound coming from all around our tent. To my untrained foreigner ear it sounded like lions that had obviously come to eat us. We were aware that there were lions that lived about 15km from the camp. It was conceivable to me that at the end of the dry season they might well come closer. You could sense a lot of tension in the air and the growling sound just continued until the point I decided that I really wanted to be back in Australia dealing with our home grown deadly animals rather than these unfamiliar African ones. In the end Mick was able to see that it was a group of elephants in the campground responsible for the noise which made me relax slightly until I started to imagine what it was that was making the generally chilled out elephants make such a racket. I thought there might be lions scaring the elephants but the next day this theory was met with the mocking laughter of my fellow tourists. Vindication came after we had left and lions were indeed seen wandering around the camp. I don’t imagine that people were laughing when that happened!


Mick discovering skills he never knew he had


Drinking the pool dry


The next day we were excited by the unexpected arrival of a series of motorbike riders. Ido the Israeli guy we had dinner with at Ai Ais in Namibia showed up with Alan (an Italian) and his Dutch girlfriend Ireen who were riding two up on a BMW F800GS. We were extremely impressed to see they made in through the sand track without stacking it. Next came two Belgians, Gabriel and Peter, who were both on BMW R1200GSAs. We had seen these guys at Ai Ais also but were leaving as they arrived so only managed to wave a hello before hitting the road. It was great and rather surprising to get the chance to talk with them here in Botswana. And just when the proprietors were no doubt worried that they were the unfortunate hosts of an unscheduled motorcycle meet, three German guys (one on BMW other 2 on Africa Twins) joined the motely crew of bikers.


A mum and baby checking out the DR


Riding bikes in Africa – pretty excellent


We barely ever see other overland bikers during our travel and here we were inundated with like-minded individuals, full of advice and tips for the roads ahead. The best part of meeting other bikers is the elaborate ritual of motorbike show and tell that ensues. We love seeing what gear everyone else is running and carrying. That night we had the idea of inviting all the bikers we could on our upcoming trip to the salt pans….’What could go wrong?’ we said……’It will be fun’ we said……

Blog 14 by Mick – 2200kms and a Gearbox Rebuild

With Tan at the dentist, I had some time to kill so figured I better track down my (apparently, judging by the price) gold plated 3rd gear set coming from England. The parcel had travelled from England to SA in very good time, but according to the online tracking widget, at Customs it seemed to have kind of just gotten “stuck”. While I was in Namibia I had hoped that TNT would ring Danie when it arrived in the country and the importation would be finalised, but it seems they would rather leave it sit there.

This would be the first of many calls made to TNT over the coming days. We would ring chasing info or a form or clarification or something else to get it cleared, and they would snooze and snooze and snooze. We ultimately did get the parcel cleared, but only after I gave up in frustration and sic’ed Tanya on ‘em.


DSCF5470 The Nova Racing custom billet 3rd gear set


DSCF5472A lovely bit of hand made kit


After Tan’s dentist visit we moved back into Danie and Sara’s spare room in Stellenbosch and slipped back into old routines. These routines being namely; chatting, socialising, a bit of cooking, eating and drinking and generally having a good time with good company. With confirmation that the gear had finally cleared customs and would arrive the following day, I got to work and got the motor out and split. It was then a reasonably simple operation to get the new gears on the following day and put the motor back together. While all the bits and pieces were easily accessible, I also replaced my stator which was starting to act up a fair bit. Often it would charge no problems, but sometimes it would only charge a bit, and sometimes it wouldn’t charge at all. On inspection, some windings were starting to blacken so I’m guessing some of the winding insulation got damaged when the stator got intimately introduced to the flywheel way back in KZN at the start of the trip, and with a bit of heat one or more of the phases would drop in and out. It was terminal. Goodbye stator; I failed you, yet you served me well.


DSCF5487My damaged delta wired stator. The windings towards the top have got the black death


DSCF5488The replacement (before the delta modification) shows what the windings should look like. Before installing this one, I had to cut off the pulse coil from my faulty stator and attach it to this one and this one had failed. I also did the delta mod


Everyone we told that we were going to Botswana next told us to “get ready for sand”, so after establishing that we could get nothing at short notice from Gaborone, I tee’d up some knobby tyres to pick up plus a few other little consumables. With all that sourced, we were ready to roll the next morning.

We had one more late night with Danie and Sara, this time at a local seafood restaurant rather than our usual scenario of eating and chatting around their kitchen counter until very late in the evening, and often early the next morning. The following morning we made our usual failed attempt of getting away early, but with organising and packing to be done, combined with our (for now) permanent goodbyes from our new friends Danie and Sara, that was always going to happen.


SAM_0017Saying goodbyes again


SAM_0021 Tan saying goodbye to the dogs as usual


SAM_0022 Poor Lucy was very shy


We made a brief stop in town to buy Tanya a new Camelbak, as her cheap hydration pack was starting to play up. We must have stuck out like sore thumbs in a flash Stellenbosch street, as while I waited outside with the bikes I got above our usual quota of interested folk come up and ask questions, generally inquire about the trip and wish us well while she was inside. When she returned, a well-dressed fellow crossed the road and invited us to have a coffee with him.  By now we were well and truly late and we had far away places we really had to get to, and I misinterpreted his meaning as “would we sit with him and chat”.  Worrying about the big ride looming large I started to politely decline, however, Tanya ever the unencumbered social butterfly, interrupted and accepted.

We wandered over the road were we had a couple fresh coffees made on the house and Tanya had her new camelbak filled with fresh icy water. All extremely generous. When they heard we were carrying a little moka pot for brewing coffee on our petrol stove in, they proceeded to grind a bag of their own in-house freshly roasted coffee and gave this to us as well, again on the house. How awesome is that? If ever in Stellenbosch, check out Merkabah Coffee for a good brew, they were cool guys.

We finally hit the road about 11:30, and on the way out of town saw Danie out driving who was no doubt quite amused to see us still around. We headed east on the R301 and went over Bainskloof Pass, before turning north. The R355 has the longest stretch of uninterrupted road in South Africa with about 250kms between Ceres and Calvinia. We stopped for some fuel for us and the bikes at Calvinia, our first stop apart from a brief stretch on the side of the R355, before smashing out a couple hundred more kays up the tar to Kenhardt. We did 640kms including a mountain pass, a heap of dirt, plus fuel and lunch in about 7 and a half hours. Pretty good going.


DSCF5497 Bainskloof Pass was a nice surprise


DSCF5500 The R355 is very Australia-esque – long, straight, and brown. It dissects the Cederburg on the left and the Tankwa Karoo on the right; both destinations we dearly wanted to go to but couldn’t. Oh well, another time.


DSCF5506 Our little leg stretch stop


We rolled into Kenhardt pretty knackered and found a cute little guesthouse run by an elderly Afrikaaner couple. When seeing me they must have felt sorry for Tan, as we/she was fussed over us incessantly. To the point were we were given two pieces of freshly baked home made milk tart, including some cinnamon sugar (which she went all the way back home to grab), which we devoured for dinner. Such has been the generosity we have faced at every turn in South Africa. Generous hosts welcoming us into their homes, braais, beers, wine, accommodation, freshly ground coffee, and now – milk tart. It was a good way to spend our last night.


DSCF5511 Farmstall in Kenhardt were we had some coffee and breakfast


One downside of our generous and attentive host was that while I was outside locking up the bikes and our gear, naturally in my jocks, the elderly lady came to check if we were all ok and if we had enjoyed the milk tart. Tan came out to thank her and received a warm hug goodnight, which she now came over to offer me. Now I’m hardly the most affectionate bloke around, so hugging strange old ladies in my underwear falls way outside my comfort zone. Thankfully the area wasn’t well lit, and I did my best to hide my overly casual attire from the old duck while giving her a quick hug from behind the bike. Hopefully I didn’t come off too rude, but better that then a misunderstanding leading to sexual assault charge.


DSCF5522 Tan couldn’t help herself


DSCF5514 Outdoor plate collection. Why? Don’t know, because it’s Kenhardt?


The last couple hundred kays to the border the next day were unexciting, but with our 7 day visas finishing that day we had no option but to take the main road and get to the Gemsbok/Bokspits Border post with enough time to clear before it closed. Here we received a little shock, the immigration lady asking Tanya if we had “reported to the DHA?”

“err what? What’s DHA?”

“Department of Home Affairs” she said, tapping the visa stamped in Tanya’s passport with a hand written little time-bomb saying Report to DHA.

When we had gone through Senderlingsdrif Border Port 7 days previous the first thing the immigration lady on the South African side said was “you overstayed your visa!” We quickly pointed out that we actually hadn’t overstayed at all and confirmed the dates, and she begrudgingly gave us our 7 day visa that we knew we were entitled too. What she didn’t say though was anything to do with reporting to the DHA. She just handed the passports back and let that little titbit just fester away in Tanya’s passport.

Back at the Gemsbok Border Post we had a problem, as we were now trying to exit the country and we hadn’t reported to the DHA as commanded by the sneaky cow at Senderlingsdrif. The immigration official here seemed sensible enough, she seemed to believe that we had no idea what the comment was about, she seemed a bit confused as to why Tan’s Passport had the quite ambiguous Report to DHA message but mine didn’t, so she tried to ring the Senderlingsdrif Border Post to clarify. The Public Service being what it is, no one answered.

After about 20 or 30 minutes of her failing to get a hold of Senderlingsdrif and us shrugging our shoulders and waiting patiently, the immigration official stamped us out after making us promise we would report to the SA embassy in Gaborone. “Yeah sure, no problems” we said, fingers crossed to breaking point. “We will be sure to do that immediately upon arrival”. We made our way out into the stinking hot day, feeling every bit like the 42 deg C my digital dash said it was, and rode into Botswana.