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.
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 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.
The Nova Racing custom billet 3rd gear set
A 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.
My damaged delta wired stator. The windings towards the top have got the black death
The 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.
Saying goodbyes again
Tan saying goodbye to the dogs as usual
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.
Bainskloof Pass was a nice surprise
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.
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.
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.
Tan couldn’t help herself
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.
Blog 13 by Tan: The Namibian Border Hop
After a few hours sleep we woke up at 5:30am and set about packing our things and saying our temporary farewells to our awesome new friends Danie and Sara. Packing our bikes is officially my least favourite thing to do. With space at such a premium on the bike, the packing must be done very systematically. It is basically the least enjoyable thing you can do outside playing cricket or having root canal surgery performed. People we meet on the road are generally highly envious of our trip… until they witness the elaborate ritual of packing our things in the morning and getting dressed in all our bike gear. It is at that point that people say…’you know what…on second thoughts, bugger that’ and then they cruise off in their spacious, air-conditioned cars. It is such a time consuming and ridiculous procedure very much like a really shitty game of Tetris. The worst thing is when you have everything packed after 40 minutes of determined stuffing of bags and grunting and straining to do the straps up only to see you forgot to pack the running shoes which will ONLY fit if you place them ¾ of the way down in the left hand pannier next to the toiletry bag and below the coffee percolator. Everything must be unpacked and repacked once your adult temper tantrum has subsided. But oh no! You forgot that you bought a new pack of ground coffee and the shoes only fit when the packet of coffee is at least half empty. Better unpack the other pannier! It is at that time I wonder why we aren’t doing this trip in a Landcruiser.
Bikes all packed and farewells in progress. Sara looks happy to have had us….or perhaps to be rid of us???
Anyway we did manage to get things packed and set off on our pain in the arse visa dash to the Namibian border. As it was the last day of our South African visa the ride was nothing but a long slog with the only stop being at a little café in Piketberg for a savory muffin with cheese and grated biltong and a half decent coffee. This was a necessary stop as I was quite literally dozing while riding after having had so many late night chat sessions with Sara and Danie.
Extensive roadworks along the way slowed us down and made us overheat in all our riding gear. We couldn’t muster any sympathy for our plight from the road workers who were all making us wait with the cars and trucks, slamming down their stop signs with all the flourish of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings ‘You shall not pass bikers, you shall not pass!’
It is on these roads that the DR is at its happiest
We did the 300km stretch from Bitterfontein to Vioolsdrif border post in one go to try and make up some time. The scenery was of the monotonous Australian variety so we utilised the cunning old biker trick of chewing gum to stay awake. We got though the South African border post without a hitch despite the less than perfect Carnet de Passage paperwork. Before leaving South Africa officially we confirmed the new visa rules would allow us to re-enter the county for 7 days. South Africa had recently bought in some strict visa rules to stop people working illegally in South Africa and to stop the scourge of cashed up foreign tourists pumping money into their economy it would appear. It was disappointing we couldn’t stay longer in S.A. but we saw it as a perhaps necessary nudge out the door as we had a lot of Africa to see and the longer we stayed in South Africa and the more friends we made, the harder it was getting to leave.
On the way to Ai Ais
We finished up the long day by riding the awesome dirt roads to Ai Ais for the night. After the +800km day we were less than enthused about the idea of setting up a tent in the dark. We jumped at the idea of staying in the resort as it was my birthday therefore the indulgence was fully justifiable. As we checked in so late there was no one at reception to tell us the price of the room until morning. We requested their cheapest room/linen cupboard fit for sleeping and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t too expensive. When I saw that our room came with bathrobes and 3-ply toilet paper in the dunnies I started to worry that it was a $300 a night type establishment and we’d have to spend the next few weeks sleeping in ditches beside the road, subsisting on a diet of soya mince and Chakalaka to re-balance the budget. Luckily it was only $120 for the two of us with breakfast, which, while WELL outside our budget, was not a tragedy for a single night.
Camp ground at Ai Ais
The fantastic outdoor warm spring. Too warm during the day but perfect at night
That evening we met two other motorbikers who we shared dinner and drinks with; Peter a South African on a BMW R1200GS and and Ido an Israeli guy on an F800GS. All in all it was a pretty fortunate turn of events for Mick as the hotel room got him off the hook for a birthday present and the presence of the bikers meant he got out of having to be all romantic-like to me on my birthday. But don’t you worry! I’ll wreak my lady vengeance by giving him the silent treatment in 8 years time, insisting that I am fine then finally let him know I am furious at him for the time we were riding bikes in Namibia and he didn’t get me a proper birthday present and romantic dinner. Mwah-haw-haw! Mwah-haw-haw!
We stayed on another night in our rightful place this time (the campground) and chilled out and enjoyed the outdoor hot springs. From there we headed to the Cañon Roadhouse to get some internet that would allow us to arrange to fix the tooth I broke at the most inconvenient of times. Our 7-day South African visa timetable now had to include getting from the Namibian border to Stellenbosch, receiving and fitting the new gears, getting a crown made and fitted for said broken tooth and riding all the way to Botswana. No worries!
More Namibian scenery. Note me in my stylish summer riding gear – all the rage in Paris this season
Michael is insisting that I write the reason why my tooth broke as a type of public shaming exercise that will hopefully mean the end of dentist related dramas for the rest of the trip. Fair enough! My name is Tanya and I like the sweeties. Especially sweeties of the chewy variety that have the odd tendency of creating such forces of suction that burst blood vessels and pull teeth from your head. Mick has always been at me over this (my only vice) but has never pushed things too far lest I decide to nag him about his beer consumption. So, like the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War we both had something that could destroy the other so things kept on very much as usual. However, that night I broke a tooth on some candy, which represented a significant escalation in the conflict. I don’t make it a habit of lying to Michael but at that moment I felt it best to do so by omission. I told him about the tooth which broke while I was ‘eating something.’ My expert level deception however failed when I neglected to destroy the incriminating evidence. While cleaning the room to check out in the morning Mick found a half eaten packet of sweets in the bin and knew there is only one thing that would make me throw away sweets… the jig was up. I have since resolved never to eat chewy sweets again and bury (or preferably incinerate) all incriminating evidence from now on. There you go Michael.
Quiver Tree at Canyon Roadhouse
Hanging out at Canyon Roadhouse – incidentally they do a great Amarula cheesecake
As we left the Ai Ais/Richtersveld Transfronteir National Park we were treated to an awesome display of animals. We raced the DRs against ostriches running alongside us and saw a heap of Oryx (Gemsbok) which are the most stunning of creatures. I was riding along as spied a medium sized springbok that looked a lot like he was going to dart out in front of me. Sure enough that is what he did but I had enough time to slow down to have him pass right in front of me in full flight with both of its feet a good meter off the ground. It was an amazing sight to behold. Man I love riding in Africa!
A blue truck…that is old
A weathered old beast…sitting on his bike in front of a corroded car
We booked in to the Hobas camping spot near Fish River Canyon and drank a few beers by the pool. There was a 2-year-old child of one of the camp workers there who was more than a little interested in the bikes. He ran straight up to Mick’s bike and set about mounting it. Mick tried his hand at child engagement and supervision, which naturally ended in tears and injury to said child. In Mick’s defense he told the kid to keep away from the exhaust demonstrating that it is hot and he should not touch. Unfortunately something was lost in translation and the little tyke appeared to see Mick’s demonstration as some kind of instruction and immediately put his hand on the hot exhaust. Fortunately the dad told the kid something along the lines of ‘that’s what you get for not listening’ and I emptied the contents of my Camelbak on his hand and threw him on the bike before the wailing started.
The motorbike enthusiast
Mick smiling at avoiding child abuse charges
That night Mick noticed that a bolt had come loose from the exhaust can end cap and the exhaust leak had burnt a hole in his side plastic and pannier bag. Mick realised that the only way to rectify the situation was with a Windhoek Draft can and duct tape.
Mick’s bush mechanic skills in action
We spent the night sleeping under the stars with just the cots out instead of the tent. It was awesome and no baboons tried to eat our faces during the night providing an added bonus. It also meant less packing in the morning by not using the tent. We are a little bit in love with our cots which almost didn’t make it on the trip with us as we feared taking a bed along would in some way diminish our status as tough, rugged world motorbike travellers. Luckily we decided to bring them in the end and we have fantastic nights sleep as a result. The cots are made by a great company called Helinox that sells lightweight outdoor adventure equipment. We discovered when searching for a good travel chair to take with us. We found the chairs, and a table and two beds but unfortunately no wardrobe and chest of drawers. The cots weigh less that 2kg and while they are a little bulky we have enough space for them in our luggage. But when it comes down to it after a long days ride it is worth it to have a comfortable bed no matter what the ground is like.
Fish River Canyon
Next stop was Fish River Canyon which is reportedly the second largest canyon in the world behind the Grand Canyon. The local Nama people say the canyon was formed by the writhing and thrashing of a giant wounded snake as it was being chased down the valley. As a professional geologist I must say that based on the evidence we have it is probably not the case. Instead it looks a lot more like it formed by a couple billion years worth of wind and soil erosion and also by the collapse of the valley floor due to the shift in tectonic plates. A smattering of sedimentation and metamorphism, some intrusions in the form of dolerite dykes, bit of an ice age and inland sea type situation, add in some faulting and subsequent hot springs and Robert’s your mother’s brother, you have Fish River Canyon.
Mick at the canyon
Loving how the panorama shots make me look so thin
Soooo hot in this joint
Next up we headed for the Quiver Tree forest near Keetsmanhoop along more awesome, desolate dirt roads. Mick got a pinch flat and tore a hole in the sidewall of the front tyre after binning his bike in a slippery algae covered culvert that I suspect he did not slow down sufficiently for. Mick had been hating his front Mitas E07 for some time and this latest incident was the definitive end of the E07 front experience. I put my hand up to fix the flat while Mick watched on patiently frustrated at my slow and deliberate tyre changing. He was made to feel a little embarrassed when carload after carload of farm workers finishing work for the day drove past to see him standing there twiddling his thumbs while the lady changed the tyre. Now that I think of it, some of the guys gave thumbs up gestures that may not have actually been meant for me.
Me carrying out the world’s slowest tyre change – didn’t pinch the tube though
More Quiver trees
Yet more Quiver trees – it was a forest after all
Interesting quiver tree factoid before everyone falls asleep; the name comes from the San (Bushman) use of the tree for storing their arrows, the Quiver Tree wood is tubular, very light and very soft inside so a tree branch could be easily hollowed out for use as a quiver
We made it to the awesome Quiver Tree Forest campground where we met a 3-legged pug dog, watched the sun go down behind the trees and prepared a braai of springbok steak and milli pup for dinner before spending the night under the stars again. While there we met a friendly guide touring Namibia with a truck full of Germans that offered us a place to stay (and more importantly wash clothes) when we visited Swakopmund. Yet another kind and unexpected offer of hospitality.
After the customary lazy start to the day we went to the nearby Giant’s Playground for another rock fix. The area around Keetmanshoop has some pretty impressive dolerite dikes that are about 3-6 meters thick and up to tens of kilometers long and are aged at a rather youthful 180 million years old. The rocks at Giant’s Playground are from one such dyke. The giant puzzle piece looking formations are a result of spheriodal (woolstack) weathering caused by water flowing through cracks and fissures in the dolerite and ongoing weathering causing further cracks to develop along with wind blown sand erosion for good measure. Namibia – geologists’ paradise.
Geologies! Geologies everywhere!
Pulling into Keetmanshoop for fuel for our 300km ride to the coastal town of Lüderitz, we noticed Mick’s front tyre had gone flat due to the tear in the sidewall getting larger and pinching the tube. When leaving camp in the morning we had already decided to scour the town for what replacement front tyres might be available, however we weren’t confident in such a small community. We went around to 3 different tyre shops, all friendly and helpful with advice but none of which stocked motorbike tyres. The best we could manage was to get a tyre transported down from Windhoek to arrive the next morning. With time of the essence, Mick tried one last tyre place. Sure enough the bloke had a thoroughly bald Metzeler Tourance which he was selling for the princely sum of 200 Rand (a bit over 20 real dollars). It was clear we needed the tyre badly so negotiation was pointless. We accepted that we were getting completely shafted and paid up with relative cheer. However, a greater indignity was still to come.
The long awaited end to Mick’s much despised E07 front tyre
It was a scorching hot day (as most are in Namibia) and Mick asked if he could change the tyre in the relative cool of his workshop. After spending a small fortune on a barely road legal tyre that the guy no doubt got for nothing, we thought that was a reasonable request, especially as he had no business going on at the time. Our tyre hawking rip-off merchant however said that he would have to charge Mick a further 50 rand for the privilege; all this confirming our suspicions that the guy was a thorough douchbag. Mick responded “Mate I’m not paying you for shade” and walked out.
The nice part of the story however is that the whole time I was waiting with the bikes in the ample free shade of the Bridgestone dealer across the road. The guys there were fantastic to us. Despite the fact we didn’t spend a cent there they let us change our tyre in the shade of their workshop… in fact they insisted on getting one of their guys to change it for us. Not only that, they repaired a couple of tubes for us too. They refused any payment. We did however go and buy a cold coke for everyone, which cost us more than 50 rand but we were happy to pay it. So in summary, Keetmanshoop Bridgestone dealer = champions, Stumpys Tyres ie the guy across the road = doushbag tyre pirate.
The ample and free of charge shade of the Bridgestone dealer – thanks guys!
We rode into the worst head wind of the trip to get to Lüderitz. The last 40 km in particular were HORRID. I swear I am not exaggerating when I say that it was SO strong the last 40km were ridden with all abdominal muscles fully engaged and arm muscles and teeth clenched in order to stay upright. All this led to the shocking fuel consumption of 13km/L. Which reminds me, Mum – please send money (haha).
We stayed at a nice little hotel called the Bayview Hotel where the lady running the place (a fellow biker) gave us a ‘biker discount’ on a huge room. Lüderitz is an interesting looking place with distinctly German colonial architecture, awesome rocks, great seafood and with a pleasantly eerie look to the place.
Oryx – these guys are the ultimate survivors. When water is scarce they can they can minimise its need for by allowing their body temperature to rise from a normal 35.7°C to 45°C. They have also been known to impale lions on their horns
The ride to Lüderitz is extremely desolate with barely a tree in sight and just the odd Oryx or ostrich to entertain you. The last 120 km of road into Lüderitz is lined either side by vast diamond fields which is ‘Forbidden Territory.’ Signs warn you that you are not permitted to go anywhere off the road lest hordes of ninja police employed by the diamond companies come and get you. Casual fossicking for diamonds is not looked upon kindly, which is a shame as a couple diamonds would supplement the trip budget quite nicely.
Amateur prospecting not allowed – bummer
Michael risking the wrath of the DeBeers sand ninjas
On that topic actually, it is quite funny when we meet people and they hear we are taking 3 years off work. People are so keen to know how we can afford to do that while at the same time not wanting to be rude by asking. Others come straight out and say that we must be rich. Our explanation that we saved the money by working is far from exciting so instead we are thinking of claiming to be Australian aristocracy; ‘I hope you wont treat us any differently to know that I am the sole heir of Lady Charlene von Trundlebed while Michael’s Dad invented the UGG boot so we are both gloriously rich.’ Anyway, I digress.
Bluey in the sand
Sand, sand… look, whats that? is it? nope nope, thats sand too
The desert that lines the road to Lüderitz has produced copious amounts of diamonds since the fields were discovered in 1908. During the diamond boom the desert gravel was so rich in diamonds that at night, men on their hands and knees scoured the desert floor for diamonds that were easier to spot under the light of the moon. It is said that at this time proper handfuls of diamonds could be grabbed. Imagine ladies, imagine! This might sounds pretty romantic but the reality was that this work was often performed by black workers chained at the legs and made to crawl across the desert floor on burning hot sand all day searching for diamonds. A sad business.
The diamonds themselves come from Kimberlite pipes located many hundreds of kms away in southern Africa (Lesotho and around the Kimberley area) by weathering, mostly from rain but also by wind, which eroded diamonds out of the kimberlite pipes and swept them into river systems which over the past 90 million years have flowed from east to west and emptied into the Atlantic Ocean. This is why there is also a lot of sea floor mining of diamonds along the coast of Namibia and South Africa. The interesting thing about the marine diamonds is their extremely high ratio of gem quality diamonds which is as much as 95%. This is because the inferior diamonds with fractures and inclusions that would be only fit for industrial purposes simply don’t survive the trip from pipe to ocean. To put that in perspective, the world average mined gem quality ratio is only around 20%. At Argyle mine in Western Australia, it is just 5%. Any adventurous friends with scuba diving licenses and no fear of incarceration should message me promptly.
Arrived in Lüderitz just in time for an impressive sunset
An incredible seafood poitjie. Tasted even better than it looked
For us the big draw in coming all the way to Lüderitz was to visit the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmanskop. At its height the town was home to over 1,500 people. The residents of Kolmanskop lived the high life during the diamond boom where they are reported to have had champagne and caviar parties that ran for days. The reason for all the partying, you ask? Consider this little factoid. In just the first 5 years from when the first diamond was found, 5 million carats – a tonne of diamonds (literally a metric tonne!) was plucked from the sands around Kolmanskop. But it wasn’t all champagne and caviar, as summers were hotter than Hell, sand storms raged and water, which needed to be shipped in from Cape Town, was often so scarce that people bathed in soda water from the soft drink plant. Is it just me or does that sound wonderfully refreshing? Swap the soda water for tonic, source a few lemons and bottles of gin and get ready for the 3-day caviar party, I say!
Today Kolmanskop is derelict and the desert is encroaching to such an extent that sand fills the old buildings making for what I imagine to be an interesting sight. I say this because we didn’t actually get to see it in the end as we’d missed the limited opening hours. We managed to see a tiny bit of the place before being shooed away by security. We figured that we had better follow instructions to leave as I don’t think they would look too kindly on two mining professionals hanging around the Prohibited Area. We were gutted and have resolved we might just have to ride all the way down back to Lüderitz when we come back into Namibia in December.
Kicking ourselves for missing the opening hours while trying to gauge just how seriously enforced they were
Prison, you say!….alright better be moving on
We headed back to town to gorge ourselves on seafood and drown our sorrows before riding all the way back to the South African border. We were running a bit late as the decision to share a bottle of wine while mildly dehydrated led to me being a bit too pissy to battle the gale-force winds of Lüderitz with any real expectation of staying upright on the bike.
Not a bad spot for lunch
Ocean fresh calamari that melted in the mouth…oh I do like to be beside the seaside..
We rode to Rosh Pinah which is a mining town (lead/zinc) near the border. In the grand tradition of mining town’s, accommodation was insanely expensive with them wanting $150 for the night in crappy motel room. We opted instead to go to the national park right on the Senderlingsdrif border post and find somewhere to bush camp. We ended up finding a great spot in a quarry for another night under the stars. We chose a more isolated part of the quarry to set up camp so that we wouldn’t wake up in the bucket of an excavator the next morning.
Our humble abode in the middle of a quarry. Me…true to form, refusing to get out of bed
Ferry over the Orange River at the Senderlingsdrif border post
The next day was another sprint from the border to Cape Town so I would be there in time for my 8am dentist appointment the next day. Instead of fighting the boredom of riding on tar we rode through the Richtersveldt instead. We rode down to Lekkersing on some softish roads and then hit the tar briefly toward Port Nollath before heading south on the dirt again toward Kleinsee. We followed a bit of the coast which included entering a couple of closed off diamond mining towns that required us to show our passport and quite possible unknowingly agree to on the spot cavity searches if we are caught even glancing at the ocean. Luckily it was a Sunday and no-one found us at all suspicious so with continued without incident.
Awesome gravel roads of the Richtersveld
Sunny, desolate, sandy, dusty…we love this stuff
Keen to avoid the extensive roadworks around of Clanwilliam we instead took the dirt road that followed the highway on the eastern side of the Oliphants River and Clanwilliam Dam. It was dirt road, scenic and less frustrating than negotiating the roadworks but probably no quicker in the end. It was dark by this point and unknown to us there was a widespread blackout at the time. As we rode into the first town in a while we were met with no electricity and people all over the place. At this point I was convinced we had ended up in the type of place we really should not be in. All the horror crime stories people regaled us with when we told them we were going to South Africa circulated in my head and in the end I absolutely gunned it though the apparent shanty town like a maniac…stopping for nothing and no one. I later found out it was actually a nice little town that simply had no electricity at the time. The blackout we discovered was actually caused by one of the major electricity generating coal silos in the country collapsing. The government claimed that there was NO indication that the silo was going to collapse. It just…like…collapsed. Sure there were cracks appearing all over the thing but seriously it was like completely out of the blue.
After dead straight roads that go forever, this T-junction was pretty exciting
Anyway, my brush with imagined danger and sore back from long days on the bike made me decide to stay the night at the nearby Piekernieerskloof Resort. It was yet another one of those places that we walk into and know it is too good for us. However, we were pleasantly shocked by a more than reasonable room rate and one of the best rooms we’ve stayed in during our whole time in Africa. We were obviously looking a bit worse for wear as the receptionist requested that we pay for the room upfront. I took it in my stride and told her if I saw people that looked like us I’d get them to pay up front first too. After a full days ride we annihilated a pizza and put away a few gin and tonics. The next morning we left before 6am and made our way into Cape Town, lane splitting like crazies, and made it in time for my dentist appointment.
A 5.30am start and an early morning dentist appointment is the price I had to pay…….because I am Tanya………and I like the sweeties.