Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My work here is done

I had imagined a moment where i crested the brow of a hill to see a sign saying "Welcome to Cape Town", with a panoramic view of the city and Table Mountain laid out below me, basking in in the crisp winter sun. But no. The final kilometers of this 6 month trip were reminiscent of the fist few. Layered up in every piece of warm clothing i had with waterproofs over the top of my riding gear. The elation of finally arriving was overridden by by the now familiar confusion of arriving in a strange city and trying to find a place to stay.

It was the 11th August. The 29,000km trip (this is an approximation as the speedo/odometer broke in the Congo) had taken 1 day less than 6 months. The next day was a scorcher so i headed down to the Cape of Good Hope for the obligatory photo by the sign and gave the bike its final long run on African soil.
The road to Cape Town as the weather starts to turn

riding the big bird.

During my 6 days in Jeffrys Bay with all the surf "dudes" i caught a surf movie where the stars headed off the coast to go and ride ostriches. I decided that i must do it too. I managed to stay on for about 30 seconds as the bird ran around the enclosure trying to shake me off. Probably a little cruel but funny as hell.

Tomorrow the bike flies back to Heathrow on South African Airways and I follow on BA on Tuesday. My work here is done.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

So close, yet...

The Makgadigkadi Salt Pans, Botswana. This was just before
i realised that i was in the wrong place

Only 700km from Cape Town and my trusty stead is in bits in a mechanics workshop for 4 days.

The engine had been under performing and vibrating excessively for a couple of weeks but when i got here to Jeffrys Bay, it became difficult start, wouldn't tick-over and sounded dreadful. The excellent mechanics here quickly had the engine out and dismantled. Verdict: Broken piston ring causing piston seizure and damaged cylinder, or in the words of one Queensland mechanic- 'the fucking fuckers fucked'.

Its not all bad though. New parts will be delivered on Monday and the guys here will re bore and rebuild the engine on Tuesday/ Wednesday and all for snip of what i would pay in England. Estimated cost is 2000 rand (about 130 quid).

Ive also learnt that its not possible to sell the bike in South Africa 'legally'. I would have had to complete the paper work before arriving to do so.
The bike is travelling on a Carnet de Passage which is like a passport for the vehicle which allows me to temporarily or permanently import it, in line with the the country's laws and tax regs. To ensure the owner of the Carnet (me) complies with such laws, the issuing body (in my case the RAC) holds a deposit based on the value of the vehicle (1200 quid for me) which they will release when the Carnet document is returned in order and correctly stamped by customs. So i flog the bike- i lose my dosh.

On the plus side South African Airways will fly the bike back for a reasonable sum, AND i can ride it to the airport leave petrol in the tank and that's it. I don't need to drain the fluids and crate it up which is what i was expecting to have to do. If all goes well I will ride it home from Heathrow the day i arrive back, though flights are yet to be booked. A job for tomorrow.

So I'm stuck in Jeffreys Bay, an international surf mecca, for 5 days. It could be much worse. If this happened in Angola it probably would have ended the trip!

A clever chap here has managed to recover the deleted photos off my camera so Ive dropped in a few in from Botswana.
Heading into the pans, shortly before my tumble
piss stop
Baobab Tree, Botswana

I spent most of last week in the beautifully wild Transkei, walking, riding the bike and even riding an old nag of a horse. There were loads of whales off the coast too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Final Land Border is Crossed

my route is in green, overnight stops get a red circle

When I remarked on the great view of Johannesburg from my hostel's reception office, the manager responded with a "yeah......you wouldn't think the streets are teaming with crime from up here". Perhaps an exaggeration but ever since arriving in South Africa I have received warnings from well wishing locals:
"Don't pull over by the side of the road- only use service stations"
"Are you going to Jo'Burg?....oh be very careful there" etc.

So whilst expecting to get robbed or mugged, i didn't expect to be driven into by an old man carrying a minibus full of school children. And this is precisely what happened as i was driving into Soweto last week. The guy completely ignored the stop sign and hit me side on. After hobbling around in shock for a couple of minutes i picked up the bike with the help of the crowd that had rapidly congregated. I inspected the damage: The clutch lever had snapped, the left pannier was ripped off (again), one foot peg mangled and the front wheel was had twisted 30 degrees out of line. On top of that the engine was refusing to start. The driver, a sweet humble old man, accepted full responsibility but clearly was not going to be able to pay for the damage. Insurance is not mandatory here and therefore neither of us had any cover. We agreed that he would use his van to transport the bike to a garage if need be, rather than him pay me cash that he didn't have.
After a trip to one of the Soweto cop shops to complete the incident report, the bike decided to start enabling me to ride precariously to to the homely Soweto Backpackers Hostel where i managed to straighten the steering and repair the pannier (with a hammer and bit of wood). I had a spare clutch lever in the spares box and i decided the i could ride just the same with the mangled foot peg. My right leg was just bruised so i was back in business. I had worried briefly earlier in the day that the bike might not make it to Cape Town.
I spent another day in Soweto and did a fabulous guided bicycle tour seeing the good bad and the ugly of what is now quite a prosperous, friendly and relatively safe township (excluding traffic accidents).
5 days before i did what will probably be my last bit of adventurous riding of the trip across the Makgagikgadi Pans in Botswana. A fall (the 3rd decent one of the trip) on the dirt tracks heading into the pans left me and the already weak left pannier laying in the sand- no damage done.
The perfectly flat, salt encrusted pans are interrupted by grassy 'islands' and an array of 4x4 tracks - some leading to nowhere. After a mellow night at a campsite on a rocky outcrop covered in 4000 year old baobab trees i managed to pick up one of these tracks that headed to nowhere and found myself not exactly lost, but not where i wanted to be and with no visible way off the pans. After loving the morning of riding over this stark, bright landscape and stopping to take loads of photos, i suddenly felt the fear. I had not seen another vehicle or person all morning. I back tracked all the way back to the campsite where some friendly big bellied South Africans were fortunately still around and pointed me in the direction of the correct set of tracks. Very clear once i was on them.
I was off the pans and into the bush repairing a puncture in the front tyre (puncture No 6 of the trip) when a lone boy strolled up and asked for water. I had only a litre left and wasn't sure where the next village/town was and the way my day was going was reluctant to share. I reasoned that he thought I had loads and plus he being local, must have set off from where ever knowing how far he had to walk. He hung around and i felt like a real tight ass. When i had the wheel back on i shared my water and custard creams with him and felt my conscience easing.
Now i have inadvertently wiped my cameras memory card and lost all the pics since i last backed up in Namibia so not many new pics here. I have dropped a few in that i picked up from Laura when i met her in Windhoek plus my route to date.
I am currently in St Lucia, Kwazula-Natal making the most of the warm weather and abundant wildlife. Off to get a pizza!
I just missed capturing the one on the right taking a lazy 'mid-sleep' poo

Morocco (inc Western Sahara)
West Africa. Mauritania- Nigeria

Central Africa Cameroon- Angola

Tom and I, Congo

Friday, July 13, 2007

Botwana- Zambia

The Okavango Delta, Botswana

The welding job on Wilfred's Land Cruiser went on and on until i decided i couldn't hang around any longer. My time in Namibia was coming up to 1 month and i wanted to get going so i travelled back to Windhoek from Damaraland where we had arranged to meet. I was also suffering from my second bout of African 'man flu' so hanging around in basic camp sites in the bush was loosing its appeal. The timing worked out well as Tom and Laura were in town having driven up from Cape Town in the hire van. They were gutted not to be in their 4x4 that had taken them most of the way across Africa, but at the same time more relaxed at having reliable set of wheels complete with a sink and fridge!

nice place for a puncture- number 5 of the tip and the first in the front tyre

The day after hooking up with T&L again, i took the road heading east to the Botswana border. That evening i found myself holding hands in circle around the fire with 2 lovely South African couples as one of them said grace in Afrikaans. They had taken pity on me in my little tent on the bitterly cold night and invited me over to share in their braii (BBQ). They had a load of south african meat that could not be taken over the border for some reason, so i happily made sure none of it went to waste. Both the guys were fruit farmers supplying Asda in the UK with sun kissed apples and peaches. They said that had tried to set up trade with Waitrose and M&S but their buyers were so damn picky about the appearance of the fruit that it just wasn't profitable. In the morning the condensation on the tent had frozen!
Riding through Botswana takes me within 500km of Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe/ Zambia border which i thought was too close and too good an opportunity to miss. The plan for the final part of the trip was in place. Cruise through Botswana to Jo'burg making a detour to Livingstone to see the falls, then from Jo'burg- Durban and the coastal route to the Cape.

Paul takes a poling lesson

The first stop in Botswana was the town of Maune. A bit of a sprawling tourist town to access the Okvango Delta but i stayed in a great lodge by the the river owned and ran by 3 heavy drinking Botwanans and an English girl who grew up 10 miles from Tunbridge Wells. And when i say heavy drinking- it was not unusual to see the one of the owners and local white business men at bar at ten in the morning with a beer and a sambucca. From here i took a 2 day mokoro (a kind of dug out canoe) trip into the delta through the shallow waters and reeds to one of the large islands where we (Saul the guide/poler, a Japanese girl and I) set up a bush camp for the night and Saul gave gave us each a poling lesson in he mokoro- i was rubbish at it.

After short safety brief which was along the lines of 'if an elephant gets too close run' and 'if a lion gets too close hold your ground and keep looking at it', we headed off on foot in search game. Whilst i didn't see as much wildlife as in Etosha National Park it was a real buzz to be out of the protection of a vehicle walking around. Ironically, the animals were really wary of us walking around, where as they tend to be totally at ease when your in a car. Most of the animals we saw made a run for it as soon as we started approaching.

I'm now spending my final night in Livingstone, Zambia right next to Victoria Falls. Its been real holiday here over last few days. White water rafting, all you can drink sunset booze cruises and this morning i took a microlight flight over the falls which was amazing. My pilot had driven his motorbike here 15 years previously so after bonding over our similar experiences he foolishly let me take over the controls. Controls is over selling it a little- Its basically a bar connected to the fixed wing, but i definately fancy another go sometime.

Gin and Fanta on the Zambezi

The dunes near Swakopmund, Namibia

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Since arriving in Namibia the focus of the trip has changed. Central Africa, from Gabon through to Angola, was all about progress southwards towards South Africa- the challenge of getting me and the bike to the Cape. But from here Cape Town is is easy 3 or 4 day drive on good roads with regular fuel stations (with fuel), good places to stay and KFC. The trip is now about being a tourist again and seeing and enjoying southern Africa. Its a change I'm relaxing into.

Central Namibia
Before i go too far though, Ive had to give the battle weary bike a bit of TLC. Since arriving in Namibia I have done the following:

New front tyre, new battery, replaced the rear hub bearings, replaced the front brake lever, remounted the bashplate fixings, changed the oil and oil filter (4th of the trip), fixed an oil leak (actually a mechanic did that) and renewed the chain and sprockets.

I also need to collect my new passport from the British High Commission here in Windhoek. 120 quid! but the current one is full which will really limits my travel plans. And what are those plans?

Well...... Will, the Frenchman, and I didn't make it to Kaokoland in the north west as we planned to do after my last blog entry due to mechanical problems so that's the first thing. Then rather than going directly south to Cape Town I plan to cut through Botswana to RSA near the Kruger Park area then toddle down the east coast at a lesuirely pace taking in the best of South Africa. Hopefully it won't be too cold.

And what have i been doing for the last 3 weeks? Well......As mentioned previously I spent 3 days in Etosha National Park. It was these three days of cruising round spotting game and feasting on BBQ'd steak in the evenings that marked the change in vibe of the trip. I was now on holiday.

The backpacker hostels here are incomparable to the cheap hotels of central Africa. Whilst I'm normally in my tent or a dorm, they generally have a swimming pool, bar, pool table, lounge, garden and kitchen. The campsites are comfortable too. I stayed at one recently each plot was separated from the others by 500m, had views across the dessert valley and an immaculate private toilet and shower with hot water! I'm currently on the coast in Swakopmund. If Namibia is not like Africa, Swakopmund is positively a German seaside town. Old colonial buildings sit next to seafood restaurants and estate agents advertising new beach view apartments. The sand dunes are the main attraction here which stretch for hundreds of km's to the north and south. dessert tours are on offer learn about the fragile ecosystems but i chose opted for 2 hours of quadbiking- blasting over 300 foot sanddunes, ripping up the said ecosystems. Great fun. Actually the areas for quadbiking are controlled but there is still local resentment against it.

I spoke to Tom and Laura last night, my companions from the Congo. After i left them in Brazzaville, Laura got Malaria and a kidney infection and had to spend three days in hospital. After finally making across the Congo river to DRC the gearbox on the Nissan packed up. They decided to sell the car and fly to Cape Town. They are driving up to Namibia in a hire van so hopefully we'll catch up.
typical Namibian gravel road west of Windhoek

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A little overdue this entry. Partly because i was on a none stop riding mission through Angola and partly because I've been taking it easy here in Namibia in the knowledge that the hard part of the trip is over. I did however write some stuff over the last couple of weeks which i will get get down here.

Democratic Republic of Congo/DRC/Zaire/Belgium Congo

The sight of a UN peace keeping force is reassuring, but not really a good sign. Dotted around Kinshassa blue berretted soldiers packed into the back of big white trucks and convoys of brand new UN Land Cruisers patrolled the streets. I saw no signs of any trouble and my 4 days in this country were fairly uneventfull.

I had said farewell to Tom and Laura that morning. Repairs to their Nissan were taking longer than planned and with the weekend coming up could have gone into the following week. On the basis that I could be in Namibia in a weeks time i decided to go it alone. A decision i regretted more than once over the following week.

Travelling with other like minded people is certainly more relaxing and more fun. Chatting about the days events over a beer and meal in the evening is definitely a nice way to end the day. Ive never cared for much for eating alone in the evening. And its been great having tom around to assist in making impromptu repairs to the bike by the roadside. However, when its just me and the bike, riding into a new country or a dropping into a new landscape the feeling is so much more liberating. I also interact with a lot more with the local people when alone. In short i guess it smooths out the peaks and the troughs

The journey from Brazzaville (Congo) to Kinshasa (DRC) is a short ferry ride across the Congo River and for me was a jolt back into chaotic stressful side of African travel. The immigration official was angry and unhelpful, the ticketing system for the ferry was totally confusing and as i was struggling to get the bike down some steep steps on to the boat some guy was screaming at me that i had only paid for the bike and not myself, despite having a wad of six different tickets in my hand.

Getting off on the other side was no better. Rather than heading to some customs and immigration buildings (or even an outside desk) to sort out the formalities, a policeman demanded my passport before i was off the boat and casually flicked through it standing on the slatted floor of the jetty as people shoved past. I was petrified of him dropping it into the river below. At the same time another chap demanded the Carnet for the bike and someone else my yellow fever certificate. Utter chaos.

The drive across DRC was uneventful and that evening i was at Matadi on the Angolan border. Packing and loading the following morning i started to feel nervous about the days ahead. I had learnt only a few phrases of Portuguese (my efforts to find a dictionary or phrasebook had failed) and i didn't have a guide book (only 4 pages photocopied from an old lonely planet for the whole of Africa). I wished i had waited for Tom and Laura.

I needn't have worried, well not that day anyway. I got the border to learn that i needed to get my Angolan visa at the consulate in town and not at the border as i was planning to do. It was Saturday and they would be closed till Monday.


On the Monday I walked away with my 5 day transit visa after 2 hours at the Angolan consulate answering relevant questions such as:

“Does your mother have any brothers and sisters?”
“Which countries do they live in?” etc

5 days to cover the 1,600km. A tough call but possible. I had read reports of people driving from dawn till dusk and making it so i wanted to give it my best shot.

The roads in northern Angola were as bad as Congo, though fortunately not as wet. It was evident that few cars came up this far- grass grew in between the tyre tracks and i only saw one other vehicle on that first day. The fist night i spent at the Catholic Mission in Tomboco. Gustav, the Mexican priest invited me to sleep at his house and i dinned with him and 5 Angolan nuns- all a bit surreal given my lack of Portuguese and their lack of English, but amusing all the same after having tucked into Gustav’s scotch before dinner.

The second night i camped in the car park of the sailing club in Luanda, the capital. I arrived after being on the road for 11 hours and as soon as i stopped felt overcome with tiredness and just sat next to the bike trying to summon up the energy to put up my tent. It was a beautiful spot though, on the other side of the bay to the main city with views across the water to the high rise offices of the CBD.

It was when i took a shower that the shivers started. Followed by a thumping headache and a slight fever. I hoped it was just fatigue and nothing worse. In the morning, after poor nights sleep, i was drenched in sweat too. Classic malaria symptoms. This is not the country i wanted to get Malaria in and i thought about just setting off and trying to get to Namibia before i felt too bad, but everything i’d read about malaria indicated that early treatment is key to a quick recovery so i dragged myself off to the clinic for a blood test. I was relieved that when it came back negative, so i left town and continued south.

Lack of available fuel, two punctures, grinding rear wheel bearings and a sinking fuel tank hampered progress but on the 6th day i crossed into Namibia. Into civilisation.

I had three days in Etosha national park with Wilfred, Thomas, Claudia and little Leon (pic at the top) whilst my bike had some work done on it at the garage in town. They had arived in Namibia a week before me also having driven from Europe so it was good to exchange some stories.

In half an hour Wilfred in his Land Cruiser and me on the bike will head to the remote north west of Namibia for a few days. I then need to get to get Windhoek to buy some warm clothes (yes it gets really cold here at nights) and straighten the flat spots out of my front wheel.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

still in the Congo

Le Route Principle
i didn't get the chance to finish the last entry so here goes.....

The road was well and truly blocked. A logging truck had got stuck in the mud so when the next truck had come along, the driver tried to drive around it. He got stuck. So the Caterpillar 'log loader' had been brought down to pull them out. Yes, he too got stuck.

When we arrived they were waiting for a bigger Caterpillar 'log loader' to arrive. Whilst i could have got the bike through with a struggle, there was no way the Nissan could pass so we waited. Plus I wanted to how they would pull out two 40 tonne trucks that were axel deep in mud. Eventually the big one showed up and in usual African style with every one barking instructions at each other they got to work. For the first half an hour nothing budged. But slowly slowly, bit by bit, they managed to free one of the the trucks. We took the opportunity to nip through before another truck blocked the road then continued south. It was getting dark by this stage and we had to decide whether to bush camp, or push through to a hotel that we had heard about from the stranded truck drivers. With the thought of a cold beer and possibley a cooked meal we ventured on. Well, until my rear wheel seized. The brake pad, which i knew was nearly finished, finally said 'no more', came away from the housing and wedged it self between the caliper and the disk. We freed the pads, removed them and continued with only the front brake.

The hotel was more of a logging camp. The rooms were little more than wooden shacks around a bar and seating area with men getting drunk on small plastic bags of whiskey and occasionally dancing to the distorted music. We negotiated a good deal to have sole use of an outside elevated seating area where we drank some beers, cooked up some of our supplies and i pitched my tent. Earlier that day i had noticed that many of the truck drivers were oriental looking, and we had joked that the Chinese logging companies had brought them over as the locals kept crashing the trucks. They turned out to be Malaysian, but yes the reason they were here was as we had joked. They were training up the Congolese after so many trucks had been wrecked.

The following afternoon we arrived in Point Noire and treated ourselves to a decent hotel and a Pizza. I was shocked by the how wealthy the town appeared. Fancy bars and restaurants, shops selling quality electronic goods, and plenty of white people driving around in fancy clan 4x4s(clearly expats). The contrast between the isolated rural villages and the city was more extreme than i had seen anywhere before on the trip. It is the same here Brazzaville the capital where i am now. This morning I was sat in pavement cafe drinking an espresso watching sharply dressed young Congolese men on their way to work clasping leather briefcases chatting on the latest Nokias. Incredible when you consider the journey we had to undertake to travel between these 2 cities.

I tried and failed to get new brake pads in Point Noire so i e-mailed Ground Control in Reading, where Ollie dropped sorting out the Three mobile billing system to get a new set DHL'd over to Brazzaville. 76 quid to send a 10 gram package acroos the world in 5 days. Now received and fitted.

The road to Brazzaville was no better than the roads in the north, the traffic just as infrequent and progress just as slow. Every 10km we would have to stop and walk through the muddy water or a river to find the best route. In some places the local villagers had created a deviation which could be used for small, or in some cases, large fee. There were also chancers who tried to get money for using the main route, claiming they had improved it.

At the first really bad section, a house adjacent to the road had put a barrier across the entrance to their land. We could use it but would be charged twenty five quid for the privilege. A colossal amount for them and we were clearly being stitched up. I figured i could get my bike over a steep path on the other side to the house. But that was not possible for the car.

We tried to play it cool. Made some coffee, attempted to renegotiate and had another look at the slosh pit that lay in front of us. Tom (and I too) thought he could make. He didn't and got stuck, water filling the foot wells of the car and burning out the stereo (the second of the trip, fitted only two days before).

The sand ladders and shovel came off the roof, some lads came to help and I was in my boxer shorts up to my thighs in mud and still we could not free the car. It wasn't looking good. The villages here have no vehicles and we had not seen one on the road for three hours, so when two new 4x4s showed up we were relieved. They managed to pull the Nissan back out but the sump guard and bash plate and been ripped off again and the clutch was not gripping. T & L talked about going back, but that wasn't an easy option either and we had heard that the road got better the further on. A reduced rate of ten quid was finally negotiated and we both passed through the garden.
Later on

On the second afternoon I stood chatting to a Canadian chap from the Red Cross who was traveling in the opposite direction but was waiting for a stuck vehicle to be freed before he could pass in his Land Cruiser. I suddenly heard Tom, just out of site round the corner, going ballistic swearing loudly in Dutch. I ran into view thinking their car had dropped into a ditch, but he seemed OK.

" The f#cking bastards are asking for money" he yelled "can you believe it??!!".

Tom had just spent over an hour pulling three 2x4 cars through a particularly treacherous section of mud and deep water. The local young male villagers, who always flock to such situations had been helping to push when we arrived and continued to help afterwards, and naturally asked for payment for their efforts. Fair enough. But when the drivers of the stuck cars thought that Tom should pay he lost it.

The Red Cross guy didn't seem so surprised. "These people have just come out of a long civil war" he reasoned " they are used to doing anything can just to get by and make a buck".

This was another occasion
Before i left, i had said that if anyone with a gun wanted money off me i would simply pay up. But here we were arguing over two quid with an angry man holding a revolver . It was the cheek of it. He, and his mates were claiming to be responsible for improving the only passable section of the road and had put up a bamboo barrier. We had been driving behind two Red Cross Vehicles and claimed to part of their convoy. This had worked the last time but this guy was more determined to extract some of our money. As he got angrier I saw sense and handed over the money he opened up and we sped through. I doubt it was loaded anyway. Bullets cost money.
Our last bush camp
Not surprising the bananas were cheap here

We both crawled into Brazzaville. The Nissan needing some serious work- the brakes were shot, the suspension on one side broken, bumper hanging off and the clutch needing some attention. T&L are at the garrage now and are not sure how long it will take to get the car road worthy again. I've picked up my DHL package and have replaced both sets of brakes and this afternoon will fix the speedo/odometer. The odometer is key for me judge how much fuel I have. I would like to leave tomorrow, taking the ferry over the Congo River to DRC. It will be a shame to part company with T&L but at the same time I am not keen on staying for what could be a week. A decision to make.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Into the Congo

I crossed the equator around 1pm on the 11th May. A grubby sign on the side of the road was all that marked, what was for me, a significant mile stone. London 6,500km it says, yet i had driven over 18,000 to get there.

I had arranged to meet Tom and Laura at a catholic mission in Lamberene a further 100km down the road where we would stay the night. Ive actually been staying a quite a few missions in this part of Africa. They are generally cleaner and quieter than the cheap hotels and often let you camp in the grounds for a small donation.

We left town (and the last of the tarred road) the next morning and were soon confronted with our first obstacle. Recent heavy rains had caused localised flooding and series of 20 m long puddles lay before us. It wasn't that deep (18") so Tom drove through first and after gauging the depth from his tyres blasted through getting totally soaked with the spray. After a couple more of these i felt pretty unstoppable . And then we came across this.

A river had burst its banks and thigh deep fast flowing water cut across the road. A couple of beefy 4x4s crawled across from the other side and Tom figured he could make it too, but there was no way i was. One bad move and bike would be pulled down stream. I loaded my luggage onto Toms roof and waited for a truck. After 15 mins a Land Cruiser showed up and agreed to take the bike. I dashed him a fiver and gave the young lads 20p each.

Late the following afternoon, we arrived wet and muddy at the Congo border. After completing all the formalities, we were informed that the one road that continued south was worse than we had come through. We though it best to stay the night, and after seeing what rooms were on offer T&L decided to sleep in their roof tent. I took one of the two pound rooms complete with nowhere to wash and a shitting shack out the back.

They weren't wrong about the road. It would barely be rated as a farm track in Europe. After the previous few days we had worked out a system for the deep mud and water. If it looked reasonable Tom would drive through first and I would look for the shallower side or even a way around the edge where locals on foot had cut a route through the bush. If the water came over his mud guards for more than 2 meters I knew the bike would struggle. Where it looked especially difficult we would wade through first to check. Generally this worked. My bike stalled twice in deep water and had to be pushed out with help from T&L, and the Nissan got stuck on its axles in section of particularly stinking mud. Our effort with the shovel, jack and sand-ladders did nothing to budge the 2 tonne car and as we had seen no traffic all day I rode back to the last village about 1 km away to get help. They had no vehicles so a possie of 8 scrawny lads were summonsed and headed off to the car. An hour later after much revving and grunting the car was out and laura rewarded the guys with a pound each, A gerry can and a football. They were all happy with the football but when the dosh got handed over, the old fella grabbed it and the squabbling started.

By 7.30 the following morning Tom and I were covered in diesel under the Nissan fixing the fuel line that had ruptured the previous day with a length of garden hose. If anyone knows how to get diesel out of clothes please let me know. It was also confirmed to us that a bridge on the main route south was out and only the bike would be able to get across. We tried an alternative route, but the surface of the road was covered in a slippery clay that gave me no traction at all. I fell 5 times in the first hour. The third fall faster and harder ripped the right hand pannier from its frame smashing the indicator on its way. the sump guard was bent and tank bag buckle broken. I was fine just a little bruised an more muddy from sliding along the slippery clay. Thank fully the pannier fitted back on with the help of a luggage strap but with in 5 minutes i was off again. We decided to turn back and try the remaining route south which would take us to Point Noire.

The road now being used by logging trucks was better and we made good progress until:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cameroon to Gabon

It was one of the guys that got involved in brokering my deal for 3 bananas and 2 bags of nuts that pointed it out. " Look, you have flat tyre". It was my last day in Nigeria and my first puncture of the trip.
Whilst I was expecting to have many more punctures and even to be on number 5 or 6 by now, this did nothing to cool my frustration in the midday heat. However, as is often the way in Africa there is a man (or twenty) eager to help. Within minutes we had the bike to a tyre repair man 20 yards down the street. Yes very fortunate.
White man in town always sparks a little curiosity. White man on a loaded motorbike that has broken down was a real treat and soon a crowd of onlookers had gathered. Everyone was especially curious as to the contents of my panniers and bags, and seemed ammused that i was carrying tools and a puncture repair kit. 40 minutes later i was on my way and an hour later at the Cameroon border where the sealed road finished and the dirt began.
The main road from the Nigerian border into Cameroon

I spent a clammy night in a town called Mamfe in a hotel with no power or running water and the following morning set about finding petrol. Whilst Mamfe is a reasonably sized town, the roads linking it to the south and east are too poor to consistantly take petrol tankers so there are no fuel stations in town. I was initially sent to a government depot which apparently sold fuel but there was no one around so i had to resort to the 'fungi' fuel sold in gerry cans on the street. This is imported illegally from Nigeria and is of a slightly lower quality than the fuel station 'super' but the bike didn't seem to notice the difference as we continued south on the red dirt roads through the forest.

I arrived in Limbe on the coast as the sun was setting, in time for a cold beer in a beach side restaurant where i met a Cameroonian living in Hackney. He was here on holiday with his " year old boy and visiting his 'Cameroonian' girl. I got the impression he also had a 'London Girl'. The following day was the 1st May- Labour Day and an all day booze up for the workers of the country. And me.
My rear tyre was now resembling my head and was worried about finding a decent replacement. In England i was advised to change my rear wheel for a larger 18 inch one as 18inch tyres are less rare in Africa. I had ignored this advice, primarily on cost and was now beginning to regret it. I had found good tyres in Togo but only 18inch and when i eventually found somewhere selling motorbike tyres in Cameroon i had the same result. 99 percent of motorcycles in west Africa are small Chinese bikes with small Chinese tyres, hence my difficulty. So when a mechanic rolled out a 17" rear Michelin T63 (good on dirt and acceptable on the tar) I was a very happy man. The chap sensed this and i probably paid over the odds but i didn't care.

The luxury of camping with a car-Tom and LauraIn Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital i met up again with Tom and Laura who i had ran into a couple of times since Nigeria. They are from Holland and also heading south to Cape Town albeit following a different route and in in the comfort of their Nissan Patrol 4x4. I had 5 nights in Yaounde sorting out myself and the bike: I got visas for Gabon, Congo and DRC; stocked up on cash ; washed some clothes; changed the oil and filter; fitted the new tyre; replaced the spark plug and Tom helped me check and adjust the valve clearances (easier than thought it would be). I also discovered a few problems with the front end of the bike. The bearings were knackered (now changed), part of the fork that holds the axle in place had sheared off (now fixed with some new bolts), and the front trye is wearing an a strange and uneven manner (still not sure why?)

campsite mechanics

I headed south into Gabon with my new support vehicle (the Nissan) to Libreville. We took a direct but minor road which runs close to the southern border with Equatorial Guinea, once again cutting through the thick jungle along a very interesting road- great fun on the bike a little bumpy for Tom and Laura in the car. I took my first proper fall of the trip spinning 270° on some slippery mud. Bike and rider dirty but unharmed.

After 250km with the light beginning to fade the road deteriorated further. At the fist big mud hole (about 8m long) i stopped, got off and looked for route around the edge big enough for the bike. There was none. I waited for Tom and Laura. They went through first no problem so i followed apprehensively knowing that if i slipped it would be tough work getting the bike out of the 2 foot deep sloppy mud. Anyway i made it. It wasn't pretty but i made it and the following two deep sections were much easier with my new found confidence.

I just managed to avoid this little fella crossing the road- he's about 6 inches long