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Travels with a motorbike – Part 5 – Windhoek to Swakopmund

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

On Sunday morning I prepared to leave for Swakopmund. There are two routes. One, slightly longer, is on a good tar road, while the other, the C28 is on dirt; 360 km as against 300 km approx. I have chosen to ride on the C28. I am told it is very scenic and since I will be taking the tar road when I leave Swakop for Caprivi I do not want to ride the same road twice. There are a couple of risks. There is nowhere to stop and refuel on the C28 and it is dirt virtually all the way. There may well be some traffic, but not a lot. Breaking down is not encouraged.

I had arranged to meet Mark in time for lunch. I reckoned on the journey taking me 4 hours. I would not be able to go fast for two reasons. I did not like exceeding 100 kph on dirt and with no chance of refuelling, I would need to make sure that I had enough fuel to make it all the way. So shortly after 08.00 I said goodbye to Andrew and Linda and set off. In an effort to make sure I had enough petrol, I filled up with fuel at the last garage leaving town.

It was a bright, sunny day and I got to start enjoying the countryside. The road turned from tar about 20km out of town and I proceeded on a very decent gravel road, travelling at about 80-90 kph. I was still up in the high plateau and there was a fair amount of vegetation. Occasionally there would be a sign pointing to a farm and I thought there could be many worse places to live.

Eventually, I started to descend through rocky passes with twists and turns. Although there was virtually no traffic, I did pass a car or two coming in the opposite direction and that meant that I had to be very careful going round corners. I also came across a cyclist, heavily laden down with panniers, who presumably on some mammoth tour of the country. I did not envy him one bit, though it did rather diminish the scale of my rugged adventure.

Speaking of rugged, there are some things they just don’t tell in the magazine articles about touring through Africa. What is about to follow, is not for the squeamish. For safety and comfort, it is necessary to wear specialised clothing when riding a motorbike. Apart from boots, gloves and a helmet, I wear a jacket and pants of synthetic material. These have thick padding at the shoulders, elbows, knees and hips, greatly restricting one’s movements. When answering the call of nature, taking a pee is a bit of mission in that there are so many zips involved, it is something of a battle to find the right one. However, all that is mere child’s play when compared to what is involved in relieving one’s bowels. All the padding in the trousers, coupled with the restriction of the boots, mean that it requires some deal of manoeuvring to slide the pants sufficiently far down the legs before one sits down on the loo. Add a sense of urgency to the proceedings and it becomes a fairly stressful event. But, what happens when you are miles from civilization? How does one deal with such matters? I can assure you, it is not as easy as you might think.

The urge to make a pit stop had been growing for a while. I had been looking for a suitable spot, but nothing had appeared that offered sufficient cover. After all, even if there is little traffic, it only takes one passing car to see….

(This journal was written in 2009. I am not sure why, but  I never finished it. Maybe I will endeavour to do so, but time will have taken its toll on my memory.)

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Travels with a motorbike – Part 4 –Mariental to Windhoek

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Boy, was it cold; but not as bad as it could have been. The sleeping bag liners helped and I had a balaclava too. Nevertheless, there comes a moment when you wake in the middle of the night. You are cold and you need to take a leak. The problem is that it is even colder outside your sleeping bag than in and you are not really bursting, so with a bit of luck you will fall asleep again. You start to notice that what ever position you lie in is uncomfortable. You toss and turn with your eyes held firmly closed, worried that by opening them you will be officially awake and obliged to take action. Eventually it gets too much and you struggle out of your sleeping bag, unzip the tent and make your way to the motorbike to open a pannier and put on an extra fleece and a pair of jeans! Of course you open the wrong case first. But you knew that you would. Luckily you remember that you still need to have a pee, so you take care of that before climbing back into bed and eventually drifting off to sleep.

It was still early when I awoke in the half light. One can survive almost any hardship if at the end of the day, or the start of it, there is a hot shower to be had. In this case the shower water was both hot and plentiful. Having taken care of my ablutions, I set up my camp stove and put a mess tin full of water on to boil.

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There was no rush to get going as I only had about a 4 hour ride into Windohoek where I would be staying with friends. As they would be working, there was not much point getting there too early. Between mouthfuls of hot sweet tea and bites of a rusk, I unhurriedly went about the business of collapsing and packing my tent and sleeping bag. As I drank I pondered deep thoughts and eventually I came to the conclusion that tea stewed over a gas stove using powdered milk and drunk out of a tin mug, is better than any other you will find elsewhere on earth. God it tastes good. Funny thing is though, it’s a bit like drinking Ouzo in Greece. It tastes much better there than it does at home.

It was after 09.00 by the time I mounted up and left the camp site. I first needed to fill up with fuel and then I was on my way.

The terrain was beginning to change as I proceeded north. Hills with trees and grass growing, made a break from the flat, bad lands that I had been through the day before.  I had not been able to make contact with Andrew and Linda for a couple of days and I did not know where they lived, but I did have a work address. Luckily my atlas carried a map of central Windhoek.

It is not a big town, but a busy one and there was a fair amount of fast moving traffic. It is commonly observed by Zimbabwean visitors, that it bears a strong resemblance to Salisbury, pre 1980. It is clean and tidy and pretty without being spectacular. The big difference being perhaps that in Windhoek the cars are modern. Not a Renault 4 or a Datsun 120Y in sight. A large complicated road, i.e. one that suddenly prevents further access without warning, glorified under the name of Robert Mugabe Boulevard. I somehow had to cross this to get to my destination. When I did eventually walk into Andrew’s office, he was greatly surprised as he said none of the locals could ever find it. As he still had work to do, he said he would show me to his home and leave me to relax until he and Linda got home a bit later.

Andrew is an architect and a native of Namibia. His wife Linda is from SA and a teacher. They had been tenants of mine a year earlier in Cape Town and had suggested I visit them on my way through. Little did they know how readily I accept such invitations.

Later that evening over a couple of beers or more, Andrew told me 3 interesting facts about Namibia. Despite the recession elsewhere, the country was booming. There was such a lot of building going on that architects were being recruited from SA, where they could not find work. While Namibia is a source of much mineral wealth, so is Angola but the port of Luanda is not up to scratch so many goods come to Walvis Bay from where they are shipped around the world.

Secondly, the Chinese were flocking to the country like you would not believe. The population of Namibia was only 2 million, but there were 300,000 Chinese in the country. They were investing heavily in Uranium and copper. Apparently China is going electric. They build roads, dig mines, erect buildings and do it using all their own workers. No native Namibians are involved. Even the cleaners are Chinese.

The third fact, was that Namibia is the second biggest consumer of Jaegermeister in the world (after Germany, presumably). Actually, that in itself is not particularly interesting. Jaegermeister tastes like cough mixture. It is drinkable, but I would not want to make a habit of it. But what it does emphasise is the strong Germanic link between Namibia and its erstwhile colonial master, Germany. Much of the white population is German and many of the businesses are controlled by them. Their legendry efficiency helps explain why things work so well in Namibia compared to the rest of Africa. Things are not perfect, but it would be churlish to whinge too much.

Windhoek is located in central Namibia in the Khomas Highland plateau area around 1,700 metres (5,600 ft) above sea level. In early August the sun shines hot from a clear sky, but in the shade it is very cold. One is torn between wearing a warm jacket and then having to remove it once out in the sun.

Many of those who live there seem to have a connection with the countryside. They either own game farms or know people who do and spend much of their free time out in the bush. They know about driving in the desert and how and when to lower tyre pressures and other tricks of survival.

On Friday evening Andrew and I went to the ‘legendary’ hangout called Joe’s Beer Garden where we both had a couple too many beers and the inevitable Jaegermeister. From there, via a Steers Burger bar we went to join Linda and some friends for a few more beers. Goodness it was cold. They are quite rugged people these Namibians.

Next day, I had a bit of a tour of the place and they took me to see a building site that Andrew was working on; a home for some friends which they were building on a new development a few kms out of town;  pretty with some nice views.


  1. General disgust when leader leaves the platform. (5)
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Travels with a motorbike – Part 3 – Springbok to Mariental

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Thursday morning, it is early. Well, what are you going to do? You are excited. You have some distance to go.  How long will it take? How far will you ride? Where will you stop? The day is uncertain. Taking a long leisurely breakfast is out of the question especially when all you have to eat is a box of rusks and some tea. I am sorry, even I am not going to tuck into a bowl of Pot Noodles at 06.30. So now you have it. After a shower, a cup of tea, a rusk, teeth brushed, packed, I am on the road. It is cold. First port of call is the garage, or gas station for all my American readers. My fuel tank holds 24 litres.  In theory. We are metric here. Work it out. I have not been brave enough to ride until there is only one litre left in the tank. It becomes a game. How far can I ride at a reasonable speed before I need to fill up?  What is my fuel efficiency? 16 km/l? 18? 20? 380, 400, 430 km. Will I run out before I get to the next fuel pump? Sexy.

I am riding along on a quiet empty road. There is a smile on my face. Life is good. And cold. Fifteen minutes later, the sun has risen, but it is no warmer. That little gap between my trouser cuff and my boot is letting in the chill-factored air. I am going to stop. Its not that I am a wimp, its just that it is silly not to get oneself totally sorted when one is riding across a continent. Right, my gloves cover my wrists and my boots overlap my trousers. My lapels are covered by my helmet.  I have about 90 minutes to ride until the border. Maybe less. The world becomes gradually alight. Hillocks are the geographical feature of the day. Small shrubs, are there big shrubs, are scattered across the veld on either side of the road. Tussocks of yellow grass sit listlessly in the still air, belying the speed at which I am travelling. I am not speeding. Well not so as you would accuse me of being a hooligan, though possibly I am breaking the speed limit. I am heading north. The road is empty and straight and flat. The rising sun is somewhere in front of me. Who is anal enough to remember exactly where the sun is at any given time?

The border is getting closer. The hillocks give way to hills. Understandably perhaps, tussocks do not give way to tusks. Signs denote my pending arrival. I slow down as buildings appear and directions point me to the border. The Orange River. Have you ever wondered about the connection between the Dutch House of Orange and the fruit that gave name to the colour, or the colour to the name? So have I.

Park the bike. Show my passport. A Khoi San woman is not comfortable with the computer that she needs to enter my details. Her colleague shows her what keys to press. She logs in. Her colleague calls me to the next booth. The Khoi San lady picks her nose and sits down. Cultural diversity and jobs for all. Yay.

Across the Orange River into Namibia. Name, address, passport, some tax or other. Time change. It is one hour earlier here. Back on my steed and head for the first fuel stop on the outskirts of town. A town that rejoices under the name of Vioolsdrif. Only 8 litres. A cup of coffee and I am back on the road. The B1 towards Windhoek.

We all know that Alaska is covered in ice. Norway, as Douglas Adams explained, is a land of fjords. Brazil is all jungle. Sweden is full of nude models, some of them female. Those are comfortable truisms. Namibia has always been one vast desert as far as I was concerned. The maps always made it clear that this was the case. No need to question. But let me tell you just how stark the comparison is between South Africa and its northern neighbour on either side of the river. Namibia is completely and utterly barren. A wastescape from an obscure planet. It is flat. There are no Lawrencesque sand dunes. No camels or any sign of life. Just a few rocks scattered here and there and then dull, flat earth. Sandy coloured but no sand. I did not need a map at all. A sheet of sand paper would have been just as useful.

The road is flat and straight and smooth. My plan for the day is to view the Fish River Canyon. If it appeals, I will find a camp site and spend the night there. I have a choice. The shorter route, appears according to the map, to be gravel road. The longer route involves gravel too, but less of it. I decide on the latter option. If I find the going too tough on gravel, I will at least have made progress towards Windhoek if I have to turn back. Mile after mile. The road is so straight and flat. Not a car to be seen. Strangely, I see a pedestrian. A tribesman walking placidly along the seemingly endless strip of macadam. Going where, coming from where, I cannot imagine. The world is desolate.

An hour and a half later, a sign appears. Turn left. Stop. Breath in, breath out. You are now leaving civilization, ha, the irony, and entering the unknown. Any form of accident could have serious repercussions, for nobody other than me. It’s a gravel road. 90 km on gravel. How will I manage? What happens if it gets really bad after 60 km? Will I turn back? Right boys, lets go for it. 30kph. Not too bad. 40 kph. Ok, I can do this. 60, 70, 80. Oops, bit of a wobble through that bit of sand. Need to be careful. 80 is ok. I will hit habitation in an hour or so.

Ai Ais is marked. Signs of life appear. A car passes me. Namibian Parks. I must surely pay a fee. Nothing in Africa is free, especially if God given. There is a gate, but no attendant. There are few buildings with cars parked outside. The sign indicates the direction to the Fish River Canyon. Am I supposed to check in? Others appear to be doing so, but nobody is directing me. Oh well, I need to stop for a pee, I may as well go and pay and check that I all is ok. I pay my N$50, or whatever the fee is. The Khoi San man is not really bovvered.

I set off again, Damn, the road is suddenly seriously corrugated. I am bumping along like you cannot imagine. Try going slowly. No good. Speed up better, but it can’t be good. Oh what the heck. Go fast. Suddely the corrugations are gone and I am flying down the road. I can see the look out point.

The Canyon is big. It is the second largest canyon in the world. Some people ‘walk it’. I just looked at it. After 5 minutes there is not much left to do, so I got back on my motorbike and drove to my next destination.

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But seriously folks, as I keep saying, its all about the journey. I find a place to fill up. Families, German tourists, with loaded up 4x4s lounged around as their vehicles consumed litre after litre of fuel while I waited my turn. The road goes straight, to the left of and parallel to a railway track. Then zig and zag. Cross the track and now I am riding to the right and parallel to it. Tar road ahead. Turn right and head back towards Keetmanshoop and the B1.

At Keetmanshoop, I feel that I have achieved something magnificent. I have travelled over difficult terrain in a dangerous environment towards a specific destination, thereby fulfilling an ambition and I have made it back to civilization. Not quite as you might know it mind, but we are talking in relative terms here.

The last stretch is only another 300 km towards Hardap where I will camp for the night. There is a dam in Hardap with a pretty camp site. It has been recommended to me. But I take the view that it is getting late and I wont be sitting around enjoying the view, so I stop just short at a place called Mariental.

The camp site is modest but adequate. I am the only person there when I arrive at about 5 pm. I erect my tent in solitude, which is important when you are not completely confident about what goes where. It is damn embarrassing when others watch you struggle to stick the correct rod through the wrong orifice. Tents seem to have far too many orifices.

After a shower, a meal of the most delicious pot noodles and a glass of whiskey, I am ready for bed. Two other vehicles have pulled in. One of the campers is a tour operator who has just dropped off a group of Norwegians in Cape Town and is heading back to his base in Windhoek. He had been in Zimbabwe. It turns out we knew some people in common.

Into my tent, sleeping bag with two liners. Balaclava on my head. I know it is going to be cold. It is.

6 Across:  Capture vagrant, male to be put away (4)

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Travels with a motorbike Part 2 – Cape to Springbok

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

It was just beginning to get light on a chilly winter morning when I set out from Cape Town on my journey north.  My destination for the first day was Springbok in the Northern Cape, a 120 km short of the Namibian border. It was a journey of some 540 km.

I always have a wonderful feeling of excitement and anticipation when I set out on a journey such as this. An adventure into the unknown does not fill me with dread as it does with some people, but rather with huge optimism and exhilaration. I do not become afraid of things that might go wrong. I do not expect them to. Things will always turn out right. And as I rode off, I felt that I had broken free of the bounds of conventional life, if not permanently, at least for a few weeks. I was no longer ordinary, I was extraordinary.

The Wednesday morning rush hour traffic was of little consequence to me as I sped my way out of the city suburbs, north west, along the N7. Though I was wearing the inner lining of my riding suit, the cold wind would I knew at some point start to make itself felt and I would need stop to allow myself to warm up. But for now my own adrenaline was doing an admirable job.

While planning this trip, I was often asked why I did not go by car. Unless you have been on a motorbike, it is difficult to explain the thrill of riding one. A car is a sterile cocoon in which you sit numbly watching the miles roll by. You are detached from the environment, distracted by the car’s interior and its petty comforts. On a motorbike, you are at one with the road. Every kilometre counts and every one is a pleasure. You feel the buffeting wind, and every bump along the way. You have no roof over your head, or panels to block your view. You are the environment. The rapidity with the bike responds to your commands gives you a feeling of immense power and control. Slow moving traffic is not a problem on a motorbike, it is an opportunity for further satisfaction and you do not have to be a daredevil show off or a maniac, terrorising other road users, in order to feel the thrill.

The west coast of South Africa is very different from the east. Whereas the former is warmed by the Mozambique current sweeping down from the equator providing rainfall and a comfortable climate, the west is chilled by the Benguela current, driven by the South Easterly Trade Winds  which bring cold water from the bottom of the ocean to the surface and which flows northwards from Cape Point up towards Angola. There is little rainfall and the countryside is barren in comparison.

By the end of July, spring is on its way. I had been told that the flowers of the Western Cape, were beginning to come into bloom. There are a magnificent sight and well worth the journey from the city. Acres and acres of gently rolling hills are covered with the most gorgeous and brightly coloured petals. I was anxious to see them again, having done so four years earlier, but sadly the day was cold and overcast and without the sunlight they were unwilling to display themselves to maximum effect. (The photo below is from an earlier visit to the area.)


The road took me through the wheat growing districts of Malmesbury towards the aptly named Citrusdal where huge orange groves produce millions of oranges destined for the markets of Europe and the world. But first I had to climb the Piketberg Pass. It is a glorious sensation riding a bike through the bends of a well cambered road, leaning from side to side as if guiding your own personal roller coaster. As one climbs higher and higher, the view of the plain below spreads out like a vast patchwork quilt.

I stopped at Citrusdal for fuel and for what Americans demurely call a comfort break, but which we, in my army days, used to call a piss parade. A cup of coffee and a doughnut added to my overall feeling of wellbeing. I had discovered in the 6 months that I had been riding my bike, that I needed a rest and a stretch every couple of hours or so. It did not need to be more than five minutes, but if I am making good progress and am ahead of schedule then I am comfortable taking longer. That is the difference between biking and driving. On a bike, the journey is the thing, whereas in a car, the destination is my goal. The sooner I get there the better and I seldom stop anywhere longer than is strictly necessary.

I pressed further north, crossing off in my mind the names of the towns and villages that I passed: Cederberg, Clanwilliam, Vredendal, Vanrhynsdorp, Nuwerus, Bitterfontein, Garies, Karkams, Kamieskroon and finally Springbok. As I progressed, the agricultural heartland of the Western Cape gave way to the bleaker terrain of the Northern Province. Vast rock formations, brown boulders of strange shapes defined the passing landscape. Every so often a forlorn sign would indicate a track that must lead to a remote farmstead, a vestige of those early Trek Boers who set out from the Cape centuries ago in search of grazing land for their cattle, only to discover that they should have gone north east rather than north west; right out of the front door, rather than left. But the people of these parts are hardy, simple and resilient. They know to help each other and do so willingly and happily.

Further breaks along the way saw me arriving in Springbok by mid afternoon. My plan had been to camp at a big site attached to a large motel on the outskirts of town. I approached my destination with some misgivings. The terrain was bleak, flat and devoid of any natural shelter. A cold wind was blowing and I saw that site was deserted. The motel itself was drab and uninteresting. I made enquiries about staying there, but it was so unattractive I decided to head for the bright lights. The road took me into the main street of a bustling little country town. Shops, garages, estate agents, chemists lined the street. I enquired at a cafe if there was a backpackers lodge. Sure enough there was one, not 50 yards back along the street from whence I had come.

The lady at the desk was a friendly Afrikaans woman, who chatted with me about my trip. She gave me a few pamphlets about the area. Once checked in I was shown to a large converted garage built from corrugated iron with 12 bunk beds and a kitchenette at one end. My hostess opened the garage door at the far end and allowed me to wheel in my bike for safe keeping. I was the only guest. I removed my panniers and the rest of my gear and made myself a cup of tea. Then feeling invigorated once more, I decided to go and explore the town and its environs.

This is what the brochures say about the town.

Springbok is the capital of Namaqualand. It takes its name from the large herds of springbok which used to pass through the arid valley to drink water from the spring. The herds were driven away when copper resources were discovered near the small settlement. In the middle of the last 19th century, the area started to be mined, and a railway line to the coast was built for the transport of the ore. The railway line has been dismantled long ago, but the old steam-engine can still be seen in the mine museum of Nababeep, some kilometres out of Springbok. There one can also visit one of the last remaining working copper mines. Most of the mines in this area were closed down.

Springbok is the centre of the wildflower region, and each year in spring the town experiences a great invasion of tourists. Then the small camping site is booked to the last spot, and the visitors stream into the Goegab Nature Reserve. Even out of season, this nature reserve offers an interesting insight into the unique plant world of Namaqualand.’

On my way back into town, I stopped to do a bit of shopping for my evening meal which I cooked over a somewhat dodgy gas stove. After supper I had a long phone call with a dear friend who had been very ill and was now on the road to recovery. Her illness was such that she had not been able to speak for the past four years. This was the first proper conversation we had had since then.

After a shower and a glass of Scotch, I climbed in to my sleeping bag and made an attempt at my crossword puzzle.

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June 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Perrier.jpg Reindeer.jpg

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A War Monkey Called Sue! (Further adventures on the Internet.)

January 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday I read Charles Moore’s review of Stephen Spielberg’s latest film, War Horse. Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed the play, which I saw inLondon, 18 months ago, I read the review with some interest. Without going into details,Moore was less than enthusiastic, criticising Spielberg for the gratuitous sentimentality. What was perhaps more interesting, was the comment section, some of which dealt with aspects of the Great War and the vast tragedy attached to it. Read more…

I Am Fed Up!

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I have had just about enough of theses endless cries of ‘racism’ that are being bandied around at every opportunity, not just in Britain, but around the world. While some are legitimate and provide cause for concern, others are trivial in the extreme. What they all share in common, however, is that they are white on black attacks, whether verbal or physical and that they are being pursued with unmitigated vigour by the law and the press. The reason I am so angry is that many cases are as I said, trivial in the extreme while at the same time similar examples of black on white attacks are ignored. Read more…


October 3, 2010 2 comments

This is my unilateral declaration of indifference.

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