Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Camping’

Travels with a motorbike – Part 1: Cape Town

July 30, 2018 Leave a comment

20092009-09-24 003

There are stages in the life of a man when he will question whether he is still capable of fulfilling some of the dreams and ambitions that he had held when he was a younger person. I have always wanted to make a long journey on a motorbike but have never been able to make that wish come true. When I lived in America I had wanted to ride from Alaska to San Diego. When living in England, I had dwelt on the idea of cruising through Europe to Turkey. Here in Africa, there were a number of jaunts that appealed to me. Eventually I decided that I was actually gong to make such a trip through parts of southern Africa. So, in December of 2008, I bought myself a motorbike, a bright yellow Suzuki V-Strom 650.

Originally I had hoped to go as far north as Uganda, but when I began to plan the journey in more detail, I realised that it would be impractical for a number of reasons. Some of these included the fact that I would be making the trip on my own and I would not be able to carry all the supplies and spares that I would be likely to require. Motorbikes need to be serviced far more frequently than cars and tyres need to be changed at shorter intervals. Getting spares once outside South Africa or Namibia was going to be tricky. Carrying all the parts with me would have left no room for personal gear such as clothes food and camping equipment. I could have arranged for parts to be delivered to certain locations prior to my arrival, but that would have committed me to specific routes and timetables. I was anxious that I should be able to flexible with regards to my itinerary and if there was a reason to hang around in any one given spot or make a diversion I wanted to be free to do so.

My motorbike, a Suzuki V-Strom 650 is considered dual purpose with regards to an on-road off-road capability but the reality is that while it manages well on maintained gravel roads, it is not really cut out for thick sand. Perhaps I should admit that even if it were, I am not cut out for riding through thick sand. Although I learned to ride a motorbike as a boy and had ridden one for a while back in the 1980s, I have never owned one before and this was going to be my first real expedition. So I am not as experienced a rider as I would like to be and at my venerable age my reactions are not exactly lightning fast.

I also concluded that while it would have been one thing to keep riding in a single direction, I was going to be making a round trip and however far north I got I would still have to ride all the way back to Cape Town and inevitably I would be covering the same or similar ground twice, especially in countries were good roads were few and far between.

Thus I changed my route so that it would take me from Cape Town to Namibia, along the Caprivi Strip into Zambia, briefly into Zimbabwe and back to Zambia, north to Tanzania and then across into Malawi, down along the lake into Mozambique, Zimbabwe again and down into South Africa. I would spend more time in some places than in others but I reckoned on the whole trip taking me about 8 to 10 weeks.

While I planned to visit and stay friends along the way, I was going to be camping as well staying in back packer lodges. There is nothing like going back to basics to make you appreciate the finer things in life.

In the midst of all this planning, which I freely admit had been going on for a long time, my friends here in Cape Town were beginning to raise their eyebrows. As far as they were concerned, I was all talk and no action. Eventually I was invited to a lunch party at which the hostess announced, somewhat to my surprise, that it was a farewell celebration in my honour. Now I had to go.

A date was set and I began to let people on my route know approximately when they could expect to see me. Some research on the internet led me to discover that there was any number of places for me to stay at. The question was whether or not I would need to book. I enquired from an agent who dealt in these matters and he insisted that I would be mad not to reserve my camp sites while travelling through Namibia. They would very likely all be full, it being holiday time, and I should not take the risk of being turned away. Namibia was a big scary place. I did not know the country, having only been there once before, by yacht, and so I was inclined to take him at his word. However, booking would have forced me to keep to a specific itinerary and I had no intention of doing that. So, in the end, I decided to do nothing but rather to try my luck. Having said that, I did contact one or two places directly who assured me that they would be able to find spots for me, even if they were full.

Deciding what to take with me was always going to be an issue. Space was limited. I had two panniers, a top box and small back pack. I reckoned that I would keep my tent rolled up on the seat behind me, fastened with bungee cords.

I discussed with a chap in the motorbike shop, what spares I should carry with me. He explained that while I could take all sorts of equipment from tyres, to brake and clutch handles, fuses, oil filters etc, there was a good reason to take as little as possible. He reasoned that if I broke down, it was unlikely that I would be in a place where I could fix the motorbike myself. I would not have the tools and in my case, I would not have the skills. He also said it was no fun touring laden down with equipment. It would hamper my progress. So, in the end, all I took was a puncture kit to repair my tubeless tyres an oil filter and some chain lubricant.

I bought a small gas stove, the type we used to use in the army long aeons ago, and a pair of mess tins. I would be able to buy food along the way, but I thought it would be wise to take enough for three or four days. I decided that pot noodles were the answer. They would at least mean that I would not starve. A bottle of whisky, some water bottles, tea, sugar and powdered milk, a first aid box, and a couple of torches helped fill my luggage space.

Documentation included, a yellow fever certificate, police clearance for the motorbike (to prove it was not stolen), an AA carnet to allow me to take the bike in and out of the various countries, registration certificate, passport, driving licence(s) and ID card(s). I took a few thousand rand in cash, but was confident that in most places I could supplement this with my ATM cards; more easily in some countries than others.

With regards to map reading, I looked into the idea of getting a GPS, but the one that was recommended for motorbikes, i.e. waterproof, was too expensive. I concluded that, I was unlikely to be going anywhere that would be too far off the map, so I decided to rely on a road atlas of central and southern Africa.

Clothing was going to be limited, but considering that for most of the time I would be wearing my riding gear, I would not need too much: a couple of pairs of shorts, a couple of pairs of jeans, several t-shirts, several pairs of underwear and socks, some deck shoes and a jersey. I would be travelling in the winter and it was likely to be cold in the evenings, certainly in the more southern parts. I had done a couple of nights camping earlier on in the year and had discovered that my sleeping bag was not going to be warm enough. I had the choice of buying a new one or getting some liners. I opted for the latter. In doing so, I discovered what a rip off is the camping equipment industry. There was also a possibility of rain, so I had a rain jacket.

The bike was capable of travelling between 300 to 400 km (180-240 miles) on a single tank, depending on how fast I was going, 100- 150kph being the range. I was happy to sit at about 110-120 for most of the time though inevitably I would go faster from time to time, and so worked on the basis of aiming to fill up every 350 km or so. Of course, petrol stations are not always situated to suit the needs of the biker, but I was confident that I would be ok.

My cell phone would not work out side South Africa, but I had a UK sim card which allowed international roaming. Moreover, in some countries it would be possible to buy local pay as you go cards.

For intellectual stimulation, I bought a book of Daily Telegraph Cryptic Crosswords. There were likely to be occasions when I would be alone in a camp site with long hours to kill. I thought this might be a good opportunity to learn a new skill.

Eventually, I was ready to go. So, at 07.30 on the 29th of July I set off on my adventure.

Across

1) Disturbed lad’s behind, should be coaxed gently (10)