Erindi and back

Day 17 – Friday 15th June – Brandberg White Lady Lodge – 250kms

We leave the backpacker place and ride north toward the Skeleton last for about 70kms. Then, after refuelling and stopping for brunch at the cafe near the fuel station, we turn east inland, toward Uis. The road is badly corrugated.

By the time we get to Uis it is already lunch time and we need a break. We buy more fuel and stop at the Cactus Cafe and campsite for some tea and pancakes!

It is then back on the road. Our destination is in the Brandberg nature reserve, the Brandberg White Lady lodge and campsite.

Apparently, David Attenborough spent time there while filming one of his most recent series. The campsite is not fenced. So far no campsite has been fenced and wild animals are free to roam. So we tackle a good 40 kms to get there through a final sandy track.

It often happens that desert elephants and lions are walking across the campsite. A sign at reception says so. And the staff at the lodge warns us to have a fire at night and not walk around after dark.

So we duly order some wood, then set camp. This is our first hurdle. The bushes and low grass around have thorns that catch on the shoes and get everywhere. We are paranoid about any getting in the tent or under the tent, as we have inflatable mattresses. One puncture and it would be a very miserable night! I had that problem in Mongolia and I don’t want a repeat.

After clearing under the tent I put my sheepskin and gel seat under my mattress.

After heating a can of baked beans and having some dinner, we decide to get our fire going. We are certainly hapless at this. The wood is hard as rock and even using part of my lonely planet guide ( very good use of a lonely planet! ) and pouring some petrol, the fire is too hard to catch fire. A bit concerned about the lions, who killed 40 goats and a donkey few days before, only 20kms from camp, I look around for help.

I can see another set of campers, with big 4x4s and all the modern comfort that South Africans seem to bring with them when camping ( everything including the kitchen sink! ). I walk over to them and explain our predicament. They are very kind about this and give me some fire starter.

As I walk back to camp with my precious load, a group of people is passing bye. By now, it is pitch dark and I cannot really see. They are walking in complete darkness, without light, and not bothered by the lions. 3 young ladies from the group stop to ask if I am ok. I explain my stupid problem ( I can’t make the fire!) and they follow me and start the fire for us. To be fair, with fire starter, it is very easy. That thing seems to burn forever, long enough that our wood finally catches fire!

The girls then leave and the group stops at a large organised tour camp ( with large truck and 2 or 3 staff in hand!) to sing a Capella. Beautiful voices, raising in the dark.

With no chairs, table or anywhere to sit, we stand around our little fire. The sky is amazing. As my friend Naila said, in the desert the night skyfeel is close enough that you can touch the stars. With the moon only a thin crescent, it is spectacular.

It is then an early night.

Day 18 – Saturday 16th June – Brandberg White Lady Lodge

We get up early and are at reception at 8am. We have booked an elephant drive. With two other tourists we get on one of the Safari cars in search of elephants. Considering how big they are, they are very elusive. The ride is usually 3 hours, but it takes our guide a good 3 1/2 hours to find a family of about 16 elephants. But when we finally get to see them, it is great. Desert elephants are the same species than savannah elephants but smaller due to their very harsh environment.

After many photos we get back to the lodge. We relax in the afternoon by the pool, beer in hand, and get some toasted sandwiches for late lunch.

After last night problem starting the fire, we ask the staff if they can provide some fire starter for tonight with the wood. They don’t have any, but the guys setting the donkeys on fire ( you remember, that is the fire to heat water for the showers’ blocks!) get our fire going. It is easy when you know where the cardboard and little branches are stored!

So with a fire going, we know we can survive another night!

I take time to thank again the guys who gave me fire starter last night. They are now back to camp. One of them was actually competing in some motocross competition near-bye ( his bike broke down! ).

We get some instant noodle bag in the little pot, over our fuel stove. The night sky once again go on a great display. Last night singers are at it again but with more campers and organised tours tonight, they have more work. Once again, the mix of this beautiful night with such a spectacular sky, combined with the voices of this Choir, sometime mixing gospel songs, is amazing. I am loving Namibia!

Day 19 – Sunday 17th June – Erindi private game reserve – 280kms

The following morning we pack camp after a quick coffe and some peanuts butter with bread.

It takes a while to pack as we get the tweezers out to remove those horrid thorns from our shoes, our tyres and everything they got into. Some are so large they could cause a puncture!

We are finally on the way. Our 1st stop, 40 kms away is Uis again. We buy fuel and stop at the Cactus Cafe for 2d breakfast! Another tea with their great cinnamon pancakes while Alistair prefers an omelette!

Then we are off again. We stop at the closest town to Erindi: Amaruru. After buying more fuel we set the gps coordinates of Erindi private game park campsite : camp Elephant. Erindi is the biggest private game reserve in Namibia.

My road map shows nothing! To start with, the gps calculate about 70kms from Amaruru. We set on small tracks. Somehow the stupid gps decides to take us through some detours for whatever reason ( don’t get me started on artificial intelligence – the cheer uselessness and stupidity of a gps is breathtaking!) … we end up doing a total of 104 kms!

By the time we get at the entrance, I am rather tired. The entrance gate remind me of Jurassic Park. It is huge.

And then you have the warning board: “ enter at your own risk”; “ do not stop”, “ do not leave your vehicle”, “do not step out of your car”, “open top cars are banned”…. but somehow the armed guard at the gate does not seem to think that stepping into Jurassic Park, I mean Erindi, on our motorbikes, is dangerous! I ask about lions, he tells me to just ride through if we see them! Great! I hope the lions got the memo!

As we arrived to the reserve through a back gate, the ride to the camp is a further 27 kms! I am gutted! I was looking forward to get changed and get a beer!

We see warthogs running around. We follow the guard’s instructions and the road signs. I miss a junction at some point and need to do either a large u turn or wing it through deep sand. I take the deep sand doing a sharp turn and make a beginner mistake. I drop the bike as a result. I thought I was getting really good at sand riding! Really! But it has been a long day and I am tired.

I stand next to my bike. Alistair was ahead and did not spot me. I can’t lift my bike! I wonder how long before the lions come to eat me! As chance happens, after a few minutes, a car with South Africans turn up. They stop and two big lads come to the rescue! Ha…. playing the damsel in distress always work! By then, Alistair has joined us and we set off again.

The campsite is luxury campsite. From what I read online i expected to pay 400 rands per person ( about 34 $), but, at reception the price is 1200 for the two of us. I point out to their website pricing (if my memory of their website is correct!) and the girl eventually gives us a discount. We are charged 1000 rand for one night! About 85 USD. Most expensive camping ever!

We are given a key! Our spot include a locked fridge outside with sink and table. Inside is the bathroom. It is big. On the right the toilet cubicle, and separate by a small low wall, the walk-in-shower.

On the left side a sink and built in bench. Between those two side, space big enough to fit two sleeping bags! We decide not to bother with the tent and sleep in the bathroom instead!

After a quick shower we go to the lake. The camp has an electric fence. The lake is beyond the fence. There, we can see 2 huge elephants, hippos and springboks.

Some warthogs are running around as well as lots of birds I cannot identify.

After a good watch and lots of photos we go back for dinner. Our camp has also a small electric Coker provided! We beat a tin of curried vegetables and we add some instant noodles to it. Surprisingly good!

With another can of beer and some biscuits, as the sun set, we go back to the lake. We can see 2 giraffes around but, although the lake is floodlit, it is hard to take photos. We are really happy to have seen giraffes! The 2 elephants are still there but one hippo in the lake is getting angry. Eventually, the elephants leave and 2 hippos get out of the water on the same spot. Zebras faff around while some Orix and springboks are standing around.

No more wildlife comes across so we go to bed. Alistair’s mattress seems to have a small leak. Not great!

Day 20 – Monday 18th June – back to Swakopmund – 320 kms

We decide to get up before sunrise to check the lake. Not much happening there. After a while we go back to our camp for a breakfast of bread and peanut butter with coffee. A very inquisitive bird, with a big beak keeps coming closer and closer, eying my bread. After the baboons in Ai Ais, I am careful with my food! No one will steal it!

We then go back to the lake, a bit before 9am. Few Wildebeests and deers that I cannot identify, as well as springboks, are around. Suddenly, they all get scared and run a way. On the opposite side, Alistair thinks he saw something.

With no one else around in the viewing spots, we carefully and silently walk around toward whatever is “ over there “. Something is coming, slowly, carefully.

And then we see it, hiding under the bushes, coming to drink: a cheetah! Slowly and carefully she comes to drink and leave. She has a collar around her neck, for tracking. She is beautiful!

Later on, I mention this at the reception desk and they tell me that she comes every morning to drink and has some cubs. It was a magical sight! I did not expect to see a cheetah in the wild as they tend to be very shy!

It was a worthwhile visit!

After that, we finish packing up and set off at 10. We are going back to Swakopmund check out if our parts have arrived. And with Alistair’s mattress punctured, camping is out of the question until we fix it.

The ride out of the game park takes us through some farms tracks. The public road cross into gated parcels. One of them is a private hunting lodge. At the entrance of the gate, a sign says “ Danger! Hippos and crocodiles! Do not stop!”. Hum…. I hope they too got the memo about us!

The tracks are sandy and the many dry river crossings are deep sand. By then I mastered it. For short sections at least. Speed. I just accelerate through deep sand and the bike does the rest! The road is merely a farm track and we see no one! It is great and we make good progress. Only stop by the many gates to open and close behind us. The only “ not wild” life we see are cows, goats and sheep.

Eventually, we join the tarmac road to Swakopmund. We stop for fuel and rest. We catch the cross kalahari Highway. We arrive at Swakop at 4 pm and find a backpacker place recommended by Jolein ( as her backpacker place is closed – she has to go to Windhoek so pace is closed this week).

After a quick change, we walk to the Yamaha dealer. Our parts have arrived! That include not only the fork seal for both bikes but also the “cruises control tool”. That should help!



Day 12 – Sesriem – 250kms – Saturday 9th June.

We wake up early. The hotel staff of Helmeringhausen are already in the grounds, tending the gardens and doing stuff.

We have a quick breakfast with bread rolls and the local version of the Laughing Cow cheese triangles.

After that we are back on the road. There are two roads going to our next destination. We decide to take the shortest route. We are told later it is the worse. The road is indeed very bad but we are rewarded by seeing our first close range Orix and zebras. And they are beautiful as they all run along us and across the road.

After a long ride, we make it to Sesriem. The place is only few sandy dusty campsites in the desert. It is the get away to visit Sossusvlei, one of the most visited place in Namibia, with very tall red sand dunes and the flat salt lakes.

We decide to stay in the National Park campsite but there are many camps to chose from as well as many luxury lodges. One charges about 800 to 900 dollars per person! Yeek!

After paying Park fees and camp ground , we set our tent and go to investigate. We cannot go with the bikes to visit the various locations. We ask the ladies at the desk if there is a vehicle that could take us there. The ladies tell us the price but also tell us it might be cheaper and easier to ask around to the owners of 4×4 or the large tourist trucks. There are large groups travelling in massive trucks. As it is still low season, they have space.

I then go round and ask few tourists on big rented 4×4, but they have too much stuff to take 2 passengers.

Next to our tent site, there is a group on a big truck. I walk to the truck and as a guy is getting off the driving cabin, I ask him if he is the driver. He is the guide. That is how we met Zee. He is guiding a group of French for a 3 weeks tour and there is space in the truck to take us to the dunes. So he has no objection but he needs to check with his clients first.

Later on he tells us it is ok and that we have to talk to the driver ( I.e. the driver will want some tip).

The campsite is just sand with no grass, and there is not much to do. We have a tree for shade and nothing else. So we go to the bar to sit and read a bit. No WiFi. To be fair, since we cross into Namibia, even in places where there is WiFi, it never seems to work!

Day 13 – Sesriem – Sunday 10th June – 0kms

The next day we are up at 6 am and ready to go with the truck and the tour guide. The tourists in the trucks are 5 French. A couple in their 50s and 3 women. The road to dune 45 is tarmac, so we wonder why we cannot ride with the bikes.

We climb dune 45. I am out of breath. The previous 2 cold nights and cold rides have ended with a bad cold. I am coughing and feeling pretty bad.

After the climb we return to the truck. The guys are having breakfast. We move away and sit on a tree trunk to get ours: bread roll and some jam as well as the industrial Laughing cow cheese. It has been rattled on the pannier and we need to sort out the aluminium wrapping from the cheese!

Back at the truck, the tourists are finishing their breakfast or scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon , sausage and more. Alistair is drooling over the display but we don’t want to impose. The left overs are put on a bag, we assume for the bin. Alistair is gutted! In fact, Zee gives that to the driver or park ranger, the one who will take us to the salt lake in a specially large 4×4.

Then we understand why only 4×4 cars can go further into the National Park. It is very deep sand and very harsh tracks. We are told we need to pay for this ride. It is 170 Namibian dollars per person. As Alistair walks to the shack to pay, the driver of the 4×4 calls him back. We will pay him instead ! That’s Africa! We all 7 ( with the 5 French tourists) get in the back while Zee sits next to the driver.

The next stop is near a massive sand dune. Most of the guys decide to climb it. I pass on the pleasure and walk direct to the salt lake.

Later on we meet all there and we get back to the campsite by early afternoon.

We decide to have some toasted sandwiches at the bar. I am very tired and feeling ill. We go for a snooze.

In the evening, Alistair cooks some noodles and we go for an early night.

Zee advises us to stop, on our way to the coast, by a lodge and campsite that is really worth it. We take note.

Day 14 – Rosteck Ritz lodge and campsite – Monday 11th June – 150kms

We decide to stay at the campsite recommended by Zee, the tour guide for the french group, so we do not have far to go. We take our time to pack. The campsite in Sesriem is now full and with no wind, the road is in a perpetual cloud of sand and dust because of all the traffic. Sesriem gets up to 4millions visitor a year apparently. The road is so dusty it is like going through thick fog while breathing sand! Not nice. The road continues to be very busy.

I am trailing behind Alistair. Usually on trails I am much faster than him, but this morning, i am just fighting the bike rather than riding with it. It is hard to explain. On the way to Sesriem, I was flying over sand and corrugations and waiting for Alistair every  10 kms. Today, I don’t seem to be able to do this. The road is tricky and I usually use speed to fly over tricky bits, today, I just don’t feel the bike. On the plus side, my cold seem to have gone.

About 80kms later we stop at Solitaire. The place is a fuel station/ bakery / campsite farm. It is famous for its apple pie. I take tea with a cinnamon roll while Alistair falls for the pie. It is ok but not the best in the world as they claim.

The road is really bad until we get to the lodge. We ride all the way up the reception, 7kms inside the private game reserve with lots of zebras and ostriches running around.

The place is really nice, super expensive for a room, and deserted. The manager welcomes us and explains that the campsite is about 7 or 8 kms away. I guess they don’t want to have the riffraff like us mix and use the luxurious swimming pool and facilities with their rich clients! Although he invites us to use the spool if we fancy. We don’t. We have a beer and decide for some lunch as the place is pleasant.

The menu is suitably expensive. We ask if they have cheaper light lunches and the waiter tells us about the toasted sandwiches. I ask for a toasted steak while Alistair gets a boring toasted stuff with eggs.

We expect something small, considering the expensive menu while our toasted stuff is relatively cheap. Nope. It is big. Although we asked half a portion of French fries to share, we have lots of them!

My steak is real steak, large portion and is tastes amazing. I have lots of it, with an onion sauce that is to die for. When I ask what meat it is, I am told it is Orix. It is superb! Despite all the fries they only charge us for half portion! Really nice people!

Later on, totally full, we ride to the campsite grounds. We are the only ones there so we have the full place to ourselves. To be fair it is small and only has 4 spaces, with each unit having a private area for BBQ with a bit of shade. Upper in the hill, there is a large viewpoint with a kitchen. Well, the kitchen is only a double sink.

The view point has a large section covered with tarpaulin and a small stone wall. It is a perfect place for setting the tent!

Alistair then set fire to the “donkey” so we can have hot water for a shower. At least it sounds to me like the word Donkey! After a hot shower we go trying to see if we can get closer to the zebras, but they have all vanished.

The lodge manager drives up to our camp to check we are ok. On my little walk, a couple of hundreds meters from camp, I see footprints. Cat footprints. Too small to be lion, maybe Cheetah? As the lodge manager is around I show him the picture. He seems very interested about it. He says it is probably a leopard, as cheetahs have non retractable nails, so the footprints should whose them. Without, it is most certainly  a leopard, or maybe a hyena. Although hyenas are pack animals and it was a lone set of footprints. The manager then tracks the footprints for a good mile before driving back to the lodge.

Apparently leopards are not dangerous so we are safe. Hmm!

As the wind raises and we have little shelter, we take the tent to the viewpoint. There is more shelter there and we can get away without putting the roof. Also we are away from the hundreds of massive crickets. And I mean MASSIVE!

As we had a big late lunch at the lodge, ( mmmm Orix steak!) we only get a cup of tea.

The night sky, through the mesh of our inner tent, looks amazing. There is no light pollution, no dust, only the 2 of us, the lodge is a good 8 kms away, and the nearest town is over 200kms! It is so peaceful! A memorable place!

Day 15 – Swakopmund – 230kms – Tuesday 12th June

We have already done 2,500kms since Cape Town! Wow!

We wake up very early as we gone to sleep early. It is winter down here, and the days are short. The sun rises at around 7:45 and sets at around 6, 6:30. It gets dark quickly and we have long nights.

With no food left other than some stale bread, we make a quick coffee and have a small bite of bread.

We set off soon after 8am.

The road is still very bad. Heavy recent rains have done a lot of damage. We still manage to make good progress. Although, once we go over a pass, and ride along a plateau, it gets very windy, it is tiring.

We stop on the way to drink some water and observe a cyclist, with lots of luggage, coming our way.

We wait for him to reach us and we have a chat by the side of the road. He set off from the Netherlands, across the Middle East and flew from there to Cairo. He plans a year on his bicycle. He asks us if we have water and we give him our spare bottle.

Water, when we find it in campsites,  is drinkable tap water. So far we have rarely bought mineral water.

We make good progress on our bikes, despite the horrid dirt road, bad corrugations and slippery sections. We arrive at Walvis Bay around midday. The town is a big centre for mining and oil. There are big trucks everywhere. What we cross is not too nice and we only stop in town to buy fuel. We had no fuel since Solitaire, about 250kms and we are on reserve.

Then we set off on the easy tarmac road to Swakopmund, 30kms further north. We stop midway at a large fuel station with all the facilities we need: shop, deli counter and toilets!

As we had no breakfast or dinner, we get some food.

After that, we get to our destination and find a brand new backpacker place at 40 pounds a night. Namibia is not cheap. Later on we find the local Spar and we are shocked by the price of basic food like butter. 200gr or so costs nearly 4 pounds! We get a cheap half litre of vegetable oil instead for cooking our food. With chicken and noodles and mixed vegs ( vegs are so expensive!) we can do a quick stir fried. We need to load a bit on vitamins as our diet is quite bad on the road, we seem to only eat carbs and meat.

We then explore town and fail to find a laundrette. So, back in the room, I do a big wash with most of my clothes. I also use the shower head to rinse and brush the dirt from the zips in the lower legs of my trousers, and the zips in the tank bag. With so much dust and sand inserted there, the zips are stiff and will break, otherwise.

After the last few days and over 750kms of dirt roads, the bikes have taken a battering. We both have a leaking fork seal. So we need to investigate if we can buy, order, or source replacement here or from Windhoek. So we plan to stay 3 nights to sort out things.

Day 16 and 17 – Swakopmund – weds 13th and Thursday 14th June

We spend these 2 days sorting things out. The backpacker place is great ( Sea view backpackers – on It has a massive kitchen, various sitting areas and large upstairs bar and snooker table, terrace, garden etc… all we need and more! With a young South African couple, we are the only guests. The hotel manager is a bright young lady called Jolien Els. We talk to her and her boyfriend a lot. They suggest great places to stay while we go away for few days in a round trip.

You may be familiar with Jolien, as she is world champion for field archery! Wow! Very interesting and lovely couple. That’s the things with travels, we meet so many amazing people along the way!

We found a Yamaha dealer in town and we manage to order fork seals for both bikes. We will need to come back next week, once the parts arrive from South Africa. I also ask the girl at the Yamaha shop to order a “cruise control” tool. it is a very simple piece of plastic that you fit at the throttle and I can keep my hand flat to accelerate rather than constantly gripping the throttle. My hand is painful. I used to have one once.

So that’s it. We are off tomorrow, and we will be into the wilderness for 5 or 6 days. We have supplies ( food!) and gps coordinates of some interesting campsites! It should be interesting!

Namibia: to Luderitz

Day 8 – Keepmanshoot – 250kms – Tuesday 5th June 

Packing camp in Ai  – Ais takes a long time because one of us needs to keep watch on the baboons. We don’t see any around but we know they are fast. When we are ready to seat for some breakfast, while I am still packing some stuff, Alistair just walk to the bikes. In the blink of an eye, a baboon, who had been obviously spying on us, come at the speed of light, jump into the picnic table and steal our bag of bread! Before any of us can react, it is gone! 

We buy more bread and eat and finish packing very carefully. 

We finally leave, later than we wanted. We ride to the canyon viewpoint, then make our way to Keepmanshoot, biggest town in this part of Namibia. Short of 30 kms, is all gravel road. Although it is in good condition, it is still very tiring as it requires 100% attention. 

In town, we find a place to stay by following signs for a B&B. We are told we cannot walk out at night, so we go for a very early dinner. The B&B owner tells us how to get to a restaurant. We stop on the way to get some cash. Lots of guys seem to just hang around the ATM machine. I don’t like that. It makes me nervous! If they don’t use the machine, why are they hanging around like that? 

Anyway, we get cash, food, and get back to the B&B before dark. 

Day 9 – Luderitz   – 370 kms – weds 6th June

We debate whether to do the detour to see the Quiver tree forest. We get on our way but the gravel road is very busy, sandy and we are in a constant cloud of sand. I cannot see the road and get fed up. We will see trees in other places. We turn round and get to the main road to Luderitz. 

It is a long way but it is all tarmac. The weather is good and I remove some layers. After 240 kms we get to Au

I am on reserve. By my calculations, cruising at 100kms/h I can do 300kms. If I ride economy, I should be able to do more. Alistair tells me this means my  bike makes 90 miles to the gallon.

In Aus we get fuel.There is a luxurious hotel and we use the restaurant for cold drinks ( water!) and cake. They have a nice menu at reasonable prices. Next to our table is  a large group of South Africans. We talk to them and they give us suggestions for stuff to visit in Luderitz. 

From Aus, the road takes us through a national park with wild horses. We also start seeing road signs for Orix and hyenas! We see a dead Springbok by the side of the road and also a dead hyena. We see nothing else alive other than horses. 

Where the wild horses are located is a beautiful landscape, where the pale green of the grass mixes with the ochre  of the earth, the red sand of the far away dunes and the blue hills far away. It is spectacular. 

Soon, all this turns to desert and the long straight road is very boring. The wind comes laterally and fine ribbons of sand flies across the road. We arrive in town and make it to the local backpacker place. 

It is a large house with very high ceilings. Luderitz was founded by Germans, and the houses looks straight out of Germany. The backpacker place has the faded grandeur of a rich family that fell in hard times. The floorboards are creaking, as you walk through very large rooms, the paint and curtains very dated, tired dusty furniture… It is certainly not luxurious, but clean and welcoming. Our type place. It has a large well equipped kitchen, a very large lounge, a courtyard, a large backyard where we can store the bikes securely, and our room is massive. We can spread all our gear over many beds! We feel comfortable here and decide to stay 2 nights so we can visit the town and area. 

The place is very quiet, it is still low season, but we talk with few residents. A old bloke who sound German but is actually Namibian and has been living in the backpacker hostel for the last 9 months. There are also two young men, James and Jonas, one  british and the other Swedish. They are attempting to walk from the west coast ( starting in Luderitz) to the east coast of Africa, somewhere in Mozambique. We think they are mad! But then lots of people think we are too! 

The trolley they were pulling had its wheel bearings destroyed by the violent sandy wind that blow in this region, 50kms from Luderitz. They had to come back to Luderitz for repairs. We spend some time talking with them. 

Apparently, one day, while resting, they saw 5 lions staring at them from about 200m. After a staring contest of few minutes, the lions left but the guys tried to put as much distance as possible from them. They have nothing to defend themselves and there is no wood to make a fire. They had quite a fright, but both did 5 years in the army, so they should be able to deal with whatever Africa can throw at them! We will keep an eye on their progress via their Facebook account.

The German sounding old man asks me about retiring in France. He seems disillusioned by the direction Namibia is taking and wants to retire in Europe.  Funny conversation but I struggle with his very strong German accent. Remember Namibia was colonised by the Germans and the evidence is everywhere to see, including the language. Anyway, he seems interested in France or Spain. Both are nice places to retire.

Day 10 – Luderitz – Thursday  7th June – 0 km ridden

We sort few things out and try to do some planning as well as visiting the town. The next few days will be across the desert and we need to get ready for this. 

In the evening, James and Jonas leave. The place is very quiet. Our bathroom has no light as there were some storms and lots of rain 2 weeks ago and it messed up the antique electric wiring in the house ( as well as the dirt roads as we will find out later!)

In the evening, we repack everything in a more efficient manner. It always takes some time into a trip, to know how to do this in an efficient and convenient way. 

Our provisions include some bread rolls, a can of baked beans, 2 pack of sachet soups and 2 packs of instant noodles. And a bag of peanuts. And I suspect Alistair has a big stash of biscuits and sweets somewhere. 

Day 11 – Helmeringhausen – 250kms – Friday 8th of June

We set off early, keen to make as much progress as possible on the unsurfaced road. We ride ack to Aus, about 125 kms of tarmac. The trouble will start beyond Aus. 

On the way, we come across James and Jonas while they are having a rest, in a shaded area. We also mentioned to them that the water drains on the road and rail track that runs along the road can be ideal for shade during the hottest hours of the day. We got this from a cyclist we met in Uzbekistan. 

After a long chat we continue. We arrive at Aus later than planned. We stop for fuel and get an early lunch at the hotel/ restaurant everything that is Aus.

We then set on the unsurfaced road. The 1st 20kms are a nightmare. It is like a river bed with deep sand. After that, we can increase speed. It s badly corrugated but we can make some progress. 

We finally arrive in a hotel/ fuel station / campsite / shop at a cross road ( Helmeringhausen). The grounds look nice and we decide to stay there. We put the tent up in a grassy area. The campsite is in a large garden of orange and lemon trees. The hotel is super expensive. A couple of South Africans, on a 4×4, arrive and rent a cottage on the other side of the road, for the night. 

After a small shower, we go for a walk and meet a tamed Springbok. We can even touch it from over the fence, although  he is still trying to ram us a bit. 

After a small diner ( eating our 2 sachet soups) , using our fuel stove for the 1st time in this trip, we notice that the generator is stopped. The ground’s staff lock everything and leave, and the full grounds are in complete darkness. With no one using the hotel, all is locked up and deserted. No one around. No light other than our torches. The South Africans in the cottage are not close. As it gets dark, the sky, without any light pollution or clouds, is amazing.

With electricity working only in the shower block, we spend some time there reading before bed.

Few hours after we have gone to sleep, I can hear men talking and can see a torch being used around our tent and the grounds of the hotel. I am a bit nervous but in the end it must be only the staff checking on the animals nearby ( lots of geese and goats) in paddocks.

The night is very cold, as we are at 1400m. 

Into Namibia

Day 4 – Vredensdal – 285 kms (Friday 1st June)

We leave the beautiful white town of Pater Noster and join the N7, riding north. The wind is much better today and we can manage 100kms/h. The previous day the wind was so strong that We could barely manage 80 and our fuel consumption was up by at least 30%.

We stop here and there to refuel and rest. The road is long and flat and boring. There is not much to break the monotony and we fail to see much wild life, although I spot few ostriches once!

We arrive at a very reasonably priced B&B (Vinie’s Cottage) that I spotted in last night. The owner, Vinie, is a lovely lady and gives us an amazing room filled with jars of sweets and biscuits. The day is a bit warmer.

As we are rather out of town, Alistair jump into the bike and go to the supermarket get us some food for dinner and breakfast. We sit outside by the small pool to eat our dinner, although the evening is rather cold.

The next day, Vinie asks for our picture with the bikes for her website. It seems we are her first bikers.

Day 5 – Springbok – 300kms ( Saturday 2d of June)

We continue on the long boring road. Springbok is our last stop before the border. The weather is still cold and I keep all my layers and waterproof gear on, for extra warmth.

We arrive at Springbok mid afternoon. The guest houses are a bit pricey but we find one a bit cheaper in the town centre. We get changed and walk to the local Spar. It’s closed! Shops close at 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays in this part of the world! The liquor store is open though, so we get some water and crisps from there.

For dinner we need to go out. We are usually told not to walk out after dark, but it seems in Springbok it is ok. So we walk few 100s metres to the most famous restaurant in town ( according to the Lonely Planet! ) : Taurean. It specialises in meat!

Outside the restaurant, we see a big motorcycle, a BMW800GS with all the gear for long distance travel. Closer, we can see that the plate is from the USA! Interesting!

Inside the restaurant, set as an American steakhouse, with little booths and tables, We sit and I try to spot the American. I see a lone guy with an iPad. He is not wearing motorcycle gear or helmet, but it could be our biker.

Never the shy one, I go and ask him if the bike is his. It is. That is how we met Clark ( like superman alter ego!). He shipped his bike from London to Cairo with motofreigh and rode all the way down!

Meeting a fellow motorcycle traveller is always good. Car drivers don’t pass the same relevant info as they have no clue of what can and cannot be done with a bike. We spend the evening talking and exchanging info. As it happens, Clark leaves in London, so we hope to catch up later this year! He want to ride north by the west coast back to Europe. I am not sure it is wise. He will have to cross places like Mali, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire etc where there have been lots of kidnappings.

These days very few people cross all of Africa. I have friends who did, via Syria and the east coast of Africa, all the way down to Cape Town, but that was over 10 years ago. The world has changed a lot since.

I eat a massive steak with wine. Bliss!

Back at the guesthouse, the WiFi was down ( not a rare occurrence in our trip) so we went to bed early.

Ai-Ais, Namibia – 250 kms – (Sunday 3rd June)

We leave Springbok after a huge breakfast and stop for fuel, then ride the 120kms to the border. Leaving South Africa takes about 10 minutes, as there is very little traffic. Entering Namibia does not take much longer. We don’t need to do paper work for the bikes, as Namibia and South Africa share some custom agreement. The whole process is calm with no chaos or hangers on loitering around as I was expecting. Very civilised and efficient. The staff on both sides are friendly. Once we pay our road tax in Namibia, we can go. We stop few hundreds metres later to get fuel and local cash. There is a fuel station with a small shop and an ATM machine. The owner comes to speak to us. We ask about insurance for the bikes but it seems it is not necessary. We discuss about our destination and he advises us the take straight away the small road that follows the border, rather that the next turn off much further north.

We follow his advice and as we ride through desert, surprisingly, we come across vineyards. It is quite unexpected and surreal to see vineyards in the desert!

After a while we see, among the vineyards a sign for a Spar. We follow and come across a sort of shopping mall smartly built, with bank, shops and Spar. All closed as it is Sunday. The surprising thing is the “village” next to it. It is only small shacks with tin roofs. We assume it has to be the vineyards workers there. The contrast between the well build commercial buildings and living quarters is surprising.

Soon enough we run out of tarmac and ride a gravel road. It is not too bad and can make good progress. Ai-Ais is a large campsite and hot springs, near Fish river Canyon, the biggest canyon in Africa, which really compares to the Great Canyon in the US, for scale.

For a campsite (which also has lodges and flats) it is rather expensive. We pay 20$ per person per night. Not cheap! But to be fair the facilities are amazing with very clean shower blocks, separate cooking and washing up block, drinking water on taps, swimming pools, a small shop etc…

The campsite seems very popular with South Africans. The majority of people staying are from there. They all seem to love Big off road cars and all have brought all the food they need for a Braai! They certainly love their BBQ ! As we have no food at all, we eat at the restaurant. The choice is grilled pork, chicken or Orix, with few vegetables.

After that we read a bit and decide to go for an early night. We set the tent in a grassy patch, near a shower block, between two palm trees.

Ai-Ais – 0 kms – Monday 4th of June

I wake to the birds songs and the staff chasing the baboons that have descended into the camp.

A group of them is near our tent. They send 2 small young ones up the palm tree, and from up there, they throw what looks like yellow dates, to they family in the ground.

The staff keep chasing them with the use of slingshots, as the baboons steal anything they can!

We make coffee and with bread and jam from the shop that is our morning breakfast. While I do some laundry, alistair does the washing up.

Later on we go in search of the hot springs. At 65 degrees Celsius, too hot. But the swimming pool next to them is super warm. It is fantastic and we swim and lounge a bit by the pool for a while.

We speak with various people in the camp. The South African are super friendly I must say and come easily to talk to us.

Late afternoon, while I am busy near the tent, Alistair is talking to 2 women near a small tent, at the edge of the camp. That is when we discover how canny those baboons are! While one goes into the small tent and steal a camping mat, sending the women and alistair running after it, another very large

Baboon gets into the open boot of a car, parked about 50 m away and tries to get away with a large plastic box containing food and wine. When I spot that fellow, I alert the others.

Baboon number one scatter toward the hills with the mat, while Alistair gets near the second baboon, who is not ready to give up on his loot. After a small stand up, the baboon gives up, luckily, as they have very big teeth! Alistair got quite a fright ! Staff a bit later on managed to retrieve the mat. That is lucky as the owner, with a large group of friends, is going to hike the canyon for 5 days. Without a sleep mat, sleeping would be rather uncomfortable and cold.

( no photos as WiFi is super slow and breaks up all the time- check my Facebook for those)

South Africa: western cape

So we flew on the 28th of May and landed in Cape Town the following day, after a change in Istanbul.

The flight was uneventful. On the first leg of the trip, I saw a movie. Flying with Turkish Airlines, among the usual American blockbusters, they had some more unusual movies.

I watched a Mexican movie. Unlike big blockbusters, with their stereotype characters, this movie had no baddies, no one got murdered, raped, tortured, saved the world, no gun in sight and nothing got blown up! Just 5 men, 5 strangers, all coming together to paint a yellow line on the road between two towns. 5 strangers with their own stories, griefs and secrets. It is slow, surprising and uplifting as well as a very sad event. Sad because life is unfair and stuff can happen to people who do not deserve it. Go and see it. And after, I hope you will take from it that sometimes it is worth stepping away from duty for a few moments of joy and happiness. Go and jump naked into that lake!

It is called The Thin Yellow Line. Go see it! Mexican movies, like Mexican music, can be surprisingly good. As for music, I maintain that Mexican group Mana is on the same level than the Rolling Stones. With better guitar!

So, our friend Johan came to collect us at the airport in his massive Land Rover. Soon, we arrived at the house and as he returned to work we made ourselves at home. In another words, we just crashed out and rested.

Johan, Jo Ann and the kids arrived soon enough. They had a South Africa treat for us. And no, it was not the fabulous South African wine, it was Braai! The local version of a BBQ !

We discovered Springbok meat! Oh My God! The best meat I ever ate in my life! I am a convert! It was amazing. We also tried the local delicacy Beorewors ( local beef sausage). It was quite a feast! It was great to catch up with them and discover the local life style, much more laid back than in London. Last time we saw them, Lexi was few months old and they were about to leave the UK. 18 months later, another baby girl has arrived. Remarkably well behave toddler and baby!

The next day, Johan worked from home so he could drive us to the shipping company headquarters. We found the bikes on a pallet each, wrapped in bubble wrap and plastic.

We had to reconnect the batteries, fit again the top box, fix the chains that had been left way too tight by the mechanic who changed the chains and sprockets… there was a lot of faff around but after a couple of hours, we were ready to go.

Less than 2 miles from the shippers, I ran out of fuel on the motorway. Not the best place to breakdown! Luckily, I managed to stop on the emergency lane, and more lucky yet, Alistair noticed.

Obviously, the shippers in the UK drained my fuel a bit too much! The bikes are supposed to be on reserve, not empty of fuel! Thanks to the fuel bottle in the CRF rack, Alistair go a bit of his fuel in the container and generously shared it with me. It was just enough to make it to a petrol station.

With no other problems, we rode the 20 kms back to Johan’s house.

We then repacked everything.

In the evening, Johan got another local feast on the go: Potjie ( pronounced “poee-kee”). While it simmered for few hours, I offered my bike to Johan for a little spin, while we seeped beer with Alistair and Jo Ann! We have such a hard life!

After another great evening in great company, it was time for bed.

Thursday 31st May – Paternoster – 180 kms

The next day, we woke up to a lot of rain! Typical. They are supposed to have drought down here, yet, when we turn up, it rains! Would you believe the only time we crossed Death Valley in the US…. yes, you can guess, it rained too!

Anyway, we waited a bit and by late morning, we made our goodbye and left. It stopped raining, but instead, we had much worse. A horrendous wind, with gusts so strong, I felt my head would be detached from my body and my helmet was inserting itself into my jaw!

Our initial plan was to ride to a coastal town called Lambert’s Bay, about 250 kms away. An easy ride under normal circumstances. After 180 kms however, we ended up cold and exhausted in the small resort of Paternoster, where every other house is a hotel or guest house! All painted white! This being winter, it was rather dead. We found a place open and took a rather amazing room with sea view!

After a light breakfast and skipping lunch, we found the local shop where we bought some amazing local fish and chips, for an early dinner!

So, tomorrow, I am hoping the wind will calm down and that we can make some progress, riding north toward Namibia.

How to survive as a couple on the road

So you have the bike(s), the destination, the other half convinced and on board… now facing the reality of spending 24/7 with your Dear Other Half; in countries where, most of the time, you do not speak the language, so the only conversation may be with each other, for days on end… will your couple survive?

This is a question that every couple on the road will have to face, and will probably be asked by concerned friends or colleagues. Maybe you think that because you went backpacking together for few months, it will be the same thing, just with added bikes.

I am afraid that this is not the case. The challenges of the road can bring a whole new dimension of stress and problems that do not come with backpacking from touristic place to touristic place, moving around in public transports, meetings often the same other tourists on your little merry tour.

You will often end up in remote places, with very little comfort, little food, mechanics problems, hard trails to negotiate, usually under torrential rain, storms, hail, cold or intense heat… but despite this, you must go on, reach the next town, village, fuel station… You will be cold, boiling hot, hungry, dehydrated, angry, pissed of, scared, wet, lost, stranded in the middle of nowhere, with a bike stolen or dead, worrying about being over budget… Will you face these tough situations together, or will it be a challenge to far?

Here I can only play agony aunt based on my personal experience and also in my observation of other couples on the road.

I came across a lady once, in Tierra del Fuego.She had dropped her bike, on a gravel road, and we helped her to lift it up. She was on a 650 something. Her husband was nowhere to be seen, as he had taken off, on his 1200 something, miles ahead. What could possibly go wrong? The husband  gets annoyed with the wife because “she keeps falling behind or dropping her bike”, the wife will be furious for being left alone in a trail she clearly struggles with, an then has to rely on passers bye to help her. Not a great start!

With Alistair, we have the same capacity bikes, so none of us can outrun the other. We always ride together, usually Alistair is ahead, with the (bloody!) GPS, while I follow not far. We always stay in visual contact as we don’t have bike to bike radios.

In Mongolia, where I was quite unsure, to start with, about crossing rivers, Alistair would go first, so I could then follow his line.

In South America, when I was still very green at off road riding, some (short) difficult sections ( usually involving deep sand!) were too hard for me. Alistair would pass the section, walk back and take my bike across for me.  The alternative would be for me to try ride it, drop the bike, and get Alistair to lift my bike, as I cannot ( still to this day!) do this. At least not when it is upside down, down a sandy ditch, fully loaded, as the bikes usually end.

In South America, we met many couples. And many were showing this same pattern of mutual help and seemed to had a clear division of labour.

When my bike was stolen in Brazil, we did not start arguing. We immediately got on with the job of solving that problem one way or another.

Another type of couple I have met on the road is the Competitive one. They both have to be able to do everything. By themselves. Each has to be able to repair his/her own bike, each ride the same sections regardless, each able to lift their bikes, cook, wrestle a bear etc… ok maybe I made the last bit up. But you get the drift.

I am puzzled by those guys. Maybe it works? For us, I have no clue how to repair or maintain my bike or how the GPS works. I have zero interest on that. Alistair has zero interest on learning Russian or planning a trip. I am very good at organising a trip, or learning languages, so I do it. He is good with the bikes so he is in charge of them. We have a clear division of labour. We never really discussed it, it just kind of happened. Well ok, for the first big trip, my sweetener was that I would organise it, so he would agree to come!

I think we are both happy with this division of tasks. I look after the website, I blog, so our families know how we are doing. Something Alistair has no interest in doing.

Faced with a problem, we solve it, together, each looking at it from our own ways. When the engine blew up in his bike, I went online using the HU and my contacts to find a solution, he went online looking at the mechanic issues…We don’t argue about it. Yes we can get annoyed at each other (he drives me crazy following the bloody GPS through stupid sections across rivers while I CAN see a perfectly nice road away, for example) and I am sure I must annoy him with some stuff. Can’t think what though 😇.

So here I will list some “points” that could help:

  1. Give yourselves space: when you are set up with the tent or guest house, while I have a shower, Alistair will often go for a wander. You don’t need to be joined at the hip. Do your own stuff!
  2. When something goes wrong, the worse thing that you can do is start the blame game and get angry with your partner. For example, maybe if I had chained my bike in Brazil, maybe it would not have been stolen…. “maybe”, “if”… we say in French that with enough “if” you could Paris inside a bottle! Who care of “if” and “maybes”… face reality and work together to find a solution.
  3. Show support. If one of you suck at something but better that you at something else, support each other. If my bike needs some TLC, Alistair will do it. If we need to be able to speak Russian, I will learn enough to get by. I would be surprise if you all have the same set of skills and competences. Play t9 your strength and rely on your other half for the stuff you suck at.

Shipping the bikes and alternatives

The bikes are ready to go now. We just need to test the luggage and set up, before we deliver them to the shipping agent next week.

I have been asked few times how much shipping the bikes to Cape Town will cost us and if it would have been easier to rent or buy the bikes over there.

The quote is rather complex and there are many fees. Shipping out of the UK to Cape town is about 500 pounds per bike. But then we have to add the port fees, cost of agent dealing with custom in the other end, and many more stuff. So in summary, I count on about £1,000 pounds per bike per leg of the trip. That is a crippling £4,000 to ship the bikes back and forth; and trust me, there were much more costly options when I started looking into this.

Now you probably understand why, in 2016, we decided to go back to central Asia instead of shipping to the Americas or elsewhere!

But this time we had no choice. Crossing the whole of Africa is out of question, so we need to ship the bikes. You must also add to the shipping cost, the price of the Carnets. This document is required if you ship a motor vehicle to South Africa.

With these costs in mind, I looked into the possibility of buying locally and selling at the end. One hurdle (apart from finding 2 adequate second hand bikes) is the difficulty of registering a bike to your name if you are non resident. It is hard.

Then the second problem, would be to get the bikes ready for the trip. Finding someone to build a luggage rack, finding a bigger fuel tank, and preparing the 2 bikes. The cost can pile up very quickly: new tyres, heavy duty inner tubes, new sprockets, new chains, valve clearances, wheel bearings and sometime much more…

As for renting, for 4 months, it would be prohibitive, with the added problem that the rental market provides huge “elephants” like BMW1200, BMW800 etc and none provide smaller bikes.

At least the shipping costs will be spread across several months, making it more palatable I suppose. And we know our bikes. We carry the tools that are strictly for them, the few parts that we need…. So we deliver them to the shipping agent on Thursday. Next time we will see  them will be at the end of May, in Cape Town.

The camping gear will go with the bikes. I have checked the inflatable mattresses and the tent to make sure all is in good order. We will be camping a lot, as the other end of the market, the lodges, are beyond our price range.

So we are nearly there, for the bikes. Then we will have few weeks to sort out the house, the dog and visit few friends and family before we go.