Drakensberg and the Wild Coast

Day 88 – Clarens – Friday 24th August – 82 kms

We woke up early. It was daylight. After a very quick visit to the smelly pit toilet, I put all my motorcycle gear on.

The two guys looking after the place were around. We moved to their house and sat at the table, in the living room/ dining room, as the breakfast was included on the price (700 rands for the night plus dinner and breakfast).

The two guys had breakfast with, same as for dinner. We had coffee, some brownish porridge, bread if I remember. Like the previous day, the conversation was far from flowing, as the 2 guys concentrated on eating. I tried to ask few questions ( like why their mum did not eat with us? Apparently women don’t. Why? No clue). Answers were short. They were not interested on talking to us and it was a bit awkward. There are quite few places where we have been, where they don’t really get the notion of customer services. Basically where they don’t seem to give a crap about their customers! It is just uncomfortable.

Anyway, after the quick breakfast we left. It was still very early and we had a short ride to the border town. We stopped to buy fuel. It was cheaper in Lesotho than in South Africa, apparently it is subsidised.

The border was a drive-through. Once again, it was very fast to get back into South Africa.

By 11am, we arrived at Clarens. Our book said it was a very nice town, artistic and a bit hippy, with lots of restaurants and art galleries.

We rode to the Clarens Inn Backpackers. Despite arriving so early, Katie, the manageress showed us To a large building, it was a massive studio flat. It was huge, with a big kitchen fully kitted and big shower room! It was amazing.

After getting settled, we walked to town. It was very pleasant, hippy and arty, like the guide said. We had lunch at the micro brewery place. The food was disappointing. Whoever heard of a goulash soup with chicken and no red wine in the stew? A watery tasteless chicken soup. We found the big shop and bought fresh vegs and noodles for dinner. We were keen to make the most of the kitchen and get some vegetables.

The town is still around 1800 m altitude, so as the sun set in, it got very cold. Luckily we had plenty of fire wood and a nice fire place. This time, starting the fire was easy, once you have first!

In the afternoon, I sat near the reception desk, to get WiFi reception and work on the blog. A group of young women arrived. The were volunteers working in Lesotho. I did not get exactly what they did for work, but they were involved in AIDS and LGBT stuff. One of them was with the peace Corps ( American charity), another was German. All in all 6 of them, some natives from Lesotho, all lesbians. Maybe you need to be LGBT to work in what they did? I did not ask. Listening to they conversations was highly entertaining and funny as they sat around me. We laughed a lot at their stories of living in Lesotho! It might be the reason why my last entry was a bit disjoint! I got distracted!

Day 88 and 89 – Clarens, Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th August – 0km

Saturday we did lots of washing. Most of my clothes were very dirty. All by hand as usual. I wanted to wash my motorcycle suit but it was too bulky for the small bathroom sink. I guess it can wait until we are back home now.

We got to know Katie, the backpacker manageress and a wonderful lady, and Robin, a guy working on fire management in Mozambique. I had not laughed so much in a long time. We really had a lot of fun with them. One of those places where you feel at home and leave very reluctantly. Definitely worth spending few days there.

Also the town was safe to walk around, and we had some nice food. And of course a nice sampling of local wines!

But as usual, it was soon time to go. We packed up. Sunday was very cold ( it dropped to minus 2 overnight) and the next day would be even colder. We had a big fire going in our room.

Day 90 – Boston – Monday 27th August – 340 kms.

With the weather so cold, we decided to ride as fast as possible down to the coast!

As I woke up at 6:30 it was still freezing outside. About minus 2! I started a big fire to warm the place and we packed slowly. We waited, hoping it would get warmer. Then we left by 10am.

We were heading south, taking the backroads. The ride across the mountains was very beautiful. However, despite wearing pretty much all our layers on, we arrived at the Boston T Party backpackers totally frozen.

I expected rustic lodging but was surprised that we had a large room with ensuite bathroom for 480 rands. And thankfully, the water was very hot!

The owners were also farmers. They were very friendly and we spoke about bikes and travels with them. The husband ( can’t remember his name ) is a big fan of enduro and had a nice bike in his garage!

The place had a big loung/ bar building where they set a fire for us to warm up and sit.

The communal kitchen was busy with 3 South African guys. They were transit workers. They blanked us out and concentrated on eating their food and watched some crappy soap opera on TV. We prepared some baked beans in the microwave and some toasts. After eating we washed our plates and left. We had not a flicker of acknowledgement. South Africa can be funny like that sometimes.

Day 91 – Port St John – Tuesday 28th of August – 350kms

The morning was, once again, very cold. We were still at altitude. After a quick breakfast, still being blanked out by one remaining guy in the kitchen, we put all our layers on and left. The last 100kms to Port St John was slow going. It was constant villages and houses dotted all around, along the road, with very agressive speed bumps. We could not go fast. From what I read, it seems that in some regions the land belongs to tribes, and the locals there are on subsistence farming. The new president was considering in his land reform, to divide those tribal lands, so they would belong to individuals living there, rather than the tribes’ chiefs, but that was vehemently opposed by the chiefs. So these regions are very poor. Sadly, villages were covered in rubbish everywhere. Locals, like in many other places we ave been to, don’t seem to care that they live in a giant bin/ toilet!

In any case, it was still fairly cold and our descent was slow. Arriving at Port St John was underwhelming. The place was covered in litter, everywhere. Nad I mean even worse than what we had seen before! The smell of rotten food was sickening.

We rode to the Jungle Monkeys Backpackers and got a room with shared bathrooms. It had been a long day, and I was coming down with a nasty cold and a bad cough. The place was very pleasant. We shared a pizza, at the on-site restaurant, as we had no food left. We were told that the bin men were on strike, hence the state of the town.

I went for an early night as I was feeling unwell.

Day 93 – Port St John – Wednesday 29th August – 0 kms

After spending most of the night coughing, I was not keen on doing much that day. We had decided to have a day rest, as the next ride would be a long day again. We also had to sort few things out and needed WiFi, which luckily was provided, and for free (!) at the backpackers.

I was trying to find out if some Yamaha dealers could source some parts locally for my bike ( no they can’t ) and book a hotel for our last 3 nights, in Cape Town. We plan to arrive on Sunday 16th, deliver the bikes to the shipping company on Monday, and spend the rest of Monday and Tuesday exploring the town on foot. So the hotel has to be central and well located. And ideally provide a shuttle service to the airport!

Mid morning we decided to walk into the village and get some stuff from the supermarket. We walked among huge piles of litter. As we approach the town hall, we saw many police cars and riot police in full body armour. There were crowds hanging around, rubbish in the middle of the street, some on fire, and all shops were canut with metal gates. The atmosphere was kind of tense. We decided to walk back to the backpackers, as I did not fancy to be caught up in the middle of a riot and everyone was staring at us. We were the only white walking around so felt a bit of a target. I did not Andy being caught in te middle of a violent riot.

We asked one of the staff at the backpackers if the shops would open later on the day, but it was unlikely. I suppose looting during a riot is a big risk, so all shops remained shut. One teacher we met few days before told us how 20 schools were torched following protest on some education stuff. How is burning down 20school s going to help te education of the kids? But if this is the norm it s not surprising that all shops were shut!

The backpackers owner told us that the local businesses had been threatened so everything was shut.

Even the main gate to the backpackers reception was closed. We needed to get some cash but decided it could wait until we left town. We had enough to get some fuel.

Day 94 – East London – Thursday 30th of August – 370kms

We left early as we had a long ride. We were planning to get back into the mountains to the famous Hogsback and it’s even mor famous Away With The Fairies backpacker place. But things did not go to plan.

About 150kms on the ride West , the Honda stated playing up and shutting down the engine at speed. That is never a good thing. So we decided to diver to the closest big town on thee way, more or less. That was East London, down the coast. So we set the GPS and rode there. We found a backpacker place but it was impossible to get the bikes inside so we got recommended another backpacker place.

At 250 rands for a room with ensuite, you can imagine the kind of place!

The town was covered in piles of litter and garbage again, and did not have the excuse of the bin men’s strike.

After buying some fish and rice from the local supermarket, for take away, we sat in the main room. The place filled with road workers, coming in at the end of their shift. People stared at us a bit.

Security in the area was very high.

I had a very bad night with my cold, with a very painful throat and sinuses infection. It made breathing very painful and I had nothing other than paracetamol. Where on Earth are the pharmacies hidden In South Africa? I have been on the look out for one for few days and saw nothing!

Day 95 – East London – Friday 31st August – about 15 kms

We rode to the Honda dealer and after few checks were good to go. Alistair got the oil filter cover seal changed as it had been leaking a lot since Nelspruit. The bike dying could be the result of water in the fuel.

The guys told us we had stayed in the most dangerous part of town. To be fair the backpacker’s gate had been shut early evening and our bikes were safe.

We had booked a room at the nearby Fish eagle hotel. I was not in any shape to go for a long ride. I needed a rest and to recover from my cold. The hotel had great reviews in booking.com and was on special offer. We arrived there just after 10am. Despite turning up so early, we got the room very quickly and we were warmly welcome. We also had a free upgrade to a better room! It was a really nice place.

Looking at the weather forecast, it looks like Hogsback may have to wait as the weather in South Africa turns cold and wet. So we are changing our plans again.

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The road to Lesotho

Day 84 – near Dundee ( South Africa) – Monday 20th August – 285kms

Battlefield sport resort

After a quick breakfast at the campsite ( coffee with bread and peanut butter) we packed the tent and rode off. The border was about 130 kms south and although a section of road was bad with potholes ( all relative, nothing can compared with Mozambique!) we made good progress.

Getting back into South Africa was very fast, a quick stamp out of Swaziland, and quick stamp in on the passports, into South Africa and we were off again. We decided to avoid the main roads and take secondary roads through Kwazulu-Natal as the region (or state?) is called. This is Zulu land. We passed many sugar cane plantations and farms. By mid afternoon we arrived at a town called Vryheid.

It was nothing much but had lots of B&Bs. We stopped at one and declined. The second and third were still very expensive! A good 800 to 900 rands for an empty B&B! I am not sure if they fill at the weekend, as there seem to be not much around to attract tourists, but we decided to continue to Dundee. I had spotted in iOverlander a caravan park there and decided to ride there.

Few kilometres from Dundee, we saw a sign for a resort. They had a campsite too. We decided to investigate. By then we were a bit tired. The place was huge, with rooms, rondavels ( round houses ) and little square chalets, all with en-suite bathrooms. The chalets were only 500 rands so we decided to take one! It was luxurious, with TV and plenty of channels, a nice hot shower and amazing grounds.

The restaurant was a buffet and rather expensive, so Alistair rode to the nearest supermarket and came back with dinner.

Day 85 – Albert Falls National Reserve – Tuesday 21st August – 210 kms

I had found this campsite and resort through iOverlander again. It had rave reviews, with wild animals roaming around, so we decided to get there. The place was around a big lake. We got there relatively early afternoon. The accommodation was half price as it is low season. So we got a big rondavel with kitchen and all we need for 460 rands ( about 32 dollars !). Reception was at the entrance of the reserve with the rondavels a good 7 kms away. We rode to our accommodation, surrounded by many type of antelopes and zebras. It was amazing.

Once settled we went for a walk and realised, from a sign, that the Reserve also had white rhinos! I was amazed we were allowed in with the bikes as well as allowed to walk around on our own!

Day 86 – Sani backpacker lodge – Wednesday 22d August – 180kms

The next day, after packing, we decided to have a ride around before leaving. At a turn of the trail thee were 3 giraffes grazing. Thankfully we did not come across the rhinos.

Then we rode to south of Drakensberg. The backpacker place we selected was well located at the foot of the Sani pass and had great grounds, a big kitchen and lounge with a nice fire, large rooms and spotless communal bathrooms. The place was cheap and very pleasant.

The place was busy and we met with the same French couple we met in Swaziland, in our first stop there! We met few people and it was nice to socialise a bit!

Day 87 – somewhere on the road in Lesotho – Thursday 23rd August – 220kms

With the sky overcast, we waited until 10am to leave. The climb to the pass would be rocky, we had been told, and we wanted to make sure we would get no rain. The sky cleared and we left. The first few kilometres, on the South African side, the road was just a massive building ground with trucks everywhere. It was a bad trail but nothing hard for us with our bikes.

The border crossing out of South Africa was very fast. Then we started on the no man land between South Africa and Lesotho trail. We were told later that it was the worse it had ever been. In the past it was a gravel trail. Not so now. It was like a river bed with rocks and large boulders. There was no respite and little opportunities to stop. With the bikes, we had to keep traction and speed, overtaking all 4×4 and trucks on a narrow mountain road, while getting over, skipping and jumping over massive rocks. Despite the cold, I arrived at the top of the pass drenched in sweat. The difficulty of the trail certainly kept me focused, one mistake and it would have been a long way down the cliff! On wet conditions it would have been way too dangerous, with slippery stones!

At the top of the pass we passed the Lesotho border and then stopped at the highest pub in Southern Africa. There we met with 2 bikers on big BMWs, they had also climbed the pass. The guys were super tall and big and i can imagine only strength and power could haul a 250 kilos bike up those rocks!

After lunch we had the coordinates of a camp or lodge. On paper it did not look too far. We had not counted on the several mountains passes at 3300m high and the many villages on the way, with farm animals roaming free, forcing us to ride slowly. It was a long day. Lesotho villages looked a mix of traditional round houses and brick square houses. They seemed to have electricity and we saw plenty of satellite dishes. Men were often herding animals, either walking or riding horses.

The mountains were beautiful but it was bitterly cold.

We went up and down mountains. Eventually, by 4 or 5 pms we found the turn off to our night rode through a very bad trail into a village and then a farm compound. The place had various rondavels, no running water and pit toilets. For 350 rands per person we could get accommodation, dinner and breakfast, so we took the option as we had very little with us to cook.

The rondavel had no electricity but the main house did. There was nowhere to sit or get warm. As we were standing around in the courtyard, a van with a French/ Spanish couple living in Mozambique turned up and investigated the place further. We managed to sit in the farm family living room, with a gas heater on. At last we were able to get warm.

Dinner was simple. Some nice chicken, fresh tomatoes, spinach with pap ( white corn purée – rather tasteless but used to pick up food with your hands).

After that it was an early night.

Swaziland: the kingdom in the mountains

 

Day 77 – Nelspruit – 110kms, Monday 13th August, 110kms

I had booked a hotel in Nelspruit, for 3 nights, within walking distance of the motorcycle workshop that had ordered our tyres (Pitlane – very good place).

We arrived at the hotel around lunch time. It was reasonably priced, similar to an Ibis hotel budget, in term of set up, with a bunk bed above the double bed. It was clean, modern and totally adequate. We arrived early but the friendly staff gave us the keys. After dropping our luggage we rode to Pitlane and left the bikes with them, with a list of instructions:

* Leave the chains setting as they are ( mechanics always leave the chain way too tight);

* Do NOT jet wash the XT250, it is not waterproof anymore and water will cause problems with the electrics;

* Do not touch the oil gauge window on the XT ( it is glued and already fell inside the engine once!);

My bike was leaking oil, as the oil filler cap was not original to my bike, and the thread was now broken, hence it would not close properly, splatering my right boot with plenty of oil. Luckily, Pitlane found a good replacement.

Over the next day they did a good job. My back inner tube was damaged and they replaced it as well as filling it with green slime ( we told them we had slime inside our inner tubes – for punctures).

My stomach was not too good, Alistair was also feeling unwell, so we did not do much else that day.

Day 78 – Nelspruit, Tuesday 14th August

The morning was slow, still both under the weather. With our limited 150mb of daily free WiFi, I found few places within walking distance, to rent a car. We thought we could spend some time the next day, self driving in nearby Kruger National Park. Obviously, motorbikes are not allowed. Alistair walked to various places but either they did not exist, or they had no cars available. It was disappointing.

For a couple of weeks, I had been in contact, via the Wild Dog forum ( a South African motorcycle website) with a lad called Canzius, who kindly offered help to find tyres in Nelspruit. So we arranged to meet late afternoon in a pub downtown. The bikes were ready by 4pm so we walked to the workshop to pick them up and rode to the pub. The good thing being a biker is that everywhere in the world you go, you got friends! The motorcycle community is always incredibly welcoming and friendly, and so was Canzius. He advised us on places to visit the next day, on a loop north, and convinced us to cross Swaziland. It was not on our plans to cross Swaziland, but as usual, our plans keep changing as we go along.

My main problem with the new plan was that I had burn the pages on my guide book covering Swaziland! Not out of spite, but in Namibia, trying to start a fire! We were camping and been told about the lions roaming around and to have a fire at night! We used some pages of the guidebook, and plenty of petrol, to start the fire ( and failed!). Anyhow, the 5 or 6 sheets of paper on the guide were gone, and with very little WiFi, our plan would be even more vague than usual!

Day 79 – Nelspruit, Wednesday 15th August – about 180 Kms loop

In the morning, feeling a bit better, we rode north across Sabie and various other places. It was a great ride, at last some mountains.

Later in the afternoon, Alistair did some more work and maintenance on the bikes.

On a twist of fate, one of those most unlikely stuff to happen, we saw on facebook that the 2 lads we met in Luderitz, Namibia, 2 months before, and who were walking across Southern Africa, from coast to coast, were also in Nelspruit! We thought about meeting them at their backpacker place, but it got late as Alistair was still working on the bikes! So in the end we did not ride to meet them. It would have been cool, but we will meet them back in the UK!

So we packed, as we always end up doing. The bikes were in there best shape since we started this trip.

Day 80 – Swaziland, near Maguga dam – Thursday 16 August, 150 kms

We did not have far to go, so we took our time. We only left the hotel after 9:30. The ride to the border took us through stunning view through mountains, riding well above the tree lines and down again. The road was pristine and not busy, it was heaven.

The border crossing was probably the fastest and easiest we ever had! On the south African side, we were the only tourists, no scammers or people hanging around, only the staff. We were stamped out quickly and we had not need to get to custom as Swaziland is part of the South African custom union. Our carnet, stamped into South Africa, was valid in Swaziland.

Then we rode to Swaziland. Again, only border staff and us. The guys were friendly and gave us a newspaper issued for tourists. It had very good info, so I packed in bag. We were stamped in very quickly and we paid a tax of 50 rand per person ( or bike, not sure).

That done, we got into Swaziland, the mountain kingdom. The country is an absolute monarchy, so we expected great poverty. I was surprised at how nice the village over the border was. Not mud huts, well built houses, small but brightly painted. No women carrying buckets of water or taking the washing to the river anywhere I saw. So I assume they have running water nearby or in the houses. The road for the border was a bad track for about 18kms then the tarmac was good. Plenty of cars in good state, stunning views of mountains and farms, very little littering, a neat tidy little country.

Our initial destination was a lodge and campsite near the dam Maguga. The lodge was super expensive, and the campsite was down a mile, through a very nasty track, with no shade, nowhere to sit, no facilities other than the shower block. It was not ideal and as it was very early we decided to leave. The GPS was showing a backpacker place few miles away. So we rode to Sobantu Guest Farm and Bacpackers. It was a working farm. The little huts with en-suite bathroom were very affordable, about 28 dollars at current rate ( the rand is plunging at the moment ). So we took one instead of camping! We appreciate our comfort these days. The farm had stunning views of the surrounding mountains, a kitchen and all the stuff you need for a backpacker place, including lounges and TV! Ok no free WiFi, but free WiFi seems hard to come in the region!

In the evening we cooked a pot of vegs with noodles. We had a couple of glasses of wine as it was cheap! There were only another couple staying, French, so we spent a while chatting.

Day 81 – Miliwane wildlife sanctuary , Sondzela backpackers, Friday 17th August, 75kms

It appears that Swaziland has a lot to offer. The little touristic newspaper that we were given at the border described few interesting places to visit. And we also picked, at the backpackers place, a little free book called Coast to Coast, which list all the backpackers places in Southern Africa, with a nice description of what is around. The description of the Sondzela Backpackers was too tempting to resist: “ Sondzela overlook a Valley where wild animals roams and impalas, warthogs and zebras graze on the edge of the gardens. Campers are surrounded by fruit trees and roaming game”. With that description, we decided to spend a night there. As it was fairly close ( Swaziland is a very small country, barely 120 kms wife and 180kms long) we took our time. We still got there before lunch. We arrived at the game park entrance and stopped to pay the entrance fee. Just there, with no fence in between, were zebras and wildebeests, totally unfazed by us! Once in the park we saw many antelopes, zebras, warthogs and more wildebeest along or on the track! They were so close to us!

Once settled in the backpacker place, we went for a walk around the compound. Immediately we saw several antelopes, some very large, some smaller, and lots of warthogs, inside the camp, despite the fence. The warthogs managed to squeeze under the fence, and I guess the antelopes just walk in when the gates are open!

The views over the valley and mountains were stunning. We were glad we had decided to cross Swaziland, it is a beautiful country!

Later in the afternoon we had a walk in the reserve, as it is safe to walk around and hiking. Once again we got very close to zebras, wildebeest and many antelopes ( impalas etc…)

This backpacker place has probably the best views we ever had anywhere!

Later in the evening it’s started raining. We had a great night in our little hut. It had no facilities but the shower blocks were close by and very clean, with good pressure and very hot water in the showers.

Day 82 – same place – Saturday 18th August

The day was still very wet with constant rain and fairly cold, all of a sudden. We decided to stay an extra day. The place was so magical with all the wild animals wandering around and the most stunning views. We felt comfortable there. A large youth group left, another arrived. This time they were from the UK. The place was very busy, and with good reason. It is a great place.

Day 83 – Hlane National Park – ndvolu camp, Sunday 19th August – 105 kms

On Sunday it was time to leave the fabulous game sanctuary and ride to the main national park in Swaziland. The road was perfect, the towns and villages tidy and clean, people were often dressed in their best clothes or traditional warrior costume for men, with traditional tools and weapons at hand. It was a very cool sight. Maybe it is traditional on Sunday to dress like that, as we did not see anyone dressed in a traditional way before.

Swaziland is such a wonderful little country. I expect grinding poverty. After all it is an absolute monarchy. I expected a banana republic with the king leading an extravagant life while the subjects would be dirt poor. I don’t know about the king, and I have very limited WiFi to investigate, but people seem wealthy enough. I did not see, like in the rest of Southern Africa, women walking for miles and miles with heavy loads of washing, dishes, wood, water, balanced on their head. I saw no men hanging around waiting for a customer to taxi on their bicycle, no one walking along the road, or very rarely. Everyone seems busy, well dressed, lots of nice cars, lots of satellite dishes out of houses, no littering or garbage anywhere along the road. After the depressing sights in Mozambique, it was so uplifting to discover a happy country! And they don’t even gouge you with the accommodation and parks. Prices are reasonable and affordable!

So we rode to Hlane. It has lions. We wanted to see lions! The campsite and lodge had great facilities, but no electricity. We put the tent up and went to explore, as far as the bar. We had a late lunch of toasted sandwiches. We could see the edge of a water hole, lots of people looking and taking photos. As we moved closer, we saw what it was: 5 black rhinos. They were massive! And so close! The only fence between them and the public was 2 lines of barbed wire! Like if this could hold them, should they get angry! It was extraordinary !

We booked an evening drive as we were hopeful to see lions. It was a 2 1/2 hour drive. To start with, it was rather disappointing, as for about 1h 1/2, we only saw 2 elephants. And then we found the lions: 2 males and 3 females ( brothers and sisters and their mother – not sure where the father was!). It was amazing to see them!

We went back to camp in the dark. After preparing dinner ( a can of mix vegs and noodles!) we moved to the bar and celebrated with a bottle of Malbec! We caught up with a lad we met at Mliwane the day before and spent the evening around a fire camp, drinking wine and talking rubbish. The way it should be!

That was our last night in Swaziland. It might be small (120kms side and 180kms long) but it made a big impression on us: the superb landscapes, the welcoming smiling people, the Sanctuaries, the sense of optimism…. definitely if you come to South Africa, make sure to spend few days here!

Southern Mozambique

Day 70 – Vilanculos, Monday 6th August – 0kms

I woke up at 6. After all, as night falls soon after 5:30 and we could not wander in the village at night, there was not much to do. Our camp was dead, the small bar was closed as there was no staff to be seen anywhere, with no WiFi or anything else to do, we read a bit and slept early.

It is not wise (for tourists) to walk around after dark, we were told by the manageress at the Baobab.

I read a bit ( I am quite hooked by the Shetlands series and reading my way through the whole 7 books from Anne Cleeves) and by 7am we had a look around to check if there would be some breakfast. All was quiet, no staff around, so we walked, once again via the beach, to the Baobab beach camp. There were people having breakfast, there was a long menu to choose from, free coffee on offer… Paradise! I took an omelette with bacon. It was huge! I could not finish!

We used their WiFi for some planning and finding a place to stay in our next destination. We had decided to leave the following day, as our camp was ghastly with really unfriendly staff who treated us like we were an inconvenience to them. But as all seemed to be so fully booked everywhere, we decided to secure a place before getting to Tofo. All accommodation there was fairly full too but we booked a more expensive than usual, to us, place.

After that we went for a walk into town. We went back to the Baobab to have a drink and early dinner before dark. We shared a very hot pizza. As we were finishing, a family sitting not far from us offered us some grilled fish. They had been off fishing and caught a 1.5 m fish weighting a good 38kgs. They could not eat it all! It was delicious!

After that, completely stuffed, we went back to our miserable camp, before dark, for another early night. This time, with power cuts, it was really not much else to do.

Day 71 – Tofo – Lobster Chalets – Tuesday 7th of August, 320kms

We woke up at 6 am and started packing. The weather was very foggy but we were ready to go before 8. We stopped for fuel, at a bank to get cash. The fog slowly lifted as we travelled south.

It was very hot and we stopped few times for fuel and to drink. The road was in good condition so we made good progress. The many police check points did not pay us any attention. We arrived at Tofo by early afternoon. Tofo is popular with South Africans for surfing and diving so tends to e very busy.

Finding the guesthouse was another problem. The sandy and very damaged track that the GPS wanted to take through was really too damaged for us. Eventually, after a bit of search and faff around, we arrived at the Lobster Chalets. Our chalet was great, big, clean, with a terrace which contained a small kitchen sink and fridge. It was very luxurious.

The bar restaurant was on a roof terrace with nice view over the ocean. The WiFi worked, the bar was a Honesty bar and we were close enough from town to get supplies. Amazing place.

Day 72 and 73 – Tofo, Lobster chalets – weds. 8th and Thursday 9th August, 0kms

From the restaurant, every morning ( eating a huge breakfast!) around 7:30 am, we could see whales playing in the ocean. It was amusing to see, an hour later, when they were gone, the Zodiac boats, full of tourists, going all over trying to look for the whales! We just had to sit early morning to check them out!

We explored the little town and had a couple of excellent lunches at a little shack.

We also found a bar, on Thursday, that served Caipirinhas! A real taste of Brazil! I hope to be able to buy the sugar cane liquor used for this drink, somewhere in South Africa, before we get back home!

Day 74 – near Chidenguele, Sunset Beach Lodge, Friday 8th August, 240kms

Day 75 – same location Saturday 9th August

Most places I investigated online seemed still fully booked for our dates. I found the sunset beach lodge online. They had small self catering chalets and camping ground.

So we left Tofo after a huge breakfast and rode through few miles of sandy trails, picked up the tarmac and then the main road, the EN1.

We arrived at the turn off from Chidengueme early afternoon. Then it was 6 kms of sandy track to the lodge.

Why is it that everywhere we go, we always end up riding few miles of sand to get to camp? I hate sand! Riding sand is hard! This one was usual with sections of deep fluffy sand that sent my front wheel all loose. I managed to keep control and made it to the lodge. The day was incredibly hot and by the time I wrestled my bike through the sand I was drenched!

The camping area was just deep sand. The chalets were 2600 Meticals a night, so we took the comfortable option! We are turning soft in old age!

The place looked deserted but as we took the path down the beach we came across a group of South Africans fishing.

Back at the lodge, a family with 2 kids were lounging by the pool and then having dinner. By dinner time, half an hour after we ordered dinner, a large group of Italians ( 10 or 12 of then ) turned up. I knew what would happen. Those organised tours usually pre order their food. While the cook prepared their food, we waited. 2 hours after our order went off, we finally had our dish, after the Italians got theirs.

A very long wait for a very disappointed dish or bland undercooked ( even some raw) chicken and bad rice. I did complain with my (non existent !) diplomatic skills! Not that the staff gave a crap about it. But I like to complain! I am French, I am good at that!

The next morning, as Alistair was not feeling too well, and our confidence on the Lodge’s cook skills was at an all time low, we decided to self cater. We had some left over bread from Tofo and some peanut butter. So that was breakfast with coffee.

Then Alistair took my bike and rode to the village. From the various little shops, he came back with some onions, a green pepper, a can of tuna, a can of beans and a can of chopped tomatoes. And some spicy powder. With all that I cooked a nice and full of flavours dish for lunch and dinner. The onions and peppers are incredibly sweet and full of taste, in this region.

I tried to do some planning, but without WiFi, it was difficult. As it was a big bank holiday in South Africa, we suspected that the border point would be very busy and with long queues on Sunday. I had booked a hotel in Nelspruit, South Africa, for Monday night, and we also had ordered tyres from a motorcycle shop, over there. The town is only 100kms from the border. We though it would be better to cross early Monday morning and avoid long queues. The best laid plan…..

Day 76 – Komatipoort ( South Africa) , Kruger View backpackers, Sunday 12th August, 370kms

We left the lodge early, at 8am, as we had a long way. As we made good progress, we decided, on the way, to just get to the border. The ride was not fast as it was busy with trucks hard to overtake. The road had only 2 lanes and constant incoming traffic. Despite this, we got around lunch time near Maputo, the capital city. We caught the ring road to get to the road going west to South Africa.

The road was not fully built. As one lane was cut, some young lads tried to stop us,saying there was a diversion. Alistair, being as usual very British and polite, stopped. As I saw trucks and car continuing, and being French and rude and grumpy, I waived the kids out of my way and continued. Whatever scam they ran I would be no part of it. An expensive looking saloon car went past and made us sign to follow it. As the road ended, we follow the car through sanding tracks, with the rest of the traffic. Eventually, we got on the right road, with nice tarmac. The driver signalled which way we should go. We thanked him by waving and got on our way. So we did not part with one single Metical! humbug!

Soon before the border, we stopped at a fuel station to use our last Meticals. Then we went to the border. Immediately, as we entered the compound, we were surrounded by a crowd of men who ran along or bikes and surrounded us as we parked the bikes. As you may suspect, with my sunny and charming temperament, i was a already shouting at them !

One guy, with a badge and a hat that looked kind of official, demanded our passports and that I stay with the bikes while Alistair had to follow him. I shouted at the crowd to disperse and leave us alone, in my most diplomatic style. The official looking guy took our passports and took Alistair to customs.

Alistair snatched the passports back and asked the customs official if he knew who the guy looking kind of official, was. The custom official shrugged, not knowing. Alistair stormed off and came back to the bikes with our passports. All scammers gone. We walked to immigration and had our passports stamped quickly, then went to custom. The custom guy did not know what to do with the Carnets but was happy to follow our instructions and stamp and sign them.

So we then rode to the South African border. Things were a little less hectic. We got our passports stamped in. I made clear we had our plane for the 19th of September, so needed 2 months visa. You see, after one spell in SA, they only give back a transit visa these days. It seems to be the latest policy to avoid people living in SA and doing the border cross to renew their visa every 3 months! So the policy now is, if you already had a 3 months visa, to only give you 7 days. We got 3 months without any problem. I worry too much sometimes.

Then we went to custom. They are not used to Carnets. This is when we spotted that Alistair Carnet had not been stamped correctly and in the right form, when exiting Mozambique. I usually check everything is correct with the Carnets. This is very important as we could be liable to massive import tax for our bikes, if our documents are not properly showing that the motorbikes left each country we visited. But this time I did not check Alistair’s carnet! So while I got my carnet filled for entry to south Africa, Alistair went back to the Mozambique side to correct the error. He had it done without any difficulty.

We were then stopped at the border zone exit for a quick search of or panniers and a chat with the bored customs guys.

We had , on the way, decided to stay the night at Komatipoort, the border town. It skirts Kruger National Park and had plenty of accommodation. I had spotted a backpacker place few days before, when we had WiFi. So we rode there. As usual, the GPS took us via the scenic gravel roads rather than the most direct tarmac road. This time I did not begrudge it, as it took us through a beautiful road and across a stunning little lake.

So, back in South Africa! We still have 5 weeks left to explore and there is plenty of that here! Can’t wait! But first, new tyres and some bike maintenance in the next town!

That’s all for now folks!

Central Mozambique

Day 65 – Quelimane, Mozambique, Wednesday 1st August – 400kms

We woke up at 6am and left the Mulanje backpackers place soon before 8. We stopped at the petrol station to buy some more fuel, as well as get enough water and snacks for the day. We knew it would be a long day.

Then we rode to the border. We got there at 9am. Exiting Malawi was simple enough. We were also sent to the health centre, where they checked our yellow fever certificate. Strange that they checked it at exit but not when we came in! Mine was done on 2004 and I was told, back in the UK, that it was valid for 20 years or for life, can’t remember! The health worker at the Malawi border told me he did not care but that I could have problems on entry to Mozambique as it should be less than 10years! With that in mind, and the added stress, we left Malawi.

After changing our remaining Malawi Kwachas into Mozambique Meticals, ( about 12 dollars equivalent) without much hassle at all, we rode to the Mozambique border post. At the consulate, they told us that the visa was $75 at the border or 115$ at the consulate. But immigration at the border asked us for $50 only. First for 2 months but then for 30 days only! It took a good 2 hours to get all done.

It was not busy at all at the border, just many officers sitting around not doing much. While we waited for our passports to be processed, I spent a while, explaining in Portuguese to the custom officer, how to fill and stamps our Carnets! They obviously don’t see many of those! That done, we sat and ate some peanuts and stare back at the locals crossing through. No way to rush anything!

Then, an officer took Alistair into a small dark room, alone! For a long time! I got worried he was given the fearsome American style full body intimate search (latex gloves and all!) but they were just trying to work out how to take his finger prints and photo! It was faster with me! Then we went to a small office outside the main building, where a nice young lady was the health care officer. She took details of Alistair’s yellow fever vaccine batch number, by then I was rather nervous! She took a look at mine, wrote some numbers in a big book and asked us if she could take our temperature, as she mentioned something about Ebola! Apparently there was Ebola in DRC, but we went not near it. We both were judged fit and healthy enough to be allowed into Mozambique. Then it was time to buy insurance for our bikes. We were quote 880 Metical per bike ( about 14$) or, we could pay in dollars and it would be 10$ each! Go figure!

A good 2 hours later, we were let into Mozambique. The road was mainly roadworks and slow going for about 20kms, but then it was ok. All along the road, there were constant villages and houses, as well as many people walking and we passed many markets along villages, but in general we maintained good speed. For once, we saw no farm animals roaming free!

The locals stared at us as if we were aliens from another planet. Unlike Malawi or Zambia, no one waved, not even the kids!

We stopped at a town where supposedly there is an ATM machine to get cash. We just stopped at the fuel station and emptied the 5 litres jerrycan on my bike. We had enough local currency to buy some more, so we put 6 litres on Alistair’s bike. With that done, we had enough to make it to our destination, so we did not bother looking for the bank.

We were very keen to get to Quelimane before it got dark. I did not fancy getting cash from a street ATM machine after dark! Night falls very early as we are still in the same time zone that Cape Town and Namibia. In Namibia, day light was at 8am, on the east coast it is 5am. It starts getting dark soon after 5pm. With few stops on the road, we got to Quelimane soon after 4pm.

Without internet access for several days, we relied solely on the very unreliable Lonely Planet to find accommodation. The first budget hotel listed there, with its bucket showers and dilapidated description, did not appeal much. We selected the hotel slightly more expensive at about 50$ a night including breakfast. It was a good choice. Probably the best in town! The place was busy with the zillions of Aid workers we have seen since Zambia, driving around in sparky new giant Toyotas with air-con, staying in the best hotels and eating at the best places. Hotel Flamingo, where we decided to stay 2 nights, was full of them, going around with ipads and laptops, looking important with their iPhones, logos and conferences and meetings held by the pool side and next to the bar! No owner most of them are so fat! I hope that a bit of those billions in Aid actually reach the people who truly need it!

After sorting out the accommodation, we ran to the nearest cash point to get some local currency. We had to pay the hotel in cash. Then we finally got a shower, got went down to the bar by the swimming pool for a beer and some dinner!

Day 66 – Quelimane, Hotel Flamingo – Thursday 2d August 2018

We decided to stay for a day to have a rest and get ready for the long ride south.

We found the local supermarket, with few things we could buy. Each aisle had a member of staff to ensure that all clients were watched and none could steal! We got water and some more cash from the bank.

Later on we went for a short walk, everyone was staring at us ( even on the ride to town, no one waved us, only stared). Few people came to us asking for money… The town was dilapidated and the buildings blackened from mould and dirt.

The climate is more tropical with a lot of humidity. For the 1st time in this trip, we had and used the air-con.

Day 67 – near Gorongosa – Kapulana Hotel – Friday 3rd August – 450kms

From my research online I knew there would be very little accommodation on the only road south. So I had booked a room by email with the 1st hotel on the way south. As it was rather far, we decided to leave early. We were packed and riding soon before 8am. With plenty of time to get there we stopped for fuel. We had few snacks and lots of water.

What we had not prepared for was the absolutely awful state of the road. The first 200kms were fine, then soon before Caia and crossing one of the very few bridges over the Zambezi river, it started to go wrong. Some potholes, then many, then the size of craters.

We had few short sections of good road where we could speed up, but mainly, it was bad to the extreme. As the day progressed but we did not too much, but we kept going. By 3pm, our shadows were getting longer. By 4pm, we were hoping to be closer. As we bumped, swerved and fell into those giants craters I started getting more and more worried. The road was covered in sand, with the long shadows from the trees and the sun going very low, it was very hard to actually see the holes and judge the depth until we were nearly inside. If we had to press on after dark, it would be near impossible with our pathetic lights on the bikes! Eventually, as it got dark, I saw the sign for the hotel. We just about made it by the skin of our teeth, covered in dust and sand and exhausted. It had been a very long difficult ride.

Through this region we saw true poverty, women and children walking bare feet, no sign of schools, people living in mud or even wood huts, a small kid that I glanced at as I passed, with a distended stomach, a clear sign of malnutrition… this region seemed forgotten by everyone. It is obvious that very few tourists venture around here, as everyone stared at us as if were aliens.

Considering the state of the road we had to revise our original plan. Our destination, Vilanculo, was a good 500km further south. With the road as it was, we could not make it in one day. Scouring the Internet we found 2 places on the way. One was about 80$ for a room, the other one was slightly cheaper and was midway.

Day 68 – Muxungue, Hotel Canindica, Saturday 4th August – 240kms

We left around 9am. The road was still horrid for a good 75kms. It took us 2 hours to ride that distance.

Then we got to the good road at last. We made finally good progress and got to our stop for the night early afternoon.

The region seemed less poor, with many schools and neat villages, still some mud huts and wood huts, but more brick buildings, markets, villages and people wearing shoes, many moped and bicycles around.

Day 69 – Vilanculo, Sunday 5th of August, 260kms

Despite what we were told by the staff at the hotel, the road was not too bad. Some sections were damaged and turned into a dirt track, but it was easy to maintain speed.

We arrived at our destination early afternoon. The first place we had in mind, the Baobab beach camp, was full.

We then rode to the Beach village backpackers camp. It was empty. Not a single guest. We took a hut with ensuite bathroom, as rustic as you can expect, although the price tag was not, at 45$. But then, it is a popular town with holiday makers with prices to match.

The hut was missing top bedsheet, towels and even toilet paper. The floor was dirty and covered with dirt and dead flies. I asked the guy at reception to remedy this and a woman came who could really not be bothered! The dead flies remained! I did some laundry while Alistair went into town to find a shop, as we needed water at least. Not sure if the place would provide dinner or any sort of food. The two women who worked there were busy sunbathing by the pool, giving me dirty looks because I had dared to ask for towels and bed linen! The guy in charge of the bar and reception was sleeping near the bar. Some places are so welcoming!

We walked along the beach at 4:30 to get some sort of dinner at the Baobab beach camp, few 100s metre down. The place was full, lively, with staff serving drinks and dinner, receptionist arranging excursions and WiFi working! It was such a contrast with our camp!

We walked back to our camp before it got dark. The lady managing the Baobab camp came to talk to s ad gave us the WiFi password, welcoming us. She knew well that our accommodation had terrible reputation, so told us we could use the Baobab facilities.

Southern Malawi

Day 58 – Senga Bay, Cool Runnings – Wednesday 25th July

 

We were planning to leave, but the place was so pleasant and relaxing that we decided to stay for a 4th night. We spent the day reading and lounging around the various chairs, sun beds and sofas.

Day 59 – Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlid (south shore of lake Malawi) – Thursday 26th July – 176kms

We finally managed to extract ourselves, reluctantly, from Cool Runnings, and rode to Cape Maclear, the south shore of the lake. The weather was slowly getting warmer and less cloudy. On the day we left, it was clear sky but not too hot. Perfect weather to ride. We rode through the sandy streets of the village, back to the main road. We planned to spend 3 nights in the south shore and get to Blantyre, the second biggest town in Malawi, on Sunday only. The plan was to get to the Mozambique consulate early Monday morning for our visas.

The backpacker place we selected had great reviews, but they only had room for two nights. It is now the high season, with plenty of backpackers from Europe. Cape Maclear is easier to reach by public transports than Senga Bay, I guess.

There were lots of backpackers and long time travellers, most of them in their early 20s. ( I am always a bit bemused by very young long time travellers. When I was in my 20s I had to save a lot just to be able to afford a bicycle from Decathlon to commute to my minimum wage job! How do they finance their trips? )

Anyway, the backpacker place was funky with music, a nice bar area to sit and lounge and cheap drinks. A G&T for a pound will attract the backpackers!

We settled in a room, it was simple, with cement floor and bare walls but relatively clean with a mosquito net above the bed. The shared bathrooms were functional with kind of hot water from solar panels. The water was pumped from the lake. We explored the village which was much more touristic than in Senga Bay, with lots of shops selling craft and bright coloured clothes and bags.

In Malawi, free WiFi is only provided in high end hotels. If lucky there may be a hotspot you can catch with the phone and buy a voucher to get access. I bought 2MB.

Day 60 – Cape Maclear, Funky Cichlid – Friday 27th July

We booked a room in another lodge for Saturday night, and then decided to go kayaking in the lake. Had to be done. It was nice to go kayaking again, we used to do this often at weekends, when we lived in Rio.

As we came back, soaked, we decided to go for a swim too. The weather was splendid and the water warm at last!

It’s only later that Alistair mentioned some disease from snails. He went digging his emails and found the document the nurse at the surgery sent him. There is significant risk of Bilharzia in all bodies of fresh water, including in lake Malawi. Oh well, considering the showers and all taps were with water from the lake, swimming or not in the lake would make no difference. We asked the funky Cichlid’s manager whether there was any risk. She said they recommended all guests to take XYZ treatment as prevention. Well, lucky we asked, as they may tell everyone, but not one of their staff told us! And there was certainly no notice, board or any sign of this!

Bilharzia can be fairly dangerous and fatal if untreated. Although the risk of catching it is very small, it is best just to take the treatment as prevention, especially as it is a tablet to take 6 to 8 weeks later and cost about 2 pounds. So we will buy that in a pharmacy in Blantyre.

Easier than asking for it to our GP, back in London, who would refuse to prescribe it. The tests are apparently rather costly, so all the people living by the shore of the lake ( Including and especially all those Europeans and Americans volunteers or workers) take a tablet every 2 months.

We did not do much after all that. So we read some books again. This week is a bit of a holiday for us, before we tackle Mozambique.

My research online showed various addresses for the consulate in Blantyre. Alistair tried to phone the embassy in Lilongwe, but all the phones numbers we found online or on guide books were incorrect. Emails were also incorrect, for both the embassy in Lilongwe and the consulate in Blantyre. The phones for the consulate were also incorrect! Including from a Malawi magazine aiming at tourist info!

If we cannot secure the visas in Blantyre we will just turn up at the border, not much else we can do, considering how elusive Mozambique’s embassy and consulate are!

Finding an affordable place to stay in Blantyre took also some time. The fact, that, as usual, google and booking.com seem to place hotels and guest houses in random locations, making them look like they are in town instead of 30 kms out of town, does not help. Any promising place we found we had to cross reference the address using other sites, and find out it was actually totally out of town!

Day 61 – Cape Maclear, Eco lodge – Saturday 28th July, 500 m ride.

We packed. The Funky Cichlid was fully booked for the weekend so we moved 500 meters down the road to the Eco Lodge . The room with shared bathrooms was cheaper than the Funky Cichlid, at 20$ instead of 30, but the communal space less comfortable and the bar small and poky. We realised that lots of people from the Eco Lodge were actually lounging at the Funky Cichlid’s large open bar and lounge area, as we recognised lots of people having their breakfast at the EcoLodge ! Also at the EcoLodge, the cheaper rooms were away and in a more poky place with lots of junk lying around. I guess at that price we could not complain!

Once unpacked and changed, like everybody else, we walked along the beach back to the Funky Cichlid to lounge and have a beer. We could not get signal from the hotspot ( I needed to do some planning and find accommodation in Blantyre) at the EcoLodge, another reason to spend as little time as possible there.

Later on,we had dinner there as well, as their menu was far superior to the EcoLodge.

Day 62 – Blantyre – Sunday 29th July – 275kms

We left the lake and rode to get to the second biggest town in Malawi. The road, for a good 60kms was just constant roadworks with deviations through sandy tracks. It was slow going with constant people walking, cycling around, goats and sheeps roaming free. This has been a constant for a while. There are constantly people along the road. A village after another. Nowhere to stop for a quick pee or a quiet rest.

For once, at a police checkpoint, we were stopped by the police. After the usual questions ( where do you come from today, where are you going) the guy asked Alistair for money to buy a drink! So disappointing as so far it never happened. Alistair told the guy we needed to get cash from a bank as we had no cash with us. He let us go with a smile.

In Blantyre, we rode to the street where the guesthouse was. In booking.com it had great reviews. The place was as to be expected for 35$ a night including breakfast! A dump! We decided not put a review as we had nothing positive to say about the places. Alistair spent most of the nights there hunting massive mosquitoes as the mosquito net above our bed was full of holes and was so small it was probably for an infant bed only!

Day 63 – Blantyre – Monday 30th July – 0kms

We woke up at 6am. It is daylight soon after 5am and dark soon after 5pm. With regular power cuts and no WiFi or any sort of entertainment, we went to sleep early.

Soon after breakfast (microwaved fried egg, cornflakes with horrid milk, an ok sausage and some fried potatoes) we walked to the town centre. The place, according to the guesthouse owner, who described in his description that it was close to the Mozambique consulate, was in the town centre. We walked the 3kms to the address we had for it, only to find out it had moved two years ago to another location. It was even further away, near a Roman Catholic Church. After a lot of asking and a lot of walking under a blazing sun, we finally found it. The lady at the desk told us the visa would cost us 115$ each, but we could get it for cheaper at the border! So we walked back into the town centre and looked for an Internet cafe, as Alistair had to print some docs for our limited companies accounts.

After that, we tried to find a cafe to sit and have a drink. The only place we found was going into the local luxury hotel. The town centre was only banks and insurance companies building and nothing much for food or drinks! We then walked back to our grimy guesthouse. My steps App, which still seems to work offline on my phone, showed we walked 15.5kms that day!

With another power cut and not much to do, we went to sleep early again.

During our expedition in town, we managed to get the tablets to treat Bilharzia, so you will be glad to know that in 6 to 8 weeks, if we develop horrid worms in our body, that should kill them and we will not die a painful death!

Day 64 – Likhubula village, near Mulanje – Tuesday 31st July – 100kms

We left early and took the scenic route as we had plenty of time. We bought fuel and filled the jerrycan as well, as once we cross the border into Mozambique, if we cannot find an ATM machine, it may be hard to buy fuel, until we get to Quelimane, over 360 from the border. Very few places accept credit card payment!

The ride was beautiful as we rode across vast tea plantations through stunning rolling hills. The villages around seemed more tidy and prosperous generally. As usual, there were constant people along the road, houses, one village after another, groups of young lads hanging around not doing much.

We took a trail off the main road and found (eventually!)a pleasant backpacker place. There were louts everywhere vying for business, mainly as guides to go hiking into Mulanje mountain. We had no intention to go hiking, but they were persistent.

Once settled into our very clean and comfortable room we went for a little walk. Back at the backpacker place, the locals just stared at us from the road, as we sat by the windows. Even the kids! Some lads would try get our attention ( more guides?).

We had dinner at the guesthouse and chatted with a deutsche family on holiday in Malawi. The wife had done a year as junior doctor in Malawi few years earlier. After that we went for an early night as we had to leave very early the next day, in order to cross the border and make it to Qualimane.