From the Cape of South Africa, Northwards

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by bbrittain, Jul 3, 2017.

  1. bbrittain

    bbrittain n00b

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    We arrived in Johannesburg about a week ago. We've been planning this trip for a couple months, but honestly it was pretty spontaneous. A couple months ago, my friend since freshman year of college, Dan flew to NYC for the weekend with one purpose, convince me to quit my job and drive through Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo. He could have just called me, I was onboard in a few minutes with the caveat that the trip needs to be on motorcycles.

    We sorted out some of the paperwork before arriving, simple things like the Ethiopian visa, but we're mostly playing this one by ear. We didn't even ship bikes here.

    Over the last week we've gotten some of the trickier paperwork sorted, seen Johannesburg, and gotten two Kawasaki KLR650s (2009 & 2010) in pretty good condition for cheap.

    This is the start of our journey.
    #1
  2. bbrittain

    bbrittain n00b

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    Before even getting our bikes, we started with one of the pieces of paperwork that our research indicated would be a problem - The South African Traffic Registration Number. As a foreigner, you need this number in order to file the Change of Ownership paperwork, something we'll definitely need to cross borders. We've read a bunch of horror stories about people who spend 3 or 4 weeks here in SA just trying to get this paperwork.

    We were super lucky, we managed to get ours in about 3 days. You need a bunch of things to get the TRN, a copy of a lease, a billing invoice, 2 passport photos, a copy of your passport... and a copy of your work permit. We knew the work permit presented a problem, we don't even have a tourist visa, as Americans we're visa-exempt, we only have a stamp authorizing us to be in the country for 3 months.

    We arrived at the Langlaagte Traffic Department at 10am on a Tuesday, only to learn that while we were in the right location for the location of our "lease", They only give TRNs between 7:30am-9am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Despite being told that we could not be helped, we managed to talk our way into the head of the department's office to get her to verify that the paperwork we were bringing would be enough to get us the TRNs. While she wasn't particularly happy to see us, she told us we were good. It turns out we weren't but we did gain the very powerful ability on Thursday when we got back to tell all the functionaries that "Engie verified our paperwork on Tuesday, we have all the right papers".

    We arrived bright and early on Tuesday, 30 minutes before the office opened yet, there was already a line stretching around the corner. [​IMG]

    A decent chunk of these people were migrants from other parts of Africa also desperately trying to get their TRN (and frequently getting turned away!) After filling out more paperwork we were told that the fact we didn't have a visa was a problem. We repeated our Engie mantra, and lo and behold, she appears. She double checks our paperwork then tells us that we are mostly good, but we also need an affidavit stating that we are unemployed. We hop in one of the many mini-bus taxis that are all over Joburg and head to the nearest police department.

    However, it turns out that we don't know how to fill out an affidavit. Despite the fact that the police stamped a paper saying that we are unemployed, it turns out you "need to tell a story" aka provide the reasons for why you are stating a fact in an affidavit. We get told that a guy in "that direction" could help us. In some back room in another building we fill out a new affidavit, now in story form, that gets stamped. It would have been great if we'd been told about this guy on round one.

    [​IMG]


    With a new packet of paperwork in tow, we finally manage to get to the last counter... and successfully get our TRNs! Hurdle number one cleared. We even managed to do it without paying any bribes, even though talk of money was mentioned a couple of times. All we have to do now is get our bikes, get them certified as road worthy, then file the change of ownership! Hopefully it'll be simpler than the TRN...
    #2
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  3. DualDawg

    DualDawg Been Lurking

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2015
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    Location:
    El Dorado County, CA
    Love the spontaneity! Some planning like you did is good, but some pople spend more time planning than actually riding! To me, the "over planning" hurts my brain and takes a lot of the fun out of it! "Loose schedule"=more fun and less stress in my book! Smart move buying the bikes when you got there! Sell em when you gotta get on a boat or plane for another country! Probably easier and cheaper in the long run! Good luck, be smart! Safe travels!
    #3
  4. Bessel

    Bessel n00b

    Joined:
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    Hey everyone, I'm Dan.

    We had been looking into what sort of bikes to purchase ever since we decided on doing this trip. The generic answer is, of course, a fancy BMW gs, but with relatively tight budgets, those were mostly out of the question. Other bikes we were considering ranged from the Kawa versys, Honda Transalp, and Suzi drs, and Kawasaki KLRs.

    Ben got in touch quickly with a guy selling a cheap KLR on gumtree for R34000 (~$2500). It had the doohicky moded, crash bars, a bash plate, was raised 2cm, and even an absurd after-market exhaust. Despite the exhaust, he still bought it.
    Here she is:
    [​IMG]

    Being Americans, we don't have local bank accounts to do wire transfers which left us with only one option: cash. Luckily, cash is preferred, but the denominations here are crazy. Here's what Ben ended up giving the seller:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    He didn't even bother counting it because there was so much!

    I continued scouring gumtree, though there weren't so many viable options in our price range. I tried another site OLX, which the seller of the other bike had told us about, and found another KLR with a bunch of goodies. The ad itself was a little cryptic and didn't offer much info aside from a price and an address. Googleing the address brought to a car dealers website. Plastered on the top of the site was a big warning telling of lots of scams on OLX that were using the dealer's address and posts to try to appear legitimate. Hmmm, not too promising, but I gave them a message and ended up going there to check it out. Fortunately, it wasn't a scam and there really was a bike. It was pretty nice, as far as I could tell and seemed about right for the price, but I had to wait until Monday when they were open to buy it.
    Fast forward to Monday (today), we woke up in time to get an Uber to the dealer when they opened at 9:00. As affordable as Uber is here, it adds up when you're taking 30km+ trips to the suburbs every day. We're really looking foreword to both having bikes! I get there and give the bike a ride around the parking lot. Everything was in order and I pulled stacks of cash out of my backpack for another huge cash transaction. They even had some cheap and shitty panniers for R1500 which I happily bought. We went to get some breakfast at the McDonald's across the street while the mechanic put them on. An hour later we came back to my new bike:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]Ben had ridden his bike to the dealer, so we were at last ready to start our first journey back to the hostel![​IMG]
    Driving on the highways around Joburg is quite a jarring experience for someone who has never ridden anything over 250cc, but we made it back.
    Now we've both got bikes, and I've even got some room for luggage![​IMG]
    Off to a good start, but these bikes still need some work, not to mention the fact we know almost nothing about how to care for them. Plus, they are still new bikes that we _really_ need to get used to. We've had a serendipitous encounters though, that should make some of that work much easier...
    #4
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  5. Probie

    Probie Adventurer

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2014
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    23
    Great stuff. Sounds like a great adventure. Let me know if you pass Bloemfontein (Free State).

    Sent from my SM-G930F using Tapatalk
    #5
  6. WHYNOWTHEN

    WHYNOWTHEN where are the pedals?

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2009
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    759
    Location:
    closer to Baja
    Excellent beginning!!!!
    Thank goodness the doohickey is sorted
    #6
  7. Steve T

    Steve T Adventurer

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    Location:
    Slaap Stad, South Africa
    If your going to start from Cape Town pull in for a place to crash,send us a pm a day or so beforehand :jkam
    #7
  8. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 6, 2009
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    461
    Location:
    Redondo Beach CA
    This one looks good...I'm IN!
    #8
  9. Pepe the little mule

    Pepe the little mule n00b

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    Berryville, VA
    This looks like fun... IN!
    #9
  10. juno

    juno Long timer

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    Looking forward to the rest of the story!
    #10
  11. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2007
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    634
    Location:
    East Texas
    Oh hell yea I'm in too - looks like it's gonna be quite the adventure

    Ride safe and have fun guys
    #11
  12. bbrittain

    bbrittain n00b

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    Wow. It's been a while. I promise we won't abandon ya'll. We've essentially been at training camp for the last week.

    When we last left you, we both had bikes, but they were no where near ready for our journey. Dan had some horrible panniers, but I still needed some. We had noticed that every single KLR we looked at had a sticker for the "KLR Doctor" on the side, sometimes multiple. Figuring that he'd have some sort of storage solution for me, I gave him a call. Lo and behold, not only did he have a set of panniers/top box for me, he also was extremely enthusiastic about our trip.

    It turns out he is a semi-legendary person in the South African adventure biking community. Not only did he also have all sorts of route suggestions for us, he also offered to let us stay at has house in southern Joburg for a few days and help us prepare. When he offered that, it sounded amazing, like all our (metaphorical) prayers had been answered. We got to hang out at his place, work on bikes, play pinball, and brie with some locals.
    [​IMG]
    That's us and the Doc. I'm on the left, my travel beard is starting to get semi-decent. Mr. T, his most boisterous dog is below.

    We also finshed up the last of our paperwork, a roadworthy test and a change of ownership. They were both super easy in comparison to the TRN.
    [​IMG]

    KLR Doctor's actual name is Graham, and his guidance at the start of the trip will probably prove to be invaluable. To start, I now know more about my bike than I've known about any motor vehicle in my life before this. A good KLR is a tinkerer's playground, full of dents, scratches, and places for potential mods. I'm not saying we are experts or anything near close, but we do have a good understanding of where things connects and how to do basic maintenance at this point, stuff we'd have to learn on the fly in the bush otherwise. We also left with some nice improvements to our bikes such as a nice solid bolt connecting our main and sub-frames, as well a bunch of spare parts and essential tools. It cost us a pretty penny, but far less than it should have.

    [​IMG]
    It took us a couple days longer than we would have liked, but we headed out on the highways yesterday morning attempting to make it to Himeville in KwaZulu-Natal. It's super close to Lesotho and the famous Sani pass which we are planning on doing. Between a late start and some weird stuttering/acceleration issues with my bike, we only made it about 3/4 of the way.

    This morning I took my bike apart, something I would never have been comfortable doing a week ago, successfully diagnosed the issue as a pinched fuel cable, put the bike together, successfully diagnosed the new electrical problem as a short, found the short and put electrical tape around it, put the bike back together, then we headed off. No matter how persistent Google Maps was, we ignored it and took the back routes from Estcorp to Himeville. This was a great decision, the tar turned into gravel and compressed sand, but it was absolutely stunning. We rose above the clouds, going through small villages, with wildlife everywhere. Hundreds.

    (It turns out my GoPro was full for the whole ride, so we have limited photos, but I don't think that is a mistake we will make again)
    [​IMG]

    About 30 minutes out from Himeville, I did have a quite spectacular accident on a sand covered bridge. I managed to ride off the bridge, but my bike and I did a lovely somersault and spin shortly afterwards. I walked away entirely uninjured, and my bike held up surprisingly well too! My left pannier is a bit messed up however... Nothing a good hammer (or rock!) and epoxy won't fix though. I'm a bit frustrated that I fell, but taking a step back I'm actually really happy with how well my bike and the luggage system held up.

    Tomorrow... Sani Pass!
    #12
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  13. Bessel

    Bessel n00b

    Joined:
    May 20, 2017
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    3
    Apologies for the sparse updates. (Good) WiFi is much more sparse than we expected. We've finally made it down to the coast at Coffee Bay, which is quite rural and only has satellite internet and spotty cell service. Nevertheless, we're working through it (slowly) to give you an update on the last couple days!

    But first, here's Ben's aforementioned accident and the bridge/sand combo that got him:
    [​IMG]

    That, nor the handful of drops on the pass were not very good for his poor bike and ended up knocking his left box and rack up a bit. But all is OK now because he found a hammer today!
    [​IMG]

    He says that he has fixed it now, but we'll see if it falls of tomorrow.

    Anyway, we'll get back to Sani Pass, but first, some more pictures from our time with the Doc:
    Here's his garage
    [​IMG]

    This magical place houses dozens of KLRs and other assorted motorcycles in addition to more dozens of KLR carcasses in various states of depletion. It also houses one of Docs prized possessions: the last KLR imported into South Africa still new in its box
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Sadly, after SA adopted EU emission regulations, Kawasaki could no longer import these beasts. Naturally, the Doc, being the biggest KLR enthusiast in the country was in possession of the very last one. It's the only bike he has every bought new since he started riding in 84.

    Our time with the Doc was spent pouring over the bikes and picking up parts and materials. This is what a typical day looked like at the Doc's
    [​IMG]

    I had to jack up my bike to swap in some raisers
    [​IMG]
    You can see here that I've had some racks welded onto the previous mounting frames. This is to carry some new, and rather expensive, boxes I purchased after being told the old ones were a death trap. You can also see that one of the old boxes has been screwed into the rear rack as a makeshift top box. The setup is nothing shiny or eloquent, but it's functional (so far).

    We also funded a braai (South African BBQ) as thanks to the doc and got to meet some of his riding partners and fellow KLR owners.
    [​IMG]
    The fire was mostly fueled by petrol products and was probably too close to the garage...
    [​IMG]
    They sure love their meat here.

    Our time with the Doc was stretching and we were anxious to get on the road. We skipped out on the day long crash course in bush maintenance and finally left for Himeville, the entry point for the infamous Sani Pass. We took the toll road, the fastest route as we had 60km to cover. It was a lot of straight, high speed driving that was mostly uneventful, until Ben's bike started surging. We pulled over to the side of the highway, tried a quick fix, got back on, discovered it didn't work and pulled over again. Repeat a couple of times and suddenly the the sun was setting. We were still about 200km from Himeville and we did not want to be riding in the dark on our first day out on a misbehaving bike so we pulled off the next exit into the closest town: Estcourt.

    Estcourt didn't have much to offer for accommodation; certainly no resort town. We did find a B+B after about 20 minutes and, though it was a little expensive, we were glad to end our exhausting first day. They did have free coffee and heated blankets, though, so it was worth it. We woke up and had our breakfast in a quaint, colonial style dining room. We were the only ones there and a quick glance at the guest book revealed that it wasn't a very busy place. A bit odd. Anyway, Ben removed his tank thinking the surging may be a squeezed fuel tube. He put it back on after inspecting the tubes and we got back on the road to Himeville. Whatever he did seemed to work and he hasn't had the problem since.

    We were only 200km from our destination now, and it was early, so we decided not to get back on the highway and instead take an alternative route. This was a grand idea as the ride was very scenic and we got to experience our first dirt roads. Only downside to it was it took at least twice as long and Ben had a nice slide in the sand as you've seen above.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Alas, we arrived at Himeville Arms where we got a beer and an early sleep for the next day: Sani Pass!
    [​IMG]
    #13
  14. KMC1

    KMC1 There is no spoon.

    Joined:
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    3,241
    Location:
    Greater SLC
    This is awesome man. I love how you guys are having a mixture of self reliance, persistence and help from the locals - that's what makes it a real adventure in my opinion. I wouldn't worry about the updates, just have fun. I'm currently on a cross country bicycle ride around the United States and I'm even having trouble finding internet here, which blows my mind. :lol3 There are still people in the world who really don't even want to be on the net, and the more I live this adventure, the more I think they're on to something. I also really love the detailed info on how you negotiated / navigated the paperwork issues - honestly that shit is the stuff that makes an international trip the most worrisome to me, and it's super helpful to hear how to make it happen. Thanks and have a blast! :beer
    #14
  15. stravis

    stravis Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2006
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    44
    Location:
    Houston County, GA
    Looking forward to this one.
    #15
  16. Hbdc

    Hbdc Honey Badger Dont Care

    Joined:
    Apr 29, 2017
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    12
    Location:
    Solwezi, Zambia
    Howzit are you chaps passing through Zambia at all? Would be great to see other adventure riders hereabouts.
    #16
  17. wukbot

    wukbot Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
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    13
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    South Africa
    I'm following this one.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    #17
  18. bbrittain

    bbrittain n00b

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2017
    Oddometer:
    5
    [​IMG]
    So, Sani Pass was hell. The combination of very steep slopes and very loose gravel and sand doesn't lend itself to a forgiving environment to get started again if you drop your bike. We made it to Lesotho though and it was absolutely gorgeous, in a barren and mountainous way. It took us far longer than we expected to make it up the pass though, which normally wouldn't be a problem... but it was getting dark and we'd left most of our stuff in Himeville. We crashed at the backpackers at the top of Sani Pass... but not after first hitting up the highest pub in Africa.
    [​IMG]
    The next day we decided that we were already in Lesotho, we should try to actually see some of the country. We still had to get back to our stuff though, so we stuck to the tar roads in the north of the country. Never has a country tried to kill me so many times in such a short amount of time. The combination of goats, cows, sheep, tumbleweeds and small children in the roads would be bad enough, but we also had to contend with insanely high winds that did their best to push us right into the other lane of traffic. Thankfully it's a rather sparsely populated country so when the wind did succeed in pushing us, there was no vehicle in the other lane to kill us.


    We made it back to Himeville late that evening, and set off for Coffee Bay the next morning. After a few days of rather hard riding I was viewing Coffee Bay as a sort of retreat, and boy did it deliver. It was gorgeous, right on the coast with the surfer bum ambiance. The first day off our bikes I was actually a little lost about what to do, it had been over a month where we weren't doing something, be it paperwork, mechanical work, or riding. Never fear, I quickly found out how to be lazy. The next day I went about fixing up my side boxes as you've seen in that photo where I have a hammer. It turns out that the hostel didn't really appreciate me hitting a giant reverberating box with a hammer at 10am, so they let me into their workshop where they had a plethora of tools which proved very useful. My side box's hinges are still only semi-functional, but the box is 100% stable and secure again.
    [​IMG]

    After a few days of bumming around we hopped on our bikes and went to Chinsa... for more of the same. This time though the campsite was far superior, we just rolled our bikes up next to our tents and relaxed. I even tried learning how to surf, it was absolutely exhausting but actually really fun. We met our first serious overland travelers here too, one guy who had just come down from Cairo on a BMW Sertao, and a couple who were driving to Kenya in the beefiest modded-out VW beetle out there. After two days we had another short ride to Port Alfred.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Port Alfred is a pretty little town. The hostel we are staying at just opened, and we were the only guests staying here, but then a couple showed up in their VW T4, going towards Kenya but in way posher style than we are... they even have a TV & a heated shower. We had a Braai (barbeque) and drank. Not sure if we are leaving today or what, but since it's almost 10am and I haven't even showered we won't make any real distance if we do head out.

    [​IMG]
    #18
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  19. Bessel

    Bessel n00b

    Joined:
    May 20, 2017
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    Hbdc: Zambia is the one country we're planning on skipping, unless you can convince us otherwise! We are thinking to ride into Zimbabwe from Botswana rather than into Zambia as we were told there wouldn't be much to see in Zambia, although we were warned of the frequent road stops and bribes we'd have to pay in Zimbs.
    #19
  20. roburt

    roburt n00b

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    Tanzania
    HI , I am sure you have done your research, but when you hit the real african countries (like tanzania where i live - and I am south african so know where you are now and that its not africa yet :-) ), just concentrate and go slow as the other road users (trucks/cars/bikes...) are very unpredictable and you will see trucks passing other trucks into your lane as they feel motorbikes should just get out of the way... not a big problem just don't go to fast and keep your eyes open. When in Tanzania (and zimbabwe) makes sure to keep to the speed limits in the small towns as there are always cops , and if you get stopped just be friendly and tell them you on a africa trip and how you love there country, don't bribe unless you have no choice, 99% of the time you don't need to by just beeing friendly and respecting the cop.
    #20