Into The World - 2Up around Africa, 2 bikes along the Silk Road

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mrwwwhite, Jul 27, 2011.

  1. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    [still] Namibia 14-24/02

    Damaraland

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    The gravel road unwound through some of the most thinly populated and driest Namibian countryside. Long before we ever learnt about this place and dreamt of riding our bike across, its native nomadic inhabitants, the hunter-gatherer San (Bushmen) and the herders Khoisan (Hottentots) had been almost entirely chased away by white settlers, missionaries and venturers alike. Leftover villages were scattered in the [insert yawn here for the predictable adjective] vast territory. From time to time a Himba man with his cattle would appear in the horizon, a speckle in the infinite stretch of ochre, white and blue.

    As time passed by, the occasional paths stopped turning into the bush to indicate a village or the remains of it: we were finally alone, hundreds of miles between us and the next human settlement. This was Damaraland, one of the driest environments on Earth.

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    A chameleon crossed our path, so we stopped to check it out (sorry for the man-handling little fella').

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    Above the barren veld rose a flat gradient of blue. Thorny shrubs, tufts of grass and acacia trees swarmed the reddish earth like stubs of hair on an unshaven face. We drove across this sameness for hours, like an alien craft interrupting the astonishing vacancy of the veld. No typical African mud-and-dung huts, nobody walking with their stuff on their head, no women crouching alongside the road, waiting for a lift. No-one. Then the gravel lost its tan and shone white in the midday haze. Luring us to push on, the Khowarib Gorge, where the land suddenly swelled from zero to 1600m.

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    In the 20s Germany had to let Namibia go, so the country went to join the Southern-African Union. Until the 1990 independence some 6000 fenced farms were leased or sold by the aperheid government to the new white settlers who flocked in, leaving the "natives" no option but make house in the 10 "reserves". In the North there was Kaokoland (nowadays Kunene), home to Herero and Himba; the fringes of Kalahari in the South-East became the last frontier of the San; the Topnaars retreated to the Namib. And on the central plateau the Damara, one of the three groups that use a click-accented dialect, established Damaraland. Even today the arid territory is not officially protected, but offers sanctuary to wildlife: zebra, Springbok, Oryx, Kudu, giraffe, suricates, birds and reptiles. Rumor has it that even desert elephants and lions still roam some of the more remote corners of this veld. And this time the animals that wandered about were not unfazed by our sudden and noisy apparition, like the Etosha herds. The encounter would last only for a brief moment, leaving us dumbfounded, wondering if it had been a day-dream or not.

    Soon the Grootberg pass forced the road towards east. A jacquard of lava lingered under brittle grasses, few meters high cactuses and freakish stumpy trees with water-filled torsos.

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    Clusters of enormous rocks were laying around in the fuzzy veld, strange toys forgotten behind by some nowhere-to-be-seen giants.

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    Pass the granite Lego, we rolled into Kamanjab, where the newest overlanders' joint (complete with overland album where we could spot familiar faces like Margus & Kariina, Alper & Esther, the Vidals) welcomes non-African vehicles for free. Our original plan was to take our first shower in a week, do some launder and feast on the famous Namibian farmed game, but Oppi Koppi was to become more than just a pit stop for us, protein hungry, dirty vagabonds. For one, as we arrived on the infamous 14th of February, we celebrated the Valentine's Day for the first time, the main incentive being the specials on the menu: butternut soup, zebra sirloin with veg and, yes, ice-cream! As camping was free, splurging on the very reasonable dinner set menu was a no-brainer.

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    And as South Africa was already on our radar, it was time to start practicing our braai skills, sporting boerwors, farmed game and the famous termite mushrooms we had chased in vain in Etosha a week ago.

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    The rest camp was a hippy garden of sorts: prickly bushes, cactuses, pod bearing trees that Ana felt inspired to wear as instant jewelry.

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    An unedited photo with our campsite scalded in the surreal sunset.

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    Malaria Scare


    Two days later we were ready: showered, shampooed, hairstyles, well rested. We had started to get used to and take for granted all these first world luxuries - heated water (actually running water), T.P., electricity and easily available plug, right by the tent. Long were forgotten our scruffy days in the Congo, when we would save any drop of water and milligram of soap, washing our hands by squeezing a tuft of grass heavy with morning dew. But one of the bad memories, if not the worst of them all, was to come back and haunt us once more.

    That dreadful morning debuted with a weird feeling in my stomach. By midday my bones and knuckles were aching like hell. At night I was sporting a decent fever, but not too high, so we decided to postpone our departure, to see what was up with that. The next day the cycle restarted: more fever, more head aches… al day I was laying down in my tent, powerless, weaken. The paranoia was on: Ana was reliving the Matadi moment, I was growing more convinced by the hour that I had malaria. On top of all these, we knew that Esther, with whom we had traveled in Congo and who was a bit ahead of us now together with Alper, has been hospitalized in Windhoek with malaria. She had started the treatment with some delay, maybe a couple of days, and she was now suffering from kidney failure, a common but nasty malaria complication. She had been receiving dialysis for about a week and she was about to be repatriated in Germany. Their adventure was over. We decided it was not the moment to take risks, so I started taking Lonart, an equivalent of Qartem, immediately.

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    Malaria candy, bought from Zambia.

    The next morning we were helped by locals to summon medical assistance at the newly built, but quite desolated village clinic. They had malaria tests alright, the kind that had already been proven unreliable in Ana's case. I had already taken 2 doses of antimalarial medicine, of course the test came out negative. A proper blood test was available only 500 ams away, in Windhoek. And the nurse, who I can't imagine had ever treated or even met someone with malaria, assured me I was fine. 10 euros and two cute ziplocks with Indocid and multivitamins later, I was back home. And back on Lonart.

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    Pain-killers + multivitamins from the "doctor"

    As it is the case in Romania, Europe or the US, in Namibia not a lot is known about malaria. The country is out of the severe transmission map, besides, we were in Kamanjab, a few thousands inhabitants village. My best bet was to follow the correct antimalarial treatment scheme. So I did, taking my time to recover and rest. A few days later in Windhoek it was too late to trace the plasmodium germs in my blood. So this will remain a big question mark. Was is, or wasn't it? I guess I'll never know. Three days later I was back on my horse, pushing on westwards.

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    Saying good-bye to Melissa, the daughter of Vital, owner of Oppi-Koppi

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    On the road again

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    The record mileage was hard to believe, even for us

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    The Namibian touristic agenda is quite extensive, and of course nothing is free. Lonely Planet has never been our traveling bible, so we skipped the local "must-see"s and took the sketchiest off-road route towards Skeleton Coast. Our plan was to reach Walvis Bay by sunset. The daylight had a surreal quality to it, tempering colors, melting away topographical features that were fighting for contrast under the scorching sun. Every time we would stop for a brief water break we could hear nothing but our own voices: the land appeared lifeless, smelling of heat and drought, only interrupted by twisted corpses of thorn trees without their melted Camembert clocks. The sky was wider and higher than any we had seen before, smeared with theatrical cloudscapes that kept coagulating and dispersing.

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    Namibian veld

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    It was one of the greatest rides of them all. The Namibian veld dissected by this adrenalin-pumping clutch-burning tyre-roasting road. We were discovering it kilometer by kilometer of rock crumble, stopping at a vantage point from which we could view it all. Rushing up on a blind hill, bent down into a corkscrew like the famous Laguna Secca turn. This stretch would make a beautiful rally stage, negotiating a water thirsty desert that eventually fades away into the ocean ravaged Skeleton Coast. It was rainy season, but rain rarely falls here. All the river beds were dry, their sandy bottoms ghostly reminders of a once breathing body of water. At some point we took a small road, a thin line on the map, and got lost for some time in a labyrinth of sandy deviations.

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    Dry riverbed: wide, deep, sandy, difficult to cross 2up

    The massive Brandberge, the "burnt mountain", towered at 2573m over the unmitigated flatness of the veld.

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    Then all that was left was formlessly horizontal. West, east, north and south, ever the same, only the wood poles with their sagging electricity cables still standing. The sky was smudged with cloud, and the wind was bringing in from the frozen coastal waters a salty smell of thunderstorm. Through the distant rains that were hanging down from the clouds like soaking laundry, we could barely see Mt. Spitzkoppe, to the left of the road.

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    Then we entered on the Skeleton Coast through a strange field of lichen in bloom (a reserve and national park).

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    The cold Benguela current was blowing mercilessly, so we rushed by the swish white suburbs of Swakopmund, the capital of all adrenaline-junkies. For wads of cash one can skydive, sandboard or do anything here, so this was not our place, not our budget. On the outskirts of the outskirts of the town we drove by the Topnaar township: shacks of any description in the sandy plain littered with all sorts of debris, a landscape where mountains were man-made out of trash.

    We had last seen the desert 8 months ago, in Mauritania, and the Atlantic more than 2 months ago, in Gabon. We would see them both again, side by side, dunes melted right into the ocean, in the Namib Naukluft. Ochre dunes, a salty crust wrinkled over the land, ocean roaring beyond the horizon.

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    Walvis Bay to Windhoek

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    Only a couple of manic gourmet travelers like ourselves could drive for hundreds of miles through the desert, bushcamp in the sketchiest spots and save every penny, in order to afford half a dozen of oysters. But we had been obsessing over the Walvis Bay oysters since 2008, and our efforts and stinginess was rewarded: the mollusks were plump, nutty, with a perfect brine. Mmmmmmmmmmmm……

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    It was already night when we started driving again in the direction of Windhoek. We were determined to push as mush as we could, so that we would have less Ks in the morning till the South African embassy, where we had to apply for our visa.

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    We had no idea when we stopped that we were bushcamping again in an exceptional place. Then the sunrise was more than convincing.

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    The capital city felt exhausting. From the manic streets to the black township where even the public grill was on the way to become some sort of meat mall.

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    But we had driven all this way only to submit our RSA visa application, a simple enough affair, we naively thought. Romania is not part of Schengen (and will not be for a long time), so Romanian citizens must apply and pay for a quite expensive visa. Immediately we understood that was not going to be easy: spartan working hours, aggressive and condescending personnel, high fees. Firstly, our application was denied: they suggested we apply in our country of origin. We considered crossing directly to Botswana and try there, or simply cut South Africa from the itinerary. The third day they agreed to take our files in, but only after we payed 85 euros in visa fees and 70 euros for the faxes that this embassy would presumably send, we were informed that we were now facing a minimum 10 working days waiting time for a response. That meant while our passports could be rotting in some drawer at the RSA embassy, our Namibian visa could expire, placing us in an even more delicate situation. We tried to plead with this people, they just don't care, though. 99% of all overlanders don't need a visa for South Africa, they just roll into the southernmost point of the continent. Is this the end of our 28000 km adventure, will we be denied access to a classic overlander's milestone? Will we have to scramble for a last minute exit out of Namibia? We just don't know. We are sad, we are hopeless, we are angry.

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    Update: a week has passed since, and nobody could be bothered to process our visa applications. We keep calling the embassy, wasting more money, more time. It feels like we hit a dead end.
  2. tsiklonaut

    tsiklonaut the (in)famous boxer perv

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    That's just damn sad! :cry I know most if not all non-German-Duch people have South-Africa visas denied in Namibia. Looks like many south-bound travellers hit the same trap.

    We got ours in Malawi - Lilongwe, although their requirement was also you have to be Malawi citizen or with a Malawi work permit we just said we're overland travellers, so we can't fly back to our country to do visa there etc and the embassador gladly did gave us an exception, even didn't require any fly-back guaratee money from credit cards which malawians have to deposit (he said it's too much money to fly back to Europe! :D)

    I know it's a long shot to get to Malawi, but maybe worth it if you're keen to get to the iconic Cape Agulhas or Cape Town? It's FAST ride up from East-Coast anyway, good tar roads if you want to cover distance - I know a guy who did from Nairobi to Johannesburg in just 5-6 days! So maybe you can combine some Mozambique/Zambia/Zimbabwe loop. Just a thought.

    In any case you will not miss the whole World if you miss South-Africa as well, there's lot to see in East-Africa and the Caprivi Strip is open for you as an escape route. Decisions, decisions...

    Good luck and keep us posted!

    Margus
  3. potski

    potski Wiley Wanderer

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    Hi Both,

    Firstly, glad to hear that you are well now after the Malaria scare and hope all turns out well for Esther also.

    Yet again you find the time and make the effort to keep us all updated on your adventure, as usual with excelent words highlighted by your imaginative photos.

    Good luck with the latest of challenges that you both now find yourselves in, an absurd paperwork trap. Keep your spirits up, either way your ADVenture ride will continue.

    Ride safe

    Cheers
    Potski :freaky
  4. Saso

    Saso Happily sporting the DRD4 gene

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    Thanks guys, I needed another fix of this RR badly.
  5. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    cheers, margus. we are working on an exit plan, in case our visa will not come thru. even if they took our money upfront, like some other public servants, u know, the ones that are rumored to have the oldest profession of them all. anyways, todays was a good day, ana had a b-day in oppi koppi that you well know, so we treated our paranoia with wive, beer and meats. we actually regret a bit that we went back to the embassy and insisted, when we were about to give up and head to botswana. not fans of this highly ethnically segregated part of africa, u know. btw, if we get the visa, we want to drive through dead vlei & fish river canyon. you kind of wrote that the dunes were off limits for bikes, what about the canyon? info is not that clear around here. thanks and have a sweet spring!

    john and ana
  6. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    thanks, big time. esther is doing alright now, she ll need care for some time, but the doctors in germany say her condition is 100% reversible. still, it was an emotional moment to see their car and bike parked like abandoned vessels in windhoek. lets say that this RSA visa trouble was not the kick that we needed, thanks for encouraging us!

    john
  7. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    cheers, man
  8. kid_andres

    kid_andres Adventurer

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    Againg................ very very wonderful pic's............:clap:clap:clap
  9. yellowknife

    yellowknife Is In Canada

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    Awesome RR. Thank you for posting especially the Congo portion of the ride. You folks are amazing. :clap:clap:clap:clap

    YK
  10. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    Hello guys,

    as our visa application for SA will be most likely rejected, we'll have to miss a milestone (the southernmost point of Africa) not to mention meeting really nice people from SA who invited us by.
    Also one other problem for us is that we planed to service our bike in SA and also to buy spare parts for our East Coast ascent. We tried to do all this at the Yamaha Dealer in Windhoek but unfortunately the prices there were really out of our reach, not to mention that the support they gave was not really different than for a normal customer.

    So we need help with any information about Service & Parts Dealer in Windhoek or Gaborone with decent prices.
    We need the following parts:
    1 X FRONT SPROCKET
    1 X REAR SPROCKET
    2 X FRONT DISC PADS
    2 X REAR DISC PADS
    4 X REAR HUB DAMPER RUBBERS
    1 X REAR HUB DUST SEAL
    1 X REAR HUB DUST SEAL

    Is not much but if for example a brake pad set is 3 times more the normal price it really adds up.
    Also for the service I can do everything myself (as I already did on the way down) but it would be nice to be able to check things up before going up.

    Thanks,

    Cheers, Ionut
  11. the venturer

    the venturer Long timer

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    Great RR. Waiting for you for a cup of Turkish coffee:freaky
  12. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Ionut,
    too bad about the SA visa. But you'll have a great time in Botswana. As usual, game parks are off-limits to bikers, but make sure you go through Chobe on the main road from the Namibian border to Kasane: they can't deny you the transit and every time we've taken it (3 times) we've seen big herds of elephants crossing right in front of us. Also, for a photographer, try and got to Kubu Island, it's stunning. It's a bit tricky to get to with some stretches of deep sand but it's one of the most amazing places in Africa.

    Now for your problem: too bad they give you the same support as "everyone else". I'm not sure exactly what you expected..? I've had terrible support from the BMW dealer in Windhoek, so I'm not surprised. Maybe you should have shown your "frequent rider" card to access the VIP lounge ? :evil Joke aside, Namibia has very close ties with South Africa and parts can be mailed from there very cheaply and quickly. Have you tried posting on the Wilddog community forum ? they're very helpful and I'm sure they'll go out of their way to help you out with shopping for your parts.

    Good luck and kudos again for the DRC crossing in the mud (I know first hand how hard it must've been..). :beer

    Cheers,
    Laurent
  13. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    You said it so right! drawing lines on a map without taking into consideration historical and cultural characteristics of a region is not a sane political act. people who at times had never stepped foot in africa were the ones who decided how african counties would come into existence, and unfortunately indeed this is at the core of many problems those very african countries are facing today.

    And also the fact that western world must accept that what is good for them may not be the ideal way to do it. African life yields naturally african solutions to certain problems, and sometimes those are best fit for Africa. I am sure that eradication of mud-and-dung huts and universal access to wifi are not desirable for any environment on the planet. We remember our time in a Malian village with a family whose only gizmo was an old radio, and I doubt they needed else. Really needed. An interesting BBC doc that we recently watched "The Century of The Self" speaks at some point about how we have ceased to be citizens, and became consumers, persuaded to buy things that we dont need, but want. But that is now really off topic, so back to it, I hope we ll get the SA visa so we can continue our exploration in a very different place, in a very different Africa.
    Cheers,
    Ana
  14. nicholastanguma

    nicholastanguma nicholastanguma

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    How amazing it is that John and Ana write English so much more eloquently than many native English speakers. :huh

    Ebonics, anyone? Nope, not for our Romanian heroes!


    Ana, I have a sister that lives in Chisnau, Moldova; I have not seen her in a very, very long time. But you and she look so much alike that every time you're in a photo I can't help but stare and stare. Sometimes my eyes well up.

    Îţi mulţumesc, mesajul tău a fost la fel de frumos ca ochii tăi, sora mea. Mulţumesc mult!

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  15. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    Thanks :shog. I guess my Zaporozhzhya Cossacks genes are showing (my paternal grandmother came from that part of the world).
  16. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

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    Sometimes cheekiness and resilience pay off …

    The cheap drama: 3 days of begging to get out referral visa applications in (a referral visa is a visa that must be approved by the embassy in your home country), 14 days of international calls and lies, 3 days of picketing the embassy in Windhoek, 85 euro for the actual stamps, 70 euro for docs that were never faxed to the embassy in Romania (who pocketed this fee?), 1000 km of detour to avoid waiting for a response in expensive Windhoek.

    The (almost) unexpected result: 7 days to the expiration date of our Namibian visa, we got the permission to enter South Africa. We're going to the Mother Town! Hopefully this visa, never approved by the embassy in Bucharest, is valid.
  17. tsiklonaut

    tsiklonaut the (in)famous boxer perv

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    Not unexpected with all the effort you put in. It's the required persistance you put on the table to break through the byrocracy onto human level to put that final stamp on and get rid of you :evil Almost always works if you have enough time (money) and nerves. (In fact the only place it didn't work for us was for DRC)

    Now all roads lead to Cape Agulhas - the tip of Africa awaits :D

    PS: try out biltong with beer in SA. Contact big Yamaha dealers in SA as well to ask if they have parts you need in stock or if they have to oder them for you - you'll avoid more waiting like this while you can look around SA.

    Safe roads,
    Margus
  18. Red Adventure

    Red Adventure Adventurer

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    Hey congratulations:clap

    Will be cool to hook up with you guys when you get to Cape Town

    Anything you need just ask :thumb
    (just send me a PM)
  19. potski

    potski Wiley Wanderer

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    RESULT :clap:clap:clap Nice work.

    Cheers
    Potski :freaky
  20. Seba1

    Seba1 Been here awhile

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    Bravoooooo :clap