A 10,000km solo jaunt around southern Africa

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by dtour_adv, Jan 10, 2019.

  1. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    I crossed the Zambezi via ferry into Zambia, leaving the South African Customs Union and beginning my foray into true African border crossings. This is one of those times that I really wish I had been better at taking more pictures because I'm not a great writer, and a picture would really be worth a thousand words. The border, like the rest that followed on my trip, was a chaos of semi trucks and mini busses; a mess of travelers, money changers, insurance salesmen and fixers. Pulling up to the ferry, I was already approached by many people wanting to help me through the border for a service fee, but I refused thinking that it couldnt be that difficult. After crossing the river I realized though, this is pretty damn confusing. There were several buildings and even more windows to visit. You have to essentially stamp out of one country, export your motorcycle from the first country, stamp into the next country, import your motorcycle into the next country, pay the road fee, pay the this fee, pay the that fee. Take this paper to that window and that paper to this window. A funny anecdote I had almost forgotten about until now - it was very hot, I'm wearing my whole riding getup and there is no air conditioning in any of these buildings, so sweat is just pouring down my arms and onto my hands, slowly soaking my paperwork I'm bringing from one window to another. I remember one lady asked "Did you spill on your paperwork?" as shes holding the wet paper with ink running. "Oh sorry, thats sweat...". She just shook her head and continued.

    One fixer was persistent and kept following me through the 2 hour maze, and despite me telling him no thank you, every time I would finish up business at one window, he'd be right there to guide me through the labyrinth to the next correct window, so all in all he was extremely helpful and I passed through the border. The problem is, if you don't negotiate the rate ahead of time with them, you get into problems afterwards. If I remember correctly, he initially wanted the equivalent of $50 dollars in Zambian kwacha for guiding me through the offices to which I vehemently refused. Its never just you and the fixer though, onlookers and his buddies gather around and you end up negotiating with a crowd. In the end, I paid him some $15 equivalent in kwacha, and probably another $5 in Botswanan coins. I chalk it up to $20 life lesson.

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    From the border, it wasnt terribly far to Livingstone - a big tourism town famous for the Victoria Falls and various action sports you can do. The first hostel (a highly rated party hostel) I tried to go to was full, so they directed me to this place, run by two Zambians, Schoolboy and Bornwell. The hostel was completely empty besides me and two hostel volunteers: an irish guy Robby, and Irina, a Romanian girl. Despite being empty, it ended up being a really nice relaxing time for 2 or 3 nights.

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    That first night we made nshima (pronounced she-ma), also known as mieliepap (or just pap), phutu, sadza or ugali. Nshima is not just food, it is THE staple in Zambia and throughout southern Africa. It is cornmeal mixed with water and stirred like mad until it reaches the desired consistency. On the plate it looks somewhat like mashed potatoes, but it is dry and fairly sticky. The eating method I learned is to grab a small ball of it and make sort of a spoon with your thumb, and use it as a vessel to pick up curries and sauces with your hand. Following this meal, I got nshima anywhere I could, because it is delicious and extremely cheap. Whenever I eat it though, my hands just get completely caked in nshima and usually end up with sauce all over my face, while Africans somehow manage to keep their hands and face completely clean. Experience, I guess!

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    Victoria Falls didn't disappoint.
    #21
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  2. Hakatan

    Hakatan quality > quantity

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    Beautiful photos! I hope to make it to Southern Africa in the next couple of years so I’m reading your report with great interest — at the end, I hope you will include a post about the logistics: flights, visas, bike rental, what you learned, what you would do differently etc.

    Thanks.
    #22
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  3. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    Thank you! I’ll be sure to write up about logistics, packing, lessons learned, etc. at the end. If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to post here or message me.
    #23
  4. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    My trip after Livingstone was very different than the first 2 weeks. I wanted to say that I was leaving heavily touristed/vacationed areas of Africa and heading into more everyday places, but that's not really true, and I can't necessarily say that I was going into more remote places either. Let's just say Zambia and Malawi are just different in way than Namibia and Botswana, maybe because it seemed like there was a constant stream of people by the roadside. Unlike the vast emptiness in Namibia and Botswana, in Zambia and Malawi there seemed to be towns or villages or markets on a regular basis. The further north and east that I traveled, the greater my celebrity status became. People always admired the bike throughout my trip, but it was something else riding through the towns and villages; a lot of people would just stop what they were doing and stare, some would give thumbs up or wave. When I would stop, people would walk up and want to talk. They'd ask how fast and far it can go, and some would ask if they could sit on it or take pictures with it.

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    The white bags on the left are coal for sale, a very common sight to see throughout Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In rural areas, its the main heating and cooking source.

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    I chatted with these guys for a bit by a gas station somewhere on the way to Lusaka. They took a bunch of pictures of my bike with their smartphones and had a ton of questions. The look on their faces when I told them it could go 100mph and drive 300mi on one tank was priceless.
    #24
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  5. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    #25
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  6. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    The capital of Zambia is Lusaka, a sprawling city with a population of 1.7 million. My time there was an interesting one.

    I cant remember how I ended up in the situation, but I arrived in Lusaka after dark with no accommodations and a dead GPS and phone. I found myself riding around, trying to find either a hotel or some AA batteries with hopes that my Garmin would have some campground or hostel in it's system. I eventually found some batteries and rode a couple miles to the nearest hostel in it's system but it was no longer there. I tried the next one, also not there. Third time was a charm...but the hostel was pretty sketchy. It was the kind of place where the reception is behind a secured window with a slot to slide your passport, the security guard in the parking lot is asleep, the power plugs in the room don't work, the room doors barely lock and the shared bathroom doesnt have a showerhead... but there was a bar, a bed, and walled/gated parking lot.

    After Googling around the following day, I found a really nice hostel/guesthouse in one of the nice neighborhoods of Lusaka, with a pool and a brand new modern shopping mall within walking distance. In the mall, I was able to buy one of those SD Card to iPhone cables at the Apple Store, to which I was excited about because I had often worried about losing all of my photos, so now they could be uploaded to the cloud from my phone. Also at the mall was a nice Pick n Pay, with all of the grocery comforts of home. Until now in the trip, if I didn't eat out (which was pretty rare), I pretty much just ate cous cous with canned tuna/chicken/veggies or some sort of freeze dried ready meal, so I was also excited to buy some fresh meat and veggies and actually make something fresh and tasty in the hostel kitchen.

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    Made some friends at a Zambia vs Swaziland football match.
    #26
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  7. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    A day or two later I off to Malawi, but had to camp a night at a campground and B+B called Mamarulas, just outside of Chipata a hundred or so miles from the border. Often times I couldnt put in addresses into my Garmin because they wouldnt exist in the system or I was just plain doing something wrong. Either way, to get to a place like Mamarulas which was down a dirt road outside of town, I'd screencap directions on my phone, and when I got to the general area I'd have to pull out my phone and try to remember the directions. This method had me driving around for a bit looking for a specific dirt road, but I finally rolled into the campground right at sunset. Mamarulas was a nice place with a good bar, and I ate a half chicken with some nshima. I remember seeing a t-shirt pinned to the wall next to all of these flags of cricket or rugby clubs, "In America they call it Survivor, in Africa, we call it Camping."

    I arrived at the Malawi border the next morning, and while it was chaotic, it wasnt as difficult as Zambia. I did need a visa though and it was as simple as filling out a form and paying a fee and they print out the visa and paste it into your passport. After crossing the border, I rested on my bike for a bit, when an American man approached me. We talked awhile about my trip and riding through Africa and he told me how he loved riding and that when his son was old enough they would ride the entirety of East Africa. He was in Malawi leading a mission trip though, so once our conversation about motorcycles and travel ended, he talked about Jesus a bit and then I was on my way.

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    Zambia/Malawi border - looking back at Zambia.

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    A bus full of Americans on a mission trip, and children selling them fresh fruit. I remember at this gas station I was running into a bit of a money issue. There was no ATM at the border, and no ATM at this crossroads either. I was running low on fuel and I did not have any local currency. Luckily, I was told there was an ATM at Monkey Bay, which was conveniently just within fuel range.

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    Villages among baobabs.

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    As I mentioned before, in Zambia and Malawi, there seemed to be a constant stream of people and villages scattered along the landscape. It was really beautiful riding in Malawi.
    #27
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  8. katanarama

    katanarama riding > posting

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    Digging this report. I just returned from 30 days (no bike) in Namibia/SA/Lesotho. This trip is epic thus far!
    #28
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  9. de crowe

    de crowe de crowe

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    Thanks for the report, keep it going, I was in South Africa and Namibia on a rental out of Capetown a few years back and am itching to return. By way of idle curiosity what rental agency did you use? I was on an xtz1200ze like yours and bought an xtz1200z when I got home. very under-rated bike.
    #29
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  10. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    Craig Marshall at Yamaha Adventure, can't find a better rental agency than them in SA. Definitely agree about the S10, it was perfect for that trip and I can't say anything bad about it. With that said, when I eventually buy an adventure bike again I'm probably buying a 1090 because I want more offroad capability.
    #30
  11. MrKiwi

    MrKiwi backwards & upsidedown Super Supporter

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    and the 1090 is also lighter and that helps.
    #31
  12. Tsotsie

    Tsotsie Semi-reformed Tsotsi Supporter

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    Sadly, you missed the Southern most tip of Africa. Cape Agulhas is that point, East of where you were. You visited the South Western most area at Cape Point, or the second most southern point of Africa. You are just going to have to visit it when you get back to the Cape for those bragging rights.

    Enjoy!
    #32
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  13. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    I reached Monkey Bay, the turnaround point of my trip. Lake Malawi is as beautiful as it is massive and as soon as I got checked into the hostel, I decided it was time for a swim. Before I jumped in though, for some reason I had a feeling I should just ask if there was anything I should be aware of - so I asked a girl who had been volunteering at the hostel for some time. "Yeah, its fine as long as you take the anti-parasite medication." The what? Turns out that there is some kind of parasitic worm in the water, which can cause a disease called Bilharzia, but its pretty rare and as long as you take an anti-schistosomiasis medication called Praziquantel, you're good. I decided it would be pretty ridiculous to ride some 5000km to Lake Malawi and NOT swim in it, so I risked it, and picked up the medication at the local pharmacy later. I will say that the pharmacy certainly wasnt a Walgreens, and the lady seemed pretty unsure of how and when to take the medication, so I had to do a little research of my own. She took my weight and gave me about 5 very large white nondescript pills which I had to take some 4 weeks later - I think the idea is to let the parasite grow and then the pills kill it if it's there? Either way, I'm still alive and well.

    The hostel was was only thing on this beach, surrounded by lush trees filled with monkeys (Monkey Bay, eh), and the camping spots were on the hillside overlooking the lake. It was very peaceful to say the least, and I enjoyed hanging out at the little bar and the beach with the handful of travelers staying there at the time.

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    I parked my bike on the beach by the hostel for security reasons, and definitely got my bike stuck every time I went somewhere.

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    Morning view from my tent. Not pictured is all of my gear and clothing spread about in chaos, and about 5 pounds of sand. I remember asking the guy who checked me into the hostel about the monkeys, mainly wondering if they were going to break into my tent, and he laughed at me and asked if I was afraid of a little monkey. Luckily, they left my tent alone... probably because of how bad my riding gear smelled.
    #33
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  14. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    My second day at Monkey Bay, I rode out to Cape Maclear, a sleepy beach/fishing town just over the mountain pass from Monkey Bay. Theres a lot more going on over there, so that's probably the spot to stay if you're planning on hanging out for a couple days and do some activities.

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    Amazing goat curry with nshima.
    #34
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  15. mbanzi

    mbanzi Adventurer

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    I last visited this area around Lake Malawi in 1990 (!) on my honeymoon. My wife spend most of the time in the bathroom being sick and then did get Bilharzia a few years later. Doctors here in the US has no idea what they were dealing with, we had to tell them!

    Beautiful area though and great snorkeling around Cape Maclear.
    #35
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  16. de crowe

    de crowe de crowe

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    I though it might be dual sports Africa, craig's company, particularly with the S10 and the ATG pannier bags. We dealt with his father in law and I couldn't fault them. I use an F800 GSA as well probably better off road but the S10 is surprisingly versatile for a heavy bike. thanks again
    #36
  17. Tsotsie

    Tsotsie Semi-reformed Tsotsi Supporter

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    "The what? Turns out that there is some kind of parasitic worm in the water, which can cause a disease called Bilharzia, but its pretty rare and as long as you take an anti-schistosomiasis medication called Praziquantel, you're good."

    It is not a rare parasite, unfortunately. Over 250 million people are infected with it. All fresh waters and rivers in Africa must be considered to have it as well as some Eastern countries and into S America . Don't swim or even put your hand in water and rivers in Africa. Its life cycle is through snails and travels through ones skin. If you have exposed yourself to water in Africa, know its symptoms and get treatment.
    #37
  18. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    One week went by and all of a sudden 10 months pass and you realize you never finished your trip report...

    From Monkey Bay, I headed down to Tete, Mozambique on my return back to South Africa. It's sort of funny in a way how you perceive a place to be like before you actually go see it for yourself, and then you see it, and realize how wrong you were. I had more or less of a route planned before my trip, but I wasnt entirely sure what I was going to do when I got to Monkey Bay - do I ride back the way I came for a bit then drive down through Botswana? Do I go through Zimbabwe or Mozambique? The entire trip up through southern Africa, I asked everyone I could what they recommended. Half told me to avoid Zim or Moz for one reason or another (usually explaining how bribes would be an issue), and the other half explained that it was fine and they highly recommended it. Ultimately, I decided to go the Mozambique route to see the beaches I had heard so much about and to experience some parts of a country that I knew absolutely nothing about. If I was going to be stopped by police here and there, then so be it.

    Im fairly certain that I passed through the border station at Dedza and it was actually the easiest border crossing of them all, even with having to get a visa and the customs agents speaking Portugese to me. I had another 3.5 hours riding to get to Tete for the night, where I had prebooked an accommodation - I had been sleeping in a tent for the past couple nights, so I was ready to have a real bed for a night.


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    The ride from the border to Tete was a beautiful one. Windy roads mixed with flat open sections, not a car in sight.

    My Garmin couldn't find the address of my accommodations and the Google Maps screenshots I had taken on my phone werent much of a help, so I drove around back and forth on a busy stretch of road, until I someway or another found my place.

    Onward to Chimoio...

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    #38
  19. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    The President of Mozambique. "Confidence, Change, Development"

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    Line for an ATM. Getting cash in Mozambique usually required a bit of a wait.

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    I passed through dozens of little towns like this where most buildings would be painted red with the Vodacom logo... I imagine shop owners got paid a little bit to do this.

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    Trucks with livestock tied to the bed was not an uncommon sight.

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    On the whole, the paved roads throughout my trip were pretty good (and maybe I'm saying this coming from Missouri where we have notoriously terrible roads), however, there was about a 100km or so section between Chimoio and the coast that was absolutely terrible, and to make matters worse it was raining most of the day. This picture really doesnt do it justice because where the road was especially bad, it wasnt possible to pull over. It was a very slow 2 hours or so, zig zaging around potholes and praying I wasnt going to dent a rim.
    #39
  20. dtour_adv

    dtour_adv Adventurer

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    I made it to the coast of Mozambique to the town of Vilankulos and stayed in a nice beachfront hostel/backpackers. Off the coast of Mozambique are several islands which you can take a dhow (traditional sailboat) out to. Unfortunately, the weather wasnt ideal so going out to the famous island, Bazaruto, wasnt possible in the one day that I had there. Instead, I got on a boat to Magaruque, and enjoyed a day of exploring sandy beaches and a bit of snorkeling.

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    Low tide.

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    On the dhow.

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    Magaruque

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    Magaruque

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    My accommodations for the two nights.

    The day I left Vilankulos, the weather had turned beautiful, which made for an excellent coastal ride to Tofo, my next stop and unplanned resting point for the next week.
    #40
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