Analogue Africa - Top to bottom just before the Internet

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by richeyroo, Jan 12, 2017.

  1. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    SO the next stage was to head southwards across Mauritania from Nouhadibou to Nouakchott

    [​IMG]

    We had to head through the Parc National du Banc d'Arguin which meant more "formalities". I think I encountered less formality in the RN than on this trip but hey ho, we spent the day gathering permits and insurance, and tired by the whole experience we stayed a second night in our Nouhadibou campsite. BBQ'd camel, which we ate on the beach seems a poor reward for our efforts.

    We were also told that we needed a Guide for the next leg of our trip as the incoming tide often made the trip hazardous when it ran down the beach. We were sceptical of the need for a Guide and when Nigerian man, his BMW plus Frenchman and legendary Peugeot Ambulance turned up in the campsite, we were determined to go it alone, without the need for a guide. What could go wrong ?
    #41
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  2. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    The team (Landrover, BMW, Peasant, Transit, Peugeot Ambulance and motorbike) set of a 8am and in the diary it says it was unbearably hot. I don't know how far south we got, but we camped up in the desert somewhere just before dusk. After a sleep apparently disturbed by mice and beetles (!) we set off the following morning and shortly after starting, ironically the BMW starter stopped working. Oooh bump starting in the sands. Great. Unbelievably the BMW also suffered from erratic tickover and despite the starter being allegedly fixed, Nigerian man was not overly confident in his repair and left a full water bottle pressing on the accelerator pedal every time we stopped. Poor poor engine. After several hours the group was really spread out, the Peugeot Ambulance constantly overheating and progress wass desperately slow.
    I'm quite surprised at the lack of stoicism the Diary reports, and it appears that we were keen to get out of the desert that evening and made it to Nouakchott that day.

    Perhaps a recent period of decent progress had given us a false dawn but in the mid afternoon we were all serenely gliding down the beach, reminding the viewing seagulls of Dakar racers with our elegant style and speed

    Until the Transit van got stuck in the sand.

    And couldn't be moved.

    Even after the tide came in.

    Now of all the skills one learns as an Officer in the Royal Navy, the one I least expected to use whilst travelling in the desert was the knowledge of how to anchor a vessel to stop it floating away. But that was exactly what we had to do. Happy days

    [​IMG]

    And there she sat (floated) overnight whilst we camped up for the night a few yards away
    #42
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  3. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    The following morning was spent repeatedly using a knackered, crappy old "underpowered the day it left the factory" 1969 Land Rover to try and pull the van out of the sea. It took all morning before Neil/Simon decided to give up before the beached Van tore the Land Rover in half. In the end the French couple paid the locals to use 2 4WDs belonging to local fisherman to pull the van up the beach. £100 the diary said. So we saved money because a Guide was £125.

    At this point we were 40km from Nouakchott and once again we were keen to reach the city that night. Unfortunately the Peugeot Ambulance broke down and the BMW ran out of petrol. Both drivers piled into the Transit Van and we cracked on in near darkness for another 5km before the clutch gave up on the Van. We decided to camp where the Van was. It had been a long day.

    With the arrival of cool morning air, the clutch in the Van was revived and the heroic Land Rover returned the 2 drivers to their respective vehicles (BMW/Peugeot Ambulance) with some petrol and whatever was necessary to fix the Ambulance. I forget.

    We took the opportunity to rest in the shade of the Van and it is clear to see the damage that had been done by a night when it pretended to be a ship

    [​IMG]



    Whatever it was that was needed worked and all 5 vehicles emerged victorious from the desert in to Nouakchott in the late afternoon. It seems all 10 members of the convoy slept in the same dormitory room that night which the diary describes as Very Sweet.

    I can't remember how much we enjoyed it at the time. Reading the diary it seems quite fraught. But I'm glad we did it and glad that it wasn't easy
    #43
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  4. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    So we had been away for nearly a month now and our arrival in Nouakchott saw us quite knackered. In the 1990s, the main route for both overland trucks and independent travellers through Africa was to head down the West Coast of Africa, rather than a central route through Algeria or a more Easterly route through Egypt. That created something of a funnel effect, sending everyone the same way, and Mauritania seemed to be taking full advantage of the recent influx of travellers.

    In Nouadhibou, Neil and Simon had experienced a particularly nasty incident when they needed to get the old Land Rover fixed. The 5km hack through No Mans Land had resulted in one of the leaf springs snapping and they sought help in a roadside garage. The Landy was jacked up in a Heath Robinson style for the work to be done and inevitably a large and excited crowd gathered to watch. Not surprisingly, with all the excited josling, the Landy fell off the temporary jack the garage had used (despite Neil and Simon having a decent hi-lift jack) and the young lad who was underneath the Landy sustained a very painfully damaged leg.

    Horror and outrage quickly turned to great excitement as the locals realised this was an excellent opportunity to extract further cash from Neil and Simon, and I'm sure that negotiations began for the payment of the poor lad's hospital treatment and compensation even before he was pulled out from underneath the Landy. Neil and Simon had a torrid time.

    So after the excitement of the last few days, the whole convoy rested together in Nouakchott, a city at the time that really was as tough as old boots. Lots of poverty, lots of begging and people doing whatever it took to get through the day. And even a crew as motley as ours, with a motorbike, and 4 knackered vehicles was seen as rich pickings. Every trip outside our hotel was tough going.

    Eventually the convoy started to disperse. Italian peasant wandered off on foot, Nigerian man and his BMW was heading off to his family in Nigeria and the French couple were trying the sell their Van/ship on the black market to fund their travels. Mysterious Frenchman in his Ambulance also left, but enigmatically invited anybody who could make it to a house he owned in Bamako in Mali. A tantalising prospect.

    Despite their experiences with the mechanics in Nouadhibou, Neil and Simon were determined to press on for as long as their Land Rover would last so decided to stay with us in Nouakchott whilst we all tried to obtain our Mali visas.

    Our dusty, drab existence over the days waiting for a visa to be issued was beautifully enhanced when a breathless Neil and Simon returned to the hotel late one afternoon. Whilst out and about, their Landy had been broken into and a rucksack stolen. Reporting the crime to the local police resulted in a confident police chief announcing he knew who probably did it (!!) and he said he would call round early in the evening to collect our intrepid heroes to join him in stakeout to ensnare the likely recidivists in their lair. Ho ho ho, so off trooped Neil and Simon into the darkness with the police chief in a knackered old police car.
    #44
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  5. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Did they return with the rucksack ? Did they buffalo.

    They drove endlessly and pointlessly around the city, at night, with the police chief asking our heroes if the various black men he was pointing at, in the dark, from a considerable distance away were the culprits. Bearing in mind that they hadn't seen the crime occur, they were reluctant to accuse random strangers, which seemed to annoy the police chief who clearly wanted to improve the crime statistics on his patch by any old means.

    Getting increasingly frustrated by an ability to solve the crime, the police chief filled the car up with petrol and then demanded (with menace) that Neil and Simon paid, as they were clearly wasting his time. Happy days.

    Further attempts at solving the crime by randomly driving around unsurprisingly failed to get results but the police chief needed to get a result of sorts so he did what every good local beat bobby would do and took Neil and Simon to a brothel.

    Neither were particularly keen to engage in the jousts of venus with the local ladies, and really the evening couldn't get any worse for the police chief who ditched them pretty pronto. The diary doesn't record how the boys got home but it was a good story to tell over breakfast.

    We decided that the time had come to say thank you and goodbye to Mauritania. It's a bonkers place, I'd love to go back one day
    #45
  6. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Our Mali visas were issued and we were off.

    There is a name that will strike horror into the heart of anybody who travelled in Africa at this time and that name is "Rosso" - the border town from Mauritania into Senegal.

    I think that those who learned the core skills of traveller harassment and extortion in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou and then graduated with honours, were promoted and moved to Rosso for maxmimum effect. And boy, what effect it had on the weary traveller. We met folks who said avoid at all costs but being nervous travellers we wanted to stick together and Neil/Simon plus French couple in the van were heading for Rosso and we thought there might be strength in numbers. So we headed south along a route which our Michelin map called "Route frequement ensablee".

    We arrived at the ferry crossing across the Senegal River in the early afternoon and the Ferryman kindly informed us that because it would be an unscheduled sailing, there would be cost implications. He might not have used those exact words, but we were very unimpressed. "Don't pay the Ferryman" sang us Chris de Burgh fans and we retired into the bush a few km away and contemplated our next move.

    We returned the following morning and were pleased to see the ferry up and running

    [​IMG]
    #46
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  7. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    I wished we'd taken more photos but perhaps that was just how it was in the days of film cameras. Digital cameras are certainly awesome. But we kept a good diary and I'm extremely grateful for that.

    On our return to the ferry early the next morning, we were ordered to carry out more formalities. The French couple in the rapidly rusting Van were really quite annoyed by now and employed what appeared to be some pretty epic French swear words in stead of politeness and diplomacy.

    We should have filled our "Currency Declaration Forms" on arrival and departure from Mauritania, and I don't recall who (is any of us) did. What I do know is that we had of course all changed money illegally on the black market and so our CDFs wouldn't have added up. The CDFs also served as a recruiting poster for those who wanted a slice of our cash so the French couple argued (and of course lied magnificently) that we'd done all this crap the previous evening and if only Mauritanians were more efficient, they'd know all this. Their vitriolic outburst worked and we were on our way.

    Except we weren't.

    The Ferryman demanded extra cash for some reason I don't recall and more arguing ensued. Our diary reports that locals who were in the queue behind us realised what was going on and joined in the argument on our side. Happy days, we were allowed on board the ferry, across the river, into Senegal and out of Mauritania. We were glad to get out but I still want to go back
    #47
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  8. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Immediately after the border crossing, we turned inland and followed a wonderful road through Dagana, Matana and down towards Kayes

    [​IMG]

    But we had been lulled into a false sense of security by spending the last few weeks in the vicinity of the coast and the Atlantic was obviously keeping us cool.

    Turning inland changed all that very very quickly and the thermometer inside the Landy sadly only went up to 55C and that was on the stops

    By the way, if you want to do a 2-up trip in Africa, this is the view your passenger gets

    [​IMG]
    #48
  9. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    I'm pretty sure that is the French couples van in front of us in the photo above but pretty soon we lost both the Landy and the van.

    It was insanely hot, brutally hot and we were forced to stop in a wonderfully archetypal African village which appeared to be exclusively occupied by ladies and young children. We were shown exceptional kindness, being given fresh water and a place to rest and within a couple of hours we were on the road again. But alone. But that felt good and we were happy. We rode for another hour or two and just before sunset, turned 90 degrees left off the road, drove a couple of hundred metres off the road, deep into the bush, out of sight and we set up camp for the night.

    We could hear the sounds of Africa outside the tent all through the night, North Africa was behind us, home was a very long way away but we felt exceptionally happy and glad to be on the road

    Life was treating us very well
    #49
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  10. Dessert Storm

    Dessert Storm Dances With Drunks

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    Fantastic!

    In.
    #50
  11. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

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    Brilliant report! I love the way 1995 seems to have been ages ago! I forget that, perhaps because my car is a '95! Do carry on, please!
    #51
  12. juno

    juno Long timer

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    Great updates 'roo!
    1995 seems like it was 400 years ago instead of 20!
    #52
  13. txbuck

    txbuck n00b

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    I never took any pictures back the either. Pain in the butt to develop them. Thanks for the report! Looking forward to more

    Sent from my SM-N920V using Tapatalk
    #53
  14. 515

    515 Been here awhile

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    Great story telling, looking forward to the rest.
    #54
  15. Bear Creek West

    Bear Creek West Been here awhile

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    Really enjoying your report!! I'm currently in Essaouira on vacation and can only imagine what this place was like back then!
    Great that you kept such an excellent journal! Looking forward to more!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    #55
  16. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    So after leaving Islamic North Africa behind, we turned inland at Senegal, crossed into Mali and headed East for a while. After a wonderful night camping in the bush on our own, we got the bonkers feeling that the next phase of the journey would be the "Tarzan jungle" bit of the journey. If not swinging from the chandeliers, at the very least I hoped to be swinging from the vine leaves

    In reality we got this..

    [​IMG]

    Damn these Africans and their ability to run a decent country, thus ruining our adventure. I'm often reminded of the sleeve notes graffiti on a Talking Heads album (Stop Making Sense ? Little Creatures ? ) which says "Rich people will travel great distances to look at poor people" and we were always very aware of that sentiment. Fortunately travel by motorcycle, in my opinion, can alleviate a little bit of that guilt. We took the face guards off our helmets most of the time so we had open face helmets ; whatever the weather we were exposed to it and of course we didn't have the physical barrier of a car door to separate us from the locals. We carried one change of clothes, enough food for perhaps 48 hours, a tent, crappy pots and pans and little else. We bought clothes in local markets (as later photos will reveal) once they got too skanky to bother washing, and our kitchenware had come from a market in Rabat once we realised how woefully under prepared we were. We didn't mind being robbed (as later posts will reveal) because I think the sum total of our possessions was under 100 quid and we could have restocked in any little African town with little hassle or worry. It's a nice way to travel and if we'd gone back home, bought a Land Rover and started again it would have been a very different experience. Even listening to music from home on a cassette (as it would have been) would have been a link with home, and we had almost nothing but the clothes on our back, and a motorbike. It wasn't a Bruce Parry type of immersion into the local culture but it was a nice kind of freedom. It was a very nice way to travel.

    Perhaps this is best illustrated by a note in our diary at the top of the page here..

    [​IMG]

    Whilst crossing from Senegal to Mali, we were fined the equivalent of £10 for not having Insurance (which we didn't). The diary entry at the top of the page tells it all. And Mali is 176th in the Human Development Index out of 200, has a GDP per capita of around $700 per year and Wikipedia describes Mali as one of the poorest countrys in the world.

    Perhaps we should have smartened up a bit
    #56
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  17. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Of course were we doing this journey now, our mighty Digital camera would have the GPS enabled and we would know to within 3 metres where each photo was taken. Now I'm juggling an old map, a diary and a photo album (kids....ask your parents :whistle: ) to try and work out exactly what happened where and to whom.

    [​IMG]

    I'm fairly sure that the decent road photos were taken in Senegal before we crossed into Mali (and got our 3 quid back) because the map shows only tracks once you cross the border into Mali.

    [​IMG]

    Having crossed into Mali, the road to Kayes was just a rutted dirt track and we got absolutely shaken to bits. Dust everywhere, penetrating everything, and it was still very very very hot. Between the border town of Diboli and Kayes there was only the small village of Ambidedi where we overdosed on ice cold sugary coca cola and Fanta and it did us absolutely no good at all but it felt good. So we kept doing it.

    We arrived in the town of Kayes in the late afternoon and slumped in the gutter in front of the first shop we saw and decided to top up on coca cola and Fanta. Whilst recuperating and doing our very best to bring on early onset diabetes we glimpsed a blur of blue and yellow as the ubiquitous Land Rover of Neil and Simon trundled through the town. They led us to a Catholic Mission where we spent a very very restless night with the fans on full blast, trying but failing to cool us down. If we'd done some research before the off, we'd have discovered that Kayes in Mali is oft quoted as one of the hottest towns on earth and the hottest period was May. Excellent planning, we arrived in June and so it was only mid 40s most days and mid 30s most nights.

    We needed a change of transport
    #57
  18. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Eagle eyed readers may have noticed the "transport des voitures par le chemin de fer" on our map.

    Absouluement magnifique. J'ai une O-level en French (Grade C, s'il vous plait) et je pense que the Chemin de Fer is bonne parce-que sur le motorbike est difficule, je suis tres knackered et je voudrais une rest. Aussi c'est une experience tres interesant and hopefully will make une interesting story sur le internet une jour.

    So using our impeccable French, we started making enquiries to see if we could let the train take the strain for the next stage of our journey to Bamako. We didn't need much persuasion because the locals said the road to Bamako was impassable.

    Impossible for 2 knackered people on an XTZ750. Not impossible for a 1969 Land Rover with anything up to 25bhp of diesel horsepower. We said our goodbyes, said we'd see them in Bamako and they headed for the mud whilst we headed for the train station. The purists will be appalled but we needed a rest
    #58
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  19. Damet

    Damet n00b

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    Brilliant captivating reading. As someone who was only a year or two old when you were racing round africa and has never known a time without internet, it makes me a little nostalgic for the good old days!

    Look forward to reading the rest of your adventure
    #59
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  20. richeyroo

    richeyroo XR650L, CRF450X,

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    Thank you Damet, it's fun to look back and remember what we did.


    Now I don't know for sure, and I think it could be the benefit of hindsight, but I think that if you need a restful journey, you don't choose 2nd class seats in a train that is 50 years old, that the Indian Rail Network thinks is past it's best and have offloaded, on track that was built in 1904 in one of the worlds poorest countries during the hottest time of the year in one of the worlds hottest countries.

    Heaven knows why we didn't choose 1st class tickets. Perhaps I wanted to throw off the shackles of my previous life as an Officer in the RN or perhaps we were feeling some first world guilt. Maybe we wanted to save £4. Whatever..... it was a fabulous experience. It all started in the wonderful old colonial railway station at Kayes, typically faded and worn colonial glory. The journey grew into a noisy, hot, dusty, chaotic, busy, rattly, bumpy, erratic, smelly, oily joy. And all experienced on wooden bench seats. Zut alors. It was everything you would expect and hope for in an African train journey - all the cliches coming true, livestock moving happily through the passenger compartments, the bustling noise, heat and dust. The train would frequently stop in the middle of nowhere, there would be a huge commotion, much shouting at one end of the train and eventually we'd get going again. Our fellow passengers were very patient of the delays, very smiley and happy to be on the move, as were we. We didn't speak much, our fellow passengers glanced at us quizzically but by and large we were left alone to sit on our bottoms and dream of cushions. Every stop in a station resulted in a tidal wave of movement on and off the train and a level of commerce and entrepreneurial spirit that would make Lord Sugar blush. We passed wonderful villages where the houses were the traditional round structures with straw roofs and smiley, wavey children.

    I don't know if we ever saw a timetable or if we ever had an expectation of an arrival time. Maybe an arrival day. I suspect it was narrowed down to "the next few days". What I do remember is that the diary recalls 2 glorious nights on wooden bench seats sans cushions, and we arrived in Bamako at 11pm one night. Oh deep joy.

    We had, unfortunately, been lulled into a deep sense of security and happiness by the smiley ease with which Howard the bike had been loaded onto the train in Kayes. Naturally without a forklift, ramp or crane in sight, the bike was lifted into place on the train by an uncountable number of people. Maybe 20 people were touching the bike at one point as Howard was ceremoniously lifted aloft into the carriage and we were happily cheered and waved on our way by the assorted crowd who had happily helped us. Oh happy days.

    Now either the people at Bamako hadn't yet done the "3 day Customer Service Course" or perhaps they were doing a "Good cop/bad cop" routine with the Kayes crew but we were soon to encounter some errmmm ... difficulty.


    It was 11pm, dark, hot and incredibly busy when we arrived in Bamako. There was no platform where the carriage containing Howard had stopped and the drop down to ground from the compartment was perhaps 7 feet, 2 metres. Sensing an opportunity for money making ( and in the absence of a uniformed member of staff from the Railway Company) several gangs formed around us and aggressively hustled and touted for business, demanding that we hired them to lift the bike down. It was all rather frightening for a pair of gentle souls from rural Worcestershire. We had our luggage with us somewhere and it was impossible to keep it in sight which was rather worrying. And of course I wanted to be protective of Tracy as perhaps 100 people argued and shouted in and around us.

    I rather hoped that supply and demand would work in our favour and with perhaps 3 or 4 gangs touting for business, each could tender for the job. We could choose which tender best suited our needs in terms of efficiency, cost, reliably and safety, choose the most acceptable bid and then apologise to unsuccessful bidders and hope they reflected on their business plan and perhaps submit a more competitive tender next time.

    In the end we chose the option whereby we stood in the centre of a 100 strong gang of men at midnight who aggressively demanded huge, ridiculous sums of money for 30 seconds work to lift the bike down. We were a long way from home and it wasn't terribly much fun.

    But we got there in the end. The diary does use the words, nightmare, haggle, hassle, argument, tired and does say that the whole episode took an awful lot out of us.

    But it also recalls that we paid 3000 Central Africa Francs to get Howard down, which we recorded as costing us £3.75 Gosh, we'd entered a certain mindset on our travels.

    We packed up the bike, roared out of the railway station after midnight and headed into the dark bustling city of Bamako. Before leaving Nouakchott, the Peugeot Ambulance driver (he of the convoy and the crutches and the occasional breakdown) had kindly given us his address and said "if you're ever in town.........."

    Heaven knows how we found his house in the middle of a dark city at night, without a map, without a GPS and without a mobile phone.
    Heaven knows where we found the bravery or balls to ring his doorbell at 2 O'clock in the morning when we found his house.
    Heaven knows why he decided to open the door at 2 O'clock in the morning.
    Heaven knows why he decided to let us in when he saw (smelt ?) how disgustingly smelly and sweaty we both were.

    But we did, and he did and we couldn't have been happier.

    Even better he cooked us steak and chips on the spot whilst we showered and gave us beer which was heavenly.

    Just before we collapsed asleep in a clean bed, we decided that travelling as poverty stricken, dirty old vagabonds by motorbike was an awful horror ; we wanted to live like Kings , dine frequently on steak and chips, and be rich people who lived in opulence, surrounded by wealth, magnificent possessions and far far away from the tiredness brought on by demands off overland travel by motorbike.

    But we knew that wasn't true really.
    #60
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