Squaring the Circle ~ 'Lake of Stars'~ East Africa

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by wildside, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    We were aware of a storm brewing over to the west. The grey clouds hung low and heavy and were split by the occasional flash of lightening while the thunder rumbled towards us. Keeping a beady eye on the distant we picked up our pace as best we could on these troubled roads. Over some time and distance the storm slowly worked its wet way in front of us and it looked like we were heading straight towards it.

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    Kingsley decided now would be an excellent time to stop, have some lunch and wait out the storm. Well...who were we to argue...what did we know about the weather? So out came the provitos, cheese and chocolates which we had unexpectedly found at a little shop at the fuel station on leaving Lichinga – a bit of civilization!

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    While munching away we could hear the sound of gushing water. Puzzled, we followed the sound up the road and noticed volumes of water running down the ditch to right of the road. We looked further up the hill and a deluge of rain water was heading our way. Without hesitation we packed our food away as quickly as possible, got on our bikes and within seconds we were caught up in one almighty storm with nowhere to seek shelter.

    Zeus, ‘God of the Sky’, ‘Ruler of the heavens’, had decided he was not finished with us yet and needed to show us what he was really made of. We had no option but to slowly continue on our way through the down pour with thunder rumbling over head. We were now riding through so many puddles, rain filled ditches, streams of water and poor visibility. Poor Kingsley and Rox didn’t have visors to keep the stinging rain off their faces which made riding even more difficult. But, as on all my adventure rides, I have always convinced myself that as long as the wheels are turning all was well.

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    All was well until we rode through deep water over a cause way and Roxy’s bike decided that enough was enough. Her bike lost power. We limped into the outskirts of a little deserted village where eventually her bike spluttered to a hault. The wheels had stopped turning!
    Good old Offside brought out his tool bag and took up his now familiar post once again alongside the bike. In the pouring rain he tried to find and fix the problem. Eventually off came the seat and the tank.

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    Kingsley at his familiar post

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    In the mean time the little river running through the village and alongside the road was getting higher and flowing stronger.


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    A sopping Santa.

    Kingsley tried for about 45 minutes to solve the problem and started talking about having to now tow the bike back to Malawi. Well for me this wasn’t even an option...it was simply too dangerous.
    As the rain started to subside so the locals started appearing from their homes and shops. It resembled ants crawling out from the woodwork. Of course we were now the center of attention and had attracted a huge inquisitive crowd. Fortunately, there’s always one saviour in the crowd!!

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    This particular guy could speak a smattering of English and he came forward to assist Kingsley and mentioned that there was a bike mechanic further on up the road.
    In the meantime, there was also a broken down truck in front of us and another truck tried to drag it and turn it around but only managed to get it firmly stuck across the road with its front in the torrent of water. Laughter erupted from within the spectators, losing interest in us and running across to witness more excitement at the new source of entertainment. There was also a loud crashing noise as the walls of a nearby building succumbed to the downpour. Once again much cheering and clapping of hands. This was like something from a bad movie.

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    #41
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  2. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    We proceeded, along with the youngsters help, to push Roxy’s bike to the mechanic further on up the road. He knew exactly what to look for as he was familiar with this type of bike. Within half an hour he had cleared the jets in the carb. As he started the bike there was a loud cheer of relief from us and the gathering crowds. We promptly paid the guy (R200) and said our farewells and were eager to get on the road again as we were a bit concerned now about this unexpected delay as we needed to get to the border post before they closed at 6 pm.

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    Shelter from the pouring rain

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    We got life [​IMG]

    Once on our way again the weather improved but not the roads.

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    We came across another construction area where we were instructed to stop. One of the excavating machines was being used to rescue a taxi that had slipped off the road and become embedded in a muddy ditch. Once it was recovered we cautiously followed another huge, heavy vehicle which slowly led the way down this messy area and half way up the other side it also proceeded to get stuck. Often on our trips we were grateful for being on motorbikes, as mentioned before we could negotiate a way around these tricky spots and pop out the other side without a hassle. So once again we slipped and slid our way across to the other side of the road and hurried on our way once again.

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    There she goes again [​IMG]

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    It was with great relief when we finally arrived at the insignificant little border post late in the afternoon. It only took a few minutes, a look of disinterest, a stamp and we departed Mozambique.

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    We had already prepared ourselves for our entry into Malawi. We had allocated funds for our TIP’s and road tax. We now knew how to do it and were ready for a quick entry into Malawi as we were now running so late and still had another 65 km’s of riding to do to reach our overnight stop. But....it wasn’t to be!!

    We promptly filled in the forms and went to the cashier to pay. I had $20 for one TIP and the equivalent in Malawi kwacha (MWK) for the other two TIP’s as well as the 30 000 MWK for the 3x road tax. But now they wanted only dollars, no MWK for the TIP’s. Now we had to find someone to exchange the MWK’s for dollars. They wanted a lot more MWK in exchange but we didn’t have any and after a lot of haggling and begging we managed to find some Mozambique Metical (MT). When the one guy saw our 1000MT his eyes lit up and he tried to snatch it from us. With Roxy’s and Googles assistance we made up the balance of funds and eventually got our damn $40. This bartering and time restraints at border posts was getting too stressful for my liking and there and then decided East Africa on motorbikes was over for me. No longer could I handle all this hassle!!

    Eventually our paperwork was over and we entered the busy and dirty village of Chiponde. There was very little riding space making progress slow. We were now really pressed for time as the sun was dipping low creating the dreaded long shadows. Once again we were doing what we had promised ourselves NEVER to do again – riding in the dark!!

    To make things worse Roxy’s bike had no headlights..somewhere along the trip, unbeknown to us, they had failed. While we could we made good headway. We were heading to Skinny Hippo on the southern tip of Lake Malawi, shortly after Mangochi. As darkness descended Roxy put on her right indicator, stuck close to dads tail light with mum close up behind her and just to the right trying to shine some sort of light in front of her. We all needed to really concentrate and we worked well together. There was just enough light for us to get an idea of what would have been beautiful view of the southern part of the lake as we carefully worked our way down to the bottom of the pass by which time it was now pitch black. The traffic was now quite hectic as we neared the next town and the going slow.
    Eventually we arrived in Mangochi. Without the GPS we would never have navigated our way through it. Again we had to be careful not to get parted from each other. This part of the trip seemed never ending but as we moved away from the town the traffic was less but by now we were exhausted, neck and shoulders tense and eyes battling to focus in the dim headlight. But we had to look on the bright side...we finally had a day that ended with no rain.
    We eventually saw the Skinny Hippo sign and followed it for another few kilometers and to our surprise and relief they were still open and had accommodation for us. An added bonus was the open kitchen and much needed pub.


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    A ride ahead and a bath behind. [​IMG]

    It didn’t take long for us to shed our dirty clothes, admire the rarely seen star studded sky and order our well deserved G & T’s whilst overlooking the 'lake of stars'. It was a relief to be back in Malawi unharmed, safe, still friends and happy! [​IMG]
    #42
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  3. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    It's as though your mission is to find the worst roads ever. Unbelievable. :D
    #43
  4. Gbags

    Gbags Been here awhile

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    I really fancy bike travel in East Africa but your blog has convinced me to do it the dry season! You must be tough and cheerful people.
    #44
    wildside likes this.
  5. yamalama

    yamalama wet coaster

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    yikes.
    well done!
    #45
  6. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    Dry season would certainly make it easier...but fortunately we're all quite chilled people and packed our sense of humour as well. We kind of expected to have a hard time due to all the rain as we had experienced it before when we 'Rode the Rift',
    #46
  7. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    Thanks for following :thumb
    #47
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  8. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    DAY 13 : FRIDAY - 28 DECEMBER 2018

    SKINNY HIPPO to FAT MONKEYS
    Distance : 65 km



    “Well it’s all right, riding around in the breeze
    Well it’s all right, if you live the life you please
    Well it’s all right, even if the sun don’t shine
    Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line.” Traveling Wilbury’s


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    There was only a short ride ahead of us today, with all being on tar, so we decided not to rush our departure. I also wanted to slow things down as this was our last day and despite all the hard work and distance we had covered I was still quite saddened by the fact that it was our last days ride and that our adventure was almost over. Today we would be closing the circle.
    This resort didn’t accept cards so Kingsley needed to go the 20 km back to Mangochi to withdraw cash from the ATM. Roxy and I started to pack up for our departure and in doing so had a bit of fun photo time with our buffs. There was never a dull moment on this trip.

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    We then made ourselves comfortable around the pool and enjoyed relaxing until Kingsley returned ...without any cash.


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    Nicely swept beach

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    The Mozambique mountains in the distance.

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    Catching a relaxing moment.

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    Once again the mastercards wouldn’t work. Fortunately Roxy had an American Visa card which was readily accepted at most places. On returning to Mangochi, Kingsley was successful in getting some cash. By noon we were eventually on our way and enjoying the last leg of our adventure that would finally complete our loop around the lake.

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    Both a little tired of photo shoots [​IMG]

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    One more stop for photos [​IMG]

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    We stopped for some final photos and went to check out the curios under the massive baobab tree where we turned off the main road to ride the final stretch to Cape Maclear.


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    This was the last leg of the journey.
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    We all decided to swop bikes. [​IMG]

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    The final count down [​IMG]

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    It was a proud moment for me and one of relief for the other two as we approached the comfortable Fat Monkeys Lodge. We had completed what we had set out to do... achieved our goal...despite avoiding one section of road due to advice, bad weather and troubled roads.

    Roxy had displayed amazing strength of character and had taken the good with the bad, popped out at the end still smiling and, believe it or not, scheming about our next trip. It was a tremendous relief for Kingsley as he had returned us girls safely back home after maintaining and repairing the bikes, navigating us through rain, mist, mud and water, cooking for us, doing the occasional laundry and just always making sure we were happy and safe.

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    HIGH FIVE ALL !! [​IMG]

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    #48
    Little Bike, Lopburi, Saso and 3 others like this.
  9. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    We had been so fortunate to still be able to participate in these adventures as a family and these memories will always treasured.

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    We chilled for two nights at Fat Monkeys before loading up our tired bikes and heading back home.

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    MORE TO FOLLOW SHORTLY [​IMG]
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    #49
  10. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Outstanding! Loving every minute.
    #50
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  11. beltipox

    beltipox Adventurer

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    A trip like this, with wife and daughter, that's really a dream for me...maybe someday...
    #51
  12. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    Hi there, Thanks for following. I hope you have that opportunity someday because it really is something so special to experience.
    #52
  13. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    Apologies for this delayed last posting as I have been away and out of network. This next post kind of wraps it all up.
    #53
  14. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    RETURN TRIP HOME : 30 DECEMBER 2018 – 03 JANUARY 2019 (+/-2600 km)



    “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end...but not necessarily in that order.”
    Jean-Lue Godard


    It was with a heavy heart that we turned our backs on the lake for the last time. We had got so much pleasure from ‘the lake of stars’. This would probably be the last time we would see this place.
    We departed through a different border post as we were told it’s not as stressful as the one we entered through. It was a beautiful drive on the S127 as we wound our way up into the mountains which offered some stunning views as we looked back down the valley.

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    This pretty drive took us to Dedza and it was quick and easy getting out of Malawi and entering Mozambique. The 223 was a fairly good road and after a few hours we turned right on to the EN103 again making good time to Tete. It was already dark when we arrived in Chimoio just south-west of Gorongosa National Park. We found the Pink Papaye Backpackers which was fully booked but they gave us permission to squeeze into the tiny garden, use their facilities but sleep in our vehicle accompanied by a squadron of mosquitos. Needless to say we didn’t have a peaceful night.

    We left early the following morning and once again punched in our destination on Google Maps. For some strange reason it was keeping us off the EN1 and taking us on the 216. Even when we missed our turn off to the 216 it kept redirecting us onto the 216 and wouldn’t acknowledge the main road south to Vilankulos...not even showing it as a second option. My gut feeling was not happy about this but we knew the EN1 was a shocking road so assumed this to be the reason. So we took Google Maps advice and turned south onto the 216. Within a few kilometres I just knew that this was not a good idea but I didn’t want to sound like the nagging mom....and so we continued down a narrow gravel road. The passing traffic thinned out and the villages slowly disappeared. The road became narrower, and appeared to be less traveled and in bad condition. We bumped and bounced our way slowly along this route for about 2.5 hours covering about 40km. But then Google Maps said 10 km more to the EN1 and within minutes our ‘road’ turned into a single pathway. Surely this was not possible!!

    We now had to reverse out some distance with the trailer till we found a suitable place to turn around. Slowly we headed back the way we came and stopped to ask directions at a stationary vehicle. He directed us to Dombe and we were to take the next left turn. Well the roads just got progressively worse and we were crawling along carefully at a snail’s pace. It was too late to turn around so we forged ahead. The next minute we broke out of the bush and crossed over a lovely bridge that led onto a tar road.

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    We were so chuffed until we drove into a hydro-electrical power station and were instructed to turn around and go back to the next turning, which we did and once again it was on a horrific ‘road’. We bounced around these muddy roads in a shocked state not quite believing what we had got ourselves into. We were still on the correct route though. We were in the middle of thick bush and there were no villages that we could see with only the occasional person on a bicycle.

    We had been travelling for about 5 hours when suddenly Kingsley stopped the bakkie, exclaiming ‘For f***k sake!!’ as his glance darted to the mirror. The trailer drawbar had snapped mid way, ploughed into the road and managed to cartwheel the trailer. We were all so fed up with this blasted road already and now this...!!! There was our trailer and bikes upside down...it was a sickening sight.

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    We stood there and stared in a shocked state not quite believing our bad luck...surely this couldn’t be happening again. Our last Botswana trip ended like this as well. What the heck do we do now? It took another few minutes to sink in that we were now unable to recover this trailer as the hitch had completely snapped off.

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    Eventually we started to think clearly and tried to turn the trailer over. We only managed to get it onto its side. Kingsley suddenly made the decision that we had to ride the bikes out of here. We actually got a bit nervous being in the middle of the unknown. We couldn’t afford for anything else to go wrong so we had to move quickly. Hurriedly we cut all the straps off the bikes and with some difficulty managed to drag them off each other onto the road and assess the damage. Roxy’s bike was leaking oil and too damaged to ride, the bigger bikes had lost some mirrors and my clutch and brake lever was broken off, handle bars bent and gauges broken off... other than that quite usable.

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    The other problem was that we had used up most of our fuel. While Kingsley salvaged whatever spares he could from Roxy’s bike to make the 650’s rideable, she drained the fuel from hers and shared it between our two bikes while I cleared out the back of the canopy and repacked everything onto the backseat. Roxy preferred to ride rather than drive so I got all their smelly and dirty riding gear out for them and things just happened smoothly with no complaining or fussing. We just kind of knew what we each had to do. The front wheel, mud guard and shocks were removed from the 200 and with all our strength we somehow managed to lift and load up the remains and shoved it into the back of the canopy. It was a sorry sight.


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    #54
  15. wildside

    wildside Been here awhile

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    In this space of time we only saw one chap on a bicycle and he just sped past us in a nervous hurry. About an hour later and with much surprise our 650’s spluttered back to life. I couldn’t believe it! I just loved this bike of mine even more...it just never let me down!
    It was a relief to be mobile once again. Roxy and Kingsley led the way with me following close behind. I couldn’t believe it when we had a few river crossings to make. I was now so angry with Google Maps and myself for not following my gut feeling but we were now committed and just had to continue. Thank goodness this vehicle was a 4x4 as we needed it to get us out of a few problematic areas.

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    After about another 1.5 hours we popped out onto a tar road...such a relief. We found some fuel and headed off to Dombe where we turned left onto a good gravel road that would take us back onto the EN1. We needed to get to Vilankulos, and still had one hell of a long way to go. I was now concerned about Roxy getting tired as we had all had a very bad night’s sleep. There was still about another 300 km to go. We had frequent smoke breaks along the way as the road was in a shocking state up until Inhassoro. On a bike the going was faster so they often had to wait for me to catch up as the potholes were a nightmare in the darkness, making travelling slow and stressful.

    It was about 9.30 pm when we reached the busy turn off to Vilankulos and as expected Kingsley missed the turn off, which Roxy was aware of, so she promptly followed her dad to warn him. I immediately stopped at the turn off, put on my hazards as there was so much traffic around and waited for their return. Roxy thought she was chasing her father but when she caught up it wasn’t him. Somehow she had lost him in the mess of taillights and the New Years Eve busyness. Fortunately she had the sense to continue for another 7 km or so till she reached a fuel station and there she found a bewildered Dad who had lost both of us. After about 20 minutes they both arrived back at the turn off. These two were now so exhausted and battled with the last 19 kms to town. Fortunately, being New Years Eve, Baobab Backpackers was in full swing and very much awake. We were fortunate to get something to eat before heading off to pitch our tents shortly before midnight. It was such a relief to end this last day of 2018.

    We spent a day and another night enjoying the wonderful atmosphere and beach of this great place and recovering.

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    Our new buddy

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    Thinking about the long haul home! [​IMG]

    02 January 2019

    We set of for Maputo, which was another long haul of 715 km for Roxy and Kingsley, and required an early start. These bikes work hard when travelling at 110km/hour so frequent stops were needed and fortunately the roads were good. It took us ages to get through Xai Xai and cross over the bridge but late that afternoon we worked our way to the our accommodation which was close to the beach front of Maputo. Again Google Maps was taking us on all the narrow back roads of Maputo. These two were amazing and managed to keep up their spirits.

    03 January 2019

    We were planning on crossing over the new bridge that had recently been completed. In order to get to the Kosi Bay border at 8 am., when it opened, we needed to depart at 6 am. The wind was howling and it was raining once again. It felt good to be warm and dry inside the bakkie as we worked our way along the Maputo promenade but I felt so sorry for the two in front of me as the rain lashed out at them and the wind blowing off the ocean buffeted them continuously.

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    If you look carefully you can see the new bridge in the distance.


    Finding the entrance to the new bridge, built by the Chinese and officially opened on 10 November 2018, proved to be a bit tricky as there was no signage leading up to it. We battled our way around asking directions and eventually found the start where we saw the first and only sign indicating the new bridge connecting Maputo, on the northern bank to Katemba, on the southern bank. It is the longest suspension bridge on the African continent, with the main span measuring 680m but in total 3 km long. With the new road leading south towards Kosi Bay in KwaZulu-Natal, travelling time is reduced a great deal, now taking only 90 minutes as opposed to 6 hours via Swaziland. It was a great feeling being able to drive over this amazing engineering feat.


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    There are two tolls on this wonderful stretch of road which totals about R40 in fees as well as a fuel station. We were treated to some lovely sightings of giraffe as we drove through the Maputo Elephant Game Reserve, but sadly no ellies. Definitely a recommended route.

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    It rained intermittently up to the border and on arrival here there was just rain and chaos as all the holiday makers from the various Pontes gathered to depart Mozambique. Vehicles parked anywhere and everywhere, people running in all directions from vehicles to get a good position in the queue, hoodies over heads, brollies covering several bodies dodging in and out of stationary vehicles and excitement oozing all over as we all got soaked standing in outside queues.

    We were now a bit concerned about our paperwork as we no longer had a trailer but I think the rain and chaos was in our favor and at the customs office there was a bit of mayhem as rain soaked people crowed round declaring goods. While Kingsley and Roxy waited in the rain I handed over all the paperwork and was asked if all was in order which I answered ‘all was fine’ and rushed into the rain again and crossed through the boom. No one questioned the motorbike hanging out of the canopy and they waved us through.

    The two on motorbikes now had another 530 km ride to get home. The roads were extremely busy and slow until we reached the N2. Once again rain lashed out occasionally but they continued on taking regular breaks. With the rain came the cold and a few times Kingsley wanted to just dump the bikes somewhere safe and get into the vehicle but somehow they bravely persevered. As we passed Durban the mist tumbled in making it even more stressful. We stuck close together and looked after each other as best we could in the busy traffic. Heading up Town Hill and Hilton was like driving through pea soup, slow going and very stressful. It was awesome arriving back at home all in one piece albeit cold, wet and miserable. I only have admiration for these two who rode back all that distance in such awful weather conditions just to get our precious bikes back safely.

    Thank you, Kingsley and Roxy, for the wonderful opportunity to experience such an awesome holiday. Roxy, you brought so much pleasure and fun into this trip and I shall cherish every moment spent with you. [​IMG]

    “We‘ve been through some things together,
    with trunks of memories still to come.
    We found things to do in stormy weather.
    Long may you run.”
    Neil Young



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    Now that is the end of one amazing adventure!!
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    #55
    jays100, zimtim and RedDogAlberta like this.
  16. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Awesome. Your guys rock!
    #56
  17. zimtim

    zimtim Adventurer

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    62
    Location:
    UK
    Thanks brilliant report,
    I lived in Malawi for a few years when I was a sprig, trips up to the lake were always a fantastic. Thanks for helping bring back some very happy memories
    #57
  18. NAVIGATOR

    NAVIGATOR Wanderer

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2002
    Oddometer:
    1,847
    Location:
    SOUTH OF THE USA BORDER(friendlier Mexico)
    Excellent ride report and pics, thank you.
    Incredible endurance and determination
    #58
  19. WHYNOWTHEN

    WHYNOWTHEN where are the pedals?

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    824
    Location:
    closer to Baja
    Wow!!!
    It is excellent that you were all able to overcome that multitude of hassles and still keep smiling.

    Well done!!!
    #59