Bushwackers

With the bikes all packed the previous day, riding gear next to the bed overnight, we were up early and set off in the dark at 5 am. Breakfast was a road-side affair of ‘koffie en beskuit’ (coffee and rusks), which saw us get in to Botswana and clear customs and immigration well before lunch. The target area for our trip started in the north of Botswana at Drotsky’s Lodge, so today and tomorrow morning was just eating up the miles to get there. We camped at Kalahari Arms in Ghanzi, so not much distance to cover the next day – we made it to Drotsky’s just after lunch.

Bushwackers route, March 2017

We were going to camp at Drotsky’s, but because Kobus (our organiser) is in the hotel business himself and they knew each other, and the place wasn’t full, they put us in cabins instead. We spent a couple of days at Drotsky’s, taking a tiger fishing trip on a boat up the river, and enjoying a beer or two at the riverside bar. Willie reinforced his support of his favourite rugby team, but what happened doesn’t transpose well to the written page. Willie – you owe me one! The evening shuttle between our cabins and the restaurant in the main lodge was by boat. Note to self – don’t get drunk and fall out the boat on the way back!

The quickest way to get from Drotsky’s across to Kasane in the north east corner of Botswana, is via the Zambezi Region of Namibia (previously called the Caprivi Strip), so a quick in-and-out of Namibia was the route for the next day, stopping only to admire the elephants in the Caprivi Game Park from the side of the main tar road.

We checked in to our lodge in Kasane, and after a shower, gathered by the pool bar for another, yes you guessed it, another beer. We felt we couldn’t be greedy and keep the absolutely fantastic time we were having to ourselves, so Pieter phoned Trevor (another long distance rider friend of ours from Cape Town) to see if we could wind him up. We succeeded. The next day we joined a sunrise safari to the Chobe National Park, had a quick look at the shops – someone needed mosquito spray – and took a late afternoon river cruise on the Chobe river, spotting wildlife from the boat. I can honestly say, that was a standout highlight and I seriously recommend anyone who has the option, to go and do it!

The next day we headed in to Zimbabwe, stopping for a look around Victoria falls on our way to Bulawayo. We had timed it right, and ‘the smoke that thunders’ was in full roar!

Zimbabwe is known for its frequent police checks along the road, and we were stopped at quite a few. Every time it was a friendly exchange (bike off, helmet flipped up, and a big smile), with the police in little doubt, taking a quick glance, that we were a group of guys from South Africa, on a ride, on bikes that were well maintained and fully legal. If I remember correctly, one of the cops did ask one of the guys to test his indicators, just so he could tick that box in his report.

But then, approaching what we assumed was just another of the many check points we had already been through, we slowed, stopped, engine off, helmet flipped up, ready to smile. The two cops came walking over from the other side of the road, and the guy riding in front heard the one say to the other “number 1 and number 4”. As luck would have it, I was rider number 4. He approached, I smiled, he didn’t. He asked for my driver’s license which I produced, and he took. He then proceeded to tell me he was going to give me a fine. At first I thought it was playful banter (I get and give a lot of that with cops at the side of the road, in the hope I can cheer up what is often for them a tedious day, and normally leave them with a smile on their face), so asked how much the fine was for having a great time visiting their country. No answer.

The other cop had already made his intentions know to the guy on the front bike, the other guys had gotten off their bikes, some locals sitting at the side of the road made their approach, and it was all about to kick off. It happens in Africa. We had just passed a taxi on the approach to the check point, so when the taxi got there, the cops told them to pull off the road and wait. Passengers spilled out of the taxi, cell phone video cameras recording from every angle. The cops then proceeded to tell us that they were going to fine us for ‘not riding in single file’. I have family members who are cops, and have ridden with bike cops on a few occasions, so knowing I am fully legal on my bike, I have no discomfort being around cops. More often than not, I think the people who get upset with cops are really upset with themselves for knowingly breaking the law, and getting caught out. Their anger is misdirected. If you’ve got a good reason, break the rules, not the laws.

Calmly, I replied that no such rule exists anywhere in the world, and as ‘advanced riders’, a staggered formation on a straight open road is the correct position to ride. I never got a straight answer as to if they thought we were riding staggered or two abreast. His reply was that this is Zimbabwe and only local rules apply. Well, I could see this wasn’t going to be a case of some pleasant banter and wave us on, and the cops were probably looking for a road side bribe. I dug in.

The rest of the guys were focused on what was going on up front with the junior cop and all the cell phone cameras, which left just the senior cop and me to talk. I made it clear that if he wanted to write out a fine citing the exact law we were supposed to have broken then he should go ahead and do so, but I had all the time in the world so would immediately take his fine, and his name and badge number, and go to the courts in Harare to get to the bottom of the matter. I could see the cogs turning, and him eventually capitulating when I asked if he wanted his name plastered all over that paperwork. I said I was sure he knew he was trying his luck and as such, did he want to be known among his superiors as an official representative of his government who treats tourists like this. I know from work another friend of mine, Alex from Kaapstad Motorcycle Adventure Tours, has done with Zimbabwean tourism and their enthusiasm to build tourism and get him to run tours into Zimbabwe, that my question wasn’t just shouting at thunder.

Meanwhile, things had moved on with the other cop, and he produced an official document on the rules of the road, stating that it is indeed illegal to not ride in single file. Uh? Really?

Hilariously, for us, he had failed to spot that it was the rules of the road for cyclists. Looking around at all the taxi passengers now rolling around in fits of laughter, cameras still rolling, they had no choice but to admit defeat. He handed back my license and said we could go. Oddly, and I can’t say if it’s related, but every subsequent check point keenly waved us through without even slowing down!

Our night in Bulawayo was great, good food and great company, joined by a few locals enjoying another, yep you guessed again, another beer.

Two guys from our group needed to head back home from there, leaving just Kobus, Nakkie and I to continue. The next place to go and see, and one I was looking forward to, was Great Zimbabwe. They are the medieval ruins of a large settlement, and the seat of power for the Shona people between the 11th and 15th centuries. It was previously called the “Zimbabwe Ruins” but is now called “Great Zimbabwe”. The country is named after it (you can’t name the country after a ruin), and “Great” is used to differentiate it from lots of other similar but smaller ruins across that area of Africa – all known as “zimbabwes”. There is a rock formation on the site which is said to have been included in lots of folklore, and is probably the inspiration for the soapstone bird sculptures found at Great Zimbabwe. The bird emblem on the Zimbabwean flag is derived from those sculptures. We took a guide with us on our walk around, and I’m glad we did – his knowledge was incredible, and let’s be honest, it always enriches the experience if you know the history behind what you are looking at.

Great Zimbabwe doorway

We aimed our bikes at Norma Jeane’s Lakeview resort to get a camping spot for the night. It’s not something you need to book in advance. Except for today. We got there and announced we wanted to camp for the night, only to be told we can’t, as the entire place is booked out by De BikerBoyz of Zimbabwe for their inaugural rally. It took but a split second to respond “But we’re bikers. Can we join the rally?” So, off to the registration tent we went, and found to our great fortune that they had cabins for us on the other side of the complex, behind a small hill, so would be a bit quieter from the dusk-to-dawn noise of the rally. Result! We paid our entry fee and bought a few drinks tokens, and went to enjoy another, yep, you guessed it, another beer. After a shower we joined the rally goers for the evening, chatting to other bikers and rally goers. Us and our bikes became a bit of a novelty, and they could hardly believe that we had ridden so many countries across Africa and the world. Everyone gathered for announcements and prize giving later that evening, and before we knew, we were up front and centre, treated almost like celebrities, being asked to tell our story briefly and present a few prizes. We chatted to many more people that evening and the next morning, some of them going away with what seemed like a determination to broaden their horizons. Happy Days. To the leaders of De BikerBoyz and everyone there, thank-you so much for a great time!

The eastern mountains of Zimbabwe is another area I would dearly like to return to and do some more riding, but we had to push on to get to Vilanculos on the Mozambique coast. It was just a stop over for the night, our aim being Tofo where we would spend 2 days. On the way there, we were astounded at the racetrack smooth tar road that greeted us when we entered Mozambique. We had been told of awful road conditions, so riding this pristine road led us to scoff at our belief of such out dated information and settled in to a comfortable ride for the day. Not so quick!

Shortly after Inchope the pristine tarmac stopped, and road could not have been more destroyed. So much, in fact, that the trucks had created dirt tracks either side of the road, that was a better bet that the road itself. We lost a fair amount of time on that road slowly weaving around potholes. I had ignored the mount instructions for a toolbox that said I must remove the rear wheel hugger on my GSA, so that ended up with it breaking off and being discarded at the next town.

The next day when we got to Tofo, we checked in to some lovely rooms with fantastic sea views from one road back from the beach and up the hill. My cabin had an idyllic four poster bed with white nets draped over it, wafting in the sea breeze. The bed was in the middle of the room, which in turn lead out to it’s own deck and panoramic sea views. The huge bathroom and shower was at the back of the room, separated only by a chest high wall, giving a full view across the room, deck, and out to sea. It was the kind of place I’d like to take someone special someday. We walked on the beach swam in the sea, checked out the scuba diving shops, went to the local market and restaurants in town, and enjoyed a few more, yes you guessed again, a few more beers.

All good things must come to an end, and this planned group trip is no exception. The next two days we headed home back to Potchefstroom, stopping at a lodge in Komatipoort just inside the SA border to overnight. Those of you who still have the fact we spent our first night camping in the back of your minds might have wondered when we camped next. We didn’t. If it wasn’t for that first night, we could have left our camp gear at home, and even that night, we camped next to 3 empty chalets! But that’s not the end of the ride, far from it! No time to waste now shipping the bike over to UK, ready for the Touratech Travel event in Wales, followed shortly by friends who are joining me at the Horizons Unlimited HUBB event in Wales, followed by a trip up to see the midnight sun at Nordkapp – the northern most point of Europe accessible by vehicle, and over 500km inside the Arctic Circle as the crow flies. From there, the plan is to ride all the way home, down Europe and the east route of Africa!

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