Getting to Cape Town

As all of you know, I am extremely tough and manly. I am equipped with rippling abdominal muscles, broad shoulders ready to take on the heavy weight of many a manly duty, a cavalier disregard for manly danger, a penchant for manly weapons of all sorts, and a ruggedly chiselled manly jawline over which the ladies of my acquaintance constantly ponder.
I am also modest (in a strong-but-silent sort of way), and so it is with greatest reluctance that I now relate the following story which, I have no doubt, will cause swooning of the highest order in all who read it.
Allow me to set the scene: after a hard day of manly flexing and tussling with the boulders of South Africa, the lady and I were relaxing on a bouldering mat and contemplating the beauty of nature, which looks like me gazing stoically in some direction or another. I may have been quoting poetry as well. Or I might have been spouting rubbish. Who knows. Anyway: Sex Pest (the tiny tabby and white, over-affectionate, gratuitously cute, over-affectionate, slightly annoying and over-affectionate kitten) was also hanging out with us, as he had been for pretty much all of our time in the campsite at Rocklands, a climbing area in South Africa.
Suddenly, we noticed that Sex Pest was pestering something other than us in a bush just beside us, trying to whack it with one of its teeny tiny adorably furry paws, one of the very same four paws he would frequently wave in the air whilst mewling and having his adorable little tummy adorably tickled. Concerned (in a manly sort of way), I investigated. The lady also investigated, but in a significantly less manly sort of way which probably involved squealing and swooning and the like. To our horror (my horror being just about noticable by a slight curling of the left side of my manly, stubbled upper lip and a barely audible man-growl), we discerned that the source of Sex Pest’s whacking was a scorpion: possibly the very same scorpion of black-and-red coloration which the lady had spotted just that morning hiding under the bordering mats we had slept on, outside, the previous night.
So I got a really big stick and whacked the scorpion until it was right squished and dead, because we had been told that these ones were proper nasty (all hospitalisation and that) if they stung you and we decided it could most definitely (probably) kill a fluffy and defenceless kitten. And so, ladies and gentlemen (but mostly ladies), I can now announce: I have saved a tiny, mewling, adorable baby kitten from certain death at the pincers (sting) of a vicious and dastardly scorpion. One more time: I SAVED A KITTEN FROM A SCORPION.
Hell
yes.
Beat that, previous ‘Most Manly Man’ title holder Hulk Hogan.
CURRENT LOCATION: The Green Elephant Backpckers, Cape Town, South Africa
MILES COMPLETED: 15863
So yeah: I also finally made it to Cape Town. Woop woop! I can’t quite believe it. Oh my god I was so indescribably tired by the time I got there. The exhaustion was utterly ground in to every part of me. The last couple of days through South Africa were spent battling cross winds along dead straight roads in a weird dream-like state, the distance to Cape Town slowly, slowly, slowly being ground down. All I wanted was to be finished, and not have to pack up the tent again, or battle with the stove again, or spend another day sitting on the bike, or another minute with my head being twisted off by the wind, or another second listening to the bike and thinking: what’s that noise? Is that normal? Am I pushing it too hard? How’s the rear tire? When did I last check the oil? How much further have I got to ride before I can justify another break?
But get there I did, and a few days later the lady Tashi arrived all the way from sunny England. Yep yep yep! We had a lovely time thanks for asking, she was here for a WHOLE MONTH and we drank ludicrously cheap sparkling wine and ludicrously cheap red wine and faffed about and drove around and went climbing in Rocklands and I SAVED A KITTEN FROM A SCORPION. And Tashi did her first 5a and then (having dragged me back to the crag so she could finish her project – ha!) her second 5a, having only climbed on rock for the first time 10 days previously. And we went to the doctors because I was all shivery and sweaty but I didn’t have malaria, I just had sinusitis.
And THEN we went to see elephants. And the elephants were HUUUUUUUUUUUGE and wrinkly and RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAR, like 3 meters away, and there were big ones and baby ones and ones with their cocks out (which are long enough to bash on their ankles by the way), and they look prehistoric and move sooooooooooo sloooooooowly and did I mention they were right next to the car? Like: RIGHT NEXT TO THE CAR. AND we got to see massive tortoises, and water buffaloes, and ostriches flapping about in a ridiculous way, and brown and leggy things with really big ears, and warthogs rubbing their arses on the floor, and loads of zebra (of which one also had its cock out, not as impressive as an elephant’s but still…), and a snake which I threw my phone at whilst trying to take a picture of, and loads of birds, and lions. But the lions were mostly lying down and doing not very much, although one of them got up and walked about 5 meters and lay down again in a more shady spot which was very exciting, and another one flapped a foot once or twice, and the assembled crowd did gasp.
RIGHT! And after that we drove the go-cart car all the way back to Cape Town via some extraordinary sunsets and some penguins who were a lot more fun than the lions and who did some flapping and some waddling and stuff and were, like all the wildlife around these parts, ridiculously close up, and then up the mountain we went and down the mountain we went (walking up, cable car down), and I was concerned my appendix had burst but actually it was just trapped wind, so we ate Thai food to celebrate and yesterday Tashi got on the plane back to England.
I am concerned I may not survive.
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Last time I wrote one of these I was way back in the north of Namibia, having just crossed Angola in five days. I was pretty tired then, so I rested in the campsite for a few days, enjoying the wi-fi and eating braai (barbecue) every night, cooked by some friendly folks who were there for work. And then it was time to leave.
The chain was close to death. The steering was notchy and crunchy and really not very safe. I wanted to see a giraffe. I decided to use the gravel roads.
The roads were fast but scary, with the steering only approximately possible. I got raced by a pair of springboks, they ran alongside the bike a couple of meters away at about 50 mph, then leapt off into the bush. I had to slow down for zebras, and stop for baboons. One of the baboons had a cough that was exactly like a human’s.
There were no giraffes.
The road got bendy. The bars would not turn properly. To steer sharply enough to go round the bends, the bike had to be leant over more than the low speed allowed. I had to push the bike into the lean and hang off the other side to counter-balance it. Occasionally, I parted company with road and bumbled off into the scree. I very nearly crashed at 60 mph on a dead straight road when a rut of gravel dragged the steering past the notch to lock solid at about 2 degrees left. I forced it straight and slowed down, heart in mouth.
I wrestled the bike into a campsite, and watched the sun set from the top of a rust-coloured hill covered in cotton grass. It was extraordinarily beautiful.
I drove 100 km further and stopped to catch a ride (with the bike) in a pick up truck with a man who looks after rhinos. He dropped me off. I paid a group of children to look after my bike with biscuits and Fanta. I ate a can of pilchards and some stale bread. I took a deep breath and rode 60 km more to the tarmac.
And lo! In the campsite that was free to over-landers there did reside a motorbike mechanic of 40 years experience who had worked for a Paris-Dakar team. “No big job,” he said, for his English was poor as he was from Bugaria, “No big job, we just have small look, make much better, no big job,” and thence he did espy upon the shelf a bearing, and verily was the bearing the perfect size for the steering head.
This was a wonderful turn of events, and I was extremely grateful to the lovely man from Bulgaria who’s name I can’t remember, who spent ages and ages with me getting my bike sorted. He was a good egg, and enabled me to ride the tourist route to Windhoek along the gravel roads. Huzzah! Without his help I could never have visited the petrified forest (two petrified tree trunks, half buried), the black mountain (a dark grey pile of stones about 50 m tall) and the organ pipes (a mildly interesting rock formation). Very interesting to geologists apparently, but…well. Hmmm. However, in amongst all the tourist ‘sights’ was Namibia, and Namibia is very big, and very beautiful, and very windy.
Big, and with the gravel roads that charge straight across the desert for hundreds of kilometres. Beautiful, with the deep red rocks and crumbling cliff lines and vast plateaus and mountain passes, covered with silvery desert plants and dotted with windmills pumping water from the boreholes, and occasional tiny settlements where the women wear Victorian-style dresses with the petticoats and all that but in African prints. And across all this come the dust devils, and when you ride through one the cross wind which you have been fighting all day, which has been trying to force you off the road and which, with the corrugations and the gravel and the lack of grip, leads to you going slightly but noticeably crab-wise at high speed, that cross wind suddenly changes direction twice as you ride through the thing and slaps you with a quick and very hard left-right as the visibility reduces to zero for a second or so.
Hard bloody work is what it was. I rested in Windhoek for a couple of days to do a full service on the bike and change the chain at last, and then got back to it.
Only two countries. That’s what I wrote last time. Two countries, but two big countries with such a lot of wind, and such straight roads, and I was trying to grit my teeth and haul myself through to the end but not rush it, and try to enjoy it, but I was so very tired, and just riding all day, but the landscapes were so beautiful that at one point I spent an hour driving up and down the same 5 km stretch before asking at a farmhouse for a patch of garden to camp in for the night, and I was filled with all sorts of contradictions about wanting to finally finish this mad journey but not too soon, and it was all a bit much and hard to think straight and on the day I wanted to do a short day I went 144 km out of my way accidentally, and that was it. I wanted to stop, quite frankly, so I got on the tar road and sat on it for 3 days and got to Cape Town, where Table Mountain was wearing a hat of cloud which was doing attractive wispy things, and I fell in with a bunch of The Irish who got me drunk and gave me a round of applause for getting to Cape Town when I dragged myself to bed at a not very late hour. I do love The Irish.
I’m just about ready to turn around and do it all again, but differently. I’ll be in Cape Town for another week maybe whilst I do some kit repairs and some fettling and give the bike some love, and then it’ll be back to Rocklands for a couple of weeks more climbing and then I’ll be on the road again.
Or at least, that is the plan.

Really Nearly There Now! (Maybe…)

Alright then! Only two more countries to go, innit? Woop yeah, nearly there, looking forward to Capetown. Yep yep yep! Got a date and everything, she’ll be arriving on the 30th and will be unimpressed if I’m late. Mustn’t be late, mustn’t be late. All that can stop me now is screwed steering head bearings or chain failure in the middle of the desert or driving on the wrong side of the road or flat tyres or getting eaten by crocodiles or eating so much barbecue I can’t move or total bike collapse or unexpected death syndrome or whatever. NO PROBLEM.
CURRENT LOCATION: Ruacana, Namibia
MILES COMPLETED: 13598
So, I still don’t quite know what I’m doing with the structure of these. Ah well. Below are some bits which I wrote a while back, and then after that I’ll write some more so that I’m up-to-date. Right? Right. Here goes. And I’m warning you: it’s turning into a bit of a monster.
01/03/2016 – Brazzaville, the Congo
You might have got the impression from the last blog post that I was not having a very nice time. You would have been correct: when I sent the last post, I was not having a very nice time. For some reason, the whole thing had got on top of me and I was feeling very stuck in the middle of nowhere and would quite have liked to have gone to the pub for a pint with all of my friends, which was not possible. I was probably just tired and hungry, but I think also that it was something to do with the roads in Gabon and the Congo. Except for the muddy bit where I kept falling off, the roads here are very very new and very perfect. The road I rode on today was so new that tomorrow, it’s getting its official opening by the president. Really REALLY brand spanking new, they are. According to the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, they should have been a nightmare of broken Tarmac and muddy puddles, but this was not the case. Somehow, I feel as if I’m having all sorts of adventure robbed off me, especially since I decided to take the wimps way through Gabon. Oh, I don’t know. I’m probably just making excuses for being mopey. But…it feels a bit like when you get yourself all ready and prepared for a difficult and scary bit of climbing, and the difficult and scary bit of climbing turns out to be way too easy and you just walk up it, and you feel a little bit cheated because you spent such a long time getting your head in the right place. Hmmm. But at the same time, it seems churlish to go and hunt out really minging tracks when there’s a lovely big road, when there’s no good reason other than to make things more difficult. You know?
How dare they develop their country. They are spoiling my adventure. Ha!
Anyway, enough of that. For reasons unknown, I feel back on form and ready for more. Mostly. Sort of. YES! Here we go then. Tomorrow will be the day I get to run the apparently horrifying gauntlet of con artists and bureaucracy that is the Brazzaville / Kinshasa ferry crossing. Oh yes. You hear stories about this. About it taking a full day, costing $100, and so on and so forth. We shall see.
Normally at a border, You go through four steps twice. You need to: (1) get the Carnet de Passage stamped by customs (the Carnet is basically a passport for the bike, which is used to prove that you haven’t sold it in the country you’re trying to leave and therefore you shouldn’t have to pay the up to 800% import duty levied on cars and bikes); (2) go to see the gendarmerie, who will fill out a book with many columns of information about you, as gleaned from close questioning and scrutiny of the passport; (3) go and see the police, who will do the same as the gendarmerie; and then (4) go and see immigration, who will do the same as the police and the gendarmerie but who will also give you an exit stamp. You then repeat all this in the opposite order on the other side of the gate. At each step the detail in the questioning may vary and take from anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes, and you could at any point suddenly be handed lengthy forms to fill out in triplicate in French, normally right when you think you’re about to get away.
So the Brazzaville / Kinshasa ferry has all that with the extra added excitement of an hour or so on the ferry, and all the loading and unloading that that entails, AND it’s right in the middle of these two capital cities which face each other across the Congo so after all that, I’ll be trying to extricate myself from the city as well. Oh, and changing money and so on at the same time, and trying to make sure my stuff doesn’t get robbed whilst I’m filling out the forms.
I am currently in the process of steeling myself.
So I wasn’t actually going to use this ferry. I was going to use the 200 km of off-road track that uses a much smaller ferry at a much smaller place, but…I’d been warned by The Book not to go anywhere near this track when it’s been raining. And boy oh boy did it rain last night. Really extraordinary torrential rain for about an hour, and nothing looked anywhere near even slightly dry even by the mid-afternoon when I found the start of the track and had a look, but within about 2 km it became clear that this was not sensible. The bridges were more hole than bridge and covered in very slippery mud, and the ruts were literally (and I do mean literally) as deep as my bike in places. Also when asked the locals told me that it was definitely about to rain again, and so I ran away back to the brand new road again. As my mother would say: sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Tell you what, the road might be very new and somewhat boring, but it does go through some really incredibly lovely places. For about 50 km it looked just like Scotland, only much hotter and with less fried stuff. No: more fried stuff. Not sure. Loads of fried stuff, anyway. It was all big rolling hills with grass tussocks and scrubby bits and stands of trees. Actually, whilst I’m on it, I really should point out that the rest of Congo is pretty pretty as well. Especially the section in the middle of the day after the day where I fell off a lot and got muddy, that section was like a child’s drawing of hills: ‘undreds of pointy lumps, steep at the bottom and rounded at the top, maybe 100 to 200 m tall, and coloured in in the most outrageous day-glo technicolor felt tip pen grass green you ever did see. And the rainforest as well, so many different shades of green and a wide range of exciting textures and sculptural forms, my favourite being the bamboo which looks like an explosion of green furry tongues 10 m tall. And the little ground plant with the leaves that fold up when you touch it once, and the branches that fold away when you touch it again. And the muddy little streams and the bridges and the so on and so forth.
Also, the people. Especially out in the sticks, everybody shouts and cheers and waves their arms at you as you ride past, giving you the thumbs up and a big grin . Young or old, boys or girls. I mean, I’m used to it at home obviously, but it’s nice to know I’m considered to be just as exciting out here.
And yesterday I found something with green and leafy bits in it to eat as well as to look at, and bananas which hadn’t been fried first. Fresh stuff! That was just before I got followed back to my hotel by the guy who started fun and became worrying, who was shouting about being a revolutionary and a patriot and wanting me to go dancing to some RnB with him. I rushed off to bed and let the hotel staff deal with it, and kept the lights off until the shouting stopped 10 minutes later so that he wouldn’t be able to find which room I was in. But he had been very fun before that, as had all the other people I sat around and got drunk with and couldn’t understand properly.
Yep, it’s all looking reasonably well up. Even the stove has started working again, so I can go and do some more camping when the risk of snakes dies down. Tentatively, now: duh, duh-duh duh-duh duh duhhhhhhhhhhh.
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05/03/2015 – Evangelical Christian Mission, N’Zeto, Angola
The joke about chickens crossing the road somehow makes more sense when there are chickens knocking about which have the freedom to cross roads. Well, sort of. Anyway, so far, I think I’ve killed three. They have literally the worst road sense of any animal I’ve encountered.
After the humans, it’s the goats who have the best road sense. The humans are sensibly terrified of the terrible driving and so won’t cross in front of anything less than 200 m distant, and even then will do so at a flat-out sprint (or as close to a flat-out sprint as they can attain whilst carrying 15 kg of assorted stuff on their head). The goats see you coming, and get out of the way. Crucially, they get out of the way in the right direction, which is where the chickens go horribly wrong. A chicken which has started to cross the road, when seeing you coming, will ensure that it’s forward speed is in inverse proportion to your distance from it. Thus, as you get closer, the chicken will run ever faster into the road. It’s like, as soon as a chicken sees you coming it will launch itself in whatever direction it is currently pointing, and if that direction is towards the bike, that is where they will go. On two occasions, this has led to the chicken colliding with the side of my bike. I thought I’d missed the first one, but Andy the Kiwi on the big BMW was following and he told me that it had become defunct shortly after an encounter with one of my boxes. That was in Cameroon. There was then a probable hit two days ago in the DRC, followed a day later by a definite when the stupid twat hurled itself right into the side of my front wheel and made a brief “brrrrrrrr” noise of spokes on poultry flesh and turned itself into a cloud of feathers.
They come out of nowhere! You’re driving through a village and suddenly yet another sodding chicken charges across right in front out you, just escaping with its life this time. Or, worse, you see what’s happening but don’t have time to react as it takes its first step into the road and rapidly accelerates to wings-flapping-squawking-full-tilt and this time is just – JUST – not quick enough to obliterate itself on your spiky foot rest.
Donkeys just don’t give a shit. Donkeys accelerate for no man. A donkey will remain in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line even when acted on by a lorry horn getting closer at 40 mph. They will stand in the middle of the road and stare down a motorbike whilst chewing the cud (do donkeys chew cud?) and will expect you to do any manoeuvring. Or they will just continue walking where they were walking before, thanks very much. Due to their dark grey nature, which they share with tarmac and everything else at night, they are a very good reason to not drive at night. Luckily, I’m not currently in donkey territory…they ran out in Mali. I’m guessing they will start again somewhere around Kenya.
Cows are huge and very pointy at the front end and hang around in large groups, normally accompanied by a man with a shotgun and a big grin. Cows should be stopped for, although the man with the big grin and the shotgun will normally whack them on the arse with a big stick so you don’t have to stop for long. Cows stopped in Burkina Faso, and I was sad to see them go.
ANYWAY. I hit the chicken yesterday evening in the DRC. I was in the DRC because I’d managed to get the boat to Kinshasa which was even more of a horrendous experience than I’d expected and cost vast sums of money and saw me on several occasions surrounded by gangs of 10-or-so people each of whom was demanding anywhere between $20 and $300 for some perceived help they’d just given me. I had policemen demanding $40 for having pointed me in the direction of the immigration office. I had customs men demanding $80 for signing my Carnet. I had the ferry people demanding $270 for the boat ride of 20 minutes. I had the porters at the other end demanding $60 to unload the bike. I had the customs person at the other end demanding $300 for…absolutely nothing. These people were getting all up in my grill and no mistake. The whole experience lasted for around 5 hours and was fairly stressful and quite intimidating. For only the second time on the trip I resorted to swearing loudly and foully at everyone in English, which they can’t understand so you can say some really vile things to their faces without fear of nasty reprisals and also makes me feel like the “je ne comprend pas” shoe is on the other foot for a bit. Ha! Essentially pointless, but makes me feel better. The other time was when I got stitched up by some arsehole at Dakar customs when I was trying to get my tyre and stuff, and he went behind my back and signed all of my clobber over to his company so he could take the handling commission, even though I told him over and over again that I didn’t want or need his help. Ha! He got a right earful he didn’t understand, and looked all watery-eyed at me and said “je ne comprend pas” to me in a small voice as he took my money and then asked me to buy him a Coke. He was a right bell-end.
So: weirdly, after how horrendous all the rest of the border crossing was, the DRC immigration people could not have been more friendly, the three of them sitting in their lovely air-conditioned office and listening to terrible Celine Dion-esque pop music, and they told me that Martin the Czech chap on the 1930s bike had passed by them just that morning. They had a picture of him. Ha! I’d missed him whilst I was unsuccessfully trying to buy a new chain that morning. I need a new chain because Babs has got the spare we brought with us and mine is looking dodgy…watch this space for exciting stories of chain failure in the middle of the Angolan visa dash or, more excitingly, in the middle of the Namibian desert…
And then I was free! Free of the Brazzaville / Kinshasa ferry and free of lots of money as well. All in, it was about $170 in the end, so it could’ve been worse. I spent the night in a very posh Christian mission which had a bar and wi-fi everything, and got chatting to a policeman from somewhere that was communist, I can’t remember where but maybe he’s reading this and will tell me (?), he was called Dan I seem to remember but that might be wrong, and he was a proper nice fellow. We sat off for a number of hours and made ourselves drunken and discussed the problems of rampant capitalism and the deliciousness of Thornbridge ales, of which he is a great fan, and had some 17-year-old limited edition Balvenie whisky which he’d somehow managed to find one bottle of in a shop in Kinshasa for almost no money and it was indescribably delicious and was the final nail in the coffin of my ‘orrible funk wot I ‘ad bin in.
The next day saw me riding through the greenest greenness that’s ever been green, and oh if only it wasn’t Wednesday and if only I didn’t have to finish the day by reaching Matadi where the Angola consulate was then I would definitely spend the evening at the big old waterfall and actually…I will. And I turned around and drove back towards it because it would be the whole Congo going over a waterfall…and oh how I wanted to see it, it was quite a long way the wrong way and now I’d be getting to Matadi on THURSDAY night not WEDNESDAY night like I’d planned to but that’s ok maybe? But STICK TO THE PLAN but I’ll only be in the DRC once probably and it’s the WHOLE CONGO going over a waterfall but I got to Pointe Noire on the Friday morning and the visa would’ve only been finished on the Thursday after and STICK TO THE PLAN the visa has to be the first priority but IT’S GOING TO BE A REALLY BIG WATERFALL and I’m driving in the wrong direction back to Kinshasa to see it and arguing with my self and getting this weird feeling in the you know where like I do when I’m being rent with indecision (is that only me?), and then suddenly THERE’S MARTIN ON HIS TREMENDOUSLY OLD MOTORBIKE! We stopped for a bit of a chat.
He’s been good, you’ll be happy to hear, and is heading to Victoria Falls to meet his lady friend. He was not interested in joining me a smaller waterfall and risk being late for his date, which was fair enough. We did some selfies and chatted about the ferry and visas, of course, and went our separate ways. Him in the right direction, me in the wrong direction.
So the weird feeling got weirder and I decided to listen to it and STICK TO THE PLAN so I stuck to the plan and that was alright because like I said: it was the greenest greenness that’d ever been green. You’ve never seen such rolling waves of bright green hills with the dark black tarmac and dramatic blue / grey / black cloudy sky and the shady bamboo tunnels in the dips and then back up up up into the hills with everywhere the green cut through with the dark red tracks snaking off into the hills to god-knows-where and people in all the colours with the huge piles of everything on their heads and the trucks being loaded indescribably high with bundles of something or other. Yes: it was a good day. But no: by the end of it, I wasn’t in Matadi, because I’d faffed around with the flip-flopping waterfall malarkey. So I made a wild camp on the top of a hill and if the whisky hadn’t destroyed the funk then the camping definitely definitely did. And the stove worked fine. Happy days.
Up up! Bight and early to Matadi and suddenly: there it is. You have never seen such a place! How all those buildings somehow remain clinging to the sides of those hills is frankly beyond me, especially considering how slippy it gets here in the rain. They are close to vertical! And somehow these lunatics are driving double-articulated lorries with 42 wheels (42 wheels!) through all this madness and there’s music and shouting and it smells of delicious food and rotting fish and stale urine and petrol and everyone’s piled on top of each other but me? I manage to find a room in a mission with a balcony overlooking the city where it’s calm and breezy and it’s a good base to head into town to get the Angola visa which will be ready the next day so yes: a good job I didn’t go to the waterfalls. Otherwise I’d be staying in Matadi for the weekend, which would be too long.
You see: I didn’t really feel like I could stop for too long anywhere in Matadi. Many people could not be friendlier, but in the DRC they have good reason to feel bitter about what white people have done to their country, and I heard this voiced frequently. Everyone would want to know if I was American, which I would strenuously deny. Have a read about what’s been done here by the Americans at one time or another. In fact, read The Poisonwood Bible. It’s very good. Anyway, the country is very rich in resources, and I was asked time and again why the west was determined to keep the DRC (and the rest of Africa) poor, and why the people in the DRC are not rich. It was a good question that I could not answer. Anyway, I got a general feeling of underlying menace a lot of the places I went in Matadi, which would get more pronounced the longer I stayed in one place.
That said, later that night I got taken drinking by an extremely enthusiastic young chap who was almost impossible to understand and had a lovely night with him and his brother and one of their friends, and after a short but eventful stay in this mad, mad town, got my Angola visa and ran over a chicken.
Ok, ok, the chicken incident was in a village outside Matadi, but you get the point.
That’ll do for tonight: the mozzies are out in force.
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Ok, so now it’s today again and I’m in Namibia again. You get it? Now would be a good time for a coffee break if you fancy, you’re probably about half way through. I hope I wasn’t ranting on in a boring fashion too much previously…I can never be bothered to re-read what I’ve written and modify it. I’m like Jack bleedin’ Kerouac, innit. *Ahem.*
Right so anyway, I’d just run over a chicken. After that I went along a bit and then turned right and went along some more along a lovely track with big deep puddles to splash through (slowly and carefully in case they become REALLY deep…don’t ever trust a puddle in these parts) and then a really ‘orrible big dirt road and then I was in Luvo, the DRC / Angola border crossing.
Luvo was a filthsome and disgusting place. I had heard that you should camp at the border post. Ha! NO CHANCE. I was heading straight for the hotel over there with the nice high walls where the angry people who were scowling and shouting “(something something) TOURIST” at me wouldn’t be able to get in to, and where I wouldn’t have to see the carpet of plastic bottles and the people shouting at each other and pulling in opposite directions on the same thing they both wanted and the dirty hungry children in amongst the lorries and the dead puppies (yes, literally) and the dust everywhere with people just sitting in the bottles and the dust and the mud and no one smiling because, frankly, there was little to smile about here. Brrr. I did not like Luvo.
In the hotel I met Joe the Chinese cement merchant and we had a nice long chat but then got into an argument with someone (who turned out to be from the president’s family apparently, I had no reason to distrust Joe on this point) about how me not giving him my motorbike was indicative of the West’s treatment of Africa in general and how the West should be sending all their used cars over to Africa so Africa could be richer (?!) and why were we selling guns to Africa and so on. Argh! Well, he had a point about the guns but my counter arguments were poorly formed and I’ve been re-hashing this argument frequently ever since. I need to find someone knowledgeable about African history and politics to explain things to me. Or read a book. The basic question I have, like everyone else, it seems, is: WHY IS EVERYONE SO POOR WHEN THE LAND IS SO RICH? I’m sure there’s a simple answer.
Well, anyway. The morning came and I had to get stuck into the Luvo border crossing and it was HORRIBLE, let me tell you. Not the longest, but definitely the nastiest. No, that’s a lie: after the Brazzaville / Kinshasa ferry, it was the nastiest. The ferry was on another level.
Boom! ANGOLA. The race was on. It was 12 pm on Saturday, and I had until 5 pm on Wednesday (when I was assuming the border closed) to get out. The other side was about 1200 miles away. No time for hanging about…
…but there was time to ride 30 km along a dirt track because all of a sudden I’d got it into my head that I wanted to do a more difficult route than the road. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. ARGH. Never bloody satisfied. The harder route was all highlighted green on the map, which meant it was exceptionally beautiful, but it was 400 miles longer and on worse roads. Once again I was going THE WRONG BLOODY WAY and paralysed by indecision AGAIN and that funny feeling was back AGAIN and I stopped to think and then carried on some more and then stopped to think and then carried on some more and then stopped to think and then carried on some more and then stopped to think and turned round and then stopped to think and finally committed to riding the 30 km back to the Tarmac having wasted about 90 very precious minutes being a twat.
So I got to the coast and it was time to stop and I asked for a place to stay with some missionaries and, as always, they took me in for the night. It was very nice: the Angolans were very different to the Congolese in the way they didn’t stand and stare silently in a big gang 3 meters away whilst I was doing whatever I was doing. They would try to have a look but would be stand-offish and I really appreciated it. And I stayed up late and wrote about chicken killing and didn’t realise that the boss was staying up late because he was a man who was concerned – very concerned – for my security, so I felt pretty guilty and got into my tent to do some sweating.
Sunday involved a 6 am get up and riding all day through the wonderful countryside, except it started raining at midday and didn’t stop until I did at 6 pm. I decided to not use the over suit because it was bloody hot, and also I was wanting to see if I could get away without it because it’s a thing I want to discard when I get to Capetown. So I got very wet and cold and put on my thermals and waterproof gloves but it was mostly fine, and got to a town and finally found another Christian mission, which was all beautiful architecture and white tiling and I put my tent on a stage and wondered what all the benches were for.
I listened to some In Our Time and then went to bed to do some really exceptional sweating this time, totally soaked through the liner and sleeping bag I was on top of and got the Thermarest all soggy, so had a risky shower in the open under my water bladder and finally got some sleep and after a bit got up and was lazily packing when the school children started to arrive.
Haaaaaaaaaaa…the packing got a lot less lazy and I managed to get out before too many had turned up but I imagine I might have been a hot topic of conversation that day.
It was day three in Angola. And the chain was starting to make some really horrible noises and look really very old, especially after all the riding in the rain. I flagged down some folks on big bikes and got some phone numbers and got to the next town and tried the phone numbers and no answer, and tried to find a new chain all in a massive rush and it was impossible. And I was racked with indecision once more. Stay? Go? What if the chain fails? But what if I waste too much time looking for one? Stress stress stress and finally I get in touch with the motor-biker from Lobito (which is where I was) and he takes me to a workshop and they tell me I’m being silly and the chain is fine.
Off I go again, having wasted another 2 hours. But this time, I’m heading inland. And inland there are MOUNTAINS. And, as we all know from our D of E training, for every 100 m of vertical height gain there’s a 1 degree C temperature drop. To keep myself amused, I spent some time cheering as I went up hill, booing as I went down, and mumbling incoherently as I went along the flat.
When it got dark and I had to break my deal with myself to not pay for accommodation in Angola because there wasn’t a mission in this town and I couldn’t bring myself to wild camp having read in the Handbook that land mines are a risk in Angola after another classic bit of American intervention. The hotel was rustic but pleasant because the boss and his chef lady were very friendly and hospitable and made delicious food, and didn’t get too cross when I locked myself out of the room and we had to take the window apart to break in again.
Another early start, but now I was powered on an espresso made with instant coffee and day four was a monster. I’d done 200 miles before lunch, which was both late and long as I sheltered from an absolutely biblical thunderstorm, eating tuna and avocado sandwiches under the eaves of a supermarket. WHen it was time to go, I decided that this time, I had to use the over suit: in the mountains, the rain was cold. Although the first storm had stopped, I could see another one rolling in…
Suited up, it was hot hot hot until I got going, and then it was bearable. I headed off east, waited for the rain to start and sort of looking forward to it, watching the lightning out of the corner of my eye and hearing the thunder over the sound of the engine.
Heading east, I was driving in the gap between the thunderstorms and going in the same direction as them but a bit quicker. I caught up the first storm, and the rain started…and then the road swung south and the rain stopped as the storm pulled away from me, but on my right, I could see storm number two coming in fast. I sped up to get as much distance done on the dry road as possible.
Storm number two was a monster. The rain was only 50 meters distant now, and I could see the sheets of it lashing down and hear the thunder right overhead…
Suddenly, the road swung east again, away from the storm. In my wing mirrors, I could see it just behind me. I could smell that light green fresh sickly rain smell. I could feel the wind on my chest…I was moving faster than it, and so faster than the storm. Out to my left, the first storm was now a couple of miles away, but still going strong.
To my right, the line of hills rushed past and suddenly stopped. The road swung to the right into the gap and, from behind the final hill, a third thunderstorm reared up, smaller than the first two but this time I was heading straight for it. It got very dark. Again, it was about to be very rainy.
And again! At the last moment, the rain just a few hundred meters away, the road swung left. And this time I could see it heading for miles into the distance and the bright blue sky beyond. The three thunderstorms dramatically arranged behind me, I rode for a few miles to get some distance between us and took off the over suit, pleased with this final piece of proof – hard, evidence-based, scientific PROOF – that the over suit was an unnecessary piece of equipment that I would be right to discard in Capetown.
And that was that. For the rest of the day it was perfect roads through incredible landscapes, all watched over by this epic cloudscape with more thunderstorms off to either side, but none as close as before. It was a very good day, and the furthest I’ve ridden in one day since the absolute epic with Babs all the way back in Portugal where we’d eaten the shit pizza for dinner and then rode another 70 miles in the dark before we found a campsite. Remember that one? Bet you don’t.
Anyway, I finished off the day by having to get an expensive hotel room (again, no missionaries) where they didn’t have a mosquito net so I had to put my tent up inside, and was really hungry and didn’t cope well with having to clean the stove yet again, and ate spaghetti with tuna and tomato ketchup (mmm-mmm) and moped around somewhat but never mind.
When I woke, it was D-day: day five of the visa. I had until 5 pm to get out of the country and just 200 km of Tarmac riding to do. Easy!
Only…well, you see, I’d read in the book that the off-road track to the other bit of border was really good. And it was shorter, at only 160 km, and I had all day to do it. AND I’d been wanting to do some off-road for ages.
To cut a long story short: after 80 km of horrible torn-up track with roadworks and rubbish and 80 km of glorious technical rocky and gravelly track in the middle of nowhere through the forest; and after the bike had been stuck twice (once in a deep puddle where I got helped out by a truck driver, and once on a dry river bed crossing where I had to lie the bike down on it’s side and fill the hole with rocks before picking it back up again); and after the steering head bearings had really started giving up the ghost, becoming horrendously notchy and nearly turfing me off the bike; and after seeing proper tribes people with all the feathers and beads and sticks and so on for the first time; and after crossing the bridge by the stupendous dam with the rapids and the waterfall – after all that, I arrived at the border having had my extra bit of adventure at last, and finished the formalities at 4:30 pm. Half and hour to spare, and never in doubt. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
So now I’m in Namibia, where they drive on the left and speak English.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand…relax.
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P.s. “WHAT’S BABS BEEN UP TO?!” I hear you cry. Well…he’s currently in Benin. He’s currently in hospital in Benin. He’s currently in hospital in Benin with a spiral fracture to the tibia, trying to sort out repatriation and sell the bike. I spoke to him yesterday, and he’s in good spirits and looking forward to being at home. He dropped it riding off-road and fell funny. Before they put the cast on, he was without one for two days with a floppy foot. ARGH!
I’ll leave him to tell you the story as and when you see him.
GET WELL SOON BABS! Catch you in the Sheaf sometime soon…

Be careful what you wish for…

Oh my goodness gracious me. What on Earth am I doing here?
CURRENT LOCATION: Pointe-Noire, the Republic of Congo
MILES COMPLETED: 11544
23/02/2016 – some grubby hotel or other in Mouila, Gabon
Finally! It’s raining. It rained last night as well, but I was safely ensconced in my air conditioned room and had no intention of getting up to go and look at it. Now it’s the next day and I’m not in my room. I’ve eaten a dinner of chips and sausage which would’ve been wonderful if I’d been pining for western food, but actually, it felt a bit like more of the same. What I’m really after is fresh vegetables and fruit salad or just plain old salad, or anything not fried or grilled or animal in origin. I like that I’m sitting under corrugated iron and the rain is very loud and is forming a large number of almost identical streams, all in a row and each separated for its neighbour by about 3 inches. Sometimes, a heavier sheet of rain comes from my right and I can hear it passing over my head and off to the left, and a few seconds later the streams of water respond in turn by becoming stronger from right to left, and then going back to what they are now. It’s the first time I’ve seen rain in Africa, except for 30 seconds each in Bamako and the day before yesterday, both of which made me get out of bed and put the fly sheet on my tent.
My grubby hotel shares its car park with what may be a mechanic’s shop, it’s hard to tell. There are some knackered cars here which are missing various parts, but most of them seem to have been here for several years, if the layer of dust is anything to go by. Maybe the mechanic is not very good at his job. My grubby hotel’s car park doubles as its restaurant-cum-beer garden, and so I can see the knackered cars through the streams of water and the plants just in front of me. It’s actually not so bad. I might get another beer. Ahhh: holiday abroad.
Right well so. I’m going to have a go at organising the blog with sub-titles like that one above saying when I’m writing it and then stuffing a bit on the top with all the usual gumph right before I send it, and we’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll go back to the old method after this attempt, I’ll have a think later once I’m damn well good and ready, and that’s that.
ANYWAY. So far, the bit after Yaounde has been really quite trying. It’s just so unbelievably and excruciatingly hot and damp and sticky here that I literally finding it quite hard to breathe, what with the asthma coming back to haunt me as it does every now and then, teaming up with the stress-related tight chest as diagnosed by the doctor when I was convinced I had lung cancer during a particularly difficult term at school, which turned out to be nothing but, well, stress. What is making me stressed is being somewhere so indescribably sticky and damp and hot that I can’t either think straight or breathe properly. That, and all the crap decision making.
One decision was that when I was in Yaounde, I decided not to buy some more insurance (which in French is called “assurance”). I thought I had the insurance or assurance ever since I bought it on the Mauritania / Senegal border, because I’d bought three month’s worth and it’s certainly been less than that. Only, it turns out my mind had been making things up again, because I’d actually only bought one month’s worth of insurance as was pointed out by the policeman just before I’d got to Yaounde when he asked to see my documents.
I thought I was going to get brutally done for loads of money at that point, but actually I had a lovely chat with him and all of his friends and refused to buy them beer and we all had a jolly old time where it was hard at times to determine whether I was about to be fined or extorted or whether they were taking the piss or what, and then I pointed out that that truck had lots of bananas in it (“WOAH! Il y a beaucoup de banana, vraiment!”) and they let me go. PHEW! Lucky escape, I thought. I’ll buy more assurance in Yaounde, I thought.
BUT: in Yaounde, they wouldn’t sell me less than a whole year’s worth of assurance. Ha! Not likely, I thought. NO WAY I’m spending £50 on a year’s worth of assurance I don’t need. So I decided to drive to the border with Gabon and purchase some assurance there, because assurance is always available at the borders. Also, assurance in Africa is apparently not worth the paper it’s written on, and so I wasn’t doing anything ACTUALLY bad, maybe? Hmmm. Maybe. I wanted the assurance, but was willing to risk 100-odd km of riding for getting a month’s-worth at cheap cheap prices.
Only blow me down if it wasn’t either (a) not available at the border or (b) not available for someone who’d forgotten to look at the border, and further more be flabbergasted if I wasn’t pulled over just a short while later at a check point and fined a cool £200 for not having assurance. After assuring him it was an honest mistake (ha!), I managed to haggle the fine down to £75 but still! DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT. Never mind, I thought, I’ll buy some in the next town.
Trouble is, it was a Saturday. And so it was necessary to wait until Monday. I tried to find out if it would be possible to persuade the patron to attend the shop on his day off with the application of an additional premium, but was assured by some of his friends that it would not be possible. They suggested I went to the police, where I might explain my predicament and my desire to continue my onward journey toot-sweet (as the French say), and thus be furnished with two day’s worth of emergency assurance. I considered for a moment and then decided…yes. I’ll give it a try.
The police where initially non-plussed, but very pleasant. I went to a hotel to try for a room, but was disappointed with the price. The police waved me back, and told me that yes: they could give me my emergency two day’s worth of assurance no problem, and suggested I waited for a moment.
By the time I realised I was about to be fined for the second time that day, I had been sweating profusely at the police station for about an hour. Luckily, the second fine was smaller than the first: they were astonished when I said that I’d had £200 demanded from me. Apparently, £48 is the going rate. Very kindly, they did not impound my registration certificate or my driving license, as they said they had on the receipt – normally I would have to return to collect these thing once I had the correct paperwork. What they actually gave me, for my £48, was a 48 hour get out of jail free card.
So according to the receipt, I had 48 hours to get some assurance. The race was on, and in Gabon the race proceeds slowly because of all the having to stop for the police checkpoints.
Two receipt-waves later, and I reached a lovely Catholic mission. I asked to stay; they said yes. I asked for somewhere to wash; they took me to the lovely secluded spring surrounded by bamboo. I cooked my rice and beans chatting with three local kids who shooed off when I shooed them off a couple of hours later. I didn’t really sleep because it was so hot, but the next day I went to church and got to watch approximately half the congregation fall asleep to the 30 minute sermon, left before the end, and headed off once more, waving the all-important receipt.
Driving driving driving, some tracks and stuff and over the equator I went (three times, actually, because I missed it there, then missed it on the way back, and then found it), trying to find a more interesting route through Gabon than the new-built Chinese road and find somewhere that will sell me some assurance, and I find myself in Booue which according to the map is a big town, but it’s very much not. And which definitely did not have an assurance salesperson. I found myself a slightly less lovely Catholic mission. I asked to stay; after I had explained myself at some length, they said yes. I asked for somewhere to wash; they took me to the quite intimidating spring with around 30 partly-dressed locals queueing to rinse themselves off or fill up jerry cans where I was something of a novelty and had to attempt assert my queuing rights with pigmy French and a massive grin. I attempted to cook my rice and beans surrounded by 10-or-so teenagers who were amused by my crap French and gasped when, after the third time I’d dismantled and cleaned the stove and put it back together again and this time with the replacement jet, it still went out after 5 minutes and refused to relight. I bought some food at a restaurant and didn’t sleep at all because it was so hot and the teenagers had told me to look out because there were bandits and had mimed neck-cutting, but the next day I left and ran into an immigration official who detained me for a full hour whilst he wrote down down all of my past, present and future plans, and then discovered that the bridge hadn’t been built, the boat was broken, and the road beyond blocked with landslides anyway.
So back over the equator I went feeling EXTREMELY PISSED OFF. Roads roads roads through the jungle, very wonderful roads I’m sure with all sorts of turns and perfect tarmac but maaaaaaaaaaaaaaan was I pissed off, over the equator AGAIN which I didn’t miss this time because there was a sign, all covered in stickers and graffiti from people doing the same as wot I’m doin’, straight to the nearest town big enough to support a hotel and into an air-conditioned room with clean sheets and ignoring the rain and asleep by about 7 pm.
I decided to use the new-built Chinese road, and I am angry with myself for doing such. I’ve been in the jungle for about 3 days, and I’m already losing my mind. Earlier today I convinced myself that I’ve got parasites in the sweat pores in my feet because they really itch and, apparently, according a book I’ve just read that’s set in the Congo, there are parasites here that get into your sweat pores and make you itch.
Don’t worry, though! I’ve plotted an interesting off-road route through the jungle to Pointe-Noire that will hopefully stop me feeling guilty about using the Chinese road, but may lead to me drowning in mud, and then we’ll see where we are.
Oh yeah: I bought some assurance today, a day (or maybe a month) too late. It cost £50 for two month’s worth.
It’s not raining anymore, and has gone back to being unreasonably hot. To bed! Tomorrow all will be well. Or at least, closer to Capetown. Holiday! Huh-huh-huh-holiday! (Can’t complain, yadda-yadda-yadda.)
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26/02/2016 – a lovely clean and fresh hotel in Pointe-Noire, The Republic of Congo (not the DRC, the other one that’s to the north of the Congo)
SO THEN. It’s been an emotionally fraught week or so, as you might have gathered from the previous bit of this missive. Don’t worry, though! I’m now safely ensconced in a lovely clean room with the curtains closed, trying to hide from my holiday for a bit. The wi-fi is, I think, good enough to download and watch films and after a bit of that I’ll be ready to face the outside again. The ‘leccy just went off, but now it’s on again which means the air-conditioning has kicked back in and later, I might get some beer and bring it back here and try to pretend for a little while that I’m not in the Congo. Ha!
What I have been up to for the last few days is this:
I left the grubby hotel feeling very grubby and praying for some RAIN to ride in, so I wouldn’t feel like my mind was melting. And praise be! Probably because I was in a church for about 20 minutes last Sunday, it only started to rain. Oh my lordy lord it was absolutely lovely. I did up all of the vents on the jacket and revelled in getting totally and utterly soaked through, zooming along the road and having a whale of a time, and attracting strange looks from the sheltering locals.
I was still bored of the road, though, and wanted some off-road action. And then, hallelujah! The road stopped and it turned into a wonderfully smooth gravelly track with tall, tall grass on either side in such a bright green, with the red road, and the dark sky above and I stopped for a break and a chat with a nice man whilst I was sheltering from the storm who seemed to feel extremely positive about my chances of quitting Gabon and getting to a big town in the Congo by the end of the day. Easy peasy, good track all the way apparently, and then I’d be ready for my more challenging bit of off-road that I’d planned the day after.
Can you see where this is going?
Well, so, anyway. I was riding along, but steady now, because things were starting to get a bit slippery and I really didn’t want to end up rolling around in the mud. Things went a bit squirrelly a couple of times, but nothing an experienced motorbicyclist like your’s truly couldn’t handle. Have I mentioned I can ride on sand these days? And what’s a bit of mud when you can ride on sand.
The first time I dropped the bike was a classic front end sliding off to the left, an over-correct and a bounce off the side of the track, and a low-speed drop and step off. Well, I thought, it was going to happen sooner or later. I picked the bike up and off we went again.
About a kilometer later, the rear wheel decided it wanted to be in front and tried to sneak around the side somewhat. However, as an experienced sand rider, I was well aware of how to deal with such a problem: stay steady, keep the front wheel straight, and give it some beans. That’ll sort it.
That definitely did not sort it. What that meant was, that I’d give the rear wheel permission to get all the way round the front and that then I’d end up somewhere close to going backwards and THEN I’d get to have a lovely roll around in the mud. With one of the boxes hanging off after the sideways digging into the ground thing happened at speed. Not much speed, but enough speed, evidently.
Now as some of you might know, I’m a chap who likes things to be arranged just so. It did not sit terribly well with me to have to unload all of the clean, dry things out of the box and into a dry bag in an attempt (but only an attempt) to keep them dry, and then get the tools out in the rain and the mud and fettle the box back into shape in such inclement conditions. However, I was still feeling pretty good about life, even with the mud everywhere and the maps getting soggy and the hour long faff of unloading – repair – reloading. The rain was still wonderful and warm and hey: it was a one off thing and I’d go proper slow after, and it was only 15 km to the border and then 50 km to the town after it and even at 20 kph that would be easily doable in the remains of the day.
Off I went again, and for the next 5 km all was well. Admittedly I was only going 15 mph, but that was fine and I got to the gendarmerie post for the Gabon side and we filled in some forms and stuff and had a chat about how to say “bon route” in English, and they wished me a safe journey and I immediately fell off on the clay, leaving my right leg trapped under a box and pointing the wrong way, and me trying to push the bike up with one hand and not slip with the other hand in the mud, and my knee felt like it might be close to dislocation and my leg might be close to snapping and I actually shouted “HELP!” as in, I actually shouted it because I needed help and was scared and it really hurt, not shouted it in a kind of little whimper where you don’t really want to be heard, which is my normal method.
By the time the gendarmerie came along, I’d actually managed, just about, to extricate myself and was trying to walk off the discomfort, which wasn’t really working. We got the bike up and me on it, and they suggested a feet off and peddling type of method was the way to go in such conditions. I agreed, and headed off at somewhat less than 10 mph, just about keeping the bike upright on the wet clay.
Amazingly, I managed to get all the way to Gabon immigration without falling off again. I was starting to learn: the gravelly bits are ok-ish at about 15 mph. The clay is 1st gear tick over, hand hovering over the clutch, and don’t touch the brakes EVER. The rocks are fine. Basically: it was all going to be slow going, but possible.
After the four stage faff of the border on the Congo side, it was getting towards time to head off. I ate a can of corned beef with a spoon, as it was the best the little shop could do and I hadn’t eaten all day. I was feeling somewhere in the region of 89% fortified and ready for another tussle with the mud. My chances of completing the day’s journey were rated variously by all present as somewhere between “No problem! That’s an off-road motorbike!” and “impossible”. Determined to avoid the meal of nothing but corned beef that would surely be mine if I stayed, I decided to make like a tree and press on.
By the time I was far enough away from the border to make my return unthinkable (somewhere around 5 km), the gravelly and rocky bits of the track were nowhere to be seen. The orange clay bits had now become wet enough that the clay was willing to part company with the road and join a tyre for half a revolution, before sticking itself into the mud guards. I was now at a maximum speed of 5 mph and peddling constantly. Even that was not enough, and the fifth time I fell off that day, the baggage was so waterlogged and the bike carrying so much more extra weight in mud, that I had to unload it to get it back upright. I reduced my day’s plans to getting to the town that was only 10 km or so distant.
About 200 m later, I reached a village where someone waved to get my attention. I dropped the bike again. Lomar, my green t-shirted 20 year old saviour, ran over as I tried to get back onto my bike looking fairly miserable, extremely filthy, and generally at the end of my tether. He demanded that I stop immediately, sit down THERE, later sleep HERE, and wait for some sunshine in the morning. Amazingly, I required persuading to do this. As soon as I followed his instructions, however, life seemed better.
[Next day.]
Ha! Andy’s arrived, unexpectedly. He was the chap I rode with briefly in Cameroon, and it’s extremely good to see another person who’s in same position. He arrived covered in mud and having had similar experiences as me. Lovely stuff. We’ll be watching a film later because he has loads on his laptop, and I am looking forward to that, very much.
ANYWAY. Where was I? So: I stayed in the village for the night and bought everyone beer because part of being here is accepting that there is a culture of if you have plenty, you share. And as far as everyone in the village was concerned, I have extremely plenty. We danced to some music and I managed to bat off all of the requests for me to donate my stuff, from the shirt I was wearing to the motorbike I was riding and the spanners I might be using soon, and the next morning after a wonderful sleep in the cool after the rain, headed off on the (now much improved, after 15-or-so hours of drying time) earth roads. About 150 km of horrendous corrugations and massive potholes later and I’d sailed straight past the bit where I was going to go on my off-road adventure because, frankly, I’d decided it was hard enough to ride a motorbike to Capetown and back anyway and dammit I was already off-road, and I’d arrived in Dolisie where there was some very much needed fuel.
It was Thursday. And as we all know, Thursday is before Friday, and after that it’s Saturday, and on Saturday it’s the start of the weekend which lasts for two days normally, and no one’s interested in giving out visas on the weekend because the weekend is PARTY TIME. And so my arrival in Pointe-Noire was necessary, tres rapide.
I zoomed along the twisty turny brand new (again!) four lane road through the rain forested mountains, racing the light. I lost. I also lost the race against the rain, and suddenly it was very dark and very twisty and very wet and definitely time to stop. Stop I did, 30 minutes later once I’d finally found an auberge. This new auberge broke new ground in grubbiness. I poured two buckets of water over my head by way of a shower. I ate my dinner of two baguettes filled each with half a can of corned beef and four Laughing Cow cheese triangles next to the place where they were pouring diesel from one jerry can into another, because it was sufficiently far enough away from the extraordinarily loud music that I could hear myself think. I drank a beer and went to bed at 7-ish, where I shared my room with a nesting bird that had housed itself on top of a junction box.
I arrived in Pointe-Noire the next day. I found a posh hotel, where I am now. I discovered that the visa would take until Thursday to complete, but that it is also, apparently, available in the DRC. I went into my hotel room and did not leave for 24 hours, and tried to put my mind back together. My stove still will not work, even after 5 hours of fettling. I watched Invictus yesterday with Andy, and it was TERRIBLE. I will leave the hotel later today and try to make some progress: when I’m on the bike, everything becomes easy and simple and I know what I’m doing; it’s when I’m off the bike that my mind starts to fall apart somewhat.
I will get over the border tomorrow, hopefully, and then get my Angola visa in Mopti, hopefully. And then I will be in Angola at some point soon, ready for the visa dash.
So there you go. That’s what’s occurring. I still can’t breathe properly. FOCUS, FOCUS! Character building, innit. FOCUS!

A Quick Update

Yes, I know I only sent something about 5 days ago, but I thought I’d do it again now because it feels like there’s been some sort of turning point in the trip and also I might not get to do it again for a while. I’ll try to keep this suitably brief.

CURRENT LOCATION: Yaounde, Cameroon
MILES COMPLETED: 10000 and then some more (10200-ish I seem to remember)

Like I said: a turning point. Firstly, I’ve ridden the bike for more than 10000 miles, as suggested above. I’m happy to say I’m still not bored, and my arse is mostly not too painful, and I’m developing some excellent throttle calluses on the back three fingers of the right hand. It also seems that I’m not falling off as much, most of the time. But not all of the time

Secondly, I’ve turned a very literal corner in the African continent, being in Cameroon: no longer will I be going east-ish. From here on in it’s south all the way (until it’s north when I start going up the other side). This feels like the fourth stage of the whole debacle: number one was Europe, two was the Saharan and deserty and mostly Arabic countries of Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania, and three was the western African countries…Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. The western African countries are mostly fairly flat grasslands with the odd bit of jungle and the odd bit of desert, which is in stark contrast to Cameroon which as soon as I crossed the border became almost 100% jungly and mountainous. It’s set to stay jungly and mountainous for quite a while longer, as I head into Gabon and the Congo and the DRC next…

…and turning this corner also means I get to put away my West Africa map and get out my Southern Africa map. I’ll call that reason 2(a). This is also good because the Southern Africa map is the other way up and it folds much more nicely along the already there folds to fit into my map case.

So, the third reason it feels like I’m actually getting there is because I FINALLY HAVE MY DRC VISA! Yes! All I have to get now is my Angola visa (and I know where that’s coming from…Pointe-Noire in the Congo, a 700 km round trip in the wrong direction, but it’s the only place it’s available on this stretch of the journey) and then ALL THE VISAS WILL BE DONE.

I’m not sure I’ve moaned suitably about just quite how much of a nightmare the visas here are. A massive nightmare: that’s how much. Different embassies for the same countries will charge different amounts and take different amounts of time, depending on where they are (DRC visa in Benin: $20, same day turnaround. DRC visa in Abuja: $250 for 3 day turnaround, or $100 for 10 day turnaround). They will demand different documents, ranging from nothing at all (Congo embassy in Lome) to hotel reservations, yellow fever vaccination certificates, maps with your route, photocopies of vehicle documents, photocopies of driving licenses, and so on and so on (Congo embassy in Abuja). As such, conversations between people doing this trip will always spend at least 3 hours discussing where and how to get visas in the cheapest and most efficient way, sort of like climbers discussing moves and grades and numbers or teachers discussing behaviour management techniques and AfL methods but even more exciting than either of those, if such a thing is possible. I have been rubbish at getting my visas in a cheap and efficient way, up until now. Andy, who’s riding an enormous BMW (a GS1200 Adventure if you must know) and who I met at the Nigeria / Cameroon border and rode with for a couple of days, has been outrageously good at his visas. He’s already got his DRC visa TWICE because he wasn’t sure when he was going to enter the country, and has managed to get a near-mythical tourist visa for Angola which gives him 30 days in the country.

Me? I’ll be having a 5 day transit visa for more money than he paid, in this place that’s miles out of the way, and will then need to ride absolutely hell-for-leather through Angola to avoid overstaying my welcome and getting a hefty fine. Ah well. If I were to do this trip again, I might spend a little more time planning this aspect of the journey…

Yes, so, anyway…I got out of Abuja and rode my bike and not very much noteworthy happened (well, that’s a lie: noteworthy things happened all the time, but none so massively noteworthy that I need to waste your time telling you about them, things like the procession of the maybe 500 school kids in bright purple uniforms with the marching band and the lunatic teacher at the front, I assume he was a teacher, who gave me a massive salute on my way past and blew his whistle frantically, oh, and the bit of road that had just the right number of potholes that it could be taken at 40 – 50 mph in a slalom style, weaving all about the road which was totally brilliant fun, oh, and listening to the birds in the jungle whilst I sat on the burnt-out car, oh, and all the rest of the colourful crazy weirdness that happens EVERY SINGLE DAY) and then I stayed with some missionaries. The missionaries were lovely folks, they give me some food to eat and some water to drink and let me camp by their red and yellow church. And the next day I met, like I said, Andy the Kiwi on the massive BMW when we went into Cameroon, after having filled out two sets of triplicate forms with almost all of the same information on them for the Nigerian side. Ahhh, border crossings.

And Cameroon was jungle and perfect tarmac with BENDS, beautiful linked turns through the mountains like I haven’t seen since Portugal, it’s all been dead straight roads in Africa previously. It took a little while to readjust and then it was marvellous. The next day I got an hour or so head start whilst Andy sorted some exciting SIM card stuff because we would be splitting up in the middle of the day anyway and I wanted to get to Yaounde quick-stick. Off I went and whilst trying to find a cash machine I got crashed into by a taxi who didn’t look, it was a crash that wasn’t my fault! Yes! But no. I was quite cross and the taxi driver very nervous when my bike didn’t start for a couple of moments until I’d turned it off and on again. Ho hum. I really shouldn’t have spent the previous night telling Andy how I had stopped falling off all the time, probably like I shouldn’t have told you how I’ve stopped falling off all the time at the top of this missive (touch wood). Now I have to bend my hand guard back into shape AGAIN when I find a metal worker, and also I had to hammer my pannier mounts back into shape AGAIN but that’s ok, my boxes are terrific and one of my favourite bits of equipment because they’re managing to take all the shit I’m throwing at them so far (touch wood).

Anyway. Then: more mountains, more potholed tarmac, then back to the good stuff and the bends, and then some excellent off-road through teeny tiny villages for 100 km or so and Andy caught up and we were nowhere near Yaounde by the end of the day. And in the middle of all that I managed to very VERY nearly ride my bike off the side of a little wooden bridge into some quite deep by the look of it water when I took a diversion round a concrete bridge in construction. I was just way too quick and suddenly the little wooden bridge appeared with all sorts of holes and obstacles, and there was a decision: correct and go for the good bit, or hold the line and take the nasty bit with the deep pothole of the exit, I went for neither and like I said it all went wobbly and is was, oh, maybe 30 cm off a 3 m drop into the water but I rescued it by throwing my bike on the floor. Sort of rescued it. I really REALLY shouldn’t have spent the previous night telling Andy how I had stopped falling off all the time. Oh, and it also meant I got to hammer the other box’s mounts back into shape again, just to make sure they’re nice and even and no one feels left out.

Right and so but then: we stayed in a little nowhere town filled with music and lights and excitement as they all are, ate a delicious grilled fish each accompanied by very strange chewy translucent things that came wrapped in a big old leaf which has an excellent texture but a strange aftertaste of urine or maybe bleach, and watched the first half of Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germaine because I wanted to see the crowd reaction when stuff happened. It was not disappointing and involved screaming and tables being hefted about. Andy, as a true Kiwi type who only likes rugby, was not impressed with the football but I basically repeated everything I’d been told by Celia about how good it is (baggies baggies boing boing, AM I RIGHT? EH? I’m a football fan, me, West Brom till I die and all that) and he seemed marginally less unimpressed by the end.

The next day we split up again but this time for good or until we bump into each other again, because Andy was off the the beach and I went to Yaounde and got my DRC visa sorted. I’m staying in a Presbyterian mission near four very graceful water towers in the garden of a 100 year old house with lots of trees, and it even had a go at raining today, but not for long. The drops were extremely big, but there wasn’t even enough to settle the dust. And last night I heard some music and went to investigate and managed to discover a practice session for a gospel choir. It was extraordinarily wonderful music and all sorts of synchronised dancing, and I sat and watched until I thought maybe they’d had enough of me, which was about four songs later. I wasn’t sure if they had actually had enough of me, but there was some moaning going on about something and I decided to make myself scarce. I don’t like to overstay my welcome, wot wot.

And whilst I’ve been doing all that, Babs has been having a holiday from his holiday in the UK, and going skiing in France. OUTRAGEOUS! HA! Well…there were extremely good reasons. I’m sure he will catch up in Capetown, as long as he doesn’t sink in the mud in the Congo’s wet season which is not far off…

Tomorrow, like I said, I will be off to Gabon and the Congo and the DRC, and eventually Angola. According to ‘The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook’ this next bit is the most difficult section of the journey. It says that “many will be or of their comfort zone by now, riding from dawn to dusk, and it can take some nerve to resist the ‘flee’ instinct”. Yes indeed. There have been many times on this trip where I suddenly feel myself zooming out to look at the whole picture and feel terrified by what’s going on, like what happens when soloing in climbing goes bad or when things are going west in the dark at a festival or when a lesson is going totally tits up, but it doesn’t normally last long and normally means I need to eat. Or sleep. Or have a quite sit down. There is going to be mud and terrible roads and rain and OH MY GOD these countries aren’t even in the Lonely Planet! This is it! I’m being An Explorer! I’m Off The Beaten Track! Huzzah! But after the Visa Dash in Angola (the common name for the 5 day sprint across the fourth? fifth? biggest country in Africa) I shall, according to The Handbook, “pop out of Angola’s southern frontier into the Disneyland of southern Africa like a well-oiled cork”. Ooo sir-ee. I say.

We shall see.

[Next day.]

HA!

I say again: HA! No chance to get in touch? I DON’T THINK SO! Not when you’re hopping from free posh place to free posh place with super fast wi-fi and swimming pools and all the mod-cons. Like a disused gym to put your tent in.

Yep, so. The wi-fi in Yaounde was crap, so I didn’t get to send this then, and instead thought that maybe it’d be AGES before I got in touch. It kept my mind occupied as I struggled out of Yaounde, trying to follow the VIP convoy with the police bikes and the military truck and the jeeps full of people in dark glasses who were really creating havoc, they were, so I went on the pavement (at the suggestion of the cop on the bike) but it was blocked, so I got a man with a wheel barrow to pull me back up the hill, but I finally got out of there, and all the while I was thinking: what if they worry? I considered the communication predicament as I tore through the even more jungly jungle towards Gabon. I contemplated how I would get in touch as I paid some money to the enterprising young man who was filling in the potholes and demanding cash from the road users, he was doing a good service and I was happy to pay; and I was going crazed with worry about how to just not disappear when I had a chat with a cop and he took me to a big posh hotel where I could stay for free.

I’ve had a swim, and it’s now dinner time. And the wi-fi seems to work. If you are reading this, and there is no more after this, then it has.

Lucky, lucky you.

P.s. It’s now 10532 miles, FYI.

•••

Ups and Debasement

It’s funny, you know, how the things you think are going to be the worst bits turn out to be the best bits. Like Mauritania. I was extremely concerned about Mauritania before I left, but it’s been my favourite country so far. And camping by myself, which I have developed a great love for (and which I’m doing RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!), and also Nigeria. Nigeria, so far, has been mint.

CURRENT LOCATION: Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Ground, somewhere in Nigeria
MILES COMPLETED: 9137 (Ooo! Nearly 10000! Probably will be by the time I manage to get this finished and sent…)

The Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Ground is not so much a campsite, as a place on the top of a hill with big concrete buildings and lecterns where, it may be assumed, the Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. stage national camps where all sorts of next-level god-bothering happens. I turned up expecting as such, but also hoping for some resident missionaries who would be kind enough to let me camp. There weren’t any. However, there was a lovely chap who’s name I can’t remember but who’s name mnemonic (mnameonic?) was “Big Strong Cocks Inside Me”, and I knew even as I made up the mnameonic that the problem was not going to be remembering the mnameonic but remembering how the mnameonic and the actual name were actually linked, but it was just such a good one that I had to go with it. Anyway, Big Strong Cocks Inside Me lives close by, he said it was ok to stay and filled my water bag for me, and even came back just recently to check I was ok. I was, indeed, ok. He told me that he loved my life.

[Next day.]

Had to give up last night, because the screen was attracting an unholy number of small and not-so-small flying things. Now I’m in a little town called something I can’t remember but it’s near to Suleja, which seems to mostly exist because it’s at a junction. I’m staying in a place called the Twins Guesthouse which has no running water and a somewhat overattentive (and very youthful) host chap, and which is significantly more pleasant than the first place I looked at. I stopped in this town because it had got dark and that meant it was time to stop. I’ve had my third lot (and best lot) of rice and beans for the day in a brightly lit corrugated iron shack on the side of the road. The people who ran the shack (which was doing an excellent trade, presumably due to the quality of the rice and beans) were hyper-efficient and outrageously surly. A ridiculously cute little girl of maybe 7 or 8 was sitting over from me by herself, staring at me the whole time, whilst shoving small bits of biscuit into her bottle of Fanta. A horde of boys had gathered on the outside of the hut and were peering through the wooden slats, whispering to each other and giggling. I was studiously ignored by all of the adults, which was tremendous and meant I could observe the various interesting goings-on. I love observing the interesting goings-on, but I am frequently disturbed in this by friendly people who want to find out what on earth I’m up to.

Although the corrugated shack restaurant (with TV room) was brightly lit, the rest of the town certainly wasn’t. Wandering around African towns at night is a real experience, but slightly daunting. Most of the lighting is what’s coming out of doorways, but the you have the odd fire or wildly flashing shop sign. There is all sorts of activity going on: having a chat, fixing trucks, cooking food, haggling, sitting around, taking the piss (there’s lots of taking the piss in Africa, I’m happy to note), standing up, sitting down again, prodding with the fire, trying on clothes, pointing at the strange white person. In Nigeria, you get all of that but you also get the occasional AK-47 or shotgun or WW2 bolt action rifle being carried about, and everyone’s just a little bit more on edge.

I’ve only been in Nigeria for two days, and I like it very very much. It’s like everywhere else I’ve been, but distilled down into a highly concentrated form. Before, the modal number of people on a motorbike was two, and with a (fairly rare) maximum of four. In Nigeria the mode is three, four is regular, and five and six are not that uncommon. The trucks are even more overloaded, even more shonky, piled up with even more people on top, driving even more recklessly, and belching such quantities of smoke when they’re going uphill that you can’t overtake because you can’t see the road. And I don’t mean: the road ahead is a bit obscured. I mean: you can’t even see the cab of the truck.

And the roads…well, the roads need to been seen to be believed. Today I was on the bike at 9 am and rode until 7 pm. Knocking off about 2 hours for rests, that’s 8 hours of riding. I covered 300 miles or thereabouts. 100 of those miles was on this glorious brand new windy road which took about 90 minutes. That means that the average speed on the rest of it was about 30 mph, which is not very fast considering I was on the equivalent of an A-road. This A-road started off extremely poorly. It was tarmac, but it had actual proper deep ruts (deep enough to catch the bottoms of the cars) and corrugations*. In the tarmac. After a while, the tarmac started to disappear for stretches of 300 m or so, to be replaced by deep dust and potholes. The Tarmac would reappear for 300 m or so, and then disappear again. And when I say potholes, I mean POTHOLES. They could be anything up to 3 feet deep, and filled with anything from dust to large lumps of broken tarmac.

In amongst all of this are the lorries. The lorries. THE BLOODY LORRIES. There were lots of lorries. There would be queues of lorries (and the odd car) of maybe 10-15 at a time. The normality of driving this road was to be part of one of these queues; occasionally I would get about 2 miles of clear road before I caught the next queue. Whether or not a lorry would chose to overtake the one in front in such a queue seemed to be a function purely of the quality of the road surface: if ok-ish, overtake; if not, don’t. Whether it was possible to see the road in front or not seemed to be of secondary importance. I lost count of the number of near-miss head-on collisions I saw. I had to leave the road on four separate occasions because I was faced with two side-by-side lorries bearing down on me. On one of these, the lorry that was already on the wrong side of the road THEN chose to leave the road onto the gravelly bit where I was, to avoid a pothole. We missed each other by what felt like millimetres, but was probably nearer to 30 cm.

The results of this insane driving are everywhere. Every couple of miles I would pass an upturned lorry, frequently burnt out and with large parts missing. I am amazed I didn’t see any crashes occur.

Ooo! But my favourite bits were the towns. Yes! Because then the road would be so dusty, so badly potholed, and the lorries so numerous, that any semblance of order would be lost. In order to avoid the upturned lorry in the centre of the road, the traffic would diverge, different streams taking wildly different lines through the holes, losing any last vestiges of regard for which side of the road was which, and crawling almost bumper-to-bumper for a mile or so in an ugly mess approximately four lorries wide. And in amongst it was little old me on a motorbike, struggling to see because of the dust and very very small indeed but with the major advantage of being able to go into and out of the potholes. Yes! The lorries certainly couldn’t go there, bear in mind these are big enough to contain my bike entirely, but I could, and so I managed to find a way in amongst it all feeling like a tiny boat in a stormy sea and emerge victorious – ha! – onto the opposite shore. Which was horrendous potholed corrugated tarmac nonsense with lorries and so on once again.

Hahahahahaha! Loved it. In a slightly manic, staring, tooth-grinding, manic giggling sort of way.

[Over the course of the next few days.]

So…yesterday I rolled into Abuja, the new-ish city built to house the government when it moved from Lagos. It is very posh, and very rich, and very shiny. I stopped at the side of the road for what would euphemistically be called a ‘comfort break’, and a Mercedes Benz pulled up. Adeyi jumped out and introduced himself and invited me back to his motorbike club, the 09MC’s Club House. Expecting a sort of Hell’s Angels / seedy bar / warehouse arrangement, I was surprised to ride into a beautifully appointed courtyard complete with Range Rovers, fast bikes, security guards, grass, comfy chairs, and so on. My bedroom, which was offered for free, is one of 12 here and has a bed which is wider than it is long, a massive TV, en suite, and room service. Later in the evening the bar-cum-club was filled with all sorts of ridiculously friendly professional types living it up to an excellent DJ with cocktails and dancing and so on. I had a hugely entertaining chat with Buju, the Nigerian city-to-city racing car champion who spends his time driving V12 Mustangs at outrageous speed, fishing, and hunting in the bush. The BBQ was incredible. I was in bed by 10, shattered and revelling in my outrageous good luck.

Blah blah blah, visas visas visas, Cameroon’ll be picked up tomorrow, Angola is confirmed as being possible on the border by someone a few weeks ahead of me, and DRC will get done in Yaounde in Cameroon. Finally! The end of the West African visa faff is in sight…

I’ll be leaving maybe on Saturday morning with Felix or maybe on Monday morning after a weekend here doing some sightseeing and shopping, and of we will go again. Yes indeed.

ANYWAY. Now you’re caught up I’ll back track to Lome, which was where I last posted anything. Lome was HORRENDOUS. I got there on Friday afternoon which immediately meant that visa faff would be delayed until Monday. On Monday I went to the embassy for Benin, and was informed the visa would be ready on Friday Friday! ARGH! So whilst one passport was there for five days I did the visas for Gabon and the Congo which were remarkably easy and then sat…and waited…and read all of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and got all lonley and stuff, and used the Internet in the bar with all the fat old white men with the skinny beautiful black “girlfriends”. And when I was done with that it was back to Kpalime where the waterfalls were and climbing up a mountain, and then back to Lome to collect the visa for Benin where I met loads of people who were also collecting the visas and it took 2 hours to get it back and I met someone who told me that about 20 over-landers were staying on a beautiful beach about 5 km away. DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT.

I also met a wonderful German lady called Bethina (I think) who told me that 15 km over the border into Benin was an amazing reggae bar called The Lion’s Bar and so off I went, feeling mightily pissed off and ratty because I really didn’t want to have been in Lome for so long and I really would have loved to have been with some other people to whom I could talk about bikes and wotnot, and I crossed the border and rode to The Lion’s Bar and last bit was the deepest sand yet but then I was there and

WOW. What a place. On the beach, surrounded by palm trees, a little bar and auberge in red / gold / green, with paintings of Haile Salassi and Bob Marley and King Tubby and so on, hammocks and tables in the sand, and colourful LED fairy lights and a little sculpture of a lion. The owner, called Lion, and his right hand man, called I Love Jah (who I thought was about 45 but was actually 60) could not have been more welcoming. To drink: cocktail. To be more specific: rum cocktails. To be yet more specific: a wide range of extraordinarily delicious rum cocktails for 1000 cfa (about £1) each, to be drunk whilst listening to reggae music superbly selected by Lion on the excellent sound system. YES! This was the place.

The tent went up, a shower was had, and a cocktail, and some of the other, and I sat with a French chap an Italian chap a local lady who didn’t speak English but – BUT! – it turns out that I can understand French after all! I just can’t understand West African accents. Yes! I managed to hold my own in general conversation for the very first time in another language and understood my very first joke in a different language and it was marvellous. I was very smug.

Somewhere around four cocktails and lots of the other later they all headed off which left it being just Lion, a lady who’s name I can’t remember who was a friend of Lion’s, and me. And, well…

(I am enormously gratified by the responses I’ve received about this blog. Thanks everyone. And thanks for reading my inane waffle. I genuinely means a lot to me. I try quite hard to write something that’s interesting and maybe entertaining as well, and it makes me happy that I seem to be having at least some success in this. So: in the spirit of completeness and outrageous over-sharing, I now offer this tale of debasement. Sorry Mum. Sorry Dad.)

…I was up to cocktail number five or maybe six, and all of the rest in abundance, and I suddenly came over all funny. I think it was probably brain overload caused by all the French talking that did it, yes, definitely. I made a quick mumbled French apology to Lion about the fact that I was going to have to not drink the rest of the cocktail he’d only just lovingly prepared for me, and headed to bed. Well, heading approximately in the direction of bed, only there was a palm tree in the way which I bounced off a bit, but I managed to make it the whole 10 m to the table which was half way to bed and quite an achievement, and then my legs ceased to function in the manner that they normally do and not even grabbing the table managed to halt my slide to the floor.

Lion and the lady were extremely amused. I was completely incapable. I remained on the floor for around 6000 years, clinging on as hard as possible whilst the Earth tried to throw me off into space and sweating extremely profusely. Lion came to check on my progress, and I was able to let him know I was just having a little rest because I was terribly tired.

The millennia slowly ground around, and the Earth slowly started being happy to have me on it again. With this came the certain conviction that I had soiled myself. The toilets were on the other side of Lion and the lady, but I had to get there. Up I got and off I went, managing to get within about 2 m of my host and his friend before I fell over again. Again, I made the long journey to uprightness, and again headed in the direction of the toilets only to be foiled by a raised piece of concrete. Again: up and at them! This time I got all the way there and even remembered to turn on the water pump.

In the toilet it became clear that I had not, in fact, done the nasty in my panties. YES! VICTORY WAS MINE! I was, however, absolutely covered in sand I remained in the toilet for a while, staring at the tiles which were an extremely lovely shade of yellow, with brown pinstriping and swirly bits. Eventually, I was ready. Sheepishly I made my way back to Lion and the lady to borrow a towel, still feeling extremely unusual.

The shower, taken cold, fully dressed, and in a sitting position, sorted me right out and by the time I had finished, my brains had stopped leaking out of ears an I felt GREAT! And extremely embarrassed. Stupendously, mortifyingly embarrassed. I took a deep breath and went to apologise and made the walk to my tent only about 30 minutes after the first attempt, the last few shreds of my dignity being protected by the rainbow psychedelic lion towel I was sporting.

—————————–

The next day, I spent some time before I got up trying to decide whether I could remain or whether my behaviour of the night before was too outrageous and whether I would no longer be welcome. Again I took a deep breath and headed off to make my apologies.

Lion, I Love Jah and the lady handled my grovelling apology in the best way that they possibly could have done: by brutally taking the piss. Yes! It was all going to be fine.

The rest of the day was taken up chatting with Bethina, the lady who recommended the bar to me and who’d come to Benin as well, taking an excellent tour in a little dug-out canoe around the mangroves and to see a traditional fishing village where voodoo is still the major religion and swimming in the river and looking around the ruins of the Portuguese colonial town with my guide who was called Lazza, and who’s mnameonic was ‘Lesbian Gazza’. Then it was another night of cocktails (drunk in moderation this time) and finishing in a superb afrobeat club where the crowd was going absolutely wild and having the best time ever and the music was absolutely incredible and then a quick 4 hours of sleep and say goodbye to everyone and off I went again into the wilds of Benin and then the next day crossed into Nigeria where the roads were terrible and the Thy Kingdom Come Mission Inc. National Camp Gound and after that the town and the 09MC Club House and last night I cooked risotto for a gang of Russians and played pool and ate mature cheddar which I found in the supermarket which cost twice as much as a bottle of wine for 200 g but it was worth it and back to my massive bed and then up and sit at the desk writing the blog and I’ll be off tomorrow.

Oh yeah. So now I’m at:

CURRENT LOCATION: 09MC Club House, Abuja, Nigeria
MILES COMPLETED: 9535

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

*Corrugations, which I’ve mentioned a few times, are waves which you find in almost all earth roads (and, it seems, some tarmac roads) which have trucks on them. They are usually about 50 – 100 cm from peak to peak, and can be up to 20 cm from peak to trough. I’m guessing they’re caused by some sort of resonance effect with the truck suspension but I haven’t really considered this in much detail. They are worst where breaking has to be done, i.e. on the run up to corners, but they happen everywhere. To ride them you have to go fast. As you speed up from stationary the vibrations get worse and worse until you’re going above 30 mph, then they get better and better as you skim over the surface. For me, the best speed for a compromise between safety and comfort is about 50 mph, but you’ve got to be aware when you’re riding them that you’re only in contact with the floor about 50% of the time and so steering and breaking is not great. They’re not very much fun.

The one with machine guns in it

Well well well. Due to the nature of writing these blog posts, this one’s temporally all over the place. You’re just going to have to deal with it. I started writing this about a week ago. I’m sure you’ll get the drift of what was going on. Anyway, at the moment…

CURRENT LOCATION: Some horrendous ex-pat filled bar and auberge with surly staff and a covers band in Lome, Togo
MILES COMPLETED: Somewhere around 8600 I think…

So: now imagine it’s a week ago, and I’m in a tiny little village in Burkina Faso which is very windy and I’m steadily accumulating a thick later of dust. Here you go, then. Have fun!

(Argh! Smooth jazz with a shaker! ARGH! And a rubbish – no! Extremely rubbish! – noodling bass solo! AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! I WILL BE LEAVING TOMORROW.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I am on an “adwenture” with a Swiss chap called Felix. He has my bike. He will be back.

CURRENT LOCATION: Sapio, near Leo, Burkino Faso
MILES COMPLETED: I don’t know, he’s got the bike and the bike has the trip counter on it…

The adwenture started in Bamako in Mali, which I left after an inordinate amount of time which was mostly spent doing sod all when I should have been sorting visas. The sod all was totally brilliant: hanging out with Babs (who’d actually arrived the same day as me after an epic 4th day of 360-ish miles – “I’d got the bit between my teeth, Skippy, I’d got the bit between my teeth” – but was staying in a different guest house), listening to music, getting to know the locals.

The music in Bamako was unbelievable. Guided by our new friend Mohammad (who was as skilled a piss-taker as any at the Sheaf, as full of shit as Olly Wilkinson, and an extraordinary guitar player) we saw bands who would have graced the main stage at any UK festival, but in this situation, playing to about 15 people in dingy clubs for three hours straight. Drummers, eyes half closed and watching the TV which was on the stage with them, thrashing out the most insanely complex rhythms; bass players who’d NEVER played with the band before managing (just about) to hold it together for the duration; wonderfully soulful singers who you could see repeated to infinity in the mirrors behind them and at the back of the club; and a lunatic slouched in a chair, seemingly not moving his hands, but creating wild flowing solos on his tiny three-stringed instrument that I can’t remember the name of, whilst gnashing his teeth and staring White-eyed at the drummer when he did something particularly amazing. Babs and I would sit and stare, grinning madly and occasionally having a dance on the almost empty dance floor when persuaded.

Suddenly, I realised that my visa situation was dire, and that I had got myself stuck AGAIN. This was remedied with a quick trip to a rather nice waterfall at the end of a tricky rocky track with Felix, Babs having stayed in Bamako to play his guitar and sit on the roof and drink cocktails.

[Later, the same day.]

Now I’m in Nazinga Nature Reserve at the Ranch Nazinga, which hilariously comes up on Felix’s sat-nav as “Ranch Nazi”. There were elephants. Anyway: crashing on…

So, we went to a waterfall, like I said. The track was tricky And rocky (again, like I’d said), but it was fine, I only dropped the bike twice and that’s some good going considering, I think. Felix didn’t drop his at all, which I think means he’s not trying hard enough. We saw a snake and ate some chicken with the locals and camped in the forest and managed to get all the way out only dropping the bike once which means I’d improved significantly overnight. Felix hadn’t improved at all, still dropping his bike no times. After some barbecued food we rode along another bit of off road track (sat-navs are wonderful, I’ve decided, I’m going to use mine instead of letting it languish in the box, it’s quite a lot more detailed than the 1:4000000 scale map I’ve used thus far) and this was proper single track, through the forest, termite mounds to avoid, sandy bits and wiggling around stuff.

Then it was back to Bamako to sort the visas, change the plan when the Benin embassy was closed for 10 days (now I’m going to Togo too), listen to the excellent but emotional tribute to Ivan on Sheffield Live, get drunk, get invited on the “adwenture”, go to the poshest club in Bamako by mistake, go to a mangy but excellent bar on purpose, go to bed foolishly too late, eat a breakfast with Babs much too early, say goodbye to the motorbikes-in-Africa collective (which includes someone on a 1963 Czech-made beauty), pack up the clobber, and go.

NB: Babs is intending to stay in Bamako for a fair while to get more music, and take some guitar lessons, and drink some more cocktails. Me: I need to get a wriggle on. I love to be moving, and I’ve a date to keep in Capetown…

So: THE ADWNETURE. Neeeeeeeeowmmmmm! Moving again after much too long stationary (again)! Felix has had the same thing as me with the “two days on, two weeks off” method but for different reasons (turns out we were in Nouakchott at the same time, that’s Mauritania if you don’t remember) and was also itching for action. The aim of The Adwenture is to go along the crappy roads in the south of Burkina Faso, close to the boarder with Ghana. It includes a bit where the roads may or may not exist, depending on whether you use paper maps, Googlemaps or the sat-nav (we will find out tomorrow, possibly), and some other interesting stuff which I shall describe in due course.

The first day of The Adwenture was all about really really crappy driving and extremely knackered trucks. There is a lot of very crappy driving in Africa, but the racing and over-loaded minibuses on the outskirts of Bamako really took the biscuit and very nearly rode me off the road as I tried to get past to get out of the way. The overtaking stream of traffic just after really did ride Felix off the road, but there was some off-road to go to, and so no major calamities. The trucks were mostly standard (i.e. loaded to twice the height of the trailer and moving crab-wise due to unsuitable quantities of tracking adjustment, or stationary at the side of the road having a tyre replaced after a blow-out due to the crab-wise movement or an unsavoury interaction with a pothole), but there was a really spectacular number where the trailer was so utterly broken and twisted that the entire front left wheel of the cab had been lifted a foot off the floor. We moved to the other side of the road for that one, in fear of unexpected further self-destruction of the truck.

We camped in some brush just off the road, tried to avoid termites, and ate beans and sardines.

[Quite a few days, and quite a lot of driving later…]

THE ADWENTURE IS OVER. It’s over because it was always going to be over when we got to the boarder with Togo: the Benin Embassy in Bamako was not issuing visas when I got round to not doing sod all, and so I got a Togo visa instead, so I could get the Benin visa here (where “here” is Togo). This faffery was actually always part of the Original Plan, but the Original Plan got superseded in Bamako by the New Plan. The New Plan was to go direct to Benin from Mali, cutting out about three days and 800 km of riding, one boarder crossing, and a whole country. With the chappy in the Benin Embassy who sorts the visas being away for ten days, the Original Plan was reinstated to cheers all round and general rejoicing. ANYWAY. Felix had been doing less sod all in Bamako, so had already obtained his Benin Visa before the man left. Thus: at the Togo border, I ate there, and Felix went on to Benin. Get it? Got it? Good.

So…now I am in Togo. Togo may just have pipped Mauritania to the top spot in my mental list of favourite countries thus far traversed. It is luuuuuuuurvley here. At the moment, I am about 5 m off the floor in a hut-on-stilts in a bit of sort-of rainforest, there are some drums going on just over there, I might investigate in a bit, and all sorts of night time animal sounds also occurring. The candle just went out but even that was not enough to dampen my heady spirits because I had a lighter close at hand. It’s about to go out again, which may cause me to flip out and kill things, but we shall see. There it goes. But again: no problems. Unbelievable.

The roads in Togo are all brand new, it seems. The are youth clubs everywhere. Not one child (and only one adult) has asked me for money or food or a present. It’s all green and leafy and wet and jungly. Yesterday, I was nearly (but only nearly) cold when riding the bike. There is very little litter. There seem to be very few homeless people. The food is delicious, all spicy tomato sauce and rice and stuff. I went round loads of corners that happened one after another that I couldn’t take at 60 mph. I went up some hills, and down some hills. Not even just hills: mountains! Well, mountains in the same way as England has mountains. So hills, then. But steeply-sided and precipitous hills with rocks on them. Ooo, it’s very nice indeed, and just what the doctor ordered. I always likes the Original Plan more, don’t listen to what they tell you.

Oh, and the only interactions I’ve had with the police are when I’ve stopped to ask directions. The same could not be said for THE ADWENTURE, which we now rejoin on the second day…

The second day involved driving our motorbikes into Burkina Faso. The border was a wonderment of relaxed efficiency and being given food by the guards, and cleaning Felix’s fuel filter (bloody KTMs). We went to Bobo Dioulasso, and found that Felix had left his multi-tool at the border. Oh! And it was my birthday, so we ate pizza and went to possibly the worst bar I’ve ever been to, filled with people occasionally pretending to have fun but mostly sitting and looking glum and chain smoking, whilst being assaulted by very loud Afro-beat happy hardcore and fired on by strobing LEDs in the style of a group enhanced interrogation technique session. Luckily, curfew happened at 11 pm and we got to go home and sleep.

The next day, Felix (the lucky chap!) got to go all the way back to the border and I got to wander around some forest, which was lovely.

Day 4 saw us setting off into the wilds, riding amazing single track piste in the sand and the long yellow grass and the tiny weeny villages and the boulders and the markets and so on and all that, and crossing a river with lots of rocks in it, and it all felt like a proper adventure. It was punctuated by a puncture in the first 5 km which was a rear wheel and for me, caused by a section of 2 mm diameter steel rod. This was mended whilst surrounded by around 30 amused locals at a little shack in a village, and then quickly de-mended by the local mechanic whilst re-mounting the tyre in a slap-dash fashion. It was then re-mended and we were off to the aforementioned single track, river crossing, blah blah blah.

Somewhere around 50 km of glorious off-road riding later, we reached the road and my tyre went down again. As it turned out, both of the patches had come off. This was surprising, as I’ve mended punctures before with no problems, but in went the spare tube and off we went again.

A quick visit to the gendarmerie and it was already getting dry and Felix’s tyre had become very deflated but in a slow manner, so we had it pumped up and set off on the last 80 km to our aimed-for destination. A very dark 80 km along an earth road, and OBVIOUSLY you don’t ride in the dark in Africa BUT if you do you might get to see a forest fire at night which is bloody awesome and makes for all sorts of moody pictures whilst you drink the last of your water still 40 km from your destination.

But don’t worry! We didn’t die of thirst or crashing and we did get to the place and there was no room at the cheap inn so we went to the expensive hotel and we were terribly, terribly tired and not at all prepared for the gendarmerie to visit whilst we were signing in.

GENDARME: You need to come with us.
FELIX: Ok. Now?
GENDARME [cocks AK-47]: Yes, now.

We stepped outside the hotel, followed by the man sent in to fetch us. In front, another gendarme slipped off the safety catch and looked extremely ready for anything. On the left and right, two more folks with machine guns and torches.

We made our way to the gendarmerie post on our motorbikes, separated by two men on a 50 cc scooter. One of the men had a machine gun, which made up for the fact that his bike was smaller than ours.

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An hour later it was all smiles and happiness when it turned out we weren’t al-Qaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs after all, and off we went to our big posh hotel for showers and food and beer and a very long sleep.

The very next day, it was up at not at all the crack of dawn to go to Nazinga Nature Reserve. It was only 120 km, so the late start was not a problem.

The start became later when we went to the tyre change place to get the new tyre Felix had carried all the way from Switzerland put on, to replace the one that had gone down over night. It then got even later when a lump of wood got stuck in my tyre, making all the air come out. Still later it got when I had to ride Felix’s bike all that way back to the road, with my wheel, to find a man who could fix it. He was highly scathing of my puncture repair kit, and fixed the hole using a cube of fresh rubber, a press, and a large lump of very hot steel to melt the new rubber in place. Apparently, rubber glue doesn’t work in Africa because it’s too hot…

All was well and we were on track to get to the nature reserve just in time for it being dark. Only, 10 km later, Felix got his very first puncture of the trip. Huzzah! Everyone loves a puncture. Ready for another night of off-road riding, we mended the puncture, got just enough air in the tyre, blew up the man’s track pump, paid for the track pump, put on our riding gear, and noticed that Felix had got his second puncture of the trip due to incompetent reassembly of the wheel.

Staying cool and composed, we resolved to stay the night. We were offered a place in a house in the middle of the village. There was some heated discussion which we did not understand. We were offered a shed on the outskirts of the village.

Content with our shed, we popped on the stereo, got the standard camp dinner of rice and beans on the go, and kicked back to bemoan our luck with tyres.

WHEN SUDDENLY!

I had my back to the road, and didn’t see the pick-up truck of AK-47 wielding men arrive. Felix was on his feet quickly, hands in the air and being blinded by torches. There was a lot of shouting. I chose to turn off the music, not wanting to be listening to Nick Drake’s ‘Man In A Shed’ (I shit you not) whilst what was about to happen, happened. Fiddling with the green cylinder of approximately hand-grenade size that is the speaker was considered to be poor form, and led to more shouting and waving of machine guns and shining of torches. My heart rate was quite a lot higher than normal by this point, but I managed to not soil myself which I was quite pleased about, because they were definitely pointing the really big guns really right at us in a manner that suggested they really might use them if we moved too quickly or in an unusual manner.

The men in the pick-up were the police, which was a relief. After some extraordinarily tense moments and some very careful one-hand-up, one-hand-in-jacket-to-fetch-out-the-passport moments, the mood flipped to jovial when once again, it was realised that we weren’t al-Qaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs after all. The police seemed distinctly amused by how scared we had been, and told us it was all for our own good, and so on. We agreed that yes, it was funny, and yes, we were pleased that they had dropped by to see us. Slowly the shaking in my hands subsided, and the fizzing noise in my brain went away. We even got offered a live chicken by the villagers to make up for the fact that they had called in the cops, concerned as they were that we were al-Quaida operatives with bikes loaded with bombs and severed heads and all that. After persuading the cops that we really did not need to drive 50 km to a town where we would be safe from the possibility of real al-Quaida operatives who may or may not have been in the area, we were left to our very disturbed and slightly nervous rest of the evening. We were not kidnapped, beheaded, or kidnapped and beheaded. Nor did we sleep very much.

The next morning I hung out in the village, played some table football, read some book, and wrote the top section of this blog post whilst Felix took my bike and his wheel and our multitude of punctured inner tubes to a man who fixed the inner tubes with a cube of rubber, a press, and a small metal beaker of diesel which he set on fire to melt the rubber. We said our goodbyes and rode the tiny weenie technical sand-covered rocky rutty single track which was great to the Nazinga Nature Reserve where, as previously mentioned in this post, there were elephants which we saw and they were rather large but quite a long way away, and so small, but they were drinking water and chasing birds and it was, once again, terrifically African. To celebrate I took my rear suspension apart to try to solve the squeak, replaced all the sandy water in the bearings with grease, and put it back together again. And, having written some of this, went to bed.

[Now it’s the very next day.]

After being woken up by the cockerels at about 4 am this morning, I was a little tired. However, it was nothing a cup of coffee grown in the surrounding farms, a 40 minute walk through the forest to a waterfall and a quick dip couldn’t solve. I’m looking out across a little hollow with the aforementioned waterfall in front and a stand of enormous bamboo(s?) behind, surrounded by all sorts of lush vegetation and being pestered by a large number of butterflies. Bloody butterflies. There’s one hanging out on me toe right now. I will just have to console myself with this here beer.

So, we were nearly at the end of The Adwenture. No more cops came to pester us with machine guns at Nazinga, which was nice of them, so we headed off once more into the wilds. We went to a UNESCO World Heritage Site called Telebele (which should have accents over all but the first of the e’s but I can’t find how to do it on the i-pad, have I mentioned that I hate i-pads?) and did a spot of tourism, learning about animism and and looking at the tiny huts with all the red and black and white painting and the doors you have to crawl through and how they choose their warriors based on whacking each other with sticks once a year and deciding who can take the most brutal punishment. Pythons are honoured guests as they are reincarnations of the ancestors, you tell your hopes and dreams to tortoises and they sort them out for you, and chickens are generally in for a bad time and get slotted on a regular basis. Placentas go in pots and are put over there on that huge mound (the village is more than 2000 years old, I want to say 3000 years old but I might be exaggerating for effect, it’s hard to tell) and dead people go in the holes just there. Oh, and if you’re a lady you’ll be missing your clitoris once you’re older than 8. Mustn’t judge, but…

Then we were off again, camping in the not-quite-so-wild, surrounded by little compounds and with lots of people who surprisingly didn’t move us on. It’s nice to somewhere where no one seems to own the land.

The next day it was time for the bit where the roads disappear. After an accidental 15 km foray into Ghana (“all the road signs are in English and I just saw a place called ‘The Ghana Medical Association’. Have we gone wrong somewhere?”) we finally got to the river down some little tracks As expected, there was a ferry. As expected, the ferry was small. Very small. It could, in fact, be considered to be the exact opposite of the iron ore train in Mauritania. The ferry was wooden, flat-bottomed, and around 1 m wide and 4 m long. It was whole 30 cm deep, and it leaked somewhat.

The ferry man seemed unconcerned by the size of the bikes in comparison to the size of the ferry. Felix was mad keen, in part because he hates sand and was not keen on the additional 80 km of riding required to use the bridge. I was considerably more reticent, being the one with the 206 kg bike. Felix went first, and indeed: the ferry did not sink. It did only have somewhere around 1 inch of draft left before it would have sunk, but that was not the point. I was persuaded, and once again the ferry did not sink. Peace reigned in my mind-tank, sullied only by the fact that we were ripped off brutally because we hadn’t sorted the price out until we were on opposite sides of the river.

Somewhere around 3 hours and one delicious lunch with friendly locals later, we said our goodbyes at the Greenwich Meridian. The crossing into Togo was only slightly more complex than the crossing from west to east, and I stayed in a quite little hotel for cheap about 50 km later. Then it was a 500 km day of riding on mountain roads on lovely Tarmac, and a short day to here, and now here I am. Although I don’t have any internets (what?! No wi-fi in the jungle?!), so you’ll get this when I get to Lome (the capital) later today.

Alright then! Lovely to chat with you all, catch you soon.

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Right then, so then, we’re back in Lome. The bass solo has finally just finished with what I will generously call a ‘jazzy’ chord, and I am now eagerly anticipating the next number. Oh good. Great. It’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon’. The bass player is taking a leading role once again. It’s not quite Bamako, that’s for sure…

Hmmm.

The Next Thrilling Instalment Of What I Did On My Holidays

You lucky people! It’s a 3-for-1 offer on blog posts, because I’m trying to catch up. Anyway…enjoy! (Maybe.)

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It’s pretty tough here at the moment.

CURRENT LOACTION: Lac Rose, near Dakar, Senegal
MILES COMPLETED: Something like 6200

After managing to survive Mauritania (which was a lot easier than had previously been expected), we made our way to Senegal. Babs formed an advance party to prepare the ground for my glorious arrival in St Louis a day later. The last day of riding in Mauritania, on the 23rd December, was wonderful. To start off with it was more of the same: scrubby desert and sand. But then suddenly, about 80 km before the boarder, grass started to appear. Grass! Yellow grass, but: grass! I hadn’t quite realised I was missing it. I got mildly hysterical about the end of the desert (until Mali, that is…) and had a fun time shouting out the names of things that could see into my helmet. Things like cows, green stuff, water, and more grass.

After the grass, came a multitude of non-deserty delights in the form of wetlands. Wetlands! Even more green stuff! Warthogs! (Watch the warthogs; they have a death-wish.) Taller grass! Yes: it was an exciting time.

The boarder was a dream of fairly well organised bureaucracy and the handover of modest sized maybe-bribes (it’s hard to tell sometimes), and then a dam, and then Senegal. On the Senegalese side, they even threw in free lunch with the guards because it was that time of day, and they weren’t busy. Things were going extremely well, and even my first encounter with Senegalese speed bumps* didn’t manage to spoil my tremendous mood. I knew what was coming next.

BEER. Delicious beer. Some was drunk. It had been quite some time.

The next day gave some time to reflect on the wonderful place in which we had found ourselves. St Louis was the first French colony in Africa (I seem to remember from discussion with Dennis, who knows such things). It is on an island, and has all sorts of French buildings of the type that would grace a French colony in Africa. It has a lovely big bridge. Everyone wears extraordinarily colourful clothing. The buildings are painted extraordinarily colourfully. There’s lots of other colourful stuff as well, most notably the fishing boats, of which there are many. The buses are painted in colourful colours, and colourful people hang our of the colourful sides and grin and wave and stuff. On one notable occasion, a colourful bus full of the colourful youth who were all wearing colourful uniforms drove past. The colourful youth were playing djembes and singing and being excitable and it sped past and I have no idea what was going on but it was bloody brilliant, I can tell you.

Before I got there, Babs had already made a friend. Babs’ friend was a terrific artist chap called Mbarik. He was much better than my friend who I made when I first got there. My friend was also called Babs, just like the Babs who normally features in these writings. New Babs turned out to be a con artist. Another friend who Babs and I know is Dennis. Dennis is a tremendously clever chap and all-round nice guy from Belgium who is hitch-hiking to somewhere that begins with a “G” and is not Gambia (The), or Gabon. Anyway, I might have mentioned him before, who knows, we’ve seen him a few times and are always happy to do so. Dennis was, at this point, travelling with Kade. Kade is from Kansas, and loves being compared to Dorothy.

Dennis and Kade were staying in St Louis with Mamadou and his two wives and his many children. Mamadou was yet another wonderful person with a huge heart, as were his wives and children. I really wish I could remember the names of wives and children, but they were numerous and all the girls (and women) had names beginning with “A”, and the boys, “M”. This presented a serious challenge, but one I have had a lot of practise in working around.

RIGHT THEN. Some of the stuff we did in St Louis was at the campsite. At the campsite we had fun being pissed off the Trevor the owner (who we called Trevor because of his striking resemblance to Trevor McDonald), who was a man for who money was extremely important, and having chats with the night watchman Omar, who was actually called Omar, and who was mint. During all of these occasions we would be plagued by extraordinary quantities of flies, which bred in the piles of rotting fish that colourfully took up much of the space between the colourful fishing boats. The flies were so numerous that when eating food during the day, I found it necessary to be constantly on the move. Babs discovered early on that there was a reason they provided beers with the cap loosened, but still in place.

Other stuff we did in St Louis was in the town. This stuff included visiting Mbarik’s workshop (which was very pleasant, and involved tea drinking), avoiding hustlers, pottering about, and going out for Boxing Day drinks.

Boxing Days drinks occurred in collaborations with non-con Babs (i.e. usual Babs) and Mbarik. We went to a terrible bar, and drank some drinks, and then went to a very good bar, and drank some more drinks. At some point in the very good bar whilst listening to the very good band, it became clear to us that Mbarik had become very, very drunk. Very drunk indeed. This was probably (definitely) due to the fact that we were buying Mbarik drinks at the rate that we wanted to drink our drinks. Fortunately, we were listening to an extremely good band. And extremely good band! They were outrageous…for three hours they whipped the crowd into a frenzy with insanely tight jazz? ska? afro-beat? WHO KNOWS WHAT brilliance and so Mbarik’s thrashing and grinning was well in keeping with mine and Babs’ and the rest of the crowd’s. And ha! Con artist Babs had to leave when we arrived, which he looked upset about, because he realised I might start asking awkward questions about the money he had “borrowed”. So I got a very small measure of sweet, sweet revenge.

Anyway: that band, who were one of the best bands I have ever seen, were the house band for the bar. UNBELIEVABLE.

The other major venue for goings-on in St Louis was the aforementioned Mamadou’s house. Most of the goings-on at Mamadou’s house were food based. We ate lunch there a couple of times (rice, fish and vegetables, all cooked in the same pot and absolutely delicious) and breakfast just before we left (spicy fish paste sandwiches, also delicious). And it was there that we (Dennis, Kade, Babs and I) celebrated Christmas by cooking for the family.

The mission started at about 2:30 pm with Kade, Dennis and I going shopping. This was supposed to take 2 hours. At 6:30 we returned to Mamadou’s house with everything except for the meat and fruit. I returned to town with wife number 1 (who may have been called Anou, but I may well be making that up) to find the meat. I selected 4 kg of lamb, which was a rear leg, tail and side. The man chopped it up for me with a very large knife. The look of the tail made me feel slightly unusual, as did the times when shards of bone hit me in the face.

The person who was maybe Anou and I arrived home at about 7:30 to find everyone busy chopping. I joined in.

Somewhere around three hours later, and having used every pot in the kitchen at least twice and having drunk three bottles of wine between us, the starter came out. Dennis had created the Iranian version of babaganoush, and served it with bread. It was delicious, but Mamadou and family seemed to be hiding their disappointment. After a short discussion, Mamadou and family were made aware of the concept of the starter and that this was not all we had been doing all night, and all was well.

Main course arrived at 11:30 pm in true Wil Wiles style, and consisted of pan roasted lamb (my responsibility, for which I felt fully qualified having watched quite a lot of Masterchef in my time), served with potatoes fried with onion and red wine (Dennis) and glazed carrots and green beans (Babs). Served on two enormous plates it looked remarkably like Christmas dinner, and was eaten with our hands.

A fruit salad desert (made by Kade) finished us off at 12:30 am on Boxing Day, and massive food comas ensued.

A couple of days later, Babs and I got on the bikes to head to Lac Rose, a very salty pink lake near to Dakar, where we have been ever since. Whilst here we have sat by the pool and done nothing. We have made a foray into the absolute madness of the Dakar traffic. We have made new friends. We have been to a New Year party. And I have done some tourism.

Dakar traffic, then. Dakar traffic is absolutely the most difficult and dangerous I have seen anywhere, including India. In India, I would guess that they have more accidents, but the speeds are much lower and the accidents come from a lack of attention and an inability to be looking everywhere, all at once. In Dakar, the speeds are a lot higher. There’s less traffic. Unfortunately, there’s still an awful lot of traffic, and everyone wants to be where they’re going to now. The driving is outrageously reckless, especially from the taxis. Once (and this is all at about about 60 mph), a taxi squeezed between me and the car in the lane next to me, filled the only-just-big-enough space between me and Babs, before undertaking Babs without really getting out of the lane that Babs was in. The buses seem completely unaware of how wide they are, and generally drive down the line between two lanes, which gives space for undertaking and overtaking them by different cars at the same time, leaving a bus and two cars occupying two lanes. On two separate occasions, when turning left from a major road into a minor road, I had set up for the manoeuvre and was about to turn only to find a taxi overtaking me at the last minute. On one of these this led to me misjudging the turn, and being side-swiped by another taxi coming from the opposite direction (oops). Oh, and giving way to traffic already on a roundabout, or driving down the major road you want to turn on to, or generally occupying the space that you want, is not considered a necessity.

Nevertheless we are still alive and, having gaffa taped my indicator back on and having got my hand protector bent back into shape, so is the bike.

Our new friends are Carlos, who has the most outrageous luck at dice games I have ever witnessed, and Fred, who has, on a whim, bought himself a lady’s push bike from the 1990s, strapped a bag to the back of it, and is riding around Senegal. He does not know how to fix a puncture. His tool kit includes one spanner (suitable to change the height of the seat) one bottle of oil, and three hex keys. He is going to have An Adventure for sure. I am impressed. Mightily impressed.

*Senegalese speed bumps are not to be taken lightly on a bike with lowered suspension: they are at least 20 feet tall, and covered in razor wire and machine gun nests**. In a 50 kph zone they will occur once every 100 m or so, and should be attempted at 30 kph or less. Babs likes to take them as fast as possible.

**May be a lie. They are very tall and sharp, though.

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I’m in hospital.

CURRENT LOCATION: Bafoulabe Hospital, Mali
MILES COMPLETED: 6703

But don’t worry! It’s not like that. I met a lovely chap called Abdul on a ferry, and he’s taken me in for the night. I’m staying the in the nurses’ quarters here, because he’s a nurse, duh.

Anyway, where was I? Lac Rose, in Senegal.

With Carlos and Fred, Babs and I had our New Years Eve. At one time or another throughout the evening we pushed a car out of some sand, got taken to a big posh hotel, went to a house party with very loud music and almost no people where Babs and Carlos got offered some new wives (which happened after I left…I was too drunk to hold conversation and needed either (a) vigorous action, or (b) total inaction, and after Fred left because of some sort of bad food experience), went to a very odd hip hop gig in the middle of town where most of the crowd was kept 50 m back from the stage and about 20 people were allowed into the VIP front stage area, met some folks on a bus and got taken to a much better party with one flashy light in a very big room and excellent music and danced like a twat (which seemed to make me attractive to the ladies, who came over one by one to dance with me, which meant they stood in front of me whilst I carried on doing what I was doing but now also grinning awkwardly, until they left) and went home. And that was that.

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Well, round 2 was pretty short, I’ll admit. I am determined to catch up with round 3. Little and often with the blog post writing might be better, maybe…

CURRENT LOCATION: The Sleeping Camel Auberge, Bamako, Mali
MILES COMPLETED: 6960

Right right right. So. I was still waiting in Lac Rose for some parts to be sent out. Had I mentioned I was waiting for parts? Maybe. Anyway: I was waiting for parts. Specifically: new suspension dog bones, a new rear tyre, spare levers (which I forgot to buy before we left) and an e-reader of a common type because swapping books out here is NOT POSSIBLE and I like to read an awful lot.

The suspension dog bones were because it turns out that the bike that I had bought had had the suspension lowered. This was not good, because every time I went over a compression the rear wheel would hit the exhaust pipe. The rear tyre was because what with all the (now I think about it, much too fast riding in Europe) my tyre was basically bald even though it’s meant to be good for maybe 10 000 miles. So once again: waiting for the post.

Whilst waiting I was mostly doing three things: reading, learning French, and tourism. Reading took the form of Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’. I was initially sceptical: it’s a book about climate change, which has been something I’ve been unable to think about properly for maybe two years. I was unable to think about it because every time I did, I would sink into paroxysms of despair, basically feeling that we’re all doomed, no one cares, millions will die or be displaced, the West will carry on anyway and oh god what’s the point. Having spoken to a few people about this feeling, I get the impression that it’s pretty common. To anyone who recognises what I’m talking about:

READ
THIS
BOOK.

I repeat: READ THIS BOOK. Get everyone you know to READ THIS BOOK. Or watch the documentary that goes with it (not sure what it’s called, not seen it, but pretty sure it’ll be excellent as well). I’ve not finished with it yet, but I already feel hopeful, furious, inspired, ready to fight, hopeful, hopeful, HOPEFUL. Get your heads back out the sand they’ve been in ever since Obama’s broken promises and the financial crash and the re-election of David Fucking Cameron and the continued business-as-usual rise of fracking and the Alberta Tar Sands monstrosity, and READ THIS BOOK. Go on. Do it. It’ll make you feel better, I promise.

Oh yeah: and then get on with joining in with what it says. (Like riding a motorbike across Africa? Hypocisy? Hmmm…)

Right then. Did I mention you should read this book?

Learning French: Michel Thomas is totally brilliant. I’m much better at speaking. I’m not much better at listening. Conversations have been one-way affairs, but that’s better than zero-way affairs, right?

Tourism: Ile de Goree (a now very beautiful ex-slaving station) and walking.

AND THEN THE POST ARRIVED! I managed to wrest it from the hands of DHL and Senegalese customs through the application of time and money, got the tyre fitted by a man in a shack (turns out a hammer can be expertly used to re-mount a tyre, who knew?), sorted the suspension, tested the suspension, loaded up and LEFT, singing “on the road again” like Donkey from Shrek, which I sing to myself a slightly embarrassingly large amount. There’s a lot of time to fill when you’re riding a motorbike through Africa, alright? Lots. In fact, I spend a large quantity of time shouting into my helmet, or singing, or making faces, or thinking deep thoughts (maaaaaaaaan), or thinking no thoughts at all.

[“What about Babs?!” I hear you cry. Fives days ago (which is when I left), Babs was starting to make progress getting another new clutch (the old new clutch being only a temporary measure) and trying to source a new tyre. He’ll be along shortly I’m sure. I’ll let you know…]

Five days, then. Being on the road again, as previously described. Some camping, some terrifying pot hole encounters, long days on the bike, a boarder, and MALI. Making progress on my ‘things to see in Africa’ tick list. Baobab trees? Tick. Naked children? Tick. Red earth roads through the grass lands? Tick. Women with their boobs out? Tick. Gangs of baboons? Tick. Burnt out up-side-down trucks? Tick. Cows with really big horns? Tick. Villages of little round huts made out of mud and grass with pumps made by the Rotary Club and filled with naked children and women with their boobs out next to up-side-down burnt out trucks which have fallen off the red earth road through the grass lands dotted with baobab trees which have baboons in them? Tick. IT’S JUST LIKE ON THE TELLY! Only more noisy, more smelly, more all-encompassing, and quite a lot more real.

Yep: I’m have a Good Time.

And I got to spend a night with Abdul the nurse and his mate Omar and all the rest who were mint, in his mobile phone side-line business shack, and talking to Sam who had lived in the bush for a month with three others after the village in Liberia he was working in was razed by the rebels, and discussing the relative merits of Africa culture vs. European culture.

And now: Bamako, where I have watched the new Star Wars film (which is just a crap as all the rest in my opinion but scratched an itch all the same) and chatted with Pawel the Polish lunatic who’s on the 14-year-old version of my bike with a clutch repaired with a t-shirt and boxes strapped on with knackered bungees and he’s going round the whole world! Yes! He may well be my new hero. And he wears old-school flying goggles and an open-faced helmet which proper awesome looking. Oh yes. Oh yes indeed.

And that, as they say, is that.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Still No Islamists (Touch Wood)

I am on a train. Well, sort of. I am in a portacabin on the back of a flat-bed trolley, which will shortly (hopefully) become part of the train. Once complete, the train will be around 2.5 km long.

CURRENT LOACTION: Nouadibou, Mauritania
MILES COMPLETED: 5023
CRASH REPORT: lots and lots

My compatriots in the portacabin are Olam and Abus. We have swept up and put down a mat for sitting on. Abus is making dinner; Olam’s main preoccupation is tea production. Abus’ truck, which transports tar and is beaten up in the extreme, is on the next trolley along, keeping my bike company. We have so far been in the portacabin for about 8 hours, and we have moved very little distance in all that time. We are mostly being shunted backwards and forwards past the iron ore works. It is night time now, and the iron ore works look as if they have been drawn straight out of maybe Robocop or Bladerunner…the sodium lights making incredible shadows in the dust which is filling the air; conveyor belts running up and down and all around; flashes of welding; mounds of dark red ore ready to fill the ships that are waiting at the harbour. It is absolutely tremendous. Before getting in the portacabin, I spent 6 hours knocking around at the goods yard with various folks, getting the bike loaded and generally preparing. Nothing is done in a hurry in Mauritania.

Since I last wrote something on here, we’ve come all the way through our second country (sort of), Western Sahara. Whether you count it as a separate country depends on who you talk to. Moroccans count it as theirs; the locals believe they should be separate; the Mauritanians seem to side with the locals. The main reason, as far as I can tell, that the Mauritanians side with Western Sahara is because they make their tea the same way*.

TRAIN UPDATE: We are going!

[Next day]

I’m still on the train. That was a pretty extraordinary night. The portacabin is slowly shaking itself to bits, but doesn’t seem to be moving around on the trolley, which is good. The ride and handling characteristics of the train could be described as ‘relentlessly brutal’. The noise is unbelieveable, but forms music of a sort. At about 200 bpm there is a hard-edged bass thump that forms the basis for the rest. The roller shutters rattle at twice that speed, and the tea cups at about eight times. When the train really gets going, there is a resonance-induced “MMMMMM-WAAAAAAAAAAA” that lasts for around two bars, and rests for two, then repeats. All this is amplified by the portacabin. The portacabin bounces up and down in time with the bass with an amplitude of maybe 1 cm, and sways side-to-side about 15 cm in either direction randomly and without cessation. Every thing is covered in a thick layer of dust, and the air is thick with it. It’s 08:24, we’re half way through the journey, and three rounds of tea into the day. How Olam can pour in this environment is beyond me.

When the train was finally constructed last night, its first task was to turn around. It went around a loop that was close to a kilometer in diameter, and when it got back to the start, we could see the back end end of the train in its own headlights. When it stopped to have the points changed, a sound like thunder shot around the circle as each wagon crashed into the one in front.

We do about 3 hours moving, then 1 hour stopped for the train to fill up with water. The first round last night was particularly rough: I spent all of it freaking out with terror at the thought of my bike being shaken to pieces. Then, when the “MMMMMM-WAAAAAAAAAAA” started, I forgot about the bike and was concerned for my life (the portacabin is not really attached to the trolley, it is just placed on top and some steel cable loosely draped over). Under closer inspection of adjacent trolleys this morning, all appears well (for the bike; less so for us): our portacabin is definitely on a trolley with a wonky wheel. The rest seem to be far less…bouncy. Argh!

(Now we are listening to Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. It is going down a storm. I love the minirig…it’s been a brilliant thing to offer anyone who’s hosting.)

The rest of the night was passed in half sleep, having weird hallucinations brought on by the noise and movement. It’s all been (being) quite the experience.

[Same day, 14:53]

We are in the absolute arse-end of nowhere. The roof has blown off the portacabin, which means our previously fairly comfortable little squat is now full of grit and sand. The stuff is everywhere, and there is a steadily growing pile of bits that have fallen off (light fixtures, doors, etc.) in the other room. Most of the train has gone ahead; we need to go back about 3 hours to Choum, where the big train didn’t stop. We currently have no engine, and information about when we will be leaving is sketchy, to say the least. Hmmm.

Thankfully, we have managed stock up on cigarettes and food and are now ready for the next onslaught. The bike still seems to be in one piece. Lunch is being prepared. All will be well, as long as I can ride the 120 km of sand tomorrow to Atar, which is my current aim.

ANYWAY. Western Sahara. It’s mostly very big, very flat, very windy, and very bleak. We did long days of riding and blasted through. On day 3, we decided to go a couple of miles down a sandy track and camp in the desert. About 200 m into our ride, a Land Cruiser with three chaps came past. They were also aiming to camp in the desert about 20 km away, and asked if we wanted to join them. It was getting dark, but with a support vehicle full of helpful strangers, we decided to go for it.

About 10 km and maybe five crashes each later (I’ve lost count), I was in front. Babs fell off behind me, but I didn’t get the message and carried on. I got to firm ground and the Land Cruiser, but Babs was nowhere to be seen.

It takes two to pick up a loaded bike in the sand, and so our support vehicle went back to help. I heard a lot of revving, and then silence. The Land Cruiser came back for me.

Babs had burnt out his clutch trying to get the bike out of deep sand, and so we camped where we were, ate camel, played the guitar, and drank lots of tea.

The next day, the bike went in the back of the Land Cruiser, and we went back to the main road. Riding in the sand was a lot easier in the light.

After an aborted attempt at hitching, Babs noticed that the clutch was adjustable. The clutch got adjusted, and the bike became ridable at low speed. Babs decided to try to limp the bike over the boarder in Mauritania before fixing it, which he now has, for about £40.

The morning after the escape from the desert, only 200 m of absolutely flat-out sprinting in flinty sand and bare feet stopped my tent from being lost over a cliff and into the sea. My feet felt amazing for the rest of the day, having been so thoroughly exfoliated.

The boarder was challenging on the Moroccan side. There was 5 km of Mad Max-style no man’s land between there and Mauritania, complete with burnt out cars, people razzing around in knackered Mercedes, loads of sand, piles of tyres, and so on.

The Mauritanian side was easier – we decided to shell out on hiring an excellent fixer, who knew the guards and the intricacies of the bureaucracy – and then we were in Nouadibou.

[The day after, 11:31]

Patience is a virtue, so I have been told.

We finally got into Choum yesterday, at 11 pm, after 25 hours on the train. For the last part of the journey we had cleaned up the cabin, and were joined by five other folks. One of these was the best tea maker I’ve seen so far, who was actually quite young (25-ish) and a bit of a rude boy. He had extraordinary flair and didn’t spill a drop, even when the train was moving at maximum speed.

We got off and went to on of Abus’ friend’s, safe in the knowledge that the bike and Abus’ truck and Olam’s portacabin could be dealt with in the morning. It is now the morning, and the train has gone all the way to the end of the line, with our stuff. It’s ETA back to Choum is anywhere between 25 minutes and “later”, depending on who you talk to.

Choum is slightly less the arse-end of nowhere than the last place I was in. It deals with getting stuff from here to Atar, via the sandy track which I am aiming to take. UnfortunateIy, I’ve not had a chance to explore much. My stuff is in a pile just over there, and I am determined to be here when the train returns. I will lie in the track until they unload my bike if necessary. Babs has probably overtaken me by this point (he stayed an extra day in Nouadibou, and was going to take the train as a passenger here and then back, before riding south. We’ve decided to split up until Dakar, by the way, where we hope to spend Christmas).

In the Lonely Planet, it said “no one in Mauritania is in a rush, and you shouldn’t be either”. This now seems somewhat prescient.

[A good while later again]

All that train nonsense happened a few days ago. The bike finally turned up, and, with the application of the too much money, was removed from the train. I was grubby and tired. And still quite a way off from Atar.

After loading up the bike, I went to consult the local gendarmerie (some sort of not quite police, not quite army person the like of which are seen all over the place and who are almost invariably entertaining and good-natured sorts) to get some directions. They were: keep the mountains on your left, and after 50 km you will find another gendarmerie who will provide further directions. I attempted to look positive. The gendarmerie felt my plight, and hooked me up with a pick up truck with 8 folks in it who were going my way. When told they were now the guides for an idiot on a motorbike, they looked extremely concerned. There are almost no motorbikes in Mauritania anywhere; there are certainly none in the desert.

It was somewhere around 5 km in, and I was proving to be less hassle than my guides were worried about. Then, in the space of about 1 km, I fell off six times, each time requiring help to pick the bike up. (One of these was a particularly spectacular high speed plough through a big pile of sand round a corner and into a rock with the front wheel, and resultant high side, dented box, whack on the head, and bent hand guard.) The starting to fall off coincided fairly accurately with the start of the sand.

Some discussion occurred. They were more keen than ever for me to (a) follow the car precisely, and (b) go slowly. Unfortunately, this is not the thing with sand riding. At any speed below about 30 mph the whole thing becomes impossible, and combining this with the aerated sand and ruts caused by cars is not good. Not good at all. So I decided to totally ignore them and ride fast, and also ignore the track, and ride wherever seemed best in the desert. It bloody worked! And was very entertaining indeed. (A shout out goes to Nye at this point for sending me a sand riding article by Simon Painton, without which I would have been even more useless.) And when my guides stopped for a quick road-side pray, they actually seemed fairly impressed. Ha! AND there were times when it was all going wrong but with more power and some sideways action and sand everywhere it all sorted itself out, which was definitely due entirely to my skill and not at all to total blind luck.

I still fell off a couple more times anyway, just for old times sake.

And then we were at the gendarmerie, and tarmac, and high-fives all round, and then Atar, which is nice, especially when you treat yourself to the best air conditioned stone hut with fancy drapery the very nice auberge has.

Since then: r-r-r-r-r-rode me s-s-s-s-s-some c-c-c-c-c-corrugations for 80 km all the way to some sand dunes, stayed me in the mingingest auberge I ever did try not to see, sat me on some sand dunes for some hours and watched me some sand flowing about the place, got me a puncture, mended me a puncture (1 hour 30 minutes, of which 30 minutes were pumping with the tiny tiny hand pump – front wheel, being as you ask, going fairly fast on corrugations, all managed to be brought under control juuuuuuuust about), got proper cross with yet more sand (may have shouted a bit), and had a bath in a hot spring which came complete with several hundred cleaner fish. And accidentally (but happily) squashed me a dead big spider that was under the stuff in my room. And then came to Nouakchott (the capital) on TARMAC.

Oh how I (now) love the tarmac! Smooth, black, easy-riding stuff of dreams! Yes! You know where you’re at with tarmac.

That’ll do.

P.S. The bit at the top should now read…

CURRENT LOCATION: Nouakchott, Mauritania
MILES COMPLETED: 5524
CRASH REPORT: oh, give up already

P.P.S. Still not seen any islamists in this most-dangerous-of-all-the-countries. It’s properly mega friendly. You should all come for a visit. Seriously: THERE’S NO ONE HERE. It’s lovely. But sandy. Very sandy.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

*The social life in Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania revolves around the production and consumption of tea. Making a brew is a complex process. Everyone has their own take on it, and endless discussions will be had about the best method. Making the tea takes around 10 minutes. Drinking the tea takes around 30 seconds. The best at tea production are generally wizened old men in turbans.

HOW TO MAKE MINT TEA

This is the Mauritanian method, because it’s better here than in Morocco. Mauritanians will ensure that you know their tea is better than in Morocco. They are right. The Moroccans tend to spend less time over it, and drink more. It is also far less ritualised in Morocco. Anyway…

You will need:

A teapot (small, enamelled)
Two or more glasses (slightly bigger than a shot glass)
A large and deep metal tray
Bunch of fresh mint
Green tea
Sugar
Water

Everything during this process is done over the tray. Any waste liquid is just poured directly into the tray. During tea making, nobody should leave.

1) Rinse the cups and pot.

2) Put 1/2 cup of green tea and 1 cup cold water into the teapot. Slowly bring the water to a boil.

3) Pour the liquid contents into one of the cups. Add a small amount more cold water to the teapot to rinse the leaves, and add this to another cup. Throughout the rest of the process, this liquid will be poured from one cup into the other from a height of maybe 40 cm over and over again to aerate it; this pouring will be done maybe 50 times for one brew. Whenever you have a spare moment, get pouring. The best tea makers move from pouring this liquid to the other tasks in a smooth flow. If you have more than two cups, the liquid is rotated through all of them.

4) Add around 2-3 more cups water to the pot; slowly bring to the boil.

5) Remove from the heat. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and a sprig of mint to the pot.

6) Pour out one cup, return to the pot. This pouring is also done from height, as is any other pouring during the entire process.

7) Repeat 4-5 times, in order to stir the sugar into the tea.

8) Taste for sugar content. Probably add more.

9) By this point the liquid you’ve been dutifully aerating should be able to hold a head that is around the same volume as the liquid. Add this liquid to the pot.

10) Pour out a cup, return to the pot. Repeat a few more times.

11) Share the tea between the cups, but ensuring that you save one cup-full; this will be what you aerate for the next round. Before passing them out, make sure that you wipe the bottom of them.

12) Slurp noisily.

13) Collect the cups back. Rinse. Pour the contents of the tray out of the window.

14) Pour the remaining liquid into one of the cups. Add a small amount more green tea to the pot. Repeat from step 4 for at least three rounds.

A WHOLE NEW CONTINENT

All right then.

*Ahem.*

WE ARE IN AFRICA.

CURRENT LOCATION: Targua International (i.e. French camper van owners’) Campsite, Tiznit, Morocco

MILES COMPLETED: 3941

CRASH REPORT: Babs – 5, Me – 14

I like Europe, don’t get me wrong. I like all the posh architecture of the cities, I love being able to get actually really good coffee pretty much everywhere, and there’s all sorts of sunshine and interesting bars and driving on the right and using the euro and so on, and meeting new people is always pretty entertaining as well. And yes yes yes, can’t complain, lovely big holiday and all, but by the time we’d knocked around Seville for a couple of days waiting for the guitar case, we were both pretty ready to be in a whole new continent.

MOROCCO IS TREMENDOUS.

Everywhere you go here, you are confronted by the most astounding stuff. It’s literally difficult to comprehend it. The landscapes are astounding. They vary from lush meadows covered in huge swathes of bright yellow flowers on dark green grass, to huge expanses of rock where the flatness is broken only by 100 m high wave-shaped faults breaking in parallel rows across it that the road winds through and over and around. There have been barren hill sides where, on closer inpection, you find that every part has been carefully cultivated, the farmlands rolling on for tens of miles. There was a time when the dead straight road dipped into another small compression in the desert, and with a sudden moment of vertigo a half mile wide gorge appeared, filled with palm trees and a desert town, in the space of a second. And in all the mountains and waves and ridges and valleys you can see the strata with incredible clarity, making it look as if every feature has a fingerprint.

Come to think of it, there’s geology absolutely all over the shop. Everywhere you look, there’s more evidence of overzealous application of geology to everything, which makes the roads frequently windy. Like in Todra Gorge, where there was loads of geology, and also Dades Gorge, where there was loads more geology. The geology Dades was different than in Todra, however; Todra was more up-and-down, Dades was more lumpy. I liked them both, but for different reasons.

There is also super high-speed not-quite-geology is sand dune form at Merzouga, where there are also pleasant people to chat to. I have, in fact, had many pleasant and varied times with people in Morocco so far. The two on the dunes were other travelling types, but you don’t see many of them – although we have met a chap who’s hitching to somewhere south, maybe Gabon, whilst studying for a degree in Maths on the road, and there were a pair of motor bikers doing the same trip as us, but on one bike. Most of the people we’ve met are, obviously, because there’s loads of them around, locals. There are currently four stand-outs for me. They are, in chronological order of interaction:

(1) Trouser Man. When Babs and I first got to Rabat to get some visas sorted, we chained our bikes up and went for a wander around town. On our return, we were confronted by an irate Trouser Man, shouting in arabic. Apparently, we’d chained out bikes to a ‘No Parking’ sign. In our defense, we were parked on the pavement, so we couldn’t see the front of it. Anyway, this was the spot that Trouser Man usually used to sell his trousers from, using, funny-lookingly, the legs of mannequins as tables.

As I mentioned, he was irate, and Babs was trying to be all pacifying and apologetic for the both of us, and I was looking on feeling pleased that this was Babs’ job as the group’s only arabic speaker. This went on for an uncomfortably long time before Trouser Man let it be known that he was just having us on and really didn’t care, and had, in fact been using the bikes as a seat.

(2) Fake Police Whistle Blowing Man. After our last morning in Rabat, which was, inclidently, Babs’ birthday, and after we’d eaten exceptionally posh birthday breakfast, and managed to score a bottle of vodka off the security guard, and got our Mauritanian visa, and when we were on the way to the place where Babs would get his sunglasses stolen again but this time for real, and then get them back (because he knew it was one of the huge number of children who were screaming and shouting and being excitable and so did their teacher and the servious-looking older chap and now that kid is soooooooooooooooo grounded, but I have to admit that all along I was expecting them to be in his pocket again), and also on the way to the quite nice but very yellow hotel with the bidet in the room behind the curtain, which was the venue for what I am now retrospectively entitling “Babs’ Big Birthday Bash” where we drank vodka and coke and played whist, but which we arrived at after the hour-long passport check with the police, we met Fake Whistle Blowing Police Man. He had a police man’s uniform on, a gun made out of a bit of stick and gaffa tape, some plastic flowers, and a whistle. We were in a cafe, and he spent about 10 minutes whilst we gearing up to go constantly blowing his whistle, saluting and kissing the bikes, saluting us, putting flowers on the bikes, marching round the bikes and us, pointing at the bikes, stopping the traffic to look at the bikes, saluting some more, and blowing his whistle.

(3) Said’s family in Dades Gorge. After Babs’ Big Birthday Bash (which, as previously explained very clearly, was after we’d been in Rabat) we decided to split up for a few days to do some stuff by ourselves. I trundled about for a few days in some deserts, and finally ended up in Dades Gorge, where there is lumpy geology. There I stayed with Said and his family, who were incredibly hospitable and entertaining people, and talked about all sorts of fascinating stuff. I can’t think of anything else really to say, other than that I had a lovely time with them all. In fact, a lot of this sort of stuff goes on. Folks just being massively hospitable. So this is actually also going to be for the chap in the antiques shop who was genuinely up for just watching football and drinking tea, and Hossin the guy who tried to guide me to an off-road track between Dades and Todra, which was much too hard and made the boots worth it when I ended up with my right foot pointing backwards and pinned under the pannier box. He was great, even if his gums did bleed when he used my water bladder’s bite valve. But he gave me tea and calmed my ragged nerves and put his dog under a wheel barrow for me. Nice guy, excellent guy, we spent a happy hour being crap at french together. All of them, and all the rest.

(4) Hossin was going to be here, but he got in above. Nevertheless: let’s hear it one more time for Hossin.

Oh yeah, so as well as falling off on the really terrible road that Hossin showed me (it was a dried river bed more suitable for moto-x bikes, all cobbles and plenty about head sized), I also fell off just before then on the horrible bit of track that I got myself on before Hossin found me to offer his guiding services. Got it? Right.

And also twice on the sand, but that’s understandable. Odd stuff, sand…you feel totally out of control when you’re on it, everything’s going everywhere and not always in the same direction as anything else, when it starts going really wrong you dab massively, miss the peg, sit on the seat, get back on your feet, and desperately try to bring everything to a halt because actually you have to go quite fast because otherwise you sink up to the hubs. And then to get going, give it loads of beans in 2nd gear, sand everywhere, paddle with the feet, until you get going fast enough to get back on top of the sand, and then it’s back to the everything everywhere out of control.

I have ridden on sand for a total of maybe 100 m so far. It was memorable. (For the chronologically-driven, that was in Merzouga, two days after Babs’ Big Birthday Bash, and the day after wild camping in the High Atlas BY MYSELF and not being scared even once because THIS TIME I lit a fire, which made the most extraordinary difference in how scared I get camping by myself.)

Babs dropped the bike best, though. He stopped to ask directions, and put the bike on the side stand but stayed standing over it. He then got ready to go, and took it off the side stand. Suddenly, he thinks of something else to ask and goes to rest it on the now not-in-position sidestand, and throws his bike on the floor in front of the local. This, I think we can all agree, is a little bit of class.

And we also dropped them once each in the woods we camped in on the first night, after the yellow flowers and before Rabat, where the dogs barked all night and the cocks started crowing at 3:45 am and for some reason we didn’t think to go to find the amazing sounding distant drumming until we were both in bed. Next time: party first, bed second.

Right, so, anyway. We’ve now got back together and are currently engaged in a day of faff, sorting petrol containers and documents and so on (and new suspension links because my bike’s actually got lowered suspension (?!) so the wheel hits the exhaust pipe) in a small town called Tiznit. It a nothing special non-touristy sort of place where the locals just knock around together and get on with their everyday lives which is brilliant and endlessly fascinating to be a little bit of. Tonight, hopefully, we’ll go to the beach for a day off, then get into Mauritania. And maybe get on the 3.5 km long iron ore train, who knows.

Hope some of that makes some sort of sense.

Inna bit.

AND NOW BUT GO! (Maybe.)

FINALLY! WE HAVE ACTUALLY GOT OUT OF PORTUGAL! This is, as I’m sure you realise, a Big Event for us because we have been there for quite some time. But today we left Lisbon and headed to Spain, and it felt pretty good to be finally doing some motorbiking again. But I’ll backtrack a bit first and so…

CURRENT LOCATION: Seville, Spain

MILES COMPLETED: 2300-ish

CRASH REPORT: Babs – 3, Me – 9

I left the farm and Liz and Adam and Cleo and Malcom the pastry chef and Peter and Adele who are all mavellous people and also Babs, I left Babs, and I went to Lisbon. My feet were extraordinarily itchy. A tentative ride ensued, due to the minor calamities of the week before having dented the confidence somewhat, but I got all the way there without damaging myself or the bike. After some getting lost and going over the two-and-a-half mile long bridge twice, I got to a hostel and dropped the bike and picked it up again and had a hot shower and settled down to await Mr Babs.

He arrived 2 days later to my great delight, having ridden using the steering part repaired by the marvellous Carlos. We faffed some and went drinking the second night, which involved an extraordinary quantity of vodka, a terrible gabba night, and the attempted leap-frogging of a thing, with badly misjudging speed / height / trajectory / arm length but NOT cracking my nuts into it, oh no, it was too low NOT to high, I didn’t make contact at all and just fell on the floor. Babs was mighty impressed, but our two new youthful Portugese friends who were showing us the way to a drum and bass club, they were mostly just surprised, I think. As previously mentioned, the drum and bass turned out to be very terrible gabba, and I actually like gabba and don’t think it’s all terrible. Babs doesn’t like gabba at all ever. He was not maximum impressed.

Nevertheless we had some fun twatting about and the next day we went to see the Real Bodies exhibition by Gunther Wassischops who plasticises real human bodies and then displays them in all sorts of complex, artistic / informative ways. They really are very good and very beautiful, and I’ve wanted to see them for ages.

The first time I saw dissection when I was in Y9 at school, I had to run out of the room to go and find a place to lie down, got half way to the locker room and passed out in the middle of the playground. Much the same thing happened here.

I’d begun to be hyper-aware of the tendons on the backs of my knees since seeing the man displayed like the Leonardo da Vinci man in a circle thing, but I’m usually a bit weird about them anyway. Steadily, I became less and less able to dissociate the things I was seeing with the weird clickings and sloshings and so on of my own body, and it all became A Bit Odd. I went for a sit down, and then a lie down, on a bench, and then was sitting up again (which was difficult) and having a conversation with the concerned lady with the badge […] and then I was sweating profusely and lying on the floor surrounded by Portuguese children. And Babs.

[Apparently I had collapsed half way off the bench, and had adopted a sort of up-side-down sitting posture, with my head close to the floor. Babs and the concerned lady had to help me the rest of the way.]

A man fed me sugar and water and I was mostly very, very embarrassed and very, very sweaty and then I went home to make dinner.

AND THEN THE NEXT DAY THE RADIOS TURNED UP! FINALLY! After two weeks of extreme faffing about and refunds and reorders and parcels not delivered! And this was a good day, also because Babs went to buy a new tyre (his one won’t last), and he got free one instead. I am sketchy on the details but it was something along the lines of: he stopped to ask a man on a moped for directions and the man told him to pull over, so he did. And the man used to own the same bike as Babs’ bike and was very excited by Babs’ bike, and the trip. And so he took Babs home over the bridge and FOR FREE got his semi-worn but still quite well knobbled rear tyre out and just gave it to Babs FOR FREE, just got it out right there and let Babs hold onto it and ride off with it. And also some bungee cords.

I am not lying.

Meanwhile, I was having very classy coffee and some proper Hard Chat with this excellent pair of folks from the hostel. Ha! And all was well with the World.
AND THEN the radios were charged so we sat in the hostel wearing our helmets and shouting at each other for a while. The radios are amazing and allow me to tell Babs all sorts of very exciting things whilst we’re riding around. Or listen to music. Or receive a large number (8) of phones calls from my very alcoholic not next door neighbour anymore.

But most importantly: because we’re not waiting for them anymore, we’re not in Portugal anymore.

Tomorrow: Terifa. Thursday: Morocco. “DUHHHH DUH DUH DU-DUH DUH DUHHHHHHHHHHH! (Ple-dow-plou-dow-ple-dow-plou-dow),” etc.

P.S. So: I wrote this last night when a bit drunk, and didn’t post it immediately. Since then, we have found out that 3/4 size guitar hard cases are not available in Seville, and so now we have to stay here for another 24 hours whilst Amazon does its thing. Argh! But, still: can’t really complain. We’re sitting on a rooftop in Seville. It’s a tough life.