God, Africa and a Motorbike – Part 5

This is the story of Kobus and Marina Britz, who in 2011 packed their BMW R1200GS and began traveling form Durban, South Africa, all the way to John O’Groats in Scotland.

← Click here to read Part 4

Saturday, April 16, 2011
In Maun at the Audi camp we bump into Solly and his son again. How good it is to see familiar faces again. A 400km ride to Shakawe without incident, brings us ‘home’ again to Drotsky Lodge. Eileen and her husband Jan are really the hosts with the most. They’re knowledgeable and are keen to impart upon us any little titbit of information to help us on our way. They are enthusiastic to hear all about out travels. Eileen is a little worried about the camo pants we wear because of the military connotation. Unfortunately my ‘bright idea’ of washing them in Jik to camouflage the camouflage is not the bright idea it initially seemed. Jan and Eileen’s generosity knows no bounds and as night falls we find ourselves, cosied up in a cabin for the same price as a camp site. Who says that ‘Ubuntu’ is dead and buried?

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Sunday, April 17, 2011
After a goodnight’s sleep and an early breakfast accompanied by a beautiful sunrise, we set off with Ian and Roelien to conquer the Okavango Swamps in a hired boat. We are off for a bit of tiger fishing. The water is lapping at the boat. Sometimes it’s a brownie colour; sometimes it’s a greenie colour, always twisting wide and then narrow. The Okavango Delta is often thought of as being the world’s largest inland delta. Apparently there are two others right here in Africa that make the same claim. The one being the Sudd, on the Nile in South Sudan, and then the Niger Delta in Mali. In between all this papyrus on the banks of the Okavango is an eco system teeming with birdlife, wildlife and of course fish. There are sounds all around us. Some recognisable others just waiting to be identified. It’s down to some serious business as Kobie does the ‘dirty work’ for me, baits up my rod and casts and then it’s up to me. I strike it lucky and am the only one to catch a tiger. Howzat! Me thinks this lady of mine is getting a bit full of herself. It’s been a long hot day. Another ‘best day’ of our lives. We share dinner with Hans and Gail, bikers from Pretoria and again we are quizzed about our trip and wonder if we will tire of the questions. Hans and Gail encourage us to write our story. Monday, April 18 … Kobie is up all night fighting nausea that often gets the better of him and I am thinking that the previous day’s sun has come home to roost. ‘Boetie’, you can’t underestimate the power of our African sun. Thank heavens we are in the lap of luxury in the lodge with our own en suite. Imagine having to leopard crawl out of the tent over and over again and head off into the night to the ablution block and lucky if he makes it. It’s a sparse breakfast of dry toast and muti in the morning that waves us on our way to Katimo Mulilo. Crossing yet another border in the countdown of the many to come.

We are again on the receiving end of a friendly and helpful people. Along the road we stop often to take in the beauty of the land and to breathe in the scent of the air. We want to miss nothing, we want to keep all this and more close and for all the years to come. Then of course we also stop to fill up with our famous bully beef sarmies. If dogs are a man’s best friend bully beef sarmies are the great contenders.

Zambezi Lodge campsite is quite full but we find a nice little spot to pitch our tent and head off to ‘town’ to stock up for dinner. The local ‘spaza’ masquerades as a Shoprite. It’s the strangest thing, back home shopping is such a chore and it’s in and out as quick as we can. But here we dawdle through the aisles picking up tins, comparing prices and look for little treats to sustain us on the road. Back at the campsite we meet a group of Missionaries from Romania. These young ladies inspire and humble us with the work they do with ‘God Cares Primary School’ in Kongola. Great people doing great work in Africa and they are right God does Care. And we know it first hand.

Sleep comes early as Kobie tries to catch up on the sleep he lost out on the night before. I am not sure if one ever catches up on lost sleep but I take advantage and snuggle up with the remnants of the day running around in my head before I too succumb.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
At the Zambian border we are practically mobbed. The bike and its South African Regalia with Madiba takes centre stage. Like elsewhere in the world everybody wants a piece of Madiba and here it is no different. Luckily we have a stash of Madiba stickers for just such an occasion and its sheer delight to see the happiness this little gift imparts. It seems that wherever we go we always land on our feet running and this time is no exception. After a shower at JT’s place in Livingstone, we set off on a sunset cruise on the Mighty Zambezi on the ‘African Queen’. The name conjures up adventure and we are sure we catch a glimpse of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, just fleetingly though. Many of you who know Kobie, will attest to the fact that he was in the front of the queue when chutzpah was handed out. Never shy in coming forward we find ourselves with a couple from the Czech Republic dining at the Captain’s table on the upper deck. What a beautiful ending to yet another beautiful day!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
JT, what a boytjie. The breakfast he prepares for us leaves us under no illusion that he can cook a mean meal and we bet he can clean as well. He is attentive and a most likeable young man and we think he most probably has quite a fan base. No time to loll about waiting to digest our breakfast. After all there are only twenty fours hours in a day and we need to be getting onto our ‘bicycle’ again. But before we do, we have a date with a micro light for a flight over Victoria Falls. A truly unforgettable experience. We are not just viewing it through the lens of an expert National Geographic Photographer in our lounge on our TV. This time we are the National Geographic photographers. This time it’s ours. It’s in 3D, Technicolor, HD, Panoramic, Quadraphonic, Stereophonic and Surround sound. Wow! Vic Falls, what a beauty. Let me rephrase that. That just sounds far too familiar and really does the Falls no justice. Let’s afford her, her true status. Regal. So forever here after. Victoria Falls, she shall be known to us. Somewhere above the Mosi-oa-Tunya the smoke that thunders, the pilot has planted the seed of a visit to Lake Kariba. If you believe the way Kobie tells the story, Keith and Lee-Anne had especially erected the sign, Lake View Lodge especially for us. 200km before Lusaka a sharp right leads us on another ‘scenic route’. Oh My Gosh! The road, or what is left of a once tarred road has unravelled and its pot hole after pot hole and it just gets worse. ‘Voorentoe’ as we push on. Going back is not an option. Keith and Lee-Anne who manage the Lodge, molly coddles and takes care of our every need. Our camo pants eventually get camouflaged and get a ‘paint technique’ that would do an interior designer proud. The patina of the journey sealed into the camo by a grey coat of pva.

I take a little time out on the veranda of the Lodge. Lake Kariba stretches way out lapping at the horizon. Much like an ocean. Here in deepest darkest Africa, right on our doorstep, I’m sitting drinking real coffee surveying all around me like I own the place. I cannot help but praise the Lord for His provision, and for bringing us to where we were supposed to be! The passage of scripture at the bottom of the page of my diary catches my attention. It reads: Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1 verse 9. I share this with Kobie and we both agree that it is God’s Word to us for our journey!

Although much of our journey is filled with excitement and the constant adrenalin rush it would be a blatant lie not to admit that many a night, watching the sun set or lying in our little tent we do not wish for the company of family and friends and the little hands of our grandchildren held in ours. That there are not times of anxiety and exhaustion. But in these times we find much consolation in each other and the faith we share and feel growing in us.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011
Morning comes bright and early and we find ourselves getting into the African groove of rising when the sun does and putting down our heads at night when the sun puts it’s down. As we wave goodbye to Keith and Lee-Anne, I call to mind that old saying ‘A stranger is just a friend you do not know’ and I think how true and how it is proven to us on a daily basis. We are dreading the journey back on that horrible road. My stomach is in a knot and the hour it takes us to do 17km feels like an eternity. We arrive in Lusaka at lunchtime. And I am thinking that lunch time must be the call for all and sundry to hit the road whether it be, on foot, car, truck, taxi, bus, bike, or even donkey cart. It’s bumper to bumper, it’s grinding to halt kind of traffic and the fumes of petrol and diesel are trying to sneak into the tiniest little crevices in our helmets. An hour later Kobie decides enough is enough and this time takes a sharp left.

Oh! Oh! Another detour. Luckily this time we are met with the Golden Bridge Hotel. Not a golden bridge in sight. In fact not a bridge in sight. Are we going to quibble about the name? A bit of refreshment and an enquiry for directions to the Pioneers Camp site leads us no where. We are staying put. Felix the Manager, a most persuasive gentleman makes us an offer we can’t refuse. Bed and breakfast, that very favourably competes with the cost of our intended campsite. And thrown into the mix, an interview with the local Television Network. Ok! we don’t have our own dressing room or make up artist but we are given our 15 seconds of fame the next morning on ‘Morning Live.’ It is surreal watching ourselves on TV and even more surreal when we catch a South African soapie 7de Laan being aired in Afrikaans. Nou Ja what can I say.

Friday, April 22, 2011
Good Friday in Lusaka appears to be just like any other day. It’s bustling with traffic and activity and some where in my head I hear some advice picked up in our planning stages. Something about when in Africa, drive like an African. Obviously Kobie has forgotten this and will need a little reminder. Chipata is about 600km away and as we make our way, we pass through village upon village all trying to make a living selling the produce and wares alongside the road. It’s mainly patas a type of cassava root and tomatoes. I wonder if they have a price control thing going because the prices seem fixed. Nobody undercuts anybody. The roads are narrow and cyclists abound packed for market. The wares are piled two and three stories high. The charcoal stacked and tied meticulously. The same for the maze. Its ladies and gents who transport their loads. Not once did we see them lying on their backs which surely gives credence to their skills. Talk about loaded.

Mama Rula’s campsite turns out to be very basic but with clean facilities and that’s what counts. Turns out the local Spar and campsite is owned by not only a compatriot but an Afrikaner as well. We ‘gooi’ a bit of the ‘taal’ and head off ‘home.’ In no time at all Kobie has a wood fire going that is just perfect for a sizzling chop and some toasted bread. Finger licking good. Sorry Kentucky. Before bed we chat about the days events, of family and friends and we play a few hands of rummy. Kobie wins every time. I am sure he cheats… but I have not been able to catch him out… yet!

Saturday, April 23, 2011
After a breakfast of leftovers which always goes down well and with our sights on the Zambia-Malawi border we are on the road again. I’m sure somebody must have alerted the moneychangers that we were on our way. Because they are there in their hordes, all clamouring for our attention with the best deals in town. It’s not just moneychangers, it’s men selling airtime and boys selling sim cards. Do we feel intimidated? Oh! Yes we sure do. And in the heat of the moment, and all caution thrown to the wind the fight or flight instinct sets in. But not before we close a deal, a dodgy deal at that. One we discover too late. We put it down to experience and move on. Llilongwe the Capital city of Malawi is another bustling African city which we wave goodbye to as we pass through. Lake Malawi is dotted with little beach retreats. As usual whenever we stop to stretch our legs, people, mostly children seem to appear from no where. The men are particularly interested in the bike and its speed capabilities and the 220kmph dial never fails to impress them. Once again the little gift of Madiba and BMW stickers is a great source of joy and I wonder if the little ones take these stickers to school for show and tell. It’s past Salima onto Muss in the northern Region of Malawi. 600kms later with a long hard day at our backs we look forward to Nkhata Bay. But not before we encounter the worst stretch of road we have been on thus far. Its five kms of sheer hell that sees me dismounting and walking for 2kms kitted out in full biking gear. It would not surprise me to hear that I had been mistaken for a drunken astronaut gone astray. How Kobie manages to keep the bike on the road without putting it down is only by the Grace of God.

We just about fall into the welcoming arms of Gilbert. Utterly exhausted and thoroughly relieved to have both feet on the ground we opt for supper at the Nkhata Lodge. A fine meal of barbequed champ, a type of fish with all the trimmings and accompanied by entertainment supplied by Casper, a local musician and a group of children who endear us to them with beautiful traditional dancing. I decide to send Michael our gardener a sms to tell him where we are. His reply is filled with excitement. It turns out we are in his home town. It’s truly a wonderful ending to a long and difficult day.

Sunday, April 24, 2011
One thing we know is that the horrible obstacle course of the previous day’s riding is not going to taking us prisoner. As the old saying goes, ‘n Boer maak plan’ (a farmer makes a plan) and so he did, with the help of his new friend Gibert. Gilbert arranges a taxi to take me and all our luggage to the local Police Station, allowing Kobie to ride the bike on the ‘obstacle course’ of a road, without all the weight! All goes well and at the Police Station we load our luggage back onto the bike and get going once more! What an adventure! The scenery and the mountain pass on the road from Muss to Chitimba which lies on the northern shores of Lake Malawi, is spectacular. From one extreme to another! Being on the back of the bike does afford one the wonderful luxury of sightseeing without the enclosed feeling of a vehicle. At the end of the road, ahead of us, the Hakuna Matata Campsite awaits us. Don’t worry, be happy. No warning about the sandpit that lies ahead. Of course ‘Ousus’ (that’s me!) has to get off and walk… this time in front of the bike to give directions to Kobie! Talk about exercise! I get a lot!

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As so often happens here in Africa, out of nowhere a young man and a boy appear. At the mere mention of the word campsite I am led hand in hand by the young boy to our destination. And again we are met by yet another South African couple, Willie and Irma Louw. We hear about their dreams and how they come to own this little piece of heaven. A haven to all those who come this way. It’s a story of hardship and hope and we know and believe that God directs us in our steps. You better believe it. Hennie and Zelda Cloete and their two daughters arrive in their motor home to see how their friends are faring and we know they too will be inspired. Before we retire to our tent which we have pitched under the lapa (a thatch roof perched on poles) to protect us from the elements we enjoy a long hot shower in the cleanest ablution blocks in town. You learn to take advantage of these luxuries because you never know what lies ahead.

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Monday, April 25, 2011
Packing down the tent etc is the easy part. It’s the goodbyes that are difficult. In the absence of family, we more often than not, take on extended family as we move around. This time is no different, but the family is bigger with Irma’s mom ‘Ta’ Betsie’ finding a special place in Kobie’s heart. Everybody enjoys Kobie’s light hearted teasing and banter with Ta’ Besie. Before we depart we feel at home enough and privileged to share our faith as Kobie calls for God’s blessing and favour on these wonderful people. Irma and I walk, ‘sisters in arms’ to the main road as Kobie rides. On the main road we say our goodbyes and leave a little of our hearts behind. It’s time to fill up the ‘ysterperd’ with some petrol. Karonga seems a good place and the local petrol attendant is careful not to spill any of the petrol on this beauty. It’s been raining and the countless mud huts along the way or rather what is left of them bears testimony, as huts melt back into the earth once more leaving the thatch roofs to blow to the wind. In our own ‘pompous’ way we question the choice of building on a slope with inadequate drainage and diversions for water. Then again we ask ourselves ‘What do we know about these ways that are generations old and the reasoning behind it all?’ The region is known for its rice, tea and timber production. They must be doing something right. It is such a beautiful part of Malawi. The Tanzanian border is like a big market place. It’s crowded and we do well, until we cross over where once again we are inundated with the money changers. We guess they have to earn a living, and then once again we discover they earn a living at our expense and we have been had again. Live and Learn. The road to Mbeya takes us through huge tea and banana plantations. Its harvest time for the bananas and huge trucks are being loaded. Once again our plans are scuppered as we head for Paradise Inn Campsite. Again we are lured into a luxury room for only R230 a night for both of us. You can’t keep a good salesman down. Ten out of ten David, no wonder you are the manager.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
At breakfast we sit down to vegetable soup, scrambled eggs and toast. Not the most traditional breakfast but tasty and filling enough. David sees us off with a little bit of advice to take the road to Ingha and check there on the road conditions for forward travel. After a Pepsi at Ingha we decide to take the main road to Dar es Salaam. It’s a mountainous road littered with broken down and wrecked trucks and buses. It makes travel difficult and slow on the single lane roads. The constant reminder of the ‘skeletons;’ of the trucks and buses, the reality of the dangers that lurk around every bend. It takes 7 hours of Kobie being on his guard each minute to complete the 490km. But still we take the time to see the beauty around us. One of the most beautiful sights along the way is a pine plantation… the trees are young and are surrounded by tree dahlia’s… a carpet of lilac blooms as far as the eye can see! Finally, the turn -off to Crocodile Camp steps out to meet us. It’s a beautiful setting on the banks of the Ruana River one of Tanzania’s main rivers. It’s restful and the perfect place to rest our weary bodies. There’s no cheating at Rummy for Kobie tonight and no chatting about the day and our sore bums. It’s sleep glorious sleep. Or so we think.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
What a night? With a goat bleating so loudly that I was convinced it was tethered to our tent and the oppressive heat, glorious sleep could not have been further from what we got. At breakfast we meet Jennifer who is looking forward to her husband joining her in Tanzania after he retires from teaching. It’s fascinating listening to the stories that abound. Another 400km and its Dar es Salaam or bust. It’s nearly bust, with road works playing havoc. No rules, no stop and go periods. Just a free for all. You just had to hope and pray for a gap or a place to pull off when a vehicle approaches from the opposite direction! That or get run over! Talk about hair-raising!!! All of a sudden the road surface changed and it was just one speed hump after another. A kind of bone jarring, teeth rattling, never ending journey. Once Kobie had adjusted his speed and we settled into a rhythm, we realised that we were passing through a corridor of game parks. Huge herds of giraffes and impalas walked alongside the road. A beautiful sight to behold, peaceful and golden. In such contrast to the road we had just come through. We arrive in Dar es Salaam and think that coming through Lusaka we would be better prepared for another African city. Wrong!!! Nothing prepares you. It almost feels as though all the traffic is converging on us to get a closer look at this contraption and its people. Total chaos, with vehicles moving in both directions simultaneously! No order! It is not only scary, it is very time-consuming! It takes us one and a half hours to cover a distance of 11 km’s. I almost pass out with heatexhaustion!

We just hope we are going in the right direction… It’s in this hectic traffic that in the true sense of the word we almost bump into four guys from Lichtenburg. (A town in South Africa) With the traffic moving not even at a snail’s pace, we are able to get one of the guys to reprogram our GPS and have a little chat.

Eventually we find our way to the ferry for Zanzibar. How we find our way remains a miracle. Once again we are surrounded by hordes of people wanting to act as our ‘agents’. We are feeling a little more than wary after being fleeced twice already. So Kobie sets off a step or two behind our ‘agent’ to book us aboard the ‘luxury’ Kilimanjaro. I’m left to stand guard with the motorbike. I am feeling vulnerable. The bike is packed with a load of expensive equipment and a sizeable amount of cash.

We are relieved and so happy just to be able to relax and catch our breath. Just as well, because as we disembark its the same story all over again with everybody being so persistent in their offers of help and even more persistent in their demands for money, in spite of doing nothing at all that even warrants a tip. Enough to test us to our limits and drive us to drink. Where was our agent when we needed to fend of our would be ‘helpers’ ? He did arrive, well after the fact and proceeded to assist us through customs. It is the first time that we are asked to furnish proof of our yellow fever injections. Luckily we can comply. I am happy to be driven to our hotel in Stone Town with Kobie following on the bike.

Well you have seen the adverts for Zanzibar, the luxury hotels, the beaches the sunsets, the dhows, so who can blame me for getting lost in the picture. Our hotel, the one and only Hotel Kokoni has never seen a star, not even the evening star. The hotel turns out to be a hovel of note and the surroundings are no better! We have to lock all our luggage in the hotel office and lock the bike away somewhere else and pray for Divine protection over us and our stuff! This is not a good place to stay, and we decide to find a better place in the morning! But we still have to get through the night!! We hope there will be no bleating goats and no crawly things that go bump in the night.

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We know from seeing the many mosque spires around us that we will have an early morning call and that we will have no need for an alarm. After the frustration and near hysteria has subsided, we sit down to a supper of a tin of tuna, that we have for just such times. With no cutlery at hand and knowing that a hungry man does not complain, we set about eating the tuna. How I wish I had taken a photo of Kobie with the back end of a comb being used as a single pronged fork eating the tuna. Tuna is rather dry with out the mayonnaise but we wash it down with some cold bottled water. The upside of the day is that we were sure to shed a kilo or two with the excessive perspiration and the miniscule dinner. Is it not wonderful, the human spirit? How we can rally and gather ourselves off the floor and laugh not only about the day’s events but at ourselves as well?

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