God, Africa and a Motorbike – Part 6

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 5

Thursday, April 28, 2012
A new day and breakfast on the roof of the hotel redeems the hotel, just a fraction though. It’s quite an  experience to see the town from this vantage point. The alleyways are filled with people going to and fro totally unaware of us catching a glimpse of their lives. Most of the buildings have not seen a coat of paint since ‘Pa fell of the bus’ and maybe never will. Then again that’s most probably the allure of Stone Town, the tourist attraction. That, and the doors. Big ones, small ones, painted ones, carved ones, studded ones and even the architraves around the doors are masterpieces in the own right. It’s time to move on.

ScreenShot184We head east and meet up with a gentleman on a Vespa. Imagine our ‘ysterperd’ alongside the Vespa. It’s enough to give the Vespa an inferiority complex. But again as luck would have it with Divine Providence at the helm the Vespa man is none other than the manager of yet another hotel. Kilimanni Kweta becomes our home from home for a few days at least.

After a little lesson from Wadi about Zanzibar and its Colobus Monkeys it seems fitting to seek them out. It’s hard to keep Kobie out of the saddle as we set out in search of not only the Colobus monkeys but any other treasures that Zanzibar has to offer. That plan is soon thwarted, but not for long, as we are stopped in a road block where the police want to see Kobie’s International licence. Not a problem as he turns back to me for it. But there is a problem I have left it at the hotel. I am not popular. But we are soon on our way. It’s funny what crossing a man’s palm with silver can produce. We get to see the monkeys and manage to come away with some nice photos.

After our initial intro to Zanzibar which we have since put behind us, Zanzibar impresses and we come to realise why it’s the place for newly weds and tourists who come from all over the world. There is much to see and do on Zanzibar.

Friday. April 29, 2012
Will and Kate got married today and even in this far away country we are aware of it. So wish we could see it ‘live’. But as they say you can’t have your cake and eat it. Although some days it feels as though we are doing just that.

It’s a big day for us as we head off with Muhamed to swim with the dolphins. I have second thoughts and decide not to do the swim. Kobie as usual is up front and is kitted out for the moment with snorkel and fins. It’s like a game of hide and seek as we all keep our eyes peeled for the tell tale fins that look like those of a 1950 Chevy. Then everybody is into the water and a game of tag begins. It’s an exhausted bunch of people who clamber aboard each time to repeat the process. Even though I do not join in the swimming, the exhilaration is catchy. The excitement of viewing all this from the boat is almost dreamlike that I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am awake.

We need to return to Stone Town, to take it all in at our leisure to feel the bright and colourful cloths we saw fluttering in the breeze, to hear the cheerful play of the children we saw from a distance, to smell the spices in the market place and of course to do a bit of shopping. Wadi our delightful host shows us the ropes and the road we will have to travel to get back to the harbour when we leave. As usual we draw the crowds. The interaction is good and the people friendly. All that is left is to spend the last hours on the island gathering precious memories and a few mementos.

Saturday, April 30, 2012
As life would have it and as experience teaches, life is not always a bowl of cherries and sometimes the shite does hit the fan and sometimes we are standing slap bang in front of the fan. The morning starts off good, actually more than good when Wadi presents us with a pair of the most beautiful shells as a gift and a memento of our stay on Zanzibar. At the harbour I am left with the bike and all its paraphernalia. Half of it draped on my person, weighing me down like a beast of burden, while Kobie sorts out our ferry tickets etc for the return trip to Dar es Salaam. With people already starting to embark, the pushing, the shoving, the bags etc I am swept onto the ferry with the crowd. Under my load I am trying to hang onto everything, trying to ‘Hou Kop’ and I am searching the sea of faces and the mass of bodies for Kobie. I guess it would be safe to say I’m panicking just a little bit. Then I spy a bit of a commotion going on. The steps are in the process of being moved away from the ferry and there is an altercation going on about payment for the bike. The more Kobie explains that he has paid, the more he waves the tickets in their faces the more adamant they are, that he and the bike will not be boarding the ferry if payment is not made and swiftly, if he does not want to remain on the quayside waving the ferry and me on our way.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know who has the upper hand and who gets away with ‘murder.’ Kobie pays up, and believe me not with a smile either. He forks out payment again, daylight robbery and not a soul steps in to do the right thing. Do we feel persecuted or what? Well it does not get any better. In the fracas that ensues to get the bike and Kobie on board the tank bag with our foreign currency, GPS, tracking device, cameras, credit cards and chargers go missing. One wonders how this all happened. Surely this could not have just been an opportunistic crime. Do these thieving gangs stand permanent guard at the docks waiting and then planning? Seemed to well orchestrated, especially with what follows.

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I am feeling ‘siek and sat’ and actually am flat on my back while it all sinks in and I am the ‘moer in’ and even scared just knowing that the ‘brothers in arms’ in the dastardly deed are amongst us on this very ferry. No doubt, sniggering up their sleeves.

Kobie does not let the grass grow under his feet and fuelled with frustration and anger he gets onto his cell phone. Thankfully he still has that on him and unknown to the thieves they still have the tracker on them. After a call to Hugo (our son) in South Africa they start tracking themovement of the tracker. The scene and what follows plays out in true James Bond style. From South Africa Hugo is able to tell us that the thieves are on the way to the airport. He gives us a blow by blow account of the whereabouts of our possessions. From there we know the thieves are in full flight heading for Dar es Salaam. The return trip to Dar es Salaam seems to take twice as long; the sea is far choppier. In the meantime we alert the police and to their credit they are waiting for us when we disembark. I am in the police car and Kobie follows as we make our way being led by the tracker to a building in down town Dar es Salaam.

For three hours the police and Kobie scour the building. Upstairs, downstairs, into rooms filled with dozens of people. Ladies in their burqes, children clinging to them, men in their thobes and amongst them somewhere our goods and the men who stole them. It’s an impossible task to find them. We are grateful for the efforts of the police and are resigned to the loss. We drag ourselves out of the emotional cesspit, shaken and stirred by the experience. We place ourselves in the hands of the Man that stilled the water and put it all behind us. Africa is waiting and we will not be underestimated. A good night’s sleep at the Akana Lodge is just what the doctor ordered. All we have lost is able to be replaced. Our faith in mankind is a little shaken but we know that tomorrow is another day and that we will not let the incident get in the way of forming relationships with strangers along the way.

Sunday, May 1, 2012
I don’t know what I was thinking about having a good night’s sleep. Our sleep is fleeting and disturbed with the events of the previous day replaying in our heads. The up side of the new day is that breakfast is really good and Levi the manager ever so helpful. In no time he has a taxi at our beck and call and in turn the taxi has us at the local police station to formally report the theft for insurance purposes. In the meantime I am scratching around in my handbag as us women sometimes do, when I discover my Standard bank card which I thought I had left safely back home. Don’t ask me how it got there. I just have no explanation and can only put it down to a miracle. The answer to our prayers. Thank you Lord you sure know how to come to the party over and over again.

Feeling uplifted, albeit it a little emotionally drained we once again set off into the unknown of a new day. The familiar sound f Kobie starting up the bike readies us for the day’s journey. But just as I am about to mount the ‘ysterperd’ Kobie notices an oil leak. His eyes speak of the devastation he feels, and I am gutted and thinking what else can befall us here in Dar es Salaam. Its meaning ‘safe port or haven of peace’ is a contradiction in terms. For today anyway.

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We decide to make our way to a petrol station, hoping and praying that we will find somebody with the knowledge and know how to make it all better. In the meantime the oil light has come on and our anxiety and blood pressure levels increase in solidarity with the rising temperature of the bike. Once again technology rises to the occasion and a photo taken on our cell phone of the offending leak and sent to Mike at Motorrad in Hillcrest South Africa gets a speedy response accompanied by a don’t worry be happy kind of advice. Which we take, as we fill up with petrol and oil. Another success story that we have no answers for. The oil light stops blinking and again we give thanks, as we head to Arusha.

The name alone conjures up something beautiful, something mystical. Our imaginations are working overtime. It’s obviously the anticipation of seeing Kilimanjaro. We are keeping our eyes peeled for that first glimpse. But before we get there we have to contend with the pothole paradise and the rainy weather. No sooner have we dried out from a thorough drenching when we are lambasted again and again. Still feeling a little uneasy about the oil leak we stop at a petrol station for Kobie to cast his beady eye over the engine. All is well in paradise even if it is potholed. Thank God for small mercies. In passing and talking to strangers as we are prone to doing more often than not these days, the owner of the petrol station suggests we stay over night at the Elephant Hotel in Same.

The family who own the hotel is of Indian extract. We discover that Indians started arriving in Tanzania in the 19th Century and that Zanzibar became home to many of them, still evident today. It seems to be unclear just how many Indians make up part of the Tanzanian population. We are told somewhere between 40,000 and 90 000. Martin the youngest son just happens to be a tour operator and before we know it Serengeti is no longer just another picture in a book it’s about to become a reality. What a boon cell phones have become, bringing us closer to friends and family just about anywhere in the world. Before we lay our selves down we chat to Michelle who is ‘babysitting’ Mitzi, our miniature Yorkie thousands of kms away ,back in South Africa. All is well, not only with them but with us as well. So much to be grateful for.

Monday, May 2, 2012
Its rise and shine bright and early, if we want to catch sight of Mount Kilimanjaro before she is hidden by the clouds. We hear it’s often a game of hide and seek leaving many a sightseer disappointed. It’s a glorious sight, imposing and all at once welcoming. Kilimanjaro’s head and shoulders are covered in a cape of snow with a wisp of mist swirling around. I hope that my elmet camera (the only one that was not stolen) is able to capture even just a little of Kili’s beauty. It’s a winding road that takes us back to the main road. It’s beautiful and every now and again we stop to look from whence we have come and catch a glimpse of Kili from another angle. We wonder if the people in the shadows of Kilimanjaro really appreciate its beauty. Standing there trying to take it all in I hear this whisper of a challenge, it’s eerie but it’s Kili challenging me and I reply in no uncertain terms, ‘See you around , I’ll be back and next time I will not just be taking pictures Boet.’

At Arusha we settle in at Masai Camp. We make our bookings for a three day tour of Serengeti and wonder how we will take it all in, in such a short space of time. A hot air balloon trip is in the pipeline and all we have to do is pray for good weather. Excitement does not even begin to tell how we feel. It’s not often one witnesses a man doing two things at once but Kobie breaks the mould and while he is washing the bike and talking to JP our neighbour in South Africa, a passerby hears him ‘gooiing the taal’ and stops to have a chat. One thing leads to another, and another introduction by Jaco leads us to a ‘fundi’ from Gabon. His advice is sobering and we know that our lans are going to be scuppered, again. He explains that the heavy rains in the part of Africa we are heading into, have damaged the already fragile network of main roads and that many are not even passable with 4×4 let alone a loaded bike.

The DRC is in constant turmoil and the people have a lot to contend with and often come across as being unhelpful and unfriendly. Possibly the language barrier plays a role in this as well. We listen carefully and take heed and change our plans. So instead of going across central Africa we decide to travel up the West Coast as far as we can and then into Angola. One dayat a time. By the time night falls we are exhausted physically and mentally. Oh! for a double bed. But instead we get a double bunk bed. We stash our gear on the top bunk and share the bottom bunk. Can’t imagine what was in our heads. Maybe we just needed to be close. Even be it, head to toe. Just Imagine.

Tuesday, May 3, 2012.
What a night! The bottom of a bunk bed is not made for one person let alone two and its two very weary bodies that roll out of bed. Martin our guide is ready and waiting. By six o’clock we are on our way. In the six hours it takes to get to the Serengeti we learn a lot about Martin and I guess he learns a lot about us. Not only is his English impeccable but his nature most endearing. He takes his job seriously and is ever the charming and attentive guide. He has climbed Kilimanjaro and whets Kobie’s appetite for another adventure for another time.

He shares his knowledge of the Masai as we pass through the Masai Tribal lands. They are a colourful people and their traditions fascinate us. Carnivores take on a new meaning as we hear that the Masai never indulge in fruit or vegetables or fish. Its meat all the way. Beef, lamb and goat with a gourd of milk and blood thrown in for good measure. I suppose when one lives this nomadic kind of lifestyle how does one sow and reap… They are constantly on the move with their families and animals in search of the best grazing. It’s a picture to behold as they stir up the dust in the distance and as they get closer the vibrant colours of the cloth wrapped around their waists and their shoulders brighten up the arid landscape. We learn the meaning of the word Masai. ‘Endless, 2012as far as you can…. And then beyond’ Sheer poetry in all it’s simplicity.

We are so caught up in the beauty surrounding us, that only when Martin stops at a picnic spot do we realise how welcome the beautifully prepared meal he sets before us is. In Afrikaans we have this lovely little saying that is not just reserved for children. It goes. ‘Maggies vol, oogies toe’. Tummies full, eyes closed. Well as ‘versadig’ as we are we keep our eyes wide open and are well rewarded. We see thousands of springbok, like an undulating wave across the plains, zebra, giraffe, buffalo and wild pigs all make an abundant appearance much to our delight.

The absence of trees in the Serengeti is weird and it seems that in their place thousands of boulders and rocks have been strewn. Possibly a result of volcanic activity, an estimated 4.5 million years ago. Thanks to Martin for another history lesson or should that be a geography lesson. Bushmen paintings shyly welcome us. It’s a look but don’t touch affair. All in the name of conservation. In these far off grassy plains and amongst these imposing rocks we find luxury and comfort at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. That double bed we hankered after materialises and as we bed down for the night we hear the sound of thunder in the distance and see the lightening as it lights up the night sky. We drift off knowing that somewhere in the Serengeti, rain is threatening to feed the parched earth.

Wednesday, May 4, 2012
At five o’clock in the morning we are awakened rather rudely by the stuttering of a generator, a sort of giant alarm clock with the volume pumped up. All is forgiven when we open the taps to a steady stream of hot water and sit down to a delicious breakfast. And guess what is on the menu? Mealie Pap (a porridge made of maize) something we have not had since we left home. The coffee gives us another wake up call, just in case. Martin ever ready escorts us to the Land Cruiser, picnic tucked under his arm and already filling us in about the day’s events. We have hardly settled our bums into the seats when a leopard starts making her way down a tree. Martin brings the Land Cruiser to a halt and there we are sitting in the front row and we are not in the movies. We are here; close enough to be eaten alive. We are ‘Tjoep stil’ as we witness the leopard who emits a high pitched call to her baby and tries to coax ‘him’ down. It’s a new experience for this baby and for us. He is hesitating, tiny baby steps, hanging on for dear life. It’s like standing on the edge of a precipice, it’s so far to the bottom, you can almost hear him thinking. Mom’s doing her job from the bottom, willing him not to come down head first but rather to come down tail first. She is cooing and coaxing him. He gets it and comes down tail first. Is that mother preening herself with pride or are we just imagining it? All we want to do is stand and lap but we suppress the urge for fear of ruining the moment. Another blessed moment to add to a long and ever growing list.

ScreenShot189And then it happens right in front of our very eyes, the migration of wildebeest. According to Martin there must be about 700 – 800 thousand. Absolutely mind boggling and awe inspiring. How does one ever doubt that there is a God? Martin positions the Landie to give us an optimum view above the riverbed which they will cross. What an overwhelming sight as the river bed becomes a dustbowl with the thundering of how many hooves? You do the maths.

With the thundering still in our ears there seems to be a break in this concerted movement. It’s almost imperceptible, our eyes are darting here and there, we don’t want to miss a thing. Our hearts are beating to the sound of the commotion around us. And there in the river bed a leopard has caught a wildebeest calf. The calf struggles valiantly but the leopard pins the little thing down like Sumo wrestler. The ten minutes we sit and watch with mixed feelings as nature plays itself out in front of us seems like an eternity. And then the uncanniest thing happens, an almost lethargic leopard lets the calf go and saunters away and then makes his way up a tree. We are spell bound as we notice a little movement and then a bigger, until this little calf drags itself up and gives an unsteady waggle and teeters a little as he gathers momentum, and then passes right in front of us as he joins his ‘family’ once more. It’s an emotional little tableau we have just witnessed and we move on wondering if this wounded little calf will make it or if the leopard will be back to finish him off.

Our luck takes a bit of a turn as we discover we have a flat wheel. Martin struggles to loosen the wheel nuts but in no time the experienced trucker in our group, yours truly, Mr Britz gets down to the job at hand. A faulty jack and a wheel half buried in the sand do not get in his way. Between Martin and Kobie and she who supervises very well, the job is done and dusted, not without a struggle though. Relieved and glad to be getting on the road once more we notice that not too far from the very spot we have been toiling, a pride of lions have been watching our every movement from their hiding place amongst a pile of rocks. We breathe deeply in utter disbelief as we count them. Ten in total. Six of them quite young, five females and a young male lion. The young ones are all together in a shady spot under a tree and one of the females seems to be watching over them. Some of the lions get up and lazily pass in front of us to another pile of rocks and settle on the rocks, staring at the surroundings . . . nearby a herd of about twenty giraffe keep a close eye on this group . . .

The weather looks good as we set off to confirm our Balloon trip. On the way back the heavens open and the downpour turns the tracks into muddy little rivers making the drive a game of slip and slide. We enjoy the little jaunt with child like enthusiasm. Not even a near moment of getting stuck can ruin the fun we are having. It is then that we notice, not 2mts away, in amongst the long grass, a pride of lionesses watch us playing the silly buggers. Who said cats do not like water?

Thursday, May 5, 2012
Today we give the generator a wake up call as we get ready for our Balloon trip over the Serengeti. This is going to be one birthday I will not forget. Kobie has gone more than the extra mile. I feel like a princess in a fairy tale. We are ready at 5am dressed warmly as advised. Not much choice in our wardrobe, so our BMW kits will have to do. We know they will not let us down. We arrive to find the basket and the balloon sprawled out across the field, like a drunken sailor outside Smugglers in Point Road. The necessary huffing and puffing with a little help from our friends will soon get the basket and balloon upright. There is a majesty about this balloon. Maybe it’s all part and parcel of this fairy tale magical day. Did you know that the balloon has a captain? Sort of like a pilot. We did not know either. The Captain is a 40 something young man and in his element that we are all novices. It’s like a league of nations gathered as we all chatter in excitement, in all our different languages. By the time we embark the Captain has instilled in all of us a confidence in his skills and person. He has a keen sense of humour which puts us all at ease.

When the balloon is almost ready we all clamber aboard the basket that is still lying on its side. We all hang on; some of us almost by our teeth as the balloon gains height and the baskets drops into an upright position. It’s hilarious. And then it’s these wide open spaces. Where blue skies meet with vast khaki planes at a far off place called the horizon. We are all quiet not wanting to break the silence, the solitude even as we stand shoulder to shoulder. The hush, hush of the burner is somewhere in the background and I’m not sure if it’s intrusive or comforting as I stare out across this ‘world’.

The animals are flaunting themselves just for us and in no time our hour is up. Our descent is spectacular as we glide for about 100mts caressing the long grass beneath us. The landing is what we presume is a classic textbook landing. It’s a happy bunch that alight but the adventure is not yet put to bed as we are treated to a champagne breakfast out here in the bush. Long tables dressed in the finest white linen, crockery and cutlery to match the occasion. Waiters in their livery standing at the ready. I am just a tad emotional as everybody starts to sing happy birthday and the Captain wishes me the best for the day and the years to come. I look around and see these new friends and Kobie at my side and think, could things get any better? And without wanting to sound ungrateful I do wish our children and grandchildren could be with us. I have to stop myself because I am soon going off on a tangent wishing our whole family and all our friends could be here, and what about Mitzi.

All good things have to come to an end just as all good things come to those who wait. For today anyway. As we are leaving the Lodge to make our way back to Arusha we spot a leopard in a tree, come to say goodbye, we fantasize.

We receive a sms from Zellie telling us about an article that appeared about us and our trip and that Face book is keeping everybody entertained about our escapades. Add to that 300 birthday messages and we know we are not alone. Initially Kobie was not interested in Face book, possibly he felt a little intimidated, but now he is a whiz at it, loading pics communicating with everybody etc. I do believe he is hooked big time.

It’s been a long day and our return to Masai Camp is a little like coming home again. We revel in the past days, the unforgettable and special moments and memories. With grateful hearts we give thanks and praise as sleep claims us for the night.

Friday, May 6, 2012
It’s always a good idea to get started early, not only for the exquisite sunrises but also to try and beat the heat. Kenya here we come. Holili border post, like many other African ones we have passed through leaves much to be desired. Our first world standards are starting to show. The state of the border post makes one wonder if any government official has ever passed through this way.

The bush telegraph works well when the officials on both the Tanzanian and Kenyan sides of the border warn us that the roads ahead are more than just rough. Considering the many thousands of kms we have travelled over the worst roads imaginable, we set off full of confidence. It takes a lot to intimidate the Flying Dutchman and his girl. It takes us 3 hours to travel 120kms. Not so cock sure now. We thought we had seen it all, Ha! ‘Dink weer swaer’ (think again brother) the twin trail road had been washed away and what ever remnants remain are under water. Potholes masqueraded as duck ponds. The thought crosses my mind that how lucky we are that we know how to swim. This surely had to be the worst road we have encountered. I wondered if we will say this over and over again as we continue on our journey. Kobie does it again. Keeps the bike upright and gets us through swimmingly.ScreenShot188

What a relief to see that ribbon of tar materialise. It’s 300kms to Mombasa and on a tar road should be cinch. Ha! again. The traffic puts paid to a speedy journey. Trucks rule. With the chronic traffic and the dodge roads here in the middle of nowhere a weighbridge appears and the trucks line up like soldiers waiting to storm the Bastille in single file. I stop counting at fifty. The only way to get past this queue of trucks is to venture onto the wrong side of the road and put foot into the oncoming traffic. Eiiish!! You do what you have to do.

Mombasa is pretty much on a par with other big cities here in Africa and I am sure that inner city Johannesburg is pretty much the same. And even Durban if you hit the right spot. We are in for a little real rest and relaxation at the Royal Reserve Safari and Beach Club. An exchange of our time share has really come in handy. As Rosa gets us settled in we feel a holiday coming on.

The luxury of a real holiday sinks in.

Dinner is a classy affair and the entertainment of the talented acrobats a wonderful way to start the week. ‘Kenya’s got Talent’ and these acrobats have a good chance of scooping first prize. They are fantastic. It’s an early night. We are excited about Lizelle and Eduard’s arrival. It’s not just about them bringing our replacement cameras etc but about having them here in this beautiful place with us.

Saturday, May 7, 2012
It’s the strangest feeling not to be up at the crack of dawn, rolling up sleeping bags, taking the tent down and squeezing it into its bag. Although these days we are experts. It takes half the time to break up camp and the equipment bags don’t seem too small after all. Maize meal is the staple food throughout Africa. And in each country it is cooked differently under a different guise. In South Africa, we call it Pap. It can be ‘slap pap’ (runny porridge), ‘krummel pap’ (crumbly porridge) or ‘stywe pap’ (stiff porridge). Here in Kenya it is called Ugali. At breakfast our waitress is amazed to hear we eat our maize meal with sugar and butter for breakfast and that we add salt to the water and that they even eat maize in America and that it is called grits.

Luckily there is an ATM in the area, be it the only one. We only need one don’t we? What are the chances of finding a Christian hairdresser in a predominantly Muslim area in a predominantly Muslim country? We do, and she speaks English as she is spoken, having trained in London. We feel like new people with our new haircuts as we browse the shelves at the local Tuskys supermarket. We are after a good steak which does not materialise so it’s pasta for supper and oddly enough tastes very different to ours back home.

The staff back at the resort get the TV tuned onto Super Sport. Almost feels like home as we settle back to watch the Stormers/Crusaders and the Sharks/Brumbies game. All that is missing is the biltong. We manage to get Skype up and running. It’s wonderful to see and talk to the family. We are all trying to talk at once and everybody is trying to squeeze into the tiny screen. Chad makes our day. What a joy it is to be grandparents.

Sunday, May 8, 2012
It’s hard to believe we have been away from home for a month. Some days it feels like an eternity and we have to be careful not to wish the days away as we hanker after family and friends. It’s Mother’s day. As Kobie gets to cleaning the biking kit, I busy myself with the washing. Did I say we were on holiday? Still, we are relaxed and enjoy our walk on the beach and a meal at the quaint little restaurant called the Mandardi, which we later find out, is a little village in Gujarat India. Well if that’s Mother’s day we have had it. Would have been nice to have the family around though.