Chapter 3: The Sahara dessert
Hi there, we are in Kano,
I wonder if anyone back home has ever been here,
because they would be the only ones who could possibly understand the scene before us.
hour before getting here we started to see the cloud of dust and pollution coming from the city and thought it
was a dust storm. Sitting in my room struggling to breathe normally, I now know the locals think this is
town is full of taxi bikes, spewing thick smoke into the atmosphere so dense it makes my eyes water
in my room.
There is no electricity except from incredibly
noisy generators making so much noise and vibration it seems impossible they run at all.
There is no water.
There is no refrigeration.
Today we saw an open
air meat market, we ate lunch in a place with more flies in it than all the drop toilets we have seen so far
We tried to email friends but the generator in
the cyber café kept shutting down and lost long tales from the road repeatedly.
traffic is chaos. Forget Italy. Forget Bangkok, Nigeria takes the cake.
are incredibly aggressive drivers, and bikes are bottom of the food chain. We are expected to ride off the road
onto the footpath so a car can swerve into our lane to overtake or miss a pothole, no
would take me all day to explain it all and I still couldn’t do it justice...
Stay tuned for an update from the laptop instead, but
all that aside we are doing ok.
are here to apply for Niger visa but tomorrow is a holiday so we get to hang out an extra day in
On the upside there is an embassy here, which
for an hour this afternoon we thought may have been closed...
Thanks Molly for the address!!!
We have been making
good miles lately and pushed the schedule back into line so are pleased about that. Now just crossing
fingers we are successful with Niger visa.
to all at home, thanks for all your help you guys rock, you know who you are.
Take care, dean.
And then just to throw us another curve ball, Madame Victoria (the owner of the
hotel), sent someone out to buy us dinner tonight, and refused any payment saying 'money is not
And we sat outside on a swing eating blindingly hot chilli chicken, drinking almost
cold beer, talking philosophy with new friend Mustapha all night, while motor bike taxis rolled past yelling 'hello
white man' at us, at which to their surprise and laughter we replied 'hello black man!'
I think I might like Nigeria after all!
Ps new quote from a great Cameroonian border official,
'In Cameroon we have not a great wealth, but we are not
In Cameroon, our wealth is in our
such an inspired statement.
I haven’t written much about Cameroon, but that quote sums it
Great people, proud people.
4th May 2010
I’m pushing hard now, or at least I should be… with my left hand on the bars and my right foot on
the peg. That would do it, could do it, maybe… It’s difficult to
change the path of trajectory of 350 kilograms of hurtling man and machine on a scrabbly dirt road. If I could
only push, ”left hand, right foot. Come on, you’ve been here before, Push!” my subconscious screams in vein.
It’s taking too long to rationalise the cause and effect of what will almost certainly
of their eyes are big now, as they stare down the biggest thing on two wheels that they’ve ever seen, in fact
it’s three times bigger than they’ve ever seen, and in the cockpit of their white Toyota ‘something’ the
reality of what lies ahead makes their knuckles white on the wheel.
As I round
the off camber right, after nearly 500 punishing k’s in the chair, I see it, big and white, plumes of dust
bellow from its rear casting a huge shadow over the horizon, as dusk steadily becomes boss for an hour. ‘Why
are they on my side of the road’, I muse. Not to worry, it’s a rickety old road, narrow at the best of times
and it’s not unusual to see a vehicle a little more toward centre of the road than it should be, they’ll
move, surely… and they do. Unexpectedly though, it’s further to my side.
So the two
African pilots start bending their Toyota to the right, (my left) and I start steering bike 38 to the left
and ‘correct’ side of the road, to avoid a collision, I've done this before, right? What the fuck is going
on, we’re both running to the outside of the bend, dust and rocks flying. I’m starting to panic now so I push
harder, right hand on the bars, left foot on the pegs. That’s right isn’t it, Shit, surely that’s
meantime, the Midget Dwarf that resides in my head has decided that it’s time rouse. Unfortunately his
afternoon kip has gone a little longer than expected, perhaps a little too much red with lunch today… Midget
Dwarf is dutifully employed by yours truly, to effect one simple task, thereby controlling basic brain
function and keeping me from harm’s way. His task, although simple is often more than he is capable of.
Personally, I think he drinks too much…
simply, Midget Dwarf is paid a reasonable salary, fortnightly, to take care of the switch that cycles brain
activity from “Stoopid” to “Less Stoopid”. Not that hard really… Unfortunately in this instance he has failed to assess the situation properly, and his
employer (that’s me) is facing almost certain doom.
As the two
vehicles begin their approach, both taking evasive, albeit futile measures, the clock ticks… When after what
seems an eternity, the dwarf finally springs to life and with an amazing whack “Less Stoopid” is engaged… and
it’s time to save what’s left…
the bike, I admit with some duress that it is I, who has strayed to the wrong side of the road, for in
Australia we drive on the left. So when I’m fatigued at day’s end, it’s invariably where I find myself. In
this instance, my instinctive response was to push harder left, as did my two African pilots, the only
difference being that they were doing the right thing.
I’m pushing, really pushing, left hand on the bars, right foot on the peg, as hard as I dare. It’s hard to
change the path of an overloaded motorcycle at the best of times, let alone at dusk, at speed, on a surface
that seems to be covered by a million ball bearings, and quickly….
begins to move, albeit slowly and by this time the poor Africans are well and truly in the scrub, rocks
flying, spraying the under-body and the landscape. I can hear it as we pass one another, cling clang, as
rubble strikes metal, some of it no doubt coming from the bash plate of my machine. As I regain some semblance of control, I can see in my mirrors the clouded taillight of a
white Toyota ‘something’ making its way back on to the road, and am strangely reassured by this. No collision
with me or any other innocent or inanimate object to speak of. Bullet firmly dodged; continue as planned,
twas not my time. Close call indeed, so close that I chose to immediately dismiss it, for fear of the self
torture I may endure for days to come. I have a habit of dwelling on my shortcomings, so filing this one in
the already overflowing “it didn’t fucking happen” folder seemed the logical way to
Dwarf has received his second written warning and a complimentary can of WD40 for the switch he insists was
“stuck”… Hmmm, all’s well that ends well, valuable lesson learnt. Stoopid
write, seated on a plastic chair in the upstairs common area of the hotel that we're staying in, the screech
of horns is relentless. It seems that the horn switch, whether on car or scooter is more important than even
the starter switch. I’m not joking, it’s mental. For those of you who know me well, you’ll have an insight
into how difficult it might be. The horn, at home, drives me insane. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve
said “If you had time to get your hand on the fucking horn, it wasn’t a near collision, idiot!” I also hate
people who push the buttons at pedestrian crossings, but that’s a whole other
We are in
Nigeria; Kano is the name of the town. It’s big, much bigger than we anticipated, and again Bro and I have
broken our pact, to not stay in bigger towns. Unfortunately, this time the choice was not of our own
volition, rather, forced upon us by the location of the Embassy for Niger; where we will apply for a Visa
that will make possible our planned South to North crossing of the Sahara. I get nervy just thinking about
last update, much has happened, and although not on the grandiose and extreme platform offered to us by the
wonderful DRC, it has been challenging and fun nonetheless. We finished our five day ‘holiday’ in Congo
Brazzaville and thanks to Olivier and his team at L’HippoCampe’ we left fatter and more rested than we’d been
in a couple of months. Whilst in Brazza we’d obtained onward Visa’s for Gabon and Cameroon, carried out some
overdue repairs and maintenance on the bikes and rested our weary minds and bodies. The ‘rest’ part was made
a little tricky by the diesel generator steadily banging itself to pieces every night, not far from our room,
as the power failed almost religiously at 4pm daily. Not to worry, we camped at no charge for 5 nights in a
vacant conference room, so a little noise was a small price to pay. Big thanks to Olivier for his hospitality
and for being so accommodating as to allow us to spread our ailing motorcycles all over his
The run out of Brazza was for the
most part uneventful, tar for a few hundred k’s, easy, scenic miles. Just what we needed. Whilst at
HippoCampe’ we spent some time with some other Overlanders (so cool, we’re overlanders too
J) who’d come the other way, so they
were able to give us some firsthand and accurate information on our proposed route and what was to be
expected of the roads. Darren, Andrew and Jonathan (Gianni, as we came to know him, was on a push bike, hell
if he could do it….) each had travelled separately and by differing modes of transport, so each offered
different accounts of the road to Yaoundé, in Cameroon. It was sobering to hear Gianni talk about how often
he had to pick up his Velo and carry it as the mud was too deep; I would spend much of the time on
that road thinking of him, emphasizing with his struggles and taking some courage from a
push bike rider being able to do it. As it turned out, it was not nearly as bad as we were expecting, the DRC
had prepared us well. Hrrr, just had a flashback to the Mc Leans white teeth…
through this stretch, after a difficult afternoon of deep mud and greasy truck wheel ruts, we were both
exhausted. By this stage the Starter Solenoid on by bike had shit itself proper, and despite several attempts
at butchering the housing to realign and clean the contacts, it had now well and truly thrown in the towel.
This meant that every time I fell or the bike stalled, the tank bag, water cell and seat had to be removed to
bridge the contacts, the old fashioned way. If you’re not familiar with this procedure, it involves bridging
the positive from the battery to the lead running to the starter, using a 50 Congolese Franc coin.
Interestingly, despite having effected a few hundred starts this way, the said coin is still in service,
although due to the severe arcing effect it endures, I’m certain that its diameter decreases daily.
Thankfully the good folk at Dolby Moto and KTM Australia have supplied us with a fresh solenoid that will be
shipped to us, along with some other top up parts, in the next week or so. Thanks to Laurie at Dalby and
Craig at KTM HQ in Perth.
I going with that story, ....Oh, yes, we were exhausted…that sounds familiar… We stopped to take a breath on
the roadside, to be greeted by the customary myriad of villagers that invariably come to massage their
curiosity. We got to talking and agreed that in lieu of bad weather and being ‘canastered’ (exhausted) that
we might spend the night there. The Chief was summoned to grant approval and when we established that it
would cost only 2000 CFA ($4.00 USD) and THAT THEY HAD BEER, the decision was
and Cameroon our immediate impression of the villagers was that although curious, even fascinated at times,
they would always maintain a respectful distance and be wary of crowding us or infringing on our personal
space. Let me qualify this; In the DRC we would be surrounded with up to 300 people at times, and often they
would be so close that they’d be touching us, right up until we went to bed. Then they would sit and listen
to us as we’d pump our mattresses and turnout our bags. At this point my solution was ear plugs buried as
deep as I dare…. The next morning, guaranteed, they’d be there before we woke… you get the
and Cameroon, it was a similar picture but at about half the scale and intensity. Again the dreaded DRC had
prepared us well… A funny story that I’ll share about this village is of its Chief, and his penchant for
booze, of any kind. He was rocketed when we arrived, saw us in and promptly excused himself for a more
pressing engagement. I later found him at the bar (sounds more glamorous than it is, mini mud hut that serves
rocket fuel and hot beer, big enough for 4 adults to crouch in..) at which point the hilarity of this
situation became more obvious. An hour later he rejoined us, managing to pry the hot beers out of our hands,
explaining that he was thirsty and of course, that he was the Chief. Who can argue with
if he’d mind if we had a photo with him and his awkward response left us wondering if we’d somehow offended
him. Apparently not, as his biggest concern was that he didn’t want to be photographed in his civvies. Off he
went, deep into his hut to fetch a suit. Watching the drunken chief, surrounded by family and friends,
desperately trying to help him put on a pair of shoes was a sight. We eventually got some great photos, of
him and his family and some other great shots of the rest of the village. After cooking our traditional meal
of pasta and canned sauce, we retired for the evening on the floor of the Chief’s sitting room. It was nice
to not have to set up the tents, and made for a hasty exit the next morning.
following morning we bid our farewells and set sail for Cameroon, the land of bitumen roads; BRING IT
ON!!!!!!! Our departure was not without incident as we scrabbled our way through the deep sand of their
village into that wonderfully rutted and slimy road. This bog
continued for about 30k’s after which we made our mandatory border posts, and ate biscuits on the roadside,
as we were out of regular food. Better than nothing… The road
thereafter changed somewhat, morphing into a rolling plain type landscape with tundra either side of us. We’d
left the bog behind, but as is always the case, the resolution of one problem always presents a fresh one. I
am constantly amazed at the differing landscapes and conditions that this country offers us, so seamlessly
that it surprises us. The sand was to play one final cameo in this scrip, but it was not the deep sand that
we’d experienced in the past. It was coarse, almost wet and a bit boggy; hard to explain…those of you who’ve
spent some time off road will know it well. A new surface means a new technique, and until you work it out,
you fall, often. As is always the case, when you think you’ve finally got it sussed, (Loz was shouting in my
helmet by this stage “just lean back and keep it tapped brother!”) the surface changes again. However this
time it was different, it was not hard packed with two deep meter washout's either side, it was not pannier
deep silty mud; nor was it a suicidal push bike track with overhanging reeds ready to poke your eyes out. It
was none of these.
about 100k’s, we crested a slight rise to be greeted by the freshest, blackest, widest billiard table smooth,
yep, you guessed; BITUMEN!!!!! I think I may even have said “Well Fucking Suck me sideways, it’s Tar!” Words
escape me, it was wonderful, and wide, and black, and the painted lines were fresh and it still smelt like
tar and, and, and, …. So good! So we belted along our newly found
friend, sounding more like helicopters than motorcycles, for our poor knobblies had copped a pelting and were
in desperate need of replacement. You forget how loud they are when you’ve been riding off road for a
was reasonably uneventful and for the most part pleasant. My best memory was string of falls, prompted by a
statement I’d made late in the afternoon.
“I hate to
even bring this up, but, we may be on the cusp of an FFF (Fall Free Friday, this is uncommon as we usually
fall every day.)
onya, you had to say it!”
guessed it, 15 minutes later the road was so slippery, I mean 1st gear, 10 k’s an hour, passenger style
slippery. Then with a thud, Dean’s off, “Fuck it!”
following rant was priceless..
bullshit, this is mental, I can’t believe I just crashed, at 10 k’s an hour, in a straight line, without even
accelerating or braking! How do you ride this shit?”
secretly chuckling a little; alas, my fate was closer than I knew. After 120 k’s or so of dirt, that had
presented differing degrees of difficulty, with bitumen road in sight, I REPEAT, TAR VISIBLE! , the
inevitable scene played out. Scripted to perfection, my Fall Free Friday vaporized. Again Dean’s merciless
commentary would see us howling with laughter for several minutes by the side of the road. Try to picture
this; Gentle left hand bend, second gear still on the pilot jet for fear of any wheel spin, and the front
starts to go, slight correction and the back starts to follow, all 300 kilograms are ganging up on
starts, as loud as he can… “There it goes, come on, he’s going down, come on! “ And all of this before I’ve
hit the deck, I couldn’t ask for a better brother really. So I’m on the ground, facing the opposite direction
I had been heading only moments before, swearing profusely in Italian, completely demoralized at what might
have been. Meanwhile Dean’s howling in the helmet, I mean howling… You know that wailing sound he makes when
he’s in fits of laughter…? Then fortunately, karma deals a
perfectly executed blow. Dean, still laughing sails into the patch of clay that had wrecked my dream… I won’t
bother with the rest; suffice to say it was a little piece of magic. Now we’re both laughing, HARD, the kind
of laughter that makes you cry. Two grown men, on a slippery road, bikes on their side with fuel bellowing
out of the tanks, unable to do anything but howl with laughter, tears streaming from our eyes… I have a
pretty good feeling that our Pa would have been laughing as hard as us, he’s probably still re-telling the
story now… Moments like these will stay in my mind forever, I guess in many ways that’s why we’re
memories of Cameroon will be the people, the food and the roads, all of which enjoyed a marked improvement
almost immediately after crossing the border. Indeed, our final interaction with the Immigration Police at
the border of Cameroon and Nigeria was so pleasant that we were reluctant to leave. We told them that we had
thoroughly enjoyed their country for many reasons, not the least of which was the infrequency with which we
were stopped for passport and document checks and distinct lack of random people asking us for money or our
boots or our sunglasses. Something that one of the guys at that border said will stay with me
Cameroon we are not wealthy, but we do not beg. Our pride is our wealth”
have yet again, created two index fingers devoid if skin, so I’ll wrap it up
for the ‘goal-posts’ section before I go.
· From complaining that your favorite brand
of tyre costs too much, to being willing to spend anything on a tyre that
isn’t the correct size because it’s your only option for the next 5000k’s .
· From being distressed that your
forks are weeping, to happily riding a few thousand k’s, with empty fork legs, safe in the knowledge that you
have a litre of Automatic Transmission Fluid tucked away for when the going gets really tough. (ref Sam for
the funniest story of all time)
· Resenting the suggestion that we
should take a short shower with a regulation 9lt/min shower head, then realizing how much can be achieved
with 5lts of cold water.
· Realising also, how much can be
achieved with only two square sheets of toilet paper. It feels a bit like origami by the end of it…
day 60, which marks the 1/3 distance of our trip, or thereabouts. If the beginning is anything to go by,
we're in for a whole lot more adventure. Before I bid you farewell,
some people that need a mention. Firstly, Mission Control who has finally been called to duty, I get the
feeling he wishes he’d stayed asleep. Thanks for all your efforts Howie, we love too. To the guys at Dalby
Moto and KTM, much appreciated. To our respective Partners, Miss Michelle and Miss Molly, knowing that things
are taken care of in our absence is a big load off. X X X. (ya, ya)
Mr Grant Livesy at Italian Motorcycles in Adelaide, for putting together our care package; I have a big kiss
ready for you mate. Also, the kind folk at Scott Oiler, in the UK, who have kindly agreed to replace some
parts that failed because Africa is so Freaking Hot! Finally, to our great friend Hamish, who despite having
lost a close friend recently, has been committed to staying in touch and making our web page
has a great......
time is nigh, one parting comment; I was so inspired by our time in the DRC that I thought it appropriate to
utilize my ‘Arty’ side (pls ref Em Beech, she knows the real me) and put together a piece of prose to reflect
our wonderful stay. It’s taken some time and reflection, and I feel as though in this piece, I’m exposing a
little part of my inner self. I hope it’s met with your collective approval.
by Paul Martinello
the Congo on motorcycles,
think anyone has gone that way before,
long time, Mwah.
P.S. Apologies to any Family Members I may have offended, with the constant profanities in my
updates. I promise to stop this language, forthwith. I’m sure that deep down you all knew that I wasn’t the
well behaved College Boy you once knew. Cock, Balls. Sorry.
Check out the PHOTO GALLERY
After much deliberation and seeking of alternatives, we have decided to have a crack at Niger.
The embassy tells us that we are not permitted in the north, but will issue us a visa anyway. This should take a
couple of days...
So were going to head to Agadez and suss it out from there.
Best case scenario is that we are able to ride on through to Assamaka.
Worst case scenario is that we get turned around and have to ride an extra 10,000 Km around the West Coast of
There is even the possibility of a flight from Agadez to Guezzam...
I will keep you all updates when possible.
The temperature is 44°C every day in the Sahara at the moment!
Wish us luck.
Sitting in the niger embassy waiting for visas. Very unfriendly
people here, there are 5 staff in one small office talking... Paul and i think they are just sitting in there
making us wait for no reason, and probably stuffing bowling pins up each others asses for
7th May 2010
“A day in
I wake up around 6am, take out my ear plugs, grab my torch and get up to go to the toilet,
already the city is alive with people praying, sermons from megaphones and the motor-bikes beeping their way
around the place. In the bathroom there is a 100lt plastic drum in one corner, from which I decant
water into a 20lt bucket, and I rest this on the floor next to the cistern. There is no seat on the
toilet, it lies broken on the floor behind the bowl, so I use some toilet paper to clean the dust off the rim
and sit down and well.,, you know.
That done I use the water from the bucket to flush the toilet, and go back to bed still a
little tired. An hour later I get up again, wander back into the bathroom and repeat the decanting
process, this time to bathe. The 20lt bucket goes in the end of the bathtub, I kneel down in front of
it and splash cold water on myself, trying to get a lather with the small bar of soap provided by the
hotel. Although I’ve done nothing to get dirty, the suds are coming off my skin in a pale brown colour,
the colour of Kano.
I stand up and lift the bucket above my head to rinse, and the sudden rush of water into
the drain floats a few cockroaches out of the grate and they come scurrying up to the other end of the
tub. I put down the bucket and step out of the tub muttering “this is
I dry and put on fresh underwear but the same clothes as yesterday, and wander out to find
Paul already up (surprise surprise!). He wandered 100m down the road to find an old lady pushing a
makeshift cart, about 1m long by 50cm wide, on 2 bicycle wheels, loaded with a few pots and pans, and for
N500 he brings back two thin stainless steel plates loaded with rice and a few lumps of inedible meat.
We sit at the table outside my room in the corridor and eat breakfast. Mid way thru
the meal Paul wanders back into his room and returns with the malaria pills, “good one Bro, we need to try to
get one of those test kits before we leave here too huh”
Breakfast finished we go downstairs, with much “good morning suh (sir)” going on, to which
we now reply “good morning chief” or “good morning governor”, to which they reply “I am not a chief” to which
we reply, “I am not a sir”, and the joke rolls on through the day. We walk to the edge of the rubbish
strewn street, and start trying to hail a pair of taxi bikes. This involves waiting for a bike with
just the rider to come past (they are unmarked), and making a “sssssssss” noise, being the way you get
someone’s attention here in Nigeria, and it really works too. Somehow from across a crowded noisy
street they will hear a subtle “sssssss” and pull over.
We tell them where we want to go “embassy of Niger”, but they don’t understand.
Mohammed, the manager of the hotel comes walking out, dragging his feet and rolling his shoulders as he goes,
and starts the negotiation on our behalf “what is it you want?”, “we want to go to the Niger embassy…”
After about 2 minutes of loud talking in Pidgin, much pointing in the direction, tapping of shoulders etc, he
tells us, “you get on, is N40”. So we hop on and off we go to the
It’s an embassy like many others, big concrete fence around the outside, security dozing
out the front, imposing, but mostly empty building, unfriendly inefficient staff. We fill in the forms,
pay the money, wait 30mins for the change and leave. Repeat previous routine to hail motorcycles, this
time head to the cyber café around the corner, email home, and try to do some more research on the net
few countries and their complete lack of any tyres for our bikes.
The power drops out several times while we are there, so the net connection dies, and in
the midst of the UPS’s beeping away we walk outside and look at each other, “did you get anything done?” “no,
I just lost a big email I had been typing…”
An hour later we leave the cyber café, and get a couple more bikes back to the hotel.
Mike who works at the hotel full time (24hrs a day, 7 days a week) has offered to take us to see his house
while he stop in to change and bathe, so we hail another bike, and I go with Mike on his bike with Paul
following on the taxi bike.
It’s lunch time though, so Mike offers to show us a nice place to eat, and we end up in the
Kano version of McDonald's, but substitute the burgers with stew, fish and rice. It’s air conditioned
though, a first for us in the city, has tiles floor and isn’t filthy. This feels a little strange and
we chat about the last time we ate in a clean restaurant, Paul thinks it was in Capetown 2 months ago, but I
remember another in Kinshasa a few weeks back. So we eat lunch talking to Mike about the city and how
strange we see it, he asks questions about Australia and we reply trying not to make it sound too
ridiculous. Mike initially doesn’t want to eat, and doesn’t want us to pay for him, but after some
encouragement is persuaded to join us in a small meal. This is still surprising as in the same
situation many other people would just order and expect us to pay for
We leave the restaurant struck by the heat and the dust of the city, and make our way out
of the centre, into a desolate area that looks a little like some of the desert towns I have seen on sbs
docos. Not a tree or anything green in sight, the buildings are all constructed of handmade besa style
bricks with tin roofs and concrete floors. The sewers are all open, but thankfully they have drop
toilets in each compound so it doesn’t smell too badly.
Mikes house is a room about 3m by 2m, in which there is a bed, an armchair, a tv and… 2
young girls who he introduces as his ‘sisters’. They clearly aren’t his sisters so it’s a little
awkward as he invites us in and we mumble something about not wanting to disturb the girls, but he
insists. So I go in and sit on the edge of the bed, Paul sits on the floor. We’re pretty
uncomfortable at this point, and try to make some conversation, complimenting Mike on his house and asking
questions about the neighborhood. I think Mike senses this and offers to take us for a walk.
Eager to get out of there we jump at the chance and spend an hour walking around the neighborhood, stunned at
the way people live. We take some pics, talk to some local kids who are friends with Mike, watch
horrified as a guy drags a growling dog down the road by it’s neck and then sit and wait a little while for
Mike to wash as his bath water runs down the alleyway by our feet into the rubbish dump behind his house,
(where a donkey with it’s front legs bound together to stop it wandering too far, eee-awww’s in
There are no taxi bikes in the neighbourhood so we go 3 up on Mikes 100cc Nanfang Chinese
bike to the nearest main road, hail another bike and get moving again. It’s incredibly hot and dusty,
so as we pull up at an intersection I “ssssss” at one of the water boys carrying 600ml bags of water on his
head in a basket, and give him N5 in exchange for a bag. Before I can get another for Paul we’re off
again, so I tear the corner off the bag (imagine a glad freezer bag sealed at the top), suck out half the
water, look back over my shoulder to the rider of Paul’s taxi and motion him forward and pass the bag to Paul
while still moving in the dense traffic, (writhing this now, it sounds a little dangerous but no one here
would give it a second thought).
Back at the hotel we have an almost cold beer, jit about a little, do some washing (using
the same 10lt bucket that flushes the toilet and serves as a wash tub), joke around with the guys ‘working’
at the hotel, and then watch amazed as water is delivered to the hotel by a kid pulling a cart with 400lt of
water on it (in 16 x 25lt containers), which are carried to each room and emptied into the 100lt containers
in each bathroom.
In front of the hotel there is a home made metal swing (like a pool swing), incredibly
uncomfortable until you get a pillow from your room, but thereafter the best place to be in Kano. We
sit and drink a few ‘Star’ beers from 650ml bottles, ssssss at the boys passing with water or peanuts on
their heads and wait for the Madame to arrive for dinner. Madame Victoria (the hotel owner) has take a
shining to us, and insists on arranging and paying for our dinner every night. This involves telling
Mohammed to go buy something for us, and yelling at him for taking too long. She’s a bit of a
crackpot but we love her. We joke with Chief Mohammed (“I am not a chief!”) about this every
Dinner usually consists of more rice and inedible meat. We eat on the swing, watching
people walk past, watch people urinating into the pile of rubbish across the street, prostitutes come and go
at the hotel, the regular group of hangers on arrive to be entertained by the Madame, the nightly “Anti-Crime
Patrol” rumbles past and the night passes by.
Around 10 or 11pm we say good night to all the chiefs and sirs, go back upstairs to wash
again, put ear plugs in to drown out the sound of the generators and go to
11th May 2010
The boys are pushing North through the No-Go zones of Northern Niger to the Algerian border.
They have entered the Sahara Desert, and the days are damn hot... Around 44° C
They are being led and protected by military personnel moonlighting as guides.
Stay posted for an update when they reach some form of civilization.
11th May 2010
Hi all. this is a pretty dicey part of the world here! so it might be a week or so
before I can send a proper post. In the mean time...
We are in the Air desert in Agadez, northern Niger, 50km from the Sahara, where the
temp tops 45 every day.
It's brutally hot even for us Aussie boys, and just so desolate. May is the hottest
month of the year... Not the greatest time to visit!
There is nothing green except for the watered plants in our hotel. The colour here
The soil, the mud houses, the air, the clothing, the landscape. All a hazy brown
Our photos look off colour or sepia but it's
just because there is no color here.
It seems ridiculous that people live out here at all.
We can't ride in shorts because the hot air coming from the bike burns our legs. The
cold water comes from the tap steaming hot.
It's a crazy place...
On the up side our hotel has a pool, water and power so thats a treat!
But we leave here tomorrow morning, keen to keep moving north.
We have some uncertainty about the next few days but have taken a bit of a chance on
it and are hopeful of a good outcome.
We will send more to explain when I get a net connection again, but it might be a
week before that happens, in the mean time will sms with some more news in a couple of days...
Thanks to everyone for messages of encouragement and donations to ACRF, we can't
reply to you all but appreciate the sentiments.
Apologies if I haven't gotten back to anyone's particular message it's just really
hard to even update the site with crappy internet here.
We wish the Girls all the best for their Bali adventure.
Take care all, Dean...
Crossing The Sahara
The Road of Bandits
Sitting in my little hotel room in Kano thinking about our decision to have a crack
at the Niger Sahara crossing.
There is the incessant noise of a thousand motorcycles beeping their
horns, the chants from the Muslim evening prayer, and the voice of the closest Christian preacher berating his
audience with the word of god through a badly distorted megaphone.
The room is very dusty. It blows in through the vane windows and the
3 inch gap around the broken aircon.
There’s no electricity so I have my headlamp on to see the keys on
the computer. Every now and then someone walks past my open door and takes a peek inside, I nod and say
We went to the Niger embassy this morning unsure if they would issue
a tourist visa due to the political situation there, and after much salem aleka’ing we got down to
business. The Consulate asked where in Niger we wanted to go, so I explained the route to
Assamakka. “This is not possible” we were told. “The security situation there is not safe, you can
not travel to Assamakka, only as far as Agadez”.
We hastily change our story, agreeing that this is fine, and stumble
our way into an alternative route through Niger, that now includes Niamey and an exit to Benin, all the while
thinking that we could get in there and then see what happens, but that we should just get the visa in the
The Consulate mentions the French man kidnapped a week ago, and that
it happened in the area we want to transit, he says Al Quieda operate in that area…he looks at us suspiciously,
and repeats the phrase - You can not go further north than Agadez.
We excuse ourselves from the Consulates office for a moment to
deliberate our ‘new’ route. The visa will take 3 days, then it’s another few to Agadez. I’m
concerned about the security in northern Niger. I have thoughts back to the DRC and the Smiling Assasin,
to the little dark hut and the Commandant, and if I have to be honest - I’m a little afraid.
The discussion sways back and forward, we’ve come a long way to get
this far and turn back, but getting kidnapped is not something worth risking. So we excuse ourselves from
the consulate again saying we need some more time to plan the route, and head back to the
We’re both bitterly disappointed.
Silence ensues as we stew on the consequences.
An hour later we start planning again, and out comes the map of
western Africa, but our ignorance of the alternative is demoralising. Benin, Burkina, Mali, Senegal,
Mauritania, Morocco. It’s a very long way around, about an extra 8000km… and a whole lot of unknows
to work out. We go through the guide book listing entry points and locations of consulates for visa
applications, we talk about tyre wear and the complete lack of any place to buy tyres in this part of the
All the while we look longingly at the direct route on the map across
the desert. Algeria is only a thousand km away from where we are, and a dip in the Mediterranean sea, a
glass of red wine, prosciutto and Italian cheese are 10 days further down the road in Tunis...
But we have made up our minds, it’s the sensible thing to do, so we
head off on a motorcycle (3 of us!) for a lunch of ‘I cant believe it’s not chicken’ and then to a cyber café to
start some more research... the mood is as low as it’s been for the entire trip. We get nowhere with the
research, nowhere with tyres, the generator running the café stops a couple of times, we’re not
We return to the hotel and talk some more. 8000km is a long way
to go, we’re already a little behind schedule thanks to the 2 weeks in the DRC and Russia is starting to look
too far away for us to make it before the Siberian winter sets in. The weight of that opportunity cost
bears heavily, so we try to find some positives but it’s just so far to go around the western side of Africa,
and we know very little about it, whereas the planned route is all organized... There’s a shift in our
mood, we look at each other again and both know we’re going to have a crack through the desert.
The repercussions are enormous. If we make it through, we’re
back on track. If they send us back from Agadez then we’re miles off track and will need to replan a route
that excludes Russia. If we get picked up in the desert… I don’t want to think about it.
It’s really tricky trying to balance the risk and return of such an
unknown quantity. People do get taken for ransom in the Sahara desert, it happens. But many more
don’t. 3 groups of tourists have made the same road from north to south this year, without major incident,
but one French man was kidnapped. I suppose many people would think we’re crazy for even considering it,
and in a way they’d be right. But then again, if we listened to everyone’s advice, we wouldn’t have left
So, yes I am a little scared. I am worried. I don’t want
to end up in a dark hut for months. I don’t want to put my family through that. But even more, I
don’t want to live a life wondering whether we would have made it. I don’t want to leave here in the
knowledge that I will never ever get this chance again and didn’t try it on.
So tomorrow morning we’re off to the Niger embassy again, to lie
about our revised route, and beg for a fast turn around on the visa. Carpe Diem!
Just left the embassy and am actually feeling pretty upbeat about
things, the Consualte was a complete wanker, probably the most unfriendly person we have met in Nigeria so
far. Sitting in his grotty little office with a generator smashing away outside his window we could barely
hear each other. I try to make some conversation about Niger, and what we should see and do…
“so is there anything in particular you would recommend us seeing
while in Niger?”
“you will go to the cities, you will see them”
But he accepted our visa applications conditional on the revised
route which he copied carefully into his book. Yesterday I sms’d our guides for Algeria and Libya to let
them know we had changed our minds and were going to have a crack at Niger, and could they please bring 80lt of
fuel to the Niger border because we would need it to get to Tamanghasset.
Late last night the Algerian guide responded that he has a contact in
Agadez who can help us reach Assamaka (the border), and that the fuel was no problem, AND that he might be able
to bring a couple of rear tyres too! Smiles all round, this is brilliant news.
We both woke up today feeling a whole lot better about the
plan. The other option to maintain our desired route is the airport in Agadez – we might be able to fly
into Algeria, either with the bikes, or put the bikes on a truck and just fly ourselves. Obviously this
wouldn’t be ideal, but if we are turned back from Agadez or Arlit we won’t have any other option other than
trekking an extra 9,000km back around the west coast, including a stop in Togo for spares, which would mean
Russia and possibly even central Asia are looking very difficult.
Waiting outside the office of the consulate in this moment, he’s
being a prick again, he saw us walk in, grunted at us, and then went into another room probably to touch himself
That was an hour ago.
The visas were supposed to be ready today, admittedly he said to come
at 12 and it’s now 10.30, but still, he could at least say “hey they’re not ready, come back in 3
I brought my laptop along and so have resorted to passing the time
writing some email.
We’ve been in Kano since Sunday now so are pretty keen to get moving
again, I hope this guy turns up with our passports sometime soon.
12.10pm, just got the Visa, no special conditions or
specified route. The guy actually smiled.
We stayed in Kano Friday and headed off the next
morning, Niger is everything I wasn’t expecting, that is, it’s just like Nigeria. Friendly people, very
dry, but less rubbish. Since we got here we have been quizzing everyone on the route north and so far
there hasn’t been a negative comment, generally people say yes it’s fine, some people say we might need an
escort but that’s not the end of the world.
We stayed in Zinder last night, and arrived in Agadez
this afternoon, complete with 8 National Guard and their AK’s to keep us company!.
They stopped us 170km from Agadez and made us use an
escort, it cost us quite a bit but we weren’t keen to stay in the anthole of a town they stopped us in for 3
days until the next convoy, so we forked out for the escort and now we’re here.
They run regular armed convoys between the towns of
Zinder, Agadez and Arlit. These involve a few landcruiser utes complete with enormous machine gun mounted
across the roof, and 8 troops to each vehicle all packing AK’s. Anyone wanting to travel between the towns
musters at the police checkpoint in the morning on either a Wednesday or Saturday (going north) and they all
travel together for the 200ish km.
But we left Zinder on a Sunday unbeknown that there
wasn’t a convoy, which is why we had to pay for our own - $AUD300 sounds expensive, but when you consider that
buys you 8 guys with their AK’s to light your way it isn’t bad value!
We’re both feeling very upbeat about the run to
Assamaka, particularly given the beer we just had with another off duty Military guy who usually RUNS the
escorts. He told us that the situation is fine, we won’t need an escort, no problems on the road.
Tomorrow we’re trying to get to Arlit, which is
looking pretty good with another escort we will tag onto the back of, but the run from Arlit to Assamaka was the
tricky bit, the latest advice we were given is “just don’t stop”…
We left the hotel in Agadez this morning and arrived
at the Gendarmeries compound at 8am as agreed, then waited around until 10am, and were then told there was no
escort today, we have to wait until Wednesday. Shit. We had already started the ball rolling on the
guide to meet us at the border, and another 2 days in Agadez doing nothing… we really want to keep moving.
So following the advice of the National Guard from last night we decided to try to go it alone.
I was feeling nervous and excited at the same time as
we rolled out of Agadez, but as we built some speed across the desert, in the middle of nowhere it seemed pretty
unlikely that we were going to see anything at all, let alone someone interested in us for whatever reason, or
even less likely - someone able to keep up with us on good sealed road...
Then just 5 km down the road there was another police
roadblock, and we were promptly told that there was NO WAY we were going to be allowed to travel that road
without an escort. We didn’t understand all the French but figure it was something like “you stupid white
men, what the fuck are you guys thinking!?”
Not to be dissuaded we returned to the Gendarmeries
and asked if it would be possible to hire an escort (yah yah). They referred us to the Governor, which we
eventually almost found, but a National Guard we asked for directions got us a local kid to lead the way to the
National Guard compound, where we were ushered into a small room with more camo-clothing and high powered
pistols than I have ever seen before and most likely will ever see again.
Paul leans over and says “These guys are carrying way
more firepower than anyone else around here – this is SO FUCKING COOL!”
The National Guard say that they can escort us no
problem, but it will cost about 110,000CFA – about AUD$250, and then send us back to the Governor to get written
permission. The Governor tells us that we need to ask the Police instead, so off we go again, this time to
the Police compound where the Immigration guy asks to see our passports… our passports… why our
passports? We hand them over now worried there might be some note on the visa saying we aren’t
allowed further north than Agadez, “shit shit shit, maybe we should have just waited till Wednesday! SHIT”
But it’s not that sort of problem, instead the Immigration guy tells us there is no escort today and that we
need to wait until Wednesday.
We try to explain that the National Guard have offered
us a paid escort, but he has just called the National Guard and the story has now changed. There is to be
no escort today, and he will keep our passports until tomorrow night just to make sure we don’t try to make
another run for it… the wiley old bastard!
So that’s it, we’re back at the hotel now for another
day and a half. It’s not so bad though, the hotel is the best we have had in a long time, it has power and
water, it even has a POOL, and not a filthy old pool, but a new shiny (only slightly slimy feeling) glistening
pool, oh and most importantly, COLD BEER! Things could be worse huh!
A few other tid bits – IT IS SO FUCKING HOT.
Think about the hottest day on record in Adelaide, that’s how hot it has been every day since we got to
Niger. The walls and floor of the hotel room are steaming hot, in the bathroom it is so hot that the towel
feels like one of those steaming hot face washes you get on a plane sometimes, and honestly that’s not even an
exaggeration. I came out of the bathroom and said this to Paul, and 10mins later he came out swearing
about it, along the lines of “I really thought there was no way the towel could be that hot, but there you go,
it feels like it’s been in an oven!” Ironically - for the first time in ages we have hot water from the
shower, but it’s now TOO HOT to use, and even the cold runs really hot!
We are currently in the Air desert, the Sahara starts
about 50km from here, but even here it is just so desolate. There is almost no vegetation at all, in fact
in some parts we rode through yesterday there was none, but for the most part it’s only the odd little bit of
scrub hanging on to life in the sand. I have no idea what the hell people are doing out here at all,
living in little mud brick huts, in the middle of the desert, it seems insane, like one day someone said –“hey
guys, let’s go find the most inhospitable piece of land in the world and try to live there’ and they do.
At random times while rolling down the highway, miles from the nearest village, we see an old lady or a child
only 6 or 7 years old, walking along carrying a bundle of sticks on their head, going god only knows
where. It’s crazy.
So on Wednesday we head off with the convoy, it’s a
little concerning that the entire country now knows we’re headed for Algeria, and the yes/no of the escort today
seems a little strange, I just hope they haven’t delayed us a couple of days to get organized for a robbery or
something similar, seems a little paranoid but in this part of the world nothing would surprise me!
To be honest I’m still unsure if we’ll make it to the
border, Arlit seems certain, but there is no military convoy from Arlit to Assamaka, so we will either need to
chance it, or try to pay for one again, who knows what will happen there. I think that if we can’t get a
decent well armed escort then we’d be better off alone as we travel much faster than these guys can. It’s
a risk though, this afternoon we went to see the Gendarmeries for some info on the mountains to the east of
here, (the Michelin map shows a scenic road into them), but the guys there laughed at me, and made rat-a-rat-tat
machine gun noises suggesting this would be our fate if we left Agadez without military escort… ok then
we’ll just stay in town in that case, maybe go see the market tomorrow instead!
We leave tomorrow morning at 6am, really looking
forward to seeing what this convoy looks like, but not looking forward to riding for 6 hours at 40km/hr which I
assume will be the speed of the group. Still unsure about the road onto Assamaka, we’re considering asking
the escort tomorrow if they’d be interested in continuing onto Assamaka from Arlit, but will just have to play
that by ear.
Arrived in Arlit this afternoon, the military convoy
was actually pretty serious, one of the cars had a double barreled Galin Gun (think anti-aircraft gun) mounted
to the tray top with 2 seats in it for the gunners, all the rest only had a single barrel machine
“Sorry no pictures” we were told but still managed to
sneak a few. We arrived at the police road block/meeting point at 6am as requested and watched fascinated
as the food stall operators arrived, either on foot, motorcycle or the odd one on a donkey, to provide breakfast
for the group of people travelling today. I think there might have been 1000 people on the road, in buses,
trucks, 4wd’s and 2 retarded guys on motorcycles.
It was hot as hell on the road, and the last hour was
awful on really deep corrugations trying to keep up with the military guys with the rest of the pack breathing
down our necks… fortunately neither of us fell in the sand and we were relieved to arrive at the police road
block around 1pm - even though I almost ran straight through it with both front and back tyres skidding to try
to stop. We were promptly sent to the police station where we thought for a moment they were going
to send us back to Agadez, but with a cursory look at our passports they wished us good luck and sent us on our
way with “a word of advice, don’t tell anyone in town where you’re going”
So we have been telling everyone that we’re staying
here for a few days and then heading back to Agadez… when actually we’re leaving here at 4am to cross over the
desert to Algeria (where all the rooms are airconditioned and they have running water and electricity and new
tyres for our bikes, oh and hotdogs). We even have meetings scheduled with Touregs and the hotel owners
for tomorrow afternoon, and the following day! Its seems farcical but apparently the locals are in contact
with the ‘Bandits’ in the desert, so the less anyone knows the better.
In any case, by this time tomorrow either we will be
in Algeria with Mohammed our guide for the following 6 days, or in dire straits. Wish us luck.
Writing this while sitting in the immigration building
in Algeria – yep, WE FUCKING MADE IT!!
Hit the road at about 5am and rolled into Assamakka at
The Sahara desert on a motorcycle, all alone, all I
can say is WOW. There isn’t a road per se, more like a series of tracks criss crossing the desert,
generally going in the same direction\, but for the most part we rode through the dunes and the sand alongside
the road as it was a lot easier than contending with the chewed out tracks.
Just to make us even more nervous, the police at the
checkpoint exiting Arlit waved us down asked where the hell we were going, and then made the now familiar
rat-a-tat-tat noise, with much French little understood, except for the also now familiar “bandits”
Great... To be totally honest the whole ride was
pretty nervy, in no particular order this was because of the threat of ‘bandits’, the complete lack of any
signpost except for a series of 44gal drums at irregular but long (more than a few kms) intervals usually far
enough apart to make us think we had gone the wrong way, (and we were told to follow a string tyres anyway…),
the difficult riding and the odd fall. Looking back on it it has to rate as one of the greatest rides of
my life though, barreling across the sandy desert fast enough to keep the bike up on the sand, with Paul on my
left and a whole lot of nothing (except maybe bandits) everywhere else.
On a few occasions we saw people in the distance but
we gave them all a wide berth, and we also saw a 4wd ute parked on top of a dune which we thought must be the
dreaded bandits, you can imagine our nerves, but they just looked on and I think one of them waved, obviously we
gave them a very wide (and as fast as possible) berth too.
7km from Assamakka our trip meters were telling us
that we should be there already, which is not a good feeling in the middle of the desert when you’ve been
roughly following one of the hundreds of tracks you have seen during the day just because they look slightly
better used than the rest, and they go in roughly the right direction.
We stopped quite anxiously, punched the coordinates
for Assammaka into the GPS – and how sweet it was to hear that it was only a few more minutes down the
Immigration and customs In Assammaka was pretty easy,
and we rode the 15km to the Algerian border absolutely elated, our gamble paid off, the trip is still on
track. Now the guys in this border post just need to let us go so I can get all this sand out of my pants
in the next town!
Ok… minature update, our visas for Algeria have the
wrong date printed on them, apparently they are valid for June, not May… shit, we could be here a
We were there for 5 hours in the end; but luckily they
decided to reissue another visa, although there was talk of sending us back down the bandit road to Arlit
NO FREAKING WAY!!
Just very quickly because the keyboard here is in
french layout so is pretty slow typing, last night we camped in the desert with guide Mohammed, it was awe
inspiring, check out the pics, hope to do it
again tomorrow, will elaborate more on the ride too from our own computer as time permits.
Tonight is our last night camping in the Sahara in Algeria. We have set up camp
close to a city called Touggourt, in Northern Algeria.
What an amazing place!
Our toureg guide Mohammed has been great, green tea is our new favourite drink,
although we're both looking forward to a cold beer too!
We have spent some time riding the dunes which was
awesome and even got to hang out with a couple of nomads for an afternoon - who fed us camels milk straight from
Will be sad to say goodbye to Algeria. I hope to
come back one day.
Tunisia here we come!
Hiya, we arrived in Tunis today, parked the bikes in the centre of the city and drank overpriced beer on the
Feels like we have left Africa behind now and I have to admit to feeling a
little sad about that, such a unique place. I hope to return one day and see some more of it!
Tunisia is pretty, but it doesn't have the shock value we've come to enjoy, and
there are no bars so we're going to get the hell out of here asap.
A little undecided on next destination. Either Libya or Italy.
Might end up tossing a coin on it tomorrow!
Sleep now in mozzie filled room, going for a swim at most norther part of Africa in
Mediterraean sea tomorrow to complete the African adventure.
More by email soon.
Hi to all back home,
220km, Arlit to Assammaka.
We leave the Arlit Police station a
little stunned that no one told us we couldn’t leave for Assammaka, we were out of excuses, now we had to go,
but just as we mount up the chief walks outside again and over to Paul. He takes hold of Paul’s arm in
his hand and leans in quite close…
“you understand what I say before?”
“yes I think so.” Paul is a little confused…
“I say, tell no one. Tell no one
about your plans” he says in a hushed voice.
“what did he want?” I
“I’ll tell you
The next morning as we ride the bikes
across the threshold and out of the long ago abandoned hotel bar…
“are you to leave us” asks our newest
“no no, just going out for a bit of a
ride… is there anywhere we can buy some breakfast this early?”
“yes, at meeting point for military
convoy a Agadez, but which direction you take today?”
“yes I think we can go that way, but,
what about something in the town?”
He walks across the road and says
something in the local language to a man pushing a cart on the way to the convoy meeting point, there’s an
exchange as the poor guy is keen to get to the meeting point and doesn’t want to stop, but our man wins the
argument and he reluctantly grinds to a halt.
“I have only
Paul and I look at each other, 2 loaves
of bread, that’s it, no dinner last night, and today we head into the baddest desert in the world without
eating breakfast, and only taking 2 loaves of bread with us. The lunacy of this only registers later
on, for now we’re both pretty amped up about getting moving with the minimum fuss, we don’t want to draw
anyone’s attention, or if that’s not possible, we want to make a fast exit.
This is the list of the people who told
us we should not tell anyone about our plan to cross the desert to Assammaka:
Yves, the contact for our guide in
The Niger National Guard we met in the
hotel in Agadez (first told us it was no problem, but later told us to cross at
The Police at
The Gendarmerie at
The Military running the escort from
Agadez to Arlit
The Police in
So we buy the bread and I stuff it into
my pannier in between socks and t-shirts, but we still don’t know the right way out of town, so I ask our
“so to go to the military meeting point
I go to the right, yes?”
“and if I go left, where does that
“to the left is Assammaka… but where you
want to go?”
“ok then, right is the check point, left
assammaka, is it to right then straight all the way?”
“oh ok, is this the main road through
“yes is the main road, right to Arlit,
and left to Assammaka”
We finish loading luggage, with a tinge
of guilt we tell our friend we’ll see him in the evening and we rumble out of town back into the desert that
we weren’t allowed into yesterday without a military escort. I’m pretty excited, and a little bit
“So we’re going to do this then” I
say into the intercom
“yeah I suppose
“ok then, let’s just get it
We’re both very nervy, but keep it to
ourselves mostly, the town disappears behind us quite quickly and we approach what looks like a mine
maintenance facility on our left.
“should we stop and just make sure this
is the right road?”
“is there anyone
“yeah those military guys are waving at
us… I think they want us to stop”
“ok then, lets head
We ride the 200m across the sand to the
military guy, who has now turned into several military guys, curious about what could be making so much
“where you coming
“Australia” we reply a little tongue in
“to cross into
“but there are bandits on road”
complete with gesturing at the AK, and a robbery mime
“yes, we have permission to travel from
“ok well – Good Luck
“Merci, is this the right road to
“Yes, just straight, follow line of
We turn and head off again, there is a
line of old truck tyres spaced about 300m apart that extends across the nothingness into the horizon,
satisfied that we’re now heading in the right direction we keep moving. After a few km there’s a well
worn path across the sand that diverges from the row of tyres, in fact there are several well worn paths
across the sand all heading in slightly different directions out to the horizon, we’re
We look back to see a landcruiser
heading towards us on one of the tracks, so we cross over a few hundred metres to that track and hail them
“are you going to
“no, Iin Guezam” (on the Algerian
side of the border, same road though)
“ok thanks, we’re going to follow you,
“we’re going to… never mind, thanks,
They take off like a cut cat, it’s still
a little dark and they get lost in the dust in no time, we’re alone again.
“there’s someone coming up on our
“no I think a
We keep going following the same track
as the landcruiser but we’re diverging from the truck we have just spotted and the line tyres. There is
nothing around us, the desert has swallowed everything, as far as we can see it’s just wide flat sand, old
tyre tracks going in every possible direction and one well worn path used more
“you don’t think they’re heading to some
small village off the main road do you?”
“probably radioing forward to the
“this is shit, we should be following
the tyres” which are now far off to our left out of sight.
“ok you wanna head that
“maybe we should go back and ask the
military guys which one of these tracks is the right one, I don’t really want to get this one
“ok then let’s turn
We turn around and the enormity of the
place bears down on me, this is not somewhere we can afford to get lost. We head back towards the
military point, but another truck comes our way, so I ride across the rolling sand and hail him down.
He slows to a walk, I jump up on the step and ask where he’s going
“He’s going to assammaka too so fuck
knows, there are probably a hundred different tracks across the desert, lets just get in front and at least
we’ll have him behind us”
But he’s still going and by the time we
get moving again he’s in the distance. We follow for 10mins and then pass by well off to the left side
of the road in the sand dunes. We wave as we go by but there’s no
The sun is lighting the way now and
we’re moving along on a recently used track, the surface is quite well packed and we’re travelling at about
75km/hr, I think to myself that if it’s like this the whole way it will be great, but am not game to say it
out loud. Of course after about 20km the hard packed track starts to roll through low but long sand
dunes where it’s badly cut up and the going gets much harder and slower. I’m trying to keep up some
speed but in a wheel track only 50cm wide with a soft sandy base it’s pretty difficult, Paul is having
trouble too and soon enough I’ve had a slow off.
Paul has had enough of the track and is
now riding along side it in the dunes, where the sand is soft but not cut up so relatively easy riding, I
soon follow suit and am amazed at how 300km of bike can glide over such soft sand. Every now and then
we hit a really soft patch almost sending us over the bars, and need to really open the throttle to maintain
momentum, but if we’re lacking anything for this terrain it certainly isn’t horsepower so the big katooms
plough their way forward.
We are continuously scanning forward on
the horizon and to the tops of the dunes either side for a sign of the dreaded bandits, but after a while
everything starts to look like bandits, old car wrecks, tyres and barrels all raise minor panic and see us
veering off into the opposite direction.
We’re pretty worried about the direction
we’re headed in, and specifically that there is no line of tyres in sight. Every now and then we spot
some tyres that seem to be in a line, but they always fizz out. There are however 44gal drums, painted
black or blue with a white band through the middle that come up semi regularly, no one has mentioned these to
us so we don’t know if they lead to assammaka or not, but at that point we were just happy that there’s some
sort of indicator, anything at all is better than nothing! My compass has been saying north west for
most of the ride, which is a bit worrying given that the map shows the road going north north west, but just
as we really start to fret another barrel comes up so we keep moving.
At about the half way point I fall quite
heavily trying to cross the track we have been following, the wheel ruts were deeper than I expected and the
front dug in sending me flying. No damage done, but my suit is full of sand, my gloves are full of
sand, even my helmet is full of sand. “this sucks balls”
A little while later Paul gets caught
the same way, I’m following and I hear… “no no no no… shit!” and see bike 38 somersaulting through the air
upside down, with paul somewhere behind it. I call down the intercom to see if he’s ok, all I can hear is
swearing but amidst the cursing I get an “yep ok” so the worry about Paul turns into concern for the
bike. We’re about half way across, haven’t seen anyone for hours and if a bike stops here, well it
would be a pretty big problem. Somehow there’s no real damage, the forks are a little twisted in the
clamps, and he’s grazed an elbow but nothing too serious.
Shortly after this we see something on
the horizon and our worst fears look like coming true, it’s a landcruiser ute with a bunch of guys standing
around it in the distance. They start waving at us, and we start shitting our pants. Not really
knowing what to do, we head away from them and build as much speed as possible, they haven’t really moved and
in a couple more minutes the heart rate slows down again, “I think we’d have seen them by now if they wanted
to rat-a-tat-tat”, “yeah, either that or they’ve called ahead…”
Fortunately that was the last we saw of
them, the only other vehicle we saw (after the first couple leaving Arlit) was a relatively new Peugeot
driving across a dune in the middle of nowhere, it was about the most random thing I have ever seen, in the
middle of the sahara, all on it’s own, a little silver French car ambling along. We waved and they
waved back, I’m not sure who was more surprised.
After about 180km the track veered to
the west, and then a little south of west, which was really worrying. We had been going a little too
far to the north according to the compass, so it made sense that we needed to go south again, but when the
map turns out to be wrong and there are no roads and no signs and you don’t have enough fuel to turn around
and go back if it all goes bad - it does play on your nerves.
At about the same time there was a
distinct lack of anything else too, for much of the road there were old wrecks, or bits of truck and lots of
tyres left behind, but just there for about 30mins we hadn’t seen a thing. I suppose if we did the ride
again these small details wouldn’t worry us as much, but we weren’t even sure we were going to find Assammaka
so it got us thinking.
But sure enough another of the barrels
with white stripe turned up in the distance, and then another, and about 190km in a whole lot of different
tracks started to converge into one enormous sand runway about 300m wide. The riding here was a little
harder as the sand was cut up all across the desert but it did feel as though we were going to arrive
We had a bit of a skitz out at 210km
because the town was supposed to be only 202km, but the gps confirmed we were close so we pushed
“what’s that off in the
“looks like a building… and
“yeah, it looks like something, it’s
pretty small though…”
And sure enough it was Assammaka, all 20
mud hut buildings of it. We stopped in front of them, took off gloves and pulled off the helmets, looked at
eachother and laughed for the first time all day.
Some locals came out of the huts to see
what all the fuss was about and big smiles ensue when they see the enormous bikes, they all shake our hands
and clap us on the back congratulating us on having made it through, and then ask where all the rest are…
“the rest of
“no it’s just us”, more smiles,
surprise, gesticulating and laughter.
We wander over to the gendarmeres office
and are processed quite quickly, then settle in for a quick bite of grilled goat, chilli powder and
bread. As we remount to head to the frontier 15km away the reality of it just starts to set in, and
we’re both elated.
“gps says we’re about to cross to
Algeria… 3… 2… 1… “
Algeria to Tunisia, and Goodbye to Africa…
“I think we’re there Bro, I think we’ve done it…”
“WooooHooooo!!!” we both chant, pumping the sky, unable to contain our excitement.
Then quickly return both hands to the bars, remembering how difficult the enormous orange motorcycle is to
control at 80 k’s per hour in deep sand.
We’re pumped, comprehensively euphoric.
Words cannot convey this emotion.
The adrenal gland is nearly spent, and rightly so. It has spent the last 6 hours firing enormous loads into our
Our hearts have raced and our skins perspired, but with Niger a few hundred metres behind us it’s time for one last
hoorah, boom, one for the road….
And now we’re yelling in the helmets, “we did it, we’ve done it, Fuck Me I can smell the hotdogs!!!!!!!!!!
We did it!!! WoooHooo!!!!”
It’s a hard feeling to recreate with words. Six hours charged with emotion, and several nervy days leading up to
our potentially perilous attempt at such a notorious stretch of desert… that’s why we’re pumped, that’s why
we’re yelling in the helmets and pumping the sky, that’s why we’re here.
I understand now why many regard the desert as such a spiritual place, and again it is with difficulty that I’ll
try to qualify this… The desert is big, and wide and barren and hot. This is not so much of an issue when you’re
equipped with a petrol powered vehicle, navigation equipment and reserves of food and water. However, once upon a
time, when Touregs we’re really Touregs, the ‘Chamel’ was mans one and only true friend, and a zillion square miles
of sand and dunes was undoubtedly and more serious prospect than it is for us ‘stupid white folk’ armed with 100
horsepower and enough tech’ stuff to sink a ship.
We met Mohamed at the Algerian border post where he introduced himself as our guide (we need a guide, as it’s not
possible to travel independently through Algeria). He was quiet and unassuming, spoke little English and was
dressed in a traditional bright blue robe and turban, which we now understand to be typical ‘clobber’ for this part
of the Sahara.
We we’re both a little hasty in assuming that Mohamed was an employee of the firm with which we’d made the
booking, and that he was one of many ‘locals’ this firm used to escort tourists across Algeria. We’d later learn
that he had over 20 years experience as a Saharan guide, he was the epitome of the Saharan Toureg and also happened
to own the business. Given that it was a quiet time of the year, (peak summer, 45ish degrees, ref to our other
website www.retards-are-us.com) He decided that he’d do this little job himself. His business usually
involves much larger groups that come to enjoy the desert when its temperature is a little more personable.
Mohamed waited patiently for us at the border post for the 6 hours that it took ‘mental man’ to scratch out some
paper work that would facilitate our onward passage into the badlands of the Algerian desert.
What a joke! This guy, who was ‘The Boss’, weren’t too bright.
He was the kind of official that would copy one letter at a time when looking at our documents to fill out his
PAIN. S, pause… 9, pause, look at registration certificate again, ‘yes, 9’ Writes 9 then checks
again,”9?” Ah, confirmation it was a 9. Good, what’s next then… 5. “5?” …pause, check, pause, re-check, writes
“For Fucksake, gimme the Goddam pen and I’ll write it back to front and upside down and backwards and with the
pen in my ass, faster than that!” I want to say, but patiently we wait, for 6 fucking hours. Not to mention, we’re
both well aware that the next accommodation is in Tamanrsset, over 400k’s away and the sun is already low in the
sky, it’s maybe 5pm by now.
Somehow, this whole mess turns out to be a blessing as we’re beaten by ‘Mental Man’ and his Posse’ and of course
our worst enemy, the Sun. We travel a hundred k’s late in the afternoon alongside some of the most stunning scenery
I’ve seen. A landscape of flowing dunes interspersed with jagged rocks plunging out of the deserts belly was an
amazing sight, particularly at that end of the day. Every imaginable shade of orange and red, reflecting the
rocks and sand, absolutely breathtaking.
As the sun is starting to set, bike 36 starts upon its first ‘moment’; it seems ‘Bullet Proof Betsy’ ain’t so
We pull to the side of the road, to completely misdiagnose the fault as a blocked fuel filter. We change the filter
as the sun drops behind a set of dunes to our west; it’s one of those moments of cogniscience where you truly
understand where you are and what you’re doing. We felt lucky, really lucky.
Mohamed was very cool and just seemed to take everything in his stride.
“Pa di problem, tranquil’ he would often say…
We fired up the ‘tooms and rode a little further, Number 36 still coughing and spluttering. After a few miles
Mohamed veers off the road and squares off at the desert; he hits it at about 60 and in minutes he’s disappearing
into the sunset. Dean and I look at each other… Okay then, we’ll just follow, shall we?
Sand is a funny surface to ride and is as more about confidence than anything else. You need to move fast enough to
keep the tyres on top of the sand and with an enormous orange motorcycle thrashing around between your legs, this
is more difficult than it sounds. Yeah, I know already “lean back and keep it tapped” enough guys! Like I said,
harder than it sounds…
I’ll admit, that when I’m brimming with confidence, it’s easy enough to sail along at 80k’s per hour, comfortably
deluded by the fact that I am King today, the Desert doesn’t tell me what to do, nor does the bike. Today, I wear
the underpants, I am the Boss. (this scene played out as if by script, 170k’s into the ‘bandit
Then… “Fuck me,,, earth-sky, earth-sky, earth-sky… OUCH!!!!!”
Reluctantly I admit, I am not King, I am not the Boss, I return underpants to the bike and try to make friends with
the Desert again…
Experience is knowledge they say…
Anyways, sidetracked again, ah yes… Mohamed disappearing into the sunset. Quickly we follow, by this stage it’s
just a set of wheel tracks in the sand but it’s enough, so in we go. Less than three minutes later the bike 36 has
stopped and 38 is bogged so deep the entire rear sprocket is under the sand. (Midget Dwarf’s had another moment
Fortunately our guide is on his way back (he’d ventured off to find some firewood) and has settled on a campsite
not too far from where the two stricken quadrupeds have come to rest. We rescue the ailing motorcycles and stop to
appreciate our guide’s choice of lodging for the evening.
I don’t want to keep banging on about this, but, I will. It is majestic, brilliant, amazing and larger than life. I
can’t think of any more overused descriptors to write, suffice to say there is no other place like it… to
understand, you must see. That evening we watched Mohamed cook a complete meal with three small sticks, burning the
timber so slowly that there was enough fire to make tea after dinner and again in the morning with the coals left
over from the night prior.
Watching this guy make tea was an art form in itself. He explained in French that it was ‘Beer for Touregs’ and
watching the passion with which the process was undertaken it was easy to see why. This was exemplified further
when a couple of nights later, Mohamed had misplaced his sugar, and flew into a contained tantrum when faced with
the reality that this evening, there would be no tea. Dean and I did everything we could to not laugh out loud when
presented with a grown man, having a hissy fit over not being able to make post dinner tea. He actually kicked sand
on the fire and went to bed, it was hilarious.
We spent three nights with Mohamed, camped in the desert. No tent, just a bag in the sand.
When asked about potential dangers such as insects or even scorpions, he laughed and said “The only scorpion around
here is this one” whilst pointing at his vehicle, a Mahindra, ‘Scorpion’.
A few days later we reached the border of Algeria and Tunisia, reloaded our bikes and said our
Despite only having spent a week with Mohamed it was pretty sad saying goodbye, and in hindsight we’d liked to have
allocated more time to this country. It currently stands as our favorite to date, closely followed by Cameroon and
the DRC, NOT.
Mohamed seemed a little emotional as we were leaving, with a parting hug and some kind words, “Bon Chance, Bon
Route, Sans Problem… if you need anything, if you have trouble, you need money, you ring, no problem”
It was a great moment, one of the many we’ll cherish.
The formalities at the Tunisian border post were reasonably straight forward, more of the cursory “You’ve come
from where?” type conversation.
The officials were polite and professional, which was a pleasant change from the terse and often hostile reception
we had become accustomed to.
When leaving the border, Mule had a lapse in concentration and turned out a 9.0 ‘Vito’. Bang, down it went, entire
contents of top box spilling out onto the pavement, bemused officials scrambling for position to help right the
I dare not snigger, as I know only too well how Karma works in this situation.
We ride 100 metres, change some money and eat our first Tunisian meal which as expected, particularly given the
proximity of the border post, was nothing special. The next bit is my favourite; As we’re leaving, Mule has lapse
number 2, this time it’s a 9.5, close to perfect execution with a big struggle before touch down, then inevitably,
BANG. If he’d had a pile of mail in his left hand it would have been a 10.
Dad would be proud.
As is always the case, there are immediate changes once a border is crossed, almost as if you’re in a different
The landscape was the first obvious and extreme difference. The sand faded away and the mountains began, big rocky
outcrops with sharp jagged features.
It really makes you wonder how all of these frontiers were forged and how it is that there are such immediate and
distinct differences in the geological features. It’s almost as though a million years ago there was a giant with a
big stick that drew lines on the earth where the jungle stopped and the desert started, and again where the desert
stopped and the mountains began, and somehow these became the borders.
Total fantasy, yes. Pretty cool if it actually happened that way though… Hmmm, I need a beer.
Which brings me to my next point, beer, NONE!
Yes, it’s true, almost impossible to find a beer in Tunisia.
It’s been so marginalized, by religion if I’m not mistaken, that the only place you’ll find it is in really seedy
bars, either upstairs or well off the street. So seedy in fact, that even the often dodgy Martinello brothers were
uncomfortable in frequenting such venues. Bizarre.
The first night we rolled into and well past the capital, Tunis, we ended up riding another 65k’s in the howling
wind towards a town called Bizerte.
We decided to get that far, firstly because we made a complete balls up of the freeway exit to Tunis and secondly
because Bizerte was our ultimate destination in achieving a route from our start point, the southern most tip of
the continent to the northern most tip of the continent.
That evening we rode down every one way street in town, the wrong way and wasted about 4 hours trying to find a
restaurant that served booze.
Welcome to Tunisia, the land where they hide the women away and beer is mythical.
Dean’s now familiar intra helmet rant produced an absolute corker around that time and went something like
“This place is fucked up, you can’t look at women or drink beer, they’re my two favourite pastimes!”
The following morning we set about trying to find the mythical northern most tip which we figure is not a big
tourist thing here, as there was not even a road to get to it. It was cold and wet and for a moment we thought of
the Congo; warm and sunny, bananas and avocados, smiling children and general wellbeing. Ba Bao, the music stopped
and those familiar white teeth and a rat tat ta tat…
in any case, we reckon we got close, close enough to settle for a white sandy beach back in Bizerte, where we took
some pictures and thought about the prospect of red wine and prosciutto. The familiar shores of the motherland
beckoned, good food, women in the streets and beer flowing everywhere, after all Italy is only few hundred k’s that
way, and we point and squint our eyes as if we can nearly see it. We sure can smell it; it smells like cheese and
wine and beer and women in the streets.
After all our Libyan guide has just jacked the price of our visa’s and imposed certain special conditions that have
not been well received by Donkey or Mule. I must confess, we are teetering on a European detour; just weighing up
the pro’s and con’s of both scenarios.
This would mean a boat to Italy (11 hours) then overland to Turkey, via Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria(they
make good feta).
This is not as logistically difficult as it seem, as we both have Italian passports, which qualifies us for
entry into these countries without the hassle of organizing visa’s. To be honest, we’re both really feeling like
the real Africa finished at the Algerian border, it’s as though we’re encroaching on Europe without having left
this continent; it’s hard to explain, but the ‘rough and tumble’ is why we came, and I think until we reach Central
Asia it’s pretty much over.
So I guess it’s safe to say that for now, our focus is on the ‘Stans’ of Central Asia then Mongolia and Russia.
Still so far away… Am I rambling, yes, I think I am.
Tomorrow morning we will go to see our friend at KTM Tunis, Fahti Bugani, who has been so kind as to lever a set of
Michelin Deserts out of a local race teams clutches. So, fresh boots on the ‘morrow and some other small repairs.
Then it’s decision time, North or East? Cheese, prosciutto, beer and women in the streets or more desert and some
Pyramids surrounded by snap happy tourists…. What do you think?
Again it feels like it’s taken forever to reach the end, and of course it’s been a pity to spend a beautiful day in
the Mediterranean city of Tunis, cooped up in a motel room, penning my thoughts.
I spoke briefly with our web mistress yesterday, Ham Sandwich to the Izzo, who subtly made mention of the
thousand or so visits per day that the website has been receiving this month, and suggested that where possible we
should make the effort to keep people up to speed.
Everyone needs a gentle reminder every now and again, I just wish I could type faster. Thanks Ham.
Also a MASSIVE thanks to the many messages of support from home, it’s really humbling to see so many people taking
some interest in what we’re doing. In some way I feel like you’re all here with us some days… Cheers, will buy you
all a beer when we return, hold me to that.
Big thanks to Laurie and Muzz for getting essential parts to us, and to anyone else who contributed to that. We
couldn’t keep moving without this kind of support.
Ciao for now
Hugs and Kisses, a bit gaily…
(it’s been two and a half months, Mule’s startin’ to look not so bad…)
X x x
PS, Welcome home Girls, I hope that Bali treated you as well as the Sahara treated us…
PPS, Dean just Farted.
Ah Tunisia, the land where it’s ok for men to hold hands, and I couldn’t seem to keep my bike on 2
I think Paul mentioned that I dropped it off the stand at the most northern part of Africa, however
he left out that we rode 130km to get to the most northern part, only to find that the road didn’t allow
access to the beach, and that the piece of land we were considering heading across was being used by the
military for target practice. Then I dropped my bike again. Then
it started to rain. What a cock up.
On the up side it was freezing cold and I did want to go for a swim to complete the south to north
crossing of Africa, so I sort of got off the hook on that one.
One little story worth recounting from our last day in Tunis, first involved me being accosted by a
boy in the city, who first offered to buy my shoes (random), but then tried to touch me inappropriately
resulting in me running back to the hotel room, where Paul took great delight in hearing about the
situation. But then as fate would have it, while we were walking
down the main drag of Tunis an hour later, a couple of kids wandered over and said hi to Paul, asked the
usual questions about where we are from etc, but then followed with “so… I’m only 19 and my friend is 20… do
you want go for a beer with us?”
Paul looked at them and politely declined, to which they replied with, “oh ok then, stay jolie sexy
man” I was in fits of laughter by this stage, and had wandered off to laugh out louder, when Paul still
shaking his head in disbelief looked back at the guys, which seemed to give them new hope that the “sexy man”
might be into them after all, and they wandered back over again, this time suggesting that a coffee might be
more to his liking.
“ohhhh… a coffee?!! Of
course! Well why didn’t you say so sooner?? I had the impression that you guys wanted to get your junk out
It’s been a running joke ever since, so that every time we stop to pay a toll or ask directions,
while one of us is mid conversation with a stranger (with helmet on and intercoms connected)…
Paul at the toll booth “Can I pay by credit card?”
Me in the intercom “ask him if he wants to join you for a cup of coffee!”
Stranger in toll booth “yes you can”
Me in intercom “was that a yes? Ask him if he wants to get his junk out with you?”
Paul at the toll booth - now trying hard to ignore me “oh ok, here you go then”
Me in the intercom “or maybe
a sega, ask him if you can have a sega, tell him you’re a tourist, you’ve been on the road for months, you’re
lonely, you really need one…” (you’ll need to ask an Italian what a sega is…)
Paul now laughing out loud “shut up will you!”
Stranger at toll booth “scusa?”
Dean in the intercom “how old does he look sexy man?
19? Is he 19?? Ask about a sega again!”
You get the picture.
Big thanks to the guys at KTM Tunisia who organized some tyres for us, and then let us spend the day
in their carpark getting some maintenance work done. That sorted
we finally came to the decision to head to Italy instead of waste $2000 on a Libyan guide to escort us along
the coast road where we would see half of fu<k all anyway.
So we saddled up, bought a ferry ticket and headed to the port to check in. It was there that we met
Mario and Mijo, 2 brothers originally from Croatia who had been bike touring Tunisia for a week on a BMW and
a Suzuki. The guys were very curious about our route so far, and Mijo in particular had some great banter,
most of which can’t be repeated here for fear of offending some minority group or another, which in itself
speaks volumes as we’re not really very pc most of the time, however a few quotes sneaked past the
Mijo to Mario on his recent bike trip “your bike trip shit, is pu..y trip, this real mans trip, I
like a lot this travel”
Mario on drinking hot beer in the Congo “to have hot beer is like to have old
Mijo on drinking hot beer in the Congo “no! to have hot beer is like to have a cold
These guys were great value, we got along well and hope to catch them again in Croatia when we pass
through in a weeks time.
So we got on the ship headed for Italy, where we quickly bumped into Claudio and Paul, another
couple of hilarious guys who had spent a week in the desert of Tunisia on bikes. We had plenty to talk about and after some banter they invited us to drop
past their house in Rome for dinner on our way north. After 2
months of eating pretty bland food, the offer was too much to pass up, so we agreed to catch them in 2 days
The ferry ride to Sicily was great, and for an extra 6 euro we had beds so slept through the night,
and woke up feeling pretty good. The following day we watched
the motogp live from a bar in Palermo which was sensational, seeing people walk in from all ages and walks of
life stop and watch a few laps, ask who was in front and make general commentary etc, they really love their
bike racing over here!
We then rode the 250km to the ferry for the mainland, made the trip over, and then did our usual 2
hours of riding around the town to try and find a cheap hotel. With the db killers now removed this really
makes a racket in the small cobbled streets of Italy, and by the end of our search the entire town knew we
Today we rode 750km to Rome, which was long but pretty straightforward except that it started to
rain a little about half way, then a little more, and then it started to hail... We sheltered under several bridges along the way when the rain got too
heavy or the road covered in too much ice, along with lots of other nervy Italians worried about hail damage
to their Alfas.
We ended up soaked, and I somehow managed to actually burn my right hand on the heated grip from
holding onto it too long resulting in several blisters, not the greatest way to finish a 10hr ride into
…yes I have blisters on my hand, yes we’ve been on the road for months without even a sega, but no
the blisters are not from that…
On the way to see Claudio and Paul we swung past the Colloseum for 2 mins for a quick picture, but
were promptly moved on by the Carabinieri for having ridden into
an area reserved for pedestrians. “Sorry officer, we are only stupid tourists…”
Having only met them for 2 hours on the boat, Claudio and Paul generously organized a dinner with
their families and some friends in a cave in the middle of a small town that Claudio was converting into
cantina. It was a hilarious evening where we traded stories from
the road and laughed till our faces hurt, a really nice change from the series of cheap hotels, restaurants
and street food we had been eating. After dinner we went for a
look at the guys collection of motorbikes they had stored in some small sheds in town, there were about 20
bikes, mainly dual sport enduro types, but with some very old and a few road bikes there too, it was a very
cool way to finish the evening.
We slept last night in Claudio’s house, ate breakfast with them in the morning and headed off to
visit Zia Maria Rosa in Bassano del Grappa, 520km. It was a sad
farewell, strange to get along so well with people who were strangers 3 days ago, we really hope to catch up
with those guys again, maybe a Simpson Desert crossing next year… Claudio? Paul? What do you
think?? Come on… you know you want to!
I’m currently sitting at my Zia’s kitchen table writing this, having just finished lunch, complete
with pasta, prosciutto, gorgonzola cheese, red wine, beer, cake, ice cream and coffee. Life is pretty good.
We were planning to head off tomorrow morning headed for Slovenia, but la famiglia is attempting a
coup to try and get us to stay an extra day, there’s talk of a ride to Monte Grappa and Monte Asiago for a
picnic and some local wine…
Still sitting at the table
at zia’s, the coup was a success, we’re off into the mountains in an hour.
In the meantime… The last few days I’ve been reflecting back on the 2 months we spent in the core of
Africa, and a quote keeps coming back to me that someone (I’m sorry I cant remember who…) posted on the web
site before we left home, it went something like…
“you will leave Africa, but may Africa never leave you”
I didn’t really get it at
the time, and it probably means different things to different people, but it certainly rings true at the
moment. Being back in civilization where everyone has hot water and
a toilet that flushes, everyone eats and drinks too much and the shops are packed with useless shit that we
don’t really need, it certainly feels a little over complicated.
And then there are the little things about travelling Africa that I will certainly miss, like
rolling into a town and being able to ask a taxi motorbike to show you where the cheap hotels are for a
Being able to buy 500ml of cold water in a plastic bag at the traffic lights for 30c, or bribe your
way out of any traffic infringement for a pittance. Parking the
motorbikes in the hotel bar, and finding fuel virtually anywhere, or better still, having fuel delivered to
the hotel in 20lt containers, along with water and a few almost cold beers at the end of the
By comparison our world feels a little sterile to the point of boredom. We can’t cross the road until the little green man says so. We can’t have 3 beers and then drive home from work. The idea of someone barbequing whole sides of lamb in the street and then
serving it on gritty pieces of paper seems ludicrous.
I don’t mean to suggest by any stretch that in Africa things are better than in our world, in fact
they are by most measures significantly worse. But for a travel
destination where you will see things that you didn’t think were possible, where even the routine of a normal
day is a rocking adventure, it’s going to be hard to beat.
Our 15 days in the Congo will remain some of the hardest and best of my life, crossing the Sahara
was both stupid (my cousin Tony was right!)and amazing at the same time, and making some friends in Kano was
a brilliant look into the life that people lead there.
So now we’re in Italy and it all feels very familiar, we know that crossing the border post is going
to go smoothly and there will not be a bribe to negotiate, the ferry is unlikely to sink and the food won’t
have any grit in it. These are all good things but it lacks some colour and spontaneity.
I guess it’s that feeling that will remain with me, the sense of adventure heading into the unknown,
where anything can, and usually does happen. Where just because
the consulate says you can’t go to Arlit, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t make it. Where the Michelin map says there is supposed to be a sealed road but all
you find is a goat track for 1000km, where the Nuns at the mission rip you off on the cost of fuel to make
some more money to feed the kids, and where you can almost run into a pack of elephants on the road… the list
When we started this trip in South Africa, there were 2 other sayings that annoyed the shit out of
me, “this is Africa” and many references to the “real Africa”.
Maybe I’ve become just another wanker traveler, but I must admit that I think I finally get them
‘real Africa’ is far beyond where most tourists tread, and in the real Africa anything goes. That’s what makes it so great
About to eat brekky and then head off this morning bound for Slovenia, a country that we
collectively know absolutely nothing about. Pretty excited to be
moving again, and looking forward to seeing what some of eastern Europe has to offer. It’s been a fantastic time in Italy, has been great to catch up with some
family and eat and drink until we could no more, have put some
weight back on so my riding pants sort of fit me again which is nice, and thanks to Zia all our clothes are
clean, and they even got ironed before we could intervene. It’s
a really pretty part of the world in Bassana Del Grappa, hope to get back here again soon.
Sitting in a hostel in Slovenia that has wireless – WOW!
Yesterday was an easy ride up the autostrada into Slovenia, we didn’t even have to stop at the
border! It’s a beautiful country, very green, tidy and has a
quality feel about it. They speak a strange mix between Italian
and Slovenian right here, odd to hear people drift in and out of Italian mid conversation. Off to see Mijo today in Croatia, should be fun, I better go, Paul is
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