Category Archives: Route Blogging

After 9 Months of Travelling

I really didn’t have a plan or even an idea of what the end of the trip would look like, but some how in the final two weeks it all started to fall into place with the key issue of bike transport resolved with Econotrans.  With the help of Antoinette who heads up the local branch of Autism SA, in the couple of days we were in East London, transport was arranged for the bike to Cape Town courtesy of Kargo, ‘the’ national logistics company.  Flights arranged and a week after arriving in East London SA, we were landing in West London UK.

As part of preparing for the journey we had moved out of our rented house and into a caravan, and on return, the caravan was wheeled out again until we found a permanent address.  I thought this would take a couple of months, but after a week and a half, I was done with out-door life and creature comforts were calling me very loudly.  Again, thinking that it would take time to find somewhere we would like, I was surprised that the second appartement we saw was perfect and empty and a week later we moved in.

It was strange having all our stuff out of storage, and so much of it as well – one of the wonderful side effects of travelling for a long period is that you let go of material attachments and keep only those things you actually need.  So, as I started up packing boxes, I started throwing stuff away.  I would say about three-quarters made it down to the dump.  Of course I have kept a few sentimental items, but even most of my books made it into the trash, and I love my books.

The bike arrived in port a few weeks after us, and Mick took it straight to his workshop to give it a work over and MOT so it could be taxed for the road.  The list of work was long, and mostly associated with the wheels which had become a main issue at the end of the trip.  The engine was fine, but the timing had been set incorrectly by the South African mechanic, and the gear box is having to be reworked as the efforts of the South African mechanic made the 3rd gear issue we experienced in Ethiopia return.   The side car alignment was also incorrect as well as the rear wheel alignment – the two may be connected, an expert would know, sadly the issues they created all appeared after the bike’s ‘overhaul’ in South Africa.   All in all, it seems sending the bike to South Africa for an overhaul was a massive mistake.  Whilst there may have been pre-existing wear on the bike that may have contributed, that they didn’t make note of it and warn me of any potential future problems after releasing bike leads me to assume that there were no potential issues other than those that they had created.    And with out a doubt, a missing collet and a broken universal joint, incorrect timing and gear box problems would have all been avoided if the bike had not been in their care.

Sofia has settled down really well since moving into the apartment and started school the week after.  Her emotional well being is remarkable, and even now after 4  weeks, she is still positive, optimistic and looking ahead.  I hear last week that she will often apply her travel experiences to what she is learning in the class room which is wonderful.   I had originally wanted her to go to a more specialist school and had stopped the appeal process because I couldn’t find the mental space to focus on it whilst on the road, so I was really worried about how she would cope being on a large campus with a lot of students.  I’m please so say though that the special unit to which she is attached is making sure that she is fully supported in finding her way around and ensuring that she uses the unit as base between lessons.

On a personal level, the change in Sofia has been something I get to appreciate every day.  She is no so easily upset by change, personal hygiene has improved, contributing to the house by doing a few chores is no long a world war 3 scenario.  Generally her fight with me is 20% of what it used to be and I would say, it have moved into a more normal range of what you would expect of an 11 year old girl.   I am so proud of her, and every second of the journey we have taken across Europe and Africa has been worth every ounce of increased confidence she feels in herself and every inspired effort she makes to challenge herself.

For my part, I have not settled so well.  Once the first several whirlwind weeks of our return died down, I felt myself left wanting and not entirely sure why.  The sense that I was living in the real world and now had to return to a surreal world was confusing, and being at the Overland Event saw me starting to plan another trip with the idea of being back on the road in 6 months.  I had heard from other travellers about this, but I had not expected it to be so overwhelming and such a fight to redefine my identity.   None the less, I started to write, notes mostly so that I could start to get to grips with the story we had just lived.  A couple of weeks ago I found a starting point and now the first draft is under way.    I am still struggling to make sense of on my new static identity, but it is not nearly as distracting as it has been, and the more immersed I get into the book writing process, I’m sure it will eventually dissipate.

Going forward – I hope to post photos with stories of our travels, some might make it into the book, but many sadly won’t and yet still need to be told.  I hope you enjoy them and thank you for continuing to follow us.  We are still raising money through Africa With Autism (see donation links in the right column of this website)  – I’ve not decided on what we will do with the money just yet, but will keep you posted of any progress on that front.

One of the lovely places we stayed in Namibia




Summary or our Final Months

It was not my intention to suddenly stop posting about the trip in blog format, but we ended up spending 3 months in Zimbabwe waiting to get the bike on the road.   In that time we had periods of activity, including a couple of trips to Mozambique and a week travelling around Zimbabwe courtesy of someone lending us a car.  But as you can imagine, that doesn’t exactly fill the time, so the rest of it was ostensibly waiting and Sofia took over the laptop to keep her entertained and it became hers for the rest of the trip.

After sun down, the baboons return to the Great Zimbabwe ruins for the night.  Sofia was very excited about how close they were – me not so much!

I’d like to say that having sent the bike down to South Africa to the Ural expert there, that the rest of the trip became an effortless breeze through the deserts, bush and savannah, but sadly we were to have a further 5 more break downs.  One of which whilst driving the bike back from South Africa, which caused a moment of travel crisis and I almost fast track the journey to its end.

Another wonderful example of how wonderful people in Africa are.  These two chaps helped fix the bike when the missing collet was discovered. 

Happily I didn’t, and with the continued support from Zimbabweans in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls (Victoria Falls hotel remains the hight light of the trip for Sofia)  we finally managed to exit the country to Botswana, where we stayed one night before heading to Namibia.

Like an African, when all else fails, consult a witch doctor… and that is exactly what I did!  I decided that the bike must have an evil spirit causing all the problems and could he please get rid of them.  Sadly it wasn’t an evil spirit, because the problems continued for the rest of the journey!

After being rescued in the desert and once again receiving the amazing support of the local Namibians, once in Windhoek I decided it was time to stick to the tar roads for the remainder of the trip.  The words of our Zambian friends that the bike was over loaded definitely had meaning on the rough corrugated roads that make most of the routes in Namibia, and the bike was clearly struggling.

Sofia’s favourite hotel in the world – so glad, because it has always been mine, and what a joy that we were hosted by them for 7 days whilst we were stuck in Victoria Falls.

Crossing into South Africa was not to prove an easy task as a current immigration law requires all children under the age of 12 (or 13, I’m not sure) to have extra documentation.  Thankfully the British Consulate in Namibia who had been our host in Windhoek managed to put together a document that met the immigration need and finally we found ourselves in the final country of our journey.  Sofia was so happy to be in the first world once again.  She had enjoyed the trip, but she missed home comforts.

Ah! the roads of Namibia!  next time i won’t carry any luggage!  

We took our time reaching Cape Town, and had a wonderful ride in supported by the bikers of Yzerfontein.  In fact the hospitality we recieved in all the way through South Africa was amazing, we had people contacting us and offering us a place to stay most nights and in terms of publications, we were front page of at least 3 local newpapers telling our story.

Walvis Bay on the Skeleton Coast

Finally we arrived in East London!  and we did it on our own wheels – which was really the best bit.  After countless break downs, it felt like nothing short of a miracle that the bike wasn’t sitting on the back of another lorry!  But that was as far as I was going to go with it.  With the help of the local autism organisation we were offered transport for the bike back to Cape Town, where shipping had been arranged.  And just like that, 7 days later we were back in Blighty with the bike safely tucked up in a container to travel back to the UK.

We made it to the most Southern Tip of Africa.  A momentous occasion – the trip wasn’t over yet though…  A few days later a long the coast in East London, we could finally hang our coats and put away our helmets – we were complete.

I realise this is a horribly brief summary of our final months, the book (yes I have started working on it! ) promises to have a lot more detail to enjoy.

Thank you Kargo for transporting the bike back to Cape Town for us 
Thank you Econotrans and Motofreight for sponsoring the shipping of the bike back to the UK







Familiar Territory

The principle reason for choosing Africa to travel is because I was born in Africa.  Whilst I’ve been in Europe for over 30 years now, it is still very much a part of who I am, and where I feel safest.   An important factor when undertaking a journey like this.

As soon as we entered Zambia, I was starting to feel familiarity with my surroundings.  The Msasa trees and kids in khaki school uniform.  It had been raining, so the vegetation was lush and the ride in the truck down to Lusaka was dotted with abundant produce, there was so much I felt sorry for the sellers, I don’t think they could give it away and wondered about how much would rot before they had a chance to sell it.

Picking up bike from workshop – Me, Ginty Melvil and Bobby van de Merwe
The bikers of Lusaka gave as a warm welcome, and we were well looked after (esp. Ginty the President of FIM North Africa who accommodated us in his lovely guest cottage).  Bobbie did a fantastic job fixing our structural problem, in fact, he improved upon what we had been riding with, which was great!  and together they raise $1000 USD to help cover the costs of the fix, which left a little left over in much needed cash to help us on our way.

Our troubles were not to be so easily fixed however, and a new twin coil later we continued to Kariba for Easter, and a needed break on home turf of happy memories and great weather.  Crossing Kariba Dam Wall has been a bucket list item since I was a child and there we were in our less than reliable sidecar outfit actually doing it!   At the other side, I stopped to take it all in and were immediately surrounded by an audience, shocked to hear that we were travelling from England.  It is funny how the shock gets bigger and bigger the further south we go!


Easter was spent on the lake where Sofia landed her first fish, and for the first time actually put her face in water.  Something she has always been too afraid to do.  She was also very nervous about getting into a small speed boat, but once out on the waves bouncing she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.

We set off from Kariba in time to make World Autism Awareness Day in Harare where the bikers were organising a ride out for us to visit local events.  But even this journey didn’t go without hitch as it was discovered that the rear wheel bearing that had been done in Lusaka had been done incorrectly!  the whole assembly had started to fall apart!

It took a while to work out what all the broken pieces of the assembly and where they belonged
Aside from being utterly livid because I had said that they should check the correct assembly before doing it as it was different, I was distraught at having yet another problem to deal with.  I was still running with an intermittent power problem that was a total mystery, so this was just about finishing me off.

Fortunately I discovered this parked outside a hotel where we had stopped for breakfast.  The manager as an absolute angel, and very calm and confident that a solution would be found.  He drove me around town find bits and people, and finally at 8pm at night we had finished the fix.

Well met by the bikers of Harare – such a huge relief after such a difficult journey!
So next morning, once again we set off. I was determined this time we were going to enter a capital city on our own wheels instead of a truck, like the last 3.  We stopped 3 times due to power, but persisted, and were happily met by Natalie and the bikers to be escorted in.  Such a happy moment, and wonderful that others could observe what was happening with the bike.  It was embarrassing then to discover that reason for the next to power losses, were due to no petrol!

The main things was, that we made it.  Limping as we were, we arrived in Harare on our own wheels, and even better, surrounded by new friends ready to help sort out our problems.  It was a time to celebrate!




Tanzania Transit

Finally we were in Tanzania.  For a moment I thought we would never leave Kenya, that somehow Jungle Junction was the Hotel California of Africa, but we escaped and were once again on our way south towards our destination – East London, South Africa.

We entered Tanzania with 2 main changes to our plan.  The first was the decision to only take a transit visa, giving us 7 days to cross the country.  The second was not to go directly to Mozambique.  The former in an effort to save time and money, and the latter because news had come that there was trouble in Northern Mozambique and that it may be too risky to cross.

Stopping for a drink after crossing to border – we were both happy to be on the move again.
We were not without a plan in Tanzania either.  During our stay at Jungle Junction, we met many different people and received many different invitations to visit, many of which we were unable to take up, however, one we were.  It was to visit the Eastern Usambara Mountains and its rain forests.  When I mentioned rain forest to Sofia, she became very excited – she had never seen a rain forest before and was now on a mission to visit.

However, it didn’t prove so easy.  We entered Tanzania at a quiet border with no touts selling SIM cards, and a border town that had no SiM cards to sell!   I had sent an email ahead but was unable to determine if we were expected or not with no phone or internet! This was important as the road up the mountain was particularly difficult, and it was suggested that it would be better to leave the bike and be driven up.

A lab tech working hard at the research station!
It was not until the following day of travel, after asking many times and being misunderstood equally many times, that finally the SIM card was in the phone.  The vague meeting day that had been discussed was that very day, and so Sofia was left on tender hooks as we waited for contact to be made.

Finally the call came through, and we were on our way to the meeting point.  Well met, Bernard, our host, helped find a safe location for the bike to rest up, and we made our way up the mountain to the house.  Sofia was transfixed.  I have never seen her so engaged by her environment, soaking in every tree and vine.  The house we found on the top of a mountain, in the middle of a medical research station built by the Germans over 100 years ago, and expanded by the Brits in the 1940s.  Today the station is officially still operable, but there was little evidence of activity, and the directors house was now rented out to Bernard and his wife and daughter.

A beautiful place to have a picnic
This was a beautifully peaceful place with stunning views.  We took a walk on an afternoon and discovered that along with the Directors house, there were many other cottages dotted around the landscape to house researchers and their families back in the day.  All are available to rent at ridiculous prices considering many didn’t have water supply and the electric supply was crumbling on old pylons and extremely erratic at best.  The houses them selves, like the main house, were extremely well build and had stood the test of time practically unscathed by the tropical climate, but now abandoned, it would now be a matter of years before they finally give up as they have been given up on.

Whilst there we took a drive to a scenic spot for a picnic lunch, stopping along the way to learn about the various herbs and spices that now grow wild and cultivated, sustaining the local population.  We also drove through a tea plantation that was still growing and cutting gum trees to burn and dry out the tea.  The road was very rough, but it was worth it – the view at the picnic spot was astounding looking across to the Usambara Mountains and the floor of the Rift Valley that stretched to the horizon.

Too soon, too soon, it was time to leave this space/time warp and return to the road.  We had spent 3 nights in this wonderful place, and now had only 3 nights left to make it to the border.

We returned to the bike and set off on the hot ride for our first nights stop.  Along the route, for what seemed a strange reason to me, we had a problem with the 2 wheel drive and had to fix the leaver to the frame with wire to stop it locking hard on which made it impossible to drive.   At this point I didn’t make any connection to the missing bolt I had noticed before.  The second day of driving changed that dramatically.  We were ahead of time having driven in the early hours of the morning, when suddenly the 2 wheel drive locked on and it seemed to be doing it independently of the leaver.  It took about 2 seconds for me to notice that the location of the missing bolt had resulted in the frame to final drive alignment to have moved and worse a section of the frame was now broken.

Our early morning drive reaped rewards! 
A local fundi (Swahili for ‘fixer’) was called and he found a bolt to fix back into the bike.  This fixed the 2wd problem, however, the damage was done, and the bolt popped out within 5 mins, 2wd snapped on again and we could no longer move.   The fundi wanted to do the full fix, but knowing it would likely create more problems, I asked him to fix it so we could make it to the border.  So he got a new bolt, and then fixed it to the frame with wire so it couldn’t pop out.

Setting off with this temporary fix was a nervous moment, as I was told that there would be at least two hours drive with no reception on the phone!  but we had to go, and with wobbly rear wheel and wire holding us in place, we set off once more.  We were now in contact with a biker group in Lusaka and I let them know the situation.  Immediately they arranged a recovery vehicle to collect us when we crossed the border.  A huge worry off my mind.

The fundi works on plan B for getting the bike to Zambia
Somehow, the bike made it.  It was clear the bolt hadn’t held in itself, but the wire was doing its job despite sections of the road being horribly bumpy, not to mention the speed bumps in every village.  With every jolt, I held my breath expecting the 2 wheel drive to come back on.  It didn’t.  We made it to the border. We crossed the border. 3km from the border the wire had finally stretched enough for the 2wd to lock in and we could drive no more.

Well done to the fundi in tanzania, and thank you to the bikers in Lusaka who arranged the recovery.  All we needed to do now was wait.

Post Script:

I would like to thank Zambezi Bikers, Ginty Melvill (FIM North Africa Branch Chairman), and in particular Bobbie van de Merwe for sponsoring our recovery from the Zambian border.






Kenya – The Low Point

We spent a 4 weeks in Kenya, and almost all of it was in Nairobi!  One would think that this would have been a great time to relax and unwind, but sadly the opposite was true.

When your mode of transport becomes inoperable, it is stressful, and crossing borders in this condition only compounds this, so it was with relief that we arrived at Jungle Junction, on the raving recommendations of travellers, to rest up and have the bike fixed.  Indeed, the bike was worked on, and the primary fault fixed within a number of days, however, it became apparent that more needed to be done, and this is when we hit a wall.

Jungle Junction has a constant flow of overlanders with their various vehicles needing attention.  Sadly however, any bike that requires more that superficial attentions tends to go to the bottom of the priority pile.  And so we waited. I did some work on it and resolved a fault, desperate for progress. And the stress started to build.  The head mechanic, and owner of the establishment, eventually pulled out the stops and worked on a Sunday to resolve the problem.  But it didn’t help my levels of stress to hear the bike being referred to as scrap metal!  Negative attitudes to a job invariably lead to negative results.

The fault was found and resolved.  And despite the sound not being 100%, the machine worked and I wanted to get back on the road.  I don’t remember why we delayed the test ride a couple of days, but finally on the Wednesday we were riding to Nakuru, a good distance to ensure that any further problems would have a chance to show.  The results of the test told me all was not perfect, but the expense both in time an money thus far was too high, and it would be better to start moving South again.

The Saturday morning, I started to get ready to leave, checked the oil and tappets, the latter because after the still recent (in terms of kilometres) rebuild and suspected valve not seating properly.  This is when I discover they had been redone for the compression test and done incorrectly.   This was too much for me! utterly desperate to get going, and risk that damage had been done to a valve!

I freaked in a thousand directions, burst in to tears a few times, and generally looked decidedly unstable for about half an hour as I contacted a new mechanic to check the valves, get them ground in properly which we didn’t have the kit to do in Addis.  Things that had actually been requested and not done, and whilst it still clearly needed doing had decided to stop wasting money waiting – but now was an absolute necessity to do.

It turns out later, in conversation with another waiting motorcyclists, and perhaps as a result of what was going on with me, that the head mechanic was now saying that he was not prepared to take responsibility for taking apart cylinders and doing valves.  Well I wish he had said something like that to me when I arrived!  We would have been on the road 2 weeks sooner and saved a lot of money!

The new mechanic, Rick, did a fantastic job with the valves – and thankfully the unseated valve showed no signs of damage and was once again reseated properly. Although the prognosis was a cylinder head replacement would be needed at the end of the trip as a seat was worn.

A window opened in the clouds and showed us the summit of Kilimanjaro – beautiful!  
Finally we found ourselves back on the road and heading South, with an engine that has never sounded so smooth!  There were a couple of concerns as we headed for the border to Tanzania, but ultimately my fear of spending any more time in Nairobi kepting biting our heels and we kept going, with Rick accepting my panicky phone calls and putting my mind to rest.

We spent one more night in Kenya, and then crossed the border, an exact month to the day that we crossed the border into Kenya.  I have never been so happy to leave a country, and yet so sad that we never really had an opportunity to explore it a little.

We spent our last night at a lodge owned an run the local Masai.  It was a beautiful spot!