Back on the Road in Eastern Free State

Back on the Road in the Eastern African Free State ©2019 Keith Erskine

The old Afrikaans gentleman says to me – “Ah, so you’re going up into Africa”. I’m intrigued by what he’s just said. I reply, half-jokingly – “Aren’t we in Africa; right here, right now?” He said nothing, just smiled back.

Back on an African Road

I’m rested up, repacked and ready to get going again. The broken left pannier bracket is replaced. Everything is as tight as a drum.

This time there’s a few more kilometres involved. Heading up through Botswana, into Zambia, across the Caprivi Strip into Namibia then back into South Africa.

The first border crossing on this leg of the motorcycle road trip is into Botswana.

Border Crossing – Botswana

I cross the border into Botswana at Martin’s Drift, which is straightforward with no real delays. There is a vehicle fee of 152 Pula, the local currency (which is about USD$14), and the mandatory stamp on the passport.

Once inside Botswana, I stay the night at Kwa Nokeng Lodge, on the banks of the Limpopo River. Next to the lodge there is an orphanage, mainly a refuge for children whose parents and family were lost to AIDS/HIV. AIDS cut a swathe through Africa, where an entire generation was lost to the epidemic.

The young people from the orphanage put on an energetic, uplifting, fast paced concert for guests at the lodge. A combination of traditional song and dance. I find it to be testimony to the resilience of the human spirit and the will to keep going. All guests pay a small donation of 100Pula to say thanks. The much-needed funds go towards running the orphanage.

Heading North

I’m heading towards Nata Lodge, which will be my base for the night. Along the way, I take a detour to the Makgadikgati Salt Pans. This is one huge area of salt pans and interspersed desert. There’s been heavy rain earlier on in the year and there’s still water in the salt pans.

After checking out of the lodge, the next stop is Kasane. As I’m riding along, I glance to my left and I spot a couple of giraffes feeding off to the side of the road. I pull over, in total awe at the size of these magnificent animals.

Further around to the left I spot an old bull elephant. Probably ostracised from the herd, he stands alone. I’m joined by another motorcycle traveler, who is also capturing the moment on camera. The old bull starts to flap his ears, make noises and move towards us. Discretion is the better part of valour, so I take one last photo and move on.

I’m cruising along and out of nowhere a family of warthog races across the road in front of me. A couple of adults followed by some piglets. A sure way to get the heart pumping.
The roads in these parts have potholes in them. Just got to keep an eye out for them, as hitting one can cause a damaged rim, or worse.

On arriving in Kasane, it’s time to refuel the motorcycle. I pull into the first fuel stop, and there’s a sign – “Sorry, No Fuel”. OK, on to the next one. Same story. Apparently, the tanker will arrive tomorrow. Moving to the next one again, and it looks promising.

There’s a line of cars and trucks waiting to refuel. I wait my time, and finally get to a pump. Put the nozzle in and press the trigger. Fuel doesn’t flow, it just trickles out. Great! I’ll be here half the night. Move to the next pump, and ‘hallelujah’, the fuel starts to flow and I’m good to go.

As I ride away, the queue of cars and trucks is growing rapidly. Those towards the end of the line are going to be disappointed, for sure.

I check into my accommodation for the night at River View Lodge. This is a great place to relax as it is right on the Chobe River.

I’m having a drink on the deck watching the sunset when the tranquillity is punctuated by frantic yelling. A tourist is pointing up into a tree at a monkey that’s grabbed her camera. Gentle words and food from the staff entice the monkey to come down so the camera can be retrieved. Never a dull moment!

Crossing the Mighty Zambezi River

Departure from Botswana is quick and straightforward. A form is completed and stamped, along with my passport.

Next, it’s time to cross over the Zambezi River into Zambia via the Kazungula Ferry. Volumes have been written about this ferry service. It is quite common for trucks to queue for days to get across. It is the conduit between the copper mines in northern Zambia and the ports in South Africa.

Darryl has joined me on this leg of the trip. He has engaged a couple of locals to help manage the mayhem in this part of Africa. They do their job, and within a short time the bikes are on the ferry.

Once I’m on the ferry, I take in the scene. The front part of the deck is covered in loose lengths of timber. The engine noise is deafening. It rattles, it groans, it reeks of raw diesel fuel. But I wouldn’t be anywhere else for all the money in the world.

The deck hands give the nod to one of the huge semi-trailers to move onto the ferry. Alas, not quite enough momentum and the truck’s chassis gets stuck on the ramp. Another couple of trucks then hitch up and pull the stricken truck away from the ramp by some very dodgy actions. My thoughts are that first world workplace health and safety officials would have a meltdown if they saw this. But all’s well that ends well, and forty-five minutes later the ferry is loaded and ready for the crossing.

As a spectator, what catches my attention the most are the drivers of these giant rigs. They’re so young they could be mistaken for a bunch of school boys.

This iconic Zambezi River ferry crossing will end in 2021, when a bridge will link Botswana to Zambia; making this seemingly chaotic crossing a thing of the past.

Zambia – An Exercise in Patience

So far on this road trip I’ve had an easy time getting into and out of the countries visited. That’s about to change, as I’m going learn what it’s like to fully experience an African border crossing.

After getting off the Kazungula Ferry and parking the motorcycle, Darryl’s facilitators give me a quick overview of what happens from here on in. They run through the process to ‘go here’, ‘pay this’, ‘go there’, ‘fill out this form’ and so on. By the end of the tutorial, I’ve lost the thread. I say to them – “Where is the first place I have to go?”. They point to a nondescript building across the compound and away I go.

It’s their Immigration processing point. I wait for a while, until it’s my turn at the window. It costs USD$50 for a Visa; and it must be in US dollars. He won’t take SA Rands, or Kwatcha, the local currency. No, it’s US dollars or nothing.

I usually carry a small stash of US dollars. If there’s a currency that will be accepted universally, it’s the one. However, I don’t have enough to pay for the Visa at this point in time. I get the attention of one of the facilitators, and give him a fistful of Rands. He disappears and comes back with some US dollars. Probably at the worst exchange rate possible, but at this point in time I’m not about to argue.

The very large gentleman behind the glass is happy. If he’s happy, I’m happy. Moving right along.

Then it’s from station to station. Motorcycle registration, Carbon Emissions Tax, Council Fee and so on. It seems to take hours. However, as the facilitators said “It’s their country, their rules. No point in getting upset, just follow the process. You’ll actually get through quicker”.
The last stopover is the Police Station. I’m about to heave a sigh of relief, when a motorcyclist who has been going through the process as well decides to take a photo inside the station. All through these buildings there are warning signs saying “Photographs Forbidden”. Why he chooses to do this is a mystery.

Within seconds a camo-clad soldier armed with what looks like an ancient AK-47 bails both of us up. He’s not happy. Long story short, I suggest that it might be a really good idea to delete the offending photos. He does so, and the soldier is OK with that. Massive sigh of relief.
I catch up with Darryl, let him know all is well, and set off to my accommodation for the night in Livingstone at the David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa. It’s been a big day.

Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke That Thunders

Today, it’s an opportunity to see first-hand one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the world – Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls). No matter which way I look at them, from the ground or from the air, they are impressive.

Explorer Dr David Livingstone came across them in the 1850’s, after hearing from a local tribe of a huge waterfall they called in their native language ‘the smoke that thunders’. In the style of colonisers of the day, Livingstone renamed them in honour of Queen Victoria.

I get an opportunity to pay a visit to the local village where Livingstone met the chief whose lands the falls occupied. For some reason, on this occasion, the chief chose to meet Livingstone under a tree on the outside of the village, breaking from the tradition of meeting guests inside the royal compound. That tree is still here to this day, and is a gathering place for locals.

A short ride away is Taita Falcon Lodge, which is perched above the Zambezi River Gorge. I stop here for my last night in Zambia. An extraordinary place to visit. Established by an expat South African called Faan, it is the jewel in the crown of any stay in the region of Victoria Falls.

I recount my story of the border crossing into Zambia. He listens to me unsympathetically, then says “T.I.A. – This is Africa. Up here you deal with it, then get on with your day”. Good advice.

Over the Border into Namibia

Back on the bike, and I cross the border at Katima into Namibia. It’s a ride west along the Caprivi Strip, a narrow part of Namibian territory between Botswana and Angola.
I’m starting to feel travel weary. A couple of days on the Okavango River sounds like the remedy. Nunda River Lodge is peaceful and relaxing for the next two nights, right on the river.
The next day I get to ride in something a bit different. A Mokoro, or native canoe. One of the locals, Lucas, takes me and a couple of other guests on a short tour of the river to get up close to crocodiles, hippos and the prolific birdlife. He works at the lodge when he’s home from university in South Africa.
As evening approaches, I’m sitting on the deck overlooking the river and enjoying a drink.

Etosha – Great White Place

It’s a longer ride today, about 640 kilometres (400 miles) and my stop for tonight is Mokuti Etosha Lodge, which is adjacent to Etosha National Park. Etosha means “Great White Place” in the local language, as it is an enormous mineral pan.

Etosha National Park is a nature reserve with dozens of small, permanent waterholes. These are the focal point for seeing a huge array of wild animals and birds, particularly the big cats.
Motorcycles are not a recommended form of transport in this reserve, so I join a Land Rover safari tour, and take it all in. Elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras, several species of antelope including the beautiful Gemsbok, warthogs and hornbills. I’m absolutely loving it. A nature photographer’s heaven.

Heading South to Fish River Canyon

It’s time to head southwards. My next ‘must-see’ destination is Fish River Canyon. Another long ride today across the desert for an overnight stay at Swakopmund on the Namibian coast.
As I ride towards town with the sun sinking, the temperature around me is dropping like a stone. I started out riding in very warm conditions, and now I’m seeing the temperature gauge on the BMW dash showing single digits. This is typical of desert conditions; hot days and cold nights.
Swakopmund is cold and foggy the next day. The climate is strongly influenced by the cold ocean current running up the west coast. I stay indoors, download my email, and write some updates for my blog.

Moving along I do an overnighter at Lake Oanab near Rehoboth. It’s now a matter of getting some kilometres behind me as I need to be in Cape Town in a few days.

Again, after a long ride, I pull into Canyon Lodge for the night, which is about 20 kilometres from Fish River Canyon. It is a beautiful resort, with excellent rooms, bar, restaurant and pool. Surrounded by desert it blends harmoniously into the rocky terrain. Its rustic construction gives the entire lodge a feel from a bygone era.

Access to and from to the canyon is on unsealed roads. They’re in good condition, however dust is an issue when vehicles pass in opposite directions.

Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa, and the second largest canyon in the world, behind the Grand Canyon in the United States. It runs for about 160 kilometres (100 miles) and is up to 550 meters (600 yards) deep in places. The view from the top is amazing.

Back into South Africa

From here it’s a relatively short ride to cross the border back into South Africa. My next stop is the town of Springbok.
As I sit in my room at Springbok, I reflect on the words of the old gentlemen who spoke to me about going ‘up into Africa’ all those kilometres ago. I can now see his point. Compared to South Africa, it’s another world completely. Not better, not worse, just very different.

Next Leg of the African Journey

I’ll keep going further to Cape Agulhas, the geographic southern tip of the African continent. This was the end point for the Charley Boorman/Ewan McGregor epic motorcycle ride that started in London and featured in their documentary “Long Way Down”.

Then back to Cape Town and across the Garden Route en-route to Pretoria.

When you go:

South Africa Motorcycle Adventures: www.samamotorcycletours.com
Kwa Nokeng Lodge: www.kwanokeng.com
Nata Lodge: www.natalodge.net
River View Lodge: riverviewlodgechobe.com
David Livingstone Safari Lodge & Spa: www.aha.co.za/david-livingstone
Taita Falcon Lodge: www.taitafalcon.com/
Nunda River Lodge: www.nundaonline.com
Mokuti Etosha Lodge: www.mokutietoshalodge.com/
Canyon Lodge: www.namibian.org/travel/lodging/private/canon.htm

Written by: Keith Erskine

 Keith Erskine picture Keith Erskine started his love affair with motorcycles very early; when at the tender age of eleven a family member put him on a Honda Cub and set him loose. Since then he has toured extensively around Australia and through parts of Africa on two wheels. One of the great joys of motorcycle road trips is the people he gets to meet along the way. His love of travel is still going strong, where his latest exploits travelling around Australia can be read at www.travellin-lite.com.au .

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