FIM's Continental Union
for Motorcycling in Africa


To Africa With Autism

Posted on March 31, 2016 at 6:00 PM

We set off on the 14th of November 2015 from Esat London, UK, with high hopes but few expectations. I was not nearly ready enough. I had only riden 7000km on the bike, and only a few months to learn the basic mechanics and maintenance. I consoled myself, that there would never be a time where I would feel ready enough, and the best way to learn is on the job, so to speak.

Sofia was ready, I had been preparing her since the inception of this journey. She had no idea what to expect, but in her own way was ready to find out more. A testiment to this was her fortitude in the face of horrid european weather as soon as we crossed the continent. It cleared, but then we had to endure the freezing ride through the Alps. Then it was the long ride down to Athens on which we experienced our first bike problem.

The timing interupter broke. The Macedonians did a wonderful job of welding it back together, and we were back on the road in no time and to Athens where we could get a new part. Keeping the fixed one, just incase we needed a spare.

We crossed from Athens to Egypt, the bike taking a boat, whilst we took a plane. Finally we were on African soil, and whilst excited by this, both Sofia and I, we were very quickly overwhelmed by the Cairo chaos of people, traffic and noise. Picking up the bike in Alexandria was thankfully made easier as biker groups took us under their wing and helped, not only with getting the bike through customs, but also raising publicity for Autism. They then helped with planning the first part of our journey on the bike with escorts to take us out of Alexandria, to take us through Cario (the most terrifying road experience I've ever had) and then on to Hurgada. Once there, it was clear Sofia wasn't coping so well, and we rested a few days.

It was then onto Aswan our last port of call where we would have a local contact, and then we would be on our own. It was with Sudan visa in hand that we left Aswan and into the unknown of Sudan doing our first border crossing in Africa. Whilst superficially the crossing went smoothly, it was clear we had a close shave as an attempt was made to scam us. We got through, and like climbing out of a fast flowing river, we were in the Sudan where the pace of life is very different and the recently built chinese roads, a vast improvement from that speed bumps and pot holes of Egypt! Indeed, fuel consumption improved dramatically!

We Spent Christmas in Karima, with me attempting to cook a simple rice dish Sofia liked from home on the camping stove for our Christmas lunch, giving us both some relief from the beans and rice staple of Sudan. We then headed to Khartoum for New Year, and for one reason or another (one of which was a split wheel rim), we ended up staying for 3 weeks, and finding a new firm friend in Hiba who had setup the first and only school for autism in Sudan.

Finally leaving Khartoum, we headed to Ethiopia with intrepidation. I had heard stories of kids throwing sticks and stones at 'ferengi' (foreigners) driving and cycling through the country. With this in mind, I told Sofia to wave at everyone, especially the kids, then hopefully no stones would come our way. True to form, Sofia waved frantically at every living sole, and was soon asking if she could stop! Which was fine, because it became quickly apparent that the apparition of us passing through the villages was so overwhelming people would forget what they were doing anyway.

We were both in awe of the scenery in Ethiopia. An whilst the 3rd gear was giving me some problems, the bike seemed to be coping well with the heavy load up steep mountian passes. All was extremely well. Or it was until we broke down, the crank jammed on the road to Addis Abba. Out of the curious crowd that gathered around us came help and that very night we were loaded onto a truck and taken on a 700km ride to the capital of Ethiopia, and the only mechanic who happened to have Ural bikes parked out side his garage. Sadly though the bikes were a different model and spares had to be brought over from the UK. Literally flown over by a willing volunteer as it was cheaper and quicker in terms of customs. The gods smiled on me when our mechanic in the UK offered to be the mule and stay a few days to fix the bike.

We were now on multiple dead lines. Mick, our mechanic, only had 3 days with the bike, and then we only had 5 days to make it to the border before our visas ran out. It was an intense 3 days, and with no time for testing the bike thoroughly, we set off early on the 4th day making a run for the border. By the end of that day however, it was clear something wasn't quite right. But we had to press on. The second day of the border run, there was definitely something amiss, so on the thrid, I waited until the heat of the day passed before we set off again. A very early start on the fourth to get ahead of the heat, but by midday it was clear the bike was really starting to struggle, so I decided to press on and to the final 300km to the border. Then we broke down again. The 5th and final day of our visa, we managed to find a truck to take us to the border and with 2 hours to spare, checked out of Ethiopia.

In somewhat comical fashion, we were pushed across the border into Kenya. Antoher truck and another capital city beckoned. The bike issues where actually fairly straight forward this time. What had stopped us was the timing interrupter breaking again. The 150km of off road on our way to the border had churned up the petrol tank and caused issues with the carborettors, whilst a float needle which had been put on incorrectly was no longer stopping the fuel flow and flooding one of the cylinders. (Yes I can really talk about this stuff now!) Sadly, however, it took a month!

Desperate to leave Nairobi that was starting to feel like a spiders web, we set off for Tanzania and a transit visa to make up some time and money. But we were not to be spared further problems with the bike. This time is was the loss of a structural bolt which I didn't deal with straight away. Result - with the weight of the luggage the, rear wheel and drive went out of alignement and locked on the 2 wheel drive making it undrivable. Some how a fix was made, and in another frantic dash before visas ran out, we finally crossed the border to Zambia where the biker network was waiting with some much needed support and help.

Today we are in Lusaka, Zambia, and for the first time feeling relatively relaxed and optimistic since our first break down in Ethiopia. The Zambezi Bikers have made a huge effort on our behalf and raised an astounding $1000USD to help with the costs of the recovery and mechanical work that we have needed since our arrival. Indeed, Bobbie Van de Merwe has not only fixed the structural problem but improved on what we already had.

Of course this hasn't happened without event! The guys in the recovery vehicle were late reaching us because they sold some of the desiel they were sent with to cover the journey so they could have a party, and showed up the next morning (late) looking decidedly worse for wear! we then had to stay over a night on the journey down, and the next morning deal with the drivers panick to find desiel because he was now running out! We were then pranged on the road by a young german missionary who seemed to think Friday was a good day to walk into a police station and report it when they (the police) would be collecting their drinking money for the weekend. We finally made it to Bobbie's garage. Hot, bothered, and looking like tramps in our dirty riding gear - much to Ginty's horror - and whisked off to his lovely guest house so we could change in the last of our clean clothes.

We have been met with such a warm welcome in Zambia and tremedous support for what we are doing. As we are now more than half way through our journey, and with the problems we have had to deal with, this has made a tremedous difference to our morale and fortitude in continuing our journey to East London, South Africa. Thank you to Zambezi Bikers, Ginty Melvill (President FIM North Africa) and Bobbie Van de Merwe.


Categories: Leisure and Touring, FMN News Zambia

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