Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bumpy Roads, Broken Bones and a Girly Girl Heart, Part I

On December 7th, I flew to Johannesburg, South Africa with Max and Jock to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. This was an adventure guys talk about after their 10th beer, after they have realized they have "settled" in to life and that the most adventurous thing they've done in the past decade is negotiate a good deal for the family minivan.

This was an adventure you hold back in the recesses of your mind, hoping that some day the planets align, the kids are grown, the wife lets you have a little time away and you still have enough pocket change to make it happen, provided you can get three weeks off from your job.

On December 9th, Jock, Max, Jock's best bud, Fred aka Wughee, from California, Alex also from California and Alan aka Master Tsang, a Singaporean working in Rwanda and me, Moki, the lone rebel girl left Pretoria, South Africa on five motorcycles. These motorcycles were set to carry us across nine countries over two weeks. This is our adventure....

Our first country, South Africa, was akin to riding through the states. Super highways, good roads and all the modern conveniences in life. We quickly left South Africa for our first border, Botswana. Borders are always nerve racking, especially for people who haven't traveled in Africa. You never know when the border patrol will ask for something obscure or just ask too many questions, or in the case of rookie travelers, they offer up too much information to the border officials. Botswana was easy and fairly quick, less than an hour at the border.

If I could sum up Botswana it would best be rendered by the Dixie Chicks song, "Wide Open Spaces". Miles and miles of open plain with very few people and less vehicles. I kept singing the song over and over, not like Jock could hear me wailing my tunes in my full face, tinted Kawasaki helmet. We traveled 900k that first day, simply because we could not find a place to lay our heads that night. Finally in a tiny town after several 100k of burros, cows and other domestic animals in the road, we came upon a hotel in Raykops, Botswana. 900k equals over 550 miles, on the back of a motorcycle, perched like a preying mantas. I was in my own little heaven. I cannot explain the freedom I felt. The time to just think, to just be completely in the moment with nothing to do but experience the land scape and listen to the hum of the motorcycle, was almost spiritual.

As we crossed over the border into Namibia the next morning, we immediately entered into a game park that is the narrow sliver in the northeast section of Namibia. It was a relatively smooth dirt road where we spotted a few animals, antelope and zebra. We then crossed back into Botswana traveling through the Chobe game park. This is where we saw elephant and giraffe. There is something so peaceful about coming upon a herd of elephant on a motorcycle, switching off the engine and just watching these large gentle creatures share their space with you. I am always amazed at the strength and beauty and gracefulness of the elephant.

After we saw the elephant herd, I said to Jock, "Now, if I could just see giraffe, it would be the icing on the cake." Five minutes later, a group of giraffe were off the side of the road. Giraffe are interesting creatures, so spectaculary agile and graceful. They remind me of runway models for some reason. What is surprising about giraffe is their camoflauge. Whereas elephant will just stand around for you, once giraffe spot you and if you move too close, they scatter and hide in the foilage. You would think the brown spotted coats they sport would be easy to spot against the green of the landscape but that is not the case. The most gorgeous sight is seeing a group of giraffe take off running through the bush with absolutely no sound of their hooves making contact with the ground. They are completely silent beings. Peaceful, yet aware and cautious at the same time.

The next morning we made our way into Zambia. This border crossing was everything that you think of when you think "African Adventure". We crossed the river on a ferry teeming with money changers, angry truckers, locals carrying their wares, everyone yelling at each other. Jock was yelling at the money changers. They were insisting 3100 Kwacha was a good exchange rate. We knew it was not. We had Botswana Pula, paid the ferry driver in USD and needed Kwacha once we landed on Zambian territory on the other side of the river. My head was swimming with which currency at which exchange rate was needed for which fee that needed to be paid. The ferry ride was less than 10 minutes but by the end of the crossing we all were yelling at each other like all the crazy people on the ferry. The pandemonium was infectious.

The Zamibian border crossing was the most complex and infuriating. We needed to pay a tax levy, carbon tax, insurance, entry fee and three other miscellaneous fees all requiring separate line and separate interactions. Insurance was a negotiated fee with the smarmy brokers crawling around the border post. Again, everything escalated to a shouting level. We were told we needed customs paperwork for exporting the motorbikes. We had two clearing agents vying for our business and in the end both of the swindlers eventually ended up with nothing after driving us back into the customs office where we asked more questions and were told we did not need it since we were only traveling through Zambia. I ran back and forth between Jock and the other boys waiting with the bikes. Nothing could be left alone for a minute or it would be stolen. Finally after three hours and $100+ (paid in a combination of Kwacha and USD) per bike we were on our way.

And then...the rains started....

We traveled most of the way towards our destination in rain. We put on our rain gear. Perhaps I should have put on the rain pants as well that day. My boots quickly filled with water.

Motorcycles and rain are not the safest combination and then throw in the African variable and you have just upped the risk factor ante. Ironically, I never considered the danger. Or perhaps subconsciously I did, but I had compartamentatlized that fact and continued to sit motionless on the back of that BMW 1150 Adventure praying for sun to dry my wet pants.

We made an hour stop at Victoria Falls and for that hour the rains ceased. Victoria Falls is a spectacular sight. The magnitude of the scope of the falls is breathtaking. It dwarfs Niagra Falls. Also, at Victoria Falls I learned the African meaning for a nickname I was tagged with early on in my stay in Rwanda and have embraced. Moki. Moki means enthusiastic, full of energy among the people in Africa. I came by Moki by pure accident. Jock called me Kimmo for a while and then it became Moki, Kimmo inversed. An ex wife of his is also named Kim so I'm sure that also factored into the name game switcheroo. I just find it ironic that a name that I randomly came to be known as in Africa is an actual name in Africa and the meaning of it couldn't be a better match for my personality and spirt. I love the name Moki.

We pulled into the Munali Coffee plantation ( just as we were running out of daylight that night. Munali Coffee is the home of Jesper Lublinkhof, a supporter of the Zambian National Cycling Team and friend of Jock's. It was a gorgeous plantation with a winding road up to the main house. There we were treated to HOT coffee and a good meal and generous hospitality. That night, I slept like a baby which was a welcome respite because....

The next day....the bumpy roads....

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