Monday, 27 June 2011

Horizons Unlimited

Just got back from a great weekend at the Horizons Unlimited meeting in Ripley, UK. 5-600 overland bikers, great presenters (plus me) and I met up with lots of friends.
Slow bike race – Paddy Tyson falls off.
I met Nadine who I’d first met a year last April on the BMW off road course in Wales. She (as planned) had set off for Eastern Europe in April this year but got hit by a car in Sarejevo. She’s back in the Uk recovering but plans to head off back to Bosnia soon to repair her broken bike and continue her trip. Good luck Nadine.
I bumped into Mike this weekend. We’d met briefly near the Sani Pass in South Africa in April. He gave me lots of good advice when we met up and it was good to see him again.
Brian (the only one I took a photo off) had ridden his BMW 800GS from Canada to Argentina. We’d met very briefly at the HU meeting in Canada last August. Again, great to see him and catch up on what he’d been up too. We both agreed that the whole year just flew by and we couldn’t believe we were back. We had a beer or two and reminisced about bike travel and being in the UK and unemployed. What a miserable couple of bastards!
David and Jill had spent over a year, two up on a 1982 BMW getting from Eastern Canada to Panama. Again, I’d met then at the HU meeting in Canada and also for a day in Yosemite. I’d read their blog all the way so I knew what they’d been up too and they’d read mine so we didn’t have to waste time asking each other what we’d done. It’s a little weird seeing people who you hadn’t seen for nearly a year but knew full well what they’d done and where they’d been.  I hope to go and visit then down in Devon when I finally get my bike here.
Apart from that I also went to quite a few presentations ranging from a talk on visiting Norway, Lois Price’s solo trip down west africa to a group who ride scooters through the sahara to Gambia to donate them to a hospital (They do this in March and are looking for volunteers – if I’m not doing anything else in March I might give it a go)
This was my third HU meeting and was very different to the last two. Previously I’d been PLANNING a trip and was excited and nervous and keen to learn as much as possible. This time I didn’t have a motorbike or a plan and felt a little flat about the whole thing. I did three presentations, all of which went OK I think and was happy to pass on my experiences and ideas to others. But having spent three days with 500 adventure bikers all I want to do now is head off on a trip again. I clearly haven’t got it out of my system yet.
Not a great picture but it does prove that some people stayed awake during my presentation.
Perhaps not your first choice of motorbike for world travel. But this Yamaha R1 has been pretty much everywhere.
Another poor photo but it shows that any bike will do. In the foreground is a fully tooled 1200GS, (limited edition), which looks like it could go anywhere and probably hasn’t.  Behind it is an Australian post office delivery scooter, which has been ridden all the way to the UK from Australia.
News on my bike. As of today it is still in Kenya. I’ve paid the $3,300 (I know, I know) last Wednesday and as soon as that clear they promise to send it. So I’m hopeful that Heidi might be in the country by the end of next week, which would be good as the first step in the process of importing the bike is booked for 12th July. I have to take the bike to a DVLA office and get what is called at MSVA (Motorbike Single Vehicle Approval) which, I think is a sort of pre-MOT MOT. More news on that when it happens.
News on my fellow Africa travellers. Daryll and Angela ( went to Uganda and Rwanda. They decided to end the trip back in Kenya and have flown the bikes back to Canada. They are flying to Europe this week and hope to come to the UK some time in August. I will, of course let them sleep on my couch. Tom, Pat and Chris went north. The road to Ethiopia was really bad and they stuck the bike son a truck for half of it. It appears 9from reading Toms blog) that they split up in Addis and the last a read Tom seemed to be lost in Sudan. he’d fainted in the heat, taken the wrong road somewhere and missed the weekly ferry to Egypt. Not quite sue what’s going on there really and sounds a little worrying. I’m keeping an eye on his blog. (

So, just in case anyone is still reading this blog. I hope to get my bike imported and on the road in July. As of now I have no job for September and it looks increasingly like I won’t get one. I’ll have to come up with a plan B. I’ll let you know what this is when I work it out (and obviously clear it with Tracy).

Saturday, 11 June 2011

That’s that. The end.

The 175 miles from Arusha to Nairobi took over 7 hours. Why? Partly because we had to cross a border but that actually only took an hour and a half. My last border. (Sorry, this blog is going to be very introspective.) This one was a typical African border. As soon as I arrived two or three guys came over to “help” me. One, straight away, offered to sell me motor insurance for Kenya (we were still in Tanzania). Another wanted to change money and the third wanted to help me through the process of leaving one country and entering another. This is where life for the traveller gets tricky. Should I trust the guy selling insurance? What's a good exchange rate? Is it worth being helped through the process – I'd have to give him a few dollars but it could save a lot of time?
I decided, after a chat with the insurance guy, that I'd trust him and he went off with my details to get me one months motor insurance for $37. I told the guy who wanted to help me that I didn't need any help and went into the building to get stamped out of Tanzania. I didn't change any money (his rate was 80 shillings to a dollar).
Back on the bike I moved a few hundred metres into Kenya. Same process. I didn't need insurance as I already had it (it looked official, I just had to hope that if I got stopped by Kenyan police it worked). I was offered 81 shillings to a dollar but when I pointed out that there was a bank in the customs building offering 83 we settled for 83.5 and I changed $200. He tried to swindle me out of about $5 but I was wise to it.
I had to pay $25 for a Kenyan visa and $20 road tax (or something similar) for the bike. My carnet was stamped and that was that. All quite easy really. That was the 18th border crossing I'd done. None of them have been fun but Africa is certainly a lot easier that Central America with the crossing from Nicaragua into Costa Rica being the worst.
I stopped to take this picture on the Kilimanjaro foothills. This section of road was good (and quiet). It wouldn’t last.
It took so long to get from Arusha to Nairobi mainly because the road in Kenya was so bad. Like most of Africa the worst roads are to found where they are constructing good roads. Ironic and somewhat amusing, unless your trying to ride on them. Huge stretches of the road north to Nairobi were being worked on and we were diverted off onto poorly maintained, dusty and occasionally muddy by-passes (if that's not too grand a word for what is in fact just a rough track by the side of the road.) So much of my last days riding involved dealing with corrugated earth roads, dusty trucks and crazy matutus (mini busses). I thought of all those fantastic roads I'd been on – Dalton Highway in Alaska, Cassier-Stewart highway in Canada, Route 101 coast road in America, parts of Baja California, Sani pass South Africa, Namibia's gravel roads, to mention but a few. This wasn't how I wanted it all to end. (But then again I could imagine many other ways this trip could have ended.) I was never going to ride my bike all the way to the UK but as I approached Nairobi I could only imagine how fantastic that would have been. To ride up though the UK to my house. Park the bike and walk in. Having the bike crated and delivered is going to be great but certainly somewhat anticlimactic.
Anyway back to the road. It was about 100 miles from the border to Nairobi and Jungle Junction. Well known to overland travellers JJ is THE place to stay in Nairobi. It had camping and rooms but more importantly has a garage where people can work on their bikes/landrovers/trucks. Anyone who's been overland through East Africa will have stayed there.
Jungle Junction, Nairobi
Lots of people have been to JJ in a variety of vehicles. Can you spot Ted Simon (if you know him)
It's always been in the back of my mind that JJ, Nairobi is my final destination and as I got closer I have to admit that I was getting a little emotional. I tried not to, it's silly really, but all the way into Nairobi images of things I'd done/seen over the last year flashed into my mind. Not a good idea really as the road was terrible and the traffic little better.
As we entered Nairobi, Daryll's GPS took over (I have to admit, they are useful at times) and with the traffic bumper to bumper, we slowly made our way to JJ's. At about 4 p.m. on Saturday 4th June we turned a corner and entered Jungle Junction. I rode the bike over the gravel pathway towards the office. I stopped, reversed a little to get a better parking spot, tried to pull forward and stalled. And that was that. I'd finished.
It all comes to a stumbling halt in Nairobi.
Days: 318
Distance: 31,000 miles (50,000 km)
Countries: 18
Punctures 1
Drops   1
Anti-climax? Well sort of. Finishing in a strange place is never going to be the same as riding home, but at least I'd made it. However instead of cheering crowds, a delighted wife and a huge chocolate cake I was faced with the task of getting both myself and the bike back to the UK.
I'd done the groundwork via email before getting here and Chris, at Jungle Junction has been excellent at helping me get the bike sorted. He's been doing this for nearly 10 years and knows what needs to be done. I've arranged to fly the bike with SEAWAYS LTD and went to their offices, only 2 miles from JJs, to do the paperwork. It was incredibly easy. He just photocopied my carnet and passport and that was that. Chris is arranging to crate the bike (cost £120) and all I have to do is change my flight. I've got a return from Nairobi to Birmingham with Emirates and changed it quite easily at a travel agents across the road from Seaways office. It was all too easy.
I flew home on Wednesday 8th June, 321 days since I left for Anchorage.
Oh nearly forgot. When Daryll, Angela and I arrived at JJs Tom, Pat and Chris were there. We'd last seen then in Malawi but by following their blog and getting intermittent emails from Tom I knew that they would be around. It was great to catch up with them. They left on Tuesday morning, heading for Ethiopia. Tom had had his V-Strom worked on all monday as it was leaking oil from the front forks, needed new tyres and various other things done. In order to lighten his load he ditched his panniers, leaving them with me to freight home with my bike and then post on to him in Germany.
I took advantage of the $20 an hour labour charges at JJ’s to get a few things tuned up on the bike. It would have been rude not too!
So now I'm just sitting around waiting to leave. I'm certainly looking forward to going home but have got so used to “being on the road” I'm sure that I'll take the bike somewhere over the summer. Once it's imported into the UK (no idea how long that will take – or the cost) I'm thinking Scandinavia looks good.... First of all though I'm going to the HorizonsUnlimited travellers meeting in Ripley in late June where I will bore lots of people with a couple of presentations on my trip. (Much like I did in Nakusp, Canada when this who thing started in August!) Then I have to hope I can get a teaching job for September…
Chris had about 50 bikes and trucks that people have left at JJs, presumably they will return to continue their trip sometime.
I'm not sure I can come up with any wise words or insights into what the last year has meant for me. Obviously it has been a fantastic experience. 300 plus days riding a motorbike through 18 countries with 8 weeks volunteering on three interesting projects must have had an effect on me. I just hope it was a good one and it lasts.
I've also really enjoyed writing my blog and thanks to the (three) people who have said they will miss it. However, whenever Heidi and I get it on and head off into the sunset, I'll be here to record it all. I hope you are too :)
Wednesday 8th I parked the bike up for Chris to crate. Hopefully I’ll see it again in a week or two outside my house in the UK.
So, as Tony Blair said at his last PM questions, “That’s that. The end.” Or is it? I'll blog again in a week or two when (if?) my bike arrives, and perhaps after I’ve been to the Horizons meeting. And whenever I go on a trip with the bike so perhaps this is just the end of the beginning…after all Charlie and Euen did a sequel.
Back in my garden in the UK, with my Maasai blanket. Oh, the memories…. 

Friday, 3 June 2011



The Serengeti, Tanzania

So, this week, I left the bike for four days and went on safari to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater with Daryll and Angela. We hooked up with Martijn and Ivon (Martin and Yvonne) a Dutch couple we met at the campsite in Arusha, so there were five of us in our Land Cruiser for four days.


Martijn, Ivon, Angel, Daryll, Me.

Needless to say I had an awesome time. I'll just list the animals we saw but you need to appreciate that for many of these we not only saw them but saw them either often or in large numbers or both. The highlight would either be seeing TWO leopards in a tree on our first day or the wildebeest migration where we were surrounded by literally thousands upon thousands of them.


Camping in the middle of the Serengeti – Serengeti means endless view in Maasai.

It took 8 hours to ride from Arusha to the campground in the Serengeti. We stopped off at the Mary Leakey Museum on the way. As you will know she is famous for discovering “the footsteps”. 3-5 million year old footprints in volcanic ash. The first recorded evidence of “humans” (Crucially these people walked upright like us, the proof being the way the big toe is aligned with the heal, not off-set like a monkey). incidentally this epic discovery was made (in 1978) when two of the party were messing about throwing elephant shit at each other. One fell to the ground and literally stumbled upon the prints. What a great way to make such an immense discovery. Hurray for the eccentric British upper class!


A caste of the footprints and an artists impression of what was happening three and a half million years ago.

To think, the oldest (manmade) thing I saw in Canada dated back 100 years, nearly one thousand in the US (Mesa Verde National Park), several thousand in central america ( Maya) and now THREE MILLION!

Anyway, back to the animals. Just in case you were interested in what sort of animals one might find in the serengeti, here’s a list.

Animals (assume hundreds seen unless stated)

Lion (11)


Cheetah (5)

Giraffe (dozens)

Elephant (2)

Leopard (2)




Serval Cat (2)



Warthog (dozens)

Dik Dik (dozens)

Jackel (1)

Wildebeest (tens of thousands)


Crocodiles (a few)

Mongoose (dozens)

Water buffalo (several)

Hippo (dozens)

Hartebeest (dozens)

Rock Hyrax (dozens)

Birds (I know and you know that they don't really count. But just to please the twitchers)

Secretary bird


Guinea fowl

Superb starling

Maribou stork

Egyptian Geese


Yellow billed Hornbill


Lilac breasted Roller

White crowned Shrike


Some pictures of said animals:


Can you see the TWO leopards?


Although we could see them quite clearly the sun was in the wrong place for a good photo. However it made for great (even if I do say so myself) series of silhouette shots.


Within 5 minutes of us being there one leopard decided to move (something they don’t do much of during the day)


  Something like 2.5 million Wildebeest migrate north every June/August. I’m sure you’ve seen it on the BBC/Discovery channel. I don’t know how many we found but there were thousands upon thousands.


All milling around making snoring like noises and kicking up dust it really was a unique and bewildering experience.


It doesn’t quite come across in photos but believe me it was impressive.

Croc meets hippo. Who will win? The finely tuned carnivore or the dumpy semi-vegetarian?




Hurray for the (almost) vegetarian!

Having read that list, seen the pictures and, no doubt, watched a lot of “Big cat diaries” you may be under the impression that safaries are wall to wall animals. That isn’t so. Let me explain. On our last morning in the Serengeti we got up at 6 a.m. had a coffee and set off on a safari. For the first hour and a half we saw nothing at all. And it was really quite cold. Then we saw a few animals but nothing new. This went on for over two hours and we feared we wouldn’t have a good day (we were hoping to spot a few Cheetahs). Then at almost 9 a.m. we spotted some circling vultures and came across:

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We saw 11 Lions in all but this was the only male. Apparently there are just over 2000 lions in the whole of the Serengeti National Park. This guy was walking off with his kill. (That’s a rib cage in his mouth)


And then 5 minutes later I spotted this:


Two male Cheetah. There are about 900 Cheetah in the Serengeti, that’s all.


I've been on safari in Kenya and this certainly compares. But we are lucky to be in low season (just). When we saw the leopards in the tree there were perhaps 6-10 other vehicles. Our guide said that in high season (which seemingly runs from mid June to February!) there could be 300 vehicles trying to get close. Each vehicle is allowed a maximum of 3 minutes and then must move on. Obviously the lodges/campgrounds are full and much more expensive. We paid $600 for the four days/three nights all inclusive camping option. I hate to think what the lodge version costs in high season. But at $600 it is value for money and I'm glad I've done it. So my tip is, come to the serengeti but do it in May/June. Just at the end of the rainy season, its warm but not hot, the migration has started but the school holidays haven't.


The Ngorongoro crater. A volcanic crater FULL of wildlife.

I've always wanted to see the Ngorongoro crater ever since I watched Michael Palin's “Pole to Pole” which is now 20 years old! We camped on the rim (which is at 2400 m so it was cold), and got up at 6 a.m. So we could get into the crater before sunrise – and before most of the other dozen or so groups who had been camping with us.


View from my tent on the rim of the Ngorogoro crater

Within 5 minutes of entering the crater we were rewarded with this:

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A female lion had just finished feeding with her four cubs. (Hence all the fat bellies.

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And the day just got better and better. In all we had 5 hours in the crater (which measures 20 km wide and 20 km long) and we saw a total of 21 Lions (5 males, 6 cubs and 10 females). There are only 40 lions in all.

We also saw one of only eight Cheetah who live in the crater.


and one of the 21 black Rhino. (There are apparently only 14 Rhino in Serengeti!)

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Our total list (excluding birds!) was:

Lions (21)

Cheetah (1)

Elephants (4)


Water Buffalo





Black backed Jackal

Golden Jackal

Bat eared foxes


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Just as well motorbikes aren’t allowed in the park.

So, that's enough about Safari. On Thursday we returned to Arusha and the plan is to leave for Nairobi on Saturday. I hope to have the bike crated and flown within a week with me following ASAP. So I (and the bike) could, hopefully, be back in the UK by 12th June!



One more day of riding to go…