Four months have passed since arriving back in Cape Town, (2 1/2 for John, who extended his stay in the far east for 7 weeks to do a public transport holiday with Carol.) It takes some time to re-integrate, but we seem to be back in the swing of things once again. We have given a few “report back” evenings, and will post on Facebook when other public evenings are planned.
We have included a story from each one to “sign off” the blog. Thanks again to everyone for their support and encouragement. We are happy to announce that the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust has met their target for the new infectious diseases unit, and in fact, is starting a year earlier than they expected, due to some very generous donations.
Biker available for lsd trip
Long, Slow, Distance (lsd) biker looking for travel opportunities, BEE listed, rate negotiable in any currency.
Experienced on Cape Town to Singapore roads with a low rate of getting lost.
Has good skills in bike maintenance, 4hr plus border crossings, making large ATM withdrawals, sleeping anywhere and on any surface, operating GPS and camera at same time whilst riding.
Highly adaptable to rapid changes in travel plans, currencies, smell of fellow riders, road direction and diet.
Low to no dietary needs, eats on the go, with high tolerance of dirt, dust, engine oil and grease in diet.
Fluent in dealing with money changers, border crossing extortionists, facilitating bribes and quick fix repairs.
Experienced in dodging potholes, kids, fast women, cattle, disappointments, donkeys, goats, elephants, sheep, buses, chickens, stones being thrown, border officials and traffic police. All these at any speed up to 120 km/hr whilst enjoying the scenery.
Understands English broken into all shapes ; can attempt ‘thankyou’ in most African and Asian languages.
Good all round people, temperature and tea drinking tolerance.
Has key requisite: enjoys dreaming and adventure on 2 wheels.
Apply to John on the mean green machine.
Bike trip summary – 2nd half
The second half of our trip began just as frantically as it ended. In fact, “frantic” seemed to be the presiding feature of much of the middle portion of that section too… We made it across country borders on more than one occasion with literally minutes to spare before a visa would expire or an office would close. In truth, on six occasions, for varying reasons, one or more of us were brought to the border or within kilometres of the border on some form of transportation other that of our motorcycle itself due to breakdowns, time-constraints, or impassable stretches of land.
For all the stress that marked this second chapter in our journey, I found it to be the more richly rewarding of the two in that due to all of the breakdowns and setbacks that occurred, we were afforded more time in the various towns to actually meet and spend time with locals in their homes and experience the altogether unfamiliar but phenomenal generosity that their cultures had to offer while we waited out for each bike situation to be resolved.
To recall even simply that cups of tea that I have shared with locals I must include petrol attendants in Turkey, immigration officials in Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal, police in Pakistan, midnight bakermen, a mechanic, and a local on a ferry ride in Turkey, in fact, many locals in Turkey (Turks are very generous, and love tea), Pakistani’s in their homes, internet cafés, hotel lobbies, tailor shops, mechanic shops, railway stations, military bases and on trains, outside the shack of desperately poor but beautiful family on the banks of the Ganges in India, with supper in a Nepali home and with Nepali locals outside an airport hanger, and in a rural Thai home close to the site of another breakdown… and these honestly just provide but a few examples. I haven’t even mentioned the coffees.
It is no secret that I love people, and little ones with an even greater affinity, and so as frustrating as things could get at the best of times (and I don’t deny that they affected me too), I relished these occasions which afforded me the chance to be humbled and blown away by the simultaneous simplicity and generosity of such an incredible culture of people. I was privileged to be invited into a number of homes, which was a fascinating opportunity to witness firsthand how differently life can be lived while at the same time bearing such striking similarities to the way I myself have been brought up. I recall a time in Pakistan when a gentleman brought me back to his home so that I could spend time with his wife, children and nieces (wives are generally confined to within the walls of their home, although this is not always the case). We sat together and drank tea (naturally) while the daughters, who are in fact trained as doctors, piled on questions of their own as well as those from their aunt, and mother for whom they would translate. All the while, the father who had brought me, sat smiling at us, pride for the women in his life so clearly evident on his beaming face. I noticed while we sat in a circle on cushions on the floor of the large lounge (couches and other furniture are a non-feature) that whilst the house was not specifically small, and the owner not poor, that for the 11 plus members living in the house there were just two or three bedrooms to be seen. As it turns out, gran has her own room, mom and dad share a room, and scattered around the edges of the lounge are a number of mats on which any of the children can lay claim to at the end of the day. The one remaining room had a double bed and one or two mats on the floor as well. This too was available to anyone but no-one in particular at the end of a day. Family is a unit, life is lived together, sharing is intrinsic and selflessness is a given. I found myself envying this simple life.
I have so many stories which I could recount in as much detail as though they was part of yesterday’s events, such as the experience of sleeping on the side of a Pakistani highway with no mattress or sleeping bag and just a petrol container as my pillow due to unrest on the road ahead, or the pain of travelling in ten hour stretches at a time through the sub-zero temperatures of Iran, sharing a soda with a Nepali orphan who sat holding my hand for two hours while the others prepared for bed, the various times we all experienced sickness of one kind or another (particularly in the Pakistani/Indian territory…), the million-and-one near misses on the roads of India, where highway traffic consisted of trucks, bicycles, horse and water-buffalo-drawn rickshaws, motorcycles carrying families of five, buses, cars, tractors, and a man standing on the saddle of his motorcycle with arms outstretched. True story.
There were the times we sat on the sides of highways with broken shocks trying to figure out a plan to reach the next nearest town, the outcome of one in Turkey which consisted of Jules and I soaked from rain, crammed into the corner of a truck along with the four motorcycles and all of the luggage and covered by a plastic tarpaulin for a very cold five hour drive to our destination. We arrived soon after 1am, having discovered the very broken shock absorber a full 11 hours before in the town 250 km back alongside the Mediterranean coast.
I am so incredibly grateful of this mind-blowing opportunity that I was privileged to be a part of. Frequently, I sit and wish that I was still on my red KLR off exploring some new road or village or group of people, drinking tea and washing my clothes in the shower with me. I would even give up the painted nails and ghd straightened hair I get to enjoy while I’m back home. And that’s saying something. Of course I would be stocked with a spare shock absorber, just in case, and maybe one extra t-shirt.
After four months on our exciting journey from Cape Town to Singapore by motorbike, there is just so much to reflect on, that to sum it up in a few paragraphs is very difficult. The lifestyle we adopted during that time seems so different to the “normal” life back home, but we are slowly getting the two to gel, and to reconnect the conscious with the subconscious, and it is great to be back home.
In hindsight, when we departed from the Red Cross Children’s Hospital on December 30th, we can see that despite all our research, we were still blissfully unaware of exactly what lay ahead of us. For the first four days, we were still in South Africa, with all its familiar infrastructure, and cell phone contact. Once across BeitBridge, that all changed, as we headed north through Zimbabwe, reaching the mighty, awe inspiring Victoria Falls. We sampled the Zambezi rapids, and later in the evening, enjoyed a relaxing cruise on the Zambezi. It really seemed that there was now no turning back.
What had previously just been names on a map, became places that we got to know first hand, as we travelled through Lusaka, in Zambia, though to the shores of Lake Malawi. Our first of many challenges came when two of us went over the same pothole entering Lusaka as dusk was making strange shadows on the road, resulting in reshaping both of our front and back wheels. The next challenge was finding out that we were unlikely to find any petrol in Malawi. We had to devise ways of strapping 15 litres of petrol onto each bike, which, along with our 23 litre tank, and driving at a modest 80 k.p.h., saw us all the way through Malawi till we and our thirsty tanks reached Tanzania.
The dense vegetation that lined the roads in Zambia and Malawi began to open up with beautiful vistas and towering mountains. We managed to find ourselves right in the path of a tropical storm that was our companion for 8 days of continual rain. We stoically accepted what came our way and made the best of it. The lodges where we spent our nights had our wet socks, shirts, underwear, gloves and boots hanging from any available spot that we thought might allow some moving air to help dry things out a bit. Tanzania was the only country where we passed through a national park with its wild game on display.
We felt that a detour to Dar E Salaam would be well worth it, as well as a ferry trip to the island of Zanzibar. The whole trip from Cape Town to Singapore ended up being somewhat of a race against time, and so we only managed to have one day on the island, but we managed to hire a couple of tired old Vespa scooters to catch a quick view of the east side of the island, as well as seeing the old Stone Town. We saw the place where slaves suffered terribly before they were shipped to far flung shores, wrenched away from their homes. This was very sobering indeed.
Leaving the chaotic cities was always a wonderful respite, and travelling again through the countryside on fantastic roads was a pleasant contrast. Just being on the bike was always the most pleasant part of the whole trip. Having two way helmet-mounted radio communication devices helped us while away the hours, and Jules and I often spent long times chatting about the wonders of what we were seeing, and many other theoretical concepts! We past the incredible Mount Kilimanjaro, often shyly covered with cloud, but thankfully on this occasion, not from our eyes. Travelling further north through Kenya, we had the joy of crossing the equator, with the locals trying to show us how water swirls differently on one side of the line to the other side. We weren’t really convinced. It was surprisingly cool as we crossed the equator, being at over 2,200 meters above sea level. It was the first time that we reached for our warm clothing. We passed Mount Kenya (also snow capped) and as we dropped down into the Rift Valley, the warm clothing was back in the luggage, and that was about the last of the cool conditions we experienced through the rest of Africa. Northern Kenya presented us with the worst roads we have seen in our lives. One of the three of us managed to not have one fall on this stretch, but he made up for it with his share of punctures, which we soon became experts at fixing, which in 38 degree temperatures is not much fun. I’ll let you guess who this was, but he is young and good looking!
Sudan, while it was very dry and hot, was fascinating for its camels, pyramids, and dust storms, and amazing deserts that we drove through, with the life-giving Nile River on our side much of the way. On one long day’s drive through the desert, we hardly saw another car for about four hours, and the early morning shadows that the bikes and riders made on the road had us transfixed, at times concentrating more on the shadows than we should have, and less time on the road ahead. It was a fun day, as we did all sorts of stunts on the bikes as we rode along, and took some terrific photos. Perhaps what impressed us most was the genuine friendliness of the Sudanese people, who often offered to have us stay with them, or buy meals for us, with absolutely no ulterior motive.
Leaving Sudan by ferry, we waived goodbye to our bikes as we left them on the side of the Nile, waiting for the barge to take them the next day to their owners in Aswan, Egypt. As it turned out, the barge was delayed for almost a week, thanks to some wealthy 4×4 owners who bribed their way to holding back the barge so that they could reach the departure point at Wadi Halfa. Unaware of these events, we were patiently waiting each day for news of the barge. Oh well, all was forgotten once the bikes actually arrived, and we could get the documentation processed, and be on our way once again.
Heading north and east through Egypt to Cairo, we took the Red Sea route. The Red Sea is anything but red. It is in fact the most stunning blue I have ever seen. We battled strong, cold winds for two days, and passed hundreds of unfinished coastal resorts that had had to be left as shells, because of the world economic downturn, but also the political unrest that had shaken Egypt, and much of the Arab world. As we headed north through Africa, in the northern hemisphere, we realized that it was still winter in those parts, and could be quite cool at night. Reaching Cairo was a great feeling of satisfaction, firstly as an accomplishment, secondly, because my wife, Sue, and John’s wife Carol met us there, adding to the celebration, and thirdly because we managed to master the art of driving in the Cairo traffic, which is a bit like an orchestrated dance on a Grand Prix circuit. Just surviving was exhilarating. Sue even conquered a long-held fear of riding on a motorbike, and hopped on Jules’ bike one evening.
With all the turmoil in Syria, the obvious, but painful decision was made that we could not risk going through that country, in order to work our way east through Iran. We had to find an alternative route. Anything can be done for a cost, and cost us it did! We eventually had to crate our bikes and airfreight them over to Istanbul, Turkey. It was a pleasant enough interlude, as Istanbul is a fascinating city to visit, but we got our first taste of driving in really cold weather. Reaching one hotel, I had to ask the manager to undo my helmet strap, as I could not make my fingers respond to my brain’s command. Our series of shock absorber failures, for which we have become famous, caused serious delays and costs, to the point where we considered aborting the trip. 4bikes4Turkey just didn’t have the same ring to it as 4bikes4singapore had grown to have. With incredible support and encouragement from the home base, we just kept inching forward as best we could. Facing temperatures of -12 degrees C. was not a thought we relished but, we had to reach Iran before our visa expired.
The morning we crossed into Iran, we battled to coax our frozen bikes to life, and tried jump starting, and even resorted to the dangerous task of towing the one, which resulted in one of our number fracturing a rib. At last, they all rose to the challenge, and we made it across the border in the nick of time. Having at least arrived with a valid visa, they were willing to let us continue on borrowed time for a full week. Iran was a fascinating country in which to travel. We get such a wrong idea of the people of Iran. I can’t describe them in a paragraph, so won’t even begin, but the country is very modern in many ways. We passed Mount Ararat in all its snow-capped glory at over 5,000 meters. We rode a long way, along six lane highways, with tall snowy mountains on either side of us. Following the Silk Route, we dined in places that once had been frequented by camel trains. Heading further south-east, we passed acres and acres of date palms, and other fruit orchards, finally giving way to desolate desert and sun-baked mountains.
Crossing the border into Pakistan was a stark contrast to what we had just been through. The cold weather clothing was packed away, except for the cool evenings, and the parts we drove through showed a country where the money from the central government is not filtering through to the people and the infrastructure needed a boost. This seems to be creating a general mood of dissatisfaction. However, the hospitality was probably the best we had encountered on the whole trip. Because of further bike problems, much of Pakistan was completed either on a truck with police escort, or on a train. We stayed with amazing people from the Salvation Army in Lahore, who allowed us to physically, emotionally and spiritually recharge our batteries. What a treat is was being with them. With the bikes having also had their shocks “recharged”, we limped forward into India, wondering what challenge we would next have to face.
India seems to be one of those countries or cultures that you either love, or hate. It will always be an eye opener. We felt that the drivers there are homicidal, suicidal, and definitely maniacal, and if you don’t quickly learn to drive like they do, you will become a victim, but not a statistic, because no one is keeping score. Having said that, we surprisingly didn’t see the number of serious accidents that one would have thought would be a given. Don’t take that to mean there are not a lot of cars with dings in the side of them. We avoided the big cities, but got to see the mighty Ganges River flowing through the city of Rishikesh. We get so used to our way of doing things, but for the vast population in India, they just make life work. It works differently to our way, but it just works!!
Having made it to within striking distance of the western border with Nepal, we entered that beautiful peaceful country. It came as such a lovely contrast to India, though its people have a lot of similarities to the Indian people. Every river that we crossed, made us aware that it had originated in the majestic Himalayas about 120 km. to the north. The valley along which we drove was rich in agricultural land, and the people were labouring conscientiously in the fields. The country looked, felt, and even smelled peaceful. The driving was a real delight, especially the closer we got to Kathmandu, as we rode along the river, slowly gaining altitude all the way. Kathmandu also conjures up images of countless treks to the Himalayas, as man pits himself against nature, often coming out second best, but for those strong, determined, and may I say, lucky enough to summit Everest, and other senior peaks, they must really be able to bask in the glory that is the Himalayas, the top of the world. John and I could not resist a one hour flight over the mountains, doing Everest the easy way. The stewardesses allowed us to enter the cockpit, one by one, and get the front-on view looking through the cockpit window, rather than the tiny porthole windows. We would love to have hovered over the mountains for hours just soaking it in. The short stay in Kathmandu was just long enough for us to arrange for the next leg of the journey, which was air freighting our bikes to Thailand. (Myanmar, formerly Burma does not see fit at this stage to allow our sort of expeditions to travel through their country). With the amazing assistance of Suraj at Eagle Exports, we packed the bikes into crates, and later in the day, followed them on a different plane to Bangkok.
The Far East leg of the trip was shortened because of the previous delays due to mechanical problems, but what we did see was a great treat. The Far East has been well travelled by many people, and it was great to be privileged to join that number. We were very thankful to have a GPS to find our way around Bangkok, and managed to explore as much as we could in the short time we had at our disposal. Joined by Julian’s friend, Kathryn, we then moved slightly north to the city of Kanchanaburi, which is famous, amongst other things, for the bridge that was built over the River Kwai in World War 2 by allied POW’s and civilian prisoners, many of whom perished from disease, poor hygienic conditions and the cruel treatment by their captors. It seems that the movie took liberties when trying to portray the events of that time, and the museum at the bridge is a very sobering one indeed.
Moving down the Thailand peninsula was such a treat, as we basked in the warmth of the sun and took in the lush tropical vegetation. No wonder it is a tourist paradise. We sampled a beach resort on the east side, and then one on the west side, and still couldn’t make up our minds which we preferred. We will have to visit again to decide!
It was starting to feel surreal as we entered Malaysia, the final country before our destination of Singapore. It continued in the vein of Thailand, again with its beauty and tropical vegetation. We did a side trip to the Cameron Highlands, renowned for its tea plantations and strawberry farms. It was a motorcyclist’s heaven, as we twisted in and out of the curves in the road, always keeping that fine balance of throttle and brake, the lean left and the lean right, pass a car here and pass a car there. We were glad that we didn’t have the bald tires that we had finished the Cairo leg on. An unexpected bonus was to discover that at our destination for one of the nights, there was a classic motorcycle show on the go, for whole weekend, and again, we met many like-minded (read that as “crazy”) individuals who also get such a thrill being a biker.
And so, after more than two years of planning, and 123 days on the road, not always easy, but always a challenge and always satisfying at a level deep down in the soul, we reached the end of our journey, on the bridge that joins Malaysia to Singapore, with the electronic sign blazing above our heads saying, “Welcome to Singapore”. It was a very emotional time, with hearty congratulations for each one, and expressing the gratitude that each one felt for the contribution the others had made to the group. What happened next was a gut wrenching blow, when, upon reaching the customs, we were told that the documentation for the bikes was incomplete. It had sufficed for the previous 17 countries, but the well run and well oiled Singapore bureaucracy had other requirements. We were not allowed into Singapore. If we had long tails, they would have been tucked between our legs for sure, but here was yet one more problem that needed a solution-how do we ship our bikes back home without entering Singapore? It took us three more days, and right to the eleventh hour for that solution to present itself. It came indirectly via a contact of a contact, who himself is a biker, and a shipping agent, and who has shipped many containers of bikes around the world. We would ship from Malaysia the next day. Once the bikes were delivered to their pick up point, we kissed them goodbye, trusting we would indeed see them again, and hopped in the taxi to take us back into Singapore, this time simply as tourists, and not with our steeds, who were not welcome. We dropped John off at his hotel where he was going to wait for Carol to arrive the next day so they could do some travelling around the Far East, this time via public transportation. We then headed off to the airport, where we waited for the long flight home.
What a great treat to see the welcoming committee with a “Welcome Home” banner. The last time we had seen most of them was as we said farewell from the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch, Cape Town. There is no place like home.
We are asked many different questions by different people, such as:
“What was the highlight?” Too many to enumerate.
“Were you ever in danger?” Yes, but we never knew about it.
“Were you ever scared? Yes, on the Hell road to Moyale in northern Kenya. Many riders have fallen off their bikes and suffered injuries severe enough to have to abort their trip.
“Would you do it again?” In a flash.
“Have you planned your next trip?” I’m working on it, but something on the cards for 2015.
“What was it like doing it with your children?” It was the most awesome experience. I was in awe of Shannon, whose riding ability was incredible, especially along the stretch where I needed a pair of brown pants!! She is amazing at fixing things, and took exception when I tried to do something on her bike that she could do herself. Redundancy hurts! Her engaging with all the locals that we met was very special, and she always had a smile for everyone, and tried to find out all she could about their lives. She never seemed to get flustered, and accepted all the challenges that came our way in a very positive manner. Jules was equally a star on the bike, and with his natural curiosity with the world, he constantly brought amazing things to my attention that I might otherwise have missed. We had some great conversations, as I mentioned earlier, on the two way radios. He was very insightful in many situations, and decisive, but always democratic, and came up with very good suggestions. He loved learning more about the mechanical aspects of the bike, and wants to keep learning all he can. Both Shan and Jules have fuelled their addiction of travel, rather than satisfied it, and are planning their next moves already. Both took on their role as blog reporters very seriously, Jules with the writing, and Shan as the photo editor and blog editor. It takes up a lot of time that I am sure they would often have loved to spend relaxing after a hard day’s ride. While commenting on the young’uns, I must say that it was great doing the trip with John. He loves detail and would ensure that we had as much as we needed. He was a real boffin on navigating with the GPS. Imagine where we would be if we had turned right at Cairo. We’d still be trying to find our way home!! There were times he would lead us through little alley ways, twisting left and right, and suddenly, we would find ourselves exactly where we were supposed to be. Sometimes quick decisions had to be made at very busy and critical intersections, and he always came through. I loved his curiosity with new places, and he was always exploring, even if it meant on his own because we were too tired to venture out. When decisions needed to be thought through, his input was always valuable, as was his mechanical knowledge. And, when my credit card let me down, his was faithful to the end!! I’m sure there will be more trips that we do, even if they are closer to home.
“What have you learned?” So much, it is again hard to put into words.
It was amazing having contact with so many different cultures. Each one makes life work in its own way, as we make ours work for us. It may be different to our way, but it not to be invalidated.
We saw many poor people who are still happy to be alive, and some poor people for whom life is hell.
We were the recipients of so much kindness and generosity, that it makes one want to be more like those people, and “keep passing it on”. Generosity definitely doesn’t depend on your wealth.
I learned from the Indian drivers to just chill when someone cuts in front of me, and dodge when someone is driving toward me.
I want to smell the roses more, and relax.
I learned to be more appreciative of home and for those at home who made this trip possible for me to indulge in. (thankyou to my lovely wife, Sue).
I experienced that every problem has a solution, and that life does not exist without problems. Its very essence is problems and problem solving, not the eradicating of problems. Problems often get solved at the very last moment, when one is close to giving up, but quitting should never exist in our vocabulary. It may require a shift in thinking-out of the box.
It reaffirmed that leadership is so important. A good leader can determine the fate of a whole country. There are very few good leaders. But, people have the power to bring about change, and good will triumph. I still feel that 95% of people in the world are good and it is this small percentage of no goods that spoil it for the rest.
We all seem to want to be in control of ourselves and our environment, and often other people. This is not good. Being out of control can be very scary, but should be tried much more often than we let it.
Life is good. No, it is very good.
It’s been about 4 months since we finished the trip, and I can’t believe how quickly life settles back into its own rhythms. Within 36 hours of our plane touching down in Cape Town, I was standing in front of my first class, bleary-eyed, saying “Good morning, gentlemen, I’m Mr Taylor”
I have been very surprised how little adjustment was needed as I settled back into a sedentary existence. I can only suppose that getting straight back into a very demanding (but very rewarding) job gave me no time sit around and pine for the life of freedom.
I’ve managed to do a few big rides since I’ve been back, and it is amazing how quickly it all comes rushing back. When we went to fetch the bikes from the shipping yard, my helmet still had a bit of mud from Malaysian roads stuck to the visor, making the ride home feel as though it was the final leg of trip.
Since then, Wynberg Boys High has very kindly supported my starting a motorbike society at the school, and every month or two, me and the boys with licences saddle up and head out to some beautiful part of the peninsula, which is not hard to find. Before we head out, though, I run them through some basic motorbike maintenance, something I would have been utterly incapable of doing before the trip started. It is such a delight to be able to share my love of riding with these young guys. Maybe in a few years we will be reading about some of their amazing exploits as they ride to distant corners of the globe.
It is very difficult to pin down exactly how the trip has changed me. Ironically, I think the biggest growth has come about from all the difficulties that we faced, which has grown in me a mindset of perseverance, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles. While I have yet to face anything quite as difficult as what we had to endure driving through Asia with our dodgy shocks, I now approach any task with a feeling of confidence, knowing that if we could get through that, I can get though anything.
If I had hoped that going on a trip like this would get the travel bug out of my system, I was sorely mistaken. Once I have finished paying off the last bit that I still owe on the 4Bikes4Singapore trip, I will eagerly start putting together my next adventure, maybe a meander down through South America, perhaps…?