The many months of NO posts on our website have not meant we are idle, In fact, I have been busy (thousands of hours’ worth) writing a book of our trip. At long last, it is complete, and has been published as an e-book though Amazon.com, which can be read on most e-readers, including Kindle devices, Galaxy and IPad tablets, and most smart phones. If you don’t have an amazon account, you can easily create one, and preview the book online and then purchase it.
Because it is a travel book, I have included a few hundred photos, with captions. The Kindle which displays in black and white still comes out pretty well, and of course the devices which display in colour come out very well. One could never have that number of photos in a printed version, and still keep the cost down, but in time, we may look into the printed option with a reduced number of photos.
I have used quite a bit of the content from the blog, that Jules wrote, and chose most of the photos that Shan had selected for the blog, so, a big thank you goes to them for all the work that they did while we were travelling. Amazingly, we still get many hits on the blog, from ALL over the world, so, in many ways, although our trip is history (not quite ancient yet), it has an appeal to a wide range of people, not just motorcyclists. We have always wanted to inspire people to dream their dreams, get out of their comfort zone, and realize that ordinary people can do amazing things.
In keeping with our commitment to support the Children’s Hospital Trust, I will be donating 10% of the proceeds to them. The book is available in most countries. I would really appreciate you spreading the word about the book to others, so they can enjoy it, and that the children of Africa can benefit.
As a point of interest, I have published the same book content but under two different titles-the one a rather obvious motorcycle book, and the other, holding a bit of mystique. Whichever one you upload, the content is exactly the same.
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…?
The journey is now over. There was still a lot we had to do to make sure our bikes were sent to Cape Town safely, but this was essentially just admin. As the days went passed, it became clear that it was going to be better to ship from Malaysia. The insurance alone that had been required at the border would have cost us around $200 per bike, even before looking into the ICP. That is a huge amount for just a few days. We began to phone around, but it turned out to be quite difficult to get people to respond to our queries, and often it was a back and forth exchange of information that clearly wasn’t going to produce anything in the time scale that we had available. The Taylor contingent had already booked tickets, and so one way or another, we would be flying out of Singapore on Friday evening. We said goodbye to Kath on Wednesday, when she caught a flight to Kuala Lumpur, and then on to Laos to join up with her siblings who were still backpacking for another month together. It had been fantastic having her along, and we would all like to give her huge thanks for how easily she fitted in with the group, and the fun and light-heartedness she brought with her.
By Thursday at noon, with no shipping prospects yet organized for Friday, we decided to make one last move, to get us one step closer to the shipping port city of Johor Bahru. By about 1:00 p.m., we were packed and ready to drive the last 20 km. Unfortunately, Shan’s bike shared none of our enthusiasm, and chose this moment to develop a fairly serious leak from the fuel tap, where the fuel leaves the tank, and is piped down to the engine. The next hour was spent removing the tank, and then taking the part around to some of the local garages to see if they could give us any advice. This proved to be more than a little frustrating, as at each place, attempts to explain the situation were immediately drowned out by emphatic statements that they did not have the part we required. The fact that we were not actually looking for a part, but merely some advice never managed to make an appearance in any of the conversations, and so we eventually gave up, and just decided to stuff it with gasket sealer and hope for the best. That seemed to do the trick, and we made our way to our hotel in Johor Bahru, having to make several U-turns in order to find our way. We finally managed to find the place, and settled in for our last night.
Late in the afternoon, Dad received a call from a guy that had been in contact with one of the shipping agents that we had approached for a quote. It turned out that this guy, Larry, was himself a shipping agent, and a biker, with lots of experience in shipping bikes out of Malaysia. He offered us a quote that would cover picking up the bikes from Johor Bahru, the closest city to us, and then sending them on to Klang, a port town right by Kuala Lumpur. From there, the bikes would be put directly into a shipping container, without any crating required, and then shipped off to Cape Town, where it would arrive three weeks later. This suited us perfectly, even though it was a higher quote than we had originally had. It was in fact the ONLY quote we had. Without so much as even signing a document we accepted his offer, with a sense of peace that we were going to be okay, after all the anxious moments.
And so when Friday morning came, we loaded up the bikes one last time (this REALLY was the last time) and drove them down to the pick-up point nearby. We offloaded the luggage that was going to go with them, and after saying goodbye to our untrustworthy steeds, piled into a taxi, with all our luggage, and were on our way to Singapore.
True to form, we had to go and speak to some high-ranking official to explain why our previous entry stamp had been voided, but once we had told him the story, we were waved through, and we were in Singapore. The taxi made its first stop at the hotel John had booked for himself and Carol, his wife, who was flying in the next day to spend the next couple of months backpacking around South East Asia with him. We said our final goodbyes, and then took the last drive down to the airport.
And that is where our story ends. As I write this, we are somewhere over Kenya, having covered in just over 24 hours the same distance that we have just taken four months to complete. It has been more than just an incredible experience; this will now be a reference point that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. I will try and make sure that there is a final report given by each of the riders, to give each of us a chance to sum up our thoughts about this journey, but for now, it is the end, and we thank you for being a part of this with us, and for all the support and encouragement that has been given .
Malaysia to Singapore to Malaysia
After driving for exactly four months, our big day was finally here. We were now just a few hours drive to the border, a few hours from the goal that we’d been aiming for. It was strange packing the bikes for the last time, knowing that this was our last day of riding. After this, there was still some more admin to do, a ride down to the docks, no doubt, but as far as our journey was concerned, we would be done by the end of the day. We have travelled 22,200 km, across 17 countries and three continents in these past 123 days. We have slept in beds in 64 different towns, once on the side of a Pakistani highway, the floor of an Ethiopian bar another, on the deck of a ship, inside a Turkish bus while the snow and icy air brought the surrounding temperatures to minus twelve degrees, in the back of a truck wedged beneath four motorcycles, on an airport floor, on a unbearably long train ride in 45 degree temperatures, and three times in tents when alternative lodging could not be found. We have had days of no food and days of plentiful generosity. We have experienced over 17 flat tyres, eight broken shock absorbers, snapped clutch and choke cables, re-welded a shock attachment and clutch pedal, jump-, push- and tow-started bikes on countless occasions when the batteries have failed, replaced an entire battery, replenished the acid when it’s run dry on us, tinkled with engines and carburettors….and in fact, just so much more! What a phenomenal privilege.
We took our time loading up, chatting with the bikers from the festival, and trying to soak in the moment. We had a couple more quotes we were waiting for, and e-mails to send, and so it was only after 11:00 that we were on our way. The driving was easy, but our heads were a whirl of thoughts and emotions. By lunchtime, we had reached the Malaysian border, efficiency to the extreme. In fact, we weren’t even required to present any paperwork, and we had to chase up the officials to find out where to get our carnets processed. When I managed to find the office, I had to show the young official there how to fill them in, and show her which parts she needed to keep. And with that, we were free to go. It was quite a distance to get to the Singapore side, but after driving along a stretch of highway, we turned a corner and there was the bridge leading over the channel, and on the other side: Singapore. We drove slowly across, and stopped underneath the “Welcome to Singapore” sign to get one last round of photos. And then we were driving through to the immigration desk.
Right from the get-go, it was clear that while Singapore may be very regimented and bureaucratic, this was by no means a sign of efficiency. Shan and Kath had even been warned to dispose of their chewing gum before entering, as chewing gum was an offense that could earn you a stiff fine if you were caught. “I’m not sure if they’ll confiscate it if it’s already in your mouth” the custom official kindly warned, “but maybe. Definitely any that you have loose”. After being directed to two closed booths, we finally managed to find one able to help us. We filled in our arrival cards, and with a minimum of fuss, we were through, and headed towards customs, bearing our carnets.
That was when the problems started. Upon presenting the customs official with the documents, he gave us a dubious look, and asked us for our third party insurance. Now this is pretty standard in many countries, and there is always a place to get it at the border. But not in Singapore, baby. It seems that one has to either take a bus through into the city (which we were not allowed to do, as we had to stay with our bikes), or one had to find a broker in Malaysia somewhere to organize it.
On top of that, there was another document required, called an International Circulation Permit (ICP). True to form, this could also not be obtained at the border, but should have been obtained before arrival. Before we had left South Africa, we had spoken to the AA to make sure that we had all our documents for each country in order. They assured us that only the carnet was required (and a subsequent e-mail apologizing profusely for this oversight was about as helpful as a PowerPoint presentation at a conference for the blind).
And Singapore being Singapore, there was nothing we could do. At any other border post we would have been able to make a plan, but here, inflexible bureaucracy is the name of the game. We pleaded, we begged, John and Dad even screamed (but seriously, they actually screamed – personal mental highlight for me) but nothing. And so with that, we had no choice but to turn around and make our way back to Malaysia. To add insult to injury, they even demanded that we pay $1 each for crossing the bridge, some sort of toll. It is difficult to explain the frustration that we felt at that point. To have worked so hard, gone through so much, all the punctures, the broken shock absorbers, the late night truck drives with the bikes strapped to the back, the terrible roads, the hungry days, and freezing cold nights, only to be turned away right at the end was quite devastating.
Back at the Malaysian border, the officials were extremely sympathetic and helpful, and cancelled our departure stamp. Maybe it was a kind of emotional shock setting in, but we actually were in pretty good spirits heading back through, cheering on the myriad bikes that streamed back across the border as Malaysian workers returned from Singapore. Shan even managed to high-five a fellow rider as they drove next to each other along the highway. We were later told that 100 000 bikes crossed through each day, and none of the people we saw ever stopped to go through any paperwork at all, no sign of a passport anywhere.
We made our way to the closest border town and found a hotel. We unloaded our bikes and dumped the bags in the room. It was a pretty subdued supper that we ate in our rooms. From here on out, it will just be a question of looking for the best way of getting the bikes back to SA, either trying to sort out the paperwork and getting them into Singapore, or finding a way to ship them from Malaysia
And so that was that. We decided that since we had been stamped through immigration, we had technically arrived in Singapore, but it was hardly the grand entry we had anticipated. Whichever way you looked at it though, we had done it: we had driven our bikes from Cape Town to Singapore, and now it was time to start setting our sights on home again.
We were now basically one night away from reaching Singapore, and so we planned to get as far as we could that day, in order to minimize our travel time tomorrow. Although we had originally intended to get an early start, that fell by the wayside a bit as we tried to make final plans with Mat about shipping arrangements. Eventually, close to 10:00, we were on the road again. From here, the road made its gradual descent back down the plains below, but today we were having to navigate roads that were far more crowded then yesterday. If anything, the bends in the roads were even sharper, and overtaking became a bit of a nightmare. After five minutes of this, Kath, who has been riding on the back of my bike, was already starting to feel a bit nauseous with all the braking, quick bursts of speed and the relentless corners. The vegetation on either side of the road was still dense and verdant, and as we descended, we could feel the humidity building once more. Along the way, we passed small villages of hill tribes that still eked a living, far from the bustle of the big cities.
After a couple of hours of this driving, we were finally back on the straight road. After a drinks break just outside of Kuala Lumpur, we said goodbye to our French travelling companion, and headed South on the highway. About about an hour later, we pulled off for petrol, and noticed a group of riders on vintage bikes, many of them completely dressed the part in half-helmets, goggles, leather jackets and bandanas. When we went over to chat to them, they told us that they were all on their way to a big vintage bike festival that was being held at Port Dickson, which was actually one of the options that we had discussed as a destination for the day. After conferring amongst ourselves, we decided to make our way to the hotel where the festival was happening.
Port Dickson was probably less than 100 km from where we were, and on these highways, we found ourselves outside the Glory Beach Hotel in under an hour. Half of the parking lot had been given over to the festival, and the bikers were everywhere. Our heavily laden beasts drew admiring stares as we pulled up, and despite the fairly plush look of the hotel, we managed to get an entire apartment for a pretty decent price. From the 11th floor, we had a stunning view of jungle on the one side, and the island studded ocean on the other. Even better, we could see a large swimming pool down below us, although it seems that the kids had claimed the one with the water slide for themselves, the treacherous curs. Within five minutes, we were in the water (t-shirt and shorted up, as per the customs), grateful for a chance to cool off, while around us, guys and girls huddled in their respective groups, with some of the ladies even sporting lycra headscarves in the pool. As the sun began to set, I left to go and watch the sunset from the balcony of our apartment, while the girls stayed to play piggy-in-the-middle with a group of delighted Malaysian guys. The sunset was breath-taking, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Some mysterious combination of clouds and sunlight made it seem as if drops of oil had been spilled across the sky forming rainbow bubbles in the clouds. In all my years of studying physics, I’ve never heard of a phenomenon like this, and I drank it in as the light dripped colours across the sky.
That evening, we ate at the hotel, a decent buffet spread, and then spent time wandering amongst the bikes, chatting to some of the riders, and admiring the vintage machines, some of them over fifty years old, and looking fantastic (the bike, not the bikers). Shan and Kath were roped in for multiple rounds of photos straddling the backs of the various biker’s respective machines. After a couple of rounds of walking the stalls, we returned back to the room to get ready for our final day of riding. With any luck, tomorrow would be the last time that we would have to pack our bikes!
With Shan’s repaired tyre deflating in the night, and our supply of repair patches exhausted, we could but wait until the first bike shop decided to open its doors before even thinking of hitting the road. Unfortunately, it was the weekend, and combined with our inability to meaningfully communicate with the neighbouring shop owners, it was difficult to ascertain when and in fact if these workshops would be open today at all. The best option seemed for Shan and John to simply station themselves outside the closed doors of two such shops and wait to see who struck lucky. John returned from his mission the proud new owner of about fifty spare patches. However Shan’s cunning plan of actually removing the wheel from the bike and presenting it to the workman meant that ultimately all the spare patches in the world counted for squat when presented with a freshly repaired and refitted tyre. While Shan had been sitting on the curb, wheel in hand, Kath had whizzed past her, side-straddled on the back of the hotel manager’s scooter. Apparently he was “so proud to be showing a white woman around his town” as this was his first time. Bless his heart, he took her to the ferry dock, and a few other roads before sitting her down with a map and explaining the richness and beauty of his country.
We are now less than 1000 km from our final destination, and with a few days in hand, we decided to head slightly off the main highway south towards the Cameron Highlands, a particularly beautiful part of the country. The morning’s drive was very uneventful (except for a small scare when we noticed John’s tyre was completely flat. Upon inspection it seemed that the valve has simply come loose and so a quick inflation on the side of the road sorted it out no problem), and we made excellent time along the highways. Since Nepal, we had been hearing about the Malaysian highways, and how fantastic they were. And the reports were completely true: three lanes in each direction, completely free of potholes, and the toll gates themselves even had a separate free lane reserved solely for motorbikes. After about 150 km, we turned off the highway and started East towards the mountains. Straight away, the road began to rise, gently at first, and then increasingly steeply. The roads were for the most part fairly quiet, making it the perfect motorbiking terrain, with sharp bends, and stunning views, and as we rose in altitude, we could feel the temperature dropping.
Around one corner, we saw a huge chocolate shop in front of us, attached to a tea garden, and with my Dad possessing a gloriously serious sweet tooth, we happily pulled over. It was such a strange place for the shop, as it seemed incredibly classy, with a huge variety of chocolate, and the best part? FREE SAMPLES!
After relaxing by the hydroponic strawberry farm with assorted strawberry themed desserts, we reluctantly climbed back on the bikes and started towards Tanah Rata, our destination for the day. It seemed that we were now in farming country, as from this point onwards, we saw covered plastic greenhouses on every available mountain slope, and large banners advertising strawberry farms on all sides, as well as other fruit, vegetables, and even fresh honey. The temperature was now a perfect 25 degrees, and we soon saw that this was the place to be in Malaysia. With Tuesday being a public holiday, it appeared that families were flocking to the area, and we turned a corner to find a solid line of cars, completely stationary. Fortunately, being on bikes, we were able to just ride along next to the cars, but this line continued through several towns, and must have stretched for over 15 km, with no-one moving. In one of the larger towns we passed, people were thronging the streets, and even with some large hotels on either side of the road, our guess was that many people would be sleeping in their cars tonight. And still the queue of vehicles continued, right up until we arrived in our town.
The first couple of hotels we tried were completely full, but after investigating several options, including one that was simply a mattress put down on the floor, we found a decent guest house on the edge of town. Once we had offloaded our bags and settled into the rooms, we emerged to have a look around. Waiting outside at one of the tables was a French guy, who introduced himself as Mat. It turned out that he was also a biker, and had been informed by his hotel manager that some bikers were in town and so had come to find us. He had also been all over Asia, and had actually followed a fairly similar route to us, starting from Turkey. It seemed that he was also potentially interested in shipping his bike to Cape Town, and riding up Africa from there. It was great to be able to swap stories, and get some advice from a fellow biker, and we ended up wandering around town together for a while.
We met up again that evening to get some supper and talk a little more about the possibilities of putting the bikes in the same container, which may end up a cheaper option for everyone involved. Over a steamboat, which is a kind of soup fondue, with mushrooms, chicken, fish, prawns, lettuce, noodles, eggs, and the like, we decided that he would look for shipping options from Malaysia, and we would investigate Singapore, and then make a final call about shipping them, once we had a few quotes, etc. We had been a bit concerned to discover that one of our original quotes that we had been given just before we left had gone up in the last four months, and was now almost triple what we had been expecting, never a fun surprise.
Kath and Shan had spotted a Karaoke bar in town while they had been exploring earlier, and we decided to finish off the evening there. We were given a private booth, where our caterwauling would not disturb the other guests. They ended up having a pretty decent selection, and even John got into the groove with some seventies classics, while the girls performed a spirited rendition of the Spice Girls’ “If you wanna be my lover”. Finally, long after midnight, we walked back to our hotel to collapse into our beds.
Thailand to Malaysia
Today was the day that we were originally due to arrive in Singapore, which is really making it feel like we are right at the end of our trip. But we still have a couple more countries to go. After the previous day’s rest, we were ready to be on our way, and after breakfast, we were on our bikes by about 8:30 and heading off towards the border. The landscape is still lush green jungle and towering hills looming over the road, with very few towns along the way. After driving about 100 km, I noticed that there was some white smoke flowing from Dad’s bike. Thinking that it may be some of his strapping that was resting on the exhaust pipe, I pulled alongside him to have a closer look. But when I saw what it was, I frantically motioned for him to pull over. His whole engine was belching smoke, and when he stopped, we could see that there was oil everywhere. This was serious stuff, as we had never had any engine problems up until this point. We wheeled the bike into the shade and began to strip off the seat and tank to have a better look. Upon inspection of the engine, it seemed that a couple of the bolts had rattled loose, and if that was all it was, we would have just been able to tighten them and be on our way. But the reason for them being loose was that they had stripped their thread in the engine mounting, which meant that we wouldn’t be able to tighten them in to seal the engine.
(For people who are unfamiliar with bikes or engines, that roughly translates as: “Sad face. The bike is broken, but not too badly.”)
After talking through several options, we decided that all we could do is tighten the bolts as best we could, and seal the thread with a special gasket sealer that we were carrying. Hopefully that would last for the next couple of days, and if not, then we would have to look at a more serious repair.
Meanwhile, Shan and Kath, who had been standing near the bikes, had been greeted by a local woman who managed to entice them back to her house on the other side of the road (which took a confusing 15 minutes to cross, since it appeared she was waiting for a gap of no less than 2 km between vehicles before deeming it safe to move over to the other side). After about half an hour of very stilted conversation, they were brought coffee and sandwiches by the son, who kept an unselfconscious grip on parts of his anatomy the entire time they were there. After that, everyone just seemed to sit around watching TV, making for a fairly awkward but very enjoyable morning nonetheless, especially with the father wandering around in just a sarong. Several visitors popped in, some of them just to stare.
Once the sealant had set, we topped up the bike with oil and took it for a test run: good as new. At least for now, anyway. With just 50 km to the border to go, and the rain just starting to set in, we were keen to be on our way into Malaysia.
We arrived in a torrential downpour, but this was quite welcome in the sweltering heat, and to our total amazement, we were whisked through customs and immigration in about ten minutes. We’ve never been through any border post that quickly anywhere on the trip, and very soon drove through to the Malaysian side. There, our luck ran out a bit, as everyone was on lunch break. But after half an hour, once they were back at their desks, it was the same story, just blisteringly fast efficiency. The one noteworthy point was the six fingered customs man (as in six fingers on each hand), and it was quite hard not to gawp at these two tiny extra digits protruding from the side of his little fingers, complete with fingernails.
And after fifteen minutes, we were through and on our way. Almost immediately, the road began to climb and we were presented with a stunning vista of jungles, mountains, farmlands and villages. Our plan was to get as far as we could today, and as it was only 2:30, we were intending to stop a few hundred kilometres down the Western coast.
That is, until Shan noticed she couldn’t really turn her front wheel all that well while passing through one of the small towns. Flat front tyre. We pulled over to investigate, and saw that somehow the lining that sits between the tube and the wheel rim had snapped, and was flapping all over the place. Well, at least this is something we know how to deal with. And so it was the usual toolkits out, wheel off, tyre off, etc. We had no rubber to make a replacement with, and so she ended up using ever faithful duct-tape to cover the rim. Unfortunately, the process of changing the tyre and lining the rim had to be repeated a number of times, since the spokes, which were sharper than we had thought, kept deflating each newly mended and inflated tyre. In addition, the tyre repair kit had run out of patches, so it was with some trepidation that we inflated the tyre for the third time. Happily, we seemed to have got it right, and once more we repacked the bikes, and started off, with the notable exception of Dad’s sunglasses which flew off from his shirt collar where he had placed them, but were only noticed a few kilometres down the road, necessitating a thorough sweep of the road, which lasted another half an hour, until their grisly remains were finally found , by Shan scratched and missing an arm. By this time it was starting to get late, and it was just a question of trying to find the closest hotel. We made for the coast, and found a decent place for a reasonable rate, although it was a bit of a cheek that the manager tried to charge us extra to park the bikes in front of the hotel, claiming that it would cost an extra R25 per bike for “security”. We quickly disabused him of this notion, and went to our rooms to shower, change, and recuperate underneath the air conditioning.
That evening, we made forays out into the street to find SIM cards, ATM’s, and food, which included some fantastic chicken satays, essentially small kebab with peanut sauce, and some fish which turned out to be far too fiery for John’s delicate palate. With nothing much else to do in town, we were back in the hotel relatively early, and soon asleep.