I HAD ALWAYS WANTED to visit my ancestral homeland, Africa. My first opportunity came in 2001 when I had the privilege of joining the Canadian Non-Governmental Organization delegation for the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. I was in South Africa for three weeks spending time in Cape Town, at a safari (Tembe Elephant Park) on the South Africa-Mozambique border and then at the conference in Durban. Although I had already travelled quite a lot, it was the trip of my lifetime to that point. I’d planned on returning to Africa to hike Mount Kilimanjaro. However, in hiking to Machu Picchu, Peru in 2010, I learned that my body reacts quite poorly to high altitude. So, I had to give-up on my Kilimanjaro dreams. Once I started riding motorcycles and learning about overseas motorcycle trips, I set my sights on doing a motorcycle trip in Africa.
In 2016 I went to an Expedition Adventure Night at BMW Motorrad Toronto featuring Rene Cormier from Renedian Adventures. Rene spent his time highlighting the various African motorcycling trips his company offered. I was immediately intrigued. Rene is very charismatic. Plus, unlike all of the other companies offering trips in Africa: Rene’s is a Canadian company and the purchase price would be in Canadian funds. This is important because such trips are very expensive. So, paying in USD with Canadian funds could be dramatically different depending on how the Canadian dollar was faring at the time you pay. With pricing being in Canadian dollars, I wouldn’t have to “hedge” my bets on the payment timing.
In early January 2017, I started giving Rene’s trips very serious thought. I decided on the trip I would want to take: the 5,000 km, three-week Victoria Falls to Cape Town Trip. It started in Zimbabwe, went through Botswana and Namibia and ended in South Africa. There were two big challenges though: the cost (approx. $15,000 plus flights and any extras) and the fact I’d be away from my partner for one-month. I was mulling these challenges over with my partner and ultimately she encouraged me to go. She may have wanted the month at home by herself but what she said was “we know you’re healthy this year and you can afford it right now. We don’t know if you’ll be able to do it next year. So, just do it!” She was right! I’d had a number of fit, former varsity athlete friends who had remained active and ate healthy diets, and yet, they were no longer with us. There are no guarantees in life. So, I decided to do it and contacted Rene on January 11, 2017 to sign-up for the Victoria Falls to Cape Town Trip starting on September 25, 2017.
GETTING READY FOR AFRICA
There’s a huge difference between riding the streets of Toronto and the North American highway systems and riding the gravel and/or “tarred” roads in Africa. So, with the idea of a future African motorcycle trip, I flew to California in 2014 to take a 4-day off-road motorcycling course at RawHyde Adventures.
The 4-day RawHyde (clever use of the owner’s name: Jim Hyde) course I took was in two parts: (1) two-days of instruction at their instruction site; and (2) two days in Mojave desert, with a camping overnight. Unfortunately, I only had 50% of the experience. On the final of the two-days on-site, doing the final exercise before heading-in for dinner, I somehow lost control of my bike and my foot got crushed between the 500+ pound adventure bike and a log. So, while everyone else went to dinner, I went to the hospital. And, when everyone headed into the Mojave desert the following day, I headed back home to Toronto with a cane and a walking cast to show for my Californian adventures. Then to add insult to injury – literally – I got a $900 USD bike repair bill about three weeks later…
One good thing is that I got two full days of off-road riding instruction before my accident. The most useful skill I learned was how to be comfortable riding a bike standing-up. As you’ll see in the pic on the right (above) the rider is standing. Off-roading you ride standing-up, steering with your knees with the tips of your toes changing gears and braking. Believe me – it takes practice!
In 2017, as the trip got closer and closer, I felt less and less confident about my abilities to ride the 1000 kms of gravel roads that would be in my 5000 km trip. This was particularly the case because what I wiped-out on in California was sandy gravel. So, on August 19th 2017 (barely a month before I’d head to Africa), I took a one-day refresher course at SMART Adventures near Barrie, ON. What was particularly awesome was when they learned part-way through the day of my upcoming Renedian trip, they switched me to the exact bike I’d be using in Africa (both owners had done trips with Rene) and took me out on local gravel roads! I regained my confidence and felt much more ready to tackle the Africa roads after that day.
GEAR, GEAR, GEAR – YET AGAIN!
I can’t imagine a better excuse to buy new gear than going on a three-week motorcycling trip in Africa! And that’s exactly what I did – buy gear! Not to worry, I’ll spare you an itemization of ALL my gear purchases. I will say that it was in contemplation of this trip that I purchased the Cooling Vest and Sidi Adventure 2 Gore-Tex riding boots I discussed in detail in Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (Blog #4). I also purchased a special purpose backpack for helmet transport. The only other essential piece of gear I’ll mention is the pStyle. I’m not going to go into any further detail (look it up!). All I’ll say is that with it, I was the envy of the women on the trip during road-side bio breaks!
DAY 1 – 4: TORONTO TO ZIMBABWE TO BOTSWANA
The day after I registered with Rene, I purchased my flights (Toronto to Victoria Falls and Cape Town to Toronto) using Aeroplan Points. Ethiopian Air had the lowest fees so I chose them and flew via Addis Ababa each direction. The 22-day Renedian trip was actually in two parts: two days in Zimbabwe and Botswana without motorcycles and then the remaining 20 days on motorcycles. I added four days onto the end of the trip during which I would spend time in Johannesburg and Cape Town. So in total, travel time included, my trip was exactly four-weeks long.
DAY 1 of my trip was September 23, 2017 when I left Toronto. In preparation for my trip I packed as lightly as I could (unfortunately, one item I decided to leave at home I would regret daily for almost a week – more on that poor decision in a future blog). Although most of my belongings were in one large bag, I had numerous “packing cubes” within the large bag so my items were compartmentalized for easy access. Also, I made sure that, in the event that large bag was lost, everything I needed to start the motorcycle trip I either wore or had as carry-on. So, I wore my boots and my motorcycle jacket on the flight. My helmet was in a carry-on backpack as was my cooling vest and gloves. I was ready to hit the road with Renedian with or without my luggage.
VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE
Seventeen hours after I left Toronto, I arrived in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Folks from the Renedian crew were at the airport to meet me, as planned. Highly coincidentally, Rene and I had flown from Addis Ababa to Victoria Falls together but hadn’t realized it. My first night, I was in a hotel I’d found on my own: The Kingdom at Victoria Falls. It was less pricey than the official tour hotel (which I would join the following day when our trip officially began) and it was walking distance from the Falls.
As you’ll see below, there were a number of indicators at my hotel letting me know I was no longer in Canada…
Since my hotel was walking distance to Victoria Falls,I had several opportunities to view the awesome Falls on my own. Then, on September 25, 2017, I made my way to our official starting point hotel, The Victoria Falls Hotel. The Victoria Falls Hotel is very much like the Fairmont Hotels in Canada: it’s a historic hotel with its origins connected to railway travel. Once I checked-in, I then met Rene and our full group for the first of what would be many group meetings over the coming weeks. After introductions and paperwork details (we all had to provide proof that we had medical insurance plus insurance that would evacuate us in the event of an accident) we headed to our first group lunch. As a quick aside regarding insurance, in the end I spent approx. $1000 in medical, evacuation and trip cancellation insurance. After that first lunch, we all headed over to Victoria Falls.
DAY 4 (September 26, 2017) of my travels was Day 2 of Renedian trip. That morning, I took a helicopter tour over the Falls with two others from our group.
Shortly after the three of us returned from the helicopter tour, the full group boarded what would be our “support van” the next three weeks and headed to Botswana. The support van is what made a significant difference between the trips I’d taken with my friends and this guided trip: it held all of our food and our luggage. So once we got our bikes, we wouldn’t need saddle bags, etc. to carry our belongings. We’d only need small tank bags to carry snacks, wallets and passports.
Entering Botswana was like entering a whole new world. Suddenly, there were fields with grazing elephants – I have no idea why there were no such scenes in Zimbabwe (at least not where we were). Believe me, it all felt rather surreal: four days prior I was at my front door in Toronto, Canada and now, after having witnessed the spectacular Victoria Falls, I was in Botswana driving past fields with grazing elephants! Truth is, that was really nothing compared to what I was about to experience in the coming weeks – starting with a sunset river cruise we’d take that very night.
Late that same afternoon, after settling in our hotel, we got back in the van and headed out for what I understood was a “dinner cruise”. I’m a great lover of water so I was game. Not knowing what we were about to experience, I was more excited about the fact that we were getting our motorcycles the next morning.
Our “dinner cruise” was actually a life-changing boat ride along the Chobe River in Chobe National Park. Such rides are timed to coincide with animals (primarily elephants and hippos) returning to the river for a final opportunity to drink and cool-off before sleeping. As you can imagine, I have approx. 1 million pics from the evening. While I’ll spare you from showing them all to you, even if I did, I would not be able to convey the awe and wonder of that evening. Below are just a few highlights from Chobe National Park:
On our trip back to the hotel that night, our van was buzzing. We were still awestruck over what we’d witnessed along the Chobe River and we were excited that we’d get our motorcycles the following morning. Then, our African Riding Adventure would truly begin! More on that next time I write…
4 thoughts on “African Adventure I: Zimbabwe & Botswana”
Your photos are stunning