ON SEPTEMBER 27, 2017 we finally got our bikes! I’m an early riser, but I waited until a respectable 6:00AM to go out and see my bike (our names were on stickers on our front windshields). When I got out to the bike, three other group members were already there! That was particularly great because one of the group snapped the below pic of me first connecting with my mode of transport for the following three weeks – a BMW 750 GS.
We got started on our journey at around 8:00AM. That would pretty much be the case for the remainder of our trip. Another thing set in place that day for the remainder of our trip was our rider order. Rene made me Rider #2 (of 13), placing me immediately after him as the lead. I have no idea why he put me there but, as I’ll explain in future posts, I’m extremely glad he did! At the time of the trip, I’d only been riding a motorcycle for four years. In the coming weeks, every moment of riding experience I’d acquired would be put to the test.
I’ll take this moment to describe our group composition. There were 13 tourers plus two guides: Rene who led the group and Piet who “tailed” the group. In addition, Roger drove the support van. Of the 13 tourers, 11 of us were Canadian: three of us were from Ontario; three were from Alberta; and five were from British Columbia. The two non-Canadians were Americans from Washington state. Of the 13, six were females (one was a teenaged girl). The five women all rode our own bikes; the teenager either rode on the back of her father’s bike or rode in the support van. Of the 13, nine were coupled or in a family; four of us had come alone. I’ll also add that I was the sole LGBT identified person and the sole racialized person in our trip.
That first morning, we essentially loaded our gear onto the support van, put a few items in our tank bags, received our keys, mounted our bikes and headed out in our pre-assigned riding order. We didn’t really get a moment to familiarize ourselves with our bikes. Although my own bike in Toronto was a BMW, there’s a huge difference between the BMW R nineT I had and the BMW 750 GS that was included in the trip. My bike is a street bike (a roadster) meant for riding on pavement. The 750 GS is an adventure bike, capable of off-roading. As a result, in addition to having very different tires, the geometry, riding position, handle bars – almost everything – is different than my bike.
So, as I was riding behind Rene that first morning, I was figuring out the bike while trying to figure out where I was in the world. Even though it was early morning, it was probably already close to 27 Celsius (80 Fahrenheit). Unfortunately, as I was trying to stay upright on a foreign bike in a foreign country and fiddling with the controls, I managed to turn-on the handle-grip heaters. And, for the life of myself, I could not figure out how to turn them off. Since I was in a group, I couldn’t simply pull-over to sort myself out. Consequently, for much of the first hour of my motorcycling in Africa, it felt like my hands were on fire!
One other thing to remember about riding in Africa: we were riding on the opposite side of the road to which we all were accustomed! The entire continent is like the United Kingdom: they drive on the left side of the road. Thankfully, being in a group and following someone really helped me get oriented fairly quickly. It likely would have been tougher in a car (with the steering wheel on the opposite side). On a bike, I just had to follow Rene.
Each phase of our trip had its own set of particular challenges. In Botswana, it was the pot holes. Rene warned us about the potholes. advising we avoid them as we could damage our rims (approx. $600 CAD to repair) if we didn’t. Still, I really couldn’t imagine them until I experienced them. In some cases we had to “slalom” between them.
On our first day, I miscalculated the size of a hole (remember, we’re riding 100 kms/hr), opted to go around it on the “shoulder side”, and ended-up riding on the very sandy, angled and uneven shoulder. It took me about 75 metres to make my way safely back up to the road. I don’t know how long I was on the shoulder but it felt like a lifetime! Remember: I ditched my bike in California on a sandy patch. The whole time I was terrifiedly navigating my way along the the shoulder, I just kept repeatedly telling myself “You just got to Africa, Meade, there’s NO WAY you’re ditching this bike!” When we stopped for our next break, the other riders talked about how impressed they were that I stayed upright (as rider #2, the other 13 riders could see everything I did). They’ll never know how impressed I was at myself that I stayed upright…
After a full day of riding, we arrived at our accommodations in Tutume. The below pics are of my chalet (inside and out) and the dining area. Our accommodations were fairly consistently amazing throughout our three-week trip. (with just a couple of exceptions). These pics are a good representation of our calibre of accommodations; as you can see, we were by no means “roughing-it”…
THE OKAVANGO DELTA
The following morning we headed to Maun where we would check-in to our hotel, park our bikes, leave our belongings and catch a chartered flight into the Okavango Delta (Moremi Wildlife Reserve) for an overnight safari experience.
Once we landed at Moremi National Reserve, it was immediately obvious that this was going to be incredible. We were met at the plane by our guide and made our way into the park. We took a moment to get settletd in our pre-pitched, pre-assigned tents and then headed out for a pre-dinner viewing. That afternoon we saw elephants, mating lions (September is their spring), leopards, and lots of ungulates and beautiful birds.
That evening we had dinner followed by a bonfire. Going to bed we were warned against late night toilet trips as lions and other animals prowl through the night (true story!). The next day, we saw zebras, lots of ungulates, lions and giraffes. There in the natural habitat (versus in a zoo) the food chain was extremely clear: almost every other animal was alert and ready to flee on a second’s notice except the elephants (who just lumbered around) and the lions (who laid around). All other animals were worried about them – particularly the lions.
Late Afternoon Run
Our Camp Site
Our group returned to Maun via two open jeeps; the chartered plane was only one way. I somehow ended up riding “shot gun” beside the driver/guide while everyone else was in the back of the jeep. I’m so glad I did! Not only was it much more comfortable but also, more importantly, I learned A LOT about the people of Botswana from him. It was a much richer “education” than I’d ever get reading a guide book.
We returned to Maun in time for dinner. At that group dinner, Rene had us vote as a group about how to proceed regarding the features and sights that awaited us the remainder of the trip: did we want him to tell us each evening in detail what we would experience the following day or did we want him to “surprise and delight” us. We wisely voted to be surprised and delighted. That’s actually an understatement in describing what we experienced the following weeks.
THE KALAHARI DESSERT
The next day we left Maun and headed to Ghanzi in the Kalahari Desert. As had become customary, we stopped for a break every hour or 100kms. One of the many awesome things about having a support van was it kept ice cold water for us. Botswana was very hot; bringing my cooling vest was one of my smartest items! Making our way into the desert was both hot and dry (as you can imagine). The van also held the food. Our driver made and served our lunches at road-side rest areas along the way.
Along the way to Ghanzi, we hit our first of several foot-washing stations of our trip. These are to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. We eventually made it to our hotel: the Kalahari Arms Hotel. The grounds were beautiful. We stayed in round, yurt-like chalets. The next day, we left Ghanzi and headed into Namibia. Along the way, when we stopped for gas, some local gals engaged with me and, in the end, three or four of them ended-up taking pics on my bike! Because of this and other such exchanges, I was given the nickname “The Ambassador” amongst our group. I’d love to think it was my natural charm and charisma that attracted local people to me. However, I think it’s obvious why, looking at our group, local folks would gravitate to me over the others…
Our entry into Namibia was not a smooth one. For some reason I don’t recall, we got out of our riding order. So, as you can see in the pic above, atypically, there was someone in between Rene and myself. It just so happened that this individual was from British Columbia (BC) and their Driver’s Licences were less explicit than other provinces re: the authority to ride a motorcycle. Also atypically, Rene left our scene immediately after he made it through – I think he went on ahead to prepare those at the second stage of our entry (it was a two-step border crossing for us) for our arrival.
As soon as Rene left, the border guard turned his attention to the BC resident (seen in the pic above). He did not like her driver’s license. He used his walkie-talkie and said something to someone. Another official stepped-out. He started processing others (like me as I was next in line) while the first official held-up the BC resident. Her husband was just a few people behind me; he and three others were from BC. Once through, I rode as quickly as I could to where I saw Rene enter. I ran-in and got him. He went out and the two of us ran back to the border-crossing. By the time we got back there, Piet (the second leader who is originally from South Africa) had pretty much smoothed everything over. But, it was still very tense. Eventually, everyone made it across.
That Namibia border-crossing was a great reminder that the animals and scenery weren’t the only things that were different from Canada! In leaving Botswana, our animal watching experiences were at an end. However, there was much ahead in the remaining two weeks to “surprise and delight” us!
One thought on “African Adventure II: Botswana”