Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chapter Two: Africa

The September 23rd flight to South Africa was nearly nine hours long and moved the clock five-hours ahead from Buenos Aires time. The temperature in Cape Town was a good 15-degrees warmer (85F), people drove on the wrong side of the road, preferred rugby to soccer and spoke English (to me anyway). It was all very different, very fast.

My bike had arrived the day before on a separate South African Airline flight. I was able to ship all my tools, spare parts and riding suit/helmet with the bike for a total of $1,780. I had to remove the windscreen, mirrors and front wheel to make the bike smaller. The battery had to be disconnected and tires flattened (so they would blow up, which is ridiculous) and gas tank empty. Custom officers asked me about what was in the luggage, but never actually looked at anything.

Cape Town is a stunning city, geographically laid out around its famous Table and Lion’s Head Mountains and the Atlantic shore. Everything you need is here, as South Africa appears to be very much be a first world country – depending on where you look. Politically, lines are still divided by the color of skin and the Ferrari and Bentley car dealerships are only a few miles away from sad and neglected townships. These shantytowns are jam-packed with shacks thrown together with corrugated metal and other found scrap material. This view of Cape Town is very much like a third world country. To say that there is no middle-class here is a huge under statement. The “haves” and the “have-nots” are oceans apart. Talking to locals and you sense a lot has changed since Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994 and the abolishment of apartheid, but it may take a couple more generations of healing and cooperation before South Africa’s beauty is more than just skin deep.

Regarding my travels, Chapter Two, as we can call it, looks something like this: I will travel from Cape Town to Istanbul, Turkey. If I make it that far, I will reassess my options on what is next. One option is to then travel east on the old trading route of the Silk Road with the goal of reaching Mongolia (Chapter 3). From there, if at all possible, I would venture up into Russia to meet up with the Siberian railway to catch a ride to the Pacific coast (Chapter 4). The final chapter would then be a short plane ride to Alaska and a ride down to Seattle where it all began. Or, another option is I get to Istanbul and decide I have had enough.

One thing is certain, if I have any chance of carrying through with the aforementioned plan, timing will be crucial. I am now two-months shy of the summer rainy season in Sub-Saharan Africa, where heat and malaria are at their highest. If I want to continue east from Turkey, it would have to be in the warmth of next spring, and I would then have only until to early September to get to Alaska before the weather make the route impassable, or at least very uncomfortable. What all this means is that I have got to pick up the pace!

Nothing is certain, but I feel fairly sure that I do not have another two years on the road left in me. In fact, I came very close to shipping the bike home from Argentina, rather than to Africa.

Back when I first arrived in Buenos Aires (July 12th), I felt like I had had enough. The 5,000-mile crossing of Brazil and Uruguay left me feeling flat and I felt like I wasn’t getting much out of the experience any more. Don’t get me wrong, the people of Brazil were some of the friendliest on the trip, and the city of Montevideo was a pleasant surprise, but I wasn’t really feeling the love from the road that I once had. In Buenos Aires, I was convinced I was going home and made preparations in that direction. However, with some time to recharge my batteries, I now feel good about continuing. The bike was gone through by Javier at Dakar Motos with parts shipped down from Seattle, and now is fixed and running great.

Just yesterday, I returned from a little two-day shakedown run to Cape Agulhas, the southern most point of the continent. Everything went well and in a couple of days will start my trip north, to Botswana.

That’s about it for Chapter Two page one.

Video of some of South Africa's notorious White Sharks

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