CHAPTER #6 – Bikers Without Frontiers
“TIA – THIS IS AFRICA.”
“I’M NOT AFRICAN BECAUSE I WAS BORN IN AFRICA BUT BECAUSE AFRICA WAS BORN IN ME.”
“AFRICA IS NOT FOR SISSIES.”
These are three well-known phrases about Africa. They fit perfectly into what our pilots feel for this continent.
“BWF – MARRERE MISSION”
Lisbon, 28 October 2021
Three Portuguese motorcyclists will travel to Nampula, in northern Mozambique.
The “BWF – Bikers Without Frontiers Association” is a non-profit humanitarian organization. He is supporting the General Hospital of Marrere in Nampula, has at this time a container loaded with hospital supplies on the way to the Port of Nacala to be delivered to that hospital.
Paulo Almeida – President of BWF; Rafael Paulino and Carlos Martins will travel by motorcycle from Cape Town to Nampula to deliver the container by hand. In this way, the many individuals and companies that have made donations will be sure that their gifts will reach the true recipients.
On the 12thof November, 2021 at 18:30: a symbolic match with the presence of the 3 motorcyclists will take place next to the Discoveries Standard in Belém.
The real match will be two days later at the Cape of Good Hope – South Africa.
It will be 13,000 kilometres.
“This was the Press Release sent to the newsrooms and it explains what this trip intended to be. The COVID factor as you can read further has conditioned our plans. The initial idea was to leave Lisbon with our bikes. The armed conflict in Ethiopia and later the coup d’état in Sudan made this path impossible. We then moved on to plan B which consisted of flying to Cape Town where we had 3 BMW GS 1250 waiting for us.”
On such a long bike trip in Africa, our riders have to go prepared for what might happen, which means taking a paraphernalia of items, tools, tire pump, tubes, in addition to all the camping gear, each took to his tent. This is a huge problem because the weight of the basement bag cannot exceed 23kg.
“We travelled from Lisbon to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Cape Town fully equipped with boots, trousers, jacket and helmet which is still hilarious, imagine three marmanjos equipped as if they were going to make the Dakar running through Sholchip airport so as not to miss the connection.”
Arriving at their destination, they have the great friend Uwe Schmidt waiting, best host is impossible. They are housed in a country house in Hout Bay, a beautiful place surrounded by greenery.
The Western Cape Province itself deserves a dedicated article. It is a vast region surrounded by mountains and sea. Its capital is Cape Town. In this province is the Cape of Good Hope and the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas where the waters of the Atlantic and the indico meet. It is also in this province that is the main wine-producing region of the country.
“It was precisely in the Cape of Good Hope that we “officially” started our journey through southern Africa to Nampula, northern Mozambique. Sunday our first and last day at cabo was intense, after we received the bikes we followed the Uwe in his GSA through the beautiful roads of the area, Table Mountain National Park, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Point, Simon’s Town, I know… All these places are dreamy to ride on a motorcycle. A beautiful lunch on the terrace of Fran’s Place in Simon’s Town also with the company of Matei – a Slovenian citizen of the World i met in Lisbon 10 years ago. Currently living in Cape Town. Speaking of “citizens of the world” our dinner table looked more like a meeting of the United Nations, 3 Portuguese, 1 South African, 1 Slovenian, 1 Brazilian, 1 Turkish. The owner of the restaurant was Madeiran. Travelling is this. Monday starts the week and also begins our trip. Five o’clock in the morning with the bikes loaded and attested we went to the road, the A7 also known as Cape – Namibia Road was waiting for us, not without first having to spend an hour and a half to get out of the urban area of Cabo. It was 780 km without much to count, stop for lunch in Springbok in Nando ́s a Portuguese chain of roast chicken and the first border crossed without problem, until the PCR test we had done in Lisbon was served. We were in Namibia, were it not for 44 degrees and it would have been a “walk in the park”.”
This fascinating country has in its territory two hot deserts – to the west and near the coast is the Namib Desert (considered the oldest in the world) shared with Angola and to the east we have the Kalahari Desert.The network of roads is catalogued by letters, A, B, C, D, E and F. Only 6% are paved, the A and the B, all the remaining ones that are the vast majority are earth, gravel and sand. It was precisely in a D that the only fall of the trip was recorded. Fortunately, with no serious consequences for either the rider and the bike, both after recovering from the crash they continued their journey.
“It is worth mentioning that the entire route from Cape Town to Namibia, Botswana to Zambia was already known to me, as it is exactly the one travelled by the Africa Tour of Motoxplorers company where I am a tour-guide. On this trip we chose not to have a rigid planning because the distances to be covered daily depended on several factors, the only certainty was the direction to take, where we would stay overnight was always a surprise, so even we took the trouble of transporting camping equipment, the premise was not to travel at night, if the time was not there accommodation or this was too expensive would enter the tent in action. I never considered the chance of covid’s time getting a completely crowded hotel, but it happened three times. The first of these was upon arrival in Namibia, tired, sweaty and eager for a cold beer we are faced with a response of “full booking”. The nearest lodge was 40 miles away. I asked the friendly receptionist who remembered me for having been there 2 years ago if we could camp, the vast majority of lodges have a place to camp (campsite) and the response was positive, it had been worth taking the tents, mattresses and sleeping bags. We saved money and were able to have a cold beer. Norotshama River Resort Camping 10 euros per person, under a thousand star sky on the banks of the Orange River, impeccable bathrooms, restaurant and bar at your disposal, it is case to say that there are evils that come for good. It was the only time we used the tents. We took four days in Namibia, very little because this country deserves much more. We visited Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world, and we had lunch at the Canon (Canyon) Roadhouse mandatory stop site for all overlanders. The décor of the restaurant and all the other space is absolutely fascinating referring the traveller to times past when travelling was truly a heroic act. From among hundreds of old licence plates lining the counter jumped in sight a Portuguese. No doubt a place not to be missed. Aus is a small town in the Namib Desert, during World War II there was a german prison camp captured by South African troops, today it is also known for the herds of wild horses, these animals resist the harsh conditions of the Namib, with little to eat and certainly to drink, along with the ostriches and the oryx are the fauna that we can find as we head to the beautiful Luderitz. On the way it is mandatory to visit the now ghost town of Kolmanskop.”
In April 1908, Zacharias Lewala, a railway worker between Luderitz and Aus No, found a shiny stone and showed it to his supervisor, who soon realized what kind of stone it was. He got a prospecting licence and then presented the stone for verification. State geologist Dr. Range confirmed it was a diamond, and within months the diamond race took place around the Kolmanskop site, 10 kilometres inland from the coastal town of Luderitz. There was born a town in the middle of the desert, but where nothing was missing.
They travel the few kilometres that have separated them from Luderitz and it is with pleasure that they glimpse the ocean, it is always pleasant to be by the sea. This coastal city has been part of an important fishing fleet, so lunch would have to originate in the salt water of the Atlantic. The Portuguese Fisherman as the name implies is the property of Mr. Joel, a nice Aveirense who settled there.
Even Keetmanshoop is approximately 340 km, stay overnight, not without first coming across the second hotel “full booking”.
Good roads with good asphalt, after all, were approaching the capital Windhoek. Stop at the Tropic of Capricorn for the picture of the praxe, will cross this line again in Mozambique.
In Namibia as well as in South Africa and Botswana there are rest areas from X-to-X km with tables, benches and most importantly, with shade.
“That’s where we made our meals, lunch and snack consisting of water, lots of water, fruit and biltong (come on, go to google and see what it is). When we arrived in the capital we stayed in the already well-known Roof of Africa, we got a “family room” that is like who says a room with a bed for the couple and bed for the kids, this was meant for the older, the double bed was for the young. This hotel has the great advantage of being 600 metres from Joe’s Beerhouse, perhaps the best-known restaurant in Windhoek, it is touristy, but also quite frequented by the locals which gives it some credibility. It stands out for the original décor and menu where we can taste almost all the wild fauna of Namibia, all kinds of antelopes, crocodiles and even larvae. It was a very lively dinner, next to us we had a German couple whom we took advantage of to “sell” the wonders of Portugal. The next day he was waiting for us for another border crossing.”
70% of its territory is part of the Kalahari Desert and 17% are National Parks, wildlife reserves.
If the border crossing to Namibia had been easy and quick entry into Botswana though equally easy it would not be so fast. It was 4 hours waiting for the result of the covid test done right there at the border post.
“We took a break and were also chatting with three nice ladies from the Herero tribe whose dresses are victorian-style, are made of linen, are heavy and cover the body from head to toe. Fortunately, the tests came and we were all negative, I can’t imagine what we would do if one of us was positive, it wasn’t even a topic of conversation. It’s always a feeling of relief when we ride the bike, hitch the first one and roll in a new country. I can’t explain it, but it’s a joy, it’s just like we passed an exam.”
Entering Botswana is entering a different Africa from South Africa and Namibia, the Kalahari Desert is breathtaking and surprising, just like the place where they were housed on the first night in this new country. Near the town of Ghanzi is thakadu bush camp which is right in the middle of the bush which is the English word for bush. Dinner overlooking a small lake where several antelopes kill the seed and sleep surrounded by the sounds of the bush; Wonderful experiences.
“The next morning was another experience that I am sure none of us will forget.”
Early morning and the Kalahari sun is already merciless. Two men and a woman receive the pilots with a smile. They are in a village, Bushman, a 20-minute walk from the guest house and an hour’s drive from the nearest town, Ghanzi, in western Botswana.
It is a village of the Basarwa Bushmen – Kalahari, the first inhabitants of Southern Africa who, however, do not take great advantage of this honour. The history of these people would give for a long prose.
“If in 10 years we visit this region they will probably no longer be lucky that we had to live with these wonderful people, their extinction is imminent.”
In Botswana the numerous National Parks, wildlife reserves have no fence, the possibility of on the road crossing with a herd of elephants, giraffes or zebras is huge and of course it happened several times. Riding a bike in the desert where the temperatures reach 40º is only tiring and exhausting, it was imposed a day of rest without a bike, of course the motivation for the stop was not tiredness, (who rides a motorcycle for taste does not tire), had to do a Safari, were in the right place, the city of Maun, 90 km from Moremi Game Reserve, the only Okavango Delta National Park. With 3,900 square kilometres, this reserve houses the most varied and rich African fauna and flora.
“It rained since we left our tents at audi camp at 5 am until we returned 12 hours later. Walking the trails of Moremi being the protagonist of a National Geographic documentary, you can almost hear the voice of Sir David Attenborough in depth. Being just a few feet from a huge elephant is anything indescribable. Our dear Botswana was going to be left behind, our destination was the Marrere General Hospital in Nampula and we were still a long way away. From Maun we went to Nata and then Kazane, many elephants and giraffes crossed paths with us, at a service station in Gweta, in fact the only one within a radius of 300 km we discovered a sticker of a great overlander traveller, the Kinga, we knew she was walking there, it would have been interesting to find her, but we stay by the sticker.”
They come to a place that may be unique in the world. The Zambezi River is a common border for 4 countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It would be less kilometres to go through Zimbabwe, but the economic and political crisis that has plagued this country for years has made pilots choose Zambia.
“We crossed the brand new Kazungula bridge and also came across a border post just opened, with the great advantage of the two countries sharing the same building thus making life easier for travellers. I will not be undermined by the description of the border procedures, but they were painful and for the first time we came across the much-talked about African corruption.”
Zambia, formerly Rhodesia, is another young country (independence in 1964) without the sea coast of southern Africa.
“It only took us four days in this new country. The first night was spent in Livingstone, this city was named after the English explorer who discovered victoria falls one of the 7 wonders of the world. It would be a crime to be there and not go visit the falls, of course we did and it was spectacular. We had the pleasure of walking the Victoria Falls Bridge, an engineering work inaugurated in 1905. The English had the dream of joining cape town by rail to Cairo, unfortunately the line was that way.”
Still stepped on Zimbabwean soil since the bridge is shared by the two countries. The borders are two yellow lines painted exactly in the middle. The spectacle that Mother Nature provides with all the water falling down the cliffs is a balm for the senses, there is no photograph or film that can replace the presence, the whole atmosphere that surrounds visitors is almost magical, a spray that is not compared neither rain nor humidity of the air, are the falls sticking to the bodies. And how to describe the sound? Impossible, physical visit is mandatory.
“A policeman in Zambia used to say, “You can walk all you want, we only have one thief, the Baboon monkey, Baboon.” Rafael can prove the veracity of the policeman’s statement, one of these primates that can reach 1.50m high with huge canines stole our bag of bread right under Rafa’s nose and even threatened him. Throughout the trip it was the only episode where we saw our security threatened.”
They had definitely left the desert landscapes behind; this was already an Africa of lush vegetation where the browns intersperse with the greens. Roads with good tar and always overlooking any mountain, a pleasure for the eyes.
Lots of roadside life, lots of fruit to be bought by the traveller and many traditional villages.
“As our experience on the Zambian border had not been very pleasant, we decided to avoid entry into Malawi, although this decision forced us to do more km because we would have to bypass this country, going south and then we returned north and we also knew that the road going from Katete, Zambia to Tete in Mozambique would be in very bad condition. We still took risks, but this time the risk did not pay off, we could not get seen at the border post of Cassacatiza, the machine that prints and registers the visas had broken, which forced us to return to Zambia and almost be forced to pay a new visa. This end of day between borders and return to Katete for the night was worthy of a film of adventures with sandstorms to mix and 65 km of a crater road made of dark night. For the third time we heard the expression “full booking”. How could at that end of the world a hotel be sold out, for more in Covid’s times? But he was and we had no choice but to look for another place to rest the skeleton that had been badly mistreated that day. We found a place to sleep, but that’s all, neither dinner nor breakfast the next day, a bed was no longer bad. We had dinner on what Rafael had in the “pantry” which was very little and we still shared with the guards of the resort who were even worse than us. Travel is also this.”
So that they would not have to go back and go to Lusaka to try to get a visa at the embassy, which would force them to travel 1,200 km more, they return to the initial plan that was to enter and cross Malawi.
The Border Post of Mchinji did not taste as bad as they imagined, they did the fastest Covid test ever and without having to pay for the urgency, it was only 6 hours of border quite quiet.
The landscape varies between plains, plateaus and mountains, all very green. In the south-west region where they passed east of the Valley of the Shire River, stands the massif of Mulanje with the peak Sapitwa which, with 3 002 metres of altitude, is the highest point in the country.
“Along the road we would stop here and there now to satisfy physiological needs (more Rafael) now to rest his tail and stretch his legs. As I was the one who was in front, I tried to always stop where there were people to have some interaction. We were always well treated and well received, with clear curiosity. After all, what were there making 3 bikes so large with 3 types dressed in equal, they called us twins. On our second and final day in Malawi I will find the fields planted with tea leaves, losing sight of an almost idyllic landscape surrounded by mountains and with a climate reminiscent of the country’s tea of 5. With little rain, fog and some cold we arrived in our destination country.”
“Our passage through the Crossing Post of Melosa was not easy, remember the beginning of this article? T.I.A. (this is africa) and africa is Not for Sissies (Africa is not for boys), as it is true. On this border to enter Mozambique were “only” 8 hours. It wasn’t covid’s fault or corruption, none of it. The fault was a storm that broke down the computer hardware that emits and registers visas, yes as in the other post of Cassacatiza. But this time going back was no option. At our insistence and (true) threat to camp outside the Post, the Immigration Officer did everything he could to get us to issue our visas. It was 8 hours in which a technician called emergency from the nearby town Milange did everything to repair the machine. The Post closes the doors by 6pm and we leave there after 8pm. I leave here our sincere thanks to the authorities of the Melosa Post for their professionalism and friendliness. They still escorted us to the accommodation in Milange.”
The emotion of being on Mozambican soil and being able to speak your language was immense. They were getting closer and closer to the goal, the reason for this trip.
Any Portuguese travel experience in Mozambique feels at home, if you are travelling by motorcycle even more, in such a way is received and caressed by Mozambican motorcyclists. That’s what happened to them, both the Northern Bikers and Chimoio’s CHORC are excellent hosts.
“If you search Mozambique on google you will find photos with landscapes to make you dream, because that’s right. The Island of Mozambique classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is a small island connected to the mainland by a 3 km bridge. There we feel a strong presence of the Portuguese, walking through its streets and squares is time travel. Vasco da Gama landed on the island in 1498 and since then it has become an important trading post on the route between Europe, Africa and Asia. Its turquoise waters invite you to dive in them, there we were only drinking history and some 2M, the local beer.”
Marrere General Hospital
“On a very hot day, we saw the majestic façade of this maternity hospital.”
Access to the hospital is made by a dirt road that was under construction, were by the worst of alternatives, a lot of sand, a lot of sweat, but finally arrived.
They had waiting for him Dr. Falamica, former director of the hospital and main interlocutor and also Jorge Toureiro a Portuguese based in Nampula and who together with his wife Manuela gave them a formidable support, he will be the representative of the BWF in Nampula.
“Paulo and Rafael were overwhelmed by emotion in a mixture of bitter and sweet, sweet because we were finally there, bitter because our container had not arrived as expected, it was Covid and the chaos in shipping spoiling our plans and desires. It will come second to us in the middle of January, but it will arrive and there we will have our Jorge to receive him for us.”
After a visit to the Nampula Railway Club and a fabulous dinner offered by the Motards friends of the North and a good night’s sleep at Jorge’s house it was time to head south.
From Nampula to Maputo it is 2,040 km, who has to travel between these two cities does so by plane, only the trucks and buses travel it because they are obliged. There are around 700 km that are unsuitable for heart, it was an area that was at war not long ago and that has not been the target of any maintenance for many years, craters where a car or a motorcycle fits, more holes than a Swiss cheese.
“We did these 2,040 km in 4 days: Nampula – Caia 685 km, Caia – Vilanculos 678 km, Vilanculos – Tofo 320 km and finally Tofo – Maputo 500 km. Near Caia we were housed in a place that was suggested to us by Jorge Bullfighter, in the middle of the jungle surrounded by nature, the M ́Phingwe Lodge where the shower water is heated to firewood, a delight of place belonging to a lady from Zimbabwe who settled there and created that true paradise for nature lovers, hiking and wildlife watching especially birds and butterflies.”
These 4 days were spent riding only with the necessary stops to fuel the bikes and stomachs. They made a point of staying in Vilanculos because in addition to being a wonderful place with beautiful beaches, they had been invited to stay overnight by Elsa; she and her husband own lemon beach lodge, a landmark in Vilanculos.
Then it was Tofo, well Tofo is the Tofo who likes the beach and the sea is there that has to go.
“We will retain the oysters we ate at the end of the day and the conversations with an Angolan and two Germans, one of them a diving instructor, the rice with crab was not bad either. Being relaxed at sunset looking at that sea and thinking how privileged we are to be there at that moment is something very good. Traveling is this.”
From Tofo to Maputo are 500 km of impeccable roads, drinking coconut water by the roadside and not being local paid 50 meticais for each coconut instead of 30. 0.70 euros instead of 0.40 and the seller said that with the 3 coconuts had completed the sale of the day, 10 coconuts and could go home, we are talking about 5 euros, enough to buy rice and maybe a dried fish, tomorrow we will soon see.
“At the beginning of the article and if you remember Correctly, I wrote that the Covid factor would condition us the plans, because it is first was the huge delay in the arrival of the container and then it was the variant Omicron, damn Covid and what strange times these we are living. Flights to and from southern Africa have been cancelled. What I meant was that our flight from Cape Town to Paris and then to Lisbon was compromised, we were only left to get a repatriation flight and it would have to be from Maputo and that meant that the journey would have to end in the capital of Mozambique.”
Once the transport of the bikes to South Africa was resolved, there was nothing left but to settle for the end of the trip.
In Maputo once again they were treated in a way that they will hardly forget, Rui Vaz, António Lorvão there are no words to thank the friendship.
They finish the trip in front of Maputo Railway Station, a beautiful building.
“Maputo that I did not know surprised me by the positive, the city of acacia, wide avenues, and terraces a fabulous marginal. I want to go back, it’s a city where I’d live with pleasure. I could still be with a former colleague João Peixoto who he had not seen since 1997, he also lived in that land and lives and works there. We had our last dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in town, the Piripiri where roast chicken is king. At our table was also my friend Francisco Botelho who for professional reasons was also in Maputo and who helped us a lot on the return flight to Lisbon.”
They leave Maputo on a rainy Monday, but it’s tropical rain, soon it will pass…
“What is not the case is the willingness to thank those who supported us in this adventure: NEXX Helmets, Moto Ponto, BMW Motorrad Portugal, BMW Motorrad South Africa, BP Portugal. OBRIGADO!”
TESTIMONY / PHOTOGRAPHY / VIDEO
BWF – Bikers Without Frontiers Association