A Quick Dash and Lazy Days

Next destination: Swaziland. First, one last night in South Africa before the border. We noted a campsite near where we expected to finish riding for the day (because wild camping with a motorbike in South Africa is difficult due to all the fences). The campsite was within a Game Reserve and usually motorbikes aren’t allowed. But we figured, what the hell, let’s go check it out.

Sure enough, the sign at the entrance to Ithala said no motorcycles… but the security guard, said to wait while he made a call. Next we know, a ranger in a bakkie has come along and we’re getting escorted to the campsite some 30minutes away. And on the way / way back we saw a Warthog, and lots of Giraffe, Zebra, Kudu, Springbok, and Buffalo. It was like our own private tour. The giraffe were especially close-up, startled by the noise of our engines, they set off at a lolloping run, necks waving out-of-sync with their legs, which somehow looked uncoordinated and elegant at the same time.

From there it was a short ride into Swaziland. Sadly, Swaziland was a little bit of a let down… it rained almost the entire time, which put paid to any hiking or tackling off-road routes. Sure, we could have persevered through the downpours, but riding wet (trying to avoid being struck by lightning) and camping soggy becomes rather miserable. Ok, so I admit it – I’m a fair-weather rider!

The weather cleared for a short hike in Swaziland
The weather cleared for a short hike in Swaziland

The forecast looked better further along our planned route, so we decided to give up on Swaziland and push on to fairer climes. We rode back into South Africa, up past the Blyde River Canyon and on to Hoedspruit where we stopped for a tour at the Endangered Wildlife centre. Baby rhinos, cheetahs and the African ‘painted’ wild dogs – up close. It was one cool visit. And then as we were riding off, a little tortoise scurried (yes, they can be pretty quick when they want) across the track.

Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
Cheetah at Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
Me, Mel, Andy, Jimmy and Rob
Me, Mel, Andy, Jimmy and Rob

This was as far as my planning had got. But it was getting late in the afternoon and we needed a place to camp. We headed to Hoedspruit town… but there was no campsite. Running out of options, we stopped at the Pick’n’Pay supermarket to pick up some dinner before reluctantly having to turn back up the road to a campsite we’d past earlier. And that was when 3 unusual suspects came wandering back to their car, taking just a little too much interest in our bikes. One way to deal with suspicious-looking strangers is to confront them with a friendly hello… To which the tallest of the three replied, ‘I know you!’ while looking directly at me. Er… I’m pretty sure you don’t, is what I was thinking. ‘You’re Helen,’ the tall one added. Oh bugger, maybe you do then… It turns out that Rob and I had met briefly (although long enough for me to flog him a copy of my new-at-the-time book) at the HUBB UK at Donnington a couple of years back. How the hell he remembered me I’ve no idea. But I’m glad he did. Rob introduced us to the others – Mel and Andy – and soon we had a place to stay for the night… and for only the third time in almost three months, we’d be sleeping in a bed.

Begging turtles
Begging turtles

Andy and Mel’s place is a beautiful thatch cottage overlooking their own small lake, home to several begging (for dog biscuits) turtles. A quiet piece of paradise in the bush. And we got to enjoy it (and their 3 friendly dogs) for a few nights. Since Andy is an expert when it comes to leather – he’s made anything and everything over the years, but now specialises in high quality belts and bags and other accessories, Jimmy spent the day in the Katundo Leatherworkshop making his own leather money pouch. Everyone thought he’d done rather a good job with it.

Jimmy in the workshop
Jimmy in the workshop

I think they were keen for us to stay on and put us to work. Sadly, because we’d have loved to stay longer, we had to flee South Africa before our visas expired – where did those 3 months disappear? And so we rode for Martin’s Drift, crossed into Botswana, and then spent the next week riding across the Kalahari (which is neither technically a desert or particularly hard riding on the smooth asphalt albeit empty highway) to Windhoek.

Trans-Kalahari Highway
Trans-Kalahari Highway

We’d have liked to tackle some dirt tracks, but when looking for one we were warned against it due to the number of lions in the area. And then Jimmy’s bike, which has had a steady drip of an oil leak ever since he bought it, decided to spew oil. The only thin replacement stuff we managed to source in Molepolole didn’t help ebb the flow. By the time we limped across the Namibian border, he’d gone through a whole extra litre.

A little oil leak
A little oil leak
Foot run over - post-pain-meds photo
Foot run over - post-pain-meds photo

Finally in Windhoek, the bikes had a good service, the oil leak was fixed and we chilled out while waiting for the verdict on our Angola visa application… we could have got out of town for a few days and gone hiking (which was the plan) but then some Namibian driver ran over Jimmy’s foot while we were riding two-up and waiting to cross a busy road. I did tell Jimmy that if he didn’t want to go hiking, he could have just said so rather than being so melodramatic and hiring a Namibian driver hit man.

Now, Jimmy almost never complains about pain, so when I saw his face I dreaded to think what his foot looked like. Fortunately the driver stopped and took Jimmy to hospital to get it checked out while I rode on behind. The x-ray came back showing just a little chip in one bone. Nothing too serious. And so for the next ten days we did little at the campsite while Jimmy hobbled around on crutches while I was beckoned to his every whim (thinking that he’ll be paying for this for a long time to come!).

Testing Jimmy's 'other' recovery medication
Testing Jimmy's 'other' recovery medication

The foot healed enough that Jimmy could ride his bike (with cord tied to the gear shifter as he still couldn’t use his foot) and so finally we escaped town (oh, and did I mention that we got our visas for Angola?).

And with that we headed for Swakopmund…

See here for the rest of the photos on my Flickr page…