No favors, no smooth travel. They often come in the most unexpected moments & from the most unexpected people. In the past they haven’t always been for free. In recent weeks they have most often been. True courtesy.
Redsell farm is in a rough area. Remote, rocky & with snowfall in the winter. People are tough & hardworking. I’m invited for dinner at the family table with Catherine & Chris, who run the Farm. They not only run the farm & the B&B, but also a small local internet service provider. As the farm is so far off civilization, they additionally do all the veterinary work, home-school their children & support a local community club. A lot to manage. But it’s all perfectly managed.
After a night in a comfy bed & a hearty breakfast, I get a glimpse of Chris’ collection of 5 KTM’s. Catherine does not want to charge me for my stay, but I insist. I very much appreciate the courtesy, but there is no way I’m going to live off such hard-working people. I leave one of the most beautiful areas & some of the best hosts I’ve ever had. Now it’s rocks & gravel to Lesotho.
It’s pouring rain. Thunder & lightning above the mountains as the Husky & I pull-up at the border post. Departure at the immigration desk is straight-forward. It is now, that I realize that there is no customs office at this border, as it is too small. The immigration officer tells me to talk to the police. I’m not too thrilled about the idea, the police in SA not having the best reputation. Worth a try though; the next border with customs office is 150km away.
Upon explaining that I need an exit stamp in my CdP, the police officer immediately makes a few calls to the customs department. I hear him insisting that he will not send me off another 150km through the rain to the next border. He’s determined to help. He gets permission to proceed, documents the procedure in my CdP & the police log-book, stamps & signs my CdP. Additionally he marks down the police station ID-code on my CdP & tells me to refer to that if I face any issues. Not only true courtesy, but probably the best public service I’ve ever experienced.
The Husky & I cruise across Tele-Bridge towards Lesotho. No visa payment required. The response to me showing the CdP is: “What’s this? We don’t need that”. ZAR 40 road tax & were waved into Lesotho, taking the thunder storm with us.
The lightning is coming closer. The Husky & I seek shelter under the roof of a deserted petrol station. We’re not alone. A gentleman working for the ministry of food security & a Rasta smoking an oddly shaped cigarette offer me interesting company. I receive my introduction to Lesotho & the storm passes.
It’s only after my after-ride beer that I discover that the Husky has lost part of her hip-joint on the way. The screw holding in the swing-arm bolt has vanished & the bolt has loosened itself. I get in touch with Eddy & Jan (@Eddy2Race). They say I mustn’t worry. Jan starts organizing a solution, while I find a builders screw (to install sinks) in the janitors workshop. Surprisingly the thread fits & we’re off to Maseru (capital city).
After pulling-into the parking lot at a builders-shop in Maseru, a white VW-bus pulls-up behind me. “Are you Rico?”. “Yes I am”. It’s Altus De Wet. Roof of Africa (biggest Hard Enduro race in Africa) co-organizer & former winner. Altus has the suitable screws for the Husky. True courtesy. Thank you Jan, thank you Altus.
Towards Bushmans-Pass on new tarmac. While taking a break, an elderly gentleman approaches me. Lempetje is his name, which translates to “Chamelon” from Sesotho (local language). While we’re chatting, a party bus stops behind us. I spend 30min helping intoxicated teenagers get onto the Husky. I shake hands with Lempetje & the Husky & I continue our ride into the heart of Lesotho.
We push-through to Katse-Dam. It starts raining again. In the evening at the bar I receive my Sesotho name: “Motalepula”. It means “coming with rain”. Rather true. Back home this wouldn’t make me too popular, but around here I’m highly welcomed. It hasn’t rained for a long time. Dams are low & farmers struggling. They’re happy to have Motalepula around.
Before leaving I get some local route advice. It all starts with some nice dirt tracks. Increasingly technical it gets by the meter. The Husky & I reach trails that would be fun on a light Enduro bike, but are challenging on 700cc bike with luggage (200kg). The risk of injury or damaging the Husky are reaching unreasonable levels.
Thinking of turning around, I stop to ask 2 lads how the trail is further on. They claim it will get better. It doesn’t. It gets worse. They probably didn’t know better. This is not the kind of trail one should ride solo.
We fight our way through. On a lighter bike the momentum would help, but at 200kg we have to take it step-by-step. The valleys between the climbs & descents are staggering & we stop from time-to-time. We make it another 30km to better tracks. We’re happy to be back to better tracks. Luckily neither the Husky nor I are injured. This was rough & I don’t believe I would have made it through on another bike in the Husky’s class.
We jump the last stretch up to Sani-Pass. Incredible how rewarding & smooth riding on tarmac can feel. The highest pub of Africa & probably the most expensive backpackers too. No rain but fog so thick it nearly resembles floating rain drops. Everything is wet & we tackle the stretch down Sani-Pass back to SA.
Infamous a 4×4 track it is. I’ve heard of it many times. Not nearly as challenging as expected, but wet, muddy & slippery. More downhill sledding than Enduro riding. The Husky & I slide down & re-enter SA.
I’ve strained my “Mitas E-07 + Dakar” rear tire off-road. It would probably last another 1’000km on tarmac. Not easy to find suitable tires in Mozambique or Zimbabwe though & the tire has become useless off-road with a low & chipped profile. Better to swap it now @ 4’000km.
I drop-in @ Alfie Cox’s (SA Dakar legend) KTM workshop around Durban. They immediately wash down the Husky & swap her tires for a Mitas E-13 (font) & Metzler Karoo (rear). A chat & we’re off towards Mozambique on the fast-track. It’s time for some time off & few of my motorcycle overlanding fellows are already enjoying the beach in Tofo, Mozambique. Time to catch up.
The Husky & I cruise through Eswatini (Swaziland) with a 1 night stopover. At the Mozambican border, I feel like I’m re-entering Africa. Bureaucracy, 50 USD visa, a passport valid >1/2y & a hotel booking required. A German couple in front of me is refused entry. The Husky & I have the required documents & glide into Mozambique, targeting Maputo (capital city).
Portuguese is now the official language. English is scarcely spoken. We fly up the last 480km to Tofo, smoothly passing numerous police check-points & speed-traps. Kinga (whom I had met in Kenya), as well as Martin & Xenia (Swiss couple on the road since nearly 3y on XT660’s) welcome me. Later in the evening Ueli (Swiss on the road for 3 weeks on a DR200) joins us after a breakdown. It’s 5 days off, just relaxing, talking motorbikes & motorcycle travel.
Time to get back into the saddle. Taking a break in Vilankulo, we ride over to Espungabera at the Zimbabwean border. This region, has been severely hit by cyclone Idai this March. The cyclone has hit the poorest & taken the little possessions they had. These people have lost their mud huts & camps of UN / Unicef /Red Cross tents along the dirt track are the norm. Heartbreaking to see. The more impressive that they still smile & are open for a laugh.
Knowing about the severe currency & fuel shortage in Zimbabwe, I plan on entering stocked with USD & the Husky fully fueled up. I have no Metical (currency in Mozambique) left & the ATM in Espungabera doesn’t work. The lad at the petrol station says he’ll accept USD at the official rate & exchange them later. I wish to give him some extra to compensate his efforts. He refuses to accept, saying he would like to do me a favor.
The officers at the Mozambican border couldn’t be more relaxed. No travelers around, Immigration & customs officers are sitting outside the hut under a tree, simply leaning back. They ask me to join & we chat for a while, having a few laughs sitting in the grass in the shade. We enter the hut & my passport & CdP are processed in parallel. Definitely the most mellow departure so far.
Only 3 nuns & myself at the Zimbabwean (ZIM) border. Again my passport (visa) & CdP are processed in parallel. 30 USD visa & 11 USD road tax payment & I get the gate-pass (confirmation by immigration & customs) to enter ZIM. Although I have the gate pass, the officer at the gate says that “special police” has requested to question me.
Two lads wearing sweat pants & slippers, somewhere in their 20’s, show up. One asks the questions. Never have I seen a kid with such a big head & such small off-standing ears. I believe I’m being questioned by Shrek. Having answered all the questions, it’s now my turn. I ask where I can get petrol, buy a SIM card, exchange currency etc.. Shrek is a bit baffled to be asked many questions himself, but readily provides me the needed information.
Directly after the border gate post, a new & perfect tarmac road immediately turns into a sand track. We stop to slightly lower the tire pressure. The nuns pull up in a Hilux & Shrek is sitting in the rear, hitching a ride. They ask if everything is alright. Shrek is very curious why I’ve stopped so shortly after the border, again asking questions. The driving nun wishes me the best & an enjoyable stay in ZIM. Closing the window she pulls away while special agent Shrek is still vividly questioning me. I laugh to myself.
As recommended I directly head to Chipinge to exchange some currency & buy a SIM card. Nobody wants to accept or exchange my USD. I’m sent on a goose hunt around town. I need some cash. Until mid 2019 the USD / EUR / BWP & ZAR have been the official currencies in ZIM. The ZIM-Dollar had been dropped in 2009, having experienced hyper-inflation of up to 250’000’000’000%. Now it is illegal to use/exchange foreign currencies & the new ZIM-Dollar must be used again. ATM’s don’t work for international cards. Visa is very scarcely accepted.
It’s highly confusing. Initially issued ZIM-Bond Notes, the new ZIM-Dollar, RTSG & EcoCash (Electronic Currency) are the currencies which are now being used. All the same but actually not the same. There is no official exchange rate (FX), although these currencies wouldn’t have the same FX. To keep it manageable, people treat them as more or less equal around here. The (black-) market exchange rate seems to be between 13-17 ZIM-Bonds / USD, although it should apparently be 22-27 ZIM-Bonds / USD. Nobody really knows.
I’m getting tired of this goose hunt. Everywhere I ask to exchange USD, people refuse subtly, replying with “Welcome to Zimbabwe”, accompanied with a gentle smile. I learn that there really is simply a shortage of hard currency (bank notes) in circulation. People cannot get a hold of money. At the 5th place, a young gent refuses to exchange, but I explain my situation. Heavy persuasion work convinces him.
The denominations are 2 & 5 ZIM-Bond notes. You can’t chose as there are hardly any around. I exchange 30 USD for 225 x 2 ZIM-Bond notes. Counting through the bundle, being closely observed by a wonderful old lady, smiling at me & portraying a gigantic tooth gap. I now have some cash, but only due to this friendly gents favor.
Step 2; buying a SIM-card. As there is no electricity, I’m lucky to have a passport copy on me. A relatively complex process, but the manager gets the job done quickly as a favor. I now have the SIM-card but no Airtime (budget / balance). Airtime vouchers seem to be scarce as well; nobody can sell me any, not even Econet (provider) itself. A friendly woman at the super market helps me & transfers some of her Airtime 1:1. Again courtesy.
We ride back towards Chako. I’ll spend the night in the Chirinda Rain Forest. 3km across a little track into the woods arriving at a small campsite surrounded by forest. David runs the place & is truly happy to see me. When registering in his guest book, I see that his last visitors have passed through >3 weeks ago. Difficult to understand why; what a lush green, peaceful & relaxing atmosphere.
David immediately heats up the donkey (term used for fire heated shower across Africa), lights me a fire & brings a big jerry can of water. He hands me a 30y old, ripped up book w/o cover about the Chirinda forest. He apologizes for not having a more current book, but insists I read it, clearly very proud of the rain forest he protects. No electricity, no WiFi, no cellular network. Just a fire, the book, absolute darkness, a spectacular view of the stars & a chirping in the background.
I decide to stay another night. Just too peaceful a place to already move on & David is very happy to have a guest. I’m paying 30 ZIM-Bonds (+/- 2 USD) a night. Scouting Chako to find some dinner is the plan for today. A steak would be nice. Additionally, I need to stock up on some more ZIM-Bonds to fuel up in remote areas.
Not an easy mission. Following my hike through the rain forest, I take a break in front of a butchery. Half the shops are closed-down & many just stock dried foods, rice, cookies & oil. However, this butchery is open, though there is no meat on display. The butcher maintains his style during difficult times, wearing a suit & tie with a butchers apron over it.
I’m told that this town hasn’t had any electricity for 5 days. Generators cannot be run because diesel is not readily available or too expensive. The butcher pulls out some unpacked beef out of a cooler which hasn’t been running for days. My appetite for beef has vanished, but I know of someone who would happily take some. David thanks me & instantly disappears into the bush to his family after I hand him a big piece of beef.
Still no access to cash or fuel around here. I must go to a larger town to sort this issue before moving on. The Husky & I ride back-tracks through the Chimanimani area to Mutare. The son of the family running the backpackers organizes an exchange & I pack another 450x ZIM-Bond notes into my backpack.
The Spar in town feels like a different world. Fully stocked with any product one may be looking for. Quite a few people ask if they could pay for me with their local card & I hand them cash. However, the manager has organized a Visa transaction for me as a favor. I buy some extra bread (prices have multiplied in recent months) & hand it to a few kids & their parents out on the street.
Now I’m waved passed a queue of at least 100 cars at the petrol station. Counting through >100 bank notes I fuel up the Husky. Ready to discover ZIM, humbled by the kindness of the Zimbabweans.
Nyamoro Dairy Farm around Tombo / Nyanga is the destination for today. Debbie runs the farm & I’ve heard that overlanders are welcomed to camp on her farm. No pitching the tent required though; Debbie insists I sleep in her guest room & cooks dinner while I take her Labies for a walk around the farm. A tidy little, picture book like farm with cattle & sheep it is.
One of those opportunities to learn from a local. In her 50’s, Debbie runs the farm she was born on. She’s gone through the times of the Rhodesian Bush War, white farm raids, expropriations & hyperinflation. Of +/- 4’500 commercial farms in the early 2000’s in Zimbabwe, 300 operate today. This is one of them. Debbie has many stories to tell. Her main motivation for still running the farm is to provide jobs for the local community; many of whom she has known for a long time. What an interesting, pleasant & strong person she is.
Debbie insists I don’t give anything, but I cannot except her courtesy. I know how difficult times are. The Husky & I head-off, richer in knowledge, moreover, richer of another incredible encounter.
No queue at the petrol station down the road in Troutbeck, as this one only accepts USD. One of these would have come in handy further down South. It’s only going to be around 70km today to Hidden Rocks campsite, just after Juliusdale. Emma & her 4 dogs welcome us.
This must be one of the most beautiful campsites. I’m upgraded to a little cottage. A much longer nights-sleep than planned. An extended morning coffee with exceptional views. Once more I learn from a local about Zimbabwe. Emma calls around to find petrol stations which have fuel. She absolutely refuses any payment & the Husky & I are off towards Harare. How courteous.
The petrol station has fuel, but the fuel pump is broken when I arrive. We make it through to Harare. Kumbi welcomes us at his families B&B. At dinner with Kumbi’s parents (engineer & accountant) we chat about the educational system in Zimbabwe. I have been curious about this, as it is known throughout Africa, that Zimbabwe has/had the best educational system in Africa. It’s also known that Zimbabweans are among the most hardworking & friendly. Many questions are still unanswered to me.
How can the apparently best educated, hardworking & friendly people of Africa be so badly off? The country is rich in resources & has highly fertile ground. Although I have a hunch, I need to get to get a better understanding of this.
Formerly having put the blame on white farmers, now the government is pointing it’s finger at US & EU sanctions. These sanctions are targeted against certain politicians & companies they are involved in. I do believe to observe that the majority of the population does not trust the governments’ claims anymore. Understandably so, the country is facing:
– One of its worst starvation periods (60% of population with food insecurity)
– 50-80% unemployment (depending on mode of measurement)
– Somewhere above 300% inflation (not published anymore since November)
– Sky rocketing food & fuel prices
All while some politicians live a life as luxurious as the wealthiest 1% globally.
Kumbi’s father organizes his local fuel dealer for me. Kumbi wakes me up in the morning. The fuel dealer has arrived earlier than expected in his Datsun baakie, the rear packed with jerry cans. Only USD accepted. I fuel up at USD 1.- per liter. A good price. Kumbi’s father has done me a favor.
The rear tire is at a low profile & chipped again. “Is it worth a try to change them in Harare before heading back out into the bush?” The Kawasaki dealer sends me to Les. Les has something that could be suitable, but wanting to find the best solution for me, makes a few calls around town & sends me to Blaze. Not a given that a motorcycle dealer selflessly sends you to another one to get a better solution.
I target the GPS coordinates & arrive at a gate w/o sign & naming on the bell. I ring & ask for Blaise. The gate opens & the Husky I cruise into a large estate. Enduros & MX-bikes rowed-up. I’m welcomed by Blaise & his brother. We walk across this former country club & I’m surprised to see that there is even a hair salon in this place. What surprises me even more is when we arrive at a container, stocked with all kinds of gear, spare parts & tires. The Husky gets a new Bridgestone Trail Wing tire while I’m drinking coffee with the gents & having interesting discussions. I’m only charged the price of the tire.
We head 100km out of town & camp for the night. More ZIM-bonds needed. The barkeeper organizes his black-market currency exchanger. Not perfectly legal, but I really have no other choice. Discretely we try to make the deal happen in the bar. Not easy to pile >400 bank notes into your backpack discretely.
A last fuel stop before we head back out into the bush. I chat much longer than planned for in front of “Pick n Pay” in Karoi. Off we go towards Binga @ Lake Kariba, though behind schedule. After 80km on tarmac & 220km on sand tracks, I come to realize that it will be tight to make it to Binga before dark. I decide to head towards Bumi. A bad decision. Actually, a really bad decision.
At first fluffy sand tracks; all feasible. The map material isn’t great around here. It’s not easy to find your way through this labyrinth of sand tracks. Probably a wrong turn. The next track starts fine. The moment there is no trace of anyone having passed through in recent months, I come to realize this may become sketchy. And it does.
Loose rocks, deep sand & some water crossings. It’s getting dark quickly. The Husky & I just rip through it. Tired, though determined to make it to Bumi before dark. At one point a ward hog runs along our side & I’m impressed by the chaps speed. He’s faster than we are on these windy sand tracks.
We make it to Bumi Hills Lodge shortly before dark. A vast estate. I kindly as if I could pitch my tent somewhere on this vast estate. In the middle of a wildlife park simply seeking some protection from the elephants & rhinos.
I’ve ripped up my luggage system & almost lost one of my bags. I fasten it back onto the Husky with some straps I’ve taken along. It has now been 380km, 300 off which on off-road tracks.
No courtesy whatsoever at Bumi Hills Lodge. They send us off into the dark bush. They’re fully booked & by principle don’t let anyone camp there. It was my mistake, but this type of mistake hasn’t happened to me in now >8 Months. Not very humane of this lodge. Doesn’t matter though. When traveling solo there’s no complaining or moaning. Only one way. Forward.
The Husky & I enter the dark. It’s unimaginably dark. No civilization around for 100’s of km. Narrow, windy, bumpy sand tracks with bush on both sides. Wildlife all around, though I mainly spot rabbits & antelopes.
I see a fire shimmering through the bush & we ride into a small clay hut settlement. It being a Saturday night, the men jump out onto the track & want to pull me into their circle of beer drinkers. I have to refuse & we blast back out into the pitch-dark.
A few (luckily) dry river beds. Jumping out of the bush we find a landing strip. A spot light in the distant horizon & a sign prohibiting any public traffic. This must be “Croc Farm”. My next try, 35km later. I’m now utterly exhausted. The Husky & I blast down the runway towards the spotlight.
The gent at the gate kindly asks me to not ignore the sign next time. I ask if there is any way I could camp on their compound. “Don’t worry brother” is the reply of this security. He gets me a chair & starts work. They need to receive security clearance for me. This is an actual crocodile farm with a lodge attached to it. I sit, waiting & chatting to the other securities covered in Tsetse flies. I couldn’t care less. There’s no question these lads will find a safe place to stay for the Husky & me.
I turns out the lodge is officially closed down until better times come. Nonetheless, I receive clearance, the chef is called in from home & we follow a tractor, packed with men wanting to help, to the lodge. They give me tea & prepare a place to stay. Asking if they should cook something for me, I thankfully decline, already snacking on my food reserves.
Godfrey (chef) says I look like I’d appreciate a beer & heads off on the tractor to organize a drink. Giving the lads a tip, they all at first hesitate & I have to insist. These men are courteous by nature.
The room is ready & only 200m to ride to it. I’m destroyed & the luggage ripped apart. The Husky is thumping like nothing has happened. She’s a beast. The most luxurious stay so far awaits us. An open cottage with views out onto the lake. A bed has never felt more comfortable. I’m served breakfast in the morning & head back to Croc Farm to settle the bill. The bill is a fraction of what the usual price would be.
Only +/- 200km on sand tracks to Binga today. We take the right track & head South along Lake Kariba. Corrugated & partially rocky tracks. A lot of vibration. My temporary luggage fix isn’t holding up very well & I lose most of my water. When stopping in a village & filling up some tap-water, the gent refuses any tip, though his shop is clearly not booming.
Camping in Binga, a thunder storm of dimensions & duration I’ve never seen comes up. I seek shelter in the local pub, patch up the luggage system & learn from the locals about Zimbabwean culture & their views on current developments. Apparently, according to Shona culture (local tribe) payment for favors is not expected in any way & only accepted upon insisting.
Only one petrol station in town. It has fuel, but as more common than not, there is no electricity to run the pump. I have no choice but to wait. One of the locals in the queue starts organizing some black market fuel for us. As the queue has dispersed, the lad in charge, however, fires up the generator to run the pump for a few minutes for me. Currently diesel is too expensive for it to be economical to run the pump.
My “Motalepula” alias has really been quite correct. It has rained so heavily all night & while I was packing up, that all my gear is soaked. I head back up to Vic Falls & book a backpackers to dry my gear.
I’ve always been slightly skeptical about the many stories of people finding objects in their tires. How does it happen? Well, arriving in Bulawayo I get an introduction to this phenomenon, finding a screw in my rear tire. How does it happen? I still don’t know. Second flat in almost 40’000km. Still a good track-record. Another good thing is that these Bridgestone tires are much easier to get off the rim then my usual Mitas.
I’m running low on USD reserves. Time to jump back over to SA. Traveling can be tiring in general. Traveling on a motorcycle can be even more tiring, especially off-road. However, permanently being concerned about getting money & fuel adds another level of complexity to it. I truly respect the people of Zimbabwe for what they fight their way through in an every day.
Surviving in the toughest of environments w/o moaning & while maintaining a good spirit. The strongest & most resilient people I’ve ever met. The people with next to nothing, though the most courteous I’ve ever met. I’ve never experienced anything like it & am not sure I ever will again. I wouldn’t have made it through Zimbabwe w/o its people’s courtesy. Zimbabwe has found a special place in my heart.