My Germany to South Africa Motorcycle Expedition 2011

motorcycle-kenyaIn 2011, I rode my motorcycle, a BMW R 1150 GS, from my hometown of Adelmannsfelden in Southwest Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. I was accompanied by my friends Marc (on a BMW R 1100 GS) and Cathleen (on a BMW F 650 GS), and my wife Khukie, with whom I shared my motorcycle. We left Adelmannsfelden on the 10th of May, and we reached Cape Town on the 7th of August. We covered a total of approximately 13,000 km, crossing through twelve countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. This is a photo/video report of our adventures along the way.

May 10, 2011 – Departure from Adelmannsfelden (from left to right: Cathleen, Marc, Rainer & Khukie):

Adelmannsfelden

May 10, 2011 – On the way from Adelmannsfelden (Germany) to the ferry port in Venice (Italy), via the Austrian Alps:

The Alps

May 11-14, 2011 – On the ferry from Venice (Italy) to Alexandria (Egypt), crossing the Mediterranean Sea:

Venice-Alexandria ferry

May 14/15, 2011 – Alexandria, and its famous El-Mursi Abul Abbas Mosque, dedicated to the 13th century Alexandrine Sufi saint el-Mursi Abul Abbas whose tomb it contains:

Alexandria

Alexandria mosque

May 15-19, 2011 – Giza/Cairo. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Sphinx of Giza, and the Al-Azhar Mosque in Islamic Cairo:

Giza pyramids

Sphinx

al-Azhar Mosque

The Al-Azhar Mosque was established in 972, and is now part of the second oldest continuously-run university in the world after University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco. Al-Azhar University is often regarded as Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university.

May 17, 2011 – The stepped Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, about 30 km south of Cairo, and some Egyptian hieroglyphs found in another pyramid nearby:

Saqqara 1

Saqqara 2

The Pyramid of Djoser was built during the 27th century BC for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser by Imhotep.

May 21, 2011 – Inside the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, Upper Egypt:

Luxor

May 21-30, 2011 – Aswan, one of the driest places on earth (average rainfall: 0.861 mm per year). We spent our first night there at a campsite in the desert. The cold of the night gave way to almost unbearable heat as soon as the first ray of light struck in the early morning.

Aswan desert campsite

We had to wait more than a week for our tickets for the Lake Nasser ferry from Aswan (Egypt) to Wadi Halfa (Sudan), so we had some time to explore Aswan. “Ich spreche Deutsch,” found at a market in Aswan, and a lonely boat on the Nile:

Aswan market

Nile boat

31 May-4 June, 2011 – After more than 18 hours on the ferry, we reached Wadi Halfa, a small, remote city on the shores of Lake‪ Nubia (as the Sudanese prefer to call their part of Lake Nasser) in northern Sudan‬. There, we had to wait for our motorcycles for five days, as they were transported on a separate ship. Ever since I visited Wadi Halfa, I have been dreaming of going back. Life in Wadi Halfa is slow, houses are simple yet incredibly beautiful, and people are friendly and open-hearted. Water and ‪desert‬ conspire to create a peaceful ambience for the weary soul.

June 5, 2011 – In the Nubian Desert, somewhere between Wadi Halfa and the Sudanese capital of Khartoum:

Sudanese desert

The temperature that day was significantly above 40 °C (104 °F). The road was in perfect shape; many an American government official would go green with envy! That, however, does not help much if you are “lucky” enough to hit the only stone on hundreds of kilometers of road. My front tire broke internally, resulting in a scary tire bulge. It took us about 2,000 km of (slow and careful) riding until we found a new tire, in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

June 5-7, 2011 – Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where the White Nile, flowing north from Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile, flowing west from Ethiopia, meet:

Khartoum 1

A new friend we met in Khartoum introduced us to Sudanese food. The national dish of Sudan is fūl, which is not only delicious but also suitable for vegans! Fūl is a dish of cooked fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, and optionally with chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and chili pepper.

June 8, 2011 – Al Qadarif, about 160 km away from the Ethiopian border at Metema. We were trying to find an affordable hotel, unsuccessfully, and the night was beginning to set in. We were about to give up and prepared ourselves to sleep on the ground outside a gas station when we met a local family. They invited us to spend the night with them. We accepted and they took us to their sparsely furnished home, two or three huts with walls made of mud. They prepared fūl for us. After food, they took us along to a wedding. Looking back, this was one of our most memorable nights in Africa. Before we left for Ethiopia the next morning, we offered some money, in an attempt to express our gratitude. They refused. If anybody knows this family, please send me a message. I would love to get in contact with them.

Sudan is still widely untainted by tourism and one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. Its people are incredibly friendly, warm, and generous, and their hospitality is truly humbling.

June 9, 2011 – Riding through the mountainous northwest of Ethiopia:

June 10, 2011 – Gondar, an Ethiopian city southwest of the Simien Mountains:

Simien Mountains

The fortress-city of Fasil Ghebbi, the remains of which are located in modern-day Gondar, was the residence of the Ethiopian emperor Fasilides and his successors in the 16th and 17th centuries. Surrounded by a 900-m-long wall, the city contains palaces, churches, monasteries, and unique public and private buildings marked by Hindu and Arab influences, subsequently transformed by the Baroque style brought to Gondar by the Jesuit missionaries. The city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Fasil Ghebbi

Right next to Fasil Ghebbi, we found Tekla Haimonot’s church:

Tekla Haimonot's church

June 12, 2011 – On the way from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa:

Blue Nile valley

The bridge in the background crosses the Blue Nile, which originates at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and is one of the two major tributaries of the Nile. 1,300 km earlier, in Khartoum, we saw it merging with the White Nile.

June 12-18, 2011 – Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia:

Ras Hotel

After a straining, yet rewarding 550 km ride from Bahir Dar, a ride we had to postpone once because of heavy rain, we finally reached Addis Ababa, where we stayed at the Ras Hotel, a landmark of downtown Addis. My front tire was in a really bad shape then, as I accidentally drove over a stone in northern Sudan, so we set out to find a new one. After hours of cruising through this buzzing city of three million, we finally found a small roadside garage, which happened to have an old tire that fit my motorcycle. However, despite finding a tire faster than we had expected, we ended up staying much longer than we had planned for, as Marc and I fell sick.

June 20, 2011 – Moyale, a town split into two parts by the Ethiopian-Kenyan border:

Moyale border

The larger portion of Moyale is located in Ethiopia, the smaller one in Kenya. The border posts’ purpose mainly seems to be to control the flow of vehicle-transported goods, as pedestrians constantly cross the border in both directions, without catching the interest of border police. Locals were moaning about a drought that was plaguing the region, and they warned us about ethnic conflicts that could make it dangerous to move in between towns without armed convoy protection in northern Kenya. Unfortunately, a combination of both factors led to clashes in Moyale earlier in 2011, leaving 18 people dead and forcing thousands to flee. It is sometimes hard to see, in particular for those of us who are used to having easy access to tap water, but water is probably our most precious resource.

June 21, 2011 – Crossing the border into Kenya:

Crossing the border into Kenya

June 22, 2011 – The Dide Galgalu Desert, somewhere on the road between Moyale and Marsabit in northern Kenya. Well, they call it a “road,” but it’s really just deep tracks left behind by trucks forcing their way through a seemingly infinite collection of stones and not much else. The 250 km from the Ethiopian-Kenyan border to Marsabit took us three days and certainly were the roughest and toughest part of our journey from Germany to South Africa. We started in Moyale together with a Norwegian film crew that we had met there. They were shooting a documentary for a TV channel in Norway, and they asked us if they may follow us with their cameras. It’s always good to have a car around in case of emergency, we thought, and so we agreed. And that’s how we ended up being part of a Norwegian TV show! The film crew, however, soon left us, and we were on our own again. The first 120 kilometers or so were okay and brought us to the village of Turbi, where we spend our first night in Kenya. But then the troubles began. The condition of the road worsened quickly, and at a certain point we were forced to walk our motorcycles. Imagine a big BMW motorcycle with two passengers and fully packed luggage bags, totaling almost half a ton. Then add the heat of the desert, and you will get an idea how exhausting this exercise was. At times, it would take us more than an hour just to move another kilometer forward. Then, when the physical strain became too much and our minds and bodies started to fail us, our motorcycles started plunging into the ground. It was only a matter of time until one of the motorcycles, my friend’s, gave up, and refused to drive any further. There we were, stranded in the middle of the desert. Luckily, a Kenyan government SUV came by after a while and took Khukie and me to the next village, Bubisa. Marc and Cathleen stayed with the motorcycles. We found somebody with an old truck who was kind enough to take our motorcycles and us to Marsabit. On the way there, we had to make a stop in Bubisa, where we spend our second night in Kenya. Everybody who knows Khukie will not be surprised that, even after such a long and exhausting day, she was able to find a kitchen, and the inspiration to cook for all of us.

June 23, 2011 – We finally reached Marsabit, where we stayed for a few days to rest and get the motorcycle fixed:

Marsabit

June 25, 2011 – On the road to Isiolo:

I think this was the day on which we first saw free-roaming elephants. Seeing these truly sublime creatures in their natural habitat is one of the things that will change your perception of the world forever, if only a little bit.

June 25, 2011 – Somewhere near Isiolo, Kenya, maybe in Merille:

Asphalt

After having spent about 400 km riding on gravel and sand, we were very happy to see asphalt again.

June 26, 2011 – Khukie and I standing on the equator in Nanyuki:

Nanyuki

June 29, 2011 – Riding through Nairobi:

Nairobi

While in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, we stayed at a place called Jungle Junction, run by German expat Chris Handschuh. Jungle Junction is a meeting point for overland travelers which includes a garage where Chris and his team repair and service motorcycles and other vehicles. It is a wonderful place to get to know like-minded people from all parts of the world, and to obtain valuable travel information.

June 30, 2011 – Kenyan-Tanzanian border in Namanga. It is here where we first met our now-friend Edward, and Rose, a lovely Maasai lady who gave Khukie a friendship ring:

Rose

July 1, 2011 – Ambulance jet from Moshi (Tanzania) to Nairobi (Kenya):

One of the photos shows snow on top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. How did we get there? That’s a long story: We had just crossed the Kenyan-Tanzanian border at Namanga and were riding southwards. We were about to pass the town limits of Longido when suddenly a car rolled onto the highway, disregarding our right of way. The driver saw us, probably panicked, and stopped his car, blocking the narrow highway in its entirety. I had no option but to slam on the brakes, but it was too late. We crashed into the car’s side, were thrown over the car, and hit the asphalt. Both Khukie and I passed out. When we regained consciousness, less-than-helpful police officers were there, and the default dozen of curious onlookers. Fortunately, two aid workers with a car came by, picked us up, and brought us to the next hospital, in Arusha. Khukie was dizzy and nauseous, and I was worried that her brain might be injured. As no X-ray equipment to check whether my worries were justified was available at the hospital in Arusha, we had to find another hospital. It was dark already, but I got lucky and found a cab which brought us to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, about 80 km east of Arusha. The doctor there took a X-ray of Khukie’s head and announced that she has a brain bleeding and needs to undergo surgery in Dar es Salaam. As Dar es Salaam is about 600 km away from Moshi, I asked the doctor how we can get there quickly. “There is a public bus that will leave for Dar es Salaam tomorrow morning.” Seeing the shock in my face, she adds: “Welcome to Africa!” At that point, I decided to call my German insurance company… Fast forward: Many hours later, early morning. An AMREF ambulance jet, arranged by the insurance company, picks us up, and brings us to Nairobi, where an ambulance is already waiting for us at the airport. At the hospital: MRI, X-ray, and a big relief! Nairobi Hospital’s Dr. David M. Silverstein found no brain bleeding and concluded that the X-ray taken in Tanzania was misinterpreted there. Khukie had a mild concussion and a few of her intervertebral discs were slightly deformed, resulting in a day at the hospital, and a week of physiotherapy.

The AMREF Flying Doctors are saving lives in East Africa every day. Please consider making a donation here. If you are a physician, you might be interested to volunteer.

While Khukie was still recovering from our accident near the Kenyan-Tanzanian border, I rented a truck and went to pick up my crashed motorcycle at the police station in Longido. This is what it looked like after the mechanics at Jungle Junction in Nairobi had started working on it:

Nairobi garage

Once Khukie felt better, we utilized our unplanned extra time in Kenya to go on safari.

July 12, 2011 – The Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

(“The Blind Men and the Elephant,” John Godfrey Saxe’s version of a Hindu fable)

July 13, 2011 – While we were on safari in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Park, we had the opportunity to visit a Maasai village. The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Maasai village

July 15, 2011 – Lake Nakuru in the rift valley of Kenya, which is known for its large number of flamingos:

The flamingos are attracted by the lake’s abundance of algae. “Nakuru” means “dust” or “dusty place” in the Maasai language.

July 16, 2011 – Crossing the border from Kenya into Tanzania, again:

Tanzania border

July 17, 2011 – The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha:

Arusha

The ICTR was established for the prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda between January 1, 1994 and December 31, 1994. During that period of time, an estimated 800,000 people were murdered in the East African state of Rwanda, in an ethnic clash between Tutsi and Hutu peoples. The international community watched the Rwandan Genocide unfold and failed to intervene.

July 17, 2011 – Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 meters above sea level:

Kilimanjaro 2

July 17, 2011 – Tanzanian US/Obama fan, somewhere on the road from Arusha to Chalinze:

Tanzania truck

July 18, 2011 – The kind of sign that makes you a little anxious when traveling on a motorcycle, found near Morogoro in Tanzania:

Mikumi National Park

July 20, 2011 – Karonga, and Lake Malawi:

One of the photos shows Khukie with our wonderful hosts during our first night in Malawi, at the Safari Lodge in Karonga. We arrived late in the evening and the guest house’s kitchen was already closed by then. Thankfully, Brenda (the lady on the right) found somebody who was willing to prepare a modest dinner: French fries with Nali Sauce (“Africa’s hottest peri-peri sauce”). The sauce is very popular in Malawi, and rightly so.

July 20, 2011 – Mzuzu, the capital of Malawi’s Northern Region:

Mzuzu

Upon entering ‪‎Mzuzu‬, we were confronted with a large group of people protesting against President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government. The main road was blocked and there was no getting through. A young student on a bicycle saw our predicament and asked us to follow him. He guided us through Mzuzu on small dirt roads, and thanks to him we made it to Kasungu in the evening of the same day, and were able to cross the border into ‪‎Zambia‬ the next morning. I wish I had taken down his address…

July 21, 2011 – The Mchinji border between Malawi and Zambia:

Zambia border

July 21, 2011, the day when I became a millionaire in Zambia – Chipata:

Zambia ATM

July 22, 2011 – A Zambian boy, Noah, with my motorcycle and part of his family, near the Luangwa Bridge:

Noah

July 26, 2011 – My friend Faith getting ready for her first motorcycle ride ever:

Faith

Her sons, both significantly more enthusiastic about motorcycles than their mother, would not take off our helmets until I gave each of them a ride around the neighborhood. Faith hosted us during our five-day stay in Zambia’s capital, and introduced us to Lusaka’s nightlife. She was a wonderful host, and we hope one day we can return the hospitality.

July 28, 2011 – The Victoria Falls, located on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe:

July 28, 2011 – Crossing the Zambezi River into Botswana, using the Kazungula ferry:

Zambia-Botswana border

Botswana border

July 28, 2011 – Riding through the Kalahari Basin in northeastern Botswana, where elephants and lions roam freely:

Kalahari

A concerned Botswanan offered to load our motorcycle into his pickup truck and take us to the next city. We declined, and we were lucky enough to meet an elephant on the highway and not to meet any lions.

July 28, 2011 – Botswana sunset:

Botswana sunset

July 30, 2011 – A pool table in Mahalapye (Botswana):

Mahalapye

July 30, 2011 – Crossing the Kopfontein border into South Africa:

South Africa border

August 1, 2011 – Reunion with Carla and her family after many years. When I was in high school, I took part in a study abroad program and spent four weeks at Hoërskool Wagpos in Brits. Then, it took me little more than twelve hours by airplane (and a short car drive) to get to Brits, compared to nearly three months by motorcycle. It was great to see Carla and her famliy again, and to meet Carla’s husband Phillip and their two children for the first time. Khukie and I also got a chance to visit a physics teacher-turned-farmer whom I remembered dearly, Mr. Visser.

August 2, 2011 – In front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria:

Union Buildings, Pretoria

August 3, 2011 – Khukie with our hosts in Pretoria, our dear friends Tonie and Leentjie:

Tonie & Leentjie, Pretoria

Tonie and Leentjie had just returned from a car trip to Egypt where we first met them on May 20, 2011.

August 4, 2011 – Khukie with our hosts in Johannesburg, Chalta and Taariq:

Chalta & Taariq, Johannesburg

August 4, 2011 – The 215-meter-deep Big Hole, a former diamond mine in Kimberley:

Big Hole, Kimberley

The Big Hole is claimed to be the largest hole excavated by hand in the world.

August 7, 2011, when we finally reached the ocean – Mossel Bay:

Mossel Bay, South Africa

August 8, 2011 – Cape Town (when you go visit Table Mountain, make sure to take warm clothes):

Cape Town 1

We have reached the final destination of our motorcycle trip, having crossed the entire continent of Africa – nine countries, three months. Here we are getting our motorcycles ready to be shipped back to Germany:

Cape Town

This is where I leave you, with a beautiful South African sunset, and – hopefully – a desire to visit Africa, the most diverse and beautiful continent of all.

South Africa sunset

For a more detailed report, please see this nine-part series:
Part 1: From Germany to South Africa: The journey begins
Part 2: A millennium of Islamic scholarship, and a revolution yet to be completed
Part 3: Stories of a time long gone, and Egyptian khichuri
Part 4: An oasis of hospitality in the searing heat of the Nubian Desert
Part 5: The Simien Mountains, and the first hijra in Islam
Part 6: Stranded in the Kenyan desert, and a visit to the land of the Maasai
Part 7: “Welcome to Africa!”
Part 8: Victoria Falls, and free-roaming lions in Botswana
Part 9: South Africa: The Rainbow Nation