Before the start of my journey across Africa, many people advised me that it was not safe for a woman to ride alone across this continent. Some even suggested that I should fly directly from South America to Morocco, whereby “technically” I still would have visited the African continent!
While I appreciate their concern for my safety, I am riding across the world for my own satisfaction and sense of accomplishment and I have always wanted to experience the ‘true’ Africa. Once I got back from Antarctica, I rode my bike to Buenos Aires and flew my bike to Cape Town in South Africa. As soon as I landed in Cape Town, I headed to the BMW showroom to receive Nutella and the ride in my 6th continent started immediately.
Before I landed in South Africa, I learned that the country was going through a severe dry spell and Cape Town had already declared a situation of drought. I imagined myself running around and begging for water to drink. I imagined there would not enough water to take a shower for weeks. Based on the news we read and people we talk to, we build up scenarios in our head even before we experience anything. That is the Power of Imagination. However more often than not, in reality, the situation turns out quite different and this happened in Cape Town too.
As soon as I sat on my bike to start my ride, it started to rain and these rain clouds would accompany me for most of my ride across Africa. A useful learning as a result of my ride is to stop building imaginary scenarios and making pre-judgements. I have learned to make my own opinions by experiencing reality.
In South Africa, I stayed with a friend. It was a wonderful start to my Africa experience. I lay down my paper map and diligently plotted my route. Although I was excited, there were so many questions and worries running around in my head. But my willpower and my positive experiences of a beautiful world filled with beautiful people, gave me the confidence that all would turn out well.
BMW Cape Town connected me to Uwe, a very experienced biker who had travelled to the remotest places in Africa. He was a great help in finalising my route, ensuring that I saw many beautiful places along the way. From Cape Town, I rode to the southern-most tip of Africa – Cape Agulhas. I then proceeded to Lesotho, a tiny country that is landlocked by South Africa, before heading to Botswana. Rain, my best friend, did not spare me even for a single day.
Through my ride, I have never booked any hostel in advance. I rarely read up about places ahead of time, as I want to make sure that my experience is based on what I see and what I feel. This definitely adds spice to my adventure, but it does not always go the way it is supposed to! I was riding the entire day, making my way from Nata to Kasane, and I was on still the road from when it grew dark. I had to find a safe spot to pitch my tent for the night. There were no streetlights and after the sun had set, the number of cars on the road drastically reduced to almost none! Due to the incessant rain, the road had developed multiple big and deep potholes. It felt like riding back in India!
It was as if destiny felt that I needed some interesting stories and even more adrenaline in my veins. I hit a very bad pothole and immediately heard a hissing sound. I knew what had just happened. I somehow managed to guide the bike to a firm stop without falling. And there in the headlights was a board ahead of me that read, ‘Do Not Stop. Wild Animal Crossing’. It suddenly made absolute sense to me why there was no one on the road after dark!
I jumped back onto my bike. I had to find a safe spot for the night! It was unbelievably tough to ride my bike without the full use of the front wheel and could feel the strain in my muscles with every passing minute. After riding almost 70km, I finally reached the nearest town, where I could make a stop. I will never forget that night…
I got off the bike and looked at the condition of the rim. A billion negative thoughts entered my head. But I was sure that considering I had overcome so many obstacles before and had reached this far, this crisis too would pass. The first thing the next morning, I connected with BMW and was dismayed to learn that the damage could be repaired in 20-30 days and would cost close to € 2000! Too long a duration and definitely too expensive! I was sure that I was not the only one who hit potholes when riding on the roads of Africa. What did the locals do when something like this happened?
I started enquiring around for a mechanic who could repair bike rims. I got in touch with several bikers in Botswana and finally found a reliable mechanic who specialised in rims… 250km behind on the route I had just travelled! I did not want to dismantle the wheel, so the only option was to take the bike there. I found a mini-bus and convinced him to remove his seats – to make space for Nutella and me. It sure was a hard job as Nutella was much bigger than the mini-bus. But we managed to get most of her into the bus and used ropes to secure her.
I reached the mechanic and looked around his workshop. I saw bike rims that were sawn in half. The bend in my wheel rim seemed really tiny in comparison to the other seriously damaged rims he was busy fixing. 20 minutes later my rim was fixed and fitted back on my bike (all for US $60) and I had the biggest smile on my face.
It was already around 7pm and the rain was coming down in sheets. I did not want to take a risk and ride the same road again that night. I had definitely learned my lesson! I enquired about a safe place to stay and the mechanic kindly offered me sleeping arrangements at his house – and his entire family was looking forward to meeting me! I had a wonderful dinner, slept well and was fresh the next morning to continue my journey.
My ride through Africa seemed punctuated with breakdowns – some minor, some major. One night my bike chain slipped off just in front of a police station and with the help of the officers there, I got it back on and managed to ride 400km to the KTM showroom. There they located another BMW rider who agreed to give me his bike chain, in exchange for a new one that I ordered for him!
The next major breakdown was in Tanzania, just before the Kenya border. This prompted an emergency meeting between Michael, BMW Kenya, BMW India, BMW South Africa and BMW Germany. The final outcome was that a spare part had to be sent to me from Germany, to enable me to continue my ride!
There was nothing that I could do but wait patiently until Nutella’s spare parts arrived into Nairobi. In the interim, I received an invitation from Air Kenya to fly me to Masai Mara, where I stayed at the lovely ‘Beyond Kichwa Tembo Resort’ for three wonderful days. Thanks Cheryl, for your generosity and assistance. Africa has been different and interesting, colourful and crazy – all at the same time. Every single day in Africa has a unique story to tell. The wildlife is truly one-of-a-kind, the natural beauty is unbelievable and the locals are amongst the kindest I have met through my journey. Africa will definitely feature as a major chapter, with all its intricate details in my upcoming book.
The parts finally arrived and my bike got ready to continue my journey. After riding across 9 countries in Africa, it is time for me to enter my 7th and final continent – Europe!
Check out Marals previous blogs here.