May 21, 2017—Africa was some of the best yet hardest travelling we’ve encountered so far on our trip. Sometimes it was impossible to love. Other times, we couldn’t believe the beauty we were seeing and feeling. But on April 27, our time for this exciting, crazy, hot, scary, bustling, frustrating continent, was up. We wanted to visit a lot of places in Europe before positioning ourselves for Russia and its very short riding season. That meant flying our bikes out of Nairobi, Kenya, which is where things got all African-y.
But first, some facts and stats about our time riding through the continent:
12,104 km (7,521 mi)
178 hours and 1 minute, actual riding time
9 countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya
$1,300 CAN ($1,000 USD) approx. in visas, carbon/road taxes and mandatory insurance
$60 CAN ($45 USD) in speeding tickets
$0 in bribes
1 new front tire for Dave
1 new chain and sprocket for Heather
0 sick days
56 doses of Malaria pills (we recommend Malanil/Malarone—no side effects!)
42°C (108°F) hottest day riding, Namibia
3 flats, all Heather’s front tire
Best Experience: climbing Kilimanjaro, getting engaged
Worst Experience: arranging the shipment of our bikes from Nairobi, Kenya to Glasgow, Scotland.
At first, we hoped to fly from Kenya to Morocco, Spain or Portugal but in the end we settled on the U.K. It was cheaper and we were planning to ride to Scotland anyway. Both Dave and I have two very good friends we wanted to visit in the U.K. Andy is living in Edinburgh with his wife Rachel and their 10-year-old son, Francis. He and Dave had worked together at Marmot in the U.S over 15 years ago and in 2000, had climbed Denail together.
My friend Jenny lives in Penrith. She and her husband Martin had had two kids, Lewis, 7 and Isla, 9, since I’d last seen them 10 years ago. Jenny and I used to work together at The Alpine Club of Canada in Canmore, Alberta, 22 years ago and we developed our abs laughing for hours on end about things we made up and thought were really clever.
Dave and I booked a passenger flight to Glasgow, Scotland for Thursday, Apr. 27. The bikes would fly separately as Dangerous Goods. In all three cases of air freighting our bikes over the past year and a half, the bikes arrived a day or two later than us. We had always had a good experience with flying the bikes, but this, our fourth time, would prove to be tremendously aggravating.
Many things added to the two-week gong show, during which time we had no idea if we’d ever see our bikes again, but mostly it was just a colossal lack of communication on the part of Renex Logistics based in Mombasa, Kenya—a company who apparently had in fact shipped bikes before but, A) didn’t have a warehouse or facility to crate the bikes and, B) staged everything out of a café in an industrial part of Nairobi.
Although it was a process that likely shaved a year or two off the lives of Dave and myself, it would be boring for you to read about every last detail so I’ll just offer the ‘highlights.’
– 36 hours before our passenger flight to Glasgow from Nairobi the bikes still hadn’t been crated or fumigated or cleared customs or been scheduled for their own flight
– We took hours breaking-down our bikes so they would fit into smaller crates so we could be charged on a smaller volume. In the end, Renex charged us by weight. This was the result of over-building the crates out of solid oak!
– Dave went to the airport in a truck with Joshua, a Renex shipping agent, the truck driver, and our crated bikes and returned to our hotel 8 hours later. Just 3 hours before our flight, because it took that long to get the bikes cleared through customs in Nairobi and because there was no forklift so 9 African men had to hand lift the crates out of the back of the truck and then back in after fumigation (see video below). At the airport they at least had a forklift.
– The bikes didn’t show up in Scotland when they were supposed to. Dave phoned the cargo office at the airport in Nairobi and was told the bikes hadn’t been put on the flight. When Dave asked why, he was told Renex hadn’t paid the airline yet. No one bothered to tell us this. How long the bikes would have sat there if we hadn’t inquired, we’ll never know.
– We spent over $45 in Skype credit calling back and forth to Irene, the snappy dragon-lady who apparently owns or runs Renex, and whom I imagine sits in an at-home office drinking all day while stroking a hairless cat and forgetting to do things like work.
– Irene insisted we pay for our shipment, which was the horrendous price of $6,621.22 CAN ($4,862.52 USD) in cash only. We ended up doing four international bank transfers that came with a fee of $13.50 CAN ($10 USD) ea and was done prior to our passenger flight.
– On May 1, five days after we’d left our bikes behind in Africa (bad moto-parents!), we were informed the bikes wouldn’t ship out of Africa until May 8, as that was the next available flight.
– We found out the bikes were only flying to Amsterdam then being put on a truck to cross over the ocean to Scotland, which was not what we’d paid for.
– May 8 came and went and we still had no bikes. When we called yet again, because no one called us, they were still in Nairobi due to confusion about the bike’s owners (us) having an address in the U.S. but the bikes being shipped to the U.K. It was hard not to start screaming at this point.
– We finally talked to the right person who put our blessed machines on the next flight out of Nairobi.
– The bikes actually made it onto U.K. soil on May 10 but we found out it was mandatory in the U.K. to hire a freight-forwarder to clear the bikes through customs, which we’ve never had to do before (we used Air Sea Scotland. They were awesome). We paid over $65CAN ($50 USD) to ride the train one way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, expecting to ride back on our bikes.
– The bikes could not be released to us. No one knew how to handle our carnet de passage as we never intended to use it in the U.K.
– Dave and I had to rent a car and drive back to Edinburgh. Still with no bikes.
– Customs told Air Sea they had never seen a carnet like ours before. We tried to explain it was because one wasn’t needed for Canadian’s in the U.K.
– On May 12, we finally had the bikes in our possession. We rode to Dalkeith, Scotland where we’d done a presentation at Motorrad Central, a BMW dealer, the week before. They very generously serviced our bikes for us at the last minute.
– May 14, we were finally back on the road, travelling again on the bikes!
It might sound materialistic but our bikes are the closest thing Dave and I have to kids. We are strongly attached to them because of the places they have taken us. When we saw them again in their crates, which were in great shape surprisingly, I almost cried.
During this waiting period, we were very lucky to have friends to stay with. Andy and Rachel were generous and caring about our situation. We could get our minds off our bikes and go camping, hiking and climbing with them. We owe them a lot for this as we could have been stuck in a place where we didn’t know anyone, paying for a hotel each night.
Dave and I never did get the hang of Africa. But even as I write this, three weeks after arriving back to the amenities and working order of a first-world country and our bikes safely parked outside, I’m nostalgic for our time in Africa. Nothing feels as much like true adventure than travelling through the only continent stretching through the northern and southern temperate zones with its diversity of environments, economics, historical ties and government systems.
Africa will be forever in our hearts as the place where we saw a fantastic collection of wildlife on our first-ever safari, traversed the Namib desert in temperatures over 40°C (105°F), learned how to ride in shifting sand and corrugated gravel, rode up and alongside incredible scenery and wildlife, climbed the continent’s highest peak and, of course, got engaged.
Thanks for everything, Africa. Especially the memories.
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