Tripus Interruptus: A Tale of Four Bones

Having fallen into a somewhat reasonable schedule, I awoke with plenty of time to find a leisurely breakfast in Swakopmund and properly begin my day. Leisurely for me means avoiding packing the bike before heading out to food, as then I don’t have to keep an eagle-eye on my possessions while I eat. Extra points this morning went to a spot I’d found with proper coffee, a rare luxury.

After breakfast, I packed my things and checked out of my room. I was heading back from whence I’d came, to Windhoek, but along the alternate scenic route: a shorter dirt road through the mountains south of the main highway. Google estimated an easy 4.5 hours along C-28, with the first 45 minutes or so paved and hugging another of the ubiquitous pipelines. The road was flat and extremely straight, the road and adjacent pipeline making up nearly all the signs of human life. In all directions,  barren desert greeted the eye. Eventually, the pavement ended at a turnoff for one of the many uranium mines in the area, and my nearly 300km dirt adventure began, arcing up into the foothills and mountains.

Rocks, scrub-grass, and scraggly bushes replaced the endless blowing sand. Larger and larger crags supplanted the great brown plane. About an hour in, a perfect pile of rocks rose up on the side of the road, and I pulled to the side of the road. I gathered up my various snacks and water and scrabbled up to the top of the hill to enjoy my lunch with a view. It was perfectly still and silent, with only the occasional large bird coasting on a thermal to differentiate the scene from a postcard. It seemed I had it all to myself. I devoured my food in a state of blissful content.

Rock-top lunch spot

I repacked my things and continued down the road, winding through tighter turns and steeper grades. The road varied as usual between hardtack, loose sand, and loose strewn rocks. Cresting a mountain top, the road dipped into a decline and curved blindly right. I curved with it, but a little too fast, as the curve tightened as it went (a “decreasing radius turn” in the parlance of cyclists). Squeezing the brakes with time-worn skills, I attempted to slow, my rear wheel skidding through the thick loose earth. A few seconds into it, my conscious brain was fully aware of the rapidly-approaching reality: I wasn’t going to make it vertically through the turn.

My heart rate increased, my senses sharpened, but no panic came; I’d been through this before, and I wasn’t actually going all that fast (I’d estimate around 30mph). My mind quickly estimated some bruises and scrapes in my near future, but nothing more. I continued my skidding path towards the outside of the turn, eventually sliding onto the shoulder. Immediately, the tires sunk into the thick sand of the shoulder and the bike ceased all forward movement. The momentum translated into angular motion, with the bike swinging to the right. Hard.

The wind was knocked from my lungs. I was shocked by the feeling of pain coursing through my body. I began to sweat and curse. I turned the bike off, pulled myself out from under it, took my helmet, gloves, and jacket off, and sat on the edge of the road. Getting out of the jacket was particularly painful. I was breathing quickly, nearly hyperventilating. My side and shoulder hurt in a deep and sickening way. My mind immediately went to my clavicle, which I’d broken before. I ran my left hand across it and was happy to feel one continuous line. Then I raised my right arm and felt the bottom half of my clavicle separate. I sat down again and resumed cursing.

In that moment sitting on the side of the road, my head buzzed with thoughts and emotions. I felt like my trip was over. I felt like a failure. I felt sick with pain and buzzing with adrenaline. I felt alone and overcome.

But I had options. I could trigger the 911 setting of my SPOT communicator and be rescued, but my bike and the majority of my things would likely not come with me. I could wait and try to flag another vehicle down and ask for help. Or I could pick up the bike and ride the rest of the way to Windhoek and check myself into a hospital. Only the last option made sense. I would try my best.

To continue on, I had to right the bike. This was no easy task. I’d landed off the edge of the road, and in thick sandy dirt. It was hard to get a sure footing, and even harder to get under the bike (the usual protocol is to sit with your back to the bike as low as possible and more-or-less walk backwards while standing you and the bike up). I gave it a few tries as is and made no progress. I took off the backpack on the back seat to get a larger area to push. I sat on the ground and wrapped my arms under the handlebars and panniers. I began to push and lift. The pain in my chest was enormous. My field of vision narrowed. When the bike was halfway up, I nearly lost my strength, but adrenaline is a hell of a drug, and somehow I pushed through the pain with one last effort.

The bike nearly fell over the other way as I struggled in my daze to hold it steady while I got the kickstand down. I collapsed back on the side of the road, suddenly starving and dehydrated. I gulped down water in huge sips and devoured what was left of my biltong. Sweat beaded out all over my body as I looked over the bike from the shade-less roadside. My right mirror lens had been mildly shattered and its stalk loosened from its mooring, and my right highway peg was loose. I got up and gave it a once-over, but couldn’t see any other damage. I started it to make sure it still ran. It caught on the first turn. I turned it off and took out my phone.

I pulled up a map of Windhoek and looked up hospitals (thank goodness for Google Maps’ offline cache). There were a few options, the highest rated of which was the Rhino Park Private Hospital. Unfamiliar with Namibian health care, I was swayed by the word “private” and the high rating. I clicked navigate and steeled myself for what was to come.

I stared at the standing bike. Dual sport motorcycles like mine are high slung, and my first couple attempts at swinging my leg over the seat were met with sharp pain in my chest and guts. At one point, my foot caught on the far side of the seat, my other leg hopping for balance, and I nearly pulled the bike over sideways, the kickstand sinking deep into the loose earth, before extricating myself and stabilizing things again. I took a deep breath, stabilized my breathing, and tried to calm my nerves, old lessons from a round-footed Thai Chi instructor. I approached the bike, lowered my body slightly, and managed an incredibly awkward leaping high-kick that ended with my and the bike upright, my left hand clutching my side.

I restarted the bike, set my jaw, and set off. Controlling a motorcycle throttle involves twisting the right handlebar. This meant my right arm needed to stay more-or-less glued to the handlebar, forcing my clavicle to be in a constant state of painful stress. I continued slowly down the dirt road, every rock and bump a shooting pain starting deep in the pit of my stomach and rising through my arm. I navigated the winding road deliberately, extraordinarily aware that a miss-step now could have horrible consequences. Every turn flashed visions of tumbling down on my right side, and hideous images of the floating lower half of my clavicle punching through skin or lungs. Interspersed between these dark thoughts came the doubts about the rest of my travels, fear of the uncertainty of the state of Namibian health care, and the life-long impact of another broken clavicle (the left I broke in 2008 healed poorly and has effected my ability to lay on my left side ever since).

I continued steadily down the dirt road. The scenery was beautiful and desolate. Emotions welled in my head. After an hour, the sharp feeling of awareness and associated tolerance for pain associated with adrenaline began to ware off. The vibrations of the road took on new dimensions of pain. My breathing was shallow, as anything more triggered more unwelcome pain in my chest and side. An hour later, I had to switch the main fuel supply onto reserve. The beautiful desolation of the remote mountains continued.

Another hour passed. To the aches added soreness, but also relief as the dirt turned back to tarmac and the first signs of Windhoek loomed around the foothills of Windhoek. After a couple miles of smooth riding, the old familiar chugging of an empty fuel tank interrupted my internal homily. I pulled onto the shoulder and stood on the side of the road. I focused my willpower to jump off the bike and add my reserve fuel tank to the main one. While refueling, I realized my GoPro’s mount had broken and the camera had disappeared somewhere along the way (I know it was still present when I picked the bike up). I cursed to myself (I’d wanted the photos of the accident itself) but had other things to worry about. I repeated my graceless mounting and continued, tears welling in my eyes through the pain.

I pulled up to the Rhino Park Private Hospital, waves of relief and nausea pulsing in the back of my throat. I dismounted painfully and walked into the reception area. Through pitiful looks, the receptionist explained that this hospital had no ER, and kindly referred me to the Roman Catholic Hospital downtown, a few miles away. I held back my frustration, thanked her, and repeated the self-flagellation of mounting my motorcycle. I plotted a path to the Roman Catholic Hospital through increasing city traffic and arrived as the day was yielding to evening.

Park, dismount, snag my tank bag, and check-in. I was given a pile of paperwork to fill out and asked about my medical ID card. When I explained my situation, they asked for a credit card and placed a large deposit down for services. I thanked the universe for the miracles of credit cards and my high credit limits (yay privilege!) and was finally granted entry through the door to the ER. I begged the attending nurse to grab the large backpack on the back seat of my bike outside before it grew legs and was awash with thanks when he complied.

A hand-written ID bracelet was attached to my wrist. I was walked to a bed. Laying back in it brought forth a brutal reminder that any sort of abdominal effort had become excruciating. A nurse came forward to place an IV line into my arm. Never had I been so excited to see a needle destined for my flesh… which he proceeded to dig through for a solid 3 minutes as my teeth clenched searching for a vein. Eventually, another nurse overheard him repeatedly saying “don’t worry, we’ve got it,” came over, kicked him out, and started from scratch on my other arm. Next came my first taste of Namibian pain killers: basically liquid aspirin. Fuck it, it was better than nothing.

Some Namibian hospital signage fails to inspire confidence

I managed to convince a kind staff member to type a stray conference room wifi network password into my phone so I could pass info about my whereabouts back home. One Dr. Karl Frielingsdorf came in and poked and prodded me painfully in the arms, shoulder, chest, and abdomen. Next I was thrown onto a wheelchair and I sent for a series of x-rays and my first CT scan to check for neck/spine damage. Again my credit card was ran (less than $50 for x-rays, obvious more for a CT scan), and had the pleasure of posing shirtless with my right arm raised painfully above my head. The CT scan was equally unpleasant, with an inexplicable watery feeling flushing through my chest as the contrast dye was pushed mechanically through my veins as expensive machinery hummer and spun around my head. Finally, I was wheeled into a private room with an en suite bathroom and TV. Unbelievably starving (it was well into the evening now), I flagged down the first nurse I could find and asked for food. I barely had time to look at what they brought me before it was gone. Sated, I finally had the opportunity to take a shower and change into clean clothes, amazed that my body appeared devoid of bruises.

I waited patiently for news. Eventually, the friendly doctor I’d met in the ER came in with a handful of x-rays. In an adorable accent and impressive bedside manner for someone who is clearly perpetually in a rush he broke the news (pun intended): I’d fractured my 2nd, 5th, and 6th ribs along with my clavicle. Because of my previous experience with a broken clavicle, I asked about having a plate put in to align my clavicle and ensure it healed where it belonged. The doctor said I didn’t need one, but that it was an option. In a rush to continue his rounds, he told me to get comfortable; I’d be there a few days recovering.

I think I could have a healthy career in bone modeling, no?

On another visit, we spoke more about the options. It turned out he was an orthopedic surgeon and would be the one to do the surgery if I went that way. Concerned in a distinctly American fashion about health care abroad, I pressed for details of the procedure to decide if my first real surgery (discounting wisdom teeth removal) would be in Namibia. He told me I’d be put under using the “Michael Jackson drug,” and be getting an “American made” titanium plate and screws from Acumed. I did my research. Dr. Frielingsdorf was a well respected surgeon, seemingly very well known in Windhoek, who graduated from Stellenbosch University, one of the top medical schools in Africa. Acumed is the first Google result for clavicle plates. Michael Jackson died of propofol, and he clearly had good taste in drugs. Namibian surgery it would be!

The next three nights dragged on in a manner familiar to anyone familiar with hospital convalescence. A string of disaffected nurses (sister in this Catholic hospital) paraded through my room at intervals, including in the middle of the night, taking vitals, swapping IV solution and shitty pain meds, and frowning. A friendly physiotherapist came by and subjected me to painful exercises including breathing in and out of a tube attached to a plastic box. Every morning, a bored and droning voice read scripture in an unemotional monotone over a pervasive intercom system. I watched TV. I read my books. I stared at the wall. I ate terrible food (though honestly far from the worst hospital food in the world). Every excursion in and out of bed was met with a horrible shooting pain from my broken ribs, always accompanied by a dull sickening feeling I associate with your body telling you you’ve hurt yourself in a significant way. One morning I discovered the unfortunate fact that hiccups with broken ribs is fucking excruciating, and simultaneously that significant pain is a pretty good cure for hiccups.

I hope you weren’t hungry…

I began to consider my options for recovery. Broken ribs suck. A lot. There was no way I was going to suffer the inherent effort and pain of international motorcycle adventuring with the added pain of my ribs, not to mention the additional risk of injury before my bones were healed. I also wasn’t ready to give up and go home. There was only one path that seemed to make sense: find a place to keep the bike for awhile and go back home to San Francisco to recover, and return and continue my adventure when I was whole again. The show would go on, but there would be a 6 week or so intermission.

After two nights, the doctor came by to tell me I’d be discharged the following morning with a sling and a box of Tylenol with codeine, not to mention my trusty plastic box with a tube I got to painfully breathe into a few times a day. We made an appointment for me to come to his office for a final consult prior to the surgery, which he said could be done in two or three days time depending on his schedule. Unwilling to suffer the social requirements of a hostel, I booked a room at the C’est la Vie guesthouse, which had good reviews especially for the breakfasts, near his office in the Eros neighborhood of Windhoek for the following night.

I was woken the next morning at 6am by the nurses on their rounds. I couldn’t get back to sleep, and waited until 9 when I was handed my discharge paperwork. I hadn’t exhausted my initial deposit, and was told I’d be refunded the balance. I was relieved to see my motorcycle hadn’t moved from its location in the parking garage, and I cringed with effort as I packed my things for my travels. I took off my sling and put on my motorcycle jacket. I stared at the bike ruefully with the anticipation of the upcoming tribulations, took a deep breath, and winced as I got on.

It was still early in the morning, and my guesthouse didn’t have check-in until 2pm, but I headed there anyways in the hopes of parking the bike, unloading, and resting. I painfully rode through Windhoek’s streets and pulled up to the gate around 10am. There was no answer. I waited outside for awhile, feeling sore and exhausted. Eventually I went to the closest gas station to fill up since my bike was running on fumes. Dismount, wince, fill up, remount, wince, dismount, wince. This time a woman greeted me at the gate and let me in. Despite my motorcycle jacket and before I’d carried anything, she asked me if there was something wrong with my arm. My explanation was met with sympathy, and thankfully a place to unload while my room was cleaned for check-in.

I took in my surroundings as I waited. C’est la Vie was a gated plot of land with a large house in the front. In back was a large patio attached to the house, a yard with a pool (drained for the season, as well as the ongoing drought), and a building with three guest rooms. Wandering around were three dogs, three cats, and a tame rooster. As soon as I sat down, two of the cats approached and competed for my attention with an insatiable desire for affection. A tiny half-blind-and-epileptic dog named Sushi waddled up constantly licking its muzzle. Even the rooster came up, said hi, and let me pet it. It was just the animal therapy I needed.

When the room became available, I went in for a much-needed nap. The orange cat, appropriately named Garfield, followed me in. I got ready to collapse into a painful heap, the cat following me around my room like a pack animal. When I was ready for bed, I tried to herd the cat out so I could shut the door, but his resolve exceeded my own. I left the door open and climbed into bed, groaning as I lowered myself prostrate. The cat hopped onto the bed and climbed up onto my chest. I guided him into a position away from my broken pieces and passed out cradling him, contented far from the smells of sickness and bleach, interrupting nurses, and walls of medical equipment.

I woke up several hours later still pleasantly attached to fur and found a place for dinner. My body rejoiced the light exercise of the ten minute walk, and what appetite I could muster was well-rewarded by a steak dinner at a massive tourist-trap restaurant. Better still, a beer and a Coca Cola! Civilization, I’d missed thee!

The healing body has an incredible appetite for sleep, and who am I not to indulge it. The next morning, I walked out of my room and onto the patio for a huge and delicious breakfast spread prepared by Sam, the owner of the guesthouse and mother the trio of kids that lived here with the trios of dogs, cats, and other animal odds and ends (two rats, a parrot, and a wild bird with a broken leg she was nursing to health). Included in breakfast was a french press full of actual coffee, the first I’d had in ages in this land of the powdered shit so much of the world suffers. Ahhh, there’s my privilege again!

In the afternoon, I walked over to another hospital near my doctor’s office for more x-rays. I was reminded that a medical imaging waiting room is a sorry sight, but my wait was pleasantly short, and upon entering I was greeted by the same technician I’d seen on my first night of convalescence, who seemed genuinely excited to see me. More painful body contortions and I was off to the surgeon, large floppy x-ray film in hand. Amusingly, half the folks from the medical imaging waiting room awaited me in Dr. Frielingsdorf’s equivalent. Presently, I was ushered into his office, filled with diplomas and impressive-looking awards. I continued to be impressed by his charisma as he looked at my new x-rays and tried in vain to talk me out of the surgery. We then settled into specifics, which included my surgery date: the next evening. I was then handed off to an assistant who gave me paperwork on prices for the anesthesiologist, hospital, and Dr. Frielingsdorf himself, the last of which needed payment before the procedure in cash by the next morning! I’ll say, Namibian health care prices are pretty goddamn reasonable, but it still took 5 rounds through ATM’s at maximum withdrawal to assemble the required cash for the surgeon’s portion of the procedure, and between the hovering guards present at each ATM in Windhoek, and my previous experiences here, I was understandably nervous taking out and carrying that amount of cash…

Surgery cash-money!

I treated myself to a final nice meal before my requisite surgical fasting, and subsequent hospital fare, and then another good night’s rest at my guesthouse. In the morning, I was sad to leave without another of the fantastic breakfasts. Full of paranoia, I carried my backpack full of (the good kind of) blood money to the doctor’s office. The compassionate owner of the guesthouse agreed to let me leave my things, including my bike, as she’d drive me to the hospital! The joy of avoiding riding my motorcycle to the hospital, especially enduring the process of getting on and off, helped put off the small but undeniable existential fear of going under the knife for the first time.

At the hospital, a friendly and familiar face from the x-ray and surgeon’s waiting rooms greeted me and we chatted. He was a local who’d been assaulted with a board by muggers when taking out his trash before work. They’d shattered his elbow and he was scheduled to have it re-assembled after my own surgery. In a twisted way, seeing his injury made me feel better about my own simpler one.

I got checked in and brought to a room a few doors down from my previous one. I was handed a gown and some paper underwear and told to change. They were some sweet duds.

Ready for some Michael Jackson drugs!

Restless with anticipation, I awaited my call to the theater. Eventually I was put on a gurney, wheeled to a preparation area, and left next to another surgery patient for my turn. The minutes dragged on, then were suddenly interrupted by a cacophony of activity as a be-gowned Dr. Frielingsdorf, two nurses, and an anesthesiologist burst into the area. My futile attempts at conversation, most of which were focused on repeatedly re-affirming they knew which side to cut, were quickly interrupted by an injection. Seconds later, my limbs grew heavy, my mind cloudy, and I was back in my room. Jesus, MJ! You were hardcore!

My mind struggled with the disjointed memories, and my hand went to my shoulder. Instead of flesh, I felt a bandage with my fingers, but my shoulder registered no touch. I poked and prodded the extent of the numbness. My mind went to warnings the doctor had given of nerve damage. My mind wandered to the implications of the potential loss of feeling. It also registered the relative lack of discomfort, and the ease at which my arm moved, and rejoiced. I ran my hand along the curve of my clavicle, marveling at the continuity and shuddering at the perceptible notches of the stitches below the bandage.

Sleep came easy with the exhaustion and post-surgical haze. The next morning I was sent a third time for x-rays to check on my results. They wheeld me back after with them in my lap, and I marveled at my own insides. Later, my surgeon came to check on me. I attempted a joke about how easy and routine my surgery must have been, but it stumbled as he replied with gravely that no surgery is routine. Then he smiled with pride at the x-rays, in which the fracture line is nearly imperceptible, then scurried off saying he’d see me later. What desire I’ve ever had to be a surgeon went with him — I have no desire for that degree of time management.

Save your metal detector comments, titanium is non-ferrous

The day passed slowly, and I mentally cursed the nurse who’d connected my  IV line, as there was no quick disconnect to provide me freedom from the wheeled IV holder. It meant I couldn’t even put a shirt on, or go for a walk without dragging the chrome IV tree with me like my best friend. In the afternoon, the surgeon came back and told me I’d be staying another night, leaving in the morning once again. I finally had a timeline, so I found the cheapest one-way flight back to SF from Windhoek and booked it, leaving four days later.

I hadn’t known how long I’d be hospitalized, so I hadn’t booked accommodations for after. I called the C’est la Vie guesthouse, but they were booked solid for the next night, but I went ahead and booked the last two nights before my flight there. In the meantime, I had one night in a cheap Chinese guesthouse down the street. Once accommodations were settled, I relaxed and waited for what I hope will be my last night in a hospital for a very very long time.

In the morning, I got a pile of medications (blood thinners, more pain killers, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories), and an even bigger pile of paperwork to ultimately submit to my travel insurance. I snagged a cab to my Chinese guesthouse for the night, dropped off my bags, and accepted my continual new painful and sedentary existence. The time passed uneventfully, and the next morning, one of the guesthouse owners was kind enough to drive me over to C’est la Vie and reunite with my things, and the friendly folks and animals there.

Long surgery bill is long

In my last two days in Windhoek, I made dozens of calls trying to find safe storage for my motorcycle, was forced to go to the Ethiopian Airlines office to “verify” my credit card, and eventually had all my needs straightened out by Sam from my guesthouse: she’d allow me to store my motorcycle in her garage for a good price, and arranged a ride for me to the airport. On my last night in Africa, while whiling my time away alone in bed, there was a knock on my door. Sam’s oldest daughter and her boyfriend were outside, and invited me to come over to the patio and hang out. It was a wonderful sendoff for a hard few weeks, as they plied me with wine and we chatted long into the night.

The next morning, I headed to the airport for my 35 hours of painful air travel excited to have such a wonderful place to come back to when I returned. To be continued…

Windhoek and Swakop — Beaches and Beer — Dunes and Deserts

Sometimes you get lucky, and you book into a hostel that’s also the gay refuge of town. That’s what I discovered when I booked into the Cardboard Box hostel. During my stay, I met all sorts of interesting locals: contractors, reporters, engineers, and assorted freaks, riff raff, and queers (I mean all of that in the nicest possible way). I talked life, geopolitics, and even faced off in a heated debate with a fervent Namibian Trump supporter who called 2 more of his Trump supporting friends to join him as reinforcements since the rest of the place thought he was nuts.

I also heard an incredible and tragic story from one guy who’s parents were both killed by a very famous, and very drunk at the time, Namibian who was driving twice the speed limit on a road I was set to drive next. The incident is well documented. The guy managed to tow his car from the scene before the cops came, his blood samples disappeared, and ultimately he pinned the entire thing on one of his employees who spent 2 years in jail. My new friend explained the web of corruption leading all the way to the so-called “Father” of the Namibian nation. There were additional suicides and deaths involved. It was a hell of a tale, and one I honestly feel hesitant to elaborate on for concern for the guy’s safety.

I still had a Congolese visa and tires to acquire, but unfortunately, I also had a weekend to wait before I could get it. I lounged around Windhoek a bit. I went fruitlessly in search of good pizza. I witnessed strange dance performances in malls, and was mildly concerned when a clearly unsanctioned parade of fancy tricked-out jeeps drove down the main street honking their horns, the drivers drinking, people hanging off the sides, running stoplights and catcalling.

Dance party!
The rich jeep owner gang dubiously rumbles through town.

When Monday finally rolled around, I headed to the DRC’s embassy. I worried there may be a line, security checks, and a lot of bureaucracy. Instead, I walked right into a shabby one-room office with a desk, a couple chairs, and one woman with the perpetual appearance of mild discomfort. She seemed confused when I told her I wanted a visa. Her immediate reaction was to explain to me how arduous the process was. They need the form, the money, photos, a copy of your passport, proof of good standing, proof of funding, and then they ship the whole thing off to the DRC, where they don’t expect to hear back for a month or two. I asked pointed questions about whether she thought the whole thing was a bad idea, or if she thought I stood a chance of getting a visa. She gave me an exasperated look that communicated clearly that she does not do pointed questions.

The DRC puts its best face forward in its embassies. Yes, those ceiling tiles on the left are falling down with water damage.

The Congolese woman handed me a Windhoek phone book to use as a backing, and I filled out the form. I still needed a copy of a bank statement and some passport photos before I could proceed, and she helpfully pointed me to a photo shop on the next block that did passport photos (the area was full of embassies, so this wasn’t terribly surprising). This looked to be the easiest task yet, but looks are frequently deceiving in Africa. Within 10 minutes, I’d gotten a decent photo snapped (“I don’t think you should be smiling. Let’s take another.”), but no sooner did the memory card get inserted into their ancient Kodak photo kiosk than the thing crashed and refused to start up again. They offered to put the photo on my phone so I could print it elsewhere, but my Pixel uses a USB-C port, which they didn’t have. And of course, they couldn’t email it. I said I’d return with a way to get the photo from them. “TIA” bounced through my head.

Next stop: tires. I’d gotten a run-around from Suzuki, but the local Yamaha dealer had tires that fit in stock, so I headed there. Everything went easy except they insisted the tires didn’t need to be balanced, and clearly didn’t have the machinery to perform that task. This greatly reduces the usable life of the tires. *Sigh*.

Look ma, no legs! Bonus points for the lines of dust dismantling the rear axle created on the floor…

I endured further frustrations getting my bank account statement printed at the local Kinko’s equivalent, but I’ll spare you the details. By the time I made it back to the photo shop, they’d also fixed the Kodak photo machine. Then, with photos, copies, printouts, forms, and N$1200 ($93 USD) in my pocket, I revisited the Congolese embassy.

The same lady presided over the same empty room. She looked at me blankly when I came back in, but when I jovially tried to hand her the pile of documents, she didn’t move to take it. She once again reminded me that the money is non-refundable, and the wait time is long, and that it’s entirely at the whim of the folks back in the DRC. We went back and forth for a few minutes as I tried to get her to give me any direct indication of my chances. It was fruitless. Eventually she took my money and application. Then she gave me her cell phone number and took mine, telling me I could get updates on my visa status by communicating with her via WhatsApp. WhatsApp! What a time to be alive…

Tuesday morning, I took off early in the morning headed towards Swakopmund (mouth of the Swakop river), a popular former-German settlement on the Atlantic coast, near the city of Walvis Bay, and nestled in prime sand dune country. Google is nice enough to propose two routes between Windhoek and Swakop, as it’s affectionately known: a shorter, more mountainous, dirt road, and a longer, less direct series of paved highways. I opted for the highways on my way in.

By this point, I feel compelled to say, I’d spent far more time in Windhoek than I needed or wanted to. I hadn’t, however, explored much outside the main areas. From a high vantage point, it’s easy to see how developments immediately cease at some point on one of the surrounding mountains where the grade simply became too much to cope with. Wikipedia claims they have plans to change that. As the proper settlements drop off, ad hoc ones take over.

My road went north, and what I saw was unfamiliar. Namibia was once governed by South Africa as South West Africa (they took it from the Germans, who can be blamed for the creative naming). As such, Namibia had Apartheid, and the baggage that comes with that. Townships dot the periphery of the major South African cities I’ve seen, and I’d seen some similar looking things in Namibia, but what I saw along the highway wasn’t the familiar rows of ramshackle tin and block shacks thrown together directly adjacent and mired in rubber, glass, and plastic trash. Instead, the landscape — small mountains sparsely covered with grass, cactus, and occasional trees — was spotted with the sort of temporary settlements ultralight backpackers would set up along a desolate trail, except these were made with plastic and cardboard, and everywhere you looked garbage wafted or settled. Looking in on townships, you see poverty, yes, but you also see community. It was easier to imagine every one of these individual semi-hovels occupied by a paranoid cowboy sleeping with his pistol under the cloak he used as a blanket. Consider all this commentary with a grain of salt, because while my eyes swept the landscape, and my mouth gaped with a lack of recognition, I didn’t stop and I know not of which I write.

The settlements continued for a few kilometers after Windhoek, then foothills, then my turnoff to head west towards the coast. The road was straight and smooth.  Over the coming hours, scenery ever-so-gradually faded from green to brown. The trees shrank and disappeared. The shrubs and grass seemed to spread out, leaving sand and rocks in their wake. Eventually, the mountains began to be tufted and ringed with sand, like massive dusty glaciers sliding down the sides. The road eventually met up with an impossibly lush river valley, and I’d found the Swakop river. From the desolate desert blooms a comparatively lush landscape of palm trees and grass, and the rows of block housing that are common of the middle class and up in southern Africa.

I’d booked a guesthouse in a residential area on the edge of town and checked in. I set my sights on a German pub for dinner and cruised into the cute little oceanside tourist town as the sun was setting. Still illuminated were the massive mountains of sand that wrap the so-called Skeleton Coast (named for the treacherous waters for sailing, and the sealed fate of any unlucky shipwrecked sailor on the inhospitable desert that runs for hundreds of miles in every direction). Luckily, life in this part of the desert has been made much easier with the addition of fine German beer and schnitzel, so I took advantage of the situation. It was a very welcome diversion from the more common Namibian fare.

Beer! Fabulous fabulous real beer!

The next day, I set out to do my first exploring of the beaches and barren stretches of the Skeleton Coast. Just south of Swakopmund is the larger, less touristy town of Walvis Bay, and I set my sights on the coastal highway that connects them. On the road, Swakopmund dissolves rapidly as one heads south, with endless windswept sand taking over the view. To the right, a gentle slope down to the clashing ocean; to the left, huge swelling dunes, formed into ridges like the Santa Lucia mountains. Beyond the coastline, a smattering of oil platforms loom in the mist. Traffic is light, and signs of civilization are minimal. Eventually, a turnoff to parking by the dunes materializes, and I hop off the highway.


There’s a completely empty pile of sand that passes for a parking lot, and footprints leading up to the dunes. Atop the closest one, 5 bodies dot the ridge, alternating turns sandboarding down the slope. I follow the footprints and ascend the towering dunes. The wind is hot and dry, the sand is loose, but summiting the peak, I’m treated to sweeping views of pristine desert coastline to the west, and endless jagged sandy peaks like a tan Torres del Paine to the east. I spend several minutes slowly spinning around, taking it all in.

Going up!
Civilization, where did you go?
Nevermind, that’s amazing.

Eventually, as I’m wont to do, I struck up a conversation with the adventuresome folks nearby. It turns out it was a local with two kids, and a father and son economist pair from the states, the father of which worked for the federal government, and the son studying at Berkeley. After about 10 minutes of chatting and explaining our respective circumstance, the young American Bay Area transplant exclaimed “Duuuuude, you are so Bay Area!” I took it as a great compliment. Before we parted ways, they loaned me a freshly waxed square of cardboard I was able to body surf down the dune with. Good times.

I carried on down the busy road to Walvis Bay, a bustling town of box-like houses nestled along the sandy beach. I cruised the broad thoroughfares, wound through dusty roads in the poor ramshackle neighborhoods on the outskirts, and stopped by for a beer atop a roadside bar to escape the heat of the day. Over the beer, I explored my surroundings on Google Maps and spotted a lonely coastal road hanging off to the south, seemingly escaping civilization and carving alone through giant pools of water. Curious, I plotted a course and hopped back on the bike.

Hugging the coast and heading out of town, I followed a particularly wide paved road. The only other traffic as the last of the town went by the wayside was large open-topped trucks with heaping piles of white and brown salt overflowing their tops, periodically spilling the stuff onto the pavement following bumps. The pavement ended at a large gated complex with heavy equipment swarming giant piles of salt.

Feeling salty?

The curious part of the road I’d seen veered right at the complex towards the ocean so I continued on the salt-caked hardpan. The path turned to washboard and wound between broad salty evaporation ponds and bays. Traveling inches above the waterline, the path finally swerved onto a sandy and secluded patch of oceanfront beach, complete with a tiny windowed outhouse. I had the windswept beach to myself, and took a load off in the salty air.

A piss with a view!
My private beach.

After the beach, I headed back to town, and meandered back through town and down the road back to Swakopmund, as the waning day and endless wind were making for cold weather. I had another night of good food and German beer back in town, as I was spending another day traveling before trekking back to Windhoek.

The lone highway that heads north from Walvis Bay passes through Swakopmund and continues north, with only scattered patches of civilization identified by mile markers. The next morning, after breakfast and some beach cruising in town, I followed the path north. The two lanes of pavement cut across a long flat patch of sand, varying from nearly-oceanside to a few miles away on the left. To the right, a pipeline follows the route. Here and there, the sand is packed into a track carving seemingly randomly across the landscape. I followed one to a rocky beach dotted with pickup trucks (“bakkies”) with fisherman posted next to them. On the coast, the surf tumbled the rocks over each other in a sound any good California hiker will recognize. It almost felt like home.

Rocks, bakkies, and anglers.

Back on the road,  I spotted a walled complex with odd towers and dishes sticking out off in the distance. Eventually, a dirt road added a bridge over the pipeline and seemed to head towards it, so I followed it. There was a distinct lack of signage as I approached. The closer I got, the weirder it all appeared, and eventually the barking of guard dogs and the flapping of a Chinese flag made the scene stranger still. The place was fully gated and surrounded by a high fence ringed with barbed wire. I rode around it, but didn’t approach too closely. Some internet research later identified the complex as the Swakopmund Tracking Station, one of China’s remote space communication facilities! Coolio!

Pipeline time
Beijing, we have a problem

Continuing down the random side-road, I also wandered into a desolate (but clearly still active) sand airstrip and skydiving center. You never know what random desert roads will lead you to!

Yes, yes I am.

I continued a few dozen more miles down the north/south highway before stopping for a beer in one of the remote tourist stops along the coast. It was oddly well-equipped and bustling, with random welded sculptures, a full bar, shady dining areas, and shipping-container chic. It seemed as good as any place to turn around and run my remaining errands for the day before preparing to head back to Windhoek the next day.

Missing opportunities and panniers

Things were all looking up as I left Keetmanshoop. I’d had a decent breakfast at the Canyon Hotel (complete with an uncomfortable conversation with the waitress, who may have just been doing an extremely poor job trying to flirt), the sun was shining, and my motorcycle was fully functional. I hit the paved surface of the B1 with a straight shot to Windhoek. A troop of baboons scurries across the highway just outside of town, hiding in the throngs of trees and watching me as I ride by. It felt a proper goodbye. I wonder where their sunglasses, hat, pipe, and Coca-Cola cans are.

About half of the gas stations I pass in Namibia are gaudy affairs, sometimes with manicured lawns, large covered parking lots, and one or two integrated restaurants. I’m going nearly 500km, so I need at least one stop for fuel along the way. I pull into an Engen (a South African oil company) station, complete with burger shop, bakery, and automatic sprinklers throwing water, a rare commodity here, into the air. It’s a welcome reprieve from the road, and I take a breather.

The ride is easy and uneventful, with the sun perpetually hanging in my line of sight as I head North. As I approach Windhoek, I fly past a turnoff with a sign for the Tropic of Capricorn. I realize what I just passed, turn off the highway, and offroad it back.


I’d been trying to cruise at around 65mph, about 10mph under the speed limit, it saves a lot on fuel and just feels right. Windhoek is over 5,000 feet in elevation, and the light green grasslands give way to some decent sized mountains as I approached. The altitude and the shade of the mountains as the sun made its way towards the horizon caused the heat of the day to rapidly deteriorate into the 40’s(f). I was too lazy to stop and layer up, so I cruised in with traffic at the true speed limit.

You pass through a mandatory police checkpoint on the outskirts of Windhoek, a friendly reminder that you’re not in Kansas anymore. We stumbled through some miscommunication when the officer asked me where my disk was before I realized we were talking about license plates. I guess they’re not always on the backs on motorcycles here? I haven’t seen any to confirm… With a cursory check, I was waved through and into light Windhoek traffic, arriving at the Chameleon Backpackers hostel just before the sunset.

I was in lucky and snagged a room. The place made dinner every night, has a bar, and subscribed to a pleasant tendency in accommodations in southern Africa, including a pool.

It’s amazing the pic turned out with those white legs in the sun…

I snagged dinner, had some beer, worked on my writing, and got some sleep. I had some tasks for the next day: attempting to secure visas for the DRC and Zambia, finding replacement tires (mine weren’t new at the start of the journey,  my rear is nearly spent, and availability is limited outside of major cities), trying to secure a camping spot at Sossusvlei with the Namibian Wildlife Resorts (NWR) agency, and getting some wire to rewire my right turn signal (which seemed to have failed somewhere along the way). Miraculously, the embassies and motorcycle dealership I was going to try were all within walking distance of my hostel. In the morning I hit the road on foot.

As stated in my write-up of the weirdness that day, I failed with the embassies and the NWR, but at least managed to find tires. While it took four tries, I also managed to find two meters of automotive electrical wire. I know I’m late at mentioning this, but *fuck* this country loves receipts!

A full sheet of paper, three stamps, a check, and a signature… for 6 feet of wire (and less than $1USD).

The next morning, my sights were set on Sossusvlei, despite my failure to secure a camping spot with NWR. I had breakfast in the morning and hit the road, backtracking 80km on the B1 before turning off onto a series of dirt roads.

Google offered three routes, the fastest involving slightly more pavement, but I figured I could take that one back. Instead, I turned off onto one of the many C dirt roads, and found myself bouncing along washboards, sand, loose rocks, and potholes that were far worse than what I’d gone over before in Namibia. There were times when the road was so bad I’d be laughing hysterically into my helmet while my eyes watered with vibration, no matter the speed. I passed goats, cows, a bunch of something that resembled a squirrel, and a single ostrich.

I also chatted up a weathered and mostly-toothless cattle herder who wandered by while I was taking a stretch break. He carried a whip made out of a handmade rubber grip with a long braided polyester cord attached, and an adorable dusty dog named Suzie was tagging along. He didn’t seem to be in a rush to catch up with his cattle, and seemed quite taken by my motorcycle.

People in the countryside in Namibia wave when you go by. As you’d expect, the kids get super excited about it and initiate, but practically anyone who catches your eye will wave, and even more so will wave back if you initiate. There’s more than that, too. When someone passes you on the road, they flash their hazard lights when they come back into your lane. When I pass trucks on the road, I’ve learned to wave (I don’t have hazard lights) and they invariably flash their headlights to say hi. When I’m taking a break on the side of the road, people will honk their horns, some lean out their windows and wave. Thumbs get pointed up to double-check that everything is okay. People are just plain friendly.

So far in my time here, the roads had been relatively flat. Even the approach to Fish River Canyon, which ends with an overlook not-unlike those of the Grand Canyon, didn’t involve switchbacks or noticeable elevation change. My chosen route to Sossusvlei started out similarly, but without warning, signs proclaiming that trucks weren’t allowed, and prolonged steep grades were approaching showed up, almost as non-sequiturs.  Then the road twisted onto a broad overlook of a massive desert valley, affording views of a brick road winding aggressively down.

I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no: there was no echo.

This wasn’t just the only “pavement” (bricks) I’d seen in miles… this was a wild, curving, swooping road with steep angles and sharp dropoffs. In summary: it was fun as hell. I dropped me into a massive desert valley, far sandier than the surrounding area, with continued teeth-rattling washboards up to the entrance to Sossusvlei.

Conventional wisdom states that the best time to see Sossusvlei (a valley nestled in the coastal mountains with a salt flat and the largest sand dunes) is at Sunrise. The main entrance to the park unhelpfully (and obviously intentionally) opens at sunrise, but is another 60km from the spot itself. Instead, if you want to catch the sunrise, you need to either charter a plane/helicopter/hot air balloon, or stay at the government-ran campground located *just inside* the gate. There’s another *internal* gate that opens an hour or so before sunrise, and allows those folks to get a head-start and catch the sunrise. Cool. So that was my plan.

I made it through the gate with over an hour to spare before it closed (at sunset, obviously) and went to reception. I was in luck! They had one last tent camping spot in the “overflow” area (read: a long-ass walk from facilities, with no power and hardly and shade). I was also out of luck: motorcycles aren’t allowed any further on the road into Sossusvlei. The woman recommended hitchhiking (which I’ve read is technically illegal in national parks in Namibia). Alright… it’s worth a try.

My home in the boonies.

I pitched my tent at the end of the known camping universe and had some dinner. Since I wanted to catch the early-risers and the sunrise, I wrapped up super early for the night, looked at the stars, read my book, and was in bed by 9:30p with an alarm set for 4:45am. Somehow (this isn’t really that abnormal for me…), I woke up at 5:15 without the alarm. Shit! I scrambled to get my things together and posted up on the road with a backpack and my thumb out. And there I stood, for nearly 3 hours, watching vehicle after vehicle file past. Most avoided eye contact. Those with no room shrugged. One van full of old folks rolled down their window, then drove off before saying anything.

In Namibia, hitchhiking is pervasive. Folks stand at major intersections with bags and get regularly picked up and carted around the country. Of course, Namibians aren’t the majority or folks passing through to Sossusvlei, foreigners are, and I guess something about my bearded self put them off, because eventually, I walked back to my camp disillusioned and packed up. I headed back towards Windhoek.

I took a different path back, the shortest of the options Google offered. I was in a less-than-stellar mood. The road back was just as brutal as the one in. Again, I had uncontrollable fits of laughing as every part of me vibrated down the dusty sandy roads. At one point, I caught a flash in my rear-view and realized the hat I had strapped down under a cargo net had managed to shake its way out and onto the road. I went back and got it back.

I passed cows, goats, and endless barren desert. I dropped to the reserve fuel supply on my gas tank part way along the road. Eventually, I ran out of gas in my main tank around 70km from the B1, the main tarmac highway (where there would be gas stations to refill). I hopped off the bike to get the jerry can off the back and noticed my hat was once again gone. I had no idea how long ago I’d lost it, and since fuel was now in a tight supply, I didn’t want to burn a lot of time and fuel going looking. I shrugged. No big deal. I dumped the jerry can into the gas tank, and as I went to put it back on the back of my bike, my heart sank once again: my left pannier was missing! There are four metal pucks that hold the panniers to the frame. The bottom two are bolted on, and the top pair are hand-tightened to allow them to tool-lessly removed. Somehow, the vibration must have worked them loose and somehow I hadn’t noticed!

This was bad… Not only do each of my panniers contain critical items for my travels, but they’re also uniquely utilitarian for carrying my things. Even if I were to replace the contents, replacing the metal box itself would be extremely difficult. Freaking out in my head, I quickly hopped onto the bike and deliberately backtracked at a reasonable speed to conserve fuel. About 7k down the road, I spotted the pannier, battered and on the complete opposite side of the road as it should have been on. It had a brand new dent (it must have been hit by something to get it where it was and in the state it was in), and some of my stickers had been pretty beaten up, but it was alive and all the parts were still there! I expelled a massive sigh of relief, and reattached the pannier to the bike, taking care to get make sure the attachment points were as tight as I could get them.

The moment we’re reunited!

I got back on the road, taking it easy to avoid any repeats. Excitement seems to come when you least expect it. Eventually I made it to the main highway and another wave of relief swept over me. While getting gas, a car pulled up and a friendly Namibian triumphantly declared he’d seen me a few days ago (I’d passed through this town on the way to Windhoek the first time) and asked me all the standard questions. It was nice to have a pleasant social interaction after watching car after car of folks averting their eyes to avoid admitting they weren’t willing to take a chance on me.

It was smooth sailing and familiar territory back to Windhoek, but when I pulled up to my old hostel, they were booked up. I’d made friends there the first time around who were still there, so I was sad to be turned away, but I found another spot about a mile up the road, appropriately named “The Cardboard Box,” and plotted my course. I cruised in, checked in, unloaded, and began the process of forgetting the stress of the day.

Baboons and Broken Bikes

I am not a morning person, and as such, I’ve always appreciated the incontrovertible truth that when you wake up in the morning in a tent, you’re committed to the day. As I climbed out of my tent, my swollen bladder at the helm, I found myself surrounded by baboons, busy raiding the campground’s trash cans. Fuck! I am in Africa!

Don’t mind me, I’m just here for the garbage.

I relieved myself in the comfort of the relatively clean campground services, and packed my things onto my motorcycle before heading to the canteen for the buffet breakfast.  I chose a table within view of my motorcycle (living in SF and traveling has made me endlessly paranoid), and twice I wandered down with my coffee to chat with throngs of gawkers poking and prodding my bike. I’m not complaining.

I was on the road early by my standards, bumping along the dusty washboards and through the desert. It’s just over 80km to the main viewpoint for Fish River Canyon from Ai Ais camp over rocky dirt roads, and as I’ve eluded to in the past, I enjoy the shit out of them. Traffic was light, as per Namibian standards, so dust was low, and aside from dodging particularly sharp looking rocks, boulders, and egregious potholes/washboards, it’s easy going on two wheels. After a slight stop to pay an affordable Nation Park entrance fee, I came upon the crowded main overlook. It did not disappoint.

Fish River-rama!

While standing on the relatively bustling overlook, I watched three motorcycles, the first I’d seen since leaving Cape Town, cutting through a 4×4 path that’s one of two other options available to witness the Canyon, the third being a five day hike from the overlook back to Ai Ais that I wasn’t quite willing to do. My temporary excitement about fellow bikers abated somewhat as they approached and it became clear from their kit that they weren’t in it for the long haul — they had beautiful bikes, but without panniers, top cases, or any other luggage to speak of, and instead appeared to be weekend warriors getting their kicks. No judgment, but no feeling of kinship for the moment.

I followed in their tire tracks down the 4×4 track. Have I mentioned the unbridled joy and feeling of freedom one gets when carefully navigating treacherous two-tracks? I suppose I have. I trundled from overlook to overlook, taking a few minutes at each subsequent spot, breathing in the views which seemed fresh and new every 500 meters. I eventually gave up before finding the end of the road; I consider that a measure of success for Namibia’s roads.

My stop for the night was the town of Keetmanshoop (please don’t ask me to pronounce it). In Namibia, roads are designated with a letter and a number. The letter indicates the road’s quality: B roads are nice paved highways. C roads are occasionally sealed, frequently dirt and rock roads. D roads are what you’d expect. When I left Fish River Canyon, I had another 130km of Ds and Cs (I’d already gone more than 100 that morning) followed by 32km of tarmac.

Things started off with a degree of desolation I was beginning to become accustomed to: open desert, a scattering of rocky hills, the occasional bird struggling against the wind or spider skittering across the road, and rarely a truck or offroad tourbus. Then out of nowhere, a sign of civilization appeared on the horizon. As I approached, old cars with trees greeted me in a kitschy site that would have felt at home along the old US highways (think: South of the Border and Wall Drug, but smaller).

Welcome to the Namibian roadside attraction!
Marvel at the mysterious car trees!
Apparently they ran out of room to stick these things inside.

I stopped for lunch (some abomination they called a burger) and a beer, and marveled at the surreal spot. Multiple tour buses were hanging out here, and Namibian drivers and European tourists found plenty of opportunities to ask about my trip. They even had free internet, so I was able to set my sites on a hotel for the night.

It was a beautiful ride: barely any civilization for the first 100km, followed by lush farmland with signs proclaiming it to be an irrigation project. There was a large impressive dam, the output of which ran directly over the road…

Oh dam, who put this river in the middle of the desert?

When things are going well on dirt roads, one has a tendency to get a bit cavalier, and I’ll be the first to admit I was guilty. This usually turns out as you’d expect.  For me, I was 3km from the tarmac when I decided to get one last stretch break while I was still in the dirt. I was in super high spirits, so much so that I took an opportunity to cheese for the camera before turning it off:

Hi mom!

Then I looked at my bike and noticed my top case appeared to skew at a different angle than normal. I leaned in for a closer look and spotted that one of the support pieces for the cargo rack (which the top case is attached to) was snapped cleanly in two. Fuck! I went to the other side… it was the same. Double-fuck!

Those should be connected.

At this point, the top case (and main part of the cargo rack) were attached to the subframe by two small bolts on the base. These aren’t intended to provide horizontal stabilization, to the entire thing was freely bobbing back and forth. It also meant way more stress on the small welded metal bar that now supported the thing. This wasn’t good, and I had no idea when it happened, and therefor how long I’d been zipping down washboard roads at 60mph.

Whenever I’m offroading, I carry extra fuel in a jerry can attached to the back of the top case. First step was to minimize some weight, so I emptied the can into the tank. Next, I reconfigured my bungee cords to pull the top case forward in a mostly vain attempt to reduce the torque of the thing bouncing back and forth. Lastly, I strapped my cargo net around the back in hopes that if the last attachment points failed, I would notice before the entire thing tumbled off the back and possibly into high-speed traffic (the road I was about to merge onto had a speed limit of 120kmh [~75mph], but cars and minibuses frequently went much faster).

The good news was I was only ~36km from my destination for the night: Keetmanshoop. I swallowed my anxiety, climbed onto the bike, and nursed it the last ~3km of dirt, wincing at every bump. For those unfamiliar, it’s not uncommon for washboard dirt roads to pass by much smoother at speed as you seemingly glide over the tops, but I couldn’t risk the occasional big dip or pothole.

I made it safely onto the main Namibian highway, the B1. Unlike the other roads I’d been on, this one actually sees a fair bit of traffic, but is also in far better condition than the 101 in the Bay Area. I nervously found a speed I was comfortable with, around 50mph, and whiteknuckled it the remaining ~32km, constantly checking my rearview, riding as far forward on the seat as possible (to avoid applying pressure), and holding the top case forward when conditions allowed it.

Keetmanshoop isn’t much by California standards, but at around 21,000 people, it’s the largest city in southern Namibia. The Canyon Hotel, where I found to stay, was on the south side of town, where I was coming from, but within the few bits of civilization I passed before it was a steel fabrication shop, around 200 meters from the hotel! Given the towns I’d passed through so far in Namibia, this was an unbelievable stroke of luck. The hotel I’d picked was much larger than I’d expected, a once-grandiose affair built of brick and ornamental stones in the 60’s, with a large bronze commemorative plaque at the front door, but there were only 2 cars in the parking lot. I checked in, unloaded, and got right to the task at hand of taking the broken parts off my bike while there was still daylight.

While I was wrenching on my top case, a pair of men approached me and started asking the standard questions, with some extra bits about the bike — they were both riders themselves. I chatted with them for a couple minutes while working, and explained the predicament I’d found myself in. They took a look, and started asking questions, such as the composition of the metal the rack was made of, I couldn’t answer. Then they explained that they were in Namibia for work on a Dam project to the west, and that one was a boilermaker (a fancy welder), the other a weld inspector. What are the fucking odds, seriously. I told them my plan to go to the steel fabrication shop up down the road, and they told me if I had any trouble, they’d find me in town and give me a hand. They also told me the food at the hotel was pretty good. If you’re the religious type, insert statement about providence here.

I got a beer at the hotel bar and proceeded into full-on chill out mode. I’d arrived at the hotel around 4:30pm on a Sunday, and it was well past 5 now; there was nothing more I could do that night. I had good company at the bar.

He stuck to coke all night… and don’t ask about how he became a eunuch.

At 6:30, the hotel restaurant opened. I walked into an elegant dining room without a single soul in sight. The menu included dishes such as escargot for just a couple bucks. You’re goddamn right I ordered them. The rest of the food was pretty good, too.

A slow night in Keetmanshoop.

Afterwards, I again retired to the bar, this time finding a more lively companion: the hotel manager, Enrico. To say Enrico is well traveled is an understatement. Working in hospitality all his life, much of which was spent on Princess cruise ships, the man has been to over 160 countries, speaks 4ish languages, and speaks with the breezy openness you rarely see outside of dedicated hospitality folks. He told me about his life, his love, his travels, and the hotel. He also performed some sort of magic by which my beer remained full, and my bill didn’t increase. The conversation was a very meaningful decompression from the tribulations of the day. If you’re reading this, Enrico, thank you once more.

There were something like 3 other guests at the massive hotel that night, which combined with its brick architecture meant I slept in a nearly-unheard of silence. In the morning, I took my broken cargo rack to the steel shop, where the boss nearly laughed at the simple task of repairing it, and quoted me NAD$60 ($4.53) to fix it. I picked it up less than an hour later.

I like how it’s all one piece.

I’d decided to take it easy, so after re-assembling my bike, I relaxed, caught up on my sleep, and set my sights on Windhoek the following night. More to come!

Saying So-Long to a Sense of Self-Security

N.B.: This post is out-of-order, but I felt compelled to type it up while it was still fresh in my mind. Apologies for the disjoint timeline, and greetings from Windhoek!

I had the day to run errands in Windhoek, and things started off a bit hit-or-miss. Miss, I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo’s embassy here, but they were closed for a national Congolese holiday. Hit, I secured replacement tires for my motorcycle when I return from Sossusvlei. Miss, since I struck out at with the DRC embassy, I tried to proactively get a Zambian one since their embassy is nearby, but I got there at 1:30pm and they close at 12:45pm. Hit and miss, I got a Namibian SIM card since Google Fi doesn’t work here, but it requires special configuration to make the data work (trying settings from random internet sites didn’t seem to work). Miss, I tried (without data) to find the NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts, basically their National Parks Service) office to confirm a spot for myself in Sossusvlei, but ended up wandering around the area where Google claims they are unable to find them.

That last stop left me on the streets of downtown Windhoek, and I’d worked up a bit of an appetite. There was a British-style Fish and Chips restaurant on a corner just off the main drag, so I stopped inside to get some food. The place was setup like a fast food restaurant, with a big board with the menu, a cashier, and a separate counter to pick your up your food. Inside were 5 or so plastic tables with plastic chairs, but one wall of the restaurant was open to the sidewalk, and a handful of people sat on benches and milled around up front. I ordered my food and stood at the counter. The place was mildly busy.

As I waited, a woman in her mid-30’s walked up to the counter and stood very close to me, nearly grazing my arm, and said hello with a smile. She was dressed decently well and had white earbuds in both ears. My immediate thoughts were she was going to proposition me or ask for money, but instead she looked me in the eyes, still smiling, and told me “You must be careful when you leave.” I was still suspicious, and asked her plaintively: “Why must I be careful.” Her: “We can’t talk here. Just be very careful.” She then proceeded to casually walk around the restaurant, eventually finding her way back outside where she hung out with the 10 or so people out front, halfway inside the restaurant, none of whom were  eating.

I wasn’t sure what to think, but I was wearing my backpack with my passport in it (I’d been trying to visit the embassies, after all), and held it a little closer. Eventually my food came out, and I took a seat in the back, away from the open wall and sidewalk, and watched the scene while I ate. Casually, there was nothing suspicious going on, and  being in a busy area in the middle of the day, I wouldn’t normally be on edge, but the interaction was jarring, so I stayed cautiously hyper-aware.

I began to notice one of the folks on a bench looking my way repeatedly. I didn’t look like the rest of the patrons or staff, so again, it didn’t seem overly suspicious, but I kept his gaze in my peripheral vision, and he kept looking at me, at which point I’d make eye contact and he’d turn away. I ate my food, continually aware of his attention. Towards the end of my meal, I looked in his direction, and saw the woman who’d given me the warning standing behind the guy, who was looking another direction. Down by her waist, she casually pointed a finger towards him while looking at me. I nodded subtly and her pointing finger became a thumbs up, I gave her one back. What the fuck was going on!? I casually snapped a photo with my phone over my plate of food…

The man in the white t-shirt on the right was the one looking at me. The woman behind the window with the horizontal stripes was the one who warned me.

As I finished my meal, my mind played through all the scenarios: were they fucking with me, was he planning to mug me in the daylight in the middle of town, was he planning something more subtle like trying to steal things from my bag or pickpocket me? It was impossible to say with any authority, but I made a plan. My original path home would have taken me directly in front of the table the guy was sitting on, so that no longer seemed prudent. Instead I waited for him to become otherwise occupied, dropped off my tray of food, and went out the side and across the street in the opposite direction. I kept an eye on him, crossed to the opposite corner, went halfway down the block to where I was hidden by traffic, crossed again, and proceeded onto the main street continually aware of who was walking around me. I kept on edge my entire uneventful walk home.

I like to think of myself as having decent street smarts, and had the woman not come up to me, I’d have considered myself about as safe as anywhere I’ve been in my travels thus far. Her warning, whatever it meant, has unsettled my confidence in a way that’s hard to explain, and perhaps I don’t fully appreciate yet. Windhoek is a modern, diverse city, and while I stick out, I was far from uncomfortable with the amount of attention I was drawing. Worse for me, the feeling of a lack of safety that pervaded my thoughts on the way home was deeply unpleasant; it’s not enjoyable to be incredibly suspicious of your surroundings for reasons you don’t fully understand, and it’s mentally draining to maintain a heightened state of awareness.

In summary: I have no idea what happened, I’m not sure how long this crisis of confidence will last, but I’m certain there’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere.

Exit, Cape Left

With the burn over, it’s nearly time to begin my travels in earnest. First, as previously mentioned, my bike needed some work (that was fast!). I wanted my petcock fixed/replaced and an oil change. I dropped the bike off at 8am on Wednesday, confident such trivial work would be resolved in no more than two days. I forgot to think in what the locals assure me is standard Africa Time (or, perhaps even more popular, “TIA:” This Is Africa)… It took three days for them to tell me the petcock needed to be replaced (what I told them to do in the first place) and that they were just about to order the part from Johannesburg, eta Monday or Tuesday. Sigh.

I was stuck in Cape Town like this car is stuck in an ostrich traffic jam.

There are far worse places to be stuck than Cape Town. The weather, food, people, scenery, and side-trips offered here are world-class. I haven’t been suffering. Instead I:

  • Went wine tasting.
  • Revisited the Penguin Colony in Simonstown (Boulders Beach).
  • Revisited Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope (and found a year-old Black Rock Lighthouse Service sticker still hanging out by the lighthouse there).
  • Attended a super-hip night market in Hout Bay.
  • Climbed Table Mountain and hung out with cute fuzzy rodents and big scary eagles.
  • Went to a large AfrikaBurn decompression party.
  • Re-organized my things about a dozen times to come up with a better packing strategy.
  • Caught up on my sleep.
  • Vegged out on Netflix.
Table Mountain selfies!

Eventually, my bike made it back to me and I pried my way out of Cape Town’s comfortable clutches, heading North on the N7, the so-called Cape Namibia Route. The first thing you notice is that South Africa knows how to build a highway. It is beautifully paved and labeled, with no potholes and picnic areas every small handful of Kilometers. From this fine thoroughfare, you watch the landscape change — from urban to poverty to industrial to agricultural. The parallels between Cape Town and San Francisco are legion and worthy of a write-up in their own right, but among them are the presence of a large wine industry just to the North. I stopped at an organic winery and had 5 small glasses of wine for less than $2USD. Life is hard.

I finally managed to walk away from Cape Town.

Hitting the road again, things moved more gradually. The traffic dropped off, the wind picked up, the rolling fields of vineyards and grains slowly transformed to rocks and scrub-grass and eventually rocky foothills. The wind was at a fever pitch. My bike found comfort at the sustained wind at around 20 degrees from vertical, and buffeted uncontrollably when passing a fast-moving oncoming semi-truck. I rode past another truck that had been blown from the roadway, unfortunately directly into a power pole, where a team of people were unloading its contents into smaller vehicles as it lay on its side. I have no idea if they were in linked with the original transportation outfit, and their ragtag appearance didn’t provide any useful indication.

Goodbye cute little full-eye-contact rodent! I’ll miss you the most, maybe!

As the landscape became increasingly barren, the improbability of the continuing perfect road stuck in my American mind. Each subsequent small settlement seemed increasingly impossible to posses the necessities for life, and each seemed more unwelcoming as-if to confirm that thought. Eventually, I sought refuge from the evening in a combination motel, caravan park, and convention center, located just outside of the oddly-suburban/touristic town of Springbok (which locals have assured me is mostly famous for generally topping the temperature forecasts in South Africa). Despite a lack of hot running water, and an oddly institutional vibe, I slept well in the tiny bed, seemingly the only resident of the large operation.

Roads through wine country are the best roads.

Morning brought me an extremely windy ride to the Namibian border. The scrub-grass slowly disappeared into a truly barren desert with dust clouds blasting orthogonally across the highway. I pulled into one of the picnic areas for a break. I set my helmet down and immediately realized my motorcycle was about to be blown *over* the kickstand. I braced it with my body, and my helmet took flight across the desert, thankfully coming to a rest right off the roadway. I climbed back onto the bike and managed to walk it close enough that I could hold it upright while re-acquiring my helmet. I’ve rarely seen wind like this even on the tops of mountains.

I eventually came upon the Namibian border. I just beat out one of the giant overland buses into line, and was able to glide smoothly through immigration and customs, with only a few confused glances at the paperwork I’d managed to generate at the Cape Town airport when I imported my motorcycle. A few tourists asked me about my adventures, and a suspicious police officer casually pawed through one of my panniers, and I was over the bridge border to Namibia! Things there were even easier, and within the hour, I’d crossed my first African overland border!

The first thing I realized upon topping up my fuel tank is that Namibia appears to use South African Rand interchangeably with their own currency; the ATM I visited actually dispensed a mix of 100 Rand and 100 Namibian Dollar notes! Well, to each country their own, I suppose!

On the Namibian side, there was only a hint of scrub-grass, and a smaller helping of boulders. Instead, the landscape swept out onto the mountainous horizon in dirt and pebbles. A sign helpfully warned that they weren’t into painting lines onto the tarmac (and traffic helpfully indicated to me that they still insist on driving on the left), but aside from a slightly rockier tarmac, the road was equally flawless. My first night in Namibia was to be at a “Hot Spring” (more about the quotes in a minute) in a national park, and I decided to take the more-direct dirt road to get there. In 86 kilometers of dirt path, I saw one car and one tractor. This is a country of dust, rocks, fence, and small birds, not one of men. Once again, my DRZ proved it’s not scares of dirt roads, especially when they’re helpfully parallel to the wind, and I made it to Ais Ais National Park without further incident.

Ais Ais translates into something like burning water, and it’s a pretty accurate name… They claim to have a “spa,” but what they have is a  shallow, rocky pit of 60 C  (140 F) water that’s painful to dip a toe into, and a big swimming pool of cold water. I never saw anyone in either. They also have a few buildings full of what look like hotel rooms with no one in them (they claimed to have no rooms available), and nearly a hundred camping spots with power. It was tent time, and I was happy for it. I set up and headed to the restaurant — I was famished. Unfortunately, they didn’t open for dinner until 6:30, and it was 4pm! I think my disappointment was apparent (and a little charm can go a long way), and the server came back awhile later with a plate of chips (fries) telling me she convinced the chef they were for her. I devoured them and thanked her profusely.

Since there wasn’t much to do at the “spa” besides talk to the frequent rubberneckers that would gather around, poke, prod, and photograph my motorcycle (I hadn’t seen another since leaving Cape Town), I called it an early night.

Travels with Tankwa, or Adventures in AfrikaBurn

I hardly slept the night before the burn. It’s a common story. I forced myself to sleep around midnight, bags packed, clothes set out, alarm painfully set for 4am. I woke up at 3:30 and all hopes to eek out that last 30 minutes of sleep quickly went out the window. I oozed from the covers and prepared for the adventure.

AfrikaBurn lies in the Tankwa desert, a mere 3.5-4 hours out of Cape Town. The pavement ends a tad over 100km from the event, and the dusty rock-filled path is notorious for eating tires. I’d pre-arranged a caravan with some folks from my hostel, and at five past 5am, we hit the cold dark road.

In my mind, the trip would be hot and dusty, but the first 2 hours ascended through windswept mountain vistas. I’d not dressed for the weather, and the wind that tossed my bike around like a bag caught on a fence (and overturned a huge overloaded semi-truck) also chilled me to the bone. I didn’t want to lose my caravan, so I shivered and shook until we reached Ceres, the last town before the desert. We ate breakfast at a chain restaurant filled with fellow burners, and I aggressively cupped my coffee in my numb hands.

Welcome, indeed!

The last few miles of pavement passed by uneventfully, then ended abruptly with thick dirt and rocks. AfrikaBurn hosted ~13,000 attendees in 2017, and the size difference with Burning Man is thankfully reflected in the entrance traffic. Bumping down the washboard road kicks up massive clouds of impenetrable dust which are particularly arduous in the exposed seat of a motorcycle. Luckily, my narrow profile, offroad suspension, and weight afforded me the convenience of speed, and I mostly managed to pass slower vehicles that otherwise coated my body, helmet, and lungs with dust.

A loo with a view.

The dirt road was a goddamn pleasure on two wheels; my DR-Z400S floated like a dream. The landscape was pleasant in its stark emptiness. The occasional random pedestrian, seemingly unencumbered with bags or water, padded down the desolate shoulder at odd intervals. Eventually, there’s a road to the right, poorly labeled with the “Clan,” the analogue for Burning Man’s “Man.” Another windy kilometer down the road, and the familiar lines of a desert festival entrance unfolded on the horizon. There was no line — another lovely difference from the Gerlach regional. Within minutes, I had a wristband and was speeding 10km/hr towards home on the Welcome Road.

At the welcome gate, covered in dust

My amazing friend, former campmate, and artist behind the badass Black Rock Lighthouse service did me the great service of bringing me into his camp, and I headed towards its playa address (Lady Davina and B). The first face I saw was a campmate I’d also been in touch with through a web of connections. He pointed me to my new temporary home. I’d arrived!

I’ve had the good fortune to make it to the last 9 burns in Nevada, but never to one of the many regional events. Without a lot of ideas about what to expect, at AfrikaBurn I was a sponge. At first blush, it looks like Burning Man hit by a shrink ray: the campground is smaller, the camps are smaller, the art is smaller. The vibe is nearly identical. If you go out to the playa at night,  you could momentarily be convinced it was just another Burning Man until you squint enough to perceive depth.

But then you see that there are a lot fewer theme camps, and less events going on. You notice that nearly all of the shade structures are these incredible stretchy tents that were largely set up by rental companies. You stumble over rocks and scramble up and down dry riverbeds. You shit in a long-drop toilet, open to the sun and the stars. You marvel at how white the burn is, and realize that you’re thinking those thoughts from Africa.

It was a goddamn good time. That said, some part of the spark that Burning Man represents to me was missing. Missing were miles of campground frontage aggressively pulling you in to be misted, fed, launched, spanked, slapped, or plied with alcoholic snowcones. Missing were oases on the outskirts of the desert where you can perch on a shady beanbag chair and watch the wavering apparitions on the horizon crawl slowly across your vision, the occasional ball of fire reaching up and licking the mountains. Missing for me were the unending serendipitous meetings with close friends, often when I thought I didn’t want to be found. Sometimes the things you end up missing surprise you.

There was a distinctly wild-west vibe that I’m sure would be reminiscent of American burns gone by: police were present, but I never heard of any busts, and the ones I saw walked in large groups joking, smoking, and looking at the occasional uncovered boobs. Joints were rolled and smoked in plain view. The burn schedule was effectively written in pencil, with many postponements including the Clan itself, which much to my surprise, was burned a day late and after the Temple. Burn perimeters were routinely violated in an AfrikaBurn tradition of running naked around the fire. Art car speed limits were very much a suggestion. Got a flat-bed, some lights, and a sign? You’ve got an art car!

A stomach bug swept through the burn to epic effect. I’ve heard countless stories of burners vomiting through their last few days of the burn, or the ride home, or the worst: 30 hour transatlantic flights while regularly exploding out of both ends.

I fared better than this horny guy.

When it came time for my own departure, I lost my caravan in the dust and was quite concerned when I learned while waiting for them that there had been a fatal accident on the road a few minutes behind me. My bike was running a bit rough, so I had to goose the throttle when stopped to keep things moving, at which point I realized the fuel petcock was dumping fuel out the vent hole with each pulse of the piston (it’s vacuum-driven by the engine).

In summary: I’m back in Cape Town with a host of new friends, my bike is at the shop, and I’ve caught up on my sleep. And there are penguins, so many cute penguins!

Goddamn adorable little guys.

Ship Shock, or How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Burns

Part 1:

My sturdy steed, my trusty transit — my soon to be dusty dreambike — has arrived, unharmed and fully functional to the great city of Cape Town. Make no mistake, no humble words, dear reader, will convey the rich mix of excitement and relief that’s been pouring through my veins since the wood walls that passed across the ocean with my beloved bike. The logistics of receiving it was one of the most endearing things that’s happened to me so far, which is mind-boggling since we’re talking about dealing with customs and cargo handlers!

Spoiler! Complete with a brand new AfrikaBurn sticker, straight from their HQ

Things didn’t start off smoothly. The flight from Istanbul to Cape Town was delayed by a little over an hour, and 30 minutes after it had landed, the folks at the cargo office hadn’t received a final manifest to confirm that the bike had indeed arrived (it had previously been marked as taking a flight on the 16th, but had been rebooked). I was antsy, so I decided to head to the cargo office independently. I took yet another Uber and had them drop me outside the secure gate. I walked up, and was instantly met by a guard who told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t be walking in. I was immediately incredulous! I had walked in on the 16th, signing a ledger in the guard house before being let in, but this woman insisted there was no ledger, and that foot traffic in was strictly forbidden. To enter, I needed to be in a vehicle. We went back and forth several times, and the logic of this rule was completely lost on me, and within 5 minutes, the woman, tired of dealing with me, asked a random driver coming in in a car to let me in. He begrudgingly accepted, I hopped in, went through the gate, and got out again. Well, okay, whatever works I guess!

Next to the cargo receiving office proper. A crotchety man in a neon safety vest in a wheelchair insisted on giving me directions. An incredibly friendly guy behind the counter recognized me from Sunday, greeting me with a stack of paperwork including the original Airway Bill. My bike was here somewhere! I stepped out to head to customs, and the wheelchair man once again flagged me down and sent me off in the proper direction.

This was one of the parts I’d expected to be tricky. To ship a bike into South Africa, you’re highly encouraged to have an anachronistic document called a carnet de passage en douanes. It’s basically a passport for a vehicle. Once common, only a handful of countries still use these, and many of them are in Africa, but aside from some outliers (notably Egypt), it’s optional when crossing borders overland. Shipping is different, but I’d spent days researching the requirements and reaching out to South African customs, eventually getting some useful information from the South African consulate in the US that a particular customs form, the aptly named SAD 500, should enable me to safely bring my bike in. Of course, there’s a catch: the SAD 500 requires a bond at 30% of the value of the vehicle that’s reimbursed upon the vehicle’s passage out of the country. I’d read online that the value customs decides to use for any particular vehicle can vary.

With all this in my mind, I waited my turn at a customs window, where the first question was unsurprisingly “Do you have a carnet?” The two ladies behind the glass barrier were not impressed with my answer. They scolded me harshly, telling me how important it is, and seemingly brushing off my statement about a SAD 500. A couple sentences in, their chiding became “make sure you get a carnet next time” (emphasis mine) and my heart rate began to slow. I think my excitement was contagious, as before I knew it, one of the women behind the glass was asking if I had room for her to join me, and they were handing me a stamped document free of charge that they told me was all I needed. Sight unseen and without a penny spent, I’d just cleared a motorcycle into Africa.

Back to the cargo office, more paperwork, more stamps, and I’m handed a packet to give to security to get my bike. The friendly guy behind the counter asks how I’m getting the bike out of the crate, I give him a look of pleading, and before I can open my mouth, he’s laughing and holding a giant crowbar. My good fortune continues!

My first glimpse of my two-wheeled friend.

I hand the documents over, and a crowbar-wielding handler bursts through the gate driving a forklift, crate in proverbial hand. My heartbeat swells. The crate is dropped off to the side on the loading dock, and three handlers, including my gruff wheelchaired friend, descend on the crate with a sense of purpose. The top lifts off. I get my first look. My heart sings.

My new friends at work!

My bike is released from its protective shell, but my friends aren’t done. I need to re-assemble the top case, re-install my mirrors, and reshuffle my things. Before I know it, the cargo handlers are into my tools, working together to do things for me. They install my mirrors. They install my top case. They help me re-pack. The wheelchaired man directs it all from his perch. I am in complete and utter awe and appreciation. As we finish, I give them all big hugs under the baking African sun. They accept this with a nonchalance that says “of course we’re helping you get your shit together. Welcome to South Africa!”

Welcome, indeed!

I suit up. I mount my fully assembled machine. I wave a meaningful and heartfelt farewell, and I head to the exit. The guard there looks at me, asks for my ID, and before I can even reach for it tells me it’s too difficult for me to retrieve and waves me through unchecked.

I’m on the road (what feels like the wrong side of it).

I’m riding on the highway.

I feel the wind through my mesh jacket.

The sound of the motorcycle, the hot air, and the traffic plays like the most beautiful symphony inside my head. After years of thought and planning, months of logistics, and a life of dreams, I’m riding my first meters on an adventure bike on this fourth, and most personally mysterious, continent. Emotion pours over me with the wind.

I head back to my hostel and have a beer. And then another. I relax. I buy a chain and lock my bike to a post. My friend, you’re not going anywhere without me for awhile.

Part 2:

10,000 miles from home, and I haven’t escaped the gratuitous and gracious giving of fellow burners, and as I type, an army of them are descending on Cape Town and the deserts north. A fluke of my timing, once it was so in reach, there was never a choice in my mind: I was going to be amongst them in the desert. But it’s no small feat surviving in the desert for a week with only a motorbike to bring your things, and even less so when you’re outfitted to do far more things on the bike than just attend AfrikaBurn.

Enter the community: Say what you will about “hippies taking drugs in the desert,” but let no one say that burners aren’t some of the most outrageously generous folks. Let’s approach this, once again, in list form. The following things have happened to me since arriving:

  • Offered water to be brought for me to the burn for free (refusing payment) by a total stranger.
  • Offered to bring any other goods I may need by a total stranger.
  • Offered three different opportunities to caravan up with folks, all of which are willing to help me bring things up.
  • Convinced a stranger at my hostel to go to the burn, and before the end of the day she had a ticket and ride to get there.
  • Offered help finding an early entry pass (pending).
  • Offered many dusty hugs by Black Rock Rangers.
  • Approached by a journalist who wants to chat at the burn.
  • Offered tips on where to get costumes and food.

Nevermind the new friends, amazing company, and general feeling of being once again in a community that welcomes me and does everything possible to allow me to succeed.

Africa, you’re off to a pretty swell start.

The Trip Begins

Sanibonani from Cape Town! It’s been a busy week. Allow me to quickly summarize in list form:

  • Finalized flights
  • Moved my things out of my dad’s place and into The Jambulance
  • Drove with my father to pick up my crated motorcycle
  • Discovered the crate was too large for the trailer we’d hauled from Kalamazoo to Detroit
  • Rented a u-haul trailer
  • Picked up the trailer
  • Entered Canada
  • Dropped off the crate at a bustling freight warehouse near the airport
  • Checked into a Chinatown hostel in Toronto
  • Bid farewell to my mother
  • Caught an Uber to the Toronto airport with a South African driver who spent the entire ride cautioning me in no unclear language about how extremely dangerous South Africa is, including personal anecdotes wherein he overheard the staff at a hotel he stayed in in Cape Town colluding to rob him that evening in Sotho (a language they assumed he didn’t understand), ending in him getting in touch with the hotel owner and having them fired
  • Flew 10390 miles, 21 hours with the layover and delays, to Cape Town via Addis Ababa
  • Stopped by the Cape Town cargo terminal and learned my motorcycle is arriving Tuesday afternoon
  • Caught an Uber to the AirBNB I’d booked south of the airport
  • Drove through the middle of some extremely seedy townships, the driver repeatedly remarking that the neighborhood is “very dangerous” and proceeding to lock the doors, roll up the windows, and run a stop sign
  • Got dropped off at my AirBNB in an uncomfortable-feeling neighborhood of tiny houses
  • Called my host when there was no answer at the door only to be told he was out of town and had mistakenly accepted the request for a room
  • Drew a lot of looks lugging my stuffed backpacking backpack through the labyrinthine neighborhood to a major intersection
  • Caught another Uber to a nice hostel in a student area near town
  • Checked in and drank a much-deserved beer
My bike, all packed up and (nearly) ready to fly

First to the question you’re clearly already looking to ask me: I’m totally aware that Uber is a company that’s been acting like garbage pretty much since the beginning, but I’ve mostly had no choice! There’s no Lyft in Toronto or Cape Town! 😉

Hi Mom! The camera is over there, though…

Alright, we’ve gotten that out of the way. Let’s talk second impressions: I had the privilege of visiting South Africa seven years ago with friends, one of whom grew up here and still has family in the Eastern Cape. On that trip, we had a rental car and spent a large portion of our time on the tourist circuit or staying with my friend’s family. Traveling solo is always a different beast, with every interaction colored by others’ perception and your own lack of group influence. 24 hours in, I feel extremely welcomed here.

Aside from the occasional stare, folks have been helpful, kind, friendly, and open. On a personal level, walking down the streets (an activity you see very few white people doing outside of the downtown CBD) and feeling like the odd one out is, to me, a valuable lesson that anyone who’s lived most of their life with an appearance similar to the majority of the people around them should learn. The smiles and help I’ve gotten from pedestrians, bus drivers, and kids serves to me as a stark juxtaposition to the treatment minorities often get elsewhere. Considering how recently there were major shifts in race relations in South Africa, it’s hard for me not to feel heartened about our abilities to co-exist, forgive, and perceive people as individuals, not just members of a group.*

Looking for some side-eye with your beer? Look no further than Ethiopia!

For those curious about my plans, my next week will be dedicated to three things: preparing to attend AfrikaBurn next week (a gratuitous self-indulgence at the beginning of my trip), exploring Cape Town, and, most importantly, planning my next steps after. More to come!

Please be OK today!

*NB, as a white guy from the Midwest, my own knowledge and depth of experience on these subjects is limited at best and is in no way meant to be authoritative. I’ll also add that my last trip to South Africa, I heard some of the most blatant and offensive hate-speech I’ve encountered anywhere.

A Brief Introduction

My name is Levi Weintraub, and I like to travel.

In particular, I’ve enjoyed so-called-adventure motorcycling. There’s something unique about the medium. You hitch your life and experiences to a simple machine, taking only what you need to keep you and it running. You experience every mile of your journey in a carnal way; when it’s hot, you’re hot. When it’s cold, you’re cold. When it rains you get wet. You feel the humidity shift when you cross a bridge. You lean through turns. You try not to travel at night. You don’t listen to music or have conversations. You’re in the moment, often for hours at a time. You go and stop places you otherwise may not.

I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to motorcycle through 17 countries and 46 States in the last 10 years (you can read about the longest of these trips in my last travel blog). They were wild and wonderful times. I learned a lot about the human condition, and with sufficient reflection, I’ve learned about the constant “other”-ing that we’re subject to from our limited knowledge about the peoples of the world. I also had some very tough times, and looking back, I’ve come to recognize the tough times as some of the most formative and rewarding.

Given my experiences, Africa has been at the forefront of my mind to explore for a long time. It seems very difficult to travel through, and it feels very foreign. I’d love to dispel some of that feeling, and learn meaningfully from what’s left. With that in mind, I’m setting off to ride across a large part of it.

My trip begins in South Africa, and ostensibly ends in southern Spain/Gibraltar. I originally intended to do so with a partner, but my partner bailed far into the process. Stubbornness, hubris, and an unquenchable sense of adventure has caused me to stick, more or less, to my original plan: I’ll be in Africa on April 16th, 2017.

I mentioned previously my privilege, but it bears repeating: I’ve been extremely fortunate in my life. In brainstorming with my departed partner, he brilliantly suggested trying to give back in some way while we traveled. My goal is to honor his idea by following through insofar as I’m able, and to spend a reasonable amount of my time traveling trying to be a force for good, not just a tourist.