Woman Alone - Around Africa (Book Excerpt 2)

With that, the Governor escorted me to the runway and bade me farewell. He asked that I notify him when I returned and I, again, thanked him profusely for his amazing generosity. I felt like I’d never be able to thank him enough in my lifetime. Although he is a very stoic military man, he hugged me before I got in the plane wished me the best of luck. As I boarded, I realized that I wouldn’t be the only passenger. A man and woman sat buckled up in their seats. The man introduced himself as Alfonso, Personal Aid to the Minister of Tourism for Angola. He informed me that he would be escorting me to Lobito, where the Minister would be waiting to meet with me at the Hotel Terminus, a four star hotel situated on the beachfront. This time I did laugh out loud.

I spent the next few hours sleeping on the plane as we headed for Lobito. In some way, I sort of expected to wake up and find that I was back in my tent on the side of the road and that this had all been just one crazy dream!

I woke up as we touched down in Lobito, to discover that this crazy dream happened to be my reality. Pedro met us at the airport and also accompanied us to the hotel where I’d be meeting with the Minister of Tourism. The short ride from the airport gave us some time to catch up on all that had transpired over the last few days. Pedro was extremely supportive and understanding. On arrival at the hotel, the Minister had not yet arrived and I was shown to a room where I would be staying for the next day or two. Later on that evening, the Minister arrived and we all had dinner together, including Pedro and his wife. The Minister also expressed his disappointment in the events that had transpired and offered his apologies. He asked me if I had decided what I wanted to do and I told him that I wanted to return back to South Africa to start over again. I had already spoken to my South African friends in Lobito and could hitch a ride with one of them back to Windhoek and catch a flight back to Johannesburg from there. Riding back to Windhoek would also give me a bit more time to come to terms to all that had happened and start formulating a plan of action for when I returned home.

The next two days were spent on the road, heading back to Windhoek, in a 4x4. A distance that took me weeks to cover on my bicycle, only took two days in a vehicle. As we drove to Windhoek, I could pinpoint every single spot where I had set up camp. It made me feel pretty nostalgic, although I didn’t say much. I didn’t feel like talking much. I had the $20 000 in my Camelbak which lay on the back seat of the 4x4. I got to feel what it’s like to be a smuggler as we crossed the border back into Namibia. I didn’t feel the need to declare the money, unless asked, as I felt it might cause unnecessary drama that I’d have to deal with. I had had enough drama over the last couple of days. No one ever asked or searched the vehicle. I think I have potential as a cross-border smuggler.

When we arrived in Windhoek, I went straight to the airport to catch my flight back home to Johannesburg. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Go straight home. Flying had become my least favorite mode of transport, at this point, as I was still suffering from the flu and being up thousands of feet in the air really hurt my ears! I now get why babies are forever crying on airplanes.

Back home in South Africa, I took a few days out to just relax, to process the past week’s events and to come up with some kind of plan in my head. I knew I wanted to start over again on a motorcycle, although I didn’t know the first thing about riding or overland travel on a motorcycle. I spent days scouring the internet, searching for online motorcycling and adventure travel forums. I read every article I could find on adventure motorcycle traveling and learned about dual-purpose motorcycles.

After extensive research, the list of potential motorcycles finally came down to three possibilities: I would choose between a Honda Africa Twin, a Kawasaki KLR or a BMW F650GS Dakar. My personal preference leaned towards the BMW, although I ultimately went for the cheaper option and bought a brand new Kawasaki KLR 650. It had to be delivered as I could not yet ride it home. Amazing that one can buy a motorcycle on a learner’s license in South Africa!

Since he had been riding motorcycles since his teens, I asked my younger brother if he could teach me to ride a motorcycle. My brother can be pretty sweet, I’ll give him that, but he has no patience whatsoever! He explained to me, in theory, how the gearing on a motorcycle works and how to pull away. A few rimes, he stood by and watched me struggle to try and pull away on a little Yamaha 250 and then gave up. I kept trying until I finally got it. At first, I would practice pulling off, stopping, and then pulling off again. Then I started riding in circles. It’s just like riding a bicycle, except it is less taxing physically and you can go much faster!

I was so scared of riding the Kawasaki for the first time. It’s a tall bike for a short girl like me. I’m of average height at 5’5”, but what helps is that I have fairly long legs, which helps a lot in being able to ride just about any bike, no matter the height. That being said, when you are a novice it makes for being very nervous. I knew that to get over my fear, I needed to get on the bike and ride somewhere. Anywhere! Easy peasy. So, for my maiden ride, Hanret took pictures as I was about to pull out of the garage. I swung my leg over the bike and nearly dropped it on the opposite side, but just managed to keep it up. With Hanret’s help. Then, with my heart pounding in my throat, I pulled off out of the garage and headed down the road. After my heartbeat returned to a more reasonable rate, I was able to start getting used to the bike. Riding was easy, stopping and pulling off were the tricky parts!

I spent the next few weeks getting used to the bike and doing tons of research on what I’d need for the road ahead. I researched spares and tools and watched how-to videos on YouTube on how to change a tyre and clean an air filter on a motorcycle. I started the application process for visas all over again, this time, I’d apply for all my visas up until Cameroon. I learned about a Carnet de Passage, which is basically the motorcycle’s passport that needs to be carried when crossing borders and allows the temporary ‘import’ of a motorized vehicle into a foreign country and the removal of it within a certain time. Exactly in the way that a visa works for a human. It’s a pretty expensive document though. Depending on where one means to travel, one can expect to have to pay up to 300% of the value of your vehicle as a deposit on a Carnet de Passage. The good news, though, is that one gets this back after one’s return to country of residence.

I knew from the outset that I didn’t have enough money to make it all the way around the African continent, factoring in all the visas required. Even with the Governor’s amazingly generous sponsorship, I’d only maybe be able to make it half way, if I worked really sparingly. Then, something happened that I could never have foreseen!

One morning, while sitting in front of my laptop and reading yet another ride report on overland motorcycle travel for research, I received a message on my personal Facebook profile from Bornito de Sousa, Minister of Local Government of Angola. He introduced himself in his message and expressed his wish to apologize for what had happened to me in Angola. Further to his message, he conveyed that if there was anything that the Angolan government could do to help me, I should let him know.

I read the message over and over again and could hardly believe my eyes. I doubt very much that, had these events transpired in any other country in the world, I would ever have received this type of reaction. The kindness and support from the Angolan people, in general, just blew me away! I also took this as a sign to grab the opportunity with both hands and wrote back to the Minister, explaining my predicament of lack of funding to complete the journey. I told him that my decision to start over again on a motorcycle now meant that I needed way more funding than what I would’ve needed on the bicycle. He replied with an understanding tone and asked me to send him a proposal with a figure of what I would need for the entire project. My heart jumped back up into my throat again! Another Eureka moment!

Over the next 48 hours, I slept very little and stayed up trying to figure out exactly how much I would need for the entire project. Including fuel, spares, tools, new camping equipment, riding gear, visas, food the Carnet de Passage, the works. I put together a proposal with my intended route and names of the countries I intended traveling through. I tried to explain as best I could why I wanted to do this and at the very end, I included a financial breakdown with a final amount of $60 000 for the entire trip around Africa, all inclusive. After I compiled an email to the Minister and uploaded the proposal, it took me forever to hit the send button. What if he said no? What if he thought me a total crook? I felt like I was taking a fat chance! But I had to try. I took a deep breath, counted to three and hit send. I just needed to wait for an answer.

I hate how time slows down when you are forced to wait for something. A minute feels like an hour and an hour feels like a day! The next two days felt like the longest wait of my life. I just about wore out the Refresh button on my laptop’s keyboard, hopeful that the next time I hit it, a reply from the Minister might appear.

Finally, he did reply. It took me longer to open the email than to send it! I felt afraid of what I might find in the email. I’d eventually have to check though and when I finally scraped together the courage to read his reply, I nearly fell off my chair!

He said yes!

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