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VENTURIDE Newsletter #11 - April 2017
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Hello from Argentina,

I am delighted to share with you that crossing Africa, where I've spent 2 months and drove 15 000 kms, went very smo
othly and I am now on the other side of the Atlantic, on a slightly different time zone in Argentina, Buenos Aires. I landed on the the land of Maradona and Messi on April 5th and I am waiting for my bike to arrive by plane on Tuesday 10th ( if everything goes as planned with South American and African customs). Never guaranteed based on what I've heard, especially in Argentina. 

I am super excited to be back here in South America as I have amazing memories from my 7 months spent there in 2010 and 2012. Back then, I was a student with limited experience in  backpacking. I found joy in long bus rides at night or early morning planes at times where even early morning birds don't sing. My personal best was a 48 hour long bus ride (in the same bus) to make sure I would be on time for a lecture I didn't really care of. I just had to go because my way of life there had prevented me from attending enough classes...For those who remember, it was more like 1 week of class and 12 days of travel, and this continuously for the duration of my exchange!

As a result, I believe I've already covered South America quite well so I've voluntarily designed my itinerary to go through a majority of unknown territories. However, I will go back to El Salar de Uyuni as I really want to get out of my comfort zone and ride across the world's largest salt flat desert. It is known to be tough by bike but I am up for the challenge...if my dear sister is still OK :) 

Apologies as I've diverted slightly... let's go back to what happened in Africa!!!

For my French followers, I've tried to capture most of my findings and observations in my logbook, but I know that most of you prefer to check out pictures so here is the latest photo album! As usual, you can also find a selection here! My itinerary across Africa can be visible here

I hope you are well and thanks for reading. 

Jean
Check Out My Teaser Videos
Spotlight on my emotions (a challenging exercise for me ;))

I've experienced a mix of emotions when crossing the African continent.

My most intense day was when I drove from Windhoek to Solitaire in Namibia. I stayed seated on my bike for more than 9 hours and drove across the most challenging terrains: sand, mud, dirt, rivers and gravel. The journey took longer than expected because my GPS lost me as I was driving in the middle of nowhere. I could only rely on my compass and my determination to overcome the challenging terrains, to stand up after the numerous falls, to cope with the extremely hot temperatures...and to cross rivers. As I reached Solitaire, a small stop over in the middle of nowhere where time has stopped, the only shop was already closed. Luckily, a lady came out of it as I arrived and she kindly accepted to sell me some slice of Apple Crumble...made by a very talented Patissier! I didn't need to listen to a Podcast of C Dans L'Air to fall asleep...I was exhausted...and the only energy I had left was used to pitch my tent and wash outside in the dark. 

I've experienced some other great feelings when driving across some small villages in the middle of nowhere, where the children smiled and waved at me, after having first been scared by the noise of my bike, a noise unknown to them as they do everything by foot. I was also very proud and happy to reach the Namibian West Coast in Walvis Bay as it symbolised the crossing of Africa from East to West. The same applied when I reached Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point in Africa.

I expressed a bit of stress when I thought I had ran out of fuel in Tanzania or when the side case of my bike fell apart from my bike in the middle of a park in Botswana...after having seen some elephants a few hundreds metres back...and where it is forbidden to stop because of the wildlife. In an attempt to scare the animals away, I kept my engine on as I walked back to fetch the case. It was completely broken so I had to find a quick way to attach it to the bike.

It would be hard not to be shocked by the level of inequalities on this continent. The white colonisers and the policies and decisions put in place when leaving this continent have not only prevented these countries from developing but those who remained there kept all the benefits despite representing the minority. In Namibia for example, 5000 white land owners own 36 million hectares whereas 1 million local black farmers survive on 34 million hectares. Even though, the Namibian government has tried to implement a new policy in 2005, the process to give back land to the locals is slow yet nearly nonexistent because only 1% of the land has been given back. Tensions are visible but remain less intense than what Zimbabwe has been through.
As I was having breakfast in Solitaire (Namibia), a “team meeting” led by the white farmer was taking place at the same time. He didn't even know the same of his staff (who work more than 70 hours/week for 86 euros / month) and he was threatening them to “make an impact” when coming to work as he “had other young guys waiting on a bench all day ready to take the other's job”. It took longer than usual to digest my breakfast...
Even though the “Small Apartheid” (An historical terminology) might be over in South Africa, the consequences of the “Big Apartheid” are still visible and the black citizens continue to live in the townships outside of the “dynamic” cities. It is hard to believe that they will experience a prosperous future.

Finally, the visit of the Slave Lodge in Cape Town refreshed my memories on the cruel conditions imposed on the black citizens. Even if the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in 1834 in South Africa, slavery still exists in the region. Today, in Mozambique for example, women are traded to South African miners. The need for cheap labour in the mines doesn't help to eradicate this business and we can now talk about Modern Slavery...even back home in Europe.

Country ranking and nice spots to see

For those who have viewed my recent short video clips, what I am about to tell you will not surprise you. My favourite country in Africa is definitely Namibia which now sits in my top 3 countries together with Turkey and Oman. My top 5 countries include these 3 with Chile and Bolivia.

After my 2 months in Africa, I'd like to suggest that Kenya, Botswana and South Africa are over-ranked. Obviously, they all have some nice spots to see and I will mention them below but if you have to choose a destination, I would encourage you to head over to Namibia. If you want to invest (and I have some ideas), you should head over to Zambia.

  1. Spots you should see in Kenya: Mount Kenya; Kericho and Amboseli National Park. Don't spend more than a day in Nairobi...awful city unless you want to meet some French Entrepreneurs I've had the chance to meet. 
  2. Spots you should see in Tanzania: Serengeti region; Mbeya region. Spend some time to discover how the Masai tribe lives.
  3. Spots you should see in Zambia: Chirundu region; Kasama region.
  4. Spots you should see in Zimbabwe: Nyanga region; Victoria Falls.
  5. Spots you should see in Botswana: The landscape doesn't really change much in Botswana and you can drive on a straight road for hours without seeing much. The surrounding will be beautiful if you go during or after the wet season, and you can bump into an elephant on the main road, but if you don't jump into a helicopter to fly over the delta in Maun or drive to Nata, then there isn't much else to see.
  6. Spots you should see in Namibia: Sossusvlei; Namib Naukluft National Park; Skeleton Coast Park; Fish River Canyon; Solitaire region.
  7. Spots you should see in South Africa: Gordon's Bay; Hermaneus; Steal bay; Cape Town; Saint Helena Bay; Cape of Good Hope.

In Africa, my country ranking is the followingNamibia; Zambia; South Africa; Tanzania; Kenya; Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Spotlight on the People

Travelling is also about discovering how people live around the world. I've been privileged to meet some fabulous people here in Africa, and it actually started on my first day as I landed in Nairobi. I was lucky enough to be hosted in some local families, and I will always remember my stay in a modest family near Lac Victoria, after braking down. They were so happy to show me their local Mall which had nothing cool about it, as it was the size of a Tesco Express back in London, but I played the game and acted as if I was impressed.

Another good encounter was when the Park Rangers near Mount Kenya offered me food and hosted me. They lived in very modest conditions, in a para-military style, but were happy to see some new faces. They had one thing in mind: convince me that Kenyans are the most educated people in Africa.

I've also had some good encounters by the side of the road in Zambia, Botswana or South Africa. In Botswana, due to the heavy rains, some parts of the roads had been completely flooded which had led to their closure. I had no choice but to go through it to prevent me from driving an extra 400 kms to reach Maun. However, there was too much depth so I couldn't drive through. Luckily, a truck passed by and I asked if I could put my bike on it. He accepted and I offered him some fruits to thank him. He was so pleased.
In South Africa, I also met a nice guy, who happened to be a passionate of BMWs and who was an ex owner of my bike. He therefore knew everything about my bike and offered to do a full review. I accepted and went in his farm where he did an oil change and made some small tweaks on the bike.

Without having a direct contact with them, I was happy to drive through some small villages owned by the Massai tribe. I remain impressed by their ability to survive and overcome the tough conditions that they have to face on a daily basis: find water, food...Sometimes, they can walk for a whole day with their heard to find water. They live in total independence...unlike us.

Finally, I've also had to experience the negative traits of human nature: corruption. In Zimbabwe, I was usually stopped on average 10 times per day, and on every occasion, the police officers tried to fine me for something. Having broken indicators didn't help my case. Luckily, my story, which consisted of saying I was an International Blogger in charge of promoting Zimbabwe to the tourist community, happened to always work. I would show them my printed business cards and they would respond “Ok my friend, have a safe ride”. Obviously, sometimes I could stay on the side of the road for 30 mins to convince them, but time was on my side. I must have saved 500 $...

Spotlight on the Infrastructures

Colonisation combined the best and the worst and Africa is a good place to see both aspects. Indeed, back in the days, some Missionaries and Civil Servants with “good” feelings attempted to develop some country-wide infrastructures and develop a modern economy as well as to literate populations and improve sanitary conditions. However, at the same time, some Military, Civil Servants and Traders also abused their position to exploit the populations and even massacre entire groups. We rarely talk about the genocide conducted in Namibia by the Germans, but this is one example amongst many.

Overall, if we look at the road infrastructures, there is a huge gap between the countries. Kenya and Zimbabwe are the worst pupils. What makes it even worst in Kenya is the heavy concentration of old trucks that generate far too much black smoke. You may not feel it when travelling by car but by bike, it is simply awful.
South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Namibia are the best pupils, but once you get out of the main roads, you drive on either sand or dirt roads. I didn't mind spending 9 hours to drive 300 kms because the landscapes in Namibia were priceless but this is something to remember if you are planning a road trip.

Due to the recent discoveries of some rare natural resources, some of those countries have benefited from recent investments (Zambia, Botswana) from China or Japan. The Skeleton Coast in Namibia is another good example. It used to be the most hostile place on earth but the high concentration of mines has led to some massive infrastructure investments with decent roads.

In the farming business, there is also a huge gap between the countries. In South Africa or Namibia, and some parts of Zambia, you can see some super modern irrigation systems (developed by the British farmers back in the days). However, in Zimbabwe or Tanzania, the level of development lags far behind and the size of the farms is much smaller and everything is done manually. The Land Reform Act implemented by Mugabe hasn't helped because the black farmers didn't have enough capital nor the expertise to run these farms. All the land in Africa is privately owned, mostly by white people (!!!). As a result, it is not that easy to stop on the side of the road for a break.

If we look at Kenya, the great lack of investment has slowed down the economy. The IMF aid has recently been cancelled because of the high level of corruption and the governance issues at a state level. In Tanzania, despite the upstream work in the 1990s, the government has struggled to put in place some of the policies, which has resulted in a major backwardness in access to water, sanitation, health and education.
Talking about education, I've been impressed by the number of schools by the side of the road in Zambia. There is one school in every village and the kids are dressed in some colour rich uniforms, which are absolutely fabulous. Manufacturers of uniforms back in the UK should come for a week or two in Zambia to source some ideas on how to make their uniforms less “boring”. Unfortunately, access to education remains a big issue in Africa and there is still a lot to be done in this domain. Even though the access to education can be free, poorer families can't afford the uniform nor the books.

Spotlight on the Bike

The decision to make some big investments in Dubai before shipping my motorbike to Nairobi turned out to be a good one as I drove 15 000 kms in Africa without having too many issues. In 2 months, I've only experienced some concerns in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cape Town.

In Kenya, I experienced the same issue that occurred to me in Oman, when I had to be rescued by the army on a pick-up because the starter of the bike had stopped working. This time round, this same issue happened in a petrol station where I managed to find an electrician who used his magic and added a new cable from the starter to the battery. His hourly rate was higher than in Park Lane but at least he got the job done.

As I was driving on an off-road track near Great Zimbabwe, the bike decided not to switch on again after having stopped for a break to shoot a video. I was 30 minutes away by bike from the nearest village and it had been raining like crazy in the morning so the track was slippery and wet. I was about to take my toolbox out of my pannier when I saw a car coming towards me. Luckily it was a pick up and the guy accepted to put my bike on it. As we were about to lift the bike up on the car, I tried to turn the bike on again...and guess what...it finally decided to switch on again. I thanked the guy and continued my route. I drove for another 6 hours to reach my next destination for the night without switching the engine off. Trust me, it was a very wet day!

The last issue happened in Cape Town when it was time to change both tyres ahead of South America. Due to some form of humidity the front wheel bearing and the metric oil seal were damaged. When seeing this issue, the first garage decided not to proceed with the work as they didn't have the expertise nor the energy to fix the issue. I therefore had to go to the expensive BMW dealership to get it fixed. However, even though they knew what to do to get it fixed, they didn't have the spare parts to proceed. This exercise was a time pressure one as I had to hand my bike to Customs on the same day. Luckily I had the correct spare parts with me so they managed to complete the task on time...

Check out my updated Blog
Where have I been?
In next month's newsletter I will talk about my progress in South America. The last big news is that I aim to finish in Montreal, Canada, and not San Francisco to party and spend some quality time with my cousin, Nicolas, before I head over back to Europe and start wearing a suit again. 
Thank you for your interest and let's stay in touch!
My mailing address is:Team@venturide.com

Contact Jean Malissard on + 44 (0) 7880 173 666



 






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