Africa Blog

The Ride to Half a Million Miles


You might recall that  back in September 2013 Damien from Canada/France rode to Motohank's.   He has been on the road since then.  He rode his R1200GSA to Argentina.  From Argentina he shipped his GSA to Cape Town.  

   Today I meet up with Damien at the main bus station in downtown Cape Town.   Damien will also ride a good part of Africa but he is also having to wait for the bike to arrive any day and it must clear customs.   With a rough guess we think it should take about another week.

    Tonight we had a Welcome and a Fair Well dinner.   Tony and Cheryl along with Damien and I went out for a very good Mexican dinner, yes here in Cape Town.

Thanks to Tony & Cheryl for hosting me for such a long stay!

Back Packers

After the long and exhausting day of rivers and canyons we headed to the coast.   Tony had booked us a spot at a hostel or back packers place.   Plett was the closest village.

We weren't the only ones at the hostel.  Hostels can be fun at times because you meet other travelers and trade stories.

    The next morning came very fast as I was very tired and slept like a rock.   We followed the coast road before turning back into the mountains for one more canyon pass.  The skies were gray and I could see rain was not far way.   Tony turned off for our last dirt road of this 7 day loop.    I couldn't remember the name of the pass so as we rode along I saw a sign with the name Montagu Pass.  The sign was right at the curve of the road with a downward angle.  I stopped at the top of the curve to photograph the sign so that I could remember later.  It was windy as the rains were following the wind.  A strong gust of wind shook the bike some and I didn't have my hands on the handle bars as I was reaching for the camera in the tank bag.  I quickly put my right foot down to brace the bike and discovered that there was no ground.   The weight of the bike was too much to fight and over we went.  At this point the GS is upside down  and pointing down hill.   Those who know me know I rarely drop my GS, so you can imagine how unhappy I was. 

   I couldn't get the bike up because I was pushing uphill with a wet dirt road.  What I had to do was grab the front tire and spin the entire bike 180 degrees  plus the side stand would be on the best side.  On the forth try I was able to upright the GS packed with all the gear.  Lucky that the only damage was to the big fog lights,  so off they had to come.

Mountains, Passes and Rivers

These next few days were very interesting to say it in simple words.   We would ride the Swartberg Pass and

Meiringspoort / De Rust.  Very much like the area of Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah.   Reddish color stone formations.   I kept slowing down Tony as I kept stopping around every corner to take a photograph.

    Baviaanskloof Canyon

     Still in the Karoo area of the  east & western cape I kept hearing about the Baviaanskloof Pass.  Not only from Tony but from other riders and locals.   The stories were getting larger and scarier.   Well there is truth to that.

      This morning we left the ranch cabins that are about 15 miles out side the town of Willowmore where if you haven't done your business by 2:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon your out of luck.   After a short ride on asphalt we turned off onto a dirt road.  The morning was cold and with a light rain and very fog at times.    Not to long after peaking the mountains we started heading down hill into the canyons.  Again amazing reddish stones coming out of the grounds. 

      As  we neared the entrance to  Baviaanskloof which means Baboons canyon we stopped by a local artisan shop.

     After a few more miles we finally arrive to the gates of Baviaanskloof reserve.  Like the other reserve that we across a few days back we had to sign a waver stating that of the Rhinos kill us its not there fault. 

    This was a very pretty ride into the reserve with many dozens of different monkeys and some sort of bucks.    As much as I looked for the rhinos I didn't see any. 

    Two of the most difficult parts of the reserve were the river crossings and towards the end of the reserve having to climb out of the canyon.

    Most of the river crossings where rather easy.  One was a bit challenging because its more of a flood plan and you can't really see the bottom of the river.  Tony mentioned that  it looked like the water level was low because the river didn't look as wide.    Well he had confused the this crossing with the larger one that was about 100 yards wide and a bigger challenge.   For the large crossing I went first.  I started out doing ok going slow to avoid creating a large wake plus the water was very murky and I couldn't see the bottom.  All was well until I hit a large rock that stopped the GS.  I'm also fighting not to tip over as I'm at a bad angle.   I wasn't sure how big the rock was as I couldn't see in to the water.   As I would let the clutch out the rear tire would spin and start to dig itself into the river bottom.   I started to worry that I had dug myself into a hole.  Finally the front tire broke free of the rock and I was able to move.  Now I wanted to move into the direction I needed to go but  the water flow was  telling me where to go!  After fighting with the tall grasses and shrubs I was headed back on course.

     Finally free of the rivers  I could relax and enjoy the wild life and amazing views.

    Not so fast, the fun isn't over yet.  Now we had to climb out of the canyon.   Already tired from fighting the river we had to deal with the shale steps as in the other canyon.  This time it would be up hill with tight switch backs.   My biggest problem was fatigue,  my chest, arms, and hands where very tired and having to muscle the big loaded GS was taking its toll.  Again with these kinds of roads momentum is your friend.  The problem is when your tired you can't afford to miss calculate your next move.  And for this leg it was several miles of this shale road. Finally we made the top of the pass and the rest was gravy.  I had ridden the  Baviaanskloof Pass with my trusty GS.  No photos as my hands were very busy at this point.

Rooiberg Pass

Today we left Barrydale after a good breakfast and started our way next stop.  We were on scenic dirt roads right way.   Much like Patagonia but with out the high winds.

     Winter is coming and the mornings are a bit cold,  Tony my guide for the week had a nice coffee stop planned already.  We rode into a tiny village of Van Wyksdorp.   In the middle of nowhere your find a hip coffee and book exchange cafe.

    After a nice hot chocolate and some time to relax and talk to some of the locals.   The area around here has some folks who come here to get away for the fast pace of the large cites.   The way of life here is very simple, which is the main charm to many.

    We moved on to the next scenic roads this time more challenging and we were to cross the Rooiberg Pass.   Lucky for me that the hardest parts of the road were down hill into the valley.  This area has shale formations that turn the roads into steps.  Sometimes nice and easy steps but, other times very hard to maneuver with large stones or ruts in the way.  Much of that section was a No Stop area,  you had to keep your momentum.  Couldn't stop for photos here.

    After we got past the Rooiberg Pass  we stop in the larger town of Calitzdorp  to buy food for the night.  Tony had made arrangements for a cabin in the valley up the road.

To the Karoo miles 490109

Today after a long wait I finally got to ride some miles in Africa.  I was to follow Tony as he had a planned route for us in the mountains known as the Karoo.  It was a 200 mile day with about 75 miles on dirt roads.   This should be a 7 day ride to warm up for the larger ride into Namibia and beyond. 

   The day was a little cold and cloudy.  As we started to climb the mountains that surround Cape Town the temperature dropped and the winds started to get stronger.  Lucky for us that this did not last for to long.   We crossed some amazing and beautiful reddish rocks that pushed themselves out of the earth millions of years ago.

   We did have a small crises when Tony stopped to inspect a loud noise coming from the front of his GS.   Tony had a new front tire installed yesterday at a local tire store,  and as they re-installed the wheel, Tony mentioned if they had torqued the bolts.   Their reply was no need to as we do this all the time. There is a reason to torque brake bolts,  its so that they don't come loose as Tony's did.   With a quick stop to an auto repair shop we were able to located the missing bolt and were back on our way.

   On our way we turned off onto a gravel road which was a nice ribbon crossing the simi desert land scape.  It looked much like west Texas at times and the at others it looked like Utah.  

   We did come to the gates of a game preserve were we had to sign a waver saying it would be at fault if we are attacked by wild game such as elephants, rhinos or lions.

We were also escorted across the preserve which is several miles from gate to gate.  Its a small preserve by African standards but I was still hoping to see some game.  The only game we did see was a herd of zebras as we were about to exit.

   Earlier in the day we did see some wild baboons along the road.  The females often had their young hanging on tight to them and the males were often just sitting along the road side.  I was warned by several not to stop to take pictures of the baboons especially the males as they are very aggressive  and dangerous.  Even our hotel has a sign saying to keep windows closed as the baboons can come in at night or day and cause problems.

  Before out stop for the night we rode Route 62, much like the old Route 66 back home.  Route 62 takes you through some small and charming towns of the Karoo.   Our stop for the night was a Cape Dutch village named Barrydale in the small Karoo.

At Last

After all the hassle and many emails & phone calls to the agents here in Cape Town and Houston the shipping vessel company finally got their money and my GS was released.
  Its in my hands now.   And its time for a ride...........

Waiting Game

Today was a major disappointing day.  Once again the Shipping Company in Houston dropped the ball.

   Any time you start to talk about shipping a bike from one place to another you have to factory in delays.  Its part of the game.  Many times these delays are beyond anyones control and then there are the delays caused by mismanagement.  This has been the case with me on this journey.  

    When shipping to anyplace beyond your country there are 5 groups of people involved.  1.Customs on both sides of the countries.  2, Its required by most countries to heir a bonded shipping agent also at each of the counties to manage documents for the import and export of the bike. 3,  The shipping company itself  be it an airline or sea freight shipper.

    On the out bound from Houston I was recommended LYNDEN INTERNATIONAL, a major company that handles freight all over the world.   My problems started when they missed the original shipping date because of an over sight. This caused me a two week delay.  The bike was now schedule to leave on the 29th March instead of the 15th.   After the some issues with an inspector and me having to drive to Houston to sort out the problems I get the news that bike had left Houston  to arrive in Cape Town on the 30th April.   As I'm about to leave Texas, I get a notice that the arrival date was now May 7th.  Not sure why the delay this time but I had to deal with it as sometimes these things happen.  

    So the latest drama happen on Friday the 9th.  The local agent got approval from customs to retrieve the bike but then the freight company put a stop to everything because of a booking mistake from LYNDEN INTERNATIONAL in Houston.  This happens at 5:00 pm South African time which meant that no bike till Monday or Tuesday at best.

     I can't tell you how disappointed I am with LYNDEN INTERNATIONAL and the way they have handled this freight.  I have lost about 4 weeks of times due to very simple mistakes that should not have happen.  The other factor is the cost.  Having to change flights, hotels, just to name a few.

    I have my Africa Map in hand,  just need to get my bike back.  

    As I aways say it better to just ride it there...... could be a while before I get back home if I decide to ride it back!!

Robben Island

Robben Island was an inland prison just off the shores of Cape Town much like Alcatraz in the USA.   Robben Island was created as a prison by the Dutch who first settled here.

  The name Robben is dutch for seal inland.   The inland has a history of being a prison for more than 400 years  housing criminals of all types. 

   During South Africa's apartheid years Robben Island was used to house any non white political opponent to the government. 

   The most internationally know was Nelson Mandela.  Mandela was held here for 18 of his 27 years in prison.

     As you would imagine it was a very small 6 x 6 foot cell with no bed.   Solitary confinement was often used to brake the will of people.   When not in solitary Mandela along with other political leaders were chained to stumps in this courtyard to crush stones with their hands.  The stones were not used for anything,  other than to give  the prisoners something to do.  

     As we approached one of our stops our guild made mention that a motorbike was parked outside of the building.

      The bike belongs to Christo Brand.  Christo started working at Robben Island as a prison guard when he was just 18.    Along the years Christo became Mandela's guard.      

   When Mandela was transferred to a different prison Christo was also transferred with him.   Christo became a very personal friend of Mandela and even after Mandela's release from prison in 1991 Christo maintained a close friendship and contact with Mandela.

Making Port

  Just a quick note to say that the vessel carrying my GS should make port on Monday if the weather or the winds do not become an issue.  You can see many of these vessels off the coast but with rough waters they can't make port.  Once at port then it becomes a waiting game for customs to approve the import.    One problem coming up is that May 7th, is election day here so everybody is closed.  So hopefully it will be soon.

Exploring the Cape Area

Still waiting for news on the bike and its arrival I've had lots of time. on my hands.  I did manage to do a little bike work the other day.   After talking to Tony about his bike we discovered that he was over due for some maintenance.         

    Off to the auto parts store we went for the needed tools.   After the maintenance work and a minor injury to my finger I decided that it was time for me to get back to sight seeing.

    I've gone or been taken to many of the sights out side of the Cape Town area.   From vineyards to beach fronts to neighboring collage towns like Stellenbosch, I have yet to find one place  that I don't like.    If I haven't said this before  Cape Town and area is a must visit!

    One thing that has been great about the people of South Africa is that the people have been beyond friendly.   I have meet many new friends since I've been here.  One funny thing is that my name - Hank - throws them for a loop.  Many think of a "Hank" as a big or tall beer belly bike guy wearing a leather vest and chaps, Oh and a cowboy hat!!   Far from me.

   I can't wait for the bike to arrive so that I can start exploring beyond here.  I can't wait to start crossing other borders to experience what they have to offer.

  One thing that make me sad is when I meet a fellow rider like the one today at lunch who just got back from the USA. 

He was at Daytona Bike Week and wanted to explore Mexico.  And like most of the people in the USA who live in fear of their own shadows in gated communities who ever leave their own country to explore ,   oh and yes have to have a gun,  tell others like my South African friend not to go to Mexico because its dangerous.  When the truth is that they have never been.   I often invite my fellow Texas riders to join me or encourage them to go to Mexico or beyond but 95% of the time I get a no it's scary place and I don't know the language.  Well its about time to learn a new language and start living a richer life.  I didn't put 490 k miles on my GS by  only riding the Texas Hill Country .

    Speaking of language,  I've heard many different languages here,  the two most common being  English and  Africon/Dutch.  Of course many many of other indigenous languages.

     Since arriving here,  and as many who know me can imagine that I've taken many photographs already.  Below are just a handful of the nearly 1000 taken.  I hope you enjoy them.

Cape Town

The final leg of the trip was only two and half hours long,  a blink of the eye compared to flight before.  30 hours of travel later I see my friend Tony who I haven't seen in almost 3 years waiting at the lobby of the airpot in Cape Town. 

    Tony who is from  Cape Town rode his R1150GSA from Buenos Aires, Argentina to the USA in 2011.  When he entered the USA at Laredo,  Motohank's was his first stop.

    We've become good friends and often in touch.  Tony has been very helpful with coordinating the shipment of my GS. 

     As I mention before, my GS is about three weeks behind schedule of the original arrival date.

Tony and his wife Cheryl have been very kind to show me around the Cape Town area.  I'll tell you now that this is a fantastic city.   it has so much diversity in cultures, foods  and districts.

The photo above:  Cape Malay Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter is a small but yet very colorful neighborhood.

DSCF2405 - Version 2.jpg

Headed to Cape Town

After a world wind month before and a really crazy week before leaving, the day to head to the airport arrived.

    It was a total of 3 plane changes with the longest being a 15 hour leg.  Most of the time I can do well with these long flights but this time I couldn't.  The plane was full but very roomy, even for the cheapest seats.  My problem was I just couldn't get comfortable and it didn't help that I wore my riding boots.  Finally after two movies and three meals and many leg craps I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I finally made it to the African Continent.   The airport in Johannesburg was small compared to the ones in the USA which was nice.  It was also a bit warm so having to carry my pannier bag and riding jacket though out the airport trying to find my way to customs and immigration was starting to wear me out.  Finally I got the official stamp on my passport and a welcome to South Africa.  I always wonder why  I'm not greeted with a welcome when I arrive back home, instead  I get the "what do you have with you" and "we need to search your things". 

  After getting passed all the official requirements, its off to the next gate for the last flight of the trip Cape Town..  While in line at customs a lovely lady standing behind me asked if I rode a BMW,  her husband had just sold a GS.  I told her the history of mine R1100GS and why I was here! 




Old Friends and New Friends

With all my time thinking about the bike shipment it was nice to have a distraction.  I got a call from John in Dallas telling me that he had meet two Australian travelers headed south and they wanted to stop by for a visit.  This would be Stu (L) and Janell (R) who were on the first trip across the Americas headed south to Brazil for the World Cup Games.   My old friend Jochen who I meet in Patagonia when I was on my Argentina trip was also due to arrive in a few days.

    I had spent some time in between bike work  preparing Jochen's 1150 GS.  So by the time he arrived I was ready to go.  Stu and Janell's 650 GS's needed some work before they entered into Mexico.  Nothing major,  mostly small details that are better addressed here than on the road. 

   To Jochen's amazement the discovered that they were all headed to the World Cup.   What was more amazing to Jochen was when he learned that Stu and Janell were traveling with their pet dog.   Stu and Janell were also the first ones to use Motohank's camp grounds (back yard).

   Once I had all bike ready for the long road ahead,  I took a couple of days off to ride with them into Mexico.  It always feels good to go to Mexico on a bike.

   The other news,  speaking of friends is that Damien who came to Motohank's back in the summer in now in Buenos Aires, Argentina.   He has just informed me that he is shipping is bike to Cape Town and should be there a few days after mine.   There is a good chance we could ride together.


Getting to Africa

   The latest in my motorbikes travel is that its on its way.  I did get some news that the arrival date has be pushed back another 8 to 10 days from when it should have arrived.  I can't even remember what the original date was a this point.

   One bit of drama was that as I discussed the details with both shipping agents in the USA and South Africa the word Carnet came up.  A carnet is for lack of a better word is like a passport for the motorbike.  It makes the entry of the bike much easier, almost like have to pay for a bond, that says that you promises to remove the motorbike from country by a given date.  Some parts of the world require a carnet, in the Americas North or South do not require one.   For Africa

only Egypt requires one. Other counties in Africa recommend one but not needed. 

   A few days after the bike left Houston I got a message from my agent in Cape Town asking me if I had already purchased a carnet,  that it was require before the bike's arrival.  This sent me into a tizzy as I thought I had resolved this issue.   My other problem was that I could not buy a carnet here in the USA,  we have to buy it from Canada Car Association.  Just the cost of the process was $1000, plus the deposit for the bond.   Well after several calls and emails and Skype call with my friend Tony,  I think we are good from not needing a carnet for South Africa.  But if I want to leave South Africa for another country I could face a problem.  So that's the latest on the arrival of the Trusty GS.



With all my travels and border crossings one thing I have learned is that there is nothing consistent about crossing a border (even if it's the same one) or shipping a vehicle.   This time was no different  and it was with shipping the bike.  The standard routine is to remove about 90% of the fuel and disconnect the battery.  Secure and lock everything on the bike as its know that items have a way of walking off when not well secured.

    The first sign of troubles was when I was told that the ship I had scheduled left before my bike could make it on board because of a mix up with the shipping dates.  Not good but not surprising.  The next sign of troubles was when I get a call from the shipping agent telling me that an inspector was there to inspect the bike.  He needed the keys to turn on the ignition to see that the fuel gauge was showing empty. And also wanted to check (search) the bags to make sure I wasn't carrying that was dangerous.   I had several problems with these two things.  One,  the battery was disconnected as instructed so for the inspector to check the fuel gauge I would have to remove the fuel tank to reconnect the battery.   Second, I was very sure that items in the panniers were good as the bike as traveling by sea and not by air.   Third,  I was 300 miles (five hours) away from the  shipping yard and up to my eyes in bike work.

     So five hours later , stuck  in Houston's afternoon rush hour at times I finally arrived at the shipping yard.  I was let into the holding warehouse only after putting on a Hi Vis vest as the place is busy with forklifts buzzing around in all directions.   I removed the fuel tank,  connected the battery and then waited almost two hours for the inspector to arrive.

Francisco (my agent) was kind enough to keep me company most of the time.  Finally the inspector arrived and gave me the thumbs up with the fuel level.   But when checking the tank bag,  Houston we have a problem.  See, the first aid kit had some alcohol packets that could catch on fire,  so they had to go.   The when checking the panniers they found that can of bug spray I snuck in.  That was a no no!   The final no no was the go pro camera,  it has a battery that is lithium and they have been know to catch on fire (the giant batteries, not little camera ones).

    All this was done by the shipping company's inspector.  Now if US Custom's gives me the green light,  the GS should be good to go!

Waiting for the inspector!


Once I got the GS running smooth and double checking the list of things I needed to do to ready the bike for shipping it was time to make a pallet.

    Nick my shipping contact in Cape Town had given me a list of to do's.  He had suggested that I make a box with a covering but,  in all my past shippings I mainly made a base and strapped the bike to this.   I did want to remove the front wheel to lower the height of the bike in hopes of saving some cost.

    My local friend Joe was very kind to allow me the use of his John Deere tractor that had the front lifting forks making the job of putting the pallet in the back of the Motohank van much easier.

    Once at the shipping company in Houston, the crew there have many fork lifts at their  disposal making the removing of the GS pallet as easy as lifting a paper box.

Preparing the GS

  I knew that the first week in March was the deadline to having the GS ready.   And I knew that I had plenty of time yet to work on the motorbike but, like clock work,  these plans have a mind of their own! 

    Sometime back in January I took the bike out for a ride,  a couple of hundred miles to burn out the old fuel.  Everything was going get for most of the ride when suddenly the GS started to run rough followed by a power lose.   This was very odd,  as if I were running out of fuel.  So I pulled over to the side of the road, and lucky for me that I had relocated the fuel filter to the outside of the fuel tank  making  the filter easy to get to.  When I pulled the filter out,  all this gunk came out!  So for the next 100 miles I had to stop about every 20 miles, clear the fuel filter to get home.

    About a week later I finally had time to check the bike.  I found that this time the bike wouldn't even start!. So here I go, pulling the fuel tank apart, pulling the fuel pump out and what I discovered was that the protective lining in the tank had come apart creating rusty nasty gunk which killed my fuel pump and fuel filter.

   Off I send the tank to my friend Rick's paint and body shop, where they have had good success in re-coating the insides of the fuel tanks.   This process did take time,  about 3 weeks as the remains of the old lining had to be removed.

   In the mean time I ordered a new fuel pump and need parts.  Once I had everything back from Ricks  I reinstalled everything.   Along the way I replaced items such as the battery, changed the oils, and filters.  Adjusted the valves, replaced spark plus. and replaced the throttle and clutch cables.   With all these new items and the GS started running rough.   I know my GS very well and I could tell something was just not right.  The idle was high and rough.  To put pressure on me was the fact that I was running out of time. After about 3 days of re-thinking and re-checking all the settings I finally started looking towards the left throttle body.  What had me looking here was that the left side was not responding to any adjustments I made.  I check the cost of a new throttle body and it was a whopping $580.  This was a part I couldn't just order to " see what happens " and even worse the clock was ticking.  So started  looking for a used one hoping to find one for my year model (1995)  which were different from all the other year!  Bingo,  I found one and my eyes popped out of my head as the price was $58!!!  I ordered  and got the part as fast as I could.  And Bingo again,  as I pulled off the old throttle body I found that it was indeed bad,  something had happen to it that was keeping it from closing properly.   Once I got everything back in order, my trusty GS started and was idling as smooth as glass again!! 

    The left throttle body is the original one that came from the factory,  it did have 490,000 miles one it.  I guess they just don't make things to last anymore!!





Where to go

Well after a well over due post and update I have to catch up many for my last blog post.

   After my return home after several months of riding the country side in South America,  I found myself needing a place to start making a living, fixing BMW motorbike of course.

   In May of 2009 I started Motohank BMW Motorcycle Service.   With my joy of working on BMW motorbikes and my passion for travel I thought what better way to stay connected with both worlds.   Along the way I've manage to build a great business but,  as word got out that I was a well informed traveler I started to get other travelers coming to Motohank's for a visit and advise.  For me, this is great but, I found myself wanting to close shop and take off with the travelers.  As we all know that's not always the best way to make a living unless you have a rich uncle that will pay for your fun.

   Though the nice thing about working for myself is that I can be more flexible with my time and still manage to ride to Guatemala or El Salvador when the travel fever hits.  Along the way I manage to add more and more miles to my trusted GS.   Fast forward now and I'm at 490,000 miles.  Over the years I would think of different places to ride to.  Europe?  Asia?  Australia? Mongolia? or Africa?    Well now I find myself at less than 10,000 miles from half a million miles and after staring at the map I choose Africa.  I've never been to Africa,  and with my passion to learn new cultures, and of course with photography and the rustic landscape I had to choose the most perfect place for my GS to calibrate it's 500,000 mile stone.