Simon Molward » Motorcycle travel story

Motorcycle travel story by Simon Milward

The mighty smoke that thunders

The road leads south out of Livingstone in Zambia into the desert. Five kilometers away I see the 'mighty smoke' rising. Is it a herd of elephants kicking up a dust storm, or a giant cauldron of maize being cooked?

No, it is Victoria Falls. The "smoke" is the spray thrown up after the Zambezi River crashes down 100m to a confined crevice, a fissure in the volcanic rock eroded over millions of years. The falls are 1.7km wide, on the border between Zambia to the north and Zimbabwe to the south. The wind constantly changes direction, soaking you without warning as the water droplets swirl up down and sideways. A mini rainbow a few meters ahead accompanies your walk through the lush green flora. The thundering rumble of this worldly wonder puts you in touch with God. Recent Zambezi flooding in north west Zambia washed away crops and water levels are the highest for 40 years. So you cannot jump from rock to rock and sip champagne at the top of the falls, joining the hippos who loll around in the shallow waters. I like Zambia. It is the least developed country I have visited so far in Africa. I've said it before, these sorts of places really twang my heartstrings, it's the people. The beautiful and handsome Zambians have been treating me really well, from the rush of people to help me pick up the bike after I fell off on arrival in Livingstone (I do this every so often just to test reactions!), to the kind folks at the Fairmont and the Zambezi Sun International hotels who are putting me up for free. The latter specializes in adventure activities and this afternoon I am invited to do some rather unorthodox stuff.

Zambia comprises 73 tribes and the people are rightly proud of the peace between them. -- Welcome to all the Africans now on this email list. I've covered a fair distance and several countries since the last update from Swaziland. In Johannesburg I stayed with Ray Collett of South Joburg Ulysses club, a man who only ever wears shorts riding his Goldwing motorcycle, even during these chilly winter days.

Joburg is at elevation 2000m and was founded on the richest gold seam in the world, though most mines are now exhausted. Said to be the most dangerous city in Africa, authorities advise you not to stop for red traffic lights ('robots') at night. Ray took me to Bike Hospital who kindly donated a set of shock absorbers, the tenth or eleventh pair on this trip! I also picked up a couple of spare springs just in case and one of the East London shocks is so good I packed that too. In Joburg I tied up again with Mika Kuhn, my German friend going round the world on his Yamaha Tenere, newly arrived from the Caribbean. Together we visited Soweto with the black bike club the Eagles, one of only two black clubs in South Africa. There are some very nice houses in Soweto, as well as the many shanty type houses. Some blacks were visibly surprised to see us there. We also visited one of the Eagles members in hospital - he was T boned by a drunken car driver.

The burial of a father of a motorcyclist in Soweto took place in the biggest cemetery I have ever seen. Many people attend funerals because it is customary for the bereaved family to feed everyone afterwards. It is not clear if the man died of AIDS, people are not open about it. Since that illness destroys immunity, they would rather say the cause is tuberculosis or another disease that does not have the stigma. Many people wear a red bow as a badge (the same symbol often seen in the wake of 9/11 in the USA) to raise awareness. Doctors often are unhelpful in this regard, preferring to send patients to around to different specialists without diagnosis so that they all get paid. One medical insurance lady's view was that you can look on the whole thing as a natural culling. I saw a book detailing how AIDS came about from an experimental vaccine against polio that went terribly wrong - how chilling. In the black population it seems to be common to have several sexual partners.

In Nambia a USAID sponsored roadside billboard read 'Speed kills, condoms save'. There are some motorcycle issues in South Africa, for example bikers have to pay the same as cars and trailers to use some of the motorways and the worldwide problem of dangerous diesel spills is common. Progress against the toll problem is slow but surely coordinated by the editor of 'Bike SA' magazine Simon Fourie. There is little involvement from riders themselves, but I did address the Joburg Mc Club President's Council on the question. If the riders are to make some pressure on issues this, thereby participating in the international riders movement, a black voice may carry extra weight with the government. The Eagles are not yet members of the Council and it would be nice to see them welcomed soon. A short distance north is Pretoria, or rather Tshwane. Authorities are changing the names of many places back to their original names. There is a fear that this will hurt South Africa economically. There is also a view that because blacks have not developed the same sort of work ethic as the whites, young whites adopt a 'why bother?' attitude and become lazy. Perhaps once things are level the whole country will go forward together.

In Pretoria I stayed a week with Ulysses National President Mauritius Meiring at his hillside castle. Most of the time was spent getting the bike ready for the trip into Africa. It is interesting how white South Africans don't consider themselves a part of the true (comparatively undeveloped) Africa. Perhaps I will not find the sort of services needed to get the bike in top condition again. So many thanks to Biking Accessories, Metzeler and to many Ulysses members who gave up a lot of their time especially Gert, Hugo and Dolf. Francois, the Ulysses resident dentist, repaired my tooth, saying the epoxy glue applied in Cape Town would have caused an abscess. One line from the Ulysses newsletter caught my attention: 'Sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before you can think straight,' how true, one tank can last me two days of riding! South Africa is the world HQ of the Christian Motorcyclist Association (
CMA's mission is to reach out to the motorcycling fraternity with the news of Jesus Christ and pack 'em in at their bikers' church equidistant between Joburg and Pretoria. I wish I had had more time for fellowship with them. The way I was treated in South Africa was absolutely first class and am lucky to have many friends all over the country.

From South Africa I headed West and made a huge circle round the Okavango Delta. The Okavango River flows into NW Botswana from Angola and Namibia where it fans out before the waters sink into the Kalahari Desert. It teems with wildlife. Botswana has the strongest currency in Africa due to the diamond reserves, luckily for them discovered just after they achieved independence from Britain!

The Kalahari is massive, stretching over several countries. Most of the rhinoceros have been killed because the horns are thought to be an aphrodisiac in Asia, where Taiwan is the biggest market. Outside game parks rhino are as good as extinct, because poachers kill dehorned rhino so that they don't track them for days, and Taiwanese traders have ordered the killing of all rhino, horns or not, so that their rhino horn stocks become priceless. I stayed at Drotsky's Camp on the delta, where the guard dogs had been eaten by crocodiles, before heading northwards to Namibia. I shamefully only spent a night in Nambia (at the magnificent Zambezi Lodge), and then only in a strip of land in the north called the Caprivi Strip. This was negotiated by a German to give the Namibians access to the Zambezi River and hence the Indian Ocean, although Nambia has an Atlantic coastline. Namibians living in this area often feel discriminated against by the government, which sent in troops when they went for independence not so long ago. If you know Africa you will see that I'm snaking my way through the continent. I'm on my way to Harare in Zimbabwe to meet the people at Riders for Health (

They run the International Academy of Vehicle Management where Wili Bala was trained (for free) in 2001. We shall see if the international media reports about Zimbabwe are true. There is certainly a fuel shortage. However my 45 litre fuel tank capacity will easily take me to the capitol from the border at Kariba. News round up: - The pillion passenger riding ban in Japan has been defeated and will probably be formerly lifted next year. - Backpack Nation is a unique humanitarian initiative at run from the USA. There are twenty finalist stories and you are invited to vote for the five most compelling, which will each win 1000 for the projects. Please participate. One of mine is there and if we win we will use the cash towards getting our Latin motorcycle health outreach candidates trained. All the initiatives are worthy of support so don't simple vote for mine. - Latest reports from Wili Bala who runs the motorcycle health fleet on Indonesian Flores island where most likely some of your money is being spent are really encouraging. Wili is promoting democracy and fighting corrupt politicians by involvement in the recent elections. Making effective "people-ballot box-politician" connections is exactly what we need throughout the developing world. You make us proud Wili thank you. (See website for details.)

Back to the Victoria Falls adventure activities courtesy of Activities take place at a 40 million year old 130m wide gorge, former host of the falls which have eroded backwards half a kilometre in a Z pattern. Overcoming fear is what it is all about and best done without thinking too much. I ran as fast as possible on the ramp and dived head first off the edge of the 100m deep canyon. Peter Pan watch out, I can fly! This is the high wire, first of its kind in the world. The 11mm cable and harness performed marvelously, obviously! Next up was abseiling facing downwards. Third was the big one. The famous swing. I stepped off the edge of the gorge and free-falled 40 metres before the rope tightened and swung me out, back and forth, before coming to rest. I didn't throw up and the adrenalin should keep me going for a few weeks. The organizers have had a 100% success rate.

Just do it. Simon Milward, on the road