No Motorcycles Permitted in National Parks

Ever since losing my friends Grant & Julie during aborted trip to the Drakensberg, I’ve actually missed traveling with them. Though I did meet them again in Cape Town for one night before heading to Namibia, we both knew that at some point we’d spend some time traveling through Africa. Thanks to the wonderful world of cellular technology and SMS messaging, we’ve been in touch over the last couple weeks. Our tentative plans to connect in Windhoek for New Years didn’t pan out as they’ spent quite a few days in Luderitz and then a few days looking for a particular oil that Grant wanted in order to perform the regular maintenance deed on his 1000cc VStrom – which by now has logged more than 150k kilometers. But happily they rolled into Windhoek just a few days after New Years – so the long awaited reunion took place at the home of a couple local BMW GS riders, Tony and Ute, they met on the road coming into Windhoek.

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Reunited with friends Grant & Jules Gueirin.

With nearly a week spent in Swakopmund and almost a week passing here in Windhoek, the only riding I’ve done was the great long sandy and windy way over Gashua Pass on Nambia’s route C28 and the Nelson Mandela Road to BMW and around town. Now I’m itchin’ to move. This is a big continent and time is slipping. And I’m in Africa.

When someone mentions Africa certain and specific imagery comes to mind. Some may think of war, violence, fighting, unstable governments and countries that change names every few years. Or it might evoke classic images a la National Geographic of primitive tribal people and simple hunter/gatherer lifestyles. Still others might think of poverty, starvation, malnutrition and malaria, Aids and repressed and poor black tribal cultures. And yet to others Africa might mean the wild. Ernest Hemingway. Joseph Conrad. Or Jane Goodall. Vast open savannas, acacia and baobab trees, dry salt pans, camel thorns, termite mounds and wildlife. And wildlife. Elephants, giraffes, lions, snakes, massive bird and antelope migrations. Discovery channel stuff. Safari. All of these things may give someone a reason to visit or a reason to stay away from Africa. For me, I’m afraid of none of it. And I’m hungry to experience and taste it — the culture, the wildlife and the environment. I certainly can do without and will, thanks to vaccinations and a bike-load of pharmaceuticals, avoid the potential health problems. But travel like this always presents a degree of risk. How you manage that risk marks the difference between traveling safely or carelessly.

Just a few hours north of this currently quiet and unassuming capital city lies one of the greatest treasures of Africa. Though when the subject of great African safari’s and wildlife reserves, Etosha National Park rarely comes up. When it was first designated a national park at the turn of the 20th century Etosha comprised nearly 100,000 sq. km but over the years it’s been pared down to about 20,000 which surrounds the parks namesake Etosha Pan, a beautiful white and yellow dry salt pan. Teeming with wildlife and with a good network of gravel roads, a trip to Etosha will likely provide the wildlife viewing experience of its more famous African parks like Serengetti, Ngorongora Crater and Kruger.

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Sorting through electrical problems. What is buggin’ Doc?

But as a motorcycle traveler wandering though Africa in hopes of spotting the Big 5 (elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhino), these national parks present a difficult and sometimes expensive challenge. For the most part, motorcycles are prohibited from entering the parks. When querying for the rationale of such policy I’m usually told due to safety and/or noise. Okay. Some reserves are also open only to licensed or specific tour operator concessionaires. In these cases the only way to get in is to pay huge “safari” fees and jump in a silly looking 4×4 with elevated seats with a bunch of people toting safari wear and expensive binoculars strung around their necks. But Etosha is one of several that offer a self-drive experience. Sure, in many cases going on a tour or hiring a guide will enrich your experience because these guides are well trained and will spot wildlife and provide history and information on the park and its flora and fauna.

I’ve heard only positive experiences from travelers that have visited Etosha. So I pitched the idea of renting a comfortable car or 4×4 to Grant & Julie and taking time our of our stay in Windhoek to “drive” to Etosha, camp through the park and if time permits perhaps take a journey to Opuwo, the center of the Himba tribe – a very primitive semi-nomadic tribe that can be found in Northwestern Namibia and southern Angola. We reviewed budgets and timelines and agreed to do it.

Meanwhile, I made another trip to BMW to get that fuel-filter and set up a plan to diagnose and repair this electrical short. With the primary BMW mechanic on vacation, Hedley contacted a biker that is a auto-electric specialist. So while the Aussies and I head to Etosha, I will leave the bike with the electrician in the hopes he can go through the laborious task of isolating the nagging short somewhere along the spaghetti of cables running through Doc’s frame.

While at BMW I met Ronnie Borrageiro, a South African rider in his early 40’s on a two-month trip through Southern Africa. He was in for a schedule maintenance service and tires. We tossed the idea around about meeting up after my Etosha trip and logging some miles together. That conversation was to continue over a sundowner at my hotel and then dinner at Joe’s Beerhouse with my surrogate mechanic Hedley, his wife Tammy.

Later in town while making reservations for camping at each of Etosha’s three encampments I had another small world experience smack me in the middle of the street. It was Andre, one of the 4×4 travelers I’d met several times during my journey through Namibia. After my long stays in Swakop (where I saw them when I first arrived) and Windhoek, I was sure they were on their way back to Jo’berg. But there in the center of Windhoek we met again. Andre and his wife would end up joining us at the hotel and Joe’s one more time.

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Joes Beerhouse in Windhoek, Namibia. Tammy, Ronnie B., Hedley and Andres. Yes. You sit on toilets at the bar… if you want to!

When Ronnie, Tammy and Hedley indicated they’d be moving on to have more drinks at another local club, I declined for the next morning called for an early departure for Etosha National Park – by SUV – a Toyota Condor Estate.

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