The only thing that comes close to doing your own amazing travel adventure is hearing about someone else’s one. One of the best things about my job is getting to meet inspiring travellers doing incredible trips.
Rob House, Getaway’s former art director, is one of these travellers. Recently returned from an epic motorbiking trip across southern and east Africa, Rob shared the highlights of his 17 000-kilometre road trip with me.
Tell me a little about how you ended up on this latest trip?
Well, I had been approached by one of the top motorcycle travel companies, Ayres Adventures, to work with them as a guide here in Africa. Mainly by virtue of knowing some of the main routes and having some good off-road riding experience. Incidentally, I got most of that while working at Getaway, that and rubbing shoulders with Charley Boorman!
What was your most recent route?
It comprised two halves, the upward leg ‘into Africa’, which took us from Cape Town north into Namibia and some off-road riding to Swakopmund, then up to Etosha for a breather. We travelled through the Caprivi into Botswana, then through Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and finally Kenya. The downward leg took a quicker and more direct route back excluding Namibia, this was the ‘Out of Africa’ leg. That’s a round trip journey of around 170 000 kilometres!
How long did it take you to do the trip?
I was away for a shade over two months all told. 42 days up on the outward leg and a shorter 21 day trip on the homeward journey.
Was it all riding or did you take some timeout to sightsee?
The timetable is carefully worked out to take in as much as possible locally in the time available. For example the National Park list included, Etosha, Chobe, Mikumi, Tsavo and the Serengeti. Sightseeing included side trips to Zanzibar and to Lamu Island, which were spectacular. Its more of a pot-pourri in that you try to take best from each country in the time available.
Presumably you didn’t ride your bikes through the National Parks?
No, that’s a strict no-no. However, Chobe and Mikumi both have highways through them so wildlife is literally all around you so you need to keep your eyes open. As a Tour Director your job is to show the best of each country, including the wildlife, but not be intrusive with wildlife or local residents.
Did you have any close encounters with the wildlife?
We had elephants on the road in Chobe recently which is fairly common, but this one little juvenile fella got a little protective of ‘his’ herd and gave me a moment or two! The clients are all briefed to do as the tour leader tells them so there was no real danger but you rarely get a second chance with an elephant.
What was the most scenic road on the trip?
That’s difficult in that there were so many. Namibia’s dusty backroads and I have a special relationship. I enjoy the absolute quiet and miles of emptiness, which is becoming harder to find. Malawi’s lakeshore road is also stunning from Salima North to Nkhata Bay as a lowland lakeshore drive becomes a twisty tree-lined climb. Then there’s the spectacularly scenic Valley of the Baobabs near Mikumi National Park in Tanzania. The clue’s in the name! Every day brings something new, even if you have ridden these roads many times before.
Did you have any disasters or misadventures?
Thankfully no! Although taking a group of motorcyclists on these trips inevitably leads to a few tall tales around a beer or two in the evenings. The most common cause of heart-in-the mouth incidents seem to be from the local cattle. Goats in particular, which seem to be especially attracted to the front of my bike! Dogs, donkeys, bicycles, and pedestrians – they all play their part – especially where the kerb-side grass is growing tall. Basically all of Malawi and Tanzania!
What was your favourite lodge/campsite?
Camping doesn’t feature on these trips but many of the lodges we used also offer excellent camping facilities. There are a few that spring to mind for different reasons. Mokuti Lodge just outside of Etosha’s Namutoni Gate would be one, with the bonus of free internet – almost essential these days. Chobe Safari Lodge in Botswana perched on the Chobe River, Utengule Coffee Farm in Tanzania and Galdessa Camp in Tsavo West National Park. It’s hard to pick a few as they all evoke fond memories. Ask any of the clients and they’ll probably give you five others!
Any let downs?
The only disappointments, such as they were, have come from the national park staff. I still find it unbelievable that with tourism revenue being hard to find that we still have unhelpful/rude/bored/disinterested staff manning entrance gates and interacting with paying overseas visitors. Etosha needs to catch a wake up, as does Mikumi.
Best and worst meals on the road?
That’s a hard one as the lodge meals were by and large excellent. Often the distance you need to travel precludes a planned midday stopover, so ‘lunch’ is whatever you have nabbed from the breakfast table or scrounged on the way. My favourite lunch was a couple of bananas I bought from a roadside stall on Lake Malawi and eaten on the roadside. It was one of ‘those’ moments!
Any favourite places on the trip?
The questions get harder! I’ll give you a few ‘favourite moments’ rather. Paddling a small surfski in the evening quiet on Lake Malawi would be one, watching Victoria Falls at sunset would be another. A magnificent sunrise in the Kalahari and wandering around the tiny streets of Lamu Island also rate highly. Tsavo will also always hold a special place as I got engaged there, between trips!
Are you the only Tour Leader on the trips?
No, there are two Tour Leaders, one rides or ‘leads’ for three days while the second drives the backup vehicle and trailer with a spare bike and essential supplies. We rotate every three days or so to keep it interesting.
How are things looking for this year, any more trips planned?
Oh yes. I have some time to catch my breath do some home maintenance then its off up to Jo’berg on a Southern Cross Tour followed by a Jo’burg to Windhoek, via Botswana, Call of the Wild Tour. A final two more are planned before the end of the year. Its certainly busy!
Do you see yourself returning to the world of graphic design at all?
Good question. My ‘sabbatical’ year out, has certainly been extended. I still love design work and still do some small design and photographic projects here and there, But I think that after something like twenty five years in the industry its time for a breath of fresh air. I’m certainly getting that!