East Africa

Text: Simon Thomas • Photography: Simon and Lisa Thomas

We are in Cape Town, South Africa, our bikes parked behind us. Bathed in the pink glow of the evening sun, our bodies weary and worn, we have ridden 24,000 miles through 11 African countries. We walk over the sand down to the water's edge, where the cool green waves of the Atlantic lap against our bare feet. A moment to savor - feels so good to have the boots off. It has taken us nearly eight months of demanding riding to traverse Africa's west coast, and we are sporting our cuts, bruises and scars like badges of honor, commemorating each hard-fought mile.

Africa in all its intoxicating glory has us hooked, and we are eager to experience more, hungry for our next fix. Once rested, we plan to ride north, relying on the trusty R 1100 GS and F 650 GS to see us through Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, before returning to Cape Town via Mozambique and Malawi. Lisa and I consider the ride ahead while the lights of Cape Town turn on, glinting and twinkling in the shadow of Table Mountain.

In the chill of the early morning we pull our riding jackets close around our necks. We are north of Gordon's Bay. The rugged peaks of the Western Cape's coast, known locally as the 'Twelve Apostles' are behind us, and we are riding the fast sweeping back roads that skirt the vineyards of Stellenbosch. The laden vines, heavy with dew, scent the air. It's mid May, and we are bound for South Africa's northeast region, where we'll start our northward leg.

Rugged Beauty: The Swartberg

We shun the main N1, choosing instead the smaller roads, which lead us through the beautiful but arid Klein (little) Karoo and the Dutch-settled towns of Villiersdorp, Stormsvlei, Warmwatersberg and Ladismith. Just north of Oudtshoorn town our bikes kick up the dirt as we swap asphalt for a narrow, dry, loose dirt track that climbs and climbs. We are riding enduro style, up on the pegs, into one of the most spectacular passes in the world, the Swartberg, and across what was once considered impenetrable, the Swartberg Range. Our eyes flit from the winding track ahead and the awesome views. Cool, shaded kloofs (Afrikaans for 'gorge') provide sanctuary to delicate swaths of deep-green fynbos (fine bush) in this UNESCO recognized micro-climate. Small rocks tumble from above, loosened by the skittering hoofs of three klipspringers (small antelope) who, startled by our appearance, now miraculously scamper higher on the almost sheer rock face. We reach the summit (5,193ft.) and begin our cautious descent, the tight hairpins and sudden switchbacks stealing our attention away from the stunning images of the bright yellow and peach-colored proteas (South Africa's national flower) that bedeck the higher ledges.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2009 back issue.