Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Flats, Cops, and Fun


The thick tropical vegetation dotted with palm trees, a one kilometer beach with a gentle hill to climb at the end, was just the setting we all needed after a day of rain and wind. The Ocean View Hotel lives up to its name and being the only real inn on the beach, made it that much special.

The hotel itself seems to carry you back to the days of out of the way quaint respites where the entire restaurant and housekeeping staff greets you and all share in carrying your luggage to your room.

Rumbling of the motorbikes engines through the threshold to the dirt parking area silenced one by one and the riders quickly retired to their rooms to remove the wet riding gear in exchange for comfort clothing to meet at the bar to review the day’s events.

Coffee Bay
Here we stay for two nights allowing us time to stroll along the clean hard pack sand, climb rocks jetting out towards crashing surf, and taking the low risk challenge to hike up the for a further view of the “Wild Coastline”. This downshift from 140 KPH to a slow walk was just what I needed to restore my mind and body. The hotel was the only restaurant within miles so we indulged into the buffet of local fish and chicken. The South African wine made everything taste that much better. A big surprise was the pineapple upside down cake…my all time favorite. Soon it was time to retire to rooms to prepare for another 450 km day.


I caught a beautiful sunrise while getting ready for another morning buffet breakfast. toted our bags to the support van, got a briefing on the day’s ride, geared up, mounted up and….whoaaaaa. As I backed my bike up to get a position in the line up, Darryl looked at me strangely. I’m sensitive to those type of looks and sensed something was wrong. He sauntered towards me focusing on my bike and announced “You av a flat”. I rotated my head focusing on my rear tire and sure enough the tire was very low…not flat but not really ride able. This meant I had to switch bikes because the BMW 800 GS has tubes requiring breaking down the wheel that takes too much time.

After unloading the spare BMW 700 GS from the trailer hauled by the support van, one of the staff gave the 700 a quick wash and the group was now on their way. Chuck had earlier rode up ahead to stage a photo of all the riders in a long line rising  on the winding road out of the beach. He suspected something was a rye but finally the group roared up the road while Chuck and Dave’s cameras fired away.

I was getting used to this new alternate bike and discovered it handled better than the old one and had about the same amount of throttle power so I was pretty content flying through the countryside usually staying within eyeshot of the rest of the group.

Port Alfred
The group got a little ahead because I was stopped a few times by “robots”, South African term for stop lights, leaving me and Chuck a short distance behind the main group as we exited from a small town. I began to accelerate  when up ahead a traffic policeman stood in the middle of the road waving a miniaturized stop sign signaling me to pull over to the left. Chuck rode by but pulled over a bit further down the road. I didn’t think I was speeding, but none the less, I was told to present my operators license, vehicle registration, and passport. Fortunately I had all my papers in order. The questioning began…was I part of the group earlier that blew by him? “maybe”…where did I come from, “America…no no Pretoria..no?...Coffee Bay”….where am I going?....ah,ah,…”It starts with an “A”…The officer began naming locations…none sounded right until he said Alfred. “Yes I believe that’s it…Port Alfred!” He smiled, gave me back my papers, I shook his hand, fired up the bike and joined Chuck up the road. I’m certain the traffic cop  didn’t believe the bloody Yank hadn’t any idea where he was going. Now I was free to motor on to my destination of “Port Alfred”

The dunes at Port Alfred
Up ahead the multiple flashing lights on the left side of the road signaled us we have caught up with group. Usually the delay was a couple minutes but this time some were curious why the wait was longer. I shared my story then we all moved on through the winding roadways, over the Port Alfred Bridge, up a step hill, a quick right into a small alleyway into the back of the quaint Links Coastal Inn. Once everyone dismounted, two welcoming women gave out our room assignments. Grabbing our bags from Julian, we retired to our room or should I say rooms. We each had our own room with a common area living room and kitchen dividing us. This was a very nice surprise. We quickly got settled and took a couple kilometer hike down to the beach where we were told large sand dunes lined the ocean edge. It reminded me of our Cape Hatteras. The long shadows of the late afternoon made a dramatic settling to snap some photos but dinner time was arriving soon. This meal was not to be missed because the hotel restaurant was known for it’s cuisine and tonight the chef prepared an African meat called Kudo. This animal is similar to our American deer. After a quick shower removing 450 KM of road dirt and a couple of drinks up in the crows nest like pub over looking the town, we wound our way down the stairs to the dining room for the feast. The Kudo was very rich, flavorful and filling. The dinner along with the days ride, left everyone feeling like they couldn’t get to the bed quick enough. 

The day wrap up was a flat plus a traffic pull over verses nice room, great dinner (and breakfast), and beautiful beach...I'm still having a great time. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Wet & Wild


Kruger National Park afforded us to see 4 of the big five game animals though saying we saw a Hippopotamus was stretching it. We viewed the ears and snout of such a beast from 75 yards away. Not exacting a great sighting. I did see one come up on the lawn at Hippo Hollow Lodge but that’s almost a zoo like setting. This afternoon we walked across town to the docks in St Lucia to board a specialized hippo boat to really get a close up of this over inflated animal. Within minutes of arrival our group were off on a hippo hunt. I’m usually skeptical about such boastful adventure cruises but this one delivered in spades. At first we saw a few bobbing about near the tall reeds. The boat passed under a bridge and soon at least ten were frolicking about thrilling the passengers by widely opening their mouths. The sun began to duck close to the horizon as the boat docked and all of us retreated to our hotel.


Almost 400 kilometers of winding undulating roads ushered us onto a dirt road leading us to the Oribi Gorge Hotel. This adventure driven refuge is a haven for adrenaline junkies. This gorge is known for the longest rope swing into the gorge. We arrived a bit too late to take advantage of this great opportunity. Instead we opted to cross the canyon by swinging footbridge. The swinging and bouncing of this bridge was good enough for me. The weather threatened us all day with wind a light sprinkles of rain. Later that evening rain in earnest began to fall and when the next morning arrived I knew it was going to be a very wet day ride to the coastal town of Coffee Bay. Riding these potholed strewn narrow roads are somewhat challenging to begin with let alone added pouring rain.  The big risk is passing “Abnormal” trucks laden with cargo. The general sense of road courtesy among South African drivers make it tempting to take a chance and pass where I normally wouldn’t even consider it. Late morning we dropped down out of the gorge area taking the switch backs with relative caution. Fog began to mix with rain making visibility through my faceshield extremely difficult. I came up on a tanker truck slowly grinding up a hill. The rider in front of me took a chance and made the pass. Now it was my turn to overtake the truck which splashed residue from its churning tires onto my helmet. The lack of ventilation inside my helmet created fog on the inside as well as the out. I rhythmically used my clutch glove as a wiper but I couldn’t keep up with the quantity rain. I moved to the right riding the center line trying to see an opening from the oncoming traffic. Finally it appeared there was a small opening. I down shifted and twisted the throttle making a full commitment to pass. I was halfway through the move when a bend in the road approached along with a truck making its way around the corner. With my limited vision I got as far as the door on the tanker, moved within inches of the grinding front tire when the large truck going in the opposite direction sandwiched me between 10 tons of steel. I saw the front bumper of the tanker truck next to my hip when I shifted to 4th and sped away. An hour later the rain stopped and the sun lit my way to Coffee Bay.     

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wild Animals & More


Patched up and feeling a bit better thanks to an evening of musical toilet seat Chuck and I felt a bit more confident as we left the mountain top Magoebaskloof Hotel. As this dilemma unfolded it was discovered suffered from this ailment. Now we're  now on our way to the Hippo Hollow. Yes this name conjures up images of over inflated wiener dogs dancing in tutu’s and frilly umbrellas but it’s a very nice lodge that is one of many lodges servicing the masses visiting Kruger National Park. On the way to the lodge we experience a large elevation drop of 3000 ft. made up of winding twisting narrow paved roads cut through the rolling hills but on the way we made stops at three incredible view points. The first had us walk up a steep pathway to a wide vista of the Lowveld. The sky wasn’t perfectly clear but that didn’t stop seeing a distance of 50 miles of more. The next stop Bourkes Luck Potholes (not named after the road nascence) was a nice stone pathway with a couple short pedestrian bridges that took you to eroded sandstone canyons in round “pot hole” formations with swirling water fed by a 100’ waterfall. Before the waterfall was a series of cascading shorter falls and pools from the river finding its way through the rolling hills of the valley. Lastly, the Rondavel view site was a mountain range with three massive rock formations that fancied itself like a traditional tribal

About 3PM we arrived at the Hippo Hollow lodge designed for accommodating large bus loads of visitors to the Kruger National Park. Fortunately Chuck and I and others were given two person cottages set into a spacious semicircle layout with a pool 30 yards away. For a lodge, this place had a nice bit of character with lush grounds next to a river housing hippos that came up to the hotel and grazed on their lawn every evening. Caution, these sausage boys are not cuddle animals. If cornered they will swiftly attacked humans.

I haven’t mentioned too much about the food because most of which is “buffet” food in a line of warming trays. I really don’t want to pan these offerings but…let’s just say some of the selections are regional. If you are a foodie, find another tour.   

Once in Hazyview, Chuck, Ken Richmond, and I walked to a nice local Italian restaurant I can’t recall the name but the owner was Johann made a really fine pizza. This was a very pleasant change from the buffet.

In the evening the hotel put on it’s tribal dance show to delight the motor coach crowd and I have to admit some of the dancing and singing being a kin to Paul Simon’s Graceland, was pleasing.  After the show everyone lined up, served themselves some local cuisine…as much as you want.

Before I headed back to my room, I was going to stop by bar the for an evening cleansing as the Aussies describe it, when I happened to see someone fall from the outdoor dining terrace 5’ high wall. The wall cordons off the nightly hippo activity from the entertained diners. I started to assist in the rescue but soon there were many on the hippo pitch to bring aid to this woman. I found out shortly after the victim was Clare, a sweet lady from our group that didn’t stop quick enough and stepped off the terraced dining area. Fortunately she only received a large bruise on her hip and slightly twisted ankle. But to everyone’s surprise Clare was a real trooper and continued to ride pillion for the duration of their stay. Gary, Clare, and their son Josh all came on the tour for a holiday.

With the singing, dancing, and Clare’s tumbling act over it was time turn in for the evening. The morning rise will be early to begin the Kruger Safari at 5AM


looking for breakfast
The sun still hadn’t risen when we all meet at the two 4X4 modified Nissan safari vehicles with rag tops and extra seating. The group divided into two groups that helps cover a wider area to find . Breakfast bags were handed out while we boarded the trucks. When we left Hippo Hollow it was quiet. Within 20 minutes we arrived at an entrance to Kruger along with at least a dozen others. Our driver and guide, Smiley reviewed the rules of being on safari. These rules are rather simple no eating, no feeding the animals, no yelling, whistling to attract their attention, keep all arms and bodies inside the truck and use the toilet facilities before entering the park. Once done, Smiley fired up the 4x4, drove through the gate and immediately alerted by one of three communication devices, lions were on the road. Any previous plans or notions were abandoned. He was determined to get us to the lions post haste.

Mostly the roads are paved and are shared by other tour companies and if you wish you can take your private car in as well. Within five minutes we see a group of cars parked every which way on and slightly off the pavement. The 3 lions were lying very calmly on the left side. Though the others left and others filtered in, Smiley provided an in depth commentary. As he was speaking one lion crossed to the right side fixing his gaze on a mother and baby giraffe off in the bushes. His gaze turned to an intense stare focused on the baby. Suddenly the lion darted and made his move chasing his prey back across the road but both giraffes escaped the charge. The lion gave up within 30 seconds. A zebra standing in the bush next to the road then became the lion’s next prey. Again the lion organized himself and launched another attack this time at the zebra. The zebra darted off as the lion took a wide swipe at the zebra’s left hindquarter simultaneously delivering a hoof to the jaw of the lion defeating the attempt once again. Shortly after the lion’s action, a large group of wild dogs trotted down the road towards our vehicle. These colorful dogs, having no relation to our domestic dogs, were totally unbothered by our presence.

Smiley once again received communication Rhinos were off to the side of the road a short distance away. Once more we drove up to a group of other vehicles with all cameras fixed on one black and one white Rhino to the right of the roadway. The chattering of cameras didn’t both the animals grazing as they slowly paralleling the tarmac.

Great hair piece
After these events, other animals such as elephants and more giraffes were sighted as the sun rose. It seemed as the sky lightened the animals disappeared into the grass. Soon we returned to the park’s head quarters to consume our bag breakfast. After eating we made our way back to lodge to relax for the remainder of the day.


Smiley's commentary

second breakfast choice

Wild Dogs and Englishmen

Friday, March 17, 2017

Rough Start

My disposition was rigid when I made my first turn onto the tarmac of South Africa. The unfamiliarity of my new BMW 800 GS motorcycle coupled with driving on the opposite side of the road and the general cultural road rules sent me into a bit of internal panic. The first destination was the Union Buildings (like our capital) that overlook all of Pretoria. The very prominent 14 meter tall bronze statue of former South African Leader Nelson Mandela with arms stretched out widely much like his person of years past. Now the citizens complain openly about the corruption of the current leadership. Sounds familiar?

We then worked our way downhill winding through the neighborhoods and then onto a motorway towards our first evenings accommodation just a short ride away.

Lunch time has us parking our bikes on the side of a rough looking building  was our introduction to the township tavern in Mandela Village. These settlements sprung up since the early 1990’s  just before the independence from 30 years of Apartheid. Now group of 15 sit at a long table in a cool darkened dining area. Today’s  local cuisine buffet style offering is explained by our  support van driver, the rough and tough looking Julian, that sports a friendly gentle smile. The sauces tasted spicy and the meat tender. I’m not furnishing much more info because I’ll explain later.

At the end of the first day we had the option to ride bikes in lieu of a sitting in truck to take a short two hour Safari. Sama Motorcycle Tours is the only sanctioned company permitted to run small groups of motorcycles on a photo safari through the Dinokeng Game Reserve. Half our group, including myself chose to tour along the sandy dusty small winding roads to look for animals in the tall grass. This makes viewing a little edgy because you sit much lower than the larger 4 x 4 tour coaches. We viewed zebra, wildebeest, impala, and ostrich before returning to the Kawlata Lodge and treated ourselves in a local brew followed by a buffet dinner.  I was exhausted both physically and mentally forcing me turn in early to restore some energy for 300km ride the next day.


Health is an important topic among strangers grouped together. It’s amazing how close you can get in such a brief period of time when illness strikes. The phenomena rang true of our group of 5 Aussies, 4 Brits, one Canadian, and 4 yanks.

March 12th will go down as not one of Curt’s best days but hey when you’re on tour in an exotic country it can’t be that bad….or can it?

The routine of this trip is to wake up at the proper time to get to enjoy a buffet breakfast at 7AM, have your cases delivered to the support vehicle no later than 7:45 and be ready for  the day’s  briefing by 8AM. Shortly after we fire up the engines and keep up with Darryl our leader if you can. To be fair, others want the thrill of an accelerated pace while Chuck and I choose to make our own more casual pace…within reason.

Whining of starters and the blasting popping sounds of motorcycle engines signal our departure from the Kwalata Lodge. Not long after leaving the lodge we stop at a Shell petrol station to fuel the bikes and use the toilet facilities. While at the station I began to experience unrest in the lower regions of my body. While no reaction occurred at the station I began to think what if an explosion was in the offing and if so, what is my emergency plan...on a motorcycle?  Leaving the station I was riding directly in back of Darryl the group leader and owner of SAMA as we entered on the freeway, which put me in position to pull over when we exited the freeway to signal others behind of an upcoming turn.. As I sat off to the left side of the road with my blinker on and using my arm to catch the attention of the others, my stomach began it’s revolution. I was to wait at my position until the last rider known as the sweeper rode up. All the riders seemed to had passed so I rode down the exit ramp to join the others when I realized the sweeper, Chuck, hadn’t rode up. Panic struck as Darryl looked back at me with a concerned expression. I fucked up….oh shit, Chuck may not see us and ride past on the upper freeway. Fortunately Chuck saw me exit and rode down the ramp behind me. Whew , the end result was good but I’ll never let that happen again.

The group took off and I trailed near the rear feeling a bit stupid  yet more importantly I felt a bit shaky . Riding a few more hours the couple riding just in front of me pulled off to the left into a small clearing in the forest. The driver, Grant, quickly jumped off his bike, removed his helmet and shuffled to the bush edge, bent over, and lost his lunch. Paralyzed in a jackknife position his wife, Clare told me he had been fighting off his upset feeling for an hour. I reassured her that I too had the same feeling and that I suspect we had a nasty case of salmonella poisoning from breakfast. We were 15 minutes from the hotel so he toughed it out and controlled myself until we pulled into the lodge. Once at the Mogoefaskloof lodge, we all felt a bit better knowing facilities were close at hand. 

But my story gets better. I was told about the possibility of a Canopy Tour (aka; Zip Line) crossing the steep canyons in the Magoebaskloof mountains. So I signed up even knowing that I must exercise control and ignore my physical discomfort. A half dozen of us loaded into the support van and drove to the zip line site. We were a bit late but the team of assistants got us all into our harnesses and briefly went over the instructions on how to clip into the cable and brake. Two of the assistants traveled with us as we hiked down a narrow trail into the canyon. I’ve done zip lines before and this was a bit cruder that the one in Colorado that Sharon and I took a few years ago. These canyons are much deeper and severe. The one tech went across first while the other hooked us in, gave final instructions and sent us down the line. Each time special instructions were given as to when to brake so you reach the other side or don’t go too fast into the eleven landing areas. On about number 4 my tech hooked me in and said “Don’t Brake”. I took him literally and took off. This was a short run into heavily forested landing platform and when I got into the trees the landing deck went by and I went into the rock wall beyond it immediately stopping my progress. I was stunned. All I could think was “Don’t Brake”. He forgot to say until you come 4 meters to the end then brake. I ended up with a pretty good laceration next to my left eye and a slightly lighter cut on my forehead and on my upper cheek. First aid was immediately given, a plaster applied, and I continued much more cautiously. 

To summarize my March 12th….I screwed up signaling, I got a dandy case of diarrhea, and I smashed my face into a rock wall. Not bad for day two.  Am I having fun yet? You bet!

after getting first aid on my left eye
being more cautious soaring above a waterfall



Thursday, March 9, 2017

End of Africa in 26 hours

Last Summer my buddy Chuck Feil, called me to announce he had won a motorcycle tour from the BMW meet in New York. He fired off the details quickly basically inviting me to join him in March of 2017 to ride motorcycles for 17 days across South Africa. It sounded wild enough to perk my interest so I agreed to accompany him. Before I knew it he and I were booking flights to Johannesburg and even sooner it seemed, we landed after 26 hours and was being driven to Pretoria where the tour will commence in two days.  Our flight route took us from Tucson to LA, then non stop to Amsterdam. Then we walked rapidly across the entire terminal while our flight to Johannesburg was boarding. The timing you could say was perfect with only a few minutes to spare.

For now we are dealing with time change and jet lag but soon the tour will begin when our BMW steeds will be issued to us and the adventure will begin. Roughly speaking the ride will begin in Pretoria motoring east towards the Kruger Wildlife Preserve, thread our way through the country of Swaziland, and then follow the coast west to Cape Town. In the following days I will report to you the road conditions, passing villages, food and drink of the journey. The current down time also allows us to check all our equipment and make certain we have everything we need while we're in this big city.

                                           Our comfy KLM bird in Los Angeles.
                                          A foot bridge spanning roadway connecting malls
                                          Chuck, Sergio, Ken, Dave and myself at breakfast
                                          Hanging with some new friends at a safari shop
                                                   Our hotel in Pretoria

Stay tuned for the next couple days the tour will begin and so will the stories...this post is like a test so if you have trouble viewing this let me know. Thanks, Curt