Category: Motorcycling


Warning: This post contains explict content and images that may offend some readers.

Algerian Border Crossing

Leaving Tunisia at Hazoua we simply filled in a disembarkation card upon arrival at the Tunisian border post, and our passports were duly stamped by a police officer. We were then directed to the customs desk in the same building. The customs officer noted down our date and place of arrival and departure, and asked no further questions. It took all of five minutes to exit Tunisia. They didn’t even ask any questions as to whether or not we had a visa for Algeria, although it is more than likely the police officer saw our Algerian visas as he flicked through the pages of our passports.

Roaming Camels

Roaming Camels

After a short ride across no-mans land and a quick photo of roaming camels by the road, we arrived at the Algerian border police post. I’m unsure if they were Tunisian or Algerian camels, either way their paperwork wasn’t in order or else they would’ve already crossed over. As we rolled up to the border post, we noticed a large number of cars about 20 or 30 already parked and knew we were in for a decent wait. First of all we were asked to complete a white entry card (carte d’entrée) with our personal details and a fiche d’entrée in green for the motorcycle.

Pascal exchanged friendly banter with the police officer, who also asked if we had a guide and where we were going, in particular if we were going to the south of Algeria. He checked our motorcycle registration papers, however he wanted our guide to arrive before he processed our paperwork. He tried to telephone our guide but of course no answer, and it was already half an hour after our scheduled rendez-vous at 9 am. Pascal went in search of our guide, and as the only white man in a fluro yellow t-shirt and grubby motorcycle gear he’s not hard to miss. We certainly should have asked for our guides mobile number to ensure that he is easily contactable. Luckily, we were only waiting in the shade for 10 minutes when Mohamed from Tanzerouft travel agency arrived and took care of the formalities. He had driven over 3000kms from the south to meet us at the Taleb Labri border near the Algerian town of El Oued. Mohamed was called inside the building and we are not sure as to the exact exchanges that took place, but it all took approximately 1 hour and photocopies were made of our passports and several copies of our trip itinerary and personal details were made.

We waited outside with the flies in the shade and snacked on biscuits, and fielded questions from curious onlookers. Before our guide returned, Pascal was directed to the next building along to obtain a TPD (Titre de Passage en Douaine) form to complete for the motorcycle. Pascal duly completed the forms that were barely legible having been photocopied repeatedly and now extremely faded. Increasingly tired of the wait and very hungry, I was short with Arja who wanted to take photos of the completed forms but was taking her time.

Arja: He gets stressed out far to easily by tedious beaurocratic procedures. Meanwhile, I successfully got to level 32 on space bubbles!

street kids

Street kids curious about the bike came up to have a closer look

Pascal: I went to the customs desk to get the additional forms for our motorcycle and to declare the amount of money we wish to exchange. The customs officers were friendly just as the police but preferred to speak English. Once the TPD was filled in I handed it back talking and learning a few words of arabic in the process from my improvised teachers. Once our guide returned, I had to go back with the guide to the customs office with our stamped passports. The customs officer went outside with us to check the motorbike and asked questions as to our luggage, such as what the sleeping mats were. The customs officers, new in their role, insisted on me taking everything off the bike except the hard luggage. As I was doing this, little to my knowledge, Arja was being quizzed on whether we had a GPS. Unwittingly she hinted that our tablet had a GPS but also needed a wireless internet connection to function. The over eager customs officers pounced on the word GPS just as I was coming back with the bags from the bike. It took some careful explaining using Arja as a scape-goat and the intervention of a senior colleague to make the customs officers understand that it wasn’t a GPS device but rather a big mobile phone. The only thing remaining was to exchange some Euros for Algerian Dinars and purchase 3rd party insurance for Francois. The insurance was 1400DZD valid for one month.

Approx three hours later, we were finally back on Francois with nothing but the open road ahead.

Welcome to Algeria

Welcome to Algeria

A quick stop in Oued el alennda to pick up supplies and some fresh lamb to go with couscous, for tonight’s camping dinner.

Restocking food and water in El Oued

Restocking food and water in El Oued

On our very first night in Algeria we found ourselves camping off the road in the dunes; who would’ve thought it would be such an adventure! Half way between Oum ez Zebed and Touggourt we stopped to take a path over the dunes to find a campsite in the sand for the night.

My first time in sand dunes

As Arja rightly pointed out, it was my first time in the sand dunes, although not altogether my first time on sand as we were on the beach in Italy. But as I was soon to find out the flat sands of the beach are very different to the undulating sand dunes broken up by tufts of grass. Had my first experience been on wide open sand dunes with no vegetation, then it may have been better, or at least a little easier, like driving on an empty highway versus a busy street with traffic when learning to drive a car. The dunes busy with vegetation provided obstacles that were difficult to negotiate at minimum speed on sand which is about 40-50kph. With the tyres let down to 15psi front and rear but with tank panniers and rear panniers still on I leapt on Francois all but ready after a long day to tackle the loose soft white sand of Touggourt.

From the road it was easy to get speed up and the first 200m went well standing up on the footpegs but as I had to negotiate the knolls, pick my line well ahead, and keep up a fast pace to stop myself from getting bogged whilst also reading the sand all at the same time, I started to slow and with the throttle rolled off just a little the front wheel dug knee-deep into the soft sand, almost throwing me over the front as it brought Francois to a rapid halt. To get out of the sand bog, I laid Francois over on his side to let the sand fill back in the wheel tracks. This was only effective to a point as I still had the panniers on and it wasn’t possible to get Francois flat on his side. Back up and on Francois I started him up in second gear letting the clutch out all the way and keeping the revs up enough to keep him from stalling. Sand was flying high and the metzeler tourances were struggling to grab in the sand, only as the tyres started to translate to forward movement was it possible to sit and lift my feet up. When starting in sand, the bike is creating deep grooves and steering is virtually impossible, only once enough speed and momentum is gained does the bike lift up and ride, sort of float on the sand, and one can begin to steer. It was just before I had reached the point of being able to steer, or more correctly, to change direction with my weight when I realised I was headed straight for a big mound of grass and sand.

Crash in Dunes

Smashing through the windscreen, Francois on his side after ploughing through a grassy mound of sand."What did you do to Francois?"

The mound came closer and closer until the unavoidable happened, I hit the big tuft of grass and sand. I was expecting the worst, bike and all we were flung over the first mound with a thump only to be greeted with another mound just as big glaring right at me head-on. Barely holding on the sudden halt of Francois ploughing into the second mound was too much and my momentum carried me forward, and I went head-over-heals smashing through the wind shield and landing on the other side of the sandy mound shoulder first. My descent from grace was all-in-all relatively soft as I immediately rose to turn and see Francois in a less than elegant position on his left hand side with the windshield in pieces and the right rear vision mirror bent and dislodged.

Recording the aftermath

Keen to document and record my accident I tried signalling to Arja and Mohamed to come back. As they were already well ahead of me by this stage they took a little while to turn around and drive back. Without a doubt it was a wise decision not to have attempted riding on sand with Arja as passenger. I sincerely doubt that we would have made it more than 20m if we tried.

I was angry but mostly disappointed that I had crashed, and pumped with adrenalin I was keen to jump back on Francois and try again. However, I held back the urge instead deciding to wait and document the ‘off’. The effect of the adrenalin meant it took a while until I calmed down enough to think and feel the effects of the impact fully, as Arja, Mohamed and Ali our driver pulled up I began to assess the damage. What I could see was a twisted rear vision mirror and broken windshield, what we heard when I got Francois upright and started him up again was like a broken or missing exhaust. The loud gutteral splatter sounded like the exhaust had been damaged, dislodged due to the noise. When I accelerated there was no power and Francois struggled almost stalling during harder acceleration and all the time blurting a deafening roar of pain. This wasn’t good. What have I done. Why did I ride on sand. What was I thinking!?

Starting sick Francois

It didn’t take long until we found the problem. The throttle body and air-intake had been dislodged allowing unfiltered air and god knows how much sand and dirt directly into the engine chamber. As soon as we saw this I got out my tools and went to work to re-seat the throttle body to the engine head. Still on a high I impatiently tried to fix the problem and bent the circular retaining clip holding the throttle body on. Damn it!

With a bit of tweaking and fiddling I could fix the bent clip and the throttle assembly and mustered up the courage to try again, but this time without any luggage whatsoever.

Riding on to our camping spot behind the bigger dunes I think I started to get a feeling for the sand. Exhausted I sat on the sand with Arja as our guides cooked dinner over the campfire. Beautiful night sky with a crescent moon and countless stars. It was only at this point that I had relaxed enough to feel that I was sore from the crash. Firstly my shoulder and neck from the impact and my upper thigh, presumably from the windshield and lastly my chest where I had my keys on a lanyard around my neck. Due to the fall the keys had dug into my chest and caused a few minor lacerations and bleeding. All considered a small price to pay for what could’ve been a lot worse.

Preparing Tea

Sore and bruised but not beaten, enjoying mint tea as we prepare to camp in the dunes

Impromptu service in Touggourt

From our campsite in the dunes we continued to Touggourt about 20kms to perform an oil change due to the accident in the sand having opened up the air intake at the throttle body. As I had started the bike with the throttle body dislodged I thought it prudent, almost essential to change the oil as there would’ve been a lot of unfiltered air with sand entering the engine directly, hopefully most of it was ejected cleanly via the exhaust but better to take the preventative measure now than wreak havoc later. It was great to have Ali and Mohamed as they could easily find a garage and ask if we could do the oil change there rather than by the roadside in the dust and dirt. Just next door was a shop selling oil and tyres, I bought four litres of 5W40 engine oil for 2200dinars. I was carrying a spare oil filter and all the tools necessary to do the job so i got to work. Meanwhile Mohamed and Ali were doing some maintenance on their pickup and buying new tyres.

The service took the best part of an hour interrupted only by chit-chat with the mechanic keen to know more about our bike and where we had travelled. From Touggourt to Guerrara, an oasis town, for lunch of chicken, stewed vegetables and french fries. There are married women in town who are only able to show one eye when outside on the street, and look like they simply rolled out of bed with the bed sheets on and went shopping. It is a strict sect of Islam and the women alternate the eye shown to avoid weakened eyesight. Bizarre what men can get away with! The medina of Guerrara certainly looked worth exploring but we unfortunately have many kms to do and too little time.

Camping in Ahmed’s Oasis

The day was long and when we finally arrived at our campsite in amongst date palms we were tired and hungry. The owner of the oasis showed us the way in, through the gate, past the truck stop restaurant, in between the palm throngs and through the mud created from irrigation. His makeshift house of one room with ensuite, if you could call it that, was a mess, piled with junk and out back an animal coup with plenty of live mutton and goat. At the back of the restaurant a cook was preparing goats heads for a broth of sorts. To prepare them he first needed to remove the hair from the face and head of the decapitated goats. To do this he used a blow torch burning low with a yellow flame, this singed and burnt the hairs without cooking or burning the skin. The very distinctive smell of burnt hair stunk out the entire area but didn’t do much for the flies!

Goat heads

Restauranteur preparing goat heads for a stew

For dinner Mohamed brought a try of lentils and lamb chops and chips to our outdoor lounge room under the date palms. The lounge room was just a rug laid on the red sandy soil with a small fire for making tea.

We left Oued Toulid and Ahmed’s oasis at about 10am. We were 195kms north of El Meneea, also know as El Golea on the N1 heading south. The terrain has kept changing gradually, with slight changes every passing kilometre. At first the sand was a light yellow-beige with undulating plains of rocky terrain interspersed by tufts of bracken and thickets with the odd eucalyptus or palm. As we passed through small enclaves in the desert we noticed a lot of building going on, all in the typical reinforced cement pillars then the walls are built with very fragile clay bricks filling in the gaps between the pillars spaced at 2-3m intervals and rendered with cement and painted to hold it altogether.

Over one hill and into the next shallow basin we rode, onwards deeper and deeper into the Sahara and further south towards El Meneea and eventually Ain Sallah. The shallow basins at first coloured by light yellow sand and dark grey rocks, a few kilometres across and a matter of 20 or so metres deep began to give way to more sandy soil until the sand overtook the rocks and with the exception of a few flat spots the rest of the landscape was covered in small dunes and shrubs.

We stopped just outside of El Meneea at a truck stop for petrol and lunch. As this was the last petrol station until Ain Salah we also took an extra 10 litres of 96 unleaded petrol in a jerry can in case we couldn’t make the 393km + 15km stretch with one tank.

Authentic Sahara Experience

South of Ghardaia and all the way to Niger, is the real Sahara, ever-changing desert terrain and unforgiving. With the countless years of experience accumulated by our guides from hundreds of trips between Mali, Niger and Algeria we knew we were in good hands. So I lent on the knowledge and experiences of Mohamed to help guide me on how to read the sand dunes and picking the best line to avoid the soft sand. Dinner was a specialty of the desert, sand cooked bread resembling damper and then broken up in small pieces and mixed with stewed vegetables.

Desert campsite

Desert camp fire

The choice of campsite was made, and we climbed up the highest dune to get a view of the sunset. There is something comforting about having warm sand between the toes and fresh air that made us feel nostalgic towards the beaches in Australia, so much so that we were half expecting to see the ocean over the next sand dune. It’s funny how the mind works sometimes.

Endless dunes

Endless dunes of the Sahara

Ontop of the Dune

Conquered the Sand Dunes, Pascal & Francois celebrate

From the red dunes 300kms north of Ain Salah we rode 200kms south over an enormous plateau of red earth and black volcanic looking rocks. To the locals the plateau and its black stones is known as the black desert.

Lunch stop

Lunch under an Acacia tree

Lunch under the acacia tree surrounded by 7 billion stones and a million flies chewing on maccaroni and sand. The wind picked up and every breath felt like we were inhaling spoonfulls of sand.

A last dash through the wind and desert and we made it on one tank the whole 404kms to Ain Salah. I couldn’t help but mull over in my mind different ‘what if’ scenarios as we ran through the reserve tank and then some 30 odd kilometres past the indicated ’empty’ tank warning. What if we didn’t have a guide carrying extra fuel…

As we descended from the plateau, the flat arid treeless plain fell away into a gorge and opened out into a new basin leaving a few hills with a flat plateau height top resembling a canyon and pinnacles shrouded in sand and fallen rock. The town of Ain Salah, is surrounded by sand dunes and the ever encroaching sand often takes over parts of the town and from every street we could see at the end a sand dune.

Street of Ain Salah

Typical street of Ain Salah with sand dunes at the end

At Mohamed’s home we felt very welcome but craving some western creature comforts after four days of no showers or running water, we were not only out of clean clothes but we really did smell and just out of personal hygiene we needed a shower and we wanted to relax a little. As warm and welcoming as Mohamed and his family were we both secretly wanted, needed, some space and alone time. We first checked with Mohamed that it wouldn’t be a problem to move about town by ourselves. He confirmed it wasn’t a problem and that no one would stop us. So we decided to go to a hotel, much to the disappointment of his wife who was busy preparing dinner. We agreed to thus check-in to our hotel and return at 8pm for dinner.

Bonne fête! We partook in the traditional sacrificial slaughter of two goats just after our breakfast at 9am the day of Eid. The sacrifice of the animals was very unceremonious in all, but the ordeal of butchering two goats in the front yard on sand was performed with minimal fuss with the guidance of an experienced hand. Mohamed had a bet on with his friend to see who would be the first to prepare the Boulfaf, a delicacy found in Algeria and Morocco is usually eaten for breakfast. It is the cooked liver of the goat or sheep wrapped in the layer of fatty tissue surrounding the abdominal cavity of the animal then then placed on skewers and lightly grilled over the wood fire. Boulfaf is served hot and doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination look appetising, well not to either of us in any case. As Arja doesn’t eat meat, the four large pieces were all for me. Still feeling unwell from the chicken the evening before, I really had to force myself to eat the Boulfaf. It wasn’t very special and as I don’t particularly like liver, even on a good day I would’ve found it difficult to swallow.

Fresh Chicken

Cutting the neck of a chicken, offered to us for lunch.

Slaughtered goats

Slaughtered goats

Algerian Boulfaf

Preparation of the Algerian Boulfaf, liver wrapped in caul fat, the abdominal lining.

Caul

Caul the fat used in the preparation of Boulfaf

Tripe with chips, oh how delicious full of grit and very fatty. Coke never tasted so good, and I’ve never had so much in all my life, a god send, to help us wash down the tripe and cure or thirst if only temporarily. The trouble is we can’t leave until we’ve eaten!

I’m not sure if it was the tripe but even before I was going from bad to worse, it is beyond me how Mohamed was seemingly immune to the effects of the chicken, either that or he was doing a great job of hiding his discomfort. Back at the hotel my fever became unbearable, it may have something to do with the ground water I drank at lunch. What between the TV, my cold sweats and all the aches and pains, our decision not to return the Mohamed’s home for dinner was in my best interests. Especially given the 1400kms on bad roads we needed to cover in order to make our ferry in two and a half days leaving from Gazhouet.

I don’t know how Arja managed to put up with me between all the moaning, my demands and constant complaints. Perhaps the true test of a relationship is when we are ill, outside our comfort zone and in a foreign and inhospitable place. But whatever it is the truth is you do whatever you need to get through and we certainly need each other, it’s a cliché but we do pull together in tough times. Let’s be reasonable, it’s only food poisoning, travellers diarrhea, so given a little time it will pass, hopefully sooner rather than later.

We rose at the crack of dawn dispite my lack of sleep and queasy stomach to make haste north in direction Ghardaia. Forteen hundred kilometres lay between us and the coast then there were the police checkpoints located at entry and exit to every town and at major intersections. Not to mention all the speed bumps more like hitting a curb, forcing us to slow to a maximum speed of 15km/h. Two full days of riding and we rode into Tlemcen in the dark and looking for a hotel in peak hour traffic. Only 70kms for the following morning over the mountains and some very nice twisty roads and we arrived at the port. We said our goodbyes and proceeded to enter the port only to be turned away as we didn’t have authorisation to enter. A visit to the secretary of the captain of the port authorities and a long wait to get our boarding tickets due to computer system being down and finally we could enter the port.

Leaving Algeria by boat

Now on the boat to Spain and it is leaving 1hr and 41 minutes after scheduled departure.Why by boat? Well for the simple fact that the land border with Morocco is closed and has been for the best part of 30 years. So we are obliged to take the boat to Spain before descending into Morocco, ridiculous isn’t it.

Ghazaouet port

The port of Ghazaouet, preparing to leave for Spain

It is very strange when complete strangers chase you down to give you an Algerian keyring as a present or when you stop to buy food and a man standing on the sidewalk gave us a handmade truck in a bottle. The man who gave us the keyring had been talking to Arja earlier and thought that we didn’t have a flag sticker for Algeria on our bike so went out especially in search of a sticker for our panniers. We passed him on the way to the port after we got our boarding passes, finally, as the system was down and we had to wait for over an hour. Arja didn’t recognise him but it was the same man coming back in his car after searching high and low for a sticker and turning up with a keyring instead. The man going the other way in his car was sounding his horn at us and shaking what looked like keys at us. We both thought he was signalling that we had lost some keys, but a quick check and it wasn’t that so perhaps it was Monsieur Ben Freed who was organised to look after us by the secretary of the port captain of Ghazahouet from the port authority.

Once we had our boarding pass from Trasmediterranea we were allowed to enter the port and go to the police check and customs. As with entry we also needed a form (read entry/exit card) each and one for Francois looking decidedly adventurous, loaded up and dirty. We completed the forms whilst being ushered forward jumping the queues and eating pizza that we had just picked up before to fill the lunchtime void in our stomachs. Everyone was very polite and the customs officers were especially friendly. At the passport check I handed in both passports with the exit cards filled in however it wasn’t to the liking of the police officer who rechecked them 3 times each and decided to rewrite Arja’s name and several other bits of information that were there already. My writing is not especially messy and the cards were written neatly so it was the police officer just taking especially long and being thorough. After our passports were stamped out we moved on to the customs inspection. They requested our TPD (Titre de Passage en Douaine) I showed them the typed form with a stamp for the customs at Taleb Larbi border and they refused saying that there was another form. I said no, that it was the only form apart from our insurance papers. They finally took the form when I showed them the stamp and the customs officer went to confer with a colleague. Perhaps they had not seen this form from the Taleb Larbi customs before. In any case, it was the last formality and we were through into the holding docks until our boat arrived and we were allowed board.

Before we even put finger to keyboard we already know that this will be a very short post due to the connection but mostly due to the shoddy keyboard here in the Oasis town of Tozeur, Southern Tunisia.

Since Etna and Adrano, we continued on our merry way with a niggling feeling in the back of our minds continually saying are you ready for Africa? Well we had a long time to think it over on our crossing from Palermo to Tunis, La Goulette. The truth is that one is never ready, just partly or not incompletely. The good news is that after you leave home, there are still shops, banks, pharmacies and most things you might need, but looking at what people brought on the ferry, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was WWIII and that the world would soon end given the way some cars are so heavily laden.

Fully Loaded Car

Fully Loaded car embarking for Tunisia

Once in Tunis, we were the most spoilt of guests at Pascal,s aunt,s place. With treats such as Couscous, Brique, Merguez and ‘Doigts de Fatima’ to name a few after three days we were very well rested and fed like royalty. We made a few side trips in and around Tunis but most of all it was a fantastic opportunity for Pascal to catch up with his family even though it was short-lived. Along the coast north of Tunis is a very famous town called Sidi Bou Said, it is certainly a beautiful location and you can see why. Just add mint tea, Bombalouni and the setting sun over Tunis and you can understand why so many locals just come here to relax and hang out.

Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said looking out over the Mediterranean

But there is no rest for the restless? South, south and further south we headed until the Mediterranean sea we saw no more and the coastline of which we have become so accustomed now gradually replaced by date Palms, Eucalyptus trees and arid regions and eventually the desert.

Towards Matmata

Towards Matmata as the flat plains turned to barren hills

There are some noticeable differences between life in Tunisia and the rest of Europe, namely the storage of meat. It is common to find butchers along the roadside signified by the meat hung up outside.

Fresh Camel meat

Fresh Camel meat

That of course is not the only difference, but it is surprising none the less. Stemmed in tradition, the Tunisians are proud of their country and heritage but it,s not without concern for their uncertain future. Time will tell whether the new elect Ennahda, a self titled moderate Islamist party will help this country desperately in need of a boost in tourism to regain its feet and steer Tunisia in a prosperous or perilous path forward.

Sandstorm

Sandstorm on the Chott El Jerid

Now we find ourselves unable to sleep in our trusty tent due to the sandstorms blowing Saharan sands so high into the atmosphere that the sun no longer is yellow but a pale white and the sky a dull blue-grey with a tinge of beige. It is a desolate and isolated ride from town to town here in the south and it will get longer and more so as we prepare to cross over into Algeria on the first of November.

Chott El Jerid

Chott El Jerid on the way through the salt lakes in gale force winds

The super fine sands really do get into everything and it will be the ultimate test of our equipment, machine and nerves as we embark on the next leg of our North African adventure.

Even though our trip has had a rough outline for almost a year now, the detailed planning hasn’t really been possible until just several weeks ago. Why not? Well, if you’ve followed the news in Europe, North Africa and the Middle-East then you’d know that according to reports, the region is in turmoil^. This has made our planning extremely difficult to say the least. Our original plan was to ride the western Mediterranean through Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia then back to Europe via Italy or France. With the closure of borders to Syria and Libya and the cancellation of the ferry service from Alexandria, Egypt to Venice, Italy, this route was made virtually impossible (not to mention that visas for Syria are currently not being issued). The added headache regarding how to return from Egypt to Europe due to the cancellation of the passenger ferry meant that the only other option was to fly back and freight Francois, requiring significant time and paperwork.

Our backup route would take us to the western side of the Mediterranean, including Morocco and Tunisia. Less than two months ago we didn’t even begin to consider Algeria as an option. At first we thought it would be imppossible as no one we knew had travelled through Algeria in over a decade. Then when we realised it might be possible, we found out that there were almost no ferries running from Algeria outside of the peak summer season to mainland Europe, and what with the border between Algeria and Morocco being closed for the past 30+ years, we were short on time and solutions. Persistence and a lot of research has paid off; we are now almost set for Algeria, just waiting nervously for confirmation of our visas.

New route through North Africa

Route around the Mediterranean Sea

Route around the Mediterranean Sea

Visas

One of the least well known countries in North Africa would have to be Algeria. Having only recently come out of a 20 year long civil war and still not entirely open to tourism, it is no wonder why Algeria struggles to attract attention when it is overshadowed by Morocco to the west and Tunisia to the east as favoured tourist destinations by Europeans for decades. So why do we want to go? Well the answer is easy, because we want an adventure of course! But truly, we don’t know much about Algeria, it’s not even on the tourist map and the only people we know that have been to Algeria were there more than a decade ago. So given it’s not a tourist destination, it’s also not the easiest of places to self-drive with our own vehicle, and so wisely we have enlisted the help of a recommended travel agency based in Southern Algeria to accompany us and provide us with vital local knowledge and expertise. The visa requirements for Algeria are quite strict and without the support of an accredited travel agency, we would need to obtain a certificate of accommodation (Certificat d’hebergement) for every night we are in Algeria, we would also have needed a letter of invitation (Lettre d’Invitation) to accompany our visa applications. This still doesn’t guarantee that we would be issued with visas, so we went with the Travel Agency in order to have some credibility for our visa applications ensuring they would be taken seriously.

As of today, Arja has received her visa, however I am still waiting for mine. It’s only 4 days until we leave and I am pretty anxious about getting my passport back. The visa, and my passport, is still with the Algerian Consulate here in Geneva and is the missing link in our North African adventure and without it, we will have put off a lot of planning and to prepare a plan C, just in case. Now that we are so close and it looks like we will be going through Algeria,  it is very exciting and I have butterflies in my stomach and I can’t sleep at night. Who would’ve thought that a little piece of paper could put us on such a knife’s edge.

As for the other countries, Tunisia and Morocco there is not need for a visa, so that makes it a lot simpler. Although that said, the day after we arrive in Tunis, there will be elections and judging by previous unrest resulting in strict curfews these elections may prove to be more than just a nuisance.

Equipment & Preparation

We are essentially undertaking an expedition into the Sahara and like any adventure into remote arid desert regions respect for our environment is paramount to our success and also to our survival. We have made several, albeit small but important changes, to ensure we are adapted to the climate and conditions of the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. The temperatures are likely to fall below 0° degrees Celsius at night and may range up to or even above 30° during the day. Water and carrying enough has always been a difficultly especially when we are already fully laden and packed to the brim. The addition of tank panniers at the front of the bike will help with carrying extra supplies and water, if Arja doesn’t fill them with baklava and other sugery sweets behind my back! We will need to change to desert going tyres and regularly check our air filter to ensure it is clean. All of which will count when we’re lost knee deep in Saharan Quicksand.

We’ve done it before, so why the anxiety?

Well it’s simple, each trip is different, our trusty stead is not new any more, he has clocked up over 70,000kms and with recent issues† we are still a bit apprehensive about Francois’ mechanical and electrical state. We are also going through some very troubled regions. Together with the unpredictable nature of motorcycle travel, and our limited window of leave, we are trying to fit in a lot in a short amount of time. But most of all I can’t leave without my passport that is still with the Algerian Consulate in Geneva, pending issue of my tourist visa!!

Footnotes

^ The following are sample reports of turmoil in the regions from Europe, to the Middle-East and North Africa; Arab Spring, Greek Riots, Spanish Protests, Libyan Civil War, Egyptian Revolt – Mubarak, Syrian Revolution, Tunisian Reform.

† Fuel Pump Controller failed for the second time, closely followed by the battery and the ABS unit. We also had to replace the rear brake disc that was out of spec. During the ABS unit replacement, the BMW dealer also performed two recalls on Francois. All in all we should be set, but it’s never a certainty. Of course, having all these issues happen whilst at home are so much better than on the road leaving us stranded.

The cycle of trip preparation, itinerary planing, and tracking events in neighbouring Middle-East and north Africa has stepped up notch over the past month. Pascal’s passport needed renewal and the fact that the uncertainty of the entire region has put into jeopardy our plans to visit Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Given the volatility of the Middle-East and North Africa, we have once again changed our plans. Being on the road means having to be flexible. It means changing plans at the last minute and adapting to the situation as it occurs. Just one year ago the region was fine, safe and enjoyed thousands of tourists per day. Now it’s a different story and as determined as Pascal is to go to Jordan, Egypt and Syria several other factors have also come into play that mean we are change plans. But one loss is another’s gain, in this instance we will spend more time in Greece, Southern Italy, and Tunisia. Paper work permitting we may also duck into Algeria and further… So our two month tour two up is not without it’s adventure, in fact it’s a race now for us to organise everything what with many unexpected setbacks we are now very much excited to be taking off again, even if it’s only^ for two months.

Maps Sprawled on the floor

Maps Sprawled on the floor Arja is trip planning once again

In a lot of ways the whole process of trip planning, preparation and paperwork feels a lot like when we first left Australia in 2008. Although there are the obvious differences, Pascal is not leaving work (but Arja is), we’re keeping our place and we don’t have to fly Francois anywhere. Nevertheless all the time constraints, pressures, paperwork, insurance, bike servicing is there.

Planning for the unexpected

What we didn’t plan on was the complete failure of the ABS system on Francois. The budget has been completely blown and we’re still a month from departure. When Francois failed we turned to BMW and got the help we needed along with two recalls. It’s not the most heart warming thing to hear when the mechanic tells you that your bike has recalls (fuel pump controller and brake lines) pending and the ABS doesn’t work. The biggest issue I have with this bike, now that we have 70,000kms on the clock is that when the ABS failed, it caused three critical issues:

  1. Rear bake light and tail light both failed,
  2. Speedo stopped working, we had no idea of our speed,
  3. Odometer didn’t register any passing kms.

Fellow riders° just as baffled as I was to find out that all these issues were related to the ABS unit failure. With all the incredibly complex engineering and systems onboard why on earth would BMW make these three things dependent on the ABS unit. The only possible answer is that the ABS unit is so heavily integrated that the bike can’t function properly without it. Perhaps a more cynical view would be that BMW create the dependency to ensure users of the vehicle spend the money to have the bike repaired, as without the costly repair the bike is not road legal. Whatever the reason, it has left a bitter taste and just before we set out on our big Mediterranean tour. Don’t misinterpret my concerns, I’m incredibly happy with the GS, in fact I have never felt so confident and in control as I do on Francois. And it’s much better that the issues occur before we set out rather than the alternative, leaving us stranded by the roadside in the Saharan Desert!

The world map certainly helps with the planning and puts the distances into perspective

The servicing issues don’t end there, we also had a wheel sensor failure, a dead battery and a failed fuel pump controller and all that in the past month. But enough on Francois’ woes we’re leaving in exactly one month and we’re extremely excited even if our excitement has been dampened a little by recent events and the fact that we are so busy in the lead up to our departure nonetheless we can’t wait to see something else than green mountains, lakes, cows and all the cheese! Funny thing is not that long a go we were craving all those things, now it’s the opposite…

Same same but different

Even though the basics aren’t changing, we are making small albeit important changes to adapt for the changing environments and the extremes in temperature. Between when we leave to when we return we expect a difference in over 30°C in temperature travelling through the different climatic regions. Did you know that in November that the temperature in the Sahara can reach 30°C during the day and fall below 0°C at night? The challenges of fuel, water and food also pose a problem, especially when we are so limited for space and storage room. We’ll be sharing our solutions right here on our blog so keep an eye on this space as we turn up the volume and speed through Europe in search of a new adventure in North Africa.

Footnotes

^ There are many people colleagues and friends included that are entirely envious of our 8 weeks vacation. To all of you we say this, don’t be envious, if you want something enough then you’ll make it happen. Upon arriving in Turkey in 2009 we made a promise to ourselves, it was to visit the region again. In fact we originally wanted to do the whole tour of the Mediterranean Sea. We’ve had to fight, jostle and badger people, especially the bank manager to make this trip possible, now it’s becoming a reality we are faced with jealousy. If you knew someone who made their dream come true, knowing what they had sacrificed and what it meant to them then you would be happy. To all those people that don’t know us as well as you deserve, know this: Our actions speak louder than our words, with a little sacrifice everyday, like living apart for a year, we have been realising our dream, riding 2up around the world, piecemeal.

° Responses from online forums HUBB and Hexcode of which we are members provided vital feedback and assistance when diagnosing motorcycle problems.

Dear Friends & Family,

With the onset of summer and fully out of hibernation, we’ve been taking the plung wherever and whenever we can, the past weekend was in Nice, but not before we got drenched on the way there and the way back. Going back a few weeks, we were asked by an acquaintance for an interview about our travels, of course as we love to talk about our trips and travels, we couldn’t refuse. If you’d like to read the whole article then it’s available in full here.

“… there are many things on the road that can’t be anticipated and no matter how much preparation you have, it won’t help.”

“The unconditional friendship and generosity of complete strangers has changed us in ways that we are still finding out even today.”

Read more from our interview with Antonis, from Bikers Time Magazine here.

We are also preparing for our big ‘Tour of the Med’ later in the year. More on that to come next time, but more recently we’ve been busy servicing Francois and conquoring the Alps, one pass at a time. The past long weekend we managed to fit in several mountain passes from Geneva down to Nice and back up again.

  • Col du Télégraph 1566m
  • Col du Galibier 2642m
  • Col du Lautaret 2057m
  • Col de la Bonette 2715m
  • Col de Vars 2108m
  • Col de la Cayolle 2326m
  • Col Turini 1604m
  • Col St Martin
  • Col Valberg

Take a look at the view of the alps from inside our helmet, and see what we see. We’re also improving our new blog all the time so check back again soon to see the latest changes and stories from the Northern hemisphere.

You are invited to view Riding2up Adventurers’s photo album: Over the Alps to Nice

Monaco and Cote d'Azur Over the Alps to Nice – 6 Jun 2011by Riding2up AdventurersFrom Geneva over the alps to Nice we passed over 9 mountain passes and through gorges in the rain and snow.

View Album

Play slideshow

Best Regards,

Pascal & Arja

Swinging Francois out of a hairpin, we catch up with a campervan from the Netherlands and the pungent smell of burning hot brake pads invades our helmets as we slow to enjoy the scenery, unable to pass on the narrow mountain roads. The spring air, heavily laiden with pollen from fields of canola, announces the onset of spring and the looming presence of holiday makers, then as we slow for traffic the stench of manure hits erasing the clean fresh smells of spring. As we approach the pass of Schallenberg in Emmental, the heart of Swiss cheese of the same name, we see why the hoards of motorcyclists are craming the chalet as we look behind and admire the undulating green hills with cardboard cutout Alps in the background. We pull over to take a break and immortalise the beautiful scenery enjoying a coffee in the sun.

Salut! Ciao! Grüsech mitenand! Welcome to Switzerland!

We’ve been living in Switzerland for eighteen months now (my goodness, how time flies), so we thought it was about time to share some of our personal reflections and quirky observations about our Swiss life.

Since the New Year, the weather has been fantastic with almost four consecutive months of beautiful azure skies and spring temperatures, so much so that we’re both receiving a wholesome dose of vitamine-D. It honestly felt like spring in January when we were sitting out doors in altitudes above 2000m with nothing but a t-shirt on and beer in hand. Of course, we have been making the most of what little snow there has been this past winter season with Arja learning to ski (downhill) and Pascal snowboarding in his faded and well worn motorcycle suit.

We have also been making the most of our time on the week-ends to explore further afield from our respective home bases of Interlaken (in the Swiss-German part) and Nyon (in the Swiss-French part).  With Arja living in self-imposed exile in Interlaken, she has been hosting Pascal’s week-end visits into the Bernese Oberland and the majestic alpine vistas of the Jungfrau region. The Eiger (“devil”), Monk (“monk”) and Jungfrau (“virgin”) are the most famous mountains in Switzerland, well perhaps after the Matterhorn which notably was the inspiration for Toblerone.

Jungfrau Region

A perfect day under the the Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau, near Interlaken, Switzerland

Arja and her tobogon

Arja and her tobogon

Interlaken is where all foreigners are obliged to come to experience the Swiss Alps. This is most likely due to the fact that Interlaken features on the front page of Lonely Planet, and every other guide used by Arabians to Zulus. Interlaken is the multi-cultural melting pot of Switzerland with more Chinese and Indian restaurants per square metre than Chatswood and Paramatta put together. The Indians film Bollywood movies here, the Arabs come to flaunt their wealth, the Germans come to test out their expensive hiking gear. On a lazy evening after work, drinking a cold Coopers at Hooter’s, Interlaken, you can watch the world pass you by…

On the other hand, around Nyon the region of La Côte from Geneva to Vevey and up to the Jura on the northern side of Lac Léman and Route du Vignoble is strictly French speaking. Any other language still raises eyebrows even though English, Portugese, Italian and German are as common as the blue tit (if you don’t know what one is then we’ll forgive you this once, but it’s the most common small bird in the region which closely resembles a sparrow). Nyon is our home away from home where we frequently enjoy a gelato and stroll by the lake side with splendid views of the Mont Blanc across the lake. So romantic Nyon is at night with it’s Château illuminated that Pascal even mustered up the courage to propose to Arja one balmy night in March.

Of course Switzerland is world-famous for so many things: mountainous landscapes, first-class banking institutions,  ridiculously expensive hand-made watches and how can we forget Swiss cheese and chocolate. But the convenience and the benefits of living in Switzerland come at a price.

Switzerland requires all residents to purchase expensive health insurance.  The insurers are well equiped to sign you up and take your money, that’s the easy part, but changing insurers later on, however, is trickier. You can only switch once a year, in November to be exact, and only with at least one months notice and the completion of a myriad of forms.

New arrivals to Switzerland have to have a few handy tools ready for all the cultural differences that will come their way. The first essential tool to always have on hand is a pocket size hip-flask filled with the national schnapps – Kirch. Not only does it provide courage to face steep slopes whilst skiing it warms you up and helps digest the cheese! Do not even consider coming to Switzerland if you have not already cultivated a taste for cheese. Cheese is a national obsession and is eaten at every meal – the passage down the esophagus aided only by a digestive schnapps or two.

The land-locked island in Europe is home to many things but for us it epitomises wintersports and the countless opportunities to explore mainland Europe by road. It is a dream to ride the alpine roads, at every bend a mountain vista equal to a postcard awaits. But as we all know life isn’t a bed of roses and there is always another side to the coin, a thorn that pricks and leaves it’s mark.

That said all countries have their negative points and well if there is something we’ve learnt over our travels it’s to make the most of what we have and make every second count.

Decorated Cow

The ornate cow bell is a tradition in Switzerland to mark the end of grazing in the mountains and when the cows return from pasture in Autumn

We are often asked this very question by people we meet on our travels and especially by caravan owners who see us pull up at a campsite and are shocked and amazed by our minimalist setup. YES, it is possible to fit everything you need for 1 year into only 3 aluminium boxes and a tankbag totaling just under 120 Litres. We even have room for a hammock, oh the luxury.

Francois Fully Loaded

Francois Fully Loaded and ready for Camping, where ever that may be.

Although we are now seasoned minimalist travelers we still manage to find room for some creature comforts and it’s not like we sleep on rocks. The key to packing is in our organisation. Having colour coded bags helps easily identify the cooking gear from the toiletries and the first aid kit from motorcycle spares. But as every square centimetre counts our packing is very tight and unpacking cooking gear is like Russian dolls, it just keeps on unpacking until everything is spread out and fills up a picnic table easily.

We basically have separate and versatile packing of the following inside our panniers:

  • Tent & Sleeping bags
  • Cooking Gear
  • Clothes
  • Toiletries
  • First-aid kit
  • Towels
  • Dirty laundry
  • Tools and parts

Then in our tankbag we carry valuables and electrical equipment that is sensitive to shocks and vibrations. We have foam lined interior designed for just the equipment we carry. The advantage of carrying cameras in the tankbag is that the bike is the most stable in the middle between the two axles so less vibrations and shocks and less likelihood of damage to our expensive equipment. Secondly when all our valuables are in the one place we can easily and quickly remove the tankbag and carry it as a backpack leaving the bike in parked in all tranquility.

Relaxing in the Hammock after a long day's ride.

Relaxing in the Hammock after a long day's ride.

As we like to camp and we cook our own meals quite often, we carry cooking equipment. There are some really ingenious devices out there, like the jetboil that is a self contained cooking system. Although it is small it is also very efficient and cooks up a treat in a very short amount of time. As we don’t have much room for storing food we usually either carry conserves or buy the same day just before setting up camp for the night. This way we don’t have to worry about keeping food refrigerated.

CampKitchen

Our camp kitchen setup is minimalistic but serves us well. We use our boxes as seats and table, reducing the need for extra equipment.

Our camp kitchen never fails to surprise campervan owners at campsites, they are often speachless when they see what we manage to carry in such a small space. Basically we are very organised and pack everything into into three containers.

All our Jeboil gear fits inside packing neatly:

  • Jetboil PCS (jeboil)
  • Coffee Plunger accessory for Jetboil (coffee press)
  • Jetboil pot support (support and stabiliser)
  • Salt & Pepper shaker
  • Then all the food and consumables fit inside the MSR 1.5L pot:
  • Tea bags (black, mint or green)
  • Fresh coffee grounds
  • sugar sachets
  • UHT milk or milk powder
  • Rice
  • Masala spice mix (From our local indian shop)
  • Individually wrapped butter
  • Small pot of jam
  • Vegemite – YUM
  • Med collapsible Bowl (sea to summit)
  • 2 x steel spoons
  • 2 x steel folks
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Small grater

Then we have a plastic tupperware container for our washing up gear to keep the wet stuff separate:

  • Small Sponge/scourer
  • Cloth doubles as drying towel
  • Washing liquid (sea to summit)

The exceptions are:

  • Chopping board sits ontop of our topbox (see photo above)
  • 230g Butane/propane gas canister fits anywhere there is room
  • Thermos & Frypan (optional)

The following items are in the Tankbag as we need fast and easy access to them:

  • Wenger Swiss Army knife (with large locking blade)
  • Victorianox Swiss army knife (standard size)
  • Lighter

That covers the cooking equipment. Now we have the camping gear. We each have a sleeping bag and a matress. We store the matresses on the outside of our topbox and as the tent poles are too long to fit in the panniers, we secure them with the matresses and the ten goes in the left pannier. Our tent is a small 2.5 person tent with a vestibule. The Vestibule is probably the most important thing because it allows us to keep our motorcycling gear under cover when it is raining but not inside the tent where we sleep. That way we stay clean and the gear stays dry. For packing compression sacks are our best friend and significantly reduce the volume of our sleeping bags.

It takes a few goes to get it right and we often have to shuffle things around inside the panniers to maximise the use of the little space. It also helps to have top loading panniers so that we can really push and shove things into them, it even happens that Arja would stand on the gear in the pannier to push it down, but it’s best to have them off the bike if trying it yourself.

Following on from some vandalism to Francois in september, I ordered new seat covers, both front and rear from Bagster in France. Here is the pictorial repair job that I did to remove the damaged seat covers and recover/reupholster the seats.

Bagster Part no. BAG2864

Tools used:

  • Bosch Electric staple gun
  • Longnose pliers
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • box of 100 6mm staples

Time: Approx 1 hour + drying time as water seeped through and the foam was wet.

Skill level: Basic

Damaged rear seat, covered holes with duct tape

Tools used for the repair

New rear seat cover

New front seat cover

Removing the staples from the rear seat cover using pliers and flat-head screw driver

Rear seat with old cover removed exposing the foam

Damage inflicted by the vandalism

Removal of the old, damaged front seat cover

After removal the old front cover shows water was being let in and the foam was wet

Both front and rear seats prepared and left to dry

Stretching the new cover over the rear seat into position before stapling

Cover now tacked into place to ensure correct fit and position

Finish stapling the cover - view from underneath

Completed rear seat

Now for the front seat cover. It is a bit tricky because of the non uniform shape and the need to stretch it evenly into position.

New front seat cover stretched and tacked into place

Front view of the front seat with staples holding cover in place to stretch it correctling into position

Top view of the front seat. Note the fabric is straight but not fully stretched over the foam until all staples are fixed.

Lastly both seats completely reupholstered.

Snow, snow and more snow

Winter has come early and europe, we wouldn’t usually even expect a white Christmas well at least not on the plateau of lake Léman, but since almost a week it has been unseasonally cold and snowing! It’s at this time of year that I wish that I had a snowmobile instead of a motorcycle, no, I’m stil not wishing for a car, but never say never! Well in truth it is possible to ride a motorbike in the snow but it’s probably more hassle and expense then it’s worth given the inevitable drops and spills that would ensue, that said I’m still hoping for the weather to clear so I can tuck Francois away and undercover from the freezing winter conditions but I was caught napping (no unlike most of the transportation public and private) and the photo below is Francois covered in no less than 20cm of fresh powder, just outside our apartment in Nyon. Needless to say the motorcycling season is over but I’m sure to get my winter fix of snowmobile when we’re up north in the Arctic Circle for Christmas! That’s right we’re taking the polar plung and heading for 68° 46’ North to spend the festive season with the Gullvik’s amongst herds of reindeer, surrounded by expansive fjords and under the dark skies illuminated only by the aurora borealis skies that define Norway in the depths of a frozen winter, brrrrrr.

After this season of indulging in powder white snow we’ll without a doubt be craving the sun, surf and warmer weather.

Riding2up has a new Blog

To capture all our updates in one easy to read location we’ve started a new blog. From our website select the main menu item Blog.

2011 Calendar up for grabs

If you haven’t played the Traveler IQ game yet and registered a high score then you still have time. Hint: to make it easier, zoom in on the page with Ctrl and the ‘+’ key

Click here to Play! (or go to www.riding2up.net and follow the links to the games page)

Remember to send a screenshot of your high score to riding2up before 15h December to go into the running for the pictured calendar. Entries close on 15th December 2010, so be quick and accurate. Good Luck!

For full competition details click here.

Best Regards,

Pascal and Arja
E riding2up
W www.riding2up.net

Alpine Camping – Emmental Treffe

We have now uploaded the photos from the Emmental Treffe, a small Swiss bikers meet in the foothills of the Alps and the home of Emmental cheese. It was a great weekend, with lots of stories around the campfire eating Roesti, Fondue and Cervolas all cooked over open wood fires in the forest above Langnau. In the early mornings we were afforded a cloudy view of the Alps from our campsite at 1045m. Please view the new album by following the link below and going to the Emmental Treffe photo album.

http://www.picasaweb.com/riding2up

As for the bikers we met, they were an eclectic bunch from all walks of life, riding old Condors (with Ducati engine) right out of WWII or Russian made IMZ-Ural military bikes with BMW Boxer engines to Moto Guzzi fully equipped with sidecar. There was even a home made side car on KLR650 ridden to NordKapp by Guido and Esther (who invited us to the meet). To our new Swiss motorcycling friends it was a pleasure to have met you all and we look forward to seeing you again hopefully in the near future.

Although you might be lead to believe that this marks the end of the riding season in Europe, this bikers meet was the first of many over the winter riding season. There are many bike meets throughout the winter months, and often the bikes and riders are covered in snow. For these cold nights camping in the middle of winter a warm sleeping bag, thermals and spikes or chains are highly recommended.

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New to Riding2up – Traveler IQ – The World Game

Do you know where Sucre or Victoria Falls are on a map? Could you point out Micronesia in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? If you’re a world geograph buff or if you just want to learn this is the game for you!

Test your skills on world geography including capital cities, tourist destinations and other place names.

Play now. Go to the new GAMES page on our website or click here.

Competition – Play and Win a Riding2up 2011 Calendar

Get the Top Traveler IQ score when played on Riding2up.net and you will win a Riding2up Calendar for 2011. Competition open until 15th December 2010 CET.

Conditions of Entry

To enter the competition contestants must send by email a screen shot (in .jpg format, see sample attached) of your top score to riding2up before 15th December 2010 to go into the draw to win a Riding2up Calendar for 2011 complete with their postal address. The decision made by Riding2up is final and no communication will be entered into. There are no runner up prizes. The winner will be notified by email. The winner’s prize is a 2011 Riding2up Calendar and is non negotiable and non transferable. The prize will be sent by post in January 2011. The winner should allow up to two weeks for the prize to arrive. Riding2up adheres to our privacy policy with respect to all personal data. All participants entering in the competition agree to our privacy policy and the terms and conditions on our website. Riding2up reserves the right to publicise competition details and winners on their website.

Warning: Games can be addictive. Any abuse or misuse is not the responsibility of Riding2up and by playing the Traveler IQ game or other activities on www.riding2up.net you, the user, accepts Riding2up terms and conditions.

If you received this email in error or would like to be removed from our email list please reply to riding2up with the subject Unsubscribe and we will remove you from all future newsletter and email updates.

Best Regards,

Pascal & Arja
E riding2up
W www.riding2up.net

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