Many of us are familiar with the motorbike ride Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took from John O’Groats to Cape Town. Starting in the North of Scotland, they traveled down through Europe into Africa, ending their trip in Cape Town.
Numerous viewers have watched Long Way Down, a television series documenting their journey. A trip of this magnitude is extremely challenging in many ways — it’s a tough ride through very diverse territory and requires an adventurous mindset and nerves of steel.
If you believe that McGregor and Boorman were the only ones to complete a trip of this nature, you may be interested to know that a similar trip was undertaken by a group of guys who left from Edinburgh and traveled to Cape Town on their motorbikes.
An interest in other cultures was a draw
A post written by Christoph Dabari on Travel Stories documents his ride with a few of his buddies. What’s fascinating is that these guys were not hardcore adventure motorcyclists. They did want to explore as much of the African continent as possible, but the main draw for them was their great interest in other cultures. They knew that Africa would expose them to a vast range of cultural differences. In Uganda alone, there are over 40 indigenous ethnic groups.
The Sahara and Sudan
After coming through a brutal European winter, the bikers arrived in Egypt. Here, they experienced a week-long expedition through part of the Sahara desert with the guidance of a local Egyptian.
They were apprehensive about passing through Sudan, which has long been beset by conflict, but were surprised to find it was the friendliest country they were to pass through. Locals who were struggling to feed their own families kept offering them bread and tea. Their route through Sudan ran alongside the Nile for most of the way to Khartoum.
Extreme weather contrasts
In Ethiopia, they experienced seasonal afternoon thunderstorms that found them in their tents by 5 p.m. They experienced sub-zero temperatures while climbing the Semien Mountains. The Danakil Depression, considered one of the hottest places on earth, offered them an extreme contrast and they found this to be one of the toughest riding challenges. Sulfur fields, acid pools, acacia bushes, strange salt mountains, mud, deep sand and 50-degree temperatures contributed to the feeling of being on another planet.
Putting “first world” problems in perspective
The bikers were surprised to discover a village situated at the bottom of an active volcano. The resilience of the local people they came across in every country made them reconsider what they took for granted in their daily lives and put in perspective some of their “first world” problems.
Soldiers and borders
The group was escorted by 14 Eritrean soldiers near the border on government orders due to Eritrean bandits roaming the area. They thought this was rather over the top but enjoyed their company and played endless games of checkers with the soldiers.
When traveling through the harsh environment around Lake Turkana, one of the most remote and underdeveloped regions in the world, they found no border control at all and only a thin piece of rope marking the division between countries.
Wildlife in Abundance
While riding through the Kenyan countryside, they saw an abundance of wildlife, including elephants, giraffes and antelope. In Botswana, they were careful not to stumble across hippos hidden among the reeds in the Okavango Delta. This is one of the largest inland deltas in the world and also home to many crocodiles and an abundance of other wildlife.
The Himba Tribe in Namibia
In Namibia, their priority was to visit the Himba tribe, and to do this, they had to go up into the remote hills. They battled with the roads, finding that the sand turned into very thin dust that made riding difficult. They eventually found a small group of Himba and were interested in observing their local customs.
The Himba women are well known for using red dye all over their bodies and hair, which gives them a distinctive smell and a red hue to their skins. This mixture of ochre and animal fat is used as protection from the sun.
The entertaining and inspiring blog post ends in Namibia with the travelers making a meal of meat, potatoes and beans over a makeshift grill.
Crossing the African continent on a motorbike is one of the most challenging and crazy adventures someone could ever undertake. It’s definitely best to do this in a group, as there are obviously many problems one encounters along the way — the first hurdle these guys faced was severe winter conditions in Europe when they’d packed with Africa in mind.
Exploring the desert came at the cost of a broken collarbone for one of the guys. They experienced many obstacles along the way, suffered turbulent weather, stomach upsets and other difficulties.
The value of the experience
In each country the group of bikers went through, they experienced an array of languages, beliefs, cultures and traditions. They found the local people very welcoming and rode through some incredibly diverse countryside.
The post about their journey features some amazing photographs, such as bike and rider soaring above the sand dunes in the desert, a camp set up in the desert under a solitary tree and one of the guys playing a game of checkers on a cardboard board with an Eritrean soldier. Another image shows the motorbikes being taken across the river on a “ferry” with the locals giving a hand.
A trip like this is memorable for many reasons. It can be a total life-changer. From having your mindset challenged to finding out what it’s like to live minus all the accessories we consider essential, Africa does not give you an option but to switch off and go with the flow. All across the country, people welcome you with open arms and a big smile. Crazy adventures like this may leave you desperately wanting a hot shower and a comfortable bed, but they have a way of leaving you with memories that last a lifetime.