Monday 24 March 2014

From Bamako, Mali, through Burkina Faso and to Kumasi, Ghana

It took three days to reach the Burkina Faso border from Bamako. I really enjoyed Mali. The country was a huge surprise; the people were wonderful, the landscapes beautiful and I felt incredibly safe and relaxed. Mali had been one of my favourite countries from the journey so far and I wondered how Burkina Faso would fare. A year previous I had been unable to pin point where Burkina Faso was on a map. Now I could see it on the road coming towards me.

Burkina Faso is the World’s third poorest country; a landlocked state with poor soil, lacking infrastructure and a massively corrupt government. It was evident straight away from being on Burkinabe soil that poverty was an issue. I’d seen a few children on my ride through West Africa with swollen stomachs from lack of food, but sadly it was a common sight from the beginning in Burkina. It was the second most corrupt border in Africa also, after Senegal. The police demanded money to stamp our passports. When they saw that we weren’t going to pay, they then asked for a present, in this case, Stergios helmet. I mean, a tourist turns up to your country on a motorcycle with the intention of riding the motorcycle through the country and the police want you to give your helmet to them… 

We rode into Burkina, two helmet donned foreigners on tiny motorcycles. We camped about 20 km away from the border that night and then ventured out into Burkina for the first full day that morning. I think I had my cheapest ever meal that day; a huge bowls of rice, vegetables and fish for around 12p. Whilst I was eating, sat on the wall of the open sewer (a very common feature around Africa) a baby being carried over
the shoulder of its mother was staring at me, mouth open, about half a metre away. I was making faces at it, moving from side to side, nearly bringing a smile to its little face… then a big black nipple just gets shoved into its mouth right before my eyes.

Sunset on my first evening in Burkina Faso.

Dusty roads and termite mounds... keeping distance is the key!

We rode to a famous waterfall later that afternoon and found out that we could sleep there for around £2 a night. The waterfall was pretty spectacular; lots of tiny pools connected by flowing cascades surround by massive, towering trees. For most of my time in West Africa I’ve been travelling through a semi Sahel-like environment which has been very dry, with a few exceptions, so being around a waterfall was a refreshing change. Especially as it meant I could have my first shower since Bamako. The waterfall and camp ground were quite close to a village and we could sometimes see villagers coming down the hill to collect water. I would always wave, and when this came to waving at children they would always come over.
A group of four children came over to our camp. Two were about five years old, one around two and the other was a baby clinging on to the back of the seemingly oldest child. They were all adorable, but it was quite a sad sight. One had the swollen stomach and another had rotting teeth. The baby had a chesty cough also. It’s strange when you actually meet people who live in mud huts with straw roofs and with no access to healthcare or a decent education. Most people in Burkina are subsistence farmers so they just live off the land and a little gathered money. The eldest child grabbed my hand and put hers to mine, turning my hand over to see if it was the same colour. To someone with very limited access to the outside world I must look very strange. It’s wrong when people refer to Africans as coloured. Africans in general are dark all over due to a higher pigment in superior defence against UV rays, whereas my skin can be white, pink, red and brown. I have blonde hair, blue eyes and pink lips. I am definitely more coloured. 
Me and Stergio decided to make them some food. I made a soup and Stergio rice and tuna. When it came to handing the spoon to the children they went to grab the food out of the spoon with their hands. People there don’t eat with utensils. It does take skill to scoop rice into your mouth without making a mess. Soup is a bit far though.

Children from the village.

Amazing hair.

It was so nice to be around running water after months of desert and Sahel. 

The driving in Burkina became notably worse. It became not uncommon for someone driving a car, lorry, truck, anything to overtake a slow (ish) moving vehicle when I was riding the other way. The person sat behind the wheel would just flash their lights at me until I got out of the way. This would usually mean slamming on the breaks and swerving off the road into the bushes. One of the few times I’ve actually feared for my life was around an hour outside of the capital, Ouagadougou. I was riding on the road, quite close to the edge as drivers generally don’t leave a lot of room to overtake. We were the only ones on the road, everything was quiet and my mind was on other things, then somebody driving a white Toyota pickup decided it was appropriate to swerve into me whilst overtaking at high speed. The car actually clipped my pannier and the force from the wind nearly sent me off the road. Some people literally drive like animals. 

I was excited for Ouagadougou, mainly because of the name.  We managed to find a cheap place to stay which was at a catholic mission in the centre of the city. After eight days of being on the road it’s nice to stay still for a while and get everything together, clean clothes, strength, sleep, food etc. After the amazing street food of Bamako I was looking forward to seeing what the culinary delights of Ouaga had to offer. I ventured out to get a coffee in the morning and to pick up some provisions. This proved exceedingly difficult. After utterly failing to by some milk to make coffee with (French for milk is ‘lait’ yes!?) I thought I would just go into a cafĂ© and buy one. I walk past a place which had mugs of coffee painted on the outside, go inside and people are there drinking coffee.

‘Can I have a coffee with milk please?’

‘We don’t do coffee.’

*look around at everyone drinking it*

‘But, but.’

‘We don’t do coffee!’


Later that evening me and Stephen, a German guy who’s riding around Africa on a 125cc motocross, went out to get something to eat. We made the mistake of going back to the coffee place. Pretty much the same thing happened. We walk in and everyone is eating food from bowls.

‘Hello, are you serving food.’

‘No, we don’t do food.’

*look around at everyone eating*

‘But people are eating in here!’

‘That’s the last of the food.’

There was a woman cooking in the kitchen, steam and frying sounds were coming out of the door. That kitchen was alive and there were containers full of food everywhere.

‘But I can see food in the kitchen. Look, there’s loads there…’

‘That’s something else.’


After around forty minutes of walking around we managed to find another place that ‘served food.’ It was an open kitchen stall by the side of the street, gas hobs, pots and pans, food stored in the back etc.

‘Hello, do you make omelettes?’

‘No we don’t have any eggs.’

The man was standing in front of a mountain of egg cartons, all full. There must have been hundreds.
I point to the eggs.

‘Well, what are those?’

‘Oh them, well I don’t have a pan.’

The man was washing a pan with his hands as he said this to me.

‘What do you mean you don’t have a pan, your holding one!’

‘Okay, okay. 600 FCFA

This is about four times the price it should be.

‘Right! Fine! I’ll fuck off!’

My bike started to make two distinct noises on the ride from Bamako to Ouagadougou, a knocking from the cylinder and a metallic rumble from further inside the engine. Due to a lot of people’s recommendations I thought it best to see if I can find a new engine for the bike. When my bike breaks down, or shows indications that it needs immediate work, it’s a massive bastard enough on its own. But the shit filled icing which comes with the massive dump of a cake is the fact that you now have to go through the rigmarole of trying to find spares, mechanics, shops, markets, people that understand you whilst at the same time being the white guy in the middle with the money that everyone wants a piece of.  

Ouagadougou was the third major West African city that I’d been in and this was the third time I had to go out to try and find spares. I had my sight on finding a Lifan 110cc semi auto engine. People in the UK use these engines to upgrade Honda c90’s so that was a good enough testimonial to their quality. I know that Lifan do deal with the African market, but it proved difficult to find one. Like in every big city in West Africa where you need to find things, the experience feels like it’s a lot more difficult than it should be. Ouagadougou was no exception.
It’s easy enough to find the area in town where people do most of the mechanical work, which is mainly identified by rusty wrecks on the side of the streets and the sound of people hitting things with hammers. There are always lots of shops to serve their needs in these areas too. The strange thing about this though is that every shop seems to stock the same items. If one doesn't have what you’re looking for then chances are that the rest won’t, but everybody is adamant that ‘their shop’ their ‘friends shop’ friend of a friend etc has what you're looking for… Thus experiencing the great headache of finding out what ‘African time’ means. People don’t bat an eyelid if you are in their shop which fails to stock the item that you will buy, but they do know a friend who does and they have just called them and they are on their way but in reality it takes them two hours to turn up. This is quite normal. Trying to do all this with a language barrier is hard, so sometimes they call their friend who can ‘speak English.’ You wait for two hours, they turn up and each of us doesn’t have a clue what each other is talking about… But they know a friend… this is also quite normal. People try to sell your absolute crap also whilst they stand in front of you and tell you it’s fine. One man just kept telling me that the spoke key he wanted to sell me ‘was fine’ even though the part that would fit my spoke was dented into itself.  False promises are the most infuriating thing. It’s hard enough to have a bike that constantly breaks when you’re trying to ride the thing around the world, so it’s quite understandable that all you want to do is to get it fixed. However, it is also a common thing in West Africa to promise blindly that they, their friend definitely has the part you’re looking for. ‘It will all be fine, don’t worry!’ You can go around all day with people like this and in the end get nowhere. This also feels like it is quite normal. Sometimes it is so blatant too.  After one particularly annoying day of doing everything mentioned above I went into the last shop. The mechanics son who I was with asked if they had a Lifan engine. He turned round with a huge smile on his face ‘Yes, they have a Lifan!’

There wasn’t a shred of hope inside me.

After twenty minutes of waiting for the lady to get said engine, which was mainly interrupted by serving people who can shout the loudest, I had in front of me the box containing the Lifan engine. Sure enough, there was something completely different inside.

Why? WHY!?

There’s one cultural trait throughout West Africa which I have difficulty with; ‘TTTHHHHSSSSSS!’ is used to get people’s attention out here and it’s quite normal. Where I come from though, hissing through your teeth at someone is very rude. I grew up with realising that people make this sound when they want an annoying animal to go away. So after 28 years of affiliating this sound with a negative reaction I find it hard not to get offended when every time I walk down the street I can hear a chorus of hisses directed at me.  People driving past, street vendors, shop owners, everyone, will hiss at the white guy to get his attention for ‘something.’   In Burkina alone it’s quite normal to get mobbed by a crowd when you go to buy something, usually fruit. It can be a daunting experience though,  to find yourself surround by ten women all shouting things that you can’t understand shoving all manner of fruits and vegetable in your face, prodding, poking, pulling on your clothes whilst all the while ‘THHHSSSSS, THHHSSSSS, THHHHSSSSS!’ It goes against my instincts. I found myself caught between my British reserved politeness and a primal urge to just tell everyone to fuck off.

‘I just want a mango. JUST ONE MANGO!’

Generally I became quite an angry man in Burkina Faso. I felt I couldn’t get a break, no privacy, was forced to go out and farcically deal with everyone and everything to try and get my bike fixed. Writing this now, with a new engine in my bike, I consider been able to have a break from all this on a par to the nice understanding that my bike shouldn’t break down the next time I ride it.

The Nigerian embassy in Ouagadougou is only open for dealing with visas for four hours a week. When we finally managed to get in and fill out the paperwork the consulate said we each had to go into his office for an interview. It wasn’t totally unexpected as I had to write a letter to the Ghanaian consulate to get my visa, but this time he popped the question ‘So what do you know about Nigeria?’
Thoughts came into my head about how the president, Dr Good luck Jonathan is putting his time and money into making sure gay people publicly have their flesh torn out of their backs whilst at the same time there is violent religious chaos in the North of what is the most corrupt country on Earth.

‘Erm… one in every five people in Africa are Nigerian, its got the biggest economy in Africa and they also brew Guiness there, which is important for someone from the UK!.’

This made him laugh and I had a £100 Nigerian visa in my passport.  

Entering Ouagadougou.

After two weeks in the city I started to have blood clots in my nose from breathing in the dust.

A backstreet in Burkina's capital.

Andre roasting a single cashew nut in the Catholic mission.

A typical petrol station that you would find outside of the cities. Makes your bike jump!

A camel leather pouch containing dates that Elias bought in Mauritania.

Elias and Christina who we camped with on our last night in Burkina.

When I was taking a photo of Stergio refuelling this child just walked up to me, stared like this for a few seconds and then walked away. He is going to have an interesting life.... for good or for evil. 

We entered Ghana the next day. I was worried about the border. Travelling without a Carnet is a lot cheaper but it does make the borders a lot more complicated, and Ghanaian was meant to be an exception. Nearly every overlander I'd met on the road had warned me that I probably wouldn't get into Ghana without one. I'd been thinking of my inevitable discussion I would have with the border guards for a while and thought that I'd boiled down a plan into something quite plausible and hopefully successful. As I said before, the RAC, the only carnet issuer in the UK would only value my bike at £1000 or over, even though I bought mine for £450. This was my scapegoat... 'its impossible for me to get a Carnet as my bike isn't worth enough money to start the initial value process.' A little white lie but it does have some truth. I had to have a 40 minute discussion with the chief of customs though, upholding this reason whilst also trying to flower his favour with the fact that I'm trying to ride this moped to South Africa for charity, one of those charities being Wateraid... and Ghana does have some water issues. In the end the chief decided to give me a temporary import permit (meant only for locals, not foreign vehicles) which was totally exempt of all charges, even the locals have to pay! I left the office to the words of 'you look after yourself sir and have a safe journey.'

Impossible to get into Ghana without a carnet. Pa!

Even though it was evident that Ghana was vastly richer than Burkina (seeing how the chief had an ipad) the roads we took into Ghana for the first two days were the roughest I'd ridden in Africa so far. Very good fun to ride on, not so good for the bike though.

For a while I had been thinking of going off on my own for a little while. Travelling with company is good fun, there's always someone to laugh with, talk to etc, but doing it on your own is different, in a lot of good ways. Its more intense. Every decision you make is your own and the journey becomes a bigger reflection of what you do. So on the third day in Ghana me and Stergio took off down the road on our separate ways.

The thing that makes Ghana different than any other African country is the fact that they speak English, which is a great pleasure. To be able to converse with local people in my own language ads a huge aspect to the general experience. 
 I was making my way down South to Accra, the place of the visas! Along the way loomed Ghana's second city, Kumasi, which I decided to stop in for a few days and rest. Another thing which sets Ghana apart from the other West African countries is that it is a Christian nation, whereas most the others are mainly Muslim. There is a very evident change in the behaviour of the people from their religious differences. I've found that Muslims are quite quiet; on a whole they are respectful of my privacy and it is rare to get shouted things at me when I'm riding along. Most of the times it would be waves. In Ghana however... in every town people would shout things as I would ride past 'Hey, hey hey!!!' Sometimes it would feel quite aggressive too. I mean, what do they expect me to do when I'm riding on a rough road, trying to pick out a route between potholes and gravel at speed and someone starts shouting at me; slam on my breaks... 'oh hello sir, what can I help you with?' It did become very annoying. Often I would ride on, imagining that I'd stopped and engaged in a violent argument with them (I never would). This idea amused me greatly for half an hour when a midget from a stall started shouting and running after me.

 On the way into Kumasi I entered into the urban sprawl. I've found that aside from the Mauritanians, Ghanaians have been the worst drivers I've encountered so far. 50% of the time people indicate or don't leave them on, which is unusual, but it's the overtaking with Ghanaians. There's no need to plough through the road so fast and so close to people. It's as if people have no concept of death. I've never raised my middle finger to people on the road so frequently before.
 After around five minutes of entering Kumasi I heard yet again more shouts and calls from people and cars... one of them was a question though.

 'Hey you, where are you going!?'

 I thought I'd be honest with him.

 'South Africa!'

This man behind the four wheeled drive car was amazed and pulled over to take a picture of me. The man was called Kofi and he has turned into a friend for life. I said that I was looking for a cheap hotel and he said that I could come and stay at his house. I did a quick scan of my instincts, everything fine and so accepted his invitation.
 It was amazing sleeping inside a room again. That night was the first time that I'd slept indoors for over two months. Under a ceiling fan too! It was a very quiet and refreshing night. I ended up staying a week there, meeting his friends, talking politics and religion.

The first camp in Ghana

The red dust!

Nearly every morning when bush camping there will be a local there watching. When in Ghana they can speak English... usually just prefer to stare though.

The barrage of smiles, excitement and questions that I have to plough through to get to a village water pump. 

 Christianity is big in Ghana, very big. In all my travels I have never seen so much religious promotion before, and I travelled through the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Mali. You see it everywhere... peoples bumper stickers praising Jesus with slogans of 'showers of blessings' 'one God one life' God is eternity' or even some slightly worrying ones... 'A fool works for a pension but a wise man works for eternity.' Shop names also seem like they have an agenda to promote God. 'God's gift canteen' 'Jesus will come again electrical shop' I have the grace of God pharmacy.' There are billboards lining the roads with people proclaiming that they are profits offering healing, exorcisms or the chance to communicate through them with their dead relatives. Religion is big business in Ghana and it is making a lot of people rich. One night I was kept awake until three in the morning by a man and a microphone performing an exorcism on someone to a big crowd somewhere far off in town. For hours he would shout in tongues which would be occasionally interrupted by 'Jesus saves!' 'The power of God compels the devil out of you!' To which the crowd would cheer in hysterics.
 I've looked into exorcisms in the past and why some people believe that some poor individual may be possessed by the devil and the cause is usually some medical condition like epilepsy. It makes people fit, they lose themselves and throw themselves down on the floor and usually strain incomprehensible words out of their mouths. I find it sad that masses of people think that a man with his microphone literally shouting 'BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB BLUB!' for hours at a time in some poor chaps ear while he's making a lot of money amidst the cheers of a huge crowd will think that it's going to make the person better. In reality they need medication. 

 I've found it hard not to talk about religion in Ghana. I am not religious, I'm a man of science. Nearly everyone who I have a conversation with will ask me about my religious beliefs and they are taken aback when I say I have no God, have never been to Church, prayed and some literally can't believe that I'm not baptised. I'm honest with people when they ask me about it, and I explain why I don't believe in God. These have been very interesting conversations on a whole. I'm not out to offend people when I talk to them about it, and the conversations I've had with people have been enlightening on both parts. I am very surprised though to find out that most people I've spoken with look at me like I'm stupid when I tell them that a woman wasn't created from a man's rib and that the world isn't 6000 years old. I've felt like I've taken on the role of a science teacher in some respects with some people and some things that I've said have got a lot of favourable nods and some appreciation of where I'm coming from. 
 If I'm going to be politically correct here I would say that's its fine to have a religion.... but science should always come first when you're teaching children about the world and the origins and mechanics of life. It stops people thinking, saying and doing stupid things... like paying people to shout into sick peoples ears.          

My engine was really not in the best shape. After all the work that the mechanics have done to it during my time in Africa it came out really bad. I'm not exactly sure what the mechanic in St Louis did wrong, but whatever he did it made the engine seize seven times on the ride from there to Bamako. I have the feeling that he didn't space the pistons rings out properly which stopped the oil from getting through causing the seizures. Then the mechanics in Bamako.... I could go on for a long time about the shoddiness of their work but basically, from a combination of this my engine was on its last legs. When it ran on idle their was a metallic tapping sound which came from the cylinder barrel. It completely lost power going up any sort of gradient, even small, and when I tried to get power a hard knocking sound started to come from the back of the engine. It would overheat after only 30 miles and would constantly cut out, whatever I did to the carb didn't work. It was burning oil like hell too. Even though after all these problems I was still attached to the thing. It had got me from my home to Ghana and getting rid of it was not a light decision. I decided that if it was going to be the final straw I would take it apart myself and have a look. A lot of people had got in touch with me giving me mechanical advice (thank you) and I downloaded diagrams, videos and instructions on how to take the engine apart and put it back together. Unsurprisingly the results weren't good. From what I saw I would have needed to replace the cylinder barrel, which would mean a new piston. Both valve seals were ruined, so two new valves, and the crankshaft baring was on its way out. I think there must have been some blockage further in the engine stopping the oil from circulating properly too. It was time to let go.

The death of my engine.

Mr hospitality, Kofi.

Kof'i's mother and cousin making fufu 

Same old bike, brand new engine.

I wanted to put the new engine into my bike myself, but Kofi and his brother recommended that I should take the bike down town in the back of their car just in case the engine wouldn't fit. I conceded and the experience has once again affirmed my desire to never take my bike to a mechanic here again. After everything that's happened with my bike I was in quite an angry mood with been in the circumstance in the first place, and seeing the due care to my belongings with the simple task of bolting an engine into the bike pushed me over the edge. Obviously the exhaust was off and for some reason the mechanic picked it up, realised he didn't need to do anything with it yet and wanted to put it back on the floor. How did he do this? He threw it on the floor. Not place it down like a normal person with respect to peoples things, he threw it on the floor.


'Why did you just do that!? Why did you have to throw it on the floor? What the hells wrong with you?'

'But its metal...'

'Yes, of course its metal, but your floor is solid concrete! And look at the state of it, its smashed to pieces! Everything around here is!'

I've had enough of having my things wrecked by carelessness. I'd reached the end of my patience. There's a reason why people ride or drive around on massive hunks of mangled mess. He was offended when I wouldn't let him ride my bike. I've been on the back of local bikes, mechanics bikes and felt the over revving... I never want anyone else to touch my bike again. I'm treating this new engine like its my child.

Generally, up to having the new engine put into my bike I've been having a level of anger building up inside me. Some people from back home thought, quite ignorantly, that I was riding into my imminent death by coming to Africa; that its a dangerous place full of violence and thievery. From what I've seen it isn't at all, but it can be a very annoying place. I was looking forward to this new engine signifying the beginning of a more relaxed state of travel through Africa where I can start to enjoy myself, relax and not be compelled to struggle on with a failing engine with infuriating outcomes.

Then the Benin embassy lost my passport...    


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Hi John. No offence but I really didn't like that 'killing machines' talk and didn't want it on my site so I took it down. Then I had a second thought and decided that everybody is entitled to their opinion.... But I can't reverse the delete.

      Anyway... I had enough scare stories to contend with from people back home before I left, and my opinion of them has steadily decreased as I've found out just how wrong they are.
      I'll make this point... even though you worked in Libya I can see that it is nothing like the West African counties I've travelled through. These places aren't organised enough for the entire population to have served in the military... even here in Ghana; West Africa's richest and most organised country, about a third of the people don't even have a birth certificate...

      All African's are not killing machines John...

      If someone nearly kills me on the road and I raise my finger at them I would quite it at the time for them to stop their car so we can have it out and I can get my point across about how dangerous they're driving.... and hopefully, as everybody on the Earth is a Human Being with actual emotions like empathy they would understand my reaction to nearly been hit, realise their mistake and then maybe in the future they would give other motorcyclists a little more room. If they hack me to death with a machete and tear my innards out with their face then blow me down, what a fool I was!

      Just don't write anything like that any more, John. I don't agree with it and its annoying. Its not the message I want to portray through here... the message is the truth. And so far, 6 months down the line the truth is very far away from what your saying. Its like your writing things taken out of a horror fiction story or have thoughts fed by the Sun and Daily Mail.

      I'll find out on my own, thanks.

      It sounds like you've had a very interesting life, working on oil rigs around the world. Kudos to you. But I think the time you've had harvesting very expensive resources in unstable parts of the world is an actual world away from what I'm doing here.

    2. And one more thing... I am capable of calculated risk. Nobody is going to be seeing my middle finger in Nigeria or the like. In Burkina Faso, Ghana; both stable counties, its 'quite' similar to giving the finger to someone back home. You can find nut cases everywhere.... But every body is a person, no matter where they live. We are all the same when it comes down to it.

      And if it did come down to a heated argument I could always bring out my God point. Well in Ghana anyway. 'So your a Christian? Well then, forgive me...'

  2. Didn't see the comment by John but as a female who regularly travels across Africa, particularly W.Africa & usually in public transport; I've never felt threatened at all

    My major problem is usually getting mails from home warning me of the 'dangers' of Africa, which are in people's heads who haven't experienced the situation on the ground themselves!

    Interaction with oil rig workers has usually been in an airport after they've propped up a bar! Don't think they get to see much else!

    1. Yeah Kira, its a shame. The torrent of warnings, assumed madness and in some cases disbelieving shakes of the head from people who have never been to or couldn't tell me a thing about the culture of the place they are trying to warn me about is tiring.

      I love been on the road and talking to other travelers as its so refreshing to get an honest perspective from people who are not riddled blind into fear by the media.

      I think it will take drastic changes in the media, general interest and education before people stop fearing the unknown.

  3. Hi Liam,
    think I spotted earlier you are thinking of fitting off road tyres. If so just a word of warning from an old off roader. Off road tyres will give you extra grip, but you need to be careful. With off road tyres you would normally fit security clamps to clamp the bead of the tyre to the rim. If you brake hard or accelerate hard you run the risk of the wheel spinning inside the tyre and ripping your inner tube to shreds. You don't have the extra hole in the rim to fit security clamps so if you do go down that route just brake smoothly and accelerate smoothly.
    If I misread its probably cos I had been in fleece.
    Happy biking.
    Jordie Kev.

    1. Cheers Kev! That sounds like something that would happen to me if I didn't know about it.

      Does this happen because of the resistance caused by the grip on the earth pushes against the engine thrust or just the general fit of the tire?

      I'm pretty opposed to thrashing my bike in any way after all the engine problems I've had. I'm trying to ride it as gently as possible.

      I think off road tires are going to be necessary as I'm looking at around 2500 miles of dirt tracks through jungles on my route through central Africa!

  4. The children are gorgeous! Love the way your write your blog, the story about finding parts for your bike made me laugh....when a friend of a friend has a shop and you end up being taken to a whole bunch of shops where people try to sell you all kinds of other things ...etc it is very much the same kind of rigmarole here in India too!!! Sounds very frustrating! :-) Becky xx

  5. Hi Liam, I met you in Morrocco. We were two guys hitch hiking from Fez to Merakesh. We met in a small town near a river. Just ate a nice Tagine there. Great to here your stories. I am now planning a return to Africa and planning an overland trip in October. I hitched down in 1989 and want to repeat. Thinking of using a honda c90 as it is something my girlfriend can manage. A big bike is just too big. Also thought of buying a vehicle and driving down. Would you say the c90 would be a good option? Or do sometimes do you say, damn I wish I was in a Landy? (or similar) Cheers man, I look forward to following you down.

    1. Hi John.

      Seems an age away since that gray pre winter mountain village!

      I think any small bike which is based on a Honda c90 is a good choice as hands downs they are by far the easiest vehicle to get spares for. That horizontal single cylinder engine design is everywhere. Though most of the bikes here are of the 110cc variety I could still fit spares into my engine without too much trouble. My engine did completely die though.... so I just put in a brand new Chinese engine in for £130. I had a choice between 3! So in that respect they are a good choice. I think my engine was cursed from the start too and I'm sure other c90 would be able to do it without having to have the engine opened. If I didn't have all the mechanical woes I would give an unequivocal yes.

      A word of warning though. If you can avoid having to have your engine opened by a mechanic in Africa, do so at all costs. Maybe I was unlucky and was taken to recommended fools... But they also played a large part in killing my bike. Make sure there are no problems at all with the bike before you leave. People say they are bullet proof but they can break in every way.

      On a size front I would say they are by far the best. You can go everywhere on them and take them everywhere... Pick them up, put them in the backs of caravans, push them up hills. They're great. I do love travelling on my bike this way.

      With all that said though I have thought sometimes that it would be nice to have a door that I could close the world away on and lock it out for a while. But I think that's more of a case of constantly living outside rather than sat on the bike. I would argue that motorcycles are by far the most accessible vehicle to travel on. We can go around the potholes... not get stuck inside them!

      Landrovers are more comfortable though.

      Good luck and let me know what you decide on!

    2. Liam,

      I emailed you earlier today. So I have now read all your blog. I love scourering these sorts of blogs for information as I am fascinated with Overlanding. It is refreshing to read one that is honestly and sincerely written, and without "I did this and I did that" sort of narrative!

      Regarding the bikes, I can really relate to you and your C90 as I did part of north India on a battered motorcycle and it just constantly broke down, overheated, and generally wanted to stop by the side of the road and die.

      Given your experiences, and the sorry business of bad mechanics, would you not perhaps fancy somethnig like a Japanese 125cc, as these seems still be super light, easy to maintain and good on gas. I know a few people who took them down to Capetown and seemed to have a pretty good run.

      Anyway, your blog has got me really set on a similar sort of trip through Africa. Like I said, hope you make a speedy recovery, and all the best with the Chinese engine!