The ride of their life

ALMOST six months after we drove out of Pretoria on what might possibly not really even classify as a motorbike, I found myself staring at the great Sphinx at Giza, just outside Cairo.

The sun was pounding down, the sand almost boiling under our feet and scores of Egyptians were hassling us to buy anything from cheap souvenirs to camel rides.

The structure before me was absolutely astonishing. I have seen it many times before; in photographs, printed in magazines, on cartoons, TV shows and films, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw there on that scorching hot summer’s day in Egypt.

South Africa, on the route we took, was 14300km away and our 150cc delivery bike was still in one piece – against all odds. In the 153 days leading up to this moment, we’d had a whirlwind of experiences, cultures, languages and food.

We had been chased by an elephant with our small bike racing out from under it at about 60km/h. We smuggled our bike into countries, relying on the humour the ridiculousness of its size creates to get us back out again.

We crossed 12 borders and met hundreds of people. And here I was, looking at that image I know too well but have never seen before; utterly unprepared … again.

We left South Africa in January after my groom and I sold almost everything we owned, cashed in our pension funds, our wedding budget and our savings.

We had a very simple goal – drive to Egypt or as close as we could get to it with our ironically named Big Boy 150cc delivery bike … for our honeymoon.

Our steed was just slightly bigger than a bicycle and we were geared with a small camera, a single backpack with belongings and a handful of spare parts.

Quite frankly we had no idea what we were doing and we weren’t really prepared for the trip ahead!

But for the next six months we figured it out – at an average speed of 75km/h. We drove for days on end, planning the route and changing it almost daily. We went on other travellers’ recommendations, locals’ advice and our gut. We sat through 46°C in the desert, icy rain in Ethiopia’s highlands and spent an entire day charming our way into Sudan after border officials refused to let us in.

On the morning before we drove into the Sahara, I hastily found a YouTube clip on how to survive sandstorms and my husband learnt to ride a bike (a year before our departure) by Googling “10 easy steps to ride a motorbike”.

For six months we drove and drove – our buttocks bruised but our spirits mostly high.

We ate everything and anything offered to us (which was usually “slap chips” and glucose biscuits) and we set up camp in the strangest places – including at the foot of age-old pyramids and a brothel or two.

And as we made our way up the continent, around Lake Victoria and into the mighty Sahara our love for our continent grew.

Africa is scattered with the most beautiful scenery, magnificent diversity and the warmest people.

She has always been our first love and day by day we again came to realise why.

Of course there were doubts about if we’d get to Egypt or not. Our friends even had bets on us: some opted for Polokwane; others said Dar es Salaam. Did we think we would make it? Sometimes yes but on days when it took eight hours to cover a distance of 70km or when the bike broke down two or even more times per day, we had our doubts.

All we knew was we wanted to make it and we would do anything we could to do so – except pay a bribe.

In Africa, we learnt, you can get very far with a big smile and a ridiculously overloaded bike without ever having to bribe a single official. If you play your cards right, those “nasty officials” might even buy you a cup of tea or help you get to the next town.

Every moment, awake and asleep, was so consumed with getting to Egypt we never really thought about what would happen when we got there. It would be phenomenal, fantastic and incredible. Sure, but it would also mean the end of a life- changing experience … And so I found myself unprepared again.

Standing in Giza in front of that great big Sphinx and its pyramids, it suddenly felt like I was simultaneously giving my first and last breath.

My heart filled with the utmost joy and also such immense sadness.

Everything, including these ancient desert monuments, felt like a dream. We made it, but it was also all over now.

A short while later we flew back to South Africa, covering more or less the distance we had driven in just a couple of hours. My sadness about the end of our journey was replaced by a big smile and a million memories from Mother Africa.

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