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Views Through the Visor

Flying through the African landscape, with its hills, plantations and villages, is a great but somewhat detached form of travel. Especially compared to my old backpacking days.

sunny 30 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & Dar to Cape Town on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Backpacks and wheels

Backpacks and wheels

I’m basically a backpacker with my own wheels. I have no spare parts, no camping gear, no big plans for my bike once the trip is over. I am, in other words, a terrible overlander (the people who drive their motorbike, jeep or truck across continents). They will happily spend days at a time driving, camp out in small secret coves and live directly out of their vehicle, which they will undoubtedly repair themselves when they have a problem. They have often also built or modified their machine themselves.
Instead, I travel as light as possible, rough it in the hostels and sometimes cockroach-filled local and hook up with fellow travellers for all the silly side trips that people travelling without their own wheels tend to go on. And I know absolutely nothing about motorbikes, relying entirely on mechanics when an issue arises on my bike. In that sense, I’m kind of trapped between two different styles of travel. But as long as I don’t get dragged into conversations about the specs of my bike with real overlanders, I should be fine.

Cows crossing

Cows crossing

However, there are a few differences between the two ways of getting around. Having my own wheels do require a lot of extra planning. Which roads are sealed, how far is there between gas stations, and where to I sleep if I can’t reach my next destination in a day’s drive. I can’t just rock up at the bus station, tell them where I would like to go and then expect a driver to drive through the night to get me to my destination if necessary.
Don’t get me wrong; I like the extra planning. People who have travelled with me will know how happy I am for travel planning. But I do miss out by doing the driving myself. The proper overlanders I have met (on every continent I have ever travelled) seem to care more about their vehicle than the country they are in—to the degree that the continent they are driving through doesn’t matter much. Cairo to Cape Town, across Asia, or America north to south. Any of the above would be fine as long as they can drive their beloved machine.

Public Transport

Public Transport

It is, however, much more enjoyable to observe the African landscape and its peoples through the window of a bus or shared taxi. It’s tough to do when the bulk of my attention must be surrendered to watching out for potholes, crossing animals and minibuses going down the wrong lane. But there is no greater loss by driving myself then the lack of contact with the locals. Taking public modes of transportation – all insanely overcrowded – is unavoidably a direct way to immerse oneself into the local culture. Sharing peoples’ uncomfortable day-to-days way of getting from A to B leads to conversations, home-stays or, as a minimum, a change for observing people, their behaviour and culture from up close and for hours at a time. On the bike, the closest interaction I have with people around me is waving at the kids as I fly by or by having a quick chat with the men and women crewing the gas stations.
The bike does make travelling both more accessible and cheaper. No more waiting around for hours for the minibuses and taxies to fill up; no more expensive private hire of taxis or motorbike to take me to the weird, far-flung attractions and destinations, I inevitable insist of visiting; and no more dragging my luggage around with me. And of course, the exciting challenge to see if I can actually manage to drive a glorified scooter all the way to Cape Town. Maybe I do have an overlander hidden somewhere within me.

Posted by askgudmundsen 01:18 Archived in Malawi Tagged travel overland africa malawi backpacking motorbike southern_africa differences

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I rode a motorcycle 30,000 miles from Seattle to Patagonia and back for two years when I was 64-65. I camped only a few times. I stayed mostly in Airbnbs. I've been traveling northwest Africa by bus, train & sept taxi for the past year and I would give anything to be on!
a scooter like your doing ????????????.
I'll be returning to Senegal in February for a couple of months then fly to east África for a couple of months. Maybe I'll be able to find a moped to get around on. But your appreciation of Public transport is inspiring ????
Thank you for sharing your adventures. These stories help many travelers and potential travelers get out the door ☺️

by Michael Thomas Matthews

Thanks for your cheerful stories!

by Vic_IV

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