The Journey to Africa
I always say that the beginning of a journey is full of difficulties and obstacles, hurdles that you have to overcome before the real joy of the adventure can start. And the start to our African journey has been no different, though it's also been peppered with moments of joy and beauty.
I find that traveling is full of meeting incredible people, but for every hello, there is always a goodbye. These meetings are usually brief, but meaningful, and farewells feel like little pinpricks stabbing at my chest. The smiles and generosity of these people from across the globe have left lasting touches on me, like fingerprints indented on my heart.
But as a traveler, I've become aware of the cyclical pattern of constantly leaving, of constantly saying hello and goodbye. And a part of me prepares myself, fortifies myself whenever I meet someone, because I know that I will soon be leaving them, and perhaps it will be the last time we meet. It's like a little hardened barrier I build up inside myself, always reminding me that this is temporary, and that all great things will come to an end.
Yet there is no barrier that I could build up within myself that would prepare me for saying goodbye to those who have been in my life throughout all the hard times: my family and close friends from home.
This is of course the most difficult goodbye of them all. Though I know it's only temporary, the idea of being gone for an indefinite amount of time weighs heavily on me. Unlike last time, our trip to Africa has no end point, and I don't have a clear idea of when we'll be back since our plan sort of dead-ends when we get to Europe. By then, our savings will have run out and we'll be looking for work. What we find, where we'll end up, and when we'll get the funds to fly back are all unknowns.
All we know for sure is that we're leaving for the other side of the world, and it's going to be a while before we find ourselves at home again. A long while.
There are so many people from home that we are thankful for and indebted to: from friends who have helped Tim with preparing the bike, to family who have housed us, fed us, and brought us laughter, and even strangers who have contributed to our travels. I hope that even if I can't thank each and every one of you individually here, that you know how grateful we truly are.
And so the day for us to leave came: September 4th, 2019. We packed up the bike, Tim petted his cat and hugged his dad with tears in their eyes, and we rode off with a wave and an unbearable heaviness in our chests.
Riding to Montreal
Our first step was to ride to Montréal, Canada where we would be flying ourselves and the bike out of. This is because flights for motorcycles are much cheaper from Canada than from the States, and Montréal offered the best deals for us.
It was only a few days' ride to Montréal from Chicago, and along the way we got to visit Tim's little sister in Michigan, as well as our motorcycle traveling friends Phil and Sapna near Toronto. We had first met them in Mexico and we crossed paths several times in Central and South America, so it was incredible to hang out with them in completely new surroundings, being able to once again share stories and reminisce.
From Toronto, we headed to Montréal, which is Canada's second largest city and the largest city in its French-speaking quarter of Quebec. But being in Montréal meant business for us more than sight-seeing, since there were a lot of logistics, paperwork, and payments involved in getting the bike on a plane and then ourselves on another one.
But North America wasn't going to let us leave without one last surprise.
As we pulled up to our Airbnb near the Montréal airport, we saw a Triumph Tiger covered in stickers with UK plates: a fellow round-the-world motorcycle traveler! We immediately pulled up to inspect the bike and I noticed a world map sticker with the rider's route drawn onto it: from England through Europe, across the “Stans" in Central Asia, through China, Malaysia, around Australia, and then finally Alaska, Canada, the US.... wow! My mouth hung open at this guy's incredible journey, but then as the owner of the bike walked up to us, my mouth dropped even further when I realized the greatest shock of all.
This world motorcycle traveler wasn't a guy at all, but a woman who had ridden it all alone!
Caroline Lunnen is her name (handle: funsmazwas), and she'd just spent 14 months riding around the world and this was to be her last day before flying back home! I couldn't believe our fortune, and we spent hours at dinner sharing stories, travel insights, and basically just bathing in the bliss of knowing that we were all the same type of crazy.
The next day, we brought our bike into the cargo area of the Montréal airport, weighed it with all its stuff on (we now know it's 323 kg), got our gear scanned, and said our goodbyes to the bike and almost everything we owned as the cargo crew got ready to fly it out to Heathrow. We took one last look at the bike, then hitched a cab to the departures terminal of the airport, and waited for our flight to Qatar.
Since there are no direct flights from Canada to South Africa, we had to have a layover somewhere. The bike was taking a different path from us and would be transferring in London. But Tim and I were going to have a long layover in Qatar, and I was excited because my plan was to actually leave the airport and see something of the country.
After 12.5 hours of being cramped in a plane, we were not feeling our freshest when we arrived in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar (said like “cutter", but “kataar" is also accepted). And actually, the Doha airport turned out to be so nice, there was almost no reason to leave it (the best airport I've ever been to), but I'm so glad we did. Because our few hours in Qatar equated to a real feast for the senses.
Qatar is a tiny oil-rich country sticking out like a thumb between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Best known for its state-funded news network Al-Jazeera, and its award-winning airlines Qatar Airways, the country is ruled by a young king called Emir Tamim Al-Thani in an absolute monarchy.
And although the majority of the people living there are not Qatari (88% are foreign workers coming mostly from India and Pakistan), Qataris are classified as the richest people on earth. Qatar will also be the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which will mean it's the first Arab country to do so, but that honor has been tainted by allegations of bribery.
Soccer aside, because Doha is clean, safe, and was a historic port known for trading incense, silks, and Persian rugs, I had the feeling that I was going to enjoy visiting it.
When we arrived in Qatar, it was nearly sunset and 95˚F outside (35˚C). But the heat didn't deter us as we got into a cab and headed toward the desert sunset. Rows of date trees lined the streets, silhouetted by the reddening sky behind them, and we passed one architecturally-unique building after the next: the National Museum of Qatar which looked like something found on a Star Wars set, and the Fanar Mosque, which resembled a spiral version of a tiered wedding cake.
Finally we came to the oldest area of Doha, a market called Souq Waqif (locals pronounce it “soog WAAgif"), and it was an alluring tangle of covered walkways between stalls selling pyramidal stacks of colorful spices, exotic sweets dripping in glaze, and shimmering silk shawls. The pungent perfume of frankincense smoke wafted through the air, vendors would call out their wares and prices, and women in full abayas of black with nothing but their eyes showing would peruse through the winding alleys.
It was mysterious, enthralling, and enchanting, and we couldn't help but get lost in its web. In comparison to other Middle Eastern markets I've been to, this one was very clean, well-organized, and not quite so chaotic. It was just the perfect blend of historic authenticity with modern practicality.
The entire market is pedestrian-only, except for horses. Gorgeous Arabian horses ridden by Qatari royal guards in their full regalia that looked like something out of Lawrence of Arabia. For me, since I'm a huge fan of horses, this was an absolute highlight. Every time they passed, I'd stop and stare, and then watch a guy who was following them scoop up any poop left behind with a shovel.
Every once in a while, between the tight weave of alleyways we would find ourselves in a more open area lined in cafés and restaurants. At one of these, we stopped for some tea and coffee (and were fortunate enough to find a place with air-conditioning!).
Once the sky had turned a vibrant shade of purple signaling the oncoming night, the call to prayer announced the setting sun, reverberating through the adobe and stone buildings. The street lamps were turned on, and I realized that it wasn't until night that this place really came alive. Qatari men in their white dishdashas would laugh with one another, sipping on their hookah pipes and blowing out puffs of sweet-smelling smoke. A group of three women in black robes and designer bags would haggle over prices, and there were also foreigner tourists in jean shorts and flowery dresses snapping pictures or eating ice cream. It was a perfect night out in Doha.
At last, we made our way out of the souq (market) and toward the oceanfront where traditional wooden boats called dhows were moored. Because Doha is situated on a small bay, we could actually see the skyline of the modern downtown area across the water of the bay, the lights of its skyscrapers glittering along its placid waves. Behind us, the golden-lit minaret of Fanar Mosque called out the last prayer, and the nearly-full moon rose up beside it. I felt like I was in one of the thousand-and-one Arabian nights.
And so we left Qatar, thankful for our tiny but impactful experience there. And back at the airport we got ourselves ready for the last leg of the journey.
Arriving in South Africa
After our 9 hour layover in Qatar, we were looking forward to (not really) another 10.5 hour flight from there to Cape Town, South Africa. Since we can't sleep well on flights, we arrived so exhausted, I didn't feel human anymore, like I was just a ghost walking around.
A cab took us to our Airbnb, and we took a much-needed shower and nap. Actually it was a seventeen hour nap. Yes, that's right. 17.
Since our arrival, it's been a few days of resting and trying to get on the local schedule as we wait for our motorcycle to arrive. Maybe it's still in the cargo hold of London's Heathrow Airport, or maybe it's on a plane right now 36,000 feet in the air crossing the Sahara... but it will meet us here soon and we'll be reunited with our trusty steed that will take us across this great continent.
Our next post will be about our first impressions of South Africa, from tasting the local food to taking in the views from Table Mountain, plus we've have our first encounter with African wildlife!
So stay tuned!
I would like to thank all of our subscribers, readers, and followers for being a part of our journey and of our lives. Because just as we try to inspire others to live out their dreams, it is all of you out there who help us get through the tough times by your constant support.
A special thanks this week to Shaun Sartin and Brandon Lever. Your contributions to our journey will fill both gas tanks and bellies.
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