Georgia is known for inviting South African farmers to farm here and I wanted to find out why a South African farmer would leave his country to come here. I crossed the border at Sarpi, indicating that I would be back in six days. On the Georgian side I stopped at what looked to be a tollgate, took my helmet off, gave the woman there my passport and asked to enter the country. She didn’t understand a word and could only speak Russian, but made a phone call and stamped my passport. Then I set off to find customs, but only found some people swimming in the sea – no visa to get, no forms to complete, no explaining my stay and no fee to pay. On the Zambian border I had to fork out R1 700 and complete form upon form, but in this far-away country I didn’t pay a cent. It just made me all the more glad that I had decided to explore a country I had only heard about. I picked up some information from the tourist office in Batumi and found a hotel outside the town, beside the Black Sea. I couldn’t negotiate, because they didn’t speak English, but it wasn’t expensive anyway and the room had a stunning view of the water. So off I went to the Black Sea – strange how it’s called the Black Sea, when the water is blue and clear, but perhaps it’s because of the dark beach sand. The evening I attended the team-building concert of a workshop; I didn’t understand a word, but it was still interesting. After two nights, I hit the road again. I passed an old castle along the way, but didn’t stop there, and then spent the night in a spot close to the Russian border. I was itching to see Russia, but forced myself to turn around and start the long ride to Istanbul. Touring is a blast and you just want to go to the next place and the next, because every country is a new challenge and has its own character. I will return one day to see more of Georgia.
The next day, as I rode along the Black Sea to Istanbul, the skies opened up early afternoon and pelted down quite hard. I sought shelter in a cafe to wait out the rain, when two hours later two boys offered to arranged accommodation for me. While waiting on the person that would take me there, I went with one of the boys to his home to meet his parents. He was literally bursting with pride to have a motorcyclist all the way from South Africa drink coffee at his cafe. His friends eventually arrived and took me to a pretty little pension (bed and breakfast or guesthouse to us), with a view of the water. The weather ended up giving me the opportunity to do a walking tour of the small coastal town of Katoriferle (had to ask my Turkish friends to help me with the spelling of that one). The rain had still not let up the next day and so I decided to spend another night in this beautiful little town on the coast, among these friendly people. The next morning dawned sunny and bright, so I headed to the cafe for a last cup of coffee and bid them farewell. I reached Istanbul just before 17h00. The tollgates were baffling. There wasn’t a man in sight, only the blare of an alarm when rode through, I kept expecting to see them chasing after me. Traffic was heavy, as you would expect at 16h30 in a city (the only city in the world situated between two continents, Europe and Asia). I just needed to get to the Turkish motorbike club, so I pressed on through traffic. It could have been worse, it could have been the chaos of Cairo where they literally push you off the road. The place my GPS led me to turned out to be a motor parts store and the manager couldn’t tell me where the Istanbul Bisiklet Motosiklet Club is, it could be anywhere in this big city. The manager offered to telephone the club and from the way he laughed I could tell that it was good news. It was only ten minutes away and they would come fetch me. He offered me tea and before I could even finish it, a man arrived on a scooter, had a cup of tea himself and off we went. Upon arriving there some of the members wanted to know why I hadn’t called ahead, they would have arranged a welcome party. They didn’t think that I could possibly have ridden an Africa Twin here all the way from South Africa, it looked like it just left the factory. They were also astounded that I had managed to get a visa for and travel through Syria, because they had their hands full getting riders out of Africa who were refused entry. I just smiled. I arranged accommodation for me for the night and also to crate and ship my bike. The president then had one of the members show me Istanbul. He didn’t speak a word of English, but we managed well enough with hand gestures.
Istanbul is so interesting and beautiful that you could spend weeks exploring it. They have an excellent transport system, you just hop on a tram, and it’s very affordable or you could take the boat to the other side of the city, using the same token system as the tram. The grand bazaar has more than 4 000 shops, you just need to be careful to not get lost. The temples are another sight to see. Winter had set in and it had turned quite chilly. That evening I watched the noise and commotion of the city from my room window – a city that is so safe that it’s still alive with activity late into the night. The club president and I took the scooter to the harbour, 35km outside the city. The pride the Turkish have in their flag was clear, around every corner we found one. The club president also took me to the annual marathon, in the soaking rain, the next day and to my surprise there were even a few South Africans running. They were so surprised to hear cheering in Afrikaans that they first stopped to have a chat. Before crating my bike the club arranged for a steam cleaning and unlike South Africa, the car wash comes to you. I just stood there looking at my bike, realising that my trip had come to an end. I thanked the heavenly Father for bringing me safely to Turkey. I had my son and wife fly in from the USA and South Africa respectively, where they shared with me the hospitality of Istanbul for another eight days.
Our last night there we returned to the clubhouse where the members had arranged a farewell party, with heaps of food, and we were once again amazed at the hospitality of these people.
You would need more than a year to explore this awesome country and I’m so glad that I could at least see a small part and meet its warm-hearted people. Hope you enjoyed this account of my trip and that adventuresome people, who only dream of this kind of thing, actually go out and do – as I was told: Stop dreaming and start packing. Remember, it’s never too late. I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Istanbul Bisiklet Motosiklet, especially Mehmet Zeki Avar, and all its members; Anton van der Merwe, for his visit and information; and also Mesfin Sebsibe of Ethiopia. You are wonderful people, I will never forget you. Then I would also like to thank the heavenly Father for keeping me safe and answering my prayers every time I stared danger in the face.
A FEW TIPS
In Africa you do not ride at night or pass a filling station, even if you filled up 50km ago. Negotiate every deal, you’ll save a lot of money. You can manage on your own at border posts and don’t need to use the services of locals, they just take advantage of you. Patience is the key word at the border and if they can only stamp your passport the next day, then pitch your tent beside the customs office and wait. If you don’t have patience, stay out of Africa. Always be friendly with everyone, even when you’re angry (something I couldn’t always manage).
If you have a South African passport, you only need to apply for an Ethiopian, Sudanese and Egyptian visa at home; the rest you get along the way. Do thorough research, it makes a big difference. I used Visa Box for my visa, their service is excellent and affordable, they know every country’s particular regulations. You can e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact them on 0215518829 and ask to speak to Andrea Bonalumi. I was not sponsored in any way and the trip cost me about R42 000, excluding airfare and shipping of my bike, for a total distance of 19 763km. If you any other queries, e-mail me and I will assist you as much as I can.
My children came up with the name of the blog, “My crazy dad”, because they said it suits me and yet they are also immensely proud of me for undertaking this journey.
Would I do it again? Yes! I can’t wait for my next road trip from South Africa to Hanover, the small town in the USA all the way by road where my son lives.
That’s all folks!