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Here’s a quick update for those who have not gound the Facebook page, One Ball One Continent.

From Bordeaux I rode to Pamplona in Spain. The ride was fairly uneventful but, after France, it seemed as if Spain was a step lower on the ladder of dlopment. In cities there was suddenly laundry hanging on balconies and a bit more litter in the streets. It may also just be that Spain’s better climate allows for drying laundry outdoors and that the French would hang it on the balcony if thesaw more sun. Of course, I don’t think they’d ever admit it if it were the case :-). “En France? Non! Jamais!”

Got to Pamplona and struggled a bit to find the part of the city where the bulls get revenge for their siblings being eaten because somehow the little French I knew got me nowhere and trying to skip to Spanish I could only come up with broken Swahili. Anyway, the bulls weren’t running so I took about three photos and headed out of town and up the hill to an abondened and neglected old fort (originally built as a prison, OR the other way around) which housed soldiers hoping to die for Spain while defending Pamplona against a French invasion which never came. The fort must have been an amazing place but there seem to be little  or no impetus to turn it into a museum and keep graffiti artists out. Pity, really.

It was late afternoon but I decided to head to Barcelona the next day and not straight to Alicante so I had to rip a few miles of tar to reduce the next day’s effort. It got a bit chilly but byabout 23h00 i got to Aragon/Zaragoza and an hour later I had an idea of how the city was laid out and had found a ‘Hostal’ for the night.

The next day I went to see yet another cathedral, but could only take photos outside (posted a few on the Facebook page). In stead of burning prayer candles you deposit 10 Euro cents into the new slot which then light an LED which flickers for a few seconds to let you know from where your prayer is launched. I thought about our friend, Nick, who passed away over a year ago, my dad who died last year and my brother, Braam, who is still on the road to recovery after a bad bike accident about a week before Nick was taken to hospital to wait for a heart transplant.

After a coffee and a few more photos I went back to the hostal, packed and got headed for Barcelona. THe landscape changed quite a bit, the toll roads cost more than just a bit and early that evening I arrived at famed architect, Antonio Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia. A lot of the detail was quite gaudy to my eyes but I have to admit that there are some spectacular sculptures on the exterior. It was to late to get access to the interior, so I rode aound the city a bit and decided not to wait until the next morning to get into the cathdral. On such a hit-and-run dash across Europe you see what you can and make piece with the fact that you’ll have to return once you’ve seen the more interesting places in the world.

I then hit the road to Valencia hoping to sleep there and have an orange the next morning before leaving for Oran. It was not to be. The few drop that hit my visor as I left the city were followed by their mates and soon I was drenched and shaking so much I thought I’d fall off the bike. Having ridden in solid rain (except for when passing through the many tunnels) for three hours I pulled over at a fuel stop and noticed their was aFormula 1-like hotel. They had a small room for me and after a long shower to defrost my toes, fingers and nose I started putting miles on their built-in haordryer. Everything was soaked but by 12h00 the next morning even by boots were dry and I got underway away after making sure that not much of their breakfast would go into the bin.

Arrived in Valencia and there cops all over the city centre. Something to do with a fireworks display that I would never see because iwanted to find a BMW dealer to sort out the bike’s unwillingness to idle smoothly. One of the cops had a BMW and gave me directions to the nearest shop with a warning that they’d also close at 14h00 to come to see the fireworks display.

After a mad dash through inner city peak traffic I arrived at the shop only to be told that I had about 5 minutes to get to another one where they do more than just sell bikes. Punched the address into the GPS as I ran out of the shop and got to the service centre in just over three minutes. There may be ticket or two waiting for me in JHB if they bother to go to the trouble. Good thing I lost my little bit of  Spanish too because I don’t think too much of what I heard overtaking other road users would be usable in polite conversation in future.

The guys at the service centre were very helpful and one of them even spoke reasonable English. They sold me two spark plugs (just in case) and gave me the addresses for BMW shop in Alicante. Just as I got on the bike to head for the port city the service chief mumbled a few words and did some magic resetting of the idling without any tools. His procedure was different from what BMW showed me in SA and I watched him carefully. I asked in Swahili that he explains to me exactly what he’d done, but I could see in his eyes that he’d have to kill me if he told me, so I went on my merry way.

What a pleasure to slow down or come to a stop without the engine cutting out! The ride to Alicante was uneventful  and I made to the port on time. Then I realised that I actually had no clue where exactly the ferry would depart from and that I had not brought the web map along from SA. Bummer! Asked the cops but they just smiled at me stupidly so I went into a restaurant, said “If you’re an uneducated Spaniard, raise your hand” and a man came to my rescue. Within less than ten minutes I was parked at the ferry!

After completing a few forms, showing my ticket, my passport and all sorts of other things I tried to explain that I don’t look like my passport photo because I’m happy to have made it to port in time and I hadn’t had a haircut for six months. I think the lady didn’t believe me so she wrote down my engine number in the block reserved for registration number but fortunately the ex-Rottweiler trainer of a customs official saw her mistake and wrapped het over the knuckles. I went to hide behind the bike because she did not look very pleased and could easily weave two small towels using up  only the left side of her moustache.

Boarding the ferry took a good while and by the time the bike was sort of tied to th metal latch of a store room door Ian, the Brit now travelling with me through Algeria and Niger, had become well-acquainted. I made sure that neither could the bike be moved nor the store room entered by anyone less than Zeus himself before getting into the elevator to find my cabin somewhere else in the floating retro hotel.

We found our cabin and Ian found out where the bar was located. Not being sure how often we’d find beer in north Africa, I decided to sample only one or two so that Ian would not have to hit the sack thirsty.

My cabin was disappointing with a shower borrowed from some medieval auberge and a carpet that may have been raided from Jerusalem during the crusades. The mattress was only slightly newer, I think, but after dashing though mouldy, cold Europe and hearing more and more Arabic in the halls I decided to act South African and only bitch to myself and not address the problem with someone who could ruin my future.

Dinner, included in the ticket, consisted of an absolute mountain of rice and tasty chicken limbs. Thinking of all the poverty that I’d probably see during the next three months, as well as illegal dumping of waste in the oceans and the resulting dwindling whale population (why do only the BIG guys get real publicity?) I again made sure that I would not contribte to any waste problem the ferry company might have.

Wishing I had an LED prayer machine and a whole lot of coins I hit the shower, the bar and the mattress they’d ripped off Lawrence of Arabia. The ferry started rolling about and I checked my luggage list again – no prayer machine. Went up to the bar again but fortunately they had closed for the night. Back in my cabin I wondered about things like eternity and  heaven & hell and the cultural differences that define their amenities or lack thereof. Finally, around 01h00 I think, I misplaced my credit card in the Deon Meyer I was reading and almost came to an early demise trying to get to the light switch without touching the carpet.

To be continued…

Hi, the Facebook page is also called One Ball One Continent (not the Facebook group with the same name) and I post updates there as well as photos. Have a look!

Sorry, see Facebook page – this is not working….

Sorry, Calan, another long post… Search for the One Ball One Continent page on Facebook if you want to see a few pictures- easier to upload there than here, sorry!

Also, the messages in the right side bar —-> come from Facebook as I get a chance to update there. The SMSes that I’ll send once I’m in Africa will also appear in the same place. Click on the link to see the whole message.

OK…

Wed 3 March I left Amsterdam at about 15h00 and got to Best, a village in southern Netherlands, where I was to meet with Margriet and her husband, Doris, friends of Stiaan’s and part of the Shamballah enery healers network. When I arrived they were already at the B&B waiting for me. I had a quick shower and we went to a little restaurant which has been in the same family for three generations. Nobody knew how long the building has been there… The Dijon soup was out of this world and the “three fishes” main course just as good.

After dinner we went to a Shamballah meeting that was arranged three days before. Margriet expected about 15 or 20 people to attend due to short notice but in the end we were 48! Drumming and chanting, etc went on until about 22h00 and we had a GREAT time!

Thursday morning  got away at about 09h00 and made it to the vilage of Beauvais, about 100km north of Paris. The ride through southern Holland, Belgium and northern France was exceptionally cold and by the time I found a place to stay in Beauvais, I could not have cared less about the quality of the mattress or the cost of the room. It had a shower and I thoroughly abused water trying to get warm. I washed a few things and hanged them over the heater to dry. Could not find weather forecast on tv and hit the sack around midnight.

Yesterday, 5 March, I was outside by 08h30 to take a few photographs and by 09h00 i found an electronic sign telling me that I’m just as crazy as the people setting up for the Friday market to be out inthe morning when it’s still  -3C!  Around 09h30 I went for a cup of coffee and met Benoit Gravet who had a few cuts and bruises on his face. Not sure whether it was a car accident or a bar fight, but the guy was friendly. He told me all about the fight/accident and understood very little. He wanted to know where I was from and and what I was doing so, seeing that I would not get out of a conversation I started grubnting the few French words i know and drawing pictures. It worked VERY well and when I wanted to pay for my coffee he insisted that we have another and then he paid.

I found the people of Beauvais quite friendly.

Off to the hotel, packed, and parked the bike in the meagre sunshine to warm up before getting the engine to turn only at 10h00! Hit the road and about two hours later i was at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Took a few pictures and hit the road again. One has to be realistic about how much you can see in no time – Paris will have to be seen again at another time.

Off to Chartres and got to see a little more of the cathedral than Napoleon’s Arc and decided to see how close I could get to Bordeaux. I took the highway so I got to see very little of the countryside. The sun set around 18h30 I think and although I was thoroughly frozen I realised that it could not get much colder than it already was. I stopped a few time to get soup from vending machines too prevent early death by loss of body temperature and arrived in Bordeaux around 22h30. Every time you stop to warm up, you lose at least 30 minutes…

I got a room at the very first hotel I could find with a hot shower and Wi-Fi for an unreasonable price. The day’s thirst was catching up with me and one EU3 Coke later I started updating the Facebook page. I sent Heidi an SMS saying that we should chat on Skype at 08h00 SA time, forgetting that in France it would then be only 07h00, and I switched the light off at 01h15.

This morning I realised that it might be a good idea to acquire a map of the city you’re in so that you don’t discover ALL the nice little places while looking for your hotel after just quickly going to ‘see the cathedral’…

A Eu3 coffee convinced me that I’d have to buy tea bags and sugar today, and also some hand cream to keep me from turning into a lizard because of the cold!

Off to somewhere in northern Spain in an hour – not sure where I’ll sleep but will see if I can update again tonight.

Immediately after the coup d’etat all Nigerienne land borders were closed (standard practice apparently) but on Friday schools, banks and other businesses opened as usual.  The borders were opened withing 24 hours of the coup but word from Algeria is that the border post that I have to go through is still closed. Will have to keep an eye on that one!

On Friday I collected my passport with the Congolese visa in it and went straight to the Moroccan Embassy, not knowing how the Nigerienne crisis would play out. 10 minutes later I walked out of there with a six month visa – absolutely painless.  Off I went to the Mauritanian Embassy thinking that while I’m taking precautions I might as well get that visa too. I submitted the application but had to return two hours later to speak to the visa councillor who’d gone to Prayers. When he finally got back I explained the situation and he refuse to take my application because of the “strong likelihood that the visa would be denied” by the visa section in Mauri because I’ll be travelling by own transport, without a tour operator being involved and… alone. Rather get it in Rabat, Morocco, he said. (It should be straight forward because South Africans do not need visas for Senegal which comes after Mauri and all the visas for the countries after Senegal are already in my passport.) Then the councillor ensured me that the Nigerienne borders would be closed for maximum three days, because that’s just how it works. (I almost got the impression that he was expecting the coup d’etat.) And he was right.  At least about some of the borders.

The Moroccan visa should make applying for a new Schengen visa from Algeria a little simpler because it will show, together with all the other visas, that I don’t intend to squat in Spain.

So… Now there’s just a bit of office work to finalise and the final luggage check on the stuff I did not send to Amsterdam along with the bike, a birthday party on Saturday and on Sunday night I leave for Amsterdam. Eight days later I’ll be in the Sahara! And then I’ll see how unfit I really am…

I handed my passport in today with the LAST visa application before leaving for Amsterdam. It has really been a painless exercise getting all the visas and I’d like to specifically thank Jan Hepburn and Donald Fraser who assisted with introductions at the High Commission of Nigeria and the Embassy of the DRC respectively. Tomorrow I can collect my passport and then I only have to apply for the Angolan transit visa and the Tanzanian visa en route.

News from the second African country that I will travel through, Niger, is that gun shots were heard at the presidential palace earlier today and rumours of a coup d’etat are starting to circulate on the Net. That may just necessitate another route change, but there’s no getting around a ride through Niger: Going to Mali from Algeria is out, especially with a number of hostages still being held somewhere in the north, and to the east of Algeria lies Lybia from where – if you managed to get a Lybian visa –  you would have to travel through Chad to avoid Niger, but that is not an option either. Hopefully Niger can sort itself out in the next three-and-a-half weeks!

It’s February 9 and I’m making such good progress with the visas that it leaves me more dumbfounded about the visa service “company’s” lack of trying! The Nigerian visa I’ve mentioned before and last Thursday I got the visa for Algerian, my gateway into Africa. I went directly from there to the Embassy of Benin and applied for the l’Entente visa (for access to Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin) and collected it this morning. Off I went to the Ghanaian Embassy and tomorrow I can pick that one up.

There are three other visas which should be no problem to get and then two which I have to get en route to avoid getting to Angola and Tanzania with expired visas. I don’t know yet where in west Africa I can apply for the Tanzanian one but will find out tomorrow.  Ideally I’d like to get that one before applying for the Angolan one because Angola can be difficult to get, so it should help a bit if I have one visa for a country further down the list.  I don’t need visas for Zambia and Malawi, so that leaves a gap which can’t be filled and thus the Tanzanian one could be quite important.

In between the trips to Pretoria I’m still doing drawings for the project in the Waterberg and communicating with other guys on Horizons Unlimited, getting more current info about what lies ahead. And I read four action novels last week.  Think I’m bored?

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but a number of Europeans were taken hostage in west Africa (Mauritania and eastern Mali) late last year by AQIM (Al Qaeda in Islamic Magreb). The Spanish aid workers are being held for ransom I think, the French national will be released if Mali releases a few AQIM members who are doing time in a Malian prison and one news agency reported that EU5 million was paid for the release of the Italian man and his wife, originally a Burkina Faso national. That report still has to be confirmed though. The Malian government reportedly refused to consider releasing the AQIM prisoners. And in northwestern Niger a few Saudi citizens were killed around the same time in what is considered to have been “a botched kidnapping attempt”. Obviously these events affect the route I’ll take and I’m keeping an eye on the news…

Just a little less than three weeks now before the ride begins!