For three aspiring engineers, our wheels of choice were 150cc Big Boy Scooters. At the start line, in the city of gold, we joined 60 other like-minded crews on a journey labeled as Africa’s greatest social rally—the Put Foot Rally.
The expedition, onboard our three stallions, would take us 7,000 kilometers, through seven countries and six border checkpoints, in 21 days, all in support of Project Rhino KwaZulu-Natal. The rally’s intention is simple: to catapult adventurous spirits into their backyard and in the footsteps of David Livingstone. We set out to prove that Southern Africa can be explored on any wheels you choose.
With frozen fingers, James, Matt and I waved at encouraging hoots, as we cleared Jo’burg on a chilly winter’s morning. Finally, we hit the open road, full steam ahead at 70km an hour, and made our way to the first border post into Botswana. Our first taste of open road biking included: dodging suicidal flamingos and angry ostriches as well as the odd elephant—something extraordinary when on two wheels. For the first couple of days, as we rode towards Etosha National Park, our morning sessions were split into 30km stints interspersed with star-jumps on the open road and warming our hands on the exhaust pipe.
Traveling up to 700km a day, meant we arose early; behind the fog and cold came daybreak, which brought new surprises perched on the horizon.
Out in the wild, we had to constantly monitor our fuel situation. Fuel is gold and with a range of 200km we were bound to run out, somewhere along our adventure. This happened in Namibia en route to Windhoek. With two scooters curb-bound, James slipstreamed a 18-wheeler truck for 40km and returned with a couple of liters.
We learnt that poor navigation in the middle of the night is all part of the experience. The excited faces, accompanied with cold beers, at the checkpoints were moments of accomplishment. These checkpoint parties consisted of a 300-strong group dressed in anything from animal print to luminous polyester, where many a story were shared from the days’ travels.
Desert evolved into mountains, which turned into grasslands and we had made the first leg of the journey to Etosha Park. There are some roads that make your heart beat fast and others that take your breath away. Perhaps the greatest part of riding across Africa is that you see every rolling hill, every river crossing and every bustling village. We learnt to have conversations, while riding, without saying a word and there were many humorous moments while shepherding Matt—who before this trip had never ridden a scooter.
Riding through the Caprivi Strip towards Livingstone was quite an experience. With only a couple of shirts and a Leatherman, we were often invited to dine with hospitable locals. Here the spirit of Ubuntu is real. After breaking down 80 kilometers out of Grootfontein, we hitched a ride back to town in a copper truck, negotiated accommodation in exchange for three beers and had our scooters serviced by a resident mechanic for free. Within one day we were back on the road in Livingstone, Zambia.
Not only does the Put Foot Rally give travellers the opportunity to explore some of Southern Africa’s most beautiful spots but it also facilitates fundraising for a great cause. The crews raised R560,000 ($65,000), which was used to buy 450 new pairs of school shoes for schoolchildren in Livingstone. It also created awareness and raised funds to help fight rhino poaching through Project Rhino.
We had cruised the Kavango, traveled the entire interior of Namibia and enjoyed the crisp taste of a Mosi on the banks of the Zambezi River. On entering Zimbabwe the beaten track led us towards Kariba Dam. We hopped onto a ferry and had a full day of downtime, much of which was spent sipping on Lion Lager and snacking on Kapenta (Tanganyika sardines). Well refreshed, we made our way to colorful Malawi and rode hugging the ‘Lake of Stars’.
Exploring the fleamarket-style villages by scooter was an experience. Traffic was always a breeze and the interest we received from people gave us an opportunity to learn hidden secrets about the country.
A conversation was bound to be fired up at every pit stop, especially with police officials, who asked how we managed to pack everything including a golf club. Officials let us through every roadblock or border post, laughing ‘Hah, silly Mlungus’, a reminder that when traveling Africa always remember to pack a sense of humor.
Next, we rode southwards into Mozambique, which presented us with unique landscapes. The bright lights of Teté; long, white beaches of Vilanculos; the historical architecture and the waving coconut trees of Inhambane made for an atmosphere like no other. As we cruised to Barra lodge, the idyllic finish line of our scooter odyssey, the realization hit that while not everything had gone our way—breakdowns led to nights on the side of the road and a couple of tumbles had depleted spirits—Africa and her people always seem to provide. Traveling across Southern Africa by scooter gave us the chance to take it slow and travel uninhibited. The rally gave us the chance to bond and give back to communities and conservation.
Go ride, Africa is more accessible than you think.