Bob and Mary Beth Alexander have travelled extensively by motorcycle around the U.S. and been to Europe numerous times, always making their own plans. A trip to Africa was more of an unknown but a small, intimate tour, where they could really see the land and the people as they are, interested them. “We’re bikers,” says Mary Beth, “and so we wanted to combine that experience with seeing Africa.” That’s how they ended up on Renedian’s longest tour, Victoria Falls to Cape Town.
It’s the first time someone else has done the planning for the Wisconsin couple and it worked out very well. There was enough free time to do what they wanted and the one and two-day layovers gave them time to do other things.
Both are seasoned long distance riders. Bob’s been riding for more than 35 years and has several bikes but primarily rides his BMW R1200RT. Mary Beth has been riding for 14 years and has a BMW 650GS and a Spyder. Neither had ridden much on gravel or hard-packed dirt, and although Bob knew what to expect, Mary Beth chose to ride pillion, occasionally moving over to the support vehicle. They agree that anyone doing this route has to be comfortable in the dirt, something that was made clear to them when they signed up.
Bob wanted a riding experience in a different country and to have somebody else set up the trip without him having to go through the time and worry about whether he was picking the right places, doing the right thing, and making the most of the trip. Mary Beth was most looking forward to seeing the animals and the terrain. “When I hear ‘Africa’, that’s what I think and I wanted to see it,” she says.
Her biggest concerns were making sure they had the right kind of cash and they’d taken precautions so they wouldn’t get sick. She knew to go to an immunization clinic for vaccinations prior to departure, but not about the availability of drinking water or what to expect from restaurants.
“It was not that difficult and we need not have worried,” she says in retrospect. “We got shots and drank bottled water. The food and the places we went to were in better condition than a lot of places we’ve been to in Europe.”
They loved the evenings and the camaraderie of the group. Most of them were strangers on arrival but quickly started to connect with one another. There was always lots of good-natured kidding about the day’s ride, stories, and experiences. Always, they’d question how it could get any better. “How do you top a safari where a leopard walked right in front of us,” she asks, “or the new elephant mother protecting her baby with the umbilical cord still attached? Or the elephant silhouetted against the sunset? We were there!”
African sunsets and sunrises are ‘phenomenal’ and Mary Beth would get up early and stay out late just to see them. The sky would light up with a brilliant orange she’d not seen anywhere else.
While sitting in the safari truck in the Okavango Delta, three male lions walked right next to the open truck beside Bob. He didn’t dare move or speak, and she didn’t dare snap a photo, lest she disturb them with the flash. Being that close to them was surreal.
People everywhere were so welcoming. One accommodation proprietor took them on a tour of an old copper mine on the property and showed them the mining equipment. It was always enjoyable to talk with the owners about how they work hard to maintain their place and their stellar reputations.
Sometimes her mind was so wound up with all the things she saw that day, it was hard to unwind and get to sleep. Then the eight o’clock start would come early.
Travelling from Victoria Falls to Cape Town, there are so many dramatic dimensions in the terrain, it’s impossible for her to name a scenic favorite. There were rocky areas with small narrow roads, outstanding desert and dunes, and mountainous gravel roads with a charm all their own. In Cape Town, they enjoyed the beach and water and seeing the penguins.
The trip inspired Mary Beth to create a poem, entitled TIA, (This is Africa). Here’s an excerpt, which begins to describe her experience. Read the entire poem here.
“If only for a moment in time, we’ve travelled and seen the spirit of land embrace man. There are many things in life that have caught our eye, but only a few that can touch our hearts. What a perfect stay. “TIA”, This is Africa.”
Mary Beth’s advice for anyone who’s considering motorcycle travel to Africa is to question why they want to go. “If it’s just for the riding, then you probably don’t need to go to Africa. If you want a huge experience with enormous variety, from animals to riding to phenomenal people, breathtaking and diverse scenery, and seeing all these areas in a short period of time, then go! It’s incredible and so worth it.”
Photo credits: Mary Beth Alexander