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Andrey Urzhumtsev: 7 months, 40,000 km. An exhilarating experience

Andrey Urzhumtsev, a Russian businessmen with a passion for unique motorcycle trips, shares with us his impressions from his latest journey – from Africa to Russia.

“The first part of my journey from Moscow to Cape Town taught me a lot. The 23,000 kilometers across the dark continent quickly dispelled the illusion that an off-road bike could easily cope with a cross country trip through Africa. It took me a great deal of effort to learn to ride on stones and sand. The journey also proved that all my travel gear was a mistake. Workers from travel equipment stores and Internet users were shown to be equally mistaken. So, while preparing my bike for the return journey, I decided to use the help of South African specialists. As an upside, prices are more agreeable in South Africa, even far more agreeable.
“With the oldest desert in the world to cover (the Namib Desert), the bike was fitted out with various protection gear from sand and stones. They used Continental tires, and although these tires are good for short journeys, they did not last for the second time (the first time I tried them was between Kenya and South Africa). In short, my preparations were more thorough this time around than before my departure from Moscow.
“After the repairs were complete, it was recommended that I make short trips around to test-ride the bike. I decided to use the time to satisfy my curiosity, since any place of interest in South Africa is, in my estimation, within a day’s drive. You can come face to face with a real rhinoceros just 400 kilometers off Cape Town. I even got a chance to meet an Olympic record in short distance running (with photographic equipment on my back, no less) after my iPhone woke up a sleeping tigress that I was trying to take a picture of on a safari.
“Cape Agulhas – the southern tip of Africa – was my next destination. Although many people, myself included, tend to confuse Cape Point and Cape Agulhas, the latter is the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

“Since I had to cover over 1,000 kilometers to test my bike, my African friends invited me to a bike festival near Cape Town – Sparrows Rally. Interestingly enough, the festival is not dedicated to any particular brand. “Meanwhile, the test ride proved that the South African technicians really knew what they were talking about, so I set out on my return journey – with Namibia the first country on my route. Several things impressed me about Namibia. First, its apparent German legacy, what with cities like Luderitz, Swakopmund, Windhoek. The country was actually called German South-West Africa up until 1915. Second, the Namib Desert with its sand dunes that come down to the ocean, and the beautiful Fish River Canyon. The third and, probably, the most impressive thing is the Himba tribe, which still lives the same way it did 1,000 years ago. The women take care of their children and their households and the men hunt. The only clothing they own is loincloths made of animal skin. Himba women also cover their skin with a reddish clay paste. The tribal traditions are in fact so strong that they refuse to send their children to school because schools require clothing.
“After Namibia, I made my way to the most famous location in Africa – the Victoria Falls, where four African countries — Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe — meet. You can enjoy the view of the falls from almost all the four countries, and I chose Zambia. I approached the falls, which are 1,800 meters wide and over 120 meters high, from what used to be Northern Rhodesia. The sight is unforgettable.
“Zambia. Lusaka surprised me with its lack of light in the city at night. Strangely, there is no lighting in most of the city. While my shock-resistant navigator was being repaired, employees from the Russian embassy took me fishing on Zambezi Island, which turned out to be a truly memorable experience. I caught a tigerfish after only 10 minutes of fishing – an enormous creature that was easier to shoot than pull out of the water. Then, while we were absorbed in watching hippopotamuses, we got too close to the females, and the alpha male attacked the boat. We got lucky though and the boat survived the shock. After we got away from the hippos, a local fisher who had accompanied us entertained us with stories to illustrate how common hippo attacks on people are in the area. And after all that, I saw six-meter-long crocodiles.
“The tires on my bike became completely bald while I moved towards Northern Zambia, where in the town of Mbala I had to choose a road up the continent: either to the Congo, where rebels had become active, or to Kigoma, Tanzania, where I could obtain a visa to Burundi. There was a ferry on Fridays from the neighboring port of Mpulungu, which could take me across Lake Tanganyika to Kigoma. This is where things got really interesting. The ferry got lost, and the only explanation I got was: “It's probably carrying something to the Congo. Maybe it’ll come next Friday.” A local chieftain came to my rescue. He contacted the captain of a dry cargo vessel who was his tribesman and arranged for my trip to Burundi.
“In the meantime, while the captain kept telling me “tomorrow, maybe” every single day, the wayward ferry returned. It took us 4 days instead of the scheduled 2 to get to Kigoma, since the ferry traveled like a fixed route taxi. As soon as it received a signal from ashore, it immediately changed route to pick up the freight or passengers. “I knew immediately when I was close to Burundi: the Tanzanian asphalt disappeared on the level of the Burundi road sign. In Bujumbura, I was detained by police special forces. It was fun to re-read the terrorism charges afterwards. The questioning lasted for three hours. They obviously let me go in the end, but it still left an impression.

“Rwanda began with a mountainous road of European quality and friendly customs officers and frontier guards. The country is sometimes referred to as African Switzerland. I had no idea that as recently as the last century, Rwanda and Burundi were a single state, and the two countries still have identical ethnic compositions. Rwanda also surprised me with its absence of corruption. Rwanda is often called the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Truth be told, some parts of Kigali actually resemble Europe, although it was completely different just two decades ago. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, when one tribe massacred another tribe within a span of 100 days, drastically changed the country’s history.

“Next on my journey was Uganda, which I remember from last year. I have a lot of friends there, and they actually acted as my technical partners instead of a Moscow-based BMW dealer that had extensively publicized its support for my journey on the Internet. This time, I got to see the King’s Gate, which only opens for royal motorcades. While I had imagined a huge gate in the middle of a field, in reality it turned out to be a wrought iron wicket gate adorned with royal insignia mid-way between the Parliament and the palace. Judging by its width, the king must travel around in a modest-sized car. I also visited the king’s palace itself, now shunned by members of the royal family since Prime Minister Obote, who deposed the king and afterwards the more notorious Amin, turned it into a military base and even something close to a concentration camp.
“Uganda became the last country on my return journey for several different reasons: the way to the west coast was virtually cut off by the riots that shook the region, and the north of Africa was also apparently out of reach because of numerous uprisings.

“I thought there would be nothing much to say about Europe. But, as usual, I got lucky: just a hundred kilometers from Munich, an annual BMW festival was taking place. I could not possibly pass that up. It was a genuinely German event: everything went according to schedule without any delays.
Moscow was a pleasant surprise for me as well: in addition to Auto Plus journalists, bikers from the BMW club who followed my steps across the African continent were waiting to greet me.

“Seven months and 40,000 kilometers covered, three fourths of them in Africa. It was both informative and interesting. I saw for myself how much life on the continent differs from what the mass media tell us. For the most part, revolutions tend to erupt after some very useful and marketable subsurface resource is discovered. I can recognize most of the places the news channels show us at different angles, and I offer my respects to journalists for being able to present us with a storm… in a glass. The reality is different. For another thing, I shall not go to a zoo or hunting for a long time now; I spent too much time around animals. Elephants and monkeys are equal participants of the road traffic in Africa – and you cannot hunt a pedestrian, can you? “In other words, it was great. I don’t know, though, if I shall be able to stay in Russia for a long time. I am intrigued by the situation in Venezuela…”

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