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East Africa by motorbike: A story on how to do it

After working Usumbara Mountains of Tanzania for two years I decided it was time to quit my job and return home to the Netherlands. Before I left, however, I was determined to do a farewell trip through East Africa. Luckily for me two friends were eager to join me. We decided to do a motorcycle trip around Lake Victoria. Let me give it a try to describe in words how this trip blew my mind and still puts a smile on my face today: East Africa by motorbike – this is how you do it!

After a long struggle choosing between local-bikes and Japanese ones we chose a Skymark 125 cc. It was both the price and the fact that the locals know these bikes (which means there are spare parts at hand in case of breakdowns) that led us to this choice. We started the trip in my backyard: the Usumbara Mountains, immediately rough terrain. Within the first 10 kilometres, all three of us felt the magic of the bike: invincible, a cocktail of an immense sense of freedom and a healthy dose of anxiety about what was ahead in the weeks to come.

The best thing about East Africa by motorbike

For me, the continuous contact with your surrounding is by far the best part of riding a motorbike. You can hear schoolchildren yelling, you can greet the police when you pass their posts, you can make eye contact with oncoming pedestrians: it’s these things that make the motor experience so extraordinary. I didn’t realise this before starting the trip but, but it was exactly this what made the trip so unforgettable.

Whenever we heard or saw something interesting we just pulled over and mingled with the locals. We helped them fishing but more often we needed their favours. Repairing the bike, grabbing some local food, getting a new haircut, washing the bike or simply asking for directions.

A steady speed touring around Lake Victoria 

Touring around Lake Victoria, we crossed Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. As true motor-cyclers we tracked every meter of this trip with a GPS watch and, as became evident from the tracking overview, the local bikes did not manage to go faster that 88,9 km/h. I’m even sure that this top speed must have been measured downhill…  And with all the stops along the way, our average speed turned out to be very modest. People often asked me whether we ever got tired driving the bike all day, but it was the exact opposite. Driving with some vague indications from an old Lonely Planet guide never got dull: it felt like an exploration expedition.

Worried about safety

My friends, and definitely my parents, were questioning the safety of this trip regarding road conditions, reckless drivers, us being an easy target, the situation in Rwanda, wild animals, police and border patrol, etc.… During the six weeks we were stopped once in Nairobi and the policeman instructed us to put on our yellow jackets. Furthermore the roads (highway and dirt roads) are perfectly doable, even for inexperienced drivers. We never felt threatened in any way: some night we even put up camp in the middle of nowhere, complete wilderness.

A once in a lifetime experience 

The combination of freedom, adventure; seeing new things every single day, the things that are not documented in books or the internet, beautiful nature, wildlife and the constant contact with the local people makes it without doubt the best way to visit see the African continent.

Coming home after the six weeks I realised the trip was far better than I had ever dared to dream. Not only I could show my best friends the beauty and friendliness of East Africa but it also broadened the perspectives towards the African culture. It gave context to poverty, to education, to family and friendship, to social systems and governmental influence.  The hospitality and happiness of the African people confronts the people from the Western world, with the important things we are forgetting these days!

Are you seeking a similar experience? Want to have more information on how travel East Africa by motorbike? Or maybe you want to see how Charles and I got chased by an elephant: get in touch with Charles, and find out for yourself how magical a trip on two wheels can be!

Find more information on travelling by motorbike through Africa on Charlie’s Motor Safaris.