Africa in slow motion on two little wheels

Mon Jun 10, 2013 9:47am EDT
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By Agnieszka Flak

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - It sounded like a shotgun: bang, bang, bang. The back wheel swirled in a slalom and my Vespa scooter came to an abrupt stop.

Not even halfway through my two-wheeled trip across parts of Africa and the back tire burst. I steered away from the traffic that trailed behind me on this pothole-littered mountain pass, just as a truck gently nudged my back license plate.

The 200 kg (440 lb) piled on the seat, two carriers and between my legs were too much for the seasoned two-wheeler and I got stuck: on top of a mountain in Tanzania's Baobab Valley, surrounded by baboons, possibly lions, and without a spare.

The scooter safari began in Johannesburg, where I strapped an adventurous friend, a tent, some medicine, food and extra fuel to the frame. My goal was to go Dar es Salaam and back, passing six countries of southern and east Africa on the way.

Four weeks later, I was spitting dust, dead insects were plastered to my helmet and teeth, and my wind-swept face was burning after weeks in the sun's glare.

But the satisfaction of crossing more than 9,000 km (5,600 miles) of Africa on a motor scooter was sweet as well - the best part being able to say: 'I have arrived... alive'.

Nobody took me seriously when I initially took off. Touring by truck, car, campervan, even motorcycle isn't that unusual. But striking out across sub-Saharan Africa on a scooter astounded many of the people I met along the way.

"Where is your vehicle?" a policeman asked at a checkpoint, slightly confused when hearing of my destination. He could not stop laughing once I pointed to the wheels I was sitting on.   Continued...

Reuters correspondent Agnieszka Flak points to an elephant approaching her along the highway north of Nata in Botswana, during her 9,000-km (5,600-mile) scooter trip from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam and back, in this picture taken January 6, 2011. REUTERS/Alberto Rinaldi