Travellers from Afar

Our friend, Bruce Humphrey, used to live in Howick but some years ago moved down to the Eastern Cape, to a little hamlet that goes by the name of Bathurst. He sends out a newsletter to friends from the to time and this is his latest one:

Hi Folks and welcome to a Special Edition of my newsletter. This one is all about my serendipitous meeting with Manuel and Ivana in Grahamstown last Thursday, and our two days together.

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I had ridden up to Grahamstown to do a couple of minor things and, as usual, had to pop into the Mad Hatters for coffee and a bran muffin. I noticed a Yamaha XT 660Z (the touring version of my bike with a bigger petrol tank and a windscreen) with a foreign number plate and laden with a huge amount of luggage. Of course this interested me as I used to have a 660Z from 2008 to 2011. I spotted the couple easily, with helmets and jackets, and went over and introduced myself. I joined them at their table and we started chatting about Adventure biking. I was in for an amazing shock. These two have been travelling for four years and have covered 117,000km on the bike, traversing every continent from top to bottom and side to side. They are on their last leg heading back to Europe up Africa. We got on like a house on fire with very similar interests in bikes, photography, writing and environmentalism.

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Manuel is 36 and from Seville in Spain, and Ivana is 31 and from Macedonia – so they converse in English, obviously. Their travel ‘project’ and web site is called Around Gaia (the ancient Greek word for the World) and the site is www.aroundgaia.com and you may also like to follow them on Facebook. They don’t make big plans or book accommodation, just winging it and staying with locals they meet or sleeping on the floor in a Police or Fire Station. So I promptly invited them to follow me back to Rowin and spend the night.

They loved my house and the horses, and we went down to have tea with Willie and Sue, before spending the evening eating pizza (I luckily had a couple of frozen pizzas) and talking until midnight. I was able to help them with their new Sony camera (sponsored by Sony in the USA) which they had only got in New York the day before flying themselves and the bike to Johannesburg. Their version of Adobe Lightroom would not read the RAW files from the new camera, so I got them to download the latest version of the free Adobe DNG Converter (Adobe’s RAW file version), and problem solved and their Lightroom happily read the DNG files. I had a bit of a challenge helping as Manuel uses an Apple Mac Book and the program was in Spanish. A little weird having a familiar interface but on a Mac and in a foreign language. I have never had such charming and easy house guests.

They quickly made themselves at home and set up their air mattresses and sleeping bags in my study for the night. As for the bike, in the most extreme conditions and over 117,000 km and many falls it has given absolutely no problems at all and still runs perfectly. Only new tyres, a couple of new chains and regular servicing. That Yamaha XT engine is totally bulletproof. I have had seven XT Yamahas since my first one in 1976, and can attest to their rugged reliability. My XT 660Z had a grey seat with a suede-like finish; theirs is now like black polished leather with all the bum time in the saddle.

Friday morning was an early start, but lots of time for more talking, and while Manuel (or Manu) was loading the bike Ivana regaled me with some of the more hair-raising stories of their adventures. She is petite but strong willed and a little bossy – she firmly told me that:

  • I Smoke too much, and wasn’t very happy when Manu had a few of my cigarettes.
  • I drink too much Coke Light which has lots of bad chemicals in it!
  • And I ride my bike too fast. They don’t ride fast at all, and Ivana will pound Manu in the kidneys if she thinks he is riding too fast!

Two of the memorable stories were:

1. In the early part of the odyssey in Kazakstan having to cross five mountain passes in December, all over 5000m high in snow and on narrow dirt and icy roads. The final pass was the worst as it turned into a blizzard and they were constantly falling off, and having to carry the luggage by hand and then push the bike as it was so down on power at that altitude and there was no traction. Ivana was dizzy and nauseous and with a badly bleeding nose from the altitude and the -200 C temperature. It took them 13 hours to do 50km. And they had started getting frostbite on fingers and noses. They pulled in to the first house they saw after the pass and banged on the door begging for some warmth at the fire, and were welcomed and given hot tea and soup.

2. While in Patagonia they had a fall on a muddy and rocky road and Ivana broke her right ankle badly. She couldn’t put any weight on it and had to hang it off the side of the bike. It took them four days riding to find the nearest village with a clinic and a Doctor. The Argentinean Doctor operated on the ankle – leaving very neat scars – and a local family took them in for two months while Ivana recuperated. She says that it still gets sore when it gets very cold. I can’t believe the grit and resilience of these people and it made me realise just how soft and pampered we all are with our cushy white colonial upbringing. All the people I know would have probably just collapsed in a ditch and died – with the possible exception of the Watermeyer brothers who are also immune to discomfort and exhaustion. I learnt very young to avoid expeditions and ‘adventures’ with Alistair and Laurie Watermeyer, as I don’t do extreme pain and exhaustion!

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We finally left at a little after 10:00 and I led them down to Port Alfred and pointed them in the right direction. Then rode home and went to sleep for another four hours.

Notice the beautiful Schuberth helmets with flip up front and full comms. They have picked up various sponsorships on the trip as their fame grew, including the helmets, camera, Forma boots, clothing and Givi luggage. They started out with virtually nothing and Ivana wearing an open-face scooter helmet. All in all an absolute inspiration and the highlight of my year so far. What lovely people. They both did degrees in Law, the first in their families to go to University, but have never had jobs in the legal field. Rather a shared philosophy on life and freedom and a determination to see the world and meet all its people.

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I have just received an email from them with some photos of our visit which I will add here.

Their leaving left me with some interesting feelings. Envy, admiration and an empty feeling of loss that I wasn’t doing adventurous things anymore. I know I have done many adventurous things in my life, but nothing approaching the epic proportions of Manu and Ivana.

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And finally one for the girls. I had mentioned my interest and research project into body art and tattoos, and Ivana said I had to see Manuel’s tattoo. So he promptly took off his shirt and allowed me to photograph it.

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So that was my fleeting and magical encounter with a couple of real two- wheeled gypsies. Check out their web site and follow them on Facebook. That’s it for now, more boring news from Bag End coming up in a couple of week’s time.

Many thanks for the update Bruce. I have a similar story about 2 travellers on motorbikes but that’s for another post…

Roger de la Harpe

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