Welcome to mad nomad’s adventurous website! This site is about travelling the way I’ve been dreaming of as a child! When I took the decision to make my dream come true, it seemed remote and totally unfamiliar to me. Finally, after two years of profound research and intense preparation, I hit the road!
On the 14th of April 2007 I set off solo from Thessaloniki, Greece by my small motorcycle , on a journey to four countries, for ten months’ time: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. During my trip, however, there were many changes in my schedule, and, finally, I ended up returning to Greece after two years and two and a half months, having covered 73,000 km. (45,361 miles), after travelling to fourteen Asian countries: Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh! This was my journey known as “greece2india“. You will find my trip reports from that time at: http://greece2india.apriliabikers.gr
On July 18th, 2013, we hit the road for an even longer journey! Africa and Middle East are calling us, and we are eager to explore those lands! Why do I use the plural form? This time, Christina, the she-mad nomad, is travelling with me. Therefore, we are riding two motorcycles of the same type (Honda XR 250), travelling according to my usual recipe: innumerous detours, in order to visit everything interesting, years on the road, to catch the scent of the local societies we are visiting, always guided by the love for People and Nature. This is the expedition called “mad about Africa“! You can check out our route on Live Trip Traveller and you can enjoy our reports at the Trip diary section.
Brazaville and Kinshasa are the two capitals being closest to each other in the world! They are just 1.6 km (1 mile) far from each other, separated only by the Congo River. However, crossing borders using the barge that connects the two capitals is one of the most difficult endeavours worldwide, especially for white people traveling on their own wheels. So we decided to make a detour of 580 kilometers (360 miles), most of them ridden on dirt roads, in order to enter the notorious Democratic Republic of the Congo through a small and remote border post.
Even at that small border post though, the officers did not like the fact that we have had our visas issued in Benin instead of Greece. We explained to them that it was literally impossible for us to take the visas in our own country of residence, since we had left eleven months ago and any visa would have expired by now. They called the head of the office in order to take some guidelines but in the meanwhile it got dark, so we found ourselves pitching our tent just outside the police department! Christina made a yummy potato salad and, after having had dinner, we entered inside our tent.
Next morning, after having been given the green light by the head officer, we had our passports stamped and we officially entered the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At Luozi, the first town we encountered, we had to declare ourselves again to the immigration service (DGM). Same story again… At first they were asking us for 40 USD in order to give us back our passports, then the price dropped at half and, since we insisted that we did not have any money, finally after two hours they let us go. So, that was the country we had read so much about… During us crossing the country we were stopped in 20 checkpoints in total and almost everyone demanded some bribing.
That was when Christina was taking care of the situation… Christina was working as a civil engineer in Greece, meaning that almost everyday she would pay a visit to some urban planning office. After having had such a long experience dealing with corrupted and slimy public officers, you can imagine how great she was when handling with the African public officers… Finally we managed to cross the entire country without having to participate in this dirty game of bribing.
In the end, it took us three days to travel the distance between the two closest capitals on the planet! When we arrived in Kinshasa, we tried to contact Christophe and Cynthia, the two Belgians that would host us there. However, we found out that we had a wrong telephone number. We pulled over in order to think over our alternatives and it was then when a series of unbelievable coincidences began… A French motorcyclist spotted us, who had participated in the Paris – Dakar Rally during his youth. When we told him that we intended to reach overland Lubumbashi, in the south of the country, he took us for mad and immediately called a friend of his, who was a motorcyclist too. He handed us over the phone and we found ourselves talking in Greek with George, who happened to be the owner of the house Christophe and Cynthia were staying at!
George arrived on his Honda CRF 450 in no time while we were still trying to understand what was happening! For the next few days we were part of a wonderful company, filled with Christophe and Cynthia’s laughter. We needed some time in order to organize ourselves the best we could, as the part of our trip which was expected to be the most difficult was ahead of us…
Kinshasa, the capital, is about 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles) far from Lubumbashi, the country’s second largest city. Most people consider that the linking of these cities by land is non-existent so they move from one to another only by air. There is a network of rough dirt roads crossing through the jungle linking the two cities but very few foreign travellers have attempted to travel on them. They are even fewer those who have reached their destination with their vehicle still functioning…
Akis Temperidis and Vula Netu had loaded their Land Rover on an airplane in order to transport it from the one mega city to the other. That was the right choice, actually, since the route is almost impassable for a four-wheeler. As proof stands the story of a Land Cruiser, which was wrecked after 39 days on this route… It takes around three months for some Congolese truck drivers to drive from one city to another, if everything goes smooth with no serious breakdowns on their vehicle.
Luckily, this route is not so rough for a motorcycle. A few motorcyclists that have tried it, completed it in just a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, the route showed its teeth to Stergios and his two fellow travelers. From the first days the French guy on his BMW F800 GS gave up because of a worn out clutch. Next day, it was the turn of Stergios to give up with his Vespa for the same reason. Finally, it was only Steven who rode to his destination on his Yamaha XT 125, as this was obviously the lighter and most proper motorbike for this kind of route, without escaping a breakdown though.
After having done some maintenance on both our Honda XR 250s, checking all the screws for possibly loose ones because of the long off-road riding, we left behind us the capital and its crazy traffic jams. The first 622 kilometres (386 miles) were on tarred roads. From there, the hardest part of our trip was on…
Christina had to face once more the terrain that she despises the most: sand! In the Sahara she had done some extended training of hundreds of kilometres. However, riding was not so tough there because there were hardly any ruts, so we could just accelerate and keep moving quite smoothly. The road to Tshikapa, on the other hand, was full of ruts made by the trucks. They were so deep that even my panniers were crashing on the sides. During those days we would drop our motorbikes around five times each. As expected, Christina was having a hard time and in order to cross some parts, I had to take both our motorcycles. After all that was the deal we had made: I would deal with the dirt roads and Christina would deal with the cops
Things were not much easier for me either, as I carry most of our luggage on my motorbike. It is not easy for anyone to balance 220 kg (485 pounds) on such a rough terrain… During those days we would not cover more than 70 kilometres (43 miles) before dusk. It was crucial for us to look for the trails that the locals use to move their overloaded bicycles. These bicycles are so heavily loaded that nobody rides them. Usually they are just being pushed by two or three individuals. That is how most of the goods are being transported to the villages and cities that are located in the jungle, and that’s why their cost is unbelievably high. You can find gas everywhere in jerry cans, sold from 1.7 to 3 euros per litre!
On the third day on this route, while we were struggling in this hell, we met three local motorcyclists, who suggested us to travel altogether to Tshikapa. During the first five minutes Christina threw herself inside a deep rut and it crossed my mind that the others would be fed up with waiting us and would continue without us. Strangely enough though, after having pulled the motorcycle out of the ditch, Christina was leading the whole team, riding like a true enduro rider! I had never seen her riding like this on the trails and I could not believe my own eyes! We even rode in fourth gear, cornering our XRs on narrow trails. This was one of the parts of this route that I enjoyed riding very much…
We had become a great team, co-operating immaculately. One of the locals was leading us, as he knew the right trails, Christina was following, so that she could get some help every time she dropped her motorbike, while I was riding at the end of the queue helping the locals whenever they would get stuck with their Chinese motorbikes. We were on a pretty good pace and we managed to cover 110 kilometers (68 miles) that day, arriving in Tshikapa, which was the first town we encountered.
On some police roadblock, Christina played her magic tricks once more and we left without having to open our wallet. For our friends, however, it was not that easy… One of the cops untied the luggage from the back of one of the motorbikes and helped himself to a jacket he found, while the owner was looking at the scene helpless without being able to react and I was trying hard to take in what was going on… The Congolese have to deal with such brutal violence coming from the authorities of this country that unfortunately, they live in terror, without anybody reacting in anything. They all know that the police and military officers are authorized, armed mere criminals.
When we arrived in Tshikapa, our friends led us straight to the house of their cousin, in order to spend the night there altogether. Their family was really glad to see them after such a long trip and the women immediately lit up the coals and started cooking. In these countries almost everyday the food staple is a dough-like ball, usually made from cassava or corn flour. They accompany this with relishes made from green leaves, and maybe some fish or meat, if they can afford such a treat. They brought us a bucket of water to take a shower and refresh ourselves after so much sweat and dust stuck on our bodies all those days. Then they laid a piece of foam mattress on the floor for us to sleep…
There are two countries sharing the word “Congo” in their name, sharing borders at the same time. The first one is the Republic of the Congo (RC, the former French Congo), usually called “Congo” or “Congo-Brazzaville”, due to the name of its capital city. The second one is also the largest one, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC in English and RDC in French, the former Belgian Congo or Zaire), which is also known as “Congo-Kinshasa”, also due to the name of its capital city. So, the small Congo was first on the list.
Having studied the maps on our GPS, we noted all the remote dirt tracks in Cameroon leading to the border with Congo. There are just a few trucks crossing from there, as the roads are rough, especially when being in the middle of the rainy season. We saw a truck with the one side completely sunken inside some treacherous thick mud, with the truck being on the edge of tipping over! When something like this happens, the rest of the trucks have to sit there and wait for days until they manage to free the first truck. Usually the dirt track is quite narrow and the vegetation around it so thick that the other trucks have no other choice but to wait. Happily, there is usually enough space for our motorcycles to go through.
Some friendly border officers stamped our documents, sponsored by ELPA, and they even suggested us to camp there, as it was already dark. It was very amusing to listen to Christina negotiating with the custom officers while I was pitching the tent just in front of them! The next day we had rain for breakfast. While I was riding in a somewhat high speed, in fourth gear, suddenly at some corner I saw slippery mud on the road. Without any time to react, I found my motorcycle sliding on the ground and myself sliding behind it! For the first time in my life I realized how it feels like to drop the motorcycle and slide on the road wondering when and where I will end up…
The motorcycle slid while winding for about ten meters and I ended up behind it. The throttle was stuck and the engine was screaming! I got up immediately and pressed the kill switch. At that time Christina arrived on the spot and together we picked up the motorbike. There was mud thrown even inside my helmet. I was literally spitting it out of my mouth. Luckily, I was not injured or in pain whatsoever. I had been sliding on my butt, while my back had not touched the ground. The left pannier of my motorcycle had got another dent on its bottom edge but that was just about it. It was such a close shave… The only problem was that I was like a pig, covered in mud.
In the area around Souanké we found the deep, slippery mud that we expected. Some parts were full of ruts from the trucks we encountered every once in a while abandoned inside the mud. No need to say that we were moving with zero speed, as I had to get off my motorcycle and push Christina’s that didn’t have enough traction, even though we had reduced the pressure of the tyres. Christina dropped her motorbike five times those days and I dropped mine five times as well, while it took us three hours to cross those 30 km (19 miles) of deep mud.
What impressed us the most was that whenever there were people close by, they would dip bare-feet inside the mud in order to help us. They didn’t even ask us anything in return! There we found also one local stuck in mud with his Chinese motorbike. I had to run from Christina’s motorcycle to the motorcycle of the friendly Congolese and help by pushing.
The biggest part of the road to Ouesso was a graded dirt road, which was not so slippery and we could ride more comfortably. When the rain stopped, we really enjoyed a part of the lush jungle, riding through an amazing route where we were face-to-face with a big, colourful, tropical bird!
On the third day we arrived in Ouesso, the northernmost town in Congo, situated on a scenic part of the bank of Sangha River. From there we headed south. In some places there was well-graded dirt road waiting for the tar and in other the Chinese workers had already laid the blacktop. In the town of Makoua we crossed the Equator! There was no sign informing us about that as no tourists ever go there. I was looking at the coordinates on the GPS and there was a moment when the latitude turned zero!
To us, the Equator was more than a line on the map. The most important was that it marked our escape from the rainy season that had already begun in the African countries north of the Equator and it had been quite annoying for the last two months. South of the Equator it is time for the dry season to begin, the one that we had missed so much… We could not imagine, however, how radical the change of the weather would be. Before crossing the Equator it was raining everyday, while we haven’t seen a single drop from the moment we crossed it! No need to say, of course, that from the first minute we loved the southern hemisphere
Covering daily around 350 km (217 miles) on boring tarred roads, we headed to the capital of Congo. We were really surprised to find friendly police officers in this country. Nobody even implied anything about a bribe! This does not mean, of course, that they don’t demand some bribing from the locals. The locals in these countries never get away without paying something to the authorities.
In Brazzaville we were hosted by Chantal, a French teacher who leaves there. At the French Institute of the city we had the chance to attend a concert of Fredy Massamba, a famous Congolese singer. The locals inside the amphitheatre were dancing while applauding and cheering! That’s how every musical performance ends in Africa, no matter if it takes place in the middle of the street or in some music hall.
We were surprised to find out that Congo is really misunderstood because of its neighboring country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Very few travelers visit these countries and there is not enough information around. We thought the picture would be the same in both Congos but we realized that even a white woman can wander around Brazzaville alone at night without being threatened. We expected to find corrupted officers and aggressive people but instead we met friendly policemen and people with a politeness that we had longed for so much…
Entering Cameroon we were looking forward to visit the mountains in the Northwest Province and the notorious Ring Road! Indeed, the scenery deserved all the difficult time that we had due to the rainy season in these countries. We had missed the mountains so much, as well as the cool weather! After having spent so many months melting under the sun, we stayed in Bamenda a whole week, just to remember how it feels like to sleep under a blanket! My God, what a bliss…
Along with our friendly hostess, Caroline, we made quite a few excursions in the area around. We visited lakes, waterfalls, lush mountains, as well as a few traditional palaces of different tribes. In the Northwest Province, they have a profound respect for the chiefs, who, even today, hold strong power over the tribes. When somebody meets a chief, handshaking is forbidden. He must clap his hands three times and then talk to the chief. Some of these chiefs have hundreds of wives! In these countries polygamy is quite common. Some women have kids of different fathers, while they raise them all by themselves, as many men do not live with the rest of the family.
Riding on the Ring Road we were crossing through lush, enchanting mountains… On one side we could see waterfalls while on the other we enjoyed the views from above! Heading to the south, we went to Douala in order to meet up with an old friend of mine, Dawn. She is an American teacher who works around the world. Six years ago she had hosted me in Kyrgyzstan. We had kept in touch and I knew that now she is teaching at the American International School of Douala. So, we could not miss the chance to meet again.
From Douala, we made a two-day excursion to Limbe, in order to enjoy the black, volcanic beaches on the foot of Mount Cameroon. In the morning we were swimming in the Atlantic and in the midday we were already on the lower part of the highest mountain in West Africa, which reaches 4,095 meters (13,435 ft). In Limbe we were hosted by Ebai, a friendly local guy who rents a small room and insisted to leave it all to us while he would sleep over a friend of his.
Having arrived back to Douala on my motorcycle, we were stopped by some municipal policemen, who are scattered around the city and stop the passing drivers, sometimes even by force, in order to gain some money out of them. We were lucky enough not to have to bribe them, as we played fool tourists. Mysteriously enough, however, my motorcycle would not start… I thought he was probably annoyed by the cops too. So, I took him in the shadow, let him cool down a little bit, but he turned out to be really stubborn. We had almost arrived at Dawn’s, so I decided to start pushing him. Of course, it took me more than half an hour in order to cover these two and a half kilometers (1.6 miles).
I thought that maybe the engine was overheated in the traffic jam and some valve had remained open. Indeed, using the kick-starter I could tell that the compression inside the cylinder was not enough. Strangely enough, though, the clearance in the valves was the right one. I changed sparkplug, fuel filter, even carburetor! The engine, however, would not start. Inside the carburetor I noticed pieces of soot.
I could not understand what was going on and my only chance was my mechanic in Greece, Dimitris Katigiannis from NRG. He opened the box with his magic tricks and picked out the one that worked for us: he told me to increase extremely the clearance of the valves and push the motorcycle in order to jump-start it. At last, I could hear the familiar music of my engine again! I restored the clearance of the valves at the right level, changed the oil of the engine and since then everything works properly again. Maybe it was some piece of dirt after all, keeping one of the valves open.
Arriving in the capital of the country, Yaoundé, we met up with Dawn who had caught a bus from Douala. For a weekend we became part of Ascovime, a volunteering group of doctors and medicine students who visit remote villages and offer their invaluable services to those in real need. As we weren’t qualified enough, we took on the packaging of the pills in the right dosage.
When we completed our task it was time to visit the operating theater. It was nothing fancy: just a room with four walls, a small table to place the tools, a bed for the patients to lie down and lights powered by a generator. No need to say that inside the room you could see all kinds of insects flying around, while from time to time some geckos would make their appearance on the walls. Africans, however, adore geckos, as they eat the insects.
It was our first time watching a surgery taking place and it was quite shocking. 70 % of the operations carried out in these countries are in the abdominal area. Africans use to bend their back without bending their knees at all. In these way, during the hard agricultural work, the belly is the one to take all the pressure, which creates a lot of problems there. Although adults were being operated under just local anaesthesia, there was not even a whisper coming out of their mouth. Georges, the Cameroonian founder of Ascovime, kept operating during the whole night, as the patients were too many. He was working sleepless for more than 48 hours! This is something that he does three out of four weekends every month, while during the week he is working at the main hospital of the capital. This man is really extraordinary and we feel really honoured to having met him. He totally deserved being awarded from CNN as one of the ten heroes of our world.
When we returned to the capital, unfortunately something bad happened. We were by Christina’s motorcycle on our way to Yoann’s place, where we were being hosted. I was the one driving while Christina was sitting behind me. It was dark and it was raining. On some main square we got trapped in the traffic jam. I heard Christina shouting and I asked her what was the matter but she would not reply. Then I saw somebody running through the cars and the crowd and I began to realize what had happened. Christina told me that somebody was picking her backpack and when she took notice of him, he started running. She was laughing because her backpack is always in such a mess that it is hard even for her to find anything in there, let alone for the thief. But he who laughs last, laughs best… Christina didn’t know that the camera was in her backpack. Unfortunately it was not there any more! The thief had already snatched it and obviously he was not running empty-handed…
It is the third time during the trip that Christina is being mugged. In Western Sahara and in Ghana we had managed to find the little thieves and take our cell phones back. This time, however, there was not much we could do, so I don’t have my good photo camera with me any more… Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that you will be left without photos. We had to buy a cheap camera but its quality is obviously much lower.
It was time for the hard road to the two Congos. The next two months are expected to be the most demanding of our trip, as we will have to cross the vast jungle through some harsh off-road routes, where some of the most corrupted policemen of our world flourish… The road was tarred until Sangmélima but from there dirt, turning into mud when it’s raining, was abundant.
It was there where Christina found her race: the Pygmies! They are some friendly and welcoming natives in these areas, most of them on Christina’s height. She was delighted to meet them in person without having to look up to see them! After two days in the verdant jungle we reached the border with Congo. We were leaving Cameroon, having spent 39 days in this beautiful country, that finally took the second place in our heart, after Guinea of course!