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.
Christina decided that it is time for her to return to Greece. We always knew that we will travel together for a big part of this trip but not for the whole trip, since the financial factor was setting the limits. Finally, there were various reasons that made Christina to take this decision. The most important reasons were personal ones. We were travelling together for ten months in the hardest part of Africa and we were always complementing each other.
A question that I often hear is if I finally prefer traveling alone. I still have the same opinion that I had when I was traveling solo in Asia. I prefer traveling with my girlfriend. Of course, I had some extra responsibilities and worries but for sure this part of the trip became much more pleasant and more interesting because of Christina.
We, finally, kissed good-bye and Christina rode her motorbike to nearby Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. She is trying there to find a way to ship Leonida to Greece. After that, she is going to fly back to her hometown.
So, what about the poor lonesome cowboy who was left behind? Even before “mad about Africa” started, I wanted to live for a while in Africa, as I had done in Asia. No matter how detailed somebody travels in a region, he definitely gets a different viewpoint when he lives there for a while. So, I decided that this is the ideal time to take a break and work for sometime. I, finally, became the new waiter at the restaurant of the Greek community in Lubumbashi!
That’s a job that I have done before. Despite that, it was clear from the first day that this is a different story… Almost all of my colleagues are Congolese and this makes a huge difference. All those months that we spent around Africa proved to be an important experience for this job, since the mentality of the Africans was not unknown to me. However, when somebody works with them, he gets to know some details that a traveler, usually, doesn’t know.
Even the communication with my colleagues is not always an easy process. Some young undergraduates speak English. With the rest of them, I try to use the minimal French that I learnt while traveling in the francophone Africa and the Swahili that I started learning here. It’s a really simple language and after just one week here, I could already talk in basic Swahili about some simple matters. One month ago, I couldn’t imagine that I will be using in my everyday life the famous phrase: “hakuna matata”! It actually means “no worries, everything is fine”. “The Lion King”, my favorite cartoon, is everywhere around me… Even the most popular beer, which is produced in Lubumbashi, is called “Simba” and it’s logo is the famous lion!
When we were entering in Lubumbashi, I couldn’t even imagine that I would become a citizen of this town. However, this is the charm of travelling: the unexpected events. This is the charm of the freedom that somebody gets when he travels without any commitments and without any schedule. A nomad stops wherever he finds a green pasture for his herd and when the time comes, he hits the road again…
Davide and Patrique were the two out of the three Congolese with whom we were traveling to Tshikapa. Those guys proved to be our saviors… We had never heard about the route to Lubumbashi which they indicated to us. The few foreigners who cross overland the Democratic Republic of the Congo pass through Mbuji-Mayi. Our friends told us to branch off south just before Kananga and pass through Luiza, Musumba, Sandoa, Kasaji and Kolwezi. This route is still rough but not as much as the one through Mbuji-Mayi. We were not sure if we should listen to the advice of our friends, since we didn’t know any traveler who had tried that route. We were 1,590 km (988 miles) away from Lubumbashi, so we had to be sure that the route we were going to take was accessible.
Just before reaching Kananga, we asked some local motorcyclists about the preferable route to Lubumbashi. They confirmed that it’s better to ride through Luiza. So, we avoided entering in Kananga, since most problems due to the cops happen in the cities. We took the route to the south.
Unfortunately, we often couldn’t find some space for wild-camping, since the region is either inhabited or it has lush vegetation. What we were doing was to choose a small village and ask for the chief’s permission to camp there. However, this means that more than 50 persons were gathering around us and they were not letting us alone until we were going to sleep. They were watching Christina cooking and they were asking her how she prepares the potatoes. The Congolese don’t use potatoes in their diet, so they are unfamiliar to them. When you cannot have a moment for your-self for days in a row, this situation gets really disturbing. One night, especially, we ate in our tent in order to make the crowd leave. However, some of them stuck their face on our tent and they were still trying to stare on us… At least, they were not messing with our stuff. At dawn, the crowd was coming again to wake us up and watch us packing our motorbikes.
South of Luiza we entered in Katanga Province. This country is so huge that the borders between the provinces resemble national borders. Happily, the cops on the route that we chose rarely meet white guys, so they are not too horrible. Sure, they ask for bribes but we could get away easily without taking our wallet out of our pocket.
A few kilometers before Musumba we had to load our motorbikes on a pirogue in order to cross Luluwa River. It was July and the more we were going to the south, the deeper we were getting in the winter of the southern hemisphere. We were traveling on altitude which reached 1,400 m (4,593 ft). Until noon it was cold enough to use the warm liner which is provided with our REV’IT! summer jackets. After so many months on hot climate, we really enjoyed the low temperature!
After Kasaji, while we were riding on a smooth dirt road, Christina called me through our Sena intercommunication system to tell me that the water tank fell from her bike! We were expecting this, since half of the brackets which hold the handmade aluminium water tank had been broken due to the prolonged and tough off-road riding. I turned around to reach Christina and I noticed that the water tank was in place. However, Christina told me that her motorcycle stopped while she was riding and she heard a sound of metal.
When I saw the rear wheel, I noticed the cause of the problem… The stainless-steel mesh which Christina was carrying in order to lock her luggage, fell and it was jammed between the brake disc and the brake pads, so the wheel was blocked. However, this was the least of the problems… I immediately noticed that her backpack was missing. The persistent vibrations that the dirt road was causing, made the backpack to slip under the straps which were keeping it in place. The same happened in Sahara but that time it was another stainless-steel mesh which was missing. The backpack had blocked the real wheel at that time, so she noticed that and she didn’t lose anything from the backpack.
Christina was insisting to keep her most valuable things in that backpack instead of keeping them next to her body or in another safer place. Usually she was keeping there even her motorbike’s documents! Happily, while riding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we had our documents in the inner pockets of our jackets, since we often had to show them at some of the plenty checkpoints which exist on the roads of this country.
We immediately started thinking what was lost: money, credit cards, documents, souvenirs… In the meanwhile, I went on my motorbike to check if I could find Christina’s backpack on the road but of course, nobody would leave alone a bag with so many valuables inside. When I returned to Christina, I saw her crying and at the same moment I realized what had happened… I was sure that Christina was not crying for the money or the credit cards that she had lost. She had just realized that she had lost her most precious thing: her diary!
This has never happened to me but I always know that my diary is the most precious thing that I carry while I travel. I could feel how painful this was for Christina. She was sobbing and saying that nothing is left out of this trip… That phrase was breaking my heart. I removed the rear wheel from her bike and I took away the stainless-steel mesh. We rode back 25 km (16 miles) looking for the backpack. Christina was crying for hours, since she knew that the possibility of finding her backpack was next to zero.
Being on a terrible mood, we proceeded to Kolwezi. Our arrival at this large city was meaning that we had almost achieved to complete our route through the D. R. Congo! We saw again that boring asphalt, which Christina wanted to kiss! That paved road would lead us to Lubumbashi, our final destination on this country.
We knew that there was a large Greek Orthodox mission in Kolwezi and it was the first Greek mission that we visited. We were welcomed by miss Theano, a very sweet, old lady who lives there the last 25 years. Archbishop Meletios arranged two rooms for us. Then he sat with us to have dinner while listening about our adventures. He also had many interesting stories from all these years that he lives in D. R. Congo.
The next morning, when we visited the church, it was surreal to listen to the chants that we knew but being chanted in Swahili by black priests! Some of them had visited various monasteries in Greece and they had learned some Greek. Of course, a few of them didn’t want to return to the turbulent D. R. Congo, so they disappeared somewhere in Greece…
In Lubumbashi there is a huge Greek Community, maybe the most well organized in Africa, with a story which goes back to 1886. Nikos Tsavalos, a motorcyclist who was born in Lubumbashi, was the only one who learnt about us through the internet and had invited us to his birthplace even before starting our trip. We kept in contact and he was always helping us on whatever we needed to cross this huge country.
When we arrived in Lubumbashi, we went straight to the beautiful place of the Greek community. The highlight of it is its luxurious restaurant, which has been turned to one of the most popular places in town. Congolese, Greeks and other expats come to enjoy the Greek cuisine. Next to the restaurant is the very well-equipped Greek school which serves about seventy students. There is also a nice playground, sport fields and some cosy houses which are given to the school’s teachers.
Since it was July and the teachers had their vacations in Greece, they gave us one of those empty houses. Stergios was living next door. He had arrived in the town one month ago with his inoperative Vespa carried on a truck. It was the second time we met Stergios in Africa. Of course, sleepless nights followed, talking about our adventures in Congo!
We were still trying to realize that we travelled from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi in just 13 days! This is a route which is considered almost impassable and we haven’t met anyone in this country who has tried it. Sure, it was important that we were using two of the most suitable motorcycles for this kind of use and they were properly equipped. However, of course, we faced some mechanical failures in that rough terrain but we were prepared for them and we could fix them. After all, nothing stopped us and we achieved to become one of those few foreigners who have explored one of the most unspoilt African countries. Finally, our trip in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was much more pleasant than expected…
Here you can watch a short video (in English) about our trip in D. R. Congo, while we were testing a very useful product: the Sena Bluetooth Audio Pack, which enables us to add our conversations to our videos!
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…