Welcome to my new blog Cork to Cape - the second leg of my round the world motorcycle adventure. As some of you know my first trip took me down through Central and South America on the back of a BMW R1100GS. This trip will take me from Ireland to South Africa on an F800GS. My goal is to take my time, enjoy the ride, meet new people and volunteer along the way. I welcome everyone to view and enjoy the blog, add comments and give me any advice on special places to see or people to meet. And, of course, if anyone wants to join me for a section of the journey or if there is a place you always wanted to visit, please come along.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Continental Drift

Day 183

Mileage 16,322 (26,115 km)
Sunset over the Mediterranean
Gentle vibrations and a steady hum permeate our new surroundings as a slow cargo ship carries us across the Mediterranean Sea towards the Middle East and ‘the country which cannot be named’. We have seen all our intended routes into Africa, since we began planning this trip five years ago, gradually become less appealing as the conflicts and turmoil of the ‘Arab Spring’ continue to reverberate throughout the region. Our original intention was to pass through Syria but another motorcyclist who recently attempted this route was denied entry by heavily armed soldiers at the border. In Turkey we found ourselves within a day’s ride of the Syrian frontier and the temptation to have a go at crossing was difficult to resist. When the situation in Syria deteriorated we briefly considered the western Iraq route but, along with the rumored risks, this would commit us to entering Jordan and, without permission from the King of Jordan, riding a motorcycle is strictly forbidden because of an assassination attempt many years ago. A sporadic ferry service did exist between Turkey and Port Said but they have recently suspended operations until the troubles in Egypt subside. It is disheartening to watch helplessly as each door into Africa slowly closes but as our journey plods forward regardless other opportunities arise and so we find ourselves in a cramped cabin onboard a heavily laden cargo ship, our bikes tethered to the deck below dwarfed by shipping containers and semi trailers. Months ago on a rainy day in Slovenia, a fortuitous encounter with a fellow motorcycle traveller had us considering other options for gaining access to Egypt and the decision was made to cross the Sinai. 
Meteora, Greece

Our two weeks in Greece came to an end yesterday as we took our place aboard the Alios container ship after a long day of “hurry up and wait”. Each country becomes our new favorite and Greece is no exception. The people, warm, welcoming, bursting with life made our stay very special, our bikes and outfits drew curious stares and encouraging smiles in the smaller villages while in the cities people were less bashful striking up conversations and enquiring about our journey.  Combine this with an amazing diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna, exceptional roads (dirt and paved) and you have a unique riding experience. As if this weren’t enough relics of the country’s long and distinguished history are on display at every turn. Two weeks could easily become two years and that still wouldn’t be enough time to explore all Greece has to offer. We didn’t even make it on to one of the thousands of islands that surround the mainland. As our ship quietly glides between the distant islands of the Cyclades we can only fantasize about what we are missing. 

What's in your closet?
The  tranquil village of Kastraki became home for a couple of days while we explored the wondrous monasteries of Meteora, perched impossibly on top of enormous rocky pinnacles each one is still home to monks and nuns of the Greek Orthodox church. The contorted shapes of the ancient rock formations support the more familiar dimensions of artificial structures hundreds of feet above the valley floor. We could only imagine the difficulties involved in building atop the steep sided pillars of stone. Only six remain in use and each is accessed by either a modern bridge, cable car or tunnel carved up through the rock itself. Connecting all six sites is a wonderfully smooth twisting road from the village below too beautiful to resist driving multiple times. 
More from Meteora

With the prospect of acquiring a fresh set of tires in the city of Patras, further south, we picked out an interesting route through the mountains and down towards the Peloponnese region. This turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, empty roads occasionally cluttered by recent rockfalls, breathtaking vistas of the mountainous terrain and smooth sweeping turns eventually leading down to the pristine coast made for a challenging and exciting ride. The friendly staff at Motoraid had agreed to supply us with fresh rubber and a few other extras so we pulled up to their shop early on Friday and set about fitting a new set of Heidenau K60 Scouts to my bike while the exact location of Beth’s tires remained a mystery. Although our tires, Metzeler Tourances, still had a little life left in them and had performed well beyond our expectations we felt as though a slightly more aggressive tread pattern would be more appropriate for the roads we are likely to encounter in Africa. Beth also felt as though a set of handlebar risers would enable her to ride more comfortably in the standing position so, while Giannis and his team at Motoraid tried to pin down the exact location of her new tires, we pulled out our tools and set to work on her bike. By late afternoon it was apparent that her tires would not arrive until after the weekend so we set off to explore the Peloponnese area ending the day at a quiet campground on the coast. The following day we rose early and completed a quick oil change before moving further south, through Sparta to Mystras, spending the night at a beautiful hotel in the shadow of the Taygetos Mountains. Surrounded  by ruined palaces, temples and monasteries the ancient town of Mystras once served as the effective capital of the Byzantine Empire. 
Beth making it look easy

It is unusual for us to have a place to be or a set schedule but the arrival of Beth’s new tires in Patras had us moving north before we could fully explore the area and, sadly, a delay in their arrival meant we could have spent more time in the region. It took a couple of extra days for the tires to arrive but when they did they were promptly fitted by George at All Terrain Tires and we were soon on the road again. We crossed the Gulf of Patras a second time and took the road east to Athens, stopping briefly in Delphi to consult the Oracle about her thoughts on our journey only to find her no longer in residence. 

Dark clouds accompanied us as we descended into Athens and as we arrived at our camp it was, thankfully, obvious we had missed the worst of the weather. Sleeping bags and clothing hung from every available hook as pools of fresh rainwater surrounded bedraggled tents. We chose our site carefully avoiding any obvious low spots in case more heavy rain was forecast. The weather gradually improved and we spent a couple of days exploring the city of Athens and sourcing the last of our spare parts before we leave Europe. We stripped my bike of it’s panniers and rode two up through the city carefully observing the local bikers to see what is considered acceptable riding etiquette. Splitting traffic is expected and at each traffic light a wave of motorcycles filters its way to the front of the line so that each time the light turns green it feels like to starting grid at a motorcycle race, engines scream and rubber squeals as we all race to the next light. Our powerful bike gave us a slight advantage but what we gained in horsepower we certainly lacked in bravado as the more seasoned city riders barely squeezed through the minuscule gaps that would briefly open between the cars and buses. By the end of our first day in the bustling city we were beginning to get a feel for the more aggressive riding style and by day two it became quite enjoyable. 
New shoes for Beth's bike thanks to George at All Terrain Patras

Exploring the sprawling city of Athens becomes less daunting as you catch occasional glimpses of its most recognizable landmark. The Acropolis overlooks the city and serves as a useful tool for navigating the labyrinth of city streets below. As we kept to the inner confines of the busy centre we noticed a strong police presence, fortunately they seemed to show little interest in our riding as we ignored one-way streets and performed illegal u-turns along with the multitude of local bikers. We visited multiple motorcycle shops gathering most of what we needed, the crew at BMW Athens were particularly helpful and even gave us a significant discount when they learned of our plans. We received a warm welcome at the Touratech store and even though we didn’t buy anything the friendly staff wouldn’t let us leave without a taking a few freebies. On our second day in the city we hiked up to the top of the Acropolis past the exquisitely restored Theatre of Dionysos. Once on top the true scale of Athens became apparent as it spread off in every direction. The Acropolis is arguably one of the most important ancient monuments in the Western world but it is the Parthenon, its most prominent structure, that draws most attention. Completed in 438BC its architect manipulated the size, scale and shape of the columns so that, to the eye, it appears perfectly balanced. Each column is subtly tapered with an inward curve for the effect of appearing straight when viewed from below. Every dimension is based upon one rudimentary measurement taken from the human form, for such an imposing structure it yields a sense of timeless grace and harmony. 
The Parthenon at the Acropolis

With our impending departure from Greece now looming we returned to camp and packed our gear with the prospect of spending our last night in Athens on the southern side of the city with Dimitris, the local Horizon’s Unlimited representative. Meeting Dimitris was like being reunited with a long lost friend. With overwhelming hospitality he invited us into his home before taking us out on an amazing off road adventure in his little two wheel drive Mazda to a mountain top where we witnessed the sunset as we gazed over the city and the nearby Marathon Bay. Full of knowledge he pointed out many of the local landmarks enlightening us with glimpses of the region's remarkable history. As night fell we returned to the city where he insisted on treating us to a delicious feast at a local Cretan restaurant and it was well into the wee hours of the morning after numerous shots of mysterious local beverages before we returned to his apartment dreading the early morning wake up call and the race to the southern port of Lavrio. After a comfortable but short night’s rest we woke with furry mouths and cloudy heads, said our goodbyes to Dimitris and climbed onto our bikes before speeding south to our 9 o’clock rendezvous with Salamis Shipping.
The Caryatids of The Erechtheion

Our over enthusiasm to be on time saw us at our shipping agents five minutes to nine and we began the slow process of having our documents and bikes inspected while waiting for the boat to arrive. As the day wore on we jumped through the necessary hoops and prepared to bid Europe farewell all the while scanning the empty horizon for anything resembling a cargo boat . We didn’t catch our first glimpse of the approaching container ship until dusk and it was fully dark by the time we rode on board. At 10pm a change in pitch of the engine vibrations preceded our departure and the next leg of our journey began as we sailed into the night.

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cc said...

yeah! congratulations on reaching this huge milestone. i hope the voyage was smooth and can't wait to hear about africa. much love, colin!

Mary Donnelly said...

Here we go again David. I thought you’d finally settled down when you married that Jewish girl Betsy. Your father told me she was half your age and twice as smart, but she can’t be too clever if she let you drag her off on another of your so-called adventures. What makes you think people want to read this stuff about your extended European holiday? Here’s a random extract:

Day somethingty something, lots of miles (and a few kilometres!) covered.

Got up and got on our bikes. Drove about a bit on some smooth roads with corners (left and right!) and some rough roads that also had corners and went up and down. Stopped to look at some old stuff, then drove about a bit more, before stopping to look at some scenery. Experienced unimaginable hardship as it started to rain. Proper damp rain that made us less dry than when it wasn’t raining. Just when we thought we were actually going to get wet, we stopped at a hotel and they actually let us give them money to stay in a room! Unbelievable hospitality! We ate some tasty food and had a well deserved beer after all the driving about a bit. We quickly became lifelong best friends with whateverhisnamewas but sadly had to get back on the bikes the next day to drive about a bit. We were so sad to leave that country, - with all its roads and corners and stuff to see, we could have stayed for hours more. We promised each other that some day we’d come back and drive about a bit more. At the border we confused the guards who thought they were dealing with a girl with a beard. Betsy armwrestled them, and I broke down in floods of tears until they finally accepted large sums of money to let us past. Works every time! We met some other bikers who were also driving about a bit, and we drove about a bit together until we sadly had to say goodbye to our new lifelong best friends. Thanks to all the people who actually contribute something to the economic and social wellbeing of humanity for helping us to drive about a bit and do all the things you wish you could do! We’re driving about a bit for all of you…

Now you’re finally on your way to Africa, I just hope it gets more interesting. Could you not at least have got a haircut before you left Europe?

gerard k said...

Is Mary D. an ex-girlfriend or what?

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