Thursday, March 06, 2008

3 Bikes, 4 Men and a Bicycle

Since the idea of exploring Yemen for ourselves was not an option we decided to head straight for Oman, where we could camp anywhere and not have the thought of been gunned down as we rode. Maybe that would never happen but the fact that the Yemeni men carry AK-47's around like we have mobile phones was the worrying thing, they say there are 20 million people in Yemen and 60 million guns!! Do the sums and the amount I saw sure backed this up.

Again our last days in Yemen involved trying to keep up with the hulicinating qat(pronounced chat) chewing policemen, working our way along the coast. Finally we reached a point they thought we would be safe, about 600 k's from the border and bid us farewell, we were free to ride on our own, Lars was over Yemen so decided to take the lift all the way to the Oman border for a new beginning to his trip. Now with the freedom from our Yemeni police babysitters we could camp, were we wanted and stop were we wanted.

Lars's Broken and bent rear wheel.

On our last night in Yemen we decided to take a dirt track to find a camp in the bush, as we negotiated the rocky path Micheal who had Lars's bicycle strapped to the back of his bike took the wrong line and the rear wheel of the bicycle contacted a huge rock sticking out and bent the rim beyond repair. All of a sudden Lars was now looking for a lift not just to the Omani border but beyond to the city of Salalah. So I had a passenger for another few hundred k's.

Young Omani boys eating lunch.
The next morning saw us exit Yemen, what a relief to have arrived in a new country, it was like stepping back into present day from the past, what a contrast, the Yemen border post consisted of a few grubby rooms, a few men yelling Arabic at each other, papers all over the desk and Oman was orderly, computer terminals, quite good english spoken, neat uniforms and no rubbish, sadly Yemen was the most polluted country with rubbish that I have ever seen and I have seen a few countries to date. Oman was welcomed.

One of the last pictures taken of my bike. In Oman
The roads were even better, winding through the mountains that dropped steeply into the ocean, and an eary mist that followed us most of the morning as we headed for Salalah, Micheal getting two flat tires in the space of 10 minutes slowed progress. My bike was tired as well, the engine running perfectly as ever but the chain and sprockets were spent as was the rear tire, canvas almost coming through, oil change overdue, I just wanted to limp to Dubai and give the mother ship some much needed attention.
Riding into Salalah in the very south western corner of Oman was like entering another world, compared with were I had been in recent weeks and apparently they sold beer somewhere, just a matter of time and we would find it. A few nights rest in a cheap hotel was what we needed, also we did find that beer, in the resort but at 5 Euros a go we only indulged in one each.
Our team separated here and we said our far wells, Lars took a bus 1200 k's to Muscat, the capital of Oman, in search of a new rim, Rene stayed put to relax a while longer and Micheal and I headed for Muscat ourselves, the long road of nothing through the desert, skirting the Saudi border. On our second day en route to Muscat at about 10am I noticed something ahead, to me it looked like a sand storm, it was, it was like hitting a wall, one moment no wind then there in front of me was a wall of sand blowing across the road, I had been in a few sand storms in the Sahara but this was something else, the wind continued to build, the stead was on a great angle due to the wind coming in from the side, under my helmet the sand blew up into my eyes, my mouth, everywhere you could imagine. With nowhere to hide for relief the only option was to stick it out and ride through it, surely it will only last a few hundred k's I thought!
Well was I wrong the sand bought on the wind continued all day, increasing in strength, at times visibility reduced to only meters, and the road disappearing beneath my wheels to a surface of sand. And then of course just to add some fun to it, Micheal got another flat tire!! So there we were trying to fix this flat tire, hardly able to open our eyes to see let alone standing up straight, we even tried putting on our helmets to protect our eyes but that did nothing to help. My eyes stung and I just wanted out of it, how long could it keep up blowing like this, coming from the north a swear all of Saudi Arabia was blowing into Oman! With the puncture fixed we pushed on, at about 5pm relief finally, the wind still persisted but the sand was gone, well instead of riding in a sand blaster it was more a dust effect now. When stopping for fuel and closer inspection of the bikes we discovered they had taken on a new look, the extreme sand blasting that had gone on all day had pitted the screens and dulled the plastics, my helmet had lost all its shine and no amount of cleaning or shinning bought it back, the up side was any metal part at the front of my bike was cleaner than it had ever been. What a day, all I wanted to do now was get to Dubai, I needed a rest, I needed a bed, I needed civilisation just to relax and do nothing, I was tired and exhausted.
Beach camp near Muscat.

Micheal and I rode along the coast to Muscat, nice city to look around but after a few days we hit the road, both wanting to reach Dubai, Dubai meant the last destination on the Arab Peninsular, the last place to prep for the crossing to Iran and north to Russia, and of course I heard a rumour of Burger King in Dubai!
We rolled into Dubai 2 days after leaving Muscat, what a sight it was, coming across the desert on 3 lane expressway, first sighting the tallest building in the world, under construction, the other high risers spanned across the horizon, traffic speeding along faster than the mother ship and I felt comfortable, we rode straight into it. What a sensory overload for the eyes and my mind, back into the modern world of service stations, take aways, traffic lights, congestion, tall buildings, hmm take me back to the desert, take me back to Africa. I could not believe I was here, again when leaving South Africa destinations like Kenya, Ethiopia, Dubai were only destinations in my mind that take months of hard work to reach, its actually too much a daunting and unbelievable thought to think about riding to Australia from anywhere, one day at a time is the only way to tackle it. 4 months it took from Johannesburg, I'd made it. A far cry from Africa I thought.
Arrival to United Arab Emirates, with no idea of what was to come!

And then 2 days later my bike was stolen.