Kilkenny to Congo to Cape Town
- A solo motorcycle journey through Africa

Having completed my journey, the following is a summary of sorts, a rounding off, and an acknowledgement to some important folks.

I am often asked the following questions and thought I might address them here...

- ‘Was it not dangerous?’
This is probably the most commonly asked question (sometimes together with “That's very brave!”). I’m not quite sure how to answer that one as of course there are all types of dangers in our everyday lives. Now it is possible I went down through Africa in a state of naive ignorance and was unaware of near misses and threats to my safety! But the answer is “No”, despite a few dodgy encounters, I don’t recall feeling in danger at any stage. I came across a quote recently from the great explorer David Livingstone which rang true for me, and does refer to my approach: “If a man goes with a good natured, civil tongue, he may pass through the worst people in Africa unharmed!”

And another thing I like to mention to those fearful of personal safety, crime and that “lawless, dark continent north of the South African border”, the only thing robbed on the whole trip was my first night on the continent in a mountain village in Morocco - a little carabiner I had attached to my tank to hang my helmet onto for convenience. That was it!

- ‘Did you have any problems with the bike?’
Another commonly asked question. I am very happy with the performance of the bike - it never let me down! And that is the best thing I can say about it as that was what I was looking for specifically. After durability and reliability, were things like efficient fuel consumption, not too heavy, comfortable, all of which had the boxes ticked. Having said that, I did take care of the bike and didn’t abuse it, not over revving or straining in too high a gear. The oil was changed in Nouakchott Mauritania, Calabar Nigeria and Windhoek Namibia. Oil and air filters, and spark plug were also changed. Tyres, chain and sprocket were replaced in Cameroon. On the whole 20,000 km a clutch cable broke, a fork seal leaked, and an electrical problem was caused by the TT seat severing a sender wire from the fuel tank. A report on gear, equipment and parts used is included here.

- ‘What about your health, did you get sick?’
The main threat to health, and a dangerous one, was obviously malaria. I’m relieved to say I didn’t contract it. I was conscious of avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes, but that is not often possible. At times they would bite through socks, trousers, shirt...

I had all the recommended innoculations and didn’t succumb to any other infection either. ‘Travellers diarrhea’ struck me once I think, in Burkina, and luckily it wasn’t too bad - just a matter of fasting a day or so. One nuisance was the effect of constantly breathing in the dry, dust laden ‘Harmattan’ winds in the sahel - Mali to Nigeria. It gave me I reckon a chronic sinusitis that was only shaken off once leaving Nigeria.

- ‘What were the driving conditions like? Did you have any accidents?’
I was fairly familiar with driving in Asia and South America from a previous occupation so was to a degree prepared. The main practice is defensive driving - knowing what is around you, about to happen, might happen, anticipating situations, and above all never taking anything for granted. Because anything can happen.

Luckily I didn’t have any accidents involving other vehicles, the closest call being in Nigeria. Although some countries more than others were plain dangerous to drive in, defensive driving made it manageable. Nigeria was a bit hectic at times though. The main difficulty is that if you leave a gap of more than a few feet between you and the next car it is an invitation for the person behind to overtake. The closest call I had was when a driver took his opportunity and very, very nearly clipped me at some speed.

Just over the Mauritanian border, riding unavoidably at night, I had a potentially bad spill (detailed in
Updates) that fortunately wasn’t serious. Any others were lower speed tumbles in sand or mud.

- ‘Do you have a favourite country on your trip?’
The answer is ‘No’, simply because there was so much in every country I passed through. And the fact is I did travel the length of the continent in a little over four months, which doesn’t allow for much time discovering the huge wealth and diversity of cultures. So here goes...
Mali Mali2 Mali3 was the country I was most looking forward to and it made a big impression - the Niger river, the desert, the Dogon country, and the music - in particular the Festival in the Desert near Timbuktu which exceeded my high expectations and was a major highlight for me.
Morocco is very exotic and accessible and I left with a feeling of so much more to explore and experience there.
Mauritania with its vastness and mixture of Arab and black African culture.
Burkina Faso I have a soft spot for. With nothing in particular of scenic note that I passed (although the desert in the north of the country I’d like to see), poor land, very hot climate, and playing cultural and musical second fiddle to neighboring Mali and its burgeoning tourist industry, I liked the laid back atmosphere particularly in Bobo-Dialasso.
Benin. Only two days traversing the north of the country wasn’t enough time to uncover more than a few of its attractions. Seeming a little more prosperous than the poor land in neighboring Burkina, and possibly the culture a little more ‘comfortable’? I was intrigued but wasn’t however exposed to the voodoo practices on the coast.
Nigeria has a reputation as the most troublesome of countries for the traveller and yet I had a very positive experience, in my two weeks there barely scratching the surface of a hugely diverse, interesting and friendly place.
- The Central Highlands of
Cameroon with red dirt roads winding through rich green tropical vegetation around mountain slopes was eye opening. Despite the customary friendliness, I had a slight problem with the in-your-face attitudes of some ‘corner boys’ in that part of the continent.
Gabon Impressions: the highest per capita income in the continent; a major presence of migrant labour from other African countries; expensive; equatorial! Riding east into the interior through virgin rainforest was another highlight of the trip for me.
- The Republic of Congo I liked a lot, maybe because it provided possibly the biggest challenge - riding solo on mud roads through uninhabited jungle. There was a satisfying sense of achievement successfully being spat out in Dolisie near the Cabinda border. It was also the people I met, in probably the most undeveloped country I passed through coming down the west coast, who were so friendly, spontaneous and... good fun.
Angola was so many things - fascinating, exotic, evident Portuguese influence, destroyed infrastructure, legendary roads (“I travelled Benguela to Lubango” might well qualify as an overlander’s badge of endurance!), sophisticated clergy (“the intellectuals of the community”), stimulating people, and a sad, sad legacy from 27 years of civil war.
Namibia. First impressions are of a first world country. It took weeks to get over the culture shock! It is a magnificent country - the landscapes are stunning. Intense exposure to the panoply of African wildlife in Etosha Game Reserve; the German/Afrikaans white culture mixing with Afrikaans ‘Coloured’ and Black, though discrimatory, didn’t seem to be underlined by a tension found in South Africa; the huge wide open spaces, roads disappearing into the distance; camping cheaply in comfortable tourist Lodges; Windhoek and its consumer distractions; but most of all that area south east of Swakopmund down to the border identified as the Namib Naukluft Park. Awe-inspiring wilderness.
South Africa is another story altogether and I will have to recount that when my impressions and responses settle a little. I came to it with my own history and memories of a barefoot childhood, a black maid and ‘garden boy’, and growing up in an outdoor, sheltered environment. An intriguing and very beautiful country (coastline, Drakensberg mountains, Little Karoo desertscapes, the kingdom of Lesotho), a great climate, and a very interesting (some say nearly impossible) experiment in accelerated social development.

And finally probably the question I’m asked most often and have the most difficulty giving a straightforward answer...

I sometimes cite the initial urge of visiting the Festival-au-Desert near Timbuktu in Mali and continuing on through Africa, though in truth that was only the seed for the trip. Returning to the country of my birth for the first time since my family left all those years ago to bring the kids up in the ‘home country’ is of course the underlying motivation to visit South Africa. But really, the answer to the question ‘Why’ is simply because, I can. Many folks I believe would love to have the opportunity to travel on a motorbike through Africa but because of various commitments, including naturally family, cannot consider it. I don’t have those commitments, know that can change in a very short time, so decided to do it while possible.

‘How was it’
It was a fantastic experience.
Oh, and I didn’t get one puncture!

There are of course numerous people that contributed to the the success of the journey, like Steph, Patricia, George, Jack, Paul. However I won’t try and name them all as I risk leaving out someone. On the sponsors page I list the companies who supported the expedition with equipment or expertise. My thanks to them.

Three individuals I would like to particularly thank though, without whose contribution it would have been a very different trip, are...

Iggy Clarke of Blakestown Tyres won't like me mentioning his name the shy retiring type he is, but he was the man who coordinated the “bike stuff”, pulling in favours from suppliers, hassling his customers to donate, using various biker forums to spread the word, and together with Dion Byrne (CM) being a tremendous support in my preparation.
After initial reservations (“oh no, what the hell is he planning now?!”) my dad, Ed Bergin, threw his support and help behind me, which was really appreciated.
And my brother Sean, who when he offered to look after the website probably didn’t realise what a time consuming, thankless task it would be. Nobody will know (except possibly his wife) the hours spent polishing my text and pics or the frustration at inconsistent communication from different parts of Africa. I hope he appreciates due to his effort, how much the charity SELF HELP have benefitted from the exposure. I was informed recently there have been over 250,000 site visits from 5,000 unique visitors.

And now?

I have spent the last couple of months enjoying South Africa hugely, and preparing for my return trip up the East coast - I look forward to visiting some of SELF HELP’s projects in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia and reporting back - then hopefully across North Africa and home for Christmas 2007. And THEN I’ll grow up and settle down! I intend to continue updating the website (which will have morphed into a new name - suggestions welcomed) on my trusty iBook, and contributing articles to The Irish Times.

Finally (if there are any readers left!) another reminder about
SELF HELP. I am proud to have supported them, and urge you please if you have enjoyed any of the website to go to the “Charity” page and donate something, any amount. Thank you on their behalf.