Last year I was so privileged to meet Patti and Bernd Tesch, a couple that has travelled intensively the roads of our planet earth.
I dedicate this blog post to Patti. She has a story of raw courage to tell. That was during a time when there were no satellite or cell (mobile) phones and no GPS receivers. Those travellers crossing wild Africa had to use map papers (quite often still the best) and compasses.
I wonder who can still remember whether you have to add or deduct the map declination to the compass bearing after you’ve established a direction on a map?
Wonderful days …
Patti and her husband Bernd live in beautiful Hammer in the Eifel in Germany. I would love to do a post of Bern (www.berndtesch.de) later on. His list of achievements on his motorbike did fill books. He travelled between 1961 and 2001 more than 111 111 on African soil and through the Sahara in conditions that would deter most modern-day travellers from tackling such routes. Bernd was the first European to travel from the Atlantic coast in France across Europe, Russia and Siberia to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.
The reason why I wanted Patti’s story for the blog is while sitting with her in Hammer in their kitchen last year, surrounded by green forest and listening to the sound of the river lower down the slope, I felt such admiration for her and any other person for that matter, who refuses to quit, even if all odds are against them. I know for sure that I will connect to Patti’s unbelievable power and spirit in the weeks and months to come. You can do the same. You can be as strong as her!
So, let’s get to Patti’s story.
Patti Govers-Tesch on their ride over Africa:
I LOVE AFRICA AND THE AFRICAN PEOPLE…
The VERY BEST of the whole trip was the INCREDIBLE hospitality of the African people on the whole way. That is why I felt so at home that I returned to Africa for another 8 years…
An artist made a painting-collage with the words “Life isn´t about waiting for the storm to pass, it´s about learning to dance in the rain”. Good isn´t it?
Fortunately enough I grew up in a huge family (10 siblings!) where this was the biggest lesson: to be flexible and go with the flow. To see a lot of different perspectives/possibilities to any situation. This is what still drives me to teach creativity and it was certainly what helped me on my big motorcycle tour of Africa back in 1981-82 (just after stone-age: no fax, no internet, no handys).
My first husband Nick and I (in our mid twenties) crossed east Africa on two heavily loaded Yamaha XT 500´s off-road-motorbikes. The plan was Amsterdam-Cape Town and very few people had done this at that time.
January 1981, one of Europe´s coldest winters in 30 years, we rode on icy, slippery roads, through the Montenegro Mountains in former Yugoslavia (Albania was closed) and had snow until shortly before Athens. As I had to steady myself by keeping both feet on the ground, snow would crawl up to my knees, slide down into my boots, freezing my feet. My hands were in a perpetual state of numbness, driving me absolutely mad at the necessary toilet stops, when I would not be able to unzip my cloths! I cried and cursed myself through the cold and frustration and I remember skiers coming along the roads we passed. The Montenegrins seemed quite poor and extremely helpful by inviting us to their fireplaces and filling us with Slibovice (a strong Schnaps) at any time of the day.
Reason we left in the midst of winter was our (read Nick’s) determination to drive the whole way. It meant getting through the Sudan at a certain time of the year (about 3 months) where the Nile does NOT flood all of the roads.
We camped on Crete for a nice long week and caught the Brindisi-Alexandria ferry to fascinating Egypt.
After 6 weeks of Egyptian´s beauty and crowdiness, boarding the ferry in Assuan to cross Lake Nasser, the southern winds, coming off the Sudanese desert, promised more space and freedom. Sudan, the biggest of all African countries, for us started at Wadi Halfa, riding of the narrow gangplank of the boat that had carried us and hundreds of mostly Sudanese merchants across the lake. The entertainment and hospitality these people had shown us on the 2 day boat ride: sharing their food, laughter and singing, was to be a constant factor throughout our year in the Sudan.
From here there were two markers leading to the capital Khartoum: the Nile river, which makes a big curve and is unnavigable for its many cataracts and the railroad, which we followed. (Comment from Lodie: Even today vehicles avoid this route next to the railway line. It is an unforgiving country)
Our bikes were very heavily loaded (if my memory is correct we each weighed about 180 kilos), carrying three 20-liter jerrycans each sticking out sideways. We added lots of weight on the petrol tank to keep the front of the bike down and learned to surf on the soft sand.
It was the total silence, nothing but the wind singing in my helmet; the absence of human habitation in this enormous endlessness, the shimmering non-existent lakes, receding at approach, that I will remember best. No wonder all this biblical stuff happened in deserts: no other surrounding brings one so close to one´s spirituality. Watching my partner riding beside me, etched against the big sky and trailing a long cloud of sand dust I realized I made a similar beautiful picture.
Camel caravans, nights filled with stars, falling off the bike a thousand times, flat tires… I do particularly remember camping near the river: Our little igloo tent, motorbikes at rest, the only signs of humanity in this vast prehistoric landscape and having a wonderful swim in the river.
We were 3 months into our travel when, in the middle of nowhere, Nick broke his leg. The day had been very hot; we were both exhausted, quarreling again about when to stop to make camp. I had been angry often for his riding way up ahead, solo-tripping and pushing on, without any regards as to my whereabouts and well-being. We could have easily lost each other out of sight.
This time he was lucky I was right behind him in one of the soft sandy car-tracks. Both of us had to use our legs to keep steady in the trail. His leg got caught between the sandwall and the jerrycans, sticking out from the back of the motorbike. I shall never forget his scream of agony, followed by the total silence of the place.
I dropped my own XT in the sandwall and rushed over to lift the heavy bike off him. In shock we looked at Nicks dangling left leg, obviously broken, but thankfully not with an open wound. Nick said “It´s all over now, this is the end of our trip”.
After getting him in the shade of some thorn bushes, I offloaded all my gear and drove back in panick, looking for help. In some small village I found a Sudanese doctor. He got some men together on a big lorry and we all went back to the scene. But since this group first set off to investigate on another incident at the railroad I was totally confused as to our whereabouts and couldn´t remember where I had left Nick…. the savanna all looked the same to me!!!
Thank God somebody had already spotted my husband. When the doctor wanted to just pull off Nick´s boot we knew enough to stop him and to use scissors to cut both pants and boot. After a short ride our primitive ambulance, consisting of a truck with a Sudanese wood-and-rope bed on top, was luckily replaced by a much more comfortable Landcruiser. It belonged to an Italian doctor from a small dispensary, where I left both motorbikes in safety.
Still the road was bumpy, a torture for Nick and after three horrible hours we reached the hospital in Shendi. Nick was operated the next day in quite a primitive operating-room (I saw birds and flies flying through). He returned, knocked unconscious for 24 hours, his leg in an impressive big cast. The X-rays did not encourage me much (the bone down from the knee looked like a jigsaw puzzle with little fine lines running across), so I contacted the Dutch Embassy in Khartoum. They suggested we take a train and get into a private clinic in the capital.
I felt incredibly alone, weighed down with responsibility for a person I was beginning to fall-out-off love with.
There was no passenger train expected for a long time, so I stopped a freight train (literally standing on the tracks in front of him quite dramatically haha) from taking off until I got back from the hospital. The train took 10 long hours through the desert, instead of the normal 4 because the engines got too hot and had to cool down.
The operation was repeated in a better clinic and we were kindly taken in by some new-made friends of the Dutch Embassy. This was the beginning of a 9 month stay in the capital: about seven months for the leg to heal completely, more time to reconstruct the luggage-racks on the bikes and waiting out the wet season of the south. Personally the hardest lesson to learn on this trip: forced by accident to switch from total independence and freedom to a situation of dependency and limited choices.
We did house-sitting for expatriates, and my work as a typist kept us afloat financially. We tried and of course failed to keep up with a society of big money earning people. So the euphoria was big when we finally hit the road again on 31st December ´81.
Sleeping again outside under a mosquito net, held-up between our motorbikes, observing amazing night skies was to be our reward for more and more days and weeks of biting the dust.
Along a very unusual route through Nuba-country, Wau and Juba we continued through Uganda, Kenya (7 months) and Rwanda, where we ended up as “persona non grata” for having crossed the border illegally. Expelled back into Uganda, we ran out of money and love; flew back home, where shortly after Nick and I separated.
I have so many wonderful memories of this trip, for example:
– waking at 5 or 6 every day from so many different bird tunes, that I felt I had landed in a bird house.
– camping in the wild everywhere.
– ostriches running in front of us… the funniest sight!
– bathing a little too close to crocodiles in a Uganda river.
– an old south Sudanese woman, having looked at me for the longest time, stepping up to me, diving her hand in my shirt and having so found out I was indeed of her own sex, made everyone laugh.
(Even now I sometimes wonder what would happen if I´d do the same here in Germany to a foreign traveller!)
To me, it was never of importance that we hadn´t made it to Cape Town. I wasn´t out to break any records or prove anything to anyone. It just was a marvelous experience; it made me very self-confident and it made me go back and live in Africa for another 8 years (Senegal, Mauritius, Zaire and Congo-Brazzaville).
To conclude my short story to you, I have to repeat:
I LOVE AFRICA AND THE AFRICAN PEOPLE!