The United People of Adventure are exhausted, sleeping. It’s 9pm, but the team arrived at dawn this morning, at 05:30, on a twin-engine turbo-prop commuter plane flying from Madagascar’s capital Antanarivo to Sambava, a modest town on the north east coast. From there they took a two-hour bus ride south along the coast to Ocean Momo, a beachfront resort in Antalaha, where Touratech’s Herbert and Ramona Schwarz, together with the UPoA production team, awaited, along with the motorcycles on which a ten-day adventure will shortly begin. Since then, there’s been no let up, so sleep tonight was much needed.
Perhaps the riders – some having been travelling for up to 30 hours – might have imagined a rest day. Instead, after a morning of bike inspection and packing they headed off for a shakedown ride. After 20km the riders ran into rain, the wet season clearly not yet fully over, and they ran into the locals (not literally) who have clearly never seen an expedition such as this. An unexpected meeting perhaps, but the Malagasy greeted the UPoA riders with enthusiasm and the broadest of smiles and loudest of cheers.
Mid-afternoon saw the riders arrive at the Orphelinat d’Antalaha (Orphanage of Antalaha) run by Catholic nuns, the Filles de Marie. The orphanage is also a school to the local population and so the 37 orphans (36 girls, one boy) are joined each day by about 160 local children. To these children, assembled in the central courtyard, the UPoA riders presented a geography lesson explaining their origins in the six inhabited continents of the world. Not wishing their presentations to be ‘dry’, the riders also included songs and even magic tricks. The children then enjoyed some time checking over, and sitting on, the UPoA motorcycles, something that brought, again, big smiles and lots of laughs. Finally there were gifts for the orphaned children brought to Madagascar by the riders.
The UPoA riders were also given a guided tour of the orphanage. While the children were unfailingly cheerful and joyous, the conditions at the orphanage – despite the very best efforts of the nuns – were basic and disheveled. Seeing scenes that broke their hearts and brought tears to their eyes, the UPoA riders asked what immediate needs the orphanage had. New mattresses were an urgent requirement, replied the nuns, given the age and condition of many beds. And so the UPoA riders immediately set about funding and sourcing replacements for these, using local sources. It is hoped that the new mattresses can be brought to the orphanage before the riders leave on their adventure within the next 24 hours. Rain again fell when the UPoA riders came to leave, but spirits were not dampened and it was a noisy farewell on all parts.
Back at Ocean Momo the riders learned a little more about the location. This was the spot where Herbert and Ramona’s 2012 Madagascan adventure came to an end. Out of road and out of time, they had taken shelter with proprietor Momo before loading onto a rusting coaster for a stormy sail south to land their bikes at a port ready for shipping back to Germany.
Momo had been a generous host and so when it came to planning the UPoA ride the lure of riding the unchartered trail to the ‘Est Cap’ (East Cape – that lies immediately to the south), together with the offer of local support from Momo, proved irresistible. All this the riders learned while assembled around Momo’s kitchen table drinking Momo’s home-brewed rum and eating local culinary specialties.
In all a busy day and a busy evening, with negotiations ongoing with the local traders in seeking the supply of the mattresses, while UPoA riders – and keen chefs – Benjamin Myers and July Behl, assisted by Momo and his family, were also discussing food supplies for the trip.
Tomorrow brings more preparations and more activities with the local people before the adventure ride begins in earnest.
“I’m delighted all the UPoA riders have arrived safely. There were long flights involved, and passport and customs controls can never be taken for granted. The riders are tired, but they’re on the verge of a great adventure and this keeps their spirits high.
“As well, I’m happy to have all the bikes here, in good condition after a long voyage on a container ship, then a shorter one tied to the deck of a coaster. After delays they arrived here with just a day to spare, so you can imagine I’m quite relieved! Some of the batteries had run a little low, but otherwise all were ready to go and on our test ride this afternoon there were no problems.”
“The afternoon at the orphanage was both fun and a learning experience. We have seen poverty before on our travels, but we were happy to see that while materially poor the children here are being treated wonderfully and the Sisters clearly seek to make the best of the situation, and this was reflected by the cheerfulness of the children. All the same, we are keen to improve their situation, we have the means to offer support financially and we want to help the Sisters and the children on an ongoing basis. The UPoA riders are also individually keen to start make a lasting connection with the orphanage. As was our intention from the start, we are seeking to give as much as take during this adventure.”
- UPoA rider South America -
“I travelled for 29 hours to arrive in Antananarivo. There we went to the hotel for just two hours – just enough time to get a shower – before we went back to the airport to fly to Sambava. My body didn’t know if it was time to go to sleep or wake up for the next day. The driver that picked us up from the airport was my first exposure to African driving. Crazy!!! Zooming through rural roads at high speed, almost touching all the vehicles it passed. As tired as I was I didn’t fall asleep on the drive!”
- UPoA rider Europe -
“It was fascinating to see the bikes for the first time standing in front of the Ocean Momo hotel. All shining in the sun, multicolored and fully loaded with panniers, tank bags and accessories. I took a walk around the red Honda Africa twin I will ride, and was impressed. Honda has made a good job of the overall look of the bike!
“Our visit to the orphanage was an emotional rollercoaster. I enjoyed their youthful sense of fun, their big smiles and curiosity, but seeing the basic conditions they live in was heart breaking. It is important that we take this opportunity to improve the quality of their lives. The experience was profound – that’s the best word I can find to explain it.”
Madagascar isn’t listed as a major producer of rum (rhum), but the local Dzama Rhum with accents of orange, coffee and vanilla, typically about 50% proof, is a very fine spirit with a deep and warming flavor that is as rich as the textures of this amazing island.
For our host Momo, though, he likes rum with an even stronger ‘hit’. So he takes the Dzama rhum and to this he adds more vanilla, star fruit and lychees to intensify the flavour. There’s also the small matter of an additional spirit he mixes with the rum – Momo was elusive as to its origin, although proud of its 98% proof rating(!), so we called it ‘hooch’ in the finest bootlegger tradition. The resultant liquor, ‘Momo’s Chauffages’, was indeed warming, with surprisingly only the lightest burn when swallowed – and deeply relaxing. An ideal nightcap! Ever generous Momo snuck two bottles into our panniers for the journey…
Don’t ask for the recipe, though. And as for exportation that’s a no-no, too. No, if you want to try this exotic blend there’s only the one way – visit Momo yourself!