The United People of Adventure riders woke early this morning, around 6am, to the sounds of soccer. Ocean Momo is located next to the town’s football pitch and with mid-day temperatures soaring into the high-30s, with high humidity, the local teams like to play their weekend league games in the early-morning cool.
The soccer matches were significant, for the UPoA riders were ‘booked’ to appear at the football ground just as soon as the matches were over, in something of a meet and greet with the people of Antalaha. The town’s mayor would attend as well to lend the occasion a slightly formal air.
So after a beachfront breakfast the UPoA riders saddled up and rode the 200 metres(!) to the football ground. At first there was something of a standoff as the Malagasy were again typically shy. However, once the mayor had made his introductions – and had motioned to the growing crowds to come closer – the meeting became a whole lot more personal. The Malagasy, by now starting to number in their hundreds, while enthusiastic, were nonetheless very respectful and exceptionally polite.
The meeting became altogether more exciting when the mayor suggested the UPoA bikes could be ridden around the sand track that circles the main pitch. And soon enough the UPoA riders got the hang of giving pillion rides – for the children first, but after a while the ‘children’ got older and taller as all wanted to experience a ride on these adventure motorcycle. The Malagasy were also sharp to recognize the great carrying capacity of these bikes and before long there were two pillions to every ride, then three! After two-and-a-half hours the UPoA riders were exhausted – not to mention feeling the effects of the blazing sun of the midday – and so it was with a wrench that the meeting was called to an end, as ever amid much waving and honking of horns.
After a break for lunch, a 5km trip north saw the UPoA riders visit Macolline, a 10-hectare nature reserve dedicated to the preservation of Madagascar’s indigenous forestry and botany. Uniquely the reserve is maintained in association with the Leprosy Relief Committee of Antalaha – and so it also helps the rehabilitation of leprosy sufferers in the social and economic life of the region. There the UPoA riders got to walk the reserve, finding all manner of wildlife, including snakes, land crabs, spiders and chameleon, as well seeing as the unique tree and plant life. The riders also took the time to each plant a tree sapling on the forest floor. They then met with the leprosy sufferers who tend the reserve and maintain a nursery for young plants. Finally the riders very carefully – actually, nervously) climbed into traditional dugout canoes for a (wobbly) paddle back to the entrance of the reserve.
On return to Ocean Momo the UPoA riders were greeted with the sight of the new mattresses they had purchased for the town’s orphanage, stacked on a pick-up truck. With rain sweeping in, the riders were keen to jump back on their bikes and accompany the mattresses for the short ride to the orphanage. There the children were delighted with the new mattresses and sang songs as a mark of their gratitude. The riders sang songs in return (perhaps not quite as tuneful). All agreed the meeting with the children had been profoundly moving.
Returning to Ocean Momo the riders still had much work to do. The food supplies than Benjamin and July had ordered had arrived in Momo’s kitchen and these needed to be distributed among the panniers and bags on the UPoA bikes. Tomatoes and avocados – the boys were uncompromising in stocking ‘the larder’ – needed especially careful loading. And so after a group dinner – the last in such comfort – it was an early-sh turn-in for all. In the morning the real adventure begins!
- UPoA rider North America -
“The visit to the orphanage was extremely touching. 40 girls without a family forming a family of their own. Their living conditions brought tears to some of us. My heart was touched by a five year old named Malala. Her beautiful smile and her red polka dot dress stood out in the midst of poverty and abandonment. Immediately I thought about the life my wife and I could give her and wanted to take her home.”
“Another incredible day. It was fun on the football pitch, then fascinating to understand more about the forest and somewhat heart wrenching to meet the leprosy sufferers. Our two doctors, Robert and Gudmundur, took keen interest there – Gudmundur has never seen the condition outside of his medical journals, but Robert has worked on medical missions in the third world, it was touching to see him empathise so personally with one of the sufferers, showing such understanding and compassion.
“Returning to the orphanage was all joy. The mattresses are just a first step in helping the children there on a long-term basis. We are committed to making a difference to these children’s lives. I’m looking forward to our continued connection with them.”
“These days are so long, so full – and we’ve not even started with the riding yet. That said, we put on a surprising number of kilometres around the football pitch today. It was a joy to share our bikes with the people here and to explain our mission. Every interaction with the people here brings new understanding and without this cultural exchange the experience wouldn’t be nearly as rich.
“But now we ready to focus on the ride ahead. I think I know what to expect for the first 20km but after that it is all unknown territory. We will face the adventure together as equals, I’m not here to guide, this is a real step into the unknown and we’ll all be relying on each other to ensure our mutual safety and success.”
- UPoA rider Australia -
“What an experience! I found it quite interesting to watch people’s reactions to a woman being on a big bike – wherever we rode the locals were friendly and interested in the motorbikes and I loved seeing the surprised smiles when they realised there was a girl underneath the helmet and all the bike gear.
“The morning at the football field was amazing, to think that so many local people came to see the funny foreigners on the massive motorbikes was quite incredible. Giving the local children rides around the pitch was great fun, only it started to get a little tricky when the pillion passengers got bigger, and before I knew what had happened I had two full grown men on the back of my bike! The only problem being with my short legs and the weight on the bike getting it off the side stand was a major struggle. ”
The bikes of the UPoA - Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro
|Rider: Benjamin Myers
“The Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro is a beast of a machine that commands respect. Enough power to feel like a superhero, its roar put a smile on my face. Perfect riding stance when standing and extremely well balanced. Its different riding modes accommodate all terrains and riding styles. Only it does not like sand – at all! Very top heavy and tall, it takes a lot of muscle to pick her back up. Fortunately the team was there to help. Personally, I would strip some weight off and change the angle of the front forks. This Italian lady – I got to calling the Ducati ‘My Big Italian Mama’ – taunts you to go faster.”
“To watch Benjamin’s progress with this bike was to see a man growing in stature (as a rider) day by day. Benjamin crashed on wet clay early on and that could have knocked his confidence, but he picked himself back up – we all picked the Ducati back up – and he took it as a learning experience. The Ducati seems at first fearsome but, just as I had experienced in Albania, Benjamin found it wasn’t so tough to control and the riding position is excellent. The more Benjamin rode it the more he enjoyed it and by the end of the adventure he was controlling it very confidently. And the Ducati stood up to every abuse and remained 100% reliable. It is still fundamentally a road bike first, but it showed it can tough it out with the best in the most extreme conditions. We are all impressed!”
|Little known fact
Antalaha’s football scene centres around their lead team: JS Antalaha. They currently play in the Malagasy Second Division, however 43 years ago they were the stars of Malagasy football, winning the THB Champions League in 1973. They qualified for the African Cup of Champions in 1974 but went out in the first round to the Zambian club, ‘Green Buffaloes’.