The rain is pouring down again this evening. The United People of Adventure are back at Ocean Momo for the second time today, seemingly penned in by the elements; attempts to travel north, south and west, even east (by boat) have all been thwarted. Sleeping four to a room, as of course their return was not scheduled, tonight there is frustration as the options for travel have virtually run out.
The morning started at 05:00 at the overnight camping spot, with a sense of urgency, the plan being to get as far north as possible – seeking to connect to the westward traverse across the island – and with two time consuming river crossings to negotiate the early start was necessary. Not that the UPoA riders have a problem with that, for the routine for many days has been to rest/sleep shortly after the sun goes down, then rise again shortly before the dawn.
July’s knee injury that he sustained yesterday had improved with a night’s rest, but still was not back to full strength, so his luggage was distributed among all the UPoA team so that he had less weight on his bike, giving him an easier ride and less likelihood of taking another fall. His spirits had revived as well and he showed good energy levels to offset a serious limp when walking.
|The river crossings were soon reached and the relay of bikes on rafts began. While waiting, the doctors and nurse tended to some malingering ailments. The most extreme case being film director Wolfgang’s feet which were suffering an advanced case of trench foot and an associated fungal infection. They needed time out of his saturated boots to recover, but this wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Without doubt Wolfgang must be riding in agony as such affected feet give shooting pains when stood on, let along forced to work on an adventure motorcycle.|
After the river crossings the team looked to pick up the pace but haste is not without risks and during a deluge of rain Benjamin slid off the Ducati at some speed. He was uninjured and the bike undamaged, but both were thoroughly plastered in mud. The rain persisted and the going got even slicker. July exercised maximum caution and with good reason, just metres behind him even local moto-ace Dominique was caught out (for the first time!) and slid into the mud on his 230cc Honda.
Where the trail at last picked up the tarmac road for the last 10km into Antalaha the group stopped for a drink at a roadside stop (to call it a café might be stretching things somewhat). All took their boots off and poured the water out while wringing out their socks. Only the warm temperature makes being soaked bearable, but besides Wolfgang at least three others have been suffering with trench foot symptoms.
When the team reached Ocean Momo there was an update on Cyclone Fantala, which still threatened just off the coast. If it makes landfall it’ll be within the next 48 hours. As well, the last hope of going south on one of the coasters that are tied up at the dock in Antalaha was extinguished when it was confirmed there’s still a ban on all shipping movements. This reality of situation was underlined when the docked ships were visited – they are being tossed about wildly even while tied to the dock – so even loading would be dangerous.
One option remained, to head north to reach the road – in fact an unmade trail – that crosses the centre of the island and links to the main highway that travels south to Antananarivo. Although even this looked to be a long-shot. The road is notorious for its state of dilapidation, probably in a worse condition that the infamous RN5 that the UPoA riders had hoped to ride. This route was challenging when Herbert and Ramona encountered it in 2012, and since then three cyclones have caused untold further degradation to the route.
All the same, the team set off. Riding on tarmac north it was the easiest riding of the whole trip and they’d never made so many miles in such a short time. Only an hour north of Antalaha they met a regular police roadblock. Nothing unusual, there are many such roadblocks, but the policemen didn’t want the UPoA riders to pass. A policeman from a previous roadblock had phoned up the line and the warned this squad of the pending arrival of a bunch of motorcycles.
The police were polite, but firm. The proposed route was virtually impassable, they said, it would take at least two days (at best) to cross the island, and in that time the cyclone could hit. With no villages, no shelter, this was no place to be exposed to 300km/h winds. Cyclones are no small matter, they kill, and the policeman explained there was no way they wanted to see a crazy team of foreign motorcyclists exposed to such risks.
There was nothing for it, but to return to Ocean Momo. Again the mood was low, this was defeat. When everyone was back, changed, and together to discuss just what would happen next there was no hiding the disappointment. Some bravely offered words of consolation: ‘it’s not the destination, it’s the journey’, but in reality nothing could dispel the mood. Momo had been on the phone that evening and tentatively secured the UPoA riders seats on the last two flights out of Sambava before air travel in the area was due to be suspended (while Fantala loomed). The offer had to be accepted, but it was another bitter pill.
It would be a 4am rise for most of the team, the next morning, and a bus ride – not bike – to the airport and a flight, the first of many, homewards. Sometimes you have to accept you’re beat, it’s better to walk away and come back another time. For the UPoA in Madgascar, just as for Herbert and Ramona in 2012, there is unfinished business. Cap Est remains to be ridden in its entirety and there’s RN5 to be experienced too. Goals still for the taking.
Only it’s not all failure. As hoped, six people from six continents came together for an adventure. And this they had. One-point-five of the six got injured along the way. But given all were just amateur riders – not chosen for their riding skills, but their personal qualities – they overcame so much, rode trail far tougher than they imagined possible. They achieved so much by teamwork, but also by engaging the local people, working together with Dominique and his friends and with help from the people of the communities they were able to ride further into Cap Est than ever attempted before on such big motorcycles. And they gave back, to the orphanage particularly, and they are committed to keep giving back. The UPoA in Madagascar might be finished for now, but it’s not over…
|Ramona Schwarz: We called the project ‘United People’ and that has been the essence of everything we’ve done here in Madagascar. We came together as a group and with the Malagasy. We’ve enjoyed the most extreme adventure, but we’ve also been able to give back to the local people. To make life a little better for the orphans – and we’ll continue to do so.
“So, UPoA has exceeded all our expectations – although we didn’t really have any expectations, right?! For me it’s a perfect example of the harmony that can be found when you take people from different continents, different cultures, different religions and give them a common purpose. This is not about competition, it’s about unification, not one of the team could have made it as far as we did without the others, teamwork is the key. And for sure, there’ll be a second edition, and a third and a…
“The tough part now is getting back into everyday life. Sometimes with travel you simply had to be there, it can be tough relaying – even to close family – all the emotions, the exhilaration of the adventure. But for the UPoA Madagascar team we will all share these memories and nurture our friendships for the rest of our lives.”
|Herbert Schwarz: “We have been frustrated at every turn. Always we have been trying to keep our options open, to find a way out, one way or another to ride to our destination, Antananarivo – but we have to accept that at this time, with the cyclone threatening, this cannot happen. We will have to store the bikes safely and fly out.|
“We have certainly lived an adventure, though, the challenges have been considerable and the teamwork has been magnificent, all the riders should be proud of their achievements. I have enjoyed every moment of this journey, the experience of sharing an adventure such as this is so richly rewarding and the sharing has been the highlight, with each other and with the local people.”
- UPoA rider Europe -
“This epic adventure has been life changing for me. Although experienced in life, I now see much clearer how fair life has treated me. For the first time in my life to see such poverty, and at the same time experiencing true adventure, sharing the passion for adventure travel on motorcycle with people from all over the world. People whom I did not know last February but are now certainly life long friends.”
- UPoA rider North America -
“Very sad to say goodbye to the team. We became close as family. We discovered our strengths and weaknesses and made beautiful friendships that will last for years to come. So blessed to be part of this adventure. #real-adv”
|Omar Mansour Afardy: “So first of all I want to thank Ramona and Herbert for the chance to be part of the United People of Adventure. I want to thank all the team for the help and encouragement and looking after each other. The organisation of the project was super in everything although in Africa things are so hard to make happen in exact time, but the organizers really did a great job. The local team from Madagascar were so helpful and very polite. I think the United People of Adventure project succeeded to unite the world on a small scale, people from each corner of the planet with different backgrounds, culture and beliefs coming together. I feel I’ve known everyone for years, everyone was there for the unity of the group, i didn't feel any kind of selfishness from anyone. I saw many drop their bike so quickly just to go help and assist one of the team, that touched in my heart.”|
|Robert Davies: "What an experience, what a magnificent group. An experience to remember forever. As ever, Herbert and Ramona are an inspiration. Heartfelt thank you to them. Last thoughts on the journey – probably the only time I felt at all in danger was the final drive north from Ocean Mom to Sambava airport! A fully-loaded van, top heavy from bags strapped to the roof, was driven at breakneck speed in pre-dawn darkness in the pouring rain. I was glad to survive."|
- UPoA rider Asia -
“There are few experiences in life that leave a lasting impression - Madagascar 2016 with the United People of Adventure is certainly one of them, and this wouldn't have been possible without the vision and generosity of two very special people – Herbert & Ramona Schwarz. No matter how many times we thank them, it just won’t be enough. They certainly did a cracking job of uniting the world through adventure motorcycling.
“Everything about the ride was fun filled, exciting and adrenaline fuelled. From gnarly roads to deep sand, broken bridges to unforgiving ruts, extreme heat to torrential rain, mad foreigners to slightly confused locals, boat or no boat this ride certainly did live up to its name. The icing on the cake was the people, everyone, and I mean everyone, was just brilliant – helpful, kind, considerate and always there for each other. Not only the riders but the film crew were stars in their own right, enduring the same conditions as the rest of us and pitching in with everything from cooking to sourcing cold beers.
“Since returning home, not a single day has passed where I don't think about the ride or miss everyone and everything about the trip. With the way things are going, it looks like the Madagascar hangover is going to last a very long time! I suppose what's keeping me going is the fact that we'll be reunited in June for the Travel Event. All good things must come to an end and alas has this trip. Would I do it again?! In a heartbeat!”
- UPoA rider Australia-
“This adventure has been amazing, I’ve found Madagascar to be fascinating: the people, the culture. And I love that a motorcycle adventure connects you so intimately with the world, you feel the temperature differences, you wear the weather – you wear the mud! – then there are the smells, the sweet pollen in the jungle, you even appreciate the smells of dinner being prepared. Adventure motorcycling heightens your senses. And it’s been said before, in a car you have glass and metal between you and the world, on the bike you are a part of the world, just lift your visor, take off your helmet and you are in it. That is so special.
“And I’ve loved being on this adventure with Hebert and Ramona, watching them as a couple is a lovely thing, they are very different, sometimes one is standing on the accelerator, the other on the brake, but that’s their balance, watching how they go about each other is quite beautiful. On one level they are a couple, husband and wife, on another level they are Touratech and they show that the company is not just about motorcycle parts, it’s about the dream, to adventure…
“Some people at home, all they see are the risks in adventure, they miss the positives. I’ve loved this ride; there’s everything I’ve learned, the Madagascan people – to be in Africa for the first time is pretty amazing – there’s so much to learn in taking on a new culture and the learning about yourself, too – how far you are prepared push your limits. If any of the group called me tomorrow and said we’re going back, to ride the route to reach RN5, I’d be in, in an instant.”
- UPoA rider South America-
“It is humbling for me to think I was selected to be a part of the UPoA. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime. I was exposed to people, places and experiences that touched and enriched my life. I came into this thinking I would have a "motorcycle adventure", and I ended up with so much more.”
The bikes of the UPoA - The ‘Team’ bikes
|Bike: BMW R1200GS Rider: Herbert Schwarz|
Herbert Schwarz: “I still think the R1200GS is the ultimate adventure bike. My bike I have equipped with Touratech suspension, a Touratech seat (flat, competition style) plus all my favourite accessories and components. The bike now fits me like a glove, I feel very relaxed in its capabilities and I know what its responses will be to my inputs. With the Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres fitted it was sure-footed and just plain rock-solid for the whole journey.”
|Bike: BMW F800GS Adventure Rider: Ramona Schwarz|
Ramona Schwarz: “The F800GSA is a strong bike. I dropped it so many times each day, sometimes others (like Gunther) took a turn at dropping it when I got tired – but it never broke, always started, simply never failed. We equipped it with Touratech suspension and a low seat, but the bike wasn’t lowered – it was reaching for the ground each time we stopped that caused 99% of my falls. I always welcomed the gentle throttle control that this bike allows, and it is a great bike for everything. I just need longer legs…”
|Bike: BMW R1200GS Adventure Rider: Wolfgang Danner|
Wolfgang Danner: “I rode in Enduro Pro mode during the whole trip, which was perfect – and what I really liked was that I could do everything slowly... no full throttle action, even the steep hill climb went nice and easy, with a little help from my friend JB! If I were to do it again on an adventure bike, I'd choose the GSA again.”
|Bike: BMW F800GS Adventure Rider: Jan Peter Sölter|
Jan Peter Sölter: “I rode the 1000km F800GS. It was overloaded by a huge amount. It was carrying something like 44-litres of fuel and I think over 100kg of camera equipment. It was a devil of a job getting it through the deep sand and anywhere the terrain was soft, only the Pirelli Scorpion Rally tyres – which are the most aggressive adventure tyres I’ve ever seen – saved from more disasters. But that F800GS is such a solid bike, the abuse it takes and it never fails – incredible.
|Bike: KTM 1290 Adventure Rider: Robert Davies|
Robert Davies: “First the good: plenty of torque from a willing engine, a comfortable Touratech seat and sexy lines. The KTM survived much abuse and a 30-litre tank gave extended range. That same 30-litre tank however made for a top heavy platform, the 19-inch front wheel objected to rougher ground and whoever thought that it might be a good idea for the ABS and traction control to revert to on-road settings every time the bike was switched off? On a true off-road adventure such as ours a good proportion of my time was spent cycling through the menus to turn off traction control and reset the ABS to "off-road" every time I re-started the bike. That was, of course, when the menu switch block was not gummed up with grit... a design flaw that, amongst other things, told me that this bike wasn't really meant to be a serious dirt contender.”
|Bike: Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Rider: Kurt Yaeger|
Kurt Yaeger: “I was blown away by this nimble and capable bike. It had enough power for all off-road applications and was balanced well for the slow speed mud and sand. Also, I really enjoyed the steepness of the head tube and the turning radius, far better than most other bikes. Suspension was a little bouncy – wish I could have more adjustment options. The automatic shifting took some getting used to. Sometimes having the automatic was better (no worrying about digging yourself into deep mud or sand, just gently throttle out), sometimes it was not (like wanting to coast into a corner, which you can't do, you're either on the gas or off it, which creates slight engine braking). Overall, it was a great bike for this kind of adventure.”
|Bike: Triumph 1200 Tiger Explorer Rider: Jon Bentman|
Jon Bentman: “I totally bonded with the big Triumph – something I wouldn’t have believed beforehand. Yes, it’s big and heavy, but that never got in the way of what is very amenable character; time and again the Triumph managed everything the BMWs and KTMs had done with no issues. And it loved the sand, boy it loved sand, it happily flew along on the brink of disaster making the most incredible howl from that triple motor until eventually yes I finally got it all wrong and together we flew into a bush. It took three men to drag me and the Triumph out, but I was still wearing a smile a mile wide and the Triumph started on the button and motored off like nothing had happened. The Triumph was rock solid beginning to end, it is a bona fide adventure bike and yes I found big love for the big girl!”