A Long-term Review Motorcycle Arrives

Royal Enfield

Not what you expected, huh?

In a world of powerful and fiercely complex KTMs and BMWs, we’re taking a different route with this one. The Royal Enfield, originally British but now manufactured in India, has long been the choice for low-budget but epic explorations on the sub-continent and adjacent Himalayan highlands (like, 16,000-foot highlands). Their new model combines one-cylinder simplicity with the efficiency of fuel injection, to address the environmental regulations in the developed world. We’re going to see how it does in north America. For a bit more, visit David Blasco’s Royal Enfield blog, which is always fascinating even if you’re not (yet) into obscure motorcycles:

Royal Enfield blog

A long-term test vehicle for Overland Journal

We recently received the first of three (stay tuned) long-term test vehicles we’ll be adding to the Overland Journal fleet in the next month. This one would fit under the conservation vehicle sub-heading, since you’ll never visit a gas station while riding it:


It’s a Montague Paratrooper, a mountain bike that folds to half its normal size in about a minute, and stores where no normal bike will. It drops neatly into most hard-shell roof cases, for example.

Once assembled – fold over the frame and lock the quick-release, then insert the front wheel; done – it feels just like any normal mountain bike. I haven’t been able to induce any untoward flex, and it rides, shifts (via Sram components), brakes, and handles very well. We took it to the Overland Expo, where it served as daily cross-event transportation for me, Lois Pryce, and several other people. Everyone who rode it was impressed. There’ll be a full report in the magazine soon, but for now, if you’ve always wanted to have a bike along on trips but hated the awkwardness of transporting it on a hitch or roof carrier, take a look at the Montague line.

Montague Bicycles

Royal Geographical hosts overlanding workshop in UK

We received this news bit from Nick Taylor in Colorado, who is a fellow in the RGS:

Vehicle-dependent overland travel by Graham Spark, David Palmer, Mike Hingley, Sam Watson
· Workshop (York)
· Saturday 23 May at 9.00

With the growth in interest in vehicle-dependent overland travel, a workshop will take place where desert guides, expedition navigators and medics and experienced overlanders will give talks on how an interested traveller can equip their vehicle and plan their own trip to a variety of locations, whether a run down to the Pyrenees or a drive to Cape Town.

There will be a small selection of trade stands, a display of example overland vehicles and a programme of lectures and demonstrations throughout the day.

Refreshments will be available including a specially commissioned
Overlander real ale for the non-drivers!

Venue: Terrington Hall School, York.
Cost: £5 per vehicle.
Contact: Sam Watson

Lois on the Loose… with a sharpie!

A few weekends ago I had the pleasure to attend some dual-sport motorcyle training courses taught by Tom Collins and Lois Pryce at the Overland Expo in Prescott Valley, AZ.  I am very new to adventure motorcycling (and even motorcycling in general) having just purchased my very first bike less than a month ago: Suzuki DR200.  It has been the perfect bike for me to learn on, and Lois even enjoyed borrowing it a few times when teaching her classes.

I was very inspired hearing presentations by Tom, Lois and others who shared their experiences of world travel.  It was also wonderful receiving practical advice about real-world situations and being able to practice on the dirt in a closed-course.

We helped Lois to sell some of her books all weekend at the event: Lois on the Loose, and her most recent Red Tape and White Knuckles.  Of course many people were asking her to sign their copies of her book.  I asked her if she had ever signed a motorcycle, to which she answered, “no.”  So I had her sign my bike with a black permanent marker!!

Now I will proudly ride the “Lois edition” DR200 as I head out on my own adventures.    =)

Photos by Bruce Douglas and Chuck Nordstrom

Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 13

Fabled Islands 13

April 19, 2009

Zanzibar! Wow, even the name conjures up visions of Arab Sultans, Portuguese sailing ships, the Spice Islands. It is an old city, with early buildings dating back more than a thousand years.

It holds such an important place in history that it is designated a World Heritage Site. The city itself has a bit of a demarcation as “Stone Town” (the old quarter), and the new town.
It is actually fairly easy to see the difference.

As we pulled into port, ships lay at anchor everywhere. Some were fairly new or at least well preserved, others looking like ship wrecks waiting to happen. The ship crew was fairly alert at anchor, as stowaways are actually fairly common in ports such as this. In fact, later this same evening as we prepared to weigh anchor, the ship’s crew swept the ship looking for stowaways.

The tour today pointed out clearly to me what I really already knew: I am not a great fan of the “guided tour” type of trip. I prefer instead to get out on my own and explore, which I did eventually.

After our small group walked through the market, savoring (?) the smells of fish, squid, octopus, rotting vegetables, waste, and other produce, I told the group leader of my plan to walk about on my own. After assuring him of my qualifications with map and compass (neither of which I actually had), I backtracked and walked a few of the ancient alleyways on my own.

In the absence of a larger group presence, I was virtually invisible. Now this was more like it! I picked up a few interesting photos and a few souvenirs for friends as requested. It was a much slower pace, with people unaffected by the presence of a group of camera-toting tourists!

After recovering all of the shore parties, we weighed anchor at sunset and headed back out to sea. Though we only had 70 nm to go to Dar es Salaam, the ship remains in motion at night to discourage piracy and stowaways.

As an aside, the ship still has to run the “gauntlet” along the Somali coast between Dar es Salaam and Egypt before picking up passengers for the Mediterranean itineraries. The Somali coast is where most of the piracy is taking place. We had 2 “security experts” on board for our journey out away from the populated Seychelles Islands. These two guys were very burly, clearly ex-military, and I suspect from a group such as Blackwater. Who knows what firepower they had aboard?

The ship itself will be further prepped for this repositioning. There are high pressure fire hoses directed at the waterline access points, held in place by newly-welded brackets. A pallet of concertina-wire bales sits on one of the upper decks, to be deployed on the stern, where access to the engine room might be a problem. Too, metal grating has been welded over the open-air windows of the engine room, and are all electrified. All portholes and windows are to be blacked-out during the voyage. Most of the staff and crew will be minimized, flown to Egypt, and additional security-dudes are to board. Four small escort boats will accompany the ship. They really are taking this piracy risk very seriously!

Our last day was a bit tedious, as we checked out and left the ship in Dar, transferred to small tour buses, to see a few “sights” around the city. All I can say is, “Gads, I hate these tour bus groups!”

But my discomfort was soon ended as we arrived at the airport after lunch and struggled through the airport check in procedures. For those who haven’t experienced airports in a developing nation it is not for the faint of heart. Slow and tedious, dark and hot interior, seemingly interminable. But, we made it.

Now all I have left is 26 hours of flying during a 36 hour stretch…then I’ll be home.



Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 12

Fabled Islands 12

April 18, 2009

Last night was pretty rough seas, but surprisingly I seem to have found my “sea-legs.” I was able to travel the halls from dining room to cabin and back without hitting any of the walls! Trust me, it was quite a challenge!

We arrived at Ibo Island, Mozambique, this morning around 7 AM.

Ibo Island is part of the Quirimbas Archipelago in northern Mozambique, with one of the oldest and most interesting towns in this region. In the late 1500’s the area was ruled by both the Portuguese and Muslims. During subsequent centuries it became an important trade center for many exotic spices, trade goods, and slaves.

In 1902 the capital was transferred from Ibo Island to the current location, Pemba. This signaled the beginning of the slow demise of the island.

After clearing customs, we off-loaded into the Zodiacs in groups and headed into “town.” I decided to join the photo team, led by National Geographic photographer, Bob Krist.

The Zodiac ride in was pretty long, about 3 miles, in choppy water. As we neared the beach we had to drop speed to a crawl, as the water was only a foot deep and was soon to become mud flats as the tide went out.

Once ashore, we walked for a couple of hours up and down the decrepit streets and sidewalks. Buildings still stand, obviously old colonial offices and stores but are crumbling or being overgrown by vegetation. It feels almost like a ghost town though some locals still live here. One person said it looked like time had stopped, an apt description.

The kids in the town are inquisitive as they are almost everywhere in the world, the adults less so. Some declined to be photographed, others welcomed us.

I managed quite a few nice photos here, though I can’t post many as I have almost filled my laptop hard drive with photos!

Walking along with Bob and his entourage I was struck by the fact that my own eye for images is pretty good. Bob clearly saw many things that I did not, but in general I did pretty well. Or so I thought until I saw his slide show. Wow, what an eye! He presented most of his images in a sepia tone or monochrome, which enhanced the “old” effect of the town; stunning images. I have a lot to learn…

After lunch we went out on our final dive of this trip. The wind had picked up and was creating quite a bit of chop. We went out about 3 miles, bouncing around like crazy, to the southwest end of Ibo Island accompanied by a local dive guide.

At first the coral and visibility both were very good, but it dropped somewhat as we moved farther west along the coral wall. Our local guide seemed not to have too much group experience, as he took off with the two lead divers and separated from the rest of the group.

Our own divemasters kept the group together until the guide finally stopped and waited for the rest of us to catch up. He was also using underwater signals that apparently are European. None of us knew them, but we did find out later what he was trying to convey.

About 40 minutes into the dive, the visibility dropped to less than 10 feet; think pea soup. We ended the dive shortly thereafter, and headed back to the ship for showers and a great dinner.

Tonight and all the next day we will be at sea as we proceed north up the Mozambique Channel to Zanzibar, almost the end of this trip.


Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 11

Fabled Islands 11

April 17, 2009

Last night I actually slept pretty well. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I am getting my sea legs or that we were at anchor the whole night (a first). But never look a gift horse in the mouth. I woke refreshed and ready for today’s dive.

At dawn we moved the ship a couple of miles to the north on the leeward side of the island, protected from the winds that have been blowing. Here, too, is a nice reef and a beautiful beach called appropriately, “Perfect Beach.”

After breakfast, the dive teams assembled, though this time they split us up from our usual dive partners. The beach slopes gently into the lagoon, with the reef starting just offshore. The reef then slopes gently out a few hundred yards from shore then drops off in a nice wall down to about 75 feet.

We buzzed up and down in the zodiacs searching for just the right spot to drop in. Once Kelvin, the divemaster, was satisfied, we entered the water and formed up in two groups of four divers and a divemaster.

Almost immediately we could tell the coral in this area was exceedingly healthy and abundant. Lots of reds, greens, blues, yellows, purples, and browns; in fact, almost any color you could imagine.

The fish life was also excellent, with plenty of anemones and their respective clownfish, lots of fry, and a half-dozen lionfish; a beautiful fish with a really nasty poisonous barb in the dorsal fin. You really don’t want to get stung!

We cruised slowly along the wall admiring the incredible beauty of this reef and its many inhabitants.

When our allotted time was up (an hour), we made our way up a small canyon of sorts to shallower water where we finished the dive and returned to the ship.

After rinsing our gear and ourselves, the ship weighed anchor and we left the lagoon, headed west toward Mozambique, our destination for tomorrow.

Once we cleared the island the seas picked up a bit, the ship pitching and rocking quite a bit in the larger than usual swells of open ocean. Lunch was attended by fewer people than normal, the effects of the ship movement no doubt.

Mid-afternoon I attended a talk given by one of our divemasters, Lisa Trotter, the first person to become certified as a diver in the Antarctic. Since then she has logged thousands of dives. The talk dealt with her passion, the Leopard Seal, and her close encounters (some rather scary) with these creatures in Antarctic waters. (more info: see her book, “Below Freezing,” and Google her name).

On to Mozambique!


Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 10

Fabled Islands 10

April 16, 2009

As I write we are heading slowly to our anchorage in the lagoon of Mayotte, French Comoros. Officially known as the Departmental Collective of Mayotte, it is a French territory, hence the people all have French benefits and membership in the European Union. It is the only island in the Comorian Archipelago that voted to remain a French territory and forgo independence. The other islands in this chain are now independent.

We arrived early in the morning, anchored and began sending almost everyone ashore in the zodiacs for various local activities, excursions, and general sightseeing.

I chose to take the driving tour around the island with friends. It was hot and humid and it rained as we made for shore, adding to the swelter.

The few communities we saw from the van or stopped in were very reminiscent of villages in east Africa, though they were largely Muslim here. Nowhere were our cameras welcome, so I had to make do with a few touristy photos of flowers and fellow tourists doing the “tourist-thing.”  Not exactly my idea of fun, but it is what it is.

A brief walk in the local botanical garden was colorful, but I’m not exactly enthralled with a bunch of plants scattered about (sorry, garden lovers). Don’t get me wrong, the flowers were stunning, but I’m just not that into the botany.

The Ylang-ylang museum and plantation was interesting. It seems this plant oil is the basis for some very exotic and pricey perfumes. And, wouldn’t you know it, it smells pretty good too! I picked up a few “smelly soaps” as gifts for my all-female office staff. That should be pretty safe, don’t you think?

Our resident Seychellois naturalist, Guy (“Ghee”), also demonstrated some of the uses the local plans have for cleansing and medicinal use. One particular pod was used for intestinal ailments. He did say it was rather bitter, as our French-speaking guide soon discovered…

After lunch though was the real treat of the day: a visit to a Lemur reserve on M’Bouzi Island. It is within the large lagoon, and is about 100 acres in size. The lemur population on this island is not completely wild. They are acclimated to humans not only from the tourists who visit, but also the caretakers and feeders. The island is too small to sustain as many lemurs as live there.

After we landed, our group of about 10 –12 people followed the naturalist inland through the jungle undergrowth. While the group listened to a brief talk on the plants, I was just ahead on the trail, looking, taking a photo or two. I heard a low grunt. Or did I? I heard it again, several times. It sounds like a pig. What the…? Are there wild boars on the island? No, it was the lemurs! They actually grunt. Too funny!

After that little surprise, I found more and more of them scurrying along in the branches. When they realized humans had arrived (and likely some tasty bananas), they appeared in droves; literally dozens of them hopping about in the trees.

They would come down to within a few feet with no apparent concern. Clearly these are not wild, but fun to see anyway. We would have loved to see the wild lemurs on Madagascar, but politics being what it is, we had to settle for this experience. Fun as it was, it still wasn’t what we had hoped.

The creatures are amazing to watch, very inquisitive, with the bald face and opposable thumbs of the primates, but yet not quite so. They are more like primates crossed with dogs, and are classified as prosimians. They have nails rather than claws, and their tails are not prehensile like the true monkeys.

After spending an hour or so on the island wandering about, taking more than 120 photos just of the lemurs, and watching these amazing animals scamper about, I left and returned to the ship so others could come ashore (we limited the number of people on the island at any given time).

A nice dinner on board and an early bed for me, while some of the others went ashore at 9 PM to enjoy a local band at a French restaurant.



Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 9

Fabled Islands 9

April 15, 2009

After leaving Madagascar behind we sailed through the night west and southwest toward a mid-ocean reef, Geysir Reef, located about 200 km (125 miles) off the northwest coast of Madagascar at 12˚21’S, 46˚26’E (see if you can find it on Google Earth. I will when I return home). It is a large oval about 5 miles wide and 3 miles long, with exposed rocks just a few feet in height at low tide.  The remnant of a volcanic island and reef that has since submerged, it is rarely frequented.

The name comes from the British ship, the Geysir, which ran aground here in 1678. France, Madagascar, and Comoros all lay claim to the reef.

The reef has a slightly sloping edge that drops to a sandy bottom at about 75-90 feet. A short distance out from there, it drops to an amazing 1500 feet, and then just a few miles further, it drops again to a deep trench at 10,000 feet. Truly an abyss!

It’s getting rather repetitive, I know, but the diving and snorkeling today was awesome!

We were briefed and prepared to see some larger, pelagic sharks today, but no such luck (?). Funny, at certain points in the dive several of us admitted to looked out into the murk and wondering, what’s out there…watching…
After leaving the reef and resuming course for the Comoros, we enjoyed a talk and presentation by National Geographic photographer, Bob Krist. He spoke on “The Story Behind the Photos of National Geographic.”  Wow, what amazing photos he has captured, and the “schmoozing” he has to do sometimes to get into places where others can’t is truly amazing in its own right. It pays to have good contacts.

A short while later we spotted more dolphins, though honestly, I didn’t see them. I was resting in my cabin! Man, this is great. No responsibilities, no deadlines, no pressures.

I wonder if I could make a living like this.


Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 8

Fabled Islands 8

April 14, 2009

Last night we left the Seychelles behind, turning south down the Mozambique Channel, heading for Madagascar. We sailed through the night awakening in the morning near the northern end of the huge island.

Madagascar is huge. It is the world’s 4th largest island; in fact, it is larger than France. Its long isolation has produced a unique mix of endemic plants and animals. It has a dozen species of Baobab tree; Africa has only one. Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else.

Human activity on the island has had a devastating effect on both flora and fauna. More than a third of the native vegetation has disappeared in the last 30 years, as people clear land and burn trees to make charcoal.

Some brilliant soul in the Madagascar government recently brought in large numbers of eucalyptus trees from Australia to “correct” the problem.  Now they have large tracts of eucalyptus trees that are poisonous to the wildlife, making a bad situation even worse.

So, as cool as Madagascar is, unfortunately we didn’t go there because the US State Department has issued a travel advisory warning US citizens not to go. And the insurers clearly would be upset if anything happened. So, we took photos as we went by…

But where one door closes, another opens. The changes in the itinerary resulted in some excellent brain-storming between the bridge crew and the Expedition Leader. The result was a most excellent series of new and little seen areas, beaches, and reefs.

In this case, we found a very nice reef some miles offshore and proceeded to offload all of the zodiacs including a very cool modification they made to one: a glass-bottom-zodiac. It was designed for those folks who neither dove nor snorkeled. The people who went out on this always raved about it. A fun side note was when we divers swam under this zodiac and turned over to see all these smiling faces peering down at us. I’ll have to see if there are any good photos from this vantage point.

The reef was great. Essentially untouched by humans, and most certainly not in anyone’s dive guides, it is fairly shallow. As soon as we rolled into the water we could tell it was going to be different.

We saw three Zebra sharks within the first 5 minutes, all of them lying on the sea bottom near coral ledges. One of them stirred and swam somewhat unnervingly toward one of us, before veering off, circled around and came back to its former resting spot.

Now, before you ask about the spots on this shark, and why it’s called “zebra” instead of Leopard, the name Zebra Shark comes from the appearance of the young, which have clearly defined stripes. The stripes fade and spots dominate as it matures. So, yes, it has spots, but, no, it’s not a Leopard Shark. If I recall from the talk earlier today about this, it is related to the Nurse Shark.

Fish were abundant, including many species we hadn’t seen in the Seychelles. The soft coral and anemone colors were more vibrant thanks to clear water and no evidence of the same type of die-off experienced in the Seychelles a few years ago.

It was a very satisfying dive today. Once back aboard we had the afternoon to relax, read, enjoy a talk on the “Wondrous & Strange Land of Madagascar,” sit on deck, watch for marine mammals. We did see a few: mostly Reese (?) dolphins, and some time later a few people spotted Spinner dolphins, too.

Sunset was spectacular as usual. It seems that every sunrise or sunset is amazing out here. I took many photos at first, but now they seem to be a bit mundane, even though each is unique and beautiful in its own right.