When John Baxter began riding fifty years ago, Japanese motorcycles were new on the North American scene. A neighbour, who acquired the Yamaha dealership for Ontario, always had bikes hanging around and gave John one for the summer. His instructions were simple: The clutch is on the left, brakes are on the right, give it back in September.
John was hooked, but gave it up in his late twenties because of family responsibilities. Thirty years later, he was back.
“I wanted to do a vacation where I could split riding and going to neat places. I’ve been to most of the usual places and wanted to try something different.”
But even when he spoke about a trip to Africa with Rene at one of the motorcycle shows, Rene told him to think about it for a year before deciding.
Now he’s making up for lost time. Since that initial conversation, he participated in the Waterfalls and Wildlife safari in 2017, has taken private tours in southern Africa and South America, and is set to go back to South Africa this fall.
“There’s a whole world out there that I didn’t even know; a continent I only knew in abstractions. You see a scene that matches an identical picture you saw as a young kid, thinking how strange it would be to be there, wondering if they made it up. Then you actually see it and realize they didn’t make it up.”
John’s travels have taken him to prime destinations.
Waterfalls and Wildlife 2017
“There was a real sense of energy as soon as I got out of the airport. I loved everything about it — the animals, scenery, and the people who lived there. Everywhere I stayed I wanted to stay longer. After the trip, I wondered why it took me so long to do this.”
“Africa engages all your senses. There were many different plants you could smell. The air feels a little different. There’s very little pollution.
“People were genuinely friendly, sincere, and welcoming. They were as curious about us as we were about them. They didn’t have a lot of the social inhibitions that we have and would walk up and start talking to you.
“I felt like a kid at a party, not wanting to go to sleep so I didn’t miss anything.”
Captivated by Africa after the Waterfalls and Wildlife safari, John was eager to see more. After reviewing his options with Rene, he booked a private tour, generally following the Garden Route, accompanied by Renedian guide Rob House.
“Because I was the only one on it, we could modify the route. It’s ninety percent paved, but I found myself really enjoying the dirt roads and we ended up doing more of them than was on the tour. You see more too, especially the animals. That’s what I wanted to see more than the vineyards or tea plantations.”
John swam with sharks, another thrilling experience. “Everything was so professionally done, but I knew what it felt like to be on a buffet.”
He also got to explore Cape Town, “the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.”
Renedian’s Journey to Ushuaia intrigued John, but there were countries he wanted to see before he went to Chile and Argentina. “I gave Rene a wish list, like you give to Santa when you’re a little kid, and he built a trip around it. An advantage of a private tour is that you can pick the time when the weather’s the best and people are available.
“Peru was the most exciting riding I’ve ever done. Guide John Wellburn and I would start off at 500 metres and three hours later we were at 4,500 metres. Every five minutes you’d notice the terrain, vegetation, and animals would change. We started out in lush jungles with banana trees and ended up in almost barren land.
John was on his own for the second part of his three-week trip, all arranged by Renedian. He visited Machu Pichu, flew to the Galapagos, saw the condors, and went to Lake Titicaca. He got to fly over the Nazca lines. Then it was on to Ecuador, where he spent time in Quito before visiting a lodge in the Ecuador Cloud Forest. A green glass frog, “so translucent you can see through it and see its internal organs” was the highlight of that visit.
Back to South Africa
This fall, John will explore the eastern Cape of South Africa on another Private Tour. He’ll fly to Johannesburg, visit Swaziland and Lesotho, and finish in Durban on the Indian Ocean.
After that, he’s got plans for a trip from La Pas to Tierra del Fuego, Antarctica, then possibly circumnavigating Lake Victoria.
“I never knew how beautiful the world was. I’m now very fortunate to be in a position to see it.”
Photo Credits: John Baxter