Alan and Marlies Sands were awestruck as their pontoon boat slipped gently through the dramatic beauty on the Zambezi River above Victoria Falls. Deftly navigated around many islands, all of them covered with lush tropical vegetation, they sat back, mesmerized by the surroundings. Herds of elephants, hippos, and giant crocodiles passed across their line of sight as they enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing sunset cruise. Were they dreaming that they were here in this enchanted setting?
Although visit to Africa was on Marlies’ Bucket List, this trip didn’t hit their radar until they got back from a Southeast Asian cruise earlier this year. Alan was catching up on back issues of Motorcycle Mojo Magazines when he came across Gwen and Glenn’s story of their Renedian motorcycle safari last year. He and Marlies were intrigued and had time available. With their mantra of, “Do it while you can,” Marlies was on the phone seeing if there were any spots in this year’s Mojo trip. There weren’t but there happened to be two spots on an earlier Waterfalls and Wildlife Trip. They booked them.
At 5’2” and 74 years old, Marlies was concerned about her ability to handle the BMW’s they’d be riding in Africa. She’d gotten her license when she was 60 and her experience was almost exclusively on Harley-Davidsons, most recently her favourite—a Softtail Deluxe with a 23 1/2’ seat height. As soon as she sat on the BMW which would be hers for the safari, her fears were allayed. Alan, who turned 81 in Africa and has been riding since he was 16, had no concerns about the riding. His fear was of snakes. They saw none.
They arrived two days early to acclimatize and as it turned out, let their luggage catch up with them. The trip was more than they’d expected. From seeing animals and birds they’d only seen in photos, participating in game drives, and flying in to bush camps, they were hard pressed to come up with one favourite story. Their experiences ranged from the spectacular to the unique—like Alan’s flat tire after it was punctured by a piece of bone.
The rural culture was fascinating. “In Botswana, people seem to live like you see it in a National Geographic report,” recalls Marlies. “They have family compounds, with stick fences, a cluster of huts that are usually mud with a thatched roof, and you see people walking along the road to get water from the nearest well. Along the road were “thatch vendors”—people who’ve cut and bundled thatch, set up temporary living quarters at the side of the road, and display their wares to attract purchasers. Likewise, tent villages pop up to house crews for road construction.”
A visit to legendary Victoria Falls fell at the halfway point of their trip. Knowing they’d likely not be back, they booked an optional 25-minute helicopter excursion over the Falls. After waiting for the chopper’s 100-hour inspection, they were off. Every time someone would see something interesting below, like the roaming herds of elephants, hippos, and giraffes, the pilot would dip down and execute a figure eight so all four passengers could see it. Then the flight went down the gorge, over an area that was all wildlife before returning to home base.
Later that afternoon, they embarked on the sunset cruise on the Zambezi, boarding the pontoon boat which had docked right behind their hotel. The day was capped off by a great Indian meal at a restaurant within walking distance of their hotel. The cruise and meal were both included in the trip
It’s fitting Marlies and Alan enjoyed another exquisite sunset on the last night before heading back to Windhoek. Vans picked up the group from their lodging at Namibia’s Talenie Etosha Village, and delivered them to a carefully appointed jungle location. There they climbed up onto a platform to a lookout, complete with hors d’ oeuvres and wine, to indelibly etch southern Africa in their hearts and minds.
Alan and Marlies have traveled around the world and they are both resolute that this trip tops them all. Bursting with enthusiasm, Alan declares, “This experience was first class all the way. Of all the trips we’ve been on, this was the most adventuresome, exciting, and superbly organized. It wasn’t technically difficult, because the roads are fairly straight, not like riding in the Alps. Here it’s straight roads, but everything around you is fantastic! Every place we went, you just shake your head. It’s much more than we expected. “
Photo credits: Marlies Sands