Sunday, February 20, 2011

Day 127 - Victoria Falls to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

RobT:  The planned route for today was 436 km (280 miles).  We even thought about pressing on past Bulawayo and head up toward Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe where we would get our Ethiopian visas.  We made a few rest stops today, as we normally do when riding, to try and rejuvenate ourselves but these attempts were less than successful.  The first time we were approached by 4 boys looking for food.  They wouldn’t leave us alone, so we continued on.  The next stop was a small village with a couple of stores and loud music coming from a bar.  Not conducive to a good rest stop but we did stretch our cramped legs.  Next stop we managed to rest a bit.  Zimbabwe is different than anything we have seen so far.  Along the roads, people walked to the neighboring village, carrying goods on their heads or babies tightly wrapped to the backs of woman by what looked like a towel.  Pathways disappearing into the brush leading to some hidden group of huts.  At one point singing could be heard in the distance coming from the brush across the road.  Very intriguing. It would have been interesting to witness whatever was going on there.

Typical villager walking along the road.

 One of the many paths into villages beyond the road.

We continued on the rough paved road and what transpired over the next 24 hours was like something out of the movies.  I was riding ahead when I heard a noise from RobC's headset that sounded like he had lifted his face shield and the wind was blowing across the microphone, but it was a little different.  I looked in the  mirror and noticed Rob and his bike were both lying on the road.  Holy smokes!!  I quickly turned my bike around and headed back.  He was in bad shape, his thumb 90 degrees to his hand, blood on his forearms and he looked like he was going into shock.  I didn’t see what happened and Rob didn’t know either.

RobC:  My best explanation is fatigue. I don't sleep much when sleeping in a tent and the night before was a particularly rowdy night in the camp with a bunch of Swedish youngsters traveling on the Pink Bus were having a party after they had already come home quite "happy"  from a booze cruise. During the early afternoon hours I was desperately looking for a suitable place to lay my head down and take a nap. The only thing I remember of the accident is that I suddenly saw a large, dark object in front of me and I forcefully  applied the brakes. Since the road surface was very rough, with loose particles on top, and perhaps the fact of having a knobby tire on the front, the bike hit the deck very quickly with me on it.

I have seen and heard of other cases in which motorcycle riders injure their thumbs in a crash of this type, and that is precisely what happened to me. When I took off my super Held gloves, the thumb on my left hand was ominously sticking out at 3 o' clock. My arms were quite scraped and bloody due to having had the bottom vents on the sleeves open and the sleeves just rode up my arms. This is a good reminder that even when it is very hot, the jacket and sleeves must fit tightly and securely for the elbow and shoulder pads to do any good. My beautiful FirstGear TPG jacket is full of holes, and once again my Aerostich Darien pants have a lot of damage, but again the bottom part of my body had no injuries. The helmet which showed a lot of scraping at the top, the chin and the face shield is ready for the trash.

Lessons for motorcycle riders: Don't drive when tired. Falling at 100 km/hour (65m/h) is not fatal if you don't hit anything, but good gear will save your hide.

I'll let RobT continue his story.

RobT:  Not five minutes later four vehicles stopped to help.  The only truck I saw was one which was 300 m ahead of us, he actually backed up to help.  The driver must have seen what happened in his side mirror.  It was like they came out of nowhere.   Eight people helped collect the pieces off the road and shoulder.  Rob's top box and tank bag had opened up in the accident and spilled their contents all over the road and the berm.  His bike had a punctured cylinder cover and sustained some serious gouges in the pannier, handle bar and fuel tank.  We moved the bike and Rob off the road and Colin, one of the people who had stopped to help, offered his trailer and truck to transport Rob and his bike to the hospital in Bulawayo some 80 km away.  He also said that he was on his way to Johannesburg, South Africa, and that he would be willing to take Rob and his bike there. It took 6 of us to load the heavy bike on to the trailer which itself was loaded with bags of grain, suitcases, two spare tires and wood.  The bike sat on its side on top of several bags of grain. His pickup was also loaded with several people in the box.  I would follow.

After we were under way, I noticed I had 50 km of fuel left and we had 70 km to go.  Now I had to flag the driver down so I could empty one of the auxiliary cans into my fuel tank.  A few minutes later a parcel fell off the trailer.  I managed to get his attention and he pulled over.  I rode back for the parcel, picked it up and at the same time put the fuel into the bike.  We ended up in the townships outside Bulawayo which was also where the hospital was but not before the driver dropped off a few people along the way and had to repair a flat front tire.  RobC was extremely uncomfortable.  We arrived at the hospital and Colin helped check RobC in and after 45 minutes he stated that he had to run some errands in town.  He asked if we needed anything off the truck as we decided the bike and RobC’s gear and luggage best stay with the truck.  Saves unloading and reloading.  Colin left as RobC was being treated.  This was about 5:30pm.

The hospital looked like something out of a war, broken windows in the operating room and reception areas, bars on the windows, chairs with torn foam, no vinyl covering, old cabinets, dirt on walls, rust and oil on the floors at the door jams,  broken benches and chairs, wooden wheelchairs, horse blankets for the patients, dirt, mosquitoes, very few supplies (the nurse was even rationing the medical tape and at one point they used some items from my first aid kit for Rob), the bathroom looked and smelled like they hadn’t been cleaned in decades, bars on the toilet tanks and plumbing, no sinks, paint peeling off the walls in large sheets, faded hand painted bulletins on the walls,  half the lighting didn’t work including the operating room, not one clock functioned yet they were all plugged into outlets, etc, etc.  I tried to use the hospital phone to make a collect call to Rob's Medjet Assist.  “Impossible”, I was told.  This came from the supervisor.  He was afraid that the hospital would be charged for the call.  Amazingly, despite all of this, the staff was incredible!!  They treated us like family.
The doctor was done with Rob around 6:30 pm, so now we had to wait for Colin.  We both realized that neither of us obtained Colin’s cell phone number, last name or even the license plate off the truck.  We had nothing.  It was now 9 pm and no Colin.  The staff knew why we were waiting and basically told us that the bike and stuff were more or less gone.  Theft is a big problem in Zimbabwe and even the most well-intentioned individuals succumb to the temptation.  One staff member even confessed that he wouldn’t trust himself in that situation.  Poverty is extreme and it’s all about survival in this place.  We told them we would wait till midnight.  The one lady brought us tea and four slices of brown bread.  It was all they had to offer.  They even offered us two beds for the night as we had no place to stay.  Another staff member noticed that my motorcycle was parked outside and was very concerned about its safety.  She said that we need to bring it inside the hospital so I ended up riding my bike through the ambulance emergency entrance, past reception and into the operating theatre where Rob was treated!  Unbelievable!   

 My bike in the emergency room of the Impilo Hospital.  Shelves bare.  The operating room is beyond the door in front of my motorcycle.

 The wonderful staff.

10 pm rolled around and still no Colin.  The security guard had notified the police, so when the officer arrived we were questioned on what happened.  We explained everything.  He thought that Rob’s bike was gone.  Both Rob and I believed Colin would return, but the officer was quick to state that no one is that nice here and no one should be trusted like we trusted Colin, upon which he started to write up a report.
At 11 pm Colin finally showed up!  Everyone was ecstatic! After a group picture, we were on our way. RobC headed straight to Johannesburg, South Africa, 1200 km to the south and I went to the local hotel as 14 hours on the road through the night was not a good idea on a motorcycle.


  1. I'm in Orlando having a mini-reunion with some mk's and I told them about your trip. They wanted to see your blog. What a shock to immediately see about this accident. Praying for the situation.

  2. Wow! How God has protected you! I know about road hypnosis! That is why I constantly stand up and move around on the bike. It could have been any of us, especially that night coming into Andahuaylas!