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Preparing For Adventure with Andrea Box

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #20

Last issue we left trauma nurse and trained paramedic Andrea Box in a tent in Antalaha, Madagascar, awaiting the start of Touratech’s inaugural United People of Adventure…

Before leaving Antalaha we visited the local orphanage and school, and seeing the children was both joyous and heartbreaking. They took such pride in their simple surroundings and were so welcoming of visitors on strange motor-bikes. There’s no State or government funding for orphanages in Madagascar, and as we were shown around I couldn’t help but notice many of the 36 orphans slept on old straw mattresses with threadbare sheets that would’ve been a haven for bedbugs and fleas.

The cooking area was so far from our western idea of a kitchen, but they just made do with what they had. The dining area was laid out for dinner, but there weren’t enough bowels and cutlery for all the children to eat at once.

Andrea Box
Sections without bridges often needed a team effort of pushing and pulling to find a way through the swampy bogs.
A visit to an orphanage and school was both joyous and heartbreaking.

Power was used sparingly if at all and in a dim room a young woman was concentrating over medical textbooks.

The nuns explained with grins of pride that she was the first of their orphans to make it to university and would stay with them until she graduated as a doctor.

As we sat down over dinner that night we were quiet. Our afternoon at the orphanage had given us all food for thought.

The sight of our bikes parked in the schoolyard created a stark contrast.

It was impossible not to compare the luxury of our hobby to their basic surrounds. Talk soon started about what we could to help, and with a hand from Momo, the owner of the hotel where we were lodged, mattresses and other necessities were bought and delivered to the orphanage. It’s rare with charity to be able to impact those less fortunate so directly, and for me it was definitely a highlight of our trip.

mar, the lovably crazy Egyptian, started giving the local children rides. The author and other riders soon joined in.

The locals

Considering the largest local bike I saw was a light and practical 200cc, we created quite a spectacle. The mayor of Antalaha had heard about our trip and organised the town football field for us to park the bikes and meet some of the friendly locals.

Much to our amazement hundreds of people turned up. While we couldn’t really communicate with them in Madagascan or French, it turned out that engine noises are the international language of bike lovers.

Women don’t ride motorbikes in Madagascar, so Ramona and I were quite a novelty and many of the ladies and girls shyly came up.

I’d hold their little ones as they sat on my bike for a photo. They were so respectful of our gear, and if we weren’t standing with our bike they wouldn’t even touch or sit on it.

Omar, the lovably crazy Egyptian, started giving the local children rides around the soccer pitch and before long the policeman had the kids forming a queue and we were all giving joyrides. The children started off small and two at a time they climbed onto my Tiger. Slowly the size of the kids grew and before I could say, ‘No,’ I had two full-grown men sitting on the back of my bike.

The adventure begins

Riding out of Antalaha we quickly ate up the only 10km of asphalt we would see on the entire trip.

Following the sign to Cape Est we hit the dirt and, thanks to unseasonal rain, the slick surface had a few of us landing in the mud fairly quickly.

When the traction control kicked in unexpectedly midway through a mug bog I found myself dumped ungracefully into the puddle.

Luckily, the Touratech-equipped Triumph Tiger 800 I was riding was well-suited to the conditions (once I figured out how to turn the traction control off).

The riding conditions tested us from the very beginning and we had to work together to get the bikes across many of the bogs.

We had some local riders along with us, and while they seemed to find a special amusement in seeing what we were attempting on our big adventure bikes, they were the first to help when ’bikes got stuck. As often happens, a mutual passion for ’bikes seems to be enough to cross culture and language barriers.

Some bridges had just enough maintenance done to keep them usable.
The bridges were often just logs laid width-ways through the mud and water with longways planks put down on top.

As they happen

There were many rivers to cross. Some had bridges in various states of repair, and the track we were on did have a small amount of local car traffic, so the bridges appeared to have just enough maintenance done to keep them usable. The larger rivers needed a punt or raft to cross, and loading the bikes onto these make-shift barges that barely sat above the waterline was a nerve-wracking process. The teetering barges were then pulled across by rope or pushed by bamboo poles.

We all quickly adjusted to the slower pace of life, picking up the native saying, ‘Mora, mora’. The closest literal translation would be ‘Slowly, slowly’. It’s used to cover everything from, ‘Slow down, take it easy, be patient,’ to, ‘Relax – things will happen when they happen’.

The Madagascans have mastered the art of just enjoying things as and when they occur.

Refreshing coconut water was nature’s answer to Gatorade.
Teetering barges were pulled across by rope or pushed by bamboo poles.

Tucker time

Initially we were worried about what food we would be able to buy along the way and before we set off we stocked up on staple ingredients like rice, flour, vegetables and, of course, Madagascan coffee. We rode away by 6:30am most days and our morning coffee was welcomed.

Lunch was usually replaced with snacks on the go.

We soon learned we could get coconuts just by finding a local with a machete and asking them, “Coconut, merci?” and holding up fingers to indicate the number we wanted to buy. Grabbing a hand-woven basket the friendly locals would smile and disappear into the thick jungle and reappear a little later with fresh coconuts in hand. Never having been a big coconut fan I was quickly converted. The refreshing coconut water was nature’s answer to Gatorade and cracking them open to eat the coconut flesh gave us a much-needed energy boost.

Dinner was a group affair. July (Asia) and Ben (North America) were our resident ‘Masterchefs’.

They led the way with cooking and had us all slicing and stirring our way to some very gourmet camp meals. Our rest day even saw bread and naan being baked, something I’ve never experienced on a ’bike trip before. We also carried dehydrated meals that could be quickly made with hot water as emergency rations. The Madagascan people were welcoming and we were often able to buy a meal of fish or chicken from them. The freshness of the food was never in question, as the chicken would be caught from the yard as we ordered.

The larger rivers needed a punt or raft to cross.
Doctors Gudmunder (Iceland) and Robert (Australia) confirmed Omar’s fibula was broken.

My wheels

I was lucky enough to be riding the Triumph Tiger 800 XCX, and while the three-cylinder engine makes its own special tune, it doesn’t have an impressive growl. But its smooth purr definitely grows on the rider. I had the XC model at home and I found the suspension upgrade on this model to be my favourite aspect of the bike. To have standard suspension – by WP – that needed no tweaking or upgrades was a pleasant surprise. Its ability to maintain traction and smooth-out the ride over rough conditions was quite impressive and the 21-inch front wheel with knobby tyre definitely made my life easier in the sand and mud. The only drawbacks to the bike were that the position of the tank bag could get in the way, and the inconvenient safety feature that means the traction control has to be turned off again every time the bike is started up.

The last rider always had a hard time as there were no fresh lines to try.

The going gets tough

Continuing south the track got narrower and became suitable for foot- and motor-bike traffic only.

As the track turned from mud back to packed sand we all relaxed a little, enjoying the reprieve from the slick surface.

Catching his wheel in the soft sand in the middle of the track Omar (Egypt) was thrown off his bike and landed at an odd angle. The bike came down on top of him and crushed his ankle. Sitting under the shelter of a tree at the edge of a tiny remote village Omar clutched his leg and the Doctors Gudmunder (Iceland) and Robert (Australia) confirmed that his fibula was broken as I splinted and strapped his ankle.

Hours later, with much disappointment and painkillers in his system, Omar watched his Super Ténéré loaded into the back of a local pickup. He was unable to stand on his leg and there was no way he could ride, so with heavy hearts we continued south without our joking Egyptian.

Accept it

The bridges, if you could even call them that, were often just logs laid width-ways through the mud and water with longways planks put down on top, sometimes fastened down, more often not. Most of them needed some level of rebuilding before we could negotiate them and they often looked worse for wear by the time we got all the bikes across. Sections without bridges often needed a team effort of pushing and pulling to find a way through the swampy bogs, and the last rider always had a hard time as there were no fresh lines to try to get a little extra traction from.

The weather added an extra dimension of difficulty. As we couldn’t ever get our feet dry the rain and humidity had us fighting off trench foot and red, fungal welts started to appear. I gave up trying to keep clothes dry and just accepted that either with rain or sweat I’d be drenched the whole time.

The Triumph Tiger 800XCX performed well in tough conditions.

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