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Launch off: When the tough get going

It all started with a tree. An acacia tree, to be exact. Various items of transportation were positioned beneath it, from a Landcruiser to a bicycle, and finally, the decision to leave the damn tree alone. And that was just our logo.

We'd both attended a permaculture design course in South Africa and Palestine respectively, and wanted to do something for the greater good. The idea of travelling through Africa to spread awareness about sustainable lifestyles and travel was sound, but we just didn't have the resources to do it.

Feeling impotent, nevertheless the idea festered in our brains like a tumour about to burst.

Becoming nomads

It all came to a head when we returned to South Africa after four long years in Dubai, and realised that there was no better time than now. We were already in transit, so figured we might as well embrace the nomadic existence.

When I bought an LML (a Vespa made in India), fending off my husband, Chris, for the chance to actually ride it, our mission became clear(er).


All images © Christopher List Photography

We'd embark on a 7500km 6-month epic scooter safari through all corners of South Africa - exploring, photographing and documenting South Africa's natural beauty, the inspiring environmental projects that aim to conserve this and replenish what's been lost, and sharing our discoveries with the rest of the world.

Food and Trees for Africa We'd be doing it all in support of Food & Trees for Africa, a fantastic social enterprise that's all about putting back more than we (as humans) take out,creating food gardens for school kids and low-income communities, planting trees and teaching people to become self-sufficient with permaculture methods.


How to get ready for a scooter expedition

Now all we'd have to do is train. We sat on our bikes for a few minutes in the garage. We tried different positions. We tried a few more.

Luckily, around that time, I'd shot off a mail to fellow adventurer Christopher Venter from the Cape Town to Dublin team entitled "Love to Meet You". I find this is a winning combination of words. Chris has travelled South Africa on scooters too, and plans to do the same all the way to Dublin in 2013.

So, when Chris Venter invited us to come with him and the rest of the Cape Town to Dublin guys to Cederberg, we were ready.

Cederberg mishaps and misadventure

In case you've read the story (do read it here), I'll keep it brief. First long-distance scooter trip, first time to meet our crew, first time to ride gravel roads (58 km to be exact), first time to own an LML, let's just say there were a lot of firsts.

It was also the first time I'd driven a loaded scooter, a fact which became immediately apparent when I tried to do a slow U-turn and ever so slowly toppled over. My ego was even more bruised when I realised I couldn't lift my bike on my own and had to let out an undignified yell for help.

Ready for adventure on LML/Vespa ride

We drove through the narrow twisting roads of Bainskloof Pass, the skies dark and broody like a pre-menstrual teenager, and I had to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road not the views, they were that stunning.

I did not see any ghosts, much to my dismay, as Bainskloof is the site of many gory accidents and many a traveller has claimed to have seen things they'd sooner forget.

We navigated more thread-like roads with incredible views and 58km of badly corrugated gravel.

Riding in the Cederberg

Just as my confidence started to soar, my bike cut out on the last punishingly steep gravel hill. Parked on an incline, stopping it from rolling back using a foot brake (yes, first time), and trying to take off in first gear (yes, first geared bike), let's just say it was not a success. I hastily buried my feminist streak and allowed my bike to be driven to a relatively straighter stretch that I could take off from.

Arriving in one rather embarrassed piece, the night was young, the days were long (though we only had one) and then it was time to leave.

Back over the mountainous hill that beat me, now increasingly confident on gravel, speeding away with not a care in the world, then I hit a patch of gravel that looked like Jack the Ripper had had his way with it.

Shaken from side to side like a puppet on a string I lost control and flew off, landing with a painful, but not life-threatening, thud.

However, poor Butternut (the name of my illustrious vehicle) was squashed.

corrugated gravel bent LML scooter

Fortunately LML's are tough, made to last. We picked her up, I got on and we left, driving all the way home without incident. And that was the test phase of our trip through South Africa.

Sponsors and Media: getting the ball rolling

Of course, we soon realised that there was a lot more that needed doing. We needed to create some kind of buzz. I tried typing buzz as a facebook status but it elicited zero response, much to my disappointment. And no, before you even think it, twitter was a fail as well.

Social media options exhausted, we set off to bed for an early night. The next day dawned bright and early, with no further inspiration. I'd scribbled some dream-speak on the pad next to my bed, but it proved to be nonsense, even on close inspection with my magnifying glass.

Fortunately, Cape Times came to the rescue, responding instantly to our proposal with the suggestion that write a bi-weekly travel column for them. Recklessly, we agreed to submit our first story on the 4th of June, just days after our proposed departure date. Do It Now, an adventure and outdoor magazine, was also interested in an article, which they needed the following day, the 5th of June for their Involved section.

In the interim hundreds of mails containing our proposal were sent to prospective sponsors. Scoot Cafe, our first sponsor, offered us free training and support. EvoSat's Dickon Webb offered us a satellite phone, which we cfffould use in case of emergencies.

Carl List of Sabonamza Tours and Safaris was helping us get the bikes ready, sponsoring us some rugged, waterproof boxes to use as carriers, as well as helping us plot the route. Thanks to Carl and Annagret, we were enjoying four-star luxury at Asgard Apartments in Somerset West. Slowly but surely things started to fall together.

Food & Trees for Africa sent us a list of over 60 projects in South Africa that they'd like us to assess. Bike Zone offered to sponsor us two helmets, and Wintec Solutions approached us, providing us with a Powerchimp and Solarmonkey to charge our batteries and phones, all powered by solar energy.

We aligned with Ads 4 Trees, a pay per click ad network that plants trees and food gardens on behalf of advertisers. Running on 100% green energy, carbon free, and committed to global reforestation and the environment, Ads4Trees was a natural partner for us.

We also joined forces with The Green Expo, a sustainable exhibition held in Johannesburg and Cape town to showcase green and sustainable products and services - we'll have a stand for three days where we can spread the word about the work Food & Trees for Africa is doing, and promote responsible lifestyles and travel.

LMLs getting ready for adventure

A carbon-neutral branding, digital and printing studio, Deep Design offered to sponsor us with eco-friendly printing, all done using vegetable based inks, recycled products and energy-efficient presses.

Shoprite offered us a voucher to use at any of their stores, Tracks 4 Africa sponsored us our GPS maps, LML our spares and Adventure Inc gave us polar buffs and Sea2Summit kitchen equipment. Restio Energy sponsored us with an Eco Zoom stove, a super efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly stove that produces 70% less smoke and greenhouse gasses than open fires.

One of our bigger sponsors, Overboard pitched in with the sponsorship of waterproof backpacks and kayak bags, which we'll use as panniers and front bags for our bikes.

Last, but certainly not least, Mark and Mary-Ann Shearer of the Natural Way Network, came onboard with the sponsorship of healthy dried fruit, nuts and goodies to take with us on our trip, all organic and preservative-free.

Others, such as Omnico with the Go Pro, Cava Motorcycles and their front Vespa racks and Xtreme Motorcycle Fitment Centre, sponsored us parts and equipment at cost, while Uschy Gentner, an energy therapist in Somerset West, sponsored us the all-natural remedy for nearly any serious ailment called the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS).

When things don't go according to plan

Of course, with all this came a fair share of mishaps - Rocky Adventure Series sponsored us with two pairs of hiking boots, which we had to return at the last minute because they were leather (yep, we're vegan). Our helmets arrived literally the day before we were meant to leave. Then we had to postpone our departure date because our front racks didn't fit, and the ones we ordered from Cava Motorcycles only arrived after the weekend.

With great regret, we also had to leave our much-loved EcoZoom stove behind. Hailed as the stove that could save the world, at around 12 kilograms it's ideal for campervans or motor homes, but not for scooters.

Meanwhile, we had meetings with some of our sponsors, last-minute interviews (find us in the District Mail, Cape Times, and Do It Now), trying to find sustainable accommodation along the way, purchasing the gear we couldn't get sponsorship for and a whole list of other tasks that I'll spare you the boredom of reading.

To cut a long story short, our trip was delayed.

Macassar High School

This did not deter us from trying to squeeze in what would be the first stop on our journey to see all things good and green, Macassar High School in Somerset West, where we'd be doing the first of over 60 project assessments for Food &Trees for Africa. Read the incredible story of how this township school is changing their fortunes with a food garden, and an indigenous garden.

Macassar High School indigenous garden

Let the heavens open

Ready for our departure the next day, we watched the weather report with alarm. Heavy rains, storms and 65 knot winds. We hoped and prayed they were wrong. They weren't. We woke up to howling winds and torrential rains, an outburst of fury that made me want to burrow into my bed and stay there.

Concerned parents strongly advised us to stay in bed, even Chris' dad, an ex-rally driver, didn't fancy our odds. So we decided to postpone one last day.

Naturally the next day didn't dawn any better, but we'd had it with delays and decided to set forth in the hope that it would get better as we drove on. We waited for a brief respite and then set off, decked out in our rain gear, waterproof boots, and thermal underwear.

We soon discovered that our gloves were not, in fact, waterproof. Buffeted by crosswinds, drenched, and with the fingers of a long-dead corpse, we continued along the windy coastal roads towards Hermanus, clinging to the road like a spider to his web.

Driving in the rain on scooters

Trucks roared past us, spraying us with water. We were thrilled to be on the road at last.

Scooters in the rain
Arriving in Hermanus, we stopped off to pick up some food, just in time to catch a rally for World Ocean Day. We raised our fists in support of the protestors, before heading off to what would be our first official stop, the Grootbos Foundation, where we'd be interviewing Lily Upton.

The Grootbos Foundation

Driving up to Grootbos

The Grootbos Foundation is based on the Grootbos Nature Reserve, which runs two luxury five star lodges.

With a mission to conserve the biodiversity of Grootbos Nature Reserve and its surrounds, and the development of sustainable nature-based livelihoods through ecotourism, research, management and education, the Foundation would be the second sustainable initiative on our mission.

Lily showed us around various nonprofit social upliftment programmes, including the Green Futures Horticultural and Life Skills College and the Future Food Production and Life Skills College, which provides training for 12 unemployed individuals, and eight unemployed women, respectively. Find out more about the work the Foundation is doing in the coming article.Walking with Lily at Grootbos

Grootbos had offered to sponsor us accommodation at their Fynbos Retreat, but Lily was concerned that the roads (suitable for a 4x4) would prove treacherous in the wet weather. She offered to let us stay with her family, in a safari tent they'd set up in their backyard.

I accepted with alacrity - it was getting dark and we certainly didn't want to be stupid. We drove back to Stanford with her, and spent a pleasant night in front of the fireplace, grateful to experience the hospitality of this amazing family. Spending the night in the safari tent was no hardship either; it was equipped with a double bed, plenty of blankets and space to store our stuff.

The Fynbos Trail and Milkwood Forest

Waking up to the trill of happy birds the next morning, we set out with Lily to visit the Fynbos Trail and milkwood forest.

The road soon became a gravel one - wet sand that slipped like jelly beneath us.

Driving up to the Fynbos Trail

"More than 800 fynbos plant species have been identified along the route", Lily told me, as we spotted Proteas, pincushions, ericas, and a multitude of bulbs, in an otherwordly display of almost unnatural beauty.

The stunning Erica irregularis is endemic to the region, growing only in a very small area between the villages of Stanford and Gansbaai, yet colours the slopes pink for a couple of months each year.

Erica irregularis

Arriving at the milkwood forest, after which Grootbos (the big thicket) is named, we walked on thick mossy forest mulch, surrounded by thousands of milkwood trees up to 800-years old. In fact, the Foundation has planted 1500 trees as part of their goal to restore the forest to its original size (with the planting of 10 000 Milkwood seedlings over the next ten years).

The energy of a forest is palpable, one can't help but feel serene in this ancient place.

Milkwood forest

Trying to spot whales at De Kelder

We stopped off at De Kelder, a popular whale watching spot off the coast, but failed to see any.

Whale spotting at De Kelder

Two vespas parked at De Kelder

However, we proved to be an attraction equally as interesting, and a car pulled over with Lourens and Liza Kriel, who stopped for a chat.

Eating pineapple on the road

We told them a little bit about our journey and our mission, and they invited us to stay with them while we were in Gauteng. Incredibly, they also offered to sponsor us our bike to bike communication kit, which Chris had been salivating over since our trip began! Bike to Bike had offered us the kit at cost, but we simply hadn't been able to afford it.

Next up was Eugene, a fellow Vespa lover who sold his 200cc and has regretted it ever since. And then it was time to drive to our next stop, the Koudeberg (cold mountain) centre for appropriate rural technology (CART).

driving up to Kouderberg

Koudeberg Cart is up in the mountains, were very few tourists come. Indeed, most visitors are students or like-minded souls wanting to learn, sharing their skills in exchange for knowledge, food and accommodation.

Crossing a cattle grid on scooters

Cold, rainy, parked our scooters on side of road

Vepa's at spectacular rural south african scenery

Road up to Koedeberg

A small slice of heaven: The Koudeberg Centre for Appropriate Rural Technology

Arriving at Koedeberg

Luke and Diane have a 8-year old daughter Rachel and 9-year old son Daniel. They made us feel right at home within seconds of meeting them. Another guest, Steven Forder who hailed from Bathurst was another like-minded soul, and he invited us to visit him in Bathurst.

While they went to watch the rugby, we settled in, made some dinner and relaxed after a hard day's driving. Waking up early the next morning, we joined everyone for a hike up to the dam and the waterfall, climbing up amongst some of the region's most stunning fynbos to watch the sun rise.

Sated, we walked down among the rocks, looking for crystals and ferreting out hidden caves (with the assistance of Rachel). Luke then took us around the farm, sharing his vision for the surrounding four hectares.

Check out the story to find out more.

It's trite to say we didn't want to leave, but as we watched the sun go down over dinner, I felt that I could live here quite happily for a year, or longer, helping out and living a simple life away from life's distractions and obligations, free at last.

Sunset at Koedeberg

Want more?

Go to Blog 2: Platbos to Long Valley - the road less travelled

Return from Launch off to Our trip

Go to Scooter Blog

Go from Launch off to Eco-friendly Africa Travel

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Hi, my name is Melissa and I created this site together with photographer Christopher List to help spread awareness about green lifestyles and travel, so everyone can learn how easy it is to live in a sustainable way. Enjoy!

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I wasn't sure what a permaculture design course was about, until I read through Melissa's fantastic blog! I've signed up and soon I'll be a PDC graduate too.

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