Andrew Loden made a long-held dream come true when he and his wife Helen took a motorcycle trip from Europe down the length of Africa on the west side, and then back north up the east side of the continent in the year before COVID hit the world.
The son of Doug and Kathie Loden of Weyburn, he showed photos and videos taken all along the trip, only making it about halfway through his epic journey, with the second half to be featured on April 22 in another Zoom presentation.
The dream first took hold when he was around 14 years old, while living in Uganda with his family, as his father Doug was a missionary, and he met a group of German motorcyclists on large BMWs. Inspired by their stories of riding down from Germany all through Africa, he decided he wanted to do this someday.
He and wife Helen decided they could make the trip, with each having certain goals they wanted for this journey. For Andrew, he wanted to ride the iron ore train in Mauritania, while one of Helen’s dreams was to ride a camel.
Andrew explained that to prepare for his presentation to the Rotary Club, he went through about 20,000 photos, hoping to whittle them down to about 100. He ended up getting the photos down to around 360, and decided to make a two-part presentation since it covered such a huge distance.
Prior to his African trip, he had taken a motorcycle trip from Edmonton to South America, hoping nine months would be long enough to see most of that continent. He found he underestimated how long the journey would take, and made it as far as Bolivia before turning around and going home.
Taking some of the lessons learned from that trip, he and Helen planned out the African journey, including lining up the vaccine shots they needed, and putting together enough insulin and medication to handle his diabetes through the long ride ahead.
They also looked into the visas they would need, along with travel insurance, and discovered that if they crossed into a country that Canada officially stated that Canadians should not travel to, any travel insurance would be void in that country. Also, at least two of the countries they were planning to travel through, Ghana and Nigeria, required that a person could only apply for a visa from the country they are a resident of.
The couple landed in England, and spent some time touring through Wales and Ireland before heading to Continental Europe, and they took two months to travel through France, Portugal and Spain before taking a ferry over to Tangiers, Morocco, and beginning their African portion of the journey.
The photos showcased the ride down the west coast of Africa, with a long portion of their travelling along the edge of the Sahara desert on the east side and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
There were also twisty mountain roads, and they stopped to see many interesting sites, including tanneries in Fez, locations on the edge of the Sahara used in the filming of movies like Gladiator and Game of Thrones, and a five-kilometre stretch of no-man’s land between Morocco and Mauritania that is heavily land-mined.
One stop took them to one of the oldest libraries in Africa, where a librarian showed them pieces that were at least 1,000 years old, and then of course, they met the iron ore train which Andrew wanted to ride after seeing posts about it online.
Outfitted with turbans and blankets, they were told if they wanted to climb up on certain ore cars, they could ride the train for free.
While riding the train, some fellow riders were cooking tea and the embers caught his turban on fire, which he had throw off. The man who lit the fire gave Andrew his turban for the balance of the ride.
As they were pelted with dust, he discovered he should have worn snowboarding goggles to keep the dust out of his eyes.
Later in the trip, the Lodens met a fellow traveler from China who told them he had been riding a motorcycle since 1986. He spent 13 years travelling all through China, and since 2000 he’s been riding through the rest of the world. The man was on his 13th motorcycle since starting his world travels.
The couple accompanied him to the border of Mali and Senegal, and they ran into some difficulties.
“Everyone’s corrupt at that border, so much more than anywhere else I’ve been. He followed us there, and we all paid (the border officials). He was screaming and crying by the time we saw him on the other end, and we never saw him again after that,” said Andrew.
The landscape started to change in Senegal, as they saw their first baobob tree. This country also had a huge statue bought from North Korea that cost around $50 million, installed by a corrupt leader.
As they travelled on, they wanted to avoid the tiny country of Gambia, as it would have required another visa at the other border, so they took a ferry boat around this country.
One of the countries where their travel insurance was void was Mali, but they took the risk of going through a part of that country that was “reasonably good”, close to the coast.
Along the way, a n unusual sight on the Niger River merited some investigating, and they found there were men who took a boat to the middle of the river to dive down and scoop up sand from the river’s bottom, for use in making concrete. Andrew was able to get a ride on this boat, and found that this crew worked seven days a week all year round doing this work, going down to scoop up sand one bucket at a time, earning about $2 or $3 a day.
The Lodens met a Japanese couple in Burkina Faso, who was able to give them tips about travelling on, including how to get a visa into Nigeria. They did it by paying the tax on a friend’s utility bill, taking it to a police station, and from there to a government office where they obtained a visa for Nigeria.
One of the more unusual sights was a coffin-carving shop, where a person could get a coffin in any shape one wanted. If you are a pilot, you can get a plane-shaped coffin, or if you’re a banker, one shaped like a stack of bills.
The journey took them into Ghana after that, and they were able to take a safari to see elephants.
“This was extremely cheap compared to East Africa, where you’d pay $500 for the same thing,” said Andrew, adding they then had stops in a couple of tiny countries, Togo and Benin, on the east side of Ghana, then before exiting Nigeria they hired a police escort to the border with Cameroon, and Gabon, where they crossed the Equator. Andrew noted that in Gabon, an American environmentalist some years ago convinced the government to set aside about 10 per cent of the country to be protected as a pristine jungle.
As they rode through Gabon, roadside shacks would sometimes feature animals caught from the jungle, like a small deer or monkey, that people could buy for meat.
Some of the roads in this area were extremely treacherous when they were wet, and one night was spent in a steel container on the road that got them out of the rain and off the muddy roads. They didn’t escape the bad roads, however, as there were spots where they got stuck, or had to go through deep pools of water in the road.