03 December 2011

The awesome Sani pass Vespa scooter adventure 2011

[We are having problems with the images on this post and we don't want to remove it as there are a number of links here so the next best thing is that we re-posted this into separate posts.  Start reading about The Great Sani Pass Adventure here] - Editor


Preparation for Sani took place at Breedsneck pass near Hartebeespoortdam. Marlene felt that the terrain would make good practice ground for the rocky inclines of Sani and she was right. Just getting to Breedsneck pass itself was challenging in itself as the backroute on a farmroad to there was quite muddy.

On our way to Sani......Posers Martin, Jerome and Paulo playing it cool.

"These are the knobblies to conquer Sani with."

The Vespa STIG

Adventure Smurf

Chapter 1 –The dream
I first met Marlene at the 2nd Scooter rally in Hartbeespoort. She looked an interesting unassuming girl and I was immediately drawn to her as a friend. It was there that Marlene unfolded her plans to conquer Sani Pass on her 1979 Vespa. With the ruckus of scooters playing soccer and racing in the background everything seemed right and possible. Without really appreciating what I was getting myself into I signed up for what would be the adventure of a lifetime.
Lesotho in yellow-The mountain kingdom

The 24hrs before D-day held no promises-it was icy cold and sleeting.
Swearworthy cold

That night we trudged from eatery to eatery in the rain in Underberg looking for a place willing to feed 18 souls. Once inside the “The Grind Cafe” with its pub “The Woolly Bugger”, things started looking up and with good food, attentive staff and a few drinks to warm the vital organs and keep the cold at bay we all enjoyed a lovely evening.

Charlie and her "Duddles"

Climbing into bed that night at the backpackers lodge the admonishing warnings of family and friends ---don’t do it---crazy---dangerous---ran in ever faster circles inside my head, biting each others’ tails like serpents rolling down a hill. I pulled my buff up against them and the smoke filled room, popped a sleeping tablet and bunked down uncertain as to what the day would bring.

Chapter II –The Challenge

The 7th of August dawned with clear blue skies and the most beautiful sunshine.

Buoyed we set off into Underberg to fuel up beasts and machines.
At the foot of Sani Pass lay our first obstacle-the no nonsense, all business Lesotho border control. Excitedly and with hearts in mouths and Vespas skulking on the trailers we presented our passports in family format. With the snow capped peaks towering above us, would our dream end now and here? The sun glinted off the silver nr 7 on my Vespa and blessed us with the right to proceed on our passage.
Around the first bend we hastily offloaded our steeds and donned various riding paraphernalia.

Charlie’s battle gear consisting of the biggest pair of wings I have ever seen. Marlene passed out little miniature bottles of Jagermeister and Bugs. Jerome strapped on his camera and I packed 2L of juice.
The fish was THIS big after lots of Bugs.

Fortified with Dutch courage we set off on the monumentous task of conquering Sani Pass with Vespas. Behind us and in front of us numerous 4x4 all terrain vehicles and serious off road motor bikers followed suit. I could just imagine what they must have been thinking at the sight of such a motley group attempting the same thing with a tenth of the horsepower and one sporting wings. I am sure there was a few WTF’s expressed accompanied with a few sniggers.
So you think you can dance.....
VESPA gives you wings.

An epic battle followed. I recollect the ascent as being easy at the bottom and gradually becoming more taxing and difficult as we proceeded and almost becoming impossible near the top. Over rocks and stones, riverbeds, twists and turns and ruts, mud and slush and treacherous ice we travelled. Through snow and in between stuck 4x4’s we made our winding way, ever climbing higher and higher, steeper and steeper. Stopping and starting, pushing and pulling, picking each other up after falls. Focused and driven my mind created surprisingly vivid mental snapshots of it all.....
The lone elderly cyclist determinedly pushing his bicycle all the way to the top after the chain snapped halfway up.
Charlie stuck on a steep incline, me running back, shouting to children to come help push. 4 pairs of willing hands on the back seat, a mighty heave and a fight with the gears and a push and off Charlie goes-wings flapping in the breeze.


Charlie and Magda takes VESPA to new heights

Marlene’s red 1979 Mathilda sure footed and being driven with enormous skill and years of bike riding experience under the belt-beautiful to behold. I envisioned seeing Marlene, 40yrs on, bent with age on the stoep of some retirement village somewhere pointing a gnarled finger to a photo album, regaling the grandchildren with tales of “The great Sani Pass adventure” and fondly saying “Those were the days”.
Marlene making mincemeat of the terrain
Finding Jerome’s black Vespa ET4 scooter lying forlornly on its side in the snow after he had parked it with the engine running on snow. The friendly bystander who switched off the engine. The massive ding on the side from the fall.

Marlene and Jerome gaining altitude.

Matthew-enjoying his first feel of snow.

Thinus bending to deflate our tyres, silently caring and considerate in his actions.
Sharing ice cold juice and Jagermeister, flushed excited faces, fun filled blue eyes and wide brilliant smiles matching the snow.
News filtered down that the pass was blocked higher up by a snowed in grader, a broken down minibus and 4x4’s that had been forced to spend the previous night on the pass itself. The 4x4 traffic jam before the block made Sandton at 5 look tame. The thought of returning to Underberg riled us. Up we HAD to go, a paid for bed, warm food and the highest pub in Africa was to be had by the victorious. Joy and elation as the first stuck 4x4 that slept over on the pass came creeping cold and cat-footed down past us with huge icicles suspended like whiskers from the fenders- we knew the way to the top was open and there was no stopping us now, we could taste the blood warm gluhwein swilling in our mouths, hear the log fire roaring and feel the ice cold beers pressing against our sweaty palms!

Cat foot Landie

Losing grip 4 metres into the ice line and feeling my bike spinning round almost 180’ I managed to stay upright as I brought the scooter under control. I found myself facing the cliff edge with its sheer drop. My heart pounded and I uttered a choice expletive starting with Gordon Ramsey’s favourite letter of the alphabet. The snow boots I had on gave good grip and I was firmly planted wide legged over the scooter, the scooter however wasn’t and it proceeded to faint from under me in one of those classic slow motion- almost lady like- movie scenes. I just couldn’t keep 151kg from going down and managed to step off and away to the side to safety as she dropped. I bent down and turned the key off in the ignition to protect the engine and stop any loss of oil. Marlene and Jerome came running over to the rescue and together we lifted and turned the bike round. I was relieved to find only minor sticker damage. I had recently traded in and up for this new black 300 Vespa and it was scarcely a few months old. I decided to not attempt the last few icy bends due to the ice and the certain possibility of causing far greater damage. As I headed down I saw Charlie approaching on her blue PX and I shouted a warning that this was no place for two wheels. My words were hardly out when Charlie went down quite hard and quite spectacularly onto her right side, almost immediately her left hand shot out straight up in the air and she shouted out loud to the shocked onlookers “I’m okay!”. That’s Charlie for you-what a trooper. Later I heard Charlie had fallen 3 times that day. Due to gearbox damage from a previous flying incident (which is altogether another story) and loss of oil she had to call it a day only a few bends from the top. Jerome and Marlene helped each other through the last few bends, sometimes walking and pushing through the slippery cocktail of snow and mud and ice. Hats off!

She ain’t heavy, she’s my sista! That's what friends are for.
Charlie and my bike were loaded and Thinus led the 4x4’s up through the last bends displaying impressive 4x4 knowledge and skill. Sani top chalets and the highest pub in Africa beckoned to us.

Marlene and Jerome summits

Daredevil Charlie 

Chapter III-The Roof of Africa

I highly recommend the highest pub in Africa, the Gluhwein are warm, the beers cold and the food hearty.
The accommodation at Sani Top Chalets was fundamentally very basic. A few beds in a house and no running water as the water had frozen in the pipes.
Flushing the toilets were done by dunking a bucket in a water filled drum. Not knowing where the water had come from I took a chance to brush teeth with it and tried my very best to not swallow a drop. The beautiful winter tale outside was worth giving up a few luxuries for.
Sharing the house with us were 3 x intrepid Jehova witnesses on BMW bikes. One of them had made it to the top with his bike and apparently had a spectacular fall right in front of the house by way of some sort of bad ass introduction. The other two had to abandon their steeds on the last bends due to nightfall and the minor irritation that they could not, try as they might succeed in getting them up the slippery slopes.

Tip: Don’t go to bed with socks damp from perspiration. Woke up at 4 am with frozen toes. Yikes!
The next morning after a quick breakfast Marlene, Tinus, Gys and myself went down to rescue the 2 stranded BMW bikes. With a BMW rider saddled on we wrestled with the sheer weight and bulky size of the bikes up the steep slippery slopes. Tinus and the other BMW rider were steadying the bike on either side whilst pushing it and I made up the rear steadying and pushing. With the assistance of one of the 4x4’s and a towing rope as well we managed to get those two bikes up and out. Needless to say afterwards I was quite a sight. The spinning backwheels had beaten me with mud from toe to top, I had black raccoon eyes from sleeping with makeup on and my hair was standing at a rakish angle. Thank God for beanies, lipgloss and sunglasses!
As we travelled deeper into Lesotho we kept a concerned eye out for the 3 x intrepid BMW bikers, which made for witnessing some awesomely spectacular falls. Later one of them named Terence wrote me a mail and said he had in total fallen 7 times. For some people 7 is obviously NOT a lucky number. OUCH and hats off!
As soon as we dropped below the snow line Jerome said let’s roll.

Gys also offloaded his BMW and we had a wonderful time riding over the roof of Africa.

After Jerome flew through a pothole as big as a bathtub he and Marlene decided to load up again. By this time I was having a ball and was dead intent on carrying on. Gys and I chose to continue and I proceeded to have the sweetest ride EVER, side stepping potholes, driving then on and then off road, passing through muddy and icy patches at times as we climbed back up in altitude and dipped down again. Gys must have covered about twice the distance as I did, as he would shoot off and ahead only to rejoin again some odd 10 minutes later, this became a pattern as we rode on. I saw Gys coming and disappearing on the horizon. Later Jerome informed me that I had driven the highest pass in Lesotho alone on my Vespa. As darkness approached we had to stop and load up and proceeded to drive past Afri-Ski and Oxbow Lodge in darkness, racing towards the border as we weren’t sure what time they closed it. Camelroc guest lodge was the best ever, great accommodation at a great price to the weary bunch of us. By then we all desperately needed to wash! The electric blanket on the bed made me feel like royalty and having roughed it the previous two nights we all truly appreciated such luxurious digs.


Although I had slept extremely well every night during and after the trip, colleagues commented that I simply looked exhausted. Mentally I also strangely felt a bit like a deflated party balloon. I wondered if this was being experienced only by me and decided to phone Charlie to hear her whole family was quite ill and recovering in bed post the Sani-expedition. Marlene was living it up in the Cape with her sister with good helpings of pasta and red wine. Jerome was as usual blogging with fervour and disseminating the trip information he had gathered into various facebook, photobucket , twitter and e-mail accounts.
Life had moved on and away from Sani. As the days post Sani lengthened I felt my energy levels soar and return back to normal. Only then did I start registering what we actually had accomplished. Vespa , friends, family and colleagues all wanted to hear about the great adventure. E-mails from far and wide started coming in saying well done. I realized we had done something quite unique and admirable.

I will always think back to the trip and to the mountain kingdom with extreme fondness: The beautiful white imagery of the snow decked roof of Africa, the closeness and support of wonderful
friends and the beautiful sight of Vespas doing extreme offroad.

 What a blast!
Next on our bucket list......Baviaanskloof here we come!!!



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