The Great Escape with Charlotte Rochenard

Last month we've talked with a fearless woman who went to a damn good solo adventure through Africa with the main plan to make from England to Cape Town in a Husqvarna 701 Enduro, today we want you to meet Ms. Charlotte Rochenard. Read below her testimonial telling us what she saw on his last adventure trying to cruise the old and beautiful Mama Africa continent.

How long do you ride Motorcycles?

I have been riding a motorcycle since I am 13 years old, learning on a green Honda SL 125 from 1978 that my dad restored. We lived in the countryside so it was easy to learn and go mess about in the fields nearby.

How the idea come to make a solo trip down to Africa? 

Back in 2017, we improvised a last-minute 4x4 road trip with my cousin who was living in Cape Town at that time and so we crossed South Africa and most of Botswana then into Namibia. At that point, I thought it would be quite amazing on a bike, but without giving it much thought.

I have always been fascinated with the Paris Dakar, it has something mythic to me, so the whole idea actually started like this where I thought, why not doing my own Paris-Dakar? To then “Well if I am going to Dakar, I might as well just go down to Cape Town”

Where do you start and where was the final point?

I started from Warwick, England and the final point is the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

How many countries were on the original plan

There were 22 countries on the original plan, and I have crossed 15 so far.

Can you describe how was the preparation before starting the whole adventure?

It was the first time I was going for such a long time ( a 6 months trip) although it wasn’t my first trip, I have been doing road trips in Europe and India. But I tackled this one differently, not necessary in term of what I should pack but I really wanted to know from what’s going on with the politics as this will be decided of the route and country I would cross, to get to mechanically know my bike so I could sort problems. Basically everything so I could just deal with most of the situation and sort issues by the day.

Which was your main fear during the whole trip?

I was a bit worried about what if the bike breakdown in the middle of nowhere and I can’t sort it, but I realized that as soon as I was in the road I didn’t think about it anymore.

Before leaving, you come across a lot of people that just tell you that you are crazy, they seem to know better although they never really traveled or know those countries other than what they see on the news. I think that somehow it has grown a little bit on me even if I was keeping it in a far corner of my head, at least until I left. Of course, I was a little scared, but I was really looking forward to some sort of challenge. But the really only worry I had before leaving and until I got there was the crossing of Nigeria and the border with Cameroon due to the actual security issues.

You had any issues with the bike? How was to repair on the road?

The bike has been behaving really nicely, I have not any trouble other than what you would expect doing lots of off-roading heavily loaded, such as leaking forks. I got worried about cranking noise at some point but it wasn’t anything more than valves clearance needing adjustment.

Which countries you were expecting to be more difficult to cross and why?

Haha…Nigeria and I didn’t fail on that one.

Nigeria is the first country I got the visa before leaving as they are making it very difficult to get in en route. Besides, security-related issues all over the country aren’t making it very favorable to cross and to make matters worst the border crossing with Cameroon is quite tense but you don’t really have the choice as Niger is a no go.

How people on the road react to you riding solo at the countries you've passed through?

It’s always funny to see how people react. “Why are you traveling alone? Where is your Husband ?” “ You should not be riding a bike, women don’t ride” “ But how did you come here, how do you know the road ?” “How many countries did you cross It was always interesting hearing and seeing the reaction when `i would take my helmet off or removing my sunglasses “Oh, It’s a woman!!”. I never felt in danger or insecurity, although I encountered many police checkpoints or border I very rarely got asked for anything. People were genuinely friendly, some interested in the bike too. And very often wanting to buy the bike.

 

Do you feel any cultural shock during the Journey?

One of the facts I love about the way to travel overland is you can appreciate the immediate change of culture from a country to another which will now ad again happen on the same day at the border crossing. There is sometimes a big contrast between the two countries' neighbors such as Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire for example.

To sleep you were camping, booking hostels, or you were seeing at the moment?

I was mainly camping, setting a destination to aim for in the morning and then starting to search for somewhere to set camp late afternoon, so I was mainly seeing at the moment. Staying in hotels when I was in town as it is more secure and easy.

 Where is the best place you've stopped, and why?

Though choice, so many amazing places. But I mostly enjoyed isolated places or little villages. I didn’t like much the cities and was spending time there as little as possible. I particularly liked finding a good spot to stay for the night. I have some amazing memories falling asleep under the stars, a sky so clear, the sounds of the waves. I remember one night in particular, in Western Sahara, spending the day riding fighting wind and sand, I spotted a little track leading to a village by the sea. It was a ghost town, I headed a little further, there seemed to be an area under military control. I was desperate for a shower and so I went to have a bath in the sea, before setting camp and cooking food, under the stars.

How about the food? You stopped by locals places for ate, or you bought things in local markets and cook by yourself?

I was doing both, buying ingredients to do my own cooking, (I love cooking !) but also buying street food or eating in little local restaurants, this is for me an important part of discovering new cultures.

Do you have a special dish on the trip that deserves a special mention? Where?

I had some amazing tajine in Morrocco, really nice Mafé by the Lac Rose in Sénégal. But I remember especially of two dishes, one in Côte d’Ivoire, on the side of the street, a guy was cooking (barbecue-style) some marinated chicken on an old oil drum, it was served with some fried onions, and couscous cereal, it tasted amazing. Another time, just as much tasty, when I was at the hospital in Nigeria, there was a little lady cooking beans with some spiced tomato sauce just outside the hospital on the street, delicious!

 

Our team was in love with your journey, so we were seeing how things going via Instagram, and we saw you had a crash during the Trip, what happened? 

Well, so, we can say that they have a particular selfish sense of driving in Africa. On the way to the Cameroon border, another motorbike loaded the African way with unidentified objects on it, cut my way, it came out of nowhere. There was no way I could avoid it, I crashed in it almost at full speed, resulting in me sliding on the floor, dancing with my motorcycle, and being hit again by another vehicle. Everything is quite blurred but I didn’t lose consciousness, I just remember sitting on the floor trying to wave at Jonas and Sebastian whom I was traveling with to go and cross the border, only to realize my hand wasn’t where it should be. Next thing, I was surrounded by a newly formed crowd of people from the nearby village. The accident resulted in a double fracture of my left arm, a broken right hand and multiple fractures of the pelvis ( which they didn’t see in Nigeria ). Oh, and this apparently happens in a village that was still practicing cannibalism at least until a few years ago!

How do you manage to get back home? And what do you make to bring back the bike?

If there was one thing I left home with, it is Medical Evacuation insurance. Unfortunately, Nigeria was possibly the worst place to have an accident, and because the Nigerian doctors hadn’t identified that my pelvis was broken, the insurance couldn’t take quickly enough the right decision. After much battling and 10 days waiting at the hospital without knowing what was wrong with my back, I was sent an air ambulance and evacuated back home as I was transferred directly to the hospital for surgery.

My motorbike is still in Nigeria in a safe place, it does need some repairs but I am not going to ship it back as I am planning to carry on the trip once I got my strength back, hopefully, next year.

Any advice for solo adventurers who wants to go down Africa with motorcycles?

Go lightweight, that was my main motto. You will drop the bike much time. Get a big tank if you haven’t got one. I modified my bike to make it more Africa ready ( I doubled the fuel range by adding tanks, added a couple more microfilters, sock over the air filter.)

Pack light, you don’t really need more than what you pack for a few days road trip, whether it’s 4 days or 4 months. And bring your patience.

 

What's coming next? Any plan of adventure for 2020?

Not sure yet for 2020 as I need to sort myself properly first, but maybe some kind of road trip this summer. I can’t wait to get back on a bike!  And of course, the second part of my journey hopefully in 2021.