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SIR CHARLES BLOIS

Overland travel stories

//ADVENTURERS INSPIRED - SIR CHARLES BLOIS

SIR CHARLES BLOIS :

Name: Sam Manicom

Age: 79

Nationality: English

 

GENERAL INTRO :

Countries / Places Travelled :

Ireland, France, Spain, Canaries, Portugal, Madeira, Gibraltar, Wales, Scotland, Morocco, Spanish Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Burkina, Faso, Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon,

Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Italy, Austria,  Germany, Holland, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, Albania, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Kazakstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Aden, Zululand, Nepal, Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, Maldives, Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Society Islands, Marquesas, Tuamoto, Cook Islands, New Caledonia, USA, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Galapagos Island, Chile, Easter Island, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Falklands, Antarctic, Uruguay, Trinidad And Tobago, Grenada St Vincent and The Grenadines, St Lucia, Barbados, Guadaloupe, Dominica Martinique, Antigua, Barbuda, St Kitts & Nevis, St Barts, St Martin, Sint Marten, Montserrat, St Eustatius, Saba, Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Island, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Turks And Caicos Islands, Cuba, Bahamas, Bermuda, Seychelles, ABC Islands, Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Isle Of Man, Moldova, Transnistru, Ukraine, Crimea, Malta, Algeria, Nagaland, Andorra, Luxembourg and Dubai. (159 Countries)

Countries seen over the border:

Bangladesh, Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Armenia, Haiti and Saudi Arabia.

What inspired you to travel the way you do?

My first time travelling was with group of friend across Europe with the daily nightmare of looking round towns late for somewhere to eat and stay. I vowed I would try not to do that again.

 

The second time I went travelling was around the USA with an unlimited bus travel ticket, $99 for 99days.  I just used buses to live on as not enough money for hotel. The highliights were wild west cities including gun fight  at the ok corral and the history of the era and the giant redwoods and grand canyon but staying with a college friend and seeing and hearing the power of the usaf watching the take off of a b52 with 8 military jets screeming and clouds of black smoke and the sheer size at about a 1/4 mile..the final highlight was a flight in a p51. It meant a quick climb into the back seat before the deep rumbling merlin over heated. Then it became a full throated roar of 27litre v12 as we headed down the runway to a fast takeoff and a circle over the base and the desert before coming back for  a fast low pass over  the runway at close to 400mph finally he pushed the throttle wide open for  the perfect sound of 1700hp  for his finale pulled the stick back for a full power vertical climb till a near stall and back down to earth. This was the last and most powerfull merlin that the us had bought as it outclassed their packard. Great day. The it was back on the bus for las vegas disney world the giant redwoods sanfransico vancouver and seattle to end 12 continuous days on living on the greyhound buses and totally exhausted and out of time and money so got one more bus for 3400 miles in 52 hours to chicago with glimpses of he prairie between naps.

I arrived fully recovered fot the last week on the buses to niagara and new york, after that  never felt  the need for hotels if i could have my own vehicle and not waste money on hotels

 

I went to australia for 21months and lived in home converted vw van in sydney so no rent to pay and could travel and work anywhere with no transport cost or travel time. It did not look like a living van so was never moved on but  i travelled round most of the country in it.

How did/do you plan your journey(s)?

In the past, books, embassies, maps and conversations with other travellers. Now, books, maps, with other travellers and on line sources.

I look for length of visas, the weather patterns, transport/road conditions, and likely cost of living plus the potential each country has re personal interests.

These help me to plan a route and how long I need. However, once planned the route is seldom stuck to and for me, a significant part of the joy of travel is being able to take advantage of the unexpected opportunities. Ridged plans, are ridged.

This form of planning helps me to know what the possibilities are. That way I’m less likely to tread my motorcycle boots over someone’s culture by ignorance, and I’m less likely to ride past something special, in ignorance.

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VEHICLE :

 

Current Overland Vehicle / Mode of Travel :

Motorcycle BMW R80GS 1992. The 8 year trip bike. She’s my only means of transport and now has over 283,000 miles under her wheels.

Previous Overland Vehicle(s) / Mode of Travel :

Raleigh 3 speed bicycle (Does Shank’s Pony count?)

Why did you pick your current overland vehicle to travel in?

Freedom to explore all the side turnings along the way. Freedom to wake up each day and decide what to do, rather than be dictated to by bus and train tickets. Opportunity to visit places not often visited by other travellers eg out of the way places with poor transport infrastructure and, ports – fascinating places.

Why this actual bike? Advice from two guys in a pub. Bear in mind I’d only been riding a bike for 6 weeks at this stage and was due to be at the Sahara 6 weeks later. The guys told me the R80GS was bullet proof, and idiot proof. Sounded just right, and they were right.

What’s the best thing about your vehicle set up?

Its adaptability and capability. It’s simple engineering. It’s shortage of electronics.

 

What’s the worst thing about your vehicle set up?

It’s weight for approx. 5% of a long multi road type trip. Very soft sand and mud are a chore. The rest she copes with amazingly.

 

What would you change / add on to your vehicle if you could?

Before a big trip I’d upgrade the rear suspension again.

 

Have you broken down on your trip or had an accident? If so, how did you resolve the situation?

Breakdowns have only happened within a few miles of someone who could fix BMWs. She’s a class bike with perfect timing.

However, as I’m a mechanical idiot, I’d planned to sit by the roadside with spanners, the manual and spare parts, swapping parts until something made my bike work. That failing, I’d flag down a truck (where there’s a road, sooner or later there’s a truck) and a new adventure would begin. Getting to a big town and then finding a mechanic would be interesting.

 

The worst accident was a 17 bone fracture fall while crossing the desert in Namibia. I woke up 4 days later in hospital. Luckily for me a German couple called Peter and Edith joined my track that day and found me unconscious by a metre deep pothole…

How do you navigate? GPS / Sat Nav / Phone Apps Other?

In the past by map, compass and the sun. Now a GPS is added to that mix. I still reply on the former. They tell you what is really going on around you.

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SAM MANICOM : 

Gravel Roads and the Pyrenees

 

ACCOMMODATION  :

 

What is your sleeping set up and why have you chosen this system? :

Self-inflating sleeping mat, 3 season sleeping bag (down), and a silk or cotton sleeping bag liner. This combination gives you the chance to deal with just about any weather experienced. In colder climes a fleece sleeping bag liner is added. It’s a practical, lightweight and budget option.

 

Can you offer any advice to help travellers ensure they get a great nights sleep?

Don’t sleep under trees or in gullies. Place your tent rear end into the wind. Always peg your tent out properly. If you can, ensure that your head is slightly higher than your feet. Use a tent with two mosquito proof entrances. It’s a breeze thing. Make sure everything is secured so you don’t wake up concerned in the night. One of the things that helps with that is to, when in towns and villages etc, find a place to stay with off the road parking for your vehicle.

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CAREER & FINANCE :

 

How do you cope financially on the road?

  1. Work like a nutter before travelling. Get a second job, do overtime

  2. Stop spending money; become a financial hermit.

  3. Sell everything you have that isn’t important and in fact you haven’t used for months.

  4. Travel on the cheap. That starts by making yourself travel slowly for the first 6 weeks of any trip. Come down from the rush of life at home. The ‘must have’ society. The one where the advertisers drip feed that we are not whole unless we have XYZ. You can then start to value the opportunities your money can give you rather than just the things you can own.

  5. Travelling slowly costs way less than doing things quickly and at the last minute.

  6. Work in as many places as you can along the way. Even if the jobs are for room and board only. You aren’t spending money but you are having an experience through whatever the job is. If you can earn, that’s great.

  7. Job hunting? Be smart; think about what you can offer a potential employer. Then do more and always be on time.

 

Before the 8 year trip I was in retail management. A shop keeper. On my return I renovated derelict houses, worked as an immigration paralegal and then as practice manager for a law firm, and the started to write magazine articles and books on a full time basis.

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TRAVEL GEAR :

 

What are the most useful items whilst travelling?

Passport, water bottle (with filter option in neck) credit card, notebook, multi knife eg Leatherman.

What has been the most pointless item(s) you have taken with you travelling?

A water filter pump (costs a lot and is hard work when it’s hot and sweaty – they tend to clog too). A too small tent (one person needs a two person tent – its home).

Do you have any luxury / unusual items you take with you travelling? 

A beard trimmer! I work hard to justify it but on a motorcycle I always can. It’s small, light and I get a better response from the people I’m meeting or dealing with if I’m respectfully tidy.

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SAM MANICOM : 

Motorcycling in Kenya

 

GENERAL TRAVEL  :

 

Describe a moment you felt most happiest when travelling :

Blimey! Just one? A real pinch me moment was in a remote village in Tanzania where I stayed for just over a week. No language in common. Hand language and drawings in the soil told of animal hunts and of battles with neighbouring tribes etc. Not that this was fun, but it was funny, it was the first time a chief’s second wife poked me in the testicles! There is the full story about this in my book Into Africa.

Describe a time you felt nervous / uncomfortable / scared when travelling?

Jail in Tanzania. It’s still the scariest thing that’s happened to me. A man stepped out in front of me and I was arrested and charged with driving at him on purpose. I was released eventually with all charges dropped. This was a fine lesson in the kindness of humanity.

How do you cope with situations which are difficult or could involve conflict when on the road?

Always behave quietly, respectfully and know when it’s the moment to leave. There is no shame in walking or riding away from a conflict situation. The shame would come from behaving with arrogance in such a situation.

What do you miss about a regular not-on-the-road lifestyle?

Clean water straight from the tap, cold fresh milk and strong cheddar cheese. The rest is great, but not missed on the road.

What has been the best experience you have had with locals when travelling?

Incredibly hard to answer! So many ‘best’ experiences. I don’t know where to start.

Too many people fear the unknown. They fear not being able to speak the languages etc. Forget that lot. Be yourself, treat everyone with respect, smile readily and the ‘bests’ come fast.

An example of a ‘best’ moment was in Ethiopia. My friends Mike, Sally and I had just ridden into Addis Ababa. The past weeks has been through lands with too many guns around. We were really happy to make it to the city but the learning curve was suddenly steep again. Then we met Teddy who showed us his world and helped us make things happen. This is the story.

 

 Our out of date guide book only told of places to stay that were well out of our budget so when one of the street lads volunteered to show us a cheap hotel, we decided to risk that he wouldn’t lead us down some dangerous dark alleyway. As my top box covered the passenger seat on the bike, he had to sit on top of that. Potholes in the streets, rubbish and mangy dogs were everywhere. The buildings were ramshackle concrete structures with rusting corrugated roofs, and all were in desperate need of paint. The people were excited, friendly, and much more open than the country folks. The children ran alongside the bikes yelling “You, You, You!” This, we’d decided was the local version of, “Hi, hello, how are you.” But I still worried; riding as the centre of attention could well attract unfriendly officialdom.

Finally, we made it to the Bel-Air hotel - very nice indeed and not a dark alleyway in sight. It had bougainvillaea on the walls, asphalt on the car park, and a bar/restaurant tucked away inside. The rooms were still a bit pricey, but to us well worth the money. After a night of cars coming and going and strange noises from the rooms around us, we realised it was an upmarket version of a brothel. But, at least the sheets were clean and the bikes were safe under the watchman’s eyes.

In fact it was so pleasant we decided to hang around for a few days. This was our first chance to get a few things done, and top of the list was check in with the British Embassy. The past days had underlined to us the importance of registering with them. If we did go missing then at least someone would have a starting point in the attempt to find us.

We also desperately needed money and young Theodorus offered to be our guide - he would help us change money on the black market. Teddy had an open friendly face that seemed without guile and his smile always seemed to start with a tentative twitch that rapidly split into a happy beam. I liked him and trusted him. Changing money on the black market in any country is always a risk. When you do it you dip into the underworld and when you are in an unfamiliar land you are vulnerable. There must be a million and one travellers tales about being ripped off in an under the table money change deal, but having a local guide you can trust goes a long way to both keeping safe, and keeping your money.

The Addis Abeba market was supposed to be the largest in Africa but I wondered if the war would have shrunken it. When we got there though, life teemed. The market was also famous for its diversity and I think that we probably passed a version of just about everything that Africa had to offer for sale. In fact, you were supposed to be able to get hold of anything there. Just out of interest, and because to my western mind it was a nice bizarre request, I asked Teddy if there was a tank for sale. “Of course”, he replied. “You want to look, there’s a Russian T52.” I wondered who would buy it. Not me, I was happy with the bike.

Teddy led the way through the alleys to a corner of the market. This was the money changing area. We’d walked through the vegetable, hardware, clothing and scrap areas to get there; each item for sale having a section of its own. We’d even walked past the toilet area. Nothing discrete here, if you needed to relieve yourself, you just dropped your trousers or pulled up your robes, did your business and then carried on with life. The smell stayed in my nostrils for hours afterwards.

In the dimly lit rear of a curio shop were a couple of men, very obviously dealing in large quantities of money. In fact it looked rather like another set from a bad Hollywood movie. The lead character was wearing his shirtsleeves in garters and had a cardsharps visor on his head. His customer seemed to have fallen into the act as well. Between them and us were the ‘heavies’. Teddy explained our story and we were told to wait in the corner. Around us in the darkness was an amazing collection of historical ‘artefacts’. Everything from round leather shields and feather trimmed spears, to pith helmets that had presumably started life in the Italian Colonial services.

Then it was our turn and well worth the wait. 8 Birr as against the banks official rate of 3.5 Birr to the dollar. We’d already asked around about the black market rate, so knew that we weren’t being ripped off. What a difference this rate would make to just about every aspect of the trip through the rest of the country. Teddy turned out to be a gem and he earned a large tip for his services. We wondered how far up the ladder a lad like him could find his way. He hadn’t a lot besides enthusiasm, determination and trustworthiness to help him. In Ethiopia’s developing situation, I hoped that they’d be enough, and that he didn’t have to change too much to survive.

Which country / area would you love to revisit and why?

There’s only one place I wouldn’t like to go back to and that’s the jail cell. Able to make the chance, I’d go back everywhere I’ve been. But I’m enjoying discovering new places so…

SAM MANICOM : 

Motorcycling in France

What’s it like to travel ; with your partner / family / solo?

Solo is a wonderfully selfish way of travelling. Where shall I go today etc. For some it’s lonely. Not for me. There are always people around. For some, the constant responsibility for getting travel plans right, breakdowns sorted etc while on their own is hard. I treat it all as unexpected adventures and enjoy finding out what’s next. I do cock things up, but that’s ok. There are always solutions to situations.

 

4 years into the 8 year round the world motorcycle journey, suddenly travelling with Birgit was strange. She too was a solo traveller.

It took about 6 months of learning how to fully respect each other’s abilities and ambitions, and to learn to be flexible, before we found the duo travel gold.

All of the things she introduced me to because of her interests added constant layers of the unexpected in a great way. I hope I did the same for her.

Travel gold? The moments of magic where no words needed to be spoken, but sharing the moment was an added layer of ‘special’.

Can you give any advice to those looking to travel with others / solo?

Too right I can and the advice works if setting out solo too. If you are aiming to travel with others, find out what they really want from a trip first. Go beneath the glossy travel planning excitement.

Make sure everyone has the same funds and time availability.

 

Make sure that everyone knows that respect for the others in the group is the main key.

And the other key is communication. If you can’t talk, and really listen, to the others in the potential group (or they you) then they aren’t the right people to be travelling with.

 

There’s a whole article that could be written on this subject. Solo and duo are both great but as with everything in life, success is earned.

Do you feel travelling has changed you? If so in what way?

I’m way more open minded, far more likely to say yes, and I listen much better. I’m also an addict for this world of ours. It and the people in it are incredible. However, treat either badly, without respect and without common sense, and the risk of getting bitten is there. I also accept that things go wrong. I don’t view them as disasters. Mishaps are the beginnings of unexpected adventures. A key rule of life for me now is not to fear the unknown, but to treat it with curiosity and respect.

Name a couple of things you’ve learned on the road which you wouldn’t have ordinarily learned when at home?

Phew. Just a couple? Some I knew but hadn’t really thought through.

Planning is fascinating and stands you in good stead. But don’t let over planning stop you doing something. You are rarely 100% ready for anything in life, so don’t try to get to the 100% stage of planning.

Dreams are where adventures begin.

Treat everyone with respect and you’ll get it back.

Don’t let fear get in the way but treat it as a curiosity. Why am I afraid? Let’s go find out if it’s based in fact. It rarely is.

Getting somewhere is important, but equally important are all the things to see, to touch, to taste and to smell along the way.

Adventure happens every day.

I’ve learned to look beneath the surface of the things I see; to ask why and how.

To never take what I’m told by the media as fact. In my experience it often isn’t. Or the ‘bushfire’ of news actually stems from a match head of a flame.

I think that one of the key things is that I’ve learnt to be kinder.

And for sure I value the amazing things and opportunities at home far more than if I’d never travelled. Examples? Running water I can drink straight from the tap. The amazing NHS. Though overcrowded and a bit raggedy at times in the UK, the road infrastructure is incredible. I can go on for ages on this…

What skills would you like to learn to help you on your travels?

I’d like to be:

A better mechanic

A better photographer

A kinder person

SAM MANICOM : 

Working on Bike in Colombia

Any recommended websites or resources which has helped you with your trip?

http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/

https://adventureriderradio.com/ (Not actually helped me, but I know it’s helping many)

Do you record your journey? If so, what advice can you offer others who are looking to do the same?

Paper journal. It’s always with me in my belt pouch so I’m free to jot down observations unobtrusively at any time. I photo the pages when it’s full and email them home, while I post the physical copy back, or send it with another traveller who is heading home.

Write every day. Even if you are exhausted. 20 key words will spark the memories later. Do this without fail. You are on intake overload every day. It’s too easy to forget.

It’s not only unobtrusive and with you all the time, but it costs far less than something electronic and that allows for more fuel in your tank.

What’s it like to return from such an epic adventure to the “normal” world? Any advice for readers?

You change a lot while you are travelling for a long time. People at home have changed too, but not as dramatically as you will have, and certainly in very different directions.

Expect your friends to be interested, but not for long. Even a few minutes is long.

Go to events where travellers get together such as the Overland Event, Overland Expo, Horizons Unlimited etc. That allows you to spend time with people you don’t have to explain yourself to. People who will be genuinely interested in the places you have been, the things your learnt and your top tips. It’s a great way to recharge your batteries before heading back into the rush and direction of life in western society.

 

Of course, starting to plan your next trip helps!

What is your favourite road tripping song?

The Boxer, House of the Rising Sun, and Here Comes the Sun. Mostly because I can sing them without scowls from others : )

What do you miss about a regular not-on-the-road lifestyle?

Clean water straight from the tap, cold fresh milk and strong cheddar cheese. The rest is great, but not missed on the road.

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HEALTH : 

What advice would you give to other travellers to help them stay mentally and physically healthy on the road:

Eat well and sleep well and you can travel with a smile. Look into the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to be healthy. Hunt those things out when you are travelling. It’s way easier than people think. For example, sweet potatoes, almonds, fruit and avocado pears. Drink plenty of water. More than you think you need each day.

If you feel tired, then rest. Learning to pay attention to the warning signs your body gives you is vital.

Most of us take them for granted in our ‘safe’ worlds at home. Exercise every day. If you are driving or riding a motorcycle, walk at least 2 miles every day. Keep your body fit. Respect it.

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FOOD :

What is your go to snack when travelling :

Peanuts and raisins or dates

What has been the best and worst food you have had whilst travelling?

Carry basics such as couscous, or rice, or pasta, plus salt, pepper, chilli pepper and curry powder. Have fun shopping for the rest along the way. Enjoy adapting your diet according to what’s available.

What has been the best and worst food you have had whilst travelling?

Incredibly hard to answer! There’s so much amazing food out there. Some of it looks grim but tastes amazing.

Travelling off the beaten track in parts of Africa where food is scare, eating such things as Ugali for weeks becomes very ordinary. But you are grateful to have it so that’s fine.

There have been plenty of odd things along the way. Sheep’s eyeballs, locusts, ants, horse penis, dog’s testicles and I could go on. When in Rome…

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WRAPPING UP :

Best piece of advice you have been given for your travels?

Stop and smell the roses.

Take a BMW R80GS its ‘Bullet proof, and idiot proof’. They were right!

 

Worst piece of advice you have been given about your travels?

Usually being told by salesmen that I needed equipment, I really didn’t.

Being told not to do something without evidence. Chinese whispers are dangerous.

What is your next step travel wise?

Just planning the next trip

 

One piece of advice you would offer to wannabe travellers :

I mentioned before that you will never be 100% ready to go. Don’t expect to be and don’t let it get in the way. Travelling is far easier than people think. Take your time and keep your eyes open. Be ready to be amazed, by the world and by the parts of you you’ll discover that you had no idea were there. Oh, and do take advantage of opportunities. They will pop up unexpectedly.

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A big thank you goes out to Sam Manicom from the whole team at EXP52 for participating in this interview! We hope you enjoyed reading through his travel tales and worldly advice - don't forget to follow him to keep track of his latest adventures or if you haven't grab yourself one of his fantastic four books! If you get the chance, do pop along and see him present at one of the local overland shows - you won't be disappointed :) 

FOLLOW SAM : 

Website: www.sam-manicom.com

Twitter: @SamManicom

Facebook: Adventure Motorcycle Travel Books 

Books / Publications : All are in Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook formats Into Africa, Under Asian Skies, Distant Suns, Tortillas to Totems. Available direct from me, Amazon, the Book Depository (Free worldwide Delivery), Audible, i-Tunes etc

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