Saturday, 28 April 2007

THE LONELY ROAD


This morning Leana left Bloemfontein by train back to CT, from where she will fly to London next week. I will miss her, and I wish her well in her cycle through Europe. (Incidently, my mother was visiting family in Bloem, and was on the same train in the compartment next door to Leana). The train was a couple of hours late, so I've decided to stay over another night. My intention was to leave here for Swaziland and Mocambique, but I've changed my mind and will now head for Botswana tomorrow.

Friday, 27 April 2007

HELLO, GOODBYE, DUMELA!




In our short trip through Lesotho this week we found the people to be particularly friendly. The children followed us in hordes, practising their English (some said "hello", some said "goodbye", and some said "good morning" in the pm). Others greeted us with "dumela", and everyone shouted and waved, even from across the valeys as we cycled along. Whenever we stopped there was soon a crowd of curious onlookers (not only children). If we made a move (eg. to open a bag), then one could sense a ripple of expectant excitement running through the crowd (who were usually standing in a semi-circle around us). Tomorrow morning I also say goodbye to Leana who takes the train back to Cape Town. She leaves for London on the 5th, from where she plans to cycle through the UK and Europe (see the link to her website in the column on the right).

BORDER HOPPING




This section since Aliwal North has been a hectic few days of crossing rivers and borders. Firstly we crossed the Orange river into the Free State (where we camped at Zastron). The next day we headed for Lesotho along a bumpy gravel road, and crossed at the Makhaleng Bridge border post. That evening we booked into a local hotel in Mohales Hoek (supper was pap, meat, and marogo). The next day we cycled in Lesotho via Mafeteng, and crossed back into SA at Van Rooyens Gate near Wepener. The following day we crossed the Caledon river on our way to Bloemfontein, staying over in Dewetsdorp. In Bloem I had a buckled rear wheel repaired and 2 broken spokes replaced (no charge - thanks Cyclo City). I also bought a new tent, as I don't think my faithful 20-year old tent will last the trip through Africa. Distances since Aliwal were: Zastron 79k; Mohales Hoek 56k; Wepener 74k; Dewetsdorp 43k; and Bloemfontein 80k.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

THE WATERSHED




Now I'm not referring to the buckets of sweat which I've been shedding on the uphills! Rather, looking at a map of the area we've been travelling through these past few days, it seems that the rivers flow away from us (N to the Orange river, and S to the coast). Also, the rain comes down with a force strong enough to feed all those rivers. Coming from CT we're not used to this sort of thunderstorm weather. At Steynsburg we pulled into the Redefin camp site where the owner (Mike) advised us to pitch out tents under the lapa roof. The sun was shining at the time, but that evening a storm broke loose which wet our tents even under the roof (and killed our fire). The following evening at Burgersdorp dam we became clever and sheltered under the protection of a shed (with train coach sides), thus avoiding the evening storm. Last night we camped at the Aliwal Spa (no shelter), where it rained for most of the night. The Spa (which was once a fancy resort) has now become so dilapidated that one could refer to the remaining indoor pool as a "water shed". Distances travelled since Cradock were: Hofmeyr (60k); Steynsburg (46k); Burgersdorp (78k); and Aliwal North (67k).

ROADSIDE QUISINE




Meals at this stage of the journey are still pretty much what I've been used to at home. In the evenings we usually cook our food on our stoves, or braai (there are enough shops along the way to buy the necessary). Sometimes we've stopped along the way for breakfast, and when there have been facilities we've eaten out in the evening (e.g. last night we went to the Spur here in Aliwal). Our camp sites have seldom been close to the restaurants, so we've had to return "home" in the dark (with light of course). Mostly the restaurants have asked us to bring our bikes inside for safety.

Monday, 16 April 2007

A ROOF OVER OUR HEADS




Accommodation on this trip so far has been mainly camping in our tents, but there have been some interesting variations. At Colchester we arrived ahead of a mean storm, so we booked into a self catering unit to avoid the weather for the night. On Saturday night we couldn't make Cradock before dark, so we stayed in a guest cottage on a farm along the road (sorry, I forgot the name of the farm again). The cost was almost the same as camping, and breakfast was supplied as well! Even some of the camp sites have been interesting. The Paterson Caravan Park is in the back garden of George and Helen, where we were the only guests and camped amongst their geese. At Middleton the old railway station and Inn have been restored as a resort, staffed by rehabilitated drug addicts on their way back into society. Further considerations regarding accommodation are facilities for washing clothes, so thanks to Mark and Riekie in J-Bay for doing our clothes (your washing machine won't be the same again), and for giving us supper as well.

THE WINDS OF CHANGE




The SABC weather reporter gave an elaborate sweep of her arm to indicate the movement of a cold front from West to East. This meant good news for us - a tail wind! We flew from Storms River to J-Bay to the Sundays River and Paterson (in the process we passed 1000 km's since leaving CT). After that the wind was variable, sometimes from the front. At least it was behind us on Saturday PM as we tried unsuccessfully to beat nightfall into Cradock after losing time with an early head wind and flat tyre. This sight prompted one of the farm labourers along the way to shout after Leana: "Trap hom Mêrrim, trap hom!". Since leaving CT we've had no flat tyres, and now there were 2 on consecutive days. The first flat was at the beginning of Olifantskop pass on Friday (no elephant, but giraffe were browsing right next to the road), and the second was the next day at the beginning of the Daggaboersnek pass (no dagga, just some monkeys who'd become road kill). Yesterday we battled to Cradock against a head wind, and decided to make today a rest day at the Cradock Spa (the hot pool is unfortunately out of order). We need a rest, and it gives us an opportunity to do some washing (and also the internet thing). I hope a warm wind comes up to dry the washing.
Distances since Storms River were: Jeffreys Bay 114 k; Colchester 116 k; Paterson 36 k; Middleton 69 k; Guest Farm before Cradock 83 k; Cradock 33 k.

Monday, 9 April 2007

STROLLING THROUGH THE GARDEN




It seems that since we're travelling through SA's Garden Route our efforts are easing a little. For the first 2 days after leaving Stil Bay we were assisted by a tail wind. While camping at The Wilderness the garden was watered (rain storm) so we decided to take a rest day there (it was also nice to meet Botha, Anria & family for dinner). The past 3 days have been fairly easy (I didn't want to strain myself on my birthday yesterday). Leana's sister, Amanda, has also been to visit, and transported our baggage for 2 days (now that's really taking it easy!). This morning started with a mean hill (plus baggage again) out of Keurboomstrand where we camped last night. At the top of the hill we met up with Nico who fed us hot cross buns and coke. After that we had an easy cruise with the wind to Storms River village where we are camping at the Backpackers. Incidentally, as we sneaked through a gate at the Tsitsikama toll plaza we stet off an alarm (it seems they still haven't caught up with us!). Some people didn't think we were taking it all that easy. While grinding up a long hill the other day 2 small boys emerged from the surrounding farmlands and trotted alongside. One asked what was in the bags, and when I told him that it was my clothes and things he responded: "O, trek meneer-hulle dan?" (Are you moving home?).


Distances since Stil Bay were:-


- Mossel Bay (mostly gravel rd) 93k


- Wilderness 74k


- Knysna (into wind) 54k


- Keurboomstrand 47k


- Storms River 58k

KOM NOU SAARTJIE!




Being constantly accompanied by an object (such as my bike), one may start to personify that object. I'm convinced my bike has a distinct personality (similar to the cart-donkey in a TV ad some time ago). Therefore I often have to coakes her with the phrase "kom nou Saartjie!". Some days I find Saartjie quite keen to hit the road, and on other days she's rather stubborn and sluggish. I can't really blame her for dragging her feet on the uphills (considering the heavy load). On the contrary old Saartjie is undoubtedly a downhill runner, hauling anything she can spot ahead. Coming down the Kaaimans River Pass she was pushing hard behind a car, and would have overtaken if the road had been any wider. The 60km speed limit was convincingly exceeded, but I was concentrating too hard on the reigns to notice if the permanent speed camera flashed or not (just imagine the astonishment of the traffic official examining the film!). By the way, in the process we also crossed the first (provincial) border.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

CURIOSITY IN MOTION




Touring with a loaded bicyle is not recommended for the shy person who prefers to blend into the background. We constantly attract curious onlookers, and passing motorists hoot and wave (and we haven't even left the Western Cape yet!). When we stop at places the spectators stare at the bikes, take photo's, and paw the luggage (but I've yet to see someone actually lift my bike). Questions abound, such as: "What sort of spares do you carry?"; "How much does this lot weigh?"; and "Don't you get tired?". One chappie (referring to the drinking tube protruding from my backpack) asked if that was my oxygen supply (I wish!). On one occasion my answer "that I was planning to travel through Africa" was met with a blank stare, but when I said that we'd come from Cape Town the response was "that's a very long way". One elderly gentleman in a small town suggested (with tears in his eyes) that I should visit the Shepherds Hotel in Cairo where he'd once stayed as a child. He wasn't sure if the hotel still had the same name, but I would apparently recognise it by the 2 lions at the entrance.

ROLLERCOASTER RIDING




I've always known that the Western Cape is a hilly region (and windy - as we've experienced it). Since leaving Hermanus 5 days ago the pedalling has been quite taxing. Given that I'm in a rather unfit and overweight condition, I suppose this could be called a crash course in fitness. Also, there is a massive difference between normal cycling and touring with a loaded bike (everything including the kitchen sink). Take for example our average speed these past few days (10 to 15 kph). However, don't be concerned, we're getting along quite well. I even had to scale a fence and replenish our water supply from a sheep trough the other day (I'm sure not for the last time). The toughest stretch so far was from Gansbaai to Bredasdorp, mostly on (poor) gravel roads. We arrived at Bredasdorp in the dark after 9h30m on the road (the horseflies probably sucked out litres of blood every time we stopped).


Daily distances were as follows: Hermanus to Gansbaai (52k); Bredasdorp (101k); Swellendam (76k); Heidelberg (60k); and Stil Bay (73k). Today is a rest day (and also Leana's birthday).