Almost there now. About 120km separate me from Cape Town and the end of the Big Africa Cycle. Or is that the end? Surely I should pedal to Cape Agulhas? That after all is Africa’s southern most point, and doesn’t everyone else who overlands the length of Africa finish here? Except I won’t really be finishing there as I will have to cycle back towards Cape Town, which is kind of less appealing. Apparently Cape Agulhus does have a good Fish and Chip shop though – surely worth cycling another 350km for?
I left Springbok some 600km plus ago with a full stomache under beautifully clear blue skies. When I heard that South Africans braai all year round I wondered how that could be done when it can be so cold in the winter. My hosts naturally had a braai inside.
The Northern Cape appeared almost as wild and unpopulated as much of Namibia as I headed south from Springbok on the N7 highway. The sun was shining, but it was still too cold to stop for long, and I remembered how frustrating it can be to cycle when you’re constantly putting on and taking off layers of clothing to deal with the uphill sweating and downhill free-wheeling. In Spring this part of South Africa is ablaze with wild flowers, but now the veld is a rolling boulder-strewn expanse of greens and browns.
The municipal campsite in the small town of Garies looked like the cleaner had taken winter leave and only a desperate fool would camp here at this time of year. The average ‘white’ South African would have been disgusted at the dilapidated brick braai areas and state of the shower and toilet blocks, but piping hot water was still running in the ladies, and the only person I saw before leaving without obviously having paid the next morning was an overweight white local testing his quad-bike out between the sites.
It definitely isn’t camping season anymore in this part of South Africa, but without wishing to part with 200-300 rand (£16-25) for a room, I camped again the following night beside a B&B in the equally quiet village of Nuwerus. The elderly Austrian owner placed a cup of tea next to my tent the following morning and asked if it wasn’t cold camping at 3 degrees Centigrade? Thanks to PEP, which is perhaps the South African equivalent to Peacocks in the UK, I now possess striking white long-johns, a ridiculously thin fleece jacket, skiing gloves and a woolly hat. When I realised that cycling in sandles might be a thing of the past, I ditched my well-worn imitation Teva sandles in Springbok, which proudly lasted all the way from Ghana, and now cycle in a pair of cross-trainers that have spent 75% of their time on this journey at the bottom of a pannier.
First time Ocean views always raise the spirits when you have been away from that blue expanse for so long. Mozambique Island is where I last had a sea view from the saddle, but it was Limbe in Cameroon, almost some 18 months ago, where I was last next to the Atlantic. There it was uncomfortably hot, humid, and the sea was relatively calm. Here in the northern Cape as I crested a hill heading west from Lutzville, a cold south westerly wind bit into my face, and I had no ambitions of running into the suicidal surf.
It was missionaries that hosted me that night in the holiday town of Strandfontein. The invitation came over a speed bump, as I slowed down to enter what seemed like a private resort and they were driving out to the shops. Within a matter of minutes I had been given keys to a house and told to make myself a “lekker bath”. “I’ll tell you all about the Amazon” when I’m back”, said Glen.
A few hours later as another braai was in the making I listened to Glen tell me all about his prior two trips in the Amazon, and his ‘calling’ from God to reach tribes that are still untouched. “These people need to be saved” was the general consensus, but as I was asked how I liked my meat cooked, I refrained from opening a lengthily debate beginning with “No they don’t.”
Strandfontein has a stunning wild location, with Atlantic breakers crashing into the rocky outcrops and cleansing a wide empty beach, at least during the winter months. Glen was quite happy to host me a second night, but I was also quite happy to push on south to Lambert’s Bay.
Here Western Cape hospitality reached out to me again in the form of a free bed for the night in a 3-star Guest House, and a meal on the seafront. This act of generosity was a little overwhelming, and I wasn’t entirely sure who was paying for it. Was it the elderly woman I met and talked with for 10 minutes in a restaurant in Springbok, who had given me the number of her friend living in Lamberts Bay? Or was it this friend, who unable to host me because of her sick husband, had called ahead to this Guest House and reserved me a room? I only met her for 5 minutes the following morning before heading off to explore an island full of Ganets, and learning that bird poo was once referred to as white gold in this part of the World for its economic importance as a fertiliser.
The landscape became greener as I pushed on south under clear skies, the sea close in view and the wind either warm on my back or cold in my face.
In a town I had trouble in knowing how to pronounce – Dwarkersbos, I pitched my tent in another empty campsite. Here the proprietress took pity on me for cycling alone all the way from England – “Oh Shame. You poor thing”, she exclaimned, before telling me I could camp for free. The word ‘Shame’ seems to be frequently used amongst white South African females when explaining some aspect of hardship, which obviously includes travelling alone and by bicycle.
In all of the two weeks I’ve now been in South Africa I’ve hardly interacted with any South Africans who aren’t white. The western and northern cape’s ‘other’ inhabitants are predominantly coloured, but outside greetings in shops I don’t seem to have really chatted with anyone who isn’t white. It could possibly be a language thing. My Africaans is very limited, and the level of English amongst coloured communities is lower than most whites. Aside from that, the population density in this part of South Africa is generally low and there isn’t a whole lot more human interaction cycling through here than there was in parts of Namibia. ‘You’re not really seeing South Africa at all’, was Glen’s remark. That will have to wait for another trip…
Continuing the thread of hospitality and free accommodation in South Africa, it’s nice to have some English company just before I reach Cape Town. Here in Langebaan, which is located on a beautiful stretch of coastline next to the West Coast National Park, I’ve been staying with Nick and Vick, a couple who spent a year travelling by Land Rover from the UK-South Africa, and maintained a blog of their journey here. Over maps, beers and naturally another braai, it’s been relaxing to share stories from the road in places far removed from the tranquillity of a very western setting.
On Friday (June 22nd), weather permitting, I will cycle from here to Melkbosstrand, just 30km north of Cape Town, and thereafter into Cape Town itself. Should you be reading this from Cape Town and feel like getting out on the bike this weekend, I believe there is a cycle lane from Melkbosstrand into Cape Town? It would be a pleasure to have some company on the road.
My flight back to the UK is still some 20 days away and I plan to spend the remainder of my time in and around Stellenbosch. If you are close to Cape Town and would like to meet up, or hear me give a talk about my journey, just get in touch through the contact page.