Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 111 - Nico Smit's farm to Beaufort West, South Africa

No rush this morning, as our destination was only Beaufort West, but we had some mountain passes to go over and a local told us we should take our time to enjoy the scenery.  Our farm host showed us the deep, narrow gorge from where he collects his drinking water and irrigation water for the farm.  Quite an intricate network of plastic pipes from the spring to the farm.  The temperature dropped several degrees as we hiked in.  During the rains you cannot walk in as the water rages down the gorge at a depth of a few meters.  On the way back out Nico asked if we were interested in a hike up one of the hills to a cave where there were some ancient bushman rock paintings.  Apparently he had asked experts to take a look them and they authenticated them.  It was a quick but grueling hike up.  Very nice rock paintings (see pictures below).  After the hike, Nico spent some time working on the mounting hardware of my bike while RobC got his beast ready for today's ride.

Main building at the guest farm and the gorge in the the background

You can barely tell the difference between the tree trunk growing along the gorge wall and the rock.

Bushman rock paintings.

View from the cave out over the farm

Nico prying the luggage support back out so I could open my fuel cap alongside the seat.  Yes, the bike spent some time resting on its side this morning.

 One of the many ostrich farms along the road.  They even gathered under the shade of a tree out of the sun like cattle would back home.  It was a funny sight to see.

We rode along N9 south, which took us along the river through the Swartzberg Mountains. Then we headed north on a gravel road over the top of the same range.  Single-lane, narrow road with beautiful views of the valley below.

South end of Swatzberg Pass

View from the top of Swartzberg Pass looking north. The gravel road winds all the way to the bottom.

 View at the summit, 5080  ft (1500 m)

 Flower detail
 North side of Swartzberg Pass.

Posing at the top of the pass.

Next, we rode through the historic town of Prince Albert, whose main street (Hoofstraat) is lined with old renovated homes in the early Cape style architecture, all of which were guest houses, restaurants and shops. Very nice.

Nice samples of early Cape architecture, modeled after 17th Century Dutch architecture, according to the Dutchman of our team

The day ended in the city of Beaufort West at a nice guest house, the only place in town with Internet ... until the power went out in the town due to a bit of lightning.  Not uncommon, they say.  Seems like South Africa is a first world country with third world problems.

Only 350 km (225 miles) today, but it was a beautiful ride.

Day 110 - Plettenberg Bay to Nico Smit's farm in Baviaanskloof, South Africa

RobT: We left our nice little backpackers paradise, Amakaya Backpackers Hostel in Plettenberg Bay around 9 am and headed east along N2 toward Bloukrans Bridge for my appointment with insanity - 216 m (708 feet).... the highest bungee jump in the world.

 Fitting the backup safety harness

Before the jump...still smiling

RobC:  Just in case you were wondering...I was not about to pay USD 100 to jump off a bridge. There may have been a time in my remote past when I thought that might be a cool thing to do, but nowadays I am happy enough when I can get out of bed without too many aches and pains. :-)  (RobT edit: The bungee jump may be the answer to straightening out any of your aches and pains and giving you the extra inch you need to touch the ground while on your motorbike)

RobT:  I wasn't really nervous until I walked along the catwalk to the jump site under the bridge.  The catwalk was made of extruded sheet metal so you could see all the way to the river.  I guess they try to weed out the wimps, but at that point they have your money. It was a very professional operation, to my relief.  When it was my turn, they wrapped a couple of what seemed like thick heating pads around my ankles .... over my pants!  I'm thinking this can't hold, I'll slip right out of this contraption!!  Then they wrapped a strap around my ankles (on top of the "heating pads") and several loops between the ankles, reassuring me that it was going to be okay while explaining the engineering behind how the tethering mechanism works.  I guess at that point I had to believe these young workers.  They stood me up, help me hop to the edge of the abyss and the count down from 5 commenced.  With a little nudge I was into a free falling swan dive 216 meters above the river.  What a rush!!!!  The fall was deathly silent, the wind rushed past my face, then the bungee engaged and the G forces took over.  The deceleration was intense.  The rebound was equally intense.  After several oscillations I was at a stand still, hanging upside down, looking at the river a couple hundred feet below.  It was all so smooth.  I waited for a few moments until a guy came down to unhook me, yes, unhook me and latch me to his harness and haul me back up to the bridge.  The worst part was hanging upside down with the blood going down to my head.  Of course, I bought the video and photos.  WILD!!  Got one up on you sis.  :-)

Top of the arch was the jump point.

 Doesn't look like much of a hold, does it?

 These rubber bands better hold!!!

After the jump we headed to Baviaanskloof, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a nature reserve northwest of Port Elizabeth.  It offers camping facilities in the midst of baboons, monkeys, rhinos, kudu and leopards.  You could make it as rough as you'd like, all depended on how far into the park you were willing to travel.  We were riding the entire length of the reserve.  The road started out fairly tame which we thought was good, as our motorcycles were overloaded with gear and we didn't need anything very challenging as these bikes were top heavy and hard to manage. In the first portion of the park the road wound around the jagged hills, then climbed and descended several hills winding its way up until you reached the top  This section of dirt road was more like a trail, the top a mud pit.  Once we got through all that, the road descended one final time into the valley floor where it criss-crossed the river several times before we exited the park and were on nice high speed gravel road.

Road to Patensie.

Warning signs posted at the park entrance.

We only saw baboons and some Kudu.  There were also supposed to be leopards and rhinos.

Parts of this road reminded us of the Death Road in Bolivia.  Apparently, a rhino fell off one of these cliffs 5 years ago.

The road started out smooth enough.

Parts of the road were quite messy.

No kick stand ... the bike is standing on its own two wheels.  Funny, I had asked the attendant at the gate what the road was like .. "it was in great shape."

RobC navigating his way through the mud.

One of MANY creek crossings through the nature reserve.

RobT emerging out of the water.

RobC heading into a long stretch of water.

This crossing wasn't that bad .... really ....

We had big plans to make it to Willowmore for the night, but ended up taking an interest in all the farm lodging and guest houses advertised along the road through Baviaanskloof.  We ended up staying at a place run by Nico Smit and his wife. It was dark and we rode up his lane to his farm (1400 acres) not knowing what to expect and it just so happened that he himself had just arrived home from a day in town. Nico's place was nestled in the rocky hills and at the end of a gorge which you can hike up if you like.  Talked to Nico for a while, he served us a nice lasagna supper and showed us our guest house.  He also had an incredible border collie.  This dog could retrieve a ball from the complete blackness of night, from anywhere you threw it.  Incredible!  And what hospitality from Nico!

My roommate for the night ... I ended up sending him back into the wild.

Nico Smit's farm with our guest house in the background.

The guest house during the day. This farm has its own canyon to the left of the rocky hill. Incredible place.

RobC:  A  word must be said about the incredible hospitality of the Afrikaners. Wherever you go people have guest houses or extra quarters and are happy to invite you in, offering you lodging, food and help. And when you leave, they invariably give you their contact information and tell you that if anything should happen along the way, to be sure to call them and they would be more than happy to come and help us out.

One other observation. To us outsiders/visitors, the segregated residential areas for the blacks and the whites and the fact that all lower level employees are black and the bosses are white is very obvious and a little shocking. Yet, within the context of South African history, and some of it within the last 20 years, we are reminded not to pass judgment on the situation here (especially as visitors). It would probably take many years of living here to be able to fully understand the interaction and communal life in South Africa.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Day 109 - Barrydale to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

RobC:  Right after leaving our Barryville lodging we saw a cemetery and I just had to stop and have a look at the Afrikaans grave markers and the names of people, as well as the dates of birth and death. This is kind of a macabre hobby of mine, but sometimes it serves to learn historical facts, such as war, famine, epidemics, etc.

People from Haarlem will recognize the Cronjé surname.

Nice specimen of an Afrikaans tombstone

RobT:  We continued along R62 to Oudtshoorn stopping several times along the way looking for R62 stickers to put next to our Route 66 stickers we got from our friend Mark in Illinois, way back on day one of our epic journey.  The temperature reached a balmy 38 Celsius (106 F), so when it did drop to about 31 C under cloudy skies it felt nice and cool.

The first stop was Ronnie's Sex Shop, out in the middle of the "veldt" (country).  Ronnie had opened the pub in 1995 and painted "Ronnie's Shop" on the side of the white-washed building.  One night, his mates decided to play a joke on Ronnie and inserted "sex" in the name.  Not amused, but not knowing what to do, he left it as it was.  It has since become a famous watering hole for weary travelers.  No, the place has nothing to do with sex ... in case you were wondering.  Nevertheless, people do leave whatever article they can spare as a memento of their visit to this landmark.  Some of the articles being ladies undergarments.  We were asked to leave one of our spare tires, but instead, we put our sticker on the door.

Ronnie's Sex Shop along R62

Inside the world class biker's pub. Yes, those are panties and bras hanging from the ceiling and, no, we are not smiling.

Turning south toward the coast of the Indian Ocean, we rode over Robertson Pass at an elevation of 840 m (2500 feet).  Seemed a little anti-climactic after what we experienced in the Andes not too long ago.  Still, a nice ride to the coastal town of Mossel Bay.  N2 towards Plettenberg Bay is known as the Garden Route which reminded us a lot of the coastal resort towns back home.

Nice easy day of riding on very nice roads - 350 km (230 miles). Tomorrow we head a little further east up the coast before we turn inland, so stand by for more adventure stories and pictures of beautiful South Africa.

Day 108 - Cape Town to Barrydale, South Africa

RobT:  Part of the morning was spent organizing all our gear and trying to repack our bikes a little more efficiently for the big trip through Africa.  After all, it has been a couple of weeks since our last real ride and we’ve gotten out of our regular routine.  We said our goodbyes to Sheryl (wife of Tony Heath who is riding in Argentina) at Colts Villa Apartments and headed for Hamman BMW once again, but this time to meet with Ronny, Chris and Chris’s father John.  Chris had arranged a “lunch and learn” with Ronny, an expert on everything related to motorcycles, routes and places along the routes from South Africa to Kenya. 

We spent a few hours poring over the maps at Dros, a very nice rustic local steak house.  I had an ostrich burger, supposedly the leanest meat you can eat, with no cholesterol (and RobC had a smoked salmon salad, as he was meat-saturated).  It was fantastic!  Ronny and Chris are the types of riders that find the most difficult “roads” to ride.  We had to keep them focused on our relatively tame route, plus the fact that it is probably best to stick to the "tar" roads in the case of our heavy-laden bikes.  We came away with some great information including our next stop, a place along R62, Karoo Saloon.  Soon after that RobC and I hit the road to start our long African journey.

We rode along N1 north to Paarl where we stopped at the Afrikaans Language Monument. Even though it seemed like a somewhat strange place to visit, RobC said that, as a linguist, he could not consciously drive past it. After a brief visit, we were back on the road.  

Very interesting curved spires protruding into the air, with each form and shape symbolizing some part of the origin and evolution and significance of the Afrikaans language.

A complete wall of Afrikaans sayings, to RobC's delight.

This Afrikaans monument was erected in 1975 and is one of three monuments dedicated to the language.

From N1 to R60 through Robertson we made it onto R62.  This road is similar in fame to Route 66 in the US, a lot of bikers ride this route.  Historically, it was the main road that linked all the wineries and ostrich farms to Cape Town.  This industry has grown here and the road has now become more popular as a tourist route. 

Well, thanks to Chris’s advice, we arrived at Karoo Saloon around 6:30 pm but for food, drink and lodging .... but, alas, it was closed.  Looked like a very nice place.  I guess Chris's expert advice is limited to motorcycles.  :-)

 Karoo Saloon - Closed!


Instead, we ended up at an excellent spot called Barrydale Backpackers and the Dung Beetle Bar.  What an amazing place!!  Mark, his wife Quinton and Bella their retriever, the owners, were extremely hospitable.  Before we even stepped foot onto their property we were offered beer and for a couple of bikers after a day of riding, there is no better way to greet someone.  

We finally settled in for a good night's rest after a great supper consisting of "kingklip" fish in a garlic lemon sauce, interesting conversation, loads of laughs, blues playing on the stereo, some further pointers on our route, a couple more beers and some brandy and coke (the preferred drink in South Africa) and a swim in the salt water pool to cool off from the hot day (a high of 37 Celsius - 105 F).  Another great day in South Africa.

Dung Beetle Bar in Barrydale along R62. The lodging was off to the left. Sorry, no picture.