John and Gerry reach South Africa


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01As far south as you can go in south africa cape aguilhas 10 02

As far south as you can go in South Africa, Cape Aguilhas

Initially on entering South Africa the transition isn’t so apparent due in part to Botswana being developed to the degree it is. Indeed the road for the first few kilometers is potholed but very soon this gives way to excellent highways through richly developed farmland of maze and sugar. By the time we reached Rustenburg we were almost convinced we were somewhere in Europe like Provance or Tuscany such were the environmental hints of highly productive fields of crops lined by Cypress trees set against a backdrop of mountains and even the eclectic mix of European cars as opposed to the Toyota 4wd dominated the rest of the continent conspired to create this impression. Stopping for lunch at a petrol station come shopping mall on the outskirts of Rustenburg we immediately noticed what became an increasingly obvious pattern in all the towns and cities of South Africa that we visited. Sitting down to eat, we were for the first time since setting foot on the continent almost exclusively surrounded by white people whereas the town center we had just passed through was predominantly black. Effectively what has happened is that the whites by and large have abandoned their former shopping enclaves in town centers to the black community and built shopping malls, casinos, theme parks and living compounds on the periphery where the need for a car not to mention cost excludes the “ undesirables” as it were. In many respects South Africa is not like being in Africa at all being more akin to the States of Europe. Just inside the border John remarked to me over the intercom that it was good to be back in “civilization” and yet the lingering impression with me was the intimacy of central Africa. We had left behind probably forever, lazy afternoons relaxing with a book on the hotel veranda overlooking a jacaranda lined avenue in Nairobi or walking at sunset along the beach in Cape McClear places which at once touch both the distance from home and at the same time hold haunting links through the ghosts of all those who have colonized in one way or another this part of the “ Dark Continent” and all of which I loved. It is true, however, that there is a certain sense of having travelled through Africa, once one crosses the border into South Africa. The problems which would arise from any engine failure are no longer a concern and all the banks readily accept our plastic cards but somehow none of this really struck me probably because our bikes ran faultlessly and never once gave the slightest cause for anxiety. I do acknowledge, however that between Cairo (or even Italy perhaps, for we did not visit Cairo dealership) and South Africa that were your B.M.W to give you problems than the situation would not be good. Nairobi is effectively the only place in between and while their German mechanic struck me as good, he had injured his back when we were there thus preventing him working and obviously with so little sales their spares were non existent. Our advise based on our experience would be to pre- book your service so that they have any of the parts you need, viz. o rings, filters etc. At any rate all that seemed academic now as B.M.W. hold the top 4 position in motorcycle sales in South Africa and it is blessed with a good dealer network.

lunch on way to jo-burg 2002

Lunch on way to jo-burg
durban city in the background 11-11-02

Durban city in the background

durban south africa 003

Durban South Africa
durban south africa 002

Durban South Africa

north beach looking at durban 11-11-02

North beach looking at Durban
outside Maputo mozambique 2002

Outside Maputo Mozambique

Our first day in South Africa saw us stopping at Kyalami of racetrack fame. Situated in Midrand which as the name implies lies equidistant some 40 Kms between Pretoria and Johannesburg, this essentially is one of those upper class white enclaves whose population work in either of the two cities. Keith and Karen who we met at Cape McClear in Malawi and who were now living and working here knew of the excellent guesthouse Thornleigh, to stay at and also were to show us around the area. Keith collected us that evening and we went first to their house. Situated in Kyalami Park this essentially was a walled town with maximum security inside of which were fabulous houses each with the ubiquitous pool and servants quarters. While for many people these houses and this level of security, which cost a fraction of what they would at home, must make a very tempting proposition, impressed me yet left me untempted. After seeing their house, Keith, Karen and Fay, their daughter, took us for a sight seeing drive of the area. The district we drove through was predominantly Sandton which is the wealthiest suburb of Johannesburg and I would guess one of the wealthiest and most affluent locations in the entire world. It really was a culture shock of the highest order to come from Central Africa into an area such as this. There was one shopping center for want of a better word that was literally a recreated renaissance Italian walled town and which was in fact a theme park that attracted tourists on weekend holidays there from all over Southern Africa. The car showrooms overflowed with an embarrassment of Porshes, Mercedes and Ferraris and designer shops were everywhere. I don’t recall hardly any blacks in the area nor for that matter pedestrians either. After Keith and Karen’s hospitality to us both in Malawi and here it was our turn to treat them to a meal and sitting down to eat we experienced a second shock of the day. By now it was evening and the temperature had dropped into the teens, which coupled with a breeze left us feeling cold for the first time on the trip especially as all we wore were shirts. No doubt this was caused by contrast as opposed to being cold per se for it would have been a perfectly glorious evening back at home but having come through 43º heat the previous day it proved all too much for us! After leaving Kyalami we decided to head for Mozambique. Again the contrast was startling. Within 150 yards before reaching the border post it was like passing through an invisible curtain. Suddenly the road was lined by money changes and huts and throngs of people. At the border post we were lucky not to have been robbed for while inside with customs, had someone not come in to inform us that a group of teenagers were opening our tank bags, we would certainly have been. Thankfully we got out in time to prevent anything happening and it proved the only case of our entire border crossings where this occurred which, given the circumstances of Mozambique’s decades of civil war which has left so many children parentless, is not surprising. As was the case since Tanzania down roads in Mozambique was excellent, the one to Maputo, the capital, being partly toll. Maputo once ranked alongside Cape Town and Rio as one of the beautiful capitals of the world and while undoubtedly its setting is dramatic, overlooking a palm fringed Indian ocean, have taken their toll through the broad tree lined avenues with their pavement cafés still retain a beautiful charm and we lingered here a few days. As we headed out of Mozambique to get back into South Africa we passed through Swaziland. Through often erroneously regarded as part of South Africa, it is in fact an independent country in its own right with its own king who at present is embroiled in controversy having “abducted” his fifth wife according to the mother of the teenager who in an unprecedented move has taken him to court over his right to just take wives in this manner. A perhaps less contentious aspect to the kingly powers he has inherited is his right to designate large tracts of land as Royal reserves which meant that much of the area we passed through was game land as was evident by a warthog that darted across in front of me on the bike, my Harrison six pot calipers coming to my rescue in all fairness to them. Swaziland was hot with my Touratech computer registering 46 º at our lunch break at Big Bend where we ate at a restaurant called “Lismore” and whose setting on the river while bearing a certain similarity to its Irish counterpart was nonetheless at best tenacious in the way that all foreign locations which somehow recall the motherland are just a tantalizing reminder that always remains different in an unfullfilling way. Leaving Swaziland, such was the laid back level of security that we had actually ridden through the South African customs before being redirected back to the Swaziland side. Indeed it has to be said that there was an air of informality about most of the customs outside the Arab world with all in stark contrast to the unnecessary scrutinizing that went on in Cairo it being left to us to fill in the engine numbers etc... for our carnets de passage in almost every case. For example, the South African border guard suggested that we stop over at St. Lucia rather than head all the way to Durban which would have seen us driving into the night. St. Lucia is a world heritage site being a subtropical game reserve of wetland, forest and ocean that stretches for some 60 Kms along the coast south of the Mozambique border. The town itself is an open plan with a high degree of environmental awareness as no house is higher than the trees, which are dotted all over. Indeed so open it is that it is inadvisable at night to walk around in the gardens as the crocodiles and hippos wander about! Off the coast there are whales and the whole park is an excellent balance between marine and land life set in tropical forest. Heading south from St. Lucia towards Durban we passed endless miles of eucalyptus forests again an environmentally aware choice since they consume less water than the pine forests they have replaced. This whole region is subtropical and indeed the natural vegetation here was nearer to the classical stereotype image of jungle than anywhere else we saw with the exception of “The Golden Mile” in Naburu in Kenya which is only about 80 miles south of the Equator. Durban was a city both of us had been looking forward to as a place to stay for a week or so. To a degree it was anti climatic though, as much of its center has in the manner of all of the South African towns been let run down and while still a great place to walk and eat the Golden Mile has I would suspect lost much of its glitters too. The setting of the town however is beautiful with hills overlooking the Indian Ocean and the suburbs are again American Like. Perhaps, however, my describing white South Africa as American or European does an injustice to its own identity. The life style and environment of these people is highly sophisticated and while it is in many respects similar to America or Europe it is also uniquely South African fed as it is by all the various elements that make this country what it is.

roadside sign on road to mozambique 2002

Roadside sign on road to Mozambique
02background shot of mountains near Swellendam south africa 10 02

Background shot of mountains near Swellendam South Africa

04road to st john south africa  10 02

Road to St John South Africa
03coast road to port elizabeth south africa

Coast road to Port Elizabeth South Africa

A system we use when entering any city or big town is to find a taxi driver and after describing the type of budget we are working to, to let him lead us to a suitable hotel. In Durban’s case however this proved unnecessary for just after arriving there while eating lunch along the waterfront, we were lucky to strike up a conversation with a man who suggested what turned out to be an excellent choice of hotel for us. Situated on the hillside suburb of Morningside, overlooking the city, The Morningside Lodge run by brothers Murray and Myles Nel was an ideal location not simply because it was very good accommodation at an extremely reasonable price but what made it memorable for us was the attitude of the two lads who along with their friend Stefan, who also worked there, couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly. They were typical of quite a number of South Africans we met and while I have absolutely nothing to gain from recommending patronizing their establishment I would suggest that it would make a very good choice for anyone who happens this way. Situated at 186 Innes Rd. Their website address is, tel. +27 (031) 3122236/7. No doubt helped by the relaxing atmosphere of the hotel and the excellent weather, our stay in Durban was certainly pleasant with us taking trips up the coast followed by evenings spent at the restaurants along the Golden mile and afterwards walking the beach at dusk with huge surf breaking on the waterline. At night the bay was lit up by an armada of ships, which waited off shore to enter this South Africa’s busiest port. Hugging the coastal route to Cape Town, Myles suggested Port St. John’s would make a suitable stop over for our first night after leaving Durban. Some 150 Kms north of Port St. John’s the road abandons the coastline and loops inland over a mountainous region. Just prior to us taking this route, a man we met at a petrol station became very anxious about our going this way to the extent of giving us his phone number should we need help and warning us under no circumstances to stop, telling us of robberies, rapes and murders along this particular stretch and adding a further twist by informing us that the last 30 kms or so was dirt road, something we had never expected to encounter in South Africa itself. With a certain degree of trepidation, therefore, we headed into this “forbidden” region while at the same time maintaining a healthy sceptism about the actual “danger” involved. The region which is entirely populated by blacks reminded me very much of the mountainous areas of Derby. We were surprised by the vast population which lived up here and it was difficult to see what precisely they existed on in this inhospitable place, there being very little evidence of farming or indeed anything that might sustain them for that matter. Needless to say we passed through it safely and while you could sense a slight undercurrent of hostility in places overall it wasn’t threatening. As we were now very high up in a mountainous area the temperature had dropped considerable and precisely as we began the final 30 kms section of dirt road to Port St. John’s we ran into rain for only the second time on our entire trip. Even in South Africa anything off the main roads are dirt which by the sheer size of the country relative to the population of a given area it might be serving, is not surprising but as to why this particular road to a popular tourist destination should be unpaved was hard to explain other than it might have been an effective way of discouraging people coming via this “dangerous” route necessitating then to come instead by an alternative tarred but longer way. At any rate dirt it was for us and being a subtropical region the rain began to come down hard with rivulets running down the course of the road and coupled with steer descents and hair pin bends made for treacherous conditions in the mud. At one point making way for traffic coming against me I pulled over and ended up sliding off on an incline from which I can’t explain how I re-emerged without falling off. Certainly it wasn’t skill, the most likely explanation being in a fortunate direction the handlebars faced during my frantic flailing about in an effort to control the uncontrollable. John too had his moments but we got down safely into Port St. John’s which is situated at a river mouth with towering cliffs rising sheer above its banks and which in the mist and tropical vegetation looked like some lost world from which at any minute you would expect to see dinosaurs emerge. Leaving Port St. John’s the next day t was overcast and heading south we had to climb through the mountains to get out through this time via the main tarred road in. For about 20 minutes while crossing the mountain we again ran into rain which in reality was actually the low ceiling of cloud we were driving through such was the height we were at. At any rate we were glad we had not to go back the way we arrived the previous day and this also proved to be the final rain we encountered on our entire road trip since Cherbourg. Less than 3 hours rain in total is phenomenal and has to be untypical of the conditions one normally encounters on such a long journey through South Africa. Port Elizabeth where we stayed that night followed the typical pattern of all the places we had been through; a run down center with the white enclave on the edge which in this particular case was called the Boardwalk and consisted of a casino, shops and numerous restaurants all appropriately down by the beach front. While seemingly a popular summer holiday resort there was little to hold us there so the next day we set our sights on Cape Agulus, the most southerly point on the African Continent. By Swellendam, however, having covered some 600 plus kms and with still 100 to go we decided to call a halt. Swellendam which is something of an artists colony is the third oldest town in South Africa and is a picture of Dutch colonial architecture which set against the backdrop of the Langeberg mountains that rise steeply behind it proved a restful place to stop.

05road to st john south africa

Road to St John South Africa
06view from tabletop mountian of cape town 10 02

View from Tabletop Mountian of Capetown

The following morning we completed our goal of reaching the continent's most southerly point. Riding down through vast fields of corn to the cape the wind on this exposed peninsula gradually increased the further south we ventured to the point that by the time we reached the Cape itself it was blowing storm force nearby and must be a harbinger of the far worse conditions we’re bound to encounter on the infinitely more exposed Cape Horn. Agulus, the most southerly town in Africa was a very striking town of colorful tidy houses set in a rugged landscape, which was reminiscent of New England. At the Cape itself we were somewhat pedantic in our effort to take the bikes as far south as is humanly possible in Africa and so we maneuvered them precariously past large boulders which had been placed across the last 200 meters of gravel so as to stop traffic getting down to the point itself. Standing here at the end of Africa where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet the sense of life and richness in the sea is actually palpable such is the energy the place exudes, and the clear blue sky, strong wind and rolling green sea was appropriate finally too such an incredibly rich continent. Having reached our goal of traveling as far south in Africa as possible we now headed for Cape Town. Passing along the coastline here through towns like Hermanos where we stopped for lunch we found this coastline very dramatic and beautiful more so in fact than the famed Garden Route through which we had passed on route from Port Elizabeth to Swellendam. Arriving in Cape Town there was a sense of having completed one leg of our journey. Of having reached a place where we could regroup in preparation for our next destination - South America. Effectively Table Mt. and the restrictions on development up its slopes confines Cape Town to a relatively small intimate area on the seaward side leaving the city sprawl to develop north of the city on the far side of the plateau. It was in this old part of the city we stayed beneath the towering mountain and close to the waterfront area whose Victoria and Alfred docks are the hub of all social and tourist activity. A rejuvenated area of dock land the whole district is a hive of activity of buskers and life with countless restaurants to suit every pocket. Numerous shopping malls, cinemas, theaters, submarine and boat trips around the bay, to whale watch or to Robin island where Mandela among others was incarcerated. The morning after arriving we decided we would explore the Cape proper whose peninsula extends some 70 kms south of the city. Riding down along the western side we passed some seriously wealthy areas with beaches of whiter sand than I have ever seen. Above Holt Bay we stopped along the cliff top to watch, with the other tourists, Wright whales breaching in the sea below us. This whole African coastline all the way up to Zanzibar is famous for these creatures and all the way down there were whale watch cruises available. Past Holt Bay we climbed along Chapman’s Peak whose road hang on the cliff face above the ocean. Unfortunately at present it is partly closed due to constant rock falls which recently killed a woman so this necessitated us crossing the peninsula to the Eastern Side. All the way down the cape there are wealthy holiday houses that form a continuous development until you get to within the last 20 or so kms from the actual Cape of Good Hope. The area itself is a national park into which you have to pay. Riding down the last few miles to it across high heath land I got great feeling of a sense of place and history about here which is found notably absent in most other parts of South Africa. There is no doubt but that South Africa is a spectacularly beautiful country blessed with incredible scenery and wealth yet for all its perfection for me at least it lacks that essential quality in the way that sometimes a flawlessly beautiful woman can lack soul or character. Europe and Ireland with the imprint that countless generations have left on every last stone there over hundreds of millennia has this richness but I found South Africa too vast and lacking in that intensity of archeological heritage which for me is as much a part of the place as is the physical. The Cape of Good Hope as does Cape Agulus also, possess this quality however and even though there were no obvious signs of human habitation there I feel it is because these places are somehow land point’s in the psyche of all mankind places on Earth that though they can be thousands of miles from anywhere are locations that define our world and are thus close to us in a strange sense. I really could feel the significance this place held for Da Gama after having come down, for so long, an unbroken coastline and the hope and promise it gives is still there. There were of course hundreds of tourists there from all over the globe and our Irish registered bikes attracted a good deal of attention and an appreciation of our journey by quite a number of them some of whom had conversations with us. Another touristic attraction which is the biggest here is of course to visit Table Mt. Our first attempt to go up it proved futile because even though the weather was good the wind in this part of the world can obviously be very strong and the conditions therefore became too dangerous for the cable car to operate. The following day when we did go up it, it was really worth while. The two cable cars going up take a very steep ascent over a short space to the summit, which is about 1000 meters high. The views on the way up especially above are absolutely fantastic though and you could linger for hours up there. Below the ocean unbroken for thousands of miles crashes in a white line of surf all along the coastline and to the South stretches a line of mountains all the way down to Cape Hope.

08crating our bikes to fly them to san paulo south america 11 02

Crating our bikes to fly them to San Paulo South America
09getting ready for take off to south america 11 02

Getting ready for take off to South America

11john carr on right manager of trefco cape town11 02

Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe side

Cape Town as well as being a place which to relax and enjoy ourselves also afforded us the opportunity to do some essential tasks, because of its first class services, things like dental check ups, getting new prescription sun glasses etc... Two most important things were concerned with the bike. Firstly we decided to post home a good deal of the equipment we were carrying as we found it to be superfluous. Irrespective of how often people are advised about taking too much or any holiday on trip everyone regardless seems to invariably fall into this trap. I mentioned in my initial report how both our bikes frightened us in the manner they handled due entirely to the weight we were carrying. By jacking up the suspension and pre load we overcame this to a degree though the truth is that we became more accustomed and less alarmed by it than anything else. Nonetheless it is no longer an issue and would cause us no difficulty I feel were we to have kept this heavy load for the reminder of the journey. The reason we decided to off load so much stuff at this stage after having carried it so far and became accustomed to its effect on the handling however is more to do with convenience. When one packs a bike for trip in the comfort of one’s home time and conditions are ideal and while it may all be perfectly packed on the day of departure the reality is that to access a particular item at the bottom of a pannier becomes such an inconvenience that you learn to do without it. The degree to which we over pack can be illustrated by the fact that we quite literally could have carried the entire contents of what we used in our tank bags. The weather was such that we never wore anything more than T-shirt under the bike gear and 2 pairs of underwear, socks and T-shirts were sufficient since washing anything in the evening was dry by the morning. Not once did we camp so that over 50% of what we carried, viz., tents, cooking gear etc... became redundant. As a consequence of this we have now off loaded quite an amount of equipment especially without using it, it won’t be needed in South America either especially since hotels are so readily available there. We don’t think what we’ve off loaded will make a radical difference to the bikes’ handling but the big difference will be accessibility to those things we have kept. The other matter concerning the bike was to get it serviced. At one point on the way down we were considering not getting the bikes serviced until Rio or even Buenos Aires but reasoned that due to the popularity of B.M.Ws in South Africa coupled to having English speaking mechanics that Cape Town would be the best option for getting any work done on them. Through the Internet we had seen good reports from other overland on Trefco B.M.W. and they proved more than deserving of their reputation. Located at 8 Northumberland Ave. In the suburb of Bellville, Justin the owners son is a first rate mechanic who did an excellent service on our bikes while the manager John Carr is up there in my book with the late John Hill as one of those rare individuals who is hugely competent with years of experience in all aspects of the business and who possesses the enlighted insight of having a truly genuine concern for the best interest of his customer irrespective of how his honest advise might loose him a sale to a different bike that might better suit a particular individual for example. In my opinion this is as good a B.M.W dealership as I’ve come across and as with Morningside Lodge I’ve no gain whatsoever from recommending them other than once again being impressed by business that goes beyond the realm of service into treating the customer as someone special. Should you make it to the Cape and need a service their telephone number is (021) 949-3690 / 945-2490 or fax (021) 945-4528. As we need crates to transport the bikes by air to South America, Trefco supplied us with their disused crate and gave us loads of straps all free of charge. To help us transport them they got us in touch with yet another individual who treated us as far more than just customers. Gavin de Brés who at present runs a Bike recovery service and who spent the entire day with us crating our bikes in the airport and afterwards took time out to drive us all over town showing us around. Over the next two days he and his wife Bertha took us for drives on the weekend up to the beautiful wine growing region of Frankhook and Stellenbosh and across to False Bay and Garden's Bay which incidentally has reputedly the greatest concentration of great whites in the world. Whether that dubious distinction lies here or with Western Australia I don’t know but needless to say neither of us bothered with a swim. No doubt this report must be coming across as some sort of commercial but having given details for two companies already I couldn't but mention details of Gavin’s business. Also I firmly believe in what goes round comes round and people like Gavin, John Myles and Murray deserve their business so should you be unfortunate enough to break down on your travels in South Africa Bike Recovery can be contacted at 083-4628918. With our bikes serviced and crated and having spent almost a fortnight around Cape Town relaxing and enjoying the area it was time to bid farewell to Africa and head for our next continent, South America.


07cape of good hope 10 02

Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe side
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