It was a little strange to be on the bikes after so long in staying on Rob’s farm, but it felt right to be moving again. We made our way to Bethoulie, a nearby farming town and home of a quite famous “book house” which Tan was interested in visiting. We circled the block a number of times looking for it but for the life of us we just couldn’t find it, so we went to the pub instead.
There was interesting pub in the main street which seemed well patroned (especially for mid afternoon) called “Die Au Kar”, literally “The Old Car” in Afrikaans. The facade of the building had been decorated, nay better than that, it had been enhanced, beautified, maybe even bejeweled, with the nose cone of a HR Holden. There was no way I wasn’t going into said establishment.
Die Au Kar with a bit of Australian History attached to the front
Another bit of Australiana – an Emu. Was just a little out of place
We settled in for a late lunch and, yeah, suppose I better have a beer too, and we ended up staying most of the night. It was National Braai Day, hence the patronage, so we cooked up some tjoppies (lamb chops) and boerwurst outside and had some good chats with some locals. We met a young lady who had just inherited a game hunting farm from her father who had recently passed away, and she regaled us with many horror stories of paying international (no guesses for where the majority come from) tourist/hunters who had sufficient money and insufficient skill. It seems that animals dying messy deaths are sadly reasonably frequent, and uncontrolled discharges of weapons due to general incompetence (I prefer the term “dickheadedness”) are also reasonably frequent. It also turns out the book house guy has semi-retired and only let people in to check out his massive book collection by appointment only, and generally only to larger groups led by a guide. We were out of luck.
Leaving the next day, a big group of Harley riders stopped by
The guys were great to talk to and gave us a bunch of tips for SA and Namibia
We hit the road the following day for Hogsback taking some nice back roads through to Molteno where we stopped for lunch. Further on in the town of Whittlesea, we were surprised to see a couple cows and a few horses grazing on the nature strip in the main street of town. It was a little strange to say the least, but the locals didn’t seem overly concerned. Sadly we missed the photo opportunity.
Some back roads to Burgersdorp
We followed the railway line for a fair while
The road from Burgersdorp to Stormberg
Blockhouse from the Anglo Boer War guarding the railway at Stormberg
Stormberg Trading Co – closed down I believe?
I loved this sign, “TREKKER, Die Lekker KOFFIE”
We rode into the back of Hogsback on some little-used roads that gave some great vistas and really captured why Tolkien (supposedly) used the region as inspiration for Hobbiton in the Lord of the Rings series. It’s a fact (one that is debated, as Tolkein left the area as a child) that hasn’t escaped the local populace trying to attract and extract every tourist dollar available either – suffice to say every company in town has some sort of Hobbit, Fairy, Lord and/or Ring reference. We soon checked in to the “Away with the Fairies” back packers.
A nice road cutting on the way to Hogsback
Tanya is down there on the bridge. You can see the Hobbiton connection
The following day we chilled out with some book reading and some blog writing, which is always on the to-do list. Its only since we’ve started writing this thing that we’ve began to understand just how much of a time consuming commitment it really is – I hope its being read!
The Away with the Fairies Backpackers. Even the sign writing uses the Lord of the Rings font.
We wandered into town and did a bit of shopping for our braai dinner and had quite a bizarre encounter with a couple well dressed school children, maybe 10 or 12 years old, who begged for some money and were told no. It was obvious they were just opportunistically trying their luck on the tourists in town. One young girl then quite brazenly grabbed Tanya on the boob, and casually walked off. What a rude little shit, it took me ages to get that far, and they already had money for lollies anyway.
Braai-ing up a storm
The weather turned bad with plenty of mist and light rain making the town feel even more like Hobbiton in the books. We got chatting to couple from Port Elizabeth who were staying at the backpackers for the weekend and they invited us to the local pub to watch the Wallabies play the Springboks. Sadly the Wallabies got toweled up in the last 10 minutes of the game but it was still a great evening chatting with Mark and Jean. Mark was originally from Rhodesia and he described some of his experiences there in the seventies and early eighties when it transitioned to Zimbabwe. I won’t go into the details but it was an incredibly enlightening discussion on a subject I had only read about in books.
Saying goodbye to Mark and Jean
The weather was still quite crap in the morning, which fitted with our moods after so many beers and rums and brandys in the pub the night previous. The miserable weather was fine by me as it gave me the opportunity to binge read the last of book 5 of a Song of Ice and Fire. It was pretty depressing to get to the end though as now I’ve got to wait for George Martin to actually finish writing the 6th book. That old bugger better not die.
The two dogs belonged to the backpackers and sat in front of the fire all day when the weather was crap. The lighter coloured one farted often. Really often.
The Hogsback area is famous for hiking and waterfalls, so with some good weather and our recovered constitutions, we did a walk for a couple hours to a few local landmarks; an enormous yellow wood tree and a waterfall called “Madonna and Child”. My pants duly exploded around a few welding holes on my right quad from building the chicken coop for Rob. It was just my luck that it happened right before we met a family (personally I think it was just their luck) on the walking trail, and I was quite amused by their discomfort of trying to ignore seeing half my leg and a goodly portion of my jocks through the enormous tear.
Start of the hike
We found this amazing spiky tree
Which was pretty cool
The big Yellow Wood Tree. The trunk at chest height has a diameter of 2.7m and its 38m tall.
Madonna and Child Waterfall
The backpackers offered a bunch of activities and a lot of them, such as Fairy Card readings and Tree Hugging (yes, really), fell deeply into the “Hippie Bullshit” category. But they also offered “Sunrise Pancakes” looking over the valley, and that sounded like an effective way to force two night people like us to get up at an early hour so we could get on the road at a respectable time.
Tree Hugging on the menu. See, I wasn’t even exaggerating.
The backpackers also had this amazing bath looking over the valley. Tanya booked the bath one afternoon and the staff lit the fire to heat the water, however some little backpackers found it all warm and had already jumped in when she got there. Surely they must have thought “I see this fire has been lit to make the water warm, I wander who did that?” Apparently not.
But even that didn’t work. It was a cold and miserable morning, and the mist ruined the view of the sunrise and the valley. Plus we had also stayed up the night previous drinking lots of good coffee, so after pancakes it was just far too tempting to go back to bed and catch a few extra hours sleep. So we did.
The weather was still pretty wet and cold when we rode down to Beacon Bay in East London and found a store to replace my ripped pants. I noted that there was a motorcycle store just around the corner from where we had stopped, so I figured we might as well drop by and see if they had a new front tyre for Tanya. I had actually already rung the store but spoke to a guy who didn’t seem all that confident when I asked for a road legal knobby.
We walked into the store and I found a Michelin T63 hidden at the back of the rack, and the shop attendant seemed a bit surprised when I pulled it out and said “fit this”. They had a couple of 50/50 tyres and some even more road orientated than that, and he found it strange that I wasn’t interested in any of those style of tyre that sell well here. But with the type of riding we like to do, my experience with the E07, and the fact that decent road-legal knobbies offer a tremendous amount of grip on tar anyway, the T63 was always the way to go.
With that fitted, we headed north to Cintsa and Buccaneer’s Backpackers. The place was nice enough but had a bit of a “backpacker factory” feel about it, a lot like Amphitheater Backpackers in the Drakensberg but at least the manager here had a personality. These types of places, where every aspect of the business is engineered to extract money from the customer, feel very non-genuine and we don’t enjoy so much.
The following morning we rode around to the other side of the river to Cintsa East for some fuel and found a nice little café for breakfast. It was still raining so we settled in with a few coffees and chilled out for a couple hours reading. A wonderful painting by a local artist of Jimi Hendrix was for sale on one of the walls and really caught Tanya’s eye. We spoke to the shop owner about it, and about some good places to go on the Wild Coast, and after hearing that we weren’t interested in the commercial backpacker factories like Buccaneers, we ruled out Coffee Bay and she recommended Mazeppa Bay which was reasonably close by.
The Jimi painting. Tan ended up buying it and getting it sent home a bit later on
We had a second very bizarre encounter here. While at Buccaneers, we had slept in a little detached apartment type building with 3 private bedrooms but shared kitchen/living space and bathroom. This suited us as it kept our costs down but also gave us a bit of privacy and security for our gear, and also because we had the building to ourselves. In the middle of the night, it felt like 3am or so someone came through the front door, made a fair bit of a racket in the living room, and went to bed. Seemed like someone had checked in late and just got back after a big night on the turps, which is fair enough I suppose in a backpackers.
We get up in the morning and there is a pair of little skater-boy shoes spread over living room floor, some bananas spread over the dinner table, and the door to one of the bedrooms closed. Seems old mate is sleeping off his late night. The cleaner comes in and goes to work while we pack our bikes, and comes out to thank us for our quite modest tip we left her (which is customary here in SA) and ask if we had left our shoes behind, while holding up the little blue skater-boy shoes. We tell her “no they aren’t ours they belong to someone else” and check out.
Now back at the café at Cintsa East, while Tanya is up admiring the Jimi Hendrix painting closely she notices a table of young ladies and one older lady looking at her motorcycling boots, my motorcycling boots and generally giving us a bit of a once over. She also caught a bit of their conversation but thought nothing of it, the young ladies saying “blah blah blah we should call the police….” and the older lady cautioning them “you have to be sure, you have to be 100% sure”. I’m oblivious to all this as I’m quite bored by now sitting at our table and eager to get on the road.
We finally get up to leave and we grab our stuff and start our dressing and packing regime, which takes ages on a bike and even longer when its raining. One of the young ladies walks up to us and asked if we stayed at Buccaneers last night? “Yeah yeah we stayed there, we stayed in one of the self contained apartments down the bottom”. “Did you see a pair of shoes there?” she asks. “Yeah we did see a pair of blue shoes there, the cleaner picked them up on our way out”. “My brother, he stayed in the same apartment as you and his shoes, his bananas and his contact lenses and the cleaning fluid have all been stolen” she informs us gravely. “It his only pair of shoes” she stresses, like I give a shit.
I’ve cottoned on to what’s going on here by now but Tanya is much too trusting and carries on “yeah the cleaner she found the shoes while we were there and I’m assuming the contact lenses and the bananas too and I’m pretty sure she would have taken it all to reception”. You can see the little mice turning the wheels over now, albeit quite slowly, and that maybe, just maybe 2 people wouldn’t steal some little skater-boy shoes, a bag of old bananas and someone else’s used contact lenses, and maybe, just maybe the cleaner would have taken them up to reception as she didn’t realize some drunk guy checked in at 3am?
It was pretty funny that a couple days later, Tanya walked out of the shower and exclaimed quite insulted “I think that girl thought we stole her brother’s shoes!!”, which is of course exactly what she thought. “And who would think someone would steal used contact lenses, that’s disgusting!”
After that little encounter we hit the road in a break in the weather that didn’t last very long. We were soon getting rained on some more, but thankfully both of us have some good quality rain gear that kept us dry and warm. We were riding into an old Bantu State called the Transkei, and we had been told that we would see people living traditional Xhosa lives here. It should have rung bells at the time, but it didn’t, that people describing life as “traditional” was actually a romanticised code word for “poor”.
After the wealth of Beacon Bay and Cintsa, crossing to the northern side of the Kei River was a bit of a shock – the area was poor and undeveloped to say the least. I’d planned a route to Mazeppa Bay from the map and checked it on the GPS, but even the main dirt roads in the area weren’t well signposted or maintained. The GPS couldn’t tell the difference between the secondary roads and walking trails, which were all plotted the same. It slowed navigation as we would get to an intersection and the GPS would tell us to turn onto some tiny trail, so we would have to stop, check and re-plot.
The roads were wet and muddy and very slippery on my E07 front tyre. I was very glad we had bought the T63 knobby for Tanya as quite a few times I was struggling to keep my bike straight and upright, and then I would look back and see Tanya handle the same obstacle much easier. We came to a valley were the road descended reasonably steeply to a river crossing. The road had been churned up to a red muddy slush, and slippery mess of wet clay.
A bakkie was parked on the left hand side of the road with an old guy waiting for his turn to drive down the road, which had a very narrow dry patch on the right hand side. I slowly rode past him and the tread of my front wheel very soon completely clogged up with red mud and the bike started sliding. I had zero control and the bike slid sideways and then it was down, like falling over on ice. The old fellow came up to help but I had the bike back up before he got there. We shared a bit of a chuckle as he helped me push it off the road. Tanya came up with minimal issues and parked a metre or 2 behind me and maybe 2 or 3m in front of the old fellas bakkie; her knobby was throwing the mud off and clearing the tread where my front tyre was clogging.
My front tyre clogged with mud. This is just after the old guy and me push the bike to the side of the road and just before Tanya got there
And here was our 3rd bizarre encounter; and it was the most bizarre, most weird, and most worrying. There was another bakkie slipping and sliding its way up the hill. It had stopped maybe 30m from us on the right hand side (the RH side looking down, his side) of the road. He had the tray full of people to try weight the rear wheels for traction. He drove up a little further before slipping to a stop. He had a few people pushing, and waited for them to catch up and push some more to get him started again. Which he did, but he was very, very sideways this time, with the front of the bakkie pointing to his left at a ditch against the side of the hill, and the back of the bakkie sliding out to his right. Right towards us and my bike.
I’m standing next to the parked bakkie taking this photo, and the other bakkie is coming up on the dry line in the oncoming lane. You can see the wheel tracks were my bike slid sideways before slipping over in the red muck
I could see it happening, and was thinking, all he has to do is take his foot of the accelerator and the car will stop. He doesn’t even have to brake, he only has to take his foot off the gas and gravity will stop the car in a couple metres at most. But he didn’t, he kept his foot flat, the car continued to slide out and the back of the car came right around and clipped the back of the bike and knocked it to the ground. The car then slid nose first into the embankment on the left hand side (facing up hill), and ended up near 90 degrees to the road – completely sideways. Tanya had been standing in front of me and in between the 2 bikes and thankfully moved out of the way as the car approached all crossed up, or she could well have had the bike thrown on top of her.
I could not fucking believe how reckless this idiot was – he had a tray full of people, including a heap of kids, as ballast and slid out on a steep muddy slope towards two bikes and the parked bakkie just behind me with 3 pedestrians (Tan and I, plus the old guy) on the side of the road, and then crashed into the ditch.
I’m pissed off, more pissed off than I should have been, but this idiot just wiped out my bike and nearly Tan and I with it. I walk to the car and said “Oi! You hit my bike! You hit my bike!” The driver, a quite young scrawny guy of about 25, got out yelling and ranting and walked right up and into my face screaming something – I gave him a pretty healthy push in the chest and knocked him out of my face and back towards his car, I had a good 30kg or more on him and it showed.
I turned and walked away as the ballast people in the tray started to get out, I realised I was well and truly outnumbered and this guy was clearly nuts. I walked back towards my bike, my immediate concern being my carby; with the bike on its side the fuel bowl could be open and overflowing petrol onto the ground. That is when this guys ranting’s filtered through my helmet and into my skull, it had all happened in such a tiny instant that his rantings hadn’t actually crystallised before I pushed him out of my face. He had gotten out of the car screaming:
“Why did you park there? Why did you park there? Why are you so racist?”
Hang on, what the fuck? Racist? Fucking what?
I pick up the bike fully expecting the sidestand to be a twisted mess and am surprised that its not – thankfully the mud was so soft it just pushed in as the bike went over. The only damage seems to be my number plate holder is twisted up and the second stop/tail light completely smashed. I look up at this nutter and the ballast people are holding him back, but he breaks free and comes back at me, screaming and yelling and calling me a racist. “Why do you hate black people?” he is shouting.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I ask at this crazy bastard. “You are a racist! Why do you hate black people?” He shouts in my face over and over and over again. “What? I don’t hate black people! What?” I’m knocked well and truly off balance by this accusation, its genuinely confusing to be angry with someone because they just ran into your bike and nearly ran you over, and their defense is “you’re racist”. We had heard this was quite common here in South Africa, that every issue irrespective of fault is due to racism. It’s the trump card to end all trump cards, and everyone from the President down uses it. In fact, if you look into South African politics, it’s almost a sport.
Thankfully this nut seems to have little to no support, the ballast people are looking on confused and not getting involved. He goes on and on repeating his mantra that I hate black people. “Calm down, calm the fuck down” I tell this guy, but he wont. This is going very badly; I’ve got a fucking insane nut-job screaming in my face. I change the subject.
I point at the broken light on the back of the bike and shout “You broke my bike, you’ve got to pay for this damage, give me 1000 rand right now!” That gets the nutter’s attention and the subject changes from me being a racist to me paying for the damage to the bakkie. I look across and the right hand side tail light assembly is completely smashed, but there seems to be no panel damage. The tail light had just clipped my number plate holder.
“You’ve got to pay for the car!” he screams, “Give ME 1000 rand!” he parrots. I look around and the only person involved is this nutter, everyone else is just looking on. I look up at the old guy, the driver of the bakkie parked only 2 or 3 metres away, the guy who helped me move the bike off the road originally. He motions that we should leave – he points down the hill and waves us away. I nod and take the hint.
I look at Tanya and put on a very broad Australian accent speaking very quickly – there is no way this guy can understand – “lez getouta ere”. I go to get on the bike and the nutter starts pushing me and knocking on my helmet. He is now combining his rants about me being racist with his one about paying for the car. I ignore him. Tanya sees what’s happening and calls him over to her. She is on her bike but could see there is no way I can move with this psycho in my face.
I hear them shouting about 10m from me down the hill, Tanya is telling this guy that we are tourists and Australians, not South Africans. I go to start my bike and there is a fat old lady knocking on my arm. “You need to pay for my car” she says. “He is a taxi driver but it is my car, and you need to pay for the damage, we have to go to the police station” she says. “You have to pay for my bike” I try, but she is having none of it. “Lets go to the police station” she repeats. She knows if we go to the police station, it will be my fault and I will be forced to pay for the bakkie.
But I know this too, and there is no fucking way I’m going to a police station so I change tact again. “Where is it?” I ask, “Where is the police station?” She says it’s a couple of kilometres away, up the hill. I tell her I’ll follow her, blatantly lying. I look back up at the old guy, and he shakes his head and quietly says “leave, go now” and waves us down the hill again. I again tell the fat old lady “I’ll follow you” and start the bike. She leaves and goes back to the bakkie to try and get it out of the ditch.
The nutter hears the bike start and comes back to me screaming “I want all the whites out! All the whites out of South Africa!” over and over again. “I’m a tourist, I don’t live here, I’m Australian” I shout, pointing at the big “AUS” sticker at the back of the bike and the West Australian number plates. “That’s bullshit, that’s bullshit, you’re South African! Get out of South Africa! Get out of South Africa! All the whites must get out!”
“You are an absolute fucking idiot” I tell him, and rev up the bike. Its very slippery and it takes quite a lot of effort to get the bike to face down the hill again. The nutter is shouting with renewed vigour; I don’t think he has ever been called an absolute fucking idiot before and he seems to have taken some offense, but I ignore him.
Some other people realise we are leaving and help us, thankfully its not us who are outnumbered, its actually the nutter and the fat old lady. A couple young guys, in their late teens or early twenties, direct Tanya into a little washout where the bike is essentially rail roaded and cant slip over in the mud and she starts down the hill. I follow her, and the nutter runs after us, but thankfully past us, and he runs down to a waiting taxi, ranting all the way. He drives the taxi past us, yelling and flipping us the bird, but he has given up. We get to the bottom, cross the river and leave up the other side of the valley.
We ride straight through to Mazeppa Bay without further incident, find the hotel and check in. It’s a bit above our budget but we don’t care, the hotel has secure parking with a security guard and a bar, which was in dire need. We settle in for a few drinks to sooth the nerves, a nice dinner and chat with some of the staff who are outraged at the story we tell them, and very surprised it happened in their neighbourhood. Its still raining, and apparently will rain for a few days yet.
Fuck this, lets go to the desert.
Inspecting the damage at Mazeppa Bay. I think I’m saying “What the bloody hell just happened?” or something like that
On of the staff at the Hotel – she was working in front of the flag and made for a great portrait
Enjoying the views of the coast on the way out of Mazeppa Bay in the morning
It certainly is a Wild Coast….
Tan and I have discussed this event a couple of times now, and tend to think it sort of happened like this:
1. The fat old lady got her bakkie stuck on the incline and couldn’t get going again on the muddy slope.
2. The taxi driver probably got frustrated waiting at the bottom of the climb with the bakkie stuck in front of him, so got out to intervene.
3. He decided to be the hero and drive it up when she couldn’t and asked his customers to be the ballast to hold the back of the bakkie down, and witness his awesome driving ability.
4. He lost control of the bakkie, collecting my bike and crashing the old ladies bakkie into the ditch in the event.
5. He then tries to recover some pride and deflect attention away from the fact he just crashed some random old ladies bakkie by being the hyper-aggressive bonehead he was. He was trying to be a big tough guy and buy back some cred in front of all his customers after making an arse of himself. He was probably also pissed as he knew the old lady would want him to pay for the damage to her bakkie.
Total damage for the record was:
1. Smashed LED stop/tail light – removed and not replaced, couldn’t find anything suitable
2. Bent up custom aluminium license plate holder – removed, straightened and reinstalled
3. License plate light stopped working, turns out the impact actually pulled and unplugged the light from the loom – plugged back in and all good
4. Headlight switch on the dash broke, not sure how, but the guts of the switch popped out – replaced from carried spares
5. Sidestand mount was bent slightly. The sidestand was fine, but the actual mounting point was out of alignment. I found this about 3 weeks later when I noticed some rub marks on the swingarm. Swingarm has some marks and is a bit thinner in one spot than it should be but sure it will be ok – removed, straightened and reinstalled
This was a pretty damn dramatic event for us, easily our most dramatic so far, and even though it took a couple pages to write about in actuality was only about 10 minutes from start to finish. We had been warned about crime and violence in South Africa and the risk is very real, but thankfully for us this was the scariest moment we had in our 85 day stay in South Africa (we are in Botswana as I write this).
We did have a few other times where we didn’t feel comfortable, for example riding into the back of Phuthaditjhaba after descending Monantsa Pass, and into some shanty township after riding some back roads into the back of Knysna. But in truth, even those times it was just us being worried, maybe overly so, as at no time in those places did anyone ever look like threatening us.
So apart from these times, during the other 84.9 days in South Africa we enjoyed some warm and generous hospitality, friendly people, good food, good wine, great scenery, great riding and had an all round fantastic time. We would have stayed longer if we could have, but we ran out of visa. What I’m trying to say is that the risk of being caught up in some violent crime is probably overstated somewhat, especially if you exercise a certain degree of care and attention.
That said, the risk is still real. The murder rate per capita in South Africa is something like 30 times greater than in Australia. Muggings, home invasions, car-jackings; in fact the rate just about every type of crime is far higher, often orders of magnitude higher, here than at home. And the vast majority of South Africans have suffered at the hands of some sort of crime at some stage, and often a number of stages.
Tan and I plan on writing a bit of a “South Africa Wrap” type post so I wont go too far into this, other than to say that the racial tension inside the country is palpable. 20 years after its demise, the wounds of apartheid are still raw, festering even, and those now defunct laws of “separate development” still manifest themselves in socio-economic division along largely racial lines. Although this is definitely changing, especially in the cities, it affects who people are and how people act to this day. We had been warned of this propensity to blame “racism” for any incident, and sadly this is real, and it comes from the very top down. But we will save this topic for another time.
What we can say is that we met many very friendly South Africans all over the country. Many waving kids and smiling old men. Some laughing and dancing ladies, and only 30 minutes after this horrible incident happened, Tanya had a very young girl, a toddler, lean out a taxi window and tenderly blow her a kiss as we rode by. That’s the good things that happen and what people should remember about this blog, not the nutter.