Blog 10 by Tan: Escape to the Great Karoo
We decided to leave the Wild Coast to avoid the rainy weather, which is far from enjoyable when riding a motorbike. We felt that through the riding alone we got quite a feel for the place and given that our visa was starting to run out we’d better get on our way. Our destination was the remote artist enclave of Nieu-Bethesda in the Great Karoo.
The local pub
We rode our longest day of the trip so far at 550km, which is barely down the road and back in Australian terms but makes for a long day over here. We were looking forward to somewhere remote, quiet and dry and Nieu-Bethesda fit the bill nicely. This was a scheduled stop so that I could have a few dedicated days of working on my university essay. Over the next few days we spent most of our time in the garden of a local café eating crepes and drinking coffee while I tried to figure out all that is wrong with the Chinese economy and while Mick read the fifth Game of Thrones book like a man possessed.
With Ebola doing its thing in West Africa throwing our original plan to get to Europe out the window we embarked on some detailed new route planning
Where we hung out for most of the day eating cinnamon crepes and drinking homemade ginger beer
Mick getting excited by vintage vinyl only to discover it was mostly 70s era Africaneer folk and gospel albums and he already has heaps of those
Security at the local honesty shop – appropriate in Nieu-Bethesda not so much the rest of the country
Lots of dead things in the desert
Mick with ‘Fabio cat’ who did nothing but annoy us and look fabulous
The next few days passed peacefully in this way as we got into small town life and visited all of Nieu-Bethesda’s tourist attractions. We visited the local craft brewery, the honesty shop, fossil centre, pizza restaurant, pub (where we watched the Springboks defeat the All Blacks), tennis club for braai night and browsed the weekend market on https://tennisracquets.com/collections/head-racquets. But the biggest tourist draw was the Owl House, which is a garden full of concrete sculptures/monstrosities built by a local eccentric old duck. It seems that the sculptures were her way of dealing with life long depression, and her house with its artwork have put the town on the map so who am I to criticise.
A local capitalist at work (note her earrings for confirmation). Was so cute I had to buy something from her. I got a loom band ring for 20 cents
We met some friendly local bikers who shouted us a beer at the pub and gave us some good tips
Mick in the Owl House
More of the same
We went on to cruise the awesome roads around Nieu-Bethesda and Kompassberg Mountain. We managed to see a bunch of game along the way including kudu, springbok, wildebeest and zebra. We then headed to the home of a fellow biker that was kind enough to extend us an invitation to stay with him on his farm under the proviso that we ‘left his sheep alone’; a stab at Aussie’s being sheep shaggers. Now this is a bit disturbing to hear that in South Africans are laboring under the misconception that we Aussies might take a second glance at a herd of sheep when everyone knows it for the New Zealanders that barn doors are closed. Addressing this gross misunderstanding should be at the top of Australia foreign policy agenda. The ride out to his farm was incredibly scenic with great rock formations along the road – dolerite weathered away along joint planes leaving the rocks looking precariously stacked on top of one another. Nice!
Backroads of Nieu-Bethesda
Ride around Kompassberg Mountain
The ride in
Awesome dolerite formations
Johan put on a braai for us and told us about life as a farmer in South Africa, which must be said, sounds pretty precarious. Many farmers face the risk of losing their farm and house to land claims, which are overwhelmingly successful when they are made by people claiming to have a family tie to that land however tenuous. This introduces an obvious level of insecurity to life on a farm but the larger preoccupation relates to the incidents of farm murders, which I must say I was quite ignorant to. It seems however that the government goes to considerable lengths to keep the numbers of these murders out of the papers. With ‘creative reporting’ an instance when a farmer is murdered on his property but has a tv stolen it is a robbery and not a farm murder. We learnt that there is a private data recording body on farm murders which is sourced mainly from information provided by family of people murdered in farm ‘robberies’. According to them there have been around 3,800 farm murders in South Africa out of 42,000 commercial farmers, which is basically 1 in 11.
With these statistics it is no wonder that people are concerned. We heard of farming communities with neighbourhood security details replete with assault weapons and night-vision goggles. All this exists as there is essentially no realistic expectation of the local law enforcement providing any protection for the farmers and their interests. It is quite a scary scenario when you consider that the farming population of South Africa has been very nearly decimated, in the true sense of the word, and the farmers themselves are forced to provide their own protection. Sobering thoughts.
My studies continued to mess with our African adventure so we stayed on another day at the farm to get the essay written and submitted. We had a bunch of other boring chores to see to, like washing clothes as well as a bunch of little bike jobs that had cropped up and been duly relegated to the ‘do it later’ list. Mick fixed my heated hand grips, adjusted his hand guards and replaced rear sprocket bolts and dash switch and rebuilt my steering damper which had been leaking for some time. With those jobs seen to and the essay starting to take shape we headed out with Johan and his wife Christa for a sundowner overlooking the gorgeous Aussie-like scenery of the farm.
Backroads to Graaf-Reinet
Puff Adder – we saw a few of these colourful guys sunning themselves on the road
Massive tortoise – lovely to look at but hitting one on a bike would be nothing like in Mario Kart
After a near all-nighter the essay was submitted with MUCH relief (and went on to get a mark of 97% I might add ‘whoop, whoop’). In the meantime Mick had a blat around the winding backroads to Graaff-Reinet. We stayed on for one last night with Johan and Crista and got to try some more traditional Afrikanner food which is quite sweet and therefore right up my alley. After bidding a fond farewell to our kind hosts Johan and Christa and their lovely dogs Piojie, Stoffel and Siene we made our way to the Valley of Desolation. Which again offered some great views and a nice little geology fix.
Our hosts and their boys
The Valley of Desolation
It was a long way down
Johan and Christa recommended this place for kudu biltong and droewurst – great biking fuel
We headed south towards our next destination but I was struggling to stay awake on the bike after the last few late nights. We stopped for a coffee and a sugar hit at the next convenient place, which (no joke) happened to be the Daniell Cheetah breeding Centre. So we arranged for a latte and a tour of the centre where we saw meerkats, cheetah, leopard, serval, caracal, and two lions that had been rescued from a planned canned hunt. Canned hunts take lions that have been raised in captivity, hand reared by humans and are then sold to hunting safaris. They are then released into unfamiliar surroundings, generally quite small fenced parks, for foreigners (usually Americans) to shoot. These lions walked up to the mesh like house cats to rub their faces up against the palm of the guide for affection. The notion of some cashed up tosser going up to one of these pussy cats and shooting it and feeling impressed with himself is tragic and pathetic, if I might say so myself.
He was not yet full-grown, but already huge
The lion craved affection
What a stunner!
The best part of the tour was getting to get up close to Gia the cheetah. She was so beautiful, inquisitive and affectionate. She especially liked Mick, licking him and rubbing her head up against his. She jumped up on him for a hug and was so adorable. Sadly the guide disciplined her and she went off in a proper adolescent sulk.
Gia the cheetah
Happy to death!
Biker-cheetah love fest – She didn’t mind me but loovveed Michael
We learnt that cheetahs can get up to full speed in just 4 strides and they can reach speeds of 115-120km/h. They are the only big cat with non-retractable claws which work like running spikes. At about 50%, they have the highest hunting success rate among the big cats. However they lose a lot of their kills, about half, to other larger predators like hyena, lion, or a wild dog pack, as cheetahs are way too specialised for running and therefore, quite lightweight and fragile and can’t do all that much to defend themselves. In fact they mostly just run to hunt not to escape predators or hunters, they just hide in the bushes which is why so many get killed. Many die from heat stroke and dehydration bought on by excessive energy use through running. Females live alone except when they have cubs while the males form cheetah possies and have these epic ‘bromances’ that can actually leave them to die of heartbreak at the death of one of their hommies. Absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ll be eating Cheetos with a whole new appreciation from now on.
The black stipe below the eyes serves as a natural pair of sunglasses for the cheetah keeping the sun’s glare out of their eyes
The next day we rode through Baviaanskloof, the motorcycling mecca many a South African biker had recommended us to visit. The riding was fantastic as was the scenery. We didn’t managed to see the rhino that roam the park but saw some big bucks of some description and heaps of baboons which is to be expected given that Baviaanskloof means Baboon Valley. There were some great winding passes and a couple of fun water crossings. I don’t know what it is about water crossings but for some reason I can’t help myself but floor it through them much to Michael’s disapproval as he is certain I’m going to go too fast one day in too deep a crossing and drown myself and the bike. Whatever buddy. Eat my waves!
Having said that I did have a near flying over the handlebars moment on a deceptively deep water section that I entered so hard and fast it produced a wave of muddy water over the top of me to the point that I couldn’t see a thing and was totally drenched. But I stayed on the bike and had the sense not to turn around to Mick to see the ‘I told you so’ face he was no doubt sporting.
We stumbled on a campsite already filled with a group of bikers and decided that was as good a place as any to spend the night. We opted to splash out on luxury caravan digs where for an extra $5 we were able to avoid dealing with the tent and the threat of rain. So for the night we were ‘bikie pikies’ and it was fab. The bikers were mostly from East London and a really great group of guys. There were a group of 8 on a bunch of F650 Dakars, XT660 Tenere, KLR650 and an Africa Twin. Our quiet night of blog writing (always planned and always avoided) turned into a night of socialising, beer drinking and discussions of our collective motorbiking brilliance. Taking pity on our plans for dinner from a can they cooked us a braai feast and kept us entertained, which topped off the day of great riding.
Scenery in the Valley of the Baboons
Mick in his waterproof Won-z made by the Aussie company Jackson Racing
Our ‘Bikie Pikie’ palace
After joining the guys for a hike through the kloof nearby we parted ways only to meet up further down the track for the traditional bikers feast of tea and biscuits at a local farm stall. From there we took the winding backroads from Baviaanskloof to Uniondale. Along the way Mick managed to run over a big black snake on the last pass out of Baviaanskloof called Nuwekloof Pass. Mick’s clutch cable snapped as soon as we hit the tar in some kind of cosmic act of retribution for Mick’s snake murder. Mick was able to stop in front of a tea house (many thanks) and replace the cable quickly enough. Glad we carry spares.
Our new biker mates stopped for morning tea
Tan with Izak one of our new found biker buddies
Totally my kind of riding – winding, scenic dirt road riding punctuated by civilized tea breaks
Great dirt roads on the way to Uniondale
Mick replacing his clutch cable in front of the local cop shop
From there we headed to ride Prince Albert Pass, which had come highly recommended by biker friends. We were gutted to see the road was closed for maintenance but fortunately a local guy turned up while we were moping at the “Road Closed” sign and told us it was fine to do. We didn’t know how reputable a source he was but he said what we wanted to hear so we went for it. Our reckless disregard for municipal road signage was rewarded with fantastic views and pleasant riding all the way down.
Road closed, eh?
Looked open enough to me
On the way down Prince Albert Pass
Check out the body language. Mick is totally charming a extra generous slice of milk tart out of the lovely old duck who ran the tea house
We stopped for tea, scones and milk tart at a lovely little teahouse at the bottom of the pass at De Vlug before heading on to a more the local biker’s haunt called Angie’s G-spot where Michael could get a beer and feel like a tough guy biker again. From there we moved on to the coastal town of Knysa, via some dirt roads into the back of some shanty township to spend the night with family of Fiona and Charlie’s, our hosts from back in Howick.
Winning at advertising
Some of the bar paraphernalia. Mick was giggling like a schoolboy at the rude comics adorning the walls
Blog 9 by Mick: Fairies and Wildlings and 3 times the Weirdness
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.
Blog 8 by Mick: A different kind of Coop
We re-entered South Africa in the mid-afternoon starving for lunch, so made our way to the nearest food joint we could find with good parking. Security is such a problem here that parking our bikes, our most significant and important possession with all your worldly possessions upon it, becomes all important to the point of paranoia. We simply cannot afford to have a bike stolen, or things stolen from it. So when we stop somewhere and I cant stay with them, it either needs to be in a place which is secure, and there aren’t too many of those in public in South Africa, or we need be close and have direct vision of the bikes.
And even then, as the bikes are so unique, they draw so much attention with people looking and pointing and taking photos, we stress, or more accurately, I stress about them. I put so much time and effort into those bloody things that I should baptise them and apply for formal birth certificates. So where we stopped for lunch in Matatiele, the first major town after descending from Lesotho through Qachas Nek, was a cheap and nasty fast food joint simply because we could park the bikes directly in front. Which was perfect, apart from the food, which was proper shit.
We inhaled our lunch and headed south into a nasty headwind. Our destination technically was the town of Rhodes, although in actuality that was merely a convenient place to sleep after doing the highest pass entirely within South Africa – Naudesnek, our real destination. You might have thought that after a big bunch of mountain riding in Lesotho that the last thing we would want to do is another high altitude mountain pass, but you thought wrong.
Tan on the road to Rhodes
View from the near the top of Naudesnek Pass
Stopped at the top of the pass
Naudesnek provided some great views of the Southern Drakensberg but not too many technical challenges. We descended the other side of the pass into the quaint Victorian era town of Rhodes, which is famous for bikers for its roads. Other forms of tourists might enjoy the lovely views, the trout fishing, or the old and very well preserved 19th century architecture, but we don’t worry about them so much.
The view down the back Naudesnek towards Rhodes
Coming down the back of the pass
Some lovely light at the end of the day
We pulled in to the Walkerbout Inn for the night; how two Aussies could pass up the opportunity to stay in such an aptly named establishment is beyond me. And we then did what any self respecting Aussies would do in such a named establishment – we walked straight to the bar. There we walked in on a couple guys in dusty motorbiking gear plus a real big grey bearded fella in breaches, all speaking Afrikaans. We ordered some drinks and got chatting – in English after they politely swapped for us – and turns out they were part of a group of 11 who were having a weekend of riding in the area. And the big guy was the proprietor, Dave Walker, hence the name of the place.
It turned into a very interesting evening for us as we discussed the good riding roads in the area, farming, farm murders, the government (always a hot topic), Lesotho, and the Lesotho Coup of 1998 and South Africa’s bumbled involvement in it, all while drinking a few beers and a couple rums with a good steak dinner and maybe the odd brandy too. Tanya knocked over the apple cart when she mentioned to a big group of half cut stocky Afrikaaner farmers drinking brandy and coke that such a beverage was for grandma’s in Australia; I quickly ducked and announced quite loudly that I had no idea whatsoever who this crazy woman was, but they forgave her insolence with a good chuckle.
Another enlightening topic for us was that there was no working service station in Rhodes, a reasonably sized town by the look of it on our map, which was a hell of a problem as we hadn’t fueled up since Maseru in Lesotho something like 540kms previous. I guessed we might have had enough to go maybe 60kms, which coincidently was the distance to the nearest fuel bowser in Barkley East.
When invited on the following days ride with the group of bikers, the consequences of the problem escalated as their planned early departure meant an even earlier start for us to get to Barkly Easy and back. Early starts are mean business for night owls like us. Dirty mean business indeed. But with the opportunity to ride with a group of welcoming bikers on unmarked back roads, I endeavored to get up in the morning and face the cold, hangover or no.
I woke at 6am a little seedy and hit the road a little later than I would have liked. It was quite chilly and I pushed to make up time so I would be back and ready for the planned 8am departure. The road was hilly and twisty and great fun, although freshly graded with a very loose top layer of gravel which made for a few arse puckering moments, especially with my new Mitas E07 front tyre. The E07 is marketed as a “50/50” tyre, as in it’s apparently designed for 50% use on tar and 50% on gravel. But after experiencing this tyre first hand, I tend to think of that moniker as a marketer’s macabre piss-take, that 50/50 is actually the expected survival rate of any rider silly enough to ride this tyre hard on loose gravel.
Truth be told, being used to proper knobbies, I probably pushed the tyre just a little outside its design brief by doing the ~60min trip to Barkley East in 45, and paid the price when the front tyre washed out with little warning and binned me to the low side. Bloody thing. And extra embarrassing as I’d just overtaken the rider’s support vehicle who were also in the middle of a fuel run to Barkly East and they managed to witness the entire incident. Oh well.
I returned to Rhodes with 40 litres of fuel between the front and rear tanks, and we decanted the ~10l rear tank into Tanya’s bike in readiness for the days riding. We headed back up to Naudesnek and turned left, uphill, north, towards Lesotho. Within a couple kilometres of easy dirt we had reached the 5 star hotel at Tenahead, and we barged in unannounced and uninvited like a proper gang of dirty bikies, and politely ordered tea and scones.
Moving on from our scone stop we headed further up hill. The road we were to ride follows the Lesotho border and comes in on South Africa’s only ski-field, Tiffendell, from the East, and sees little, if any maintenance. It provided quite a few steep and tricky climbs and descents with large and loose rocks. Within the group of riders there was a swag of F650 Dakars, a pair of R1200GS, a Yami S12, an XR650R and also an L, and a 640Adv, although none were loaded to any level of consequence, certainly not to the point of our fat DR piggys. Tan was the only lady and on one of the bigger bikes, yet handled it with aplomb. I think with such an audience determination alone was all that was needed to ensure she didn’t drop it.
Chris, local sheep farmer and former military man on his F650 Dakar
The road from Tenahead to Tiffendell
We had a brief stop at Tiffendell to admire the melting slush, and descended back down through a valley I’m not too sure what it was called. Nevertheless, the views and the riding were first class and it was a shame when it all came to an end at the bottom. There, everyone split up and went their separate ways. The night previous one of the guys, Dassie, had mentioned that we were welcome to stay at his farm near Aliwal North if we would like. Staying with local people in their homes is such a rewarding and educational experience that we’ve made it a habit to accept invitations if we can fit it in, and the opportunity to stay on our first farm in SA was too good to pass up. We gladly accepted.
On the way down from Tiffendell
The final descent down the valley
We promised Dassie that we weren’t axe murders and followed him back to his house through some vicious gusting wind. I was glad for our fairings, as although the wind was pushing the bikes all over the road, our bodies had a level of protection. Dassie was on an XR650R with no protection, and the same winds that were knocking our bikes around looked like they were trying to knock his head right off. Talking about it later, he did mention it wasn’t a particularly pleasant riding experience.
A kilometer or two after entering through a farm’s boundary gate, Dassie came to a gentle stop with his bike idling away happily and him twisting the throttle frustratedly – his throttle cable had snapped. After a quick chat we backed up my DR with the towrope and dragged the Honda the last 4km home. Dassie’s wife heard the bikes coming and came out with the kids on a farm quad and was mightily amused by site of Dassie coming home on the end of a rope.
Dassie being towed home
We had settled in on the stoep with a few beers and the braai fire going when a cute little creature wandered up to the table. “Oh wow you’ve got meerkats here” I remarked. I looked at Tanya, with her intense affliction of loving all things cute and cuddly, knowing the mere thought of meerkats would be near enough to make her wet her pants, and I wasn’t half wrong. She could barely contain herself at the sight of them, and then stroking, and then holding them. Luckily we brought a few external hard-drives for photos storage as Tanya ran the camera battery flat clicking away maniacally.
Fantastic view of the Kraai River from the stoep
Mick and the mother meerkat
Adolescent meerkats investigating my motorcycling gear
Tanya in a state of delerium
Classic meerkat pose
The mother and 3 babies
We, and by we I mean Tanya, ended up cooking another sticky date pudding with Dassie and Elanie’s kids which went down a treat. When staying with people we like to contribute in some way and the Sticky Date, the pudding by which all other puddings are judged, is not such a common dessert here, so always goes down well. We are just a little worried that we are leaving a trail of type-2 diabetes across the country…
Saying goodbye to Dassie and Elanie our wonderful hosts
We hit the road the following morning after some fond farewells and thankyou’s, and made our way to Lady Grey and Joubert’s Pass. 2 days previous when saying our goodbyes on the side of the road with the group of 11 bikers, we had actually received a second invitation to stay on a farm the other side of Aliwal North, so we didn’t have far to go. I put together an interesting looking route over Jouberts Pass, whih was quite scenic, and made our way to Rob’s house.
Tanya saying goodbye to the dogs
The road to Joubert’s Pass
Peach blossoms on the way down from Joubert’s Pass
We arrived after Rob had finished working his cattle for the day, and immediately jumped on his little farm bikes to see the farm. Tanya was in love with his little CRF230L, its 120kg weight was a far cry compared to the ~175kg of the DR, and probably 200-210kg’s all up loaded and fully fueled. We packed a couple beers in a backpack and made our way to a nice spot overlooking the farm. It was a tough way to finish the day.
Tan enjoying the itty bitty CRF230L
Sundowners with Rob on his farm
Rob was working his cattle again the next day, so we woke to the sound of cattle in a stockyard and much complaining as mothers were split from their calves. At lunch Rob twisted our arms to stay another day; we’d planned to stay a day and move on to the Wild Coast somewhere, but Robs farm was such a nice spot and Tanya needed a bit of quiet time for her study, so we decided to stay a second day.
Rob’s Nguni cattle, an African breed
Rob wanted to work out how many calves he had, how many cows were with calf, and how many old cows he had
Splitting of calves from the mothers
The complaining mothers
Cows about to get… tested
The Barry White tunes were playing….
Looking at teeth to see how old they are
With Tanya studying for her BComm, I was idle so offered Rob an extra pair of hands to help out where I could, and on farms, there is always work to do. He mentioned that he wanted to build another chicken coop, his original one had become old and it was difficult to keep the chickens in and the local chicken eating wildlife out, and also to keep clean. He was interested in making a mobile coop so it could fertilise his Walnut Grove and simply be moved once an area had been covered in droppings. Now I’m no chicken expert, but I know shit and that made good sense to me.
Rob had an old shed that a willow had fallen on in a storm, so the frame was bent beyond repair and had been stacked up. He also had an old trailer that wasn’t being used, and wondered if it was possible to use those together to build the coop? Sounded plausible for sure. He asked if I could design something up and that got me thinking.
The old bent up shed frame all piled up
The old trailer to be the home for the coop
Over dinner (we cooked a curry and apple windsor) I mentioned to Rob that to go through all the steel and stocktake what was there and what was usable and what was not, and then design it would take probably two days. And the likelihood of the design being not right would be high – designing and building from new steel is easy but building from scrap requires a certain degree of improvisation. “Why don’t I just build it?” I offered – I figured I could design it on the fly and build the frame in about 3 days. Now, no matter how many times I build things and massively underestimate how long its going to take, I always seem to do it. 30min jobs take 2 hours, 2 hour jobs take 4 and 3 day jobs take….. 3 days of course, this time would be different!
Rob had the steel brought up to the shed in a couple separate loads throughout the next day, and by the afternoon I’d sorted through what was there, found a suitable floor material from the scrap pile, come up with a plan of sorts in my head of what was achievable with what was available and started cutting and welding. Day 1 of 3 was complete and I hadn’t gotten very far – this wasn’t a good start.
The start of the coop frame
Over the coming days while Rob worked with his cattle, I worked on the coop, Tanya studied and worked on her upcoming essay. We generally finished the day with some sun-downers, although there was one early start where we rode up the nearby hill for wonderful views for sunrise – a sun-upper. During this time I did some welding and fabrication training with two of Robs employees, but even with the help of some extra hands it became apparent that my 3 day estimate was wildly optimistic.
Some welding training with the fella’s
Off on another Sundowner on Rob’s bikes, including his paint-shaker 640Adv
3 bikes on top of the local mountain for sun up
Enjoying a flask of tea and a view
The view of Robs farm from the top
Tan on the ride back down
Trail riding on the fat DR
Nearly at the bottom
Another sundowner on the DR, and pushing the limits of what is rideable on the big piggy
It was a fair bit steeper than what it looks
And narrow and a bit loose too
6 days later the coop frame was finished. Our 1 day stop over had turned into 8. While we had been there, one dog had puppies and we tried to adopt another, family had come and gone, we got to know some of Rob’s staff, we found a favourite restaurant in Aliwal North, plans had been made and changed and we joked about getting on Rob’s payroll. We felt like part of the furniture by the time we hit the road. But it felt good to be on the move again.
Gi Gi with a gut full of dogs
Gi Gi with her 8 puppies
Bella, the sweet little dog we wanted to steal quite badly
Nap time on the farm
T-bone at The Little Ranch. The best t-bone I’ve ever had, by a mile – cost about $10
Keeping an eye on the fella’s welding on the frame. They were pretty good but a bit impatient, I was always telling them to slow down
Putting together the last of the base frame. It needed a fair bit of extra stiffening as the shed frame was quite lightweight steel
Checking what’s possible with what’s not bent. Lots of measuring and thinking was required
Lifting the base to put it on the trailer
And lowering the base
And welding it down
Putting the roof in place ready for lifting. Two of the 4 original roof trusses were straight enough to use (one needed a bit of straightening) and they went at each end of the frame
Welding the purlins in place
We had to make a 3rd roof truss out of some random bits of steel that were straight. The fellow with me, Johannes, helped out whenever he had spare time and seem to enjoy the project. He had a good feel for welding and fabrication
Putting the 3rd truss in place
When lifting the roof, we used a gantry to hold one end steady
Rob had an old-school rope block and tackle
We then lifted the non-gantry end onto the trailer by hand and tacked it in place
And braced it when it was square
We then lifted the other end by hand – it was good to have a big group of hands to muscle it into place
The 4 guys that helped
Tightening the roof bolts down
Finishing off the bracing. The shed frame was quite light weight so I strongly braced it, especially as when it gets pulled around and moved it will twist and rock and will need to be very stiff
Handing over the finished frame to a happy Rob. Its braced asymmetrically to leave room for a door
Saying goodbye to Rob – legend