When telling people overseas that I am originally from South Africa, the most common response is “I’ve always wanted to visit but I hear it’s not safe”. They’ve always heard some story from someone who has heard something bad – generally from ANOTHER SOUTH AFRICAN.
On hearing about my plans for my “back to my roots” motorbike tour to the place of my father’s birth in the Eastern Cape, my own friends fell quite distinctly into 2 camps :-
those that thought I was nuts
those that wished they could join me!
The ones that thought I was nuts were insistent that I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. They thought I had obviously become a “soft and ignorant foreigner” despite the fact that I only left the country in my mid thirties after growing up for a large part of my life on a farm in rural South Africa. They were harbingers of doom and gloom whose eyes glazed over in fear as they foretold the dangers of the road – the herds of beasts that wandered aimlessly in the middle of the blind bends in the roads; the potholes that swallowed entire vehicles; the corrupt traffic police who would fleece me of all of my money; the insane taxi drivers that would run me off the roads for the sport of it and the violent locals that would rob me, rape me and then sell my body parts for traditional medicine. Of course for the large part, these people had never witnessed any such perils first hand! They had always heard it from a “reliable source” or read about it in the news or seen it on TV from the comfort of their walled residences where they lock themselves away from the country they live in.
Ex-Pat South Africans living overseas are even worse! I personally believe that they think that warning off foreigners makes them appear more “macho” in the eyes of those who know no better and who undoubtedly see them as heroes for surviving against stacked odds as they commuted each day through the mayhem and misery that is Africa ……………….. Unfortunately, it’s the voice of this minority group that mostly gets heard outside of South Africa by potential tourists who instantly decide that they could never afford the insurance premium if they ventured near any such savage lands. BEWARE OF THESE PEOPLE – PAY THEM NO HEED!
The friends that wished they could join me would rapturously recount tales of practically deserted virgin tar roads, stretching for miles on end under a brilliant blue sky. Their eyes would glint in remembrance of mountain passes traversed by dirt roads that rose to the heavens and the majesty of a limitless horizon without another soul in sight. They would quietly divulge the secrets of quaint rural towns they had been to where time was slow and beers still cost less than a quid. Sure, I would have to keep my wits about me, stay sharp, watch out for animals (and people) in the roads and of course the potholes could get quite big on occasion and to be fair I did pass a village where 2 kids were sitting having a bath in a pothole that had just filled during a recent rain storm …… but isn’t that what adventure is all about? Discovery with an element of danger? LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE – THEY KNOW THE TRUE SOUTH AFRICA.
I bought myself a paper map and armed with a marker pen I took advice on which roads would give me a nice balance of tar and dirt – without planning anything too tough since I am used to my own bike Betty who wears “sensible shoes” (Heidenau K60 dual-sport tyres which are really quite good in the dirt) whereas the borrowed “Bavarian Bierfrau” was wearing ballet slippers by comparison (Metzler Tourance tyres which are more suited to tar roads) and I wanted to stay upright as much as possible on the trip.
Loosely, my route was to be:-
- Durban – the start – actually Hillcrest where my sister lives
- Ixopo – via the Umkomass valley (with great twisties!!) – I went to high school in Ixopo and we lived on a farm just outside there
- Creighton – to visit my friends Margie and John on the piece of paradise that is their farm
- Kokstad – for my first overnight stop – nothing special but it gave me the chance to christen the bike on the dirt road via Franklin
- Matatielle – as a via point on the way but don’t stop!
- Rhodes – via dirt over Naude’s Nek Pass (second highest unpaved pass in South Africa I believe) – where I stayed at the fantastically welcoming Walkerbouts Inn at No. 1 Vorster Street and discovered some interesting information about my ancestors!!!
- Tiffendel Ski resort – the road up from Rhodes is hectic, the road back down the other side to Moshesh’s Ford is “interesting” on Metzler Tourances
- BarklyPass – magnificent sweeping bends on good tar
- Tarkastadt (on dirt) – where my Dad was born (don’t bother going there – it’s a dump …..)
- Blanco guest farm – a place that reminded me of the holiday resort in the movie “Dirty Dancing”
- Hogsback – believed by some to have been the inspiration for the Hobbiton of Tolkein’s books and indeed it has a farm of the same name dating back to 1946
- East london – to visit more friends
- Morgans Bay – a rest day on the beach just to chill
- Port St Johns – trying to stick to the coast
- Lusikisiki – a very African town with some serious traffic ……..
- Port Edward – a rest day at the Wild Coast Casino (no luck there but good cocktails by the pool)
- Kelso – my folks had a beach cottage there when I was growing up
- Hillcrest – finishing where I started
which looked like this :-
Having completed the approximate 2,300km loop in 8 days, I can emphatically say that South Africa is a motorcycling UTOPIA and it has something for everyone which the route I took highlighted many, many times over.
From fast and sweeping tarred bends to down and dirty gravel roads; from high mountain passes to glorious deserted beaches – and all in a day’s ride if you with to push the pace – but why would you? Take it slow, savour each experience.
I kept my days quite short distance wise – only planning between 200 and 300km per day most days, allowing me time for a leisurely breakfast each morning that was always included in the B&B rate wherever I stayed, getting away around 10am and finishing up around 3pm most days. Each night I would book the next night’s accommodation via www.booking.com after checking the weather and having a chat with people in the bar to see if there was anything I should go take a look at, or any roads they recommended me riding. Quite a few of the more remote locations provided dinner, bed and breakfast which on average set me back 25 – 35 GBP (450 – 600 Rand, local currency) for a decent place of a good standard in comparison with European lodgings – the only single exception to this was a one night splurge at the 5 star Wild Coast Casino for 142 GBP (R2,500). Where dinner was not included, steak, chips and salad followed by dessert and washed down with 4 bottles of cider (thirsty work riding in the dust) would set me back around 13 GBP – can’t complain at that!
During the day, I’d take frequent rest stops (mainly pee breaks as I was drinking so much water) and I’d repeatedly marvel at the vast emptiness and beauty of the land around me. The animals on the road were a frequent hazard, but no worse than my recent ride to Romania to ride the Transfagarason. The dirt sections were easy in the dry but I got caught more than once in some serious rain storms which turned the unpaved surfaces into a treacherous muck that the tyres simply could not find any grip on and when the muck ran out the rocks were slick and ragged, but dropping a mates bike is simply not an option so slow and steady was the order of the day in all cases and I managed to keep the shiny side up during the whole tour. I was thankfully alerted to the existence of traffic cops on a number of occasions by motorists approaching from the opposite direction so I never experienced the threatened fleecing and as for the taxi drivers, I found them more polite and friendly to me than the average non taxi driving motorists, many of whom can be counted amongst the worst drivers I have encountered in all my travels and if you have ever experienced rush hour Friday afternoon in Bucharest on a motorbike you will recognise that my standard for judging bad driving is pretty solid!
The dirt roads around Rhodes are a particular delight to those that desire a little excitement in their life and there are many routes to entertain even the most seasoned traveller. I could describe the roads in excruciating detail but both you and I would be bored before I got even half way finished so I’ve put a short video montage together to provide a brief glimpse of what’s in store if you take the plunge and get your arse on a bike over there – which you should – ASAP!!!
AND – as for the locals tearing me limb from limb for traditional medicine, the closest I got to any form of traditional medicine was being offered “magic mushrooms” by a roadside vendor in Hogsback …………..