South Africa

africa – south africa 2012.
‘This is the last hill’ a comment Shane commonly made as we peaked a climb just prior to the next one (and the next one.)

This was our 10th and shortest country (time and distance) and where for me the focus of arriving in Cape Town was hard to shake. A focus that hadn’t previously appeared and at times made it hard to stop and still appreciate it all.

South Africa was a welcoming country to end on with many similarities to home whether the shared language, equivalent prices and the western food. It was certainly a world away from other experienced countries but more of a stage for our transition home.

Our route down south followed the Atlantic Ocean offering snippets of views all the way to Cape Town. A bit surreal seeing our second ocean with this one being a little bit more rugged and hostile compared to the more placid Red Sea that we cycled along several months ago. Locals warned us about the large amount of traffic with unaccommodating drivers on the main highway so we spent a lot of time on railway service roads, which offered again a remote feel through smaller town and there associate gravel roads. Our trusty online maps let us down at one stage forcing us to push our bikes through deep sand for numerous kilometers.

Thoughts on the road were certainly occupied with the fact that our incredible journey was soon about to end resulting for me in mixed emotions of the achievement, the joy of crossing the line to the reality of our daily routine of experiencing new things each and everyday about to come to an end. The projection of Cape Town is something I hadn’t previously spent a great deal of time thinking about instead it was the individual moments but now with the roadside signs counting downs its awaiting kilometers it was hard to ignore.

The weather wasn’t the kindest to us with bouts of rain and temperatures that challenged those of the Sudanese deserts. One day I didn’t even finish off a water bottle and purchased no soft drinks! Despite this I wasn’t too disappointed that I threw out my waterproof botties about 3 months earlier. Throughout the trip you quickly realized what exactly was needed compared items that were more of a luxury. Several times we either posted goods home or left them behind with the bikes weighing close to 20kg and our gear approximately a further 20kg each gram counted even if it was the placebo feeling of easier climbing the numerous elevations. The inventory list was something we all spent considerable time on before departure sharing ideas to get a refined idea of what exactly was needed individually and collectively. Reflecting now on these items it showed that what we bought was suitable with nothing drastic left behind. Another example of the planning of logistics required for this type of journey.

With our last big day on the bike (165km) the other remaining days were made up of shorter distances, which offered a more relaxed feel. Taking advantage of a coastal lunch stop we sat and dined on local seafood and graca (white wine) over several hours. It made our efforts over the past months look fairly easy to the inquisitive locals who asked about the trip.

Our last night on the road was spent at Patti and Ernest’s beautiful house, a retired couple that offered us some local hospitality when we meet them on the road several weeks earlier. We dined with a local barbeque (braai) over numerous wines from their impressive collection. Such a memorable experience and very stoked to be able to spend our last day with such lovely people.

The wind gods were kind to us on the last day, the prayers worked! We were literally blown all the way into Cape Town at times it felt like we were cheating. With the sign posted kilometers quickly counting down we were soon on the outskirts of the capital (legislative) Cape Town although disappointingly the roads weren’t lined for the expected ticker tape parade… A little surreal knowing what we had achieved although for the locals we were just four random cyclists, a feeling we had gotten well accustomed to. Our exact finishing point was a topic of discussion with us settling for the waterfront, a supposed centre of town and as recommended by many locals a fitting place to end it all. Disappointment again upon arrival as the mayor wasn’t there with a key to the city but instead a few locals braving the rain wondering why 4 champagne sipping cyclists were in an elated state hugging before lunchtime. I was more then happy to bore them with the details.

The remaining days before departure was one filled with a feeling of loss having gotten so used to the routine of cycling and general adventure each day now coming to an end. With the messages from home being based the proud feelings, for me it was something I (and 3 very close mates) set out to achieve and through thorough planning, daily determination and encouraging support between us we had accomplished. We filled the days in the Cape Town with some general site seeing, more champagne and sadly packing our now disassembled bikes.

So now that I am home I have had many times to reflect on this incredible and fortunate journey. One that was filled with such unique experiences, a better understanding of Africa, safe times and now fading tan lines. Considering all the imposed concerns prior to our departure we didn’t face any problems, well besides ‘the rabies encounter of Namibia’. But instead just meet beautiful people throughout the little of the continent that we seen, people who despite having possibly less financial wealth then our bikes were worth offered us other examples of value including continual acts guidance, stories and assistance.

Now having experienced such a journey through Africa I feel so fortunate for having done it on a bike, which offers the ability to slow down and offer an overload of activity to the senses through the necessary physical and mental actions. One of the books I read whilst away, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ beautifully demonstrates the joy of experiencing the world from a bike, whether pedal or motor powered. Littered through its initial pages and the many more are examples of these advantages whether it’s through your contact with the road, the bodies’ reaction to the changing temperature or simply being a part of the world around you. The author refers to the similarities of watching the world go by out of a car window to viewing TV. In comparison on a bike he states that the framing is gone and you’re part of the scene with overwhelming presence through your constant contact. You’re constantly engaged. I now couldn’t agree anymore.

Thanks. TIA – This is Africa.