Monday, 26 April 2010

Slide Show

Friday, 9 April 2010

South Africa

26.4.2010 – Day 97 – Springbok, South Africa

I really can’t quite believe it. I biked into South Africa today. It seems almost surreal that I have ridden all the way here on my motorbike. Africa looks like a big place on the world atlas, but riding through it makes it feel a whole lot bigger. I wondered, before I started this trip, what I would think about the places that sat between South Africa and the UK. When I was young and our family moved back to the UK, it felt like a whole world separated the two places which have most shaped my life. I wanted to see that transition during this journey, of all the people and places which connect South Africa and the UK. Now I have made the link, it doesn’t half still feel like there is a whole world between. The different landscapes, geology, geography, economics, ethnicity, religion, climate and communities that I have travelled through, has been extraordinary, There are links of course – one landscape blends into the next, if at a surprising rate. Each area of a country has cultural threads, as does each country and each area of Africa and I guess if you continue that thought, there are things which bind us all together, just as much as the things that separate us.

I am so happy to be back in South Africa, even if it is a very different country now. Freedom has had its price here, but I expect most people in South Africa would tell you it was worth it. Crime levels are appallingly high – a big factor in the exodus of the rich whites in the years since apartheid ended. Of course it’s not all areas that are dangerous and many of the people who left are heading back. It seems apt then that I should be back at this time, when gentle optimism is washing over the country and the World Cup is again giving South Africa something to be truly proud of.
27.4.2010 – Day 98 – Citrusdal, South Africa

It was cool as I set off this morning. So much so, that I had to put my map down the front of my jacket to keep the breeze off. My jacket has lost all water and windproofing as I cut out the protective lining in Togo. It was the only way to survive the heat!

The Northern Cape is barren and desolate. Clouds added to the autumnal feel to the day, which seem to reflect the part of the journey I am in. The last couple of days I have been in no rush – almost putting off the inevitable of having to finish. I can’t wait to see Tracy, but as always with these trips for me, I could turn round and head up on the other coast (if Tracy would come) rather than face the monotony of everyday life. The fact is with these trips, you just don’t know where you’ll be in the evening, or what will happen during the day when you wake up each morning. The unpredictability makes me feel like I’m living each day to the full, while the goal gives me a purpose over the longer term.

The roads again were quiet. Most of the vehicles seemed to be South Africans on holiday, heading up to Namibia in their ‘backies’ or landrovers, most of which seemed to be carrying roof tents and pulling trailers carrying enormous amounts of camping gear. The different faces, skin colour and hair in these north western parts of South Africa remind me of cheesy ‘world’ coke adverts, where every face from around the world is in one place. I know there are blacks, what we call bushmen, what apartheid called coloured, whites and Asians here, but you could be forgiven for thinking there are Maori or Polynesian faces also. Such a mix and quite surprising.

Later in the day I entered the Cedarburg mountain area – this is a wine and citrus fruit growing area, but I swear the mountains here look more like Scotland than South Africa. This is Torridon with orange trees. Perhaps then, that is why I passed through a town called Clan William. I must be losing my mind. If you find you can’t stand the midgies anymore, you might want to move here! Just swap whisky for wine, haggis for boerworst, ironbru for stoney ginger beer and deep fried mars bars for koeksusters.

28.3.2010 - Day 99 – Cape Town

A valley mist covered the camp site in Citrusdal when I left this morning. A climb over a spectacular pass temporarily lifted me out of the fog and cold into bright sunshine and views of mist-covered fields of golden wheat in the plains below and spectacular mountains in the distance. By the time I hit the coast in the West, I was shivering and too cold to ride safely. A lovely cafĂ© showed itself at just the right time. I hauled up until I’d warmed up and the mist had lifted.

Heading south along the coast I passed holiday towns beside the sea, which again must just be a warmer and midge-free version of Ullapool – beautiful. Following my nose south I found roads to and through the coastal national park. Within just a few miles of leaving the towns I spotted ostrich! The first one was running in the road but soon they were to both sides of me. Somehow I didn’t expect them at all. I just see ostrich as farm food – quite bizarre and wonderful seeing them in their natural environment. I also almost ran over a huge snake. Of course, I stopped the bike, jumped off and took some photos. A local couple on a small motorbike came by and had a look. They said it was a particularly large puff adder – deadly! Hmmm – glad I used a zoom then!

I stopped for a malay curry in an old colonial building in the park. Much of the traditional South African food is influenced by immigrants and slaves from India and South East Asia. The cuisine is a reflection of the people in the Cape region I guess – a real mix with many flavours.

30-40 kms out of Cape Town I rode over a rise in the main road. In the haze, in the distance, was the unmistakable silhouette of Table Mountain.

“I bloody did it!”

I must confess, I had tears in my helmet. Suddenly, the realisation that I had achieved a dream that I have had for so many years, hit. Table Mountain, being so familiar, made the distance I have travelled, and the distance from home, feel enormous. I soon pulled over by a beach looking over Cape Town and the bay. Surfer dudes were out in force, women sunbathing and men fishing from the coast. The people of Cape Town were all out enjoying their Sunday while I just enjoyed being there.

I will head down to Cape Point/Horn at some time, but don’t feel I have to. I have reached my ‘end of Africa’ and what was our family’s ‘beginning of Africa’ when we arrived here by boat in the 1970s. I rode up to Signal Hill near Table Mountain for sunset, overlooking Cape Town and the sea. It’s so good to be here and to arrive on such a beautiful day is just the best.

So what lies between here and the UK? A whole world.

I have put a few things to rest out here in Africa and I overcame some of my fears. It hasn’t stopped me feeling the loss of my parents and I’m not even sure they’d approve of what I’ve done. But I don’t see dreams as things to think about – I like to see some of mine come true. I just love adventure – and Tracy and my next adventure might just be our biggest. What could be a more fitting way to address the shrinking of our family than to join the wheel of life and grow our family again.


19.3.2010 – Day 90 – Etosha, Namibia

Although we were stamped into Namibia, our bikes weren’t, so this morning we took it easy to do admin in this next country. Down to the border again to get the carnet stamped and pay vehicle import tax. Next, by consensus, it was off to Wimpey for a fry-up – we really are back in the developed world! An ATM visit was closely followed by a visit to the supermarket to buy washing powder and 5 packs of biltong (only 2 left by this evening). We checked up on getting vehicle insurance, but were told by the insurance broker that you can’t get 3rd party motorbike insurance in Namibia, so better drive carefully!

We set off down perfectly straight, perfectly tarmac-d and perfectly sleep-inducing roads. There are a surprising number of vehicles on the road in this part of the country – mostly 4x4 pick ups, and mostly, and unusually for Africa, not driven by NGOs. To keep drivers awake on the boring roads, the government has kindly put up fencing about 20-30 metres from the road and employed shepherds to herd cattle, pigs and goats between the 2 verges. Mixing 120km/per hour traffic and slow moving cows does liven things up somewhat. I skirted thunderstorms most of the day – remarkably never getting wet.

The junction for Etosha National Park is a huge milestone for me on this journey. We had a family holiday at Etosha in the late ‘70s, driving up from Johannesburg. This point marks the meeting of the lines across Africa. Today I connected my early childhood in South Africa with my life in Europe, with a line across continents. It was a happy-sad moment really. Things are very different here now – the road to Etosha is tarmac-d and at the moment the landscape is green and lush from all the rain. I remember travelling down this road in our regular 2 wheel-drive car in dusty, dry heat. The drinking water in the car was so hot, you could have brewed tea with it. But mostly today I thought about our family together in a car on holiday – whilst today I am travelling alone with no parents left to join me.

At the game lodge in Etosha on that holiday I remember thousands of swifts or swallows (I don’t remember exactly) in the dusk, circling and gathering over the waterhole for migration. My Mum explained how these birds migrated from the UK all the way down to South Africa and back every year. When I lived back in Sheffield I would see swifts and swallows and I would think about their migration as a reflection of my desire to visit South Africa again. These migrating birds have always been a favourite – and although my trip is not over yet, today I have completed my dream of migrating myself on a journey south, through Africa.

20.3.2010 – Day 91, Etosha, Namibia

An R&R day of the best kind.

I’ve spent the day at a game lodge on the edge of Etosha National Park. This morning was spent game-viewing in the park from the back of a land cruiser – no motorbikes allowed! We visited the old German fort. Inside the fort was where we spent a night back in the 1970s. It’s a game lodge owned by Namibia’s National Parks authority. Back then the fort sat by itself in the bush, giving a remote feeling. Today much more infrastructure has been built around it, including a museum and jewellery shop, which unfortunately detracts slightly from its sense of sanctuary in the bush. Ironically, the rooms that we slept in back then are now the toilets! Very nice toilets at that.

Time moves on and I wondered whether I should travel to Johannesburg to our old house and neighbourhood, or just head south to the Cape. I feel more inclined now to discover more of South Africa, particularly with Tracy, so she can get to know this wonderful part of the world. I’m sure in time we will be back again, with our family in tow. The trip isn’t over just yet though, as I want to finish the journey at the Cape of Good Hope, South of Cape Town. This part will be very different though – the journey so far has been to see what is between here and the UK – now I just want to enjoy being back here.

My life has been sculpted by the people I have met, and the places where I have spent time over my 38 years. Southern Africa is one of those places which has left a permanent imprint on me, just like many people have over the years. Southern Africa, and in particular South Africa, will always be part of me and I hope to spend more time here in the future, than I have recently. I want to enjoy South Africa for what it is now – and with the people I care about. I guess that’s why I don’t want to visit the past in Jo’berg.

21.3.2010 – Day 92 – Omarura, Namibia

I said goodbye to the Swiss this morning, probably for the final time. The roads this morning were mostly flat and straight - with bright sunshine it is almost impossible to keep awake and alert enough to ride safely. Every few kilometres are small rest areas – usually a concrete picnic bench, 2 painted oil drums made into bins and a tree to give shelter. I stopped every half hour or so, desperately trying to wake myself up. I was riding myself into a trance, looking 5 kms ahead at the mirage on the road. I started to see people by the side of the road, when in fact they were termite hills, and with the few cars and trucks in the distance, I couldn’t tell whether they were coming or going. Bush and scrub covered the landscape as far as the eye could see, with just the occasional farmhouse set back from the road. A 50metre corridor is kept as grass to the sides of the road, with fences separating it from the bush.

My other fear of today was suicidal warthogs. It’s difficult to see them in the long grass and if they run out on you, you wouldn’t be on your bike for very long! Every 60-100km a small town appears out of the mirage. Perfectly groomed old towns that date back to the 70s. Being Sunday, the lack of traffic added to the time warp.

Everything is in these towns, but with so few people in Namibia they lack the claustrophobic oppression of mass-commercialism back home. Life is easy now – supermarkets sit next to gas stations, with Wimpeys, shops, cafes and ATMs on the side. People of all races seem relaxed and friendly – I love it!

When I used to watch American and Australian tv shows as a youth, back in the UK, I used to dream of moving to these ‘idyll’ countries, where the sun is always shining, the streets are always quiet and the sidewalks lush and green. Places where people live outdoors and if it gets too hot, you just jump in the pool. I can see now that really I was just wishing to be back in Southern Africa. Of course, the reality for many people in Namibia and South Africa is exclusion from the idyll, where most blacks live in impoverished townships and all people, particularly in the cities, fear crime. But I do love it here and I always will.
22.3.2010 – Day 93 – Swakopmund, Namibia

I set off this morning for the skeleton coast. It was dirt road all the way – over 300kms. These roads are well graded, which means some of the time it’s possible to ride at 100kms per hour, no problem. Occasionally though, there is deep gravel or sand which, with all the weight on the bike, makes it swerve violently. This, in effect, can make it reckless to go so fast. Down on the coast road though, salt is used as a road-covering. The road looks like tarmac, and as long as you don’t make any sudden movements, it’s possible to cruise as 120km per hour quite safely. There are virtually no cars or settlements on the roads, so when I came across a pick up, stopped in the middle of the road, I pulled over to see if they needed help.

6 black men were stuck, out of gas. We came across this in Southern Angola also – people travelling with too little fuel in desolate places. I left them a bottle of water and told the next garage down the road that they needed 5 litres of fuel.

The landscapes here are vast and over the first 130kms scrubland disappeared into flat, barren, featureless desert. With so much space, a sense of agoraphobia takes hold. The only reference on this straight, endless road, are the wooden telegraph poles which disappear into the mirage.

Through 360 degrees the road and landscape blend one into the other. I eventually drove into the sea mist which I first saw 50kms earlier. The coastline is barren, cool and airy in the mist. I found a fisherman’s hangout in the first small town I came across. Dozens of white Africans had their 4x4 pick ups parked outside, with fishing rods on the roofs. Inside the bar/restaurant, rugby is shown on the big screen and large men drink beer while their blond kids run around barefoot outside.

The walls were covered with trophy fishing photos. Taking all this as a sign, I chose the first thing on the menu – “fish and chips”. Unsurprisingly it was fabulous. On the way out I passed black employees cleaning out cars, gutting fish and washing the 4x4s. It’s obviously a country still socially segregated – no black customers whatsoever.

On the way into the town I’m staying in tonight, I got stopped by a policeman. He pointed out that I did not have my headlights on. I knew this, as the bulb had blown earlier. I spent the entire time in Africa being told to switch off my lights by the police and public alike. Most other police on the continent are bribe-able – which, dreadful though it is, can be useful if you have money! When this copper told me he was going to fine me, I assumed he meant ‘fine with no receipt’ (bribe) – but of course not, here in Namibia. He just meant a fine. Luckily he let me off after I appeared as pathetic as my energy would allow and promised to get it fixed tomorrow.

23.3.2010 – Day 94 – Swakopmund

Well I spent the day in and around Swakopmund - staying just one block from an authorised Yamaha dealer was just too big a pull not to take a day off and get the bike serviced. Swakopmund is a perfectly formed town by the coast, surrounded by huge dunes and frequently covered in sea mist. It’s set out on a grid with a few-too-many 4 way stops. Many of the buildings are older, but in perfect condition. All the newer buildings are built in sympathetic style – no doubt under good planning laws. The place is perfectly tidy, not a piece of litter on the ground, or flake of paint to be seen. This sleepy town is as touristy as Namibia gets. A self-styled adventure capital – it’s the Chamonix/Queenstown/Cairns/Vic Falls of Namibia – yet the place feels so gentle and relaxed.

Once I got the bike back, I thought I’d better explore a little. 30km down the road is a port version of Swakopmund called Wavis Bay. Huge dunes flank the left of the road to Wavis Bay whilst wild beaches and lifestyle housing is on the right. I had a drive through the township of Wavis Bay. All the main routes between towns link up the affluent and previously white town centres in Southern Africa. On the edge of town and away from the main road are the townships. I was both surprised and pleased to see this township had better living standards that I have seen for a long time on my trip, for black Africans. Although dramatically poorer than the predominantly white areas, the township was full of well-kept, painted, single storey housing; decorated doors, walls, gardens, modern roofing and windows. A pleasant shopping arcade sat on the tarmac streets which had seen the hand of landscape architects. I saw new children’s play areas and plenty of smartly dressed kids in school uniforms.

Although there is a black/white wealth difference in Namibia, I am told the government is one of the least corrupt in Africa - so more of the mining revenue goes to its people. I heard today that if the oil revenue of Equatorial Guinea was dispersed amongst its citizens, rather than being embezzled by its government, all citizens would receive something like 37,000 pounds a year income, rather than the present average of around 200 pounds.

24.3.2010 – Day 95 – Windhoek, Namibia

What wonderful days. I set off east toward Windhoek on more straight roads. This part of Namibia is turning out to be cappuccino and chocolate cake travel. Out of the wilderness, every 150km or so, small towns provide everything a weary traveller could possibly need. 2 coffees, a slice of chocolate cake and a packet of biltong later, I arrived in Windhoek.

Namibia is full of rules: No stopping. Wear your seatbelt. No motorbikes etc etc. And the rules are enforced. After such a long time in African countries with a flexible approach to policing and law and order, it comes as quite a shock. At least this will acclimatise me back to European levels of governmental control. So hopefully I won’t try to bribe the first policeman who stops me back in the UK.

I bumped into the Swiss couple for one last night. I also met a friend of Rolph’s, from Maun, Botswana, who is travelling on a BMW GS around Southern Africa.
25.3.2010 – Day 96 – Keetmanskluff, Namibia

Today I set off from Windhoek south again. First through rolling scrub, then later on progressively flatter, more barren, hotter country. Occasionally I’d pull off this very quite main road south, into little towns, which seemed to service local farming communities. Again, this feels like the 1960s or 70s – so bizarre – quiet roads, old buildings and old fashioned shops.

There are so many different types of people here. I’m not sure what the P.C. terms are, but there are blacks, whites, browns, bushmen and all things in between. I pulled off the main road by mid afternoon and headed 14 kms down a dirt track in search of a famous quiver tree forest and lodgings. The quiver trees are iconic symbols of Namibia. These ancient trees, some 300 years old, are only found in desert areas around here. The wood is used for the quivers of bushmen’s arrows – hence the name. The lodging here is wonderful – self contained domes are scattered around, as are the braai areas near a pool. The owner has several dogs and 3 pet warthogs that loved to be stroked (the fur is not that soft!) and played with.

3 cheetahs live in the area which they feed daily at 5pm. Only 1 turned up today. I stood just 4 metres away watching it chew on a piece of gristley meat – amazing. It is quite poignant for me – as a youngster we went to a cheetah sanctuary near Jo’berg where I sat and stroked a cheetah. A photo of that moment is framed on our wall at home. These elegant, graceful animals will always be a favourite of mine.

I met up with a Brit and Cape Townian couple at the camp, who kindly invited me to a braai this evening. Braais are a way of life here and despite the fact that it is always the man who cooks the braai – she trumped him by being South Africa and took over the tongs! It was amazing – sat outside eating wonderful food under incredible stars in the bush with the Southern Cross pointing the way for tomorrow.

PS – did you know the Southern Hemisphere moon has a rabbit? You do now.