Dated 24 January 2018
The mountains have changed, or at least in my eyes they have. Dare I say it, I’m coming around to them. At first there were just a peppering of tors, but now I’m surrounded by rolling mountains capped with great granite domes, smoothed and polished over thousands of years.
However, the fact still remains; it’s an energy sapping progress. What goes up must come down – but there always seems to be more up. I’m sure any cyclist would agree that, despite defying logic, this is always the case. Until the day that I am sat astride my bike at 29000FT atop Everest’s mighty summit about to tackle the North Face, I will always be convinced that there is always more up.
Sometimes, the climbs are worth it. I reach the settlement of Kamieskroon, my lunch spot, where I anticipate another dirty pie washed down with a bottle of Fanta and a packet of crisps on the side (family pack of course). I instead stumble upon a lovely campsite with a restaurant of sorts. I am welcome to rest my cumbersome legs and order food from the neighbour. Whilst I wait, the owner keeps me company from behind her computer.
By far the best bit of a trip like this one is the people you meet. The owner, who’s name I rudely neglected to ask, looks like a Wendy or a Margot. She makes me a coffee and we have a bit of a chin wag. After the usual pleasantries, the weather and such, we get talking about travel. Wendy, as she shall now be known, is thinking about emigrating. “Lots of South Africans are” she says. She has family in Ontario, but it’s frightfully cold there. Eastern Europe appeals, Hungry perhaps or Poland. Not places known for their mild winters, but they appeal none the less. I imagine Wendy in twenty years still at her computer researching places to retire; she’s in her late sixties now. I think the cold is a convenient excuse, but an old gal can dream. I was very close to staying the night, in my own tent of course, but I choose to press on.
Springbok, where I planned to stay for 24hrs and rest, proves to be a dive; not even the lure of a cheeky Nando’s sways me to stay more than the one night. The less said about Springbok the better.
So I now find myself at the border with Namibia, about to part ways with South Africa after my last day’s cycle:
I start bright and early in the pre-dawn light to make the most of the cool morning air. I can see the sunrise fast approaching as the mountain tops, which at first were a hue of dull blues and greys, now glow golden and rise with the sun, which soon catches up with me. Ascending the twists and turns through the morning you hear the twang of the steel crash barriers, expanding in the heat like a giant xylophone. A sure sign that things are heating up. On occasion in the afternoons I’ve even found myself along side my bike, pushing it up the hills, but that’s just to reach my 10,000 steps. This day is no different. My last stretch I hit 1000m of altitude and cycle across a vast plateau, before descending back down to 250m at the Vioolsdrif border crossing – absolute bliss.
As I’ve repeatedly said, its been a hardship (I can almost hear my tiny violin). But perhaps starting through the mountainous NW region was a good thing to break in the legs. I’m told to come back in August when the mountains will be carpeted with wild flowers; it would be quite the dramatic transformation. Plus, people keep telling me that I’ve come at the wrong time of year, it’s far too hot. Don’t I know it – its due to hit over 40C tomorrow.
One thing is for sure, the South Africans are a friendly and welcoming people. Every day I’ve had waves and friendly beeps from passing drivers. People of all ages have asked me what I am up to and wail in delight when I answer. They smile with their entire face, often displaying a toothless grin, and they laugh from the bottom of their lungs. It’s quite infectious. Rene (the biker from a few days ago) and I were even treated to a spontaneous dance from one chap who was chuffed to bits at the chance to practice his English.
The toothless grins are no doubt attributed to the abundance of sugary treats from sweets to soft drinks. There may be a drought, but sometimes its hard to spot the water owing to all the Fanta and Coke bottles. With the vast amounts of sugar I am consuming, I may just suffer the same fate and return to the UK as a toothless diabetic.
So my time in South Africa has come to its conclusion. Tomorrow it’s on to Namibia and, to start, a more than 2000m climb…