Ride Overland With Kanchan & Nick

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November 3, 2012

South Africa: South Africa: Durban, Lesotho(maybe), and the Wild Coast!!

Halfway to Durban we got the greatest gift…sunshine!  We hit the coast around Salt Rock and stopped for an hour to chill and figure out where to stay.    An Indian man came up to us and started chatting and suggested a place in Tongaat.  We should’ve known that the place would be a little suspect when the guy was continuously drinking beer midday with eyes bloodshot.  But anyways…the staff was friendly and the place was cheap.  The hotel seemed like an old British building.  We settled in and gathered up all the wet clothes and headed to the town center.  We were astounded…brown people everywhere!  Reminded me of places in England where the population of South Asians is so dense.  There were temples, mosques and all kinds of take-aways.  We dropped off our clothes at a launderer and found a salon for Nick to get a haircut (of course all Indian owned businesses)! After Nick’s really bad hair cut we walked around a bit.  We went back to our hotel and ordered some food from the busy kitchen…we were hungry!  We ordered a lamb kati roll, samosas, bean curry and rice and bunny chow!  We had heard so much about bunny chow so we had to try it!  We got the veggie one.  Basically it’s half a bread loaf with a hole in the middle where the curry is poured in.  It was definitely yummy and filling.  The spices and prep are a bit different than what we’re used to but definitely good.  But that’s the amazing thing, in every grocery store no matter how small in SA you can find Indian spices.  The next day we decided to get some things sewn–our Touratech strap’s velcro was pulling off, our bike cover needed fixing etc–so Nick went to pick up the laundry and get that done.  He came back with the laundry, fixed straps, and a joint.  Yes, a joint.  The Indian dudes at the sewing place were so excited to have Nick (an Indian from India) at the shop they demanded he smoke the joint at the shop but Nick declined.  Instead he brought it home and I flushed it down the toilet.  Some of you are probably like…LAME! But hey, we’re just not into it and we also had to cross the border into Lesotho and you can imagine how that would go down!

We got to Underberg around 2pm.  It’s basically the jump-off point for the Sani Pass which is a 3000meter pass that also serves as one of the border crossings for Lesotho.  We decided hey, it’s a little late in the day to do anything crazy but let’s go for it.  The ride to the SA immigration post was not bad, dusty with some tiny water crossings, but nothing we couldn’t handle.  Then the climb up started.  It was nothing but loose, big rocks with narrow turns.   We were fully loaded and two-up so it was getting tougher and tougher for Nick to muscle the bike along the narrow turns and to try to bounce the bike from rock to rock. Eventually I just had to get off the bike and Nick went ahead only to fall over on a tough, narrow corner.  We took the panniers off and then propped the bike up.  It was still at a weird angle but luckily some guys in a Land Rover coming down helped us take the bike out and offered to take me and the panniers with them back up.  Nice people!  The rest of the night was a windy one that was a bit hard to get through. The next morning we attempted the road towards the nearest town and we had to give up…sucky feeling but fully loaded and two up, it was too difficult. It was steep, with huge rocks jutting out.  Luckily we met a German couple, Yogi and Heidi that helped us out by giving me and the side panniers a lift down.  We ended up spending a nice evening in Underberg at a great guest house where we met other bikers.

We were sick and tired of rain and cold so we desperately wanted sunshine.  We thought we would get that in Port St. John’s but we were disappointed to be rained on the entire way and for the next couple of days in the town. We were in the Eastern Cape along the Wild Coast which definitely has a different vibe from other parts.  The province is made up of small towns and villages of colored houses and shacks. Definitely more rural and void of white people.  Port St.John’s itself looks better on a sunny day but was a laid back beach town.  We met a random Indian-South African couple from Durban that wanted to host a mujra to bind the Brown community…go figure.  After getting enough of the beach, we decided to head to Hogsback which turned out to be a cute town clouded in mist in the forest. It was something straight out of story book.  Everything took on a Hobbit or fairy theme.  The cheapest accommodation they had was the dorm but we had it all to ourselves, plus a heater! After that we swung down to Port Elizabeth but had to take a few detours because roads and bridges had collapsed due to flooding (it was raining so damn much).  PE had a weird Galveston-inner city sort of vibe.  Not as scruffy as some travel guides had made it out to be.  Before we headed out we got to see the SAMREC penguin rehab center.  There are a few penguin colonies in Africa even in Namibia.  There was an admission fee (like $3) but it was cool.  There were mostly African penguins that have been injured, fallen sick or stuck in their molting phase (which is painful for them) due to the weather change in the world.  Even getting out of PE was a maze because of all the flooding and closed roads but finally we had some sun!  We decided to take the famous Garden Route towards Cape Town.  Everyone had been raving about it so we thought we should check it out.  It was ok.  Its not as scenic as we thought it’d be.  It’s good for staying a weekend at a nice B & B with a pretty garden but nothing really crazy beautiful.  Storm’s River Gorge was impressive and the Bloukrans Bridge where they have the world’s highest bungee jump is impressive but other than that it was ok.  We were getting a bit bored but there are some other nice towns like Knysna.  We ended up staying at a great backpackers place in Knysna.  After getting a bit bored by the Garden Route, we decided to turn off for the Karoo.  The Karoo is supposed to be a desolate, desert area full of ostriches, and old towns.  We passed through Outdschoorn where they have a huge amount of ostrich farms and decided to push on. We got lucky and took a few good turns towards a canyon.  The gorges and semi-desert terrain were beautiful and covered in purple and yellow flowers.  That night we ended up camping in Swellendam where again we got rained out. We got ready on time but couldn’t leave for Cape Agulhas until later because we were just sick and tired of getting rained on.  Cape Agulhas is the southern most tip of Africa and also where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet.  Nick and I decided this was a perfect picture opportunity since Nick was born in India and I was born in Maryland (right on the Atlantic).  It’s a beautiful area with tons of shells, succulent plants and huge rocks dotted with bright orange lichen.

From Agulhas we pushed on, we were determined to get to Cape Town.  We rode along the coast to some great whale watching points, and we weren’t disappointed!  There were tons of whales at every point towards the cape.  The road to Cape Town is absolutely breathtaking especially around 4-5pm.  You have beautiful blue ocean on one side and huge rocky hills on the other glowing with the evening sun.  Clouds seemed to collide with the mountains producing mist and rainbows…sounds Candy Land-ish but it’s for real!  Table Mountain had a nice pink, ‘tablecloth’ of clouds draped on top, really gorgeous.  We ended up Couch Surfing in Cape Town with Pravanya and Kapil.  They really made our experience great.  We had to take care of some random things but they put up with us for a week!  We attended braais, ate some damn good food, took a trip on the train, and had a tapas brunch on the beach, and tasted some good South African beers.  You may be wondering what a braai is…it’s basically a barbeque and South Africans love their braais!  Just like in America it’s about the ambiance of getting together, kicking back a few beers and talking and chillin together.  The couple of braais we went to, people do a lot of sausage and lamb with just a couple of sides.  They also do grilled cheese, tomato, and onion sandwiches on the braai in Cape Town…that was super yummy! We took some time to go to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held for many years.  It was a good tour, especially to be led by a former political prisoner.  It was also interesting to know that many Indian-South Africans had taken active part and leadership roles in the anti-apartheid movement.  Pretty disgusting how people of color had to carry around a ‘dumb’ card stating what race and religion they are.  In the tour of the prison grounds, they take you to Mandela’s cell.  There aren’t any numbers on the cells, so Nick was skeptical, then he proceeded to close me into one of the cells.  He’s a sweetheart, I tell youJ.  The most interesting part of the tour was Cell Block A.  The guide doesn’t take you there, you kinda find it on your own but they really don’t give you enough time to see it.  Each cell has a picture of the last prisoner held and one item from their belongings.  There’s always a story behind the item…it could be a stapler, a pin, a letter…but whatever it is, no matter how small, it was important to that prisoner.  We also got to ride around Table Mountain National Park and Lions Head to get some impressive views of the city.  We had an amazing time in Cape Town, and for the first time on our trip, we really felt like it was a city we could live in.  (Don’t worry Mom, we won’t move there!)  A big, special thanks to Pravanya and Kapil for opening their home to us!

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