Day 2 on the Wild Coast

This was the first morning we didn’t have breakfast as it wasn’t included in our hotel stay. But, Reese did buy me a Cadbury’s Lunch Bar for breakfast so we filled our Camelbaks with bottled water and headed off a little earlier than usual this morning. We knew we had a hard day ahead as we wanted to go all the way to Port Elizabeth (PE for short) and we knew the roads would not be that great.

For a second day we drove through winding country 2 lane roads with livestock wandering back and forth across the roadway. In a car it might be a little scary, but on a motorcycle it is really hairy! More than once we had to wait for a cow to cross the road right in front of us in a 100km per hour zone. Luckily, the drivers coming the other way would flash their lights at us to warn us of the impending danger, so we slowed down just in case. And that brings up another interesting fact about South African drivers being polite:  even though the roads are mostly 2 lane, they do have uphill truck passing lanes on occasion, but if you are not lucky enough to be near one of those, cars and trucks are actually known to pull off on the shoulder to let you go by. It is then polite to put on your flashers for an instant to thank them, and they then flash their brights at you to let you know they got the compliment. However, when driving on those passing lanes the signs read “Stay left except to pass.” You see, a solid white or yellow line doesn’t mean much here, so the center lane is used as a passing lane for cars headed either direction. That’s why you can’t just linger in the passing lane or you are likely to have a head on collision. Remarkably, we saw only one wreck during our travels, an overturned semi-trailer truck had overturned and blocked both lanes on a divided highway north of Bloemfontein. How on earth these people survive on a daily basis while driving is a true miracle! And, there is one more reason not to drive at night!

The road sticks pretty much to the tops of hills as it meanders through the mountainous terrain of the Transkei. Today we saw a lot more planted forests than we had previously seen. You can tell them by the uniformity with which they are grown. It really did look a lot like the Pacific Northwest in that regard. We also saw some mountain lodges where people go to spend a cool and relaxing adventure weekend doing bungy jumping, zip lining, hiking, or mountain biking. They were quite nice and large with all the amenities. Overall, the drive was pleasant and we saw some pretty scenery.

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get to East London due to all the road construction. But, it was a Sunday so we had no long waits like we have had in other places where they can be up to a half hour each. We got to East London just about lunch time and we needed gas, so we stopped at the Hemingway Mall. It was an amazing place with all the latest shops and restaurants. It was at least as cool as Bellevue Square. We made it down to the food court and found a Spur restaurant there. Spur is a South African chain of restaurants that specialize in steaks and seafood. Each one has a different American name and they all have a Western (as in cowboy) motif. We were ready for a burger so we dug in, but I wasn’t enjoying my meal much. As we pulled into East London I realized that I had left the clear plastic container with all my documents (passport, motorcycle ownership papers, etc) behind the pillows on my bed. I tried calling to no avail, so I e-mailed them my plight. It was Sunday, so I did not get a reply until the next day. They had found the document bag and would courier it to my place in Somerset West. Hallelujah!

After lunch we hit it hard, hoping to make it to PE, but the roads only improved in the area just before and just after East London and then we were back on the old two lane road with lots of road construction. It should normally take about 4 hours, but today it was much harder, complicated by the fact that we were battling BRUTAL winds that whipped us around like a toy. The bike with all the gear is a good 1,000 pounds of weight, but it almost blew us over on more than one occasion. That was complicated by the fact that we were heading in a westerly direction during the last bit, so we were facing a setting sun that was very bright and hard to see. Night time starts between 5:30 pm and 6 depending on how clear the sky is and whether or not there is a full moon, and by the time we hit Grahamstown it was already getting dark. I did not want to drive in the dark with these treacherous winds, so we exited at the city and began using the GPS to find a hotel room for the night.

What we found was a very nice little town with a rich history and grand old architecture. It is a university town as Rhodes University is located there. The hotel we chose was the Victorian Hotel, or Vic for short. It was built in the 1840s and is on the international register of historical buildings. However, the rooms were clean and modern looking for the most part, and they had a great Italian restaurant upstairs. It has been known for over a century as a student hang out and tonight was no exception. Not only that, but the hotel had free wifi and it was high speed! Wahoo!!!!

We had a leisurely dinner of Margarita pizza and Greek Salad.The pizza was for Reese and the salad for me, but we shared. There were a lot of students socializing at adjacent tables and the more they drank the more social they became. Sound familiar to those of you who are college students or are the parents of college students? It was an overall pleasant experience and we were glad we stopped there.

Traveling by motorcycle is always a bit tricky, especially in the developing world. People are known to steal anything off the bike if not the bikes themselves. There was not much parking available for us except street parking, and we all know how that went in Maputo. But, the receptionist (son of the owners) managed to talk Mom into letting me park in the restaurant. There is a wide passage way with steel bars on it, and the bike just barely fit with the saddle bags (also known as panniers). That was great and we really felt like the bike and its possessions were safe for the night. People here are so nice and polite!!!!! I would recommend the Vic to anyone, and I wish we had more time to explore the city. There were a lot of very large old fashioned buildings dating back more than a century and a half and it would have been fun to explore had we the time.

After dinner it was time for more TV and off to dreamland. I have to tell you that riding in unfamiliar circumstances is very stressful and exhausting, so every night I was ready to “hit the sack.” However, we were both feeling a bit under the weather as the ride had been cold as well. We were afraid that we were coming down with colds or something, so a good night’s sleep was just the ticket. Unfortunately, in the dark loneliness of fitful sleep my mind kept returning to those documents I had left in the Savoy Hotel in Mthatha. I awoke at 4 and stayed awake until almost 6:30 am before I fell asleep for another hour and a half. I needed my sleep as we were planning on riding the remaining 900 kms (560 miles) the next day back to Somerset West and the comfort of the Squirrel’s Peep. By this juncture we are closing in over 5,000 kms and two weeks on the road. I needed to get back to finish my work!!!

Along the Wild Coast

The drive south of Durban was through rolling hills filled with sugar cane fields and the road was a 1st World interstate highway. We made good time while the road was good, but soon enough the N2 turned inland and went back to a 2 lane road… not what one would expect for a major national highway. During Apartheid the area we were traveling was known as the Siskei and the Transkei, homelands to specific tribes of people. During those days the Afrikaaner government established what Americans know as “reservations” for indigenous peoples and made them citizens of those “homelands.” That is how they kept the country a white run democracy as the vast majority of land was owned by the 7-10 million whites. In order to work and travel, the citizens of the “homelands” had to have a pass or ID giving them permission to travel in other areas outside their homeland. The area we were traveling through this day was formerly known as two of these homelands, the Siskei and the Transkei. The latter is the “homeland” of Nelson Mandela, and its capital was Mtata (also spelled Mthatha). That was our objective for the day as the road was winding through mountains and very populated with people and farm animals along the roadway, which made the going slow. There was a huge amount of road work going on as well, so it took us all day to find our way to Mthatha… and was very stressful for the rider, not to mention the pillion (passenger in moto-speak) as they had no control over the situation.

We had several close calls with cattle, goats, dogs, monkeys and baboons during the day, but none was as scary as the lady that pulled out right in front of us in a very slow and deliberate manner. Thank God and BMW for the ABS brakes on the bike! Whew! They literally saved our lives today!

The scenery was beautiful at times and boring at others. The place had pretty much been deforested for firewood used for cooking and heating to this day. It is obvious how the Sahara desert developed in a similar fashion as first comes the denuding of trees and then comes erosion from wind and rain, then a desert. We really have to find a better way for these folks to exist without burning firewood all the time. In addition, the farmers use a technique of farming that requires them to burn off their fields periodically, so the smell of wood-smoke permeates the air all the time in winter. Talk about a huge source of CO2 in the atmosphere!!!!!

We finally arrived into Mthatha around 5 pm or so after a full and stressful day’s drive. The city was large and had all the amenities one could want. In fact, it is a pretty affluent city when you look at it. There are a lot of luxury cars on the road here, which was so out of context with the surrounding countryside. They had all the major national chains here as well as a McDonalds and several KFCs. Our gps indicated a hotel just up ahead past the McDonalds so we headed to the Savoy Hotel. It was actually very much like an American motel, a two story motel like a Holiday Inn Express type of thing, and the room was only R595 per night. Not bad! And, it was adjacent to a small strip shopping center with several restaurants, a supermarket and gas station. We opted for this place that resembled a Red Robin type of restaurant, very trendy and modern. The food wasn’t bad either as we were pretty famished. We have taken to eating breakfast, then for lunch having a Cadbury’s Lunch Bar in order to keep on traveling and make as good a time as possible, but around 6 or 6:30 we better find some food! I had a chicken schnitzel with a salad bar, which was pretty good. They tend to put mushroom or pepper sauce on this type of thing, which I could have done without. Pretty soon we were back in the room watching movies on TV until falling asleep. Reese tries to fall asleep before me so he doesn’t have to listen to my chainsaw buzzing at night, but I am so exhausted by the end of the day I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat!

During the day we met a man at a petrol station (gas station) that was intrigued by our accent and wanted to know if we were English. Pretty funny that, as we are pure Gringos. All the gas station attendants are really amused by both the bike and by our outfits, so they always gather around asking questions. For example, instead of the gas tank being in the traditional location in front of the rider, it is under the seat. So, there is always confusion as to where to put the nozzle. Then, we have packed all our stuff on the bike like the Beverly Hillbillys so it is pretty loaded down. Finally, the GoPro 3 camera is mounted on top of Reese’s helmet in a waterproof/dustproof clear case, so that raises a lot of questions in itself. Reese is filming our trip so that you can see our adventure as if you were riding along with us in a couple of months after we finish editing it. He has a remote control on his waistband that he clicks on when he sees something worth filming. Stay tuned for that!