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!