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!!!

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Hazyview to Maputo

Reese and I really enjoyed our time in the Kruger, and were quite lucky in our viewing of animals. We really did see them all! The biggest difference I see from the 70s and 80s is that the animals are much more habituated to human contact (well, to our vehicles) and are not nearly as skittish as they used to be. That made for much more relaxed viewing and their casual approach to the roads and things so that we could see more of them from the main roads… especially those along the river. It is winter here so the weather is mild and they are active all day rather than just at dawn and dusk, so that made viewing easier as well. There are now a lot of concessionaires inside the park and it has become more of a business than a completely natural experience like it used to be, but it is still exhilarating to see these wild animals in their natural habitat! As Reese said, Kruger is the size of Israel with huge populations of all the animals in this primeval looking landscape so you can’t ever really get tired of it. We had been looking forward to Mozambique so we could speak our Portuguese with them. When Reese and I were in Brazil alone for a year (well, alone is relative as we had a maid and driver and lots of friends, but we were without Francie/Mom), we often used to speak Portuguese at the dinner table with just the two of us. So, at the first opportunity of going through the border post we encountered the Africanized Portuguese they spoke. It was more like Paulista Portuguese than Carioca Portuguese, but it was remarkably similar. The fiasco at the border was a portent of things come. Mozambique in this highly traveled causeway was like any backwater playground of people preying on tourists and travelers… everyone with their hand out or a scam to offer. That started things off on a bad note, and as we arrived into Maputo it was getting very dark very fast. Remember the first rule of Africa? DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT! So, we get into Maputo and know our hotel is somewhere near the water but we don’t know which one. My cell phone had “gone missing” in Plettenberg Bay so we had no way to check the internet. Almost everywhere in Africa charges by the amount of data it takes to load whatever site you visit, and that adds up very quickly, so our hot spot was out of data and we had no way to find out which hotel we were scheduled at. Through a lot of begging and pleading we found a hotel that called the travel agent our friend in Hazyview had suggested and found out we were in the Tivoli Hotel just a couple of blocks away from where we were. It was very run down on the outside, but the rooms were pleasant. The elevator (lift) worked only occasionally (TIA), and the internet never worked even though I paid $15 for it. Come to find out our room was $220 per night, a real rip off! The bad taste was getting stronger in my mouth with Maputo when I got some bad news from some e-mails about my work and my dissertation that caused us to rethink our trip. So, after dinner when we got back to the hotel it was time to make the call and head back to South Africa en route to Somerset West once again. The next morning after a nice breakfast we had to schlep our bags down three flights as the lift wasn’t working. We checked out and set our GPS to go back through Swaziland and down the East Coast of South Africa on the way home to the Squirrel’s Peep. The weather in the high veld was just too darned cold and boring to go home that way, although it would save a day of travel. So, as we are tooling down the EN4 freeway and approaching a toll booth the bike went all wobbly and the rear tire blew. Danged! What to do? It looked like the tire (tyre) had been punctured on the sidewall (remember what Reese said about us having to park the bike on the sidewalk outside the hotel the night before?). I walked over to a worker by the toll booth and asked if he could call for help from a towing company. Well, he went away and never came back! Just as I was getting really frustrated a guy in a white pickup with a crew cab pulls up and asks in English if he could help. God works in mysterious ways, but He certainly sent these two angels at the right time. We loaded the bike and all our gear into the bed and hopped in the back of the crew cab while he drove us around looking for a place to help us. We finally landed at this place that worked on tires and they agreed to help us. We unloaded the bike and I showed them how to take the rear axle off, remove the abs sensor so it doesn’t get damaged, remove the hub and then loosen the chain to get it off. It was actually very easy with the right tools and took just a couple of minutes. They vulcanized the sidewall and showed me where the valve had failed on the inner tube so I pulled out my spare inner tube and they mounted it professionally and got it back on the bike in record time. All told we had lost about 2 hours and it only cost us 100 meticais (the equivalent to less than $5). I tipped the workers 200 meticais and they were thrilled. So, we were off for the Swaziland border. The owner of the tire place was a South African from Johannesburg and he recommended the way back to the border, advising us to take a small border post that was out of the way, which we did and it was a piece of cake going through the border. BUT, on the way we had loaded the bike too quickly and Reese didn’t have enough room so we stopped to rearrange it at a gas station in a very small town. I got a drink and asked the owner which way to the Goba border post in Portuguese and that gave him an entre to start talking to us. When he found out we were Americans he immediately ran into the office and pulled out his Blackberry to show us a picture of himself in front of the White House in DC that he had taken last year. He raved on about how much he loved America and was planning to go back next year. Imagine, a gas station owner in the middle of Southern Mozambique was a world traveler!

As I said, the border post was very smooth and totally unlike our experience the previous day of getting into the country. People were pleasant to deal with and there was no long line of people going through. Reese and I had gotten our Yellow Fever shots so we wouldn’t have a problem moving from country to country, but no one ever asked us from them. I had been turned back from Swaziland in 1979 because I didn’t have one and now they don’t care! Oh well, it was good protection of our health anyway! Once through the border to the Swazi side the roads were much better and it really had the same feel as if we were in South Africa. Everyone accepted South African Rand so we were good to go. More on Swaziland from Reese…..