“They’ll come right up to you and rip open your bags for your food!” – “Make sure you roll up your windows and lock your doors!” – “They’re filled with all sorts of disease and are dangerous!” among other remarks made by Capetonians about my journey over to Cape Point, the most south western tip of Africa. It’s an arbitrary location that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I certainly didn’t want to make the trek over to Cape Arugula, the actual southernmost tip of Africa – Those feats were left for 2010 when I crossed Canada, in some sort of challenge for myself to see everything I possibly could. Now seasoned and just enjoying the ride, the lack of direction and overall free spirit of traveling I still wanted to get out there on a good ride loaded down with the safety net of being able to head back into a city should bike problems occur, or last minute staples need to be stocked up on.
Leaving from my home base of Rondebosch (a suburb south of Cape Town) where I had been for 6 days early at 7:30am to the sound of air horns by my host, another bicycle enthusiast who traveled from Cairo Egypt to Cape Town in 4 months recently had me excited for things to come, still trying to etch the overall fact that I was starting the next leg of the journey which has some people regarding as absolutely crazy all the way across the continent of Africa. I made a few pit stops in the first 15km making minor adjustments and picking up some supplies at the stores before heading south into small coastal suburbs of Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town. Light breeze and a slight overcast made for wonderful riding conditions getting my muscles back into the swing of thousands of repetitive rotating movements dodging traffic while riding on the left hand side of the road, and looking out for such perils as storm drains with no covers, and the ever so present road gutters which can quickly create a bent rim situation if one was to enter into one at high speed by accident.
The looks on peoples faces who were out and about heading off to work or standing at the side of the road had me chuckling – jaws dropping, murmers to their friends/companions, or just flat out cheering, clapping, yelling or tooting their vehicle horns surely added to my excitement and motivation for the day. Picturesque views of tree covered mountains and Atlantic coastlines ahead of me while the perimeter of the huge area of Table Mountain National Park brought me at ease from the jaw clenching white knuckled city / suburb riding which I had been doing for the past 2 weeks as light training or just to get from point A to point B.
When a stop was made, it was down a hill where a half dozen large buses waited for tourists to return from viewing a natural resting and mating spot of penguins in the area. I’m not sure what admission was to get in to see the area a bit closer, and I opted to head down a wooden pathway knowing that I’d be able to catch a glimpse at these fascinating creatures. I was right, and spent a few minutes crouched down peering eye to eye with him, slowly backing away when they would hiss, obviously feeling threatened. An African man dressed in a penguin suit warned me about the traffic as I left the area, telling me that people had no regard for pedestrians on the road during the next bit and to stay careful, minding the baboons that may jump into my path of riding unexpectedly as well. I couldn’t really picture too much what a baboon actually was, but road signage in various forms made certain that I was going to know they they were dangerous, wild, and free roaming in the area as I pedaled up windy roads into Cape Penninsula National Park. Making small talk with a local who had been living in the area for 55 years while taking a break had me discover that he had a small friend hitching a ride with him on his ATV – a stick insect. 6 legged, and looking just like a blade of grass this impressive insect could blend into its surroundings to evade capture, yet I’m sure had the possibility to leave a nasty memory for anyone that let their skin get in the way of its curved pinchers located close to its mouth. The shacks of the city had disappeared by now, only to be replaced by huge mansions sitting on the sides of the mountains, yet there certainly weren’t servants working in the yard like I thought – It was a family of Baboons hopping up and down on the roof of the house, the driveway and the protective barrier! I stopped and snapped a photo and hauled ass out of there. Getting to Cape Point for the last 12km entering the park at the cost of 85 rand ($12 CDN) was a struggle with more baboons running across the road paired with a tailwind.
Approaching the tip of the continent almost felt like being a celebrity with paparazzi snapping photos every second – I’m sure to appear in many peoples memories on camera and video, most foreigners from Japan unable to communicate back to me, but many bus drivers who had passed me on the way were curious to know just what the heck I was intending on doing with my bicycle as they had never seen anything quite like it before. Obligatory headstand was taken, and I downed a miniature bottle of champagne to mark the occasion, before applying the South Africa sticker onto my bike below the Canada, USA, and Mexico stickers. Sailing out of the park with an incredible headwind I found my first Stealth Camping spot of the trip and spent the evening putting together my tent properly and reading until well into the night, some twisted novel by Jim Thompson, a recent favourite.
The amount of attention I am receiving is on the level of 10 times more than ever experienced – In rapid fire succession people will walk up and ask questions (the typical – where are you going, where are you from, how do you support this) often followed by a congratulations of some sort and most if not always some explaining of the area, warnings of the people that I need to watch out for, and stories about a national hero who rode his bicycle around the continent and is now kayaking in Iceland. However not all will tell this story – I’d have to say 1 in 4 are full on monologues of their story in life, typically intercepting my path on the way to a public bathroom telling me stories about how they ended up here, and one going as far as telling me about everything he ate for the past 3-4 days and that he is having gastronomical problems. Too funny. I did however meet another Canadian who has been volunteering around the continent who will be an incredible contact on the way for places to stay and opportunities to volunteer in villages. Most of the people that have been talking to me about safety specifically speak about the East Coast of the country, where in a holier than thou voice and attitude they relate the residents to be something similar to Barbarians and uncivilized. When questioning people who I’ve stayed with they nod their heads and don’t say much, other than that it is an entirely different world than what the West Coast offers. I’m not sure its quite that bad, but I’m not interested in venturing that far and too far out of my comfort zone, as it’s already being stretched a bit in some of the towns that I’ve stopped at for groceries, beggars with gaping bloody wounds on their arms, faces, and mouth persisting in trying to shake me out of 2-5 rand. Firm no’s, shaking my head, and staring right in the eye has seemed to work so far – and I think that is as far as its going to go.
Heading north from Cape Town brought a few stops at peoples houses via Couchsurfing and Warmshowers, one Canadian and a South African couple – both incredibly warm and welcoming places to stay highly intelligent and conversational with a sketchy stealth camp on the side of the road mixed in between. After a leisurely day of riding only 60km I commenced to try to find a decent spot to setup well before sunset. After a few failed attempts on the side of the road with wind blasting me in the face and getting caught up in thorn trees (thorns are rigid and 2 inches long) I couldn’t be satisfied with an area that provided ample shelter from the wind, and headlights on the side of the “West Coast Highway”. Brenna wins the first game – her puncture came 30 minutes before sundown adding to the complexity of finding a decent spot one night where we finally settled on a very open space alongside a rest area, worried that we’d be visited in the night by animals, mostly the snakes which I catch out of the corner of my eye, big brown ones with a 1.5inch circumference. They apparently are poisonous – alongside with the King Cobras that are just coming out of hiding for the season.
The quest for internet is still a struggle – My Kindle surprisingly picks up service for basic email checking and I managed to just happen upon an open Wi-Fi hotspot quickly grabbing upcoming weather conditions, syncing my phone to email, and attempting to make communication via Skype to family members back home – where it sadly failed upon initiation of a call. When this happened I noticed a truck pull up beside me and a man asked me the first 2 questions, with another one – “Where are you sleeping?” – I’m familiar with this one before and usually respond just 10km up the road in the woods, until they offer to have me back at their place. Following along a truck with a sticker that says “Don’t Laugh – Your Daughter may be inside” I ended up in a compound where the man and his wife lived along with his son, wife, and grandkids (7 and 9). Such warm and welcome people, offering coffee and brandy at the start, a place to stay (at first I was to sleep in a boat, but then opted for a wood working shop, eventually turning into inside their house). Many stories of things to come, questions about how life is in Canada, discussions about fish (I told them about the mighty Sturgeon fish that is in our rivers – and they were also aware of the Columbia River by means of a video game) and a lot of laughter. They served a meal of Venison cooked two different ways, one slow roasted over a fire injected with oil and sauce, and the other very thin patties lightly breaded and fried. I asked them at about 10:30pm if they had ever seen a Canadian explode, to which they said no right before I explained they were about to from the stuffing my body had just experienced. Such a warm welcome in a strange town where safety is an issue, neighbours don’t talk to each other and trust is minimal. I can’t wait to try some of the shortcuts they have provided me to take me to some areas keeping me away from traffic and noise in this country of 40 million people just under 2x the size of the state of Texas, my favourite state.
Already the plans of going 100km a day have been washed and it’s more like a 60-80km daily trek, leisurely stopping in areas for rest at farm houses where the staff have been more than welcoming with refills of water, sometimes even offering sandwiches and baked goods in welcome. 1 in 3 cars honks while passing, but in the good way and provides more than ample space on the road even though there is wide shoulders with minimal broken glass and road junk to be found. There is a high amount of garbage and beer bottles however so riding in the darkness is out – for now, I’m preparing to switch the sleep schedule in about 2 weeks to a night-time mode to make some distance when the temperatures hit in the upwards of 55 Celsius once crossing into the barren desert in Namibia. It’s barely hit a high of 25 with some chilly nights in the sleeping bag so far. Where these barbarians are however, is left to be discovered…