I had a coffee on the balcony and wrote my diary in the early morning ocean-side atmosphere.
Julia had to head straight out when she woke, but i stayed in a while, flicking through and reading a little in a few of her interesting books; Strange Maps was a particular favourite, and i rather enjoyed a text book on gem stones.
It wasn’t until after 11 that i headed out myself, on my seatless bike, to find a place to get it fixed. I got myself some direction from a local, pedalled away from the city for a while, and arrived at a high end bike shop. Seeing as my seat post was well and truly fused into the frame there was no real option other than screwing my seat back on with yet another replacement screw – but i knew that it would only then be a matter of time until it snapped off once more. The mechanic wasn’t very confident that my plan to place some old inner tube between the two parts of the post that clamp together would work, but seeing as they had worn down, and lost friction, and now moved under my weight, applying pressure to the screw until it snapped, i figured it was better than nothing. Despite his reservations, he did it for me, free of charge. I decided to have a little browse around the shop, and ended up taking a Lavazza macchiato from their machine, and buying some new socks.
Heading back towards the city i spotted a charity shop, so stopped in, picking up a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, interested to read a book by Capote, having recently before watched both In Cold Blood and Capote.
I then found a Kodak shop and decided to have some postcards printed, very happy to have the options of matte and small white borders again.
I made my way back into the city, and bumped once more into Bravo, who was riding his unicycle down the pavement, before pedalling home to sit and write my postcards until darkness fell and Julia returned.
That evening she headed out to a friend’s 21st, but i stayed in to type up blog entries from Malawi [1 month behind then, 5 months behind now] and read some Breakfast at Tiffany’s before bed, knowing very quickly that it was an excellent book.
I read the rest of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for breakfast and spent my morning actively resting, thankful for it after the tough couple of week’s cycling i had done.
At lunch time i spent the full fortune of £3 for the embarrassment of having someone else wash my incredibly filthy clothes – but the woman in the laundrette had a comforting smile.
I spent most of my afternoon back in my beachside restaurant wifi provider, for the first time looking properly into the prospect of booking a flight homewards. The cheapest ones available, by a few hundred pounds, charged the bike as excess baggage, and i was worried that that would run to something like a few hundred pounds.
I collected my washed, dried, folded and wrapped clothes, and walked to the post office to dispatch my 14 little photo cards, thinking how they were probably the penultimate ones i would send, and how much i had enjoyed doing them.
Back at Julia’s i repaired a puncture and did one of my little sessions of bike maintenance, which doesn’t really deserve such a grand name – i wiped the chain with a cloth, tightened some screws, and put a little oil on nowhere near all the places that i should have done. I did fashion myself an orange duct tape mud flap on the bottom of my mudguard though, having been intending to do so for the best part of a year.
Julia came home with a couple of her friends and, seeing as it was Taco Tuesday, they had brought all the ingredients for an awesome meal.
After the meal i was already falling asleep, but the suggestion was to head round to a house party and then on to the Tuesday night venue, Captain’s, for karaoke. I felt slightly obliged to join them, so did.
The party, initially, made me feel old. It was classic cake fight student times, and i didn’t nearly feel a part of it. It made me a little less keen on returning to university. But soon enough, when i stepped outside of the heat and crowds of the kitchen, i enjoyed a few easy conversations in the garden, seeing as they consisted of being asked all the questions i am always asked (and to which i have ready answers) by people who don’t always ask them – people of my own age.
When we arrived at a fairly empty Captain’s a man who i think was the bouncer was just missing the first line of his song. All the students i was with settled at the picnic tables on the veranda, but i found a quiet seat of my own, in a corner, with a good view of the stage, and actually almost enjoyed watching the various performances that ranged from unsurprisingly terrible to very surprisingly excellent.
When i spotted Julia leaving i left my sort of hiding spot and joined her and the few others that were heading home.
As usual i woke early enough to catch the end of the early morning news on the TV, thinking how nice a TV is in a morning, sipping my coffee and writing my diary. I then started reading Lolita, having plucked it from Julia’s shelf. It was one of those books which, after only a few pages, had convinced me that it was fantastic. I ate an enormous pan of porridge and read on.
And so i spent my morning, on the balcony, reading Lolita, drinking hot drinks, and, after a couple of hours fasting, eating sandwiches. I wondered how large my stomach had grown.
After lunch a took a ride down to my beachfront yuppie bar for their wifi, making a few updates and spending an age browsing the garments of the Goodhood menswear boutique website, having been sent the link by my brother. With the end of my rural adventures nearing i was looking forward to returning to a wardrobe, and to cities with stylish people. I was looking forward to introducing my beard to that world.
Back at the flat i took the rubber bristled brush and had a sweep through, and then took the sponge ended mop and had a wipe through, giving the whole flat’s tiled floor a quick once over, by way of a thank you to Julia for putting me up, not to mention putting up with me and my smelly clothes.
Julia returned with Robin, and once a couple more friends arrived we all piled in the little car and drove out towards the Ethiopian restaurant we had decided to eat at.
It was awesome, ‘hidden’ in the backrooms of a small grocery shop; in rooms that were just the small downstairs space of a normal house, entirely inappropriate for a restaurant, and as such incredibly endearing. A huge tray of pale injera rolls were brought out, and then 8 bowls of various ‘whets’ – sauces – such as the classic lamb tibs, and the curry like ones, and lentils, and cabbage, and beef, with a huge dish of salad.
We all ate a lot, and there was a whole lot leftover. But then the waitress brought each of us a large Styrofoam take-away box. We emptied the bowls and filled our boxes. We basically got two meals each. Two meals of great food, for less than £4 each.
It seemed like an even tighter squeeze for everyone to get back in the car, but we made our way home, where i read a little more Lolita and headed to bed.
I enjoyed a bit of a lay in until 7.30, not having far to go, and having a nice bed to lie in. But once i got up i got straight into breakfast; a coffee and some sandwiches.
I retrieved my bike from the office i had been allowed to store it in; thank but no thanked the offers of both more breakfast and a lift to Port Elizabeth; endured a long conversation with the energetic wife; and got pedalling. A light headwind was blowing, but to start with i was rolling easily down a slight hill towards the dune banked sea.
When i entered the town of Colchester i checked in at the Spar and lucked out on a couple of “last night’s sandwiches” which had been reduced to clear. I somehow only got charged for one when passing through the checkout.
From there i cycled slowly onwards, towards the now visible city, with its tall buildings lining the coast as it arced around way in front of me.
The road grew more motorway like as i drew nearer, and i could feel my saddle tipping back precariously. 15km short of the city centre, on the hard shoulder, it snapped off, for the third time. I managed to catch it between my bum cheeks, and for a short time attempted to continue on in that position, but it was more uncomfortable than it would have been to sit directly on the seat post alone.
I stopped, and in an intentional interlude of procrastination, ate my sandwiches before even trying to decide what to do.
In the end i strapped the detached seat to a bungee cord, shuffled the bags on my rear rack around a little, and sat way back there, on my sleeping bag, arms fully outstretched to hold the handlebars, legs painfully bent to be on the pedals, and continued on awkwardly. It was better than a 15km walk along the side of the main road. In fact, i was enjoying myself, imagining what my reaction would have been if i’d seen someone else doing what i was doing.
During that final hour’s ride into Port Elizabeth i stopped twice to talk to motorists who had been intrigued enough to pull over.
On the edge of the city i passed a huge stacked-line of those not quite tessellating concrete forms used as sea defences, and later learned that they were designed by a student in Port Elizabeth, and have since been used around the world.
I entered the city on the highway that was crowded, overlapped and criss-crossed by more of those only urban bridge-roads that occur when there simply isn’t enough groundspace to put roads next to one other on the floor. I was back in modern urbanity.
I soon hit Beachfront Road and happily happened upon the Sunday market that was full of strolling tourists. It reminded me of one of my favourite things – car boot sales. There wasn’t so many stalls full of wonderful old rubbish though, but rather more souvenirs. There was fudge stall, though, and i couldn’t resist a quid’s worth.
Further along the beachfront i found a semi-swanky restaurant with wifi and so sat, in the corner furthest from every other customer, conscious of my clothes/smell/beard, for a fantastic coffee and a couple of hours of internet.
When the afternoon was approaching its daylight end i set off to see about my host – without a phone i hadn’t called ahead, but had emailed a warning of my arrival at about that time.
On the way i bumped into a man in pseudo-zulu dress, with a unicycle and a suitcase. He was called Bravo, he was a street performer, and we got to talking. He said he understood what i was doing, that he travelled himself, that he admired my trip. We sat on the big concrete steps and chatted quite happily.
Two possibly homeless, definitely drunk people came over to us and begged for some money. I gave them what had become a relatively rehearsed speech and after a minute or so they left us to our conversation. It was Bravo who restarted it with the words “Josh, please don’t say no, because i want to give you something.” He put his hand into his suitcase and pulled out 60 Rand (around £5). I tried to refuse, of course – i had given him a lump of fudge, but that wasn’t even nearly a fair exchange – but he wouldn’t have it. And so, a busker, in South Africa, gave me money. I thought again about how i looked.
I had a short go on his too big for me unicycle, then he gave a little, free performance for me and the few people who had gathered, with some impressive hat-juggling and bottle-on-knife-edge-balancing, entertaining the crown with slightly tired, repetitive jokes. I liked him a lot.
When he climbed back off his mono-wheeled bike we ended up chatting with a trio of cycling youths until, right on the turn of darkness, i set off again to see about my host.
Bravo, thank you.
I found the apartment block easily, but there was no answer to the buzzer. I spotted some pay phones across the street, so tried to call. The number i had was too short.
Darkness fell as i tried to figure out what to do, and i ended up returning to the beach side restaurant to poach a little wifi, sat on the grass out front, and happily found that i had not been messaged the wrong number, but that i had written it wrong. I took the full one back to the payphones and gave it another go. Julia answered the phone and said she’d meet me at the apartments.
We shook introductory hands in the lobby and then she said, apologetically, that on the way down she had realised that she had locked herself out of her apartment.
I negotiated my bike and bags up to the 9th floor, thankfully having only to deal with the small problem of a small lift as opposed to the big problem of a big stair-climb, and waited there while she headed to a friend’s for the spare key she had left there.
When she got back it wouldn’t fit the lock. She was getting red with embarrassment, and apologies were flowing from her, while i was getting anxious at being the root cause of the problem, and deflecting her apologies with ones of my own. I tried the key, she tried the key. I bent the key. I felt bad for having made her leave the flat. She felt bad for not being able to let me in.
As she tried to call her uncle, who had another spare key, her phone battery died. And her car keys were inside anyway, so she wouldn’t have been able to go and pick it up.
I felt terrible, but a small part of me wanted to laugh hysterically.
There seemed like there was very little to be done, but she headed to the payphones i had used to try call him from there. She very quickly came back, though, with the friend who had been the keeper of the first spare key. That friend had brought another spare key, the actual spare key, which she had mixed up the first time.
It slid into the lock, and we slumped inside.
Julia showed me to my empty room – she had just moved into an unfurnished flat – and then we sat for a bit of a chat. I then took my third consecutive-day shower, spent a moment out on the 9th floor balcony, admiring the night time, sea line view, and headed to bed.
The tele was back on before sunrise, and i watched some breakfast TV with my coffee and oats, tea and toast two round breakfast meal. I then had a quick tidy around the villa and headed back over to the manager’s to return the keys and say thank you. He’d already gone to work though, so i just dropped them with the security guard at the gate, asked him to pass on my appreciation, and got going again.
My day began as the last had ended, rolling my way over the little ups and downs of the road that linked the numerous rivers at the point where they opened out into the ocean.
I soon reached the pretty, and pretty wealthy looking harbour town of Port Albert and stopped in for a few minutes internet.
I didn’t stick around long, and was quickly back riding fast along a road that was comprehensively faced along both sides. I spotted a giraffe’s head poking over the top of a hill.
I stopped for lunch at a well timed picnic table with views down to the mouth of yet another river, where swanky houses clustered, before the road turned somewhat inland.
I gained myself a fairly strong tailwind that blew me up the pleasantly steady hills, the greenest hills.
Further up into the farmlands already having cut the distance to Port Elizabeth quite short, i decided to stop in at a great looking farm shop for a slightly longer break. It was a huge place, set at the side of the road a long way from the nearest village. It was full of tempting bits of rural homeware, but the cafe was always going to get my money; a coffee and a fantastic little cinnamon bread.
Just as i was leaving the owner shouted over to me and said “Let me give you one of these, for the road. It’s homemade ginger beer.” The label said it was made “the way Grandma used to make it.” I thanked him and pedalled on through a few flat kilometres until the next picnic table, where i pulled over to drink it while it was still cold.
Zebras and ostriches were running about in more of the private, fenced game reserves as i pedalled my way up more hills. The sun was falling, but with the generous tailwind i was flying, so i pushed on further, easing towards 120km.
When there was close to no daylight left i spotted a church, went to ask to camp in the garden, but found the building to be empty. I tried the next place, another fantastic farm shop, this one even bigger and more expensively stocked with luxurious temptations than the last, but the manager wasn’t around so i couldn’t be given permission.
The next option i came across was a farm set back from the road which had a sign up at the roadside offering self catered accommodation. I figured they might be willing to let me camp, even if for a small fee.
The top half of the barn door to the house was open when i pulled up, so i gave the bottom a knock and smiled through the top. The woman who came towards me did so with an even bigger grin than mine and an energetic burst of welcoming questions. Then the husband came and invited me straight in to watch the rugby – South Africa vs New Zealand – providing me with a beer in a neoprene stay-cool holder.
“Half time is supper time”, and i was plated up a meal of sausage, steak, sweet chilli sauce and a bread roll. It was great. The wife was crazy and intense and jovial.
The husband and i watched the second half with a coffee and when it was finished the wife said “I’m sure you want to sleep” and took me down to one of the brilliant little twin bed cabins. She told me it was mine, for free, for the night.
There was tea and coffee and a small bag of homemade rusks (not the baby food version, but the typically South African double baked biscuits) and some fresh milk. The hot water and TV were switched on.
I sank a coffee and watched the news before indulging in another shower, which was becoming a daily event, before sitting on the bed to write, sort through photographs, and watch American Idol. The little cabin accommodation was awesome; one of a cluster of four that shared an outdoor social area, with deck chairs and barbecue stuff. It would have made a great little group holiday destination, on the border of South Africa’s largest elephant Sanctuary. It did make a particularly plush free night’s sleep.
The completely and heavily overcast sky that i woke to worried me of another wet day, but i was glad to have made it through the night dry, having not bothered to put the waterproof outer on my tent.
I packed up quickly and headed to the kitchen-lounge for a free coffee and some porridge, and then a free tea and some toast.
I was set to go by 8am, but the member of staff who i’d chatted with the night before offered me a little free internet before i left. My inbox held some good news. Julia, a friend of Anke, a friend i had stayed with in Germany, had replied to my cheeky request, and said she would happily have me stay over. It was about 10 days after leaving home that i stayed with Anke in Oldenburg, and it would be about 10 days before i would reach my destination that i would stay with Julia in Port Elizabeth. And i would be staying in her new flat, in the spare room, right by the beach.
So i finally got going, as far as the SuperSpar. I bought bread and jam standards, and picked up some clearance sausage rolls, and splashed out on a tray of caramel slices to sustain my day’s sugar cravings.
I rode along the front, into a slight headwind (the evening before i would have been being battered from behind by a pummelling tailwind) before turning uphill into East London’s city centre. I joined Fleet Street. I passed Camden Street.
I pedalled on through the morning, dropping down to and climbing up from small rivers, dealing with the intermittent rain, and getting annoyed with the fickle wind, changing direction and strength constantly. I rode on and on, banking on one of the more and more common ‘picnic spots’, until i couldn’t wait any longer, and ended up just sat in some long grass eating my reduced to clear baked goods, dreaming up the concept of garlic butter sausage rolls, and thinking how i should probably become a baker.
Another river, broad now, approaching its final relief into the Indian Ocean, had me sweeping downhill through the dense green bush, and then climbing up again on the other side.
The next descent, however, was a longer one that took me steadily down, under the now bright blue sky, towards the coast. The afternoon was half gone i was still heading towards my lenient daily goal of 100km.
A sharp ridge of hills separated me from the sea, and i was riding over the small hills, from the mouth of one river to the mouth of the next, each entering the ocean in a sandy arc, where luxury villas hid on the hillsides.
The sun was lowering and i was on the lookout for options for the night. There were no farms to ask at though, and the only hotel i had seen was far too highly starred for me to feel comfortable asking if i could mess their manicured lawn up with my broken tent. I was pedalling into the late evening, until later than ideal, though i was happy to be knocking kilometres off the next day’s journey into Port Elizabeth. I began having to consider wild camping – there were not nearly enough people around for there to be any real issue with my security, but there were far too many fences around for me to find an easy, hidden place to access. Indeed, the entire length of the road i had been riding all day had been uniformly fenced, without break. I guessed (and later learned) that they were private game reserves; a fact that, considering lions, made my desire to camp there rather minimal.
The sun was touching the horizon as i saw some buildings ahead – the first for a long time. I decided i would have to ask, no matter what the dress code of the place might be. I crossed The Great Fish River and decided to turn right, to The Great Fish River Villas rather than left to The Great Fish River Hotel and Country Club.
The security guard pointed me over to the manager’s villa, so i walked over and knocked on. I explained to the door opener that i hadn’t the budget for a villa, but wondered if i might be allowed to pitch my tent hidden somewhere in the corner of the grounds. Without hesitation the man said “Well let’s just find you a villa”. Within five minutes he was showing me around my own place.
He said “The bedrooms” and my mind said “plural” and he finished “are over here.”
“And there’s the bathroom, and the living room with the TV, and i’m sorry there’s no food in the kitchen, but there should be some tea and coffee.” He then switched the TV on for me, said “Make yourself at home” and left through the sliding glass doors that led onto my patio.
So i set about making myself at home, checking how bad i looked in a full length mirror for the first time in an age, brewing up some coffee, and making use of one of the best kitchen appliances – the toaster. I flicked over to the rugby.
I enjoyed a piping hot shower, and looked for about a minute at the plushest bedding ever. It was like a particularly good Centre Parks.
I spent a little longer channel hopping, and then chose which bed to sleep in, climbing in early to spend as long as possible buried inside.
I was up in time for my breakfast appointment with Father Zilindile, and was honoured to be introduced to” Sister Felicitous, it’s a biblical name”. I introduced myself as “Joshua, mine too”.
It was a properly portioned breakfast, according to my standards. It was a two course affair; the starter was a huge bowl of nicely cooked porridge oats and the main was loads of toast with scrambled eggs, sliced tomatoes and mini sausages. Father Zilindile, who was not a small man, asked if i could come again so that his cook, his sister, would prepare him such a breakfast one more time.
By 8:30 i had made my thanks and was heading uphill out of town.
Once i made it to the top, where the landscape opened, the side-wind struck powerfully. A headwind is the most slowing, but i find the side-wind to possess the greatest danger. I was struggling to steer, leaning well into the gusts, and weaving across the thankfully broad hard shoulder. As the large trucks flashed past, close by, they effectively removed the side-wind and would cause a kind of suction effect that would pull me scarily close towards their massive wheels.
The road ran across the top of the folded landscape, up and over gradually, while i was battered incessantly from the right to the left, until i reached the Kai River Pass. Then i flashed through downhill hairpins. It was a long, long descent that ended at the old bridge spanning the river.
Just over the bridge i stopped to chat with a driver who had pulled over. She told me that her little truck struggled up the hill ahead, but offered to increase its burden with me and my bike, to save me the massive trouble of riding it. I thanked her but pedalled on. It proved to be a long but steady slog; close to an hour of unbroken pedalling at 6 and 7km/h. And this time, once i reached the pass, and again found myself atop the landscape, i was glad to find that my direction had changed, and i was riding with a tailwind.
I was powering along, with the road, in slight rolls, leading generally downhill. With the wind-assistance the up-hills hardly ever required me dropping out of top gear. I pumped harder and harder on the pedals, enjoying the speed, until, way after i ought to have stopped to eat, i found a nice little grass bank in the shade.
There were only 30km from there until i would reach East London, and almost as soon i started back towards it i got my first view of the sea since way back in Mozambique. It was a view of the sea that i would be following, near enough, all the way to the end of my trip.
The road continued to swing me downwards, seawards, until small sharp hills returned it to undulations. Another car pulled over for a chat. It was an old guy with impressively thick socks squeezed on under his sandals and a saggy mouth that opened and closed repeatedly. He was friendly and kind-voiced and told me he hadn’t done anything as big as me, but that he had walked from Mozambique to Mossel Bay, 1100km, in 89 days.
After a brief spell on the highway bypass i turned onto the main road into the city centre. I crawled up hill, crossing the river that was lined with white mansions, and then freewheeled downhill towards the crashing waves of the sea, but stopped short when i saw a shop called Delightful Treats. It was a great little shambles of a shop with home baked goodies not even half filling the shelves. The smiling old woman, who i supposed to be the baker, had a face that looked like it was wrinkled from happiness alone. I picked a little tray of fudge, and a tray with four small coffee cookies, 6 rand and 8 rand respectively, and handed them to her. She said 11 rand total. I corrected her maths to 14 rand, but she didn’t have change for my 100 rand note, so said she was happy to take 10.
Happy, i rolled the rest of the way to the esplanade and then turned east onto it, into one of the most battering headwinds i have ever encountered. I pulled into another shop in the hope of finding a 1.5 litre bottle of anything, to replace the old, algae covered bottle i had been using for far too many months. They only had, like everywhere else, either 1 litre or 2 litre options. But they did have baklava. It was out of budget, but i reminisced with the Greek Cypriot about its syrupy goodness, and then forced our conversation to burek, for old time’s sake.
I fought a little further into the wind to reach Sugarshack Backpackers, booking one of the over priced camping spots and drinking one of the free coffees straight away. While i pitched my tent one of the poles cracked significantly. I got the tool bag out and prepared the surface with duct tape before strapping up the crack with a cable tie. I was pretty happy with my work – i had used both of the two most trustable things in the world. I did think, however, how something breaking was beginning to seem like an everyday occurrence – i just hoped that things would hold out until the Cape.
I headed out to try and find some free wifi, but after two failed attempts in far too posh hotels i got sidetracked by the Spar. South African supermarkets know how to do bakery sections, and this Spar’s was a particularly good one.
I’d already bought too many treats for one day, but i knew i’d be stopping by in the morning to buy a peanut tart, or a jam tart, or a “yummy slice”, or a muesli square or a something else.
I continued my search further, but failed to find any free internet, so just enjoyed my walk home, along the promenade in the milky twilight, before brewing up a cup of tea, sitting to write my diary, and chatting some with the other hostel residents.
I sat on the end of my bed after waking early and folded the multitude of patterned fleece sheets i’d been given as bedding. Then i packed all of my own things away, and left the room to brave the family for the first time since they welcomed me into their home. The mother was rushing around preparing the young kids for school and herself for work, but found the time to sort me out with a large basin of warm water that i didn’t really need. By the time i had taken a quick wash in their free for all of a bathroom most of the family had left, so i simply said my thanks to the one adult aged person remaining – one i hadn’t seen before, and who appeared simply to be a cleaner and baby minder.
I was straight back onto the gradual uphill leading me further away from town.
Clouds filled the valley below me. The road progressed in a steady roll, with a few longer climbs, before it offered up a sweeping descent.
I flashed through 10km to the valley bottom river, winding its way coastward after running down from the inner highlands. Over the bridge, of course, the loan i had taken out on the descent resulted in the debt, and interest, of an ascent, and i began wishing for nothing but a stretch of flat road.
Half way up the hill i stopped for lunch, spotting a nice ‘table’ to dine at. The hillside opposite me, across a rocky little river, was covered in odd cactus-palms.
The ascent slowly levelled off some, but the huge rolling hillscape still had me generally gaining in altitude, sweating along slowly under the midday sun that was an immense difference from the morning cold.
I pulled over at a signpost for a photograph. A lot of laughing school children were stood about it waiting for their bus. As i got out my camera the one lone old woman there, assuming i was about to photograph her, bent and grabbed a handful of stones and gravel ready to throw at me, doing her best angry face and shouting loudly. I explained in fluent English and Universal gesticulation that i only wanted to photograph the signpost, on account of it reading “Collywobbles” – what my mother sometimes calls my father, Colin.
I pedalled my way through to 80km, and into the town of Dutywa, pulling in at my preferred supermarket, “Boxer”, for some snacks. I bought a couple of rock bun scone things, to stash away for supper, and a huge chunk of heavy “duff cake” with a carton of “maheu” for my afternoon powersnack. As i stood in the queue i nervously watched as a group of characterful men gathered around about my bike outside, throwing shifty little glances my way. They didn’t, however, touch anything. At least not until i had made my way back out otwards them and my bike and began to move away. Then one of the more inebriated ones grabbed a hold of my handlebars, but didn’t make a very good effort at anything in particular.
Once out of town i pulled into a lay-by for my mini-meal. The maheu was, at best, odd. It was essentially a maize based yoghurt type drink that was typically African in its lumpy, thick, not really pleasant consistency. It was, however, dissimilar to other such textured African drinks in that it wasn’t alcoholic. The duff cake, on the other hand, was great. It might have been the best tasting thing anywhere in the world that was, in weight and shape, very similar to a brick. It was filling enough for me not to finish it, which was an unprecedented benchmark.
The road from there, like so often in South Africa, had me pedalling steadily up a mild incline, with massive fields either side, dotted with their frequent, little, man-dammed ponds made for irrigation.
But eventually the up went over into a down, and it proved to be the perfect kind for covering the maximum distance with the minimum effort. I freewheeled easily towards Butterworth. A few kilometres before the main town though i spotted a large church in a small village just off the road. It was only just after 4 O’clock, but i decided to see if they’d have a sleep option for me.
When i arrived i was greeted by a couple of the staff from the school that was run through the church, and they assured me that they could accommodate me somehow. It soon became clear, however, that i would be “sharing a bed” with a man who was convinced i could organise him a trip to London.
I pushed them for permission to camp in one of the church’s outbuildings instead and so they called the father for permission. He asked to speak to me on the phone and told me in a jolly voice that it would be much better if i rode on down to his house in town. I agreed that it sounded much better (African priests tend to have good houses and better food) and set off.
When i arrived at his Colonial era detached house, with creaking wooden floors a fantastic distance below the ornately architraved ceilings, he welcomed me in, got some coffee made for us, and sat to talk. We chatted comfortably, i with my ready stories and he with his ready laugh, until 6pm. That was when he popped across the road, to his huge church, to deliver the evening service. Just as he stepped out of the door he told me he really ought to have been preparing for that, and not talking to me, and then laughed his way down the garden path.
While he was gone i took the hot shower he had offered me and then made a start on writing my day’s diary.
When he returned dinner was ready to be served, for the two of us.
Rice, veg, and a great “Lebanese curry”, with a glass of white wine, and ice-cream for afters. We talked freely as we dined, i eating 3 plates of all of the above, and he only eating bread and marmalade, with a little ice cream for afters. He told me he had eaten a large, late, lunch; i was left to assume that he had had all the other food cooked for me. We stayed at the table and chatted beyond the food, and then beyond the bottle of wine too.
By about half past 8 however we called it a night, and i moved across to “the spare room” – my own personal annex, with a sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. I sat in a comfy chair to finish off my writing and then bedded down for another early, long night’s sleep without the need of my tent.
I was up, just before the sun, to a clear sky above, but with a few
wispy distant clouds hanging below in the valleys.
I packed up most of my things before getting out my stove to cook porridge. I just managed to get it cooked, though my stove broke again. This time the pump cup split rather than perished, for no apparent reason, and meant i would probably be stuck with cold food until i made it home.
I skipped the offer of a free morning coffee to get moving by 8am and was immediately into a winding descent that led me over the day’s first river, and into the day’s first long climb. It was a slow few kilometres up the series of huge hills that wound me into Mount Frere. The uphill continued slowly out through town, but soon rolled over into another sweeping freewheel down to the second large bridge.
It was another steady but long climb on the other side. I pushed hard into it and all the way up to Qumbu. These towns felt something more like the continent i knew from back before i entered the relative modernity of South Africa. They were dirty and busy, bustling with street vendors and chaotic shouts, unorganised and colourful, covered in misspelt signs and comical shop names, and a general joy to observe.
So i passed straight through as slowly as i could.
I rode over a few small hills and then enjoyed another series of arcing downhill corners to the third and last large river of the day, naturally incurring the slog up the other side.
It was another steady gradient though, and elevated me to an enormous roll of land that stood above that around it, and offered views all the way back to the now distant snow capped mountain tops.
This last climb didn’t seem to return the expected sharp downhill, but instead left me rolling over the top of the landscape. Progress was slow and the city of Umtata was beginning to feel a long way away. I pedalled throughout the afternoon without rest, and finally, as the city came into view, spread out lower in a valley, the descent came.
It rushed me down towards the large city by 4pm, and i briefly considered asking to camp at a couple of likely looking places on the outskirts, but figured such a big place must offer a few city centre options, even if it was a hostel i had to pay for.
It was another crowded, loud, over trafficked town which would have been fun if it didn’t seem like finding a bed would be stressful.
I hadn’t seen anything that looked like an option before i began to realise i was leaving the city behind. I figured i had about an hour’s sunlight left, so decided to just keep riding hard in hope.
Almost immediately i passed a large, secure walled school and decided to check it out and see if i could camp. The onsite care taker was too nervous of the Principle to allow me to stay without permission, and couldn’t get through on the phone, so i returned to the road.
The sun lowered further towards the horizon and my search continued without mush promise. I checked one B&B but couldn’t find any staff. I checked a second but they were full. I checked a third and they were full too. Neither were willing to let me camp.
As the city was well behind, and the outskirts had all but filtered away to nothing, i headed to one last B&B to ask for help. The sun was now below the hill tops but was thankfully still throwing up useful light.
I allowed a sense of desperation into my voice, or perhaps exaggerated it, when i asked the woman if she could let me camp in the (fairly swanky) B&B’s garden. Next to the swimming pool would be fine. She really seemed to want to help, but had to call the owner. It was a bad long waste of time waiting for the “No” that came. Now there really was very little light, but i rushed back out to my bike and set off at top speed.
A little further along, as the steeple of a church appeared away in a township at my distant left (i figured that might have to be my last resort) i chanced a lone building stood a short distance off up the hill to my right. It appeared to have a fence around it, and the security appealed. It was not going to be the security of a White Farmer’s land, but it would surely be better than wild camping.
When i knocked on the door it was answered without being opened. They simply shouted through it asking what i wanted. I shouted my response back. It was the first time in South Africa that i was seeking sanctuary at a Black home. I wondered if their precaution was because i was White, or because precaution was a rule of thumb in the area.
The door was opened slightly, and one of the sons of the house spoke to me in good English, conveying the mother’s comments. She said that the fence was broken, so it wasn’t really safe. But i said that, with it getting dark, my having nowhere was worse than my having somewhere, whether it was ideal or not. She said i was free to camp.
Just as i was setting up in the abandoned garage next to the house, for the added cover of the walls, the son came out to me and said his mother wanted to speak to me. I followed him to her and she told me she was scared with what i was doing, and would prefer it if i would sleep in her spare room.
And so i was again welcomed into a family’s house – a Black family’s house. I like to think that i wouldn’t usually consider the difference, but in South Africa, where there still seems to be such a distinct racial segregation, i defy anybody not to.
As i carried my bike and bags inside one of the daughters was making up my bed, so i helped her throw over the blankets, having a brief chat about higher education. She had been to university in Pretoria, and had spent the best four years of her life there. She spoke perfect English and expressed the confident opinion that Photography, though an interesting subject, was not worth studying at university. I agreed with her, which she deemed very strange, seeing as that i studied photography at university.
Once we’d finished setting the room she said “Well, i hope you enjoy your stay” and then, just about to back out of the door, offered her hand forwards and added “By the way, I’m Bunny”.
“Josh”, i replied, shaking her limp hand which didn’t seem to match her confident manner, comical name or pretty face.
I sat on the end of my bed and wondered if i ought to join the family or not in their living room. I couldn’t really decide what they would prefer, but, in honesty, thought to myself that i couldn’t really face it. I gradually felt more and more like i should have joined them, but the leaving it longer and longer had made it more and more awkward, and then i nodded off anyway. I had been thinking through the day how i felt like i was getting very tired. Tired deep down, and that i would soon need some time off. But i was determined to make it to Port Elizabeth before i did.