The Sandy Wet Ride to Namibia

Things always take longer than you’d like. Especially when it comes to motorcycle dealers. As my bike sat for over a month in Rio this past summer, the humidity combined with the salt ocean air did a number on the bike. The nuts and bolts holding the end cap of my Adventure Pipe had oxidized and when I tried to pull the pipe off, some of the bolts just turned and others just wouldn’t budge. I was sure they’d break. So asked Shane and the capable crew at Atlantic Motoraad in Cape Town to see if they could drill out the nuts and ultimately make the necessary modifications so that the pipe could come off, get repacked and reinstalled. I also decided new rubber on the rear would be a good idea since perhaps the next place to find a a seventeen-inch rear tire would probably be in Nairobi. Plus, there is a nagging performance program. Seems the bike is starved for fuel. Of course, this it’s not consistent so therefore difficult to troubleshoot and diagnose.

Robin, the Cape Town resident with a bike who Grant and Julie met through the Horizons Unlimited community is in the midst of planning a South American trip and was eager to do a shake down trip on his bike, would join me through Namibia and perhaps up to Livingston in Zambia. But our plans for a Thursday early afternoon departure died when Shane indicated that two cells on my battery had collapsed and the exhaust was presenting difficulties. The good news is that Grant and Julie showed up at Tom’s Guest House Thursday afternoon giving me an opportunity to join them for dinner and usher them to the local Apple store — after more than two years traveling around North and South America, they are considering adding a computer to the things they carry. Plus, it’s quite possible they will head to Namibia next week. Chances are we may be in Windhoek around the same time.

A couple years ago when I was in the midst of planning this trip, I contacted Frank Butler, a Scottish motorcyclists who was living in Papau New Guinea. At the time he had been traveling by motorcycle throughout Asia and was making plans for trips through Africa and the Americas. Over the past few months I tracked him down as he was traveling south through Africa – visiting many of the countries I hope to visit. Timing worked out and Frank happened to be in South Africa, so Robin and I arranged to meet him for lunch in Tulbagh, an hour or two outside Cape Town before heading north toward Namibia.

Frank Butler
Frank Butler and his Dakar “Mr. Beem” in Tulbagh, South Africa after traveling from London to Cape Town through western Africa.

Rolling in on a F650GS Dakar, Frank sat down, ordered a beer and the travel stories started flowing. Not overly impressed with northwestern Africa, he advised me against traveling there with the comment that even if someone paid him to do it again he wouldn’t want to. He found northeastern Africa, which he visited on a previous trip, to be far more interesting. Robin, who for the past five years or so has retired after selling a successful security business he started in South Africa in the 90’s, has completed two overland trips between London and Cape Town over the last ten years in a Range Rover 4×4. Both journeys he did going through the northeast so he had similarly good things to say about this part of Africa.

Bidding Frank goodbye Robin and I headed north. Our plan was to settle for the evening in Clanwilliam, a few hours north then make for Springbok and the Namibian border the next afternoon. With time to kill we surveyed the map and thought of taking a dirt farm road over a mountain pass. According to the map is was just under 100km. While we firgured we could make it in an hour and a half of two hours, the reality was much different. Three things upset our timing and rhythm. First, the first 20km were heavily wash-boarded/corrugated of the bone rattling, bike vibrating and teeth chattering kind. Second, the first patch of deep sand through Robin for a loop. Riding ahead of me he almost lost it, but with my heavy load and caught by surprise, I plunged about 20 meters into it until the front tire just gave out and I went down with a laugh into the sand. It’d been since mid-November last year that I laid the bike down at the end of the bridge near Santa Cruz Bolivia. And the last time the bike needed to be picked off the ground was in El Chaltén in Argentina Patagonia after fierce winds blew it over while I was hiking up Fitz Roy.

That’s me riding up to the pass somewhere north of Clanwilliam south of Springbok (photo by Robin Hunt-Davis)

Robin Rides Dirt
Robin riding through the semi-arid desert of northwestern South Africa.

Robin had made it through that patch of sand and then 200 meters up the road he found more. Standing by the side of the road he might of seen me go down. But refusing to ride back through the sand he walked the short distance to help me put Doc up on two wheels again. After one dump and a couple nearly falls we were prepared for the next five or six patches of sand and paddled through without problem. But it was the rain and lightning that really threw us. We thought we’d be back on the main highway and miss the wrath of the looming thunderheads that had surrounded us, but we were wrong. The rain was especially problematic for my riding partner. Everything Robin carried save the Crocs strapped to the outside, was stuffed into a large backpack and tied down to the seat. While this made for a nice backrest for the long boring tarred straightaways, the bag wasn’t water proof. Finding shelter for 45 minutes under a farmers barn, Robin chatted in Afrikaans with the farmer while I patiently waited, snapped photos and tried to think through the problems I am still having with Doc – still taking that performance hit, especially when the bike is hot in the desert, and the electrical on the GPS and lights went out again. Could this be a more serious electrical problem?

Allan Wine Crash - Version 2
Sadly I couldn’t keep heavily loaded Doc upright through this nasty deep sand, but even with the crash and the relentless wash-boarding earlier, the bottle of Shiraz I’d been carrying for dinner that night survived perfectly – though a little hot and bottle shocked form the ride. Note the storm brewing on the horizon.

After three passes of showers we made a break for it and tackled the remaining 15km to the main road without problem. After a night in Clanwilliam, lunch the following day in Springbok, we battled fierce winds that could give Patagonia a challenge. Riding behind Robin I watched him several times get blown into the opposite lane. Perhaps with my heavier load and too much experience riding this type of wind I managed to tuck down and blast through it. By late afternoon we crossed into Namibia and found shelter at the Chinqua River Camp. Eager to have my Carnet stamped out of South Africa I learned that Namibia along with South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana are all part of a commonly managed group of transit countries. Upon existing Botswana I would have my carnet stamped.

Robin Farmer
Robin laments the rain and happy his gear has a chance to remain dry while the local farmer provides details on weather and roads.

Lunch Springbok
We make it to Springbok and happy to have a sandwich and milkshake at a local cafe.

Heavily Loaded
Welcome to Namibia! I know I’ve got Doc loaded, but I’ve seen some other riders with more and some of the 4×4 overlanders passing me could give the RV’s I saw in Alaska a serious challenge in the weight contest!

Situated on the bank of the Oranje River, Abiqua River Camp provides nice campsites with shade and grass. We were able to join in and sample the food prepared for a group of travelers gearing to take a 4 day river trip. Because of the fierce winds, which are uncommon here this time of year, Robin and I contemplated our own day trip down the river the following morning. He’d been on the river before and was backing out of joining me. If the winds were as strong as they were while we pitched our tents, I’d back out, too. But by next morning things looked better and I took the day trip. Riding down the 16km through 4 or 5 extremely tame rapids, the vistas of rising red rock cliffs, swampy reed fined shores and a plethora of wild bird activity. At one point an eagle soared above us and slowly floated effortlessly while it scoped the area for prey. The last 45 minutes of the 3-hour paddle down the river the winds picked up. It was a chore and somewhat a struggle to get back to camp.

While I paddled, Robin rode. Returning to camp exhausted he rode nearly 200km, but the dirt roads required so much concentration he didn’t venture as far as he had hoped before departing. But his short ride did provide us with some reconnaissance in terms of road conditions for the next days ride to Aus, on the edge of the Namib desert.

Oranje River Camp
Camp set up along the Oranje River, towering cliffs provide scenic backdrop at Abiqua River Camp in Noordoewer, Namibia.

Oranje River Trip
Paddling down the Orange River was relaxing but hard work as the winds kicked up toward the end of the cruise.

Attitudes. Latitudes: Getting Back To Cape Town

Making my way back to Cape Town I try my best not to tread over the same ground I’d before. Curious to see one of the oldest towns in South Africa I set my sites on Graff-Reinet. Cruising across the “Grand Karoo” with its scrubby rough terrain, proud buttes rising from the desert floor and miles of straight and boring riding, yet with stunning vistas as the sun journeyed its daily descent. Winds whipped and the temperature rose. At least there was no rain.

Graaf Reinet Church
Main street and signature church in Graaf-Reinet, one of the oldest towns in South Africa.

Little Girl Door
Playing hide and seek with me, I caught her looking in Graaf-Reinet.

Cape Dutch Architecture
Classic Cape Dutch style 150 year old home in Graaf-Reinet.

My unplanned u-turn and night in Burgerdorp turned out to be quite a treat. Anita and The Nook, a cozy B&B was taken back by my adventure and shared her stories of travel as she served me free-range scrambled eggs and a delightful selection of serials, toast, jams, juices and coffee. She had referred me to NuNu’s the night before where Jan cooked farm fresh foods for locals who travel sometimes fifty miles to come to perhaps the best restaurant for double those miles. Turns out Jan is a GS1200 owner, though the time constraints of his business meant he’s tracked less than 600 miles since buying the bike last March. Yet he handed me his card and his personal phone number in the event I needed anything as I continued my journey.

It continues to put a smile on my face and amaze me at the hospitality and genuine offers of help that I receive as I continue my travels. I receive e-mails from local South Africans from Pretoria, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and more with offers of places to stay, work shop space, food, petrol or just great greetings. The South Africans are friendly, helpful and interested in my project and eager to ensure that I take home a good impression of this country.

I had low expectations of South Africa and I don’t know why. I have found that it possess immense diversity, has a great infrastructure and for the most part it’s easy traveling. But as in the States and in particular parts of Latin America it’s inevitable that I will run into a sampling of people that fortunately don’t make up a majority nor provide a true indication of the mindset of the country. But the entertainment value and sad but true reality of some people’s naive thinking always invokes wonder and thought.

Finishing a beer in a local pub in South Africa’s Free State I notice two twenty-something guys donning ball caps and with their feet firmly planted on the bar stools as the chatted with their school buddy on the other side of the bar. Shots of Jaegermeister were turned upside down in rocks glasses and then covered with a god dose of Red Bull. Inquisitive I had to know what the hell they were drinking: Jaeger Bombs, I’m told. They invited me to a table and our conversation ranged from my travels, to sports to politics. That’s when the one guy adjusted his cap and looked at me and with sobering words explained, “Now I’m not a racist, but…” Disclaimers like that are sure to open a can of worms that should remain closed. “They are just plain stupid,” he continued. “I mean look at it Allan, when the white man first landed here bringing guns and ‘the wheel’; I mean they hadn’t even invented the wheel! What does that tell you?” I stared blankly raising my shoulders toward my ears. “They are just not smart.”

Though not even a teenager when Apartheid ended, I knew many of his opinions were not his own but perhaps hand-me-downs from parents, friends of his parents and other impressionables. “Crime was much lower before Apartheid ended, our country was much safer,” he explained but of course forgetting cause he just didn’t know how close to economic collapse the country was due to its alienation from the world community. “At 9pm sirens would go off, I know this sounds harsh and perhaps the laws were harsh, but if you were caught on the street with out permission you would go to jail.” He goes on. “My dad has a couple good ones that work for him, but that’s an exception.” His friend chimed in with a few like-minded stories. Both were fans of our current US president and I only imagined that the attitude represented by these friendly and well-meaning lads exists in every corner of the globe and while as world neighbors i believe world residents get more tolerant with each passing year, it’s how the attitudes and opinions are handed down from generation and generation is what amazes and is difficult to reverse.

On my way back to Cape Town I found a nice guest house on the beach along the “Garden Route” in Wilderness, a small community nestled among indigenous forest with a long white sandy beach. And just outside of Cape Town I noticed a sign to Oak Valley Vineyards in Elgin, a cooler climate wine region. Jonathan Steyn at Balthazer’s in Cape Town offered me a sample of Pinot Noir from this relative newcomer to the South African wine scene. With young vines and only their second vintage of Pinot Noir, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and profile of this wine. So I had to stop. The sales and marketing person, Beverly, sampled me their full portfolio of wines and shared with me recent awards they’d received for the other wines. A winery to watch.

Wilderness Beach
Walking along Wilderness Beach, Garden Route, South Africa.

Alto Rouge
One last bottle of South African Wine and fun playing with lighting while waiting for dinner in Wilderness.

In Cape Town I returned to my “home” at Tom’s Guest House with my hospitable and helpful hosts Martin and Gunter. Eager to repack my exhaust, troubleshoot my electrical problems, I woke up with a dead battery while in Coffee Bay and my PIAA lights and GPS were not receiving power. Plus, I needed to have SHane and the crew at BMW (Atlantic Motoraad) try to diagnose my low power/starving gas condition. I would also connect with Robin, a local BMW owner who planned to join me as I crossed the next border into Namibia. Meanwhile, Grant and Jules, the Aussie couple on a V-Strom who’d I spent time with the last couple weeks were making their way back to Cape Town from Kimberly.

I celebrated another birthday while on the road while in Cape Town. Wes, the Dakar owner I’d met at Atlantic BMW when I first arrived and who I’d ridden with around Hermanus and Franshhoek, along with his wife Celeste took me out to dinner to Rozenhof on Kloof Street in Cape Town. Toting a couple bottles of wine, including a California Merlot, we ended up closing the place while the owner, Robert, opened up a bottle from his personal collection to share with us yet another great South African wine. But as I talked about my route through Namibia and onward to Botswana Wes shared his dream of riding sometime in the future to Kenya on his Dakar. Inspiring adventures and travel over some great wine with new friends and excellent food. A damn good birthday! Thanks guys!

Robin Suits Up
Cape Town resident Robin Hunt-Davis will ride with me through Namibia on his recently acquired F650GS Dakar.

Leaving Lesotho

Lesotho Plate

The Lesotho plate features an icon of the traditional straw woven hats the traditional Sotho people wear while working the fields or tending livestock.

I’ve come to endear Lesotho. Maybe it’s because of the extremely friendly people, the smiles on the faces of children or the spectacular mountain scenery and primitive villages. It’s unfortunate I met Lesotho in the rain. And from the skies and the forecast, it doesn’t look like it will let up soon. So sadly I departed today after riding through more villages and the largest city in southwestern Lesotho, Mafetang before entering back into South Africa at Wepner.

Like in the Transkei in South Africa, the Sotho villagers build round huts, or rondavels to sleep, cook and play. But unlike the Transkei which sits closer to sea level, Lesotho is in the mountains. The rondavels here are made of stone while those in Transkei are made of brick then covered with some sort of plaster or stucco. But perhaps what is the only blemish I found on the landscape of Lesotho is the abundant use of corrugated tin. In some villages the traditional rondavels sit among a handful of corrugated tin boxes. This is also evident in some of the more impoverished Town Ships in South Africa. In Lesotho seemingly ad hoc roadside strip malls are built of corrugated tin panels while signage is crudely spray painted. Riding through some small low land towns, traditional construction has given way to cheaper and perhaps easier to construct tin boxes.


Rondavala Stone2

The Lesotho Rondavel houses are made of stone where in the lower elevation South African Transkei they are made of brick and stucco.

Once again, passing the border from Lesotho into South Africa was a 10 minute affair for each post. My plan was to make for Graff Reinet, the heart of the Grand Karoo — the Eastern Cape’s grand desert. And for the first couple hours in South Africa things were looking good. While I didn’t have scorching sun, I was happy the the route I chose seemingly changed direction every time ominous black storm clouds appeared on my horizon. But my luck changed after I filled up for gas in Burgersdorp. At about 4:30pm I was less than two hours from my destination, then about 10 miles out of town as I was about to cross a vast prairie, the sky grew black as night. Hundreds of lighting bolts danced across the sky and then around me. Raindrops that seemed to be the size of marbles pounded on my jacket and face shield. I thought I was getting stoned. Thunder crashed and one bolt of lightning seemed to land a few hundred meters from me.

Lesotho Chipsplates

Lesotho Fast Food

Lesotho9 Shoe Reprires

Ad Hoc Corrugated shopping center or businesses surely dent the scenic landscape of this mountainous country.

Hired Guns Mafetang

I’ve been told I need to be careful in South Africa and Lesotho with my bike and my things, so I’ve hired some protection. I hope it doesn’t create more problems than it solves 😉

I knew I had to give up on riding the rest of the day. I made a u-turn and raced back to Burgersdorp, a town of 166 years, that some years ago celebrated a Jubilee for the Queen of England who in kind responded with a fountain of copper and steel that sits in disrepair on the town square. A cute town with a spattering of small B&Bs and one hotel. I chose the The Nook on Church street. The only guest on this Saturday night and just as I was about to pull Doc into the driveway the storm unleashed it’s electric and rainy mess on this tiny town. For the next hour I listened to the the rain pound the roof as the thunder shook the room and bright flashes of light lit the sky. I was glad to be in and not riding. Sometimes you just have to change plans. Tonight I’ll see what kind of food Nunu’s, the only restaurant in town, will be serving tonight.


South Africa seems to spend more time and money on signs warning of potholes than it does fixing them, in many cases. I also noticed nearly all road signs are installed using raw timber; quite a contrast from metal or iron that is used in the states and in many places in South America — that is where there are actually road signs. The South African roads are well signed and for the most part in good shape.

Clouds Hang Burgersdorp

The storm I abruptly made a U-turn to avoid eventually dumped and wreaked havoc on Burgersdrop.

Looming Rain

For the most part of the day I avoided the storms, such as here where the road directed me toward clear skies. My luck ended after passing through Burgersdorp.

Coffee Bay to the Drakensburg (sort of)


South Africa’s Wild Coast – between the ripping currents of the Indian Ocean and the mountains to the north is the “Transkei” a magical, mysterious and scenic part of South Africa and birthplace of South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela.


My time in Coffee Bay on South Africa’s “Wild Coast” was well spent. The “chill” vibe at Bonvu Paradise along with my hosts Eric, Rowdy (a Texan) and Rudolph among others was the perfect place to get caught up on my writings, photos and the usual reflecting. Crossing a couple rivers I cruised the main beach while surfers tried to tackle the wild coast. I learned that prior to the early 80’s, Coffee Bay was barely on the map. That is until a cruise liner packed with paying customers sank just off the coast. The captain, a bit more for his own health jumped ship when a helicopter came to assess the situation. From a hotel room in Durban he claimed that he coordinated the rescue effort. I’m told he was stripped of credentials and perhaps spent some time in jail. The captain should always be last and if necessary, goes down with the ship.

As I banged out my blog posts and poured through hundreds of photographs Grant and Julie, the two-up V-Strom cruisers who after nearly two years I was reacquainted with in Cape Town, showed up and set up camp. They spent a few more days at Addo Elephant park and took a leisurely cruise up the N2 through the Transkei.

The Transkei could be one of the most rural, primitive and impoverished region in South Africa. Until 1994 it was still under tribal rule and not a part of the Union. Not far from here is the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, the freedom fighter who spent more than half his life in prison after being convicted of crimes against the state. With immense pressure from political and media voices from around the world, Mandela was released in 1991 and soon after became the first democratically elected president of the newly created Republic of South Africa — at which time this area, the Transkei, officially joined the republic.

Winding through the approximately fifty pothole infested miles that wind through fertile green rolling hills dotted with the traditional colorfully painted Xhosa “rondavel” (round houses), I must be careful as goats, sheep and cattle seemingly on whim decide to cross the road as I’m rounding a corner. The spastic drivers who jerk their wheels to avoid potholes often in my lane. But the roadside provides more than a spoonful of third-world scenery as elderly women dressed in layered colorful wood skirts walk along the road with water, food and other objects perfectly balanced atop their heads as they make their way home. Children sense and hear the roar of my motorcycle run from their homes, gardens and chores to stand roadside greeting me with a wave or thumbs up. Still other young women flash a smile as I motor by. The place wreaks friendliness and nowhere on this route do I feel this is a dangerous place as some have warned.

Coffee Bay2Underberg2Road

Xhosa Woman-1

Xhosa Womanwbaby


The road, the homes and the people through the Transkie to Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.

Later as we roll into Omtata (Mhtata) I spot the Nelson Mandela national museum. A quick meeting with my riding companions and we decide that this is a must visit. While the museum features largely big posterboards with excerpts from Mandela’s autobiography which he penned secretly and against rules of his confinement while in prison on Robben Island. These writings combined with photographs and a handful of video and audio exhibits depict his life journey as a member of the Xhosa tribe through his participation in the fight for equal rights and an end to legalized discrimination in South Africa. Two wings of the museum feature a massive collection of gifts from world leaders, countries and individuals. Many are very creative, some tacky and others of questionable taste. But the collection is impressive. I was taken back by a block of rock that was given to Mandela by the Japanese. The rock was inscribed with “peace” in Japanese, but the origin of the rock was most impressive: a fragment from the Hiroshima first nuclear bomb blast.

Our goal was to be in the southern Drakensburg, an impressive mountain range that has earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status, by sundown. Battling slight bouts with the rain, the ride through Kokstad then across more rolling green hills into Underberg. Down a muddy track we found the South Drakensburg Backpackers and were happy to be the only three spending the night there. Grant and Jules cooked their own meal while I ventured town in search of the almighty internet. After all, I had finally been caught up and was eager to upload my stories and posts.


Omtata and Grant & Jules in front of Nelson Mandela Museum.

At The Grind Café in Underberg I found free wireless. And the fastest internet connection I’d experienced to date in South Africa. Later the owner, Zack and his friend Steven shared with me a tasting of 12-year old Scotch Whiskeys while the conversation spanned from topics as to why some places still charge for internet to why the South African government secretly was searching for a replacement for its national rugby team coach as he won the glamourous Rugby World Cup against arch rivals Australia.

The next morning our dreams of climbing the Sani Pass were washed in grey skies, rainfall and muddy realities. Even the road that rides through this amazing mountain range that forms the eastern border to the Lesotho, the kingdom in the sky. We were warned by no less than three people to avoid the Sani Pass and the trail that winds through the park. Mud is my nemesis. And Grant piloting a loaded V-Strom 1000 with his wife wanted no part of a slippery sliding journey through questionable roads and mountain passes. Leaving the backpackers that morning gave us a hint of what we might expect as cars slid sideways down the street. Teeth clenched and back tensed I followed Grant down the slippery mess without dropping Doc.

Underberg Mud

Allan Muddymess

We made our way to The Grind Cafe. Sadly Zack was out of town but over breakfast I caught up paying bills, e-mail, a few more blog posts and other points of business. Itchin’ to get on the road and out of the rain, Grant and Julie left about 45 minutes before me. I wanted to take advantage of the first good internet connection I’d had in more than two weeks. We agreed that they’d stop for lunch along the N3, a tarred route that would wind around the Drakensburg and toward the Northern entrance to Lesotho. But as I braved the incessant rain, whipping winds and biting cold, I never saw them. Only a 45 minute gap but a world apart. Maybe they’re in Fouriesburg just a stones throw from the Northeastern border into Lesotho. But after climbing foggy passes with barely any visibility and chilling rain I had enough. During rains and rides like this I tend to remain positive: there will be sun; there will be relief. While I had zipped in my Goretex rain liner, I kept my lightweight gloves. After 4 hours of riding and at a fuel stop my fingers were numb and tingling. My teeth chattering and I was soaked. I finally put on my Held winter waterproof gloves, turned my Buff® into a balaclava and continued on hoping to find Grant and Jules.

Bethlehem Church

Good night in Bethlehem. Funny, through the nearby town of Harrismith I saw a manger and about half dozen camels outside a gas station. Though no camels in Bethlehem… hmmmm?

I stopped in Bethlehem, a small city in South Africa’s “Free State”. Funny to me that 10 miles outside the city at about 5pm I experienced sun for the first time today. The girl at my guest lodge said there was no rain all day. If she only knew. The hot shower followed by a hearty stew at The Wooden Spoon across the street from the town’s centerpiece church were delightful and well earned. I jotted a quick e-mail to Grant hoping they were within an hour of me and we could connect in the morning for a ride over the pass into Lesotho. Who knows.

Xhosa, The Transkei and Coffee Bay.

Tucked in cozy nook in the Amathole Mountains, Hogsback and the surrounding old growth forest, waterfalls and the canopy and odd shaped twists, turns and hanging strands of foliage and tree branches apparently was the inspiration for South African-born J.R. Tolkien and his wildly popular series of Fantasy books including The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The scenic views of mountains, meadows, valleys and waterfalls along with the miles of hiking trails through the surrounding forest makes Hogsback perhaps the most beautiful and quiet village on the Eastern Cape. Barely commercialized yet populated with a few dozen guest houses, B&Bs, country inn/hotels and a couple backpackers, I chose to take residence in yet another dormitory at Away With The Ferries Backpackers. With basic accommodations, a beautiful garden and amazing lookout point, my time in Hogsback was brief but fulfilling.

Making my way to the mountain hamlet of Hogsback the photos below follow my route:

Dirt Road2Hogsback

Valley Ugieagain

Hogsback2Coffeebay Scene

Hogsback View

The view from Hogsback.

Hogsback Flower

Venturing back toward the coast, I was eager to explore what the South African tourist marketing and branding clan have dubbed The Wild Coast. Rugged cliffs tumble into a rough sea which is known to toss and wreck ships, yet gentle coves and sandy beaches offer some of the best surfing and swimming in South Africa. Stretching for about 200 miles from East London to Port St. John, the Wild Coast is located in what is referred to as the “transkei”, an apartheid-era name given to the area which at one time was the most impoverished and crime-ridden regions of the country. But the ‘transkei’ I discovered after taking about 50 miles of dirt roads from Hogsback and following the mountains in the foothills I entered the “transkei” where it butts up against the mountains that stretch northward toward the island nation of Lesotho.

Valley Ugie

Valley as I started climbing toward Hogsback. This was the first place I noticed these round houses.

Township Architecture

Stopping near Eliot I was again blown away by the lack of some sort of urban planning in these generic townships. But that’s me, the boys that greeted me as I stopped along the road were eager to try a few words of English and to smile for my camera.

Township Boyz

Taking a route from Queenstown north to Dordecht to Endwe, Eliot Ugie and finally in Maclear riding south toward Mthatha and then to the coast to Coffee Bay. It was about in the area of Ugie that I first spotted the colorful round houses that distinguish the homes of the friendly Xhosa people. The language that shares the same name is a wild tongue of clicks and hisses. The people live very simple lives living off the land with the barest of necessities. Walking the roads in colorful dresses, sometimes with their black faces chalked white and sporting a colorful wrapped headdress which holds the women’s hair, the Xhosa people are the first I’ve encountered that make me feel as if I’m in Africa.

Stopping along the road where I had to test my riding acumen avoiding the intense mine-field of potholes while hard-breaking as sheep, goats and cattle cross the road seemingly on a whim, I tried to have a conversation with an elderly gentleman sporting a stick used to keep his cattle in line. Unfortunately we spoke different languages yet still managed to have a conversation as I gazed into a bright green valley dotted with these colorful houses. So beautiful, so primitive and yet so intoxicatingly scenic.

Xhosa Man Doc

This Xhosa man spoke no English, yet me managed to have a complete conversation about how beautiful I found the place he lived.

Transkei Roundhouse

Xhosa Valley Wild Coast

Coffee Bay1

Coffee Bay looking down on Bonvu Paradise.

Coffee Bay3

The beach at Coffee Bay.

It took me more than an hour to ride the forty some-odd miles from the N2 to the tiny town of Coffee Bay where I found the friendly staff at Bonvu Paradise welcome me with a generous portion of Malay Chicken Curry, a room for $12 and a vibrant pub. With dorm rooms, camping just a stones throw to the beach, private rooms, kitchen, outdoor fire pits and tropical vegetation, I settled in and successfully wrote myself current with this blog while listening to the local music band jam on their drums. Here at Bonvu there’s a drum factory. The band, headed by Bonvu owner, will participate in the opening ceremonies for the World Cup (Football) in 2010 to be held in Cape Town – something the country and that city are eagerly awaiting — they’re even building a new stadium.


The pub at Bomvu Paradise.

Ahhh. To be free of stress. To be sipping a Windhoek Lager and relish knowing that I am now current. Ahhh. But the photo work has yet to be done.

Addo to Hogsback: The Matole Mountains.

The next morning I decided it was time to shove off from Addo and bid my hosts John & Cheryl goodbye while I left them a large map of South America outlined with the route I took. This will adorn a wall in their restaurant and become a new place for travelers to post notices, pictures and stories of experiences and adventures.

John Southamerica Map
John reviews the map of South Africa with my route outlined as he dreams about one day riding a KLR through Latin America.

As I made my way to the Matole Mountains and Hogsback, I soon discovered my reserve fuel light was lit. Checking out the map, I planned to ride a gravel track from Paterson to Grahamstown but early along this route there was a dot on a town called Alicedale. The dot appeared to be bigger than others in the region. My first mistake. Arriving in the tiny desert town of Alicedale, I found two high-end private game reserves. One, the Bushman Sands Resort included an 18-hole Gary Player designed golf course. There was an ATM but at first saw no gas station. A second loop through the 200 meter long main street I saw two gas pumps sitting outside a five and dime type store. Turns out the pumps were locked and nobody knew where I could even get a liter of gas — about all I would need to ensure that I made it to Grahamstown without getting stuck in the bush. The receptionist at the Bushman Sands was even less helpful. She said nobody at Bushman Sands would be able to help me. She also confirmed the distance to Grahamastown, and with this information I knew I’d better get some fuel before venturing on.

I spotted a guy on a four-runner. A paid security guard for the resort he tried but couldn’t help. I started asking anyone and everyone in the parking lot. I finally spotted Brian. with a few teeth missing, thick glasses and a good-sized gut, he was well fed and extremely friendly. When I explained my plight he said wait. Twenty minutes later he showed up in one of those safari adventure vehicles like I saw in Addo and waved me to follow him. Armed with the keys to the pumps outside the five and dime, he filled me up and I was on my way.

Bushman Sands Refuel
Brian & Duncan from the Bushman Sands resort in Alicedale fill Doc with the gas it needs to make it to Grahamstown and beyond without running out!

I continued my journey to the mountain hideaway Hogsback.

Township Colors
Townships are a fact of life in South Africa. But their community planning, architecture and design leave much to be desired. At least the colors are pleasing.

Addo Elephant National Park – South Africa

Addo Elephant Park

Elephant March-1

No amount of negotiating would convinced the South African National Park system to let me ride my motorcycle through the Addo Elephant Park. Formed in the 1930’s with only 11 the elephants that once roamed freely through the Eastern Cape, Addo National Park currently is home to more than 400 elephants and the parks efforts have resulted in land acquisitions that have increased the space for these land giants to roam.

There are several options from which to choose an Addo experience. If you don’t have your own “approved” vehicle they consist of 2-hour excursions in an open-air vehicle with elevated seats for about 10-20 passengers. There are are four or five departures daily with the last, an evening excursion beginning at about 7:30pm. However, if you have your own vehicle you can freely wander through most of the park’s 164,000 hectares over a mix of tarred, gravel and 4×4 roads. The chances of seeing elephants are quite high, but the park also has lions, black rhinos, zebras, leopards, buffalo, jackals, hyenas and a generous mix of antelope including elands, kudu, grysbok, duiker and red hartebeest among a host of other amphibians, rodents, birds and monkeys.

Confronted and confused with the decision of how to take in the park, our amiable host John offered his Toyota SUV for use for free. We then decided to additionally take the night excursion through the park after its gates are closed to the public which would give us an opportunity, no guarantees, to see many of the parks nocturnal animals. Elated by this South African’s generosity Grant, Jules and I spent nearly 12 hours in the park and were able to see a host of wildlife including elephants that paraded within 5 feet in front of our car, a hyena and her cubs and a bat-eared fox who was protecting a nest of newborn cubs from a hungry jackal during our night ride. While we never saw a lion, I’m confident that elsewhere during my journey I will have the opportunity to see the King of the Jungle.

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Leopard tortoise.

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This hyena we spotted during our night excursion still wears a tracking collar that the rangers placed after catching him a few years ago. They said that you can catch a hyena once, but never again. They do hope to get their collar back some day in the future.

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Red hartebeest antelope in Addo National Park – Addo South Africa.

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Zebra Addo-1

Who can deny the zebra!

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Deeper Into Africa – South Africa.

The further away I ride from Cape Town the more I feel I’m moving into Africa. But this is South Africa, and as such doesn’t really feel like Africa at all. In fact the woman at the gift shop where I purchased a few African gifts for my nieces and nephews explained to me that in the next few weeks her place and the town of Knysna will be slammed with South African tourists from Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and elsewhere in South Africa. Her shop offered a unique, if not eclectic mix of goods. Part of the shop featured hand-made artisan gifts from indigenous materials or sporting some sort of African motifs. The other gifts were seeming of the generic quality which many, she explained, were simply made in China. Why this mix? Because South Africans don’t want anything to do with African oriented gifts.

Garden Route7 River
River running to the sea on the garden route in South Africa.

At one point the new Africa with its first democratically elected government that has identified 12 official languages, most of which are from African tribes, in addition to English and Afrikaan which were official prior to the 1990’s, yet there’s definitely a population segment that wishes to distance itself from its African roots. To be sure, Africa is the first world. I’ve seen more BMW motorcycles in one week than I saw in more than a year in South America. It may be on the same continent, but the South Africa I’ve seen to date doesn’t seem like the Africa I think I’ll discover as I continue to ride.

As the distances I ride grow with each day, I move deeper into the Eastern Cape I set my sites for Addo Elephant Park, a national park just outside Port Elizabeth. Passing along the eastern fringes of the Garden Route I find more evidence of the devastation that the recent rains have caused on the infrastructure of this part of South Africa. So sadly I’m stuck to traveling the busier N2 national road instead of picking up the 62 through the mountains. I ride over what is the longest span concrete arch bridge in the Southern Hemisphere which at 216m high is also the highest commercial bungee jumping place in the world.

Bungee Jump View
The view Bungee Jumpers see before tossing themselves over the highest commercial jumping point in the world.

Bungy Jumper
He’s just a spec falling off the bridge. Looke closely and you’ll see him.

Before sun fall I roll into Orange Elephant Backpackers in Addo I’m greeting by a joyful bearded guy wearing an apron. “You must be Allan?” he asks but confident in his guess. “We know all about you and have been waiting your arrival.” The owners of this once horse feed supply and stables facility now converted into a budget travelers mecca at the fringe of one of South Africa’s fastest growing national park, John & Cheryl opened their business a scant three years earlier. Ever since business has been booming. Trained in the culinary arts and allergic to alcohol, John, a guitar player and passionate music fan, runs the kitchen and provides the soundtrack in the on premises pub. One night we stayed in the bar an hour after closing while he played me a medley of blues and rock until both of us faded and hit the sack.

Orange Elephant Backpackers

John Cheryl Orange Elephant

Grant & Jules arrived earlier than me and had set up camp on the greenbelt just behind the cozy dormitories. Orange Elephant also offers private rooms and comfort focused tents. My laziness and the $10 for a bed in the dormitory made deciding where to sleep easy.

Grant Jules Orng Ellie
Grant cleans his brake calipers at his campsite at Orange Elephant Backpackers in Addo.

The Garden Route Turns My Stomach and then some

Winetasting-Gas Route62Other than safaris in Kroger National Park in the eastern part of the country, perhaps the place most frequented by tourists to South Africa is its famed Garden Route. Stretching a few hundred kilometers along the coastline from Mossel Bay in the west to Tsisikamma National Park in the east, the Garden Route is a spectacular journey through old growth forests, pristine white sandy beaches, over mountain passes, along spectacular lagoons and through small villages and tourist-focused towns.

Afk Ronnie Sex Shop

A staple and must stop on Route 62 is the infamous Ronnie’s “Sex” Shop. Ronnie built the building and posted the sign “Ronnie’s Shop” in 1989 with the idea he’d open a farm supply shop just outside Barrydale. Two years later Ronnie was still dreaming and the building with the name just sat vacant a friend took some red paint and added the words “sex” to the sign. Ronnie was a bit pissed, but let it go. For another 5 years the building just became a picture taking spot for travelers on this route. Then in 1997 after much prodding by friends and the fact that the building had achieved cult status, Ronnie opened a bar. Today Ronnie tends the bar and has become a legend.

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Grant & Jules winding through Route 62.

Ostriches Hanging

Ostriches everywhere.

We left Warmwaterberg and headed for Mossel Bay stopping in Oudtshoorn, self-proclaimed the ostrich capital of the world. Prior to entering this small town of 85k I passed through ostrich farm after ostrich farm for more than 50km until finally being greeted with the town’s welcome sign which begs visitors to Switch to Ostrich. Naturally this sleepy town, which apparantly rocks during an annual arts festival in March/April, seemed a perfect place to sample South African ostrich. A nice lunch of cubes of ostrich on roasted open flame on a skewer with vegetables, it was only the second time I’ve sampled ostrich. Remembering my previous encounter with the long neck and funny shaped bird, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this other red meat. Lean and tasting like a mixture between chicken and beef, the meet was tender, flavorful and exhibited no unpleasant game-type flavors.

Ostrich Mouth

Yummy. Ostrich.


Are you ready to?

My culinary options in Mossel Bay were rather different and my luck quite the contrary. Once again getting hammered by rain and forcing me to take one more night at the lovely Munro Manor. But it may have been that last night that did me in. After traveling nearly 70,000km, through 18 countries and now two continents, I’d never been hit by any digestive problems. Perhaps I’m lucky or my gut is made of iron, but in Mossel Bay my time was up. Waking up the morning I planned to depart I felt off. Nauseated, dizzy and with a tinge of a headache, I was forced to leave the comfort of my bed as my stomach convulsed and caused me to heave what little was in my stomach from the day before.

Road Closed

Doc Turtle

Leopard tortoise cruising along the garden route and a much slower pace than even I!

Knysna Boat Lagoon

Lagoon in Knysna along the garden route.

I met Grant & Jules a bit later and we rode to Knysna, a quaint yet busy town on a beautiful lagoon just a couple hours away. My upset stomach had remissed but now the problem was coming out the other end. All I wanted was to find a place to stay and get back to bed — with a toilet nearby. Backpacker places with shared bathroom, usually down the hall and around the corner, were out of the question. I wanted a real room. I ended up staying two nights in Knysna but sadly not touring the town other than a couple walks to the wharf on the lagoon. Grant & Jules made their way southeast while I made my way to recovery. In fact, during my second night in Knysna I was forced to find alternate accomodation as the guest house we stayed was booked for the 2nd night. I grabbed the first place I could find, Bond Lodge just at the top of Gray Street. The charming owner, Denise greeted me with a glass of wine, secure parking and tips on food and entertainment. I hadn’t eaten anything in nearly 40 hours. Feeling better I took advantage of the towns tourist-focused shopping and took care of some holiday shopping for my nieces, nephews and sweetheart. That night, dinner at Harry B’s turned out to be my first meal and by then my plumbing seemed back in order.

Getting Hammered By Rain (I’ve been here before)

Allan Southernmostpoint Allan Cape Agulhas

From Ushuaia to Cape Agulhas – The bottom of two continents. “What a long strange trip its been.”

After a couple nights at in Franschhoek I joined Grant and Jules for a windy ride through the Overberg toward the true southern most point on the African continent: Cape Agulhas. As the winds blew, little did we know or could predict, a storm brewed that would wreak havoc on the coast and in the mountain hamlets along the wine road (62) and South Africa’s infamous Garden Route. Hundreds would be left homeless, rivers overflowed, flooding and both minor roads and the major highway on the coast (N2) would be closed for several days between George and Knysna.

Cape Aghulas Lighthouse

Lighthouse at Cape Agulhas South Africa.

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I got holed up for three nights at the southern most point in Africa at a lovely “backpackers”, Cape Alguhas Backpackers in Struisbaai just 5km from the point. There could be worse places to be stuck for several days. That first night I felt my decision to stay in a dormitory while Grant & Jules opted to camp on the grounds was very lucky as the sky opened up and dumped sheeting rain all night long. And through the next two days. And with the help of Grant & Jules and the local grocery store we cooked baked chicken, mashed potatoes and pumpkin, peas and corn and a tad of garlic bread for Thanksgiving dinner while I explained the origins of this very American holiday to my South African hosts and Australian riding companions.

While the weather forecast painted a somewhat bleak picture, the skies above appeared blue and sunny so we made a break for the Klein Karoo (kind of like the high desert in California and Nevada) and Route 62 – marketed as the longest wine road in the world, but by the time we rode into Swellendam the sky opened up and gave the region another hammering. Stopping for coffee and an excuse to dry off, the restaurant in the hotel we stopped informed us that a large group who had reservations for lunch called to cancel because the road from Barrydale had been closed due to flooding. Exploring our options we donned our rain gear and made for Robertson with the idea we could see if the pass to Montagu was open.

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Storm winds ripped up the surf at L’Agulhas the southern most point in Africa where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans kiss.

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We lucked out the road into Montagu had just opened so we settled there staying in a dormitory style backpackers (the term used for hostels in South Africa) which was actually a converted horse stable during the summer. While Grant & Jules decided to cook their own meal that night, I decided to sample the local color and ate in town. While stopping at the local “bottle shop” for info on where to eat I was surprised to be almost run over by this crazy guy in a Land Rover. Actually it turns out he wasn’t crazy at all, it was Robin, the rider who may join me for my ride into Namibia. He was in Montagu for a huge bicycling event where the following day he rode 200km through the region. He and his wife Renda joined me at Preston’s on Main Street for a post-dinner glass of wine where we continued to make plans to stay in touch as I journey through South Africa, finally connecting again in Cape Town for the Namibian adventure.

Montagu Roadflooded

As the rain hammered the coast and the mountains, roads like this one in Montagu became impassable and locking in locals and travelers alike while the water level subsided and crews could repair slides and washouts.

For the past several days my bike has been running rather awkward. Actually lackluster would describe it better. Both Shane and I noticed a seeming fuel-starved hiccup in the bike after it was serviced in Cape Town. We both figured it needed to run through the dregs of the last gas I put into it in Brazil. That last gas station was scary and I’ll bet the gas even scarier. But I had now ridden more than a 1,000km and on some of the mountain roads I the bike is struggling. Perhaps the computer that controls the fuel-injection is off due to the flight, or maybe the plugs are badly corroded by the bad Brazilian gas, or the screen in the gas tank is restricting flow to the fuel pump. Whatever it is, I am a bit frustrated because it doesn’t seem consistent. So troubleshooting this is going to be a challenge. I’ll ride on with the thought of tackling this with my exhaust repacking task when I’m back in Cape Town in a few weeks.

Road Closed 62

We ran into road closures all over.

The road was open the next day beyond Montagu and the sun gave us a break so we continued down 62 through Barrydale to Warmwaterberg where I camped for the first time in Africa. The route through these small South African towns in stunning. With sheer rock cliffs, winding rivers, impressive gorges and desert-scapes that rival parts of the southwestern states.

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The tiny mecca of Barrydale nestled in a small valley over a majestic mountain pass.

Camping Warmwaterberg

Camping in Wamwaterberg.

Rushing to catch up with this blog I’m sorry that my writing, as it seems to me, has become a bit staccato. But eager to get on a regular and much more current basis, I’m sitting here in Coffee Bay at Bomvu Paradise Backpackers burning daylight and locked up catching up so that by the time you read this I am fully up to date. Once up to date, I will be freer to write, expound and slip back into what I feel is more creative, descriptive and better writing.

Klein Karoo Sunset (1)

Stunning vistas as the sunsets over the Klein Karoo desert.

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