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.
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.
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.
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.
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.