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.
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.
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.
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.