South Africa - Motorcycle trip

 

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Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

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Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Wed Apr 12, 2000 - Johannesburg

We landed in Johannesburg airport a few minutes early at 7:30am, having not really slept at all during the 9 hour flight. We rallied our energy, though, to collect our bags and pass through immigration and customs fairly quickly. By 8, we had met the hotel driver, Bushy, and were on our way to the Rosebank Hotel. We talked to Bushy a little during the 45min drive, so he pointed out a few sights, like the orthodox Jewish neighborhood, and Nelson Mandela's house. When we got to the hotel, we checked in and immediately settled down for a 3 hour nap.

When we awoke at noon, we called John & Susan, who had landed a bit later, and agreed to meet at 1:30 for a city tour. We then grabbed a quick shower and a sandwich at the mall. The sandwich place was featured in Elle magazine (article on wall), and the sandwiches were R$7.95 - it took us a while to realize that this was $1.25! Then we met Susan & John in the lobby, and immediately started catching up on news.

The city tour was not that well organized. Our driver, Joshua, the self-described president of Soweto, wasted a half hour switching to a van so we could all fit. This didn't matter that much, because we were still chatting away. Then we went to the Museum Afrika, which contains creative exhibits of life and history in South Africa. We were surprised how much we enjoyed the hour there, learning a little about important events in their turbulent history.

We had a quick stop in an herbalist shop, with bones, hides and tusks hanging from the ceiling, quite low so we all had to duck or have them brush our faces. The walls were lined with small cubbies filled with roots, leaves, bones, etc which the men crush into concoctions based on the customer's ailment. They were doing brisk business with the locals.

The DeBeer's building was across the street, shaped as a diamond with reflective glass windows. Nearly every building had a huge "To Let" sign on it - John wanted a supply of "I"s so he could change them all to "Toilet". Because of the crime and squatting problems, both large downtown hotels were closed and fenced off. Joshua shared that the crime heightened after the ANC government in 1994 loosened the immigration laws allowing Africans from surrounding nations to come in - this policy was reversed in 1999 as part of the effort to clean up downtown Johannesburg. The parks and streets were filled with trash, because there's no money to clean them up.

Joshua several times said his favorite line: "don't walk here alone", and then parked for us to walk. This time we visited the Top of Africa, at the top of the Carlton Center, 50 stories up. The view made clear how much of a gold town Joburg is - everywhere were huge gold dumps leftover from the mines, including one with drive-in on top and a spiral drive to get up.

We drove through the city ghetto, which seemed similar to ghettos in US cities. We thought the prostitutes were rather porky, and the drug dealers obvious. We did not get a chance to see Soweto, which was a bit disappointing. On the way back to Rosebank we went by Nelson Mandela's house again.

We were exhausted, so we had an early dinner at the Rosebank Mall. We then spent a couple minutes in the hotel sending email, and sacked out.

 

Thu Apr 13, 2000 - Motorcycles

We met Boca John and Susan for breakfast at 8am, then took a taxi across town to Superbike Safaris. The bikes are beautiful '98 BMW 1100GS' (big road bikes with saddlebags). Dirk led Tom and Boca through an extensive review of the bikes then took Tom and Louisa over to a motorcycle distributor to buy helmets. Who knew that there were so many permutations of helmets? We tried on several and ended up with cool, metallic gray helmets with opening jaws.

On returning to Superbike Safari, the four of us decided that the girls would take a taxi back to the hotel, so the guys could get used to the bikes and driving on the left side of the road. It took forever and a day for the taxi to arrive. During the wait, Tom tried the bike out on the training track to remember how it worked. The driver thought that the four of us were rather adventuresome to take the bikes across his country, but then he did not know the way across his city. Louisa and Susan had to pull out the road atlas and give him directions.

During the ride back the driver did his best to not lose the guys on the bikes. It required the boys to blow through a few yellow lights and drive on a highway that banned motorcycles, but we all made it to Rosebank with the only problem being Tom's few stallouts at traffic lights.

We started to frantically pack the saddlebags since it was after the checkout hour, and later than we wanted to start. Susan and John knocked on our door with a brilliant idea: leave tomorrow.

We relaxed and sauntered down to the Rosebank Mall for a delicious, late pizza lunch. After lunch, Louisa suited up with the purchase of a tote for the ride. We finished the afternoon with a ride on the bikes to get more familiar with the girls on the back, and driving on the left.

The ride stayed on the commercial streets of Johannesburg. Along the way we searched for a bungie cords, which we found at a local hardware store. The man assisting the girls loved their motorcycle outfits and shared stories from his tour of South Africa by motorbike in the fifties. Meanwhile, the boys discovered a minor brake fluid leak on Tom's bike and plugged it with a bandana.

The day progressed and we end up in rush hour traffic, trying to stay in safe neighborhoods. The latter turned out to be easier than expected, the trick is to go out during daylight to the Northern suburbs. An hour later we returned to hotel, finished packing, relaxed and sent emails.

We decided to explore the area for a restaurant. We had almost given up when we noticed a very busy parking lot which appeared to service Smokey Joe's (the chain from home). Upon closer investigation we noticed another restaurant, The Grillhouse, which was packed. The restaurant had an hour wait, but we convinced the manager of the bar to serve us food from the restaurant.

The friendly manager was quite a salesman. He tried to sell us a magnum bottle of wine for the table, with excellent finesse,and ended up by selling us an excellent South African bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and followed it up by giving us a list of wineries not to miss near Cape Town.

The meal was great. It began with huge, fresh salads, followed by juicy steaks, and finished with a delicious bit of chocolate. The dinner was a great way to end our Johannesburg experience.

Rosebank appears to be a standard suburb on first glance. However, once the sun goes down, the presence of security guards in front of every building, with each ATM machine (during the day, too) and on most corners makes one edgy while walking to a restaurant. Another sign of the unrest is that most stores close by 5pm, if not before. This is just not a place where people want to be out at night.

Today's mileage: 35km. Total mileage: 35km

 

Fri Apr 14, 2000 - To Durban

We decided to get an early start to beat the heat, so we were at breakfast when it opened at 6:30. By 7:30 we were braving rush hour traffic through Johannesburg, trying to get out to the correct highway without going through any bad areas. Tom was still pretty new on the bike, so he stalled several times, but never got into any real trouble. John took the lead, allowing Tom to concentrate on the bike instead of navigation.

After about 40 minutes in traffic we hit the N3 and headed south at speed. After a half hour or so Tom's bike needed gas, so we pulled off for a break and gassed them both. How nice to have full and courteous service!

We continued that way most of the day, hour long rides punctuated with short stretch breaks. The countryside was farmland, somewhat hilly, with occasional shantytowns and government housing projects. The hour from 11 to 12 was particularly cold, with occasional rain splatters, so we stopped for hot tea to warm up and ended up having hamburgers for lunch at a Steers next to a gas station.

After lunch we were dreading more cold, but it warmed up, and the countryside got more interesting. The hills turned into eroded rock formations with cliff bands and pyramidal or flat tops and occasional towers. Susan spotted an antelope from the road, but the rest of us missed it.

We got within striking distance of Durban by about 2:30, so we decided to try a side trip. We had heard about the valley of 1000 hills filled with picturesque Zulu towns, and we thought we found it on the map. Accordingly, we turned off in Pietermaritzburg and headed up into the country.

Now the drive really got fun, because the sweet smell of sugar cane filled the air as we waved at small children by the side of the road. The kids seemed really excited at the sight of the motorcycles. almost all wave, and it is an energetic, eager wave. At one turn around point, three boys, young motorcycle enthusiasts, inquired how many rands they needed to save to get a bike like ours. One local soccer game stopped completely while we went by. We passed factories and shanty towns and farms with houses of mud brick - they reminded us of Guatemala or Honduras.

Of course, the map never quite matches reality, so we had to U-turn several times, but we still thought we were making progress towards the valley. Finally, we turned into a tiny road in a small town, and when it became dirt, we turned around. Asking directions at the small local store revealed that we were nowhere near the valley we wanted, since nobody seemed to know what we were talking about. Prudence (and the approaching sunset) dictated that we turn around, so we retraced our steps back to the N3, having had quite a fun adventure.

After a gas stop where Louisa called the Durban Sands hotel for directions, (and found out where the real 1000 hills valley is) we cruised the last 45 minutes into Durban. Unfortunately, the sun set about 15 minutes in, so Tom rapidly gained experience in night highway riding. We followed the directions and soon were headed out of town again - hmm, better turn around. Again. Once back in Durban we began asking directions, and finally found the place. To this day Louisa is confused by the directions we got from the hotel - they were completely wrong!

Susan and Louisa checked out the Durban Sands and reported that looked to be tight quarters. Meanwhile, John and Tom on the bikes were trying to gracefully fend off invitations to a biker bar from a fellow rider. We headed around the corner to a decent Holiday Inn on the beach, and soon were settled in.

Now our only problem is that we don't know where tomorrow's wedding is. The impetus for this entire trip came from this wedding invitation from Dominique and Martie to Susan and John, and all we know is that the reception is in a correctional facility {!}. John calls the Durban Sands and manages to leave a message for some member of Dom's family, while Tom sends an email to Dom asking him to call. Then we go to dinner.

After a mediocre meal at a Sizzler-equivalent, we took a walk along south beach. The waterfront was beautiful, and we stopped for ice cream and to buy a book. Then we headed back. Tom and Louisa spent a while hand washing road tar out of Tom's pants, so he'll look presentable at the wedding. Finally, just as we're in bed, Dom calls. Susan and John rally to go have a drink with him, but we're too exhausted - we dropped straight off.

The verdict after our first full day of riding: it's fun, but we're not addicted yet. Tom was introduced to nearly every kind of riding his first day: city, highway, country, night, etc. We ended up with pretty sore butts and backs. Also, we're used to talking during our travels, but high speeds makes conversation impossible. Maybe we need headsets...

Today's mileage: 740km. Total mileage: 775km.

 

Sat Apr 15, 2000 - Dominque and Martie's wedding

The day started later with breakfast at 9 at the hotel's buffet. The sun shone brightly over the Indian Ocean, which beckoned. An inaugural swim in the Indian Ocean followed.

The water was refreshing, not as warm as expected. The interesting aspect is the shallowness of it. The lifeguards keep the swimmers in a narrow area and strictly enforce the boundaries. Even at the furthest out that they allow one to go, the water was barely to Tom's waist. We tried to bodysurf in the large waves, but they just did not break quite right.

While drying off on the beach, we observed some many blacks fill plastic jugs full of ocean water with an inch or so of sand on the bottom. This seemed puzzling, especially considering the high number of people collecting the water this way.

Before heading back across the road to the hotel, we decided to run on the beach. We made it to the end of the sand before turning around. Tom cooled off with another dip in the ocean, then we headed back.

We met John and Susan in the hotel's restaurant, Longhorn's, and the bartender convinced us to stay for lunch, claiming the best steaks on the promenade. Our meals were fine, but no one had steak.

Tom and Louisa ran out for a quick round of shoe shopping, so Louisa would have appropriate footwear for the wedding. We headed off of the beach to avoid the gringo rip-off. The difference in the environment astounded us. The face-lift that the city of Durban created with the promenade, hotels and restaurants is only skin deep.

We were about the only gringos in the street. The businesses were an odd assortment but not many that carried shoes or clothing. Louisa spied sandals inside one store and we entered. It contained an odd assortment of goods displayed on folding tables, with a one stall beauty shop in the rear center of the store. The woman working there was very helpful, but was amazed at Louisa's shoe size. She only carried up to size 8, so we continued.

It was a repeat of Santiago, no store carried sizes above 8, and most only had up to size 6! We found a woman's store, but no luck and finally another "indoor flea market," such as the first stop. Finally bought some $10 black, strappy sandals, but we needed to cut the straps shorter. The woman in the flea market seemed very nervous to have us in the store. There were a few men at the front at whom he kept glancing. When Tom paid her, she quickly crumpled up the bills and hid them in her hand so no one could see them. Odd.

After quickly dressing for the wedding we headed to the Durban Sands to meet Dominique's family, the Dendells. With the usual pre-wedding scurry, we were off in a minivan with he flower girls and ring bearers, led by Dom and his brother on Dom's motorbike. At many intersections, other cars inquired whether Dom was off to his wedding since he wore a tuxedo and his sister had tied white ribbons to his bike.

The church was in a lovely setting on the top of a hill with a great view of Durban. The wedding ceremony was performed in both Afrikaans/Flemish and English. The reception was at the Westville correctional facility recreation center.

While it seems to be an odd location, the room was nice and filled with wedding decorations. Martie sat us with her fellow au pair friends. We chatted about the US and their experiences there, as well as travel.

After dinner the dancing began and we dusted off our dancing shoes for a few songs. Our early morning ride beckoned, and Tom and John arranged for us to ride home in the white Mercedes that brought Martie and Dom. Francois, the driver, was a retired South African army guy. The conversation turned very interesting with a discussion of the benefits of conscription and, possibly war, for the discipline of today's generation. Interesting. With that, we were off to sleep.

Today's mileage: 0 km. Total mileage: 775km

 

Sun Apr 16, 2000 - The Drakensbergs

Susan knocked 5 minutes early for our 7am breakfast at The Deck, but we were almost ready. Even at that hour the beach was full of surfers and swimmers. We walked down to The Deck which was filled with kids having breakfast before returning home from Saturday night. The view of the Indian Ocean with the bright early morning sunshine and the hearty breakfast fueled us up for a full day.

We loaded our bikes and were on the way by 8:30. The day began with a nice ride on the 1000 Hills Drive, but it was shorter than expected, with no stops since it was early for lunch, and nothing looked tempting.

We enjoyed the backroads and decided to try to stay on this one since it runs along beside N3, although the signage is not great and we hopped on and off the freeway. In Pietermaritzburg, we got lucky finding our way through and shared a laugh. Staying on the secondary road meant that we were traveling along the Midlands Meander, a drive through small towns with crafts and galleries, but without stopping.

We lunched at a gas station with Wimpy's off N3 at Mooi River, then cruised up to Royal Natal Park. The drive was scenic and we stopped for a picture of a mountain in the distance behind a field full of yellow leaves. Right outside of the park gates we followed signs to the Mont-Aux-Sources Resort and checked in. The views of the Drakensburgs from the rooms and the verandah were stunning. Susan and John chose to relax while we went to explore the park.

The park ranger collected the 9Rand ($1.50) entrance fee and we were off. The park includes the second highest waterfall in the world, Tugela Falls, but no good way to see it exists. It seems to require a significant hike and we did not have the time.

We did take the Gorges trail for twenty minutes to get closer to the amazing wall of the Drakensburgs. The range shoots straight up into the sky creating a surreal panorama. Each mountain forms a different shape, some flat as tables, others with round bulbous tops. The vegetation and mountains were not what we expected in South Africa, and are a wonderful surprise.

We explored the park's hotel and campgrounds before leaving. We asked the park ranger about the waterfall. He said that the river bed was dry, but that the falls have water. This seemed odd. A couple who were finishing their 6 hour hike said that they did not see the falls, so perhaps they are dry now. However, with the high amounts of rain here recently, this does not seem likely.

We sat on the verandah of the hotel for a drink, and soaked more of the view. Susan and John were inside at the bar with a newspaper that contained reports of Friday's miserable day on the stock market. So we quickly set the paper down and headed off to relax before dinner.

The chef circulated through the tables to explain the buffet and other offerings. They had cooked an entire lamb on the spit. It was his first time, and the lamb was absolutely succulent! The chef was a bit odd, but eager to be helpful. He claims that we can see the waterfall from the verandah, but we are not believers. We will have to look in the morning.

Today's mileage: 340km. Total mileage: 1115km.

 

Mon Apr 17, 2000 - Golden Gate Park

After breakfast, Louisa realizes that her sunglasses are missing out of the hotel room. They were there yesterday afternoon, but not there this morning. We searched everywhere and moved every piece of furniture in the room, but the sunglasses never turned up. Tom noticed that he was missing a man's white T-shirt as well.

We mentioned the missing items to the hotel manager on duty, not once, but twice, to which he did not respond at all. With this episode, combined with the average food, Mont-aux-Sources falls off of the recommended list. After a thorough, but fruitless search, we loaded onto the bikes and were off.

The ride began with a ride over Oliver's "pass," but it was difficult to recognize when we had crested making it seem that it was not much of a pass at all. The Drakensburg's were in the distance making for attractive views. Once around the mountains, we decide to go to Sentinel peak, the tallest of the range. To reach it, we rode through a large native town, Phuthaditjhaba which seemed to be one of the first black African villages that we have driven through. It was quite large, but seemed to be three villages stuck together rather than having a central area.

We continued on farther than we thought from the description, the road turned to gravel and we rode up a steep hill when we finally reached the park entrance. Again, we had trouble communicating with the park ranger in English. It is definitely his second language, at least, with a native tongue being his first. We asked how far to the peak and he did not appear to understand, so we paid the fee and continued down the gravel road.

The first place to stop was the Witsieshoek Mountain Hotel. We walked behind the buildings to view the mountains, and the valley below. Not far off of the path to the left was the decaying corpse of a cow. We were surprised that the hotel left the decaying pile close to the path until later when we learned that they lead efforts to protect one type of vulture that i son its way to extinction.

We had tea in the resort's restaurant then continued on to the car park at the base of the Sentinel peak. It was a long drive on gravel along the side of the mountainous outcropping. When we reached the end we were quite surprised. The park service has caged in the car park and requires an additional 25Rand($4) fee to set foot on the other side of the chain link fence. So. we took a few pictures and chatted with four South African tourists who were there. We could see a small waterfall and some people way out on a cliff, a 2 to 3 hour hike out. Sentinel is a majestic peak.

By the time we exited the park, Tom had quite a strong introduction to motorcross riding, and did impressively well, including leading the bikes out of the park.

The drive continued through QwaQwa nature reserve where Louisa saw a few antelope like creatures, but cannot identify them (tan with tall horns, and tan with white bellies). It was a terrific first sighting of animals in the wild. Golden Gate Park abuts Qwa Qwa, but exceeds the latter. We enjoyed amazing scenery of fantastic red and white sandstone formations and cliff bands. Gorgeous drive!

We stopped in the park for lunch at the park hotel. The coffee shop has a great view of one of the formations. The beauty continued for most of the afternoon, through Clarens to Ficksburg. At this point a little rain decided to fall, but it was hardly noticeable. However, the road deteriorated as it was pock-marked with potholes.

We approached Ladybrand and with amazing luck, found a fantastic B&B, Cranberry Cottage. Each room exudes charm, and the gardens are filled with beautiful flowers and a few white ducks. We had great rooms with fireplaces, sitting rooms, huge antique bathtubs long enough for all of us. The rooms are attractively decorated, filled with furniture made by George's company, Mustard Seed, which produces iron and wicker furniture and accessories.

We all loved the comfort and immediately fell into a relaxed state. We had tea in Louisa and Tom's sitting room in front of a roaring fire before retiring for hot baths. George, the proprietor, invited us to have cocktails with the American Ambassador at 7pm, but when we arrived in the front room, the ambassador was not present. We moved onto a delicious dinner served in the attractive dining room. With our bellies full, we retired to bed.

Today's mileage: 405km Total mileage: 1520km

 

Tue Apr 18, 2000 - Ladybrand to Stutterheim

We were served an excellent breakfast at 7:15, and then we talked with our host George for a while. He wrote out a suggested itinerary for us, and then we said good-bye. On the way out, we stopped at the post office to mail the key Tom had accidentally kept from Mont-Aux-Sources the day before. Also, John's bike had a red ABS light on, but after fiddling with it and riding around the block, it went out. Maybe it had been wet from the washing the bikes got at Cranberry Cottage - just another part of their service.

We started to cruise south and west, always heading towards Cape Town. The terrain here was hilly and meadowy, with miles and miles of cows and sheep, and occasional crops. We did see a few gazelles in the morning, probably impala, and elands in the afternoon, but far away. Louisa wasn't feeling very well in her stomach, but popped a few pepto bismol and toughed out the ride, feeling a little better after a ginger ale at lunch.

Lunch was at one of the two restaurants in Jamestown, in a rundown hotel. We waited almost an hour for cheese sandwiches, but we used the time to secure reservations at Shamwari game reserve.

In the afternoon it turned colder and cloudy, but we were fortunate to get no real rain. When we reached Stutterheim, we turned down a long, somewhat muddy dirt road to reach Manderson's B&B. Tom thus got his first introduction to motocross. We gratefully unloaded the bikes, nursing sore butts and backs from 9 hours on the road.

Manderson's is cute, but has no character. They're lacking in little personal touches and decorations - the rooms are bare. The dinner of steak and fish was decent, and they're pleasant enough, but nothing special.

The shower rated a 7.5. Since the beginning of the trip, we have been informally rating showers on the characteristics that are important to us. There are the obvious ones: temperature, water pressure, and cleanliness of enclosure. There are also other important ones: volume (different from pressure), temperature stability, and height of shower head. We rate the different kinds of shower heads, convenience of soap holders, the shape and slipperiness of the enclosure, the quality of the curtain, and how much water goes all over the bathroom. These and other factors that we make up along the way go into the system. We have had a few 11's, but only when there's something very special about the shower.

Today's mileage: 527km Total mileage: 2047km

 

Wed Apr 19, 2000 - To Shamwari

We had another good English breakfast with freshly cooked eggs, bacon, and the whole works - we like the breakfasts in this country! We hit the road by 8:30, since they had told us to be at Shamwari around 1pm.

We had a bit of extra time, so we took a coastal route through Port Alfred, enjoying the warmer weather and beautiful beaches on the Indian Ocean. We turned down the river to stop for a coke at Guido's on the beach, and relaxed for a few minutes, watching the surfers. The dunes along the shore here are huge and pillowy with scrub vegetation on the leeward side.

We continued along, eventually taking a shortcut back up towards Shamwari on a gravel road that climbed through a small pass. After a short ride on N2, we turned onto gravel again, finally reaching the lodge gate around 1:15.

After driving down the gravel entrance road, we checked in at Long Lee Manor then drove 20 more km (max speed 40km/hr) to another lodge to park. There we met Warwick, our ranger, and were driven to Highfield for a very late lunch.

On our way, though, we saw giraffes not 10 yards off of the road and a few zebras with a baby further back. Two female kudus ran along the road, then crossed in front of us. We coculd see other breeds of antelope in the distance. It was a wonderful way to arrive!

We devoured a late lunch, then headed out at 3:30 for our first game ride. Two other English couples staying at Highfield were in the same vehicle, which meant that the four of us were in the back two seats, and could hardly hear Warwick.

Imediately, we saw a blesbuck, and near the lodge 6 or 8 impala. The first big sighting were the elephants, but only in the distance. On the way to see them, we drove by the river where we saw two hippos - well, we saw the eyes of two hippos sticking out of the water.

We caught up to the elephants in a field. Watching them was an amazing experience. The herd contained 20+ elephants who were eating the grass and bushes. They meandered in front of the vehicle at a close distance. The herd includes many little ones which are particularly fun. Overall, it was wonderful to observe them from such close proximity.

As we continued the drive, we saw a fleeting glimpse of a male kudu, some wildebeest (gnu), and a monitor lizard. As we approached the lion camp, Warwick noticed that the lions were basking in the last rays of the sun near the fence. We parked on the outside of the fence and were 8 or 10 feet from the lions. The afternoon sun shone on their beautiful coats making them, especially the large male, look very majestic.

Shamwari only has lions in captivity since the reserve cannot support predators in the wild. They have been working to build up the animal life to support the complete food chain. They plan to release predators (lions, hyenas, leopards) this August or September. At that point, they will discontinue the separate lion camp. It would be interesting to be at Shamwari when they release predators in the reserve. For some of the animals it has been years since they have had the threat of predators, and all of the animals born on the reerve have had no experience with predators.

Darkness came as we drove out of the lion camp. On the way back to Highfield, a warthog crossed the road and saw some wildebeest by using a spotlight. It would be incredible to go out on a night drive when some of the animals are the most active.

Dinner was served in the dining room at Highfield. All of us sat at one dining room table. The other guests were two English couples. One couple were in their thirties and the other were older. The wife of the latter was outrageously offensive, narrow minded, insufferable and obnoxious. She ruined dinner with her loudly expressed and ignorant opinions on topics ranging from the internet to politics.

Today's mileage: 329km Total mileage: 2376km

 

Thu Apr 20, 2000 - Shamwari Game Reserve: The Big Hunt

By the time Warwick phoned with our wakeup call at 6 our eyes were opened in anticipation. We quickly dressed, grabbed a cup of coffee and left shortly after sunrise at 6:45am. The four of us sat around Warwick in order to hear him clearly.

After seeing a few blesbuck and wildebeest inn the fields near the lodge, we rounded the corner and were faced with a giraffe family. They were eating breakfast on the side of the road. Dad nudged the kids off of the road and then approached our vehicle. It was incredible! He circled the landrover with a keen eye on us the entire time. He towered over us at more than 5 meters tall. At one point it seemed that he was about to bend down and eat the hat off of one of the gentlemen in the back. It was an unbelievable way to begin the drive!

Next sighting was a large clan of vervet monkeys playing in the bushes. While cute, our eyes were peeled for rhinos and zebra, so we quickly drove on through the park.

Warwick spotted two white rhino on the other side of the valley, and during the drive through the valley to reach the rhino, we spotted a group of 5 zebras in the bush and drove over to observe them. They were common zebra with jet black and gray stripes. They were contentedly eating breakfast and not very interested in us. We enjoyed seeing them, again at a close distance, and for an extended period of time.

We crested the side of the mountain, but no sign of the white rhinos. We spotted a few antelope-like creatures (eland, kudu, blesbuck). All of a sudden Warwick stood up in the driver's seat and pointed to two white rhinos. It was a mother and her 10 month old baby. They weaved in and out of the bush, so we hopped out of the rover and walked along the crest to get better views, watching from a distance of 100 yards or so.

The white rhino gets is name from the Dutch word, wyd, meaning wide, as in the rhino's mouth. However 'wyd' sounds like 'white' which the English misinterpreted, thus giving the white rhino its name. The important distinction is the wide mouth, which signals that it is a white rhino rather than a black rhino which is the same color but has a narrow pointed mouth.

As we continued through the reserve many animals were out including, lots of impala, a dyker, blesbucks, some wildebeest, red hartebeest, and springboks, elands and oryx.

Warwick took us to a watering hole where we found a family of rhinos, including the cutest one month old who pranced and jumped while investigating everything. The little one mesmerized us resulting in us watching the family for 20 minutes or so from a distance of 20 feet more or less. Mom, brother and dad lawnmowered their way along to the watering hole while the little one would jump, fall and scurry around. These were magical moments while admiring them.

In less than 2 hours Warwick had showed us a terrific game ride, but he was not satisfied. He was on the hunt for the black rhino. We looked from the top of a crest, from where we saw the giraffes from a distance and other animals run through the jungle. Finally, he spotted three black rhinos across the valley and we were off.

On the way we turned a corner and ran into an entire herd of impala, but we hurried through. Warwick got us closer to the rhinos and gave us a brief glimpse of them before they ran into the bush. He took off after them, through the bush! It was crazy driving over cacti and trees. While the drive was a thrilling experience, we did not see the black rhinos again.

On the way back to the lodge we passed through the herd of female and young impala with the one dominant male again. We also saw the giraffes and Dad was his usual self eyeing us carefully and circling the vehicle. What fun! Overall, it was an awesome game drive.

Warwick returned us to the lodge just after 9:30 and we all were more than ready for breakfast. After satiating our appetites we packed and were on our way. Our drive out was not filled with the close-up sitings that we enjoyed on our entrance, but we did see many of the antelope-like game in the fields. Driving on N2 seemed rather monotonous and wild after many days away so we veered onto the rural route that winds its way along N2. At one point e saw a huge suspension bridge, but it had no road nor path leading up to it. Very strange. It reminded us of the similar engineering exhibits in Guatemala.

Our first town in the Garden Route was Port Jefferies. It was a culture shock. Almost all of the signs were in Afrikaans. We stopped for lunch at a local fish and chips joint and everyone speaks Afrikaans assuming that the other person speaks and understands it as well. The fish and chips were excellent, made with incredibly fresh fish, but the town ranks as odd.

We continued along N2 which had narrowed to two lanes. The South Africans were in quite a hurry to reach their Easter holiday destinations which made their usual crazy driving absolutely insane. John and Tom were driving left of the yellow line on the shoulder more than they were in the lane.

We all were relieved to reach Storm's River and our bed and breakfast. We had the area to ourselves and relaxed with our books in the common area. Tom and Louisa's room was rather interesting as it contained 4 beds including bunk beds while John and Susan's room was barely large enough for their beds. But it was clean and friendly.

There is only one place in Storm's River for dinner, so we walked down the road to the hotel's restaurant. It was very full with the hotel guests, but we were able to secure a table. The food was fine and came with the usual slow service.

The walk to and from the hotel resulted in the most interesting part of dinner. A local bar was along the road. However, it appears as if it is someone's house out of which they sell beverages. The patrons mill around in the yard of the house while imbibing making it a very local scene along the road. Since it was the eve of a national holiday, Good Friday, it seems that most of the local population was at the bar aka in the yard and on the street.

Shamwari Report: expensive, not very service oriented, nicely appointed rooms, food pretty good, game drives very good, too small to feel like authentic bush. Overall, probably worth it to make the excursion.

Today's mileage: 301km Total mileage: 2677km

 

Fri Apr 21, 2000 - The Garden Coast

After a 7:00am African breakfast, we were on the road by 8:00am. Fortunately, the traffic was much lighter, but the crazy passing continued in full force. We were riding in the shoulder most of the time on the N2.

A scenic route, R102, paralleled N2 from Storms River mouth to Nature's Garden. Forests lined the very curvy road. It was incredibly beautiful and serene compared to the hectic driving on the N2. There were signs about baboons along the scenic route, but we did not see any until we returned to the N2. Two baboons were playing on the railing of the highway bridge. It was strange to think that they prefer the highway.

At Knysna (pronounced Neesna) we went up to the viewpoint at The Heads. This is a narrow opening to Knysna Bay. The rocky coast is beautiful.

Since it was low tide, lots of people were digging for oysters and walking along the low flats of the wide beach. We stopped for coffee at a great cafe at the bottom of the Heads. It was easy to understand why South Africans enjoy the Garden Coast for relaxing weekends and vacations.

The N2 continues through the heart of Knysna, which appeared to be a cute town. Then, the N2 becomes a very scenic drive that hugs the coastline. It was just gorgeous.

At the Western edge, we went through a mountain pass and returned to African farmland. The only difference was the addition of some ostrich farms between the cattle ranches and sheep farms.

Our pace was faster than we expected, but we decided Cape Town was too much of a push. We stopped in a strange little grain town, Caledon. Everything in town was closed for Good Friday. There was hardly a person around. Just when it appeared that we would have to move on , we saw a pedestrian and asked about hotels.

He directed us up a hill where we found the Overberg Country Hotel and Spa, a strange piece of modern living in the small farm town. It was full of families with little children running around anxious for Easter. The spa contains hot springs and has existed since the early 1900's.

Tom and Louisa headed over to relax in the springs, but found something quite different than expected. The springs are piped into a full size pool. It is the only pool at the resort so it is full of children playing and screaming such as at a neighborhood pool, but this one is almost 100 degrees. Not quite the relaxing experience we expected.

The evening was low key with dinner in the hotel and lots of reading. They had a library with a few books that Tom read before sleeping.

South African driving tips

In the course of the last few weeks we've discovered some important differences between driving in South Africa and driving at home in the States. Besides the obvious things, like driving on the left, and signs in Afrikaans, there are lots of subtle differences.

One of the most important is a consequence of the fact that many of SA's main highways are nice two lane roads, with paved breakdown lanes. It is legal, here, to drive in the breakdown lane if you are being passed. In practice, trucks often drive in the breakdown lane almost continuously, as well as many of the older and slower cars. If you are driving the limit, and a car comes up behind you, you are expected to move over to let them pass. This is made much more interesting by the frequent presence of pedestrians, cows, bicycles, and parked cars in the breakdown lane, which you are now approaching at 120kph. If you do move over, you are often "thanked" by the passing car blinking their hazards once or twice, to which you may respond by waving or flashing your brights. In some cases, the road centerline is marked differently for places it is ok to pass cars in the breakdown lane, not to be confused with places where it is ok to pass in the oncoming lane also. We did witness one triple-pass situation coming towards us, which fortunately sorted itself out before they passed.

The national speed limit seems to be 120kph (about 74mph), but most cars capable of more are travelling faster, sometimes a lot faster. We were occasionally passed despite not moving over, the equivalent of passing around a blind curve over a double yellow. As in the States, the worst offenders seemed to driving BMWs and Mercedes, of which there seemed to be plenty in South Africa. There certainly were some crazy drivers, but it wasn't like Guatemala.

Today's mileage: 513km Total mileage: 3190km

 

Sat Apr 22, 2000 - Cape Town

We had a leisurely buffet breakfast at the Overburg, and then loaded the bikes for the short hop to Cape Town. We left around 9:30, and were at the Victoria Junction hotel by 11. The drive took us over the mountains (hence the name of the area, Overberg), and down a sweeping pass into the valley. Unfortunately, the road was littered and filthy for miles.

As we got lower into the valley, we also drove by shantytowns built on sandy ground that housed thousands of natives. We didn't see any plumbing, and the occasional electric wire seemed to be an extension cord rigged between buildings - very poor living conditions, indeed.

After we checked in, we dropped our bags in the funky but comfortable rooms and walked to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. After exploring a little, we decided to have lunch at the Docks restaurant. Rain forced us to move inside, but the wraps were very tasty. Nearby, we bought tickets for tomorrow morning's tour of Robben Island, South Africa's Alcatraz equivalent.

The Maritime museum looked interesting, so we went in there for a while. The exhibits were mostly well done, so if you like maritime stuff, it's a good presentation. We were somewhat entertained.

Next we hit the Two Oceans Aquarium, and braved the crowds. They did have some cool giant eels and jellyfish, as well as the usual sharks and colorful fish. In all, we spent an enjoyable hour or more there.

John and Susan decided to head back, while we had some things we wanted, so we shopped in the mall for a while. Louisa bought a charm and new sunglasses, while Tom struck out.

Back at the hotel, we opted for an easy meal at a cafe next door. We had decent burgers there. On returning to the hotel, we found out they have Internet access, so we caught up on email for a while.

One email reminded Tom that his family had gathered for Easter, so he called home and talked to everyone. Then we headed to bed.

Today's mileage: 120km Total mileage: 3310km

 

Sun Apr 23, 2000 - Robben Island

We walked to the waterfront for Easter breakfast before our ferry to Robben Island at 9:00am. The Victoria and Alfred hotel restaurant was the only one open and we had a delicious breakfast from their extensive buffet.

The boat was full, but not overly crowded they played an introductory video to fill the time that was somewhat interesting but the swells during the ride were more entertaining.

While the brochure advertised a self guided tour, we were herded onto busses for the obligatory guided ride around the island. Fortunately, our guide was extremely well spoken and entertaining. He did not shy away from telling both the bad and the good just like it was. His many jokes and stories, as well as a wealth of historical knowledge, made an otherwise boring bus tour almost enjoyable. We did see the limestone mine where the inmates would quarry lime, as well as the warden's village, now a conference center. One other diversion was the leaking bus window hat caused Louisa to sit on Tom's lap for most of the ride due to rain.

After over an hour on the bus (and the island is not that big), we pulled up to the prison. We crowded into a room and met our new guide, a man who had been a political prisoner there. He matter-of-factly told us the charges against him, and described prison life to us. As we walked through the prison, we asked him for more details, and gradually got a fragmented picture of what life must have been like.

The corridor in front of Mandela's cell was packed, so we didn't get a picture, but we did parade past. They had no sanitary facilities, just a bucket, and for most of the time didn't have beds, either. The feeling of walking through the prison accompanied by one who had been incarcerated there made the trip very powerful. For those who have been to Alcatraz, take the power of that tour and multiply it by 10, then subtract most of the tourist facilities.

After the prison tour, we had a half hour before our boat left, so we walked the penguin boardwalk. There were quite a lot of African penguins, which closely resembled their sister species Magellanic penguins we had seen on Isla Magdalena. We watched them play in the surf and burrow under rocks.

The ride back was a bit rougher, but still fun. Table mountain was completely obscured by clouds, so we decided to relax for a while. We left John and Susan while we picked up our laundry, made some plans for the next few days, and then decided to see an Imax movie. The movie, The Greatest Places, wasn't so great, so we grabbed a snack and headed back to the hotel again.

By this time we could see the top of Table Mountain, so with John and Susan we hopped in a cab for the cable car. The cable car has a cool revolving feature, so you get a full 360 during the 5 minute ride. We got there around 5:30, just in time to do a quick walk around the summit and take some pictures of the sunset. We had no idea how extensive the mountain range is, and the view over the peaks of the Twelve Apostles down the Cape is truly stunning.

We had a drink in the bar as we watched the lights of Cape Town come on, and then rode back down to another amazing night time view. They even have huge floods that light the face of the mountain! We headed to a nearby restaurant, Beluga, that Louisa spotted and had an excellent dinner. For some reason, we were quite tired, so we checked email briefly and then hit the sack.

 

Mon Apr 24, 2000 - Cape of Good Hope

Susan and John reported that the food at the hotel was terrible, so we opted to hit the road, click off a few kilometers then find a breakfast spot. We headed south out of Cape Town along the western coast which took us through some beautiful beachside suburbs, Clifton and Camps Bay.

We reached Houts Bay and the smell of bacon made our stomachs grumble. We could not locate the kitchen producing the bacon, and found out that all of the breakfast spots open at 9am. Fortunately it was about then. Breakfast was delicious and fueled us up for the rest of the ride.

Chapman's Pass Road was closed due to a rockslide in December that killed a woman and the fires that raged for eight days in January. We road up the few kilometers to the viewpoint where the road is closed. The vista over the bay is beautiful. The road had a fair number of bikers out for a morning ride (today is a national holiday for Easter), and we chatted with one man who was admiring our motorcycles. He rhapsodized about his favorite ride through four passes of the wine country, which we added to our list.

The route to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope became very circuitous due to the closing of Chapman's road, but we wound through a few quaint villages to the park. On our way to the tip a large family of baboons entertained us while they cavorted in the road. The babies riding piggyback was a favorite.

Cape Point is fully developed and full of cars and tour buses. We hiked to the top of the point which houses the old lighthouse, then decided to continue to the furthest point of land south, a narrow peninsula, that juts out a few hundred yards further. The clear blue skies were wonderful after two gray days, and we soaked n the views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Cape shamelessly claims and promotes to be the place where the two oceans, Atlantic and Indian, meet. However, this is incorrect. The actual meeting of the oceans occurs a few miles to the east at Cape Agulhas. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point (a few hundred yards away from each other) are better known since they are the more treacherous to round, and are significantly more scenic.

We started north along the eastern side of the peninsula and stopped in cute Simon's Town for lunch at The Quarterdeck. The four of us decided to remain in Cape Town until Thursday, then Tom and Louisa parted with Susan John,. The latter returned to Cape Town while the former headed along the coast before cutting north for the wine region.

Upon crossing N2 and entering the first valley, the vineyards began with their slightly golden leaves. The roads were practically barren, which was terrific. We rode through the rolling hills with the golden glow of the sun as it began to set. We enjoyed the beauty, quite a switch from the morning. It definitely is reminiscent of Napa and Sonoma close to home.

We continued over the pass into Franschoek valley where we had a reservation for the night. No one was home when we arrived at the Auberge. We walked around the grounds, seeing no one. A car full of guests arrived who said that they had been greeted by a note. We were perplexed by the lack of a note for us and decided to head into town to look for a recommended restaurant. No luck on the latter, so we phoned the Auberge. No answer.

We drove to the Franschoek Guest House. Tom mentioned our honeymoon which got us a lovely garden suite complete with fireplace. We settled down in front of the fire with a fantastic bottle of 1997 Cabernet from a Simondium vineyard, Plaisir de Merle.

Dinner at the in-house restaurant, Montreaux, was fantastic. The meal takes the top of the list as the best of the trip (with the exception of the dessert. Best dessert remains Louisa's birthday Chocolate para Ganesha.)

Today's mileage: 260km Total mileage: 3570km

 

Tue Apr 25, 2000 - South African Wine

After reading more in our books (The Potato Factory and The Source) we headed across the garden for breakfast. The usual offerings greeted us and we ate huge bowls of fresh fruit with either cereal or granola while waiting for eggs and bacon.

It rained throughout breakfast, so we headed back to the room to wait out the storm. We discovered the heated floors, which are quite delightful. By 11:30 the rain had stopped and we were on our way armed with a map and numerous recommendations.

First stop was Rickety Bridge. The wine connoisseur from the Grill House in Johannesburg recommended the shiraz. Unfortunately, Rickety Bridge was sold out of shiraz. We tried their merlot and cabernet from 1997, both had heavy tastes of mold (think dirty socks) so we passed and hit the road again.

Next stop was Plaisir de Merle, the house of the fantastic Cabernet that we had last night. It was busy when we arrived so we enjoyed tasting the merlot, cabernet (just as good!) and finally the shiraz, which is surprisingly delightful. The US laws make shipping wine terribly difficult, but we bought a case (8 cabernet and 4 shiraz) and had it shipped off to the Columbus airport for pickup.

At this point, the rain was more threatening, so we headed into Stellanbosch for lunch. We both assumed that it would be charming, such as Franschoek, but were greatly disappointed. It is a university town, full of pubs and university students, but lacking charm and warmth. We had our first wrong side of the road experience, but lived to tell about it.

Our grumbling stomachs demanded that we find food, which we did at the Fandango Cafe, which conveniently was also an internet cafe. During lunch the rains fell and were clearing up when we loaded up for the ride into Cape Town. The N1 presents a much more pleasant drive into town than the N2 which we had taken a few days before. Rather than having trash line the roads for miles and miles, it seemed more like home with businesses and malls, some of which were being built.

Victoria Junction gave us another room on the first floor in the back corner for less noise. We switched to the room next door to have a king bed, but that room did not have a bed side lamp and was missing a leg off of the bed. They rectified these matters and supplied us with the materials necessary to clean the motorcycle and saddlebags in preparation for returning it.

We were feeling sluggish and decided to go for a 20 minute run. We headed out Somerset Street toward Sea Point. It was a convenient place to run, but the miniature park between two streets was filled with dark characters. Louisa is pretty sure that she witnessed a drug deal, and on the return we quickened our steps when 2 men started to accost a woman (all 3 being unsavory characters).

Dinner with Boca and Susan was at the East Side Cafe. The restaurant has a wonderful dark art deco style and a staff with great humor. We found the food to be a bit disappointing, but not terrible. Then it was off to read some more in our great books until our eyes just could not stay open.

Today's mileage: 93km Total mileage: 3663km

 

Wed Apr 26, 2000 - In Cape Town

First thing we rode the motorcycle for the last time to the shop and dropped it off. The weather was beautiful with clear blue skies and lots of sunshine. We headed out on foot to explore the Long Street which is filled with backpacker hotels, used book stores and coffee shops. Lola's one of the latter, looked particularly appealing and we stopped for breakfast. It was delicious.

Fully fueled we continued to explore the area. During one stop into a gear shop and travel agency we discovered that a company runs sunset kayak cruises in the bay, but when we tried to reserve they denied us due to the wind. This stop ended up to be quite fortuitous since we chatted with her about Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and the safety issue, which she assured us is no higher than usual.

Our meandering took us to the company gardens and other historic places in the City Bowl. The gardens and park are attractive and offer a pleasant walk. Our interest in Victoria Falls grew as we discussed it so we stopped in another travel agency to ask more questions and find out flight schedules.

The US Consulate was nearby. We stopped in (through two metal detectors) to find out the US position on travel to Zimbabwe and were told that the department is closed on Wednesday afternoons. Overall it was a strange experience.

For lunch we found a wraps joint, Naked on Kloof. The clientele were young and funky which made it an energetic and entertaining lunch. Upon returning to the hotel we searched for John and Susan to discuss travel plans. John was still out exploring so Tom and Louisa hopped on the internet for awhile.

Just before John and Susan headed out for a sunset harbor cruise we all concurred that seeing Victoria Falls would be fantastic. Tom finagled the airline, hotel and car reservations to make it possible. With great excitement for our next adventure we packed and ate a quick dinner. It was early to bed since we will have 4:30am wake up calls!

Today's mileage: 4km Total final mileage: 3667km

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.