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South Africa

A lot can happen in the space of a year. I’d returned home from Iran with a case of pneumonia and a weak body, incapable of even lifting my 1 year-old niece. The plan was quite simple really. Get home, get healthy, work a vintage at Kingston Estate Wines, attend weddings, return to Iran. Simple.

To this day I’m still amazed about how easy it was for me to settle back into Australia. Drinking water came from the tap, supermarkets had an array of goods with the added bonus of listed prices, and everyone could understand what the hell I was saying. But I don’t think either of those pleasures compared to meeting a certain girl.

Tamika.

We shared a whirlwind romance that truly caught me quite off guard. She puts up with my minimalist approach to life and I put up with her crazy driving. We both understand each other well, and it was this understanding that got us to South Africa; on a short holiday for her, and a yearlong ride to Cairo for me. As much as I tried, sleeping by the road, not shaving or showering and a diet of noodles and oats didn’t appeal to her. Go figure.

My preparation had taken a backseat to enjoying the last few months home and as the plane descended into Cape Town I was suddenly stuck by my unpreparedness for the next year. I’d questioned if I would be ready for Africa.

Malaria, remoteness, disease, tribes, war, famine.

But as I looked to my right and saw Tamika take a multitude of selfies, I then wondered if Africa was ready for her.

After over 24 hours in transit - sleep deprived, smelly, hungry – we sensibly bundled into our rental car and drove at night into the Cape Bowl. Along the main highway people lurched over the roads, set up fires under bridges and guarded each street corner. It was quite an introduction to Cape Town and I hoped by daylight it wouldn’t resemble Gotham; thankfully it didn’t.

Lion's Head seen from Table Mountain
Hout Bay

We turned into tourist mode visiting all the attractions one does in the Cape. Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Robben Island, and Boulders Beach were just a few of the main attractions. An attraction they won’t tell you in the brochures about Cape Town and South Africa are the ‘car guides’. With fear playing a normalised part in modern South Africa, to the point of propaganda, and a false economy has been created for black South African’s to “watch your car” whilst you go about your business. For about $1AUD someone helps you park, watches your car, and helps you pull out.

With Tamika having to return to work in a few weeks, we travelled the Garden Route to Addo Elephant National Park, and then returned through Route 62 to the north. Each South African we talked to told us how we would enjoy it, and we did. From wineries, hiking, ostrich farms and national parks, we relished being carefree and enjoyed each other’s company with what time we had.

I secretly relished comfortable beds, showering, a varied diet and someone to talk to.

Boulders Beach
Addo Elephant National Park
Addo Elephant National Park
Top of Table Mountain

When Tamika flew out, I once again felt alone and a little anxious in a new continent, although her influence would always be close by. I now possessed a medical kit that had more than a few Band-Aids and paracetamol, and I even had hand sanitiser and baby wipes. Total luxury.

I slipped out of the city whilst it was still waking and cycled north with Table Mountain to my back. It was approximately 700km’s to the Namibian border and another 15,000kms to Cairo and I was already drenched in sweat by lunchtime. Hopefully the fitness comes soon. In the afternoon lull I pulled into a ‘farm stall’ that often dot the highway selling local produce. After chatting to the owner for a while I told him I intended to wild camp for parts of South Africa.

My final view of Table Mountain

“Don’t you dare wild camp, they will slit your throat just for your cell phone”.

Whilst he didn’t go into detail about who they were, it wasn’t hard to guess. Racial divide has been a common theme throughout my ride in South Africa, and it perforates in every way of life. It borders on xenophobia within a country.

On the man’s advice I decided to spend the first few nights in campsites, usually paying between 70-100R.

on

Constant headwinds and a low fitness base had me struggling for the first few days out of the Cape. I’d received more flats in the first few days than I had between Adelaide and Tehran. I began wondering how on earth did I fall in love with cycle touring when all I was getting were headwinds, flat tires and a sore arse?

With South Africa’s well-publicised drought, I’d hoped that I would not be digging into the rain gear until the tropics. But Murphy’s law once again shone as 20mm gave me enough convincing to have a day off. I’d checked into a hostel recommended by cyclists in Bittefontein. First night went swimmingly with wi-fi, a big room and Christian paraphernalia adorning the walls. John, the owner, gave me the usual dialogue about how blacks are ruining the country alcoholism is driving crime and disorder.

The second day began with John drinking scotch at 8:30am and continued throughout the day. I wouldn’t have minded if he hadn’t started verbally abusing his wife and slamming doors. At 5pm I bailed and cycled 5kms and asked a farmer if I could put my tent up.

I would have reminded John about his topic points the previous evening and how pious Christians don’t abuse their wives; but I didn’t want to poke the (drunk) bear. Ironically he said he would pray for me and gave me many blessings to Cairo as he stumbled over his own weight. But I wondered how much weight his blessings would carry with the man upstairs.

A quiet, corrugated section in the Northern Cape

I progressed further through the Western Cape without too many hassles and moved into the Northern Cape; providing me with climbing roads that wound past small towns all the way until Springbok. The area is known for its flower blooms in late August, which carpet the ground in a sea of bright colours. Considering I was a little early for that, I’ll remember the area for the small towns that became a constant of broken glass, loitering men (always men), and more alcohol shops than grocery shops. It wasn’t the Africa I was daydreaming about when working long days in Australia.

From Springbok I cycled the remaining 125Km to the Namibian border. A smooth decent brought me to the Orange River where I met Rick, a Dutch cyclist at the end of his Cairo to Cape Town journey. He told me tales of Malaria in Uganda, stone throwing kids in Ethiopia, hyenas around his tent on ten separate occasions and cycling away from an elephant that was charging him. His stories filled me with nerves and excitement and gave me hope at a more exciting adventure than the last few weeks.

Whilst cycling in South Africa hasn’t had me gasping in amazement, the current political and social climate sure made up for any lull moments.

Just before I had arrived, contentious political mandates have acted as a catalyst to already burning issues. The ruling ANC (African National Congress) has floated an “exoneration without compensation” policy that transfers white owned agricultural land to black South Africans. Perhaps it’s just a political distraction from a party drowning in corruption charges and dwindling support, but it still doesn’t help an already fragile situation. And purely from an outsiders view it was fascinating, provocative and even a little scary.

Often people would assume me for a white South African, if they were black we would ignore each other, if they were white I might get a question about the bike. But as soon as both parties realised I was from overseas both would engage in fun, light-hearted conversation.

But, by the time I had left the country I had almost exclusively talked to white people. After constantly hearing all their doom and gloom I started second guessing my own intuition and instinct. I rarely wild camped, and I watched my possessions with even more care. All of this was completely unintentional, and I hardly consider myself a racist. But, I think the constant barrage of racial separation, demonization and distrust had its own negative effect on me. It put a small dampener on an otherwise fantastic country.

The irony in reading Nelson Mandela’s, Long Walk to Freedom, really hit me. Apartied has finished in an official capacity, but it’s alive in many facets scattered throughout every day in modern South Africa. The racial stalemate will continue to abide.

Robben Island
Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

I passed through South African immigration, not a place you would expect to be offered free condoms and then I went into Namibia.

The customs official greeted me with “G’day” and asked where his kangaroo was. We got talking and it turns out he studied at the University of Adelaide. “Good, clean city with nice wine…but very boring”, he said. I couldn’t agree more.

“What is that famous saying in Australia??? Ahhh yes, if you never never go, you never, never know”.

I couldn’t quite believe my first fleeting moments in Namibia were echoing Ernie Dingo. But hey, he did have a point.

Welcome to Namibia!!

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