Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nervous Traveler

Someone once called me a nervous traveler. It was actually the travel agent after I asked her for a second time if my ticket was in order. That happened some time ago. I don’t really know what a nervous traveler is. Is it someone that is scared of flying, or someone who asks for a second time if his ticket is in order? I don’t really know. One thing that I do know is that I am not scared of flying, and when I go on a business trip I couldn’t care less if my ticket was in order or not. As a matter of fact, I don’t care if my driver is late, I don’t care if the plane is delayed, I’m actually very much relaxed and take things as they come. Besides, going on a business trip is not something I really look forward to, so I take it in my stride. But there is a moment during my trip, a specific moment when things change, when the above mentioned becomes an issue and I become a “nervous traveler”. And it has nothing to do with fear of flying.

When I am leaving home, I don’t really care what happens in my travel program. If I get there a day or two later it’s not a problem. When I reach that point where I realize that from now on things need to work in my favour in order to get me home, then I start becoming nervous. I am in Libreville at the moment, waiting for my flight back to South Africa. Moments ago I was in Port-Gentil waiting for my flight to Libreville. I was told that the driver would pick me up at 16h30. I was ready at four. The moment in my trip when things changed had just started. Suddenly there are “ifs”, and plenty of them. IF my driver is late, I might miss my only flight to Libreville. IF I miss my flight to Libreville, I will definitely miss my connecting flight to Johannesburg. IF I miss my flight to Johannesburg, it means I have to stay five extra days in Libreville before I get my next flight to South Africa. So, if there is no sign of my driver, I start getting nervous. When I am on my way home, then I want things to run smoothly, because one mishap can delay my arrival back home by days.

I was standing at the hotel waiting for the driver to appear around the corner at any minute, but by ten past five there was still no sign of him. To make matters worse, a huge thunderstorm was approaching. I am not really scared of flying in heavy weather either, but knowing that flights can be cancelled or delayed due to bad weather, I had reason to worry. It is at this point I believe that positive thinking should kick in, but I have seen this happen before and know it can happen again. At ten past five I was frantically looking for a number to dial to find out what happened to the driver. I was not sure when my flight was actually leaving, but they said pick-up is at 16h30 so I assumed that my flight would leave around 18.30. I didn’t have my ticket with me; apparently this was at the airport where an assistant was waiting to check me in. I was busy dialing when the driver arrived. I was rather relieved to see him, but I still had the weather issue that worked my nerves. At least we were on our way to the airport now.

When we arrived at the airport the driver told me to stay put and he disappeared into the crowd. Moments later he returned and said in his broken English, “Come, you follow me quick”. We ran through the check-in, through the departure hall and onto the apron without stopping, towards the plane that already had its engines started. I dragged my suitcase behind me in the rain, and handed it to the guy who was just about to close the cargo door. He was a bit annoyed with my late arrival, but loaded it anyway. This time at least I knew I had my luggage on board. I was the last person to board, and just in time. I realized that the departure time was actually 17.30. Thank heaven that I didn’t know that at the hotel already, but I was on the plane and we were ready for take-off for Libreville.

The plane that was about to take me to Libreville wasn’t very big, A Twin Otter with something like 16 seats. I got in at the back and saw that the only open chair was way in front, second row from where the pilots were already flicking switches. I squeezed past the other passengers that were already squeezed in like sardines and took up my seat. In front of me was another open seat with someone’s luggage on it and a first aid kit against the front wall. I saw that the contents of the kit were last checked in April 2005. From where I was seated I could see one pilot and a section of the instrument panel. I don’t know if it is good to see the instrument panel, because every time a light starts flashing all I could think was “WTF is that??” On the Garmin GPS I could see that we were heading in the right direction, but the radar kept throwing large blots of green, yellow and red patches in the direction we were heading in. I was not sure if that might’ve been thunderstorms showing, but we managed to dodge all of them. Durig the whole flight the two pilots were fiddling a lot with all the buttons like they weren’t really sure what to do with them either. Only halfway through the flight I caught a glimpse of the other pilot. It was a young Gabonese woman. I have no statistics on the flying abilities of woman to base any fear on, so I accepted the fact that this 20-odd year old girl is flying me to Libreville and I was happy with that. It was another step closer to home and she has done well up until then.

The weather wasn’t too bad. I’ve been in worse thunderstorms before. The worst one was actually on the same route between Port-Gentil and Libreville some years ago. The hop from Libreville to Port-Gentil two days ago took 20 minutes, but we were past 30 minutes already when I saw on the GPS that we were about halfway on our route. Obviously we were flying much slower. Maybe it was a head wind or maybe the fact that it was a smaller aircraft, but we were going forward and I was happy. I was looking out the window at one of the engines and thought back to my Toyota Carolla I had many years ago. I was driving from Mossel Bay to Great Brak River one afternoon when the engine just decided to cut out. Completely dead. I always wondered where and when aircraft’s engines usually decide to cut out when they had enough. Surely it doesn’t always happen on the ground? Unlike my Toyota that just came to a standstill next to the road, I could only imagine what would happen to a plane when its engine decides that it’s time to retire. Not nice thoughts when you find yourself over an ocean halfway between Port Gentil and Libreville.

At around six-thirty I saw on the GPS that Libreville was in front of us. My thoughts were not even cold when we started the approach. We flew from just south of the Equator to just north of it. I lifted myself up from my seat and looked through the front window. I could see the runway getting closer and we were floating down like a paraglider coming in for a straight smooth landing on a nice sandy beach. The lady pilot put us down like a butterfly and earned some respect from a sceptic male passenger. I knew that we’ve made it safely and that another step in my quest to get home has just been completed. And then I saw it, the sign that tells me I can switch off and relax, the sign that changes me from a "nervous" traveler back into just a normal traveler, the "sight for sore eyes", the sight that makes any South African’s heart beat faster. I have always experience this as a sign saying that you are just about back where you belong...HOME. It was the tail of the SAA's Airbus 319-100 standing out like a rose between the other airlines’ thorns. I knew I was almost there...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bike vs Rider

I am sitting in Luanda with not much to do. In order to kill some time I searched the internet for info on my bike, the GS. When I did my first dirt road trip after my second fall, I was obvioulsy still a bit nervous. Changing from a cruiser to an adventure tourer was a bigger change that I could possibly anticipated. One of the guys that was riding with us on our dirt road trip, in an effort to put me at ease, told me that I don't have to worry, the GS will out perform me and has abilities far beyond mine as a rider. But this is exactly what worried me. My GS might be able to do the stuff, but I'm not. It is like putting a 7-year old child behind the steering wheel of a the fastest car on the track and telling him to test the limits of the car. I am pretty sure my bike has abilities far beyond mine, and I have found the proof on Youtube, but it's going to take time and patience to get there. And sitting here in Luanda does not help either. So here are two clips to show you what a GS can do on dirt...and what my ultimate goal is at this moment....

How many years do I have left...?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dining out in Soyo

Finding a restaurant in Soyo is not easy. There are many, but they don't advertise themselves like they do in your typical First World countries. You go by word-of-mouth, and the best way to do that is to speak to the locals. And don't look for name signs either, the closest sign that might indicate that is is a restaurant is a Cuca sign (local beer) against a wall...or a couple of plastic chairs arranged around manky tables. So it is even better if you take the local with you to guide you to the right place.

Today I was invited to join some colleagues for lunch. My local friend looked a bit hesitant to ask me if I wanted to eat at the mess or go with them to a local restaurant. The reason being that there "are just so many flies" and "no air conditioning" at the local restaurant, and he was thinking that I might not want to eat my meal under those conditions. I might also not like the local food he said, which can be divided into local fish or local meat with rice and beans.

(Note* - Now if you ever have the choice between local fish and local meat in a remote African country, it is always better to go for the local fish. Local meat is usually what they call "bush meat", and does not have the stamp of approval from the local Meat Board. So stick with the local fish, the chances that your stomach survives it is much better. But don't dish the bush meat either, it can be good too.)

I was a bit offended that anyone might think that I prefer an air-conditioned restaurant with white serviettes to a "local restaurant", but I accepted the invitation because there is no better way to learn and experience local cultures than doing it around a table with locals and a local meal being served. The restaurant itself I never would've found if I was searching for it on my own. It does not have a name either, locals refer to it by refering to the owner, which in this case is Mrs Natalia's place. The chairs were made out of plastic and not much decoration on the tables, but the vibe was all African. It was clear to see that there were extentions made to the building recently, and I was told that business was very good and that the restaurant was made bigger to accommodate more guests.

(Note* - Local restaurants don't take dollars, but changing dollars to local currency is very easy. Wherever you stop you find guys running up to the car with a fistfull of kwansas, ready to exchange. Whether you get a good exchange rate I doubt very much, but my local guide looked at how many notes I was handed in return for my twenty dollars and said that should be close to right. I didn't argue.)

So on the menu was just what was expected, meat or fish. Needless to say I went for the local fish, which happened to be Carapau (or horse-mackerel in English). Served with lost of rice, beans and some cooked tomato stew on top. And yes, there were a lot of flies too, but they didn't bother me much, they were more interested in my fish than in me. My only disappointment was the size of the Carapau. It might've been under-sized, but I have no idea if there were restrictions on the size of fish being caught in Angola. But the rice and beans made up for the size of the fish. The fish was really tasty. Done over an open fire and served as is, no filleting or any extra trimmings. I tried the local chilli sauce with my fish and it was delicious. The Coke helped sooth my burning mouth, but I hear the locals love chilli sauce and they litterally pour it over their food.

The bill for the meal plus the Coke came to 600 kwansas, that is about 7 USD. When I got back to the office I did the calculations to see if the exchange rate that I was given was fair, and I have to admit, they did not take me for a ride this time. I was told that when Mrs Natalia does her "piglet" (pork) on a spit, then I must not miss it. So next time I'm here I can ask anyone to take me to Mrs Natalia's place to have some of her favourite "piglet".

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Soyo - Open for business only

There are many ways to get from Luanda to Soyo. You can go by land, sea or air if you wish. If you have any options you go by air, and preferably with a chartered company. The national carrier has a reputation for crashing their Boeing 737’s when overshooting the runways. And the runway in Soyo is not the longest either.

I doubt whether people ever go to Soyo for pleasure, unless you are living there and are coming back from business somewhere else. But most of the people going there are usually involved in the oil industry, so tourism didn’t put Soyo on the map, oil did. The town itself is very small, and the Kwanda base where most of the oil companies have their offices and activities is probably in people per square meter larger than the town. Like most small towns in Africa, people are either surviving on whatever nature has to provide, or in Soyo’s case, working in the oil industry. Walking alone at night is not encouraged, although Soyo has some good nightlife. One of my local friends told me that racism is rife and it is not wise for “light coloured skins” to roam the streets. And leave the local women alone, their “men” do not hesitate to take you out of town and leave you somewhere along a deserted road....dead or alive. But this I guess happens in many towns around the world, so it will not be fair to paint such a gloomy picture of Soyo without mentioning the good as well. It is somewhat remote, and with the marshy surroundings and tropical climate it is quite a beautiful setting to work and live in. Seafood is available in abundance and although the service at local restaurants is probably the slowest and poorest I’ve ever experienced, if you order well in advance (like phone before 1 pm to make your order for 8pm) then you can still have a delicious meal to be served as soon as you arrive at the restaurant. Most restaurants do not have menus, you either order something meaty or fishy, and whatever comes with that is what you get as a side dish. But the food is good and you will never go hungry in Soyo.

Traveling with a chartered company to Soyo makes it very easy indeed. Check-in takes two minutes, the plane usually leaves more or less at the scheduled time and your fellow passengers don’t open left-overs from last night leaving the whole plane smelling like a fish and chips joint. When you land at Aerodromo do Soyo you might think that everyone has left town, but be aware, somewhere lurking behind a wooden desk are immigration officials waiting to check if your “papers” are in order. One thing I could never understand, like in so many African countries, is why you have to produce your passport when you arrive on a domestic flight, and why they check your baggage? But here you will have to show your passport, they will write your name down on a piece of paper and they will go through your baggage. Why they do that no-one could ever tell me, but don’t question them either, just hand over your passport and shut up. Today we were lucky, baggage was not checked and we were through the one-room arrival “hall” (with two officials) in a matter of minutes. If the plane arrives around lunch hour, you will not find immigration officials so nothing is checked. And if the plane lands after they have left for the day, even when it arrives from a neigbouring country, then your passport will not be stamped at all. This obviously opens up a gap for corruption, because if you want to leave Angola the next day, you have to find an official who will put an entry stamp in at a cost of course. And be careful, today we were approached by a man in a nice outfit offering to carry our bags wanting to make us believe that he was sent from the company we work for. We did not accept his offer, we have experience of opportunists right across Africa.

Another thing I have learned in Africa is to be very careful when and where you take pictures, so I took all my snaps from inside the aircraft. Especially when taking pictures of what is considered national buildings. This could be anything from the Presidential Palace to a dilapidated shack next to a deserted road, depending on the local policeman’s interpretation of “national building”. If a policeman appears from nowhere, be sure that your camera will be confiscated and that you will have to pay a fine on the spot. And don’t think you can expense that; you will never be issued with a receipt.

I hope my short stay in Soyo will not only be for business, but that I will get an opportunity to experience more of this beautiful town in the middle of nowhere somewhere on the northern border of Angola. But at the moment I am stuck at the gate outside the Kwanda base waiting on my colleague’s gate pass that was not arranged as per request about a week ago…

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Argus and support that was not

She only wished for two things, to finish the race and no wind. When she left home for the starting line at 7am the wind was already blowing. As a matter of fact, the wind started blowing the previous evening already. This after a wind absence of nearly a week....

I was lying on the couch watching the first women cross the finish line at around 9.20 when she started her race. These women were of course from the elite group; the ones that are invited to ride the Argus and not like the rest who has to pay to ride the Argus. Lying in front of the TV watching the Argus for the first time in my life, I felt a bit sorry for my wife. The air coverage of the race was stopped at times due to strong winds, so the helicopters could not even stay with the front peleton. When my wife called me just before her start to tell me that "there's no wind", instead of saying "you go girl" I foolishly told her about the helicopters and what was waiting around the corner. So much for my support.  Anyway, she was just being sarcasticly optimistic and I couldn't even support her in that. My plan was not to spend the rest of the day in front of the telly, I was about to leave to meet her somewhere along the road to encourage her. With the motorbike it would be a bit easier to get to certain points along the road, but we never had these points finalized when she left this morning. The idea was for her to give me frequent sms updates and then I would drive a litttle bit further and wait for her with some back-up water and other goodies.

My first stop was at Steenbeerg Road in Tokai. When I called my wife she told me that she had passed that road about ten minutes ago, so my effort to find a suitable waiting spot was all in vain. I packed up and left for the next best spot to wait, Fishhoek. Due to the road closures I could not take the shortest route to Fishhoek, but I eventually managed to cross Ou Kaapseweg and ended up in Fishoek a couple of minutes later. There I called her again but a little miscommunication caused me to wait for an hour in Fishhoek while she was already near Simons Town. By this time there were only little kids with oversized cycling helmets passing one by one every 5 minutes. I realized that this must be the last tailenders and that my wife was definitely passed Fishhoek too. I tried to call a few times more, but all I got was a no answer message. I assumed by that point that she must've been through there as well, so I packed up and headed for Noordhoek to hopefully catch her on the Atlantic side.

At Noordhoek I sat and I waited. I tried to call her again, but no answer. I was not sure if she was still on her way, or if she had passed there too. So eventually I gave up and decided that all I could do now is head home. From Noordhoek it would be very difficult to go to any other place along the route, so all I could think was that going home now is a better option that riding around the peninsula looking for my wife in between 35 000 other cyclists...which of course have by now been spread out over at least 80 kilometres. Hesitantly I packed up and went home.

At home I also called, but no answer. I waited and waited and started to understand the feeling when Apollo 13 lost communication with Earth around the moon in April 1970. I had no idea where my wife was, I had to go fetch her at some point...and there was no answer. Then at 3.20 there was a call. I did not even realize that it was from an unknown mobile number, but it was her. She was fine and she was calling to tell me her phone is not working. " No shit Sherlock!" I asked her if she was OK, but that was not needed, I could hear the excitement in her voice. She finished 20 minutes ago and was looking for a friend to see if he could bring her home. My wife did it, she finished the Argus in 5 hrs 40 mins, and she was about to ride the 25 kilometres homes if she couldn't find a lift....

Once she got home I could see that she had enough energy left to do another mini-Argus. A little bit sunburnt, but that was it. She was stoked. I think she already started filling in her apllication forms for next year. She is doing it again next year for sure. What am I going to do next year to make sure that I am there to support her? Leave earlier? Better planning? Clearer instructions? NO! I'm going to join her on that road next year. I am going to ride side by side until we both cross that finish line, like we've crossed so many finish lines before.

(Not that she needs my support I guess).

Well done girl, you've done me proud today! Next time when people "exagerate" about the Argus, all you have to do is smile ;-)

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Read my Blog"

I don't really know how many people read my blog. If I go according to the hit counter, it cannot be too many. If I go on the feedback I get from friends, then I guess some people are actually reading it. The idea of the blog was not really to attract as many followers as possible. I only started the blog because a friend suggested that I write about my travel stories. Unfortunately my traveling has become very limited and lately I am writing more about my local trips here in South Africa. So I cannot really say what my blog is about, but I do try to write at least once or twice a week for those who are still interested.

My wife was a bit upset with me after my recent trip to Reebok. When I arrived back she asked me how my weekend was. I am not the type of person that comes home and bore others with hours of stories. When I was at school my sister used to come home and tell EVERYTHING that happened to her at school that day, from the first lesson until the last one. I never wanted to say a word. Besides the fact that I believe that sometimes it is better not to tell your mom everything that goes on in your life, I just never liked speaking about my day. So when my wife asked me how Reebok was, I told her to go read my blog. Maybe I overestimated her sense of humour, but needless to say she didn't like my answer much. Fortunately she knows me and I think I have been forgiven already. I guess this technology that we have today can really become an problem when we stop communicating face to face. My wife and I have this joke that whenever we cannot remember what the one told the other, we always say "you never read my e-mails anymore". A couple of days ago my wife asked me to do a few things around the house. Knowing that I was going to forget I asked her to put it on e-mail and send it to me. Another mistake, but I think we are so used to working from e-mails that it might not be such a bad idea to put it on e-mail. At least we have proof that something was said or asked. And what more does a woman want than proof that she did actually ask for something to be done?

Don't worry, we still communicate and this "read my blog" comment was more of a joke than a sign of diminishing communication. To the people that actually read my blog I want to say thanks. I am not writing for you per se, but it is nice to hear good feedback every now and then. I guess it is more like a hobby to me now, and one day maybe when my son is old and I am not there anymore, he might just read it to remember his dad the way he was. So next time when you see me and want to know how I am doing, don't get offended when I tell you to go read my blog.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oh Such a Perfect Day

I was supposed to leave for Angola tomorrow. Needles to say some incompetent "being" prevented me from getting my visa in time. When you send the same incorrect invitation letter to a Consulate that doesn't budge an inch or knows that there is NO way for you to get to Angola unless THEY make it happen, then your chances of any luck is very limited. So, unfortunately my trip has been postponed for another week, but fortunately it allows me an extra week at home....and at home is where you want to be when the weather is just perfect. Today was such a day.....

I woke up early because my son still determines at what time we HAVE to get out of bed..and we also had a breakfast planned with friends at Carluccis. Even at 8 o' clock we could see that it was going to turn out to be an awesome day. After breakfast we headed to the beach but didn't stay long because my wife had to go to the airport to pick up my mother-in-law. By 11 the temperature were already near the 30's and with no wind there was only one place to the water. I chose the pool at home to spend the rest of the day in, but many Capetonians opted for the beach. At around 4.30 I took the bike for a spin at the beach and took some pictures with my cell phone.

Definitely one of the most awesome views in the world. Table Mountain at the back with the Sely 1 stuck in the sand close to shore. The Sely 1 drifted towards Blouberg in September last year during bad weather and even though the newspapers said that it would take about a week or two to pull it out, it has been lying there for over six months now.  They are still trying to remove the coal that is on board, but the latest news is that the ship is starting to crack and that it will never be used again. What they are going to do with it and when it will be removed still remains a mystery. One good thing about the stranding is that the waves have been altered due to the position of the ship. This has become a very popular spot for stand-up paddle boarders and even the shape of the waves have improved. Today waves of around 4 to 5 feet came through in sets that were obvioulsy enjoyed by plenty of surfers. When you take a picture from this beach on normal days you would hardly find people on the beach. Today it was crowed.

This is also here on this "deserted" beach (on week days) where I witnessed a guy selling drugs to a youngster on Friday morning. I phoned the police but couldn't get through. What's new? The dude selling the drugs ran away after I told him to "run otherwise...." and the youngster disappeared to where he's probably getting high on "some good stuff" as the dealer described it to him. Sad to see these things happen on your favourite beach but I guess it does happen. 

Unfortunately this picture was taken against the sun, but one can still see the amount of people on Big Bay beach. This is where we usually bring our little surfer boy to come play in the rock pools because there are usually not many people coming to this beach, but today this placed was packed as well. There is one thing about the Atlantic Coast that we cannot rave about and that is the cold water. Today people were actually forced to get into the water. When I took this picture the temperature on my bike's thermometer reading was 35.5 degrees Celcius. Cape Town is really a wonderful place and when the weather plays along it becomes an extraordinary place.

Occultdale Road

There is a gravel road in the Durbanville district with the name of Occultdale Road. I've driven passed that road many times, and I've always wondered where the road got its name from, and what is at the end of that road. So Friday morning before work I decided to do a short trip to discover the mystery at the end of Occultdale Road.

I left my house at around 6.15. Occultdale Rd is not far from where I live, it is on the outskirts just behind Durbanville. It was rather cool when I left, around 12 degrees and very misty. I was wondering if the mist had anything to do with the fact that I was going to try and find out what lies at the end of that road. I didn't check any road maps or looked on GoogleEarth, what is the use of doing that when you want to discover something "mysterious"? And besides, I was itching to ride my bike again. By the time I reached the turnoff to Occultdale Rd I was already rather wet because of the mist. Everything looked eerie. I turned off onto the gravel and headed towards....I did't know what. I couldn't see much on the side of the road because of the mist. At some points the mist was so thick I had to slow down not knowing if there might be a sharp turn ahead. The only other traffic on the road was two cars that came from the front at a considerable speed for a gravel road. I couldn't help but wonder why somebody would be in such a hurry to leave "Occultdale". Did they know something that I was still going to discover?

I guess I am not a good mystery writer, so let's end the story without a huge climax because that is how my adventure ended. I was very disappointed that there was no end destination on the Occultdale Rd, neither a place called Occultdale and I very much doubts that there were anything closely related to the occults that gave the place its name. I basically reached another tarred road that goes from Phillidelphia towards Durbanville. I guess on a ordinary sunny day the area would look nothing much different than the rest of the farmlands in that area. I have to admit that doing it in the mist was a little bit more exciting. I still don't know where Occultdale Rd got its name from. If you have any idea, please let me know.


PS. I am sure the guy who took this pic at Occultdale Rd won't mind me showing you to his photo on Flickr, but after I finished writing my post I tried to find information on the road and came across this picture. This shows how beautiful it can be on a sunny day and when someone takes a picture who knows what he is doing with his camera. Well done.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Working Sabbatical

On Saturday I realized that I might have a wasted weekend if I don't do something exciting quickly, so I decided to take a working sabbatical to Reebok, in between Mossel Bay and George on the South Coast. There I have free accommodation, with free laundry and Internet included, as well as the best meals from the menu. The best "guesthouse" in the Southern Cape but also the best kept secret, so I won't say no more. I left Cape Town at 12.30 in the heat of the day...32 degrees Celcius. When I passed Paarl and Worcester, the mercury went up to 38 and for the rest of the journey it did not drop much. I only stopped for fuel and water, and it didn't take me long to realize that leaving at that time of the day to ride to Mossel Bay via Worcester and Robertson was not the greatest idea ever. The wind did not help much either, and when I arrived in Mossel Bay I was literally wasted. My neck was sore from the wind that was pushing and pulling my head in all different directions, I had to take painkillers for what felt like the worst whiplash ever. Definitely not one of my nicest trips so far, and very uncomfortable.

In Reebok I did not do much riding, it was a working sabbatical after all. But I did manage to sneak away from the laptop to do a little gravel road from Reebok to George, looking for a bike shop to check out if they might have biking gear. I was refered to Mossel Bay where I discovered the "biggest bike shop in the Western Cape", or so I was told by the sexy sales girl in the extra low-cut hipster. I was amazed to find a bike shop that size with so much variety of all gear you can think of. Maybe the fact that the Buffalo Rally has been hosted there for several seasons might explain, but I was told that people ride from PE and Cape Town to shop there, and I was not surprized why. There I kitted myself out with new biker pants, a new biking jacket and boots. I also threw in some chain lube for my bike and junior bike goggles for my son, or "diving goggles for motor bikes" as he calls it. Now I look like a real biker and my son closer to one.

There are the most awesome gravel roads in the Garden Route area, and if it was not for the rain that fell on Tuesday morning I might have changed my working sabbatical into a biking sabbatical. I was a bit cautious of the slippery mud in that area and decided that I will come back and do some of them in the future. I did many of them on my mountain bike years ago, but never took any pictures of the stunning vegetation and scenery. There are also quite a few gravel passes and they are definitely on my to-do list.

On my way back to Cape Town I decided after consulting the weather forcast to take the N2 via Caledon. The wind prediction was easterly and the temperatures much lower than in Worcester. It was the second best move of the weekend (the first being the enquiry that led me to the big bike shop in Mossel Bay). I left Reebok at 5.30 am and with the wind from behind and the sun too I managed to reach Riviersonderend at around 7.35. There I stopped and filled my tank and my stomach for the first time. Just before Riviersonderend I passed a dad and his son on two Vuka 110 scooters. They were away for the weekend and on their way back to Cape Town. They pulled in at Riviersonderend a few minutes after me, filled up and left before I did. I passed them again just before Caledon. I was amazed to see how little you need to create your own fun. You don't need the best and most expensive bike to have the best ever weekend. They were clearly enjoying themselves and at approximately 90km/h I am sure they saw more of the scenery than what I did at 130.

The temperature along the way ranged from 13 to 17 degrees Celcius. I always wondered why anyone would need heated grips when you are wearing gloves. After a while I was cooling down and I was amazed  at the difference heated grips can make to your body. I have since changed my opinion on heated grips and cannot wait for winter to arrive (not really!). I stopped at Sir Lowry's pass to take a picture, but when I tried to get off my bike the wind was howling and I was actually scared that my bike would blow over. It was obvious a venturi effect right there through the "gap" in the mountain. Even the tourists that stopped climbed out and some immediately jumped back into their bus when they felt the wind. From the top of the mountain to the bottom of the pass, the temperature climbed from 17 degrees to 26 degrees. A classical example of bergwind conditions and a good explanation for the warm weather in Cape Town today. I arrived at my office at 10 am, 30 minutes shorter than my trip on Sunday...and much more fun this time. I also won't be needing any painkillers today either. I am glad that my trip back was done with so much less effort, otherwise my "sabbatical" would not have been succesful. A 900km round trip, a beautiful weekend in the Garden Route and staying at the best guesthouse in the Souther Cape. It was definitely worth it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Taking on the Argus

My wife has decided to do something different this year, so she decided at the last minute to do the Argus. For those of you that don't know what the Argus is, it is called The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and is an annual 109 km cycle race hosted in Cape Town. With approximately 40,000 cyclists taking part, it is the world's largest individually timed cycle race, and is the first event outside Europe to be included in the International Cycling Union's Golden Bike Series. OK, I got this information from Wikipedia, but at least now you know how spectacular this race is. She obviously won't be the first person to pick up a bicycle a couple of days/weeks before the actual race and manage to finish it, so it can be done. Besides, she is a master at spinning and she has a history of cycling behind her, but if she was not in her early 30's I would've thought this was some mid-life crisis attemp to prove that she still has what it takes.

Last week we took her bike from the roof, a Trek dating from circa 1994, and dusted it off for the first time in approximately 12 years. Apart from the perished tyres and some rust spots, the bike still looked capable of doing the job. In 1996 we did a route of approximately 188km from Prins Albert to Mossel Bay. So I know she will have the stamina to do 109 km. What makes our feat even more impressive is that we've crossed the Swartberg Pass on our way to Oudtshoorn, and after having a burger at the Spur, we crossed the Outeniqua Pass towards Mossel Bay. A journey that took us exactly 12 hours to complete if you include the hour lunch in Oudtshoorn. The Swartberg Pass is one of the most spectacular gravel mountain passes in South Africa and definitely NOT a baby you take on for a Sunday morning fun ride. It actually makes the Argus looks a bit tamed, but I don't want to sing her praises before she actually crosses the finish line. So she knows what to expect and she knows that her biggest fear at this moment is saddle soreness which she will definitely start experiencing after the first 10 kms and a possible strong headwind. O yes, and then there is the flat tyre problem. She has never ever changed a tyre before because she always had a capable cycling partner who will not be accompanying her this year. Me. I have to admit that after inspecting her bicycle and showing her how to change a tyre, the memories came back and I am determined to dust off my bike as well and join her for some future riding. Fortunately there will be lots of road side assistance at the Argus. When we did our 188 km over mountains and through valleys the only back-up we had was my mom and dad that waited for us at certain points to see if we were not knocked over by passing motorists. We didn't have energy drinks and all the nice goodies everyone has now to mentally make them feel stronger, we only had water and I think a Lunch Bar every now and then. The Spur Burger also provided some energy.

I've always wanted to do the Argus. Not to test my endurance, but just for the fun of it. After the Swartberg Pass I don't really think that the Argus will appeal to me or prove anything, but I still think it can be lots of fun like any other fun ride. What I do think will be a challenge is the Cape Epic, but that I will leave to the men out there who has more balls than brains (with all respect guys). To my wife I just want to say good luck. I am sure the new tyres, seat and brake blocks will help...and you look stunning in your new cycling outfit.  I won't be there to witness your dash towards the finish line, I will be traveling, but my thoughts will be with you and I will celebrate with you when I get back. Have fun!