South Africa (Lesotho)

Vero & Leo

A lot of People say that Africa makes you sick and we were not immune to that. You always have some fear before a long bike ride in a nation or continent that you never visited, so you start collecting information, asking for any kind of advice, studying maps and reading monographs, but sometimes this make you more confuse than before…

That what happened to us, before taking off to Africa we had recommended, catechized, warned! But then each journey is different from that of another traveller, and it is useless to set limits: the unforeseen events has been the protagonists of the whole adventure, along with our common sense and experience.

Our first impact with Africa was quite unexpected. We landed in Cape Town, and we started riding right after assembling our HoBootleg. Three things we will never forget of the first few kilometres across the township of Cape Town: the kid’s heads on sale on the sidewalk, the naked girl crossing the road without any malice and those gray and dirty walls that was hard to say if they wanted to protect what was inside or outside of them.

The sea gave us a sense of peacefulness: the waves crashed on the shore while a lot of of surfers caught waves on their boards. The Cape of Good Hope peninsula starts from Cape Town, it is populated by penguins and baboons, twisted by the nervous winds and covered with fynbos, the typical bush of this area. We rode through the peninsula very slowly, enjoying each moment as it was the most beautiful of the whole trip. After exploring the peninsula, we left Cape Town loaded with our luggage and expectations. Our itinerary leaded us eastwards to the southern end of the Black Continent where the two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indians, meet each other hanging in big hug in the blue.

Our Hobootleg Geo behaved wonderfully on the first dirty roads we rode among the Western Cape farms. A beatutiful owl, colourful birds and small turtles floating on dusty path made our ride in the heart of South Africa to Route 62 really sweat – a road that boasts different affinities with the most famous American Historic Route 66.

The South African hilly paths are not really tough but the endless up and down breaks the rhythm of the ride, accentuating fatigue. So much eating and drinking makes us very eager of a real climb – so we headed to the watershed between Little and Great Karoo. The ascent of the Swartberg Pass was a sigh of relief: totally unpaved, never too steep, but not even predictable, eye-catching landscapes and a harsh and savage territory like in a Western movie.

The short detour to the hinterland was just a starter of what would expect us, but for the moment we decided to turn our wheels back to the south.

The descent into the subtropical mountain forest of Knysna smelled of moss and salts as we were approaching the sea. The dark sky was a clear sign that the rainy season was finally arrived. We didn’t get scared, after all, the weather was just one of the unknowns that makes an adventure more exciting.

Africa is synonymous of endless and starry skies as well as wildlife, and South Africa is no an exception. During the forty nights spent in the tent we really enjoyed the true African dream, a mantle of stars that, like a compass in the hands of the captain of a ship, was driving our dreams of exploration by bike. Every evening, we waited patiently for the appearance of the Southern Cross and then we felt asleep peacefully.

Long days on the N2 took us to the entrance of one of the many South Africans National Parks: The Addo Elephant Park. We left the bikes at the entrance and we enjoyed the park safely inside a car: encountering lions, rhinos, buffalo and elephants would not has been safe on our bike!

It didn’t take long before we got back on the bike, even though the South African roads make us sweat seven shirts. We definitely left the coastal environment to get into the highlands. A few days of transfer leaded us to Hogsback, a heavenly forest corner at the foot of the Amatola Mountains. The landscape was constantly dominated by hilly savannah. We passed through Fort Hare, a University that formed the greatest protagonists of the recent and troubled South African political history, including Olivier Tambo and Nelson Mandela.

The sadness arise when thinking that the lives of these “giants of history” have been sacrificed in vain: the South African social situation is not still promising and the integration process between white and black people is far from being concluded!

We crossed much of the eastern Cape region, coming to Rhodes, a small village of twenty-five people at the foot of Naude’s Nek, the highest pass in South Africa. We completely recharged ourselves resting few days in this corner of paradise that we wouldn’t want to leave.

Few days later we gathered our courage and the luggage and climbed up to 2596m of the pass along with dozens of head vultures flying just few feets away from our heads. The descent was surprisingly more complicated than the ascent, because of the bad road but at least we were completely conquered by the majestic views of the Dragons Mountains.

The distance from the Kingdom of the Mountains, Lesotho, is now short and Quacha’s Nek is our front door for the eden of cyclotourists: little traffic, meandering unpaved roads along some of the highest mountains in Africa, nice people clear air and endless skies! We spent a week in the southeastern part of the country, pedalling between 1500 m and 3000 m, stopping at night in the villages where hospitality is absolutely outstanding.

Step Sani was the pearl of our trip, as well as being the gateway from Lesotho.

The road that go down to the KwaZulu Natal region, twisting on the pinnacles of the Drakensberg, is an engineering artwork worthy of the finest abstract artists: we took 3 hours to ride 7 kilometers just taking pictures, enjoying the view and riding slowly! The journey continued among days of torrential rains and others of sun and suffocating heat. The road, slowly, leaded us back to the ocean near the town of Richard’s Bay, the access to the parks of this region: the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi N.P. And the Mkuze G.R. We took the time to explore the parks before the last baking hot days of riding to Johannesburg.

Also this adventure came to an end and left us the memory of a rich and splendid land, tormented by conflicts and visceral wars that have left devastating traces in the society, still very evident.

We are sure that South Africa and Lesotho will be just the first of a long series of African countries that we will explore on our bikes!