Südafrika Blogeintrag 3: Garden Route

Nach 4 Wochen Klettern Mit Rainer, Renate (Rainers südafrikanischer Mercedes mit Esprit) und Merlin an den schönsten Orten an denen man sich diesen wunderbaren Sport nur vorstellen kann, einem gebührenden Abschluss am Tafelberg an einer der dortigen cleanen Mehrseillängenrouten und 2 Tagen scheitern am letzten Zug meines 7c+ Projekts in Montagu war die Zeit reif für Veränderung. Und um endlich das Hauptprojekt in die ernste Phase zu starten. Schluss mit dem gemütlichen rumbummeln bei 35 Grad in der Klein Karoo.

Nachdem uns Rainer in George, in vertretbarer Entfernung zum Endpunkt vor 4 Wochen- nur durch eine Bergkette von Oudtshoorn getrennt- abgesetzt hatte, schickten wir uns an, die berühmte Garden Route mit dem Tandem zu befahren. Komischer Begriff übrigens, ich denke eigentlich meint der Begriff die Region an der Küste zwischen George und Port Elizabeth, wo es durch viel Niederschlag durch die im Norden abgrenzende Bergkette sehr grün und subtropisch ist. Tatsächlich ist die einzige Strasse dort die N2, auf der man nur relativ wenig der Garden Route tatsächlich sieht.

Dammit, started writing in German again "sigh"

After Rainer dropped us in George, just one mountainrange south of oudtshoorn, where i stopped cycling four weeks ago, we set out to cycle the famous Garden Route by tandem bycicle. Weird name by the way, actually Garden Route is more the name of the whole coaststrip between George and Port Elizabeth which is very green because of the mountain range in the north causing lots of rainfall in the region, whereas 50 km north in oudtshoorn it is half desert. But the only "route" along the coast is N2 from where you wont see a lot of the Garden Route (area).

So starting from George in the afternoon we raced downhill to the coast to get to Wilderness, a lean town where we had the contacts from people we met back in Calitzdorp on the trainstation campsite.
Arriving in Wilderness we met them at a really nice bar with rooftop area at a concert. I remember that being like a shock, but a very positive one. Not having experienced something "simple" like that, culture, live music which back home me and a lot of people have like 3 times a week came like a shock after 6 weeks in the desert, rock climbing and watching nature do its timeless thing.

So, suddenly we met like 10 new, really nice people, had so much to talk about and music to listen to. We were linked to really nice people that own a guesthouse up in the hills north of Wilderness. Arriving at night and then seeing the place with an awesome breakfast was out of this world. Wilderness is a small but cultural rich town with surfer- and Hippievibe at the coast, it is basically rainforest with all its colours, flowers and animals but theres also a river entering the sea which forms something like a big lake in the middle of wilderness. There another important thing happened, the couple hosting us told us about a nice and small Trancefestival further down the Garden Route which was about to happen just in time for us to cycle there in 3 days. Something like Wilderness is hard for a touring cyclist because on one hand you are at an awesome place with beautiful people and you would just love to spend 1 week at the place, but knowing it takes a lot of time to travel to a lot of other also nice places you can feel the urge to move telling you to get on the bike.

So we went along the N2 through the "jungle" and just before arriving in Knysna we were lucky enough that a nice couple stopped us on the road. Talking to them about what merlin and myself are doing there with this big bike it didn't take them long to invite us to their place at a retirement area. And it left us stunned about how nice, thoughtful and hospitable people can be. Passing by you don't have a lot of time to either stop or continue, a lot of people stop or ask from the moving car next to us because they're curious about whats going on. But stopping, 2 minutes of "Hey, how are you, what are you doing, do you need a place to stay today in knysna?" That left me speechless. It is like, ok we've got some space, without us even asking for it, some people know what you need most and they invite you to their place. Which for a lot of people is private, right? Having some smelly, burnt by the sun, hippie circus travellers in your home, thinking about it I'm not sure if I would have invited myself.

Considering the condition we must have been in, combined with the looks of properly focked (expression that a guy used that i met on the trail from montagu avalon hot springs to montagu- "man, i came all the way, two massive snakes on the path. Im going home, im focked. FOCKED) bicycle travellers at some times. The creepy guys that just came from their cave up in the mountains to get some food. It left me speechless.

When you're struggling like crazy, you're sweating all day, salt in your eyes, everything hurts, your legs feel like they're about to explode and you're quite sure you didn't do a single thing that's got anything to do with hygiene for the last 3 or 4 days, out of nowhere you sleep in a massive bed with 7 or 8 pillows (I'm not lying, that was the maximun so far. South African women love pillows, thats what i leaned), have a really hot shower and awesome food. Drink some cold beer and do a nice trip around the town. I can ensure you, it hits you like a train. I had to force myself to not use "thank you" twice in each sentence.

And people taking us in were so caring. Food, drinks, relaxation, bike maintenance, a short trip, basically everything you've been dreaming of in those last 6 hours when the wind just seemed to try keeping you from where you want to go and blow you back to cape town. Or for hours after hours discovering there can always be a longer, steeper hill after this one that looks like its going to take you 10 minutes to get to the top. Whoever created the topography of South Africa must have thought "yeah just wait till you're at the top and you can see the next one".

Thats when all the fighting on the bike pays off and basically everything, as long as you don't have to move feels like heaven on earth. I at least didn't have one single meal after cycling that i didn't eat with the enthusiasm of a starving hyena. Sleeping for 10 hours each night, most nights from 8 to 6 is no problem, i fall asleep in a matter of seconds and (when sleeping in a proper bed) wake up all twisted and turned 90 degrees around like 30 seconds later in the morning watching the sunrise. Simply awesome. Also lying or sitting somewhere staring at slow moving things or ants (my secret passion) for an hour or so is the thing to do for me after cycling.

After staying in Knysna and seeing the heads, the opposing clifffaces at the entrance of the bay of knysna, we continued along the Garden Route with its crazy vegetation, beautiful landscapes and nice people. The landscape there is really hard to put in relation to anything I have ever seen. Its like a mixture of Switzerland or Norwegian mountains in the background but with subtropical almost rainforest-like dense forests and a really nice coastline with beautiful beaches.

Next stop on the route was Nature's Valley and it's not hard to guess where that name came from. It is 15 km off the freeway and such a steep downhill that i immediately thought we are going to regret going there. Obviously that uphill would have cost us an immense amount of energy but also a lot of time the next day. Also it might turn out to be difficult to find a place to stay if you dont know anything about the town or village in advance. Which, in case of Nature's valley it turned out to be a holiday site. And people on holidays dont really tend to take in smelly cyclists that travel hobostyle.

But Merlin who is one of those people that have mastered the art of asking and getting the thing they need just approached the first person on the road and got the sleeping place fixed. Truly inspiring, i think i learned quite some things from him. So we were able to go to the beautiful beach and do the cooking there, without any worries about our stuff or the place to stay.

Next day- same procedure. We knew the uphill would be horrible so we decided to try to get a lift for 30 minutes. What does the magician do? First oppurtunity (meaning a pickup which luckily a lot of people here are driving) he jumps on the street waving his arms like hes trapped on an island and is seeing a ship pass by finally. I tend to just be lucky when im travelling on my own and need help, merlin the magician grabs the oppurtunities in a more offensive way. And it works, people were never offended when we just asked for something nicely. I mean I am sort of expecting to get turned down and people just don't have a place or don't want us in their home (which I understand), it just rarely happens. But of course it helps to try to keep your expectations low because the possibility to fail is always there.

So after this nice lift and a short visit to the famous and unique Wild Spirit Backpackers we were back on the road through Tsitsikamma National Park. On the way to this nice small trance festival deep in the forest. Arriving there the same day, 10 km off route and on dirtroad it felt like being teleported into another world again. 2-300 really nice people camping in the forest, we moved as far away from the stage as possible and pitched our tents down at a beautiful river. Then it was almost two days of nice electronic music, meeting people, dancing and seeing all sorts of strange and mindblowing things. When all you hear all day long is cars and trucks speeding past you and the sounds of the bike it is awesome to suddenly have all this music around you. While we are at the stage dancing and moving around the area our campsite continously gets raided by Baboon gangs, also because we always forget about them and leave some food lying around. Those cheeky beasts, later on the trip we get mugged by them every second day.

After the festival another quite big change happened when Merlin left me to go to Waterfal Boven, another famous South African climbing area. I certainly got used having him with me and the feeling of missing him on the bike and suddenly being on my own again was quite strong. After four weeks of travelling together you certainly build a quite strong connection. I think i will probably never forget how we had to laugh while i struggled to make it into rocklands on his Do-it-yourself crutches. 45 minutes of pain and suffering but lots of laughs.

But I also looked forward to be travelling on my own. It is something completely different. No one to talk about things, all decisions and initiative lie on me and for sure it is way more intimidating and exciting at times. Also, it is quite obvious now whos to blame if the food is not nice.

So i ventured out to cycle the last stretch of the Garden Rout towards Port Elizabeth on my own. Having met someone at the festival who offered me a place in Jeffreys Bay i pushed it hard that day to make it there.

I decided to go on a small road parallel to N2, which is always an option to get away from the speeding cars and trucks and the boring sights of the freeway. But also the choice if youre into lots of up-and-down. In this case the smaller road left me with some nice views of villages and townships but also the realization that a lot of these less used roads are basically waste disposal sites. Quite a depressing thing to do, cycling through 50 km of waste.

Just 15 km before Jeffreys Bay I took a guy on the bike that i met in one of the more rural agricultural towns (or maybe you could say township areas). He said he has a place to stay because his mom lives in Jeffreys Bay, so i just went straight to the adress that i had in an area of Jeffreys Bay which i believe was more for the wealthy people.

And there i got another example of how divided the society of South Africa still is and how big the influence of Apartheid, which is 20 years past, still is. Of course i can't expect people to take random strangers that i bring on the bike into their homes, but also i couldn't find a way to drop him earlier or to explain to him that I am going to stay with people that I myself just met. So they told us that he definitely can't stay and it turned out the person offering me a place wasn't the owner of the house. And the owner didn't feel comfortable with me being there. I was not too disappointed because of this, i wouldn't even call it a negative thing to happen, it was just the way it is sometimes travelling this way. Just look for other opportunities. But the way how my cycling partner (Yeah the fact i can't keep any names is hard on me sometimes) almost got chased away by the barking dogs that everyone here has, in front of a really nice looking house surrounded by high voltage electricity fences was a strong situation. Of course i might misinterpret a lot of things happening and I'm trying not to judge people or situations rightaway so this might be more an impression that i got.

For sure the predjudice that a lot of people have, racism and separation are really strong there. Fueled by one of the most unequal societies where the difference between rich and poor is probably bigger than anywhere else and thus causing lots of criminality, envy and violence. White people barely mix with black or coloured people, not only sexually (that probably more than the others) but on the streets, as friends or in places where people go. The fear of bad people, places and crime is huge, constantly we are meeting people that can tell the most horrible stories of relatives or friends, not to mention the gossip press picking these things up for headlines all the time. There are dangerous places basically everywhere and it didn't just happdn once that someone stopped us or told us about a dangerous place where robberies or even murder for minor causes is a common thing. And it for sure is hard judging this or to have the right feelings about a place that you know nothing of.

So after being turned down I had no other choice than moving to the backpackers which in Jeffreys Bay is crowded with surfers. Lots of nice people but also very loud, alcohol, everyone is shouting and laughing, tomorrow surfing, bungeejumping, jetski, sharkdiving, this and that. Coming from the highway, travelling with one or two persons in the desert and rainforest for four weeks it was a bit too much.

When i left Jeffrey's Bay the next day i hoped to make it till Port Elizabeth but what usually happens waking up at a nice place: It takes too long to get the engines going. Big breakfast, nice people, showering, packing, organizing and some shopping for food and its 12 o'clock. Anyways I don't know why i always tend to pick cities as the point to reach. Cycling happily along the small road parallel to N2 in the evening i suddenly realized the downhill into a river valley was much steeper and longer than I expected. When it's turning 5 o'clock and you've got no idea where to sleep but end up in a gorge it takes you 60 minutes to get out of- you're basically stuck. At the small bridge crossing the stream down in the gorge, looking at the bridge of the freeway 200m above, me I met some guys with pickups that were on a fishing competition trip. I remember one of them was constantly honking with one of these pressure bottle horns, which i thought was one of the most ignorant things to do considering the beautiful nature we were surrounded by. Anyways, seeing me they got quite interested to say the least.

What are you doing here, how long will it take you, aren't you afraid, why are you doing this, the usual questions. The more i get asked these same things multiple times each day, i usually try to chat to people in a more or less normal conversation. But at times its just too much or people are really strange, not being able to accept that a bike might be used for travelling long distances. So- I am cycling from Cape Town to Addis. I don't know how long it's going to take but i expect 4 months and 17 days??? No, Im not all the time afraid, I don't see the need to be. And I'm doing it for fun and because it's good for my CV. Still the guys were nice and offered me a lift up the hill and we were just about to get the bike on the pickup when another traveller on a bike came the other direction: Maria on her solo biketrip from northeastern Southafrica towards Cape Town, using mainly dirtroads and trying to avoid people and be on her own. The fishing guys freaked out. From that point on I'm not sure what happened because the conversation switched to Afrikaans for 10 minutes.

I was quite happy about this oppurtunity to meet another likeminded person so we went camping together in the valley, had some nice food and a refreshing morning swim in one of the beautiful ponds of the river close by.

Next morning we went off different directions, Maria was on a race to make it to a reforestation festival she was raising money for. And me, i went to Port Elizabeth and passed by a nice bikeshop called The Bike&Brew. The people working there really made an effort helping me out with repairs and equipment, i even left them with a brand new bike&brew shirt and refilled repairkit. After this experience i was so excited to ride that I didn't even went into the city, i turned north directly and continued along the coast towards East London...