South Africa Blog Entry 4: Wild Coast and Transkei, Port Elizabeth to Durban




Leaving Port Elizabeth i realized again how much the nature and landscape in South Africa changes in short distances. After maybe 200 km of Garden Route with its Forests and mountains suddenly the terrain got more flat and open, different vegetation and a coastline that is dominated by the huge dunefield along the coast. So from Port Elizabeth it was only industrial area because of its big harbour for maybe 15 km which then turned to a more savannah and bushland landscape.

Leaving PE on wide but empty streets for the trucks of mining and oil companies but not too much to see I had a nice race with a race cyclist (not too much of a chance for me) and finally went on N2 for 15 km until colchester. After going back and forth in the town from campsite to Hotels where i asked for possibilities to visit Addo Elephant Park, i finally ended up in Rossi's B&B where I could stay for two nights. Nice Braai (Barbecue) in the evening and my own bed. As good as it gets.

The next day my original plan was to see the dunes of the huge dune field of this area just to discover i can't make it there with the bike and i would have to pass the campsite that, obviously wants money for entering. Beeing a bit disappointed i went back to Rossi's place to pack when he offered me if I could just wait till 4 he's gonna take me there on his Jetski, i should just stay one more night. Oh Yeah I'm going to do that. So after he used another hour of his time to help me repair one of the bike bags by taking me to the workshop of one of his friends, we took his race-jetski and speeded towards the shore, sometimes just meters from the coastline. He dropped me next to the dunes and i went for a walk in this surreal landscape. I couldn't believe what's happening to me. Receiving all this hospitality and help and then such a nice shorttrip it felt like being at home or with really good friends. Being treated so nicely by people that you barely know, it's hard to believe.

I got into contact with a couple of guys also staying at rossi's that are working in street construction so we had some good conversations about their living and working conditions and it was really funny to pass by their workplace later on. Sadly (or well, better than nothing probably) a lot of people here have jobs where they are not really doing anything. No variety in activities and no qualifications needed. Like standing next to a speedbump waving a flag for 12 hours a day. Horribly boring. A lot of women are doing this quite useless job and some of them that i talked with, man were they happy to have someone to chat to for a couple of minutes that's what i can tell you.

Leaving Colchester resulted in another change in landscape: one fairly long uphill and suddenly it is all farmland again. Wide and open area, green and lots of cattle. I had a horrible day with the conditions, lots of hills to climb and strong winds from the front. But i was in no rush and picked the speed at which it felt ok going with and did 55 km that day (8 hours cycling). I spent the night at a farm with all kinds of animals which were proudly presented to me by the son of the family.

Next days i was invited to a nice braai by a family spending their holidays at a campsite and stayed at a nice backpackers in Port Alfred. Strangely there's only been black people staying there which was a nice change I thought. After that it was more or less unspectacular. Along the coast but nothing to see because of the dunes along the coast.

This changed when R72 turned away from the coast and i got a nice first impression how Transkei looks like. Much more like Uganda and Ghana, the countries in Africa that i already knew. More rural, villages that spread far across the countryside, which in this area barely has any vegetation except grass. So you get the most breathtaking views in this mountaineous area. Transkei is one of the so called homelands where a lot of black and coloured people where forced to move to during the Apartheid era. I tried to move there freely but was constantly told how dangerous it is and that i basically shouldn't leave the road. So, looking for some food i ended up in a village at a shop where two policemen where hanging around. It was like one scene described in Ryszard Kapuscinski's African Fever: Policemen pointing out that everyone but him is a thief. Tsotsi. And this one, sir, (Pointing with fearful shaking hand) very big tsotsi. I couldn't stop them from "helping me out" with a police escort. But you wouldn't believe how slow i can drive this bike. I told them I'm going to be slow, still they wanted to get me safe to the next restaurant. Which then didn't exist, leaving me hungry in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, thanks for saving me from all those Tsotsis. They would have probably told me i was lucky not being robbed when i went to get my water from a primary school a couple of kilometres before. Even black policemen have predjudice of other black and coloured people in certain areas. But then they go and hang out at a restaurant together, it is confusing.

The more things like these happen, the more I struggle to put it into words. And certainly some things leave me confused and upset. Struggling to deal with it or write it down then makes me question the purpose of the trip sometimes. Am I doing this for me, or is there a deeper purpose behind it. If i can't find people to join me how can it be about connecting or let's say making deeper connections to people. If I need time for myself and enjoy travelling alone that much, how can it be about intercultural exchange? If i struggle to write, how does this all make any difference from a holiday trip? Is it about fun or having a hard time on the road? Beautiful ecolodges in the middle of nowhere or staying with families in clayhuts? Talking to those thousands of people that i have contact to every day or about reflecting on my own? On some days i have a lot of these things on my mind. What am i doing here after all? Trying to have a good time and travel, avoiding trouble or unpleasant situations or will I also put myself willingly into unpleasant, scaring and shocking situations that shove it in my face how things really are, far away from the standard tourism? But can i also deal with being confronted with all this injustice, poverty and crime all the time? Swaziland will tell.

And the further I move northeast the stronger the situations get. East London finally was the first city to me that i would consider being an african city, not halfway into being a copy of standard european cities.
At least central East London was. But before i got there I cycled next to a black marathon runner for some 10 km and ended up on a road next to the coast where multiple people basically told me it is a killing field. One car stopped me there, a white farmer with her two daughters. No other cars on the street and the car obviosly stopping because of me. I can't say it didn't scare me a bit. But oh they just stopped me to tell me this road is shit dangerous and that i shouldn't stop. Basically scaring the shit out of me just to tell me to be scared. Eish.

Arriving in East London i went straight to one of the takeaways to get some chips, which here are soft and oily almost raw potato stripes. You constantly have to force cooks to just leave it in longer. Didn't work this time. I sit in the restaurant forcing down the food while the owner is standing at the booth and one of his workers (probably also his exgirlfriend or something similar) is trying to get what seems like her last salary. He refuses to give her the money and goes "we can talk and i give you the money, maybe tomorrow" while she just keeps repeating "i don't want to talk. Give me the money, i want to leave". They do this for 10 minutes straight, no other words were used. I didn't know if i should throw up because of the rainwormlike chips or burst out laughing because of their conversation. Surely i was happy not to have to come back. Ever, i hope.

In East London i get taken in by an awesome couple of couchsurfers in a beautiful home close to East London's main and supposedly only attraction: Nahoon Beach.

But having booked a seat under special conditions on the BazBus due to time runnging out on my South African Visa (Mainly because of my rock climbing addiction) i had to leave already the next day. Skipping Transkei on a bus. 10 times cycling speed. Shame Shame Shame.

Being in the bus, knowing i didn't have much of a choice than to skip there, not riding these 300 horribly mountaineous kilometres on the motorway, i still suffered a lot. The landscape and nature was breathtaking: grasland as far as you can see, hills and gorges and the Fortress of the Lesotho mountains in the north. Combined with a sunset that leaves you speechless. And I'm on a smelly, loud and shaking bus rushing past all of this beauty. Made me realize again why I'm on this bike torturing myself on the uphills.

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