South Africa Blog Entry 5: Zululand, Port Shepstone to Swaziland

500 km and 8 hours later BazBus spits me out in Port Shepstone, middle of the night, no other choice of where to go. Completely lost, dislocated because of the fast travelling speed i can't put the distance of this day into comparison. It is dark and I lost track of where I am and can't put the day into relation to all the other days. Too fast and too many impressions in too short time. Landscapes, villages, backpackers, people, towns, Nelson Mandela's giant home next to the highway, sunset, nighttime, it all raced past the windows, no time to take it in appropriately. None of the other backpackers on the bus was really looking at the things out there.

Next day there was nothing to do but to continue on R102 towards Durban. Tropical Nature in european looking towns along the coast. Decent to luxurious houses, supermarkets, shops that sell nothing but flowers. 20 km later the road takes a bend and moves maybe 15 km away from the coast into the extremely hilly hinterland. I am teleported into another country. The whole area, theres just black people living and only because it is 15 km away from the coast. Huge villages, not townships but decent houses spread across the hills in the dense and green vegetation. People are overwhelmingly nice and friendly, i still feel a bit at unease at first. The difference to the towns just half an hour ago is just too big and i fail to deal with this new environment rightaway. But it is amazingly beautiful. One of the nicest areas I've been cycling so far. People greet me and cheer me on on the uphills. And this only lasts for 20 km until nature, architecture and people change again, closer to the coast.
It's as if the N2 was built there to separate white from black people. For 20 km i can't spot a single white person.

Then the road moves close to the coast again and the town i set as destiny for the day proves to be a holiday village. I'm stuck and don't know whether to try my luck here or to move on. But i revive some inspiration and call for the first person I spot in the yard of a house. And I get taken in by a nice family on holidays. 100 per cent success rate. First try. It is like I'm in a culture where being hospitable to travellers is one of the highest values. Still, as far as South Africa i only got taken in by white people and i can't tell a definite reason for this.

Close to Durban i get sheltered like a king by an elderly couple in a house overlooking the Indik like a palace on a hill. Next morning I cycle into the huge city at 6 o clock, together with all the workers. Of course I get the strangest looks but I like the athmosphere. Sunrise in the working class areas. Loads of busses spitting out thousands of workers in front of factories etc. I float along these streets, I'm not in a hurry. My destination is the mozambican embassy because either here or in Mbabane, Swaziland i need my visa for mozambique. But I don't expect it to happen here as it is weekend and tuesday is public holiday so people take monday off.

As no one is at the embassy i decided to move to Durban's beachfront in search of wifi to make a plan what to do, move on or stay for the visa. Of course the beachfront is crowded with people and I stand out like an alien. After telling the story of my trip for maybe the 15th time it gets a bit tiring. But it might also help me to secure a place for the night. And I get to know interesting people. For example a police officer who's there to relax with his maybe 5 year old daughter on a kid's bike. He tells me stories of how he was being shot at, ducking down inside the police car, thinking about home.

A lot of people jump in when i tell them what I'm doing and what the current problem is. They call friends and hand me vouchers for free wifi. We take group fotos with the crew of the beach restaurant. When i decide to move on, the cop lifts up his shirt during our last chat. He keeps a gun in his waistband. Not in a holster, just the bare gun in his trousers.Sunny saturday on the posh Durban beachfront with his daughter and his gun. Quite a contrast.

Later on I meet another interesting cyclist on the beachfront that joins me on my way up and down the miles along the beach: an older rasta carrying around a parrot on his shouldet while on his racebike. The parrot loves cycling and is doing spaceship- like sounds all the time. I consider also getting a parrot just because it is awesome.

Not knowing where I am going to sleep this night in such a big town I always feel a bit lost. It is harder to find places too sleep and I'm afraid to ask people for a place to stay. But i get taken in by a backpackers which offers the first night to couchsurfers. Backpackers were always a bit difficult for me so far, lots of people from all over the world, travellers, surfers and loads of people that you never get to see because they've already left at 5am for safari, abseiling, bungeejumping or whatever. Nice people it's just that I never felt like I am in South Africa. Too much drinking, party, fun, fun, fun. Mainly white people that are on the bus to XY (insert name of random next backpacker) the next day. At Aweh Africa in Durban it feels different. Cathy and Jess give me an awesome welcome and i feel like home rightaway. A feeling that I was missing a lot, I just haven't realized as it seems. Being constantly on the road, never the same people around and always a small man on my shoulder telling me:"Get on the bike. Move. Move. You need to speed up", i decide to stop caring for what he's saying but stay for 5 days and meet lots of nice people. I go bouldering to a gym almost in Pietermaritzburg, the first day i go by bike and discover its 10 km uphill. One day we go to the beachfront with three people on the bike. For glory.

But it's always on my mind i need to get out of South Africa till end of march. But the restdays pay off, i meet two guys from the US, Roman and Andy who we hope to meet in a couple of days for safari, but also Bertram, who also wants to cycle to mozambique. He's got his own bike with him. So of course we team up. And after the many restdays we are full of energy.

We pack and have a long Farewell ceremony with all the people at Aweh Africa and head out of Durban. Bert on his single person bike with minimum luggage is much faster than me with 30 kg more on the bike. But he's short on time so I'm pushing like a maniac. This day we make it till KwaDukuza in a nice Sugarcane farm area. The town is quite strange, there is no place that offers accomodation. I wonder what that whole town is about. And you can tell by the population of the cities sometimes. It varies a lot in different areas. In KwaDukuza for example i can't spot another white person. The town is a miracle to me. What are all the people doing? Selling and buying probably.

We decide to go to the supermarket, hang out there and try to find shelter. Some guys are highly motivated to help us out and they start doing phonecalls. The attention you get being on this bike certainly helps finding a place. We get directed to a place where an Indian man, Hank, is building a B&B. Next to it is a brothel and while cooking we can watch what's going on with all these women waiting at the road. Hank is very nice to us and lets us sleep in his garage (He calls it hospitality like Hank). We are chatting with him about this and that, our trip etc. Basically smalltalk, when he comes out with the story of a woman that surprised two burglars in his house and then was left lying upside down in the bed, throat cut. Out of nowhere such a In your face. In a lot of conversations people here are doing this. Switching from "the drouhht is really bad" to "my son was killed fishing on the beach two years ago" in 5 seconds. Uff.

Next day we left early and we thought if the conditions are nice, saying not too hot, maybe clouds and no wind or wind from the back, let's just ride as far as we can this day. The day before we wanted to go till tugela river mouth but couldn't make it. So trying to get to St. Lucia as fast as possible we did 120 km that day, all the way to Richard's Bay. For the while trip thats been the record so far, but to do this you need a lot of things to come together: weather, wind, motivation, enough time and as little hills as possible. Still we've been pushing it hard all day long, just short breaks and riding through rain into the night. I don't think it is possible to ride much further here, for the conditions are not often that nice and it's dark between 5 and 6. But after a day like this I usually feel really beaten up, ass and legs hurt and motivation is gone. I just want to chill and sleep.

Next day we've basically been stuck in Richard's Bay because of spontaneous rainfall whenever we wanted to start packing. Knowing that Roman and Andy are waiting for us in St. Lucia we left next morning after lots of planning about the route. Not wanting to take the big detour back onto N2 we decided to go along the coast and then either make it over to St. Lucia by boat or go offroad through the backcountry.

We just start along the coast passing through a couple of nice villages along the road. Not too much happening there except for people going crazy because of a big red bike. Oh except for one guy we meet on the street that basically has only one half of a face. The other half looks like its been melting away. Bert is a medicine student so he tells me either someone was pouring acid over him during a feud which i also heard stories of, or it might be syphillis.

When villages stop we continue along road that is mainly used by big trucks of a mining company. And with big truck I mean monsters of machines. Proper roadtrains moving 4 lorries, 44m long. Really intimidating machines.

After this because lacking information about a possible passage at the river mouth we decide to go offroad on dirtroads through the villages. It proves to be a true adventure. In the middle of nowhere we make our way on the sandy roads, sometimes through puddles 20 cm deep. In advance we have checked as good as possible for the road conditions and for the possibility to cross a small river that is separating us from the sugar cane farms on the St. Lucia side.

It is a real pleausure to move around there, far from the busy and loud freeway. As for the bridge - on no map there's something that ensures the river crossing is possible, we just trust there's got to be something. The road gets smaller and we end up on a really small, almost overgrown footpath. I get afraid that it won't be possible to cross and we end being stuck in the forest.

But we're lucky and there is a bridge, well more like a wooden construction 30 cm wide just above the water. Time for the Adventure Club Tübingen to get into serious action. Because i have to walk next to the bike while Bert is pushing there is almost no space and i don't want to fall into the river that i don't know how deep it is, together with the 50kg bike, which is quite exciting. But we make it over safe and sound and burn another 1500 calories climbing the steep other side of the river.

Quite happy that we made it we realize we're now in the middle of a huge sugarcane farm. 20km each direction just sugarcane. And because the day before it has been raining heavily, the whole thing is one big pond of mud. On a lot of parts there's no way to drive for me, the wheels get stuck of all the mud and i can't move anymore. The struggle is real. If you pick the wrong line for just 3m you're screwed. At one point i get totally stuck. Chain jumps off and gets stuck between frame and pedals. I can't move forward because the mud there is even deeper but can't go back cause of the chain. I can't even put it on the stands because the mud is too deep. Desperate, I need to call Bert for help.

After the battle in the swamp is won we go to a local bar for some victory beer and rush to St. Lucia. Just when we cross the river to the peninsula, the two US guys pass by on their hippo cruise. And we can see the hippos down in the river, relaxing. Suddenly they start talking to each other in really deep and roaring voices. I never heard anything like this before. One of them goes "BBBBBBRRRRROOOOOOMMMMM" and then another one down the river answers "BBBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM". Really low pitch sounds you know only such a massive animal can do. People tell us that the hippos even take walks around town at night.

We meet with Roman and Andy and next morning we head to Mfulozi wildlife park for a safari. I'm keen to find out how it is being on safari. So far I have never done it in africa and it never really attracted me. In my belief it was always a purely tourist thing to do, too expensive and posh, riding through nature in one of these typical safari jeeps filled with white people. But it's a give and take, it helps to protect the endangered animals, actually in africa most of them would probably have gone extinct long time ago as they only exist in wildlife parks nowadays, which are still struggling to fight the poachers. And quite a lot of local people make a living out of it. It's not that far from my way of tourism or how i imagine it: earning the money in germany and then spending as much as possible in rural africa.

The park we go to is not too expensive, also we don't have too much time to stay there. We drive around for 3 hours which still alows us to see impalas, wildebeest, warthogs, giraffes and an elephant. It is a really nice experience and the landscape is a true eyeopener, but doing this for a week just scanning the bush because i really need to see this lion chilling in the sun- i would go crazy.

Next day Bert and I start the race to the swazi border. Bert is a good pacemaker as he is really short on time, same as me because I have to leave south africa till end of march. We speed along N2 basically just trying to get as far as possible till 5 o clock. Some shopping in the evening and off into the sugarcane fields. In these unpopulated areas its just easier and faster to find a place to wildcamp than to ask around and try to find a place. But the sugarcane fields are always quite muddy and because of this also infested by mosquitoes. Which we get a nice taste of. So it is not too much fun to cook. We move into the tents as fast as possible. And then the sprinklers start running and we have to move berts tent before it is soaked. Because usually we don't use the raincovers.

But we have nice days going parallel to N2 and meet lots of locals and take them on the bike. Going on these dirtroads i realize i enjoy it a lot. Its much less noise and smell and a lot more to see. Of course you can't cover as much distance and some parts of the roads are just really bad so you're driving slalom for ages but on the freeways there's basically nothing going on except for a truck or bus coming too close.

Next day we pushed hard to make it to the border to swaziland. Just at the end of the day there were some hills finally with some views. We also stopped at a place for some cold drinks where a really annoying dude just went crazy about god, jesus etc. He just didn't stop talking and most of it was more or less made up phrases until he asked us for help with his car. He claimed to be a priest and that his car is too old. It looked quite nice to be honest. The women working at the shop then told us that he is not a priest. We rushed to get away from there.

Going down to the border at golela it was like descending into a hot pan. Lots of impalas running next to the road and a view that tells you the next 200km will be dead flat and crazy hot. Raises the spirits. We had a lot of fun with the kids coming from school on the swazi side and i took one of them on the bike to give him a lift home. Sun dropped like a stone so we startet looking for a place to stay by asking at the huts next to the road. Two women living in a couple of clayhuts finally give us a place. There's not a lot there, 6 goats, some chicken playing in a tree and 3 huts. Because they cut down all the grass around the builings they are basically living in the dirt. It seems like a really poor family to me and I've got no idea what they are doing to make a living. But we have a lot of fun. Because they only speak SiSwati there's a lot of guestures and acting involved to explain "i need to go to the toilet" or "do you also want some of the food?". We laugh a lot that evening, share a nice dinner and i play some songs on the mighty thor for them. When we get ready to sleep they start carrying a lot of blankets, cussions and a mat to put our tents on out of their huts. They are just really sweet and nice to us, even though they barely have anything for themself, they share what they have. I feel it's difficult to express how thankful I am with hands and feet. Especially since this was the first night staying with a black family in the rural areas, something that i was missing in South Africa and wanted to do for a long time now, it is a really overwhelming experience.Asking around for a place without a common language and then to get taken in by such nice people. It gets me really psyched and confident to move into the countries further north.

So i did the biggest distance of all the countries along the way and finally left South Africa. One day left on my visa. Really, as I'm getting older I'm also getting over-cautious.