Home > Uncategorized > Travels with a motorbike Part 2 – Cape to Springbok

Travels with a motorbike Part 2 – Cape to Springbok

It was just beginning to get light on a chilly winter morning when I set out from Cape Town on my journey north.  My destination for the first day was Springbok in the Northern Cape, a 120 km short of the Namibian border. It was a journey of some 540 km.

I always have a wonderful feeling of excitement and anticipation when I set out on a journey such as this. An adventure into the unknown does not fill me with dread as it does with some people, but rather with huge optimism and exhilaration. I do not become afraid of things that might go wrong. I do not expect them to. Things will always turn out right. And as I rode off, I felt that I had broken free of the bounds of conventional life, if not permanently, at least for a few weeks. I was no longer ordinary, I was extraordinary.

The Wednesday morning rush hour traffic was of little consequence to me as I sped my way out of the city suburbs, north west, along the N7. Though I was wearing the inner lining of my riding suit, the cold wind would I knew at some point start to make itself felt and I would need stop to allow myself to warm up. But for now my own adrenaline was doing an admirable job.

While planning this trip, I was often asked why I did not go by car. Unless you have been on a motorbike, it is difficult to explain the thrill of riding one. A car is a sterile cocoon in which you sit numbly watching the miles roll by. You are detached from the environment, distracted by the car’s interior and its petty comforts. On a motorbike, you are at one with the road. Every kilometre counts and every one is a pleasure. You feel the buffeting wind, and every bump along the way. You have no roof over your head, or panels to block your view. You are the environment. The rapidity with the bike responds to your commands gives you a feeling of immense power and control. Slow moving traffic is not a problem on a motorbike, it is an opportunity for further satisfaction and you do not have to be a daredevil show off or a maniac, terrorising other road users, in order to feel the thrill.

The west coast of South Africa is very different from the east. Whereas the former is warmed by the Mozambique current sweeping down from the equator providing rainfall and a comfortable climate, the west is chilled by the Benguela current, driven by the South Easterly Trade Winds  which bring cold water from the bottom of the ocean to the surface and which flows northwards from Cape Point up towards Angola. There is little rainfall and the countryside is barren in comparison.

By the end of July, spring is on its way. I had been told that the flowers of the Western Cape, were beginning to come into bloom. There are a magnificent sight and well worth the journey from the city. Acres and acres of gently rolling hills are covered with the most gorgeous and brightly coloured petals. I was anxious to see them again, having done so four years earlier, but sadly the day was cold and overcast and without the sunlight they were unwilling to display themselves to maximum effect. (The photo below is from an earlier visit to the area.)

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The road took me through the wheat growing districts of Malmesbury towards the aptly named Citrusdal where huge orange groves produce millions of oranges destined for the markets of Europe and the world. But first I had to climb the Piketberg Pass. It is a glorious sensation riding a bike through the bends of a well cambered road, leaning from side to side as if guiding your own personal roller coaster. As one climbs higher and higher, the view of the plain below spreads out like a vast patchwork quilt.

I stopped at Citrusdal for fuel and for what Americans demurely call a comfort break, but which we, in my army days, used to call a piss parade. A cup of coffee and a doughnut added to my overall feeling of wellbeing. I had discovered in the 6 months that I had been riding my bike, that I needed a rest and a stretch every couple of hours or so. It did not need to be more than five minutes, but if I am making good progress and am ahead of schedule then I am comfortable taking longer. That is the difference between biking and driving. On a bike, the journey is the thing, whereas in a car, the destination is my goal. The sooner I get there the better and I seldom stop anywhere longer than is strictly necessary.

I pressed further north, crossing off in my mind the names of the towns and villages that I passed: Cederberg, Clanwilliam, Vredendal, Vanrhynsdorp, Nuwerus, Bitterfontein, Garies, Karkams, Kamieskroon and finally Springbok. As I progressed, the agricultural heartland of the Western Cape gave way to the bleaker terrain of the Northern Province. Vast rock formations, brown boulders of strange shapes defined the passing landscape. Every so often a forlorn sign would indicate a track that must lead to a remote farmstead, a vestige of those early Trek Boers who set out from the Cape centuries ago in search of grazing land for their cattle, only to discover that they should have gone north east rather than north west; right out of the front door, rather than left. But the people of these parts are hardy, simple and resilient. They know to help each other and do so willingly and happily.

Further breaks along the way saw me arriving in Springbok by mid afternoon. My plan had been to camp at a big site attached to a large motel on the outskirts of town. I approached my destination with some misgivings. The terrain was bleak, flat and devoid of any natural shelter. A cold wind was blowing and I saw that site was deserted. The motel itself was drab and uninteresting. I made enquiries about staying there, but it was so unattractive I decided to head for the bright lights. The road took me into the main street of a bustling little country town. Shops, garages, estate agents, chemists lined the street. I enquired at a cafe if there was a backpackers lodge. Sure enough there was one, not 50 yards back along the street from whence I had come.

The lady at the desk was a friendly Afrikaans woman, who chatted with me about my trip. She gave me a few pamphlets about the area. Once checked in I was shown to a large converted garage built from corrugated iron with 12 bunk beds and a kitchenette at one end. My hostess opened the garage door at the far end and allowed me to wheel in my bike for safe keeping. I was the only guest. I removed my panniers and the rest of my gear and made myself a cup of tea. Then feeling invigorated once more, I decided to go and explore the town and its environs.

This is what the brochures say about the town.

Springbok is the capital of Namaqualand. It takes its name from the large herds of springbok which used to pass through the arid valley to drink water from the spring. The herds were driven away when copper resources were discovered near the small settlement. In the middle of the last 19th century, the area started to be mined, and a railway line to the coast was built for the transport of the ore. The railway line has been dismantled long ago, but the old steam-engine can still be seen in the mine museum of Nababeep, some kilometres out of Springbok. There one can also visit one of the last remaining working copper mines. Most of the mines in this area were closed down.

Springbok is the centre of the wildflower region, and each year in spring the town experiences a great invasion of tourists. Then the small camping site is booked to the last spot, and the visitors stream into the Goegab Nature Reserve. Even out of season, this nature reserve offers an interesting insight into the unique plant world of Namaqualand.’

On my way back into town, I stopped to do a bit of shopping for my evening meal which I cooked over a somewhat dodgy gas stove. After supper I had a long phone call with a dear friend who had been very ill and was now on the road to recovery. Her illness was such that she had not been able to speak for the past four years. This was the first proper conversation we had had since then.

After a shower and a glass of Scotch, I climbed in to my sleeping bag and made an attempt at my crossword puzzle.

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