Making My Way South to The Tip of Africa
A few months have gone by since I last wrote. So much has happened. Everyday life on the road has many variables. Weather, logistics, managing gear, meeting people, cycling, exploring, and navigating fill my days. And it takes a little while to integrate before I can articulate the experiences.
In these intervening months, I traveled from Johannesburg to the Eastern Cape and tagged along with “Buffalo Herders” who provide support for cyclists in the Freedom Challenge, https://www.freedomchallenge.org.za/race-across-south-africa. I spent time in the Cradock and followed the cyclists’ migration to the Baviaanskloof and rode shotgun as we escorted groups of cyclists through the epic pass and nature reserve, ostensibly creating a safety buffer between the cyclists and the moody, resident Cape buffalo.
After that, I made my way down the coast of South Africa, starting at surf mecca, Jeffrey’s Bay, and then onward to the epically beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. From there I explored more Garden Route towns, hikes, and rides in Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, and George.
From, George I went inland to de Rust and Prince Albert where I fell in love with the landscape of the area. I cycled the Swartberg Pass in both directions and did a bike packing trip into a remote valley, affectionately known as, “Die Hel”, or Hell.
There are many stories, insights, and inspirations from these explorations and I hope to add them to the blog.
But here I am, now, in Pringle Bay, near the southernmost tip of Africa. The wind howls off the ocean in the winter weather pattern. The days are getting warmer and longer. Fragrant and floral, the fynbos biome landscape comes alive with scents and colors. Wild Proteas freesias, calla lilies, and other wildflowers bloom. I feel as though I am walking and cycling in a vast, ruggedly wonderful manicured, ornamental landscape. Baboons walk and rampage through the community. The neighbor’s schnauzer, Vera provides an early warning system to let us know when the baboons are near so that we can dive towards any open doors to prevent a house invasion. While having coffee at the local deli the other day, someone forgot to close the safety gate and a baboon opened the door, ran in, grabbed a piece of meat from the cold case, and absconded with the loot.
I have been in Pringle Bay at my friend, Ilse’s house for a few weeks. It has been lovely to have a comfortable base, a kitchen, and friends. From the upstairs, I can see Cape Town’s Table Mountain in the distance. I arrived in Pringle Bay while Ilse was staying in my former accommodation in Hoedspruit. Our friend Barbara came for a visit for a few days while waiting for her new apartment to be available. Another friend of Ilse’s stopped over for a night. It has been a lovely, relaxing experience of community. I appreciate sharing space with independent, creative women.
With the wind and rain, I slowed down a bit with cycling. Ilse has a lovely yoga space and I have enjoyed stretching and strength training to counterbalance the strains of cycling. Hangklip, the prominent local mountain has beautiful trails for hiking. The surrounding Kogelberg Nature Reserve feels immense and wild. I did a big, remote, solitary loop through the Kogelberg when I first arrived. I did not see another person in the wilds and was happy when I finally popped out onto a dirt road leading back to civilization!
I just finished a four-day, bike-packing trip to Cape Agulhas, the very southernmost tip of the African continent. I plotted a route and booked Airbnbs along the way. On the first day, I cycled to Caledon from Pringle Bay. Caledon has a beautiful hot spring managed by a resort. The pools range from scalding to icy. The water flows at such a high rate that chlorination is unnecessary. It felt wonderful to be in the hot springs after a day of cycling.
From Caledon, I cycled through rolling hills planted with canola (in yellow bloom) alternating with rich, green, wheat fields. I stopped in the town of Napier for a substantial breakfast of homemade sourdough bread, jam, eggs, bacon, and vors, along with a perfect cappuccino. It was hard to get back on the bicycle after all of that. But, cycle I did. I headed south and the hills flattened out as I approached the coast. A strong headwind met me there, and I put my head down for the final 30km to Struis Bay. I booked into my quaint, beach-themed cottage, had a cup of tea, and then made my way along the coast to Cape Agulhas National Park. I found the sculpture of the African continent in relief and walked around it, taking in the mountain ranges, rivers, deserts, and lakes of Africa. What an amazing landmass. I hiked out the boardwalk to the monument designating the southernmost African landmass.
The next day, I had a leisurely start and cycled to the coastal vineyard town of Stanford. I planned to stop in Elim for breakfast. As I arrived in Elim, the church bells tolled and latecomers rushed to the very prominent church. The town seemed different and vaguely more European than other South African towns. The architecture had a lovely continuity, but I was confused by the lack of tuck shops and restaurants. I circled the town hoping for breakfast and a coffee. When I did not see a place for breakfast, I decided I would be happy with a coke and chips or a candy bar. When that did not materialize, I sat on a wall on the edge of town and ate bread and cheese from my pack. I looked up from studying google maps, wondering where I would find the closest coffee. I was warmly greeted by a man on a bicycle. Carl makes a lovely ambassador for the town. He explained that the whole town is private property and belongs to the Moravian Mission. Almost 200 years ago, Moravians from Germany established Elim as a self-contained, self-supporting religious community. He explained the church leadership and the requirement that everyone belongs to the church. I noticed, however, that Carl was not in church, but thought better than to ask! He gave me tips on taking the dirt road into Stanford and we parted.
As I climbed up from the coastal plane to Stanford, the dirt road was quiet. I noticed a solitary, older, white woman walking in a remote spot. She seemed etheric and frail in her white clothing. After I passed, she called out to me. I stopped and turned to her. She was filled with a quality of ecstasy. She bowed to me with her hands clasped in prayer position at her chest. She explained that she is living in a farmer’s cottage while her children find a permanent home for her. She stays alone and the farmer brings her fresh food once a week. She rarely speaks to anyone and communes with nature and the stars. She told me that she has an intuitive connection with God and that God has a message for me. She asked my permission to speak the message. When I said, “Yes”, she spoke of challenges that I have faced and blessings to come. When she finished, she bowed once again and slipped into the landscape. I cycled on.
I arrived at Misty Mountain Vineyard, my accommodation for the night, and enjoyed a meal at the restaurant. I loved being on a working farm. The vines are waking up and the farmworkers were busy pruning. I can feel that spring is around the corner and it makes me want to put my hands in the earth and garden.
By my fourth morning, I realized I had found a rhythm and ease with loading up my gear. Each item has its place. I stopped in the town of Hermanus on my way back to Pringle Bay. I first heard of Hermanus years ago while reading South African author, Zakes Mda’s novel, Whale Caller. The novel takes place in Hermanus and is a love story amongst misfits, including a whale. I look forward to re-reading it now that I have a better sense of context.
I returned to Pringle Bay on a beautiful afternoon, just in time to meet up with a German friend who, coincidentally, happened to be visiting South Africa and was staying just up the road!
And now the current Pringle Bay chapter winds down and I am headed to Cape Town and then north to the Cederberg Wilderness area to explore. I am eager to be back in my tent, sleeping on the earth under the night stars!