Around South Africa With a Mop

29 Mar

There’s not much time to tell the story of how I travelled to and along the Garden Route. The sun will be down in one hour and I want to hit the bar around then. Although I must be careful not to get carried away. Tomorrow afternoon I have a bus to catch in Port Elizabeth, just over 80km away. Although, the pink elephant on my shoulder just reminded me, it is my last night on the African coast. I’m sitting in the bar at Island Vibe Backpackers on the beach at Jeffrey’s Bay, surrounded by hedonists, with a litre of Tall Horse wine chilling in the freezer.

The big surfer chains, Billabong, Quiksilver and co., parade their ‘factory’ shops along J-Bay’s coastal roads. While other travellers took surfing lessons in wetsuits in the lukewarm sea, I spent the last of my budget on tomorrows bus ticket and 6 bilharzia pills, to rid me of 4 months of worms and parasites in 12 hours.

I’ve been looked after by good friends and strangers in the past couple of weeks. Lorenzo, one of the former – writer of theafricanstorygatherer.blogspot – put me up in her house in Centurion, Pretoria, for a couple of nights and drove me back and forth to organise my trip down to the coast. Lorenzo is a blazing Pretorian with an infectious enthusiasm for capoeira, parquor, dance, cricket even. In fact everything apart from meat.  We went for a ‘white cow’ at a farm – ginger beer and milk, drank beers at a sports bar and wine with her family, the Kent’s, and worked on a project for Lauren’s job at a branding company – writing a rap and storyboarded a music video, of sorts. The Kent’s made me very welcome and comfortable throughout my stay and I’ll be back again soon to mess with their schedules before flying to Istanbul.

I had the bike ‘monster serviced’ at a bike shop. New ball bearings in the front axel, wheels straightened, cleaned inside and out, new chain, new brake pads, tape over the scratches and tweaked and greased everywhere else.

Down in Cape Town John Day collected me, took me and his boys William and Mikey waterskiing and braiied up a 3kg Texan steak, generously plying me with beers and wine until I threw in the towel. Which reminds me, I left my towel at Lorenzo’s, so will be drying doggy style for the majority of the next 8 days, John then drove me to the bus station at 5 in the morning, and I sped to Mossel Bay on the Garden Route. Not before leaving my bamboo tent pole behind in his car. Damn it. 4 tent poles. Time to find a 5th.

At Wilderness, a small town leaning against a pine forest hill with her legs in the sea, I was given my new tent pole – a mop – by the owner of Beach House Backpackers. It’s an attention grabbing way to travel. If you’re cycling Africa and feel like you don’t get enough attention, stick a mop on your rack.

On this day, the 23rd March, while I set up my tent with my mop, Grandma Flynn scattered Grandad’s ashes in the sea near Murcia, Spain. I felt like I was in the wrong place, but at least I could sea the water. Brian Flynn’s voice, Big G’s voice, is one that I navigate by for courage and heart.

Along the road I was overtaken by a small blue truck with a sticker of Africa on the back. These guys were travelling Africa in a beaten up old thing. Sharp*, I thought. The next day they overtook me again. I must be pretty quick or they must be bloody slow, I thought. The day after that they came up from behind me again. This was getting wierd, so I parked up in the middle of the road and waved them down.

These original overlander’s are a German couple who drove here from Germany. We stayed at the same camp site, Wild Spirit, for a couple of nights and drank wine and swapped some stories. They have a great website – runterwegs.de

The world’s biggest commercial bungee jump was just down the road and so a keen volunteer from Wild Spirit, Julia, took a bicyle and joined me for a day’s ride. I decided that I couldn’t afford the jump and sat near the bridge and the bungee jump centre and made instant noodles. A bright eyed man took interest in my journey. He was too scared to jump and asked me if I was too. I told him I couldn’t afford it, actually, and left it there. He returned to introduce me to his father in law.

“This man has cycled here on his bike from Kenya!”
“… Good for you.” Said Father in Law, shaking my hand uncertainly.
“Thanks… I need to go and keep and eye on my bags. Sorry, see you later!”

I was keen to have a bit of space, but Mr Bright Eyes returned with his wife, fresh from the jump, and children, and introduced them to me too. I greeted them with a smile that I thought conveyed a sense of painful compliance, but in the end I think they felt sorry for me for not jumping and having to eat crappy noodles.
Bright Eyes returned a few minutes later and stood behind me. I tried to ignore him and focus on my laptop. He tapped me on the arm with a handful of 100Rand notes. He had 700Rand (£60) in his hand and he wanted me to have it so I could jump. I did. I jumped up out of my seat and protested that it was too much, but I swear his eyes just got brighter.

Unbelievable. I raced around to get a picture with him and his family and thanked them and cursed myself for being a monosyllabled bastard beforehand. Now suddenly I couldn’t say enough. My camera battery was dead. They pushed me away and told me to go jump, so I did. I frickin threw myself up and off that bridge without a second thought. Then I screamed on the way down.

And now I’m in Jeffrey’s Bay. Just down the road is Supertubes beach. I let that silly name pass because dude, the tubes are super. Amazing waves, 3 high rollers at a time, people surfing up and down them and a pack of dolphins hanging out in the middle of everything, less than 20m from the beach. The

The week’s ride has been fine. After initially being dismissive of the Garden Route as a backpacker’s Disneyland, the dramatic landscape and fauna gradually won me over. You can drink the water from the streams. Pies and milk and cheese abound. Decent backpackers hide in every town. Wine is cheaper than beer. The beer is good.

That reminds. The wine.

* South African for ‘safe**’.
** UK for ‘cool’.

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