My Southern African Road Trip Day 2, Friday 29 November 2013 – Clanwilliam to Bitterfontein


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First challenge for the day

That morning, I had a major worry on my mind. HOW was I going to get down here?  This is behind the little cottage where I spent the night. I rode up to here the day before with the mindset that I would deal with getting down when the time came. It doesn’t actually look so bad here because the picture does not to 3 dimensional justice to the situation.

It cost me at least 30 minutes to line my path down with big flat stones which were lying around in abundance. I lay them in the gaps I felt the bike was most likely to slip in (and subsequently fall over). I really had no idea at this point how cool my DRZ actually is. Oh me of little faith. Anyways, I was a very big newbie to all of this rough and tumble still.

Folks, I am happy to report that it was a swift 2 seconds that got me down.  It was much easier than I had imagined – as usual.  Oh the mind is a killer.  So full of fears, unnecessary fears!  The problem is that one usually reacts to fear on instinct, and this is where the things (bike, luggage and rider) go belly up.  Instinctual reactions like hitting the brakes when going downhill in the dirt does that to a person.

Oh what a treat to ride Pakhuis Pass again, in the fresh, cool of morning.  Not a car in sight anywhere.  On the way back into town, I stopped at (what I thought at the time was) the Grave of Louis Leipoldt on Pakhuis Pass.  I learnt later – At the goal museum in town- that this was not his grave,  but rather a memorial site.  His ashes had been strewn on Pakhuis Pass.  At this time I had no idea what this guy was good for.  With a name like Louis Leipoldt, I assumed it was nothing too impressive.

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In Clanwilliam

Once back in Clanwilliam, I left the bike parking at a petrol station and got some breakfast and snacks for the road and spent a hour or two exploring the town’s main street.   The main street has lightness to it, colorful, bright and pretty.

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Clanwilliam’s main street

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The flower church on the main street

I visited the goal museum where they’d kitted out different rooms with various non-prison displays.

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The goal museum, Clanwilliam

It seems like a place people might just walk right past without knowing it was there.  Once inside, I paid my ten rand entrance fee, and it had a kind of  ‘insert coin’ effect.  The ‘keeper’ an old-ish man, probably late 50’s to early 60’s started reciting the history of Clanwilliam to me, and putting the museum’s displays in context with all of what he was enthusiastically reciting from memory.  It was pleasant and interesting to listen to him.    I liked the museum a lot.  I Especially appreciated the fact that the displays are not out of reach. One could easily climb on the ox wagons for instance.

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Once could easily climb on the ox-wagons for instance, and hug the dummies, although that would not be advisable.

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These dummies look upset with each other.  They could do with a hug.

But of course it would not be advisable.  Here I learnt about the amazing Louis Leipoldt…. author, medical doctor, child genius and some other things .  I am terribly disappointed in the very little information available about him online.  If I remember about it in the available future, I will attempt to get some library book on his life.  If all the info on him in the museum is to be believed, he truly was a remarkable individual.  Clanwilliam is famous for Louis Leipoldt, Tolla van der Merwe, rooibos tea, and of course the Cederberg mountains.   There is very little to be said about Tolla online as well.  The guy deserves a decent online biography.

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Interesting written document from the past regarding bastards and mixed breeds.

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Shrine for Tolla in the Clanwilliam Goal museum

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Amazing Rooibos

Just in the road adjacent to the museum, on either side of the road, are the oldest (thatched roof) houses in Clanwilliam.   The man at the museum told me about them after I asked whether any of the buildings in the photographs (of Clanwilliam ‘back in the day’) – on the walls of the museum – still existed.  The oldest one is from the 1700’s.   Apparently two weeks before I’d arrived in Clanwilliam, one of these houses had burnt down.

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One of the oldest houses in Clanwilliam – dating back as far as the 1700’s

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Another of the oldest houses in Clanwilliam – dating back as far as the 1700’s

After this, It was back on the road … Heading where you ask?  Lambert’s bay actually.

 Clanwilliam to Lambertsbay

This was not part of my original plan, but I was desperate to be near the ocean.  The N7 is a looooooooong road, and its beautiful to be in the mountains, but, I knew that if I didn’t visit Kleinsee in the next two days (which was a strong possibility), it would be at least 5 days before I would get to be near the ocean again.  What an unbearable thought!  The way to Lambertsbay was picturesque, I drove past Graafwater, which I wanted to drive into, but hesitated, and in a few seconds I was too far past to feel the urge to go back. At this point is where I told myself, “woman, stop hesitating over stupid stuff that cost you nothing really. Just do a Nike (Just do it)”

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The road to Lambert’s bay

Although I’d been to Lambert’s bay once before, and knew that at least there was Bird Island to visit across from the harbour, I went to the Lambert’s bay info center to find out if there was anything else interesting to see and do … just in case.  I did not learn of anything else, but what I did learn about was that the road I planned to use later that day to reach Doringbaai was a dirt road.  But that was later’s problem, so, off I went to park in the harbour and visit Bird Island.  And then for a nice crayfish in the harbour restaurant.  Its the first time in years I’d eaten crayfish.  I hadn’t had crayfish for so long, partly because I’m a cheapskate and partly because I’d developed a fear of it due to the fact that it looks like a giant spider (fears, oh unnecessary fears!), but that day, I happily snapped away at the delicious spidery limbs  doing what I had to do to get the juicy flesh out (slurping and crunching down with my teeth for example).   Mmmm, it was simply divine.

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Lambert’s bay harbour

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The walkway across from the harbour to Bird Island

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Gulls on the walkway to Bird Island

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Beautiful view on the way to Bird Island

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beautiful view on the way to Bird Island

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Entrance to Bird Island

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interesting info on seagulls I never knew

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statue made of old wood on Bird Island

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Path leading up to the viewing building overlooking the Gannet bird sanctuary.

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An enormous whale jawbone

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the Gannet sanctuary behind the jawbone

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Viewing the Gannets from inside the building.

Inside the viewing building overlooking the Gannet sanctuary, were two young chaps.  They were fun to talk to.  They told me about the behaviour of the birds.  What stuck with me, is that they said the female bird remains faithful to her mate, she only has one and will never choose another when ‘the one and only’ dies.  And then I asked about the males, and they said, that the males will mate again.  I told them, but that’s not fair.  And they said, no but its right, I must just look at the how it is in real life … President Zuma for instance.

Lamberts bay to Doringbaai

The lady who I spoke to at the information in Lambert’s bay informed me that the way to Doringbaai was along a 40 km dirt road, and that she’d been on that road several times, the last being 2 days ago, and its quite ok for a bike. Its marked as a Toll road on maps, so I’d never have thought it would be dirt.  Had I known that (it was dirt), I would have promptly scrapped the notion of Lambert’s bay as I would have to ride back along the same tar up until Clanwilliam to get back on the N7, and head Northwards again.  Dirt on my own???  That was just not something I was going to face.  The lady at the info center was pretty convincing though, she told me the surface was stable enough, and there wasn’t soft sand at all. I was inclined to trust what she said, I don’t know why though.  Its funny how when I was with Gaby in India, facing a dirt road was not so daunting, because she and Santosh were there, and if we got into shit, we were in it together. Like 6 arms, 6 legs, three minds, and if we were stuck in the middle of nowhere at least were wouldn’t be soul alone without cell fone reception, or a plan, or a clue or a hint of a good idea about where we were or how we would get ourselves out of the shit. At least we could have held hands in the dark to comfort each other. Difficult things feel so daunting alone.

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Coming face to face with shit-I mean dirt-street

To decide something like going down shit – I mean dirt -street,  is way harder alone, I have to admit.  Facing it, without moral support riding in front or behind, or on the side of you, is a rather soul searching experience.  I struggled to keep the spirits up and keep survival reactions down.  About it being a Toll road, the info center lady told me they don’t take money there anymore, only your registration and name.  Why?  Because when they were taking money there, it always mysteriously went missing.  In any case, facing the road, I really hoped I would get used to dirt quickly because there was not another good choice around.

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Let the dirt begin

If a road had ever seemed longer than this one, I have no remembrance of it.  This long strip of dirt was arguably the  most terrifying ride of my life.  slipping, anticipating, riding slowly.  WORRYING about whether the bike was going to last on this road.  The hard ripples in the road were the second worst thing to deal with, and the loose sand (WHICH CONTRARY TO WHAT THE INFO CENTER LADY TOLD ME) there was quite alot of, was by far the biggest bother!  Boy was I glad when it was over.  A 100 meters away from Doringbaai, where the tar starts again, there was a fork in the road, the alternate (non-Doringbaai) dirt road going to Donkiesbaai, and I remember reading about it on this blog. From what I read about all the SOFT sand, I was definitely not going to (mis)adventure down that road.  I had been through enough for one day.

I averaged between 30 and 45 km/hour on the dirt. Sometimes 20km/hr when my ovaries were popping out of my body, and at these stages, the heat gauge went really high, which put me under pressure to (wo)man-up and just go a bit faster. I have no idea what speeds people are doing on dirt with bikes, but for now 50km/hr is a maximum for me. I must say, one does get used to it after some km’s, but it didn’t seem less scary to start off with, when I had to face it again further on the trip.   The second thing, as you know, that was assaulting my confidence was the worry whether the bike would be ok (would the spokes last, would it stay cool enough, are my shocks and wheel bearings going be ok, the wheel alignment going to stay in, oh lordie, there is so much to worry about … the brain is a damn unnecessary pest sometimes).

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Boy was I happy to see the end of that dirt road! Pretty pleased with myself too for keeping it all above ground!

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finally in Doringbaai!

Doringbaai is a ‘een-geroeste-pomp’ kinda place.  There is only one petrol pump.  And its owned by a general supermarket.

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Doringbaai is a ‘een pomp’ kind of a place

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The general dealer-come-petrol station

In Doringbaai, I put in petrol, only 20 rand to fill up (going slow has its benefits), and then took a walk down to the bay, enjoyed the chilled air, and took some photos.

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Doringbaai

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kids in Doringbaai

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Doringbaai

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Doringbaai

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Doringbaai

Doringbaai to Strandfontein

Eventually I saddled up and carried back on my way to my next stop (Bitterfontein). The bike felt like it was weaving now. Of course I had heightened senses because of my imagination that the bike had been taking a very hard battering on the dirt road (Oh me of little faith). So I thought maybe the spokes were shot to hell, or a wheel bearing broken, or tires too soft, or heaven forbid, the lock nut on the wheel shaft had come loose. I checked in the best way I knew how, and everything still seemed fine. I then also checked my oil, noticing that the belly pan seemed to have a lot of oil on it. Good thing I did, because the oil was quite low, Maybe because overworking on the dirt, or maybe because of leaking. Either way, I went back to the single rusty pump petrol station and bought a can of oil, and slightly overfilled, just in case. It was only once I was completely out of Doringbaai that I felt the bike was completely fine.  It was the tar on the road that was uneven that made my bike feel like it was  weaving. At this point, I had great trust and faith in this darling of a bike.

(Sure you all know about Route 62 but …) Do you know that Route 362   is a wild beautiful  desert diamond of a route. Breathtaking. Cool ocean road with many many a square mile of desert vegetation, farmlands, hills, dirt roads leading off to everywhere in all directions, interesting signboards. Simply stunning. One signboard in particular read ‘Strandfontein’, and out of curiosity, arising from the fact that there is a Strandfontein in Cape Town as well, I was curious to see what this one was like. It was quite an interesting little meander down to the beach.

Beautiful pristine beach, and nobody with a toe in the water. All the coloureds were on the grass, ledges braaing and syping (drinking). I’m telling you, its an all too familiar sight for me. Coloured people throughout SA seem to have adopted this into their culture. They could be in paradise, but they are completely blind to it due to the fact that they are too busy syping. I went down to the beach to dip my feet at least.  I was savouring the  ocean because from Strandfontein, its a long way up to Springbok still, and then about 130 km more to Kleinsee to the ocean again, which I was not yet sure about. So I came back up to put my socks on. And then two oulike outjies (cute guys) with their beers were making eyes for me. I smiled, and they wanted me to come join them. But I thought, not now man, let me not turn this into a sexpedition. But I was friendly and eventually took the one guys number. Strandfontein might be a nice place, and I think Gaby might enjoy meeting Lesley and his friends. Maybe they could even arrange us cheap-ish accommodation in future, which would be very cool.

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left to Strandfontein

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Interesting meander down to Strandfontein beach

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Drinking and braaing

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Drinking and braaing

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And not a toe in the water on this pristine unspoilt beach. Perhaps its better that way.

Strandfontein to Nuwerus (wrong turn) to Bitterfontein

After the ride out of Strandfontein, I took a left to Nuwerus instead of a right to Vredendal (and did not realize my mistake). I had a look at the map beforehand and vaguely remembered that although the way to Bitterfontein via Nuwerus seemed more practical terms of distance, it was drawn as a not so important route. But all of this did not come to my mind again when I took the accidental wrong turn. Halfway down it started to worry me, but the tar was new and inviting in Nuwerus’ direction.

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the beautiful road luring me in the wrong direction

It was absolutely perfect.  As you can imagine, after that hair raising off-roading from Lambertsbay to Doringbaai, I was feeling like I didn’t quite want to see another dirt road for a few days after what I’d been through.  So, when I saw, with about 25 km left to go to get to Nuwerus, the right turn arrow for Nuwerus showed towards a dirt road, my uterus just clenched up in a bad way. I guess its the equivalent of balls shrinking. There were two cops out of their van there, talking to a youngster waiting at the intersection between tar and dirt. I asked them, mainly because I wanted them to say ‘it isn’t so’, that I didn’t have to ride over more km’s of dirt to get to Bitterfontein, but of course they were sincerely sorry to tell me it was so. That if not that way, I’d have to turn all the 60 km back and ride another 40 km to get to Vanrhynsdorp before I hit the N7 which would have put me about 100 km from Bitterfontein. So I plucked up my courage, which was really really hard to find, and opted for the 25km of dirt road, to Nuwerus, which would then put me on the N7 and less than 10 km from Bitterfontein.

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Interesting intersection where the road turned to dirt again

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Whether I liked it or not I would have to grow another pair of balls before the day was out.

That road, although having a lot less horizontal ridges, seemed less used, because the loose sand/gravel was all over the road. So there were no ‘clean’ car tracks for me to ride in (horror). Not none, but a lot less. Jesus, there is nothing more frightening that an inexperienced person skidding in the dirt. I KNOW it has to happen, its not tar, but its such a nerve wrecking sensation. I had to WILL myself just to relax, and trust (totally against what I was feeling) that it was ok, as the last 100 meters have been ok, and really, like with any riding lessons, the best advice is to relax, don’t tense up on the bars.  As you can imagine, when I did that nothing bad happened, the slight skidding wheel catches some solid ground and keeps the bike going straight in general. But the mind is a mad devil. It plays games with you. When the eyes see some dirt the mind imagines that a fall is imminent and then panic reactions kick in. Stiff arms, and everything else, unnecessarily braking – which makes the bike hell-of-a unstable. And also second guessing onesself. Often on the dirt road, I forget that Its not an exam, its not a race. That thinking I made the wrong choice to choose a dirt road didn’t make a difference.  It was totally irrelevant.  I was in the dirt, and I had to deal with it and calmly at that.   Just needed keep the rubber rolling steadily, one meter at a time, one foot ahead of the one before so to speak. Stop if it gets to tough, and then take a breath and go again. Remembering Gaby … Just another 100 meters, just another 100 meters. One step at at time.  I kept on telling myself that I’d been ok for all the kilometers before so I would probably be ok for all kilometers to come. This road had a lot of uphills and downhills, and real twists and turns (unlike the gentle one’s on the Doringbaai road). It was one heck of a challenge for me, but with the grace of who knows what, I made it out, and then finally made it down the N7 to Bitterfontein, where – God save the Queen – there was a petrol station.

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Thank you Jesus, I’m on the tar again!

After I filled up at the petrol station, the bike didn’t want to start again. And then I asked the petrol attendant to give me a push.   My heart might as well have sunk into my shoes when I felt the bike doing a slip slide.  I looked down, and there beneath my bike was a puddle of oil. I looked back, and it only started about 2 meters back. My heart sank, I tell you. Was that the end of my bike? The end of my adventure? I really thought I had blown my motor, and that THAT was why the bike wasn’t starting. But then the petrol attendant told me that, “no”, that puddle of oil was from another vehicle. And after another push my bike started. It was just the battery. I was so grateful. I just  hoped that the bike would start the next morning too.

The guys at the petrol station showed me Dawn Ridge Guest House which was that the pink house up in distance.  They said it was nice cheap place to stay so that’s where I found myself spending the night. The lady, Dawn, running the place is originally from Cape Town, she and her partner John both actually.  John was out riding some people from the town to do grocery shopping in Vredendal (100 km back down the N7). He had been away since morning and was still away until about 8 the evening.  Dawn told me stories of the town, basically that they were divided into Coloured people and racist Afrikaners. She put me up in a nice room, and fed me supper. I felt so at home, and comfortable. The rooms are great, and service is very homely and friendly. Anybody coming this way, should not be fooled by the pinkness of the place. Its a good, very affordable, very comfortable place to stay over.  I wished to see a Bitterfontein’s granite quarry, the railway and take a few pics in the town the next day.  I think its special because its this little town in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing in particular other than sending granite to wherever it goes to to be shipped to wherever else it needs to go.   Oh, I lie, they are quite well known for their water desalination plant (I think, I need to check).

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Basically, this is Bitterfontein

It had been such a day full of challenges and wonders, and self evaluation and nerve wrecking shit. I’m surprised I never popped a blood vessel somewhere.  I was so happy and so thankful that besides a flat-ish battery, all was still well with the bike, and all was still well with me. Life felt so precious and different from ordinary that night.

I admit that I’d lost a bit of trust in the bike since the no starting incident.  I hoped the battery just needed a bit of rest.  I was still not sure about Kleinsee because, as far as Dawn  knew, its all dirt road to get there. One hundred km of dirt road seemed a bit like hell to me at that point in time, but I was still open to being persuaded.  After all, that’s where the ocean was.

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