Border with Lesotho – Willowmore

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28th of May – 3rd of Juni 2024:

The South African border post was much larger than the one in Lesotho. The obviously bored officials asked us many questions and did not believe us that our destination is Cape Town. It was probably better that they did not know about our complete route.

Directly after the border everything was fenced off next to the road. This was different in Lesotho and we prefer this freedom. The first part of the gravel road was great, until it changed and got bumpier. After 20 km, we reached a junction where a tarred road waited for us.

From there, the next town was still 50 km away. Back in South Africa, we have to get used to the big distances between towns again. At a rest stop, we ate our portion of Chakalaka out of the can, before we cycled the rest of the distance to Rouxville. In this small town, we bought provisions and found a bit afterwards a spot for the night between a side road and a barbwire.

In the beginning of our journey, we figured out in the evenings where the sunrise would be and pitch our tent in the corresponding shade. Now, in the South African winter, we pitch our tent, so the sun would reach us as early as possible.

Until the next small town, we had to cycle wearing jackets and gloves, until the air temperature was warm enough. Before we reached Aliwal North, we crossed the Orange River for the second time. This river is the second longest in southern Africa, origins in Lesotho and enters the ocean at the border between Namibia and South Africa.

Due to the elections in the whole country, it was a holiday and many shops were closed. However, we still managed to buy food and saw a few people in front of the buildings where people can cast their vote. After people have cast their vote, they get a colored mark on their thumb, so they can not vote several times.

Between us and the next town, there were another 60 km. This stretch we cycled rather quickly, since the terrain was flat and the road surface was smooth. Burgersdorp seemed deserted and we hardly managed to get a few burgers and some groceries in a small shop. Mostly, beggars ask us in front of supermarkets for money or some bread. Many times, we are approached in Afrikaans, since most white South Africans speak only this language and English. English is the universal language, but isiZulu is the most spoken language in the country. South Africa has the most official languages in the world after Bolivia and India. In the year of 2023, the South African sign language was introduced as the twelfth official language.

Since a long time we experienced wind. In the beginning, the wind came from the right direction for us and we made good progress. After we turned at a junction and entered another road, the wind suddenly changed direction and got stronger. So, we had to earn the burger and chips, since the next town with protection from the wind was a total of 65 km away. On the way, we suddenly saw a man pushing his car by himself, then jumping inside the car and starting the engine. An entertaining spectacle in the middle of nowhere.

Locals told us that cold weather or the winter was approaching and this would explain the wind. Therefore, we had to expect colder day temperatures and the first rain since a while during the next days.

After a long break, we continued in the direction of Middelburg. Until this town, there were around 90 km and on the way there was nothing except deserted train stations and junctions which lead nowhere. For us, such distances between villages or towns are unusual and we are used to a completely different level of population density. South Africa is about 3.5 times larger than Germany and counts “only” 62 million people.

The temperatures really dropped and during the three-hour ride to Middelburg we wore a wind jacket all the way. While we bought lunch, Susan and her son Will approached us. Our hosts, whom we met through Warmshowers, were buying groceries at the same time in Spar. The cycle enthusiast Willie picked us up a bit later and showed us the beautiful house with its surroundings.

Willie did countless cycling trips in the region himself and travelled through East Africa and the Middle East using his motorbike.  The family knew exactly what we needed and spoiled us completely. For lunch they served us coffee and hot dogs. For dinner Will made a huge fire and prepared Potjekos. This traditional south African stew needs to be cooked for several hours over the fire. While the meal was cooking, the three men did a short pub crawl and we met a few local men. Brandy with coke is a popular drink in this region and so we had to try it. After the tour, we were glad to eat something, since we were not used to drink a lot of alcohol anymore. For dessert, we were able to taste Melktert, another South African specialty. Together with Will and his friend, we stood around the fire and drank a few brandies with coke. Not even the starting rain made us stop and we learnt a lot about the region and the life as a farmer.

After an intense night of digestion, Susan even brought us coffee and biscuits to our bed in the morning. Unbelievable what effort the friendly family undertook to make us feel at home and facilitate our regeneration.

Thanks to the delicious meals and the interesting conversations, we could relax and got valuable recommendations for the coming route.

For dinner, another large fire was started and a lot of meat was grilled. In South Africa, a meal without meat is not a real meal. Therefore, we enjoyed a barbecue (braai) and could refuel with lots of calories for the next intense days in the saddle.

After dinner, we visited a bar with live music, in which we did not go the night before. We planned to only visited for a little while, but ended up staying much longer.  People in the bar were drinking a lot, since many students from all over the country were present, which study agriculture in the nearby college. They were all wearing shorts, a camouflage jacket and a cap. Willie and Will proudly told a few friends about our project and like that we talked to a few young people of the crowd. We even got a spontaneous invitation to a winery close to Cape Town.

It was hard to leave the comfortable bed in the morning to get out to the cold weather. The coffee with biscuits in bed gave us the motivation to get ready for the next stretch. After a proper breakfast, we said goodbye to Susan and Will. Willie accompanied us for a few kilometers, before we said farewell and thanked him as well for the awesome hospitality. We really hope that he can realize his dream project. Willie wants to cycle from Middelburg in South Africa to Middelburg in the Netherlands and this with almost 70 years.

After crossing a pass, suddenly the wind supported us in moving forward. We hardly had to exert any force and zoomed over the asphalt at almost 50 km/h on relatively flat terrain. During the descents, we were almost going too fast and had to concentrate on where we were steering.

Despite starting rather late, we reached the next town, called Graaff-Reinet, after over 100 km in the early afternoon. After a dose of sugar, we wanted to find a place for the night not far from the city. However, just a few kilometers after leaving the town, a car stopped, and the friendly woman suggested that we sleep at her home instead of the tent next to the main road. She called her husband Tony and informed him of our arrival. The catch was that their house was still over 50 km away. Nevertheless, we decided to accept the challenge since the tailwind was still present.

Two hours later, we reached Aberdeen in the dark. Tony welcomed us warmly and showed us to our room. The somewhat nervous former professional cyclist served us coffee, turned on the boiler, and told us about his time as a worker in a gold mine. Extraction of mineral resources (chrome, platinum, manganese, vanadium, gold, diamonds, coal, iron ore and other metals) are still responsible for 40-50% of the export revenues.

After a wet and stormy night, we were glad to have slept inside. Tony prepared a south African breakfast for cyclists for us, including eggs, sausage and toast. After a prayer for the save continuation of our trip and the visit or his pharmacy, we entered the dead straight road to Willowmore.

Despite a few antelopes and a jackal, the landscape was very monotonous and the weather was changing all the time. Everywhere, we saw small and large puddles from the rain, since the soil was not able to absorb the rain water.

Since a few days, we entered the so called Karoo, which is a half-desert landscape in the highlands of South Africa and Namibia. With an extension of almost 500’000 km2 is the Karoo almost a third of the South African territory.

During a break to pee, a sporty looking middle-aged man stopped and brought us a banana and an apple. We had a short conversation and before he continued, he asked us, if he could pray for us. It seems like people in South Africa are very religious.

In a restaurant, we could escape the cold wind and eat and drink something warm. The shop sold many regional products and its interior was decorated with lots of passion. At some point, the shop closed and we continued cycling for another hour. At a farm, we asked an older couple if we could pitch the tent on their property. Despite the moment of surprise, we got permission and were allowed to pitch the tent protected from the wind. A bit later, the man brought us something similar to a hot dog, which we appreciated a lot.

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