February 05, 2006

Travel Report: Out of the wet season and into the dry (supposedly)

Follow-up to Travel Report: Apartheid geography in South Africa today from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Upington, I heard, was rather wet. A nice small town in the south west Kalahari, I had been anticipating revisiting its lovely green camp ground next to the Gariep (Orange) River, and sleeping under the big palm trees. I telephoned the Professor at Kalahari Trails, the destination at the end of my plan. They still had no rain after a three year drought. However, I was concerned that with so much water between Brandvlei and the reserve I might not make it through, especially on the sandy dirt tracks – the "awful red stuff". Even worse, I might make it through but then find my way back transformed into a swamp. I have seen photos of the duneveld under water, and conclude that it is no place or a motorcycle.

To complicate matters further, I would have to carry spare fuel as a guarantee. There would probably not be anypetol available north of Upington. Carrying a 5 litre can strapped to the seat would make the bike difficult to handle. With a rapidly swelling right wrist, onto which I had fallen in the mud, I seriously doubted that contunuing north would be a good decision.

As I rode south on the tar to Calvinia, my decision was justified. The strong westerly cross wind, combined with the revving of the 650cc single cylinder engine, put pressure on my damaged wrist, thus making the injury worse.

Having discovered that the drought in the interior was coming to an abrupt end, I turned back towards the coastal plains. Back into the winter rainfall zone, supposedly back into the dry. With mild but unrelenting pain running through my right arm, I passed through Calvinia and on to the small town of Nieuwtoudtville. To find its petrol station, I had to turn briefly off the tar and pass its impressive wooden church, stopping to ask for directions from a bemused Afrikaaner lady. At the petrol station I discovered a double surprise.

Firtly, a man on a bicycle stopped by to look at my bike. He was also a BMW Gelandestrasse rider, owning an R1150GS. We chatted for a while and shared news of the various roads and interesting destinations in the are. I gained three useful items of intelligence:

1) The Vanrhyns Pass is treacherous in the wet, as the badly maintained trucks that crawl around it tend to drop diesel on the tightest of its turns. In fact, a couple of bikes had recently slid off, but survived.

2) The R27 coastal road, of which I had assumed to be good tar, is in fact rough dirt with hidden sand filled pot holes.

3) It would be worth spending some time in Vanrhynsdorp, Vredendal and Strandfontein.

As he cycled off, the GS rider said that I should look inside the adjacent workshop, as it contained something that I would find of interest.

I followed his instructions, to be amazed by what it contained. The darkly lit building contained a small collection of classic bikes, including a pre-war BMW sidecar combination and an early air-cooled R80GS. I asked the petrol attendant what he knew of them, but his English was almost non-existent. Finding no one else to inquire with, I got back on my bike and rode off. The R80GS would be a perfect bike to own in Africa, much more suitable than the F650GS Dakar. Perhaps one day I'll return with a bundle of Rands to make them an offer.

I descended through the pass with even more care, wobbling around every corner in fear of the diesel spill that would send me sliding over the precipice. Of course it never happened, the road surface being dry, in fact so hot that I could smell my tyres melting. At the bottom of the pass, I shot out onto the plains like a rifle bullet. Accelerating quickly up to 120kph despite a strong head wind, the attractive little town of Vanrhynsdorp appeared on the horizon.

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Classic motorcycle collection

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Read part 5, A tale of two dorps

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