Joined: Feb 2006
Location: Close to Cumming (GA that is)
Hey you FF's, let me tell you about electric vests
Day 9: Port Elizabeth to Kokstad
Having Arrived at the night's stop under cover of darkness, the true splendor of our surroundings only became evident the next morning and before departure, the majority of us spent some time wandering around the grounds sipping coffee and taking a few pictures.
Nice Digs - the B&B at Port Elizabeth
Secure parking out of picture (= sandy driveway)
Since our host had given us such a big sales pitch on the premises when we arrived the night before, it was unfortunate that it was being treated merely as a place to crash for the night.
'I wonder if it'll fit in my suitcase?'
One aspect of the surroundings that wasn't particularly welcome however was the sand road out of there, but we managed to depart without any further mishaps.
The day's journey commenced with a light drizzle falling, in spite of which the crew headed off in familiar fashion toward breakfast in Grahamstown and the inevitable Wimpy. As I recall the GPS recon must have been a bit sketchy at this particular location since we got a pretty good tour of the town (and a few of the back street parking lots) trying to find it.
Ironbutt epiphany - Gary realizes frenzied breakfast trip planning isn't half as much fun as bullshitting and drinking coffee
Maybe in better weather
Suitably nourished, we headed out on the R67 through Fort Beaufort in a generally north easterly direction, joining the N6 at Cathcart and heading towards Queenstown, before which we hung a right on the R61. Presumably, judging by the place names, this area had been settled by my British ancestors and I'm assuming they also typically found the weather to their liking if it was anything like today's. In the classic English tradition it was quite foggy with a steady drizzle falling and as we headed further into the hills, the conditions deteriorated further.
However despite the limited visibility, it was evident that we were quickly leaving what, up until now had generally appeared to be a fairly western looking South Africa and entering a part of the country that was more in keeping with my preconceived notions of this foreign land. This perception was brought into clear focus when we entered Engcobo.
Running low on gas, we rounded a corner into the town and pulled into the first available gas station. It was like we had suddenly crossed the border from first world into third and upon pulling up at the pumps, we were immediately surrounded by a throng of curious locals. From the looks of things, there probably weren't too many white folks traveling through these parts generally, so a group of half a dozen motorcyclists suddenly rolling into town was quite a spectacle. The town itself was quite actually quite vibrant, since there were people wandering all over the place, in sharp contrast to the south eastern US of my residence where folks don't generally get out of their cars that much if at all possible; and despite the obvious poverty it actually looked like quite a fun place to live (yes, the grass is always greener).
'Hiya handsome, is that Eau de Fluid Film you're wearing?'
'As a matter of fact, yes it is'
'Paul - your days are numbered son'
'My freakin arm's killin' me - how many gallons does this pig hold?
Hey, Hey, - most of it's for that worthless 'blade - probably won't make it out of town before hitting reserve
'Yeah, and right here's where I tried to get those stupid Americans kidnapped/mugged/raped in Soweto' Ian gives an impromptu GPS workshop to a few of the locals
However, in case there's any doubt - Engcobo aka the middle of nowhere
After heading out of town we set off on the R58 towards Elliot, a route which had been eagerly anticipated as one of the more scenic parts of the trip. Unfortunately with the uncooperative nature of today's weather, the beauty of the surrounding countryside was obscured by limited visibility, and the constant rainfall made the mountain roads extremely dangerous (especially with the amount of livestock that was roaming freely in the area).
Either it was still very foggy at at this point, or we'd just stopped for another smoke break
If the weather had been better, we'd have seen this
Rounding a sharp curve as we made our initial ascent out of Engcobo, the perils of our travels were suddenly brought into focus by the sight of a minibus, which had crashed while trying to avoid a couple of cows that were in the road. The vehicle was upside down in a roadside ditch, one of the cows was obviously dead and the other looked pretty seriously injured. I don't remember (or don't want to remember) what happened to the occupants of the bus.
Downtown Elliot - notice sign for 'Surgery' in the background
With this terrible scene vividly implanted in our minds we continued carefully along through the mountains to Elliot. Taking a break for a couple of the bikes to refuel, we discussed the merits of continuing though the mountains and decided to curtail a previously planned trip back and forth over the Barkly pass, which would inevitably have merely been a rain soaked exercise in accident avoidance.
Competing for space with his underwear - Koshik contemplates dumping Narissa in Elliot
With survival uppermost in our minds, we left Elliot and continued along the R56 through Ugie and on to Maclear, where we turned right onto the R396 and headed towards Tsolo. During this portion of the ride we had our second encounter with South African law enforcement, exiting a mountain pass, which if memory serves was just outside Ntywenka.
Quite how fast our noble leader Paul was travelling when he blew by the hilltop spotter is anybody's guess, but Gary and I were somewhere between 140-160 kmh as we went by, which put us maybe 40 over the speed limit.
Roadside footage from the Police hilltop spotter camera - possibly
When we pulled into the inevitable check point, I thought we were screwed
I fumbled nervously with the Fluid Film in my pocket as we dismounted the bikes and after the mandatory document checking procedure: some friendly banter, a few enquiries about our trip, a couple of pictures and amazingly we were on our way. I love these guys.
'Hey, at least I wasn't going as fast as that dude, officer'
'5000 kms? - On the back of that thing? You're shittin me'
Just out of picture, Paul gets a roadside cavity search - much to the amusement of Gary and Ian'
'He'll probably get up in a minute'
'American Dollars? That'll do nicely, sir!'
'How about that nice vest of yours, for my Thinkbike jacket and a squirt of Fluid Film?'
'Don't push your luck sonny'
'Ummmm.......I dunno officer, it 'just' fell off down the road - ticket avoidance SA style
FYYFF's - language problem with the lobster gloves - Eventually I resorted to giving the locals a Vulcan salute when appropriate
As we entered Tsolo, we came across a bit of a detour, since the main drag through the town was undergoing some maintenance, and consequently the road signs sent us through a couple of the town's back streets This resulted in a little added drama since these streets were all dirt which, having been subject to a day's steady rain, were a bit sloppy.
We carefully picked our way through without any major problems and at this point were fortunate enough to witness some kind of mid afternoon religious ceremony (possibly a wedding) which appeared to have about half the town in attendance. As I recall, I was told that it's common courtesy/custom to invite just about everyone to a gathering of this nature, which explains the amount of people there. Apparently people take their religion fairly seriously in these parts and it was quite surprising how often you'd see people who were fairly well dressed walking along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Most folks in the Eastern Cape (and indeed in the majority of the country) don't have their own vehicles and consequently the minibuses used as the typical mode of transport are a constant hazard since they're continuously stopping to pick up passengers.
Apparently, this wasn't the first day of rain in these parts
In this part of the country, we also had to be constantly vigilant as the wandering livestock (mainly cows, goats, and a few pigs) was a permanent hazard and even more numerous than we'd previously encountered. Apparently, a local man's wealth is gauged by how many head of cattle he owns (in which case I'd have thought they'd have been better looked after). Our native riding companions had warned Gary and I (without a hint of apparent irony) that human life is much cheaper than a cow's in these parts; so given the choice of hitting a cow or a pedestrian wandering along the road, well........... They'd also assured us that far from wandering wherever they please, most cows were usually being monitored by a young herdsman. If those guys do exist though, they must keep a fairly low profile, since I can't say I ever noticed one.
Some of the housing looked a little more traditional
The final stretch of the day's trip was along a generally uneventful stretch of the N2, although a couple of the bikes were running on fumes by the time we reached Kokstad and that kept things interesting. We were pretty tired by the time we rolled into town, since although total mileage for the day wasn't huge (about 700kms), the bulk of it had been covered in some pretty nasty weather.
In reality it was a relief to see a place that had some semblance of civilization about it, because in reality I can't remember seeing anywhere that would have possibly had any lodging facilities since we'd left Port Elizabeth that morning. So kudos to our General for attention to detail on the route, but I guess in retrospect it would've added to the adventure somewhat if we'd have ended up pitching our tents somewhere in the rain soaked Eastern Cape.
These were the only two dry corners during the whole day's riding - I can't remember where we saw 'em though, so I put them here
As it happened, though we pulled into the first gas station we saw on the outskirts of Kokstad, that by some streak of good fortune (or maybe perhaps more careful planning on the part of our addicted leader) had an adjacent Wimpy in the parking lot. Obligatory Mega Coffees having been collectively consumed, the manager recommended a friend's B&B on the other side of town where we ended up spending the night and ordering a truck load of Scooters take out pizza for dinner.
Except Narissa and Koshik, who had previously arranged to spend the night with relatives in Pietermaritzburg which would require well over 100kms extra riding. Kudos, but they were welcome to it.
Douf screwed with this post 04-01-2009 at 09:25 AM