Day 1 & 2
After spending a lot of money on an American Express credit card (in a previous calendar year) we earned a free flight, providing you paid for one. It seemed too good a deal not to fly far away and maximise the benefit. So we booked the flight in and out of South Africa but no other arrangements until my bride amazed me. This amazement was her desire to do a supported cycle tour around Cape Town. By supported we got given the bikes and a route. Our bags were hauled from one set of lodgings to the next.
So we were London Gatwick bound. Naturally I was feeling a little smug to be avoiding the General Election campaign and the destructive wet weather flooding South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. However, we first had to drive down the M1 and around the M25. The drive was in parts horrendous as we cruised in heavy rain past large articulated trucks throwing up a similar amount of spray to a medium sized waterfall. On arrival we found Gatwick surprisingly spacious and well organised. Getting to the Gate was quite painless and if they can move the airport nearer York then I will be happy to use it again. However you somehow tell you’re in the south of England by the fall off in customer service. A chap waiting at ‘oversize baggage’ kindly asked an assistant when a requested helper would arrive? She turned her back, walked away but over her shoulder informed him that he would get here when he could.
The present Mrs Ives likes her comfort and we were one notch up from the ‘poor people’ in stowage. We were in BA’s Premium Economy. The seat space reminded me of the old Business Class. (Nowadays in Business Class you get your own booth, wine cellar, valet and masseuse. However I have say Premium Economy was superb). The flight down to Cape Town was overnight and I’d finished the film ‘Wild Rose’ (9/10) and most of ‘A Star Is Born’ (4/10) by the time I attempted sleep. I say attempt because it never came. I gave up and decided to complete watching Bradley Cooper hang himself. Long distance airline flight is ultimately no fun with all the debris you eventually sit in – screwed up blankets, old newspapers, people loitering in the aisle towering over you as, for some reason, they access the over head lockers and the person in front of you putting their seat into recline at the first opportunity (this action such be punishable by being strapped to the wing on the return flight).
Arrival in Cape Town was straightforward and Anna had pre-booked a taxi. The driver earned his tip (over generous – memo to self, get smaller denominations for the next taxi ride) as he had to explain the state of South African soccer, why he supported South African rugby and other sporting topics before we arrived at our guest house. Feeling jaded I was sadly dragged out promptly to buy a electric wall adaptor plug and have lunch. From here we hopped onto a sight seeing double decker bus to tour around the town and surrounding area.
It was a great way to get orientated and I had a gentle doze as we sat in traffic queues and my weariness caught up with me. The city has a colonial past and the Dutch and British feature. As usual everything we Brits did is portrayed negatively. Although naturally I concurred that the Dutch had been a bad influence (!) We saw the beaches, coastal towns, fishing fleets, a township or two and even had time for an ice cream. The bus stop was near our guest house and on our return we dropped our bags off before a pizza across the road. To settle this down we went for post prandial stroll. We were minded about our safety. It’s clear that in a country with so many poor people, living close to the wealthy, that there would be problems. Where we walked was regular residential housing but with incredible levels of protection – high walls, cameras, wire fences and many guards.
Further out beside these residential areas were the townships. Here there are gangs, drugs and violence. In cluttered over populated areas of poor housing, poor sanitation, deprivation, low education and poverty it’s no surprise it spawns this hellish phenomena. After this it was time to catch up on that sleep.
Day 3 & 4
Feeling restored we were planning a cable car ride up to the top of Table Mountain. Unfortunately 40mph winds had shut the mountain. It also made the temperature tumble. Instead we went for a walking tour on Apartheid.
I have to say I learned little new. I knew the history, the abuse and murder and the players. Nelson Mandela remains a giant global statesman who’s intelligence and compassion is remarkable. It’s hard to ever tire of hearing about him. What we did learn was about a cafe called ‘Truth’. A large selection of coffees and delicious food was available and we had a fabulous lunch. From here we hopped on another bus to circle the centre before a long walk to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (Yes, Alfred – her son). This is a popular highly developed modern area on a quay with a shopping mall, yachts, thousands of people enjoying themselves and a food market. It’s here that a beer was taken before finding a bus for the trip home. Later close to the guest house were some great restaurants. Tonight’s choice was Greek at Maria’s. I had lamb whilst Anna had vegetable moussaka. The next day was our last full day in the town before the cycle tour began.
To my complete surprise I was contacted by a Danish friend, Jannie, whom I’d briefly met at a Louisiana campsite in September 2015. She’d come to South Africa shortly afterwards and qualified as a Wildlife Ranger, met a partner (and married) and now worked as a tour guide. Her life and story is one of pursuing your dreams and she’s quite a maverick. I thought she lived miles away in Jo’burg but she had recently relocated to Cape Town. So thanks to my casual post on Facebook she collected Anna and me and took us around the Cape. We saw wonderful coast lines, penguins, small furry things I’ve forgotten the name of (stop press – a dassie, thanks Karl). We also had a remarkable seafood lunch.
Back at the guest house we said goodbye to Jannie and met up with the rest of the cycle party. Tomorrow was donning the lycra. Bring it on.
We were loaded onto a bus and after a short drive disgorged at a petrol station and given our bikes. For those interested they were Giant Escape hybrids. Our steeds were not in the first flush of youth but not too bad. I fitted my ‘clip on’ pedals, pumped up the tyres, adjusted the seat height and we were off. This saw the 14 of us meander slowly up a coastal cycle path just north of Cape Town. We had to ‘follow my leader’ and it was slow and not a lot of fun. However we did about 20km and were re-loaded in the bus and driven inland to a Fire Station in Stellenbosch. Yes, the home of wine! Here a picnic was consumed and we rode up a long demanding hill for about 6km. We were allowed to go at our own pace and some went off the front, including yours truly, and others made their way up at a pace that worked for them. This ‘splitting’ of the peloton was to be the way of all the rides. I’m attempting to hone some fitness for Australia in January and having others to chase in front of me up hills, in brilliant weather, is fabulous.
The party is from the UK mainly – two from Yorkshire, two from Manchester, four from the south of England, two from Iceland, and ladies from the USA and Ireland. Ages are mainly 50s and 60s but William weighs in at 74. After this long climb a few of us disappeared off down the hill and over shot, past the entrance to, the vineyard we were aiming for. We were retrieved after heading back up the hill (to find everyone else) into a headwind (doh!) The wine tasting was lovely in a beautiful setting. All were delicious and we bought a bottle of white for imbibing later.
We were loaded up and transported to our accommodation from here. The area we are in is mainly a setting of large mountains in the distance and fields of cereal or vines surround us. The area looks prosperous and the farming or vineyards may be white owned but the labour is black. At certain times of the day the workers are beside the road awaiting transportation home. There is no issue as regards our safety: they’re working folk making a living. Near urban areas there is often a lot of cars, all driven by whites.
The two guys running the tour, a guide (Bradley) and a driver (Boyo), made an evening meal, which we ate with our wine at a guest house. I’d caught the sun, not least on my head! It strikes me that the sun here is a lot more intense and vicious than the European or US one. However the night was chilly and worries about having the correct wardrobe was on my mind.
Most of our evening washing had dried. Anna is starting to see what my bike touring schedule is like. However she did find that she’d not paid attention to some fine detail. I bring a number of shorts, jerseys and socks because whilst I wash them overnight you can never be certain they’ll dry; having a spare is prudent. Apparently putting on a cold wet sports bra is bracing! Anna, being a vegetarian got no protein last night and dutifully had some eggs with her breakfast. I think this holiday is another ‘meat fest’ and my intended two portions of red meat a week plan has returned to twice a day!
So back in the bus we went for about 20 minutes before being allowed out near Franschhoek – a very pretty town. From here we climbed the 500 metres up to the top of a pass. It was hard but enjoyable. Anna was sensational on her bike. Gritting her teeth she climbed a distance and height she’d never done before, in such heat.
We descended the other side in gusty wind for an eventual lunch. In the bus the Irish fellow traveller had already proscribed discussion on Trump, Irish Corporation Tax levels and Brexit. I sat next to her (how lucky is she?). I was further dismayed as the list grew. Was Country music and lycra to join the list? We were discussing feeding dogs and I wandered into an apparently controversial subject that was added to Donald and Boris. This was whether a non meat diet was appropriate for dogs. I worry that I may add to her list as the holiday progresses. Other amusing conversations included the Icelandic lady suggesting our morning bike ride was typical of her homeland. We were a little incredulous and as she patiently started to explain; a group of contrary contributors enquired as to whether the temperature, black people, language, sunshine and absence of geysers meant there was no similarity? When we all shut up she continued and said she meant the headwind! I am prone to repetition and she has several days of me ludicrously comparing Iceland to South Africa. For example, grass, drain pipes, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, you get the idea. Despite the ages of the holiday makers then most are prepared to get on their bikes and pedal. Some hide in the bus on some rides. However, the ladies grit their teeth and tackle difficult hills and no one complains.
Again our guide and driver were catering tonight. This was helped by some beer the driver bought against our respective orders. The guest house was beautiful externally yet internally was less special as was the shortage of hot water for showering!
Another day done and I’d cycled well and hard. I suspected that tomorrow might discover I’d be running on empty.
Where we’re cycling looks arid and rocky. We’re about 200km east of Cape Town. This is despite the fruit and vines we see. Apparently the rain falls in the mountains and this provides water for the reservoirs and therefore irrigation. The similarities for me in appearance are central Spain or Nevada: everything is a khaki colour. The upshot was that the cycling on the hard shoulder was not a feast of scenery, also as we are away from anything remotely urban there were few shops, few schools, no factories and no housing to see. After leaving our guest house, well after the noisy Germans in the adjoining rooms, we were ferried to Montagu where we had a coffee and started cycling three separate 20 km stretches.
My now creaking wheel was diagnosed as loose spokes. Bradley insisted we swap rear wheels, I was happy to soldier on but he reasonably rationalised he was lighter than me. This pit stop left me well adrift of the others and I relished the chase to catch up. However I came across Mrs Ives toward the back of a very split peloton who needed some moral support. We trundled along together. We made it to the bus rendezvous and Anna decided to sit out the next section. I departed and proverbially went for it. I went well scooting past most of the party. Let’s just talk about the fitness of everyone. Tim from Yorkshire, early 50s (?) is a great cyclist and can power away. His wife Audrey is a very keen and nimble club rider who hasn’t learned that you can freewheel on a bike! They’ll be quick to depart when we’re allowed to make our way and they race away. The two Icelanders, can ride well and he can really ’motor’ on the flat. Several of the ladies are enthusiastic riders who are ordinarily fit – walkers, runners and tennis players etc. There are two older guys carrying injuries but they will quietly do their best. Two are probably not fit enough to subject themselves to the terrain (imho). One chap doesn’t ride a bike at home and did no training beforehand (he’ll get fitter as the holiday progresses). They’ve spent a lot of the time on the bus so far.
This second section of road had a brutal climb on it and I was just grateful Anna didn’t attempt it. I ground up it attempting to catch Audrey but failed. I was glad the agreed stop was at the summit. We had lunch/picnic and then Anna and and I rode together for the last section. The conclusion of the ride was brandy and wine tasting in Barrydale (population 3,000). The brandy was sensational but lugging a bottle home wasn’t an option. Anna bought some Sauvignon Blanc for later. So before 5pm we got to our lodgings. This arrival gave us plenty of time for chores and chilling out. From here it was a stroll down the main drag to a super restaurant. We were glad the tour guide (Bradley) and driver (Boyo) weren’t cooking again. During the day it can be mid to late 20s in temperature but the evenings are quite chilly.
The usual 7.30am meet up seemed like a long wait. This was because some local bird, like a crow, was making a fearful squawking noise at 5am. I have mixed views about the pleasure wildlife can bring you and a rifle would have been handy. We rode to breakfast before heading up a pass on our way to Bontebok National Park.
Svenn is a giant of chap, suddenly produced a device like a hairdryer at one bike stop. It’s a type a vibrator/massager that he applied to knotted muscles. We all handed it around with much hilarity. I found it painful on my quads!
This Tony, reached the conclusion some time ago that an hour in a zoo could enable you to see all the animals you’d ever want to spot. Bumping around in a bus on some scrubby land hoping to see zebras and deer in the midday sun was likely to be unproductive. It was generally a waste of time albeit some chaps came into view.
I never knew the reason why these fleet of foot animals had white bums. Apparently when they run from a predator the others, in the pack/group, can follow. They’re colour blind but can discern the white from the landscape and the fur of the animal in front. From here we drove into Swellendam and settled into our next guest house. The place had a pool to sit around, which was nice. The owners are a couple from Pretoria who came here 15 years ago. She juggles this hosting with being a pharmacist and he was an accountant in a former life. Business is down this year. Their usual tourists are Germans, Dutch and Brits. Apparently the mainland European customers are thinner on the ground. Their economies are struggling. The town has a few shops but seems a place you’d pass through. Apparently it is South Africa’s third oldest settlement. I went for a look around with Amy. She’s a very determined cyclist who puts in an additional run or swim everyday!
The whites seem to own all the assets and are the major employers. Here in a rural setting the relationship between the races seems civilised but the economic divide is cavernous. There is no threat to personal safety. A key fact is that the black communities live in townships. These mixed buildings of self contained communities sit like an estate on the edge of regular ‘brick built’ towns.
A familiar pattern was assumed as we clambered onto the bus and were driven to a starting point. We were to ride three sections with periodic rendezvous’ at the bus for people to either finish cycling, replenish their water and or take a snack. The day was hot and the road rolling but no serious climbs. Either side of the road were arable fields of cereal. I rode for the first two sessions with Anna. She’s made giant strides as regards fitness and technique. By technique then she’s responded to a grumpy ‘know-it-all’ barking instructions when out on the road. These include what bike gear to be in, the rhythm to find when pedalling (smooth), the posture to find when climbing hills (straight back to maximise power through the legs and head up to maximise air intake with a focus on the hill’s summit ahead) and how to descend. The latter technique on steep descent can be to adopt a low down position over the handlebars to minimise wind resistance. Not least amongst my pearls of wisdom is when to start pedalling to propel you as far up the next incline as possible before changing down. Despite growing tiredness she did so well that from being a straggler a long way behind the 12 out of 14, in front of her, she was close with them digging deep to create a larger gap between them and her! I’m hoping to move ‘Yorkshire’ up the leaderboard as we go along.
I got to ride one section ride by myself and nearly bust a lung doing my best. After this we were loaded up and driven to the coast at Agulhas. On the way we passed ostriches in the fields. Quite a sight. This beautiful resort is the most southerly point in Africa and the place where the Indian Ocean becomes the Atlantic.
We had fish and chips (hake) and a beer before a short walk along the coast to the monuments denoting the above. Here I saw our first Chinese tourists but as usual half of Bavaria.
The guest house was arrived at early and afforded a great view out of the window. Later, over dinner, I talked to Bradley, our guide. A young ‘coloured’ chap in his late 20’s. He describes himself as coloured and that means he’s not a black but has some other non African blood in him. In his case it’s Malayan, however it is many generations back. This denotation by Apartheid codes is offensive yet still current. There is no offence taken by calling indigenous Africans ‘black’. He lives with his parents on the Cape Flats. This is a suburb of Cape Town where non-whites were shipped out to in the 1960s as the authorities sought to ‘cleanse’ the city. This large area still is populated by non-whites. It has many districts but is a large township with crime, drugs, gangs and chronic unemployment. It is highly dangerous for any white people to be in this area. Knowing Bradley, his intellect, his language skills, his easy yet attentive ways and his work ethic it’s hard to imagine that after attending to these parties of rich white Europeans he has to go back to this quasi hell.
We talked about the absence of hope for all the younger folk and the rife use of crystal meth. He said selling drugs is a major industry on the Flats and he describes somebody as close as a brother who got shot in the head earlier in the week. I was truly shocked. How many people on your street or workplace have close friends shot in the head yet you immediately continue working being interested in the trivial demands of whinging tourists over the gears on their bicycles not working like a Swiss watch? He’s a calm young man and puts the customer first, he also likes to ride his bike. He usually cruises at the back sweeping up the stragglers but on occasion he lets rip at the front and I watch his butt from afar! I asked what if anything he learns from the tourists and he says he can see the rewards for working hard. That is, he reckons we’ve worked hard, accumulated wealth and now we can relax and spend it. That’s kind of him and, yes, we’ve all had struggles but none of my friends got shot for hanging out with the ‘wrong crowd’.
It is only the South African government that can change things. Corruption is a way of life and sucks the integrity out of any public body. He thinks the old pre 1994 ANC leaders have had their day and it needs younger people, not mired in the past, but looking forward to lead the country. Voting is on strict ethnic lines, he thinks that needs to change to have parties representing all groups. This would be a party of Xhosa, Zulu, white, coloured and other minorities. All this makes me feel very small and in some way part of the problem because I’m white. I do know one thing and that is that it can only be the blacks or coloured who elevate themselves out of this malaise. Will they or can they?
We were allowed onto our bikes a few miles from Agulhas and in two stints got to Elim. I rode one section with Audrey and nearly put her to sleep extolling the virtues of KPI’s as a by product of management accounts. The second ride I dragged Anna and some other ladies along by encouraging them to draft behind me. The wind was terribly strong: the riders were falling by the wayside. At Elim we stopped for coffee. Rolling into view were two round the world cycle tourers. This lady posed by her bike. She was with her partner and they already completed the Americas and now it was Africa and a plan to cycle north to Europe.
I told her I knew a little about this type of bike ride and in return for her suffering my smugness I collared the bike pump from the bus and blew up her tyres. (For those seeking more from my master class of how to charm the ladies then read and learn). Elim is a mission town. That is, an isolated community with little or no modern development. Many houses are thatched and look neat and tidy along the main road. German missionaries in the early 19th century from the Moravian church founded the settlement. It provides some free housing and looks like a self supporting and unique community.
From here we cycled another 20km in a stiff headwind of probably over 25mph. Audrey, Tim and myself battled onwards whilst the majority of the tour sat in the bus or quickly bailed. Eventually we stopped to have lunch at a bar. Inside were overweight Boers enjoying a Saturday lunchtime beer! Needless to say the blacks were sat around outside. Lunch done we were driven to a winery cum brewery. They produced both. The brewery was a micro affair and we sampled their various beers. The brewery was called Birkenhead. This name came from HMS Birkenhead which struck rocks and sank just off the nearby coast giving rise to a loss of 450 lives (some by shark attack) in February 26th 1852. The ship was a troop transporter (en route to reinforce the British army fighting the Xhosa). When it was struck, and sinking, the women and children were evacuated first onto the limited number of lifeboats. The instruction for this to happen became the well known phrase of ‘women and children first’. We’re chivalrous, us Brits. The other soldiers remained silent and at their stations as the ship was starting to break up and become deluged. Anyway, I’m sorry to say the beers were watery and without much flavour.
Not a fitting tribute to those dead men. From here we went to our hotel in Hermanus. This is a small resort (11,000 population) famous for its whaling history. Apparently mini cruises to see whales off the coast were not available due to high wind during our stay. However, the season is apparently over, according to Jannie, and we never even investigated the opportunity. Our hotel was super although the usual South African challenges remain such as a basin not holding water in it even with the plug in and the taps giving out cold water when you chose the hot setting. That night we split from the party and had a quiet pizza
A day off! Hermanus is a resort with craft shops, restaurants and cafes. It also has lots of white residential housing with the usual high fences and liberally plastered ‘armed response’ warnings. In the centre or ‘old downtown’ part of this coastal resort in warm and windy bright sunshine the residents are out, with the tourists, taking in the sights and consuming coffee and cake.
The party is separately doing its own thing and we are looking around the few shops that are open. Sunday in the UK doesn’t see a retail shutdown at all. However, in many countries in Europe it does. South Africa similarly respects the Sabbath. This means I always cycle on a Sunday when I tour as you have less traffic on the roads as trucks don’t run and rush hours don’t exist. Frankly, whilst I’m not a great shopper on holiday, unless I find a record store, then there a few things we’d have liked to have found open such as a launderette. This situation led to more hotel room washing. I’d brought a good amount of clothes washing liquid (the concentrated type you pour into a washing machine) and so everything gets a good scrub. I mentioned in a previous blog that the basin didn’t hold water; it happened again this time I used the plastic waste bin in the room as Plan B.
The Icelandic couple are genuinely hilarious and Unner was reflecting at breakfast on the fact that she’d now like a piece of chocolate. We chipped in that she could have the pieces the hotel left near the kettle in the room. “What chocolate?” It transpired that Svenn secretly had consumed both pieces and disposed of the wrapping! Elsewhere Anna mentioned in conversation that she was discombobulated. As you might imagine this English word isn’t taught in Icelandic schools. “What is bobulation?” I tried to help with Svenn with Google Translate but I think he was none the wiser.
So it was a slow day off the bike but Anna had a problem. After yesterday’s ride she’d got back in the bus and saw six deer out of the window. The problem was that there were only three. She had double vision. As distressing as this was we thought a good night’s rest would clear it up. It didn’t. A retired doctor, Kate, was on the trip and took her to one side and asked a few questions. She didn’t find anything serious enough to be alarmed about but wanted her to go see an optician as soon as possible: they could look at the back of the eye. In the meanwhile we found an pharmacy, bought an eye patch (this stopped the double vision, logically, and put less strain on the eyes) and some drops. As everyone else does we went onto Google, which is always counterproductive and not helpful. Tomorrow, Monday, was going to be all about sorting this out first thing.
At 7.45am we found an optician. She redirected us to see an ophthalmologist; she had two business cards of suitable consultants. One was able to see her at 9am and carried out an examination. His quick diagnosis was ‘sixth nerve’ damage and recommended rest and seeing another ophthalmologist on our return to Blighty (to check it over). However no further cycling was permitted.
Judging by the fact it hadn’t cleared up in a day or two already we knew when we visited that it wasn’t trivial. Having an expert opinion was a comfort albeit with three days of cycling to go it was a downer for Anna. The ophthalmologist did volunteer that it would heal itself but this would take weeks. The party had set off that morning and we had to catch them up. The hotel organised a taxi. We were royally ripped off by the driver who asked for a very high fare when we reached our destination. Obviously I should have agreed the fare before driving off but the hotel seemed reputable and would only choose firms with integrity. When challenged the driver said it was not a ‘local’ rate as we’d driven about 15 miles from Hermanus. Still a little shaken by our earlier events and not as argumentative and difficult as I can be I paid it but it dampened my sympathy for the maligned ethnic majority. (I’ve subsequently contacted the hotel asking if the rate was correct. If this taxi firm are crooks then they are alerted). Back with the party Anna got used to being driven at 8 mph (the bus always follows the last and slowest cyclist in the group) and I got back on my bike. The day was hot and a stiff wind from the west was in our face. I relished more ‘training’ and chasing and knuckled down to some serious application. The ride was mainly coastal. The jagged coastline with occasional smaller sandy coves was idyllic.
I was wearing my Factor 50 sunscreen. A suntan has never attracted me and I’m only too aware that when you get home it’s gone in 2 days. In Gordon’s Bay we collapsed into a bar for a beer and surrendered our bikes to Boyo. One of the party, a vet, told a hilarious story about a difficult customer. This cat owner put the practice to the sword. So much so that one member of staff was in tears after some unreasonable demands and ingratitude. So a managerial decision was taken to write to said harridan advising that it was obvious they couldn’t meet her needs and that she and tiddles should find another vet. The lady took her business elsewhere and the vet’s practice sent the lucky new custodians a ‘With Sympathy’ card! After lubrication we drove through the rush hour to Simon’s Town.
However along the main road west we saw a very very large prosperous white settlement called Somerset West. Large houses, many with sea views, all protected by walls, electric sensor wires and sometimes barbed wire. The company selling the whitewash paint was one you’d want equity in such was the gleam of pristine real estate you saw. This large community spawned a lot of jobs – retail, gardening, maintenance, maids, catering, restaurants, couriers etc. That’s good but we then went past the largest township in the country. They were small badly made ‘boxes’, the size of your garage, usually sat on sand with little or no logical street layout. A random selection of sheet materials had been found to construct these fragile sheds. The proximity to each other afforded no privacy and should a fire have broken out then the area of conflagration couldn’t have been reached by fire services. These hovels were visible for as far as the eye could see. A sea of squalor. Townships offer a variety of buildings, not all like this. Many have much better properties.
The government has a programme to build superior houses, I know. However, what we saw was difficult to comprehend. It was completely dystopian. How could I have a gardener or house maid work for me, for little money, when they have to return to these shacks when I have all the riches imaginable and a privileged existence? (More worrying about my concern is that I’m no ‘bleeding heart’. My politics can often make Ghengis Khan seem like Mother Teresa). Better news for us was our hotel in Simon’s Town was lovely with a view of the harbour.
After showering we were into the restaurant we visited with Jannie – ‘Bertha’s’. Being a man of infinite imagination I had the same meal again.
Simon’s Town was such a delightful location to wake up in. It contained a harbour full of yachts as well as a large grey frigate tethered in the nearby Navy Dock Yards. Poor Anna didn’t have the dubious pleasure of pulling on lycra but had to climb aboard the bus whilst the party all started to pedal out of the town on the way up to The Cape Of Good Hope.
Now we were enjoying world class cycling with a beautiful blue sky, a light breeze, few vehicles and a breathtaking coastline. The peloton soon split and the grafters spun easily behind us, usually the ladies, whilst myself and others headed up the road. Audrey can ride a bike and juggle an iPhone without dropping it (!) and took some photos. I felt a heel about not reciprocating but I wasn’t confident about taking photos bowling along.
Note the picture of our guide, Bradley. He’s lightning on a bike and even got a chance to go The Netherlands as a teenager for a trial.
Eventually we turned off the main road and into a Park. We headed further up and toward the most south west point of South Africa as well as the iconic Cape Of Good Hope lighthouse. I loved the ride. The traffic peeled away and some baboons watched me from the side of the road. They’re not attractive and have large canine-like teeth as well as gross exposed backsides! (Are you sure we’re closely related?)
That wasn’t the only interesting wildlife: a very large ostrich cantered across the road in front of my path making me brake sharply! A collision with one of these chaps would only have had one winner and it wouldn’t be me.
At certain points there were large numbers of tourists milling about including other European nations and Chinese. The latter group are interesting in that the Chinese never have a local tour guide, in any country. They always have a fellow countryman or woman. As always my mind wanders as to who looks at the literal thousands of photos they take? Put up any sign and they crowd around it to have their photo taken. Can their neighbours and relatives, back home, read English when they sit for hours to go through post holiday picture show?
Anna did some walking when the bus caught up with us. This was meant to include a climb up to the lighthouse. Unfortunately she couldn’t cope with negotiating the uneven and unmade surface with one eye. She started a long trek up a hill but had to abandon. As I was cycling and not around to help Michael assisted her back down and into the bus. It was very kind and he was a complete gentleman.
Evident here and throughout the country is a smell of cannabis! At first you suspect someone is puffing wacky baccy (just out of sight) but the same aroma is to be found in the middle of nowhere. There must be some local yet common bush that emits a similar pungent odour?
We never made it completely up to the lighthouse. This was perched on the very top of the Cape’s highest promontory but we found our way to a cafe for a drink and bun. I then left Anna and the rest to return to Simon’s Town by bus whilst I was allowed to cycle down. Bliss.
That night we were ferried down the road to a restaurant. A major group activity is sending photos, we’ve taken of each other, by Apple’s Air Drop. I think a few in the party were delighted to discover this technical wizardry at their finger tips.
This was our last day of cycling. Frankly, I was pretty shot. These rides have been wonderful. I’ve kept racing behind whoever’s in front of me getting fitter, albeit more depleted, as the time’s gone on. We had two serious climbs today and I got stuck in. Again the scenery was world class and the weather perfect. I have to say closer to Cape Town the traffic became heavier and due to the age of some of the vehicles it wasn’t pleasant to get a regular lung full of hideous fumes as they wearily climb the hills. With our earlier investigation of Cape Town with Jannie and on the city tour bus we were retracing our steps and not necessarily discovering new corners of the city.
One coffee stop had some craft shops and the ladies were delighted to acquire some family gifts. Svenn emerged from one emporium with a vuvuzela. Who can forget the horrific drone of these weapons at the 2010 Football World Cup games? We passed it round and all had a go at making a similar dreadful sound; it’s not easy I can tell you.
We finished in Clifton at a very delightful club/bar. Our Irish member, with that legendary hospitality, bought all and sundry a drink and thanked me personally for occasionally giving encouragement. I’m not sure that I deserved the thanks as she’s a good cyclist. However, like a couple of the others, she didn’t like the descents. Boy, I loved the descents. It wasn’t untypical to hit over 40mph on these long hills (thanks to Strava, an App on my iPhone, I recorded these speeds) and considering these were hybrid bikes, rather than road bikes, it was quite a decent lick.
Our last meal was at the Waterfront in the centre of Cape Town. Quite a plush spot but touristy – a choir of men arrived in brightly coloured shirts to sing songs very reminiscent of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and then try and flog us CD’s. Amongst the party details were swapped as in the morning several were leaving for home with various flight times.
Bradley surprised us by telling us we’d booked a trip to Robben Island! Anna had no recollection of this commitment but we went. This small island is 4 miles from Cape Town. Prior to its notoriety as a prison it was a leper colony. It was the home, for 18 years, for Nelson Mandela (one of my photos is of his cell) and other leading figures in the struggle for the end of apartheid and the implementation of universal suffrage. The prison, as a set of buildings or layout, didn’t shock or appal. As is always the case it is the things you can’t see that make it inhuman and a hell hole.
This may have been the guards carrying guns, the racial verbal and physical abuse of the wardens and the initial arbitrary sentencing. Then you can add the back breaking work of quarrying for limestone, with 19th Century tools, in burning sun for 6 hours a day. Many prisoners subsequently had eyesight damage working with the white glare day after day. There was also strict ‘uniform’ to be worn including short trousers as well as sleeping on a mat on the floor of a cell, with a concrete floor, with minimal blankets in winter. Solitary confinement was a regular punishment. There were around 700 political prisoners on the island at its peak.
Attendant to this population was a reasonably sized settlement with a school, sports facilities, church etc for the staff. Concessions from the regime were mainly won by hunger striking. Eventually as the Government decided the game was up (in 1991) the last prisoner was switched to the mainland and the prison shut. In the end 149 men (including one white man) were hanged for political ‘crimes’ during these years (let alone those who died from brutality and torture).
It still dumbfounds me how a white South African thought such a regime might continue into the 21st Century? By this time the world was hostile to this racial subjugation and the country’s isolation was increasing. Harold McMillan, the then British PM had toured the continent and made a memorable ‘winds of change’ speech in Cape Town back in 1960, he said:
“As a fellow member of the Commonwealth it is our earnest desire to give South Africa our support and encouragement, but I hope you won’t mind my saying frankly that there are some aspects of your policies which make it impossible for us to do this without being false to our own deep convictions about the political destinies of free men to which in our own territories we are trying to give effect.”
As to Britain, the former colonial master, then at the time they no interest in retaining this or its other African colonies after the War. African nationalism was rising making the withdrawal timely.
You couldn’t overlook how many white Africans had fought for Britain and given their lives for our cause only 15 years earlier. The British bond to these people was deep. Despite the indisputably correct position of McMillan on the matter of Britain’s rejection of Apartheid it was a bitter pill for white South Africans, Kenyans or Rhodesians to swallow. Their confidence and ability to resist change must have come from their self sufficiency: they had money. Rhodesia and South Africa had brilliant farming and minerals. They didn’t lack the resources to maintain their independence. (Also most nations were happy to trade with these regimes and add to their wealth). Inevitably with this policy South Africa left the British Commonwealth in 1961 as Apartheid became more embedded.
If this reads like a censorious lecture then it’s necessary to add that today white South Africans pay their taxes, respect the laws and employ millions of blacks and coloureds through a variety of jobs domestically or through corporations. Much of this difficult history is the ‘sins of their fathers’. In continuing to live in the country since regime change they may live dangerous existences where violent crime is a constant threat with many, in reality, ‘no go’ urban areas. It’s not a little ironic that a substantial black or coloured occupation is in security services. The centre of Cape Town is flooded by armies of security personnel allowing tourists and locals to circulate freely and without fear.
The whites, along with other ethnicities, also now deal with chronic federal or local Governmental corruption, nepotism and incompetence. The country does not run smoothly and attempting to control or even cope with needs of a large population seems near impossible when there is such poverty. It is no surprise that out of 57 million there are only 4 million whites left with little prospect of increasing in numbers.
We returned to Cape Town to mooch about in the heat. The real summer had now arrived. Anna rang a restaurant, ‘Maria’s’, for a booking and was told they were fully booked. We’d eaten there on our first days in Cape Town, it was a brilliant spot. However as we were passing the establishment, on our way back to the hotel, I popped in to see if a personal appearance (and my obvious personal chemistry) could persuade them to fit us in. Obviously it did and later on we dined outside and ate well.
It was our last day after a leisurely start we did another walking tour. This time one dwelling on the history of the city and country. It was particularly interesting to understand early Dutch history and the British and Boer conflicts. From here we again met Jannie, in the city centre, for a debriefing of our cycling expedition and to tell her about Anna’s misfortune as well as to learn of her house move. (It was lovely to meet her again after our brief encounter years ago in the USA). From here we got organised back at the guest house for our return. We then had a slow taxi ride in rush hour traffic to deposit us at the airport before the overnight flight.
For many reasons there is nowhere like the Western Cape and for good and bad I have left with many memories.
On our arrival at Gatwick we drove straight to York District Hospital’s Accident & Emergency for a doctor to look at her eye. This led to a few appointments and anything sinister was ruled out by tests including an MRI scan. However the prognosis was that it would eventually go of its own accord. The implication was that Anna couldn’t drive until this eye decided to work properly again. I subsequently cancelled my flight to Australia.