Sunday, 27 September 2009

32. From Ire-guay

Seven thousand kilometres in eight and a half hours. Not a bad day´s average as the plane touched down in Argentina. Minutes later I was reunited with Rocinante who had also survived the journey relatively unscathed and I boarded a bus to downtown Buenos Aires. Any doubts about the wisdom of embarking on another trans-continental bicycle journey faded away at the sight of another city, another country and a whole new variety of cultures.

Jose, our first host in Uruguay

For the first few weeks in South America I´m sharing the road with the witty Paul Tuthill. Despite knowing many of the same people (we are Irish after all), the first and last time we had met was in Benin, when Paul was heading out of central Africa and I was heading in. In the meantime Paul has had a few months to build up a collection of entertaining stories from back home and I´ve worked on the African tales, and now we talk our way along rural Uruguayan roads, past the unending green fields and ubiquitous cows.

Main street in Rosario

We escaped from the Argentinian capital by catching a ferry across to Colonia del Sacremento, an old Portuguese smuggling base and we were soon trundling along rutted but peaceful backroads. Uruguay was badly hit in 2001 with the financial collapse of its larger neighbour, Argentina, and the agricultural industry has also been affected in recent years by bans due to the spread of foot and mouth disease. Wild camping has been no problem and on a couple of occasions we have stayed on farms and been invited to drink mate and eat some food, whilst building sentences one word at a time with my Spanish phrasebook.

Which way Paul?

Paysandu, Uruguay
Trip distance: 22,587 km

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

31. Out of Africa

The Cedarberg mountains, Western Cape

Yesterday morning I did quite a spectacular somersault off Rocinante along the main street in Stellenbosch. Over 22,000 kilometres from home and perhaps my last kilometre in Africa and it took a momentary lapse of judgement whilst jumping a curb on an unloaded Rocinante to go sprawling across the road followed by bits and pieces of the bike. Ironically I was on the way to the bike shop to get Rocinante kitted out for the next leg of the journey, so I just added a couple of new items to the bottom of my fix-it list when I handed the bike over to Leonardo the bike man.

Having failed miserably in any attempts to find passage on either a yacht or cargo ship to South America, I chucked in the towel and with one quick swipe of my credit card I enlarged my carbon footprint, cut a nice dent in my ever-dwindling financial resources, and had a plane ticket from Cape Town to Buenos Aires, Argentina. I fly out on Sunday 20th September, just under one year to the day from when I landed in Tangiers and began to run the stone-throwing gauntlet into Morocco. What a year. 22 countries, 2 tyres and a million experiences.

Spring flowers in the Cedarberg

After over a week in the Cedarberg mountains, I descended to the winelands of Western Cape and now I'm staying with Bennie and Elsie in Kuilsrivier, a suburb in northern Cape Town. We last met on a sandy track in southern Angola, where they saved myself and Peter with water and sandwiches as they toured the country with some friends. We kept in touch and they very generously offered to host me for the final few days in the country. After the visit to the bike doctor yesterday I bought a Spanish dictionary and phrasebook and every night I will sleep with them under my pillow and hopefully I will learn the language by osmosis.

Finally, as you may be aware, I decided a few months back to use the journey to raise money for the Dublin-based charity, the Peter McVerry Trust, which does fantastic work in supporting young homeless people. I just wanted to make it clear that if you choose to donate any money to the charity via The Slow Way Home link on the website, your donation goes to the Trust immediately (and not at the end of the journey - whenever that may be!). Many thanks to those who have already contributed very generously to the fund.

To all the people at home and along the road who have made this journey be what it has been so far, a very warm thank you.

Gydo Pass, Western Cape

Cape Town, South Africa
Trip distance: 22,153 km

Thursday, 3 September 2009

30. (Almost) Spring in South Africa

Having failed to reconvene with Peter at the annointed hour in Windhoek my itchy wheels and I decided to head on alone towards Botswana. The last entry in my journal ends almost one month ago in the village of Kang in Botswana, midway along the trans-Kalahari highway. The title of the road may sound romantic (it did to me), conjuring up images of the bushveld and the San's ('bushmen') well-documented culture in this arid expanse of southern Africa, but really, it's not that romantic. At least on a bicycle. It can be windy (it was), there were the longest distances (almost 200 km) between water sources so far encountered on the trip, and a seemingly endless journey through sand, bush and scrub. Well it seems I'm still bitter but I'm beginning to think that perhaps there is some merit in saying that once you've pedaled through one desert you have pedaled through them all.

Kalahari sands

At some point during the Kalahari cycleabout the magnetic force of Cape Town began to draw me in and a more direct route to the end of Africa was embarked on, rather than a detour back to Lesotho. Many South Africans had by this stage taken time out of their driveabout to stop and chat with me along the roadside and I began to get really worried about the size of my genitalia when the tenth South African opined that my balls were bigger than my brain if I was seriously thinking of riding through their crime-infested homeland. They would then jump into telling me all sorts of nasty stories about cyclists getting shot at, robbed and beaten to death, whilst assuring me that in the very least I should be prepared to walk to Cape Town as it was a foregone conclusion that my bike and gear would not survive the journey.

Somewhere in the Northern Cape, South Africa

Well, I entered South Africa from Botswana three weeks ago at McCarthy's Rust into the vastness of the Northern Cape province and so far I haven't had to start walking towards Cape Town. The Northern Cape is primarily an Afrikaans-speaking area in South Africa where pride is taken in a slower pace of life and considerably lower crime statistics than other areas in the country. The reason for this is because almost nobody actually lives there and any illusions I had about more human-scale cycling distances were soon put aside. I was met with extraordinary offers of hospitality and rarely was I let sleep outside in my tent but instead taken into farmhouses, fed enormous portions of six different animals in one meal and sent on my way again. One memorable morning a fellow sporting an enormous flaming orange mullet, pulled over and told me he worked at the local mine and he wished to get a photo for the local paper, the Kalahari Bulletin. He was late for a meeting and had to rush off, yet half an hour later he returned toting a cheeseburger, chips and Coke and insisted that if I needed money it was no problem.

5,000 year old hand-prints at a cave in Eland's Bay

Yet since entering from Angola into Namibia, history seems to permeate every contact that occurs between people of different races. Here in South Africa you can visit a town with a population of 5,000, all the services you need, and yet three kilometres down a dirt track lives the other 15,000 people who also live and work and try to survive in this town. While segregation may have officially ended 15 years ago, the reminders of the Apartheid era are buried deep in both the physical and psychological landscapes that you encounter in South Africa. Yet one thing that I have learned to appreciate more than ever is the importance of reserving judgment on those who are ordinarily held responsible for the current state of affairs.

Seals take five on the rocks at Eland's Bay, Western Cape

I followed a route that led me across the top of the Northern Cape and back to the coast, passing through the Orange River valley at Upington, Keimos and Kakamas, before continuing on to Springbok. It's springtime in South Africa and the annual pilgrimmage for those with both a caravan and an old age pension to witness the Spring flowers in Namaqualand had begun in earnest. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The moisture from the nearby Atlantic is the reason for the normally arid landscape turning a variety of bright hues but unfortunately the flowers had arrived early this year and by the time that I arrived most of the disappointed white-haired flower season veterans were packing up their deck chairs and heading for home. From Springbok, the N7 brought me quickly closer to Cape Town. And yet the closer I get the slower the pace has become and the wider the meanders. I rode down along the green coast before tacking inland to the impressive Cedarberg mountains where I have been pitched up in an orange tree orchard for the past few days, ripe fruit ready to fall like an citrus nuclear bomb on my tent below.

Cedarberg Mountains, Western Cape, South Africa

Trip distance: 21,947 km