South Africa: When the Cape Land gave us a worthy ending

And so time has come for the last blogpost – for this journey. Over a month has passed since Sam and I finally reached our last destination: Cape Town. At this point my bicycle and I are already back on Swedish ground. Sam is in Turkey starting off his next cycle adventure through Central Asia and China, together with his new companion Charlie. I assume that I, subconsciously, must have found it hard to put an end to this story, although it’s not going to get easier as the whole trip just feels more and more distant every day. Luckily I’ve got my notes to rely on. And anyhow, there’s one thing I’ll remember clearly: that we had a lovely time in South Africa. Just like in Namibia we bumped into the most generous and hospitable people, and got to see some real stunning sceneries.

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One of the worthwhile sunsets in South Africa.

We spent 11 days of cycling in South Africa, and then finished off with around one week of stationary holidays in Cape Town. Although the distance from the border to our final destination was not much more than 700 km, we really took our time. Somehow we were just too exhausted (or lazy) to do long days that last bit. We just ended up chilling out in kitschy coffee shops more or less every afternoon. Besides, we had already booked our flight tickets from Cape Town and didn’t want to arrive too early. Once there, anyway, we realized that even the double amount of days wouldn’t have been enough considering all there is to do in the Cape region.

The first day on South African territory (9/4) we started off from the border by the Orange River, which means that we were right above sea level. It was beautiful down there, but quite hot. Fortunately, there were some hills waiting for us just around the corner. We actually got a scenic climb for almost 40 km. A pretty straight, light and steady slope through a rocky and deserted landscape. There were some cars and trucks passing by, but not a single cyclist or pedestrian. In the afternoon we got thirsty and short of water. Rarely enough, Sam was behind me this time and not the opposite. After a while he caught up with me, triumphantly holding up (a part of) the catch of the day: a five liter bottle of fresh water. He had waved with his empty bottle in front of some bypassing cars, and the first one stopped, followed by another one. Besides the water the guys in the car had given him 14 boiled eggs, half a packet of ham and two steak sandwiches. As if that wasn’t enough, our Capetonian friends Christien and Mike from the Namibian desert (who Gautier and I had met a couple of weeks earlier) coincidentally drove past us and stopped for a little chat and to offer us some cold beers. I can assure you that we had a feast that evening on our river bed.

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John and Sandy outside of their house in Springbok.

The next day we got to the town Springbok, where we arrived in the early afternoon. As we went to a lodge for a late lunch we were lucky to meet Sandy and John, who invited us to come and camp in their yard. A first class camping spot with a view over the surrounding mountains that you can’t complain about. Thanks again!

Although we were not too far from Cape Town, there were not many sizable towns along the N7 road, which we followed until a little city called Clanwilliam. Just like in Namibia there was still a fence separating us from the ideal camping spots in the wilderness. But there is always a way to find a free camping spot. One night we stayed under a bridge and a few nights we simply jumped (it sounds more graceful than it was) over the fence with the bikes. You might get a thorn or two in the tires but that’s well worth a good night’s sleep.

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Approaching Cape Town.

On the fifth day we decided to stop early and spend the afternoon at a lodge. The place, called ”Hardeveld Lodge and Camping” was the first backpacker-friendly place we had seen in a while and it even had some bicycle shaped decorations outside of the entrance gate. We were the only guests at the camping, until three other cycle tourers showed up. It was Russel, Steve and Hamish – also called the Mojo Vélo Crew – who are on their way from Cape Town to Ethiopia. Such nice chaps, to quote Sam. We had a long chat in the kitchen and exchanged a lot of advices about our respective upcoming stretches. When we told them where we were planning to stay in Cape Town, with a family who’s also cycled through Africa, we got a surprising reaction. ”Are you staying with the Phillips!?” ”Ahh, you guys are going to have such a good time, they are just amazing!”, we were told. And we were soon going to see that they were right.

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Happy to bump into three other cyclists – Russel, Steven and Hamish who are on their way from Cape Town to Ethiopia.

When we were around 300 km from Cape Town it was time to turn right and head west towards the coast. Our goal was the beach in a little place called Elandsbaai. When you haven’t seen the ocean in over 7 months, just feeling the salty smell of the sea grass and hearing the sound of the waves is a treat. But you might also feel an irresistible need to jump into the water, which we did. It was painfully cold, and hurt in the legs as we quickly went in for what doesn’t even deserve being called a swim. But it was worth it.

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A cold swim in Elandsbaai.

After Elandsbaai we more or less followed the Western Cape coast down to our final destination. The road was flat like a pancake and we were cycling just next to the dunes, that separated us from the shoreline. When we were around 70 km from Cape Town, the vague contours of the famous Table Mountain started to appear somewhere far in the horizon. That evening we camped close to the beach (but behind the dunes on the opposite side of the road to get more privacy- and safety) just 20 km outside of town. At that point, the Table Mountain obviously appeared more clearly.

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The last but not the least pretty camping spot for our trip.

And so, Wednesday the 20th of April, we got to Cape Town. How did it feel? That simple little question has been asked us many times and I guess that some of you are wondering too. To be honest, there was nothing that special about arriving in Cape Town. Of course it felt a bit surreal and quite good, but neither Sam nor I got emotional or incredibly happy about it. We simply found a bicycle store (Woodstock Cycleworks) and hanged out there for a while before moving on to our host family’s house.

 

You might think that Cape of Good Hope is located just around the corner from Cape Town, but it’s actually around 70 km. Therefore we decided not to go there straight after arriving, but to wait a day or two before cycling to the actual final destination. Unluckily, the weather got quite stormy and rainy the following day, and the next one, and the next one as well (we were told by the locals that if the weather is bad in Cape Town, it is ten times worse out by the Cape Point). Meanwhile, we hanged out with the family, enjoyed delicious food and did things like sightseeing and yoga – which we hadn’t done in a long time. And then, eventually, there was a perfectly sunny Sunday. We actually started off accompanied by the whole Phillips family, who are real cycle lovers too. Last year the four of them left their house for a 12-months tour around Southern and Eastern Africa, which Tegan, the oldest daughter, illustrated with her super cool cartoons (check out her blog here).

Anyway, after some coffee and penguin watching in Simonstown with the Phillips, Sam and I continued to the Table Mountain National Park, and then further out to the renowned Cape of Good Hope. Although we had become quite used to breathtaking views at that point, this was just beauty of nature taken to a whole new level. Just like when trying to describe the Victoria Falls, I’ll let the photos do the illustrational work.

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View from the lighthouse at Cape Point.
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Walking around at the Cape of Good Hope.
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The obligatory finishing photo. As two tourists among about a hundred others, we had to queue for at least 10 minutes to get to the sign.

So, there we were, by the well-photographed Cape of Good Hope-sign. The official final point of our tour. According to the sign this location is the most south-western point of Africa. There is an old misconception that it should also be the most southern tip, which it isn’t. The most southern point is actually located about 150 km east-southeast of the Cape Point, at Cape Agulhas. But we settled for the Cape Point.

I can’t imagine a better ending to our trip than spending the last week in Cape Town, with the fortune to stay with Diana, Stuart, Carla, Tegan and their dogs Lady and Jack. It was a real treat and also a good way for me to getting used to everyday life (with a luxury twist of course) again. For Sam’s part, it was all about getting ready for the next challenge: to cycle through Central Asia. Some people just can’t get enough of bicycle touring. It is addictive to live like this, constantly on the move and with the omnipresent feeling of contingency – that everything could happen. In one way that is absolute freedom. But now I’ve also realized that everyday ”stationary” life implies a lot of freedom that we usually take for granted – the freedom to choose who we want to hang out with, what we want to dedicate our spare time to and what type of food we want to cook. Back home in Sweden, I’m actually still quite grateful for all these choices. And it might take a while before I start feeling that urgent restlessness again.

That was all for me, for this time. A great thanks to you who have been following the journey and encouraging me along the way! Perhaps there will be a new adventure to track in an uncertain future. And talking about tracking, my dear GPS-device has now a new owner: my friend Jean from Belgium, who’s on his way to China (follow him here and get inspired!).

 

All the best and stay safe on the road!

/Zelda

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