Respect: Knysna to Port Elizabeth (via Prince Alfred and Baviaanskloof)
Most of the time we meet South Africans on the road, they aren’t shy to state that we must be extremely adventurous, or simply crazy. In many situations, it also starts a conversation that can uncover a place to go next, an offer of nightly accommodation, lunch, dinner, and camaraderie. Then again, sometimes we only get the word ‘respect’ accompanied by a fist to chest motion.
The most common icebreaker usually starts with an extremely friendly South African asking, with excited curiosity, “Wheh ya off to?” We usually reply that we are cycling across South Africa via gravel and dirt roads and with wavering decisiveness hint at the next major destination. After the initial response of “sho sho” (which Gin takes as the equivalent of a good ole Southern “Lordy Jesus!”) the typical response goes something like “Oh, you should definitely go through the [whatever pass or old dirt road]! Do you have a map?! Let me show you…” Countless people have offered suggestions, which has lead to a web of highlighter lines on our map, sometimes on areas that aren’t even printed in the faintest of dotted ink.
Although this usually leads to some very beautiful places, it commonly causes confusion. There is not a single perfect route through South Africa. In fact, there are many incredible routes that have to be picked and chosen, a lot of times having to dismiss another that sounds great as a result. There are also a lot of differing perspectives. We have found it best to ask the opinions of as many people as possible, do a bit of research on our own, and, then, try to find the middle ground.
The best example of our route conundrums was when we were forced to choose a path toward the coast. We discussed all of the opinions we were given along the way, describing each by the person’s name or description of where we met them and what they looked like, adding hints of credibility in the process. In this particular instance it went something like this: “Nicholas said we should take the ‘old pass’ through here…”, moving a finger across lines on the map, “…and he is a mountain biker. And the scraggly Keith Richards lookalike, motorcycle guy told us to take the ‘old pass’ as well; but the photographer lady from Kenya said we should take the Prince Alfred Pass into Knysna, through the forest. She said that was amazing… and so did the motorcycling couple in Franschhoek.” We made our decision to take the ‘old pass’ (photos in the last post), but then, after we realized that the coast was pretty much a holiday-maker madhouse, we decided to retreat via the other route and zig back up the Prince Alfred Pass and into the charm and beauty of the Klein Karoo. So, to Virginia’s delight, we crossed what seemed like pretty much all of the mountain passes in the area, with the reward being even more encounters with wonderful people.
One of several great acts of kindness we’ve received was near the gated entrance to the section of Baviaanskloof where there is a game reserve. We had intended on entering the reserve the next morning, but we went a little too far on the rough sandy track and had to turn around to find a camping area. Clive and Jeneane were pulling out of the dirt road to their ‘bush camp’ and he rolled down his window and exclaimed, “NO WAYS!! You guys just rode that??!!” (Did I mention that it was 41 or 42 degrees C at this point?) “Come to our house for tea, right up the road here…” Our meeting led to being invited to stay in their family farm guest cottage, and later to their bush camp for a braai and our first “kloofing” experience (rock scrambling mixed with, wading, a little swimming in the amazing and, thankfully, shaded crevace that is formed between 2 towering mountain walls).
Are the kindness and generosity we’ve consistently received unusual? Would just any tourist or foreign stranger experience this degree of hospitality? I can’t say, but I am inclined to think that our chosen mode of transportation has played a part in the benefits we have received. Traveling via bicycle leads you to places where foreign tourists aren’t typically seen. It leads you to genuinely kind people who have a little respect for someone working hard to see their country. And, luckily, those same people often take pity on a couple of weary cyclists who look like they might drop dead from heatstroke.