We're abandoning the Republic of Transkei.
It's been an interesting part of South Africa... for the first three or four days. But we're exactly half-way through the Wild Coast and it's apparent to us that the landscape will be more of the same all the way to the northern-most end at Port Edward. Same gravel roads, same rolling hills, same rondavels, even the same kind of coastal geography.
So we're going to head back in-land. Back to the mountains for a change of scenery. We like mountains.
And also our 90-day South African tourist visa expires in six days.
What? How the heck did that happen? We've been here three months already? And we're getting kicked out of yet another country? :(
Goodbye grey gravel road (where the dogs of society howl?)
It's so gloomy outside as we depart Coffee Bay. Heavy overcast skies blanket our exit as we speed (well, plod) away from the coast.
Skies darken above us as we head back in-land
On our way out, we have to ride through the crowded city streets of Mthatha, the capital of Transkei. I'm tempted to insert a Hakuna Matata pun in here somewhere, but that's a Swahili phrase which translated to English means "Watch more Disney movies". Mthatha (or Umtata as it's also pronounced) is Xhosa for a type of tree called Sneezewood. I wonder what the Xhosa words are for "Grumpywoods, Happywoods, Dopeywoods, Bashfulwoods..."
From Mthatha we catch the main road north to Maclear, where we change directions and turn west to Elliot. This town is our last chance to gas up before we head up into the mountains. The clouds are getting ominously dark, so I urged Neda to put on her rainsuit like I was doing, much to her chagrin.
She hates wearing her rainsuit.
The guys at the gas station in Elliot were so friendly and interested in our bikes and our trip.
They were laughing and joking around so much, we had to get a picture with them
A lot of towns in the area have their names arranged in stones on the side of a hill
From Elliot northwards, the roads and the scenery get a lot more interesting!
Yes! Now this is more our speed! Literally and figuratively.
Now that we're out of the urban areas, we get a chance to crack open our throttles just a little bit. The rain seems to be holding off and we take advantage of the dry pavement. So nice and smooth! What a welcome change from the bumpy gravel roads of Transkei! The elevation changes become more dramatic as well. As we climb higher, the road provides us with a little more entertainment, wrapping around mountainsides and giving us most excellent views of the valley beside us.
Oh, the landscape here is gorgeous, we must stop to get a closer look!
The plateau mountain-top in the distance is part of the Drakensberg Escarpment
We're up in the Drakensberg mountains right now, and the escarpment in the distance forms a natural border between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.
Despite being entirely surrounded by South Africa on all sides, Lesotho is actually a separate country; a fully sovereign enclave nation, recognized by the United Nations.
It's there that we hope to seek refuge from our expiring South African visa. There are huge penalties for overstaying your visa, so this is something we want to avoid.
One question remains though, if our South African visa expires while we're in Lesotho? How do we actually leave the country if it is completely surrounded by South Africa...?!?
*shrug* That's FutureGene's problem.
Neda hears me mumbling to myself. She asks, "What's FutureGene's problem?" I reassure her: "Absolutely nothing! Let's ride!"
These striated rocks we're riding by are so cool-looking!
This is something no motorcyclist ever want to see. A wall of rain up in the distance
Neda radios me, "Is that where we're going?"
Not Knysna at all.
We reach the town of Barkly East where we are turning east towards the ridge of the Escarpment. Before we leave South Africa, we're trying to cram in as many of those "must-do" mountain passes. And there are a couple of them, right here in this region, just skirting the southern edge of the Lesotho border.
Yes, we have a bad case of FOMO... Just have to see and do EVERYTHING!
The road out of Barkly East is all dirt. According to what I've mapped out, we're not going to see pavement for a few days...
Which is all fine and dandy, as long as the rain holds off and doesn't turn the dirt beneath us to mud and slop.
The dark skies above us open up and the rain turns the dirt beneath us to mud and slop
No, no, no, no, NO, NO, NOOOOO!!! Why is it the minute we leave the pavement, it rains? Come on!!!! Why?!?!
I check my GPS: 60 kms till we reach the town of Rhodes, where we're stopping for the night. 60 kms of riding through this mess. Our tires are moving beneath us in uncomfortable ways and our speed plummets. At this rate, it's going to take us well over an hour to get to our destination.
Half-way through our white-knuckle ride, we stop for a little break
As we get closer to Rhodes, the mountains in the distance get larger
Despite the marvelous view we have all around us, the rain has made the road quite slippery. Instead of looking at the mountains, I stare intently at Neda's rear tire squirming in the mud. I use her as a Distant Early Warning system: the minute I see her motorcycle going sideways, I slow my bike right down to avoid the same fate.
Riding a motorcycle in these conditions is not too much fun. More so for the lead rider.
The Bell River runs parallel to the road for quite a distance
"Rocky Rhodes!", I scream.
The town materializes in front of us, but we still remain dirt-bound. We ride around looking for the self-catered apartment that Neda had reserved for us, and we're surprised that all the roads in Rhodes are unpaved. There's not one bit of tar or asphalt in this little burgh!
Found our accommodations. It's nice! A self-contained unit.
We take the evening off to cook a nice dinner. We deserve a little break after today's stressful ride, so we've got this place booked for a couple of days.
Neda takes time off from cross-stitching to mend our riding gear. Then the next day we're off to explore the town! And pet all the dogs.
Unpaved roads everywhere. Feels like a frontier town almost
Rhodes has a very boutique-y feel about it - a fairy-tale kind of village that city people go to for the weekend to get a quaint out-of-town experience. A place to go hiking in the mountains, fishing in the streams and bird-watching. There's even a ski-hill in the area for the winter-lovers.
To complete the frontier-town atmosphere, this is the style of the buildings in the area
The top-right is the library, bottom-left is the post office and bottom-right is the gas station, however it hasn't served up gasoline in ages. It's more decorative than anything.
Our tanks are about half-empty, and if we're going to tackle the mountain passes tomorrow, I'd like to start off with full tanks. We ask around at the faux-gas-station where we can get fuel. The nice people there direct us to a B&B down the street.
The lady at the B&B greets us and lets us in to her house. We're invited to sit on her couch and we ask her if we can purchase some gas. She tells us her supply is mainly for emergencies. She stocks up on spare gas canisters for travelers who are in dire straits and can't get to the next town because they're running on fumes.
When we tell her we're on bikes, she tells us, "Oh no problem, you probably only need 10L or so then. I thought you guys were driving a bakkie (pick-up truck). Where are you going on your motorbikes?"
Some signs that we saw earlier. This is where we're going.
"We're planning on heading up to Tiffendell Ski Hill and then Naude's Nek". These are the roads Jacques told us about. I made sure to pronounce it the way Jacques taught me: Naude's Nek is "No-Deers Neck". Afrikaans is so funny.
She purses her lips and informs us, "Those passes are pretty difficult to drive through in the dry, and I'm sorry to have to tell you that the heavy rains the past couple of days have forced them to shut down those roads."
Oh no. We're crestfallen. We endured all that dirt and mud yesterday and came all the way up here just to get turned around?
So Neda and I had a huddle in that woman's living room: "What are our options? We can wait till the roads dry out, this is a nice enough town to hang out in.", "Yeah, but our visa expires in six days, if the roads don't clear, then it'll take us a couple of days to detour back out. That's cutting it kind of close..."
So it was decided then. We thank the B&B lady and leave her emergency gas supply untouched. We have enough fuel to turn around and make it back to Elliot.
This is disappointing. I wish we had more time. :( This set-back was a big stop sign in our path.
But at least the stop signs in this fairy-tale town tried to cheer us up! Awww, how nice!
Looking back on the last three months, it's struck me that our first steps through Africa have been filled with uncertainty. Uncertainty over whether or not we'd be able to get our motorcycles and uncertainty over the weather and the road conditions. No other country has thrown as many monkeys and wrenches in our plans as this one.
Well... except for India. *Shudder*... Nothing beats India as far as uncertainty goes.
We go walking around town again. Horsies turn to look at us as if to ask, "Why the long faces, Gene and Neda?"
Other people walking around town
"I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride"
Fairy tale lake in a fairy-tale town