We rolled across the border in the afternoon and talked ourselves out of cycling further. Instead we made camp at a caravan park within site of the border post. Although we had bade Franz farewell back in Namibia, turned out we needed one more night of hanging out. He rocked up with wine and some story of having to go South Africa to pick up a part for his pump. We settled in for one last night.
And oof, did climbing all the next day hurt with a hangover. We both became a bit teary (not from the hangover) when we saw the sign that stated Cape Town was 678km away. To think about how far we’ve come, well it’s hard to even comprehend. The day was tough going; with a head wind as well as the hangover and climbs, and we were super grateful when i overlander helped us find a very nice local homestay in Steinkopf.
Throughout all of Africa we had heard that hands down, South Africa was going to be our most dangerous country. The violence of the crime here is notorious and we had certainly been told the odd horror story. However, we had also been told that the West Coast would more or less be okay. There was certainly an edginess immediately apparent as we parked our bikes by the supermarket in Steinkopf, but other than a few annoying men asking us for money, everything was fine. Then we met some ladies who were utterly delightful, and it just felt like we were anywhere in Africa.
The big surprise for us in South Africa was that it was actually cold! For the first time in months, we were piling on our jackets and huddling together at highway rest stops, feeling perplexed by the sensation.
Undulations, cold and headwind made the N7 a bit of a slog for the first few days. We felt unsure of camping too, given everything we had been told. It felt hard to get our heads around this new country, and where to place our safety in it. One night we had planned to camp, but due to the wind and end of the day climbing we were still out on the road near dusk, having not found anywhere suitable. A kind couple, Willem and Anne-Marie, rocket up in a ute, piled our bikes in and took us to their home. We were given their grown up kids beds to sleep in, cooked a braai (BBQ) and treated with immense kindness. It was a look into a world we know very little about, with people we perhaps wouldn’t ordinarily converse with, nor have very much in common. Warmth and hospitality however speaks volumes and we were so humbled.
After a few more days on the N7 we were finally able to turn off towards the Atlantic. This also involved a rather intense section into an even more ferocious headwind where it felt like we were never going to get anywhere. However, when we finally glimpsed the Atlantic, it was pretty special. We had now cycled from one side of Africa to the other.
Things got even better when we pushed off into the coastal scrub and camped right by the beach. In the morning we swam naked in the crashing Atlantic as the sun rose and felt so fucking alive. This for me is what life is about.
From here on in, South Africa really showed her true awesomeness. We were able to meander along roads that were closed to through traffic (private railway access roads) and even splurged on a fancy lunch and wine by the ocean. In a way it felt like we were on holiday, or a long wind down from the road. Most of the challenges traditionally faced when cycling in faraway lands had ceased to exist. Everyone spoke english, the roads were well maintained, water was mostly easy to find, there were shops and pubs and rest stops. Supermarkets were back on the scene in a big way and everything worked and was pretty familiar. This is not really what I look for when I go out on an adventure, but it’s also not a bad thing. We decided to embrace it, and from our fancy lunch cycled to another idyllic seaside village and enjoyed a beer as the sun set.
Aside from rocking up into a town where everything was shut as there had been a riot, our days were pretty uneventful. We always managed to find somewhere safe to sleep, wether it was a campground, or in a courtyard with a peacock watching over us.
And soon it transpired that we were only a day out from Cape Town. It was a straight ride into the city from where we were…Or we could just go check out the cute little micro brewery just over the hill… Enough random people in the cafe we were lunching in (and yes, we are now those kind of cycle tourists) told us enthusiastically that we must go to Darling Brewery. And Neil (remember Neil who we had cycled with in China, Kyrgyztan and Tajikistan?!) had also said it would be an abomination to miss it.
So without a plan, except to drink a few good brews, we turned off the main road and headed into Darling. It was one of those days where I just knew it would all work out. We loved the town and the brewery immediately, and after a pint I mustered up the courage to ask the owner Kev, if we could perhaps bed down on his amazing astro turf (we’d been eying up all the places we could potentially sleep the minute we got there). He said yes. Then Russel and Camila joined our table and after explaining our story we were invited for dinner with everyone and to camp in their backyard (they offered inside, but we wanted one more night in our faithful tent Meredith).
We could not have had better last night. Our new friend’s were the most delightful and engaging of soul’s and we had the most wonderful night. A true gem right at the end of our epic journey, and so beautifully telling and typical of how life on the road has treated us.
I hardly slept that last night, waking excited before dawn. Today we would finish our pedal through Africa. The weight of the continent that we had cycled thus far lay behind us. All those sunsets, sunrises, bush huts, laughing kids, kindness, amazing fauna and prickly flora, the mountains, deserts, cities and the African sky. It was all now really about to start drawing to a close. Not only was this the end of our Africa pedal, we were one step closer to being back on Australian soil. To being home. Whatever that meant.
Another thing that had woken me, was the wind. And it was not in our favour. We left as early as we could, having just met all these lovely people, we kind of just wanted to stay and chat. However, the road really was calling us. Neil would be waiting in a bar for us on the waterfront at 2pm. And we wanted to be there.
At first we made good time, undulating through farmland back to main road. Our first glimpse of Table Mountain made our morning. This was happening. Once back on the highway, and especially when we began following the bike path into Cape Town along the water, the wind began smashing us. As we pedalled closer, we could see Table Mountain, and even the city, but it never seemed to get any closer. The coast taunted us as we had a perfect view of how far we still had to go. Our time to meet Neil came and went. We pedalled on in frustration. Finally, after several hours of battling the wind, we were enough in the city to be somewhat sheltered. It became easier. Then with 4km to go, the Dirty Salmon thought she’d have one last laugh with a flat tyre. We were so tired and so close to having cycled from Cairo to Cape Town that we could only laugh. Flat fixed, I had one more opportunity to take us the long way around, which I did. But then, we were finally pedalling and pushing through the crowds on the water front towards that iconic table mountain sign. The one where we had seen the likes of Craig and Clo and Tristan post their photos only a few short weeks before us.
And there was Neil! Our brother from long ago China, with whom we had shared so many miles and so many months. After leaving us, way back at Vero’s In Dushanbe, Neil had cycled through Iran and Turkey before heading south to Africa. He had cycled all the way back to his home and had been waiting for us ever since. Well, not quite, but we were bloody happy to see teabitch in the flesh once more. Hugs ensued. Followed by the obligatory photo on the sign, on which strangely was placed a tub of hummus.. And then Israa jumped out from behind, with a sign and a huge grin on her face. She’s been trying to lure us hippies with the hummus. Much hugging and happiness. Followed by beer. I felt elated and it also felt surreal. Big moments take some time to sink in, to form into a a reality.
After a few brews on the waterfront, we all piled into Neil’s car and drove to his parent’s house. They had kindly offered to host us as Neil and his partner had just had a baby and there wasn’t quite enough room for two festy cycle tourists. Neil’s parents, Karen and Dave, were absolutely delightful and we were so spoiled. Not only that night but for the many days we spent with them.
We spent the evening eating delicious food, drinking wine and reminiscing with Neil. It didn’t quite feel real that we had finished, that we were indeed in Cape Town.
After a good nights sleep it was time to explore. Cape Town is an absolutely gorgeous city and we were keen to get in amongst it. Plus we had more than a few friends to catch up with. The next week or so was a whirlwind of socialising and exploring. We hiked up Table Mountain (twice), picnicked in the botanical gardens with our friend Christine from the long ago Camino, and gorged on food we hadn’t seen for months (felafel for one). Neil took us to a secret local spot and we drank beer in a cave, watching the sunset and the stunning coastline. Miranda and Garth who we had met in Zambia utterly spoiled us with food, wine, hikes and penguins. The guys from Drifter Brewery who we had met in Botswana welcomed us with open arms and we drank their brews overlooking table mountain and talked and laughed and then went to a psych trans party. One day Christine took us out to Stellenbosch and we marvelled at the beautiful vineyards and the utterly perfect Spring day. Linda and Neil, who had gifted us the wine in Namibia happened to live around the corner from Dave and Karen, and we went there for dinner too. We had some bike maintenance done and tried to spend as much time with Israa as well. From all sides people showered us with kindness and hospitality and we were so grateful and humbled.
Time went rapidly and it was soon time to pack our bikes into boxes, ready for the Shosholoza Meyl train to Johannesburg. This train would allow us to see vast areas of South Africa on our second favourite mode of transport. As all flights out of Cape Town go via Jo’burg anyway, this was the perfect solution to avoiding a flight and we had one more friend to visit. Fanus, who we had met on the banks of the Mekong in Laos back in 2013. He had kept in touch the whole time with an open invitation to come visit. So visit we did.
Dave dropped us and our packed bikes (not to be unpacked again until Adelaide) at the station and the next leg of our journey began. Of course we had to argue our bikes onto the train, despite having read all terms and conditions and thus knowing we were allowed to bring them. There’s almost always a hassle, but we were used to this kind of thing by now, and once we’d talked to the manager our bikes were put on the train without further drama. We then went off to find our carriage, which was awesome. Naturally we’d taken a cheap option, but we still had our own beds and little carriage. It was all my train fantasies coming true. What was even more amazing was that Kev, the owner of Darling Brewery, had dropped off an esky full of beers for us to drink on the train. South Africans really do take generosity to the next level. It was time to settle in and enjoy the journey. And enjoy we did. We napped, read, chatted, drank beers and stared out at the wild expanse of the Karoo. It is indeed a beautiful country.
Our train got into Johannesburg 5 hours late but we didn’t care. This is Africa after all. Fanus was there to meet us and we had a joyful reunion. Then it was off to meet his family. We felt very welcome and had a wonderful last few days, which included exploring Soweto, the Apartheid museum, a water park, the cradle of civilisation museum and a few of Fanus’s other favourite spots.
And just like that our time in South Africa drew to a close. We both had truly enjoyed our time, it had in many way been the perfect wind down with socialising, friends and familiarity. South Africa has many similarities to Australia which is in equal parts disturbing as it is comforting. Both countries have brutal colonial histories (as do most on the African continent) with a deep inequality and trauma running throughout. It is perhaps more overt in South Africa and thus more unsettling. There is an underlying energy that felt to us unnerving at times. The constant vigilance surrounding safety is exhausting, as is the visual evidence of poverty and inequality on the landscape. Being wooshed around in a 4WD, protected and shielded from the outside, felt unnatural. Yet it is unfair of me to be too harsh on South Africa, considering where we come from. Our own colonial history is a bloodbath of barely acknowledged massacres and frontier wars.
I loved the beauty and the people of South Africa. It is the place that brought up a lot of feelings and thoughts, which is good. You can’t forget your privilege there and it is something that we should examine constantly. And that’s the thing, while there is a lot of inequity and shit stuff going on, there is also a lot of hope. So many of our friends and people we met are doing amazing things. As one friend said: it’s about recognising your privilege and being part of the solution.
The end of South Africa also meant the completion of 10 months on the African continent. We have both fallen in love with Africa, and will be back. It is a diverse, beautiful and incredible place. More hopeful and complex than most people who have never visited seem to believe, and Africans are some of the kindest and humblest people we have ever met. On the whole we have felt incredibly safe and welcomed and have had a blast. From the drinking tea on the side of the road with the habibis in Egypt, to sleeping by pyramids in the Sudan, waking to zebras outside our tent in Kenya, to munching fresh pineapple on the side of the road in Tanzania, climbing high into the hills in Malawi, sleeping in a school in Zambia, laughing with new friends in Zimbabwe to the elephant highway in Botswana, apple cake in Namibia and hikes up Table Mountain. Africa really has given us so much and one day we will return.