On Friday morning 19th December we left L’Aquila lodge where we had been joyfully hosted by Susie, Roberto, Rafaella and Tamilla. Their lodge overlooks both the Kap River and the Great Fish River. We stayed two nights with them because they were such fun and it was so beautiful. One of our highlights so far was the canoe trip Sven and I took down the Kap River. I saw my first Trumpeter Hornbill and a pair of what we think might have been Narina Trogons… can’t cross it off though, coz I am not sure. The staircase to the river takes you down about 750 metres and the entire wooden structure was built, by hand, by Roberto, an Italian master craftsman. Hard to describe the peace and tranquility of that river at dusk, with just the birds and insects for company. We saw flocks of cormorants flying to their nesting place, sacred ibis, and heard much unidentifiable bird song. There’s a free standing private lodge you can rent, with swimming pool and braai area. It is not far past Seafield or Kleinmonde, which has a beautiful beach and estuary.
As we cycled away from the lodge two mornings later, on the sand road, the dogs chased us along the other side of the fence. Concerned the dogs might squeeze out of the gate and follow us, Sven was calling them and encouraging them, and not watching where he was going. Crash!! His bike slid out from under him and he hit the deck. Grazes up his leg and arm… not a very auspicious start. It set the tone for a day that was only going to get worse.
We stopped at the farm stall at the end of the track which meets the main road, and bought some freshly squeezed pineapple juice from L’Aquila’s peculiar neighbours. If that man could have sold us his dog, or even his wife, I think he would have! He offered us accommodation (even though we were leaving), and a box of Australian pineapples (a new kind, apparently)… erm… on bicycles? A more enthusiastic vendor I have not come across this side of the Indian subcontinent.
We eventually reached Wesley, which is basically a farm stall/restaurant, shop and a few homesteads. Scanning the menu for vegan food (haha… we do this all the time, unsuccessfully) we worked out a custom breakfast request of toast with spinach, baked beans and mushrooms. They were very accommodating, as restauranteurs often are when we tell them what to make for us and save them the trouble of trying to figure it out for themselves.
Sven is studying Google maps on his phone, and shows me a route we can take into the countryside, that avoids the main road and its tiresome traffic, and lops off at least 5km from our journey to Hamburg. Hmmm… seems to cross a few rivers… no worries, Google must be right, right? Just before we leave Sven dashes into the shop to get half a loaf of bread and a can of baked beans… emergency rations. We set off down a gravel road, through the village and its cows and goats and noisy children having fun. About two hours into the journey the road has become a jeep track, and is fast deteriorating into an animal track. No worries, Google can’t be wrong, can it? Finally, a small farm and a caravan. We ride over to the residents and ask them if they know the road to Hamburg. One doesn’t need to understand much Xhosa to recognise the look of astonishment on the man’s face as he shakes his head and tells us there is no road. Ah, there used to be a road, a long time ago. But no more. Hmmm… we don’t believe him, because Google can’t be wrong. So we say thanks, and goodbye, and trundle off in the direction of the “road”. What Google doesn’t show us, are the newly erected barbed wire fences, or the impenetrable bush. It also doesn’t show us the un-crossable river in our future. But the sun is setting and we are not turning around now. Somewhere along that non-road my bike rack shears off at the bolt. I wondered why my panniers were swaying from side to side. It is at times like this that I am so thankful that Sven can look at a problem and figure out a way to fix it. I have total confidence in his mechanical and problem-solving abilities. And cable ties.
Back on the bike just in time for the road to finally peter out and disappear into thick clumps of thorn bushes. We dump the bikes and explore the area on foot, to see if we can find a way to pass through. Not a chance. The bushes just get thicker and eventually lead down to a deep and wide river. Dead end. No choice but to turn back, except that the sun has now set… This would be our first night of “wild camping”. If I wasn’t so pissed off, I might have enjoyed it more. It was, after all, very beautiful, and very safe. How could a place so inaccessible not be safe!
We erect the tent, cover the bikes with a ground sheet and settle down to a feast of peanut butter and lentil sprout sandwiches. Cold baked beans just had no appeal. My broken stove had not yet been replaced, so no tea. We climbed under our blankets and slept till dawn, which, thankfully comes early to these parts. Next morning Sven changes our tires and I get impatient, so I go off birdwatching. But the birds aren’t playing the game and I sit around till he is finally ready to go.
We retrace our route of the previous evening and finally see the little farm in the distance. But we have been spotted (not difficult, we could be spotted from a distance of 10km the way we are dressed.) A very large and imposing looking Xhosa man meets us on the path and says, somewhat angrily, “I believe you slept on my land last night.” We immediately go on a charm offensive and both reach out to shake his hand, big smiles on our faces. “Yes,” we say “we were following Google maps and it showed us a road but it wasn’t there!” Solly, the farmer, gradually softened up and turned out to be a nice, helpful chap. He instructed his son to drive the bakkie ahead of us and show us a shortcut to Hamburg. He told us he was considering building cabins down by the river to accommodate all the folks who get lost following Google maps! Good idea, mate. Perhaps put a fridge in there and stock it with food and beers.
Off we went again, but this journey wasn’t going to end any time soon. After three punctures, endless cow tracks and locked gates, we eventually reached Hamburg late in the afternoon, after encountering John, on his motorbike, when we were about an hour away from, but in sight of, Hamburg. He told us to meet him at the pub when we got there and he’d buy us a beer. Go on, twist my arm, I thought.
We finally arrived in Hamburg, tired, hungry, and relieved. It had taken us two full days to travel 50km. A new record!