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Cape Crusaders 
A tour through the eastern Cape, South Africa

 

We pick up the GS650’s from Tommy Johns BMW dealership in Durban about 08:00, R500 a day [about£45 ] unlimited mileage seems like a great deal, and as with all well planned trips, promptly hang about till 10:00. Heading south, out of Durban on the N2, the traffic is moving OK for a change. 
We decided to put the first 50k on the motorway, sounded like a good idea last night over a beer, but where did that headwind come from? Straight off the Indian Ocean mate, yes we are all hindsight engineers! By the time we reach Kelso and peel off onto the 612 heading west to lxopo [the “lx” sound is made just like the clip clop noise a child makes with their tongue when they are pretending to be a horse] my arms are 3” longer and my neck is now wider than my head. 

The 612 is a welcome relief, nice sweeping bends nothing too challenging, sun is shining. We settle into a nice rhythm, the beamer is purring away, not too much vibration for a single, pass a sign for Rynie! Then pass through Braemar!! A strange experience having just flown from Aberdeen to Durban, eyes are now peeled for the distilleries, nose searching for the warm earthy smell of malted barley, and finding nothing but cowshit, but this is Africa its 25°, not a cloud in the sky.

We arrive in Lxopo around midday; it’s been a couple of hours riding and time for a cuppa and a buttie. Lxopo is a chaotic scene, totally unfathomable how it all hangs together, but it does. Looking for a café proves to be a tall order, we try a KFC wannabe called Mr. Chicken no chance…. they sell chicken. Across the way is Mr. Beef….we don’t even bother.
Pete’s looking desperate now, gotta have coffee, and we are at least 50k from the nearest known working espresso maker. Lorry driver comes to the rescue pointing at building with no sign and saying coffee I turn to tell Pete “I think there’s a…….” he’s gone, crossed the road, parked up in front of the shop, and is heading through the door. He is greeted by an enterprising Indian gentleman in full Caftan outfit welcoming the “Hells Angels” to his humble establishment. We order 1 tea and a coffee, Pete spies some doughnuts mmmmm and a pack of those ,I ask if there are any without the very dubious white cream filling and am greeted with laughter and no explanation from our Indian friend….I guess not then.

                     The shop keeper delights us with unintelligible conversation; he chucks in words like Mike Hailwood and TT races which seems to give the conversation some kind of reference point. He then announces he must close [Its 12:00! The irony of closing at lunchtime when you run a Café is lost on him] as its time to go to pray, refreshed and not a little confused we mount up and head out of Lxopo.

Still on the 612 heading west to Underberg. Very little traffic so we pick the speed up a bit, the GS is happiest between 120 – 130 kph, long straight approaching , it has to be done! flat out downhill lying on the tank gets the needle touching 180kph, this is not the smooth effortless surge of my ST1300 back home, but a manic cacophony of sound , wind, vibration and white knuckles great fun for 2 miles but time to chill out and see this big country. They do big country here ,big hills , big plains everything looks very green, so it must rain sometimes but so far so good weathers holding up, February can be very changeable. We reach Underberg and decide to fill up, the next leg of the Journey will be tougher, and fuels stops are very unlikely. We are now heading for Sani Pass.

 

The Sani Pass is a spectacular mountain road that is an entry point into Lesotho from South Africa’s Natal Drakensberg Park. It is the gateway to the ‘Roof of Africa’ a scenic route that links the spectacular scenery of the Drakensberg with the mountains of northern Lesotho.

 


The Sani Pass is the only border post between Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho. Never underestimate the changeability of the weather in this region. A common truth is that you can have four seasons in one day, Och hame fi hame.

 


 We reach the junction to Sani Pass and decide to take a look, after all its only about 15:00 plenty of time to find the lodge we booked in Letheni. It is straight onto dirt trails, time to find out how the GS handles off road. Cautiously we set off, the Bikes feel a little strange but we soon settle down and realise these bikes are quite happy with their new surroundings, so stand up on the pegs - yep that feel fine, gun it a bit, yep that’s ok, the BM says give it to me big boy, so we  do…….

we blast down 10k of dirt roads standing on the pegs is tough work on the thighs, but these bikes just won’t quit, we pass the Sani Pass hotel, jeez don’t do much passing trade here , past the Hotel the road deteriorates rapidly , we ford a few streams and bounce over a few ruts,

a sign tells us that only 4 wheel drive is allowed beyond this point, oh well better stop then…….., lets find someone to ask……., but we are totally isolated no phones , no mobile signal, no electricity poles, nothing…… so I guess no one gives a toss really what vehicle your driving - more your actual guidelines actually.

So we head off up the pass, its proving to be challenging riding, we quickly realise there are two ways to do this, carefully pick your route up the rock face, gentle on the throttle, pick the right gear, choosing the path of least resistance, or balls out, close your eye’s, open the throttle and  go for it , both are valid management strategies but the former gets you there in one piece and the latter leaves you tired and shagged out after a long squawk.

                  

Start doing some serious climbing now backend of the GS is hopping about, glad I’m on the 650 now and not the GS1150 I nearly hired, much more useable power, the extra weight of the 1150 would be tricky here, the 650 is in its element bouncing off the ruts in the gully needing surprisingly little in the way of rider input. 
We happen across 2 South African Bikers stopped they appear to be having a domestic of some kind, both are riding GS1150’s , we say Hi and pass on by, deciding to stop for the sandwiches after about 500 yards , this is tough work. Food break over we decide this is going to take too long, we need to find our bed for the night at Lotheni , and we can come back in the morning refreshed,

 

Pete stops and speaks to the 2 South African lads still shouting at each other, one has given up altogether and is walking back down the hill, the other is riding his bike down a bit, walking back up and riding his mates bike down a bit….his mate is shouting “I have nothing to prove” , “ I have fallen off three times already” , “bike is too heavy”

I smile to myself as I think Glad I took the 650. Later on back at Tommy John’s I tell the salesman that they were struggling with the GS1150’s on the Sani Pass, he thinks they must have been Girls [his words]…..;)

 

On the way down I see something move to the left, out of the undergrowth pops a troop of Baboons, I stop amazed. First wild Baboons I have seen, A large male sits in front of me as the rest of the troop pass. He looks like Peter Reid [the only football manager with a fuckin monkeys heed.]


we now have an age old predicament, we are looking at each other and trying to size each other up, who is the hunter and who is the prey, the baboon decides that the fat Geordie with a big black eyes and a black shiny head is not a known quantity and he’s off up the cliff with his troop – the puff.

 
We have about 20k of dirt tracks to navigate, no map, no GPS, this great fun, the dust off the bikes is really fine, much finer than sand but with the same abrasive quality, mouth feels like an emery board, the light is failing as we reach the lethoni estate, low cloud and mist feels like rain, and then it rains as well, only 3 k to go. Its cold and wet just like home. The GS is still purring not missing a beat and still surprisingly comfortable despite the conditions.

                                                                  

We arrive at the thatched cottage dump the Bikes by the front door and unload the gear, time to fire up the Barbie, a couple of beers slip down a treat, Pete has been riding behind me for quite a while on the trails and now has the contents of Africa's finest abrasive in his eye’s- looks bloody sore.

We get the fire lit eventually and start cooking all the meat that’s been through a thorough tenderising process in my Top Box, great ! finish up with a bottle of brandy, Pete has crashed out in mid sentence  guess that was just enough drink.
 
                                                                                                             o0O O0o

 Day 2

Saturday morning sees the weather best described as dreich, too much low cloud so there’s no point doing the Sani Pass again ifn yer can’t see anything, so time for plan F – lets head south to the coast, we pick out Port St. Johns as our destination and that’s it we are off.

                                                                  

                                                                              After a hearty South African breakfast of course

The Journey to Port St Johns will take us from Kwazulu Natal and into the Eastern Cape through Umtata to Port St Johns. We set off down the dust trail which has become a Mud trail overnight, great fun slipping and slidin for 20k or so both of us get covered in Mud but we eventually hit tarmac and sunshine again – oh joy! My Piles need ankle socks

First village its time for a spot of light lunch at Mikes Sports Bar, looking like 2 mud spattered refugees from a war zone we are greeted without a second look and ushered to a table , hot tea and some kind of cheese and ham omelette are the order of the day. 
 
The next few hours travelling are great, wide open roads virtually empty.

                                                                  

the road weaves through the hill and valleys of this green and fertile country.
A warning sign ahead say “Beware Potholes” that is sooo funny , the roads in Africa are OK but I have spent the last 150 miles avoiding potholes and suddenly I have to take care.

There are goats everywhere and avoiding the little bastards can be tricky. They will run out in front of you at any opportunity just like the sheep in the highlands when your least expecting it. 
 
 
Umtata is the colourful and lively centre of the region founded in 1879, it was declared the capital of the Transkei, the homeland of the Xhosa during the Apartheid era. The city stands on the banks of the Mtata River. At a village near the town, Mvezo, President Nelson Mandela was born into the Madiba clan of the Thembu royal family. We stop at a road side café in the middle of town to many curious onlookers. We head into the Queens café [chosen at random and had nothing to do with Pete’s leather trousers and YMCA dance routine] senses are assaulted with Bangla music banging out from a DVD player in the corner, this café is a corner shop, café and Bar all rolled into one. We order tea
“are you sure all you want is tea” says the Indian owner
“yes thanks”
“just the tea” he repeats
“yes thanks”
2 cups of warm cloudy dishwater arrive with nestles evaporated milk in , disgusting
We go to pay
“so that’s 2 tea’s then”
Yes thanks”
“You only want the tea then”
Yes thanks
I think we did not meet his expectations, I didn’t have the heart to tell him his tea was shit, but with hindsight it might have been funny to try and get a refund. 
 
 
We are within 30 miles of Port St Johns, the countryside is changing climbing up the sides of mountains and down the other side, curving round the sides of sheer drops, no barriers here, the highway opens out to 3 lanes, which is great we can use all of the road may as well there is no one else around, trail bike is now pretending to be a supermoto , tyres gripping well on warm smooth dry tarmac [remember that?], confidence brimming no matter what we chuck at this bike it just soaks it up, handles really well for being so high off the ground, stand scraping a bit no problem , this is like paradise, can’t wring enough speed out of the BM but as long as you don’t brake it can be a lot of fun, carrying way too much speed into the corners, I would love to do that stretch of road again on my PAN that would be heaven.

                                                       

The miles fly by and all too soon we reach our destination - Port St Johns
Port St Johns is a small coastal town in South Africa known as the Jewel of the Wild Coast.

The Wild Coast is a stretch of 250 kilometres of coast,

which gained its name by its inaccessibility and reputation for ship crushing waves.

The town perches next to a massive river called the Umzimvubu which has carved its way through the ancient rocks leaving two towering 300 meter ramparts on either side. 

The river was deep enough in 1905 to be considered one of the best harbours in Southern Africa but the silting of the river mouth has proved insurmountable. As a result the town has escaped industrial development.

                                             

We reach Port St Johns around mid afternoon and decide to hunt around for a guest house, we spot a sign pointing along a coast road to the Umzimvubu Retreat Guest House. That will do nicely R250 a night for double room with Telly and en suite facilities – sorted! 
get unpacked and head up to the bar for a couple of cold ones.

                                                                    

What a fecking view from the room though eh?

                                      
The Rugby is on Wales v France [I think]  Pete is a BIG Wales fan and the match is on in the Bar, the owner is delighted to have a few people to watch the match with, so I sit back and watch the afternoons entertainment which turns out to good fun I’m not a rugby fan, but watching Pete shouting and drinking and singing turns out to be great entertainment. 
The owner invites us to a brie later on in the evening, he has some German guests that he is throwing a seafood spread for,  and has a few spare places and is obviously up for a diplomatic incident or 2.
 
The next part was truly bizarre, we are in a cheapish guest house in the eastern cape , and staying there are 6 or 7 Germans who have been flown in by their company complete with a prototype car and test rig , the engineers need the cover marked front…makes me wonder

                                            

they are cagy about the who, what, where’s but it is obvious they are all engineers , designers etc and the test car is kept firmly under wraps with no pictures allowed. The shape of the car is not unlike one of the Mitsubishi Rally cars.


The evening meal and breakfast are both taken with true German precision led by the Panzer tank commander, the sandals and socks queue up like a food line in a prison, the synchronised loading of plates and eating like there would be no more food served, Pete and I watch this with much amusement , it is all we can do to “not mention the war” but we restrain ourselves.

                                                      

o00O O00o

Day 3

Saying our goodbyes We leave after breakfast and for me this was the best part of the run, it was really good weather, it was Sunday and the roads were empty and we were heading up an empty 3 lane highway weaving its way through the hills of the eastern cape.

                                                                

Total focus total thrash , really though the remoteness of the location should instil a sense of responsibility but madness prevails, either way the Bike is impeccably mannered and soaks up the punishment. 


Apart from one speed trap which we manage to avoid, the journey is uneventful, arriving back in Durban on a Sunday, with no beers in the house and no off license open anywhere is a downer, bit of bad planning that one.

Pete’s handyman washes the bikes off for us , a few thousand K of mud and shit disappears and both bikes look like they came out of the showroom again time to return them to Tommy Johns, we drop them off and Pete spies the new KLT and is drooling , methinks it will not be too long before that comes home ,but that’s another story! 
 
 


o00O O00o