Hospitality over the fence

Nov. 19, 2012 (day 551) South Africa

It was just before midnight when police came and woke me up by the strong headlights of their car. A sight of someone sleeping in a roadside shelter was probably something new for them, especially if the person was white. They just made sure that I was OK and rode away after being reassured that I really enjoyed that dry place. That was just the first display of care in the long chain I would experience in South Africa.

It took me a couple of hours to cycle over the corrugated road before I could shout in excitement at the sight of unexpected asphalted surface. That did not last too long, however, and soon I was forced to turn eastwards to keep to the tarred surface.

In a small town, which name I do not remember, I could finally find an operating ATM and answer a lot of questions from people who quickly gathered around my bike. What everyone repeated, were warnings about crime and advices that I should not camp wild or cycle after sunset. The same day both rules would be broken.

Unfortunately, the bad thing from Botswana extended into South Africa. I mean the omnipresent barbed wire, tightly separating roads from the surroundings. I cycled until the evening among pastures dotted by sparse bushes, which would provide perfect hideout for my tent, but were surrounded by spiked fences. Just around the sunset the nice landscapes finished and I entered a town of rather slum appearance, which grew around a platinum mine.

In such suspicious surroundings I preferred to hide well, so when I noticed that the fence on my left hand side had collapsed, I crossed it and quickly ran away from the road. The ground had precariously soft and muddy structure there, so I hoped it would not rain overnight.

The first rainfall came around midnight and the next one just at the moment when I woke up and thought about getting ready to go. Excused by the nature I slept for two hours more, then packed after a prolonged breakfast.

The bike stopped just after some hundred meters, with the space between tyres and mudguards tightly filled with packed dirt. I cleaned it with a stick but soon the situation repeated. The long distance to the road, which provided security overnight, seemed to ruin my day if I continued. There was no other choice than to take off all the panniers and carry my vehicle in pieces closer to the hard surface. After about two hours of fighting with the mud stuck to the bike and shoes, I was again free and rolling on the asphalt.

The road was narrow, potholed and very busy. Trucks from the mines, mixed with other cars, rushed there and fro. Surprisingly, those were the passenger cars' drivers who showed no patience, trying to blast me off the asphalt by their horns. In a few cases I had to show the international sign of peace in the form of outstretched middle finger. After quite relaxed Zimbabwe and Botswana the worst African driving habits were back there, and sometimes I had impression that it was as bad as in Kenya and Tanzania.

I arrived to Rustenburg together with a huge storm cloud. Although I had found cover, riding on the flooded streets quickly made me wet anyway. Following signs with “i” letter soon I entered a neatly designed compound of Tourist Information Centre. Huge boulders presented signs in different languages, saying that the facility had been opened for the 2010 Football World Cup by no one else but the responsible minister. Hoping to learn about campsites nearby, I pulled the door, which resisted.
“It is closed”, finally stammered the guard, who looked at my fruitless efforts of getting inside.
“Well, what are the working hours then?”, I asked.
“The Information Centre is closed on weekends.”
Brilliant! The tourists here – perhaps – stay at work on weekends, I guessed.

There was not much more to do than to evacuate from the town before sunset and try to find a place somewhere away. But just before the final intersection I noticed a small signpost saying “Catholic church” and followed it.

Father Cecil, the parish priest, welcomed me warmly and quickly offered a room before leaving for a mass. Brother Gilbert, an extremely friendly Filipino, took care of showing me everything around. Soon I was sitting by a table with all the men of the parish clergy, sharing stories about the world. Before we went to sleep, they had already invited me to stay for the next day and accompany them at baptism ceremony in nearby village.

We brought dozens of charity packages to the small church in a poor settlement, where black residents survived in tiny huts accompanied by even smaller gardens. Ten of their kids were baptized that day and local farmer families prepared a huge meal for this occasion, which we distributed together among the villagers.

Spreading the faith

Spreading the faith

A freshly baptized child

A freshly baptized child

We came back early enough for father to prepare for the afternoon mass. Shortly after it had been finished, he called me and introduced to four Polish people from the parish. I was instantly kidnapped for a big supper and questioned thoroughly about my trip.

The next morning two of them, Franek and Wiola, came again and helped me with sorting out some essential things like a SIM card, which is apparently not easy to get for a foreigner there. Father Cecil signed a reference letter, which could help me open doors of other parishes. After many thanks and goodbyes I left.

I crossed a small mountain range and entered huge plateau, where mines and towns finally gave way to huge-scale farms. Traffic was low and the wind helped me, but in the late afternoon a huge, dark cloud appeared on the horizon and I was riding straight there.

These tails are impressive but don't make flying easier

These tails are impressive but don't make flying easier

Among the endless fields there stood a small hut, surrounded by tractors and other farming machinery. I spoke to the lone watchman and asked for a possibility to camp nearby. He happened to be one of the few people in that country, who spoke no English. After a small misunderstanding he was relieved that I did not ride into his tiny hut but instead placed the tent beside. Quickly I cooked a supper and shared with him. The rain never came and the night had passed peacefully before a group of workers came in the morning and started engines of all the machines parked there.

An early wakeup helped me reaching Klerksdorp. I approached the Catholic church, just to learn that the only priest had left for a pilgrimage. Some of the people gathered there, however, helped me to find a way to a local school run by brothers of the same parish. I was again accepted without hesitation and spent very rainy night in a comfortable room.

My general destination was Lesotho. To get there I cycled among countless fields and pastures, where farmers' houses were the only buildings, separated by kilometers of open space. At the beginnings of small side roads there usually stood signposts indicating the distances to each family's house. Some lived 5km from the tarmac, the next 10km, and sometimes the most remote house was located over 30km away, deep among the green, gentle hills.

The ones located just next to the main road were just asking to be a victim of a hungry cyclist. Turning left in the afternoon, I met Brian and Jana and their two lovely small daughters. The appearance of a strange guest was unusual addition to their evening at candle lights, after a storm had cut off the power. Then I had a proper bath and slept in a huge, comfortable bed.

With Brian and Jana, the first hospitable farmers

With Brian and Jana, the first hospitable farmers

After that great discovery every evening I tried to find a farm and ask about staying there. This way I met Nicola and Gerhard, a young couple from Steynstus, who hosted me with delicious braai and introduced to the basics of beekeeping.

For a few days the storms were around

For a few days the storms were around

Soon I learned that I even do not need to ask. While I waited for a huge storm to pass, standing by a supermarket in Senekal, an elderly man approached me and offered a lift to his house. On the back of his pickup car I rode back a couple of kilometers, to be dropped there and welcomed with a supper made by his wife. I was in a shock, as I never expected this country to be so hospitable, especially when judging by the tight fencing of every possible patch of land. However, people invited me home, fed me, and sometimes even – although I protested – they gave me money.

Further south the road became more interesting

Further south the road became more interesting

Finally some mountains

Finally some mountains

Springtime greenery and mountains

Springtime greenery and mountains

The rains finally went away, giving way to clear weather and beautiful views as I approached the border of Lesotho. Following advices from people I had met before, I arrived to Ficksburg on the last day of Cherry Festival. It proved to be nothing interesting, but at local backpackers lodge I met many friendly young people, also disappointed by the event but willing to have fun. It was time to try some beer again.

Comments:

tranquilo
tranquilo
6 years ago
Nie ma to jak trochę błota z samego rana :)
mama
mama
6 years ago
Skoro jest nowy wpis, to i zapewne nowi gościnni gospodarze? Jakaś taka dziwna ta Afryka - druty, płoty? Kiedy wybierasz sie na wybrzeże?
wojtek
wojtek
6 years ago
Michał cały czas czytam Twoje relacje z wypiekami na twarzy i już się martwię co będę czytał i oglądał jak osiągniesz cel, którego jednak Ci życzę i za który mocno trzymam kciuki.
krisgonz
krisgonz
5 years, 10 months ago
Witaj nieznajomy globtroterze! nie mogę wyjść z podziwu dla twoich dokonań, wprost dech zapiera. Ja tylko parę państw w Europie przejechałem rowerem wiem ile samozaparcia potrzeba aby pokonywać takie odległości i to samemu! życzę ci dużo zdrowia do następnych eskapad.