(72) Heads, tails and freezing toes
Friday 30th August
After another warm and comfy night at Mark and Kelly’s in Pretoria, the thought of getting back on the road was hard to swallow. We got up early as Mark needed to get us to the bike shop to pick up Sharon’s bike. It was sad to say goodbye as we had made such good friends. We loaded Tim’s bike in the pickup and waved goodbye. It took a while to get through town with the heavy traffic.
We finally reached the bike shop and Dirkie brought out Sharon’s bike. The guys had been great and we took pictures in front of the shop.
Dirkie and us
A lovely lady called Erika pulled in after spotting us and asked Sharon how we picked up enough courage to cycle tour. By the time we had finished chatting we hoped we had said enough so she would also get on the road soon. We thanked the guys and headed towards the highway to find now that after Tim had changed his chain, it was now slipping. It seemed silly to continue and we returned to the shop. It didn’t take long for Dirkie to change the cog and were soon back onto the N1 highway heading out of the city. It remained busy but with a wide hard shoulder we could relax with one eye on our rear view mirror.
We decided to take a short cut although it was a zigzag route – it was good to start with but with a strong wind and it being lunch time we ducked down into a drainage ditch.
This was perfect apart from the odd spray of dust given off by the large trucks. We finished our cheese, biscuits and an orange for pudding and rode the few miles to the T junction.
The wind started to pick up and was soon blowing wildly. As we turned right it became one of the hardest headwinds we had ridden in on the entire trip. We crossed a bridge that gave a tunnel effect stopping us completely. We thought about pushing the bikes but with ten miles to the turning off south we had to try and push through it. With the trucks creating a blast of wind we were all over the road.
Battling in the wind
We stopped for a coke to regain some energy and finally reached the next turn. This time we had an amazing tail wind that pushed us over 20mph and meant it didn’t take long to reach the main junction at Delmas. We needed to find somewhere to sleep but were being battered by the wind and didn’t want to ride into the town. We asked at a large plant storage area but as the owner was away we went on. We crossed the highway and spotted a small farm with a couple walking around. We went over and asked if we could camp and were invited in to find a good spot. The owners were Sannie and Andre and they had farmed there for many years. Their grand-daughter lived with them and she was lovely.
We pitched the tent and got tea on the go when their son, his wife and 2 children arrived. They were having their weekly braai and we were invited over to join them. It was lovely talking to them and listening about their life in the area. The power was off due to a fault and so we sat by lantern light which seemed to make it more fun. As the temperature dropped we were offered blankets for our tent and invited inside for a cup of tea.
Sannie, Andre and their wonderful family
We left for our tent around 10pm and we soon warmed up but we knew it was going to get a lot colder.
Saturday 31st August
It felt chilly in the tent but snug under the borrowed blankets and we vowed to buy one for the low temperatures we would encounter in Lesotho. We got up with a long day ahead. Tim checked the thermometer on Sharon’s bike to find it was 0 degrees.
A clear cold morning camp
With most of the bike loaded except for the tent Andre came out inviting us in for breakfast. The kettle had boiled and with a hot cupper in front of us the power came on. We enjoyed fried eggs and toast with some amazing chutney before heading out to finish loading the bikes. The first thing we noticed was the trees had started to sway in the force of the wind coming up from the Antarctic and with it still being only 4 degrees, it was bitter. Sannie and Andre wanted to make sure we got on the right road so drove out with us following them to the next small town. We couldn’t keep up as we fought against the wind but finally reached them. We hugged them goodbye and battled on in to what must have been a 30-40 mph winds.
With no hard shoulder this made it worse as there was a 6″ drop to our left. Some of the passing trucks would force us off the road and we started to get tired.
Taking a break from the wind
It took until 1pm to get to the town of Nigel which was only 23 miles from where we started. The town didn’t have a great feel to it so we rode out for a few miles to have lunch. We tried to make it a short break with still around 40 miles to cover – we weren’t sure if we would make it. We were joined by a tiny skinny puppy which we wanted to adopt and we gave it some bread and water to try and revive it. The danger was that it may want to follow us when we left. We re-joined the road and it looked longingly after us breaking our hearts.
We continued on into the wind – it was relentless but slowly we ticked off the miles. We finally started looking for somewhere to stay and the mileage we had done that day would leave us with about 64 miles to cover the next day – we wanted to get to Heilbron to stay with our friends Fabrezzio and Jeanette who we had met in Malawi.
Battling the wind
The wind dropped a little but with it the sun set and the temperature dropped with it. It had been the first time since Turkey that we had worn thermal layers and a fleece all day. We saw a farm off to our left and we called in to see if we could stay. We discovered there was no one in and upon leaving we meet a few of the farm workers. They kindly helped us ask at the next farm and the owner Barend said we could stay. He told us it would be very cold in the night and very kindly offered us a bed at his hunting lodge. It was 3 miles up a dirt track on the mountain so we loaded the bikes on the pickup. Tim was slowly turning into a popsickle in the back but we arrived at the gates just in time and spotted a waterbok and a herd of springbok in front of us. It was amazing and it wasn’t long before we had dinner cooked and the water was hot enough to bring back the feeling in our hands. It had been a tough day and we just hoped the wind would drop for tomorrow – how grateful we were to Barend for giving us somewhere warm to stay.
Sunday 1st September
It had been a tough day yesterday and after passing out as soon as our heads touched the pillow we were happy to be inside and under a mountain of blankets. We got up almost with the sun but with a chill in the room we knew it was cold outside. We rang Barend to let him know when we needed picking up. We had breakfast and took our bags out onto the veranda. It was bitterly cold so once wrapped up, Tim went out to watch the Impala graze in the distance with a few ostriches wandering past. Barend arrived and showed us around before we loaded the pickup to take us back to the farm.
Barend and Tim outside the lodge
The bikes loaded to go back to the farm
The views were stunning looking down across the valley. We met Barend’s son and his friends who were all lovely, we had been invited to stay longer but needing to get going. we said our thanks and rode down to the highway.
Riding to the highway
The wind was still blowing but had eased a little making the going a little easier. It was about 15 miles to Vaal Dam but with tired legs and a gradual climb it was slow going. We passed the dam which was built in 1938 and is South Africa’s 2nd biggest dam by area – the lake behind the dam is 320 square kilometres and the river comes down from Losotho via 2 connecting dams.
The lake at Vaal dam
We turned into the town picking up a few snacks for lunch before riding on to find a good spot to stop. As we headed south the road turned to gravel. We rode on for a mile or so and stopped at some trees which would provide shelter.
The scenery was stunning with rolling dry grass lands and the odd farm scattered and disused houses dotted here and there.
On the dirt track to Heilbron
It took a while to cover the 23 miles to Heilbron where we arrived still on the gravel road passing through the townships. The people were friendly but we stuck together as we had been told they are not always a safe place for tourists due to the crime levels. As we neared the main town 2 guys started running towards us shouting something. We were on a downhill which helped us stay in front and we soon reached the Tarmac. We didn’t know what they wanted but to be honest we didn’t want to.
We arrived in the town which didn’t feel that safe at dusk so we continued on heading out to Fabrizzio and Jeanette’s. A car pulled over and a very lovely local farming family asked what we were doing. It was so nice to chat – they invited us to stay but we told them we were staying with friends. We could have talked for ages but with the temperature dropping along with the sun we rode on to meet Fabrizzio. We rode 4 miles out of town where he had driven to meet us. We declined a lift saying that it was against our rules! We had to ride another 6 miles to the turn off to the farm where they stayed. Unfortunately we turned off too early going to the wrong farm which prolonged our journey by about 30 minutes. We finally reached the farm – Fabrizzio came out to meet us and helped us in to their stunning flat. They cooked an amazing meal in the main house with home-made ice-cream for desert. It was so great to be with them again and so relaxing. We had met them both in Sena bay on Lake Malawi while Andrew was with us and had invited us to stay. We had only chatted to them briefly then so it was great to get to know them better. We enjoyed the company of this amazing couple and with the temperture now in the single figures and dropping we felt so lucky to have a lovely place to stay.
Monday 2nd September
With an electric blanket it was bliss tucked into our bed. Jeannette and Fabrizzio joined us and made breakfast. It was a nice day with little wind and we spent the day relaxing and working on the blog. Lukas and Estna who owned the farm bred Boerboel’s – a breed of dog that is commonly used as a guard dog due to its courage and resolute. They also breed Arab horses and pigs so it was a busy farm. We played with the puppies that were in the yard and even though they were only weeks old they were already quite large. We were on a small farm where Lucus and Estna breed guard dogs pigs and Arab horses.
Lukas and Estna were wonderfully hospitable and as soon as we met them we were invited for dinner that evening. We did our best to look smart in our crumpled clothes from our bags and joined them and Jeanette and Fabrizzio for dinner. We were in for a surprise. A traditional South African dish ‘a smiley’ – which is a sheep’s head with a side dish of sheep’s tails. We couldn’t believe it. We all laughed together at the sight of the head all cooked complete with its teeth on the table.
And the tails
Tim went first with some cheek and the end of the tong. Sharon was next but refused Lukas’s offer of the eyeballs! It was just brilliant and surprisingly tasty. Once we had finished the head it was time for the tails. These were really tasty served up with soft pumpkin balls in a cheese sauce and vegetables along with some great wine. It was so much fun trying the different dishes and enjoying great company.
A truly great evening
Shaz, Lukas, Estna, Jeanette and Fabrizzio
Tuesday 3rd September
We decided to stay another day and we spent time relaxing and looking around the farm. As it got to lunch time we were told we were going to a lion farm and be treated to lunch. We were very excited as we hadn’t seen a lion yet. We soon arrived at the farm and it was quite impressive. The owners breed the animals for educational purposes and some of them are rescued animals. We got to stroke wart hogs, pat wolves and walk in the pen with a stunning cheetah.
A hyena – we had heard many of these outside our tent in Ethiopia
A stunning cheetah who had been raised at the farm
A fennec fox
We were then taken to see the lions who were sat under a tree. We were impressed to see how large their enclosure was. They were huge and we were once again grateful that we hadn’t seen one on the side of the road whilst on the bikes.
A male lion having a snooze
A pair of the lions we saw were white lions – they were stunning. White lions are not albino as some people might think but as a result of a rare colour mutation. It was often thought that white lions could not survive in the wild so they were only bred in zoos. However they have now been introduced to the wild in South Africa and have so far been successfully breeding and hunting.
A stunning white lion
After looking around at a few more amazing creatures we were taken to see the lion cubs. As we approached they looked to us like big teddy bears. We were allowed to pick them up and they were very gentle. It was brilliant fun and we didn’t want to put them down!
We made our way back to the farm and when we arrived Estna informed us that 2 reporters from the local paper were on their way. We were a little nervous when the ladies from the paper arrived but they soon put us at ease and we sat answering questions. If it wasn’t for the questions it would have been hard to know what to say to sum up 15 months of cycling in a few words. Estna and Jeanette prepared dinner while Tim and Fabrizzio studied South America maps. Fabrizzio grew up in Ecuador so was really useful for advice on a route. We joined Lukus and Estna once again around the table this time with roast pork, vegetables and potatoes washed down with some great wine. It was such a great evening spending it with such kind people – it was going to be a hard transistion back to the tent! What a day.
Wednesday 4th September
We woke up not wanting to leave the comfy bed for the last time. Even though we had only stayed with Fabrizzio and Jeanette for 3 nights we felt so at home there. Jeanette cooked a delicious breakfast of sausage, egg and maize pap with sugar and cinnamon which was delicious. We reluctantly packed our bikes and headed downstairs to say goodbye to Lukas and Estna. Pastor Steven had joined us (he was visiting them) and we took photos. Fabrizzio and Pastor Steven had a ride on the bikes before we headed off on the dirt track to the main road.
Fabrizzio and Jeanette – a wonderful couple
We had only travelled about half a mile before Tim had a puncture. We stopped and fixed it feeling frustrated but it’s just an occupational hazard these days! We headed on and were pleased that the wind didn’t bother us too much. We had a cross wind but it was less fierce than the previous days. We stopped at a petrol station to get a cold drink and some flapjack before doing another half an hour to stop for lunch. So once we had found a quite gateway we could enjoy a tuna sandwiche and a cup of tea.
Back into our usual routine
Shaz trying to generate some shade!
We were tired as the road had undulated quite steeply reminding us of Uganda and after an hour we finally got back on the road. It was a good afternoon’s ride with a light tail wind and the road seemed to level off a bit.
We arrived in the town of Reise about 3.30pm and bought a cold drink and decided to ride until 5pm then look for a farm where we might be able to camp. We left the town but were unsure of which road to take. We asked a guy who told us the road we wanted was gravel but we decided to ride it anyway.
The road continued to be tarred but slowly the potholes got worse. We started to look for a farm when a red truck drove out of a field. The guy driving was called Abe and said he would never normally come to this part of the field but something told him to go there. He asked us what we were doing and after a breif discription and that we were looking for a safe place to camp he said we were welcome to sleep in their facility (for no charge) which they used for functions. We followed him down a dirt track dodging the porcupine holes! We arrived at this beautiful building which had a kitchen we could use and an outdoor fire which he lit for us. His mum and auntie came down to meet us and told us to make ourselves at home.
Abe’s Mum and Auntie
Our sleeping quarters was a tower! The bedroom was at the top and the bathroom with a hot shower was at the bottom. To get to the bedroom you had to climb a flight of stairs on the outside of the building – it was brilliant. We cooked vegetable curry and pasta in the industrial style kitchen and enjoyed eating it by the fire. After dinner Tim set about fixing punctures and gluing a patch to the inside of the tyre as it was starting to split exposing the wire. We had stopped a little earlier than usual which gave us chance to relax and get things fixed. Abe brought his brother down to meet us and we enjoyed chatting about the next part of our route. We were heading to the Golden Gate National Park and with a route to get there sorted we finished clearing up and headed to our tower. It felt so cosy in our round room and we felt amazed once again at the generosity of the people here in South Africa.
Thursday 5th September
It felt like a mini adventure waking up in our round room and as it got lighter we waited as long as possible to get up. We heard Abe arrive in his truck on his way out and he wanted to say goodbye. It was good as we would have stayed in bed for another hour! We thanked him for his kindness and made our way over to the kitchen to have breakfast. We loaded the bikes and wondered over to see the church we had been told about. We couldn’t see it from the building but were told to cross the bridge. We made our way to a small wooden bridge and down a track lined with sticks to an open area with rows of seats and a large tree stump for an altar. It was beautiful, even with a damp foggy morning it gave off a real reverence and we could imagine what an amazing site it would be with the trees in full leaf. We headed back up the track past the porcupine holes to a locked gate. Instead of disturbing Abe and his mum we unloaded the bikes and lifted them over on to the road.
It was still chilly so we wrapped as we continued along a rough road passing large expanses of rolling mustard coloured pastures that disappeared into the distance only broken by the odd cops or small lake that was being occupied by many different birds. As the sun burnt off the cloud it revealed a pale blue background and we passed a large lake with tall pink birds. Unsure what they were to start with it suddenly became apparent that they were flamingos. They soon spotted us and took flight before we could get a close up but they were great to see in the wild.
We were stopped along the way by a farmer to see if we wanted to buy a small farm! We politely declined and then after another few miles we were stopped again, this time by a man offering us a cold coke. Not having enough money to buy a farm we decided to opt for a coke from a kind man. With only 6 miles to the town of Kestell, we rode on and soon arrived in a lovely peaceful town with a stunning church and mountains as a back drop. We were getting very excited as the scenery was becoming very impressive.
We stopped at a butchers picking up 2 huge steaks for £3 and some supplies from a small supermarket before riding out of town to find a spot to have lunch. Deciding to stop once we got on the dirt track we rode to the turn off and found a good place with the mountains in front of us. With a brew and a few sandwiches inside us whilst listening to Eddie Grant we were soon joined by 2 ladies who sat about 10 metres away from us in the sun. We offered them some biscuits before clearing up and heading on. The track was quite stony but the scenery was breath-taking.
Abe had advised us on the route to the Golden Gate and we couldn’t thank him enough. The track weaved between peaks of stone outcrops with the light making it feel more like riding on Mars. We had 13 miles of track climbing steep, stony tracks and over a pass before dropping down to a newly tarmacked highway.
Tim and some zebras at the junction
We soon reached the road and started the next climb over another pass. With tall rock slabs either side of grass lands that were now green with grazing zebra and kudos we were in awe. As we climbed the sun descended giving more dramatic scenery as we slowly reached the top. The sun was by now almost set and with it we spotted a wildebeest. It ran off as soon as he spotted us. We descended, riding through a deep gorge with yellow, red and orange rock faces until we finally reached a camp site where it was safe to stop. We managed to get a good price with some loaned blankets included and with the temperature now in the low single figures we soon got the tea on the go with Tim cooking the steaks outside whilst putting the tent up. It soon got bitterly cold and as soon as the steaks were ready Tim joined Sharon in the kitchen to warm up. It had felt so long since we camped but it was nice to be back in the tent. We met some lovely people while we ate and looked forward to another day of stunning scenery. Estna and Lukas phoned to check we were ok which was such a lovely gesture.
Friday 6th September
Although it was a cold night and we had frost on the tent we slept well hoping we were slowly adjusting to the cold weather. It took a long time for the sun to shine into the gorge we were camped in but this didn’t stop us from packing our things and making breakfast.
Our cold morning camp
We met up with a few fellow campers who were all lovely to chat to all of which invited us to stay with them. It would have been nice to accept all the offers but with all but one on our route we would have to decline the others.
We loaded our bikes and waved goodbye with the sun now on us and we coasted down the last hill on to the next and into a fierce headwind. The scenery remained breath-taking feeling more like a mini grand canyon.
After a few climbs and descents we finally arrived in the pretty town of Clarens. We turned off into town and climbed a steep hill. Tim said hello to a nice lady and when Sharon rode past she stopped and spoke to her. Her name was Denise and she was in town with her husband Terry and approximately 100 other cyclists. They were there for a weekend of cycling as a club event. As we got chatting we found out that their son in-law owned the South African road race team MTN Qhubeka who was also there along with some if their riders. Denise and Terry invited us into the hotel so we could use the Internet and post a blog and get to meet some of the riders. They were lovely and treated us to some cake and a cup of tea!
Terry, Tim, Shaz and Denise
The team car
Most of the riders were club members out for a weekend ride and were great to chat to. They slowly arrived after driving from Johannesburg and were bringing in some very nice road bikes into the foyer of the hotel. Oh how we missed our road bikes. It turned out we were heading in the same direction so once our blog was posted we headed off to pick up a few bits and have lunch on the green and plan to ride with them for as long as we could keep up.
Clarens was a great quiet town which felt very relaxed and safe. We knew the riders were heading off around 2pm and being 1.50 we tried to get a head start. It was slow going at first with a strong head wind and we soon came to the first big climb. It wasn’t long before the first of the riders started to catch us and pass us on the climb. From then on one after another cruised past us all shouting encouragement! Tim tried swopping his bike but no one was willing to exchange! The scenery remained stunning and Tim put in extra effort to stay ahead of some of the riders. We got a chance to ride with some of the pro riders and Terry – they were great fun to chat to.
Shaz ahead of the pro riders!
It soon came the time to wave at the last of the riders heading back to their hotel and we headed on to the town of Flourensburg. The road remained stunning and we could sense Lesotho was going to be a beautiful country.
With one more long climb to go up we arrived in the town to find a supermarket. There didn’t seem much in the town at first and we asked for a camp site. We followed directions and arrived at Glen Skye cottages. The owner Hester was so kind offering us a discount once she heard what we were doing. She actually ended up giving us the room for free after we had chatted some more, She was such great company and was inspiring listening to the work she does in the community. Feeling tired we cooked, lit the fire and watched a movie on our computer. It had been a fun day with great scenery and we were getting excited about Lesotho. What a day.
Saturday 7th September
After sleeping so well in a bed that was so comfy we could have slept for a week, we got up and ate breakfast in front of the amazing view.
The stunning view
If we ever doubted our decision to ride to Cape Town the long way through South Africa, it evaporated as soon as we arrived at the Golden Gate and the entrance to Lesotho. We loaded the bikes and went to thank Hester and Piet for having us to stay. They were real salt of the earth people with kind hearts.
Piet and Hester with the bikes
We waved goodbye and headed into town to pick up some food and a blanket for the mountains. We descended out of town through more amazing scenery and reached the border which was settled in between a gap in a high escarpment.
We were soon stamped out and rode the short distance to the Lesotho border. Everyone seemed friendly and with a free stamp in, it was even better.
The Lesotho border
There was a steep climb away from the border control and then an undulating road to the first town. We soon arrived in a busy friendly town that was more reminiscent of the Africa we were used to making us more excited to what lay ahead.
We stopped for food at a small stall that had been open just a week. It was so good to see the hustle and bustle of people making a living.
The Africa we knew
The hustle and bustle of town life
We headed on and turned west with longer and steeper climbs. With the views getting better we were passed by a number of Porsches. Their engines sounded so powerful and we were very envious of the power. With a head wind as we headed west we were glad when we turned south. The road went from 1,800 metres down to 1,550 and back to 1,700 many times making it slow going – the scenery was stunning though.
The start of mud huts and beautiful pink trees
Tim had never been overtaken by a shed before
As we got closer to the town of Petsang, the road started to climb to over 1,900 metres. With a couple hours of light left the colours across to the mountains were stunning leaving large black shadows from the sharp peaks and ridges. We reached the town on the summit and picked up a few supplies. Sharon managed to pick up a toasty hat to keep her warm which made her very excited. It was only half a mile to a lodge we had been told about and we soon arrived at a nice place with great views of the mountains we would climb the next day. With the tent up and tea on the go we relaxed for the evening in the dining room ready for a hard day to come.
We were heading into the tall mountains of Lesotho!
Thanks for reading and hoped you enjoyed this blog. We have always tried to keep it as up to date as possible but with lack of internet and problems with our computer we are running a little behind. Thankyou again to everyone who comments and everyone who donates to shelter box it really means alot.
see you in Lesotho!