Sunday 14 February 2016

5 Days of gut-wrenching mud and rain - but I survived and loved it!

Day 1  Montagu - Oudshoorn

Dramas. First our Angola trip had to be put on hold. Then our beautifully planned trip of doing Mpumalanga, Lesotho, Swaziland and back through the Transkei was cancelled due to sickness in the family. So we decided to do a shorter trip to Gamkaskloof, the Hell (small place in South Africa) and Baviaanskloof, so that if we were called back, we were close enough. And via as many dirt passes as possible.  
"US" would be my Italian friend Toni, on his KTM 990 called Jongosi. And myself, Jinx, on my BMW 650 called Brutus. 

We are both vertically challenged, both prefer picnics in the veld to sit down meals and both love bikes, adventure and riding. This combination worked for us. But would the friendship last after what it get's put through in the following days to come...?

Due to unforeseen circumstances we had a (very) late start. Toni arrived to a cold, wet farm in Montagu and soon we were on our way. At last our forever elusive trip had started.  Because the trip started almost a day late we decided to go via tar road. Later due to our late start and inclement weather we decided to stay over in Oudtshoorn and not go over the Swartberg pass to Prince Albert. Did I mention it was raining?
There was a music festival on in town, and one of the music groups were staying in the same establishment as us. What a surprise when we went to the bar for a drink, something we very rarely do, and find a band setting up. They were going to “warm up” for later that evening. 
Now Sakkie-sakkie South African cultural music) is not really our type of music, however we did enjoy the band, but had to refuse all the invites to join them later.. It felt as if we were part of the group, and they seemed disappointed that we would not be joining them. - Must be our irresistible personalities!We both retired early and sleep came easy as we had a long day on the bike, in the rain.

Day 2 - Swartberg Pass & Prins Albert

Getting a late start did not help us the following morning, with thunderous skies and a cold wind greeting us at the foot of the Swartberg. Stunning views were below us – and below the clouds and mist we rode into as soon as we gained altitude.
As we started climbing the winding narrow pass the rain came down harder and a cloud cover descended on us. The few tourists that came past in warm dry vehicles thought we were positively mad. Did I mention it was raining?

The higher we went, the colder it got and by the time we got to the look-out point at the Top, we were frozen to the bone and the wind almost blew us right back from where we came. 
As we made our way down the other side, something that felt like hail hit us pretty hard. The locals later told us it is called ice rain. In spite of the stinging we rode with our visors lifted, as we could not see through them when closed. 

A few bends after the top on the way down the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and we saw blue in the sky. We ended up stopping for almost an hour, drying out in the weak sunlight, admiring the views and taking photos.
The turnoff to Gamkaskloof is about halfway down the Swartberg pass. By now the weather had turned again. Raining...We met up with another biker (who was in a vehicle) at the turnoff to the Hell. Due to the bad weather and dense mist, he advised us to either go with extreme caution or rather not at all.
Not much to be seen in such bad weather, he said. But since we both have “done” the Hell three times before and never manage to get down there; we decided to go in - at least a little way.The decision to turn around was met with deep disappointment and frustration (something we seem to have to gotten used to lately). But rather safe than sorry and have something go wrong before we even begin our trip. Did I mention it was raining?

We had not gone very far back on the Swatberg pass when the sun suddenly peeked through the dark clouds. 

After a stop at the lookout point, we actually ended up riding the rest of the pass in lovely sunshine! As a tour guide I use to go over this pass so often, but this was my first time by bike – and what an experience! 
The many bends and curves could be followed all the way up to the highest tips of the mountains. The vastness and closeness both get experienced to the utmost intenseness. Somehow living IN the moment and not looking AT it. 
After crossing a river at the bottom of the pass we decide to have our picnic under the trees below the majestic backdrop of Liken-painted rock faces. 

We haul out the (espresso) coffee maker, buns, soup and everything needed to sit down to a feast. As the first cup of water starts to boil, the heavens opened above us. How we missed to check our backs is beyond me, but the rain caught up and before getting drenched to the bone, we packed up (without eating anything) and headed for the Prins Albert Camp site. Did I mention it was raining?

The lousy weather forced our hand and we decided to go for the accommodation instead of trying to pitch tents in the rain - and then get a wet tent down and loaded early the next morning. Unfortunately was it not only a Saturday night, but we were competing with 2 lots of wedding guests – so tenting it would be!
That night the weather turned out to be quite nice with no rain. Prins Albert’s camping site must be one of the nicest we have ever been to.
Extremely reasonable with bathrooms to die for! Not to mention our neighbours. They noticed "wet chickens" would be an understatement and came to the rescue. I was offered a jacket (I had removed mine cause it was so wet and uncomfortable, but had something warmer (deep) down once I could off load my luggage. 
Not to mention an offer for a heater! After freezing by the early hours of the morning I put on the heater-fan and for the first time slept like a baby in my own little “heat-conditioned” tent.  A new but novel and wonderful experience... I’d been thinking all of the next day how on earth I could make extra space on my bike for a heater!