Brighton2capetown - RSA

Brighton to Cape Town Overland by Motorcycle

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Republic of South Africa

6th February 2008

With the short section of dirt road despatched and our wheels back firmly on the tarmac leading to South Africa, we found ourselves at the border town in no time.  We stopped before the border to spend all our remaining Namibian currency on fuel, and made our way to the border.  Here after almost exactly fourteen and a half thousand miles, we found the first really slick border operation of the trip, with a slip of paper with numbered boxes to be stamped, and numbered offices where the various border functions would be covered, who would stamp our slips to show we'd had everything done.  This was such a contrast to the borders further north where we'd had to work out for ourselves where everyone was and what they did, that it came as quite a shock for things to be presented as they should be.

As we left the border post, we saw our first sign to Cape Town, 679km away.  The road led through the beautiful mountainous scenery of the northern cape region and treated us alternately to winding mountain twisties and long straights with great views.  The weather was the hottest we'd been subjected to for some time, and steadily dehydrated us as we headed southwards - South Africa was experiencing a freak heat wave.  We stopped for a well earned lunch and some re-hydration in Springbok, and were reminded of what an entertaining language Afrikaans can be.  There, in the centre of town was a shop named Kokerboom Drankwinkel, Afrikaans for Quiver Tree Off Licence. 

Well fed by the cafeteria in the Springbok Superspar, we once again turned south.  We'd been given a tip that it was worth visiting Lambert's Bay (or Lambertsbaai) and we did our best, battling against the unseasonable heat and a constant, violent sidewind.  With time running out we found ourselves in Vanrhypsdorp at a pleasant caravan park with a restaurant with a clientele that extended beyond an assortment of grubby travelling types.  The locals also made use of the restaurant, and that was recommendation enough for us. 

We ordered innocently enough, and no warning was given as to the likely sizes of the meals.  A prawn combo, a portion of spare ribs and a steak and chips were duly delivered, along with an emergency flare.  For Dan, death by prawn seemed inevitable, and Chris seemed doomed to a rib-shaped fate.  As our intestines grappled with the sheer quantity of food they were being asked to tackle, we did our best to plot a route for the following day that would take us to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa.

Near Vanrhypsdorf, on the main N7 highway that runs north south in the western cape, there resides a very lucky meercat.  Stood in classic meercat pose, but facing away from the oncoming traffic, he looked, to the eye of a speeding Africa Twin rider much like a stick of wood.  Only as the thundering motorcycle got dangerously close did the meercat spin on his tail, spot the two-wheeled horseman of the apocalypse and spring for the safety of the undergrowth.

Our route for the 30th January was to skirt Cape Town and head via Strand, Caledon and Bredasdorp to Cape Agulhas, one of two end points for our trip.  We suffered an initial false start when we headed to Lambertsbaai only to find that not only was the road heading south from there down the coast a poorly maintained dirt track, but that it was a private dirt track and we would have to purchase permits to use it.  Three motorcycles about-turned and headed back inland to the N7 before dragging a few hundred kilometres under their wheels on their way to Malmesbury and Paarl.  On hitting Strand, the group had a few realisations.  Chris' BMW R80 was running very low on oil, and the oil container strapped onto the back of Dan's Africa Twin was leaking all over his seat.  On top of that, it was getting late, the afternoon rush hour was in full flow and we still had a further two and a half hours riding ahead of us to get to the Cape. 

The two oil issues were mutually solved and a quick clean up and re-fuel had us back on the road, following the N2 over the pretty Sir Lowry's Pass, speeding towards Caledon.  There, we hung a right and headed South East towards Bredasdorp where a further right turn led us south to Struisbaai and ultimately Cape Agulhas. 

As the sun began to set, and the evening mist began to roll in from the sea, we made our way to the southernmost tip of the continent.  Visibility on the last little stretch of dirt track was poor: the mist and sea spray on our visors combining with the low sun to turn the world an even shade of orange. 

Fifteen thousand one hundred and thirty-four miles from home, after one hundred and twenty five days, we ran out of road and could go no further south - we'd made it to the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, the southernmost point of Africa.

Lessons Learnt

  • Weight is the enemy of the overlander (though that said, big bikes are fine in West Africa)
  • If it doesn't look strong enough, it probably isn't
  • Shops in Angola don't accept US dollars as they are rumoured to, but dollars are readily changed into Kwanza. 
  • In DRC, you can spend Dollars instead of Congolese Francs in shops and petrol stations.
  • Just because you can, doesn't mean you should - this applies to many things, but notably shipping supplies of parts that you knew you'd need and could have carried, thereby landing yourself with shipping costs, hilarious import duties and frustrating bribery bills
  • A really loud horn is well received in Africa, it speaks African.
  • The younger an african pedestrian is, the faster they want you to ride past them on your lovely noisy motorbike.
  • You generally don't need to give presents or bribes in West Africa.  (Doing so will only encourage begging and corruption and make it necessary for those that follow.  So don't).
  • In the event of an accident, the Angolan police can be a lot more reasonable than you might fear
  • Some Angolan immigration officials are as drunk and corrupt as you might fear
  • African cats are less aloof than european cats - this presumably is because they are more hungry
  • Sandy Saharan roads eat front sprockets
  • Potholed Nigerian roads eat front rims
  • Gravelly Angolan roads eat rear tyres
  • The jungle is every bit as noisy as the desert is quiet
  • Wide bikes are a liability in deep ruts
  • Chris Bone is a liability when his helmet camera is running
  • They don't drink Um-Bongo in The Congo
  • Yes Bob, they do know it's Christmas

 

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

(in order of popularity)

  • No, we haven't brought you a present
  • The tank holds about 24 litres of fuel
  • That's enough for over 400 kilometres
  • We're from England
  • The people in England speak English
  • Yes, on the motorbikes all the way from England
  • The bikes cost a garillion Delassi, a garillion CFA (western or central) a garillion Naira or indeed a garillion of any other local african currency
  • Fully laden, they'll do 157kph with the rider sat bolt upright (though we've left a trail of disappointed africans who'll wander over to look at the speedo, see it goes up to 120 miles per hour then, having no concept of what a mile is, they'll disappear again thinking it's a shame that such a big motorbike can only do 120 kilometres per hour...)
  • We buy local food wherever we stop, we didn't bring enough english food with us to survive for 4 months
  • We're dirty because Africa is.  It may be alternately dusty, sandy or muddy, but it's always dirty
  • No, the bikes don't float
  • We put them on boats to get over two bits of ocean and a few rivers, but we came most of the way on road
  • He's the leader - African's have a strong sense of hierarchy, and any group must have a leader.  A bunch of mates riding the same way and making decisions together just doesn't wash, so whoever is at the front must become the leader for official purposes
  • We don't have a mission, we're tourists
  • Tourists don't get paid

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