Exit, Cape Left

With the burn over, it’s nearly time to begin my travels in earnest. First, as previously mentioned, my bike needed some work (that was fast!). I wanted my petcock fixed/replaced and an oil change. I dropped the bike off at 8am on Wednesday, confident such trivial work would be resolved in no more than two days. I forgot to think in what the locals assure me is standard Africa Time (or, perhaps even more popular, “TIA:” This Is Africa)… It took three days for them to tell me the petcock needed to be replaced (what I told them to do in the first place) and that they were just about to order the part from Johannesburg, eta Monday or Tuesday. Sigh.

I was stuck in Cape Town like this car is stuck in an ostrich traffic jam.

There are far worse places to be stuck than Cape Town. The weather, food, people, scenery, and side-trips offered here are world-class. I haven’t been suffering. Instead I:

  • Went wine tasting.
  • Revisited the Penguin Colony in Simonstown (Boulders Beach).
  • Revisited Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope (and found a year-old Black Rock Lighthouse Service sticker still hanging out by the lighthouse there).
  • Attended a super-hip night market in Hout Bay.
  • Climbed Table Mountain and hung out with cute fuzzy rodents and big scary eagles.
  • Went to a large AfrikaBurn decompression party.
  • Re-organized my things about a dozen times to come up with a better packing strategy.
  • Caught up on my sleep.
  • Vegged out on Netflix.
Table Mountain selfies!

Eventually, my bike made it back to me and I pried my way out of Cape Town’s comfortable clutches, heading North on the N7, the so-called Cape Namibia Route. The first thing you notice is that South Africa knows how to build a highway. It is beautifully paved and labeled, with no potholes and picnic areas every small handful of Kilometers. From this fine thoroughfare, you watch the landscape change — from urban to poverty to industrial to agricultural. The parallels between Cape Town and San Francisco are legion and worthy of a write-up in their own right, but among them are the presence of a large wine industry just to the North. I stopped at an organic winery and had 5 small glasses of wine for less than $2USD. Life is hard.

I finally managed to walk away from Cape Town.

Hitting the road again, things moved more gradually. The traffic dropped off, the wind picked up, the rolling fields of vineyards and grains slowly transformed to rocks and scrub-grass and eventually rocky foothills. The wind was at a fever pitch. My bike found comfort at the sustained wind at around 20 degrees from vertical, and buffeted uncontrollably when passing a fast-moving oncoming semi-truck. I rode past another truck that had been blown from the roadway, unfortunately directly into a power pole, where a team of people were unloading its contents into smaller vehicles as it lay on its side. I have no idea if they were in linked with the original transportation outfit, and their ragtag appearance didn’t provide any useful indication.

Goodbye cute little full-eye-contact rodent! I’ll miss you the most, maybe!

As the landscape became increasingly barren, the improbability of the continuing perfect road stuck in my American mind. Each subsequent small settlement seemed increasingly impossible to posses the necessities for life, and each seemed more unwelcoming as-if to confirm that thought. Eventually, I sought refuge from the evening in a combination motel, caravan park, and convention center, located just outside of the oddly-suburban/touristic town of Springbok (which locals have assured me is mostly famous for generally topping the temperature forecasts in South Africa). Despite a lack of hot running water, and an oddly institutional vibe, I slept well in the tiny bed, seemingly the only resident of the large operation.

Roads through wine country are the best roads.

Morning brought me an extremely windy ride to the Namibian border. The scrub-grass slowly disappeared into a truly barren desert with dust clouds blasting orthogonally across the highway. I pulled into one of the picnic areas for a break. I set my helmet down and immediately realized my motorcycle was about to be blown *over* the kickstand. I braced it with my body, and my helmet took flight across the desert, thankfully coming to a rest right off the roadway. I climbed back onto the bike and managed to walk it close enough that I could hold it upright while re-acquiring my helmet. I’ve rarely seen wind like this even on the tops of mountains.

I eventually came upon the Namibian border. I just beat out one of the giant overland buses into line, and was able to glide smoothly through immigration and customs, with only a few confused glances at the paperwork I’d managed to generate at the Cape Town airport when I imported my motorcycle. A few tourists asked me about my adventures, and a suspicious police officer casually pawed through one of my panniers, and I was over the bridge border to Namibia! Things there were even easier, and within the hour, I’d crossed my first African overland border!

The first thing I realized upon topping up my fuel tank is that Namibia appears to use South African Rand interchangeably with their own currency; the ATM I visited actually dispensed a mix of 100 Rand and 100 Namibian Dollar notes! Well, to each country their own, I suppose!

On the Namibian side, there was only a hint of scrub-grass, and a smaller helping of boulders. Instead, the landscape swept out onto the mountainous horizon in dirt and pebbles. A sign helpfully warned that they weren’t into painting lines onto the tarmac (and traffic helpfully indicated to me that they still insist on driving on the left), but aside from a slightly rockier tarmac, the road was equally flawless. My first night in Namibia was to be at a “Hot Spring” (more about the quotes in a minute) in a national park, and I decided to take the more-direct dirt road to get there. In 86 kilometers of dirt path, I saw one car and one tractor. This is a country of dust, rocks, fence, and small birds, not one of men. Once again, my DRZ proved it’s not scares of dirt roads, especially when they’re helpfully parallel to the wind, and I made it to Ais Ais National Park without further incident.

Ais Ais translates into something like burning water, and it’s a pretty accurate name… They claim to have a “spa,” but what they have is a  shallow, rocky pit of 60 C  (140 F) water that’s painful to dip a toe into, and a big swimming pool of cold water. I never saw anyone in either. They also have a few buildings full of what look like hotel rooms with no one in them (they claimed to have no rooms available), and nearly a hundred camping spots with power. It was tent time, and I was happy for it. I set up and headed to the restaurant — I was famished. Unfortunately, they didn’t open for dinner until 6:30, and it was 4pm! I think my disappointment was apparent (and a little charm can go a long way), and the server came back awhile later with a plate of chips (fries) telling me she convinced the chef they were for her. I devoured them and thanked her profusely.

Since there wasn’t much to do at the “spa” besides talk to the frequent rubberneckers that would gather around, poke, prod, and photograph my motorcycle (I hadn’t seen another since leaving Cape Town), I called it an early night.

7 Replies to “Exit, Cape Left”

  1. Can’t wait to read more about your amazing adventures! Africa has always been a bit of a mystery to me and I appreciate your sharing it with us along the way. 😀

    1. It’s always been a mystery to me, as well. The humanizing of the region in my own mind is a big part of its appeal. Anyways, I’m glad you’re enjoying it! 😀

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