AFRICA 2016 – Journal fourteen

DAY 81. FRIDAY FEBRUARY 26th, 2016. BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA

Well, look where I am. So fed up with it. But I agreed with Steven that we’d sort out the paperwork of the ownership of the bike at 11. He is so hectically busy that we managed it at 2.30, too late for me to move on – and anyway, the oil leak is getting faster and faster now, so I’m not even sure how practical riding off is, even just for the weekend.

Fixing the papers was simple; Steven knows the right people at the vehicle taxing and testing station – all members of his Christian biker club: ‘Riders for the Son’. On Monday the ownership of the now ‘unroadworthy’ bike (similar to a SORN) will pass to Steven on behalf of young Steven, to whom I have given the bike. An ancillary deal is that if they make it into a really smart bike for young Steven, they might pay me the 8000 Rand value I’d have got from the mechanic. If they fail and have to sell it for parts, they share the proceeds. Well, we’ll see. I bet they’ll make a good bike of it. And maybe I will come back and borrow it sometime for a southern hemisphere springtime trip to Namaqualand, where the desert flowers vividly just once a year for a few weeks, something I’d like to see. It happens in August/ September.

So too late and too oily to move on, I bought some beer and sat and read once again. I really have seen enough of Bloemfontein, the sort of place that’s OK for doing a bit of business for a couple of days, but NOT for staying, trapped for days on end. 15 days and counting.

We spent the evening at a very noisy restaurant in a mall full of hard surfaces. It was like eating in an airport. Steven, Isabel and I ate while the kids all ate junk food and went to watch films in the nearby multiplex. I wasn’t sorry to miss out on the films, the choice being American action films or Afrikaans romances. Neither attracted me.

I could scream with current frustration! Bits of this journey have been the best of all – while quite a bit of it has been frustrating as hell: periods stuck in Bloemfontein and Himeville for mechanical problems.

DAY 82. SATURDAY FEBRUARY 27th, 2016. ROMA, LESOTHO

I’ve got rather used to putting that address at the top of my nightly entry. Well, my motorbike journey is just about over and I didn’t want to end it with a whimper in Bloemfontein while Lesotho was only 100 miles away. This I will remember as my Lesotho winter. I have become increasingly familiar and delighted with this tiny kingdom in the past three months. I have penetrated most corners and met and chatted with hundreds of charming Basotho people and watched the seasons change from the dire drought of midsummer to the increasing green of late summer as autumn approaches. I do wonder what it’s like here in winter..? But I’m not sure I wonder enough to come and suffer the cold and snow in July, interesting though it’d be to see a completely different aspect of the landlocked, fancifully-called, ’Kingdom in the Sky’. Now I am sitting outside my rondavel with a beer at seven o’clock and the air is cool enough for me to think of a light jersey over my tee shirt – or to retreat inside away from the mosquitoes…

*

Steven has done his very best with my little red bike. This morning we stripped it down yet again and replaced the epoxy over the weld and leak. It’s still leaking, but there’s not the oil slick beneath the parked bike or the oil dribbling from the undercarriage any more. I have been able to ride the 120 miles to Roma without too much loss of oil. It’ll need a top up in the morning, but not the half litre it required a couple of days ago. There’s no way I could have ridden it all the way to Zimbabwe without major (and it will be quite major) repair works.

And ‘little Steven’ is quite delighted at the idea of having his first bike. His father is determined that the lad will do most of the restoration work himself; a good idea. I am so happy with the outcome of the bike. At best I was going to get about £350 for the machine in its present condition, and I know I would have resented selling it to Johan, the mechanic, who wasn’t easy to bond with at all. I would have constantly supposed he was getting advantage of me. The engine alone must be worth that much. As it is, I have been able to repay the Stevens for some of the friendship and kindness they have both shown me over my southern African safaris.

*

It was almost three before I was able to set off, waiting for the epoxy to cure and then organising a bus ticket for Tuesday over to Durban. I took the direct route to Maseru Bridge, the main border crossing between Lesotho and the Free State, quite calm on this Saturday afternoon, and quickly accomplished. Once past the major – black – town of Botshabelo the road becomes quiet, just a few vehicles and ‘black taxis’ heading for Lesotho and the South African towns that circle the border. It was in Ladybrand, the last South African town before Maseru, the Lesotho capital, that I met Steven in 2002, in need of mechanical assistance as now.

It’s a mainly flat run towards the Lesotho mountains, blue in the distance. Huge fields line the road and sunflowers make a cheerful crop just now, their heads drooping in the waning late afternoon sun. I seem to be pretty much alone at the Trading Post tonight and for supper I had to resort to a cafe in town, for a somewhat lukewarm plateful of Boerworst (sausage made from God only know what), corn ‘stampa’ and a couple of congealing vegetable dishes. At less than a pound, I don’t expect gourmet food, and actually, it was perhaps more pleasant than the fake Italian pasta dish I ate in that airport-like mall last night for considerably more money.

And talking of airports… What an irony. I emailed Rico yesterday as I recollected he had said he had to be in Europe by the 7th, the day I leave Africa too. I pointed out that I have to spend four hours in Nairobi airport that night changing planes, was he by any chance leaving that day too? Huh! Believe it or not Rico is flying on the same flight as me – the night before! If only I had asked before changing my ticket we could have travelled on the same plane to Amsterdam! But I can’t go through the hassle of changing my ticket yet again, and he can’t change his travel date. What a damned shame! We haven’t met for so many years. Oh well, we will meet, all being well, for my next safari within twelve months.

*

So for these last two days I am back in lovely Lesotho and then back to Bloemfontein on Monday, ready to bus to Durban on Tuesday. On Monday the red bike officially changes hands to the Stevens.

DAY 83. SUNDAY FEBRUARY 28th, 2016. KUKHUNE, LESOTHO

I’m happy I decided to end my motorbike journey in Lesotho. Tonight I am back at one of my favourite places, Mamohase B&B – a suitable end to my travels. Well, of course, I still have a night in Bloemfontein and a few days in Kloof, but in my mind, my journey ends here. Here, in the magnificence of the valley, the total peace, the calm hospitality of Mamohase’s house, the ‘cultural’ bed and breakfast that I have come to appreciate as such a warm, typical manifestation of all that is good in Lesotho. It is deeply quiet now, night is falling as I sit on the doorstep of my round, traditional room, the family dog at my feet, not a breath of wind and the Maluti Mountains in darkening silhouette against the crystal African sky. Only a few stars are pricking the blue grey mantle as yet, but tonight will bring the stars out in all their astonishing, dancing radiance – a splendour I have only ever seen in Africa. Yes, a good place to mentally complete my fourth southern African journey.

*

Every time I ride through Teyateyaneng – conveniently shortened, even by the Basotho, to ‘TY’, I say to myself, “no more carpets”! For TY is renowned for its small weaving workshops. Two years ago I bought my fine ‘Independence’ mat, and last year another woven mat. Today, despite my resolution (obviously not very strong!), I am carrying yet another Basotho mat in my baggage – my fifth. Made from home-spun mohair, spun by Adolfina, and woven by a cheerful weaver called Alina, it’s about 120cm by 60. It probably represents at least a week and half’s long work. I paid £56. The business is a cooperative, with seven weavers, income shared monthly by the quantity they create. Alina, Joyce and Adolfina were particularly delighted that my money means they have made a ‘big sale’ to end the month of February (which, being a Leap year, is actually tomorrow) and will all benefit. Such delightful ladies, who wouldn’t want to end their month on a high note? Fortunately, I don’t have to carry it far.

*

The stars have appeared now; the night is quiet, but for the inevitable barking dogs (not in the league of Askwith or Bloemfontein, fortunately!). This is Africa, and dogs are always barking… It’s almost eight. A palm tree stretches its fronds above me, completely still. Beyond that there’s nothing but clear sky between me and Orion, the constellation I always associate with Africa – for it is always so dominant (as, of course, it is in England – where all it does is remind me of Africa…) – directly overhead, upside down as usual here in the southern hemisphere. Lightning flickers on the western horizon, where the high mountains are, but denotes nothing much. Tantalising smells of my supper come from Mamohase’s kitchen across the yard. Morebane, another of Mamohase’s eight sons (and two daughters), has lit the oil lanterns in my round earth-built, thatched room. It is deeply peaceful – and the explanation of the urge that keeps me travelling.

*

Morebane, over supper, taken together, eating with our fingers round the family table – one of the aspects of staying here at Mamohase’s that makes it so special, tells me that this guest house was their own concept. “Why, to be registered as a guest house you need certain things in this country – electricity, running water and so on. We were very lucky; the minister of tourism understood our concept was different! We have none of the things usually required!” Morebane is developing his own guest house down in Butha Buthe, where he lives. “But we will have showers and electricity, all the things we need…” In winter he and his wife work up at the Afrikski resort, catering to South Africans. It’s difficult to define quite what he does the rest of the year: sort of African ‘business’ I think. Well educated at university in Pretoria and articulate, with excellent English, he is a smart fellow and congenial company. There is so much advantage in returning to places as I have been able to do on these recent trips. It becomes a much more personal experience when you become a ‘regular’ and a bit familiar!

*

The ride to get here is one of the less attractive in Lesotho, through the western ‘lowlands’ (4500 feet high…) where most of the population dwells. There’s a way I discovered to avoid the tedious ride through the capital, that involves a deteriorated rocky road through a splendid valley, rejoining the main road at TY. Then it is back to the two lane main road that grinds through towns and villages, traffic reducing when I turn onto the final road that will, past Mamohase, wind and curl its way to the very top of Lesotho into those mind-expanding highlands that I love so much. That’s where the splashy lightning flickers on the horizon far above, electrical activity reflecting the extreme heights of this small kingdom.

Now the stars are bright and glorious in the dark, moonless African sky. It’s unusually calm and resplendent tonight. Ending on a high, indeed!

DAY 84. MONDAY FEBRUARY 29th, 2016. BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA

My final journey with my little red bike – and the first wet one, ironically, so now I am trying to dry boots, gloves and so on to pack away for the journey to Durban tomorrow. In three months I have ridden through a brief shower somewhere in the Karoo, those three kilometres of drenching rain approaching Malealea the other day, and today’s storms from Ladybrand to Botshabelo, a distance of about 60 miles.

Lightning terrifies me. And there were great streaks of pure power shooting from the clouds to right and left. I rode in something of a funk, hoping desperately that the storm heads remained off to right and left. Thank goodness, they did! Rain, I can handle. Lightning, I can’t. In fact, the spray from the road was worse than the rain itself, that came in brief bursts amongst the deep slate clouds. The afternoon went positively dark and I could only put my head down and head for the slender strip of light that formed the far horizon – and hope the lightning kept its distance. It was a stressful hour and a half… No fun at all for my last ride.

It wasn’t much fun when I rode into a bee, either! But I guess the poor bee suffered more as it hit me at 65mph and stung me on the cheekbone. Wow, did it hurt! Now the whole side of my face and chin looks as if a bad dentist has been working on me. A droopy cheek right down my neck, all puffed with bee sting.

*

This morning, accompanied once again by Moruti’s cousin, Moeti, I walked in the local villages, partly to give out prints of some of my photos from my previous visits. I had breakfasted, Basotho style, on sorghum porridge and scrambled egg and Mamohase’s home made steamed bread. Walking to the villages was a bit of a risk with my swollen knee but, gladly, it seems to have strengthened it – or maybe the bee sting’s folic acid has been an unexpected medicine! It’s such a pleasure to wander in these rural areas; something I have come to appreciate so much on this journey as a byproduct of the bike’s problems. In Lesotho I seem to cause no surprise or annoyance to walk where I will – avoiding crops of course. I appear to be a welcome visitor everywhere I go, greetings and waves from all I meet.

Then, about noon, it was back down the hills to Butha Buthe and back to South Africa for the last time, border formalities simple and familiar now. Into the Free State again with all its bizarre qualities of seclusion and exclusion. One last night and tomorrow round Lesotho to Durban for the last few days.

The red bike is now young Steven’s. It has done me well. Costing me about £1700 four years ago, I have ridden exactly 11,600 kilometres (7250 miles) since December 8th, and 49,021 (30,638 miles) since I bought it in January 2012. It has taken me all through South Africa and Lesotho; most of Swaziland and Zimbabwe, and big parts of Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. By the time I leave I will have spent a total of over 300 days with it. I have many stories to tell and many experiences to remember; a number of friends and many many acquaintances made. It has done well but now it needs the attention that young Steven (fondly known in the family, for some reason no one much remembers, as Farley) and his father can give it. It is over sixteen years old and has ridden 127,405 kilometres (about 80,000 miles). It needs a rest.

And with a baggy cheek and a still slightly swollen knee, maybe I do too! But, actually, I feel fit and cheerful, stimulated and healthy. And I have missed three months of dismal, wet, darkness into the bargain. Restless it may be, but this life suits me.

DAY 85. TUESDAY MARCH 1st, 2016. KLOOF, SOUTH AFRICA

Eight and a half hours in a comfortable bus brought me back to Pietermaritzburg, where Yvonne picked me up and drove me back to Durban. It was an effortless ride: front seat, top deck and a pleasant route through several of the small towns that I have ridden through myself recently. For the first hour or more I had the conversation of a charming young Basotho man, riding from Cape Town to go home to Maseru for a few days. By coincidence, he studied film and TV and is a keen photographer – and Basotho to boot. So we had plenty to talk about. From there I had two seats to myself and relaxed in the South African sun, while someone else did the driving.

‘Email your prayer requests’, reads the video screen on the bus, and recorded prayers are said at every destination. The company informs me (warns me?) that it espouses Christian values on its coaches and it’s in with the ear plugs to avoid the evangelical programming and ‘family entertainment’ – the most anodyne and sickly American films imaginable.

*

I have to accustom myself to the fact that in a few days I will be back to thick clothing, heating, feeling cold. I don’t look forward to THAT.

DAY 85. TUESDAY MARCH 2nd, 2016. KLOOF, SOUTH AFRICA

Often I have been asked on this trip, ‘why don’t you come and live in South Africa in the winters? Buy a place and you could live like a king!’ (Maids, servants, gardeners, cheap services…). Well, of course, you who have read these pages know exactly why I couldn’t come and live here! It’s all about social injustice. As I write a gang of (black) men working for a security company (white boss) are erecting another couple of feet of razor wire round the entire garden. Some weeks back an intruder got into the garden and set off all the alarms at night. Fear runs so high amongst the white population and these incidents are rehashed and ‘shared’ endlessly, upping the insecurity. Of course, there are many burglaries and attacks and crime here often includes violent attack and guns and life is treated relatively cheaply. Handguns are rife.

But where you have such a VAST disparity of wealth, and the consuming social pressures say that ‘success’ comes from owning ‘stuff’ you will have crime. It’s like night follows day. Twenty percent of this country owns SO much of the wealth; the rest are a largely invisible underclass… A small percentage live in what in Europe would be classed as huge palace-like properties, protected by razor wire, security gates, alarm systems, armed guards, grilles on all windows and doors; also surrounded by gigantic 4X4s and all the trappings of easy consumerist life; the live rest in shacks, sheds, and small government-built two-roomed block houses on blasted heaths.

No, not for me.

*

Yvonne and I went shopping to replace my burned trousers and for antihistamine for my wattle, now slowly reducing! I bought them from Woolworths. No, not the Woollies we know, that disappeared from our high streets a couple of decades ago, but the South African Waitrose equivalent, owned, I believe by M&S. It’s the upmarket food shop here and sells clothes as well. Might as well do a few of these things and take advantage of the Rand.

DAY 86. WEDNESDAY MARCH 3rd, 2016. KLOOF, SOUTH AFRICA

Last few days, mainly sitting about reading. Not much to report in my daily discipline. Organising my homeward journey, dining with Yvonne and Michael’s friends – the usual wind down from a long journey. This time next week I will be bored already and wishing I was elsewhere rather than in the cold, damp and dark. Ho hum..!

DAY 87. THURSDAY MARCH 4th, 2016. KLOOF, SOUTH AFRICA

To a local dentist this morning. Just opening the fancy oak door of the dentists I distrust so much in Totnes costs me £50… Here an inspection and a small filling and polish costs me £31.50.

Relaxing with my old friends. Who knows when I’ll see them next? Mike has been sounding me out on the possibility of coming back – probably in a couple of years – to work on a museum in Natal, where they found a unique clutch of fossilised dinosaur eggs in the Drakensburg Mountains. He’s a concept for making dinosaurs from the local wire sculpture technique and needs someone like me to make it work. Well, we’ll see. I am, these days, in the delightful situation of being able to choose the projects that interest me, or not. The back of the Drakensburg Mountains is Lesotho! That, of course, would be a major persuasive factor in my decision!

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One thought on “AFRICA 2016 – Journal fourteen

  1. Hello Jonathan,
    I cannot believe I have not sent you any messages over the past weeks – really bad of me. I HAVE been thinking of you and wondering what you are up to, but never had the time for my wonderful cup of coffee and reading about your travels. I have kept them, so will try to read them eventually. It sounds as if you are soon to return. Which is lovely for us but sounds as if you will be wishing you were elsewhere when you return. But remember – it is Spring here and the daffodils, primroses, snowdrops, etc are bursting out already! Safe journey and see you soon. Love, Francesca and Huxley xxx

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