Friday, 6 April 2012

La lucha continua

The plan was simple. 27 March was the FitzPatrick AGM – and our invitation from Phil Hockey ended with the statement that we were all expected to attend. And truth be told, I wanted to attend – as since my enrolment I have met only a hand-full of people at the Fitz. It would be another opportunity to meet with Anja and Elena, who would be comfortable as we could have the run of my aunt’s house. We could then spend a family day together, and Anja could then drop me off at Bredasdorp or somewhere in the Agulhas Plain, where otherwise I had been planning a big transit day from the vicinity of Montagu.

So plans were made and Anja and I met up in Swellendam, where I upgraded from the local backpackers to the historic Kadis self-catering cottage for the occasion. All seemed to be going according to plan. We took the scenic route into Cape Town via Hermanus and Rooi-Els. We arrived in Observatory and found parking right outside my aunt’s house. We locked the bike onto the roof and settled in for the evening.

The next morning I packed up some smart clothes to change into after the cycle into university for the AGM. I walked outside and felt a sinking feeling as the sight of our little Suzuki Jimney with twisted carrier rack filled my mind. The bicycle had been stolen!

Still, I had an AGM to get to, and it was very informative and interesting. However, instead of being able to relax and network as I had hoped to do, I had to get online and try and find a replacement bicycle! In the evening a member of the Cape Bird Club mentioned she had a bicycle for sale and that I could view it the following day.

That day started with two hours at the busy Woodstock Police Station. Statements are still hand-written, so the proceedings are painfully slow. All that time poor Anja and Elena had to spend locked inside the house. In the afternoon I visited the CBC member, but the offered bicycle was not up to scratch, and a local bike shop had nothing immediate to offer. Plus there was the tension knowing that Anja had to head back to Blue Hill to prepare for the arrival of guests.

So on the third day after our arrival in Cape Town we headed to Hermanus, where another family member would be able to look after my equipment while I tested out a very used second hand bike from Euodora bike shop – I could not afford one of their very expensive new bikes. Rudi, trailer man, had kindly agreed to whip up a new modified axle that he would post as soon as possible so that I could get on the road again with the trailer. But that would still take a few days to arrive.

Anja dropped me off on the road to Napier, before starting her long journey home, while my bike and I headed across the rolling hills of the Overberg, getting to know each other. Strong winds announced a change in the weather from sunny skies to banks of rain filled clouds. This made my second day trying to survey ‘Grootberg’ a little uncomfortable as I had to seek shelter under Port Jackson wattles, or dilapidated buildings. Still distinctly moist I spent my afternoon heading down the road to Bredasdorp, where yet again I was soaked attempting to survey the small Heuningberg Reserve to the south of the town. It was clearly time to make use of the comfortable bed at the BnB I’d checked into and to catch up on some local television.

The following day Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point, beckoned briefly. However Anja had expressed an interest in heading there as part of the trip I would have to make with her in a few months time to drop her off in Cape Town for her trip to Germany. So on with the job. My Slingsby Map of the Overberg had a route marked as ‘The Fynbos Road’ that covers the road from Struisbaai to Stanford. This sounded promising for survey purposes! However, there were almost no large stands of Fynbos – the Fynbos that existed were relics on the side of the road. Everywhere else was either infested with alien vegetation or converted to pasture for cattle. That is kind of depressing when the area boasts some of the highest proportion of endemic plant species of anywhere in the Fynbos. 
The rolling hills of the Overberg are now famous for their wheat fields. Here once was Renosterveld.

I did manage to survey some healthy Fynbos on the Geelbos Nature Reserve to the north of the historic mission town of Elim. Then, with time on my hands I decided to continue. Salmonsdam Nature Reserve had caught my eye. However, as there were no shops nearby, I had to continue on to Stanford, where I was disappointed to find out that my R350 for my BnB was for a Bed and Bath, not Bed and Breakfast.

For this section of the survey, being without trailer and therefore tent and camping equipment, put me at the mercy of the local tourist industry, which has resulted in this being the most expensive part of the survey so far – replacement bike excluded! The south coast is a very popular tourist destination, especially for the local urban Cape Town population, and prices are thus twice as high as anything I would expect to pay around the Baviaanskloof area.

That little rant aside, a pleasant day was spent at the Salmonsdam Nature Reserve, where the most unusual encounter of the day was of two male Orange-breasted Sunbirds imitating Cape Siskins. Then it was onto the heinous road connecting Stanford and Hermanus, and into the comfort of my tent in my aunt’s backyard. I really do find my thin camping mattress and sleeping bag so much more comfortable that the odd assortment of beds and pillows associated with the diaspora of the hospitality industry.

Fernkloof Nature Reserve, which encompasses a section of the Kleinrivierberge overshadowing Hermanus, was my next target. I’ve been ringing here before with Mike Ford, and the small area on the map belies the large area of mountain Fynbos that can be accessed with a labyrinth of very good trails. As such, it was another long, but productive day out, with Rockjumpers and Ground Woodpeckers gracing the pages of my datasheets amongst abundant Orange-breasted Sunbird encounters.

Hermanus - as viewed from Fernkloof Nature Reservre
While a return to Kogelberg had been on the cards, with Easter looming, I decided it was time to head away from the coast and northwards. A long day on the back roads bordering the Winelands brought me to Villiersdorp, where I was disappointed to find that the Municipal campsite was closed – due to vandalism. Nestled in the shadow of the town’s RDP housing program, this would not come as a surprise to many. Luckily for me Vredelust Guest house was prepared to offer me a reduced rate on her excellent accommodation in the heart of the town. Pat also enlightened me as to the history of the town, which is named in honour of the first French settlers in the area, the De Villiers.

Well rested, my fingers had been tracing the route on my map north to Worcester. Again, back routes offered a welcome respite from the many trucks racing up and down the R43. It is harvest time in the Winelands and everyone was very busy trying to harvest as much as possible before Easter. Worcester was a disappointment. One has to traverse kilometres of fetid wasteland approaching the town from the south, skirt some poor neighbourhoods, before drowning in the over crowded streets of the town itself. If a spoke had not broken as I dodged pedestrians down the main street, my stay in the town would have been that much shorter. A local bike shop proved helpful and efficient, and with a greasy take-away Chicken and Chips in my belly, I was soon on my way.
A scene from the Winelands around Villiersdorp

Scenic backroutes along the Breede River valley, nestled between the Hex River Mountains and Slanghoekberge, again provided an escape from trucks and road works. I had to make great use of the gravel side section of the road for peace-of-mind along the sections of the R43 I could not avoid, until finally reaching the foothills of the Skurweberge and the Michell’s Pass with a much needed yellow line. At this stage my legs were aching from the 100+ kilometres travelled so far. I gritted my teeth and entered the grey-ethereal world beyond pain for the 10km climb to Ceres.

1 comment:

  1. Overberg looks like the far corner of Washington State, clled the Pallouse. The manner of tilling these hills ( a contoured track) makes it a beautiful sight in the greening up.

    Wineland looks like our near shrub steppe just at the foot of the Cascade crest. It is my favorite part of the state

    I have enjoyed hearing about your journey.



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