Day 28 – The End

9 Oct

Cape Agulhas. Southernmost point of Africa. Indian ocean on the left, Atlantic on the right. As is my habit on reaching oceans, I dipped a toe in each. Sadly a little difficult to dip wheels in the water.

And it’s the end of the trip. A quick jaunt up the very scenic coastal route to Cape Town, and then a few days in the executive suite at the Westin, where it will be very nice to be clean and tidy instead of covered in dust.

7 countries, almost 8000 miles, and amazingly every target hit exactly according to the plan, and yet so much better than any expectation or imagination.

Cape Agulhas. The end of Africa, and the end of the trip. And that was an amazing trip. Not quite as good as riding a motorcycle across Mongolia and through Siberia, but close. Pretty damn close.

Day 27 – The Great Karoo

9 Oct

Last night at Sani Top Lodge was memorable, with a fantastic dinner of roast lamb with all the trimmings, including mint sauce. Just like home, and more difficult to believe given that we’re at the top of a rugged mountain pass in the kingdom of Lesotho.
Followed by a great sleep in the little round hut, just like the locals use, except with a shower and toilet and hot water and a decanter of sherry….

Coal fire burning through the night and glowing fiercely in time with the howling wind that increased all night but at least blew away the clouds at the top of the pass.

An early start, and down the pass. The top section is a series of very tight hairpins over rough rocky ground, and it drops away so steeply that as you turn in you can’t see where the track goes. A thrilling ride.

And then I drove nearly 1000 miles through the Great Karoo, also known as the valley of desolation.

Enormous expanses of land, edged with mountains. And then you crest a mountain pass and that landscape unfolds itself to reveal that it is ten times bigger on the other side.

So it’s big, then?

Oh yes.

How big exactly?

Ooh. Very.

A long day, but by pulling a double stint I’ve earned myself an extra day of r&r in Cape Town, before I have to fly home and go to work for the next 26 years to pay for this trip….

Day 26 – Sani Top, Lesotho

7 Oct

The Sani Pass. A 90 minute, first gear drive up to over 9000 feet on the roughest little track, with tight hairpins, steep climbs and big drops. Parts of the road are falling down the side of the mountain. The photos don’t do it justice because I could only stop on the wider flatter bits. Stop on the steep stuff and you won’t get moving again.

Near the top, the clouds reduce visibility to almost nothing. You hope nothing is coming the other way because there’s nowhere to pass without a reversing manoeuvre that would be simply terrifying. They had snow here a couple of days ago.

At the top, we’re above the clouds, and as well as tonight’s accommodation in a traditional rondavel (round thatched hut, nice little wood fire going and 50mph wind whistling through, and very oddly a crystal decanter of sherry – all very cosy), we have the highest pub in Africa, with the first reliable internet connection ive seen in days, and a beer that helps calm the nerves after that drive.

And apart from a photo call at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point, that’s all my targets hit. It feels like I’m celebrating the end of the trip, in this little pub at 2874 metres above sea level. Nice.

Except that I have to go down that road tomorrow before I can really count on finishing….

Day 25 – Zululand

7 Oct

Fugitives Drift monument

Quick drive to the border and then on into kwazulu-natal and the battlefield sites of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift.

The standard of driving has been predictably poor, but in Namibia and Botswana there’s so little traffic it doesn’t matter. In South Africa, people drive like they don’t have a brain.

Rorkes Drift is quite an interesting place, but perhaps the most interesting thing is why the hell any Dutch or English ever gave a toss about such a vast area of fairly uninteresting dusty brown land, just to protect the colonised south. When you stand on a sandstone ledge where once a Welsh rifleman jabbed downwards with bayonet as a Zulu warrior stabbed upwards with spear, you wonder how often that soldier had asked “what on earth have those bloody idiots sent us here for?”

Approaching tonight’s accommodation there seems to be a bush fire and there are flames lapping g at the side of The Beast as I follow the trail. I can hear the crackling and spitting of the fire as it creeps along through the scrubland. I wonder if I’ll reach Rorkes Drift Lodge only to find it burned to the ground, but it turns out the the burning, which is filling the entire valley with smoke and can be seen for miles around, is a deliberate act to clear the ground ready for the rains to trigger new growth.

When the sun sets, the distant hillside across the valley opposite the terrace of my lodge becomes a black silhouette decorated with ribbons and dots of orange light. More bushfires, this time unplanned. From this distance it looks like lava flowing down the side of a volcano. Meanwhile I devour my traditional local dinner of chicken potjie.

The Zulu leopard guards the Shields of the fallen at Rorkes Drift