Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stutterheim, South Africa

Friends: South Africa has turned pastoral, as I've fully left the semi-desert of the Karo. The countryside is green and there are genuine trees, even forests of pines in enough abundance for logging and a sawmill in this town. And the temperatures have moderated considerably. I don't know how long that will last as I head north towards the tropics, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts.
The winds were so ferocious in East London, the beaches were all vacant. There was no campground in town, though I could have pitched my tent at a surfer's hostel just across from the beach for 50 rand. I was fully prepared to do so if I had to stay overnight to have my camera repaired. Unfortunately, neither of the significant camera shops in town could fix the broken plastic rewind spool. Instead I spent 129 rand, about twelve bucks, on a new basic 35 millimeter camera that has just one setting. The quality of my photos won't be the best, but at least it is something. That is by far my biggest expense so far. The closest was my 100-page atlas of the country for 65 rand. Even with those expenses, I'm well below my budget of $10 a day.

I met an ardent cyclist at each of the camera shops, one who had actually passed me as I was heading into town. I spent a good half an hour at each shop chatting with the cyclists and various customers. One woman commented, "I hope you're keeping an eye on your bike. They're quick around here." Whenever someone came into the shop, whoever I was talking with would blurt, "This guy has biked all the way from Cape Town," as it is a big deal for any of them to even drive to Cape Town.

One of the cyclists had done a 1,200 mile tour about South Africa 15 years ago, but hasn't had another since after falling into the clutches of matrimony. He suggested I take a different route than I had intended to Lesotho, heading north out of East London rather than east. The route east had a lot more traffic and trucks as it connected with Durban, South Africa's second largest city after Johannesburg. "I'm not a racist," he said, " but that route takes you through some mostly black towns that aren't the safest. And there are known to be truck hi-jackings along that road." The alternate route he suggested is about 100 miles longer, but he said it wouldn't be as hilly and that it would take me through some very picturesque farming towns.

I was hoping East London would be appealing enough to entice me to stay over. I have yet to take a rest day and my body could use it. But it wasn't a very attractive city and the hellacious winds would have forced me to lay low. It was a most perilous final 15 miles descending into East London on a four-lane highway as gusting side winds made it hard to hold a straight line and threatened to blow me off the road. The final five miles through East London's urban sprawl were not much easier, as I battled the wind gusts trying not to be thrown into the curb or out into traffic. I had pushed it hard to reach East London by mid-afternoon before the camera shops had closed. I arrived at three after 81 miles. When I left at 5:30, I thought I had a chance for my first century of this trip, but it was a steady climb back up to the interior, and though the winds weren't in my face, they weren't helping much either. If I were truly obsessed by a 100 mile day I could have pushed on, but I quit after 96 miles with 45 minutes of light remaining when I came upon a rare place too good for camping to pass up--through a glade of trees on the fringe of an overgrown field. I had to climb over a barbed wire fence, but I felt fully isolated. The camping has finally improved enough, that I would be thrilled to have a friend along to share it with.

My diet has consisted mostly of meat pies for a little less than a dollar and baked beans for less than 50 cents a can and yogurt and canned spaghetti. I've only committed two food faux pas so far, buying something that wasn't what I imagined it to be. Both were drinks and neither was a disaster. The first was a liter of what I thought was strawberry milk. It came in a tall cardboard container just as milk is packaged in back home. I had a choice or strawberry or banana, but surprisingly not chocolate. Strawberry and banana milk were two of my favorite foods in New Zealand and with the prominence of sausage rolls and meat pies there as here, it was a natural to assume there would be flavored milk here too. I didn't bother to look closely at the container other than to confirm there was a hefty amount of calories. I was so eager to start guzzling the milk, I opened the container and took a gulp there it the aisle. I was startled by a granulated texture to the drink, as if it had gone bad and was beginning to coagulate into cottage cheese. Before I could gag, I realized it didn't taste sour or unpalatable, just a little different. Examining the container I discovered it was a corn-based beverage called mageu. It wasn't exactly delicious nor was the strawberry flavor strong enough to dominate the corn flavor, but I was able to down the whole liter, though I haven't had the desire to have another since.

Not so with my other faux pas. It turned out to be a great discovery that I've been enjoying immensely ever since I stumbled upon it. It was a three-quarters liter bottle of passion fruit. For 50 cents it was a bargain, and even more so than I realized. My first gulp was almost as disappointing as my first gulp of the mageu, as it was very strong and thick, almost syrupy. I sipped some more and then added some water, thinking it needed diluting. I noticed the bottle had a one in ten indication on it. I assumed that meant it was 10% fruit juice, but on closer examination I discovered it was a syrup that was meant to be mixed with water at a ten to one ratio. This was like a gold mine, as in the hot temperatures I desperately need to flavor my warm water to make me want to drink it. I have tablets for that purpose, but since I only brought fifty I've been trying to ration them to one a day, though I'd been trying to resist using them at all, as I know I will most need them for the Kalahari when the temperatures could be over one hundred. I can buy packets of Tang if I'm desperate, but they are a bit too sugary for my tastes.

Later, George


T.C. O'Rourke said...

I think your excitement to be on the African continent and meeting the challenges of S. African culture are resulting in some of your finest writing yet!

Anonymous said...

George, I am so glad to see that you are touring once again! It is amazing, I actually think about you every single day out here: would George buy this? Probably not, it costs $1.00, too expensive...Would George camp here? Probably, I'll camp here too. I am glad that we had the opportunity to talk a little bit, and that I got a little bit of your perspective on touring and on travel before beginning my own tour. I feel also as though maybe you blessed my bike on the descent from Lizard Head. Hah! It seems to be running well, except for the flats, but I know that you have good luck with those... Take care, I look forward to the next post, esp. about the Kalahari.