Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Colin always takes me to the nicest places

The only place to go from here is up!
Remember that laundry from the last blog post? It didn't dry by morning. We woke to very wet clothes and a humid, cold room the next day. Fortunately, the nice overnight reception guy let me use their dryer to finish the job while we repacked everything else and loaded the bikes to put the wheels on the road. Once that was done, we rode the bikes through the courtyard, down the hall, out the gate (waving goodbye to John, Cat, and Moose) and on our way to Hermanus. It was a sunny, clear, and crisp morning as we rode through Cape Town and got on the N2 highway out of the city. We had our route figured out from a small map from a local tourism brochure (since our lovely, colorful Michelin map of Central and Southern Africa shows the roads but doesn't actually identify them by name, which is really not helpful, by the way) and knew we needed to take the N2 to the 44 to the 43 to Hermanus. So we're on the N2 and see signs for the M44. Great! We took the ramp, turned right on M44, and found ourselves smack in the middle of the Khayelitsha township. Toto, we were not in Kansas anymore. The township is mile after mile of corrugated metal and scrap shanties shoved right on each other, with no indoor plumbing judging by the rows of outhouses. There are no businesses, no jobs, and people don't have cars.  Remember the District 6 Museum? It's places like Khayelitsha that replaced the neighborhoods of District 6. I cannot imagine a harsher place to grow up and have no idea how anyone can thrive in an environment of apparent hopelessness.  And how did this ever seem like a good idea?  We rode all the way through, not stopping completely at the stop signs, but we did wave at the kids we saw. When the M44 road ended at the ocean, we knew we'd made a navigational error. Colin pulled out the GPS, got us back on the N2 and then onto the R44, which is an extremely scenic road that winds along the coast south of Cape Town. 

He's just too stinkin' cute, don't you think?
The ride was terrific, the scenery spectacular- I had no idea that this area is so incredibly gorgeous! We stopped at Gordon's Bay to look at the water and read the information board about southern right whales (who knew they were named right whales because they were the right ones to harpoon? They're slow moving as whales go and are blubbery and perfect!) and possibly see one (we didn't). We then continued along the coast to Bettysbaai, where we stopped to see PENGUINS!!!! That's right, there are a couple of colonies of jackass penguins (named because of their mellifluous call) in Africa! Once we'd taken enough pictures of the pengs (and the hydraxes, not to be confused with a cookie by a similar name, these are rodent-y critters that sit on the rocks and eat grass and look cute), we stopped for a quick lunch of meat pies from a takeaway shop. While eating at the picnic table in the lawn at the side of the building, I pointed out the hand-lettered sign on their door which said to please close it completely to keep out the baboons (this really is quite a place). Afterward, we made our way to Hermanus and stayed the night at the Hermanus Backpackers Guesthouse. It's a picturesque coastal town with a bay where whales come to calve at this time of year. We walked around town and had dinner at the local fish house (delicious fried hake and calamari with chips).

The next day, I decided we needed to go to the actual southernmost point in Africa, Cape Agulhas. So after a breakfast of mealie pap (an African staple, which is cornmeal porridge made with milk and is very good), toast, and coffee, we hopped on the bikes and headed inland, riding through some beautiful farmland, with lots of sheep, grains, and some vineyards. Since it's spring, everything is verdant, and the wildflowers are in full bloom. We rode past fields of solid purple, startling flocks of little birds that looked like flying, glowing, oriental poppies as we passed by.  In town, the geraniums are literally trees with 3 inch diameter trunks! And wild heliotrope, nasturtiums that grow like kudzu, it's heavenly! On the ride we saw our first wild ostriches, blue cranes, and baboons (they were skulking along the roadside just out of town). The roads to Cape Agulhas wound up and down the rolling hills, through small towns (where we stopped to grab a picnic lunch to eat at Agulhas). We made our way to our destination, stopped at the old lighthouse for a look, rode the remaining 1.5km to the southernmost point, sat on a bench overlooking the water, and had a perfectly delightful lunch watching the waves from both the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans crash on the rocks at the tip of Africa. We had some other riders take our photo in front of the marker and looked in the tide pools for interesting aquatic specimens (we found some snails and limpets). I dipped my hand in the water on both sides just to see if there was a difference (there wasn't – they were both cold) and then we rode back to Hermanus the way we came. When we got back to town, we strolled along the cliff path with the binoculars in hand to look for whales. And lo and behold, we saw four of them in about thirty minutes (or the same one four times, but who cares? It was really amazing to see the bumps on their noses, called callosities if you're interested, as they surfaced!). We continued our walk into town to the grocery store to gather ingredients for dinner. We had our first ostrich burgers (very lean, dense, and strangely spiced with cloves...we were unconvinced), boiled new potatoes and carrots, and a delicious local pinotage. All in all, it's been quite a great couple of days!

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