Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Going Mobile

Monday was the day we've been working toward and waiting for, the day we would finally ride on another continent. We set the alarm early and woke up and packed our small packs with all our paperwork for Customs and tools we would need to reassemble the bikes. The first business at hand for the morning was our continued quest for a gas can. I did learn to ask for a jerrycan for petrol since gas can seems to refer to what we'd call a propane cylinder. Fortunately John was working the desk in the morning and knew just where to send us. We walked ¾ of a mile or so to the Game (like a Kmart or Dollar General) where we purchased the only can they had- a crappy, 5 liter, red gas can for the low, low price of $17. A much higher quality version of the same thing would retail for about 9 bucks in the US, but as this was the first and last gas can we've seen in South Africa, we happily paid the price and walked another ½ mile to the Caltex station. 

After filling it, we walked another ½ mile to the Civic Center to catch the bus back to the airport. Judging by the number of odd looks we got, tourists don't often walk around Cape Town carrying a gas can. Once we reached the airport I asked for directions to the cargo facility and we walked another ¾ mile or so, carrying our little red can and backpacks and garnering more strange looks from passersby. We got to the cargo warehouse, picked up our paperwork, took it to Customs for a stamp or two, and then returned with our freshly stamped wad of papers to the warehouse for release of our crate. This is when the fun began. We need to uncrate and assemble the bikes in order to finish the Customs process, but due to security reasons, we couldn't do it in the warehouse. Fortunately for us, we met Karim, who is a supervisor at the facility. I knew things were going to be fine after the following exchange: Karim: “You need to take this crate to Customs to have it cleared.” Re: “I know, but we have to take our motorbikes out and put the wheels and handlebars on before we can do that.” Karim: “You can take the crate over to Customs and then put them together.” Re: “I can't do that because I don't have a truck to get the crate there. We took the bus to get here.” Karim: “ You took the bus? Why would you take the bus here?” Re: “Because you have my motorbikes.” Karim: “Why didn't you call me? I would have picked you up.” Re : “I couldn't call you because I didn't know your name!” 

Karim took us under his wing following our conversation and arranged to have the crate put in the parking lot, blocking one of their loading docks, and proceeded to help us open the crate. We assumed this would be the end of his assistance, but no. Over the next hour and a half, we not only had Karim's help, but a rotating cast of at least seven other warehouse workers and other freight customers lending a hand. It may have gone faster had we done it ourselves, but it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun, and we wouldn't have met our very favorite and best helper, Israel. 

Israel was the son (maybe 5 years old) of one of the freight customers who happened to be there picking up or dropping off a shipment. He was a somber young fellow who was fascinated with the bikes and our tools as they came out of the crate and toolbag. He was especially enamored by Colin's Swiss army knife and flashlight and tried to figure out how to use all the tools as they got set down on the ground. I enlisted his assistance to act as a counterweight at the rear of the bike as Colin and Karim reinstalled the front wheel and fender and to help me put the license plates back on. But his big excitement was when I first fired up my bike and checked the controls. He gave the throttle a twist and actually jumped back at the noise and vibration (he obviously hasn't been next to a BIG bike, as ours are very quiet). Israel did not want leave when his dad returned, and just like millions of fathers everywhere, threatened to leave him if he didn't hurry up. Israel did drag himself to his father's truck and climbed into the passenger seat, and before they left, gave me a big smile and waved goodbye. One of our concerns about picking up the bikes was what to do with the crate. In the US, they would charge a disposal fee, but here, one of our many observers asked if we were going to take the crate with us. When I said no, he immediately asked if he could have it and was overjoyed when I said yes.  

Eventually with the bikes rolling and running, we said our many thank yous and goodbyes and rode the 500 yards to Customs for the final sign off. Several locals warned us that this was going to be a time consuming and difficult process and that we should be wary, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. In less than four hours we reassembled our bikes and cleared Customs, and the people involved in the process couldn't have been any more friendly or helpful.

And finally, we are on the road. A dream realized, as we pulled out of the airport and onto the highway back into Cape Town. My giddiness is somewhat tempered by the fact that they drive on the left here, and it's going to take some time to figure out how to ride in the opposite way. It's really a strange experience to ride around a roundabout the “wrong” way for the first time! We were glad there was other traffic on the road for us to follow. We got ourselves safely back to the Cat and Moose, where John held the front gate open for us to ride down the hallway and into the courtyard, where our little bikes sit waiting for their next adventure.

Today (Tuesday) we wanted to get some culture and visited the Castle of Good Hope and the District 6 Museum. The Castle was originally built in the mid-1600s by the Dutch East India Company since Cape Town is the halfway point between the Netherlands and India. As forts go, it's not the biggest or grandest we've seen, but it was handsome and yellow and had some interesting displays on the history of the region. Colin and I both found it kind of odd. Usually when we've visited museums in other countries, the history is told from the perspective of the native inhabitants. At the Castle, it is told from the perspective of the people who colonized the country, both Dutch and British, and seemed to be a rather one-sided account of the colonization of the region. Coincidentally, we were there for the firing of the Noon Gun and the Ceremony of the Keys. The best part was when they fired the tiny cannon. It was a real signal cannon that was used to communicate whether an inbound ship was friend or foe and was only about a foot in length. They lit it with a great deal of pomp and circumstance, and it did make a big boom. It was a hit with the children in the crowd (including us. I need one.) 

The District 6 Museum commemorates the eviction of the longtime residents of District 6, when the area was declared a 'whites only' district in the early 1960s. The museum displays photos and artefacts and personal recollections of the places and people that made up this former neighborhood. As part of Le Corbusier's planned city concept and the “need” for “radical surgery” to accomplish it, all the homes and buildings in the district were demolished to make way for new shopping centers, businesses, and homes for whites. The museum was a sad, sobering place and was a stark reminder of why the Apartheid system had to be ended.

After spending the first part of the day feeling uncomfortable, it was nice to get back to what we know: food. So we stopped in at a food court near the University looking for fish and chips, but ended up with some delicious falafel and chicken shawarma instead. Then we headed back to the guesthouse to do some much needed laundry. Colin strung our well-traveled and used clothesline while my feet played agitator on the clothes in the shower. Hopefully they all dry by morning. Tomorrow we head for Hermanus to see some whales.

1 comment:

  1. Hey. Glad to hear you guys made it there safe and sound. Wow what a journey, no wonder you passed out for 13hrs. Loved the fact all of those folks wanted to help put the bikes together. Can't wait for more stories. Safe travels! Kimmie