Distance Cycled : 29,169km
We’ve made it! After 615 days and 29,169km in the saddle, we arrived at 3.30pm yesterday afternoon in Cape Town.
Table Mountain hid from us until almost the last moment, and then there it was, the unmistakeable landmark we have been aiming for these last 20 months. It is hard to describe what it feels like to have finished, even a day later it is only just starting to sink in properly! Our legs are aching and we are very, very tired, as much from the last seven weeks (during which we’ve covered 5000km) as the whole trip. Early yesterday morning we cycled down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It was a hilly but beautiful ride, and the waves were crashing wildly around the point, a rainbow gleaming in the spray offshore and the sun bright on the two lighthouses that perch on the rocky promontory. With the wind behind us, we then turned northwards and hugged the coast up to Cape Town itself. It was a fittingly spectacular end to the expedition, with the road cut into the cliff and astonishing views of the beaches and coves far below. Fitting, too, that we had underestimated the distance into Cape Town and had to go hell for leather to try and reach the finish line by 3pm – the time we had arranged! We sped through the clusters of villas and sea-front flats, passing Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Green Point… Then suddenly the Waterfront was on the signs and we bounced across the cobbles as the tablecloth of cloud on Table Mountain lifted and, as we rounded the final corner, there were Luke’s mum and dad, a plethora of balloons and a big banner and flashguns going off! Half a dozen journalists had braved the chill wind to come and document our final few metres in the saddle! Aah, fame at last – it was all rather hard to believe.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Our last update came from Grahamstown, where miserable weather made drying our washing and cooking our dinner something of a challenge – so we were bleary-eyed when we left there on 27th March, heading West to the small village of Addo. After battling headwinds, we were finally able to make good progress towards the end of the day. Luke was particularly eager to reach Addo as his mum and dad had flown out to Port Elizabeth earlier in the day and were due to be meeting us at a B&B! After a happy reunion, we went out for an enormous meal (South African portions are vast) and the next day we left the bikes and went to the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. We had a fantastic day and though the elephants were elusive at first, we had several good sightings by the end of the day. The park is huge, with five of South Africa’s seven major vegetation zones and elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo and leopard in their natural habitat. We saw loads of different species and got very close to kudu, zebra and warthog. Watching elephants from a car was, we found, a lot less disconcerting than riding by them on a bike! Even so, I’m sure the Botswana elephants are bigger.
We parted company the next day, Luke’s parents heading off to do a four-day walk called the Otter Trail while we headed south-west to the surfing town of Jeffrey’s Bay. As we crested a hill around mid-morning, we spotted the unmistakeable blue of the ocean – our first glimpse of the sea since leaving Dar es Salaam in January! It was quite a momentous occasion and it seemed incredible to think we had gazed from the Rock of Gibraltar 18 months ago at the topmost part of Africa, and found ourselves now gazing at the southernmost coastline of the continent. Huge tankers and fishing trawlers far out to sea seemed to inch across the horizon, as we ourselves inched up the hills in the heat, arriving tired and salt-encrusted just before sunset. From here on, we found ourselves in a much more touristy zone, the famous Garden Route. The baboons have caught onto the fact that picnickers provide rich pickings and hung around the lay-bys waiting to snatch a take-away lunch. On one stretch of busy highway there was nowhere for us to stop and feed (obviously the picnic spots are spaced out with car drivers in mind, not cyclists!) and the only patch of shade we could find was underneath a sign saying “Voer von bobbejane verboede” (feeding of baboons prohibited). Several motorists peered at us as we ate out lunch on the grassy verge, perhaps mistaking us for the furrier primates mentioned by the sign… We were conscientious to pick up our orange peel in case that counted at inadvertent feeding – we didn’t want to be fined 500 rand! Worrying also, was the prospect of being fined or escorted off the road itself, which had the habit of turning into a motorway in rather impromptu fashion. Our map failed to distinguish between the toll road and the motorway, but judging by the way the police at a checkpoint waved us through, no-one was too concerned about two-wheeled vehicles on this stretch! It wasn’t terribly pleasant, though, sharing a major road with caravans and juggernauts and speeding private cars.
We caught up with the Skinners again in the small town of l’Agulhas. On the surface, this is a slightly dog-eared seaside town, with holiday homes and little white cottages strung out along a seafront road battered by surf and wind. It doesn’t take long to work out its claim to fame, however, with signs on every other building announcing that this is “Africa’s most southerly B&B/laundrette/supermarket/restaurant/poodle clipping salon…” Beyond the chunky lighthouse, and across a pebbly beach lay the southernmost point itself – Cape Agulhas. We reached there in the late afternoon and posed for the obligatory photos, watched by bemused beachcombers and noisy gulls that seemed rather more interested in our chocolate biscuits than our cycling exploits. Another huge meal set us up for the final stretch to Cape Town – with almost 400km still to cover, it wasn’t going to be the easiest three days! Things went well the next day, with the wind
blasting us from behind, so we sped through the landscape of ochre-coloured fields and hazy grey peaks, before the road changed direction and wound up through vineyards to a pass. South Africa really is a very attractive country – the landscape is varied and beautiful and there is much less litter around than in many African countries, there are more flowers to soften the stark colours of rock and earth and the light is less harsh, somehow. With the autumn well established now (the southern hemisphere turns our British seasons on their head), there’s a clear bright quality to the mornings and a nip in the wind. Imagine a perfect October day in Britain and you get the picture – although it rarely reaches 37 degrees celsius at midday at home! The fynbos vegetation close to the coast abruptly gives way to barren slopes and dry valleys as you move inland. The economy of the Little Karoo, as the area is known, is based on farming of ostrich and sheep – the former very funny when approached on a bike! A field of forty birds comes to attention if you stop riding, the flock huddle together to face the “threat” and then begin to mince around the field, their long necks extended, their bushy wings flumping behind, and their muscular legs speeding them on. They move as though in a ballet, perhaps it’s the fluffy “skirts” and pale, bare legs that bring that comparison to mind! After a few minutes, they realised a bike is not a lion or some other predator, and curiosity gets the better of them – soon a line of heads is poking over the fence and forty ostriches are regarding you quizzically. If you roll your “r” in a word, their heads shoot up and they stand to attention – we amused ourselves communing with them until motorists started to slow down to watch us (or report us to the local asylum?).
Well, it is with some sadness that we draw this final update to a close. It has been a huge and incredible adventure. It goes without saying that we will never forget it, even if some of the details are already fading a little. The first thing we will do when we get back to the UK is sit down and read through all our updates again!! Then we have thousands and thousands of photos to review – perhaps we’ll bring you a selection of our favourites in a week or two! Without wanting to turn this into an Oscar acceptance speech…we want to say a few thank yous. Thanks to our UK sponsors who provided equipment that has miraculously survived the rigours of riding in Africa; and the numerous hotels and individuals who have given us a roof over our heads for the night along the way. Most of all, we want to thank hundreds of local people throughout the continent of Africa whose names we often never even knew. Most have no internet access and will never read this, but we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for so many things. For giving us water, for sharing food, for providing a camping spot or a place on the floor, for showing us the way (but maybe not for pointing us in the wrong direction!), for interpreting and translating, for “overlooking” rules and regulations, for trying to understand our crazy journey, for exuberant greetings, for sympathy when the road was hard, for explaining when we didn’t understand, for forgiving our impatience, for many, many other things… The vast, vast majority of encounters have been happy ones and our abiding impression of Africa will be of a place where people are hard-working, contented and generous. Where people are, intrinsically, good. And then, finally, we want to thank you – all of you who have sent us emails of encouragement, read these updates or simply had us in your thoughts – we’ve come a long way thanks to your support and we hope that you’ve enjoyed the journey with us.