Riding around Southern Africa on an XT250 and CRF250

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by maria41, Oct 2, 2018.

  1. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    By 11am, we arrived at Clarens. Our guidebook said it was a very nice town, artistic and a bit hippy, with lots of restaurants and art galleries.


    We rode to the Clarens Inn Backpackers. Despite arriving so early, Katie, the manageress showed us to a large building. It was a massive (and I mean massive) studio flat.


    It had a big kitchen fully kitted and big shower room! It was amazing.

    After getting settled, we walked to town. It was very pleasant, hippy and arty, like the lonely Planet said. We had lunch at the microbrewery place, on the main square. The food was disappointing. Who has ever heard of a goulash soup with chicken and no red wine in the stew? It was a watery tasteless chicken soup.

    We found the big food store and bought fresh vegs and noodles for dinner. We were keen to make the most of the kitchen and get some fresh vegetables.

    The town was still around 1800m altitudes, so as the sun set in, it got very cold. Luckily we had plenty of firewood and a nice fireplace. This time, starting the fire was easy, once you have some fire starter (or whatever that waxy thing you get at the supermarket is called!)!

    In the afternoon, I sat near the reception desk, to get Wi-Fi reception and work on the blog.

    A group of young women arrived and sat all around me. They were volunteers working in Lesotho.

    I did not get exactly what they did for work, but they were involved with AIDS and LGBT stuff.

    One of them was with the Peace Corps and another was with some German charity. All in all, there were 6 of them, some foreign and some native from Lesotho, all lesbians. Maybe you need to be LGBT to work in what they did? I did not ask.

    Listening to their conversations was highly entertaining and funny as they sat around me.

    We laughed a lot at their stories of living in Lesotho and how the local men are in the habit of walking up to white girls and ask them to marry them straight away. The girls' answers to such sudden proposals were very entertaining.
  2. everready

    everready Stuck in Ohio....Ugh!!!

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    Good firestarters: Frito chips (any kind of fatty chip), cotton balls slathered with Vaseline. I keep an old prescription bottle of cotton balls and Vaseline in my gear. They work very well.
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  3. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 88 and 89 – South Africa - Clarens, Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th August – 0km


    One of the hiking tracks around Clarens:

    [​IMG]

    The area is very beautiful and popular with hikers.

    Saturday I did lots of washing. Most of my clothes were very dirty. All by hand as usual.

    We got to know Katie, the backpacker manageress and a wonderful lady, and Robin, a guy working on fire management in Mozambique. I had not laughed so much in a long time.

    We really had a lot of fun with them. One of those places where you feel at home and leave very reluctantly. Definitely worth spending few days there if you can.

    For a pleasant change the town was safe to walk around, even at night (!) and we had some nice food here and there. And of course a nice sampling of local wines!

    Over the weekend the town filled with people from Pretoria and Johannesburg (I think). The main square was full of very big and IMMACULATE BMWs 1200GS Adventure, giant KTMS and such other expensive bikes.
    They were all absolutely spotless and obviously fully kitted for adventure with aluminium boxes and everything you may think you would need. The guys just posed around, near their bikes, in their expensive and spotlessly cleans riding suits.

    It's only later on Sunday, when we saw them leaving, that we realised that most of these bikes had actually arrived on trailers. So all those guys just got to ride they big bikes around the square before driving back home in their giant SUVs with trailers! Weird! :fpalm

    As usual, it was soon time to move. We packed up. Our last day there was very cold (it dropped to minus 2 overnight) and the next day would be even colder. I had a big fire going in our room all evening. It was great!
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  4. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 90 – South Africa, Boston – Monday 27th August – 340 kms.

    With the weather so cold, we decided to ride as fast as possible down to the coast in search of some warmth.

    As I woke up at 6:30 it was still freezing outside. The very big studio was very cold. I started a big fire to warm the place while Alistair prepared breakfast. Then we packed slowly.

    We took our time, hoping it would get warmer. Then we left by 10am.


    [​IMG]


    We were heading south, taking the back roads. The ride across the mountains was very beautiful. However, despite wearing pretty much all our layers on, we arrived at the Boston T Party Backpackers totally frozen.

    I expected rustic lodging but was surprised that we had a large room with en-suite bathroom for 480 rands. And thankfully, the water was very hot!

    The owners were also farmers. They were very friendly and we spoke about bikes and travels with them. The husband (I can’t remember his name) is a big fan of enduro and had a nice bike in his garage!

    The place had a big lounge/ bar building where they set a fire for us to warm up and sit. The communal kitchen was busy with 3 South African guys. They were transit workers apparently. They blanked us out completely and concentrated on eating their food and watched some crappy soap opera on TV.

    We prepared some baked beans in the microwave and made some toasts. After eating we washed our plates and left. We had not a flicker of acknowledgement. South Africa can be a funny place like that sometimes.
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  5. Essbee

    Essbee Adventurer

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    Hi Maria41, just for interest, the owner of the Clarens backpackers is a member of SA's premier ADV riding forum, Wilddogs.za.net. ( albeit rather inactive of late due to his getting on in the years ) I always stay there when I go there....nice place...'lekka' as we would say ( I assume you've learnt that word by now ).

    Oh....errrr....my BMW is NOT all clean and sparkling when parked at the square in Clarens...just saying :D....on the contrary.

    The Boston area...mmm.....we go there a lot. Hope you got to go to the Pickle Pot.
  6. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Hi Essbee, we really liked the Clarens Backpackers, it was Lekker as you guys say :-)

    I guess some big bikes do get used sometimes. Like the two guys that me met at the top of the Sani Pass. Full Respect! :thumb
    It was just so amusing to see those guys in Clarens, posing like big road warriors, and then going back home with the bike on a trailer.
    :rofl

    Boston for us was just a stop over on our way to the Coast so we did not visit anywhere. By the time we got there we were completely frozen and happy to sit by the fore stove. :vardy
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  7. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 91 – South Africa - Port St John – Tuesday 28th of August – 350kms


    The morning was, once again, very cold. We were still at altitude.

    After a quick breakfast in the communal kitchen, still being blanked out by one remaining guest having his own breakfast in the kitchen, we put all our layers on and left.
    (Just to add, the Boston backpacker was VERY pleasant and the owners super friendly. Definitely a brilliant place to spend few days).

    The last 100kms to Port St John were slow going. We were constantly crossing a village after another and houses dotted all around, along the road, with very aggressive speed bumps. We could not go fast. It was not a fun ride.

    From what I read, it seems that in some regions the land belongs to tribes, and the locals there seem to be on subsistence farming. The new South African president was considering in his land reform, to divide those tribal lands (from what I read online, bear in mind it might not be true or correct). So the land would belong to individuals living there, rather than the tribes’ chiefs, however the chiefs vehemently opposed that.

    So these regions are very poor. Sadly, villages were covered in rubbish everywhere. Locals like in many other places we have been to, don’t seem to care that they live in a giant bin/ toilet!

    In any case, it was still fairly cold and our descent was slow. Arriving at Port St John was underwhelming. The place was covered in litter, everywhere. And I mean even worse than what we had seen before! The smell of rotten food was sickening.

    We rode to the Jungle Monkeys Backpackers, which was listed in the Coast-to-Coast booklet, with decent reviews. The lodge was up a hill, a bit away form town.

    We got a room with shared bathrooms. It was clean, had a bar restaurant that was popular with the locals, swimming pools, a big kitchen, various lounging areas, grounds for camping and dorms. It was a typical backpacker lodge, very confortable and well designed. It had been a long day, and I was coming down with a nasty cold and a bad cough.

    The place was very pleasant. We shared a pizza, from the on-site restaurant, as we had no food left. We were told that the bin men were on strike, hence the state of the town.


    I went for an early night, as I was feeling unwell, my throat felling like it has been sand papered.
  8. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 93 – South Africa, Port St John – Wednesday 29th August – 0 kms


    After spending most of the night coughing, I was not keen on doing much that day.


    We had decided to have a day rest, as the next ride would be a long day again. We also had to sort few things out and needed Wi-Fi, which luckily was provided, and for free (!) at the backpackers.


    I was trying to find out if some Yamaha dealers could source some parts locally for my bike (they could not) and book a hotel for our last 3 nights, in Cape Town.


    We planned to arrive on Sunday 16thSeptember, deliver the bikes to the shipping company on the following Monday, and spend the rest of Monday and Tuesday exploring the town on foot. So the hotel had to be central and well located with safe parking for the bikes, as well as providing a shuttle service to the airport. And breakfast! No I am not demanding at all! :queenie


    Mid morning we decided to walk into the village and get some stuff from the supermarket. We walked among huge piles of litter. As we approached the town hall, we saw many police cars and riot police in full body armour. There were crowds hanging around, rubbish in the middle of the street, some on fire, and all shops were closed with metal gates.


    The atmosphere was kind of tense. We decided to walk back to the backpackers, as I did not fancy to be caught up in the middle of a riot and everyone was just staring at us. We were the only white walking around so we felt a bit the centre of attention. :eyes
    I did not fancy being caught in the middle of a violent riot.


    We asked one of the staff at the backpackers if the shops would open later on the day, but it was unlikely. I suppose looting during a riot is a big risk, so all shops remained shut.

    One teacher we met few days before told us how 20 schools were torched following protest on some education stuff. How is burning down 20 schools going to help the education of the kids? But if this is the norm in South Africa, it is not surprising that all shops were shut!

    The backpackers’ owner told us that the local businesses had been threatened so everything was shut.

    Even the main gate to the backpacker’s reception was closed. We needed to get some cash but decided it could wait until we left town. We had enough to get some fuel.
  9. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 94 – South Africa, East London – Thursday 30th of August – 370kms

    We left early as we had a long ride. We were planning to get back into the mountains to the famous Hogsback and its even more famous ‘Away With The Fairies’ lodge. But things did not go according to plan.

    About 150kms on the ride West, the Honda, Alistair’s bike, started playing up and shutting down the engine at speed. That is never a good thing.

    So we decided to divert to the closest big town on the way, and try finding a Honda dealer. That was East London, down the coast.

    So we set the GPS and rode there. We found a backpacker but it was impossible to get the bikes inside so we got recommended another backpacker place.

    At 250 rands for a room with en-suite, you can imagine the kind of place!

    The area of town we were was covered in piles of litter and garbage again, and they did not have the excuse of the bin men’s strike.

    After buying some fish and rice from the local supermarket, for takeaway, we sat in the main room of the guesthouse to eat our dinner. The place filled with local road workers, coming in at the end of their shift, all noise and high Viz jackets. They stared at us and seemed bemused to see us there. We were the only whites. Security in the area was very high in all shops.

    I had a very bad night with my cold, with a very painful throat infection.

    It made breathing very painful and I had nothing other than paracetamol. Where on Earth are the pharmacies hidden In South Africa? I had been on the look out for one for few days and saw nothing!
  10. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 95 – South Africa, East London – Friday 31st August – about 15 kms


    For those interested on a very cheap room, we stayed at the Buffalo Backpacker in Moore Street, few hundred metres up from the big SPAR supermarket. Not especially clean. The freezer was overflowing with raw meat, the fridge was a health hazard and the smelly mouldy shower/toilet in our room was ‘interesting’. We did not use the shower. But it had safe parking for the bikes, which was the important thing for us.

    We packed and rode to the Honda dealer. After few checks we were good to go. There was nothing much wrong with the bike and the engine turning off could have been due to too much oil or some water in the fuel…

    Whatever it was, it did not happen again. Alistair got the oil filter cover seal changed as it had been leaking a lot since Nelspruit.

    The guys at the dealership told us we had stayed overnight in the most dangerous part of town. To be fair the backpacker’s gate had been shut early evening and our bikes had been safe, although it had been very noisy during the night with a large truck coming and going (maybe collecting the road workers?).

    We had booked the same morning a room at the nearby Fish Eagle hotel. I was not in any shape to go for a long ride. I needed a rest and to recover from my very bad cold. My throat felt on fire and I had fever. I needed a comfortable rest to recover, in a clean and warm room.

    The hotel we selected had great reviews in booking.com and was on special offer. We arrived there just after 10am.

    Despite turning up so early, we got the room very quickly and we were warmly welcome. We also had a free upgrade to a better room! It was a really nice place.

    Looking at the weather forecast, it looked like Hogsback would have to wait, as the weather in South Africa turned very cold and wet and it would be snowing up there. So we were changing our plans once again.
  11. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 96 and 97 – East London, Saturday 1st and Sunday 2d September – 0kms


    I was still very ill over the weekend and despite wanting to get back on the road, we had to stay and give me time to recover. I still ate the most of the fabulous breakfast on offer! No illness will curb my appetite! To be fair the breakfast was amazing with every morning some new stuff to try on top of the usual. Their chef was brilliant!

    We got to know our neighbours in the next room, a British couple who lived not far from Darlington, where Alistair’s family is from, in northern England.

    It was funny to find out common places we liked to go, when we visit, including breakfast at the local prison! Yes the local open prison near Darlington has a restaurant and some farm and is a nice place for fresh eggs as well as breakfast prepared and served by the inmates!

    Feeling low with fever and not helped by the bad weather, I was not too much in the mood to explore.

    By then, over 3 months on the road, I was starting to look forward to go home.

    The hotel was backing into a river that had many species of birds as well as fishing eagles, although we did not see the eagles.


    [​IMG]
  12. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 98 – South Africa, Port Alfred – Monday 3rd September – 150kms

    I was feeling much better and it was time to leave East London. The day started cold and very wet. We waited until 11am in the hope it would calm down a bit. Unfortunately the South African winter decided to start then. At least it was a short ride to Port Alfred. The town was ok but it was just a stop over for us.

    Day 99 to 101 – St Francis Bay – Tuesday 4th, Wednesday 5th, Thursday 6th September – 260kms

    The day was wet, once again and very windy.

    It was very tiring to ride with strong headwind. Eventually the rain stopped, but not the wind. We arrived at St Francis, a beautiful coastal town with big posh white villas behind electric gates, dotted around. We found a nice place to stay. In the afternoon, it was sunny and we went for a walk around the canals section.


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    Finding out that the weather would be rather bad for the next few days with heavy rain expected, we decided to stay for an extra two days and visit the place a bit.


    The village was quite spread and we needed to take the bikes to visit the port and the lighthouse at the bay. The next day, the weather was bad but we did not have too much rain during those two days.


    The harbour was a working fishing harbour, the main catch being squid. So we had lunch at one of the local restaurants to try some of the squid and fish. Unfortunately it was way too salty.


    [​IMG]

    We started rethinking our itinerary. With winter weather, rain and cold spreading around the southern part of South Africa, we could not ride to Cape Town via some mountain passes. There were rumours of snow, fog and intense cold.

    On the motorbikes, it would not be wise. So we decided to ride following the coast and the garden route.
  13. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 102 – Friday 7th September – Storm River, about 100kms

    According to the weather forecast, the day would be mainly dry. They were very badly wrong! :dirtdog

    Early that morning, we had heavy rain, then a bit of sunshine. We packed and left soon after 9am, making the most of the dry spell. Then things started to get bad. Really bad.

    We rode into huge heavy rain, hail, and violent wind…. visibility became next to nil, we could not continue, it was getting dangerous. I could not see the road through my visor and cars would not slow down and would risk wiping us off the road.

    After what seemed like an eternity, we came across a farm with a cafe and a shop. We stopped there for few hours, gathered around the fireplace, bumping the cat out of the nearest bench, so we could sit next to fire and get warm. The cat, undeterred, made himself at home on Alistair's lap.

    [​IMG]

    Eventually, the rain and wind calmed enough we could ride through.

    Meanwhile we had to find a nearby place to stay, as we could not ride for long in such weather.

    The next village, Storms River, was about 32kms away and seemed to have lots of accommodation. We set the GPS and rode back into the storm. It felt like a millions miles!

    We arrived at the village drenched, shaking from the cold and exhausted, my hands and fingers stiff from the cold.

    We found a backpacker lodge and took a room. We were told it was snowing in the nearby mountains and there were flood warnings in the area. We certainly passed many sections of road covered in water and bridges over raging rivers!

    Once settled, we took turn for a very hot shower.

    Most of our gear was drenched; water had sipped through my trousers’ waterproofs, as well as through my waterproof jacket liner, my gore-tex gloves and boots! My jumper and thermal t-shirt were wet, my feet and socks were wet, my underwear as well as most of my clothes!

    We hang all our wet items everywhere we could around the room. Without a radiator, fire or any heater it was unlikely anything would dry as it was so cold and damp. There was nothing to do but wait for the insane weather to improve.

    Winter had definitely started in South Africa!
  14. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 103 – Storm Rivers – Saturday 8th September – 0 kms

    We woke up to yet even more torrential rain.

    We decided to stay for another day; we could not ride in these conditions. It was like a monsoon. It was also very cold. Luckily we had electric blankets in our bed. As the backpacker lodge did not have any sort of heating, I made good use of the electric blanket as I was so frozen.

    Later on, the staff lent me a hair dryer and I used it to try and dry some of our gear, like the boots, gloves and some clothes! I got a bit too enthusiastic while drying my winter gore-tex gloves and slightly melted some bits inside one of my gloves. Oops!

    During a lull with the heavy rain, Alistair ran to a small local shop to get some food for dinner and got drenched again!

    The day was slow and boring. We watched some TV in the communal room. Few guests arrived but none was particularly friendly and all ignored us!
  15. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 104 – Plettenberg – Sunday 9th of September – about 60kms


    We booked a room in Mandalay Guesthouse. The house had parking outside only but we managed to get the bikes through the door into the garden.

    We had a big and very beautiful room in the 1st floor, with views over the sea and a nice big balcony. The day was sunny at last. We arrived soon after 10am, way before check in time, as it was so close to Storms River, but we were still given access to our room.

    As it was sunny and warm, we put all our wet gear in the balcony to dry. We took the entire luggage off the bikes. The roll bag had remained dry, but both panniers where wet and all the stuff not in a dry bags was wet or humid. We had a lot of drying to do!

    We walked into the town centre and found a Mozambican restaurant offering a Sunday Special buffet lunch menu! The food looked really good with lots of choice, so we went for it!

    After 2 days of eating little else than pot noodles or tin food, it was nice to get also some fresh salad and vegetables. Completely stuffed but happy, we went back to the guesthouse for a rest.
  16. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 105 – Plettenberg – Monday 10th September – about 30kms



    Our stay in Plettenberg had a very special reason. We wanted to visit a Wild Cat sanctuary.


    So, after an amazing breakfast, we rode to Jukani Sanctuary. We were the only guests for the guided tour. It was incredibly interesting and a beautiful place. They do an amazing job and our guide was very knowledgeable.


    Some of the lions have been rescued from illegal canning farms. These farms breed lions and then sell them to some idiot with a small penis complex so they can kill the lions without any risk for the hunter. The lion is released in a bigger enclosure and has zero chance to survive as the idiot shoot it. The poor lion probably has no idea what is happening, having been captive all its life! It is despicable.

    Canning farms are illegal in South Africa and are horrendous places.

    Some other cats, like Caracals, were rescued as they can be kept (illegally) as pets, until they grow up. Adult Caracals are very aggressive and cannot be domesticated. They also had other cats rescued from abusive zoos and other places from all around the world, including tigers, jaguars etc.


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    Only cheetahs can be rehabilitated and taught how to hunt and released in the wild. The few wild dogs that they once had at Jukani, were also taught to hunt and are now free in national parks.

    But for most big predators like hyenas and cats, born in captivity, they would not survive free. The good thing as well is that females are given contraceptive, so that they cannot breed.
  17. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    They are well looked after and seemed happy. I am always very uneasy about seeing animals in zoos or even big enclosures, even if they have lots of space, but in this case these animals are rescued and all have a bad story behind. They would have to be put down. It is great that they try hard to rehabilitate some so they can be release them into the wild but each animal is a special case.


    The owner at Jukani seems to be quite open-minded. From my researches I found out that when he rescued a black leopard from a zoo in Europe, the leopard was so aggressive and distressed that he would not leave his cage and explore his compound.

    In desperation the owner, despite being extremely sceptical, called in an “animal communicator”. I kid you not. A video of this was filmed. It can be seen here:





    Whatever you may think of it, it is quite remarkable to see, a stunning leopard. I asked about it to our guide, while visiting Jukani. He confirmed the events and that the Reserve’s owner managed to track down and rescue the two cubs, 2 females, and they are now all living together at Jukani. Their enclosure is so far that you can barely glimpse at them. It is nice they are being kept in peace at least.
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  18. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 106 – Oudtshoorn – Tuesday 11th September – about 200kms

    As the weather forecast was showing warmer weather inland, we decided to ride to Oudtshoorn, well known for its Ostriches farms and, most importantly, near the famous Swatberg Pass.

    The pass was closed because of the horrendous weather, according to local news online. However I was hopeful it would reopen with the sunny weather :D

    So we rode inland.

    We joined the dirt road that goes via the 7 Passes road, from Knysna to Wilderness. It was ok, with some hairpin bends but it was not really high. Still, it was nice to ride through some easy dirt roads!


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    Then we joined the main road to Oudtshoorn. The road was actually beautiful, with great views of the snow-capped mountains.


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    We had booked a room at Oudtshoorn Guesthouse. It was tricky to find it as the GPS was sending us at the other end of the street which is cut in the middle and continue few blocks later! Very confusing. However the place was amazing, with an extravagant pool/fountain and statues. Our room was massive! It was very impressive and the owners, as usual, very friendly.


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    Once settled and changed we went for a walk, try to find the local restaurants for dinner and investigate the town. The day was warm and sunny, the town pleasant, it was so nice!


    [​IMG]
  19. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    Day 107 – Oudtshoorn – Wednesday 12th September – about 200kms

    After a big breakfast we got on the bikes. It was time to get on with the job!

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    The first sign we saw for the Swatberg Pass was saying it was closed! We still continued, just in case. The weather was so warm and sunny, surely it would reopen? Eventually we saw a second sign, with no particular comment about the Pass, so we rode up.


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  20. maria41

    maria41 www.franglais-riders.com

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    We left the tarmac and follow the very steep dirt road to the Pass. The weather was good, the road enjoyable, and the views superb! On days like that, riding a motorbike is just pure Joy!


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    At the top, we met with a South African couple. They offered us cookies and we spent some time talking bikes!

    And yes the sky was really like that, I am no wizard with a camera (unfortunately!).
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