After breakfast and final farewells, I am on the road to Nelspruit. I do not have a long day on the road. I plan to only do 40km. But right in the middle is a very steep mountain pass. Hilltop pass. It is a long gradual uphill, with a sudden and almost vertical climb to the top. The worst part is it is quite a winding road, so around each corner my brain is like “yay, the end of the incline’s” but then to my disappointment… It just gets steeper and steeper. Right at the top is a hairpin corner that feels like I was pushing the bike up a wall, through humus. Truly the steepest road I have encountered. Not the longest pass, but formidable none the less – a worthy adversary.
This picture does no justice to the actual incline, but a pretty good idea of how steep the road is.
I managed to get over the pass and had a nice drive down, it is not a crazy, white knuckle roller coaster-ride, just a chilled downhill and fun ride into the outskirts of Nelspruit. I have a funny ache in my ankle I should probably get looked at. It feels like my achilles is scraping along my heel with every step I take. Not a screaming pain, just a dull ache. But I will take it easy for a while.
I planned to rest just before Nelspruit, and then head through the city in the early morning hours to miss the traffic. Because it is still quite early and my short day left me with some time to kill. I turned into the Jane Goodall Chimp Sanctuary – which is back up the mountain I just came from, luckily about ten minutes into getting up to the sanctuary, a bakkie pulled up and offered me a ride to the place. My luck, it is a vehicle from the sanctuary that went into town for supplies. So I got a lift up to the sanctuary. My saviours also arranged for me to go on the tour of the sanctuary and meet some of the chimps.
What an amazing place, I was blown away at the stories behind the animals. They have been through hell at the hands of humans. It is truly heart breaking to hear everything these animals have been through. But the passion and energy the guys have at the sanctuary is a beacon of hope. One of the Chimps is 73 years old. I never imagined they lived so long. Thank you to everyone for the opportunity and experience to see the animals and get to know their stories.
Time to go find a bed for the night, I found a guest house just down the road from the chimp sanctuary. I was so blessed to find the place. The owners let me stay for two nights, and recommended I go to Kaapschehoop – a small heritage town about 30km from Nelspruit, which of course I did. It’s not like I am supposed to be taking it easy with my foot…
The guest house is called MabeVonne, they have self catering rooms and backpackers accommodation. The hospitality is so great. I had a great time getting to know the owners.
I got up nice and early and headed to Kaapschehoop, the first time I am on the road without my luggage, the bike feels so light I can almost take off and fly. It is a 30km uphill pedal to the town, and just outside of Nelspruit I meet up with two fellow cyclists heading up for lunch. So we take on the hill together. I managed to keep up, barely. The top was very steep, but we all made it (I did walk a part of the way). At the top I had a near death experience with a wild horse. I was looking at a small herd of them running along the opposite side of the road and as I turned my attention back to what was going on in front of me (highly recommended when cycling, by the way) another one was blasting across the road, and only about a meter in front of me. If I did not slam on brakes I would have been a road accident statistic. So to speak.
All possible accidents and embarrassment forgotten, we had some pancakes and coffee at a little coffee shop in town and Rapie and Chanel headed back down to complete their training day in the saddle. I headed out to take on the town with my camera and walking shoes. And my green hat. #justsaying.
I walked around the little town for a few hours and got absolutely lost in the history and heritage of the place. It feels so surreal that places like this still exist and thrive. Places like Pilgrims Rest that where once proud sites of history are now run down and hardly worth the trip to see them, and here is Kaapschehoop, stunning, thriving and perfectly kept. I walked up the short hike to the top of the mountain to see the view of the valley below. Wow, what a view it was – endless forests and lush plantation broken only by giant granite boulders and bright orange flowers that look like paintings against the clear blue sky. I met some folks up top and they were kind enough to take a picture of me standing way past the barriers where we are allowed to go. (Again, I do not condone breaking the rules, but sometimes the best views are just a step further that what we are normally restricted to) The vertical drops are breathtaking and the fall is murderous, but the exhilaration of standing at the edge of what seems like the end of the world, gives you a sense of being alive. And free.
It took the three of us just under two hours to get to Kaapsehoop. I made it down in 40 minutes. I was able to go as fast as I dared, no luggage, no speed wobbles and rattling bags. Just the exhilaration of going as fast as gravity would pull me. I got home to the guest house and was invited for pizza with my hosts. But not before I was chased by a flock of geese. Very determined geese. Hissing at my heels as I manage to narrowly escape to the safety of my room. The problem is that I am now trapped. I have one entrance, and about 20 blood thirsty geese watching my every move. The geese are usually put in a cage at night but tonight they roam the land, in search of something to feed on.
I might be a bit overly dramatic about the geese, but my imagination often gets the better of me, and the images of my demise at the beaks of these savages was so clear I could taste the guano. Also, in hindsight… there were only about ten of them. But still…
Alright, so that is over, and I am safe in my room and the geese are sleeping… close by, but sleeping. Now to pack up and get ready for Nelspruit to Sabie. I have decided to go the steeper route, but it is the route that goes closer to Lydenburg where I have some family. My foot is still sore and not improving, so a rest stop might be good. Depending on how I feel by the time I get to the T-junction that goes to either Sabie or Lydenburg, I can decide what to do. I manage to get about 25km done, but my foot is sore and I am not prepared to risk serious injury. So, obviously I have to get to Lydenburg. Which is still a good 70km and a mountain pass away. No problem, right?
I waved down a bakkie to ask for a lift to Lydenburg, but the guy I stopped is only going a few meters down the road to his farm. Not what I want to hear. I was hoping for someone to say; “Hey I am going to the same street as you are, hop in”… But that is not how life works I have come to realize.
As I come around the bend, the same bakkie is waiting for me. He said he felt bad that he could not help, so decided to give me a ride to the T-junction – completely out of his way. I was so grateful. I guess life does work in amazing ways after all. The T-junction is 30km away, so 30km I do not have to cycle or limp up hills. I managed a further 15km along the Longtom pass after the T-junction, but then had to stop. I called my sister to collect me from the lodge I pulled in at and ordered myself a coffee. I was ‘moeg’ and hurting a bit.
I spent about an hour limping around the lodge taking pictures and chatting to other patrons. Obviously the loaded bike and the fact that I am red faced and smell like I have not seen civilization in weeks draws attention, and I shared some of my story with some Nelspruiters. (I am not good at making up names for people from specific locations). And then one of the best sights I have seen in a long time – A familiar face. Someone that hugged me despite the smell and filth. And then we drove along and up to the peak of the pass and down the pass into Lydenburg. Great feeling, until I remember that in a few days I have to climb back up that grotesque monster to get back on track and head toward Sabie.
I once did a half marathon down the Longtom Pass, which consists of the stretch that I have just driven down. It is an extremely steep road. I am super nervous about going back up again. It is about 60km between Lydenburg and Sabie, and it is either uphill or down hill the whole entire road.
So here I am, resting at the family, sinuses blocked, sore throat, sore ankle and time running out to get to Tzaneen in time to make it to the family weekend of the 16th of June. But I do get to do washing, sleep in a bed and spend time with my niece and nephew, which is nice.
All in all, I have had the most amazing time travelling around. I have made great new friends and seen some amazing places. I have added some items to my bucket list that I could not get too on this journey due to financial reasons or because of risks and route choices. Soon the journey will continue and my adventures will carry on. And, God willing I get to travel to more amazing places and meet more people.
Even setbacks and being forced to slow down sometimes bring blessings and new motivation and energy for life. Sometimes we just get sidetracked or slowed down to remember what is important in life and who is important.
See you all in a few days again.