Gregory and his trusty Montague X50 have seen more of the world by bike than most of us will in our lifetime. After leaving South America he’s now begun exploration of Africa, starting in Johannesburg, SA. In his own words:
I arrived in Johannesburg at 6:00 am after two successive delays in New York and Dubai. No time to think, I unfold the bike and come out of the airport without knowing where I am, and full of Colombian pesos in my pockets that nobody want to change. I just know I want to go East.
My first real contact with the people is the supermarket because I had to get back some foods that Customs had confiscated. I soon discovered that people are always smiling and joking around here.
Even away from the city, the density of walkers / hitchhikers along the road remains constant, no way to find a lonely place. I soon came upon a cornfield and spent a peaceful night away from prying eyes.
On the road after Graskop, landscapes of great beauty continued for several days, and with the always funny discussions I had with the locals, I completely forgot the country’s reputation. I always hid to sleep but it was almost more out of habit than any real fear.
The road that I chose overlooked a vast plain that could be seen intermittently. In just a few kilometers, The Pinnacle, God’s Window, and the Three Rondavels offered me some of the best scenery of my trip.
Then I reached Burgersfort, a small town that I spotted on my map as the next place for refueling. I had seen the Spar supermarket, but I didn’t like the atmosphere that prevailed from those outside. No smiles, they answered my greetings with disdainful gestures. I did not stop. A gas station attendant advised that I do not sleep in this area tonight.
As I headed out of town, the houses became less frequent, and the people I encountered seemed more quiet and less confrontational. Some cars stop to see what I’m doing there, but we chat nicely. At sunset, I finally find refuge in Harry’s house, an electrical engineer from the platinum mine. He offers me a corner of his garden to set up my tent for the night and he laughed as I explained how I live while bike touring.
In the morning, after a much needed bath, his wife took pity on me and my single wet shirt and offering me one of her husband’s. It was also confirmed to me that Burgerfort is definitely not a recommended place for a lonely cyclist from France. Besides the big cities, there are few places to avoid in South Africa. After this episode, I asked the guards of a mine that hosted me for a night if there was still racial tensions in South Africa. They almost laughed. For them “it’s in the past, but we can not prevent some fools to exist.”
A lot of people do not understand why I’m traveling this way. “But why are you doing this to yourself?” is a recurring question. What usually follows is a hilarious 20 minutes dialogue, and a crowd gathers around to talk about my journey. Motorists stop in the middle of the road to ask questions. Drivers honk behind them but nobody moves without at least knowing my final destination, where I come from, and why I do this. A question that sometimes is more difficult to answer than you might think.
The road to the Botswana border is infinitely straight and flat. Drier too. I meet many tourists who are going on safari and learn that my route to Botswana includes a 300km stretch with lions and elephants in the wild. Lions?! But it is dangerous?! “Ah yes, but the elephants can be even more dangerous. If you stay on the road you should be OK.”
The bike trip seems to be a concept still not widespread in South Africa (compared to Latin America for example) and the reactions of the people left me almost to think I was the only rider in the country. Until one morning, some of them told me that my friend was here 20 minutes before me. My friend? Another cyclist? I have to catch up with this guy! After twenty kilometers, I caught up to Eelco, a South African who was riding from Cape Town to the Victoria Falls. He had already ridden the route before and knows a few places to sleep safely on the lions road. Very valuable information for me.
South Africa was a great discovery. I was a bit scared before coming and I found a beautiful country both for its inhabitants and its amazing views. Yes, there are still some places to avoid, but this is true of traveling alone in many countries. Of course, the information you hear always puts more emphasis on this than the positives of a place. Do you hear a lot of good news by listening to the evening news? Shut off the TV, come discover South Africa, and bring your bike along: