Friday, 25 November 2011

Day 388 South Africa 25/11/2011, Ballito – Durban – Lion's River. 30.37miles/48.80km, 3hr19minutes, Av 9.1mph.

The rain had stopped this morning which was good news, however yesterday's blustery wind still remained. Saying goodbye to Shaun and Louie we set off towards Durban at just before 8am.

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The climb out of Ballito soon had our muscles warmed up and we were on our way. With only about 45km to go we were confident that we would reach the city by 12pm where we would meet Debs' friends, Steph and Tim.

The journey along the M4 was easy, although the headwind and the traffic made it bit more challenging. It was nice to be riding along the coast through generally attractive scenery though.

As we neared the outskirts of Durban, the road became less fun as we had to negotiate several slip roads. These are never fun when you have cars trying to leave the main carriageway at 100km/h when we are only doing 20km/h at best. The fact that hardly anyone indicates and most people seem to wait to the last minute to cut across, means that it is not for the faint hearted! We are of course by now old hands at dealing with busy roads, so we arrived in Durban without incident.

Leaving the main road behind we rode through the city along the beach promenade. It was thanks to Shaun and Louie that we knew it existed. The route was certainly nicer than our original plan would have been. Passing along the promenade we got to have a look at Durban's beach front and it looks like it will be a nice place to spend a few days when we return.


Having arrived in good time, we wended our way slowly to the fisherman's wharf and Café Fish where we were to be met by Steph and Tim. Despite them running late, having been stuck in traffic, we didn't have to wait long. We were soon having a beer and a nice lunch in the restaurant. Steph was Debbie's tetrathlon coach and good friend from her pony club days. She has been living with her husband Tim in Lion's River for some time. It was great for Debs to catch up and after lunch we were on our way to their home.

Lion's River is a beautiful part of South Africa and their home couldn't be in a nicer setting. After getting settled into a lovely room, we wandered down into the fields to inspect the cows. Tim and Steph breed Murray Grey cows, which they have been introducing into South Africa.

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Having had a stroll through the fields and a look at the river, we returned to the house and had a welcome beer on the verandah. A lovely dinner was followed by wine, more chatting and eventually a port or two. It has been a terrific day and just what Debs needed to help her get over her ordeal. A few days rest in lovely company will be extremely welcome.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Day 387 South Africa 24/11/2011, Ballito. Watching the rain fall.

Today we had sat and watched the rain fall on a South African summer day. There are obviously worse places to be than in a lovely house surrounded by friendly people and a fridge full of beer.

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Venturing out briefly, I went with Shaun to Sindy's (a Ballito area institution) to get our first ever bunny chows (an Indian curry served in a hollowed out quarter of a loaf of bread). I enjoyed mine but it was a bit on the spicy side for Debs. Still we couldn't come to the Durban area without trying one.

The rest of the afternoon was spent chatting and relaxing over a few beers. Followed by a nice dinner of crayfish. At least I had crayfish, Debs being a non fish eater enjoyed a couple of pork chops.

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We have enjoyed our stopover here, it was obviously a shame that the weather was against us, but we have been made to feel very welcome. We owe a big thank you to Shaun, Louie, Jenna and of course Katrina.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Day 386 South Africa 23/11/2011, Zinkwazi beach – Ballito. 29.71miles/47.81km, 2hr57minutes, Av 10mph.

Firstly, the good thing is that the rain stopped during the night, we weren't washed away and we woke to blue-ish skies.

Normally I write about our day on the road, but to be honest today I can't see the point. While cycling through a built-up area just south of the town of Stanger, Debs was robbed. I had been cycling ahead on a hill and had just rounded a corner and was waiting in a lay-by for her to catch up. About 100m back down the road a guy grabbed her bike from behind, thrust his hand into her pocket and grabbed her I-pod. It seems that no amount of shouting and screaming for help elicited any response from the happily watching locals.

Seeing what had happened, two very kind Indian guys in a truck stopped to try and help, but the thief had ran away, taking her I-pod with him. Meanwhile a lorry pulled up beside me and told me I had to go back, because something had happened to my partner. I quickly turned round fearing that she had been hit by a vehicle on the busy narrow road. As I saw her on the side of the road with a truck parked beside her my fears deepened. I certainly didn't expect to hear that she had been robbed.

Perhaps we have got a bit complacent, most of the time through towns it is usual for me to ride behind Debs to make sure she is alright. Since arriving in South Africa we haven't found the situation threatening so don't usually worry. The area we were in may have been built-up, but there was no footpath and we were on a main road. Not the sort of area that has ever been a problem.

Despite a bruised leg and scratched arm Debs is, physically at least, unhurt. Mentally she is, as is to be expected, quite shaken up. It is not the theft so much as the act of the thief grabbing into her pocket and her own inability to stop him.

It is tragic that after 11,000 incident free kilometres this has had to happen. The guys in the truck that had stopped to help were mortified at what had taken place and assisted as much as they could. Their opinion of the locals and their attitude was less than complimentary and they advised us not to stop again until we were well clear. Their concerns about the area were proven well-founded when two young guys shouted hello and then hurled a large stick of sugar cane at us from the embankment.

Kindly the two guys drove their truck behind, holding up the traffic until we were into what they considered a safer area. Their simple actions don't make up for what happened, but it does go some way to reaffirm our faith in human goodness.

Debs somehow managed to hold herself together for the next 30km, until we reached Ballito and the lovely house that we will be spending a few days in. Once again she has shown me how remarkably strong she can be. I only wish that I had been closer to her when it happened and had been able to do something. The shame is that with both of us together, the theft may never have taken place.

While in Ballito we are the guests of Katrina, who we met in Mozambique. What makes her hospitality more amazing is the fact that she is currently in Sudan. Left in the hands of her house mate and friends, Shaun and Louis, our day has greatly improved. We have been made to feel very welcome and a few beers and a glass of wine is helping to ease what has been a very difficult day.

Our day was further eased by a lovely roast chicken dinner, cooked by Shaun, and yet more wine. I am sure things will look much better in the morning.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Day 385 South Africa 22/11/2011, Eshowe – Zinkwazi lagoon lodge, Zinkwazi. 42.56miles/68.31km, 4hr15minutes, Av 10mph.

The rain was only light this morning, so we packed up ready to move on. With cooler temperatures and the promise of a reasonably long descent we opted for full wet weather gear. The rain may have eased, but we expected there to be plenty of standing water on the road.

Shortly after we left Eshowe, we passed the 11,000km mark! The rain had stopped and the skies had lightened as if to celebrate the achievement, oh, and the view was pretty good as well! Once again we took the obligatory photograph and then set off, only to stop a few 100 metres further on to remove our very warm waterproofs.

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For 25km we headed mainly downhill, which was followed by a gently climbing 10km section. As we headed down from the top we ran into some roadworks and were a little dismayed to see a sign proclaiming 'expect delays of at least 20 minutes'. After a chat to one of our fellow queuers we decided to chance our arms and see whether we couldn't just go. The guy on the barrier was very helpful and said that we could go, and to ride on the middle section that had been resurfaced. It was just as well that he did let us go as the roadworks continued for about 10km. The speed we were travelling at would have meant that we wouldn't have cleared them before they started the traffic coming in the opposite direction. Riding on the new section meant that we were unaffected by the other vehicles, which was just as well as the section we were on involved a surprisingly steep climb.

Having cleared the roadworks, we carried on through the rolling landscape and had a chance encounter with two cycle tourists. The couple had started in Cape Town and were heading north to Eshowe. The staff at the hostel were in for a surprise later today when yet more cycle tourists turn up. We had a rather challenging conversation across the carriageway of a busy road, wished them well and then carried on.


The last 10 kilometres to Zinkwazi were pretty uneventful and we arrived in the village in time for lunch. Spotting a cafe and shop we stopped for lunch, drawing a certain amount of attention along the way. Lunch was nice, but sadly the rain started again while we were eating it. Pitching our tent was going to have to be in the rain it seemed. When we arrived at Zinkwazi lagoon lodge it was just as well that we had eaten, as their open daily restaurant and bar was closed. Helpfully we were informed that it was open yesterday and will be open tomorrow, just not today! They also have no cooking facilities which left us feeling a little unimpressed. We still have our stove, but the thought of cooking outside in the rain isn't terribly appealing.

Fortunately while setting up the tent the rain stopped so we may be alright. It is just a shame that with the bar closed, there is nowhere dry and warm to sit other than our tent. The village itself doesn't appear to offer much in the way of alternatives either. In the end though we are dry, warm and comfortable and should manage to get some rest for the shorter day to Ballito tomorrow.

We didn't remain dry for long, as the camp-site flooded. In the pouring rain we dropped the tent and pitched it elsewhere and so far we have remained flood free. Let's hope the rain stops tomorrow although the forecast doesn't look good.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Day 384 South Africa 21/11/2011, Zululand backpackers, Eshowe. Up in the forest canopy, down in the forest, shopping, sorting and some dancing.

We were up early this morning to go for a walk along the Dlinza forest aerial board-walk. Debs set off with a spring in her step, while the more easily led into having another beer Matt, dragged his heels behind. Getting to the board-walk became a bit of a marathon march when we took the wrong route. Nevertheless we arrived eventually and set off to see some beautiful birds and wildlife. We had been advised to go early as this was the best time to view the forest creatures.

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Sadly no one had told said creatures and while a very nice walk, it would have been good to have seen a bit more. Me having forgotten the binoculars didn't aid the spotting, so there was probably plenty that we missed.

Walk completed we strolled back to the town and bought some food for the day. We are definitely cooking dinner tonight, although it will have to be early as we are off to watch some Zulu dancing later.

This afternoon has largely been filled with sorting our bags and making sure that everything is dry. There has also been a certain amount of getting rid of clothes that have become tatty to say the least.

I make no secret of the fact that I dislike cultural shows; most of the time I find them incredibly fake and amateur in their production. Tonight's Zulu dancing performance was a huge exception. It was incredibly polished and professional and quite frankly bloody brilliant.

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The Zulu dancers at Shakaland were billed as the best in the country and we would have to say they were terrific. All in all it has rounded off a very pleasant short stay in Eshowe. Had we have had more time here, there are a variety of cultural ceremonies and events that we could have witnessed. The town and surrounding area, certainly merits a longer visit. As it is, we will moving on tomorrow back towards the coast. Weather permitting of course, as it has been raining heavily for most of the afternoon.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Day 383 South Africa 20/11/2011, Empangeni – Zululand backpackers, Eshowe. 36.36miles/58.54km, 4hr44minutes, Av 7.6mph.

No rain and a cool cloudy morning. It looked like we were going to have a pretty good run to Eshowe. We parted company with Udo this morning after the obligatory photo session, and then headed on our way.


We knew that we would be spending most of the day climbing, but it looked like it would be gradual rather than steep. Considering our history at locating short cuts, it came as some surprise when the road that we were looking for actually existed and was at exactly the distance we had calculated. Even better it was sealed, as there had been some discussion with the guest-house people as to whether it was a dirt road or not.

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For 30km we cycled along waving and shouting hello to some of the friendliest people we have encountered in a while. The Zulu people are proving themselves to be very nice. Unfortunately at the end of the 30km we ran out of road! Suddenly we were faced with a rocky muddy track and no idea how long it would remain so. We knew that we still had 25km to go to Eshowe, so we could have been in for a long day.

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The road surface on its own wasn't too bad, but we had a few steep climbs to contend with along the way. The views and the people certainly helped and we were lucky that the previous day's rains hadn't deteriorated the surface too badly. Had we have been attempting the road yesterday, there quite possibly would have been a lot of pushing involved.

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When we rejoined the tarmac with about 10km to go, having endured some pretty tough diversions, we gave a little sigh of relief. Which didn't last too long with me when I promptly sunk in mud that had been left in the road junction by the previous day's rains! Meanwhile the speedier, more agile and lighter Debs sailed through. The climbing and rough surface had taken it out of us. Suffering from chafed buttocks from riding with wet cycle shorts and damp saddles yesterday hadn't made the trip any more comfortable either.

A little later than we had expected, but still pretty early, we arrived outside the George hotel, that contains within its grounds Zululand backpackers. As we weren't looking forward to putting up our wet tent, it was very nice that we were offered a room at the same rate as camping.

Once we were settled in and our tent had been hung out to dry we went off to the bar to try a pint of local beer. The hotel has its own microbrewery, or at least it did; unbeknownst to us it is currently closed down as they can no longer meet the demand for their 'Zulu blonde' lager. Instead the beer recipe has been licensed to a larger brewery. The popularity for this beer is largely down to the fact that 'Zulu blonde' was voted best beer at the JD Wetherspoons real ale festival in 2010. No mean feat for a tiny South African brewery. The beer is very nice, by far the best I have had in South Africa, a little too nice in fact as I partook of quite a few during the evening.

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The niceness of the beer and comfort of the bar meant that cooking dinner got forgotten, so we ate dinner at the local KFC watched on by the locals. KFC seems to be almost exclusively the preserve of black South Africans. Most of the looks were probably because we managed to demolish a whole family feast between us!

Returning to our room I retrieved our now dry shoes from outside and had a bit of a shock when I discovered a dwarf chameleon had taken up residence on one of my sandals! Getting him off proved challenging, but after a little coaxing, I gently placed him onto a nearby tree. We knew that there were chameleons in the area, but we never expected to see one so close.


Tomorrow we will be working off the beer and chicken by having a walk through the forest canopy on the town's aerial board-walk.