The Third World As Seen From The Saddle – 27 February 2023
When Jan van Riebeek sailed the seas to discover South Africa, NB apologies to Hottentots, Khoisan, Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas, Tsonga and others too numerous to mention, he never rushed off to explore the hinterland because there were the big bloody hills a.k.a. mountains between him and the hinterland. Jan van Riebeek was Dutch and Dutchmen don’t do mountains.
Alas, I was given the harshest reminder of my Dutch heritage yesterday when I had to walk the last 50 meters of a horribly harsh hill. I cannot remember the last time I had to walk up a hill. I’m blogging to you from the little village of Wilderness in the Western Cape, and it is surrounded by horrible hills, although the views from up top are pretty good.I’ve driven down to sea level to train for the Cape Town Cycle Challenge, a.k.a. the Argus mostly because Jenny loves sea food. It has been 8 weeks since my spectacular involuntary dismount which resulted in busted ribs and other more grievous injuries to my pride and self-confidence, and I am finally back on the bike.
With the Argus now just 2 weeks away, I worry that I might be slightly underdone, not at least of all because 7 of us are to riding to Cape Town from Wilderness, via 600 kilometres worth of big bloody hills and mountains, including the Outeniqua mountains which are apparently harder to climb than they are to spell. NB Outeniqua means Cyclists Beware in Khoisan apparently. But I worry more that my doctor is a hopeless optimist. Frank told me that I’d enjoy muscle memory, even after 8 weeks of no exercise. Muscle amnesia more like. Luckily, I have more sage advice to fall back on. On my very first Blue Cross, Al Watermeyer told me the first thing you pack on a bicycle tour is a good pair of walking shoes.
Jenny and I are loving the Wilderness. It has to be one of prettiest places in all of South Africa, despite a preponderance of uphill bits. Wallace the dog has joined us on bike tour as a watch dog, to patrol at night, guard the bikes, scare off large herbivores like mooses and elks, etc, etc. And so far so good, we haven’t been bothered by a single elk.
When you spend 4 days in a car with someone, you notice stuff about them that previously you hadn’t. For instance, on the outside Wallace looks Scottish terrier small, but on the inside his bladder is big like an Olympic-sized swimming pool. He has peed on every bush, blade of grass and every grain of sand, through Botswana, the Karoo, and on the beaches, and it is still not empty. Wallace is especially loving the beaches, although he is shit scared of the ocean, which is rather unfortunate, because you have to pick it up in a shopping bag, preferably green apparently, but more of that later. All I can say is thank God we didn’t bring Chuck the Great Dane.
South Africa remains an enigma, borderline First World in places, full-on Third World in others, like Mafikeng for instance, the first South African city after the Botswana border. Suffice to say had Jan van Riebeek landed in Mafikeng, he would have turned around and fled back to Holland. Parts of it are that tatty, that filthy, that potholed, Zimbabweans can almost feel at home driving through it.
But then you hit the farmlands south of Mafikeng, endless fields of the tallest maize and tallest sunflowers you’ve ever seen, stretching away as far as the eye can see, like in Zimbabwe before, and pecan orchards that stretch even further, and you think the doom and gloom merchants have jumped the gun. And from what little we have seen; South Africa gets better the further south you go.
Certainly, the city of George, Wilderness and surrounds are clean, tidy and well run, ditto the government offices, ditto the police station. One of the main reasons for our visit is to register my mom’s death with the Department of Home Affairs. I’ve tried and failed previously at the SA Embassy in Harare, and again in Joburg, but never made it past the end of a very long queue. I’ve been dreading more of the same in George for the last few months, but I was in and out of Home Affairs within an hour. I was looked after so well, I bought the lady at the counter a bunch of flowers to say thank you, but she wouldn’t accept them, because of anti-graft rules.
And at our Airbnb, we are asked to separate our garbage into blue bags recyclable waste, green bags for organic waste including vegetable peels, garden waste and grass cuttings, possibly dog pooh but strictly no soil, and black bags for other stuff that can’t be recycled, all for separate collection on Tuesday morning.
Apologies if I seem easily impressed, but I am. Coloured coded refuse removal and civil servants refusing bribes is about as good as it gets as compared to Harare where most suburbs haven’t enjoyed municipal services in 20 years or more, as in no water, no refuse collection, no roads fixed, no nothing.
But then there is the small matter of no electricity. With up to 8 hours of power cuts per day, it is horribly like home. The master of the understatement, President Cyril has declared the power crisis a national state of disaster, apparently to give the government additional powers to fix the mess they made in the first place. Elsewhere in the world, national emergencies are reserved for earthquakes, floods and the like, not for incompetence, greed and corruption. Alas, cry the beloved country.
Lucky for us though, we are not riding e-bikes to Cape Town. We will be 7 riding to Cape Town, including Adam Selby, Al Watermeyer, Jaime Selby Philp, Andy Chadwick, Rob Skinner, Gary Prothero, and me. I will sweep for strugglers and stragglers.
We will depart from the Wilderness Common at 07.30 on Sunday 5 March, headed for our first night stop in Oudtshoorn, via the dreaded Montagu Pass. We’ll follow the R62 to our second night stop in Ladismith, Day 3 takes us to Barrydale, Day 4 to Bredasdorp, Day 5 to Hermanus, and Day 6 to Gordon’s Bay. We’ll ride plus minus 100 km per day, with many hills and mountains, apparently.
Please be invited to ride with us or join us for drinks at the Hermanus Golf Club for a drink on Thursday 9 March.
And then on to the main event, the Cape Town Cycle Tour on Sunday 12th March. The Old Legs Tour peloton will be 19 riders strong, having been joined by Linda Selby, Lol Prothero from Hermanus, Charles Montgomery from our partner charity, the M’dala Trust, Heinrich Muller from Greenhouse Technologies, Joburg, plus Rob Fisher and Donald Bomber Campbell fresh off the plane from Zim, plus not so fresh off their bikes having pedalled pretty much all the way from Switzerland, Claudio Giger, Evelyn Batter and Maik Kundig, and Mike Davis and Mike Johnson who have pedalled all the way from Vic Falls.
We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Last week, our Medical Fund paid to resume a 68-year-old lady’s heart medication. She stopped taking her pills last year, after she lost her job. And next week, we will pay for 3 replacement hips, one of them a double. We will be helped up the steep mountains by one of the recipients who wrote to tell us we had made her cry. She wrote ‘Dear Old Legs- I am so tearful as I write and cannot believe that 20 years of pain will soon be over. I have truly been blessed. Thank you- Sharron.’
Please help us make more old people cry by following the donate prompts below. Our waiting list for pensioners needing help is longer than one of our bike tours.
In South Africa – in SOUTH AFRICA please direct donations to the Mdala Trust
The Mdala Trust / Standard Bank
Account Number: 374 230 927
Branch Code (Fish Hoek): 036 009
Swift Code: SBZAZAJJ
*NB Please us OLT as reference on payment
In ZIMBABWE Please can you direct donations to
Bank – CABS Platinum
Swift Code – CABSZWHA
Account name – Old Legs Tour Trust
NOSTRO USD Account No – 1130018407
RTGS Zim Dollar Account No – 1130022072
In closing, huge thanks the Brodie bunch in Perth and the Joondalup Kinross Cricket Club for hosting the Music For Good Concert last weekend. Special thanks to Brian Sutcliffe who made it all happen, Peta Ong who manned the pub and the kids, Johnny Avenell and Ryan Andrews for Sabine Brodie for her beautiful hand painted pottery, Alana Fay and Mason Velios a.k.a. Velvet Duo for setting the stage alight, Dave Atkinson AKA Aussie Mark Knopfler for reminding all how good Dire Straits were, and and to Craig Hilton-Barbour who donated his magnificent painting titled Old Legs On A Mission for auction. Absolutely we will use the more than $8000 raised to save lives and change lives.
In closing, bon voyage and safe travels to the crew on board the Zambezi Endeavour. To to raise money and awareness for the Old Legs Medical Fund, Blade Bester, Judah Day, Annika Brosnan and Daniel Pascoe are tackling the mighty Zambezi from source to sea in their 13-foot tin boat. God speed guys and enjoy.
Before I sign off, three stop presses. I made it up the bloody hill on my second attempt. And please cancel my colour coded garbage kudos. Turns out you can’t buy blue garbage bags in any supermarket in George. And finally apologies to Greta Thurnberg for mixing up all my rubbish in green bags and my black bags as well.
Until my next blog from Oudtshoorn, have fun, do good, do epic. Oh, and also train your dog to do it straight in a bag, either black or green, I forget which – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
Pictures below – the Swiss contingent in Die Hell, the Joondalup Kinross team, Velvet Duo and move over Mark Knopfler, Craig Hilton-Barbour working on ‘Old Legs On A Mission’ and Wallace patrolling the beach.