PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA

Opinion

My turn: Biking through Africa

By November 22, 2010

Just got back from an exciting, beautiful, learning  experience on another bike ride. Ever been to Cape Town, South Africa? If you have, you know just how difficult it is to describe it without getting carried away. It takes pictures, of which I have many, many, many, to do the place justice. Generally, It looks very similar to the islands of Hawaii in a lot of respects.

It is summer there now, so I figured it would be warm and sunny every day, after all it is Africa. Well it was sunny and warm most of the time, but then we did have to ride in the rain all one day, and then a bad head wind the next day, but we didn’t complain; the ride was worth it.

Cape Town is a big city with big buildings, parks, beautiful waterfront, new soccer stadium, etc. It is situated at the base of a huge mountain named Table Top, from the top of which you can see forever, and then some. It is situated in a national park. Since I arrived for the bike ride the day before the rest of the riders, I had a whole day to look around on my own.

While up on Table Top mountain, I met the guy in charge of the entire national park. He noticed I spoke funny, and ask me where I was from. I told him, and then he asked me if I would like a personal tour of the park. I said sure. He told me that he was so proud of the park, and also of his country that he wanted people to know about both and that is why he made the offer to show me around. I eventually found out that this was not an isolated attitude; the people in South Africa really do love their country and want us to know it.

If you just went to Cape Town and nowhere else, it would be worth the trip. For us, this was just the beginning. The rest of the riders arrived from the U.K., the day after I did, and the following day we took off on the bikes.

The first part of our ride was through the wine country. This area looked like Napa, with all the vineyards, etc., but the scenery is truly more spectacular. Mixed in with the huge fields of grapes were cattle ranches, grain fields, beautiful hills, etc. There is no way to really describe it. We stopped and did some wine tasting at a few places, and sampled the fresh fruit also grown on the ranches.

We spent several days in the interior wine country before heading up over a high pass, and then zooming down to the coast. The scenery along the coast was breathtaking. We first visited L’Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. This is where the Indian and the Atlantic oceans meet, and also where we spotted our first whale. It was difficult after that to ride the bike, watch the road, and also keep an eye out for whales.

After visiting the coast we again went back up into the interior, and I do mean up a big, big hill. While up in the interior we visited an animal preserve, swam in a large river, and ran around taking pictures of all the animals. We stayed overnight in this area. The next morning off we went heading back down to the coast. First thing we ran into a big bunch of baboons running across the road in front of us. We were all excited of course and took a million pictures. Later on we saw many, many baboons.

We got back down to the coast to a town called Hermanus. This town is on a big bay that is full of whales that come to hang around, mate, and have their babies. There were many, many whales here. You could walk along the cliff tops and see dozens at a time, along with some other animals, not in the water. You could stay here forever and never get tired of it. We stayed an extra day to get our fill of whales.

Then it was off down the coast along a road much like Highway 1 in California in the Big Sur area, without the trees. The cliffs were similar, the beaches were spectacular. Since it was summer, the flowers were in full bloom, and again were spectacular. We ended up for the next two nights in a little town called Simons Town, at Boulder Bay. Guess who lived here, surprise, penguins, hundreds of them. I can tell you we took plenty of pictures.

After we tore ourselves away from the penguins, we took off down the coast to Africa’s southwest extreme point and visited the Cape of Good Hope, and who hasn’t heard of that before. It is a gorgeous spot, is in a national park, and is inhabited by zebras, ostriches, of course baboons, and many other animals. Another unforgettable place.

Back on the bikes, we headed back up into and over the mountains on our way back to Cape Town. The scenery along this portion of the trip was the most beautiful; it just kept getting better and better. The mileage on this trip was only about 500 miles, if that — it was the sightseeing and the beauty of the place that was so spectacular. It is a place in the world to behold.

Fred Belt is a resident of Placerville.

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