“Be here now.” The words from my favorite song come floating across the African night. Accompanied by a natural orchestra of unseen creatures, drumming, squawking, shrieking, howling and harmonizing with the thought-provoking lyrics, I have no need for sleep. Lying on my bed, gazing around the rustic walls of my wooden cabin at the many African artifacts and pictures, outside a slow, steady rain begins rising to a crescendo. Drowning out the orchestra and the music, sending my mind spiraling on a helter skelter, kaleidoscopic journey of thoughts and images from two days of riding in South Africa, it is my last conscious moment of the day before sleep finally pulls me down.
Starting this particular adventure in Cape Town, South Africa, it was hard to contain the excitement traveling to this distant continent produced. With the new F800GS launch being the reason for traveling halfway round the world, BMW decided acclimatize us to the African time zone by setting up a three-day tour with Edelweiss. Joined by a small group of journalists from the American press, we started the fun by picking up our BMW motorcycles of choice at Cape Town BMW. Scoring an R12000GS, one of my favorite machines, the first order of operation was heading south toward the Cape of Good Hope.
You would swear you were looking at a picture of SoCal if it wasn’t for everyone on the wrong side of the road.
This was the first time most of our group had ridden on the left hand side of the road, so it created some interesting moments as we made our way out of Cape Town. Rolling out under the careful watch of Table Mountain some 3,300 feet above us, the Atlantic Ocean shimmered and played to our right. With sidewalk cafés open to the morning sun and a weird blended mix of local people and tourists strolling by the Australian-style colonial architecture to our left, my heart was racing with the plethora of sights and experiences being hurled at us. Light fluffy clouds raced across an azure blue sky like racing sailboats running hard with the wind and the air through passing through the vents of my jacket was a pleasant 70 degrees.
Prompted at a breakfast meeting by Marcus, our tour leader, to pay attention when we passed through Chapman’s Peak, the road suddenly cut off into the solid rock face as I snatched a glance of the broiling ocean 450 feet below. Passing through towns with Welsh, Dutch and English names, my mind roamed over the possibilities of which group of settlers decided where they would stay and why. Also, running through a mental checklist of where to stash my equipment in preparation for meeting the famous Cape of Good Hope baboons, we pulled into the Cape Nature reserve. Riding into a near gale force ocean breeze, the big BMW leaned hard to starboard as we neared the point. As luck would have it, the strong wind must have sent the baboons running for shelter, so our visit there went smoothly. I did get to hear a number of horror stories from my peers who had made this journey before about what these creatures can and will do to cars, bikes and people.
Sitting at the end of this vast continent, staring out across the vast expanse of ocean that doesn’t hit land for nearly 4,000 miles, makes for some interesting thoughts, as does the wind threatening to knock us off our bikes as we make our way to Cape Point. Here we board a funicular for a trip up to the lighthouse at the top of the point and enjoy more magical views from the panoramic position. With a light that shines out 40 miles into the ocean from its 10 million candlepower bulbs, I wondered how sailors must feel on spotting this beacon days or weeks into a tough transatlantic voyage?
With Signal Hill above Cape Town as our last destination of the day, we wound our way through Simon’s Town protected now from the incredible winds. Climbing Kloof Neck Road to the summit, there was little blue left in the sky as the winds had disappeared and the humidity had risen. Sweating in the afternoon heat, we marveled at the two predominant mountains over Cape Town, Table and Lion, as we learned about the noonday gun that fires above the city everyday. A large cannon that was originally used to help the local people tell the time, as the day and night were then divided up into four parts, it actually started as a navigational aid for sailors.
The ocean plays such an important part of Cape Town’s life, so it was fitting that Marcus had organized a boat ride for us later that evening. Sailing out of the harbor, watching the sun setting behind the city with a burning brilliance that will remain etched in my subconscious forever, it was time to pinch myself again. As the warm breeze came across the water, the smell from the African city came with it. Causing my system to almost go into stimulation overload, I closed my eyes and sat back to listen to the sound of the sails and just try to be in the moment. To be in Africa.
Riding out of Cape Town the following morning, we headed east for the wine region of Stellenbosch. Passing miles of not so pleasant smelling Shantytowns on the freeway, the disparity between the beach-strolling whites and impoverished blacks was slammed hard in our faces as we rode. I have experienced poverty many times in my world travels, but the way it assaults your senses with its insane confusion and smell always hits hard, especially from the seat of a $20,000 motorcycle vacationing from my luxury life in America.
Leaving the city behind, we turned onto smaller roads and started passing through small villages, dramatic valleys and rocky outcrops with baboons scurrying around. Exotic plants, animals and landscapes came hurtling through my visor at every turn in the road, and as we pulled into a small town for lunch the next wild experience presented itself. As the group sat for lunch, I was delayed shooting pictures, so I entered the restaurant alone. There sitting against the window, two elderly ladies immaculately dressed the way my Grandmother would look in public, ate lunch. Afrikaans by birth, they have both farmed this land for nearly three quarters of a century, and the richness of their stories was just elevated by their fascinating and unique accent.
With the Aquila Game Reserve as our destination for the night, we left our empty plates of curry and tea mugs behind as we rode through patchy rain. Running into hail the size of golf balls at one point and then luxurious valleys bathed in sunshine, the experience level rarely left intense. Breath-taking vistas, weird and wonderful vegetation and our small procession of the bikes on the wrong side of the road were starting to become par for the course as we arrived at the Taal Monument. Here we took a coffee break as we learned the architect of this fascinating granite structure was Jan Van Wijk. Born Afrikaans in South Africa, he left this message in celebration of his birth language being officially recognized:
“Afrikaans is the language that connects Western Europe and Africa. It forms a bridge between the large, shining West and the magical Africa…And what great things come from their union – that is maybe what lies ahead for Afrikaans to discover. But what we must never forget, is that this change of country and landscape sharpened kneaded and knitted this newly-becoming language…And so Afrikaans became able to speak out from this new land…Our task is in the use that we make and will make of this gleaming vehicle…”
He wasn’t kidding when he said “magical Africa,” and slipping and sliding our way up Bain’s Kloof Pass in torrential rain as we made our way through the Hex River Mountains, my mood was soaring. Occasionally, we would lose the rain and pass through small towns that reminded me of the Australian Outback before disappearing off into some new, exotic landscape.
Our next adventure was checking into the Aquila Game Reserve and blasting off for an afternoon game drive. Bouncing out into the 45,000-hectare reserve, it was a tad obvious that the wild animals aren’t quite so wild as we watched the rhinoceros eating the hay someone had put down, but I was impressed. We ended the afternoon in the most incredible rain storm watching a pair of very disgruntled looking lions, but it was still amazing to see these incredible beasts on this distant continent.
The following day we were out and rumbling under the pre-dawn African sky, which held just a few loan clouds from the previous night’s storm. We had been promised the chance to see what is known as the “Big Five,” (elephant, rhino, lion, mountain leopard and buffalo) and were pretty excited to see if it would happen.
With the sun lighting the African landscape a rich, warm gold as it made its way up over the distant mountains, my shutter finger worked overtime. Giraffe, hippopotamus, springbok, and elephants found their way onto my digital memory card as the game truck bounced around the rutted trails. We stopped to look at Khoi San Bushman rock art on some smooth boulders before coming across the park’s lions. Comprised of three females and one male, with another male locked away in another area, this was the highlight of being in Africa for me. Barely 100 feet away, we watched these powerful creatures at rest, at play, and in hunting mode as they started circling one of the other tourist trucks. With lightening quick movements, they went from looking as if they were asleep to full attack mode in seconds. Our drivers roared into action and chased them away, but it’s a wild experience to see grown lions in such an aggressive mode. Rolling on, listening to the dying sounds of these incredible creatures mixing with the rumbling noises from my belly, we made our way back to breakfast. Passing a baby hippo, a group of water buffalo, and flocks of wild birds on the sparking water, I closed my eyes and breathed in the scents, sounds, and sensations of Africa, as I tried to burn it into my mental hard drive forever.
The ride back to Cape Town was a gentle affair. Passing through small African townships and constantly changing landscapes, all I have ever heard about riding here has been true. It is a fascinating country in its size, diversity, and ability to offer the expected and unexpected in equally large doses. With my mind somewhere out on the Aquila Game reserve-watching lions at play, a bend in the road brings a valley burned black from raging forest fires. Snapping me back to the moment, as I marvel at the colored vegetation already beginning to bring life back to this barren scene, the words of my favorite song come floating back through my mind and I am reminded that at this moment I am here now in Africa.