We had been unable to appreciate the setting of the Rhodes cottage on arrival the previous night as it was dark, but it was spectacular! When we got up in the morning the sunshine on the hill behind us was gorgeous. Charles Sr. left us to go and pick up Andre and Lucia from the campground and there Charles packed up our tent for us (we'd packed our stuff before leaving for dinner). While waiting for them to come to the Estate, Marais put together their tandem (that he and Marietjie had brought on the plane with them) and he took me for a ride over part of the Estate. I’m not sure that I’d ever make much of a willing tandem rider, but I had confidence in Marais (as he’d ridden single-track down mountains in the Himalayas on a tandem with Marietjie) and he has lots of experience, but it was exhilarating! Bruce asked why I was puffing when we returned and Marais was gracious enough to say he had worked me hard! (Nothing to do with the fact that I hadn’t been outside on a bike since last September in California.......)
When Charles Sr. showed up with Lucia and Andre we went first to the Winery itself on the Boschendal Estate and bought some fabulous shiraz, then it was time to start making our way north towards Johannesburg, leaving the Cape area. We stopped to walk around the park-like grounds at the Franzschoek-Huguenot Monument, then on to the little town of Ladismith (not Ladysmith of ‘Black Mambazo’ fame) where we had a lovely little campsite all to ourselves on grass (our Cape Town site was hard-pack dirt) behind a small motel. The town has many old houses, again sporting the lovely lacy ironwork decorations that we’ve seen in other Southern hemisphere countries with 'colonial' backgrounds.
(By the way, I’m writing this on the 21st of March and, as I sit here on the stoop at Charles and Anschu’s home, in front of me and not more than 100 feet away are six zebra and a wildebeest drinking from a tub of water! Earlier a warthog came in to look through the wire.)
The Ides of March. After leaving camp this morning we went off the main road and drove up through a spectacular gorge with high, rugged mountains of red and gold jagged striations – some almost vertical - on both sides of us, the Seweweekspoort Pass (Seven Weeks Pass). At the top, everyone who had a helmet and riding gear (all except me!!!) got on their bicycles to ride down the pass and I drove the van and trailer down. My first experience with driving this rig was ‘interesting’ but enjoyable. Charles said he saw a snake in front of him on the way down – happy to say, I didn’t!
We then drove on and stopped at Calitzdorp for a nice lunch in the garden at the back of a cafe, then it was on to the nearby Boplaas Port Wine winery. Such delicious Port! Bruce got a very good reserve bottle at a remarkable price on special and Charles bought some more regular Port. As you can probably tell, this trip is not a ‘dry’ one! I could plead that the heat means we must keep up our liquid intake but, to tell the truth, it really isn’t that hot – more like pleasantly warm.
We are on our way to the Karoo National Park but took a short detour to go up and over the Swartzburg Pass which is the ‘spine’ over the hills that separate the Little Karoo from the Big Karoo. I can say it was only a short detour because it was only about 9 Kms up and over but the guys – Bruce, Charles and Andre – wanted to ride their bicycles up and over. What a tough route it was and steep all the way. The road was rough on the way up – loose gravel – but had spectacular views over the valley below. Anschu was driving (glad it wasn’t me!) and we stopped periodically to wait for the guys to see if anyone needed anything (like getting in the van for example!). When we finally reached the top Bruce did something that was previously unheard of – for him. He decided not to do the long, rugged downhill and climbed into the van (his knees were troubling him). It looked like a very difficult downhill (to me) with lots of stretches of what represented a ‘road’ washed out and huge rocks and loose stones and steep, high drop-offs on one side and tightly winding and twisting and turning. We could see Andre way off in the distance much, much lower than us as he went around all the bends (Charles was long gone). We saw baboons and klipspringers (a small deer-like/goat like animal) on the way down and it was quite exciting.
We arrived late that evening at the Karoo National Park, spotting red hartebeest on the way into camp, where we managed to find a nice spot (it was busy) near the washrooms and a very nice indoor kitchen set-up. I had offered to make supper that night - I’d been asked previously about “typical Canadian food” and, other than salmon, I was hard-pressed to think of anything. In the absence of any salmon here and, having to cook on top of a camp stove, eventually it came to me that a chowder with salad and bread would be the thing, so I was to make a corn chowder on arrival (didn’t have any seafood). It was already past 8pm when I got going, but it worked out very well and seemed to be enjoyed (the pot was totally emptied). Tough night sleeping, however. I was awake at 3am, got up finally towards 5 and wandered around the campground watching the light dawn and the sun rise over the surrounding peaks. Our campground is well contained within an electric wire fence as we are now in a Park that has lions and rhino (that were introduced to the Park) only last November so as it’s not good business to allow predators to chew up the visitors, we are well protected.