After saying farewell to my dad at Cape Town airport, my holidays come to an end and it is time to finally prepare to start this new long leg of the journey along the west coast of the African continent. I have 15 months to reach Andalusia across about 20 countries of West Africa and I know very well that the crossing will be decidedly harder than the route that I have just finished. I spend my last days in Cape Town putting the bike in the best possible shape, getting spare parts that I know I will need along the way. In the meanwhile, I enjoy this city of exquisite beauty that is so significant for those of us who cycle the entire continent. My body feels very strong, but my mind not that much yet, it remains trapped in a longing past that never returns.
I decide to embark on my route to Namibia following the dirt trails that run alongside the railroad tracks of mining cargo trains that extend along the Atlantic coast. They are private roads used by the workers who do the maintenance of the roads, there is no public traffic in them but being on a bicycle, at each checkpoint I am authorized to cycle along them without any problems. These are splendid days in which I move forward by the Atlantic Ocean in complete solitude, something that I had been longing for big time since Buenos Aires. It is late April, the weather is pleasant during the days, but cold at night when the sea wind blows from the sea. I cycle along hundreds of miles of pristine beaches of white sand and blue sea, and yet I can not afford to take a dip because of the Benguela stream, coming from Antarctica. It bathes the shores of West Africa keeping the water of the ocean at freezing temperatures that anesthetize the flesh and petrify the bones.
It does not take me long to realize that this part of South Africa is very different from the rest of the country that I already have crossed, combining the aridity of brown and yellow shades of the Karoo but with the humidity and the winds of the maritime climate. Desert and ocean find each other at a point where the population is scarce and the distances eternal. Every night when camping, the dew leaves my tent and my bike completely soaked in not less than an hour after nightfall.
When I reach Strandfontein I decide to divert inland to cross the state of the North Cape through the center. On Route N7, on the way to Vioolsdrif, the undulations of the arid mountains blur the rigidity of the horizon and the climate becomes magically dry. They remain long days, but I manage to find some farm where they will receive me at the end of the day. South African hospitality is always alive too, here in the North Cape, where most of the inhabitants are called "colored", who, as soon as I arrive, offer me a place to sleep. It is in this state, where I first experience the supernatural colors of the evening that would accompany me from now on, all the way to Windhoek.
South Africa deep inside my heart
South Africa is the country to which I arrived several months before and with the lowest expectations and the greatest skepticism. In my mind, it represented the boring hiatus between the wild adventures of Africa, the easy roads, the less interesting people, the great development of mass tourism, etc. However, no matter how I try to be, I was once again being a victim of my own prejudices, but nothing better in the world than traveling to combat them.
As in no other country that I had previously arrived under the same preconceptions, the experience traveling in it quickly reconfigured the image I had of this place. My prejudices were torn apart, and my feelings turned upside down. South Africa is like a woman that many others may talk to you about but words are not really enough to raise enough interest in you. However you still agree to go on a blind date and when you see her, listen to her and feel her in person, life surprises you with an unexpected gift and you fall madly in love with her.
South Africa is known as the "rainbow nation": blacks, whites, "colored", Indians, Arabs, and immigrants from all over Africa and the world, have populated this land and tried (and still try to) to make a harmonious country out of it. It has never been an easy road, and it still certainly is not. Even almost two decades after the end of the apartheid racial experiment, racial separation remains very much alive in the psyche of people, in both the urban and social structure, and is ubiquitous in almost every situation of daily life, even though the vast majority of South Africans show nothing but love, admiration and inexorable respect for the great Nelson Mandela.
Paradoxically, over thousands of miles pedaled in this country from end to end, and each ethnic group have offered me the greatest hospitality. Be it the whites, blacks, Indians, etc, wherever I would want to camp, I would be given a comfortable room instead, wherever I would want to cook, I would be given dinners, lunches, royal breakfasts in return. Whereever I would cycle, I would be approached on the very road to be offered help and or a pleasant talk. Wherever I would want to rest for a few days, I would come in as a stranger and would find real homes where they would receive me as a son, a nephew, a brother. I would arrive exhausted and dirty and I would get an immaculate room with my own bathroom and impeccable bedding. I would arrive without food and I would be treated with meals dedicated especially for my presence and I would even leave with meals already prepared for me to have during my long days on the bike. Words are never enough to describe the love, affection, and interest with which the South Africans have cared for me every day in their country.
On the other hand, after spending a lot of time with them, always with each ethnic group individually, having shared extensive talks about the country and its history, reflecting the vision of each one, I have also been able to realize the difficult challenge for these people to reconcile their different worldviews by sharing the same soil while at the same time trying to survive psychologically to the tragedies of a usually brutal past. Fortunately, I would not say that what I found was true racism (or not at least what I believe to be true racism) except for a handful of punctual cases. Yes, I have found strong criticism of a race towards visions of the another race, but that does not feel that it is necessarily racism although it could definitely be translated poorly as such. At this point, it was clear to me that the road ahead for South Africa, to achieve a harmony between these groups of people that individually are so wonderful, and also as dissimilar as water and oil in terms of their visions, is still very very long and will require a lot of work on all parts. It will most definitely not be easy.
At the same time, its landscapes are breathtaking. From the bush full of wild animals, to the dazzling coasts bathed by two oceans, past the vast aridity of the Great Karoo, the fertile vineyards of the Little Karoo and the high truncated summits of the Drakensberg mountain range, beauty is extraordinary in every corner. Their urban spaces are equally interesting. Splendid cities like Cape Town are worth living; the dozens of neat little villages and the farms of the interior with its colonial legacy are a delight; the beautiful chaos of life in black towns and cities, townships, remind us quickly that where we are is in Africa. South Africa has it all.
I leave knowing that South Africa is one of the countries that I will miss the most. I take South Africa with me, and especially to its people, deep within my heart. I have made dozens of new friends who joined to enlarge my extended family around the world. I leave knowing that I will hardly find a rival and I will inevitably miss the absence of their company. In an imaginary "war" between countries to compete for the title of the world's greatest hospitality, in the world I know, South Africa would be one of the greatest contenders alongside the Tibetans, the Sudanese, the Mongols, the Indonesians, the Uzbeks , the Iranians, all of them strong competitors. I love South Africa and South Africans and I would go back every day because I know that here, I have a house where I will always be well received, protected, and loved.